Monday, August 10, 2009

Living the good life

Last Friday marked 18 months since we moved to this town. I've got to say that it's finally starting to feel like home. I feel like I've been taken off my L's and I'm now on my P's! There is a definite sense of acceptance and welcoming now that people know me better and know that we're here to stay. It feels so good! A few things have occurred recently that made me feel like I've started to turn the corner. One was when I rocked up to playgroup after the school holidays. I hadn't been around for about a month and people obviously started to notice that I was 'missing'. One of the mums told me that someone had asked after me and then the rumours started to fly - "Maybe she's left", "Maybe she's sick..."Maybe she's PREGNANT"! We joked at how the rumour mill works in a small town and I felt pretty pleased actually - I was missed enough to be talked about! It's sure funny what things make you feel settled in!

So, the weather's good (we need more rain though); I've made friends and I'm genuinely enjoying life here. It's all I could ask for - slow, simple, peaceful and happy. My in-laws are visiting too, which means that, besides the house being pretty crazy, I've got help with Boo and I can actually get a chance to pull the weeds from my garden and cook dinner without having to run into different rooms to supervise every three seconds.

Yesterday, me and my closest friend (plus her hubby and kids) went out to our farm - it's a ten minute drive from town. We have a flock of geese there that need to be let out for a forage every couple of days. Her kids love letting the geese out and topping up the food and water. We took a kite with us and of course, some snacks. At one point, the kids were all perched up on the boot of the car happily eating crackers'; her hubby was trying to get the kite up; the geese were happily wandering about and we were chatting away. The sun was warm, the breeze was cool, the view was magnificent. She looked at me and said "It's times like this when I think my kids have got such a good life". I couldn't have agreed more - only to extend it to include us as well - we have a brilliant life here too (just don't ask me about how good my life is when summer arrives - you might get a rude answer). Anyway, so basically I'm feeling pretty good these days - I feel like I've done my time and I've finally come out the other side. It's a good place to be!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


A fingerpainting masterpiece

A blog is not a blog unless it is updated least that's what makes a blog worth following right? So henceforth, even if I only come up with dreary, mundane posts about baking cookies and what's happening in my vege patch, so be it.

It's been two months since I was last on two other blogs have suffered a similar fate. Partly it's been a conscious decision to spend less time in front of a screen, and then when I do, it's mostly to reply to emails or check a few favourite websites. Anyway, the point is, that I actually do miss blogging - so I'm going to make an effort to update more regularly. The reason why I've managed to find time to blog now, during my daughter's afternoon nap, rather than cooking, baking or cleaning, is because my parents are here. Mum has already cooked; I baked some cookies while they took Boo to the park this morning and there's no point doing any serious cleaning until the visitors depart and the house is back to normal. So really, it's all about time and priorities - and unfortunately blogging lags behind the other priorities of running a household. I just wish my parents would come more frequently, but they can really only manage the 2.5 hour trip every couple of months. To anyone out there who does have frequent and willing support in the form of family and friends - can I say that I am highly envious of you!!! I really think that parenting would be so much easier and more satisfying if there was one or two other people who could come and share the work every now and again.

Oh well, enough blathering for now. I've had my morning (well, afternoon) coffee and I might even be able to squeeze in a shower before the afternoon session begins! See you soon I hope!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Going slow

A new catchphrase has hit the world of's called Slow Parenting, an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, where everything to do with our fast-paced, super-hectic, I've-got-no-time-for-anything-anymore lifestyles is given the shove in favour of life in the slower lane...with time to smell the roses...

Funnily enough, the new Slow Parenting movement has been blamed on the world-wide recession...parents suddenly have tighter budgets, so the costly after-school and weekend activities have been given the chop; food prices are going up, so the backyard vegie garden is back in vogue. The downturn in the economic climate has seemingly forced some parents to stop outsourcing their children's entertainment and activities and *shock horror* actually spend time with their kids themselves!

Sometimes I think that my own life couldn't actually get any slower, but just recently, I have realised that if not slow down, I could at least simplify and free up some of my time. Basically I suppose I'm talking about rejigging my priorities.

I think it started when we were away on holidays just recently...spending time with family and friends and a lot more time with my hubby, invariably meant that I was tied to my laptop a lot less often. The forum that I used to visit a hundred times a day has hardly had a visit; neither have the myriad other websites that used to make up my daily trawl. I was also given a new book on bread making that suddenly reignited my passion for baking and so I leapt into the world of sourdough...and you REALLY can't get much slower than baking with sourdough!

Anyway, one warm and sunny afternoon, I found myself sitting down with thoughts streaming out of my head and onto paper...madly scribbling down all the things that I needed to do to bring me to a better place as a wife, as a mother, and, as, well, just me. Some of the things are about getting back to basics - like my newfound sourdough obssession...there is something deeply and immensely satisfying about handcrafting your own loaf from just three ingredients - flour, water and salt. Some things are about trying to save money by doing things for myself - like taking on my own vegetable and herb garden...the only problem with that one is that I hate getting my hands dirty...yep, that's instant FAIL for Parenting 101!

Some things are about saving time, or rather, making time - like cutting down my TV and internet time so that I can spend more time on other things like reading and devising simple art and craft activities to do with my 18 month old daughter. Some things are about taking time to nurture my spirit. For me, this means setting aside some time each day for prayer and meditation - something I have often struggled to be consistent with. And some things are just about making life beautiful - planting a flower garden as well as having a vase of flowers inside the house too.

Some friends of mine, even before they had children, introduced us to the idea of 'Magic Moments'. Every day, before dinner, as they sat around the table, they each reflected about one magical moment that they had experienced that day, something that made them stop and smile and savour the beauty that is life itself in all its simple, everyday ordinary-ness. It didn't have to be something mind-blowingly amazing, in fact, more often it was simply something small and beautiful that they would otherwise have forgotten in a busy, hectic day. Perhaps a beautiful sunrise, a smile from a stranger, the laughter of children playing or the aroma of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Actually up until now, I'd forgotten how nice it was to celebrate the magic moments of daily life in this way...perhaps it's something else to go on my slow schedule.

My hope is that the new wave of slowness that is seemingly washing over the world of parenting, may eventually trickle down right to the baby days as well. I think that the tendency to fast-track kids through childhood affects babies the most - they are forced to wean prematurely from the breast (the WHO recommends that babies are breastfed for at least two years); they are forced to prematurely soothe themselves to sleep and they are forced into premature separation from their parents. How much more satisfying and nourishing would childhood be if it was left to occur unhurried, undisturbed...

So if the recession is forcing people to slow down, to simplify, to spend more time with their kids, then bring it on I say! For my part, as I sit here, in front of a computer screen, although life here is already slow, I realise that it can also be more nourishing and more fulfilling and that the choice is mine to make. My sourdough is gently warming near the dwindling fire, ready to bake a fresh loaf of bread tomorrow; the lime tart that I baked earlier today is cooling on the kitchen bench and the playful afternoon that I spent with my daughter at the park has helped to ease her into a sound and peaceful slumber. Sounds pretty good to me already...

Monday, May 4, 2009

To spend is to live

OK, I have to admit it, I must be a bit of a freak. I hate spending money unnecessarily on my daughter. I don’t believe that the only way she can have fun, enjoy herself and be occupied is dependent on me spending money towards this end. Part of this boils down to the fact that we don’t have an enormously high disposable income but it is also, I feel, a bit of a rail against the highly consumerist, materialistic, disposable society that I am now bringing my daughter up in. It is also a great deal to do with how we were brought up as children…there’s no easy way to say this – my dad was, and still is, a miser. He refused to spend money on either himself or his family unless it was absolutely necessary – and his definition of ‘necessary’ sometimes bordered on the absurd! I still have visions of him wandering around in threadbare pyjamas that seemed held together by a miraculous web of cotton threads. To be fair to my father, though, he did have a plan. The plan was to save up as much money as he could so that he could give all of his children a debt-free start to life. But, I digress…

Influenced both by my father’s strict fiscal policies, my own Bahá’í ideals of striving to live a less materialistic lifestyle and our own lack of ready money, has led me to rail against the almost invisible pressures that seem to command us that to spend is to live. The point was driven home rather painfully a few days ago when we were with Boo’s grandparents at a busy marketplace in the city. We had all stopped to have a bite to eat. Nearby, there was one of those mechanical rides for kids that you pay for. It was a simple chair-lift that went round and round a picture of the globe with flashing lights. Now both Boo and her cousin were more than happy to sit in the motionless seat and just pretend – you know, that thing children of yesteryear seemed enormously capable of doing without resort to their parents’ wallet… I was happy that they were finding a way to entertain themselves and each other safely and happily without much call for parental intervention. They weren’t complaining, they weren’t demanding, they weren’t grumbling. They were just happy playing. But it seems that was not enough…soon enough, along came a grandparent with a gleaming coin, ready to insert into the slot. I rather surreptitiously whisked Boo away and her cousin got the ride, which lasted all of about sixty seconds. He grinned away as the chair lurched in fits and starts around the globe, but soon the entertainment was over and he moved on to the next source of occupation – food.

And here it happened again. Boo had just eaten breakfast and wasn’t particularly hungry – of course she loves picking things from what everyone else is eating, but she didn’t require anything specifically for her, and I certainly wasn’t about to buy anything. But, no, the ever-perceptive grandparents, decided that seeing as everyone else was eating something (apart from me), she must require something too. So off they went and bought her a blueberry muffin. Of course, I felt that it was my duty to ensure that she ate some as it was bought specifically for her (regardless of the fact that it wasn’t something I would have bought for her in the first place...but that’s another story!). She picked at a few blueberries but she would have been just as happy without it.

A short while later, she wandered over to the ride again, whilst everyone was finishing their meals. As she was happily climbing on the ride, the golden coin was slipped into the machine and she was given her due turn. A well-intentioned grandparent explained that her cousin had been given a go so it was only fair that she had a turn as well. The eyes turned on me as I protested that they could ‘save their money until she actually knows that she’s missing out on something’. Not to be discouraged, the proud grandparents strapped her in for her sixty seconds of jerky entertainment. She was mildly entertained; they, it seems had the majority of the fun. Later I said that it was unnecessary and that she would have been equally as happy without the ride. At this, my mother-in-law looked at me and said “Well, do you object when her father throws her up in the air?”. A bit baffled by the logic behind this argument, I merely replied “Of course not, because he can do that for free”. She shook her head at me and said “One day when you’re a grandparent, you’ll understand”.

Actually I think I’ll probably feel the same way as I do now, though I suppose only time will tell. I just want to avoid creating a situation where my daughter feels that she always has to have a ride whenever we walk past one; that if someone else is having a go then she has to have a go too; that I have to pay money for her to be entertained; and that her grandparents are good for getting things out of. That’s not what I want for her, for myself or for them. I know it’s a big leap from one isolated incident to the scenario above, but I am ever conscious of the dreaded slippery-slope downwards. I’d rather not succumb right from the start. It makes everything easier in the long run.

I suppose I’m really also railing against the commodification of childhood. I want to teach my daughter that she CAN’T have everything that she wants; that there is a clear and discernible difference between needs and wants; and that it is not morally right for people in one part of the world to live in abject poverty with their most basic of needs being unmet while at the same time it being possible for us to have anything and everything that we want, when we want it. I’m not suggesting that we all live on rice and water in empathy for those who are in desperate circumstances, but I am advocating that it is up to the adults of today to show the younger generation that regardless of our wealth and material circumstances, we all need to be a lot more conscious and economical about the way we live and about how we spend our time and our money. Yes, we should use the money we have rightfully earned to make our lives comfortable and enjoyable, but surely there must be a limit to our wants and desires? We need to rise up to the nobility of our station rather than sink into the ever more gloomy depths of hedonistic desire.

We need far less than we think we need and we want far more than we need to want.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The unwritten tablet

There's probably nothing that makes you ponder your own parenting choices and approach as much as when you are in the company of an unlikeable child. I don't believe that any child should be unlikeable. It seems so wrong. Aren't children supposed to be happy, carefree, joyful, adventurous, innocent and awe-filled? Aren't they supposed to be fun to hang out with? So when you meet a child who you'd rather not hang out with, it makes you wonder how, in so few years, they have become this way.

I suppose I also don't believe that children can be born bad, evil or with a poor character. They aren't born like that, they slowly become that way. It's even sadder when these children are related to you in some way; part of your extended family. But there it is - I know such a child and he is related to me. He whinges; he complains; he demands attention; he refuses to share his things but asserts his right to other people's things; he's bossy; he doesn't listen; he can't be left by himself for a moment - there always must be another adult around to pay attention to him. All in all, he's just not that nice. And he's not yet even four years old. The worst part is that it just isn't his fault - I don't believe that he had to turn out that way. I know plenty of other three and four year old's who are perfectly nice - they are fun, they listen, they can share...of course they have their moments too, but on the whole, you wouldn't try to purposely hide from them when you see them coming!

So, my question is...what on earth can happen in such a short span of time to create this situation? I don't like to be judgmental towards other parents. I don't like to feel as if I'm being superior. I would never openly criticise what some other parent chooses to do when it comes to raising their own child. But when I do come across a child who is so patently unlikeable, it does make me wonder how it all came about. I don't want to go into the details of what I think the parents have done 'wrong' in this case...but seeing as I do know a fair bit about how this child has been brought up, I guess I can surmise from this example a few clues about what I would do differently. So, here goes...

- Aim high! If I want my child to behave well, I need to set my expectations high. Children live up or live down to your expectations. If you don't believe that children can learn how to share until they're 10 years old, they won't. I remember quite clearly once how the father of this child told me that he would have to lower his expectations with the next child - this was after a particular incident where the boy was refusing to share or cooperate.

- Don't always use age, stage or other factors like hunger, illness or tiredness as the reason for the poor behaviour. Too often these things cloud the real reason and it's too easy just to assume that it is external factors that are the major contributing factor. I believe that there are usually good reasons for why children behave in certain ways, and constantly blaming hunger or tiredness etc. can prevent you from getting to the heart of the matter and attempting to correct it.

- If you want your child to listen to you, you need to listen to them. Right from the start, from when they are newborn. Listen to them, respond to their needs, be sensitive, be attentive. How can anyone be expected to listen to their parents, be attentive and sensitive to the needs of others if their own needs were ignored, brushed over, downplayed or neglected when they were at their most needy and dependent stage? This to me is where practices such as controlled crying cause the most damage.

- Teach my child from the earliest age that all their toys and possessions, while belonging to them, should be shared with others. Firstly I would do this by ensuring that I model such behaviour myself, such as playing lots of turn-taking games right from the start. I would try to show to my child that sharing things and taking turns is actually way more enjoyable than playing by yourself (most of the time!). We would talk about how sharing and playing together makes you feel good inside. We would read stories, sing songs and talk about sharing, generosity etc. whenever a teachable moment appears. This is where programs such as The Virtues Project would come in handy.

- Show respect to your child and expect respect back. This follows on from one of my previous points about listening to your child. Basically, any behaviour that I want to see and develop in my child, needs to be modelled first and foremost by the parents. If I always talk to my child respectfully (of course this doesn't preclude shouting out "Stop" at the top of my lungs if I see them running towards a road), they will learn through my example how to speak to me. Don't listen to whingy, complaining, whiny voices. Ask my child if they would like it if I spoke to them like that.

Basically, I guess what I'm trying to say is that to me children are more or less blank slates when it comes to their character. I understand that genetics may play a small part in determining their temperament and personal characteristics, but I believe a far more powerful influence is their environment - the way they have been parented, the influence of other adults in their lives, the atmosphere of their home and community, the words that are spoken to them, and of course, the example that their parents set in the first place...

The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained. If the training be right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth likewise, and unto the end of life it will conduct itself accordingly.

Baha'i Writings

Saturday, April 4, 2009

In memorium

A few days ago, we attended the funeral of an old family friend. She had been ill for some time and in a great deal of pain, so release from this world was a blessing for her. Her and her husband had been friends of my parents; we had been to her home many times as young children. Some people are just special. These two were extra special. Though having no children of her own, she was a kindergarten teacher, and visits to her home were eagerly anticipated by myself and my three siblings.

As we all grew older, moved away from home, travelled and returned, we have all remained in touch with this wonderful couple. It is a sign of something tremendous when the friends of the parents become the friends of the children. I was so pleased to be able to introduce my husband and then my child to them both. Each time we visited, my memory flooded with scenes of happiness from my childhood...large glasses of lemonade (something we were rarely allowed to have at home); the hammock under the trees; totem tennis; the beautiful garden...I now relish these memories and am reminded that one's childhood is NEVER history. It stays with you forever. Some memories are indelible; they neither fade nor diminish. In fact, I think sometimes memories of childhood, whether happy or sad, can even become disproportionate...the happiness seems happier, the sadness, even sadder.

My childhood was not something that I look back on with great fondness. I had an authoritarian father and usually it was only when he was out of the house that a collective release from tension occurred. So the times we visited our old friends seem so vivid in their contrast to our sombre home life. There was something magical about those visits. We felt free to be kids, free to play, free to enjoy ourselves. For me, it all serves as a reminder, as if I needed one, that the earliest years of our life define and shape our view of ourselves, others and our place in the world. The words that are spoken to us, the feelings of our heart, our memories stay with us, reverbrating for all time. It makes me so determined to do my best by my little girl. To give her so much more of the happiness that for me and my siblings seemed all too fleeting.

So this post is written in memorium to a wonderful woman who, possibly unbeknowst to her, has helped to shape me as a mother. And I can't possibly thank her enough for that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A blueprint for parenting

I've been thinking a bit recently about why I parent the way I do. In many ways, my parenting style is a reaction to the way I was parented myself - in that I am deliberately choosing NOT to do a lot of the things that were done to me when I was a child. It's also influenced by the fact that I tend to be a little bit anti-authoritarian, a little bit non-conformist...but this also goes back to the way I was brought up: my father was pretty authoritarian, so when I left home and I found that I had the freedom to question things for myself, take control and ultimately do whatever I wanted to do, I did. So, my parenting is about NOT parenting the way I was parented and not doing what anyone tells me to do simply because I don't have to. But there's more to it than that.

I thought a great deal about parenthood before I even fell pregnant. Maybe this is because I am a teacher and in my job, I talked with parents daily. I despaired over what some of them did or didn't do with regard to their children and I encouraged and praised the efforts of those who were trying their best to do a good job. I probably also did my fair share of 'blaming the parents' when I saw kids with lunchboxes laden with packet upon packet of artificial food; kids who couldn't behave, who couldn't pay attention; kids who were cruel to others, bullies, and downright brats. It was always the parents fault, right?

Wrong. Now that I'm a parent myself, I can see how difficult it is to always do your best, even when you know what's best and when you want to do your best. Not enough time, not enough support, not enough energy...

But I parenting style. It's been influenced by what I see other parents do (usually in the sense of "I am NEVER going to let my child eat that, do that, watch that, wear that...)! It's also been influenced a little bit by what I have read and researched, though this probably holds true more for the pregnancy and birth side of things rather than the actual parenting. I am a notorious researcher....when I became pregnant, I literally read at least fifty books on pregnancy, labour and birth. I just HAD to know. I didn't want ANYONE telling me what to do, when to breathe,when to push, how long I was 'allowed' to labour for, what position I could be in. Again the anti-authoritarian steps up.

I didn't feel that I needed to research the parenting part though. I always felt that I knew EXACTLY how I was going to raise my child, right from its earliest moments in this world. I was brimming with confidence. I knew that my baby would be the most important thing in the world. That I would have to listen to her, respond to her immediately, make her feel safe, secure, warm, loved. I knew that she would need to be near to me. I knew that she would need to be fed constantly in her first few weeks. It just seemed to be instinctive, natural. It all made complete sense.

I've often wondered WHY I felt such confidence in my untested abilities right from the start. WHY did I think that I knew best? Why was I so sure that my way was the right way? I'd heard countless new mum's tell of their confusion of the early days and weeks - not knowing who to listen to, who to believe, what to do. I never, ever felt like that. I never doubted myself for a second, even when others voiced their differing opinions or advice. I knew that I was right.

At the heart of the matter, then, is my faith. I am a Baha'i...I have been so for almost twelve years now. Is it from my religion that I gain my confidence then? I know that the teachings of my Faith put the highest amount of emphasis on the raising of children, on their education and upbringing. On the duties and sacred responsibilities of parents. On the high standards called for - in both children and parents. So maybe this has made me keenly aware of my responsibility as a parent - my determination to try and get it right. One passage from the writings of the Faith has stayed with me in particular over the last few years...maybe this statement, more than anything else, informs my parenting. It is from the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith - the Universal House of Justice. The following was written in the year 2000.

Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity.

An all-embracing love of children, the manner of treating them,
the quality of the attention shown them, the spirit of adult behaviour toward them - these are all among the vital aspects of the requisite attitude. Love demands discipline, the courage to accustom children to hardship, not to indulge their whims or leave them entirely to their own devices. An atmosphere needs to be maintained in which children feel that they belong to the community and share in its purpose. They must lovingly but insistently be guided to live up to Baha'i standards...

So herein may lie the heart of my parenting philosophy. Contained in one paragraph, these words have become my parenting compass. I can assess my decisions and my actions as a parent and see if they hold true to these words or if they fall short. It is, in truth, a sometimes burdensome weight of responsibility, but I wouldn't want to be without them. This is authority that I can willingly bend to. This is my parenting blueprint.