MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO

It’s a common understanding that part of good parenting involves modelling good behaviours. Children are imitators, so you can’t tell them to do something but not do it yourself. The mentality of “do as I say, not as I do” is simply unacceptable. You have to lead by example because your children look to you as their role models, they learn how to behave, act and deal with life situations by watching you. If you want your kids to have good manners, show them by saying YOUR pleases and thank-yous. If you don’t want your kids swearing, don’t curse in front of them, even if a moron cuts in front of you and nearly side swipes your car. Your children are a reflection of you, in the emotional and behavioural sense. Effectively, you are on public display, open for view and imitation twenty-four-seven.

In writing all that, I can admit that I am not a great role model. I act on whims, with logical and rational reasoning often taking a backseat. I can be a sarcastic, pessimistic, undisciplined, glass-half-empty, stubborn type of person. My epitaph would probably read “Consistent in her inconsistencies”.

So I can’t really complain when my seven-year-old throws her wet towel on the floor or grumble when I have to unravel underwear from her inside out pants while sorting laundry. I can’t call her a slob because I would essentially be calling myself one, seeing I can’t adhere to my own rules.

I’m constantly nagging my kids to drink more water but I happily drink coffee and tea instead. Talk about being a hypocrite!

How can I scold my daughter for being a hoarder, tucking away her possessions and never being able to find anything when she is a by-product of my habits? My father in-law just the other day asked where the old relic of a juicing machine he gave me was, and seriously, it could have been misplaced in the linen closet for all I knew!

And when my toddler started to point his tiny finger at me and say, “I want you to do it right this minute young lady!”, who do I have to blame for that?

Like most parents, I make sure my children feel loved and supported, are well-fed, dressed in clean clothes, help with school readers, try to volunteer where I can, take them to social events and extra-curricula activities.

I know that I’m not a terrible mother, but I struggle to focus and I find it exhausting being mindful as a parent. Despite it all, I continue to try.

This week when I found myself with homework that tested my patience and ability, I was quick to chuck a self-pity party and throw in the towel. I had spat the dummy and thrown an embarrassing toddler tantrum. My daughter started homework that same week and when prompted, her responses fell between “I don’t want to do it” and “it’s too hard”. Coincidence much?

I had to dig deep and do some self-reflection. What was I teaching my kids? What effects were my actions having on them? Am I being the role model that I want to be? How am I shaping my children for the future?

If I want my daughter to face challenges with aplomb, to learn from mistakes and not be afraid of trying, to be resilient and persevere, I had to pull my finger out and set the example.

So I sat down, batted away the self-doubt and attempted to do my homework. I tried and failed multiple times. I practiced and practiced until I produced a piece that I felt content with. I had done my homework to the best of my ability. I gave it a go.

Not surprisingly, my daughter also decided to give her homework a go.

The results got me thinking… maybe I’ll become a vegetarian. Do you reckon my children will want to eat their veggies then?

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MY REMEDY FOR SCHOOL HOLIDAY BOREDOM

I promised myself that these school holidays, I would try really hard not to use Uncle TV to babysit my children. As much as the kids love him and I love that he is part of our lives and offers free babysitting at a drop of a hat, I wanted to give them experiences that didn’t involve technology or send me broke.

I had a plan to do loads of arts and crafts; rock painting, slime making, water painting, drawing, craft making with recycled materials. It was supposed to last a week. It kept them occupied for three days. During that time, the squabbling was kept to a minimum but without a backup plan for activities, they were at risk of boredom. We all know bored kids equals broken things, fighting and nagging.

So what did I do?

I took them for a big walk to a nearby oval and let them run off their leashes until they came back panting and tired. They enjoyed the fresh air and freedom. Two weary and satisfied children, one content parent and a good night’s sleep. Nine days left.

I created Project Weed Annihilation. The side court was chock-full of overgrown weeds, so I set them to work weeding. They thought it was fun (suckers!). Two tired and happy children, one grateful parent and a weed-free court. Eight days left.

I persuaded them to role-play ‘Cleaning Crew’. It involved cleaning the entire house and lasted several days. It was epic. They weren’t impressed with that game. Two grumpy children, one ecstatic parent and a cleaned house. Six days left.

I strongly encouraged them to play ‘Shopping at the Supermarket’. It involved making a grocery list and buying said groceries. This got me on the sh*tlist. Two angry children, one tired parent and groceries no one helped me carry. Five days left.

My husband took pity on our situation and suggested we do an overnight stay in a country town a couple of hours away. The catch? We would take public transport and walk EVERYWHERE. Anyone who knows me understands that I am ill-equipped for walking. Something about chaffing thighs, itchy sweating and sore feet just doesn’t appeal to me.

It took four bloody hours, three trains and a bus ride to get to our destination! We walked for hours on end! The only thing I was looking forward to was getting to the hotel and resting my tired feet. It was a pity that when I booked the place, I hadn’t realised it was a drive-in motel inn in the middle of bumfudge nowhere. We had to walk the Great Plains and trek Mount Everest to find solace in a hovel.

My germaphobe alert beacon was in full distress mode. The shower had black mould infestation, there was hair on the bathroom floor, towels had suspect stains, dust infiltrated all living spaces, and the beds left an itchy sensation. There was no way I was even bothering with their complimentary communal gym, sauna and spa. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Highlights were an overpriced tram ride, eating from a kebab food truck for lunch and McDonald’s for dinner, and a walk through a beautiful park. The kids saw many interesting sights like a giant skeleton head, a British tram cafe, and statues. Two exhausted and satisfied children, two wiped out parents and experiences for the memory bank. We’re in the home stretch now.

It’s important to give children valuable experiences to create memories, provide learning experiences and develop an understanding of the world around them.

We asked Henry, the train/tram enthusiast, what his favourite part of the trip was.

His answer? The motel.


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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.

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WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS

Guilt. Simply put, a strong emotion we feel when we have done something wrong; perceived or actual.

It can be an all-consuming and a powerful negative emotion that has the propensity to gnaw and shame.

As a parent, it’s become a plague that can’t be contained and has no cure. It’s dangerous unchecked, and one can only hope to recover when it strikes.

A week ago, our household entered what I called “Horror Week.” It started with Henry, my two-and-a-half-year-old, complaining of a sore mouth at bedtime. I did a quick check and dismissed his claims to tomfoolery. By two a.m., he had woken with a raging fever close to forty degrees and vomited.

Enter mother’s guilt. Should I have checked his temperature before bed? Should I have given him medication? Maybe I shouldn’t have pressed him to eat his dinner. Could I have prevented this?

After some medication, Henry’s temperature had reduced to thirty-seven degrees, and he had returned to his cheerful and chatty self. As I cuddled him in my arms, his eyes began to roll back, he became unresponsive and his tiny body started convulsing. Then his face turned blue.

I’ve discovered that in a crisis, I am NOT the cool, calm and collected person. Having done first aid courses means squat if when faced with an emergency, you freeze. Not only did I freeze, I was hysterical and couldn’t stop crying.

In that fraction of time, I honestly felt overwhelmed with negative feelings, and all I could think was “What if my baby dies?”, “He’s dying!”, “Please don’t die!”

Gary, my husband, had to calm me down repeatedly while calling the ambulance.

It was only when Henry’s seizure stopped and his colour returned, that I was able to clear my thoughts and calm down. I know that his blue face will be burned forever in my memory.

The ambulance never made it to our house that night. They had deemed our emergency low on their priorities and after waiting thirty minutes, we opted to cancel and take Henry to the GP.

Henry caught both adenovirus and influenza A infection and continues to suffer with bronchiolitis. He battled with uncontrollable fevers and chills for six days. Mandy, my six-year-old, caught a respiratory syncytial virus infection, submitting to fevers and vomiting. I ended up with Henry’s adenovirus infection that resulted in a sinus infection. Gary was the last man standing.

I became the thermometer monitor, wielding it like a sword and sticking it into the ears of unwilling victims, should they be nearby.

I’ve witnessed two febrile convulsions with Mandy and now with Henry. It doesn’t matter that febrile convulsions are common or rarely have long-lasting effects. My fragile state cannot bear witness to another episode.

Guilt is a funny thing, especially mother’s guilt. It’s relentless and paralysing. It makes you feel like a failure as a parent. I hope that one day there is a cure for it.

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NEGOTIATION BREAKDOWN

Tantrums. A word that sends shivers down many a parent’s spine. An action that when unleashed in public, causes embarrassment and dismay.

Do you ignore it? Do you try to placate? Do you bribe? Or do you edge away and pretend the toddler lying facedown on the ground isn’t yours?

It’s common knowledge that toddlers lack social and emotional maturity, are at the beginning stages of language development and seek independence over their environment. As a consequence, toddlers are prone to tantrums when they become frustrated or upset. While it is a normal part of child development, it’s still painful to deal with.

“Remember Henry, if you want to walk,” I tell my tantrum-prone toddler, “you must hold Mummy’s hand.”

“Ok Mummy,” Henry replies, looking innocently at me.

I know better. I squat down to his eye level and reiterate my point. “You have to hold my hand. No running.”

“Yes Mummy,” he replies, adamant. “I will!”

“Promise?” I tease. Seriously, as if I can trust the word of a two-and-a-half-year-old.

“Promise.”

We start our hundred-metre walk to pick up his sister from school. We get two metres from the car before Henry tugs at my hand.

“Mummy! A bug!” Henry exclaims, pointing at a dead beetle.

“Oh yes, a bug.” I gently pull him along but he resists.

“Mummy, bug bite me?”

“No, it’s dead darling.” My second attempt at leaving fails.

“His Mummy and Daddy will be sad.”

I sigh. “Yes, so sad but they’ll always remember it.”

“Is it a boy or girl?”

Ah shoot. I don’t have time for this.

“I don’t know darling.” I pull him forwards.

“Hey look over there!” I point to nothing in particular.

“What?” Henry asks, his interest piqued.

“I see something interesting over there,” I lie. “Lets go have a look.”

Henry starts walking in the right direction. There are two randy teenagers exchanging saliva on the sidewalk. Henry decides to stop right in front of them and blurts out, “Bleurgh!”

The teenagers stop their tonsil hockey. I suppress my laughter.

We walk another five metres before Henry refuses to hold my hand.

“Mummy, I’m ok. I was here,” he argues, pointing to the footpath.

“No Henry,” I admonish. “Hold my hand.”

We are so so close to our destination, I could cry.

“No!”

In a flash, his hand slips out and he’s running towards the road. I sprint after him like Wile E. Coyote after the Road Runner.

I drop my phone in the process. I’m appalled to admit that for a split second I had considered the merits of stopping to pick up my phone.

I grab Henry by the jacket before he gets hurt. He throws an epic tantrum as I drag him back to retrieve my phone.

I struggle with small fists and legs thrashing around. I’m sweating from my exertion. My phone screen is cracked.

It’s a fine balance between giving your child the opportunity to feel independent and keeping them safe. Some days I feel like throwing in the parenting towel. It’s a hard role. The toughest gig I’ve ever had.

Next time you see a harried parent with a toddler chucking a tantrum, give them a sympathetic smile and try not to judge.

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HALF-PRICED DISCOUNT…STILL NOT ENOUGH

“Make time for yourself.”
“It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.”
“Have a break. Have a Kit Kat.”

Life is just damn hectic. It’s go-go go from the moment I wake up and doesn’t end until I’m passed out in bed. I’m like a lab rat running on a wheel, only I’m not having fun and I can’t get off. Every so often I need a time-out; sit on the bench; press the pause button on life; give myself some self-love (*snigger* actual term).

Everyone has different ideas when it comes to self-love. Some people go away on retreats; some do treks to reconnect with nature (*shudder*); some simply just need a night without the kids.

My choice of self-love comes in the form of discounts, coupons and bargains. So when a business card for fifty percent off hair colouring and cut was thrust into my palm, I decided I was well overdue for some me-time.

I lean back on the comfy chair and close my eyes. The warm water washes over my poorly maintained hair and the caressing hands of Salon Lady massages my scalp. It feels divine.

“Mummy.”

I ignore the voice. The smell of sweetly scented shampoo wafts towards my nose as it’s being lathered on my hair.

“Mummy! I’m bored.”

I can’t remember the last time I got a head massage. It feels great. I could almost fall asleep. Almost.

“Mum! Are you even listening to me?”

I open my eyes and peer over to my six-year-old fickle pickle.

“Darling, I told you that I would be here for a few hours,” I tell Mandy. “You insisted on coming with me.”

Mandy gives me The Look. A perfect combination of apathy and boredom you would expect from an adolescent.

“Why don’t you get some crayons and paper from the massive bag you made me carry and create something,” I say as I close my eyes. I’m desperately trying to emulate feelings of being pampered and relaxed. You know, the ones you’re supposed to have while getting hair treatment at an expensive boutique salon.

Salon Lady goes to get the heating towel.

“Mummy, you should see how much of your hair is in the sink!” Mandy exclaims, peeking into the basin.

“What?” I ask. There isn’t any point pretending to relax anymore.

“So so much hair. Mummy, that colour doesn’t suit you,” Mandy remarks, as if she’s a hair colouring expert.

“It’s my natural hair colour,” I reply dryly.

Salon Lady puts the towel on my conditioned hair and tells me to chill out. How on earth am I meant to ‘chill out’ with a Debbie Downer in my ear?

After what seemed like an age of listening to Mandy whine and getting a crook neck from being forgotten by Salon Lady, I shuffle over to the chair to have my hair cut. I see Mandy spinning in circles on a salon stool.

“Mandy! Stop that!” I yell out. “Jeez Louise.”

I continue chatting to Salon Lady about the real estate market. From the corner of my eye, I can see Mandy draped over two seats and doing horizontal leg presses.

“Mandy! Seriously!” I yell again. At the rate I’m jerking about, I’ll become a trendsetter in sporting lopsided haircuts.

As Salon Lady prepares to blow dry my hair, Mandy jumps up and down in front of me.

“Mum, I need to go,” Mandy mutters. “Like now.”

The salon doesn’t have a toilet.

Self-love total bill = 50% discount + 10% whining surcharge + 10% negative commentary tax + 100% quick exit fee

Doesn’t seem like much of a win, does it?

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CHANNELLING MEAT LOAF

There comes a time when you just have to put on your big girl pants and do what’s best for the people you love. Even if it means you can foresee your own suffering.

Dummies, also known as pacifiers are Henry’s BFFs. It’s the first thing he thinks about in the morning and the last thing he seeks for at night. His attachment to dummies is equal to that of a security blanket or a snuggle toy for bed. Sometimes, kids outgrow these things and sometimes you just have to force them to.

“Where’s my dummy?” Henry whines.

“We gave it to Alex; the baby, remember?” I remind him gently, “You’re a big boy now. You don’t need a dummy.”

Henry goes into prone position and wails, “I need my dummy! I need to breathe!”

“No. No dummy Henry,” I say, mustering up all my strength for the impending tantrum. I give him a pat on the back. Big mistake. Rookie error.

“I want handies!” he yells, as he reaches out to hold my hand.

I roll my eyes and think to myself, “Get in line kid.”

“No.”

“I want to touch your arm!” Henry demands.

“No.”

“I want to touch your body Mummy!!” cries Henry, his little hand reaching out to seek comfort.

“No,” I giggle. “Are you channelling your dad?”

Henry rolls around in his cot and pounds his tiny fists into the mattress. He gives me crocodile tears for a good five minutes before changing tack.

“Mummy, my noodle hurts!” says Henry, sitting up.

This kid is relentless at bedtime. I would kill to go to bed early and have a big sleep.

“Uh-huh, point to your noodle,” I ask, because really… that could mean anything.

Henry points to his elbow and says, “It’s not fair really.”

“It’s fine. Go to sleep.” I turn to leave.

Henry starts the waterworks and like the sucker that I am, his cries tug at my heartstrings.

“Mummy! I want my dummy!!” Henry sobs. Snot is dribbling down his nose; his face has turned red; tears are streaming down his cheeks.

I feel my resolve disintegrate into smithereens. Reluctantly, I return and give him my hand.

“Go to sleep Henry,” I reassure him. Thank goodness I threw out the dummies into the bin at the shops and not at home. I’d probably be rummaging through it just about now.

Henry calms down and says, “I love you lots Mummy.”

His words are a balm for my weary soul. I can never get enough. “I love you too pork chop. GO. TO. SLEEP.”

“I’d do anything for you Mummy,” Henry continues with his declarations of love.

I chuckle and sing, “But I won’t do that!”

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