Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I'm scared of death - I'm scared of it happening to those I love. When I was a little girl I used to write letters to God when my mum would have to go away on business trips. 
Dear God, 
Please let my mum live. You can break my arm but please bring her home safe. 
Love Paula
My mum still has these notes. There were a few.

My mum had a heart attack at the weekend. My mum. My fit, gorgeous, funny, smart, sexy mum. Just writing it makes my heart hurt. Now, on the mend and out of hospital - I am just left wondering, how did I get here?
I turn 30 next week. 30 - far from old but a milestone nonetheless. A time to take stock. 
Married - check
Baby - check
Career - semi check
Debt - check

Ten years ago I was a granddaughter and a daughter. Now, I am a daughter and a mother. I'm not sure I qualify as a granddaughter without grandparents that are alive? Do I? Anyway, I can't help but feel like I'm moving up the chain, which means that our parents are too. 

I know that things don't always go in that order and everyday with the ones you love is a gift BUT very often you forget this and we get on with the mundane. Yes, life is short but more than that it just moves faster as you get older. I remember mourning Christmas as a child - I'd have to wait a WHOLE year for another one. Now, it's almost upon us and i still haven't used gift cards that I received last year. 

Anyway, I'm 3000 miles away from my mum and all the skyping in the world won't let me snuggle in the crook of her arm. 
So, let me say this...
Thank you. For stopping my tears when i tried to take a short cut to school and got stuck in the mud in a field. I can still remember you changing my dirty socks and putting fresh warm ones on. You pulled them right up. For teaching me to play netball. For buying me felt tip pens that changed color with a magic pen when I did my first play at Kingsmoor. For picking me up from every dance class, rehearsal, sports practice  - some of my favorite memories are of driving with you in that red ford escort convertible listening to the Bad album. For putting my school uniform on the radiator every night so I would have warm clothes. For flipping the mattress and changing the sheets when i would wet the bed in the middle of the night. You used to get into the fresh, cold sheets afterwards and we'd pull the covers over our heads and puff our breath to make it warm again. For trusting me at 23 to move to New York alone. For encouraging me every step of the way. 
I can't thank you enough, so I'll stop. I just hope that all of you is passed through me to Olive so I can raise a remarkable woman that is just like her Nana. 

Nana, ahhh, I miss my nan. My nan lived with us and she would drive me mad but, oh, how I loved her. Still do. She's been gone 12 years next month and I could still cry at the thought of her. On the day she died (of a heart attack - out of the blue does not come close )- she had asked me for a chocolate bar that I had been given for my birthday. It lay unopened in our kitchen. I said no. Can you believe that? I said no. I 'm not even going to justify it or give you my reasoning because there is no excuse. Less than 10 hours later I was trying to get her wedding rings off before the rigor mortis set in. The next time I saw her I put that Fruit and Nut bar in her coffin.  Far too late, but i like to think she enjoyed it in heaven. 
OK, so, all I'm saying is since losing the award for granddaughter of the year in 1997 I just remember to love on my friends and family that bit more. That's it. I know i say I love you a lot but if i say it to you, I probably mean it. 

Anyway, I'm so tired I know I'm rambling but I refuse to edit myself. I used to write diaries growing up but i stopped when i realized that i was writing them as though they were going to be read. I wasn't being entirely honest in them. So now i have ten years worth of diaries that are full of lies...weird...

I'm going to bed now and after checking in on Olive to make sure she is still breathing, I'm going to hold my husband tight and make sure he knows how loved he is. 
By the way, my old friend turned up yesterday. I told her I loved her all day long!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Are you there God, It's me Paula?

Women spend half their lives hoping to see blood in their knickers and the other half praying that they don't. From being a late bloomer who (excitedly) began bleeding at 14 to becoming like every other woman not ready to give up their selfish lives, I would anxiously await the arrival of backache, tummy ache, insecurity, clots the size of quarters...I'd moan but secretly smile. Ahh, something I can count on. Old faithful. Then when the decorators failed to arrive last year and I managed to pull my jaw up off the bathroom floor I spent 41 weeks praying that I would not see any blood in those knickers (well, the thong that became the knickers, that became the granny pants). 
It happened once during the pregnancy. I was about 23 weeks and was peeing for the 18th time that night and saw a tinge of something pinkish. A quick trip to the doctors the following morning and a thousand newly made promises to God en route -everything was fine. No more bleeding but 18 more weeks of praying every time I pulled down those knickers. 
Then, 5 weeks after Olivia was born an old friend greeted me. I'd missed her. I wanted her to visit every month until this fickle being changed her mind again. Until such a time I was determined to enjoy our time together. We were old friends. We went back a long way. I've seen her 5 times since, each time staying for no more than 4 days. Low maintenance. Just a 2 tylenol on the first day kind of a girl. 
She's usually punctual. I wonder what's keeping her...

Monday, August 17, 2009

One Fell Into The Cuckoo's Nest

Another day, another crazy. Today in downtown Portland it was like visiting the Twilight Zone. I walk there nearly every day but today the loons were out in force. Before I regale you with tales from scrag heaven, it is important that I issue the following disclaimers:

1) I just moved here from NYC. I know the smell of rotting human flesh. I have sat next to more smelly people, vagrants and general weirdos on the subway than you would believe. I have no problem with that.

2) I love Portland

However, deep breath...I have never come across more bizarre folk desperate to befriend you in one place at any one time in my life. Now, there are a few things that can bother me in life - people eating in elevators, Ann Curry, snakes and over familiarity in strangers. I don't mind a nod and a smile when I pass someone on the street but then move on, keep going, that's it. However, since pushing a stroller, all of a sudden everybody wants to talk to you, touch your baby, stand a bit too close, strike up conversation. Don't. Please. Don't.

It's always nice when an elderly lady sits opposite, smiles at your baby and then smiles at you - she may ask your child's age - but we quickly end the conversation with another smile and then I look down at Olivia and say something like "yes" or "you need a nap" just something...anything. What I am not interested in is a freak at Costco coming up to me while i stand in the meat aisle, asking me if this was my daughter and then asking if he could touch her feet. Two words came to mind and they weren't "why not?".  I was flustered and could only manage "Uh, no, they go in her mouth". This 20 something freak then stomped off before turning and scowling at me. Yes, that happened.

Today began with a man asking me if I wanted to take his seat when we were on the streetcar. This would have been nice except we were the only two on the bus, I was already seated, and there were about 25 other free seats. 

Me: No, thanks - I'm fine here. (I turned back to Olive.) 
Him: Are you sure? I don't want to be taking over the place. 

He starts to look into my stroller and then i can feel him staring into me, willing me to look over. I start singing to Olive and move away.  The streetcar fills up quickly - two travelers that stink to high heaven get on laden with baggage, they have tattoos, multiple piercings and are dressed in army surplus gear - I smile at them and then Olivia smiles at them. They ignore her and push past her stroller using the top of it as a walking stick. I immediately hate them. A rage burned in me because they did not smile at my happy daughter - I'm officially insane! I didn't plan to feel that way but it burned up inside me and if i had Matilda's superpowers then their piercings would have become terribly infected on the spot. Is it normal to feel this way? 

Then two young girls wearing short shorts and Ugg boots push into me. I apologize to them because I feel bad for my earlier thoughts and I have a bulky stroller that may have been in their way. They turn and give me a filthy look before dissolving into giggles. It's funny I didn't have ill thoughts towards them - i just envied their long, cellulite free, tanned legs and thought about what I must look like to them. 

I get off the streetcar early, a smell of wet laundry was starting to drift my way.  As I exit I am nearly run over by a man who is marching full throttle down the sidewalk. He looks over at me and yells in my face "Oregon sucks". 

I stop and wait to cross the road - I am behind a woman wearing pyjamas and black, fluffy slippers. She turns to see me and peers into Olivia's stroller (if she reaches in there, I will ram her). She smiles up at me and has so much yellow plaque on her teeth that i just want to get a knife and scrape it off. I return her smile and hurtle past. 

At the next crossing I stand next to a woman in business attire - I could actually feel myself relax...It's a weekday in a city there should be more of these sort to safeguard me. The woman in the suit turned to look down at Olive - as she looked up at me I realized it was a man, dressed as woman in a business suit. 

And so the day continued...the Rite Aid was full of strange people who would walk pigeon footed and constantly look as though they had lost something. Maybe they had. One customer told me that they sold Ensure and asked if i wanted to buy any. 

When I went to the bank I had the following exchange with the teller:
Him: Hi, how are you? (lyrical, slightly effeminate voice)
Me: Fine thanks. How are you?
Him: Feeling better now, thank you. I wasn't feeling so good earlier. I think I was hungry. I'm not sure. I ate something and I feel a little better, but it was pretty bad for a while. It was coming out of both ends.

His colleague then looked into my stroller and saw a baby dressed in pink, sucking on a pink pacifier with a pink and white blanket covering her feet:
Him: How old is your son?

I felt like a snob. I was wheeling her quickly past smokers, refused to smile back at unsavory looking folk. Good lord, i just used the word unsavory. Today marked another example of a departure from who i was. I used to pride myself on not judging people, smiling at everyone. Seriously, I used to temp as a receptionist and I was like a puppy - everytime anyone walked past me I would raise my head and beam. I would have whiplash by the end of the day. Now, i was like one of those sourpuss people that look like they've been stung by a bee. It's just that when I'm out with Olivia in busy surroundings i feel a bit like I'm wearing a black dress and I'm being asked to sit on a couch where there is dog hair. I'm not quite comfortable. I still worry that someone might reach in and grab her or knock me out of the way and run off with her in the stroller. I have fantasies about this sort of thing and see me beating people down and being stabbed and shot countless times just so Olivia is safe. I have turned into a mother lion. I would rather have my limbs ripped off one by one than see my daughter hurt or in pain. Before you wonder...Yes, I am still taking my meds. 

However, here's me going on about other people, I am not one to talk. I am quite sure that there were women steering their strollers away from me. I caught sight of myself today and would like to offer the following advice...always bend your elbows slightly and straighten your back when pushing your stroller. A bent back and straight arms makes you look decidedly common - an American might even say white trash...I looked like a was one of those folks pushing a cart full of cans.  My hair was pulled back with a tuft popping up like Mr. Majeeka from where Olivia had grabbed it earlier. I had sweat patches and my pants had stains on them. I had no makeup on and knew that with the sun shining on my face - my fair hair on my upper lip was screaming to be waxed. No wonder these loonies were talking to me...

As I waited for the streetcar on my way home a very sweet looking, elderly, Asian lady came and sat on the bench next to me...a little too close but I smiled and budged up to the very end. She had grandchildren she told me and in her broken English she also informed me that she goes to the gym every afternoon when the stock markets close. Good for you, i said. She asked what building I lived in. I asked her where she lived. All was very pleasant, normal, civil. Then, as we saw the streetcar approach, she reached into the stroller and stroked my daughter's hand before touching her teething toy and her cheek. Before I could rip off her Titleist visor and throw it in dog poop, she told me, it's OK, i wash my hands. Oh fine, I wanted to say, why don't you just stick your finger in her mouth and feel her tooth coming through?

I'm missing New York today - at least the crazies there tend to have a protocol. It's like a code of ethics. If you walked quickly enough and avoided eye contact you were left alone. If you said that you didn't have money they wished you a good day. Today a guy came up to me and actually bothered to make up an excuse that he needed change for his car. He didn't have shoes but apparently was short a quarter for the pay and display. I obliged hoping that he had an imaginary car, at least. 

This is not some Cosby show episode with a heart warming moral about not judging a book by it's cover. I mean it could be...if you like.  I'm just sharing my day. That all really happened. Today. 

As a final treat I would like to share that I saw two penises today and neither belonged to my husband.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nature is my Kryptonite

I went to the zoo this week which is remarkable considering I hate nature. It's not that I'm one of those women that wears inappropriate clothes which makes outdoorsy stuff difficult. It's just that I believe Michael Jackson had it right when he slept in an oxygen chamber. Clean, fresh air...ahhh. The truth is that i grew up on a farm. I've had my share of the stink of ammonia. The thought of treading in poop begs only one question "why?" However, in observance of my new role as mum - i realized that this is something that I will be expected to do. Mums go to the zoo - we enjoy these things, right? I'm going to get a warm, gooey feeling when i step through that door and feel straw and gravel under my feet. It's just one of those mum things. I already have the talking to a stroller down to a fine art and I am working on striking up conversation with complete strangers...which incidentally drives me mad. Why is it that as soon as you have a baby people start suggesting that you join groups to meet other moms, or they'll offer to put you in touch with their other friend who has children? As though we are suddenly loners that have been abandoned by every other friend we ever had. I am constantly asked whether I have met any other new mums recently?  All a bit weird to me. If I was on my lunch break in Manhattan and saw another woman eating her lunch, minding her own business, perhaps busy reading a book, I would never go up to her and randomly ask what was in her sandwich? Yet, somehow I am now encouraged to wander up to another lady with a stroller, smile, peer in at the baby and first comment that he/she is cute before asking, "how old?" Then we launch into a voracious conversation regarding sleeping habits, feeding habits, first child? second child? The pace is remarkable almost as if any break in the conversation would dawn the realization that we have nothing in common except having birthed these babies. Then one of our children gets fussy and we quickly excuse ourselves citing that said fussy child is either hungry or tired (because heaven forbid babies cry) we go home smiling, give ourselves a pat on the back and tick a box in the new mum questionnaire - YES, met other woman today. Something to tell husband at the end of the day. 
Well, if ever i was desperate to meet other mums I have discovered that a trip to the zoo will do the trick. Either that or swear you off children forever. Good lord - never in my life have i seen so many miserable women in one place at any one time. Literally toting children in any which way. In wagons, ergos, bjorns, strollers, prams, umbrella things, on shoulders, in stomachs. There was so much estrogen in the air my ovaries were aching. As we waded through these jaded faces i was thinking two things. Firstly, I shouldn't be so hard on these women. I have only one child and it is tough. Many of these parents are holding one, shooing another and pushing a third - It's August and the summer holidays can be a long time for parents to fill days with activities. Secondly, did i have any wine chilling in the fridge at home? 
Now, luckily I went with a mum of two, a pro and I was able to learn the tricks of the trade. I get it - it's all about "fastrack". You get a route, hit a few hot spots. Get in, get out. Stimulation. Stimulation. Chardonnay.
First up, the great northwest - a chance to see some bears. Lovely. What did i see? Nothing. I peered through barbed wire into some forestry and looked for something. Waited. Nothing. All around me are hopping children pressing interactive buttons and i just smell poop. Baby poop, human poop, bear poop, just poop. Finally, high up on Walton Mountain I am told a bear looms. I look up and see what can only be described as a man in a gorilla suit with his back to us. I don't buy it. 
Next up, polar bears - brilliant. I've always felt bad for polar bears - I've actually always just wanted to see them have a good wash. I hate that at the bottom of their legs and bottom area it is dirty brown. I'm sure that it can't be like that in the arctic. Don't bother to correct me if I am wrong - i am honestly not remotely interested. Nevertheless, there they are drugged up to the hilt...they are the saddest creatures. They are just on a loop. Front crawl, hit the wall, somersault, back crawl, somersault, repeat. I'm tempted to suggest that they weren't real either. Beginning to think the place is a racket.
Petting zoo? No, thanks. Reptile land? Negatori
Still waiting for that warm feeling... 
To be fair, Olivia slept through much of the jaunt.  I dutifully lifted her out in front of the elephant. I had picked out a onesie with an elephant on it so spent a good 3 minutes trying to get her to understand her stylista fashion statement. I tilted the stroller so she could see the ducks (why were they at the zoo?) and quacked like we do at Old McDonald whilst reminding her that she plays with ducks in the bath. I was desperate to show her a real life Sophie, but giraffes did not make the "fastrack" route. For the record, Sophie is back - on probation...but back. Anyway, I'm telling you all these wonderful stimulating things that I did for my dozing 5 month old. Please note, I was smiling too, constantly. Yet, all i really want to confess is throughout the whole walk I was just hankering for a fat glass of something alcoholic - something with umbrellas or flames. Something!  
As I perched on a picnic bench drinking a diet coke (of course having packed everything but lunch for myself )-I glanced around and watched children shuffling away from their parents-Parents grimly getting up for the umpteenth time to bring them back to where they should sit and finish their lunch.  Child then stands picking holes in apple whilst wetting the ground with juice. Sheer exasperation worn on parents' faces. I am overcome by the smell of baby wipes and apple juice. It was like an out of body experience. Finally...an explosion inside my head! Where the heck was I? Who on earth had i become? What was this land? I hate zoos and nature and wood chippings and petting zoos and chipper camp counsellors and smelly poop caves. Who am I and where was the person that had woken up in my bed this morning? I looked down and I was even dressed practically. I was wearing cargo pants, trainers, a cardigan.  I almost sobbed as I became painfully aware that I was wearing big knickers. Good lord, help me!
To avoid a mental breakdown, i kind of let out a guffaw and literally said a little bit too loudly, "Err, is this real?" Just as i braced myself to be kicked out of mummy middle earth, my friend looked at me and smiled. She knew what i felt. That smile said it all. She had once been immune to this ridiculous caging of children and animals. And then like the school bell at the end of the day she said, " I know, you'd think they'd have a bar". Handel's Messiah ripped through my soul - Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
I am not alone. There are more like me. The truth is out there.
It wasn't the wine, or even the dirty martini (and when i say dirty I mean like the gutter) that i had begun to fantasise about - it was some version of a life where i still had full control- an extremity to combat what i was experiencing in the zoo. Now, if we had been in a water park - this would not have happened, give me a log flume any day...but you have to understand I'm just not a zoo girl. I would rather be a flower in the attic than live like Tarzan...and yes, i realize the sibling implication with that reference.  
I then realized that these parents were just like me - just further down the line. With three children this was probably the 10th time they had been there - perhaps the third time this summer break - I hope they get reward points or a parking spot near the entrance or something... Something...surely? So, am I so dreadful? A terrible mother? Are there more of us that simply do things to tick the mummy box but really dread them? A fraud? Perhaps. I wish it were otherwise. I wish the thought of seeing ducks and geese and smelling hay and straw filled me with joy...but it doesn't. I grew up skidding in hen poop. My weekends were spent cleaning the geese hut, gathering eggs, lighting bonfires, getting the wood for the fire in a spider, rat and snake infested shack. I've paid my dues, people!
So, I'll tell you when i won't be fraudulent, Olivia. When it comes to games - I'll sit in and play board games and cards all day long. I won't cheat either...at least not so the game ends early. I promise that I will read to you and with you for as long as you like. I'll do all the character voices. I probably won't be one of those mums that makes costumes for the school plays but I'll run your lines with you as often as you like. I doubt I'll bake cookies or donate homemade cakes but I'll practice sports with you. I will go on every fairground ride and every waterslide even though I won't go hiking where there might be snakes.  I may not know the call of a wood pigeon or but I will play a mean game of Boggle.
It makes me realize what an incredible mother I have because i cannot think of one of those things that she was incapable of or ever failed to do with me. Yet, i now know that she hated fairground rides, was also nervous of the rat wood shack and she was not a game girl...but she did it and with the same enthusiasm as those things that she did love.
So, i suppose that I can calm my neurosis this week knowing that becoming a mum isn't like installing an application on my iPhone. It's not that simple and we are not all programmed the same. I hadn't short circuited or wasn't a faulty model. Mums are superheroes of sorts and even though sometimes our alter ego would rather be tripping the light fantastic there is nothing like a pair of big knickers to remind us that we are mummies...superhero mummies that can do or at least fake anything. Peter Parker realized that "with great power comes great responsibility". Paula Burton has realized that "with great responsibility comes great worry and great worry deserves great wine".