If there’s going to be Panic, Let it be Organised

Mum was good in a crisis.

She was good when dealing with shock, when handling tantrums, when something unexpected happens, or just when things go to crap.

She knew that A Plan was needed – and that at the first sign of things going to crap, you first must stop and have a plan. Even if that plan was simply to make a cup of tea – it was still a plan.

Her motto: If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised…

The best example of this was when the Newcastle Earthquake hit in 1989. We first got the call over the radio (my father was a policeman back then). Both my parents were from that area – and my grandparents, aunts and uncles were still living around Newcastle when the earthquake happened. Within minutes, the word had spread and our phone was ringing off the hook. We weren’t the only people in our local town with family in Newcastle, and everyone assumed that we must know something because Dad was the local policeman. Soon people arrived at our house to wait for news. Our house had become Command Central.

With all these people, and everyone in a panic at this disaster, things could easily have gone to crap. But now on my Mum’s watch.

Mum immediately went into Action Mode. She did this without knowing if her parents were ok – or if her sister and their family were safe. She just starting organising people.

My older sister was in charge of our private phone. One of the local off duty constables manned the radio, and the other manned the police phone. Dad was sent next door to the police station with our address book to try and contact our family. My sister and I were in charge of the growing number of small children – we had to take them to the playroom and keep them quiet.

As people arrived – Mum gave them a quick update and then gave them a job. Someone made tea. Someone handed out the cups of tea. Another set up chairs in the lounge room near the radio. Someone else was in charge of making sure everyone had a biscuit to dunk in their tea. Someone was even in charge of handing out tissues.

I remember standing in the doorway – I had delegated the child minding to my younger sister and brother – and watching Mum. She was awesome. She gave directions, she consoled, she listened, she updated – but mainly she was calm and controlled.

It was only when Dad came in and said he had reached everyone in our family and they were all accounted for and safe – that she broke down momentarily. Dad held her and she had a cry for a moment, but then just as quickly, she wiped her eyes, lit a cigarette and said: “Right, who needs a coffee? I know I do.”

She was good in a crisis, my Mum.

The Shopping List

A pen and a notepad went everywhere with Mum, and there were numerous ones amongst the house. In the kitchen, on the bench and on the fridge; by the phone; on the coffee table in the lounge; next to the computer; by her bed.

Lists were daily, weekly, seasonally, yearly. They covered cleaning, meals, shopping, To-Do, To-Buy, To-Make.

The first list I remember Mum teaching me – however inadvertently, like all her best lessons – was the Shopping List.

I remember her leaning on the kitchen bench, checking the cupboard and writing. Checking the fridge and writing. Checking the pantry and writing. She would send us kids to check the bathroom. And she would ask us what we wanted that week – this would sometimes and sometimes not get added to the list. If we asked for a new pen, we might have some success – but if we asked for Fruit Loop cereal – we nearly always missed out.

The Shopping List was written in three columns. The first was pantry and cupboard items – and would always start with bread and cereal, followed by any other items we needed. The middle column was fresh items – and it always started with milk and margarine, and continued to fruit and vegetables. The last column was toiletries and cleaning products. At the bottom right would be the list of meat – this was separate because generally this came from the butcher, not the supermarket.

Whomever went shopping with Mum – it didn’t matter which one of us kids, and nor how old we were – had the job of crossing off the list. I think I learnt to read by this method. Mum would push the trolley and as she loaded another item, she would say – ‘Did you cross off tinned tomatoes?’ or ‘Don’t forget to cross off carrots’. As we got older and could read a little more fluently, we would reciprocate: ‘Did you get gravy?’ or ‘Don’t forget the toothpaste’.

When times were tight, Mum also carried a calculator and added up as she went. This was always her job. But when we reached the checkout – it was our turn to add it up. We would each have to guess how much the groceries were this week. There was no prize here – just the personal satisfaction that you had beaten the others by getting closest to the actual amount.

Mum paid in cash – out of the budget envelopes she carried in her purse. I remember the awkwardness of miscalculating and having to put items back. But I also remember the joy at getting a milky way thrown into the trolley on good days too.

Online shopping has of course changed the way we can shop now. You can save your ‘trolley’ and add up as you go. There are now fridges with internet screens and apps to scan your barcodes when you empty a packet of peas. But nothing will ever beat the simply pen and notepad stuck on the fridge, or the very simply three column shopping list. It’s how I do it. Why? It’s how I was taught, of course.

Emergency Pack

Mum was pretty organised for most things. She loved lists and labels and being prepared.

This organisation was important living in the country. Not just because shopping was more infrequent but also for the emergencies that occur when living in the bush. Bushfires, floods. Natural disasters are unfortunately common.

So Mum had an emergency pack. This was generally in the pantry, but it would come out when an emergency was close.

I remember one summer when I was little and Dad was called out to fight a fire on edge of town. The chances of the fire coming into town were slim, but out came the emergency pack. It was a plastic tub, and it contained:
A torch
The map book
Spare keys
A little phone book (this was before the days of mobile phones)
A notepad and pen
A first aid kit
Drink bottles filled with water
A packet of biscuits
Copies of our birth certificates, and other important documents

Mum would move the tub from the pantry to beside the front door. Next to this would go the box of photos.

Thankfully this box never actually left the house, as we never had to evacuate. But it was always there, just in case.

Paint Your Toenails Red

Every woman (and man for that matter) should paint their toenails red occasionally.

These were the words of advice from my Mum.

Especially if you’re feeling down – and need a boost. If you’re feeling a little shabby, and you hang your head – you’ll always smile if you have red toenails.

Even better – you could paint your toenails a different colour for each toe. That way, you’ll laugh when you look down.

Try it.

Bored (aka Board) Games

Mum – we’re bored.
Go find something to do then.
But there’s nothing to do.
Go outside. Read a book. Play a board game. Or else I will find something for you to do.

Well we didn’t want that. That meant chores.

So we’d almost always end up playing a board game. Monopoly. Scrabble. Boggle. Cluedo. They were the standards. We’d play on the floor, with cushions. And more often than not, after about 15 minutes of playing, Mum would bring us a snack – acknowledging we had made a good decision.

Board games were fun – but they also taught us how to share, to take turns, to be competitive, to win gracefully and to accept defeat with dignity.

Sure – they created arguments. Like the Christmas we fought hard during a session of The Game of Life. So hard in fact, that as a result – a new house rule was instilled by Mum. For the rest of the Christmas holidays each time we interacted with someone Mum would make us say: ‘I love you, I’m glad you’re here.’ Every time. It became a joke eventually – but it did help give us some perspective. We never did play Game of Life again though. That was tainted forever.

But mostly these games gave us our best Playing moments. I remember the marathon Monopoly sessions, using books to hide our Cludeo sheets and building mammoth dominio stacks.

These were the best family moments. No separate sessions on computers, phones, etc in separate bedrooms – we would all be in the one room, playing a game together.

Bored? Play a Board Game. How long since you last sat down and played a game with your family?

Becoming a Woman

When I was 9, my Mum took me on a day trip – we went for a drive and had lunch and she told me about the time when I would become a woman. I was made to feel special – and I was excited about the day arriving. She explained to me that I would be joining a long line of women before me, that everyone had their period – and that it wasn’t something to be afraid of, or to hide from, but instead, it was something that I should be proud of – something that I should look forward to even.

She taught me that to have your period is something to celebrate. Once a month, women are physically, literally, reminded that they are women. That they are blessed with a uterus – and most importantly, that they are participating in a momentous cycle of womanhood – one that has continued from the beginning of time until this very moment in our world today.

It is a shame now, that I hear stories of girls who don’t receive this simliar information – and instead are forced to learn of periods from textbooks, or worse, the media. They are made to feel isolated, and are disconnected from this ‘long line’ of women that my mother referred to.

Stories of girls who have their period for quite some time before even telling their mother or anyone else. They just go through the motions of purchasing a product from the ‘feminine hygiene’ section of the supermarket and join the queues of people who go through their lives hating having their period, and thus hating being a woman, and even worse, hating themselves.

When the day finally arrived – and I got my period – my Mum hugged me and we cried a bit, but we laughed and loved that I had become a woman. I remember begging Mum not to tell Dad – I think out of embarrasment really. But that afternoon, Dad went to the shops and came home with ice-creams. He bought my younger brother and sister a Paddle-Pop, and a Golden Gaytime for Mum, me and him. I had been bought an adult ice-cream. I felt so grown-up.  Dad kissed my forehead and said ‘congratulations’. Mum smiled and cuddled me. Eating that ice-cream with Mum and Dad, made me feel like I was a little bit more grown up than the day before.

To embrace this cycle – to embrace the female, is to be free. A free woman amidst the patriarchal and often anti-female world that we today live in. A Woman. But that is a whole other lesson from my Mum – one for another day perhaps.

Stand Up Straight

Did your Mum always tell you this?

Stand up straight. Stop hunching. Get those shoulders back. Stand proud.

Mine did.

And she taught me a neat trick to get correct posture.

Pretend you have a pencil pointing out from your shoulder. Now, draw a little backwards circle with that pencil – so that you roll your shoulders up and back. Do that – and you’ll stand up a bit straighter every time.

Stand proud, as my Mum would say.