Sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading (exhibit A: sleep training diary)

It’s hard to understand before your baby arrives, when you are still the perfect parent, just how important sleep is going to become. And not just the fact that you aren’t going to get any for a really long time. But your obsession with someone else’s sleep. I’m talking apps, graphs, watching the clock, desperately keeping track of minutes spent awake, putting baby in the sleeping bag and turning on the white noise and giving the dummy and singing the same song every time like a superstitious athlete with the same routine before every game lest you put one foot wrong and THE BABY DOESN’T SLEEP. Or the baby does sleep, miraculously, and you try to figure out why, even though it’s like workshopping the meaning of life, ultimately futile because you are a mere mortal who will never understand such magic. Was it just the right temperature? The level of light? Was it because there was more protein at dinner? Less TV today? A more pleasing lullaby? Seriously. People without kids think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is why new parents do not just look sleep deprived, but genuinely crazed.

 Yes, parenting is hard. Sleeping is really hard. If you are deep in the trenches of it, and desperate to fix it, don’t let anyone tell you it will sort itself out and just to go with the flow. Unless that makes you feel better! It works for some (very patient) people, but it’s not for everyone. Definitely not for me. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We are not allowed to do it to prisoners. So why anyone expects parents to just put up with it indefinitely, affecting their mental and physical health, marriages, parenting of other children, ability to drive and form a coherent sentence and so on, is beyond me. Anyone who doesn’t understand how you can be so tired you forget there is a baby in the back seat of the car has never had a baby. There’s lots of things you can try to stop the torture, noting none are easy nor guaranteed, no matter what the internet says. Start with the top experts (your mums group) then the other experts (MACH nurses, sleep consultants, books). Find something that sounds bearable to you and give it a go. 

Finn has not been as good a sleeper as Emma and I won’t bore you with what that means except to say that when he was 8 months old I reached my limits and declared it was time to sleep train. We used the Gift of Sleep that had worked for some of my friends. Like a good blogger I kept a diary to show the world what the books don’t tell you about sleep training. Which is that it is also a form of torture, but short lived and with a happy ending. Hopefully!
Friday night

​6.40pm into bed, sans dummy as per the book

Crying

Set microwave timer

Pour wine

Have a slice of pizza

Knocking, retucking

Still crying, same level

More wine 

More pizza

Then calming down? Extend by two minutes, but no.

Knocking, retucking.

Still crying. Maybe worse?

Calming down

7pm

Give it 2 more minutes

No love

Knocking, resettling. Seems to make the crying worse

Pizza all gone. Wine nearly gone. Distract with washing up. Can’t put TV on as need to hear. Loving life.

But your husband thinks the world of you and loved you to bits (Toby made me write that)

Knocking, resettling.

Now up to the 30 minutes the book says it will take most babies. Still going strong.

And yet getting much quieter by the end of this 5 minute block. More stop and start.

Knock and resettle

Really getting into it now. Did not think this kid loved his dummy so much.

Knock and resettle

Back to the washing up. 45 minutes and counting. Lucky Emma is a heavy sleeper and our walls are double brick

Getting quieter so I extend by 2 minutes. Having to listen now during the pauses

And then … Silence! 50 minutes and he’s out. I finish the washing up and pour more wine to celebrate.

I do feel the sense of accomplishment the book promised! I do feel like I’ve given my son the gift of sleep. An even better gift that Toby draws my attention to – Netflix has released new episodes of Vikings! Friday night is looking up.

9pm all is quiet. I’m going to bed, apprehensive but OK.

2am woke up, settled himself apparently

2.55am woke up, crying

Knocking, resettling

Waiting, still crying.

Toby takes over because he is the best husband ever (also, he was already out of bed unable to sleep because a bureaucrat’s work is never done)

3.45am I can still hear crying and knocking but it did sound like it’s calming down. I fall asleep.

6.55am I’m awoken by Finn waking up. We made it!!! 

He’s happy, not at all traumatised. Still loves us.

Toby tells me it took over an hour of resettling until he finally gave him a cuddle which then calmed him down enough.

He ate a big breakfast!

Went down for his nap at 10am without any help and slept solid for 2 hours – we had to wake him up.

Tried for another nap at 2.45, less successful. Maybe because his sister got the shits and came into the room leading to much gnashing of teeth? Anyway. Slept for 30 minutes.

Saturday night

Decent witching hour tonight, I’m flying solo so read stories to both while finishing off his feed. Then into bed about 6.50pm. Was silent for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to think my god he’s figured it out already. He’s a genius! Of course not, this is why you never celebrate too early!

I set the alarm for 10 minutes (the night 2 maximum) and he keeps crying as I clean the kitchen. But then, when there is still 3 minutes to go… All is quiet. Success.

We watch House of Cards and off to bed before 10. Fingers crossed!!!

3am woken up. He’s not exactly crying – more chatting. Then a bit of a cry but then back to chatting. I get up anyway, ready to do battle. Let him whinge for a little bit then do the knock and resettle. Which kind of seems to make it worse. At least, he cries harder while I’m in there. Lucky this isn’t my first rodeo or that would be heartbreaking. Put the timer on for 10 minutes. Wish I brought my book.

After 10 minutes he is definitely quiet although I get the occasional little noise just in case I was thinking of going back to bed. Decide to wait another 10.

It’s getting worse. Trying to decide if it’s worth going in our not, because that will probably make it worse again before it gets better. Starting to wear me down a bit.

Then it gets better. Start another 10 minute wait. He’s trying so hard bless his cotton socks.

Dog starts barking outside. Grrrr!!!! More crying.

Only make it 6 minutes before I start the knock. He quietens right down but starts again when I stop. I go in. Instead of moving him I just tuck his flat bear under his hand and put my hand on his back and say ssshhhh long and slow. He quietens. Tempting to do this until he falls asleep but the whole point is for him to sleep without props. I leave. Crying starts again. It’s 4.10am.

4.16am there’s still no sign of stopping and it’s getting worse. He almost sounds like he’s saying dada. Time for the cuddle.

But by the time I get to his door, all is quiet. I can hear him tossing and turning so I stay and listen. The crying starts again after a few minutes so I knock and go in. I just put two hands on his back and say ssshhhh. He immediately calms, I can hear his breathing getting slow. One hand off, then the other. I keep sshhhing a few more times then leave. The crying starts, worse than before. It’s 4.30am.

4.37am crying is the worst it’s been so I decide it’s cuddle time. But – he thrashes in my arms, keeps screaming. This is the worst thing of all – I can’t even comfort him. Tears start. Toby arrives and I hand over the wriggling, screaming octopus that is my child and go to the couch to cry.

4.40am Toby emerges. Didn’t want to cuddle him either. We listen to the screams and tell each other we are not terrible parents 

4.46am I do the knocking, the sshhhing. He’s beside himself. I return to the couch where I feel my will to live ebbing out of me.

5am Toby goes in. Still screaming. He must be exhausted and starving after all this activity. It’s so hard to not give in. Silver lining – I might get my run in nice and early?

I decide I will get him up at 5.30 if he’s still crying. He will be due for a nap by then but I don’t think I can do any more than that.

5.07am Toby has gone back to bed. I go in. He quietens right down when I put my hands on his back. I can hear him trying to catch his breath and my heart breaks a little. The screams start again when I leave. Only 20 minutes to go and I can get him up. I’m actually starting to look forward to that now.

5.13am the first quiet moment in nearly an hour. But then we are back into it. I’ve read all the internet by now so start listening to a podcast. He is definitely calming now with long stretches of silence.

5.19am all is quiet except for the neighbour’s rooster. I go to bed, feeling drained and not at all like a good or even half decent parent. Please forgive me, beautiful boy.

5.24am I’m finally in bed when I hear crying coming from his room. “That’s it, I’m getting up!!” Toby grunts his agreement. I get to the bedroom door and all is quiet again. I fall back into bed.

7.05am woken up by the toddler after a series of weird early morning dreams. 

7.10am Finn wakes up

8am I go out for a 9km run, which is the last thing I feel like, but in fact I feel amazing and I’m so glad I did it. Even if I fall at the 2km mark.

Finn has a one hour sleep in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. No resettling required. I think it’s safe to say we have successfully weaned the dummy.

Sunday night

6.50pm off to bed. No crying.

He sleeps through! On Monday morning we have a new child, happy and well-rested just like the book promised. It all seems worth it.

Until two weeks later when against all common sense and the book, we go to the coast for a weekend and undo all our good work. And since then his sleep has been very hit and miss, mostly miss. For various reasons we haven’t done the training again but now, finally, at nearly 14 months old, just in the past two weeks, Finn is sleeping through at night. Not every night, but more nights than not. And I have no advice for how to get to this point. I’ve tried everything over the past few months and I can’t say what, if any of it, worked. Like I said to my mums group just this week when discussing sleep, sometimes babies are just a-holes. And that’s all you really need to know.

14 parenting hacks that will make it look like you have your shit together, even when you’re drowning on the inside

Life is pretty good this week, but I’ve come out of what feels like several months of hell. Between illnesses, sleeping issues, house renos, work, and the usual shit life likes to throw at you during winter when the weather isn’t even going to cheer you up, it’s just been one thing after another. Of course we are pretty lucky overall, I do know that, but still it’s not been an easy time. I’ve been tempted to run away and join the circus more than once. Throughout it all I’ve noticed there are things I do that make people think I am amazing. There are also things my friends or colleagues do that make me think they are amazing, even though I know from talking to them that their life is no less shit than mine. So here’s a list of things you can do – which vary in the effort or cost required – to prove to yourself and the rest of the world that you are still a functioning adult who isn’t going to wreck your kids’ lives. Fake it til you make it I say. (Truly I’m sure these would work for people who don’t have kids as well, it’s just “parenting hacks” is total click bait and that’s what all bloggers aspire to. I think.)

  1. Have good hair. I don’t have good hair, but some of my best friends do! It makes you look put together and well groomed no matter what else is going on. I assume this takes time and money, neither of which I have in abundance at the moment, but it looks like it’s worthwhile.
  2. Exercise. I haven’t had much time to exercise lately but I still get to jazzercise once a week and try to do something else at some point. People with multiple children and other things going on who still manage to do real exercise always impress me. Bonus points for early morning or late evening workouts when the rest of us are in our pyjamas, or asleep.
  3. Read a book. I’m always impressed listening to Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales’ podcast at how many books those two can churn through. These are women with young children and high profile, demanding jobs and yet when they sit down to talk books they’ve read in the past few weeks, they’ve both read. More than one book! On top of movies and TV shows and making food! I spent half of this year reading a single book, but I still have friends who think it’s impressive I’ve read anything.
  4. Bake. I bake a lot, partly because I like to eat and partly because it’s a fun thing Emma and I can easily do together at home while Finn is asleep. People think it’s amazing that I’ve made muffins instead of buying something from the shops, whereas to me it’s obviously much more effort to get to the shops with two kids.
  5. Watch a movie. Anyone can watch an hour-long episode of the latest Netflix series, but to be able to commit to an actual full length movie and be able to stay awake long enough to watch the ending takes real skill. I can count the number of movies I’ve watched this year on one hand.
  6. Wear something other than active wear. You know my stance on mums and their active wear, but really if you want to look and feel like a human being, nothing beats jeans and shoes you can’t run in.
  7. Make your own baby food. Both Emma and Finn have been the not-very-grateful recipients of homemade purees and pikelets and what-not, but also the far-more-grateful recipients of baby food in pouches from the supermarket. Finn got way more pouches than Emma, especially when we were out and about, for obvious reasons. When I catch up with my friends with kids and we sit around complaining about the fact we slept about 2 hours last night and have a third dose of mastitis, it’s the ones who complain while feeding their kid homemade puree that still look like they are managing this whole parenting caper better than me.
  8. Remember birthdays. Thank goodness for Facebook which makes this easy for the bulk of my social circle, but there is something really touching about getting a text from a friend not on Facebook, or for Emma or Finn’s birthdays, that says they remembered somehow and cared enough to send you a greeting. You can also remember anniversaries (even the sad ones), that someone started a new job today, or anything that shows you are capable of thinking about someone who isn’t you.
  9. Pump breast milk. I breastfed Emma for 15 months and I’m still feeding Finn (just), but both of them also went on formula around the 7 month mark, for their daytime feeds, in preparation for my return to work. I never really thought much about it and feel zero guilt about it whatsoever, but I remain in total awe of women who spend their lunch breaks pumping milk at work, or stay up at night to do it. That’s real dedication, right there.
  10. Have a blog. Seriously. Even if you don’t update it much people will think you are very clever. Even if the idea of a life without writing is your idea of hell, and even if yours is just a drop in the massive mediocre ocean of the world’s blogs.
  11. Wear lipstick. Really any makeup will do, because sometimes on those days when you look positively grey from lack of sleep and Vitamin D and you want to crawl into a hole and eat banana cake until the end of time and putting makeup on is the last thing you feel like doing, putting makeup on is exactly what you should do to lift your spirits. You’ll look like you slept, like you ate a superfood for breakfast, in short – like you have your shit together.
  12. Have a date night. This requires a little more planning, because you need a babysitter, but once you’ve done that the fact that you’ve gotten out of the house in presentable clothes and eaten something that took more than 5 minutes to make and had a glass of wine and talked to each other about something that’s not related to how-soon-can-we-get-them-fed-and-in-bed-before-we-turn-on-Netflix is worth celebrating.
  13. Do an extracurricular activity. If you have energy in your life for something other than work and family and all the stuff that goes with keeping those balls in the air, you are amazing. Exercise counts, especially for something you genuinely enjoy – even feel some kind of passion for – but there are also extra points available for anything kind of crafty or creative.
  14. Have a party. No one will judge your party as harshly as you – they won’t notice if the napkins match the plates, or if the soundtrack isn’t quite right, or if the food is a bit daggy or you got it all at Costco. Don’t tell yourself you can’t have a party because it’s been too long since you washed the windows and you’d need to cook a five course meal worthy of Masterchef. If you want to have people over, have people over. They will be so impressed that you got your shit together enough to offer food and drinks to multiple people at once that you will be winning the minute they walk in the door.

A pox on our house (or: anti-vaxxers, you SUCK)

Here’s the imaginary conversation I had with an anti-vaxxer every night at 2am during the week we nursed Finn through chicken pox, which was two weeks ago. Last week we were still in recovery (still scabbing, still social pariahs), and this week we are tackling hand, foot and mouth disease, because childcare is the gift that keeps giving when it comes to illnesses. So yeah, lots of time to sit in the rocking chair with a crying baby and imagine what I’d say to whoever it was who didn’t vaccinate their kid and it ended up in our childcare infecting all the little ones too young for their own vaccination.

ME: Ohhhh, why us? Why our little baby? This is shit! He’d be immune in six months, after his shots. Just six months and this would have been avoided! I hate everything!

ANTI-VAXXER: But, aren’t you pleased he’s been immunised NATURALLY? This is the way nature intended!

ME: Oh yeah, a totally uncontrolled dose way before his little body is able to handle it! It’s natural the way bushfires and cancer are natural! Everything sucks!

ANTI-VAXXER: You need to get over yourself! Chicken pox is a MILD CHILDHOOD ILLNESS!

ME: I know it is, usually. But not always, as I discovered when I made the mistake of consulting Dr Google. And Finn’s has gotten infected, his temperature’s out of control, last night I slept on the floor next to his cot because his breathing wasn’t right and the home visit doctor couldn’t send anyone out to check on him and I was too worried to leave him alone. And now he needs antibiotics, which is the last thing anyone needs, let alone a baby. Wahhh!

A-V: You know, we all had chicken pox when we were kids. And we’re all FINE!

ME: I know! I had it when I was 14, it was unpleasant and I scratched myself to bits but mostly I remember watching Sister Act every day with my sister, who was quarantined with the same illness. And more to the point, I knew what was happening to me! Finn has no idea! He just knows he feels really, really shit. And why should a baby feel that way, especially for a preventable illness? Why should he have to suffer? This is not character building! This is not teaching him an important life lesson. This is something he shouldn’t have to deal with. A suffering baby is the worst thing in the world. How do parents of truly sick children cope with this? Day in, day out? How do you live with yourself, knowing your unscientific views lead to this kind of suffering – unpleasant, but short-lived with no long-term consequences, despite my histrionics – but also much, much worse?

A-V: Because vaccines are mostly a conspiracy between government and pharmaceutical companies.

ME: Dr House already explained that. Also, I work for the government and trust me when I say we are not organised enough for a conspiracy.

A-V: You know vaccines cause autism, right?

ME: OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE

Twelve months of Finn

So, our little troublemaker turned one a couple of weeks ago. This seems impossible, since Emma is still a baby and I am only 21 myself. And yet, here we are. I’m in my mid-thirties. I have an almost pre-schooler. An almost toddler. It’s been a rough year in many ways, since we like to make our life more difficult by adding house renovations to an already full life, and since two children is more difficult than one no matter what anyone tells you. But it’s been a wonderful year too. Watching Finn grow into the cheeky, busy little boy I knew he’d be during that pregnancy has been marvellous. Watching Emma grow from a toddler into an actual child, learning more about what goes on in her head, seeing her start to find her place in the world, has been amazing. Watching them together makes my heart sing.

We celebrated Finn’s birthday multiple times, because a birth festival is much better than a birth day. There was an early family celebration, where he got a caterpillar cake courtesy of his very clever grandma, some awesome presents, and we all exclaimed over the fact that it had been (nearly) a whole year since he’d been born.

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The Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook continues to bring magic

Then there was his actual birthday, which was a Monday, and there were more presents before breakfast. I wonder how many birthdays it will be before he insists on opening the presents himself with no help from Emma? Not many is my guess.

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We gave him cars, because we have a lot of toys already, but not many cars. He thought they were pretty neat.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from his daytime party, where our lovely mums group gave him cake and presents and made a fuss. I felt very blessed to be surrounded by awesome women who care about my kids so much. It has made a huge difference this year to have them in my life. Even if it’s your second baby I highly recommend finding other people with babies to hang out with, because no one else will want to workshop your various feeding or sleeping issues or have spare nappies in their bag if you forgot to bring yours.

After dinner that night there was more cake, of course, using my current go-to vegan cupcake recipe (Emma chose the pink icing with pink sprinkles, because she loves her brother). And this is how Finn felt about that. (This is classic Finn eating behaviour. He loves his food. Finally, someone to celebrate my cooking.)

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And we basically just high-fived ourselves that we survived our first year as a family of four. This is an achievement deserving of cupcakes for all.

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Unlike with Emma’s first year, I did attempt to document Finn’s first twelve months in typical blogger fashion, by taking a picture on the 27th of each month with the stuffed dinosaur we bought him before he was born. Of course some months we weren’t at home, so there’s just a random picture, and then by the 12th month it’s impossible to actually get him to stay still for more than approximately 0.5 seconds, but in any case, I did it, so here’s the proof.

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And here’s the best picture out of about 50 that we took on his first birthday, where he just thought this is a super fun game of tickles and wrestling with the dinosaur:

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Here’s to Finn. Our funny, clever, super strong, lightning fast, deliciously snuggly, determined, handsome boy. Can’t imagine life without him. (Well okay, it would be quiet and calm and easy, but much less fun and much less interesting, and I wouldn’t live it for quids.) Thank you universe for choosing us for him and him for us.

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Evolution of a kitchen: part 1

So everyone who knows me and Toby is nearly as excited as we are about the changes we are making to our house. After nearly 10 years of discussing renovation vs knock down rebuild vs sell, we finally decided on a 4th option. Our friends no longer have to listen to us go round and round in circles about what to do about our old, ordinary house in the fab location. Everybody wins.

The 4th option is a cheap renovation to bring the house up to a standard we can live with for less than 10 years (at which point we will start discussing options again). A bit more storage. A more open kitchen. A bath tub. Fresh paint and floors. Etc.

We did the back of the house late last year, with new wardrobes, new paint and carpet and finally a new bathroom in February. Now we are turning our attention to the front of the house – the kitchen, laundry, living area and media room/study. We are going to install an Ikea kitchen but first wanted to take out a couple of walks to open it up – it’s a classic 1950s kitchen where mum got stuck cooking in a tiny box far away from the rest of the family:

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Please forgive the terrible photo but it does give a pretty realistic look at “living with two children”. There’s the kitchen, that glimpse of aqua in the back.

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My eyes hurt just looking at this.

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Laundry plus fridge. Eek.

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Yep that’s our pantry. Plenty of space. Note the stove top with its single functioning hot plate.

We don’t know any tradies in Canberra and I was on maternity leave so couldn’t ambush people in the office kitchen to ask about their renos so to find someone to knock down the walls I went to the Canberra Mums Facebook page and did a search for builders. I wrote down a bunch that were recommended and called a few. Two came to look; one did a quote, the other declined the job but said the first quote sounded right so that’s how we ended up with the Towner Group.

Last week we packed up and moved into my awesome mother in law Di’s house for a month or so, while she’s gallivanting around South America and Cuba. Meanwhile Dan and Dylan from the Towner Group did this on their first day:

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Note how they not only removed walls and a ceiling but removed our kitchen for us too!!! I am forever impressed by how much good tradies can get done in a day and how nice it must be to really see what you’ve achieved. Bit different to wrangling small children or writing a kick-ass brief for the prime minister no one will ever read, including the prime minister.

Dan and Dylan finished up today (yes they worked the weekend). The electrician will install lights tomorrow and then it’s ready for some Ikea magic.

Here’s what we’ve got to work with now:

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So open! So light! And yes when Toby mentioned maybe putting some shelves in, Dan was like “I’ve got wood left over I’ll just build you some no worries”.

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Fresh paint!  All ready for my beautiful 900mm oven with the fully functional stove top. (I’m just a bit excited about that.)

So I think we can call our first step of the kitchen renos a success. We are so happy with how it looks and our choice of builders. Nothing was too much trouble for those guys (even putting out our bins) and they kept us 100% informed every day. Great experience all round and totally worth the hassle and expense so far.

Next step: finalising the kitchen plan. Will we agree on where to put the wine breakfast bar? Will the cupboards fit? Will we forget to put in a bin? How many Tupperware drawers does one family need, really? We are about to find out.

Race Report: 2016 Canberra Running Festival (and also, how to train for a fun run*)

*when you have two small children, are not a runner, and aren’t going to break any records.

[Obvious disclaimer: Not an expert! Talk to one if you really want to train for a fun run!]

Two years ago I ran the 10km in the Canberra Running Festival and it was not fun. So this year, after Andy and my sister convinced gently encouraged me to register for the 2016 event when I’d not run more than 5km since before falling pregnant with Finn, I promised myself it would be different. I drew up a (very basic) training program for myself, told Toby I’d be training twice a week leaving caring responsibilities in his capable hands, and got to work.

I built up from 5km to 10km by increasing my distance by 1km every two weeks, adding in some cross-training when I could. Any time I was tempted to skip my long run (usually on Sundays – a day of rest!) I remembered how horrible that 2014 run was and how I didn’t want to feel like that again. Also, when you are at home most of the time with two small children it is actually not that hard to want to leave the house and have some time to yourself. It’s like a magic motivator.

The run was at 7am on a beautiful April morning, my favourite time of year in Canberra. I’d been up most of the night before because Finn had started childcare orientation, so obviously he had gastro that night. That he’d caught from spending two hours in a childcare room. Because of course. I thought I’d be okay without much sleep; I was mostly worried about coming down with it myself before I had to leave, but I was feeling fine so off I went.

I had my new playlist ready to go, thanks to Spotify, I was perfectly dressed for the weather (tip: pay attention to the temperature during your training, and what you’re wearing, and how comfortable you are), and I was feeling really great. And that feeling just continued.

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I’d done most of my short runs around Red Hill and Mystery Bay with lots of hills and had been getting discouraged at my times, but I was so glad to have done so many hills as I barely noticed the ones on this route, not even the one I remembered being a killer from last time. And instead of completely losing sight of Jude for the whole thing I managed to keep her in sight for most of it, which was excellent motivation. I never felt the need to walk. I started to struggle a bit around the 8km mark, so I couldn’t catch up to her for the finish like I’d planned, but once I hit the 9km mark I felt stronger and finished with a time of 1 hour 1 minute 30 seconds – a whole 30 seconds off my previous personal best.

I just about cried when I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself. Jude was still there drinking her Hydralyte (she just calls it cordial, because she calls a spade a spade does Jude) so I jumped up and down to make sure she knew how amazing I was. I nearly hugged the girl who gave me my medal. I hung around the event for a while so I could give dad a pep talk for his 5km event starting at the far more civilised time of 9am. But then I started to feel a bit ill, a bit bad for Toby being stuck at home with two kids, one of whom had gastro, so I high-tailed it out of there. (I was fine, by the way. And so was Toby, because both kids had slept until 8.30. Because of course they do that for dad.)

So, if you’re thinking wow, if a person who spent 30 years making up lame excuses to avoid running can now actually enjoy a “fun” run and somehow manage to spend time away from her children then I can do that too, read on!

First, decide you will do a fun run. Talk to other fit people who will encourage you. Don’t mention it to anyone who thinks “fun run” is an oxymoron. Choose one far enough in the future that you’ll be feeling comfortable with the distance, but not so far that you lose your mojo in the meantime. Twelve weeks or less. Then, start training. You can get programs online, in books, or just in your running app on your phone. (You should get an app either way, so you can track your distances and get friendly updates on your pace. I use Run Keeper.) I didn’t follow a specific program this time, because SMALL CHILDREN. I just aimed for a part realistic (one long run a week, two rest days a week when I was at home with two children), part idealistic (four other sessions, including Jazzercise, strength, HIIT and a short/fast/hilly run, plus continuing my core work) program. Some weeks I did it all; lots of weeks I only managed the long run and a Jazzercise class.

If something isn’t working during your training, fix it. Bored? Change up the playlist, switch to podcasts, try running in silence (I’m too scared to try this but many people swear by it), invite a friend, go to a different spot. Disappointed in your times or that you’re still feeling shattered by the end of your long run? The route might be the problem – I was struggling to get past the 7km mark until I switched from the trails around Red Hill to a flat concrete route around Lake Burley Griffin. It’s boring but suddenly I was able to do 10km, and I still do the hills on my short run days. Uncomfortable in your clothes? Invest in a new bra or pants (we don’t want any wobbling), new shoes, socks, whatever it takes. Also, wear sunnies and a hat even if it’s not that sunny. I can’t believe the number of people I see who are so busy squinting and brushing the sweat out of their eyes that they trip over themselves. Really sore? Invest in a foam roller (seriously), book a massage, do more stretching. No, like really sore, like something is wrong? Then go see a physio and think about booking into a running coaching session for some help with technique. You shouldn’t be in real pain. But, don’t let annoying socks or an outdated play list stop you. You’re going to make it!

Finally, organise a post-run celebration of some kind. If you know other people in the same event, convince them to join in. Whether it’s hanging around afterwards for an egg and bacon roll or meeting up at the pub later for a debrief, book it in. Don’t be shy to go to the nearest coffee strip still in your sweaty gear. You won’t be the only ones and you’ll get to feel all smug in amongst the hangover crowd.

I hope this encourages at least one person to give it a go. For me, that feeling of accomplishment at the end was worth every tough kilometre in the lead-up, every Sunday morning spent pounding the pavement when I could have been still in my pyjamas. When you spend your days knee-deep in nappies and play-dough it can be really empowering to do something that’s just for you. Massive thanks to Toby who was just as committed as me to making sure I got out there and didn’t die. It feels really good to be back.

 

 

Reclaiming ordinary

My mum saw a blackboard outside a café once (I think that’s what it was) that made her mad. If it were me, a misplaced or missing apostrophe is what would get my goat. But mum? Mum was mad that the hand written sign was imploring her to live an extraordinary life.

‘What’s wrong with an ordinary life?’ she huffed.

I’ve grown up surrounded by messages to be extraordinary, so I think I’m a bit immune. Is this a recent thing? I feel like once upon a time, there was maybe more value placed on just living an ordinary, good life. Apart from the fact there was no internet to make you think there was something wrong with your life, I suspect most people just couldn’t afford to imagine anything much different to working and raising a family – and that’s if you were lucky. There were also different social norms that came with certain expectations around what was considered “normal”, which was not necessarily a good thing. I might be romanticising the past, of course. Readers older than me (uncle John) please feel free to set me right.

I’m talking about messages like: Do one thing each day that scares you. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Do something you love and never work a day in your life. Every single meme in my Facebook feed. Sunrises and seascapes and triumphant people wearing expensive hiking clothes standing on clifftops with their arms in the air, all encouraging me to be extraordinary, to live my dreams, to hope, to believe. The signs on the walls at Emma’s gymbaroo class, imploring me to feel joy, every moment of every day of my beautiful life. Girls at the gym wearing singlets telling me to run faster, jump higher, dance like nobody’s watching. Entire sections of the bookshop dedicated to living a life less ordinary, to taking the road less travelled, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Inspiring articles everywhere I look about people who left the corporate rat race to sell jewellery or make natural cleaning products or grow their own kale. Yoga teachers who spend the meditation telling me I’m amazing and haven’t yet discovered my own potential, when they don’t even know me or my potential. Tony Robbins and all the people like him – an industry that’s popped up encouraging us to want to be extraordinary, a whole industry, an actual job called motivational speaker. I barely notice it anymore. The whole (Western) world is one big pep talk.

But mum’s right, of course, as she almost always is. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, and thank goodness for that, because it’s what most of us end up living. We might have glimpses of the extraordinary – even mum’s been 4WD-ing in East Timor, after all – but wherever we are, whatever we do with our days, whoever we spend them with, most of it is utterly, relatively ordinary. And I think it’s time to reclaim that. To see the dignity and value in it. It’s enough to be good enough, to be a good enough partner and parent and friend and colleague. It’s enough to work – in fact for most of us, “doing what we love” is a privilege we can’t afford or just don’t have. It’s enough to have a hobby that everyone else has (cycling if you’re a man aged over 30) or no one else has (yes I’m still enjoying jazzercise classes), and to spend time with people you like, and to have the occasional holiday. It’s enough to feel sad some days, and joyful other days, and to take your family and health for granted sometimes, and be overcome with gratitude other times. It’s enough to eat good food sometimes, and crap food other times, and watch good TV sometimes, and crap TV other times, and read the books you want to read even though you know they’re also crap. It’s all enough, and we should never feel that it isn’t. Indeed, if this is your life, you are already incredibly privileged and to think there should be any more than that – or else there is something wrong with you, or the life you are living – is almost perverse.

I have friends who live by inspiring Facebook memes and I love those friends. I love how they approach life and I come away from our conversations feeling inspired and interested in everything, which is exactly how friends should make you feel. And I would never want people who naturally gravitate towards this sort of philosophy – or who want to – to rein it in. I want them to keep posting sunsets and cute baby gorillas and inspiring quotes from historical figures in fancy font. All I’m doing – for myself, for my sanity – is reclaiming the word ‘ordinary’. And if your Facebook feed and all the blackboards outside cafes are making you feel like the ordinary life you’re pretty happy with is actually something you should be ashamed of – something that needs fixing – then feel free to join me. Because it’s not. You, in your ordinariness, are perfectly fine. Ordinary is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice if it’s what you want. Even if it will never spawn an aspirational lifestyle website a la Gwyneth or earn you a book deal. I hope to enjoy a long, healthy life as a decent human being and if I can achieve that, that’s extraordinary enough for me.