Pointe Shoes and What Ifs.

I was a late starter in the world of dance.  At the age of eleven I decided that dance was something I really wanted to do and had to do and couldn’t live without.  So I entered the world of leotards, tights, shoes and buns.  I started with modern jazz and quickly added ballet to the list of classes.  Now with ballet you really need to start with the basics and build up from there….so I was placed in a class of five and six year olds.  That’s quite a good motivator for anyone….to be twice someone’s age and to be learning something new……I practiced and I pranced and I danced and a twirled and I skipped, all with good toes and bad toes….and I worked my way up the grades….and I sort of caught up to my age group, but never really got there…

While I had determination and drive, its fair to say I never had a huge amount of natural talent.  I was never going to be an Anna Pavlova.  But it is amazing what you can accomplish through lots of practice and a sheer will to succeed.

Pointe shoes.  They were my nemesis.  They hurt.  They really did hurt. I was never comfortable in them, never felt at ease and never really loved them.  Those pretty, shiny pink satin covered blocks of wood became the enemy.  My barrier to success.

A couple of years ago I was online looking at ordering some pointe shoes for a friend, to send back to NZ from America.  Everything in America was cheaper.  Everything.  I came upon an article on how to find the right size of pointe shoes for your feet, and I realized that all along in my experience with pointe work, I had been wearing the wrong size shoes.  I’d never been properly fitted, never had the best fit for my feet.

And thus began my brief flirt with the idea of the ‘what if?’.

What if I had actually been wearing the right size shoes and what if pointe shoes had no longer hurt?

What if I grew to love them and wearing them became such a natural and easy extension of my life as a dancer?

What if I flew through the upper grades of RAD and my level of talent actually matched my level of enjoyment?

What if?

Now I quickly came to realize that even if any of those things had been true…..I was still not a great dancer….but for the meantime, that flirting with the idea of ‘what if’ gave me a false sense of reality…a warped view of the truth.  Allowing the ‘what ifs’ to creep in….overshadowed some stark realities.

And isn’t it the same with parenting?

Any and every time that we tango with a ‘what if’ with regards to our children, when we’re looking back in hindsight, from my experience….that ‘what if’ doesn’t do us any favours.

These ‘what ifs’ can be anything from:  what if we’d noticed such and such earlier?  What if we’d been more proactive in this area?  What if we’d made our kid do x, y and z?  What if we’d stopped them from doing x, y and z?  What if we’re not the right parent with this job?  What if I don’t how to handle this issue?

Big and small ‘what ifs’ surround us.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that for me, personally, the fact that all three of my boys have speech impediments/ issues (all three are different too!), has been a big thing for us both practically and for this Mama’s heart.  I’ve battled sooooo many ‘what ifs’ over this one.  I once got an email from a well-meaning person with a link to a (poorly written and badly researched) news article about a link between television watching and speech problems in kids.  Whammo.  There’s a massive ‘what if’.  It wasn’t until a saw a speech therapist with my oldest boy and she sat me down and told me straight….GENETICS…..that I realized I could no longer hold onto these ‘what ifs’.  I can’t escape the fact that these issues have been a part of my boys’ journeys, but I can control how I react to these situations.  And believe it or not, I am equipped to help my boys.  While I am lacking in a whole bunch of good qualities, just ask my kids, they’ll put you straight.  One thing I do possess is patience in bucketloads. And patience is what I need with these boys and their impediments.

If I have what I need, to parent my kids as best I can, both in me and my husband with our giftings combined and with calling on friends who are that little bit further along in their parenting journeys, not to mention as a Christian I believe so very strongly in the changing power of prayer….and I’m just as flawed and a mess as the next person, then I believe you too, have in you what you need, to parent your kids as best as you can.

Whatever the issues you’re facing, I’ve found that you can’t hold onto your ‘what ifs’.  They skew your reality.  They take your eyes off the goal.  I’ve found it takes a lot of energy to focus your thought life on all your negative qualities, all the things you’re lacking in.  That energy surely is better spent by focussing on what tools you do have at your disposal to approach different issues, as best you can.  Whether they are tools inside of you, or in people who are alongside you.

What ifs?

So what.  Let’s all work on eliminating parent guilt.  We can live without it.

pointe

Beyond the smiles.

It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. To honour the spunky hunk I posted a reasonably recent photo of him on Facebook, along with a few lines about how I feel about him. Then I got to thinking about that particular photo and what it represented.

The photo was taken in New York, in Times Square. We’d been ‘given’ a glorious 56 hours away from our three kids, and my very generous brother had flown us over to NYC to be there while he was there. The time  was magical in a huge number of ways. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love the city as much as I did, it was awesome to explore it with my brother and his wife, the weather was beautiful, the sights were stunning, it was simply magical. The photo shows a very happy husband, thoroughly enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

What the photo doesn’t show is that happy husband had at that time begun to exhibit some pretty severe symptoms for type one diabetes. That photo doesn’t show the seriousness of what he was facing. The week after we got back Michael went to the doctor and was diagnosed with this life changing condition.

Beyond that smile, there was a lot more going on than what that smile would let on. Yes, that smile in that photo was genuine. We had an absolute blast in those 56 hours and created memories that will last us a lifetime. But, I’ll always remember there was more going on, there was more beyond that smile.

Last year before my kids started their new school, I remember being weirdly freaked out and overwhelmed by the thought that my kids wouldn’t fit in. It felt like everyone else had it all together, that their kids were all extremely high achieving and I held onto a completely unfounded fear that my boys with their ‘point of difference’, their speech impediments, would suffer and not fit in, when all around them were ‘perfect’ kids.

Yeah, well, it didn’t take long to realize that as I said earlier, this was an unfounded fear. A stupid fear. Ignorant thinking on my part. You see I know, I really do know, that there are no perfect kids. Just like there are no perfect people. We all have our issues. Every kid has something that they struggle with, some things are obvious, others are not. My kids did fit in just fine, because it is an imperfect world we live in.

But that false thinking of mine prompted me to think, more often, what is really going on with  x, y, z kid? How is that family doing?  Just like so much was going on behind the scenes of that photo I took of Michael, a moment in time, in Times Square…..what’s going on beyond the smiles of your kids classmates? Your kindy teacher? The check out operator you see once a week? The basketball coach? Hairdresser? Friend you just texted?

Now I do know that most people aren’t going to open up, blab on your shoulder and tell you their life’s woes, just because you’ve bothered to take the time and noticed them, some may though! And we actually don’t have to be in the loop with everyone’s own private business. But I felt this worthy of a blog post because I myself need reminding that so often we only see people’s highlight reels. We’re exposed to all that is good and noteworthy and praiseworthy in life, and it is easy to think how easy some people have it. And that can isolate us in our struggles, especially our kid struggles. But we’re in this together. There are no perfect kids and there are no perfect parents, but we are better together.

We are better when we look beyond the smiles, when instead of highlight reel, we see a real life reel.

image

‘Oh Hi’, said the New Parent

Oh hi, I thought I’d come over and introduce myself. 

Why yes, I am new. 

What was it that gave it away? Maybe the fact that you’ve never seen me in the four and a half years your child has been at this campus, is a good start….or was it the fact that I am always super early to pick up?wondering how my kids’ days have been…..making room in my day to be open to get to know people and staff and procedures….

Tell me about your kids!  Have you had a good day? How do you fill your days? Yes we are getting used to the school thank you, although I did have to interpret the word ‘mufti’ for my twelve year old the other day…(freestyle in Australia, and well….every day in most American schools is mufti. Yes every school does have a different culture, and I’m learning as we go too. 

Yeah questions about ‘the kids’ are always good ice-breakers when it comes to starting up a conversation for the first time, especially at a setting like a school. I will always have my preschooler with me, until he starts school. So feel free to ask him his name, his age, about what he’s been doing today…..he’s most likely covered in paint from his morning kindy session, so ask me about that.

Other conversation starters with new parents at school could be:

Where did you move from? What do you think of this area? How are your kids settling in? Do you have any other children? And here’s a great one for a Friday…..what are your plans for the weekend? Why is this so great? Because come Monday……..’how was the concert/ soccer final/ party/ movie/ shopping trip?’

It’s all about finding some point of connection, and having your kids at the same school is a huge plus to begin with.

I get it, totally get it, starting up a conversation with a stranger is weird. It is hard. It can be awkward for both parties. But if that parent Is going to be at that very same school pick up for five days a week, however many weeks a year…..that’s potential for some one to not be a stranger. Potential for many shared moments. Ten minutes a day…..a wealth of shared knowledge over the course of a school year……and who knows…possibly your next second best friend…..

As a new school year starts in certain parts of the world, as parents let’s keep an eye out for new parents in our school yards. They are the new kids on the block too.

I’ll smile and return your greeting, don’t you worry about that. And I’ll ask you about your day, but go on, ask me about my paint splattered four year old, I dare Ya.

image

To you, on this ‘first’.

First day of daycare. First day of preschool. First day of school. First day of University. First major treatment/ medical procedures/ operation. First major misunderstanding. First broken heart.

Life with children is full of these firsts.

They don’t get easier. Just ask the parent who is in the middle of packing up their kid for their first year of university. And they don’t become any less significant when you have to revisit these firsts with other children. But maybe, just maybe, the stretching that your heart does with these firsts, make the stretch for the next time, just a little more comfortable. Maybe your heart, although it aches just the same, maybe it moulds into slightly familiar territory and knows that this is what must happen.

Because this is the stuff in parenting, that shapes us and defines us, and helps to make our little people into healthy, bigger people, who are prepared to make good and wise decisions, all by their big selves.

If your child needs an operation as terrifying as it is seeing them go under a general anaesthetic, and as horrible as it is dealing with wounds and follow up treatments and all that goes along with that, you’re not going to deny your child of something that is ultimately going to benefit them.

I’ll never forget the ache that came with handing over our middle boy to a nurse for an operation when he was a chubby one year old. That was probably the longest day of my life. And the tears did flow – even in the trusting and the knowing that he was safe and was going to be fine – the tears they did flow.

We’re about to send our youngest child off to preschool for the very first time. I still remember that anxiousness that came with sending our eldest off to kindy and then school.  That desire to be a fly on the wall. To see and know that all is ok. To not only see that your kid is handling things ok, but to see how the teachers and other children respond to your child.  I’ve come to learn that the ache is normal. The longing to know all and see all is not helicopter parenting, but getting used to a new phase of parenting. The ache dissolves over time, and with it grows the ability to see that other people in your kids’ lives can care for your children pretty well. You’re not alone in this endeavor. No one will know and understand your child as well as you, that’s a given, but if you let others into your circle….and let the professionals do what they were trained and love to do, and keep your lines of communication very open…then this new first can be extremely successful.

Firsts can be hard work, tough work. And for the most part firsts do not have to be walked through alone. There’s a certain kinship that can be found in walking similar roads together. But it takes reaching out and seeing others above your own concerns and worries. If you have to spend any amount of time in a hospital with a child, as a first you’re facing, can I encourage you to ask about support groups and suchlike. Sometimes people only know how you’re feeling from experiencing a very similar situation. And at times like that we all crave true and genuine empathy.

Firsts bring with them very powerful emotions, surprising emotions. Men, you’re probably going to bear the brunt of huge swings and sways of these emotions, and no doubt feel things in your own manly ways….and for the love of all things good and sweet, you don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t need to provide advice, you don’t need to do anything. Just be there for us emotional women as we lament about how unfair it is that they have to grow up, as we look at photos of the kids as babies and admire how fast they have grown, and as we go through the motions that all Mama Bears do.

Firsts are hard. There are no detours around this very truth because firsts must be undertaken. But firsts are made better by friends being there for each other. By families showing their love and support. And by remembering that firsts do stretch those hearts of ours, and we should all be looking to have bigger hearts, much bigger hearts.
image

Chin up, chaps.

We take this parenting gig pretty seriously.

By we, I mean; me, you, your neighbour, my hairdresser, the lady who serves me at my fruit and vege shop.  We.

Parenting is a serious thing.  We should give it the consideration it requires.  And so we do.  Actually, we work our butts off to give these kids of ours the best start possible.  We stay away from certain foods while we’re up the duff.  We swallow vitamin pills to give them additional ‘schtuff’.  We source out all the various baby gear we need.  We makes sure that we have cots/ cribs that have bars that are just the right distance apart.  And that’s just the beginning.  The hard work doesn’t ever stop.

Fast forward to baby proofing, anguish over baby milestones, feeding issues, sleeping issues, toilet training, temper tantrums, sharing, biting and then, for some of us…repeat. Along comes little person number two.

And this is only the first few years….

Don’t even let me get started on future years.  I think you get my point.  We take parenting seriously.  We know that a lot of our actions with these little people can have far-reaching consequences.  And every thing we do is soooo worth it.  Absolutely, definitely worth it.  Let’s also not forget that parenthood is a gift.  A beautiful, priceless gift.

But sometimes we let this seriousness consume us.

We’re completely stuck in the moment.

We can’t see above and beyond our current parenting issue.  We’re trapped by our right here and right now.  And whatever we’re facing IS a big deal.  I won’t belittle that.  We don’t want to stuff up our kids.  We want our kids to be healthy and happy.  Our motivations are good and right.

But maybe, just maybe, the best thing we can do sometimes is to take a breather.  To take some deep breaths and step away from our current issue.  To realise that even though this is a serious issue for my right now, it isn’t going to always be this way.  You know what they say – ‘kids don’t’ start school in diapers/ nappies’.  ‘Expose your kids to new foods multiple times and eventually they try them’.  ‘The best thing between you and a crying baby (sometimes!) is a couple of closed doors’.  These sayings didn’t come into being and hang around, for no reason.

One thing I try to do that helps me (from time to time!) from dwelling unnecessarily on kiddie issues, has been to hunt out people who are at a similar stage of life as me, who also have kids that are older. I’ve found people whose parenting styles I’ve liked and people I really respect, whose older kids have turned out more than all right, and I have made them my go-to people.  When my oldest was five and I was convinced he’d just exhibited behaviour that was  sure-fire practice for gang initiation, it was my go-to person I rang.  There’s nothing like the comfort that comes from being told ‘this is normal’.

Google is great.  Books and magazine articles are wonderful, but there’s absolutely nothing like a trusted friend telling you ‘it is going to be ok, this will pass’ and offering you truths and knowledge from their own experiences.  Both good and bad experiences.

So – wherever you are in the Messy Trenches of Parenting, no matter what challenge you’re facing now, whatever is making you second-guess yourself and consume extra amounts of caffeine/ alcohol/ chocolate, can I just encourage you to find yourself a go-to person?  Don’t let your general countenance be clouded too long by your earnestness and seriousness in growing your kids right.  Breath. Just breath.  A problem shared is truly a problem halved.  Chin up, chaps.

Just, chin up, chaps.

227411_10152757317671873_30710908169353081_n

Awards and Accolades.

I’m finding it very hard to believe that we’re near the end of August.  Next month we’re in the -ber months.  Here in the Southern Hemisphere we’re near the end of the third term of a four school term year….weird to think that schools right across America are starting up again after their long summer break.

As we roll into the fourth term and all that ‘fun’ end of year stuff, our diaries are going to be filling up with all sorts of events; concerts, parties, shows and yes, prizegivings/ awards nights.

I’m sure that the people reading this post all have very set opinions on awards and prizes for kids.  They are a funny old thing indeed.  This is our first year at this particular school we’re at now – so I’m not sure of how this goes and what the deal is…..I’m not sure what ‘things’ are noticed and rewarded, but I do know what I’d like to see happen, and I do know what I’d love to see rewarded.

Students who do well academically, and behaviourally – they are easy to notice.  Easy to pinpoint.  And of course as parents we want our kids to be achieving, and there’s a certain amount of pride that comes along when they are seen to be ‘achieving’ too.  Yes I’m a parent who does proclaim on all forms of social media when my kids do well.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I did this.  But.  And here’s the thing, I think it is important to proclaim all things amazing about our kids.  Get that?  All things amazing.  And therein lies the massive gap between what is sometimes celebrated in schools and what I think needs to be remembered more.

A bright kid who is self-motivated will go far in this world.  A child who gains top marks across all or most subject areas is more likely to go on to gain a higher education.  And this is good.  And this is necessary.  But lets not forget character.  Let’s not forget the qualities that will take a child into adulthood and give him or her the skills needed to be an excellent employee.  A compassionate co-worker.  A caring member of society.

I just so believe that what is in a child’s heart is so much more important than achievements and accolades.  And these character traits aren’t always recognised in this competitive world we live in.

Some schools do have ‘character’ awards, and that’s great, but I believe this is something that should be expected of any and every child.  And not just one picked out of a class of 30.  So how can we nurture this in our children?  How can we as parents make this expectation known?  Is this just another example of me and my ‘pie in the sky’ ideas?  I dunno.  But I do know two things…..

One – we have to model kindness.  We have to model speaking kindly of others. And to others. We have to model actively reaching out to others and showing concern.  All the things we desire of our children – how can they know these things, if we’re not illustrating them ourselves?  Not any easy gig huh, this parenting thing.

And two – I was taught this at Teachers’ College and can see it as being appropriate in any situation with kids, we need to ‘catch them being good’.  For those times when my kids surprise me and respond positively to tricky situations, I need to thank them.  For the kind gestures they make, I need to recognise them.  For the thoughtfulness I see them show – I need to point out that this was seen and appreciated.  This ‘catch them being good’ business – it works wonders, I know I need to do more of it.

As we enter the -ber months and when you find yourself sitting in numerous special assemblies and prizegivings, please can I urge you to remember this…… You may clap loudly when your kid’s name is called out and they walk onto that stage – and that’s wonderful.  Nice one.  You post that pic and status on Facebook.  Honour should be given when honour is due.  Some kids do work jolly hard.  But if your child’s name is not called out – and they sit in their chair the whole evening – and you find yourself clapping for lots of their classmates – don’t think any less of your child and their abilities.  What’s inside of them – what’s growing in their attitudes to others and in their general countenance, is so much more important than what any award will indicate.  And I really do think we need to remember this.  In this achievement driven society perhaps now is the time that we as parents can stand up and really encourage kindness, gentleness, self-control.  We can be the ones handing out ‘verbal medals’.  And who knows – these ‘verbal medals’ could help create a generation of even more amazing young people than we could ever hope for.

  Do you have anything to add?  Any personal views on this topic you’d like to share?  Feel free to leave a comment.

P1010535

Stepping over the line.

I popped into a supermarket on Saturday, just to get two things.   It was supposed to be an in and out errand….five minutes max, as the rest of my family were waiting for me.  I found the two items I was after, and in doing so noticed a Mum with her two boys…..the boys at this stage were running around.  Dashing here and there.  The Mum was calling for them halfheartedly.  Somehow she managed to wrangle them up to the counter and I ended up in the checkout line behind them.  What followed was a rather painful five minutes of the two boys not doing what they were asked to do, then two boys physically fighting on the floor of the supermarket, the Mother threatening to take their massive bag of sweets off them (she didn’t – she ended up buying it along with her other groceries) and then there were massive tears from the youngest child as the older child continued to sit on him and hit him….then the Mum ended up carrying the younger one out of the place.  And everyone around finally breathed out in relief.

At the time I was pretty astounded at what was happening.  But at the same time I was trying hard not to judge.  Who knows what had already gone in this family’s day before the supermarket ‘event’.  They may have been up before the birds.  They may have just said goodbye to Dad before he went away for a trip.  Grandma may have given them food with red dye in it and they may react to that.  There’s a whole range of things that could have caused the unruly behaviour.  But because in our generation of bringing up kids we kinda like to let people be, and heavens above if anything ever looked like we were judging, I stood by and said nothing and did nothing……What I would have loved to ask the Mum was ‘is this normal behaviour?’.  Because if it was, that lady needs help.  What those kids were doing was not ok and was not normal.  But who’s going to tell her?

This week in New Zealand I was horrified to read of the murder of an Indian shop owner in a suburb we’re very familiar with.  This event was shocking enough, but then it came out in the news that the two accused of the crime are aged 12 and 13.  Yes.  12 and 13.  As far as I’m concerned every 12 and 13 year old should be at home at 7.30am on a weekday morning, eating their Weetbix, playing minecraft on the computer and about the most trouble they should be causing would be pestering their Mums about what’s for dinner.

But obviously this is not the reality for a lot of families and life is not the simple and easy thing it absolutely should be, for a lot of young people.  And because of this, my heart breaks.

And isn’t it easy to feel helpless?

And isn’t it easy to feel angry and deeply saddened about the way some children have to live, but feel absolutely clueless about what to do to help and make ANY kind of difference?

It is easy to feel powerless.  Absolutely powerless.  But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to be.  Maybe, just maybe, we all need to step over the line and act on things we see.  And not stand by when we see little things happen, because in my simplistic way of thinking….the little things mount up…the little things add up….and the little things can make a huge difference.

Coming back to the Mum in the supermarket….I could have firmly but kindly knelt down to the little boys and said something along the lines of ‘hey, is that kind behaviour? How about you show me (and the rest of the store!) what a brave and kind big brother you can be’.  I could have said to the Mum ‘hey we all have bad days, can I help you to your car?’.  None of those options would have been judgemental – just a friendly face with a desire to help.

Sometimes we can just step over that line – and actually help.

How about if we see a bunch of kids in our neighborhood, hanging out when they should be at school?  I am naive enough to think that if we actually called the neighborhood police and alerted them to that…maybe, just maybe having an authority figure step into the picture would actually get them back in school.

How about if we did everything we could to support our teachers and youth workers?

What if we actually struck up a conversation with the young single Mum in the same waiting room as us, and took an interest in her and her child?

What if we actually started parenting as a village?

What if we admitted to our friends when things weren’t going well and needed fresh ideas on how to deal with certain issues?

What if we became less timid about sharing our successes and useful tips – not to show-off or blow our own trumpets, but because we saw a real need and could actually provide someone with a practical thing to help them with a parenting issue?

What if?

I certainly don’t have any real answers to deal with these major issues that society is facing….I know I’m simplistic in my thinking and there’s a lot more at stake here than I”m looking at in this short blog post…..but I do know we have power in our shared experiences.  What if we stepped over the line a lot more?

 

This is a very interesting article, that I’d love you to read – an interview with a pediatrician in New Zealand.  Kiwi kids:  how we can save them.