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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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shopping

Saturday Sales

I think I’ve spoken in passing about Baby & Kids Markets in Australia. The ones in Canberra tend to be held bi-monthly at the Fitzroy Hall at Exhibition Park. For the curious, these markets sell mostly pre-loved baby and young children’s goods – anything from clothes, to prams, to toys, to books, to car seats, to electrical appliances, to cloth diapers…

Stalls are set up and hosted mostly by mothers who

  • had once upon a time walked into their new 4-bedroom home with their husband Before Children, and thought, “Phwoar! This place is freakin’ HUGE!”…. only to discover that children – and their clothes and paraphernalia – can and will take up half your house, despite your best intentions
  • have sworn off the whole pregnancy gig, having acquired their 2.4 children
  • have finally managed to sort through and part with all the clothes, shoes, toys, appliances and furniture that their offspring accumulated in 3 short years
  • envision their newfound space and giddily embarking on their My Home Looks Like Something Out Of Pinterest project, only to find that they…
  • …might make a small sum of money, but will run out and buy new things for their children anyway. Return to Square One.

For the consumer, the markets can be a treasure trove – especially for first-time mothers, since newborn clothes hardly get worn, much less get worn out. The first time Tony and I went together to shop for Arddun, we ended up with this.

I haven’t been to one in about a year, mostly because we’re fairly self-sufficient now and the last one I went to didn’t have that much clothes for Arddun’s age. It can be a bit hit-and-miss. Still, the MIL and I took a trip down yesterday with a rough list of items in our heads of things to get for Boy Blob.

Naturally, I emerged an hour later completely sidetracked, with loot for Arddun instead.

Things bought from Baby and Kids Market in November 2014
Clockwise from left: $1 brand new Grosby boots for 18-month old… and the only thing I bought for Boy Blob yesterday, $2 schoolbag for Arddun to use next year because current backpack is too small, brand new silver cardigan for $3, Pumpkin Patch cherry-printed bikini for $2, matching Pumpkin Patch swimming hat from stall next door for $1. Total outlay: $9

What can I say. I love a bargain.

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Happy Boxing Day

So this morning, Tony got up early and made blueberry pancakes for all of us from scratch. And then he got Arddun changed, loaded the car with the duffel bag full of swimming gear, bundled her in, and took off to Dickson pools.

Leaving me to go #shopping# (you have to trill that word like a bird on prozac) All By Myself.

Just got back, and feeling refreshed and enthused enough to blog – which is saying something, because I haven’t been ready or willing to blog in ages. It wasn’t just the retail therapy that gave me this post-Christmas jollies – it was the crowd. It was the energy. It was the fact that shelves were full and prices were halved. It was the fact that everything was still sparkling and Christmassy. Ray from Far Away asked on Facebook if the Boxing Day Sales were rather pugilistic – and perhaps there is a little bit of jostling and negotiation. There has to be. But that’s the best part.

I know my Singapore friends and family are going to want to smack me over the head with a two-by-four for waxing lyrical about the next part, but I even enjoyed waiting in queues today. Someone was shouting over the crowd to his girlfriend about how nuts it all was, and I grinned at him. I adored it. People. I was surrounded by them. They were happy. They were relaxed. They actually wanted to be there.

Okay, perhaps that was going a little too far. The women chiefly wanted to be there. The children tolerate it because there might be something in it for them, and the men tolerate it because they love their women and just ate their weight in turkey and Christmas sweets. Plus, parking at the Canberra Centre was $2 for the whole day. But you can tell that the men weren’t really into it, by how full the Man Benches were. Just rows and rows strewn about the Canberra Centre of bored men guarding a moat of shopping bags, and scrolling through their smartphones while cussing the lousy reception.

That was the only dampener of my shopping spree.

I’m sure Myer didn’t intend this to happen, but the changing room at the lingerie department has about 3 chairs at the entrance of the changing room – presumably for women to gather their strength after hours of waiting for a cubicle. But those three chairs collectively became a Man Bench.

This meant that each time you queued up to go in, the Man Bench got to mull over your taste in undergarments on 30-50% discount.

What happens, of course, is that you end up squishing everything into a ball in one hand so you can hide it by your right side, while using all your other shopping bags on your left as a modesty shield. This is fine until you reach the front and have to show the sales assistant how many pieces you’re bringing in. “Four,” you mutter while she unfurls this wad of creased padding by Elle Macpherson. And then you try to sidle in with your back against the Man Bench. You do not make eye-contact.

This doesn’t prove to be a problem for some other breed of women who seem oblivious to the gawking of the Man Bench. Spotting a generous girth and blessed by far superior badongadongs, they manage to flap all stringy/animal-printed/hot-pink laced/disproportionately tiny undergarments in the air while shouting “SIX PIECES, PLEASE!” to ANYONE IN ZIMBABWE WHO WOULD LISTEN the sales assistant.

Of course the first time round, they don’t fit – so you’re there debating the merits of making an educated guess on better sizes vs. braving that Man Bench again. In the end, the 30-50% discount sign wins and you queue once again, but this time you get so good at preparing the wad beforehand, things feel a lot less slo-mo.

Apart from that, I managed to get a few birthday gifts for others, and a book and CD for Arddun. And two blue dresses – one frilly, one straight. And an ultraslim iPad mini keyboard folio thingy for my Christmas gift from Tony (w00t!) at $40 discount (double w00t!)

And I sat on a Man Bench the middle of the mall, cloudy apple juice in one hand, and just soaked everything in – the happy noise, the snippets of conversation, the busyness. It was just so good to connect with my inner City girl again. (I know – I only just got back from Singapore in early November!) I love Canberra and how it’s really a glorified country town – which is a fabulous thing in itself. But it can sometimes seem so lifeless, so empty, so cold.

I need to remember to do this every year if I can.

Three Toddler Tales

So of course, as soon as I freak out about how I broke my kid, Arddun gives me three wonderful days of hugs, kisses, 90% obedience and overall effervescent adorableness to make the heart sing. And so I’m back to feeling that all is mostly well with the world, and perhaps Arddun isn’t going to turn into a rebellious, taciturn punk with ridiculously pierced bits. Yet.

Anyhoo… I have all these little moments with Arddun that I tell myself I should go blog about, but don’t. And because my memory is like a sieve – more so now that I have a To-Do app on my Android that I absolutely love because I don’t have to remember anything anymore – I forget most of these precious funnies long before it’s late enough for me to sit in front of the ‘puter to blog.

But thankfully, I still remember these three moments.

1. The One with the Slippers

This one happened a couple months ago in Singapore.

But first, a lesson in terminology.

In Australia, Slippers refer to bedroom slippers. They are usually fluffy, worn indoors, and are purely objects of comfort and not couture. The rubber-soled ones worn outside are called Thongs here. Not Flip-Flops, because that’s American and I get scolded a lot when I say flip-flops because it’s so UnAustralian (The fact that half of their TV programmes on their FTA channels are from the great U S of A does tend to escape my critics’ notice.)

Tangent: The fact that the outdoor ones are called Thongs is another valuable lesson in meanings getting lost in translation. It certainly gave Tony and I a good 15 minutes of Awkward in our very early dating days, when he once decided to pop into Cooleman Court after Sunday worship to “get himself a pair of thongs”. And I was left thinking, “Geez, that’s awfully forward for someone who only just started holding my hand.”

Moving along…

In Singapore, Slippers refer to Thongs/Flip-flops. We call the indoor ones “bedroom slippers”.  We think Thongs are what people wear when they want to walk around with a wedgie.

Anyhoo.

One afternoon during a girlie Wednesday afternoon, I popped into Havaianas and got Arddun her very own pair of hot-pink slippers. And she adored them. Still does, actually. She wanted to go everywhere with them. The trouble is, these are the ones without the strap at the back to hold the slipper on. Arddun had a pretty advanced toe-grip even back then, but she also tends to Not Sit Still, and so they would always inevitably fall off.

Zip over to one morning, when my cousin and her Ben – known to Arddun as Aunty Andy and Ah-Ben – came by to take Arddun out for the day so I could stay in my mum’s house to pack and sort. In our haste that morning, I had forgotten to give them a short tutorial on stroller-folding. Stroller-folding is remarkably easy once you know the catches and the tabs… but ridiculously NOT when you’re frantically trying to fold one to shove into an impatiently waiting taxi at the side of the road.

After a fruitless time, Aunty Andy decided to get out of the taxi with toddler and nappy bag so they can all stand there at the side of the road and figure out the stroller-folding, and let the taxi driver go in peace. Arddun, meanwhile, is half-babbling and half-singing to herself. That’s good, they think to themselves. At least she’s happy.

After what feels like an eternity, Aunty Andy and Ah-Ben finally sort it all out… only to look down at their ward’s chubby bare foot and realise that Arddun is missing a slipper.

And that she’s been half-singing

“Sliiiipper! Where AAAAARE you? Where AAAARE you, Slipper?”

to the impatient taxi fast disappearing over the hill.

2. The One with the Shopping

Arddun and I usually do the week’s groceries together. I think we both love it. I’ve been reading The Educated Nanny’s blog and she had a post about how every moment is a teaching opportunity with a child. And I like to think that Arddun’s picking up concepts in our weekly shop. Since she was very little, I’ve pointed out different fruits and vegetables… even tried to teach her the Chinese words for them, when I remember to… and to understand that Fish can refer both to the live ones swimming in pretty tanks, and the yummy ones sitting on our plates. I don’t know what she thinks of that, but she understands that fish can mean both now.

Sometimes, if we’re doing a mid-week shop for a couple of loose items, we rent one of the kiddy trolleys and she gets to do the shopping. That’s when I get to teach her the concept of turning Left and Right. (“Okay… now turn left, Arddun. Yes… yes…this way… NO NO NO NO, the OTHER left! Yes… good girl…”) If it’s within her reach and if it’s not too heavy, I point out which item to get, and she happily grabs it off the shelf and puts it in the trolley.

Usually, she’s pretty good at following instructions, and only taking things when I give her permission to. This week, however, I had spent half a minute looking at toothpaste prices, only to turn around and find 184 sanitary pads in our trolley.

Within her reach. Not too heavy.

3. The One with the Smart-ass Car

One of the most brilliant and most horrible things I’ve done recently is to introduce The Wiggles in our car CD player. Since then, the moment I so much as turn the ignition, I hear this hopeful little voice at the back go, “Wiggles?” Pause. “Pease, mama? Wiggles?”

I mean, I don’t mind the Wiggles, but it is rather a waste of good technology. We have a relatively new car, and it has a 6-CD player. But we’re mostly stuck at CD 4, playing “Let’s Eat”. It keeps Arddun eerily quiet for most of the car ride. The only way I know she’s actively listening is the odd peep now and then when she knows the words and actions. Otherwise, my drive is usually smooth and whinge-proof.

Until the Wednesday just passed.

So here we are, driving along without a care in the world, and Arddun singing softly to herself. (Track 2 of this CD makes Arddun beam at you in the mirror like you just fed her chocolate for breakfast.) It’s a smooth road, and in a new automatic car, you tend to speed without meaning to. It’s a nice sunny afternoon and I’m singing in the car with my girl, so I decide to be good about speed limits and turn the cruise control on.

Except I press the wrong button on the steering wheel.

The music dies in mid-clap.

"Voice recognition is now on!"

No no no no…

“Wiggles?” Arddun asks, a note of panic in that tiny voice.

"Please enter your blah blah blah..."

I’m clicking buttons on the multi-function display console.

“WIGGLES?” Arddun implores. The word is laced with panic.

"You have not blah blah blah..."

(Translate: Entered the right command. Spoken English. Danced a Scottish jig. It’s not entirely clear, because I’m not listening.)

Now clicking any and all buttons. Wiper comes on.

“WIGGLES?!” Arddun starts to cry.

“It’s okay, Bubba. Wiggles is coming back on. Just give mummy some time, please.”

"Voice recognition is now on!"

“WEEEEGLES!” she wails, like I’ve just killed Dorothy, spooned out her brains, and replaced her with a Droid. “WEEEEEGLES! WEEEGLES!” Her devastation is palpable.

"Unable to recognise command"

“WEEEEEEGLLLLES!”

"Unable to recognise command"

It took some crazy presence of mind, a hurried prayer, and plenty of suppressed cussing to finally hit the right button. Boom! Voice recognition robot dies. Wiggles come back to life. “Everybody clap…”

Never trying that again.

TTT – Like a prayer, like a pampering, like a pair of pants

1. People who pray with technology
This week, I got two text messages filled with love and practicality. It said I was prayed for, it told me what the prayer was about, and it had a pretty handy piece of scripture attached to it. Short, to the point, powerful. You know how you read a chunk of scripture over and over, and nothing quite sinks in? Not deep-and-meaningful like? And then you get sent one verse at just the right time in your life and – ka blam! Impact.

This was the verse:

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Somewhere in my spiritual life, it got trendy to ONLY ask for strength to handle the come-what-may. Somehow, somewhere, it became the done thing to NOT plead with God. To not beg Him for a specific outcome. Not ask that it be A, and not B. Pretty please. Somehow, somewhere, the idea that we submit to God’s will mutually excluded the bit where I run to Him like a child and pester Him. To take what’s nearest and dearest to my heart and go… “Dad, this is my heart’s desire. Could I please have it?” Rinse, repeat.

I don’t know where I learnt not to ask for healing, but only for endurance. Not to ask for the removal of the impediment, but only to beg for fortitude.

So thanks for the reminder. And for finding the words, when my own brain lies still and rather useless at the mo.

2. Pretty vouchers
Arddun’s Christmas present to me: a very generous get-pretty voucher at a spa in the city. This, on top of another pedicure and facial voucher. Which is on top of my hair appointment this Saturday.

Well!

After feeling all mumsy and like a dag for months on end, it’s lovely to finally book in these pretty-me-up dates. The impetus is a wedding in late March and my trips to Brisbane and Singapore. Oh who am I kidding. I don’t really need a reason to book in afternoons of massages and pampering!

3. Hand-me-down Happies
Now that my weight and body shape have stabilised, I’ve had to take a deep breath and start throwing out things I can’t wear anymore. Which is about half my wardrobe, easily. And while I’ve been putting off the putting-aside because of laziness, the bigger reason has been my reluctance to pass on my clothes to complete strangers.

I donate regularly to Salvos and Vinnies… but these clothes spell history for me. And because most of these pieces have been with me since I was a teen, it’s been even harder to give away remnants of my past life in Singapore. These clothes aren’t just clothes – they’re memories of dates and break-ups and Sunday services and tertiary life and first jobs… They are one of the very few things in my house that came with me from Singapore. That were part of what I brought to our marriage home.

But then the Kirky girls have suddenly all grown up – and so I’ve found new clothes horses! It’s been happiness on both sides, because they get a new wardrobe while I see my clothes get a new lease of life every Sunday morning. Now complemented with gorgeous chestnut brown and strawberry blonde hair.

The mother of mall rats

I’m just walking the pram down the laundry aisle at Target, when I hear them.

The shrieking.

Two children playing catch or hide-and-seek or some fusion of both. Their little brother in a stroller, wailing because he is missing out. Their mother, deep in conversation with their grandmother over a pillow. (Seriously, lady. It’s Target. They’ll all go flat in a year.)

Without a word, I swing my pram with its precious, sleeping occupant around, and make a hasty escape to the bathroom section. Quick, quick… before they stampede over to –

Too late. A herd of tiny elephants comes running over. There’s shouts, an over-excited shriek that could break glass, except Target only stocks cheapies.

The pram jolts. I wince and wait for it. One thousand… two thousand…

Arddun awakes with a wail. It starts low, because it’s about to climb the decibel charts and stay at the #1 spot for about two weeks.

She’s at least half an hour early from her wake time. And she’s not happy about it.

Meanwhile, Mother and Grandmother have given up on the pillow and are now moving on to bathroom gear.

I make my exit.

Only to run into them again at the check-out, where they all end up at the cashier adjacent to mine.

Arddun is calm by now. She’s playing with her toes quietly. La-la-la, and holding onto both feet with both hands. Harmless.

Stroller Kid – the one who got left out earlier – takes one look at Arddun’s inner peace and shatters it completely with a sudden, belated shriek.

Another jolt. Arddun completely loses it. She yells so hard, her eyes tear up from the sheer force of her face-scrunch, and her head looks like it’s about to pop.

And the Mother, and the Grandmother. They stare at my bawling baby. And proceed to tut tut about how sensitive my baby is, and how this wouldn’t happen if she had siblings because babies with older siblings can sleep through anything.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

I am so gobsmacked, I actually go blank. The only thing I can think to do is pick Arddun up and cuddle her. To her credit, she has more to say on the matter than I do, because every time she makes eye contact with Stroller Kid, she gives him the evil eye and yells at him.

And the Mother, and the Grandmother. They ask the cashier how many children she has (3) and whether she grew up with lots of siblings (yes, 5), and only child, eh? Nudge nudge. Obviously.

Traitorous mind still in a blank. No comeback. Blind-white fury building, but not quite sure why. Scowling so hard now, my unplucked, mumsy eyebrows are starting to ache. Only thing left to do is throw all purchases into my pram and stiffly wheel it out of Target while jiggling indignant baby on my left hip.

L’esprit de l’escalier. The afterwit – which isn’t very witty at all – is for me to have fronted both obnoxious women with, “I know deep down that you’re only saying this because you know your kids are feral today. You’re embarrassed. I get that. But if it wasn’t bad enough that you’ve chosen to patronise me, did you really have to INSULT MY BABY?!”

Except I really couldn’t have said that, because I remember being one of those kids, running around a shopping mall like a rodent on speed.

Yes. I was a mall rat.

Because Singapore is so stinking hot and humid, we spend most of our days hiding in underground shopping malls and paying for borrowed air-conditioning by pretending to buy things. When I was 9/10/11/12, my family used to swan off to a mall with close friends after Sunday morning worship. We’d have lunch together, perhaps dessert, and then there’d be window shopping for the grown ups. And the other kids and I would beg to go to Toys ‘R’ Us or Kids World. And the adults would let us go because they were probably hoping thinking that we’d spend the half hour or so calmly debating the finer merits of Mattel’s Crystal Barbie and Hasbro’s Transformers (first generation).

Not so.

We were playing catch or hide-and-seek or some fusion of both. I got really bummed out on the weeks I had to wear a dress, because it made climbing and crawling slower. The most impressive hiding place I remember was when the smallest of us climbed up a huge toy shelf and hid behind a row of overstuffed plush toy teddies. The stuff of legends, man.

Sales ladies used to scowl at us till I thought their eyebrows would fuse together from the heat of their killer stares.

So yes. It’d be hypocritical of me to get too narky with the Mother, the Grandmother, and their three little squealies.

But I admit I’ve been fantasising about following them home so we can climb into the Mother’s bedroom at 4am and have Arddun press her sweet little mouth into the Mother’s ear and go,

“EEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

But she has three children. She should be used to that.

Needing patience now

So far, Motherhood has been a long exercise in patience. No surprises there, huh.

Except… I’d always thought that the patience was needed for the baby. That the love, compassion and long-suffering was about dealing with the baby, you know?

The endless crying during Arsenic Hour.

Her uncanny ability to create the biggest mess juuuuust after you’ve slid the soiled diaper away, and before you’ve had the chance to jam the fresh one under.

The fights before sleep time.

The clumsiness, hand-in-hand with baby stubbornness.

The house in perpetual mess.

The fact that it takes 50% longer now to do everything you’ve done before – like leave the house for a walk or a drive, for example.

The fact that you have 90% less time to do things that used to be important to you before – like brushing your hair and matching your clothes.

I mean, all this is true. And it requires patience. But the patience for such things comes naturally, ungrudgingly. With little grumbling or complaint. Effortless.

No. The kind of patience I’m talking about – the kind of patience that needs to be wrung out of me – is patience for others.

Because until I had Arddun, I hadn’t realised how stupid and inconvenient people and things around me can be.

BECAUSE it takes such effort to cart a baby around, BECAUSE she is vulnerable and defenceless, I’ve turned into a grouchy mother bear. It is a fight every day not to growl at strangers for being obtuse to the needs of my poor defenceless baby and her struggling mother with the pram and the 21 other things hanging off it.

Things that threaten to set me off include:

  • Competitive, selfish, boorish, impatient drivers who delight in cutting you off, who turn every roundabout into a drag race and/or come within a hair’s breadth of dinting the side of your car where the baby is seated. RAAAWR!
  • Big Fat Cars parked willy-nilly beside you so you can’t open your car door to get baby in or out.
  • Mothers who don’t wipe down baby chairs after they’re done.
  • Smokers near entrances and exits so when you walk through, it’s like entering the Vortex of Baby Lung-Blackening Hell
  • Customer service with Attitude (I’m already growing my own teenager. I don’t need your angst or sarcasm. Especially if you’re paid to help.)
  • Shopping trolleys left inside the last convenient parking lot, so you and 38 other cars before you were deprived of the one good lot nearest to the lifts (near lift = less time with pram on road with impatient drivers)

etc etc.

And sometimes, it’s manageable. Sometimes, you just grit your teeth and soldier on. But other times, you just want to freeze everything around you so you can get to that selfish stranger (with your crying baby on your hip), and with your free hand, grab that selfish stranger’s neck and shake it so hard you can hear his or her teeth rattle, while yelling,

“You see this shopping cart? You know where it goes? THERE! WHERE THE OTHER SHOPPING CARTS LIVE! GROW A BRAIN AND A HEART AND  TAKE A SHORT WALK AND PUSH IT INTO THE SHOPPING CART BAY SO THE REST OF US CAN USE THIS LOT, YOU SELFISH, LAZY, UNTHINKING DONG-KAY!”

(Which is, you know, a euphemism for Ass.)

And while things like that used to bug me before, THEY REALLY BUG ME NOW. Because I have more to lose. Because I’m her protector. Because it’s harder and because I have less time. Because Arddun doesn’t understand, doesn’t read a clock, and doesn’t have patience.

And yes, I am aware of the irony – that while I’m jumping up and down about the supreme selfishness of such acts, I am in fact making it all about ME. I have, in fact, grown a huge entitlement complex. It came free with the stretch marks and permanently widened hips.

And so I try not to take things personally, because that’s half the issue. I’m not suddenly special because I’m a mother, and I’m not suddenly a target because I’m a mother. I’m just a mother.

And so I try to slow down. Do one less thing while multi-tasking. Bear to be late for events. Give 4WDs, Utes, taxis and Audi drivers a wide berth. Smile at rude sales staff after they’ve insulted me, and let them think I’m simple. Because the cure for impatience isn’t patience – it’s submission. I am not in control of everything or everyone and never have been. The universe is large and my troubles, on balance, are trivial.

If we’re having a bad day, pull over and hug the baby. Both of us might feel better after the time out.

Peace like a river, baby.

Crossing the line

Was just updating my Yummy Mummy gift ideas page, when I came across…

Fake pregnancy test

The sales site had a spruik about the product, and I think it’s almost as insane as the gag itself:

It’s the home pregnancy test that is always positive! Ladies, now you can find out if you’ve found Mr. Right with this hilarious prank! Will he stick with you if he thinks things will get complicated? This outrageous prank will have your guy sweating! Or sleep with your married boss and watch him squirm (Maybe you’ll get a raise!) The laughs are endless!

Yuh. Not making it to my gift list.

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