At Home Mums' Blog

Take a light hearted look at the issues faced by mums home with the kids. Read some personal views on the challenges of raising children today, and the pressures mums face. My website - - has some more serious and hopefully useful stuff on all these topics. I'd love to get your comments and advice. If anyone out there can help this mum maintain her sanity, it would be much appreciated!

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Monday, 25 May 2009

Imaginary Stories

We've recently moved from reading bedtime stories, to telling imaginary stories. As I've said before, I'm a bit lacking in imagination, so this is trickier than it sounds, and at 7:30 at night the thing I'm imagining is sitting with a glass of wine in front of the television, in relative peace, which is not what Holly wants to hear. But I'm happy to give it a go, especially as we avoid the half hour of searching through the book case for today's stories. And I get to determine the length. Also, Holly likes stories to involve a mum, a dad, at least two children and two cats, which doesn't involve a huge amount of imagination. And generally one of them ends up getting a cold, which is her current obsession.

We are very lucky that the children have been pretty healthy to date, hardly even noticing if they catch a cold. Hence Holly has a rosy view of what it might be like to be 'sick'. She told me the other day that it'd would be good to have a cold because you could stay home and watch television all day. I tried to explain the downside, but I guess it's difficult to imagine... So, each night I 'read' the same imaginary stories. There are slight adaptations, and who actually gets the cold varies from person, to cat, to next door neighbour, but a good bout of sneezing somewhere in the middle is important.

We're at the point where I get told who's in the story, and exactly what they do, and I think, 'Hey, whose imagination is this anyway, yours or mine??'. I suggest she tells the story, but that's not the way it goes.

I have tried a bit of teaching through imaginary stories; like the story of the girl whose cat ran away because she pulled its tail to much, or the story of Naughty Nancy and Nice Nancy, but I have to say there's been no positive effect as yet and these are not the stories that get requests or encores every night. After all, the cat didn't sneeze while her tail was being pulled, and both Naughty Nancy and Nice Nancy were perfectly healthy.

The obsession with being sick extends to TV programs, books and games. If an episode of Dora, or Clifford or Special Agent Oso, has someone sneezing in it, it becomes the favourite, and if any of them are actually tucked up in bed, then I've got to record and keep those episodes to be watched over and over. Games of Mum and Dads, or Mums and Dogs generally involves a trip to the doctor or the vet, and if I want to find a book Holly will actively ask for, I just need one character to be feeling a bit out of sorts.

We have recently moved to a more dramatic version of the imaginary story, requiring an ambulance, and occasionally a fire engine, which worries me slightly. I managed to call the fire engine to rescue the cat from a tree, and we went to emergency for a broken arm rather than actually calling the ambulance. I'm reluctant to put my children in danger, even in imaginary stories.

What is it with this obsession with illness and hurt?? I worry that my child will become a rubbernecker, slowing down as she passes an accident, not able to avert her eyes...

The American dictionary definition of rubbernecker is 'to look about or survey with unsophisticated wonderment or curiosity.'

Hey that's not too bad. All 4 year olds are rubberneckers on our world. Curious about what's going on around them, excited by small things we are oblivious to, experiencing things through their imaginations.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Who likes playing children's games??

'Hands up who wants to play mums and dads??'

'Not me, please not me', I think, trying to fade into the background. 'No thanks', I say.

'But we need a mum. Mikey's the cat and I'm the dog, and we need a mum'

'I think you should be two orphan animals who have lost their mummy and daddy and go on a big adventure'

'No, we need a mum'

'Sorry, I'm busy', (making dinner, folding the washing, having a cup of tea, searching on ebay)

'That's ok. You can be a mum who's doing stuff'

And the dog starts pulling the clean clothes off the table with his (her) teeth, growling noisily.

I hate mums and dads. Now I sound like my 4 year old. But really, I don't want to play imaginary games with my children.

I don't think I'm being mean. After all, I'll happily play a board game or cards, or do a jigsaw. I chase them, play rough and tumble, swing them on the swing and even get on the trampoline (although I cricked my neck somehow last time and decided perhaps I'm too old for jumping). I supply paints and play dough. I even make playdough animals and butterfly paintings on request. I happily dig holes at the beach, make boats in the sand for them to sail in, and build sandcastles by the dozen to be demolished in seconds. I play ball, I run and climb climbing frames, and enter tunnels at the play centre that no full sized adult should ever venture into. I build houses with lego and let Holly decide not to have a roof on, although really, I'd love to finish it properly. I fix the train tracks, and even play the drum in their band.

But, I don't want to play imaginary games.

I can provide water for the dog bowls (and towels to mop up), I can hand out Cheerios as dog biscuits and provide a lead pinned to the back of a jumper, but I don't actually want to join in. I don't complain when furniture is moved to make dog beds, quilts and pillows are piled on the floor to make cat homes and balls are chased round the house.

But I do not want to be the mum, or the vet, or the pet shop owner.

I'm not quite sure why. I think it's because there's so many other things on my mind; real things, things that I should be doing, or want to think about or plan for. When I'm bouncing on the trampoline or digging in the sand, I'm actually doing something fun and I can either enjoy the moment or let my mind wander. As an adult, I have lost my imagination and it's hard work getting it back. I used to have one, a pretty good one, as a kid, but somewhere along the line it's got lost in reality, been squashed and taken over by real life.

It's a shame really. Perhaps I should practice some imaginary games and open up a whole new world of possibilities.

Yesterday, we reached a compromise. We found a game I will join in. We played schools. This involved two children riding their bikes to school (at the kitchen benchtop) where the teacher (me) set them some tasks to do. We got out the pens and paper and some number and word games that I have to persuade them to do normally. I supervised whilst emptying the dishwasher, provided gold stars and rang the bell at home time, when they got on their bikes and road off home (Holly's room) to bed, only to get up again and repeat the day.

It's a win win (I think). I get them to do a few activities they might not otherwise want to, and feel good because I'm providing my children with educational experiences. And I can do a couple of chores, and not really have to imagine very much at all. And they get to play with mummy.

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Monday, 18 May 2009

Do you want the good news, or the bad news...?

'Mummy', Holly shouts up the stairs excitedly (we were having a private stair gate moment at the time). 'Mikey's done a wee on the potty!'.

'Well done Mikey, excellent, good boy'. We shout back our encouragement.

'And he's done a poo on the floor', Holly continues.

There goes our stair gate moment.

We're toilet training at the moment, and Holly has been a constant source of encouragement for her little brother, providing stickers for success and condolences when required, fetching potties at a time of need, and hauling down trousers when the parents aren't quick enough.

Toilet training is a daunting experience. I've always thought it ought to be done somewhere between two and three and as we get closer to the three end of two, I decided we'd better bite the bullet and give it a go.

It is said that you should plan to spend a week at home with your child so you can be fully focused on the task in front of you, but I'm afraid I'd go stir crazy at home all week, and besides, it's not practical nowadays. What I do believe is you can't tackle the challenge in a half hearted way. You have to get them into undies and keep them in undies. Other people choose to put nappies on their kids when they go out, or use pull ups, but my feel is the quickest approach is the most direct approach. Short term pain for long term gain.

So with that in mind, I set off on the toilet training adventure armed with a bag packed to the brim, and a determination to remain calm and deal with whatever happens the best I could. When, on day 2, I found myself mopping the floor in Woolworths and changing Michael's clothes in front of the cheese counter, I wavered slightly, but we didn't panic. After all, we came armed with towels and clothes and plastic bags designed for just such an occasion.

In those first few days I did wonder if we'd just gone too early, but amazingly it didn't take long for Mikey to master the basics and I have now reduced the bag to two changes of clothes and one towel, just in case.

There is still an air of urgency every time we go. 'Mummy I need a wee!' sets us off at full speed to the nearest toilet. Conversations are stopped mid sentence, shopping is abandoned, the phone is left dangling. And when he's finally sat up there on the toilet seat, we both utter a sigh of relief.

I'm reminded of a Channel 9 program (I think), that showed adults what it would be like to live in a two year old world. They built giant chairs and stairs, and toilets, so the adults could see the physical difficulties their little ones have to master. And yet, my two year old's favourite phrase is 'No I can do it', as he lifts up the toilet seat, puts his seat in place, and struggles with the trousers and undies, all the while hopping from one leg to another, trying to hold on. Once there, he has just got to remember willy needs to point down, and all goes well. Mummy is banished from the bathroom when a poo is in progress (he gets more privacy that I do) and summoned again to clean up.

Naturally accidents do happen and I seem to wash an amazing number of Wiggles undies each week, but overall I'd say we're there. We are out of day time nappies.

I now look forward to the day when my handbag can be reduced to normal size.

So here's my tips for toilet training:

- before you take the plunge, decide if your child is ready. Have the potty available, and get them to sit on it, for example, before they go in the bath, or when you get them dressed in the morning. Make sure your child is able to communicate with you and understands when he or she has done a poo or a wee. Let them watch mummy and daddy so they know what to expect.

- when you decide to do it, go for it whole heartedly. Don't be tempted back to nappies as the child gets confused, and it's amazing how long they can hold onto a poo if they want to, just to get a nappy.

- let your child choose their first undies and go with the Wiggles, or Thomas, or Dora if that makes them want to wear them.

- pack three changes of clothes and undies. Take some old towels (we use nappy towels) with you and a couple of plastic bags.

- if your child uses a potty, take it with you when you go out. Even if you get to the toilet at the shopping centre, your little one might be more comfortable using their potty than the grown up toilet. The same applies at the park or on a visit to grandma's house.

- provide lots of praise and if your child responds well to these, use a stamp or stickers to mark his or her successes.

- don't make a fuss if he has an accident. 'Never mind, next time we'll use the potty' is fine. If they get upset, they are likely to feel stressed about the experience.

- sit your child on the toilet before you go out.

- initially, check regularly (every half hour or so) whether they need to use the toilet, and be aware when they might need to. For example, my little one must drink a lot of water during his swimming lessons because he always needs an enormous wee when he gets out!

- make sure you know where the nearest toilet is, and if there isn't one, be prepared to do a 'garden wee', as we call them.

- it is suggested that summer is a good time to toilet train because your child can run around with no undies on and not be cold, but they still have to wear something when you go out, and as my sister said, the more clothes they're wearing, the more there is to soak things up if they have an accident! So I say go when you are ready, regrdless of season.

- And good luck!

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Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Kindness to animals

We have cats. Two cats actually. Bobcat and Pumpkin. Bobcat is the sensible one. He leaves the house early, finds a spot elsewhere for the day, and returns when the children have gone to bed, for some food and a little bit of attention. Sometimes he times it wrong, but he's quick and he has an attitude that says 'Don't mess with me', so the children generally leave him alone.

Pumpkin however, loves us, loves the kids, and most importantly, loves any food that is going, especially chicken, fish or ham. She is therefore subjected to torture on a daily basis.

I always thought that having pets would be a good thing for the children, and I'm still hoping it is. I finally persuaded my parents (well, my Dad, actually) to get a kitten, at the age of 14, and she was my friend through those teenage years. A companion and a comfort. I pictured the same for Holly. At 4, nearly 5, she wants to love the cat, sleep with the cat, and cuddle the cat, all the time. And I think that with all the frustrations of being four, a cat could be a calming, comforting influence. Sitting with a cat on your lap, gently stroking her, listening to her purr, is relaxing, there is no doubt about it. The trouble is, Holly just can't leave her alone. And we just can't get Holly to listen, or understand.

Last week, I was in the bathroom watching Michael have his haircut by a friend, while her 3 year old daughter and Holly played in Holly's room. When we checked up on them, we found the cat ensconced in the laundry basket on a pile of clothes, with a blanket over her, a bracelet dangling from her ear, a large torch shining up into her face and Holly and her little friend brushing her fur. She was amazingly calm, but under the blanket, her tail was wagging, and if you know cats, you'll know that is not a good sign.

How do I explain to Holly that the cat is not a toy? She needs to be treated with respect, just like Holly treats her friends and her brother (well, maybe that's where I've gone wrong...) Animals need to be treated kindly and gently, or else they will instinctively fight back. The cat cannot reason with us, so if she is unhappy, she'll get her claws out and scratch us. If you want to stroke the cat, you need to approach her slowly, not chase her and grab her by the tail. If she has had enough, you don't pin her down and pick her up again, you let her go. She'll be back. She always is.

But she doesn't want to hear it. Holly does what she does and when we finally extract the cat and remove her to a safe location, our drama queen breaks down and declares she cannot sleep or eat or live without the cat.

We got to the point where we actually wanted the cat to scratch Holly, to help her understand. But we have got one of the most compliant, docile cats you could ask for. Pumpkin is a Burmilla (Chinchilla, Burmese cross) and I'd highly recommend this breed if you have children or want a very friendly cat.

It has happened, though. I caught Holly one morning washing a scratch on her leg with a wet flannel. 'That's funny', I thought. 'If Holly's hurt herself, where's the drama and the tears?'. I took a closer look. 'How did you hurt yourself?', I asked, spotting a definite cat scratch. 'I fell over', she declared, and I let it go. She obviously knew she'd get little sympathy!

I now think that animals would be better introduced at a slightly older age. I recently saw Dr Harry explain that for a 2 year old, you need a pet that you cannot squash, like a goldfish, and as I watch Michael lying on the cat, I completely understand. He then suggests you progress to a guinea pig or rabbit, and I think dogs and cats didn't come in until 6 or 7.

This seems right. Our neighbours children are 5 and 8, and the 5 year old reacts in the same way as Holly. He wants to stroke the cat, but his approach is too noisy and too fast, and he seems to enjoy the chase. The 8 year old listens, and knows that a quiet calm approach is more likely to produce the required response from the cat.

But, the cats came first. They were our babies before we had babies, and as you know, a pet is for life, not just for Dinkies.

I have to say, my relationship with the cats has changed since having children. When the kids were babies, there was always the fear that the cats might jump into the cot where a baby was sleeping. It never happened, not once, but doors were always kept closed at night.

When we moved house just before Michael was born, Bobcat took to marking his territory. There were cats down the road who obviously had free access to our house with the previous owners, and who never really understood the new set up. So, to claim his property, Bobcat instinctively marked it in the only way he knew how; with urine sprays on the wall and furniture. The smell is awful, and I have lost count of the times I have crawled round on my hands and knees sniffing the furniture, armed with a bottle of Ajax, in search of that small drip of cat pee at about the height of a cat's bottom. It's amazing how hard it is to find when the smell percolates through the whole house.

Luckily the neighbours, plus cats, moved, and Bobcat is king of the neighbourhood.

Then there's the noise. Miaowing in the middle of the night because they're cold, or hungry or bored. Which means Holly gets up and either feeds them or wakes us. I prefer a fat cat and more sleep, but we get through a lot more cat food at the moment.

In a previous life, relaxing on the sofa with the TV on and a cat on my lap, was a good end to the day. Now after a day of children climbing on me, I want my space for an hour before bed. I don't want Bobcat headbutting me and Pumpkin kneading my tummy.

No wondered Pumpkin craves Holly's attention despite the torture. We wonder why she doesn't leave, why she puts up with it, why she comes back for more, and why she chooses to sleep on Holly's bed, but maybe she just needs some love, even if it's rough love from a 4 year old.

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Monday, 4 May 2009

Keeping the mind active

Do you ever feel you might be losing your edge slightly? Have you experienced baby brain since having children? I have, and my concern now is whether it's recoverable, or a permanent situation. If I had to go back to the work force tomorrow and get that brain going again, would it happen?

Concentration spans have reduced. Since children, I have not been able to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes.

I forget things much more easily than I used to. Remembering names was never my strong point, but now I generally accept up front that it will happen and apologise in advance for forgetting the name of the person I've just been introduced to. I attended a play group for most of last year, and of the twenty or so mums I met (regularly, note), I can probably only put about 4 names to faces.

We women have always been able to multitask, but now, if I was faced with just one task, how would I cope? Would I be able to focus for more than 30 seconds? The mind is always jumping to the next thing on the to do list. Find the lunch boxes, wash up, make the dinner, get the washing in, find pens and paper for number one, play a game with number 2, feed the cat, sort the rubbish, read my email, look at number one's picture and take a moment to praise, talk to my mum on the phone, separate the children (now fighting), rescue the cat (being tortured by the children), talk to my mum again, run a bath, run number 2 to the toilet, check the dinner. And all that in the half hour since we got home.

But given a mental challenge, how would I cope? I fear there has been some brain deterioration since becoming a mum and I have some theories on this.

There are things I do know, of course. I can locate that specific toy that the kids want, right now, and I can always find the cork screw for the other half, but I have been known to forget to lock the car, and leave the key in the ignition.

As we sat digesting our dinner yesterday and watching the kids career up and down the house on bikes and scooters, we started discussing potential outcomes from the upcoming budget. The specific issue was whether the government will raise the retirement age. Recent research, according to the news bulletin, has shown that, as we get older, the brain can deteriorate, which has of course been known for a while. But, what we didn't know previously, was it is not actual brain cells that we are losing, but links between these brain cells. The way to maintain these links, is to use them. 'Use it, or lose it', was the quote of the day.

The other half has the theory that the government will at some point relatively soon, increase the retirement age, and last night's news will be used to back up this decision. People need to continue to work, or their brains will deteriorate. If you stop work, put your feet up, watch a lot of telly, play golf or take up bowls, and generally take life easy, your brain is likely to slow down.

One thought was that this is going to be pretty harsh for the next generation. Not only will they not be able to retire until they are 70 or 75, but they are also the generation that will potentially die at an earlier age than their parents due to rising obesity, poor diet and too little exercise. But at least they'll still have their brains.

Anyway, I digress. The other thought was, oh no, it's happened already. I have stopped using those connections in my brain and my brain function has started to deteriorate. I used to be smart. I am now losing it.

The question remains as to whether those connections can be rebuilt with practice. My feeling is yes they can (one has to remain positive...). If we practice things, we generally improve, and that includes mental activity. For example, I went to an interview a few years ago where I had to complete an intelligence test. My feel was that I would have passed with flying colours had I taken the tests straight from school or university, as there you are trained to use your brain in this way. However, having worked for a number of years and moved into management, a lot of my skills were soft skills or people skills, not analytical brain skills.

I chose to do some practice tests to exercise my mind in the right direction and I am confident they helped get me thinking on the right lines. Did I get the job? I can't remember... but that's not the point.

Or maybe it is. The memory and brain function. Two components that have declined since motherhood. My theory on memory loss is two fold. Priorities change, and when the children are babies we become child focused. Nothing else matters. They are the centre of our universe, and they take up so much time and energy, there is little left to spare. It is no longer important to remember the name of the Treasurer or the Prime Minister of Britain. It is only important to remember to feed and clothe and love and cherish.

The other aspect is torture. Sleep Deprivation torture. Law and Order last night had a case involving sleep deprivation and the impact it can have on you. I truly believe sleep deprivation has affected my memory in the last 5 years. Did mum tell me they were going to be away this weekend? Did I give Holly that dollar to buy me a Mother's Day present at pre-school? Did I take my pill this morning? (lucky they have days marked) Did I put sugar in my tea?

According to a website I've just looked at, cumulative sleep derivation (which means getting less than 7.5 hours a night on a regular basis) can lead to problems including:

- Decreased alertness and manual dexterity
- Impaired memory and cognitive function
- Irritability

and more.

(Cognitive function. I knew there was a technical term for using your brain. I just couldn't remember it..)

So as a sleep deprived mum, I should be careful as I go and pick up the kids, as I am likely to forget where I'm going, be highly irritable and prone to road rage, have poor reactions and not be able to form a convincing argument as to why we can't buy that toy Holly has spotted on the way out to the car. I might just do the Sudoku puzzle in the paper, and have a power nap before I leave...

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