Monthly Archives: March 2012

Hysterical post about baby names! NZ is one of the worst offenders apparently…

The Wordslinger

As the wife and I (but mainly the wife) reach halftime of pregnancy #3, I thought an update might be in order.  20 weeks down, 20 more to go.  Based on results from the first two matchups, I don’t expect this to go to overtime.  There’s no doubt that Mommy showed up ready to play, but as the half wore on, she seemed to tire and even had to fight off a few bouts of nausea.  The plan is to hydrate feverishly here at halftime and throughout the second half in an attempt to negate the effects of the impending summer heat.  It’ll be a grueling final 20 weeks, requiring stamina and endurance that I (a two-time marathoner) simply do not have.  But my wife is strong.  She’s been here before.  So buckle up for an exciting second half!

(This extremely long basketball metaphor, which ran its course at least…

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The joy of cupcakes – why it is important to make time for your children

I have a lot of kids. Well, by most people’s standards. Perhaps if I were the Duggars, at 19 Kids and Counting, six children would seem like a pathetically small amount. But to me, many days, six children feels like a lot. One of the hardest things with this many children is making time for them all.

We do the basics pretty well. The children know they are loved. They are where they’re supposed to be, generally when they’re supposed to be, with the equipment they’re supposed to have. They are clean and well-fed and their clothes are clean at the start of the day. They display manners (at the very least when they’re out and about). We even make time to play with them as often as we can.

But one thing about life in a large family is that there’s not much time to go around. I’ve posted before about making time for yourself and your partner, but it’s also important to make time for your children. I use the phrase make time rather than find time because given how busy we all are nowadays, if we wait to find time, it will simply never happen.

Today my daughters and I spent some time together learning how to decorate cupcakes with MarziAnn – Designer Confectionery. I have all the artistic ability of a newt, and my bonus daughter is equally talented, but my 13-year old daughter is extremely deft with her hands so I was pretty sure we’d all manage to have a good time. At 13 and 15, I have to say that the girls were well above the average age of the children in the room, but none of us cared. Two hours of working with sticky fondant and we had some awesome looking cupcakes. Did they look like the demonstration version? Well they weren’t TOO far off. Did we have fun? Absolutely! Was it a nice way to spend a couple of hours together? Definitely. One of the best things was that it was time out of our normal week and something a little out of the ordinary.

So that’s one thing you can do. Book a time out of the normal to do something. Last weekend, the girls, Master 11 and I walked Round the Bays. A few weeks before that, the husband and son number 1 went for a scuba diving lesson. Those are all special events, things which we plan out, budget for and rearrange the schedule of all concerned.

But there are little, free, spontaneous things you can do often. One of the small boys and I have walked up to get the fish and chips the last couple of Fridays. Just the two of us for 15 minutes walking to and from the fish and chip shop. Conal commented “I like it when it’s just the two of us Mama,” as he slipped his little paw into mine, so I know that they feel that the time is special and they do appreciate it.

Then there are the endless car trips to take children places. I read an article once that said that time in the car or running errands doesn’t “count” as time spent together. Clearly that person doesn’t have more than one child, or is independently wealthy. For the rest of us, we’ll take any time we can get one-on-one with our kids. Master and Miss 13 (NOT twins, they’re one of his and one of mine) are water polo players and last year had multiple practices at a pool a 20-minute drive away. Those drives, especially after the practices when it was late and dark, gave great opportunities for us to connect and strengthen our relationships. We took turns taking the kids out, so each got time with them.

My husband coaches Master 11’s cricket team, and before that, coached Master 13’s team. I coached Miss 13’s netball team for two years. We try to have one parent (of the 4 available) at any game of sports the big kids play. It is important to us that the children understand that we are proud of them and wish to support them in their endeavours, be these musical, sporting, school prize-givings or productions. We want them to know that we are interested in their lives.

We keep an eye on Miss 15, our very self-sufficient girl, and find things to do with her like playing games, watching rom-coms together (my tolerance for these has significantly lessened as I’ve grown older and more cynical, but I’m enjoying sharing the old ones with her, and taking her recommendations on recent ones), sharing and discussing books with her (or her sharing them with me!) and just letting her stay up a bit later and chat to us about her day.

We are even more aware of this with our twins. As they’re the same age and developmental stage (give or take) it’s very easy to treat them as a unit, just for convenience. But our two small boys are very different. We take them out one at a time on errands, so that they have some one-on-one time with a parent. I left the husband playing Samurai Warrior on the Wii with one of the small boys this afternoon – I’m not sure who was enjoying it the most! One of our small boys loves to work hard and garden and dig, so my husband often does that with him while I do some inside job with the other.

We don’t always manage this, and some weeks it feels like we haven’t seen anyone (each other included) in any meaningful way. But like everything else, we do try! There’s a lot of parenting advice that I’ve read about successfully navigating the teenage years and one of the key points is that if you have a strong relationship and good channels of communication, your chances are much better of getting through with less issues. To my way of thinking, making time for your children, one-on-one whenever you can, gives you the chance to do this, and along the way to build a long and lasting loving relationship for their whole lives.

Oh, and the MarziAnn cupcake decorating course? I highly recommend it. Great tutor, excellent facilities and explanations and even the two 4-year olds who were with us were able to produce beautiful cupcakes that they were very proud of. The girls and I are planning a return visit to do Piping 101 – all so that we can make beautiful birthday cakes for the small boys!

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Words to live by in our house

I recently posted about words which are banned in our family. Being of a positive turn of mind, I’d far rather post about words we welcome and encourage. As with the banned words, we lead by example – or try to!

Love

We use the word love every day. Someone suggested that such frequent use trivialised the word and made it meaningless. I disagree with this one – love is like hugs. You can never have too many and talking about it generates it. I tell each of the children that I love them each day as I drop them to their assorted drop off points. If ever I was hit by a bus, I’d like them to remember that the last words they heard from me were words of love.

Please and thank you

To my mind, manners are non-negotiable. I use manners when I ask the children to do something, when they do something I ask, and equally as I’m talking to my husband. Yes, my life would be easier if I didn’t insist on these, but I want to send my children out into the world able to talk to anyone politely. If you are making a request, you should frame it with a please. If someone has done something for you, or given you something, you should thank them.  It’s as simple as that.

Great job, well done, great effort

We use these phrases, and words, when the children deserve it – that is to say, when they have done a great job or done something well. I think it is possible to over-praise, or to give empty praise, and I want my children to feel wonderful about their real accomplishments and efforts.

I like…

Normally followed by “how you’ve sat nicely and eaten your dinner” or “that you brought your lunchbox to the kitchen without being asked” or even “how you dealt with your brother.” I believe that the positive reinforcement you give children helps support and encourage them. It’s not empty or over-effusive praise, it’s an acknowledgement that you’ve noticed what they’re doing. Incidentally, I also use this with my team at work and they seem to appreciate it too!

Positive words

Much as we discourage the negative words, we encourage positive words and phrases. Rather than saying “Yuck, I don’t like this dinner!” we say “Thanks [whoever made the dinner] for making me this meal. I’ve tried it but I don’t really like it much. May I have something else please?” We also try and be kind in our comments on people’s outfits or hairstyles or viewing tastes. Not always successfully, and there’s a fair amount of ribbing that goes on, but you get the idea!

We try to make our choice of words at home positive, as we try to make our environment loving and nurturing. Do we always manage? No. But the striving is important and we improve day by day. I’d love to hear ways that you bring positivity to your family, home or working life. I’m always open to new ideas!

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My daughter talking about books

For New Zealand Book Month. Making me very proud!

 

Morgan talks about her love of books here

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Censorship at home – words we ban in our house, and why!

I’ve just come across an excellent article on this very subject – the link is here. It was interesting to read, as many of the words that this writer uses are also banned in my house and have been for a long time. Here’s my list (I try to keep it short so that the children remember!).

Swear words

The deal is that they won’t swear and neither will I. I mostly do OK at this, although “shit” tends to be used from time to time. I’ve tried to substitute “shoot” instead but it doesn’t really fool them! I do use Spy Kids’ “shitake mushrooms” occasionally! I’ve been doing this since my then 4-year old stepson came into the room with a truck and very casually announced “the f***ing thing is broken”. A very good call for me to clean up my potty mouth!

Incidentally, my trick to help stop the children swearing? Well, actually I have two tricks! The first one is to use the word back to them, very casually, as if it didn’t mean anything and then get them to repeat it back to me, over and over. They get so embarrassed. My point is that if they don’t feel comfortable saying it to me, they shouldn’t be saying it. Technique number two is to explain exactly what the word means. This worked well with my stepson when he came out with “mother f***er” one day. Once I’d finished explaining it to him, he was so mortified he’s never used the word again.

Hate

I really feel that “hate” is a very strong word. It’s not a word I use, and I don’t like the negative connotations. It’s actually very rare that you truly hate something, so we use “don’t like”, or if they feel very strongly, “really don’t like” or in daughter number 2’s case “detest”.

Shut Up

This is just plain rude, no matter the tone of voice you say it in.

God, hell

It’s not so much the blaspheming, it’s just that it sounds disrespectful coming out of a 5-year old’s mouth. Or an 11-year old’s. Or even an adult’s. So we don’t go there. Working on this with Master 11 and one of the Master 5’s at the moment.

Retard, loser, dumb, bad, stupid…

Basically any pejorative. I don’t want my children using these words outside the home, or about themselves, and I feel that your family should support you, not knock you. There are enough people in life who will enjoy telling you that you aren’t good enough. You don’t need it at home too. If you tell someone they are stupid enough times they will start to believe it and that is not a culture that I am prepared to accept in my family.

Those are my worst offenders. Every now and again, I will add another temporarily (“like” for instance, used as in “I was like, you know, like nearly there”).

Tune back in another time, and I’ll talk about words that I encourage the use of! I’d be keen to hear if you have banned any words from your home and if so, what they are.

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Finding your happy place in the midst of chaos

Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island

Swimming out through the waves at Onetangi Beach. Getting past the breakers and turning over onto my back. Looking up at the stars, while the water supports and rocks me. Being gently rocked back and forth as the swells wash under me.The velvet feeling of the sea all around me. This is one of my happy places, generally one used when I am in pain – dental work, childbirth, that sort of thing. I vanish off and it helps calm me. I sometimes even use it at night to relax if I’m having trouble going to sleep.

Happy place is a bit of a sappy term. And at the same time, it’s exactly the right term. My rocking in the sea has worked as a pain and stress reliever and relaxant for years now. But as life becomes busier and I need to deal with more challenges and multi-tasking, I find I need something which will just take the edge off during the madness. In the last few months, I have found something which doesn’t take long and which helps to unwind the knots of tension.

Some of you may have read an earlier post of mine, Of Teapots and Friendship. This is the story of a beautiful new teapot and why it means so much to me. Well, it has gone one step further. Often 4.30pm will find me in the middle of cooking dinner, getting homework underway, adjudicating disputes, looking after animals (I’m talking real animals here, not my children :-)) and some days, getting more and more tense and grumpy.

I’ve begun making a cup of tea in my beautiful teapot. I boil the kettle and warm the pot with a little boiling water. That water then gets poured into my tea cup to warm that, while I make the tea. Sometimes it’s just enough for me, sometimes enough for one or more of my three tea drinkers (both of the 5-year old boys love tea, as does Master 13. I drink decaf tea, so am happy enough for them to have a cup).  I let the tea draw (sometimes for longer than strictly necessary if I get caught up in something). Then I add my milk to the cup and pour my tea. My teapot pours beautifully. The final step is emptying the pot, rinsing it out and drying it with a paper towel.

The teapot in question

The tea tastes wonderful, but normally by the time I’m drinking it, I have completely wound down. Somehow the act of making the tea makes a moment or two of peace for me amongst the chaos – just enough for me to relax and let everything go.  All events from that moment on proceed more calmly and with a better humour. Whether it’s taking the couple of minutes out of normal life, whether it’s the association of the teapot with a wonderful memory or whether it is the tea itself, it really works for me. And only takes a couple of minutes. So thanks Stephen for the teapot, and thanks Jim for the ritual.

For everyone, finding their moment of peace will be a different thing. It certainly helps me to have something I can do to restore my equilibrium. What takes you to your happy place?

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The perils of school for twins – transitioning and managing!

Zac and Conal on their first day of school

Before my boys started school in August last year, I did LOTS of reading about it. What should we do, should they be together or separate, how to best prepare them. And I came down to a few simple things from this, but also from starting the older children at school!

  • Make sure they are familiar with the school grounds and physical layout. By this I mean take them to the school after hours, or take them into a few school events before they go for their first school visit. This helps them to feel lke they belong. We were lucky with this, because their next up brother was still at the same school so we’d been to concerts and BBQs and fun runs, but it definitely helped them to feel like they belonged.
  • Do make sure you take them on their school visits, but don’t worry about how they behave on them! It will bear no reflection on how they are when they actually start school. If they want to cling to your leg, not join in with the songs and are very half hearted with the colouring exercises they are given, don’t worry. By all means encourage them to join in, but remember that this is a whole new thing for them with a room full of strangers. How comfortable are you when faced with a group of new people?
  • Talk really positively about school in the lead up, without making a big deal of it! Let them choose school bags, with a bit of practical assistance and try them on first because sometimes the bags are enormous and the children are small!!
  • Prepare them in advance by letting them make their own lunchboxes for a couple of weeks before school. They can take it with them to daycare or kindergarten, or even if they are at home with you, but get them to work out what they can eat at the different times. This saves them scarfing all their food at morning tea!
  • Arrange a pick up place and make some firm rules and a contingency plan around it. For instance “I will pick you up on the steps in front of your classroom. If I’m not there and you’re worried, go to the office and wait for me there.” I’ve only had one child wander and I nearly died of fright as I found him out on the pavement outside the school. He’d decided he’d come and find me! And it wasn’t because I was late that day either. He wasn’t one of my twins, but I’m sure that accounted for a number of grey hairs!
  • If your child is going into after school care, make sure they know where to go each day, either to wait for a pickup or to the venue onsite.  Make sure they have met the people who will be caring for them after school so that they have some comfort in going there.
  • Last but not least, make sure they can put their own shoes on, get themselves dressed and take themselves to the toilet.

And what about you as a parent? Here are my tips:

  • Write their names on EVERYTHING they will be wearing or taking to school. Get a permanent clothes marker and spend half an hour doing this. They WILL inevitably lose items of clothing and it is much easier trawling through lost property if you know your childrens’ clothes are named.
  • Unless you have a very strong reason for keeping your twins together, let the school decide whether they should be separated or not. Believe it or not, they have educated thousands of children and are able to determine whether they will be better apart or together. A good school will let them start together and will assess over a period of time. However, if the school has a strict policy that they apply to every set of twins, I would question it strongly!!Don’t panic!! Relax, take a deep breath and trust that the school knows what they are doing. A note here that my boys started out in the same classroom, but after 6 weeks, they were split up. The class size had got too big and they were making a new class of new entrants. Conal was very keen to work and coping well with the classroom rules, so they left him in with the older, more capable children. Zac was having more of a struggle, and had formed a strong bond with the teacher, so she kept him, and used him to help look after the little children who had just started. He was given a position of responsibility by being the messenger and this curbed his distractable tendencies beautifully.
  • If you have any concerns that your child may have behavioural issues or learning difficulties, have them assessed before they go to school. It’s better to have the support systems in place before they start school rather than after they’ve been struggling. The same goes for hearing and eyesight tests.
  • Do talk to the class teacher regularly. New entrants’ teachers are used to dealing with anxious parents and are happy to spend a couple of minutes telling you your little darlings have been OK!
  • Do give the teacher a couple of pointers as to differences between the twins, especially if they are identical! Even if they’re not, it’s useful for the teacher to know how to approach them. I advised the boys’ teacher to keep Zach busy and she’d be fine! I was a little concerned when after 6 weeks, the assistant teacher in the classroom asked what their personality differences were, but then they’d had 10 children start within a few days of each other, so I guess they’d all got jumbled up.

My boys are now in their third term of school. They’re still in separate classes. One is reading and writing at a higher level than the other, one is writing more neatly. One is doing very well in terms of not being distracted (in a class of 16, 5 year old boys, this is an impressive feat). One is doing well with managing himself and staying on task better. One has endeared himself to the occasionally grumpy deputy principal by making her a thank you card. The main thing for me? That the school has treated them like the individuals they are. They have taken their needs into consideration and taken time to fit them to teachers who will suit them.  Interestingly, one of my boys has a set of twins in his class and they have kept them together. So they have no one size fits all policy, which I think really as a parent of twins, that is all you can ask. To me the clincher is that they love going to school each day, they are positive about their experiences there and are happy. I can’t ask for more.

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