Things I’ve learned so far … PART 10

May 20, 2015

It’s been a while since I wrote about the things I’ve learned since having kids. It never stops!

1.  Messy cupboards

Why are children’s clothes cupboards always such a mess? The constant disorder is partly caused by the rate at which clothes are turned over. Wash-wear-wash-wear, I feel I operate a mini-laundromat. It is also because of the sheer volume of little outfits that kids accumulate. Megan has more clothes than me and Alastair combined. She has over 30 t-shirts, many of which were hand-me-downs or gifts.

Megan dresses herself (multiple times on some days) and the process involves much rummaging, grabbing and flinging. Everyday it looks as if her cupboard exploded and the clothes are the shrapnel strewn all over her floor. I would like to keep the different types of clothing organized into neat piles but it is impossible to maintain it.

2.  Potty

I love changing Megan or Jessica’s nappies (not other children’s, only mine). Alastair says I have a poo fetish because I particularly enjoy changing number 2 nappies. It may be because I put a lot of effort into cooking and it is satisfying to see and smell the healthy output. ‘Look there are the nuts Megan ate’ or ‘Oh dear, there’s the carrot Jessica didn’t like.’

Changing nappies is fine but emptying the potty is another story. I don’t mind changing a pooey nappy but emptying a pooey potty is less exciting. You have to aim well. If you dump it by pointing at the water in the middle, this is likely to backsplash on to your arm or, if you are unlucky as I once was, into your eye. If you aim the potty at the side of the water to avoid the splash, the contents are likely to tumble and slide towards the water and this leaves skid marks which necessitate the toilet brush and two or possibly three extra flushes.

3.  Weetabix

If we ever build a house off plan, I’m going to suggest we bind the bricks with Weetabix. If you leave Weetabix to dry, it becomes more solid than cement. It is a nightmare to clean up especially if the cereal falls and then dries on a wooden surface or floor tiles. One time when I was rubbing Megan’s little eating table with steel wool, I wondered if it would be easier to just discard the table and buy a new one.

4.  Socks

Socks on babies are irritating because they never stay on. Whenever Jessica wears socks, her feet end up looking like this:


5.  45 minute cycle

A baby’s built in clock astounds me. Babies sleep in 45 minutes cycles and it is 45 minutes on the dot. If Jessica goes down at 9am, I know for a fact that she will stir again at 9h45. It works every time. How is it that the body just knows?

6.  Broken books

You know those children’s books that your baby ripped and that you are planning to repair? Have you got a drawer filled with torn pages that you want to cellotape together one day? You will never get round to it, dream on.

7.  10 minute power snoozes

If Megan sleeps for even as little as 10 minutes any time after 15h00, it significantly screws up her evening bedtime routine. You would think she would just go to sleep 10 minutes later that night. No way. Those 10 minutes are as potent as jet fuel and can power her for a further 2 hours later. Late afternoon sleeps are to be avoided at all costs.

8.  Waking up from an afternoon nap

wake upWhy is it that children wake up groggy, subdued and irritable after a daytime nap but in the mornings (at say, 5h30am) they open their eyelids and then instantly spring out of bed like they’ve just been shot out a cannon? Megan takes around 40 minutes to come round to full perky form again after a daytime nap but, in the mornings, when I could do with a lazy lie in and gradual wake up, she’s bouncing on the bed and raring to get the day started

9.  Storybooks

Modern storybooks are disappointing. Modern or new is not always better. I miss the timeless Ladybird fairytale books I read as a child. I’ve searched for something like them in shops and libraries and most books these days have abysmal writing quality or substandard illustrations that are often too colourful, busy and overstimulating. The Gruffalo is not a patch on the old Ladybird books.

I wish my mom had kept my set. They were the best story books ever because the pictures were so vivid. They are tattooed into my memory. I felt as if I was literally inside the pages with the characters. Loosing yourself in the illustrations is the most exciting and important part of reading when you are little. I remember I couldn’t sleep in the same room as the Sleeping Beauty book in case the witch jumped from the pages during the night.  So I hid it in the bathroom, behind the curtain in a shower that we never used.  I needed that distance between the book and me while I slept.

Do you remember these ones?

ladybird books

This week I spent hours trawling the internet trying to source copies of old Ladybird books and they are valuable and hard to come by. Do you know what they are known as? Vintage Ladybird books. Yes, vintage. Boy do I feel old.

10.  Walks

Last week Megan had chicken pox. I didn’t leave the house from Tuesday midday until the following Saturday afternoon except briefly on the Thursday when I went for a drive and quick coffee from McDonalds drivethrough. People suggested, ‘Why don’t you go for a walk?’

WalkWalking with toddlers at the best of times is an almighty rigmarole. It involves a lot of physical energy and not just the effort of putting one foot in front of the other. All the pushing, dragging, carrying and then the emotional stamina it requires to cope with cranky children means a walk round the block is not as invigorating as one imagines. I pictured skipping together through open fields, sitting beside a stream, blowing dandelions and picking flowers but that’s rarely the reality.

We spend more time getting ready than we do on the actual walk. I suppose putting on jackets, gloves and boots in winter and hats and sun cream in summer is all part of the activity.

Usually we barely exit the parking lot or get more than 30m beyond the house before Megan jumps out the pram, then climbs back in it, then walks into the side of it, rummages in the storage area underneath it or wants to push it herself. It’s stop start, stop start. One or both of the children either become too hot or too cold, depending on the season. Jessica begins squawking and tussling. Megan decides she needs her dummy and when she realizes her fix is not there, it’s like dealing with a person in cold turkey drug withdrawal. Eventually she calms down and demands to be carried. When I refuse because I can’t carry her and push the pram, she flops to the ground in hysterical abandon and assumes what I call the starfish position.

11.  Days are long and the years are short

I liked author Cheryl Strayed’s description of children as endless suck machines. She said they take you to the furtherest edge of your personality and absolutely to your knees. The lack of mental stimulation, especially as a stay at home mom (not that I ever felt stimulated at work, mind you) can make you feel as if you are the last plum on the tree, overripe and splitting at the seams. But then children give everything back and more than you could have ever imagined. Parenting is absurdly hard but profoundly sweet.

jarThat is why I love my 2015 Happiness Jar because it constantly draws my attention to the profoundly sweet. It was intense being housebound last week with the chicken pox. The days felt loooooong but there were moments of profound sweetness too. The thing I’ve noticed about the profoundly sweet moments is that they are unique to me. My profoundly sweet moment is not someone else’s and that makes them even more special.

Last week my sweet moments were when Megan said she would like an ice lolly but she called it an ‘ice snolly’. She calls her sandals her ‘candles’. She picked my bra off the washing line and announced, ‘This is for Mommy’s breastmilk.’ Then the deliveryman dropped off the groceries and she lifted out the cream and exclaimed, ‘Milk for scones!’ I asked her her name and she said it was Megan Surycz. Then I asked her what mine is and she replied, ‘Mommy Surycz.’ Cute hey?


How to prepare your child for school

May 3, 2015

Jo Glen is affiliated with the church I attended when I lived in the UK. She often gives talks on parenting young children because she was principal of a reputable primary school in London. I recently listened to her advice on parenting under 10s and how we can prepare our children for school. It’s brilliant.

schoolShe says that we should chill out about teaching them the alphabet, colours, shapes, the time, how to count, how to read etc. She said that is a teacher’s job, not necessarily yours. That is what teachers are trained to do. It is their area of expertise so you can leave them to it. Sometimes parents are so busy doing the teacher’s job that they forget to do theirs. This means that many overworked and underpaid teachers are on the verge of breakdown because they have to do our job – that of “parenting” the children.

I’ve been reading Parenting by the Book by John Rosamund. It’s quite good. He did a speech once to a group of teachers. He asked them which option they preferred – a small class of badly behaved intelligent children or a large class of attentive, respectful kids of average intellect. They all chose the large class of well-behaved children because, contrary to popular belief, it is not class sizes per se that are the problem. It is that children these days are so feral or demanding that teachers can no longer cope with big groups of them anymore.

Back to Jo Glen. According to her, the best way to prepare your child for school is to teach them respect and compassion. This will do their future teachers a big favour. It will make them a joy to be around. While you may find your children enchanting, you must remember that other people probably won’t.  Focus on these two things and don’t get your knickers in a knot about the other stuff.

Respect means we must train our kids to listen and follow simple instructions. They must learn to respect the legitimate authority of adults. Expect things to be done when you first say it. When you say, ‘Stop doing that’, then they must stop doing that. When you say, ‘Brush your teeth,’ then the child should brush their teeth. When I say to Megan, ‘Sit down in the car seat now’, then she should sit down in the flipping car seat RIGHT NOW.

imagesG9VU8HEQThe next skill you should teach your child is how to be compassionate and considerate. They need to understand that they live in community with others and their choices and behaviour affect those around them. They must learn self-control and realize that everyone can be annoying, including them. Apparently when many children get to school, it is a revelation to them that they are not in fact the centre of the universe.

Jo Glen gave an example of how to teach compassion and empathy. If you are at the shops and see someone in a wheelchair, you should say to your child, ‘Life must be more difficult for that person. We are so lucky to have two functioning legs. How do you think it feels to be in a wheelchair?’

Do you know what I’ve realised? It is easier to teach shapes, colours, French, numbers and the alphabet to our children than it is to teach them respect and compassion. It’s like herding cats or dragging a dead horse along the beach. One of the things that has most surprised me about parenting is the extent to which children push the boundaries and choose the path of most resistance. I always assumed sharing, self-control and consideration for others was innate within us but now I see that it has to be taught and learned.

imagesJ0ZIXJFJTake last week as an example. A friend came for tea with her daughter who is Megan’s age. You would have thought they would have played happily, but no. They snarled, growled, yapped and circled each other like highly strung dogs. Megan refused to share her toys and at one point whacked (high-fived?) her friend in the face.  It is much easier to teach Megan about shapes and the colours of a rainbow than it is to train her not to physicalize her feelings.

In the expat community in Switzerland, there are two education options – the international school or the local ones. Some of my friends have chosen to send their kids to the expensive international schools despite the local ones being free. Most people I’ve asked say that they don’t like the local Swiss system’s rigid, fit in, our-way-or-the-highway approach. One of my friends says the international schools are whole child focused and cater for different learning styles. Another friend felt that the local system breaks the child’s spirit.

I like the sound of the local schooling because, firstly, it’s free. I like the way the Swiss are sticklers for rules and consider others (no lawnmowers on Sundays, pick up dog poop etc). I assume they get some of that mindset from their education system.

horseAlso, real life is not whole person focused and does not cater for different learning styles. Real life won’t pander to individuals’ needs and real life can also be pretty spirit-crushing so surely it is best for kids to learn this sooner rather than later. We as parents can guide them through it and help them develop resilience and a thicker skin. I’ve also been thinking whether perhaps it’s not a bad thing to break our children’s spirit. Not break it into a million pieces, but break it IN, like a horse.

So, there you have it.  Respect and compassion – teach these two things first.  Easy peasy … not.