Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy in my jimjamjarmikins*

How long until I exercise again? My bike chain slipped off and the pedals spun back; one whacked my knee and it blew up like a balloon. As it subsided, I came down with a cold; I wanted to write something; I had a few bad nights and just had to nap; a friend in hospital needed a visitor; I helped someone move; and now it's raining. Also, I need a haircut. When I get out of bed my hair stands on end. It flattens only with a shower, but I don't want to wash twice in a day and I don't want to go out looking like a rooster and I can't exercise without knowing there's a hot shower at the end of it. So I stay home from the gym, feeling flabby.

Somehow, in the space of a few weeks, I lost the motivation. I am The Motivator, the one who gets children dressed and out the door and usually looks neat herself; who invites people over and cooks from scratch every night; who reads with young children and draws up crosswords for her daughter's class; who squeezes writing and thinking into every spare minute of the day; who finds it terribly hard to sit still even with friends present and chatting. After dinner, when most people rest, I do the dishes and fold the washing and run around with a vacuum cleaner. Sickening, really. But I just lost my oomph, for the gym at least.

Here I am now. It's 13 degrees and the heater's blasting; I'm curled up in PJs and hoodie with coffee and chocolate to hand, and wondering about throwing in the towel. Why, oh why, do I need to hurl myself at the wretched machines, headphones in? It takes so much time and effort to get there; it's expensive and undignified; and now I'm so unfit that it will be like starting again.

And how many times have I started again? Between babies, holidays and a twice ballooning knee, between sickness and colds and exhaustion, I've had to start over and over. Back to walking, not running; back to feeling wrecked not exhilarated by the experience.

At some level I feel like I should get sorted; that there must be ways to live that I don't need the gym's artificial construct. Surely gardening and walking and riding should be enough. But they are not.

My back aches, and I have little points of weakness from years of picking up children. Without regular weight training, I hurt. And without intense cardio activity, so much harder than the walk to school, I feel tired all the time. As if to prove a point, my back is starting to niggle again; last night I went to bed at 9.30, and slept for ten hours.

Exercise is not just physically beneficial. In the mindless activity of the cross trainer, I do some of my best thinking, and some hard emotional work. Small essays, sharp sentences, are plotted and planed as I row and puff and pull down weights. Despite all the sweating people in the room with me, the headphones and gym etiquette give me such a feeling of solitude that when feelings bubble up, I have the space to work out what's going on, and why.

For these reasons and more, I should go. Yes. But looking at the clock I see that yet again I've left it too late, fiddling around with a bio for a magazine, a submission, this blog – and I'm glad, glad to be home in the warm, glad to have done these things instead.

But where has my motivation gone, I wonder. Sure, the writing's good, but I need both. I'm feeling lopsided, but the more I get out of balance, the harder it is to exercise again.

On Thursday I have another chance, another couple of hours without children. Perhaps I'll make it then, rain, runny nose and all. Or perhaps I'll pour a glass of wine and bunker down instead, leaving it for another week. I wonder.

*What we call pyjamas, of course.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Worth getting angry

From time to time, questions like mantras come to mind. They stay with me for several months, perhaps a year, turning up unexpectedly when I most need them, and then, like Mary Poppins, disappearing when they've served their purpose. A few years ago, the words "Why not love?" sprang up. At a time when I disliked almost everyone – myself especially – time and again those three little words came to mind, soothing my response to people and giving me a choice about what sort of person I wanted to be. Softer now, in love with life and most people I meet, I almost never think them any more – they've done their job.

These days, I have a new question. When my daughters whinge and argue and stall; when friends or family let me down; when a toddler kicks a door or arches their back as I'm trying to strap them into a pram, I find myself wondering, "is this worth getting angry about?". Even in the midst of a swelling rage, even when I've already begun shouting, I hear the question. And most of the time, I can answer: it's not. I take a deep breath, the rage dissipates, and I try something new: a joke, a song, a quiet reprimand, a blind eye – whatever comes to mind, which is why you'll so often find me singing loudly as I wander down Lygon Street. It's the way I dispel my rage at reckless drivers on the walk to school.

But today my daughter was brushed by a car. Our little procession – me, the pram, and two girls on scooters* – were crossing with the traffic at a green pedestrian light. A stopped car facing the red light suddenly rolled forward half its length while we were in front of it. I simultaneously screamed and yanked the pram back and tried to grab at my four year old; the driver slowly braked, brushing my daughter's dress; and my family staggered to the curb. I turned back, still shouting, and the driver looked right though me. And I thought, now that's worth getting angry about.

And then I burst into tears. Weeping, I walked to school, all the while thinking of a walk we did in England and envying a friend who was reminded of her daily walk to school by my story.

But is it worth staying angry? Hours later, after my husband came home from work and I had another big cry, I'm not so sure. Getting angry is great when it fuels creative work, or provides an impetus for change. But getting angry at the way people drive in our suburb? Unless it leads to a social movement, which I lack the time, energy or heart for, it will eat me alive.

Of course I was justifiably angry – and terrified and panicky – at the moment of the incident, but there is no point carrying the rage with me. It doesn't change anyone's driving habits; it only poisons my relationships with husband, children and friends – and any other cars which cross my path.

So instead I weep, and I write. I'll probably drive for the next few drop offs; or, if the weather fines up, go the long road again. And tonight I'll go to choir and sit with friends and drink too much red wine and sing loudly and swear outrageously as I tell the story and then someone will say something utterly ridiculous and we'll all laugh our heads off like those bold scary women we just love to be. As my eyes fill with tears, of laughter this time, the weight of anxiety pressing down on me will vanish like an evening mist; behind it, I'll find stars.

*We never did get that courier bike. We planned to buy it ready for this school year, but the older girls shot up so much over the summer that it was no longer worth it. My advice is don't leave it too late!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

St Jerome had a skull on his desk

Me, in an idiotic random aside as I'm getting dressed: I think I'm getting too fat for these pants.

Her, matter-of-factly: Yes, you're almost dead.


A couple of weeks ago, I flew interstate for my grandmother's funeral.

Her, screaming: I want to come, I want to come.

Me: Not this time.

Her, stamping her foot: It's not fair. I've never seen a dead body and you get to see another one!


Her: When you go to heaven, Mum, you can see your grandma and your mum. When I go to heaven, I'm going to see Lucy [a dog].


St Jerome had a skull on his desk to remind him of his mortality. I have a four-year-old.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Organic Carrots...

I wish I could say the champagne's out, but a bottle split with my husband on a quiet Wednesday evening seems a little excessive. But I am excited! I wrote an article on why we buy organic, and it was published here this morning.

Perhaps a celebratory square of fair trade organic chocolate will suffice.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Who can be bothered?

Who can be bothered?

Weeds are taking over the garden. We've got the henhouse but failed to buy chickens, the pear tree's still buggy and the almond needs a prune. The snails ate all the veggie seedlings, and we'll have nothing out of the garden this month except celery.

It's rained for five days and the upstairs bathroom is awash from the leaking roof. We've rearranged our dining room to fit the clothes horses in front of the heater; just because I can't get their clothes dry, my kids don't stop playing in mud.

I'm fed up with nappies and have finally switched to disposables, six and a half years after having our first child. Though they're riddled with holes, the cloth nappies wink at me and I still feel guilty.

'Read story mama,' says my little one, and I'm bored bored bored with cuddly puppy and pudgy piglet and the other ghastly books we've been given. I recite Goodnight Moon from memory instead, even as most of me plans dinner.

There's genocide and gendercide and drought and corruption and viciousness and bombs and oil slicks out there. The world is going to hell in a hand basket and there's nothing I can do. I can't think of a thing to write, and am slumped into myself.

'Go to the gym,' whispers the little voice. I hate the gym. It's shallow and undignified and silly, it's noisy and it smells. But it shrinks things down to size; it gives me energy again. Grumbling to my husband, hating that I know how to fix myself if nothing else, I haul myself out of my chair, grab my stuff, and head out to my bike.

And my four-year-old's bike rests against it. On the back of her bike is a seat for a doll, but no doll sits there. Instead, she has carefully strapped in her garden: a Thai takeout container filled with potting mix, planted with grass seeds and tiny daisy cuttings, peopled with a wine cork with texta hair and sunnies. Over the weeks the grass has grown, and she has carefully cut it back with scissors.

As I look at this ragged little thing, a spot of green hilarity tacked onto a pink bike painted with fairies, I start to grin. If she can be bothered making a little garden and cutting the handkerchief lawn, strapping it onto her bike and taking it for a ride, I can be bothered.

I can weed the potatoes and find a chicken farm and call a plumber and give the nappies away and say a prayer for the world. As tiny as her little garden is, it's enough to make me enjoy it all again. Perhaps I'll make a cake for dessert to celebrate.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Women on a train

My six-year-old daughter and I were on a train. We had two seats in the middle of the carriage, my daughter against the window. Across the aisle sat a rough looking woman with her face downturned, the brim of her hat pulled low, her arms tightly crossed. She held the aisle seat, and the three other seats in her section were empty. A woman coming onto the train lightly brushed past her as she went to take one of the window seats. The first woman started screaming. "Don't touch me!" she shrieked, "I hate anyone ever touching me!". She yelled and carried on while everyone looked on, flabbergasted. Then she stood up, crossed the aisle, and sat next to me.

My daughter huddled into a small ball against the window, and her face went still. "I'm scared," she said softly. "How can we get off the train without touching her?"

I didn't know, but told her not to worry, we'd work it out. At each stop, the train became more crowded: people coming home from a musical, a rugby match, a football game. Some men were loudly drunk, and started a fight at the other end of the carriage. My daughter huddled even smaller, and I sat there anxiously running through possible scenarios. How would I get my daughter off the train? Would the woman yell at us? Would I be able to speak calmly, or would I get scared and shout right back? Should we go a few extra stops, hoping she'd get off first? Could we climb over the back of the seat?? Am I a total coward?

Across from my new neighbour sat another woman. As the train filled up and I worried away, she began to weep. I don't know if she was anxious about the fierce woman, or the crowd, or something else entirely. But she sat there with tears rolling down her cheeks, which she tried to hide as she carefully wiped them away with a tissue.

And the woman who had been screaming just minutes before leaned forward, asked if she was okay, and patted her. 'I get that way myself sometimes,' she said. And suddenly it felt completely normal for one woman to weep and the other to sit there, smiling tenderly and nodding at her from time to time, and my fears evaporated.

Who was the screaming woman, I wonder. What had made her so volatile, so touchy? And where had she found such wells of compassion for a stranger on a train?

A gentle silence hovered over us until our stop, when both women, one still teary, the other surprisingly compassionate, moved their legs and bags and carefully eased us – touching and all – into the crowded aisle.

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