On #FlyingSolo – And having awesome kids!

I drove to the airport this morning to pick up my husband, who had been in Lagos, Nigeria, on a business trip for the past week.

Before he left, I think we’d both been worried that it was going to be a tough week – for him because, Lagos, Nigeria; for me, because managing a household with four kids is busy enough for the two of us at the best of times.

As it turns out, he had a much worse week than I did, having to wrangle corrupt customs officials, poor planning and general incompetence at every turn on his trip, and coming home with a massive sinus infection to show for it.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I could not have asked for things to run more smoothly than they did. The kids – all four of them – were surprisingly cooperative and helpful all week, and we settled into a routine that allowed me to get things done while still ensuring that they were all adequately fed and ferried about as required.

I had imagined rushed mornings and general pandemonium, and instead, I had an easy-paced week in which I managed to check a bunch of items off my to-do list. All except one fairly big one, really.  And what makes this even more remarkable is the fact that I was able to manage everyone’s day-to-day, with dinner and bathtime done and dusted by 18:00 each evening. This meant that there were no late bedtimes, and, since we recently reinstated the rule that there is no television or screen time allowed during the week, it also meant that the kids were properly worn out and ready to go to bed at the proper time. Because they’d spent the afternoons playing outside, reading books, climbing our mountain and being kids.

Of course, it’s a huge help that they don’t get homework, and Michael’s exams are over. He’ll also be joining his younger brothers at their new school from next year, so we won’t have to worry about homework anymore anyway, apart from the occasional project.

I’ve also noticed a significant change since becoming stricter on their sugar consumption. The younger boys’ school does not allow ANY sugar in their lunches – no jams or syrups on sandwiches, no sweet treats in lunch boxes; that includes artificially-flavoured juices of any kind, cookies or even “energy bars”.  And I’ve started rationing the number of sweet treats the kids are allowed to have at home, too, and it is paying off in a big way.

It started with their Halloween loot, which I took from them and kept locked in my cupboard. Each child was allowed to pick two items out of his Halloween bag after school every day, and that was IT.  Their sweets lasted right up until this week, and they weren’t all sugar-hyped by the end of every day.

So, yeah. We seem to have hit a sweet spot with our current schedules and routines, and I’m definitely going to try to keep it going this way. Long may it last!

 

Kids’ Stuff

It has always amazed me that my children  – especially the younger ones – can find joy in the most arbitrary and mundane of objects.

When Megan was a baby, we were inundated with gifts from friends and family. She had more toys than we knew what to do with. Educational toys, soft toys, gender-specific toys, neutral ones. Dolls, cars, balls, bears, musical toys, moving toys… Sometimes, it drove me quite crazy!

But you know what her favourite thing was to play with at a year old? An empty 500ml Coke bottle with a couple of pebbles inside it.

Fast forward a couple of years and we happen upon a particularly smooth rock on a beach in Dubai. Said rock is dubbed “The Rubia” and remains a cherished possession for absolute ages. Until I finally had to make it disappear because The Rubia became the uninvited guest at the dinner table. The night time companion who just wouldn’t get the message when Megan desperately needed to get some sleep. The most fought-over item in the history of sibling fights. So I made the fairies “borrow” The Rubia, without whose magical guarding powers the poor fairy children could never sleep safely in their beds again.

Enter a 10cm piece of red string. Meet Ropey. Ropey, who had to accompany us on every single family outing. Who had his own special place to sit on the armrest of Megan’s car seat, his own little bed on her pillow at night. Ropey who, having made it all the way back to South Africa with us,  terrorised  tagged along with us for at least another 18 months before being tragically snatched out of Megan’s had by a gust of wind on the N1 highway one day.

It is astounding how much beingness a child can grant to a random, inanimate object. And although the various bits and pieces of rubbish that my children have become attached to through the years have sometimes had me reaching for the vodka at completely inappropriate times, I have always loved that they could do that. That their imaginations are wild and magnificent, even though they could so easily pick up any of the dozens of store-bought toys they own and make up a game just as magical.

At this time of year, when everyone is gearing up for the Christmas holidays and we see more and more people begging at the traffic lights, it’s hard not to be reminded that for so many kids, those random object toys are not a choice: It’s all they know.

So, when I was contacted by Corli on behalf of The Topsy Foundation a little while ago, I jumped at the chance to spread the word about this awesomely cool initiative.

I’d seen other bloggers’ posts about The Little Toys that Aren’t, a project by The Topsy Foundation and online retailer Spree, and thought the whole concept just brilliant! Oddly enough, my kids would probably think it fantastic to play with this toy car:

Toy Car

Or this robot:

Toy Robot 2

Or this magic wand:
Magic Fairy Wand

Almost as much as the little boys and girls who DO play with them would LOVE to have a car that actually looks like a car. Or to build a robot out of LEGO. Or to have a shiny, sparkly Fairy Princess Wand!

You can help make that happen buy spending R20 at Spree on one of The Little Toys that Aren’t. Spree will not keep a cent of your R20 – the full amount goes to The Topsy Foundation to spread some festive cheer where it is needed most this holiday season.

I know that my kids are definitely getting a couple of these in their stockings this year.

(I’m) A Little Bit of Everything

I’m a bitch

Jack recently needed to have a couple of teeth extracted because they had decayed to the point of causing infection in his mouth. (Yes, I know that’s bad and you can keep your judgements to yourself, thanks.)

I was of the opinion that the situation provided an opportunity to teach Jack the importance of good oral hygiene by showing that the Tooth Fairy does not collect and pay for rotten teeth. D felt otherwise (and had his way in the end). While we argued about it, though, he made a comment that really stung. He might as well have punched me in the gut: “How would you like it if you were your mother?” This implies, of course, that I’m an unreasonable bitch and my children shouldn’t have to suffer me.

Well. Okay, then. I’ll just file that away under “Things to throw in the husband’s face during a future disagreement.”

I’m a lover

One who doesn’t discuss in public what belongs in the bedroom… 😉

I’m a child

If you’ve been reading MamaMeeA for a while, you’ll know that my mom and sister moved in with us in April last year.  It was going to be a three or four month thing, while they sorted out some stuff, found new jobs, etc.

I moved my daughter out of her large bedroom with ensuite bathroom and put my mom in there. I moved my office out of my office and into my bedroom, and my daughter into what had been my office, which she would share with my sister.

I rented a storage unit in which to store those of my mom’s things that could not be squeezed into our house and moved out of our house and into storage those of our things we could live without, to make room for the rest of my mom’s stuff.

We adjusted and adapted and made do.  My mom found a job near our house and contributed from her small salary toward the household. That big project we had going from last year ran well into this year and the regular income from that masked the fact for quite a long time that we were going to run into trouble. And then my mom left her job for another one that didn’t work out. And then that project of ours was over and we ran into trouble.

So, in the middle of last month, I called a family meeting during which I asked my mom and sister to move out at the end of the month.

I’m a mother

Yeah – no surprises there! Between the weirdness of watching my two eldest enter puberty and all that goes along with that, wrangling my strong-willed Grade One child to some semblance of  pretending to cooperate with his teacher in class and having the youngest at home during the day (a new and hopefully temporary development), that fact is hard to miss.

I’m having so much fun with the younger kids at the moment! My littlest J happened upon a PEZ dispensing Perry the Platypus among his toys a few days ago and when I saw a packet of PEZ sweeties in the checkout queue at Dis-Chem later, I bought it.

Then I filled up Perry while James watched a movie and waited a few minutes before I called James and asked him whether he’d heard something that sounded like magic. James being James, he played along and agreed that he’d heard “magic noises”. I suggested that perhaps the noise had come from Perry the Platypus, prompting James to set off in search of the toy.

Watching him discover his “magically” refilled PEZ dispenser at random intervals over the past few days has been so much fun!

The older kids are doing pretty well, too and I find myself enjoying many proud mom moments lately.

Michael started playing chess this year and it turns out he’s really good at it! He’s currently one of the top players in the school and I’m so pleased he’s found something he enjoys, is good at and is likely to stick to.

Megan has started writing prolifically once again after seeming to have lost interest for a while. She’s also suddenly started surprising me with some impressive academic results and I’m so glad she’s finding her groove.

I’m a sinner

And these past few weeks, I’ve been paying for my sins.

Right now, I’m implementing a strategy to put my little company back on track after a few setbacks. I won’t lie – it’s slow, tough going and I’m not having loads of fun. But it does help to have a plan in place. Plans, actually. Plural.

Phase One entails handling the immediate internal issues, including the setting up of standard systems and protocols and drafting policy for future operations. This follows naturally on recent events and is the product of lessons learned from the experiences of the past couple of years.

Phase Two is where things get interesting and while I can’t say much until all of the various NDAs and other agreements are finalised and signed (single most valuable lesson learned so far – no verbal agreements!!), I am  excited for what all of this means in terms of long term potential.

I’m a saint

Okay, so that one’s never going to fly. I’m not exactly the choirgirl type. But I could be.

Could have been.

If I’d wanted to…

 

OREO kidding me?

Rattle and Mum gave away 5 invitations to the OREO pop-up store in Rosebank last week and I was one of the lucky winners! (Yes, I still enter some competitions – I just don’t spend ALL day, EVERY day, doing it anymore…)

It was the best ever leverage over my kids while we waited for the weekend to roll around – the slightest hint of grief was met with the threat of being left at home while the rest of us went to the OREO store and I don’t think any of my kids has ever been so well behaved!

We were the first to arrive on Saturday morning, of course. And it was such a great morning and so cool to get to spoil my four short people with all those amazing OREO treats!

The setup is like a sushi bar, so the first thing you see as you walk into the store is a conveyor belt of pure decadence, with such things as an OREO & Magnum ice cream sandwich, OREO cupcakes, OREO popcorn and even OREO & white chocolate fudge, to name a few! You receive a card with colour coded dots on it, which correspond to the colours of the plates on the conveyor belt and a staff member marks off on your card whatever you eat. You then present your card to the cashier on exit and they tally up what you owe.

The OREO belt
The OREO belt
Blue Card
Blue Card

I totally fell off the wagon and stuffed my face with an OREO and ice cream sandwich, which was divine and I can highly recommend the experience. I love how inventive they’ve been with the eats on offer and the prices range from R10 to R40 per item, so it’s really not too hard on your pocket.*

OREO ice cream sandwich

The store’s decor is bright and fun and they have a huge model BMW, built out of wire, rubber and some old car components. My little guys were particularly impressed the car’s ancient DATSUN engine which they both got busy inspecting pretty much immediately.

Little men at work
Little men at work

There was also an awesome marble obstacle course which, once completed, dispenses a mini pack of OREOs!

Obstacle course
Obstacle course

They have a decoration station, where you get a mini pack of OREOs, a little baggie of sweets and a little packet of black icing sugar with which to make faces out of your OREOs.

Then you get to place your OREO faces in a super cool miniature rock stage setup, Instagram it with the hashtag #PLAYWITHOREO and then you can look it up on the printer system set up in the store and print off your OREO characters’ rock show photo!

Play hard, Rock hard

We really enjoyed the morning and I would happily take my kids back there. And to make it even more of an event, the The Art of the Brick LEGO exhibit is right next door, so you can really make a day of it!

*My kids and I enjoyed all of our eats and drinks, compliments of the OREO store because it was a prize. I was not asked to blog about the event or paid in any other way to write this post.

Drawing a Line

This morning, not long after David left to drop the kids off at school, he called me to tell me that Jack had forgotten to bring his school bag with him. Of course, this meant that I would have to bring it to school, otherwise David would be late for work.

When I arrived at the school, Jack was being held by his arms between two other boys, a couple of other boys following, walking past me. They were all laughing, so I didn’t make anything of it. I dropped the bag outside of Jack’s classroom and started making my way back to my car, when Jack came running toward me with the other boys hot on his heels, grabbing at him. And a split second later, I watched Jack pivot and throw a single punch and the larger boy behind him come to a dead stop. I’ll probably get in to trouble for saying so, but it was a thing of beauty. That series of movements was executed as if choreographed for a boxing film – the lightness of his feet, the speed, form and power of that blow, landing bang-in-the-middle of the other kid’s mouth. It was beautiful.

Now, if there had been any malice or forethought to it, I would probably have taken a different view on it. And I had to feel for the poor little guy who caught it in the kisser – they are, after all, a bunch of six year-olds.  But anyone watching would have told you that, outrun, outnumbered and feeling threatened, my boy took that swing in pure self-defense, landed it on the mark and then stopped.  Turns out the other boys had been trying to drag him to a group of girls nearby and make him kiss one of them and he was having none of it. I can’t argue with that. Everyone has a limit to the level of infringement they will allow on their personal space. Everyone has a line that you cross at your peril.

I obviously had to make a point of telling Jack then and there that punching is not okay and make him apologise to the other kid, who was bleeding a bit from his top gum. I made them shake hands and checked and double checked that the other kid was okay – the bleeding only lasted a couple of seconds. But I have a feeling I haven’t heard the end of this yet.

I suspect that the other kid will have told his parents that he got punched in the face today. And they will, in all likelihood, want to take it up with the school. I can’t say that I wouldn’t, in their shoes.  Things are different these days from back when I was at school. Kids can’t just sort out their shit anymore.

It used to be, when you had a beef with someone at school, you’d arrange a time and place and you’d have it out.  You’d arrive at the designated spot, assuming you didn’t chicken out  – and the shame of being labelled a coward was always significantly worse than any beating one of your peers might lay on you – and the challenger would draw a line in the sand a few feet in front of him. And his opponent would accept the challenge by stepping over that line, signalling the start of the fight. Someone would win, someone would lose and, by the end of it, both parties would normally walk away with a newfound respect for each other and come out of the whole thing firm friends.

These days, things just spiral completely out of hand too quickly and no-one can be trusted not to make a circus of any minor altercation. These days, children murder each other for little more than a few dirty eyeballs; Parents call conferences with teachers before the kids even really know what they’re upset with each other about; Lawyers and authorities are consulted, because children and parents and even teachers can’t be counted upon to reach sane, amicable solutions.  Families are called before committees because we’ve all become too sensitive to communicate effectively – it’s too easy to say the wrong thing and offend someone… And with the language barrier so common in our current society, cultural differences, the varied levels of social standing and education, it’s insane how quickly a thoughtless comment becomes a racial slur or a “bullying” incident; How a scuffle on the playground – a reflexive swing of a fist – becomes something more sinister…

It so happens I have a meeting with Jack’s teacher tomorrow morning, so I’ll be telling her of the incident before anyone else does. Let it not be said that I don’t view the matter seriously or that I condone violence from my children. But let it also not be said that my child is a bully. I will stand by him and back him and champion his cause and fight for him, whatever anyone says. Because I know who he is and I saw what happened and because, knowing what is likely coming, I’m drawing a line.