The Smell of Apricot Chicken Reminds Me of SuperTed

Last night, as evening began to hide the clouds that had owned the sky all day, I stepped into my parents’ house to collect my daughter. A wall of scent and memory flew into my face and settled around my heart. It lifted the corners of my mouth and made me stop, and breathe.

Apricot Chicken!

I could smell Apricot Chicken cooking on a cold Autumn evening, whilst standing in the downstairs living room of my family home, right in front of the wood fire.

When I was five, six… sixteen years of age, I would sit in that room, watching ABC evening TV, while mum cooked dinner upstairs. In those days, she would have just dragged herself in from a long day in the operating theatre. The smell of Betadine would cling to her, and the sound of pots and pans and stirring and chopping would filter down the stairs, forcing us to turn the TV up with a grumble, completely oblivious to the fact that while we were annoyed that mum’s cooking was interfering with our television watching, mum was dead on her feet, knowing her day wouldn’t be over until dinner was cooked, the dishes were done, laundry washed, folded or ironed, and us selfish bastard kids had finally gone off to bed.

We’d sit there for hours, watching Danger Mouse, Trap Door and Roger Ramjet, waiting for Degrassi Junior High to come on. We’d laugh and fight, and ignore mum’s pleas for us to set the table for dinner, pretending we didn’t hear her, or telling her we’d be up in 5 minutes … we were such jerk liars.

Despite not wanting her to make any sound as she prepared our meal, we’d be desperate for dinner to be ready. The closer it got, the headier its scent, and the growlier our stomachs became.

Last night, that smell of Apricot Chicken took me back to that time, where I had my whole family at my fingertips, whenever I wanted (or didn’t want) them around.

And now my daughter is experiencing something almost identical to my own childhood, only hers comes without the scent of betadine and the stories from the operating theatre. And right now, it comes without brothers or sisters to fight with.

It also comes without the smell of Apricot Chicken, because they were actually cooking Ham and Leek Soup…(wtf??)

A Lofty Dream

I’m really hungry, today, but only for a café breakfast.

I’m not cereal hungry, or toast hungry, or even Work Morning Tea hungry, with their party pies, sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts and some-kind-of-cheesecake.

No.

I am only hungry for eggs benedict on sourdough, with heaps of hollandaise sauce, chipolatas, fried tomatoes and bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.

I want to sit at a table in the sun, the sound of cutlery clinking onto plates and the crinkle of newspapers being read while people sip coffees and juices and catch up on each other’s news. I want to have a reason to wear something other than my House or Work clothes – perhaps I would even brush my hair. With a brush.

… Okay, with my fingers.

… Okay, so I’d just put it in a ponytail and not even look in the mirror to check that it didn’t have lumps all up in its grill. (It would).

Either way, this is how you’ll find me tomorrow morning, *guything and daughter in tow, fulfilling a dream that used to be my weekly reality…

*Since I can’t call him my husband, I’m too old to have a boyfriend, and ‘partner’ just sounds like we’re lawyers, he’s going to be formally referred to as ‘guything’.

I now know

Nineteen days ago, at 6:18pm, my eyes lit upon a piece of my heart that I’d never known had been missing until we met.

She was tiny and perfect and couldn’t possibly be real. Couldn’t possibly be something my partner and I had created.

She couldn’t possibly be a soul that I would be priveleged enough to spend the rest of my days loving in a capacity that is so sacred, you don’t ever understand the infinity of its depth until you step into those same shoes yourself – the shoes of a Mother.

It’s all you hear during pregnancy – “It can’t be described”, “You’ll know it when you feel it”, “It’s different for everyone”.

Those vague responses are all used to describe everything from labour to breastfeeding to the concept of motherhood itself and I’d always found it to be a cop out… until now.

I think the simple truth is that words just aren’t enough. Words have power, but not here.

This place – motherhood – is enormous. It’s terrifying, confusing, depressing, filthy, humiliating, wounding, and wonderful. It heals, it fulfills dreams, it overwhelms and it brings you undone, both in sadness and in a happiness you never thought was possible.

With one wind-powered smile from my daughter, every single scar left open from my past no longer exists. It’s just gone. It doesn’t matter anymore.

And with one pained scream erupting from her sad little mouth, every single fear I’ve ever had in my life comes together in a great wave to crash over me and set my heart racing.

I spend hours staring at the monitor watching her breathe, or counting the wrinkles on her hands – those perfect little hands, so inconceivably small and delicate.

She overwhelms me.

There are so many things about her existence that I never expected…

I never expected pregnancy to be so empowering. I never expected the sight of my giant belly to bring me peace, to make me feel whole – I’d never realised there was a part of me that seemed to need that confirmation that I was, in fact, a woman capable of nurturing life – but it seems I did because pregnancy gave me a confidence I’ve never experienced before – a confidence where truly, nothing really mattered except my family and our security – outside influences, opinions, rumours all went by the wayside and suddenly, I felt capable of anything – if I can nurture life, I can do anything.

I never expected labour to be anything besides painful and undignified. I had no concept of what it would involve – no way to predict the pain – and sure, it certainly was painful. There were moments when the contractions were one after the other, on top of each other, two at once, almost… and in those moments I wanted to give up, to give in – oh god, take me for a c-section, anything to stop this!

… but in those moments I also realised that there was no longer room in my life to do that running away I’d become so good at. Here, now, I had no choice – there’s no going back when you’re in labour – you have to keep going through it, even though it hurts and you’re exhausted… because very soon (you hope), you are going to have to push through the things you don’t want to do on a regular basis. You’re going to have a tiny human who is entirely dependent on you for their survival – there’s no room whatsoever for “I’ll feed them later. I’ll just watch two more episodes of this and then feed them”.

And so the contractions kept coming, and I had to keep breathing. And pushing.

And then she was there, and her father was smiling and I was exhausted, confused, and in love.

Then everyone went home, and it was just Alia and I, alone in our hospital room. I stared at her, marveling at how much she looks like her father. Even her sleep-smile is his.

Then I remembered the needle thing in my arm, and how it was attached to a big walky-around thing which was plugged into the wall because the battery was flat, and it dawned on me…

she was staying in my room with me. Motherhood had begun.

I was exhausted from labour. I’d been unable to keep my eyes open to enjoy her when she was born and now I was only going to get a couple of hours sleep before I had to feed her? Change her?

Suddenly, I was terrified, and had to call the midwife to do it for me until that needle thing was able to be taken out in a few hours.

My first job as a mum and already, I had to get someone else to do it.

… this was the other stuff I never expected. That confidence I’d had as a pregnant woman was gone, and had been replaced with a feeling I’ve known far too intimately for far too long – fear and insecurity. I can’t do this. I have no idea what I’m doing. What if it’s wrong? They will judge me and I will get in trouble.

This feeling increased over the next few days and tears would just fall out of my eyes at random moments. My heart had never been so sad in my whole life. It felt that my entire body was built solely to house sadness, and it was full of it – it had no room left for it, so it just spilled over, onto my crisp hospital sheets, onto my failed boobs that my child couldn’t latch onto properly, and, if I’d been able to bring myself to physically touch my child – they would have fallen on her, too… but three days into her life, I didn’t want to hold her, change her, bathe her – I let my mother and my sister do that, and when everyone left at night, the walls would close in and I would fill up with that sad fear again.

Just you and me, kiddo.

I never stopped loving her. I never had mean or negative thoughts about her – she was still the most amazing little creature that has ever existed – it was me that was the problem.

But days passed, and with the incredible support of my family and my partner, sunshine crept back into the room and I was able to cope with the rollercoaster I was beginning to ride.

Now, nineteen days into her life, my little girl is feeding well, sleeping well and filling my entire family’s hearts with a light they haven’t known in many years. Our cats – the previous leaders of the house – have reacted in ways I never imagined – they run to check on her when she cries, and boycat even shared a cuddle with her and her dad yesterday.

Things are coming together…

Out of everything that I never expected, despite the constant warnings given, I never expected to find a love like this. It isn’t just love for my daughter, or a greater depth and passion that I hold for my partner, but an overwhelming awe for my own mother and every single thing she has done and continues to do for us – her children – that has astounded me the most.

I now know what she went through to bring us into this world, physically. I now understand the fear that would have flooded her each time our safety was in question, and I now know that it is impossible to measure the depth of her love for us, and just how overwhelming that is.

I now know that I will never be able to show her how grateful I am because she wouldn’t accept it – wouldn’t deem it necessary – our very existence gives her no choice – she does what she does because we are more important to her than she is.

I now know that that’s what parenthood is all about and that it lasts forever.

Following footsteps

Today, I officially became the reincarnation of my grandmother.

She was a formidable woman, under 5 feet tall, and about that wide. Her bosom was enormous and forever covered in flour from the scones or pies she was baking.

I always think of her when I see an old lady throwing a tantrum in public – for a woman who used a walker, she could storm off in a damn hurry, when she wasn’t getting her own way.

She was flirty and cheeky, her mischievous cackle would light up her eyes, her perpetually high-heeled shoes tapping out of time to the music her voice was trying desperately to sing to – there was great musical talent in her side of the family.

None of it belonged to her.

Her voice was this high pitched, nasal assault to your ears, but in spite of the nails-on-a-chalkboard shudder that rippled through you, it made you smile because it was patently evident that she loved life and was not hindered by self-consciousness.

She lived to party, and had to be the centre of attention – this is where she and I differ greatly. The place we join at the seams is our obsession with our cats, and also in the way we keep the house tidy. Or, in the way we don’t keep the house tidy.

I had always said that my cat obsession would cease at owning living, breathing cats – two at the most. I would not follow in her footsteps and start collecting feline figurines, filling display cabinets with items that would soon be coated in a thick film of dust that I would never bring myself to clean.

But, umm. Today I just followed in one of her other footsteps in a purchase that completely blindsided me.

I just bought a tea towel. A display tea towel.
With cats on it.
One of them is wearing a monocle.

In my defense, this is one amazing tea towel and Nan would totally agree.

Hand-me-downs

Weekly Writing Challenge: DNA Analysis

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/writing-challenge-dna/

You know those people who attend bargain sales seriously? The ones who line up at the doors, their faces pressed against the glass, elbows in the “gouge” position, ready to be wedged into someone’s ribcage the moment the doors open?

They storm the racks of gowns, the tables of carefully folded cashmere. Their manicured fingertips clutch items that aren’t able to be identified until they hold it up in front of their face, twisting it, flipping it, appraising it in less than 5 seconds before tossing it back onto the pile or into their basket, as appropriate.

I often feel that the way in which I inherited my parents’ personality traits was roughly the same way in which I would tackle a Bargain Sale: getting stressed out by all the options, and crying in a corner until everyone else had left. 

I assume that’s how it went down, as I have mostly inherited the worst of both my parents’ personalities – the things any discerning shopper would have left on the shelf.

I have dad’s vagueness, his inability to tell a story because apparently, you need to know exactly what the weather was doing even when it has nothing to do with the story, and because I spend so much time trying to get the weather details correct, I forget which story I was telling, or the punch line of the joke.

I have dad’s nose. His incredibly fat, wide, manly nose.

But I have mum’s legs. I have her skin – The so-pale-that-you-can-see-the-hairs-that-aren’t-even-on-the-outside-yet kind of skin.

It also appears you can inherit two shit things in one area – I have mum’s skin and dad’s skin – mum’s colouring combined with dad’s acne. Good times for my face, you guys. Good times indeed.

I pretty much hate people. I know you may find that difficult to believe, because I’m such a bleeding heart, but not with face-to-face people. I don’t like them. I care about people as a concept, but not as real things that I have to deal with. If you aren’t already part of my friendship family, chances are, you never will be, because people are a lot of work and I don’t enjoy the pressure of them existing.

Got that from mum, as well as my non-enjoyment of outside-the-house activities.

I got my dad’s temper, and my inability to even notice when I am yelling or being a mean, rude jerk.

I wish I got my mum’s ability to dance. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I got those skills from dad, too. “Skills” is probably too strong a word for the haphazard way in which he shuffles his feet and taps his hand against his leg completely out of time. A lot like his mother – My grandmother.

Let’s not even go there… my cat obsession came from her, so did our family’s lack of height, and our strong desire for pie. She has a lot to answer for.

My tendency to host my own concert as soon as alcohol enters my bloodstream is also something I inherited. Mum and her sisters have been known to gatecrash karaoke parties and my sister has personally witnessed my mother try to glare a disabled teenager to death because it was their turn on the microphone and mum’s five songs in a row weren’t enough for her.

Thankfully, I also got some pretty good traits from my parents. My mum knows when to soften her voice to calm a room. She can make you feel calm and safe with the press of her palm against your face, or the way her arms feel like the warmest, softest blanket when she hugs you. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but.. you know… *toot*.

Dad is cheeky and always fighting for the underdog. He uses humour to diffuse the stressful situations we find ourselves in when our entire family is thrown together in one small space – I can’t take the credit for inheriting this trait. My brother got the lion’s share of the smartarse genes, but I got the second biggest share. My sister’s a bit funny, but not as good as me… she umm, she’s got a strong little punch on her though so I should probably mention she also got the biggest boobs? Yeah? No. Shouldn’t have said that? Ok. She doesn’t.

*whispering behind hand* She does.

However I came to inherit these personality traits, there are without a doubt, some that I loathe, some that make me curse my parents and the fact that there’s nothing I can do to change the way it is.

Then there are those traits that I’m thankful I can’t change, because when I look in the mirror, I will always be able to see my mum’s giant heart shining out through my eyes, dad’s cheeky grin in the way my mouth lifts at the corner when I smile, and the incredible life that they’ve given me, just by being who they are.

They’re pretty cool dudes, my parents… because I am basically amazing, and that’s pretty impressive for their first ever baking attempt.

For my nan. Who won’t read this. Because she’s 80 today.

What do you say about your grandmother, the woman who helped raise you, on her 80th birthday?

My nan loves her footy and cricket with passion, but dislikes people in general for no reason she can pinpoint (“there’s just something about him/her”).

She is always buying us things. You have to be at least four doors down before you even whisper that you need / have been looking at buying something. If she hears you, without fail, she will turn up at your doorstep a couple of days later with exactly what you were saying you needed.
Apparently it was “just laying around”.
At the shop.

The woman has a giant heart and an even bigger stubborn streak. Like my sister, she’ll argue that the sky is green even if you’re staring right at it, and clearly, it’s FUCKING BLUE. No backing down. She’s the right woman to have in your corner if you ever need someone put in their place.

Just don’t get her involved if there’s a slight chance you could be wrong.
Like that time I thought I heard the bus driver say there’d been a fire on the bus. That totally didn’t go down well when Nan started going off about it and it turns out I was way, way wrong.

She has been there through everything I’ve experienced.

She looked after us as babies, and even in my last year of High School, I was still going to Nan’s after school, instead of home or out with friends.

So many of my warmest memories are in her kitchen, sitting around the dining table while Nan and the Four Daughters of the Apocalypse (my mum and aunts) ALL spoke at once – Three different conversations being held, with all women participating in each.

When Nan and Aunty Helen have different opinions, that’s when it gets really loud.
Aunty Sue tells them both to “wake up”, Aunty Fiona does her Muttley laugh, and mum asks who wants coffee to try and diffuse the situation.

There is honestly no place like inside the arms of your grandmother. The problem arises when your head height is their boob height – both my nans were blessed with ample bosoms and it made for some very awkward greetings as your head had to be turned on this awkward angle so you could get your arms around them.

Now my nan’s arms are thin and bony but they still feel like one of the safest places I’ll ever know.

And, thanks to her, I have started checking the outdoor furniture for spiders before letting any visiting children sit down.

So here’s to Old Rathy, the woman who says “bullshit” in my favourite way, the woman who taught her entire family how to have anxiety, and the woman whose face, voice, arms and kisses make up most of my life’s memories.

Happy Birthday you old tart. I love the shit out of you.

Audience Participation

There’s so much that could, and has already, been said about the place music holds within society that it feels ridiculous to even attempt it myself.

… but, you see, there’s this little, unknown band called Pearl Jam, who, for the past twenty years, have been some of the only witnesses to the person inside me. They’re the ones who get to see the ugly crying – the kind where snot drips down your red, splotchy face, and you sound like Claire Danes in Romeo & Juliet. That one. Like, a honk.

They’ve seen me at my most broken and confused, on the nights where I’ve been left alone with the bottle for far longer than is safe for me, and I spin through moments of clarity and confusion, before calling in to visit irrational anger on my way to blackout bedtime.

They’ve seen me on those depressed days, when Sid was away,  staring at walls in the same pyjamas I’ve worn for the past 2, unshowered days, avoiding mirrors or shiny surfaces just as I avoided food, and people.

But the best times they’ve seen me were when I was that long, blonde-haired 14 year old, all braces and lip gloss, hanging out on Spam’s farm, drinking passion pop, smoking cigarettes and singing, while we drove around the paddocks at a hundred mile an hour in that beat up old car.

Life was a sweet place back then. It was unmarred, sunny, the air around me felt filled with promise. I was beginning to find a place, with people who felt soft – their edges weren’t all sharp and smashy when they spoke to me. This was a new and delicious thing, for me.

These days, when I listen to Pearl Jam, it’s with the Friendship Family; those people you spend all your non-work time with. Mine happens to include my real life little brother, as it did when I was 15 and I was dressing him like a goth and painting his fingernails, and dad was like “Stop it! He’s a boy! And also, 5!”

I don’t do that to him now. My sister does still tell him what to wear, though.

The point is, Pearl Jam has been an active part of my life longer than anyone besides my blood relatives. They’ve been such a large part of my life that through forcing my family to listen to “Triple J Vol. 3 – 21” of my radio-tapes whenever we went on family road trips, I inadvertently turned my entire family into Pearl Jam fans.

That band is part of who we are, and now, all of us being adults, we take our family trips again and very little has changed. Nowadays, us kids are a little more mindful of what we force the parents to put up with. Mum’s fine – she has excellent music taste. Dad is just an angry little hobbit man who wants to listen to the races and has a terrible habit of losing his temper at whichever inanimate object he just tried to control, but failed to do so.

Hilarious.

His eyebrows are the best thing in my world. My mother hates them with the fire of a thousand suns, but for me, they make my heart warm every time I see them. He’s like an owl. His eyebrows are majestically wizard-like, and when he’s thinking, he tends to twist them, like some men do with their fancy-moustaches.

They then resemble small, grey devil horns on his temples.

Making him scared-angry is our favourite pastime. It’s where we make a mix-cd of chilled out songs, and then, when he’s all tapping his foot out of time, smiling away like a dickhead, BAM! Death metal.

He jumps, comically, and roars his angry-koala swear-a-thon (seriously, my dad is Don Vito), whilst grappling for the controls and inadvertently turning the volume up, instead of down.

It feels nice to make mum laugh.

So, for those who wish to play along at home, if you could identify them, who is the band/artist/whatever that you have spent the most time with in your lifetime, and what are some of your favourite/funniest memories?