When people look at me, they don't, not ever for a nano-second, believe that my heritage is anything other than Irish. Despite having a mother who was born in Italy, I have glow-in-the-dark white skin, blue eyes and red hair. I never, ever have had a tan and cursed my colouring most of my life. I'm not sure who introduced me to Anne Shirley, the red-haired orphan made famous in the series Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Not only did I admire her strength and courage, I was also rather taken with the man who loved her; Gilbert Blythe might have teased her in the beginning, but it was his love for Anne, with all her flaws, that made me fall a little bit in love with Gil too (and he wasn't bad looking in the movies either!).
Like Anne, I was lucky enough to find someone who loved me with all my flaws too, and together, we're trying to raise two children at a time in our life when things are just hard.
For the past few months, life seems to have thrown us a few curve balls. As a casual employee, I had been lucky to have almost constant work, so it has been difficult this year to find enough work to keep us going financially. Our children are at that special stage when they can be an absolute delight, but at other times (which seem to be more common than not right now) they are fighting like cats and dogs. We also got a new dog, just to add some extra chaos to the mix. There have been injuries and illnesses and lots of added stresses. In all, things have been a challenge, both at home and at work. I've wondered what on earth I'm doing here more than once and cursed the insanity of it all quite a few times.
A few of my wishes and prayers lately seem to be
1) Why can't I have children who can sleep through the night ..... but then the small child I'm angry with snakes his arms around my neck and pats my cheek. Whatever has woken him, he is falling asleep again, safe in the knowledge that his mummy is close by.
2) Why can't I have quiet children, you know, the kind where the neighbours don't know that we're all awake before 5am, or when they are privvy to conversations about the necessity of aiming INTO the toilet bowl (yes, this does mean you need to hold your penis!) .... but then I look at their smiling faces and realise they are having a wonderful time, safe in the knowledge that they don't have to stay quiet for fear of evoking anger and wrath from a parent or caregiver.
3) Just once it would be lovely to sit down to dinner as a family and not have someone refuse to eat the meal I have just prepared .... but I realise my children don't know what it's like to go without. They have refused food before but I don't think they know what it is like to be truly hungry (excluding the maximum twenty minutes they have had to wait for a meal sometimes when they assure me they are starrrrrrrrrrrrrrrving!)
4) It would be lovely not to hand most of my fortnightly pay packet over to the pharmacist. In fact, it would be wonderful if my children weren't sick at all really .... but I see photos of refugees who are in desperate need of medical attention and I'm grateful that we have access to wonderful medical services and that we also have the money to afford the medication and medical appointments we need.
5) And speaking of money .... but as I watch my children sleep in their beds, in a house that is sort of ours (and mostly the banks) I realise we have everything that we need, and more. My children know that we can provide for them (and they may be a teensy, tiny bit spoiled).
As I struggle to peel my eyes open, even before the sun has made an appearance, I find myself wondering what kind of day today will be. I'm the kind of person who worries over and over again about mistakes made in the past. Learning to let them go and move forward is a skill I'm trying to master. As Anne's wise teacher tells her, "Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it". As the little people grow another day older, and take another step towards independence I reassure myself that we will get through this period in our life; a time of limited sleep, limited money and limited patience. One day, despite the lack of sleep, the Maccas and chocolate we've resorted to in times of need, the weeks where we counted our pennies and the illnesses and injuries, we'll wake up and realise we've survived all of it, with hopefully only a few mistakes along the way.
I'm not sure about anyone else, but Mother's Day weekend here was a little bit crazy! I mean, things are so often crazy anyway, but add in dog training, visits with two Grandmothers, cake, extended family and over-excited small people, well, Mother's Day was kinda nuts!
It did start off promising. I did the usual prep to the hubby before the big event in a conversation that went something like this:
DH (Darling Husband): We really should be trying to cut down on sugar and chocolate and stuff
Me: You know it's Mother's Day right? I expect a box of chocolates AND a sleep in on Sunday
DH: Riiiiiiight. So, um, I'll take care of that then. You know I'm not crafty so there won't be anything fancy
Me: Just buy the chocolates and it will be fine
See? Simple, right?
Well, not quite. As I've admitted in earlier posts, I really like baking. Honestly, I spend hours searing YouTube for videos on how to make amazing cakes and then have a stab at them myself. Some of my creations have actually been quite good too. This year, I hit upon the perfect cake from a site called "Cupcake Jemma", a London-based baker who does these lovely weekly videos about her amazing creations. I am also (silly me I know!) hosting a High Tea shortly, so decided I could make cupcakes on Mother's Day as a test run of the ones I'm making on the big day. This is all perfectly logical, right?
I had, admittedly, forgotten that I had to take Stanley, our doggy, to obedience training on the Saturday morning. Consequently, Friday evening I made cupcakes. I was making Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting before the sun's rays had even hit my house on the Saturday morning. After a lovely Saturday lunch, I spend Saturday night making the concoction for the big family gathering on Sunday. This was a bit of feat really and I do have to say that despite the effort and yes, even my whinging about lack of sleep, having an amazing cake was worth it.
So, now that the craziness of that weekend has calmed down, I've had time to take stock of what it means to be a mum in my little family. The day after Mother's Day I didn't have to work, so I took my two little people to a park. As they ran around with cheeky grins yelling at me to "Look mummy! LOOO-OOOOKK!" I thought that perhaps I'm not doing the awful job that I think I am; you know, the kind of thinking that has you awake in the middle of the night while you contemplate if you made the right decision.
And motherhood (or parenting in general really) is all about decisions. It starts with the decision to have (and keep) this child, whether they are yours biologically or born to your family in another way. Then there's the decision about a name (we debated endlessly about this one!). There are decisions about how to get the baby out of there (no drugs, some drugs or heavy duty could-knock-out-a-horse drugs?), and how to get them home. What will they travel in and how will you push and carry them around (we had an Ergo carrier and a Baby Jogger pram and loved them both)? Then there are decisions about what will they wear (I'm always jealous at the clothes for girls compared to boys), will you use cloth or disposable nappies (we used both), and will they have a dummy or not? Oh, and let's not think about what happens when you start solids. I think my head almost exploded!
As someone who loves facts and research I really had a field day researching every teeny, tiny aspect of what I was going to do with the little blob I had seen on the ultrasound. I read books, looked at safety statistics, read mummy reviews, subscribed to Choice magazine and test drove anything I could lay my hands on. Pre-birth, the majority of stuff I read focused on labour and delivery; how was this child going to get out? And how were you, first time mummy, going to cope with that. Post birth, the emphasis was on breast feeding and keeping baby safe.
After researching everything I could, I was a disappointed I guess you could say, that breastfeeding wasn't the easy run I thought it would be. It hurt. Lots. There were tears (mostly mine), bleeding (owww!) and a developing resentment of this new baby who just wanted a full tummy. In tears I admitted defeat and started to look for baby formula and baby bottles to supplement my feeds and give my battered and bruised boobs a break. This is when I hit a brick wall. WHAT research?? There was so little information out there it was disconcerting. Yes, I knew that breast was best, but these breasts needed another solution to feed the tiny human. I found myself relying on the advice of friends which started as "well, this is what worked for us", and made a leap from there.
Truly, who knows if we made the right decisions. My mother couldn't feed my brothers or me. I can only imagine the formula available in the early 1980s (I think s26 was it!), and hey, we all survived and thrived in fact, and we've all gone to university and hold multiple degrees each. Finding a formula in 2012 was confronting. Where had all these brands come from???? Added to this was the controversy at the time about a particular brand of formula which cemented more and more to me that advice about formula needs to be provided to those who need it too. The hospitals had only two kids of formula available, and offered little advice except try one of those because that was the deal they had at the time.
In the end, we tried an organic, Australian made formula which MM loved, but unfortunately this upset his tummy. We switched to a goat's milk formula and he thrived on the mixed feeding. After awhile when we noticed this was affecting him too, we were able to get him tested for lactose intolerance, which was confirmed before we started on a lactose free formula. This same formula worked for our youngest little man too, who never got the hang of breastfeeding at all and needed a bottle.
And then there was the saga of finding the right bottle for your baby. CC refused all bottles, except the smallest, narrowest teats we could find. Despite these, he had persistent reflux. At a year old, a very experienced Child Health Nurse advised us to try a flattened teat again. I had tried these in the beginning and had no success with them. She urged us to give them ago. Dubiously, my mother and I bought a bottle. For the first time in ages, CC kept a full bottle down. Maybe this was too good to be true? We tried again. Still no vomiting. We bought more bottles. He accepted them and kept every feed down. This wisdom that only comes from years of experience had finally set us on the right path. Of course, all babies are different, but this particular nurse noticed that CC fit a few criteria that suggested he would received the flattened teat well, and he did. Why isn't this advice anywhere else? Why did it take a nurse, working in a pharmacy, to really listen to us, examine CC fully and give us solid advice. We shook our heads.
Ahhh, as I try to let go of the frustration and anger from those early months with CC, I watch him delicately investigate cake with a careful wariness, the result of tube feeding just after birth, and I can see, he really is thriving. He is expanding his repertoire of acceptable foods (rainbow cake may not be one just yet), he still enjoys a bottle of milk with his laxatives every night (the only way I can get him to take them), and I realise that he hasn't been held back because of my poor decisions at all. Sure, he may not have had the most suitable bottle for six or eight months, but we've caught up now and all is good. We have recently sold our double prams and now have a zippy little single pram that suits our needs; proof I can make the right choice when given research opportunities. We even managed to notice CC's flat feet and he has orthotics to help with this.
I've decided that Mother's Day is about celebrating how many decisions we've made for our little people and recognising that although we've made a few stuff ups here and there along the way, we're all getting there, struggling along, doing the best that we can with the information available to us, and on balance, we're probably doing OK. I can get frustrated about how little info is out there for mums who have to (for whatever reason) take an alternate route, or I can recognise the expertise that comes from experience and acknowledge that not all research is written in books.
When I first met the man who would become my Darling Husband (DH), he came as a package deal with an ageing Red Heeler dog, named Albie. Fortunately, I'm a bit of a dog person, so I was more than happy to share the love of my life with his four-legged companion. I didn't have a dog of my own at the time, so happily shared quite a lot of love and affection with the hound, who in return, loved having an extra human around, especially one who enjoyed exercising and cooking.
In fact, it was cooking that won Albie's heart. The first weekend that I visited the small country town where DH-to-be and Albie lived, I fell back on the tried and tested Italian method of winning over anyone - feed them. Being a bachelor, DH-to-be wasn't too crash hot in the kitchen (although he did manage the basics and could do a mean Thai green curry). I waltzed in and made chicken schnitzel followed by Beef Stroganoff. Albie, who had sniffed out the meat as it was bought into the house was an eager observer in the kitchen. As I threw scraps of meat into his bowl, his focus sharpened. The drool from his jowls was a constant stream to the floor. I'm sure Albie returned to the lounge room, where DH-to-be was pouring wine and setting up a DVD, to inform him that this girl was doing remarkable things with meat in the kitchen, and he was never, ever to let her go. When I left on Sunday afternoon, I think the dog almost cried, although they were consoled with a full fridge of deliciousness, giving a break from $5 Meatloaf from the supermarket.
Fast forward six months and we'd all moved in together. Albie was enjoying nightly delicacies from the kitchen, while DH-to-be was probably putting on weight. We enjoyed walkies and play times at the park, and when DH-to-be worked away from home three nights a week, the fur baby and I had each other for company.
Life continued to change for us, I fell pregnant and we moved house. Albie took my morning sickness in his stride, spending hours sleeping next to me in the bathroom some mornings. As I grew to whale-like proportions, our walks slowed down. Albie didn't complain about the slower pace either. He did however, resent the squarking, crying baby we bought home from hospital. It was unacceptable to Albie that his position had been usurped by this tiny human being with the interesting smells (not all of them pleasant). On the second night, he slept outside in his kennel. It was the middle of winter and Albie hated being outside. The effort to bribe him back inside was evidence of how much he disliked Baby MM.
Not long after our first little man entered the world, we found out we were expecting a second baby. It was also around this stage that Albie discovered there were advantages to having small humans hanging around. Firstly, they were an excellent food source (all that dropped food!), secondly, the big humans were home allllll day (bonus, they cooked too!) and finally, at the fat human tried to return to acceptable proportions, there were lots of long walkies with a baby who only slept in the pram. Albie was on a winning streak.
Sadly, it was also around this time that Albie's health started deteriorating. The special diet we'd had him on just wasn't enough any longer, and it soon became clear that Albie was in pain. It was time to say goodbye. The worst part of having furry friends is the farewell, and we'll never forget Albie's final trip to the vet. As though he knew what was happening, for once, he didn't fight. He was calm. Still. Accepting. It was us who struggled and mourned the loss of our old mate. MM was confused. Where was his fluffy friend? He spent days looking for him.
Albie's photo is still on our wall, a reminder of our first "child" together perhaps? Almost three years after saying goodbye, it was time to say hello to a new furbaby. We adopted Stanley from the Animal Welfare League and he is just perfect for us. A small bundle of energy who is just as mischevious as the small humans. The boys are loving having their own doggy, and Stanley appears thrilled with his new family. He has the patience of a saint with the kids; no nips or barks, and although he has eaten quite a bit of Lego (causing some colourful poos which required close inspection from MM and CC), he is their constant companion and an eager ally in their mischief. Actually, his penchant for eating anything left on the floor is helping inspire my two to pick up their toys, something no amount of bribing, modelling or punishment was doing. We are now down to the last dinosaur and I think most of the farm animals are gone too, as has the pretend food. There will be trouble if Stanley eats my shoes and heaven help us if MM's transformer is destroyed or CC's Miss Bunny snuggle toy.
Adding a dog to our already crazy, chaotic family seemed like an insane thing to do (really, why do we do this to ourselves??), but it brings a lot of joy too, and as our boys romp around together with Stanley, we know that the benefits of having a pet outweigh most of the negatives (those shoes though, if he eats my shoes, Stanley may have to find himself a new family). Having a pet is a great way to teach kids about empathy, respect, gentleness, love and loyalty, qualities that the media often bemoans the youth of today are missing. Watching our children grow up with Stanley will only add to the adventure (it's certainly increased the amount of dirt around here) and hopefully help us raise our two boys to be caring, empathetic adults.
There are journals full of research in to the benefits of pets. Adding to this is the recent research on pets as part of therapy programs. Our goal for Stanley is to have him join us in our psychology work with young children to help them develop essential skills while processing situations that may have been traumatising for them. So this is our new journey! What positive changes did a pet add to your life?
My kids, and in particular CC, are obsessed with water. Any opportunity to turn on taps, splash in it, swim in it, jump in it, they're all over it (although I did draw the line at MM trying to drink out of the toilet once or twice!).
I'm so lucky that both my kids love playing in the water. But short of allowing them to redecorate the bathroom once or twice a day, I made setting up a water play space a priority for my kids in the warmer months. However, I wanted them to do more than just splash around in the pool, I wanted them to explore water - how it moves, how it changes when you look through it and how it can be transported.
Playing in water is a wonderful sensory activity on a hot day, but it's lovely to allow kids to play without worrying that they're going to drown, or that they're going to be sunburnt, because one advantage of a small table is that it can be set up anywhere - we play on the verandah, or in the shade and just move around to get the best coverage. I should also note that all photos taken recently of MM during water play couldn't be included in this post - MM prefers to be au natural when playing with water. Or any other time really!
When MM was little, he was given a water play table in the shape of a pirate ship. This plastic toy was wonderful - we set it up in the shade (so no sunscreen!), was large enough for two small people to play at the same time (which didn't actually stop the fights, but we could encourage cooperative play) and we didn't have to worry about taking our eyes off them because they could get drenching wet, but were unlikely to drown in it. As parents, we loved it, and our babysitters (AKA Grandparents) loved it as well.
(I should clarify - water play should ALWAYS be supervised, and play tables are no exception. One of the advantages of letting kids play with a tub of water an opposed to actually getting into a pool of water was that I could hang out the washing while they splashed around happily, or I could cook dinner on the BBQ while they were a few metres away. When the kids are in the pool, I tend to stand right next to them, particularly when they were really little, making sure they were OK. So yes, all water play does need supervision, just that with this I think you can get away with being a little less active!)
Pouring water through funnels, watching wheels turn, squirting your brother, and making it "rain" are all experiences that help kids develop an understanding of liquids, gravity, pressure and buoyancy. We also gave animal-mad CC some ocean animals so he could do some imaginative play as well. Those ocean animals are one of his prized possessions and his knowledge of ocean animals is really quite astounding (a favourite program to watch is David Attenborough's The Blue Planet because it has Sharrrrrrrrrrrrks on it, with big teef).We have tea parties, water the garden, wash the cars and pretend to be fireman.
The language development from imaginative play really pushes kids' communication skills. MM will parrot entire conversations from his favourite movies ("G'day, the name's Bruce. I know, I'm a shark, but I'm a friendly shark. Fish are friends, not food") while CC plays along too. It's worth the laugh to listen in unobtrusively and just let the play develop (until they start fighting; it's all fun and games until Mummy looses it!)
You can set up a water play station in a million different ways. Under bed storage tubs are excellent for this; they're cheap, quite large, and have a lid if you want to keep the water for another day (add a Milton tablet if you don't want to waste too much water). Australian blogger Karen, from A House Full of Sunshine shares her DIY Sand and Water Play Table project here.
The Pirate Ship water play table my children had originally was purchased from Target. It looks like they have since sold out, but Big W have had a few recently. Click here for online details.
The current table I have was purchased second hand from a family daycare provider who was closing down. It was in perfect condition and I was lucky to get something of such great quality so cheaply. It is available in Australia from the Modern Teaching Aids website. I love that it comes with its own stand and lid, and LOVE that is it transparent. My kids are fascinated by what they can see through the plastic sides.
Our ocean animals were purchased from the Mini Zoo website, an online store based in Coffs Harbour which sells a range of figurine toys, including brands such as Schleich. Our toys are Papo and Collecta brand animals. Unlike traditional bath toys, these aren't made from soft plastic, which means they sink to the bottom and hurt if you get hit with one, but they don't fill with water (no mould!) and are very durable.
Other tools for water play, including buckets, scoops, water wheels, pipes, etc can be easily and cheaply purchased from two dollar shops, hardware shops and specialist toy stores. My Tupperware is a popular choice for small containers.
Enjoy getting wet!
I'm not sure how it happened, but this week I found myself returning to work after the long summer holidays. All the way back in December, as the end of the year roared towards us, I had made these lists in my head of all that I was going to achieve over the summer break. Apart from having a rest and giving myself time to mentally recharge after a difficult year, I had planned on some minor home maintenance jobs, spending time with the kids visiting a few special places, catching up with loads of friends whom I never manage to see, and complete (at my leisure) some work that my external hard drive "ate" in the last month of school (thank you technology!)
Do you know how much of this I got done? Diddly squat. I fixed a leaking toilet, hung a few baskets in my pantry, managed to have a friend over for a play date once, and spent the final night of the holidays madly typing the reports I'd been promising myself I'd do for more than eight weeks. I didn't even get the ironing up to date!
My biggest achievement of the holidays was that we did manage to take the kids to the pool most days, so I've started the long-promised exercise program to shift the last few kilograms that are stubbornly still hanging around (apparently you're supposed to change your diet too, which was highly unlikely to happen during holidays, but might have a chance now I've returned to work).
So how to you manage holidays and kids? Unlike the adults, CC and MM were hardly about to enjoy a sleep in. Even when they stayed up late, we were still up and ready to party before 7:00am, with most days starting closer to 5:30am. Our internet use has gone through the roof as in a moment of mummy weakness I decided to stay in bed, gave the kids the iPads and directed them to YouTube for hours of happy cartoon watching. I'm hoping to have absolved myself of the guilt associated with allowing my children an hour (or more) of unsupervised technology access by then providing them with hours of (sun safe) vigorous exercise at the pool.
Thankfully, I'm still at the stage where my children attend Daycare, and our wonderful childcare centre opened in early January. All together, my husband and I enjoyed six blissful days without our wonderful children, doing exciting things like the grocery shopping, and discussing the pros and cons of different toilets with the blokes at Bunnings, all without small children hanging off our arms. We even experienced our first Gold Class Cinema event. What an exciting life we lead!
So after all this, I packed bags and lunches and went to bed last night prepared to get four people up, dressed, fed and out the door early this morning. The fact I was only ten minutes late to work indicates there is room for improvement in my planning. As I sit at work and remind myself of all the intricacies of my job, and try to remember names and faces, I fleetingly reflected on our break, wondered how I managed to accomplish so little, and wonder how I'm going to get through the day without a "Nanna Nap" in the afternoon.
There is so much value in spending time just "being" with family. Working in counselling and therapy, the benefits of mindfulness have been discussed for years now, but it's only recently that the concept of Mindfulness and it's benefits have hit the mainstream. Just taking time as a family is part of our mindfulness. In the holidays, most days, we didn't rush. Sure, I still fought with the kids to get dressed, but there wasn't the "Get dressed NOW or mummy will be late for work!" said through clenched teeth. We took the time to construct massive cities of towering blocks (and knocked them over again), there was water play in the back yard, walks to the beach, cooking, and afternoon naps curled up in Mummy and Daddy's bed (a real treat!).
When my children returned to daycare they were happy to go off with their friends, but when I collected two tired little people that afternoon, MM threw his arms around me and said, "I miss-ded you today Mummy." When I'm not so frustrated with them that I'm tearing my hair out, I can remember that this time with the boys is precious. They won't be little (and so frustratingly s-l-o-w!) forever. Kisses, cuddles and open displays of affection will be a thing of the past. Sometimes it's very hard to "be in the moment", as proponents of Mindfulness advise. When we're frustrated, tired, hot and cranky or when we have children who are slow, tired, needy and clingy, it can be easy to wish ourselves to an easier and happier time. Kids need adults to be really "present" in their lives and to be present in the moment. We can't do that all the time, but having a break from work which allowed extra family-focused time reaps its own rewards. Those silly games we've played are remembered and recalled at bedtime. The stories we read and the new places we explored are requested time and again.
Research tells us that taking time to be really present with kids is one of the best gifts we can give them. Playing, reading and sharing are vitally important for cognitive, social and emotional development (and wow, do my kids need emotional development! Those tantrums!!). For my own sanity and mental health though, I also need a life away from my kids; time each day where I'm not just Mummy. It's a balance and I'm sure that some people have perfected the family/work balance thing. I think I've still got a long way to go, but am trying to remind myself that my children are precious and although they are pushing me towards insanity faster than I'd like, they are endearing and cute too (at times), they make me laugh, and offer such beautiful, unconditional love that sometimes I wonder why I ever leave them to go to work .... but then the fighting starts up again and I can't get out the door fast enough. A balance, remember?
This blog post is so much later than I thought it would be. It's been an interesting six weeks since I last posted, with two small people excitedly preparing for Christmas, the big night before (hello to the joys of setting up a fish tank!), and the extensive Christmas Day celebration where we had nine people for lunch at our house. After Christmas there was also New Year with lots of visits from family and friends in between. It's been a bit busy.
I've tried multiple times to get on to add a post about Christmas and New Year, however, it seems the technology Gods have conspired against me with the Internet crashing after heavy rains, illness striking our family and the website platform disliking me.
If you've been following along on An Imperfect Family's Facebook page, you would have seen the daily posts as my children experienced some of the magic of Christmas with an Elf on the Shelf who visited each night, bringing a book for my children to read. The books weren't new, in fact, they were mostly books my children already had on their bookshelves, so this was a cheap and easy way of re-introducing my children to books we already owned, but perhaps weren't reading very often (toddlers are usually great creatures of habit - they LOVE the same book over and over and over and over and over and over again, until mummy can recite the book in her sleep!!!)
Christmas always seems to be to be a funny time - it's a balance between the stress and anxiety of trying to provide a lovely Christmas for everyone, and the joy and excitement of experiencing Christmas through a child's eyes once again. I went to bed at about 12:30am on Christmas morning. By the time I finally went to sleep, I had set up a tropical fish tank (honestly, whomever said that fish would be a "low maintenance pet" was lying!), constructed a wooden rocket ship, wrapped and placed all presents under the tree, as well as prepared some of the food for the next day. I think the last comment I made to my snoring husband was "Why are we doing this again??"
Seeing my kids' faces light up on Christmas morning blew away all doubt about the time and effort we'd put in to creating a magical Christmas, but I was SO ready to fall into bed that night. The small people had a wonderful day and have been asking hopefully if Santa is coming back again tonight. Thank goodness it's another year before we have to do all this again. Just about enough time to recharge the batteries and be able to view the day through rose-tinted glasses once more (why do I only recall on Christmas Eve the frustration of last minute seafood shopping, road rage with shopping trolleys in the grocery aisles and battles with alan keys and screwdrivers?)
MM and CC were beyond excited with Christmas this year. We did a tour of the local houses all decked out in their pretty lights ("We saw Santa sneaking into the house on the palm tree Nonna!"), visited Santa (although they made sure to keep their distance - nothing too close!), and learned Christmas Carols ("Dingle Dells, Dingle Dells, Dingle all da wayyyyyy!!!!"). We baked cookies for Santa and debated endlessly about all the things Santa was bringing this year ("Sorry CC, I don't think Santa can bring a shark and a whale in his sleigh. What happens if the shark tries to eat Rudoph?").
We did make an effort to teach our children about giving to others, and not just receiving. They chose a present for their Grandparents (tea sets, so that they can all have tea parties), and choose gifts to donate to a local charity (there was a meltdown when we realised the toys weren't actually for us, but we did eventually get over it). Our plan for next year is to use the Kindness Elves, a similar idea but where the elves help the children to focus on giving rather than receiving, positive interactions, rather than negative, and sharing. Some of the activities we will try include donating toys to the local hospital, baking cookies for friends and family, and donating food to the soup kitchen. I've put a note in my diary to order these elves in September, so perhaps they can work with our friendly Christopher Pop-in-Kins.
As I gently pack away all our Christmas decorations until next December it's a good time to reflect on all that has happened this year and look to 2016 as a year of promise for our family. I'm hoping that health-wise, our little CC has a much better year this year. MM is starting pre-school next week which will be a big milestone for him. I'm also hoping to receive an offer of a permanent position in my current job. It's also the first year of living in our own home, so we are fast becoming regular visitors to Bunnings with lots of little projects planned as we put our personal touches on our home.
I hope that you all had a lovely Christmas, and that your dreams, hopes and wishes for 2016 come true.
With Christmas fast approaching (how can it only be a calendar month until the man in red appears????), I'm finding myself, as always, desperately trying to prepare for the festive season as an adult (presents to buy, food to prepare, decorations to make, cards to write), while also trying to provide some Christmas magic for my children.
Last year was the first year we really "did" Christmas. MM was 2.5, CC was 1.5. MM attended daycare and was learning all about Santa, elves, presents and reindeer from his little friends. We decided that we needed to get involved in this, and so I started looking for an advent tradition I could do with my munchkins that was easy and affordable.
Like many of you, I had seen the Elf on the Shelf ideas doing the rounds. I googled. I pinned. And ultimately, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could pull it off. It was seriously too much hard work, and I'm exhausted by the end of the day. I didn't want to spend an hour doing some Elfie set up when I needed to iron, make bottles and lunches and get the washing on the line, after putting kids to bed.
What I did find in my searching was the idea of an advent book gift. As a former school teacher, this idea really appealed to me, and the idea for the set up comes from the book itself, so I didn't have to try and think of something super creative. Best of all, I didn't need to spend any money - I could use the books my elves already had on their bookshelf. And who doesn't want to install a love of reading in kids? It's genius!
So, how does this book advent thing work. Well, the first thing is to find yourself an Elf. Personally, I really liked Christopher Pop-in Kins. I think he's bright and friendly, and a little less creepy than the Elf on the Shelf guy. I purchased mine from a local bookstore. He comes with a book too, but it's quite a long, involved story, so at this stage, I haven't read it to my kids.
The next bit is to choose your books. I went through my kids bookshelf and selected 23 books I thought we could use. I didn't pick the favourites we read every night, but I picked stories I knew they like that we just weren't reading. This year, I also purchased two new books specifically for our advent of books - One is The Jolly Postman's Christmas Letters, and the other is The Night Before Christmas. Last year I think I purchased a four pack of books from the local Post Office and used two books friends gave to my boys for Christmas presents. I also purchased a roll of cheap wrapping paper and multiple rolls of tape, as well as some little sticker labels so I knew what was in each parcel.
This brings me onto an important tip. Last year, I wrapped about five books at the beginning, and then stopped, thinking I'd wrap another five and so on. Of course, it didn't happen and I'd find myself trying to wrap a book late at night, cursing this ridiculous idea I'd had. This year I've purchased little sticker labels and am wrapping all my books in one hit, labeling each parcel as I go (who loves kids who can't read yet!). Each night I'll just have to choose a book, grab a prop or two for Christopher Elf and away we go. Simple!
If you follow along on Facebook, you'll see my daily posts about our Christmas Advent Reading Adventure. We'd love you to follow us and be inspired to share your own ideas too. I hope your little ones enjoy the joy and excitement of Christmas as much as my two munchkins.
There was a moment when I held my new born son in my arms that I wondered (OK, it was more of a panicked thought) about how on earth I was going to cope with having a boy. I mean, they're just so different to girls, what with all the "dangly bits" and the addiction to danger thing. Not that I have a daughter to compare it to, but I've certainly been exposed to enough boys - I have twin brothers who are three years younger than me, and twelve male cousins, and really, it's no secret that the male brain is wired completely differently to the female brain.
As it turns out, it was probably good that I was a bit panicked. Little boys are very interesting little people, with a few habits that start in early childhood and continue through to adulthood. Of course, not every little boy is like this, and I have friends whose daughters would give my boys a run for their money, but wow, life with little boys can be a fun adventure!
The first thing is their obsession with their penis. Honestly, it took MM about three or four months to discover that he had a whole new play thing permanently attached to his little body. Every nappy change I had to be quick with those wipes to avoid a messy disaster. It was like he had to check it hadn't fallen off since the last time it was exposed. And three years later the obsession is still there. It's one part hilarious ("Mummy yook! It's 'tanding up!"), and one part eye-rollingly frustrating ("Mummy, I 'tuck a Band-Aid on my penis and now it's sore").
This leads into the joys of toilet training. Both MM and CC are toilet training at the moment. MM was happy to show absolutely no interest what so ever for ages and ages, but then suddenly, he started getting it, and we've launched into the fun world of character undies and bribes for using the toilet APPROPRIATELY (no, you're not allowed to shove your little brother's head into the bowl so he can see your wee wees). Not wanting to be left behind, CC is insisting on using the toilet too (which is more an excuse for a five minute fiddle with the occasional fluke where we actually get wee wees). The bathroom has never been so popular! The wearing of undies is prompting MM to go au naturale as much as possible, causing our new neighbours to raise their eye brows and wonder just what kind of family we are. One day when MM was in undies for the first time, he realised that this gave him easy access to his penis, so he poked it out over the top elastic, much to the surprise and amusement of the Australia Post lady who dropped off a parcel.
New rules have had to be implemented to accommodate this latest craze. There is a strict rule where you are not allowed to touch anyone else's penis. Also, weeing on your brother is STRONGLY discouraged. Underwear is the minimum dress standard for the dinner table. I'm sure other rules will shortly follow. Right now, I'm just trying to decide if I should laugh or cry as I have a discussion with my three year old on the benefits of handwashing and why his penis has a hole in it (no, it's not broken!).
Other rather revolting habits my boys seem to insist on cultivating include eating their own snot ("Yook mummy! I dot 'not!"), eating grass,dirt and small insects (although thankfully, they do seem to be getting over this phase) and helping themselves to food dropped on the floor.
And then we have farts. I'm beginning to think that finding farts hilarious is an in-built thing. While waiting in the supermarket line the other day, things were remarkably quiet, when all of a sudden, one small child lets off a rip-snorting fart. There is absolute silence, before my two boys start giggling loudly. Other small children soon join in the laughter. Not to be out done, the other child lets off a fart, and a child standing next to us makes farting noises under his elbow. The kids around us are practically falling over themselves. The teenage boy on the checkout is laughing too. Parents are eyeing each other and nervously smiling. I apologise and it's brushed away by parents who have been there before. The kids are still playing to the crowd. One elderly lady huffs at us and tells us that in her day she would have received a spanking. Her husband smiles at us and ruffles CC's curly hair. It seems farts are funny at any age.
I know that it doesn't sound like I have rules, in fact, reading this you could be forgiven for thinking I'm raising a pack of neanderthals, but honestly, we go over and over and over and over and over and over and over the rules. Correct behaviour is modelled time and time again. I even bribe them for goodness sake. It's not really making much of a difference. MM just smiles that cheeky smile, his eyes lighting up with mischief and goes ahead and does it anyway. And that, dear readers, is why, most of the time, my heart just melts even though I can be so cross and frustrated with them. It's that cheeky smile that radiates the Harry Potter phrase "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" that has me (sometimes) laughing along with them, on the inside, lest they guess that secretly, I applaud their devil-may-care attitude. In my work as a school counsellor, I've seen too many kids who are too scared to take the chance, who are so down trod, they breath without making a sound. I've learned that having kids who have the self-esteem to forge their own path gives me hope that when the going gets tough, and one day, it's bound to get tough, they will have the inner resources to get through the dark times without losing their sense of self, that self awareness that as parents, we're working hard to foster in two small boys who are completely safe, at this stage, in the knowledge that they are the center of a universe of extended family who completely dote on them. And when they're older and realise they're not the center of the universe, I want them to be strong enough to stand up to the crowd, to draw followers to them because they are following a path of justice and righteousness and because they are good people, not just because they know how to make farting noises in their armpit.
I had every intention of writing a lovely post this week about the joys of toileting training small boys and their obsession with certain parts of their anatomy, but as is turns out, my little family and I have all been sick for the past week with a lovely stomach bug. Having finally gotten over this, CC is off for surgery today, his second surgery for the year.
It's 1:00am, and I've just fed the little man a bottle, his last meal until he wakes up minus his tonsils and adenoids, and with de-waxed ears.
I had every intention of getting this post written and posted last night, but went to bed with a bad headache. CC happily kissed me goodnight at bedtime, blithely unaware of what awaited him. He's been told that he's going to see the doctor at the hospital tomorrow, and can tell you that the doctor is going to look at his nose, his throat and his ears, but really, he has no idea what that all means, although he is familiar with the concept of hospital.
I've prepared for the big event by purchasing CC a soft toy shark. He is absolutely obsessed with ocean animals, particularly whales and sharks, so we're hoping this new toy will be enough to keep his mind off his hungry tummy as we drive an hour to the hospital. We've also packed an overnight bag and put in place contingency plans in case we're not released this afternoon.
It's much harder to prepare myself for my job - I will accompany CC into surgery. He will be hungry and wondering what we're doing in this strange place. We'll play games, and the surgeon and anesthetist will have tried to make friends with him as they check his vital signs. I'll brace myself for my most difficult job, holding him tightly to my chest as a mask is gently placed over his face. I'll hug him tight and try to sooth him with a soft lullaby and gentle rocking as he struggles against this strange object. Mercifully, the struggle will only last a moment, but those big blue eyes will dilate with fear, the look of betrayal is hard to ignore and I'm sure my tears will mirror his before he finally takes a breath and falls into a deep sleep. As I walk away, accompanied by a kindly nurse, I'll hold my emotions in check. She'll promise that they will look after him, and I place my trust in her and the team to look after my baby.
Surgery is quick and I'll be back with CC in recovery in less then an hour. I'll spend the rest of the day with his small body attached to mine. CC will most likely spend the day in a drugged out haze, not really sure what's happening, but aware of a pain that didn't exist before. Thankfully, he won't remember any of this, although my memory is harder to erase.
This is routine surgery, and I'm sure many of you have gone through it with your children. CC will be absolutely fine, and with a bit of luck, will start sleeping better (and more quietly) without those adenoids.
Good luck to anyone with sick children, it's one of the hardest parts of being a parent, and my heart goes out to anyone with a sick munchkin in hospital.
The last two blog posts have been very difficult for me to write. There have been lots of tears and late night discussions and a general feeling of sadness too, because we've made the decision that we won't be going back to have another baby, something I have still not quite come to terms with.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed one thing I like to do is bake (and eat chocolate, but fortunately, you can do both things at once). Baking really is my "thing". I know other people who like to cook, but I can't say I've ever been an inspired cook. I do however love baking - the mixing of eggs and sugar to create a deliciously light and fluffy cake base, the adding in of one or two drops of food colouring or vanilla to change things ever so slightly, and the gentle folding in of flours. These things sooth my frazzled mind and give me a delicious focus. Of course, none of this baking actually helps with the waist line, and I can't say that I specifically look for healthy recipes (where's the fun in that????), because who doesn't want to play around with icing colours and designs? Or different cake types and shapes?
After the storm comes the rainbow, and so after a bit of a tumultuous time, I've decided to share my recipe for creating your own rainbow. After all, this blog is on a page called "Messy Faces", so what better way to display messy faces than by providing kids with cake?
I came up with the genius idea that I needed a rainbow cake for my birthday this year. Being the mother of two small children, boring cakes like Hazelnut Chocolate Torte just don't hold their appeal to the youngest members of the family, so now each time someone has a birthday, my boys gleefully grab the birthday cake books off the bookshelf and starting looking for the "best" one. It actually doesn't matter whether Uncle Mickey wanted, or even likes, Rockets, he got a Rocket Ship birthday cake in all its food-coloured, lolly-decorated glory this year. And mummy got a rainbow cake.
When I started researching rainbow cakes I figured out pretty soon that it wasn't that they were complicated, but more that they took loads of time to bake as you needed to bake all seven layers, which in my case as I only had two cake tins, meant four different bakes. I also decided that I wanted to bake my cake from scratch, so I ignored all recipes that called for packet cake mixes. Of course, there's nothing wrong with using a packet cake. I'm all for whatever makes the saga of birthdays easier, but, I like cooking from scratch, so for me personally, I went with a flour and eggs kind of mix. I also read reviews about different icing options, and decided that a cream cheese frosting would be the best for us; not too sweet and with that nice lemon-y tang. The final note was the height of each layer. Having never eaten one of these, I wasn't sure what they tasted like, but after a bit of scientific research (i.e. asking everyone I knew, including the guy at Spotlight who sold me the food colouring, and checking out dozens of websites), I decided to make each layer quite thin, like only a centimetre or two. Less cake and more icing = awesome right? As a final hint, I suggest using the gel colours for this, not that I've tried the liquid colours, but gel colours give such brilliant results that I think the vibrant colour would be lost if you used anything else (I bought mine from Spotlight, but Big W and online retailers also sell them). I personally prefer AmeriColor because of the squeeze tube, but the Wilton gels are awesome too.
The recipe I followed comes from Kerry Cooks, a UK-based blogger whose website you can find here.
I did change the cooking methods slightly though, as I used two 9 inch round silicone cake pans.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
CONSTRUCTING YOUR CAKE
To begin cake construction, put a little bit of the icing on the bottom of your cake plate. Start sandwiching your layers together with the frosting, filling in any gaps against the side. Once you've constructed your rainbow tower, start icing the outside. You can do a crumb layer - apply frosting around the outside in a light layer, than refrigerate, (or if you're like me and run out of time, cross your fingers, hope for the best and do a thick layer that hopefully disguises any crumbs). In a few hours add the final layer of frosting, and then sprinkle with Hundreds and Thousands to finish.
And Voila! You will have made an awesome, delicious, vibrant rainbow cake. Perfect for nostalgic moments, or special birthdays. Buon appetite!!
Danielle- An Imperfect Family