HOW TO SURVIVE TODDLERHOOD

I love my children. LOTS. But sometimes, I wish I could find a really good hidey hole and not come out for a while. Children, especially toddlers are great at testing your limits. They like to push your buttons, incessantly, until your eye starts twitching, your mouth flattens into a hard grimace, and you explode like a nuclear bomb. Every parent or carer will have their own horror stories and tips for how to survive toddlerhood and/or parenthood. I’m no expert, but I have observed some interesting character traits.

They are fickle pickles.
Henry: “Mummy, close the window!”
Me: (closes the window)
Henry: “NO! NO! I said open the window!”
Me: (deep sigh, opens the window)
Henry: “I want it closed!!”
Me: “Make up your mind!” (closes the window)
Henry: (cue meltdown)

They have the memory of an elephant so don’t make promises unless you are going to deliver.
Henry: (pointing at a car ride-on) “Mummy, can I go on that?”
Me: “Sure, maybe on our way home.”
An hour passes.
Me: (arms overloaded with groceries, veering away from promised ride-on)
Henry: (pulling towards ride-on) “Mummy! Mummy, there is the car!”
Me: “Ugh, do you really want to go? How about we go home and do something fun?”
Henry: “NO! NO! You said so!”

They are the world’s best procrastinators.
Henry: (sitting on the toilet at five a.m.) “I have to take my time. I feel a poo in my bottom.”
Me: (every few minutes) “Are you done?”
Henry: “Not yet, I’m just waiting.”
Me: (frozen like a corpse on the cold hard floors after waiting for thirty minutes).

They become extremely thirsty at bedtime.
Henry: “Mummy, I need water!”
Me: “Here, now go to bed.”
Repeat cycle at least thirty times. EVERY NIGHT.

They like to push boundaries and limits, of the sanity kind.
Henry: “Beep, beep, beep!”
Mandy: “Henry, stop saying that. It’s annoying!”
Henry: “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!”
Mandy: “Stop it!”
Henry: “BEEEEEEP!!!! BEEEEPP!!!! BEEEEPP!!”
Me: “Just ignore him, Mandy. He will get bored and stop himself.”
Henry: (continues for another ten solid minutes)
Mandy: (breaks down crying)
Me: (whispering) “Soon. It will stop soon.”

What have I learnt so far? Toddlers are unpredictable and volatile. They are prone to indecisiveness and stubbornness. Passing strangers will comment on how angelic they look until they see the switch flipped, and the tantrum-throwing, fist-bashing, leg-thrashing devil in disguise rears its screaming self.

Based on my n=2 parenting experiment, I can offer the below suggestions:

  1. Tea is an old acquaintance but coffee is your best friend. Just don’t expect to drink it hot or warm.
  2. Perfect your eye roll. You’ll need it at all stages of parenthood, so better practice now.
  3. Pretend not to hear the screeching and crying. It will morph into whingeing, bartering and begging later on. If you work on your craft, instead of pretending, you’ll eventually just not hear it.
  4. Ignore that inner voice telling you that people witnessing your child’s meltdown are judging you. Of course, they are. Jeez, that inner voice could be more helpful by telling you something you didn’t already know!
  5. Bribe with TV or snacks if you must but make sure it’s on your terms and used sparingly. Like nasal decongestants overuse can lead to loss in effect and the dreaded rebound. You do not want to invite that misery.
  6. Become a counting expert. It’s not hard. You only need to count to three.
  7. Expect tantrums. They WILL have one, at home and in public. It is NOT a reflection on you or your parenting.
  8. Don’t compare your child to other children. They are all different and special in their own way. You might even get a runner, like mine.
  9. Do what works for you and your child. Remember to laugh. Remind yourself it’s short-lived. Accept that the struggle is real and that you are not alone.
  10. Whatever you do, never ever give in to a toddler tantrum. Once you do, they WILL own your ass. Trust me, my bottom can attest to this.

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

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REMEMBER TO BREATHE

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. No big deal. They are children. You’ve presented to adults before, and they are a tougher crowd. This is easy peasy.

I stop fiddling with the computer, take a deep breath and turn to face my audience. The chatter stops, a quiet descends on the room and a hundred curious eyes stare back at me.

Shit in a box. Why are there so many of them? And staring so intently? Oh man, it’s ‘Children of the Corn’ creepy.

My face heats with embarrassment. Sweat beads form on my brow. My heart thumps like a jack hammer against my ribs. My armpits feel damp. Giant waves of nausea rolls through me. I could puke. The power pose and the upbeat song did little to quell my nervousness.

I stand next to the teacher as she introduces me to the grade one year level but I quickly make use of the nearby stool upon realising that my legs don’t want to play ball. I babble about needing to drink water for my non-existent dry cough. I rub my sweaty palms along my thighs. I take another fortifying breath and try to calm my frayed nerves. I’m a jumbled mess inside. I feel exposed and naked, like my self-worth rests on this one presentation. It’s no wonder public speaking is feared more than death.

“Hi everyone, I’m really excited to be here,” I say, mustering all the enthusiasm that an anxiety ridden person with a humongous fear of public speaking can. I hear the tremble in my voice. I wonder if anyone else notices.

As I begin my presentation, a glance at one of the teachers makes me lose my train of thought. People say to make eye contact with the audience and to find a friendly face to build your confidence. So what do I do? My eyes scan and fall on the one person in the room wearing a frown.

Why is she scowling? She looks like she’s constipated. Maybe she’s concentrating. Yes, that’s gotta be it. No way is she judging me so early in the piece. Fudge, where was I?

“Uh… so… um… you take a plane to get there?” I stutter as I point my shaky finger towards the map on the screen.

Fudge, I have no idea where I am.

People say to rehearse but not memorise because it will give you a false sense of security and can hasten brain freeze if you forget a phrase or sentence or are thrown off track. The increase in stress hormones causes a shut down of the frontal lobe making retrieval of memories harder. You can guess what I chose to do, can’t you? The distraction causes my stress levels to erupt to catastrophic levels and my mind decides that it has had enough. It erects a sign, ‘Gone Fishing’ and blanks. I cut my losses with this slide. One down, seven to go.

“Let’s move on to the next slide,” I mumble, turning back to the computer to press the arrow key. Nothing happens. The screen goes dark.

Shit. Train wreck! Can I have a meltdown now? I don’t need this. Fudge, carry on fool, carry on!

A teacher fixes the PowerPoint presentation. I turn to face the children, who are waiting expectantly. People say to take elongated pauses, to take deep calming breaths and to shift your attention to the next point. I take a moment to remember why I am here. I look at Mandy and gather my strength to continue.

Remember to breathe. Calm the farm. I CAN DO THIS!

I decide to forget my talk and go with the flow. I take pauses between slides and pick a couple of important points that are interesting for a seven-year-old. I interact with the crowd by asking impromptu questions. I remember to smile and eventually I relax. The children are eager with their questions and that encourages me to soldier on. There are smiles and giggles. Seeing their excitement and interest makes me feel less anxious about my performance.

Enjoy this. Live in the moment. No one is judging you.

I see a child fervently waving his hand to get my attention, so I stop to let him ask a question.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” he states proudly.

Ugh, OK. Cool story dude.

“Wow, that’s… awesome,” I reply. Children really do say the most random shit.

I plow through my presentation and I’m relieved to feel relaxed and confident delivering my last slide. The bell goes and the children ready to go home. There is a small group that stay back to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. One of the boys brings me a page of his artwork as a gift for my efforts. A girl tells me that she thinks I look pretty in my dress. The teachers tell me I did a great job. I’m just glad it’s over.

As I leave hand in hand with my daughter, she glances up at me, eyes full of admiration and says, “You did a really good job Mum.” My heart swells with love for my child. Her words of praise make every minute of my discomfort and anxiety worthwhile. Plus, it really wasn’t that bad.

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EVERYONE NEEDS A TRIBE

Social connection is a fundamental human need. It is through this connectedness with family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues and the community, that helps form a person’s sense of self-identity and belonging. Without meaningful relationships and social interaction, our mental and physical health can suffer immensely.

This concept of social belonging and connectedness was a missing element in my childhood. You see, my parents were Vietnamese refugees. They didn’t understand the importance of social connectedness or fostering good mental health. My folks were constantly treading water and struggling to pull on their own life jackets. They grappled with the English language, laboured in menial and low-waged jobs, and moved from one rental property to another at such a frequency that no place was considered home. There were times we hadn’t even unpacked our boxes before we had to move again. I’ve slept in many one-bedroom flats where my ‘room’ was a partitioned off area in the lounge room. I’ve lived in caravans; slummed in garages where planks of wood shoved together was my makeshift bed; slept in a car at the back of a restaurant; lived off the scraps of others. I worked in sweatshops and farms to help my parents make ends meet. I was my younger brother’s surrogate parent by the age of eight.

I moved schools almost every year because of my parent’s vagabond lifestyle. No one wanted to make friends with the new loner kid that transferred mid-year, dressed in poor imitation clothing and was deathly quiet. As a result, kids avoided me and I was left alone at recess and lunchtime, usually feeling awkward and sad. I became proficient at building an impenetrable wall, cutting off all connections and choosing to live in the fantasy world of books. I never stayed anywhere long enough to form friendships, to interact on a deeper level with my peers, to find my sense of belonging and purpose within the school environment or community.

As a young adult, I found it difficult to trust people. I couldn’t commit a hundred percent to any connection. For doing so would mean breaking down my walls of vulnerability, letting go of my fears of rejection and opening myself up to the judgement of others. So I had one leg out of every relationship I formed; girlfriends, boyfriends, even in the early stages of my marriage. My inner child was forever yearning for friendship and crying for love, but my adult façade was impossibly stoic and impassive. No one knew how displaced I felt as a human being, as a person. I had basically accepted that I would always feel like an outlier in society.

People say that having children changes you; that the transformation is profound and life-altering; that your beliefs and values can shift and be redefined; that parenthood can have you questioning your sense of identity. People say that without conscious thought, your parenting style can be influenced by your own childhood history, your natural disposition and cultural background. I think there might be validity to these suggestions.

The arrival of my children had me reflecting on the driving factors that influenced my past decisions and actions. Their presence forced me to consider my childhood and lack of social connectedness. It had a massive impact on the person that I became.

What could I do to make sure my children wouldn’t suffer the same fate? I knew that I had fostered a strong attachment and parental bond with my children, and that I bathed them with feelings of love, value and respect. But part of building their sense of self and belonging also involved them having positive peer, school and community connectedness.

How could I encourage my children to engage with others when I was to scared to do so myself? I needed to lead by example. It meant that I had to re-evaluate my own levels of social and community connections. I had to work on building and maintaining positive connections with my family and friends. I needed to start engagement and volunteering with the school and community. I had to work on my sense of belonging. I had to find my tribe.

I discovered that I was already a part of many tribes. I have supportive and loving family. I have wonderful friends. I have engaging acquaintances, online and in person. I am part of the school family and the wider community. It was just a matter of me smashing down those walls and reaching out to connect with people. And I am truly grateful to everyone that has enriched my life by being a part of it.

My hope is that I will be a good role model and that my children will find their sense of self and belonging. And that it won’t take them almost forty years to find it.

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THE RETURN OF COLLECTABLES

Supermarket promotional collectables. Who is the real target? Who should be getting excited by collecting these freebies? Is it the children?

After the first Coles Little Shop Mini Collectables, I thought I had learnt from my experiences. I felt I had gotten it out of the system. I wasn’t going to get sucked into the craze again. There was no way I would meet up with strangers to complete the collection. It was my first exposure to some clever marketing strategy. I was vulnerable and got caught up in the hype. Second time around, I was prepared. I had developed some immunity, or so I thought.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

As I stood in front of the supermarket in the blistering cold, waiting to meet a random stranger for a trade, I began to analyse my motivations for wanting to find the missing collectables.

Did I feel psychologically challenged? Was I subconsciously trying to beat the marketing team at their own game? The logical part of my brain realised that it was completely nutters to spend money on unnecessary groceries to get a freebie. So then why was that same brain justifying doing trades in the cold?

Sure, my daughter nags me to the point of insanity every time there is a promotion, but she does that with just about everything. So why didn’t I say no to the supermarket attendant handing me the freebie? Why did I take it, knowing that she would nag me for a complete set and I would feel compelled to help her?

I even found myself contemplating purchasing the rest of the collection in a bid to have the problem go away. I was tempted to revisit the strange woman from the previous promotion to buy the rest but my husband pointed out to me that it was cheating.

I don’t understand how it would be considered cheating. I’d be paying $2 per item, that’s a saving of $28 of unwanted groceries per collectable. Am I justifying again?

Instead of purchasing the rest of the collection, I decided to trade some leftover Woolworths Lion King collectables for the missing Coles Little Shop collectables. Yes, you read correctly. I completed the Lion King collection and started on the Little Shop. I must be certifiable.

Anyway, I placed an ad on Facebook’s marketplace and have met up with random strangers. Is that still considered cheating? Who is benefiting here? Me or the kids? Or supermarket bigwigs?

And what am I teaching my kids? Am I raising a bunch of self-entitled twats by short cutting the system? Is it better to have them open a package and learn that sometimes in life, you simply can’t always get what you want? Should I even care if it’s an incomplete collection? Shouldn’t the kids be the ones trading anyway?

Am I trying to be the fun parent? Am I trying to make sure that my kid doesn’t feel left out with her peers?

Who is this really for? It’s for the kids, right? Right?!

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

I’m due for another trade in front of the supermarket soon. I feel like I’ve missed the point of this whole exercise. I just don’t know what it is yet. Maybe by the time the next promotion rolls by, I’ll have finally discovered my purpose for collecting these freebies.

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TWO DAYS FROM RETIREMENT

Recently, the kids and I were involved in a car collision on the way home from school pick up. A car had failed to give way at an intersection, trying to cut across two lanes of oncoming traffic to turn right and hit our car.

The impact of the front on smash to our car caused my six-year-old to smack her cheek, cut her lip and have a bloody nose. I had whiplash. My toddler and the other driver were physically unharmed.

The suddenness of the accident left me in a state of shock. It was hearing my toddler’s piercing wail and the sight of my distressed six-year-old that had me jump into action. With smoke coming from the engine, I managed to roll the car towards a traffic island and call emergency services. To my surprise, an ambulance, two police cars and a fire truck came to our rescue. I was grateful for everyone’s assistance and support. 

After everyone was cleared by the ambulance officers and I had removed all of our belongings from the car, we stood by the curbside to watch as the tow truck pulled away with our beloved Toyota RAV4. 

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss at the sight. For seventeen years, the car had served me well and driven me to places near and far. Seventeen years of memories was being towed away and I was certain, never to be seen again.

I can recall the day I bought the car at a secondhand dealership with my dad like it was yesterday. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I had eagerly signed on the dotted line. It was my first car purchase; my biggest loan; my first real debt. 

To me, it was more than transport, it was symbolic of my growing independence. With the RAV, I was able to travel to work destinations all around the state, experience freedom from a stifling home life and explore uncharted territory. 

I chose my RAV as the wedding car to save money and because I’m sentimental. 

It brought both my babies came home safely from the hospital. We’ve done loads of short and long distance holiday trips. It even sailed on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry with us. 

There were bumps and grazes from me reversing into walls, letterboxes and bins. I don’t think there has been anything I haven’t reversed into. I like to think it gave the car character.  

Everything from Thomas the Tank Engine to Frozen stickers were plastered on the back windows. Each time the kids went through a different fad, a new section of the window would be covered.    

There were spills and splatters… oh, so many coffee spills and food stains. The car had housed one or two secret McDonald’s feasts.

It was not my car. It had become a family car. Our very lived in and beloved family car. 

We have spoken many times about upgrading to a newer car and giving the RAV to my parents. A selfish plan on my behalf to keep the car and its memories nearby. It had served its purpose for me but could live its last legs with another family member.

Never could I have imagined that the RAV would be ripped away unceremoniously from me! I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye! 

Sure, it had a funky smell and tacky mats. And yes, the airbags didn’t release in the accident and the seatbelt probably didn’t do a great job for my daughter but up until then, it was my brand of a perfect car. How can any new car ever live up to the charm of our beloved RAV? 

You’ll be sorely missed, old friend. Rest in Pieces.  

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SLAVING OVER A HOT STOVE

I don’t like eating schedules. I hate meal planning. And I loathe routine. I’m a ‘let’s open the fridge and see what’s for dinner’ type person. I thrive on the challenge of opening the fridge, seeing a handful of ingredients, and having a limited amount of time to dish up a meal. It’s my version of MasterChef’s Mystery Box.

My style of exploratory cooking is definitely not for everyone. In fact, people would probably say I’m making life harder for myself. While meal planning has some benefits of reducing stress and costs, and allows you the ability to plan for healthier and diverse meals, there is just something so uninspiring about knowing ahead of time what you will be eating on any given day. And let’s not even start on the topic of meal prepping in bulk and eating it for several days straight (*shudder).

I like the spontaneity of creating something on a whim. I like discovering new foods. If I have the time, I like to search for interesting recipes and have a crack. For me, cooking and baking food is not only to feed the family but a form of self-expression and art. It feeds my innovative and creative spirit. I love placing a dish in front of someone, seeing their face light up with amazement upon the first bite and demolish my food with gusto. Best feeling ever!

It is very unfortunate that my children and husband are fussy eaters. There is a massive ‘DO NOT EAT’ food list; eggs, seafood, lemongrass, tomatoes to name a few. It really cramps my style.

A few nights ago, I made chicken butter masala from scratch. I’m talking ‘marination with yoghurt and grinding cashew nuts’ scratch. It was a masterpiece. The aroma coming from my kitchen would have made an Indian mother proud. It was THAT authentic. I was pretty chuffed with my efforts.

So when I put the Ah-Maz-Ing curry in front of my family, I was expecting to be lavished with praise. Instead, I got…

“Mummy, how many bites?”

“I don’t want to eat this! It’s not very nice.”

“I just want to eat the rice.”

“I’m full!”

“Can I have ice cream if I eat this?”

I could only stare dumbfounded at these little people. Were they eating the same thing? What was wrong with their palates? Surely, being children, they simply couldn’t appreciate good food. I looked to my husband for confirmation, only to find him quiet and nibbling at the rice. He doesn’t even like eating rice.

“Well?” I asked, giving him a hard stare.

“It’s very nice. Kids, you should eat Mummy’s curry. She spent a long time making us dinner,” he replied.

I felt mollified until he pushed his half-eaten bowl aside and said, “I had a huge lunch.”

You can imagine my annoyance at slaving over this magnificent curry that wasn’t being appreciated or eaten. I gave up trying to force the kids to eat and went to have a restorative bath. As I came out, I heard a kerfuffle and a familiar smell wafting in the air.

“Stop hoarding the chips!”

“That’s mine!”

“Kids, there’s plenty to share!”

“Daddy, you know what the best part of dinner was? These chips!”

Giggles.

Everyone froze mid chips to mouth when I walked in and found them eating KFC.

“Um…this isn’t what it looks like. It’s dessert,” said my husband, looking sheepish.

I felt annoyed at seeing everyone chowing down on chips like seagulls at the beach. Was my curry that bad?

“Mummy, you want a chip?” asked my toddler, offering to share his stash.

Looking at his outstretched hand, holding a hot chip that made my mouth water on sight, I debated what message I would be sending by taking the delicious golden fry. It was short-lived. I let out a sigh of acceptance, pulled up a chair and joined the family. I had no doubt in my mind that there would be many successful meals to come. Just not this one.

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