Worlds Best Parent. Ever. Full Stop.

I have to admit I was riding high, thinking I was the best new mum in the world when I went to my second maternal health check. Sure we didn’t have it all figured out, but from where I stood, we were smashing it –  bub was still alive, we were yet to drop him (on a very hard surface) and I’d started vacuuming our carpet at least once a month in anticipation that he might, you know, one day crawl and the last thing I wanted was him choking on the remnants of a truffle flavoured potato crisp from our earlier, decadent child-free days. There was no hiding it, we were nailing this parenting shit.

So you can imagine my surprise when I met Kathleen. My new maternal health nurse, complete with a nifty fanny pack around her waist because she liked to keep everything she needed close to her as she wasn’t a fan ‘of reaching for things.’

As was usual I’d gone to this ‘not mandatory but strongly advised’ appointment with our sex trophies’ co-creator, his father, which doesn’t seem so odd until I point out that it would have been just as useful to bring a potted plant along, given Kathleen chose not to even acknowledge his existence.

‘These appointments aren’t for the father’ she pointed out. ‘There to see how your son is developing both emotionally and physically with you as a mother.’

‘Detrimentally’ I joked. She did not laugh. Kathleen never laughed.

‘The thing is’ I pointed out ‘Kathleen, I can call you Kathleen right? Both JK and I are around all our son all the time. We’ve both taken time off, together, to be with him and I think it’s important to –

‘- it says here you had a c-section’

‘Um, yep – but as I was saying, it’s important we acknowledge the father-’

‘If that’s the case you shouldn’t be sitting like that…with your legs crossed.’

‘Crossed? It’s fine.’ I said ‘my physio said it’s fine.’

‘Oh well, feel free to take someone else’s advice, that’s your choice pet, but I’m saying I don’t think it’ a good idea.’

‘My doctor also said it was ok.’

‘Well if your doctor said it was ok, and they are a doctor and I’m just a -’

‘Nurse?’

‘Huh! Maternal Health Specialist Nurse deary –

‘ – it wasn’t meant to insult you’

‘ – no insult was taken. If you want to believe your doctor that’s your call but if I were you and I’d had a c-section I wouldn’t sit like that, not if I wanted to have another child in the future, just saying.’

I kept my legs crossed in silent protest. Her eyes flaring up, my defiance noted.

‘Are you breastfeeding?’

‘Yes’

Exclusively?

‘No. He’s been combination fed since he was born.’

‘Was there a reason?’

‘He was early. It should all be written there. We did discuss this last time we came in.’

She sighed, rubbing her temple as if the fate of every child rested on her shoulders.

‘Louise, is telling me your child’s health history an inconvenience to you, because please let me know if it is and I’ll take some time now to read up on him?’

I crossed my legs a little further.

She continued.

‘So you bottle feed?’

‘Yep, about once a day. It’s good, it allows JK to be part of  the feeding process and lets me get a little sleep.’

‘Formula?’

Yes.

‘Hmmm,’ she scribbled something down for effect.

‘And what’s the reason for that?’

‘Like I said, I get a little sleep, JK can bond –

‘- well it is your choice. Sleep is very important…’

I couldn’t hold back.

‘But?’

‘It’s just if I was you and I could breastfeed, well the literature says to breastfeed exclusively, but that’s just me, and the literature.’

‘I’m not very literary,’ I said ‘I’ll continue to give him a bottle then.’

And then to my astonishment, she mumbled under her breath ‘You do what you want, don’t mind me. I’m just the maternal health specialist.’

I turned to my pot-plant for support but he was focused on distracting our sex trophy from his mother’s demise.

‘Ok’ Kathleen jumped up.

‘Lets get him undressed and weighed.’

JK stood up, starting to get bub ready, when Kathleen turned to me.

‘I’d like to see the mother get him ready’

‘I’m assuming I’m the mother in this scenario’ I sparked back.

She did not smile.

‘I’ll let you get on with it then.’

The colour drained from my face. JK was the master of getting bub’s t-shirts off quickly without squashing his head. I was not. My strong suit up until this point had been keeping bub alive with my boobs, but even that seemed to hold no sway at this point in time.

Fumbling as I got him undressed, under the vengeful eye of Kathleen I suddenly became concerned that as his jumper stuck around his head, and his little arms flailed about that I might lose custody of him just for being a bad baby un-dresser. I wasn’t smashing this parenting thing. I’d deluded myself. Maybe he was better off being raised by a woman who didn’t cross her legs?

Finally, his little head came free and he smiled as if to say ‘I only lost a little oxygen mum.’

I nodded my thanks back.

‘Turn him over’ barked Kathleen.

‘Now I have to tell you…Baby is dry’ she said.

Finally, I smiled. Something I got right. ‘Yeah, I dried him after his bath this morning. I was pretty thorough -’

‘ – no, I mean his skin is too dry. Do you moisturise?’

‘Um yes, daily.’

‘It should be forty times a day!’ (*slight exaggeration in the retelling but you get the idea…)

‘Ok’

‘And what do you use?’

‘Mineral oil – just like we were told’

‘No! Edible oils only’

And that’s when I cracked it.

‘Really? Because last time we were here- ’

‘ – Yes we!’ JK shouted out. Thanks, babe…

‘We were told there was new research and edible oils could lead to skin conditions when he’s older’

‘Then you were told the wrong information.’

‘By two of your colleagues, the other midwife-’

‘We are not midwives. We are maternal health specialists and we’re here to help you be better parents. You need to listen to me for the sake of your son. You need to know I have his best interests at heart before you continue to have a go at me.’

My hands curled up in anger.

‘Me, have a go at you? You’ve done nothing but make me feel like a barely adequate parent, no, a barely adequate human being since I’ve been here and -’

I stopped. Suddenly Kathleen’s face distorted. Her tongue recoiling back into her face with horror as urine sprayed out at her care of my son’s well aiming and meaning penis.

Squad goals.

And then just like that, any concerns I had about being a bad mum have washed away. He’d done me proud. He’d done every mother and or father being told they’re doing a bad job proud. He was my hero.

And so without finishing the appointment we grabbed our naked, still peeing son and left.

JK making a point to say we would be making a formal complaint against Kathleen because he was concerned she would upset other parents, what with her fanny-pack full of judgement. I watched him go to bat for me, I couldn’t help but smile as urine continued to run down my leg and into my shoe because we’d left the spare nappy at home…that wasn’t important right now. Being righteous parents was.

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It’s been 132 days since my last diet.

After over two decades of being on a diet, yep 20 years and I’m only 35 (I could’ve raised a teenager in that time, or at least two primary school aged kids), quitting dieting is like deciding to stop brushing your teeth. It’s gross and there was the chance that giving up on brushing my teeth, like not dieting might also make me less desirable. I mean if I wasn’t lemon detoxing I wasn’t living.

That makes me come across like a superficial bitch but you’ve got to understand, for years I’ve seen myself as one of those women that come across like they might be on a diet, could be a diet, like they’re kinda just one week of losing self-control away from standing in for the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.
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I told my fiance that I was giving up dieting. He smiled, said he supported whatever decision I wanted to make and returned to writing his blog about the lacklustre third installment of The Hobbit. But I was resolute. I told him that by not controlling everything that went into my mouth over the next 12 months there was a possibility I could double, maybe even triple in size. Was he ok with that? I answered for him – ‘you’ll just have to be!’ I shouted as I started to feverishly delete most of the diet and fitness apps off my phone.

Whilst my decision to get off the diet choo-choo train sounded altruistic in my head, that I was taking a long needed stand against the diet/fitspo culture that seems to consume most our lives, it was more selfish than that. I just wanted to see if I was good enough just the way I was. I know I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my life, I’m not denying that, but deep down inside I’ve always believed that I was about 5-10 kilos away and committing to a 3 week starvation diet away from achieving proper success, financial stability and happiness.

If I was a size 6 I’d get more work, I‘d get more money, more friends, more love.  It made sense to me. The world rewards the size dropper doesn’t it? I mean look at New Idea, Woman’s Day, fuck Ricki-Lee’s entire career is based on her talent to yo-yo. My time as a performer only saw to amplify this delusion as I saw my size scrutinised even more than during my frumpy teen years. There’s a fear of fat that drives most of us to try and be slimmer versions of ourselves, but that’s just crap, I’m a rational person, how can a fear of something so irrelevant lead to such an ingrained self-hatred? It’s disgusting. I was ashamed of myself. I needed to let myself become whatever it is I was destined to be and furthermore, love that version of myself.

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By the end of 2014 I started to realise that all this time spent obsessing over the latest fad diet or exercise plan to date had yielded fuck all. It got me thinking, what if I took a year off from trying to improve myself and see what I might be able to accomplish as me, just the way I am? (I couldn’t avoid that Bridget Jones moment- sorry guys). If I just let the year ride out and took opportunities as they came and believed that I was merited in taking them, that I didn’t need to fit into a pair of Esprit socks to succeed, what’s the worst that could happen?  It was a fraught decision based on a lot of what if’s and uncertainty but so far it’s going ok.

Taking all that time spent thinking about improving my physical self and channeling it into other things has seen me start to make headway on a lot of projects, that I otherwise might not have had the self-confidence to pursue. Of course currently it’s about 80% faking it to make it, but that’s pretty good.

I understand for some people dieting is important. Some need to do it for health and well-being and some of those people need support to do it, so it makes sense to look for programs that do that and are backed up with science, ongoing support and results but fad dieting isn’t the answer. It’s isolating. It makes you obsessive. It makes you sad. It can even make you smell, but most importantly it’s a waste of your precious time.

Of course I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to moments of weakness with a diet shake and a bottle of wine, followed by a punishing Jillian Michaels workout, but for the most part I’ve resisted. I’ve learnt to take deep breaths and then after a few moments I find the urge to try the latest fad diet passes and I’m able to get on with the day.

I now believe that sometimes it takes a lifetime to break the habit of the lifetime. If no ones said that before, I’m claiming that quote btw.
**this writer must declare she does still exercise because she loves it and it’s good for her mental health.

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I’ve dated a Trans Person. A lot of us have.

‘….our identity is a sum of our parts, not just one part in particular.’

I’m not Trans. I can’t speak to that experience. So I won’t. What I will speak with is the experience of someone who was once in a relationship with a Trans Man. Some people know about this, some people don’t. I always felt uncomfortable talking about my experience, thinking that in doing so I was revealing something that wasn’t mine to do, so much so that when I did a show about this particular relationship back in 2009 I didn’t mention it. I was really into prop comedy at the time anyway. I argued it wasn’t important to the story. I argued with my director, my script editor. I told them it wasn’t my story to tell. And you know what? In all honestly I didn’t want to distract from the show.  I didn’t want the audience to spend any of their time trying to figure ‘it’ out.  Trying to figure out what that made me? Oh and the much more common concern – watching the audience try to figure out how we did ‘it’.

Does that sound crude?  Abso-fucking-lutely it does. And sadly it was a question I got asked all too often.

No one ever thought they were being offensive or intrusive when they asked how we had sex and my grimaced smile didn’t really send home the message that it wasn’t an appropriate question to ask – the sort that revealed more about the ignorance of the asker then the answerer. I thought by not answering their questions  that that would say, albeit silently, that their questions were inappropriate. Like when they asked ‘have they had the surgery?’ or when they said ‘it’s amazing, they pass so well. You’d think they were a real man’ or my favourite ‘I could always tell.’  I’d tell them finally to shut up, that it was their ignorance and lack of education talking, but I was loathed to discuss it further as I still believed that just because I’d dated a Trans Man, that didn’t give me the right to discuss it.

But now that I’m older and as an LGBTQI ally and advocate I believe it is visibility and experience that is our strongest assets in this community. Putting aside the Bruce Jenner media spectacle we’ve seen in recent weeks, sharing our experiences, even if they are fleeting is important. It doesn’t mean you’re telling someone else’s story, it means your telling only part of your story. So yes, I dated a Trans Man.

As friends, we were great. As lovers, we were fun, tempestuous, fiery, belligerent and miserable – the perfect 20something relationship.  During my time with him, aside from the constant teary eyed break-ups and passionate reunions I never really thought about what being with him made me. People who knew us just thought it was great we’d gotten together, finally. Only when I started telling some close family and friends that didn’t know about him I was asked ‘are you gay?’ I would always answer ‘No, I date a man because I’m straight’ but I knew what they meant. They needed to make sense of it, as open minded as they were. If I was gay it would make sense. It would explain all the Indigo Girls albums and my fondness for the film ‘But I’m a Cheerleader.’ What didn’t make sense was that for all intents and purposes I was in a straight relationship and my boyfriend could be an asshole just like everyone else’s. On the odd occasion his transition  would come up during our time together he used it to try and empathise with me, like when I was complaining of period pains and he tried to empathise and I threw his trainers out the window…

I won’t write about his journey in this post. I still believe that’s his to tell. What I will say is he was an activist and friend to many in the trans community and it was hard not to be in awe of what he had overcome to be the person he really was. And whilst my relationship with him didn’t make me gay, it did make me more aware, more liberal and more importantly, did in some way contribute to the person I am today. But that’s what all relationships should do. The good, the bad – they teach us something about ourselves.

After we broke up and I started dating again, I would sometimes disclose details of my past relationship with him and be met with a mix of curiosity and utter transphobia –  ‘oh so now you’re with a real man’. This comment uttered by more than one but less than a few. Those relationships would last the length of a short breath.

I saw this short documentary once, where a Trans Warrior went around asking people on the street questions about what it meant to be a man. Questions like ‘If you were in a car crash and you lost your cock would that make you less of a man?’ In all of these ‘if you lost your cock’ questions the answer was always the same ‘having a penis didn’t make you a man’.  The interviewers intention was clear – our identity is a sum of our parts, not just one part in particular.

I realised while reading some of the reporting surrounded Bruce Jenner’s recent admission as well as  watching TV shows like Orange is New Black and Transparent –   that while it is important we continue to see trans visibility increase in our society, that it is also important that those of us who have been in relationships with Trans People not fall silent on it. By letting people know that being a relationship with a Trans Person was part of your story it can help lessen the stigma and at times offensive curiosity surrounding the community. It can show young people struggling with transition that they will love, live and have tempestuous and at time shitty relationships just like the rest of us. It might just show them that it does get better. It sure showed me that.

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What The Big Bang Theory Can’t Teach You – To commit.

I found myself looking at my fiancé last night thinking, that if our relationship had played out on a TV sitcom we would have broken up at least 500 times by now.

In truth we haven’t broken up all, not even once, haven’t even got close. Even through all the long distance, the late and complete out of sync work schedules and meeting the parents, we’re still together and happily. That didn’t stop my thinking though that if we were Leonard and Penny in any episode of The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) none of our struggles to stay with the one you love would count for anything, especially if, lets say, I said something stupid like ‘I just don’t care much for fantasy.’

Because I did say that.

About 2 months into our relationship. While we were watching an episode of TBBT One of the characters on the show made a reference to something I didn’t get, I think it was Howard. With no canned laughter to direct me to whether or not the comment was funny, I asked my partner what it meant. ‘It’s a Lord of the Rings reference’ he casually told me but than a look of horror spread across his face as if he was suddenly faced with an awful reality ‘you do know what Lord of Rings is don’t you?’

‘Yes, of course’ I said ‘it’s a movie.’

I watched as he recoiled from me, his body stiffened, his emotional distance becoming palpable.

‘It’s three films.’ He stuttered, processing the unbelievable reality that maybe the woman he loved, that maybe she was a stranger to him.

I turned back to the TV. Sure enough, Sheldon had said something funny and I’d missed it.

‘You have seen the movies Lou?’…less of a question, more of a plea for calm.

‘Sure. I think I’ve seen maybe one and a bit of the third.’

‘The films are based on the stories of perhaps the greatest author that ever lived.’

‘Patricia Cornwell?’ I asked. He jumped up, pacing now.

‘Oh my god Lou. Please tell me you’ve read the books? You can’t not have lived in this life that you were given and not have read the books.’

‘They were really long right? And yellow, the covers were yellow?’

‘Seriously? You’re not just fucking with me are you? Because this is serious Lou, it’s time to leave the funny at the door.’

‘I read a bit of them, but to be honest The Baby Sitters Club books were really hitting their stride than and with one coming out each month I had to prioritise.’

For a moment he said nothing, gathering his thoughts.

‘I just don’t understand’ he stated. Sounding a confused, a little defeated perhaps…

‘I just don’t care much for fantasy’ I told him. It was an elegant truth, no longer hidden, exposed. He would just have to accept it. I needed to go to bed. I was tired.

In the middle of the night something woke me — his thinking. He was wide-awake and thinking more loudly than anyone I’d ever shared a bed with before.

‘Please don’t tell me you’re still thinking about the Lord of the Rings stuff’ I moaned, rolling over.

‘I just don’t see how this relationship is going to work out if we don’t have anything in common?’ …less a question, more a conclusion.

I flicked on my bedside light.

Fuck this shit.

Now if this was an episode of TBBT his comment might have held more weight. Our discussion about my lack of interest in fantasy masking a deeper insecurity about our relationship, or not being deserving of love from a blonde or some crap like that, but we would never say that if we were on TBBT — instead we would just break up and the rest of the season would play out with us trying to just be friends, whilst navigating Sheldon’s obvious ‘on the spectrum traits’.

Instead it went something like this…

I flicked on my bedside light.

‘You’re shitting me right? Let me tell you something. I’m a 33-year-old woman. I’m over the point where I have to pretend to like things you like just so you’ll like me. I know what I like and you know what you like and occasionally you might show me something and I’ll like that or I might do the same to you, but fundamentally as long we have share the same values we do not have to like the same fucking things. Now go to sleep.’

And just like that I turned the light off, rolled over and we both went to sleep and woe and behold when we woke up the next morning we were still together — that was until of course some months later he said to me at the conclusion of the film Bridesmaids ‘Who are Wilson Phillips?’….

Written by Lou Sanz

 

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Everyone can’t love us and on occasion we can barely be liked.

Everyone can’t love us and on occasion we can barely be liked.

I finished up a new show I performed on Saturday night. It was the funnest (yep I’m using that as a word) show I’ve ever done. It was also the bravest as I made a decision not to use my usual safety net, to try something different, to do a slightly different show each night. I was immensely proud of it.

It got a really lovely response. People contacted me via my website and other social networking to let me know how the frankness of the show spoke to them – that was a first. It also got some nice reviews. The people that got the show got it. They saw beyond the shambolic appearance and realised that was the point, part of the story, a glimpse behind the fourth wall.  That the disjointed nature of the show was a fundamental part of the structure of the show. The brand new ending of the show that was fashioned in the week leading up to the show was my greatest risk but it was one I embraced. The show did what it said it would on the box – be different each night, be a mix of theatre and stand-up and challenge me as a performer and maybe in doing so I could open myself up to a new audience. I asked to debut it at the Melbourne Fringe festival because if ever there was a festival that embraced risk, well it’s that one and it’s all the more brilliant for it.

But for all the people that liked the show, of course there’s always going to be people that hate it, write about how much they didn’t like it and even mention that a cervical cancer scare in the days leading up the show was no excuse for the ‘under-rehearsed’ nature of the show. Ouch.

And you know what the shitty thing is? For all the great responses about the show, it’s this review that I listen to. This review that I believe, not the rest. As someone who has always lived by the motto (especially when it came to producing other acts over the years) ‘a great review is great, a bad review…well let’s just pretend it never happened.’

Now look, no one saw this review, oh look they might one day, it’s in a newspaper, hey people probably saw it and didn’t say anything to me, I don’t know. It didn’t affect ticket sales, it didn’t affect how I did the show, it didn’t affect me until after I saw it and so naturally I called my mother.

‘I thought we’d agree you’d stop Googling yourself?’

‘I agreed to nothing’

‘Do I need to take away your internet privileges, again?’

‘No mum I’m 34 years old.’

‘Anyway, what’s the big deal? Like you give a shit’.

‘But the thing is I do’ I muttered back, embarrassed.

‘Lot’s of people like marzipan, I hate it. You don’t see marzipan getting upset now do you?’

Hmmm….so now I was marzipan.

‘It’s not the same mum. This is a person and they don’t like me.’

‘So?’

My mother’s maternal love was almost too overwhelming.

‘It’s just, well I was trying something different –‘

She interrupted ‘-and they didn’t get it. So what? Remember that time you wore that matching Bolero and bike short combo to casual clothes day back at primary school and you lost some friends over it?’

‘They weren’t matching mum, I coordinated them myself.’

‘Whatever, the point is people hated you over it, disowned you, refused to me seen with you and yet 25 years on you’re still wearing Bolero jackets.’

‘They’re cropped blazers mum.’

‘They’re Bolero jackets Lou. You’re fooling no one.’

She was right. I’d never let negative attention about me or my work dissuade me and given I’d just done a show that was ostensibly about embracing failure, this was not the response I should have been having. I needed to basically, not give a fuck. Easier said than done.

Now look, I’ll probably obsess over this negative review for at least another week before a puppy distracts me or an article on global warming snaps me out of my narcissistic self-loathing.

But in the meantime, we do all need to look at the disturbing reality that we’re always more willing to believe the worst, that somehow that’s more real. That when someone says ‘nice smile’ you doubt them, can’t handle it, but when someone says ‘your nose is quite prominent’ well it’s fucking scripture.

A great video made by comedian Amy Schumer says it best (about how fucked up we are!):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzlvDV3mpZw

Basically we’ve got to get better at appreciating those that support us, treat us well and encourage us to be better people, better performers and better writers.  Whereas a negative review can inspire you to do excel, at some point you need to just switch-off, not hear it any more and forge your own path wearing your Bolero jacket with pride.

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Sanz Surprise Birthday by Lou Sanz

 

It’s my birthday tomorrow and what I’m doing for it is a surprise. Yep, I’ve been told to just wear something that makes me feel good.

‘So I can wear my new fluoro pink tracksuit then?’ I asked.

‘Sure.’ My boyfriend replied.

‘Really?’

‘Yes, but understand, you’ll be more embarrassed than me.’

Well played, well played sir.

The first surprise birthday I ever had was when my sister was born, the day before my 8th birthday. As such my party and life as I knew it was cancelled – SURPRISE!

This naturally brings me to the second surprise ever thrown for me. In an effort to make up for their below par parenting towards me proceeding my sister’s arrival, my mother took me for a birthday breakfast at Denny’s (yep, in the 80s the Nepean Highway was littered with American icons…Sizzler, The Keg..did I mention we had a f**king Sizzler!). As we walked into the completely empty shrine to the pancake and hope, a 16 year-old girl called ‘Becky’ greeted us at the door. Aside from a real name the only other thing Becky lacked was an adequate education in hospitality. From the moment I met her, Becky’s lack of professionalism appalled me.

“Hi, welcome to…’ she glanced at the menu for clarification ‘…Denny’s?’

Brilliant. Happy 9th Birthday to me.

My mother only made things worse.

‘We have a booking under Sanz, but not a birthday booking just to be clear *wink wink*, just a regular breakfast booking. Yep, I’m just a mum taking her kids out for a pancake breakfast for no particular reason.’ *wink wink.

We waited while Becky took some reading and basic comprehension classes and finally she found our name on the otherwise blank reservations page.

‘Yes, for 14?’ Mum glared at her – you’re letting the team down her eyes seemed to say. Becky’s eyes on the other hand seemed to say ‘don’t be surprised to find me on the side of a milk carton one day.’

‘Um, well look if you don’t have a smaller table, we’ll happily take the table for 14 – after all we are only here for an impromptu breakfast, but not a birthday party, absolutely not a birthday party.’ *wink wink.

My mother continued on with her charade even as we stood only metres away from a table of 14 made up for a birthday party, complete with birthday banner that read ‘Happy Surprise Birthday Louise’.

But for Becky, well the tipping point had finally come.

‘So you want to have a breakfast on a table for 3 and then go to the birthday party?’

My mother’s eye’s narrowed.

‘Look given there’s a table made up for 14 already, we’ll just sit there. No problems.’ She snatched the menus from Becky and led my brother and I over to the table. Looking back at Becky coming to terms with life, I wanted to say something like ‘kill yourself now’ you know, in an act of sisterly solidarity but it was my birthday and so it was important I focus on myself, at least for one day. It was the right thing to do.

‘Well look at this’…you had to admire the woman ‘…a party for another Louise on your birthday and we’ve been sat her table! I mean what a coincidence!’.

I looked over at my brother, my only ally in this farce, but ravaged by hunger he had taken to sating his appetite with snot. I suddenly felt very alone.

Of course the only thing that could make this surprise birthday party more surprisy would be if, say we were seated right next to the car-park, you know, just so I could see my friends arriving armed with gifts and listen to my mother proclaim over and over again ‘oh the coincidence, oh the coincidence’ – made more coincidental by the fact most came clutching the invitation my mother had sent them – oh the coincidence.

I’d like to say the surprises in my life got better, but you know me by now, we’re all friends…let’s push on.

My 16th Birthday party.

‘Come meet us at the Pancake Parlour Lou’…giggle giggle.

I hung up my landline telephone chuffed. I had friends, they were awesome, they’d organised a surprise party at the Pancake Parlour and sure it was another fast food family fine dining experience, but I’d grown, we’d grown – my friends liked me and now was their chance to prove it. Life was awesome. Their life was awesome cause they were friends with me.

Finally pancakes would redeem themselves. I was glad I was about to give them the opportunity to do so.

But then the bill came, after the pancakes and my friends firmly cemented themselves as dicks. Not one of them had bought enough money to pay the bill, let alone my serving of ‘All You Can Eat Maple Pancakes’.

‘Yeah I guess in 1954 pancakes were a lot cheaper. Inflations a bitch.’ I found myself saying in attempt to emphasise with my friend Gavin, who stood before me clutching 20c and a hard-on.

‘Well if you hadn’t had the extra side of butter Lou.’

‘Totally’ I said ‘you’re right, far call. If I’d known you were working to a budget…’

I couldn’t blame it entirely on them – I had low self-esteem , I’d been the one to settle for them. Slow clap Sanz, slow clap…

Thank god the money I’d gotten for my birthday to buy a bra that did up at the front was enough to cover the shortfall. Oh the coincidence.

 

 

 

 

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How You Made Me A Bad Person

I’m going to write something in a moment and straight up it’s going to come out sounding like I think I’m a better person than you. It’s not the case, trust me, I’m so self-deprecating that I still don’t think I’m ever going to top this one day in 1984 when I received the ‘Best Cursive Writing Award’ in primary school – an award I had to make and give myself, an award deserved nonetheless.

So here it goes:

In recent months my partner and I have given up gluten.

Yep, notice how I used the partner as opposed to boyfriend and yep, we’ve given up gluten, as in, this is not an action I could do on my own, it’s something that can only be done in pairs like playing weekend tennis, shopping at Ikea and watching Mad Men Season 3.

Of course the exile of gluten from my diet is not the only one thing that might be considered ‘wanker-esque’ – I also don’t drink dairy. Yes, I refer to dairy as a drink. I don’t do it, can’t do it, won’t do it. But most café’s accommodate that these days, just as they did yesterday…

‘I’ll start with an English Breakfast tea if I can, with soy milk on the side. Thanks.’

I watched as the waitress walked away, briskly, making sure not to look back as my boyfriend and I hung mid sentence – ‘could we see a men….’

‘You’re cursed’ He said to me, as he pulled out his iPad, so as to enjoy another meal with me.

‘She probably just didn’t hear us because she’s wearing her hair over her ears.’

 

He checked his Facebook account.

I checked how my life had come to this…

With all faces checked and accounted for he looked up.

‘Maybe we should just get up and grab the menus ourselves.’

‘No, I waitressed for 25 years – ‘

‘ – really, you started waitressing when you were 8?’

‘- yes, JF I did. It was what you did in the 80’s.’

‘- endorsed child labor?’

‘- had a work ethic JF, a work ethic.’

‘And so it’s this work ethic of yours that’s the reason I’m sitting here starving?’

‘Collateral damage.’

And so as is often the case in our relationship, against my wishes JF got up, and like a Dickensian orphan went to find some menus. I wondered if the winter cold my get him and if he’d ever return….

Moments later, he did, just as the waitress placed our drinks down.

Clocking our self-secured menus she asked the question that was on everyone’s lips.

‘Are you here for breakfast? Would you like to see a menu?’

‘Are they different to the ones we have?’ I asked.

‘No’ she replied ‘Would you like me to grab you some?’

My boyfriend sensing I was well on the way to making a new best friend and couldn’t bare the competition for my affection, stepped in.

‘I think we’re ready to order actually.’

Unsettled by the uniqueness of the situation the waitress enquired ‘food?’.

‘Why not?’ I said ‘Let’s shake things up a bit.’

And it was then I noticed I been bough Earl Grey tea, not English Breakfast. Normally when presented with something I had not intended on drinking I would just smile and swallow but having just returned from the US where it’s custom to send back things you didn’t order,  I decided to mention it.

‘I ordered English Breakfast. This is Earl Grey.’

Her silence masked her confusion.

‘And?’

‘I’d like English Breakfast.’

‘That is English Breakfast.’

‘It says Earl Grey on the label.’

‘That’s how they spell English Breakfast sometimes.’

I smiled through my mouth, the way I’d been taught.

‘If you could just take it back and get me the English Breakfast that’d be great.’

‘And if we could order…’

She left before the words could leave my boyfriends mouth.

‘Really? You couldn’t have just drunk the tea?’

‘Milk with Earl Grey? Never, like sure if I had some lemon and honey on offer I could possibly make do, but look that’s not the point. The point is, I ordered English Breakfast. It has the full-bodied flavour I need this morning. I’m not the bad person here.’

She returned, only to inform me that they had no English Breakfast tea but her boss had told her that Earl Grey tea was the same. It was like comparing Britney Spears to Keisha – a waste of my time.

I won’t bore you with the details, but we ordered. Nothing flash. My boyfriend, something with croquettes and bacon, myself,  an omelette and a side of gluten-free toast.

Surprisingly our food arrived with little fuss. I felt we were all turning a corner. Mornings can be hard on anyone and I was in a mood to forgive and forget. That is until –

‘Um, I ordered a side of gluten toast?’

She looked at me, as if unsure of whether we’d met before…perhaps earlier that day…I watched as it all fell into place for her.

‘Yes, and?’

Tumbleweed…

‘Is it on it’s way?’

‘No.’

‘Why?’

‘We don’t have any gluten free bread.’

‘Were you going to tell me that?’

‘No.’

‘Ok, glad we cleared that up.’

With her tip clearly in the bag, our waitress wandered off, leaving us to our meals.

‘Is it me?’ I asked JF.

‘I don’t see anyone else here’ he rhetorically replied.

After breakfast we wandered the streets for a cup of English Breakfast tea and some toast with a passion not often seen outside the finale of any season of ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’

Finally we settled on a little café that boasted a menu of quinoa’s and goat’s cheese and on the bottom just under the surcharge disclaimer, there it was, gluten free toast.

We sat down, smiling at the waitress who waved at us as we came in. With pure joy we ordered English Breakfast tea, not the Earl Grey variety, and when all was said and done and they asked me if I’d like to order some food I said ‘yes, I’d like some gluten-free toast with jam thanks.’

I kissed JF lightly on the face mouth, even allowing the waitress to linger a little longer than was appropriate to watch us, but even after our chaste embrace ended she remained.

‘I’m sorry, we don’t sell gluten-free bread.’

‘But it’s on the menu.’

‘Doesn’t mean we have it.’

There was nothing more to say. She was right…just because it was written down on a menu of goods for sale, it didn’t mean they had to have it.  And so I walked away knowing that when this story of one woman’s search for the breakfast she ordered would be passed down through generations, that I was going to come off as the wanker and years from now, they’d still be right.

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‘A Letter to the photo I never wanted taken.’ (published in ‘Sincerely’ – Woman of Letters compilation by Penguin Publishing)

A traditional school photograph, me with my two black eyes, alongside my brother and his sexually ambiguous haircut (I can say that because we’re related). This photo once represented my scamp-like nature. When people looked at it they would often remark, ‘Oh my, how did you get those two black eyes?’ And I would laugh and say, ‘Oh, that’s just a result of my scamp-like behaviour, of course.’And then we’d all laugh, and their general delight in me would flow on further throughout the night and well into the morning.

It was a photo that sparked conversation. It was a photo that ignited a thirst to know more in all who came across it, in all who wanted answers to questions. It was a photo that made people laugh. It was a photo that made people cry, especially when they found out that my parents had managed to retain custody of me after the incident in question. I was just another child who had fallen through the cracks, who the authorities hadn’t managed to save. The guilt they would feel from just glancing at this photo, which I sent them every Christmas for the next twenty-five years, would fill them with so much despair, they would eventually give up on life, have their wills rewritten to make me their sole heir, and have ‘do not resuscitate’ bracelets made up, followed by a full page ad in the Saturday Age that just read, ‘Sorry, Lou.’

Of course, I was unaware of all of this guilt the authorities were feeling until Today Tonight landed on my doorstep, asking me to comment. I feigned disbelief and yet also offered the appropriate amount of gratitude, and they asked to see the photo and I at first said no but then they just insisted, and I still said no, and they asked again in adamant voices, and I told them, ‘No, this photo isn’t for you, it’s already done enough damage,’ but then they saw the twinkle in my eye, and I opened the door and said, ‘Go on, in you come, and don’t forget to wipe your feet,’ and they scurried in, the reporter remarking as he pushed past me, ‘You’re such a little scamp,’ and I said, ‘You don’t know the half of it, and feel free to help yourself to a Scotch Finger biscuit.’

But all of that feels like a lifetime ago. Because now, every time I look at this photo, I only see betrayal and lies, and I wish, now, that it had never been taken. It is a photo that hides an unimaginable depth of betrayal, secrets kept from me for over twenty-five years by those closest to me.

Betrayal doesn’t just happen; betrayal is the result of long-maintained untruths that have somehow become facts over time. And so I will present to you the events I believed that photographed captured, and then the truth of the events and the truth of the betrayal.

In 1987, my best friend was Tamara Minogue, the prettiest and most popular girl at Blah Blah School. We shared mutual interests, insofar as she hated me and I hated myself. We would often play four square at lunchtime – ‘we’ being the gang I was an associate member of, having not achieved full membership as result of no one wanting me to achieve it.

Even Georgia White, who was born on a leap year, was a full member, and she wasn’t even two years old yet (because she was eight and born on a leap year – Google it if you’re struggling). For whatever reasons, I constantly found myself falling short of their requirements for full membership. Not even a well-timed hand job would work, partially due to the fact none of the gang members had penises, but mostly because I didn’t know what one was.

On this day, as we played, I found myself dominating the field. I won’t lie to you – it felt good. Real good. My palm was like an iron fist, only flatter. The ball smashed down on each victory. Dunce: SMASH! Jack: SMASH! Queen: SMASH! King: SMASH! I was a fucking champion, and I wasn’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops!

I’m pretty good at this, Tamara. In fact, I’m better than you today. Wanna feel the touch of a champion? High five!’ Needless to say, Tamara left me hanging, and I was told in no uncertain terms that my company was no longer required, and that perhaps I would find more suitable friends at the other end of the playground. Of course, as we were only eight, the conversation went more along the lines of:

No one likes you, Louise.’

Yeah, go away.’

You smell like wog.’

Fuck off, you cunt.’

Or something like that. It was so long ago. You can hardly ask me to recall specifics.

Abandoned, rejected and isolated, with nowhere to call to home, I ventured to the other end of the playground. It was a wasteland, filled with boys who picked their nose and ate their snot; a place for little girls with itchy vaginas who got their periods on slides, vegetarians, a guy we suspected was Asian, chronic farters and boys fascinated with their penises. As I scratched my vagina, I thought, Perhaps these are my people. Maybe they’ll truly accept me. But to be accepted here I would have to convince the overlords – Fat and Skinny. You’ll never guess how they got their nicknames.

Fat and Skinny ruled from a fort that overlooked the playground with their army of My Child dolls. I’d never owned a My Child doll, only a Cabbage Patch doll.

Lucy was her name, but she was rarely spoken of. She was short and fat, and had freckles and red hair – I took one look at her and knew I could never love her. But I was forced to adopt her. Forced into motherhood. I tried to make it work, gave it the best shot I could, but do you know how hard it is to bring a kid home to play after school when you’ve got kid of your own? God forbid it’s someone you really like, and then one day you walk in on him and the doll, and you’re all like, ‘I don’t understand!’ and he’s all like, ‘She gets me,’ and I’m all like, ‘But she’s a doll,’ and he’s all like, ‘Exactly, Lou, exactly.’ No one knows what happened to Lucy after that, but, as a mother, I can theorise that maybe the little skank found herself getting into a heated argument where she was knocked down onto the hardwood floor in the kitchen and her body was stuffed into someone’s limited edition Blossom-branded sleeping bag under their bed while the assailant waited for their parents to go to bed, at which time they took the body and tied it to the back of their bike and rode it down to the park, whereupon they stuffed her body along with the sleeping bag into a barbecue and doused it all with petrol, then setting Lucy on fire, while they finally felt human again. At best I can only theorise, but I do know that’s the day my heart turned to stone and it’s why I’ve never really been able to get close to another human being. (And breathe, Lou, breathe.)

Anyway. As I climbed the 6-foot jungle gym/ fort to Fat and Skinny’s lair, a black crow landed in front of me – looking back now, this was possibly an omen, an omen screaming, ‘Stay away, little Lou, stay away!’ But all I remember thinking at the time is, ‘Oh, a black bird! How pretty! I love black birds, and black birds clearly love me!’

Reaching the top of the fort, I came face to face with Fat, a chubby blonde girl who always appeared clammy or lightly moistened. She stared at me through eyes that revealed a future of hepatitis, diabetes and glaucoma. ‘Welcome, Lou. Would you like a biscuit?’ said Fat, handing me a Salada. I was too polite to point out that a Salada wasn’t a real biscuit, so I just took it.

A second voice crept up behind me: ‘We’ve been watching you.’ It was Skinny, a mouse-like girl who liked to gnaw on things – and people, if the scarring on Fat’s arm was anything to go by.

You’re the small girl whose friends don’t like her. We know all about you.’

I’m in the same class as you guys.’

Class means nothing here on top of the fort,’ declared Skinny, clearly the more dominant in their girl-on-girl struggle to be on top.

So, Louise,’ said Skinny, ‘have you ever done a backflip off a fort before?’

Um, yeah, totally, like, all the time. If there’s a fort, I’m flipping off it.’

I was clearly lying, but my need for gang acceptance was too strong, or my self-esteem too low.

We thought so. From the first moment we saw you, we both knew, and I think I speak for Fat on this as well, that you were a girl with a daredevil spirit.’

Some people describe me as a bit of a scamp,’ I interjected.

Yes, that’s exactly what we thought. You’re a bit of a scamp. And you know what we said we were missing in this gang?’

A bit of a scamp?’ I asked

Exactly. Our gang needs a bit of scamp, and you, Lou, might be just that bit of a scamp we’re looking for – that is, if you can prove your worth.’

I stepped to the edge of the fort. I’m not sure what it was – maybe it was the fact that I’d finally found some friends who had unbridled faith in me, maybe it was the crowd that had gathered at the bottom of the fort, the faces of the disenfranchised looking up at me: David with his penis in hand, the Asian kid who years later we’d discover was really just a New Zealander, the fourteen-year-old girl who was still in grade three due to foetal alcohol poisoning. Suddenly I realised that yes, I could flip, I could do it. I grabbed the metal bar with both my hands and felt a tap of support on my back from Fat or Skinny, and I flipped/plunged to my death.

But something strange happened as I hurtled through the air that day, all 32 kilos of me. My best friend Tamara, dressed as Bette Midler, appeared beside me and spoke words of such wisdom, chanting the lyrics of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’.

And then everything went black.

They’re not sure how long I lay unconscious on the tanbark after my 6-foot fall (or ‘moment of freedom’), but it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. Then, somehow, I managed to drag my battered and broken body to the teachers’ lounge. Doctors say that after some head traumas, the human body can appear to function as normal before the haemorrhaging kicks in.

Not two weeks after the best failed backflip in the history of our school, photos were taken, and this is how this photo came to be – a memory from my day of empowerment, a day when maybe I didn’t make into Fat and Skinny’s gang, but at least I tried and that’s all that matters. This photo reflected the scamp in all of us. That is, until a few months ago.

Mum and I were talking about photos, the way that mothers and daughters often do. I was reflecting on this particular school photo in a moment of nostalgia and started to recount the story of my quest for greatness in the school playground one afternoon, when suddenly my mother sobered up and interjected.

You didn’t fall,’ she stated.

You were pushed. They tried to kill you.’

I said nothing for a moment, trying to take it all in.

It was always suspected,’ she continued, ‘but no one could never prove it. They found a Salada not far from where your body landed.’

That doesn’t mean anything,’ I spat back, angry and confused.

The teacher’s report said they lured you onto the fort with biscuits – they’d been trying to get a kid up there for days to push off. You must’ve just blocked it out.’

I wanted answers! ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me?’

There never seemed like a good time. We thought maybe when you graduated from primary school, but then you got cystic acne. And then we thought maybe in high school, but there was still the acne, and you got your period and breasts on the same day. That, coupled with your unwanted hair problem, your distinct lack of interest in cock, which led us to believe you might be a lesbian, and your penchant for wearing Jack Daniels promotional t-shirts, Blundstone boots and elasticised Kmart trousers – well, there never seemed to be a good time to bring it up, you know, without the possibility you might kill yourself. And Lou, this was in the days before funeral insurance.’

So look at this photo, everyone. Look at it carefully, because it’s no longer a photo of a scamp-like girl and her effeminate younger brother – it’s the photo of an attempted murder victim and her effeminate younger brother.

It is a photo of betrayal, for, in the words of Arthur Miller, better known as the man who married Marilyn Monroe, ‘Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.’ Sticks like my face, covered with my blood and mucus, did that day in 1987 to tanbark below the fort.

Lou

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