jexia: (Me 2015)
My insides are made of fear and inadequacy. I bolster the walls with chocolate, but sometimes they leak. Tiredness wears them down; frustration and hormones wash away at the foundations. I plaster on a facade of competence, slapping flaking layers on top of flaking layers, keeping it together.

In the towering mess, my creativity lives in the cellar. To get to it, I have to scale the battlements, fight my way down through hordes of slavering self-doubts, and fish around frantically through a tiny grate, hoping to find something, anything to write about. It's exhausting. It often takes an emotional breakdown, and at least three glasses of gin.

Week, after week, after week.

I tried to, this week. I couldn't even get past the battlements. My facade crumbled, and took the walls with it. I didn't just leak; I flooded my entire world. I gushed fear and anger and self-loathing. I spilled a history of self-sabotage. I drowned in exhaustion.

Glub. My daughter was still awake two hours past her bedtime, again, because she doesn't know how to go to sleep without her thumb in her mouth, and she has to stop sucking her thumb. She spent every moment of the week throwing tantrums, from the moment she woke up, until she finally fell asleep in exhaustion. Every moment. She's hurting, and unsure, and doesn't know how to regulate her emotions without that comfort.

Glub. My eldest son's drama teacher emailed me. She wants to kick him out of the class because another parent complained about him being off-task. I was distraught, sobbing in the bathroom at work, until I realised that it was her responsibility to deal with it before it got to that point. She doesn't like him, and that made me cry all over again.

Glub. My youngest son wanted to wear the dress his sister gave him to school. I worried about him all day, though he was of course fine, filled with a self-possession and confidence that I don't understand, but cherish beyond words.

I wanted to quit. That's that self-sabotage again. I'm not good enough to do anything well, so if it looks like I might do something well, it's time to stop. I said I didn't care, but of course that was a lie.

My champions stood around me. They threw me a line, again and again: you can do this, you're too hard on yourself, it'll be okay.

And I ignored them. Ugly and weeping, I floundered around in the swamp, my nice familiar swamp.

They threw me more lines, and more and more, until it didn't matter that I wasn't catching them. They filled the water until I was pushed out onto dry land, whether I wanted to or not.

Then my champions stood me up, shaky and exhausted, and started to rebuild my walls. There's not much there yet; a few stones gathered in a circle. In the centre is that rusty grate. Maybe my creativity is there, waterlogged, drowned and shriveled. Maybe it washed away. Maybe it found a cranny to take root, and will soon spring forth in an explosion of growth.

But this week I'm too frail to check.
jexia: (Me me)
Four and a half years ago, I went to work.

I had five-month-old twins.

And a five-year-old.

And no car. Every morning, I would somehow manage to get everybody out of the house at 6:15am. We'd walk to before-school care. On a good day, it would take 20 minutes. On a bad day... ever seen someone endeavouring to push a tank-like double pushchair while piggybacking a tantruming five-year-old?

Most days, I cried on the walk from before-school care to the train station. The train was never the same way around; some days the carriage with a pushchair area would be at the front, sometimes at the back. The best I could do was wait in the middle of the platform, and try to get there before all the seats were taken.

On a good day, people would deign to move over so that I could put the pushchair in the designated area. On a bad day, I got sworn at.

The express train took 50 minutes. On a good day, the babies would sleep, or at least babble to themselves. On a bad day, I would do my best to soothe two fractious babies, usually by feeding them. If I fed them, I got glared at. If they cried, I got glared at.

I'd take them to daycare, hurriedly feed them, and rush to work, getting there around 8:30am. I juggled my schedule so I could feed them, but that meant my only breaks were spent with babies' mouths on my boobs. I tried not to drop crumbs in their eyes.

Come 5:30pm, we'd join the crowds rushing to the train station. The trains ran on time, sometimes. The commuters relaxed, slouched in their seats, and I anxiously worked to make sure that my children didn't disturb them. Then I'd walk home, barely in time for dinner and a goodnight kiss from my eldest, before frantically trying to keep up with housework and laundry.

I'd fall into bed, so exhausted that I couldn't shut my brain up enough to sleep properly.

Did the twins sleep through? Did they hell. They were up three times a night...


After paying for daycare, before- and after-school care and train tickets, I was going through this hell for $140 a week. I couldn't do it. After two months, I came home one night, having contemplated how much easier it would be to be under the train, and wrote my resignation letter.

While working out my notice, I was assaulted by one of the "passenger operators" for daring to breastfeed while I sat on the floor of the train because nobody offered a seat. I'd been abused too many times to dare to ask for one. And then his supervisor came and told me that I had no right to bring my children on the train and that I needed to stay in town until the rush cleared at 7:30pm.

He told me not to cry.

It was cry, or punch him in the nose. I think he was lucky that I cried.

It took some adjusting to being a stay-at-home mum. My career, my brain, was essential to my self-image. I struggled through feelings of despair and uselessness. Hubby paid off his student loan, and while I congratulated him, I secretly mourned my untouched debt.

Four and a half years later, my children are all at school. Suddenly the financial balance of childcare and wages has started to tip in the other direction. There's still lots to organise if we're both working; what about sickness, after-school activities, and school holidays?

But we'll make it work, somehow.

We'll have to.

I went to work today.
jexia: (Default)

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1622

The battle continues apace. Mother still claims to be an impartial observer who loves both of us equally, but I remain unconvinced. My sister and I must keep fighting for the position of "best-loved twin".

It's quite remarkable, really, that people born a mere four minutes apart can be so different in looks and temperament, four years later. Vieve is unwavering in her tactics; cuddles and kisses and handfuls of weeds. Mother always says "Thank you, sweetheart!" but I think she's not really that fond of having fistfuls of dandelions shoved in her face. It's sickening, really. Vieve just plays nice-nice and gets lots of cuddles. I'm loath to admit it, but she might be winning.

Whenever I try to sit on Mummy's lap, she always says "Did you pee in your undies?! Go change your pants!" and gets cross. I can't do nice-nice. Can't use the toilet, either.

If I can't get points by being nice like Vieve... I'll have to see if I can take some of her points away. More on that tomorrow.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1623

I tried out my new tactics today. I'm quite proud of the concept, but I did it wrong. See, I planned to secretly do something naughty, and then blame it on Vieve. Genius, right?

Except that while peeling paint off the toilet wall went even better than I had expected, the great observer caught me in the act. (Seriously, though, you should have seen the wall. I did not expect the paint to just come off in big sheets like that! It was amazing!)

Unfortunately, I was so prepared to blame my sister that "Vieve did it" just came out of my mouth, even though I was caught paint-handed. Mother was not impressed. Said something about "lying gets you in more trouble". I think I'll have to chalk that one up to experience.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1624

Mother keeps saying "Practice makes pervert" or something. I forget exactly, but what it means is that it's important to keep trying.

I want to, but she won't let me go in the toilet room on my own again. I thought it would be okay, though. I found out that the paper stuff on the wall in the hallway peels off just as well. I was extra careful this time, and stopped before Mother saw me doing it.

But she still knew it was me! Even though I said "Vieve did it!" Hrm. I must be doing something wrong. Maybe it's my tone of voice. More conviction next time, and less giggling. Yes, that should do it.

Mother rang the landlord today. Afterwards, she cried. I don't know what a "landlord" is, but it must be scary.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1625

Landlords aren't scary at all! He was a very nice man who let me watch while he painted the wall and put new paper stuff up on the wall.

Mother was still a bit grumpy at me after he left, so I drew her a picture. What does "Holy crap, not on the bloody floor" mean? I hope she liked it.

She got even grumpier when I peed on the kitchen floor. I think she really hates pee. What if I say that Vieve did the pee? Will try tomorrow.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1626

I peed on the floor and told Mother that Vieve did it. She said "It was you! Look at your pants!" Note to self: change pants afterwards.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1627

I peed on the floor and changed my pants, and then I told Mother that Vieve did it. She pulled down the waistband of my pants and said "It was you! Look at your undies!" Note to self: change pants AND undies afterwards.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1628

Mother is looking very tired. She has had meetings every night this week. And today she will be away all day at band camp! How rude! How come she is spending all day with her tuba instead of with us?

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1629

Mother had a lovely time at band camp. Now she has to go be a broomsman. I don't know what that is, but it's at a wedding. Maybe she has to do the sweeping. She should be good at that. Just last night she did a really good job of sweeping up paint again. The new paint is even more fun to peel off the toilet wall!

I said "Vieve did it" but she wouldn't even listen. That made me mad. So I found a pencil, opened up her tuba case, and did lots of big scribbles all over her tuba. I even went round and round and round inside it. Then I shut the case.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1630

Mother went back to band camp today. I think she found my drawing, because it sounded like her shouting coming out of the phone. Daddy yelled at me, and he didn't listen to "Vieve did it", either.

I don't think I'm very good at making Mother think that Vieve did it. I just want her to like me best.

But... I'm not sure it matters. Because if Mother doesn't believe "Vieve did it", doesn't that mean she knows it was me? And she still gives me bedtime snuggles and kisses and stories, just the same as Vieve.

Maybe she really does love us both just the same, no matter what.

This is a fictionalised account of a very difficult fortnight back in February, 2014. I love my kids dearly, but my WORD can they push my buttons.

Yes, he really did draw on my tuba. Scratched heck out of the lacquer. Yes, I cried. And then yelled. And then cried some more.
jexia: (Default)

Twenty-five years ago, my mother managed to scrape together the money to buy me a flute, despite bringing up four children as a solo parent. She had no musical background herself, but it was important to her that we learn. I was a mediocre player, but continued all through high school, dabbling in baritone saxophone as a bit of a contrast.

Seventeen years ago, I went to university, and didn't bother to play again, aside from a few forays into folk music with a tin whistle.

Twelve years ago, my mother decided that it was her turn to learn. She bought a clarinet, and taught herself to read music. Rapidly succumbing to instrumentitis, she also tried trumpet, trombone, and tenor saxophone, before settling on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet as her instruments of choice.

Seven years ago, my mother's concert band performed in the national festival. In the entire weekend she saw only one other band play; it was only by chance that they were from the area I was living in. She rang me and raved about this band, how they had this fantastic woman conductor and how it was important for me to get back to playing music. I had a two-year-old and was deep, deep, deep in post-natal depression, but I somehow scraped together the nerve to email the conductor. "I'm a lapsed flautist," I explained, "But I'm willing to pick up anything. What do you need?" And that's how I came to play the tuba.

Three years ago, having had to take a hiatus from band due to the demands of twin pregnancy and infancy, I sat next to a particular trumpeter each week. One rehearsal we got chatting about her plans to tramp the Routeburn Track. "My mum's doing that soon, too!" I exclaimed, and we soon discovered that they would be in the same tramping group. They hit it off immediately and had a great time.

Two years ago, my mum and the trumpeter tramped the Milford Track together.

A year ago, the seating arrangements in the band were changed around. My new companion was a euphonium player, the trumpeter's sister.

A month ago, I became determined to get a piano for my children, so that they could start lessons, and I could maybe start to learn. It was hard to find one inside our budget (especially since we're a one-income family in New Zealand's most expensive city, with an unexpected bonus child that our life plan never budgeted for), so I posted a "Wanted" notice on the local Freecycle group, crossed my fingers, and hoped.

A week ago, I read the LJ Idol topic, "Barrel of monkeys", and had a powerful memory of carefully linking chains of plastic monkeys together, sitting at my grandma's table. We played many games around that brown formica table; when she passed away last year, the thing that brought me to tears, weeks later, was being given her game of Yahtzee, and finding my childish handwriting scrawled inside the lid, proudly bragging about beating my grandma's high score.

Four days ago, I got a text from the trumpeter, offering her father's piano. She had no idea I was looking for one; the text was sent to everyone in the band. Her father had just gone into a rest home, and with his house sold and time running out, she wanted to re-home it. It was ninety-two years old, the same age as her father; her parents had bought it for her childhood lessons. She couldn't face just leaving it on the road side. I said "Yes, please!" without knowing anything more about the piano. I had low expectations; frankly, if it made even roughly the right noises, I'd be happy. The only space we had to put it was in the basement, anyway.

Three days ago, our band did a concert. My mother was there, being briefly in town on her way to fly out to Africa for a month, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and do a half-marathon in a game park. I don't often see her; her life is peculiarly busy for some reason. Cough, cough. She was delighted to see the trumpeter and meet her husband.

Two days ago, I was frantically cleaning our basement. I call it a basement, but really it is a concrete-floored garage, tucked underneath our house, and turned to purposes other than car storage. It is a geologist's dream; layers of sedimentary crafting offcasts, piled together over time, shifted and slumped together from periodically seismic attempts at tidying. As I strip-mined a clear area large enough for a piano, I swept up piles of sawdust, paper scraps and BB pellets. A yellow plastic monkey with curved arms grinned up at me from the dust.

I genuinely have no idea where that monkey came from, and I swear this is a true story.

But I do know this; if I hadn't found a plastic monkey when I was clearing the basement to make room for a piano from the trumpeter I sat next to because I was playing tuba in the band that my mum made me join after she saw them by a fluke when she started playing music thirteen years after I started playing music, then I'm really not sure what I would have written about. This story is literally twenty-five years in the making.

One day ago, my sight-unseen piano arrived in a mover's truck. They wheeled out a beautiful, upright piano, with rich whorls in the polished walnut wood. It is tuned and sonorous, and I feel incredibly blessed.
jexia: (Default)
From the moment an early ultrasound revealed two little black blobs, my life got more complicated than expected. As a mother of twins, I've sometimes had people comment that "My kids were 12 [or 14 or 16] months apart, it was just like having twins!"

No. No, it's not. I'm not denying that having kids close together has its own challenges, but there are some problems that come with having children at exactly the same developmental stage.

Like toilet training.

Some kids learn to wear undies and use the toilet with no big drama. This was not the case in our house. At times I suspected that my children had shares in cleaning product companies. That, or they'd entered into a devilish pact with the housework, some sort of loyalty scheme where they earned bonus points for every ridiculous bit of cleaning they made me do.

These are 100% true cases of places my children have peed.

1) In the fridge

My boy twin's pelvic floor failed him while lifting a three-litre bottle of milk from the fridge door. I'll admit my fridge was overdue for a clean, but getting peed in is a heck of a way to jump the priority queue.

2) The toilet floor

The toilet floor puddle was funny because my girl twin was actually, finally, sitting on the toilet at the time. She was so intrigued by what was going on that she leaned down to watch, thus significantly changing the flight path of six hours' worth of pee.

She nearly peed in her eye. Impressive, for a girl.

3) The chest of drawers

Laundry is my nemesis; having an empty hamper is a rare achievement. One day I'd managed to wash and dry five loads, and even conquer Mount Foldmore. I put all the clothes away into the appropriate drawers, and with a deep sign of accomplishment, went to make a cup of tea. My boy twin climbed into the bottom drawer, which was full of washed-dried-folded-put-away clothes, and had a wee accident. Damn you, Mount Washmore!

Other places that could have made the list: in the cupboard under the sink, in the middle of the laundromat, and on me. That's pee. I can laugh about the pee... now. I still can't laugh about the two years of washing poopy undies. I just can't. Mind you, the biggest lesson I learnt this time around was to never startle a naked, pooping child. Especially if they're in the lounge at the time.

One particularly memorable weekend, hubby was away, so it was all up to me. I sent the twins out to play in the backyard while I cooked dinner. Once our meal was ready, I served it and called to the twins, "Dinner's ready! Come and wash your hands!"

My girl twin arrived at the back doorstep. I was about to thank her for being so prompt, when she announced "I pooped in mine undies!" Groaning and mentally resigning myself to a lukewarm dinner, I took her to the bathroom to clean up.

Meanwhile, my (naked, for some reason) boy twin shrieked the neighbourhood down, because he was stuck in the apple tree. He wasn't allowed to climb it because he always got stuck, and too many immature apples had been picked already. I yelled reassuringly out the window, while trying not to gag.

It was a messy job. "You've been poopy for a while."

"Yeah, we were playing 'Ring a Rosie all fall down'," she said. That explained a lot.

After scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing my hands, I rescued my naked bellowing boy from the tree and got them both dressed. They washed their hands and sat at the table. I contemplated my congealing, unappealing plate, and decided to start dinner with ginner. I poured myself a long, cool gin, lime and lemonade, sat at the table and took a deep breath. We were going to have a civilised meal, damnit.

My boy twin took a bite and started up his idea of polite dinner-time conversation. "She pooped in her undies," he said.

"She did."

"Yes, and I pooped on the lawn!"

No. No no no. "Show me."

They led me outside and pointed to a carefully arranged pile of immature apples and oranges. It was black and swarming with flies.

Dying inside a little, I took them back inside. They sat down happily to their meal while I gathered plastic bags to do the necessary clean-up.

Yuck. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed my hands, then sat down to eat. I looked at my dinner. There was no way I could stomach it. I reached for my gin, and promptly tipped it over.

No way.

The twins chattered their way through dinner. Finally it was bathtime, another step closer to bedtime and quiet. And, just maybe, another glass of gin.

I started the bath running, and went to get a towel. When I came back to the bathroom, my girl twin was standing on the step-stool and somehow peeing a perfect parabola into the bathtub.

I grabbed her and put her on the toilet. She freaked out.

Meanwhile, my boy twin yelled "I'm peeing in the bath!"

I took my girl twin off the toilet and put my boy twin on. While I was trying to calm her down, he dropped an entire roll of toilet paper into the loo.

While I fished the sodden roll out, they both climbed into the bath and started drinking the pee-water.

No way.

Shower, PJs, teeth, stories. Time for bed. I spent the next two hours putting them back into their room, as my "It's BEDtime, time for SLEEP!" mantra became more and more strained. Silence didn't arrive until 10pm.

On the premise that silence is suspicious, I snuck up the hallway and quietly opened the door. They're asleep! They're asleep! I crept in to savour a few moments of "they're so cute when they're asleep".

Then I detected a certain distinctive odour in the air.

No way.

I tried to change the offending nappy without waking the culprit.

I failed.

No way.
jexia: (Default)
Three Septembers ago, in the depths of the night, the earth moved. People woke to the sound of toppling furniture and smashing glass. Chimneys fell, and a few buildings crumbled. The ground ripped four metres apart, with new faultlines found.

No-one died. It seemed miraculous.

Armies of students cleared silt from roads and driveways, where it had liquefied and bubbled up from the restless ground. Historic buildings were braced with exoskeletons of steel. Roads and drains were slowly cleared. Life in the Canterbury region of New Zealand found a new normal.

People grew used to the murmuring earth. Only aftershocks above magnitude 5 rated a mention, with Cantabrians discussing the sound, horizontal displacement and vertical velocity with the experienced taste of wine connoisseurs.

Six months passed, and then came the big one. Though considered an aftershock, the epicentre was close to the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand's second most populous city, and was far more destructive than the original 7.1 earthquake.

Brick facades fell on the crowded centre city streets. Buildings collapsed, pancaked together. The media shared desperate text messages from trapped students, tearful husbands outside fallen buildings, a five-month-old killed by a toppled television.

He wasn't the youngest.

One hundred and eighty-five people died that day.

It's been three years. The centre of Christchurch is empty, with only scant remains of its iconic cathedral. Lines of orange cones demarcate areas of damage, and of healing. The tide of roadworks rolls through and through the city as the ground settles, creating new cracks in roads hastily patched, and patched again.

Avoiding the cracks is possible, but barely. The effort would consume your life. Best then to do as the Cantabrians have done; carry on, regardless. What option is there?

The 2010 Canterbury earthquake
The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake
jexia: (Default)
The bell rings. The kids emerge from the school gate, laughing and running, or silently shuffling, as befits their personality and the day they've experienced. My twins bounce anxiously beside me, peering through the fence for their big brother. In five short months they will be part of this mass of school kids, free at the end of a long day. They look too small.

When we see him, I give them the word- "Off you go!"

They move against the flow, squeezing through the gate, ducking kids much taller than them. My daughter always stops before the corner of the fence; her psychic leash is much shorter than her twin brother's. He is charging across the field, his short legs pumping as he chases his quarry.

My poor, beleaguered eldest son yelps and dodges. A rugby player he is not; he inevitably falls to his little brother's greeting, an enthusiastic cross between a hug and a tackle. Although nearly five years older, every day he ends up on the ground with his triumphant sibling sitting atop him, shrieking his name. His sister usually piles on, too.

I explain that his little brother only chases him because he runs. If he doesn't want to play, he can just stand still and say "Stop it, I don't like it." He never remembers. Every day it's yelp-dodge-hugackle-faceplant. He laughs, but I can see a tinge of embarrassment.

I tell the twins to stop, that he doesn't like it. They can't seem to help it. They love him, they miss him, and they want him to know. Their excitement overflows, and it's always a battle to corral them to cross the road safely.

Finally, after three months of after-school chaos, it dawns on me. The twins don't know how else to greet him. I stop in my tracks, having just crossed the road from the school, and gather them close. "Do you like being chased and tackled?" I ask my eldest.


"Let's try a different way, then." There, on the side of the road surrounded by other families walking home, I make my children rehearse saying "Hi, _____", and offering their open arms for a hug. Three or four times, we practice. I don't know what the passersby think, and I really don't care.

The next day, the bell rings. There's my eldest, way back in the pack; his little brother charges across the field towards him.

He stops. I'm too far away to hear what he says, but he gazes at his adored big brother. His little arms go out.

His hug is accepted, and returned, and they walk side-by-side towards me.

Concrit welcome


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June 2016

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