Sunday, November 12, 2017

What Happens When You Don't Listen to the Experts

I did one of those things today that parenting books and experts always tell you not to – I got over-involved in my daughter’s school project.

It’s a major project due for a major program she is involved in. It’s a big deal that she is on this program, but she treats it as part of her normal school, so she gives it her normal level of care and attention.

Our assessment of this ‘normal level’ varies wildly. While she would probably say she does enough and her grades are fine, I say she does a half-hearted effort at the last minute which is well below her ability.

In reality, we are both probably correct.

With her major assignment due tomorrow, I finally pinned her down and convinced her to read through her Powerpoint presentation for me.

Clearly she hadn’t proof read it, or if she had, she’d decided the small typos weren’t an issue. She didn’t capitalise her last name. Spaces inside the brackets instead of outside the bracket. Starting a sentence with a lower case letter.

I wanted her to fix them, which she did without complaint.

But then I realised there was a major point she had missed – maybe she had thought it too obvious to include, or maybe she hadn’t made the connection yet. Either way, my suggestion was met with an eye roll, and then she rolled off the chair to play with the puppy.  

On her last assignment she had received a comment about her bibliography being incomplete. I asked to see it. It was a few dot points that listed the URLs of two websites, then ‘google’ ‘google maps’ and ‘google translator’ making up the last three items.

Ummmmm

She’s ten, I get that. Apparently they haven’t actually taught the kids what a bibliography is (so she says) but if that’s the case, then I don’t think they should assess them. Either way, I’m pretty sure listing ‘Google’ as a reference is not considered the height of academic authenticity and I may have said that.

So she left. In a huff. With yelling.

More yelling (hers and mine).

She wanted comforting, so she grabbed the dog.

The dog didn’t want comforting so she bit my daughter.

Now my daughter was angry not only at me but at the dog, and kept chasing her and yelling at the dog, and I was chasing her and yelling at her. The other two kids were open-mouthed, watching us run around the couch like something out of a cartoon. It would be stupidly funny if not for the words we were shouting.

‘You’re trying to make it your assignment, Mum. It’s not mine anymore,’ she finally screamed.

I stopped. She was right. Totally 100% correct. I was trying to correct her ten year old mistakes and omissions and add the knowledge of a forty year old.

A forty year old who was making a rookie mistake: don’t do their work. Don’t even try ‘to help’.

Keep your fingers awaaaaaaaay from the keyboard, lady.

It pained me (it actually pained me!) to select ‘don’t save’ as I removed her USB from the laptop, but she needed to submit her own mistakes, not my corrections. [She refused to come back in the study at this point.]

There are two possible outcomes tomorrow. The first is that her teacher is happy. The second is that her teacher isn’t happy. If it is the first, then I will be happy for her, and know that next time I should definitely keep my fat trap shut. If it’s the second, then she may feel upset or embarrassed. She will learn that she might need to work harder next time. She will learn (hopefully) from the experience and she will be better for it.

The bigger lesson in all of this is that I need to trust her more.  I think as a parent I was right in offering advice and pointing out where she could improve. It’s her choice whether or not to take that on. 

I said at the beginning it’s a big deal she made it into this program - she’s bright and they saw something special in her. I need to sit back and let her make that something special shine. Even if it means sitting on my hands.




Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Ugly Mother

‘Can you put this in the bin?’ I asked my seven year old daughter, holding out a wet wipe her sister had just used to eradicate the half bottle of tomato sauce covering her face.

She wrinkled her face up and motioned at her younger sister. ‘Why can’t she do it?’

I shrugged. My hands were full of shopping bags. ‘You have to put your rubbish in the bin, can’t you put this in too?’

Stop.

Who else has had a conversation like this? A seemingly reasonable request, in my eyes at least, that ends up being the catalyst for a string of events that ends up with public announcements over Radio Lollypop and almost being accused of shoplifting. Yes, that comes later.

I had taken the three girls to a local fete. They had been on a few rides each, harassed some bunnies in the petting zoo, chosen various knickknacks that I was now lugging around and they’d eaten their way through icecreams, donuts and hot dogs. It was a good day.

Asking my middle child to put some rubbish that didn’t belong to her in the bin though, clearly, was unacceptable. She refused. I got angry and turned my back. There’s nothing more fun than having a screaming match with a child in a public space, so I was channelling as many mindfulness meditations and as much bloody rainbow breathing that I could muster. I didn’t need to lose my bundle in front of the seniors a Capella choir who were all watching intently as they did their warm-ups nearby.

And then she was gone.

In a fete with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, my seven year disappeared. It’s her way of protest. ‘You don’t love me,’ she will cry. ‘I’m going to find a new family who will love me.’ Then she will grab her little purple bike and strap on her kitty helmet with the fuzzy pink Mohawk and ride around the block till she calms down enough to come home.

But we weren’t at home. She was swallowed up by the crowd and I could no longer see her. I wasn’t afraid. Not yet. Even when she’s angry she won’t go too far, as though a long piece of elastic keeps her attached to me. But I couldn’t see her curly head and fuzzy tutu. So I marched right up to the Radio Lollypop van, who were hosting a range of performers and made announcements throughout the fete.

‘I have lost my child,’ I told the lady. ‘Well,’ I admitted. ‘She’s run off.’

The lady looked at me kindly. ‘Middle child?’ she asked. How did she know?

Having someone make a lost child announcement with hundreds of eyes on you, judging you for losing something so precious, is never fun. But neither is being that small child, slinking back through the crowd after hearing her name called out over the speakers. It would have mortified her completely, being as private as she is. She curled into my arms.

The Lollypop Radio lady then took her aside for a chat. She had lost children before. She had been a lost child herself.  She knew how both of us were feeling, and with a kind word for me, and an activity pack for each of the girls, we headed towards the car in disgraced silence. But then…

‘I really want fairy floss,’ the eldest whined as we neared the edge of the fete.

‘The machine was broken hon, I’m sorry. Besides you just had a hot dog and icecream.’

‘But they had hotdog and icecream and something else as well. I want three things too. It’s not fair…’

Stop.

One day she will read this and her stomach will clench at how petulant she sounded. I know I was a grotty kid, but I didn’t realise this until I was an adult and it was too late. But at that point in time all she could see was the scales of justice tipping in favour of her younger sisters, and she wanted them corrected.

I knew I was going to stop at the shop to buy a birthday gift for a friend so I said she could buy something at the bakery while I stopped at the florist. [At this point if you are shaking your head, admonishing me for being such a suck as a parent and letting them get away with too much crap – you’re absolutely right. I clearly suck at this.]

The middle child, still seething with resentment, refused to get out of the car. I flicked the lock and walked with my youngest into the shop [I already said I suck at this]. I was standing in the queue with a bunch of sunflowers in hand when a car alarm sounded.

My gut clenched. I knew exactly whose car that was. I could see the headlights flashing as the alarm wailed. Girlish shrieks pierced the gaps. Flowers in hand I began running towards the door. I could see the register attendants reaching towards me as I shoplifted a $17 bunch of flowers. I could also see the top of my eldest daughter’s head as she pulled on the door handle of the car, clearly not cluing into the fact that the doors were locked. I dropped the flowers onto the register as I ran through the doors into the carpark.

I shouted at my youngest to ‘wait there’ pointing to the fellow selling the Big Issue [I KNOW!] and I ran across the carpark in front of cars while everyone stared at me and the ten year old trying to break into a car and a seven year old inside wailing even louder than the car alarm.

Stop.

What a bloody nightmare.

Can I use a stronger word here? It was a fucking nightmare.

I turned off the alarm and unlocked the car.

I don’t think I even used words to tell my eldest to get in the car. It was more of a guttural cry so deep and primal I think blood started dripping from my eyes and butterflies fell out of sky, dead, for miles around.

I stomped back across the carpark, muttered thanks to the Big Issue guy and grabbed my youngest’s hand. Back in the car, the silence was so thick it was almost smothering. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry or scream. I tried a bit of both. Nothing helped.

We were only minutes from home. I let the kids run into the house, to tell Dad how beastly their mum was (isn’t beastly a great word, we should use it more). I slunk in and went straight to my office, shutting the door like a sulky teenager, and proceeded to write.

One thing the Radio Lollypop lady had told me was that I needed to acknowledge my daughter’s anger, that I couldn’t shut it down, even if we were in the middle of a public space. She’s right. But what about my anger? What about my exasperation and embarrassment? What about my frustration? My fear?

I could tell by the faces of people around me that I clearly wasn’t allowed to express how I was feeling. I’ve seen other mums who lose their shit with their kids. While a large part of me understands and empathises, the rest of me recoils at the ugliness of a mum unable to control her anger at her kids.

And that’s how I’m feeling right now. Ugly.

But at least I have this space to share how I am feeling. I never got anything so right as the name for this blog. Relentless. Parenting is relentless.

And now I have had my whinge I will open the door and rejoin the world.

Thanks for listening.


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Phone

I had filled one side of my notepad with dot points, each detailing a single point in time of the night:

Taking a photo of the puppy when I discovered her in the remains of the bubble bath, happily sliding in the bubbles and eating great mouthfuls of soap.

Walking into my eldest daughter’s room, using my phone to email the pictures to her.

Walking out of her room shaking my head, as my youngest daughter stretched out on the bed asking to be photographed. (The answer was no).

Hearing a strange beep when I was saying my goodnights to my middle daughter, and then thinking ‘that sounds like my phone.’

Then the realisation.

I had lost my phone.

Standing at the bottom of the stairs, my hands devastatingly empty, I consoled myself with the knowledge that I KNEW it must be in the house somewhere.

I had even called it on the landline, straining to hear it in the sleeping house. Nada.

I stood in front of my iPad remembering the ‘Find My Phone’ app, but quickly walked away remembering I’d never actually set that up. Too hard.

After writing down my steps in great detail, knowing that in the morning I would have already forgotten what I did, I did one (or three) last checks of every room. I prowled around each sleeping child, checked the bathroom, my bag, the bench. The laundry. I turned on the outside lights and peered at the grass to see if the dog had taken it outside to chew on.

I admit it – I even checked the fridge. Who knows if this was actually the start of something more serious?

Nothing.

I went to bed the old fashioned way. I couldn’t check the weather for the next day. I had no idea what I had written on my to-do list. I couldn’t reply to my sister’s text message.

Hell, I couldn’t even bitch about losing my phone on Facebook!

My sleep was poor.

It was in the early hours of the morning when my door slid open and there was the telltale sound of small feet on carpet. I waited for the covers to be drawn back, but instead they retreated and the door slid shut.

That was weird.

I called out her name.

‘Don’t worry Mum,’ she called back ‘I’m just bringing you back your phone.’

I looked at the clock. 3.45am.

‘Wait,’ I called. ‘Why do you have my phone? Where was it?’

She avoided the questions like a pro. ‘Lucky I found it,’ she called. ‘Go back to sleep Mum.’ Her voice got smaller as she disappeared down the stairs.

Go back to sleep? Seriously?

I lay in bed for a few minutes, alternating between fuming and bewilderment. I could only guess why she took it. She probably wanted to watch Kids YouTube, or take a video of herself or who knows – check the weather for tomorrow or update my Facebook status. Maybe she was trying to frame me for a crime. Who knows what five year olds get up to these days.

But she obviously hadn’t counted on the whizzbang new technology of fingerprint identification. She knows her Dad’s phone password (I don’t)… but she couldn’t get into mine.

Why she chose to bring it back in the middle of the night shows a scarily crafty mind… did she think I wouldn’t notice? Blame myself for just being forgetful? She does seem to think I am going die soon now I am "old" (I just turned 40).

It’s now 4.40am and I have been up writing for almost an hour. There was no hope of me ever getting back to sleep, but she did – the face of an angel peeping out from under layers of blankets and toys.

I can’t wait to interrogate her.

And just a little afraid.




Monday, August 21, 2017

The Mole

‘What’s that thing on your face?’ my five year old asked, stroking my jaw.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘it can be called a mole or a beauty spot, whichever you prefer.’

‘A beauty spot,’ she said screwing up her face.

‘I wish you didn’t have it,’ she added, touching it like it was a plague sore. ‘How do you get rid of it?’

I frowned. ‘Don’t you like it?’ I asked.

‘I wish you didn’t have it. How can it be gone?’ she replied.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘someone would have to cut it off with a knife.’

She passed, pondering this rather drastic option.


‘Don’t worry mummy. I’d be right beside you when they chop you. I would hold your hand.’

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Is This the Worst Birthday Present Ever?

It looked totally awesome in the box. A marvellous contraption for polishing rocks, teaching kids not only about natural processes and turning dull rough rocks into beautifully polished gems, but then they could also turn the gems into their very own handmade jewellery. What could be bad about that?

Ah, how about everything…

When the box was unpacked my ten year old daughter eyed it suspiciously, glancing over at the outrageous monster dolls with terrifyingly high shoes and eye-popping outfits that her younger sisters had received for their birthdays. Instead, as the eldest child, she was unwrapping a pile of grown-up gifts, books, craft – things that educated and probably made her smarter, but probably rated high on the disappointing-gift register.

But this was a rock polisher. Looking like something out of a Pokemon cartoon, it contained an electronic tumbler, an assorted of rough looking stones, and four bags of grit.

What fun, I thought, as she pulled everything out of the box and began glancing through the instruction book.

A few minutes later, she wandered past, having poured the rocks into the tumbler and added the first, most coarse level of polishing sand. How educational, I thought.

The she turned it on and the entire house was instantly filled with a grinding, rattling sound as rocks bounced off plastic and a cheap motor guzzled up electricity. My smile wavered a bit.

‘So, ah, this first stage will take four to six days,’ she said tossing the instruction booklet in front of me and picking up a book.

Wait, what?

Four to six DAYS?

My husband shot me a dirty look and went to hide upstairs.

‘Yeah,’ she said mildly, ‘the whole thing should only take about four weeks.’

Four WEEKS?

With a nervous twitch I picked up the instruction book and began to desperately search for proof she was wantonly mistaken.

My daughter noticed my panic and pointed out that if left up to nature, polishing rocks would normally takes years, so really, this was very quick. I wanted to point out we could probably BUY lovely polished gems from the local market for a couple of dollars and save ourselves a lot of headaches.

I did some calculations in my head. Four WEEKS. That was definitely long enough to initiate divorce proceedings, I was sure, especially given the angry stomping coming from upstairs, where the vibrations from the rock tumbler were coming through the ceilings.

Ignoring the nasty looks and thinly veiled comments from my husband over the next few days, we established a buffering system which included boxes, cork mats, piles of tea-towels and shutting doors all in a desperate attempt to block the relentless, agonising sound of that damn rock tumbler.

After a couple of days my husband spat the dummy and turned it off at the wall.

‘I have a headache,’ he moaned.

I’m the one who works from home, I thought. I have to listen to it during the day as well as the night.

My daughter was beside herself. ‘I have to reset the timer now, Dad. It goes back to the start of the four days.’

I shot my husband a dirty look. He rolled his eyes and left for work.

We established that we could pause the timer overnight, a compromise that meant that the house would be quiet(er) overnight, but it would now take EIGHT days to complete the first step.

Suddenly, about a week later as I was working at my computer at the kitchen table, the house suddenly went quiet. It took a moment for my brain to adjust to the silence. The tumbler had stopped. 

The first stage was over.

That afternoon, my daughter unscrewed the chamber and poured out the dirty, gritty water. A pile of rocks followed. She was excited about the changes she could already see in the stones. I just saw a pile of dirty rocks.

‘The next stage goes for seven days,’ she informed me happily as she poured the Stage Two powder into the chamber and set the timer. Immediately the house started vibrating again and I felt my head begin to pound. ‘This is so awesome, I can’t wait to see them at the end,’ and she skipped off to school.

We are currently at the end of Stage Two and still have two packets of increasingly fine grit to go. As per our agreement the tumbler is only ever on during the day after my husband leaves for work, so I am the only one who gets to enjoy the brain-numbing repetitiveness of the worst present ever, penance perhaps and well deserved, considering I bought the damn thing for her…


NOT worth it!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pooper Scooper


Recently we grew our family by one more, with the adoption of a little black puppy.

In the words of my daughter’s Year Two teacher ‘what was I thinking?' – here I was with my children all off at school full time, finally with the opportunity to do what I wanted – and I took myself all the way back to square one.’

What was I thinking indeed.

[What I was thinking was that if my husband and kids were going to gang up on me and just buy a dog of their own volition, I may as well get involved and have a say on the matter by choosing my own puppy. But as they say, you don’t choose the dog – they choose you, and a tiny black Shoodle with a white beard and sad eyes chose me as her new mum.]



So, meet Poppy. That’s her actual name, unlike the nicknames I gave the kids (remember them – Baldy Baby, Curly Mop and Blonde Bombshell. Me either].

Poppy’s a Shoodle, as I said, a cross between a Shi Tzu and a Toy Poodle. Of course, when I am upset I refer to her as a Shit-Poo, which is what this story is about (did the title give it away?)

Poppy is now almost five months old and we are working our way through toilet training (square one, Shannon, square one). It’s mostly going well, if you ignore the fact that the kids cry and moan and whine every time it’s their turn on ‘Poo Duty’ so they pretend they don’t see the ever mounting pile of poop in the back yard until finally someone (usually a visitor) steps in it, and then all hell breaks loose and I threaten to get rid of the dog (or the kids, depending on who is annoying me more). Then I have to decipher the Poo Duty Roster to see whose ticks are real and whose are just put there by crafty kids who think I won’t notice they have ticked off their duty without actually scooping some poop.

But the other day, Poppy was stuck inside the house with me. The door had been shut against the sound of a blower vac in the back yard and Poppy, not the bravest soul, had decided that was way too much noise for one small puppy to bear. I had the dustpan and brush out, sweeping up the rogue dirt and leaves that always made it under our old doors (weather proofing, what weather proofing?) when I heard a familiar sound.

I was already on my knees sweeping, so when I turned my head to confirm the sound, I was confronted by the contracting anal sphincter muscles of the puppy, a wettish, slurping sound as she attempted to push a poo out. Right onto the rug.

‘No’ I shrieked leaping towards her on my knees. She looked at me with a bewildered expression, wondering why I was interrupting her Me-Time. I looked up at the door – it was locked and I knew I wouldn’t have time to grab the dog, stand up, unlock the door and take her outside to the grass before she finished pushing her poop out, so I thrust the dustpan under her butt to catch the poop instead. 

Unimpressed, she moved a few steps forwards and continued working on those butt muscles. I shuffled forward on my knees, dustpan outstretched. Squelch. Got one.

She looked at me disdainfully and daintily stepped away again. I shuffled after her again, catching poop as she laid it, me on my knees as I followed the tiny puppy around our living room.

When she finished she sat there watching me as I inspected the dustpan. A small pile of poop, covered in dust and dirt (and full of all the weird crap she ate – I swear there was a shoelace in there). 

She smiled at me in that way dogs do, as if to say ‘what are you going to do now?’

I tipped the entire lot into the toilet, praying to God the bits of leaf would flush away, and then (now the gardener had left) went outside to wash the dustpan. She sat on her cushion and watched me, probably wondering what the big deal was, but gee, wasn’t this good service where her human follows her around collecting her poop as it drops.


And yes, this is my life now.

Right back at square one.

Some bright spark gave the puppy a roll of toilet paper to play with

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