I have a few extra thoughts on the four-hour work week before I shelve it, both figuratively and literally. At one point in the book he tells that story of the fisherman in Mexico and the Harvard MBA. You know the one. The Harvard MBA is on holiday in Mexico when, late one morning, he meets a fisherman on his way home. He asks the fisherman why he is knocking off so early, and... well, if you haven't heard it, here it is.

What Tim doesn't say in his book - he seems a smart guy, so I will assume he realises it in real life - is that you could easily substitute "Mexican fisherman" for "nine to five office worker" and "Harvard MBA" for "Tim Ferris". In the final chapter, he talks about what to fill your life with, now that "earn an income" isn't the only thing on your list. And he suggests you might want to live your life in service to others, and he suggests that you might want to take up full-time employment of a different (more meaningful) kind. Well and good. What he doesn't say - or at least not explicitly enough - is that you may already be doing everything you need to do, you just need to recognise it.

As someone who resents the drive to consume that underlies much of our culture, I would have a hard time following his business model - which is based around shipping product - without feeling like a hypocrite for most of my day. I'm not saying I couldn't find a way, I'm saying I may be better off finding a way to get paid directly for the life of service I aim to live, rather than shipping product in order to earn the income which frees my time to... live that life of service. I am, in effect, the Mexican fisherman in my relationship to Tim Ferris' book.

Am I glad I read it? Yes. Although I have ultimately rejected much of what he suggests I should do, it has helped clarify things to me. I can even recommend it, not to those who are satisfied with where their life is headed, of course (why would you even feel like picking it up?), or even to those who are truly just overflowing with genuine aspirations (although it is of some limited use in this situation, see for example my last post). If, however, you are in the process of re-evaluating your life, if you are thinking of changing directions, if you feel that you are trapped or stuck and there is no way out of the place you're now in (which, in the reality of the free world, is unlikely), then I recommend it. You may find it gives you the tools and the courage to shut off the constant buzz of your never-ending to-do list and to recognise and evaluate your options in the clear light of day.

Book review over, but I am still looking for comments, tips, advice on my previous post.

Edit: I have been wondering, since I wrote this a couple of hours ago, whether a personal crisis such as... I don't know... infertility? might aid in the process of focussing on things of value in one's life and breeding the courage to act on that focus. Hm.

I don't know if you've read The Four Hour Work Week. For most of the book, I thought the author was an egoistical freeloader with a limited sense of both social responsibility and depth of character who'd been fired from most employee positions he'd ever held. The last part is true - he has been fired from most employee positions he's ever held. Having read the last chapter, I'm not as sure of the first part as I used to be. Are you thinking of reading the book? Well, let me ask you a question he asks half way through to help you decide.

If you won a fortune in the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with your life after that? If the answer is, as with many people, "Turn up at the office, same as always," then you need not pick this book up. There. I saved you hours of your time. If the answer is (as with many people) that you would change everything, or at least a lot, then it may be worth a read.

I read it, not because I felt I would change a lot, but because I am feeling pushed for time lately. As such, I'm not sure I gained much. Yes, there is a chapter on efficiency, but much of it does not apply to parenting. Save time by limiting interruptions, he says? My entire purpose at present is to respond to interruptions. Ooh, there's another one - hang on.

Solved. Now. Where was I? Yes.

Here's a non-secret about parenthood I'll tell you for free: parents aren't busy because they have a lot to do. Parents are busy because it takes for-freaking-ever to do everything. And here's another non-secret, a kind of two-for-one deal: even if I do manage to skate through my errands and chores in record time, it doesn't free me to do whatever I want. It frees me to spend time hanging out with my children. And I have to pause here to emphasise that hanging out with my children is not something I consider an eternal punishment, but at the same time it doesn't get me any closer to completing my plans for world domination saving the dolphins. My reading list is getting longer, not shorter, and there's only so much to be done by batching or going on a low-information diet. Clearly, I have too many dreams for one day. Lately it is occurring to me that I have, really, too many for a lifetime, but that's a whole 'nother barrel of posts.

Right now, I want to focus on the fact that even a small gain is still a gain. Perhaps, at least, I can find a way back to semi-regular blogging, or commenting, or some such. Or reading Life From Scratch (hi Mel!) which is just one of the books on my ever-growing list. So here we go, and this is what I'm hoping you can help me with.

Focussing On Important Tasks
There is this whole bit about discarding unimportant tasks. I find that I am often sucked in to performing unimportant parenting tasks, and I want you to help me illuminate unimportance where I may have missed it so that I can deploy my energies more effectively.

For example, who dresses their children twice a day? Oh, uh, me too. I mean, yes, I dress The Prata Baby at least twice a day, because things would probably go awry if I tried to put him to bed in his kindy uniform, at least in the short term. In the long term, I'm sure he'd learn to rely less on pyjamas and more on other sleep cues to settle himself down, and there's really no other reason apart from social protocol that he can't sleep in what is, essentially, a T-shirt and pair of shorts, just like his pyjamas. As it is, I don't tend to go through pyjamas-then-day-clothes-then-kindy-uniform-then-day-clothes-again. On kindy days, he wears his kindy uniform ALL DAY. Do I dress the baby twice a day? Only if the first outfit gets ruined with some sort of bodily waste. She gets bathed and dressed, and that's it until the next bath. As for me, I sleep in my underwear. Saves dressing time, saves laundry time, just by eliminating a change of clothes each from our day.

What parenting stuff do you NOT do, that everyone else seems to, or that you are sometimes tempted to do?

Who cooks seven days a week? Yeah, um, me too. To be honest, I aim for three, double batches every time, with one takeaway night (courtesy of Mr Bea). In practice, I often find myself cooking more often than that, due to lack of forethought. I should forethink more, it could save me a bundle.

I have also started batching my paperwork. I was in the habit of paying bills the moment they arrived in my letterbox, then filing them immediately. I have recently started putting them away in a folder and sorting everything out together on Saturday. Overall, it's faster.

Then there's the laundry. I have to put a load on every day, otherwise I run out of drying space, not to mention children's attention spans. But whereas I was folding it three or four times a week, I am now experimenting with twice (once is not enough).

I have also started batching the dishes. Once a day now. The Prata Baby never would have stood for it, but it turns out Surprise Baby will. This may fluctuate with age.

Which domestic or parenting tasks do you batch - save up to do all at once - to improve efficiency?


I continually fail to outsource. It's a common problem, and a common complaint, that nobody else seems to be up to scratch. On the other hand, Mr Bea's not actually incapable of looking after the kids for a while even without my micromanagement. What's the worst that could happen? (Don't answer that, especially not with anecdotes.)

The one place where I shine at outsourcing is with respect to cleaning floors and bathrooms. A year and a half ago I realised I was doing this myself on a Saturday morning whilst Mr Bea and The Prata Baby were at the park, and I was hating most of it. I told Mr Bea I would rather work Saturday mornings at my chosen profession whilst he went to the park with The Prata Baby, and use my earnings to pay someone to clean my house during the week, even if I made no financial gain by doing so. Turns out I was not only happier but financially better off. Nobody wants to work Saturday mornings, so I could hire myself out at a premium, then pay standard rates to my cleaner during the week. And damnit if they didn't do the job better than me. It's not that I can't clean floors or bathrooms as well as the next person, but I suffer from a severe lack of motivation. I really, really hate it.

Oh, and I have pretty much given up chopping my own meat.

Do you have any tips for avoiding household micromanagement and/or handing household tasks to outsiders?

They are my questions three. Even an extra hour a week would be welcome.

F is for Fed Up. Lately, The Prata Baby pushes my buttons every day, all day. But the last couple of weeks it has taken a particular toll, because we have had the added bonus of a "teething" baby. I'll use the word "teething" because I'm not sure exactly why she's started waking on an hourly basis (at best), refusing to sleep anywhere but held upright against someone's chest, or crying inconsolably for up to two hours a day, chiefly around midnight, so by my mother-in-law's reckoning it must be "teething". (The first few months it's always "wind", then it's "teething" until such time as they can actually articulate some alternative.) If you ask me, she needs to see a doctor - and tomorrow, we will. But in the meantime The Prata Baby is pushing everyone's buttons as hard as he can, seemingly just to see what happens. By Saturday, I was badly overtired and fed the fuck right up.

A is for Angry. That's what everyone within a hundred metre radius could tell I was as I carried The Prata Baby under my arm, kicking and screaming, through the shopping centre in the afternoon. He had played happily in the playground with Mr Bea whilst I ran a few errands, but the trouble started as soon as I said we were heading across the mall to the supermarket to pick up some groceries for dinner. I don't mind a bit of dawdling and a bit of window shopping, but this time he was darting into just about every shop we passed, hiding amongst the merchandise, and throwing it onto the floor. I dragged him out of one shop, then another, replacing things onto shelves and tossing apologies around as fast as I could. I stripped privileges one by one. Mr Bea tried to give him time out at the front of one store, but he just laughed at us and rolled across the floor, nearly tripping half a dozen shoppers over on his way. In the end I told him he was going straight home to his room and staying there for I-don't-know-how-long-but-it's-going-to-take-a-long-time-for-me-to-calm-down-that's-for-sure. Then I picked him up and marched him to the door of the supermarket where I thrust him at Mr Bea in exchange for Surprise Baby and stormed inside to do my shopping.

I is for In Your Room. Somehow - though I guess it shouldn't surprise me - even though Mr Bea took PB straight home and I went on a detour through the supermarket with a baby for a week's worth of groceries before following them, I still managed to beat them to our front door. When they arrived I gave PB a clipped, "In your room," and ushered him there, and locked the door. With a key. Because these days, it's the only way to ensure the whole time-out process doesn't turn into a prolonged and completely ineffective game of springing in and out, arguing at every turn along the way. Not that giving him time out that far removed from the offense was completely effective to start with, but I suppose it kept me from throttling him at least.

He cried, of course. And yelled. And banged on the door. None of it was very coherent and all of it was expected, so I gave SB to Mr Bea whilst I went to prepare dinner - sausages and frozen vegies (it was a "no cook" kind of day). Whilst I put the perishable items in the fridge and the sausages in the pan, PB stopped yelling and started singing instead. It was a high-pitched, wavering kind of song, as if he was trying to console himself, so I decided he had served his time and I let him out of his room. He came out waddling and saying he needed to go to the toilet. Turns out he had both wet himself and dirtied his pants.

I am the worst mother in the world.

The worst ever.

L is for Level. That's how I kept my voice when I went in to discuss things with Mr Bea. "I'm going to say something and you may not like it," I began, and before I could draw breath to get out the next bit he cut in.

"You're going to say I'm a terrible father. That I don't know how to handle my son. That I'm unnecessarily mean and nasty to him and that it's my fault he's out of control lately."

"I wasn't going to say that at all," I replied, a little taken aback. I had been thinking it - but about me, not him. "I was going to say that the last thing we need to do tomorrow is visit the zoo." We'd organised to meet friends there for a day out with the kids.

"Do you think that's effective punishment, though?" Mr Bea asked dubiously. "I mean, he misbehaved over an hour ago, and now you're going to tell him he can't go to the zoo tomorrow."

"It's not really about punishment," I said, "although if he chooses to take it that way it's fine by me. But this is about setting him up for success instead of failure." I corrected myself: "It's about setting us all up for success instead of failure. If we go on the zoo trip we'll have to stress to get everyone out of the door early, we'll be taking him to a new place where he doesn't know all the rules and which is exciting enough to erode his currently-limited impulse control. On top of that, we'll be investing not only our money, but our scant reserves of time and energy, which will only serve to raise our expectations of his behaviour. It's a recipe for disaster. It's just not a good idea. We should do something low-key and familiar, just the four of us."

I'd been thinking about the discussion I'd had with his kindy teacher on Friday. I'd been mortified to hear he'd been kicking the other children, but when the teacher told me she'd also had to pull him up for his enthusiastic hugging and kissing (it scares some of his classmates) I figured he just needed some guidance in terms of his interactions with peers. But then she'd told me about the destructive behaviour - kicking of walls and furniture, ripping plastic covers off desks and shredding them to pieces, throwing toys and smashing them around. I think she'd expected me to take issue with him then and there, but instead it had given me pause. "Thanks, I'll talk to him," I'd said, and she'd hesitated, then she'd nodded and said her goodbyes and we'd left. I'd been slowly getting the pieces together since then.

Six months ago he was praised everywhere for his placid and easy-going nature. Sure, he would get a little unsettled if we tried too many things in a row. At one point I had a rule that there would only be half a days' excitement in every forty-eight hours, as it seemed to be all he could handle, but I thought he was growing more resilient with age and experience, and he was cooperative and happy. Then he got a new baby sister. Then he moved into Grandma and Grandad's house for a month. Then he moved overseas. And of course, he turned three, and that never helps. Then we went home for a visit and came back and he started kindy four days a week for the first time and he started swimming lessons one day a week and Surprise Baby started "teething" and we all got tired and cranky and impatient and... somewhere in there we started spiralling out of control. Somewhere along the line it all started coming undone, and it was time to take a step back, simplify, return to basics.

We needed to take Surprise Baby to the doctor, for starters. On the one hand, this was exactly what The Prata Baby went through at the same age and there was nothing to be done about it except survive, but what if? What if we were missing a treatable ear infection or something? It was worth checking out. There were things we could re-organise around the house. Toothbrushes off the bathroom bench, laundry off the couch and into the spare room, breakables in a cupboard or out of reach. I find it hard to deal with regressions, to childproof our house back to when we had an eighteen-month-old because damnit, isn't he supposed to be twice that age now and know better? But backward steps are part of growing up, and we all have the ability to revert to childish behaviour in times of stress. Set him up for success. If you can't stand to pick your clean laundry from fifteen corners of the living room twelve times a day, put it somewhere out of sight and mind. He obviously can't handle the responsibility. And I resolved to take him out of kindy one day a week, at least for now, because these problems always seem to crop up on the fourth day. And I asked Mr Bea to reorganise his work day so he can help me through the bedtime routine because the screaming infant interruptions which happen every ten minutes and take twenty minutes each to resolve can spin it all out til 9pm or later - well past The Prata Baby's bedtime - and that doesn't help at all. And apart from that, I told myself to remember to keep it simple, low-key and familiar. I need to focus on achievable goals. I need to set us all up for success.

That night, last night, I lay down beside him, put my arms around him, and told him I loved him very much. I wanted him to realise I still do, even on the many days I am one big parenting FAIL. He grinned and hugged me back, and we exchanged kisses. But then he ruined it all by whinging about every little thing I did - the speed I sung his bedtime song, the order of the verses, the angle at which I was lying down and how I'd plumped his pillow (to name but a few) - until eventually I sucked a deep breath in through my teeth, kissed him on the forehead, whispered goodnight, and closed the door behind me on the way out. Over the next twenty minutes I listened to him weep himself into a fitful sleep and I didn't really care.


W is for Wakeup Time this morning. I told myself to start with a clean slate, but I could feel that some resentment had followed me through to the new day regardless. Try as I might, I could only push it aside so far. When The Prata Baby whined through breakfast - everything I did was wrong - I had to force myself to count and breathe before telling him I couldn't understand him, I could only hear whiny noises. Then when that didn't work I had to force myself to count and breathe again before opining that he must still be tired and what about going back into his room for some extra rest?

"No! I'm not tired!" he yelled.

"Feeling unwell then?" I suggested. "That needs rest, too."

"I'm not sick!" he yelled even more adamantly.

"Oh good," I said calmly. "So if you're not tired or sick, and you have food and drink in front of you so you can't be hungry or thirsty, and you've already been to the toilet this morning so you don't need to do that... then I can't think of a single excuse for you not to talk properly to me." He started whining again. "I'm going to give you three seconds to stop whining before you go to your room," I announced placidly, getting the hang of it now. "One!"

The whining stopped. The resentment dissipated slightly. The next couple of hours weren't too bad.

I is for Incidents. We had a few of them over the course of the day - he threw a toy at his sister and I scooped her up and pointedly left the room, closing the door on his protests. But I had to let him out temporarily with a pang of guilt - did I say pang? was that the understatement of the century? - when he complained that he needed to go to the toilet, and I know we will have to work to re-establish the rules of time out because of where we went wrong yesterday. He got himself into trouble again for hitting his father with a toy and again for biting him, and he had a colossal meltdown before bedtime.

And that is what counts as a WIN these days. I call it a win because at the end of the day it was a soft and gentle voice with which I put my foot down and told him he couldn't possibly need to go to the toilet again, and he left off and fell asleep in my arms.

N is for Never. That's when I get to stop trying anew. That's when I get to stop wiping the slate clean, taking a step back, looking for an untried solution. That's when I should lapse in consistency. That's when I should forget, when I should let him forget, that he still means the world to me. That I'm glad we have him, that it was worse, so much worse, when we didn't know we would.

Three is the age of questions, so they say, and The Prata Baby has certainly come out with some big ones so far - usually at the most awkward moments. A while back now we were riding the bus when he piped up with, "Mum, is there another little tiny baby in your tummy right now?"

All around us, bemused passengers turned to look pointedly out of their windows. "Right now?" I replied. "No there isn't. Why do you ask?"

"I want there to be another little tiny baby in your tummy," he said with conviction. "A little brother this time." My, my. Thanks for your input, I will take it on board.

It was only a matter of time before the big followup came. "How did Surprise Baby get made?" he asked one day, out of the blue. We were visiting family at the time.

"Um... what?" I responded, intelligently.

"How did she get in there?" he said, pointing, and then as if the question needed further clarification, he immediately rephrased: "How did she get into your tummy?" I told him that it was a bit complicated, and that he should ask me again at bedtime when it was just me and him and I had time to answer properly. He hasn't brought it up since, possibly because someone else got to him first. Later that day, I heard him explain to his toys, on his older cousin's authority, that the Baby Jesus had put Surprise Baby in my tummy. For a while I wondered if I should force a more scientific explanation upon him, but he seems satisfied, and I'll no doubt get my next chance too soon anyway.

Then yesterday, he came out with the hardest one of all, and at the most awkward moment imaginable. We were sitting at home, on the bed, just the two of us, with nowhere in particular to go in any sort of hurry. I saw it coming, like a horrible car crash, knowing that I had no excuse to dodge or escape; that I was going to have to answer in full, to PB's utter and unhurried satisfaction. "Boo used to say Dadda," he stated, repeating something Vee had said a few weeks before on our visit. "But why doesn't he say Dadda any more?"

He was grinning when he asked it, and I saw that smile slip from his lips as he took in my sombre expression. I took a deep breath. "Because a bit over a year ago, Boo's Dadda died," I told him gently, but simply.

"Died?" he asked.

"Yes. He got very sick. So sick, the doctors couldn't make him better again. Then he died. It's very sad."

The Prata Baby cocked his head on one side and considered this information calmly. Then he wanted to know more. Did Boo's Dadda go to hospital? Did they give him medicine? Did he sleep overnight at the hospital? Did the doctors cut his head open? (Mysteriously to us, PB has gained the knowledge that doctors sometimes open people's skulls to perform neurosurgery. The idea has, let's say, stuck with him.) I answered his questions calmly, gently, and truthfully. Yes, he went to hospital. They gave him a lot of medicine. He even slept overnight. But he didn't have the type of sickness that would benefit from having his head cut open so the doctors didn't perform that particular procedure, no.

There was a pause after that, during which PB fiddled thoughtfully with his fingers and I waited patiently for his next response. Eventually he looked up at me, studying my face, as if trying to figure out how to say what he wanted to say. Then in a small voice, he asked, "Mum, is Boo's Dadda going to come back to their place?"

And I had to tell him. "No, darling. When people die they don't come back."

Over the last twenty-four hours I've wondered why I didn't think to soften it a bit for him. If I can let him believe, without other explanation, that the Baby Jesus puts babies into people's tummies, surely I can let him believe - without other explanation - that Boo's Dadda "went to heaven" or some such thing. Or perhaps I should have added a few thoughts about the ways in which our loved ones stay with us after they die, even though they are no longer here in the flesh. I'm not sure. He seemed to cope alright with what I said, so perhaps it was best to stay blunt and simple for now. No doubt I'll get my next chance too soon anyway.

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