Friday, 13 November 2015

Parenting 101: A memory that became a lesson

My son is spending the day with his new teacher and class-mates today at his year 6 induction day, which is kind of a big deal in his life so far.

He goes to a school that has students from Reception through to Year 12 and the school is split into Primary School, Middle School and High School. Year 6 is the first year of Middle School so he’ll be graduating from Primary School this year with a real graduation ceremony and everything. It’s all a bit strange to me but both my kids seem to enjoy the structure of the school and so far it’s been a very positive experience for all of us.

The thing is, Nathan has a really tight posse of mates. REALLY TIGHT. Most of them went to kindergarten together and then started school at the same time. TOGETHER. They learn together, lunch together, walk together, play club-sport together, Skype together… you get the picture. And for Nathan, that’s extremely important. He’s the kind of kid who, despite being incredibly popular, really values the dynamic of having a small handful of close friends. So when he discovered yesterday that ALL of his mates were heading into one class and he was heading into another, the rug was pulled out from under his world.

And oh god how I felt for him. He was SO upset. Dejected and confused and then really worried about what lay ahead for him, especially because there is a huge intake of new [and potentially scary!] kids in Year 6. I talked calmly and sensibly and made all the right soothing noises but I was panicking inside. 

Why did they do this to my son?? How could they do this to him? How will I fix it?

I spoke to a couple of very wise mum friends who talked me off the ledge and I realised something significant. Nothing needed to be fixed. This may be well be the poster child for a ‘first-world problem.’ He just needed to understand how to manage it. I remembered my own quest to raise a resilient kid and I remembered how resilient I was when I was younger. Through necessity sure, but the end result was pretty decent.

I reminded Nathan that friendships don’t only live in the classroom but out on the oval and in the playground and on the footy field. I told him he would be fine and that he would be lucky enough to meet some new friends and when that didn’t work, I sat on the edge of his bed and quietly told him of a very special and important story...

When I was growing up, a looooong time ago, there was only Primary School and High School and they were two different schools. In different places.

High School started in Year 8 and the first time I met my new teacher in my new school with my new class-mates was on the first day of school.

I was SO NERVOUS. There was only one other girl, called Tara, from my Primary School in my class who was very nice but she wasn’t one my ‘friends’. Of course I sat next to her anyway but I was terrified that I wouldn’t have any friends in my new school.

I sat there quietly and watched as everyone’s name was called out for role call and they had to go up to the front of the class to collect something from our new teacher. I can’t remember what that something was but my surname started with B so I was one of the first people who had to go up the front. It was horrible! But over quickly and then I just sat and watched everyone else.

After some time the list got to W and I watched this girl, who I’d never seen before obviously, walk up to the front of the class. She was so confident! The boys in the class were saying silly things because boys are silly…

"No we’re not Mum!"

Well, SOME boys are silly and they were saying silly things to this girl [What I didn’t tell him, is that her windcheater had a picture of Mickey Mouse on it and the word Mickey printed randomly all over it. That was during the era that people in our neck of the woods called sperm/cum/ejaculation ‘mickey’ and those bastards were saying ‘ooooh she’s got ‘mickey’ all over her top”!] but she did not flinch! She didn’t rush and she didn’t fidget and she had no apology in her step.

I watched her and I thought to myself ‘THAT girl is going to my friend” and by the end of the day, we were friends.

"Yeah, that’s pretty cool actually. What happened next?"

Well… THAT girl is your Aunty Ilka that I’m STILL friends with today and if I hadn’t been alone that day I may not have noticed her. If I had all my Primary School friends with me, I may have only been with them and not had room in my heart for Aunty Ilka. Sometimes these scary days turn out to be the best things that could ever happen to you.

"Thanks Mum."

And just like that, my first day of high school became the gift that keeps on giving. A life-long friend AND a lesson in parenting.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

15 things I have learned in 15 years of marriage

Fifteen years ago this month, I got married.

He wasn’t my first love and he wasn’t the first man I ever fantasised about marrying. Because I’m the girl that fantasised about being a Mrs Somebody ever since I knew that was a thing. And I still have random pages, from decades ago, of doodles with Tania ‘surname’ signed in curly, girly writing with the ‘I’s dotted with love hearts.

But as it turned out, and luckily for me, he was the only man who ever actually asked ME to marry to him. And, obviously, I accepted. And we lived happily ever after.

Except not really.

Because over fifteen years ‘happy’ comes in waves and marriage looks a lot less like a fairytale romance and a lot more like real life and real life looks a lot like hard work.

But then nothing good comes easy… or for free.

I was raised by a single mum so I had no real life experience in marriage. The closest married role models I had were my grandparents, the one uncle that stayed married and my friend’s parents… and not all of their unions were what you would call ‘wedded bliss’.

So I’m sure you’ll understand that my pre-married life was not awash with any useful advice. Other than to find a ‘good man’ and marry him. Of course, a ‘good man’ is hard to define and so for years I didn’t understand that I had, in fact, found one. Years and years.

My husband is a good man. He’s a good husband and he’s a great father. He is more than I could have ever hoped for in a life partner and our marriage, surprisingly, is one of the good ones. 

But everything I know about marriage, I learnt on the job… and the hard way.

1. Wedded Bliss is not real
Even on the actual wedding night, we were too tired to bliss out and our definition of bliss changes as we grow. Sometimes it looks like time all by yourself because you feel so secure in your relationship. Other times it looks like a Sunday afternoon laying by the pool together while the boys jump in repeatedly trying to one-up each other. During ratings season it looks like sitting on the couch together drinking wine and watching zombie heads explode or gratuitous scenes of sex and violence in Westeros.

2. Growing old together is a blessing
I watch my husband’s health like a hawk. I need him around and healthy for at least another decade. Parenting is a tough gig and though I’m confident that I could, I have no interest or desire to do it on my own. I’m also too lazy to have to find another man. All that having to look your best and shaving is just so exhausting.

3. Passion is neither everything nor everlasting.

4. Your marriage must have room for your friends.
Always. There has to be another port in the storm for each of you. Someone who knows you, loves you and understands what’s important – but doesn’t want to root you.

5. You can go to bed angry
And still be ok the next morning. Sometimes all you both actually needed was some sleep. Being tired makes everything a million times worse and sometimes grown-ups are just like toddlers and really just need a nap. Adulting is so tiring!

6. A man is not an island
Unless they are an orphan or a migrant or in the witness protection program. But in my case, my man came with a family. Which is good for babysitting but not so good when shit goes down. Especially if it goes down in both extended families at the same time. That's when having a wine business comes in handy. Faaaaaark.

7. You can’t ever change your partner but you can teach them
All it takes are three words 1. Actions 2. Consequences 3. Consistency. Remember, grown-ups can be just like toddlers!

8. Play to each other’s strengths – not their weaknesses

9. Learn the art of compromise
This one was a tough one for me but it became much easier once I jumped in the deep end of compromise and became a mum. Now I’m compromising all over the place. Bastards. What about me?

10. Use Portfolios
Share the load without resentment.

In our house we have what look like figurative portfolios which makes our expectations of each other very clear.

Me – school, clothes, inside, social, shopping, cooking
Him – kids sport, cars, outside, bills, rubbish, maintenance
Shared – parenting
Outsourced – nowhere near enough…

11. Two toilets
The key to a happy marriage is not having to book in toilet time. Especially when your partner takes so fucking looooooong.

12. Don’t sweat the small stuff… most of the time
So he never puts the shopping away. Or makes the bed. He also never mistreats me. Or gives me reason to feel unloved. The small things he doesn't do will never outweigh the enormous things he doesn't do.

13. Babies will not fix a marriage in trouble
But they can make you love your partner more. So much more.

14. Familiarity does not always breed contempt
Listen up. This is a big one. I am a different woman today than I was fifteen years ago. My priorities are totally different. As are my opinions, intolerances, acceptances and boobs. Growing alongside someone in a safe and secure environment helps all the good emotions develop and as you grow, so does your love. It may look different - 'cause it's all wrapped up in someone else's 'stuff' - but that's the magic of togetherness. My love for him has changed. It's deepened and grown and the more familiar he is to me, the more I love him. 

15. We're all in the same boat
It may look like your friends are doing the whole 'life' thing better than you are. Maybe they are but they're probably not. Everyone has their challenges and every relationship has their ups. And downs. Some stuff I know we don't do anywhere near as well as our friends do. Some stuff I know we do far better. Sometimes I feel like we're happier than anyone we know and sometimes I feel like everyone else is living a fairytale and we're in a nightmare. 

That's the thing about these long-term relationships. You get to experience ALL the emotions in them. Love, jealousy, boredom, temptation, commitment, fear, grief, joy, exhaustion, elation, confusion and adoration. 

And my most favourite - gratefulness

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Dear Mother of All Boys

Dear Mother of All Boys,

I see you there, with your tired eyes and heart bursting with love. You are a mix of exhaustion and gratitude and pride. Just like all other mothers but something about having all boys, sets you apart. Just a bit. There’s something about only having sons that changes the mother experience. I know this because many of my friends are mothers of all boys. I know this especially, because so am I.

It’s not something that is easy to put a finger on but there is certainly something special about having a family full of sons. From what I can tell, the dynamic is different than in the families of only daughters or those with both sons and daughters. And the perspective definitely is. Years of managing testosterone will do that a woman.

People will say ridiculous things to you. “I don’t know how you cope! Boys are so… boisterous/loud/energetic/difficult. You’ve got your hands full! You need a daughter” They will dress it up as if they are sharing knowledge, but they don’t know anything because those people are almost definitely not mothers of all boys.

If they were they would understand having all sons does not mean that the family is incomplete without a daughter.

They would understand that yes, the days are loud in a house of all boys. The volume level can reach insane, shut-the-fuck-up heights from playing and cheering to all-out arguing but that only makes the quiet time so much more precious.

They would understand that the very same boys that try to actually physically destroy each other for such heinous acts as touching each other’s stuff, changing the tv channel in the middle of a show or teasing each other for missing a goal will also spend hours side by side watching a movie or playing PS4. Often in the same day.

There are a lot of balls in your life when you’re a mother of all boys. There are quite literally balls everywhere. In our household we have basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, tennis balls, bouncing balls, cricket balls, petanque balls, billiard balls, ping pong balls, marbles, ball-bearings and testes. Yes, I mention testes because in our house one can not mention ‘balls’ without a snigger, smirk or all out guffaw from the boys. Balls=testicles. All day. Every day.

The washing line is full of jocks and socks and there are grass stains on all the pants knees. We go through fifteen litres of milk a week and a box of band-aids every month. Grazes, cuts, burns, splinters and blisters all feature heavily around these parts. And just for the record… boys do cry. Big rolling tears, often mixed with sweat that drop onto mum’s shirt as she holds her crying son to her bosom. “Oh my God! Mum said ‘bosom’! Bahahahaha… that is SO wrong Mum.” Boobs=hilarious. All day. Every day.

Farts are extremely popular. Smelling them, doing them, pretending you didn’t do them and making fake fart noises using ANYTHING are also hilarious. Interestingly, flushing the toilet is not popular at all. Probably because most of the wee doesn’t make it into the actual bowl anyway. There is piss on the floor. Constantly.

Mothers of sons and daughters will look upon you with a mix of pity and admiration as they can only imagine that your job must be twice or thrice as hard as hers is in your family of boys because her boy is possibly the troublesome one in her household. But for many reasons boys with only brothers seem to level each other out rather than egg each other on. Except for when they are actually egging each other on… that shit happens constantly and it NEVER ends well.

The competition is relentless in a family of all boys. There has to be a ‘first’ for everything. First to the car, in the shower, to leave the table, ready for school, in the pool, to the end of the street, to finish a game. And when they’re not competing they’re daring each other to jump, to taste or to climb. Often these dares or competitions end in a fight or tears or both but then it’s forgotten. Boys don’t hold grudges… for long.

There are no real mood-swings. Yet. There are only two moods. On and off. And despite what many may think about boys communicating, there’s A LOT of chatter. Sometimes too much… just like in other families.

My boys are messy and smelly even though I’ve taught them to put their stuff away and they shower every day. They have massive feet and sinewy legs and I can see their ribcage even though they eat constantly. They seem to be endlessly moving but when they stop I can still see the babies they were. They can’t help but gravitate to either one of their parents when we sit on the couch at night together and they are most comfortable resting their head on our shoulder or wrapping their long, skinny legs around ours. Boys may be boisterous but they’re affectionate too and there’s nothing sweeter than seeing a boy that isn’t afraid to cuddle their mum and dad especially after a tough a game of contact sport.

Having all boys seems to reduce the risk of subconsciously stereotyping. There are no gender specific behaviours in our household because there is only one gender [Mum doesn’t count. She is genderless. She is just MUM] So the boys cook and clean and pick flowers and go clothes shopping and listen to music and dance. There is no ‘daddy’s little girl’ or ‘princess’ or ‘mummy’s boy’ or ‘little man of the house’. There are just sons and brothers.

And there’s something about watching brothers together that warms my heart. Of course I know plenty of sisters who are close with their brother [I’m one of them!] but maybe it’s because I feel so strongly about MY brother that I’m so happy that both my sons have a brother too.

Dear Mother of All Boys, I want you to know that I LOVE my all-boy family. They teach me so many things all the time and I’m positive that being immersed in a world of testosterone and male energy has made me a better woman. It’s tiring and exhausting and there’s piss all over the bathroom floor but it’s also complete and chockablock full of gorgeous boyish love.

Plus, I save a fortune on hand-me-downs.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Playdate V2.015

We didn’t have playdates when I was growing up. We just went to our friend’s houses. Our mums often didn’t even check if that was ok with each other… or if they were even home. I’d leave the house on my bike [without a helmet] and say “I’m going to Liz’s” and Mum would say “ok” and that would be the entire logistical arrangement for the visit. Then when I arrived at Liz’s, unexpected but welcome nonetheless, we would tell her mum “We’re going to Allison’s” and she would say “ok” and off we would go. And at some stage [before the street lights came on] we would all end up home again. Tired but happy and already wondering what and who the next day had in store for us.

Kids from the neighbourhood would turn up at our front door, bold as you like and say “Hi, is Tania home?” and if Mum was in the mood, she would welcome them in and direct them to my room or the backyard or wherever I was and we would just hang out. There were no activities. There were no pre-prepared snacks. If we complained about being hungry Mum would tell us to have a piece of fruit or make a sandwich. Chips and packaged snacks were party food so there was never any of that in the house and if there WAS some, it was for special guests. Not bratty kids just dropping around hoping to freeload the ‘for special guests treats’.

When we were kids, fronting up at a friend’s house uninvited was so normal that we didn’t care if we were welcome or not. If they weren’t allowed to play that day, we accepted that and moved on. We then decided for ourselves whether it was worth trying another friend nearby or whether we should just head home. And every day we developed resilience. Being turned away from friends’ and neighbours’ homes were gentle and appropriate rejections that strengthened our emotional muscle. I never understood the importance of those rites of passage. Until today.

My eldest took himself off to his own playdate today. For the first time. In his ten years of living.

When I watched him ride off down the street, with nothing but his tennis racket on his back I felt a twinge of anxiety. I’ve written about letting go before so these feelings are nothing new. Except they are. Every time he takes another step toward independence there is a new feeling in my heart. Every time he makes another decision without my counsel I see his chest grow with the breath of the man he is becoming. I watched him overcome his own anxieties too. He did a dry run before the main event earlier in the morning and yesterday he asked me to drive past his friend’s place so he knew exactly where it was and how to get there. As he was preparing to leave at precisely the time we had worked out he needed to in order to arrive punctually [VERY important to this child] he ran through his own checklist with me “So Mum, this is the way I’m going to go [explains, in detail, his route]. It should only take me about 3 minutes [yes, he's THAT precise] shouldn’t it? And then I’ll come back the same way… but how will I know it’s time to leave?”

Whoa. At that moment I understood that there are so many important lessons in independence that our ‘new’ way of parenting is robbing our kids of. How can I expect my boys to make the right choices, when they are not given enough opportunity to make any at all. If I am making all of their social arrangements, for example, without their involvement what are they learning? Until today, I would tell him when we need to leave, drop him off and tell him when I would be back. Until today, I’m certain he paid no attention to any of that. He just went on his merry way until such time as I returned to collect him or his friend’s mum brought him home.

The way things were done when I was a kid weren’t altogether right, by any means, but I don’t reckon the way things are done today are either. I’m looking for the sweet spot in the middle of the two for my lot.

So today, for the first time ever, I made arrangements with his friend’s mum ENTIRELY by text. I didn’t send him off with a drink and BYO snacks. I didn’t settle him in and tell him when I would return. I texted the mum when he left home and she texted me when he arrived. It was ALMOST like the way we used to do ‘playdates’ back in the day. Almost.