Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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…◊…

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

2008-04-22-18-47-46

I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

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It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition. 

 

MISSING IN ACTION

We’ve been on a trip to visit relatives…More articles soon!

 

Will Julie make it back to the writing desk or will she suddenly be overtaken by the urge to stay holidaying forever?

Is her newest relative the cutest in the whole, entire world?

Which is easiest to work with: a puppy-in-training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thinks she’s a sheep, or a sheep that thinks she’s a dog?

Where is the green Yaris?

All this and more…coming up!

(Thanks for your patience!)

 

 

 

How (Not) To Choose Books Your Children Will Love

I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.

BAD MOVE.

I love books. I love writing. I love reading.

But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.

This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.

I would have had a lovely time

except that

as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard

‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.

 

I did not try to listen.

But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.

 

When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.

Not this morning.

 

When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and  re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.

Not this morning.

 

I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.

But not this morning.

 

The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.

He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.

He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.

 

My heart sank.

 

I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.

‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’

‘I don’t have one.’

I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.

‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’

By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.

‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’

I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’

‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’

‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’

The pay-wave machine beeped.

The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.

And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.

 

Let’s not leave the blog there:

Which are your favourite children’s books?

Which books have your kids worn out?

What do you love about them?

What are you currently reading?

What do your kids love about them?

Please let us know your recommendations.

 

 

 

Daring Ducks: How to Make Boundaries Work

I would never have thought I’d learn about boundaries from a farmer and his ducks.

On a trip to Bali, long before everyone else had been to Bali too, my friends and I stayed in a home in Ubud. One afternoon, as we walked back from a nearby jungle full of cheeky pick-pocketing monkeys, we encountered a farmer walking his ducks.

I can still see the farmer dressed in his traditional rural Bali clothing, complete with a broad-brimmed thatched hat. In his hand he held a thin rod of cane – about three metres long.

Waddling up the path in front of him were several hundred ducks. Most of the ducks walked straight ahead, as though they’d walked the same way dozens of times.

But on each side of the raft of ducks, there were the more daring ducks who kept trying to veer off into neighbouring fields, wandering off from the remainder of their buddies.

Whenever this would happen, the farmer would very gently stretch out the cane in front of him, but to the side of the raft of ducks. By gently alternating his stick from one side of the ducks to the other, the farmer effectively created a physical “V” boundary.

Only those dauntlessly daring ducks who wandered a little further than the edge of the flock ever felt the cane. And never did they feel it as a weapon – more like safety rails on a walk, or bumpers on a ten-pin-bowling alley.

So there were several dozen plucky ducks leading the flock, knowing where they were going, the daring ducks and their buddies in the middle and only a handful of dawdlers who stayed at the back, close to the farmer.

The ‘V’ of Love

Years later, when I was introduced to the ‘V’ of love’ memories of the farmer and his ducks rushed back into my brain.

In her book ‘How to parent so children will learn: clear strategies for raising happy, achieving children’ Dr. Sylvia Rimm* uses the ‘V of love’ as an illustration of how boundaries can be applied effectively.

Boundaries work best when they grow as our children grow.

Picture the sides of a ‘V’ as boundaries, and the length of each side as a time-line.

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If we picture a baby at the bottom of the ‘V’, we can see that babies are restricted in freedom, have limited choices and no responsibility. Their place in the ‘V’ of love’ is within firm, close, nurturing boundaries.

As the baby grows, her freedom, choices and responsibilities within the ‘V’ should grow in proportion to her stage of development. The boundaries expand as she grows.

We can give our children safe and reasonable boundaries

If we’re aware of our child’s development, we can give them safe and reasonable boundaries that allow them to explore, stretch and grow. And to retreat into when necessary.

Rather than being restrictive, effective boundaries are like safety barriers at the sides of steep, narrow, windy roads. They don’t hold us onto the road. But they give us the security that if we wander too far to the right or left, there’s something that will stop us from damaging ourselves.

Within the boundaries of the “V” of love, there needs to be an expanding volume of choices, complete with consequences (especially positive ones), freedom and responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions as to how boundaries need to change as a child grows.

Toddler

For example, reasonable choices for a toddler might include a choice between two options such as:

  • Would you like apple or banana?
  • Would you like to wear the green shirt or the purple shirt today?
  • How are you going to get to bed tonight? Will daddy give you a horse-ride on his back, or will he carry you in his arms?

The boundaries are set:

  • Children need to eat nutritious snacks.

It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a nutritious choice. The child chooses whether to eat and how much they’ll eat.

  • These are the clothes you can choose from.

This gives your toddler an amount of control suitable for their age and development. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch a child in a department store being given free-reign. Too many choices are overwhelming. Let their choices expand as they’re able to handle them.

  • The toddler’s freedom and choices remain within the boundaries of a familiar bed-time routine.

Eight year old

An eight year old might like to have a bigger choice of which clothes to wear, but with that comes responsibility.

For example: If she forgets to pick her clothes up off the floor she can choose to pay 50c  for every article of clothing dad picks up at the end of the day – or she can figure out and negotiate an alternative.

Eight year olds LOVE the opportunity to debate. Don’t take it personally.  Try to use it as an opportunity to encourage respectful negotiating techniques.

The boundaries are set:  Clothes belong in the cupboard.  If you’re old enough to shop for your clothes, you’re old enough to look after them.  (I’m still working on this one!)

Fifteen year old

A fifteen year old can probably manage his own finances for clothes, mobile phone, social outings and gifts for friends – and learn to save and be charitable.

The boundaries are set – “This is your allowance. If you believe you need more, you will need to negotiate or you will have to find a job.”

Wise parents remain available to help and guide through budgeting at this stage. Allowing teens to have responsibility for managing their own money, within stretching boundaries, gives them the knowledge to be able to manage their finances later.

Some kids will continue to test the boundaries

Just like the daring ducks, some kids will continue to test the boundaries. Some will discover new ways to teach the parents about different dimensions in parenting.

Hang in there, parents! If they are testing out new boundaries, you may need to stretch the boundaries a little or patch up some holes in the boundaries. And be prepared to apologize for not having appropriate boundaries in place that may have protected them from the consequences of unwise choices.

If your kids haven’t had safe, secure boundaries, it’s never too late – but you’ll probably need to find someone who can guide you through applying boundaries to older kids. Speak to the teachers at your school, your GP, or other parents who you know have a great relationship with their older kids.

The ‘V’ of Love works. Kids (and parents) appreciate the security of knowing they are safe between boundaries set by someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

They tend to respect boundaries when they can see them growing with added choices and freedom. And, believe it or not, they take pride in accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions–good and bad.

By the time they’re independent enough to borrow the car, kids who’ve grown up with ”V’ of love’ boundaries have had the experience of making wise and not-so-wise choices, and are more prepared to navigate safely through adulthood.

And, just like the Plucky ducks up the front, they’re likely to lead the world in the right direction.

 

 

*Used with permission. Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Rimm for permission to cite her book and webpage. www.sylviarimm.com

Thanks to Kay for the photo of a Balinese farmer and his ducks.

Originally published as ‘PLUCKY DUCKS’ in The Lutheran

How Relationships With Your Kids Can Rescue You

There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.

I checked.

 

The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.

 

I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house

‘’You okay, mum?’

 

Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.

 

‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.

‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.

She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.

‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’

 

My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.

 

I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.

 

The tables are turning.  We rescue each other.

And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.

How To Be A YES Parent – Without Saying NO To Discipline

In a previous post,  I wrote about how we changed from being No. Don’t!  parents to  Yes! parents.

Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up discipline, but rather, it changed the way we disciplined.

We read lots of books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results.

We discovered we had confused discipline with punishment. After lots of research, we learnt that they had little in common – especially when dealing with young children.

Show them how

To discipline means to ‘train’; that is, to show how.

Kids are much more co-operative when they know what they’re  expected to do.

For example: We discovered we could show our children how to touch things ‘gently’ – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch and feel things, such as baby brothers and sisters… gently.

When we began to respond with a ‘Yes, that’s right,’ instead of a ‘NO. DON’T!’ we found that desirable behaviour was usually repeated. If you think about it, ‘No. Don’t!’ doesn’t tell our child what to do next. It just breaks our communication with them, confuses them and leaves them with no options.

Learn more positive ways to communicate with our children

When the children wanted to change activity, instead of saying ‘No. The room is a mess; No, you haven’t finished your homework; No, your hands are filthy; No. No. NO!’ we learnt to answer

‘Yes, when the Lego has been put away; Yes, when you’ve washed your hands; Yes, after you’ve written two more sentences of your homework…Yes.’

Save NO’s for those times that are really, really necessary.

You can imagine our children’s surprise when we began to say ‘Yes!’ much more often than ‘No!’ But as they got used to it, they listened to our instructions much better. And on the rare occasions we did say ‘NO!’, they knew it was important and respected it.

At about the same time as we discovered this, our fourth child 
joined our family. We named him 'Noah'. You suddenly become aware of how
 often you inadvertently say 'No!' when you have a little one who 
responds every time you say the beginning of his name. 

Look through different eyes

We began to look at our children through eyes that looked for signs of discovery and wonderment rather than eyes looking out for trouble.

By observing our children we could follow their lead in learning new things, playing, seeking reassurance and rest. Our job was to provide a safe environment. Their job was to explore it.

Children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents than to disappoint them.

When expectations of a child’s behaviour are consistent with the child’s development and ability, discipline becomes much more realistic and manageable, and parenting becomes enjoyable.

 

How To Change a Toxic Atmosphere with a Bottle of Bubbles

There is a little bottle that lives in my purse. It is not elegant. Its packaging is cheap plastic and it cost me about 25 cents. So I’m happy to give it away whenever the situation calls for it.

But the problems it solves, the moods it changes, and its power to transform the atmosphere wherever I am is almost miraculous.

It’s a bottle of bubbles.

I’ve been carrying bubbles with me for years—ever since somebody introduced me to the ABCs of parenting: A is for Atmosphere, B is for Boundaries and C is for Communication.

A is for Atmosphere.

Do you remember the last day that the kids were stuck inside? The television was on all day and the noise turned into a dull roar, with occasional explosions of screams and squawks. The children were initially a little irritable. But being stuck in the house aggravated them to the point that the whining and niggling behaviour turned into all-out war. Or perhaps that only ever happened in my house.

It was at this stage that I’d scream and yell in response. It would go something like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. There are lots of things to play with. Can’t you just play nicely for a change?’

Sometimes what I said wasn’t quite as nice.

Take control of the atmosphere

Eventually I was reminded that I was the adult and so ultimately I was the one who could take control of the atmosphere.

I know now that a change in atmosphere is literally as good as a holiday, and it’s really simple and inexpensive to achieve.

Nothing beats going outside to change the atmosphere.

Even little babies love to lie and watch the breeze moving the leaves on the trees. Why not take a picnic snack down to a local park? You could lay a rug on the ground, lie back and watch the clouds moving in the sky, and get some exercise and fresh air in the process.ToriWeiss1n

But sometimes you have no choice but to stay inside.

Using My Senses

Some more experienced parents told me that by simply using my five senses—smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing—I could figure out when  and how to make small changes that would make a big difference in the atmosphere.

Hearing

If the noise level is too loud, get the children to turn off all electrical gizmos (especially the television).

Perhaps you could play some beautiful music and dance or sway. Or get the kids to sing.

You could grab some cushions or pillows and a blanket and lie down to read a book or tell a story about what you did when you were growing up.

Or turn everything off, close your eyes and listen to all the noises that happen when everybody in the house is quiet.

You could even practise being blobs of butter melting into hot pieces of toast. Just see who goes to sleep first.

Smell

Open up windows to let in fresh air if you can. Grow herbs or carrot tops by the kitchen sink or on a window ledge. Display flowers (or neighbourhood weeds)  in a glass. Make orange juice. Bake. They’re all pleasant ways to change the ‘smell’ atmosphere in our homes.

A less pleasant (but very practical) idea: Take the rubbish out to the big bin outside. (I found that our kitchen got smelly because our rubbish bin was too big. So I swapped it for a smaller bin that needed to be emptied daily. It got rid of the stinky problem, and was much more pleasant to empty.)

Touch

Feeling clammy, being hot and sweaty, and even sticking to the floor, are all touch sensations I experienced with lots of little kids in my home.

One of my favourite ways to change the ‘touch’ atmosphere has always been bath time. Water refreshes, cooling us in summer and warming us in winter. Children play and chat happily—and I used to find numerous things to do, such as reading magazines and even sewing on buttons as I sat within an arm’s reach of the kids, so there was no risk of tragic accidents.

Keeping a stack of face-washers or microfibre cloths close-by helps to quickly wipe sticky fingers and mouths, and to wipe off tables, chairs and everything else on which those little sticky fingers left their mark. I’ve seen parents teaching their children to do the same.

Taste

Tastebuds will be happier if the children work with you as you prepare their snacks or meals. They’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared themselves. It’s an easy form of entertainment and it gives them life skills.

Make sure to do this before they are hungry, or it won’t be a good experience for anybody.

Seeing

Encourage creativity. But too much clutter and unsorted toys tend to overwhelm children (and adults).

Sometimes it’s worthwhile keeping some toys packed away for a season while others are played with. Sometimes there’s just so much stuff you don’t even know where to begin.

Try using a kitchen timer and a clothes basket or a big box. And see if all of you can pick up all the toys and things from the floor and put them into the basket before the timer goes off.

If ‘team effort’ is somewhat lacking, give a challenge such as, ‘I’m going to pick up the red things. Which colour are you going to pick up? Ready, set … go!’ – Remember, you’re the adult. They’ll watch what you do and will learn from whatever you do next.

A hint: You may have to start first and ‘enjoy’ yourself before they’ll join in. Their enthusiasm may depend on your acting ability.

Include ‘clean-up’ as an important part of play–although it’s worthwhile to find a space for ‘works in progress’ too, especially as children grow older.

A message to generous grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents: if you give a present such as Lego or something with bits, consider also giving a container big enough to fit in all the pieces when children (or spatially-challenged parents) need to pack it all up—and make sure it’s stackable. Shoeboxes and ice-cream containers work really well.

Balls, balloons and bubbles

Balls, balloons and bubbles are inexpensive and easy to have on hand—at home and on trips.

Even if you’re in the car or on a plane, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a church pew or a schoolyard, remember that you can be in charge of the atmosphere. Packs of cards, a notebook and pencil—anything that gives the children something to concentrate on other than their discomfort—can contribute to a better atmosphere.

A note about electrical games: My own personal experience is that though some kids are fine with them, others (like me) get cranky while playing them. One of my kids couldn’t concentrate at school or focus on anything after they’d had a session on a screen. Simply changing their screen-time to later in the day or after school, before dinner time helped them to stay focused at school.

A lo-o-o-ng trip

I remember a lo-o-o-ng car trip from Adelaide to Brisbane. Somewhere along the way, the kids in the back seat began to moan and whine.

So we stopped by the side of the road, held the hands of our children, told them to be very quiet, and we all went ‘platypus hunting’.

It’s amazing how interesting a creek by the side of the road can become. Bushes that infrequently occur on the Hay Plain or little tracks at a local park can become the sites of great adventures. It’s also amazing how quiet six-year-old boys can be when platypus hunting!

Never too old to change the atmosphere. Reading a book to my daughter in the park
Never too old to change the atmosphere. Reading a book to my daughter in the park

Never too late

Oh, how I wish that I’d known about taking charge of the atmosphere much sooner. But even now, when young adults and their frequently visiting friends inhabit our house, that same principle works equally well.

It’s never too late to change a toxic atmosphere, no matter how old you are.

Perhaps we could all change the world—a bottle of bubbles at a time.

Originally published in The Lutheran, June 2012

Changing Shoes

As I passed a sports shop in my local shopping mall this morning, my favourite shoes were on display. My current shoes show that they’ve been much loved. Thread by thread, they threaten to reveal my big toe. Their replacements are long overdue.

I picked up a shoe and turned it over.

My current shoes became my favourites when our extended family was caught in a rain-storm in Brisbane. While I walked along the wooden esplanade through the down-pour, family members who were with me slid and skidded, performing balancing acts that should only be seen on ice, after practice—not by my mum in her 70’s.

My feet stayed secure. The little round ‘lugs’ molded into the base of my shoe created mini-suction cups. So I stuck to the walkway like a gecko on a wall.

So, prompted by the display this morning, I picked up a shoe, tipped it over to press on the little molded lugs on the bottom, with the same delight as popping bubble wrap,

but…

the little molded lugs had gone: Replaced by inserted plugs of what can only be described as aerobic exercise mat.

‘Spongy,’ the shop assistant said to me.

‘Disappointing,’ I responded. ‘Those others stopped slipping. I don’t think these will do the same.’

I didn’t tell her that with my vast experience of sporting equipment (I can hear those who know me, laughing!) those little plugs are intended to fall out.

Change

‘Change.’ she said. ‘Change doesn’t have to be so scary. I think that manufacturers don’t change things to make them worse, but to improve them.’

My mouth (surprisingly) didn’t speak the ‘Yeah, right!’ that my face obviously did.

I saw her discomfort and said ‘It’s the little changes that are the most annoying.’

She laughed, then sidled up next to me.

‘See those track pants along there?’ She pointed at a clothes rack on the other side of the store. ‘Standard stock for years. This year they have elasticised ankles.

People hate them.’

‘Especially those who are 5’ 2” I reckon,’ said me, looking up at the shop assistant who had much longer legs than me. Her eyes looked puzzled and she shook her head. I tried another tack.

‘It’s like computer programs,’ I said.

She grabbed her hair at her temples,

‘Technology! AARGH!’

I smiled. ‘Yeah. It’s those little changes: Some bright spark decides a widget would look better in a different place, might work better a little differently, or should be removed because it doesn’t appeal to his personal taste. And we, the consumers, don’t get to choose what we want.

Big changes you are forced to accept. You have to adjust your mindset. Allow yourself to grieve. Get on with life.

It’s all the tiny changes that drive you nuts.’

We both paused. I put the shoe back on the bench and said, ‘I’ll go home and think about it’.

She didn’t make a sale. But I realized I have more in common with Gen Y than I had thought.

And I went home to discover another thread had pinged on the toe of my favourite shoe.

P.S. After I came home to write this story, one of my family asked me to pick them up from a different shopping centre. And there, on sale, was a new ‘old’ pair of my favourite shoes complete with molded lugs that stick like a gecko on a wall.

 

Family Recipes

My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.

At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.

Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know

‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’

Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.

Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.

But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.

After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.

Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!

IMG_20160825_145611Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.

I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.

But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that  I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.

What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!

‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’

Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.

Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.

Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.

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The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.

So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?

Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.

With a little basic biology behind you, check out some child-development resources. Two good websites are www.raisingchildren.net.au and www.child-encyclopedia.com.

Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage.  That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.

My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.

Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.

If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.

*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.

Previously published in The Lutheran