Mum, brace yourself, I’m going to high school

1stdaycommamae

First day at school – the backpack was as big as him.

The rain is falling on my window pane setting the perfect mood for this nostalgic Sunday afternoon of sifting through hundreds of moments frozen for digital eternity. I’ve procrastinated this task for a few weeks but today I rolled up my sleeves and sat in front to the computer with a pack of biscuits, a coffee and a mission: to find photos for my son’s end of primary school video. It was a retrospective look at the last seven years of our lives and it didn’t happen without smiles and tears.

I knew this day was coming and I’m grateful that I was able to participate in all transitions, from cot to playground to pre-school to primary school and now high school. But my heart clenches at the thought that from now on it’ll be more of me trying to get involved in his life than him in mine. I got used to him not reaching for my hand when we walk, saying ‘stop embarrassing me’ when I hug him in public and complaining when he has to join the family in our outings. I’m uncertain what’s going to be the next step of independence.

Looking at the images today made me realise that time is moving faster as my children get older. Perhaps because every time I look back there are more and more memories to remind me of what life once was, how cute they were, how much younger I looked. Sometimes I want to get back to the past to revisit those moments, make them last a bit longer. Other times I’m just happy that some of those moments are just a memory.

But what scares me is that some of these memories are just a vague recollection. These are the moments that I think I wasn’t as present as I should have. I was either too busy or life got in the way of living and if it wasn’t for the photographs some memories would just evaporate as if they had never existed.

That’s when I remind myself that I have to slow down and stop the auto-pilot because you can really only appreciate life if you are present to experience it and I want to look back at the end of Year 12 having not only collected memories but feeling and appreciating the different stages of life.

Now if you excuse me, someone is calling me to play with Pokemon cards 🙂

Advertisements

My kids are giving back

Lucasandpickles

Yesterday my children did their first volunteering job. We went to Monika’s Doggie Rescues and took Pickles for a walk. Like the other 150 dogs in the centre, Pickles has a story of abuse, neglect or violence. As we strolled the rural streets of Ingleside, Pickles barked and lunged at every other dog that crossed our way. The volunteer at the shelter said that Pickles probably had never seen another dog until he was rescued—he forgot how to be a dog. Apart from not being comfortable with others of his kind, he was a happy dog and Lucas and Thomas loved playing with him.

I must say, our volunteering work yesterday was not a huge effort for my kids—they are natural animal lovers—but it was a fun way to show them the importance of giving back to the community. Our visit to the dog shelter exposed them to a few realities they aren’t used to:

  • Suffering is part of life – they are safely bubble wrapped by caring parents.
  • Making do with very limited resources – mum’s bank never seems to run out of funds.
  • Only selflessness can make the world a better place – no kids, Pokemon is not saving the planet.

I don’t think my kids are the only ones out of touch with the realities of life—most children today are too sheltered and have too much—they don’t understand that the privileges they have are not equally available to others just a few postcodes away. And it’s not their fault. Most of us parents spend a good deal of time ensuring our children have great educational experiences, wonderful holidays, eat organic food, are creatively stimulated. Unfortunately, we don’t put as much energy in making sure they understand that not everyone is as fortunate as them and that those with privileges have a duty of care.

That’s probably because we aren’t as socially engaged as we should. It’s easier to get busy worrying about achieving the best possible outcomes for ourselves and our children than getting involved with the problems of our society. But there is need all around us and we are all part of the solution. It’s never too early or too late to start.

I did volunteering work as a teenager when I was a girls guide. Since then, there has been university, career, kids. But I guess the seed was planted and I feel it’s time to roll up my sleeves again. I’m making giving back part of my parenting agenda. We are definitely going to visit Pickles and his friends again.

Chaotic day, got better, then… you tell me.

exclamation-lego

I know you’ve had days like this too. Days sent to try you. In such days you just want to go back to bed and start over. These days for me tend to begin like a nightmare, tormenting me in the middle of the night, like when insomnia comes for a visit. But this time it was my youngster whispering in my ear “bad dream, bad dream”. It was cold  and I had no energy to take him back to where he came from so I made a slight sideway move and he hopped on between my husband and I and snuggles under my wings. Luckily I managed to get back to sleep. But not for long.

“My throat hurts, I can’t sleep.” I get up and go on a blind expedition to the bathroom to get the medicine box. Before I reach the power switch, ouch! When a 60Kg person steps on a mega strength Lego piece it hurt but 1am it hurts even more. When the evil ridges dig into the ball of my foot I scream so loud the dog wakes up— my husband surprisingly manages to sleep through it all. “Here darling, have a lozenge.” I walk my eldest to his bedroom and wait for him to fall asleep. Back in my room, the youngest took possession of every inch of my side of the bed so I retire to his. I bring my phone with me, I still hope I will wake up at 5:30am to go for a run. But child with sore throat still woke me up another two times before the alarm takes me from my slumber. Just 10 more minutes, I beg the universe.

When I finally woke up there was no time for exercise and it felt like I had already ran a marathon. I quickly got dressed and I rushed out of the house to catch the train before the rest of the tribe got up demanding my attention. My husband was in charge today but if the kids see me around they find a way to occupy me. I was excited that besides all the chaos of the night I was still catching an early train and thus would get a seat. But as soon as I reached the station and got my Opal card from my wallet I spotted the crispy bank notes I should have left in the kitchen bench for the cleaner.

I literally ran home and back to the station again, limping because of the Lego nugget I crushed. Magically I got a seat on the train. Ok, time for some meditation and gather energy for the the day ahead. I try to pull my headphones from my handbag but they are stuck. I pull harder and harder and two kiwi fruit fly out of the bag and go rolling down the carriage. I man next to me starts laughing, I look at him and smile —one’s got to laugh of his tragedies… I see passengers lifting their feet and looking down. To avoid further embarrassment I let go of the fruit.

Eventually I arrived at the office and put my porridge in the microwave while I recounted the morning to a workmate. The porridge overflows. “Not your luckiest day” my friend says. I wondered what more could go wrong today. Thankfully not much. The rest of the day ran smoothly, well, depending in your point of view. When I got home at night I learnt that the Liberals had officially won the federal election. I’ll let you be the judge.

The year of the snake

IMG_5453

Celebrating 11 years of caking making for my kids. We’ve had all kinds of cakes (and sleepless nights) over the years, from the Hobbit, to spideman to animals

My life is full of imperfections and minor disasters but I’m glad and grateful to say that today,  I had a perfect day. I managed to finish the birthday cake the night before Lucas’ birthday party so in the morning I could work on the details of the celebration. Lucas invited 21 friends for the occasion – there was a lot of work to do.

The weather in Sydney has been gorgeous this autumn but on Saturday when I got up and looked out the window the ground was wet. Yes, rain on the horizon. Well, it was more of a strong drizzle, but that couldn’t be happening, not today when we were going to take 22 active boys on a bush walk. Luckily the birthday party fairies were on our side because an hour before the party the sun came out to save the day.

And so off  I went to the bush to hide 22 stuffed animals for the treasure hunt. I climbed up trees and rocks trying to camouflage the toys amongst the leaves and bark. I marked the area with bright ribbons and drew signs on the ground to hint to the kids where to look for the toys.

IMG_5464

I’ve been organising children’s birthday parties for 11 years. It’s always a lot of work. I’m always exhausted by the end of the day. I always promise next year I’ll do less. But then I look at the photos and think of the children’s face and my heart clenches. My eldest will soon be a teenager, he won’t be wanting these types of parties for much longer. So every year I keeping going back for more.

Despite the hard work, it’s so much fun organising the parties with my boys. Weeks before the celebration they come up with a theme, ideas of games, food and friends for the big day. We all cherish these moments and I’m sure these are memories they will return to for the rest of their lives.

IMG_5487

Back to the fine day, we went to an hour’s walk/treasure hunt in the bush down the road. Our march to get there drew the attention of onlookers, probably wondering why the exodus of so many children. My husband was notably stressed though. He thinks I’m crazy for organising these big parties and entertaining so many kids. The children behaved well and I could see some of them were not used to exercise and tree climbing, a few were quite tired by the end of the adventure. When everyone had found their toy we headed home to recharge the energy with  pizza, sushi and of course, treats.

Just before cake we had a Brazilian style piñata, made with a giant inflatable balloon. This is one of my favourite parts of the party, watching the kids going over the candy like ants. I’m glad to report that no one got hurt on the making of this video.

After everyone left we sat on the floor to read the birthday cards and open the gifts. This moment always brings a bit of jealousy on the other sibling but they have been generous enough to donate one of the gifts to the other.

Nothing really extraordinary happened today. Just a family celebrating life with children. And life doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

Do you organise parties for your children? Would love to hear your stories.

The year of the snake

IMG_5453

Celebrating 11 years of caking making for my kids. We’ve had all kinds of cakes (and sleepless nights) over the years, from the Hobbit, to spideman to animals

 

My life is full of imperfections and minor disasters but I’m glad and grateful to say that today,  I had a perfect day. I managed to finish the birthday cake the night before Lucas’ birthday party so in the morning I could work on the details of the celebration. Lucas invited 21 friends for the occasion – there was a lot of work to do.

The weather in Sydney has been gorgeous this autumn but on Saturday when I got up and looked out the window the ground was wet. Yes, rain on the horizon. Well, it was more of a strong drizzle, but that couldn’t be happening, not today when we were going to take 22 active boys on a bush walk. Luckily the birthday party fairies were on our side because an hour before the party the sun came out to save the day.

And so off  I went to the bush to hide 22 stuffed animals for the treasure hunt. I climbed up trees and rocks trying to camouflage the toys amongst the leaves and bark. I marked the area with bright ribbons and drew signs on the ground to hint to the kids where to look for the toys.

IMG_5464

I’ve been organising children’s birthday parties for 11 years. It’s always a lot of work. I’m always exhausted by the end of the day. I always promise next year I’ll do less. But then I look at the photos and think of the children’s face and my heart clenches. My eldest will soon be a teenager, he won’t be wanting these types of parties for much longer. So every year I keeping going back for more.

Despite the hard work, it’s so much fun organising the parties with my boys. Weeks before the celebration they come up with a theme, ideas of games, food and friends for the big day. We all cherish these moments and I’m sure these are memories they will return to for the rest of their lives.

IMG_5487

Back to the fine day, we went to an hour’s walk/treasure hunt in the bush down the road. Our march to get there drew the attention of onlookers, probably wondering why the exodus of so many children. My husband was notably stressed though. He thinks I’m crazy for organising these big parties and entertaining so many kids. The children behaved well and I could see some of them were not used to exercise and tree climbing, a few were quite tired by the end of the adventure. When everyone had found their toy we headed home to recharge the energy with  pizza, sushi and of course, treats.

Just before cake we had a Brazilian style piñata, made with a giant inflatable balloon. This is one of my favourite parts of the party, watching the kids going over the candy like ants. I’m glad to report that no one got hurt on the making of this video.

After everyone left we sat on the floor to read the birthday cards and open the gifts. This moment always brings a bit of jealousy on the other sibling but they have been generous enough to donate one of the gifts to the other.

Nothing really extraordinary happened today. Just a family celebrating life with children. And life doesn’t get any more perfect than that.

Do you organise parties for your children? Would love to hear your stories.

 

 

 

 

 

Memories on the roof

IMG_5401

Our laneway was too quiet for a Sunday afternoon. No bikes, skateboards, soccer balls or their owners in sight. As I approached the driveway a voice came from above: “Mum’s home.” I looked up and there they were playing on the roof.

Before I could scream their names and ask them to come down, I had a flashback to the 80s when I too was in the roof of the neighbour’s house, getting my volley ball back. To get there, I had to climb the back wall of our apartment block which was a bit higher than the neighbour’s roof, then  jump down to the roof clearing a meter long divide that separated the buildings. Looking down, I knew the fall could do a lot of damage but I still crossed to the other side. I don’t know if my parents knew what I was up to, but I don’t think they would have been too concerned.

As I pictured my roof climbing adventures I reached for my phone and recorded that moment for posterity. Children in the 21st century still have fun climbing fences, trees, and roofs. If only we let them. But most times we make sure they are safely indoors (and this often involves a screen) or engaged in after school activities.

We do this because we are good parents. There is danger outside and we have to prepare our children for a very competitive market place – there is no time to muck around with their education or safety.  But the reality is, child abduction in the streets is rare and if we pay less attention to the media and do our own homework, we will see that by over scheduling our kids’ lives, natural fun and spontaneity get squeezed out. I think parents are equally so busy that they don’t even realise that these essentials are being stripped from their children’s everyday life.

I recently came across this research about the role of free play, day dreaming and independent discovery in building emotional maturity, developing cognitive skills, and boost physical health in children. The research reveals a link between unstructured activities and the development of executive function.

Executive function is an umbrella term for mental skills that help us control our attention, impulses and enable us to plan. These skills have long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other lifelong benefits such as health and wealth.

My boys are always complaining that they don’t have enough free time and like most parents I don’t always have the courage-energy-time to let my kids just muck around and be kids. But here are a few things that I’m doing to create more opportunities for free play:

  • I’m encouraging my kids to do their homework in the morning before school so they have time to play when we get home
  • Friday and weekends they can play outside until dinner time (sometimes I end up having dinner before them)
  • They can ride their bikes and take the dog for a walk in the neighbourhood without supervision
  • No tablets or eleconics at night so they can read, write, draw or play

Free play, however, has a boundary – they are not allowed to go on the roof. After that incident, I explained why I didn’t want them up there and it looks like their are using their executive function, I haven’t seen them up there since then 🙂

 

 

The night I got changed in the car

gettingchanged

The sun had already set when we arrived at the oval for Lucas’ soccer training. While his session is running, I normally dash to the shops with Thomas to get dinner. But today there was a change of plans. “Mum can we practice for my cross country?” Thomas asked firmly. I wasn’t really in the mood for a run. I had covered 11KM in the morning before work and my gross, sweaty workout clothes stayed in the backpack all day. But how can you say no to a child who spent the whole day at school and after school care?

Our cross country training started with hurdles – where to get changed? I checked the public toilet but the lights were off, so we walked back to the car. I scanned the vicinity to ensure there were no parents around the car park, got in the car and started to unpack. Man, I never realised my own clothes could stink so bad. I quickly put the top on and my body shivered when the wet fabric touched my skin. Yuk! Then the contortionism began to put the sticky running pants on. Eventually I managed to get dressed and nerved myself to action in the track field, hoping I wasn’t going to pass by any parents.

Despite the hygiene situation it was an occasion for celebration – Thomas has never shown any enthusiasm for running, or for any other sport for that matter. “Ready, set, go” he commanded and we started to race. Well… I did. But Thomas started skipping. And jumping, cart wheeling and pretending to fly like superman. He also stopped a few times to climb over the fence. Close to the finish line he went on all fours pretending to be Snoopy. I was trying hard not to laugh of the whole situation. Thomas was clearly having a wonderful time but my poor baby was probably going to come last in the cross country.

“Mum, I’m glad I practiced for the race, I think this year I’ll go really fast,” he said. My heart sank. I was thinking how disappointed he was going to be. Running 2KM with that level of focus he didn’t stand a chance. I’d better say something to prepare him. “Thomas”, I went, “remember, it’s about doing your best, it’s not about winning.” – “I know mum,” he replied, “everyone gets an ice block at the end. Everyone is a winner.” What a gorgeous boy. Yes, Thomas, everyone is a winner. A life lesson right there. Please sweet heart, never ever change.

From kale to chaos – But I feel fine

IMG_5362

Last week started so well. Lots of kale juice and the fridge was overflowing with luscious greens and colourful, vitamin rich fruit and vegetables. Then the work week began… and the picture above summarises well how it ended.

It’s really hard for working mothers to find the time or the energy to put a healthy meal on the table every night. This week was particularly difficult because of the school holidays and the demands of work–I saw myself doing much longer days than usual. Even though I was working from home most days, by the time I shut down my laptop, I was feeling drained and guilty. It was the holidays and I had barely seen my children. Cooking a healthy meal wasn’t any longer at the top of my priority list.

I’m very proud of my boys, they behaved so well–played with their toys, watched tv, spent time on their electronics and ran outside with the neighbours. I only had to leave the room to feed them. But instead of celebrating that they are growing up and becoming independent, as the week progressed I was feeling more and more deflated. It felt like I was managing a cattle feedlot.

I know that research after research tells us that there is no negative consequence for children of working mothers. But I think mothers secretly worry that they are not giving their kids enough quality time and that this could have an adverse effect on the children. I don’t fear in silence anymore, I write about it instead.

My concern with this ‘quality time’ is what made me decide not to work full-time while my kids are still young. Although mind you, I work four days and more often than not I end up doing more hours than a full week of work. But at least this gives me the flexibility to wait for my kids at the school gate a few times a week. And at 2:55pm when the school bell rings, I know when I see them scanning the sea of parents and our eyes meet that they are happy that mum is there for them.

So back to my week, by Friday the house was a mess, it was raining and the kids spent the entire morning playing with video games, and the hot water system had stopped working – it was total chaos and I was growing increasingly irritated. About 3pm I had enough, put the kids in the car, drove to the shops, spoiled them with a sweet treat and let them spend their pocket money. It was my way of making up for the week in the ‘farm’ (and I needed a good dose of caffeine!). We browsed books and told jokes and stopped at every department store to look at Lego sets and Star Wars merchandising  (the new family fever). The sugar overdose made me feel guilty again but honestly, I thought bugger all health eating messages right now, I just want a break from the chaos of the week and connect with my kids doing something I know they enjoy.

Then we got home and I had to remorsefully throw away lettuce and bok choy that had passed the ‘use by’ date. You can’t have it all-or at least I haven’t pulled off having it all. But one thing I have is my breath to go back to. Sometimes it helps me make better decisions, other times it just prevents me from going totally nuts and at the end of the day it always reminds me at that with sugar or without, life can be… well, sweet.

The reluctant runner and a pushy mother

funrun

Born to run? He dashed up the hills in Roseville today at the Rotary Fun Run, I just couldn’t keep up with him.

Ok, I’m not that pushy and I’m often wondering if I’m giving my children too much leeway in deciding how to spend their time. My boys are not big fans of holiday camps, after school activities, organised sport, homework or even family outings. Their picture of a perfect day is a day spent at home playing with their friends, toys and electronics. Even getting them to their weekly swimming lesson can be a drama. They don’t have a competitive nature either, to the point that they don’t even collect the merit cards they receive at school.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry as creative play, writing and reading is ever present in our home and the boys are still in primary school but they are growing up in a very competitive culture. I look around and see so many kids over scheduled with extra curricular activities, competing with their peers, trying super hard to win and upset when they don’t take the trophy home. I think we, parents, are under constant fear that we are not doing enough to help our children succeed both now and in a cutting throat world of work in the future.

I recently had an interesting experience. Every now and then I invite my boys to run with me and they always decline the invitation. Then about a month ago my 10-year-old agreed to join me and I was amazed at this performance–he ran two kilometres at my pace. Since then he’s been running with me twice a week. Most times there is nagging involved but at least he’s been joining me.

So, I thought to keep him motivated I’d sign him up to do a fun ran. He initially agreed but without much enthusiasm. Today was the big day but since yesterday he’s saying he isn’t really keen to go for a run on a Sunday morning. This morning he was cranky, didn’t really wanted to go but I didn’t take no for an answer. Long story short, he ran 5Km in  00:24:36 – impressive, he beat me by 12 seconds! And he actually enjoyed it and asked me if he could join Sydney Striders-there were lots of kids at the race wearing the striders uniform.

The moral of the story is that I continue to find it hard to draw a line. Had I not created this experience and put my son a bit out of his comfort zone he would have missed out on this exciting achievement. That’s why it’s really hard to find the right balance. I don’t want to be pushy but at the same time I think that parents have some responsibility in creating opportunities and inspiring their children to achieve their potential. The question is how many experiences is too many, how much pushing is too pushy?

I don’t think my parents had this dilemma–I was the one that pushed myself and I turned up all right. Would I have been more successful in certain areas had I had pushy parents? Who knows. But I have access to much more resources and information now than my parents ever had. I hope I’m combining the right amount of motherly instinct and knowledge to create well adjusted, happy human beings.

 

 

The dreaded gift has arrived: R2-D2

 

IMG_5311

The 8-year-old had an enormous smile on his face when I picked him up at school on Thursday. He had a surprise in his backpack, the book club had delivered his order: build your own R2-D2. Ten hours to assemble, said the brochure. I don’t know what possessed me to agree to this purchase. At the time I thought it was a great idea–a creative project for the school holiday when I’ll be working from home. Judging by his mental skill and manual ability in putting his Lego toys together I thought, sure, piece of cake. But later it’s been borne upon me that this project involves building a 30cm cardboard robot with paper, scissors and glue. And Led lights! They must mean ten hours of skilled adult work.

For the last two weeks this child has been talking about his exciting school holiday project and as much as I enjoy seeing his enthusiasm I must confess I can’t share the same excitement. On the night we got home with the kit I had a taster of what this project will be like. Thomas sneakily opened the box in his bedroom but in a few minutes rushed downstairs in tears: “this R2-D2 will never work”. He only had a go at the first element… Oh God, I can anticipate how I’m going to spend my two days of annual leave: detaching and trimming paper shapes from 12 A4 sheets and trying to figure out where they go. I gave Thomas a hug and ensured I was going to help him build R2-D2 but he had to wait for the holiday to begin. I could feel his sticky fingers entangled in my hair… I never liked Star Wars and I get the feeling I’m going to like it even less…

But then later that night I went to bed and Thomas as drawing his own Star Wars comic book and he read it to me. He was one of the characters and he fought the droids and robots with lightsabers and passion. It was way past his bed time but his eyes still sparkled with energy and adventure. He said he’d continue the battle in his dreams.

I’m starting to change my mind about the holiday project. I now think it’ll be quite fun to build R2-D2 with Thomas – so long as The Force gives me patience.