Dear Kate (Middleton),

This one was about the Royal post-baby bump:


Dear Kate Middleton,

Thank you for being a friend. I’ve had four children in seven years, and an untold number of family size Kit Kat packs. The Kit Kats were for medicinal reasons, prescribed by… myself. My youngest child, now aged three, frequently pulls up my top and buries his face in what can only be described as a post-post-partum muffin top. Recently, at swimming class, I asked the three-year-old not to do this any more.

He asked me, “Why?”

As I struggled to reword “because it’s embarrassing for mummy”, my other son (aged four) leaned over and said, “Because it’s lumpy.”

Yes, it is lumpy. At night my two youngest boys take turns in rubbing my tummy. It’s just this thing they do. I don’t recommend it as a sleep cue but it’s all we’ve got at the moment. And, as you can tell, sometimes they rub my tummy during the day. In public.

I should exercise more but beyond running after pre-schoolers, there’s just not a lot of time for it in my life. I will get around to it, I swear. It’s on my list. As I stand in the checkout at Coles, clenching my pelvic floor and visualising my core (no, not really – I’m trying to remember what vital food item I’ve forgotten), headlines glare at me: How Kim Kardashian lost 10kg in a week, Kim says “I love my post-baby body”.

Although I’ve never thought of Kim Kardashianas a role model (please God, let her never be a role model), the post-baby photos are annoying, unrealistic, unfair and some of them are airbrushed and carefully staged. I don’t need to see it – and I feel sad that so many of those celebrity women who have just had babies, feel the need to do it.

After each of my babies, I have left the hospital looking pregnant. My mother-in-law tells me it’s trapped wind. I love my mother-in-law so I just nod. She may be right. She makes me eat buckets of cooked garlic which she swears is the remedy back in her village in Sri Lanka. Sure enough, it makes me pass the most garlicky gas you can imagine. Actually, don’t try to imagine it, it’s noxious. After a few weeks of alienating loved ones, my tummy has “deflated” a little and then my body and I step onto a path familiar for many women. My tummy’s not awesome, it doesn’t look like Miranda Kerr’s did post-baby, but then neither do I.

So when I saw you leave the hospital with the baby, William and your baby-bump, I just wanted to fly over to London, push through your security entourage, risk arrest and high five you.

Thank you for wearing your bump, not hiding it. If the weeks and months ahead are hard, feel free to take a break, and have a Kit Kat.

Much love and all the best with the baby,

Shanks xx

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To Read a Mockingbird

Hi guys, this one went up on MM a while back. It’s about my favourite novel and my favourite man:


In 2010 Husband embarked on an important personal journey. He began to read To Kill A Mockingbird whilst we were on holiday. He’s not a prolific reader of fiction. It’s one of his few failings and over the years I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve grown to accept it and to focus on his many other strengths as a best friend, husband and father. He is an avid reader of The Economist, which has a Valium-like effect on me, despite the fact that I have been known to publicly pretend that The Economist is where I get my news from. In reality, I get most of my news from Husband who I use like a hot RSS feed with fringe benefits, in between reading the works of fiction that I love.But I digress.

As I said, in 2010 Husband began to read To Kill A Mockingbird. I can not begin to describe my excitement that finally he was going to read this masterpiece and we would be able to spend hours talking about it together. And I mean hours. Like many people, I love this book. I read it as a child, I studied it as a teenager and I memorised it as a young adult.  As an older adult, it is the novel I turn to when I’m anxious or worried.

To Kill A Mockingbird inspired my childhood belief in justice and the importance of defending fairness, even when, as Atticus said to Jem, “you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

I could go on and on and on about it.

In 2010 Husband started To Kill A Mockingbird but he didn’t finish it. I KNOW. I hear you, people. He has continued to carry it with him on the following three years of holidays and long train journeys. When he wasn’t reading The Economist, the European football scores or other books, he dipped into this piece of the literary canon.

I have had to learn to swallow my impatience and incredulity as the months stretched into years and he still hadn’t got to the court case, Mrs Dubose’s camellias or even that timeless scene with the rabid dog.  I had to learn not to ask ” What do you think?” instead, confining my desire to book-club it to my head. (Yes, to book-club is a verb).

And finally, on holiday in Fiji, aided by a Kids Club and poor Internet reception, he finished it. I was so happy I could have jumped him. But of course I wanted to know what he thought of it first.

“Yeah, it’s really good.” FULL STOP

I had waited three long and critique-barren years for that. I probed him gently, hoping to elicit further comment that would allow me to unleash the torrent of deferred deconstruction that was waiting, bursting to come out. But no. He loved it, no further comment.

I tried “Would it help you to talk about the novel if we were both naked? ” It helped but not to talk about the novel.

He did add that over the years, when he read the novel on public transport, strangers would come up to him to tell him how much they loved it and he enjoyed this break with public transport privacy protocol.

I briefly pondered recasting the novel. “Darling, if Atticus was Arsene Wenger, and Jem and Scout were a younger, idealistic version of Arsenal, and the court case was the European Cup Final, how would it make you feel…?”

In the end I decided to hold hands and watch the movie adaptation with him instead, to re-read the novel (again) and to join a book club.

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Did I marry my father?

Recently an old uni friend (Friend M) and I went bush walking in the Blue Mountains. The last time we tried this was in 1994 and it ended badly, so I don’t know what we were thinking. In an attempt to distract me from the physical pain of sustained exercise, Friend M put one of her observations about the human condition out there for discussion.  
Friend M thinks that her male friends have ended up with partners who have the opposite personalities to their mothers; and her female friends are with partners who are like their fathers.
As Friend M hauled me up endless stone stairs (and I wondered what the hell Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson were thinking), she suggested we develop these observations into a theory. 
I realise that this theory is based on observations of ourselves and her group of friends and relatives; so the field of research is narrower than it should be. And as longitudinal studies go (this one is only about twenty years old) it’s too short to yield credible conclusions (yes I know it has far deeper credibility issues).
Nor is it an original or new theory; apparently Freud and Jung developed something far more insightful on the matter. 
But when I reached the point in our leisurely 4 hour bush walk that I was ready to cry or waste the time of the NSW search and rescue services, Friend M cleverly suggested that we test the theory against all of our friends, colleagues and acquaintances once more. We encountered a few couples who undermined the theory and so we excluded them from our research pool. As this was not a funded study, we figured we should be allowed to use any wacky methodology we liked, including excluding evidence we didn’t like. 
It’s not a profound theory and there are many examples that disprove it. But take for example my Husband’s mother, my Mother-in-Law. She is a joyous, sociable lady who faces the world with unassailable optimism and enthusiasm. On the other hand, I am too happy with my own company; and I often feel uncomfortable in new social situations, sometimes even in familiar ones.  Whilst my Mother-in-Law fearlessly expects the best from life, I am more anxiously braced for the worst. I have drafted contingency plans and cumbersome but still legally binding documents to deal with all manner of emergency situations. At family weddings, I have wondered what would happen if a terrorist attack took place, killing all of my heirs and their heirs and their heirs. (In such an event, my original Millennium Falcon has been bequeathed to my best friend K, who I know will treasure it as much as I do.) My Mother-in-Law is a lot more fun to be with at family weddings. 
And take for example, my father and my Husband. Both are principled men who love exploring, studying esoteric subjects and watching Bond movies. They have both had responsibility thrust upon them but they handle it with fortitude and an endearing sense of humour.
In our assessment conducted over the life-threatening terrain of the Blue Mountains, our sample set supported the theory. Our male friends did seem to be with partners who were very different from their mothers  – not that there was anything wrong with their mothers. And our female friends seemed to be with partners who were very similar to their fathers – not that their fathers were all necessarily shining paragons of humanity. It was just interesting to see a strong pattern emerging.
Is this only the case with me and my friends (and our faulty research) or are you the same – is your partner like one of your parents or the opposite?  Are you like your mother-in-law or different? Do you think men seek partners who are not like their mothers and women seek partners who are like their fathers? Or is this one Dr Phil-esque generalisation too many?
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This is not an entertaining anecdote about motherhood

My two and a half year old son Sid can be a real pain in the arse sometimes. He seems to be embracing both The Terrible Twos and The Threenager personas simultaneously and with enthusiasm. He can be heard saying regularly “I gonna beat you Poo Poo” followed by a triple sashay kick to the reproductive organs of anyone in his way. We’ve asked the older kids not to watch Ninjago around him any more and Husband has taken to walking around the house with his hands over his balls, without any other purpose in mind, honestly. Out of all of our four children, nature has clearly left the strongest-willed until last, perhaps realising that if we’d had him first there might have been no others.

On the weekend we took the kids to a family birthday party. It was chaotic and raucous as children’s parties should be and when it was time to go I told Sid that we needed to put our shoes on and go to the car. Sid said “OK Poo Poo” and before I could make our exit, I realised I couldn’t find my car keys. After a good ten minutes of searching bags, shoes, toilets and all the other obvious places one might leave car keys, my cousin said “Where’s Sid?”.

I started to look around but not anxiously. The house had been secure and Sid never goes anywhere without me. He can be a limpet sometimes, fixing himself to my body like an uncoordinated third leg. I was looking but not finding, and I could feel my throat starting to close in that way it does when I’m afraid, when another cousin called me on my mobile to say she had Sid. He had walked out of the house, across a suburban street and down four houses to wait at our car. My cousin had parked behind my car and she was leaving the party at precisely the right time to find him.

I really don’t want to think about the “what if’s” of Saturday afternoon but they bubble up in my mind frequently; a recurring nightmare that plagues me whilst I am awake. What if, what if, what if? At night, Sid still co-sleeps with us. We are sleep school failures and I am resigned to this. Since Saturday afternoon I have been relishing it. I wake up in the night and watch him, wedged in the crook of my shoulder. Whilst he sleeps, I trace the curve of his perfectly round head that protects his brain; I count the small ridges of his ribcage that protect his heart and lungs; I grip the strong muscle and bone of his legs that are now confident enough to run away from me. I promise him I will protect him better tomorrow. I watch him breathe deeply and as he exhales, I inhale him. Unknown to Sid, I kiss the eyes and the lips that usually sparkle with mischief, and I say quietly, fearfully and gratefully to the universe, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

This post appeared in Mamamia (Part 20) as:

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Democracy and the downside of family

The really annoying thing about your family is that you’re stuck with them for life. You didn’t get to choose them but you do have to live with them. No offence but I wouldn’t want to be related to Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. It’s nothing personal; they seem like decent people, I just wouldn’t want to be related to them. Thankfully they’re my politicians not my cousins, which means that if I don’t like what they’re saying or doing, I’m not stuck with them forever. I can vote and try to change my government, which is more than I can say for my cousins (no offence guys).

So why do I get nervous every time I vote? I always know who I want to vote for but as I stand in the voting booth I get a total mental blank. I completely and utterly forget how to vote. It has happened to me in every election I have voted in since I turned 18 many, many years ago. I was raised in Australia. I have lived here, studied here and voted here for a long time. I think most people assume I know what I’m doing when I go down to the voting booth.

Thankfully there are instructions outside the booth and inside the booth for the last minute panickers like me. At every election, I stand inside the booth, I re-read the instructions, I take a deep breath and then I number the box I want. I tell myself to remember next time, there’s absolutely nothing to panic about. It’s confusing but once you re-read the instructions, it’s actually quite easy and it’s very important.

There are countries in the world where people don’t have the right to vote. There are countries that don’t have any elections ever. There are countries that after years of war are finally having their elections for the first time. And there are countries that have elections but people are afraid to vote, they have no faith in the integrity of the process.

On Election Day, Australian citizens line up to vote.  They feel safe, they feel respected and they feel heard. They have a voice, and every time they vote, they use it.

If you have recently become an Australian citizen, please enrol to vote. You need to get on the roll. Click on to the Australian Electoral Commission’s site below – there is a form you need to fill out (there is always a form isn’t there). There are also language and interpretation services if you need extra help (PH: 1300 720 153).

[This post has been kindly sponsored by the AEC. Every word is mine – I really don’t want to be related to Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott and voting is an important privilege, right and obligation of citizenship.]

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The Worst Thing About Kids’ Sport (Mamamia! Part 19)


This one is about the things parents say to their kids at sport. Sound like any one else’s Saturday morning?

Thank you as always for reading,

xx Shanks


“Snatch it Sophie, snatch it!”
Sorry, did that parent just say “Snatch it?” Surely she meant “Catch it Sophie, catch it!”?
It was a chilly Saturday morning at the netball courts of north  Sydney  and it was possible that my inner ear had frozen into stasis. Or perhaps it was premature rigor mortis setting in, it really was damn cold. I thought I must have heard wrong.
But there it was again, “Snatch it Sophie, pull it, PULL IT!” shouted the mummy as her daughter and a girl from the opposing team each held onto the ball tightly, both eyeing the under-aged umpire nervously. Or were they eyeing Scary Netball Mummy fearfully? I was certainly afraid. I wanted to snatch my child (and hide in a warm bed); it was all a little too early in the morning for such hardcore parental “guidance”.
Scary Netball Mummy is not alone at our local netball association. There is also Scary Netball Daddy. I know it’s not politically correct to say this but my heart sinks when I realise we’re playing his daughter’s team. I just haven’t had enough coffee by 8am to get through his impersonation of Al Pacino in an NFL block buster. There’s the excoriating tone, the bullish pacing and the heated huffing as he shouts at Heidi “Focus Heidi, focus! Eyes on the ball! Get in there. GET IN THERE!”
Heidi’s coach recently saw my concerned expression during a game and tried to reassure me, saying that Heidi’s father just wanted her to try her best. I want Heidi to try her best too; I just don’t want her to have daddy issues and a steroid addiction by the time she reaches the U13s.
I’m also not convinced that shouting certain things in certain ways is actually helpful to our children. I think there’s a difference between constructive guidance and “Use your elbows!”
I should have known this was coming. At the start of the season, our pint-sized professional ball droppers graduated from the sheltered world of Netta (a relaxed game for the littlies) to the harsher world of netball (a proper game, real rules). I remember hearing a coach/mother say to her team of fresh-faced 8 year olds “This is netball now girls, we’re not in Netta anymore. Remember that.”
I do remember that, and the netball association’s rule that prohibits parents from yelling at their children from the sidelines. I have been known to break this rule, shouting (sweetly, honestly) at my daughter “No darling, no, run the other way. The other way!”  I’m yet to yell “Snatch it, pull it!” but my time may come. I know I’ve thought it, just quietly.  There’s a difference between thinking it and saying it, but maybe I too am on a slippery slope and I’m not that far away from accessing (or unleashing) my inner-Al Pacino. For my daughter’s sake, I certainly hope not!
What is the worst thing you’ve heard parents yell at their kids from the sporting sidelines? Is it helpful or harmful?
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Should the Primary Earner do housework? (Mamamia! Part 18)

Hi there, 

This one was about the way being the Primary Earner, the Only Earner, the Secondary Earner or the NOn-Earner can change the housework dynamic.

I hope you like it!

xx Shanks


A friend of mine recently told me that her husband refused to do the early morning childrens’ sport because he said he was the one who made the money for the family. Therefore (according to him) he should not be expected to do onerous domestic duties and his weekend rest and recreation should be prioritised.
Hmm. Interesting.
I have to say, I wasn’t shocked. I’ve heard this one before (from men and women) and I think what I found most interesting was that he was prepared to articulate this philosophy so clearly and so politically incorrectly.
He didn’t sugar-coat it with a “Darling, would you mind doing the 7am netball again, I’ve just had a really hard week trading over-priced derivatives…”
No, it was a very clear “I hunt, so you must gather, even on the weekends when I’ve hung up my spear and I’m watching the Olympics”.
I also wondered how many men and (let’s be honest) women share this attitude. Another friend (a stay-at-home mum) told me that she deals with all of her baby’s night-wakings, every single night. Her rationale is that her husband (a really nice guy – not some chauvinistic Neanderthal), had to go to work and have his wits about him. He had to be able perform and communicate at a higher level. Therefore his rest was more important than hers and even on the weekends she continued to carry the full domestic load.
I have some issues with that, and not just because driving the car whilst profoundly sleep deprived can be fatal. But I also understand the attitude because I know that I have an impulse to do the same thing. It is possible that I share this attitude whilst also resenting and disagreeing with aspects of it. 
I have almost always been the Secondary Earner in our family (and more recently the Non-Earner). And, whether I am earning or not, I have always had an impulse that I don’t understand (or particularly like). I have this primal (or is it Stepford-esque) impulse to let my husband (currently the Only Earner) rest and recover when he comes home. Thankfully he has an impulse to ignore me and he pitches in happily. 
I understand and am all for good team work. It requires clearly delineated as well as shared roles. It requires that people play to their strengths, that we support our team members to do their best and that we work well together and alone. I also understand that the family unit needs certain roles to be fulfilled by one or both parents/carers for the family unit to survive and thrive. The earner or earners need to be supported and enabled to earn, so that the whole family can eat and have Foxtel.  I get that. 
What I am fascinated by is the notion that the Primary (or Only) earner might be absolved from all non-earning duties by virtue of being the Earner. 
Do many Primary or Only Earners feel that they are entitled to come home after work and rest and relax on week nights and weekends? Do many Secondary Earners or Non-Earners share and enable this attitude by assuming (happily or resentfully) the full or greater load of non-earning duties, even when the Earner is hanging out at home? 
And perhaps most controversially, does the dynamic change depending on who the Primary or Only Earner is? When polling the playground recently about this topic, I was told about a Working Mum who came home to carry more than what was considered the “fair share” of non-earning duties. That Working Mum did not feel as entitled to rest and recover as the Working Dad above did.  For the dads that stay-at-home or work part-time, don’t shoot me down, I’m just citing playground hearsay.
I’m curious and I’d like to poll the cyber-playground – what do other parents think and what have you experienced about this attitude. Let me know…
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