Look what I found in our garden under the snow. Buds!
This seemingly interminable winter is finally coming to an end. I’m over the general winter heaviness, the grey, the minus temperatures, the freezing winds, the rain, the short days, too much time indoors, the children’s addiction to tv, walking to school in all weather conditions and dressing kids in winter jackets and other bulky paraphernalia.
One of the things I love most about spring is that it doesn’t appear gradually. It bursts forth, all of a sudden. One day it’s winter and then – BOOF! – it’s spring. It’s like an eruption of light and colour. I like the way all this life was lying in wait, having a little rest, under the deadness of winter. Everything feels more crisp, clear and fresh in spring and because I have weather dependent moods, I feel fresher and lighter too.
I like watching things grow. I think it is pretty amazing the way you plant a little seed and then a shoot pushes through 15cm of soil as it stretches up towards the light above. Last year we started a vegetable patch for the first time. We have a small metre by a metre one. It was fun and educational for the kids so this year we’re expanding it. There’s something extra delicious about a freshly picked courgette that you’ve grown yourself. We didn’t know how many seeds to put in so I said to Al, ‘Just chuck them all in.’ I didn’t have high hopes because for a few weeks, we watered it and nothing happened. But by the end of summer, our veggie patch was bursting. It reminded me of the fairytale about the magic porridge pot that kept overflowing with porridge and no one could stop it.
The French have a beautiful descriptive word for when things are busy and full-on. They say c’est très chargé which translates to ‘it is very charged’. Charged makes me think of hair standing on end, of static electricity, of hovering over the edge of a cliff, of walking a tightrope, of a lit match near petrol, of a hissing firework just before it explodes. Some times of the day are particularly busy and then I think, ‘Wow, this feels charged’. People often ask how I am coping with three kids and I say, ‘It’s great, just very charged.’
Comedian Michael McIntyre said there are four basics that you have to do every day when raising children – feed them, wash them, clothe them and get them to sleep. Simple things on the surface, but not in practice. Each of these daily tasks is a battle and the source of charged moments in our house. For some reason, children resist them and you are forced to compromise in various ways. Why do they do this? It’s a mystery.
My most recent intensely charged situation was on my birthday, when Jessica got gastro and vomited multiple times during the evening – once on the lounge carpet, once over the kitchen floor, once in her bed and once into my cupped hands. Of course it started at dinner time, the most charged time of my day anyway. I put Kate down so she wept (she likes to be in permanent physical contact with me at all times). Jessica stood naked in a pool of sick and demanded a hot water bottle (a hodda boddle, she says) for her achy tummy. Megan cried too because, at that precise moment, Netflix buffered and My Little Pony stopped working and to any child that is a catastrophe.
Sometimes I am so busy and things are so charged (tantrums, tears, spillages, mess, not listening, general obstinance, Al at work, vomit and other sickness) that if one more thing is added to the mix, I may combust in one big pop, like a popcorn kernel in hot oil. What does one do in a charged situation like I experienced on my birthday? Call Daddy. Guess what he said? ‘I will be home in ten minutes’. He dropped everything for me and that made it one of the best and most memorable birthday gifts ever.
Discipline. This is my weak point. I need more discipline because most of my day I feels as if I am herding cats. I know of a child who threw stones at cars and others who tried to jump from a first floor apartment window on to a trampoline in the garden below. That is hard-core naughty and Megan and Jessica are not like that at all. They just don’t listen well and this creates most of my charged situations. It’s as if they are a bit deaf or their ear canals are clogged. So when I say, ‘please put on your shoes’, then they don’t respond. It is as if I am speaking English and they only understand Chinese. Or it’s as if they only transmit a certain sonic frequency (like a whale) and don’t register the pitch of my voice. This is my latest challenge and area for personal development.
What are the best ways to get children to listen? Someone recommended the book ‘How to talk so children listen’ but I don’t feel like reading it even though I need to. I love reading but I find the parenting, self-help genre is mind-numbingly dull. Maybe I’m just not that desperate yet.
When I am pushed to my limit, my reflex is to wave the wooden spoon and threaten a whack on the bum. But this doesn’t seem fair to me. I’m trying to teach my children to be self-controlled and less physical. Spanking as a primary means of discipline doesn’t feel like a good example to them.
The children listen to Alastair more than they do to me. Al’s method is to count to three. One! Two! Three! I have no idea what will happen at four, and I don’t think he does either. Fortunately his deep, no-nonsense voice rallies them to action when he hits about number two.
Many of my American friends do timeout but that hasn’t worked for me. It is only effective in certain contexts. If I want someone to eat their dinner or put on their shoes or get ready for bed or get in the car, I can’t send them to timeout.
I tried a star/reward chart but it fizzled out because it took forever to collect stars. We even got into negative star territory and it was becoming too mathematical and complicated for a 5 and 3 year old. In the beginning I said that after collecting ten stars for obedience, help with chores, being kind and listening then they could choose a treat. Ten stars was too lofty a goal so I reduced the required number and then it seemed stupid to get treats after just two stars. I chucked the chart in the bin when I told Megan she could earn a star after she cleaned up the lounge and she said, ‘Don’t worry Mommy. I don’t want a star.’
I recently hit on a technique which has been working well in getting Megan and Jessica to do what I want. If they’ve been invited to a party, I tell them that if they don’t eat their peas or get in the bath or go to bed then they can’t go. Birthday parties are very important to kids. Every time Megan and Jessica fight, they shout ‘I won’t invite you to my party!’ If one of them has something the other wants, they’ll say, ‘If you give me that, I will invite you to my party.’
I’ve gathered that Megan and her pals talk a lot about parties at school. She has already started thinking about her vinnations (invitations) for her party she’s planning in August. I asked her what cake she would like and she said, ‘a wedding cake’. I’m under a lot of pressure to live up to their party and socializing expectations. This is challenging for an inhospitable introvert like me.
How to survive charged moments
The thing about kids is that you can be completely worn out and fed up and then they will do something so surprising, so precious and so adorable that it fills your tank right up and gives you the will and energy to overcome the next charged moment. This morning I was lying in bed with Jessica, who had woken at 5am and wouldn’t go back to sleep. She whispered in my ear, ‘Mommy, you’re my best friend. I’ll invite you to my party.’