Category Archives: parenting in 21st century

The unexpected benefits of (mildly) sick kids

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off schoolI remember when my youngest started school, “you won’t know yourself” was the common refrain. Of course rather than the inferred endless time to myself, I instead managed to fill my time with chores, as much writing as I could find motivation for and, I’ll admit, quite a lot of faffing about.

It is a well-documented curse of our age that we all feel permanently run off our feet, pulled in different directions by myriad demands. This can then lead to a complete lack of appreciation for the things we are able to do once our children are out of the house for six hours a day. Like go to a yoga class, eat a sandwich while reading the paper, grab a coffee with a friend for an hour, make a phone call involving a call centre (have you ever tried this with children anywhere near you? It’s as though they have a radar alerting them to the most rewarding time to bug you).

Last week I had one or more children at home Every. Single.Day. I had to make the call to school daily, sounding no doubt more and more unhinged as I laughed manically, “Me, again, you’ll never guess what….”. A friend tried to bolster me midweek when I described the week as a write off – “it’s only Wednesday!” she reminded me – yeah, you don’t have the parental power of insight that somehow lets you know optimism will be wasted here, you just need to give up, focus on next Monday and breath deeply.

However, it had its surprises too. On Tuesday my son felt well enough to play so we made a train track, played Jenga, hide and seek, eye spy over lunch, had a teddy party and to top it off I taught him patience, a game I haven’t played for years and which reminds me of being little and poorly. We connected in a way that we never really do at the weekends when the rest of the family is around. We enjoyed each other’s company. Once I had come to terms with not getting a thing done, (and I mean not a thing of use – we all had fish fingers for supper) – it really was quite relaxing.

calvin and hobbes sickness

After three days of course the playing vibe was threadbare. Money was chucked at the problem – a new comic, a jigsaw puzzle, and the latest Weird Oh book were grimly chucked into the shopping basket in an attempt to claw back some quiet time at my desk. And when the novelty of those wore off I turned on the TV.

When I found him watching the ABC educational channel – about women’s working conditions in 1950’s Britain I almost frogmarched him to school. Clearly his mind was in dire need of sustenance. But then his brother was off the next day and the whole cycle began again.

At least on Friday they were both off and managed, thank you universe, to play harmoniously – with the new toy monkey and another jigsaw. At least the local shops will be happy with me.

So, unexpected though it was, the week wasn’t wasted as it both helped me have fun with my kids in a way I haven’t for ages and most definitely made me appreciate those precious few hours I have without them most days. In the week to come I imagine I won’t know myself.

let board game end

 

*While I wrote this very lightheartedly I do want to acknowledge that my kids simply had a virus. I can’t imagine what it must be like to care for and worry about a chronically or seriously ill child and honour and admire those parents who do.

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Motherhood Survival Club

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Yesterday I saw a mum sitting with her two sons outside a café burst into tears as one of them dropped a piece of the jigsaw puzzle he was tackling for what must have been the umpteenth time.  His wails of frustration combined with her unchecked tears told me a very familiar story.  I considered asking if she was ok but resisted as she almost visibly pulled herself together, regaining her composure and possibly re-applying the mask that she turns outwards to the world.  She could have been any one of us, mothers holding everything in the most delicate balance, working so hard simply to cope with the everyday pressures while the world calls us ‘capable’ and ‘clever’ and ‘super’.

Oh to be able to let our guard down sometimes.  To be able to say, ‘I really need a break’ without being judged a basket-case or a failure.  And more importantly, not judging ourselves as such.  Whether working or stay-at-home, we are all simply trying to do the best by these funny, engaging and beautiful little individuals.  Their reliance on us is absolute (even though from the age of about seven it seems they would hotly deny it), our moral compass is their indication of right and wrong, our values their touchstones.

My parents jokingly say that my brother and I turned out alright despite them (with a few bumps along the way).  I now know this to mean that they did not obsess over the minutiae of our extra-curricular learning or whether we were learning vital social skills, these would come simply through our being a part of their world and learning as we went along.  There was so much less chatter about how to do everything and what was right and wrong and therefore, I wonder, fewer judgements of each other?

Don’t get me wrong, I know the resources available to parents now are quite amazing and provide a very real support to many many parents, as the use of online sites such as Mumsnet and Kidspot attest.  It is all too easy though to allow the constant flow of advice and information to overwhelm you, to feel as though you are the only one who doesn’t know how best to sooth a colicky baby, discipline a belligerent toddler, guide an older child through the rough and tumble of the playground.

We all have our inner voice, our gut instinct and the knowledge that there is no-one on earth who knows our children as we do.  We should perhaps turn inwards a bit more, listen to ourselves and not bow to the pressure of others’ perception.  We all deserve membership of the Motherhood Survival Club, a place of no-holds-barred mutual congratulation and understanding.  Life with small children is exhausting, bewildering and exhilarating.  There are no prizes for heroics and probably not a great deal of thanks at the end.  However, as we tell our children, as long as we try our best, are kind, and remember the old adage ‘do as you would be done by’, we should all come out relatively unscathed.

If you have managed to stomach my pontificating (as my Dad would call it), have a look at the post on Children’s Books, please add your own list, the diversity of favourites is amazing!

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The pile of books beside my bed - a tad optimistic?  Borne of a compulsion for borrowing from the library that has got out of hand!

The pile of books beside my bed – a tad optimistic? Borne of a compulsion for borrowing from the library that has got out of hand!

It’s been all about me this week!  The boys have been fed, watered, clothed and ferried about to wherever they have needed to be, homework has happened, stars and black marks doled out but while all of this has been going on my internal focus has been on all the bits and pieces I’ve got going on.  I’m going to call this distracted parenting.  It’s new to me as until this year the boys pretty much ruled the roost in terms of time and energy – that’s collective family energy.  Perhaps this is more akin to life as a working mum (which I actually a now too!) in which case, wow, I truly take my hat off to everyone who has juggled all these components of life from the word go with kids.

I am trying to teach myself to compartmentalise which is hard.  I am realising it is not so easy to try and do a million things at once these days even or especially with constant global communication literally at our fingertips (sorry, I know as a woman I am able to multi-task, I’m just finding that these days it results in difficulties…bad feminist?).  Yesterday we had two very similar incidents to highlight this:

  1. On arriving at pre-school I just had to finish off a tiny email I had started while waiting at a red light while Sam and Edward hung on in the back.

Me:  Won’t be a minute boys.

Boys:  Silence (happily doing sticker books).

Ten seconds later.

Sam:   Argh, Mummy, when are you going to be FINISHED?

 Me:  Almost there, just a second.

 Sam:  BUT I WANT TO GET OUT (shouted loudly).

Me:  OK, alright, I was just…realise they couldn’t care less what I was ‘just’ doing.  I probably always seem to be ‘just doing’ something.  This time was Sam’s time, he adores Northern Nursery and I felt rotten for spoiling his arrival there.  Of course, my email could have waited, it’s just too easy to think I can fit another little thing in.

2.  While the soup was cooking (yes, I know that’s a bit show-offy, forgive me, I’m trying to redeem a pinch of self-worth while I admit to my faults) I thought I’d check to see whether my article had been published.  It had which meant I had to phone Andrew (who was wonderfully, joyfully supportive and proud, thank you) which went on for a bit during which Edward (who had been happily watching Rupert the Bear I’m ashamed to admit – but it’s Rupert right?  Could have been worse, could have been Seseme street!) appeared to say ‘I hungry’ in a plaintive voice.  I said, of course, ‘I’ll be there in a minute poppet’ and continued to chat and revel in my new-found, hard-earned writerly ‘fame’.  A minute later he came back and began physically tugging on my arm to wrest me free of the technology that was binding me.  I felt dreadful so allowed him nutella on toast and apple juice for lunch.  Rubbish.

We are a bit of a technophobic household it has to be said.  We have no ipad, ipod, foxtel.  But perhaps I’m kidding myself and it is simply down to finances as opposed to my strict moral compass (you can get up now from rolling about in hysterics) or rather old-fashionedness.  Those technologies we do have are getting in the way.  They are stretching themselves over the compartments I mean to impose.   I don’t think I’m alone.  I go to a soft-play centre or park with the boys and find it hard not to get my phone out just to check if there’s anything that I need to attend to. What?  I am not a member of the UN,  nor am I a medical or legal professional on-call.  The most important communication I might have will be something from a member of the preschool social committee.  So nothing that cannot wait for me to have some time with my amazing boys.  I have taken to leaving the distraction in the car – not Edward, the phone.

reliant on technology

 I give Andrew a row for working on his laptop in bed.  Not only is it deeply unsexy, he works until he’s cross-eyed then wonders why he sleeps so badly.  I use my phone as alarm which means the first thing I do after hitting snooze is check my emails.

As if to prove my point, Andrew has just appeared (it’s 6.47am) to replenish my tea with Blackberry in hand which he insisted on checking to see what had come in overnight, phew the email he wanted was there.  It really couldn’t have waited, certainly not until the office and his work time officially begins.  I have 13 minutes of my allotted work time left before the hand ticks over to the next compartment and today I don’t want to be late, or distracted.

Since when were these not enough?

Since when were these not enough?

Edward demanded this be put in, starting young.

Edward demanded this be put in, starting young.

Incessant technological interuption.