On Friday night I went to the launch of a new book and app called The Great North Walk. A friend of mine, Matt McClelland runs a bushwalking website called Wild Walks and he’s just put together an impressive new guidebook on one of the best bushwalks in Sydney.
But there is another reason bushwalking has been on my mind and that is because the Oxfam Trailwalker was on over the weekend. I had a few friends from my church doing it – which is pretty impressive – because they have to walk 100k in 48 hours.
Since we had Molly, we haven’t done as much outdoorsy stuff as we used to. I must confess that my kayak is pretty dusty right now, which is very sad.
When Birdy was little we used to throw her in the backpack and go bushwalking quite a lot. I can actually walk to The Great North Walk from my house – in fact it runs right past my daughter’s school. With the weather in Sydney being so good lately there’s really no excuse to sit around inside.
I often think the trick to getting out and being active is not to be too ambitious. My husband works all weekend, so if we waited for a free day to go bushwalking it would never happen. So we went out after school last week, just on a Tuesday afternoon, for about an hour.
I can’t say Birdy was too enthusiastic about the idea. When I first mentioned that we were doing a bushwalk after school, you would have thought I’d told her we were going to spend the afternoon cleaning the toilet. She really did not want to go. But having a husband who suffers from a great deal of inertia at times, we have both learnt that if you just do these things, whether you feel like it or not, then usually everyone enjoys it once they get there. And that’s exactly what happened. As soon as we were out in the bush, Birdy started planning how she’s going to make her next birthday party a jungle party, and she’s going to have a treasure hunt through the bush with a map. It was amazing how fast her attitude changed once we were actually out in the bush.
It’s really hard to be grumpy when you’re surrounded
by a beautiful view of the water on a clear sunny day.
Just a week ago, I saw a story in the paper that quoted some new research by Planet Ark.
26% of kids have never been bushwalking and 17% have never visited a national park.
In this country there’s no excuse for that. In Sydney there is so much amazing bushland and there are so many beautiful waterfront parks that you can get to by public transport. Recently Richard Louv visited Australia – he’s the author of a very influential book called Last Child in the Woods. He coined the phrase ‘nature deficit disorder’ to describe the disconnect between children and nature in modern life. One of the things he’s discovered in his research is that kids learn so much better in natural settings, even when they’re studying subjects like maths, history and art. He says that getting kids outside actually stimulates them and improves their cognitive function, creativity, behaviour and learning ability. So when you’re choosing a school for your child, don’t forget to ask about their approach to outdoor education.
Of course the other major benefit of getting out into the bush is that it’s a chance to spend gadget-free quality time together. (Although it might be good to have a gadget, just in case you get lost.)
Interestingly, bushwalking has been shown to help reduce stress and depression, probably because it puts all our little problems into perspective.
You just can’t feel quite so overwhelmed by the stresses of life when you’re looking at a mighty river or a towering precipice.
Do you enjoy spending time in the Great Outdoors with your kids? Are they enthusiastic about it? How do you make it enjoyable for everyone?
One of the best things about having children in your life is hearing their laughter.
There is something about the totally disinhibited, belly shaking laughter of children that’s uplifting to the soul. Why else do we adults always feel so compelled to tickle them and rumble with them? And one of the completely unexpected joys of parenting for me has been seeing my child’s sense of humour develop.
Even babies laugh whole-heartedly from a very young age.
Molly is only 9 months old, but Birdy had her in stiches with a peekaboo hiding game on the way home from school last week.
I remember very clearly the first time Birdy made up her own joke.
She was 18 months old and it took me completely by surprise. I needed to get some shopping done, but as we drove to the shopping centre Birdy fell asleep in the car. After waiting half an hour in the car park, she was still dead to the world so I drove back home again. Later that afternoon I attempted to go to the shops again. Just as we pulled into the carpark for the second time, I turned around to check the back seat and she was dozing off again. “Caillie – wake up!” I called in frustration. Then her mouth broke into a huge smile. “Tricked ya, Mum!” Ah ha ha. She was so pleased with herself.
Kids seem to go through phases of being quite painful in their humour – there’s the stage where they get obsessed with bodily functions and all things disgusting.
This didn’t last long in our house because my husband has very low tolerance of fart jokes or any kind of reference to bodily functions. The next stage after that is ‘knock knock’ jokes. At the age of 4 or 5, they start to get the structure of the ‘knock knock’ joke. They can do the whole, ‘Knock, knock’, ‘Who’s there?’ sequence, but they don’t get that it’s supposed to be a play on words. So even more painful than the classic corny ‘knock knock’ joke is the ‘knock knock’ joke that doesn’t actually make sense.
But after the fart jokes and the painful knock-knock jokes comes to ability to laugh at real life and to see the funny side of things that are otherwise ordinary.
I saw a small example of this recently. At school all the kids have to do ‘news’. When we were on holidays in the car, Birdy started amusing herself by doing mock news presentations in a silly voice. One of them went like this, ‘Good morning KSD. These are my socks. They’re really smelly. I like to call them my smelly socks.” OK, so it’s not exactly up there with Seinfeld in the observational comedy stakes, but it was a rather apt little send-up of some of the completely banal things kids do for ‘show and tell’ when they’ve run out of ideas and need to make something up at the last minute.
Recently, I met up with a friend of mine who is a comedian. The thing about these performing types is that behind the funny exterior, they’re often really deep thinkers. And comedy – at it’s best – can be a way of making sense of the world or of showing that it doesn’t make as much sense as we assume it does. That is what we do when we send something up. We are looking at it from a different angle, an angle we had not considered before. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this friend has coped with some terrible setbacks in his life and maintained his good grace and humour.
It is a genuine life skill to be able to see the funny side of things.
Often those things that were the worst disasters to live through make for the funniest stories down the track. I remember the time I went to hear my favourite author at the Opera House. I was running late after work, I got this ridiculously slow bus that stopped at every red light and just as I got off the bus it bucketed down. It was torrential. I had no umbrella and when I arrived at the Opera House my clothes and my hair were stuck to my skin, they were so wet. Then just as I was going up the steps my high heel snapped off, so I literally had to squeeze past all the well-heeled middle-aged Mosman ladies on one shoe while dripping all over the floor. But the speaker was hilarious and I laughed so hard that I totally forgot what a drama it had been to get there. It made me realise: there is something to be said for teaching our kids to face challenges with good humour and to look for the funny side in life. Even if it means we have to put up with all those terrible ‘knock knock’ jokes in the meantime.
Do your kids make terrible fart jokes and knock-knock jokes that don’t make sense? Can you remember an incident in your life that was disastrous at the time but funny later? Do you think a sense of humour helps in life?
I have a confession to make. I am suffering from a serious case of sleep envy.
My husband is a sports reporter, among other things, and so he works long hours during the Olympics, but the other day after a night shift he stayed in bed til 12pm. Lunchtime! It’s not as scandalous as it sounds if you’ve been to bed at 2 or 3 am, but I was soo jealous.
From talking to my friends, I’ve deduced that sleep envy is a common problem among mothers of young babies.
And if you’re not careful a simple case of common sleep envy can escalate into a full-scale sleep war. It all starts when the husband makes the mistake of lying on the couch, casually yawning and then muttering something along the lines of “Oh, I’m soo tired.” Now the man may utter these words without even realising he’s said them, but to a sleep-deprived mother, they are a red flag to a bull. When you’ve been up 3 or 4 times in the night with a sick child, and you then hear the man who slept peacefully through a midnight vomiting episode complain of being tired, well let’s just say it’s a little hard to take.
So Dads unless you are the one getting up all night to tend to the baby, don’t even think about saying the ‘t’ word.
I can cope pretty well with one or two bad nights in a row. But when it gets to three or four that’s when it all starts to fall apart. I find that I really have to make a big effort to be patient with the kids when I’m tired. On those days I’ve learnt to put aside whatever I hoped to get done and just focus on looking after the children as best I can.
The other problem for breastfeeding Mums is that if you don’t get enough sleep then your milk supply drops and that starts a vicious cycle where the baby needs to feed more often because your milk supply is low, and so you can’t get as much sleep. When that happens I find I really do have to rest during the day. Forget about all your other commitments, your cleaning, your washing, your social life, just try to eat well and rest. I’m somebody who hates to let other people down, but sometimes you just have to say ‘no’ and take care of yourself.
So what can Dads do to support sleep-deprived Mums?
Breakfast in bed always goes down well! If you are breastfeeding, then it really does have to be Mum who gets up in the night and tends to the baby, so there’s not always a lot that Dads can do, even if they want to help. But every Mum should have at least one designated sleep-in day. When we had Birdy I was up early every day because I always had to breastfeed her. Then eventually I realised that if you do the first morning feed in bed, then you can pass the baby to hubby when you’re finished and he can sometimes get up first.
I think it’s a really good idea for both Mum and Dad to have a designated sleep-in day.
Then there are no arguments about who stays in bed, it’s just set in stone that on Saturday Dad gets up with the kids. (Notice how I said, ‘Gets up with the kids’. Not puts on cartoons and goes back to bed!)
Also, men, here’s a tip for you: if Mum does complain of being tired, it doesn’t mean she needs you to come up with a solution.
Men tend to want to fix things. So when I say ‘I’m tired’ my husbands first response will be to say, “Well go to bed earlier” or ‘Have a nap during the day.” But as Mum’s we find it hard to switch off. We can’t go to bed when the kitchen isn’t clean or the washing’s not put away. That just means starting the next day even further behind. So when we say we’re tired, sometimes all we really want is a bit of understanding and TLC. There’s nothing so good as a cup of tea that somebody else has made for you, or a really nice dinner that somebody else has cooked for you, or half an hour with a good book while your husband takes the kids to the park. Then hopefully sleep envy is less likely to escalate into a full-scale sleep war!
PS. I’m so tired I forgot to upload this post on Monday and didn’t remember until Thursday.
PPS. Full Brownie points to hubby who was up last night trying to settle an inexplicably unsettled Molly. I let him stay in bed this morning!
Have you ever suffered from a case of sleep envy? How do you and your partner (if you have one) work things out so that both of you can get some sleep?
Last week I wrote about getting kids active and in my weekly chat with Aaron and Erin on Hope Breakfast, we touched on another topic that I thought we should explore a little more – winning. Well, winning and losing really, because you can’t have one without the other.
In our conversation, Erin touched on the fact that we’ve stopped letting kids lose. We want to protect them from any kind of disappointment in life and I’m not sure that does them any favours. We hear a lot about resilience – resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity – but it’s hard to develop resilience in a culture where everybody wins a prize.
I was at a kid’s birthday party last weekend, (actually I’m at a kid’s birthday party pretty much every weekend), and they had the obligatory game of Pass the Parcel. When we were kids, – if you were lucky enough to get a party and a cake and a Pass the Parcel then you’d struck gold already – there was usually only one big prize at the end of the parcel. There may have been a few lollipops scattered through the layers, but they were usually those awful green ones that nobody likes. And it certainly wasn’t expected that every layer would contain a prize. These days, every child has to win, and all the prizes have to be the same so that nobody thinks their prize is worse than anybody else’s. A few years ago, at Birdy’s 3rd birthday we did a pass the parcel and we left some layers empty. I warned the kids, “Not every layer will have a present,” but everybody was talking about it as though we’d served up brussell sprouts instead of fairy bread.
I think is important to give kids lots of practice at both losing and winning. We are all going to experience both in life. When we apply for a job, not everybody will get the job. When we want to win over a love interest, they may decide they prefer somebody else. We may not get into the course we wanted to at TAFE or Uni. So losing and missing out are inevitable at some stage. But how we deal with winning and losing really comes down to how we manage our expectations.
It’s been interesting to reflect on this during the Olympics. If an athlete wins a silver medal, when they were expected to win gold, the story will be, “Seebhom has missed out on the gold medal…” There’s also been lots of talk about the Mens Four, who were acting like silver medal was worse than a kick in the head. Whereas for an athelete who wasn’t expected to win, the headline would be, “So and so has taken out a silver medal”, like it’s a great triumph, which it is. So how we perceive winning and losing is all about our expectations. I don’t think we should let our kids win all the time. If every time you play a card game you let your kids win, you’re creating unrealistic expectations and they’ll be devastated when they don’t win. On the other hand, if they lose all the time, they’ll become discouraged and won’t want to play. The way to manage this without rigging every game is to make sure that what you’re playing is on the right level for your children, so they can win sometimes. For small kids, a game of chance may be fairer, or a game that combines elements of skill and chance, otherwise the youngest sibling in the family is never going to win anything.
Having said that, it’s not healthy for little kids to feel like their performance is being judged all the time. After all, they are only learning (everything!) so they shouldn’t be expected to perform to a certain standard, or to always be compared to their siblings or peers. It’s helpful to have other goals besides winning. If you play a sport and your only goal is to win, then you are going to be disappointed. You need to have other achievable goals so that when you don’t win, you can still be proud of what you’ve achieved. I’m a writer, and for every manuscript that gets accepted I would probably get 30 rejections. If I felt that every rejection was a failure, then I wouldn’t bother trying. So when I first started sending out my stories, I would consider my submission successful if I got a personal letter back with some positive feedback. At least that publisher thought my work had enough merit to want to offer some encouragement.
So while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, encourage your kids to have other goals as well. “I want to improve on my best time.” Or “I want to pass my maths exam.” If we can help them set some goals that are realistic, then winning doesn’t have to be the be all and end all.
Are your kids naturally competitive? Do they get upset when they lose? Should children be protected from the whole concept of winning and losing while they’re little? How do you strike a balance between playing for fun and enjoying the achievement of winning?