There is a milestone moment in the life of a parent when your child realises that the act of giving a gift can be (almost) as rewarding as receiving one. For my eldest daughter, Monkey, that happened last month and I was the lucky recipient. The gift she thoughtfully chose, sourced, bought, wrapped and tentatively gave me on the birthday morning brought tears to my eyes.
In fact, every time the bloody thing goes off in our lounge room, it still does!!
It was this….
and to fill it, this…
Apparently, the idea came to her during our stay in the serviced apartment in Brisbane. You see, growing up in Asia, our kids have never really been exposed to commercial TV. At the temporary accommodation we had cable, in English. Yay and funness! I freely admit that I used the television as somewhat of a ‘babysitter’ in those first few hectic weeks here in Australia. I also admit that I was not entirely immune to the charms of the 40-odd-channels, indulging in quite a lot of food and lifestyle porn!
It was probably during one of mummies ‘house’ shows that Monkey saw an advertisement for the above objet d’art.
According to the website – Air Wick Freshmatic Automatic Spray has been carefully created to ensure continuous fragrancing that will keep the air fresh and lovely for you and your family and ensure a brighter, happier home.’
Not only that, it comes in several unique fragrances, including ‘Frangapani’, a scent that would surely remind mummy of out home in Lao (The Frangapani is the National flower of Lao)
What’s more, it is available at your local supermarket!
Monkey, accompanied me grocery shopping, secretly located the aisle and item and later dragged Daddy on a special mission to buy mummy a present that would make our new home smell like Lao.
Honestly, it was most beautiful, thoughtful gesture and, despite that fact the our home has started to smell like a cheap brothel, every time I hear the psst of the fragrance dispenser my heart swells!
Monkey quietly approached me a week or so after my birthday, ‘Mumma’, she said, ‘It is OK if you turn the machine off sometimes.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’
She leaned in close, looking me straight in the eyes. ‘Because we both know it doesn’t smell very nice, does it? I don’t think the TV was right!’
I love you my beautiful, smart, baby girl. You are FABULOUS!
Here in Lao, as in many parts of the World, it is Summer Holidays. Coming from Australia, I find this hard to digest. Summer, as far as I am concerned, is December/ January. It is soaring temperatures and expeditions to the beach, Christmas, New Year!
July/August should be cold and wet, I should be accessorising with an assortment of fabulous scarves and battling chilling winds. Instead, Laos is giving me ferocious storms, 100% humidity and hot, hot, heat!
‘Summer Holidays’ meant nothing to me until I had children… and those children started going to school… and school- decided that for 8 weeks, ‘over summer’, I would be responsible for my offspring 24hrs-a-day, 7-days-a-week.
For fucks sake! SERIOUSLY!
So here I am, almost one week into the ‘Summer’… again! What a strange time. What a pot-luck of highs and lows.
The best part has been waking up in the morning and not having to cajole, humour, threaten, bribe and yell to get us all out the door – preferably fed, cleaned and dressed – before 7:45am each morning. Instead, there have been long morning cuddles and leisurely showers, albeit with a toddler and two little people sharing the bathroom with me.
Watching Monkey and Pigeon play with their little sister, chasing her around the house as she squeals with delight, dancing together, smashing the poor keys on our keyboard to create a sisterly symphony of tuneless noise, more squeals of delight… I find myself clutching my chest as it bursts with love and pride.
What’s more, for the most part, I find myself enjoying the company of my older daughters.
This week we have had our hair cut, our nails done, we have seen a contemporary dance performance. There have been several play dates, a shopping expedition across the boarder into Thailand. They have crafted and painted and made cookies and swum. There has been a trip to the Dentist and several trips to the clinic for a variety of ailments. We have even had a wart removed (I won’t say who or from where!!). We have been really busy and it has been fun.
But by this afternoon, we were all exhausted. Chilli was doing circle work and walking into walls well before 6pm. Pigeon, who had nothing left to give, lay on her bed in the fetal position weeping because, “My eyes are too tired and my nose won’t let me sleep!”.
But it was my eldest who was the most impressive. Around 4pm this afternoon, Monkey morphed into Demonspawn. Two award-winning tantrums in as many hours. She bulls-eyed just about every button she chose to push. She fell asleep, wailing even until her final moments of consciousness, I practically sculled three-quarters of a bottle of red wine and sat in the dark for over an hour before the call of nature dragged me out of my catatonic stupor.
… and this is only week one… fabulous!
Thanks for reading… I make no promises about writing again until the “Summer” ends, but it is good to know you are here if I need you.
Last week was pretty bloody miserable. There were more bodily fluids violently ejected from little bodies than in Monty Python’s “The meaning of Life”. My mother, who is visiting, was overcome by a series of illnesses, culminating in something called tri-geminal neuralgia. This left her incapacitated and plagued with absurd facial spasms that would have been funny had they not been so obviously painful.
I was not immune from whatever horrid bug has been working it’s way through our household. For the record, I can confirm that nausea and cramping are even less pleasant when your abdomen is still healing from major surgery.
Around the time this plague of misery descended on our Big Wooden House, G left for a series of meetings in Australia. Let’s just say I didn’t accept his absence graciously!
In the midst of it all I had to attend a series of handover meetings for a new (temporary) job, which involved juggling sick kids and popping pills to ease my own symptoms so that I could endure the hideously dull training sessions without hurling.
I would love to say I kept my sense of humour throughout. I didn’t! I was grumpy and, on more than one occasion, indulged in a little late-night pity-party for one.
I would love to say I tended my sick brood with only compassion and tenderness but the truth is that there were moments when I just wanted my exhausted, hungry, miserable. clingy, vomiting toddler to leave me alone for five minutes.
There is no denying that the last week sucked. We all hate it when Daddy is away. Sick children break your heart. Vomit smells bad. Dettol smells worse. Feeling sick is… well… feeling sick.
But here’s the thing…
The last few days didn’t suck.
Unexpectedly, Daddy’s trip was shortened and he arrived home early. I missed him so much. His return made all his girls so happy.
I have not opened a Dettol bottle since Monday. Could it be we are all on the mend?
Going to work hasn’t been too bad. Despite the gear change it will mean for out household, I think it might be fun.
I have to admit to having some strange and conflicting emotions as I packed my bags to return home on Friday. I was nervous and a little reluctant. That made me feel guilty, of course!
I was nervous because sometimes expectations can be out of touch with reality. I knew the Princesses had missed me and we had been counting down the days during our nightly Skype calls. They were really looking forward to my return but what if the reality of having mummy back was not all it was cracked up to be. After all, mummy makes them eat their vegetables, go to bed early and sleep in their own beds.
I was reluctant because, still recovering from surgery, I really am unable to lift and carry or run after the children in any real way. I can’t even drive a car just yet. I worried that I would overdo things or become frustrated by my uselessness.
I was guilty. Despite the surgery and being an invalid for most of my two weeks away, I LOVED my time to myself. I am very extroverted and usually get quite bored and lonely after a couple of days on my own but this time I had revelled in my isolation. For the last few days, at least, I had spoilt myself rotten. A pedicure one day. A facial the next. A massage. I even took myself to the cinema to see Iron Man 3… in 3D. A little shopping. Reading. Catching up on TV…. and here is the kicker, eight (or more) uninterrupted hours of blissful slumber every night for 10 days (I don’t count the days I was in hospital – though there is also something very special about that morphine induced haze).
I arrived at Vientiane airport just after lunch, cleared immigration and organised some assistance to heave my excess baggage (I did mention the shopping didn’t I) onto a trolley. I could see my mother waiting just beyond the automatic doors. We waved and I turned away to search the carousel for my suitcase. I heard mum call my name again, turned to peek through the doors and this time I saw my baby girl.
My heart skipped a beat. I had to catch my breath and blink back unexpected tears.
Suddenly, everything was taking too long and the ten metres between me and my precious daughter seemed like an ocean. I practically bounced out of baggage collection, I was so excited to see her.
For a moment when she saw me Chilli was confused, then recognition, a smile and a squeal. She held out her arms. I couldn’t help myself. Despite the medical advice, I took hold of my baby. She laid her head on my shoulder and I hugged her tight….
When I picked up Pigeon from school she rushed into my open arms:
“How many days were you away, mama?”
“Well, I will hug you for 14 days until I let you go.”
“Works for me Pigeon”, her arms wrapped tightly around my neck.
Monkey was a little more pragmatic.
“Can I see your scar!”
Then all afternoon, gentle kisses, tender moments, reassuring hugs or a quick squeeze of the hand…” just making sure you’re OK mum” … just making sure you’re still here.
Way to make a girl feel special!
I was unexpectedly taken aback when daddy got home too, found a lump in my throat when I first saw him.
So now I am home. I am frustrated by the short-term physical limitations but they are liberating too. It is a rare joy to just sit and be while the chaos whirls around me. When the skies darkened and the rains fell on Saturday morning, the girls danced and I sat and soaked up my family…
It won’t be long before things are back to normal and I am back to being a full-time, full-on parent but for now it is nice relinquishing some responsibility, being the passenger rather than the driver (literally).
Something fabulous happened to me a couple of weeks ago, a profound and permanent shift in my self perception.
I BECAME a mother-of-three daughters.
Yes… I am fully aware that Chilli was born 17 months ago. I have loved her and her crooked little smile since the day she was born. But that doesn’t change the fact that until two weeks ago, deep in my heart, at the core of my being, in my marrow, I didn’t really integrate her existence into what I defined as ‘my family’.
After she was born I felt like I was leading a double life. I had a baby to care for. She was mine and I loved her. For the first six months she and I slept together in the nursery. I will treasure forever the memory of that time, her nestled in the crook of my arm all squishy and precious, nursing her in the twilight. She was my tiny, pink treasure, my secret love affair.
In the morning, I would get up and take care of my family, G and my two smart, intuitive, magnificent daughters. If I was lucky, ‘the baby’ would sleep until ‘the big girls’ had left for school so that I didn’t have to try and juggle the two… they were the good days.
Afternoons and evenings, weekends, holidays… those things were a little more difficult to handle. Somehow I was expected to integrate the two elements of my life into a cohesive whole. After a while, things got messy and the affair started to sour. The baby got in the way of my family time, The family got in the way of my time with the baby. There was absolutely no possibility of any ‘me’ time.
I resented everyone.
I yelled too much.
I cried alone.
When the baby was about 8 months old, I travelled, with the girls, to Australia for what I fondly call the shit fucked disaster misery tour. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps flying home for three weeks without G was a bit of a stupid idea, especially when I was already wrestling with the darkness. Add a little family drama and an unexpected illness, the trip was an emotional marathon – long, lonely and relentless.
It wasn’t all bad. Monkey and Pigeon reminded me again and again what extraordinary, resilient, fabulous girls they are. We made a good team. The baby started to crawl. We spent lots of time in Australia’s wonderful public parks. I saw old friends. I made some decisions that would change my life, including meeting a lady who would help me change my perspective (big ups to you Sue Lester).
One of the first things I talked about with Sue was my conflicted feelings about the baby. I love the baby. I never wanted the baby. I resent having a baby. I love the baby… round and round in ever decreasing circles of pointless negativity.
She asked me to do a very simple thing.
“Start using her name, Pip.”
(…and the tears roll down my face, again!)
“Anchali, I love you.”
So Chilli became a person. She became her own person. Chilli REALLY liked that. Chilli the unique, wicked, funny, happy, little person. Chilli started walk and talk, express opinions… loudly! Chilli, the little sister, started terrorising her siblings.
Yet, despite all that, and my love for her, she was not a part of ‘my family’. Crazy, I know, but true. It was like I had two images – cute baby/ happy family -and I just couldn’t photoshop them together.
Locating my children in the playground, or at a party, I counted like this – one, two… tick! one… tick!
When asked, “How many children do you have?”
Well, I have two daughters… and then there is this toddler that lives in our house. She is really adorable and I love her to pieces. I gave birth to her. So I guess that means in total, altogether, if you really get down to it, um… three… “I have three children!”
Did it have to be so hard? Was it going to be like this forever? I worried. What was wrong with me? My youngest child was over a year old. I still had to consciously add her the tally when I counted my kids.
Patience… not my greatest strength… I waited!
…and then, two weeks ago…
Lao and Thailand were celebrating Bpii Mai, the biggest holiday of the year. G had taken some time off. Our family (including my mother, who had just arrived from Australia) packed up the super- sexy, Kia Carnival for a road trip across the Mekong into Thailand.
The Isaan region is home to some of the best Som Tum, Gai Yang and Kaw Niaw (Papaya Salad, Fried Chicken and Sticky Rice) in the world so it would have been remiss not to stop at what was hailed as the best Gai Yang shop in Isaan. We had been driving for almost 4 hours. Everyone was hungry and grumpy and needing to go to the toilet. I parked the car, shut off the engine, started unloading the kids… one… two… three!
I did a mental double take. It must have been a mistake, I was tired after all and mentally drained. I had just spent several hours driving my LHD car in RHD Thailand. No reason to get too exited.
We negotiated our way through the car park and I wrangled the girls safely inside the restaurant… Monkey, one… Chilli, two… where is three? Daddy rushed her to the toilet, no worries. Three! I did it again.
Seated, I looked around the table. Pigeon was discussing the relative merits of ‘busy’ water vs normal water with her dad (busy = fizzy). Monkey was organising her place at the table; plate goes here, cup here, fried chicken here, napkins here. Chilli was sitting on her grandmother’s lap stuffing her face with fistfuls of sticky rice. Everyone was laughing and eating. This was my family. These three magnificent little girls were my daughters. I choked back tears of gratitude.
That afternoon we set up camp… in a nice hotel… with a pool… in the middle of the red light district… in Khon Kaen… and our family hung out for the duration of the 4 day celebrations. Over and over again I kept including Chilli in my mental family stocktake. It was effortless.
My mum’s room was down the hall from ours. My heart could have burst as I watched my three girls, hand-in-hand, Chilli in the middle, toddling down the hall to check on YayYay before breakfast.
My three girls!
Easy as that.
Finally, after all this time, a mother-of-three.
This was a lovely week for goods news. Two different friends are expanding their brood and expecting their second child. Congratulations! Enjoy the ride. It will all fall into place and when it does it will be FABULOUS!
Thanks for reading. I would love to hear from you. Comment, like, share, follow, or do nothing. You were here. You’re fabulous!
… because it is Friday night and I have achieved NOTHING I wanted to achieve this week and honestly, it is all my daughter’s fault. If she wasn’t so totally adorable I don’t know that I would keep her.
Granted she is only 15-months-old and one would THINK she isn’t capable of consciously ruining my life but I have a sneaking suspicion she knows exactly what she is doing.
Today, Chilli has torn up Monkey’s homework, ripped the legs off her other sisters favourite doll, eaten dirty cat litter, posted the entire contents of the dirty clothes basket into the toilet, thrown her father’s thong (don’t go there…I mean shoe, not underwear) into the fish pond and twice tried to launch herself off our four-metre high balcony.
She is a two-foot tall terrorist. I gotta keep one step ahead at all times. She targets the people and things that I love. She is a fanatic – maximum damage, maximum impact. She is fast and she is determined. I live in fear… and she knows it… and she loves it. (Look at that smile, SHE LOVES IT)
Well, I don’t love it. I hate it. Taking care of my toddler is frustrating and boring and mundane and far too often involves cleaning up things that smell really fucking bad.
I love my baby girl. Her smile, crooked and knowing, is my light. Her cuddles, frequent and fierce, are my warmth. She brings me untold joy. But on days like today, when it all gets too much and I think I am going to implode with the frustration and boredom and smell, I fantasise about what life would be like if she hadn’t been born and I weep for those lost opportunities.
To quote one of my favourite comedians Louis C.K.
You look at the face of your beautiful, lovely child and you think two things at the exact same time. I love this kid so much that it has changed my whole life, I love other people more because of how much I love her… she’s completely given value to life that didn’t exist before… and I regret every decision that lead to her birth!
Can I have those thoughts about my own child? Can I reconcile those feelings? Can I be honest about the ambivalence that I feel and not be vilified?
I don’t know the answer to the third question but to the first two, yes and yes!
If I am honest (and in this space I am) I don’t think I have really reconciled myself to the fact that I have THREE children or to the fact that, at 40, I am chasing a toddler again. It is going to take some work on my part to accept that new definition of me but that is OK because ambivalence and conflicted emotions and frustration and boredom and things that smell fucking terrible are what makes being a mum so fabulous.
The baby is crying (seriously) so I’m going to post this now and go and hold her in my arms until she is comforted back to sleep, because I love her and I am lucky to be her mum.
Goodnight. Thanks for reading.
If you thought reading this wasn’t a complete waste of time please press ‘like’ or ‘follow’ or something, cos that makes me feel fabulous.