Monday, 23 February 2015

FFS! Pick up after yourself!!!

Mrs Woog @ WoogsWorld posted a brilliant blog post this morning that had me cracking up but remembering all too well the aggravation of finding myself constantly clearing up after the kids. There are some brilliant suggestions in the comments from her readers, so hop over and have a look. It's been sitting at the front of my head since I read it though - despite it being well past time for me to get my teeth into a (paid) freelance assignment, so I figured that the only thing to do was to get it out of my system by addressing it myself.
I LOVE Zits cartoons, and lately, in the Sydney Morning Herald, there's been a string of strips that are focused on Jeremy's room that have been cracking me up. Maybe they've been timed with the whole back to school thing - because school weeks can be enormously aggravated by the whole messy room thing. It was certainly the case in my house.
Our crisis came after years of nagging, different incentive schemes that failed, me being a martyr and picking after the boys - No.1 in particular, and then just leaving him to it in the hopes that his own filth would get too much, even for him. THAT failed spectacularly. At the time, I was part of a ToughLove group - as a sole parent with two high maintenance kids, I sometimes felt I was there fraudulently, because other parents were dealing with drugs, police, constant truancy and violence, which I wasn't, but they were quick to assure me that there was no hierarchy in the struggles we were having. ALL of us were there because we were struggling to manage with discipline and keeping a calm and functional household. By the time I took the drama of No.1's room to the group for some brainstorming of possible solutions, the mess was impacting the whole household. His room opened out onto the family room, so physically No.2 and I were starting to trip over stuff. The smell was getting nasty, and the door couldn't be shut. When he couldn't find things, or he broke things that got walked over under the layers, No.1 chucked hyssies that sometimes spilled over into thumping No.2 - just because - or lots of aggro directed at me. 

The brainstorming session offered up a list of possible solutions:

  1. Set aside a weekend day to get it all sorted and reorganised with No.1.
  2. Pick up everything and dump it on the front lawn for him to sort out. 
  3. Go through the room myself and chuck everything I considered rubbish and leave him to wash the clothes and vaccum, etc.
  4. Offer different incentives for him to clear up, other than the ones I'd already tried.
  5. Ground him until he cleared it up.
  6. Deprive him of privileges until it was cleared up.
  7. Confiscate everything that's not in its place.
No. 1 I rejected because I was just over trying to work with him - he'd not even stepped a fraction of the way towards meeting me midway at that stage, and I was over it. No. 2 meant that stuff I'd paid good money for - school clothes, other clothes, books, etc, could potentially get stolen from the yard or damaged, so that was going to put ME out. Plus, he could just refuse, so I'd be stuck in a potentially bad impasse. No. 3 just meant me doing it AGAIN. The rest seemed to me to open the way for more arguments, more of him being pig headed and ultimately, getting us nowhere. 
Then someone offered up a singularly draconian idea that appealed to me on SO many levels - mostly because although I'd be making the effort, it would hit him the hardest. No.1 was in the last year of primary school at the time and money was just starting to be something he valued highly, and there wasn't much around. They were on a jobs rota that meant pay for jobs done - they never got pocket money just because they were kids... But it meant he had a small income. So, the suggestion was to warn him - and give him three warnings - that he had until a certain day to get it sorted and cleaned, and if he didn't, there'd be a serious consequence that he really wouldn't like. So, he was warned. He ignored me. And on the day after the deadline, I got in there and cleared the room of every single item that wasn't put away. I chucked the rubbish, retrieved many plastic containers (contents of some NOT to be described...) washed the clothes and packed them, along with everything else, into boxes that I secreted around the house. My mother dropped in for a coffee on her way home from the shopping around the time I was wrapping up, but cravenly scuttled before they got home from school...

He arrived home and chucked his bag in the vague direction of his room, got something to eat, and then went in there...and ricochet back out VERY fast and very angry, demanding to know where his stuff was. So I told him the consequence had arrived. I had his stuff. And he would have to BUY it back, item by item. Not huge prices - 5-10c per piece, but each and every piece had a price on it, so he'd have to prioritise, depending on his need. I had all his school clothes - apart from the ones he was wearing, most of his other clothes, various bits of other school equipment, Nintendo games, other toys - you name it, I had it. And I had my stubborn on. Eventually, given the scale of the tantrum he threw, I gathered up No.2 and headed to a neighbour for a coffee until he'd worn himself out, and then the haggling began. I kept my stubborn on and it was quite some time before he'd redeemed all his things back. His room NEVER reached that state again.

It's SO easy to just pick up after everyone, and in the long run, what it breeds in the rest of the members of the household is the idea that they just don't have to. Which, if you're made of martyr material or you're a complete control freak may be OK, but I'm neither. I had more than enough to do, and way more responsibility to shoulder for the three of us, and they were old enough to be managing their own rooms so that all that was required on a regular basis was a dust and vacuum - which they were also capable of doing!

I've had a really difficult time with the stepson in the years he's lived with us. He's never had much expected of him, other than doing well at school, and as a consequence, never does anything much around the house unless he's asked - and he has a stock standard response to a request that's guaranteed to buy himself time, during which his father - who's a neat freak - will cave and do the job because HE can't stand seeing it not done...MAJOR manipulation... If it was me asking him to do the thing and he asked if he needed to do it straight away, I ALWAYS said yes, and it got done - albeit badly, because a. he'd not had the practice, and b. the idea that if he did it badly he'd not be asked again... ARGH!!! 

There are always things we're happier to put up with and those we're not. I have my list of pet peeves, as I'm sure we all do. At the end of the day though, a household has to operate as a collective - no one person should be doing all the work - EVER!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Balanced parenting: #1 Get enough sleep!

OK, this is the beginning of a series that are a spin off from my last post, expanding on parenting strategies that I did to try and survive mostly sole parenting, while studying, working and managing a chronic illness. It was all aimed at keeping my nose above the surface, rather than getting totally overwhelmed. Sometimes, it even worked - when everything came together at the same time!

Ask yourself what's the first thing that you don't do when you're over-stressed, have way too much on your plate, and you feel like you're constantly behind the eight ball? I'd put money on you answering that you're exhausted all the time and you're just not getting enough sleep. However tempting it might be, once the kids are all tucked in, to take advantage of some rare peace and quiet and keep going, trying to catch up on everything, in truth, it's possibly the worst option you could choose.

There. How inviting is that? Allowing for differing tastes in decor, of course - and, by the way, it's not my bedroom, although I do like it enormously, perhaps minus that huge mirror! First priority is to make sure your bedroom is a sanctuary, and it's just a place to sleep. Invest in a really good quality bed. You spend a lot of time in it, it has to be good. Also, buy good quality linen - I have a set of Morgan and Finch sheets that are such fine cotton they're like silk - we LOVE those sheets, and I swear I sleep better in those than any of the others we have. Also, look at your quilts or blankets - most of us try and sleep too warm. I often try and use heated wheat packs when I have particularly sore joints, and I find I get too hot. My partner also sleeps with more bedclothes than me, and when I'm hot, my sleep is very restless.

Every article I've ever read about 'sleep hygiene' says that one of the most important things to ensure that you get good regular sleep is to keep your bedroom for sleeping - and sex, if that's also on your agenda! Don't take your work to bed - EVER. All those shots of couples in TV shows sitting up in bed with their work glasses on, balancing files on their knees - EVER. If you do yoga, or other exercise at home, don't do it in your bedroom.

Banish your devices to another room. That means everything - from your phone, to TVs, computers, iPods, and even digital clocks (as an aside, apparently couples with TVs in their bedrooms have, on average, half as much sex as those without...worth a thought...). Again, everything I read about sleep hygiene points to clearing your room of all electronics. The light emitted (e-readers, phones, digital clocks) can interfere with your body's sense of the light, which messes with your circadian rhythms, which then impairs your ability to sleep soundly. If you need an alarm, invest in an old-style alarm clock that doesn't tick.

Get some regular exercise. OK, you're already are you going to fit that in too? If your kids are school age, look at walking them to school - that's good for them and you. Try and aim for one school run being on foot. Alternatively, negotiate with your partner for early morning sessions before everyone else is awake - starting the day with a walk, run or a swim can kick start your energy levels wonderfully. If you're trying to manage this stuff with a chronic illness, you might need to work around what your body will allow - maybe work on an early evening exercise session, before you have dinner. You only need half an hour at a time - and it can make an incredible difference to your sleeping patterns.

Stick to a routine. You CAN train yourself to sleep more regular hours - but it might take some time. First up, train the kids - set bedtimes and stick to them. We have neighbours with little kids. I hear them at all hours of the day and late into the evening crying and fussing. It's rare that they're bedded down and quiet at what I would consider a reasonable time - they certainly shouldn't be roaring around at 10pm or later every night... It stands to reason that if you don't have your kids in bed at a reasonable time, you're not going to have a hope in hell of getting there yourself. While they were in primary school, my boys were in bed by 7-7.30. Towards the end of primary school, that got extended to about 8.30 - IF they were quietly occupied in something peaceful, but usually not TV at that stage. That was early enough in the evening for me to get some quiet time to myself before heading to bed - which, particularly in my sole parent periods, was absolutely vital. Try and aim for regular bed times and getting up times for everyone. Apart from anything else, it lessens the arguments. Bed time is bed time!

Go easy on food at the end of the day. In amongst the various good reasons to follow the old adage, 'breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord, dinner like a pauper', is the effect a heavy meal at dinner time can have on your sleep. If your body is busy trying to digest a big meal, it won't be ready to start switching off to go into sleep mode. The same goes for drinking in excess. Lying in a spinning bed is NOT conducive to nodding off gently! Also, and this is a no-brainer really, watch the coffee intake late in the day... Caffeine isn't going to help you sleep!

Find activities that help calm and settle you before you try to go to bed. I read - just ask my partner... He's a bit of a fruit bat (doesn't like lots of light) so he's taken to using an eye mask of late (and he's usually snoring within about ten minutes!) so I can tuck myself in with my book - because I find it takes me longer to drop off if I just get into bed and turn off the light there and then. If I tuck myself in and read for a little while, I have a much better chance of dropping off quickly. This is a good one to start with the kids too. I read to my kids most nights - starting with picture books and slowly working up to chapter books that we read over a period of time. Sometimes they piled in together on one of the beds - usually on No.2's so he could be tucked in and left to sleep once the story was done. It's a good habit to get into as a way to wind down. You're also modelling good habits for your kids with stuff like this, and that can be one of the most effective parenting methods of all - you asking the same of them as you're doing deprives them of the opportunity to do the "it's not FAIR" thing...!

For those of you with under school age kids, the broken night is part of your 'normal', right? It was definitely part of mine with No.2. He didn't sleep through until late kindy age. That's when I learned to nap during the day - something I only do if I'm exhausted or really sick. When they were growing up, finding me asleep during the day used to panic both of them because it was so abnormal for me, they figured something was wrong... However, as much as you can if you have a nocturnal child, sleep when they sleep during the day to catch up. And at night, don't make it attractive to be awake. Night time feeds, changes and getting back to sleep stuff were always quiet; no talking, no games, nothing to stay awake for...

Finally, a word about medications. I take a ridiculous number of drugs to manage my RA. Some people I know take even more than me. It can feel quite ridiculous. It's really important to understand how the drugs work, and which ones NOT to take at night. At the moment, I'm taking prednisone, in the wake of a huge flare up last year that we couldn't get under control. I'm slowly weaning off it, but it'll still be a few months before I'm completely clear of it. One of the less fabulous things about prednisone (one of the MANY less good things...) is that it can rev you up - so NOT to take it at night. Some meds might even help with sleep - another of mine appears to be doing that, although it can leave me quite foggy in the mornings, so that's a bit of a bummer!

Monday, 16 February 2015

When you're NOT having a good day

One of the things about becoming a parent that doesn't become truly real until you're in it is the unrelenting nature of the job. It just DOESN'T stop. Ever. My boys are twenty three and twenty nine now, and the stepson is nineteen. None of them are ever far from my thoughts, particularly my No.2 - I've still had no contact with him, so I still don't know where and how he's living, if he's working or spiralling further into addiction. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis about eighteen months after No.2 was born, so that added a whole other layer to the demands of parenting. You can read more about that HERE.

By and large, my partner and I are now living a child free life, with all three mostly not with us. The stepson has worked all summer in a job near his mother's, so he's been living there. He goes back to uni this week, so I'm expecting to see him at some point, and at the back of my head is the thought that I need to be prepared for the fact that he'll arrive without notice (which is his usual tendency) and whatever was planned for dinner will be something he doesn't like, or there won't be enough, and there'll be a last minute turmoil around catering for him. I figure I'll hand that over to my partner if - when - it happens, because I'm really not very well at the moment again.

I have a friend who is also chronically ill with aggressive disease, who has two young teenagers, is on her own, and is just starting a certificate course that could contribute to her being able to rebuild a career. Her struggle has reminded me of strategies I used when my kids were at home and I was studying and working, while trying to balance my health needs, so I thought it would be interesting to put those together in a post and invite readers to contribute some of their time and energy saving strategies for managing busy lives, and especially those intended to make the more difficult times possible.

Getting enough sleep

While this sounds incredibly obvious, it's often the last thing we consider when we're overwhelmed. The need to get everything done can get in the way of prioritising sleep. Sleep deprivation can very quickly exacerbate that sense of being overwhelmed as the fatigue builds up, stress levels rise, decision making abilities are impaired, and our capacity for patience disappears. Getting enough sleep isn't a luxury, it's an absolute necessity. Staying up late to get that last job finished doesn't work long term - the job will be there in the morning... Plan a regular bed time, and set an alarm to get up at the same time and try to train your body into a sleep routine.

Eating well

We all do it - grab a snack instead of taking time to sit down and eat properly when we're tired, rushed and/or feeling ill. Again, it makes no sense in the long run because the impact becomes cumulative. Eventually, we get incredibly run down and the wheels can fall off completely. Also, we lose valuable sitting down time with our families - and these are the times when we can keep in touch with where everyone in the family is at. 

Give the kids responsibilities

I know SO many families where the parent/s is/are running themselves ragged, and a huge proportion of what they're trying to manage could be spread around the whole family, including the kids, no matter what their age. It is never too soon to start giving kids jobs to do - and the earlier you start, the more they'll be into it, because little kids LOVE being given 'grown up' stuff to do. The other benefit of starting early is that it becomes just 'normal' for them to be part of the family workforce. If you leave it until you think they're 'old enough' for responsibilities, you run the risk of coming hard up against them rebelling when they find their time and efforts being required instead of being at their own disposal.

Find support

Whether you're sick or healthy, parenting is damned hard work. It is relentless. Some days will be easier than others, but it doesn't stop. The saying, 'it takes a village to raise a child' harks back to pre-nuclear family times when people still lived in an extended family network and had closer relationships with neighbours and others in their immediate vicinity. The rise of the nuclear family has resulted in parents trying to manage in previously unheard of isolation, and the sense that to ask for help somehow means that we're failing. If you don't have family close, find people with whom you can share the load. Team up with other families with kids so you can take turns to give each other time out, and show the kids that all the stuff you are working through happens in families everywhere - the good and the bad.

Take time out

Be better to yourself. You're important too. Obviously, the kids are a number one priority, but there's a definite case for not putting them first EVERY time. If you don't look after yourself, you won't be in any fit state to look after them. Make time for yourself without them so you can recharge your batteries. You'll feel better for it, and they'll benefit too. It may mean making a regular day or evening where you take a couple of hours off and leave them with a babysitter so you can go see a movie or take a walk by yourself. It could mean enrolling in some study you've been wanting to do. For couples, it could - and possibly should - mean a regular date night so you can keep your relationship on track without the usual distractions of the kids. For the kids, seeing that you're looking after yourself is an important message too - it shows them that you need to be valued too...

I will enlarge on all these areas in subsequent posts. This is just to kick it off, and I'd welcome any suggestions for things to add, or things that you, my readers, do to manage your busy lives. Please don't be shy - it would be very useful to hear your ideas, and if you have friends who might like to get involved, please point them in the direction of the blog.

Links to the rest of the series - I'll update as I write them. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Taking Stock

I follow a number of other blogs, for all sorts of reasons. One of my favourites is WoogsWorld - Mrs Woog is great fun, blogging every day on all things relating to life, the world and everything. She just posted with this list, that she'd 'borrowed' from another blog, so I figured, why not...? So I've copied and pasted, and here are my answers to what's going on in my life at the moment. You can go look at hers HERE.

Making: A list of what I need to do today.

Cooking: Lots of vegetables daily, because if I do enough clever things with them, it drops the semi-automatic massive meat consumption in this house! 

Drinking: Tea.

Reading: Mr Shakespeare's Bastard, by Richard B. Wright (which I discovered in the pile of books waiting to be re-shelved, and I hadn't even read it yet! Bonus!!).

Wanting: A holiday!
Looking: At the travel pages of the weekend pages...

Playing: With the kitten...because how can you not play with a kitten?
Wasting: Too much time too often (playing with the kitten...)!

Sewing: Note to's WAY too long since the machine was out. There's enough fabric in the stash to fill the gaps in the wardrobe! 

Wishing: I was three people - so much to do so little time. Although, the times I've wished that out loud, my nearest and dearest have looked a wee bit hunted...

Enjoying: That I've had ten minutes without a request from Himself for tech assistance with his Powerpoint presentation.

Waiting: For Himself to ask for assistance making his Powerpoint presentation for the umpteenth time! (Cos what I'm doing is apparently completely recreational...).

Liking: That there's a cool breeze coming through the back door and I'm right in its path.

Wondering: If my plan to build up this blog to create a better writing profile for myself will be as successful as I want it to be...

Loving: That I keep meeting the most amazing people quite unexpectedly.

Hoping: That my RA flare is well and truly over, and I can look forward to more improvement from the new biologic drug - AND that the prescription from medicare arrives soon so I can fill it before I run out completely!

Marvelling: At the resilience of the people I know who are dealing with chronic illness and still manage rich and productive lives.

Needing: COFFEE!

Smelling: Rain in the breeze - which won't please most Sydneysiders if it comes, but the hell with that, we NEED rain!

Wearing: Orange tank top and hand painted sarong that was my mother's. So, I really need to put proper clothes on so I can be presentable enough to wander down to my local for COFFEE.

Following: Mrs Woog, Styling You, Bianca Bigwords, a gazillion different book blogs - not just for the fun of it, but to take notes and learn from the gurus... 

Noticing: I really do need to clear the kitchen benches before too much more time has passed.

Knowing: If I don't clear the benches, it will irritate the hell out of me to keep walking through the kitchen!

Thinking: It's probably time to sit down and write a master plan for the projects that are happening this year so they actually do happen... 

Feeling: Like writing a master plan is like writing a business plan. I hate writing business plans!

Bookmarking: Recipes for inspiration for one of said this space!

Opening: Emails with work assignments that are falling short of what I need at the moment.

Giggling: Over the utter futility of worrying too much about things I can't change - cos if I don't laugh, I'll cry...

Feeling: Like there is a lot ahead that could mean a hell of a lot of change, and I'm trying to feel excited about it, rather than overwhelmed.

Well... I did it! That's a long list, and needed a bit more thought than I'd anticipated. Interesting though. So, have a go!! Go KNOW you want to. Drop your list in the comments, or hop across to Facebook - did you know Dragon Mother is on Facebook now??? You can find me HERE - and drop your list in the comments there.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Theory of Everything - and achieving stuff

My partner and I went to see The Theory of Everything yesterday. We'd seen the trailers and read some of the reviews already, but even so, were quite unprepared (both of us) for the impact of the film. 
Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne with Stephen Hawking
I didn't know much about Stephen Hawking, to be honest. I'll have to do some reading now. In a way, going into the movie with little background knowledge possibly wasn't a bad thing. I was very ready to be 'told' the story. Above all, the strongest impression I was left with wasn't so much the man's brilliance, as his strength of character and utter refusal to give up, in the face of the seemingly impossible challenge of a disease that was going to rob him of everything but his mind. 

The early scenes as he's struggling with losing coordination, before he's diagnosed, had me wiping tears away - I SO remember that stage with RA. Realising that something is happening, but not knowing what it is. Keeping on with normal life despite the changes, because that's what you do. Then the point - in Hawking's case in the film, following a crashing fall in the quadrangle at Cambridge - where it's taken out of your hands when the doctors enter and the investigation starts... I'd like to make a clear disclaimer before I write any more - I'm not, in any way, trying to medically equate RA with Motor Neuron Disease. They're very different diseases. What I can identify with, however, is the loss of 'normal' function and the confronting reality of having to face a life that is going to be very different to the one ahead of someone in good health. 

For me, this movie is a story of triumph over circumstances, and one that holds a valuable lesson for everyone. We ALL have 'stuff'. It might be illness and/or disability. It might be family issues. It might be learning difficulties. It could be ANYTHING. The notion of a 'perfect' life is a myth! If we can accept that, we can put ourselves onto a much more constructive approach to dealing with life as it comes to us.

My own experience of being diagnosed with a chronic, degenerative disease was accompanied by lots of well meaning, but totally misguided, advice to slow down, stop doing a lot of the things I was currently doing (and loving), rest more, give up stuff, and so on. I was twenty eight, had just gone back to work as a chef, was singing in the chorus of an opera company part time, had a six year old at school and a nursing seven month old baby when things started to change. It was another year before I had a diagnosis. That was twenty three years ago, and I STILL get people telling me what I can and can't do - "because or your arthritis". 

One of two things happens when you tell someone they can't, or shouldn't do something. Either they cave, or - like me - they get bloody minded and do it anyway to prove that they can! Either of those responses can come from their innate personality, or it's something they've learned to do due to circumstance. Among other things, I'm an artist, so I'll use the following analogy simply because it's something that comes up regularly in conversations I have with all sorts of people. How many people do you know who say they can't draw? Now, take a room full of preschoolers, give them paper, crayons or paint, and what happens - they draw and paint without any thought about can or can't - it's just about the pure joy of making marks on the paper, and the results are wonderfully spontaneous and creative. Take that same group into school, and how many years is it before you start hearing "I can't" - and WHY? 

I watched this with my boys, both of whom have considerable ability with a pencil and other creative endeavours. Over the years, as I fought their teachers on this matter, I realised that so much of what got in the way of them continuing to have the joy in the drawing process, and therefore, the desire to keep doing it and exploring their creativity, was that they were told that what they drew was 'good' or 'bad', 'right' or 'wrong' - and those judgements affected their perception of their own ability. My younger No.2 is very much an innately bloody-minded type, so it had less effect on him overall. No.1, however, had to be carefully nurtured through that, and I fought many more battles on his behalf, right into high school, until he finally dropped art to fit in the subjects he needed for Year Twelve. 

The point of the analogy, of course, is that when we pass judgement on people's ability to achieve things, we do more than just say the words. We can be, with the best of intentions sometimes, seriously undermining their confidence in their own sense of what they can and can't achieve. There are a gazillion memes that float around on social media sites that allude to the idea that the only thing that blocks us from achieving things is ourselves. Unfortunately for children, that's something they have to learn, and sadly, it's something many people don't start to even begin to understand for themselves until their childhood conditioning has well and truly bedded in and blocked them from all sorts of potential. 

There were all sorts of things I envisaged myself doing, as a child, and most of them I didn't do - voicing them brought down, all too often, responses of "don't be ridiculous" - because I was a girl, or because we lived in the country, or because they were outside my parent's areas of understanding or interest. I lost interest because I came to feel that those things were unattainable. When it started to happen to my children, I regained my voice on their behalf.

In his early teens, No.1 joined the RAAF cadets, and within a couple of years was seriously considering heading into the air force once he'd finished school. His father's response to that was to start bombarding him with all sorts of awful statistics about life expectancy for fighter pilots (he wanted to be top gun, of course!), and other hugely negative aspects of being in the defence force. He came to me asking what I thought. I took a moment and gave him two answers. One, that as his mother, I was horrified by the idea because there is NO parent on the face of the planet that wants to see their child going into a profession that, by its very nature, puts their lives at risk. He took that on the chin, and asked what the other answer was. I told him it was his life and his choice, and if he chose to do that, I'd back him all the way, because I had no right to stop him making his own career choice, regardless of how I might feel about it. As it happens, he didn't join the RAAF. But, one of his mates did, and I believe he took some of that conversation to his mate's mother when she had a huge melt down about it.

The bottom line is, and this is what's been running around my head since the movie, no matter what life throws at us, we are only limited by the blocks we make for ourselves. It's probably the single most valuable lesson we can start teaching our children from the very beginning - encouraging them to have a go, even if we, from our perspective, might consider that they may not succeed. Ultimately, that's for them to discover - and then find another way to tackle it!