Catch phrase?

I’m reading Michell A’Court’s Stuff I forgot to tell my daughter. A colleague lent it to me; I might ask her if I can lend it to my mum 😉

There’s a bit where A’Court mentions as a feminist motto “what we are asking for is not unreasonable”. It’s a good one. She references parental leave and childcare funding as examples of reasonable asks.

I want to up the stridency level.


– You are unreasonably denying us something we deserve.

– We shouldn’t even have to ask.

– Stop demeaning yourself and give us our fucking due already.

– Explain to me why we still debating this?


I start writing about Betty Draper and end up fantasising about a long bath

I am waiting for the final episodes of “Mad Men” to come onto Netflix, and meanwhile I went back and watched some of season one.

One of the themes of “Mad Men” generally is the allure and horror of being alienated from oneself. There is a fine line between the detachment that enables you to perform as the person you want to be, and the disconnect that leaves you unsure who you are. The show plays with this in many ways. One is Betty’s alienation from the mothering role. When Betty asks Henry in season six “why don’t they love me?”, she is really asking “why don’t I love them more?”. What hurts her is not the way the children behave, but her own less than loving response. Unable to acknowledge to herself that it’s her response at fault, she blames the children, and thus justifies her behaviour towards them. Yet she wantsto be a good mother, and more than this, she wants to find fulfilment in motherhood – though for the viewers it is obvious from the second episode that she’s deeply unhappy.

As a character, Betty is a more radical creation by far than Joan or Peggy. Motherhood as a potentially alienating performance is not something we see or speak of often. We don’t often see on tv mothers who do shitty things to their kids.  

Advertising has an obvious fascination with the contrast between authenticity and performance. The sweet spot is to authentically be your ideal self – but we see in Don how unobtainable that is. The idealised version is (by definition) not the authentic version. What shocks us about Betty is that her mothering often involves a negative knee-jerk response to a situation. In a world where mother “instincts” are rarefied, depicting the possibility that a mother’s instinct might be selfish or petty is radical. I love that the show goes there, because the reality is that mothers sometimes have to consciously behave well in their mother role, despite impulses to the contrary (just like office workers). 

One of the cool things about a TV show like “Mad Men” is that it shows people behaving so badly they almost cross the line into irredeemable awfulness, meaning the audience gets the vicarious chills and thrills of seeing that shadow self who you know is there, but you don’t want to let out. Even Peggy, heroine Peggy, behaves appallingly sometimes – like that thing with the flowers and the secretary. But the critics reserve a particular condemnation for Betty. It seems that being a bad mother is the worst thing anyone can be.

Remember the Veruca Salt “I want it now” scene in the old Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonker and the Chocolate Factory? Whenever my brother and I were being little spoiled shits, my dad would say “stop it, you’re behaving like Veruca Salt”. We would stop straight away, we didn’t want to be Verucas, dear no – but we loved that scene. There is a catharsis in watching awful behaviour and the comeuppance. Also, seeing characters on screen do the things you don’t do but sometimes have an unbidden thought of doing can provide a moral anchor. Bad examples serve a purpose. It’s hard to always live up to the best example, so sometimes you need to lower the bar and just make sure you don’t do the worst stuff. Which is why, in a tv landscape very very full of flawed characters who do bad things (I can’t even watch “House of Cards”, it is too cynical and makes me too despondent), we need some mothers in the mix.

Yesterday the little dude threw food out of his high chair and then yanked my hair very hard as I bent to clean it up and then tipped his sippy cup down the back of my neck. I didn’t have the emotional reserves to be super patient mama. It had been a long day. I was tired. I wasn’t going to be able to do “carefully modulated stern voice.” You know what I wanted to do when I was crouched under the high chair mopping up food and he grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled with full force? I wanted to pull his hair. It hurt! Now, pulling your 15 month old baby’s hair is clearly in the “unacceptable” basket (it’s the sort of thing Betty Draper might do!). But in that moment, I had this image of just yanking his beautiful soft golden curly hair. The perfect mother woudn’t even have that thought. The perfect mother wouldn’t feel pain inflicted by chubby hands, the perfect mother would see only the reality that he is still learning boundaries. The perfect mother would gently un-curl the little fist, and her hair would fall exactly back into place, and she would calmly explain that pulling hair is not nice, and the child would understand exactly what she meant and would never do it again, and as a bonus he would finish his dinner with no more catapulting of food. I was a ratty, end of tether mother yesterday. I walked away and got myself a drink of water and some crackers while he yelled and banged the sippy cup on the table top. Then I took a deep breath. By allowing ourselves to step back from “be the best mother you can be” sometimes, and just focus on “don’t be an arsehole”, it becomes easier to maintain a calm equilibrium.

What I like about seeing bad behaviour on tv is that it reminds me of the difference between thoughts and actions. To exist on tv, someone else must have thought of doing the thing. But they didn’t. They made a tv show about it instead. Proof of the fact that the momentary thought of doing something you would instantly regret is different to actually doing it.

(If I ever make a tv show, I will write a scene where a mother pulls her toddler’s hair, feels terrible, lets him throw everything on the floor to make it up to him, and then runs a big deep bath and gets in it with the toddler, and just stays there adding more hot water for like an hour or more so that when her husband gets home, he is greeted with food everywhere and a prune of a toddler and he has no choice but to take the toddler from the bath, at which point the mother stealthily gets out and locks the bathroom door behind him, emerging in a bathrobe only once the toddler is in bed and the food is cleared up).

A brief comment on parental notification for abortion

I saw a thing on Stuff today – a petition calling for parents to be notified when someone under 16 has an abortion. 

Oh man I feel so strongly about this issue. 

So strongly that I struggle to actually articulate an argument about it. 

I don’t know why I feel so strongly, it’s not a personal issue for me. At 15 I was still years away from having sex. And my parents and I have a pretty top-notch relationship. And I’ve never had an abortion. So far as I know, all the people I know who’ve had abortions were over 16. Yet I find myself feeling a sort of seized up choking when I see the arguments that play out on this issue. The underlying assumptions chill me. Like an abortion is a big deal but pregnancy and childbirth and parenting aren’t. Like a 15 year old cannot be trusted to make decisions for herself – not just the substantive decision whether to have an abortion, but the decision about who she looks to for support. Like the default is to trust the parents over the teenager. And once we start going down that path, maybe the default is to trust some other source of authority over the adult woman?

Is it absolutely awful that 15 year olds  (and younger) get pregnant? OF COURSE. Does it absolutely suck that some pregnant teenagers don’t feel confident that their parents will help them to deal with this inherently difficult life event? OF COURSE. Does telling the parents against the wishes of the pregnant kid do anything to help anyone? No, I can’t see how it would. Best case scenario, the kid is wrong and her parents are actually really a great source of support. More likely scenario, the kid has to deal with a) being pregnant, b) how to respond to the pregnancy, and now also c) the emotional fallout with her parents, and possibly d) the risk that her parents will try and prevent her accessing an abortion when this is what she has decided is best for her, and maybe also e) the risk that her parents will cut her off from other sources of support. 

Why would we heap c) and d) and e) on top of the already pretty hefty a) and b)?!  

Maximum cuteness

This morning I came out of the bathroom and my husband was lying in bed saying “Where are you? Where did you go? I can’t see you!” Aw cute they’re playing peek-a-boo, I thought to myself. A second later I realised that I genuinely couldn’t see the little dude in the bedroom “Wait, where is he? You’re meant to be supervising!”

Then I heard the giggle. He was in the wardrobe. It has a sliding door. He was sitting inside sliding it back and forth. I think he just invented hide and seek.

Ready to work?

Good news – the budget provides a $25 a week increase to the sole parents’ benefit. Complicated news – the budget requires sole parents to be available for 20 hours paid work when their youngest is 3 (currently 15 hours at age 5). Childcare subsidies are also extended by a dollar an hour for low-income families. 

I don’t buy into the idea that it’s out and out terrible to expect parents to work when their kids are three. In some ways, three is no worse than five. And in some ways 20 hours is no worse than 15 hours, it depends how the hours are configured. That said, juggling parenting and work is complicated. It’s fine when things are fine, but as soon as there’s a spanner in the works – like a sick child – it gets tricky. Once kids are at school, the costs of care between 9 and 3 are fully funded, but on the other hand, if your part-time job requires you to work between 8am and 1pm every day, it might actually be easier when the kids are younger because many childcare centres open early and some offer half-days. If you work a night shift or an early morning shift  this might also be easier with younger children, who don’t have to get to school at a set time. The funding available when kids are younger is more flexible (the 20 hours ECE could be used for a home-based Barnados carer who is available on weekends, for example); on the other hand, it’s patchy, early childcare is provided through a range of community providers, small businesses, large chains, in home care, and various others; and not all offer the 20 hours ECE subsidy, and some charge a top-up. 

Since I last wrote about childcare, we’ve decided to bite the bullet and enrol the little dude full-time at his crèche. We pay for 45 hours a week, even though he’s only there for 30 hours a week. This is the least-bad option, but it’s an option that is available to us only because we earn enough to be able to take it up. The cheaper alternative would be to cram my hours into three days – but I can’t actually keep on top of the workload if I’m not in the office at least four days a week, and a 9 hour day at creche three days a week would lead to a very tired and strung out boy. So adding one more day was an easy call. Then I realised that, wait, I only get five days sick leave a year! If he’s enrolled for the full week, I have the flexibility in childcare to reshuffle my hours when he’s sick and minimise the amount of leave I take (this is also good from the perspective of getting the work done). Another alternative would be to enrol him at a centre that closes sooner. Centres with shorter hours are cheaper. That wouldn’t work from an office perspective – sometimes I need to be available for a meeting that finishes later. I don’t usually pick him up after 5pm but I need to have that option; and my husband definitely needs this option for the occasions when I might have to go out of town on a work trip and leave him with the pick-up job (let alone do something in the evening!). 

These are the childcare issues faced by someone with the sort of job that makes it relatively easy to be a working parent, and the sort of salary that makes it relatively easy to chose more expensive options that better enable paid work. 

A sole parent moving off a benefit faces a raft of additional issues. First, obviously,  they don’t have a  partner with whom to share the care. Ah, kinda a big deal?! Second, they don’t have a job to start with, so there’s not built-up goodwill with an employer. Again fairly major. Last week Wellington flooded. I got an email from the crèche saying that all parents were requested to pick up their kids as soon as possible. I popped my head into my boss’s office and said basically “going now, crèche is closing because of the floods, I’ll treat this as my half day, bye”. He was cool with it because I’ve proven myself in the role and he knows he can trust that I’ll make up the hours and get the work done. Can you imagine getting this past an employer who’s only just hired you, especially during the 90 day trial period? Uh, not likely. Third, if you’re moving into a job off a benefit chances are the job isn’t going to be especially well paid, and it’s probably not the sort that offers flexible hours. It might be the worst of all worlds – irregular hours or shift work, flexible from the employer’s end but not the employee’s end. And finally, there’s the issue of arranging suitable childcare in the short time between finding a job and starting the job (if you’re returning to a job after maternity leave you have a year to plan!). Not to mention the issue of not having money available to pay for things like transport to and from work and childcare. 

Many of these issues arise under the status quo as well. Starting work when your child starts school is far from ideal. That’s a lot of change and disruption for a family – two big life events at the same time. Also, being a working parent with school-aged children adds the complication of school holidays.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that there be an open-ended benefit for sole parents until their kids grow up. It’s just that our work expectations assume a lack of family responsibilities. What if you’re a sole parent and your child has a health issue? Or your own parents also need care? What if you have a health issue yourself? What if you had kids young and want to do some training so that you can ultimately get a better job, and also demonstrate to your kids that education is important? What if you moved out of the city when your relationship broke up, so you could be closer to family support, and because your benefit would stretch further in an area with lower rent and transport costs – but now you need a job and there aren’t any where you live? 

Requiring parents on benefits to be ready for employment when kids turn three or five or whenever – until employers are ready for parents it’s all unworkable. 

Easy steps to avoid student debt!

I read this piece – why do I do that, I should just not click those headlines!

Piss off Rod. 

There are two primary ways to avoid being bogged down by the costs of higher education. 

1) Complete your degree before 1992. This is what my parents did, brilliant foresight! My degree lasted five and a half years, so if I’d wanted to take this option up I really should have enrolled while in utero.

2) Have someone else pay for your education. Ideally you want to have well-off parents who have a fund set up specifically for this purpose. Why didn’t I suggest this option to my parents in 1992?! What an idiot. Busy spending my tooth-fairy money on the lucky dip at the video shop, never thinking about the long-term.  

If neither of those options are available, you can try your luck at scholarships. Caveat: this only works for a small number of people, and even if you get a few scholarships you could still end up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt because university is very very expensive. Alternatively, you could pay as you go, or you could work first and save up for your education. Except, this means paying for the education before you have a qualification, which means you will be earning less, so it’s clearly a stupid fucking idea and flies in the face of all economic logic. Oh, also living at home for free, yeah, great option if your parents are able to provide it and you don’t mind living with your parents well into your adult life. I did it for the first four years. Then my fiancé and I decided we wanted to get a place of our own. Crazy, right?! 

Hey, if you were lucky enough to use option one above, y’know what? How about you just shut up. Or better yet, how about you write an article about different funding models the Government could use instead of the current clearly unsustainable system?

Being and becoming

We went to a first birthday party today, which was lovely.

Now that I’m back at paid work, time is flying by. Young children grow very fast, and with busier days, it’s just whooom zhooom, zip, blink, wow. Two and a half months ago, when the little dude turned one, he was not yet walking and had no discernible words. He runs now, and he seems to pick up a new word every couple of days. It’s so amazing. So amazing. 

I remember that post I wrote last year when I realised my baby wouldn’t be sticking around much longer, and yeah, we’re at the stage now that startled me then. Not a baby. Still kinda my baby, but not really a baby. He’s a little kid. 

My mother tells me that sometimes in the morning when she’s half asleep, she forgets for a moment that my brother and I are grown-up. She lies there in dozy anticipation of two blonde, green-eyed children coming to share the bed and ask whether it’s a school day or a stay at home day.

It’s just about two years since I became pregnant. I’ve changed a lot, probably more than in any other two year span since I was a young teenager. This time two years ago we were on holiday in Thailand, hiking in Khao Sok National Park and spraying Listerine on leeches as they tried to make their way up our legs because I read it on some website. It really works! You do end up smelling of Listerine though. We were eating fried rice out of banana leaves and swimming fully clothed in a warm warm swimming hole. Fully clothed because leeches, yeah. In terms of the narrative of reminiscing, the leeches do kinda spoil it. We had a great time in Thailand! Also blood-sucking crawly slimy things!

A friend has recently binge-read (is that a thing?) this blog, and asked me whether in retrospect, would I say I had postnatal depression, all that stuff I wrote about it being really hard and all the sad-sop kvetching. The answer is no, but, yeah, it was bloody tough. I don’t think I was depressed; I was very sleep deprived, and I didn’t have enough adult company during the day. Some days in winter I wouldn’t go out because it was such bad weather and there was nowhere to go, and we didn’t have much money to spare for things like parking and activities, and just getting up the stairs to the car and back into the house later seemed liable to drench both me and the baby, and at least home was warm.

Also, the birth was absolutely horrendous, I try not to think about it. My post-baby body was changed in unexpected ways that continue to get me down (I’m not talking about cosmetic stuff like stretchmarks). I became a mother, so all of a sudden I was expected to know exactly how to meet the every need of my baby and to be delighted in doing it all the time. Of course it made me feel a bit desperate. 

If depression is being stuck in the middle of an ocean on a dark night in a storm, I was just out of depth at a surf beach and kept getting pulled under by the waves.

And that’s falling in love, isn’t it? Being out of depth. Being pulled under. A mama falls in love with her baby, and just like any relationship, the falling in love is overwhelming, emotionally pummelling even while it’s the greatest thing ever. Where exactly will you land, at the other side of the fall? 

Being in love, on the other hand, is comfortable. Once love is worn-in you can wear it lightly. You don’t have to worry about how it might change you, because it has changed you, and it feels like it was always meant to be that way.