I wish I didn’t always have to explain my jokes

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I was sick recently, with a common cold that turned into a sinus infection. On the Monday, a week after the cold began, I called a doctor who came to see me. I didn’t even know that doctors do that anymore, but it was awesome. I didn’t have to go anywhere. This was good, because I couldn’t even take a step without stabbing pain rocketing behind my eyeballs. And I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. And I couldn’t leave Brad and Tristan alone, but I didn’t have the strength to take them with me either. I was a bit hysterical with face pain, wondering how I could look after Brad and Tristan in this state, and I begged the doctor to make it better. But the doctor only gave me pain medication for what he called pressure in my sinuses, and said that it would go away within a couple of days.

It did not.

By the Thursday night, despite my repeated assurances to everyone that I was almost better and I was planning to never get sick again, the pain worsened. My throat started hurting. My eyes felt like they were going to burst.

I went to the doctor on the Friday.  He asked if my teeth hurt, for some reason.  I was so surprised.  Yes! They sort of hurt and sort of itched. I wanted to pull them all out the previous night. I think he could see the teeth-gauging crazy on my face and that’s why he asked. I told him I had assumed it was unrelated. He said it’s another symptom of the infection. He said when you get to the point where your teeth hurt, you need antibiotics.  So now I have antibiotics and I expect I will be cured soon.  The doctor also made me book in an appointment with the psychologist.

Probably because I told him I was trying to pull my teeth out.

I called in sick to work. I told them this story. Nobody laughed at my punch-line. It’s like no one else finds impulse control disorder funny. In fact, my friends at work even went so far as to suggest that I had a perfectly sensible doctor. And they said things like “You aren’t crazy, you’re just going through a hard time and need to speak to someone” and “You weren’t really trying to pull your teeth out, or else you’d have used pliers instead of dental floss.”

It was a fucking metaphor!

A metaphor for when you are literally digging at your gums because your teeth feel weird and you think if you can just get underneath them you might be able to release the pressure.

Also, the doctor didn’t actually suggest I see a psychologist because my teeth hurt. At least, not that he admitted to me.

Things happen

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I used to think I had a pretty rough life. Not that I thought my life was so terrible, I guess, just that things seem to happen around me. Difficult things.

Like that time my mum ran away and was gone for 6 hours on a wet Saturday night in winter and we called the police and everything because she’s old and frail and can barely walk across the room so where the fuck did she go? And the time my parents got whooping cough and were quarantined at home, but they had no food in the house for their dinner and they called me for help but I couldn’t help because I had an infant who hadn’t been immunised yet and I was angry with them for being so needy. Or that time I married an abusive psychopath who once pulled a knife on me. Things like that happen to me. A lot more than they seem to happen to other people. My family has seen more than its fair share of unexplained deaths, mental illness, dementia, and bites from rabid dogs.

And in the midst of it all, here I am … holding everyone together. Fighting with dubious doctors to find a diagnosis for the weirdness that has overtaken my dad.  Answering the phone at 3am to discover that my brother has been in an accident and he doesn’t want me to worry … but can I please tell Mum and Dad for him.

Then one day something happened to change my mind.

I was told that my husband had crashed his motorbike and I should go to the hospital. I said “Okay, I’ll do that” and off I went without a second thought. But it was a long drive and suddenly I had plenty of time for second thoughts and I had quite a few of them. Like “Why is Brad going to a hospital that is so far away from where I know he was riding? How badly damaged was he? Will he even be alive when I get there?” And then because I was alone with my second thoughts, they really got out of control and I convinced myself that there were only two possibilities: either he was dead and my life would be over and how would I explain it to our two-year-old son …

Or he’d be completely fine – maybe a broken leg – and he’d be out of hospital by the end of the week and everyone would be all “Why do you panic, Gen?” and I would have no answer.

I decided dead was more likely. I’d already realised that he must have been air-lifted, and I don’t think they do that for a broken leg. So … my husband was dead. Right. Deep breath. Tears rolling down my cheeks. Let’s get down to important business. What would he wear for the funeral? Perhaps the new blue suit he bought a week ago on sale. That way he’d at least get to wear it. Because dead-Brad would be devastated to miss out on a chance to wear that new suit, right? Sorted. I felt calmer. And also kind of terrified. Deep breaths. You’re trying to drive. My hands started shaking. I wished Brad was there. He always knew how to talk me down from an anxiety attack. What was I going to do without him?

I took our son into the emergency room. It didn’t really occur to me that it might not be an appropriate place for a toddler. I overthink things, but not sensibly. And then I saw him. My Brad, lying on a stretcher, a brace around his neck, face covered in blood … moaning in pain. And I almost fainted, clutching my son tightly and wishing I’d left him behind.

And Tristan said “Hello, Dadda!”

And Brad said “Hey Tristan! Dadda goes fast!” and gave our son a high-five, and tickled his neck so that he screeched in delight.

I realised that Brad was actually still with us. He was himself. He was alive.

He was in a bad way. He was in pain. He had broken his spinal cord.

So now I’ve changed my mind. I used to think my life was rough at times but I had seen nothing yet. I had no idea how rough it could be. Things. Happen. On the bright side, at least I’ve had a lot of practice at dealing with it.

Mission: Breakfast (a saga in 16 parts)

Steps to be taken:

1. Make toast for baby. Make cereal with milk and yoghurt, and coffee for self.

2. Cut toast into pieces and put it on high chair tray.

3. Fetch baby. Baby smells.

4. Change baby’s nappy. Nappy has leaked somewhat.

5. Strip baby. Wipe him down. Run bath. Wash baby. Leave baby to play.

6. Rinse change table cover, baby’s clothes and own clothes. Put all same into washing machine.

7. Check on baby every two minutes.

8. Put on clean clothes.

9. Put new cover on change table.

10. Check playpen for any further mess. Sigh with relief when none found.

11. Fetch baby from bath. Dry him off, put him in fresh nappy.

12. Seat baby in high chair with cold toast.

13. Take dirty nappy out to bin. Get accosted by cats.

14. Feed cats.

15. Sit down to own breakfast. Ignore baby’s whines to share with him. Occasionally fetch baby’s toast from floor.

16. Eat breakfast of soggy cereal and cold coffee.

Project rent-a-friend (this one’s for you, Josh)

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Sometimes you don’t see your friends for long stretches at a time. It can be weeks or months or – in the case of a certain friend of Brad’s – it can be so rare that you manage to catch up that your girlfriend of four years isn’t even convinced that your friend exists at all. And that’s okay, really. You’re welcome to have imginary friends, Brad. Heaps* of people have them. But most of those people grow out of it well before adulthood, and almost none of them invites their imaginary friend to speak at their wedding.

Just saying.

Then Josh actually showed up at our wedding to make a speech. At least – he said he was Josh but anyone could show up and claim to be Josh and claim to have known Brad since high school. Hell, his speech was pretty generic. Anyone can say “congratulations” and “I hope you two will be very happy together” and “Brad’s been my friend since high school.” See how easily I just rattled off those phrases myself? I’m fairly certain those featured in so-called Josh’s speech. I mean … I can’t actually remember. It was four years ago. And I was too excited on the night to pay attention to anything much.

A lesser person might have been convinced by the appearance of Josh, but not me. Oh no. I had it figured out by then.

Brad pads out his social group with Rent-a-FriendsTM.

For variety, I guess. Just make up a name and a bit of a backstory, drop in comments about this person here and there over the course of three or four years, then hire someone to play the part at an important event. It’s probably quite useful. You can tell them what to say, ensure they don’t spout that story about that time you got freaky with two girls in the bushes at an outdoor concert during the Sydney Olympics because that’s just inappropriate at my wedding, dude – if you don’t stop threatening to tell that story I’ll get – oh, say, Josh – to make the speech instead. See?

And then if you had a party and you invited all the cool kids but you were afraid none of them would show up and your other friends would be all “you don’t really know any cool people” you could just hire a few Rent-a-FriendsTM to build up the crowd, and ask them to tell hilarious stories and dance on tables and firetwirl and start a conga line, and then everyone would be all “that was the coolest party ever!” and your life would be complete.

If you are Brad, you’re probably cringing by now. Or exclaiming something along the lines of “You’ve met Josh. You know he’s real. I can’t believe we’re having this discussion again!” But I hope that you’re laughing, because you know I’m hilarious – and that it’s a fantastic business idea (but you already know that because you’ve been using their services all this time) – and really, you should be used to it by now. We’ve been married four years. You chose me. You’ve honestly got no one but yourself to blame.

Happy anniversary, my love.

*To any US readers who are confused by that, “heaps” means “a whole bunch” or “many” or whatever you like to say instead of heaps. It doesn’t mean “multiple piles of” because that doesn’t even make sense.**

** I like footnotes. Just saying.

Would you like fries with that?

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Gen: I wish I got a Happy Meal. It comes with a caterpault. Kids are throwing chips everywhere. I’m jealous.

Kasey: I feel like someone may not have thought that through.

Gen: I know! If they had, they’d give them to everyone!

Brad: I suspect the people who market these things don’t really consider how people might use them to make a mess of the McDonald’s store.

Gen: No, obviously not. Otherwise they’d never put pickles on anything either.

Then Brad went on eating his fries while I watched the kids play their game in envious fascination. Until …

Gen: The aim of the game seems to be to catch the fries in your mouth. This concerns me because they keep picking up the dropped ones off the floor.

Kasey: Well, you can’t just give up!

Touche.

Boy (to girl): Aim properly!

Yep. That would be my hope too.

 

Drug-induced babies are people too

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I recently acted as moral support at a counselling session for a friend who is plannng to have a baby on her own through IUI. One of the questions the counsellor asked her was whether she’d be comfortable telling her baby that they are the product of a sperm donor. (Sure, why not?) What followed was a bit of a discussion about how different families are these days, and how most people accept that. And then she said something that didn’t occur to me: she cited me as one of the few examples of a “traditional family” in her life.

I’m not sure if she meant my parents and brothers and me (probably not, since half my brothers are only half-brothers) or Brad and Teddy and me. I’m guessing the latter, although it surprised me. I guess we are a traditional family: married heterosexual couple, raising our own biological child. It probably didn’t feel all that traditional to me because we had trouble conceiving him. I was infertile (something that is, paradoxically, genetic) and we had to go through a lot of heartache dealing with invasive tests and countless needles and fertility medication with hideous side-effects that left me wrecked and insane. Month after month we hung in the balance – and month after month we were disappointed. I felt like we were living in limbo. Like I could have been happy with or without children – we could take either path and life would be fantastic – but I just had to know which it was going to be.

People kept asking if I was pregnant yet. They kept telling me having children would be the best thing to ever happen to me, in case infertility was something that could be cured with a pep talk. They kept assuring me that some people try for ten years or more before they conceive, and then they finally have half a dozen children and they all lived happily ever after. We spent more than two years of our lives thinking about nothing else. It almost destroyed our marriage. I couldn’t have lived in limbo like that for a whole decade – an opinion which, of course, prompted more of the pep talks.

Anyway, I’m tired of thinking about those years. It’s been difficult. But in the end we have our little boy and we’re all going to live happily ever after and that’s fantastic. And it turns out, despite the fact that in some part of my head I assumed traditional families produce their 3.4 children with ease, my friend is right: Brad and I, our Limited Edition Teddy, and my brother Jeff (he lives with us) actually do add up to be a pretty traditional family.

Not that it matters.

Like I said, there are so many different families out there. I know several single mothers. I know families with half-siblings and step-parents. All of those kids are very matter-of-fact about their worlds. As they should be. If no one else makes a big deal about it, neither will they. And it’s going to be the same for my friend’s donor-conceived child. She’ll be surrounded by people who adore her: mother, uncle, grandparents, family friends. (She’ll also be a girl, by the way.) She won’t know a life any different. And we’ll tell her the truth about where she came from, because why not? It isn’t secret or shameful. It’s just a fact of life that every family is different. And she’ll be perfectly happy as she is, because we’ll love her and care for her and that’s all that matters.

So now, we just head down the path of making her happen. I know from experience that some of the things my friend is headed for are tough. The tests, the needles, the drugs, the waiting. I’d give a pep talk, but I know how much worse they made me feel.

So instead I’ll say this: I deeply sympathise. And I’ll be as supportive as I can. And I’ll bring chocolate if you want.

Sibling rivalry: It happens.

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Today I actually need your opinions (read: unmitigated agreement) on a terribly important topic.

I have some friends whose 6- and 2-year-old sons have recently begun to fight with each other. As the boys yell and cry, their parents are going mad with the noise and bickering and wondering when will this phase end. Being a helpful friend, I kindly point out that this will continue for the rest of their lives. That’s what brothers do. I cite my own brothers as an example. Then, because for some unfathomable reason it seems to be generally accepted that my family is an unusually rowdy lot, I cite Brad and his brother as a second example.

That is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the brothers surveyed.

Statistics do not lie.

I was talking about this with some workmates. One guy said he and his brother fought all the time as kids. Their insult of choice was “you’re gay”. Highly imaginative. Incidentally, he confessed, they grew up and turned out they both were. (I’d like this to be a warning to my own brothers, whose insults are getting old. Didn’t your mother ever warn you the wind might change and you’ll be stuck that way? Unfortunately they’ve been refusing to heed my warning, probably because it is baseless, absurd and more than a little offensive in itself boys never listen.) But I digress. You can tell because I did so in brackets for once. I asked my friend whether he and his brother now mock each other with accusations of sleeping with women. He said now they try never to speak at all. So there you are. Still fighting.

So I asked another workmate what he and his brother fought about growing up … And he claimed that they never fought at all. In fairness, we’ve pretty conclusively established that this guy is a robot and/or serial killer, but even so I cannot believe he never fought with his brother. It’s just unheard of.

Then, while I was still voicing my scepticism, another workmate said she never really fought with her brother either, and even though she’s actually a sister not a brother, she is a respectable person who definitely is not a robot or a serial killer, so now I’m totally confused. They’ve completely blown everything I thought I knew about siblings. It seems unnatural. Are they the odd ones or are the rest of my not inconsiderable study group just dysfunctional?

Or – !!!

– are they LYING?!

I can’t be wrong. I have six brothers. I’m practically an expert. Boys fight. Forever. It’s got to be these two weird spanners trying to mess up my statistics. Right?

So tell me – what did you fight about with your brothers?

Updated to add: You should totally check out the comments on this one. People have some great stories about their siblings.

A hug is like a strangle you haven’t finished yet

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Brad: Do you want me to wrap the baby?

Gen: In a minute. We’re having cuddles. See? He’s got his arms wrapped around me as far as he can.

Brad: Take as long as you like.

Gen: … and now he’s sticking his sharp little nails in my neck.

Brad: That’s true love, right there

 

 

Ok, yes, I am easily amused – but the good news is, you can be too!

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Today Teddy and I played a game I like to call Rorschach.

Tristan painting 2

You can probably deduce from the pictures just how much fun it is.

And I discovered that my son is an artistic genius. See the resemblance to Van Gogh’s sunflowers and Munch’s Scream?

Masterpieces 2

It’s uncanny, isn’t it? And not at all disturbing that someone would turn their baby’s footprint into a distressing surrealist image.

Guess what?! Now you can play Rorschach too! Just have a look at the third baby painting below, and tell me what you think Teddy’s getting at. If you provide me with visual stimulus so that I can see it too, I’ll finish off the final canvas with one of your ideas. As an added bonus, I’ll even send it to you (if you want it).

012 (2)

With any luck I can get him to autograph it, but don’t hold your breath. He isn’t too good with his hands yet. Those sunflowers were meant to be handprints, and not an ink blot test at all …

So what do you think? What is baby Teddy’s final picture?

Like a bat out of hell

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There’s a Caltex petrol station in Heathcote that serves as a meeting place for bikies. If you stop here on a sunny day, you’ll find that all the parking spaces are filled with motorcycles, and the grounds with leather and denim-clad people just loitering. Then they take off in big groups, bike after bike pulling out into the street and taking over the road, weaving around cars, overtaking on the wrong side, terrorising other road-users. They ride great big machines like luxury cruise ships with loud throbbing engines and comfy padded leather seats. You know the type, probably packing weapons, planning gang wars and selling drugs to babies.

Fucking bikies.

So this morning Brad and I pulled up at Heathcote and the other bikies were all “You guys are late” and we were all “Hey, you would be too if you had a four-week old baby at home” and they were all “What, you couldn’t just put him in the saddle bags?” and we were all “We just left him sleeping. We’ll be back in time for his next feed” and they were all “Nice parenting, guys” and we were all “Nice land yacht – is that seat a recliner? Does it come with cup-holders?” and they were all “Don’t get mouthy” and we were all silent because bikies are scary, you know.

Then we all got back on our motorcycles and rode off, a great pack of bikes roaring down the road. We cruised through the National Park, enjoying the bendy bits and the wind in our hair helmets and the beautiful weather and gorgeous view. Brad’s parents have one of those luxury models with the built in stereo where the volume control is in sync with the throttle, getting louder as the revs get higher. It’s perfect for obnoxiously blasting bikie tunes by Meatloaf or Bon Jovi at undeserving fellow road-users. But that would be absurd – why would a pack of motorcyclists out for a relaxing weekend ride want to listen to music like that? They had their radio tuned in to ABC Classic FM, listening to romantic piano concertos. Like elevator music for your motorcycle, while you fly through the Kiama bends at 140km/hr.

It wasn’t even Wagner.

I know, right?

Movies would have us believe that a bikie run involves a gang of big scary dudes riding along desert roads into the sunset, finding some bikie tavern to drink in, starting a bar-room brawl and then getting thrown out the window by another local bikie who’s even bigger and scarier than they are.  Actually I suspect some of the people we ride with have done exactly that in the past, but it isn’t the 70s anymore, and these guys are grandparents now, and their children frown upon that kind of behaviour. So, no bar fights for us. We stopped at a cute little vineyard near Gerroa. Then we drank tea. And ate scones. With jam and cream.

 Because we are that hardcore.