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IMG_4828The House of Gusto is, at the time of writing, two days free of the sound of jackhammers. I’m not saying it is connected, but the sun has come out from where it has cowered behind rainclouds for weeks, in the hope of not losing its solar hearing and its tiny sun mind. I expect it found, as we all did, that clouds are not very useful ear protection, but I do understand: it had to do something or it might have exploded, which would have been dramatic but catastrophic.

I, sadly not a celestial being, had to remain here on the earth that quaked every day for eight or nine hours as the diggers ripped through the sandstone layers a metre or so from our house. I did go mad and on several occasions came close to becoming a supernova. Not in a good way.

I yelled back at the small people who yelled at me and the large people who didn’t. And we all did have to yell a lot to make ourselves heard. There was a lot of bursting into tears, wailing, putting ourselves and each other into various time-out situations.

It was very unpleasant and more than one person close to me suggested I might like to start back on the happy pills since perhaps it wasn’t healthy or normal to be quite this miserable about pretty much everything. My response to that, as it has to be when you are trying to tell other people that you don’t need medication for depression, was calm and measured, delivered with a joke and a smile.

I told them all that I did not think this situation was normal and that if and when the fucking jackhammers ever stopped, that I would then take stock of my mental state and see if this was maybe just a bit of jackhammer-induced lunacy I was experiencing and then we could all look back and laugh.

Now the jackhammers have stopped, I am feeling much better, but like that person who keeps singing for a few lines before they realise the stereo has blown all the fuses and there is no more music or light, Garnet has continued to shout.

He’s having several tantrums a day at the moment, and they are very loud and full of woe. My clever and sensitive friend Kate, who has a similar model of four year old, tells me that they are just experiencing the internal conflict of realising the world of independence is beginning to open up to them and being utterly terrified that the world of independence is opening up to them. But she is wrong. There’s nothing internal about Garnet’s conflict. It is very much external. It echoes off the other side of the valley.

So I have replaced jackhammers with the anguished screams of a young soul in torment. On Monday, when the jackhammering was still happening, I went outside to ask them to stop fior a couple of minutes so I could get Garnet into the car without blowing his eardrums. The builder obligingly stopped, and he and his colleagues stood there as I hauled a furious and crying Garnet out to the car. He was making far more noise than the jackhammers.

As I tried and failed to strap him into the car, then turned and carried him back into the house, the builders watched with looks on their faces that clearly said ‘Yeah, how’s that quiet break in the excavation working out for you, love?’

Poor old Garnet. I gather that this is a normal enough part of his development, but it can’t be any fun for him. He’s as happy as anything when he’s not behaving like lava, but he is quite easily set off, especially by May Blossom interrupting.

She has reached the age where she can sense the ebb and flow of conversation well enough to get away with interrupting. I remember trying to figure that out when I was a kid. My brothers and I were told not to interrupt, but then if we listened to the grownups talking, it was clear that their whole conversation relied on interrupting each other, to some extent.

When you thought of something relevant to say, if you waited until there was a quiet moment, it was too late and you sounded like a dullard who just thought of that interesting thing to say when the conversation had well and truly moved on. It was as frustrating as fuck.

When you crack the secret of when it’s ok to interrupt, the world of conversation opens up and life is just so exciting. May Blossom is there. Garnet is not. He’ll get there, but in the meantime he cries a lot when May Blossom leaps in while he’s still trying to gather his thoughts and get them into words.

I’m working on some strategies to help us all. One strategy is leaving the children with my parents and going to Melbourne with H for a long weekend. Another might be to get a conch shell and making a rule whereby only the person holding the shell can speak.

But it’s probably a slippery slope to start using Lord of the Flies as a parenting manual.

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img_0069

I’m doing that thing I always do when I come back from new and wonderful, and I try to transport the lifestyle. When H and I went to Borneo by steamer sometime back in the 1800s, we came home and bought an entire pantry’s worth of ingredients to make complicated sambals and rending pastes, not to mention buying five limes for what would have bought us 100 kilograms of them in Kota Kinabalu.

I’m doing the Scandinavian equivalent. I’m eating rye bread and smoked fish, putting dill on everything, and being genuinely baffled at why everyone is so loud and rude and demanding. Why can’t my children be more Finnish, and refuse to make eye contact or talk to me? Why can’t they be more like the Swedes, and dress effortlessly stylishly and get about on bikes like it’s normal? Why can’t they be more Danish and tidy the fuck up occasionally? (more…)

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badbag

My suitcase, in disgrace

It’s my fourth day in Finland and I know three words. They’re same three words I knew before I got here. Sauna, hej (hello) and kittos (thank you). That’s fairly disgraceful, but it’s three more words than I actually need to get by here, because every Finn I’ve met speaks better English than I do. Thanks, Finnish education system.

We flew over on the A380, a sort of flying shopping centre affair operated by Qatar Airways. Our seats were near a door that in an ordinary plane you’d think would lead to a toilet, but this one kept opening and flight crew would disappear into it. For a few hours I thought it was where they went to practice their mime tricks, because whenever they went in, before the door closed behind them I would catch a glimpse of them doing the ‘walking down a flight of stairs’ trick. I mean, that had to be what they were doing because it was a plane and on a plane there’s nowhere downstairs from economy class, is there?

But the A380 is basically an airborne Downton Abbey, and the reason the crew looked like they were walking downstairs was because they were walking downstairs. I don’t know what was down in the plane basement. Probably a long kitchen table and some snarky liveried footman brewing trouble. Or perhaps it was like the galley of slaves in Ben-Hur and they were all down there taking turns to row the thing through the air. I don’t know how planes work. (more…)

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uselesssnake

This useless slack-jawed snake will not do its job.

I swear to Odin, the first thing I am going to do when I get to Scandinavia is go find the iCloud. I presume it’s up that way somewhere, around the top of the world. Surely that’s where you’d put it. Then I am going to go through it and figure out if any of my photos are really in it and if not why not.

I’ve spent hours trying to back up and sync and download and delete and free up space on my phone and my computer so I can go overseas and fill them both up again, but the Jobs are conspiring against me. It’s almost as if the universe is telling me that that I will have no one to blame but myself when I arrive in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and cant take any pictures of it, because I haven’t deleted a single email in seven years and haven’t edited any photos ever. It’s almost as if the technological world is judging me for taking so bloody many pictures and videos of my kids.

So on the electronics section of my Getting Ready To Go checklist I am doing very poorly. Very much Below Expectations. I was planning to download some TV shows to watch on the plane, but that doesn’t look likely because computer says no. I will be left with only the TV offered by the airline, which in my experience is usually nine hundred episodes of The Big Bang Theory. (more…)

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scandilandphotoTwenty-three days from now, I am going on a trip, without H or May Blossom or Garnet, to the other side of the world. This makes me, according to my calculations, the worst mother in the world. To make matters worse, I am going on this trip with my friend Jess, and thus I am an accessory to depriving her children of their mother for two and a half weeks, which is an infinitely more serious crime since she is a significantly better mother than I am.

That aside, we are really very extremely excited. We are going to Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The trip has come about because Jess is a teacher and very interested in the schools in that part of the world, which are apparently better than ours for reasons that will be revealed to me as we go along. I believe it has to do with starting school a bit older and not having homework and maybe also herrings? To be confirmed. Anyway, Jess wants to visit some schools since that is her Area of Particular Interest and I thought I would go too since shirking my maternal responsibilities is my Area of Particular Interest, and what better way to do that than to bugger off up to the frozen north for several weeks, where the aquavit is cold and the living is easy.

Since we are going to Finland, I decided I ought to cultivate a more location-specific Area of Particular Interest. I’ve chosen saunas. Jess is being very accommodating and treating it like it’s my genuine hobby, so we are working our itinerary roughly equally around school visits and saunas. Because my other area of interest is not dying, we are skipping the sauna I discovered in my research that is in a ski lift. A smouldering wooden cabin, swinging hundreds of feet above an icy hill? What could possibly go wrong? We are restricting ourselves to ground-based saunas. The same goes for schools: strictly terra-firma educational institutions. (more…)

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wallowing

This seems lovely, doesn’t it? Until you realise that is not the ocean Garnet is wallowing in but actually self-pity. See the ripples of misery he is causing? See how they threaten to knock H off his stand-up paddle board? 

The school holidays are over. May Blossom went back to class this morning, creeping like snail unwillingly to school, after we’d located her lunch bag and drink bottle, and wiped the slug trails off her hat.

The family Gusto spent a good part of these holidays on a tropical island in Vanuatu, which was, as always when you travel with a three- and a five-year-old, roughly equal parts so good we never wanted to leave and so bad we wished none of us had ever been born. (more…)

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globeSydney’s weather over the last few weeks has been stifling. Humid, hot and generally unpleasant. It’s always like this in February, and it makes people cranky and forgetful: every year we act like this weather is out of the ordinary. February coincides with everyone sobering up from the summer festivities that begin here with the Melbourne Cup in November and run pretty much through until Australia Day on 26 January, the kids all head back to school, and the daily rhythm of life returns to normal, just with more sweat.

How I cope with this is to put aside what I should be doing (perhaps preparing my keynote speech for the International Conference on First-World Problems) and spend a lot of time researching where to go on holiday later in the year. I am looking exclusively at places where the weather is exactly like the weather I hate so much here. I’ll admit it doesn’t make much sense. (more…)

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