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I was born a boy.

Funnily enough, I used to think I had been born a boy. Before the birth went down, way back in my childhood, I started to have the first stirrings of my sexuality. I had my first crushes on celebrities and teachers. I also had this slight red crease that ran from just below my bikini line to just above my genitals. I never really thought much of it until one night in the shower.  

I stood with one foot up on the ledge. I knew my short nails would make the perfect speculum for self-exploration. On my way through, I picked up the glossy magazine full of anatomy diagrams that I’d pilfered from my brother’s bedroom. I knew I had felt this lump inside me about a week ago, which had heightened my curiosity about who I thought I was, and I wanted to find out for sure.  

I placed the magazine upon the counter where I could see it with my hands free. I let the glossy finish slide against my bloody fingers as I turned each page over, looking for the naughty section. The joy of all of it was that my mother never, ever censored my reading content, so when I turned to that section, the one that contained a full-length picture of a naked man, with a detailed diagram of a flaccid penis, I wasn’t shocked, but intrigued. I looked closer at the diagram, processing the similarity between the shape of this tipped shaft and something I’d felt inside me, but facing upwards, inverse, like a mirror image curving upwards.   

A few weeks prior, I had slid my fingers inside my child body for the first time ever, until I got to a point where I could go no further. Here, I had felt a bulbous tip and a hole, which didn’t feel quite like it belonged. A few years prior, I had noticed a faint, red scar that extended from below my belly button to just above my vulva, and part of me wondered if I had been reassigned, made from a boy to a girl, from the inside out.

Perhaps my parents, at birth, looked at the wet, bloody baby in front of them with shrieks of, ‘Congratulations! Another boy!’ were so tied up with wanting the ‘pigeon pair’ my mother always spoke about, that they’d reassigned me at the hospital. It would explain many things – like why I had this scar. It would explain this penis tip inside my body. But most of all, it would explain this deep, sinking feeling I’d always had. I knew, even at nine years of age I knew it, that I loved girls. And only boys were attracted to girls. So I had to have been born a boy, or else why would I be attracted to girls? 

The other theory I had was that every woman had these feelings ebbing away inside them, but from a social point of view, every functional marriage needed gender roles; that is, a man and a woman. For quite some time, I entertained the idea that every woman had innate same-sex attractions, but they fulfilled their social need to make a family and raise children with a man. You know, so there was someone to mow the lawn, lift heavy boxes, and bring in the pay cheques. In the mid-to-late 1990s, when I was beginning to have an awareness of the wide world outside of my reasonably functional home life, I noticed that so many men in the media were painted as useless buffoons who couldn’t even fry an egg or change a nappy, let alone fulfil the romantic, tender loving role that a lifelong spouse should. Interesting that even in the face of having a competent, sensitive father, these messages still burrowed deep in my attempt to explain how I felt.

I went back to steadying myself on the edge of the bath with one leg up and one on the tiled floor. I spread myself wide because although I had no nails to cut my insides, the opening just wasn’t that big, even for small fingers. One pointed finger slid in with ease, if I thrust my hips forward, but I couldn’t get in far enough. Seeing the purple moisturiser bottle in my periphery, I slid my finger out of myself and squeezed a liberal amount of the white lubricant to help things along. Turning at an angle, my finger nudged up against the bump once more. Navigating my internal organs carefully, I twisted my flat, lithe torso close enough to the bench so that I could see the picture in the magazine.

The freshly-painted wooden door bashed against its frame and I just about tore myself from the inside out with a single finger when my brother yelled through the door frame.

“Get out, I need to use the shower!”

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Even cows can do AI.

Way back when, my parents had decided that sending me to a Pentecostal Christian school was a good idea. It was all because I’d been kicked out of school in Brisbane, as a fresh-faced year eight student. It was all under the guise of building my father’s hearing aid business in a small place where there was lots of old people and retirees, who had lots of hearing problems.  

“Such a waste of money on these uniforms!” my mother had cried – actually cried with real tears and everything – as we packed the dull brown skirts and white blouses into a box for the five-houses-down neighbour’s daughter to use in a years’ time when she started there.

“What am I going to tell everyone in the family about why you don’t go there anymore? This was our dream for you, Rebecca!” My mother’s green Glaswegian eyes flashed read as she slammed the box shut, unfulfilled bourgeoisie expectations breathing their last when the lid shut on those blouses and dresses. So sad.  

My Mum had grown up in less than ideal circumstances, only to come back swinging through the other side to marry a very decent and equally committed man – my father. They both wanted the absolute best for me, which was often just an echo of the status quo, – private schooling, expensive belongings, whatever it took to make us look like a nice, normal family, which hers hadn’t been.

“I just want more for you than I had. When I was your age, I was the only girl at school who didn’t have JAG jeans and I’ve never forgotten how bad it felt. You have no idea how lucky are,” she would always say, across the range of a pointed finger.

 After using the school’s network to unlock restricted content and create my own indexed website with pages like The Dickhead List, Ozzy Osbourne on the Toilet, and Why my Teachers Suck, the door hit my arse faster than you could say ‘amazing grace.’ The rude pages punctuated with repeated swear words just didn’t go down a treat in an $8,000 a year religiously-themed sausage factory. And I’d wasted a significant chunk of bandwidth to do it, as well. That was a lesser offence, all things considered, but also against the rules. 

 “This is the most discghushting breach of the Internet Policy that this school has ever seen!” the dean of students had said, each consonant sliding out through the brown plaque in her teeth in a cloud of elderly, mothballed speech. 

“You know we could call the police on what you’ve just done? There will be serious consequences.”

The empty threat of police (who no doubt didn’t give a shit about the online shenanigans of a thirteen-year-old) was enough to make me cry and I remember shaking in my brown leather shoes, until I realised it was a scare tactic. I knew what I had done was naughty and there was no legitimate excuse for my behaviour, but I thought the response was heavy-handed, considering how young and stupid I was. Because it was 2003 – well before the Web 2.0 age – it was the school’s very first internet offence, and they had to come down on me hard to make an example. Perhaps slightly unjust, but just too bad.

By the time we got to Bundaberg, I was living the farm life with all the other country kids. One particular day, I was introduced to the idea of assisted reproduction.

It was middle session in the school day and the flies were clinging to beads of sweat and teenaged body odour, as well as patches of reddish-brown dirt that were adorning everybody’s loose ripped jeans. Despite the strictness of the Christian college, we were allowed to change into “old clothes” during agricultural lessons, though some girls would always try to get away with wearing Roxy jumpers for style. There we were in week 3, and working our school days in a real rhythm. The smell of cow shit hung thick in the air and by that time, I had acclimatised. 

 “All right, everybody into the shed!” Mr Hibbard projected his voice in every direction and nodded towards Nevie, the farm’s caretaker to join us all.

I’d wanted to continue learning drama at the Christian college. Creative activities were my natural inclination and I had even joined the local theatre, as well as dance after school. As it turned out, the Christian college had no arts program whatsoever, mostly due to its size. To team with the ‘change of city, change of attitude’ approach, I decided to take the elective of Agricultural Science. I had no business with cows and chickens, but it made my parents happy to see me getting into it. They’d really adopted this move and I could see they wanted to try and fit in, even though we all stood out like a pair of testicles on any given animal.

“Wow, Hoof and Hook! You could lead cattle instead of doing interschool sport!” my mother had exclaimed.

Leading a fat, stubborn cow around a course instead of playing soccer, which I’d done since Under 10s. I really, really didn’t want to, but my mother’s words rang out like a dull, guilty thump in my ears. 

“We uprooted our whole lives to bring you here.”

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An actual cow from school.

 That particular day on the farm had been anticipated by all of us. Even though no permission notes had been sent home about it, the whole class knew it would be happening when the timing was right. My teacher, Mr Hibbard, told us he was going to be extracting semen from a bull in order to impregnate a cow that was failing to fall pregnant through the natural course. It was like the in-vitro fertilisation my friend’s Mum had used to create her, back in the 1990s, though I had never heard of it being used on cattle. 

“What we’re going to do,” he said, rubbing the silver, phallic implement with a sense of sickly anticipation – “Is we’re going to move the bull into this squeeze chute so he can’t move.” 

He ushered the bull into the squeeze chute, and the bull complied, moving forward one step.

“C’mon, stud,” he persisted, as the bull had stopped momentarily, stamping its foot on the concrete, dusty ground beneath him.  

As the gate shut behind him, his hoof scraped the concrete below, exhaling with a stubborn grunt. He started to shift his weight around, his hips and thighs brushing the metal gates on either side. With careful precision, Mr Hibbard slid the implement inside, penetrating at a slight angle. The bull heaved and shuffled, but he was constrained, unable to move.

“Whoo! Whoo!” he pushed harder and the bull continued writhing against his false, manly comfort. 

As the device sent its invisible rays of artificial pleasure pulsing through the animal, he moaned with a rising intonation, the mechanical orgasm tightening his underside. The specimen dropped through the funnel held between his legs by Nevie the farmhand, his crow’s feet grimacing as he aimed the funnel and cup in just the right place. For all the effort, a few drops of potential life fell into the clear cup, quickly sealed to prevent leakage. Solitary globs of rich, thick fluid; it didn’t seem like much at all, but that very cup contained millions of opportunities for the beginning of life. It also contained the potential for profit, depending on how much meat was made from each resulting calf.  

“And this is how you extract sperm,” he said, with a cavalier, unusually satisfied half smile.

How unromantic. I was sure that this teacher, who had just raped an animal with an electrical, metal dildo so he could artificially inseminate another cow, was completely unaware of his cognitive dissonance, as I’m sure it was interpreted in the conservative scripture somewhere to not artificially create life inside of an animal, probably weaved through all the same verses in Leviticus that forbade gay relationships. I wondered if anyone else was thinking what I was thinking. Probably not. When I’d looked around, I was surrounded by completely uniform blank stares, the same as when we were praying, only with eyes wide open, except for Seini, the girl with the earthly eyes. She was looking across through the gate at me, though she looked away quickly when our eyes connected.

“Now… who wants to look under the microscope?” Mr Hibbard had the sealed cup of sperm sitting inside his shirt pocket.

I raised my hand, slowly, unsure if it was a loaded question or not. I didn’t want to be the first to raise my hand, just in case. 

         “Could I have a look?”

         Chelsea exchanged facial expressions with me. A-ha! I could tell by the look on her face that she was also thinking, “What the actual fuck?”

         “I’ll look, too.” She said, following me to the microscope.

Looking through the microscope, I saw the miniscule particles of life, swimming back and forth under the glass. I wasn’t the least bit disgusted, but suddenly, a thought hit me, a real game-changer. One fear I had started to have at fourteen was that my homosexuality may keep me from having children of my own one day and (without any knowledge or people to ask), I had always naively accepted that I would effectively need to choose between being my authentic, gay self and faking it with a guy, having occasional painful sex so I could have a couple of kids.

If this heifer could be made a mother without sexual intercourse by donor sperm, couldn’t a gay woman do the exact same thing? This thought offered me hope in the moment and a half-smile crept up my cheek as I reflected on it, but I kept it to myself. It would be like shooting myself in the foot to ask more questions or find out more information, I just shelved the thought that science could make this ideal possible – for later.

Like the sperm under the microscope, I was wrestling with things myself. It was tangled up in all sorts of ideological, religious and social doctrines, none of which I was entirely sure I belonged to anymore, or if I ever had. Like, was I still a Christian? My parents weren’t really. What does it mean if you’ve been baptised and you kind of believe, but you don’t go to church anymore? In between everything else, I still thought that there must be a God – why else would we suffer, if for no glory or salvation?

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We’re all going to die.

Before I gave birth, people often asked me about my birthing plan. I thought it was the most absurd, idealistic thing ever.

The only plan I had was that I wasn’t taking anything off the table – including inductions, pain relief, drugs, and epidurals.

The only outcomes I absolutely wanted to avoid were forceps and c-section.

When my waters were broken under gas after a lengthy induction, I had a hunch that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing. After hours hours of labour, I received an epidural due to the intensity of contractions brought about by induction hormones.

When I developed an infection, the whole thing went tits-up and I almost bled to death under general anaesthetic. I had a c-section and my son was delivered with forceps. As I spent the next week in hospital, I had a lot of time to ponder my own mortality through a somewhat traumatised lens.

There is something about waking up with the after-effects of having breathing tubes down your throat that is incredibly sobering.

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After two days in hospital, I was sleep deprived. I was dealing with the physical effects of a significant blood loss and trying to persevere with breastfeeding. At one stage, I had a bad dream that I couldn’t feed my baby and my limbs were falling off as I melted into the lawn. When I woke up, I felt like the whole room was filling with smoke.

This was the beginning of C-PTSD which was brought about by my birthing process.

Although the birth in and of itself was physically and psychologically traumatic, the part that disturbed me the most was that when our son was born, I had no will in place. So if I had died, nobody would have known what my wishes were.

It had always been on our list of things to do, we had just never done it. Part of the reason was that we felt fit and healthy, but the other part was a sense of dread about considering the end of our lives. As I spoke to more people about this, I realised I wasn’t the only one.

And why is that?

Despite all of our best efforts with our health and personal safety, the human mortality rate stands at 100%.

In other words, we are all going to die.

My son’s birth made me acutely aware of my need to do something about my end-of-life-plan. Although people celebrate birth and my son’s birth was no different, I spent those first few weeks of his life organising my will, making sure my address was up to date with the university that will receive my body for science when I’m done, and deciding who would fulfil my wishes in my absence.

It was depressing – but it was completely necessary.

If you are reading this, I want to encourage you to act now if you haven’t already. Speak to the people who you think should raise your child in the unfortunate event that your child loses both their parents. Organise your will. Get plans in place.

If you need to, get a folder and label it ‘My End-of-life Plan.’ Add your will and instructions to it, and make sure people know where it is.

It would be the worst thing ever if the world lost you – but it would be harder for the people you leave behind, in their grief, to deal with a logistical and organisational clusterfuck.

Sometimes it pays to have a plan, even if it seems absurd.

 

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The only boy in ballet class

When I was pregnant, everybody asked me if we knew what we were having.

Um… a baby?

In all seriousness, for the longest time, I thought Soren was a girl. Even right up until the delivery. Even after seeing clear testicles on an ultrasound still.

A lot of people would say to me, ‘Aw, if you get a girl, you can do ballet lessons! SO cute!”

I loved the idea of baby ballet. The calming music, the listening skills, the flexibility, and the gorgeous outfits.

But – I felt that I could enjoy that with a little boy, too. So when I realised I could sign him up at Queensland Ballet from the ripe old age of one year, I did exactly that. I thought it would just be an easy class with some sing-alongs and a bit of “dancing”, facilitated by the parents.

I thought there’d be time to chat and relax with the other Mums.

When I turned up, the class was full of two-year-olds who could already jump, spin, turn, and follow instructions.

So here I was with my 13kg chunk, jumping like a kangaroo, twirling like a jellyfish, sleeping like a dingle dangle scarecrow… definitely not relaxing or chatting.

It turned out to be a workout for me as much as him! Which was fine, because he absolutely loved every second of it… until he was asked to sit still on his dot.

Because the rest of the students in the class had proper leotards and shoes, I decided to go shopping to get him the outfit so he could look the part. I had to research quite a few shops to find shoes small enough, and when I got there, I noticed that there was floor-to-ceiling displays of everything dance – and everything hyper-girly.

Shoes, bags, outfits, hair accessories… the lot. Then I looked over to the corner. The boys’ section had been relegated to one tiny place in the store.

Unlike the girls’ section, which offered hundreds of products, the boys’ section had just a small offering.

Not one to be discouraged, I dressed Soren up and he started shaking his bum as soon as he was in the outfit.

His joy did plant a thought in my head, though. It is so challenging to be the only one doing something. He is likely to always be the only boy in ballet class. It would be a shame if he ever gave it up, just because it’s not popular with boys.

I wish I had the answers. I just hope and pray that as he gets older, he sees his uniqueness as a strength rather than a weakness. I can only keep on encouraging him and hope he remains true to what he enjoys doing.

That’s all we can hope for our children.

#BoysDanceToo

 

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Always on the outer.

As an adult, I have always had this firm feeling of being on the periphery. It doesn’t matter where I go, I always feel like I’m a bit on the outer. 

Some of this is to do with the fact that I’m gay. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Some of it is the fact that I moved schools many times as a kid. I went to two primary schools and four different high schools – which may not seem all that many, but it was enough to make me unsettled. 

When I was 14, my parents moved us from Brisbane to Bundaberg, and then back to Brisbane the year after high school. It was a disruptive move, one that was definitely not made better by the fact that I hadn’t lived there my entire life. 

I felt like a Dorito in a plain packet of chips, which is less fun than it sounds…… 

2004

Have you ever been in a place so small that everyone knows one another, but big enough that the connections between them form knotted threads that pull together so tightly that you’re always a secret away from tying yourself in a trap you can’t get out of? It is a weird purgatory of populace. People always muse about this odd familiarity with small-ish places, they talk about it romantically as if having the whole town’s social network connected by the milkman is a good thing. I am certain that realtors capitalise on such a thing for mid-life crisis folks seeking the simple life, I am certain of it. I can always visualise it in my mind:

“Oh, YES, Susan! With a population of 45,000 spread out over a large expanse away from the hustle and bustle, you can be certain that you’ll find a place in THIS community…”

Personally, I find myself amazed at the power people have to find things out. They create twisted narratives that traverse the town quicker than a greased marble rolling down a trap, playing to an audience too afraid to question them. I realised early on that it was advisable to remain enigmatic if you were to keep your soul in a tight postcode. The only problem I keep running into is that everyone thinks I’m an impersonal city slicker and I never fit in. But – I figure I’m not going to anyway, what did it matter? I keep a tight persona.

Whirrrrrrrrr.

“Mornin’!”

My usual barista flashes me a grin as a steady plume of steam emanates from the coffee machine, but she knows my usual isn’t a hot drink – it is an iced coffee with cream, sprinkles, and most importantly, marshmallows. Hopefully, no less than three and all white ones. There was no point looking at a menu when I knew damn well that I was going to drink the same old thing every time.

“Just the usual, luv?” her chipper face reaches me eye to eye as she places her hands on the counter, ready to make my drink. Her sweaty, blonde hair was off her fifty-in-the-shade face and the whole shop smells pleasantly of coffee beans and chocolate sprinkles. Delicious.

“Yup.” I reply, looking forward to the sugar hit. She turns to the ice blender and pours cold drips of coffee into it, whistling merrily as she works on the drink at hand.

There were upsides to life in this small-ish, back-to-front place. All the shop assistants know my orders and living in a house that was walking distance to a beach had its perks, but you could never avoid people. These ones talk to any old stranger in the street, and because I’m not one for unsolicited conversation, everyone here thinks I’m anti-social. Perhaps I would be more social if I was enjoying myself. You can’t even loiter here to deal with the intense boredom, all the shops close at midday on a Saturday and they don’t open on a Sunday.

The guts of this city are held together by a messy, yet weirdly specific six degrees of separation. The connections are tight and they run deep. Two girls I go to school with have fathers who have worked together in the sugar cane farming industry since the edge of the 1990s, before the Macarena came out as an A-side cassette, and they were born in the same hospital, on the same day.

Before the womb, baby.

All these kids play for the same hockey team and have the same collection of friends, most of whom have lived in Bundaberg for their entire lives. Their lives are playing out in old Queenslander houses with slightly-peeling-paint, all round the corner from each other. My grade at school is filled with people just like this. Not only are they all best friends, but their younger siblings are similar ages, so they hang out like one big family, calling each other’s parents ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle.’ It’s a perfect upbringing and in many ways I find myself jealous of it. Their entrenched, though artificial siblinghood was something I would never have because I just couldn’t stay fixed in a place without messing it all up.

I am an outsider.

Imagine trying to keep a secret in this tightly-woven net of association, or trying to penetrate a crowd that had known each other so well, for so long. Although the people of Bundaberg found all of this endearing and grounding, I knew that these links and ties were enough to hang me in the knot of my biggest secret – the fact that I am a big, fat lesbian.

To be continued. DSCN1302.JPG

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How does one work, study, and parent?

As you may recall, I went back to work last year – starting off with some relief teaching days and moving up to a term-long contract. This year, I’ll be doing two days per week.

On top of that, I also study a masters degree part time by distance and I parent.

People are shocked when I tell them, they hold this up as if it’s the high watermark of all achievement.

It really is not.

The other thing people do is ask how I do it?

I wish I had great advice, but all I can offer is that no matter which way you pitch it, it’s going to be hard. That is my best stroke of wisdom. Other than that, I only have a few other gems that have gotten me this far.

Just do it. 

I was weeks from falling pregnant when I started this degree, my wedding was coming up, I was working full-time and I was still writing my book. Adding one more thing to my plate seemed to be the most fool-hardy, daunting thing ever – and yet, I knew that my 40-year-old self would thank me for starting when I did.

There is never a ‘right time.’ Life is always busy, chaotic, and full.

If you want it, just go for it.

Don’t sacrifice baby-time for study time. 

I rarely study when he’s awake, unless we’ve spent a lot of time together and he’s entertaining himself for 20 minutes. I like to be present with him in the moment, playing, commentating, reading story books, singing… the study can wait until nap-time, bed-time, or before he wakes up in the morning. It’s all in fits and starts, but that brings me to my next point…

Just do a little every day. 

Just a little.

If you have a 3000 word essay due in 30 days, you only need to be writing 100 words a day to make it happen. Don’t procrastinate. A little here and a little there all adds up.

Take the textbook everywhere with you. 

You never know when you’ll get 5 minutes to squeeze in the next few pages. When Soren was really little, I used to read the textbooks to him at the coffee shop. It would put him to sleep. He’s old enough to be bored to tears now, though, so I don’t do that anymore!

Surround yourself with encouragers or other Mums who study – or connect with other Mums who have walked your path and made it to the end

They can be hard to find, but they are out there.

Of all the ways I have made this work for me, this last point has to be the most important…

Study something you love. 

Completing study when you have a baby is already going to be hard. Don’t make it harder by studying something out of obligation, or studying something you’re only half-interested in. I definitely owe a lot of my success so far to the fact that I’m studying something I absolutely live for, which will give me the opportunity to do a job I enjoy in the future.

Then, it isn’t a chore to read page after page after page after page after page (yes… there is a lot of reading at masters level..)

I know my ‘wisdom’ isn’t much, but I hope it offers some encouragement.

You can do the thing!

woman sitting on bed with flying books

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All I want for Christmas is ewe!

It’s very interesting how people predict what your life will be like after having children.

The hypotheses start when you tell people you want a baby.

Smugly, they’ll say, “No more sleep ins for you!” This one never bothered me because I seem to be incapable of sleeping past 5:30am at the absolute latest – which frustrates me, but it is what it is.

Or – “Do you really think you’ll be able to study/work/exercise with a baby?” as well as my all-time favourite, “Kiss the travel life goodbye.” 

Now, to be fair, my lone travel-style pre-Boy was particularly feral. I would plan it all on the fly, trudge 5km from train station to Air BnB carrying broken luggage in a non-English-speaking country, roll the dice on $7 a night accommodation in New Delhi, do 32 hour Greyhound bus trips from one American state to the next, eating nothing but service station food for days on end….

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I get that it will not be like that again. That’s probably for the best. 

But this travel life with a baby in tow, is a new challenge in itself.

When we boarded the plane to our first tame destination – Queenstown, New Zealand, it was all seeming to go fine. He boarded the plane without much more than a grizzle, ate a yoghurt, drank a bottle, and then passed out to sleep.

Sweet.

Then, 30 minutes later, the air crew made an announcement that was LOUD AF.

Toddler awake, let the adventure wriggling begin!

We tried all the usual tricks – singing, playing, cuddles, seeing if he would listen to music on the entertainment system….

Then the lady in front of us, who looked oddly like Tove Lo, started rolling her eyes…

So we sang a little louder.

Then we arrived!

Carrying a 13kg toddler through the airport was hard, but we eventually picked up the pram and made our way to the vehicle pick up.

Except, there were no vehicles. Just a phone on the wall.

“Oh, it’s always one of these!” my wife said sarcastically, and she’s right.

In my quest to get the best bang for my buck as our ‘family organiser’, I usually choose services that occasionally inconvenience us in some small way. Still, they provided a little mini bus for us that took us to pick our car up…..

It wasn’t all bad.

During our holiday, we met real New Zealand sheep, drank in an ice bar, walked a LOT, did Park Run in Queenstown, went on a gondola, did a 4 hour round trip to Te Anau to ride swan boats, ate a cheese board in a cheesery (didn’t know this was a word?)……

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We had the time of our lives.

When our trip finally came to a close, our flight was changed so we had to do Queenstown-Auckland, Auckland-Brisbane. It was a long day but he slept on some of the flight back. I tried to watch a documentary and contended with little fat fingers that kept trying to pull my earphones out of the socket…..

Well, I guess you can’t have it all. 

We landed in Brisbane, completely satisfied but tired from the travel time. As we passed through customs, I declared the food items I wanted to bring home (such as a wheel of Brie cheese).

It was then I realised that I’d left a day-old lunch inside my Bento box. 

Needless to say, the customs worker (who looked oddly like Cher), was not at all impressed.

What can I say? I believe in love after love…. and travel after babies!

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First year, done.

Just like that – the first year of our little man’s life is now water under the bridge.

Everyone says it goes so fast, and it’s such a cliche, but it is true.

We have learned so much in the first year of our son’s life, and I would love to share this, if only to keep a record.

1. I need to use my time wisely. 

Back in the day, I used to get to work at 7am every morning. I would buy a coffee on the way in, get some solid planning or paperwork done, stuff around in the staffroom, and then start my teaching day. After work, I would go for a run and ponder about things, like what I might cook for dinner….

I had oodles and oodles of time, and yet, I got nothing done. Well, nothing life changing, anyway.

Now? It’s absolutely nothing like that. 

I have very little spare time, but I try to make it all count. I started my masters 6 weeks before falling pregnant, and I released my book on the day I had my IVF transfer. I wish I had a ‘secret’, but all I can say is that I don’t stuff around anymore. I get up early if I need to, I study in waiting rooms, when Soren is sleeping, on my lunch break, at night, or in the car – I set up Siri on my phone so I can record ideas for my essays on the drive to work. My only rule is that I don’t study around Soren, although I did read some of my semester one textbook to him before I made this rule.

I’m not super-Mum, I’m just super organised…. mostly (except for right now – I’m actually meant to be studying).

2. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

Before I had my son, I had this plan of staying home full time for at least 3 years, then including some relief teaching work down the track. About 6 months in, I was losing my head, to the point where I ended up taking on some relief, then a full-time contract for a short while. I felt immense guilt for not being the stay-at-home Pinterest Mum, but with time, I realised that finding the right balance was what was required – not for me to fit myself into someone else’s truth.

For me, that means part-time work and part-time Mum. And that’s okay.

3. I needed to have a few test-runs of the first birthday cake, and then forgive myself for over-catering on the day. 

I really wanted his first birthday to be amazing, so I did practice runs of his first cake. It’s fortunate that I did, because the first one fell to pieces when I took it out of the oven. My best advice is to find yourself a cake-making friend, if you can, and pick their brain (but not to pieces).

I realised, too, that I bought way WAY too much food. I may have gotten a bit ambitious with Instagram and their targeted birthday food ads….

But it’s all good. We made it, with cake in tow. 

Our first overseas trip together is the next adventure on the horizon…. more blogs to come – after all, I can’t procrastinate without an audience.

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Attachment theory and attachment parenting are not the same thing.

I have received many comments as a new parent, so sometimes it is useful to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When I was in the midst of sleep regression, Soren had stopped sleeping through the day. I felt like a failure as a parent because the only way I could get him to sleep was by feeding him on the breast. When I’d gently place him in his cot, he would scream. Pat-shush didn’t work, we weren’t interested in co-sleeping, and lullabies were not helping us.

A few people blamed breastfeeding – apparently, he was using me as a dummy. The child health nurse suggested that ‘if feed to sleep works, keep going with it.’ So I would feed him to sleep, then be planted on the couch or the floor for an hour.

Another person suggested that I had cuddled my child too much and too often, causing him to lose his daytime sleep independence.

“That’s all that modern attachment parenting.” 

Except – it wasn’t.

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At the time, I was knee-deep in a subject of my masters degree that focussed on attachment theory in the context of healthy relationships, child abuse and neglect, and protective education.

Attachment parenting and attachment theory are two different things.

In attachment parenting, you are encouraged to co-sleep, do skin-on-skin, breastfeed for an extended time, and wear your baby.

I was never an attachment parent.

With that being said, I pat him to comfort him, I did 9 months of breastfeeding (until my hair fell out), and I cuddle him within his comfort levels. When he cries during play time, I pick him up – when he wriggles, I put him down.

These are natural behaviours. Soothing a child’s heightened emotional state and sharing in their happy state helps them to feel loved, safe, and secure. This is supported by attachment theory, long-term studies, and natural science.

It does not make a child ‘clingy.’

In fact, being securely attached to a parent is one of the most protective factors a child can have in developing resilience, independence, and positive long-term outcomes.

However, like anything, there are lots of ways you can achieve a secure attachment, and it doesn’t need to involve attachment parenting.

9 months on, I still respond to my baby’s cues and comfort levels in a way that makes him feel safe and he reacts positively to new situations, people, and settings, which suggests that he is securely attached. He has a safe base that he can return to in the face of threat or discomfort.

While some people may label this as ‘modern’ parenting, it is highly supported by science. Read more here

Interestingly, a securely attached infant is less likely to experience avoidant, insecure, anxious, or ambivalent behaviours when separated from their caregivers, which flies in the face of the assumption that responding to an infant’s natural needs will make them clingy.

The flip side, of course, is that I want my child to have power over who touches his body. At 9 months, it is just a matter of me reading his cues and body language, but in the future, I intend to teach him about consent – another way he can feel safe and secure.

Protective education (making a child the boss of their body) is the first way you can make your child a hard target for predators who are looking for easy targets who won’t tell on them.

It’s all a balance with the same end goal – making your child feel safe.

So what’s the difference?

Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that encourages maximum contact, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and baby wearing in the hopes of nurturing the parent-child relationship.

Attachment theory is the scientifically supported study of early relationships between children and their primary caregivers that focuses on a child’s innate need to have emotional states soothed, to be close to their caregiver, and to feel secure. It supports two-way interactions, appropriate responses, and the dynamics of early relationships that lead to a child feeling secure. Avoiding a child’s early attachment needs by ignoring them or only responding sometimes can cause a child to feel anxious upon separation, clingy, ambivalent towards their caregiver, and in the long term, poor at interpersonal relationships.

 

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No prizes for first place? Hogwash.

I was reading this article about schools going ‘reward free’ in the name of tackling a ‘lack of resilience’ in the up and coming generations.

As a teacher, parent, current over-achiever, and former under-achiever, I must respectfully disagree.

Let me tell you my story. When I was at my first primary school – a Catholic affair – I was labelled ‘the naughty kid’ from the very start. In grade 1, I started having horrific religious dreams about Jesus crucifying me, nailing me to the carpet, or calling me an evil child. My grade 1 teacher used to smack me and put me in the back room to get rid of me. By grade 3, my teacher made me complete my school work in the office and I had to stay back after school.

This was not violent behaviour on my part, mind you. Just impulsive silliness. Flushing apple cores down toilets, staying out in the rain, occasional backchat. Still, my education did not start off on the right foot. What I really needed was a firm teacher who could build a relationship and get inside my head.

Once I changed schools, I experienced that. When I did the wrong thing, I was reprimanded; but when I did the right thing, I was praised. My teacher believed in me and I improved out of sight.

A few years later, I still had behavioural problems but I had started to develop a talent for academia and sports. I played soccer and touch football skilfully, and competed in athletics and distance running, often making it to district and regional trials. I also achieved in the top percentiles for English and writing competitions.

Fancy that – a naughty child who is also academically skilled!?

Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t – but it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day, I was only racing against myself.

When I did win, I would get the chance to receive a medal or ribbon on assembly. For me, the naughty kid, it helped my teachers and peers to see another, more positive side of me.

In some schools I’ve taught in, there have been rewards days for behaviour, attendance, and effort. These are areas that anyone can achieve highly in.

I have absolutely no issue with seeing children rewarded for hard work.

For some of the children we teach, this may be one of the few things they can feel good about.

No-one is suggesting we should give out medals for last place – but a little bit of encouragement goes a long way in motivating some children. There are certainly some children who may only get their time to shine on the sporting field or in the world of academics, so it makes no sense to take that away from them.

When did we become such a nation of scrooges?

As a child, I received ribbons for places and medals when I won. As an adult, I still race against myself, I set the bar high, and I still have the box full of trophies and medals I received in some of my brightest days. I certainly don’t lack resilience.

Let the children celebrate their wins and support them through their disappointments.

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I just want my finishing medal and my beer, damnit!