thief of time

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Getting Ready

I’m going home for a visit after a break of quite a few years and I’m sure there weren’t half the things to do when I went the last time.

Of course, the last time I went by myself for a family wedding, so my husband was able to stay and man the fort (are we allowed to say that any more?). This time the kids are going to have to look out for themselves and trying to anticipate everything that’s needed, or may be needed, is driving me crazy.

I had my husband check out our sewer “hot spots” last week, to make sure there were no encroaching roots invading the clay tiles. One of these days, in the far distant future, we’ll have a plumber come in and do something more permanent, but until then my husband has installed easy access areas where the roots of our horrible camphor laurel can be pulled out when they go searching for more tasty food than that available in the honest ground. It’s no wonder the tree is so massive, with the extra vitamins it gets.

So far, all looks clear, which my son will be very pleased about.

Then, there’s the buying everything under the sun, so that basic necessities won’t run out. Our house is starting to look like a shop in some spots and we’re only going to be away for a bit over a month.

I offered to run classes on replacing the toilet paper on the toilet spindle, which is a constant concern and all I got was rolled eyes and “Mu-um!” They may feel that it’s a task they don’t need to brush up on, but I haven’t noticed it being practised yet.

One good thing is that neither of them needs lessons on ironing, so I at least can be sure they’ll make a stab at going out of the house looking semi-presentable. Their only peculiarity is that they only iron what they need, when they need it. My daughter used to have to be at work first thing in the morning, literally. Far be it from her to iron her uniform the night before, when she was doing little but watching television, or playing on the computer. Instead, she’d drag herself out of bed and around the house, looking like the walking dead, and then have to get the iron and ironing board out to get herself ready for the day. I’d love to know where the common sense comes to play.

We won’t even talk about cleaning their rooms! I’m just afraid it’s all going to spill out into the rest of the house. Most of the time I feel my daughter’s room should be condemned as an OHS hazard, as it’s often impossible to get in the door. A shovel wouldn’t come amiss. The thoughts of all this encroaching into the living areas of the rest of the house fill me with horror.

Their grandma has offered to keep her eye on things. I don’t know what makes me more worried—the thoughts of her fretting about things or the thoughts of the children not fretting about anything at all!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Stormy Weather Driving

I had a “near-accident” experience this week and I was not impressed. My life didn’t pass before my eyes, either because my life isn’t a movie (I wonder if it’s artistic licence, or if it really does happen in some exceptional individuals), or because things went by so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to think much of anything at all. My thoughts certainly weren't terribly coherent, whatever they were.

It was the day of the big storm. I’d heard some nasty weather was on its way, but wasn’t able to get away from the office early and I was certainly glad I wasn’t out on the roads when it did hit, because the weather was incredible in its ferocity. Thank goodness it was brief, or there would have been even more damage than there was, though I know some places around here were extremely badly hit.

At any rate, I left home when the worst had well and truly finished and it was just raining lightly.

I go home via a back road which only has a few lights along it, before I turn off and join a side street that leads me into my suburb proper. Three of the four lights were out due to the storm and I was sure there’d be all kinds of problems, but everyone was sensible and approached the intersections slowly and with respect. It’s quite surprising when people behave sensibly. I guess we naturally expect the worst. I know I do.

When I got off to the last stage of my trip, only minutes from home, someone came zooming out of a side street, straight through a Give Way sign, right in front of me. I had just enough time to put the brakes on (which thankfully did the trick, but not by a whole lot) and say a quick “thank you, God”, before going into adrenaline overload.

The other driver slowed down slightly and then just sped off. I’m glad they at least noticed what almost happened, as I’d hate to think I didn’t register on them at all.

Why in heaven’s name would someone be travelling at speed along wet streets and go through a give way sign without even looking?

On the other hand, why am I just as surprised when people behave like idiots, as I am when people behave sensibly?

It must be experience at war with expectations.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Getting Lost

One thing I don’t mind is a nice walk in the bush—early in the day, of course, well-covered from the sun and on a well-marked path.

I’m not exactly saying I want a paved footpath through the trees, but I’d really rather not get to some point in the walk where it’s not obvious which way to go and you try one way and it’s a sheer rock face and you try another one and it ends up the same. Then you’re unsure whether to push on or, discretion taking the better part of valour, retreat.

It always makes me speculate about my chances of ending up one of those short news items about the poor lost traveller that goes out ill-equipped into the bush and spends days lost, suffering from hypothermia, dehydration and the whole host of things that can happen to you out in the bush—if you survive. The only good thing about the Australian bush is that you’re unlikely to run up against large, unfriendly carnivores, though the spiders and snakes add their own special touch to the possible experience.

Something happened the other day in one of our larger department stores that reminded me of my hiking days—not the possible danger, just the frustration.

My daughter was busy trying on various things and I decided to use the time to find the department store’s facilities.

Now, I could have gone out into the shopping centre, but it seemed a straight-forward activity, so I started out with great confidence, following the well-marked signs that indicated the toilets were in such and such a direction. I got to an intersection and, again, the signs showed me which way to turn. I followed on, when the trail petered out and didn’t seem to be heading anywhere in particular. Puzzled, I retraced my steps to the last sign to make sure that I was going in the correct direction, which I was. Back again I went, but more slowly and uncertainly, busily scanning all the side aisles where the toilets might have been hidden.

It was still no good, but I became determined. I retraced my steps one last time and took a side shoot that I hadn’t noticed before and there they were. The toilets certainly weren’t obvious.

Was it all a plot to encourage people to use the facilities out in the shopping centre, or was I just someone with no sense of direction?

Judging from my outdoors hiking, I suppose I’d better drop the paranoia and just memorize where they are for the next time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Language and Dictionaries

I wonder if it’s just the difference between my son and me, or if it’s a generational difference?

The other day, my son lent me a magazine which I quite enjoyed. In one article, à propos of nothing, there was a little box with a dictionary’s favourite words for 2004. I had a quick look at the list and recognised every word but two.

Now, I’m as lazy as the next person and rarely use a dictionary—I quite understand my son’s aversion to having to look words up, but usually there’s no need because you can figure out a word’s meaning from its context.

You can do the same thing in a foreign language to a large extent. I occasionally see my first year French or Spanish novels and every second word has a neatly pencilled English translation above it. You soon get over that, except in dire circumstances, and just go for the context. (Unfortunately, my Spanish has largely disappeared from lack of use, so now I’d have to go back to the dictionary to get myself back into gear with the language.)

These words in the magazine, however, were merely listed and had no context whatsoever, so I decided to look them up out of interest’s sake. My son couldn’t be bothered.

Obviously I was having the reaction the writers of the article were hoping to get, whereas my son wasn’t playing the game, so I don’t know whether this makes me easily manipulated, but it certainly made me annoyed with him. Of course, I’m the person who would often be his personal dictionary when he was growing up, so I guess I only have myself to blame.

I’ll have to take a stand for intellectual integrity and curiosity and force him to look things up from now on, not just hand him a word on a plate—though of course, it does take away the moral superiority you exhibit when you’re able to exclaim—“What? Fancy not knowing that word!”

* * *

[By the way, the words were defenestration and callipygian, which I probably won’t be using in conversation any time soon, though obviously, as an old French student, I should have been ashamed of myself for missing one of them.]

Friday, December 31, 2004

Keeping in Touch

This is definitely the time of year to get caught up on things. I write to people I haven’t heard from since the year before and there are occasionally a few moments to myself to straighten up my mess around the edges.

This year my corresponding was a bit worse than normal. It’s been getting quite bad for the past while, but this year I surpassed myself in the fine art of procrastination.

I arrived at the last week before Christmas and just sent off all my Australian cards en masse, while my overseas mail was written almost assembly line fashion. It wasn’t quite the dreaded form letter, but it certainly started to approach it in certain aspects, which happens when you write letters so closely together—you tend to repeat yourself with the details that you think might be generally interesting, adapting bits and pieces to suit the recipient.

About five people I didn’t even try to write to—I always reckon that if Christmas mail arrives between Christmas and New Year, you’ve at least made a stab in the right direction, but there wasn’t any hope of that at all, as these were all people to whom I try to write a decent length of a letter. Luckily, these are all people that can get email, and luckily I don’t get massive writer’s cramp doing a bit of typing. Some nights, after a heavy longhand writing session, I can hardly undo my fingers.

So, I did it again for another year—except for that pesky letter writer I forgot to send to, whose letter arrived a couple of days ago. Darn people. Can’t they get themselves organised and get their letters away in time to show that they at least made the effort? Now it looks as though I’ve forgotten her.

I really have to try and do better next year.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Shopping Misery

One of the rules in a family should be that you never take your teenage son out shopping for clothes. I’m sure a lot of teenage sons would also subscribe to that rule.

It’s not that my son is totally uninterested in clothes, but it isn’t top of his list of priorities and he’s not into brands at all, thank goodness. He’d be just as happy to receive clothing as presents, chosen at random from within his limited parameters of acceptable clothing. There are, however, certain things that you actually have to have him there to try on to make sure that they fit--thus, the times of extreme unpleasantness for both him and me.

To say that my son is uninterested in shopping would be to vastly understate his dislike. As far as he’s concerned, if you have to do the dread deed, you go in, grab the first thing that looks suitable, try it on and if it fits that’s that—no need to try anything further and no need to browse around a bit to see if you can get something similar, but at a better price or not even to see if you might see something else that he might like better. For him, near enough is good enough.

Now, my daughter is at the opposite extreme. She’ll go into a changing room with twenty items of clothing in similar, but slightly different colours, styles and sizes and perhaps find one item, perhaps not, and then on to the next section of the store, or on to a different store. To shop with her is an exercise in endurance and you have to be prepared to keep going for most of the day.

With my son, if you can drag the exercise past thirty minutes, he’s not impressed and soon makes his displeasure felt. Then, if you happen to see something else that you’d like him to try on that wasn’t part of the original plan for getting him out on this wild goose chase, you have to do some mighty fine begging. My son is a pretty good exponent of erosion—he can keep going over something, until you give up in despair and he exercises this to a fine art so as to leave shopping as quickly as possible.

Motherhood is a very wearing role. Add this little job to the annual Christmas shopping frenzy and you have a real recipe for fun.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


We had an “end of an era” happening on the weekend. My son had his final concert at his high school and it felt very strange to know that was it after six years.

It was the first time, in I don’t know how many years, that we were able to sit out the entire concert without having to worry about starting to clean and clear up after the first half. In fact, it was the first time in a few years that I wasn’t involved in the phoning around to get parents to bring things for the fund-raising dinner they always hold for the music program. For some reason, people were usually fine about bringing drinks or a dessert, but many were not so interested in bringing things you had to make, so we ”phoners” often ended up with the “too hard” items.

Now that we’re waiting to discover my son’s results to see what the next stage will bring, I feel rather unsettled. It’s sort of like the time I took him to Kindergarten the first day and then burst into tears after leaving him there. It was the start of a new time in my life then too, but not as drastic as the one I’m probably about to face. I hope it doesn’t involve “empty nest syndrome” too soon. I don’t think I’m strong enough for that yet.