A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsor letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Green Sheep 2

We’ve recently been away visiting family in the country.  Can I just say there is no better family holiday entertainment than going to stay in the country and discovering there’s a real live mouse in the house!  My little city kids thought that was very exciting.  When Granny said she’d put out a mouse trap, Henry (my 3 year old nephew) picked up the board game Mouse Trap and gave it to Granny to catch the mouse with.  Hilarious!

Every time we go away, I’m absolutely amazed at how much stuff you need to go on holidays with kids.  At least Birdy packs for herself now, but she always wants to take a ridiculous amount of toys.  Whereas all Molly needs to keep herself occupied is a baby doll and a copy of Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox.  We did a six hour car trip from Dubbo to Darlington Point (near Griffith) and Molly was quite happy reading Where is the Green Sheep? to herself for most of that time.

Is there any child in Australia who doesn’t have a copy of that book?  

When Birdy was born we were given four copies of it, and we gave two away which I’m regretting because the other copies are now so worn out.  When I was a kid, I think every parent knew off by heart the words, “Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter…”  Or this one: “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.  Then one Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.”  These days I think every parent knows the words, “Here is the blue sheep, here is the red sheep, here is the bath sheep and here is the bed sheep.  But where is the green sheep?” It’s almost become a developmental phase that between the ages of one and three children become obsessed with that book.

What is it about that book?  Why do toddlers love it so much?

I think it’s the perfect combination of the everyday and the absurd.  It’s full of things that even babies recognise – the sun, the rain, a car, a train – and yet the pictures are also portraying something outrageous, like a sheep dancing around a lamp stand with an umbrella in the rain.  Yet the pictures are so simple and iconic that even Molly at eighteen months will point to the umbrella and say “ella”.

The first time I read this book, I found it very strange and I wasn’t the only one.  I was a bit surprised to read Mem Fox using nouns as adjectives.  Lines like ‘Here is the bath sheep’ are a little grating at first, because we’ d normally say ‘Here is a sheep having a bath’, or ‘Here’s a sheep in the bath’.  And yet somehow it really is perfect for little kids.  The other day I discovered that it won the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2005.  I can see why.  It is literally teaching my daughter to speak.  She now points to the moon and says ‘moo’ and at the star and says ‘ta’.  So even though we might get a little bit sick of reading the same book over and over and over again, it is actually the best way to encourage speech and literacy in little ones.  Of course, once they get older, it’s good to read more widely, but for a one-year-old all you really need are three or four copies of Where is the Green Sheep?

Where is the Green Sheep

(PS.  If you’re looking for other great books to encourage your toddler’s speech development, why not check out the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2013 shortlist and past winners.)

Have your children enjoyed Where is the Green Sheep and made you read it over and over again?  What do you think of it?

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone day for me.  I spoke at a conference for librarians for the very first time.  Fortunately I was able to get some tips from the illustrious Collett Smart, but I thought today I would share with you just a little of what I was talking about: Bibliotherapy, – Seeking solace in stories.

So what is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is using books to help kids with the tough issues they face in their lives.  So there tends to be a focus on disability or chronic illness, but it also extends to issues like divorce, loneliness, grief and loss, depression, ageing, basically any difficult or confronting issue that a child might be facing.

How does it work?

My picture book Marty's Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at www.wombatbooks.com.au

It works in two different ways.  The first and most obvious one is to help the child who has the problem by normalising it and helping them to realise that they’re not the only one dealing with this issue.  So for example with my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, it can be used to help a child with a food allergy to see that they’re not alone, that it’s normal to make mistakes and it can also give them some ideas about how to deal with their problem.  So with some discussion and activities, bibliotherapy should help children to find their own solutions to their problems.  It may also help them to realise that solutions may be possible.

The other main purpose is to help raise awareness and empathy among those who don’t have experience with the issue.  So for example, Sharon McGuinness has written a beautiful book called Coming Home about a young girl whose father has severe depression.  That book can help to raise awareness among people who don’t have experience with depression and give them a little insight into what it might be like for children who do live with that.

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books.  www.wombatbooks.com.au

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books. http://www.wombatbooks.com.au

Does it actually help kids to read about these kinds of tough issues? 

The best kind of bibliotherapy is when the issue is just wrapped up in a good story, with great characters, who aren’t defined by their issue or their disability.  It’s really important that the characters aren’t two dimensional.  There has to be something more to them so that children can identify with them.  And if children are drawn into the story, then they’ll learn something without even realising it.  It’s only when you talk about it more that some of those things they’ve learned will become more conscious.

What parents should keep in mind is that learning to empathise with others is actually an important skill in itself.  So if your child brings home a book from the library about disability, even if your child doesn’t have a friend with a disability, it’s still valuable for them to learn to think about what life might be like for someone who does.  Because that skill of being able to empathise will be valuable later when they do come across someone in life who is a bit different to them.  And there’s actually some evidence that childhood is the best time to learn that skill.  So I would even go so far as to say that if we can teach our children to walk around in another person’s shoes, and to develop that empathy, we could even be helping to build a more compassionate and empathetic society in the long term.

Finally, if you do have a tough issue that your child is dealing with such as grief, divorce, disability or ageing, here are some good resources.

Title Author Publisher Issues covered
Anthony Best Davene Fahy Sky Pony Press Aspergers
Amy & Louis Libby Gleeson Scholastic Australia Moving House,Losing friendships
Bear’s Last Journey Udo Weigelt North-South Books Death/Grief
Big Dog Libby Gleeson Scholastic / Bright Stars Fear of dogs
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House Libby Gleeson Little Hare Books Moving House/Friendships
Coming Home Sharon McGuinness Wombat Books Parental Depression
Do you know Millie? Gordon Winch New Frontier Moving
Goodbye Mousie Robie H Harris Aladdin Death/Grief
Herman and Rosie Gus Gordon Penguin/Viking Loneliness
Living with Mum and Living with Dad Melanie Walsh Walker Books Divorce
Looking for Rex Jan Ormerod Little Hare Ageing
Marty’s Nut-Free Party Katrina Roe Wombat Books Food allergies
Mum and Dad Glue Kes Gray Barron’s Educational Series Divorce
My Mum’s Got Cancer Dr Lucy Blunt Jane Curry Publishing Cancer
Nathan’s Wish Laurie Lears Albert Whitman & Co Cerebral palsy, disability
The Very Best of Friends Margaret Wild Margaret Hamilton Books Death / Grief
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge Mem Fox Omnibus Books Scholastic Ageing / Dementia
When I’m Feeling Sad/Kind/Scared/Angry etc Trace Moroney The Five Mile Press Understanding emotions
Ziba Came on a Boat Liz Lofthouse Penguin/Viking Refugees

Have you ever used a book to help your kids understand a difficult issue?  Did it help?  Why or why not?  Are there any you would recommend to add to this list?

Hey there,

Just want to let you know about a little market day that I’m involved with to raise money for the Cancer Council.  There’s going to be lots of beautiful jewellery, clothes, decorations, bags and books for sale.  I’ll be down there selling my books and a selection of other titles from Wombat Books.

Entry is $5 and includes a scrumptious morning tea.

All the details and lovely photos are on the facebook page.

Would love to see you there.

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