Yesterday I collected my daughter from school and we took off to our nearest mega-complex to spend her birthday cash.
Most of it was spent in a store that when I was her age was one of my go to stores.
Her clothing choices? Many of them echo the ones I made at around the same age. Everything old is new again. When we entered the song playing was Gloria with Laura Branigan singing out. It could have been 1982 for all the clothing and music.
She stands shoulder to shoulder with me. She asks for advice on items some of the time, but mostly she knows her own mind. Her own sense of style shining through.
A year ago I would encourage her to approach shop assistants. Now they approach her. Her answers and comments to them clear and confident. Yes, I like that, no thanks, that’s not my style. A year ago the shop assistants spoke to me, and I had to direct them to their customer. Now? Now they know my daughter is the customer, and the one the attention should be paid to.
My green eyed girl also shops without me. Just her and friends. Choosing items, making wish lists, mapping out their way. It is the way of life. A small step here, a small one there. Her world getting larger.
While some may cling to the toddler years, the early childhood days, I am not one to. Each day I see more of the adult to come shining through her sea green eyes. She is becoming her own person. Making her own choices, finder her own way.
It is the way of life. Not always easy, but she keeps on going around the sun, and for now, I am happy to be her shadow.
I thought I had a good grasp on this teenage parenting gig. I know I haven’t officially been a teen parent all that long; I know there is a long way to go, but I still felt like I knew what was what.
Then the past few days came by. Two parts great, one part WHAT THE?
When I asked The Blue Eyed Boy to walk the dog with his sister he flat out refused. Not in a yeah, in a minute Mum, way. More a look at my face there is no way in hell I am walking the d0g today, way. A way that made me realise we have stepped up a notch in the you can’t make me game. I told him if he did not go I’d remove his iPad and iPhone for the day. He did not budge.
I had a choice, go up against him, yell, fight, say things I would later regret, and still not win or walk away. Walk away it was.
The dog got a walk, with the Green Eyed Girl and myself. He lost the use of his precious iDevices for the day and the night.
When we returned home and walked up to the back door it was locked. We checked the sunroom doors. Locked. I didn’t know whether I should be pissed off, or out and out proud of him for having the guts to lock us out.
He let us in quickly enough. He looked embarrassed. I told him I was two parts pissed off and one part proud. In truth it was the other way round.
Yesterday was his first day of school holidays. The Green Eyed Girl and I still have this and next week. (While Hubby is at home, he has work to do, and is for the most part, down in this office). So, for the first time I left him a note with a household task to do. It was day one of his break after a long, hard year at school, so I went easy on him with just one task.
When we returned home the dish washer was on and he had just showered. Winning. Some housework got done and he spent most of the day online gaming. I’ll ease him into longer lists.
Then, just as I was beginning to unwind on the back veranda, I received a text. From my son. While he was in his bedroom.
Ah, it really has begun. This teenage thing.
I know there will be days when I am three part pissed off. Others when I’ll be three parts proud, and some when it’s a 1.5 split each way.
But at least, at the end of the day, if it all goes wrong, I know he’ll text me from the bedroom and ask what’s for tea.
Week one of school holidays is all but gone. So far I have asked, cajoled, bribed, nagged and yelled at a number of teen boys to get of the X-Box and go outside for fucksake approximately one trillion times.
I know I am not alone in this.
I consider myself a pretty laid back parent. I’m happy for gaming to happen. Even a few hours at a time. I hear the conversation as they play, know that there is connection. Talking to each other side by side with no eye contact. The preferred method of communication for any male I have ever known.
I will argue that actually, this generation of kids can concentrate for extremely long lengths of time. Don’t give me any of that this generation have a short attention span mumbo jumbo. It just is not true. They want things in ADSL 2 speed, but once they have it they know how to concentrate for hours on end.
Throngs of articles tell of the virtues of lead by example. I run. Hubby rock climbs and mountain bikes. We sit out in the sun. Walk the dog. Have freinds over for meals and late night conversations and drinks. If the adage lead by example worked our son would be a running, climbing, dog walking, sun sitting machine.
I thought perhaps Hubby and I were missing something. That is was just us and our kids. Turns out it’s universal.
I have managed to get the boy child and his friends off the couch and out of doors a few times. Once for nerf wars. Once to walk the dog. Once with all the coins I could scrounge and the suggestion of a walk to the village lolly shop.
I am more than a little torn about the whole thing. Gaming is part of how Hubby makes a living. Well, making them, he hardly has the time to actually play them. Without games we may not be able to purchase that free range pork we like so much.
Games and consoles are part of the growing up deal in 2012. As are tablets, phones and apps. Unavoidable if you want children to be up to date at school. I’m talking in class here. Not peer pressure.
The argument to not have these things in the home can be made. For some people that is the choice. But for me it is not. Fitting in is a huge part of a teen’s psyche. Huge. And I for one want my children to be able to talk about and use the social currency of their peers.
For me that currency was Countdown, roller skates and the body-wave perm. For my children it’s instant messaging, games, iDevices. I have no problem with that. Move with the times. Learn, adapt or be left behind. Fitting in is important for children. For their wellbeing.
The day long screen time battle of wills between parent and child is exhausting. Does a movie instead of game play count as a win for the kids, or the parents? What if the weather is foul? What if, what if, what if. On and on ad infinitum.
In a house where we talk openly and honestly about anything; where our children know they can come to us with any problem, anytime, I have already seen my son shutdown and internalise. I know the statistics. I understand about mental health. I also know that when my son communcates with his friends it is via instant message, face time, while playing games. Do I really want all this to stop? Do I want my son to shut down and not talk to anyone? If I take away his game time, his iPad and phone, say they are only to be used for school work am I taking away his tool of communication? His link to his world? His way of reaching out?
I don’t want that. I want him to always be able to reach out. It doesn’t have to be me. Or his father. It can be anyone he trusts. As long as it is someone.
So I wonder, is it all that bad that on occasion, in his downtime, he spends a day in a darkened room side by side with his friends? Gaming. Talking. Laughing. Connecting.
Is it really necessary that every single time he has a mate over I cajole them into outside time? Or should I sometimes, just let them be?
Thank you for your interest in Under the Yardarm. However, here are some things you may want to know.
I am a mum. Sometimes.
Sometimes I am a teacher and I don’t even think about my own children. No one pitches me ideas based on me being a busy teacher.
Sometimes I am a wife and want nothing more than to be with my husband. Out of the house. Holding hands.
Sometimes I am a 40 year old on the town drinking too many expensive cocktails, using a loud voice. Out. Having fun with friends. Not caring that tomorrow I’ll have a hangover. You can bet I’ll instagram my shoes at least once. And my dress, and mention where I bought it. Oh and my lipstick.
I tweet and instagram about gin a lot. Washing products, not so much.
I do not want to blog about dishwashing products or pegs. In our house we all do the dishes. We all put washing on and off the line. And pegs? They are just pegs.
I am not a busy mum. I am a busy person. My husband is equally busy. Ask him to make an app about pegs. Go on. Ask him. He puts the washing out too.
Yes I do the school run. But only some of the time. My husband does it half the time. He makes the school lunches too. Email him about that. Ask him to make a game about eating enough fruit and veggies and pay him with a shopping voucher. I’m sure he’d do that and will be grateful for your email saying how much you love his work.
I am not a busy mum. I am a mum. But sometimes that part of me is tucked away. I am many things. My life is the sum total of all my parts. My about me bio hints at this.
Writer, runner, mother, teen negotiator. Teacher of little folk. Tea sipper, wine drinker, cocktail maker and shaker. Dress wearer. Foodie wanna be. Rebel in my own mind. Unashamedly wearing my heart on my sleeve. Maker of fine cups of tea.
Busy. Undoubtedly. But media have made my gender into a stereotype. As a busy mum, comes out of the TV more times than I can count. This is what my children see. A parent diluted down to four words. As a busy mum.
It also negates the work my husband does. He cooks just as much as me. Sometimes more. Where are the adverts showing him being a busy dad? I want my children to live in a world where a household of people – a family – share the work. My son unloads the dishwasher, folds the washing, cleans the bathroom. So does my daughter. Sometimes I do it all. Sometimes my husband does. Sometimes none of us do because school and work makes us beyond caring about the state of the house. Sometimes we’d rather spend a day watching movies and playing minecraft in separate rooms. Not talking to each other.
I want both my children to be able to cook and clean. Life skills. Not gender skills.
Some of the time I am so busy I don’t answer emails promptly. It’s usually because I’ve been at work for fourteen hours the day before and am back there again the next day. When I apologise about a late email reply, please refrain from a patronising reply saying you understand how busy us mums are.
The media image of a busy mum is one of taking grocery shopping from a cleaner than clean station wagon with a labrador and well behaved children. For the record I drive a small hatchback. I can’t fit a weeks groceries in there let alone a large dog. But even if I have a station wagon and a labrador I am a person, shopping to feed the family. Because that is what needs to be done. I am not a busy mum. I am a mum doing the shopping. There is a difference.
There is nothing wrong with doing the dishes, with doing the washing, vacuuming, cooking, grocery shopping. Nothing at all. I just object to the fact in general the media portrays this as something a busy mum does. That a busy mum tells me, my children, my husband, what pain relief, cereal, cleaning product we should purchase.
Us parents, we’re all just doing what we need to do. Sometimes that’s the house work. Sometimes it’s not.
I am a step away from being someone who comments on toddlers in public. Not the back seat parenting comments, I have no place telling anyone how to parent. More in an I remember when kind of way.
I have stopped myself a number of times. I watch a mum, a dad, their young children beginning to navigate the world and I look on with a sense of nostalgia that is almost nauseating.
While I know I would never go back, sometimes I catch myself watching a young family in that misty eyed way of the middle aged.
There are some parts of motherhood that never leave you. Like the way I was so amazed and proud of my body for carrying and birthing two healthy, if determined never to sleep, babies. The bond of breastfeeding, which I was lucky enough to be able to do with relative ease.
Over the weekend there was quite the conversation on twitter about breastfeeding and babies. I commented that although I have not fed a child since 2002, I reckon given a baby and half an hour and I could produce milk. An instinctive memory tucked away behind clothes, a bra and arms crossed over my chest.
Perhaps the nostalgia is stronger now I have left behind childrens’ sections in stores. The Green Eyed Girl choosing clothes from stores I too shopped at as a teen. Though I do find the music a little too loud in some of them, and mutter about the lack of cotton and breathe-able fabrics.
My Green Eyed Girl, who I fed day and night for fourteen months, until she decided one day enough was enough, no more boob. Walked away and never asked again, never looked back. Even then she had her eye on the next thing. Her wobbly, yet determined toddler steps propelling her forwards.
All I know is a small child in his green hoodie, reaching to take a punnet of strawberries at the supermarket took my breath away. The simple act of navigation, section and collection. The child hunter gatherer of the twenty first century astounded me. His outstretched arms offering the fruit to his father. While I stood next to a trolley waiting for my girl to return with the cucumber I’d sent her to get.
I marvelled too at my own child. Her oblivious walk through the produce. No longer in awe of the supermarket world. Its workings and norms second nature now.
Emotions are close to the surface as I age. Always there, waiting for the out. I push them back. The supermarket is not the place for them. I will keep myself nice in public. I will watch on and smile in that, I had babies once too, way. Remind myself a smile is all good and well, but don’t scare the young parents by engaging in too much chat.
I will keep my reminiscing to myself. I will watch and wonder at the pace of life and push my trolley on through to the next section. Mirroring my own child, moving forward, taking determined toddler like steps into the here and now.
This past year has seen a real shift in our family. The thing I thought would never happen has. Quizzed on what shows are on ABC for kids, I could not answer. Talk about nappies, nipples, sleep deprivation and though I do remember, I have to reach back into my mind to pull the memories out.
There was a time, when two children under two relied on me for just about every last thing, I thought I would never get to the end. Never get passed the almost constant need for space to call my own. The toilet, the bed, the shower, no space was mine to inhabit alone. Most days this was not an issue. Others, it was all consuming.
I did not get a full nights sleep for over seven years. Tired beyond reason was situation normal.
Some days, on escaping to the park I would just want my kids to go and play. Leave me alone. Pushing a small child on a swing was mind numbingly boring. Some days, I was the model mother, all healthy snacks and a picnic rug; baskets with extra water bottles, laden with spare nappies and spare clothes. Some days.
Our children were by choice. Their being born close together pretty much on purpose. Days when I questioned this choice still happened.
This post is not for all those great days you have being a parent. This is for that day when it’s all too much. The days when you want out. The days when the thought of making another meal that won’t be eaten makes you cry. For the days of battling once more for a child to sleep. For the days when you drive endlessly, with a knot in the pit of your stomach, because you know as soon as you switch the car off someone will wake. This is for those days.
This is to tell you it won’t be forever. Even though it feels like it will be. This is to let you know these days happen, and that’s alright. It’s normal to have bad days, and it’s good to admit to them.
The days of all consuming parenting will pass. Your house will one day not resemble a creche. You will get space back. Your bed will become your own again.
One day your children will get to school by bus or train. They will organise their own social lives, texting you the details. They will feed themselves, say goodnight at the living room door, you won’t see them again until morning. They may still talk to you while you’re on the toilet, but at least it will be through a closed door.
You will have space. You will have meals with chilli that everyone will eat.
I do not miss those days of prams and tears. Sticky fingers and tantrums. Of feeling sick because I couldn’t find the dummy to stop the incessant crying. I do not miss them at all.
It is not that parenting has become less, it is still a full time occupation. It is just that the overwhelming, immobilisation of days when no one sleeps are over and gone.
This is to say keep going. Let the bad days come. Let them wash over you. Give in to the television or the DVD. Let them eat cake for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, weet-bix for tea. In the grand scheme of life a little cake and couch time won’t really hurt anyone.
These days will pass. Your children will grow. You will love them in ways unimaginable. They will amaze and astound you. But on those days, the bad ones, let it wash.
When yet another night ends with yells and frustrations, when a morning is all foot stomping and emotions, I like to remind myself of the good days. That being mum to a teen has it’s really good moments as well as it’s bad ones. That staying calm is hard to do, and negotiation is the key. Even when I don’t remember either, I can at least know that sometimes, just sometimes, I get it right.
Last Friday The Blue Eyed Boy entered a new part life. It’s something most of us remember doing, and if the conversations I had on twitter are anything to go by, remember fondly. The Friday night hang out.
In my time we had a mall, paved, small and in the winter months cold. My boy has an indoor shopping complex. It could fit the mall of my youth inside many times over.
Here we stand, family, on the edge of the wide world. Already he is stepping off on his own. Mates taking the place of Hubby and I. Just as it should be. If you had asked me twelve months ago if I’d let a child of mine catch a bus after school with his mates to y’know just walk around, I am not sure my answer would have been as easy and laid back as my response was last week.
A really big part of negotiating all things teen for me is trust. Mine of him, him of me. I want him to have good teen years. I want him to hang out with mates, go places, do things. I want to know where he is, who he’s with and when he’s coming home. I don’t want him to think he can’t ask to go places. I don’t want him to think he has to make up excuses or lies. So, for now he knows to ask. He knows for the most part Hubby and I will say yes, though sometimes the answer will be no.
I love that he has a phone. We are in contact. Easy, simple, a text away contact. This is also why he has a myki card, so he always has bus or train fare home. It is why I tell him, you can always ask, I will probably say you can go; and why when he doesn’t answer a text I can reply with one reminding him how much he loves his xbox and how much he’d hate for it to be banned for a week. It’s a win, win. He responds, I know where he is, and he’s not embarrassed in front of mates.
Letting go. Realising I am not in control.
As someone who generally likes to have all my ducks in a row, this has been the hard part. I am not in control. On friday night, if he was with me he’d have ordered sushi and a fruit smoothie. With his mates he had a burger and coke. Out of my control. What gets me though, is I’m actually OK with that. He gets decent food at home. With mates, hanging out, he gets what ever the money in his wallet budgets for.
I know it’s early days on the teen front. I know there will be (there are) days when I want to get off the parenting bus. I know there are days my son would like me to as well. The thing is, for now I am bursting a little with pride for him and his new found independence. His ease with hanging out, his willingness to accept when it’s time to come home and the shine in his eye from time, just, y’know, walking around.
This is life, bold and new. This is life, his life and I’m just along for the ride and the joy of watching from the sidelines.
This year for the first time I have become a soccer mum. The irony of the whole situation is not lost on me. I love to let people know I’m a soccer mum, then try not to smirk. I’m childish like that.
Soccer has been on for almost two months now. I have spent my share of wintery weekends on the sides of fields, as well as waiting for training to finish in the dark. Having just returned from another game, where the home team’s club rooms were shut (not even a sausage was on the sizzle) I have decided to pen a beginners guide to being a soccer mum.
Being a soccer mum is not all laté and laughter you know. For a start, some clubs don’t even have their own barista. Or soy milk and free range, hand picked organic coffee beans ground on site. As for laughing, best not to, lest the cold air gets into your lungs and you die of consumption on the sidelines. It has been known to happen.
Soccer mum duties are cold. Bitterly so. More bitter than a badly made coffee from an unofficial soccer match barista, who offers you white sugar and uses the bad soy milk. Due to this bitter cold, you will need to rug up. Layer. Layer well soccer mum, your life will depend on it. When you think you are layered enough, add a coat, two scarves, a warm hat at a jaunty angle and gloves. Try to squeeze your sunglasses on your head as well; a little optimism that the sun may shine never hurt anyone. Besides, when you start to get that I’ve- had -no- coffee twitch in your left eye, large framed sunnies are a godsend.
Gumboots are no longer just for kids and music festivals. Mums, you will need a pair. Soccer matches are wet. Odds on it will rain while your child is out on the field. Those lovely brown leather boots may really pull your layered soccer mum outfit together, but they won’t keep your feet dry.
TAKE AN UMBRELLA.
When the game is on, stand on the sidelines with your team’s coach and other parents. Yell encouragement to your child and their teammates. Stick to the basics, like RUN! KICK! STAY WITH YOUR PLAYER! GET ON NUMBER 11! If you’re feeling devil-may-care, yell OFFSIDE! But beware the offside yell, if you sound convincing other soccer mums and dads may come and ask you what the offside rule means. Then you’re in trouble.
Never leave home without your phone. It will help you find grounds with its GPS, tell you the god forsaken temperature and allow you to quickly google the offside rule while you duck off to the loo.
At the end of the match, be ready with words of encouragement. Great game, good running, excellent defence all work well. Unless of course your child was playing forward. Then try, great game, good running, great er, forwarding… Loosing a game is not the end of the world, remember your child’s team has excellent teamwork, great communication and ball skills. The opposing team just had one big player who could boot the ball from one end of the field to the other. He/she did all the work, so really if the game was about teamwork not goals, we would have SO won this week.
The end of the game huddle is important. It builds morale, helps kids debrief about that one big player that did all the kicking, and gives off warmth from all the body heat.
At the end of the huddle, gather your child and their strewn belongings and make a hasty retreat to the car; which you have been sure to park as close as possible to the ground. As your child removes their boots and puts on their car only uggs, turn the car on and crank the heater. While you wait for your child to load their gear, search your phone for the nearest café and load it into the GPS. Remember to remove at least two of your layers before you drive away or you may melt.
On your eventual arrival home, drag your child into the shower. Empty the soccer gear into the washing machine, turn the ducted heating up to 21c and pour a wine. You deserve it.
Last year was all about finding the right high school for the Blue Eyed Boy. When that job was done, it was about the orientation and lead up to the big day when off he went. Somewhere around the end of February my shoulders eased back down and I relaxed.
It’s now May. I have had two months of little or no high school thought process-decision making. It is about to get real. Again.
You see, while the eldest offspring is pretty much set now for the next few years – please, let’s not begin the tertiary education thinking just yet – there is the matter of the Green Eyed Girl.
Next year is her final year of primary school. We need to have a decision made by May of that year. Twelve months.
I am of the firm belief that the twelve months of decision making pertaining to high school choices is a little like the twelve months between Christmases. As in, super fast.
The general assumption was that the girl child would go to the sister school of the boy child’s. He being at an all boys school she couldn’t go there. Obviously.
We were lucky with the Blue Eyed Boy. When Hubby and I went on a tour of his chosen school we were, quite frankly, blown away. When the principal spoke and made me tear up the deal was sealed. It was the perfect fit for our boy.
From this experience we learnt never say never. Here we were enrolling our son in a single sex school. A catholic single sex school. These two things were high on our not in a pink fit list of school choices. The thing is though, different schools suit different children. And from the research I did; the talking, badgering and obsessed question asking I did of locals, we found that the not in a pink fit school was actually quite good.
We are lucky in that we have choices when it comes to high school here. So now, as our baby girl gets older, and taller – seriously, her feet are already half a size bigger then mine – the process begins again.
Last week to be exact. We headed off to an open night. The Green Eyed Girl with us. She is so much a part of the decision making. As she should be. We will also be going to see the all girl school. The all girl catholic school.
That will be it. The search has been narrowed to a choice of two before we even set foot in any of them.
But it is all the same, tiring. Exciting too, watching as she navigates her way through an unknown school. Taking it all in.
It amazes me that she has got to this point so quickly. Always one eye to the future. Always.
I do not want to keep her back. She has it all ahead of her. She is making plans, and discussing train trips and she still has this and next year to finish at primary school.
She is, all in one, so ready and yet still so far from being so. The in between it all.
The decision I think, will be made entirely by her. She will talk it through with us, knowing we are happy with either school. But she knows her own mind. Knows her own path and will make those first steps into her own life; the one in which she walks away from us, with a tentative step and a sheer will to not look back.
And us, her father and I, we will watch on. Sidelined. We will wait on the bench until called by her.
The day to day of family life is turning into something else this year. Dynamics are shifting. The ground rumbles and the air stirs knowingly under our feet. We walk with as steady a step as we can, the blue and the green eyed, the Hubby and I.
My family is beginning to appear with more regularity than I would like on here. Parenting blogger I may be, but I want this space to be more than just about us. This too will pass I remind myself. The ground will swell and shake and settle back to slumber soon enough.
When the kids were younger I knew what to do – well at least I had more of an idea. Surely four years of university and a degree stating I’m am early childhood specialist counts for something? But this, the teen years, this is uncharted waters.
When the blue and the green eyed were babes, I turned often to a poster called How To Really Love A Child by Sark.If they’re crabby, put them in water, she says. If they’re unlovable, love yourself.
For years when it was too much, when tiredness and tears took over I would run a bath and strip clothes of protesting children. Warm, worked up bodies would stiffen as I plonked them in water. Then, thrashing would subside, tears would stop and the unlikeable bundle of child would reach into my heart again. I would breathe once more.
I can’t do this now. As much as some days I would like to.
When they are unloveable, love yourself. I was reminded of this when my raised voice became a yell. Be kind to yourself was the thought running through a tired mind. Be gentle with yourself to be gentle with growing children.
Open up. Stop yelling. Express your love. A lot. Speak kindly. Why did I stop putting up this poster? It still rings true with teens.
Maybe after all the ground is not so shaky. The winds may be stiller than I think. I need to remember the poster. Perhaps it is my own thoughts and struggles that have stirred the ground, called the winds. If so, then I can quiet them. Call them to be still. Like Max, in that favourite of children’s stories. But there is no magic trick. I can not stare them down. I need to dig deep within my self right now. Love and laugh and step one foot infront of the other, embrace the wild rumpus and love ferociously.