13 things I learned from my son’s primary school years

What I learned from primary schoolIt’s the end of an era for me today, well actually it’s the end of an era for my son who finishes primary school this afternoon. But, like many things I have learned through being a mother, it’s mostly me that’s been affected.

He was very excited this morning as we headed off on our well trodden route to the school gate, mostly though it was because they were going swimming today and I had packed him the weight of a large dumbbell in sugar. He’s quite nonplussed about the whole high school thing. Maybe it’s because his high school is on the same campus as the primary school or maybe it’s because he’s a lot better at dealing with change than I am.
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My own little miracle

Most people I know look back at their child’s first year with a mixture of exhaustion, joy and wistful romanticism. Time erases a lot of memories of screaming and sleep deprivation and people tend to remember the good bits which, I suppose, is why people have more than one child. [Read more…]

My everyday baby

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook would know I have been stalking the #royalbaby hashtag for some days now. It was some of the most boring stalking I have ever done because absolutely nothing was happening other than the fact that I was checking it every 5 minutes. And then last night, much like the prince himself – it came alive.

Hundreds and thousands of #royalbaby tweets started flooding my Twitter stream so fast that I couldn’t read them. Faster, it must be said, than Kate’s labour .

I have no idea why I was so excited. I am well aware that thousands of babies are born every day and most of them will never know anything near the wealth and general fortune that this prince is destined to. But I do know that I love baby news. I love hearing about people having babies that are much wanted, I smile when I see complete strangers with newborns and I revel in the feeling of joy that seems to surround new beginnings.

So when the #everyday baby hashtag started to make appear in my feed I was just as excited. People were using the hashtag to share the photos and memories of their “non royal” but just as precious babies.

Elated, exhausted and beautiful mothers appeared with their tiny, gorgeous and very fresh babies.

I thought for a while about which photo I would share to show off my everyday baby. Which photo would show how perfect he was to me and how proud I was to be a mother for the first time.

Little Pencil was born 10 weeks early and spent the first two months of his life in a neo-natal intensive care unit. His early pictures are not classically beautiful. There is no fresh faced, chubby cheeked Huggies commercial type photos of my son taken in the first few weeks of his life. He was ridiculously small, he had no fat, no eyebrows or eyelashes at birth and his face was covered in bandages securing the ventilator that helped him breathe.

There is no photo of him on my chest post delivery. He was rushed off to intensive care before there were any thoughts of photos being taken. To be honest I would rather have him cared for by a team of the most wonderful doctors and caring and dedicated nurses than a photo of him on my chest.

I have about a billion photos of him growing up and I can vouch for the fact that he got more and more beautiful as every day passed. I know there is some bias in my sentence but I’m cool with that

But his birth photo is special. It’s raw and real and miraculous. It was taken by pure fluke by my husband who clicked the camera at the doctor’s instruction. I don’t think he was watching what he was doing but the shot is perfect. As is the baby.

Here is my #everydaybaby twelve years ago. Always a prince to me

everydaybaby

Little Pencil being born on 10 February 2001

Just look what he made!

It’s fair to say that we are not a crafty family. I can’t cut straight, I’m slightly allergic to mess and although things always look great in my mind’s eye they do not always translate that way in reality. My husband likes to tinker with building stuff and owns every tool in the world and his happy place is Bunnings. Still,  that doesn’t qualify as craft.  Little Pencil is convinced (rightly so) that he is “bad at art” and so is quite hesitant to do anything too crafty. Plus he’s a 12-year-old boy and craft is not cool enough for him.

But recently he was given a major (and pretty awesome) assignment at school. He had to create his own country complete with a government, religion, infrastructure and active population. He had to design the flag, create the map, write extensively about the history of the country and do a shit load of work! After all the hard work was behind him he had to create a stall at which he gets to show off his country at a World Expo next week. He was to make souvenirs for all the kids to take home after visiting his country (which he has called Paraíso Nevado).

Paraíso Nevado is a very cold place where it snows much of the time and so we talked endlessly about what he could give as souvenirs. A snowflake bookmark? A flag? A stamp? But Little Pencil had high aspirations. He wanted to give everyone a snow globe! And he was going to make them.

My friend Kerri would laugh a lot at me as I told her I was busy  shopping for glitter and glycerine. And stuff. “Who’s project is it?” she would ask me as she went on national TV talking about the importance of allowing kids to fail, to make mistakes and for their parents not to do their homework.  But Little Pencil can’t drive YET and the only thing I did was the shopping. He did ALL the rest and I feel mighty proud of him because AWESOME SNOW GLOBES.

Check them out

adding water

We bought 20 small jars from the $2 shop for $20 in total. He filled them with water

glycerine

We got some glycerine to ensure the snow “floated” not sank

adding glycerine

He added a few drops of glycerine to the water (his favourite bit)

glitter in

And then he added a teaspoon full of white glitter

snow globe

And voila – a snow globe!!!

Seriously how cool is that? A craft project that actually worked. And the whole thing cost less than $30 for 20 snow globes

Well done Little Pencil.

Now if anyone can tell me how the hell to get glitter out of EVERYTHING WE OWN that would be great!

The one thing my son can’t stop doing

talking-fingersThe other day I was watching my son lying on the field with his friend. They had been playing soccer and were now sprawled out under the goal posts looking up towards the moving clouds above them.  I imagined, for a moment, that they were just reflecting, lying there imagining names for the clouds that were forming magnificent shapes above them. Then I remembered it was my son lying there – which meant quiet reflection was not only not a possibility it wasn’t even something in his lexicon.

My son talks a lot. He could talk for Australia. He never, ever runs out of things to say and if he does he just repeats what he’s said before but with a different angle. Thank God he’s very intelligent so he can think on his feet.

Sometimes I blame myself for this non-stop barrage of words. You see when he was a baby I never ever let him cry. He made a sound and I ran to his side to pick him up or to let him know  I was there. I think this is why he thinks that whatever he has to say is so important.  And, truth be told I am glad that he thinks what he says is important, I just wish he wouldn’t have such “important “ things to say all the time.

Some days it is enough to make me to want to stab my own ears.

His chatter is amusing; he’s got a brilliant sense of humour and an excellent way with words. The fact that he is nearly a teenager means that I’m actually quite interested in what he has to say.  Except when it’s about soccer or x-box games. And it’s about soccer and x-box games A LOT.

He has a lot of the most patient friends on earth who are excited to listen to him babble on incessantly. In fact I often hear them laughing as he goes on and on and on. I think they like it…. And if they aren’t there he is just as happy to talk to himself.  Or to sing. As long as his mouth is moving and it’s not eating he’s happy.

He must be a joy to teach. Not. (His reports are beautifully worded – words like “enthusiastic” and “exuberant” and “sharing of knowledge” are used quite often. We are working on the school part – promise)

But for all the long stories that I listen to about Liverpool Football Club and Ronaldinho and Louis Suarez (soccer players) and x-box game plans and complicated and intricate ball passes and tae-kwondo kicks, I also get to hear the really important stuff.

It’s not just his mundane thought that he shares with me. Little Pencil trusts me with all his stories. He tells me what’s cool and what’s not with 12 year olds.  He talks to me about his day at school, he tells me what is happening with his friends and all about the little girl that he likes.  When there is a flare up on Instagram (and there often is) he tells me what has happened, how it happened, how he thinks it should have happened, what’s going to happen next….you get my drift?

He tells me what’s happening on Facebook and when someone sends him a message that says more than “Hi” he’s often keen to share it.  You’d be surprised how many tweens send Facebook messages that say little more than “Hi” or “Hey” or “Sup?”

It may sound quite noisy in our house and putting it out here on “paper” makes it seem a little annoying (it can be when  he’s telling you every single play in a 90 minute soccer match) but on balance I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Teenage years are nearly upon on. If we can just talk through those – I think we’re home and hosed.

Have you got a talker? Does your child share their every thought or are they more of a closed book?

Seems as if all this helicopter parenting is turning out okay

ash battyThe first thing I noticed was something in his voice.  If I hadn’t been watching, eagerly videoing every movement he made I don’t think I would have even recognised that it was him.

Little Pencil was giving a speech at the Bat Mitzvah of one of his best friends. He was standing in front of 160 people with two of his best mates happily and confidently talking about how much his friendship with the Bat Mitzvah girl means to him.

As I listened to his voice and I disconnected for a minute, I heard the voice of a young man. Not in the broken, squeaky way a young adolescent man speaks, but in the tone and confidence that a little kid would never use.

It wasn’t a little boy speaking.

As the night wore on and I watched him shaking his little hips doing the Harlem Shuffle and prancing around Gangnam Style I realised that this was not my little boy dancing. This was “one of the boys”.  One of the kids that I had never been at school myself – confident bordering on cocky, self assured, happy, loving every minute of his life. Only interested in the here and now because there was nothing else clouding his vision.

This was not a little boy on the dance floor.

I have tried for a while now to look for signs that he’s still actually just a little boy but the truth is that Little Pencil is 12 now and he’s just not a little boy anymore.

There is such a big part of me that wants to cling on to him and keep him young, keep him in my arms and needing me but, and you can all let out a collective sigh of relief now, I know that he needs to be allowed to grow up. He needs to stretch his wings even though his armpits are very smelly (just another indication that he’s growing up.)

He needs different things from me now that he borders on adolescence. He needs different things from all of his relationships and however hard it is for me to watch from the sidelines and give him the space he needs the one thing that keeps me strong is pride. Pride that he turned out so extremely well.

I may have been the clingy helicopter mother, I may have fussed and worried and been over protective and done too much and helped too far but in the end my child is growing into an amazing young man.  He is happy, he is self-assured, he is outgoing and smart but most importantly he surrounded by friends that adore him and he loves living his life.

What more I could ask for as my child enters the next phase of his life I don’t really know.  But I do know this – as he grows up I’ll still be there for him. I will still worry about him and look out for him. I can’t stop that – I am his mother. Also I am a worrier.

He may make his own social arrangements, he may be far more self sufficient, he may spend all night on the dance floor and ultimately spend more time with his mates than with his family but he will always know that of all the things that I have done in my life – he is the most important, the most meaningful. And he will always know that I am here for him.

And even when he’s 50 and his dance moves have become a little less flamboyant and his speech making relies less on rhyming words I’ll still be proud of him.

Because he’ll always be my son. No matter how old he is.

Discipline done the (old) school way

angry_teacherI’m sitting in my car waiting to pick my son up from school when the message appears with it’s customary ping on to the screen of my phone. It’s from my son.

“I got in trouble at school today. Don’t get super angry and please listen to me when I try to tell u in the car  :-( sorry”

Well, what do you do with that? Other than the obvious which for me is to worry that your child is scared you are going to get super angry?

My son is a good boy. Okay he’s very naughty but in a mischievous, chatty kind of way.  He has been known to talk A LOT and one of his favourite things in the world is to make other people laugh. Maybe if I were his teacher I wouldn’t have started that sentence with using the term “good boy”.

But, even though he can er, chat a lot, he has a healthy respect for authority (where I am not seen as any kind of authority figure). He is scared of getting into  trouble at school and as part of his desire to make people laugh he also shows an amazing capacity to try make people feel happy – this stops him from playing against the rules because he knows that nobody’s gonna be happy with that!

So what was I to make of his text?

He got into the car with tears brimming in his eyes and every single part of me melted.  I am putty in the hands of tears.

He explained his version of the story which I am sure had a grain of truth in it. Basically there was a “misunderstanding” about a ball being kicked when it shouldn’t have been played with – after the deputy head of the high school (cue more intimidation) had told him not to.  I heard his side of the story and assumed he may have been covering some of the truth and the teacher in question may have been feeling a little sensitive because she sent him to the headmaster of the primary school for a dressing down for, from what I have been told, seems like a fairly minor infringement that she could have easily managed herself.

So here I am with a child crying over something that happened at school and as far as I am concerned has been dealt with at school. His very excellent headmaster was kind, gentle but firm and asked him to write an apology to the teacher that he had “offended”.  Dealt with like a professional from where I stand. 

But what was I to do – do I punish my child for something that happened at school that I didn’t witness? Do I take his side? The teacher’s side? Or no side at all?

I think it’s important for my son to know that I care about his schooling, I have always taken an active interest in his school activities because of that (and because I actually am interested).  I sit with him while he does his homework because I want him to know that I think what he’s doing counts and that it is important and that I care about what he’s learning about (I don’t really).

I feel like I am part of his school life because of this and also because of the astounding community minded nature of the school (he goes to an extraordinarily brilliant school which I love and will defend to the death.)

But discipline at school belongs at school and so I calmed him. I told him I understood that there had been a misunderstanding, I told him to write the apology letter and put the whole thing behind him. I think all the fear and worry about telling me was punishment enough from our side…

What would you do if your child got into trouble at school? Would you punish him at home or would you let it go?

This is what I have to say to the stranger at the park

We were at the park. Just me, my dog and my very gorgeous 12-year-old son when a stranger came up to us. There was something in the way that he approached us that made me feel a little uneasy, perhaps it was just because he was so determined to get to us.  He didn’t look menacing as such, just resolute. He really needed to tell us something!

We had been happily playing with a ball minding our own business (although admittedly Little Pencil was way happier than me – he is much fonder of a ball game than I am) when this man approached.

“Is this your child?” he asked me

“Y..e…sss” I said with part of my heart diving over to protect my son

“He’s very thin!” he pointed out rather unnecessarily. If there’s anyone that knows what my son looks like from behind, in front, from above and below – it’s me.  And yes he’s very thin.

“You should feed him more” he continued.

“Fuck off” I said in my head.  Outwardly I said “thank-you” and I walked away grabbing Little Pencil with me.

As I walked away my mind was being battered by a thousand thoughts

Does he think I don’t feed my child? Do people think I neglect him?

Am I doing something wrong? I am trying my hardest. Maybe I should be giving him more supplements?

Is he always going to get picked on by useless strangers because he’s skinny?

I wanted to yell at the interfering him and tell him that my son was perfect and healthy and happy and that he was born early and had gastro-intestinal issues and difficulty eating and putting on weight even at age 12. That we had been to nutritionists and doctors and dieticians and pediatricians and they were okay with him.

And I questioned why I wanted to explain my son’s medical history with some random rude man at the park and I realised I just wanted him to know how happy my son was. But I also wanted to rid myself of any guilt.

God knows how much guilt I feel about my son’s medical past.

But all I did in that instant was tell my son that he was perfect. And that I loved him. And that he looked awesome and strong and beautiful.  And that the man in the park was a fuckwit.

Little Pencil at the park - notice how perfect he is

Little Pencil at the park – notice how perfect he is

10 things I learned from my son’s homework

Image

My son has had a major assignment to complete for school. It was handed our in late February and is due on Tuesday. It feels a bit like we have never known life without “the project”.

It’s not that I did his homework for him (because quite frankly it’s too hard and I couldn’t) but I did supervise him throughout the very arduous process. And I guess that’s a good thing because there was a lot that I learned over this time

  1. I am too old for homework.
  2. Homework for year 6’s is very hard in 2013 – we’re talking questions that test skills like “provocative questioning” and “tolerance for ambiguity”.  When I was in year 6 they were testing my ability to answer questions in full sentences.
  3. I know nothing about Australian history and next to nothing about World War 1  (okay not next to nothing – properly nothing)
  4. The school that my son attends does not know what they want in a bibliography. They do have a booklet in which they offer two completely conflicting ways to do the bibliography. They then refer you to their online student portal to check that you have done it correctly. Problem is that there is no bibliography on the online portal. It is clear that they don’t know what they want. Hopefully they like the way I did it in Year 6 back in the 80’s because that’s the way I taught Little Pencil to do it. Pity there were no such thing as a website when I was in Year 6. There was also no such things as online portals
  5. I have no patience
  6. If you ask your child to go the extra mile and put in a little more effort you will regret it when he insists on making a board game to show what he has learned in a “engaged, relevant and exciting way”
  7. Playing said board game will make you want to change his entire project and hand it in under the name “Bored Game”
  8. Boys are very different from girls when it comes to completing projects. You cannot entice a boy (well at least not my boy) with pretty paraphernalia and as hard as it is to resign yourself to the fact that it his project and must look the way he wants it to look, you have to. When he starts choosing fonts on his own all your ideas of a classy looking project will be thrown out the door
  9. If you buy your child plastic toy soldiers as pieces for his board game you will realise that no matter that he is 12 and has not so much as looked at a toy for about a year, he will play for hours setting up the “guys” and imitating both the wars that he has read about and the seriously scary wars that he has in his imagination.
  10. I am thrilled I am no longer at school. Thrilled.

But in honesty I am really proud of his project – especially the very boring amazing game he made – I can’t wait till he takes it to school so that I don’t have to play it again.

My husband could never be a doctor

Mr Pencil is good at many things, he is smart, funny and both interesting and interested in most things. He is intelligent and analytical – and he would probably excel at any vocation he chose. But he could never be a doctor.

Yesterday we had to take Little Pencil to a medical centre. He’d had a temperature for 5 days and it looked like this virus he was sporting might actually have developed into a bacterial infection.  Mr Pencil knows this because he’s very smart and he knows all about secondary infections but still, he could never be a doctor.

You see a doctor would need to be comfortable in a medical setting and er, around sick people. Mr Pencil, well he forgets about logic and science and even antibodies and he becomes a neurotic Dettol wielding, germ dodging mess as soon as he sees a medical receptionist.

As we walked into the doctor’s rooms and sat down to wait out turn Mr Pencil stood. He hovered. He started talking frantically about what he could get from the shop across the road. It was clear that he wanted to leave. He needed an excuse to go shopping. But we didn’t need anything and so he continued to stand while we sat. You could actually see the repulsion he felt for the seats that “sick people had sat on”.

When Little Pencil instinctively reached for some play thing off the shelf, Mr Pencil visibly paled.  He insisted that nobody was allowed to touch anything  – it was bad enough that our bums were touching the seats. We were however allowed to use the communal hand sanitizer which he promptly made Little Pencil slather all over his feverish body.

Eye contact with other patients was strongly discouraged while we sat waiting for our appointment – lest someone’s breath maybe reach us through any form of communication.

It’s not just the doctor’s rooms though, we once went to visit a friend in hospital and stopped off at the ATM in the foyer to draw some money. Mr Pencil  stretched his jumper down below his hands to cover his fingers so that they did not make contact with the keys. Apparently the sickest and most contagious patients in the hospital all use the ATM before they seek medical treatment?

He’s just not a germ man. In fact, as well as being unable to be a doctor I am pretty sure he could never be a bathroom attendant. Although to be honest the opportunity has never opened up to him.

Mr Pencil exits public toilets elbow first and then kind of sidles through the door trying to make himself glide through the entrance without so much as the toes of his shoes touching any surface.  He will not touch anything close to, in the vicinity of or within a 10 meter radius of a public toilet.

He has taught Little Pencil NEVER to wash his hands in a public bathroom unless they have those fancy sensor taps. It is his firm belief that the taps are touched by a thousand unwashed hands straight after using the toilets – and I kind of have to agree with this one.

But the doctor’s rooms? All I can say is that Little Pencil is already better after two days on an anti-biotic, in fact the visit to the doctor seemed to improve his health. Mr Pencil on the other hand seems to have developed some kind of rash. I think it must be from the sustained and methodical over application of Dettol.