Tag Archives: parenthood

It’s My Birthday, It’s Not All About You

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When I was growing up, there were a few things that were constants when it came to birthdays. No matter where in the world we were living, who we were with, or what the weather was like, my birthday was all about me.

I got presents.

I got attention.

I got a cake.

I got to choose what we had for dinner.

Really, isn’t that what birthdays are all about? Celebrating the birth of someone? Giving them just one day a year where it really, truly is all about them?

So it came as a huge shock when, a few years ago, I discovered that there are people out there who don’t think the same way. 

I first came across this phenomenon in a toy shop of all places. The lady in line in front of me was buying a series of toys. “Its my daughter’s birthday,” she explained to the cashier. Then she looked at the mountain of presents she was buying and said, “But, of course, I always give a little something to my other children so they don’t feel left out. It gets quite expensive when you have seven kids.”

Um, yeah. It would.

Judging by the number of toys she was buying, all seven of them were getting an equal number of gifts — obviously so no one felt “left out”. I imagine that having to do that seven times a year was pretty financially draining. I was a little horrified by the concept, but figured she was an anomaly — that I would be unlikely to ever run across another person who thought siblings should get presents on someone’s birthday.

I was wrong.

It happened first on Master Six’s birthday (he was only turning five at the time). Someone brought along a present for Master Three and said, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

“It’s fine!” I said. “He doesn’t need a present. It’s not his birthday.”

But it kept happening. Apparently there are more than a few people in the world who think that children are incapable of understanding that they get presents on their birthday, not on their brother’s birthday.

This, to me, reeks of the same kind of silliness that results in “medals for everyone!” and “prizes for everyone!” Imagine, if you will, a world where children never learn that sometimes, just sometimes, the world does not revolve around them. Imagine, if you will, a world where a fully grown adult says, “But it’s your birthday! I gave you a present. Why didn’t you give me a present? I feel really left out…”

It’s crazy.

But what, exactly, do you think it teaches children to believe about themselves and the world when you make a fuss of them on someone else’s special day, just in case they feel left out?

And what does it teach the Birthday Boy (or Girl)?

I can tell you that, as a child, I watched my brother and sister get fussed over on their birthday, and I was thrilled for them. Because it was their special day. And because, in a few months time, it would be my special day, and I would get all the attention for myself.

I want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because they have done something special, or because we’re celebrating their special achievement or day. I don’t want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because someone else has done something  worthy of celebration. I don’t want my children to grow up with the expectation that they will be rewarded because someone else has done something worthy of celebration.

That’s just crazytalk.

So I’ve made a decision. I’ve told people it’s not necessary to bring a sibling-present on birthdays. I’ve asked people not to bring a sibling-present on birthday. So from now on, whenever one of my children is given a gift on their brother’s birthday “so they don’t feel left out”, I’m going to take that gift away. They can have it back on their own birthday.

You know, the day that is all about them.

What do you think about presents to stop siblings feeling left out?

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A Year in Review: Revisiting 2013

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have noticed my lack of goal-checking and goal-setting post at the start of January. There are good reasons for that. Many of them revolve around not having time to write one.

We shall have to remedy that.

First up, let me say that 2013 was the most intense, heart-shattering, life-changing, wing-growing, exciting, devastating, emotional, challenging, rewarding, and intense (did I already say intense?) year of my life. There were days I was so happy I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet because I was flying too high. There were days when I literally cried non-stop for over 24 hours straight. There were days when I felt a zen-like sense of peace and well-being, and days when I was sure I’d ruined not just my own life, but also the lives of my children (and possibly their children).

It was a big year.

Goalpost

But let me start with my writing goals because, after all, that’s what this blog is supposed to be about. (Except when it’s not.)

How did I go with the writing goals I revised in July?

TNT #1

I was aiming to have revised this novel by October, and be ready to query it. This didn’t happen. Largely because in early September, I realised that the manuscript doesn’t just need a simple revision, it needs a complete break-down and rewrite.

This is a good thing and came about because (a) I finally “found” my true voice, and (b) I realised that I have recurring themes in my work, and discovered that those themes are there in TNT #1, but they’re hidden beneath a veneer of self-consciousness. So once I dig them out and make them shine, the whole story will be better for it.

I didn’t make my goal, but I’m darn happy with the revelations I had along the way.

CST

My goal was to finish the first draft, finish revisions, and start querying. I did finish the first draft on schedule — even though it meant writing my way through pneumonia to do it — and I finished my first-round revisions at 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

I’m not ready to start querying. Although I feel like I’m close. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m (eagerly) awaiting their feedback.

And feeling ill every time I think about it too much. But, you know, I’m not as bullet-proof as I like to pretend. 🙂

Novel C

I didn’t start writing or outlining before the end of the year, but I’ve started it in the first couple of weeks of January. So I’m about a month behind schedule on this. But I have worked out what I’m writing. I’ll give you a little hint to whet your appetite (and encourage you to nudge me if I stop writing!).

The story involves Greek mythology, violins, and a female protagonist with delusions of monsters and an acerbic wit.

Outline TNT #2 and #3

Yeah, whatever. Who wrote these goals???

Short Stories

Bum-bum. No more short stories written.

Reading

I don’t know if I read anything in the last few months of the year. It just wasn’t a priority for me.

Other

I think my favourite writing-related part of 2013 was becoming part of a great group of enthusiastic, supportive writers. No matter what else happens in my life, I always have these writers there, supporting and encouraging and generally being awesome. Thanks to my P&Peeps for everything. *mwah!*

And that brings to the non-writing related part of this post.

In about August 2013, I got pneumonia pretty bad. It took over a month to recover. I didn’t end up in hospital — although, really, I probably should have. But I have two children, and going into hospital just wasn’t an option for me. So I spent weeks feeling miserable, struggling to breathe, and still doing the cooking, cleaning, raising the children, blah blah blah. You know how it is. But that put a few things into perspective for me. Things like: What’s really important? And: What do I really want?

Just prior to that, I’d been pulling my hair out over finances. So much of our money was being spent on rent and electricity that no matter how I sliced and diced, cut and shaved, managed and over-managed our budget, there was never enough left over for anything. And sometimes not even enough for the most basic of “extras”. Renting a movie to watch with the kids meant not being able to afford more breakfast cereal. Getting haircuts for the boys meant eating nothing but pasta and rice for a week. 

Between those two things, I came up with a radical and crazy idea.

What if we sold or gave away every single possession we didn’t actually need, jumped out of the “rent this expensive house” game, and lived as simply as we possibly could?

What if we abandoned the life we knew ,and started a new one. A cheaper one. A simpler one. A life more in tune with the world, and with nature, and with the values that are close to my heart?

My husband agreed, and we set about the project.

We bought a dodgy, 30-year-old caravan, and I started renovating it from the inside out. (This is an ongoing project.) We bought a tent for the kitchen, and another one for the chemical toilet. We sold or gave away everything we didn’t need. Everything. It was a much bigger (and more emotional) job than I expected. And then we moved out to the middle of nowhere, and set up in a paddock that belongs to a friend of a friend.

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This is where we live now.

It was a massive adjustment. Suddenly, weather plays a massive part in what we can and can’t do on a daily basis. We have to schedule time to move the cows off the road every time we go somewhere. Snakes are a major threat, as are paralysis ticks and venomous spiders. We can’t race off to the shop on a moment’s notice — it’s at least 20 minutes each way to the closest not-all-that-convenient convenience store. We have to go outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I hand wash the clothes, carry water to the kitchen and shower, and I even planted a vegie garden.

It was a massive adjustment.

And in the middle of this adjustment, on October 31st — our 9th wedding anniversary — my husband and I reached a point where we realised that, no matter how much we wished it was different, and no matter what we tried, our marriage was over.

Amidst tears and feelings of guilt and grief and pride-killing failure, we made the decision to separate.

For the good of our children.

For the good of ourselves.

Suddenly, in a change that felt like it happened overnight, I wasn’t a stay-at-home Mum and writer living in the suburbs with a husband who supported us financially. I was a single mother living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. With no income, and no easy answers.

It was tough.

It was tough saying the words “single mother”. 

It was tough falling asleep at night, listening to the wind buffeting the trees outside, and telling myself that everything would be fine, and I could do this — I could do this on my own. I could face this new challenge, this new life, and I could do it with all the strength in my soul and my arms and my heart. It was tough cuddling my son when he asked when Daddy was coming home.

It’s been almost three months.

And I can do it.

DSCN1566[1]I don’t hate my ex-. Far from it. In fact, we get along better now than we have at any other point during the last six years.  We both love our sons intensely, and want the best for them. And I’ve learned that I can grow vegies. I can make new friends, and be a good parent, and put up a tent, and build furniture, and train a dog, and start a business, and make our money stretch just that little bit further, and I can do it on my own.

With the support of my friends and family.

Now, I stand outside at night, with the stars lighting up the sky, and the damp earth under my feet, and I feel loved and blessed and happy.

I feel like myself. 

I am myself.

And the future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.

How was your 2013?

 

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Do You Believe in Dragons?

Dragon 1

“Mummy, are dragons real?”

Big Brother is five years old. Nearly six. He loves stories of knights and dragons. He wants to be a superhero when he grows up so he can protect people.

“Are they extinct?” he asks.

I don’t know how to answer.

I feel like I’m standing on a tightrope, my position precariously balanced between two core beliefs.

I believe in honesty always.

But I also believe in fairies and dragons and elves.

Salvatore quote

So I stand, unsure how to cross the gaping chasm between truth and imagination in a way that doesn’t disrespect my son’s question.

I must delve into my own beliefs. I question them; turn them over and over in my mind; put them to the test.

(This is one of the great wonders of parenthood — the way our children push us to examine our own feelings and become better, stronger people.)

I do believe in dragons.

But do I believe dragons are out there, ready to fly forth from their hiding places at any moment and raze our cities to the ground?

Dragon 2

No.

Probably not.

It’s fairly unlikely.

Do I believe that was true once-upon-a-time?

Yes.

Scientists tell us that dragons were never real, but scientists aren’t always right.

As a friend of mine recently bloggednot finding something doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there. And scientists learn new things every day.

The Brontosaurus never existed. Dinosaurs may not have been cold-blooded reptiles. New living species of plants and animals are discovered every day. Who’s to say what will be discovered in the future?

Maybe we’ll find dragon fossils.

Maybe we’ll find dragons.

But even if we don’t…

I’ll still believe in dragons.

I stand on that precipice while my son watches me expectantly, secure in the knowledge that his mother knows everything. Not yet old enough to understand how much I don’t know.

Dragon 3

So I look him in the eye and I say…

Nothing for a second. Instead, I gather my thoughts.

Then I cross that chasm of doubt, the chasm spanning untruth and disbelief. And I do it one slow step at a time.

“No one has claimed they’ve seen a dragon in a very long time,” I say.

“In fact, it’s been so long, most people don’t think dragons were ever really real. Some people think dragons are just stories. Some people think dragons are still alive but they’re very good at hiding. And some people think dragons are extinct.”

My beautiful son looks up at me, and his lips curl into a smile.

“I knew it,” he says. Then he skips off to play.

A minute later, I hear him telling himself a story about dragons and I smile.

I believe

Do you believe in dragons?

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Because She’s a God and a Mother

It’s nearly a year since Big Brother asked whether he was going to die one day. Since that first conversation, we’ve had many more. Questions about life and death pop up every few months, inspired by something Big Brother has seen or heard, or just thoughts that have taken a while to process.

About six months ago, he was cuddling with his father when he asked the latest in this line of questions. “Are you and Mummy going to die?”

My wonderful husband handled the question with apparent ease. “One day,” he said. “Everyone and everything dies eventually. But Mummy and I aren’t going to die any time soon. We’ll be here with you for a long, long time.”

My little boy considered that for a minute and then asked, “But what happens if you’re not? What happens if you die? Who will look after me and Little Brother?”

My husband took Big Brother’s hands and looked at him seriously. “Well, you know Auntie Jak?”

“Yes.”

“Auntie Jak is your godmother. That means that if something happens to Mummy or I, and we can’t look after you for some reason, Auntie Jak will look after you.”

Big Brother nodded, letting this sink in for a minute. “She’s our godmother?”

“That’s right.”

Another brief pause. “What’s a godmother?”

My husband smiled. “A godmother is a very special person. She’s another grown-up who loves you as much as Mummy and Daddy love you, and will always be there to help you and to look after you. So if we can’t be with you, Auntie Jak will be.”

Big Brother smiled. “So is she like a fairy godmother?”

“A bit. But without the fairy part.”

This seemed to satisfy Big Brother and he left happy. That was the last we heard about the subject for months. And then, out of the blue…

I was driving home. Big Brother was in the back seat. Quiet. We’d just spent some time at the library and were on our way home. I was enjoying the rare moment of peace, my thoughts running hither and thither like rabbits on crack. They were brought to a sudden halt by a voice from behind me.

“What was that?” I asked Big Brother, not sure if I’d heard him right.

He repeated himself. “I didn’t know that Auntie Jak was a God.”

“A God?” I repeated.

“Yes,” said Big Brother seriously. “Auntie Jak is a God.”

I fought back the urge to giggle uncontrollably, imagining the look on my sister’s face if she was told that she was a God, and racked my brain trying to figure out what he meant. “Oh,” I said after a minute. “You mean she’s your godmother?”

“Yes. And she’s a God,” said Big Brother confidently.

So much for my moment of peace! I spent the rest of the trip home alternately stifling laughter and re-explaining the concept of a godmother to my boy. And this time, he got it.

Or so I thought.

We were running late for school last week, but Big Brother desperately wanted to talk to his Nana and wish her a good morning. We jumped in the car, and I dialled my mother’s number, put my phone on speaker, and handed it back to BB.

The two of them exchanged normal pleasantries for a while.What are you doing today? What’s the weather like there? Have you been doing anything fun?

And then, out of nowhere, Big Brother says, “Did you know that when I die, Auntie Jak is going to be there with me?”

“Oh?” said Nana, clearly not really knowing what he was talking about.

“Yes,” said Big Brother, with all the seriousness of youth. “That’s because she’s a God and a mother.”

Yeah.

I think we still have some explaining to do.

You have some explaining to do...

 

 

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Preparing for Parenthood

“Having a child is the most rewarding experience of your life. ”

That statement is guaranteed to immediately divide the room. On one side, there are the people nodding emphatically — some of them with wry expressions of joy mingled with exhaustion, others with the sagely peace of people whose children have grown up and left home — and on the other side are the people who don’t have children, looking either bored or sceptical.

Before my children were born, I was one of those bored, cynical people. I listened to people talk about motherhood and, I’m ashamed to admit, often thought they were a little soft in the head. “My daughter is amazing. She only sleeps for two hours at a time and she spits up constantly, but when she looks at me and smiles, my heart just melts.”

Really? This baby stops you sleeping and vomits on you, and you think that’s good? You’re clearly insane. Besides, I’ve had plenty of rewarding experiences in my life. I’ve travelled, I’ve had a job that I love, I’ve had pets who depend on me and love me unconditionally. How much different can a child possibly be?

All the parents in the room can stop sniggering now.

The fact is that having a child changes your life, your mindset, your priorities, and (in the case of a child-bearing and/or breastfeeding mother) even your physiology. When my first son was born and placed on my chest, he opened his eyes and looked into mine. In that moment, it wasn’t just my life that was changed — it was me. I distinctly remember leaving the hospital three days later, baby in my arms, and looking at the road I had to cross to get to the car park. “How am I going to get over there?” I thought to myself. “How can I possibly cross the road, dodging these terrifying projectiles hurtling past me at extreme speeds? Why have I never noticed before how dangerous the world truly is?”

But enough of that. There was no way that anyone could have explained those feelings to me before my boys were born, no matter how eloquent they were. The thing is, that feeling is what so many people focus on when they talk about parenthood. They talk about the feelings that come with holding your newborn, or the way the world changes, or the way the hard stuff fades into insignificance in comparison to the good stuff. (I’m also guilty of doing this.)

But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

You see, while the good stuff is amazing, that doesn’t mean you don’t feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and generally unprepared for all the hard stuff. People will tell you that there’s no way to truly prepare yourself for the way your life will change. But I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.

I give you: Five Ways to Prepare for Parenthood

  1. Find an alarm clock. Set the alarm to go off every two and a half hours, day and night. Every time the alarm goes off, immediately stop whatever you’re doing, jump to your feet, and spend five minutes running backwards and forwards around the house — really get that adrenalin flowing. Then return to what you were doing, and try to pretend there was no interruption. Do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next three years. If you intend to have more than one child, add an extra two years per child.
  2. Every time you cook yourself a meal, leave it sitting on the table untouched until it’s cold. For bonus preparation points, forget about it entirely and find it still sitting there the following day, then eat it rather than cook something fresh.
  3. Ask a friend to spray you with a mix of sour milk and water at random, unexpected intervals throughout the day. Don’t wash or change your clothes afterwards.
  4. Fixate on poo. Spend your free time reading about it, looking at pictures of it, and discussing what it means when poo is different colours or consistencies. Insert at least one statement about poo into every conversation you have.
  5. Find the most annoying noise in world. (I would suggest either a baby crying or a toddler whining?) Play this sound for sixteen hours of every day. At high volume. For bonus preparation points, have the sound start and stop at random, uncontrollable intervals throughout the day and night. Continue this for two years and then change from crying/whingeing to children’s music.

Do any other parents have preparation tips they’d like to share?

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Caption this photo…

I’m lucky to have my wonderful sister visiting this week. We took 4-year-old Big Brother for a walk to the duck pond nearby, fed the ducks, and spent some time sitting in the lovely green grass. I came away with a few photos, but particularly liked this one.

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