The cost of care

Six hands

It is oft said that parenting involves sacrifice. I don't think there are many who claim it easy. However, much less is said about the costs of being cared for.

According to a well-known Australian online parenting directory (as well as a host of scientific research) play between senior recipe testers and their juniors is good. It strengthens the relationship between the two. It fosters healthy recipe tester development... look it pretty much sorts out any problem you can think of.

'Right', thought the chief recipe tester and I. Caring parents play with their junior recipe testers. We reasoned we were caring parents. And so ignoring the personal costs to ourselves we played.

First up was a rousing game of tips. To increase the physical challenge, I decided tipping was not enough. I picked up a passing junior recipe tester and put him on the ground. His eyes bulged and then filled with tears. I then spent the next five minutes plucking bindiis from his hands. In my excitement I had failed to note the large patch of prickles I plonked him in.

We abandoned this activity and turned to bike riding. Safety first though: all junior recipe testers were fitted with their helmets. Noting the incorrect position of one helmet I sought to redress the misplacement. I inadvertently poked her in the eye. It appears that monocular vision makes bike riding difficult.

Outdoor play, while supposedly beneficial, appeared a little dangerous. We moved indoors. The chief recipe tester, fearing for the well-being of his now wounded offspring, took charge. Noting the many tripping hazards on the playroom floor he set to make the space safer. He promptly commenced bulldozing toys with his foot. This, he reasoned, would get them out of the path of the oncoming recipe testers lest they trip and fall. Quite right. Until he slipped. And accidentally kicked a junior recipe tester on his way down...

If the cost of caring is taking it out of you (or your offspring) let us take care of dinner. Here's what we're cooking next week.

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The week that is

Boy in a green arm cast with his foot on a soccer ball

This week has almost got me beaten. Almost. That I'm here typing is evidence. That I wince from time to time as I type is just a symptom of this week. This afternoon I dropped my big kitchen grill plate on my finger. Setting up a new big kitchen, I am discovering, requires the moving of equipment from here to there and then back again.

The grill plate is very heavy. My finger is not. My finger is slightly flatter than it was when I woke up this morning. My fingernail is purpling up nicely.

This week the senior recipe tester is in China. When, on Sunday night, I considered the activity of this week I thought China was an excellent choice. When he kissed me goodbye on Monday morning he did not offer to take me or the junior recipe testers with him.


Yesterday was the much anticipated day when the cast that went on the broken arm about six weeks ago could finally be doffed. As would be expected, the appointment at the clinic coincided with school photo day. I arrived at the junior's classroom to collect him and found his room empty. Of course, the junior would be having his photo taken right then.

I legged it across the playground, located the class, begged the photographer and shoved the junior in front of the blue merle school-photo screen for a mug shot. At some point, and not unusually for me, I removed my sunglasses and placed them on top of my head.

Photo complete, I grabbed the junior's good arm, and we ran across the playground. I attempted to put my sunglasses back over my eyes and found that the nose supports were well knotted into my hair. Without the time or patience to stop and sort it out, I sprinted across the playground with my sunnies and lengthy fringe slapping me in the chin. Like the purple nail, the bald patch will no doubt grow over soon.

We arrived at the hospital and waited in the queue at the administration counter. Announcing our arrival we were bid to present to the X-ray department. X-ray has a ticketing system, much like the deli. We took a ticket and waited. When our ticket was called we announced our arrival at the X-ray administration desk. We were then bid to wait until our name was called.

We waited.

The junior's name was called and he had an X-ray. We went back to the original clinic. This time there was a significant queue at the administration desk. 

We waited.

We got to the top of the registration queue and announced our return from X-ray. We were bid to wait until our name was called.

We waited.

Eventually the junior's name was called and we saw the physio. The cast was removed and a scrawny, somewhat grotty looking arm emerged. We found the blob of jam that inexplicably disappeared into the cast last week. It should also be noted that an arm that emerges from a cast after very many weeks smells like a foot.

We were then bid to return to the waiting area, where a doctor would at some point in the near, or not so near, future, call the junior's name.

We waited.

By the time the doctor called us we had waited such a time that the junior required a haircut. We went in to see the doctor. Mercifully, given the pong we had endured for the past few hours, she offered us a sink and a large quantity of soap.

"It's a little tricky to see what's going on through the cast," she said. "I'd like you to have another x-ray."

I may have given her a disparaging look. In my defence, when the cast was put on in the first place, perhaps by now some ten weeks earlier, we were informed that its great benefit was that an X-ray could be taken through it.

We headed back to X-ray and took a ticket.

We waited.

I wondered if, when the junior's hair was cut, there would be enough to cover my bald patch...

Is it really working mothers' fault... again?

Child eating Chicken & Leek Pie

Overweight and obesity is a significant public health concern. More than 60% of Australian adults are obese along with at least 25% of our children. So where do we apportion blame? Well, working mothers apparently.

We’re spending around 32% of our weekly budgets on takeaway food and eating out, according to a recent report by Deakin University. For Hungry Jacks owner and Domino’s Chairman Jack Cowin, this figure is directly attributable to women working more. Not his fault that the dinners he dishes up contribute to the national epidemic; it’s your fault for working.

Whacking working mothers yet again is boring. It particularly smarts when it comes from the head of a fast food chain with the worst scores on commitment to healthy eating in the country. The convenience food industry can do a better job of providing real, healthy food choices. We do. Every week. We’re also working closely with some forward thinking managers to provide meaningful support to their employees in the everyday juggle between work and home. Stay tuned… we can’t wait to tell you about it!

We know you struggle to cook a perfectly balanced dinner for your people every single night of the week. Because we do too. That’s why we appreciate it when someone cooks for us. We just demand convenient food that doesn’t make us or our kids feel miserable. And doesn’t contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Women's Agenda :…/women-are-working-so-were-ea…/

If you'd like to see the interview #abcthebusiness:…/extended-interview-with-jac…/9809328

Sweating the small stuff and frying the big fish

Aerial view of 32/7 Carrington Road Castle Hill

Tell me it's not just me? I mean the big deals, they can be pretty stressful. But it's the small stuff that can really push you over the edge. The small stuff uses up your emotional energy but sometimes there are bigger fish to fry.

One of the junior recipe testers needed a haircut. It should be said that the haircut was badly needed. The junior in question would put Australia's finest merino to shame. He wasn't overly chuffed with the idea of having his haircut, but his hair was ridiculous. Even the barber commented.

Haircut complete, he continued to grizzle about how he hated haircuts. And his smart new hair. Give me strength.

We finally got over it long enough to get home. Fortunately, because he now can't see his hair, he forgot about it. We carried on.

Some time later that day this particular junior took himself to the bathroom. At this point it should be noted that this is the junior who also has the broken arm. Tasks such as attending to one's personal hygiene needs are somewhat more difficult one-armed.

A short time passed and an enormous cry came from the bathroom. "He's fallen on the floor," I thought. "He's cracked his head open on the edge of the bath and is bleeding," was the next thing to enter my head. "Are you alright?" is what I shouted down the hall, picking up my pace.

"I hate my haircut!" came the response.

Standing up from the toilet the junior had caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror...

At this point I began to wonder how many years I'd get for grievous bodily harm.

It is these matters that consume my emotional energy. But this, you'll be pleased to learn, isn't the big fish we're frying...

The big news is Dinner on the Table is moving our kitchen. Our current premises on Seven Hills Road with the great kitchen and terrible parking has served us well for the past few years. But it's time to move on...

We're heading up the road to an exciting new premises in Castle Hill. You'll find us at Unit 32, 7 Carrington Road.

We'll have more space for cooking and more parking. This means that it'll be MUCH easier to pick up your dinners from our kitchen, and we can't wait to see you there. (And, stay tuned for some exciting new ways we're making it even easier to get dinner on your table.)

All this excitement means that for a short time we will need to pause deliveries while we get all our equipment out of our current home and into our new home. Order by 1pm Monday 28 May for delivery next week. All orders after this time will not be delivered until Tuesday 5 June.

We'll keep you posted about how we're going. Moving house is great... once it's done.

Work-life balance is a myth

Child in a school uniform holding a school bag with a green plaster cast and slingWork-life balance is a furphy.

There. I've said it. Out loud.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Or perhaps you made that discovery ages ago (and if you did, why didn't you tell me?)

I don't think that's the end of the story though. While it might not be balance, it just might be something else.

Last week I had the great fortune of spending three days in Melbourne as part of an incubator program for entrepreneurs. Fabulous. Great discussion. Great coffee. Great brain food. (Must remember to pack more black clothes for next trip).

The day before I was due to leave, the senior recipe tester had to travel to Brisbane for work.

His was a particularly early start, but no big drama. The junior recipe testers and I went about our usual Wednesday things, culminating in soccer training for two of them. Miraculously, training occurs for both juniors at the same park at a very similar time. And so, last Wednesday night, the four of us went.

About half way through training one of the juniors fell over. He did not get up. He howled. And could not readily be comforted. We sat about for a bit waiting for the comfort to kick in. It didn't much.

He was complaining bitterly of a very sore arm, and so in the end I thought perhaps I should seek some expert advice. A&E at the Children's Hospital seemed the most likely place to get the advice we needed.

With one howling junior on my hip I trudged back to the car. A good friend offered to take the other juniors home with her at the completion of training until we could work out what the position was. At the news that one junior was going to hospital another junior also began to howl. I comforted as best I could with my one free arm and my somewhat pretzeled spine, and continued on my journey.

The initiated will know that children's hospital A&E departments are not the place to go for a good time. I found myself inspecting every person to come through the door, wondering what we might catch from them. It is particularly incumbent upon any parent, I believe, to give a wide berth to anyone on "trial of fluids". For the uninitiated: you don't ever want to sit next to the poor soul holding the plastic bag.

Many hours passed. The crowds built and the caring, if frazzled, staff met need as they were able. Eventually we made it to X-ray, to the doctor's consult and ultimately into a cast to begin the process of healing a broken arm. As the hours passed I began to wonder whether I should reschedule my flight for the following morning: I wasn't sure I'd be home in time to make it.

With the senior recipe tester back on tera firma he fast tracked himself home from the airport to rescue our friend and bundle our other juniors into bed. He then arranged for someone else to mind them at our place and came to the hospital to relieve me. I had a bag to pack...

We all finally made it to bed three hours before my alarm went off to go to the airport. The junior is mending. The senior and I would like a bit more sleep...

I'm so grateful for the three days I got to spend dreaming and strategising Dinner on the Table. But there's no balance between caring for my children through crisis, and an intensive work period. I know you know this story. Because it's your story too.

Is it time to stop talking about balance, as if it's something to aspire to?

At that particular time, we had just enough resources to fit the demands, both thrust upon, and chosen by us. We were able to meet competing needs, with help from family and friends, and, while exhausting, our work during those few days was meaningful, if unpredictable.

Ultimately, we could sustain the pace for those few short days. But ask us to expend those resources for a week, or a month, or a year? We may as well plan to fly ourselves to the moon.

And so, forgetting balance: how sustainable is your daily life? How long can you manage the competing demands of your work and home life? Do you have the resources to fit the demands? How long will those resources last? How predictable is your day to day?

I know your life is not balanced.

But perhaps it doesn't have to be.

Why mums are worth it

My mum and I

Photograph: Alexander Mayes Photography

I met my mother quite a long time ago, when I was born. I don't remember it. Mind you, she assures me, neither does she. Best practice for childbirth in our case (and with the trouble I apparently caused) saw her knocked out entirely when I was born. She's not sure how many hours or days passed before she came to. ...But that's another story...

Thirty something years after that I became a mother.

And somewhere in between, I spent a lot of years thinking about mothers, understanding mothers and mothering from mothers themselves, wrestling with what it means to be a mother, to become a mother, and how this all happens in the context of disability.

In fact, I wrote a book about it.

Its publication was not proceeded by a great fanfare. Oprah didn't phone, wanting to discuss it. In fact, in the absence of any phone calls I rang the two people I thought might be excited about it: my mum and dad.

Dad answered the phone.

"My book is published."

"Well, that is just fantastic. Congratulations. We'll have to buy a copy. How much does it retail for?"

I told him.

[Long pause]. "Can I borrow your copy?"

Best seller or not, I learned some things about mums who have a disability. I think I learned a bunch of things about mums generally. As mothers, we see ourselves as the centre of our child's support network. We fundamentally believe that no one can provide care for our children as well as we can.

That's why (at times!) it can be so hard to leave your children with someone else. It's why we get defensive when other people suggest ways we could do a better job of caring for our own kids.

At the extremes: if we, or someone else, decide we can no longer look after our children at all, where does that leave us? The work I published after this book attempted to answer that question: it leaves mums grief stricken. But not always in disagreement: sometimes there are reasons why mums can't look after their own children. But when a mum is told she can't be the centre of her child's support network, it hurts.

Being mum is a job trickier and more rewarding than we ever thought possible. And we, like you, think mums deserve looking after. Mums are worth it.

If you'd like a good read (and you have a very good job), you can purchase a copy of the book here.

Or, you can borrow mine.

Cinderella had the same trouble...

The senior recipe tester and I at the ball

Once upon a time in a land not far from here at all, there lived a maiden not as young as she liked to think. In fact, she was less maiden and more matron... but that's the start of another story.

She did not spend hours sweeping out chimneys and emptying the ashes. In fact, rather than having to while away the hours yearning for a ticket, she was invited to the ball. Prince Charming had turned up many years before, had assumed the role of Senior Recipe Tester and added Junior Recipe Testers to the tribe as well.

But, given that the prince was still cute as ever, she decided to take him along.

It was a friend, rather than a fairy godmother, who loaned her a gown to wear. As for shoes, they looked like they did indeed belong to poor Cinderella (before the fairy godmother showed up). Some of the straps were rather flapping in the breeze and required repair. The local cobbler made assurances that he could sort this out in plenty of time for the event.

Her locks, were not particularly Cinderella-esque: being neither blonde nor curly. Again, in the absence of a nearby fairy godmother, she went to see the hairdresser, to have her tresses tamed.

On the way home from the hairdresser, there was just enough time to call in to the cobbler to retrieve the golden (rather than glass) slippers she was to wear that evening. Congratulating herself on a) finding a handy parking spot and b) her speed and agility getting through the crowded shopping centre, without ruining her hair, Cinderella raced back to her chariot.  (the one with the car seat in the back seat).

The golden slippers were something to behold, once mended. She thanked the cobbler kindly, knowing they would suit the gown perfectly, and raced back to the chariot in the handy parking spot.

On the turn of the key, the chariot made a peculiar noise. Cinderella tried again. It made less noise. On the third try the chariot was completely silent.

In the land far away, it is hard to say how a pumpkin chariot would be remediated if the horses refused to pull it. In the land of quite near here, the NRMA battery service appeared to be the best option. She also phoned Prince Charming.

Because he really is, Prince Charming offered to come and wait with the chariot so that Cinderella could go home for a pre-ball snooze. For this she was exceedingly grateful, even if it did mean she had to sleep on her face for fear of ruining her recently combed tresses.

Many hours passed. Eventually Prince Charming appeared, now somewhat thin on patience. He arrived not on a steed, but in the chariot. The one with the car seat in the back and the new battery in the front. 

In record time, they made it to the ball.

I'm sure Cinderella was dropped at the door of the ball, the footmen rushing to assist her from her carriage. My Prince Charming found a parking spot and we made our way to the function. It was a lovely evening.

The walk from the car was just far enough for the recently mended slipper to become completely detached from itself and disintegrate entirely. And so, like Cinderella, I left the ball with only one shoe.