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!

 

Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion

For the past while (I’m not sure exactly how long because there wasn’t a one-time, conscious decision to make an effort in this one particular aspect of my life) I’ve been trying not to be a screaming banshee in general but with my kids overall. Because, as some of you may recall from back when I used to blog more liberally and say the things I actually wanted to, I’m kind of a (mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing) shouty, sweary mom.  And recently, I’ve been trying not to be.

Let me tell you that it hasn’t been easy! You see, being a mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing, shouty, sweary mom makes it possible for me to NOT be a complete psycho. No, I’m not joking.

Mouth-foaming, wild-eyeing, shit-losing, shouting and swearing might LOOK scary, but it doesn’t hurt anyone, set anything on fire, get anyone put in jail, break anything or cause any permanent damage. It really just lets me get rid of lots of pent-up frustration and communicate how unheard and generally disrespected I feel. But it also makes me look like an irrational lunatic. And, slowly but surely, it’s becoming less and less effective at either getting my message across or making me feel better.

Which puts me at a bit of a loss. Because sometimes I feel so completely unheard and generally disrespected within this family.

Most of the time, I get really upset with David about this because he doesn’t seem to think that it’s a problem when the kids talk back to me or treat me like their personal maid or simply ignore me when I speak to them. It’s fine for him because he’s the fun one. He’s the one they are always happy to see at the end of the day, after I’ve asked then reminded then yelled at them to get changed/pick up their toys/do their homework/put their dirty laundry in the basket…

When David disciplines the kids – especially the littler ones – it’s with a light touch and of short duration. He’s quick to call them back a few moments after shouting at them to give them cuddles and have a gentle talk about things. I’m more of a “bitch” about it. I don’t agree with apologising to them for punishing poor behaviour. I don’t feel it’s okay to let them have their way to get them to stop nagging – that’s rewarding and reinforcing the idea that if they nag hard enough, they get to have whatever they want. I believe in getting the message across effectively. So, if they nag, they don’t get whatever thing it is they want. And if they speak disrespectfully to me (or another grown-up) I don’t respond. Or give them a stern talking to. And when they ignore me, I make a point of making myself heard and getting an acknowledgement.  And if they don’t finish their supper, they don’t get dessert. I don’t believe that these are unfair expectations or reactions on my part. But I lose this battle EVERY time David is around because he feels I’m too hard on the kids and lets them have their way. And they adore him and ignore me because, clearly, I’m just unreasonble.

I often find myself questioning myself on this stuff. Am I going about it all wrong? Should I be more like David in my approach to parenting and discipline? I mean, if someone kept telling me what I could and could not do, how to speak or what I could or couldn’t have, I’d tell them (in no uncertain terms) to FOAD. So maybe there is something to David’s approach?

I saw this video posted to Facebook earlier today and while it’s hilarious, it did make me think a bit about the way I handle my kids…

I look at this and think, you know, this video makes a good point. No adult would allow another person to speak to them like this.

And yet, do I really have to point out that children are not adults? They need to be reminded to do or not do things all the time. They still need to learn all the social filters that adults take for granted and they learn them  through their interactions with others and the example of the adults in their lives. But also by the consequences of NOT using such filters in their dealings with others – adults in particular.

So, once again, it’s all down to balance, isn’t it? That magical, elusive fucking middle ground. And all the patience.

Right?

Milestone

At precisely this time in 2002 (14:30), my Megan was 1 hour and 33 minutes old.

Mom and Megan bonding

Brand new Megan

Yum, Bubbles!

I’ve kind of been letting this particular birthday sink in for a few days now, because it means that, today, I am officially the mother of a teenager.

Whew.

The journey with my girl child these past 13 years has been everything but boring and I have at times been terrified of how wrong I’m getting it all, only to be astounded at the very next turn at how smart and mature she can be.

Most of the time, it’s a difficult ride for us both, mainly because when I look at her, I see myself and that frightens me beyond all understanding. Because I know where I’ve been, what I’ve lived and how easily I could have been either, so much better or so much worse off than I am now and I worry that she’ll be just like me when she’s so clearly meant to be so much more.

But then, I never have to wait too long to be reminded that I worry more than I need to. So much more.

I see my daughter grapple with existential issues, questioning who she is, what she stands for, what things mean. I watch her heart break and feel my own shatter alongside it when her peers cannot see, when it’s as obvious as the sun, that the things that set her apart from them are what make her fucking awesome:

Her one-of-a-kind sense of humour and the way she stands up for those who feel targeted and bullied. The way she combines what limited wardrobe she hasn’t already outgrown at any given time to come up with a look all her own and wears it with attitude. Her love of books and writing and finding out how the world works and the way she questions everything, including the authority of people who aren’t used to having their authority questioned.  The fact that she doesn’t simply accept the status quo but pushes boundaries, develops her own thoughts on a subject. Her tendency to recognise and seek out the extraordinary and cherish it, when all her friends are talking lipstick and boys and hanging out at the mall…. All these things that indicate to me that she looks at and perceives things beyond the surface veneer. That when she reaches adulthood, she’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s important and what it takes to be a decent human being, rather than a popular one.

And really, in the end, that’s all I can ask for.

IMG_2636

Happy Birthday, my gorgeous girl.

 

Admitting Defeat

It dawned on me yesterday that I was fooling myself if I thought I was going to make it to marathon ready in less than 2 months. Less than a month and a half, even.

So, as much as it breaks my heart, I won’t be participating in the Knysna Forest Marathon this year.  Instead, I’ve made an appointment to see a physiotherapist this month and she’ll be helping me treat this niggling knee injury properly, so that I can get back to running and training the way I want to.

It’s been a shitty time these last couple of weeks. Health issues in the family have been a problem – my mom took a nasty turn last week with the diabetes and, after not paying too much attention to Jack’s moaning about a sore tummy for quite a while, I finally took him to a doctor and it turns out he’s gluten intolerant. His liver and intestines are taking strain because he’s been eating all the wrong things and I couldn’t feel more like a fucking horrible mother for not listening to him sooner.

On the upside, the tumble dryer has been repaired and our lives are that much easier once again. Also, my mom having to have emergency treatment for seriously high blood glucose levels (24.5!!!) and Jack’s visit to the doctor have driven home a little bit better what I’ve been trying to get the family to understand for months: We should be eating Paleo. Or at least as close to it as we possibly can.

The hardest part of that for me, of course, is giving up the sugar and the decadent desserts. And the dairy. Apparently, Hashimoto’s sufferers are supposed to cut out gluten AND dairy. And just like that, my whole life is once again about food and giving up the stuff I love eating most…

Except that my whole life can’t be about food because there’s simply too much to do. And my Meg is off to high school in a few short months’ time. She’ll be boarding in another province, coming home one or two weekends a month and holidays. So much planning, talking, preparing to do!

She can’t wait to go, which I’m glad about. At least she’s going into it with anticipation, rather than feeling like we’re deserting her or don’t want her around. I guess we wouldn’t have considered boarding as an option if she’d felt that way but still…

A part of me is almost jealous that she gets to go to an awesome school with some amazing teachers. And another part is terrified of sending my child off into the world. Yet another part looks forward to her absence so that I get to enjoy her that much more on her weekends and holidays at home for having missed her so much while she’s away. This Mom gig ain’t for pansies!

 

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.