I learned a lesson last night. Way after bedtime, one of our kids came out saying “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel well”. Now 90% of the time, I would just usher the kid back to bed, but something about her phrasing made me pause.

We went to her room and after the perfunctory checking of her temperature and making sure she was hydrated and didn’t need the bathroom, I asked her if anything was on her mind.

No, she said.

I looked at her favourate stuffed toy and asked, “How about Nightsky, does she have anything on her mind?”

Turns out, Nightsky did have a lot on her mind. Soon our kid was opening up to me about some very big feelings and important thoughts she had that were troubling her. We ended up spending lots more time together where I listened to her worries and did my best to validate and reassure her. Sometimes, all I could do was offer a cuddle but I think it helped.

Like most parents, I have many days where my patience is thin and where I struggle to be a compassionate parent, particular when it is way past their bedtime and approaching my own.

But sometimes, like last night, I get it pretty right.

Thanks, Nightsky.

 

Advertisements

Nine lies I told my daughters and why I told them

  1.  Your great-great-great grandmother was not an elephant

You once asked me why our elbows have such thick wrinkly skin. While it is true that people refer to this skin as elephant skin, this is not because we are distantly related to an elephant. (But for the record, how cool would that be?!?) The term ‘elephant skin’ could be viewed as derogatory and I wanted to give you a positive association. So I told you that not only is it called elephant skin, but it is also a connection to our heritage of which you should feel proud. Elephants are beautiful, strong and fiercely matriarchal and maternal.

  1. Grey hair is not an indication of increasing witch powers

Oh how I wish this one were true. When you started noticing my grey hairs I realized that this was an opportunity to set a tone with regards to the inevitability of aging. I do not wish you to grow up dreading yourself aging. I hoped by using this simple metaphor that you would see that not only is aging unavoidable but that there are many advantages to aging. That we grow wiser and in many ways more powerful. Let’s embrace that.

  1. Your father and I did not meet 250 years ago slaying the last evil dragons of Wellington

This story came about one day when your dad was shopping for tools and I, in need of a serious distraction for you and your sister, answered the question ‘how did you and dad meet’. What followed was a story of strength, courage, fantasy and companionship that surprised and delighted even me. Even the other people shopping let their own conversations trail off as they moved within earshot. The story went that we were part of an ancient order of sword warriors and when the call went out to defend Wellington from the evil dragons we responded and met while saving a fellow warriors life. By the way, those swords are tucked away in a cave somewhere in case the dragons should return one day.

  1. Also, in related news, I am not 285 years old

Age doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Instead of trying to make myself younger to the world, I exaggerated my age because we should be so lucky to become old. Plus it adds this timeless quality to me because you are too young to worry about my mortality.

  1. Those big rocks are not evidence of epic troll battles

No there are no trolls in the world and they don’t come out at night sometimes, hurling boulders at each other in fierce troll-battles. Sorry. I wish it were true as as well.

6. My jelly-belly is not my favorite part of my body

Sure I love my postpartum tummy, because it nurtured you and your sister, but it is not the part of my body I love the most. But I’ll be damned if I breathe even the tiniest of indication that having you both in some way ‘damaged’ or ‘ruined’ my body. Our bodies change and our self-love should not depend on how much it approximates the current unrealistic body type.

7. I can’t actually read your mind

Well, this one is actually somewhat true. While I can’t literally see into your head, I know you. Oh, do I know you. I recognize the expressions on your face and the minute body movements that telegraph your intentions. And while a day will come when you have developed a better poker face and stronger self-control, until then, be wary little one.

8. The elevator is not broken

Elevators are surprising reliable and not nearly broken as often as I tell you they are. I tell you this because movement is good, making an effort is good.

9. I don’t know everything.

I know a lot. A really big bunch of stuff. But you and your sister know more than I did at your age and I am absolutely sure you will know much more than I do when you are my age. But in the meantime, I tell you this lie because I want you to have confidence in the advice I give. It also conveys my own confidence in my statements. (Plus, let’s face it, smartphones and the internet really do enable us to know everything). Yet, I also will tell you that I don’t know the answer to things sometimes. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter to you at all. It is like a strange Schrödinger’s cat of simultaneously knowing and not knowing, such as can only exist in a child’s mind.

Don’t be mad at me darling daughters. I know that soon you will realise the various truths, just like you already know that there isn’t really a tooth fairy or an Easter bunny. Hopefully these stories will become treasured memories so you can recall with fondness a childhood where we fostered your imagination and helped create alternative metaphors for serious and sometimes scary topics. And this magic mixture where truth and perception of reality can still be so lovingly manipulated? Long may it last.

On being believed

October 13, 2014

This post is pretty over due. Hell, I’ve got lots of posts in my head which are overdue being written. But I promised myself to get this one out. It’s been out there as a Facebook post for a while and I just wanted to document the event here on the blog as well. Now that I’ve built that up ridiculously, here goes.

Some weeks ago we were on a road trip and in a city in Aotearoa New Zealand that we are not often in. There were six of us. My mother (Grandma), my cousin, my partner and our two kids.

For those who don’t know, we have two daughters. They are 8 and soon-to-be 7. Wide-eyed, confident and adventurous creatures.

Out for dinner one night, we were in a restaurant that was busy and full of people. The kind of room that is big and full of tables with servers bustling to and fro. We settled in with a full order of food and some wine on the way (for the adults, not the kids).

Proudly, the 8 year old felt able to go the bathroom by herself. We could see the door from where we were so we knew she couldn’t get lost. Off she trotted, returning a few minutes later, slipping silently back to her chair. And dinner continued.

A few minutes later she announced that there had been a man in the bathroom. ‘What do you mean?’ we asked mildly (but my heart started pounding). ‘When I came out of the stalls,’ she said, ‘a man was in there’. We asked a few more questions, to try to ascertain if he had posed a threat in anyway. When she said that he seemed confused and didn’t do/say anything, we praised her for telling us and then, almost brushed it off. In fact, if I’m honest, there was a strong urge to do just that, to minimise. ‘He probably just made a mistake’, I heard us saying.

And maybe that would have been fine. Maybe brushing it off after hearing the story would have been ok and we would have not paid it any further thought. She seemed ok.

But I think what happened next was better. At first she was ok, but then she wasn’t. She said she felt ‘uncomfortable’ and we could tell she was unnerved. We asked her what she wanted us to do and if she could remember what the man looked like and she described him to us. We agreed that I would speak with the manager.

I approached the manager not sure what to expect. I knew it was important to tell him what had happened. Not because I expected him to do anything to be honest, but because I wanted our daughters to see that we believed her and that we would take action. I approached him almost tentatively and I told him what happened, that she felt uncomfortable and, almost apologetically, that it’s important the girls see that they can tell and that they’ll be believed. I had a horrible feeling he was going to brush us off or dismiss us completely. This is what I expected, but he did the opposite.

He immediately sent a female employee into the women’s bathroom to check it out and then he approached our table and gently asked us if our daughter would be able to describe the man, which she did. He thanked her directly and later came back with a gift for her and her sister and thanked her again for saying something.

He really seemed to get it. He got that it’s important to listen, to believe and to take action. He got that even a little short scrawny kid’s feelings of discomfort matter. He spoke to her directly and kindly and seriously. He reassured her that she had done a brave thing by speaking up.

I got a little emotional if I’m honest. I often feel brutally aware of how vulnerable children are and as a parent, I am sure I’m not alone when I feel like I sometimes see dangers in the shadow, even though my rational mind knows that most people and places are good and safe. But I’m no fool too. I know the stats. And while this may have been a small incident in concrete terms, this event was hugely symbolic and instructive.

Kids, especially girls, get many messages as they grow up that their experiences and feelings are not as important as those of adults. This undermines their confidence and their ability to speak up for themselves and their needs, to give voice to their concerns and fears. And while my parenting is far from perfect, I think the way we handled this situation was pretty spot on. Our hope, is that by us and the manager, listening and believing and taking action, she and her sister have learned that if something feels wrong, they should trust their gut, that if they speak up, they’ll be believed. In short, that they, their privacy and their feelings matter.

She continued to feel unnerved and wanted to sleep with us that night instead of her own room. We supported her need for security and now the incident seems to be forgotten.

While it wasn’t nice that our daughter felt uncomfortable, we couldn’t have been happier with the way the restaurant manger reacted.

oh the sweetest thing

June 15, 2014

Today I was having a mid-afternoon snuggle with my wide-eyed, smiling 6-year old and she gazed and me and said: “Mummy, sometimes I think I was supposed to be born to you.”

“Yes, darling,” I said. “I think that is what love feels like”

Orange you glad?

June 9, 2013

20130609-193256.jpg

Green has been my favourite colour most of my life. Oh there were brief stints where I flirted with deep blue and I had my obligatory phase of worshiping black. But over the years, when pushed for a favourite, I’ve always come back to green.

But at the moment I’m seeking out orange as much as I can. I made orange juice for dinner and drank it out of an orange cup. I notice it everywhere I go. Yesterday even I painted my nails orange and I plan to hunt for orange Post-it notes in the work stationary cupboard at the shop.

You see, for me, right now orange is the colour of mindful parenting. I’ve recently been introduced to a site called The Orange Rhino by a dear friend. The site is run by a woman who resolved to stop yelling at her kids and she shares her learning and tips along the way.

I was never one of those women who longed for kids. I didn’t babysit as a teen and the first time I really held a baby it was my own. (And it was such a strange moment I tell you.) Parenting has been the hardest job I’ve ever done. It turns out it’s a relentless exercise in self-control.

My kids are not play-quietly-in-the-other-room kind of kids. Nor are they sit-still-and-read-to-themselves kind of kids. They are attack-life-with-arms-wide kind of kids and fearlessly-seek-adventure-in-all-things kind of kids. I can’t wait to see how their lives turn out. I love them and I’m proud of them. Truly.

However, much like the metaphoric frog, I have slowly boiled away, stewing in my own hot anger. Slowly leaking more and more shouts and with the volume slowing rising up and up. You see, at the end of a long day I would prefer it if teeth-brushing time was just that, not jostling-for-best-position time. So I started yelling and after a while, I found it hard to stop. I was like the Hulk, angry all the time, snapping at the lightest grievances and exploding in righteous overreaction.

After a few shame-filled moments of realising I was scaring my kids, I started talking to my partner, my family, my closest friends (and one counsellor). I asked for help. I confessed I had run out of resources and even though I had plenty of theory tucked away in my brain, I just couldn’t put it into action.

Enter The Orange Rhino and her thirty day challenge. I got some friends signed up as my text-support and started identifying my triggers (for the record; messiness, business and lateness).

Hell I have a long way to go. A looooong way. But after surviving a tantrum of epic (and I do mean EPIC) proportions the other day without yelling once, I think I’m a little better. So this isn’t a post about how far I’ve come.

This is a post about taking a first step. And you know what they say about those.

Time for a good old rant.

You know those comments people make to parents, particularly dads, about daughters who are conventionally pretty? Comments like; ‘Get your shotgun ready! You’re in for it!’ or ‘you’ll have to fend them off with a stick, mate!’

Well, I think they are actually kinda creepy. Let me break down why:

I think what people think they are saying is: ‘Your daughter is so pretty, she’ll have many suitors.’ And I think what they might be trying to imply is that in your role as Dad, you’ll have to protect her.

Protect what exactly, her virtue? Which is just code for virginity really. Are we really implying that it’s her dad’s to ‘protect’? Or do we mean her physical safety?

And protect her from what? Why would she need protecting? It seems we already assume that the men in her future life won’t respect her boundaries enough that she’ll require armed back-up.

Now sadly, there is truth to the assumption that life as a woman is risky, I’m not disputing that. But these comments normalise a world where ‘fending them off with a stick’ is an irreversible reality.

I also agree that as parents we have a responsibility to protect our children. But at some point they are able to make their own decisions about their lives (and yes, that includes their sex lives).

When I hear those comments, what I hear them saying is: Your daughter is your property. Her virginity is valuable, she can’t be trusted to look after herself and you cant trust other men, so you had better take up arms to protect what’s yours, because someday, someone is going to come and try to take it.

But the parents I know are teaching their daughters (and sons) to stand up for themselves and make smart decisions in their lives.

Mostly.

Sometimes though, we* lapse into these old-fashioned sayings which betray an old-fashioned way of thinking which isn’t even how my friends and I actually think. But yet these words and their terrible implications still fall from our minds and mouths and then they’re out there, reinforcing a culture and a set of norms which harm us all.

Fight back. Try not to say those things. and don’t let other people say them without pointing it out. Gently, mind you, at least the first time.

My response last time I saw that comment? ‘No need for shotguns, with parents like those, that kid will know how to sort herself out.’

 

* I am deliberately including myself as nobody is perfect

This is something that’s been on my mind for a while. Trigger warning for non-belief and some possible lack of curtsey to religion.

When my buddy Shawn suggested we both write about atheism and parenting I agreed. His post is over at http://boulderiteabroad.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/im-still-learning-to-be-an-atheist-parent/

I’m an atheist, meaning I don’t believe in God-with-a-capital-G. I probably don’t believe in any god actually. Nor do I believe in goddesses for that matter.

A consequence of being an atheist means I feel uncomfortable when people behave as if their belief in their God is a guaranteed fact and that I am just kinda ignorant/stupid/unlucky/dammed for not believing what they do. (For really good reasons not to believe, check out this video.)

Fortunately I live in a country and place which is not fundamentalist and I am usually able to live my merry heretic life without fear of condemnation. Occasionally I am in situations where I am invited and due to social norms, required to participate in a prayer. Although this is more often a karakia (Maori invocation, not always religious).

And in truth, I don’t mind participating in the activity of contemplating the same words of wisdom as the people around me. In fact, I quite enjoy group activity like that. I used to sing in a church choir, because I like to sing.

But I can’t stand the type of prayers which sound like creepy love letters to God and his supposed kid. You know the ones. (Oh God, your spirit is upon me. Let your love oh Jesus oh lord, fill me up, yaddi yaddi yadda.)

Most religious people I know are not pushy, in fact none of them are. I respect differences of opinion. And even though I disagree with some of the beliefs of my religious friends, I also disagree with some of the beliefs of my atheist friends. Both groups can be lovely and charitable and intolerant from time to time.

So yeah, I don’t believe in god.

But there are times when I wish I did. There are definitely times when, as a parent, I wish I could reach into a basket of belief and use faith to explain things to my kids. For example, when someone dies, it would be so nice if I could tell the kids that the deceased is now in heaven, with other loved ones, in the arms of an all-loving father-figure.

There are other times when my kids ask hard questions about the world and I wish that I could use a faith-based answer. Having the catch-all ‘it’s God’s will’ as a reason for anything is probably pretty convenient.

But, to me, that’s almost lazy. Its harder to explain a complex scientific event in language a 6 year old will understand. Infinitely more honest often is just a simple: ‘Don’t know’ often followed by ‘ask your dad’ or ‘let’s look it up’.

But there is another context where I almost miss having a belief in a God/Goddess/whatever-deity. I think that religion, or perhaps more accurately, faith, can communicate a sense of mystery and wonder which is delightful. The idea that there is an all-powerful being that can make things happen is a form of magical thinking from where I sit.

And I want to believe in magic. I wish that I could believe in magic and fairies and elves and little goblins down the bottom of the garden.

But I don’t believe in that either.

In the end, I believe in science and that everything can be explained (even if I don’t know how) without needing to point to a white dude on a cloud or a pixie with a wand.

But magic… well, magic is just so magical. Now that I have kids, I very much enjoy spinning tales of dragons and giants and talking animals. Does this mean I am filling my kids with stories the same way that people of religious faith fill their children’s head with stories of God and angels?

I think it’s different and here is why.

Some time ago, AB asked us about god. And we explained what we believe and explained that other people believe other things. AB scolded us saying that God will be upset that we don’t believe. Now I’ve got no idea where she got this from. Perhaps a friend at school. Certainly not from us.

I can’t tell you how angry it made me though. My daughter doesn’t know the first thing about god or religion, but I’ll be damned, she’s already picked up on guilt. Guilt is a tool too often used to manipulate people.  Worldvision is a good example how how guilt can be used to get people to donate money to a variety of causes.

And pixies don’t do that.

Unless you count the Peter Pan clapping trick to bring back Fairies after you’ve said you don’t believe in them.

So I think its safe to encourage magical thinking in my children because it’s not guilt-laden. I suppose there are quite a few religions that don’t focus on the guilt, but that whole dying-on-the-cross-for-our-sins bit, is pretty harsh.

 

Wrinkles

May 5, 2012

This morning my 5+ year daughter slipped in to my bed for a snuggle.

She looked at my face and said, ‘mum, you’ve got wrinkles’.

‘I know!’ I said with enthusiasm. ‘Isn’t it great? It means I’ve been laughing alot’.

I went on to explain that wrinkles were a sign that you’ve had a good life and that you’ve had lots of laughter.

She promptly laughed and asked; ‘Mum? Have I got wrinkles yet?’ Laughed again. ‘How about now?’

I told her she would have to laugh many more times in her life to earn her own wrinkles.

Not a bad ambition to have.

Not correcting this one

March 7, 2012

In this case I’m not a fan of reality.

AB had her triathlon the other day. It was supposed to be on the weekend but due to awesome torrential rain it was rescheduled for a weekday. Sadly this meant we couldn’t go and watch her first sporting event.

She was pretty upset when I dropped her off because she knew we couldn’t come to watch. She was also upset because, and I quote, ‘Bobbie (not real name) is always the fastest.’ I told her that I would be so proud if she just tries her best and more importantly if she has fun.

I came home later that day and she told me that she came first! She won! I said that I thought Bobbie was the fastest kid in the class. She said: ‘Yes, but worked and I worked and then I came first!’ She has a medal which she slept with that night.

I saw her teacher the next day and mentioned that AB said she came first. The teacher in a kind way, suggested that this might not be what happened, which is what I suspected. But I decided that I am very happy letting AB live in the belief that she is FAST. She can file that away as a truth in her head.

I. Am. Fast.

What a wonderful truth to hold as a five year old. Perhaps she approach the next event from that premise. I AM FAST. She may feel more enthusiastic about it, safe in the knowledge that I AM FAST, I CAN DO ANYTHING.

Maybe I’m over emphasising the potential impact of this truth, but I’m happy to take that chance.

Progress… of sorts

November 13, 2011

This afternoon, with my resilience being at medium to rare, I saw that the craft cupboard was open with step-stool in front of it. Further investigation revealed that indeed a container of gold glitter had been liberally distributed in the lounge. It was on the kids table, the couch that had all the cushions on it, the couch that has particularly good fluff-catching ridges and the desk chair.

I’m very proud that I didn’t start screaming and instead applied some of the suggestions from the book ‘how to talk so your kids will listen’. Despite the fact that my blood was boiling, I stated what I observed (There is glitter everywhere) and asked the kids what we should do about it.

To their immense credit they suggested they vacuum the room which they did. Each of them did a portion of the work and despite the fact that it took a whole grueling ten minutes for each of them, they stuck with it. I’m proud of them and me for a much more educational outcome than me hitting the roof like I usually would.

I’ll also share that later I found that the rest of the glitter container was tucked up safely in ABs bed and within minutes the newly vacuumed lounge had flower petals all over it. My reaction was not quite as serene as previously but y’know, I’m still working on accessing my zen place in moments of parenting trauma like this.