My daughter had her first major dancing concert this week. She does highland dancing, but it’s not just the traditional highland flings and bagpipes. This concert included contemporary dance, hip-hop fused highland, and a very fun Celtic Bollywood Extravaganza, which my daughter was part of.
Now I realise highland dancing is a bit of an unusual choice, but there is a good reason behind it.
My Dad’s originally from Scotland, so that’s part of it, but the main issue for me was wanting to find a form of dancing that was active and fun, but also conducive to a healthy body image. You don’t have to be a stick insect to do highland. Too often you see little girls in skimpy outfits, plastered with makeup, doing really inappropriate moves to really inappropriate music.
It’s like they’re 6 going on 16.
I remember taking Caillie to a toddler dance class at the church around the corner and they were playing stuff like “I’m too sexy!” That didn’t last long! There’s a lot of reasearch now suggesting that little girls are growing up too fast, wanting to wear make-up, getting conerned about their appearance and body image, so I’m really grateful to have found a healthy, fun dance school for my girls, where the costumes aren’t too revealing and there are lots of positive role models among the teenagers.
Psychotherapist Collett Smart once told me that it was important for kids to have hobbies outside of school so they have a range of role models beyond just their school peers. I’m certainly seeing the wisdom in that as I see my daughter starting to look up to some of the older girls there. As a mother of girls, I’m also really aware that they take a lot of their cues from us. So we have to take a good hard look at ourselves. If we’re always dieting or trying to change ourselves then how can we tell our girls that they’re beautiful as they are? In a culture that’s becoming obsessed with physical perfection, how far is too far?
I’m okay with decorating, but not with trying to change how I’m made. That’s where I draw the line in the sand. So wearing nice clothes, jewellery, nailpolish, and a bit of make-up is just decorating, but doing things to try to change the way I am made is not okay. So for me, that rules out fake anything, crash dieting, botox, collagen injections, cosmetic surgery, anything in which we’re trying to alter our bodies or unrealistically reverse the ageing process, because that says we’re not good enough as we are. Exactly where we draw that line will be different for everyone, but for me it’s about accepting that we come in different shapes and sizes and that we don’t have to strive for physical perfection.
Social media has a lot to answer for in this area. I recently attended a talk by Justine Toh from the Centre for Public Christianity where she talked about how the i-generation is using social media to create their own image. Every time we post a glamorous selfie, or un-tag ourselves in an unflattering photo, we’re building this culture of perfection, which is causing our young girls to feel inadequate. (Obviously some people do need to look professional on facebook – I’m not saying we should all be trogs!) One time I got sick of all the glamorous profile pics you see on facebook, so I took a photo of myself with no make-up – I hadn’t even brushed my hair – it was just me how I actually look most of the time. Anyway my husband saw the photo on facebook, put a filter on it on his i-pad and emailed it to me, as a favour. And it did look better, but I was like “Noooo.” I deliberately wanted a photo that’s completely natural.
Let’s teach our girls how to deconstruct those enhanced images they see on the bus stop billboards and show our girls that we’re happy with ourselves, just as we are. Then maybe they’ll have a chance of being happy with themselves too.
This week is Food Allergy Week. Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia are asking us all to paint one nail as a sign of support to the one in ten babies being born with a food allergy. So all this week and next week I’m visiting schools and libraries reading my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party. This morning I’m visiting Broughton Anglican College, tomorrow Pacific Hills Christian School, Thursday I’m at Lane Cove Library Story Time and on Friday I’ll be at Putney Public School. Next week I’m visiting Randwick and Mowbray Public Schools. So even though most of the time I live the relaxed, easy-going life of a full-time stay at home Mum (HA HA), the last few weeks I’ve had a little taste of what it’s like to be one of those busy Mums who work from home.
Based on the week I had last week I think it might be a tad easier to work when you actually go to work.
Let me tell you about my week. On Monday, Birdy had the day off school with a cold, on Tuesday night she was up vomiting all night, so then she had to have Wednesday off school. On Thursday morning, hubby got sick and I also discovered that Birdy had cross-country carnival that day. Somehow I managed to spend almost the entire day down at the cross-country carnival and still managed to miss her actual race! Molly decided not to take her afternoon nap, so by this time it was Thursday afternoon and I still hadn’t managed to get any work done. On Thursday night, Molly screamed the house down from midnight until after 3.30 am, so on Friday I was like a walking zombie just trying to clean up the detritus around my home from the week of sickness and sleep deprivation. On Friday night, I put Molly to bed at 7, hoping to get some work done and after two hours of carry-on she finally fell asleep in my arms sometime after 9. So by the time I finally sat down at the computer it was 20 to 10 on Friday night. Seriously? What’s so great about working from home? Who wants to work at 10 o clock on a Friday night?
There must be some Mums who manage to make it work. A lot of mums seem to be running home-based businesses off their laptops.
It’s definitely easier to work with your kids around now that we have such a proliferation of mobile devices and laptops etc. because you can take your work to the park or out into the backyard. I hear that there are kids who are quite happy to play while Mum types away, but I don’t seem to have one of those kids. (It might be easier if I had a laptop!) I’ve had to master the art of typing one-handed with a baby on my lap because the second I go near our computer, Molly will want to be picked up. And it’s not just when I’m doing ‘real’ work, it’s the same if I start doing housework, or any task that requires two hands. The exact moment that I start chopping tomatoes or carrots, Molly will want to be held. Have you ever tried cutting a pumpkin one-handed? If anyone knows how to chop a pumpkin with one hand, please let me know.
The only time I seem to be able to get anything done is when my kids are in bed.
That’s also the time I want to put my feet up and relax with a glass of wine and an episode of Offspring!
But working at night seems to be the only way I can make it work. Otherwise I get frustrated and cranky that I’m always being interrupted. The other problem with working from home is that although I’m physically present, I’m not fully present, because I’m always distracted by what I’m trying to get done. And that can be true whether you’re running a business at home or just tyring to wash and cook for an army of kids. How do you stop your work from taking over every available part of your time and energy? How do you make time just to be with your children? I know a lot of mums feel guilty about leaving their kids to go off to work, but in some ways it’s almost easier if your work is contained at work and you can just leave it there when you go home.
Do you work from home? Have you tried running a home-based business? What are the pros and cons of working from home? Do you find yourself working odd hours like at 4 in the morning or late at night? If you work from home, how do you stop it from taking over the rest of your life?
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!
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?
We’ve been away on holidays last week. It was my Dad’s 80th birthday so went to visit him in the little town where I grew up. I also managed to throw to together a mini-book tour, visiting my two old primary schools, a local pre-school and hosting a special Storytime at Griffith City Library. But a holiday can’t be all work and no play and since I had all that family babysitting on tap, we also managed to enjoy an extremely rare kidfree dinner out with some old friends. During our uninterrupted conversation, we got to reminiscing about the travelling we’d done overseas when we were younger, before we had kids. As the stories came out of various shenanigans around the world, I realised that one of the few things I miss from my life before kids was being able to occasionally travel to other parts of the world (that and having any kind of uninterrupted adult conversation for more than five minutes!)
Of course, some people do manage to keep travelling after they have children, it’s just a lot more expensive and takes a lot more organization and planning. It’s also likely to be a different style of travelling. You might be less likely to back-pack around Europe and more likely to spend a week in a resort in Fiji!
I’ve never done one of those Fiji holidays, but they seem to be very popular with families because they include free kids clubs. In fact they’re so popular around here that nearly every kid from Birdy’s kindy class has either been to Fiji or Bali in the last year. She even said to me last holidays, “Mum, next time we have a holiday, can we go to Bali or Fiji so I can get my hair braided?” She wanted to come back to school with braided hair like so many of her friends. So what did we do? We went to Griffith – OK so it’s not exactly Fiji, but there are lots of Tongans there!
For me, half the point of travelling is to see something different and have new experiences and you don’t have to go overseas for that. On our holiday, we drove for eight hours in the car without stopping – that was a new experience. We saw emus on the Hay plains – that was a little bit exciting! And of course there was lots of time with family which is always special. But one of the highlights of the holiday was when we went to Canberra on the way home. We had a really nice day out at Questacon, which the kids loved, then at night we wandered the streets of Canberra in the -5 degree icy wind to see the Enlighten festival. This is where some of Canberra’s leading artists create artworks that are projected onto the city’s most iconic buildings, like the old Parliament House and the National Library. That was pretty spectacular.
Later that night, when we arrived home feeling cold, weary and hungry – we had another completely new experience – we discovered that Birdy and I have knits! That’s probably what we’ll remember – this was the holiday when we had knits for the first time!
So instead of staying up late having red wine and conversation, we stayed up to midnight treating our headlice. My friend Jacqui pointed out to me that this was a pretty serious indication of the depth of our friendship that she was willing to stay up half the night picking knits out of my hair with fine tooth comb. (I have a lot of hair, so it’s not a small job!)
The funny thing is, Caillie and I have now got our hair plaited to stop our knits from spreading. So Caillie did go to back to school after her holiday with braids like she wanted. We just didn’t have to go to Fiji to get them!
My husband and I received a nasty letter this week from our real estate agent. You see we belong to that second-class group of citizens known as renters, who live at the mercy of our landlords and we received that notice we live in fear of – that the rent is going up… again. And whenever we get one of those letters I find myself thinking about all the things we don’t have in our very basic three bedroom house – no dishwasher, no air-con, no built-ins, no lovely ensuite. But there is one thing we have that I appreciate more than all those other things put together and that is the humble bathtub!
The bath is just such a great way to keep small children occupied at the end of the day when they’re getting to that ratty, “I’m bored, I’m hungry, I’m tired” time of day known to many parents as ‘arsenic hour’. There have been many occasions when I’m looking after my niece and nephew and I’ve reached the point where if I have to adjudicate one more squabble I’m going to pull my eyelashes out one by one, so I’ll just chuck them all in the bath together and buy myself half an hour of peace.
There seems to be something about the bath that has a natural calming effect on kids. You know yourself how at the end of a bad day a warm bath can be really soothing. It’s the same for kids, all that warm water seems to calm down their overstimulated little nervous systems and help them relax. Also, so often when kids get ratty it’s because of some physical need that’s not being met. If they’re hot, you can throw them in the bath to cool down, if it’s a cold day you can throw them in a warm bath to warm up. If they’re hungry, it distracts them until dinner’s ready. It’s a win-win situation.
The bath also helps bridge the age gap between kids. There’s almost five years between my girls, but when they have a bath it’s one of their best play times together. Water play really isn’t that different whether you’re five or three or one. Before we had Molly I used to feel quite sad that Birdy had nobody to play with in the bath, so now I get a lot of joy from seeing them playing and laughing together. And for babies, it never gets boring! They learn so much from playing with water – splashing, pouring from one thing into another, learning what floats and what sinks, blowing bubbles, watching the water disappear down the plug hole – what a great mystery that is for a baby! The properties of water are endlessly fascinating.
So yes, bathtime is now one of my absolute favourite times of the day. It probably comes a close second to Mummy’s quiet cup of tea time, while Molly takes a nap. That’s also a pretty special time of day.
One of the things that I’ve been wanting to do this year is to have a little bit more structure and routine in the week. When you first have a new baby, it can be very hard to find any kind of structure in your life. But this year I really want to make the effort to get out of the house and do some things with Molly. And the first thing on my list is to do a regular trip to the local library.
When Birdy was little I used to take her to the library once or twice a week, but since she’s been at school, she now brings home books from the school library and we haven’t been going up to our local library as much. But during the holidays our book supply was cut off so we found ourselves back the local library out of sheer desperation. And the funny thing is, whenever we go to the library, Birdy still wants to see the Library Storytime man that used to come and read to her class at daycare. That’s two or three years ago. He is like a rock star to her. She goes all shy and says, “Look, Mum there’s the Library man!” He obviously made a big impression on her.
Because I had my new children’s book out last year, I actually went to read it at some of the local library Storytime sessions. I was pleasantly surprised by how well attended they were. I visited a number of different libraries, Ryde, Balmain, Leichhardt, Mosman and they were all packed to the rafters. Some of them had more than 40 kids turning up for Storytime! I was encouraged that so many parents recognise the value of doing this kind of activity with their kids. And it’s free! There is so little you can do these days that is free.
I was also impressed by how lovely many of the story spaces are now. So many libraries have made it a priority to open up their space, or to have a special room that they’ve decorated for the kids. It makes the library so much more appealing for the children. When I was a child, libraries were somewhere you had to be quiet and they weren’t much fun to visit. Now the best libraries are much more of a community centre. Leichhardt Library is a great example of that. It’s right in the middle of the Italian forum, really easy to access and very much in the heart of the community. Sadly, in other parts of the world, such as in the UK many public libraries are closing down. Last week I heard a really interesting interview with with Caitlin Moran who’s the author of How to Be A Woman. (She’s pretty out there so don’t take this as an endorsement!) One of the things she was talking about was that the closure of public libraries has been such a loss in the UK. She pointed out that libraries are one of the last places you can go without needing to spend money or without having any kind of commercial exchange. In a library, your choices aren’t limited by your finances. That’s why they’re such a great place to take little kids. If they say ‘I want this’, you can say ‘Sure thing’ and it doesn’t cost you anything. If they want ten books, you can still say ‘No worries!’. And if they want to stay and look at the books for 2 hours, there’s no pressure to leave just because you’ve finished your coffee an hour ago.
So if you haven’t already, make this the year you introduce your kids to the local library. Find out when your nearest Storytime is and make it a regular date. Not only does it foster a love of books and learning in your children, but according to Professor Torr from the Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, studies show that a child’s pre-school vocabulary relates to their literacy achievement in later life. In other words, reading to your child now does affect their future learning outcomes. We’re really lucky to have this amazing free resource, so make the most of it. Otherwise one day you’ll drive past and notice there’s a shiny new McDonalds or Starbucks where your local public library used to be.
Do you enjoy Storytime at your local library? Is your library kid-friendly?