Life, laughter, cartwheels and mixed messages

Adelaide city breathes music and life and laughter in March. The streets come alive with buskers playing instruments, singing, dancing, making merry mayhem…

Yet nestled right in the city are the Botanic Gardens, adjacent to parklands and the aging Royal Adelaide Hospital. It’s a glorious garden full of peace and quiet.

Usually.

This day was a bit different. WOMAD was about to begin across the fence. The music of rehearsing singers from Africa filled the air, and a joyful chorus of birds echoed back their response.

I wandered through the gardens and encountered a class of school kids on rambling lawns. They ran and jumped and cartwheeled and flipped. I watched in admiration, with my memory taking me back to trying to learn how to cartwheel…never successfully.

‘How wonderful!’ I thought as I watched them.

Then, I noticed that only half of them wore shorts. The other half wore skirts – according to uniform requirements.

At their age (about 7-8) it didn’t matter that they flipped and cartwheeled. But my heart saddened when I realised what will happen in that school in about a year.

And that will be the end of the flipping and climbing and jumping and cartwheeling for the half that must wear skirts.

The school will tell them in words ‘You can do whatever you want to do. Be brave. Be strong. Be active. Be a leader.’

Yet every time they must put on their skirts, they’ll know that the world is telling them something different.

 

Julie Hahn 12 March 2017

 

 

 

Unplanning your day: The secret of being productive

And another day bites the dust.

Another day

interrupted by phone-calls that distract

and messages that need attention

and book reviews that possibly didn’t need to be written

but you wrote them anyway

and impromptu lunches with dear friends

and letters that almost broke your heart to write.

Not what you planned–again.

But you answered,

you gave,

you shared,

you discussed,

you encouraged,

you listened,

you blessed.

 

Unplanned

– but productive,

if you don’t measure it against a To Do list.

 

 

Julie Hahn, 8th March 2017

How to Make Your New Year Beautiful

A mother  decided to display a beautiful crystal bowl she’d been given for her wedding but had never used.

So she found a lovely spot on a bench and placed it there.
The family had a habit of losing their keys, so it became a reliable place to find the keys, and the stray coins, and the springs that pop out of pens, and the washers that somehow manage to find themselves loose, and the empty lolly wrappers and spare batteries, and …

It soon became the junk-collector.

Frustrated that a thing of beauty had become a source of ugliness, the mother cleared it out and planned to put it away again.

Until a thought popped into her mind that perhaps if she gave it a good purpose, it would remain a thing of beauty.

So she filled it with beautiful, healthy fruit. The sparkling faceted crystal enhanced the colours of the fruit and the bowl remained beautiful and full of purpose.

New Year’s Resolutions

I thought of the stories with which we are all familiar – trying to empty ourselves of bad habits. I thought about New Year’s resolutions to get rid of bad habits.

The thing is, often we try to empty ourselves without replacing the bad with something better, so garbage sneaks in again:

We decide to stop yelling – but have not learned other alternatives such as whispering. So we hold off our yelling for a while – but eventually explode.

We tell our kids or ourselves “Don’t!”  – but don’t tell what TO do.

We complain that our loved ones don’t pick up on our clues – but we don’t tell them what we DO want.

We want to stop smacking – but haven’t actually been around gentle alternatives often enough or for long enough to see how they work long term.

And too soon, those things we’re trying to get rid of are replaced with even more garbage.

 

It doesn’t have to stay that way.

Before you make a commitment to say NO to something,

think about what you will say YES to.

With which beautiful thing will you replace the ugliness?

 

Find a safe place to discover and explore new and beautiful alternatives

– and often the difference between ugly and beautiful is just a little YES away.

How to Travel with Children Without Losing the Plot

How to travel with children without losing the plot?

Like most of my parenting journey, I learnt the hard way how to travel with children.

We’ve certainly had moments on our trips that we’d all prefer to forget. For example, when they were babies and we had food poisoning from a questionable chicken burger on our way to a wedding in Queensland. And when we moved to the USA — six flights in 56 hours with three children under five, and no sleep!

On our way home several years later, we traveled through the Rocky Mountains and danced with real live American Indians. We went to Universal Studios and screamed on the Jurassic Park ride. And we visited Mickey Mouse at Disneyland – where our four year old whacked him on his nose! Ouch!

We did things we never dreamed we’d do.

Yet, six months later, our children announced that their favourite place in the whole wide world was Lake Bonney Caravan Park, a couple of hour’s drive from our home in Adelaide. And their favourite ‘theme park’ was the Monash playground, a free community playground in the Riverland.

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Family trips became one of our favourite things to do

and we’ve had fewer of those ‘moments’ since we’ve learnt to simplify and enjoy the journey.scan_20161210-19

On one of our trips, the six of us traveled to Queensland in our Tarago–without a trailer or roof rack. Many caravan parks now have camp kitchens, so we no longer have to take our own barbecue or gas bottle, tables, chairs, saucepans and kettles. On that trip we packed two very cheap tents, and limited each passenger to a back-pack and a handbag-sized bag, a gym-mat, pillow, polar-fleece blanket and quilt cover (without the quilt).

We relied completely on what the towns between Adelaide and Brisbane had for us to do and eat. We figured that they needed our business more than the big supermarkets back home did.

So we got to taste the bakery food in every town, and checked out community centres and local landmarks. In Coonabarabran, for instance, there was a really neat planetarium, where our seven-year-old astounded us with his questions about particular constellations. We had a great trip of over 7000 kilometres.

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Perhaps we’ve missed some of the more famous spots along the way.

But we’ve learnt to have fun, discovered all sorts of surprises and enjoyed the diversity of interests in our family. And the kids have stored up enough silly stories about their parents to write their own novel.

 

Tips we’ve learnt along the way:

.    Treat the whole journey as an adventure.

Don’t try to travel too far in one day with little kids. Take your time, even if you need to take an extra day to get there.

Stop every couple of hours, at least, to break up your trip, stretch legs, wear off energy, find a toilet and perhaps, change seats.scan_20161210-15

Even a pile of stones or a creek on the side of the road can turn into an adventure. More than likely, your kids will remember the tiniest thing you did along the way — as long as they had time to spend with you.

.    Pack a ball or Frisbee and find the local playgrounds. Most towns have an oval or sports park. Botanic gardens and national parks are usually cheap places to visit, and they have all sorts of adventures in store for kids (of all ages).

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.    Have the children participate in the planning. Get some maps or ‘trip-tix’ from your automobile association, information from the internet or library, and help the children to plan and anticipate the trip. On the way, help them to follow the roads on the maps, and look for interesting landmarks such as Big Koalas, old buildings and airstrips.

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.    Save your sanity! As parents of little children you still need to cater, cook, wash and clean, even when on holiday.

Aim for simplicity. Is it necessary to have a big holiday far away while your children are really little? Could you get the same benefit from having a more relaxed time somewhere closer?

Is your destination family-friendly?  Could you be less ambitious about how far you will travel on the first day? Is it possible to get the kids looked after while you pack? Could you spend a whole day just relaxing when you get to your first destination? Can you plan to have a day to chill when you arrive home, so you’re not exhausted when you return to work and school?

We discovered that the most stress came from just getting going.

Our parents/grandparents live an hour away. So sometimes we stay there on our first night, just so we’re on the road – then have an early start from there the next morning. With a box of cereal, a long-life milk, (and a stainless-steel coffee plunger) we head off before anyone is ready for breakfast, and stop for brekky somewhere further along the road.

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.    Keep a list of travel games in the glovebox: ‘I spy’, ‘Car cricket’*, ‘Animal, vegetable or mineral?’ Borrow audio books from your local library or download them onto a phone, or stock up on the CDs your kids like to listen to. Make sure they are not your most ‘unfavourite’.

.    What about a scrapbook? Keep a glue stick handy to incorporate collections you make along the way: tickets,  pressed flowers and leaves. Have pencils/felt-tip pens on hand for kids to ‘journal’ — even a two-year-old can ‘draw’ his trip, while a school-age child can write a diary. Remember, like the trip, it’s not the destination or end result that is always the most important.

.    Keep bottles of water in the car and a picnic kit in the boot or in your luggage, with a plate and a knife, and a jar of Vegemite or peanut butter. Lunch can be as simple as purchasing a loaf of fresh bread at the local bakery and making fresh sandwiches at the local playground, saving money for entrances to zoos and theme parks and for accommodation. A bottle of water and a roll of good quality paper-towel makes great wipes for sticky fingers and faces.

.    A trip to the local supermarket for a roasted chicken, a bag of salad and some bread rolls makes a quick, nutritious and relatively inexpensive meal for a family. It’s easy to pack to take to theme parks or to eat when you arrive at your destination. And it really helps the cook to enjoy the holiday!

Pack a bag of apples, bananas or oranges for healthy ‘fast’ food. Freeze long-life milk or drinks to keep your esky (cool-box) cool, and to keep the little ones hydrated, cool and busy for a while.scan_20161210-ggaf-15

.    Children don’t tend to appreciate the value of your money. While Disneyland might have been your life-long dream, that does not oblige your child to appreciate its monetary value. The simple things in life are often the best.

.    Give your children their own spending money, or even better, help them to save for the occasion. Then allow them the freedom to spend ‘their’ money and learn its value. It’s also an effective technique for stopping the
‘I want…s’.

We found this worked when we stopped for an ice-block too. We told the kids they could choose an ice-block up to x-amount. (As the kids have grown older and gone on their own adventures, our ice-blocks have been replaced by coffee.)

.    Teach your children protective behaviour.

Teach them to speak politely and respectfully to new people, but be aware of their safety and security: Not to tell anyone their name, or where they live. And to not go with anyone other than their family.

DO NOT put their name on their hat, t-shirt, bag etc. in a place where it is visible.

Teach your child to stand still if they are lost in a crowd, so that those they’ve lost can retrace their steps to find them. If someone else wants to help them, teach your child to stay still and ask the person to bring mum or dad to where they are.

Children should especially learn that ‘if you can’t see Mummy, Mummy can’t see you’. Practice at home, and get them to also practice saying ‘NO’ really loudly.

.    Keep a list of what to pack, so that you don’t keep forgetting the same thing, such as the hammer to bash in the tent pegs. (No prizes for guessing why I know that one).scan_20161210-14

.    Plan for your trip home too. Don’t be like me. On our first trip I had all sorts of activities for the way to Brisbane, but forgot about the trip home. Oops!

You might like to send some postcards to your home address to remind you of your trip. Or take lots of photos and put a book together as a keepsake. How about getting the kids to design a ‘slide-show’ – using music and narration, when they get home.  Or keep a private Facebook page or use Instagram especially for your trip.

.    Treat the whole trip as the adventure. So a caravan park an hour away can become as much a treat for your children as Disneyland. (Ain’t that the truth?)

.    Finally, remember that

‘Happiness is not the destination; it is a way of traveling’.

 

Originally published in 'The Lutheran' magazine, March 2008.

 

Where is the Green Yaris?

My plans to fly interstate to see my newest relative changed suddenly.  Instead of spending hours trying to find suitable flights and coordinating train trips, Chris and I found ourselves on the road, in our green Yaris, four days after my sister requested some company.

We tend to have the approach that a holiday isn’t just about the destination – but in the way of travelling. So we take our time to get to wherever we go, and make the most of the scenery and the people along the way. And we hate being in a rush.

There were several slight hiccups before we left

including a sudden shower of water over my feet as I sat in the passenger seat of the Yaris the night before we left.

Adelaide received yet another hail-storm that night. The hail missed our place, but we had a downpour big enough to confuse me. Was the splashing on my feet and the slushy sound in the front of the car due to the rain or had something gone wrong in the engine?

A search on you-tube helped me identify the source of the problem. Armed with very pointy tweezers I removed several leaves that clogged the outlet to the hose that should drain the condensation from the air-conditioner. Fixed!

Instead of leaving before the birds, we left after lunch – and headed to stay with a cousin in Mildura.

The reception by the cousin’s two small children was a little cool initially – until I produced a book from my bag –

‘The Book with No Pictures’.

‘I LOVE THAT BOOK!’

yelled the smaller of the two children, who grabbed my hand, took me over to the couch and climbed up next to me. Then he called to his bigger sister,

‘You’ve gotta hear this. It’s SO funny!’

The three of us sat and giggled, and their mum and dad and Chris came up close enough to discover what was going on, but far enough away so they didn’t look too interested.

Next morning, we left before the birds woke up and headed to Balranald – or so we thought. Let’s just say that Siri got lost. Siri is not intimately acquainted with Irymple – so before long, we discovered that we’d gone a full circle.

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The next time around we followed the street signs instead of the i-phone, and before we knew it, we were in soggy Balranald.

We spoke to the attendant at the servo about the water we’d seen the whole way from Mildura. She pointed out the water behind the caravan park rising up from the Murrumbidgee River. ‘Hopefully it won’t get much higher,’ she said.

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As we entered Hay, a sign said that the West Wyalong road was open. The driver who shall remain nameless rarely takes notice of signs. The navigator at that stage didn’t take much notice of that sign either. We stopped at a  pub for a coffee and a muffin.

A few years ago, we passed through Hay in the middle of a drought when there were puddles where the river should have been. This time, the river filled its banks and the rest of the place was green and sodden.

It wasn’t until we recognized that there were many, many road teams attending the road between West Wyalong and Forbes, and lots and lots of holes where the road used to be, that we remembered the sign that informed us and everyone else that the road was open. It had been flooded for weeks apparently. And  re-opened only the day before we drove upon it.

At Forbes we filled up our petrol tank, and a little further on stopped at McFeeters Motor Museum for a coffee. A cafe inside the museum hosted a bee-hive in a transparent perspex box to promote its ‘Buzz In’ honey shop and educate coffee-sippers like us.

The bees fascinated us.

The bees formed honey bee-chains–I wanted to write human-chains as an illustration–to bridge the gap between  the base of the box and the tray specifically provided for them to build their hive. The bees looked as though they were training for Cirque-de-Soleil and creating their own ‘Wheel of Death’.

On to our new friend’s home on a farm just out of Orange. We were treated to good ol’ fashioned hospitality, yummy food, lots of play and stories with their three-year-old and cuddles with their brand-new-baby.

The evening was full of story-telling, dancing and laughing. It included an impromptu duet performance by me on the piano, and our new friend Dave on pedal organ. We played whichever songs we both knew – which weren’t abundant. But we achieved playing several well enough that the others could recognize them and sing along – well, almost.

I surprised myself that, with a push, I could actually play by ear, and add accompaniment. Thanks for the push, Dave!

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The next morning, I got in the way in the kitchen while Chris ‘helped’ Dave outside doing ‘farm-work’ – but that’s another story.

 

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.

…◊…

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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