How to get down off a mountain in record time

So, we climbed this mountain recently. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. In reality it was more hillish, but try telling that to my quads. It was a steep kilometre of nothing but stairs, which took at least twenty minutes, and to my aching legs it felt like Mt Everest.

The reason we subjected ourselves to this torment—in searing heat too, mind you—was to see the lovely views from the top.


And they really were worth the climb. I know it looks a little hazy in the photo, but that’s because I’d accidently knocked my camera’s setting off “Automatic” onto something called “Effects”. Naturally I didn’t notice this till the next day, so all my hard-won photos of the view look like they were taken through a lens smeared with vaseline. In fact it was a brilliant clear day, but you’ll just have to take my word for that.

Anyways, back to the getting down in record time thing: so we finally arrive at the top of Mt Quad-buster, and there are gorgeous 360˚ views. It’s quite a large area at the top, with trees and boulders scattered around, so you have to move around to see all the views.

Did I mention it was stinking hot? We were all dripping by the time we got to the top. One particular viewing platform caught the sea breeze, and we spent quite some time there cooling off.

Then I announced my intention of going to the other viewing platform, to look at the view back the other way. My beloved decided to join me.


Pretty, isn’t it?

The two youngest ducklings decided that they’d rather stay where they were and enjoy the breeze. We told them we’d come back for them before heading back down the trail. (I bet you can guess where this is going already, can’t you?)

While we were admiring the other view, the oldest and most sensible duckling joined us. We chatted, I took photos, then we went back to collect the other two …

… who were no longer enjoying the sea breeze where we’d left them. A quick search of the area made it clear they were no longer anywhere on the top of Mt Quad-buster.

“They must have thought we’d gone without them,” said the Carnivore. “I bet they’re rushing down, trying to catch up with us.”

It seemed hard to believe. I mean, Demon Duck is fourteen, and usually quite sensible. We’d told them we’d come back for them, and we’re really not the kind of parents that would absent-mindedly wander off and abandon their offspring on the top of a mountain anyway—if indeed anyone is that type of parent.

Being the worrying type, I briefly considered they might have both somehow fallen off the (well-fenced) lookout and crashed to their deaths on the rocks far below—without anyone noticing—but even for me that was a bit of a stretch. So I had to agree, ridiculous as it seemed, that they’d both suddenly decided they had the starring roles in Hansel and Gretel, and had rushed off to find us.

Which brings me, of course, to the “how to get down off a mountain in record time” part. We practically fell down that mountain in a mad attempt to catch up with the stupid children who were dashing down in a mad attempt to catch up with us. We were lucky we didn’t break our ankles.

It took us twenty minutes to get to the top. It took perhaps three to get back down. But they were a very tense three minutes! The whole way down, all I could think was: what the hell do we do if we get to the bottom and they’re not there? I sure wasn’t climbing back up again!

Fortunately our story has a happy ending. We found Hansel and Gretel at the bottom, walking back up to meet us, pale, stressed, and very apologetic. There were some tears of relief and grateful cuddles.

So yes, a very quick method of descending a mountain. Not really one I’d recommend, however!

3 ways to liven up your next dinner conversation

We are big believers in sitting down every night together for dinner and chatting. The ducklings are old enough now to be amusing dinner companions, and we have some good conversations, despite Baby Duck’s occasional derailments into Minecraft or Lego territory.

However, Baby Duck can sometimes take a loooooong time to eat dinner, and even the best conversations tend to trail off, leaving us all staring resentfully at him, waiting for him to finish. When that happens we have to get a little creative, and we have three tried-and-true methods for getting the party started.


An oldie but a goodie. Maybe it’s corny, but it sure can be fun and even quite young kids can join in. I have rarely laughed so much as watching the Carnivore try to get us to guess “The Bourne Identity”. What he was doing looked illegal in at least forty-three states.

“Three True Things”

I don’t know what this is really called, but I call it “three true things”. Everyone has to take it in turns to say three things that happened to them that day. Two of them must be true and one should be a lie. Everyone else then picks which thing they think is the lie.

The kids love this one! The trick is to make the lie believable enough that no one identifies it – or else pick a true thing that seems outrageous. The family gets quite creative trying to outsmart each other, but it’s also a good way to get some details of your children’s days, particularly if they’re the sort that says “all right” when you ask how school was.

The Sentence Game

I read about this on Joshilyn Jackson’s blog recently. You need a sheet of paper and a pen. The first player writes a sentence at the top of the page – the more oddball the better. Then they fold that sentence out of sight and pass the paper to the next player, who reads it then attempts to draw a picture representing the sentence. This gets passed to the next player, who can only see the drawing, not the original sentence. They then have to write a sentence that represents the drawing, and pass it to the next player who draws their sentence and so on.

So with our family of five, we get sentence-drawing-sentence-drawing-sentence. Depending on whose turn it is to draw, the final sentence can closely resemble the first one, or have nothing at all to do with it.

Let me give you an example.

Demon Duck wrote: “The Neanderthal came alive out of the painting” and passed it to Baby Duck.

He did a real cracker of a drawing, with lots of careful details:

So the sentence I wrote was quite close to the original: “The caveman jumped out of the painting and came to life.”

Then we came unstuck. It was the Carnivore’s turn to draw:

 Not too bad, but he lost Drama Duck completely. Her sentence?

“The cave painting of the goat and the sheep(?) and the early human sent an arrow of super powers to the caveman nearby.”

Okay, now it’s your turn. Baby Duck gave me a sentence and this is what I drew. What sentence would you write to describe this drawing?


Drama Duck gets the chop

Hair is a big deal for a teenage girl. They spend a lot of time fiddling with it, twirling it, styling it, colouring it, sucking the ends of it – and the longer the better. I think they all have a secret longing to be Rapunzel.
When Drama Duck was in Year 7 and she brought home her school photos, she had pictures of 210 girls in her year. Only one of them had short hair. It really brought home to me what a huge part of their self-image long hair is for most girls.
So when Drama Duck announced her intention to shave her beautiful hair off in support of the Leukaemia Foundation as part of the World’s Greatest Shave this year, I was a little alarmed. I’d watched her spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom every morning styling it just so. I knew how long (how very long!) it had taken her to achieve its current length. And you can’t exactly change your mind if you don’t like how it looks once you’ve shaved it off.
She had such pretty hair too!
I asked her so many times if she was really sure she wanted to do it she thought I didn’t approve. It wasn’t that at all. It’s a great cause, and if she really wanted to do it, well, it’s her hair, right? Who am I to say no? But I wanted her to be absolutely certain before taking such a big step. I was worried she’d regret it. Like any mother, I was trying to protect my baby from pain.
Well – as so often happens – I was worrying for nothing. She loves her new short hair, and it really suits her. She has such a pretty, delicate-featured face, which really shines now that mass of hair is no longer overshadowing it. Before, her hair was her defining feature; now you can really see her.
As for the fundraising? She did a great job – over $1200 raised for the Leukaemia Foundation.
And that makes her short hair even more beautiful.

Maths for fourth grade geniuses

Poor Baby Duck was struggling with his maths homework this morning, so I had to lend a hand. I’m no maths whiz, but I can still nail fourth grade maths. Go, me. I get frustrated, though, when he says, like this morning, that they haven’t actually covered the concepts at school that they’re expected to do for homework.
It reminded us both of that great joke:
Maths question in class: What’s one plus one?
Maths question in the test: What’s one plus eight?

Maths homework question: If Johnny has two apples and he eats one, calculate the mass of the sun.

D is for Determined

Everything’s relative, isn’t it? If I’m starving to death and you offer me boiled potatoes, I will wolf them down and think them the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. But if I’m accustomed to eating at five star restaurants every night, your boiled potato offering might seem plain and uninteresting, even offensive. Same boiled potato, different circumstances.

Demon Duck has many fine qualities, but some of them are definitely boiled potatoes. Take her determination, for instance. It gives her drive, it makes her see projects through – it will probably take her far in life. A great quality to have, yes?

But the other face of determination is stubbornness, and the child will argue till her last breath when she’s set on something. When you are the parent of a determined child, that fine quality can seem like nothing more than a humungous pain in the butt. And when you add high intelligence to the determination, what do you get?

Rat cunning.

I tell you, this kid’s teenage years are going to give me more grey hairs than the other two combined.

She started asking me months ago about getting her hair dyed. I said no, and gave her all the reasons: bad for your hair, have to keep doing it once you start to cover the regrowth, too expensive. She accepted that and didn’t nag, but every now and then she’d mention how much she’d like to dye her hair that really bright fake red.

Meanwhile she pondered ways and means, never letting go of the idea.

Enter the World’s Greatest Shave, a fundraiser for the Leukaemia Foundation. Several girls at school were signing up to shave their heads, raising money for the foundation through sponsorships. But if you didn’t want to shave your head, you could still raise money by pledging to dye your hair a crazy colour, like … oh, I don’t know … bright red.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I had to laugh, really, but I wasn’t going to be a pushover. No hitting on her grandparents for ten bucks and calling the job done. I said she could do it if she raised at least $100 (though only with a temporary dye that would wash out after a few washes).

Not being terribly outgoing, she was quietly horrified at the prospect of asking people for donations, so we came up with the idea of making friendship bracelets for her to sell to the girls at school.

Here’s just a few of our creations. We’ve each made about 30, and Drama Duck made a handful too. I’ve spent so much time making friendship bracelets lately it would have been easier to just give her the money, and almost as cheap, considering how much I’ve spent on cotton and beads. But I think it’s a valuable experience for her, having to work to achieve her goal, and she’s certainly put in a lot of effort. So far she’s raised $66, and still going strong.

D is for Determined Demon Duck.

Parenting: so much easier when you’re awake

I was woken recently at one o’clock in the morning by Demon Duck’s voice calling out:

“MUM! Can you come here please!”

I lurched out of bed and stood in the dark, disoriented.

“Where are you?”

“In my bed!”

So I staggered to the lounge room (which is where the girls are sleeping these days) and flicked on the light. What was wrong? Had she fallen out of bed? No, she was lying on her back, one arm flung over her face to shield her eyes from the sudden light, but otherwise seemed fine.

I knelt on the bed next to her. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” She groaned. “Bright lights!”

Typical kid, I thought as I went back to bed. Probably calling out in her sleep.

I noticed that the Carnivore wasn’t in our bed any more. Hey, I’m sharp at one o’clock in the morning. I assumed he’d been disturbed too and taken the opportunity to go to the bathroom.

He was a long time coming back, though. When he finally got into bed, I realised from the glow through the doorway he’d left a light on somewhere.

“Why’d you leave the light on?”

He looked at me, perplexed. And maybe a little exasperated. “Baby Duck had a nightmare. Didn’t you hear him calling out?”

Whoops. Poor Demon Duck. No wonder she had no idea why her mad mother was looming over her yelling “what’s wrong?” in the middle of the night.

I try hard to be a good mother, I really do. I’m just better at it when I’m awake!

You know you’re a parent when …

Baby Duck is home, hallelujah! It’s so good to have him back to his usual cheeky self. His wound is still a little tender and his appetite’s not great, but otherwise he’s back to normal.

He actually came home a week ago, but it’s taken this long to get ourselves back to some kind of normality. We did a great deal of sleeping and not much else for the first few days. It’s surprising how exhausting just sitting around in hospital is – I suppose it’s the stress. They kept him in for a full two weeks. I guess they wanted to be sure he really was fixed this time before sending him home again!

So here we are, reunited at last. “I love my family,” he said to me once in hospital. “I wouldn’t swap them for anything … except maybe [Demon Duck].” Obviously he was feeling well enough to crack jokes by that stage.

But we are enjoying being home together. It’s school holidays and very cold, so we’re spending a lot of time cuddled up together chatting or watching DVDs. Nice to have some down time before Real Life with all its activities and deadlines sweeps us away again.

But of course, this is Real Life too – the best part, in fact! The jokes and cuddles and tickles, the little things like reading books together, or having a chat while you shoot hoops in the backyard, these are the small moments that make me happy.

Like the one at four o’clock in the morning on my birthday, when Baby Duck rolled over in his hospital bed.


“What’s wrong?” I asked, coming instantly awake. Did he need pain relief? A trip to the toilet? Was he going to be sick?

He gave me a beatific smile. “Happy birthday!” Then he shut his eyes and went straight back to sleep.

I lay awake, thinking Big Thoughts about life and change and happiness. Particularly about parenthood, and how it affects all three.

So here’s the fruit of my musings for your edification:

You know you’re a parent when … your idea of a great night isn’t dinner and a show but eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

You know you’re a parent when … the movie release you’re most looking forward to this year is Kung Fu Panda 2.

You know you’re a parent when … your favourite birthday present is the poo your son finally does a week after his bowel operation.

You know you’re a parent when … you gleefully text your relatives about said poo.

Yes, we’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Parenthood is a whole ‘nother country – the natives are friendly but a little strange.

Nice place to live, though.

Genetics: a practical demonstration

The other day I was on the phone and my eye fell on no less than six pairs of shoes on the floor, all huddled together having a little shoe party. They all belonged to the girls, who only have one pair of feet each, so it must have taken some time to assemble this little pile.

Bloody kids, I thought. Why can’t they ever put their shoes away?

Today I was in the same room, took an unwary step back and tripped over a shoe.

Bloody kids! I thought again, full of righteous anger. But then I had to laugh.

I looked down and realised the shoe was mine.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is today’s demonstration of the awesome power of genetics.

Baby Duck and the Honking Big Trophy

Thank goodness the school holidays have started. Last week I watched about 400 children individually receive certificates at a series of interminable end-of-year assemblies. When the kids were younger I used to think Hell was being forced to watch Wiggles videos for all eternity, but now I know better. Hell is listening to 400+ scrambling attempts by the teachers to dream up something unique and congratulatory to say, and watching 400+ little people shaking hands with their teacher, when the only little people you care to watch are your own. And really, I’d give up seeing them get their certificates in a heartbeat if it meant I didn’t have to sit through the other 397.

Oh for the good ole days when only the kids who actually achieved something got a prize. Now no one must be left out. All well and good for the little ones, I suppose, but honestly, kids aren’t stupid. By the time they get to primary school they’re awake to the whole “if everyone’s special then no one is” thing.

Yes, I know I sound grumpy. Sorry! But I challenge you to sit through the hours of assemblies I have lately and not feel a trifle tetchy. Because the ducklings are all at different stages they received their certificates at three separate, though pretty much identical, assemblies. I heard all the speeches three times. Though it could have been worse – I felt sorry for the principal, who had to look happy and interested the whole time.

By the time I got to Baby Duck’s assembly, which was last, I was so over the whole thing I was like Scrooge sitting up going “bah, humbug!” at the cute little kindergarteners and their off-key singing. Fortunately Baby Duck made up for the lack of maternal excitement by skipping across the stage when he won an extra award as well as his certificate. He held his big blue trophy up above his head to show the world, beside himself with glee.

But oh! the irony! This is the boy who asked me every morning if it was the weekend yet. The boy who suggested nearly every day that it might be better to stay home in case he gave his classmates his (fictional) cough/sore throat/runny nose. (And then gave me looks that managed to be tragic and filthy at the same time when I told him he had to go anyway.) The boy who said school was boring because they made him work.

What was the trophy for? “Most creative attempts to get out of attending school”? “Best dramatic performance in the dying swan category”? No – “Outstanding Effort”.

He’s so proud of himself. It’s like none of that resistance and tears ever happened. He’s decided he’d quite like to win it again next year. I’ll have to remind him of that next time he sits on his bed in his pyjamas for half an hour when he’s supposed to be getting dressed for school. Can’t win any trophies if you don’t go.

Maybe they should give out awards at those assemblies to the parents instead. That would make things more interesting. “Most Patient Homework Supervisor”. “Most Creative School Lunches”. “Most Persistent in Dealing with Reluctant School-goers”.

I’d be a shoo-in for that last one.

Not on the same day

“I believe you can have whatever you really want in this life, in one form or another, sooner or later. But you can’t have it all at once and you can’t have it forever. No life has the room for everything in it, not on the same day.” — Barbara Sher

I would love to be able to tell you that I found this quote through my reading because I’m just such an intellectual, but in fact it was one of many wise sayings on my desk calendar this year. It really resonated with me. It’s practically an anthem for modern womanhood. Can we have a career? And children? And still find time for meaningful intimate relationships and keep fit and be fulfilled as a person all while keeping the house spotless and eating nothing but healthy home-cooked meals?

I was thinking about it again the other day. I did end up taking my courage in both hands and dragging my offspring into the wilds of seedy Kings Cross, Sydney’s red light district, to see the Linde Ivimey exhibition. It was a four-hour round trip, of which 15 minutes were spent in the actual gallery looking at the exhibition. The rest was train travel (hugely exciting!), walking (not so popular) and waiting for trains (involved trains so still good – even potential trains are apparently exciting). Not the ideal ratio of travel to exhibition-viewing from an adult’s point of view, but just about perfect as far as the ducklings were concerned. Maybe a little long on the exhibition viewing. Luckily the boredom of the 15 minutes was alleviated by the existence of a large fishpond in the centre of the gallery and – the real clincher – a ten-week-old puppy lurking in the gallery office, which they sniffed out within seconds of stepping through the door.

I was describing the experience later to a dear (childless) friend who often visits art shows and does other adult-type cultural things which are only a distant memory for me. She asked if I ever went to the Archibald show any more, which we used to do together sometimes BC (Before Children) and I thought of the Barbara Sher quote. You can have what you want in one form or another. I can still go to art shows – just not the way I used to. No more taking my time contemplating each piece, but it’s surprising how much you can cover in 15 minutes, even with small people demanding you admire the bug-eyed goldfish and trying to sneak off into the restricted areas of the gallery.

But it felt so good just to go. Look at me! I’m a real person, doing real-person things! And it certainly doesn’t hurt to expose the ducklings to elements of culture that aren’t tailored for kids now and then. Though the response was unanimous: the sculptures were “weird”. But the puppy was cute.

Oh, and the train ride was fun, too. Did I mention how very exciting train travel is? You can sit upstairs! And you can sit downstairs! Then upstairs again! All while talking at the top of your piping six-year-old voice for the edification of the entire carriage.

So maybe I can’t have everything I want, just the way I want it. But the fun part comes in discovering new ways to enjoy things. “No life has the room for everything in it, not on the same day.” But any day that includes some art, a puppy and three happy children is a good day in my book.