Thursday, March 31, 2011

Confessions of an Unabashed Book Lover

Books have punctuated my life in beautiful, magical, sometimes unexpected ways; they have taken me to faraway places, places closer to home, allowing me to inhabit the lives of people very different from myself or characters not so different from me. They allow me to escape the challenges of my own life and live someone else's, or they give me a fresh perspective with which to view my life. They teach me, comfort me, put a spell on me, challenge my ideas and reaffirm my greatest beliefs. They are a loving companion to return to at night, or steal moments with throughout the day. As a young mummy, they are a treasured reward for getting through a hard day, or a way to really savour the hour or two when darling daughter finally goes down for a sleep.

When I recall significant experiences of my life, invariably a book comes to mind as a companion to that time and place. I guess it's a little like certain songs taking you back to an earlier time and all the feelings associated. Here is a list of some of these experiences and their companion read:

1. Discovering books with my dear, dear Granma


I have always been close with my Granma (incorrect spelling on purpose – Granma always signed her name without the 'd' in the middle; she's far too lovely and soft to have such a hard letter in the middle of her name); from as far back as I can recall, she's been someone I look up to, someone I love and admire. And boy does she love books. She bought me a copy of Possum Magic by Mem Fox when I was just a little girl and we'd read about the adventures of a baby possum and her grandmother possum together. It was as if Mem Fox wrote this very book just for me and my Granma. Needless to say, I became rather smitten with books.

2. Being a spectacular dag in primary school

I was not the most unpopular kid in primary school, but I was certainly very uncool. In fact, I can still remember walking past the house of a very cute boy from school one afternoon, dressed in a baggy purple t-shirt, tartan shorts, leather lace-up shoes and bright white socks... I waved to him with a big grin, and he took one look at me and proclaimed in disgust, “Oh, Kate, you are SUCH a dag!” I walked home, my daggy shirt soaking up my daggy tears, and as soon as I got to my room, I buried myself in The Story of Tracey Beaker. The story of a girl who was a total tomboy and just didn't fit in, it was certainly apt at the time. But I still hadn't quite put it together that being a dag was fairly synonymous with liking books, doing well at school - at least this was the case at my school. So did volunteering to read an excerpt from said book on full-school assembly win me any cool points? Let's just say that it was a welcome relief to finish primary school and start afresh in a new school.

3. Reclaiming books

Being required to read certain novels in high school really killed a few classic books for me. Is it ironic that I now insist my students read particuar novels as an English teacher? Anyhoo, after being a major dork in primary school, I found high school to be quite a different story... there was no time for reading when there was so much socialising to be had! And boys weren't gross anymore, they were lovely! It wasn't really until I finished high school that I rediscovered my love of books and I had one person to thank. Kurt Cobain. Well, his biographer more accurately. When I finished reading Charles Cross' biography of Kurt's life, Heavier Than Heaven, I felt as if I knew him personally and was mourning a dear, misunderstood, troubled friend.

4. A New World

Going to university is such an exciting adventure – experimenting with who you are and how you see yourself, trying on different incarnations to see which one fits (side note – dying my hair black and wearing tough, rock chick shirts didn't stick in the end). It was also a great time of trying out new things to read. Sometimes, I would be so engrossed in a book that I couldn't bear to waste a moment NOT reading... I'd even read as I walked to class (it still amazes me now that I never tripped over anything/anyone, given how uncoordinated I am at the best of times). I was reading Firehead, by Venero Armanno, one afternoon before a lecture and I remember feeling so ALIVE, that such wonderful books existed! It was a regular conundrum, whether I attended a lecture or continued reading. In this instance, the author WAS my lecturer, and now a dear friend, so I'm pretty sure my reading didn't always get in the way of my education.

5. Secret Women's Business

My dearest friend in the whole world, Jorja, has been my greatest reading muse for many years now. Jorja is one of these people who just seems to have a knack for discovering the very best reads. And sharing books between friends is one of the greatest ways to really cement your friendship, like sharing secrets. Anyone who belongs to a book club or has shared their favourite book with a dear friend knows exactly what I mean. So thank you, Jorja, for sharing with me The Girl in Times Square, My Sister's Keeper, The Other Hand, The Help and many, many more.

Now I see the seeds of book love in my own daughter. At 13 months, she picks up her books, turns the pages, even mimics the animated sounds we make when we read to her. Loving reading is a gift I hope to give my darling daughter so that she may have many years of adventure, discovery, insight, entertainment, mystery and love before her.   

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Mummy Tank

I first came across this term in Sarah Buckley's most excellent book, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering when I was pregnant with my darling daughter over a year ago. Basically, the idea is that if we are to care for our children well, we need to care for ourselves well. This means that we need to regularly do things for ourselves that will replenish our energy stores, otherwise we are at risk of fatigue, resentment, frustration, etc..

These last couple of weeks have been a big lesson for me in paying attention to my mummy tank, especially when the red light is on and I need to refuel NOW or I'm going to break down somewhere! And I've certainly felt like breaking down at times. At these low points, I've thought to myself, What have I actually done for myself lately that makes me happy? In the mental lists I keep in my head – do the dishes, wash nappies, cook dinner, make sure daughter/husband/family/friends/random strangers on the street (you get my point) are happy – I haven't had a single thing that was for me alone. How familiar does that sound, mummies? Remembering Sarah Buckley's words, as well as countless discussions had with my fellow mummy friends on the very important topic of caring for ourselves, I decided to take action – and write myself a Mummy Tank Manifesto. Here is a copy of it, now stuck up on the wall in our kitchen:


In order for Kate to be her loveliest, happiest, calmest mummy self, she needs to regularly replenish her energy stores. One, or more, of the following can help:

  • taking darling daughter for some period of time so Kate can have time to herself
  • a foot massage (or any sort of massage, really)
  • a cup of tea made for Kate
  • words of validation and encouragement so Kate feels she's doing a good job and is recognised for it
  • a really good book to escape into
  • a change of scenery – a walk to the park, a drive somewhere
  • some housework done – the dishes, a load of washing, general tidying, dinner cooked – so that Kate has a little less to do
  • lending Kate an open and understanding ear so that she may talk, vent, cry, whatever, to get it off her chest.

I'm sure it seems a little silly writing such a formal document about taking time for myself, but in all the months I've thought about it, it's taken me penning to paper to really do something about it. And now, as of this morning, I have Kate's Sunday Morning Ritual of Gloriousness in place! I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination but I now look forward to Sunday mornings as if I were having a divine connection with God herself. Every Sunday at around 10am, I bid farewell to my daughter, my husband, the messy house and the floors that desperately need vaccuuming and instead go the movies. Simple, hey! I get myself a takeaway coffee, maybe even splurge on over-priced movie popcorn at the candy bar and enjoy a cinema experience all on my own. 

Before I had children, I would NEVER have gone to the movies alone. In fact, I would have thought anyone seeing a movie alone is a serious Nigel-No-Friends.

But not anymore! As I get myself seated comfortably in the cinema, food at the ready, mobile switched to silent, I look around to see if there is anyone else there, like me, escaping the domestic life for a couple of hours of bliss, peace and solitude. And there is! I mean, I don't approach them and say, Hey Fellow Loner! Are you escaping a grumpy teething baby too?! High five!! That would be weird. But I allow myself the fantasy that there are many of us, out on a Sunday morning, refuelling our mummy tanks with some glorious alone time.

So, what are YOU doing to fill your mummy tank? I challenge all of you, mummies, to do one nice thing for yourself today that will push up the meter on your energy tank.

Oh, and what movie did I see today? The King's Speech. And it was brilliant!