The Queen’s Glove

The Queen of England (and Australia) was in my hometown of Perth on the weekend, and it turned out that she was making an appearance at a family friendly event in a very large park by the river.

I was persuaded by an English friend to “pop into the city to see the Queen”. So I dragged my 3 kids and my husband along. Hubby wanted to paint the back fence, but I thought it was a great excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the sunny weather in the city.

Usually I stay far, far away from large crowds and these sorts of big “organised” family events. And as it turned out, there were 100,000 people in the crowd or something insane like that. We walked from the train past a couple of kilometers of barricades and hundreds of police, while helicopters clattered overhead. We queued to cross empty streets while security people talked on radios.

Did I mention that my husband hates both queues AND crowds?

Queen Sighting

This was our view for a long time. We waited. And waited and waited and waited and waited. We ate hotdogs. I got a bit sunburnt. I ran off to the toilet.

And I came back just in time to snap this winner of a photo.

Queen Sighting

I think it’s beautifully hilarious. It perfectly captures the silliness of my whole day.

In a blink of an eye, the Queen’s car drove past, and then she was gone.

Just a flash of a gloved hand, waving.

My 6 year old son summed it up, “We walked all that way, spent the whole day here, just to see a LITTLE OLD LADY IN A CAR??? TOTAL FAIL MUM!!!”

My children were SO GRUMPY AT ME!

And to make it worse, I discovered that my two year old was still excited because he thought we were there to see either “Queen” (the 80s rock band who my husband is a fan of), or Lightening McQueen (a character from the Pixar movie “Cars”). Man, was he ever going to be disappointed.

So I made it up to them with ice cream.

And my husband? He was so quiet that I knew I owe him BIG TIME for this.

Like Pigs in Mud

Put children anywhere they can smell water and they will RUN stupidly towards it.

The other day, I brought all 3 of my kids to the city and met up with a girlfriend and her 2 kids.

We spent 6 hours doing cultured things like going to the museum, the art gallery, looking at stuff, eating in a please-sit-still cafe. So I was very surprised to discover a muddy pond in the middle of the Perth Cultural Centre – deliberately created by the city, called “Perth Wetlands”.

Liam at the pond

The kids played on the boardwalk surrounding the lake, collected stones and bits of wood, pretended to go fishing with reeds, stomped in the swampy beach bits, and they skipped around the edge of the water, hoping to “accidentally” fall in, as an excuse to have permission to wade in the water.

They were like pigs in mud. In their element.

All the while I was keeping a very close eye on my toddler, Liam. Being 2.5 years old, he was very keen to be with his older brothers, and do all the dangerous, dirty, reckless things they were doing.

I was trying to make sure he didn’t go too near to the edge of the boardwalk. But after some time, it was plainly obvious that I wasn’t making much difference. He really wanted to be there. The edge is, after all, something you have to be on… if you want to get to the water.

The water wasn’t very deep. Probably ankle high. Everyday, he sits in a bathtub full of water deeper than that. He’s a big boy now.

What the hell, let him fall in. After all, that is what happens if you live on the edge. At worst, he could fall in, bump his head, get soaked, stand-up by himself and fill the Perth Cultural Centre with an indignant, echoing howl.

And if he DID fall in? Well, of course, I would go in after him. But I would pause to take my shoes off first.

Am I a bad mother? Hell yeah!

Liam at the pond

Look at my kid’s crazy red hair! Look at my crazy gold shoes!

My more relaxed attitude to his “safety” suddenly made me realise that he was developing so fast, and soon, I won’t need to follow him around, step by step.

I had a slow moment of sadness. A feeling that time was slipping through my fingers. My last baby was growing up faster than I could believe. I am near the end of me being the source and focus of this amazing guy’s life, and of him being the purpose of mine. I am near the end of the hormonal, emotional roller-coaster it has been to bring three humans into the world.

Sigh. I love my kids. And I love being a mother.

(However, I don’t particularly like finding out that one of my little darlings had filled my handbag with algae-covered sticks.)

Blood, Brains and Jelly Beans

I was standing in the kitchen, cooking dinner. It was 4pm, the end of a long day. The children had finished their homework and were now playing in the other side of the house.

I couldn’t see them, and I couldn’t hear them. Just how I like it at this time of day.

I threw some chopped onions into a pan and took a sip from my glass of wine.

Then I heard a blood curling scream pierce through the air. It came from one of the bedrooms.

I dropped my spatula and ran.

It was a senseless and terrifying few seconds of running. Where your brain, heart and breathing all seem to stop. Where you see everything, but don’t process anything. Where you feel like you’re moving in slow motion.

I reached the bedroom and saw one of my sons (the middle one, of course) standing in the middle of the room, screaming, with blood pouring from his forehead.

His forehead had been slashed open, and blood oozed down over his eyes, down along his nose all over his cheeks and chin. Added to his screaming in real fear, it made for a real life horror show.

I grabbed a dirty t-shirt from the floor and slapped it over his forehead to stop the bleeding. I gathered him into my arms and held him while he screamed and shook.

Ok what do I do now?

In that moment, I suddenly felt like a helpless child.

Although I was THE MOTHER of the three helpless children in the room, I wanted someone to tell me what to do. I wanted someone to swoop in and to fix everything. I wanted all the make-it-all-right events to magically happen, just like in the movies, and for the story to unfold and everything to work out in the end.

But of course, I was here, in reality. With my bleeding son in my arms. And I was the only grown up in the room and I had to decide what to do.

Dozen things flew around my brain. I swear to god, I aged 10 years in 2 minutes.

Ambulance. Blood loss. My son is not dead. So much blood on the floor. How am I going to get my son to a hospital? Telephone. Husband. Burning onions. The smoke alarm will go off soon. Calm down. One thing at a time. Be strong. You are the grown up. Older child. Younger child. What happened?

Apparently they were playing on the floor when Sean spun around and cracked his head on the CORNER EDGE of his clothes dresser, slicing himself open.

I took a look under the dirty t-shirt.

The slash was DEEP, and with the pressure off, it welled up with blood in an instant. I slapped the t-shirt back on, partly to stop the bleeding, but also because I just didn’t want to see all that blood! AAAAHHHHHHH!!!

I instructed my older child, who is 8 years old, to get me the phone, turn off the stove, get a frozen pack from the freezer, and to run across the road to my neighbour, who is a nurse. He did it all with ease.

I called my husband. Home in 20 minutes.

My neighbour and her daughter came over. Luckily, both nurses. They have seen it all before, and much, much worse. They had a look at Sean’s wound, put some special sticky tape across it, and agreed that it would need “a few stitches”. I felt somewhat calmed. No brain damage then. No lost eye. Just a scar. No big deal.

I was feeling thankful. But screaming inside with adrenalin and fear .

We were sitting in the waiting room. Sean had a cracking headache. I was trying to be all cool and calm. This shit happens all the time, right? I’m a big girl.

The doctor saw us. He injected a big fat needle of anesthetic, twice, into Sean’s forehead.

A nurse held Sean’s head. The doctor taped little pads over Sean’s eyes to stop anything dropping in. I was instructed to hold Sean’s hands – for comfort AND restraint.

The doctor went in, with his tiny needle and thread, to pull the swollen, ugly gash back together. Despite the anesthetic, Sean was twitching, gritting his teeth and hissing with pain.

I saw everything happen in slow motion. In the warm spotlight of that surgery room, I watched the doctor sew up the layers of flesh and fat and muscle congealed with blood and fluid and god knows what else was dried onto my son’s forehead, while he twisted in pain under my arms.

So what did I do?

I fainted.

I felt the blood drain from my face. My eyes closed. And it was kind of a slow collapse heading towards the floor. The doctor helped keep my head from hitting the floor with one hand while he held the needle and thread in mid stitch with the other hand.

New nurses rushed in, picked me off the floor, gave me a cold towel for my head, pressed a glass of water to my lips, and fed jelly beans into my mouth.

I was like a rag-doll. Oh the shame.

Doctors and nurses, they were all laughing at me. Ha Ha, Mum fainted.

My son, with his eyes sticky-taped shut and still being sewn up, said, “Mum can I have a jellybean too? Save a red one for me, yeah?”

So much for being the grown up!

Enjoying the Ride

Bright Blue Perth Sky

This morning I woke up, looked out my window and OMG it was such a beautiful day! For cycling! Or going to the beach!

I chose to cycle. So I dropped my 2 kids off at school, stuck my toddler in the bike seat and cycled 10kms (in about 45 minutes). Which is pretty good considering that my toddler weighs about 10kgs and I was carrying an extra 2kgs of toddler paraphernalia, including water and snacks.

I always feel fantastic when I get some exercise in the morning.

I’ve been on a health kick lately – trying to eat better, exercise hard, tone up, live healthy and enjoy the process.

Liam and Karen

Another thing I’ve been enjoying… is hanging out with my toddler.

Now at 2.5 years old, Liam is very transportable, loves to see new things and he doesn’t get too cranky if he misses his nap. I take him everywhere now. We sit down at cafes and restaurants and have a meal together. We even eat dim sum together!

He has this very “proper” personality which makes our daily conversations quite funny.

The other day we were in the car and he said, “Oh no mum! I’m wearing my pyjama pants and we’re going out! What if someone sees me? You need to do a U turn and go home right now so I can put my jeans on!”

And I’m all, “Oh man, really? Neh that’s ok. You’re a little kid. Little kids are supposed to wear pyjama pants to the shops. We’re just going to grab some milk. We’ll go fast so no one will see you…”

“Actually mum, I’m s’posed to be wearing jeans. Pyjama pants are for sleeping. And the lady at the checkout will see me. And please don’t go too fast or you might drop the milk…”

The kid’s not even 3 years old and I can’t trick him anymore.

And then the other OTHER day, I was at the meat section at the supermarket, looking to buy something for dinner. I stopped a guy who was dressed like a butcher and asked him about lamb chops.

He replied with the *DREAMIEST* Irish accent, and I was all “UH HUH, and can you explain what the difference between this cut and that cut is? And what about this one?”

I was 3 questions in, and having a very interesting conversation about meat preservatives, when Liam gave me this eye rolling look of Oh come! and he said “Stop talking to the man and buy the lamb chops mum!!”

Liam Taking off his socks (2.5 yo)

And lastly here’s my little genius at the park, taking off his socks with his teeth.

Like A Dream of Flying

I went HOT AIR BALLOONING!

I was invited to have an experience by Red Balloon – a website offering a huge range of experiences you can buy for yourself, or for someone else.  You can choose to go surfing, sky diving, take a wine tour, a cooking workshop, do aerobatics in an old plane, or have a day spa massage (there is seriously so much stuff on that site!).

For me, I chose something similar to flying – ballooning!! I was really looking forward to it as I rang the ballooning centre to book a specific date.

But then, the details started to emerge. And it started to seem like a secret military operation.

Firstly, ballooning happens in Northam, which is 1.5 hours drive away from the city. And I had to be at Northam airfield at 4.30 AM. Yes, that’s 4.30 in the morning, which is still the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT as far as I am concerned. And then the lady I was talking to on the phone asked me how much I weighed. Weird.  Why would they need to know that?

The day arrived, and this is what Northam airfield looks like at 4.30am in the morning.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

It was insanely spooky (for me, a city girl) to drive in complete darkness, with no lights anywhere, except from our car. It was like a scene from a horror movie.

We found the Windward Ballooning Centre and met 30 other bleary-eyed, nervous looking people. We made our way into the briefing room, and all had a wake-up cup of coffee or tea.

Then we were introduced to our balloon ground crew, and had a little briefing. Basically, all I remember of the briefing was that:

a. The walls of the briefing room were covered with beautiful pictures of balloons, and…

b. The guy giving the briefing said THREE TIMES that there were no bathroom facilities for the next two hours, and I suddenly wished I hadn’t drunk the big cup of coffee. Oh crap!

Then we were led onto a bus, and headed out into the big, black darkness where, somewhere, our balloon was waiting for us. Exciting!

Now at this point – I have to say that I knew NOTHING about ballooning. I assumed that the balloon would be already inflated, gently tugging on its ropes, and that we were simply going to step gracefully into a basket and fly off, with the cabin crew saying “Welcome aboard Madam, would you care for a glass of champagne”. Just like in the movies, yeah?

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

But when we arrived at the launch point, in the first light, and still well before dawn, the balloon was still IN A BAG when we arrived. We watched the ground crew unroll the balloon, like a giant sleeping bag, and lay it out flat on the grass. Great. I was going flying in an aircraft that hadn’t been assembled yet. But the crew took only minutes to get things happening.

If you look carefully in the photo above, you might be able to see that the passenger basket was tipped over on it’s side and the balloon was fastened to the basket. Then the crew pointed some high powered fans and pushed air into the open mouth of the balloon. The noise of the petrol engines driving the fans was DEAFENING. And once the balloon was partly inflated, the pilot used the gas burner to pump hot air into it. This sounded like an explosion, and threw off an eerie blue light. The balloon got bigger and bigger, and started to rise up. It was HUUUUUUUGE!!!!

The pilot explained that each person’s position in the basket was determined by how much they had told the lady on the phone that they weighed – because it would keep the basket balanced for safety. I suddenly hoped nobody else had lied about their weight as much as I had.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

So the next step required us to CRAWL into the tipped-over basket and LIE DOWN in our designated position. That’s right! I had to crawl – like an animal – into my position, then lie on my back – like a DEAD animal – while holding on to some handles on the side of the basket.

However, while I was crawling into position, I almost freaked out… because my hair was untied, I had my sunglasses perched on my head, my scarf was flapping around, I had 1 camera around my neck and one small one around my wrist and I had to crawl right past the high powered fan. I was an accident waiting to happen!

There were 15 of us lying on our backs, crouching into something that looked like a massive picnic hamper. It was a very strange experience so far, and it redefined my sense of personal space. Imagine a very crowded lift – but much more crowded. And the lift is on its side. And on fire. Can you see me in the photo above going “WHAT THE HELL?”

The pilot was really working the gas burner with long blasts, and I was getting hot from the heat it was radiating. I was seriously scared that the product in my hair would catch fire from this giant hair drier. But then our balloon reached a certain point of fullness, and then suddenly, the whole basket was lifted UPRIGHT and PHEW – I survived.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

Look at me. Big, brave smile!!

As awkward as it was (the crawling-like-an-animal bit), I realized I was enjoying the adrenalin rush!! And it was pretty impressive to see the smoothness with which the crew were working.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

Check out that beautiful blue flame against the dusky morning sky. The burner was very loud, but when it stopped, there was no sound at all. Total silence.

A few more short, precise blasts of hot air and the balloon lifted off the ground. But we did not go straight up.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

Our pilot deliberately flew the balloon and basket so low over the field of long grass that the ends of the grass tickled the bottom of the basket with a gorgeous, gentle SSSHHHHHHHHHHH sound – oh my, it was magical.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

We rose higher and drifted gently over trees and fields.

Have you ever dreamed that you were flying? Flying like a superhero, without any jets or wings, just your body, floating high up over cities and fields?

Well this was exactly what it felt like. Just like in my dreams.

I felt weightless. Rising up slowly, then gliding, leisurely and silently over the whole world. It felt so natural. It was smooth and gentle. I felt like I could reach out and pluck the leaves from the trees.

It was AMAZING!!!

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

There were 2 balloons going out that morning. We had 15 people in our balloon, and I think there were 10 people in the other one.

We flew side by side and sometimes going up and over each other. It was so pretty and peaceful and serene.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

The sun slowly rose. The colours of the world below started to emerge from all the different shades of grey. I loved watching the sun rise. The pilot told us all about ballooning.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

We were in the Avon Valley, which is shaped like a big bowl in the landscape. The bowl traps the cold, still night air, which creates perfect weather conditions for ballooning in the early morning. The pilot steers the balloon just by going up and down into slightly different directions of wind.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

Our whole flight was guided by just occasional blasts of hot air. Usually a balloon flight takes about 45 – 60 minutes. But we were in the air for about 80 minutes. And I will admit, by that time, I was regretting the big cup of coffee.

We touched down gently, smoothly and precisely, landing only a few meters from the ground crew’s vehicles. We all climbed out of the basket with no gracefulness at all, and then watched the balloon slowly deflate like a big, friendly  giant lying down to sleep.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

Everyone had to help roll up the balloon and stuff it back into its bag.

Embarrassingly, I was too busy taking photos of the whole process and I felt a little bad that I wasn’t helping with the hard work. Everyone must’ve thought I was some ditzy, princess tourist who was too over the top with all her camera gear  (which is obviously pretty much true!).

And then we were back in the bus, and finished the experience with a champagne breakfast at a local restaurant.

Red Balloon and Windward Ballooning

I was so hungry that I ate several plates of fruit, pastries and scones, before discovering that there was also a hot breakfast. This was my plate and I ate ALL of it. I am a pig.

The whole ballooning experience certainly took me out of my daily routine. It was grand, spectacular and quite romantic.

A big thank you to Damien from Windward Ballooning for the excellent piloting.

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.

The team at Red Balloon are offering my readers a special promotion!

Receive $30 off when you spend $129 or more any experience.

To redeem: Visit www.redballoon.com.au and enter the promotional code REDKC01 at the checkout to receive your discount.

Terms and Conditions: Offer valid until 10/01/12. Promotional Code can only be used once per person. All purchases are subject to RedBalloon T&Cs, for full details read here.