Thursday, 21 August 2014

Why are we not extinct?

Have you ever looked at the animal kingdom, then looked at humans, then back at the animal kingdom, then back at human beings again and wondered why human offspring are such a pain in the date to take care of?

Baby giraffes, for example, just schloop out, get up and go.  There's none of this, 'Ooh make sure you support his head or it will fall off ...' malarky.

And you don't see Mama Giraffe patting her newborn to sleep in elaborate ways, or force-feeding it solids while it turns its head this way and that to avoid the spoon (probably because giraffes don't use spoons but that's a whole other area to do with opposable thumbs versus hooves) or having an argument about the shape of the leaf she's just proffered Baby Giraffe as a morning snack.

I'm sure, there is a scientific answer to all of this: something to do with the fact that our brains, unlike a giraffe's, are not the size of a pea, something to do with walking on two legs (means your pelvis is narrower so the baby has to come out earlier) and the overall sophistication of the human brain and how wonderfully complex it is and optimising cognitive and motor neurone development and metabolic rates blah blah blah blah BLAH!

But all that science doesn't change the fact that some aspects of human parenting are just much harder than they should be.

And if we are making such a meal of this most basic survival tactic (raising children to make sure the species is propagated) how are we not extinct?


Here are 10 things about human parenting that should be easy, but are actually ridiculously difficult


1. Sleeping


Subsection a) Newborns

If babies are so tired? Why don't they just go to sleep? It's not hard. And it's not like they've got a million things on their mind that are whirring around and around tormenting them. As far as I can see all that is on a baby's mind is: boobs, soil pants, be cranky cos I can't sleep.

What's the problem baldy? This is the time in your life when you are allowed to sleep the day away and no one will judge you.  Make hay while the sun shines you crazy fool!

Subsection b) Toddlers

Alls I'll say on this is: what is not to like about an afternoon nap? I cannot think of one thing (apart from maybe dribble on the pillow, but even that is not a dealbreaker for me.) I don't have one bad thing to say about the concept of an afternoon nap.

 Subsection c) Children


Why is bedtime such an area of total avoidance tactics for kids? I love bedtime. I can't wait to get in there and get me some shut-eye. Why are kids so averse to going to bed? If sleep is so essential to brain development and survival in general, how are kids not EXTINCT if they don't even like sleeping?

2. Eating


Subsection a) Breastfeeding

While some women find this easy, there is a large section of us for whom this whole suckling your own young thing is an unmitigated disaster.  This should be a no-brainer.  You're a mammal. You give birth to something, you feed it.  We all have the equipment. Why is it so hit and miss?

The animal kingdom does not seem to suffer such extreme existential difficulties as humans: that is because the animal kingdom has 'innate behaviour.'

Breastfeeding should be 'innate behaviour.'  So why do some of us just suck at it? (pardon the pun) And then we have to endure the expert advice and the theories on why it's not working and the weird rigs to make things work and the specially shaped pillows and the 'football hold' and the 'make sure you've got a quiet place and a drink of water to rehydrate' and the nipple creams and ...

This stuff should just .... work! How are we even still here?  Why am I not extinct?

Subsection b) Feeding toddlers

Again, this should be a no-brainer. If a toddler wants to live, why don't they just eat what they are given?  Why are they such fussy little f***ers? Who gave them the right to throw their food on the floor while we kow-tow around them ducking and weaving and just praying that something of some nutritional value will go into their mouths.

How has it happened that we waste our time doing elaborate things with food to try to force our children to do something that should just be innate behaviour?

Again, how are we all not extinct if this is the way our young behave? It's absurd!

Subsection c) Feeding children

Some years ago before I had kids, I saw an episode of Oprah featuring Nigella Lawson. Nigella was there to give advice on feeding a family and was presented with a particular family of six.  There were four kids and every single kid had a different food fetish: Grace didn't like peas, but she did like beans, Tom didn't like beans OR peas but he did like pasta, Hannah didn't like beans OR peas OR pasta but she did like steak ... Riley only ate foods that were white and they could not touch each other on the plate and so on and so on.


This poor wretched woman had to make four different meals every single night.

I did not know how she was not sitting in the corner rocking back and forth.  I also did not know that I was looking at my future.  Not the four kids named Grace, Tom, Hannah and Riley, but the poor wretched woman who had to make multiple meals every evening for fussy kids with dumb food fetishes.

 I know it's partly my own fault for not being tougher on them but COME ON!
This whole eating thing is pretty essential to survival. Do you want to be a dodo bird?

3. Toilet training


This is another area of child development that I cannot reconcile with the idea that supposedly we are the most evolved species on the planet. Surely the transition from pooing in your pants and having it squish all over your arse to realising that it feels much better to just let it drop away from you into a receptacle should just be innate: a sudden realisation one day, that you do not want to sit in your own excrement any more.

Why have we evolved into a species that has to be 'taught' how to go to the toilet properly?
Kittens know this stuff! Kittens!

Aren't we supposed to be smart? If we're so smart, why are our kids running around with poo catchment devices strapped to them? Isn't that physical proof that we are in fact, as a species, a bit simple?

4. Getting dressed


Subsection a) pyjamas to clothes

It would seem to me, that getting dressed is just something that has to be done. It's a non-negotiable requirement of being human: like, not sitting in your own excrement beyond the age of four.   It's not something that should ever be up for "debate." So why do kids bitch and moan and carry on and try everything they can to avoid getting dressed in the morning?

Subsection b) clothes to pyjamas

I think I have written before about my kids' penchant for sleeping in their clothes. Once they have the clothes ON, they don't want to fuss around with pyjamas at bedtime. Is it so hard to pull your shirt up over your head, replace it with a pyjama shirt and then do the same on the bottom half of your body? And those pyjamas are right where you left them, by the heater, on the living room floor.  I'm doing everything I can to facilitate the process.

Subsection c) Oral hygiene

What is not to like about having a mouthful of minty freshness and clean teeth? What is not to LIKE???? Why is it a continual battle to get kids to brush their teeth: morning and night. I've given up on morning, I just don't have time to say the same thing over and over to each child five times. I've decided to save my breath for more important things like, "GET DRESSED!"

And if good oral hygiene = good health and good health = survival, why do children rail against it so fiercely? 

5. Getting in the car


When my kids were little and I had to strap them into car seats and five point seat belts every time we needed to go anywhere, I couldn't wait for the day that getting in the car just meant saying, 'get in the car.'

My kids are now 11 and 14 and that day has still not arrived.

6. Starting school


This is controversial, but I don't get this.  Why is this still being "debated" and agonised over?  A teacher friend of mine really simplified this whole thing for me.  She said, "The year your child turns five, is the year they should be at school." See? Simple.  Don't think about it any more than that.

There's even a cut off date, I think it's 30th of June. And I do understand that when your child's birthday is pretty close to that date, it might be a line ball call. But I'm talking about the other end of the spectrum: the kids who are already five, or they turned five in February. Feburary! And parents are still going, "Hm, I don't know, I just don't know: to send or not to send."

And I acknowledge that every kid is different and some kids aren't socially ready and there will be exceptions blah blah blah. But within reason, people!

We're now seeing seven year olds blitzing their classmates in kindergarten because they got 'held back'  until they were 'ready.' Ready to what?  Be bigger and smarter than everyone else just because they had been on earth for two years longer ... evolving?

One thing I will say, people: school is not a competitive sport, if you are holding your child back, to give your child 'an edge' over their classmates, UP YOURS!

7. School awards nights


Having experienced both the public and private sectors in this area, I would have to say, that the public sector has it all over the private in this regard.

Here is the comparison:

At the state primary school, we go in, we sit down, principals says a few words. A FEW words. She's brief, she's concise, she's on message, she's on a needs to know basis.  Minimum amount of awards given out. Children move like well-trained soldiers up to stage and back to their seats.  Children stand up in seats, turn around to face us. Sing song. Cute awww, applause. The end.

At the private high school ... oh it's Power Point presentations from here to ETERNITY! It's keynote speakers it's 45 minute addresses from the principal, it's every freakin' kid in the form getting some bull**** award. It's a whole heap of information I didn't need to know, it's architect's drawings of the new science block its FOUR HOURS OF MY LIFE I WANT BACK!

(The free cake, however, is top notch.)

This stuff should not be a punishment. It should be something we all look forward to. But the fact of the matter is, we all dread it and no one wants to go.

8. The teen years


In theory, this is where we should all be able to just sit back and relax and take our foot of the parenting pedal a bit, enjoy the burgenoning young adults our kids have become.  And it is, to a point.

However ...

... just recently, I was rudely awakened to the fact that the teen years are going to be something like the toddler years again.  Your kid will do dumb things and you will constantly be on watch to make sure they don't hurt themselves.

9. Family dinners


When these go well, they are a joy to behold.

But just recently it occured to me (when I was dining with adult companions) that I have developed a terrible habit of bolting down my food like a pack animal. This is because when I eat with my kids there seems to be some race to finish eating and get away from the table.

If I don't inhale my food in one gulp, I will be left alone at the dining table, sadly consuming my food like a lonely spinster.

If eating together is so important for our social well-being, why are my children so plainly against it? 

10. Letting them go


After all this pain the arse stuff, we should be desperate to see them go, right?  So how come the thought of my youngest two starting high school next year makes me feel sad and like it's almost over? And how come every time I see a little blonde toddler who looks like my Max, I go, "Awww, little Maxie, I miss him so."

And what about when they move out of home? What will become of me? I never thought I'd be one of those mums, but despite all of the above, I don't ever want them to leave.
What's that about?  Why am I not EXTINCT?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

If I had a girl ...

You always want what you haven't got. Here's my list of things I would do if I had a girl.

Above: how my daughter and I would get around town ... if I had one ... 

I am the mother of three boys. This means people often ask me if I would have liked a girl. The honest answer to that is: yes. I would have loved to have had a girl, quite simply because I am a girl and it would be great to have a like-minded soul in the house.

But if you write yourself a list, the pros and cons of boys versus girls basically balances itself out. Boys wee on the toilet seat, but girls steal your hair elastics. Boys are noisy and physically combative, but girls can be quietly devious and they really hold a grudge. Boys leave dinosaurs, LEGO and trucks all over the house for you to trip over; girls leave pink fluffy bits and creepy pony-things with hair-dos everywhere.

It’s much of a muchness.

I love my three boys, they are awesome company. We also like a lot of the same things: science fiction movies, Japanese food, walks in the park, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller. We think the same things are funny and we all prefer the humanities over the hard core sciences.

But sometimes, just sometimes, like when I trip over another plastic machine gun or I have to scour the boys’ clothing section in the local department store, I fantasise about what it would be like if I had just one “pink one.”

Here is my completely fantastical and unrealistic list of all the awesome things I think I could do if I had a girl.

1. Do perfect plaits on someone else’s hair


I love doing other people’s hair. When I was a kid, I had an extensive Barbie collection plus a Barbie Fashion Face and hair-dos were my stock in trade. It’s not the same doing plaits on your own hair – you get sore arms and one of the plaits always turns out back-to-front.

If I had a girl, I would be able to do awesome plaits in her hair, plus we could experiment with things like French braids, chignons and sock buns. So many hair-dos and no-one to do them on.

2. Go shopping in the girls’ clothes section of a department store


FYI mothers of girls only: you are spoilt for choice in that completely fabulous girls’ wear section. You’ve got your smock top and leggings combos, you’ve got your little tops with ruffles on them, you’ve got your stripes, your florals, your polka-dots, your gelato colours, your rainbow motifs AND  you’ve got those completely adorable knee-high boots with comfy rubber soles (that I actually want for myself) and that’s not even counting all the cute dresses and fairy tutus!

Do you know what we have in the boys’ section? Two choices: your basic drug dealer/pimp look in a crazy patterned hoodie, or your boring and conservative nerd-goes-to-Sunday-School in checks and stripes outfit. So you’ve got your skateboard punk or your Christian Antioch youth. There is no in-between. There’s no room for a boy who say, likes fashion but doesn’t fit into either of the aforementioned categories.  Sure, you can get some good stuff if you go designer and splash around a LOT of cash (say in Pavement or Industrie) but I’m talking about the average middle-class budget here.

Sometimes, I wander into the girls’ section and just touch things. It’s heavenly in there.

3. Buy the mother-load of Barbie stuff


When I was a kid, only my American friend, Jordi had all the cool gear like the camper and the dream house, because she brought it all with her from the US. These days, what with internet shopping and the global economy, you can get that stuff here! Plus the outfits! The accessories! The complete range of personalities and looks!  These days, Barbie has ‘careers’ that define her – and a pink espresso machine.

Every year I ask my boys to get me a Barbie for Christmas. They think I’m joking. I’m not.

4. Decorate a girl’s room


With regard to soft furnishings, it’s a bit like the clothing thing. The choices for boys are: dinosaurs, spacemen, pirates, cowboys and masculine checks. It’s very hard to make something visually pleasing with that palette. Plus, girls tend to personalise their space a bit more lovingly.

My friend has two girls and their bedrooms are quite simply, delightful. They each have a little dresser with a mirror; there’s pink sparkly throw cushions on the bed and the bed itself is shrouded in the soft veil of a mosquito net. The word “LOVE” is spelled out in photographs of the family on the pinboard; there’s a row of coloured fairy lights pinned to the wall and a variety of shoe styles to suit every outfit and mood are painstakingly laid out in neat rows on a shoe rack.

Do you know what we have in my boys’ rooms? A big box full of guns, every available surface covered in LEGO, cowboy doona covers and dirty old sneakers thrown into a big plastic bucket.

5. Go shopping in a proper wafty, just passing the time, way


My boys are quite good shoppers, but for them, it’s a search and destroy mission. There’s no wafting around until something-you-didn’t-know-you-needed catches your eye. They need an objective, a plan of attack and then it’s mission accomplished and we’re out of here.

My mother, sister and I, have a completely different approach: we go in with a vague idea, we waft, we split up and keep in contact via mobile phones, we come back together and give opinions. If someone (usually Mum) puts their hand on a pair of jeans with a 12-inch zipper we say, “Seriously, how long does your zipper need to be?” If someone else (usually me or my sister) puts her hand on something from Perri Cutten we say, “Oh hello, Morag! Are you ready for the retirement home?” It’s a social activity, it’s collaborative and it’s relaxing.

There’s nothing relaxing about going shopping with boys: they’re either underneath the racks making the clothes spin with their feet, or they’re being all business-like and choosing the first thing they lay their hands on and saying: “Yep, that’ll do. Let’s go.”

It’s hunter versus gatherer and I’m a gatherer.

6. Watch dumb girly movies at the multiplex


Instead of wasting my time watching some dumb action movie with talking machines in it, I would like to waste my time watching some dumb romcom with talking hair-dos in it.

7. Pass on my vast collection of Alannah Hill cardigans, smart coats and fabuloso boots of every genre and style


I have a seriously fantastic wardrobe. There is so much good stuff in there. And no one to hand it down to. I’d love to keep it all in the family, so to speak.

8. Be a completely fearsome MOTB and GMOTB


That’s: Mother Of The Bride and Grandmother Of The Baby.

Let’s face it, the boy’s mum is a bit peripheral on both these things. It’s all about the ladies when it comes to weddings and babies. When I got married, my own mother-in-law was left completely out in the cold while Mum and I planned the whole thing in a completely inept and lacklustre way. It must have been excruciating for my MIL because a) she only has boys and b) planning fabulous events is her forte (this I know now).

But she wasn’t MY mum and it’s all about the bride.

It’s the same with babies. We all say, “Oh, let’s not tell anyone until we’re past the 12-week mark.” And then we immediately go and ring our mums. And would we take our mother-in-law’s advice on breastfeeding and baby routines? Neee-owww! (No) Maternal grandma is queen bee in this department, too.

On the upside, I won’t have to pay for any weddings. High five testosterone-forming-stem-cells!

9. Have the “now you’re a woman” talk


Just kidding.  How happy am I that I won’t have to do this? I shut my own mother down when she tried to have it with me 30 years ago.

10. Give extensive advice on frenemies


Recently my twins recounted a story where one of their friends had a little hissy fit because he wasn’t given the role he wanted during a classroom group activity. When the twins tried to explain their side of it to him, the friend shouted: “I don’t wanna hear it!” And huffed off to the other side of the classroom.

“Then what happened?” I asked, expecting that they had persevered with trying to appease him and engaged in some serious emotional entanglement and passive-aggressive argy-bargy.
“We just ignored him,” they said, and then they changed the subject and started talking about something else.

Oh, to be a boy! It was as simple as that. Someone got upset, they ignored him. That was that. They’ll all be friends again tomorrow.

I have had some serious “frenemies” in my time and I really feel I could impart quality knowledge on the topic of how to handle tricky female friendships. But my boys will never need my advice on that one.

Boys are so cut and dried. They have no stamina for grudge-holding nor do they heed any of the unspoken, “You should have known what I was thinking and feeling” subtext.

Which, come to think of it, is what I love about boys. And why I love having a house full of them.

So, do I really wish I had a girl?

No, not really. I may be missing out on shopping, planning a wedding and playing hairdresser, but on the upside, I didn’t have to go and see Frozen and I don’t have to guard my hair accessories. I just put them down and when I come back, they’re exactly where I left them.

Tell me, mothers of girls, is that what happens in your house?