Saturday, January 28, 2012

Making Your Children feel Special

One of the biggest concerns I have about Baby Number Three entering our world (apart from the car-seat issue) is having enough time and attention for the two children I already have.

I am very adept at creating craft projects, or baking cakes with the kids, or doing other things that involve time and money and organisational skills.  However, I have accepted that I will have none of these things when the baby makes an appearance, so it was timely that an email popped up the other day with a link to Simple Ways to Make Your Child Feel Special by Rachel Sarah.

It is five pages long, so I am going to paraphrase a bit, but I think it has some really superb ways of making your kids feel special.  And I don't see why most of them wouldn't work on some of the adults in your life.

Create Little Morning Moments: she suggests taking a few minutes each day to share a ritual before everyone heads off to work and school.  In our house I am going to make more of an effort to enjoy the times when the four (soon to be five) of us are all having breakfast together, to bask in their pyjama-ness, their bed hair, their rice bubble smiles. And not get so uptight about the milk on the floor. Or yell at them to get dressed. Or freak out over the carseats.

Snuggle and Cuddle: she highlights the importance of physical contact, but reminds us it is more than just hugs and kisses.  Tickling your children, allowing them to tickle you, rub their heads while you are doing the zillionth ponytail. One of my greatest pleasures is when one of the girls reach up to hold my hand when we are walking, even just around the house. Maybe especially when we are in the house.

Make up Special Stories: she suggests telling stories and putting your kids in a starring role.  I remember my dad doing this for years and years. We loved it. Every year for Father's Day I have made a photo books highlighting the relationship between the girls and their daddy.  I love singing Miss Polly Had a Dolly and changing the lyrics so the song is about The Curly Mop.  She loves it almost as most as I do.

Ask For Help: Rachel says asking your children to help with everyday tasks around the house makes them feel special.  I imagine this reaction stops at some point in the early teens as I sure don't feel special when I am asked to help tidy a massive pile of Barbie dolls and textas from under the couch.  But while your children are little, asking them to hand you pegs when you do the washing, or carrying bags of shopping in from the car can make them feel special and helpful (just don't ask them to carry in glass jars unless you are really, really confident in both their strength and attention span).

Break the Rules: I really like this one.  She suggests that when things are going pear-shaped and everyone is screaming like a nutter, rather than send everyone to bed and open a bottle of wine, hop in the car and buy icecream instead. Or have a night where there is chocolate cake for tea. Or let them skip school for the day. Oh it feels so good to be naughty...

Have Fun at Bedtime: rather than looking at bedtime as the EXIT sign for a long day herding kids, treat it as a last chance to focus on the child, start a routine, focus 100% on them.  This one is probably a little harder than most, especially if you have let them have icecream and cake for dinner and they are as mad as loons and hanging off the light fittings.

Get Silly: Rachel says 'make them feel like you're in the world with them, instead of up in your adult world'. And it's so true, I have had such a strong reaction from the girls when instead of yelling at them to calm down or stop being crazy, I join in.  Crank up the radio and start dancing. Try on some of their dress-ups. Make up silly songs. Eat dinner as a picnic on the floor. If you can't beat them, join them. It's better for your complexion than yelling all the time.

Use Your Words: focus on them, let them overhear you praising them to their Grandma or daddy.  I bought a cheap laminator from the grocery shop and use it to laminate special pictures and then stick them on our doors. Don't buy them stuff, tell them stuff.

Pay Attention to the Little Things: Rachel says small things like giving your children nicknames, putting notes in their lunchboxes, celebrating half-birthdays and volunteering at Kindy will make them feel special. They do, absolutely.  I am going to start a 'sisters' day in the second half of the year, a world away from all the early birthdays, where we share a cake and the girls will make cards for each other and let them focus on each other for a change.  Not sure what I will call it if Baby Number Three is a boy though. Sibling Day sounds kinda lame.

Making your children feel special is as simple as drinking the tea they make you, both literally and metaphorically. 


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where Did You Come From?

This is not an original post.  But I am pinching ideas from myself, so that's ok.

Last year I wrote a post called Search Term Optimism where I had a look at the weird search terms people had used in their Google or browser before winding up on my site.  It was a bit unsettling.

Seems though, that some of my readers are getting even more disturbing.

The two people who concern me the most, were those who searched for 'pregnant torture' before landing on How To Torture A Pregnant Woman.  Ok, so maybe the title of my post was a little misleading, but stop for a second and worry about the people who are actively searching for ideas on how to torture pregnant women! Maybe I need to give the FBI a call. Maybe I need to rethink my titles before I hit publish.

Then there were two people who were probably on the other side of vanilla when they searched for 'strap some on' and wound up at my post Dear Gentlemen, Please Grow A Pair, which was simply a plea to tradesmen to learn to say 'no' to potential clients, rather than leading them on.

Then there was just the plain old-fashioned perve who searched for 'dave "the garden guy" speedos pic' before winding up on my post entitled Caveat Emptor, which told the story about the trouble we had with our garden guy, who may I add, would not be the type you would want to see in his speedos. I wonder who Dave is, and if he knows someone out there would like to see him in his speedos. 

There were a bunch of people who were looking for 'Versace vase' who found their way to my post Versace Vicissitudes, about the time I took my very young, very active children to the ridiculously high priced and breakable Versace Hotel on the Gold Coast.  I doubt people who look for Versace products online are the type to stay and read this blog... though hopefully more likely than any of the frootloops above.

Finally my heart goes out to the number of people who searched 'why am I crying' only to end up reading my post about attending my first ever Kindy concert. I hope that they stayed long enough to read the post, or poke around on my blog, and found reason enough to stop crying and laugh for a change.

If you are new to this blog, what did you search for before ending up here?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Little Perspective

It was a dark and stormy day, in the middle of January no less, when I packed my car with five carseats and a booster cushion and headed to Kidsafe for my fitting.  With four weeks before Baby Number Three arrives, it was time to succumb to the inevitable, and try and squeeze a third carseat into the back of my car.
It’s not like I am the first person to ever have three children, or try and fit three seats into the back of a car.  But just like being pregnant for the first time, the world suddenly revolves around you, and your eyes are opened to challenges that had previously never occurred to you.
The Kidsafe lady had a look in the backseat, where there was a booster seat for The Blonde Bombshell (4 ½) and a carseat for Miss Curly Mop (2).  Squished in between, in the space the size of a tissue box, was a booster cushion which we used for the Bombshell if we were ferrying another child. 
Her expert eyes ignored the half eaten biscuits, the endless Dora merchandise, the petrified banana peel. ‘What else do you have?’ she asked.  Like a drug dealer, I took her around the back of the car and flipped open the boot to display another booster and a baby capsule. She nodded in appreciation.
‘There’s more, ’I told her leading her to the front seat, where yet another carseat was perched inexplicably on top of a potty.  She rubbed her chin.  ‘Let’s get to work,’ she said.
Our mission was to fit three seats in the back of the Forrester that were age appropriate, safe, legal and we could still close the doors. Despite the endless possible combinations,  for most of the morning it looked like we might only get three out of four.  I suggested I put the new baby in the glove box.  She only looked half amused.
‘It’s not forever,’ she told me philosophically when she presented the final arrangement.  Neither is a jail term, I thought, thinking I would end up having some serious anger management issues wrangling the Bombshell’s seatbelt on a daily basis. 
Let’s be clear.  Just because you own a SUV or 4WD does not – for a minute – mean that there is any extra space inside the car. On the contrary, so much of the space is taken up with safety features such as the 87 air bags and superlocking seatbelts that there is no longer any room for passengers. And don’t even get me started on the superlocking seatbelts.
Things looked good for The Mop.  Not only did she get to stay in her possie behind the driver, she was upgraded into a new carseat we had pinched from Hubby’s car.  It afforded her extra side protection from the grabby hands of the Bombshell, now closer than ever as she had been moved into the centre spot.  Remember that tissue box space I mentioned earlier.
As she is both tall and hefty, the Bombshell was no longer eligible for the sanity-saving internal baby harness. Now she has to be restrained by an adult seatbelt, located about a foot behind and below her seat, about the same distance as my forearm, now bereft of skin and flesh as I am forced to push it between bits of plastic and metal to buckle and unbuckle the Bombshell’s seatbelt. Every. Single. Time. For the next two and a half years. MINIMUM*.
The baby will be located behind the passenger seat, which means that unless I am ferrying around Munchkins, the passenger will have to walk, because the front seat is now so far forward it is actually located in the glove box.    My husband with his long long legs is going to love that.
Luckily the Bombshell loves her new position in the car.  I did sell it pretty well though, pointing out the excellent view and the fact she was right in front of the airconditioning vents.  Unfortunately, it now means that she is no longer able to unbuckle herself and get out of the car. More work for Mum.
After 90 minutes of watching the poor women battle with various seat combinations, speaking with her supervisor about the legality of various options, and work up a sweat despite the rain, I was beginning to wonder whether it was too late to change my mind on Baby Number Three.
I decided that the whole thing was a conspiracy to make me walk more, and I wasn’t impressed.
But she did it, somehow she found a combination that would work.  Of course I can’t see out the back window and the baby will have to sit on the footpath in its capsule for 10 minutes while I battle with the Bombshell’s seatbelt, but she did it.
When we finally made our way in to complete the paperwork, I leaned against a wall and sobbed that I hadn’t been grateful enough over the past four years for the relative ease of managing one or two carseats.
Then I saw a young mum wheel a two year old girl in, accompanied by an occupational therapist from the adjoining children’s hospital.  Both legs were in casts and her hips were splinted so the little girl’s legs were splayed far apart.  Her arm was in a cast too.  ‘She’s being discharged from hospital today,’ the OT told the Kidsafe people. ‘But her current carseat won’t accommodate the splint.’
As a team of people got to work finding a solution for this brave little girl and her Mum, I felt seriously ashamed at my massive over-reaction to the slight inconvenience of a squishy backseat full of kids.  Healthy kids.
It put my non-issue in perspective.
* The child restraint laws changed in October 2010 in response to the high number of child injuries and fatalities on Australian roads. 
Ask yourself this: 'are you 100% positive that you have your child in the correct seat for their age, height and weight, and are you 100% sure that the seat is fitted correctly?'
If you are not 100% positively, absolutely, entirely certain, then do yourself (and your kids) a favour and get them checked.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Who I Was Before There Was You

To my children,
When I was younger I had blue hair. Actually at different times I had pink hair, purple hair, and black hair. Your daddy had blue hair too, long before he was your dad.  I used to buy all my clothes at op-shops and go to uni in dresses that were from my Grandma’s vintage. I drove an old bomb with no air conditioning, so when it was hot I would pour bottles of water over my head and let it run over my body and soak into the upholstery. I wrote songs and played the guitar, burned candles and incense in my room, and for a short while in my early twenties, developed my own religion.
Me, before there was you (approx 18 years old)
We had skirt parties, where the girls were able to dress in their most elaborate outfits and boys came dressed in fishnets and nurses outfits.  We paired our Mum’s wedding dresses with graffitied Converse sneakers to celebrate the slightly dodgy wedding of a friend at the tender age of eighteen, then walked through the city, loving the attention. We climbed trees, advertised a night club in a friend’s garage and holidayed in Lancelin in an old hut with no electricity and a bath tub under the stars.
Now I have Mum hair.  Cut into a sensible bob, dyed a sensible colour. On the rare occasions I buy clothes for myself, which are not ever-increasing (in size and sensibility) knickers, I shop at Target. I wear flat shoes. My handbag contains spare nappies and wipes. My guitar is under a layer of dust. The closest thing to religion is the relief I feel at the end of the day when I fall into bed and thank the universe for you - my beautiful, healthy daughters.
Sometimes I feel that when I became a Mum, I lost a part of myself. Most of the time I don’t miss her, knowing that along with the slimmer waist and greater freedom, was also the inherent ignorance and selfishness that comes with youth.  The ignorance and selfishness that makes youth such fun, I might add.  Is being a Mum always fun?  Not on your life.  Is being a Mum worth all the sacrifices we make?  I believe so.
By the time you really get to know me, I will be edging towards my forties.  To you I will be the person who makes sure you get the correct lunch at school, that your clothes are washed.  I will be the person who helps out at school, who drops you off at ballet, who nags you about their homework.  I am sure you will love that person, but will you really know who I am?
I never truly understood or appreciated my Mum until I became a mother myself.  As a teenager and young adult it never occurred to me to investigate her beyond what I witnessed in the day-to-day. She was a mother, a teacher, a cook, a cleaner, a sewer.  She worked, she read, she made our clothes.  She was our Mum, but she wasn’t a person with a history, a dream, a set of beliefs. 
I appreciate her now. 
Mum, before there was me (approx 18 years old)
More than these mere words can ever hope to express, I truly appreciate my Mum. I can look back and see what she sacrificed for us.  And this is not to say that my Dad didn’t make sacrifices for us, because I know he did.  But I am a Mum and I can see the path ahead for me.  I can see myself through your eyes, and I realise it will be some time before you see me as a person with an identity above and beyond your Mum.
And I can wait.  But I do wish I could take each of you by the hand, ‘A Christmas Carol’ style, and show you who I was when I was younger, before you began, when I was only myself.
Love always,



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Me No Can Write

Today I just don't feel like writing.

Correction - I want to write, but the words aren't coming.  I would probably struggle to do the shopping list, and that would just involve me transferring words from one piece of paper to another.

I have already had two false starts today.  A short story for a competition needs 850 words by Wednesday.  I made it to about 200 words and gave up because I had said all I could and barely made it to a quarter of the word count.  To finish would require a lot of padding.

I also started a blog post which could have either ended up being a story about Miss Curly Mop's second birthday, or the horrid experience I had with the caterer leading up to the aforementioned birthday.  I didn't even finish the first paragraph. It's now loitering in virtual purgatory.

Why is it that when I am awake at 2am, the words rush through my mind with clarity and ease, yet when I have a few uninterrupted (waking) hours my brain is as clunky and uncooperative as this over-worked simile. Or is it a metaphor?  I don't actually care.

When will they invent the brain equivalent of a voice recorder?  Something I can stick in my ear and all the lush articulate thoughts that are coming unbidden when I am trying to sleep can simply be recorded in all their glory for the next day.  When I am awake. Dumbledore has one for his bad thoughts, why can't I have one for my stories?

Hopefully tomorrow will be a better writing day. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Waiting for the Wee

For no better reason than I am clearly a masochist, I decided this afternoon it might be a good time to put Miss Curly Mop in knickers.

Let's be clear - she has shown no interest whatsoever in the toilet.  To the contrary, she literally runs screaming in the opposite direction when I stick her on there.  Potty, toilet, big, small - doesn't matter.  She's not interested.

But overhearing a conversation this morning by a Mum whose girls have both been toilet trained well before their second birthday, that she felt the best time was between 18 months and two years before they become wilful and opinionated rang a few alarm bells. 

The Mop is two in a week.

She's already wilful and opinionated.

Looking into the crystal ball at her pre-school, tweenie and teenage years, I can't see her getting any better. 

Guess this is it then.

So upon waking from her nap, I bundled the Blonde Bombshell and the Mop into the car, and headed to a local department store to purchase some dinky little knickers.  If it wasn't totally weird and inappropriate I would show you a photo of the cute undies we ended up getting.  Little checks and ruffles and kitty cats and monkeys with stripes.  She was so thrilled, she insisted on putting a pair on in the middle of the shop, and I then had to contend with the possibility of getting nabbed shoplifting some size 2s.

Turns out it was incredibly easy getting her out of her nappy and into knickers.

The problem, it quickly became apparent, is getting her to NOT poo and wee in her knickers, because she is still terrified of the potty.

By some stroke of luck, the girls' daddy happened to be home mid-afternoon when we ceremoniously took off her nappy and pulled on her first pair of Big Girl Undies.  She and her big sister then went about the business of being kids and started playing and dancing, while hubby and I sat on the couch, eyes glued to her crotch, waiting for the inevitable.

'Should I roll up the rug?', he asked.

Eventually we got bored of waiting for the wee and started making dinner.  Before long, we heard the thunder of little feet pounding through the house.

'Here we go,' I muttered.

'Mum, the Mop pooed in her new knickers,' the Bombshell announced breathlessly. 

'Excellent,' said Daddy.

'I smelled the poo and then I saw the brown on her undies and then it started coming through,' the Bombshell told me helpfully.

I heaved myself off the chair and followed the Bombshell to the Mop's room, where she was already climbing up onto the change table.  I picked her up, letting her stand on my arm rather than have her squidgy poo butt sitting on my bump and we all went to the bathroom.  She started to shriek. 

'Nooooo Mummy. Noooo Mummy, not nice. Not nice,' she hollered trying to escape.

'I need to put your poo in the toilet darling, that's all,' I told her.

'Can I see it?', ask the Bombshell.

The Mop had already done a runner by this stage and I literally had to catch her by the ankles and pull her ponky knickers off as she grabbed at the carpet and tried to pull herself forward on her tummy. Thank god she hadn't done a wee as well.

With the Bombshell being the only interested party present, I scraped the mess into the loo.  The Mop poked her head around the door.  I convinced her to come in so I could wipe her bottom and she promptly assumed the position that the Bombshell is known for.  Feet and hands flat on the floor, legs spread, bum in the air, waiting expectantly.  Good to see she is learning something useful from her sister.

Bottom wiped, we all peered into the loo.

'Do you want to press the button?' I asked the Mop.

'Noooooo', she shrieked and ran off.

'I'll do it Mum,' the Bombshell said.  Thanks darling.

About 20 minutes later, with Pair Number 1 soaking in the laundry, and Pair Number 2 proudly being worn, we sat down to dinner.  I could see the wee coming before the Mop even realised what was happening.  She stood on her chair and looked at the puddle with a puzzled expression.  It began dripping on the floor.

'Ace', said Dad.

Her little face looked mortified. 'Uh oh' she said. My heart just went out to her.

While Daddy tried to get her to sit on the potty ['Nooooo Daddy, nooooo'] I wiped and disinfected the chair and floor.  Even the promise of a piece of chocolate could not convince her to sit on the potty.

'I'll run a bath', said Dad.

So at the end of Day 1, we have two pairs of little knickers soaking in a bucket, an unused potty in the family room, and four more pairs of new undies for tomorrow.

I know the rules: be persistent and consistent, never get upset about accidents, keep praising all effort, but does anyone have any other advice?  It would be great to the get the Mop out of day time nappies before the baby arrives, but I also don't want to force her if she's not ready.

Kelley's Place

My childhood played out in many locations, across time and place. My attitude and expectations changed as the years passed, as I grew taller, perhaps wiser. One place remains fixed in the centre, with one person the constant. My Grandma Kelley’s house.

Kelley's Place circa 1952

Over the past 30 years little has changed to the house, unlike the people who walked through its doors.  The floorboards creaked as early as I can remember.  They still creaked the last day I stood there.  The painted red concrete footpath, stayed red and painted.  The carport took on a lean in its later years, but long after the car was sold, it faithfully housed first the metal bins, then the plastic bins, finally the green wheelie bin.
The wooden back step may have weathered and greyed and began bending at the edges, but it always marked the boundary between the garden - with its spreading apple tree, with apples so small and tart no grandchild would eat them - and the house, with its lino floor and lace curtains.
Grandma’s house was a window to the past, though I was in my 30s before I realised this.  The kitchen still housed a working wood-fired stove, and until the end, baked dinners, rice pudding and pumpkin scones were cooked in it.  In the laundry - a copper – where my Grandma would push the sheets and towels with a long wooden paddle.  She was in her 70s before she accepted a washing machine.
A freestanding bath, long before they became fashionable again.  Bunk beds in the second bedroom for the grandchildren. Uncomfortable, hard, arm chairs in the lounge, adorned with hand-made embroidered doilies and prickly cushions. The wooden clock on the mantle, with its echoing song every fifteen minutes. The good room: where we were not allowed to play.  The room would give us away, tell tales to Grandma.  Even a single footstep on its polished wooden floor would send all the crystal in the china cabinet tinkling and rattling, and she would hear us and call us out.
Chenille bedspreads and flannel sheets.  Mattresses far older than I was, bumpy in all the wrong places, yet somehow producing a sound night’s sleep.  In the back of the cupboard, where we were not supposed to look, a polystyrene head with a wig of curled brown hair.  That was Grandma’s good hair.
In the towering sideboard, small brandy glasses with coloured glass etchings on the side.  We were allowed to fill and refill and refill again with milk, replacing them each time on the delicate leaf shaped platter they called home.  Up high, further than any of us could reach even with a kitchen chair, glass jars filled with lollies.  They taunted us as children.  As teenagers they were conquered.
The backyard was wild and enormous.  An ancient wooden swing, rusted even before I was born.  A makeshift clothesline, still in use after 50 years. A cubby made of asbestos, though we neither knew this, nor cared. Wire fencing separated the grass from the garden, overflowing with daisies, an almond tree. Grandad’s shed.  I never met him but I would have liked to. More than the house, his memory was in the shed.
Further down, another yard.  A massive fig tree, barely contained by the fence and the sky, dominated the chicken yard.  Daily trips to collect the eggs, still warm.  You could hear the traffic from Canning Highway only metres down the road, yet we could have been a million miles away.
It was another world; it still is in my memory.  Stronger than any other place in my history, the memories rush at me. The smell of her face powder. The dull red embers of the fire the morning after. The red and pink geraniums in their pots on the front verandah.
Grandma Kelley 1967

I have some of those geraniums now, growing in my garden.  And the daisies, to my husband’s disgust.  They do have a habit of taking over. The china cabinet still tells tales on small children, the glass shelves rattling ominously as little feet thunder past.  The wooden clock has been modernised and runs on batteries now.  I don’t have to wind it daily as my Grandma once did. Its melancholy tune now fills my house.
In my backyard, a brand new – asbestos free – cubby house. A small plaque shows it is named for her. Her great grandchildren are still too young to understand, but I will make sure they do. My childhood, so wrapped up in this amazing woman and her amazing house now lives on through my own children.  In Kelley’s Place.

*This is the story published in the West Australian on December 31, 2011.  The theme for this year's short story competition was 'a sense of place'.
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