Due date

007If you were to ask me now if I could remember the exact date I was given, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But when I was sitting in my doctor’s surgery, nine weeks pregnant, it was a date that was seared into my brain and invisibly tattooed on my skin.

The date my baby was due.

My own birthday is at the end of August and it seemed incomprehensible that I would be holding my own child in my arms when I next blew out candles.

Not for even a second did I pause to appreciate the benefits of youth and pregnancy. Probably because when you have youth, you don’t bother to appreciate it because you figure it will always be there.

But since Jade’s birth, I’ve watched friends and workmates struggle their way through gestation while in their late 30s and even early 40s. But at 25, when I was pregnant, I pranced about the place and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

The first time she moved, I was lying on my bed reading. I felt the movement and looked at my stomach, and thought it was a scene from Alien. I think Jade was doing yoga. It was like she stuck out her foot, which created this big lump in my stomach and then it started moving from left to right, and back again.

If I hadn’t known I was pregnant, I would have been terrified. Those Maltesers ads are lame in comparison.

When I got to about seven or eight months, I noticed these reddish-purple lines on the lower part of my stomach. I didn’t worry too much at all, because I just figured they were the indent marks from the elastic in my tracksuit pants. Tracksuit pants being the only item of clothing which was comfortable.

But even when I didn’t wear the wonderful tracksuit pants for a few days, those marks were still there. No way was I going to even consider the possibility of stretch marks, until my doctor very gently and very kindly said, “oh, and you’ve got a few tiny little stretch-y marks just here but they’re nothing, they’ll be gone in no time.”

(In actual fact, the “stretch-y” marks covered my entire stomach from hip to hip. Nice work on the doc’s part though. And as for them being gone in no time? The baby turns 22 next month but I’m sure they’ll be gone soon.)


So my due date was approaching. It was a Sunday. I remember with absolute clarity going to bed on the Saturday night fully prepared to wake at 2am in gut-wrenching labour. I even slept in my tracksuit pants to make getting ready to go to the hospital quicker and easier. (It’s why I’m tired, I’m always thinking.)

Instead I woke at 7am, walked the dog, read the paper, drank tea and pulled out some weeds. Some friends popped around to “see how I was” (I think they just wanted to see if labour hurt as much as the television says it does).

I made some lunch, we all chatted, and then watched a movie. I made sure it was a movie I’d seen before because I was convinced my upcoming labour would prevent me from seeing the end.

I even had a glass of wine, figuring that the baby would be out before its affects supposedly ruined her for life. Same way you eat chocolate on the day of your high school formal because you know the pimples won’t show until the next day, so you’re in the clear.

Instead, the movie finished, and with some big hugs, our friends left. I took the dog for another walk, moved the sprinkler, and hung out a load of washing. I even had another half-glass of wine.


Over the next few days, I started getting agitated. Where are you? Get the bloody hell out of there, I want to meet you! Get the bloody hell out of there so you can see your frothy princess pink room that I made for you. Get the bloody hell out of there so I can start thinking about my size 12 jeans again.

And so it started. I walked for miles every day. Our gorgeous dog was in heaven. And very tired. I cooked the hottest curries on the planet. I drove through potholes. I had crazy crazy sex. And more wine.


In the end, nearly 10 days later, we all gave up. The doctor confirmed what I’d already guessed. She wasn’t coming. Not today, not tomorrow, and probably not next week.

They had to go in and get her.

And that’s the date I remember. August 22, 7.09pm, when they stuck a dirty great needle in my back and took Jade out via the sunroof. Finally, I got to meet my girl.

So Kate Middleton, I know your baby is born to be Queen (yes, it’s a girl) but don’t stress. One way or another she will make her way to you and you’ll wonder what you ever worried about.

And like me, you’ll wonder what you ever did without her.




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Pop psychology

dadAnyone who reckons that kids say the darndest things hasn’t had a conversation with my father.

You know that saying “dad jokes”? Those irritating, repetitive comments made by fathers globally that are marked by two distinct features. They are not funny and they become less funny the more they are repeated.

Here’s an example. You give dad a bottle of wine for his birthday and he shakes it saying, “I know, I know! It’s a book!”

He looks at the roast that mum has just pulled out of the oven, casts a glance at the kids, picks the serving plate up and says, “I’m not sure what you lot are eating for dinner, but here’s mine.”

My dad is one of those dads. He indisputably believes he is funny. He has this repertoire of jokes which he has been repeating with appalling regularity since I could understand English.

Take Christmas Day lunch. My mother painstakingly bakes this plum pudding then goes about shoving all manner of imperial coinage into its centre. The task being that as we eat, we chorus over who scored a shilling and who got a sixpence (go figure).

Not so for dad. He’s eating away, aware that nobody is paying him the slightest bit of notice, when he starts this phoney coughing routine. After a few good snorts and the satisfaction of having grabbed everyone’s attention, he makes a big production of pulling money from his mouth – except it’s a $20 note not a 20 pence coin that he’s carefully hidden in his hand.

He brought new meaning to Norman Lindsay’s “The Magic Pudding”. The wrong meaning.

It is interesting to note that as higher denominations were introduced by the government, so dad introduced them to us at the Christmas table. When the $100 note hit mainstream currency, we knew we only had to wait till Christmas to see it

We’ve also been through Bankcard, Mastercard, Visa, Platinum Amex, Diners, Medicare, Qantas Club, Fly Buys and more recently, the Seniors Card, all apparently excavated from dad’s pudding. Along the way was a DJs card, Myer card, Harvey Norman card – exactly how many credit cards does my father have?

It’s not just at Christmas. Every time we go over a speed bump in the car he hollers “oh, there go my false teeth”. Every time we drive past a cemetery he comments “people are dying to get in there”.

Once we were driving down a street like quite normal people when he pulled up suddenly. “What’s the matter dad?” I foolishly asked. “There’s an ant crossing.”

Dads are biological necessities but social accidents. They’re always getting excited about something. When I moved into my first flat (yes, it was a flat, not a townhouse, not an apartment, not a unit – but I was poor) I did the right thing and had mum and dad over for dinner.

Excited or what! He rang me every morning for a week to tell me that he was bringing my favourite bottle of bubbles (tragically, at the age of 19 it was Asti Riccadonna, don’t hate me). He rang every afternoon for a week to tell me mum was making a lasagne to bring (tragically, at the age of 19, I couldn’t cook and mum had to supply the food, don’t hate me).

It’s only dinner dad, I would placate, not an audience with Oprah.

Dads are also very good at being protective of their daughters. Sons don’t bother them so much.

At the tender age of 17, my brother did not come home for two nights following a win in his soccer grand final. Now, this is 1979 in the Pre-Mobile Phone Era. Was dad worried?

Not a bit.

But when I went to my school dances, dad would unashamedly walk into the hall 15 minutes before finishing time and come looking for me. Once, I was doing something naughty like having a fag in the loo or pashing a boy under a table, and heard my dad’s voice over the speaker, “Bronwyn, this is your father, come home with me now please.”

I would rather swallow a battery.

Dads have patience. In the swimming pool, my father would stand astride about two metres from the pool edge for seemingly hours, so his three children in military order could dive in and swim between his legs.

I tried it once with my daughter when she was about six. I grew bored by the third dive even though I was holding my wine, and had to get her father to relieve me. Of course, as he was a dad, he was fittingly capable of remaining in that position all afternoon or until our young princess grew weary – whichever came first.

In my defence, I brought him a beer and the cricket score.

Dads also have a touch of Captain Obvious. One time dad rang me when I was in my doctor’s waiting room. After telling him where I was he replied “so are you waiting to see the doctor?” Or when I hand him a cup of tea he says “is that for me?”

“No dad, it’s for the guy next door. He sells vacuum cleaners for a living, listens to AM and is completely hairless but I’m attracted to him.

“Of course it’s bloody well for you! “

Save the earth. Not only is it the only planet with chocolate, it’s the only planet with dads.

Love you dad xxx

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Today she leaves

Jade 2 - CopyI think it was when she was in Year 6. I know it was just after 7.30pm. The reason I know that is because Seinfeld has just finished and this was back in the halcyon days when new episodes of Jerry and the gang started at 7pm weeknights.

We always watched Seinfeld.

My daughter and I got up from the couch. Me to head to the kitchen to stack the dishwasher, and Jade, I presumed, to clean her teeth and get ready for bed.
Instead she followed me into the kitchen, fiddled with a tea towel, rubbed her nose and asked me if I had any pictures of penguins lying around.

“Not off-hand, no darling,” I said, actually pausing for a moment to consider if I did. “But you could look through the Woman’s Day magazine I’ve got over there, or we could look on the internet?” (Dial up internet, of course, perhaps using Netscape as a browser. Ah, those were the days.)

It took a few

minutes for the penny to drop, but I finally turned to her and asked the obvious question. “Jade darling, why do you need a picture of a penguin?”

Well, it turns out that she has a school project due the next morning, which has to be all about Antarctica – the explorers, the history, and of course, the penguins.

After the usual round of “I can’t believe you left it this late” and “When I talk with you every afternoon about your homework, did you not think to mention this, like, six weeks ago?” I realised had two choices.

Either my daughter could confront the wrath of her teacher (who, as an aside, I didn’t particularly like anyway) or I could do the bloody project for her.

I ended up having a very late night that night. The teacher who I didn’t particularly like gave me a B+ for my effort.

Fast forward to Year 12. I’ve dropped my daughter and her girlfriend at a party. I knew there would be boys there. I knew there would be alcohol there. I had checked with the supervising parents and I was happy that all was in order.

The call came in around 10.45pm. Earlier than I had expected. “Mum, can you please come and pick us up? We don’t feel very well.”

About halfway home, with the girls in the back seat, they ask me if I can stop. They needed to be sick. During a break in the chundering process, I asked my daughter, “What were you girls drinking?”

Midori, was her blithe answer.

I hid my shudder at the thought of that sickly sweet syrup that reminded me waaaaay too much of Peach Cooler.

“Darling what were you mixing it with?”

She stares at my blankly. “You’re supposed to mix it?”

I’ve hung out kilometres of nappies and folded them with care. I’ve hidden bikes and trampolines outdoors and tied tinsel to her wrist, so when she woke on Christmas morning, I could watch her joy as she followed the trail to her new present. I’ve interviewed teachers and child care workers and potential boyfriends.

I’ve made lunches so yummy that she’d never want to swap them. I’ve spent rainy weekends watching The Lion King, The Aristocats, and Aladdin repeatedly. I’ve hidden behind a pole at Woolies at Indooroopilly and watched her operate a cash register when she got a part time job.

I’ve driven hundreds of kilometres with gibbering teenager girls clipped into every seat belt, who said “Oh my God” so many times I began to think the good Lord was in our midst. Sometimes I even crossed myself just to be on the safe side.

I’ve fancy-dressed her as a fairy, a princess and Joan Jett. I’ve pulled nits from her hair, painted her toe nails and wept loudly when she went overseas for the first time.

I’ve spent 20 years kissing her, 20 years holding her, and 20 years listening to her hopes, dream and fears.

And today, I kiss her for the last time in many months. She’s off on the adventure of her life, heading as many Aussies do, to the UK for a few years. London won’t know itself when Miss Jade arrives. Lucky London.

There’s no more time for advice, for cautioning, for leading by example. Whatever I’ve taught her, shown her, given her, this is it. It’s up to her now. And I’ve never been prouder.

The temperature will be minus one when she arrives. All I keep thinking is “I hope her coat is warm enough”.

Mothering never ends, does it…

Jade - Copy

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Who’s the selfish one?

So not only do we have to suffer the indignity of having a gallon of blood gush out from between our legs every month. Any woman who has suffered the horror of standing in a grocery queue or sitting in a meeting and felt that insidiously familiar feeling of a tampon overflowing will know what I mean.

Not only do we feel compelled to strip hair from places on our bodies that for centuries enjoyed relative anonymity. Any woman who has felt the hot wax ripping the hair from her groin will know what I mean.

Not only do we implode with guilt when we a) don’t spend enough time with our children b) don’t spend enough time at the gym c) don’t prepare enough home-cooked meals. Any woman who has a home-delivery company on speed dial will know what I mean.

Not only do we watch our bodies expand to indescribable proportions whilst housing a growing human being. Any woman who has wondered if her vagina will ever go back to normal after giving birth will know what I mean.

Not only are we nurses, chefs, psychologists, prostitutes, teachers, chauffers, cleaners, decorators, landscapers, ironers and project managers. Any woman who does all these tasks yet still gets called “just a mum” will know what I mean.

So – not only do we have all this on our plate, we now have to cope with being called selfish because we aren’t having our babies until our late 30s.

Or so says Dr Barry Walters, an obstetrician from Perth’s King Edward Memorial Hospital.

He says that the number of older expectant mothers coming into the hospital had become an epidemic and this led to far more pregnant women and babies with medical problems.

Fair enough, it is common knowledge that the older the mum is, the higher the risk.

But interestingly it isn’t a risk to be an older dad.

As I see it, there are men out there who glide through their 20s and 30s, meeting women but avoiding commitment (and therefore fatherhood). They hit 40, and have an epiphany that they’re suddenly ready to “settle down” and either seek out a life partner or agree to have children with their long-suffering mate.

Which means, all ages being equal, women are having babies well into their 30s. Because they sat around for so long waiting for the right man to show up, or for the man right now to commit.

A close girlfriend of mine waited 12 years for her boyfriend to marry her. That means baby number one was born just after she turned 40. Baby number two arrived at 43.

Sure, I hear you all, and I heard myself say it as well. “Leave the bastard. If he won’t commit, then leave him and find yourself someone who will.”

Easier said than done, as many women reading this will know.

I was lucky. I fell in love and was married at 20, and was a mum at 25. But it was some years later that my girlfriends and peers started having their kids. Now that I’m mid-40s, I have girlfriends who are taking their little ones to prep. They’ve got years to go.

And that’s not for being choosy or picky. That’s not for being career-obsessed. That’s not for wanting material items over family bliss.

It was simply because they didn’t have a man in their life at the time that wanted to make a family with them.

So, Dr Walters, you certainly have some valid points to raise on the potential difficulties older mums face. But don’t put a blanket label of “selfish” on them. Understand the context of their situation first.

And maybe give a few lectures to commitment-phobic men.

What would the world be like if a man’s sperm ceased to be viable after the age of 40? Think about that…

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Not everyone is back in business

There’s a house in Rocklea, in Brisbane’s south-west, about 12km from the city centre. It’s home to a very dear friend. It’s a post-war home, reminiscent of many in the area when Salisbury was the epicentre of the 1950s industrial boom.

It has three bedrooms, one of which has been converted for use as a beauty spa. The renovated kitchen boasts an open plan dining area. The quaint bathroom gleams with sparkling tiles and a new loo. There’s a covered patio for long Sunday barbeques, a garden full of fruit trees and a fledgling olive plant. There’s two water tanks, two dogs, and a whole bunch of happiness.

Well, there used to be.

On Thursday, 13 January, flood waters went through the roof of this home. Literally. The beautifully renovated kitchen was invaded by the insidious water that held Brisbane hostage. The disgusting muck surged down the toilet, in between the walls and through the cracks in the polished wood floors. It carted the water tanks away, ripped up the fruit trees and disintegrated the doors and walls.

What was left was a heaving, rancid mess – utterly uninhabitable, unthinkably ruined, devastatingly lost. It wasn’t a home anymore, it was a dump. A wasteland of memories, happiness and sunshine days.

But it was still her home. And that’s the hardest part of all the horror that was the Brisbane floods. It’s still her home even though it is not fit for a wild animal to prowl through during the night.

My dear friend learnt the hard way, as did many many Brisbane home-owners, that insurance cover doesn’t always mean insurance cover . The scoundrels who run these agencies nit-picked fine print to death and managed to invent several meanings for flooding.

Silly me, I always thought flooding was a result of too much water coming down and the rivers and dams not being able to process it quickly enough, so therefore our homes, parks and streets were filled with water.

Apparently not. Whatever caused the flood, they said they’d only cover for the other reasons. Oh, and then said premiums would need to rise to cover their costs. Huh? Isn’t that what insurance is all about. What would I know, I’m just a writer and a home-owner. Mmmm.

So my dear friend lives day by day, battling tears, despair and adversity in an attempt to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that her gorgeous home has become. Little by little she saves up to get some new doors, or to fix the plumbing or to get a new stove. But it’s not fast enough.

It’s now over four months since those dark January days that stopped our city. And for all the lauding on the media that Brisbane is “back in business”, let’s not for a second forget that many people are not anywhere near opening their doors for business, let alone even having a proper door that you can open in the first place.

Just today, I took a drive around the streets of Rocklea, in that little residential pocket off Marshall Road near the McDonald’s. It was an old stomping ground of mine some years ago and holds some very fond memories.

Homes now lay vacant, their doors and windows wide open in surrender. The flood waters won the battle, and they also won the war. Dirty exterior markings brag how high the water rose. The air is putrid with resignation and anguish. A few brave souls soldier on, gamely employing construction crews to right the wrongs. Or simply to jack their home as high as council will allow.

But for many it is just too much. They’ve walked away. Tenants and owners alike. The “for sale” signs are plentiful, as are “for lease” signs. The warm camaraderie that I always knew to exist is still present, just in a very decreased number.

The place I called home all those years ago has been gutted. No longer is there the kitchen where I lovingly prepared my daughter’s meals. Nor the street-facing room where I concocted blogs and columns, and proudly started a small business. I didn’t need a doorway to pass between rooms anymore.

All I could see was the claw foot bath. Not even the nastiest of flood waters was going to move that sucker!

So people, all I ask, is that you spare a thought, and maybe a prayer, for some of our folk who actually aren’t back in business or on the road to recovery. Our folk who still live in rented accommodation because they can’t face the muck that awaits them back home. Or haven’t left the security of mum and dad’s to sort out the mess that once was their home.

Or the brave ones, like my friend, who have no other option than to live in the remnants of their own castle and who each day, try to make a little bit of a difference.

They’re not back in business at all.

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A flood of memories

Not so long ago, Brisbane (and large parts of Queensland) was conserving water by showering every third day with a thimbleful of water, urinating outdoors and filling the dog’s bowl with beer.

We were in the throes of a massive drought. Our dams were dry. Our tanks were dry. And so were the clouds.

I think there was even that moment when former Premier Pete saw fit to scutter off to Singapore and beg them to allow us some of their bottles of recycled water so the state could clean its teeth. In true form, of course, the state revolted, not dissimilar to what we do when New South Wales wins at Origin or when too many Victorians crowd our beaches in summer. We were just fine with our teeth the way they were.

Then, just as it was reaching critical mass, when we were considering syphoning water from the Brisbane River to make our coffee, it began to rain. And rain and rain.

And rain.

To the point where, today, Wivenhoe Dam, the water supply king for south-east Queensland, is opening its spill gates because, quite frankly, it’s got too much water.

With so much rain in SEQ in the past month or so, talk has turned to the Great Flood of 1974. Over a five day period between 24th and 29th January 1974, around 900mm of rain fell and the Brisbane River reached a height of 6.7 metres, four metres above normal levels.

And my mum was pregnant. We were holidaying on the Gold Coast, along the Nerang River. We woke to find the garage and ground floor units awash, the swimming pool and garden disappeared under water, and dad was wondering how he was going to get his paper.

The road to Brisbane was cut, the rain wasn’t stopping, and as it was a Saturday. Meaning our holiday had ended and we were required to vacate.

My mother has a 6th sense and a storeroom of nifty ideas. When flooding threatened, she had popped down to the car and covered the exhaust with cling film (such a housewife). This simple act apparently saved something or other in the engine, because when the water subsided, dad was able to effortlessly start the car. Still not too sure what happened there, but I was only eight and had too many wines since then to fully remember every detail.

Mum had an appointment with her obstetrician on the Tuesday which she wasn’t keen on missing. Dad wasn’t keen on her missing it either. But we couldn’t get back to Brisbane, so the four of us (I have an older brother) descended on some distant relatives buried in the Currumbin Valley who had a spare room.

Oh my, weren’t they thrilled to have four extra people and no fresh food deliveries for miles around. I remember eating a lot of porridge and watching the adults drink a lot of red wine. Even mum had a few. But that was back in the days when cigarette advertising was on television and a Datsun 120Y was a car of choice.

Tuesday rolled around (by now, the date is 29 January 1974) and we made the arduous trek north on a very dodgy road known even then as the Pacific Highway. It was basically a cattle track.

We drove straight to Wickham Terrace, the location of choice of uptight supercilious obstetricians and ENT specialists. Still is, I guess. Except I believe there’s a smattering of plastic surgeons as well.

While mum waited for her appointment, dad took my brother and me for a wander around Brisbane CBD to view the damage.

I clearly remember standing at the high point of Albert Street, where it crosses with Queen. My Brisbane readers, or anyone who has read books by John Birmingham or Nick Earls, will know what I mean. There’s a dirty ugly mall there now, but back then, it was just a street. And not a very good one either, because it was flooded.

Looking down towards the Botanical Gardens, I could see the sign for Festival Hall forlornly yet proudly keeping itself aloft. Kids were swimming around in the flood waters and using the roof of Festival Hall as a diving platform.

I did ask, but dad wouldn’t let me go and join them.

The other thing I clearly remember was the mortification of being in the city wearing nothing but a Sea World t-shirt, terry-towelling shorts and rubber thongs. Circa 1974, a trip to town meant wearing my communion dress and black patent Mary Janes.

My baby brother was born the next day. One month early. I remember we were at home when mum’s waters broke as she was standing in the kitchen peeling potatoes for dinner.

“As if there isn’t enough bloody water around us already,” was her only comment.

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My teeny problem

** this is a story I wrote about three years ago, when my daughter was 16. It is based on fact. At the time, I didn’t publish it because I didn’t want to incur my daughter’s wrath. Now she’s an adult, she can cope, can’t you darling? It’s too good not to share. So if you’re a parent of a teenager, or know a teenager, read on! x

The phone call came about 10.45pm on Friday night. My girlfriend and I were slothing it on the lounge, just like we did when we were in high school. Except now that we’re in our 40s we have better accessories to sloth with. No Fanta bottles or large bags of Samboy chips. Nor for that matter black and white television and The Young Doctors.

We had Colin Firth and Love Actually on the wide-screen plasma, a Pamela’s Pantry tray of nibbles, Belgian chocolate, a NZ Sauvignon Blanc and Chanel nail polish.

Even our bottled water came from France. But then again, it is cheaper these days to buy water from France than from the Brisbane City Council.

We had dropped our 16 year old daughters off at a party at Kenmore after we had watched them apply an unhealthy amount of black eyeliner and cheap bling. Kinda like Joan Jett meets Liberace. Or Frank-N-Furter meets, well, Frank-N-Furter.

We knew there would be boys at this party. We knew there would be alcohol at this party. But we’d checked in with the host parents and established that they were responsible and watchful and keen to have it all over red rover by midnight. So we scuttled back to switch on Colin and start painting our toes.

We had got through Bridget Jones’s Diary 1 and 2, replayed the fight in the fountain scene four times, eaten all of Pamela’s offerings and had started on Love Actually when the phone rang.

Dammit. Colin was just moving to Portugal to write his book.

“Mum, can you come pick us up? Nicola doesn’t feel very well.”

Helen and I looked at each other. Helen being the mother of Nicola. I mean, it’s not like we weren’t 16 once. It’s not like we didn’t go to a party and decide we didn’t feel very well halfway through it. It’s not like our parents ever refused to come get us.

We collected the girls and we’re on Kenmore Road, sort of about that spot where you turn off to Lone Pine, when Nicole goes, “Stop the car, I’m going to be sick.”

Helen and I looked at each other. Helen being the mother of Nicola. I mean, it’s not like we weren’t 16 once. It’s not like we didn’t sneak copious amount of alcohol when we should have stuck to the Fanta. It’s not like we didn’t throw up every now and then. Hell, we still do it now sometimes.

While Nicola was, I am sure, garnering the interest of the animals five kilometres away at Lone Pine with her squawking and heaving, I turned to my daughter.

“Darling, what were you girls drinking at the party?”

“Oh, like, you know, just some Midori,” she says.

My stomach heaved. It took me back to my days of Peach Cooler and West Coasts. I thought these drinks were fabulous until one day I turned 24, discovered wine and really, my liver and I haven’t looked back since.
“What were you mixing it with?” I continued.

She looked at me perplexed. “What? You’re supposed to mix it?”

I will never wear green again. Not even eye shadow. Even if Jennifer Hawkins says to.

Semi-formals are another story where teenage daughters rival Britney in terms of attention stakes. Yes, I said SEMI-formals. We haven’t even reached the real thing yet. This is just the dress rehearsal, the warm-up, the barrier trial. Sort of like your first marriage really.

By the time she had the spray tan, the upstyle “do”, the acrylic nails, the facial with extractions, the eye brow wax, the Elizabeth Arden make-up, the gel toes, the car hire and the massage because of the stress of it all, her bank account was depleted and I was hiding my Visa.

It’s a tough spot for me to be in though – she’s my only child; a daughter at that, and I’m young enough to remember how wonderful yet how shitty it can be when you’re 16. My gorgeous yet practical mother had purchased me a very serviceable dress for my semi-formal and did my hair herself. I’m still in therapy. I didn’t want that for Jade.

So we’re on our way to the semi. Ever driven in a car with four hyper-excited teenagers? Ever driven in a car with four hyenas in full make-up and heels? That’s why nothing frightens me anymore. I have a teenager.

They said “oh my God” so many times, I started to think that our good Lord was in their midst. I blessed myself just to be on the safe side.

Listening to their chatter whilst desperately trying not to comment was about as challenging as having a cleared credit card and not buying the Nine West boots that were on sale.

They go to an exclusive all girls school for the chronically Catholic. The teaching staff still boasts a handful of nuns (hey sista) and the past students boast more than a handful of OP1s. Which is why I’m amazed at their perceived wisdom and interpretation of the important matters in our world.

Such as …

“Oh my God, like, that lip gloss you’re wearing, like, it’s just totally the most fabulous thing. That, like, colour, man it’s fully amazing. You really, like, know how to pick the best quality make up. Is it from Groove? They so have the best stuff.”

And …

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!! Turn it up, turn the radio up! This is like the best song eva. Like eva. I love this song. I love this song. This is so my favourite song. I am so downloading this from iTunes when I get paid.”

Then …

“You know Angelique, right, well, you know that guy from Terrace that she likes from the train, right, well, oh my God, but she like so went to second with him.”

Teenagers can be very nice; but they recover quickly.

If you’ve got one, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you’ve had one, please accept my sympathy and commiserations. If you’re grooming one, be prepared. Like, oh my God, be just totally prepared, k!

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Fast food fright

Growing up in the 1970s, my lunch was a squashed Vegemite sandwich, an apple, and a cordial bottle. I got tuckshop every second Friday, and bought a cream bun, a sausage roll and a Sunnyboy iceblock (remember those? They were in those little frozen pyramid shapes and you sucked all the flavour out?)

Breakfast was porridge, boiled eggs, toast and a cup of Bushells tea. Dinner was rissoles, sausages or chops with mashed potatoes and some token green. Dessert, weekends only, was ice cream.

That was it.

Fast food? I think there may have been a pizza joint about three suburbs along, and some rogue Chinese establishment that smelled suspiciously like somebody had died in there the week before and was still decomposing in a wok.

My mum was a midwife, so sometimes she’d have to work Saturday nights. We loved those nights. Dad would ring up and order pizza and my brothers and I would pile into the Falcon 500 to pick it up. We had two choices: supreme or ham and pineapple. Of course we only ordered ham and pineapple. Supreme was waaaay to avant-garde in the 70s. Salami? Mushrooms? Get out! I’m not eating that!

Fast forward 30 years. I see people starting their day with a can of Red Bull and a take-away double shot latte. And these are the 15 year-olds. The 30 year-olds are a bit more hard-core. They skip the latte in favour of a V-shot chaser. They do the lattes later.

Some people drink so much coffee their eyes stay open when they sneeze. They can type 60 words a minute with their feet. They channel surf faster without the remote.

Now it’s common to eat Nandos, Aportos, KFC, McDonalds. To buy pre-packaged pasta and prepared sauces, then chuck it all in the microwave on high for three minutes while you grab your 3rd can of Diet Coke. Frozen dinners, frozen spring rolls, frozen meat pies. Packets of chips, packets of biscuits, packets of fat.

Just personally, I think fast food is the nutritional equivalent of pornography.

No need to make breakfast at home! Grab a bacon and egg muffin or a savoury bread roll on your way to the office. Please, at lunch time come and buy our salad. Salad, my arse. If you look closely enough, you may spot a lettuce leaf drowning forlornly in some tangy creamy dressing. For dinner, shovel up some half-price Chinese from the all-you-can-eat buffet in the food court. I’m sure this food is still ok, even though it has been sitting under the lamps since 7am.

The factors that make fast food so popular still seem to be powerful enough to make the majority of the population ignore the obvious risks of poor nutrition and weight problems. Fast food is easily available, relatively cheap, most people find it tasty and filling and it can be purchased fast.

Although, sometimes I think it’s called “fast” food because you’re supposed to eat it really fast. Otherwise, you might actually taste it.
According to a recent article I just read on nutrition, they said eating right doesn’t have to be complicated. Nutritionists say there is a simple way to tell if you’re eating right. Colours. Fill your plates with bright colours, it chorused. Greens, reds, yellows.

A friend of mine says she does that every day, by eating an entire packet of M&M’s.

The big problem with “fast” food is that it slows down when it hits your stomach. And it just parks there and lets the fat have time to get off and apply for citizenship.

Personally, I can’t do it. I can’t even use a jar of spaghetti sauce. Sometimes I even struggle with tinned tomatoes. I’m not sure these days whether the fresh fruit and vegies I buy are in fact fresh fruit and vegies, or if they’ve been sprayed with nitrogen or some other chemical and stored in the back of a shed in Stanthorpe since 2004.

1970s food, for all its scary apricot chicken and beef Wellington carry on, was made the way nature intended food to be made. From scratch. In those days, milk lasted three or four days. Now, I can buy milk with a two-week fridge life. So exactly how much of the white liquid in that carton is milk from the cow, and how much is additives and preservative crap?

I think it would be nice if the government mob who monitor warnings about toxic substances just gave me the names of one or two things that are still safe to eat.

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The mother of all laws

What do you do if you miss your mother-in-law? Reload, and take better aim.


Well, we’ve all either got one, had one, are one or know one. Like “great-aunt” or “stepmother” it’s one of those ambiguous relative categories. Sometimes you hit the jackpot; sometimes the poker machine sucks the very life out of the marrow of your bones and leaves you a heaving, angry, impotent raging mess.

This column isn’t about hitting the jackpot. It’s more like coming third in the chook raffle at a local RSL.

My own mother-in-law (albeit now ex) had more issues than The Courier-Mail. And was so dumb she wouldn’t have passed a blood test. She had the personality of a dial tone. Could have been because she was short, could have been because she was married to a verbally abusive alcoholic, could have been because she ignored her son for his first 20 years of life and right when I married him, she was in the throes of deciding that she needed to make up for lost time.

Her way of doing this was to adopt a fragile, helpless persona and wail away about how she needed things done around her house and how my husband’s father was a good for nothing layabout and how her darling boy was the only man she could rely on. Etc.

He could be mowing the lawn, cooking a bbq or watching football and she’d ring, demanding his attention.

“Oh son, I’m just having trouble changing a light bulb.”

“Oh son, I can’t quite reach the mix master on the top shelf of the pantry.”

“Oh son, could you just move Ayers Rock fifty miles closer to the coast.”

The dear thing tried so hard to get on with me, but I was having none of it. Not after she cooked my parents a pre-wedding supper at her house and asked them to contribute to its cost. Not after she left my two month old daughter alone on the change table while she went to answer the phone.

My other mother-in-law (interestingly also an ex, but by de facto only) was a nightmare as well. My boyfriend was the youngest of all-girl siblings and he had spent his life being cosseted by females. Until I came along and expected him to pull his weight. He was pretty much incapable of doing this.

And why should he when mummy was always there to rescue him.
She didn’t like me one bit. I got in trouble for not making him lunch every day. I got in trouble for not keeping the children quiet when he wanted an afternoon nap. I got in trouble for not bounding to the clothes line to retrieve his work shirts when it started to rain. Etc.

For every great story you hear about a mother-in-law, there is an equal and opposing story.

Things like rearranging of the kitchen cupboards when they house-sit. Feeding children sugar then admonishing you for their hyperactivity. Buying the kids wildly inappropriate outfits but creating the expectation that they should wear them. And then photographing the poor kids in this nauseating get-up. So years later you have huge psychiatrist bills when the kids discover photos of themselves at a school function wearing something akin to the Danish national dress.

Why are mothers-in-law so suspicious of us? Is it because their sons now share all their secrets with us instead of them? Do they not realise that grown men don’t usually have thought processes that run that deep? Or that any secrets they have sometimes involve some sort of group lesbian fantasy and frankly we’d rather they kept that secret all to themselves.

Were Adam and Eve the happiest and the luckiest couple in the world, because neither of them had a mother-in-law?


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Making a formal approach

My current introspective retro phase would not be complete without sufficient attention being paid to formals. School formals. Grade 12 formals. Or Year 12 as they say in the new currency.

As a mum, I witnessed my daughter Jade’s Year 12 formal. She was an All Hallows girl, so those of you from Brisbane will know exactly what I’m talking about – a school on a large tract of land, smack bang on the river, good elevation, naturally freehold title to the Catholic faith.

Mind you, I was a Lourdes Hill girl – again, a large tract of land, smack bang on the River, good elevation, naturally freehold title to the Catholic faith. I was merely continuing the generation

That Pope of ours is quite asset-wealthy, I figure.

I’ll get onto Jade’s formal eventually, in a separate post. You need to hear about mine first. This story is too good to gloss over.

To start with, I did not have a date. I’d just broken up with a Villanova boy called David (for my out-of-town readers, Villanova being a boys Catholic school built on a hill in Brisbane; David being either something once in Royal City or so the Christmas carol leads us to believe; or my first true love – if anyone reading knows him, please ask him to drop me a Facebook friend request.)

Now, back in 1982, gays weren’t fashionable nor recognised, so I couldn’t use that card. We didn’t have boys as “friends”. We didn’t even consider boys as equals. Your brother was a close as you could get to “a mate”. Or a formal date

So in lieu of taking my brother, I pleaded with a girlfriend to cough up a mate of her boyfriend’s. Pathetic. I know. I was desperate.

His name was Louis and his car of choice to drive me to my formal was an open-topped Suzuki 4WD. Imagine what that did to my carefully coiffured hair. And my self-esteem.

Considering my self-esteem had already taken a battering. And here’s why. With my part-time income from Woolworths, I’d bought this hideous dress which I thought was the epitome of elegance. However, my darling mother and all her 1950s neurotic upbringing alerted me to the fact that only prostitutes wore black underwear. Therefore I was forced to wear a beige bra under this black chiffon creation. You can imagine the result. Or see it for yourself in the pic I’ve included

On top of that, I got it in my head that I would look elegant and sophisticated if I had my hair up. Back then, my hair was long and naturally blonde but I wanted it styled in a manner that made me resemble Princess Anne on a good hair/bad horse day.

I’ve never looked uglier.

The only concession out of this is that I continually win when we have “bring in your ugly childhood photo” day at work. The prize is that I get to eat the last Tim-Tam.

My school issued a set of rules for our formal, a 1982 code of conduct, if you will. One of the rules: “girls are encouraged not to smoke at the formal”. As opposed to the 2010 version: “girls will be instantly expelled if caught within four metres of someone who used to smoke 10 years ago”. Look at this pic – yes, he’s smoking!

There were nuns a-plenty at my school, meaning there were nuns a-plenty at the formal. If you were sitting on a boy’s lap, or having a bit of a canoodle (what a gorgeous word) they would barge right up and melodically say “telephone book, telephone book” which was code for “get off that boy, you are one second away from getting pregnant, I don’t care that he goes to St Laurance’s” (insert Melbourne Grammar, Scots College, Eton etc, whatever your geographical equivalent).

Even back in 1982, we still had “post formals”. My daughter would like to believe that her generation invented this concept. Like they believe they invented sex, getting drunk and lying to your parents. It was with great glee that I told her she was about 25 years in arrears.

My mum and dad, bless them, had prepared chicken, cheese and champagne as our after-formal supper. Again, the height of 80s sophistication – a BBQ chook chopped up, some cubed Coon and a bottle of the frightful Asti Riccadonna.

Except in the 30-minute period they spent standing at the front fence waiting for their young charges to arrive, our dog, a loyal but hungry cattle dog, happily jumped up on the table and devoured the chicken and cheese, bones included. I think he was almost waiting for my Dad to fill his water bowl up with Riccadonna. Not a bad move. Less for me.

And you have to remember, this was the Brisbane days of no pizza delivery, everything worthwhile shut at 8pm, no 7-11 or Night Owl.

Mum, ever the stalwart, found us some pickled onions. We didn’t care. We were already pickled.

Louis and I had a “pleasant” evening. He and his pale grey suit truly wanted to get out of the disaster zone and away from my freakish hair as quickly as possible.

To this day, I still wished I’d got a “disco pash” at my formal. Even if the dog was watching.

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