Letting Our Kids Get ‘Bored’

We don’t let ourselves do it. As I wondered yesterday why we cant seem to fight the irresistible urge to be constantly attached to some form of screen or entertainment, I thought this article was prescient.

‘Why you should do nothing when your child says ‘I’m bored” (Dr Vanessa Lapointe R. Psych)

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/9818144

Of the many things in this article that produced light bulb moments for me, Dr Lapointe tells us “Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves”.

How can we teach our kids to do this, or even expect them to try if we don’t do the same?

I think I need to practice being bored. My brain might be more developed than my kids but making a little time for nothing each day would certainly be a welcome pursuit.

It was a few weeks ago when my better half and I realised we were overloading our kids’ schedules. Scheduled play dates.  Soccer lessons. Dinners with friends and family. Breakfasts out. Daily park trips becoming a tick box exercise rather than a product of the little one’s desire for the day. We did take a teeny step back and scale things down but it’s a huge challenge to focus on. Made all the more important now that we are both back at work, forever sprinting from one point to the next.

After this morning’s multiple outfit changes, preparation of 2 different breakfasts, a rather long hunt for a water bottle that had already been found once and lost again, combined with the puppy’s mild vomiting incident, the race to get out the door was all the more stressful. My better half and I managed coffee but no breakfast. Both forgot our packed lunch and today I made the train by just 30 seconds but in order to do so, had more than the usual amount of outbursts at the defiant V1 while getting ready. Given how rushed I was, it’s no wonder he decided not to play ball.

It’s important for kids to slow down, do nothing and get bored but I think I need to try to lead by example before expecting acceptance of boredom!

 

 

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Always Connected

I’m taking a brief break from reading (still Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard) and loving it!), to glance around my train.

16 people in the carriage. 14 glancing down at various devices. 13 mobile phones and 1 E-Reader.

I remember not so long ago when sometimes on the train or bus you had time to ponder your own thoughts.  Not read about someone else’s latest fitness trend on Facebook or which celebrity is cheating on their other half. Now when you ride the train, or even in walking to the train you barely make eye contact with everyone else (and more often than not you’ll run into someone who is watching their phone, not their path – I am guilty of this all too often). I know most people are tending to various important matters that can’t wait because of our schedules, just like me.

I sometimes make myself feel better about ignoring everyone since I’m reading a book on the train instead of perusing various social media sites. But I’m not sure it’s any different !

Indeed it makes me wonder why it’s socially acceptable to wander around the streets with eyes glued to whichever phone/tablet you are attached to. If you did it with a book you’d get some stares. (I’ve tried!)

One of the reasons I like reading actual physical books instead of an E-Reader, is because of how much time we already spend on our devices. It’s nice to give your eyes a rest from the lighting on the device and it means when you read, no alerts interrupt you!

That and I’ve always thought it is important for the kids to see us reading actual books to encourage them to do the same ! (Plus I love the feel of physically churning through the pages).  We are lucky the kids share our love of books but it’s something we will always encourage.

 

Not Taking It Personally

So the new challenge at the moment is not taking the daily mini-meltdowns personally.

I have to continually remind myself of a few things:

  • V2 doesn’t intentionally mean to mash weetbix through my freshly washed hair (this is a big deal, it only gets washed about twice a week due to everyone else insisting on being in the bathroom when I shower – puppy included).
  • V1’s persistent refusal to close his eyes when you rinse (not wash!) resulting in his yelling at me that he can’t see (when his eyes are in fact closed and I rinsed his hair with nothing but a bit of water so there’s no way it could be stinging), it’s not a personal attack.
  • V1’s new developmental milestone of adding the ‘repeater’ game to his repertoire is perhaps not an attempt personally rile me up. If you are already angry about an instance of bad behaviour, having your toddler repeat the questions you are asking him back to you 20 times certainly doesn’t help the situation. It took a complaining text to my better half to understand that perhaps since I’d phrased the question as a ‘why’ instead of a ‘what’ or a ‘do you want’ he didn’t, in fact, understand both what I was asking, or how he could answer. Since answering the question required that he actually understand his own mindset and be able to communicate it meaningfully to me, this was in fact an oversight on my part – I was expecting too much and not taking the time to understand he needed a moment. I took his repeating of the question as continual jabbing when he was just struggling to process the question!
  • The puppy’s continual accidents inside are not personally aimed at me (although it feels like it, given they are always on my watch and not that of my better half!).

When I get busy, caught up in other things and jam pack our days, sometimes the thought process that force me to stop, think and forgive are pushed aside.

  • V2 was just trying to share (and the weetbix feel cool – who doesn’t enjoy eating with their hands occasionally!)
  • V1 is just learning from a couple of times when a little shampoo did get in his eyes. He’s got a great memory (for some things!).
  • V1 is using repetition to learn. We repeat the alphabet. Numbers. Colours. Songs etc. It’s only logical he repeats what he hears and is asked in order to process it.
  • The puppy – well he’s a different story. He’s 10 weeks old and I know there’s a very strong possibility he’s so still so little he doesn’t even know he’s having an ‘accident’!

I made up for this morning’s misunderstandings with a trip to town aimed at the kids. Scrapped getting groceries. Scrapped going to the dry cleaner and scrapped sourcing Christening presents (which would have required a lot of sitting still in a shop full of shiny things – just an unreasonable ask). We instead got milkshakes, cake (which I ate most of – can’t give them too much sugar!), new shoes for V1 (which, while yes it sounds like a chore – he actually loves!) and a couple of impulse toys from the shoe shop. Everything else can wait so we have put a pin it for next time and all parties went to naps, happy and content.

I Survived Week 1!

Rather remarkably I managed to survive week 1 of work. I say I only worked three days but they all felt like running a marathon might have been easier (and since I actually have run a marathon (just one, I’m not silly enough to try it again – yet) this is a big call). In the marathon, it’s all you. In getting to work, there are a lot of unpredictable, almost completely uncontrollable and extremely temperamental moving parts.

The marathon

Yes, it feels like each limb of your body becomes independent as you get more and more fatigued. Yes, you are racing against a relentless clock that seems to pass so slowly through each second, yet suddenly when you think you have all the time in the world, you are already running (literally) behind – though this isn’t exactly a great example of time flies when you are having fun, but time certainly flies when you have so little of it!

The exit from the house

Time seems to act similarly in the course of the ‘exit from the house marathon’. Every second where V1 and V2 aren’t eating breakfast and aren’t helping me to get ready is noticed. Yet before I know it, no-one is ready and it’s almost time to leave. In a marathon, your limbs fail you, but somehow you can will your limbs to respond and finish. In this marathon your failing limbs are replaced by several variables (who appear to be immune to exertion of will):

  • an incorrigible puppy who simply doesn’t understand ‘no’.
  • a spirited almost 3-year-old V1 who thinks ‘no’ is always a starting off point for negotiations.
  • V2 who, dare I say it, is a relatively straight forward element of the exit from the house marathon since as long as she’s eating something, she’s content.
  • my better half, who looks after himself almost completely, but does often need assistance finding his keys – which, are never in the key jar.

All exercise (only on a good day!), dog walking, breakfasts, coffees, face and nose cleaning (kids in daycare – the nose is just relentless), weet-bix clean up (seriously, why does it have to set like concrete?!) and dressing has to take place by 7.26am. This allows exactly 4 minutes to drive to daycare. 8 minutes for drop off (or 9, depending how cooperative everyone is and how much spit is required to remove the residual of breakfast off their faces!) before I race (I mean drive calmly) to park at the station, walk (I mean half run depending on which shoes I’ve chosen) up the hill and catch the train (with usually 60 seconds to spare before it arrives!)

At this point the day has only just begun.

Now that I’ve returned for week 2, I feel definitely more settled and after chatting to the other mums in the office about how they manage (and hearing everyone’s routines are just as crazy), Monday seemed to be a little easier this week. However, week 1 was such a whirlwind of remembering so many things and catching up with everyone that it feels now, as if it was a bit of a blur. There were however some definite perks of ploughing through the above stressful routine, in order to get to the office.

Highlights of the week:

  • Having actual adult conversations;
  • Yelling a lot less;
  • A lot of extra reading time on the train (reading The Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard) and absolutely loving it. Kind of a more fantasy oriented version of Hunger Games!);
  • Drinking hot coffee – and lots of it (at least two a day – I’ll definitely have to curb that one when I see the credit card statement);
  • Chocolate croissants (this will have to be addressed for financial reasons – having just purchased a return to work wardrobe, I best endeavour not to grow out of it too quickly!)
  • Going out for lunches, without having to pick up most of mine and my kids’ meals off the floor (again, this might also need a correction for above reasons);
  • Getting paid (hard to deny this one!)!

While I was very daunted about the return it’s definitely enjoyable to use the old noggin for more.  My brain feels like it’s just beginning to warm back into things and it’s a pleasant feeling to know that I’m capable of multitasking just a few more things into the day. Speaking of which, those pumpkin fritters aren’t going to make themselves.

“Someone Different to Everybody”

In the last book I read (All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven)) Finch, a troubled teenager struggling to get through says “the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody”.

After my first day back at work on Monday, I can completely understand this. Only, as a Mum it feels that almost 100% of the time you are different personality to everybody – we can chop and change as quickly is needed (with the role of Mum, always filling the baseline).

At 5.30am I was a chef and one armed food preparer (V2 insists on her food being on her high chair before she will consent to being lowered into it). By 6am I was giving the role of ‘relaxed wife drinking coffee with my better half’ my best shot. When all children were breakfasted and relatively content, I ventured to prepare for my role in the corporate world as I dressed (thanks to a pre-return to work shopping spree this was quite fun!) and did my hair (a new edgy bob meant some nice edgy waves, which I then decided were too fun for a day back at work so back into the Mum ponytail the hair was swept – I will never get those 7 minutes curling time back!).

At day-care drop off, I had to resume the relaxed mum façade even though I was more than a little worried about the first full day away from the kids. At the office, I tried to be the competent, confident and ‘quick to provide the answer’ employee that I was a year ago. By lunchtime I was swimming in a bunch of things I was struggling to understand and prioritise. I made it all the way to 11am before calling to check in on the kids as the role of worrying Mum prevailed (I’m pretty sure the day-care ladies knew the relaxed Mum was just an act!)

Feeling somewhat frazzled and very tired (despite three hot coffees – the perks of working in the office!) at trying to be what everyone else needed, I’d already lost track of the time and was running late. After a quick sprint to the train I settled in to read and finish my book. With spare time to ponder the book, I began to worry about the fact that I was missing the kid’s dinner and baths as the role of guilty mother surfaced.

And then it dawned on me – no wonder I was tired. It’s tiring being a different someone to everybody, but with practice I will strike the balance and perhaps even begin to really enjoy my time at the office as a working Mum! (I certainly enjoyed the coffees and lunch at a restaurant where I wasn’t picking up morsel of food and spilled drinks repeatedly. Plus, I’m fairly certain I yelled a lot less than I do in an ordinary day (the puppy and V1 are still learning about each other so the yelling is for their own safety!)).

Perhaps once I’ve managed to strike this balance, I’ll be sure to focus on being the different someone I need to be for me as well!

 

Book 2 – Done and Dusted

So it was a momentous day yesterday for a number of reasons.

  1. I finished my second book from the list: All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven); and
  2. I returned to work for the first day back after more than a year.

All The Bright Places was really an enjoyable read. The cover describes it as “the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die”. Theo (Theodore Finch – Finch for short) and Violet are two troubled teenagers who find each other at a tumultuous time in their respective lives. Violet recently lost her sister in a car accident where she survived. Theo is searching for the meaning for his existence and his identity following his parent’s divorce, troubled school life and the usual ups and downs of being a teenager at school. Their first meeting is precarious as they find themselves on the ledge of the bell tower at school, for different purposes. They become friends, and more, sharing their lives and fears together as they work on a school project ‘wandering’ around beautiful and eclectic places in their home state of Indiana. They share their love of writing, words and books and this extends to numerous communications in the form of extracts of books and poetry ranging from Virginia Woolf to Dr Seuss. Even the most childish of phrases appear prescient to their budding relationship.

Finch changes his persona often – ranging from what he calls ’80s Finch’ to ‘Badass Finch’, amongst others. He has a small group of friends that accept him and his various personalities without question as he struggles to find his identity and his purpose. He helps Violet through her grief and guilt as she remembers her purpose and what she enjoys. However she still struggles to understand why her life was more important than her sister’s life which was taken so arbitrarily in a car accident. Finch takes solace in the fact that, in his own words, “The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody”.

Finch does this well, and he is transforms himself into various different someones to everybody else, but it seems he doesn’t understand which someone he needs to be for himself. When this overcomes him he terms himself ‘asleep’ as he disappears for stretches of time to find himself, with limited communication with his family and friends.

This book reminded me of the huge challenges parents face:

  • Losing a child;
  • Dealing with the grief and staying strong for your other children;
  • Trying to understand the teenage psyche without intruding and overstepping;
  • Fostering the right amount of freedom and responsibility without being too lax; and
  • Knowing when you have to step in and take control of a spiralling situation.

When I think about my first day at work and the stress I felt about getting the kids ready for school and heading to work (which required me to venture more than 20 minutes away from the centre for more than an hour – the first time ever!) and the anxiety I felt about this, it pales in comparison. It wasn’t a bad day, however I only made it to 11am before calling the centre to check on them, only to find they were completely content and happy.  On the train I willed it to rush me home (I had also finished my book and didn’t have a spare so was additionally keen to get home!). My better half was completely capable of daycare pick-up, dinners and baths but I couldn’t let my worrying mind rest. When everyone screamed at us both this morning for half an hour over seemingly inconsequential things (V2 flipped her weetbix over on her table (intentionally, of course) and V1 gave his dummy to the puppy to lick so couldn’t understand why he then wasn’t allowed to have it), the phrase “will we look back at these times fondly?” runs through my mind.

It is then that I remind myself that every problem seems big at the time however at this young age we are extremely lucky that the problems our kids present us with are relatively ‘simple’ ones to deal with. It will only get more interesting, exciting and challenging as every day passes. I know our practising and discovering how to help our little ones now will hopefully put us in good stead for when they come home as teenagers with grown-up problems for us to help with and provide guidance. Granted, nothing can prepare us for some of the problems the parents in this book have to face, but I was reminded throughout that it is so important to look at a little bit of a bad day, with a lot of perspective.

There’s a moody, irrational 2.5 year old living in my house – can someone please tell me where my baby went?

For those of you who don’t know me – oh wait that’s everyone! – I am the sister of your host, Reading Mumma. When my busy schedule allows, I too like to dabble in some reading – much of which is catered for by my sister who generously provides my next read each time she visits. I’m sad to say my reading pace is much slower than hers – I probably average one book to her 5 – but it gives us another area of common ground to talk about, that isn’t our children (the mums out there will know how nice adult conversation can be when it doesn’t revolve around children)!

My wonderful husband helps me find my sanity when I misplace it – yep, happens more than I care to admit – and together we have two beautiful children. B1 is a strong willed, fiercely independent, and beautiful 2.5 yr old girl and B2 is a perfect, totally chilled and cool as a cucumber relaxed 8 month old girl. My sister and I find ourselves regularly venting and providing suggestions on the challenges of raising children two children under the age of 3.

I don’t claim to be a pioneer – there are many other brave warriors who have traversed the rocky terrain that goes with mothering 2 under the age of 3. However, knowing numerous others have done it before you doesn’t mean that you (or they) have all the answers. Like all of us, toddlers are rarely predictable, can turn on a dime and have a vicious mean streak to rival Mr Hyde.

In order to relax when Mr Hyde comes out to challenge me, I try to relax with something that I can truly escape into. I’m currently reading Liane Moriarty’s gem, “What Alice Forgot”. Just briefly, this is about a mother of 3, Alice Love, who has a fall at the gym and wakes up having forgotten the last 10 years of her life. This includes no memory of the birth of her 3 children and her nasty divorce.

Alice’s experiences with the oldest of her 3 children, Madison, struck a chord with me. Alice wakes from her accident thinking she is still blissfully pregnant with a perfect, happy baby “sultana”.  In reality, she has a very moody, independent and difficult 9 year old girl. She has been unceremoniously launched into the trenches that is raising 3 children without so much as a twig of experience to defend herself with. No training. No help. No books. No manual. No memory of her experiences and how she has overcome the challenges of parenting to date.

Now, even though I have the memory of the past almost 3 years, I sometimes feel as if the memory of my experience is completely useless. I’ve learned that no amount of mothering experience can either prevent or prepare you for a toddler meltdown. Each one makes you feel like you have no idea what you are doing and that you are simply not qualified to be nurturing the next generation. And the knowledge that you’ve been through it before, only adds to the helplessness of not being able to prevent or resolve it. While Alice is challenged by her 9-year-old, my 2.5 going on 9 year old challenges me on a daily basis. I frequently find myself wondering what on earth happened to my perfect peaceful little baby as she can make me feel like a stranger in my own house. My mind boggles when I try to imagine how Alice survived her kids, without the solid memory of the ups to cling to when the downs prevailed.

In our house, simple tasks (or so we think) turn into challenges akin to climbing Everest in the middle of a total white out. Our words and coaxing are as effective as trying to prop up the Titanic with kids floaties. The floaties might buy you a second or two, but the ship is going down. I’ve read the blogs where people talk about loving but not liking their toddler and I can truly say I can see their point of view. I love my girl to bits and she constantly amazes me but I feel like I am on a constant roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from incomprehensible happiness when she shows you her beautiful, unique and quirky personality, only to come down a massive vertical drop into madness when Mr Hyde comes out to play.

Recently I’ve spent some time thinking about this, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. She is a completely normal 2.5 yr old girl who is just exploring her own personality and her limits (as well as my own). So that being said – how do we survive this phase without being driven insane and developing a very unhealthy coffee and chocolate addiction? OK, ok, you got me –yes I already have a coffee and chocolate addiction but hey I’m trying not to make it worse.

Spend more time and just ‘be’.

Much like Alice, I have realised I need to take the time to observe, interact and just ‘be’ with my children. Alice is forced to do so because of her complete helplessness without her memory.  Being a stranger in her own home she is forced to stop and truly observe her children (for the first time in her present mindset), allowing her to see them in a completely different light. Alice falls in love with their exquisitely individual personalities and needs, and, not being caught up in the highly organised and regimented routine of her previous life, she actually has some time and patience to be able to give them what they need. The lesson – if we take a moment to stop and just be with our kids instead of running from point to point with them, we may start to feel like less of a stranger in our own lives – and they in ours.

Lower expectations = increased patience.

I think it’s fair to say we all expect too much of the oldest child when they receive their promotions to big sister or big brother. B1’s passionate desire for independence actually results in me thinking she can do more than she is capable and I forget she is in fact, still a baby.  Independent dressing is a dream for both of us. Until it ends in a different way to her getting both legs stuck in the undies she is putting on over her pyjama pants (which I politely she suggested she remove several times), she, much to her dismay, needs my help. The challenge here is giving her the opportunity and encouragement to try new things to help foster her independence, but also being there to let her know it’s ok if she needs help – she only needs to ask. So – after 20 minutes sitting on her bedroom floor stark naked we got there. The lesson – DO NOT try and help her until she asks.

This requires a monumental amount of patience. Foresight and knowing the outcome of her trials is not helpful. And I am not ashamed to say, my patience is not what it used to be. My fast-paced life is diametrically opposed to how a toddler functions. She senses my urgency and my quick escalation to frustration does nothing to speed up the loading into the car. My solution? Distraction. Don’t let her see your urgency. Photos, videos, songs, stories of things to come can distract from her sensing my urgency to help keep her metaphorical skittles inside the bag. It’s nice to say we need to slow everything down and just ‘be’ but there are still occasions where life demands we participate so this solution gets us through! – for the most.

I’ve ultimately learned that B1 needs as much, if not more attention as B2. Guaranteed that on the days when I have a to-do-list an Olympic high-jumper wouldn’t even attempt to jump over that she’ll need me every minute of the day, but the simple fact is, if she needs it that’s what I try to give to her.

These things aside, I regularly tell myself that I am the luckiest mother alive, I have two healthy beautiful girls who I love and adore, and who I know love and adore me. While some days my oldest may shake me up more than a gym junkie does a protein shake, she is still my baby. No matter how many years I spend as a mother my children will always have the ability to make me feel like Alice – where I wake up and wonder when my perfect baby turned into a 2.5-year-old going on 16. Ultimately, I know that I am lucky to help shape her beautiful soul into the confident and strong young woman I know she will become but on some days I do feel just as helpless and challenged as Alice.