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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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.

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:

swimming-saga