Family assistance

Image of lots of pairs of gumboots lined up against the side of the houseWhen you start something new there are often people in your life who want to pass comment on the wisdom of your choices; on how well you're doing. Or not. They may offer sage advice. Or not. Or they may simply want to help. With many of these people you may share a name, or other genetic material. Their assistance may be highly assistive. Or not.

A few weeks ago we were away for a few days with members of my extended family. Not wanting to miss a prime opportunity, I decided to test out on them a recipe that I may decide to cook for you one day.

One afternoon I cooked. In the evening, when the chaos of trying to feed eight junior recipe testers, a number of whom were unable to feed themselves had subsided, the more senior recipe testers sat down to eat.

Comment was passed on the aesthetic of the dish, the aroma etc, and all comments were complimentary. It was looking positive. Seated at the table was a photographer. Not just any photographer, but one who takes beautiful photos. And not just any photos, those that appear on this website. (Apart from the odd dodgy one taken by yours truly in desperation). Handy that he was there, I thought. Given that if this dinner was to make it to the menu, we'd need a product shot, I might have casually mentioned just that.

His response was less enthusiastic than my suggestion. And then it started. Eating together is a family activity to be enjoyed. Photographing the food before you eat it should never be attempted as a family activity.

First, there were endless comments about the state of the lighting. I'll summarise for you: it sucked.

Second, there was the small issue of the table on which the dish sat. On this, he had a point. We were seated at the same table, with the same tablecloth, that had serviced a gaggle of juniors. It looked like a Pro Hart experiment.

To counter the problems of said tablecloth, we then began fetching props. First, a clean tea towel to sit under the dish. No not, that one. Haven't you got something in another colour? That one's got a stain on it. What about a piece of fruit to sit alongside for colour and interest? That piece of fruit is bruised. That one has a junior sized bite out of it. Who put that back in the fruit bowl? Can you turn it so you can't see the dodgy bit? What about a knife? Set it up as a flat-lay. What on earth is a flat-lay? Can we eat yet? NO!!!

In desperation, one diner decided to take matters into his own hands and made a grab for the camera. He reasoned that he, in fact, had a better angle on the subject, could take a shot and then, at last, we could eat.

In a rare break with tradition to include more than one photo in a blog, I feel it incumbent upon me to share the photo that was eventually taken.

 Blurred image of a thumb

One day I will cook you another new dinner. It will look nothing like a blobby thumb.

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Pinterest girl wannabe

I am not a natural Pinterest girl. I am a Pinterest girl wannabe. I do like a good hair-brained scheme, and I am learning that Pinterest is a veritable treasure trove of creative ideas. And, some years after I created a Pinterest profile, I can now reliably pin something and find it again later. 

Without having to google how to do that.

This weekend we hosted a sleepover birthday party for a newly 9 year old junior recipe tester. Quite late in the planning I thought it would be fun to turn our lounge room, into which 7 juniors were sardined, into a tent. Turns out that tent pegs and carpet aren't a thing, and so I settled for the creation of a canopy instead.

I turned to Pinterest. All that was required was to rig up a canopy to hang below the ceiling. 

Turns out you can create and achieve anything, given an appropriate amount of time. Time, I was a little short on. This week we cooked for His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales at a wonderful 40th anniversary celebration at Interaction (more on that soon!)

With His Excellency and the other dignitaries served, I turned my attention to the celebration closer to, or rather in my, home. The party was due to commence at 4.30pm. The juniors required collection from their educational institution at 3.10pm. At 1.42pm I raced to Spotlight and purchased a curtain stretch wire, 2 pre made curtains and a bunch of paper lanterns. What could possibly go wrong?

I returned home at 2.14 pm, congratulating myself that I had almost a full hour to redecorate. To hang the wire I located the first wall stud, just below the ceiling and screwed the hook into the wall. I measured the stretch wire required and cut it to length. Veritably crowing at my DIY prowess I still had about 35mins remaining.

The second wall stud was, perhaps predictably given the time constraints, much tricker to locate. I climbed the ladder and hammered a lot of nails into the plaster board. I knocked on the wall endlessly. I did not locate anything solid behind the gyprock.

Because the task required the inspection of a lot of very small holes, and because my eyes have out aged my willingness to hammer things, I now have glasses. I climbed down the ladder to don said glasses. Because there is nothing wrong with my distance vision, the glasses made the ladder steps look lumpy. This, by the time I was again atop the ladder, made me feel woozy.

Because the nailing, locating and screwing of hooks required both hands there was none left to clutch the ladder until the wooziness subsided. I settled for standing on tippy toes, pressing my head into the ceiling to steady myself. I am relieved to report I did not fall down.

With the curtains finally hung I started stringing up paper lanterns. To get around the curtains I had to stitch them through the curtain and around the wire. This necessitated climbing the ladder with a sewing needle and thread in hand.

Threading the needle and stitching the lanterns around the wire was difficult without my glasses. Climbing the ladder was difficult with my glasses. Sewing lanterns to suspended wires requires two hands. Dealing with wooziness atop a ladder requires at least one hand free.

All of the above can be combated with the courage to stand on tippy toes at the top of a ladder and pressing your head into the ceiling to steady yourself. None of this is mentioned in any Pinterest project that I have thus far found.

No. I am not a natural Pinterest girl.

 

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.