Christmas with kids…

It’s that time of the year when we start to think about Christmas gifts for our loved ones. Yes, I was that person who said I’d shop slowly throughout the year so that I didn’t have to blow my entire December paycheck on gifts, but here I am. Again.

My children are at the age where they firmly believe in writing a list, and they firmly believe that they are entitled to everything on that list. Even though the whole Father Christmas farce is slowly dawning on them, they are still very much of the belief that if Santa doesn’t exist, then SOMEBODY else better fulfill their lists. That person being Mom, of course.

They are also finally at the age where I have relented and agreed with my husband to get them some sort of “TV game.” At five and six years old, I do still have my reservations about such entertainment;after all I am that parent who won’t even allow them to play games on my phone or to use my tablet unsupervised, let alone have their own tablets! Mainly because I don’t think they are responsible enough, not because I think these devices are evil.

However, we have enjoyed these games at friends’ homes and I think it could be a great family bonding tool. Also they are still at the age where I choose the games we buy, and I monitor the amount of time they spend in front of the TV. My husband or I are not gamers, so we are researching the best options to suit our family. Between Xbox, Playstation, Wii and the like, they don’t make the choice easy. At what age did you invest in “TV games” for your kid?

But apparently one box to open AND share is not going to go down like a nice mug of eggnog on Christmas morning. So I need to create “gift fluff.” This refers to the buffer gifts which serve the purpose of making like everyone gets something. Apparently school uniforms and the stationery you spent your life savings on (shame on you if you haven’t done your school shopping at this point) don’t count as Christmas gifts. Usually these little gifts would have been silly knickknacks picked up at my local China mall. You know the kind that lights up and makes a noise all year round – I swear the batteries from China are the BOMB. But at five and six, I will not get away with a little dog that does backflips to Asian music. So I am now on the lookout for appropriate stocking fillers that won’t break the bank.

And just to be clear, their past Christmas lists have given me nothing to go on; a trip to space or a live pet monkey are not within my budget for this year unfortunately.

My Christmas wish list, on the other hand, is really quite simple. All I want is to see my children happy. And perhaps a day at a spa. And maybe a night away with my husband sans kids. And if they are feeling really generous, they know I have a thing for hand bags. You see, simple.

Let the silly season begin…

If you have a child of school going age (this applies to pre-schoolers too) you will know that November and December are usually crazy months on the school calendar. If you have more than one child of school going age, you will most definitely agree that these last two months of the year are equivalent to… LOSING YOUR MIND.

Depending on your children’s extra mural activities, you could find yourself having to attend ballet recitals, or soccer championships or art exhibitions or some other type of sports awards. This is on top of the obligatory prize giving, the year-end school play and the final fundraising event of the school year… the annual school fun day. Depending on the ages of your children, you may have to attend a graduation ceremony and not to mention all the end of year parties that go along with all these little clubs and events your children may be involved in.

Then parents still need to worry about making sure each and every special teacher gets a year-end gift. At this stage, we need to already be thinking about next year’s uniforms and making sure we have submitted the form to say “yes, we would like to order the obscenely expensive stationery directly from the school because we do not have the time or energy to go and buy it ourselves even though it would probably cost half the price.” My personal philosophy for this time of the year is to just throw money at the problem and make it go away. As we hurtle full steam ahead towards the end of the year, most parents are running on fumes and there’s very little choo-choo left in our trains.

But here’s the prize…

Watching your kid get that award for the most improved player, or the best little helper in the classroom, or even the best attendance, makes it all worthwhile. When we see those little painted faces up on the stage at the school play, singing those songs we know off by heart ourselves because we’ve been rehearsing them for months, when all that coaching from the sidelines pays off and your kid’s team wins that championship trophy, there is nothing more rewarding than being there to witness it.

The end of the year is also a time to celebrate the small victories that may have been overlooked by others. A child who finally cracked a C instead of a D in Maths, because of time and money spent on extra classes. Or the kid who was written off by his teacher in his July report for not being a “typical student” who through perseverance and many hours of OT has made a turnaround and who proved that EVERY child deserves to be loved and cherished.

It’s these moments that make the end of the year an awesome time for reflection. Amidst the craziness that the end of the year brings, I urge you to take a moment to reflect on how much you and your children have grown and blossomed during the year. We often get so caught up in the silly season, that it’s only years later going through old photographs and videos of the school play, that we realise how amazing that year truly was.

Wishing you all the best as we go full steam ahead into the silly season of 2015. Xx

What’s in your handbag, mom?

When you become a parent, you undergo many changes. Some of the changes are huge and obvious… like hello, an extra human in the house! Other changes are small and insignificant and happen without you even realizing it.

I’m not a handbag person. I tend to use one bag faithfully until it’s so worn that I have no choice but to throw it out. Occasionally, I will change my bag to match my outfit and sometimes I change my bag depending on where I’m going to. For example, doing a quick grocery run does not require the same size bag as a day trip to the zoo, if you know what I mean.

But whenever I need to empty my bag, I am always amused at the contents which spill out; as compared to the handbag I would have carried before becoming a mom.

My pre-baby hand bag would have consisted of:

  1. A purse for my cash and cards
  2. A smaller pouch for my important must-have cosmetics: lippy, face powder and blush compact
  3. Another pouch with my emergency sanitary pack: pads, tampons and the like
  4. Tissues
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Mints (I don’t chew gum)
  7. A pen and small notepad

My post-baby bag consists of, but is never limited to:

  1. All of the above PLUS…
  2. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer which I use religiously for wiping various icky body parts
  3. Crayons, markers, colouring pencils and highlighters to rival the rainbow
  4. A big note book to keep the kids occupied if we’re ever in a queue or stuck in traffic
  5. Half chewed sticky sweets
  6. A minimum of four plastic army guys
  7. At least one bouncy ball
  8. A hair brush because there’s just never enough time to do that at home
  9. A forgotten Happy Meal toy
  10. The odd sock. If you have ever wondered where the lost socks go, ladies check your handbags
  11. Mickey Mouse plasters/band-aids. Because you just never know when you’ll need to fix a boo-boo
  12. R5 coins. For those ridiculous bubblegum machines outside the shopping mall
  13. Scribbled I-love-you notes from my babies.

That was my handbag loot just for today, folks. When my kids were younger, the most important thing in my handbag was a spare dummy. Mothers with dummy babies know that there is nothing worse than a lost dummy with no replacement. Now that they are of school going age, my most important item is definitely hand sanitizer and tissues. I’m always amazed at how much of this stuff small children go through.

My kids are always surprised at the weight of my handbag and when I explain that most of its contents actually belong to them, they are amused. While it’s not as fantastic as that amazing magic bag of tricks which Mary Poppins used to carry around, I know that it has everything a mom of a two will need!

What’s in your handbag, mom?

The Balancing Act of the Working Mother

Before kids I had perfect visions (through my rose tinted glasses) of how we would spend our afternoons doing homework together while dinner simmered on the stove. I’d have plenty of time to reinforce the day’s schoolwork, to talk about the highlights and lowlights of my children’s day and they’d be bathed, fed and content by the time Daddy got home from work. After a day at the office (for me) and school (for them), I’d tuck them into bed after a wonderful late afternoon of bonding and then I’d spend quality time with my husband for the rest of the evening.

What a blissful life, right?

Then reality set in.

The truth is I’d start looking at my watch from about 2pm every day in the office. I would calculate down to the last second what I needed to be doing in order to get to my daughter’s school on time to avoid the late fine penalty. From there we would zoom off to my son’s school, and then brace ourselves for at least an hour in traffic. While I fought the traffic, I’d have to play referee to the two hooligans in the back seat, while opening afternoon snacks with my teeth because one hand was on the steering wheel and the other was picking up “very important stuff” which the 5 year old had dropped. We’d get home and it would be a circus. My circus and yes, my monkeys. The hours of 5 – 7pm would be a crazy time of multitasking to get the general admin for any normal household done. By the time bed time rolled around I would be exhausted, highly strung and very irritable.

I could not see my life continuing at that crazy pace. I could not subject my children to Crazy-Mom every day. I knew I had to make some changes to make it work and to make the time I had with my children enjoyable for all of us.

Firstly I negotiated with my boss to come into the office earlier and leave at 3h30. I also trained my helper so that she could at least start dinner, if not cook the whole meal. If you don’t have a helper, I suggest cooking in bulk or cheat meals during the week that are not labour intensive – Google for delicious quick dinner options. My helper also lays out their pajamas and gets the bath going. While the kids have 20 minutes of free play, I already start prepping for the next day. Lunches get made, clothing gets laid out and bags are packed. After their bath, we sit at the dining room table and do homework. By which time Daddy is home and we have dinner together.

I believe the key to stress-free living when you’re a working mom is to have a routine/plan and to stick to it. Of course there is the odd day when traffic cannot be beaten or I’ve had to stay at work later than usual, but on the whole mapping out a plan beforehand usually gets everyone on the same page and all working toward a common goal. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself, skipping the bedtime story for one day or letting your kid eat toast for dinner is not the end of the world. Ultimately what makes for a happy home is a calm and happy mom and taking your superhero cape off once in a while is totally allowed, if it means your sanity is in check J

What every parent needs to hear

  1. You don’t have to be the perfect parent, as long as you strive to parent YOUR child as perfectly as you know how.
  2.  Parenting is often trial and error. Children do not come with an instruction manual, you learn on the job. Don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes, apologise and move on. You’d be surprised at how forgiving your children are.
  3.  Ask for help. I guarantee that there are plenty of parents who have experience in whatever situation you find yourself in. While every child is beautifully unique, the challenges they face can often be universal.
  4.  Don’t be afraid to let your hair down. Being a parent is actually a license to be a kid for the second time J Laugh often, play silly games and get dirty. Weirdly enough, it’s in these moments that your children’s respect for you grows.
  5.  You are not a genie; you cannot be in two places at one time. Parenting more than one child can be a juggling act. Manage the diary as best you can and if it means that you can’t attend one sports day or one recital; that is OK. Your child may be upset but no permanent damage has been caused from missing one of 100 school activities.
  6.  Don’t bear grudges. I know it’s difficult to move on from the Persian rug your toddler scribbled all over, or your favourite sweater your baby vomited on, or the hurt your teenage daughter caused when she called you fat in a fit of rage. But the truth is, they often don’t mean it. Move on.
  7.  There’s never a right time. For anything. Waiting until the baby is weaned before going on holiday. Waiting for a special occasion to let your toddler wear that gorgeous dress which Aunt Mildred sent from London. Waiting for the kids to be older before leaving them with a sitter so you can enjoy a date night with your partner. Often the most time is wasted on waiting. Spontaneity is the spice of life!
  8.  In total contradiction to point number 7. Spontaneity is good only in small doses. Children and parents thrive within a routine. Make your lives easier by developing a routine that works, and stick to it. The easiest way to get your children to comply is by sticking to the rules, all the time. This way there is no confusion and everyone is aware of the individual expectation which has been set upon them.
  9.  Don’t forget your manners. The easiest way to teach children is to lead by example. Be the person you want your kids to be. It is true that children learn more from what they see, than from what they hear.
  10.  Above all things, affirm your children on the daily. We show our children that we care every day just by keeping them alive (duh) and mostly it’s a thankless job. But be sure to tell your children every day just how much you love them; how proud you are of them. Love them when they are being extremely difficult, like throwing a tantrum in aisle #3. Love them through the difficult stages of their lives. It is said that love conquers all things, let your children understand that through your love for them.

Guarding your children against predators

This important business of teaching your children about their bodies and about molestation or inappropriate touching or possible kidnappers is no longer something that happens “when they are older.” Given the statistics of child abuse in our country, these conversations need to be happening in your home the minute your child is able to communicate.

 

It’s shocking to me that I need to potentially be having sex education talks with my preschool children because of the society we live in. But I want my children to be aware, I want them to understand that there are people out there who could possibly want to hurt them; I don’t want them to be under-educated in any way about the dangers lurking out there. But there’s this beautiful and wonderful thing called childlike innocence and I don’t want to take that away from them either. I don’t want to frighten them. I don’t want them to have to second guess every move they make, every adult they come into contact with, every well-meaning hug from a friend. It’s such a fine line, and one that needs to be tread on so delicately. But there is no doubt that we have to deal with it, we have to edify our children, God forbid they are ever in this situation.

I have found that using the Traffic Light Guide is a great way to educate young children on their bodies. It basically explains it as your body being like a traffic light. Green is your head, and it’s ok to be touched here. From your neck to your belly is orange, and you may or may not be ok with being touched here and may want to mention it to an adult you trust. Red is from the belly down and it is most definitely not ok to be touched here. I found this quite easy for little kids to grasp. I also impress upon them that no-one, not even mommy or daddy, not even brothers or sisters, are allowed to touch them in the orange and red zone, without their consent. And I’ve made an exception for doctors, who may have to touch you BUT only if mommy is there.

 

Educate your kids today, do it when you get home tonight. If you are concerned about how to tackle the topic, Google age appropriate ways to do it. Be aware of what’s going on in your child’s life, be on the lookout for signs, TALK to them. I have learned that talking about things and asking questions and letting your kids ask you questions about EVERYTHING, not only this topic, is a way to encourage them to come to you when something goes wrong because that line of communication has always existed, and you have always been opened to discussing all sorts of things, even scary stuff like this.

Ten years ago, a person reading this post would have been embarrassed about reading such a thing on a public forum. Twenty years ago this conversation would have been considered taboo. But today, none of it is shocking, when you look at the news headlines or you actually know a victim personally, or know someone who knows a victim; you realise just how close to home this has come. We have to fight back.

Talk to your kids today.

Playground Politics

I am very traditional and old school in my parenting approach. I’ve always taught my kids that you get what you give: work hard at school and you will reap the rewards, do your chores at home and mommy will be happy, be nice to other kids and they will be nice to you. Uh oh, wait… that last one… not true at all.

And herein lays the fault to my parenting approach.

Being nice to someone, does not guarantee that they will be nice to you. As an adult, difficult as it may be, we can condition ourselves to deal with horrible people. We are more able to muster enough self-esteem so that the foolish people we encounter in our lives will not scar us permanently. But when a little kid is the target of bullying, the effects can be devastating. Being bullied as a child is physically, mentally and emotionally traumatic. It is abuse.

In his article entitled The Long Term Effects of Bullying , Mark Dombeck, Ph.D listed the following as possible results of bullying…

Quote

“In the short term:

  • Anger • Depression • Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.  • Greater incidence of illness  • Lower grades than non-bullied peers  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings (In one British retrospective bullying experiences survey I came across (of unknown scientific value), 20% of the sample attempted suicide secondary to having been bullied, whereas only 3% of participants who were not bullied attempted suicide).

In the long term:

  • Reduced occupational opportunities • Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge. • Difficulty trusting people  • Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations  • Increased tendency to be a loner  • Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned  • Self-esteem problems (don’t think well of self)  • Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization”

I sure don’t want my child to suffer any of those, if I can help it. My husband and I have very different views on how to handle a bully. He encourages our children to fight back; to stand up for yourself. While I promote standing up for yourself, I absolutely do not believe in fighting back, I believe you run and tell the nearest adult. My husband believes that this opens your child up to being bullied when he/she is constantly running to the teacher with complaints about the other kids. I am of the belief that encouraging fighting is NEVER the answer. Because I am old school like that, remember. I’ve always said no hitting, punching, biting, no NOTHING, basically you don’t touch another person unless you’re hugging them. But I also don’t want my kid to be the playground push over. And my husband makes a valid point in saying that standing up for yourself IS old school because that’s how we sorted out scuffles in the old days… we’d meet after school and fight it out!

This is a personal piece, my opinion is just my own. I believe that while my old school approach is noble, the only way to get a bully to back off is to stand up to him or her. I’ve started to encourage my kids to “fight” back in the sense that they do NOT need to keep quiet for some loser kid who gets his kicks off hurting others. I’ve started teaching them to say things like “YOU WILL NOT TALK TO ME / TREAT ME / TOUCH ME LIKE THAT.” I try to build their self-esteem up, I coach them on confidence, I am constantly adding value to how they see themselves. I’ve gone so far as to say that if they need to defend themselves, they absolutely must if they feel threatened, and as a last resort. I don’t know that this is the right approach, I parent by trial and error at the best of times (sorry kids), but I cannot sit back and insist that my kid should “show the other cheek” if they were on the receiving end of some horrible bully.

How are you gearing your kids up for playground politics? 

Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader.

My son learned to read last year. It was, and still is, the greatest milestone I have witnessed in the life of my child. Yes, learning to walk was amazing and one cannot deny the joy a parent feels when your little one graduates from diapers into underwear. These are all wonderful and should be celebrated, but there is nothing quite like learning to read. Listening to my son read often brings tears to my eyes, being a reader myself, I know the power a book has to transform your mind, to transport you to places you may never see in real life; a book has the power to heal and imparts knowledge that you may never be able to learn from anyone else. More so, reading is independence. It allows you to read important labels, to follow important rules, it can give you direction when you don’t know where to go and it can often save your life. I think adults often take for granted the absolute gift it is to be able to read.

I’ve encouraged my children to read from an early age, I’ve tried to grow their little library of books at home and when asked, I always encourage gift-givers to give books. Even with the introduction of digital readers and tablets, which no doubt, has made reading more accessible and even cheaper, I still believe in the magic of a real book, turning pages until they are dog-eared from continuous use, the musty smell of an old library book; reading is a legacy I hope to leave for my children long after I have gone.

In saying this, I thought I’d share a few of our favourite books; books my children and I have enjoyed reading during their toddler and preschool years.

The Curious George series.

If you grew up in the 80s, you know Curious George. The gutsy little monkey who belongs to the Man in the Yellow Hat; his antics will keep your little ones entertained.

The Mr Men and Little Miss series

What I love the most about these books, are the lessons they impart in a rather unconventional way. The books are all about people who are very different – tall, short, angry, happy, worried or loud. It gives you a chance to discuss with your children the diverse world in which we live.

The Cat in the Hat series (Dr Seuss)

Little children love rhyming books, and Dr Seuss is all about the rhymes! There are so many books in the Cat and the Hat series, and they are great for older kids too.

The Berenstain Bears series

Also a favourite from my own childhood, these books always end with such a good lesson for little people.

When I’m feeling… series (Trace Moroney)

These books are amazing for discussing feelings with children. In the series, you will find titles like When I’m feeling Angry, When I’m feeling Jealous, When I’m feeling Lonely. There is a book for every emotion!

Which books does your family enjoy?

Youth Month 2015

1 – 30 June

June is celebrated as Youth Month in South Africa, with a specific focus on 16 June, which is also known as Youth Day. Youth Month pays tribute to the school pupils who lost their lives during the 16 June 1976 uprising in Soweto.

This year marks the 39th anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, and in honour of this, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) has developed a national programme under the theme of “Youth Action for Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime”.

16 June 1976

On 16 June 1976, more than 15 000 students gathered at Orlando West Secondary School with the intention of participating in a peaceful march to the nearby Orlando Stadium. The demonstration had been planned in protest against the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction at schools.

However, the police and armed forces responded to the protest violently and the first fatality of the day was Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old pupil who was shot by the police. It is believed that 175 others were also killed that day.

This violent backlash to what was meant to be a peaceful march caught the attention of the international community. After this event, many countries imposed sanctions on South Africa in an attempt to force the apartheid government to ease its repressive rule.

Why I bake my kids’ birthday cakes.

Moms have a lot of things in common; the way they love their kids, the way they nurture their families, and how they make ends meet even though it can be difficult at times. They also have the same special gifting for making their children feel equally loved, no matter how many children they have. I’d say we’re all pretty much on par when we look at those qualities. But moms are also very different and that’s what makes them so special, each and every one of them is unique; uniquely perfect for their family.

Some moms are exceptionally good at keeping their homes in immaculate condition, like something you’d find in a lifestyle magazine, they make housekeeping seem effortless even with messy babies to care for. Other moms are really handy with a screwdriver and are excellent DIY’ers, these moms can fix anything and come in really handy when you lock your keys in the car. You also get moms who are really good with a calculator and keep the best budgets to ensure their families are well taken care of, these moms make Pythagoras look like a dummy with their ability to make up equations to make the washing powder and dishwashing liquid last for the whole month. You get the moms who have the patience of heavenly angels, they never shout or lose their tempers and they can calm crazy toddler tantrums quick-sticks.

I must admit that I am not any of those moms. Occasionally my house looks like Martha Stewart is my personal advisor… but that’s maybe for five minutes before the kids get up every morning. I am a terrible DIY’er, in fact I’ve only just discovered how to change a light bulb and would have happily sat in darkness were it not for the frightened cries of my children who hate the dark. I can’t budget to save my life, if I see something I like, I’m going to buy it regardless of whether it’s in the budget or not. Hashtag Shopaholic. That’s me. And as for my patience levels, my children will testify that Daddy is definitely the one to go to if they’ve done something wrong.

Before you start feeling sorry for my family for being lumped with a mother like me, let me tell you what I can do… I can bake. No, not well. But well enough that my children absolutely love their birthdays because it means I’ll be baking them a cake. It’s never anything fancy, the closest I’ve come to fondant is licking it off some other kid’s cake, but it’s always a labour of love.

I’ve baked every cake for their birthdays over the last six years and it is the one thing I will continue to do as long as I live, whether they like it or not! You see, this is my “thing.” I hope that it will serve as a warm memory every birthday, whether I am there in flesh or spirit to enjoy it with them.

What’s your thing, mom? What do you do for your children that nobody else can?