Monthly Archives: March 2014

No experience necessary. Must have strong stomach.

Job-Vacancy-DetailsIf I were writing an advertisement for a position as a parent, this would be my headline. Back in 1996 BC (Before Children), I naively listed out the qualities I thought a parent would require. These included a sense of humour. Patience. Love. An ability to play. And you know what? All of those things are true and wonderful if you have them. But after 17-odd years parenting, I would require the following skills and attributes for anyone applying for the position of parent. And yes, this is in order, with #1 being the most important.

#7 High tolerance for dirt and mess

Yep, there’s a lot of this. You need to be able to cope with it. You can wash kids. And their clothes. And your house. Dirt is not the end of the world.

#6 Willingness to perform repetitive tasks

Laundry. Dishes. Tidying. Laundry. Dishes. Tidying. Hairy McLary stories. Nursery rhymes. Movies and songs on endless repeat. Enough said.

#5 Physical robustness

I don’t necessarily mean huge, although when I had twins, being tall and strong was a huge help, both during the pregnancy and when I was carrying around and feeding two babies at the same time. Strength has also been useful for those children of mine who occasionally need assistance getting to their bedroom to have some calming down time. When they’re wrestling, struggling, screaming and hitting and they don’t want to be removed from the situation and calm down, it can really help if you can physically move them. As my children tend to be tall and sturdy, this is a huge help! And endurance is useful. Think of those long family outings where you are the one carrying the backpack with the food, sunscreen, water and necessities because YOU are the parent (even when your children are bigger than you are). Endurance, stamina and strength are very useful.

#4 First Aid Certificate

It is very helpful to know if you need to take your child to the doctor, the emergency clinic which has an x-ray machine or the hospital. A First Aid Certificate will give you the ability to run triage. You can then also intelligently tell the medical professionals the cause of the accident, what treatment you have already applied and you can maintain your calm demeanour while they stitch, plaster or otherwise fix your broken child.

#3 The germ resistance of a cockroach

CockroachFrankly, the amount of germs your wee darlings bring home, and the strength of those germs mean that you need to be like the prehistoric cockroach to survive. Each new environment that your child enters will produce new and progressively more vile illnesses. The positive side of this is that your children inherit your germ resistance. Our oldest child was our sickest, and we were the most susceptible to her germs. By the time we got to numbers 5 and 6, not only were they almost never ill (we can count the number of days off daycare and school on the fingers of one hand, and they are seven now) but neither were we.

#2 The ability to sleep, anywhere, anyhow

This comes in handy in three ways. You need to be able to go to sleep quickly and easily. You need to be able to go BACK to sleep easily after being woken up. And you need to be able to make whatever hours of sleep you get, count. Seriously folks, they use sleep deprivation as a torture method. In the main, I go to sleep easily, wake easily and go back to sleep easily. Phew. I once was in bed feeding the twins when they were babies and woke up to discover I had LOST one! Turns out that one of the babies and I had gone to sleep and the other was still feeding. My husband had woken and noticed the sleeping baby and moved him off the feeding pillow back to the cot. Took several years off my life. I have been known to go to sleep standing up. And after years of sleep deprivation, going to an observatory, or even the movies at times, leads only to sleep. You know, I’m relaxed, leaning back and it’s warm and dark.  Turns out this is exactly what I needed to survive the early years. Needless to say, insomniacs should not apply.

#1 A strong stomach

I cannot overrate this. From the post-labour messiness (let’s not go into detail here) to meconium (green runny poo for those not already in the know) to poo which escapes up your divine infant’s back to the smelly milk which “spilly” babies chuck up all the time (and half of our kids were this way inclined) and then to the far more repellent full on projectile vomiting as the wee darlings get older. If you have a weak stomach, life is much more difficult. Our oldest three were all spilly. I remember putting daughter number 1 on one shoulder, and she chucked all over me. I changed my shirt and she promptly chucked again. I handed Daughter number 2 to a cousin of her father’s (who was wearing an especially nice shirt) and recommended that he put a cloth nappy over his shoulder. He uttered the unforgettable phrase “she won’t be sick on me”. I’m sure I don’t need to detail the next few minutes. As she got older, the same daughter had a predilection for being very ill just before she came down with something like an ear infection, and then again on the last day of said illness. Unfortunately, until she was about 3, she would only do this sitting on my knee. I wised up and moved to the bathroom after the first couple of times, but I have to say it was a red letter day the first time she realised she felt sick and was ill in the toilet. I was reminded of this tonight as my youngest suddenly sprinted for the bathroom, saying “I’m going to throw up” and proceeded to be violently ill. Everywhere. That’s what prompted this post actually. I was completed unmoved by the mess as I cleaned him, the toilet and the bathroom up, and thought how lucky I was. A side note is that at 3am, his twin brother woke me up to announce that he felt like being sick too…

I spent a lot of time right next to these the other day...

I spent a lot of time right next to these the other day…

Now that’s not to say that I have coped with every poo or vomit disaster I have come across. In fact, there have been times when I have just LOOKED, jaws agape, and been completely overwhelmed. Sometimes a poo disaster has required two people to deal with it – and I have been the only one there! I have been known to take a poo or vomit covered baby into the shower with me in order to clean us both up. This doesn’t work when you are out of the house. So my biggest advice is have plenty of cloth nappies with you at all times, and take not only a change of clothes for the baby, but a change of clothes for you as well.

Sadly, it appears from this list that I might actually qualify for a job as a parent. Whilst this is no doubt a relief for my six children, it does appear that there is no way I can get out of it now. 17 years on-the-job experience probably counts for something as well. Now it seems I just need to master the extras – patience, spontaneity, an ability to play, a liking for housework. Maybe by the time grandchildren come along, I’ll be there.

What would you add to the employment advertisement for a parent?

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Modern day social interaction

Devices are everywhere nowadays. Every second person has a smart phone, a tablet, some way of instantly connecting to the internet. We have always had a policy in our house of moderation in all things. So some TV is fine, some computer time, some outdoor time, some book time (actually, as referenced in a previous post, if people want to read books, we tend to let them!). One thing we’ve always been very strict on, however, is that when we have visitors, we TALK to them, PLAY with them, INTERACT with them!

A few weeks ago we had a group of friends over. The children were aged between 6 and 13. The grown-ups headed outside to the patio in the warm summer afternoon sun. The children (after some grazing on the flash high tea) headed INSIDE. One by one, our under 5′ visitors came out requesting our wifi password so that they could do “internet stuff”.

My first, admittedly knee-jerk, reaction, was to say no. You are all here socialising. For goodness’ sakes, get outside, play, swing in the hammocks, throw a ball. The visiting children looked at me like I’d grown a second head. Finally, with some misgivings, we handed over the password and a laptop and two tablets were connected. Our smaller fry (the youngest three, 13, 7 and 7) hauled out their tablets as well and joined in the fun. From outside, all we could hear was laughter and chat. When we poked our noses inside, the eight children were sitting clustered around the couch, peering at each others’ devices, all linked up and playing Minecraft, laughing, talking, and totally interacting on TWO levels – the cyber level and the physical level. The two youngest, who are 6, and did not have any devices, were sharing and taking turns on the older children’s devices. After a while, one of the visitors tried to sell my 13-year old son on the benefits of Tumblr by showing him cute cat pictures, and she then shared some deeply personal information with him while sprawling across him in comfortable fashion.

So my question to you, dear readers, is this. Should I be accepting of this new kind of interaction? Were the children playing together? Yes they were. Were they interacting? Yes indeed. Were they displaying good social behaviours – sharing,kindness, tolerance, conversation, jokes? Well, yes. Did the interactions they were having allow them to form a deeper connection? Yes, unequivocally. Am I just a dinosaur? I guess I am. I’m beginning to accept that things are different in this new technological age, and I do appreciate many of the advantages that this age offers. But I still find it difficult to accept a group of kids sitting around and playing on their technology rather than being outside playing or finding a face-to-face game.

So I come back around to my key phrase of moderation. Moderation in all things. I guess as long as the children are still interacting in a positive way, then it’s all good. But I’m still going to continue to kick my kids outside; to get them playing games in person; to do a variety of activities, to play sport, to learn how to talk to adults and other children. And in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the fact that my little boys call their older siblings (when they’re at their ‘other’ houses) to see if they’ll group up with them on Club Penguin.

How do you feel about this? Would you make a different call?

So one of these devices is not actually connected, but this is my three younger boys and their cousin, all happily engaged in playing.

So one of these devices is not actually connected, but this is my three younger boys and their cousin, all happily engaged in playing.

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Family meals

Are family meals still the be all and end all? I read an interesting article from Debbie Mayo-Smith recently. In it, she suggested that it wasn’t the end of the world if your family didn’t have a home cooked meal every night. The article raised a LOT of comment, most of it negative. Many commenters lambasted Debbie for suggesting that it didn’t matter if every now and again, dinner was a scratch effort, or held in many parts. Many commenters were ignoring the fact that Debbie’s children are all adults now, and perhaps the outrage should have been that she was still cooking dinner for them!

However, my children are not adults. They are 7, 13, 15 and 17, still young enough to benefit from family dinners. Now, don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that family dinners are a great thing. I think it is really important to all sit down together, chat about your day, rag each other, get up and down a gazillion times to fetch drinks, sauce, cutlery and the like. Every parenting tome you dip into and every parenting expert suggests that this kind of interaction is invaluable in keeping your family connected.

But there are two issues here. Only two I hear you say? Well, two that apply to me. The first issue is that of a home cooked meal. I’m Irish by heritage, and the Irish do love to feed people. But does every meal need to be home cooked? Is it OK to serve your family pizza, or noodles, or baked beans from time to time, or are you scarring them for life? I like to cook food from scratch, and so these speedy meals seem to me to be a big cheat. I don’t even use pre-prepared sauces normally. BUT the simple fact is that I don’t always have time to prepare a wonderful healthy meal, and it’s better to have some food than none!

This is issue 2.5 - how a salad often looks in my house.

This is issue 2.5 – how a salad often looks in my house.

The other issue is that we have so many activities on that it is difficult to sit down and eat together every night. When the younger children eat at 6.00pm, some of the older ones don’t get home until 6.30pm, others have to be fed by 7.00pm because of waterpolo training, or other commitments – you see how it goes! Even breakfast is at different times as we leave the house in different carloads. It is generally a given that Monday through Friday, we will not all eat together. On Saturdays and Sundays, we do our best to eat together around sporting commitments, and normally manage to have at least one dinner and one lunch all together. According to all the parenting manuals and common philosophy, our children will be in therapy, and we are missing opportunities to open lines of communication.

Me out on the hammock with my small boys instead of cooking dinner...

Me out on the hammock with my small boys instead of cooking dinner…

But is that true? I don’t feel that it is. We spend lots of time with our children. Whether it is driving them to and from things – sporting events, practices, concerts, dates with friends, playing sports with them – we prioritise them and they know it. We have family game nights, compete with each other over charades, arm wrestling, balancing on one foot, planking and banagrams. I’m not trying to suggest that our family is perfect and this may not be the way for everyone, but…when we all eat together, our meals are often chaotic. With eight of us, there is lots of chat, lots of getting up and down, people eating at different speeds and eating slightly different things – it’s not what I would call quality connecting time.

So in principle, I agree. Family meals are excellent. But I think what is ACTUALLY excellent is seeking to make valuable time with each other as a family. To be significant in each other’s lives and not just as a TV watching zombie companion. To know what is going on with each family member. To show care for each other, whether it is by making the effort to make delicious fresh, home-cooked meals or to ensure that everyone gets to where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be. To take the time to build a fort of sofa cushions and blankets even when you’re feeling like crap. To play games, be silly, hug, sing and above all, show love. “Family meals” is a catch-all. An easy knock-off answer to “how can my family function better?” For each family, this will mean something different.

What does “family meals” aka “family time” look like in your household? What do you do to make your family more close-knit? How do you encourage communication in your family?

This is an extended family photo including my Brasilian cousins!

This is an extended family photo including my Brasilian cousins!

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