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.

Balranald2016-11-13-07-24-01-2

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

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

How I Remembered to be an Encourager

My friend left her three little ones with me one morning. And suddenly, I remembered what it was like to: wipe the 31st runny nose for the morning, change nappies, wash hands and little fingers that seemed to get into everything, dive for precious things before they hit the floor… You get the picture.

I was also very glad when their mum returned one hour and thirty three minutes later because frankly…I was exhausted.

Their mum took them home with her for the next few years, and I went to the local shopping centre to relax and enjoy a Chai Latte.

As I luxuriated in the froth of my latte, another young mum went past with her two little ones; the elder in the stroller and the younger one, probably about two and a half, throwing a tantrum behind the stroller.

The mum calmly, gently and firmly took control of the situation. She whispered something into her now calmer daughter, and continued walking…with a quiet child who was not only settled but followed happily.

I felt the urge to run up to the mum and say ‘Well done!’ But the comfort of my Chai overwhelmed me and I continued to sit and sip.

When it was too late to be of any use, my conscience pricked me and reminded me of those times that my own little ones had thrown tantrums in public. Those were inevitably the same days that the car played up, one of the children lost a shoe, four litres of milk landed on the floor, and it was the last day to pay the electricity bill–and payday wasn’t until Friday.

On one particularly rotten day, we managed to get ourselves kicked out of both the library and the local store in less than two hours. Some well-meaning person in the store had plenty of words about how unruly my children were. As if I didn’t know that.

Later that afternoon I discovered that the main perpetrator of the mischief had yet another fever and accompanying burst ear-drum. So, I ended up at home with sick kids who I had to pack back into the car when they had just gone to sleep so I could pick up their big sister from school, and later, repeat the ordeal to collect their dad from work.

I don’t remember the words of advice that well-meaning person gave. But I know that as I sat exhausted, frustrated, angry and depressed, I wished that some-one would wave a magic wand and give me five minutes of peace and quiet and take all of my troubles away.

Foundation!

Funny, isn’t it, how we can all be parenting experts until we have at least three children of our own. I maintain that nobody who has parented more than two children ever sets themselves up as a parenting expert.

Yet, the advice flows doesn’t it? And me – I’m as guilty as anybody at handing it out.

So, instead of offering advice, I want to give a collective ‘SORRY’ to all of the parents I’ve judged unfairly, neglected to cheer when they were doing a good job, or felt too shy to offer  15 minutes time-out for a mum while I watched her two-year-old at playgroup.

On behalf of all of us who didn’t encourage you when we had the opportunity, here is some instant encouragement.

And for those of you who, like me, need to practice to be more encouraging, here are some ideas for what to say in the future.

You’re doing a great job!
Way to go!
Be gentle on yourself!
You don’t have to smile if you’re feeling awful on the inside!
We understand!
One day soon there will be more sleep!
Would you like me to hold your baby for a few minutes while you finish your cuppa?
How would you like me or my teenager to baby-sit this Friday night while you both go out for dessert?

Who knows? Maybe we can change our local communities into child and parent friendly communities: by encouraging rather than judging; by baking biscuits with the neighbourhood children to give their mum a morning off; by doing the dishes when we’re visiting;  by being realistic about life and it’s challenges; by standing alongside other parents instead of criticizing them; by reminding ourselves of what it was like to be tired with sick and cranky kids; and by standing up for parents of young children in our local planning committees.

We might just find ourselves sipping Lattes without the guilt – and discovering young friends in our old age.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran  as ‘Perfect Parenting’