Parenting By The “Making It Up” Book

The Number One thing you learn when you become a parent? There is no instruction book.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Go into any bookshop or search online and there are many, many instruction books about children and parenting.

The problem is that there is no instruction book for you parenting your child. Or you parenting your other child because, trust me, the books (if they existed) would be completely different.

The books that are out there are not totally useless. They can tell you that if your baby is crying it’s probably this, this or this. But when you’ve tried fixing this, this and this and your baby is still screaming that’s when you want to hold your smartphone up to his* head and get a digital readout of what he’s thinking. Where’s the app for that??

Those books will tell you developmental milestones come at “about” X age. Mind you, “about” can have a range of anything up to a year. So when your child’s peers are all running around the park and yours is still crawling across the grass on his elbows looking like the world’s tiniest commando, you try not to worry.

And when do you worry, anyway?

When your child is three and is showing no interest in toilet-training, when is it still part of “normal” development and when is it time to put out the call “Houston, we have a problem”?

Think it gets easier when they get older? Think that if they can walk, talk, feed and toilet themselves, the hard yards are over?

Pfft.

The difficulty when they are older is trying to help them with things for which you do not possess the skills. And I’m not just talking about differential calculus.

How do you help your child establish solid study patterns for his final exams when you always used the “stay up until 3am the night before” study method?

How do you help your child navigate a tricky bullying situation at school when you were bullied as a child and never really got over it?

How do you encourage your child to pursue educational opportunities overseas knowing that you would never have done it yourself?

How do two parents who are introverts help their introverted children survive a world designed for extroverts when it’s a struggle for themselves?

How?

You make it up.

You pretend you know what you’re talking about. You act like you know what you’re doing.

And you hope nobody notices.

Parenting is not an exact science. It’s not even an approximate science. It is jumping out of an aeroplane when you’re still trying to order the parachute from the supplier. Repeatedly.

Sometimes it all comes together and you soar and float in blissful success. And sometimes you go ker-splatt.

I guess the trick is to scrape yourself off the tarmac, get back up there and try again. And hope in hell your kids survive and thrive in spite of you.

Freefall Parenting

Freefall Parenting

*All the pronouns in this post are male not because I believe in the patriarchal habit of using the male gender for general reference but because I only have boys. Referring to girl children is just not in my vocabulary.

 

 

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Exterminate! The Dalek Cake

 

Birthday Dalek

When my boys were young, I loved to throw them a birthday party at home. We would pick a theme and everything would be based around that – invitations, games, activities, food, prizes, lolly bags – the works. Cowboys, wizards, astronauts, the alphabet, Cat in the Hat – we had a lot of fun. In an era of contracted-out birthday parties at play centres and fast food joints, ours were something of a novelty.

My favourite, though, would be the year my eldest had a Knights of the Realm party. I spent months saving up the cardboard discs a local pizza restaurant used for their takeaway pizza (we also ate a lot of pizza in those months). I spray-painted them silver, attached a vinyl strap and stuck paper to the front so the kids could create their own crested shields. Dressed up and with their trusty steeds (made from shoeboxes and the inner cardboard tubes of rolls of fabric), we held a jousting competition in the front yard. The cake, of course, was a castle. The lolly bags were the pièce de résistance. I made leather pouches.

I can get carried away.

The parties were only every second year and they stopped once they hit twelve years of age, giving way to easier movie/bowling/sleepover versions. But I do still love to have a crack at a good cake.

The Eldest Son turned 18 on Friday. I am now officially a parent of an adult. Don’t give me the argument about it being 21. Here, everything hits at 18. They can drive, drink, vote, gamble, get married. You hope not all on their birthday.

A significant birthday demanded a significant cake. The theme for the party was Pop Culture and as Eldest Son was going dressed in his customary 10th Doctor costume, a Doctor Who themed cake seemed mandatory.

Enter the Dalek cake.

It took me two days to make it. One to bake the cakes (five of them) and one for construction and decoration. Being a Jack of All Trades, I was, of course, making it up as I went along with nothing but an image in my head and a half-baked (ha!) idea of how it would work.

I’ll confess I was really happy with the result. As was Eldest Son which made me even happier.

Take these and my favourite mudcake recipe and build a Dalek. No worries.

Take these and my favourite mudcake recipe and build a Dalek. No worries.

Okay. So somehow I have to turn all this into a Dalek.

Okay. So somehow I have to turn all this into a Dalek.

Stacked, glued and trimmed. (I love using mudcake - it cuts beautifully with a bread knife.)

Stacked, glued and trimmed. (I love using mudcake – it cuts beautifully with a bread knife.)

I could have saved myself a lot of work and just stopped there and called it a Cousin It cake.

I could have saved myself a lot of work and just stopped there and called it a Cousin It cake.

The finished product. This cake could actually kill you. It has 1.2kg butter, 1.2kg sugar, 1.2kg chocolate and 18 eggs in it. And that's not counting the icing and decorations.

The finished product. This cake could actually kill you. It has 1.2kg butter, 1.2kg sugar, 1.2kg chocolate and 18 eggs in it. And that’s not counting the icing and decorations.

I think I'm proudest of my inspired Wagon Wheel eye and half a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg suction cup!

I think I’m proudest of my inspired Wagon Wheel eye and half a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg suction cup!

Sparklers!

Sparklers!

The birthday boy with his cake, just to give you some perspective. We'll be eating cake for the next month.

The birthday boy with his cake, just to give you some perspective on the size of the thing. We’ll be eating cake for the next month.

 

 

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Peace In The House Of Testosterone

Peace. Blessed, blessed peace.

The kids are back at school, the husband is at work and the MOSY House of Testosterone is temporarily cleansed of its pervasive masculinity.

Well, except for the cat. But he’s neutered so doesn’t really count.

Testosterone actually has a physical, airborne presence. Did you know that?

That’s not science. That’s just me realising that I can actually breathe today. And hear the birds outside. And find room in my head for my own thoughts.

It’s almost shocking.

As has been previously well-established, I am not a girly girl but even my little oestrogen being can find it tough going against the storm cloud of ‘boyness’ that permeates my house.

Much like the smog you don’t notice when you live in the thick of it, a testosterone-filled house is just my daily reality that passes mostly without question. But the end of school holidays can be like a trip up the mountain to rediscover the fresh air and look back with amazement at the conditions I was living in for all those weeks.

Of course, it’s a fleeting escape. The testosterone horde will return this afternoon, their rampant maleness all the more dominant for the brief respite I will have enjoyed today.

In the meantime, I’ll take all the peace I can get.

A Mother's Peace

 

 

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Born That Way

I have a theory. It’s that people go through life in the manner in which they were born.

I’ve come to this theory through exhaustive research. Which means through watching my three kids. Who are, you know, exhausting.

Child Number One arrived a week late and has been running late ever since. His birth was steady and predictable and that’s pretty much how he approaches each day. He gets there when he needs to with a minimum of fuss.

He goes through life like this:

627581_81248695

 

Child Number Two arrived early and quick and has been in a hurry to do everything ever since. He just got up and walked when he was ready, he toilet-trained in one day and we’ve had to put him in a school with a vertical curriculum so he can zoom through the subjects he’s interested in before he gets bored.

He goes through life like this:

rocket_launch_hd_widescreen_wallpapers_1920x1200-1024x640

 

Child Number Three. Sigh. Child Number Three took his sweet time arriving. First he was coming, then he wasn’t. Then he was, then he wasn’t. This went on for 29 hours. Then he decided he was coming and arrived in a rush. So how does that translate into his life? He will show all signs of having caught onto something (sleeping through the night, for example) but then some time later decide he hasn’t (driving his parents mad waking several times a night, for example). He’s got it. No, he hasn’t. He’s got it. No, he hasn’t. And then one day, we’ll realise that he got it permanently some time ago when we weren’t looking. This is also the child who one day will get himself up, dressed, breakfasted, make his lunch and be sitting on the couch ready for school by 7.30am. The next morning he’ll get yelled out of bed at 8am and even then he will stand staring into the pantry wondering what to do next.

He goes through life like this:

Vekomaboomerang

 

Me? Yes, well, I’ll admit that writing this post did prompt me to contact my mother and ask about my own birth. Apparently it was pretty straightforward and boring. I was disappointed. I think I was hoping it was a bit radical or at least interesting. However, it turns out that while my birth was uneventful, the pregnancy was memorable. My mother suffered from contractions on and off through most of the pregnancy. That’s definitely me. As a wanderer and Jack of All Trades, I am always looking out for the next new thing, always wondering what lies around the next corner. I can imagine myself, having been in the womb a few months already, thinking “Okay, I’ve done this womb thing. What’s next? I want out. What’s next?” 

I go through life like this:

gallery-image-full

 

But, you know, it’s just a theory.

 

(Final Image – Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mymollypop/3511904343/in/photostream/)

 

 

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A Member of the MOB

A friend of mine recently gave birth to her first baby, a boy. I was inordinately excited not only because it was a long-awaited child but also, I soon realised, because she’d had a boy.

“Welcome to the MOB!!” I exclaimed excitedly in an email reply to her announcement.

Mothers Of Boys. We’re a unique…um…mob. I’m sure mothers of only girls have their unique challenges too but there’s something about being the one outnumbered in the household gender stakes that makes life more interesting. (Any fathers of girl-only households reading this are welcome to write their own blog post perspective.)

It’s quite possible that my friend, down the track, may become a Mother Of Boys And Not Boys but for the time being she is a part of the club. A club in which I am a more-than-paid-up member.

A Member of the MOB

A Member of the MOB

After my first two boys were born and I was pregnant with my third child, I lost count of the number of people who asked “So, are you hoping for a girl?” It got a bit boring so I took to looking at the enquirer in horror and saying, “Oh, goodness, no! Why would I want one of those? I wouldn’t know what to do with one.” (I still don’t.)

Do I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have a daughter? Of course. Do I ever wish one of my boys had been a girl? Never.

Besides, from listening to my girlfriends, bonding time with daughters seems to mainly involve clothes shopping. I’d rather be poked in the eye with a blunt stick (I believe it’s more painful than a sharp one). Give me a Joss Whedon movie outing with my boys any day.

In the hospital, after the birth of my third son, a cleaner told me that when my children were teenagers, I’d be glad I had boys. I held on to that promise through the years of small boys running amok in playgrounds, picking up any remotely pointed object to be used as a weapon, through the three-year-old penis obsessions and the pre-teen biffo and insults. And now, with two teenagers and one on the cusp, I can honestly say she was right. As I watch mothers of teenage girls struggle with the hormonal nastiness, psychological bullying and body image issues, the full-on early boyhood years seem worth it. Boys – my boys at least – are so much more straightforward. Well, as straightforward as parenting any teenager can be.

I can’t wait for the possibility of a cuddle with this newest member of the male race and to recall those thrice-heard words,

it's a boy

 

 

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Praising Kids – Is It A Good Thing?

Kids and Praise

 

Positive reinforcement. Positive psychology. Praise. Affirmation.

Popular parenting buzzwords. Drummed into us from Day One. Tell your kids how wonderful they are. Tell them they’re special, unique, can achieve anything.

Sounds good.

But are we ultimately setting them up for a fall?

The world – the nasty, real, complicated world Out There – doesn’t really care if your mother or father thinks you’re fabulous. ‘They’ will pass judgement on you based on the current social standards of the day. And those standards shift and move, morph and change.

The kids don’t stand a chance.

So what happens when they don’t get into the course they want, don’t get the job they apply for, don’t get the life they expected?

Does it hit them harder? How do they move on from their first rejection? How do they cope when the world doesn’t work like a pass-the-parcel where every child gets a prize?

Are we doing them a disservice not to prepare them for a world that may very well chew them up and spit them out? Should we prepare them for a life that may or may not go the way they want it to?

But what would happen if we didn’t praise them? What would happen if we told them what they do is average, ordinary or even sub-standard?

What would be the impact then?

And could we even do it, as a parent?

I know I couldn’t.

All of us just wants our kids to be happy. We don’t want them to feel pain or sadness. We want them to be able to follow their dreams and make their way in the world.

It’s just that the world doesn’t seem to want to cooperate.

So, we are torn. We make our children sad as children or we set them up for sadness in adulthood.

I honestly don’t have an answer. Like every parent, I’m trying to raise my kids without an instruction manual or a crystal ball.

My instincts tell me to do all I can to make them happy now. And I just hope, if I can raise confident, positive children, that they will weather whatever storms the world throws at them.

Hope. Hope and Love. That’s all we’ve got. And keep your fingers crossed.

 

 

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Parent v Teenager – The Internet Wars

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Land of Unlimited Downloads, you won’t have heard of the Internet Wars. It’s shaping up to be the biggest battlefield between parents and their teenagers this world has ever seen. Well, maybe the biggest this country has ever seen. City? Well, okay, so it’s only my house but it’s definitely big.

Here in the Land of We’ll Screw You Over Every Chance We Get, unlimited Internet downloads are a luxury and an expensive one at that. Well, not so expensive if you’re prepared to sign up with an ISP with an unreliable performance record. So you can download all you want, provided you’re happy for it to take a week on snail speed.

Choosing an Internet plan in Complex Country takes a PhD in mathematical analysis. I’ve been told that in some countries, the decision to connect to the Internet comes down to “Will we have the Internet or not?” If only.

The decision here is “How much download do we need? How fast do we want it to go? What do we actually have access to? How reliable is the ISP? How much will it cost?” That last question is hard to quantify as all the other variables come in a dizzying array of options. It’s like comparing apples to toasters.

I’m told we are also paying through a Cyrano-sized nose for Internet access compared to other countries. I don’t know why. It’s a general trend across most technology in this country. Perhaps it’s just a carry over from the days when it took 3 months to deliver the post via ship. “All communication must henceforth be slow and expensive.”

So, why the Internet Wars? The battle comes into play when demand outstrips supply. Or, in other words, when the 12-year-old downloads half your monthly allowance in the first week. Cue Parental Rant.

If you manage to survive to the end of the billing cycle without getting shaped onto dial-up speed, there’s a chance the UN Peacekeepers could go home. But beware the last minute Charge of the Light Brigade as they charge through the last of your download in two hours, leaving you to update your blog later in the evening in a ‘hit Save Draft, go make a cup of tea’ cycle of pain.

Cue Parental Rant. Again.

Parental regulation rarely works. Let’s face it, most six-year-olds know more than we do about technology. They’re wizards at getting around restrictions. Throw a technologically-advanced, propeller-hat-wearing 17-year-old into the mix and you’ve lost the war before you even get out of boot camp.

But just as it seems time to pull out the white flag, free-market forces and self-regulation can come to the rescue. The day after one loud battle in which the words “unreasonable”, “selfish” and “if you want more download you can pay for it yourself” were at the fore, this appeared on the wall next to the computer:

Internet Rules

The war is probably not over but at least there’s a temporary ceasefire.

Postscript: I haven’t even touched on the battle to control what they’re actually accessing on the Internet. That’s like my own private Waterloo. With me as the short Corsican.

 

 

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The No. 1 Buzzword Schools Love And Parents Hate

Is your child being bullied by other children? Your school has a fix for that. Is your child struggling to understand mathematics? Your school has an answer for that. Is your child having trouble getting along with the class teacher? Your school knows what’s wrong.

So what is this magical cure-all?

Resilience.

If your child is being bullied, they just need to be more resilient. If your child is having difficulties with mathematics, they just need to be more resilient. If your child is not coping with the class teacher, they just need to be more resilient.

Schools love to use resilience as an answer to anything. Yes, children need to learn to be resilient. Unfortunately, the true meaning of resilience has been lost in the easy fix-it of putting any problem back on the child.

These days, the use of resilience in schools has come to mean:

“I really don’t want to have to deal with those kids’ parents. Can’t your child just put up with it?”

“I really don’t have time to go over everything again. Can’t your child just work harder?”

“I really don’t want to adjust my teaching methods to suit your child. Can’t they just get along?”

When my eldest child was seven years old, I went to pick him up from school and a parent informed me there had been an incident during a Physical Education class and I should go and talk to the supervising teacher. Apparently my son had screamed and cried at a group of boys who had been teasing him about his skipping abilities.

The teacher’s advice? “He just needs to be more resilient.”

What this teacher didn’t know and obviously didn’t care about, was that my son had been subjected to teasing by these same boys every day for several months. We had not reported it to the school, preferring to work with him to help him navigate and deal with the situation. We knew he would encounter difficult people all his life and we were trying to teach him strategies. Clearly, on this day, he’d had enough. Who could blame him?

It always astounds me that the kind of treatment our schools expect small children to endure in the name of resilience, were that same treatment to be meted out to a teacher by colleagues, would result in disciplinary action against the perpetrators for harassment.

Too often schools seem to think that being resilient means a child should not feel anger, sadness or frustration. But that is not the meaning of resilience. Resilience does not mean that we do not suffer hurt, confusion or doubt as a result of a situation. What it does mean is that we go on and try again, even when we do.

“Why do we fall down, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”  – Alfred, Batman Begins

A resilient child gets up and goes to school each day even while knowing they will be teased. A resilient child sits down to do their mathematics homework even while knowing that it will be difficult. A resilient child continues to try and communicate with the class teacher even while knowing they will not be understood.

I look at my eldest son now, ten years later, and I see a young man who loves school and has a large circle of friends. Has he got to this place by compromising who he is? By hiding his true self so as to fit in? By ignoring his feelings? No. He is still the same beautiful, quirky, sensitive soul he was when he was seven. He has just given the world time to recognise that and accept it.

That is resilience.

Resilience

 

 

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The Good Enough Mother

I was asked earlier this week if my youngest son (aged 12) would talk about what his mum means to him at church on Sunday (Mother’s Day). Being well aware of my deficiencies as a parent, this was a decision fraught with danger.

I said yes. People who know me are aware I have difficulty with the alternative response.

On Wednesday, he got into trouble for being late to his piano lesson because he wouldn’t get off the computer.

On Thursday, I sent him to school in his school uniform, forgetting that it was Colonial Era dress-up day.

On Friday, I forgot to go to assembly and his class was performing “Everything Is Awesome”. (No, I did not do it on purpose!)

On Saturday, I was grumpy with him because his Fruit Company piece of technology (which I abhor) wouldn’t charge and he wanted it fixed. With a million and one other things I needed to get done, the last thing I wanted was to run around town trying to work out how to get it repaired.

Supervision of the task of what he was actually going to say at church was given to his father. He reported that it was like pulling teeth.

It did not bode well.

So, naturally, when he stood up in church to speak, I was nervous.

Here’s what he said:

My mum is really caring. She cares for me, my brothers and my friends when they come over to play.

She is good at cooking and makes sure we eat lots of good things and not junk food.

When I am sick, she always knows what to do and helps me get better.

She helps me with my homework and helps me to prepare and make things when I need them for school.

She supports me when I do things at school like coming to watch me do Cross Country.

She helps me to make good decisions when I buy things to make sure I don’t waste my money.

She takes me to swimming and piano and helps me when I get stuck doing practice.

She is a really good example to me because she cares for other people, particularly those less fortunate.

She is cool because she likes things like Doctor Who and other shows we watch.

She does a lot of things for other people and always says yes when they ask her.

I am lucky to have a really good mum.

Yes, yes I did cry. Just a little bit.

Maybe it’s okay to be a ‘good enough’ mum after all.

Mothers Day

 

 

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Don’t Wish It Away

Don’t wish it away
Don’t look at it like it’s forever

– I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Elton John

I’m at the sort of middle stage of having children. By the end of this year, my eldest will be old enough to drink, drive and vote (preferably not all at once) and will have finished school while my youngest will be embarking on his high school years and I will have three teenagers in the house.

But while my body and my family clearly indicate that I am well on my way to a half century of life, in my head I’m still in my 20’s and so I have a habit of hanging around with like-minded people.

That means I’m hanging out with those yet to begin any sort of parenting journey and those in the early stages.

Am I ever tempted to say, “Let me tell you….” and dispense my carefully-gathered-over-the-years parenting advice? You bet.

But if recent events (see my previous post) have taught me anything it is that every stage of parenting is hard and every stage is easy (but only in hindsight). And none of us really knows what we’re doing.

When your children are tiny, it’s all about sleep and self-identity. When they are toddlers, it’s about safety and having enough eyes in your head. When they get to school, it’s about friendships (or the lack thereof) and peer pressure. When they’re teenagers, it’s about drugs, alcohol and employment. That’s as far as I’ve got but I’ve no doubt the next stage will have its own challenges and I will think wistfully of the days when my greatest worry was whether they were crying because they had wind or a nappy pin sticking into them.

Don't Wish It Away

But as the great Reggie has said, it’s important not to wish it away because it’s hard. It won’t last forever and you will miss it once it’s gone.

Live for each second
Without hesitation

– I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues, Elton John

 

 

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