Monday, December 5, 2016

Father Christmas: to lie or not to lie?

It's that time of year again. 

The advent calendars are out, Christmas music is being played on repeat, and grumpy-looking dudes wearing red suits and long white beards can be found in malls up and down the country.  The kids are excited - there is the promise of presents, chocolate, more presents, more food, and did I mention presents?   Upon receipt of said presents, there are no thoughts of 'they spent too much, that's a bit awkward' or 'where the hell am I going to put this?' or 'another body wash, are they trying to tell me something?' All that runs through their minds is a level of excitement that can't be captured with words. While I'm thinking 'oh, a toy dog that yaps, how long until it will accidentally end up at the Salvation Army,' they are thinking '!!!!!!!!'

Part of the excitement for many children is the belief that an overweight octogenarian came down the chimney and left them loot.  Never mind that they don't even have a chimney, but a heat pump.  Who cares that the presents are wrapped with the same paper your beady all-seeing eyes spied in Mum's bedroom last week, or that the beer you put out for Father Christmas happens to be Dad's favourite?   It was Father Christmas. They know. They believe

A recent study found that lying to your children about Santa may damage them.  At first glance that feels like the Grinch that stole your ability to get kids to behave in December. Many parents talk about Santa like he's real, and go to great lengths to make their children believe in the Man in Red. Many more are willingly passive in the whole charade: not lying to their children per se, but not correcting their children either. We all have a variety of reasons for perpetuating the Father Christmas story: it's fun, let's let the kids believe in magic before they turn into cynical old bastards like the rest of us.  If my kid is the one to tell his mates Santa's not real the other daycare mums will lynch me in the village green. It makes them so happy.

But: are we actually doing our children damage? To quote from the study, "if they (parents) are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?' If there isn't anything that rains on my Santa parade more than, you know, actual rain (always a risk in Wellington), it's that quote. On one hand, I want to roll my eyes. Is Father Christmas just something else I should feel guilty about? If that's true, my first thought is take a number and get in line. The line of things I feel guilty about as a parent already winds down the road and around the block. Lying about Father Christmas can stand in between 'the kids watch too much TV' and 'feeding my children McDonalds'. Or, it could hang out with my other Christmas related guilt: ‘my children have too many plastic toys’, and ‘the crappy cheap chocolate in their advent calendars will rot their teeth’. Santa guilt wouldn't even come close to the big scary bogey monsters of guilt I torture myself with on occasion, like 'being a working mother' and 'not clearing out my daughter's basket at daycare so not seeing an invite to a party until a week after said party had occurred'. Indeed, Santa fibs aint got nothing on those. 

But: I want to be a guardian of wisdom and truth. I want my children to believe the things I tell them, which is why I am always truthful when asked about the big stuff like death and illness and what happened to Mufasa in the Lion King. Sometimes those questions require linguistic aerobics of masterful proportions to be both truthful and not scary ("Mufasa bonked his head then went to sleep forever"), but I try. Sometimes I fail, but I still try. 

Why, then, is Father Christmas different? It's not even a good lie. There's a different man inside the red suit whenever we visit. There aren't reindeer in New Zealand, we're a hellava way from the North Pole, and the whole concept defies the laws of physics. There's also the social inequality factor: some kids get a lot more than others, and some children don't get much at all. Maybe I shouldn’t carry on the charade at all; maybe I need to up my game at being a guardian of wisdom and truth. Maybe that’s what my children really need.

But then, my son said: “Is Father Christmas true? I hope he’s true.” And I thought, you know what, I’m not going to be the guardian of wisdom and truth this year. He’s only little, I’ll tell him next year. 12 months is a long time at that age, and he may even figure it out for himself when he realizes his Monster Truck Masher set is from K-Mart, or that the grumpy old man in the Santa suit only smiled when a group of teenage girls draped all over him for a photo.

In the meantime, the Santa guilt can join all my other guilt in that line. Like I said, it’s a long one, so at least it will have plenty of company.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

An open letter to the person that left me this note

First of all, I would like to thank you for your kind note this evening. It was a pleasure to receive after wrangling two children into the car after a fun-filled journey to the supermarket during the witching hour of doom. I did, however, have a few questions for you.
Firstly, how long did you have to rummage around your car for the Panadol box before you found it? I can just imagine you quivering with rage at my parking, sifting through your glove box. "Old bill? No, that's got my name on it which would defeat the purpose of a passive-aggressive note! Panadol box? Perfect!"
Unless of course my parking made you literally see spots, which made you reach for the Panadol, at which point you had an epiphany that rivals Archimedes' eureka moment. Angels sung and bells clanged as you thought of the masterpiece you could scrawl, albeit a masterpiece for my eyes alone. It must have been a disappointment to realise that, in your excitement, you had ripped the box too much to scrawl a weighty tome. In fact, you wouldn't even have the space to write 'please' in all its polite glory, nor include the third '.' that customarily follows a '..'
Or, did you keep the box especially for such occasions? Were there other cars in the car park with the front of the box under their windscreen wipers? I shudder to think of the wrath that rained down upon the person parked beside me when I arrived, as it was their being spatially unaware that rendered it impossible for me to park correctly. What box was their note written on? Ibuprofen? As my parking would have been perfection otherwise, I hope you at least wrote their note on Panadol Rapid.
Or, had that car driven off into the darkness by the time your arrived, making my car look like the lone bastion of incompetence, the car that couldn't keep to the lines when everyone else could? Possibly. I feel for the other car, though. Somewhere in this city on this cold night, someone must be feeling a little empty and sad, but not know why. We know why, though, don't we. The chasm of emptiness is for the passive aggressive note that might have been.
I also wondered: do you ALWAYS SHOUT? Or, are the CAPITAL LETTERS an attempt to disguise your handwriting? I suppose you never know whose car your Panadol box might find itself on. I might be a forensic handwriting expert who could take one look at your note and know what you had for breakfast this morning. I might have been on your Christmas card list, back in the days when you actually sent them. I might have looked at the note and thought 'hey, isn't that [insert your name]?' It's lucky you had the cunning foresight to disguise your handwriting by writing in capitals, just in case. Maybe, you aren't even in pain. Maybe you don't even need Panadol. Maybe it's just smoke and mirrors; a diversion to cover your true identity. Maybe you weren't even driving in the car park, and you're really a stealth ninja whose shrewd planning for a supermarket heist was thwarted by my parking. In which case, I understand your passive-aggressive rage. If that is the case, I apologise.
I would love to know the answers to these questions, oh Passive Agressive Panadol Box person - these, and many more. But, I wouldn't want to take up any more of your time.
Have a lovely evening.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Toilet training

My daughter has recently started to show a twinkle of an interest in toilet training.

After indulging a wild fantasy about a house without nappies (after five years, dare I hope?), it was naturally the toilet training section of Modern Mothercraft I turned to. I was therefore alarmed to read that I ought to have been using one of these gadgets already to teach our daughter regular motions from a month old.

In the book, the mother is encouraged to use one of the above devices every time the baby is fed, and that if the mother perseveres with the exercise, they will be rewarded in due course. At 35 months, it seems my daughter is 34 months to late. Hmmmm.

At least I've bought a little plastic potty for her, so have conformed to the part of the book that recommends "the small child should have his own commode ... to enable him to do his job in reasonable comfort." The remainder of the advice is sparse, and I notice a lack of recommendations regarding giving the child sugary bribes, a method I intend to employ. I imagine sweet bribes are covered off by the section of the book entitled "The Lollie [sic] Curse". It is also sadly silent on what to do when the only real recent interest in the potty has been sitting on it and moving it around the bathroom with her legs yelling "toilet car!" 

I suppose that while toilets have become flasher since 1945 and are always inside, the basics of toilet training remain the same.  As for starting "bowel training", though, I think I'll pass. I don't have one of those circular ceramic bowls so couldn't possibly give it a go. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Actual real housewives - what my show would look like

I read on the news earlier that a new show, the Real Housewives of Auckland, is going to be on TV soon. Looking at the picture of the women and reading their bios, they don't seem like anyone I've actually met. Here are my suggestions about what should be on the show to make the 'real' in the title actually mean 'real':

1. One of the women would live in yoga pants and a Glasson's polar-fleece from the mid 2000s. Dressing up will mean wearing jeans that don't have a stretchy maternity band.

2. At least one will have had PND, or perhaps still does.

3. There will be a former career high-flier, struggling with adjusting to life in the suburbs. 

4. There would be someone who had always desperately wanted to be a mother, struggling with how the dream and the reality don't quite match up. At the very least, the dream is much less messy and doesn't cry when they are not allowed to throw supermarket oranges onto the floor. 

5. One will supplement a single income by cleaning other people's houses one morning a week

6. Someone will enroll their toddler children in activities every single day of the week as she gets lonely being home all day with nothing but a small person and a pile of dirty washing for company, but doesn't want to admit it so pretends all the activities are for the betterment of her offspring.

7. Someone who will constantly brag about how talented their children are. ("He's not throwing his food, he's experimenting with gravity - he's clever like that!")

8. Someone who will be a competitive martyr about how hard their life is.  ("You got four hours sleep last night? I've only had four hours sleep over the past month!")

9. Someone who is going back to work soon, and feels guilty. 

10. Someone who resigned from their job to be a permanent stay home parent, and feels guilty.

11. Someone who just feels guilty for no reason they can even articulate; the feeling of guilt just follows them around like a dark cloud. 

12. Someone who loves the social side of hanging out for hours at end, talking about which baby food is on sale and what brand of nappies to use. 

13. Someone who would rather stick nails in their eyelids than have the above conversation.

14. Someone who takes the children running in the pram because she's desperate to get back to her pre-child fitness, hates her new body, and misses feeling toned and fit. 

15. Someone who sees the above person running and feels bad because all she did that day was unload a dishwasher.

And lastly ..

16. There will be someone who is happy, loves her life, and wouldn't have it any other way, but is careful not to say as much to her friends for fear of sounding smug. 

Is there anyone I've missed? 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fridge, I love thee

Oh, Fridge. I've always taken you for granted. I've used you many times a day, without ever really thinking of your worth. I've covered you in tacky magnets, without taking a moment to gaze upon you with appreciation. I've even felt the rage at you, when you've made weird humming noises in the middle of night when I've been desperate for sleep after a midnight feed. 

Now, I know you might be confused by my sudden adoration. You might even ask yourself what you've done differently today. Surely, you wonder, haven't I just stood in the corner minding my own business like usual? No, you haven't done anything differently. I've just read the section of Modern Mothercraft about how to keep milk cool.

According to Modern Mothercraft, milk can be kept cool by cutting a kerosene tin in half. Then, "in this place an unglazed brick with sufficient cold water to cover it." The last step is to put the tin in a cold place, and place the milk jug inside. If it can't be put in a cold place, the book suggests under a tree outside.

Fridge, I am so glad I have you. If it wasn't for you, I would be trying to source a kerosene tin, then figuring out how to cut it in half. How does one even cut a tin in half? I don't even know that, such is my uselessness. Let alone trying to find out what an unglazed brick is. I'm hoping that the red squiggly 'this is a spelling mistake' line that appears underneath 'unglazed' every time I type it means that the word is now so dated, I shouldn't be ashamed of not knowing what it is.

Fridge, I promise to appreciate you from now on. I'm so glad to have you in my life, unlike the poor women in 1945. Otherwise my milk would always be warm. As would my Coke Zero, which you know I open you much more often for. And that, would quite simply, be unbearable.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why I don't want to be a Tiger Mother

I read the famous (or is it more correct to say 'infamous'?) book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother not so long ago.  I'm sure you've heard of it: Amy Chua's articulation of why many Western parents are failing their children by being too soft. I suppose part of her philosophy is in the name; she's a self-described Tiger Mother, not a Rabbit Mother or Butterfly Mother. Tigers are badass and scary. The philosophy of tiger parenthood is as well - children have to study and work, but not play and go to sleepovers. They're not allowed to do subjects like art, and anything less than an A is not good enough. Participation couldn't be celebrated for its own sake: the only thing that matters is success. Being a Tiger Mother is, according to Chua, the way to raise successful children who aren't "soft and entitled".  Apparently Chua's two girls were brought up this way - they played their instruments for hours and hours, weren't allowed to go to sleep-overs, and were called 'garbage' if they failed i.e. came second in something, 

For me reading the book was like watching a bad reality TV show: watching someone live their life in a way I never, ever want to copy myself. I was appalled and enthralled in equal measure. Here are my biggest issues with the idea of tiger parenthood:

Firstly, who gets to define success? The whole time I was reading, I was struck with Chua's narrow interpretation of what success looks like. Academic success, getting a degree, getting to Carnegie to play your violin - these are only some markers of "success" in my book. There are so many other things that make for being a well-rounded person: resilience, empathy, social skills, the ability to not act like an a-hole in the workplace. Her daughters may have studied more by not going to sleepovers, but I wonder what other experiences they missed. 

The other question I have is - does pushing kids even help them? Some kids respond well to being pushed, some don't. Some kids who are pushed by their parents make it to great career heights, and some live their entire lives feeling like a disappointment and a failure. Besides, what happens if you try your very hardest and still don't succeed? Character is formed by failure as much as success. I want my kids to do their best and to achieve something that brings them joy, but I don't want them to feel like they have let me down if they choose to be penniless poets instead of astrophysicists or the like. 

Lastly, it's not rocket science to say that different kids are different. Some might want to play the violin, but some might be better suited to maracas and a conga line. I don't see how any one-size-fits-all approach is a good thing.

I'm glad I read the book - it was interesting, as also a good reminder at the value of not giving up on things too quickly. But, tiger motherhood isn't for me. I don't agree with it, and I am glad my own  mother wasn't one. After all, I used to love sleep overs. And to me the idea of depriving a pre-teen of all of those gloriously scary ghost stories you tell at them is just too cruel to comprehend. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

What Bowie gave my children

I'm probably one of millions of people around the world listening to David Bowie this week.

I'm not eloquent enough to even try and imitate the many obituaries and articles written on the subject over the past few days, but will say this: I am very pleased to live in a world where such a kooky, unconventional person was celebrated, and now is universally mourned. I am grateful to Bowie for paving the way in this regard, and teaching us that there is no "normal". 

The other day, my son (4) was looking at the Bowie CD. Our conversation went like this:

Son: "Is that man wearing ladies' clothes?"
Me: "Yes." <Braces self for big serious conversation about how you can express yourself how you choose and so on>.
Son: "Ok." <Shrugs> "Can I have an ice-block?"

To me, that's the gift that really matters.