How I survived a family holiday

my real life sunset

I’m not exactly sure what the term ‘family holiday’ means. Firstly, just placing these words next to each other undoes any true, and positive, meaning of the second.

A family holiday is not, I repeat, not, by any means, a holiday. The only definitions I could find of holiday included words such as ‘festive,’ ‘recreation,’ and ‘leisure.’ In particular, I love this definition: a day (or days) of festivity or recreation when no work is done.

You see, that makes me laugh.

We just returned from a week’s family holiday. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. By hard I mean, manual labour hard. By hard, I mean stressful, sleep deprived, anger filled. I’m ashamed to say it but it’s true.

C and I worked harder over the last week than we have in a long time. And we had not one but two grandmothers with us who worked just as hard.

Yes, my three boys require four hard-working adults to manage them

But on our fourth day, I was sitting outside our holiday unit (there’s that crazy word again). The three boys had just gone down for their first day sleep of the holiday (which is necessary when you’re waking at 4.30am. And when I say ‘waking’ I mean ready to start the damn day).

I was thinking about how I’d just yelled and then sung 30,000 lullabies and then tiptoed out of their room and downed a glass of water and sat down in one of the sun lounges outside the unit and I thought, the sun is hot and there is a seagull. All by himself. Standing on a jetty which reaches out over a body of water, big and still and framed by a low lying, gentle horizon. And I thought. This is ok. This moment is OK. Many moments have not been ok but this one is. And right now that’s what I have and I will sit with it and hold onto it and sit and hold and sit and hold.

And then I thought of all the other moments of grace that butted up against the hard stuff. I thought of my first sip of coffee, strong and hot so early in the morning. I thought of little boys running away from waves and laughing, the moisterising of my skin after stretches of time in the sun. I thought of hugs from my mother and that second glass of wine each evening easing me out of the day. I thought of the goats cheese C and I enjoyed on our night out and getting to lick everyone’s gelato on our daily trip into town. I thought of my thigh muscles working hard for the first time in a long time and toddlers scooting, entertaining the crowd. I thought of holding my little boy through the waves, his legs wrapped so tight around mine. I thought of the lady who stepped out from her market stall to tell me how beautiful he is. I thought of sunsets, which leave you breathless and sunrises, which remind you that you are part of something much bigger.

I made myself think of all those things as I watched the seagull, standing by himself in the sun by the water which is big and still but urges me to dive in.

How do you survive family holidays? 

Date-Night Derby, or how to keep the spark alight

I don’t often write about C on here. We’ve haven’t mentioned it much but I know he’d prefer to be more out, or on the edges, of the picture, than in. It’s just the kind of guy he is.*

While this has the makings of an entirely different blog post, suffice to say I’ve thought often over the last 6 months how any marriage that survives the raising of multiple small children is incredibly special. When all you’ve got in common is hard, and mostly thankless, work, it’s hard to find that spark you lit together those years ago.

I’m a big believer in establishing and celebrating traditions, so when Christmas and C’s birthday come round, I’m very keen to step out and beyond, to try and give him something which brings him enough joy to momentarily forget that life is so damn crazy hard. It feels like I have these moments to tell him how grateful I am for him and for us and for the diamond-like laughs we manage to find in all this rough.

But, he’s a guy that wants for nothing and wants nothing. His pleasures are simple and are pretty much covered by a Sunday afternoon on the couch with the Western Bulldogs.

Last Christmas I was really struggling and all I could think was that I would much rather give him little things throughout the year rather than try and think of something big, something meaningful, something frankly pretty random at that moment.

And so came to life, the 2012 Date-Night Derby, the gift that keeps on giving.

I thought of 12 different things we could do as a date night. I tried to mix it up a bit, those things we always loved doing and did by default whenever we find time alone together, and other things completely outside the square. Then, depending on the event and the weather it required and whether I needed to book anything or I knew we had other things on, I assigned each event to a different month. I then printed each on a separate piece of paper and put it in its own envelope and then put all twelve in a gift bag.

Our deal is that C can only open the date-night envelope when the month has actually started. It’s fun that way and it truly feels like I’m giving a gift every time he opens an envelope.

It’s ensured regular date nights (and we’re much more organised at arranging babysitting) and we do things that we would not think of on the spur of the moment when a grandmother, or aunty pop round at late notice and push us out the door.

This has been fun peoples, I totally recommend it as a gift. In fact, I think it’s so great that secretly, I’m hoping Santa has the same idea for me this year.

*He works in a high profile industry but you’d never even know.


Have you got any great present ideas for your partner? Or, even better, any great date-night ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen confidential (or how toys can inspire)

We arrived home late last Sunday afternoon to be greeted by a gift left at our front door. I’d had a feeling it was coming but hadn’t said anything to the boys. I like them to experience surprise but also I wasn’t sure they’d find it too impressive. I didn’t want to preempt their response so I just kept quiet.

Now, this toy has lived with us for the last week and in this time it has been played with more than any other toy in this house except toy trains which have long been favoured. Sdash is most engaged with the new toy. Every day he wakes and comes down stairs to make himself a breakfast ‘smoothie’ followed by bacon and eggs. He offers us custard throughout the day and nervously anticipates our response to his fish and chips. He asks us for more and more ingredients and his repertoire of dishes expands daily.

Yes, we were left a beautifully conditioned, pre loved toy kitchen. With an oven, hotplates that make a cooking sound when a pot is placed on them, a blender, sink for washing dishes and drying rack, this kitchen rivals any Miele super kitchen.

Not only has this toy provide hours of entertainment and preoccupation, it has had a profound effect on our reluctant eater.  This week he has tried pumpkin soup, chosen and eaten raw carrot completely of his own accord and eaten his lunch each day at daycare (albeit with help). All of which are completely unheard of when it comes to our vegetable-averse two year old.

I put it down to the kitchen and his new found inspiration for cooking and for food. It seems overnight he’s realised that food can be a source of enjoyment, something to think about, plan and appreciate. It’s been a lovely awakening to watch and I hope the benefits we’ve experienced this week stick around.

But if not, the new toy is worth all the joy we see on our little man’s face when we exclaim how wonderful the pear and tomato sauce smoothie he has made, tastes.

What toys do you find have inspired your children?

Saturday morning market love

Here is a little documentation of our regular Saturday mornings. We arrive at the markets early, drink hot coffee while juggling oversized bacon and egg rolls. The  boys enjoy organic juices and blueberry bagels with a heavy dusting of sugar on top. We’re a bit chilly but happy and well sated. It’s a very happy little ritual we have.

 

 

 

 

Family fable: 6 things to help Mother Earth

In the lead up to Earth Hour on 26 March 2011

Let us a little permit Nature to take her own way; she better understands her own affairs than we.  ~Michel de Montaigne, translated

I’m pretty damn conscious of environmentally friendly living. But unfortunately, I’m no poster girl for the environmental future. I’m well aware of what I should be doing but there’s a sizeable gap between this and my ecological reality.

There are a few environmentally friendly things I do try and do consistently however. Things I try not to negotiate. I find that if I commit to these things, then adding other ecological efforts (small and big) into our day or our week or our year is much easier. I may not be as consistent with these other efforts but slowly I find myself adding them to my list of ‘non-negotiables’. I’m hoping in a couple of years I can feel confident that our carbon footprint is more of a gentle impression than a firm fixture.

1. Recycling – I’m a stickler for using our recycling system. I make sure that every item is in the correct bin and have been known to go through the rubbish in search of a renegade bottle or tin.

2. Cloth nappies – I’ve used cloth nappies with each of the boys. Their use has grown in momentum over the years. For the first, it was casual. For the second, more part-time and now, with Lbaby, we use cloth nappies all the time. Of course it’s easier now because I do at least one load of laundry a day. In fact, I find using cloth nappies as easy as pie. These are the ones I use. I was given some and others I researched and love. They all work well for us.

3. Environmentally-friendly cleaning products – I make my own washing powder using this recipe. I use bicarb and vinegar instead of multipurpose cleaner. In fact, I use vinegar to clean most things around the house. It works a dream. I also make my own floor cleaner (recipe here). When I find I do have to buy cleaning products, I make sure they are truly ecologically sound even if they are double the price of other brands. We have cleaners who come every two weeks and I am going to start asking them to use the cleaning products I have.

4. Weekly shop at the farmers market – we have a fantastic farmers market every Saturday which is close by. The boys love our Saturday morning ritual of free range bacon and egg rolls with organic juice. Usually there are a few trains taken to play with as mummy and daddy enjoy a coffee and bagel. Importantly, though, I do our fruit and veg shop here. Whether it’s organic or not, the produce is grown locally and each store must comply with certain farming methods in order to be able to sell at the markets.

5. Green energy – we have opted for the 100% green alternative in energy sources.

6. Carbon offset flights – this doesn’t seem a big deal but we fly to Victoria a lot because of C’s family so it adds up.

I find with each of these 6 things I am able to balance their financial commitment with their ecological benefit. This works for us at the moment. But, there are many more things I’d like to be doing. I feel too time and money poor for most of them right now but I know I need to do more research to find more viable options. For example:

- ecological toys

- recycled or handmade clothing

-making more of our own food like bread, pasta etc

- growing our own food (we have not a garden to speak of but I know this shouldn’t preclude our food growing efforts)

What are the ‘non-negotiable’ green options for you at the moment? Have you had any success with those things on my wish list?

Family fable: manners are important, why?

We never really discussed why but from a very early age we encouraged the Abomb to say please and thank you. By early, I think about 1 year. And then at 2 ½ we encouraged him to start saying ‘pardon’ instead of ‘what’. I classify these words as manners. Perhaps it was my parents-in-law influence as they are sticklers for manners and looked after the Abomb until is was one.

At age 5, I now get many comments about the Abomb’s manners. These comments don’t make me feel any differently other than being grateful that manners have obviously become automatic for him.

Things (as usual) are so different for Mr Sdash. Despite our best efforts, he simply will not use his ‘manners’.  We don’t get angry with Sdash for not saying please or thank you but I have been known to ignore his requests until he says please. Most of the time, I remind him to but when I do, I sometimes wonder why I am?

My book club once had a discussion about manners and what they are. We were a bit confused. What are they, I mean really? According to wikipedia they’re “the unenforced standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite, and refined.” Sounds pretty trivial to me. What does it mean to be proper anyway? While being proper and/or refined really doesn’t matter to us, being polite does. But why? Why do we want our children to be polite, to us and to others?

When he has asked why we say please and thank you, C and I have explained that to do so shows thoughtfulness, that it shows you care about the person you are speaking to, that you respect them. Using manners acknowledges that you are going to or have received something special from that person (be it a glass of water or turn on the swing). And in our family, C and I try hard to model polite behaviour. We feel this is the most way of teaching the kids appropriate use of manners.

In his book, Unconditional Parenting Alfie Kohn asserts that the use of please and thank you is meaningless and that what a child receives should not be dependent on their use of these words. He claims that this expects too much of a child and there is little logic for him or her in the use of these words. I appreciate his viewpoint. I totally get it, but it’s not for me, or my family.

Then I read this book and discovered that an essential aspect of the Montessori approach to education is to teach grace and courtesy as an extension of civility and kindness.* This resonated with me and now gives me a reference point when explaining why manners are important in our family.

What’s your feelings or approach towards manners?

* I also read this article which I found interesting.

photo by jcolman via flickr

 

Organisation is my drug of choice

A couple of months ago, I was also in a pretty bad space. I was feeling overwhelmed with the job of raising three small boys. I was feeling hemmed in in the house we rented in our move back to Sydney, feeling that it was pokey and poorly laid out. I was hot (summer here is bad man), I was tired (no, baby does not and has not slept through the night) and I felt generally overwhelmed. I was snappy and short with the boys and downright rude to C. I just felt, day-to-day, I couldn’t get on top of anything. There was always laundry waiting to be washed (which inevitably always contained the Abomb’s entire school uniform), washing up to be loaded, meals to be cooked, beds to change, books to read, neglected friends to see and list goes on. I feel exhausted just writing it.

It began to dawn on me that having three kids takes you into another realm of family operations. I realised that it was going to take a lot of work to keep us functional, work I had really considered when deciding to expand our family. Family had become my ‘job’ rather than just the warm and fuzzy feeling I had falling asleep at night. I began thinking of myself as the CEO of a proper functional little organisation.

And in the wake of this personal epiphany, I cottoned on to this thing called home and/or family organisation. This serendipitously coincided with me stumbling across some great interesting and informative blogs that focus on the art of simplification. Having been an avid ‘mommy blog’ reader for many years, I had no idea there were blogs dedicated to providing  ’how-to’ guides on family living! Schedules, menu planning, to do lists, monthly planners – an entire world opened up. And, yes, I jumped right on the bandwagon. In future posts I will write about the most valuable tools I’ve come across. But seriously, this organisation thing has turned me from a domestic monster into a just functioning human being.

The best thing of all, and this might sound strange, it has made me feel like a better mother. I’m so. much. less stressed and as such, am so. much. nicer to have around. This self-awakening of mine has meant the family has had a double win – we have a new rhythm that seems to flow well (ie. we now have clean clothes and dinners other than fish fingers) and we also have a much more pleasant mama aboard the ship.

What organisational tools are the most important for your family?

photo by Brian Vallelunga via flickr

With-out time-out

At my sons’ daycare, they have a ‘relaxation’ chair. It’s a chair on the side of the room, by a big window, where the kids go when they need to ‘relax’. This tends to occur when the child has transgressed in some way. They are encouraged to spend some time on the relaxation chair in order to ‘feel better.’

When I was first introduced to this idea, I only had one little boy and that little boy had thus far been pretty, damn easy. Lucky me. But it got me thinking that it would be nice to use something similar to the relaxation chair at home when we needed it.

Except I didn’t manage it quite so effectively, encouraging the Abomb, when I felt he needed it, to spend time in his bedroom ‘relaxing’ (read: on his own). And so, began our failed relationship with ‘time-out.’ It never worked. Ever. Either the Abomb would get even more upset (crazily so), or he’d just play with his trains, having no idea that he was experiencing a negative consequence of his behaviour.

There’s been similar zero-effect with Sdash. In fact, it’s worse with him. He rarely just plays, he tends to get so worked up that we spend more time trying to deal with his behaviour as a product of enforced time-out than we would have had we ignored his behaviour in the first place.

A few weeks ago, I finally vowed to throw our use of time-out, out. Forever. It just doesn’t work. But, what next? I had no alternatives. I had no other effective (but gentle) ideas about how to implement behavioural consequences. So, I hit the books.

I read about the Comfort Corner here (I’m going to discuss this book in greater detail soon, it’s great) and when I read about this idea, I immediately thought of daycare’s ‘relaxation chair.’ The connection between the two is that they are ultimately child-determined which is where the use of time-out markedly differs. When I implemented our ‘relaxation room’ I hadn’t thought about that at the time.

So, this is how I went about implementing the Comfort Corner at home.

First of all, I discussed the idea with Abomb and we talked about how nice it would be for him to have a spot to go to when he’s upset or angry or feeling overwhelmed.

I asked him where he’d like his Comfort Corner to be (in Mummy and Daddy’s room, he said, so that he would definitely be left alone – he shares his bedroom).

Then I asked what he’d like to have in his Comfort Corner (his Thomas doona cover and pillow, 2 soft toys and some books).

So we decided, when he was angry or upset or feeling ‘out of control’ I would ask him whether he’d like to go to the Comfort Corner and together we’d quickly get the necessary items ready. If he needed me there, and it was OK with the other bubs, I would sit with him.

And so far, it’s worked! He loves it and spends at least 5 minutes each time reading dinosaur books. He always responds well when I ask him whether he’d like to go and truth be told, my asking is so much more gentle than when I used to find myself yelling at him to have time out.

Have you found any gentle disciplining techniques that work for your family? If so, please share!!

 

Inaugural

There have been many parenting issues that have sprung up for our family over the past 5 years. The Abomb began life as a very easygoing, happy, pretty straightforward baby. This changed. About 6 months after the birth of his first brother, things became tougher. Since then, we’ve had our ‘easy’ phases and our more ‘challenging’ phases. He’s very sensitive and does not seem to manage extreme emotions well. Extreme excitement, happiness, anger and sadness all play out in exaggerated behaviours which can be challenging to handle and even more challenging to fix. I guess, in all honesty, to date I’ve approached parenting with a ‘fix it’ attitude. That is, I can’t help but feel I need to ‘fix’ him, ‘fix’ the problem. I am starting to learn, albeit slowly, that this approach is both exhausting for me, frustrating for him and generally totally unproductive.

Fact is, the Abomb pushes all of my buttons. My mad, bad buttons at that. We clash but our expressions of love are as intense as our expressions of frustration. I am aware that I have been responding to him as a person, rather than to his behaviours. This I now know to be fundamentally unproductive and basically unfair. I know I need to manage the behaviour because who is he is, is a vibrant, thoughtful, loving and generous human being.

It is this challenge, to manage his often extreme behaviour, which has motivated my search for tangible alternatives. I’ve begun reading parenting theory and parenting ‘self-help’ madly. Often I’ve found the philosophy compelling, heartfelt, inspiring but not practical. Sometimes, I read information which provides many alternatives but fails to explain why these are effective. And then, there are times I read, listen or watch something that resonates so strongly with me that I begin to feel inspired as a parent.

I want is to share this search with you. To discuss with you what has worked for us and what hasn’t. To share my ongoing attempts to create a positive and generative family dynamic. To share my attempts to foster the individual gifts and idiosyncrasies my children possess.

I so want to give each one of my children the opportunity to thrive and to appreciate each of life’s moments, the delightful and the challenging.

This is my attempt.

Each Monday I bring you, Shelf Help, my review of parenting theories and information I’ve read.

We are mad readers in this family so on Wednesdays I will post Book buzz, a review of children’s literature that we’ve enjoyed.

On Fridays I will post Family Fables, which will look at how we’ve implemented some of the strategies I’ve read about and how successful this has been.

Every second Thursday there will be a guest post, Food for family, on children’s nutrition with a recipe.

Of course, this is all bound to change but it’s the current plan.

I’m really pleased you’ve found me, or in fact, found us because my family will be littered across these pages. I always find reading great blogs with a nicely brewed cup of coffee or glass of red wine quite perfect. So feel free!