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Letting Go

Obviously writing about being sleep deprived recently meant I had to go back – just to remind myself.

Hippie Child went with a friend to a concert in Newcastle this week (that’s almost a three-hour drive from home). I found myself wandering the house wondering if I should wait up, or go to bed. They weren’t expected home until about 2.00am. Mr Shambles didn’t even consider staying up – he was tucked up in bed snoring soundly by 10pm. Why wasn’t I born a man?

I wallowed in my procrastination until 11.30, went to bed but left my door open and the lights on so I could hear her when she got home.

Lying there I pictured the next few years, here I am worrying about her being on the highway, worried about being late home, just worried. Ridiculous. She was with the parents of her friend, my friends! God help me when I wave her off in a car full of “P” plate drivers to head to parties where there will be alcohol. I may have to take up meditation or Valium!

They got home at 1.00am, she had a brilliant time, she was freezing cold (why did she decide to wear a t-shirt in winter), when she hears I’ve put the new quilt on her bed and turned on the electric blanket I get a hug (not a frequent occurrence, you’ve got to earn your hugs from this kid).

I had no idea who the bands were she went to see, I’d never heard of them. The next night I watched the Diamond Jubilee concert from London. The first section (barring Robbie Williams) were young, hot performers I had  also never heard of, you know you are getting old when you are hanging out for Elton John’s set just so you’ll know the words to the songs!

Next year Hippie Child will need driving lessons. Driving lessons for a child that still can’t remember what buttons to press to get the dishwasher started! We came to the mutual decision some time ago that I will have no involvement in teaching her to drive. The decision was arrived at during a particularly unpleasant dodgem car experience, it seems I don’t like not having control of the steering wheel, I also don’t like hitting other vehicles (again a bit of a problem on the dodgems). I am investigating a second mortgage for professional lessons, if that fails Mr Shambles over to you!

In the early hours of a winter morning as my mind fast forwarded to the possible challenges of the next few years I began to feel a certain nostalgia for the teething and toilet training years. A future of letting go looms large. After all that’s what you are supposed to do – having wished for your own freedom for so long you suddenly realise they must achieve their own independence to secure yours.

(Hippie Child just asked what I was writing about I told her- oh god mum, you can’t be serious, it’s like the time when I was 11 and wanted to go the movies with my friend without parents – you were worried the cinema would burn down and you wouldn’t be there to rescue me – you are going to have to get over this!)

In the meantime I googled Lisa Mitchell and Georgia Fair and now I know the bands Hippie Child saw at the concert.

Here’s Lisa Mitchell.

And here’s Georgia Fair

The Lost Years

Travelling in the car today a radio announcer back announced the last track with “oh yes, Robert Palmer, the great man who is no longer with us”.

Mr Shambles and I looked at each other “Robert Palmer is dead?” “When did that happen?”

I googled him and yes indeed, Robert Palmer left us in 2003.

“Oh 2003″ says Mr Shambles “that’s why we didn’t know, Princess Child was three, I reckon we lost at least 5 years after she was born”.

He’s right. Like a long-ranging alcoholic blackout we’ve misplaced a lot of the detail after the turn of the century.

You see the beautiful Princess Child arrived with the new millennium and she never slept, not during the day and most certainly not at night. It was a good two years before we got a full nights sleep and even then it wasn’t consistent (she liked to lull us into a false sense of security by sleeping through a couple of times, and then unleashing a screaming all nighter to jar us back to reality).

This is when I took up drinking Coke and coffee – it was either that or speed -  but I went with the slow-death alternative rather than the fast track. I needed the caffeine hits to sustain me through my sleep-deprived stupor  – there were two kids to look after!

I’m sure things were happening in the world but they made little impression when we were just trying to make through each day without dropping dead from exhaustion.

I know there was an Olympics – I remember falling asleep at a friend’s house watching the Opening Ceremony – I can’t even argue it was a late night ’cause of the time zone difference – the games were in Sydney!

There was the tragedy of 9/11 which I did manage to get wind of, and then watched in horror on an endless loop as it unfolded on my television screen, crying as I hugged the troublesome baby. Also, Lleyton Hewitt won the US Open that year because my first thought when I heard of the attack on New York was do we know where Lleyton is? I don’t know the bloke at all, but he was the only Aussie I knew was in America, turns out our Prime Minister was there at the same time but I didn’t immediately think of him.

And there it ends, my total knowledge of the events of the first decade of the 21st Century. No matter how hard I try I cannot recall another fact either newsworthy, of current affairs stock or occurring in pop culture I draw a blank.

What songs were playing on the radio? Buggered if I know, it was all “Hot Potato” in our house.

What TV shows were popular? Again showing on our screen was “The Lion King” over and over.

Politics? Don’t make me laugh, I’m dealing with tantrum throwing toddlers I don’t need to know about the adult version taking place in Canberra.

The News? Were they still doing news bulletins? Papers, did they get printed back then?

I’m sure movies were released, books written, new talent unearthed and great people lost but I saw none of it. In my domestic bubble I lost touch with the world and spent my days fantasising about spending a night in bed – snoring uninterrupted.

To anyone out there currently battling with a non-sleeping baby, I feel your pain! I see Mamamia has released a new E-Book The Gift of Sleep written by a “sleep whisperer” who has achieved incredible results with her sleep program – this is in no way a sponsored post (god knows I don’t have the stats for any of that) but just a woman who, thanks to Robert Palmer, has had a flashback to a time of her life she thought would kill her and wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through it for as long as she did.

Now, just because I’m late to arriving at the mourning for Robert Palmer doesn’t mean I don’t care. So in his memory and as a tribute to the decade of style and substance (cough, cough) – the 80′s, here’s a little bit of nostalgia.

Life Before Children

Last week somewhere between finding lost socks and transporting children to endless activities I was struck by a thought (just one, my crowded mind can’t cope with more than that at the moment).

I realised I’ve got no memory of life before children.

Is it some sort of parental dementia designed to help your fragile brain cope with the post-traumatic onslaught of raising children?

I simply cannot remember what I DID with all that time I had on my hands.

When every waking hour wasn’t devoted to the care and needs of others how did I fill those endless hours of “me” space?

In a second between arguing about who was going to feed the dog and creating a meal out of left-overs (I’m turning the spag bol  into chilli con carne just adding a can of beans and a sprinkle of curry powder – see it’s a completely different meal) I wondered what life will look like when it’s just me and Mr Shambles rattling around in this big unfinished house.

What will the conversations be when they no longer revolve around finding money for braces, who’s responsible for the soccer pick-up and why we’ve run out of toilet paper AGAIN?

I have a vision of the children heading out into the big, wide world to lead highly successful lives … leaving behind a shell-of-a-woman, clutching a wine bottle and yelling “oh yes they are great NOW, you have no idea what it took to get them there”.

Life after children, what does that space look like? Perhaps endless, uninterrupted blogging accompanied by chocolate?

Imagine you have one child-free day to yourself, how would you spend the time?

A Year of Last

Youngest children thrive in an environment of benign neglect. They have to, it’s all they have available to them.

Eldest children enjoy a parent’s undivided attention, they are the prototype of our parenting and as such we relish every moment, recognising milestones, throwing ourselves into this brave new world.

When my eldest started school, I was sooo into it (I even wore lipstick on the first day). I was at reading groups, supervising maths activities, on the P&C, hell by a series of defaults I even ended up President of the P&C! Every event I was there, camera in hand, recording every single moment.

By the time the youngest was in Grade 1 I was back at work. I juggled and managed to make it to most of the prescribed activities but when the athletics was rained out I couldn’t arrange to take another day off, when the band playing at assembly clashed with work meetings I couldn’t wangle it to be there. There were other faces in the crowd, sometimes Dad, sometimes Nana, sometimes Aunt Dorothy but sometimes not me.

Yesterday was our last Primary School athletics carnival. Next year Princess Child will progress to High School and I won’t be wanted at the carnival.

Standing in the sun, watching the Year 6 kids, they all looked so grown up. They are tall, growing into their features, cheering for each other, laughing at private jokes, hugging each other in victory and handing tissues to the sobbing losers – hormones suck girls – I know you don’t understand why you are crying – I know it’s not really about the sore knees and ankles or the fact you lost – but it will be many years before you realise just what made you cry on the warm autumn day back in 2012.

I remember our first athletics carnival, when we were still keen, manning the fundraising BBQ. I had a three-year-old clinging to my legs and a queue of hungry people. There was chaos and laughter as we got the folks fed. We lost any desire to ever eat another sausage again. We raised money and were part of the school community.

Today it’s a different school, we don’t help out much, too tied up with work. Thethree-year-old is a lanky 12-year-old running the anchor leg in the relay. Holding her team’s lead, to cross the finish line in first place, the crowd goes wild (well OK her Mum and Dad go wild). Hastings doesn’t usually win the relay, the girls leap into each others arms, jumping up and down,  faces alight with excitement. I’m glad I’m there (and I even remember to get a photo).

We are heading into the final stretch of a year of lasts. The swimming carnival, the cross country, the athletics carnival. The Mother’s Day assembly. The Father’s Day assembly. We are ticking off each one marking the end of an era. Our last year in Primary School.

There will no more standing at the school gates catching up with other parents on my day off, waiting for excited children to come running out. Instead when we do venture to high school we won’t leave the car, our self-sufficient teens will plonk in the vehicle with monosyllabic answers to our enthusiastic questioning about their day.

There will be no more calls to man the reading groups.

It won’t be cool to have your parents come to too many things, we’ll manage to bully our way into a few, but it won’t be same.

A Letter to My Daughters About NAPLAN

Dear Girls,

The Government decided that all students would be tested in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to monitor their levels of literacy and numeracy. In theory it seems a good idea. Parents get a sense of where their child sits in relation to other kids, schools can identify problems and so on. In practice, teachers teach to the test. Endless hours of practice for the one exam. We’ve moved the pressure of the HSC onto eight-year-olds. Children recognise when they don’t do well and wear the “label” of no good at maths or spelling or grammar in their classroom for the rest of their education.

I want you to know NAPLAN reflects just one or two days of your life. It may reflect that you were coming down with a cold that day and couldn’t concentrate, it may reflect you developed a stress headache and the words went all blurry so you just guessed your answers, it may reflect you forgot to take the necessary equipment (seriously Hippie Child if you don’t put that maths set in your school bag NOW), it may reflect on that particular day you were on fire, remembered everything your teacher had ever said and managed to nail a great result.

What NAPLAN doesn’t show us is your talent for creativity, for music, for art. It doesn’t show us your love of books and the diverse range of reading you do. It doesn’t let us see your kindness when you help the old lady at the shop who has dropped her purse, or when you make the day of an eight year boy by letting him  join in the fun of jumping off the town wharf with you and your friends.

NAPLAN won’t uncover your ability to question, consider and formulate your own opinions on a wide range of subjects – oh the conversations we have had!

NAPLAN can’t tell me about the hard work and perseverance you have shown when faced with a difficult task you really, really wanted to get right.

NAPLAN doesn’t capture your strength when times are tough.

NAPLAN will not display your sense of fair play and your ability to work in a team.

NAPLAN doesn’t define who you are. It doesn’t determine your level of success in either literacy or numeracy – it is just your level of success on one given day – you can change the result in the many other days you have in your school life.

I hope you finish these eight years of education able to write a coherent sentence and work out how much change you are due at the shop but I also hope you leave school with a continuing desire to learn stuff, a curiosity about the world and an ability to examine things for yourself and come to your own conclusions about their validity.

By the time we get the results of NAPLAN we will all have moved on (it takes five months after all), but if you have aced it we will celebrate your success, if you haven’t gone as well as you hoped we will celebrate having a go. Whatever the scenario we will find a way to celebrate ’cause you know your mum likes a party.

Good luck today Hippie Child (and next year Princess Child)

Love

Mum

PS Here’s an interesting article on the NAPLAN

The Stages of Parenting

I hear young couples discussing the “best” time to have a baby and I chuckle to myself. Seriously, you are already over-thinking it. You can’t plan or prepare for the caper that is parenting. You just need to dive in head first and brave your way through each new crisis as it erupts. Look, I know you’ve seen those cute babies in the tv commercials looking oh so delicious. What you didn’t see was the behind-the-scene footage of screaming infants and the smell of poop as each in turn managed to deliver a big one just as it was time to shoot.

What you need to know is that parenting is a staged process. You need to pass the challenges of each level before you emerge at the end, grayer, tired, somewhat defeated but hopefully still upright.

0-5 They’ve handed you a newborn, congratulations you’ve passed your L’s

Every other gig in your life requires more preparation, study, practice and testing before you are regarded as competent. Parenting, not so much. Sure read the baby books, but trust me the baby won’t be on the same page as you for most of the next five years.

At this stage of parenting you need certain skills.

  • The ability to sleep not just standing up but while walking from room to room in your house rocking a crying child. You should be able to manoeuver around every piece of furniture with your eyes closed. Of course the ability is severely tested when your navy husband arrives home and messes with the system, that is closes the bedroom door, which you walk into face first because you DON’T OPEN YOUR EYES when you go to get the bellowing baby at 2.00am.
  • A duck and weave technique to avoid the flying food when they hit solids. Because they insist they CAN FEED THEMSELVES despite the complete lack of the necessary coordinating skills to move spoon from plate to mouth.
  • The speed of an Olympic runner to chase the three year old who thinks it is a great laugh to run away in the shopping centre.

5-12 Hallelujah you’ve graduated to your Red P’s

Right you can smell your independence – for six hours a day somebody else is responsible for your little angel. The plans you have for how you will spend that time, you’ll write a novel, you’ll scrapbook all your photos, you’ll catch up with friends for lunch. You soon discover that given the driving time back and forth (and the fact you keep on putting up your hand for reading groups, fundraising bbq’s and covering books in the library) 3.00pm can roll around pretty darn fast.

The vital skills at this point.

  • The ability to recall every stray piece of maths and english you ever encountered in your life and a creative dexterity with cardboard and toilet rolls. It’s hysterical, but the teachers actually believe the children are capable of completing homework sheets, home readers and an assortment of disjointed projects. Just remember in households around the world the same arguments are taking place; “I don’t know how to do it”, “But haven’t you done this in class?”, “That’s not how the teacher does it”,  “But the answer is right”, “You are doing it wrong”, “Look just write this down for God’s sake so we can get to bed before dawn”.
  • A strong heart to wear the myriad of disappointments inflicted on the tiny soul in this time line, when they don’t get invited to the party, when they miss out on qualifying for long jump (seriously, couldn’t everyone just have a go on the day of the athletics carnival?), or when they come last in the race.

12 – 18 The end is nigh you’re on your Green P’s

Look you think you are getting the hang of this parenting thing, then one morning your little darling wakes up a completely different person. Welcome to the teenager.

Here’s what you need now.

  • The negotiating capabilities of a UN Inspection team on a trip to North Korea. So help me you will have to justify and explain every decision you make and in most cases the teenagers will still  unleash the nuclear missile anyway.
  • High level driving skills and the ability to create a home-away-from-home in your car, because that’s where you are going to spend most of time. There will be parties, part-time jobs, after-school activities all of which require your taxi service.
  • Good quality car insurance when it comes to teaching them to drive.
  • A second job – teenagers cost money, lots of money.

18 + You’ve got your license

Holy cow, uncork the champagne, you’re home alone. Enjoy it while it lasts because here’s what will follow.

  • Hours of phone counselling over heartbreaking boyfriends, exam stress and crappy jobs.
  • Hang on to that second job – there’s uni fees and unexpected bills that keep cropping up you know, like rent and electricity.
  • Don’t redecorate their room just yet – like boomerangs they have a tendency to return – just when you had started to enjoy your hard-won freedom.

Disclaimer for Hippie Child’s friends who read this blog – the photo at the top is NOT her, and if by chance Princess Child’s friends start reading it’s not her either. I don’t think my god-daughter reads so  I reckon I’m safe in using her image.

Cost of living rises a furphy?

Most days I live in fear of my letterbox. The bills arrive with regular monotony. It seems I’ve only just got one paid and the next is clamouring for attention.

A new study out suggests that perhaps the cost of living isn’t really going up we are just living bigger lifestyles. The study by National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling at the University of Canberra and AMP, found working couples with children were $328 a week better off in real terms than in 2003.

Although the study acknowledged a rise in prices for electricity, mortgages, medical services, petrol, fruit, bread and vegetables they reckon it’s offset by falls in the cost of computers and audio-visual equipment. According to the report Prices These Days! The Cost of Living in Australia, we are spending more on discretionary items such as private school, restaurants, prepared food and holidays but the actual spending on necessities hasn’t seen a large increase.

Personally, I feel the bills are bigger than in the past and there is more of them. The massive explosion in technology sees us now spending money on mobile phones, internet connections, ink cartridges. While you don’t have to have the latest and greatest in computer product we have found you do need to be connected. Schools assume children have access to the internet and a decent computer, there seems to be no concessions for those who don’t have those basics. I never imagined I would find myself considering purchasing laptops for my children, but next year both will be in high school and the demand for our single computer will need more negotiating than an international peace-keeping mission. There will naturally be an increase in costs associated with having three computers operating.

We are now a family of four mobile phones – with the children now catching buses and getting themselves to various activities we struggled with not being able to contact them – hence they both now have phones, which although they don’t get used that often, do require payments to keep in credit.

So how’s it feel in your household – on top of it all – feeling like there is plenty of money to go around?

No sick leave for Mums

I’ve opted out of my real world job today.  Given in to whatever this bug is I’ve managed to acquire. Made a phone call. Sympathetic colleague told me to take care. Tomorrow I’ll return, fill out a sick leave form, and our super efficient administrator will pay me as normal while calculating my leave hours. People will politely enquire if I’m feeling better. It will all be very civilised.

However, here at home I’ve searched high and low but be buggered if I can find a sick leave form for motherhood.

I may not be well enough for the job that pays the mortgage but the one that gives me grey hairs is still demanding my time and attention.

Reminders issued from my bed on the lounge – have you got your soccer boots? What about the change for the bus? No? Oh alright, let me get up and find that for you. Now I’m up I may as well pack the lunches. Look at the time – you are not going to make it to the bus stop unless I drive you.

It’s only when we are in the car that Hippie Child queries if I’m going to work. ‘Cause I usually head off to the office in trackpants, a stinky t-shirt and my Ugg boots. I’M SICK PEOPLE. HAS ANYONE NOTICED??? Apparently not.

Finally, the house is quiet. Just me and the dog. Why is he scratching? Great, the dog has developed a rash that looks particularly ugly,  the vet needs to look at – will they do an appointment after five when my husband can take him? It’s doubtful.

On my many visits to the bathroom this morning I have leapt over the pile of wet towels on the bathroom floor almost taller than a two-year-old, finally I can’t ignore it any more and as I’m home I’ll just pop them in the washing machine.

I need a coffee, something warm, while the kettle is boiling I see the splashes and spills of  last nights dinner are still decorating the stove top, I start wiping down, which of course leads to the bench top where the remnants of breakfast are coagulating, so I keep on scrubbing.

Settling back onto the lounge I notice the school newsletter that one of my darlings threw out of her bag as she rushed out of the door, I don’t know why I read it, there were a pile of magazines I could have gone for and not one of them would have anything I needed to do in it. But no, like some sort mothering junkie I read the newsletter. The information night for the high school is tonight at 6.30. We should be going and taking Princess Child. We did it for Hippie Child. But you are always more proactive with the first.

Princess Child is already in a state about going to high school. A supportive parent would be making sure she gets to the info night to help calm her fears. OK, she’ll have to miss dance. I’ll have to pick up husband from work at 5.00, Hippie Child from soccer training at 5.00 – yes I know I can’t be in two places at once but that’s never stopped me before. Home, dose up on drugs, head back out again. Or maybe I can bribe her with that book she wants me to buy to just go with her Dad? I’ll work on my strategy after I have a little nap.

The little nap is rudely interrupted by a telemarketer wanting me to change my mobile phone plan because I’m paying way too much with my current provider. The phone line to India is a little dodgy but in essence this chap can save me hundreds of dollars, he’s sure of it. I explain I’ve got a terminal illness, flusinuspoo, and couldn’t commit to a two-year plan because we don’t know if I’m going to make it to tomorrow.

I’m awake now so I may as well hang out those towels.

I think it would have been easier to have just gone to work.

Right, phones off the hook. I’ve set my alarm for 3.00 this afternoon. I’m going back to bed and checking out of mothering obligations for the next five hours. It’s just five hours that’s all I’m asking. Wish me luck.

Work or Stay at Home An Old and Ugly Debate

The age-old debate of whether to work or stay at home has reared its ugly head again thanks to American politics. Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, commented that Anne Romney, wife of a  GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney,  was not in a position to give her husband economic advice on the plight of women because she had “never worked a day in her life” as a stay-at-home-mum raising their five boys. It happened last week and there has been a bucket load of interviews, opinion pieces, talkback, twitter conversation. Rosen has apologised and rephrased the point she was trying to make.

Leaving aside the politics, and the debate over privilege versus poverty, the issue obviously remains a highly emotional one for many mothers.

I have been a SAHM, a WAHM, a full-time employee and a part-time employee and I’m here to tell you EVERY option is TOUGH.

As a SAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and at times very lonely. I remember walking outside my house in Brisbane to a deathly quiet suburban street where the rest of the world was obviously at work and wondering if the world had ended and I didn’t know because it hadn’t been announced on Playschool. There were many times when I resented the working mums who got a break from their children.

As a WAHM I was exhausted, overwhelmed and worried I wasn’t doing either “job” effectively. My children will tell you I was often distracted, always on the phone or computer. Yet they will also tell you funny stories of things we did – and I was always careful to get photographic evidence of the finger painting, mud pie making, play dough activities just to prove to them in later life that sometimes I did put work aside and create fun times. There were many times when I resented SAHMs who had enough income they didn’t need to generate more, there were times I resented working mums who got their pay cheques each week regardless of the amount of effort they put in.

As a full-time employee I was exhausted, overwhelmed and juggling like crazy.  My daughters saw me come home in tears as I tried to readjust to life in the workforce. They also saw me get through that period and figure out a way to make it work. There were times I resented SAHMs who didn’t have to ask permission from the boss to go to their kid’s athletics carnival.

As a part-time employee I am exhausted, overwhelmed and guilt-ridden a lot of the time. I feel guilty that I’m not as involved in my youngest daughter’s activities as I was in her sister. I feel guilty that I don’t work full-time to relieve a bit of the financial pressure. I feel guilty … well you get the picture. I have given up resenting others because there is just no point and what little energy I’ve got left is better directed elsewhere.

Women everywhere go through the process of trying to make it all work. Some options prove manageable, others crash and burn.  There is no stock standard right option that will work for everyone.

I know the times when I felt I was closest to getting the balance right felt good. However those moments were fleeting.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight I think I would do some things differently.

As a SAHM

I would just relax and enjoy it more. I would make more of an effort to connect with other mums. I would accept life is a series of chapters and this is just one in a series of stages of my life.

As a WAHM

I would set strict business hours and uninterrupted family time.  I would focus more on the money. Time manage and priority set to be more clearly focused on income-producing activities.

As a full-time employee

I would negotiate more, get more flexibility, ensure I had time off for the important events.

As a part-time employee

I will ditch the guilt and use my day off for activities that benefit both myself and my family.

One day my idealistic self imagines this issue becoming not a “women’s problem” but one which everybody has a stake. Dad’s benefiting from time out with their kids. Flexible work arrangements that allow for everyone to better manage their life – childless employees allowed shorter weeks to pursue hobbies or care for elderly relatives – mums and dads sharing the caring responsibilities by each working four days a week.

However, we won’t get there until we stop judging each other. At the end of the day the kids are all right. Whatever option you go for children who know they are loved and cared for will thrive. While we as human beings are valuable in a variety of guises, and that value is not necessarily measured just in the monetary value of paid employment.

What’s been your experience? Do you feel you have the balance right?