Giving back. With a preschooler.

About 2 weeks ago, we were leaving the house to go to school and Maddox asked why there were people digging through our bins. My heart stopped and I instantly wanted to make some off hand explanation that wouldn’t alert my little one to the awful situation some people live in. But, I didn’t. I told him honestly, and gently, that there are people who don’t have homes like we do and who don’t have enough money or food and therefore, they sometimes find things that we throw away and see more value in them than we do.

Maddox was visibly upset and confused at this situation. An obvious reaction given his quite sheltered, albeit honesty-based environment for the past 4 1/2 years. I decided to leave it for the time being until I had a better answer. I like to give him positive answers. Answers where, there is a negative topic and its is sandwiched by 2 positive positions. Hard to explain but it goes something like this: Negative situation: the dog is in hospital. Positive answer: “We love Boots very much and I need to let you know that he is currently in hospital, but the doctors are working very hard and are doing their best to make him feel better.” My answer to the bin digging was purely negative and I needed some time to fix it.

So after some thinking, I sat with him during bath time and reminded him of the people who were digging through our bins. I reminded him of the reasons they were doing this: money, homelessness, hunger. And I asked what he though some solutions could be to this? He suggested blankets and food. I know there are a lot of blanket drives and they take some time to put together and we wanted a more immediate action. So we went the food route. Maddox insisted that we need to give the people fruit and veg (I’ve been drumming health into him recently) so I said a great way to get veg in a meal is soup. And its really easy to make lots of it at once. We just needed a way to serve it. We thought of cups as an option and I remembered the school was looking for ways to recycle the takeaway coffee cups from the coffee station. So we set up our plan: Soup, served in washed out and reused cups and fruit as dessert. Healthy, easy and delish. My negative answer was turned into: “We have kindness to give, but there are people who aren’t receiving it so lets make plan to give back”.

I contacted the school and they collected the leftover cups for us and even set up a little washing station where the kids spent time honing their cleaning skills and making the cups spotless. Woolworths had their “buy 4 bulk bags of veggies for R125” special on so we sourced 6 kgs of butternut from there as well as some oranges and apples on a 2 -for special. I contacted the Night Haven, spoke to Jerry, the manager, and set up a good time for us to hand out our meals. And finally, I spent about an hour making a huge pot of butternut soup. All in all, about as much time as I would have spent organizing a dinner at our house with friends.

Maddox and I set off this afternoon at about 17h30 for the Night Haven in Napier street and when we arrived, we introduced ourselves and were so welcomed. The staff there were really helpful, informative and constantly praised Maddox for his initiative. The little beam of pride that I saw in that boy was unforgettable.

We handed out soup and fruit in 30 minutes to about 40 people, all of whom were really grateful, friendly and it was such a lovely experience to meet people from different places in their lives and talk to them. The biggest smiles were seen when Maddox very matter of factly asked them, “What fwoot would you like?” and handed out oranges and apples with great enthusiasm and efficiency.  Maddox got a little applause and a thank you and we chatted in the car afterwards about how the experience made us feel, but also how it probably made the people on the receiving end feel. We decided it was “great”(Maddox’s word) and we want to do it again.

So, if you ever find yourself having to explain difficult situations like poverty and tough life circumstances to your little one, turn the answer into a positive, one that has an action attached to it and don’t mull it over for ages, just go out and do it. Find a way. Find a solution, however small it might be. Teach a child in a naturally selfish developmental stage, the act of selflessness.

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Mannequin madness

Maddox and I went to Ripleys Believe it or Not in the Waterfront today. It unfortunately slipped my mind that there would be a LOT of mannequins, which I conveniently realised once having paid for the tickets.

 The thing is, I have a serious fear of mannequins. Irrational yes, but still very much real. 

I can’t even look at the creepy things directly and consistently dash past/avoid them in Woolies. The more realistic they are, the worse it is. 

As mommies do though, I put on my big girl pants and went through the tour, albeit jumping at any and all noises and insisting that Maddox hold my hand as much as possible, mainly for my own reassurance. Maddox however, showed F all fear as expected and impressively, helped me conquer a little bit of my own. 

I even took pictures of him at the tallest man in the world mannequin. (That’s like having a fear of spiders and then seeing one the size of a car). 

I drew the line at standing too close to them though but still feel like I had a solid achievement today. And all because of a little 4 year old who was keen for an adventure. 

The experience took me straight back to when I was pregnant and had to periodically have blood drawn to check all was good with baby Maddox. I was terrified of needles and a vaccine was traumatic, nevermind drawing blood. 

However, I sucked it up, did the tests a good few times over the months and got slowly desensitized to my fear. All because my fear was way less important than Maddox. 

It just goes to show how you can consciously rearrange your priorities and conquer fears if the motivation is big/important enough to you. 

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to be bungee jumping or volunteering at a spider farm next weekend, but I might just consider donating my blood and perhaps walk a bit slower past the Woolies mannequins from now on. 

Where does the parenting split begin and end? 

It’s supposed to be a natural give and take scenario and a fair split: moms and dads sharing parenting duties, but sometimes it’s not an equal split of time that comes naturally but rather an equal split of value.

Just like tonight: I finished work, then did grocery shopping, then made dinner and did Maddox’s bedtime. My husband had a full day of meetings, got home before me, did some home admin and then put his feet up and relaxed on the couch chatting to a friend on the phone while I did bedtime for Maddox and dinner for us.

I guess an equal split would have been him not having that relaxing time and rather doing dinner or bedtime. Completely share the load right?

Well the realisation came when, after Maddox went to bed, he called me back on 3 separate occasions due to:

1. An invisible owie on his arm that supposedly needed mountains of medicine to fix

2. Simply expressing that he did NOT want to sleep now (Honest and ballsy – I’ll give him that)

3. There was a funny smell in his room – to be clear, there was no such thing (although with his strong will he could have summoned a fart from within to make a new excuse like that)

On all 3 occasions, I went upstairs and firmly told him that it was bedtime and there was no negotiation and came back down to finish dinner.

Then, came the tantrum. I heard a positively demonic sound coming from upstairs which meant Maddox was losing his temper and yelling in frustration. I had had enough. I interrupted my husbands’s phone call and told him that he needed to deal with this one. I usually give him some hints or tips on how to deal with this from things I have read online but I was so fed up with Maddox not going to sleep that I had nothing. No ideas, no strategies, nada.

And so, I let my husband handle it solo. I expected a stern voice and some warnings but to my surprise, I heard thumping coming from upstairs. At first I thought it had gone wrong, maybe Maddox had got his first smack (we promised never to give those) or Maddox had lost it completely and was hitting and kicking things.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. My husband (not one naturally blessed with patience) had hit a home run and used comedy to diffuse the tantrum. He was pretending to slip on the newly polished floors and that was the thumping sound. I heard screams of laughter from Maddox and not an ounce of anger or one complaint. My husband casually came back downstairs 3 minutes later and I haven’t heard a peep from Maddox since.

The lesson I learnt was that, the time it took me to do dinner, or bedtime or anything that added extra time to my share of the load, was equal to the 3-4 minutes where my husband stepped in and subdued our little darling’s tantrum. Those situations are way harder to deal with than the extra minutes spent on a mundane task and it takes a lot more from you, mentally and emotionally. And also, that was when I really needed him. Just like sometimes, he really needs me.

Our philosophy is equal parenting in value not in time.

A little meditation for a little boy

I decided to use the time between getting home from work and making dinner to do something a little different this evening. Meditation for children.

This idea started forming when my stepmother sent me this great link about pediatricians releasing new guidelines for children’s screen time. The article outlines the revised guidelines for how much time your kids should spend in front of a screen (TV/ tablet/ cellphone) and ultimately concludes that it depends on the situation, your family habits, rules and what you wish to do. In the article, there is another link to an online tool that helps you to create a little media plan for your family created by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Of course, being the keen bean that I am, I instantly created our family media plan and answered all the questions required. One question stood out to me: “By decreasing screen time, we will have more time for”, followed by multiple check boxes including: “Playing outside”, “looking at books”, and “being with my family”. There was a section to add your own recreational activity to which I added “Arts and crafts” which is one of Maddox and my favourite pastimes.

This topic sat on my mind for a little while and I thought about all the nice things Maddox and I could do together if we weren’t absorbed in TV or me with my phone in my hand. I had had a stressful day today filled with emotion and so the idea of meditation and taking a little time-out came to mind. The google machine helped me to find this YouTube video which was perfect to trial Maddox and my first meditation together.

As you might understand already from previous posts, Maddox needs to be introduced gradually to new concepts. Thats just his personality. So, I decided a little 5-minuter would be perfect for him. I asked Maddox to please turn off Netflix and accompany me upstairs to lie on the bed. I introduced the concept of meditation and being mindful and calm and he said he was willing to give it a go. I plugged my phone into the sound dock and turned up the volume. We excluded the imagery from the video (given the whole screen time reduction objective) and lay side by side on the bed. For 5 minutes, we listened to an Australian lady talking us through clouds, raindrops and butterflies. Short and sweet. It was wonderful.

I asked Maddox afterwards if he enjoyed it and what he thought and felt. His reply? He felt, “Calmed down”, “Happy” and had thought about “butterflies”. I felt the same (although I was a little distracted by the Australian accent) but for that little moment, it felt so amazing to be present and  calm and to share that with my little boy.

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Pick your battles, including with yourself.

Let’s start off by setting the scene and the tone of the day. Maddox was an angel today. We went off this morning to look for pumpkins for Halloween decor. (Sidenote: Fruit & Veg City has average looking pumpkins for R99 each and Woolworths has beautiful ones for R40 each. Well played Woolies.) We had the most lovely morning and lunchtime and came back home for the regular post-lunch nap.

Maddox went to sleep nicely at about 15h30 so I decided to treat myself to an afternoon nap as well, since I’m hitting the town for a girls night out tonight. The only glitch in this situation is that our baby monitor was playing up and that I sleep like the dead. I figured I would be able to hear Maddox due the fact that his room is about 2 meters away from mine.

Unfortunately not. At 19h15, my husband comes busting into our room with Maddox saying that I didn’t hear him calling for ages and my half conscious mind went into a flat spin. I went into classic mommy emotional states: “Oh my god, I’m a terrible mother, I didn’t hear my baby calling me”. “Shiiiiiiiiiiiit, bedtime was at 7, now everything is out of sync, how do I get back on track?”,  and a general plethora of panic swearwords plus the usual tears and confusion that come from a nap that was too long.

I managed to get my mind back on track after 15 minutes using self-persuasion that everything was ok and this wasn’t a big deal, plus a teensy bit of vodka.

Next: Dinner. What was the quickest and healthy-ish dinner that I could whip together for my little one? Avo on toast. A classic winner. Except for the fact that I only had my healthy linseed bread left.

To anyone who believes that the type of bread that you serve a pre-schooler isn’t an issue, I openly invite you over to my house to witness the impact that this “minor change” has.

I approached the topic with Maddox from an availability perspective saying that this was the only kind of bread we have left and that the alternative was something awful like no dinner at all. It worked (#winning), and he agreed to the linseed bread. I happily trotted down the stairs to make avo on toast, remembering the instructions from Maddox to cut the toast in half.

I returned with his dinner and the tears started. I hadn’t cut the toast length ways as well. It was the biggest deal to him. THE BIGGEST. He was so upset that I hadn’t checked how many times he wanted the toast cut. I tried to reason with him and said that it was ok, it will taste the same. No response and more tears.

Eventually, I simply decided that actually, I might be giving in to his whims but actually, f**k it. I needed to get this little one to bed, and if that meant going back downstairs to get a knife to cut that blimming toast again, so be it.

I might have lost this battle,  which could be seen as giving into a pre-schooler’s tantrum, but actually, at that moment in time, I didn’t care and I just wanted him to have his dinner and get to bed at a fairly reasonable time. If this was a battle about something serious, like hitting another child or manners ( I never budge), then chilled but, in this case, I think it was actually a win-win in the end. Well, that’s what I’m telling myself anyway.

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The Swimming Saga

This afternoon, at Maddox’s swimming lesson, I was that mom. The one that other mothers look at with a sort of sad smile. A mixture of pity and understanding.

We paid for the term’s swimming lessons upfront and Maddox and I set off to today’s lesson with genuine excitement, goals, and hope (from my side).

Last week didn’t go so well – picture all others swimming and Maddox standing on the side crying – so we had a good chat and Maddox and I set goals for today: feet will be in the water and he will splash as much as possible. A realistic goal, I thought. Gentle intro to the pool and a bit of fun mixed in, I thought.

Well, apparently, I set the bar too high. 20 minutes of negotiations and tears just to get the swimming costume on. Then, using my unreal powers of distraction and annoyingly excited voice, I managed to carry him to the pool. More negotiations. All mothers staring at us through the glass window. Me accidentally flashing my arse to them but not caring during the negotiation.

And finally, my little boy crying and frozen with fear, broke my heart and we went back to the changing room and left.

Today’s lesson? For Maddox, it’s to keep trying, gently, until you succeed. For me, according to my own parenting style (we are all different), I refuse to force (nothing wrong with a bit of coaxing) anything on Maddox. His fear was real, albeit irrational, and sometimes the tough love approach just isn’t worth it. I want to create memories of love and happiness, not fear.

Next week’s goal? Getting Maddox into his swimming costume in under 15 minutes.

Last week’s situation:

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