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.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

My Week With a Mitsi


Last week my friends at Mitsubishi let me take their latest ASX to test drive. I had done some work with them through my REAL job and made such a song and dance about how much I loved the car that they thought I should get up and close and personal with it, if I wanted.

Um. Yes. I wanted.

So I picked it up on Monday and gushed and got all excited ‘cause I haven’t driven a new car for about nine years and even though this wasn’t a sponsored post I had grand plans of sharing some escapades. Just for some fun.

But then the universe reminded me that I’m a mum. And I’m not allowed to have fun.

The youngest was home sick with me for the rest of the week and he was clingier than glad wrap. I went nowhere in those days, except for the doctor. The weekend was full of me babysitting my godson and attending children’s parties and an incredibly exciting grand final game of football for my victorious eldest which kept me close to home. No escapades then either. But that’s cool. Once I palmed off the kids on Monday I had BIG plans. Tunes, coffee in the hills and my selfie stick.

Except on Sunday night, gastro came to visit my eldest boy and I spent the ENTIRE night up with him. How much chuck can a ten year old chuck if a ten year old could chuck, chuck?? Fuck. Me.

So on Monday I was in a walking coma. And clearly wasn’t driving anywhere.

Tuesday was better but I had shitloads of work to catch up on after the 24 hour spew-fest so I didn’t leave the house except to walk the youngest to school.

Wednesday was the day I needed to return the sexy beast and I decided I would at least take it for a quick fang up the freeway to see how the baby handles. And then I saw it. Some bastard had EGGED THE MITSI!

Who even does that? What a waste of an egg.

It took me TWENTY MINUTES and a whole lot of elbow grease to get that hardened shit off the car. So now I only had 45 minutes left until my scheduled return. No coffee in the hills then.

Ever the optimist, I cranked that stereo [digital radio, yes please], opened the sky roof and drove like I was single, young and on the run.

I hit a comfortable 100kms on the outside lane of the freeway and was just settling in to my micro road trip when the unthinkable happened.

A mother duck was shepherding her five little ducklings across my lane.

What the what now??? Is this shit happening? So the song is true. Five little ducks really did go out one day…

And you know those ducklings were just not listening don’t you? Oh I felt Mother Duck’s pain. I could almost hear her quacking “Stop fighting! You have to waddle quicker. You’re going the wrong way. There’s a car coming! Hurry up! Do you want a peck? You’re going the wrong way! FFS - THERE’S A CAR COMING!!!! Where the fuck is your father?”

So I did what any fellow mother of the sisterhood would do. I checked my rearview mirror to make sure the lane was clear and I stopped my car. At 100kms. On the freeway. And Mother Duck looked me in the eye with a barely perceptible nod which I mirrored. In solidarity. We’ve ALL been there Mother Duck.

Continuing on my way I hit the Heysen Tunnels and sexy beast says ‘You’ve already got too many things on your mind, I got this’ and just turns the headlights on for me. Automatically. Love it.

I hit picturesque Stirling and then make my way back. I’m gunning it on the freeway on-ramp, because you all know it’s there so you can hit the freeway at the right speed right? And I am at the required speed to enter and the lane is free and just as I hit the broken line which indicates the END of the on-ramp some fuckhead motorist decides to switch lanes. Into that free lane. Just as I’m about to enter. And THEN has the audacity to beep and flash ME for trying to do so. What is wrong with people??? This is how road rage happens. I was raging. On the road.

So I have to enter the freeway from basically 10kms p/h and get to it 100kms p/h in about 3 seconds flat. I had the pedal ON the floor and Sexy Beast was not happy, but came up with the goods anyway. Thanks Sexy Beast and I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings when I was screaming at you to ‘GO! Fucking go!’ I was stressed.

But then I was calm again and the tunes were playing and the sky was passing by above me and the car really handles well. It's smooth and new and the sky was above me and the speakers were working and my bum was toasty warm because of the carseat warmers. Oh yes. Sexy Beast has ALL the bells and whistles. It uses almost NO petrol. Or maybe that was me. 'Cause I didn't bloody drive it anywhere...

I was sad to return to it but loved the time I had and the boys were pretty chuffed that I was driving a Mitsubishi and told ALL the kids and teachers at school. Just so they could say ‘It’s a Mitsi’ over and over and OVER again. 

Well played Mitsubishi.

Friday, 11 September 2015

How to Host a Soccer Party

My gorgeous youngest son turned eight this year.

Unlike his brother, he LOVES a good party. Especially his. He's just like me really. In his time he has had a Diego inspired Mexican party, an animal party, garden party, a superhero party and a reptile party.

This year he wanted a soccer party. And when my son asks me for a themed party I swing into gear quick smart. Because themed parties keep my motor ticking.

I did some searching and found these online printables on ETSY. SIMONEmadeit had a full kit which I could buy and the edit/print at my own leisure.

So I started with the invitations which I sent in co-ordinating black envelopes and the theme was set!

insert pic of invitation

When everyone arrived they all received their own VIP guest pass which they loved! The printable was part of the pack I bought and then I went to OfficeWorks and bought the lanyards from there. 

I always get my printing done at Office Works. They're quick, convenient and the quality is always spot on.

Having just hosted an AFL Party in April, I already knew how I was going to cater for a group of boys.

Stadium Food!

The party was from 2pm-4.30pm so it was after lunch and before dinner but 8 year old boys use up a lot of energy and get starving every twenty minutes. So I served up hotdogs, hot chips, pies and sausage rolls. They all had their own water bottles and there were lollies, chips and popcorn to snack on during the afternoon.

Having a winter holiday is always touch and go and the weather in the lead up to the party was shitful so at the last minute we decided to hire an air-hockey table which we set up under the carport. Together with the soccer table and the front yard there was plenty for the kids to do. I also had FIFA ready to go on the PS4 but it didn't even enter their minds. LOVE IT!

The special request for the cake was an actual soccer ball. Like a round ball. That was never going to happen. So I hired a cake mould from Complete Cake Decorating Supplies and bought some white buttercream and some black colouring. 

I also picked up some sugared, edible soccer decoration for the cupcakes. I've mentioned before that I don't let the kids eat the cake I make. It's because I always have two parties for my kids and I need the proper cake to last for both of them! So they all sing around the cake and then I serve them cupcakes. They all think it's a bit weird. I think it's genius. The cake mould took two Betty Crocker vanilla cake mixes and I made the cupcakes from one Betty Crocker Devil's Food mix which I decorated with green coloured coconut grass and a soccer ball topper. One discerning party guest declared them "the yummiest cupcakes EVER!" 

When they left they all took home a little lolly bag and their VIP lanyard.

And then the whole catastrophe family came over for dinner and we ate the soccer cake.

Friday, 4 September 2015

A Few Good Men - The Other Fathers

I grew up without a dad. Most of you already know that. I have written about it many times. Sometimes just a memory. Sometimes a letter. And sometimes just a mention here or there.

It wasn’t always easy but it wasn’t catastrophic either. Of course, my Mum had a lot to do with that. She was our Mum and our Dad and she did an incredible job. In many ways I believe I have grown to be the woman I am BECAUSE of my absent father. But that’s a whole other blog post!

So today, on the figurative eve of Fathers Day in Australia I am writing about the ‘other’ fathers in my life. The men that taught me all the good things that I needed to learn about all those dad-things. My experience has taught me that fathers come in many forms and wherever I can I like to acknowledge and celebrate that.

Uncle Arthur
The most constant male role model in my young life was my Mum’s younger brother Arthur. I’ve written about him before here but what I want to say about Uncle Arthur is this. He was only ever in my life as an Uncle and only part-time, as Uncles tend to be. My Opa [his father] died when I was very young and my other Uncle, Marcel, lived away so Uncle Arthur became the ‘man’ of the family by default. He would never have admitted it. That was just the way he was. But he did all the ‘man’ stuff required for the family. He moved the furniture and serviced the cars and fixed the houses. He was gruff and scary when he was grumpy. You did not fuck with my Uncle Arthur. But he was a strong and caring man who taught me many things, without even trying, about what life could throw at you and how best to dodge the shit. 

He was also pretty cool. One night, driving down Marion Rd in his Buick [he had THE COOLEST cars] a carload of hoons excitable young men pulled up next to us at the lights. I was in the front passenger seat and they started revving the engine of their souped up piece of shit car and yelling out lurid comments compliments at us. Uncle Arthur smiled at them and turned to me and said ‘You ready?’ ‘Yep’ I answered wide-eyed and unsure of what I needed to be ready for. And then the lights turned green and it was on like Donkey Kong. Those poor bastards blokes didn’t know what hit ‘em. It was exhilarating. He was shifting gears like a racing car driver and had his signature look of determination on his face. I was so excited that I was squealing and giggling and being totally not cool. At all. And then he slowed down and laughed and his dimples seemed deeper than ever. Like a little boy. As a girl I never understood the treasure that moment was. But as a woman, when I remember that time, I see how it impacted me. It has stayed with me for thirty years so far. He showed strength and fun and vulnerability and an unwillingness to back down that I’m sure made a mark on me. 

He has his own kids and grandkids who have missed him every day since he died eight years ago.  I know they will feel his absence this Fathers Day, as I do too, but they are so fortunate to have had that man as their father for the years that they did.

My Step-Dad Sal
Mum started dating Sal when I was a teenager. Before Tinder and RSVP.COM you had to meet people in person. Often by chance. I remember the day she came home and told me that she had ‘seen’ this man who worked a couple of boutiques down from her. “He’s GORGEOUS!” she gushed and I rolled my eyes. I was a teenager – that was the standard response to anything my Mum said. So their relationship began like a fairtytale. Really. They courted and went on dates and there was this new man in our life who had never been married or had his own children. But nothing phased him. He stepped into our ready-made family with a willing and generous heart. The relationships between my brother and I and Sal developed naturally and organically and as a result he has become the most present male in my life. He rode in the car with me and walked me down the aisle at my wedding. And then he handed me over [with enthusiasm and relief probably] to my husband. He only just managed to get through his speech as father of the bride because he cried like a baby. Really.

When something is absent from your life for such a long time, it’s often hard to recognise that you ever really needed it… or missed it. I managed to build quite a thick skin when it came to yearning for any kind of paternal support or contribution to my life. I just figured I was surviving without it, so couldn’t really need it. The simple logic of youth. But having such an engaged step-father softened me. He taught me the virtues of good, reliable men and he restored my faith in their existence. After years of going without, I finally had someone else to lean on. And his shoulders were so broad that he could take everything I threw at him without buckling. I can’t tell you what that does to a young woman’s self-esteem, because I don’t really know. What I do know is that I’m confident my opinions of men in general changed, for the better, because of my relationship with Sal.

My sons are his grandchildren as if bound by blood. He was at the hospital while my first son was being born and then in the birthing suite with my mum when he was less than an hour old. My boys call him Nonno and even though they know he isn’t my ‘real’ dad, to them there is no ‘realer’ grandfather. So they are second generation Australian with a French, Dutch-Indonesian, Ukrainian heritage and an Italian grandfather. #mongrels.

When I was growing up, we celebrated my Mum on Fathers Day. It just seemed appropriate. But then she got married to my replacement Dad and it’s always been Sal’s day ever since.

My father-in-law John [JP]
I miss JP. His death five years ago has left one of the biggest holes in my life. I hit it off with JP from the moment I met him. Truth. When Mark brought me home to meet his parents for Christmas dinner, JP poured me a vodka shot and we immediately fell into a rhythm with each other that stayed with us until, literally, the day he died. Even on his actual deathbed when he was beyond words and I gently cooled him with a damp cloth during his last hours, I felt our connection. And I had already begun missing and mourning him.

It’s hard to explain exactly what it was about him that I resonated with so much. By all accounts he was a kind man who worked hard and liked a joke or three, but it wasn’t that. I met him the year he retired so he was very present and perhaps that helped lubricate our relationship. He was always just around. Helping Mark out around the house, fixing and renovating and gardening. He helped set up the liquor store and then when we sold that he helped out in the warehouse – packing up orders ready for freighting. He knew all our staff by name and they all loved him.

Mark spoke to him nearly every day and that really made an impression on me. They touched base on everything. Family issues and developments. Church politics. International politics. What Mark was ‘wasting’ his money on that week. What Mark was ‘neglecting’ that week. If he ever called and I answered the phone, he was happy and willing to talk to me before and sometimes in lieu of Mark. He’d also happily tell me what I was ‘wasting’ money on or ‘neglecting’… as if I was one of his own. In fact, I always felt like one of his own.

When our first son Nathan was born – he was nameless for nearly a week. Somehow in the preceding 9 months of hell pregnancy Mark and I hadn’t agreed on a name yet so we were scrambling in the days before we left hospital to come up with something. We consulted with both sets of grandparents. ROOKIE MISTAKE. Do not EVER consult with grandparents about the name of your child. JP called me morning and night in hospital after scouring borrowed baby name books and the internet [he was VERY tech savvy] with ridiculous helpful suggestions of popular traditional Ukrainian names. He was so earnest and committed and I treasure those moments we shared. He made me laugh and then he laughed with me because he never took anything personally and was never scared of rejection. It made him very easy to be with. He put himself out there with us as a family all the time and made himself available to us as often as he could.

When I brought Nathan home it was JP who would drop around during the day and bring me food. Usually some soup he had made or his famous Bolognese sauce. He would invite himself over and rug the baby up and sit him outside in a rocker and talk to him as he tended to the garden. “Why don’t you go and relax?” he would tell me “Nathan is fine with me.”

He would make me cups of tea and stand in the doorway with his back to me chatting as I breastfed. He adored his grandsons and couldn’t get enough of them. He took them for walks and fed them some of their first solids and held them until they fell asleep. He played with them and talked to them and showed them everything he could. And I believe he nurtured Mark’s role as a father by pure example.

When he was very sick and going through treatment he moved in to our home with my mother-in-law and I was honoured to wait on him for those weeks. Every day I made him breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. I have always shown love by cooking for and feeding people and I showered him with as much love as I could. It was heartbreaking watching him die but the impact he made on my heart is significant and I will always be grateful for it.

So this Fathers Day I do have a lot to miss but so much to celebrate and I give thanks to the other fathers in my life.