Keep deodorant in the car, and follow these 5 rules for life

We all know that life can be crazy sometimes. 2020 changed everything that we knew and the way we understand the world and interact with each other. I believe in keeping things simple when we can as I feel that life need not be as complicated as we make it. Amidst the crazy we can still do what we can to keep it all as simple as we can.

Other than ‘keep period products, deodorant and a pen in the car always’, ‘if in doubt, bring milk home,’ and ‘always save your work,’ there are just five basic pieces of advice I have received that I remember and utilise daily… They cover most things!

1. If you can look after (feed and change) your baby, and do one other thing during the day – It has been a successful day.

The one other thing you do that day could be taking a shower, making a sandwich, or buying milk. It need not be a ‘big’ thing, or even a ‘normal’ thing. The ironing does not need to happen for your day to be successful. Your essay need not be written. No one cares if the dishes soak in the sink until tomorrow. You are not required to look pretty or impress anyone.

There is no need for additional pressure when you have a newborn. You are holding, comforting and changing a tiny and totally dependent infant whilst making breast milk and feeding – or you are sterilising bottles and mixing formula – neither of which are any small feat! 

I now apply this principle to my daily life. If I can get all the things that need to be done for Mandela and I to survive done each day (school/work, showered, fed, sheltered, healthy), and then do one additional thing (put up the shelves in the kitchen, go to gym, empty the ash from the fireplace), then I have had a successful day. 

Seven days in the week – means seven tasks accomplished. Seven tasks accomplished means seven successful days.

Winning at life.

Mandela: Day one.

2. If I was on a basketball court, I wasn’t somewhere else getting in trouble… and make sure you have some good people on the periphery. 

So simple, yet so true. This one was from a guy I went to school with.I remember him from my legal studies class in year 12. I am certain however, that he is not aware I was in this class, nor that I remember him only because he was wearing white basketball shoes. I had never seen anyone wear basketball shoes in real life before, so it stuck… Anyways, many years later, this gentleman reached out with support and advice when my then young son was having a bit of a moment.

*Full disclosure, I may have been the one having a bit of a moment more so than my son.*

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

This might be a simple and obvious statement, as clearly if a child, teen, young man was on a basketball court is not somewhere else getting himself into trouble…the opposite is in fact happening. Whilst playing ball a child is safe, supervised, doing something mentally and physcially positive, developing relationships, being a team player and building confidence. 

Not growing up around sports, playing sports or liking sports – this was not obvious to me. I now understand the value that sports partcipation adds to children’s development (beyond physical exercise). 

To have ‘good people around the edges’ of your life is again a simple concept. So simple in fact that even though we all have them, we may never have named out specifically who they are or why they mattered to you. these are the people you may not even notice until they are not there…. They make our world better and safer in all the little ways. 

In my son’s life for example, I am not talking about myself or his grandparents, or aunts and uncles – or even his adopted aunts and uncles who are there everyday and always. 

I am talking about the local basketball player who shares a similar heritage to you, and remembers your name at games. He makes you feel seen and reminds you that you belong.. 

I am talking about my school friend who sees Mandela approximately once a year on a public bus, but sends me event and book recommendations that may be of interest to him.

I am talking about the former classmate of mine who looks out for him, and wouldn’t mind being contacted with a one off specific academic question if Mandela was doing a special project to complete for school.

I am talking about the child care worker who looked after him when he was a child and still, years later, has a kind word and a smile when we see her in passing in the shops.

I am talking about the friend of his grandparents who always remembers my son and his friends by name.

These good people make up a part of a supportive village – they are the bricks that hold up the walls, without being at your house or on the phone every day.

Never underestimate the positive contribution of the tiny things you do for others…they are invaluable.

….also you might not know it, but my son has named some of his teddies after some of you….

3. You cannot have a good relationship with a bad person.

Stop feeling guilty for how he acts. You cannot have a good relationship with a bad person…. Come to that, a child can’t either. It doesn’t matter how nice you are, or how well you treat them, if the person you are dealing with is an abusive person, a racist person, a disrespectful person – you cannot have a good relationship.

Gentlemen, he is not ‘a good bloke from footy/the office/the pub, who sometimes fights with his missus.’ He is an abuser, who happens to be nice to the guys at footy/work/the pub. He is a bad person, and you are enabling him. If he is a mate, you aren’t an ally.

Do not expect me, or any other woman or child to have a good relationship with a bad person, just because they are nice to you. 

This actually makes them worse people. They know how to behave around men, and choose not to do so around women.

A child cannot have a good relationship with an abuser. Children deserve safety and positive role models. Children deserve not to have their mother’s traumatised by repeated contact with abusive former-partners.

Treating someone well, being good to them, doing everything they ask you to do is to no avail if they are a bad person. Why? Because you cannot have a good relationship with a bad person… it is them, not you.

4. They will all learn to read.

My son did not learn to write and read as quickly and as fluently as I thought he would…. Mostly because he was articulate and charming enough to manipulate adults into writing this down for him. His letter and word recognition was on point… but the practice of taking his own notes was a task that he considered ‘out-sourceable’ from an early age.

When Mandela was about 4, I was stressed about this. Seeing this, my dear friend Jess, an artist and arts therapist, offered me some very simple words of advice. “They will all learn to read at some point.” Which is to say, it is not a race. They will learn at their own pace. They will all learn to read. Our kids will be fine. 

Mandela can read. He was always going to learn. It is all fine. It was never a problem. Kids learn at their own pace. Our kids are better served by having calm and present Mum’s who allow them to learn at their own rate than they are by us being unnecessarily stressed out.

5. Add salt to sweet things.

My Grandma Coen once criticised someone’s custard on the basis that they didn’t add salt to it. When baking, salted butter improves everything… and when cooking with tomatoes, adding sugar or maple syrup will remove acidity…

I take this less as a baking direction and more as general life advice…

There is a huge amount of pressure on women to do it all. More than pressure – we are required to do it all. Women and men now face the same demands in the workplace, but men have not yet taken on an equal share of household responsibilities. As such women have had their workloads increase – as they compete in the workforce and fulfill unpaid home and caregiving responsibilities. This makes finding ‘balance’ in life hard. 

Achieving work-life balance – whilst remainig sane, is something I struggle to do. I either feel I am neglecting my child while I work long hours to put a roof over our heads, or I am neglecting my career to be a good parent…. And then find myself pinching pennies and getting stressed about whether or not there will be enough milk for the week for my growing boy….

Mandela and I can both be a little salty… adding a little sugar when life get’s salty can bring family smiles.

Achieving balance is near impossible for a single working mother. 

That is, in every area of life, except baking… When cooking I can achieve balance (and no I am not talking about nutritional value right now!). Like my Grandma said, add some sugar when you are making something savoury, and some salt when baking something sweet. Proper salted butter makes every cake, biscuit and jam sandwich better…

This kind of balance won’t help with the misogynist mansplaining one of your ideas back to you at work, because he assumes your part time status makes you incompentent. (This is him being a knob issue).

This kind of balance won’t take away the Mama-Guilt you feel after getting home late from work…. 

But it will remind you of Grandma who you love and will make your food taste better…. And this will make you happier – and any struggles you are having feel more bearable. 

I also believe that any moment we take to remind ourselves to breathe, and look for balance, while eating something delicious is a moment well spent.

I still don’t add salt to custard, but that is only because I learned to make it from my other Grandma….she shared with me other pieces of wisdom!

Mandela with Great-Meema Coen, 2009

Published by Josie Young

Josie Young is a writer, an activist and a lover of food, stories and stormy ocean skies. Previously a community project manager, Josie is also a full time mother and a free lance ghost and feature writer and editor. Josie Young holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Public Policy (2007), a Masters of International and Community Development (2009) and a Masters of Humanitarian Assistance (2017).

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