Monthly Archives: April 2012

Of teapots and friendship

Here’s a post I put over at my gluten-free blog last year, but I think it bears repeating here!

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Treating twins as individuals

I know a woman, now in her sixties, who is an identical twin. Twins were a rarity when she was young. They were referred to as “twinnies” or “twins” always, they were dressed identically, and shared everything, including a bedroom, until she left to be married. They were treated as a unit, one person. They still look and sound remarkably alike. Even though she and her sister are incredibly close, she has a horror of ever treating twins the same way that she was treated.

May 2008. Easy to tell apart - Conal has more hair, a truism even today!

I’ve always shuddered when I hear twins with names that are really similar – Jim and Tim, Bella and Stella or themed, like  Cain and Abel. Although sometimes twins dressed alike look cute (when they are babies) once they are much more than toddlers, at the risk of offending, I think it is a little creepy, even though I understand the practicalities of it. Referring to them as”twinnies” or “twins” is not a very nice term. I appreciate that this is my issue and my attitude, but here are some of the reasons why I feel this way.

May 2009, facepainted and looking a bit more similar - Zac's hair has caught up and is curlier

I’ve rarely dressed my twins the same, I celebrate (and am constantly amazed by) their differences and I think it is vital to remember that they are no more similar than any other two of my children. I’ve always been fascinated that from a very early age, they’ve identified certain items of clothing as “mine”. For a long time, they shared a set of drawers, but recently the boys have asked to have separate drawers, and the clothes split was very easy, with only a few items in contention.

Until I had twins, I was a firm believer in nurture over nature. Now, I totally understand that our children are who they are from birth, and all we can do as parents is to smooth off the rough edges, maybe teach them some manners and right from wrong and that’s about it. Our boys have been different from day one. Conal has always loved to snuggle in; Zac has always wanted to face out. When they hug you, Conal likes to offer comfort, and Zac likes to take comfort – the way that they hug is completely different. Zac’s hugs are completely 100% full on enthusiastic; Conal’s are gentler, sweet, but more restrained. They fed differently and slept differently as little babies and continue to do so. Conal is imaginative, Zac very practical. And so the list goes on.

May 2010 - Zac in his favourite pink, Conal with his choice of Ben 10

We were already inclined to treat them as individuals and I think it helped us that they were so different from the very beginning. Physically, they are similar – not identical, but the same height and weight, and both have curly hair. They certainly look like brothers, but that’s where the similarities end. We are lucky – it’s easy to encourage their very different interests. It’s easy to respond to them differently because they approach us in different ways.

Our older set of 'twins'

I think that for us some key things are remembering not to compare. I’ve always found comparisons of children to be odious and feed into that competitive parenting which is so unattractive. I’ve always been happy to share my children’s achievements but not at the expense of another child. When you have children a couple of years apart in age, it’s easy to talk about individual accomplishments, because they are at different developmental stages. When you have twins, they are often at the same developmental stage at the same time, and it is hard to praise one without comparing to the other, or feeling that if you say something good about one, you have to balance the scales with something good about the other. Sometimes, you should just say a nice thing about one of them. We’ve had this situation before with our 13-year olds. They are three months apart in age, with my bonus son being the older of the two. This never stopped my daughter, and she used having a slightly older child around as a spur to do everything shortly after he did. Our two families spent a lot of time together, so when Nick sat up, so did Morgan. When Nick crawled, a few weeks later so did Morgan. But she talked first and much better. He had much better ball skills. She learnt to read faster and more easily. In their case though, they were not brother and sister, so their individuality was never in question. With twins, it is too easy to look at them as if they were the same person.

Other things we have tried to do is refer to them by name. For speed, we are heard to say “the small boys” but then we lump the older children into a “big kids” bucket.

We’ve encouraged their different interests and tastes. Zac loves to garden and build, so we do lots of that with them. Conal enjoys it too, but not so much. Conal loves horses, so lots of his books and his side of the bedroom have a distinct equine flavour. Zac’s favourite colour is pink, Conal’s is blue, so their clothes and bedroom reflect that.

We do make an effort to spend one-on-one time with them. And I was very careful to do separate baby books with equal detail – but then I did that with my older children too. I’ll never forget my younger brother’s baby book – which was my baby book with extra notes about him!

With all this though, twins have a special bond – ironically they are unique simply because they are twins. They shared a womb and no matter what else happens, they will always have that. We shouldn’t needlessly separate them or force them apart, but we should give them all the space they need – as individuals – to grow in a healthy and happy fashion. But I think most important is recognising that they have different needs and different personalities and should be celebrated for these and treated accordingly.

The boys looking incredibly alike, hair flattened, Jan 2012 with Poppa

Here’s a great article I found with tips on helping to remember the diversity of our multiples, courtesy of Pamela Prindle Fierro  at What else do you do in your family to promote the individuality of your twins?

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Are manners necessary in this day and age?

Call me old-fashioned, but I am a stickler for manners. I’m firmly of the belief that manners aren’t a nice thing to have, but a non-negotiable necessity. I spend a lot of time using manners myself and insisting that my children use manners every single day. At the most basic level, I believe that saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are vital, no matter who you are talking to.

Manners should be just more than please and thank you. Manners are responding appropriately when you are given a gift. I always sent thank you notes; now I tend to send thank you emails. Good manners mean not saying “oh I’ve already got one of those” on receipt of a gift; they mean making your bed or asking if you should strip the sheets when you stay at someone’s house ; they mean thanking the maker of a meal for their effort and offering to help with the clean up; good manners mean taking your glass or plate to the kitchen bench when you are at someone else’s house and finding a time which suits them for you to shower in the morning.

At home, and with those you are most intimately familiar with, you should always use good manners. Those small basic courtesies of life can make all the difference to your partner’s day, your teenager’s mood, or the way in which your requests are received by those living in your home. I think we often develop a kind of communication shorthand with our nearest and dearest and sometimes this means we forget to use manners with them. Best of all, by using manners at home, you are modelling the manners and behaviour you want your children to display both in and outside the home.

So my attitude is that YES, manners are still necessary. Vital even. What are the rules on manners at your house and how do you get the message across that they’re to be used?

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Can women really have it all?

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has prompted this post. She has confessed that she leaves work at 5.30pm each day to have dinner with her family. She’s been doing it for years, but only just became brave enough to talk about it. Well shock, horror! Fancy leaving work at 5.30pm to spend time with your family. Of course, like many of us (male and female, parents or not) in this connected day and age, she clears email in the evenings. She’s a pretty busy woman – not only a wife, mother of two and the COO of Facebook, but she sits on a couple of boards. She’s achieved an amazing amount for someone only in their early 40s. She probably has some kind of home help, but even she has said there’s no such thing as work-life balance. And the fact that a C level employee (whether it’s a woman or a man) only just now feels brave enough to talk about this? And what about the fathers who choose to leave work early to have dinner with their families? I’m sure they are often looked at askance. That’s the frankly horrifying thing for me. Here’s another commentary on this from Pamela Stone, a professor of sociology and commentator for CNN, which makes some interesting points.

Add to this the raging debate between Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney about whether Ann Romney, who chose to be a stay at home mother and who has reasonable financial resources, can help shape policy for women with whom the only thing she has in common is that she is also a mother. Yes, she’s raised five boys, no easy task, but she hasn’t done it while facing financial hardship and having to go back to work to make ends meet, or being an unskilled worker who can only get a minimum wage job.

This is such a contentious topic. Women especially seem happy to slam other women’s choices because they are different from their own. F0r the record, I totally respect women (and men) who choose to stay at home with their children. It’s an incredibly hard job, and I freely admit that even if there wasn’t a financial necessity for us, I would have gone back to work in some capacity. But I also respect women (and men) who juggle careers and family, and firmly believe that we should be able to choose what works best for us without comment or judgement.

But can we have it all? Yes, I think sometimes we can, but it is really hard work. This article, which I found on my hopping from one link to the next, talks about the fact that many working mothers are still responsible for more of the household tasks than their partners. And they also talk about the guilt and the trade-offs that working parents make in order to have it all. I think those of us who do work outside the home can relate to that. I remember when I went back to work after my first baby. She was 6 months old, and my father said “I don’t know why you bothered to have a baby if you’re just going to let other people raise her.” That smarted, I must say, but helped to keep in my  mind always that I (and her father) were the people raising her, and to do that successfully, we had maximise the amount of time we spent with her and make it count. My Dad wasn’t trying to be hurtful, and his attitude is representative of his generation, but I know that if my mother had been able to go out to work after she’d married and had children, her life would have been a lot easier in many ways.

I am in a very fortunate position. There has never been the expectation that I will automatically be the one who stays home with sick children, nor that I am solely responsible for keeping the household running. I did make the choice to take a pay cut and work part-time for a few years while my older children were small – I worked about 30 hours a week and finished work in time to do a 3.00pm pickup, and have some playtime before dinner and bedtime. That developed into doing the school run for my kids and my bonus kids, enabling the other three parents to work full-time in paid employment.  When I returned to paid work after my youngest children were born, I negotiated a full-time job where I was in the office for about 30 hours a week, then would log back on in the evenings and weekends for the additional 10 hours.

My company empowered me with the technology to do this – a Blackberry and laptop – and I like to think they’ve never regretted taking me on. I had a customer pay me the compliment the other day of saying “If you hadn’t told me, I would never have known that you have six children, because you’re always available to us.” I am available – but I manage it. If the children are screaming, singing, laughing or fighting in the car and a work phone call comes in, I don’t answer it as it wouldn’t be professional. That’s what voice mail is for, and when things have calmed down, I return the call. I use my Blackberry as a prioritisation tool – I determine which emails need to be responded to urgently (that evening after the small boys are in bed) and which can wait until the following morning.

Going back to the household chores, it is true that I cook more often than my husband does. This is simply because I am home earlier. The children are normally eating before he walks in the door. He mows the lawn and is more likely to vacuum or do the garden. We both take the rubbish out – or more commonly nowadays get the older children to do so. But my husband does the school run in the mornings (and my ex-husband still does the morning school run for my older children), enabling me to start at the office a little earlier. They both finish work a little later in the day, as they are often not in the office until just after 9.00am. If we have a sick child, we each look at our diaries and decide who has the least meetings or deadlines, and who is more easily able to work from home. It is often him! So I am lucky. Or rather, I have managed to find a way to make it work both in my working life and my family life. I think the key thing is that we have negotiated with our employers and each other and come up with solutions that work for us and them. I should also mention that we have a cleaner who comes for 3 hours a week to do the basics – the bathrooms and the floors – which does make the division of labour easier.

Is it easy? Hell no! There are days when I get up at 6.00am, and by the time I fall into bed at 11.30pm, I feel that I haven’t stopped running. There are days when I really need to log in to work as soon as I get home to do something urgent, but the children also need me. I feel that I need to perform at 125% at work because I am given so much flexibility. The thing that suffers is of course couple time and ‘me’ time. I’ve written about how we try and manage this in detail here. Where do I find time to write this blog? In very small increments of free space. At present, I’m sitting on the hall floor outside the bathroom keeping an eye on the 5-year olds while they have their bath.

I’ve also just run across this book review of Gaby Hinsliff’s “Half a Wife” which presents some interesting ideas for sharing the workload and ways to manage giving your children time as well as maintaining a career.

So my feeling is that it is possible, especially in this electronic age of mobility computing, to find a way to both be an involved parent and a contributing paid employee or business owner. But that is not true of all jobs, wage brackets and skills. My husband and I both have jobs where we do have meetings, people contact and so on, but a portion of our jobs can be done remotely.  If we stacked shelves in a supermarket, worked at McDonalds or were doing unskilled roles where there were 20 people waiting for our job if we tried to challenge the perception of what a ‘contributing employee’ should be, it wouldn’t be possible for us to the way we do.

I believe that corporations, small family businesses and employers need to be challenging their own perceptions of what work-life balance is. By offering flexibility and a chance for balance to their employees, they will get a far more motivated and loyal workforce, who will feel invested in their roles and contribute far more because they know that their employers care. We should try and think outside the box – can we be self-employed? Can we contract? Can we use new technologies to find new opportunities to work? We should support and empower those who choose to stay at home and raise children, but equally support and empower those who wish to combine a family and a career – and I’m not just talking about women and parents here. The same applies equally to people who aren’t parents.

What do you think? And how do you make parenting and paid work outside the home work for you?

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Everything in moderation – oops, except books!

We like to think of ourselves as moderate people, who encourage our children to pursue a wide variety of activities. For some of the kids, this means sports, music, acting and robotics. But a lot of the time, what we’re talking about is things done at home. We think it’s OK to watch a bit of TV – just a bit. We think it’s fine to play some computer games (well, except me because unless they’re word games, they bore me to tears). We think it’s fine to play outside, and is in fact, to be encouraged. We think it’s fine to bake, draw, build and play. We even think it’s OK to lie around doing nothing and just relax for a bit. We keep an eye on what our children are doing and often send them off to “do something else now, because you’ve been [insert sedentary activity here] for a while now.” We even practice moderation with food – only one glass of orange juice a day, only one of each type of snack thing a day, etc etc.

But I’ve discovered that we have some blind spots and loopholes. The first, and most obvious is around food. “You can have as much water and milk as you like. You can eat as much fruit as you like. You can certainly eat as many vegetables as you like.” From time to time I read an article like this one about fruit not being so good for you, or drinking too much water is bad for you here. You can even find articles about too many vegetables being bad for you, and of course milk is high in fat. The issue with veges tends to be about chemicals which have been used in their production, or bacteria like listeria causing illness. Despite these articles, we still tell the children they can eat and drink as many of these things as they like, because we’ve decided in our infinite and informed wisdom, that the benefits of these things outweigh the (possible) ill-effects.

The other huge blindspot is around books. I observed the other weekend that we had allowed Miss 15 to read for 4 hours one day. Would we have let her sit around watching TV for 4 hours? Almost certainly not. Is she sitting still, inactive, when reading? Of course she is. So why is it, that we, who consider it excellent practice to change up what we do regularly, don’t include reading in this list of sedentary occupations to be performed in moderation?

The most obvious answer is that we are readers and we come from a family of readers. The habits of reading are set in our bones. The love of books is set even deeper, in our souls. The worlds that books open to us are limitless, and it’s possible (even in this large, noisy family) to find a place of quiet when you’re reading a book.  In vain does Master 11 negotiate more computer time by claiming that he is reading the instructions.  So we are immoderate readers, devourers (some might even say gobblers) of books. We read literature, pulpy fiction, romance, science-fiction, young adult fiction, graphic novels. You name it, we read it. We prefer a good story, and like a tidy writing style and great characters, but if we’re desperate, we’ll take anything in print.

Do I think we’ll start limiting our children’s reading time? Not bloody likely!! Will we let them sacrifice good health, activity and proper eating for reading? Some days, the answer will be yes. It’s good to have balance in life – so we’re balancing out our balance with this one extreme. It will continue as long as stories keep being written!

What do you do in your house around reading, and balancing out other activities? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences!

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Imagine this!

We’ve arrived on a pirate ship, moored out in the bay on a crimson sea, under a magenta sky…

OK, so perhaps I have tweaked the colour, but this is how it looked in our imaginations!

It’s a lovely weekend here. A long weekend, for Easter, and the weather forecast is completely wrong, so we have sunshine and clear skies (mostly). With very little planned, we’ve decided to take our small boys on an expedition to North Head, a former gun emplacement and observation post, which has, you guessed it, tunnels! We set out with our water bottle and our camera, and not much else.

We burn off some energy sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes. Guess who the biggest kid is?

We explore, led by Conal who races to the top of the hill – and disappears! The rest of the expedition follows, post-haste, to discover stunning views and darkest caverns. Luckily we have torches – Zac’s one is especially good as it has little flowers all around it which shine on the walls.  Once again, we’re reminded not to typecast our boys. Zac is normally the ‘leaper’. The phrase “heedless they” seems to have been coined for him. The assumption is that he is ‘braver’ than Conal, more adventurous, the leader. Conal is the first one down the hill on the cardboard, and throws himself into the darkest tunnels, curious to see what might be lurking in the shadows. Zac hangs back, holds my hand, doesn’t much like the dark.

We ramble up and down the hills, through the long grass, feeling like Livingstone and Stanley:

Stanley, Livingstone and a native porter!

On our way back to the car, we find a steep passageway leading to smugglers’ caves, overgrown with tree roots and overhanging mildewed rocks. We can’t resist the chance to explore further…

Then the boys discover the other end to one of their tunnels. We peered out through this small hole in the rock wall earlier and thought about climbing out. Now they think about climbing in!

Is it a dragon?

And finally, our intrepid explorers perch up on a cannon and check that our pirate ship hasn’t been blown out of the water.

The rain has held off, we’re all footsore and weary in a good way and armed with nothing more than our imaginations, have spent a wonderful afternoon. Pirates, smugglers, dragons, cannons and soldiers. What more could two 5-year old boys ask for in one day?

The ship's boy, comfortable on his cannon viewing platform.

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A post for Genna and Morgan on the occasion of the great Easter egg hunt 2012

-1/3 radians microcosm

*an explanatory note for readers of my blog! For years now, we’ve been doing an Easter Egg hunt for our children. This doesn’t involve just hiding the eggs and telling the children to go find them. No. This involves anagrams, pictograms, puzzles, charades and various other cruel and unusual punishments before we will let the children locate and consume chocolate goodness. The children love it, and this year, we have had to do the hunt on Easter Monday as the big 4 children were with their other parents. The news that we were going to do a hunt (even though they weren’t with us) generated a rousing chorus of cheers. Three hours later and we are still generating clues and have yet to hide eggs.

For anyone (in NZ) who can correctly suggest where Genna and Morgan should look,  I’ll send an Easter egg!

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Simple pleasures – growing your own food

The husband, it turns out, not only has a green thumb, but likes to use it. I am not a gardener, but am perfectly happy to reap the rewards of his efforts. This summer, we had so many tomatoes that after we were able to make a vast amount of relish, passata and used tomatoes in every meal for weeks. One of the nicest things about our garden is the year-round herb garden just outside the kitchen door. Even when it is pouring with rain, you can still nip and out and pick a selection:


I was taken with how beautiful these looked when the sun came out:

Chives after the rain

We have vegetables as well:

Perpetual spinach - slightly smaller leaves but keeps on growing.

And some fruit. Last year, we had about 5 strawberries, but this summer we have had a steady amount.

And it looks like we have more to come yet, even though it’s officially autumn now:

We also have two bay leaf trees. Tree number one did not appear to have taken and didn’t grown very well for the first couple of years, so we brought in a second. Apparently, the first tree was just lonely, because it has sprouted and grown, as has the new tree:


The family and I love the fresh flavours our herbs add to our meals, and we’re very pleased that there are a couple of gardeners amongst us. Grubbing in the dirt and planting makes for a fun time too, even for those of us who can’t grow things to save our lives!

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Loving dangerously – what a great way to live

Me, 33 weeks pregnant with my twins in 2006

Love. Have you ever felt that your heart is so full of love, so close to bursting, that it might just push right out of your chest (in a good way, not a scary Alien kind of way)? Have you ever been so overflowing with emotion that you cry, because there is no possible way to keep all that feeling inside? Have you ever felt so terrified as you watch a small person trundle happily through the school gates, because you worry for some irrational reason that you may never see them again?

Having children was a revelation for me. Up until the birth of my first daughter, I had a very controlled life. I’d been in love, but never dangerously so. Never in danger of losing control and being devastated by the possible loss of that person. Never to the point that I questioned whether I could carry on without them. Never to the point that every breath they drew, every smile or expression, could fascinate me. Never to the point of obsession, healthy or otherwise.

I was pretty sure I would love my child – my children. I loved my god-daughter and her brother (now my bonus children) very much. I felt a deep connection to them. But I was still one step removed. Then my daughter was born. First of all, she was a girl. A much-wanted grand-daughter for my terminally ill mother in law, who was only blessed with sons and grandsons. But really, it was just that she was she.  My  daughter had silver fly-away fairy hair. She was perfect. Something in her called to me and connected with me on a level that I couldn’t rationalise or explain. The first night she was born, the hospital midwives took her off to the nursery so I could sleep. She didn’t sleep, and neither did I, until she came back to my room. When the morning midwife found us curled up in my bed, there was hell to pay, but we had slept. Many days, just looking at her made me feel as though I had too much love for my skin to contain, and as though I would split open if I held one more iota of love for her. How could I possibly love another child as much?

My son came along. Charming, loving, affectionate, open. Flirted with the midwife as he was being born. And my heart swelled even further. The connection wasn’t as instant, but was just as deep. My capacity for love really did multiply.

My bonus boy, aged 8, with his 1-day old brother

My family didn’t feel finished, but my husband and I couldn’t agree to have another child. Five years later, with a new partner, I had two more children. They were bonus kids and I inherited them when they were 8 and 6 and already fully formed. I’d watched them grow to that point and loved them already.  They have their own, very special, mother, but I am the next best thing. My heart can’t tell the difference between my bonus extras and the children I laboured for.

Another two years, and suddenly more babies – twins this time. Each one nestling their way into my heart in their own special way. Each one unique. Each one finding their own corner. Watching my older children with the new babies once more made my skin overfull with love, making me itchy with emotion.

The small boys, very small at 4 days old

Watching my small boys quietly drift off to sleep, the sandman coming to them between one blink of the eye and the next. The warmth of feeling them nestle in with me, one leg  thrown casually over me as if to make sure I can’t get away. My heart, pounding, filled with love and gratitude for the treasures my life holds.

Endorphin high - the twins and I when they were about 30 minutes old.

The days that my children were born are memories like perfect raindrops, sun-kissed. I remember all of them being born – my four, and my bonus children. I remember the feeling of completion, of utter and total euphoria. Of peace.

There are still days, moments, when my children do or say something that makes my heart beat more strongly, that fill me with love, with an indefinable, inexpressible feeling of utter joy. My blessings, adding such richness and texture to my life. Making me love dangerously every day. Do I get scared? Sure! But I wouldn’t change a thing.

All 6 children, 2006

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