Monthly Archives: March 2008

Creative things to do with an unwanted school lunch …

            Want to read something scary? Something REALLY scary?

            Back in prehistoric times when I worried about such things and wanted to do better, I was flicking optimistically through one of those women’s magazines, trying to discover the elusive secret of how to be an ‘other mother’. The kind who spends ‘quality time’ with her kids, knits undergarments out of organic fibres which make your personal bits itch – and does dinners from scratch.

            It jumped right out at me – as these things do when you’re not feeling very confident in your role as the epitome of good motherhood – and believe me, it was scary all right. A smug little feature entitled ‘Creative things to do with a school lunch’. For someone whose most creative activity with food is to eat it, it came as a bit of a shock to see what ‘other mothers’ (the nurturing, loving, ‘from scratch’ kind), allegedly crawled willingly from their beds at 4am to fling together. 

            Nope – no sign here of the smeary vegemite jar with buttery knife stuck in it – nary a glimpse of uncreative things like last-chance speckled bananas or tryhard homemade biscuits which either come in the Break Your Jaw or Pile’o’Crumbs variety. Here before me, triumphantly glossy, was presented Nirvana for the kindergarten lunch set. Gourmet constructions burst obscenely over the edges of brightly coloured lunchboxes, complete with strategically placed red gingham napkins and minute monogrammed condiment shakers.

            The first suggestion (to ease us into it gently), was pita bread pockets filled with smoked turkey, slivers of avocado and fresh rocket – with just a dash of cranberry sauce. And if (whoops, silly me), I’d neglected to spend the night smoking the turkey and crushing cranberries with my bare (albeit detoxed) feet, the article assured me it would be quite acceptable to substitute smoked salmon with cream cheese and sundried tomatoes – (but don’t forget the lemon wedge, wrapped in foil and tucked into the side of the lunchbox).

            Excuse me? And what, pray tell, do the teachers think as they chew on day-old bread with an avant garde processed plastic cheese slice poking rakishly from between the crusts?

            Laughing in the face of danger, I flaunted convention. First Child was sent to school with cheese and vegemite. Second Child preferred lemon butter – and nobody ever died. Third Child declared only Nutella would do – no butter, and don’t cut the bread. It has to be slapped together just so. No care or responsibility taken. In fact – she’d make it herself. Just to ensure it was done properly. Fourth Child is a boy. Say no more – as long as it’s remotely edible. Queries of, ‘Did you eat your lunch?’ always brought replies of, ‘Yup’. Nobody ever thought of pumping their stomachs to verify it.

            Then one awful day which will forever remain etched in the memory, I accidentally sat on the end of Child Three’s bed – probably while I was in there asking whether she’d eaten her lunch. There was a ghastly, Stephen King-esque kind of rustling noise from beneath the doona – I knew damn well it was something I didn’t want to know about – but in best horror story tradition, was compelled to uncover. Trembling, I pulled back the sheets – and there they were. Drum roll, please, as we proudly present in a bedroom near you … The Lunches of Tragedy! Lined up neatly along the bottom of the bed were seven little square packages wrapped in greaseproof paper and encased in individual Hercules bags. Black ones, green ones, furry ones – take your pick, there was something to please everyone.

            She said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have been spying on me!’

            I said, ‘Hadn’t it occurred to you the sheets might have needed changing before the end of the millennium?’ She glared balefully. I’m not that kind of mother.

I never again went in a child’s room after that. They’re grown up now – living away from home. Or maybe not. Maybe they’re still in those rooms, mouldering away with two decades of unwanted lunches.

            Oh – and for the person who wrote that article … what I’d like to do with your creative lunches would be very scary indeed …




Only the bravest look outside the square …

            I’ve just walked down the hall past the bedrooms, as you do, and noticed things were not exactly in exhibition home condition.

            Harking back to somebody once saying a person with a tidy desk is not very productive, I would have to deduce the Rt Hons are leading extremely productive lives indeed. We can but dream. One of them in particular seems to be obsessively interested in the cultivation of varying genuses of bacterium – if it turns out to be a cure for a terminal disease I’ll apologise – in the meantime, I’d like my Fat Momma coffee mug and Peter Rabbit porridge bowl back, please, before they crawl off somewhere to die of their own accord.

            Having had that little grumble and wondering piously why I was the only one who seemed worried about tidiness or hygiene, I went outside to hang the washing – only to discover something mildly (in a ghastly kind of way) interesting. The state of my tea towels. I don’t do the starching and ironing thing like ‘proper’ housewives – mine just get chucked in the wash. And there they were, hanging in the breeze like the rotting, shredded rags they unwrap from the remains found in sarcophagi. Before you sneer in contempt, I dare you to check out your own. The trouble is, you get so used to them you never see them through someone else’s eyes. Pretend you’re your mother-in-law for a minute. Have another look. Shame! When did you last replace them? Have a sniff. If you’re still standing, you’re not even in my league.

            Here’s something else interesting to try – for short people. Put a stool in the middle of your kitchen and stand on it. In my case, it brings me approximately into line with the way the Hunter Gatherer must see things. The top of the fridge looks as if I could plant seeds in it. Why has he not said something? Everything looked perfectly OK from where I was standing before. How many people have visited lately who are taller than I? One of the HG’s colleagues appeared in the living room the other week with a giant cobweb wrapped around his face – and I assumed he always looked like that.

            Have a look in your kitchen sink. Are there crumbs and bits of vegetable peel in the bottom? Does your dishcloth look as if it has been stuck up the exhaust pipe of your car? If the aforementioned mother-in-law looked in it right now, would she still allow you to be married to her son?

            Bathroom, then. Are there hairs in the plughole? Has someone spat toothpaste at the mirror and left a hirsute and dandruffed hairbrush balanced on the shelf? Do the family toothbrushes look as though you clean grout with them? Let’s not visit the WC just yet. Information overload is not warranted at this stage. But you get the picture. If you were someone else, would you find the habits of yourself and your family disgusting?

            If the Freezer Police were to make an impromptu visit, would they find orphaned peas rolling in the bottom of your Tuckerbox? Would they need icepicks and abseiling equipment to hack through in the first place? How ‘expired’ are the dates on those chicken thighs? It’s OK though, isn’t it – you can keep the lid closed and who’s going to know about it? Next time you visit your friends, open their freezer and have a good ol’ comparison in the interest of research.

            Sofa cushions. Go lift them up. Whoooooaaa! If you’re in luck, you’ll find money. Pre-decimal, probably, if you’re like me. Visit your friends again and lift up their sofa cushions.

            Checked out the back of the pantry lately? That bicarb expired in 1973. Those aren’t just weevils in the cornflour – they’re the great, great grandchildren of weevils. Weevilosaurus, if you will. They’ve been extinct for decades. And why did you ever buy that tin of quail eggs?

            I’m not trying to make you feel bad. Just trying to make myself feel a little better. Everything would have been fine if I hadn’t stood on that stool. Why did I do that? A good day completely ruined because of some damn tea towels. There’s a lot to be said for plonking your sorry arse down and opening a good book. That’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow.

            Might have a bash at those quail eggs, too.



Driving Ms Crazy …

            I’ve never been much good in a car.

            For a start, I was really old when I first started driving one – 22ish, which is old for beginning THAT sort of activity – and secondly, I was past the carefree sort of age where ‘it won’t happen to me’. In fact, I was exactly the age where I was convinced it WOULD happen. The minute I rolled out into the road.

            My mother-in-law told me I would have to have a licence because I was having a baby. She said I might just need to take it to a doctor or to bagpipe lessons or something one day. Furthermore, she said I’d be sorry to find myself housebound for the rest of my life. I knew she was right. She even offered to teach me – in a little country town where there were no traffic lights, no hills – in my sister-in-law’s automatic car.

            My MIL was very patient, too. Even when I backed the car into the cemetery gates, which were the only things around for several kilometres. So, after a while – or a few whiles anyway – we trotted on down to the local policeman to do the licence test. He was very nice, and his wife made scones for us afterwards.

            So there I was, presumably able to drive. Sort of. I’d strap the baby in the back of the car, having stayed awake all night worrying about actually going out of the driveway and being responsible for both the baby’s life and my own. I’d reverse up to the street and hover uncertainly over the kerb. Then I’d go back down the driveway, unstrap the baby and go inside with an enormous feeling of relief, a bag of Kettle Chips and enough chocolate to give me the stamina to plan the next attempt as if it were an assault on Osama and his lads. Which would have been easier and far less scary.

            It took a few more weeks of thrilling attempts before I was actually able to leave the premises – and several (decades, actually, if I’m being perfectly honest) years before I was able to go more than five kilometres.

            This was most upsetting for the Rt Honourables, who frequently received invitations to birthday parties at a venue which happened to be on the outskirts of town and involved running the gauntlet of a highway and an industrial area – with trucks. We had to tell little untruths – like, ‘terribly sorry, we’re not going to be feeling very well on that date’. Nobody had the nerve to admit, ‘Mum can’t drive that far.’ All the other mothers apparently drove their kids to places 20 … or even 30 kilometres away – for the sheer hell of it.

            There was a very unpleasant incident one rainy night when I absolutely HAD to get to a performance venue in an out-of-the-way location. I mapped and planned the manoeuvre, but hadn’t fitted inclement weather into the equation. It was impossible to see anything once I got on to the unfamiliar road, and I couldn’t find the turnoff. I was squinting hopelessly through the windscreen with my nose pressed to it like Quasimodo on an outing to Sydney Aquarium when I thought I saw it. So I turned right with hope and optimism. Unfortunately, the turnoff turned out to be a traffic island – and as fate would have it, there was a police car right up my jacksie. There I was, wheels stuck over the back of the little yellow strip of concrete and a car full of horrified and embarrassed progeny. The first thing the nice policeman wanted to do was make me blow into the little tube. In the circumstances, he found it extremely difficult to believe I don’t drink at all.

            ‘It was raining!’ piped up Child Four from the back of the car. I think it was his sad little face which won the policeman over. He was very nice indeed and insisted on giving us a police escort to my destination. I had a feeling he would have liked to have given me an escort home too – in the interests of protecting other road users.

            I’m still not very good. And I don’t like doing it, either. When I’m tootling along I keep smelling burning – or hearing funny noises which probably mean bits of vehicle are going to start dropping off into the road. I know there’s stuff under the bonnet which can’t be trusted. And that the nut behind the wheel is the most dangerous part of all.