Tag Archive | Family Living

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.

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?

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.

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.

The Story of Shambles Manor (an exercise in owner-building)

Trying to help - probably just getting in the way.

Be careful what you wish for it might just happen!

For as long as I can remember I haven’t been able to drive past a display village without popping in, wandering through the delightfully styled rooms, marvelling at the space, loving the design.

When we moved to Port Macquarie I searched high and low but couldn’t find a house I liked, so I decided to build my own version of those picture perfect display homes.

How difficult could it be? You tell someone your ideas and budget they whip you up a design, a builder gets a few contractors in and in next to no time you are relaxing on your back deck enjoying your spacious new abode.

How wrong I was.

A former colleague, had built his own mudbrick home some years previously he warned it wasn’t an easy process, I ignored him.

My husband explained you always go over budget building a new home, there are a myriad of costs not accounted for, we couldn’t afford it, I ignored him.

My mother mentioned tales of building woes from friends she knew, I ignored her.

I waltzed into the chosen designer with my folder of pictures and ideas I’d been collecting for years. There were different versions of the hundreds of display homes I had traipsed through over the years, and photos I’d collected from the many home magazines I devoured each week.

I was adamant I wanted something different, not the traditional brick and tile, but something original, an “oh wow” look.

The designer delivered an “oh wow” house,  unfortunately it came with an “oh wow” price tag.  When the builder preparing the contract to build rang to inform me we were $100,000 over budget and still going I put the brakes on,  we can’t build this until we get the price down!

I ripped out the rumpus room, laundry/shower, spare bedroom and workshop from under the house,  the idea of having space for my mum to live with us if she needed to were put on hold, where did I put those brochures for the retirement home?

I delete windows and add in more cladding, cheaper than brick and rendering.

We try again, this time we come in $50,000 over budget, and we still haven’t costed in the pool the whole house was supposed to be built around! The gaping hole remains a feature.

I put the whole idea on hold, commit to renting a grungy two bedroom unit with our dogs fostered out with my Aunt next door, and wondering how the hell we are going to get out of this mess.  We’re now paying a mortgage on a block of land we can’t afford to build on as well as rent for a too-small flat we don’t like.

We give the plans to other builders,  they either come in at the same price as the first or refuse to return my calls, obviously the interesting angles in the house put them off!

We find a local builder who helps people owner build but with contractors doing most of the work, he does a budget, more cladding is added,  the interesting angles are pretty much gone, several extra features are removed .. and he delegates  many jobs to my husband.  He brings it in on budget but there’s no room for error.

We return to our bank who had previously approved our loan to build on the first budget  but they decide they would rather lend us the extra $100,000 to stay with the builder than give us less money as owner builders.  We head to a local credit union who agree to loan us what we need.

Finally we can start, then my husband gets chest pains.

Two air ambulance trips,  a failed stent repair to an artery and then a double by-pass,  now that we’ve got that out of the way,  we begin building!

It’s stressful, difficult work (just what you need after a double by-pass). There are problems at different points.We got through.

To this day we still have a lounge room window painted purple from where bored young kids broke in and threw paint around the whole house (e-glass is highly thermal and very eco-friendly but probably not meant to be painted – impossible to remove)

We move in with many things still to be done. We are embracing the “construction look” – I’m trying to get it featured in Home Beautiful so it becomes trendy to have no floorboards, unpainted walls, no landscaping and windows that still need architraves. Seriously if we can just get a celebrity to go for it we could have the latest “cool look”.

The house seems to devour money, lots of money, on a daily basis. There are still jobs to be done when my husband has to return to work and it becomes challenging to fit in the many tasks left to do around travelling time and long hours. He continues plugging away.

The house doesn’t currently match the image I had in my head but we take it a day at a time as we contort our lives to accommodate our extended mortgage. What the hell was I thinking?

Ever built? Would you do it again? Or perhaps you had a dream that didn’t quite go to plan?