SUMMER SLEEP CYCLE

Every summer school holiday (six weeks – a week before Christmas to the end of January), I dream of sitting on a secluded island, surrounded by waitstaff topping up my fruity mimosas and hand feeding me grapes. I laze around a pool (no sand), food belly (not just my fat belly) protruding from underneath my tankini and reading steamy historical romances on my kindle (stop judging!). Not a care in the world. Not a soul (besides the discreet staff) to see me at my worst.

In reality, I am the full-time carer of two wayward children that constantly bicker over nonsense and defer to violence at the drop of a hat. My husband likes to comment that if he was the stay-at-home parent, he would treat parenting like a job. He would have a schedule. He would have activities. He would go for walks to nearby parks. He would have the kids preoccupied, therefore reducing the chances of fighting. The implication here is that he would have these children under some semblance of control. Insert a loud sigh. I really hope my poor deluded husband gets to test his theory one of these days – and soon.

Last I remember, having a job meant getting paid real money, enjoying hot coffees, eating uninterrupted lunch with both hands, clocking on and off, and not rushing through potty time to break up arguments. You actually have a moment to yourself. To breathe. To think. To relax.

The debate of who has it harder – the stay-at-home parent or the full-time parent – sometimes surfaces during school holidays. We are different in many ways; parenting styles, approaches to discipline and play, personal strengths and weaknesses. But regardless of our differences, we understand and respect the other person’s contribution to the family unit.

The summer school holiday just past was brutal, more so than usual. Due to the ongoing bushfires raging in many parts of Victoria (Australia), there were days where the air quality was hazardous, and we were stuck indoors. There were days of extreme hot weather, leading to three perspiring bodies laying prone in front of an overworked and underfiltered air-conditioner. The emergence of Coronavirus meant I was wary of taking the children to public places like shopping or play centres. Uncle TV came out to watch the kids now and then but the side effects of square eyes and delayed meltdown was not a worthwhile trade-off, so I avoided using this form of babysitting where possible. And there was only so much art and crafts that we could handle.

Ultimately, we suffered from cabin fever from being inside, sleep deprivation from the heat and the dreaded boredom. We were all a bit tetchy by the end of school break.

Like Tom Jones says “It’s not unusual.” It happens EVERY year. It’s nothing new. You would think I’d have my act together by now. You would think I’d have action plans in place. But every year there are add-ons, creating new challenges that throw out any expectations.

This year’s add-ons included late nights from visitors, daylight savings, transitioning our three-year-old from cot to bed, and overnight potty training. There were midnight requests “Mummy, can you do me a favour and hold my hand?” “Mummy, can you cuddle me? I’m scared.” There were early morning visits to the loo and problems with resettling. There were many potty accidents (the carpets will never be the same). These add-ons further impacted on everyone’s quality of sleep and made the summer school holidays infinitely harder.

Recently, a friend commented on how she loves school holidays and spending time with her son, and that she misses him when he goes back to school (how sweet!). I could only nod in parental unity and mask my face with understanding. But in all honesty, after sending my children back to school, I did my jazzy happy dance, waved my arms in the air like I just didn’t care and screamed… I’m freeeeee!!!!

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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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