Home Early – High Expectations

Today my children were all sent home early from school. Not because they had done anything wrong (phew!) but because of the weather. A snowstorm loomed and the school district issued early dismissal.

I squeezed all my chores into a two hour window, although my tennis workout had to be forfeited, and had big plans for my children’s early arrival from school. This is what I planned…

All homework was to be completed as soon as they got home. After that we would all take the dog for a long country walk(in the freezing cold). Arriving back at home we would bake cookies and then each child would complete half an hour of reading (not comicbooks but a proper intellectually stimulating novel or text book). Any children with outstanding school projects would dilligently work on them while I prepared dinner.  We would then eat together as the dog snoozed and the fire roared.

This is what has happened so far…

My kids arrived home and proceeded to chase each other around the house, yelling and shrieking. Their laughter soon turned to tears as one or other of them took a tumble or bump.

My younger son retreated into his bedroom to play with his Lego. My older son, after incessantly tormenting his younger sister, hooked up with a buddy online, also released early from school, and began creating some new world where characters buy and sell coal while defending themselves from attack (or at least that’s what it looks like to me).

My daughter decided to have a long, and much needed, bath. Afterwards I attempted to style her hair with hair products, which didn’t go so well. After a bit of a disagreement on hairstyle options, my daughter settled down to watch something funny on TV. I made a cup of tea, in which I dipped two Oreos and listened to my daughter chortling.

Eventually I took the dog down to the garden and collected the eggs from my rather bedraggled looking chickens. When I came back my younger son greeted me in a cowboy hat, riding an imaginary horse.

I’ve yet to make dinner so there’s still hope that we may all sit round the table but it could get fraught later because as far as I know no-one has done any homework!

I used to get frustrated when things didn’t go as planned but you know at the end of the day, it’s been a nice afternoon and I’m happy to say I have, at this moment, three calm, contended children.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a happier parent when I stop lamenting how often things don’t go as planned and instead, happily, take things as they come…

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A Walk In the Woods

Having lived in Texas for the past six years I must confess to having forgotten what chilly weather feels like. In the summer my family and I relocated to New Jersey. This is our first winter here and here’s what I’ve learned so far…

1) The trees make strange noises when they freeze.

2) To go outside with no gloves and hat is utter madness.

3) It’s hard to walk briskly when your thighs are numb with cold.

4) My adorable dog, Chloe, does not appear feel the cold and will happily walk in it for hours… my children however are not so keen.

5) It is incredibly exhilarating to walk in almost freezing temperatures and oddly fun to find one can no longer feel one’s chin!

We are expecting snow this week.I say: “Bring. It. On!”

 

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Your parenting legacy

Growing up, on the rare occasions we would go out for dinner, my family and I would invariably encounter a surly waitress. You know the sort: plonks the menu on the table with a sigh, takes your order as if it’s the most boring thing in the world and practically thumps you one when you ask for extra cutlery! I exaggerate but you get the idea. 

When this situation arose, my Dad would say something like: “A prize for the person who can crack a smile from the grumpy waitress!” At which point my sister and I would groan, sinking further into our chairs. 

Next time the waitress would appear at the table, my Dad would make a comment along the lines of: “Bit busy in here tonight.” Often this would be all it took and we’d watch the waitress relax, her face softening with a small smile.

If she was a tough nut to crack he’d try again. Maybe put a fake snake on the table next time she came around. (You need to know that it’s usual for my father to carry props like this around with him – he has been known to put a glass eyeball on his plate in the hopes of successfully rising a squeal or two!) Or maybe he’d balance a fork on his glass, anything out of the ordinary to get a smile.

If all this failed and our waitress was particularly dour, he would say, with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky grin: “Are you having a horrible day?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique fail! A comment like this would completely disarm our server and from then on she’d be putty in our hands…and full of smiles!

My Mum was the same. She’d often strike up a quick chat with people here and there as we did our shopping along the high-street. An old man waiting to cross the road for example or the woman in front of us in the check-out queue.  She was always, and still is, ready with a smile or a nod. Especially with elderly people. “You should always say hello,” she’d say to me. “You might be the only person they speak to all day.”

As a kid I would find the whole thing hugely embarrassing. I would roll my eyes at both my parents and wish I was invisible.  It was mortifying. I didn’t get the point at all.

But as an adult I do get the point and I find myself doing exactly the same thing as my parents. What’s more I do it in front of my children who find it just as insanely embarrassing as I did. “Why do you always talk to the check-out girl!” My daughter will hiss as we leave the supermarket. “Do you know that man at the gas-station?” My son will ask. “I’m just trying to be friendly!” is my reply. Because what harm is it to smile at someone or pass the time of day? It costs nothing but gives so much more. 

So as I happily watch my children writhe in humiliation (an unexpected joy of parenting I find) I realise that this is part of my parents’ parenting legacy. As a mother of children still pre-teen, I tend to think of parenting as a relatively short period of time, while my children are living at home and need me to wipe their noses or buy their shoes, but it runs much deeper than that. It’s in everything we do, every decision we make and it lasts a lifetime. 

So why not teach them the value of a smile or a friendly hello instead of how to argue over a parking space? Why not teach them the beauty of giving someone the benefit of the doubt instead of rushing to take offence? Why not teach them how to extend a hand to their fellow man rather than how to pick a fight?
What will your parenting legacy be?🙂

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Who really is the Biggest Loser?

I’m sorry I just don’t like the tv series The Biggest Loser. I know it’s extremely popular but I just don’t get it.  I’ve seen the odd show here and there but the trailer for the new series was enough to remind me it’s not on my list of show’s to record. The clip goes something like this: over-weight man struggling to stay on a treadmill in the gym, keeps falling off, in the background Jillian Michaels is yelling insults at the guy and eventually says “Get your sorry ass out of my gym!” 

Oh nice! Am I the only one who thinks this is a form of personal abuse? Would Ms Micheals enjoy being yelled at in this way while she trying to prove a complicated math’s hypothesis or something else that she found challenging? Would we find it acceptable if, as she struggled to note down numbers and fractions on the white board, a math’s professor was ridiculing her and telling her she wasn’t trying hard enough? And then dismissed her from the classroom with a look of disgust?

The reason it bothers me is because I can’t help feeling that the only way you would put up with being yelled at in this humiliating manner is because your self-esteem is so low you think you don’t deserve to be treated any differently.  Yes go ahead and  yell at me because I’m fat and so I deserve it! It’s like beating someone who is already down. Isn’t that bullying?
I know we have a rise in obesity to deal with, I know our society needs to keep fit and eat healthy but why on earth do we think we can ridicule others and verbally abuse them into being thin?  

The contestants on the show must know what they’re getting into so I’m assuming they find it motivating or at least they are willing to endure it in order to get the results they want. And all power to them for taking the challenge. 

But let’s not forget that this is all being televised and there are impressionable young minds at home watching it. 

I’ll admit, it’s personal for me: I’ve been over-weight all my life. Growing up I was regularly teased about it; I always worried about some kid calling me a name on the bus or in gym class. I never knew when it would happen, I wouldn’t do anything to initiate it, I could just be walking down the street minding my own business and some idiot would yell: “Hello fatty!” Because everyone knows it’s funny to laugh at the fat kid right?

Now I’m not saying this so you can all get the violin’s out.  I’m over it, thank goodness and you know we all have our crosses to bear. I don’t want pity…I’m fit and healthy and I rather like myself thanks very much!🙂

But come on, enlighten me, I know it’s obviously popular TV, but why is it ok for Jillian Micheals to hurl abuse at her contestants? Why are we ok watching that while vehemently advocating against bullying in schools? Isn’t that a mixed message?  Why, as a society, do we give air-time to a show which, at times (so it seems to me) encourages motivation through abuse and aggression?

 

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Am I qualified to be a parent?

Becoming a parent was one of the most overwhelming, life-changing things to happen to me. Surely it must be for most people? I’d like to meet the person who says parenting is a breeze. Really – so if that’s you, please get in touch!

As a new parent you transform, rather abruptly, from being an individual going about your own business, responsible for your own thoughts, actions and bodily functions, to a person intensely connected to someone else’s thoughts, actions and…bodily functions (not always pleasant)!

I will never forget the feeling of panic when my husband and I prepared to leave the hospital with our first son, a strapping 9lb infant with a red face. I remember fumbling with his babygrow and thinking: “Are they really going to let me walk of this place with this baby? How on earth do they know I’m qualified to take care of him?” I kept expecting someone in authority to walk in and hand me a sheet of paper: “You’ll need to pass this parenting test first.”  But no one came, there was no test apparently.  My husband and I gingerly drove home with a beautiful baby boy in the back-seat of the car.

From then on, the urge to protect my child from everything harmful was all-consuming. At first it was practical things like making sure he didn’t choke or bang his head. But as he got a bit older I wanted to protect him from emotional harm. Hoping he wasn’t picked on by the other children at nursery or making sure he wasn’t too upset when the lovable animal-elder died peacefully in a Disney movie. As a parent you want to make sure you’re there with a Band-aid or Kleenex right?

But the fact is we can’t protect our kids from the world, the good and the bad, they have to experience it all. Just like we did…and still do.

I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt qualified to be a parent. It’s a constant learning curve. But to be fair the moment you think you know it all about parenting you’re probably on dodgy ground. Every stage of my children’s lives is a new one, for every one in the family because no two children are the same. Even their births were all completely different; an early indication for us that they were all going to be unique! My children change as the years go on but so do I, so does my husband. Family life is full of variables; the moment you think you’ve nailed it, some other challenge comes along.

There are no answers. There is no parenting manual. Yes there are a lot of parenting books but it’s remiss to think they hold the answer. They can offer guidance certainly and after all isn’t that what we should be offering to our children? We’re not supposed to give them all the answers, we can’t possibly know them anyway. We can only offer them what we learned from our own experience. Are children are inviduals; they may need to take a completely different path, they may need to make completely different choices. Sometimes, as parents and as individuals, we have to hold up our hands and admit we made a mistake or that we just don’t know.

Healthy children aren’t raised by know-it-alls.

They’re raised by parents who are honest, tolerant and have intergity. (Most of the time anyway…after all nobody’s perfect!)

Or at least that’s what I think…but what do you think? Maybe you think that there’s too much tolerance going on in the parenting world, maybe you feel children are given too many choices or that too much honesty is a bad thing for our children today? All comments are welcome because, as I said, I’m still on the learning curve…

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The after-school rollercoaster!

Oh the joys of extra-curricular activities! Anyone else with kids feel like they’re rushing around like a headless chicken after school making sure their beloved off-spring get to their Yoga-For-Tots or Young Chefs class on time? It’s craziness! I’m trying to keep our after-school commitments under a tight rein but if you’re not careful, before you know it, your kid’s calendar looks much like that of an A-list celeb!

At the moment my kids play tennis, my son fences and my daughter takes a drama class. It’s enough to fill up the week and make me just a tad stressed at times! If I’m honest I’d rather just let them hang out at home, doing their homework and picking their nose but unfortunately parents are under a lot of pressure to enrich their children’s lives with sport and crafts these days.

There is a pletherer of after-school activities available, so whatever your child is interested in, chances are you can find a class for it. When you turn up at these places, the classes are usually well attended but I find myself wondering how many of the students would rather be kicking a ball around on their back yard, or pootling about on their bikes. And I have to wonder do they really need to be doing Chess Club and Fine Arts?

The other day, I took my son to his regular fencing class. Usually I enjoy a trip to Costco during his lesson, but last night, in an effort to resist the lure of a jumbo pack of kitchen towels, I decided to hang around and read a book. There were a few other parents there, some on their phones, some tapping way on Ipads and the others were watching. No hang on, they weren’t just watching, what they were actually doing was coaching their kids, yelling out instructions from the back of the room. Every time there was a water break these parents would go over and say things like: “You’re lifting your front foot to high” or “you’re not moving quickly enough.” As if it weren’t enough for their children to be taking guidance from the fencing coach, you know the person actually qualified to instruct in the method of fencing, they also had to endure negative criticism from their parents.

Then I felt uncomfortable wearing my Judging Hat because I’m sure I’ve done the exact same thing. I know I am sometimes the parent muttering at the back of the room. And I couldn’t help wondering, why don’t we just leave the kids alone to get it in their own time? Have we lost all faith in our childrens’ ability to grasp a new skill without parental badgering from the sidelines?

Growing up, my main interest was drama. I used to go down on the bus every Satruday and would spend three hours happily prancing around pretending to be a tree or working on a my solo pieces. My parents never came. Even when I practiced at home, my parents didn’t usually listen to me or give me instruction. When I ask my Mum about this and she usually says something along the lines of: “Well we just trusted you to get on with it!” Or “I had things to do!”

And I did…I just got on with it. I didn’t feel unloved or uncared for. I could always go to my parents for help but they certainly weren’t breathing down my neck. The result of this approach was that every time I did take part in a drama competition or my school exams, I was doing so as an invidual. I always knew my achievements, and my mistakes, were my own. As they should be.

I think that parents now are more insecure about their children than my parents generation (I include myself here). We push our kids at school, we push them at sport outside of school, we expect them to be accomplished public speakers. But by heaping the pressure on and holding their hands the whole time, we in fact disinfranchise our kids because we stop them from become true individuals. We sap out the enterpise and creativity from their souls because we send them the message that they can’t so it on their own and that there’s no place for failure.
It’s good to have hopes for your kids obviously, it’s natural to want them to do well but doesn’t it feel like we’re rushing them along? So much so, we’re not leaving them room for error. Shouldn’t we have more faith in their ablity to work it out themselves? To embrace their mistakes? We trying so hard to protect them from failing without realising that we are in turn depriving them of a vital life lesson. We need to ask ourselves why we are enrolling our kids into all these extra-curricular activites? Who is it for? What is it for? Shouldn’t we be teaching them that it’s ok sometimes to get up and have a go, and not win a trophy?

Now it’s the beginning of a New Year, a chance to re-evaluate. I’m in the process of assessing my own kids extra-cirruclar activities. At the moment they seem to be enjoying it and I’m coping with being a taxi to get them to various places. I drop off and pick up. I’m making an effort to be supportive without getting over-involved. For now, I feel I have it under control but to be fair that’s probably because my youngest son has yet to get sucked into the after-school mayhem.

Although I’m proud to say that he is rather good at picking his nose…and that’s without any guidance for me of course!😉

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A Blogtastic New Year!

Oh so good to be back on the blogosphere! My last post was in April 2012 just before a massive relocation took my family and I to New Jersey. Much as I planned to continue writing, tweeting and all that good stuff, I found I just couldn’t do it. I like to think I’m a multi-tasker but the reality was, that settling my family into a new home, new schools and new area was completely all-consuming. In the end I stopped trying to squeeze it all in and put my personal writing goals on hold.

But now we’re at the beginning of a New Year and it’s impossible to resist the lure of New Year’s Resolutions. Not that I’m making any. I mean the last time I made an official New Year’s resolutions list it consisted of something like: 1) Get fit 2) Get good grades and 3) Get a boyfriend.  So yeah it was a long time ago! 

However,now in the lull after Christmas and before the onslaught of Everything Spring, I am catching my breath, taking stock and planning ahead.

2012 whizzed by and shall hearby be known as The Year of Admin; it was all about change of address stickers, making new friends, organising and reorganising cupboards. But 2013 will The Year of Action, The Year of Not-Putting-Things-Off, The Year of Personal Fullfillment! Oh and also the year of watching as many Oscar nominated movies as possible (hmm… must keep looking for a good babysitter!)

What I like about these sorts of resolutions is that they are suitably vague yet vaguely inspiring.  And also sort of fail-proof; after all if I manage to keep the house stocked up on loo roll all year who’s to say that’s not personally fullfilling?  No-one has to know I set a personal goal of completing my second novel by March. (Eek! Did I just say that out loud?)

Or if I take my car for an oil change well before the warning light flashes isn’t that in fact an indication that I am not putting things off? You see where I’m going with this… I think the key is to keep your expectations (and everybody else’s) low.

So come on…what were your New Year’s Resolutions? It’s a safe place and no one will judge you…I promise!

 

 

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