School is almost over for the year. Two more weeks of waking up at sparrows, dragging the kids out of bed, fighting over who wants what for breakfast, fighting for breakfast to get eaten at a pace more suitable to a human than a snail, lunches to be made (not peanut butter sarmies AGAIN!!), fighting to get teeth brushed, uniforms on, hair brushed, etc etc ETC! Two weeks left of homework (lets face it, I'm as over my kids homework as they are at this point!), of extra mural activities, of the ballet run, cricket matches all the way down the hill on a Friday afternoon, of early morning traffic jams, of lunchtime traffic jams, of spending more time IN the car than actually WITH my kids. Two more weeks and its December, school holidays, sunshine, and CHRISTMAS!
These last two weeks are already jam packed. No time to ease into the festive season! With swimming gala's, Carol Services, Market Days, Speech Days, Parents information evenings, parents end of year get-together's, there is literally no room to breathe before now and the end. And the end this time signals the end of Junior Primary for my kids. Next year is Senior Primary - and they are back to being those proverbial little fishes in the huge pond of Big School. Life changes for them (and me) next year. I have this impending sense that it all gets more serious from here on. Big subjects are introduced at school - history, biology, science and technology, as well as the usual maths, English, Afrikaans and Zulu (I see exciting homework sessions in my future!). Tests and assessments become more formal, and exams loom in the not too distant future. Its a lot to take in for a parent. I think I am more apprehensive than my kids!
One of the biggest changes next year (again, more frightening (read: shattering!) for us parents than for our kids), is the introduction of i pads at my son's school for Grade 4's. Each child has to have his own before the school term next year. There has been much back-and-forthing between the school and the parents, but the bottom line is - it's happening. Gulp!! The school will be going above and beyond to provide as safe and secure an environment for the introduction of this new, expensive piece of school stationary as possible, but I am still seriously dubious as to how I can expect my son not to lose / drop / misplace / stand on / damage / abuse his i pad, when I am overjoyed just to see him returning from school with TWO school shoes (with two laces - I have no idea how, but he seems to manage to lose one lace out of his school shoes at least every second week!) and a full PE kit!! I see inflated insurance costs in my future!!
Homework next year poses more challenges for us parents once again, than for our little darlings. Brushing up on maths, science and history will be child's play compared to making sure we are all as technologically up to speed as our kids! At this stage, they are already far superior with our phones and computers and i pads than we are. Now we give them their own, plus dedicated lesson time with them at school.... another cause for eye-rolling kids at mom (and dad's!) ineptness!! But just as calculators and computer lessons at school during our day was frightening for our parents, it was inevitable. We are going to have to up the bond to buy them for our kids, and embrace this technological teaching aid. Gulp!!
Before we even get there, though, this time of year is always a sad time for saying goodbye to those who have made such a difference in our kids lives on the school front. It is even more poignant this year for us, leaving Junior Primary behind. My kids have both been blessed with outstanding Heads of Primary, ladies who have really taken the time to get to know all the kids under their care, and to use their positions to motivate and inspire. They have both enthused a culture of genuine caring and love, not only for traditional learning, but also igniting in our kids a passion for the environment, and their responsibility thereof. Both Mrs Lane (Highbury) and Mrs Cuthbertson (St. Marys) have been wonderful role models for my kids. Saying thank you and goodbye will be hard. Again, both my kids have been fortunate enough to have had outstanding class teachers - from Grade R right through to Grade 3. Each one being so different, yet all leaving my kids with their own unique take on life and the world. Being a teacher must be the most challenging, rewarding, frustrating career for any one to chose. Having friends in this profession (Ashleigh, Terryn - two of the most amazing teachers I know), I have seen how much a teacher has to give of herself in order to have successful pupils. SO I am grateful to those my kids have been fortunate enough to have been taught by during the foundation phase of their lives.
Its almost time to turn off the morning alarm, haul out the advent calendar, start my Christmas shopping and holiday preparations. Almost. Its almost time to buy the tree from the Christmas Tree Farm in Gillits (one of my favorite family traditions!), to book tickets to the Beauty and the Beast Pantomime, to find my Carol playlists on my ipod, and to embrace the end of the year. Almost. Before we run out of steam, however, we have to take a deep breath and not lose focus. It's the Last Big Push... I'm Just Saying...
Hurricane Sandy has certainly lived up to its Super Storm status way over in the US. Images of sharks in back yards and half peeled buildings have really shown us the true force of a pissed off Mother Nature! Thoughts and prayers go out to all affected by the devastation left in its wake.
Not to be ignored, however, and closer to home, Hurricane Sandile, (Thanks Twitter for the dubbing of this one!), the absolutely bipolar weather being experienced in Durban right now, attempts to wreck havoc on a more local scale. Four seasons in one HOUR, at the moment!!! This is not what we are used to, here on the coast. This is supposed to be summer. I know this because even though the sky is dark and miserable, and the heavens open every ten minutes or so to spew out icy rain, hail, and the odd crack of thunder and lightening bolt, and EVERY social network news feed is littered with the moans and whines and laments of wet and miserable people complaining about the weather, Boney M is playing in the shops. This is my glimmer of hope.
Boney M in the shops can and does mean only one thing... Christmas is around the corner!! I am a total pain in the rear end to everyone around me (particularly my long suffering husband!), at this time of year. I love Christmas, and everything it stands for, everything it means - from the Birth of Jesus, to the coming together of family and friends, and the celebration of traditions. I adore Christmas carols. Every year Warren hides my Boney M CD, and every year I buy a new one. Boney M was always the LP of choice playing whenever we decorated the Christmas tree for as far back as I can remember. Thanks mom for this one! Its a tradition I force on my kids and anyone within a listening radius! Luckily for me both my kids love carols, and luckily for me and everyone around me, my kids can actually carry a tune (unlike me!). So as soon as it is not completely ludicrous to do so, I will haul out all the carol CD's, and slowly start irritating Warren with my insistence on playing them.
I can't wait to start decorating my new house for Christmas. I now have banisters and a proper mantle over my fireplace! It sounds silly, but I get ridiculously excited at the thought of reams of holly trailing down my stairs, and a gorgeous fireplace framed in Christmas bling! The Advent calendar (very important to my kids!); Christmas crafts; Christmas shows; Carols by Candlelight; Carols with Dolphins (Ushaka - a show not to be missed!); Christmas Panto's; Carols at my kids schools; Christmas baking (hauling out my Gran's old recipes which have been the foundation of the tradition of Christmas baking in my house); Christmas shopping and gift wrapping; Christmas Eve and Day planning; long, hot weekends spent with family and friends around the pool; holiday planning and embarking on - I am an absolute SUCKER for this time of year!!
This year, more so than any other year, I have expectations. Expectations which I hope are not unrealistic or lead to crushing disappointment. I am looking forward to this time of year not just for all the tangible reasons, but for over riding personal, emotional reasons. It has not been a good year for my relationship with my sister. Things have not been great and our close relationship, one we had finally cemented after years of strife, came under assault in the middle of the year, for reasons too arduous to delve into now. She has since given birth to twin boys (her second set), and the arrival of these two little angels has encouraged us to slowly come together again. I am looking forward to this wonderful time of year to help the healing and to give us plenty of opportunities to start again. I am counting on the magic of the season to over ride past hurts.
My kids are at that in between believing stage of their lives right now. They are too skeptical to believe in Santa Clause (an unfortunate sign of our times - kids growing up far too quickly :(, and losing their unquestioning belief in magic), yet are too wise to admit to me that they know he isn't real. They are, however, old enough to understand the true meaning of Christmas. Charity, toy donations, Santa's Shoes Boxes - they participate in them all (one, unfortunately, more willing than the other;)). They are at the perfect age where the penny has dropped, and they are able to see the bigger picture. This year will be extra special in this regard. I honestly believe if we don't nurture and encourage this philanthropic side in our children when they are young, we stand no chance in the long term. Although it is a year round endevour, some how at Christmas it just seems more poignant. A glimmer of hope for the future.
Enough of this miserable bone chilling, wet and windy weather! The sliver of blue that peeks out every now and again is my glimmer of hope that things will improve. The weather, the season, life, love and everything in between! If we harness this hope, focus on it, instead of lamenting about the drudgery of more rained out cricket matches, a constant stream of wet socks and miserable house-bound kids, washing that won't dry and boots and jackets that were (prematurely) packed away having to be hauled out again, we will miss out on the excitement of what is just around the corner. So stop moaning about the weather, crank up Boney M, and start untangling those Christmas lights. I'm Just Saying...
I remember sitting in my final assembly at high school, and hearing a poem about how to be successful in life. It was a simple poem, with simple advice. A poem I am sure most of us have heard before. It was written by Robert Fulghum, and was called All I really need to know I learned at Kindergarten. For some reason this poem, and its simple message, has stuck with me. That is not to say I personally have lived my life exactly to the credo it depicts, but I try. Lately I have found myself questioning people (to myself, that is!). Questioning why some people do the things they do, say the things they say, hurt others so easily, forget the important things in life, forget how to act like a good friend, a good sibling, parent, spouse, basic human being. And no - this is NOT directed at anyone in particular. It is more a commentary from the peanut gallery. Again, I'm Just Saying - if the shoe fits, wear it - and I am the first to admit when it fits me! We all need reminding, sometimes, of these simple rules of life.
(I have saved the poem to a separate page at the top. It really is worth a read.)
Lesson 1: Share everything
People don't share anymore. From recipes, to information, from time to friends. As I try to teach this lesson to my own kids (at 9 they are at this incredibly competitive age, and "its MINE" seems to be their immediate response to anything!), I often think how much easier it would be as adults if we remembered to share more. From "he can't be your friend, he's mine", to "no, those brownies are a family secret", and "I'm sorry, if I help you with that, then I have less time to do my own thing". What happened to Barney telling us sharing is caring? Sharing time, resources, friendships does not detract from our own quota. It enhances it. Before I get hit with a "be careful what you wish for", however, I have to point out that there are two areas in which we are more than happy to share - the giving of unsolicited-uninformed-ill timed-advice, and the sharing of gossip. Two areas where perhaps some restraint and circumspection should be maintained!
Lesson 2: Play Fair
Seems pretty self explanatory, yet for some reason, not so much! The order of the day seems to be take as much as you can from someone (be it time, money, effort, friendship, advice, support), and then sit back. At what point do we become suckers for always being on the giving side of the fair play line, and never the receiving? Playing fair, in my book, is not simply tit for tat, but instead is having consideration for those around us, for those in our lives, for those who mean something to us. If you are going to take, be prepared to give.
Lesson 3: Don't hurt anyone (and if you do, say sorry, and don't do it again)
Again, so simple, yet so ignored! There are things we do in life, that hurt, and scar those around us. Speaking ill of people close to us and thinking they will never know, not standing up for those we love, not being there when we say we will, breaking promises, repeating the same behavior and actions over and over, knowing the repercussions will be dire. Before our kids learn that this lesson extends beyond the don't-hit-your-brother-in-the-eye-with-a-wet-face-cloth, they need to learn that yes, sticks and stones DO break bones, but words hurt just as much. And before we begin to teach our kids this, we as adults, need to relearn and start to practice what we preach.
Lesson 4: Live a Balanced Life
The shoe is fitting too well with this one! I have a tendency to become very overly focused on whatever I am doing at any given time, and the balance that is so important in life, goes right out the window! I need to keep reminding myself to ensure both sides of the scale are proportional at all times! I know I'm not alone in this! There is more to life than just work. Or just play. Or just one friend. Or just your spouse / boyfriend / girlfriend. The more we focus on one area in isolation and to the detriment of all the others, the more chance we having of losing those other areas completely. And as we all know, it is far more difficult to recover what is lost, than to maintain what we have.
Lesson 5: Be aware of Wonder
Life spirals out of control at an alarming rate. Before we blink, the calm that was yesterday, is the mania of today. We blink and our kids grow up; we hesitate, and we lose opportunities; we run, and we miss the smell of the roses. I swear Christmas was only last week - yet here we are, singing to Boney M and trying to remember where we packed the tree lights. This particular lesson is a big one for me right now. To remember that life is for living, for enjoying, for savoring. To enjoy the big moments, and to appreciate the small ones. Before we realize it, its all gone. And its too late.
Read the poem, remember the lessons, and instead of just nodding in agreement, practice what is surely a simple recipe for a successful life. Ever the nerd (;)), I plan on resuscitating these forgotten rules, and enforcing them in myself, and hopefully in my kids. There is something in them for everyone... I'm Just Saying...
Without denying the absolute need for technology (obsessed as I am with it!), life has become so fast paced, so driven by 2D, 3D and HD images, that as a mom I am scared we are forgetting about the simple, soul-enriching, memory-creating things in life.
My kids are (as are all, or at least most kids today), hooked on technology. They know more about my blackberry, my ipad, and Google, than I do. This fact alone scares me, as I am a self-confessed techno-slut! They play Wii, X-Box, and PlayStation as effortlessly as we used to play snap! or tag as kids. They don't need to read the instructions, or have the intricacies of the game explained to them. They just seem to innately know that pressing A makes the unbelievably life-like army dude run, B makes him shoot a machine gun, and C makes him launch grenades! Within minutes they have figured out the cheat codes on Moshi Monsters, have created new villages in Ice Age, have harvested new crops on Smurfs, and have completely killed my painstakingly cultivated high score in Temple Run. All without laborious instruction or tutoring!! As impressive as this sounds, and not withstanding the mental skills I am sure they have gained and fine tuned, I fear for my kids appreciation of the important, tangible things in life.
Recently reality bit. And bit hard. We went away with very close friends to Kamberg, and stayed at a beautiful, old-style farm. Barely any cell phone signal, a TV - but no DSTV card, so it remained off, no DS's, no Wii, X-Box or PlayStation. I held my breath the whole weekend, waiting for the inevitable "I'm bored" (which seems to have become my kids' shared middle name at the moment!). But it never came. Instead they played. They built puzzles, they explored, they canoed, they played cricket, swam, rode horses, rode bikes, and they laughed. Most surprisingly, they listened (a skill which seems to have become purposefully lost lately!). We bought them all fishing rods - simple, inexpensive fishing rods. And from day one, they fished. After the first fish had been caught, proving it could be done, we lost our kids to the edge of the dam. Hour after hour they sat together, patiently (who knew they had it in them!), and strategised how best to catch the evasive trout. And when they were successful, they were genuinely happy for each other. Instead of the way-too-early-morning wake-up to "mom, can we go watch TV?", we now had "Mom? Can dad untangle our reels, we want to go fish". What an absolute, heart-warming pleasure!
Before I come off sounding pious and judgemental, I need to say that this post is a commentary on myself as a parent first, not a blanket generalisation. However, if the shoe fits, if any bells are rung, listen and wear it. I'm Just Saying. Kids have far too many instant gratification options available to them. The TV fall back, the computer game baby sitter, the X-Box play date.. nonsense!! Lazy parenting breeds lazy kids. Even though I was hopeless at maths, even I can see the logic in this summation. I for one, am putting my foot firmly down, and will be attempting to stop the development of sloth-like natures in my kids, before I shell out any more money on OT for poor posture; before I get called in to the headmasters office to discuss the choice language of my 9 year old (I wait with bated breath for this one!); before I pay thousands to a therapist to tell me why my 9 year old is sullen and exhibiting Hannah Montana overly-theatrical-dramatic behaviour; or heaven forbid, pleading my child's case to the courts after a if-they-can-do-it-on-Grand-Theft-Auto-why-can't-I moment!
We have an "I'm Bored" jar now (thanks Pinterest!). If playing with the gazillion toys in their rooms, or reading the countless books on their bookshelves doesn't do it for them, my kids have to pick an activity - a mom-designed-sometimes-fun-sometimes-not activity - from this jar. Included in these activities are chores to be done. Not such fun! Suddenly my kids imaginations are being dusted off, their creativity is being stretched, and their playing-independently-muscles are being exercised. We talk more, we listen more, and life definitely seems less hyped up. What a win!!
I woke up this morning feeling really positive about life. The fact that Christmas is around the corner (my absolutely FAVORITE time of year!), and the prospect of a long summer holiday (with a two week road trip with very special friends), to look forward to, I plan on making living more simply work for me, my family and most importantly, my kids. If I have to become someone Hitler would be too afraid not to obey (I'm sure there's a little tyrannical dictator in all parents!), then I will gladly rise to the occasion!
So its heavy restrictions on X-Box, limited TV time and only approved channels (banishing all back-chatting-parent-disrespecting-low-pants-wearing-teen-know-it-all channels), no more moshi monsters or plant killing zombies on the computer. Its bikes, books, friends, dirt, mud, Lego, puzzles, board games, crafts and imaginary play. From now on. Because I say so. Because my kids need it. Because we all need it. I'm Just Saying...
(Let's see how long this lasts!! I'm Just Saying...)
BOUNDARIES... In the continued saga to settle Sasha, my 12 year old border collie, into our new house, we had to address the boundary issue - both literally and figuratively. In a nut shell, Sasha, being quite set in her ways and extremely stubborn, did not want to be confined to the area (the back garden), which was already fenced in and more than suitable for a little dog. Instead, she wanted to be in the front, roaming free and doing exactly what her single-focused mind wanted to do. We realised very quickly it was not a battle of the wills we stood any chance of winning!
So off to the vet we went, where we dropped an earth shattering R3000 (a big ask after the never ending moving expenses that literally appear infinite!), and bought a system called "Pet Safe" (an American product guaranteed to put us in a win-win situation). How this works (and please - NO JUDGING!), is a literal interpretation of Pavlov's Theory. The no-go areas (in our case, the top of the driveway leading onto the road, and the open hedges), are cordoned off by an electrical cable, which is buried under ground, and is demarcated by little white flags. Sasha wears a new collar, which is connected to the system,and has a little probe touching her neck. Should she attempt to cross the forbid territory, the system emits a little shock (a small zap - I did try it on myself first!) After a training session, and two little self-inflicted zaps as she explored her new boundaries - we had success! Without the collar even on, she WILL NOT cross the magic line.Such a clever dog!
Without turning this into a lengthy commentary about the ingeniousness of my four-legged child, this process had me thinking about the practical use of Pavlov with people. Imagine the success rate in churning out well disciplined kids?! Fight with your sister? ZAP! Back chat your mom? ZAP! Lie about homework? ZAP! Open the fridge and stare blankly because you are bored? ZAP! Slam your bedroom door in a rage? ZAP! Before child line is called, I would never do this to my kids. But I do dream about a system of reinforcement that has an instant effect rather than the grounding, losing a marble out the Being Good Jar, banning of X-Box etc.. discipline methods we rely on at home!!
And what about the errant husband? Eyes straying in the wrong direction? ZAP! Looking at the watch, ignoring the cell phone and having the fifth absolutely last beer at the pub? ZAP! Reaching for the wallet to buy one more bank-breaking-will-die-if-I-don't-have-it piece of equipment for his mountain bike / golf bag / motor bike / or car? ZAP!
On a personal note, the positive effects this would have on ME would be insurmountable! Not being hungry but have to have the last piece of Aero Bubbly - ZAP! Needing to go for a run but making up excuses to avoid it - ZAP! Buying yet another vase / cushion / photo frame / decorative piece of useless something just because - ZAP! Facebooking / Twittering / Pinteresting/ blogging instead for plowing through the piles of CV's in my inbox - ZAP! Reaching for the Bar One / Cosmo / bag of Chuckles conveniently placed in the queueing aisle at Woolworths- ZAP! Buying one more gorgeous journal / notebook / diary because it is beautiful (I have a drawer FULL of unused ones already!) - ZAP! Or my most indulgent (yes, I am a nerd!), spending money at Waltons / CNA / any stationers to feed my stationary obsession - ZAP!!! I would be thinner, richer, and far more productive if Pet Safe was designed as a pretty bracelet for people, instead of a black dog collar!
Pushing, or ignoring boundaries (self - or sociably imposed) is something we are all more than familiar with. Until some Pavlovian follower invents a socially acceptable Zapper for People, I have to be content with spending a large amount of time thinking of ideas to either reinforce positively, or punitively, my kids, myself and in a small way (;)), my husband. And although the results may not be as instantaneous as the ZAP to the arm would be, I have seen success with banning the x-box, and rewarding with marbles that have a monetary value; the bathroom scale and the credit card statement; and the threat of being banished to the couch for the night! Pavlov in longhand - I'm Just Saying...
We have moved. Over. Done. Finished. Bar a few boxes lingering in my office, and a few dozen pictures, paintings, photo's, and mirrors waiting impatiently to be hung, we are in. Right off the bat let me say this - moving is NOT for the feint hearted! It has more than earned its place up there with death and divorce (either of which were tempting options themselves throughout this process!!). It has been a process fraught with emotions - ranging from excitement, to nervousness, nail-biting-anxiety, sadness, rage-inducing-impatience, sheer disbelief, bewilderment, more anxiety, absolute bliss, confusion, concern, excitedness (again!), and utter contentment. But we have survived (or at least, are surviving!), and I am absolutely in love with our new home.
Moving has given me plenty of opportunities to consider change and the effect it has had on us. My biggest concern was how my children would handle the change. After an initial bout of unsettledness, however, both have acclimatised and embraced the adventure of a new house, on a new estate, with more access to their friends, slightly more freedom, and new responsibilities. Warren and I have slotted in, loving being part of a new community of amazing families, close to quite a few of our very good friends, easier traveling distances, a bigger home, and in general, another tick on our To Do List of dreams. Sasha, my 13 year old border collie, however, is another matter altogether. As stubborn as she is loyal, she is refusing to go with the flow! So its a new fence, and retraining on the agenda. Here's hoping she is true to the adage about teaching old dogs...!
This old dog (ahem!!) has certainly learnt some new tricks lately. How to use a drill, electric screwdriver, hammer and my voice, very well! My pet hate is being patronised (a close second to being taken advantage of!). As was to be expected, there have been issues with the new house, issues that required dealing with know-it-all-electricians, patronising-blame-shifting-builders, clumsy-well-meaning-handymen, etc. Very quickly they all learnt not to take my short stature and blonde hair for granted!
And all through the upheaval of the past few weeks, life has continued. Hockey matches have been played, school projects and market days have been completed, Spring Flings have been attended, birthdays have come and gone, and babies have been born. What has remained steadfast through it all has been the love and support of friends and family. Friends have arrived with meals, carried boxes, moved furniture, entertained my kids, shared endless glasses of wine, offered advice, and generally been amazing! I am seriously blessed with my group of friends! And my mom - God Bless mothers! She packed, unpacked, moved, reorganized, fetched and carried, understood my tears of frustration, and supported. Thank you, mom!
And so life has resumed. A little less like the old normal, a new kind of normal in its place. I look forward to new challenges, new adventures. We have worked hard to be where we are, and are so grateful to be here. Its all about grabbing that bull by both horns, and leaping into the unknown with our eyes wide open! SO we have moved. We are here. Ready to start making new memories as precious as the old. Watch this space! I'm just saying...