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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?

That is SO unfair!

This should be our new family motto. The number of times I hear this phrase a day from my perfectly privileged children is alarming. They are, however, at the age where everything needs to be fair and square. Things need to be split fairly; duties need to be shared unbiasedly and who gets to go first for EVERYTHING needs to be closely monitored. It.is.exhausting.

My son totally understands the chivalrous concept of “ladies first” as long as it doesn’t infringe on his life’s pleasures. And my daughter doesn’t mind things not being fair, as long as she isn’t the one who has been put into an unfair position. Kids, hey.

These are just a few “unfair” situations I have to deal with on the daily in my house. Woe is me:

  1. Who has more peas on their plate. I am sorry, I will simply not start counting out peas at dinner time. Oh and do not let the sliced carrots look different. How come his carrots are bigger/juicier/rounder than mine? I mean really I&J, can you not slice your frozen carrots exactly the same please?

 

  1. Who gets to brush their teeth first. Seriously? What difference is it going to make? Will the person who goes second have a minty fresh breath for 0.5 seconds more? And along with this point is who gets to flush the toilet… well forgive my ignorance but surely it is the right and privilege of the person who is ON the toilet, to flush said toilet?

 

  1. Who has to pack away the toys. In their minds, fair means putting away the toys according to whom they belong to. So my daughter must pack away all the “girl” toys and my son must pack away all his toys. Works well if they were playing independently. But if they were BOTH playing in Son’s room and only playing with HIS toys and then Daughter gets up and walks away when it’s cleaning up time, citing that those are Son’s toys, then that is NOT FAIR and Son loses it. Same thing if they were playing in Daughter’s room and Son leaves her to clean up. Of course, I disagree with their rule and everyone must pick up everything together regardless but that was THEIR rule!! They came up with that all on their own! But it’s like WW2 when their rule backfires because, of course, it’s not FAIR!

 

  1. And it’s the same for everything: who gets to talk first, who gets to use the soap first in the bath every night, who gets to have the last yellow yoghurt, who gets the last kiss good night, who gets to switch on the lights, and who gets to switch off the lights, who gets to fetch whatever mommy is asking for.

 

So that’s IT! I am done trying to appease small children with big demands. They need to understand that life ain’t fair baby. I’m not going to start cutting up frozen carrots to make everyone happy. No sirree. So NOW I’m trying to teach them that ACTUALLY, not everything IS fair. Life is often not fair and sometimes we just need to suck it up and get on with it. Sometimes we do things for the other person’s sake and on the surface it seems unfair but we do it to make that person feel happy… for example helping to pick up the toys even if you didn’t play with them, but you’re doing it to help your sister or your brother out. But alas, right now it’s all just UNFAIR. Life is so UNFAIR for 4 and 5 year olds, I tell you. *eyes rolling in deep sarcasm*

Who’s in the throes of the “that’s so unfair” stage?

Growing up can be sad

My son lost his first tooth. I think it is too early. He is six. I think it is too soon for him to be losing teeth. What next? University? A girlfriend? Marriage? It’s just going too fast. Make it stop.

Mothering is a weird thing. Some days I am so happy that they are grown, that they can wipe their own bums, sleep through the night, fetch my slippers and BE QUIET when I tell them to. But on the contrary, I feel this sadness that they are growing so fast. There’s a part of me that misses the sleepless nights, the endless stream of dirty diapers and the utter dependence that my babies had on me. I looked at my children’s bodies the other day; there are hardly any signs of babyhood left. Their bodies are lean, there are no dimples on their thighs and no pudginess left to squeeze. I remember a time when their arms couldn’t reach around my neck to hug me, but these days they almost strangle me with their gangly limbs wrapped twice around my neck.

I don’t know how much time I have left for them to fit onto my lap. Already it’s getting awkward because it’s all arms, legs and poky bum bones and I’m like WHEN DID YOU GET SO BIG? I do know that I’ll keep them right here on my lap for as long as they will let me.

I love that we can still cuddle.

There are many moments in my parenting future that I am dreading… puberty, boyfriends and girlfriends, school projects, slamming doors and ALL that. But one moment which will truly break my heart is when the cuddling stops. And I KNOW it will happen, that’s the cycle of life, it’s a normal progression, I get that. But man, it will hurt. I still hug and kiss my own parents but I know that if I tried to sit on my mother’s lap I would most likely render her injured, ha. But I wonder if she misses it? I need to ask her that. Does the growing up part get easier? I know that each stage comes with wonderful things, I can’t wait to have a teenage daughter – shopping together, going for spa days, getting her to colour my greys and ogling over movie stars… I look forward to those times. As I do with my son… I look forward to fostering a relationship where he’ll talk to me about stuff, I pray every day that my boy and I will be able to talk about STUFF. That he’ll feel safe talking to me about STUFF. All sorts of STUFF. And hanging out together, playing Xbox or Playstation or whatever is cool for teenage boys in 2022.

But for the moment I do hope that time will stand still, I wish that these babies of mine would stay just that for a moment longer. When you’re in the throes of new parenting and it’s difficult, older moms will often say “don’t wish this time away, they grow so quickly” and at that moment you don’t get it because it’s just so hard and you want it to be over, you just want to sleep a full night’s sleep or get through a day where you can shower and pee in peace. But it’s true. Enjoy every moment, even the extremely awful moments of colic and teething woes, because time is the one commodity we cannot buy. Blink, and you may miss it.

 

Wait, let me check with my children first.

As a parent, you soon discover that every single decision you make revolves around your children. Even decisions that have nothing to do with your children, boil down to how it will impact your children. Let me give you an example to illustrate my point. Changing jobs before you had children may have looked something like this: you’re passionate about it, the money is good, the growth potential is high, and you’re possibly bored with your current job. Great. But making changes to your career when you have children looks something like this: how far is the office from my kid’s school, are the hours flexible enough for me to attend school events and stay home if my kid gets sick, does the salary cover school fees and the million other costs related to having a kid, forget job satisfaction, is the medical aid scheme good for families?

You get where I’m going with this, right?

This same thought process is applied for any decision you make post-kids. Think about it for a minute… your job, the clothes you wear, the groceries in your cupboard, the car you drive, the people you hang out with – if you are really honest with yourself, you’d agree that the common denominator for all these factors is based on your children.

Still don’t believe me? Let me break it down.

As a woman, from the moment your little one is born, you start planning your wardrobe around breastfeeding, or what colour hides spit-up best. Mom Jeans is a thing, people. We need to be comfortable if we’re going to be climbing jungle gyms and cleaning Cheerios from behind the couch on our knees.

Cross out the shell fish and sirloin steaks on your grocery list. These items are replaced with two minute noodles and lots of cheese. Man alive, children eat a lot of cheese. And you may as well pack that Jamie Oliver cookbook away; the only meals you will be making will be those your children will actually ingest. Mainly spaghetti bolognaise, hot dogs and two minute noodles.

What about your automobile? Well shame, the sexy model you currently drive will need to be traded in for a mom-mobile, more suited to carting children and their many accessories around. You become more concerned with ABS brakes and airbags for transporting your precious cargo and whether your car has an ISOFIX fitting, rather than how cute you look behind the wheel.

And lastly, your friends… We can all attest to the fact that when you become a parent, you more often than not, lose touch with friends who have not procreated yet. And I get it. Quite frankly, I too would not want to hang out with people who discuss their baby’s poo at the dinner table. Your children start to dictate who you spend time with, or more specifically, who wants to spend time with YOU.

Say what you want, we are all slaves to the little dictators who run our lives. Their totalitarian rule means we can do nothing, go anywhere or say anything without their consent. And just you try to deviate, you will be punished in ways you can’t even imagine… like a sleepless night or a bowl of cereal flung across the kitchen floor.

What’s most peculiar about this whole predicament is that it’s a dictatorship that no parent would trade in for the world!

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.

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.

How do you know when your family is complete?

Growing up I always imagined that I would have a big family one day. I thought I’d have four children just as my mother had had four children. I quite liked the idea of a noisy little soccer team. Furthermore, I had even considered the amount of grandbabies four children would give me in my retiring years. I had it all figured out, the perfect big raucous family.

Then I had my first kid.

I won’t say that my vision changed, but I will say that the cost of having one child made me reevaluate my desire for a big family. And I’m not even talking about the financial cost here. The emotional cost, the cost of my time, the cost of my marriage, the cost of all the outpouring of myself that I had to do as a mother; it was life changing. Then of course the financial cost of having kids, let’s be honest, children are a liability of gigantic proportion.

When I fell pregnant with my second child (oops) I wasn’t anywhere near making the decision to have another child. It happened and just as well, because had I had a choice, I would have probably waited years longer before taking the pregnancy plunge again.

But here we were, two kids deep and because the age gap was so tight (15 months), it was hard. Having two kids both under the age of two will bring out the best and the worst in you. The “worst in me” decided then and there that I would never-ever-ever-ever sprout another baby. The mental and physical exhaustion put me clean off doing it ever again. My husband felt the same way and we stuck it out in the trenches with our two babies waiting for the day when we wouldn’t be knee deep in dirty nappies, toys that make far too much noise and medical bills that don’t ever stop when you have small children.

We’re five years past that crazy time. We managed to keep our children alive! More so, they have flourished under our care. Who would have thought! That intensely difficult phase of parenting seems like a distant dream. Make no mistake, each stage definitely comes with its own challenges, but I think when you’re well rested from having a normal eight hour sleep (versus the two or three we used to get in those days), you look at your challenges differently!

All of a sudden, I’m thinking about that big family I dreamed of years ago. All of a sudden, I’ve forgotten how difficult it was, how depleting it was and all I can remember is how awesome it was to bounce a rosy cheeked baby on your lap. I thought we were done. I thought my family was complete. But now I have to admit that there could possibly be room for one… or maybe two…more?

Is your family complete? What made you make the decision to complete your family?

DOES YOUR KID KNOW YOUR PHONE NUMBER?

I’ve always written my phone number on the inside of my kids’ school bags and told them that it’s there in case they ever need it. But their school bags are not always with them. I considered sewing labels with my phone number onto their clothes, but that just became impossible with two children who can’t stand regular clothing labels which I need to cut out of every garment. I soon realised that the easiest way to get around this problem of my kid needing my phone number and not having it, was if they knew it in their heads.

I started teaching them our important numbers from a young age; mine, my husband’s and the police. I’ve impressed upon them the absolute importance of using this number whenever they feel uneasy or scared or need my help in any way. I’ve told them to ask an adult for a phone or if they are at home, the only number they are allowed to dial without asking is mine or Dadddy’s. It took a while for them to get it; I’m always amazed at how they remember the month, day and time you jammed their finger in the door, yet they can’t remember important things like a 10 digit number.

But we’re finally at the age where both the 4 year old and the 6 year old know our numbers. This is good. Except when your kid calls you five times a day: first call just to say hello, second call to ask if they can go make a wee, third call to ask what’s for lunch, fourth call to whine about how bored they are at home and so on and so on.. you get the picture. They’ve also requested a list of other people’s phone numbers who they might like to call, like their grannies and aunties and cousins. Now I know how my father felt when I would spend hours on the landline talking to my mates.

But Mr Bell did not invent the telephone for nothing, so I’ve made a list of all the phone numbers they may like to try, on condition that they ask first. I do believe that small amounts of freedom for a little child are exhilarating, so a few self-made calls to Granny won’t hurt. I may regret saying that when I see the bill, won’t I?

I also think it’s important to make them aware of the important emergency numbers, along with informing them on how to use the panic button and your house alarm. This makes sure they are prepared in case of an emergency, especially if the emergency involves you, and you are not able to make the call yourself.

Does your child know how to contact you in an emergency? Does your child know how to contact an emergency service if they need to? Equipping your child with these could be lifesaving, so do not delay in making sure they know how to get hold of you. The simplest approach is parrot-fashion. Before a child can even read or identify numbers, if he or she can recite the numbers, you are half way there. When they are able to recognise the numbers themselves, and can write them down or recite them back to you, you’ll sleep better at night. I know I do.

Getting an education in South Africa.

Growing up, all the kids in my neighbourhood went to the same school. The school was in the area, our parents assumedly handed in some paperwork and the nice principal said we could gladly attend his school. We walked to and from school and after sports or other extra mural activities, we went home because there was no aftercare. We envied our “latchkey” friends who would let themselves into their houses and stay there alone until their parents got home. Some of us stayed with our helpers and some of us were lucky enough to have a mom who didn’t work at all. That is how it was.

These days, things are different.

On Monday, I stood in a queue along with the rest of Gauteng, trying to enroll my child at a public school for Grade 1 next year. Some parents had been queuing for 48 hours, others were turned away because they were missing an all-important document like an unabridged birth certificate, and the general mood was one of disgruntled unhappiness at the process. While we were jovial in the queue, hoping for the best outcome, we all agreed that the process itself was absurd.

A quick summary of how it works for public schools: you may apply to any school you want but preference is given to those families who live or work within a 5km radius of the school. Preference is also given to those families who already have other children in the school. Preference is also given to those children who have attended a “feeder” pre-school. These children are placed on an A list. The B list is for anyone else who doesn’t fit any of those criteria but still wants to apply. You can see from the above, that B list applicants have very little chance. But I understand this process, it makes sense and it is fair. No problems there.

My problem however is this number system. For example, I stand in a queue so that I can be number one but at the end of the day if number 427 lives/works in the zone or has a sibling in the school, my number one means nothing and number 427 still has a better chance of being accepted than I do. In the same vein, if you fit all the criteria that will get you onto the A list, why ever would you go and stand in a queue anyway, if your application is somewhat “guaranteed” because you fit the criteria? I was led to believe that every single application will be reviewed in order to ensure that the children who HAVE to be placed in that school, are placed. So that means that you could apply at any point during the open registration period (13 April – 26 May) WITHOUT having to stand in a queue and you are guaranteed that your application will be reviewed, no? So why then do we queue? Are schools not following the policy as laid down by the government and only reviewing the first 200 or 300 applications? Are parents just anxious and so they try all routes to ensure their kid has a standing chance? Does it mean anything to be first in the queue? And if not, why then are we queueing at all?

Who can shed some light?

Parents, back off.

“By pandering to your child’s every need, you are doing them a huge disservice”

 

I read this in my doctor’s office a few years ago and at the time I was mostly annoyed.

I mean every mother (in her right mind) wants to over provide, rather than under provide for her children, right? Every mom wants to meet her child’s every need, and sometimes that means sacrificing a lot of yourself and your needs so that your child wants for nothing. Having a child means that your life as you knew it before having children gets put on the back burner and instead, you dedicate your life to that of your child’s. Your free time is no longer spent reading a book, but sowing name labels on little clothes and washing and sterilising bottles. We don’t do it selfishly, but rather selflessly… for our kids. Right?

 

However, six years into this parenting job (someone give me a medal please), I’ve come to realise the truth of that statement. I believe this statement is referring more to the helicopter parent who loves to hover (guilty as charged), I believe it is referring to the parent who can’t bear to see their kid’s little heart break when they can’t do something or can’t get something right (again, guilty as charged). What I’ve come to learn, is that by constantly jumping to their aid, we are prohibiting them from learning and understanding the bigger life lesson. And it’s a number of lessons that you could be teaching in such a situation:

 

  1. Slow and steady wins the race – let them learn and understand that not everything is easy but that practice does eventually make perfect.
  2. It’s ok not to be the winner, as long as you have tried your best.
  3. It’s ok to be frustrated, but freaking out when you don’t get your own way or you can’t reach the toothpaste or you can’t put the CD into the DVD properly, is not cool and doesn’t help the situation.
  4. And most importantly. Mommy loves you, but I want you to LEARN to do these things for yourself. Because quite frankly, I am not going to be around forever, and I need to equip you to DO life.

 

And I think children love the independence of being able to do things for themselves. And by constantly butting in and doing things for them, we are giving them less credit than they deserve. I am a helicopter-parent, no doubt, but I’ve decided that tough love isn’t a bad thing. For me, this means letting them do age appropriate things for themselves, letting them make mistakes, letting them battle things out before jumping in and saving the day. I do believe that this will go a long way in raising kids who will become responsible and capable adults.