The Back to School Blues?

Well.   The time is fast approaching for bambinos all across the Southern Hemisphere is go back to school.  The shops are full of brand spanking new lunchboxes, school bags, stationery and enough pre-packaged snack sized marketed to the kids tiny meals to feed small armies for days.

Whether you love school holidays or really struggle through them – there’s always a certain little bit of trepidation with starting a new school year.  I’m talking about for the parents as much as the kiddos.  (And hey – I realize some of you homeschool, I’ve just done that for the last five months too, homeschoolers your steady presence and understanding is needed for your fellow parents experiencing the back to school blues.) (I’m all about personal choice here – this isn’t a pro ‘school’ school post at all).

So the internet is full of helpful advice to do with all things school – lunchbox ideas (the constant pressure to fill up those boxes with food that the kids will actually like – and for that food to be HEALTHY!), come on!  There’s also tons of useful hints around like label everything, and have a pre-arranged pick up spot (for older kids) etc.

But how about for those nerves of yours?  Those feelings of newness you’re experiencing?  Have you even been stalking your teachers online yet?  How are your private investigating skills coming along? (if I were a teacher I’d have all my privacy settings on Facebook set for sure!)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here – but I’ll admit to some nerves for our back to school adventures.  My boys have been out of ‘school’ school for seven months.  We’re entering a totally new curriculum to us – we’re not sure how their schooling in the past will match up with the new curriculum.  The boys don’t yet know any kids their year levels.  This is their first time in uniforms.

And I know a lot of my friends have children entering new schools too – intermediate/ middle school for the first time is a big deal.

There’s so much I don’t know about the whole back to school prep thing – but there are a few things I hope may help you as they are helping me…..

*  Yes I reckon do talk with your child about what to expect and the things you do know about the school – but don’t go on and on……I believe there is such a thing as over-preparing and then there’s the danger of what if things don’t go exactly as you have outlined for the kid?  What if the teacher changes things?  Also, the more you go on and on about things then the more the kid is going to pick up on your own nerves.  Let’s all just chillax a bit, yeah?

*  You have to be a friend, to make a friend.  As a parent the more you smile at other parents and ask them about their children, the more they will respond positively to you and maybe show you some reciprocation.  The same works for our kids too.

*  You and your child’s teacher are part of the same team.  You’re allies.  The more we see our teachers as that, the better.  The same works with any special needs teachers, teacher aide, any kind of extra assistance.  Allies.  Teamwork.  They all have the best interests of your child at heart.

And lastly – this is the one that I keep coming back to – whenever I think about the what ifs with making this transition – from American state school – to homeschooling and travelling and then settling – to private Christian College – this is their chance to soar.  One of the goals of parenting is to grow children into lovely, independent, mature, impactful young adults.  That ain’t gonna happen with Mama right by their side, every step of the way.  Yes my children might make mistakes and will disappoint, and my husband and I will be there waiting in the wings to encourage and get them back on track, but they are going to have to learn to soar by themselves – and this will happen faster and easier when I stop fretting and hovering and just let them be.

There’s no need for the back to school blues – this is the time for our kids to soar and shine!

Teacher friends and more experienced parent friends – what would you add to this??  Please leave a comment!

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Gimme gimme gimme.

Just lately I’ve been hearing a lot from friends who are struggling with their kids and their sense of entitlement.

And just lately I’ve read a few really good blog posts about this very problem and a few different approaches to it.

So I thought I’d link the two together.

 ‘teens who strongly connected buying and owning things with success and happiness reported having lower GPAs, more depression and a more negative outlook. “Materialism had just the opposite effect as gratitude—almost like a mirror,” says study co-author Jeffrey Froh, associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University.’

First up this is an interesting read on Raising Children with an Attitude of Gratitude.    This article goes deeper than just the need to say thanks.  One of the points it makes is it looks at how the internet has made acquisition of goods so quick and easy, that the very value of goods is harder to recognize.  I find this kinda stuff interesting.  Really interesting.  And I found this article when someone I follow on twitter tweeted it.  Ivanka Trump.  Never mind the fact that one pair of her brand of shoes costs more than I spend on footwear in a decade – the chick is seems to have her head screwed on amazingly well.  She is intentional with her parenting, and from what I can tell, is very much in touch with the general populus – even though her world and my world are so very different.  Just goes to show that as parents we’re all dealing with the same heart issues.

Another couple of fabulous blog posts can be found here and here at ‘We Are That Family’.  I love the way Kristen deals with this issue of entitlement.  But don’t just take my word for it – read those blogs yourself.

And finally, my favourite post that I’ve read most recently talks about entitlement that we as adults may feel.  I reckon it is harder to deal with our kids and their needs/ desires/ wants and entitlement issues, when we’re still sorting out how we feel about things ourselves.  Read Steve’s post here – I can’t do his heart and words justice.  He’s the kinda guy I’d love to be able to have over with his family for a barbie once a month and I know the conversation would just flow.  Read it.  Go on.  Read it.

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The silent bedroom trials.

From time to time people react in a surprised way when I rattle off the ages of our boys.  At the moment they are 11, 8 and 3.  Yes all three were very much wanted and very much planned.  And yes those are big age gaps.

Sometimes things don’t happen according our carefully planned timetables – and sometimes things don’t happen at all.

Along with my three boys here on earth, we have another two kids that I firmly believe we’ll see again in heaven. But that’s for another blog post.

The whole getting pregnant and staying pregnant was a very hard journey.  No-one likes having the word ‘infertile’ on their medical records. You’re dealing with the loss of dreams, and hope is lost. And when it is ‘unexplained infertility’, well that makes things worse.  We like answers and solutions in our lives.

If you’re walking down this journey too – my heart goes out to you.  There is a lot in the blogosphere for women – stories told, encouragement given, kindred spirits reaching out to help you.  But often it is the menfolk who are left to suck it up, and be a rock for their woman.  Well if you’re a man experiencing this very situation, the silent bedroom trials, please head over to this blog and read this here post.  It is written by a bloke for blokes.

Women – if you have a brother-in-law/ friend/co-worker/brother/ cousin who needs to read these good words – send them that link.  Shared human experience is priceless – especially for menfolk who don’t talk about these issues.

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It is a good day when…..

……….you reach the bottom of the ironing pile – for ironing is evil my friends, it is the work of the devil.

It is a good day when four out of five members of the family eat their dinner and actually enjoy their dinner.  For us any meal that gets a 3/5 or higher approval rating is a winner.

It is a good day when the youngest member of the family tells you something is gross – he’s got the context right and he’s conversing!

It is a good day when you realize that there is a new season of a favourite series of yours is newly available to watch on Amazon Prime (Justified)  (and yes we have a VPN so we can watch our fav American shows, not that we’re addicted at all, no, not at all).

Life.   There are so many little things that can go wrong in a day.  Little and big things.  But if we somehow take the time to remember the good, the small victories, then tomorrow’s challenges seem all that more achievable.  The magic of thanksliving.

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Would you leave a comment and share with me your ‘It is a good day when…..’  However insignificant or contrite it may seem….it may just produce the smile or little bit of encouragement that someone else needs today.

Eat your kids?

Here in Australia we’ve got another three-ish weeks to go before we send our little munchkins back to school.  Same with NZ families, and tomorrow a lot of American children are back in school after their Christmas/ Winter break.

I’ve had my kids home with me since the start of June.  We had three months of the American summer holidays, then when school went back in the states we began homeschooling, then we had some time visiting friends and family, then we moved to Australia just in time for the end of the school year here and more school holidays.

I seriously thought I’d be eating my children by now.

I have in the past, over other summers, been tempted to eat them you know……

Can I get an amen?

There was a time back in our American summer when our entire valley was covered in awful smoke from a whole bunch of forest fires – some of them close, some of them far away. The smoke was trapped in our valley and toxic levels of nastiness were reached in the air, making it unsafe to do anything outside.  This carried on for weeks.  Add to that hot, hot weather, and you’ve got a recipe for far too much screen time and much iced coffee to be consumed.  Or margaritas.

What kept me sane over those smokey weeks was three things.

1.  The summer reading programme organized through the public library.  A little bit of bribery and corruption in the form of their prizes goes a very long way.

2.  The sense of camaraderie that all of us parents had.  We were all in the same boat, all suffering together, so sometimes we joined forces and literally suffered together with joint play dates etc.

3.  Some advice from a much wiser woman than me.  My friend Jenny shared this at our Mum’s group one day and it has stuck with me, and changed the way I parent….she’s the most gracious, kind and sensible Mother I know.  Jenny homeschools her gorgeous lot (four kids, close in age) and she shared how on those days when she begins to feel overwhelmed by the amount of time they all spend together, and the pressure she finds herself under by just being with them all that time….for her the answer is not to walk out the door as soon as her husband gets home, not to have some ‘me time’, that so many of us think is so important (and yep I believe some of that is important), but Jenny says that when her kids are climbing the walls – or rather – she feels they are climbing the walls – for her the solution to her frustration is to actually change how she is spending time with them.  If she sits down with them and reads with them for example, and gives them her attention in a different way – this soothes everyone.  Everyone.

So armed with that advice, and the fact that I got through the Great Smokey Valley of ’13 without eating any children, plus a whole lotta grace…..I’ve been able to survive and even thrive for the rest of this ‘children being present 24/7’ season of my life.

Now’s here’s a handy idea if you are a reader in NZ and Australia and you’re beginning to get a little weary with the ever-present sprogs….here’s a little thingy we did this weekend:  We’ve got some great mates back in NZ. The O’Briens are the kind of people who you’re proud to know – they embrace life, they live beyond themselves in so many ways. They are real life heroes of ours. They did a cool thing a month or so ago.  They took their 3 kids to the mall and gave them each $2 to spend. They also made a $2 purchase each.  They then took a photo of the five purchases, didn’t say who bought what, and had their facebook friends vote on the coolest item.  Their kids are slightly older than ours so they included a prize for the person with the most votes for their item.  So – we did our own #obrienstyle challenge, and our boys loved it.  It got us out of the house and into an air-conditioned mall – you have to realize this was most important  – it was a stinkin’ hot day and we have no air con, and it got us all on a mission.  It cost us a total of $10 which is cheaper than going to the swimming pool, movies, bowling or going out for ice-creams.  So…why don’t you give it a try with your family?  If you do, can you instagram/ facebook/ tweet your experience with the hashtag #obrienstyle and we can play along too.  Thanks.

All the best for the rest of the summer holidays my friends – and in three -ish weeks let’s all raise our cups of coffee/ glasses of whichever alcoholic beverage you may or may not be hankering for – and say ‘cheers – here’s to not eating our children’.

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Picking and choosing

My family is made up of wannabe dog owners.  We have a habit of befriending our neighbours’ dogs and acting like they are our own.  Charlie the chihuahua was a firm fav, and Polly the schnauzer, then Tana the labrador/ border collie cross quickly became the most frequently walked dog in all of Cracroft, Christchurch when we stayed with him for three weeks.

At the moment Top Dog position is held by Frankie the unknown mix.  He lives to the left of us and we hold a relationship with him through the fence.  Somehow he even managed to score a starring feature on the personalized lego Christmas themed wallpaper that is currently on our desktop monitor.

One day, probably when we own our own home we’ll become dog people for real.  In the meantime I was humoring myself the other day by using this online tool – choosing the right dog breed for us (based on all sorts of interesting things) and I was struck with this idea – how completely different this is to how our families look, with the mishmash of personality types we end up in our family groups. Ain’t no pre-conception, before they are even a ‘twinkle in our eyes’ picking and choosing of personality types in our kids, is there?

You see one the most challenging things we face as parents is in seeing all the different personalities our children have, and learning to appreciate all that they encompass – and not try to change them into what is best suited to us, or to what we know and can understand better.

Our oldest boy is a planner and an organizer.  He’s extremely detail specific and has a very high idea speed.  He wants to know by 8pm one day, what the entire plan is for the next day.  Now both my husband and I are organized people too – we like routines and structure, especially my ‘oldest of 6 kids’ husband who has quite the reputation for organizing his whole entire family.  His rearranging of his Mother’s pantry in ’98 is still quite vivid in all of their minds and there may or may not have been great appreciation for this gesture.  Anyhoo – as parents we are organized. However, sometimes we’re tired, we’re hot and bothered, we’re waiting on other people, we’re doing housework or other jobs, we’re spending time with our other children or we’re distracted by a gazillion and one other things and we can’t answer the multitude of questions that are fired at us by Mr Tell Me Everything You Can Right Now.  Then I get frustrated by his need to know so much. Then I feel bad for getting frustrated.  Spiral, spiral, spiral.

But lately, I’ve been realizing more and more that Nathanael’s personality is a gift – it is part of a package deal of what makes him unique and gifted in what he is gifted at.  He is who he is for a purpose.  And although I wouldn’t have picked and chosen such a planner and such an organizer for a firstborn (and yeah I know it is a common trait in a firstborn) when I look at Nat’s interests right now those personality traits make complete sense – and fit him to a tee.  Right now Nat loves all things aviation.  His main interest is planes – and everything about them.  He can look at a plane from a huge distance and tell you what make and model it is.  He is adept with flying his plane simulator computer game.  If he continues with this interest, I can think of no safer hands at the controls of a big or small plane.  I would trust him in a heartbeat – he would be an educated, responsible, knowledgeable and ultra competent pilot – if he so pursues that career path.  And by golly he’d do his utmost to get you to your destination on time.

I need to see and appreciate all of Nathanael’s personality (as well as my other children’s) for what is it – special, designed with a greater purpose, well beyond my limitations and short-sightedness.

It is just as well you can’t pick and choose your kids’ personalities, otherwise I wouldn’t have daily opportunities to develop my patience in particular…….but you mark my words, I’ll be super picky about that breed of dog we eventually get……

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Admiring the flowers….

This parenting gig is many things. Challenging.  Tiring. Joyful.  Fun. Different every day.

One thing that it is not, is a thankful journey.  Not while the munchkins are little and medium-sized anyway.

Even when you have good kids, with good manners and good behaviour, there isn’t always a lot of positive feedback sent your way. As parents we don’t get report cards, we don’t get performance evaluations and 360 peer reviews.  Probably just as well with the way my boys sometimes rate my cooking (yes I do have disasters!), and they definitely see me at my very worst.

Those moments of real, sincere praise that come our way are the things we remember and hold onto.  Right?  It may have come your way in the form of a special letter or note from a school staff member, or a comment from a friend who acted on a thought.

When I’ve been on the receiving end of such encouragement, some kind of validation that there may be something my husband and I are actually getting right, it has meant tonnes! So if I know what a boost that has done to me and mine, then why o why don’t I make more of an effort to give sincere and specific praise to other parents?

It’s a simple thing.  It doesn’t have to be patronizing – in fact it better not be – and social media makes it extremely easy to do so.

This isn’t a new year’s resolution, but simply what could be a way of life….to see the positives more, and to be your friends’ biggest fan.  That’s a gift that is – and the best part of it – it costs us nothing, but means so very much.

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