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Who the Hell Am I?

My eldest daughter, the Hippie Child worries, she’s 15 and doesn’t know what she wants to do for a career. The pressure starts early now. My hollow reassurances that she will figure it eventually are of little comfort.

The process of discovering yourself, creating a life, establishing a career is a never-ending cycle of success, failure, regret, optimism, defeat, getting it right, royally stuffing it up – but probably not what she needs to hear right now.

I worry I’m pushing her into a creative, arty life, after all that’s what I like. She’s good at art, textiles, writing (although spelling remains an area of concern she’s certainly a child of the spell check generation).

Then I remember some 13 years ago standing in the Montessori pre-school while the teacher demonstrated the maths equipment and I had a light bulb moment “oh my god I would have understood maths if it was explained like this”. Later the teachers would be concerned because Hippie Child had no interest in learning letters and sounds and reading. Wrapped up in imagination she turned every lesson into an exercise of creative storytelling “this letter is P what starts with P?” “Princess starts with P, the princess lived in a beautiful castle on the top of the really big hill and the man on the horse came to rescue her …” it was a tedious process trying to get her to focus. If she wasn’t making up stories she could be found in the practical life corner, grating soap, peeling boiled eggs, pouring water between containers – it’s the first stage in the Montessori system and by your final year you really should have moved on. But Hippie Child liked to go back and help the little ones and most days could be found there. Eventually the teachers discovered she didn’t mind maths so that became her focus. By accident one day I discovered she could do basic sums in her head, she was confident and correct. Then she went to school and poor teaching, coupled with a pretty inflexible education system led to her deciding she “was no good at maths”, that label has stuck.

We were all surprised when in the first year of high school, she did well at Science, and really enjoyed the subject. The interest has waned a little in the past couple of years, it is clear that she responds to individual teachers, she likes it when they tell stories, fire up her imagination, she wants to know why things are, how they work, she’s kinesthetic and visual. Exams, and deadline driven assignments, pressurised homework  to a set criteria tend to dull her enthusiasm for subjects, yet left to her own devices to read and explore she will spend hours working stuff out.

What if? What if I had got her maths tutoring? What if I had been more proactive with her teachers? What if I had sat down with her and continued teaching her maths the Montessori way? What if her Science teachers had continued to inspire her? What if I had chosen a school that didn’t have such an emphasis on homework and exams? What if I taken the Tiger Mother approach and just refused to accept the “I’m no good at maths” and drilled, and practised until so help me god she was good at maths?

Perhaps she would end up a nuclear physicist? Or an accountant? Oh please not an accountant. See putting my own prejudices into the scenario.

Throughout life choices get made, your own and other people’s, shaping who you are and what you do.

At 44 the woman standing here has worn countless labels through the years,  daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, secretary, researcher, producer, executive PA,, coordinator, unit leader, partnership broker. How many were truly representative of who I am? Probably none, because your personality is a complex mix of circumstances, genetics, talents and foibles.

I know my picture of who I am is still a work in progress. However, it is clearer now than what it was as a starry-eyed teenager who believed everything was going to end up perfect. I know it’s much, much clearer than the murky years of the 30’s when a tired, overwhelmed mother didn’t know which way was up and had no idea how she was ever going to find herself again.

Along the way through adulthood you encounter things which make you tougher, you figure out there are lots of things you can handle, because you’ve dealt with worse in the past.

The elusive search for identity continues but you know yourself better. You know where you are strong, you know where you are weak.

The appearance of who you are can alter and recalibrate in different groups, different environments. But the core of who you has probably been assigned in those childhood years, your sense of right and wrong, your talents, your beliefs, have all been shaped during the years over which you have no control. Even the bad experiences can remodel into good when you take those lessons to the essence of who you are and make yourself stronger, more empathetic, kinder.

Right now who I am is predominantly a mother, an employee and a woman using her mid-life crisis to try to recapture a childhood dream of being a writer – hello blogging! But tomorrow that could all change.

You own free will allows you to reinvent yourself many times in a single lifetime, life would be very dull if we didn’t grow and change with new experiences.

How do you convey that to a 15-year-old? Obviously, you can’t. You have to let her go out and figure it all out for herself, with the hope she can find her passion early and get to nurture it for life, with the wish the rocky patches aren’t too bad and the happy days outnumber the sad.

 

Eden posed the the question “Who The Hell Are You” at her blog. Click the icon below to see how others took to the theme.

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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

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?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Summer

While I sit here rugged up in my winter woolies, the Weekly Photo Challenge asks me to cast my mind back to the summer. It was a soggy season, lots of rain and not nearly enough hot sun. However during one warm day Princess Child got out into the front yard and proved you can never be too old for a bit of fun with the garden hose and sprinkler. She even managed to convince her sister to join her at one point, well she squirted her with the water and she had to retaliate.

When was your last water fight?

Hope you are keeping warm wherever you are.

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.

Working Life

Quick drying trousers an essential wardrobe item for the organisationally challenged working mother.

As usual my disorganised approach to life has come back to bite me in the bum.

HUGE day yesterday with a 7.45am meeting with the Principal of the High School where Princess Child will be going next year. The child is a little anxious about the idea of going to high school so I reassure her with the usual platitudes of how great it will be to meet new friends, how the teachers won’t yell at her ’cause she’s a really good kid (even the Principal wasn’t able to back me up on that one “I can’t guarantee teachers won’t raise their voices if the class is getting a little noisy but it doesn’t happen every day”).

I was up at 5.00am because operating under the prevailing chaos theory which is the core of my existence I hadn’t finished the paperwork – dear Lord the forms you have to fill out just to get into a high school – I can’t find the birth certificate – I run out of time to complete two of the forms – I’m beginning to fear a detention. I also imagine the Principal having an aaahh moment when she recognises I’m the mother of the Hippie Child who has been known to wear quite a few detentions, all completely related to disorganisation – forgetting the homework, not having her hat, not remembering the sports uniform for PDHPE. As I stride into the school foyer paperwork flying, pen in hand madly scribbling, jacket hanging from one arm as I try to finish getting dressed I imagine the Principal thinking “now it all makes sense – the Hippie Child has no hope of ever getting on top of things with THIS as an example”. We survive the inquisition interview, I’m reasonably relaxed after all they took Hippie Child so it’s not like they can knock this one back.

I’m only 15 minutes late for work (yay) and the rest of  the day is fairly laid back until that moment when I realise I’m off to a meeting at 6.00pm tonight. Hippie Child is joining me at work at 4.00pm to go shopping for “horror” clothes for a birthday party this weekend.  We have half an hour until it’s time to pick up husband – there’s a mad dash around the shops – she keeps talking Emo (is that Elmo’s cousin or what)? We end up with ripped black jeans, black midriff top, interesting jacket – I think I’m leading her more towards Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan but she seems to think she can make it work.

I throw the family into the house at 5.30 and race around trying to find my one good pair of work pants – the one pair that don’t have the hem coming down or the top button missing – and realise in my rush to the Principal this morning I’ve left them in the washing machine. I run the iron over them in a pointless attempt at combating the damp and as the family calls time “it’s 5.49” I put them on anyway. Suddenly I have a flash forward to what an incontinent future may feel like. Polyester doesn’t take that long to dry does it?

I rev up the heater in the car, directing the heat to my legs, the car steams up and I can’t see where I’m going, I wind down the window and endure the blasts of cold air on my face as my legs broil.

Arriving in town, I walk really fast hoping the wind resistance will enable the last of the drying to take place.

Surprisingly, it seems to work and by the time I waltz into the presentation, almost on time,  über professional me has dry pants!

One day, one day I swear I am going to be on top of things. All responsibilities completed ahead of time and the bloody washing sorted.

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