A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

A birthday, a christening and a touch of sadness…

Peppa PigWow, it’s been so long since I’ve blogged that I’ve forgotten how to get around wordpress!  The last few months have been busy, exciting and tiring as my husband and I have settled into new jobs, with me returning to work for the first time since having Miss Molly 2 years ago!  We celebrated Molly’s birthday on the weekend with a little Peppa Pig party in the park, the weather appropriately ensuring there were lots of real life muddy puddles to go with the muddy puddle biscuits and cupcakes!  Phew!

But of course, between working, kids and piles of washing, there is still a writer inside me, trying to escape.  In the last few months I have written a new short story (Tea and Sympathy) a new picture book text (Lilly’s Balloon) and  a piece of serious poetry (Missed).  All these works seem to be about loss and grief in one form or another, but they are mostly hopeful as well.  In different ways, we’ve all been slowly moving from a period of grief to a period of sad acceptance over losing baby Alexander back in late March.  He is never far from our thoughts.

Last weekend we also celebrated my niece, Lilly’s christening.  Lilly was born just a few days before we lost our Alexander and she is now 8 months old, so it was a very real measure of the passing of time, and not without some sadness for our little family.  What a wonderfully happy occasion it would have been if we were also holding our little three month old, Alexander, while celebrating Molly’s second birthday and Lilly’s christening with our family last weekend.  Instead, the sadness was always just a little below the surface for us.

But I am also looking forward to Molly’s third Christmas.  This will probably be the first time she can meaningfully share in the joy of Christmas with the other kids.  I’m also excited about the prospect of catching up with some old friends in the Riverina when we head west for our Christmas celebrations.  All friends are precious, but there is something wonderful about the friendships that endure from childhood.  Distant, hazy, memories of past Christmases and childhood birthdays, ham and heat, ice cream and water fights, imbue our adult get-togethers with a sense of nostaglia and completeness (in my mind anyway!)  Seeing the next generation of kids create precious memories with the children of old friends and family is something I can’t help but cherish.

If you’re in Sydney before Christmas, I hope you might consider popping down to the Meet the Author Christmas Book Market in Ryde on Thursday Dec 5.  It’s a particular passion of mine to see authors supporting each other’s work and getting good books into the hands of readers.  Slowly we are forging a little community of Christian writers in Sydney and lifting the standard of professionalism.  Together we can hopefully see our work reaching further afield and finding the people who can be blessed by it.  At Christmas particularly, I’m hopeful that we can give gifts that sustain, nourish and uplift, rather than consuming goods that leave us feeling bloated on the excesses of a materialistic, consumerist culture.  Blah!

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A week of new beginnings

Australia has a new Prime Minister!   Tony Abbott.

Love him or hate him, (and judging by the comments on facebook, a lot of people hate him!) the Australian people made it pretty clear that they wanted a change of government.  The massive swings to the Coalition and the drop of support for the Greens is, in my view, less about policy and more a reflection of the fact that Australians want their government to govern, rather than to spend their time trying to appease the Greens and a couple of key Independents, just so they can remain in office.

It’s been a week of new beginnings in my house too.  I started a new job last Monday, the day after Father’s Day.  The start date was significant for me, because earlier in the year we were expecting a baby, our little boy Alexander, lost to us at four months, back in March.  His due date was officially August 31, but as both my little girls arrived the day after their due date, I was expecting him on September 1, Father’s Day.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that Alexander was not the first baby I’ve lost.  He was my 9th pregnancy and I have two children.  From past experience, I know the weeks surrounding the due date are always tough.  Even if my mind doesn’t consciously remember, my body does.  In the weeks before the due date, I will suddenly start having dreams about pregnancy or breast feeding or trying to hold a baby that keeps slipping out of my arms.  Once I dreamed that the baby was actually still alive when it was taken away.  Sometimes, in a strange moment of physical de ja vu, I will experience the sensations of being pregnant , in the way that those who have lost an arm or a leg can experience phantom sensations or pain.

So when I was offered a job starting the day after my baby would have been born, I knew I needed to seize my chance to have a new beginning.  It wasn’t an easy week.  There were times when I would have liked to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out.  Thankfully, I have one or two friends who remembered, and who phoned or messaged me in the past few weeks to say they were thinking of me.  At times, my head was completely back in March.  But I was also pathetically grateful to have something meaningful to do this week.  Starting a radio show the week before a federal election is an opportunity I could never take for granted.

It wasn’t a coincidence that on my first day in the job, I sat down to talk face-to-face with an Iranian Christian assylum seeker who came to Australia (shock horror!) by boat from Jakarta.  And yes, he drove to the studio on the M4, which might explain the terrible traffic that day.  ;-)

My Mum’s family came to Australia by boat.  Rev Ridgeway Newland, his second wife and eight children arrived on the Sir Charles Forbes back in 1839.  They were congregationalists, fleeing religious persecution in England and wanting to start a new church in Australia.  My Dad’s family came by boat too.  They migrated to Tasmania in the years after the Second World War because my grandfather had itchy feet and couldn’t settle back into life in post-war Edinburgh.

I am so grateful to my ancestors, who risked everything when they boarded a boat and travelled half-way around the world to give a better life to their children.

Sometimes you just need a new beginning… Whether you’re an Iranian Christian whose home has been raided, a traumatised soldier, a marginalised Reverend… or even a grieving Mum.

The Australian people chose a new PM on the weekend.  Even though I don’t agree with all Tony Abbott’s policies, I’m willing to give the guy a chance.

Maybe it’s just time for a new beginning…

Returning to Work

This is my last week as a full-time, stay-at-home Mum!

On Monday I am starting back at work, for the first time since having my second bub.

Obviously there will be some women who will choose not to return to work at all, who prefer to be a full-time, stay-at-home Mum forever.  My mother was a full-time mum, and I’ve certainly given it a go. I had three-and-a-half years at home with my first child and almost two years with my second child, but it’s not for everyone.  At some stage, most of us will look at returning to work.

How do you know when it’s the right time to return to work?

I think this is one of the areas where new mums often find that reality is a little bit different to what they might have expected.  I’ve seen women who were determined to be back at work after three or six months totally change their mind when they realise how much they love being at home with their baby.  And I’ve also seen women who thought they’d never go back to work finding that they go totally stir-crazy at home.  But for most of us, there comes a time when we need a bit more stimulation (or income!) and if you’re in that position, then going back to work might actually help you be a happier, better Mum.

What about childcare?  There are so many different types, how do you choose between them?

Long day care, occasional care, family day care, getting a babysitter at home – they’ve all got pros and cons, depending on the age of the child, what kind of hours you need and what’s available in your area.  The good thing about long day care is that it’s very flexible with pick-up and drop-off times and they’re always open, but you might also end up paying for hours you don’t use.  I’ve gone more with family and babysitters and just one day of daycare at this stage, because I want Molly to have some quiet days at home, one-on-one.  But for older children, who are looking for more socialisation and structured activities, daycare or pre-school might be better.

 You often hear Mum’s talking about mother-guilt, but if I think there can be lots of positives about Mum working.

I’m really happy for my girls to grow up knowing they have choices about career and motherhood and knowing that both can be rewarding in different ways.  I want them to see that women can make a positive contribution inside and outside the home.  There are still many places in the world where girls don’t have access to the education and opportunities that boys have. I also want them to learn that there are different seasons in life, good times, tough times, times to take it slowly, times to ramp things up and meet new challenges.

One of the things I’m really excited about for Molly is that she’s going to have some wonderful new role models in her life.  For the past two years, she’s spent most of her time just with me, which has been lovely, but now she’s going to have more time with Daddy in the mornings, more time with her Aunties and also a couple of days a week with some really wonderful, experienced, caring Christian women who are going to babysit her while I’m working.  I’m excited that Molly is going to learn different ways of doing things and seeing things from them, and that she’ll have these people building into her life, loving her, praying for her and spending time with her.   I’m also really looking forward to coming home to big cuddles and hearing all about their adventures at the end of the day!

Lost in a good book

I know that purveyors of parenting wisdom always say that the hallmark of good parenting is consistency, consistency, consistency, but this week I decided, on a whim, to let my eldest daughter break one of our family rules.  That rule is ‘no reading at the table’.  Yesterday morning I was eating my porridge when I looked up to see Caillie’s head buried in a book, while her oats sat completely neglected in their bowl.  She was totaImagelly absorbed in a Billie B. Brown book.  For those who aren’t familiar with Billie B. Brown, they’re really short chapter books, designed specifically to help early readers transition into independent reading.
 
Why did I bend the rules on this occasion?
 
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Birdy sit down, uninterrupted and read a book with chapters from cover to cover.  When kids first learn to read they’ll often choose picture books they already know, or they’ll read bits then skip ahead, trying to glean tidbits of information about the story from the combination of key words and pictures.  But this was the first time I’ve seen Birdy read a longer format book without stopping, without needing help or without skipping ahead to work out what happens.  And it just happened to be on the first day of BOOK WEEK!
 
I know it’s tempting to think that once a child can read to themselves, we can just hand over the reigns and leave them to it, but I think it’s important to continue reading aloud with your child.  It’s a lovely treat to be read to.  It’s the quality time spent together, the physical closeness, the soothing quality of listening to the familiar comfort of the parent’s voice.  But having Mum and Dad continuing to read aloud also enables the child to tackle a wider range of material and read at different levels.
 
For example, on her own, Birdy can only read picture books or short chapter books, but together we’ve been reading the latest Tania Abbey adventure by Penny Reeve, called More than a Mouse.  That book is probably aimed at a 9 or 10 year old.  One of the characters in the story is involved in a really serious car accident.  If a six year old was reading that content in their own head, it would be way too heavy, but when we read it together and we talk it through, she can handle it.

One of the challenges of this new phase of independent reading is that parents need to be aware of exactly what their kids are reading.  Especially once your kids get into upper primary and early high school, there can be some very challenging material in kids’ books.  But unlike movies, there’s no rating system to indicate the content. So just as you wouldn’t put on a movie without knowing anything about it, you need to be continuing to read with your child or reading what they’re reading so you’re aware of some of the issues they might be coming across in books.  All of us who are parents need to be children’s literature experts as well… as if we don’t have enough pressure on us already!

Stickers, homework and a job well done

In my last post I talked about my daughter’s athletics carnival.

That day she came home with a sticker that said ‘I ran in a race’.  Whoever is making those stickers is making a fortune because everybody there had one.  There was no ribbon for getting third in the longjump, but every kid got a sticker that said ‘I ran in a race.’

I realise that this is designed to put the emphasis on participation, rather than winning.  But I am not sure why we feel we have to reward kids for doing something that everybody has to do anyway.  We’ve created a culture where kids won’t do anything without being rewarded, even if that reward is just a sticker or our praise.  The obvious problem with that is that it creates a sense of entitlement, where they’re always looking for a reward, rather than a sense of achievement.  But it can also mean that they’re reluctant to try something they’re not so good at, because they’re looking for the gold star, rather than a chance to learn something.

Birdy has a natural ability for Maths, and she was put in a Maths group with some very bright kids.  But ever since she heard that her report card last year said she was ‘outstanding’ at Maths, she’s been trying to convince us that she’s hopeless at it, that it’s too hard, and that she needs to go down into a lower Maths group.
I have a bad mum confession to make, we didn’t get Caillie’s maths homework done last week.  No excuse, we just didn’t get to it.  So last night I said ‘You’ve got to do last week’s homework before we start this weeks.’  ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘but there’s no point, I won’t be able to get it marked.’  So I explained to her that the point of doing maths homework isn’t just to get the smiley face and the sticker, you’re actually meant to learn the stuff.  At which point she said it was too hard and she couldn’t do it.  So I sat down with her to supervise and when she finished I said, ‘See that wasn’t too hard’.  ‘Yes it was, it was way too complicated’.  And I said, ‘But you got every question right… How can it be too hard if you got every single question right?’.  Well, the reason she thought it was too hard was because she actually had to work out the answer.  She didn’t just know it immediately.  She’s used to it being easy and that makes her feel clever.  Hence she wants to go into a lower Maths group, so she can just know all the answers and feel like she’s clever.  And that’s the problem with giving kids gold stars all the time, that feeling is addictive.  They become more concerned with the reward, or the ‘clever feeling’ they get from the reward, than the learning outcome.
I’m a bit of a slave driver when I supervise homework.  I’m always saying, ‘Is that your best work?’. ‘That’s too messy, rub that out and do it again’.  But that’s because I’m a big believer in the idea that the best reward is the satisfaction of a job well done.  I would rather do half of it properly, than race through just to finish.  So the only reward Caillie gets from me is, ‘Good on you, you’ve finished it,’ or ‘That’s enough, you’ve worked well.’  But you know what, after we finished the exercise, and I pointed out that she got all those hard questions right, I told her it was time for a bath, and you’ll never believe what she said:  ‘Oh, No, mum!  Do I have to?  I want to do more homework!’

The Making of a Champion

Birdy getting her third place in the long jump.

Birdy getting her third place in the long jump.

Firstly, apologies for the hiatus in posting.  I’ve had a few computer problems lately, but they’re sorted now!

My daughter had her very first athletics carnival a few weeks ago.  I wasn’t expecting great things – she came fifth out of seven in her heat – but she did pick up a third in the long jump.  We were all pretty stoked with that.  There are some families for whom the swimming carnival and the athletics carnival are the highlight of their calendar. They always come back laden with ribbons and trophys.  For others, there’s the ever-present fear of being the last kid in the pool, or being left behind drowning while everyone else is already enjoying the sausage sizzle..

I was very average at athletics.  I used to do okay in the long distance races, but with swimming I’m sure I had lead weights in my legs.  My husband, however, was a natural swimmer.  I like to joke that it’s because he’s less highly evolved; he has extra-long Neanderthal arms. I’m not too fussed about whether my kids win races or not, but I think it’s good to get into the spirit of these days, because they can be a lot of fun.  However, recently I’ve noticed that kids’ sport seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people.

I heard two very different stories from friends on Facebook recently. One friend was threatened by a fellow parent for defending the referee, who was a 13 year old boy.  A parent got quite aggro at the boy, so naturally my friend was sticking up for him.  Next thing you know, the Dad wanted to fight him over it.

On the other end of the spectrum another friend posted this beautiful story.  He wrote it so aptly that I thought I’d just quote him verbatim.

“We were at Jordan’s athletics day today and he’d just finished the 800m. He’s knackered and we’re having a chat when we spot a little fella in the next heat who’s barely left the start line when everyone else has already taken the first corner. He’s totally out of his depth – but he’s turned up and he’s having a crack.

By the 400m mark he’s been lapped by nearly everyone and he soon finds himself the only one on the track. A teacher asks over the PA for people to “please stay off the track because we still have a competitor in the race”.

You can see he’s really struggling now and he starts walking down the back straight – but he’s not giving up!! What a champ!

And then… out of the blue, up pops our Jordan. (8yrs old) He walks with this kid all the way down the back straight and into the final corner where he suddenly gets a jog on. We watch as Jordan cuts across the field and stands at the finish line with stacks of other kids who are cheering like this kid’s coming in for the gold medal.

They’re chanting his name as he crosses the finish line and everyone’s pumped!  Such an awesome moment! Everyone had massive smiles on their faces…

Except us.

We’re standing there trying to hide the tears in our eyes over what we’d just seen our little man do. What a champ. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Isn’t that beautiful?  Isn’t it amazing how having just one person come alongside him made all the difference?

Better than coming home laden with trophies is coming home blessed by a heart full of kindness.  And better than winning a ribbon is realising what makes a real champion – the determination to keep going when others would have packed up and gone home.

Nurturing compassion

Sponsor letter

So the royal baby has finally arrived!  Kate and William gave birth to a baby boy this morning, who weighed 3.8 kg or 8 pounds 6.  I’m not going to have any trouble remembering the weight because that’s exactly the weight of my first child.  I’m sure every parent remembers how wonderful, scary and amazing it is to give birth to your first child.  Nothing really compares to that.  So it’s lovely to celebrate with the royal couple as they enjoy their little miracle.  But it’s also amazing that this particular child has come into the world, so welcomed, so loved and so showered with privilege.

By contrast there are still so many children in the world who lack the basics in life – good food, clean water, an education.  A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Tony Campolo speak on what was his last ever trip to Australia.  He was out here for Compassion Australia, so I knew that his talk would focus on child sponsorship, but I was keen to hear him beause I also knew he would be lively, entertaining and spiritually challenging.  Tony Campolo is a great storyteller and has always spoken out with great conviction on behalf of the marginilised and voiceless, including children, which is a cause dear to my heart.

The main thing I learned is that we’ve made a lot of progress in recent decades and child sponsorship has been an important part of that.  Just a few decades ago, 45,000 children died of poverty related causes in one night, now that figure is down to 23 000.  Almost halved.  So that’s encouraging.  Sponsoring a child really does make a difference to those children and their communities.  But I think it also has a really positive impact on the person who does the sponsoring.

Our sponsor child is a little girl called Elda who lives with her family in the province of Papua in Indonesia.  We deliberately chose a girl who is roughly the same age as Birdy to try to encourage a friendship between them.  We also chose a child who lives in a country that my husband and I have visited to make it more real for her.  We can show her photos and talk about some of their customs.  We’ve also made a conscious effort to talk about Elda and pray for her. 

sponsor letter 2It’s really only now, after about 3 or 4 years of exchanging letters, that we’re starting to see a friendship develop between the two girls.  Just the other night Caillie drew a picture of her and Elda meeting for the first time.  In the picture, the two girls were holding hands and my husband and I were quite touched by that.

Part of the value of child sponsorship is that it helps Aussie kids to develop a sense of compassionalthough in our case it hasn’t come easily!  We’ve really had to work on it.  When we first started sponsoring her, I remember Birdy saying that she didn’t like her dress!  Kids here just have so much that its very hard for them to understand poverty.  But showing care for someone outside of your day-to-day world shows your kids that that you don’t just love them, you also care about the wider world.  Love is bigger than geography or proximity.

Compassion have recently started sending a once a year letter from project staff to give sponsors a bit more information about the work they’re doing on the ground.  One of the things our project manager said was that when they show care for the children, when they take an interest in a child’s welfare, health, education and spiritual growth, the parents start to take better care of their children too.  They see someone else caring for their child and they start to see that child as more valuable.

So if you are sponsoring a child, be encouraged.  You’re not only providing for their needs, you’re also helping to create a culture where children are cherished and nutured and invested in.  Would it be wonderful if every child born into the world was as welcome, loved, safe and well-provided for as the royal baby?

Are you excited about the royal baby?  Does your family sponsor a child?  Have your children started to take an interest in or show concern for the sponsored child?


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