Thursday, October 18, 2007

Best Laid Plans

What I didn’t know was that Bali was not to be mine, either. I understand the need to be heard. I seriously do. I understand that the less we are heard, the louder the noise we need to make. If you’ve ever lived in my neighbourhood and been forced to overhear a fight between my mother and myself, you will know this to be true. Shouting Loud and Gesticulating Wildly is my name translated into English. But I draw the line at blowing up people in order to have your voice heard. I know people who do this must be completely powerless and desperate. I know they are hopped up on the belief that a bomb blast will set them free. And weirdly, through my horribly middle-class every-point-of-view-is-valid eyes, I can empathise with the bombers. But not nearly as much as I empathise with the victims of these blasts. The Balinese waiters whose families no longer have parents. The football dudes having a drink who left the Sari club without their legs or their best mates. The mother whose toddler came home in a body bag. No voice needs to be heard that badly.

So my dad calls and tells me Bali has just been placed on the “high danger risk, do not visit” list by the Australian government. I laugh this off. “I’m sure most countries are on that list, dad. Israel and South Africa must definitely be and you travel there all the time”. I check the list online. No, just Bali and Zimbabwe. I add the two million and first tick in my Book of Times My Dad is Right and I Am Wrong. And just as I’m closing the book, another call from Dad. “Just thought you should know there’s a bird flu epidemic on Bali. Not that I’m telling you not to go, but basically everything you might eat if you were to go would stand a good chance of being fatally poisonous. How are the kids?”

And so I do something decidedly dull. I cancel our trip to Bali. If R and I didn’t have kids, we would take the chance. But we’re Responsible Parents now. The thought of my kids having to see one of those cloying pictures they use of smiling dead people in the newspaper is enough to put me off going. No Bali for us. No tropical sunsets, warm breezes and mild irritable bowel syndrome from eating street food. And no refund on the hotel deposit either.

But Cathy, lovely, wonderful Cathy, is at our service, so where else can we go that is inexpensive, warm, exotic with idolatrous locals? Three minutes on E-Bay tells us. Glorious Phuket! For only $150 total, we get a week in a four star hotel. Amazing! Take this offer up quickly or your kids will grow up and kick you out of the house before you ever get to wear a swimming costume again.

And we do. And all is not lost. And yes, a friend warns me there are old European men holding hands with fifteen-year-old Thai girls in Phuket but the optimist in me assumes those girls are really 25 and just have the beautiful Thai skin which makes them look younger. So we pack the bags. No baby bottles. No nappies. No organic snacks or wet-wipes or a change of clothes in case of ‘accidents’. We are adults. We will be travelling like normal people do. We will suppress our desire to lie on the floor kicking our legs in the air and screaming if the hostess tells us the chicken is finished and we’ll have to have fish. We are entering a tantrum free zone and it feels erotic.

But just as I'm about to pack the Kama Sutra, a call from Cathy. Darling Nanny-Bot made from all good Nanny parts Cathy. “I’m really sorry. My dad is unwell. I’m not going to be able to look after your kids”.

She is totally reasonable and within her rights. She has a sick father. I reassure her that we will be fine. If we don’t get to go away, there will always be another holiday. In another three years time. And I bid farewell to lovely Cathy.

And before I can help it, I am joining my kids on the floor and my feet are in the air kicking and I am shouting at R “WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY CATHY-DOLL? I WANT MY CATHY DOLL!”

And my husband sends me to my room.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

So you think you can tell, heaven from hell?

Witness the pendulum swinging.

Our first holiday as a couple in three years. I’ve been planning it for ten months. Requirements: inexpensive, warm, preferably exotic but anything where the locals worship idols will do. Did I say inexpensive? I meant Cheap. Because since having three kids, I’ve realised that no matter how much money either myself (not much) or R (a little more) makes, there will never be enough.

Bali, it is decided. We can use frequent flyers from the days when we used to be. And we’ll attend one of those horrifying timeshare presentations in exchange for free accommodation. This is what we do, because we are desperate to have an entire night’s sleep. Apart from being woken every few hours by children who in turn wake each other, we have the delightful situation of living through our neighbour’s renovation. They start drilling and tapping on my head at 7AM every morning, and stop only when I have finally decided to give up trying to go back to sleep. And they do it on Saturday morning too. Apparently it’s not only legal, it’s a guaranteed way of ensuring insanity in any Jews within a hundred mile vicinity. Day of rest, people. Day of rest.

So, The Holiday Plans. I realise that the only way it will be vaguely pleasant is if I am completely confident that the children are well looked after. I realise that asking my parents or my in-laws to move in is such a preposterously absurd idea that it belongs on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I realise that hiring a live in is not going to meet the Cheap requirement. But, as responsible as little O is, she is only two and a half and cannot be expected to look after her younger siblings without adult supervision. And so, I phone the Nanny Agency. This is a place where rich people get to ask for whatever their nanny-requiring heart’s desire. A live-in-sole-charge-with-a-nursing-degree? No prob. A-housekeeper-granny-who-can-cook-pizza-from-scratch-while-changing-nappies? We have ten of those. As long as you pay. And pay plenty. Some for the nanny, some for the agency, some for the government, some for the sheer joy of being able to make a wish and have it granted.

But I am good at pretending so I put on my best Rich Voice and ask for someone game enough to look after three kids under three. And a slightly belligerent dog who used to be cute but then grew an extra long snout and a bobbly bit in the middle that makes her look like a deformed cat crossed with a sewer rat. (No one believes me that the cat-rat cross is this season’s Shpoodle). And, without blinking, they send me Cathy. Glorious Cathy. She is fifty but has the energy of a teenager, she is friendly but firm. She has an incredibly glamorous CV. She worked for Russell Simmons and interviewed with Russell Crowe. She comes from country Queensland but has lived in the Queen’s Country, England. She is responsible but fun, affectionate and intelligent. And she will be ours. Oh yes, for the cost of a small car, she will spend the entire week devoted to our kids. She will cook them meals shaped like boats and giraffes, she will teach them to paint, she will toilet train them, she will have them speaking fluent French while doing the dishes by the time we return. In years to come, they will thank me. Merci, Maman. By selflessly bringing Cathy into our lives and going to Bali, you enriched us in ways we can never be grateful enough for. You are indeed a fantastic mother. Please, allow us to support you for the rest of your life. Will a villa in San Tropez do?

Yes, Cathy was beautiful and perfectly shaped. I should have known by that mere fact that she was never to be mine...