Mother, wife, high-school teacher. I blog because it's cheaper than therapy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Good Man

Today in this world a good man is dying. He is not famous and when he does take his last breath, no media outlets will report the loss. Like many men in their mid-thirties, the Good Man is a father, a husband and a friend. He is loyal to his mates, and pretty much as honest as they come. He is not the sort to want me, or anyone else to list his achievements or attempt to use rhetoric to make the ordinary seem extraordinary, and so I won’t. Nor will I dwell on the fact that we will once again lose someone far too young far too soon, because that just seems to be a growing aspect of our world. I won’t focus on the scourge that is ‘the C word’ and its random and ruthless attacks, nor will I use this as an opportunity to remind others of the importance of maintaining a ‘healthy lifestyle’ because let’s be honest, that is no protection against the cruelty of fate.

What I will do is attempt, in my own awkward way, to thank the Good Man for what he has given those around him, perhaps without even knowing he has done so.

I am told that the diagnosis of a serious illness can often prompt people to seek a different lifestyle and with that an alternative means of income. Perhaps those test results, those moments in a sterile doctor’s office is the impetus to do something you never really had the courage to do in the past, or always figured there was still time to do. When he discovered he was ill the Good Man left his job teaching at a local High School and began doing something he had always loved – using his hands to build, to create. He had already built his family home (I mean really build, not the Jewish version, in which “We’re building a house” actually means, “We’ve hired an overpriced architect to design us an obnoxiously large family home – just imagine Tuscan villa meets ‘The Jetsons’ -, and we keep calling our equally overpriced contractor changing our minds about what we want where”), and he began to share his talent.

The Good Man built our back room – the place my children go to play and have parties, to hang out with their friends. This is the room that sees them use their imagination. It is in there that my youngest son paints his random and colourful canvases and it is there that he and his sister often go to create buildings and worlds of their own, granted on a slightly smaller scale. My eldest son uses the room as a space of solace and escape from his two younger and often noisier siblings. My husband exercises in that room – an attempt to reclaim physical and mental health. The space is often referred to as “The Room the Good Man Built”, and whenever Hubby and I consider knocking the entire house down to build a slightly larger, more practical home for ourselves and our three children, our throats catch, for we know it would me the demolition of “The Room the Good Man Built” and the part of himself man puts into everything he creates – not something either of us are prepared to do.

The Good Man built my parent’s deck, a place that is now the site of family barbeques and meals. It is a space we now often gather and a place that allows my mother – now also suffering with ‘the C word’ – to sit and enjoy her newly landscaped garden – something the Good Man also had a hand in. I know this space brings my parents peace – something they have not actually been all that good at finding throughout their lives. My father sits out there and feeds his birds, content to commune with a few small members of Australia’s wildlife. My mother sits at the table, with a mug of coffee or tea, reading a trashy magazine and for a moment at least manages to forget all she has to call me and complain about – something I am truly grateful for.

The Good Man built a pizza oven in his backyard. He called us together and we ate too much, drank too much and laughed far too hard for a group of friends who had recently found out one of their own was now at the mercy of the limited power of medicine. Then he built another oven in the back garden of a mutual friend. Once again, we came together to eat, drink and laugh. To live.

Then it was our turn. Right next to “The Room the Good Man Built” stands a pizza oven which has provided warmth, heat and light as well as mouth-wateringly good homemade pizzas which our families and friends have all shared. Everything tastes better when you’ve had a hand in it. Fresh pizza, hot from the oven was the food of choice at my daughter’s third birthday party last year, as well as at my father’s birthday dinner this year and friends will gather around it in less than a week, when we see in the New Year together.

The Good Man has fixed odds and ends for friends of ours and for people across Melbourne I have never met and will probably never know. When I get angry and frustrated over what has befallen the Good Man and his family I attempt to find consolation in the fact that years from now, after we’re all gone, there will hopefully still be a part of the Good Man dotted all over Melbourne. He will be in a mended fence or step, in a deck and a garden bed, in a back room and a house, and in a series of pizza ovens that will hopefully continue to bring families and friends together to eat and drink, laugh and live.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Room 101

Yesterday I was compelled to sit through my eldest son’s THREE-AND-A-HALF HOUR dance concert.

I’ll just give you some time to let that little fact sink in.

That’s right. Three-and-a half-hours.

Now, I know there are parents out there who will declare me an unfit mother and be on the phone to DHS within seconds for this confession, but I’ve decided the truth must come out regardless of these risks. And the truth is, watching children perform, for the most part, sucks arse.

There. I’ve said it. I absolutely hate it. Notice of an upcoming school concert sends cold tingles down my spine. While for Winston Smith it was a rat chewing at his face, my Room 101 is being stuck front row centre at a primary school’s musical evening. If I could be transported back in time, I would not choose to kill Hitler or Attila the Hun. I would hunt down the sadistic monster who decided that children needed to learn to play the recorder and save mankind from that particular tragedy. Seriously, who in the world declared that device to be a musical instrument? And what crazy person first put it in the hands of a child?

Every year I am forced to sit through my younger son’s school concert. For me it is like nails down a blackboard. The ridiculous narrative, the god-awful dialogue, the clumsy little kids who can barely walk in a straight line, never mind actually dance. Then there are the jazz hands.

I truly believe audience members should receive a Valium and a hip flask filled with vodka with every ticket purchased.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, the singing starts. The horrendous, off key, it would be funny if it wasn’t so god damned torturous, singing. It makes me want to scream.

Then there is the post-concert nightmare. All the parents, glowing with pride, “Weren’t they just wonderful?! Weren’t they absolutely amazing?!” No they weren’t. They were absolutely awful. They made me want to stick pins in my eyes and champagne corks in my ears. They were a blight on the performing arts industry. They were the furthest thing from “wonderful” possible.

And it seems the more god-awful a particular child is in said performance, the more over-the-top the parent’s response is. Parents who know their offspring are actually okay at being on stage tend to say very little about it. However, in what can only be described as the most bizarre correlation know to science, the parent of the tone deaf, talentless hack who continuously falls over her own feet and spends most of the show pulling her underpants out of her arse crack, will go on ad infinitum about how “blown away” she or he is by Junior’s “amazing” performance.

Is it just me? Surely there are other parents who also head to their little one’s end-of-year kindergarten performance with the same level of enthusiasm they bring to an impending root canal?

I don’t dislike the theatre – quite the opposite. I really enjoy watching a play, or attending the ballet. I love the arts – visual and performing. And I am in no way saying that this area should not be the domain of our children. It absolutely should. I have no problem spending a small fortune on little Nureyev’s lessons every year and I am very happy about the fact that he is doing something active, something that he enjoys and something that affords him the chance to express himself. I enjoy taking him to dance performances and musicals, discussing what we enjoyed about them, and then singing along to the overpriced CD-soundtrack we bought at the theatre on the way out.

However, for the same reason we do not allow little Johnny who may, one day, in many, many years become a brain surgeon, to operate on an actual human until he is trained, qualified and ready, so too should we not allow bumbling little Betty tread the boards until she has proven that she can carry a tune and put one foot in front of the other without falling over. And even then, there should never, ever, ever be jazz hands. Ever.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Natural Talent

This post goes out to all those true believers out there, those who cling passionately to a conviction, despite the critics and the naysayers. This post is dedicated to all those mummies and daddies out there who believe their kids are awesome and amazing, despite the very clear and very precise evidence to the contrary.

As a teacher I have had the pleasure of encountering these kinds of parents, and let me say, there is no greater nightmare. There is no comment that causes a teacher to quake with fear quite like, "I just don't think you have the skills to really bring out the best in my child". The very fact that the seemingly sane parent standing before you believes there even is a "best" in their child pretty much proves how delusional they actually are.

As a parent I believe I am fairly aware of my children’s flaws. While my eldest is quite bright academically, he can also be incredibly bossy and self-righteous. In fact, he has the propensity to be quite obnoxious at times. My youngest, at the tender age of three, is totally indulged thanks to two big brothers and a mother just thankful she was blessed with a daughter after two boys. As a result she can be a bit of a drama queen and a tad - okay, more than a tad - of a princess. My middle child is, well, a middle child in the most extreme sense of the term. To coin a phrase, he has 'issues'. Lots of them. So, in no way do I believe any of my children is even cresting the boarder of perfection. They are each, in their own very special way, incredibly and utterly flawed.

Caught in a conversation with two kinder mums today I was struck by the rose-tinted glasses many parents choose to don whenever they look towards their children.

In past blogs I've mentioned Little Miss It's All About Me. Apparently, it's now also all about Little Miss It's All About Me Jnr, Little Miss IAAM's youngest child. I was not aware this child was so exceptional. I was under the assumption that Little Miss IAAM Jnr was just your average three-year-old. Cute kid, quite friendly and fairly well-mannered. I will admit, I have noticed that she does possess an amazingly beautiful head of hair. Long, luxurious black locks that tumble down her back and gleam in the sunshine. I was not however aware of the fact that she is, according to Little Miss IAAM, "a born leader". Here I was, stupidly thinking that when a three-year-old is picking her nose, she is doing just that. How remiss of me not to realise that she is actually demonstrating keen and insightful leadership skills. But then again, what would I know?

So, Little Miss It's All About Me is chatting to me and a woman I can only refer to as Completely Delusional Mummy - CDM. The three of us are discussing the kinder teacher all our children have shared over the past year. Now, while this particular teacher isn't my favourite, I have found her to be a totally acceptable educator. She has taught my child to be independent, and has been thoroughly honest about my little princess's strengths and weaknesses. All-in-all, I have been quite happy. The two women I was chatting with however were of quite the opposite opinion.

"She hasn't really appreciated how special my son is", complained CDM. Now, CDM's offspring is indeed 'special'. He's known in the class for being the loudest, the craziest, the most 'special' in a whole bunch of ways. According to this woman however, it is the teacher's failings that have resulted in her son being known for being an unruly little shit. It's not, of course, because her child is in fact an unruly little shit.

"I know what you mean.” sighed Little Miss IAAM, "She hasn't given Little Miss IAAM Jnr any real chance to shine..."

What?! No election of class president so Jnr can reveal her instinctive leadership skills? At least give her the chance to be toilet-flush monitor! Or put her in charge of covering the sandpit so the local cats don't piss in it overnight. And to think, this is a private school. Tsk, tsk!

"She really relates best to the parents of the ordinary kids. You know, the ones who have no real clear talent or ability." Little Miss IAAM smiles sweetly at me. I stifle the urge to punch her in the face.

But she's right. At the tender age of three, my daughter has no real clear talent or ability. I consider it a win if she manages to wipe her bottom AND wash her hands after doing a poo. At no point over the past three years and ten months has Princess demonstrated any particular aptitude. So, clearly my little one is not as talented as the offspring of Little Miss IAAM and CDM. I think I can cope with that. And as I spy all three of our children jumping up and down in the dirt, chanting, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re a bit of an arsehole” I wonder which particular genius taught them that little diddy. Surely it was a ‘special’ child, or a “born leader”.

Or even more likely, it was a middle child with ‘issues’.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Climbing Ladders

It has come to my attention that some people are just shit at their jobs. Not simply incompetent, but really and truly awful. They don’t truly understand what the vital aspects of their role are and perhaps most disturbingly, they have absolutely no idea of how to get the best out of those around them.

These flaws are most clearly revealed in those erroneously placed in positions of responsibility and leadership which far outweigh their natural talent and abilities. This has been abundantly clear in the case of Ms UnPC.

In the illustrious educational institution that I currently call home Ms UnPC occupies a significant administrative position, a role which requires her to lead and inspire both staff and students. Unfortunately, at present Ms UnPC is about as inspiring as that little bit of drool which oozes out of the corner of your husband’s mouth after he has passed out from drinking a dozen or two too many beers.

However, it must be noted that this was not always the case.

Ms UnPC arrived at the school around the same time I did, and when she first came here she was amazing. She was a wonderful teacher to her students and mentor to other staff. She had previously been teaching at another equally illustrious institution and so was able to instruct a novice like myself on how to navigate the perilous waters I found myself in, or as she put it, “play the game”. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Ms UnPC played the game so well that she was eventually promoted to a position far beyond her natural talents.

Since taking on that position she has become increasingly, well, shit. Now, I firmly believe that people, both young and old will forgive a multitude of sins in their leaders. They will forgive when issues arise or when matters don’t go exactly as planned. Most reasonable human beings understand that everyone at some stage makes a mistake or allows what they should have attended to, to slide under the radar. What is not so easily pardoned is when those in positions of leadership treat those around them, and perhaps more importantly, those they perceive to be under them, badly. Colleagues get even more disconcerted when they’re treated poorly over again not because they have done anything wrong, but because the individual treating them shoddily is simply frustrated by her own inabilities. Simply stated, Ms UnPC got a job too big, too complicated and too demanding, and quickly metamorphosed into an infantile bitch who treats everyone around her like crap because she is stressed. A true leader.

Ms UnPC has been on a sliding slope for a number of years now. Her popularity has plummeted like a post-Divine Brown Hugh Grant. Even her previous fans are no longer singing her praises. Or even whispering them. The shine has indeed rubbed off this once special little lady.

The other day I passed Ms UnPC in the school quad. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping. VCE exams over, most staff are feeling reasonably light-hearted. I smiled and greeted her, “Hi, how are you?” Snout up in the warm air, aging shoulders slightly hunched, she grunted coldly, “Fine.”

I used to be quite close to this woman. I would go to her for advice, to share stories about students. She danced at my wedding and was one of the first colleagues to hold my newborn daughter. For over a year now I have been wondering what I have done to her. Had I put an inexcusable foot wrong? Had I said something I shouldn’t had? Surprisingly, I’m the sort who often says the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. Who would have guessed?

But I have come to the realisation that this not about me. Even if I have said or done something wrong at some point, she could have come to me and asked about it, at the very worst, told me she didn’t appreciate what I had done and even at a stretch, told me off for it. But the reality is, this is not about anything I or anybody else may have said or done. This is about poor leadership. It’s about someone who still plays favourites and who is so overwhelmed by a job she doesn’t really enjoy that she treats those around her poorly.

So, the teacher that I am, I look for lesson in all of this. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to have moments when you’re not the best at your job, however, it is not okay to alienate and wrong those you work with. After all, Ms UnPC isn’t the only one able to climb ladders...

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Very Incovenient Truth

If I am to be completely honest, I must admit that I am a judgemental bitch. I have absolutely no qualms about passing judgement on the lives and choices of others. Alongside this lovely facet of my personality is the virtue, or perhaps the failing, of having absolutely no problem letting people know when I believe they have made an error of sorts – regardless of whether or not these choices are actually any of my business.

I know it’s wrong. I know a better person would stand by silently, acknowledge that the choices of others’, even best friends’, are not up for critique. Perhaps if I was a better friend I would be able to simply empathise with those I love, and acknowledge that when they come to me they seek support, not a solution. Unfortunately, I am by nature a seeker of solutions. I have never understood the desire to complain about a situation if you are not going to actually attempt to resolve it. In my mind, if there is an aspect of your life that is not working for you, then by all means have a whinge, but then do something to change it. If you don’t, odds are, whatever it is you are complaining about is actually working for you to some extent.

It angers me to see those I love living lives that I believe are hurting them or perhaps, more accurately, living a life of compromise, missing out on what should be theirs, on the existences they should be able to live, simply because of the failings of the men or women they choose to share their lives with. When I see friends in relationships that fail to provide them the love, care, respect and attention I believe they deserve I feel frustrated and occasionally and no doubt ironically, I even find myself angry at these same friends for accepting a life for themselves that I cannot accept.

I acknowledge that at the base of this issue is an assumption that my friends desire the same sort of lifestyle I aspire to, and rationally I know this may very well not be the case. I try to remind myself that the lives I presume to be hurting them or limiting them or frustrating them may in fact be the lives they desire. Perhaps the reality is, the only one their lives are really frustrating is me.

My judgements are based on the assumption that everyone I know and love has similar values and basic desires to mine. I presume that all those I perceive of being similar to me in some way, also share my belief in the value of owning their own home. I presume that they also seek a partner who supports them emotionally, mentally and financially. My judgements are based on the assumption that all parents I know also believe that education is the most important gift they can ever give their children and that dressing up, putting on a spot of lippy and a pair of killer heels makes every woman feel sexy and better about themselves – even if only for a moment. My judgements are based on the assumption that everyone finds the identical attributes worthy of respect and admiration. I am learning that this is very much not the case.

Hubby, hunched over his computer, working late into the evening to ensure he is good at his job, is not a factor which would cause all wives to flush with love. Some would resent the hours he puts in, the endless discussion which centres on our working lives. Some would say that often we pay more attention to our students than our own biological offspring, and at times, they would be right.

I have many failings, but perhaps one of my greatest is that I assume that what I believe is ‘the right way’ is indeed ‘the right way’. We talk about cultural sensitivity, and how as a global society we, in a more tangible way than ever before are willing and able to embrace and respect the multitudes of traditions, values and beliefs that colour our world. And we do. For those who are visibly different, and reside in a world that is clearly alien to us. I would never dare bring my assumptions to some woman living in a mud-hut in Africa with eleven children and a goat. That would be presumptuous and insensitive. But for some reason I have absolutely no problem imposing these same assumptions on my friends living down the street, around the corner or in the very next suburb.

And so, to those I have judged based on my own assumptions regarding what I believed you should want out of life, I apologise. I promise to try to adopt the old “live and let live” adage. But, I give fair warning, come whinging to me about your life and I will tell you the truth... as I see it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kitchen Nightmares

Hubby considers himself quite the chef, and to be fair he does do the majority of the meal planning, preparation and cooking in the household.  While he is obsessed by the Lifestyle Food channel and can watch the likes of Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein for hours, the one small aspect of cheffing life that has not been picked up by his culinary radar is the cleaning of the kitchen.  For some inexplicable reason he does not get that good chefs, real chefs, understand that a clean kitchen is a fundamental aspect of the whole cooking thing.

And while I greatly appreciate the home-cooked meals I and our children are served most evenings, the fact that he seems incapable of actually cleaning up after himself drives me insane.  He seems to enjoy using every possible pot, saucer and spoon he can find.  Oil splatterings on the backsplash are a specific area of expertise, as are vegetable peels left in a heap on the counter.  Perhaps he is waiting for them to grow legs and walk themselves over to the rubbish bin.  However, keep in mind that even if this miracle were to occur it would only be of limited assistance as the rubbish itself would have to work out a way to take itself out.  No matter how full the bin is, as far as Hubby is concerned, "There's still room". 

Hubby's cleaning regime consists of shoving whatever can fit into the dishwasher, and whatever can't fit in, he deems to be in need of 'soaking' - code for leaving it filled with water until I get so sick of seeing it there I wash it myself.  Hubby has yet to develop the understanding that if you leave a dirty cooking implement lying on the kitchen counter you will at some stage need to actually clean said counter.  Cleaning the oven, stove top, microwave, toaster, is, in Hubby's world, an optional extra.  Yet, he laughs furiously while witnessing Gordon Ramsey going through shockingly dirty commercial kitchens, totally unaware of the irony.
I am completely aware that in my last post I contended that I am in no way a domestic diva.  And I'm not.  At 2:01pm on a Saturday afternoon none of the beds in my home are made and 'The Saturday Age' is strewn across the dining room table.  My mother is appalled by my lack of interest in cooking an array of traditional Jewish dishes and bemoans the fact that her most valuable treasure - her secret chicken-soup recipe will die with her (mostly because she prefers that to the idea of passing this family secret on to her Irish-Catholic son-in-law).  My mother-in-law is just appalled.  But that's a whole other story.  I stand by the fact that I do not enjoy cleaning out the family fridge or scrubbing the insides of a grease-coated oven.  I can think of many activities I would prefer to participate in .  But I do these things.  Not because I gain any pleasure out of them, but because they have to be done.  Hubby just does not see the necessity.  In fact, until I raised the issue he was not even aware that toasters have a crumb-tray.

Foxtel programmers and executives, allow me to suggest a new program for the Lifestyle Food channel.  I like to call it, 'Clean the Fuck Up After Yourself'.  I want to switch on and see Jamie teaching male viewers how to clean the roasting tray after roasting a "pukka" chicken.  I want him to explain how leaving the tray filled with greasy water for 17 days to 'soak' is NOT a precursor to cleaning and will have an adverse effect on your sex-life.  I want Rick Stein to explain that when one barbecues a whole bunch of shrimp for a Christmas lunch, it's really important to remember to take out the rubbish.  And if you fail to remember to do so, it is totally reasonable for your wife to be very upset with you.  I want Gordon Ramsey to start doing home visits, telling men who have been taken in by the 'Masterchef' phenomenon that their kitchens are disgusting, liberally using the 'F-Word' as he does so.

Now that is a cooking program I would watch.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Unbounded Domesticity

Recently I have become friendly with two fellow kinder mums.  Both are lovely, honest and genuine women.  There is absolutely no bullshit about either of them, and believe me, that is not easy to find at a Jewish day school kindergarten.  However, while I value my friendship with both of them, what has become abundantly clear is that compared to both of them I am completely and utterly inadequate in the home-making department.

Domestic Goddess is exactly that.  Her two daughters' snacks are always home made and it is absolutely nothing for her to whip up a dozen perfectly pink-iced mini donuts for a play date.  She cleans out her pantry and fridge once a week and I have never seen any dirt in her house - unless one of my children has dragged it in.  Entertaining guests with an array of dietary restrictions and allergies seems to not phase her one tiny bit as she creates artful gluten-free wraps bursting with yummy fillings.  This contrasts greatly with my handing over of a slightly bruised apple with an apologetic smile.  I could handle all this if Domestic Goddess did not actually work as well.  But she does.  Granted, not full-time in the traditional sense, but she is a manager at a large company who handles corporate phone-calls on her mobile with ease while breakfasting with Sunshine Cleaning and myself without dropping a speck of her bagel and skinny hot chocolate on her perfectly pressed suit.  Thanks to her flexible job she is able to work into the night, after she has tidied up the entire house, made tomorrow's lunches and put her daughters to bed.  Her husband has a busy job of his own and as such all domestic tasks fall firmly to her, and she does them.  Not only that, she seems to enjoy them. 

Sunshine Cleaning's house is startlingly clean.  Seriously.  It's so clean it's blinding.  And she has kids.  Two boys.  Twins.  She also works.  She also maintains a vibrant social life, always going out with friends to dinner, having throngs of guests over, kids over to play with her kids - all with this amazing smile on her face.  When I first met her I assumed she must be medicated, but once again I have discovered, that she enjoys doing all these things.  She enjoys getting down on the floor and playing pretend with a hoard of four year-olds, she enjoys cutting up fruit and presenting it in a way Donna Hay would be jealous of, she enjoys being a mother and wife and everything that goes with it.  Apparently she also really enjoys vacuuming.

Both of these women have pantries that look like some sort of Tupperware Mecca. 

Tupperware Mecca

My pantry on the other hand looks like the 'before' shot - half open pasta packets, flour bags closed with random clothes pegs, and of course an assortment of highly processed snacks for hubby to throw into lunchboxes in the morning, because if he were to rely on me to do it, our children would end up going to school with half a bottle of flat diet coke.  There is also always onion and garlic skins around.  I don't know why and I don't know how.  I have learnt to keep my pantry door firmly shut when Domestic Goddess and Sunshine Cleaning visit.

I would love to be like these two women, who live in homes where the beds being made is a rule, rather than the exception.  And there are some days when I come close to being somewhat like them, when I manage to throw out that piece of mouldy cheddar that's been lurking at the back of the fridge.  But I'm pretty sure I'm not smiling about it.  And I'm very sure I'm not enjoying it.

Perhaps this is less about my inadequacies, my inabilities and more about what I choose to expend my energy on.  I suppose I could stay up till midnight vacuuming and cleaning out all those bits of onion and garlic skin, but the reality is, I would far rather be watching a DVD with hubby in my less than meticulous bedroom.  Sure, it feels great when I know the house is sparkling clean, but with three kids and two parents working full time and just trying to make things work, that particular pleasure is a rarity.  So, I'll take advantage of the joys that happen more often - my three-year old daughter sneaking into bed with me at 6am for an early morning cuddle, my ten-year old son kicking my arse at 'Just Dance 2' and my seven-year old telling me I'm the best mum in the world because for a special treat I let him have a chocolate-chip cookie and that half a bottle of flat diet coke for breakfast.