The time is right when you are ready

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Yes, we did it again and, yes, he beat me again! I wrote about this same race with my reluctant runner last year.  This time around he was much more willing, not to mention faster. He ran 5km in 23 minutes, knocking my socks off. As the start gun went off, he sprinted to the front of the crowd to catch up with the lead runners and within 300 metres had disappeared from my sight.

When I first wrote about this fun run, I was debating with myself how to find the right balance between pushing my children to excel and encouraging them to explore the world and be kids. A year has passed since that blog, and today, as I pounded the horrid hills of Roseville trying to catch up with an 11-year-old, I was thinking about this dilemma again.

My son is such a natural runner – if only I could convince him to train a bit more. Last year it was the first time he showed an interest in running. After a lot of parental nagging, I convinced him to do a fun run with me. But training was not fun. He often complained he would rather be doing something else and on the day of the race and whined all the way from home to the start line. After last year’s race, he did well at the school athletics carnival but refused to train for the next level of competition. Maybe a tiger mum would have punished or threatened him to continue. I offered encouragement and incentives instead – to no avail. Then, this year to my surprise, he announced he wanted to run again.

This time around he was more committed to training. Sometimes I had to insist but for most part, he was willing to join my morning runs and for about a month we managed to run consistently twice a week. On race day he was excited and did his best.

There were dozens of children in the race. Most of them were wearing a club t-shirt like Little Athletics or Sydney Striders.  These are children that take their training seriously. Maybe they have tiger mums and dads behind them. Maybe they are just naturally driven. Maybe it’s both. With my own children, every time I try to get them to do more than they think it’s necessary, it backfires, it becomes a chore and they lose motivation.

I still don’t have the formula figured out but from observing my children and their friends, to get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge. The problem for most parents is to learn when encouraging becomes pushing, where to draw the line.

“To get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge.”

To address that, I came up with the term ‘short burst of pushing’. For the child that is not willing to try new things, sometimes they may just need that extra push. My theory is that you create the opportunity for the child to experience a new activity and if they like it, they may return to it even if at a later stage. In the context of this race, if I had not pushed my son a little bit last year, he may not have realised that he enjoyed the sport and could be really good at it. I hope he continues training but I will not insist. If he wants to pursue the sport, I’ll provide support and encouragement.

I’m a strong believer that childhood is about exploration. I’ve created an opportunity for my son to explore running as a sport. Maybe if I hadn’t, he would have found the sport own his own anyway. I don’t think we need to create endless opportunities but listening to our children and being in tune with their needs and interests can help us give them a little push (or a short burst of pushing) to help them push a few boundaries when they are ready.

What a challenge these races have been for me as a parent and a runner. I had trained much more than my son and still came two minutes behind him. I’m not getting any faster with age but I hope I’m getting wiser. Time will tell.

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Stick figures: 21,000 min slicing carrots

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I did the maths. Every single school day for seven years I’ve cut carrot sticks for lunch boxes. This equates to 21,000 minutes or 14.5 days cutting the same beta-carotene vegetable (sometimes I add cucumber for a bit of variety) and stuffing them in little plastic containers. Today while I was going through my daily ritual it was borne in upon me that we haven’t had Disney’s lunch boxes in a while, my children have actually grown (I have these revelations from time to time), so why don’t I let them cut the vegetables and prepare their own lunch boxes? With their help, I would save 15 minutes each day.

There are many explanations why my kids don’t prepare their lunch boxes, but the main reason is the mother:

  • I don’t want them to make a mess that I will have to clean up
  • I don’t want to put up with the whining and whinging (they don’t want to do their lunch boxes)
  • I don’t want them to get hurt using a sharp knife
  • I take pride in a properly made lunch box, one that includes fresh food and prepared with love

As I was writing this I was thinking, gee, if I wasn’t in the equation, they would be using a butcher’s knife by now. I had set a deadline that by high school they would be doing their lunch boxes but now high school is just around the corner for my eldest and we haven’t had much progress. The mess they make in the kitchen and the complaining drive me crazy. And watching them use the knife sends shivers down my spine.

I know I have to do something about this so I rationalised that  I’ll continue with the vegetables and they can do the other food groups. But then the other night I was watching my eldest spread butter on his toast. I was standing there staring at him, my head shaking in disbelief as he maneuvered the butter knife. He made a deep whole in the creamed milk and ripped up his bread trying to spread the butter on top. Another revelation: my 11-year old can’t handle a butter knife, or any other knife for that matter. My kids are bad with knives because I haven’t given them access to the tool, I haven’t taken the time to teach them how to use one properly. I have to admit that rather than nurturing future helpers I’m over protecting my precious treasures from most house chores and denying them the chance to grow. I might be protecting their little fingers now but this can actually hurt them in the long run.

I want my children to be capable of looking after themselves by the time they leave home and I know there are still many years to get them ready but they have embarked on a journey towards independence from the moment they learnt to crawl and my role is to equip them for the journey, help them gauge the risks accurately rather than removing all obstacles.

The new year will begin with a better division of chores, a present that they don’t expect Santa to bring but they can thank me later in life. And the carrot sticks will continue make their way to school next year, but there will be a new pair of hands making them.

A Day in the Life of a Working Mother

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I wanted to whinge about this crazy week but ended up penning down a story instead. I plan to slow down but here I’m 1am and still going. One day. Soon.

“Kids get your bags and get in the car.”
Amelia recites this phrase every morning, except the days she works in the office. Those days her husband deals with the morning chaos.

“Being late is a bad habit.” She says running upstairs, two steps at a time, almost tripping over the last step. Steadying herself she glances over her room, looking for her bag. It must be in the wardrobe. Amelia notices the kids’ flannelette pyjamas still on the floor and squints. They never pick up their clothes. She wonders if it’s worth yelling again asking them to come clean the mess. Why bother, we will be even later. This is just an irritation, a minor irritation. Her spacious bedroom looks small with all the clutter. She walks over the jumble of clothes and stops in front of the sliding mirrored doors of her robe. Before she slides the door open she notices the face starring back at her. Her eyebrows climb, there is no spark in those eyes. She looks tired and her hair hasn’t seen a brush yet. Amelia pulls an elastic band from the pocket of her blue Nike jumper and quickly ties her short, unruly hair, into a ponytail. That will do.

Amelia races downstairs, this time holding the rails.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” She instructs the kids, who don’t seem to hear, they are totally absorbed in their game of Pokemon cards. Amelia always repeats ‘let’s go’ three times. A single ‘let’s go’ doesn’t express her sense of urgency.

“There is no canteen money if we are late.” She warns them and this time the kids get moving.

They drive to school talking about Pokemon and the upcoming birthday party that she hasn’t started planning yet. She printed extra copy of the invitations to send to their family overseas but unknowingly to her Steve distributed every single invitation to his friends at school. She is uncertain of who or how many kids have been invited.

“Mum can you pick us up early?” asks Steve.
Her heart feels heavy every time she hears this question. She wonders if she is giving her children enough quality time. Is car time quality time? She read somewhere psychologists saying that car time is part of the equation. She finds this reassuring. She is focusing on the traffic ahead but notices Steve is still staring at her.
“I’ll try.” Amelia says unconvincingly, she knows she won’t be able to.

She finds a spot in front of the school.
“This is our lucky day!” Amelia cheers up.
“A school day is never a lucky day.” Steve mumbles.
“Common, you enjoy playing with your friends, don’t you?”
“Mum, no child likes going to school. We just go because we have to.”
“Ok but you have to hurry now, the bell will ring in a few seconds.” Steve’s mouth is a horizontal line now. She immediately regrets saying the word hurry and gets out of the car to kiss them good bye and straighten their hats.
“I love you.” She shouts as she watches them climb the fence. Her boys never use the school gate.

Amelia drives off waving at some parents chit-chatting at the gate. She sighs. She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mother but she wishes she had time to chit-chat sometimes. Her days start early and are full. Here she is, not quite nine in the morning and has already done one hour of work, before the kids got up.

The school traffic steals a couple of minutes from her morning. As she waits at the pedestrian crossing, she notices the blue sky dotted with a few specks of fluffy clouds. The thermometer in the car’s dashboard displays 18C. The perfect weather for a run. But she has so much on at the moment, she has to resist. She is hopeful that she will have a break for a run later in the day. That’s why she is wearing active wear and her GPS sports watch.

But the day doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. There were no pit stops. The only break she’s had was to scramble some eggs for lunch. She spent the whole day staring at the screen in her computer. It’s already time to pick up the kids and she still has emails to reply. She will have to return to the computer at night. Her eyes are red and sting. Amelia puts her elbows on the desk in front of her, holds her head with her hands and massages her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers. I’m working too hard.

On the way to school she sights runners pounding the pavement and wonders how they find the time. Don’t these people have mortgages to pay? For a moment she wishes her life was different. Amelia stops at a set of red lights and spots her birds. The common birds that are always there performing a synchronised dance across the sky, in perfect harmony. Amelia thinks they are pigeons but she isn’t certain. It doesn’t matter what they are and it doesn’t bother her that she has to stop at these lights for two whole minutes. She enjoys the show. She tries to count them, 25, 30, more. More than a messy sum of birds. This is a self-organised dynamic system showing cohesion and movement of a group without a leader. A show of competence and cooperation among birds, qualities she admires.

She arrives at after school care and from a distance she spots the boys playing soccer. Amelia worries that her kids don’t spend as much time at home as they would like to but she is watching them play in the soft rubber field, they tackle, they dribble and they don’t seem in a hurry to leave. This makes her feel better.

Amelia signs them off and they walk to the car talking about Pokemon and the homework that still needs to be done. But not tonight. They are now heading to music lessons and she will be there replying to emails while she waits at reception for thirty minutes. If the lessons were longer she would go for a run instead. She is still in active wear and wearing the GPS watch. She is not the only mother waiting in the tiny reception at the music school but she is the only one working on a laptop. The others are reading Women’s Weekly and those types of magazines. She wanted to reach out for one too, just for a bit of entertainment but she knows her night will be even longer if she doesn’t deal with the emails now.

Thirty minutes go by and the boys are back at reception before she sends the second email. “Just a minute boys.”
“Mum I’m hungry.” Whinges Jack.
“Just pressing the send button… now.”
She looks at them. “Ready to go.”
“Mum, can we stop for hot chips, I’m starving.” Jacks insists.
Stop? Stop? Who has time to stop. “We’ll have dinner shortly at home.”

They are walking across the footpath of the quiet shopping village. By now a cafe and a take away shop are the only stores open.

“But mum I am hungry now!” Jack doesn’t give up.
Amelia raises her arm to check the time and calculate how long it will take to whip up dinner, quickly read the kids a story, have a shower and go back to the computer. She feels a drop of sweat running down her back.

“My stomach is grumbling mum, please?”

Amelia stops walking and stares at the trees at the end of the road soaking up on what’s left of the sun in this gorgeous spring day. Even trees do a better job of looking after themselves. She wonders if she will ever finish reading the book she started last month. Amelia doesn’t give her kids junk food very often, she thinks this is lazy parenting. But she is too tired today.

“I just had an idea.” She says putting her arms around the kids’ shoulders. How about we go to Macas and grab a take-away dinner and you can eat in the crèche at the gym while I do my exercise?”

The boys don’t like going to the crèche. They say creches are for pre-schoolers.

“Only if I get a milkshake with my meal.” Jack tries to negotiate a deal.

“Ok, you choose your dinner tonight.”

The kids arrive at the gym carrying a brown bag in one hand and a clear plastic cup with a cold drink in the other.

“I’m sorry but the creche no longer opens on Thursday nights.”

Amelia gave the receptionist a blank stare, she could not believe it. Maybe she didn’t hear the girl properly with the thumping sound coming from the treadmills behind her. The girl showed Amelia a copy of the gym’s timetable, circling the creche’s opening times.

“Really? I rushed so much.” She didn’t mean to say that, the words just came out of her mouth, she could not hide her frustration. It was her fault, this is what happens when you are too busy, sooner or later you make mistakes. Why am I cramming in so much? Why do I have to be so productive?

She turns back to look at her boys and they smile.
“Mum, now this is a lucky day for us. Can we go home?”
“Ok, let’s go.” This time she only said it once.

Sydney is a privilege

Getting out of bed at 5:30AM on a Sunday may not sound like a privilege to many people but I felt really lucky this morning. I went with the kids to the Spring Cycle to cross the bridge and explore the centre of Sydney with our bikes. I was joined by a friend from Croatia and another from Iran and we were there enjoying every moment of our expedition with the blue sky above our heads and in awe to be living in such a beautiful, safe and multicultural city.

I’ve been living in Sydney for 18 years and am now used to such high standards of living but having grown up in Brazil I’m all too aware that the way we live our lives in Australia is a privilege denied to most of the seven billion people that share this planet with us.

I’m not talking about wealth accumulation—although I’m sure that there are plenty of opportunity for this to those that seek financial riches—for me it’s the little things in life that make Australia so attractive. For instance, today I was able to catch a train at 6am with my bike without feeling threatened that I could be mugged or had my bike stolen. Then during the race my children took off and I only met them again at the finishing line and it didn’t worry me that they were out of sight for a little bit.

When you grow up in a country that has a decent welfare system and public infra structure that makes live more enjoyable it’s easy to complain when Sydney trains are running five minutes late. Sometimes when I hear friends whinging about minor irritations in essential services I wonder how they would cope in a country that offers very limited resources to their citizens.

Of course Australia has problems too, we just have to look at the inequality in the Aboriginal communities and we have to raise our voices to fix what’s not working. I think if we show gratitude for what we have and remind ourselves that many of our privileges are often determined by your geographical location we may become more generous as human beings.

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

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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 🙂

My kids are giving back

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 🙂