all at once

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So, what do you do?

A married couple that I know have spent the last twenty years working contract positions in a variety of fields (teaching, radiography, park ranging, and office management – to name a few). They usually work for six months to a year, and then finish their contracts and head off on an adventure – ballooning in Mexico, camping in Belgium, renovating a house in Portland – until money gets a bit short and they look for work. So when they’re at a party and the conversation turns to work and someone asks "So, what do you do?" they smile and reply "Do you mean for money or for fun?". They’ve structured their lives to revolve around leisure activities and use work as a means to an end.
For the last few years, my answer to the what do you do question has been "I am a social worker". It’s not just what I do, it’s part of who I am. Work, for me, has always been about passion. I struggled for years to figure out what I wanted to do at uni, because I wanted - no - needed, to feel passionate about what I do. Social work provides that for me. I love what I do, I’m interested in it, challenged by it, and I find it exciting and personally fulfilling. I’ve worked jobs just for money before, and I can handle it for a limited period of time. But then I start to feel frustrated, empty and bored, and usually have left the country and gone travelling. But social work, and mental health social work in particular, fits me like a glove. I get to work with fascinating clients, a wide range of professionals, use my brain and my heart to help people, learn new things all the time, and I get the honour of being with people in some of their darkest times.
After this Friday - last day at work - when people at parties ask me, "So, what do you do?", I’m going to have an entirely different job description. It’s not something I’m currently comfortable with – it’s something I’ve always wanted to be, but it doesn’t yet feel like a part of who I am. Mother.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Today, I am thirty.
When I hear the number it sounds good, well-rounded, comfortable with itself. Also, vaguely surreal, which is actually a good description for how the events of the last year feel for me. Real and wonderful, and at the same time, bizarre and distant.
I’m happy with that.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sunshine days

I’ve just returned from two weeks in the sunny, warm north of Western Australia. It was a lovely holiday, and very good for Action Man and I to have some time together. We went with another family and their extendeds, and it was the perfect balance of time with a group having laughs, and time doing our own thing (which admittedly involved a lot of fishing – Action Man not being particularly good at lazing on the beach). But I did manage some beach time, and some wandering around time, and we only had a couple of fraught moments, one of which was preceded by a 3 hour four-wheel driving adventure which was supposed to be a 15 minute trip to meet the group at the beach for a camp fire. Pregnant woman + four wheel driving = Bad.

I also learned some things about myself – I like a balance between activity and inactivity on my holidays - too much of one or the other and I struggle; camp ground showers gross me out as much as youth hostel showers do, but my favourite trick of blurring my eyes slightly whilst balancing on slippery thongs under the trickle of hot water still works; people who go camping are far more likely to use improper grammar, and my upbringing (raised by teachers from a family of teachers) does not allow me to sit comfortably whilst someone repeatedly says "it was real good"; toasted marshmellows taste just as good at 29 as they did at 12; not being able to see my bikini line is both a curse and a blessing – on the one hand, I have no idea if stray pubes are hanging out of my bathers, and on the other, "out of sight, out of mind" is actually a freeing platitude to apply when there is no chance that I’d be able to see a single pube unless I held a mirror on a stick between my legs while squatting – an unlikely position for me to attempt when lounging on the beach…

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Run, Forrest, Run

There appears to be four distinct responses to seeing a 7-month pregnant woman running,
and yes, they are gender and age-specific:

Younger women: Smile encouragingly and nod enthusiastically, sending a "you go girl"
type of vibe.
Older Women: Look concerned and frown in mild disapproval.
Older Men: Ogle the heaving bosom, then recoil in horror as they notice the belly,
realise they’ve just perved on a pregnant woman, and think That’s Just
Wrong, I’m A Bad Man, And No I Haven’t Resolved My Oedipal Issues.
Younger Men: Unconsciously place their hands into a cupping position, and look around
frantically for boiling water and towels with terrified certainty that birth is imminent.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hidden sadness

A couple of years ago, about four pints into a beer-fuelled girls’ night out, we started discussing past loves. It was just a breezy, rambling conversation, until one friend described her most significant ex as her ‘hidden sadness’. "You know", she explained, "the one that makes your heart ache just a little when you think about him". Everyone went silent, and then nodded. After further discussion, and further pints, we came to the conclusion that nearly every one has a ‘hidden sadness’. We came up with certain criteria for h.s. status - no current involvement, no dramatic end to the relationship, and no endless yearning to re-unite. It’s more a wistful wondering, a gentle pang when you think about them, and a slight curiosity about where they are and whether it might have worked out, in another time or place.

My hidden sadness was a guy I met in a bar when I was 22 and playing the field. He flashed a smile at me, came over to chat, and we flirted for a while. I thought he was gorgeous, smart and funny, but when a newly-single friend whispered in my ear "he’s hot, can I have him?", and then asked him (IN FRONT OF ME) which of us he liked better, I bowed out and made a swift exit to the dance floor. They dated once or twice but it didn’t work out. I then spent the next couple of years bumping into him around town, and he would ask me out each time. I continually said no, because he had dated this particular girl, who was a…complicated friend. Then she and I drifted apart, and one night I was dancing on a podium in a gay bar, - long story for another time – and I saw him dancing with his shirt off, on another podium with two very gay men. He was hammered and laughing it up, and when he followed me into the street and asked me out again, I said yes. Straight men who are comfy with gay men are hot! We went out a few times and I fell hard. As did he. We spoke of marriage and kids and houses and had a connection like nothing I’d ever imagined Small catch – I had an open-ended ticket booked to leave the country for a big adventure. After a bit of heart-searching, we decided to be together until I left. But while absence does makes the heart grow fonder, indefinite absence makes a relationship hard. Really, really, hard. And so when I came home for a brief trip, we broke up. I flew away again, and had some more adventures. I needed to do it for myself, and in hindsight, if I hadn’t left literally, I would have left emotionally, eventually. Or he would have. So we fell out of contact, but he always had a little corner in my heart. We had very sporadic contact, over a few years, and each time I saw him my heart would speed up a little, poignantly wishful amidst a certainty that it would never work out for us.

My hidden sadness.

Hidden no more – at the beginning of last year we randomly caught up (as I was about to leave the country again), had dinner, had months of angst-filled agonising, and then got back together. And now we’re engaged, building a house, having a baby and living a very real, frustrating, tense, laughter-filled life together. He may be infuriating, but he’s always been in my heart.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Building projects

My partner, Active Man, always has at least five projects running in real life, five to ten that he is planning for the near future, and between five and one million that he is mulling over with no definite time line. These projects include his shift work, building work, financial ventures, and recreational pursuits (including boat-building, furniture-making and inventing). Since we bought The House four months ago, Active Man has continued performing an impressive juggling act with several projects, but the vast majority of his energy has gone into planning, organising and renovating The House. He’s been working on it, talking about it, thinking about it, researching and shopping for various House accoutrements, gazing deeply into my eyes at a candlelit dinner and asking me if I think we should use Tasmanian Oak or Jarrah for the outside decking, and undressing paint samples with his eyes while he absent-mindedly strokes my naked leg in bed. I am interested in his building project - it’s important stuff - we are doing major renovations to the first House I’ve bought and we plan to live in it for a few years. I ask questions, contribute mostly uninformed opinions about render and lintels (it’s a whole other language, I swear), and have gone and spent weekends doing building-y type activities. I confess that I can’t maintain interest or energy for prolonged, intense 10 hour work days and endless 3 hour long discussions that he’s keen to engage in, but I am doing my best. I express my appreciation regularly for the effort he is putting in, and I talk about how proud I am of him to other people – often in front of him.

However, I’m struggling with the fact that Action Man has shown nowhere near the amount of interest in my building project, you know, the one where I’m busy building a human being INSIDE MY BODY. He has come to two appointments and one ultrasound in 26 weeks, read 10 pages of a parenting book after I put it on his pillow with a note saying "Read Me", and has not asked me a single question about it. Not one. When I brought it up in conversation last night he listened and nodded and then started discussing hips and joints. Initially I thought he was sympathetically inquiring about the effect of pregnancy on my body, but it turns out he was pondering the best way to roof the new shed.

I understand he does not have daily physical and mental adjustments as a reminder of pregnancy, but I feel like he could at least try to be interested in discussing the condition of the living room walls (the way it feels when your uterus stretches to 100 times it’s original size), the size and weight of the ceiling fixtures (the depressing and continual growth of my already impressive bosom), or at least why nobody warns you about the changing condition of the plumbing (constipation: the secret side of pregnancy).

After all, my building project is going to be in our lives a lot longer than his…

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Blatant misuse of government resources

The last few days I've been feeling a bit dizzy and vague, and not in a delightful, Cher-from-Clueless way. More feeling like I'm too full, there's pressure in my head and limbs, and if I stand up too quickly I feel wobbly. Yesterday morning I grabbed one of the nurses here and we snuck into a treatment room and she took my blood pressure, checked my blood sugar levels, and offered repeatedly to give me an injection of anti-psychotic medication. Although tempting, I declined the last. My blood pressure was apparently quite low, though my blood sugar level was fine - a pleasant shock given the way I've been mainlining marshmallows and peppermint chocolate. So we trooped in to see one of my favourite psychiatrists who used to be a GP, a woman in her late 30s who had her first child a couple of years ago and has a wonderful sense of humour. She also has (so far) managed to avoid developing any hint of the pomposity and arrogance that tends to flavour the personalities of most psychiatrists I've met. She thought my bp was low, but not concerning, so we chatted about pregnancy and the 'journey towards motherhood', and less salubrious topics like vaginal discharge. Ahh the discharge. If the government knew that well educated, well paid - in the psychiatrist's case anyway - mental health staff were sitting around chatting about vaginal discharge, I'm sure our continuous calls for more staff, more funding and more resources would fall on deaf ears.
Oh, wait, they already do.
Back to the discharge then...