Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986


I turned thirty. Actually it was in June, meaning that while I’m still trying to come to terms with turning thirty I’m hurling inexorably towards thirty-one. And death.

Anyway. In honour of my newfound venerability, I hereby bequeath you the cumulative wisdom of my thirty years. You may feel this post is shorter than it oughta. Let’s not dwell.

1. If you, as a woman, ever find yourself in a situation in which you must inform your significant other that you are pregnant and you suspect he will react negatively, do not say “I’m pregnant.” Say “You got me pregnant”. This establishes firmly at the outset that your situation was mutually created, and not something he is allowed to weasel out of on the grounds that it ain’t his problem. The desired reaction is “I did what?”, not “You’re what?” – you see the distinction?

(No, I have never personally had to do this thing. Someone once said it on a message board; and while it conveys a sad cynicism about the world, it’s undeniably stellar advice. Anyway I’m thirty now, so a certain amount of jaded misanthropy is appropriate, no?)

2. On a related note: never buy pregnancy tests off the shelf. Those things are absurdly expensive. Like, two for $30. Go to a midwife or a birthing centre and you can get ’em for free. I mention this as a public service because I once mentioned it at a baby shower, and a friend who’d been trying to get pregnant for, like, eight years said “WHAT?” in tones of horror and betrayal. (She’s had a baby since, incidentally.)

3. If you want to deeply impress dinner guests without expending much money or basically any effort, make garlic and herb butter. Seriously. A small, smooshed clove of garlic, some softened butter, a bit of chopped parsley or chives or thyme or whatever you have around. People go cuckoo for it. My mother-in-law likes it. I honestly don’t quite get it myself – I mean, it’s nice, obviously, but it gets more compliments than I feel it should, by rights. Maybe a lot of my friends are margarine-eaters in daily life and find butter more sumptuous than someone like myself, who eats it all the time? Which brings me to a further piece of advice: don’t eat margarine. It’s nasty, people.

4. I cannot guarantee the legal applicability of this outside New Zealand, but feel free to let it scare you enough into looking into your own country’s situation, because it is chilling.

Say when it comes time to make a will and you cannot decide on a guardian for your children – because, say, your sister collects death-masks and your shiftless, no-good father lives on a houseboat on the Danube – it is tempting to just leave it, figuring they can live with your mother for a bit until she decides whether she’d rather spend her declining years packing school lunches or ship the chillun off to Aunty Judith in Newfoundland. You realise this is a craven method of passing the buck, but at least it prevents you plumping irrevocably for Aunt Judith when she’s recently started flirting with Scientology.

Acceptable? No. Because in New Zealand, at any rate, newly-orphaned pigs cannot stay with their grandmother at all; unless their grandmother happens to be a licensed foster-parent, which let’s face it, she isn’t. Because without a will, as far as the courts know, their grandmother is a vicious, sadistic harpy you’ve been keeping out of the children’s lives deliberately ever since she tried to microwave them.

So not only have your children lost both parents in one fell swoop (Haast’s Eagle attack, probably); they now have to go and live in some foster-home of dubious quality and definite non-relatedness for a couple of months while their grandmother scrambles around trying to get custody – or not, as the winsomeness of your children dictates.

Make a will.

5. If you want to learn a language, use Duolingo. It’s awesome.

6. Should your town’s library be somewhat pitiful, you are likely to do better on its non-fiction side.

7. In parenting, there is no moral imperative whatsoever to indulge in media or activities specifically targeted at children, especially if you dislike them. Your children will be just as happy singing along to the Beatles as Hi 5. Seriously. If you hate Barbie dolls or Dora the Explorer DVDs or Disney Princess T-shirts with rhinestones on them or aggressively-coloured cheap kiddie furniture, why the heck would you allow them within your sphere of influence where you will trip over them fourteen times a day and stub your calm?

8. Relax into contractions. Easier said than done, I know, but it vastly helps. The limper and more like a puppet with its strings cut off you are, the less it’ll hurt.

9. Do not fool yourself into believing that a dishwasher is ‘just as much work’ as washing the dishes by hand because you have to load and unload it. A dishwasher is a godsend. Get one.

10. Accept calmly when your husband dings the car. You will ding it next time. (In my case, total it, but again: let’s not dwell.) Also, it’s just a car. Who cares? If you’re rich enough to own a car which is such a classic work of art that a ding is a loss to the net value of the world, you’re rich enough to rise above such things. And if you’re not… meh. It’s a car.

It’s possible that this is less ‘detached, Buddha-like wisdom’ and more ‘I’m not really a car person’. I might be less forgiving if my husband crashed the sewing machine. But still.

11. Do not assume that popular culture is worthless. Titanic is actually an impeccably-researched and crackingly entertaining movie. Taylor Swift has some genuinely good songs. Superman is less of a meathead than he looks. Disneyland is sublime. Intellectual snobbery and hipsterism will only make you miss out, and then look behind the times years later when you finally discover that despite the name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is brilliant.

12. If you’re a geek, male friends are a great blessing. Males are not better geeks, but there are statistically more of them. However, if you have babies (and possibly otherwise, though I cannot speak to that), the female of the species will become highly worthwhile.

13. One should never use tears as a manipulative tool, except in a doctor’s office, when it is frequently the only way to get anything done.

14. Never ask a public institution for permission to do anything with your own children. You want to pull them out of school for three months to tour Lithuania, or only do kindy three days a week because your three-year-old turns feral otherwise, or allow them play hookey on inter-school sports days because inter-school sports days are cruel and unusual punishment for the crime of being a child? Don’t ask the authorities; inform them. Whose children are they anyway?

15. The remedy to hating your body is not, in fact, loving your body. Depending on the objective quality of your body, loving it may involve a tremendous amount of carefully-cultivated self-delusion, emotional energy and time which could be better spent on basically anything else. Instead of contorting yourself into knots trying to think differently about how you look, think about it less. Because in fact, it’s not every girl’s birthright to look like a Disney princess, and you know what? Some of your friends are funny-looking too, and you don’t think any the less of them as people, or indeed give it a moment’s thought from one year to the next, so… y’know. Get over yourself.

16. It is futile and piffling to desire more of something when one is not already maximising what one has. If you cannot keep a small veggie bed in order, you have no right to pine after a three-acre homestead. If you think of smaller resources as training rather than deprivation you will be a Happier Person, hopefully with fresh basil.

17. Bread baked in a Dutch oven is infinitely superior to bread baked in a regular oven.

18. During some mystery shops, you are required to record the staff member’s name, even if she is not wearing a nametag. To avoid looking like a creep, the best tactic is to adopt a you-look-familiar air and say “Sorry, your name isn’t Miranda, is it?” She will say “No, Anna”, at which point you can beam ditzily and say “Oh, sorry, you looked like a mumble I once mumble” without having raised a single suspicion.

19. If you’re bored and want to be amused on the internet without descending into the mind-numbing tweeness of Buzzfeed, go to the History page on Pinterest. It has everything a moderately thinkin’ person could want: sexist vintage ads, Victorian postmortem photography, serial killers’ last meals, rare snaps of Marilyn Monroe, Titanic conspiracy theories, Navajo code talkers, Faberge eggs. Also a fair number of “You’ll only remember this lip gloss if you’re a 90s kid”, but that’s bearable.

20. There exists a Terry Gilliam movie called ‘Tidelands’. Do not watch this movie.

21. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. See point 11.