On the hunt for yabbies

Photo of a child walking towards a damI'm not sure whether it was the grand master recipe tester (AKA Grandpa) or the junior recipe testers who suggested it. But somehow, on our weekend away at the farm, a trip to the dam to fish for yabbies was suggested. Suddenly everyone seemed to think it was a good idea. Or at least the juniors did. We're still not certain about the grand master's enthusiasm. He got outvoted.

Apparently, there are yabbies in the dam. We know this because yabby claws have been sighted at it's edges. One farm guest thought it a good idea to pack a few yabby claws into a little ziplock bag, usually reserved for the transporting of sandwiches. His mother learned there were yabbies when she trod on those same claws. In the dark. On the bedroom floor. No longer in the bag.

The party set out. It was a three year old fisherman who found the snake sunning itself near the dam. He immediately turned and ran, completely hysterical. The fishing trip was briefly suspended while someone found a large stick to move the offending reptile away from the anglers. Something then had to be done about the hysterical junior.

Eventually, Grandpa was able to set about organising yabby lines for the seven junior recipe testers there present. Each line consisted of a long piece of bright pink, easy-to-see-in-long-grass-and-murky-water string. The bait was small pieces of beef retrieved before they went in the pot for dinner. Grandpa had to tie all the knots because no one else was capable. Some refused to touch raw meat.

Here's how it went.

One junior recipe tester cast out, missing the dam entirely and socking himself in the eye with a piece of raw meat. Another created a spaghetti junction, wrapping the entire length of his arm in pink string and rendering himself unable to bend his elbow.

A third junior left the line on the bank and hurled an occy strap into the water. It didn't have any meat on it.

One junior fell into the dam. While wading back towards the edge he reassured anyone who was listening that his clothes weren't all that wet.

The last cast saw the line, bait and all, completely detached from the sportsperson who flung it, in the middle of the dam.

We highly suspect that this was the line that caught the yabby.

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The five stages of exiting

In 1969, pre-eminent psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published her model of grief, popularly known as the five stages of grief. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Recently, it has occurred to me that this model not only applies to the experience of illness and dying. It is equally descriptive when considering the five stages of exiting the house in the morning. 

Upon this realisation, I began conducting my own empirical studies, approximately 4-5 times a week. The study, an action research project in which I am an unwilling and entrapped participant, commences usually just after breakfast, sometime between 7.20 and 7.30 each morning.

It is at this time that I announce to the junior recipe testers what time we will depart for their place of formal education. I then ask them to get ready. My field notes, and their relevance to Kubler-Ross' theory, are found below.

The juniors immediate response to my announcement is denial. They deny that there is any need to go to school, that it is a school day, or that I made any suggestion that I was, in fact, going to take them to school given that it was, indeed, a school day.

Once it is undeniably established that they do actually need to go to school, denial shifts to the need to get dressed. Dressing, it seems, is optional. Nice to have, but not needed in their minds.

This stage of denial routinely accompanies a lot of huffing and whining. Protests range from a lack of readiness to wear a button up shirt to complaints that having to tie up two shoelaces makes ones arms unbearably tired and sore.

It is usually me who passes through the next stage of anger. I repeat my requests to dress and ready themselves, often through increasingly gritted teeth. On really desperate mornings, I bargain how many shoelaces I will tie vs how many the juniors will tie if only they will don the shoes in the first place.

If I'm very honest, and anthropological notes should always, if nothing else, be honest, some days I shout. More than I like to admit.

I then begin bargaining. I am not very good at this. My bargaining often sounds more like threatening. Then it becomes less like bargaining and rather resembles begging. Pleading perhaps.

Depression is a shared stage. I am usually depressed that we will never get out the front door and that you will never have any dinners cooked for you. I am miserable at the calls I will receive from first the school, then child protection services investigating why my junior recipe testers are not deposited at school.

Down the hall, the juniors become more and more depressed with the growing recognition that they may perhaps have to leave the house and go to their place of formal education. Perhaps in their pyjamas.

Finally there is some acceptance. I accept that I am never going to leave the four walls of our house. I accept I cannot convince my junior recipe testers to dress themselves, clean their teeth or make their beds. I make peace that I will never convince the juniors that two feet, resulting in two sets of shoelaces, can be managed with just one set of arms.

With a heavy sigh I refill the kettle to make another cup of tea.

At that point, the juniors emerge into the kitchen, ready to leave for school...

Boys are born competent. Girls have to prove they are

"Boys are born competent. Girls have to prove they are," someone once said to me. I was horrified. Surely that wasn't true?

Last week I attended the junior recipe testers' swimming carnival. I helped with timekeeping, which was both fun and nerve-wracking in equal measure. My juniors swam in their age races, I got to watch and cheer from close quarters, and while neither are currently showing promise as the next Australian champion, they both did well.

My daughter did very well in her age group, recording one of the fastest freestyle times for her age, and the fastest for her house. This qualified her for the 4 x 50m relay. My son also qualified, although not as far up the list as his sister.

When the relays were called up her name was top of the list. She looked panic stricken. "I don't want to go in a relay!" she implored.

At that moment I couldn't have known the what would follow. Over the following few hours she and I would span the emotional rainbow: tears, tantrums, shouting and sobbing. Eventually it came out: she was worried she wasn't good enough and would let the team down.

My son swam for his team without a second thought.

My heart broke. Her anguish was palpable and there was nothing I could say to either change her mind or convince her of her value to her team.

My blood boiled. Why do we live in a world where competent, very young women question their competence, in a way that our very young men do not? As a mother, what was I doing wrong?

"Am I good enough?" is asked by many women: the young and the not-so-young. For the first two years of Dinner on the Table's existence I felt physically ill every time I went into the kitchen. There. I've said it. Out loud.

I am privileged, I am educated and I am accomplished. And for 730 days I was hamstrung by a fear that I wasn't good enough, that I was a phoney, that one day I'd be found out for a fraud. No one told me I was hopeless, as far as I can recall. That was my conclusion. I'm not proud of it, but there you have it.

"Am I good enough?" is one thing. "Are you good enough?" is a different question entirely.

Women with disabilities may routinely be told they are incompetent: they will never hold down a job, could never care for a child, never hope to have a relationship with someone who cares about them deeply. There's no expectation they'll do the things their non-disabled sisters will do.

Women who care for a child with a disability may be told their child is worthless. The competence of mothers like Natalie may be challenged because she loved, and cared for her child. The cruel argument generally goes something like, "What sane woman could love a child like that?"

When Amanda found out she was pregnant with twins I sat with her and helped her understand her ultrasound report. She allowed me to walk with her during her journey from woman to mother. I watched her make difficult, sometimes painful, decisions in the best interests of her unborn children.

Amanda, who has a moderate intellectual disability, is a success story. Told she was incompetent for much of her life, a key few people believed in her when her babies were born. Amanda surrounded herself with people who recognised and supported her ability to mother her children. And they rolled up their sleeves and helped her do just that.

The voices of women like Amanda and Natalie are seldom heard. These women must daily prove their competence in the face of others who assume their incompetence. Those questions may be less an internal demon, and more an external threat.

I continued cooking because I was convinced that we can change the daily lives of vulnerable women, and their families, by understanding their experiences, and supporting them differently.

I remain convinced. 

Turning into my mother, fixing a toilet at 3am, and the perils of flexible work

I think I'm turning into my mother.

Now, I should clarify I like my mother. A lot. There are great many characteristics of hers that I should like to emulate. Her sleeping habits are not one of them.

When I was a teenager my mum could never seem to sleep an entire night. She would wake anywhere between 2am and 4am and look at the ceiling for hours. I couldn't understand it. She was tired... nay, she was exhausted. She worked for both love, caring for 4 children, and money, in a job she enjoyed. I considered her sleeping issues ridiculous. And perhaps evidence of a character flaw.

I've changed my mind.

Now, with irritating regularity, I wake up between 2am and 4am and look at the ceiling. Sometimes for hours.

The other night, one of the junior recipe testers woke up to go to the loo. That was enough to wake me up. And so the ceiling watching commenced. 

He put himself back to bed, with neither incident nor need for assistance, and I tried to go back to sleep. The toilet finished flushing and continued to fill itself. And fill. And fill. And gurgle. And fill some more. And sound like it was flushing again.

It was killing me. So, seeing as I was awake, I thought I'd get up and fix it. I jiggled the button. I flushed. I jiggled some more. I flushed some more. It was hopeless.

To save getting a set of screwdrivers out at 3am, I sought an alternate plan. I left the bathroom, firmly closing the door behind me. The door handle came off in my hand. I stood in the dark, clutching the handle for a few moments, considering my next course of action. I thought about getting the screwdrivers after all, but frankly, couldn't be bothered, and went back to bed.

I eventually dozed off right before a predawn wailing commenced in the hallway outside the bathroom. A desperate junior was standing at the bathroom door, his hand clamped in the, um... clamping position when desperation looms large.

"I'm busting!" he bellowed, "And I can't get into the bathroom." What followed might have come straight from a Goldilocks sequel: "Someone has broken the door handle right off!!!!"

I left him there, clamp in place, and ran for the screwdriver set.

In the last few weeks, researchers in the UK have released their findings that full-time working mothers experienced chronic stress levels 40% higher than women who had no children. Based on a study of over 6,000 women, flexible work arrangements did reduce stress, but only when mothers were working part-time or reduced hours.

Here in Australia, researchers from the University of Sydney agree. But it's not just the hours we putting in at work. It's the hours we're putting in at home. Household labour is not equally divided: women shoulder more. But this isn't about bashing the senior recipe testers we know and love: there are plenty of challenges for them participating in the way they might like.

As I hunted for screwdrivers, praying I could fix the doorknob before the impending flood, I wondered whether flexible work hours sometimes just mean we work all the hours? Like, day and night?

We keep talking about how we should bridge the gender divide when it comes to home and care work. Sometimes we berate our men to do more. But the gap remains.

Other times we implore our employers to provide our partners with better access to work flexibility (Crabb, 2015) so they can be more engaged with their children, with the local school, with the work of running a household. But it still hasn't happened, to the detriment of us all.

And so I have begun to wonder what would happen if employers were prepared to pitch in at home? Will we find employers brave enough to roll up their sleeves and take on some of the work at home?

Sore boobs, the smell of wet sheep and a Happy New Year!

It's 2019. Already. We're so excited to be back in the kitchen for 2019, cooking for you.

I love the Christmas and New Year period. But on reflection through January, I do feel that there are some things I will do differently this year...

Seems every year, on Christmas Eve
That all good sense just ups and leaves
Although I swore we never would
We joined that martyred parent-hood

Of those who stay up far too late
Constructing toys with long debate
Why do we always feel the squeeze
To get things done by Christmas Eve?

I meant to get the carpets clean
During the year, but time was lean
On eve of Christmas. Hip hooray!
"Last chance," I thought, "Today's the day!"

A man arrived, a friendly chap
Took out his hose, hooked up the tap
And in a jiffy he had steamed
The carpets new - they simply gleamed!

"In time for Christmas!" it's bewitchin'
Our furniture piled in the kitchen
I hadn't quite considered yet
The Christmas prep. With wet car-pet.

How does one get a pudding cooked,
While climbing over case of books?
The gifts placed under tree, it's true
Just soak up lots of floor shampoo!

Come faithful ye, glad tidings keep
Our house now smelled of wetted sheep
And yet with Santa in the sky
We'd more to do, with Christmas nigh.

'Twas VERY late on Christmas Eve
We built the kids a trampoline
After searching all the things
We chose the one without the springs

The one that's tricky to erect
Even with strong arms, I quite suspect
But full of hope, the prize in sight
We headed out into the night.

Now let me tell you, let me say
Those tramps are hard in light of day
But I assure you, my words mark
They're even harder in the dark!

We toiled and laboured, watched YouTube
One spring sprung free and whacked my boob
It wasn't really all that fun - 
At last we got the bugger done.

We paused, each to congratulate
By now, it was so very late;
But one small flaw, there was no doubt
The net, it seemed, was inside out.

The juniors, tucked in bed, none heard
I said a lot of naughty words
And so instead of rest and play
We built again on Boxing Day.

From us, we wish you all good cheer
Can't wait to serve you this new year
For me, the break has taught me this
Start sooner on the Christmas list.

Trying to help

I feel certain that the dog would not have bitten the senior recipe tester. That is, if the dog had not thought the senior had pushed it down the stairs.

The senior, it should be said, is not prone to violent acts, towards cute furry animals nor anyone else for that matter. Yet this poor creature saw need to attack the senior's ankle in rather a vicious, blood-drawing fashion.

Shortly after it fell down its own front stairs.

Surely, if it had not fallen down the stairs it wouldn't have even considered that the senior recipe tester had pushed it.

If the dog had not gone out of his front door it would not have fallen down the stairs.

If the senior had not summoned the dog's owner to his front door, the dog would not have escaped out of said door that morning.

If the senior had not needed to turn off the water to the house of the dog owner, he would have had no need to summon the owner to his front door.

If the dog owner's dripping tap had not gone from dripping to steadily running, the senior would not have had need to turn off the water to someone else's house.

If the tap's washer had been changed sooner, the tap would not have gone from dripping to steadily running.

If a large volume of water had not have been running through the retaining wall between our house and their house, the senior might never have considered that the tap's washer should have been changed sooner.

If a large puddle had not developed on our driveway, the senior might never have realised that there was a steady stream of water continuously running through the retaining wall.

If the senior had not driven the car through a hitherto unnoticed large puddle of water on our driveway...

well then, the senior recipe tester would not have been bitten by a dog.

The maintenance of general personal hygiene

I know I don't have it as tough as my grandmother, or her grandmother. Most certainly not as difficult as her grandmother. Modern appliances make the washing of clothes, and therefore the maintenance of general personal hygiene, much simpler than in years gone by.

Until said appliances decide they cannot possibly go on.

Clothes washing in our house is more or less a daily necessity. Late last week, as many days before it, I put a load on, slammed the laundry door, and hastened to the kitchen for breakfast. Some time after breakfast the senior recipe tester went in to the laundry to see if the load was done. One of the junior recipe testers, predictably, had no clean school shirt.

A strange groaning noise emerged from the laundry. The washing machine lights were blinking wildly. "Um," bellowed the senior. "Do you know what F11 means?"

The digital display indicated the washing machine was having an F11. It also sounded like it was having a hernia. The school uniform that needed to be washed, dried, ironed, on the body and out the door was resolutely trapped within the machine. 

We pondered the situation for a moment. The senior threatened to have an F11 of his own. The junior started wailing about what was he going to wear to school. I seriously considered the dinosaur pyjamas he was wearing at the time.

We averted the uniform crisis with the donning of the sports uniform wrested from the drawer. The noise coming out of the washing machine was quieted by opening a valve on the machine near the floor.

The opening the valve required a large bucket, a significant number of beach towels and the opening of the back door to deal with any left over tsunami that escaped past the beach towels.

We all got out the door with my promise to contact a person to come and pay attention to the machine.

As soon as I got to work I dialled the first number on the repairers list. "I think I have a problem with the pump on my washing machine."

"Right." came the friendly reply. "We can come and see about it next Thursday."

"As in, more than a week away?"

"Yes."

"But I'm going to run out of clean undies by the weekend."

Weirdly, there was no response.

"Are you sure you can't come any sooner than that?" I enquired.

"No."

I rang the next repairer on my list.

"I'm sorry, we no longer service that brand."

I rang another repairer.

"We've never serviced that brand."

I rang yet another repairer.

"I don't know anyone who services that brand in this area. Perhaps if you lived somewhere else..." I may have hung up before she finished.

My patience was wearing a little thin. I rang the appliance shop where we purchased the machine to ask for advice on who to call. They gave me the number of the manufacturer and suggested I ask for a recommended repairer.

This seemed very sensible. I phoned them.

"No problem."

"Thank heavens," I replied.

"Let me look you up in our system. It would have been logged for warranty purposes when you purchased the machine. What was the name?"

We went through the usual suspects, name, phone number, address but nothing appeared on the kindly woman's screen. "The only thing I have here is a dishwasher," she said.

"Yes, we have a dishwasher of the same brand, but it's the washing machine that has had it."

"Could it have been purchased at another address, or under another name?"

We went through the senior recipe tester's name, same address details, and his phone number. "No, it's not coming up at all."

I am often grateful to strangers for teaching me things I did not know before. I was sorry that this woman was not able to tell me what brand of washing machine was actually sitting in my laundry, that I purchased approximately 5 years ago, and have used daily since. I am grateful to know which brand it isn't.

I called the first repairer on my list.