It would seem that despite my best efforts to the contrary I am someone who likes routine. I try my best to be all let’s just go with it, but for me it just doesn’t work. More to the point, it doesn’t work for my family.
There have been some problems on the home front. Nothing major, but exhausting and emotionally draining all the same. Two schools to contend with, homework, parents working, trying to keep the house in some sort of order is hard work. For all of us.
As is the case for (what I would say) most families, things began to slip. Routines, rules (how I despise that word) and ways of doing things that work slid away as term one wore on and outside circumstances took their toll.
So, on the final day of the holidays we did something not done before. And as much as I don’t like the idea; as much as it goes against my wont to not conform, not be the typical poster family personified, we had a family meeting with our evening meal. We even called it that. Hubby and I swallowed our pride and got on with parenting in a way we thought we never would.
Routines were re-established and written down. A menu plan was made. On our weekly planner we wrote in homework, free time, and the things that needed doing to keep the house going. We added in a movie night and another movie afternoon. Something we always used to do, but let slip. Then we talked about why these things were happening. Why there would be no screen time (for any of us) between after school and tea. We put a stamp back on the importance of reading, drawing, chatting. On walking the dog, going for a run with me or a bike ride with Dad. We acknowledged the importance of downtime; time spent chatting online with friends, talking into headsets and gaming with mates. But that there is more to who we all are than our online connections.
I am a realist. I know what kind of world we all live in. I am more than happy for my kids to have time online with their friends. Friends they see face to face as well. But I know too that we all need to take a step back sometime. That family, that school work, that house work are all things that need to be done, like it or not. I know that setting boundaries is easy, but keeping them up is hard. I know that at times we all need to bend the rules, but it needs to be the exception, not the norm.
So, we are in routine lockdown. There are plans, set times, and lists of meals. It is not where I thought we would be as a family, but then life is not always what you think it will be. There are boundaries, not so much to keep anyone in, but as a protective buffer. A safety net to fall back on when life throws challenges. Which is does. Always.
It has only been this week. I know it is hard to tell long term. But for now things are working. It would seem that this mother who didn’t wan’t to be like all the rest, is. Maybe more so than she thought. But that is OK too. There is calm in our house this week. There is cooperation. But most of all there is happiness. Who could ask for more?
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.
In a day of highs and lows I have decided to dwell on the highs.
This week marks the celebration of the Hindi festival Diwali, The Festival of Lights.
This afternoon if you glanced through the windows of the kinder, you would have seen a mother joyfully dancing with her daughter, teaching the rest of the children and staff how to Bollywood dance. You would have seen two bent heads, as Indian mothers painted henna on hands. You would have seen feasting on home cooked food. Rice, vegetables and delicious sweets.
There were balloons, streamers and candles. There was laughter, dance and song. Red, glowing faces, from the exertion of dancing to Jai Ho.
There was a room filled with joy.
This is the stuff of life people. This is the stuff of life.
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 saw something new in my neighbourhood today. Something not seen here before, well not in my time living here at least. Something I am certain was here, but until now unseen.
As I walked from my car to the entrance of a local shopping centre I saw a man standing in the corner outside the sliding doors. Often this space is taken by one fundraising or not for profit organisation or another. Today it was one figure, holding a printed card. I squinted to read it as I walked. Ready to go into my no thanks, not today mode when the man holding the card met my gaze. Good morning, how are you today? He asked. I smiled in reply, a half smile, half don’t engage look. Courtesy and manners. Always remember your manners.
As I walked passed I registered what his small sign said. Family, feed, rent jumped out at me. I felt the air leaving me. I had just brushed off a man asking strangers to help him feed his family and pay the rent. My daughter was with me. She asked what he was doing. Begging I replied.
Begging. Such an ugly word. Such an I’m better than you word.
I tried again, ‘He’s asking people for money so he can feed his family.’ I told her. ‘It would be a really hard thing to do,’ she replied. I asked her to remind me to get some cash out when we had finished buying our groceries. Our groceries. Declaring ownership of items I had not yet bought.
I changed course and told her we’d get some money out now, go back and hand it to him. We headed to the nearest ATM and withdrew money. I thought about breaking the note, glanced at the two dollar shop, then realised how pathetic and middle class I was being.
We turned back to go out and hand him the money, and this time I would smile a real smile. The one that says, I see you.
As we neared him, a woman handed him some coins, and began a barrage of questions, had he sought out help from agencies? Had he been to social security? Was he sure he’d exhausted all forms of charity?
I wanted to cry. Tears welled. This man did not want my tears, he deserved better than that from me. Here he stood, tightly in a corner, asking for help. There is more humility in that act than in any spare change or ATM quick cash withdraw I can give. More humility than in my attempt at letting him know he is still human, still seen.
I handed him the money. I smiled what I hoped was a real smile and turned to go back inside. What I heard was a barrage of questions being hurled at a man trying to feed his family and provide shelter, then over the top in a clear and proud voice a thank you aimed at me.
What matters if he has been to all the agencies or not. What matters is that instead of questioning his motives, he is seen as a human being, doing what he has to, just to get by. I spent most of a whole teaching year once not knowing one of the families was homeless. As I came out of the supermarket, gobsmacked once more at the cost of the food in my trolly, I saw him again, another shopper was handing him cash and asking if he would like some lunch.
My daughter asked if he would be there again another day.
I do not know the answer.
I do know it is not the last time I will see someone who needs help.
I just hope when that next time comes I remember to smile a real smile. The one that says we are human, we are equal.
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.
Blogging has taken a back seat this week while work and family life take centre stage. Luckily the gorgeous Bianca from Bigwords is hosting me today.
It Takes a Village is a series of guest posts where Bianca asks bloggers to write a letter to her three girls. Today it’s my turn. So, head on over and have a read, It Takes a Village, the sister edition.
Hi, it’s Mum. I know you won’t read this yet. I know you’ll take a big breath and sigh and give me that look. The one that says really Mum? But I’m going to write it anyway.
This week you start high school. I can still remember when I was pregnant with you and here we are starting the next stage. The time, it just flies.
So, here are some things I want you to know.
Everyone tells you to be yourself. And that’s a great thing to be. But there’s a catch, sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes we just want to be like everyone else, dress like them, talk like them, listen to the same music… and that’s okay too. Being like everyone else still makes you you.
You don’t need to know what you want to do after high school. Just do what you like, what you’re good at, what you want to be good at. The right path will come along. There are jobs that you haven’t even heard of yet.
Facebook is great. Just remember the internet is forever. Post like you want to be posted about. Respect privacy. If you’re heart is breaking, tell me, tell Dad, write it down with pen on paper. Leave your facebook wall for the more mundane stuff.
You don’t need to be good at sport. Remember there’s art and drama and music. There’s science and maths and history. Not many people are good at everything.
Read books. As many as you can.
Watch movies. Over and over.
Play your music loud.
Go to concerts. Buy the T-shirts. You’re only young once.
Visit art galleries.
Wash you face.
Clothes are important. Find the ones you like, that make you look and feel good. Wear them. Even if I don’t like them.
Remember tattoos are forever. So if you want one, let Dad and me help you choose. Or at least help you pick a great artist to do it. And you have to be 18.
Smoking kills. So does a car going too fast.
Think of a really great way to say no when you’re offered drugs. Because you will be.
Hangovers are disgusting.
If you make a mistake, know Dad and I will be here. Remember we were young once and made big fat mistakes too. There is nothing you could do that would make us not love you. Ever.
Use your mobile phone. Text your friends. Text your grandparents. Text Dad. Text me. It’s what we gave it to you for. To keep in touch.
If you’re sad, feeling lost, hurt or unsure, ask for help. Tell someone you’re not okay. Me, Dad, a teacher… but always, always ask. It’s good to ask for help.
Give up your seat on the train for those who need it more that you do.
Homework sucks. But you still have to do it.
Love is hard. And when it ends it hurts. That’s why it’s good to have your friends and your family. For help. For comfort. For all night gaming and too much coke and chips. (And that’s why you should text us all.)
Some friends will always be around. Some will come and some will go. It’s alright. That happens.
Cry. Sometimes it’s good for you.
Always come home. Even if it’s 4am.
We will always be here for you. We will move house. More than once. But our home will always be open to you. And your favourite song? Remember the words. Find you own way to yell fire.
I’m tired. So, so tired. We are nearly at the end and I need some rest. A bit like when we put the music on, turn the lights off and stay as still as still can be, save getting up to choose new books, or to take off shoes, or move to a new spot… or get a drink of water…
I am tired. So, so tired, but I’ll be sad to see you go. I know it’s what you do, it’s how it should be, you have big school waiting for you all. I’ll watch when I can through the fence. We worked hard this year didn’t we. So, so hard. And I think in the end we got there. We worked out what we were meant to learn from each other. It’s a two way street this learning isn’t it. Give a little, learn a little, love a little, laugh a little. Take a big breath and start again.
It took a while, didn’t it. Do you remember the tears? The way it seemed impossible to get through without them. It’s a distant memory now. A whole life time has gone by since those early days and I’ve got it figured out now. What you came to tell me.
I know that spoken language can be overrated. We don’t need the same one to understand each other. That dancing for the sheer fun of it is the stuff of life and makes your heart go fast – it’s good for you when it does that. Never forget that.
And thanks for reminding me that the harder it is, the more you work for it, the better it is in the end. Nothing that comes easy is as sweet. If you work and work and work at it, it will come – not perhaps as you thought it would, but in a way you never imagined and it will make your heart sing.
Thanks for reminding me that bare feet in cool running water makes me happy. That tomatoes and peas taste best picked and eaten when still warm from the sun. That riding bikes makes diplomats of us all and that dress ups make us happy fit to burst. Thanks for reminding me that there is more than one way to do things. More than one way to be. More than one way to believe, but that in the end we all belong to the world. We make it what it is. So hold hands, go together, sing with love and dance with your heart going fast.