I had a proud mum moment last week.
My eldest daughter had a friend over for a play date and there was a moment when the two girls were playing with a little pink pretend iPhone. Caillie’s friend waved it around in front of Molly as though she was going to give it to her and then snatched it back at the last minute. When Molly burst into tears, Birdy very firmly turned to her friend and said, “Hey, don’t be mean to my little sister!” I didn’t say anything at the time, but on the inside I was doing a little happy dance.
I was really excited to see that protective instinct coming out in Caillie because my big sister was always protective of me. There was one time in particular when my fearless big sister saved me from a very sticky situation on a harbour cruise with a bloke who wouldn’t take no for an answer. (I’d already said it at least five times.) My five foot nothing sister grabbed the back of his shirt, wrenched him away from me and gave him a piece of her mind. Things turned pretty nasty, but even when he tried to physically intimidate her with violence, my sister stuck up for me and put my safety ahead of her own. What a blessing it was to me that she was there to look out for me. It’s not a nice subject to talk about and I pray my daughters never find themselves in a situation like that, but I also pray that they’ll always look out for each other. Girls need to do that for each other.
The other thing I really appreciate about both my sisters is that we always help each other out. I’m starting to see my girls do that. A couple of months ago Caillie and Molly did their first ever job together, filling up Grammy’s Twinings box with teabags. It was a good job for them because the different blends of tea come in colour-coded packets, so even Molly was able to match them up. It was so nice to see them working together side by side for the first time.
Even just in the week or so since Molly started walking I’ve started to see a lot more signs of sisterly bonding. Birdy has been sick a lot in the past few weeks which has limited what she’s capable of doing physically. In a way it’s also brought her down closer to Molly’s level and as a consequence they’re interacting a lot more than they usually would. Just today as they were sitting together on the back steps, Molly reached out for Birdy’s hand and asked her to walk with her out into the garden. Birdy was delighted, because normally Molly would have automatically reached for one of her parents. She said, “It’s like Molly has just realised that I’m her sister!” The timing of that was rather extraordinary, given that I’d already written most of this post about sisterly bonding!
I’ve always believed that a lot of bonding happens when we’re asleep. My girls sleep in the same room and Molly’s cot usually ends up pushed right up against Caillie’s bed. Over Easter we stayed at a friend’s house, and their bedroom was a lot bigger so the cot was about five metres away from the bunk beds on the opposite wall. My girls couldn’t cope with being that far away from each other so I had to drag the cot over to the other side of the room so they could be closer. Now most days when they wake up, Caillie climbs into the cot with Molly and calls out to me to get her up. Even just a few months ago, Caillie would have climbed into our bed in the morning without giving Molly a second thought. But now she won’t leave Molly alone for a minute because she doesn’t want her to cry. It’s so sweet and it’s nice to see that maturity developing.
One of the other wonderful things about sisters is having fun and being silly together. Now that Molly is getting older Caillie is always putting on a show to make Molly laugh. The other night when I was reading Molly a Spot book, (Spots First Walk – also known in our house as Spot Jalan Jalan Sendirian) Caillie pretended she was an interpreter and after every paragraph, she would make up her own translations into her pretend foreign language. And for whatever reason, Molly thought that was hilarious. It reminded me of the many times my sisters and I would laugh til we wet our pants when we were kids. I’ve also noticed that whenever Molly hurts herself and starts to cry, Birdy will start acting the clown to cheer her up. She’ll start up on some crazy song and dance act until Molly’s forgotten why she was crying and is giggling her head off instead.
But more than any of that good stuff, I love seeing my girls be kind to each other because I know they’ll take good care of each other after we’re long gone. I’m sure in the future they’ll help each other get over broken hearts, coach each other through childbirth and kid wrangling, baby sit each others kids and hopefully ask each other the tough questions like ‘Why on earth are you going out with him?’ or ‘What are you doing with your life?’ My sisters have done all that for me and more and I’m eternally grateful. Where would I be without my sisters?
Have you seen signs of bonding between your children? Were there any obvious turning points? What do you value about your own siblings if you have them?
Now I feel like a cuppa… with my sisters!
Anyone who has watched the movie ‘Date Night’ will know that as much as parents might try to make it a priority to have good quality couple time, it’s not always easy to find the time, energy, finances, babysitters etc to make it happen.
My eldest daughter is six and a half now and I have to confess we have been quite a bit slacker at this than I would have hoped. We’ve had the odd night out here and there, but a few weeks ago, my husband and I had our very first ever mini-break, just the two of us, for two whole nights and it was quite amazing!
For me, the most crazy thing about it was spending two whole nights not doing anything for anyone! It was so strange to have nobody asking me to fetch something or find something or help them with something or get them something to eat. You don’t realise how much of your day you spend doing things for your kids until suddenly there is nobody to look after. And it was also totally bizarre to spend two whole days without doing any housework! Even when we go on holidays we usually get a beach house or a self-contained apartment. I can’t remember the last time I stayed somewhere without having to cook or clean anything. In fact the only task I had to compete the whole weekend was pouring the champagne! That was tough.
The other bizarre thing about it was just being able to do whatever you want. When you have young children, you spend so much time trying to anticipate the children’s needs that you don’t get a chance to even think about what you want to do. So to have a completely free afternoon in which I could do whatever I wanted was almost paralysing. In the end, I just took myself to the hotel lobby with a book and a cup of tea and spent two hours reading without anybody interrupting me or needing me to change their nappy. It was incredible!
For us in our current circumstances, the weekend was more about recovery and reconnection rather than purely romance, but there’s no doubt that it was easier to connect when we weren’t being interrupted every five minutes. It was also good to be able to talk openly about difficult or painful things, without having to either censor or explain our conversation for little ears that might be listening in. It was also fun to go out together without having to focus on making it enjoyable for the children. We could do things that we enjoy and finish them when it suited us, rather than when a child was getting hungry or tired. Fancy that?
It’s funny. Even though I know it’s a good thing to do to have some time away together like that, we never would have done it if our family hadn’t pushed us out the door. My sisters volunteered to babysit, my family paid for the hotel and we had a voucher to a nice restaurant left over from Christmas, but if we didn’t have all those generous people helping us out, there’s no way it would have happened. So if anything, I feel a bit convicted now that I should probably do the same thing for my sister when her baby’s weaned.
Obviously doing something as extravagant as having a few nights away in a hotel is not the sort of thing you can do all the time, it’s probably more realistic just to try to make time for nights out together. But even when you have good intentions, it’s amazing how much time can go by without making the effort to do something really special. Just yesterday my husband stumbled upon my favourite little Kookai silk slip dress, held it up and said, “You haven’t worn this for a very long time.” (I realised I haven’t worn it since last year… It’s one of those dresses that requires a certain amount of confidence!) So I said, “That’s because you haven’t taken me out for a very long time. I can’t wear that dress unless I have something special to wear it to!”
Although quality time is important for all couples, I know it’s even more important for me, because my primary love language is quality time. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that my secondary love language is acts of service. So when I don’t get quality time and start feeling insecure, I tend to ask people to do stuff for me or help me out with something. (Not generally a brilliant tactic!) That means my husband has a clear choice: either to take me out for dinner more often, or to put up with me asking him to mow the lawn or clean out the laundry. As you can see, we clearly need more dates!
The fact is that we simply don’t have the finances or the access to babysitters to go out very often, even just somewhere cheap and cheerful, but every Christmas we ask family to put in for vouchers to a nice restaurant or tickets to a show so we at least have one or two special nights out together every year. The other thing we often do is set aside Monday morning to spend some time together. We usually just go somewhere around the harbour and have a walk and a coffee together, so we can feel like we’ve been out somewhere nice without breaking the bank. Molly comes with us so it’s not strictly couple time, but even just having that regular time set aside each week forces us to reconnect. When one of us gets busy, and we don’t have our Monday catch-up, I notice that I feel a bit niggly. So I have to make sure I keep that time free as often as I can. And if you can find some generous family members to sponsor you for a kid-free weekend away, I highly recommend it!
Have you ever been away without the kids? Do you have a regular time for couple time or date nights? How do you make it work? Do you have any brilliant ideas for date nights on a budget?
I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day. I love the concept – it’s wonderful to appreciate our mums, and I love the little loving notes my daughter gives me, but the actual day itself is always a bit of a non-event. My Mum lives far away, my husband always works, my sister goes to her mother-in-law, so after church when everyone else rushes off to their special mother’s day lunches, I’m always at a bit of a loss as to what to do. But I love and appreciate my Mum so I want to share some of the things I’m glad my mother taught me.
1) My mother gave me a love of all things creative – books, stories, theatre, art, singing etc. My earliest memories of my Mum were of her reading to us, or writing down our stories, of her sitting outside in the bush sketching a tree or talking with us about her acting days. Even when she was doing boring things like housework, she was always singing or humming.
2) There is no such thing as too many hugs or too much love. My Mum was always very affectionate and affirming of her four children and that’s something I really appreciate.
3) How to make a proper roué, real gravy and a good omelette. I can’t claim to be much of a cook, but those kind of basic skills come in very handy.
4) That it’s never too late to learn something new. Our church lost their organist quite a few years ago, so my mum started learning the organ at age 69. She’s now 75 and still playing the organ every week. Onya Mum!
5) Never be ashamed of who you are, your family history or anything about your family because all those things make you who you are. Growing up in a small town, it was sometimes hard to be different, but now I am pretty relaxed about who I am and where I come from.
6) When picking a fellow, make sure you can be yourself with him. Mum used to tell us this story about her little cappuccino test. She liked to eat the froth off her cappuccino with a teaspoon. One time when she was out on a date, the fellow she was with told her off for eating her cappuccino froth. (Not the done thing, apparently.) Needless to say, he didn’t last long. So when she went out with my Dad, she ate the froth off her cappuccino again to see how he would react. He just smiled and laughed good-naturedly. She told us that story a few times, so I got the message that your hubby should be someone you can relax and be yourself with.
7) If you’re ever feeling shy at a party, just start offering something around. My parents used to have a few dinner parties and us kids always had to pass around the beer nuts, the camembert and water crackers and my personal favourite, the ‘devils on horseback’. I was a pretty shy kid, so now whenever I’m in an awkward social situation, I just grab something and start pouring it, passing it, offering it or re-filling it.
8) A smile is free and it makes people feel good. When I was a kid, my Mum used to take us to the local pool and the whole time she was watching us she was always smiling. My friends used to say, “Why does your mum smile all the time?” And I don’t mean that kind of fake, plaster-a-smile-on-your-face-even-when-things-are-going-crap smile. It was just a genuine, natural kind of smile that is a response to enjoying the moment or being genuinely pleased to see you.
9) Be content with the life you have. This is probably a reflection of my last point, but the main thing I learnt from my mother is to be content, whatever your circumstances. To be honest, I’m completely hopeless at this, but I do try.
10) You don’t have to yell, get cross or lose your temper to teach your kids right from wrong. My mother never raised her voice (no really, I mean never!) She always had a gentle and quiet spirit and I just wish I could live up to that with my kids.
So thanks Mum for all these little things you taught me. I hope I can be half the mum to my kids that you are to me. Happy Mother’s Day xox
On Anzac Day I thought it might be timely to reflect a little on the nature of loss and grief. My husband and I recently lost a baby at 15 weeks. He was a little boy and we called him Alexander. I’ve had quite a few miscarriages before and it’s always really upsetting to lose a pregnancy, no matter how far along you are. But this time I cried more for him than I did for my own loss. As I lay in my hospital bed, waiting to deliver him, all I could think about was how sorry I was that he had missed out on the chance to experience life and all the goodness that it has to offer. He will never feel his mother’s arms around him, never go to school, never make a friend, never see a sunset, never fall in love… This year I’m coming to Anzac Day from that perspective.
Losing Alexander has made me acutely aware that there was a whole generation of young men and women whose lives were cut short. They never got to grow up, get married, follow their dreams, have children, travel the world and finally grow old. I think we intrinsically understand that this was a huge loss and tragedy for the families who were left behind, but I don’t think we always realise what a huge sacrifice it was for them to literally lay down their lives, to give up all their hopes and dreams for the future. What a massive hole that must have left in society, not to have all those young men to take up work, to marry the young women, to be fathers to the next generation. It’s a huge collective loss. And if you think about the way that grief has a tendency to sort of pile up on itself and accumulate, it would have profoundly affected not just individuals, families and communities, but whole generations.
I had a number of different family members involved in the first and second world wars, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, but I was probably most affected by the stories my grandmother told me of the second world war. My grandfather was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than five years, from when my Dad was six until he was about eleven. My daughter is six now, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not see her until she is eleven. (It’s not like they had Skype, email and facebook in those days!) I believe my father was deeply affected by that experience, and he was one of the lucky ones whose father actually came home. His father was almost a total stranger when he returned and he only weighed about 50kg, but at least he was still in one piece. When he got back my Dad didn’t recognise him. He had to ask his Mum, ‘Which one is he?’
This is not some ancient story from the dark ages, it’s living history and like any loss, it needs to be acknowledged. That’s why we keep telling the story, every year. For me, that’s what Anzac Day is about… it’s a day to grieve, to remember the losses we experienced as a nation and to recognise that the impact of what happened is still being felt today. So even though Anzac Day might seem like a formal, solemn and reserved occasion, I consider it to be a kind of national group hug where we’re collectively saying, “Yep, we know. We remember. And we’re grateful.”
But the words we use to express that feeling are: Lest we forget.
Sometimes I miss living a life that was a little more adventurous than the life I’m living right now.
I live in hope that when my kids are a bit older we might do more kayaking or hiking or family camping trips. We haven’t really done a lot of that so far. But in my heart I also believe that being adventurous is just as much about being open to ideas and possibilities that come up in everyday life. So on the first day of the school holidays we went for a little bushwalk and Caillie told me she wanted to camp in the backyard and have a midnight feast. Because I’d dearly love to foster a spirit of adventure in my children, if I was half the mother I would like to be I would have rushed home and set up the tent. But I was tired, and it felt like just a bit too much effort. So instead I said, “Why don’t we have a campfire and cook sausages and bacon for dinner and toast marshmallows by the fire, but then go back inside to sleep…” I think it was the marshmallows that clinched it.
What kid doesn’t love toasting marshmallow’s by the fire?
Actually building a fire is pretty damn fun too. Collecting the sticks, discussing which ones look like they would burn well, building it up in just the right arrangement. I must say I was quite proud of my fire. Normally my husband likes to don the Akubra, play the part of the bushman and expertly fan the flames, but he was still at work, so I actually enjoyed doing it myself for once. We all had sooo much fun! We really felt like we were away on holidays camping. Never mind that the Billy tea was full of sticks and the sausages were burnt to a crisp – it was so dark we couldn’t actually see what we were eating which was probably just as well! But we had an awesome adventure in our own back yard. I even went foraging in the fridge for milk and heated up Molly’s bedtime bottle in the billy, which I thought was very hardcore considering there was a microwave just inside the back door.
And the best bit was that after we’d lazed around the campfire drinking tea and snacking on marshmallows, when the mozzies started eating us for dinner, we could all go back inside. By that time, the kids were so tired out from their dinner in the dark that they were both tucked up in bed by seven-thirty! My sister and I still had time to have a glass of red wine and watch To Rome with Love (How funny is the opera singer in the shower?)
As much as it’s fun to be an adventurer, it’s also quite nice to be suburban!
Have you had adventures with your children? What age did they start to be able to handle slightly more adventurous activities? Are there things you miss from life before babies?
PS. For Mums on a budget, his was probably also the cheapest fun I’ve had with my kids for a long time!
My youngest daughter is about 16 months old now. When she turned one, her big sister gave her a beautiful baby doll to play with. Nothing warms my heart like seeing Molly care for her baby doll. She makes a little crying noise and sometimes even says ‘up’, she picks the dolly up, gives her a cuddle, gently pats her back, kisses her very tenderly, then cuddles her again. After she’s done all that, she either gives her baby a bottle, puts her to her chest like she’s breastfeeding, or tucks the baby into bed, gives her a pat and then rocks her to sleep. At the end of the sequence she gets this big smile on her face like she’s really proud of herself.
It’s just the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen, and I find it amazing that even at 16 months, she’s starting to care for someone else and thinking about their needs. (Even if that someone else is just a lump of plastic in the shape of a baby!)
She’s obviously learned that stuff from watching myself and other adults caring for their babies. And that’s not the only way she mimics the adults around her. One of the first things she ever did was pick things up, hold them to her ear and talk on them like they’re a phone. It could be anything – a shoe, a Tupperware container, a banana. My husband likes to imply that this somehow means that Mummy is always on the phone, which I assure you is not the case!
Yesterday my husband brought home a beautiful hand-me-down toy kitchen from someone at his work. Both my girls spent all afternoon playing with it. They were doing pretend cooking, filling up the fridge with pretend food, stacking plates, washing-up, heating up bottles of milk in the microwave and making tea. They were having so much fun! Why isn’t it ever that much fun when I’m washing up? But for kids, play is their work. Play is how they learn. These little role-playing games that my girls are acting out are their way of learning about the world. And scarily, the person they learn that from, is mostly me.
Sometimes my little mimics aren’t so flattering. Sometimes Birdy tries to cut a deal with me, or makes conditions on what she does. For example, I’ve just asked her to pick up her clothes and she says, “I’ll only clean up my clothes if you let me watch another episode of Mr Moon.” That kind of controlling behaviour is kind of ugly when it comes out of your kids’ mouths, but of course she’s learned that from us. We use those techniques as a way to get our children to do what we want, and then they can’t understand why they’re not allowed to do the same thing. It’s probably just as well that our children’s behaviour can sometimes hold up a mirror to us. I just hope that one day my children will mimic Mummy doing something a little more inspiring than washing up, cooking dinner and talking on the phone!
We’ve had our regular council clean-up this week.
I love council cleanup. I love seeing the detritus of people’s lives hoisted out on the street. I love that for a few days, outside those perfectly manicured lawns, there are half-rotten pieces of outdoor furniture, mildewy mattresses, discarded prams and broken clamshell paddling pools. It reminds me that even the lives of those who appear to have everything under control still contain a bit of mess and clutter.
There are two basic types of people in this world, chuckers and hoarders. Chuckers enjoy council cleanup because it’s a chance to clean out some mess; hoarders love it even more because they can drive around the streets looking for freebies to collect, just in case they need them for a rainy day.
In my heart, I’m more of a chucker.
I love to de-clutter. I love to give stuff away. But I’m also a big believer in recycling and not wasting things, so I must confess that our backyard is full of other people’s discarded treasure – climbing frames, outdoor furniture, baby swings, even some of our kids bikes have been salvaged from council cleanup.
But all this chucking and salvaging and de-cluttering has raised a much bigger question for me, a question I’ve wrestled with ever since having kids: when is it OK to throw out or give away your kids’ belongings?
Especially without telling them, let alone asking their permission?
I found this especially hard when my daughter was at pre-school. She would bring home piles of craft that she’d made and all of it was really special to her and had to be kept forever. Thankfully home-made stuff usually falls apart and you can eventually convince your child that the egg-carton dinosaur really doesn’t bear much resemblance to a dinosaur now that its ears and tail have fallen off and the words ‘free-range’ appear to be tattooed down its back where the green paint has scratched off. But it’s not just art and craft that clutters up the house, it’s also stuff like those stupid little kinder surprise toys, party bags full of junk from the $2 shop, colouring books that are ¾ finished or that favourite top they always want to wear but that is now so stained and full of holes that you’re worried they’ll be mistaken for a homeless street urchin if they go out in public.
How long do you keep that stuff? And is it okay to just throw it away after they’ve gone to bed?
I have a strong memory from childhood of the moment I discovered that my mum had thrown out my absolute favourite pair of shoes. The soles were falling off, and I was seriously in danger of causing myself a permanent disability if I kept wearing them, but I was absolutely devastated that my Mum had thrown them away without telling me. And because I remember that feeling, I always have this lingering sense of guilt when I throw something of Birdy’s away without asking her.
I also know that if I throw something away without asking, I have to be prepared to face that terrible moment when she says, “Mum, have you seen that little parachute man I got at Luke’s party!”, or ‘Where’s my favourite orange T-shirt?” In that moment, will I be brave enough to say, “Honey, I’m really sorry, but I threw it away,” or will I find yourself umm-ing and aaaring and muttering, ‘Gosh, I just can’t remember exactly where I last saw that… Maybe it’s in the wash!’
Do you throw away your kids stuff without asking them, or do you consult them before you heave things out? How do you stay on top of the clutter?