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?
(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?
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.
When I was in primary school, a friend gave me an autograph book. I thought it was great fun to get all my friends and family to sign it and write a little message. Most of them were silly rhymes or jokes, but there was one message I still remember. It was from my Dad. He wrote, “To my second red-headed daughter and nicest Christmas present I’ve ever had. Love Dad.” He was referring to the fact that I came home from hospital on Christmas Day.
Something about those words from my father spoke very powerfully into my young heart.
I still find it hard to understand exactly why that message was so precious to me.
Maybe it was simply because they were words of affirmation that were written down for me to keep.
Written words endure. They carry the weight of intention. We know that the person wrote them deliberately, so they somehow mean more. We have evidence of being loved, special, cherished.
Perhaps it was the idea of being somebody’s gift that resonated with me. And not just any gift, but a Christmas gift! To a child, Christmas presents are really exciting. And not just any old Christmas gift, but the nicest one ever? Really? Could that be true?
My Dad is very much a present person. He would always buy extravagant gifts for all of us, but especially for my Mum. Each birthday and Christmas she was showered with expensive lingerie and nice perfume or dresses that cost a week’s wages, even when we couldn’t afford it. Then she would model the new clothes and we would all join in with admiring comments, while Dad said something appreciative like, “Whackydoo!” From his actions, it was clear Dad thought that presents were important. Gift giving is definitely one of his ‘love languages’. So being called a present by my Dad was a poignant expression of love.
The idea that children are a gift is not a new one.
It dates back to ancient times. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from him.” Harsh words for anyone going through recurrent miscarriage or infertility, but the part about children being a gift, that bit I can relate to.
Last year on my birthday I unexpectedly discovered I was pregnant.
My one-year-old had just weaned herself and we had plans to go out with friends for karaoke, so for the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to having a few drinks and letting my hair down. I also knew it was technically possible, but extremely unlikely, that I could have fallen pregnant recently. Just to rule it out, I did a pregnancy test. I almost passed out when I saw a feint line appear in the positive window.
For so many women, seeing that line would have been a source of joy – a gift, even. But for me, pregnancy is scary. I’ve been pregnant nine times and have two children. I’ve had far more sad endings than happy ones and some of my experiences have been unusually traumatic. So when I found out I was pregnant, the overwhelming emotion was one of fear and anxiety, of feeling incredibly vulnerable, while still wanting to be hopeful.
At the time, I didn’t tell my family – I didn’t want them to be anxious for the next twelve weeks. So I kept my feelings to myself and went about my day as if nothing had happened. I had lunch with my parents, I went out as planned but drank mineral water – (not what you need for karaoke!) – and I made a passable show of trying to be relaxed, while on the inside I was stressing about how I would get my hands on the specialist medications I needed before the looming Christmas break.
In spite of my worries, the pregnancy went smoothly. At thirteen weeks, we had a very thorough scan in which we were told that the pregnancy could now be considered low risk. I started to believe we were having another baby. I started to change my plans for the New Year and make new ones around the baby. I started picturing my family with three kids and wondering how on earth I would get dinner cooked every evening with my husband on night shift and a toddler and a newborn hanging off me. I started telling my friends we were expecting again. Then at a routine check-up, just before sixteen weeks, there was no heartbeat. Later that night, I was giving birth. And for a few minutes, there was a tiny, purple, perfect little boy, wrapped up in a blanket on my bed. And then he was gone.
“I lost a baby.”
So here’s the thing. I don’t want Alexander’s life just to be an accident. A mistake. A regret.
When I think or speak of Alexander, I think or speak of loss. But when I think or speak of my other, living, children, I think of them as a gift. When really the only difference is the amount of time I got to keep them for. If Caillie or Molly died tomorrow, I hope that I would still consider their lives to have been a gift to me. So I hope that one day I can see Alexander like that too; as a precious gift, not just as a loss, because every baby deserves to loved, special, cherished.
Right now, it still hurts too much, but one day I hope I can write:
“To Alexander, my second son and the best birthday present I ever had…”
The other day my husband taught me a vital lesson in the art of listening… to our kids, that is. (Of course, I always listen to him!) It was about 5 o clock and getting cold outside. I wanted to start cooking dinner. Molly came in from outside and started tugging on the baby gate near the back door. I assumed she was getting cold outside so I opened it for her and stood aside to let her come in. She said, “NO!” very crossly and slammed the gate shut. Then she burst into tears. Assuming she still wanted to come in, I opened it and again she slammed it shut, cried “NO!” and burst into tears. I figured she must have wanted me to come outside with her so I said, “I’m not coming outside, I’m cooking dinner” and she got in a huff and ran back outside to Dad.
A few minutes later Chris comes in and says, “Aren’t you listening? Can’t you hear Molly calling to you? She’s saying, ‘Mumma, push. Mumma, push.’ She’s asking you to come and push her on the swing.” As soon as he explained it, I could hear exactly what she was saying. But because I’d never heard her say that before, I couldn’t understand her until I had the translation.
I actually think the most important thing we can do to encourage our babies to talk is to make the time to listen. And I mean really listen. Getting down on their level, looking them in the eye, waiting patiently and really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.
Obviously it’s also important to talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, include them in whatever you’re doing, but children will absorb language from all around them, whether you deliberately teach them or not. But to speak they need to be motivated, and the best motivation is when using words gets them the result they want, whether that’s getting a push on the swing, a bottle of milk, or simply getting Mummy’s attention.
Since that incident, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to listen to Molly and try to understand what she’s saying, but it takes commitment. Just yesterday I was pulling up weeds in the garden when Molly climbed up on the double swing with Caillie and said, “Mumma, push. Mumma, push.” So immediately I dropped the weed I was tugging and started pushing her in the swing. But even while I was doing it, she kept saying, “Mumma, push, Mumma, push,” and I thought, “What now? Mumma is pushing!” Then she made this little musical sound, “Mumma, do do do do, la la la Push!” and I realised that she wanted me to sing the Wiggles song I always sing when she’s on the swing. “Push me on the swing, feel the air, through my hair, swinging, swinging, on a swing.” That was what she wanted all along! That’s why it had to be Mumma push, not Daddy push or Caillie push, because she wanted the song. Sometimes, even when Mummy thinks she’s listening really well, it still takes a while to get the message!
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!
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?
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.
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.
|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?
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?