Tag Archives: family

Traditions

The Christmas and New Year period, for many people, is a time when family and personal traditions are practiced and compared. There are traditions people relish, traditions people dread and others that are carried out each year “just because that’s what we always do”.

I’ve often wondered what happens when one person’s traditions need to merge with another’s. Mr L and I, although both from (non-practising) Christian backgrounds, still grew up with different traditions around this time of year but bringing those practices together to form new ones hasn’t really been a big deal so far. Until this year (well maybe last year), our children were too young to really “get” Christmas so we haven’t really needed to establish much in the way of expectations around all the Christmas goings-on (presents, food, activities, extended family etc). But this year Master and Miss L are very aware it’s Christmas and so I started to think about more about how I’d like us to remember our family Christmases.

Here are some traditions we started, kept, re-vamped or threw out this Christmas:

Advent Calendars

I LOVED the practice of opening an Advent calendar leading up to Christmas as a child. In the 1970s and early 80s, chocolate calendars weren’t around. Every year I’d have the old fashioned cardboard calendar, with a wintery nativity scene, a sprinkling of glitter, and a daily search for the relevant number. Behind each window was a picture of something very simple- a star, a robin, a spring of holly- yet each day’s window seemed absolutely magical to open. I had a chocolate calendar one year (once they became more popular), but found the chocolate disappointing and the ugly plastic mould that was left once you’d eaten it really unsightly and went back to the picture-style calendar the next year. Simple, cardboard Advent calendars with pictures are really hard to find in Australia, so this year I bought a wooden Christmas tree with a 24 small drawers in it- each drawer just big enough to fit a few smarties or other small lollies. We added one drawer each night so the kids got to see the calendar fill up each morning during the countdown to Christmas. They got the magic of a surprise, the sight of something beautiful, the sense of anticipation, all with chocolate thrown in!

Christmas Eve outing

I remember as a child Christmas Eve being the most agonising of days- the long wait, my parents “getting ready” for Christmas (usually a fairly boring affair with my Dad doing last minute shopping and wrapping- adding to the anticipation but not really entertaining on a practical level) and my Mum cleaning and baking (but “Don’t eat all the mince pies!”) Until now as an adult, Christmas Eve has often been a busy, stressful, exhausting day, fighting crowds at the shops and doing a mountain of food prep to try and feed guests the next day with maximum efficiency on the day. This year (helped by the fact that we weren’t hosting anyone other than ourselves on Christmas Day) we decided to do something completely non-Christmas related. We went to the zoo. It took the kids’ minds off how excited they were and was a lovely relaxing way to have fun as a family. Importantly it also didn’t involve eating, drinking or presents! This is a “tradition” (if you can call it that after one instance) I’d like to continue.

Turkey

I like to eat turkey at Christmas. For no other reason than it feels Christmassy (I do like the taste, too!) Mr L is never that fussed, he always protests “But turkey’s so dry!” But while living in NZ that changed. We found this Annabel Langbein recipe for brining turkey which, along with not overcooking it, makes it so much more appetising. I’m open to turkey alternatives, but one a year, I do enjoy turkey.

Christmas Tree

I’ve always been a “not until the weekend before Xmas” tree putter-upper. Partly so that Christmas doesn’t monopolise the whole month of December, but also because a real tree struggles to last more than a couple of weeks, especially in Australian summer. This year though, we got our tree a bit earlier and so enjoyed it for longer in the lead up to Christmas (which, thanks in part to preschool Christmas preparations, now seems to monopolise not just the whole of December, but also November!) My other tree tradition was to leave it up until Jan 6th, “Twelfth Night”- I have no idea why. I mean, I know it’s a common tradition but it has no practical relevance to my life… in fact it’s completely impractical. I’m usually back at work by Jan 6th so taking it down is a hassle and by then, Christmas seems sooooo far over that it’s crazy still having a tree up! This year I began to gradually put away the decorations starting Boxing Day, just a few at a time, and the tree was the last thing to go, on New Year’s Eve. It felt much more appropriate and manageable.

Which Christmas traditions have you embraced? Rejected? Reworked?

Our Family Mission Statement

Bleuch….. nothing makes me roll my eyes and write off a blog post quicker than this heading. Lately it seems everyone is writing “family mission statements”. After hearing on a podcast today yet ANOTHER person (a man- so far I thought it was only women writing these things) talk about a “family mission statement”, I tried to put my finger on just what it was that makes me recoil from the idea of writing one for the L family.

Firstly, it’s cheesey. I mean there’s a certain cringe-factor about it. Which is a bit of a non-reason, but for me a mission statement carries associations of evangelical, all-American, lip-servicing Joneses showing off what decent, thoughtful, mindful people they are. I just think it’s kind of contrived and phoney. I’m not really one for having framed slogans and the like dotted around the house, whether they be fridge magnets saying “Kiss the cook!”, coffee mugs with some obvious statement about caffeine and mornings or framed “quotes” in white writing on a pastel backgrounds hanging on the wall.

So is it not just my “thing”? And should it be? I think if I suggested to Mr L that we sit down and write our “family mission statement” he’d think I’d gone nuts. “Why do we need to do that?”, I think he would say.

And that, really, led me to the answer… Why do people feel the need to write a “family mission statement” and, more importantly, why don’t I?

For Mr L and myself, our values for life are pretty closely aligned already. Maybe there are some couples whose values aren’t, I don’t know, but I wonder why you marry someone who doesn’t mostly feel the same way about things that you do. I mean, Mr L likes to watch sport on TV while I’d rather be watching Teen Mom or some such trash, so I’m not saying we like exactly the same things on a day to day basis, but overall, we have the same basic priorities. We like to get out and do things, value experiences over stuff, and generally try to avoid pretentious people, things and fads. Those are the values we try to instill in our kids, too. It’s not like we sat down before we got married or when I was pregnant with Master L and said “Right, how are we going to raise our children, what sort of parents are we going to be, are they going to wear designer clothing or hand-sewn clothes?” How could we have known, for a start? But I felt secure enough knowing that our basic principles were aligned that I didn’t feel a big discussion was necessary. Of course, it’s not like we never even speak about these things, it’s just that we don’t really feel the need to be prescriptive about them.

All the mission statements I’ve read so far seem to state the obvious as well. I haven’t read any that say “We aim to sit inside watching as much TV as possible and be really mean to everyone we meet”. Do you really need to be reminded of your own core values constantly with a written set of instructions? And if so can they really be considered core values?

I find them vague, as well, which is probably because their purpose seems to be to cover every imaginable situation for an infinite length of time. I’m fairly confident the issues that we face now with preschoolers aren’t the same ones we’ll face with teenagers (although with Miss L I sometimes wonder) and that we’ll need the be flexible and sometimes innovative to make decisions about the issues that will come up later in life. And again, we’ll be guided by our own basic principles, which we carry around with us all the time, in our heads and/or our hearts. I for one can’t see myself dashing home to consult the mission statement before deciding whether to let Miss L stay over at a friend’s house and miss a family camping trip. And somehow I don’t think Mr L will be, either!

 

 

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)

Specifically,

  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!

 

 

Guess Who’s Back?

After a long and busy hiatus, I’m finally back in blog land.

May saw the arrival of our 3rd and final child, a beautiful baby boy. Since then things have been rather hectic with 3 kids to manage but the departure of my parents in law last weekend signalled a return to “normal” (well real, anyway) life.

I have been itching to write again for some weeks now. I’d like to say I have loads of new material and inspiration but I’d be lying, so I thought I’d get writing and see what flowed.

Foremost in my headspace right now (other than Master, Miss and Baby L) are my on-going zero-waste efforts, my aspirations to minimalism as well as some new mindfulness stuff. I’ve read Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, since writing last and of course, there’s the usual post baby lose weight/return to exercise/ back to work challenges to tackle.

We anticipate spending another 18 months in NZ (maybe more but probably no less) and after the speed at which the first year and a bit has flow by we have resolved to get out there a bit more and see as much as we can see. So more to follow on that…

For now though, that’s my quick “hello I’m back” spiel, just to get my typing fingers warmed up again.

See you soon x

Family Barometer

Some weeks ago there was a link on Facebook via The Guardian.com to an advice column written by Molly Ringwald– an actress who I associate mainly with the early 90s given that the only movie of hers I can name is The Breakfast Club, which was my best friend at school’s favourite movie (I was never entirely sure why but anyway).

I wondered what an ex (?forgive me Molly if you are still acting) actress might have to say in an advice column- so I idly followed the link to find out. She actually seemed to give quite sensible advice, the problem in question was posed by an adult (man or woman not specified, age over 30 but also not specified) who felt their family (mainly siblings) were becoming increasingly distant and disinterested in them. The details of the situation aren’t important but Molly made a point which I thought was quite well put, in saying “The true barometer for family is showing up, telling the truth and treating those we love with dignity and respect.”

My recent revelation to my sister that I don’t think her partner is a good choice for her (compounded by a couple of other fundamentally different opinions on various issues) has been playing on my mind a lot. Things came to a bit of a head over the Easter weekend when she announced their engagement, of which I was informed by text message. Still no attempt to address or even acknowledge my concerns. Neither has there been an invitation to the wedding, nor an express statement that I am not invited. They are getting married later this month, which for me, currently 38 weeks pregnant, makes it pretty much impossible to go (given that we are living in different countries). In fact, her only reference to me going or not was to say “I realise it’ll be impossible for you to come”. What makes me more angry than being invited or not invited is her (to my mind) evident cowardice in hiding behind my baby as a reason to avoid the issue of inviting me or not, not just with me but with other people who will no doubt all just assume (and if they don’t I imagine she’ll tell them) the reason I’m not going is because I’ll have just had a baby. Maybe I’m just being overly suspicious, but it all seems a bit too convenient. I had the decency to tell the truth, she replied with nothing remotely resembling dignity or respect, and now won’t even show up to the discussion.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about my family, not just my sister, but also my parents, the way our relationship has turned out, the way we deal with (or, more commonly, avoid) issues as a family, and why things have turned out the way they have. Of course, it’s easy to aspire to the cheesey, convenient TV family set-up with its (usually mildly flawed but) functional relationships and thick layer of warm and fuzzies, but I’ve never been under any illusion that that was us. Thinking about some of my friends, (somewhat depressingly) none of them seem to have what I’d class as an ideal relationship with their parents, or their siblings for the most part. Mr L probably comes the closest with his parents, which seems to pretty much fit Molly’s definition to a tee.

My relationship with my parents is harmonious enough, but at times superficial and lacking in depth or honesty. The other thing I really feel is missing is an active interest in my life (and perhaps mine in theirs too). I mean, they ask how things are, how are the kids, how’s work etc but occasionally it becomes painfully evident that my parents have no idea what I do on a day-to-day basis. As was perfectly demonstrated when I passed my second big set of post-graduate exams, marking the “end” of my vocational training and thus signifying I’d “made it” in my chosen career. I even invited them to Melbourne for the graduation ceremony (which they attended). My Mum then told me some weeks later that my grandmother had asked what I’d “become” now that I’d passed these major exams and she hadn’t been sure what to tell her. I’d devoted over 1000 hours of study to these exams, travelled interstate and overseas to train for and sit them, and my own mother couldn’t actually tell anyone the significance of them to my career, what they “meant” to me.

It’s slipped out before that she really has no idea what I do at work, and I very much doubt if she’d be able to tell you much else about my life in detail, like how many marathons I’ve run (two) let alone where they were (the Gold Coast and Auckland). In fact, she probably wouldn’t confidently be able to tell you I’d actually run a marathon at all. In contrast, Mr L’s parents (who admittedly we do speak with more often but I think that’s a result of their interest rather than the cause) will know if I’m doing even a 10km local fun run and will wish me good luck as well as ask how I went afterwards.

At times I’ve felt close(ish) to my sister. It’s usually been when she’s been at a time of change or uncertainty in her life, such as when she left her first husband. I’ve always thought is was quite telling that I didn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid at my wedding. This was partly because we had a very small wedding and having too large a wedding party would have been silly, but also because I felt absolutely no genuine desire to have her standing beside me as I got married, I didn’t think too hard about why not, I simply felt it would have been a bit token and meaningless. And that was 6 months after she’d left her husband, so based on what I’ve just said, that’s when I thought we were closer than usual!

I’ve sometimes blamed the 4 year age gap or the fact that she’s devoutly religious, and I really hoped that as we went further into adulthood and the relative age gap narrowed that we’d maybe have a bit more in common. Then when her marriage broke up and she left her (loser) first husband, I thought and hoped that maybe a bit of her personality had returned, she’d move away from the hypocrisy that so much of religion is and that she might become more “normal” and our relationship more functional or at least meaningful in turn. But sadly, husband-to-be number 2 is even more of a loser than number 1, and the way things are at the moment, the chances of ever being functional are slim…

In many ways, I feel it’s too late to fundamentally change the relationship I have with either my parents or my sister. I think the reasons we’ve ended up the way we have mainly include personality (that’s just the way they/we are), habit (that’s the way things have always been) and communication style (avoidant and minimalist) but the main reason it bothers me is that I don’t want my kids to be saying similar things about me one day. I can’t do a lot to change my personality but I can certainly show up and communicate better than my family has with me and avoid letting apathy and complacency become a habit.

“Showing up, telling the truth and treating those we love with dignity and respect”: food for thought.

 

 

How do you tell someone that you don’t like their partner?

Well the first question, I guess, should be DO you tell someone that you don’t like their partner? Of course, it depends. If that person is your boss, then no, you don’t. If it’s a friend, well, it probably depends on how close a friend they are, if they’re happy with said partner, how serious it is and why it is you don’t like this partner. Do you just not “click” or is he (let’s assume for simplicity’s sake your friend is a heterosexual female) demeaning her, cheating on her or hitting her? Ok, so it’s a grey area with a lot of factors to consider.

 Let’s now assume for the sake of the argument that the heterosexual female in question is your sister. And the partner you don’t like is unofficially moved in with her, soon to be officially moved in with her. So the “person” you want to tell is important to you and all the signs are there that this is serious. To be absolutely sure, you ask “So, what do you see happening with Mr P long term?” and she says “Oh we’re planning on getting married”. So that clears up that glimmer of hope/doubt you may have had.

 You are philosophically at opposite ends of the spectrum from your sister and Mr P on several issues, namely religion, which doesn’t make objective analysis any easier, but you try and be as objective as possible anyway.

So what about him? Do you click? No. Have you ever? No. In fact, he struck you as slightly odd the first time you met him. Not just because of the dodgy boy-racer car and service station sunnies he was wearing (at the age of 36) but by the slightly immature way he said he didn’t mind driving 3 (noisy) hours between their houses because “she’s worth it”. Obsequious people always make you uncomfortable. The second time you met him he struck you as downright inappropriate, it was hardly an hour after giving birth to your second child and he tagged along with your sister when she visited you, still in the delivery suite, the blood-stained hospital linen barely cleared from the bed and you still naked from the waist down (under a sheet, but still….) Being half naked and dripping blood from your privates in front of any man other than your husband also makes you uncomfortable.

Is he good to your sister? Well, superficially, yes. He gives her gifts. He holds her hand. Constantly. At family functions. Glued to her side on the couch. According to her he’s very loving and supportive. Now consider your dog. She gives you tennis balls. And places her paw on your knee. And jumps up on the couch to put her head in your lap the minute you sit down. She dribbles a bit, which is probably the main difference from Mr P, but then you haven’t scrutinised them closely enough to be sure he doesn’t either.

Is he good for your sister? No. Definitely not. He has no job. He seems to have no particular desire to obtain or hold down a job. Putting food on the table is easily done when she pays for it. Oh and cooks it for him after he’s had a hard day doing nothing. It gradually emerges that he has some bizarre ideas. Ok so the religion is excusable, being the most widely socially acceptable form of lunacy there is (apologies to whoever I am misquoting there). But the anti-fluoride campaigns? The anti-vaccination sentiments? He never struck you as the kind of person you wanted hanging around your children, but suddenly you’re almost relieved that in 3 months you’ll have a newborn and you’ll be able to emphatically say “NFW he’s coming near my baby and giving them whooping cough”. And then you think “Stuff it, NFW is he coming near any of my babies with his kooky ideas and other weirdness.”

So you try and say to her “Is he REALLY what you need”. And she says “Yes.” Ok. Oh, sorry, you didn’t realise he had reasons to be weird and useless… the ADHD, the depression… excuses, excuses, excuses. And then the moving in becomes official, and they’re moving into a house which is going to be mortgaged in her name only, he’s still without a job, and your parents have put up half the deposit for the place. And they will be defacto in the eyes of the law and in 2 or 5 or 10 years when it all falls apart he’ll be legally entitled to half of what she has. And so you say “I know you think this is a good idea, but I DON’T and I feel I have to tell you why.” And then you wait for a response….

Wherever I lay my hat, perhaps??*

And so, after 6 months, we are moving again. Our landlords are returning unexpectedly from overseas and asked us very nicely to move out so they could have their family home back. We asked them not so nicely to pay for everything and they eventually agreed and so here we are, moving again.

Which has got me thinking again about the topic of “home”, which I tried to define in this post. When I wrote it, the house didn’t feel like home at all, and when I got the phone call asking us if we’d consider moving, I thought “Yeah, why not, it’s not like this is our home, we’ll find another house”. And yet in the few weeks since then (yep, we move quickly!) all I seem to have been able to think about is how much that rental house does feel like home now.

I’d say it’s taken me about 6 months to settle in. And by “settle in” I mean get a routine going, feel comfortable going about the activities of daily normal living that make you feel like life is pottering along happily. I’ve got my supermarkets [a- close and cheap] [b- the only one that sells the rolled oats I like] and [c-nice bread and earns us Airpoints]. I’ve figured out which bread to buy, where to get a takeaway coffee (an even more complicated algorithm consisting of options a-e) and where I go to hide on my child-free days to get free internet and do some work. We’re only moving 5 minutes away and so none of that will change, but moving still feels like an upheaval.

And so, when I suddenly felt unexpected pangs of “Oh but this place feels kind of like home now” I asked myself the question WHY? I started with “What will I miss?” Well, the trampoline and the cubby house for the kids for a start. So we’ll buy a trampoline if the kids miss it that much. And we left the world’s best cubby house in Sydney and got over it. We’ll buy/build/create another one.  The spa, which we poo-pooed initially as an indulgent luxury, we actually love, as it seems like such an indulgent luxury! Well, there’s a (currently non-functioning) spa at the “new house”, which we’ll ask the landlords to get working. And we’ll have to leave it when we go back to Sydney anyway, so it’s not the be-all and end-all.

So I started to think instead of all the things that annoy me about the house- the chopped-up living space, the smallish kitchen, the loose door handles, the stupid French phrases stencilled on the bedroom walls (which would be wanky even if you were French, and these landlords are not!) The new house has much more living space downstairs and a much nicer flow to it, which will suit us much better. That started to make me feel happier about moving.

We went away over Christmas and coming back to the “old” house, it felt nice when we first walked through the door to be “home” but after a few minutes, I realised it was being back with the convenience and familiarity of our own belongings that felt good. But then I thought it wasn’t about “stuff”….

And so as we gradually make the change to the “new” house, I’m coming to realize that home isn’t about a house or a corner shop or a supermarket or a selection of cafés or a cubby house, although those things help. I think it’s really about being with the security and comfort of those you love- with them, you can make anywhere “home”.

*And yes, I do realize that song is about a guy who doesn’t have a home, well not as I’ve tried to define one, anyway.

The “ick” factor

There was an episode of Sex and the City, I’m sure, with this title. Yep, I just Googled it, there was, but it had nothing to do with what I’m about to write about so I’ll stop there.

Several things this week have left me with an icky feeling….

A Christmas gift arrived from my parents. A case of wine. My heart sank for several reasons when I saw it. We bought them wine for Christmas, so there’s the obvious, ironic futility of buying each other essentially the same gift. Only it’s not the same gift. We bought them a gift pack of 4 wines from our favourite winery (Amisfield, FYI). We love their wines. My parents love their wine. In fact, they love any wine. And therein lies the problem.

I felt, even thought it was just wine, it was a reasonably thoughtful gift from us. I was raving to them when they came to stay about this Amisfield [no this is not a sponsored post, are you serious?] how we go there every time we are in Queenstown, how we joined their wine club, how amazing the food there is, how great they are with the kids…. And I thought buying Mum and Dad some (nice) wine might share a bit of that experience with them.

I’m not sure when we became such wine…. Connoisseurs? Snobs? Enthusiasts, perhaps, is the nicest way of putting it, but we like to drink nice wine. Not lots of it, just a glass in the evening, and we would almost NEVER get through a whole bottle between the two of us in one sitting and so we feel we can afford to pay a little more for our wine. Sure, there are the cheap and cheerful bottles you buy for a mid-week drink, or to have at a larger gathering where you might not get much of a look-in, but as a gift or for a special occasion, or even just for a weekend dinner, we like to splash out a bit.

Which is why I chose the smaller selection of pricier wines from a winery we love that means something to us, instead of just ordering a mixed case of sub $20/bottle wines to be delivered from a distributor down the road. I’d like to add it’s NOT about the money. At all. I wouldn’t actually have cared that much if they’d got us nothing. And I am glad they didn’t get us crap to clutter up the house.

It’s just the fact that, even after spending 10 days with us drinking our wine (not to mention all the other occasions we’ve taken wine along to dinners etc and they’ve commented “Oh, this is nice!” they seem to be so totally disconnected with what our interests and the smaller details of our existence really are. Did they not notice we don’t usually choose to drink $13 bottles of wine? Again, not about the money. That we generally choose Central Otago Pinot Noir, not Marlborough? Maybe they thought they’d diversify our tastes. That if we want a cheap mixed case we’ll buy our own? Actually, no, they didn’t notice that we don’t buy cheap mixed cases at all. Maybe they found it hard to justify the delivery cost for less than a case but found a case of nicer wine too pricey? I faced the same dilemma myself and just forked out the $50 shipping fee because I wanted to get them something nice but blowed if I was going to buy them $400 worth of wine!

Anywyay, as Mr L pointed out, we should try it first before we (I) get too carried away. And, as I pointed out, we can always save it and give it to them next time they come to visit.

Note to self, next time, just have a ready list of presents they can get us when they ask. One thing my sister seems to have down pat.

Facebook misunderstanding On a completely different note, on the same day, a friend took offence to something I said on Facebook. I was aiming for dry humour, he interpreted it as grumpy confrontationalism. (Is there such a word? Spellcheck seems to think not, but then again it can’t spell organise either.) Which just got me to thinking (again) what a waste of time FB can be.

Other things have made me re-think FB lately- some of my sister’s inappropriate postings, how much time I waste reading articles and blog links. I got full marks on a quiz the other day called “Do you know your plurals?”… like, duh, I did Latin and am a grammar Nazi. Of course I do!

It has its uses of course (FB, not the quiz, or Latin). For example I follow some vaguely useful pages such as the NZ Herald, so now have a clue about what’s going on in the world (see below). Some of the stuff people post is useful and interesting. But I think I have to reintroduce some ground rules, like limiting my hours and posts and culling (again) people who frequently seem to post time-wasters.

Anyway, back to my friend. He’d sent me a message saying “That was a bit odd…”, implying that he was offended by my comment, so I apologised, tried to explain what I’d been meaning to say, then when I went to delete my comment, he’d already removed it so I figured he really MUST have been offended. So I apologised some more. I think he felt a bit foolish as there then came an olive branch of a message by way of “Oh maybe I was just being grumpy, so how’s everything anyway?” No major damage done but it made me think how much of my time am I wasting thinking up witty retorts to other people’s inane comments when I could be doing something way more useful and avoid offending anyone?

Anyway in the grand scheme of things (and the grand scheme this week has included a Taliban massacre of school kids and teachers in Pakistan and the death of a 38 year old mother of 3 in Sydney in a hostage situation in a CBD café- she was the year behind me at school and the thought of her 3 kids spending Christmas next week- not to mention the rest of their lives- without their Mum brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it) these are not big issues.

But I think we’ll all be glad of a break over Xmas and I personally am very much looking forward to 2015.

I Wanna Be a Supermodel

“Not just a song by Jill Sobule” was going to be my subtitle, until I realised her song was “I’m gonna be a Supermodel”… although that may still be appropriate.

In the olden days it was called “setting a good example”, but in 21st century parenting lingo, it’s known as “modelling”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been something I’ve been giving considerable thought to lately. Partly because I’ve been modelling some particularly bad behaviour & coping mechanisms, partly because (as a result of said badness) I have be consulting widely with various parenting/self-help manuals, [the best of which was a book called The Smallest Things by Angela Mollard– it was very un-self-helpy and easy to read] and finally, because I had Dr Phil on today (while doing some really boring work-stuff) and they had yet another “family in crisis” where the parents’ behaviour both towards each other and towards their kids was pretty diabolical and their eldest child was starting to “disrespect” her mother. I thought: “Only starting to???” but also, “Well how do you expect her to act any differently when she’s been seeing that kind of interaction all her life?” Which is exactly what Dr Phil said. Genius, evidently.

I know I’ve banged on a lot about this on my blog (well, as much as “a lot” can be with my rather scanty posts) but again and again, I’m struck by the reflection of myself in my kids, especially Master L. And I’m usually really quite ashamed. He shouts at his sister (not all the time, but sometimes), he loses his temper very quickly, often with the simplest of things, and the other night when I stopped briefly to snack on a piece of bread on the way up to their bath and bed, they of course wanted a piece of bread too and I realised how they want to copy everything you do. Some of this (like the temper outbursts) is typical toddler behaviour. But all you have to do is hear your words come out of their mouths (good and bad words, I might add) and you realise what little sponges they are.

I’ve been conscious of my propensity to lose my temper more easily than I should for a while and am desperately trying to be more patient. I found a nice little poem the other day and stuck it on the fridge which has helped a bit:

Give me patience when little hands

Tug at me with ceaseless small demands

Give me gentle words and smiling eyes

And keep my lips from hasty, sharp replies

Let not fatigue, confusion or noise

Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys

So when in years to come my house is still

Beautiful memories its rooms may fill

Unknown

But the bread incident made me think- what other behaviours am I “modeling” for my children that I’d really like to be modeling better?

1. Eating habits– It doesn’t help that I’m now 15 weeks pregnant with number 3 (yay!) so despite the fact that my eating should really be squeaky clean in the interests of number 3’s health, I figure I did ok the last 2 pregnancies eating with (almost) reckless abandon, lost my baby weight each time and produced healthy babies. (Albeit sizeable ones- whether their size was because of my more than 20kg weight gain I’m not sure. Probably not.) Since they started eating solids we’ve been aware of how they want to eat the same things you do, they always want what’s on your plate regardless of what’s on theirs. On the whole, we do eat fairly healthily and I like to think that having the occasional cake or muffin teaches them that these things are part of our way of life and we need to learn to enjoy them in moderation. But I am terrible when it comes to standing up snacking & grazing, eating slowly, not eating the kids’ leftovers and eating while driving/walking around etc. It’s really bad, unconscious eating, which goes against everything I’ve learned when it comes to enjoying food but not over-doing it. I don’t want my kids to start copying this.

On the plus side (let’s acknowledge the positives too!) the kids always eat breakfast and dinner (and 99% of the time, lunch) sitting at the table, I don’t let them walk around and eat, and I don’t have my phone/laptop/book/magazine at the table and I’m trying to ban toys and other distractions for them too (we don’t have the TV on at meal times). I try to be fairly relaxed about what they eat and how much (I never make them finish their food but when Master L’s vegetables remain on his plate untouched it’s very hard to not say “Just eat 3 pieces of carrot and then you can have your yoghurt/fruit etc”.)

Anyway it’s a work in progress but I’m really becoming conscious of the example I’m setting these days.

2. Getting things done– I’ve mentioned before that I tend to procrastinate and be of the “Oh I’ll finish it later, I really need/deserve a sit-down/rest/mindless TV viewing session” mentality (the definition of procrastination). This is exactly how my parents are and exactly how I don’t want to be and how I don’t want my kids to end up. And to be honest, when I’ve worked till 2am the night before or been up with Master L 5 times during the night, I feel quite entitled to do what I want while Miss L’s asleep! But I can’t expect the kids to understand this. Besides which, I’ve often found that it’s when you feel most tired and lethargic that the best remedy is to keep busy or you feel even worse.  The fact that it’s hard to get anything other than a limited set of tasks actually done with the kids around is hardly a motivator to start sometimes, but sitting around trying to do nothing with them is probably even more frustrating.

3. Exercise– I’ve pulled the pregnancy card lately but they do see me take the dog out for a walk (not often enough). When I look around at friends of mine who are active, by and large they have active parents (this goes not just for physical exercise but also for activities in general, as per my previous point). They also tend to have active kids. I remember when my Dad went through a jogging phase when I was about 8 years old. It lasted about 2 weeks and I think he went for 3 runs in that time. I was so excited to go with him- waking up early and going out running seemed like a huge adventure. Then, when I got a bit older and could really have benefitted from a bit more exercise myself, but wasn’t old enough to go out running alone, having one of my parents to go with would have been perfect. I remember always being envious of my cousins, who used to go on family bike rides with their parents. I have seen my Mum on a bike once, my Dad, never. We got to go for family walks, or we’d ride our bikes while Mum and Dad walked, allowing us to clock up a grand total of about 5km for a bike ride. Hardly a work-out. So not just for myself, but the sake of my kids, I think it’s important to make time to exercise, even though they are so often the excuse why I don’t.

So I’m wondering if the extrinsic motivator of my kids will prove to be more powerful than my own intrinsic motivation. I don’t think my hair will ever shine like the sea or that everyone will want to look just like me, but I’m hoping one day, even if not a supermodel, I might just make a super model.

Energy

I have talked before about my changing perspective of my parents and how I hate the feeling I am turning into them. This feeling was magnified recently by a two week visit from them. My fingers were itching to post about the many issues I had with their behaviour, but I realised in essence I’d be re-hashing this post.

So instead I thought I’d try and identify what it is about them that I don’t like and don’t want to become, or pass onto my children, rather than just rant in a teen-rage style, generalised objection to their presence.

One of the things that really struck me was how very low energy they are. In the murky depths of my memory lies some reference to high vs low energy personalities during our very basic psychology lectures at uni. I’m sure there was some kind of 2 x 2 matrix (evidently popular with basic psychology theories) where high/low energy was plotted against high/low motivation, or effort or something, which correlated to overall productivity- ie you can compensate for being low energy by pulling your finger out once in a while and trying really hard to achieve something worthwhile. I can’t find any reference to this specific model on the internet, which quite possibly means I either imagined or misunderstood the entire thing, or that in the last 20 years, theories have changed. All I can find are Myers-Briggs-style introvert/extrovert scales which, while similar in concept, are not quite the same.

So seeing as I can’t back up my observation with any objective or at least widely observed kind of evidence or reference frame, I should probably explain what I mean with examples.

By high/low energy, I don’t necessarily mean physical energy, although high energy people do tend to be physically active as well. It’s more of a state of mind, an attitude. My parents started each of their days with us slowly, they luxuriated each morning by sitting around in bed drinking tea (two cups each) every morning, before having a leisurely shower and then eating breakfast together. Cereal AND toast. This probably represents the fact that they are retired and don’t have much to get up in a hurry for, but it was really irritating when I’d been up with Master and Miss L each morning since before 6, to then have them not be ready to get going for the day much before 10.

But I don’t think lying around in bed is what makes them low-energy, it was more their attitude that irked me than their routine. Their interactions with the kids, for example. They would sit and watch them play. Everything was very passive. There might be a bit of book reading. There was some wandering around the garden after them, watching them do stuff. There was a lot of “Hmmm?”-ing and “Oh, yeeees!”ing and “Really?”-ing. While I know it’s not fair to compare them to Mr L’s parents (I’m not sure why I say it’s not fair, but anyway), the difference was startling. My mother in law, in response to Master L’s requests for the same story/game/train-track-build 100 times over, would respond with “Come on then!” put down her tea, get shoes/books/other paraphernalia ready and engage enthusiastically in said requested activity, regardless of convenience (or some would say hassle) factor. My own mother’s response would typically be “Well not now darling, I’m eating breakfast” or “Yes ok in a minute, let me just finish my tea”. Not once did my parents initiate an outing that involved the kids (“Shall we go to the park? Do you want us to take them out somewhere? We thought we might go to xyz and give you a chance to rest”).

The evenings were similar. 5 o’clock was beer-o’clock. Watch the kids eat dinner. Watch the kids in the bath. Watch, watch, watch, while I got out food, pyjamas, nappies, milk, books, then hung up towels and took dirty clothes and empty cups and bottles downstairs where they waited around murmuring “is there anything we can do to help?”. That’s a little unfair, a few loads of washing up were done and some toys were put away… But as far as I’m concerned, all the washing up needs to be done at some stage and all the toys need to be put away, so I did the rest.

I know, I know, they’re the grandparents and I am the parent. They’ve done their dash, they’ve raised their kids (with daily declarations from my mother about what hard work it is and not one acknowledgement of any of it being worth the effort, I got the distinct impression they felt slightly smug and wanted to point out what they had been through and what I had now chosen to enter into). There is no rule of grand-parenting, that says you are obliged to change nappies (my Mum changed about 4 in that 2 weeks) or buy gifts or take grandchildren on outings or get up early to entertain them and have the throw Weetbix at you…. But there is also no rule in my house that says “Feel free to come and stay for 2 weeks while my husband is away, under the auspices of helping out, only to encumber me with two more mouths to feed and voices to listen to”. Again, harsh and perhaps a slight exaggeration, but that’s how I felt at times, that it would actually have been easier if it was just me and the kids.

But I digress, this is meant to be a discussion of high/low energy personalities, if such a thing exists. By nature (or nurture) I think I am probably low energy. Yeah ok, so being constantly tired etc doesn’t help but it’s not like I thought I’d be getting 8 hours a night with 2 kids (or even 1): I knew what I was in for. And it’s not like pre-kids I was one of those crazy can’t-sit-still kinds of people either. Luckily, Mr L is (again, probably by nurture) high-energy. Until now, I thought I was just free-loading off his energy. He suggests something and I say “Yeah! Let’s! Great idea!”, knowing that he has the tenacity and drive to make things happen and see them through that I just can’t seem to summon de novo (typified in several of our holidays with kids). But having looked after my parents for a week, I think maybe some of his energy and high-energy personality may have rubbed off on me. There were days when my parents were happy to just sit. The record was 6 hours sitting reading in the sun…. like who does that???!!! And it was me going “Right, I’m going out for a walk” or, knowing we were all sluggish and bleuch, dragging everyone out for some fresh air cos I knew it would make us feel better. Filling the gap between afternoon sleeps and dinner with a bike ride or trip to the park. I mean it’s all relative, and like the introvert/extrovert axis, put me in a room of low energy people and I probably seem like an absolute dynamo, but put me in an over-achievers’ convention and I’ll be the one in the corner groaning “Do we HAVE to?”

And so, what have I learned? As a child, I remember many quiet, often boring hours spent waiting. Waiting for my parents to wake up/finish dinner/finish their tea, wanting to spend longer riding bikes or at the park, but always being hurried on because my parents wanted to get home (to more tea and books and TV). I would have loved to go camping or walking or sailing or a whole host of activities. I would have loved (and benefitted from) the chance to go running with one of my parents or done things in the evenings other than watching tv. One of the best holidays we went on as kids was to a place called Centerparcs, where there were activities all day- we played badminton, went sailing, swimming… it was awesome. So different from our usual sit-around existence. A few years I got to go to day camps which were run at school and they were so much fun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my parents to have run a holiday-camp at home, and I do think kids need to be encouraged to find their own entertainment sometimes, but there’s a balance.

Most of all, I don’t want my kids to sit around all their childhoods and then look back and say “I wish I’d been given the opportunity to do that. And that. And that.” And I don’t want them to look at me when I retire, or when I visit my grandchildren and say “Far out she’s hard work, when’s she going home?”, I want them to say “Wow, she’s so great with the kids, we really love having her here.”