Sunday, 28 December 2014

7 Easy Ways to be Happier in 2015

2014 has been a challenging year. For some, it’s had a lot of dreadful moments.
I don't know about you, but I'm desperate for some positivity after so much bad news from the world around us.  I’m a big believer in the adage ‘you reap what you sow’, so if you’re looking for some ways to bring happy back into your life, try practicing a few of the following tips. They’re surprisingly simple things you can do every day that can make a big difference to how you feel. And this can only be a good thing if you've got kids or loved ones that need you in top form. 
 The great thing is, it has a flow-on effect: doing these things will actually bring happy into other people’s lives, who can then pay it forward.  Practice happiness and watch it spread to those around you. I guarantee you great returns.
 Here are my 7 ways to be a happier person in the new year:
 1.       Make eye contact. How often do you look strangers in the eye?  Time and time again, I’ve caught myself muttering ‘thank you’, or ‘excuse me’ to strangers when I’m out and about, without actually taking the time to look at them and acknowledge them as a person. I don’t know why this is. It’s like I don’t have time to look up, make eye contact with them, and utter a genuine ‘thanks’. Instead, it’s all done in a hurry, eyes at the ground, muttering a platitude and then I’m on my way. This year, let’s try slowing down and having a look around us. If you’re saying thank you to someone, try looking them in the eye and meaning it. The connection you’ll make is more powerful than you think.
2.       Assume good intent. It amazes me how often we assume negative intent in those around us. Like when we’re in our cars, people are all too happy to beep abusively if you dare to drive too slowly or don’t notice the green light. We make big judgements about people that queue jump or use their phone at the park while watching their kids. But we’re all just people trying to go about our day. If we were to meet over a drink, we’d probably find we have loads in common. We might even become friends. Let’s do our best not to assume that people we don’t know are full of negative intent. Let’s assume they’re just like us.
3.       Own your decisions. If you have spent time weighing up the pros and cons and have come to a decision that works for you and whoever is involved with you, then that is your decision and you don’t need to justify it. If you have an opinion that differs to someone else’s, you don’t have to change it, or apologise for it.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading all the comments that online forums get, it’s that there are lots of opinions to be had, and each one can be just as compelling as the next. Stand proud and stick to what is true for you.
4.       Don’t think it, say it. Have you ever looked at someone, and thought what they’re wearing looked nice, or you liked their bag/shoes/book they’re reading, or thought their baby was super-cute? Well, try saying it to them. Offer the compliment, ask where they got it, ask what the baby’s name is. Chances, are the person will engage with you, and be flattered by the acknowledgment. Plus, you might find out where to get your hands on those shoes. If they don't respond as you'd hoped, that’s ok. You've more than likely made a positive impact on that person anyway. They just need time to process the warm feeling in their tummy.
5.       Practice random acts of kindness. This is an oldie but a goodie. I remember when this was all the rage, but as a practice I think this has died out. We are too busy on our phones to bother holding doors open for others or helping someone pick up their dropped coins. But how fantastic is it when someone lets you go ahead of them in a queue, or gives up their seat for you on the bus? Or when you get a wonderful compliment out of the blue? There are websites dedicated to ideas about how to practice kindness. Some ideas are brilliantly easy, like complimenting good service, renewing an old friendship or sending a thank you note.
6.       Be polite. Good manners never go out of style, and can make such a difference to someone else's day. Use them at the supermarket, at the café, anywhere that involves interaction with other people. It shows respect for others and also indicates how you’d like to be treated. I think it also sets a great example for our kids.
7.       Don’t expect thanks. It’s easy to get caught out on this one. Do you get wound up when you let cars out in front of you and they don’t give you the thank-you wave? People aren’t always going to react how we think they should when we do something nice, or show them respect. That’s ok. They have their reasons. Some poor souls are still grappling with the art of common courtesy. Don't buy into it. YOU know you did a good thing, and that's the only reward you can count on. Anything else is a bonus. If you never expect thanks, you’ll never be disappointed. Conversely, when you do get the thank you, you’ll feel pleasantly surprised.
Good luck with whatever of these you decide to try in 2015!  At the very least, I hope you get a kick out of trying something new, and with a bit of luck, you'll get some great feedback for it.
Big happiness wishes to you all for the year ahead x

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Has anyone got a tissue?

I remember the exact moment when I became a super-sensitive, wet blanket. Before this moment, I could absorb awful things without them reaching me emotionally. I was fascinated by macabre, horrific events, and loved researching the profiles of disturbed criminals. I read American Psycho without flinching and have worked with damaged people, who’ve told me devastating stories about their past. It wasn’t that I enjoyed hearing and reading about these things, it’s just that I found them fascinating (in a morbid sort of way) and yearned to learn more about what made some people tick. In short, nothing really shocked me, it just intrigued me.
But there came a moment, soon after my first-born arrived, when all this changed. At home on maternity leave, I became a reader of online forums, full of anecdotes and advice about parenting. So naturally, I read. There was one lady, who described her toddler punching his newborn sibling in the face.  As I read this, I recoiled. And then I looked at my own newborn, so beautiful and innocent in my arms, and imagined a small fist punching him in his face. And it actually, emotionally, hurt me.

And it was this precise moment that I became soft. I couldn’t shake that image of someone punching my baby in the face. And my imagination didn’t stop there, I pictured all sorts of things happening to him, and every scenario distressed me deeply. Soon enough, I felt the same way while watching the news. Hearing about terrible things happening to other people became very upsetting, particularly if they were children. It was like I had opened myself up to all the sadness in the world and I couldn’t handle it. Starving people, murdered children, any abuse of children. It caused me pain that I didn’t know what to do with.

And that’s not all. With the crying gates now open, I cried at everything. I still do.

It’s like my tears are on stand-by, just below the surface, ready to pour at the very hint of emotion. Children. Animals. The Wiggles. Carols in the Domain. Justine Clarke. I have cried at all of these things. I cry out of happiness, out of sadness. I cry when I’m singing lullabies to one of my babies and he falls asleep on my shoulder. I cry whenever I see or hear about a newborn arrival. I cry in public and have to wear sunglasses to hide my tears. I cried at school orientation for Mr B, when I pictured him singing with his class on the school stage. I cried when the pretty fairy sang the high notes in Silent Night at a Christmas show the other day.

By now, you can probably imagine me watching the news last week, with all the awful things that happened. I sat there while Husband put the last of our kids to bed and cried my brains out. So much so that when he came into the room, he shook his head and said, ‘Your neck’s wet’, and turned off the TV. I reached up to feel my neck, and sure enough, it was a slippery, soggy mess. I must have cried about a litre of tears. It was actually pretty gross.

Maybe I should try reading American Pyscho again. Harden myself up a bit. Or some Irvine Welsh.

Am I the only one to have lost control of my crying reflex now that I have kids? Have any of you become ultra-soft since becoming a parent?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Anyone else feeling afraid this week?

Is it just me or is the world becoming more and more dangerous? The latter half of this year has just been relentless with tales of loss, horror and tragedy from around the world. Terrorism, massacres, missing children, abandoned babies, tragic deaths of people far too young. And so much is happening on our own doorstep. It terrifies me.

The way I see the world has changed since becoming a parent. In my 20’s, I saw the world through young, naïve eyes. I saw beauty, adventure and amazing detail. I pondered the universe, and higher power. I read The Alchemist and felt all spiritual. I lived by the philosophy of the poem Desiderata: a peaceful, kind life, as a ‘child of the universe’. Desiderata assured me that the world was a beautiful place.

Now, I see the world as something to be afraid of, and this feeling has grown with every child I’ve had. I’m afraid of child-snatchers and paedophiles. I’m afraid of drunk-drivers. I’m afraid of cancer. I’m afraid of sharks. I’m afraid of drunken brawls in the city, and one-punch deaths. Now I’m afraid of terrorism. All these things threaten my ability to protect my babies. And the most important thing in my life is being a parent who can do this.

Sometimes I worry about what I have brought my children into. Will they see the world as a threatening place, or as one of beauty and wonder, like I used to? I know a lot of this is down to me, and how I describe the world to them. But man, I am afraid.

Is the world still wonderful? Maybe I need to look a bit harder. There are still wonderful people around, the aftermath of the Sydney siege has proved that.  But the news consistently reports of new dreadful things happening to innocent people. Maybe my parenting eyes filter everything so that only that which poses a threat to my offspring stands out. Maybe that’s how I interpret the news these days. I can’t watch it anymore.

I know my job is to raise my children, to love them and protect them. To not be able to that is my greatest fear. I have to keep moving forward, must show them that there are beautiful things in the world, despite the ugliness around us. The way I see it, there are two choices for me: live a life controlled by fear or live a life despite it. One choice renders me powerless, the other empowers me. For the sake of my kids, I know which one it has to be.

I mustn’t let fear win, and I won’t let evil win.

Join me if you will. Let’s try to move past the fear and live our lives the best we can. Let’s be good people that practice good things and show kindness to everyone we come across in our lives. Let’s remember the beautiful people that we've lost this week and vow not to let evil hold us back. Don’t let them win.

And let’s cuddle our babies CLOSE.

Dedicated to everyone affected by the Sydney Siege x



Sunday, 14 December 2014

24 ways to STAY SANE WITH KIDS these holidays

I love my children. And I love spending time with them. But right now I’m staring down the barrel of a three-week shut-down from kindy over the Christmas period. Which means I’ll have four small children at home with me, EVERYDAY. If you think about it, this will be like a groundhog-day-type Terrible Tuesday.  Even more challenging is that our delightful Mr B will be home all through January until he starts school next year.

So I'm on a mission to collect all the savvy tips I  can to keep my kids happy, and my sanity in check these holidays . There is lots to do over Christmas and beyond, but not everyday can be huge. With four kids to cater for, some things are going to have to take priority. Like our budget and energy levels. Here's how I plan to do it - if you’re facing a similar home-bound situation with kids this holiday season, read on:

1.               Make plans.  Plans provide momentum, and a sense of control. There is no way I can just wing it with four kids. I divide the day into two halves and plan to be out for the first half. That way, when I get home, the kids will have spent some energy and should be ok with home-bound activities for the rest of the day.

2.               Try different parks. Being free, parks are great for letting the kids loose to run around and be crazy. I like to encourage them to do all their screaming and shouting in these big, open spaces, rather than saving it for our front room. You can ramp up the excitement by trying a park out of town that involves a bit of a drive. This way they get the excitement of a big drive as well as the discovery of a great new park.

3.               Take everyone for a drive. Speaking of driving, have you ever just put the kids in the car and gone for a drive around for something to do? I’ve tried this once, and it saved the afternoon. Fortunately, my kids love listening to music, which driving is great for. So we put the tunes on and went for a drive somewhere different. This is especially good for when the weather isn’t so nice and everyone is getting cabin-fever from being indoors too long.

4.               Be realistic with errand-running.  I've learnt the hard way about the perils of trying to get things done with kids in tow.  Unless you have super patient and brilliantly-behaved kids, don’t attempt to get all your errands done while out with them. Space things out. Take them to the post office and the chemist, followed by morning tea at the café, or a picnic in the park. It might take you forever to get through your to-do list, but at least it won’t traumatise you.
5.               Go on a one-day holiday. No holidays planned? Try a one-day holiday. There are so many great things to do that we ordinarily never get round to. And if I plan it right, we could stay out the whole day doing new and exciting stuff, so that by the time we get home it is dinner time and it we’ll all feel uplifted and exhausted, like we’ve just come home from holiday. Get it? Like trying out a faraway beach or a national park, followed by a restaurant lunch, followed by ice-cream and a walk or a movie. Sounds like an expensive day, I know, but if you compared the cost of this with an actual holiday, it is pretty cheap. Plus, after such a huge day, you can get away with not having big plans for the rest of the week.
6.               Playdates. Book. Them. In. Swap numbers with other mums from day care and do each other a favour by arranging play dates during those long summer days. I will definitely need these, specifically the ones where you can drop your child off and pick them up a couple of hours later.
7.               Go to the movies. If you have a child old enough, the cinema is great for a heat-escape and some cuddle-up time with your child/ren. With Miss P still too young, it will be me and Mr B heading to the movies these holidays. I’ve already got my eye on the Paddington Bear movie.
8.               Divide and conquer. Send your partner out with half the kids while you deal with the other half. If you only have one kid, enjoy the peace and quiet while the two of them head out for the day! For us, enjoying the company of just two of our kids at a time is nice for a bit of bonding and altogether much easier than trying to get out with four of them.
9.               The café is an activity. We all know I have a coffee addiction, which makes visiting the café a top choice for me. But cafes are also great for kids, especially if you can find one that tolerates small children and makes a decent babycino. To stretch it out, bring along some colouring books and let the kids be artistic while you sip on a flat white. Or play a game of eye-spy. You can easily wile away a morning doing this.
10.           Make walks fun. Let’s call a spade a spade. Walks aren't that fun. But sometimes it’s the best on offer. So jazz it up a bit and invent some sort of game like bug-hunting, leaf-collecting or number-spotting.
11.           Run the bath. When my bigger kids suddenly get all crazy in the middle of the afternoon, I put them in the bath. This does two things: it gets them all clean so they don’t need a bath before bed (thus making the bedtime routine much quicker), and quite often, they will amuse themselves in there for ages. When they get a good game going together, my big two will play brilliantly. The price I pay for this is that I have to hang out near the bathroom so I can keep checking on them and by the time they’re finished the whole bathroom ends up flooded, but it is worth it just to contain them in a small room for a bit.
12.           Go out for an ice cream. Do you know where your local ice-cream parlour is? You know, the ones that display all their ice-cream in the big tubs and serve them up in cones or cups? There’s not many about these days. See if you can find one and take your kids out, just for ice-cream. Then sit and watch them lick furiously while it melts in the heat. Let them get all sticky. Take them home for a bath if you haven’t already used that one today.
13.           Swimming. I don’t think I’ll be game enough to go with all four of mine to the pool this summer, but my oldest two are definitely good to take together now. We have plenty of local pools around so we’re spoiled for choice.
14.           Get out EARLY. Beat the traffic, skip the crowds, nab a parking spot. This goes for shopping malls, beach trips, play centres, and anywhere else you think families will flock to during the holidays. If you’re anything like me, and don’t have the patience for back-to- back traffic or circling car-parks looking for a place to park your giant people-mover, it makes total sense to get up early and get everyone out the door before 9am. Even better, you’ll probably miss the going home traffic too.
15.           Get a babysitter. You have to look after yourself as well these holidays. Call in a sitter and treat yourself to a morning out for shopping or errands without the kids in tow. Or better yet, book a lunch out with friends. If you don’t have family around and can’t afford a babysitter, consider a child-minding swap with a friend. She can look after your kids one afternoon, and you can look after hers the next time.
16.           Have some easy and fun house-bound activities ready to go. I really need to get this organised. Get some play-dough in and set the kids up at the craft table. Or buy some new tools to colour with. They always love paint, if you can handle the clean-up, although this provides a brilliant reason to apply tip #11.
17.           Be creative with whatever outdoor space you have. Got room for a splash-pool, or water/sand table?  These can fit anywhere; we’ve had them on balconies and in our courtyard. Here’s a tip: give them an icypole and they will sit in the pool for ages sucking, and any drips will go into the water and not on your carpet! Plus the kids come out wet, not sticky!
18.           Scooter parks/bike tracks. Great for Mr B, not so much for his sister, who demands that I push her around on her scooter. Mind you, she is getting a bike for Christmas, so we will have to practice sometime.
19.           Picnics. I don’t do these enough. How easy. The kids can be involved in choosing and preparing the food they want to eat, they can bring along some outdoor toys and you can set yourselves up in the local park for as long as you like. I will definitely be trying this one, especially now the babies will enjoy the exploration time.

20.           Screen time. My kids are all too happy to sit with the IPAD playing their games, so much so that it’s tempting to buy another one so they both sit down and glue themselves to the screen. I try to rotate their time though so they share it and don’t spend too long in one go on it. I find that there’s lots of great apps that are good for learning as well as fun for kids. I’m a big fan of Bugs n’ Buttons.
21.           Early dinner time. If you’ve had a long hot day with the kids, there is nothing wrong with giving them dinner at 4.30pm and getting them on track for an early bed time! Plus, if you’ve already done their bath, you are well on your way to wine o’ clock! The kids will be tired out anyway, so you’d be doing them a favour by getting them to sleep at a decent hour.
22.           Be lazy in the mornings. With no school or kindy (and no work for you), enjoy the chance to be lazy and let everyone hang out in their pyjamas for the morning. That includes you.
23.           Pick your battles. Don’t make things hard on yourself. If the 3 year old wants to wear the princess dress to the shops, let her. Toddler refuses to eat anything but a peanut butter sandwich for dinner? He’ll survive.  If your pre-schooler insists on bringing a bag of cars to the café, meh. Who’s it going to hurt, really? Besides your back of course, when you have to carry it around. My point is, let some things slide, and save your energy for when you really need it. Like when they’re flooding the bathroom or burying each other under mountains of pillows.
24.           Hit the beach. We are lucky to live near the beach. In the height of summer, I make it a point to get down there before 9am and leave again by 10.30am. It is typically already stinky hot this early in the morning and after an hour or two, we've all had our fill of the sun and sea. I find that the beach really packs out just as we're leaving, which is fine by me!
How bout you? I'm sure you have your own sanity-saving tips for getting through the day-care break with busy, small children. Care to share?

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Parenting 101

I’ve learned a few lessons recently.

I know with parenting it’s a massive learning curve that we all have to experience, but for me there are some moments that stand out, either because they strike a chord, or because they cause me all sorts of anxiety! I can be really hard on myself when I feel like I’ve made a parenting mistake. I have a hard time shaking it off.  But I do try to remind myself that making mistakes is great for learning, and that I’ll know better for next time. If that doesn’t work, I just wait for something else to come along so I can worry and obsess about that instead.  On a positive note, I have learned three brilliant lessons over this past week that I know will give me good value for many years to come (and set me up nicely with the babies, who I'm hoping I will make far less mistakes with...)
Here’s what happened last week:
1.       A trip to Mr B’s kindy class. This one is more of a realisation than a mistake.  I actually did pretty well with this. After weeks of promising to bring the babies in for Mr B’s show and tell day, I finally got it together to bring them in last week. I had been putting this off for ages because they were either unwell or I was afraid of them getting unwell from the visit (from kindy germs – my paranoia). But once they’d turned one, and with the end of the year fast approaching, I had to make it happen or I knew I’d feel awful for Mr B. So we scheduled it in so that Mum could look after Miss P for me while I took the babies in to see Mr B and his kindy mates. The plan was for Mr B to ‘show and tell’ his baby brothers and then I would read a book to his group. I specifically chose ‘Dogger’ by Shirley Hughes for this as it’s one of my favourites.  Naturally I ran a bit late and when I lugged my pram in clumsily through the kindy door, causing the welcome bells to jingle, Mr B came running out from his group room, clutching 'Dogger' under his arm. His little face was priceless, and I'll never forget it: flushed cheeks with big eager eyes, a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I realised he’d probably spent the last few minutes awaiting my arrival and listening out for the kindy door opening. He may even have been worried I wasn’t coming. That was when it struck me how important these things are to kids his age. This is the age when they worship their parents, right? They're embarrassed by us later down the track. So my coming into Mr B's kindy made me a hero in his eyes. Shucks. He did a brilliant job of show and tell and I must say, I think I did a pretty good job of reading ‘Dogger’, although a couple of times I lost my place when I dared to look away from the book and at the group. Stage fright. They're only 5 year olds, but an audience is an audience.  Lesson learned: Never underestimate the importance of being around for the kindy/school stuff.

2.       I didn’t back-up my son. Mr B, the babies and I were in the supermarket, checking out some stuff for Miss P’s party. Mr B was messing around with the babies in his usual affectionate/overenthusiastic way. I was scanning the shelves. A lady came up to Billy and suggested he be more gentle with Baby A, who was the lucky receiver of Mr B’s attention. I bristled slightly and willed her to move on, still scanning the shelves for cake ingredients. However the lady kept harping on, telling Mr B to be careful with the babies the way I am with him and then told him not to poke Baby A in the stomach. She was really getting on my nerves by this point but I still kept my mouth shut and she eventually left. Now, her heart was in the right place. She wasn’t being nasty to Mr B, she was just offering what she thought to be helpful advice. I don’t know, maybe she didn’t think my parental presence was enough guidance for Mr B. But she still came across as interfering and she still gave my son a hard time, when surely that is my place to do so if I decide it to be necessary? I choose not to jump on Mr B every time he goes near our babies, otherwise I would be at him all day. That is my parental decision to make. He is not aggressive with them, although he does get overexcited, at which point he is told to calm down. And anyway, the babies are big enough to let me know if they are bothered by their older siblings. Most of the time, they love the attention, however crazy it gets. So I left the shop feeling miffed that the woman interfered with my parenting and more miffed that I took the passive stance and kept my mouth shut. But then I stopped short. Something much worse had just taken place. I didn’t back up my son. I let her criticise him and parent him while I was right there. I suddenly hated myself for not saying ‘Actually, he’s very good with his baby brothers’, or ‘Thanks, but he’s ok’, some sort of indication that I had his back. I couldn’t believe I’d just let him take this stranger’s chastising while I stood there and did nothing. What did this teach him? That I wasn’t there for him? How will he learn to stand up for himself in an assertive way if I don’t show him how? I felt awful, so I stopped him in the street, made sure he was listening, and said ‘Don’t worry about what that lady said to you. You are really good and gentle with your baby brothers. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.’ He shrugged, got back on his scooter, and took off. But I felt better, and I know what I said meant something to him. Lesson learned: Be there for my kids, and show them what it means to be assertive.

3.       I rained on my daughter’s candle parade. I did a terrible thing at Miss P’s party. After we all sang Happy Birthday, she leaned over to blow out the candles, and I leaned over the top of her and blew them out for her. She instantly turned to me accusingly. ‘Yay, you did it!’ I exclaimed. ‘You blew them all out!’ She softened slightly, a bit confused by how it had all happened, and we moved on. Happily, we have the whole thing on video, which she has watched over and over again, meaning she has seen exactly what happened. Which is that I stole her candle-blowing moment from her.  I've apologised to her, and explained my actions. Look, in my defence, the first time she leaned over to blow, her hair dangled dangerously close to the flames, so I pulled her back. That is on video, my friend. You can see that my quick thinking virtually saves the day. It is a savvy mummy moment. Then the second time she leaned in, I had a sudden thought: ‘Damn, I forgot to teach her how to blow.’ Precious soul that she is, Miss P cannot position her lips into a blow-shape in order for air to come out of her mouth. Instead, she tries to blow through her teeth with a semi-closed mouth. I remember thinking, weeks ago that I should really take her aside and give her some blowing lessons, so she’d be ready for her birthday candles. But alas, this job slipped my mind and so here we were on her big day, at her biggest moment of the party, and I ruined it. I really wish I hadn't jumped in so quickly, it was a poor decision. And it’s all there on camera. If I could do it again, I'd let her have her moment of trying to blow the candles out, giving her the space she needed to be 'a big girl'. But the good news is, her actual birthday isn’t until Christmas, at which time I will give her a lovely new cake with candles to blow out, which she can do all by herself. I will just make sure her hair is tied back. Lesson learned: Give my children space to learn before diving in to help.

Phew. I guess you could say it's been a big week. I'd love to hear some of your lessons. Any parenting realisations for you this last week?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to really celebrate a 1st Birthday.

My twin babies recently turned 1. With two other kids to think about, there was temptation just to mark the day with a couple of presents and a cake and to give the whole party thing a miss. But as the day crept up on me, I realised that I needed to celebrate the occasion.

Sure, a one year old baby will have no recollection of a birthday party. And of course they'd know no different if we decided to skip it altogether. We'd already done the 1st birthday party thing with our other two. Some would say, 'Meh, why go to the fuss all over again?'

Then I realised that I don't care about any of that. I've just had one of the biggest years of my life. The 1st birthday is a big deal and completely worthy of celebration. If you have a 1st birthday party coming up, I say make all the fuss you want. Get the caterers in,  invite everyone you know, hire a dancing clown if you like. Because the 1st birthday is a unique, emotional experience. And your baby only gets one of them.

But here’s what I think: the 1st birthday is really about celebrating YOU.

I mean, think about what you've been through for this kid. Pregnancy, birth, all those sleepless nights. For me, when a baby approaches its first year , it makes me think about all of this stuff. And how blissful, surprising, frightening and stressful it’s all being. Yep, all of these emotions. Sometimes in the space of 10 minutes.

Because the first year of having a baby, no matter how many others you’ve got, is intense and relentless. For me, it feels like I’ve just come up for air. There’s no greater learning curve than figuring out how to care for your baby.

I get major flashbacks as I near the end of the first year. I remember the anticipation about meeting my baby (or in this case, babies) for the first time, and the excitement I felt when my waters broke in the middle of the night. I well up when I think of meeting my babies for the first time. I love thinking of those early days with a newborn, spending hours feeding, cuddling and just staring at them in wonder. I remember checking their breathing and just constantly worrying about them. And I remember all the milestones: the first smile, the first roll, when they started crawling, and how proud I felt.

So at the end of that first year, after going through all of this stuff and making it to the end of that first year learning curve, you deserve a medal. And some sort of parade. This might be a bit stressful to organise though. I mean, you do have a baby, after all.

But my point is, you deserve every minute of fuss. Getting a baby through its first year is a huge achievement. So if you’re wondering what to do for your baby’s first birthday, and it really doesn’t matter if this is your first or your fourth, I say go ahead and plan a huge shindig to celebrate getting through that first year. Enjoy every moment, take lots of photos, revel in the fuss. And if it’s your cup of tea, book a babysitter and go out for celebratory drinks. It’s probably been about a year since you’ve had one, right?

What about you? Have you got a 1st birthday coming up, or have you recently celebrated one? Or do  you think there’s another birthday equally worth celebrating in a large fashion?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Holiday Bizarro World

So we had our family holiday. And I’m intact. How was it? If you can believe it, this holiday went brilliantly well. I was really bracing myself for a working holiday, where the chaos of our lives merely transfers to a different venue and proceeds to get more intense and more chaotic. And with even less sleep, as per my previous experiences with mini-breaks and children.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine meets ‘Bizarro Jerry’ and his friends, who are all polar opposites of actual Jerry and the Seinfeld clan? Well, that’s what our holiday was like. It was the total opposite of any holiday I've previously experienced and the opposite to what I thought it was going to be like.It was everything a holiday should be: relaxing, fun, easy. And nothing like my previous holidays with kids: stressful, exhausting, nightmarish.

But to give myself a little credit, I was prepared for anything this time. First of all, I had eight separate lists going, of stuff to pack and stuff to buy to pack. I worked on these all week, and actually didn't get a chance to pack anything until the morning we were leaving. But I didn't stress. Because I had the lists. I know you're curious, so here are the list titles:

1. Stuff for Miss P
2. Stuff for Mr B
3. Stuff for babies
4. Stuff for me
5. Food to pack
6. Food to buy
7. Toiletries
8. Miscellaneous

In case you're wondering, Husband was in charge of his own packing, and naturally just packed a spare t-shirt and extra pair of shorts. Which he shoved in my bag.

Anyway, then we were packed and headed off, with a car load of children and luggage. Here's where the weird, bizarre stuff started happening. To begin with, we arrived at the holiday park, not just on time, but a few minutes early. Believe me, we are not an early family. Someone once told me that you get to be an extra 10 minutes late for every child that you have. Sums me up perfectly.

As I unpacked everything, the babies happily crawled up and down our cabin while Husband took the kids out for water play. I set up my coffee machine, put all our food away, put our clothes in the designated cupboard areas and even prepared pyjamas and sleep comforters ready for the night.

When Husband returned, it was time to put up the two travelcots for the babies. We were not looking forward to this. What is it with travel cots that makes them so hard to put up and take down? I tried my hand at one, but when it pinched both my hands I cursed loudly and had to walk away, feeling the familiar hatred and frustration for those contraptions.

But then I spied something. The instructions. I showed it to my Husband and asked if we ever looked at the instructions for the one we used to have at home (which was woefully abused by both of us in various fits of frustration). He looked as stunned as me. Together we went through the step by step guide and amazingly, the thing went up the first time! We were definitely in Bizarro world by this point.
By 8pm that night, all our kids were asleep. Also a Bizarro thing, I really expected a battle with the babies. Overnight, the babies woke up only once each, which is what they do at home on a good night, (which is hardly ever). It was completely tolerable compared to multiple wake-ups from each baby, and compared to every other holiday experience I've had with small children and sleep.
We had friends with children come to the holiday park with us, and so the next day, all the kids were in and out of the water, playing gleefully all day. The weather was perfect, not too hot and just right for getting wet. At about mid-morning, the really Bizarro thing happened:
The babies had a huge sleep, and with the kids out playing (and being looked after by other parents), I had time to myself.
What the??? I was as surprised as you. I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was giddy with excitement. I pottered about, talked with my friends and even had a beer. I ended up having to wake the babies. That’s ok, by that point I missed them. I think I was a bit lost without them.
So there you have it, a mini-break that was actually a break. Why was it so easy? In hindsight, I think it was a combination of factors:
  • .       The lists made sure we had everything we needed, so we didn’t need to leave the holiday park for one forgotten thing.
  • .       Stuff to do, like water play and swimming was on our door step, so getting the kids out and about was simple.
  • .       Going with brilliant friends who had kids of their own meant that there was always someone there to watch a child while you do other things. Plus cooking and washing up duties were shared between us so no one was chained to the kitchen at any one point.
  • .       I  kept my expectations really low for this one. I was prepared for the babies to get out of whack and ready to offer extra feeds or sleeping aids as needed. So I wasn’t disappointed. As it turns out I was pleasantly surprised. I kind of wanted to live there forever.
 What about you? Have you got one brilliant holiday tip that really helped you enjoy being away with the kids? Any amazing places you've been to with them?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What's the fuss with co-sleeping?

Last week I found myself deep in a fog of sleep-deprivation. Now, you might remember that I am normally pretty good with the lack-of-sleep thing. See here if you need a refresher. But I may have hit rock bottom last week, where I reached a point of actually feeling unwell with sleep-dep. My eyes were itchy and hot, my brain a mushy mess. And I was so fed-up with being tired!

It's Baby J that's causing the angst at our place. He won't go to sleep in his cot, and when he does, he's up again after half an hour. I've tried all the recommended stuff: shushing and patting, staying in his room, leaving the room, letting him cry, offering comfort, decreasing the comfort, encouraging him to settle himself. None of it works. He just stands in his cot crying bitterly, and he will BATTLE YOU UNTIL THE END. I've managed to face-off with him for an hour and a half, with me going to comfort him and then leaving him for increasing intervals. The few times I've done this it's been a shambles. He has just stood there and cried the whole time, watching the door until I returned. Not even the slightest hint of self-settling. And as soon as I pick him up, he snuggles into the crook of my arm and falls asleep.This is really frustrating, because a couple of months ago, he was able to fall asleep on is own every time. Not anymore.

I don't know what Baby J's story is, but I do know that last week it was all beginning to take its toll on me. And when you have to go to work and pretend to be functional and intelligent, this situation is no good at all. I also looked like AWFUL.

So I decided to try co-sleeping with him. There's a bit of taboo about this and I don't get why. It seems that there's two strong camps of thought. On the one side you have the attachment parents, that are all for co-sleeping and will happily continue with this until their child or children are good and ready to leave the parental bed. I have no judgement about this, I am all for parenting that works for the family.

On the other side there seems to be the opinion that co-sleeping is a bad thing, a habit that will be impossible to undo. A few people I know who have co-slept with their babies have talked about their guilt for doing so, and the feeling that they really need to 'sort it out'. I told a friend about my plans to try co-sleeping and she shook her head adamantly. 'Keep persevering with the sleep training', she said. 'Don't start a habit you'll regret.'

But I was done with the persevering. I needed sleep. There was no way I wanted to tough it out for another night when it JUST WASN'T WORKING. So I put the sleep-training on ice for the night and let Baby J fall asleep in my arms during our overnight feed, before transferring him to our makeshift bed on the floor in his room. I used a load of blankets as padding for us and a 'safe sleeper' bed insert thing for him, designed for babies to sleep in their parent's bed safely.

And  guess what happened? Yeah, he slept. He's slept there every night since, with me by his side. If he stirs a little, I just put my hand on his tummy and he falls back to sleep. Last night he slept through, for the first time. I love his little snore. The only time he wakes is if he catches me leaving the room when I hear Baby A crying. A slight flaw in the plan. But it's still so much better than how it's been.

So I don't get the fuss with co-sleeping. For some reason, my baby needs to be close to me to sleep. I can give him that, with minimal trouble, and my reward is that I get to sleep too. What's to argue with? We will work on his sleep again down the track. All our instincts at the moment are saying that he's not ready for the tough stuff.

And to be honest, I think it's awesome to sleep so close to my baby. He's my last one, I'm loving being near him all night. While I'm sleeping, anyway.

We went down a similar route with our first child, so I know how it goes. After many months of interrupted sleep, we finally caved and let him sleep in our bed. Which resulted in me moving to a different room to sleep and our bed being dubbed 'Daddy's bed' for the next year or two. Eventually we got control of it. Once he was old enough, we used positive reinforcement (read: bribery) to coax him into his own bed permanently and that's where he now sleeps. No big deal.

For now, I'll let Baby J have his way. I'm a soft touch for a bit of sleep. I just hope my back can cope with the big rod I'm making for it.....

What about you? Ever had to resort to co-sleeping with your baby to get some sleep? Or did you get yourself into any other 'bad' habits for the sake of a few Zzzs?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Starting School & Other Things I'm Excited About Right Now

I love having things to look forward to. With the silly season approaching, I'm sure lots of people are in the same position. Holidays, time with family, great nights out, work Christmas parties. When I'm excited about stuff, I get a kick in my step and can feel my momentum in forward-drive. It is also great for the adrenaline (and list-making), as for me, upcoming events are going to need massive organisation and prep if they're to go smoothly. Otherwise my head will explode with worry.

Here's what's making me excited at the moment (and inflating my head with the worry):

1. School
This week we had our second School Orientation session for Mr B. I have to say, I am seriously excited about him starting school. It's going to be a whole new world. I'm looking forward to him learning in a different setting to his pre-school, and watching him thrive. I'm looking forward to the new community that starting school will bring us: a whole classroom of other parents. Some we'll befriend, some we'll aspire to, others I'm sure we'll bitch about. Newsletters, school lunches, events, sports days. I can't wait. Most of all, I'm excited about his school uniform. He looks so damn cute in it. We got the smallest size and it still hangs off him. To combat this, I tucked the shirt in, and he looked even cuter. Like a little nerdy skater boy. When he was amongst all the other school kids at orientation, I noticed he was the only one with his shirt tucked in. But just for that day, I indulged myself and kept the shirt tucked in. And took lots of photos.

2. Family Holiday
I use this term loosely, as our 'holiday' consists of two nights away at the local caravan park. In terms of manageability, this was the best I could come up with. To be honest, the thought of going away with four small children sends shivers down my spine. For starters, two of them hate sleep. But I desperately wanted the big kids to have some form of a holiday this year. Mr B thinks two nights away is a bit of a rip-off, but I make no apologies here. Two nights is more than enough for us to handle as a first holiday with the six of us. Don't worry, I will be bringing my coffee machine. Husband found this quite bemusing when I told him. I don't see the humour. It makes complete sense to me. He says there's bound to be a cafe nearby, but I say, will it be open at 5am when the babies have decided they've had enough sleep?

3. Birthdays
Miss P turns 3 just after Christmas. I made a vow to always have her party early in December so she would have friends available to come, rather than have them all be away around the Christmas period. I'm planning a big party for her, as she was really overshadowed by newborn twins arriving last year. I am really excited about the party but it is stressful! So much to do and so little brain space to figure it out with. I've started prep for it early on so its not all left til the last minute. Our babies are turning 1 the same week so it is a double, no, triple celebration. Also, we are getting a face painter for the do and I am definitely getting my face done. Now THAT'S exciting.

4. Christmas
I love it! Tinsel, carols on loop in every shopping centre, advent calendars, photos with Santa. I am the advertisers' dream: I will suck up anything Christmasy. This year I want to start a bauble tradition: each of the big kids can choose a fancy ornament to go on the tree. Every year they can each pick another new one to decorate the tree with. Then, when they're adults they will each have their own personal collection for their own Christmas trees. Last year I started a 'craft' advent calendar tradition and can confirm that we will not be revisiting that one. Complete time-consuming, pain-in-the-arse thing to make that the big kids didn't even get that excited about. This year we go ready-made.

And then amongst all this exciting stuff, it's Summer! Steamy weather, beaches, mangoes, cold beer, long hot evenings, the smell of BBQs and the sound of happy people enjoying the holiday season. Bring it on!

And then in March I can start complaining about how its been so bloody hot and that I can't wait for Winter. Something I like about me: I'm excited about Weather the whole year. I like that I'm so easily pleased by a new thing that isn't actually new, its just the same as the year before. I feel like a goldfish.

What are you excited about right now? Anything giving you a kick in your step?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Why You Won't Find Any Recipes On This Blog

I come across so many recipes when reading blogs. Accompanying them are always gorgeous, mouth-watering pictures of food. Often, they are good-looking enough to make me hover, mentally calculating what ingredients are involved and how easy it would be to prepare and cook. But after a quick peruse, I click away, both disappointed to miss out and relieved that I decided not to go there.

Recipes these days, even ones designated 'easy' or 'quick' are just way out of my league. Here's why:

Reason 1: I'm rubbish in the kitchen.

I used to be into cooking. I used to buy fresh herbs and make curries from scratch. I loved poring over recipes and exploring new cookbooks. I even used to work in a small pub kitchen in the UK (Husband vehemently refutes this fact. He's got a right to be suspicious). I've hosted a dinner party once or twice and still have, somewhere, a file full of collected recipes.

Nowadays it's a slightly different story. Husband doesn't allow me to cook anymore. That's right, I've fallen from grace. To be fair, I've become terrible at it. Have you ever cooked a bolognese that tastes like warm water? I have. Ever overcooked your steamed vegetables until they turned to mush? Gross, right? I know. So, and this isn't such a bad thing, husband now cooks for us every single night. He point blank refuses to let me loose in the kitchen. For us anyway.

It's true though. When I cook, I make a huge mess, get completely disorganised and then the food tastes awful, so it's really one big disaster.

Reason 2: Getting the kids to eat anything new is a huge battle.

The kids eat well enough. Vegetables in every meal, protein and carbs side by side on their plates. Followed by a bowl of fruit. But they eat 'vanilla' style (read: boring). There are so many flavours they are yet to try. Here's what I've attempted to serve them in the last couple of months:
  • Really mild curry
  • Homemade burgers
  • Pizza
  • Beef casserole
  • Chicken stir-fry
They tolerated the casserole but the rest was pushed around their plates. And I know the advice is, if they don't eat it, don't give them anything else, but Mr B is skinny as a rake. I have to give him something. So if he doesn't want his dinner, I need to make him a sandwich, and then I may as well make Miss P one too. Which has me in the kitchen amongst the washing up from my experimental meal, making sandwiches I shouldn't be, while the babies grizzle monotonously, as their own dinner has been interrupted (given that I am their feeder). Way too much work if you ask me. Why do this to myself when I know I can serve the big kids XYZ and they will eat away contentedly while I get on with things?

Reason 3: Where is the time?

Maybe it's something to do with the having four-kids-under-school-age thing, but it actually hurts my head trying to think about making time to shop for ingredients and trying out new recipes, on top of what I'm already trying to pack into the day. Gone are the days where I used to be able to shop leisurely, browsing each aisle to see what grabs my interest and casually leafing through magazines at the check-outs. Nowadays, I'm either in a rush to get home to the kids, or I've got kids with me and find the whole thing really stressful. Either way, it's a get-in-and-out-as-quickly-as-possible situation.

So when I'm skimming over new recipes to assess the can-do factor, I'm quick to veto anything that adds to my shopping time while I hunt for the ingredients. Some completely baffle me. Like buckwheat. Or almond meal. Or chia. I honestly don't know what any of these are. And I hate them for it. I will also veto any ingredients that can only be found in specialist shops. I don't go to specialist shops. Obviously.

Even if I manage the full set of ingredients for a recipe, the motivation to make the dish still eludes me. Take hummus, for example. I finally found the tahini paste, in the health food section of the supermarket. The rest of the ingredients were easy: I have the lemon in the fridge, and the olive oil, cumin and chick peas sit proudly in the cupboard alongside the tahini. Should be easy from here right? They've been there for a month.

I know these things shouldn't be so difficult. That if I made the effort, these problems could be easily surmounted. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, my fried little brain just can't cope with the stretch. I don't know why I find it so hard. I'm tired. Just give me a bit more time, ok? The best-before date on the tahini is two years away. I will definitely make the hummus by then.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

If It's Not One Thing, It's a Gastro Bug


Six weeks ago, our babies came down with a cold. Runny nose, congested cough, run-of-the-mill stuff. For some reason, and maybe it's to do with them being premmie babies, this hung around for over two weeks. So while they were snuffly and blocked up, they were terrible with their sleep and we dished out the comfort cuddles and just did our best to roll with it.

Sure. I mean a cold is just a cold, right? It will do its thing and pass. Then we can get back to normal.

This two weeks became three weeks, and then they both came down with conjunctivitis. First Baby A woke up with red-rimmed eyes, that later on became crusty. Of course Baby J followed suit by the end of the day. So as well as the runny nose, we now had two sets of red-rimmed, crusty eyes refusing to sleep.

Fine. I mean, of course they were going to get conjunctivitis, after rubbing all that snot around their face. I got it. More quarantining of them. More hand-washing by us.

As week three became week four, and I'd finished cleaning out the last of the pus from the babies' eyes, Baby A woke up with a rash around his mouth that quickly became a hideous case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFM). Not one to miss out, Baby J developed his case later that day.

A lot of kids get HFM, I've been told it's as contagious as a common cold. And from what I hear, lots of kids get a mild version: a few spots on their hands and feet, maybe a scattering over their bottoms.

I have a problem with both of these points.

First of all, while HFM is hugely contagious, I can't think where they'd have got it from. My big kids have both had their share of HFM - apparently kids only get it once and then they're immune (though a lot of parents would say differently). In any case, they have had no symptoms, so can't have passed it on. I asked our doctor if they could have 'carried' HFM into the house without displaying symptoms and was told no. The babies have had no contact with anyone displaying any symptoms of HFM. They actually don't even go out of the house that much, let alone have contact with random, germy people. But still they caught it. Whatever!

On the second point, let me say this: my babies had spots all over their body. Their face, arms, legs, hands and feet. Inside their mouth. All over their bottoms. Big, blistery spots. It was atrocious. Another week passed by with them in quarantine until the spots disappeared. More sleepless nights for us.

Look, I can make my peace with the mysterious HFM, that somehow shape-shifted its way into our house. That just happened to follow 4 weeks of other unwell crap for my babies. These things happen. And what's another week of sleepless nights when we're kind of getting used to it anyway? Besides, if my doctor's right, the babies were now immune from catching HFM in the future, which is a bonus for when they start day-care next year. So I manned up, and again, we just got on with things.

And finally, after five weeks of being unwell, the babies began to resume their cheery nature, glow with health and we had not a runny nose in sight. Because they were no longer stuffed up, itchy or uncomfortable, their sleep drastically improved! Relief. We were finally back on track.

And then yesterday morning, gastro came knocking at our door. We seriously hadn't even made it past five days of being well before poor Baby J was taken down. To keep him company, Baby A went off his food and became really whingey and clingy. Again, we don't know where it came from. Fortunately, Baby J wasn't too badly affected. He managed to keep fluids down, so there was no danger of dehydration. I am just praying that it hasn't passed to any of us.

But you know, with the all the practice over the last few weeks, we are now pretty good with cordoning off germy little people in our house and keeping our hands fastidiously dosed in hand sanitiser. So with a bit of luck, it might pass the rest of us by.

With a bit more luck, maybe when this one is over, we could get through a whole week without the unwell/contagious stuff. These babies have got things to do, places to go. New and improved immune systems to test out.....