Kevin Rudd won’t be the only person waking up with a looming sense of dread on Monday morning. Every Monday, thousands of parents rouse from their sleep only to be gripped by exactly the same feeling. Today, Tomorrow, the Next Day, The Day After That, and The Day After That, we have to conquer the seemingly insurmountable challenge that is the school lunchbox. And every day, we wonder whether or not we can win over our harshest critics.
Food has become so political these days and nothing is more political than the food you feed your children. There’s so much to think about – allergies and intolerances, nutrition, the obesity epidemic, additives and food chemicals, fair trade, food miles, organic versus non-organic, animal cruelty, religious beliefs, the environmental impact of the packaging and then just the sheer amount of food that gets wasted. Whatever happened to just packing your kids off with a vegemite sandwich and an apple every day for 13 years?
We had an information night at our school the other night and there were a lot of questions among the parents as to whether or not they are allowed to pack things like peanut butter sandwiches. So the whole lunchbox packing issues has become a bit of a hot potato – a gluten free, fat-free, cruelty-free, low-GI hot potato.
Then there’s the issue of what they will actually eat. These days schools and preschools expect you to offer a fully balanced meal to your child. Each lunchbox must contain protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruit and vegies. Have you seen the size of the lunchboxes kids go off to school with these days? They’re broken down into six or seven different compartments so you can include all the food groups twice. I’m all for healthy eating but the problem is most of it just gets wasted. They don’t actually eat it. And to complicate matters further, lots of schools and pre-schools have jumped on the ‘nude food’ bandwagon, which means you can’t wrap or package the food. So by the time it comes home the carrot sticks are dried out, the rice crackers have gone soft and the strawberries have turned to slush. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending half the morning preparing all this good, healthy, expensive food, only to empty almost the entire contents of the lunchbox into the bin when it comes home. So when people talk about food miles, what they really mean is the fact that food travels the 2 metres from the crisper to the bin, via the schoolyard and back.
So I’ve been looking for ideas on how to pack good lunchboxes and I found a magazine article that suggested things like vegetable muffins, home-made chicken schnitzel, home made sushi squares and mini quiches and frittatas. So not only are you supposed to pack an exciting fresh healthy lunchbox, you’re expected to spend all weekend cooking as well! Forget it.
Of course there’s always the trusty canteen. Every day now Birdy asks if she can buy something from the canteen. Our canteen is reasonably healthy but it’s a pretty expensive way to feed your kids, compared to packing a cheese sandwich. But then your child tells you that everybody else is buying from the canteen and she is the only poor neglected waif who doesn’t get any money to buy something from the canteen. But I said to my husband that if we let her start buying things from the canteen in kindy then she’ll expect it for the next 6 years and then the next one will expect it and before you know it you’re spending $10 on the kids’ lunches. So I think we’ll save that for a Year 6 privilege.
But in the meantime, another bunch of grapes travels from the fridge to the bin via Birdy’s lunchbox. I’m hoping that the reason the lunchbox keeps coming home full is just the sheer excitement of being at school for the first time, but if it doesn’t get better, I think I’ll have to revert to the classic lunch of the 1980s – the Devon and tomato sauce sandwich. After a couple of days of that she’ll realise that carrot sticks and sultanas aren’t so bad after all.
How do your kids go with their school lunches? Do you have any tips that have helped to get your child eating well? Love to hear any suggestions you have for healthy lunch or snack ideas.
My husband and I have tried very hard to nurture a love of reading in Birdy and I think it’s safe to say we’ve been successful. It’s possible we may have even overdone it just slightly. Birdy came home incredibly excited after her kindy class had their first official visit to the school library. She wasn’t just looking forward to going to the library, she told us that she had been ‘shivering’ all day because she was ‘just sooo excited’ about borrowing her first book. So we may have a future library monitor in the making.
We haven’t really seen any reading progress in the first few weeks of school, but I think the nervous anticipation is partly about realising that they are learning to read and that soon they will be able to read books by themselves. I’ve actually put my hand up to be one of the parents who help out with reading in class. I’ve only done it once so far but already it’s been a great way to suss out what goes on in the classroom. (I know who all the naughty kids are now and who are the smartypants as well.) But it’s been amazing to see the huge variation in what kindy kids know when they start school. Some of the children know all their letters and what sounds they make, and some also understand the concept of sounding out words, whereas other children still can’t recognise all the letters of the alphabet.
Most of us know that the best thing we can do for our kids is to read to them every day. Generally we do that before bed to help children wind down, but sometimes, if mums and dads are a wee bit tired and want the kids in bed as soon as humanly possible so they can have that glass of red and catch up on the latest episode of Rafters or whatever people watch these days, we might be a tad more inclined to pick the absolute shortest book we can find or, dare I say it, even skip over the story a little? Whole pages have been known to disappear from The Cat in the Hat on a Friday night. I mean seriously, how long is that book?
So if we want to make reading time a fun time, rather than an ‘I’m-so-over-it-I-just-want-you-asleep’ time, we should probably try to read at other times of the day, as well as at bedtime. That way we might be more inclined to talk about the pictures, help them understand the story, do the silly voices and all the other things that make reading time fun. And while small kids are often quite happy to read the same stories again and again, they also get excited about new books. So take the time to go the library once a week or buy a new book to mark a special occasion. When I was a kid, Mum never gave me money for lollies, but when the Ashton Scholastic catalogue came to school, we went nuts! There may not have been money for treats or new clothes, but there was always money and time for books. We could even get out of washing up if we stuck our head in a book, that’s how much importance my Mum placed on reading.
Something I was surprised to learn as a new parent is that children actually need to see you reading too. Just reading aloud to them isn’t enough, they need to see you absorbed in a book or a magazine. It’s like eating. It’s all in the modelling. You can’t offer your child a carrot stick and then sit down and eat a Mars Bar in front of them. You need to show your child that reading is enjoyable and important by making time to sit down and read for pleasure.
On the flip side, if you don’t have time to read a story, words are everywhere so just read whatever is around you. Point out words on traffic signs and bus advertisements and menus. You’ll be sending your child a message that reading is a life skill, not just a form of entertainment.
I’ve heard some parents say their child just isn’t interested in books. I wonder if they just haven’t found the right type of book for that child. Talk to a librarian or their teacher about what might work. Some boys just love really simple books with pictures of trucks and cars and motorbikes and not too many words. Finally, and I realise this might sound a little “out there”, one way to make books more absorbing is to bring the characters to life by talking about them as if they’re real. “Charlie and Lola live in London.” Or “Wendy the Chicken had to go to hospital too.” Books are most compelling when we care about the characters and what happens to them, so talk about them as if they’re your child’s friends. One day they’ll probably say, “Mum, Moonface isn’t real, silly”, but until then… make it work for you.
What are your tips for teaching kids to read and nuturing a love of books? Do you have any fave books your children loved to read again and again? Do you find yourself sometimes rushing through stories at bedtime? Do you have trouble finding time to read for yourself?
I am in the laundry, up to my elbows in suds, scrubbing mould from the bath toys one by one, when into my head pops the voice of Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail: “I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it , or because I haven’t been brave?”
I’m scrubbing mould from bath toys. Yes, I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.
I”m sure every Mum feels this way at times. Some days are just like that. And mostly, that’s OK.
But along comes something like Valentine’s Day. Of course, we don’t really care about Valentine’s Day, do we? By the time we’re in our 30s and 4os we’re totally over all that nonsense. We no longer sit around wondering if we’ll receive roses this year because we know we won’t. And we’re past caring. But for whatever reason, I’ve had those trashy rom-coms playing in my head this week, ever since I read Serena Faber Nelson’s Valentine’s post, which referenced Love Actually. That film is one of my favourites. Probably because in some small way I relate to nearly all the characters in it. Even the male ones. Oh, except that man-eating vampire chick who carelessly seduces her boss just because she can. Or that couple who are the body doubles in the… ahem… movies. But whenever I see that film I feel particular empathy with Karen, the character played by Emma Thompson. The first time I saw the film I didn’t even have kids, but I still felt her pain. She’s clearly a clever, kind, educated woman, (her brother, played by Hugh Grant, is the Prime Minister of Britain) but she’s been dragged down to one level above frumpy by ten years of looking after kids. And there’s a line she says that always gets to me. After she finds out her husband has given an expensive necklace to another woman she says, “You’ve made a fool out of me, and you’ve made the life I lead foolish too.” She then turns to congratulate her daughter with extravagantly feigned enthusiasm for her role playing the first lobster in the school nativity play. There’s something heartbreaking about this smart, capable woman declaring her small life to be foolish, while lavishing affection on her children.
Contrast that with Natalie, the spontaneous, sexy girl Karen’s brother (the PM) brings along to the same school Christmas pageant. She is so full of life and energy that he can’t keep his hands off her. When I first saw this film, I thought Natalie and Karen were two very different characters. And they are. But ten years and a couple of kids later, will Natalie really be so very different from Karen?
We all feel like Karen some days, but we also have a Natalie in there somewhere, waiting to be seen. If only there was a chance for her to emerge between mopping floors, getting kids to school, feeding the baby, caring for ageing parents and the bone-crushing tiredness we mums come to accept as normal.
So when my husband walks through the door at 5 o’clock this afternoon and says, “How was your day? What did you get up to?” am I going to tell him I cleaned the bathroom and scrubbed the mould off the bath toys? ‘Cause that is surely going to fill him with passion. I can see it now, “Kids, go to your room and lock the door because I must have your mother right now on the kitchen floor. All this bedroom, I mean bathroom, talk is driving me wild!”
So as much as all the hype around Valentine’s Day is a load of commercial crap, creating false expectations between lovers and disappointment for those who don’t yet have the love they’re looking for, maybe there is a message in there for parents. Somewhere inside you is the person your spouse fell in love with. Some days you’ll wonder where the hell she’s gone. And some days we have to let go a little and let her out.
“When you live in a world of boobs like I do, you don’t think about them as sexual.” That was how my husband answered when I asked him whether a female pair of breasts still held any sexual allure when there is a baby attached to them. I’ve always assumed that the presence of said bub changed the status of anyone’s breasts from “Whoa!” to “Whatever…” It’s not a scientific survey, but I’ve heard lots of fellas say things along those lines when their wife is fondly suckling their offspring.
Mia Freedman wrote something similar in her book Mama Mia:
I’m one of those women who are quite happy to breastfeed in public, probably because when I’m pregnant or feeding I see my breasts as being about as sexual as my elbows.
The reason I’m talking about this is because Facebook has been harassing nursing mothers lately for putting up ‘innocent shots, taken by the mothers themselves of their little bubs as they tuck into some goodness’. According to an opinion piece by David Penberthy in the Telegraph last week, a total of 391 Mums, at least 2 of them in Australia have had their photos deleted. Naturally this hasn’t gone down too well with the lactating ladies, who might not appreciate their occupation being categorised as obscene. I say occupation, because the early days of breastfeeding are practically a full-time job. Putting that baby on the boob every 2-3 hours, 24/7 doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for anything else. Including sleeping. Heck, I can hardly find time to write a simple blog post about breastfeeding in public!
The reason this little Facebook farce isn’t attracting that much media attention is that it’s not that common for women to post breastfeeding pics. When Facebook was first getting started, most people just posted short status updates. Then when smart phones became more common, they started to post photos of where they were and what they were doing. Now hip folks about town can just ‘check in’ so everybody knows when they’re hanging out in a groovy bar or dining in some obscenely priced restaurant run by a TV chef. But my point is this, when Mums post a photo of themselves and they happen to be breastfeeding, it’s just what they’re doing at the time. It’s not necessarily meant to be a statement. When I once posted a photo of myself breastfeeding I really didn’t think about it. It was only afterwards that I experienced a little flicker of doubt as to whether I should have posted it on Facebook. But then I thought, “It’s natural, normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not dirty.” If we keep censoring breastfeeding then it implies it’s a shameful, rude thing that should only be done in private.
For me, privacy is very low down in my hierarchy of needs. (Incidentally, my husband sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. He recently freaked out because I carelessly got changed in front of an open balcony in a top-floor holiday apartment, completely surrounded by trees… at 10.30pm! Evidently he was concerned for some very sensitive possums that happened to be peering in at that exact moment… with binoculars.) That doesn’t mean I always feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, but I do it anyway. Usually because there’s not a lot of choice if you want to ever leave the house. Recently we were travelling back from a flying trip to Port Macquarie and we stopped for lunch at a café on the Pacific Highway. It was raining, I needed to eat and the baby needed a feed. Unfortunately it was a very open café. There were no subtle seats facing a corner. So I tried to give the people around me a bit of advance warning by taking some time to arrange a cushion and fiddling conspicuously with my bra strap, while arranging a wrap around my shoulders. It was all designed to subtly announce, “OK everybody, I’m getting ready to breastfeed.” A mature aged man at a table behind me picked up his newspaper and moved to a table further away. I don’t know whether he moved because he was offended, if he felt uncomfortable or if he was just trying to be considerate by giving me a little more privacy. It sure would be nice to know.
Obviously it’s convenient for me to be in favour of public breastfeeding, given that I’m breastfeeding and I’m not shy. Even so, I don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable. For those of you who do want a little more privacy, you can get these hooplike covers that allow you to hide in a tent but still see the baby so you can feed while out in public. I did briefly contemplate getting one, but I thought I might feel more conspicuous feeding in a spacesuit than going naturale.
Ultimately the main reason to support breastfeeding in public comes down to the wellbeing of babies. If women don’t feel that breastfeeding is welcome and acceptable, they’ll be less likely to continue breastfeeding or to breastfeed at all. And we all know breast milk is best for bubs. But it’s also better for everyone in a social sense. When babies are hungry they don’t exactly ask politely and then wait patiently while you make up a bottle or look for somewhere secluded and intimate to feed. When they want a feed, they want it now, and they won’t be happy until they get it. It’s far easier to enjoy your Saturday morning newspaper and latte with somebody breastfeeding next to you than it is with a hungry screaming baby demanding to be fed.
BTW, it’s now law that women are entitled to breastfeed their babies anywhere in public. So if someone does ask you to put it away, leave their premises or even just gives you dirty looks, let them know that it’s your right by law to feed your baby the way nature intended. Besides, its far less revealing than those skimpy little bottom-showing cut-off shorts all the young things are wearing!
Are you comfortable breastfeeding in public? Does it make you feel uncomfortable when others do it? Have you ever received dirty looks or been asked to leave an establishment while breastfeeding? And seriously, how about those shorts?
I really thought I was in an episode of Outnumbered tonight. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a show about 2 normal but slightly hopeless parents who are completely outmaneuvered by their 3 children. My sister-in-law gave me the first 3 series on DVD for my birthday and I devoured them in about 3 weeks. It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so close to the truth.
Tonight Birdy decided to play the role of horror child ‘Ben’ by telling me over dinner that I had a ‘big fat belly’. Thanks so much darling. Did you pick up those lovely manners at school? In the first week?
So after I’d given Birdy dinner, then fed the baby and rocked her to sleep, it was time to get Birdy into bed. Or so I thought. But no, she couldn’t go to bed until we’d fed and rocked all three of her baby dollies to sleep. We had to find them clothes, we had to wrap them and burp them and play them lullabies. After half an hour of this I firmly told Birdy that her real Mummy had to get her real baby into bed. I kissed her goodnight and snuggled her and in response she told me I had ‘an ugly face’. Delightful! In spite of the insults, we’d had a nice evening and I was feeling loving, so I sat with her for ten minutes holding her hand while she fell asleep.
Now for some ‘me time’. Fat ugly Mummy decided she needed some dessert after all that!
Just as I sat down with my cuppa, up popped Birdy like the proverbial jack-in-the-box. “Mum, Anna’s crying.” (Anna is her second baby doll!) I need you to feed her and rock her cause I’m too tired. It’s really hard work looking after three babies.”
You don’t say.
If you’re over 25 and you’re on facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve been seeing lots of photos of kids posing proudly in their school uniforms, wearing clothes and hats that hang off their tiny frames. It’s that time of year, when so many little ones are starting school for the first time, including my eldest daughter Birdy. Among my friends there has been quite a lot of discussion about it.
To say Birdy has been excited about starting school would be a major understatement. Every day for the past two weeks she’s been asking me how many days were left before school started. Then at night she would pray for the days to go quicker. I was really trying to play it down, because I know that if you build these things up too much, they can get a bit overwhelmed when the big day finally comes. I certainly didn’t need to remind her that she was about to start school, put it that way.
But I wanted to open a conversation with her, so I said something like, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re starting school tomorrow.” And she replied that she couldn’t believe it either. She said that she just couldn’t believe that she was really five. She said she still feels like she’s 4 on the inside. So there was definitely a bit of disbelief there on both sides. On the actual morning, the alarm went off and I said, “Birdy, first day of school today!” She literally leapt off the bed and had her school uniform on within seconds. I’m still groaning and trying to get my butt out of bed, but she was already dressed before I’d even rolled over. Let’s hope that continues.
When we got to the school gate, I was feeling fine, although I have to tell you there were a few sympathetic smiles between the parents and a few rather teary looking eyes. Of course, I was totally together. Afterwards, a few of the parents went out for coffee and I thought, “Well I handled that quite well.” It wasn’t until I was at home by myself and the house was just so quiet, that I started to fall apart. I had this ridiculous sense of being redundant. Because everyone knows a 5 year old is totally independent and ready to move out of home and no longer needs a mother at all! A totally irrational response, I know, but talking to the other Mums at pick-up time, I wasn’t the only one who found myself feeling a little teary and irrational that day.
As for Birdy, she loved it. On the way home, she said, “I love my school Mum!” And she said that she had so much fun. But she was bit confused. She said, “Mum part of me feels like I’m 5 because I’m going to school, but part of me feels like I’m still 4 because we just played all day like we did at pre-school.” I think she was expecting it to be a bit more difficult, but they haven’t done any actual schoolwork yet. On the second day of school she was just as excited to go back. But already she was playing it down, trying to be cool. At the school gate she dropped my hand and took a couple of steps away from me when she saw some big kids arriving at the gate. Already, I’m not cool enough for her!
Having your first child start school feels like the beginning of a whole new era. For some of my friends, who have their youngest child starting school, its also the end of an era. I’m very excited about Birdy learning to read and making her own friends. But more than anything I’m looking forward to the community aspect of it. On the first day I met 2 or 3 other mums, and they all lived within one or two streets of me, so I’m really looking forward to getting to know more local families. And hopefully I might bump into them at the shops or the library or the local park and get a bit more of a sense of community. I’m not signing up for the P&C just yet, but I’m certainly looking forward to getting more involved in school life. I just hope Birdy keeps bounding out of bed like she did last week!
Did you have a child starting school last week? How did they go? And how did you go?