Monday, January 31, 2011

January Blessings...

This is just going to be a boring "list post" of all the various blessings we've received this January because I'm 100% convinced that 2011 is the year our luck turns good again!

  • We won 5th division lotto on New Years Eve (but discovered this on New Year's Day morning).  Was only about $26, but at the time that was all we needed to feed ourselves until payday, so yay!
  • Found out the owners of our house were turned down on their application to build two two storey townhouses in our back yard.  They are resubmitting, which gives us a good 7-8 months before they're likely to want to proceed with the building (at which time we really need to move).  The reprieve was such a relief to us!
  • On the morning of the one big family outing these holidays, Dave found a $50 note in his wallet that he'd forgotten he hadn't spent, so the outing was freebie, yay!
  • Halfway through the month when I was projecting our income vs. expenditure and freaking out about how we were going to manage, I realised we have three payments in the pay period between January rent and February rent - which essentially means EXTRA MONEY!  So we could pay for the kids school packs AND get the gardens sorted (they're in a terrible, terrible way).
  • Dave realised he hadn't booked his Hazard Awareness test last week.  We'd completely forgotten about it, but he needs to have taken it BEFORE he does his driving test, and he realised this with just enough time to book in the HA test before the driving test!
  • Today we discovered someone had deposited a perfectly good trampoline on our nature strip.  No tears in the mat, no rust, no missing springs.  It does need pads, but that's all!  We already have one trampoline with a net and pads, but with two trampolines the big boys can go nuts and Ari can still jump, too without getting thrown about!
All that long grass will be gone by this time tomorrow!

There has been so many smaller blessings as well, but they don't come to mind right now.  Overall, it's been a great January with good company and fun times!  Bring on February!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011's first proper hot day...

Today is the first day this year, in Melbourne that is, to reach 40 degrees - or so they tell us, though my BOM weather application of my phone says it only reached close to 37 degrees.  We moved into this weather-board house last March, and haven't experienced a run of hot days here yet, so because we weren't sure what to expect, we stocked up on icy poles and made plans to camp out in the lounge room and dining room.  It hasn't been too bad though...

Being the people we are - or rather the person I am - we also decided today would be the day we start NOT putting Ari down for a nap.  He's stay up without a day nap on several occassions recently when we've been out and about during the day, but this is first time we stay home during his regular nap period and don't even attempt to get him to sleep.

So, come 3pm, with us all stuck in the house because of the heat, and Ari running on vapours, I found myself casting about for something to interest him and save all our sanity (he was starting to throw toys around in an attempt to entertain himself).  I remembered this blog post by Cass at Spy the Harriet, and thought the time had probably come to retrieve the guitar I bought at a market four years ago, from the top of the bedroom wardrobe.

Ari was DELIGHTED, and quite frankly, so were we because he'd started plonking on the xylophone and we were at too close quarter and too cabin feverish and too hot to enjoy his musicality!

Mind you, strumming the guitar only lasted about 45 minutes, and then he had to start using his lateral thinking skills to figure out what else it was good for...  A child's guitar is good for many things, it turns out.  It makes a great hobby-horse!, and it's a great seat, too!  We discouraged him from using it as a stepping stool though.


I couldn't help myself - small child with a guitar is a fantastic photo opportunity...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sif's 2011 Photo Project : January Installment

I took plenty of photos in 2010 - probably 2000 or more.  Sadly, the vast majority of them were on my iPhone.  I think I used my old Canon DSLR on a handful of occassions, and even then, I was pretty much just pointing and shooting.  The end result was that when it came to making a Christmas card last November/December I had no decent photos of the boys to put on it.  It was very disappointing.  On top of that, I was stressed out of my mind trying to complete my thesis and really didn't have the mindset to rectify the problem.  It was all too hard for me at the time.

This situation did lead to a new years resolution of sorts - only of sorts because it didn't formulate properly in my mind until about ten days ago.  Basically, I've set up a folder in the My Pictures directory on my computer and into that folder I am determined to place AT LEAST ONE decent printworthy photo of EACH of my boys for EACH MONTH of 2011.  I aim to also put in about half a dozen group photos of the boys.

This way, I will always have a photo pool to draw from for photos of the boys.  I can use these to print up for family and friends (each year I print up a poster collage of photos of the boys for my parents and ourselves - I actually forgot to do this last Christmas, mind you).

It's also a project to get me back in tune with my camera - to say I've become rusty is an understatement!  So, here are the photo for January.  Let me say it again, I'm VERY RUSTY!!!

I call this Bryn's "Barbie smile" because it's completely
plastic and painted on!

Here, you can see a glint of his stubbornness!

My beautiful soulful boy!

Lukas is my "gracefully pretty" child.  This completely
belies his personality!

Can't you just see him doing Shakespeare???

Erik's cheeky, playful side.

Erik's sensitive side.

Pre-teen side...

I'm so tempted to nickname him Cyclops - he does
love this haircut though!

This is not actually a picture of Ari - if you follow
the focus, you'll see it's a photo of "Buddy"
our co-sleeping bear!

The Cheeky Brothers.

Ari scrutinizes - everything!


This smile always reminds me of one of my Aunts...

I really need to work on my focal depth - one
of the drawbacks of not having stereoscopic vision.

Great pose - terrible lighting, terrible bed hair!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Words, power, control...

There is an Icelandic saying or belief or something that we each have a pre-determined number of words to use in our lifetime and once we've used up our quota, we die.

The idea is that you should use your words frugally and with discretion.

I can't say I've lived by this value.

Today though, and more and more recently, I've been confronted with the fact that my words are no good.  The people who mean the most to me don't listen to my words.  I think maybe it is because I flood my environment with words and so my words have less value - there are always so many of them about.

I've wondered on and off if I should have days of silence once a week, or maybe for a week at time, as a sort of cleansing, or detox or something.  Maybe then I could learn to choose my words more carefully and make them more valuable to people?

Words also carry a certain amount of power.  The words we choose and the way we intonate them cause make or break a conversation or the passing on of an idea.  I don't think I use my words powerfully...

But that brings me to another topic that has been playing on my mind a lot lately.  The issue of control.  I'm a self-confessed control freak.  I try not to be because I've long realised that I have no REAL control over anything in my life.  There are always variables I can't plan for and always elements I cannot control - try as I might.

Our society at this point in time is obsessed with control.  Not being controlled, have self-control, or having control over others and one's environment.  It's pretty much all people talk about.  Freedom of expression is about control.  Anything to do with money is about control.  Relationships for the most part are about control.  Women want to control their lives and get from under the oppressive control of men.  Parents want to control their children - even when they are trying to protect them from the control of outside influences.  We want to control our weight, our births, ourselves.

It's a constant struggle for control.

And for me words are a big part of that.

Maybe if I stop producing words - maybe even just spoken words - I can let go of the need to control, the hope of controlling, my environment.

Maybe I'll live longer if I speak less...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One and only...

Warning:  This blog post contains discussion of personal female biology.  If you suspect you may be embarrassed or upset reading about such things, by all means feel free to skip this post and wait for the next one.

Jayne at Random Ramblings of an Unhinged Mind recently wrote a post about her Pigeon Pair in which she explained why she is grateful for, and values, having one child of each sex.  I know when she wrote this post she was concerned she might inadvertently upset a couple of her friends, one of them being me, because we have many children of only one sex.  I attempted to thank her for her post using my iPhone, but my comment became entangled in the etherwebz and I lost momentum for retyping it all on a minuscule keyboard.

I can honestly say, though, that her post was a breath of fresh air to me, after so often hearing from other parents that having one of each sex (or multiple of each sex) is really no big deal.  The most insulting assertion to me is that "it makes no real difference at all because some boys are just like having girls and vice versa".

You can't tell me I'm not missing anything by not having a daughter.  I've been a daughter, I've had the mother-daughter relationship from the daughter perspective, and I know it is something quite special (even when it sucks great hairy dog's balls at times).  Moreover, I know what it is like to be a lone woman in a household of many men (okay, one man and many boys, but you'll get what I mean in just a second).

I tried to say the following at a gathering of friends - all of whom had daughters, so it was my mistake to think they'd get it - and was summarily fobbed off.  Every few weeks in my life I feel incredibly LONELY in my wonderful family home with all my wonderful boys.  Once every few weeks I skulk about the house, hiding a part of my life that most every woman is familiar with.  I have no hope of ever sharing this part of my life with a woman who is biologically linked to me and can "get it".

I'm talking about my period.  My bleed.  Whatever term you wish to use.

Just recently, unbeknown to me, I left some spots of blood on the underside of the toilet seat.  When one of my boys next went to the toilet, he lifted the seat, noticed the blood, and came out to tell everyone there was blood on the toilet seat.  My husband turned all shades of red, white and blue, and the other boys tried to race one another to see.

I guess this should have been my opening to explain to them about a woman's cycle and the part it plays in the continuation of the human species, but I have to admit I took my cue from my Dh who evidently wished he'd been somewhere else when the announcement was made.

The thing is, even if I did tell the boys - and one day soon I certainly will -, they wouldn't get it.  They will never get it.  They will never understand the hope, relief, angst, joy, frustration, annoyance, or even the sense of cleansing that a menstruation period can bring to a woman.  For them it will always be a messy, somewhat awkward topic that frightens them and confuses them and that they ultimately can never relate to.  In this way - and in so many ways that being a woman is so completely different from being a man - will I never be able to relate to any of my children!

I don't want to ever go through another pregnancy or birth, and I'm definitely not up for breastfeeding and co-sleeping for another 4 or so years on top of that (as much as I've enjoyed all of those aspects of my experience, I've done them all almost continuously for the past 12 years, and am not finished yet).  I'm excited about the fact that my youngest beautiful is two already and getting older and less reliant on my ever presence every day. There are many, many things I'm looking forward to doing as he grows more independent.  I CERTAINLY am not up for the grueling challenge of attempting to convince Dave to have "just one more try" at a girl.  And, no, I don't want to leave him so I can search for a man who would be open to the idea, either.  There is no desire in me for any more children.

That said, the desire for a daughter will never go away.  I will always miss the daughter I never had.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Something old, something new...

I've never been a fan of school holidays.  Even before I had school aged children, I didn't like the fact that other families would crowd out all the interesting places for weeks on end...  Once my boys started going to school, I have to admit I dreaded the holidays.  Homeschooling all the time was one thing, you got into a rhythm and have a pace which is comfortable and predictable.  Once they were at school, the holidays turned all of that on it's head.  The boys would be all too excited to begin with, then they'd realise that unlike their friends families, we WEREN'T going anywhere exciting every other day and they'd get narky with us and one another, and then there was the impact on the younger children (poor Bryn and Ari who do so well playing on their own all day long were thrust into a world of over-stimulation by having two bored big brothers up in their stuff all the time)...

But somehow the past couple of holidays haven't been so bad.  In fact, it's been so alright these holiday it actually took FIVE WEEKS for my boys to get on each others nerves enough to warrant some fisty-cuffs.  On the day of "the big fight" I counted back and realised they had actually been out ONCE in five weeks (to do an activity other than grocery shopping or running errands for Nanna)!  So, really, they've done tremendously well considering other kids have been on roadtrips, and holidays, and to the movies and on picnics and to the beach...

This last week or so has been a bit more stimulating for them, thank goodness!  They've had a couple of play dates, and today we went to the Melbourne Museum.

Going to the Museum made me a somewhat nostalgic.  As I crossed the quadrangle to the front door in the summer heat with the three big boys running ahead and Ari in the pram, I couldn't help but see myself as I've entered the museum over the past ten years:

  1. with Erik in the pram and Luey in the sling
  2. with Erik running ahead and Luey on my back in the sling
  3. with Erik running ahead, Luey in the stroller and me waddling along with Bryn in my belly
  4. with Erik running ahead, Luey in the stroller and Bryn in the sling
  5. with Erik and Luey running ahead and Bryn on my back in the Ergo
  6. with Erik and Luey running ahead, Bryn in the stroller and me waddling along with Ari in my belly
  7. with Erik and Luey running ahead, Bryn in the stroller and Ari in the sling
And then today's combo, Erik, Luey and Bryn running ahead and Ari in the pram.  Maybe next summer it'll be all four boys running ahead!

Even today Erik, Luey and Bryn were all wearing red shirts that had once belonged to Erik (because we always love to dress Erik in red!)...

Ari is also growing so much!  He loved the museum today, he bustled about with the other boys, touching - or rather hitting - everything within reach!  He's such a character, so self-assured and so much "just one of the boys".

In other news, to entertain myself, I've taken up painting!

I've dabbled a teensy-tiny bit in the past, but have lacked confidence.

This time, I've decided to set aside my lack of confidence, and just do it anyway.  I figure I'll never get better at it until I've gotten through the stage of being crap at it!  There is something so immediately satisfying about dabbing paint on a canvas!  I'm sticking with abstract because at least that way I can pretend I meant to do even the dodgy looking stuff...

I love the art of Thaneeya McArdle so am mimicking her style (though I'll be the first to admit my stuff looks nothing like her stuff, but you have to start somewhere, right)...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Do we know too much?

2011 is my year for reducing stress.  The last two years have been stressful, but 2010 was particularly so because things I thought we would have sorted in 2009 were still hanging over our heads, I was trying to finish my thesis, and generally speaking, our resources had already been stretched to capacity.

Many of my friends commented on a great change in my demeanour last year, and while I was well and truly aware of this myself, I felt quite powerless to affect personal change.  I simply had no resources or capacity to stretch any further and be the understanding, compassionate, and reasonable person we all expect everyone around us to be under normal circumstances.

Several times last year I was nigh on complete mental and emotional collapse, but without the ability to communicate this effectively to anyone.

I'm feeling somewhat better recently.

In the past couple of weeks I have wondered about the part information plays in creating stress.  For several decades now, we've been living in the "Information Age" and most everyone I know believes that is a most wonderous thing.  We are told information is power.  Is it?

How much information is power, and how much leads to disempowerment?

Just recently we had the horrendous floods in Queensland, and currently there are horrendous floods in Victoria. I asked on Facebook at the beginning of January if it was selfish or irresponsible to not stay current in the news.  I had a strong private reply to this that said I already knew it was irresponsible, that news coverage keeps us safe.

I don't necessarily agree.

News coverage didn't help many of the people in rural Queensland at all.

Yes, watching television and listening to the news might have helped some people prepare, but then again, looking out your own window would probably be just as informative.

In the Victorian fires two years ago, news coverage did not prevent many people from choosing to stay with their homes and perishing as a result.

But rather than arguing the immediate benefit or not of news coverage, I was to talk about the emotional impact of information.

I'm seeing negative fall-out, not only in my own home, but generally in society.

I remember on the morning of September 11, 2001, waking up to the beginning of what would be two weeks of continuous, all-but-unilateral news coverage of the planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York.  At the time Luey was 11 weeks old, and had been on medication for severe reflux for about 6 weeks.  I was suffering badly from post-natal depression and the repeated footage of death and destruction 24 hours a day for two weeks running had me wondering - seriously - what kind of selfish monster I was to bring a child into this world for him to suffer from reflux and colic, and his big brother to suffer from the emotional neglect that was a result of my depression and then for them to probably die in early childhood because humanity is so horribly vile.  I did think about ending all our misery. - and that is something I've never admitted to anyone before this moment.

During this past month, I've felt helpless and hopeless at times.  I want to be content.  I want to be carefree, but how can I be happy when so many people are suffering.  I was watching Insight a couple of nights ago, and the audience were flood survivors from Queensland, most of whom were not covered by insurance, and I wanted to cry.

It's not only natural and man-made disaster that evoke this response though.

My husband and I choose not to vaccinate.  The other night, on The Drum, I heard parents like us being described as Medical fearing alternative radicals.  I could laugh at this description because in this household we aren't particularly alternative at all when it comes to trusting the medical institutions.  We give our children panadol all the time, we ring nurse on call for tummy aches, we go to the ED for twisted ankles, I opted to have my gall bladder out BEFORE considering any alternative routes, I had cosmetic surgery to straighten my lazy eye even though it didn't impact my sight at all, we medicated our refluxy child with Zantac from 5 weeks of age!  We simply choose not to vaccinate, that is really the ONLY way we are alternative...  Oh, wait, I did have that one homebirth...

We just can't ignore the information that is readily available to us in the information age...

Dietary choices is another one...

What's good for you to eat?  What about your child?  If you look at all the information out there, you'll find NOTHING is good for you or your child.  NOTHING.  Everything is eventually going to harm you, even if you eat it in moderation, even if you just eat it occassionally!

The environment is also not good for you.  There are no organic, clean, non-toxic materials left on this planet.

It's not safe for you baby to sleep in a cot, especially on one of those new, fumey mattresses, but don't even consider co-sleeping because that's definitely not safe either!

Don't get bunks for you children, in case they fall out, or hang themselves WHILE they are falling out, but don't put a mattress on the floor either because all that dust you can't get up, even with the best of the best vacuum cleaners will give them asthma...

Then again, EVERYTHING gives them asthma - EVERYTHING is potentially an allergen, but don't worry too much about that because being YOUR child has probably doomed them to asthma anyway because it's hereditary.

Obesity is also hereditary, so forget about the diet yogurts, and diet soft drinks, they're not doing any good, anyway...  And they're full of sorbitol which is carcinogenic...  But even if you don't give them products containing sorbitol, then aspartame will do the same job, and so will passive smoking, which you can't control anyway...

But if you can't give them sorbitol or aspartame, what can you do?  Sugar is known to deplete calcium, and you don't want them to end up with osteoporosis, which in on the rise for women AND men these days, and stevia is banned in the US, and agave is almost 100% fructose, which is simply so bad for you, even if it is 100% organic (remember, NOTHING is really organic anymore)...

Maybe it's best to just keep the kids at home where you have a better chance of controlling their environment?  Then, of course, they will be socially stunted and grow up to hate you and probably procure a gun and go on a shooting spree.  At the very least, it's liable to scar them emotionally to be so bound to you and never to learn independence, but the alternative is to push them out of the nest at the age of five, and scar them emotionally by forcing them to be independent before they are ready. And schools are horrible places where children are constantly bullied - this is a researched fact, by the way - and some are hanged or stabbed by their peers, or sent vicious text messages and "rated" on web sites to the point where they feel they have no other option but to kill themselves.

Here's the BIG one though...  What is MOST likely to impact a child's mental health?  Their parent's mental health, of course!!!  Stressed parents lead to stressed children, who have greater risks of medical challenges later in life due to elevated cortisol levels in the brain.  This was proven in a study done of children who's mothers were pregnant at the time of 9/11 in New York.  The study found that maternal stress led to a significant rise in cortisol in infants who were inutero at the time of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

So, again, I have to ask, do we know too much?

Is all this information actually helping us or creating so much stress in our lives that it is likely to shorten them?

Do we need to know everything, particularly things we have no power to effect real change?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Let's move along already!

Man, I'm sick of looking at the images of my last blog post, but I have nothing insightful or funny to post about, so here are some more pleasing images to look at in the mean time...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Touchy Subject...

I need to preface this post by saying that this is IN NO WAY a criticism of other people's parenting choices.  My own choices are not black and white on this topic.  I'm just exploring my own feelings on the topic.

This looks pretty innocent, right?
The other day, our family was coming home from an outing and got into a lift at our local railway station with another couple and their toddler in a stroller.  The toddler had a little gold pistol which clicked when he pulled the trigger, and he proceeded to "shoot" each person in the lift in turn.  Ari looked at him confused, because Ari has never really seen a toy gun.  Bryn laughed at the boy, because the boy was laughing and was very cute, and Erik and Luey put on their best poker faces because they know all-too-well that their mum objects strongly to toy guns.

Before Christmas, there was a Kris Kringle in the 3/4 classes at school, and both my boys participated.  Erik came home with a yo-yo and Luey came home with a twin pack of water pistols.  As mean as this may sound, the pistols went in the bin.  Not only will I not buy fake guns for my boys, but I won't allow others to buy them for them either.

Bryn does have one toy which resembles a gun, and it launches a bat-like creature into the air.  I have allowed him to keep this gift because it's not actually a gun, but a propeller mechanism for the bat-like creature...  I'm not 100% comfortable with that decision, but I'm trying not to over-react to my complete loathing of guns.

Not quite so innocent looking.
I really do have a problem with guns.  I don't have a problem with knives or swords, bows and arrows, or even spears or axes, but I do have a problem with guns.

Guns were solely invented for the maiming or killing of humans at a distance.  Yes, they have been used for hunting, but that was secondary to their original purpose.

People often say gun play is harmless, and yet, if toy shops sold "water-boarding" kits, or "Nooses", or games that encouraged children to mimic strangling one another, parents would be appalled.  My children have had Lazer Tag parties, and have accepted (and will continue to accept, I'm sure) invites to Lazer Tag parties, so I can't sit on my high horse and judge others, and this is not what I'm trying to do, either.  I do wonder why I have allowed them to have Lazer Tag parties though, when the very thought of having toys guns in the house makes me anxious and even a bit angry.

My brother once had a real life gun held to his person.  It was unloaded, but the threat to him at the age of eight was still very real.  I just don't see gun play as harmless.  At the very least it's is a form of disassociation and desensitization, at worst it makes pretend maiming, killing, and generally evoking fear as a form of power over someone else, a fun game.

By the way - these boys are holding TOY GUNS.
Why does our society continue to tolerate or even encourage this form of play?  Why do I?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The dilemma of education...

As I've mentioned many times before, I'm a home schooler at heart.  I've often referred to myself as a radical unschooler because I have allowed my children to wholly determine their educational path.  Up the age of 7.5 and 5.5, Erik and Luey were unschooled at home.  Then they chose to go to school, and Dave and I did nothing to interfere with that process, leaving them to determine if they wanted to do homework, and then how much they wanted to do - and always supporting them in their homework, without ever doing it for them.

Just recently, I've been rethinking this dynamic.

I've been rethinking it because I always expected them to find school tedious or offensive to their free spirits.  I thought that sooner or later they would ask to leave school again and learn through life at home.  This has not happened.  This year will be their fifth year at school, and they are still as keen as ever to go.  Because they are so very keen to go, Bryn is busting a gut to go as well.

I realise this is most parents dream, of course.

Looking at their work though, I'm finding myself very torn.  The unschooler in me wants to just continue to let them do their own thing, but then there is this other part of me that looks at their spelling and listens to their reading aloud and is simply and utterly APPALLED at the gaping holes (and my children receive straight Cs, so the school is happy with their progress).  This is not because they only do the minimum homework - the homework they are assigned does not even attempt to fill the gaps in their education, let alone reinforce the learning they have(n't) undertaken.

Also, because they've now been in "the system" so long, they have started to adopt the "near enough is good enough" attitude that seems to have spread through the Australia Education System like some deathly virus.

Australia has an appalling literacy level compared to other "first world" countries, and now I see why.

I grew up in one of the most literate (if not the most literate) nations in the world (Iceland, of course :)).  We're lucky, our language is written phonetically.  English is NOT a phonetic language, and yet there is such a heavy emphasis on phonics in the literacy studies at primary school.

Erik suffers terribly because of this because, not only is English not a phonetic language but, Erik is not an auditory learner, so while other children guess at the phonics of words, Erik doesn't even hear the words properly (though his hearing is fine) so has very little hope of spelling words correctly.  He learns far more readily from sight and rote learning (rote learning is vastly underestimated in my opinion).

As well as this, there is such a culture of "Well, he spelled that close enough, so we won't make him feel bad by correcting him on every single mistake", that there are VERY BASIC words (like "here" and "kept" that Erik spells incorrectly - hier and cepped) that Erik is consistently misspelling.  I've printing of spelling lists for grades 1 through 6 (Australian standards) and been working through the lists.  Both boys had a couple of misspellings in at grade 1 level, and quite a few more at grade 2 (and they've completed grades three and four already!).  We have a lot of work to do!

I recently read a very controversial article about Chinese parenting models which was much maligned in the media (even though, on further examination (responses from the author, which also revealed her opinions had been taken completely out of context and didn't actually reflect her current opinions at all) I found it to be quite inspiring.  One cultural view in China is that self-esteem results from accomplishment, and accomplishment results from dedication.  Chinese parents (speaking very generally here) believe their children are capable of everything as long as they work hard, and practice,  Through hard work and practice, you can conquer skills and then those skills become fun because you are good at them - but to get to the fun bit you have to slog through the initial hard work and failures and not give up just because it's not fun yet.

This was juxtaposed with the (generally speaking again) Western attitude that people have talents and can be good at certain things, but no one can be good at everything, so why waste time on those things that are difficult (and therefore tedious).  We tend to want our children to feel good about themselves, so we look for skills that come easily to them and then we encourage those skills.

And yet, it's the skills that are hard earned that bring the most sense of accomplishment and self-esteem!

So, anyway, this article gave me a lot to think about because I hear so many people refuse to try stuff because they feel they can't, they're "just useless at it", and so on, and I've never wanted my children to simply not try - and try hard! - because something is a challenge.

If we only ever did the things that were easy, or only took a moderate amount of effort - things we were already quite good at with little or no effort - then we would never have achieved so much as human beings!

With depression on the rise amongst young people, I wonder if we're doing our young people any favours by not encouraging them (firmly, not just with la la 'don't want to make my child feel bad for trying and failing at the beginning') to really dig deep to overcome a difficulty is some area.

So, this year I'm going to work with my children and steadfastly encourage them to keep working on all skill areas, not just the ones they like (because they're easy) but also the one they prefer not to do (because they're challenging).  I'm going to attempt to fill in those gaps the system seems to be completely dropping the ball on (the basic three Rs), and see if we can't come to the realisation that hard work can lead to greater sense of self-appreciation than simply doing what feels good!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

'Just make sure they get enough one on one time"...

As a mother of four, I've heard this advice more times than I care to recall.

I guess the first thing that pops into my head is that I'm really not the kind of mother who sits on the floor and plays with my children for any length of time.  Maybe this suggests to you that I'm self-centred, but let me reframe that image for you for just a second.

Throughout the millenia parents have never had the free time they have these days.  Having plenty of time to "engage" your children in "activities" is a relatively modern parenting experience.  Even for those families who were well enough off that they didn't personally have to farm their crops and livestock, or build their home and furniture, make their own clothes and wash them by hand, and so on, the idea of Mother and Father spending more than a few minutes with their precious children each day was mostly rare.  These people employed tutors and governesses to take on the role of hand-rearing children personally.

In modern society though, there is a lot of talk of 'enriched environments' and 'educational toys', not to forget good ol' 'quality time', and many parents quiver in their boots at the thought of being solely responsible for their child throughout the day because they imagine it means having some sort of schedule of activities to keep the small precious 'entertained and engaged'.  I personally believe this is why so many parents quit reproducing after 1 or 2 children! By the time their youngest is sent off to school (yes, I'm ignoring the 1% of parents who are 'brave enough' to homeschool because mostly this doesn't even apply to them), the parents are drained, or broke (thanks to exorbitant childcare fees to let someone else provide an 'enriched environment' for their child) or both!

Me, I do my own thing at home with my kids, I talk to them all day long, and there are lots of kisses and cuddles, but I don't ever actually PLAY with them, because, well quite frankly, I'm not a child and playing would be an inauthentic thing for me to do and they'd pick up on that inauthenticity (and my doubtless seething resentment) in a millisecond.  I do occassionally help them set up their own game (like an indoor cubby, or pulling out the heavy train-set box) but that's the extent of my personal involvement and after that it's up to them to, uh, 'entertain' themselves.

Getting back to the advice about ensuring I (or their father, preferably both) spend one-on-one time with each child...  I've always found this came very naturally, and having four children has just never impeded that for us.  It does help that both Dave and I are at home a lot, but even during those times when he has worked away from home, or I've attended studies away from home, one-on-one time just 'happens' without much thought.

Here's how.

First off, Erik had two years alone with Dave and myself before Luey was born.

After Luey was born, I would often have Luey for the day while Dave took Erik (sometimes to work with him, no less), and once Luey was over a year old, we swapped regularly.

Then Bryn arrived (the magical third child who apparently makes one-on-one time pretty much impossible according to many people), but when he was 15 months old, Erik and Luey started school, so then Bryn and I would cruise along just the two of us all day, and for a while there Dave was unemployed so Bryn had a choice about which parent to spend one-on-one time with!

When Bryn was three and bit, Ari came along, and with Erik and Luey still going to school, Dave and I went back to divvying up the remaining two quite often.

Bryn wanted to go to kinder, so then from the age of 1, Ari had either Dave or myself to himself for 11 hours a week, and in three weeks time when Bryn starts school, he'll have one-on-one time for some 25 hours a week!

But of course, one-on-one time is necessary throughout all the developmental stages, not just in early childhood.  And STILL all my boys get this, be it by helping Dave and I do something around the house (they NEVER all want to help at once, surprisingly!), or by Dave or I taking one child with us on an outing, to the shops, or the library or a gathering.  But wait, there's MORE!  Believe it or not, we both often spend one-on-one time alone with each child, just talking about their stuff.  Like how today Dave and Bryn hung out in the bedroom talking about Bryn starting school while Bryn tried on his uniform.  Or how Erik and I spent one-on-one time this afternoon in the laundry while we worked on the finishing touches of a painting we'd done with the other boys earlier in the day (I needed a Pro to help me do some serious splatter painting!).

As you can see, it just happens naturally.  We don't have to plan it, or worry about it, so it often makes me smile when people tell me to make sure we find time for one-on-one time with each of our children!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'I've decided I need to spend less time on the net, and more time living in the real world!'

If, like me, you've been a user  of the internet for a long time, you will doubtlessly have heard some incarnation of the above quote - usually it's part of a message on an online forum, or on Facebook, or on Twitter (ironically!).

It always fills me with mixed feelings; irritation and guilt, peppered with a good old fashioned eye-roll, and just a little bit of 'Me too!'.  This last week though, I had a bit of a think about this whole idea of spending more time 'living in the real world', partly because I spent enough time (two whole days!) away from my computer and iPhone to warrant DMs from concerned friends (thank you concerned friends, I felt missed!), and partly because while I was out there 'living in the real world' I realised, I've never actually EVER 'lived in the real world'.

You see, the reason I was away from the computer was because I had my nose stuck in a couple of books (so, a world concocted by an author - this one inhabited by sparkly vampires - hardly 'real') during the minutes and hours I might otherwise have been sitting in front of my PC or fiddling with my phone.  I did a lot of other stuff, of course - housework, playing card games with the kids, talking to the Decrepit Husband, running errands, visiting with friends, and my all time favourite, SLEEPING (though, as usual, not during the dark house - because that's when I was making the most of the silence to read), but I do those things anyway, with my iPhone or PC within reach in case I get a free moment...

When I thought about it some more, I realised, I've NEVER actually 'lived in the real world' any more than I do now before I was seduced by the internet.  Before the internet, I would spend most of my free time with my nose in a book, or in my diary scribbling away, escaping into the world in my head.

What IS 'the real world' exactly?  What do these people living 'the real world' do?

Why is reading a book so much more a worthwhile expenditure of free time than reading blog or forums or Facebook?  I know there is a lot of talk about the short attention span one develops over time from reading discontinuous snippets of writing here and there, and only reading in short intervals, but seriously (as I just found out this week) if you actually try to read a novel in a house with four children and a DH, you'll find yourself hard pressed to read more than two paragraphs at a time between 'Mum, where are my runners?' and 'Mum, are you going to make a green smoothie soon?' and 'Mum, Simon told me the other day that in the third Harry Potter book, blah, blah, blah...', or 'What do you want for dinner tonight and are we doing anything on the 16th?'...  If I have a short concentration span (setting aside that I have ADD anyway) it's because, try as I might, I'm not ALLOWED to concentrate on anything for more than 4.3 minutes at a time in this household (they tell me it's part of my mum/wife contract).

But it did make me think about the other things I'm not doing - that I've never done - all this 'real world' stuff that I've obviously been missing out since I was about 4 and taught myself to read and write (I see all you Steiner-philea smiling smugly, by the way, I obviously lost my lust for 'real world living' because I learned to read and write too early!).  The thing is, if real world living is stuff such as making jam from scratch, or growing your own vegies, or being a people person doing their bit to keep the cafe culture of Melbourne alive, I'm afraid 'real world living' isn't for me.  I may have to content myself with 'fake world living'; spending time with my family and small group of friends and - when I can - catching some time alone in the every-day to pursue my love of reading widely (from forums, Facebook, and Twitter - where you'd actually be amazed by the stuff you can learn (not everyone is all me, me, me), and books).  Oh, and writing, of course (yet another solitary pursuit that probably doesn't rate as 'real world living').

Friday, January 07, 2011

Thought provoking questions...

I saw the following list of questions posted on a forum yesterday, and thought I might post them along with my answers here because I wanted to navel-gaze a little...

1. If you could have one person you've lost touch with call you up tonight and invite you to dinner, who would you want it to be?

If it made that person call me, I have to say there are more people than I can count out.  This got me thinking...  How DO I manage to piss people off so much...  I have three friendships in particular where I've pissed the other person off doing stuff that really would not piss me off enough to never talk to them again.  In fact, each of those people did things to me which were - to me- more offensive than anything I did to them and yet, I would STILL accept a dinner invite.  Was talking to a friend about it the other day, and realised they (the three I'm talking about) are all the same star sign!  This might be a coincidence, or it might actually mean something (like "don't bother making friends with people of this star sign because you're just not sensitive enough and they're too sensitive!").

For the record, there are many other people from my past I'm no longer in contact with who I'd love a dinner invitation from, including the first true love of my life, but somehow not being in contact with them is a peaceful thing, not something that irritates me.  It's hard to explain.  Maybe it's because the irritating people lurk around the periphery of my life, not altogether gone, and I feel stuck.

2. If you had to choose the single most valuable thing you've ever learned, what would it be?

The single most valuable thing - that would have to be "it is never too late" (except how that might apply to the previous situation I described - oh, the irony!).  Life carries on right until the moment we die, and it's never too late to learn, to love, to forgive, to accept forgiveness, to try something new, to let go of something unnecessary, to think differently, to laugh, to cry, to dream - until the moment you're dead, it is never too late!

But there are equally valuable things I want to list here...

~ We always have a choice, the excuse, "I had no choice" just is not true. There is always a choice, we might not like all the outcomes but there is always a choice.
~ Oppression is a state of mind and the greatest oppressor lives within us.
~ Perfection is most often recognised in hindsight.
~ There are two emotions, the first is love, everything else is fear - if you can realise the source of the fear, it can be transmuted to love. 
~ You cannot agree to disagree, that is an oxymoron!

3. If you could decide how to spend your last day alive, what would you do with your time?

I would probably wish I didn't know it was my last day!  I think I'd live as if it wasn't my last day, because I'd feel that doing anything else was false.

4. If you had to identify the time or moment in your life when you felt the most free, when would it be?

There really hasn't been one moment where I've felt the most free.  Is there really "degrees" in feeling free?  Isn't feeling free like being pregnant?  You can't be a little bit free, you either are or you're not!  I tend to feel free in glimpses, and luckily for me it happens fairly regularly, even in my darkest moments, I still get glimpses, realisations of, feeling free.  Sustaining the feel is hard though!  Maybe we're not supposed to sustain the feeling of freedom, maybe if we did we'd all become sociopaths, never answering to anyone or anything but our desires.

5. If you could accomplish only one thing in the rest of your life, what would that be?

This question is the one that prompted me to post my answers to these questions here rather than on the forum.  My immediate and most honest answer is "get one of my books published".  However, the nature of these questions seems to suggest that the answer should be more generous, particularly if you have children.  I saw other's reply that they would want to be the best parent they could be, which is, of course, what every parent wants.  If not the best parent, then the best partner, child, lover or other relationship based person one could be.  I guess I'm compelled to couch this in terms of "the thing you haven't achieved yet", which for me, excludes all relationship I currently have, because I'm ALREADY working on being the best I can be in a relationship (with mixed results!).

6. If you had to name the one possession that means the most to you, what would it be?

For me, this would have to be something I couldn't ever replace.  In which case, I'd say my Grandmother's sandalwood fan.  It's nothing special to look at, but it reminds me of her, and feel that she and I have more in common than I ever realised when she was alive.

7. If you could sing any one song beautifully and perfectly, which song would you choose?

The Hallelujah chorus.

8. If you had to name the most difficult goodbye you've ever said, what would it be?

None that I've actually said were particularly difficult.  It's one, in particular, that I didn't get to say properly that haunts me.

9. If you could be on the cover of any magazine, which magazine would you choose and what would the caption say?

This question seems incongruous with the others, suddenly jolting me out of my private mind into a world of lights, camera, action!  I don't read magazines, so I can't even think of anything outside the narrow mainstream.  How about TIME magazine, with the caption "Sif Dal: Mother, Writer, "Feminist Hater".

Good Job!