The notes were simple parenting tips like bedtime rituals, hair care, and other such stuff.
Ian Millthorpe was a tunneller who spent a lot of time away from his family. This left his wife Angie to do most of the child-rearing on her own. He never knew just how much effort actually went into parenting, until the day he lost Angie to breast cancer in 2010. His wife, who knew he'd need a little help raising their kids all alone, left a rulebook for him to follow. Millthorpe knows he would have struggled to bring up their six sons and two daughters all by himself without the notes.
"I used to think it was me who had it hard and [Angie] who had it easy," Millthorpe told The Guardian. "I remember I sat down at work talking about it, me and the lads. But how wrong we were. You just don't realize how much they do."
It was in 1993 that Angie was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo a mastectomy, which was followed by radiotherapy. Since she had to stay in the hospital, Millithorpe took on the duties of fatherhood full-time for the first time. They had three boys at that time."I remember trying to stir the beans, watch the toast, lay the table, and get the drinks—all with three boys running around and tugging at my leg," he recalled.
"I always did housework—decorating, washing up, gardening, knocking together rabbit hutches—but I'd never had to look after the kids like that before." Fortunately, Angie went into remission and by 1998, the couple decided to have more kids as it was their dream of having a big family. Their fourth son was born the next year, followed by a twin boy and girl in 2002, and another son not long after. With the birth of their second daughter in 2007, their household of eight was complete.
A year later, Angie couldn't shake off a cough, and an x-ray confirmed their worst nightmare. Biopsy results confirmed that cancer had returned and this time, it was terminal. Slowly and gently. Millthorpe and Angie shared the devastating news with their kids. "It's all a blur, looking back," he says. "But it was one of the saddest days of my life."
"I remember thinking, how will I cope?" Millthorpe recalled. "How on earth will I be able to raise all our kids on my own? I'm a man! I don't have a clue."
Angie probably wondered the same. So as a devoted mother, she started to plan for her family's life after she was gone. One morning, without warning, Angie asked Millthorpe the date of their youngest son's birthday. As her husband gave her a couple of wrong guesses, Angie sighed in exasperation: "You've got to know the kids' birthdays, Mill. What if you forget one?" she asked him. Fetching a notebook, she wrote down the birthdays of all eight children.
Along with that, she also jotted down a number of other parenting tips in the notebook: simple stuff like bedtime rituals, hair care, etc. Here are the rules:
#1: Plait girls hair or it splits
#2: Must do homework before bed
#3: Must be in 1 hour before dark
#4: Vet TV programs
#5: Don't let them bite nails
#6: Vet boyfriends/ girlfriends
#7: Keep going to Thornwich with the rest of family
#8: Be strict with them
#9: Check their hair for nits
#10: Only one hour a day on the computer
#11: Make sure Ella has her Meningitis boosters
#12: Don't have iron too hot for shifts
#13: Don't leave Ella in the bath alone
#14: Don't give them too many sweets
#15: Sunblock on hot days
On October 19, 2010, Angie breathed her last. Millthorpe's life changed completely overnight. For the next 11 years, he devoted himself to raising their children by sticking to the rules his late wife had left him. Today, he uses the same rules to raise his grandchildren and brings out Angie's notes when necessary to remind his family about what their mom would have wanted.
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