Category Archives: Family

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.

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?

A Family Dinner Favourite – Sausage Noodle Bake

Because there were often a lot of people to feed at our house – kids staying over, friends over for dinner – and because we’re weren’t exactly financially flush, Mum would serve these ‘Family Dinners’ which seemed to be made out of nothing. She could stretch 1/2 kilo of beef mince to feed 12, or two chicken breasts to feed 10 – it was an art of cooking that I am glad I watched and learnt.

One such Family Dinner favourite was Sausage Noodle Bake. This meal would often grace our table – especially when we had friends over. Mum would plonk the big casserole dish in the middle of the table and we could help ourselves. It was delicious. It was also a good way to get us kids to eat beans.

Sausage Noodle Bake

6 sausages

tin of tomato soup

tin of baked beans

a rasher or two of bacon

a packet of pasta (spirals preferably, but any old bits and pieces are fine)

some grated cheese

Cook the sausages (or use leftovers from last night’s bbq) and cut them up into bite size pieces. Cut up the bacon and cook that until just crispy. Cook the pasta.

Then mix everything together – pasta, baked beans, bacon, sausages and the tomato soup. Put all of this in a casserole dish – sprinkle the cheese over the top and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown.

You could serve with a salad – and this would make it go even further. But trust me – this could feed an army. It certainly fed all of us!


May I Leave the Table, Dinner was Nice?

After setting the table, we would all sit down to eat. Usually this started with a yell of ‘Dinner’s Ready!’ – from Mum or from whichever of us kids was helping with dinner. One of us always helped. Sometimes because we wanted to, sometimes because we were asked to – sometimes just because we wandered past the kitchen and Mum would say: Here, stir this or Here, taste this or Here, grate this.

The first to the table would pour the water for everyone. Never starting with themselves, always starting with Dad or Mum and then making their way back around the table – pouring their own glass last.

We would come to the table and sit down in our usual seats. I don’t really know why we had our own seats – but we did.

Mum would usually serve dinner in the kitchen – so The Helper would then bring the meals out. Again – a ritual here: it started with the youngest and finished with The Helper, and then Dad, and then Mum. Mum would bring her own meal out to the table.

We would all have our plates in front of us – taking a whiff of the yummy dinner wafting up to greet our faces. But we wouldn’t start – not yet. Not until Mum had come to sit down at the table.

We weren’t religious – so there wasn’t a prayer to start. But sometimes Mum would say “Cheers” and raise her glass of water. But mostly Dad would say: “Two, Four, Six, Eight – Bog in, Don’t Wait” and that would be our cue to start eating.

A few mouthfuls in, Mum would kick off the conversation – asking one of us kids: “What was the best and worst bit of your day today?” – and we would then take it in turns to tell a bit about our days. Mum and Dad would also tell us about their days.

This created a little safe space in which we might mention somewhere we needed a little help. We might say – “The worst part was eating my lunch by myself today” or we might say “The worst part was my maths test today”. And this would prompt some questions after dinner from Mum or Dad. Gentle questions of course, but because we had the safe environment to slightly open the door into our own day-to-day world – this allowed Mum and Dad to get a glimpse and they would peak inside and see if everything was ok.

Dinner would continue with a talk about what tomorrow would bring – what we had planned for the weekend.

At the end of the meal, we had to wait for everyone to finish everything on their plate. It was only in exceptional circumstances that you could leave the table before everyone else. I remember my little sister having to stay at the table once to eat all her peas. She was there for a very long time.

When we were very small, and in order to leave the table – we had to politely say: “May I leave the table, dinner was nice?” and Mum or Dad would say Yes.

This little phrase became infamous – due to my little sister (the one who wouldn’t her peas), being very brave one night. Perched on the end of her chair, she started to say the little rhyme: “May I leave the table, dinner was…” and before Mum or Dad had a chance to react she yelled out “YUCK!” and bolted from the table.

Let’s just say that Mum served peas with every meal for a while after that.

Setting the Table

Dinner was nearly always at the table. Breakfast rarely was, and lunch only occasionally. But dinner – almost always. The only exception was having hot chips on a rug on the floor if we arrived home late. Or if we had visitors, and the adults sat at the table and us kids were relegated to the rug on the floor. But even that rug had precision – it had etiquette. There were expectations about how to set the rug and the table.

I remember being very young and carrying plates to the table. I remember the moment Mum let me carry a glass to the table, and when she let me carry two – one in each hand. I must have only been about four.

We always started with a tablecloth or placemats of some sort. We also always had napkins – even if they were just squares of paper towel folded in half. We did have cloth napkins and napkin rings with our initials on too. But sometimes a slice of pizza works best with a paper towel napkin.

There would be cutlery – and not just a fork – the whole kit and caboodle: fork, knife and a spoon for pudding. Yes, we ate pudding most nights – generally fruit and custard, ice-cream or a baked dessert like apple crumble or rice pudding. Sometimes just bread and jam. Not a gigantic bowl – we’re talking a small spoon of ice cream and a couple of pieces of fruit.

There would be a jug of water and glasses.

And often a centre-piece – it might just be a candle, it might be a flower from outside in a little bit of water. It might just be an ornament. But we would have something in the middle of the table.

Lastly – condiments. Salt, pepper, tomato sauce, hot sauce, mustard, olive oil, vinegar.

These were The Basics.

This is how we sat down to eat dinner. As a family. Perhaps it sounds strange now because one of the saddest things some families have absent-mindedly misplaced – is the Family Dinner.

To set the table, is to set your intention. To set your family a place to come together and share a meal – to break bread, to talk and listen. To set the table is one ritual I am glad Mum instilled in all of us.

Does it still sound formal? It wasn’t. It was normal.

Sticks and Stones

We all know the saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

When I was 5, and had just started school – I was being teased by the kids at school. I came home crying to Mum. She told me this saying and sent me to school the next day with these words as my protection.

At lunch, when the kids teased me, I shouted these words at their faces.

For a moment, there was shock – then laughter.

Then – they walked away.

Aha! I had done it! Those words really did protect me. I wasn’t teased again for a long time, and by then I had made some friends who could stand by side and protect me.

Of course, it’s not really about those particular words. It is just the need to stand up to those who threaten you – and to defend yourself by declaring yourself as present. I am here, and I will be heard.

6, Dot, Dot, 0, 0

Mum and Dad had a Christmas morning rule when we were kids. There was to be no wake-ups at 5am. We were to wait until 6am – or as they taught us to read the digital clock they gave us on Christmas Eve – 6, dot, dot, 0, 0.

They conceded that we could sneak out to look at the presents – but only one at a time.

So our Christmas morning went like this:

  • The first one awake, would sneak out to wake the others
  • We would check the time, and sit on the bed with the clock between us
  • One at a time, we would sneak out to the loungeroom to look at the presents
  • We would bring back details of the big presents – like, wow you have a really big box under the tree at the back! or I think you did get that Tonka Truck!
  • When this tradition started, we couldn’t read the time – so it was a surprise when the clock actually became 6, dot, dot, 0, 0! But later, the time it took for 5, dot, dot, 5, 9 to become 6, dot, dot, 0, 0 seemed to get longer every year.
  • But we would always wait patiently for the clock to turn to 6, dot, dot, 0, 0
  • When we would go and wake Mum and Dad – who I actually think had probably been awake for a while already – listening to us kids sneak out to the loungeroom on tiptoe to find our presents.

A few years ago, we were back at Mum’s as adults. Before we had partners and kids. And we still waited for the clock to be 6, dot, dot, 0, 0. We begrudgingly dragged ourselves out of bed – but we all had a knowing smile as we remembered the excitement of Christmas morning.

And this morning, our first Christmas without Mum, the first thing we say when we call to wish each other a Merry Christmas: “But it’s not 6, dot, dot, 0, 0!”.

This will forever be our Christmas tradition.

An answer for everything

As I was the fourth child – there was no room left for questions to avoid going to bed. Mum had already thought of an answer for everything.

‘Mum, I’m thirsty’.

‘Why do you think I made you have that drink before you went to bed? Go to sleep’.

‘But I’m not tired’.

‘You’re not getting out of bed. You will be tired eventually.’

‘It’s too light.’

‘It doesn’t matter. If you close your eyes, it will be dark.’


Wash, Dry and Put Away, Clear and Stack

When there were 3 of us left at home, Mum made a roster and stuck it to the fridge. There were three different jobs:
– wash
– dry up and put away
– clear and stack

This roster lasted us many years. We hoped for Clear and Stack – the easiest job. We hated Dry Up and Put Away – it took the longest.

But as Mum always said, the best conversations happen while you’re doing another chore.

So each night, two of us were forced to spend time together in the kitchen. And although it is only now we admit it, we had our best conversations. I remember helping my little brother with his love life and my little sister with a bullying teacher. I remember them making me laugh when I was stressed out about exams.

Mum would pretend to be watching TV, but really she would be listening and smiling on the inside.

It was exactly what we all needed.