29 November 2011

When your newborn isn't new anymore

I feel fine. My skin has stopped glowing and my boobs have almost shrunk back down to their usual size. I don’t have bags under my eyes and my nails are starting to fall apart for no reason again. My pregnancy hormones seem to have now fully retreated whence they came.
The truth is, I’ve been feeling this way for about a month now, but sort of wishing I wasn’t. I now this sounds like I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too, but it’s a sobering thought to realise that my life has stopped being consumed by my new baby, and, like a gyroscope that always rights itself, I have now absorbed my son into my life so much so that I can’t remember what it was like before he was here.
While this is clearly a wonderful feeling, and I am relieved to have got to this stage, I’m also a bit sad that the daze of pregnancy and new-bornness is over. It affords you special status, where you can be excused for forgetting to do things or bursting into tears at any moment, because everyone knows you aren’t supposed to be able to cope. But now I’m past all that, and I’m back to just being myself. And I have to readjust to being myself again, because for 9 months I was two people, then when my son was born I became even less than one person, and now it’s just me again. With him. Still following?
I feel I am sliding quickly down the slope from the anticipated, media-hyped status as ‘new mum’ to the much more serious and rewarding, but less glamourous title of ‘parent’. Having been treading water happily in the roles of independent young woman, and then (still independent) wife for quite some time, this new transition seems to have happened way too fast. Because my son’s life is so short so far compared to mine, the ratio of change to days spent on earth is so much bigger. Instead of waking up and realising I’ve been in the same job for three years and only my hair colour has changed, I now wake up realising that Junior has gained three new skills that he didn’t have last week!
The key, of course, is to appreciate each stage as it happens. But clichés are easier said than done. Changes happen so quickly you can hardly keep up. At mothers’ groups around the world we lovingly compare each others rolling, crawling, walking and talking babies, wishing our own would start doing this or that, while at the same time nostalgically hanging on to those first few weeks when they were so fresh and dependent. The cure for this madness? Take one great night's sleep and count your blessings in the morning.

18 October 2011

A mother of a decision

I don’t often receive nasty comments about the direction of my life. Not being in jail or on drugs or having a suitcase full of hateful ex-boyfriends, I’d have to say my life is pretty good. Sure, I’m not going to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry tomorrow and I haven’t written a bestseller (yet), but I think I’m doing OK at this thing called life. Not so! I found out this week, when two women from my past just couldn’t help but share their disdain at my latest endeavour, if you can call it that: the birth of my first child.

“What a waste [me] having a baby.” Pow! If that doesn’t knock you sideways you must be built like an Olympic weightlifter. I didn’t know that putting my reproductive organs to good use would actually cause the rest of my mind, body and soul to wither away into nothingness. Not to mention render invisible any great feats achieved during my first 29 years of life. I guess if I had read more of those pregnancy guides before I even got knocked up I would have found this out and maybe reconsidered my options.

But, not to worry, I had a few days to push this drivel to the back of my mind before the next gold nugget of unsolicited insults came my way. “You were such a smart girl.” Double pow! Did you know that giving birth diminishes long term brain function? Yeah, me neither. The nurse in the antenatal class must have forgotten to mention it.

Yes folks, like all humans, I’m not getting any younger. And yes, like many women, I was thrilled at the idea of starting a family of my own. So thrilled that I didn’t think about it for more than one second, didn’t consult my husband, didn’t mull over my possible career trajectory should I choose to remain sans bébé. I mean, who has time to think about all that stuff!

I know I’m not the first woman to come face to face with the dilemma of having a career and a family, but there’s nothing like being slapped in the face with it to make you suddenly take notice of what the female sex has been grappling with for over half a century now. I guess I am shocked that there are still those who somehow believe that you are a failure as an intelligent woman if you choose family over a career at some point in life.

In the dictionary, a career is defined as “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training”. Let’s stop right there. Not too many men I know have two of these going at the same time! So why should women be forced to feel inadequate just because they focus their attention on the occupation of motherhood whilst leaving paid work by the wayside? Of course, everyone knows that once you select your occupation, you can never change it. You’re stuck for life. Nobody ever decides to change direction or pursue a different career path... Hang on, sorry, my grandmother started typing there for a minute.

14 October 2011

Since last time I posted I have welcomed a beautiful new baby boy into the world! He takes up most of my time and energy as any mum would know. He has also given me new ideas and a fresh outlook on life, so in my few spare moments I have tried to jot down some of my thoughts. You will see these in posts coming in the next few weeks.

You can also take a look at my Heckler article here, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wed 12 October, about the various advice I received whilst being attended to by multiple midwives while in hospital. I can laugh at it now, but at the time I thought my brain was going to explode!

19 January 2011

Music Review - Bluejuice & The Philly Jays @ the Hoey Moey

It’s already about 90% humidity inside the small Hoey Moey gig room when the openers, Philadelphia Grand Jury take to the stage. The two-man garage rock combo (with new drummer Susie Dreamboat of Brisbane band I Heart Hiroshima) don’t need long before the crowd is wrapped around their little fingers, with their twangy guitar riffs and thumping beats.

As much theatre performance as a music gig, we’re entertained by MC Bad Genius (the bearded one - bass player) striking a statue-pose for minutes on end during the middle of their recent hit “Save Our Town”, while Berkfinger (the blonde one - vocals/guitar) jumps into the mosh pit, guitar in hand, getting down and dirty with the crowd. The Philly Jays, as they are also known, put on a great live show, with all the energy and rawness of your older brother’s band playing at a 21st birthday party. Their brand of lovable geek rock won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re open to new experiences and a good time they’re the men for the job.

Giant fluoro letters appear across a blacked-out stage as the room swells to capacity in anticipation of the second act on the bill. Bluejuice are a five-piece Sydney outfit who first gained success on Triple J with their 2007 single, Vitriol - an unashamedly catchy dance pop gem. Opening the show with a few lesser known tracks, the party really gets started with the title track off the band’s 2009 album, Head of the Hawk.

The trademark 80s sitcom synthesizer and heavily distorted bass brings out the dancer in all of us. Front men Jake and Stav’s tight harmonies sit nicely inside well-crafted melodies, almost at odds with their mischievous on stage antics and obvious penchant for partial nudity. The air conditioning is still missing in action, but the infectious ska-tinged beats won’t let anyone stand still, as the crowd jumps and drips in time with the band. If you want to lose weight, come to a Bluejuice show.

6 January 2011

Chaos and calm in Vietnam

Saigon has charmed us by the time we travel from the airport to our hotel. Absolutely buzzing with activity, people and scooters everywhere, the footpaths struggle to contain the masses of people eating, chatting and cooking, as close as they can get to the middle of the road without being run over. The three and four storey terrace-style housing means everyone is living on top of each other, so groups congregate out in the hot air under the street lights, perched on parked motorbikes and impossibly small plastic stools, forcing the traffic into single file.

Our hotel, the Duc Vuong, in the bustling District 1, is like a tiny, cool oasis in which to recover from the heat and sensory overload of the street. Ironically, I have succumbed to the “holiday flu”, the one that you manage to avoid during the stressful planning, booking and packing stages but that finally gets you once you are airborne and relaxed. Upon checking in, the manager mentions a “free dinner” to be held at 7pm for anyone in the hotel who wants to join. Too tired to think about other options at the time, we give in to his charm and agree. 10 guests are there that evening, seated together at a perfectly laid out table, and we’re welcomed by the manager, grinning from ear to ear. As if reading our minds, he begins to speak,

“You may be wondering why we offer you free dinner. Well, because at Duc Vuong Hotel we are a family.”

The speech goes on for a few minutes, the manager obviously ecstatic that we have accepted his generous offer. And the food which follows is delicious beyond our expectations. Succulent fried tofu with pineapple and tomato, delicate clear soups, chicken and vegetables all part of the banquet.

Far from being just another grotty, overcrowded city, Saigon has an energy in which nothing seems to stand still long enough to let the dust, sweat and soot settle and weigh it down. At the time of our visit, a four-day national holiday celebrating the end of the Vietnam War (or “American War” as it is known in Vietnam) has everyone in vacation mode.

Of course, in Saigon, like elsewhere in Vietnam, everyone rides a scooter. There are whole families of five balanced casually atop a single bike: the father at the front, mother and two children holding on behind, with the toddler standing in between its father’s legs. It’s clearly the most effective method of zipping around the narrow streets, nudging through 4 lanes of oncoming traffic and squeezing past tourist buses with arms held out to ensure you don’t scrape as you go past.

To get around on foot you literally have to walk in the road, dodging the traffic as it dodges you. The busy, steaming pace of it all somehow manages to accommodate all forms of human activity without discrimination. Parents push prams, ladies carry boxes full of undecipherable nicknacks, young men smoke and chat, grandmothers sell noodle soup made on bicycle kitchens. Despite the chaos and constant horn-honking, the atmosphere is immediately relaxing. We feel as though we could happily disappear into this disarray and emerge completely unwound several days later.

Our next destination, Mui Ne, is a complete contrast to the city. A small seaside town around four hours north east of Saigon by bus, it is a sleepy stretch of resorts and houses along the South China Sea. Here food vendors amble down the main road on bicycles, Vietnamese pop tunes pumping from tiny stereos attached to their tiny awnings. They always smile and say hello, but it’s far too hot to purchase the dried, salted fish most of them are selling.

For our evening meal we sit at small tiled tables at a beachside shack, feasting on the catches of the day. As we drink Vietnamese beer and watch the day settle into night, hardworking fishermen continue to replenish the restaurant’s tanks with crayfish, clams and fish brought up fresh from the beach below. We have entrees of gigantic prawns, and scallops slathered in garlic, shallots and pepper cooked to perfection on a 44 gallon drum. The waitress, with her limited English (our Vietnamese is even worse!), entices us with a suggestion of “fish soup”. It is one of the best dishes we have ever eaten! A small terracotta pot comes set over a bed of flaming coals, filled with a sweet pineapple, tomato and onion broth and stocked full of chunks of shark meat. It’s accompanied by a plate piled high with okra, bok choi, and other strange vegetables we’ve never seen before. The moon is bright red as it rises up through the clouds above the tin roof, and happy, Vietnamese synthesizer-pop blares over the speakers, as if bringing us back to reality.