Monday, 22 October 2012

Australia is...

Thought I might make this a regular list for the blog. Below are some of my observations from our first two months.


Crazy weather--down coats and flip flops, freezing cold temps but no central heat in the houses, bundled up in the morning & steaming hot by noon. 

Laid back! Phrases like, “No dramas!” and “How you going?”

Ocean/beachy fun! After school and weekend activities at the beach, little piles of sand on the floor after sorting the laundry, sand in my sheets, sand in our food, sand everywhere!

It’s buying whole fish at a time because it’s cheaper. (Then leaving the fish market with the  bones & the head for stock. “Madame? Do you want the bones & head for stock?” “Um...yes? Ew. Okay! YES!”)

It’s being woken up by kookaburras laughing in the trees in the back garden. (Because it’s ‘garden’ not ‘yard’ and ‘gardening’ not ‘yard work.’)

It’s pretty darned great so far!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Taronga Zen

It’s quiet and chill at my house. I’m not sure the last time those two words could describe this house--especially with all four of my men home. 12:37 and I’ve only just had a shower and dressed. Spent the morning rocking in my Giddyup chair, drinking coffee and reading a book about Tuscany. Also a few books about animals and trucks and superheroes with little boys on my lap rocking too.

About 95% of me feels deliciously content and rested and at peace. The other 5% keeps wondering if I ought to take advantage of the pretty day and take the boys surfing. If we’ll miss out by staying at home all day. If they’ll resent it if it rains tomorrow as forecast and we didn’t DO anything today. Even though they are all content and resting and peaceful.

I do this as a mom. I have guilt attacks. Where I worry I’m not doing enough or too much or maybe not the right thing? I hate that stupid guilt monster. Some days though, some days I can quiet the beast and enter into the day and just be. Those days are always so delightful.

Thursday was such a day though it didn’t begin that way. The puppy had barked much, much, much of the night. Oh my. I kind of wanted to kill him. We had a trainer come and we were trying some new things and man a livin' he was struggling. So anyway, I was pooped. Also Littlest was just a stinker that morning. Demanding. Whiney. So very two years old. Then I accidentally opened a blog from one of those 'super moms' suggesting a clothespin game to play with your toddler in the living room that helps them work on the pincer grasp. RAWR! Guilt monster attack! I thought, "OH NO! I haven't been working on that. Was I supposed to? Now he'll have poor control and bad handwriting. Which means he’ll be a poor student and get behind and it will be all my fault. I've failed!" It sent me into a yucky space. Spiraling down into not-so-nice thoughts about myself and my mothering and how he wasn't in preschool and I wasn't doing preschool type things with him and would he be okay, was I wasting the short time I have with him, maybe we should have stayed in the US where he had a lovely preschool, etc. etc. On top of that the bigs just couldn't seem to get their act together for school. I was patient, but it was really irritating. There’s only so many times you can suggest that they get dressed in a serene voice. I had told Littlest I would take him to the zoo and I nearly bailed. In the end though we dropped the bigs off (late) at school and headed to the zoo.

It was so delightful. He had a cupcake and I had a coffee. Cupcakes and coffee always help. I need to paste that note up somewhere for myself. It seriously made a huge difference for my weary, cranky attitude. Then we just wandered.

The Taronga Zoo is amazing. It overlooks the Sydney Harbor--so it has a fantastic view of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Gorgeous. Also I didn't bring a stroller or the backpack. So we just wandered around at toddler pace. Which was so restful and restorative. Slow but deliberate. Another toddler meditation practice like I’ve written about before.

We went to the seal show. Which I LOVE. Hung out at the chimpanzees for a while. At one point he found a seed pod. A big one. He calls them 'shaka-shakas.' He loves them. If we were home we’d be collecting the US version from the yard at the top of Columbine Street on our way to Sandburg Elementary every morning. He shook it and danced and sang. Which was stinking adorable. Then he just plopped down right in the middle of one of the main thoroughfares and started pulling it all apart. At first I suggested we move and take it somewhere else. I was sort of embarrassed and not in the mood to beg him or negotiate with his two-ness. Then I thought, "you know what, why bother?" So I plopped down with him. Waited as he pulled apart all 5 pods one at a time. Unwrapped each of the 40 some seeds from their fuzzy-wierd shells and handed them to me one at a time. Right in the middle of everyone's way. It was so great. I nearly cried with the simplicity of it. The beautiful relaxing reality of just sitting anywhere we could find and doing ONE thing until we were done. Together. In the sunshine.

About 10 minutes later we were walking down a hill and he dropped his sippy cup. He realized that it would roll down hill and he just kept picking it up and rolling it over and over. Then he started to kick it. "Play soccer, Mama!" Again I was tempted to tell him no and worried about if it was a suitable area and about how filthy his cup was getting and would it break? Stuff like that. Then I just thought, "you know what, this isn't a big deal either!" So we played soccer. He just giggled and laughed and had the BEST time. Anyone whose way we were in was chuckling at him and his 'soccer ball' and his adorable laugh.

It was all pretty profound for me. I felt like I learned so much. Like that there is something both magical and meditative about being totally present with another person. Especially when that other person is very different from you--i.e. a toddler. Just to see the world at his pace. Through his eyes. Letting him take the lead--something I don't do very often. It was...well, magical! I also felt like I was able to be present with myself in those moments. Really honoring his personhood but also my own. It felt wonderful to sit on the warm concrete in the sun. To watch each seed come free of it's outer and inner case. I enjoyed that immensely and not just because he did. I also noticed that no one seemed particularly bothered that we were in the way. We broke some "rules" and weren’t particularly polite and it wasn't that big of deal. Then it occurred to me later, ha! We worked on the pincer grasp, vocabulary, science, physics, and a bunch of other preschoolish stuff! All just by being together!

It felt like such a peaceful, kind, precious way for God to say to me, "I love you. You're who I pick for these boys. I love YOU for just being YOU. Thanks for taking such good care of them. Thanks for taking good care of you."

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Phoning it In

Phone it in. As in Jillian Michaels pointing her finger through the TV screen at my working-out ass and saying, "Do NOT phone this in!"

Or there's "phone a friend." As in Regis Philbin suggesting to the next 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' that you phone your designated friend if you just can't figure out the answer to the question that might make you a million dollars richer.

I'm more fond of the latter. There are just sometimes you must phone a friend. Tonight I picked my friend, Kelly. Well, actually Wanderer phoned Kelly. On my behalf. I don't know what he said to her, but all of the sudden he handed me the phone with her on the other end. After just a few minutes my sad, discouraged self quit sitting with glazed-over eyes staring at the dining room wall and started laughing, listening, gabbing, and--as she would say--setting the world to rights. Well, my world and Kelly's anyway.

It wasn't long enough. It wasn't face-to-face. She was an awfully long way away in England. There wasn't a strong cup of tea or a tall glass of wine involved. But it was my friend. Who gets me. Who I get. There's just something about that, isn't there?

My mumsie FaceTimed me from the US today. Must have been late, late at night her time. She'd got my message though. She'd read my blog about what in the world to do about my sweet, sad Biggest boy. So we talked. She told her own story of similar struggles with me and my siblings. She made a few really helpful suggestions. We talked and laughed a bit and she admitted she had no idea how to set mine or Biggest's world to rights but she loved me, she was available, and she was real sorry it was so hard. She gets me. That's why she called. She knew I needed to phone a mama.

My silly cell phone doesn't work at my house. We're having trouble getting the Aussie cell phone companies to give me a phone that's not a top-up so we're having trouble remedying the poor-phone problem. But tonight Wanderer and I Skyped over the 3G network while he rode home in a cab from the Sydney airport. He sounded a wee-bit like a robot. Littlest kept asking him, "What you in, Daddy?" Not understanding why on earth you'd have a conversation through the computer if it wasn't video-enabled. Still we talked. He made me laugh and asked about everyone's day and let me know how much he loved me.

Biggest asked me a few weeks ago when I got my first cell phone. "Hmmmm..." I answered. "I think I was about 23?" He was incensed. "WHAT?!?! Your parent's didn't let you have one in high school?!?!" "B, they didn't have them when I was in high school," I told him. "Whoa Mom, I didn't realize you were THAT old!"

In 1996, I spent about a year in Kiev, Ukraine. The internet was a tiny baby. You could email, but not everyone had an account and getting online was patchy--especially from the Ukrainian end. Making a long-distance call involved a trip to the post office to pay for the time, then a call from a land-line to an operator to connect you, then finally the placed call which must be kept within the time limit purchased and often included interruptions of various other conversations over the same line. Still we were amazed about how much modern conveniences had changed the process of keeping in touch. That in spite of the fact that all minute-purchasing, connecting, etc. had to be meticulously practiced in Russian ahead of time or else facilitated by a Ukrainian friend as none of it could be done in English. Still we felt quite well-connected given the enormous distance between us.

I am living now in a completely different hemisphere than my family or any of my friends. I almost always speak to them in a different day--most often we talk in their evening while I have already experienced part of the next morning. Still we talk while walking or driving (hands free of course) or doing dishes. Anytime, any place over our cell phones. We see each other over phones, computers, and iPads. Showing each other our houses, our children's newest tricks, our new puppies, our tears and laughter. We connect. We phone it in. We phone a friend.

I'm enormously grateful for technology in this moment, but not nearly as grateful as the precious friends and family it allows me to connect to.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What's a mama to do?

Drop toddler boy off in the morning at Parent's Day Out. Stand outside door listening to boy sob and sob. Hear from teacher at end of the day that he "only cried until lunch time." Continue to take him.

Try out two days a week the next year. Watch him hold his ears along the sides of the room rocking back and forth because the other children are too loud or too naughty. Worry. Learn he needs to eat gluten-free and dairy-free. Notice the difficulty this makes with school snacks, playdates, etc., but also notice how much calmer he becomes over time. How much easier it is for him to embrace the activities and relationships with the teacher and other kiddos.

Third year. Two days a week again. More "school-like" situation. He loves his teacher and she loves him. They both eat gluten-free and sometimes she brings him special snacks. He flourishes.

Fourth year. Move to England. Enroll him in local school. He skips kindergarten and its "learn to do school and play a lot" mentality and moves right into full-day, full-on school because of his age and the way they do school there. Boy cries again every day when I drop him off. Boy cries so hard his teachers send him home with his brother at lunchtime because otherwise he cries all afternoon long. Everyone is patient, but this doesn't get much better. Even after a few months. The afternoon teacher yells at the kids a lot. Never at him directly--he is the epitome of the 'good kid,' but it doesn't matter. The yelling sends him to tears even after he learns to be away from home all day. He loves to learn, makes friends, and enjoys his morning teacher. Mostly though he's miserable. So we take him out at Christmas.

We teach he and his brother at home for a year and a half. This is a delightful time of exploring things he's really interested in. Teaching him to read. Loving our math curriculum. We go to lots of castles. Visit tons of museums. Have a wonderful time. But...boy is lonely. We welcome another baby into the family so mama is busy. Boy asks to please try school again. We acquiesce.

Boy begins school at tiny local village school. He struggles a bit, but his main teacher is lovely and he soon makes lots of friends. The Wednesday teacher upsets him so much we go to talk to the principle about it. Later finding out we are one of the first parents to report her bullying, name-calling, and belittling behavior even though it has happened before. We are shocked by this. I want to call it quits. We hang in though. The principle confirms the teacher's behavior with other students, the teacher is suspended, and the boy learns that standing up for the underdog (he wasn't the one being bullied by said teacher) is important and can bring about change.

We move after his first year at this school. Boy is utterly heartbroken. He pines for his friends, his teacher, and his school and never quite recovers for over a year.

We enroll him in the local neighborhood school in our new town. It's bigger, but has an art, science, music, P.E., and computer specialist. I am stoked about these things. Surely they make for the best sort of education. Boy is less than thrilled. He struggles to make friends. A group of girls totally stress him out with their chasing, song-singing style of crushing on him. He doesn't bond with his teacher. He has hours worth of homework. It gets so bad that he cries every morning and holds onto my clothes begging and pleading not to have to go to school.

I sit down with the teacher and the principle. Asking how we can help him solve his predicament. He meets with the girls--it goes really well. He meets with his teachers--gains a better understanding of the homework and relaxes into the school year. This takes almost until Christmas. I look at other schools. Should we change? What is the solution?

We leave him at the school. He flourishes academically. They enroll him in the gifted and talented program and test scores show what we often suspected--he is beyond his years in reading and math abilities. He does make friends, but never good friends. His main friend treats him poorly and his brother worse which upsets boy. I don't know how to help with this. It's very difficult to watch.

We make him do swim team at the local pool and finally he is making neighborhood friends. He seems really happy. Then we move. Again.

This time he heads to an even larger school. In yet another country. Boy makes friends right away. Even going on a playdate within the first three weeks. He loves the kids. He's stoked about his friends. Relief. But...the reports of the teaching style worries his dad and I. Calling children "babies" when they misbehave. Principles belittling from the front. Constantly communicating their disappointment and what an "embarrassment" the kids are. We worry about the academics as well. Granted, it's the last three weeks of term, but there is no homework at all, they watch a few movies, and the lessons are deemed boring and "really, really easy."

Mama worries. She worries about his future. Welcoming the sage advice from her mother that she too worried about each school change, move, teacher and friend situation. Worrying at each turn that my future hung in the balance. Yet I turned out okay.

Mama still worries though. About the teaching. About her smart boy not being challenged enough. About what it communicates to a child when adults speak that way to them or to those around them. About what it communicates to them when their parent knows it is happening and doesn't stand up for them. About what in the heck one does instead? Is this the real world full of mean people and he needs my love and support as he learns to navigate it now? Or does he need to be protected from it. Is my role to stand in the gap and say, "no way!"

Academically what do we do? How do you find an education that meets the individual academic needs of such a child? One who just sits in a different place learning-wise than his peers?

Mama struggles. That's what she does. She worries and fidgets and talks it through with his daddy and prays and tries to listen to deep Answers. She tries to see the pattern. Of struggle and triumph. Of his resistance to change and of his ultimate resilience as he muscles through. She tries to remember the remarkable experiences of education outside of any classroom. The global citizen she is raising. The boy whose love of culture and adventure flourishes through his expatriate experiences.

Mama practices the excruciating process of letting go. Knowing ultimately that the boy does not belong to her. That she was chosen as his mother and his guide for a short time. That she can only offer her journey, her heart, and her own story. Doing the very best she can. Trying to take a long view. Trying to be as courageous as she urges him to be.

She listens to his tears as Spring Break ends and he begs not to have to go back to school. "I love the kids, Mom. The teachers though. They're so mean! They never have anything encouraging to say! They've never been mean to me, but they are to the other kids and I HATE that! I can't stand it!" She assures him she's listening. That he can tell her everything. That she's open to thinking through some solutions of how to solve this big problem. She says how sorry she is that it's hard.

Mama drops him off at school on the first day of Term 4. Then she cries.