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The Mothering Years

The mothering years engulf and consume you. They reshape your heart, mind and soul. They simultaneously weaken and strengthen you. The mothering years redefine your life.

Happy mothers day everyone.

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Growing Up Country

I grew up in a country town surrounded by blue-grey hills where houses sat on wide streets and had big backyards. In a time before the internet, digital TV, Skype and mobile phones when living in the country meant existing in an insulated time warp.

We had:

  • Two TV channels. The ABC and the local one which played programs years behind the Sydney channels.
  • Two radio stations. The ABC and the local one which played hits from decades past, with a strong country and western flavour and accompanied by the stock report and the funeral notices.
  • A movie theatre which went through long periods of being closed down, although when they were open we managed to catch the blockbusters of the time Star Wars, Grease, ET. We just caught them long after the city folk.
  • There were very few concerts. Although Jon English, in skin-tight jeans warbling Hollywood Nights, was one musician who braved the wilds of the bush to put on a performance in the closed-down movie theatre.
  • We weren’t a multicultural hotspot, the one Chinese family ran the local Chinese restaurant and just before I left an Indian family moved to the area and opened a, you guessed it, Indian restaurant.  Other than that it was burgers and chips from the takeaway or if you wanted to go posh you went to the restaurant attached to the local motel and had prawn cocktails, steak diane and chocolate mousse.

Socialising usually involved whichever sport you played – and trust me you needed to play a sport. Or, if your Dad was in Lions, it was going to the fundraising BBQ’s. You mixed with everyone, old and young.

It was cold in winter and hot in summer. Nobody had inground pools in the backyard, although a couple of lucky kids had the round, above-ground variety.  If you managed to score an invite to their house you spent the arvo bombing each other or freestyling in circles. Otherwise it was the town pool or the dam to try to beat the wilt-inducing temperatures.

We got ourselves to and from school. We rode bikes to our mates houses and nobody worried about where you were until dark.

We played in places we shouldn’t and made our own fun from whatever resources there were at hand, old cans, rocks, sticks.

When we got into a pickle we figured a way out with the help of our friends. Look you got up that tree you can get back down, just put your foot down a bit, you can do it.

There was only once we had to resort to calling on the adults and that was ’cause we needed an ambulance.

It was a childhood that built resilience, adaptability, imagination and a distinct lack of pretension.

When I moved to the city at 18 the friends I made were country kids just like me.

Where you a city kid or a country kid?

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.

Confessions of a Soccer Mum

The soccer season has begun again. Yet another year of trudging through muddy fields, to huddle on the sidelines whipping ourselves into a frenzy over the on-field antics of our wannabe soccer stars.

Mr Shambles was adamant our children had to play a team sport. Working together to meet a goal, playing to the strengths of each team member, sacrificing personal glory to ensure team victory, making a commitment and sticking to it because the team relies on you showing up each week, according to Mr Shambles these are important life skills that can only be learnt in the rough and tumble of a group game.

The choice of sport was really left to Mr Shambles to decide.  Given he’s only got daughters he was a little limited in his options. Let’s be honest, football (the ARL or AFL kind) is still a boy’s game. Netball, well that was just too girlie for Mr Shambles, he had enough females in his life he didn’t need to spend the weekend with a team of them. The potential for massive dental bills deterred us from hockey. Cricket and basketball didn’t generate much interest in the kiddos. So we settled for soccer.

We eased ourselves in gently, one child, Saturday morning games. We liked the crowd on the sidelines, ’cause that’s important if you are going to be in the trenches of weekend sport you want to be with parents you get on with, otherwise it would be a bloody long season.

Our second season was tougher, two children playing, one on Saturday mornings the other on Friday nights. FRIDAY NIGHT. The night of relaxation, wine and takeaway and with the endless opportunity of the weekend laying before you.

Now the wine is corked, the takeaway is MacDonald’s eaten at 110 km’s an hour on the highway as we trundle off to the multiple “away” games you must attend when you play sport in a regional area. It’s not just a 20 minute dash to the next suburb, its an hour up the road, home at 10pm and into bed because Saturday’s game is at 9.00am, back up the highway.

You shiver in the mist and hope your kid doesn’t miss a crucial kick or, worse, score an own goal. When it is their turn in the goal I can’t watch, the pressure is too great, and quite frankly they both suck at goal keeping.

The rules remain a mystery but that doesn’t deter me from voicing my opinion on where they went wrong in everything they did on the field.

I am amazed to discover the woman who deliberately selected the non-competitive, do your personal best, early childhood education of Montessori, is now yelling from the sidelines. You are not going to WIN if you don’t pay ATTENTION! In my defence Hippie Child was at the time doing a little dance number to music in her head with the ball approaching. There there is the encouragement for Princess Child to STOP BEING NICE, get in there and go for it! I know it contradicts the manners I’ve nagged her about for years but if I’m going to freeze my butt off on the sidelines they could at least let me hope for a chance of victory.

We always seem to be the team with potential. We’ve made the semi’s a couple of times, but luck goes against us on a regular basis. In both our teams we often struggle for numbers, playing with less than the opposition or with no subs. It’s character building to play an entire game with no breaks and covering twice the distance of your competitors because you are short of players. Toughen up, it’s just cramps, run it out, you’re not coming off unless you’re unconscious because we’ll have to forfeit!

It’s a tough gig sometimes but it’s clear win or lose, the children are making memories. The team (including coach) doing running slides through the giant mud puddle in the centre of the field to celebrate a win. Working together to set up a miraculous goal.  Watching each other’s back. Standing up for team mates against particularly tough opponents. Laughing about the stuff-ups. Celebrating the achievements of skill when it goes right, the kick that lands in the perfect spot, the impossible save by the goalie, stealing the ball for a run the length of the field.

So off we go again, bundled up with our coats and rugs, hoping for enough wins to hold our interest.

Ever done the weekend sport thing? How did it go for you?

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?

Rainy Day Blues

The morning began by bailing water out of the car. It appears my car leaks. Rather substantially leaks. To the point I was heading towards cover-your-feet level flooding in the driver’s side.

I’m on holidays. Therefore we are now experiencing torrential rain. The two go together like strawberries and cream – Janine takes holidays, the heavens unleash a downpour – never fails.

Despite limited funds, a husband not entitled to leave at a new job and my deep aversion to the outdoors,  we were planning a weekend away camping but yet again that idea has been kiboshed by mother nature.

Now we find ourselves holed up together in Shambles Manor for yet another holiday break. Designing a roster system for our solitary computer. Arguing over who ate the last piece of chocolate. Trying to agree on what movies to rent.

One of the disadvantages of living in a holiday destination is you become slack at organising trips away. Why pay good money for a unit on the beach when you have multiple great beaches a five minute drive from your house?

The teenager and the tween are also much more difficult to please – oh for the days when they thought a Happy Meal eaten in the drive-through-car-wash was a top day out! Now there’s negotiating, bargaining and begging to be done just to get them to consider leaving the house. I’ve had to up the ante on the activities they deem worth getting out of bed for – and even killing time at the cinema doesn’t cut it anymore – “they are all kids movies I’m a bit OLD for that stuff”. I kinda liked the sound of the Lorax.

I entertain myself by trying to think of new blog post ideas. I’m quite fond of the idea of taking a picture each day from the window next to my computer, you know a sort of “through my window” regular thing. Then I realise I will have to clean the window before we can do that so decide to stick with text-based ideas.

Even the dog is refusing to leave the house. Chandler has been doing the early morning drive to drop off husband to work each day with me, but today he stood on the front step watching me chucking cupfuls of water out of the vehicle as the rain poured down, gave a sniff, a shake of his head and turned tail back into the house.

I’ve checked the weather forecast thunderstorms morning to night for today and tomorrow. Better get more DVD’s. At least I won one round, shortly I will be watching Sarah Jessica Parker battling the mummy wars in I Don’t Know How She Does It.

How was your last holiday? Dream event or holiday from hell?