Sunday, December 23, 2012

Back home from the beach ... the final verdict

We left for our beach holiday with one sick child, and five days later returned with another. While the symmetry appeals, the experience does not.

On the way up the coast, The Big Fella lay slumped in his booster seat. Rarely does he succumb to something as minor as illness, but this time he went the whole nine yards - fever, sore throat, spots, warts.

(He had no spots or warts, but it sounds bad, hey?)

While the big unit is rarely ill, The Complicated One is rarely well. So we shouldn’t have been surprised when he started shivering and sweating on the drive home. My driving isn’t that bad (although my fellow road users on the Pacific Highway were particularly annoying).

The eldest child had gone several days with no apparent symptoms transferring from the least eldest child. Foolishly, we thought we were in the clear.

The Complicated One arrived home sick and grumpy, and then got worse. We sighed with relief when he finally adjourned to bed at 4pm.

He slept on and off until 6.30am (with the emphasis on ‘off’ – we seemed to spend more time walking between our room and his than we did in bed).

So the question ‘Was the beach holiday worth it?' is now decidedly more complicated to answer.

Not only must we consider issues that arose during the holiday: sharing a bed with cockroaches, mice in the ceiling (a minor annoyance really), and sunscreen and sand that never washes off.

We also need to factor in post-holiday issues such as illness (which hasn’t yet migrated to me or Sherrie), washing the car, and cleaning the grout above the stove and kitchen benches.

Yes, when I return from holiday, I am frequently overcome with a need to clean. Today I cleaned the house, washed the car, and used bleach and a toothbrush to clean the kitchen tiles. They now look splendid!

I guess if the house looks cleaner thanks to the after-effects of our beach holiday, then maybe that ties it up – Civilisation 3, Bush 3.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Random moments on a beach holiday 4 ... the last afternoon

It's the last afternoon of our beach holiday and the boys are lying prone on the lounge. They’re alternating between hyperactive and listless, grumpy and manic, mildly exhausted and exhausted.

Even I see the sense of making one last trip to the beach, but the boys can’t be convinced. They’re buggered.

We’ve only been here for 4 days, not 4 weeks. You’d think they’d have a bit more stamina.

I’d understand their lack of energy if it was 1966 and they were sleep deprived from 4 weeks camping in a tent, their bodies wasted from a nutrient-deficient diet of baked beans and Spam, and dehydrated from electrolyte-rich Passiona.

But it’s 2012. They’re in an air conditioned cabin. They’ve eaten like kings in restaurants. They’ve imbibed plenty of water and precious little Fanta.

The best we can do is convince them to make one last visit to the pool (or leisure centre, as it’s been quaintly re-named).

We wrestle them into their sagging and stretched rashies one more time, lather on some more sunscreen over the stubborn residue of the last batch, and trudge once more back to the pool. Well, Sherrie and the boys do – I’m back here writing my blog in air conditioned comfort, a beer at my side and a blonde on my knee.

(Actually, I'm drinking mineral water, only the ceiling fan is on - I have at least attempted to acclimatise - and the only blonde is the yeasty one I’m looking forward to with dinner at the local bowlo.)

The boys return exhausted but elated from the pool.

Yep - you can’t beat summer holidays by the beach!

Civilisation 2, Bush 3.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Random moments on a beach holiday 3 ... is it easier to stay at home?

Here’s a list of things we do on a beach holiday, roughly in order from most to least often:

1.    watch cricket on TV
2.    watch ABC 4 Kids on TV
3.    watch golf on TV
4.    eat in our room
5.    eat out at restaurants
6.    play putt putt golf
7.    play tenpin bowling
8.    play Scrabble
9.    swim in swimming pool
10.    collect shells at beach
11.    wash sandy shells at cabin
12.    line clean shells up on table
13.    swim at beach.

We’re well into double figures on that list before we do anything that we couldn’t more cheaply, easily and comfortably do at home.

In fact, we seem to do just about everything on our beach holiday - apart from go to the beach.

Maybe it’s because I’m from a non-beachgoing family.

Maybe it’s because the sea is fully of deadly creatures that will kill us.

Maybe it’s because even our cabin opposite the beach still seems so far away from the beach.

Maybe it’s because it takes forever to lather on sunscreen and collect all our stuff.

Then there’s the weather - too hot, too cold, or too windy.

Then there are the tides. Low tide is good for keeping the waves low and sharks farther out to sea.

Then there are lunar phases to consider (surely there’s a preferred phase of the moon for beachgoing?)

Maybe next year we’ll stay at home at do everything on that list from 1 – 9.

Or maybe we’ll head back to the beach so we can enjoy all those activities with the added bonus of doing so coated in sunscreen and with sand stuck in unpleasant places while sharing our bed with cockroaches.

Civilisation 2, Bush 2.

(NB. I really had a much better time than I'm making out, but that's our secret.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Random moments on a beach holiday 2 ... I want the top bunk!

“I want the top bunk!” yells The Complicated One.

“No, I want the top bunk,” counters The Big Fella.

After much tedious negotiation, everyone agrees that:

a)    the eldest child will scale the dizzy heights of the top bunk (since he’s the best climber) and

b)    the least eldest child will lie safely nearest the ground (since he dropped like a sack of potatoes from some monkey bars the previous weekend, landing on his backside with a shuddering thud that demanded chiropractic care).

Fast forward six hours to bedtime .... “I feel sick and dizzy up here. I might fall.”

The Complicated One has lost his nerve.

“Would you like to come down?”

Sad little nod of head in reply.

Further negotiations are required about who should have the bottom bunk. The Complicated One reckons he should sleep on the bottom while The Big Fella moves to the less salubrious adjacent single bed. The Big Fella does not agree.

Eventually peace is restored when the least eldest brother agrees to make way for the eldest brother in the bottom bunk.

Five minutes later….thud.

It sounds suspiciously like The Big Fella falling like a sack of wet cement out of a tree.

Then screams.

Which sound suspiciously like The Complicated One stubbing his toe.

Which brother is it?

Of course, the eldest brother has fallen out of the bottom bunk, and managed to badly (he claims) hurt his knee in the drop (all 45 centimetres of it).

Lucky he wasn’t in the top bunk, or he’d be in hospital. At least his little brother only needs chiropractic care.

Civilisation 1, Bush 2.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Random moments on a beach holiday 1 ... cockroaches

My wife is from a camping family. I am not. We compromise by holidaying in cabins at caravans parks (or holiday parks, as they are quaintly known).

She gets to maintain a family tradition of roughing it (no 5 star resorts for her). I get the creature comforts I am accustomed to (like plumbing, and a bed with a mattress, and hot water for showers and cups of tea).

But Sherrie got her wish of roughing it these holidays. We shared our bed with at least one large brown cockroach.

It was bad enough that on our first night in the cabin we got up to the kids three times between 11pm and 3am, but when I returned to bed for the third time, I spied a cockroach scampering gaily about in the sheets.

I swooshed at it ineffectually several times, only succeeding in chasing it under the bed. I briefly turned on the lamp, in the vain hope I may be able to crush the life from it with my bare foot. But it was quick, and I was sleepy.

Sherrie muttered something that sounded like “What’s happening?”

“Nothing,” I replied, quickly turning off the lamp. The cockroach was still on the loose.

While She Who Likes to Camp lay dreaming sweet dreams of bush latrines and camp ovens, He Who Dislikes Discomfort lay waiting for a cockroach to scamper across his face.

The next evening, She Who Likes to Camp retired to the bathroom for a relaxing spa bath, but emerged a few short minutes later, damp and still looking tense.

“The spa’s too noisy – I couldn’t relax.”

Like I said, roughing it.

Later the same evening I killed that brown cockroach as it came charging out of the bathroom. Clearly the spa bath is also too noisy for coackroaches.

Civilisation 1, Bush 1.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I cut the wrong end off the front door

I cut the wrong end off the front door. Don’t laugh! It’s easier to do than you might think.

I was trying to stop the wooden screen door scraping on the front step.

I tried other remedies first. A couple of months ago, I took the door off its hinges and carefully planed the bottom edge. I felt like a true carpenter.

Unfortunately, I proved the truism that a carpenter is only as good as his tools.

Because my handyman outings are so rare, I refuse to buy expensive tools. The cheap plane I bought was so blunt I might as well have licked the bottom of the door for all the wood it took off.

When I hung the door back up, it still scrapped on the front step.

Having used up my allotted hours for handyman duties that month, the front screen door continued to make a high-pitched ear-piercing scraping sound for the next two months.

Why didn’t I fix the door during the next month’s allotted handyman hours, I hear you ask? I used those to weed the garden and poison the weeds growing through the pavers. A broad definition of handymanning, I admit – one that most would categorise as gardening. But since it uses equipment purchased at a large hardware warehouse, I feel entitled to categorise the activity under ‘handymanning’.

So this week, radical surgery was required.

No, not leaving the screen door off for good. That would stop the scraping noise, but risks filling the house with flies, mosquitos and the family of possums that live in our roof but who I suspect would happily move further indoors.

Instead, I proposed to cut a sliver of wood off the bottom with my trusty $8 saw. What could go wrong?!

For starters, I lay the door on the paved patio, so that as the door vibrated with each saw cut, the lacquer was rubbed off its underside.

When I stood the door against the wall to admire my handywork, it looked like that possum family had spent all night scratching it to try to get inside.

That’s when I noticed that I had cut a fine sliver off the top of the door, instead of the bottom.

I’m nothing it not dogged. So I lay the door on its other side and cut a sliver off the real bottom, instead of the other bottom, which was really the top.

Of course I again forgot to lay the door on any protective sheet. When I was finished the other side was scraped worse than the first. (I may have sawed a little more roughly the second time around. I am dogged but a little ratty when hot and bothered.)

It now looked like the possum family was trying to escape from inside the house. Perhaps they couldn’t stand the high-pitched ear-piercing scraping sound of the front door either?

I again stood the screen door against the wall and admired my handywork. 

What was once a beautifully lacquered cedar screen door now stood scratched and leaning sideways on my rough cut, like a refugee from Cyclone Yasi.

I sighed as I trudged towards the garage to fetch the lacquer. I touched it up and hung it back up.

Surprisingly, the screen door no longer scrapes on the front step. It swings silently open. And closed. It’s doing everything a screen door should, including keeping out the possum family.

And from a distance you can barely notice the ragged bottom, both of them.

Friday, August 31, 2012

I'm not the marrying kind

“J always picks The Complicated One. It’s not fair. She wants to marry him, but I asked him first!”

Of course L didn’t say ‘The Complicated One’, or even TCO – only I call him that. But her meaning was crystal clear – the little boy she’d decided to marry in the first week of kindy was now devoted to another girl.

Fast and furious friendships seem typical of these heady first weeks and months of your first year at school. It’s a bit like speed dating, but with the cheap white wine replaced by juice poppers.

L is right – she definitely had first dibs on him. I clearly remember TCO and L holding hands as they walked back to class from morning assembly in the second week of school. I was so relieved he’d made a friend, after his first few days had been truly horrendous.

(On days 1 and 2 we physically had to push him through the classroom door, crying, and pull it tight behind us to prevent his escape. We then walked quickly away to the fading sound of his screams. First day of school blues.)

Yet it was only a few days until he made friends with L and things began to settle down, and only another few weeks until he really clicked with J. They are now fast friends, each waiting until the other arrives in the morning so they can play handball together.

In 20 years, if they decide to marry, I wonder if J or L will still have to promise to ‘submit to him’, as is currently the rage in some ‘forward-thinking’ Anglican Church parishes. I hope not.

I certainly know the church would not approve of our boys current plans to marry another boy!
The Complicated One and The Big Fella both asked Sherrie the other day if they could marry a boy instead of a girl.

“Not at the moment, but it’s currently under investigation,” she replied.

TBF wants to marry his male cousin J. TCO thinks it might be best marry a boy as well but is leaving his options open (a wise move, given how keen those little girls J and L are to marry him).

Who knows how or why people will be getting hitched in 20 or 30 years? The smart money is probably on the boys, not the Anglicans.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Clothes and circuses

"Can we look at the clothes section after we look at the toys?"

Not words often uttered by 4-year-old boys. Unless they're The Big Fella continuing his quest to look fashionably cool this spring.

He certainly dressed to impress for our first family visit to the circus last weekend. His Angry Birds t-shirt and scruffy blue jeans blended nicely with the circus roadies.

It was an old school circus with lions, monkeys, ponies, clowns and trapeze artists.

Admittedly the lions looked rather tired, the monkeys riding the ponies looked alarmingly manic, and the clowns made rather tired risque jokes. But the trapeze artists were rather good, and the atmosphere was quite jolly.

At 4 and 6, the boys were just the right age to be delighted by all the silliness and the pantomime atmosphere. Particularly the physical humour of the clowns. The look on their faces was priceless.

I know it's probably quite politically incorrect to like a circus. And for those like me with allergies, there was dust. And animal hair. In an enclosed space.

But if take your best antihistamine and adjust your other medication before heading off, adults may have an acceptable time as well.

"What was your favourite part of the circus?" we asked the boys afterwards.

"The clowns," replied The Complicated One.

"The part where they bumped each other off the table, or the bit where they crashed the clown car?"

"No, the clowns we put the balls in. I love my pig." (He won a stuffed pig, which is rather cute.)

Seems they liked the sideshow alley at the entrance more than what happened under the big top.

So perhaps it's an old-fashioned carnival with sideshow alley they prefer, more than an old-fashioned circus.

Provided The Big Fella can dress to impress, he probably doesn't care where he goes - as long as he's looking goooood!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Eurovision is over - but let's hope Abba reunite!

The lights have dimmed on Eurovision for another year. But out of darkness rises hope. Hope that as the song contest heads to Sweden next year, Abba may reunite to mark the 39th anniversary of winning Eurovision.

The year was 1974, and Waterloo won the song contest in Brighton, England - launching Abba to worldwide fame. These days, you've a better chance of  launching a global singing career on a North Korean rocket than the Eurovision song contest.

But Sweden's Loreen was a deserving winner of Eurovision 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan. Euphoria is a great song, and her performance was compelling. With her flowing dark hair and jerky choreography, Loreen was Kate Bush reincarnated (Wuthering Heights Kate Bush, not sexed-up Babushka Kate Bush - sigh).

Of course, babushkas did make an appearance at Eurovision this year. The Russian entry featured six grannies in traditional babushka costumes, bopping along to a tricked-up folk tune. It was good enough to finish runner-up - and win special mention for best use of a pizza oven as a stage prop.

Best use of a Chesterfield armchair went to Denmark. In this rarely awarded category, Soluna Samay sang perhaps the catchiest tune of the night, Should've Known Better - and didn't she look a treat in her jaunty captain's hat. Finishing 22nd says more about the vagaries of the Eurovision voting system than the quality of Denmark's song.

Ireland's Jedward had another rarely awarded category all to themselves - best use of a water feature. Who cares if they barely sang a word. It was a damn catchy tune, and Australians voted them 3rd on the SBS TV poll even though they finished 19th officially.

Otherwise, there was a rare alignment of looks and talent at this year's Eurovision.

The cutest boys sang some decent songs - think Ott Lepland, Estonia's answer to Ronan Keating, the brooding good looks of Norway's Toopi, even the swarthy Serbian Zelijke Joksimovic who finished 3rd.

And the cutest girls definitely sang some of the best songs - apart from Sweden and Denmark, think Italy's Nina Zilli, who channeled the look and sound of a clean and sober Amy Winehouse, and Cypriot bombshell Ivi Adamou singing La La Love (OK, the song is not great, but gee...)

Voice of the night was definitely Spain's Pastora Soler, who will blow you away!

Quote of the night went to Bulgaria. "Let me escalate your spirits" said the Bulgarian presenter as she introduced the results of her country's vote. 

My spirits will be escalated if Abba reunite for Eurovision 2013 in Sweden. Until then, I have the CD of this year's songs to keep me going, and better still the recording of the two semis and the final. Eurovision is a treat for all the senses.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Robin Gibb and the loss of innocence

It's hard to capture in words what the death of Robin Gibb means to me. But look at this simple photo of Barry, Robin and Maurice, before they were the Bee Gees...

(Scroll down the article to find the black-and-white photo where Barry looks about 12 or 13 years old, Robin (centre) and Maurice about 9 or 10. The caption says the photo was taken during their years in Brisbane, which was between about 1958 and 1966.)

With their white Chesty Bonds-style t-shirts and shorts, and big smiles on their wide open faces - it's a picture of innocence, optimism, and brotherly love.

It's also a photo that breaks my heart - as a parent of two young boys who wonders what life will bring for them.

This black-and-white image of the Gibb brothers seems to capture all that was good and sweet and innocent about 1960s Australia. The tennis whites a reminder of how our champions ruled the tennis world. The guitar that hints at artistic talent. Their faces suffused with a healthy youthful radiance that mirrors how we saw ourselves - a young nation, full of talent and dreams, starting to punch above our weight on the world stage.

It's a photo of three brothers whose futures were inextricably linked, and whose lives would unfold with great highs but also many lows.

Only a few years later, as the Bee Gees the brothers would have their first Australian number 1 (Spicks and Specks), and a few years later their first worldwide number 1 (Massachusetts). After a string of hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s featuring the ethereal voice of Robin, in the late 1970s they would define the disco era, with Barry's falsetto their signature sound. They would go on to become Britain's most successful songwriting partnership after Lennon-McCartney.

The lows would come too, with their early split as a band before Robin reunited with his brothers. The periods of drug and alcohol abuse that seemingly came hand-in-hand with their massive chart success. The death of their younger brother Andy at just 30, after years of cocaine use. Later, the deaths of Maurice at 54 and Robin at 62 - both premature by contemporary longevity standards.

And today I think of Barry, now 66, the sole survivor of his three younger brothers. How must he feel? Watch him as an older man sing Immortality, which he dedicates to his brothers. Then look back at this photo of them as boys.

That innocent photo of three boys on the verge of greatness makes me wonder about how life will unfold for our two sons.

I don't wish worldwide fame on them, or anyone else. But you can't help wonder will they be happy? Will they find fulfillment? Will they avoid the pitfalls of drug or alcohol abuse that claims the lives of not just the famous, but ordinary people too - as alcohol helped claim the life of my own father at only 52.

There are plenty of self-help books and gurus to help us understand how to live well. I just hope and wish The Big Fella and The Complicated One may live happy and healthy lives, in times of peace and equality. I hope it's not too much to ask.

It's not fashionable to say so, but the Bee Gees' music has brought me much happiness over many years. Listen to First of May and try not to cry about the loss of childhood innocence. If you're a teenager in love, try How Deep is Your Love. And try not to sway along to Nights on Broadway - it's impossible.

Vale Robin Gibb, brother to Barry, Maurice and Andy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Slave to fashion at age 4 going on 14

The Big Fella assumed full responsibility for his wardrobe several months ago. He's just turned 4 going on 14.

He's not yet buying his own clothes. Or washing them. But all other clothes-related decisions are his and his alone.

He decides what to wear during the day. And at night.

Spider-Man pyjamas must be matched with Spider-Man undies. Ben 10 pyjamas with Ben 10 undies. Dark blue singlets are preferable to grey. Both are preferable to white.

But it's daywear he's really particular about.

If his Ben 10 t-shirt and hoodie jacket are in the wash, there's hell to pay. Although he's happier now that we have an Angry Birds t-shirt as back-up. And there's always the old standbys of several Spider-Man t-shirts.

We may as well give away all his other clothes, as he only wears the same three outfits in high rotation. Lucky I like washing.

The Big Fella is usually fully dressed and ready to leave the house by 6am or 6.30am at the latest. Complete with shoes and socks, jacket, and Ben 10 cap.

We don't usually leave the house until 8.30am - but he likes to be prepared.

He not only chooses all his own clothes, day and night, he must always dress himself. His brother, nearly 6, would still prefer we dress him and make all clothes-related decisions for him. Quite frankly, The Complicated One couldn't care less what he wears.

It's not hard to work out which teenager will spend all his pocket money on the latest hip outfits - and who won't.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day massacre averted

The Big Fella threatened to assassinate his mum on the eve of Mother's Day. Having just turned 4, we hope he was just asserting his newfound sense of independence, rather than trying to recreate the St Valentine's Day massacre.

"What are you doing?" mum asked as he knelt in front of his toybox, throwing its contents on the floor all around him.

"I'm looking for my gun to shoot you."

The Big Fella was upset about an earlier bathtime incident, where he thought his older brother, The Complicated One, had been unjustly dealt with by his parents, in particular his mother.

So he was springing to his brother's defence and threatening to exact revenge on mum.

Several minutes later he emerged from his room. Fortunately, he was gunless.

"I'll shoot you in the morning," he declared, as he stomped off to his bath.

The next day, as the boys were handing over their Mother's Day presents, The Big Fella remembered his threat of the night before.

"I'm not going to shoot you - because it's Mother's Day," he declared.

The lack of a suitable weapon had averted a Mother's Day massacre in suburban Sydney. Were that Al Capone and Bugs Moran had experienced a similar lack of guns in Chicago, a sad chapter in America history may have gone unwritten.

There's a lesson there for all of us. Disarm The Big Fella, and we can all rest easy at night.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I'm addicted to Reacher

I should be preparing dinner. Instead I'm writing a blog about Jack Reacher. But who can blame me? He's 6 foot 5 inches, 110kgs of muscle, ex-US Military Police, served all over the world, Silver Star for bravery,  expert in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, and he takes no shit from nobody.

He's a terrific fictional creation by author Lee Child, and I've just read all 16 Reacher novels in order and back-to-back over the past 4 months. I'm addicted, and I don't care!

I've now got a 6-month wait until his next novel is published, and that wait for A Wanted Man is going to kill me as surely as Reacher would if I was some low-life scum who didn't live up to his standards of human behaviour. (Actually, it's exactly 146 days today until it's despatched to me, as I just pre-ordered a copy from my new best friend, The Book Depository.)

The first 15 novels are set in the years after Reacher leaves the army and starts hitch-hiking across the US, often reluctantly being drawn into helping local law enforcement solve some kind of crime. There's often a love interest, but he always solves the case, kills a few low-life scum along the way, and walks out of town without looking back.

Reacher is always on the side of the small and less powerful, but not in some kind of soppy way. He's as tough as nails - emotionally as well as physically, and prefers life alone on the road. He carries no suitcase or personal possessions, other than a toothbrush. He buys cheap new clothes when the old are dirty (although they're normally ripped beyond repair in a fight first).

The latest and 16th novel in the series, The Affair, takes place during his last week in the army. Loyal readers finally get to see how intuitive an investigator and courageous an MP he was. We gain a greater insight into why he walked out of the army one day, and just kept walking.

The latest paperback version includes a new short story, Second Son, which sheds some light on Reacher as a teenager. It's terrific too.

Sorry to sound like a gushing idiot. This isn't Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway. But Child's thrillers are consistently compelling and Reacher an interesting enigma.

There's a bit of Reacher in everyone, I reckon - and therein lies the author's success.

"I picked a road at random ... and I stuck out my thumb."

Monday, April 2, 2012

Earth Hour nightmares

"What are we doing for Earth Hour!" screamed The Complicated One. It was the Saturday morning of Earth Hour. Clearly he'd been dreaming about it, and plainly he'd decided our response was inadequate.

Last week his science teacher had asked everyone in class what they were doing for Earth Hour.

She didn't seem impressed by The Complicated One's answer that his parents would be going to bed early and hoping for their annual night of uninterrupted sleep.

Since when do kindy kids have science teachers? Next he'll want a financial adviser for his Dollarmites account.

Clearly he'd gone to bed worried that his parents weren't taking Earth Hour seriously, and had nightmares about our inadequate response.

So he was demanding a family conference. Involving both his parents. At 5.30 in the morning.

You'll recall that Earth Hour coincided with the end of daylight savings. So as an added bonus, during our family conference we all got to enjoy the maximum period of darkness remaining until dawn - over 1 and a half hours to be fairly precise.

Earlier in the week I had laid out what I thought was a pretty comprehensive household response...
  1. We'd recently upgraded from our power-hungry plasma TV to a more energy efficient LED LCD model (I haven't really thrown the plasma away - just relocated it, but he doesn't need to know.)
  2. Mummy and daddy would turn off all the lights in the house and watch the LED LCD TV in darkness (we do this every night, but he doesn't need to know).
  3. We'd unplug the electric toothbrushes and the kettle.
  4. I'd needlessly capitalise Earth Hour in my blog.
  5. We could also unplug his nightlight.
Somehow he was still unimpressed.

In the end he settled for the toothbrushes and kettle.

But he thought his nightlight should remain on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big Fella top dog

The Big Fella is enjoying being top dog. For 2 days each week, he sets the pace.

It's just me and him. He gets to decide which park to visit, which library books we borrow, and what games we play. He even gets first bid on what we're eating for dinner.

Of course it all ends at 3pm when school finishes and we collect The Complicated One. Then it's back to normal. Or abnormal.

And now The Big Fella has tasted the high life as top dog, things can get a bit testy at the pound when the old dog returns.

There is much pawing at the ground and gnashing of teeth as he asserts his few-found authority. They disagree over anything and everything - who gets to play with what toy, whose toy is it anyhow, how to play a game, whose game is it anyway, what we're having for dinner, and whether the sky is blue or green.

Being two months shy of his 4th birthday and in the 'big' room at child care, The Big Fella thinks he's king of the world.

Until The Complicated One reminds him that's he's nearly six and is going to school. At which point The Big Fella declares, "Well, I'm going to school next year!"

Which may or may not be the case, depending on how soon The Big Fella can count past 14 and write more than the first two letters of his name. Even if he can't, he has the personality to bluff his way through kindergarten even now.

Chances are he'll find the whole experience less traumatic than his big brother, who after 6 weeks of Kindergarten is wracked with existential angst when he can't read a sentence that would trouble most Year 2 kids.

The Big Fella already dresses each morning like he's off to a Year 12 school formal. He takes great care to match one of Spiderman t-shirts with the right pair of shorts, choose socks that are cool ("are these socks cool?" he asks most mornings), and adjust the tilt of his cap (the bucket had was long ago ditched as uncool).

The Complicated One couldn't care less what he wears. He has too much on his mind as it is, what with re-sorting his Moshi Monsters collection and deciding on the pros and cons of different approaches to securing world peace.

A mum whispered to me during school assembly this morning that her son told her that everyone in his class wants to be like The Complicated One. No, not complicated - but attentive in class, considerate and respectful of others, and generally helpful and well-behaved.

My heart filled to bursting.

As for The Big Fella, he's busy mixing poison in the cubby house. "Don't come in, I'm mixing poison" he yelled at me yesterday afternoon.

Let's just hope he's not planning to poison the top dog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fading first day of school blues

Week 5 of school and the first day blues are fading. We’re not out of the woods yet, but the path is smoother and the undergrowth is thinner and hides fewer dangers.

Much to our relief The Complicated One is making friends quickly. Last week after morning assembly I watched him walk back to class holding hands with a little girl (who he later told us he is going to marry!). They were the only ones holding hands – it looked terribly sweet.

He even quietly admits to enjoying many parts of the school day.

He loves doing little jobs - delivering the lunch orders from the canteen, couriering the school banking envelopes from classroom to front office, being bag police.

He’s fully into his readers, and taking up the challenge of reading a new book each night. He loves us filling out the diary that records what he’s read and what he liked about it, and getting a sticker.

There are a few kids who like him are already reading. But everyone’s different. While some kids are struggling with the curriculum, he’s still struggling with some of the social aspects.

He reckons recess and lunch are too long. Which we guess is related to the friends situation, which while much improved is still a source of some agitation for him.

Waiting in the playground for the music that signals morning assembly, he still won’t leave my lap, even though we’re often surrounded by a group of kids asking him to play.

Deep down we know that of course he’ll soon be running off without a backwards look. But we also know that he’s always taken longer than most to settle into new social situations.

It’s a matter of being patient. We’re just so relieved he’s not still crying himself to sleep, and that most mornings we can trundle off to school with little or no complaint.

Doesn’t mean he’s enjoying it, or it’s easy – but he’s coping.

We were warned by friends with kids who recently went through Kindy of the terrible rages that can occur after school. Tired and stressed kids who’ve been holding it together all day suddenly let themselves explode in the safety of their home.

We’ve had a few of these episodes. Often it’s a brief bit of yelling and crying over a small thing that he’d normally take in his stride.

So most afternoons it’s like walking on eggshells – don’t upset the crazy Kindy pupil in the corner!

It's just a matter of adjusting my medication and taking it in our stride.

Friday, February 3, 2012

First day of school blues

On the morning of his first day at school, The Complicated One retired to bed dressed in his uniform and shoes, pulled the blankets over his head, and said he wasn't going.

Clearly, the transition wasn't going to be easy.

By the time we got to school he was even more upset. The tears were flowing, and the other parents were looking at us across the playground.

After edging him toward his classroom ever so slowly we ended up dragging him inside. Force was required to the extent that we feared bruising his arms.

His teacher took him and closed the door. Presumably to keep him there.

Talk about a dramatic first day at school, for both child and parents.

The same thing happened on day two - tears, sobbing and pleas to stay at home - but without the dragging (I employed a steady push instead).

"I want to stay at home with you and mummy."

"I want to go back to (insert name of child care centre/pre-school)."

"I want it to be Saturday every day."

You get the idea. And it's only day two.

That it's rained steadily both days, at drop off and pick-up, hasn't exactly contributed to the cheery atmosphere.

He was happy when we picked him at the end of day one. The happiness lasted about three hours, until he started thinking about going to school the next day. Then he cried himself to sleep.

We had hoped for the best. Last year we all got through the three transition-to-school mornings with no tears or obvious emotional scars for child or parents. He happily went off on his own for the hour and a half sessions.

But clearly he draws the line at a day.

Three years ago the transition to childcare (two days a week) was a drama that lasted months. So deep down we knew school wasn't going to be any easier. Sure, he's more mature and had a lot more practice at separating, but school's a much bigger and scarier place (if you're that way inclined).

The Complicated One is a homebody. He needs to really know a place, and the people in it, before he relaxes and shows his true colours. Until then, he sits quietly and shyly with very wide eyes, and watches. He'll rarely volunteer information, even when he knows the answer, and he's frequently overlooked. But once settled, he's outgoing and articulate, and often takes charge.

Whereas The Big Fella just barges into new situations. At three and a half, he was almost volunteering to take the place of The Complicated One at school.

As we left the school grounds, the lollipop lady asked how we'd gotten on today. "Poorly - again," I replied.

"Is he a quiet one? An observer?" she asked.

I nodded.

"They always end up a prefect or school captain."

I know she was trying to cheer me up. But we'd gladly swap future responsibility for current happiness.

Monday, January 9, 2012

School holiday blues

School holiday blues are not just for the parents of school-aged children. The ripple effect also traps parents of pre-school children.

Exhibit one: Indoor play centre in suburban Sydney on the first Monday of the school holidays. Bedlam.

It’s the same play centre where a few months ago I unexpectedly had one of the few serene moments so far of my wonky daddy day care odyssey.

Remember my loving description of the perfect combination of climbing frames and slippery dips, jumping castle and ball pit, trikes and cars, good coffee, good music and magazines and couches for parents - where I dreamt of a perfect life with a lap pool, media room with projector TV, snooker table and table tennis table?

Yeah, well that simple dream vanishes at a play centre during school holidays.

It’s crowded and noisy, with bigger kids tearing about and threatening to knock over your little kids, and the little kids all a bit ratty as they respond to the bedlam and are in fear of their lives from the big kids.

An indoor play centre is still a better bet after a rainy weekend than a park’s wet grass and mud, but it’s a close-run thing.

Exhibit two: Shopping centre school holiday activities. Good in principle, but hit-and-miss in reality. 

Key variables are the size of the shopping centre, the type and quality of activities, and the time of day.

Two trestle tables of Lego blocks in a tiny shopping centre with no room to move in the late morning rush does not make for a pleasant and diverting break for either kids or parents.

Nor would you think does a long queue for a butterfly experience inside a tent. But provided both parents can attend (one as queue place-holder, one as child attention diverter) then this is a quite delightful experience.

The queue moves slowly as they’re only allowing six people at a time inside the small tent. But this improves the quality of the experience.

It’s magic watching the delight on our kids’ faces as the handlers pass them each a stick with some food on the end, onto which a butterfly lands.

Elsewhere, a clown making balloon animals is a hit with The Complicated One but quickly bores The Big Fella.

Luckily the shopping centre is not that crowded so there’s plenty of space for me to walk around with the younger one while the older one stays and watches the 30-minute show then joins the inevitable post-show queue for the take-home balloon animal.

I can see The Complicated One the whole time, which stops him fretting about being abandoned and stops me worrying about child abduction.

At one stage The Big Fella stands on a seat and tries to throw himself over a small wall onto the escalator below.

Luckily I am alert to these kinds of capers, and catch him expertly by one meaty calf shortly before he plunges to an ugly and untimely end.

School holiday activities are hazardous for parents and kids alike.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No more Christmas for the rest of days?

"There's no more Christmas for the rest of days?" asked The Big Fella this morning, as we took down the Christmas tree.

He sounded most concerned.

"No, Christmas will come again next year," I assured him.

I didn't add that the magic of Christmas is fleeting. And he'd do well to enjoy it while he can. Dangerous thoughts, best kept to yourself.

His innocent question sounded rather final, and in some ways it is.

Christmas comes but once a year. And our magical belief in Santa occupies only a few years of our life.

At best it lasts from about 3 to 9 years - from the time you're old enough to realise something exciting is happening, until the time your older brother or neighbour tells you there's no such thing as Santa.

If you're from a family with little money, the magic may be even more fleeting. Or more about longing, than fulfillment.

As adults we tell ourselves the magic of Christmas returns when we have children or grandchildren, and can share in their anticipation leading up to the big day and the joy of Chrismas morning.

To some extent that's true. But it's a different kind of joy to truly believing that Santa is real and your wishes really can come true.

I guess The Big Fella's comment really made me think about the loss of innocence - the innocence of childhood, which seems as fleeting as our belief in Santa.

As The Complicated One heads off to the big wide world of school, it's on my mind a lot.