Friday, September 30, 2011

Off to School We Go...

Once again, I took the 'northern summer' off from blogging, since as most of you know, we took a trip back to Boston for a visit. I could blog again about travelling with children and the hilarity that ensues: boarding through Biz Class and Ted says, 'This is MY seat, riiiight heeeere...', accidentally bringing a toy gun through security, the expectation that they will be on their best behaviour while poor diet and lack of sleep creates the opposite effect. (Actually meant to be my August topic, but never mind.) However, I picked a subject a little closer to home. Enjoy...

September: I heard the collective sigh of relief all the way down here in the southern hemisphere and I recognised it instantly: the ‘Ahhhhhh…’ of mums across America as everyone returned to school after Labor Day – accompanied by utterances under the breath of ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the bum’, ‘Thank God for school buses’, ‘First chance I’ve had to [finish a whole cup of hot coffee/vacuum/make an uninterrupted phone call] since June.’ The heck with Christmas. September is the most wonderful time of year.

Although the new school year here for us is still months away (February), we had our own brush with the Spirit of Back to School recently: Ted had his highly anticipated big school interview. He was nervously excited, hair gelled, handsome clothes donned. As Ted is the middle child, this was our second time through the process, so we knew what to expect. But how do you prepare a five year old? Or more to the point, should you? Isn’t the big school interview meant to be a ‘take me as I am’ snapshot of the child, a meet and greet, an ‘I’m-not-that-scary-of-a-principal’ themed intro, before school begins to leave its own indelible impression?

Apparently not. In this case, it’s an assessment and that’s that. The first of thousands over a lifetime of schooling.

Now I’ve heard my fair share of big school interview horror stories: my niece fell asleep during hers. (Clearly, she was so advanced, she was completely bored by what was being asked of her). Or my personal favourite: my friend’s son farted during his – but not discreetly with a sheepish nod of his head. Oh, no. (Five year old boys rarely throw aside that God-given opportunity for bodily humour.) He stood up on a chair to do so, as if to put a big exclamation mark on the event, insisting no one in the room could ignore it.

While Ted's wasn't exactly a horror story, it wasn't exactly a shining moment: if it’s possible for one to fail a big school interview, then he did just that. While at first he was engaged, he quickly wanted to steer the topics of conversation to things of his interest (cowboys, Hitler) and wasn’t really all that obliging. He vacillated between boredom (sighing) and disinterest ("You talkin’ to me?") peppered with moments of nervous chatter. A couple of things he was asked to do he just replied, ‘Nah.’ Overall, he didn’t give the impression that he was really all that fussed with this big school business.

At the end of the interview, I was told by the principal: ‘He’s the only child I’ve interviewed who can’t yet write his name.’ ‘Yes, that’s why I’m sending him to you,’ is what I thought. He commented on the way Ted held his pen. ‘Is it bad?’ I asked. ‘YES!’ he said and encouraged me to get some triangle-shaped pencils for easier gripping. (Obviously, the very ones Einstein himself used.) He also said that he had some ‘real concerns’ about his readiness, especially given his age. Sheesh.

Lucky I already know the guy, or I probably would’ve been tempted to tear strips off of him. Or cry. Or at the very least, become indignant. And if Ted were my first child, I probably would’ve been gutted. Or have felt like I failed as an at-home mum for not pushing the whole Baby Einstein agenda (which I so detest), attempting to teach a woodwind instrument or becoming bi-lingual myself in the hopes of making my child ‘smarter’.

His basic concern was that he didn’t want to see Ted struggle when he got to school, and I can fully appreciate the warning. But struggle? Who struggled in kindergarten when we were kids? Who got the report sent home saying, ‘Jill just can’t seem to grasp higher spatial concepts and has regrettably failed blocks’? When did kindergarten become work? What was once an extension of preschool with some learning laced in has become learning with all too little time for play. The result? After making the expectations so high so early, we then go on to complain that they grhave become ‘tweens’ at age 10 and their childhoods are more or less finished.

As far as I’m concerned the interview was merely a formality – he’s going next year. Legally, he has to start school or I must submit a homeschool curriculum, and to me, homeschooling should’ve died with Jane Eyre’s governess job. Ready or not, here I come. I can’t hold him back any longer, nor would I want to. Who wants the five-foot tall kid in kindergarten?

According to the New South Wales government standard, he was eligible for school this year – but I delayed sending him. Not because of what I wanted to do, but because it has become the ‘done’ thing, especially with boys. (The upside to the current way of doing things is that there seems to be fewer children who have to repeat a year of school, and that is a good thing.) While the pressure is on not sending them until they’re really ready, that leaves too much of the decision in the parents’ hands.

The whole issue of ‘school readiness’ is another way we have complicated our roles as parents, all in the name of choice. We research how to get pregnant, then what to eat, obstetricians, birthing plans, prams, preschools, discipline strategies, and now, our child’s school readiness. It used to be when you were five by a certain date, you went. Period. Yes, there were variations in age and ability, but that is not something that ever changes in the course of a child’s life, educational or otherwise: there will always be those who are smarter, faster, funnier. While the government’s curriculum has changed radically over the years, the school starting age hasn’t, which creates a dilemma: some will gladly push them out the door to school at 4.5 years because it’s cheap day care; others will hold them back till they’re 6 in the hopes of giving their child every ‘advantage’.

Am I worried for Ted’s sake? Not in the least. School is still four months away. I do think keeping him at home has kept him younger, similar to the way going to uni keeps you a teenager for another four years. Although in the remaining time before school starts, I will certainly try to encourage him, I simply refuse to create a battleground for us before he has even begun his formal education. Right now, Ted writing his name has no value in his world, which at the moment revolves mostly around cowboys, Lego and army men. But all that will change once he starts school – of that I am convinced. And that used to be the acceptable way it was for the vast majority of children starting school a generation ago.

Perhaps I will have better luck teaching him to write ‘Cowboy Ted’ instead of his name…

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst Mum in Australia?

Ok, so I did something old-school and got caught. Maybe this incident could rival that of ‘Worst Mom in America’ who let her nine-year-old take the NYC subway by himself and dealt with the unstoppable consequences, but I’ll tell you anyway: I left my kids in the car while I went into the grocery store. So now you know.

First, let me set the scene: it was the first day back to school after the school holidays, we had just got back from being away late the day before and my three kids were all tired and didn’t want to come in to the shop – not that I let them make all the decisions, but under the circumstances, I was happy to agree to let them sit in the car and wait. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong – certainly not taking any chances.

It was what I considered to be a safe situation: it’s a small neighbourhood shopping area, close to the school, where I often see other mums doing the very same. It’s like a little slice of 1965 there: a cafĂ©, a bakery, a newsagent, and a small supermarket (like they all used to be in 1965). The kids were safely buckled in the car, and I had to get – literally – a few things. It wasn’t a hot day, it wasn’t a cold day. I said hello to the librarian from my daughter’s school, who was out in front of the shop talking to a friend, right in front of my car. I had parked outside the door of the supermarket – really, a large convenience store – so that my car was in view from inside the shop.

The complicating factor in all of this was that Liam, the youngest, had started crying right before I went into the shop: a combination of the time of day, overtiredness from the holiday and anger that his brother had a Scooby-Doo comic that he really, really, really wanted. Once I left, he worked himself into a frenzy of anger that to an outside observer could easily look like fear or distress.

I raced around the shop (no doubt resembling a contestant on The Price is Right), got what I needed and was in line to pay when I heard over the loudspeaker ‘Would the owner of a…’ I didn’t even hear the rest of the description; I knew it was me they wanted. I dropped my handbasket of groceries and went outside to see if anything was wrong. As I exited, I passed by a security guard who mustered up the meanest of looks to throw at me and spat something to the effect of ‘Your kids are crying…’ I thanked him sheepishly and returned to my car. As I saw the judgement on his face, I thought, ‘I bet you don’t have children…’ I unbuckled the kids, calmed down Liam and we all went back inside so I could pay.

Fast forward three hours later: the kids have just fallen asleep, all tucked in for the night and the doorbell rings. It’s the police. Never a good sign when a pair of police officers show up at your door.

Good Cop: We’re here about an incident that occurred this afternoon at Foodworks.
Bad Cop: [Glaring]
Me: Oh. My. God…

Did you leave your children in the car? What are their ages? A witness says they were there for 40 minutes. (They weren’t: four minutes – tops, but why even argue? It’s guilty until proven innocent, as any accused will tell you.) This is when I felt my anger flare. I did tell him calmly, though tearfully, that that was an exaggeration, but he didn’t care. It’s the fact that at the ages they are, they shouldn’t be left alone at all, regardless of the amount of time. (I had to pretend to take his point.) Mean Cop still just glared, trying to size up my sincerity. Was I liar? Was I negligent? Or had I just made a circumstantial poor choice?

Children still get kidnapped, even in places like this (a big country town) he warned. Yes, I know. Thank you sir, for your concern, I know you’re just following up, doing a job, and that is a good thing.

He left with all our details in his little standard-issue notebook and I was left reeling. And soon, asking myself a thousand questions.

Was the security guard who called the police really a concerned citizen? If his motives were pure, then that is a good thing. The world needs more people to take action and not be deer-caught-in-headlights bystanders. Or was he just a frustrated rent-a-cop trying to play Big Brother and wield a little bit of power over someone he misconstrued to be doing the wrong thing? The fact that he lied about the amount of time I spent in the shop makes his intentions a bit dubious.

Then I started to wonder: is there a ‘right’ age to leave kids alone? Is there a legal age that kids can be left unattended? Is there a ‘safe’ distance? Just recently I saw a child from my daughter’s class playing with a friend in another shopping centre. Her mum was inside a nearby coffee shop with friends. She was about 30 meters away and out of sight from her mother. Was that unsafe? Is it still ok to let the older children look after the younger ones (like people in large families used to do routinely) and if so, at what ages? Until recently, weren’t these decisions left up to the parent, who was guided by common sense?

What about the children I routinely see walking home from school alone: is that even considered safe anymore? Judging from the picking up and dropping off at schools, not to most parents. When I attended primary school everyone walked, twice a day: we even walked home for lunch. If there was a car outside at the end of the day, our first thought was, ‘I wonder who’s going to the dentist/doctor, etc today…’ Now, at that same primary school, the cars circle the block at 2:30. I can also remember being left in a running car outside the bank while my uncle went inside (and no, not to rob it).

Yes, children are kidnapped. But so are kids in high school, at university and beyond. In fact, in one lot of statistics I Googled, the peak age for abduction victims was during the teen years.

I certainly didn’t think for a second that I was leaving my children in a ‘risky’ situation. As the mother who let her nine-year-old child ride the subway alone will also tell you, lot of parenting is about risk calculation. For example: I’m always vigilant when I have to go inside to pay at petrol stations, due to the numbers of cars coming and going, which could provide an opportunity. We use our parental intuition to decide what is okay.

It seems that with the advent of ‘helicopter parenting’ came not only the micro-managing of childhood, but also that safety should be the top priority: it’s now playdates, indoor playgrounds and rubber on every outside playground surface. Monkey bars? Ha. And think hard: when is the last time you saw a child with a good old fashioned graze down their shin? Try finding a coffee table in anyone’s house with children under the age of five. Look at the ‘safety’ section at every baby shop: it starts almost from birth with the toilet latches and cupboard locks – which makes me wonder when did child-proof caps become not enough? Riding a bike down hill with the breeze flapping in your hair is a childhood pleasure that has become extinct. Yes, helmets are a good thing. But I still can’t recall one person from my own childhood who suffered any head or face trauma from a bike ride.

Our generational scourge as parents is the struggle to find an elusive balance - and that's once we have decided upon a parenting 'philosophy'. By hovering, wrapping our kids in cotton wool, fighting their battles, we make them think they are the centre of the universe – which we all know results in precious, dependent, entitled, obnoxious children. But allowing them too much freedom is risky in today’s world, or so the media tells us. Most parents want to raise children that are adventurous, self-sufficient, resilient, free-to-be kids: we all know how short childhood is, and the period of innocence shorter still. Only that seems to be getting harder to do.

Do I regret that I left my kids in the car or do I regret that I got caught? I still don’t think I did anything wrong or dangerous. And I don’t think the world is that much more dangerous a place than it was in the 70s and 80s when my generation was growing up - it’s mostly our perception of those dangers that has changed. Maybe that’s a good thing, we have more awareness, knowledge is power and maybe that has prevented a lot of bad things from happening. We’ll never know. Perhaps this incident has heightened my awareness. And I did feel a bit sad about it, a twinge of remorse perhaps: but not because of what I did. My remorse was for the way parenting – and not the world – has changed.

For another view on this topic, this is by freelance writer LJ Williamson and originally appeared in the LA Times:

Life Support: Let the children go on foot and on bike

…Although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high. Even the panic-inducing Megan's Law Web site says stranger abduction is rare and that 90 percent of child sexual-abuse cases are committed by someone known to the child. Yet we still suffer a crucial disconnect between perception of crime and its statistical reality. A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.
And when a child is parked on the living room floor, he or she may be safe, but is safety the sole objective of parenting? The ultimate goal is independence, and independence is best fostered by handing it out a little at a time, not by withholding it in a trembling fist that remains clenched until it's time to move into the dorms.
Meanwhile, as rates of child abduction and abuse move down, rates of Type II diabetes, hypertension and other obesity-related ailments in children move up. That means not all the candy is coming from strangers. Which scenario should provoke more panic: the possibility that your child might become one of the approximately 100 children who are kidnapped by strangers each year, or one of the country's 58 million overweight adults?
To read the entire article:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Baby Showers: Why I Hate Them

Ok, so it’s out there: I’ve said it. Now that I’ve broken the code of silence about them, feel free to join me – because I know there are some of you out there who hate them too. Despite my mother’s cajoling, I chose not to even have one. I had several reasons for doing so. First: I was living in Ireland at the time of my first pregnancy, and the thought of having more stuff to pack when we left there was too daunting. (Not to mention, I was in such denial about the whole life-altering experience of motherhood that I would try to go shopping armed with the three-page list of ‘essentials’ and leave the baby shop in hives.) Second: I was superstitious about having a room full of stuff to come home to in case – gasp – anything went wrong. Third: I had a wedding shower, then a wedding…how many more occasions could I create in a half a decade that would involve expecting my nearest and dearest to shell out cash or gifts?

What about wedding showers, you ask? First, I like kitchen gadgets, so I like to see what I can upgrade to one day, if I ever decide to upgrade my husband. Wedding showers also allow you the opportunity to see who you’re going to be doing the Macarena alongside in about a month’s time. A good meet and greet before the main event. Chances are, with baby showers, guests who attend will not get the opportunity in a month’s time to be holding hands together in the delivery room waiting for the bub to pop out.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll go and drink my mimosa and oooh and ahh at the presents, but inside, all I’m doing is stifling yawn after yawn. Another reason I don’t want to go them: I try not to find out the gender of the baby even if the parents decide to find out; I like the anticipation and the surprise. Spoiler alert for me when I attend and all presents opened are either pink or blue. I once thought that I would enjoy them more once I had children of my own, but that has proved to be not the case. If anything, I enjoy them less: the main reason being is that the majority of the gifts given at the baby shower – even practical ones – have a relatively short life expectancy. And that’s true even if you have three kids.

For example: the Bumbo seat? You might get six months use out of it per child, depending on how hefty your child’s thighs get and how quickly. Then you’re stuck looking at this big, useless rubber seat in your garage for the next decade because you picked it, you know it cost a fair few bucks and Auntie Mary would shit herself if she saw it at your next yard sale for $5 when she paid over $50 and you’d have to endure the ‘Young People Today Have No Value for Anything, They Throw Everything Away, Not Like in My Day’ lecture for time immemorial (or until someone – likely you – puts the pillow over Auntie Mary’s face). Clothes? Best kept to a reasonable number, since you can just sit back and watch them outgrow them. The ones for the first year need to be practical, puke-proof and easy to clean (this is true of your own clothes as well). The breast-feeding pillow? Ha. You’ll use it for a couple of months with your first child – when you lay down and bond during feeding sessions, with your soft music, glass of water and nutritious snack handy – as per breastfeeding book recommendation. By the time you get to child number three, your breastfeeding with one arm and manoeuvring hot pasta towards the strainer in the sink with the other while a toddler giggles and throws marbles in your footpath. The giant pillow will be part of a fort somewhere in the backyard.

As anyone who has had a baby knows, babies are a business – and no more so then when it comes time to buying the stuff you ‘need.’ But remember, people have been having babies for a long time, flourishing, in fact, for many thousands of years prior to the advent of the Bumbo (and before pregnancy advice included a ‘zero tolerance’ for alcohol policy; in fact, it was precisely that lack of policy that prevented human beings from becoming extinct). Most of the items on the registry lists aren’t essential. Some are totally superfluous; some might may things a bit more convenient for a while. But there are very few things you need, I daresay there’s about five at the most: a pram, a car seat, nappies, a few changes of clothes and swaddling blankets will get you started. The other stuff you can decide on what you need as you go along.

If the tradition of the baby shower is to continue, then we need to diversify our ‘essential items’ checklist. It should include things that bear in mind firstly, the mum (since it will never again be all about you) and second, childcare beyond the first year of life. Here are some suggestions of things that I would like to see added to a baby shower registry list:

1. Scotch tape – You won’t see the immediate benefits of this one, but trust me, I go through it by the gross. An integral part of any crafting experience, it does everything, from hang artwork on the wall to repair toys. Essential. Also may want to include other members of the tape family: electrical and duct. Works on sagging boobs too.
2. A good coffee maker – The best you can afford. Necessary to kick start the day, but also good for when guest drop by to visit. See also #7.
3. A spa treatment – You will need it. Skip the Bumbo: this is a need, not a want.
4. A Dyson vacuum – One reserved to suck up just the tiny bits of toys that will overrun your house all too soon – Barbie shoes, Lego, Beados, puzzle pieces and the like. The emptying and sorting will fill in many happy hours for your children.
5. Vajay jay tightener – I don’t care what they say, those pelvic floor exercises just aren’t enough if you don’t want to be peeing yourself when you’re 60. You don’t even need to go to a sex shop (although that might be more fun) – they’re a legitimate medical thing now called ‘vaginal weights’. Google it if you don’t believe me.
6. An iPod – essential to block out nightly crying/unsettled period. Also can sing along to ‘lullabies’ for baby. Later, handy to ignore tantrums/sibling fights. How can you get stressed when you’re listening to Aretha Frankin?
7. Chardonnay – An old French saying is ‘Wine makes mummy clever.’ Bless them in their wisdom. Good for unwinding after a hard day of mumming and also to offer guests. Maybe.
8. Pre-cooked dinners – These should remain in deep freeze until Baby #2 or #3 arrive, but are priceless. Even though after your first baby you’ll think you’re ‘soooooooo busy’ it will get worse when you add to your brood. In fact, put an extra freezer on the list while you’re at it, then you can fill it with your dinners. Start cooking during your first trimester of first pregnancy.
9. Book Four of the Twilight Series – after reading about a vampire birth, yours will seem like a piece of cake, no matter how hard it was.
10. Sound-proof chauffeur’s panel fitted into car – Car manufacturers, why aren’t you listening? I would rather this optional extra than a built-in dvd player. Ideally, one that goes up and down with the flick of a switch. This is a good one for your friends or family members to pool their money for. Also could provide extra safety from catapult effect in the case of a rear-end collision (but don't quote me on that one). Alternatively, could investigate buying a former taxi* or police cruiser to replace family car, as ‘sound-proof’ panel is already installed.

These are just some of my suggestions, and ones that I think would make baby showers a lot more entertaining and unpredictable. Rubber smock? Dry cleaning gift certificates? What else can we come up with, ladies? I'd like to hear what some of your ‘essential items’ turned out to be once you joined the club. But you'll have to excuse me for now - I have to go empty the Dyson.

*Can replace taxi driver’s photo on glass with one of the Yellow Wiggle, for example, if less frightening for your child.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm Thinking of a Person...

So sometimes we play this game called, 'Im Thinking of a Person.' Just like I-Spy, only we describe people instead of objects. I know what you're thinking already, and you're right: unless you are Giselle, this is dangerous territory to cross with a three, five and six year old.

Anyway, I gave the following description of someone:
'I'm thinking of a person. He wears khaki shirts and shorts. He has a zoo in Queensland. He helps animals, especially crocodiles...'
'Bindi's dad!' my three year old yells. (Poor Steve is probably turning in his grave that despite a career spent forging his identity as a conservationist and animal lover, he has now been reduced to just 'Bindi's dad.')

So it followed with Jeff Wiggle (purple skivvy, sleeps a lot, etc.) and John Wayne (wears cowboy hat, rides a horse, fights baddies).

Then we got to this description: this person has red hair, and wears lots of black and yells a lot and has big sharp teeth...'

AH! I know! That big sea-witch from 'The Little Mermaid'? Ursula, I think her name is! (Her hair is technically grey, but who am I to correct my three-year-old? It was still a very accurate description.)

But no. It was someone much closer to home. You guessed it: me. Sadly, it's still more flattering than some of the other descriptions my children had given me...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Home Schoolers, I Salute You!

I've often suspected that people who home-school their children are just a few cupcakes short of the bakesale bunch, but these summer holidays have for certain confirmed that.

Since my children do not listen to me about the important things – ‘Put that pole down before you impale yourself!’ – I can’t imagine that they would suddenly decide to sit up and take notice if, say, I was trying to teach them that reading really is a necessary life skill, as is subtraction. There’s about 237 other reasons why I wouldn’t home school, but the most important is that they need a break: from home, from their toys, from each other, from my dog-and-pony show.

We are all (not just me) counting the days until school resumes for the year. Despite a trampoline (‘It’s too hot!’) and a plethora of other new Christmas toys (see aforementioned post re: Lego), the inevitable enemy of every mum has set in: boredom. My six-year-old starting asking two weeks ago ‘How many more sleeps till school starts [sigh]?!’

Not to mention, my house is a total mess: my Christmas tree is still up (I’m staring February in the face) there’s drips of Popsicle on the floors, crumbs in the couches, dead gnats on the window sills. I never get around to cleaning. Why, why, why? I don’t entirely understand it myself.

But here is a typical day: ‘Today, I’m going to get caught up on the laundry.’ A modest achievement. I’m not getting up saying ‘I’m going to solve that cholera crisis in Haiti.’ For God’s sake, I know I’m not Bono. New Year’s Resolution Number 28: Set Realistic Expectations. Back to the looming laundry crisis.

To the laundry room, start sorting. Phone rings. A mum from school. ‘When are ballet lessons starting again?’ Blah, blah, blah. Must sign up for ballet today. Watch powerlessly as bag of popcorn is forced opened and flies in all directions. Blah, blah. Hang up phone. Clean up popcorn. 20 minutes later, back to sorting. Put wet load from washer onto floor so can re-load. Where is the only empty laundry basket in house? Ah, yes, my room. (Mind you, have a whole room for laundry and associated baskets, but where is laundry basket?) Better make the bed while I’m here. Scream from afar. Break up barroom-brawl-style fisticuffs – the kind with lots of rolling about on the floor. Boring corner time. Spend next 15 minutes re-building Lego creation obliterated by three-year old Godzilla during fight. What was I supposed to be doing? Laundry basket, head to bedroom again. Step on ‘Alabama’ from 50 States puzzle, then follow trail of 50 states back to my bedroom and pick up remaining puzzle pieces and put away. While here, better just load and start dishwasher. See phone on the counter. Must ring to sign up for ballet and make doctor’s appointment for Liam’s ears, better do it now before I forget. Go to office to get phonebook. How did these coloured pencils get all over the floor? Clean up myself, because I want it done quickly without cajoling others, which will end in yelling (mine). Now I need a cup of coffee…

And so on it goes. And it’s only 9:30 a.m. Come 5 pm and the bed still isn’t made, the dishwasher never got started, the empty laundry basket is still M.I.A. (had been turned into a roof of a fort out in the back yard), I didn’t get to make the phone calls and I haven’t pegged out the damp laundry that is still sitting on the floor, now smelling musty and needing a re-wash. But everyone is still alive and healthy. Clearly, aiming low is the only way to ensure job satisfaction.

So what did we do, to fill up all those hot summer days? Tut, tut, let’s not be too hard on ourselves, let’s look at the positive and see what we did accomplish. So here it is: a compilation of the good, the bad and the ugly of the ‘What We Did On Our Summer Vacation’ list, in no particular order:

* Endured 53 tantrums
* Went on first sleepover, water tube ride, and quad bike - solo
* Broke up 128 fights
* Learned to swim underwater
* Watched 91 previously viewed movies, none in a movie theatre
* Took training wheels off bike, with great success
* Snapped heads off of 15 army men
* Discovered the magic of a Slip-and-Slide with soap
* Picked up 647 Beados from the floor
* Learned to play checkers
* Answered 1, 394 questions (including ‘Can hornets make honey?’ ‘How does what we drink turn into wee?’ ‘Why do dudes wear earrings and necklaces?’ ‘Why does Julia Gillard wear skirts if she has cankles?’)
* Lost one brand-new, never worn pair of Woody flip-flops (must’ve made a run for it with the odd sock brigade)
* Did 149 loads of laundry

I am supremely thankful that summer break here is only six weeks, one of which is consumed with Christmas. The two-and-a-half month summer break I grew up with that I loved as a teacher I would loathe as a mother. Summer camp wouldn’t be a matter of choice, it would be a necessity in order to avoid having those clipboard-toting-child-advocate people involved or jail time. Or both. Either way, messy.

For all of us, the end is, indeed, in sight: February 1st sees the start of the new school year. Let me just say, home schoolers, I salute you! I’ll make sure I think of you when my real vacation begins, sipping my first child-free coffee since last year…

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Charming, as defined by a six-year-old

My daughter has just discovered my crush on George Clooney. (I haven't broken to her the news that I could add to the list Edward Burns, Clive Owen – or that I'd even go cougar for Rob Pattinson. I don’t want her to think I’m loose.) I don’t know how it even came up - it might've been those posters I hung in the laundry - but it’s opened a little Pandora’s box of discovery about the different kinds of love.

'Does dad know about this?!?' was her first question. It seems to be incomprehensible to a six-year old mind that one can simultaneously be married and have a crush on someone else. 'I need to see a picture of him!' she demanded. Not like he’s really a threat to our family unit, but okay, no worries. And who am I to deny a curious six-year-old her wish?

Needless to say, Google supplied a glut of pictures of Georgie Boy. But none of them really seemed to capture his…je ne sais quoi, whatever it is he has. Eva was not impressed.

Eva: 'Him?! That's who you have a crush on?! He’s not that handsome.' Maybe she was picturing someone closer to the likes of the Bieber. Ugh.
Me: 'He's too old for you,' I find myself surprisingly defensive. I've never had anyone challenge me on this one before. 'Besides, part of his appeal is that he’s got charisma.'
Eva: 'What’s charisma?'
Me: ‘Well…it’s hard to explain, it’s like a combination of things. He’s funny and can talk to people easily and people say that when he talks to you, it’s like you’re the only person in the room…He’s charming.’
Eva: ‘Oh! I get it!’ Lightbulb goes on, excitement building now. ‘You mean when you talk to him, he really listens!’

Exactly. What a bare-bones definition of charming. And really, isn’t that what all women want? To be listened to? It’s a more basic part of our DNA than shoes or maybe even sex. Sure, it would be even better if the listener came in a package as nice as George’s, but that would be purely a bonus. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with my husband that entailed me saying something along the lines of, but not all at once, ‘Can you please just hear me out? Is it my turn to talk? Can I just finish what I’m saying?’ (In other words, please shut the f*ck up, I’m not done yet.)

Charming doesn’t mean Prince Charming or George Clooney – it just means we want some one to listen to us, dammit. Why is it that a six-year-old can get that and most men don’t? One for the ‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’ category.

And if you’ve ever wondered what makes someone charismatic, this for further reading:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lego Distress

Does anyone know, roughly, the melting point of Lego? 12 Days post-Christmas (I guess that's why there's a song about it - mums reach meltdown about then) and I'm ready to chuck them all into a nice, big, lit fireplace. (Due to the fighting they've caused, not from stepping on them.)