Monster Blood Tattoo

I cannot recommend these books too highly

1. Because they are written beautifully. They have a Dickensian feel mixed with Tolkein’s inventiveness and Austen’s wit. I LOVE THEM.

2. They are illustrated…beautifully…gorgeously…

3. The author is from and lives in Adelaide, South Australia…my home town…

4. They are addictive…and long…so they last.


Putting yourself out there…

There’s nothing quite as nerve wracking as putting yourself out there for the first time, you know, going to a party where you only know the host and she is happily flitting from one guest to the next while you stand in one corner looking for a group of less than three people to go and introduce yourself to. I hate it! My friends would call me an outgoing and confident person, but I am far from it. When I am in unfamiliar circumstances, I am as chicken as the next chook. It’s why I am always the person helping in the kitchen at big parties. I have a unique gift for putting my size 11’s in my mouth (an uncomfortable sensation) and the thought of committing the unpardonable faux pas in front of strangers is enough to get my palms sweating and my voice quavering. I’d rather get up in front of a thousand people to talk about sexually transmitted diseases, than meet a circle of five strangers.

The secret to my survival thus far is this, I convince myself of the following:

  • everyone else in the room probably feels the same way I do
  • they will probably be forgiving if not grateful that I make a fool of myself because it saves them from having to be the first
  • that my name is so hard to remember that I can probably introduce myself to the rest of the guests by some other name if I completely blow it
  • I’m bigger than most of the guests so they will think twice about ignoring me for fear of my sitting on them or pointing out the horrendous state of their hair roots to the other guests (there’s no hiding a colour-job from a six footer, no hiding a skew hair part or dandruff either)
  • that I’m worth getting to know and it would be a cruel deprivation to remain in the quiet corner and keep to myself…unless there are dishes to do…really, I don’t mind washing dishes…
Okay, so I’m still a work in progress.
I sent off a piece of my writing today to a group of people I barely know to have them critique it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sweating bullets as I await their responses, but I am excited too. It’s thrilling to step outside of my comfort zone and do something new. You only live once and all that…
Come over and meet a few of your friends? Sure, I’d love to, after I do these dishes…there really are quite a few of them!

In a nutshell?

How can I sum up my day in a nutshell? EIGHT CHILDREN! Does that tell you all you need to know? I have been the very fortunate stand-in-parent to my friends’ three gorgeous children for a couple of days now…add to that two other children who needed somewhere to be so that they would not be alone…and the Coad household suddenly became a too-small venue for my burgeoning empire of children.

Eight kids is not many for me…not when they are this well behaved and this funny and silly and deliciously cute! But they are too many for this small three-bedroom house…especially when six of the eight are testosterone fuelled, lightsabre-armed boys with dreams of fighting monsters, slaying siths (or being siths) and defeating threats heretofore unknown to man…so we took the chaos outside.

Had you passed the playground near my house at ten this morning, you would have laughed to find one thirty-six year old woman doing Jedi-training with six little boys and two girls (one very little, one not little at all). We had lightsabre skills training and then a sudden death tournament followed by a rigorous Jedi marathon (She not stupid…she who make children run, also make them tired…and hungry!) followed by a round of shouting Q & A into the ‘Echo tunnels’ (a pedestrian underpass). The humble folk of Hallett Cove now know how many continents there are, what the name of the purple Wiggle is and who the red monster on Sesame Street is. Then we ran home to avoid the rain, ate noodles, watched a movie and played Pictureka for Skittles (nothing like a sudden death round of doodle-finding with stakes as high as a single Skittle per spot!).

Then there were seven…so I took a phonecall, made fresh bread-rolls and hamburgers and tied untold numbers of shoelaces, and made more snacks!

Then there were six…so I fed them, bathed them and made them brush their teeth before subjecting them to five episodes of Shaun the Sheep. Then we moved six mattresses and six children and one set of fairy lights into the dining room for a sleep out. There is no room to move in there but six sleepy little heads breathe gently in the room next door while I type this and think how blessed I am to be surrounded by children! They are our future, they carry the dreams of tomorrow and all our hopes with them…and I get to make memories with them today, and tell them they are funny, clever, strong, brave, beautiful, precious, loved and that they belong. I am captured by the thought of all that potential in one little room, by all the dreams they might be dreaming and all the possibilities crammed into their small bodies. I am lucky because (for all the right, pure and honourable reasons) there are people in the world who would give all they had to have one child to love…and I have so many. I intend to spend many more days not doing housework, not making phonecalls or doing anything ‘productive’ so that I can build, invest, encourage, love, pour myself into these little people who are growing even as we speak….

…and apologies to the friends whose birthday cards I should have mailed, whose e-mails I should have answered and who are waiting for me to return a call. I will be with you in a day or two…when I can think in a straight line again and the playdough under my nails dries enough for me to brush it out…though I may still have a monster or two to defeat and a doodle or two to track down.

Why don’t you join me in the trenches and make a memory that your kids (and the children you have the privilege to love- nieces, nephews, grandchildren…) will treasure in their hearts long after the actual memory fades. Children hear the message without needing to understand the words; they remember the love long after the need of your company fades. Our relationship with our teenagers begins with our toddlers! Love them now so that they know you love them when everything else is changing too fast for them to handle…

Love is the only thing that grows no matter how of it you give away…actually, correct that…the only things that continue to grow no matter how much of it you give away are love and cellulite…

I have plenty of both…and willing to share. : )

Your mama warned you there’d be days like these…

You know, days when the sun is shining, when the grass is green and, despite everything (the cold, the desperately ill friends, the complexities of life) you feel full of hope an joy and peace…you weren’t expecting that were you? You thought this post would be about the latest child-vomiting, car breaking down and snake in the toilet blog. Thankfully not!

I am just feeling blessed today- not because my life is perfect (it’s not), not because my friends and family are well (a few of them are the exact opposite), not because I have enough money or time or energy (my house is untidy, there are things to be repaired and bills to be paid). I feel blessed today because, somewhere in Africa there is a woman with three more children than I have and no husband. They live in a shanti town in a shack big enough for two and they have to walk ten minutes to the tap to get water. The woman is trying to stay healthy so that the HIV doesn’t take her  before her youngest is at school (she’ll be lucky) and she is hungry because she gave her portion to her aged mother, who is also living with them and watches all of the children while she walks 5 kilometers to catch a bus to work where she watches her employees’ children throw away the crusts of their sandwiches because they don’t like them. I am not that woman. There is more than enough to be grateful for in that story alone!

Did I ever tell you about the last client I saw at the AIDS Clinic I worked at when I was living in South Africa? She was about 37 years old and had two teenage children and a five year old. She came to me for an HIV test to confirm what she already knew- that she had HIV. She already knew because her newborn had died a month previously of AIDS. She had never slept with anyone but her husband. Her five year old son was in a coma in the hospital because he stumbled into the road on the way to her work one day and was hit by a truck. Even if she beats the odds and makes it past the 5-year limit that most impoverished Africans have as a life-expectancy with HIV, she will never see her boy become a man. My heart broke as I sat with her in the tiny cubicle on the ground floor of a large building in Cape Town. What hope did she have for tomorrow or the next day? I have to admit that I was highly unprofessional—I cried with her. I prayed with her. I believed with her against all odds that some good could come of it all. There was not flash of thunder, no writing on the wall. Just a quiet sense of sisterhood between a tiny black lady and a tall white girl. Did she survive? I don’t know…but she did pop in to say goodbye to me on the very last shift that I ever did at the clinic. She brought her little boy with her. Against all odds, he woke up undamaged from his coma.

I  think there is more than enough to be grateful for in that story too….

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

What are you grateful for today…past or present?

Something broken…

“Something broken cuts deeper than something whole. Something broken can kill like a shard of ice,” he said.

Timothee DeFombelle

Today I witnessed first hand, the sharpness of something broken as it tore into someone. I wish I could say that it was a broken bottle that sliced through flesh, its sharp edges carving a gaping chasm through flesh, but it wasn’t a broken bottle, it was much worse. I watched one person use their words and wounded pride to slash at another. I watched them aim their blows at soft flesh and throw up verbal shields in their own defence. It was disturbing -far worse than watching someone draw blood – because I was watching someone trying to crush a spirit, to ease their own pain by causing pain in another.

It’s not the first time I have witnessed such a battle; it won’t  be the last. It never gets easier. When I was twelve I watched as my grandmother (whom I love dearly) tore into my mother (whom I also love dearly) in front of my then ten-year-old brother and myself. The hostility was palpable, the words tangible, as though I could see them shoot through the air at high speed and find their home deep in my mother’s heart. I saw them crush her. I watched her bleed salty tears of humiliation. I ached to see two women whom I loved vomit their pain into the air I had to breathe. Did it affect me? Need I answer that?

Why do we lash out at others when we feel hurt? Why do we claw our way up out of the dirt to grab hold of them and pull them down into the mud with us again. When someone wounds us, why do we engage them and tie them to ourselves with arguments, and grudges, and unforgivness? I’d like to think that I’d rather see the back end of some small minded person as they walked away leaving me behind, than try to hold on to them while we tangle in the mud.

I said I’d like to think that about myself, but I know that when push(them) comes to shove(me), I react rather than respond. It’s the law of first response. But if the quote from Mr DeFombelle is anything to go by, perhaps I should stop and think. What is broken in this person that attacks me that causes them to cut so deep; what is broken that makes them want to kill? And what is broken in me to want to fight back?

No one wins in an argument like the one I saw today, except maybe the high horses who will,  most likely, be fed a good meal of oats and rumination tonight, who will have their riders for company as they lick their respective wounds, sharpen their respective arrows and saddle their respective horses…forget that, the word ‘respect’ doesn’t belong in this conversation.

It’s one of those things you never knew you never knew…

You know how there are things that you find out about and can’t help but say, “I never knew that I never knew that.” Okay, so maybe it’s only me that does that, but pretend for a moment that you understand what I’m talking about. If you’re still clueless, let me tell you about it….

When I was pregnant with my first child, older women in lifts, on buses, in trains, in supermarket aisles and checkouts and even in public toilets would stop and ask me if it was my first child, how far along I was, and was I sure it wasn’t twins? (Pregnancy is so healthful for one’s self-esteem.) As a student of the unspoken languages that we use with one another,  I couldn’t help but notice that there was a look that flitted briefly across each woman’s face when I admitted that this was to be my first child. The look was short-lived and so brief that I almost missed it, but its newness caught my attention. Something about that look held the slightest contradiction to the well wishes being spoken by their mouths, made their smiles seem a little patronising, though not quite.Ten years later, and as the mother of three beautiful and energetic boys, I find myself giving that same look to women embarking on their journey into motherhood. I know now what it means. It’s not condescension or contradiction, it’s more like a mix between reminiscence and pity, congratulations and ‘tighten your garters Betsy because you have no idea what’s about to happen to you’…but in a good way…sometimes (it depends on who has vomited, left a snot trail on the lapel of my black jacket, deleted files on the computer by accident or lost his $70 school jumper on the day in question). It’s the look that says ‘you’re about to find out what you never knew you never knew.’

This past month I’ve found another of those things, though I can’t claim complete ignorance either. I started working part-time with a friend two days a week. It has been a wonderful opportunity that landed on my doorstep at the perfect time — I even get to keep my youngest boy with me while I work (so you know it’s not spy work or demolitions). I knew it would mean a change in our home life, that I would be home less and have housework to catch up on weekends, that I would be tired and that it would take more mental energy than I’d previously needed to wash the bath and hang up 21 kid-sized pairs of underpants each week, but I had no idea how hard it was going to be.

Needless to say, I may not be employed for much longer–I nearly sent a letter to my employer’s clients asking for information on travel they have done and related affairs (rather than air fares). Thankfully she has a sense of humour and I caught the error in the proof read. I’ve also had the same four bags of groceries waiting on the dining room table to be unpacked for three days, and the piles of underpants on the corner of the table not occupied by grocery bags, is growing daily (I almost forgot to mention that they are clean underpants that have been laundered but not sorted–just in case you were invited to dinner this week and were reconsidering in the light of some miscommunicated opinion of our family hygiene).

I never knew that I never knew how amazing you all are working mothers! I never knew that I underestimated the stress you are under or the price you pay to do what you do. I know now. I take my hat off to you! Please forgive me if I put it back on my head, it’s just that if I put it down, I may never find it again! Now if I could just find my keys…..

I am the messenger….

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called “The Messenger” by a very talented Australian author called Markus Zusak. It changed me….good books can do that. I gave a copy to a friend last night because some of the things he has been saying made me think that this is a book he needs to read; maybe it’s a book you need to read too.

A few times a year, there are people who knock on our front door to deliver a message. I’ll give you a hint: they always arrive in pairs, they dress very smartly and, in my case, they usually either have a Canadian or Irish accent….to be sure. They have something they are sure I need to hear, a message they feel compelled to deliver- all I feel is compelled to slam the door (which I’ve never actually done, though I have developed a great line that sends them packing…) because whatever it is they are saying, whatever they are ‘selling’, it doesn’t look all that attractive to me. Most of the time they look dour and serious and like they are under compulsion, like my life depends on my accepting what they have to say…or at least a pamphlet about it.I don’t want to knock the people. They have to be sincere to face the ridicule and possible aggression of the strangers on whose doors they knock. They are sincere and it’s nice to think that someone cares enough about my soul to want to go out of their way to tell me about it…but do they? And do I want what they have? If it makes me look like that, and by ‘that’ I mean the look that is a perfect cross between “What is quantum physics about anyway?” and serious constipation?

What “The Messenger” taught me is this: I am not the messenger. My job is not to deliver some mystical message that, with enough clever arguments or catchy cliche’s, will convince people of the truth of what I have to say, will change their lives and make everything better. I have no message. I AM THE MESAGE.

They said that I’d end up in a mental institution, and that was before I wanted to kill myself. I should really be there, but I’m not, I’m happy and I love life. I don’t need to sell you anything. I don’t need to convert you to anything. I don’t need to convince you of anything.If you stop long enough to get to know me, you’ll find out why. If you look closely enough, you will see the handwriting on the pages of my life and you’ll know for yourself. I’m not perfect, but I’m open. Read me if you can….

“I stand before it, heart beating in my chest, sweaty palms, shaking hands. This book so old it’s ancient, its cover battered, worn and faded- bearing the marks of its journey through many hands.
Extending trembling fingers toward its once blood-red cover I pause. Am I worthy of its secrets? Will its mysteries leap unbidden from those unseen pages? Can I learn the truth I so desperately seek?
I touch it and turn the page. There is no epiphany. There are nothing but unreadable symbols scrawled across the paper, locked from me in the sweat-stained pages, thumbed on every corner.
I know there should be something here, I was told there would be. Others have come searching here- I can tell by the absence of dust, of mildew or the smell of neglect. Others have come and I followed but there are no answers for me here.
The rustling of my search has faded, the fanning pages kiss my face with a farewell breeze…and then I see it-the handwriting in the corner and a name, and I know the book is me.”