Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Scarred for Life

With the Bombshell’s 7th birthday approaching it bought back some not-so-good memories of my own 7th birthday.

Or what I thought I was my 7th birthday*.

‘Do you want to hear what happened on my birthday’ I asked the girls as we drove to school one day.

Always eager for stories about ‘the olden days’, the girls quickly agreed.

‘I was allowed to have an ‘S’ party, since my name was Shannon, and everyone had to come as something that started with the letter ‘S’. I had one friend come as a spider, with legs made from black stockings filled with crunched up paper. Another friend stapled boxes of Smarties all over her top.’

They wanted to know if we got to eat the Smarties and I told them they were missing the point.

‘Your Grandma came as a ‘Supermum’, your grandad came as a ‘Scientist’, and your Aunty, at the grumpy pre-teen age she was, came as a ‘Sister’ and she refused to dress up.’

At the time this annoyed the crap out of me, but in hindsight, I totally appreciate her understated approach.

‘What did you come as Mum, a SuperShannon?’ the girls giggled.

My shoulders slumped.

‘You know what I wanted to come as?’ I asked them. ‘I wanted to be a Snowflake. I wanted to wear a white leotard and a big white tutu skirt and a beautiful hat in the shape of a snowflake. I wanted to be delicate and beautiful and fragile.’

‘So did you get to be a Snowflake?’ the girls wanted to know.

‘No. Your Grandma insisted I come as a Sausage.’

‘Uhhh what?’ they asked, quite reasonably.

‘A red sausage,’ I told them. ‘She sewed me a special sausage suit, that frilled around my neck and my knees, and I had to wear a red skivvy, and she made a special red sausage hat.’

There was silence in the car as they took in the enormity of what I had just told them. They understood my pain at being made to dress up as a sausage when I really wanted to be a snowflake. There is nothing delicate about a four foot frankfurter.

So that afternoon, when they came home from school, they drew me these pictures.



‘There you go Mum,’ the Bombshell told me. ‘You now get to be a Snowflake.’

‘Me too, Mum,’ said the Mop. ‘I drewed you as a Snowflake Princess Fairy.’



My heart broke as I stuck the pictures on the fridge. Three decades later, and I was finally a Snowflake.

A few days later, I showed my mum the pictures. We stood in silence for a minute.

‘I scarred you for life, didn’t I?’ she asked wryly.

‘Not for life, only for about thirty years,’ I replied.

I wonder what sort of damage I will do to my girls?


------------------
* Turns out this wasn't my 7th birthday, but actually my 10th. We could find no photographic evidence whatsoever that I even HAD a 7th birthday.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Should You Have a Third Child?


Lately I have been receiving a lot of messages from people across the globe all asking the same question: ‘should I have a third child?’

‘Am I mad?’ they want to know, ‘will it be okay?’ and the big one ‘how do you manage?’

Now if you had asked me even five years ago if I would consider three kids, I would have laughed in your face. I wanted two girls and nothing else. It was as fixed and immutable as ‘the earth is round’ and ‘don’t leave a two year old alone with a tub of Vaseline’.

But now I can't imagine anything other than life with three children, and as strange as it sounds, I am proud when I say have three kids. That being said, three is not for everyone, so please don’t toss aside your IUD and say ‘to hell with it, Shannon said it’ll be ok’.

This is what I tell people who write to me:

Practical considerations are at the forefront with number three, and leaving aside fertility issues, they seem to be the main reasons why people don't go for number three if they are actively considering it. In other words, three is about logistics. Of course, the other reason why people don’t have three kids is they don’t want three kids, and think we’re all a bit loopy. Maybe we are.

Many parents of three agree that the biggest change (after zero kids to 1) is the move from two kids to three. Baby Number Three moves you from a neat, balanced family, with an equal number of kids and adults, to being outnumbered by your kids. I’ll just repeat that: you are outnumbered by your kids, and as handy as it would be, you don’t actually grow another set of arms or sprout an extra pair of eyes each time you deliver a new baby.

Emotionally, you will be fine.  You WILL have enough time for them all. You WILL have enough love for them all. They WILL love each other and they WILL fight all the time. Your brain doesn't shrivel up and die simply because you have three kids (but your pelvic floor muscles might). You are still the same person, just with an extra child. Three kids is not a disease. But you need a bigger car, more toilet paper, more car seats, a bigger dining table, and it will extend your schooling career (as a parent) for an extra few years. I have realised that I will be a parent at my local primary school for 13 years, and that my youngest won’t graduate from high school until 2029 when I am 52 years old. And did I mention how much toilet paper you will need?

If you suddenly have a blue when you had pinks or vice versa, you’ll probably have to get a whole new wardrobe and set of toys, unless your wise friends who stopped at one or two give you all their old stuff. Kids cost money. It’s estimated that to raise a child to the age of 18 costs around a quarter of a million dollars. You could easily spend that alone that on private schooling if you wanted. Or on LEGO Friends. Or wine.

The gap between your children also makes a big difference. I had a relatively big gap between my girls, three years and then two, so by the time Number Three was born, my eldest was old enough to be at school full-time and be helpful around the house. If you have a smaller gap, then you will have three little kids to take care of simultaneously.

The flip side of that, is that full time school is a major change to any family: all of a sudden you have to be somewhere at a specific time every day, twice a day, and it usually mucks up day time sleeps for toddlers. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it’s something to think about.

My experience being a mother of three has been made easier by two things: we have had enormous support from our families, and I doubt I would have ever gone for a third if I wasn't able to count on them. The other thing is my husband - I'm lucky that right now I don't need to work. I don't know how I would cope if I needed to fit (paid) work in with everything else. That being said: you can be a full time working mum and have three or more children. Anything is possible.

So those are my thoughts for people who want to know what it is like having three kids. It’s only my opinion, I’m certainly not going to crawl into bed with you and your partner and force another child on you. That would just be awkward and a bit rude.

Before I had Baby Number Three I used to have visions of Christmas Day in the future, and there was always a gap. Something was missing, something I couldn’t put my finger on. Since having her, that gap is gone, and our family is complete. Chaotic, but complete. Anarchy, but complete. Did I mention I’m done now? Life was simpler and quieter and more manageable before her, but I wouldn’t change my family for anything.

For me, the decision was simply about logistics, and I believe that if you think you can cope with the logistical issues, then definitely go for it, because you wouldn't be asking these questions if you didn't think you had enough love for one more.
Baldy, the Bombshell and Curly Mop, February 2014
 

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Not Mother Guilt, Just An Observation

The last thing I hear as the cab pulls away are your cries.

The excitement I had been feeling all week sinks like a stone in my stomach. The taxi driver glances at me, assuming my moist eyes are affected by the dazzling Perth morning sun. He leans across me and snaps down my visor, leaving the top half of my face in shadow. I murmur my thanks.

I am relieved my cab driver is not a talker. I chat inanely most of the time, but right now I want to be left alone. I am alone, having left you and your sisters at home, barefoot and still in your pyjamas.

I am flying to Sydney. It used to be my home but now it is just somewhere I used to live, a place of memories, a holiday destination. Or for today, a place of work and networking.

No one is talking to me. No one wants anything. There is no fighting or whinging or singing or questions.

Instead we listen to the radio. The mystery of the missing Malaysian airlines flight is now a week old.  I feel for the Perth woman, a mother like me, whose husband is on that flight. I feel for everyone who has someone on that flight.

What is the more painful combination: hope but not knowing, or grief and certainty?

The roads ahead of us are clear and we arrive at the airport in record time. In hindsight I could have spent another thirty minutes with you and your sisters. I know you will have stopped crying by now, distracted by breakfast or TV or Mr Bun. You are happy by now, have forgotten I'm not there.

But the thing I still hear are your cries.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Real Reason Why Your Six Year Old is Behaving Like a Teenager


When you fall pregnant, the first thing they do is hand you a booklet (or ten) about all the things you need to know about your developing baby. When the baby comes out, you could easily spend the first two years reading non-stop about milestones and developmental stages and forget to actually spend time with your baby.

So why does the information stop when they get to school? Why didn’t anyone tell me about what was going to happen to my six year old daughter, who one woke up one day and starting behaving like a hideous, snarky, catty, sobbing, back-chatting – dare I say it – teenager?

‘No.’

‘You’re the worst Mum in the whole world.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘I can’t wait til I’m an adult and I don’t have to listen to you anymore.’

‘GET LOST!’

Charming.

I was beginning to consider boarding school options when I chanced upon a conversation with the teacher’s aide at my daughter’s school.

‘Oh yes,’ she said as we watched my six year old taunt her younger (and much shorter) sisters by taking the flying fox away from them. Again and again.

‘Girls get this big hormone surge around Year One or Two and they start behaving terribly. It doesn’t last. Boys get it in Pre-Primary.’

[Imagine sound of a record being scratched to a stop]

What?

Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? I had been living in the secret fear for the past few months that perhaps I was just raising – gulp – a bitch. I didn’t know about this hormone surge (and I looked it up, it’s totally true. Read this and this).  

Because I believe in talking to my kids about grown-up things, sometimes successfully (sometimes not), I decided to sit the Bombshell down and talk to her about these hormones.


‘So do you know what puberty is,’ I asked her one night.

‘Uh, no,’ she replied, not looking up from her book.

‘Well, when you go through puberty in a few years time, your body will change and you will begin to look more like a grown-up woman.’

‘Like you?’ she asked, grimacing.

‘Well, hopefully not like me as such, but when you go through puberty lots of things will change and a lot of it is caused by chemicals in your body called hormones,’ I told her, brushing off the pointed dismissal of my body shape.

‘Hormones?’ she said. She even said it like a teenager, with an incredulous emphasis on the first syllable and little sigh indicating she was already bored with the conversation.

‘It’s a bit like the ingredients when you make a cake. When they are all mixed together and baked, you can’t make it go back to what it was. It’s a permanent change. A better change,’ I added optimistically.

‘My point,’ I said, ‘is that you are also having a big hormonal shift right now, which is why you’re a little… emotional, at the moment… and sometimes you can’t seem to control your anger. It’s something that is happening inside your body, and what’s important is that it won’t last.’

I watched her as she took this all in. I wondered if she was going to burst into tears or yell at me, but instead she simply said ‘ok’.

Last night, she came swanning through the door, walking on her toes, arms outstretched. She extended a hand towards me.

‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I am your new daughter. I will be nice to everyone, do what I’m told and never hit my sisters. I have realised that they want to do everything I do, so I need to be nice and only teach them good things.’ With that, she turned and swanned out again.

Stunned, I asked my husband ‘Did you just hear that? Maybe it’s over now.’

This morning, the Bombshell came out already dressed in her uniform, ate breakfast without arguing, shared toast with the Baby, didn’t complain I was killing her when I brushed her hair, and actually thanked me for making her lunch.

It was like having a stranger in the house and it was wonderful. I didn’t yell once and I can tell you honestly, that I can’t remember the last time I made it through the whole morning without raising my voice.

As I held the door open for everyone to troop outside to the car, she leaned into me and whispered ‘Do you remember last night?’

‘The new daughter?’ I asked. She nodded.

‘Do you think she can stay?’ she asked me.

I gave her a kiss, and nodded. ‘I’d like that very much.’
 
*   *   *

I know it can’t be that simple (but gee, wouldn’t it nice if for once it WAS that simple) but I also know that having this information is going to make it easier for us to get through this next patch.

Luckily for me, there are so many books on parenting teenagers, I can probably ignore the kids for the next few years while I read up on how to deal with them for real.
 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to Get What You Want: Lessons in Persuasion from a Two Year Old


I was beginning to think that my two year old had Jedi mind powers, and that this was the only rational explanation for her unbelievable talent for getting exactly what she wants. Then I realised she just had a natural ability, common to small children, to persuade adults to do whatever she wanted.

Unfortunately this talent seems to diminish over the years, along with the startle reflex and that thing where babies turn their heads when your tickle them on the cheek. Otherwise I would still be able to use my powers of persuasion to get the kids to hang their towels up and I wouldn’t be wading around ankle-deep in empty toilet rolls when there is a perfectly good bin less than a foot away.

Here are the lessons I have learned from my children. Use them at your own risk:

Yeah Mum, I'm going to need you to put this DVD on for me.


Rule 1: Do 90% of it for them

When people can see the time commitment involved in responding to a request it makes it easier to make a decision. So the trick to getting people to do what you want, is to do as much of the task for them as possible.

Case in point: when my two year old wants some yoghurt, she will get the yoghurt from the fridge, a bowl and a spoon. She will stand in front of me and hold out the yoghurt, and then point at the bowl. All I have to do to fulfil her request is pour a bit in the bowl.

Following this rule simultaneously with Rule 2 or 3, almost guarantees success.

Rule 2: Evoke emotion

Forget money, emotion is what motivates people to act. If you want people to do something for you, you must evoke in them a powerful emotional response such as anger or pity. Adoration works well when you’re small and cute or a supermodel, but that tends to be less common amongst us ordinary folk.

Case in point: ‘Mum can we paint?’ ‘No, it’s almost dinner time and I want the table clear.’ ‘But we want to paint a picture of you because you’re the most beautiful Mum in the whole world.’ “Oh, ok then.’

Rule 3: When dismissal = reward

The key behind this rule is to make the other person want you to go away, and the only way you will go away is by them giving you what you want. This rule is well known to both door-to-door salespeople as well as little children. The irritation factor is a strong motivator to giving in. I will give someone $5 so I don’t have to see a photographic essay on the blind wallabies with Olympic aspirations who are also training to be chefs so they can feed underprivileged wombats who have been orphaned by deforestation.

Case in point: Like many small children, my two year old loves TV and she will try most tricks to get me to turn it on for her. She has learned that if she starts removing objects from the drawers and cupboards and running away with them (especially when I am trying to cook dinner) I am more likely to give her what she wants, so she leaves me alone*.

Here’s a tip, don’t let your kids see you on the phone, and NEVER tell them it’s an important call and they need to be quiet. They know you’re absolutely ripe for the picking and will attack you en masse.

Rule 4: Get others to do the work for you

If you can market yourself properly, people will want to help you. And if you do it effectively, you no longer need to fight your own battles, someone else will do it for you. Many charities and conservation groups work on this rule, energising volunteers to rattle tins and tie themselves to trees. Two year olds are quite crafty at getting their big sisters to rally to their cause.

Case in point: we were all dressed and ready to go to school/day-care.  For the first time my middle child is now in uniform having started Kindy, so the two older girls were in school dresses. With less than a minute before we needed to leave my two year old found a dirty school dress in the wash basket, removed her shorts and t-shirt and tried to put the dress on. When I tried to persuade her otherwise, her sisters got behind her cause, declared her rights to wear a uniform and by the way, isn’t she cute (Rule 2). Needless to say, she went to day-care wearing a school uniform.

Rule 5: Make them think you’re doing them a favour

This is my personal favourite because it shows how clever the kids have become at ‘duping’ their poor old Mum. This method is all about making the person think you are actually doing something for them, when in fact they are doing something for you.

Case in point: my eldest daughter will come up to me and give me a hug. Then with a very sincere expression on her face she will say ‘how about all us kids sit quietly and watch some TV so you can have some quiet time?’ How can I disagree with that logic?

 

Of course there are probably some other logical explanations for why I end up giving my two old what she wants: I am sleep-deprived, I’m a soft touch, I‘m inconsistent, I’m a bad mother.

Na, it must be Jedi mind powers.

 

*Please no narky comments about why I’m a bad mother wanting my children to go away. If you didn't want your kids to go away every now and then , you wouldn't be here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Six Words Most Parents Dread

Six little words that strike fear into your heart.

Six little words that can bring you to your knees, take you down to the ground, break your back, and muddle your mind.

‘Mum, will you play with me?’

Curly Mop, newly four, had just started Kindy, and we were suffering through a fortnight of half-days.

I had picked her up at midday and we now had three hours before we had to return to collect the Bombshell. After a sandwich, she peered up at me through her lashes and uttered those six words.

Some of you will hate me and call me a bad mother, but I’m just being honest when I say I cringe when I hear those words. I hate ‘playing’ with kids. Give me a Barbie doll and I will dress it and undress it happily for hours. Give me a book and I will read it to whoever is listening. Give me some Lego and I will build you something amazing. Give me a board game and I’m happy to roll the dice. But don’t ask me to ‘play’, because there is nothing fun about playing.

‘Pretend it’s the circus now, but I’m not a clown. Pretend I’m a butterfly. Ok, mum?’ said the Mop.

‘Ok,’ I replied.

‘You have to say “here comes the butterfly”’ she told me.

‘Ok,’ I said enthusiastically. ‘You’re a butterfly. I love your sparkly wings. Can you teach me how to fly?’

‘No Mum, you don’t say that. You can only say “here comes the butterfly”. Okay?’, she said crossly.

‘Ok. Sorry. Here comes the butterfly,’ I said, chastised.

‘I’m not ready yet, Mum. You can’t say it yet.’ She dashed into the next room and I heard the contents of the dress-up box being emptied onto the floor. ‘I’m ready,’ she called.

‘Here comes the butterfly,’ I called. Out she danced wearing some wings. She did a whirl and promptly went back into the playroom.

‘Ok, now pretend this is a show, and I’m a Barbie bride girl, and this is my wedding.’

‘Ok,’ I replied.

‘You have to say “here comes Barbie bride girl”’ she told me.

‘Ok,’ I said. ‘Here comes Barbie bride girl.’

‘I’m not ready yet, Mum. You can’t say it yet.’

I was beginning to detect a theme.

‘Playing’ with the Mop basically consists of her telling me to ‘pretend’ something. We don’t actually get to do whatever she is pretending, it’s strictly a verbal thing. Pretend I’m a mermaid. Pretend this is my home. Pretend you’re a shark. But I don’t get to BE a shark. I just have to SAY I’m a shark.

So I find myself doing the most horrendous things to get out of ‘playing’.

I need to go to the toilet. I need to make a cup of coffee. Is that the phone ringing? I think I hear the mailman. And the worst: I’m just going to check my email, which is just slightly better than ‘would you like to watch TV instead?’

I know that it won’t be long before all my girls are too old to want to play with me anymore. I am sure that I will feel bad that I didn’t play with them more when they were little. I feel bad about lots of other things, what’s a little more mother guilt piled on top?

I relish the ‘shows’ the girls put on, where they dance and twirl and sing. I love them because they’re cute but also because I know my place. I am the appreciative audience. I ooh, I ahh, I clap and I take pictures. I am not expected to be involved and that is fine. I will genuinely be sad when the shows finish, when they grow into self-consciousness, and no longer want to be the centre of attention.

But imaginative play where there is no opportunity to use my imagination drives me nutty. Being barked orders by a four year old is no fun, and so I will continue to live in fear of those six little words, ‘Mum, will you play with me?’

What words drive fear into your heart?

 

 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

B.I.B (Boring is Beautiful)


Growing up, photos were taken only of special occasions: birthdays, christenings, Christmas. Mum would take out her old film camera, open the shutter, check to see the film had been wound on. She would peer through the tiny viewfinder, and with a call of ‘cheers’, we would stop what we were doing and smile at the camera. The flash would dazzle us, and we would return to what we were doing.

Only a few precious albums exist from my childhood: people simply didn’t ‘waste’ photos. As such, I now pour over each image intently, studying all the details in the background. The scratchy brown couch and burnt orange curtains (height of 70s fashion), the length of my Dad’s moustache, the length of our denim shorts in the 80s, the posters of boy bands my sister had on her wall (Bros, NKOTB), Dad painting the kitchen in paint-splattered coveralls, Mum – her face covered with cold cream –mending Dad’s shirt. I find these ordinary memories really precious, and from them, more memories spring.

When I got my own camera as a teenager, we had the choice of rolls of 12 or 24 films. That meant we could take only 24 images on a single roll, each of which needed to be wound on by hand to ensure we didn’t end up with double exposure. When the roll was finished, you would wind the film back into the canister, and then take it to the nearest Kodak shop to be developed.

The wait for your prints could be a week, and it could be excruciating. Would the photos work or would you have paid $22 for twenty black or blurry pieces of shiny paper. That moment when you went to collect your photos, handing over your money, tearing the edge of the packet to release the envelope of pictures, sometimes even before you left the shop. That moment of elation when you realised a photo worked, or the disappointment when you realised that the blurry mess was now just a lost opportunity.

Like everyone else, I now own a digital camera which I adore. I can easily take dozens of photos in an afternoon, hundreds during a short vacation with the kids, and literally thousands in the first few months of having a new baby. Almost all of them are pretty near perfect since I can see them as soon as I take them, and edit as I go.

And probably only 1% of them ever make it into a photo album.
Last week I realised I had not printed any photos since April of 2013. I had taken about a million photos in those nine months, and it literally took me two or three nights of trawling through my hard drive deciding which to print, and then another two or three nights uploading them to be printed.

Halfway through selecting photos I realised I was choosing all the photos where the kids were being cute, or funny or wearing a strange outfit, or not wearing anything at all. They were photos that captured the kids, but they were not showing anything about our life, our house or anything that in ten or twenty years you could look back on and say ‘that’s what we did, that was my childhood’.

Sure, they might know that the Mop looked like a cherub with big eyes and curls, but they wouldn’t know who went to her 4th birthday party. You’d be able to say that Baldy tended to smear food over herself when she ate, but she wouldn’t be able to see what her room looked like when she was two.

I love this photo taken on Christmas Eve making White Christmas because it shows the girls hanging out en masse with their Aunty and Grandparents, it shows the fact that they love cooking (such an old Aussie favourite that everyone makes but no one eats), you can see the glasses of champers on the table, mess everywhere, but everyone is relaxed and happy.

So I made a decision to print the mundane pictures as well, the ones that showed our everyday life. The ones that might be poorly framed, or a bit blurry, or – dare I say it – a bit boring.


The picture of the three girls crowding around my husband on a Saturday morning as he cooks them pancakes.

The picture of the Bombshell intently building Lego with her dad at the kitchen table.

The picture of the three girls ‘doing a show’ in the backyard.

The picture of what we had for Christmas lunch.

The picture of all the Christmas presents under the tree, before the kids woke up.

Pictures of the girls’ rooms.

These are the photos that in a decade’s time will be of most interest to my daughters  (ok, nothing will be of interest to them when they’re teenagers, but maybe later on) as they will remind them of the constant, small things which make up our childhood. 
We need to remember to capture and keep the ongoing, behind-the-scenes moments, which might not be as immediately memorable at the big events, but which make us who we are.

 
I love this photo which was taken at my sister-in-laws birthday dinner at our place. I love that we totally overdid the desserts, I love that it shows the disposable plates because I hate doing the dishes, the plastic sippy cups and bib on the table (totally capturing a stage of babyhood), my husband wearing his Muppets shirt and my Yummy Mummy apron, my father-in-law with the Star Wars mug of coffee that will only be half finished, the Bombshell in her fanciest, sparkliest frock with her hair a complete birdsnest...

 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Late Night Bad Thought


9.13pm

Why are you awake?

I had a bad thought and it made me scared.

What bad thought?

I thought about what would happen if I drew you a picture, but I didn’t tell you I drew it for you and your tore it up and threw it away.

That is a bad thought. Luckily it would never happen. Now go back to bed and think only good thoughts.

But I don’t know any good thoughts.

What about when Baldy does her baby dance or shouts ‘ta da!’, or cooking with me, or washing the car with Daddy and getting splashed with the hose, or building Lego, or reading books. Or writing books? Luckily there are more good thoughts in the world than bad thoughts…

But you don’t know that. You don’t know everything, how can you know that?

You’re right. I don’t know everything but I definitely know that.

I saw you cry once after talking on the phone. I don’t know why you were crying, but I know you were sad.

(Taken aback) But that happened only once. How many other times have you seen me laugh and smile?

Hardly ever.

What? That’s nuts, why do you say that?

Because we’re always so naughty…

 
Ahhh touché. But you can bet your ass I'm smiling right now.

 
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