Saturday, 31 December 2011

Conquering the Caveman

There is no doubt about it, men and women just function differently.  Some of the most major "discussions" that the Sweetpea and I have had over the course of our relationship have involved just such differences.  Mostly in the field of communication, I must say. 

It has always intrigued me that our styles of communication are so disparate.  After all, we come from the same species, right?  I remember one of the earliest discussions we had as a married couple, that taught me that a man can speak at length on any subject, so long as it does not engage him emotionally.  The conversation went something like this:
Me:  I am not sure how this Pill works (talking about my contraceptive pill).
The Sweetpea (without hesitating, whips out a piece of scrap paper and a pen):  Blah, blah, progesterone, blah, blah, estrogen, etc.  There followed a forty-five minute lecture, illustrated with diagrams on the back of an envelope, of just how the Pill works, its action on all the different hormones in the body and also on unmentionables such as periods, etc.
Me (confused, but still trying to be supportive): Um, I actually meant do I have to take a red pill now or a white one? 

A little while later, we had another discussion, this time involving that most unmentionable of phenomena, a woman's emotions.  I talked at length about how I was feeling, the angst I was going through, and ended with a heartfelt "So what do you think?"  And was rewarded with a considered "Hmmmm...."

What could be at the bottom of this fatal flaw, I wondered.  I believe the basis can once again be found if we glance back at our prehistoric origins.  Picture it: the women of the tribe wander away from the fires in the light of dawn (carrying their trusty handbags, in which are located all of the objects they will need during the day, such as digging sticks, cutting tools, and who knows, perhaps even an antelope horn full of the prehistoric form of lippy? But I digress...).  For the day, they wander about, gathering the food that will be consumed by the tribe that evening.  Boring work, no doubt.  And while their hands and eyes are busy searching out sustenance, their tongues are wagging, with the latest gossip ("Do you know what Grog said to Ungh?"), the doings of their children ("Ug stood upright and his knuckles did not even scrape the ground!"), and a rehash of all of the nuances of the previous night around the fire ("then she said..., and he said 'uh' ", etc.).

Meanwhile, the men of the tribe are out hunting.  In silence they stalk their prey, sneaking up until they are close enough to fire their primitive bows and arrows into it, or club it to death.  Heaven help the misguided fool who tries to remark on his neighbour's loincloth ("I do so love what you have done with that leopard skin, Grog - really stylish!") at such tense moments.  Yet when the hunt is over and the men return to the camp, who are the most voluble then?  The  men spend ages rehashing every moment of the chase, their prowess as hunters, their extreme manliness, etc.  They have conquered.

Skip forward a few hundred centuries and the parallels become apparent.  Men are only comfortable talking about something they have already conquered.  Subjects in which they feel like they have the upper hand.  Emotions, though, are like that big hairy mammoth, tusked and dangerous, something they can look at with longing, even understand the rudiments of, but never hope to conquer. 
Women, on the other hand, have no such qualms.  They travel the well-worn path of emotional disclosure with equanimity, their ease of using emotional discourse learned at their mother's knee (or more likely while eavesdropping on womanly conversations).

Thus the inability to communicate one sex to the other is hard-wired into our programming.  Perhaps the secret is not to agonise about making the other sex understand us, but rather lower our expectations to realise that, in order to entice the hunter in our man, we should offer him a very small mammoth to hunt at first.  Perhaps a small, cuddly-looking beast (like, um...I can't actually think of one offhand...) rather than an angry, sharp-tusked creature (such as "Does my bum look big in this outfit?").

And the Sweetpea's response to this idea:  "Hmmm".

Friday, 30 December 2011

Let's get this Potty started...

It may seem self-evident to most, but boys and girls are very different.  I, for inexplicable reasons, was caught out by this seemingly apparent fact.  The first time I changed one of my boys' nappies, it took me by surprise that the tiny little willie was so incredibly long-ranged, powerful and, unfortunately for me, very accurate in its application.  A baby boy would be able to put most marksmen to shame for sheer accuracy of aim, in fact (a bit in my eyes, but most in my mouth).  Subsequent nappy changes left me saturated more times than not.

Thus it was that I approached potty-training with the twins with a certain amount of trepidation.  I had learned my lesson the first time around - I was not anxious to repeat the experience.  I realised that if I lost control of one little willie, I would once again be doused, and that was not an ideal occurrence.  Potty-training became like a perilous game of Russian roulette as I took off pants, pulled down undies, took off shoes, placed little bottoms on potties and then grabbed for a willie to stuff down into the nether regions of the potty, all before getting sprayed by a little boy increasingly needing to go.  Just one child would have been bad enough, but the twin of the one on the potty had to get involved in some way too, as a show of moral support or whatever.  This support involved getting down to eye level on the potty, just to check that things were moving in the right direction, so to speak.  This left him in perfect position for a dousing if I wasn't quick enough, though it did have the added benefit of making potty-training a cinch because of the extra positive affirmation and words of encouragement (especially admiring in the case of number two's, but let's not even go there).   

After all of this was accomplished, and just when I thought I was getting on top of things, I realised that I had forgotten one immutable fact:  boys, of no matter what age, will be boys.  Soon, sitting to go to the loo was no longer good enough - they had to stand.  If I had a dollar for every time I had to grab a little pecker and redirect it into the bowl of the loo, I would be a rich woman.  Likewise for every wet floor I had to mop up after each practice experience.  And then the competitions (which invariably crop up between two males of the same species), where they would see who could aim further, pee longer or louder, etc. started.  I took to buying ping-pong balls to put into the toilet, in the hopes that the spirit of competition would lead them to try to aim for the ball instead of the surrounding toilet mat. (The Sweetpea recently reminded me that we could probably have kept the entire Ukrainian ping-pong team in balls with the amount of balls that we flushed appears that you are not supposed to put toilet paper into the bowl at the same time, but this is something you only learn through experience).

After negotiating all of that, I was lulled into a false sense of security, feeling that the training of a little girl would be easy compared.  I had not reckoned on the influence her big brothers would have on her.  Since babyhood, Little Miss Snoopy has idolised her brothers, mimicking everything they do from climbing to being superheroes.  As such, I thought I would be cunning and get the twins to demonstrate how to use the potty so that she would get the idea quickly and want to copy them.  In that regard, my plan was faultless.  She was highly motivated to use the potty after seeing her brothers do it.  I had not counted on her powers of observation though.  By that time, the twins, at three and a half,  had mastered the art of aiming into whatever receptacle they chose.  This involved, by necessity, holding and pointing.  Little Miss Snoopy was only too happy to sit on the potty.  And this is where the wee hit the fan, so to speak.  She looked down, and Oh No - Huston, we have a problem!  There was an appendage that was made very conspicuous by its absence.  No willie to hold like her brothers did! What to do?  I could see that the shock of this threw her for a short while, but, being a really clever little cookie, it didn't hold her back for long.  She grabbed hold of whatever she could and "aimed".  Males clearly have a natural advantage - it is obviously not so easy to aim a vejayjay (as good ol' Oprah would say).   Once again, I was wet from head to toe, to say nothing of the bathroom floor, and the twins, in their usual position as ardent supporters of the potty-process, also received their fair share of the dousing.  Oh dear, it seems I just can't win!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How to live a long time without growing old...

Life as a child must be such an amazing and exciting experience.  I have been giving a lot of thought to what it would be like if, for one crazy, madcap day, we could become children again, still retaining what we know now.  How much would it change of how we view the world?  I believe there are various principles that we lose over time, as we grow up and become jaded by our contact with the world, that perhaps we could use more of in our lives as we live them now.  Just watching the boys and Little Miss Snoopy over this time of being away on a family holiday, I have come up with these Guiding Light Principles of being a child that we could apply to our adult lives with very little detriment, and perhaps a whole lot of benefit:
Principle Number One:  If you love something, do it over and over again.  And over and over again after that.  That way when you look back, you will never be able to say "I wish I had done that more".  We recently took our lot to the Water Recreation Centre, where we spent about four and a half hours in the lazy river, swimming around and around the central concrete block in the current of the river.  Every time we rounded the corner, and the twins yelled "Again!", I realised that it was like the first time they had tried it.  Every time.  And each time, the enjoyment was the same, the breathless anticipation, the excitement and feelings of joy.  Wow - how powerful is that?

Principle Number Two: Extract the utmost enjoyment out of every single moment, anticipate it for hours before and love every moment of it during, then think about it for ages afterwards.  We got given a box of mixed chocolates for Christmas, and for about 45 minutes as we were traveling in the car, the boys were pouring over the illustrations on the box, deciding which chocolate they were going to choose for an after-dinner treat.  When they finally got to have one, they savoured each moment, then immediately asked for their second choice as a follow-up.  For quite a while after that, they were talking to each other about whose had been the best/biggest/most exciting.


Principle Number Three:  Feel.  It never ceases to amaze me how much emotion my little ones can squeeze into the smallest occurrences.  A little act like biting one's tongue in the middle of eating something nice can provoke heart-rending howls far unequal to the trauma of the occasion.  Likewise, putting on their new Spiderman outfits is a moment suffused with such excitement and breathless anticipation they almost are unable to speak (almost).  They seem to experience emotion in a purer, more distilled form than we do, and are not ashamed to give vent to those feelings.  We should learn to laugh with feeling, heartily and without reserve, and conversely to cry and grieve, and perhaps there would be less depression in the world?

Principle Number Four:  If something means something to you, hang onto it at all costs This includes if your sibling or twin wants to try to take it from you (cling to it for dear life and utter ear-piercing shrieks of dismay), if your mom tells you to "Give that here" (in which case you run and hide and hope she doesn't find you), or if you have to go to bed (and then you decide to take it with you to bed, rather than trust that it will be there when you wake up.  Even if the object is something inappropriate for bed, like a large fire-engine, complete with a prickly ladder and working siren that goes off every time you turn over).

Principle Number Five:  If you love someone, tell them.  Unreservedly, and without wondering how they are going to receive it.  And also without expecting anything in return.  When the twins snuggle their little bodies into bed beside me in the mornings,  they unreservedly utter "I love you Soooo much Mama". They also seem to think that I am "the most beautiful lady in the whole world" (ah, to have a pair of those eyes again!).  What would it do to the ones we love if we told them that sort of thing every day?  And how would our relationships change?

Principle Number Six:  Sometimes the best presents we can give are the simplest things, but those which involve a bit of effort.  There is something about the wilted flower that is proffered in a grubby fist that outstrips all the perfumes, jewels and money in the world.  And it doesn't matter if that fist is a small, childlike one, or that of the man in your life!

Principle Number Seven:  Allow the pain of someone else to affect you deeply.  Watching the two boys discover a dead shark on the beach today, and their sincere grief and outrage at his death, made me think about how open they are to feeling the pain of others.  "Poor creature," they both said, with tears in their eyes, and they speculated about how he might have died, and whether his mommy was missing him.

There are so many more principles - perhaps this could be part one of a series!  But suffice it to say that there is so much we can learn from our kids - what are yours' teaching you every day, if you take the time to listen to their lessons instead of giving too many of your own?

Monday, 26 December 2011

Survival of the fittest

The first camping experience of the summer is bound to be exciting in some way or other.  Everyone is high on the hype of going to be living outdoors, sleeping with just a thin sheet of canvas between them and the Wild.  For little ones, the excitement is so much more intense.  Mine had looked forward to this since before the Sweetpea went away, because it was a good way to keep them motivated throughout his absence: "When he gets home, then we are going camping."

The Christmas season was a real blessing in disguise - because everyone was probably lying around a Christmas table somewhere, groaning with a surfeit of turkey and fruit mince pudding (with heavy cream and custard), they were certainly not going to say "Let's go trekking into the wilderness to eat basic fire-charred fare and live in a canvas shelter for the next few days," and the result was that we had the campsite almost to ourselves.  We were able to pick a site that had not only great access to the loos (with three little ones all needing to go in the middle of the night, this is a serious consideration), but that was also equidistant to the kitchen (a serious consideration for me).

One disadvantage of having the place to ourselves, however, was something I would never have thought would be a disadvantage to me.  Being an animal-lover, I am inordinately fond of all creatures great and small, and so any trip without seeing at least a bunny is a severe disappointment to me.  However, on this trip, our tent became the focus of a prolonged and vicious warfare by all the local populace of animals within the radius of the camp.  Perhaps because we were the only ones there and so were upsetting the peace and balance of nature, we were inundated by creatures of all persuasions, from flies to somewhat bigger and furrier kinds of mammals.  Flies swarmed around the tent, buzzing so loudly it sounded like a swarm of bees had set up a hive (luckily our tent is well equipped with no-see-um).  At night, the animal life truly came into its own.  The night birds pulled out all the stops, making such a racket that we had trouble staying asleep.  The crickets chirped incessantly.  Bizarrely, small furry creatures hurled themselves out of the darkness into the sides of the tent at regular intervals with a thump, and then went scampering off into the dry leaves, chasing each other around in the rustling, whispering undergrowth.

But the final straw was the possum in our tent.   We were awoken, bleary-eyed and groggy with lack of sleep, by a wild hissing and the frantic scurry of paws backwards and forwards over the canvas in the front of our tent.  We peered fearfully out over the top of the dividing door, shining a torch down to see what the commotion was all about.  A fat possum had managed to get through into the front part of the tent, obviously looking for something to eat, and had got itself trapped in there by the mozzie netting.  Although it was doing a fine job of searching for the exit by scooting wildly about in different directions and bumping over chairs, shoes and even the potty, it was well and truly stuck.   To say nothing of what happened when the light of the torch illuminated it, caught red-handed, so to speak.  In our part of the world, a possum is not a sweet, rat-like creature that dangles by its tail from a tree branch.  It is a rather more menacing creature, one jump away from a Tasmanian Devil in reputation if you believe the locals.  It is furry, chunky and has beady little eyes, or at least, that is the impression I got from seeing it in the pitch of our tent.  Eventually, through luck more than forethought, it blundered its way out of an opening in the tent, trailing the toilet paper in its wake like a bridal train.

All in all, a most eventful trip!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

There were five in the bed...

When the Sweetpea first started doing some locums to make a few extra pennies, he had to travel far and wide to the hospitals that needed him most.  I was left alone for a lot of the time with the boys and Little Miss Snoopy, and I very quickly discovered that traipsing between three different rooms several times in a night to answer various cries or calls for water/a wee/a conversation in order to stay out of bed longer was exhausting and left me getting about two hours sleep in a night.  It was also around the time of the earthquakes, and I spent hours fretting in the middle of the night (when I wasn't wandering from room to room, I had to fill the empty hours somehow) about what I would do if something similar happened here and I wouldn't be able to get to all three at the same time.

I soon came up with the perfect solution - I moved everyone into my room.  That way I could be with them in an instant and return to my bed almost without really waking up, and I could also keep an eye on all of them at the same time.  I started to sleep better, and life was again rosy.

The Sweetpea was not as charmed by the idea, though.  Surprising, that! He just could not see the advantage of having five people in one room when we have a house with four bedrooms.  He started muttering about how we could have got away with living in a kaya (small shack) instead of a large and spacious house.  "It will only be while you are away," I reassured him.

He was away for quite a few weekends in a row, and then he went on kung fu camps, and we went on holiday, and then he was off to South Africa.  Suffice it to say that the kids have now been in our room for six months now with no end in sight.  And do you know what?  I absolutely love it!  I love waking in the middle of the night to their peaceful breathing, their small, snuffling night noises, their unfamiliar pattern of nocturnal activities.  But for having them in our room, I would never have known, for example, that Paddy is a sleep laugh-er.  Occasionally we are woken by fits of giggles coming from the mound of duvets under which he burrows nightly.  Sam is a sleep talker - he often talks of strange doings and addresses people in his sleep.  Little Miss Snoopy likes to know there is someone there and if she wakes in the night she kisses my face with hundreds of resounding smooches before falling asleep again with her arm flung around my neck.   

And it is no great hardship either.  The Sweetpea and I have set up our own little space in the room that used to belong to the boys, and it is almost like a little sanctum.  It's a space where we can go to be together, and we don't talk about nonsense, or fight (well, rarely), but rather a place to spend time affirming and being with each other.  And then we head back to our family, and the night is filled with children, just as the day is.  As it must be in all of those cultures who don't believe in separating their kiddies from them.  

What an unexpected blessing! And my kiddies all sleep much better than they did before, too.

In the mornings, especially those on which we can lie in, the little ones creep quietly into our bed, one by one, until the whole of our super king-size is overflowing with squirmy, wriggly-joyous little bodies, thrilled to be facing another day.  They burrow under the covers and make tents, worming their way down to the bottom of the bed and tickling feet on the way.  They kick and bounce and squeal, they act like kitties or baby mice, they cuddle into us and put their heads on our shoulders and curve their warm little bodies into ours.  And for once, we don't have superheroes; I don't get told off for calling them my "little boys".  They are my babies again, and they love it too.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Hang on to your hats...

There are a few sure-fire ways to torture your child.  Wow - that sounds terrible!  But there is no doubt about it, some things are just torturous by their very nature, like the toddler version of Kryptonite.  Or salt for a snail.  Or nails screeching on a blackboard for pretty much anyone. 

Most of these "toddler tortures" involve the sun - or more specifically, protection from the sun.  The obvious one is sunscreen.  Most children have such an aversion to this that they run away screaming if you even bring out the bottle.  I have tried all different types, from the disgusting "kiddie-scented" ones, to the spray-on type, to the most expensive Ambre Solaire product, and the response is always the same.  One - or in my case three - extremely angry little ones covered in patchy white blotches and my own pair of pants covered in white hand-prints/nose-prints and other indeterminite smudges that slowly fade to greasy hand-prints/nose-prints and other indeterminate smudges.  Except in the case of the spray-on kind of sunscreen, when you get three extremely angry and sneezing little ones.

Likewise, the issue of a sunhat.  I am not quite sure why sunhats are so repulsive to the average child, but my theory is that even the smallest amount of restriction of bloodflow to the developing brain causes it to overheat and a meltdown is the likely consequence.  That is the only reason I can come up with for the fantastic paddies that I have seen my kids throw at the mention of a sunhat.  It is like you have sadistically engineered a torture device, complete with red fire ants and boiling oil, exclusively for them.

But (and I hate to brag...okay, as the Sweetpea is sure to point out, I don't actually hate bragging per se, specifically, but anyway, moving right along...) I have discovered the secret to sunhats.  This puts me (temporarily) into the Good Parent category (I spend so little time there it actually feels like foreign territory, a bit like a walk on the moon).  The secret is this:  As I was watching my two playing outside in the sun today, and by turns trying to cram said discarded sunhats onto unsuspecting heads at any opportunity, I had an amazing realisation.  The sunhats that my two have to wear look a lot like that hat that Zorro wears, the one with the wide brim.  And, forgive me if I am mistaken, but is Zorro not one of the coolest heroes around?  (Most ladies would definitely agree that when Zorro comes in the guise of Antonio Banderas, he is welcome to rescue them from brigands any day.  Or thieves. Or spiders. Or even from a small insignificant type of insect we would usually deal with ourselves. Whatever. Bring on Zorro!)

So I casually came home from play group and offered them the opportunity of watching a bit of television for a while.  They both looked at me suspiciously - TV in the middle of the day - what was up?  But it was too good an opportunity to miss and so they settled down in front of the TV happily.  I put my cunning plan into action and showed them a few excellent clips from the Zorro movies.  They sat in open-mouthed amazement all the way through as Zorro leapt from burning buildings onto the back of his horse, had swordfights against armies and generally saved the day.

When I was finished, they sat for a few moments without stirring.  Then they shook themselves, stood up and ran off outside to play.  With their sunhats firmly on their heads.  Now I just have to deal with the swordfighting...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Smile - you're on Candid Camera!

It has always amazed me how children have an innate sixth sense which they use to the sole purpose of detecting the presence of a camera.  It does not matter what type of camera is in question.  It can be a small, almost invisible point and shoot film camera, a sophisticated SLR top of the range with super long telephoto lens, a video camera filming from a distance of 100m with a digital optical zoom, or my personal favourite, my small credit-card sized video camera that I don't even know I am holding; it does not matter one whit - the second that the record button is pressed, the sixth sense kicks in.  Some examples:

Children rolling over and cooing for the first time - Sam and Paddy did this almost simultaneously, and were rolling backwards and forwards on the towel after their bath one night, cooing and giggling at each other.  Enter video camera.  Result: four and a half minutes of footage of two babies lying almost immobile on a brightly patterned towel, so quiet that you think the sound is off.

First words:  Sam says "crocodile" clearly at the age of thirteen months and we rush to preserve the moment for posterity.  Press record on the super small camera proudly purchased for just such moments as these.  Result:  "Bo ba da da da", said with a slightly imbecilic expression.  And then a loud burp.

Little Miss Snoopy gets her doll, a nappy and some cream and changes Dollie's nappy on the carpet in the lounge, remembering to use wet wipes and put cream in the right areas.  I quietly film the scene from behind the corner, holding the camera out at an odd angle and coughing to mask the sound of the record button.  Result:  two minutes of Little Miss Snoopy sitting on Dollie's head and bouncing up and down, with the nappy on her own head.

Likewise, the two boys climb up onto an antique tractor and pretend to be driving it, making comments like "look, we're driving a rescue combine harvester".

Ditto when it snows in our city for the first time in 50 years.

Also when the boys spend hours talking to the donkey and pretending it is talking back to them.

But then, for some inexplicable reason, something just snaps (or perhaps their radars are off for a while) and you manage the perfect shot...and suddenly it is all worthwhile.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bungle in the Jungle

There are some trips that you take with your children that just stand out in your mind - magical, wonderful moments that you all spend together when the sun appears to have been shining continually, the kids have all been happy, and you are with the ones you love doing something fascinating that is enjoyed by all.  To be honest, those moments are normally few and far between.  I mean, let's face it, there is usually at least one person (normally small, but not always) who says "I want to go to a park/McDonald's/swimming/etc. rather" at some stage of a trip.  However, today was one of those amazing times that you never want to forget.

We made a journey out to our local wildlife sanctuary, a habitat for all manner of local animals located a long way down a scenic (read very twisty, narrow, and hilly) road.  The scenery was breathtaking the whole way there, and for once I had come anticipating every need of the kids - snacks, water, juice, wet wipes, hats, etc.  and so I did not have to try to persuade anyone to "wait until we get there".  The sanctuary itself is set in magnificent park-like grounds, and I found myself remarking more than a few times to the Sweetpea how well it was laid out.  The little ones went running off along the paths, discovering different animals in natural settings hidden like jewels amongst the thickets.  Their chirping voices were lively with excitement and irrepressible joy, floating back to where the Sweetpea and I walked hand in hand.  Then suddenly they all fell silent.

Rounding the corner, we saw what had arrested their attention.  A huge native pig, surrounded by his concubines, was trawling through his pen, looking disdainfully for offerings of food from the hushed crowd of kids that regarded him just as balefully back.  "Look, Mama," said Sam into the oppressive silence, "that pig has titties as well as a willy." There were a few titters from the adults gathered there.  Somewhat jokingly, I replied "Perhaps it is a hermaphrodite pig, darling."  I should have known better than to introduce such a concept into a conversation.  Questions pelted me as I tried to explain the concept of "hermaphrodite" to three-year-olds.  After a lot of strenuous talking, they were finally satisfied, and we started off again.

We sat in the lee of the mountain beside a rushing river for morning tea, and were soon surrounded by peacocks in full spring plumage looking for our scraps.  "What are those?" the boys asked, never having seen peacocks before.  I explained again, and the boys sat mesmerised by their beautiful plumage.  
"Their feathers are iridescent  aren't they?" said Paddy, to the wonder of all the adults around.  The Sweetpea noticed my ill-disguised pride and pulled me aside.  "Sure," he whispered to me, "it's fine when they use words like 'iridescent' in conversation, but what are you going to do when they start talking about 'hermaphrodite'?"  Hmmm - I hate to admit it, but he has a point.  

Monday, 12 December 2011

Urine for a Big Surprise!!!

Most people assume that children are guileless innocents, skipping through life unhindered by deeper and darker thoughts.  While I love this theory, I think that most parents will probably be able to guarantee that this is actually not the truth:  closer to it is that kids can sometimes be like secret operatives, working silently and in a most sinister manner to undermine an entire system, much like KGB spies.  They can be inclined to embarrass spectacularly at the moment when you least expect it and you are thus least prepared to deal with the fall-out thereof.

We had gone for tea at some friends of ours who have grown-up children and have therefore forgotten the worst bits of parenting little ones (I sometimes think selective memory is one of the most important aspects of being a parent, otherwise very few of our firstborns would actually have siblings at all.  There is some vital defense mechanism in the hearts of all parents that manages to gloss over the incredibly difficult times and remember the wonderful ones with ease.  Thus being friends with parents of teenagers raises its own issues, since they can't remember their own kids ever being as naughty as they think your's are).  They brought out all of the old and treasured toys from their kids' collections for our kids to play with, and I nervously watched as the boys and Little Miss Snoopy set about playing with the precious memories of someone else's children.  I began to relax as they played responsibly and happily with the toys.  Aha, I thought to myself, faultless execution of Good Parenting displayed in action, and settled back smugly with my cup of tea.  

Trying to get Little Miss Snoopy to play with something other than cars (what can I say - she has two brothers after all), my friend drew her attention to a gorgeous doll, beautifully clothed and with eyes that open and shut.  "And look," she exclaimed, "she even has a potty to go wee-wee in," she said to my youngest, producing a tiny, ornamental potty about the size of a teacup from the same box behind the couch.  "Oops!" she yelled in surprise, and I looked round to see what she was worried about.  There in the bottom of the potty, was a wee-wee that no dolly had ever done.  And also a smallish (but undeniable) poop too.  Ah well, I told myself, at least Little Miss Snoopy had managed to find a receptacle for her offerings and not just done them on the carpet, which would have been worse.  Slightly.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hark the Hero Angels sing

It is difficult to get kids  to focus on the real part of Christmas when there is so much out there designed to entice and distract from the true meaning.  After all, a jolly, large man in red, distributing presents and sweeties with abandon trumps a hay-filled manager scene any day in most kids' minds.  So every year one of the local churches does a "real Christmas" experience for the little ones - one with no trees or fat men in red suits, but a taste of what a real Christmas so long ago must have been like.  They always have a small petting farm there too, where the kids can get up close to the animals that might have surrounded the first nativity.  There are  a couple of sheep, usually a donkey (this year it was a small horse, but I don't think the kids really noticed), a goat or two, and the usual sprinkling of small furry creatures like guinea pigs, rabbits and even a chicken.   There's something about kiddies and small animals together that just melts the heart.  The boys spent about ten minutes brushing all the hair on the horse upwards in the wrong direction, so that when they were finished, it might as well have been a shaggy-looking donkey standing there anyway.  

At the entrance, an "angel choir" greeted us with rousing Christmas carols (no Rudolf or Good King Wenceslas, thankfully!) but a traditional mix of Away in the Manger and Silent Night.  The choir master had fully entered into the spirit of the event, and was clothed in white with huge feathered wings. There is something a tiny bit odd about seeing a grown man with a beard and angel wings, but the boys were impressed no end.  "Look," whispered the one to the other, "It's Hawkman!" 
"The legion of the Super-friends!" whispered the other with shining eyes.  
I think they somewhat missed the point, but it caused a great deal of excitement.  Probably more so than if he had been an actual angel. They made him a bit nervous as they followed him around adoringly for a while.  And suddenly, the birth of Jesus suddenly seemed so much cooler with the added presence of a superhero at the side of the manger.  Yay - real Christmas, 1, Santa, 0.  It was official - the real Christmas was the best! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Shop til you drop...

Whoever came up with the expression "as easy as taking candy from a baby" was clearly misguided, delusional or possibly both.  It is never easy to take candy from a baby.  Or any kind of sweet treat from a pair of twins either, once their minds are set on it.

This season of goodwill is a minefield of terror for any parent.  Everywhere you go in the supermarket are tempting goodies piled high, teetering on minuscule platforms made of matchsticks.  Every aisle has a display of some kind of sweet, biscuit, chocolate or lolly prominently displayed at the end, where an unwary mother, rounding the corner too fast with twins and a toddler, could conceivably bring the whole lot crashing to the ground.  Not only that, little hands are lightning-fast when it comes to snatching the very treat on which the rest of the treat pyramid is precariously balanced. 

I have mine well-trained.  They know better than to snatch at things as we round corners (I fervently hope).  However, that does not stop them asking, each and every time we pass such a display: "Mama, don't we need some chocolate/sweeties/cookies, etc.?"  And every time the answer is the same - "No, we don't".  The answer doesn't stop them asking though. A lady who had obviously been following the same path as us through the supermarket started laughing out loud to herself today as the question was asked for about the fortieth time. 

I think it is probably the first sign of madness - I have become immune to the constant nagging.

Not only that, but the queues at the tills seem to go on forever, and the wait is about forty minutes long.  Try to keep twins and a toddler away from the endless display of goodies stretched out for about ten meters in front of the till, on both sides of you, for forty minutes.  It is like trying to persuade Moses not to enter the Promised Land.  And once they have an item in their hand (or teeth as the case may be), you haven't a hope in hell of being able to pull it away from them.  To say nothing of being unable to put it back on the shelf due to the teeth marks in the wrapper from where they have tried to gnaw their way through the plastic like starving rats.  After all, one chocolate in the mouth is worth two on the shelf, right?

And as we sit in the car on the way home, accompanied by bags of various wet and soggy bars of chocolate that I did not intend to buy, I unwrap one and eat it.  And I find myself starting to smile again.  Because everyone has their price, and mine just happens to be chocolate!                                                                                                                                                        

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Not all heroes wear a cape - some wear Baby Gap...

I was thinking the other day about how you can judge the age of a child roughly by the kind of superheroes that enthrall them at any given time.  My theory goes something like this:  the older the child, the more powerful the superhero.  My two have run the gamut of the superhero world, and sure enough, prove the rule.

When the boys were about thirteen months old and just starting to talk, there was only one person who attained the status of superhero.  It was our postman.  Even hearing his 60cc bike wheezing up the hill outside our house was enough to send them into ecstasies of "It's Postman" (spelled with a capital P, like Spiderman, or Superman).  I often used to wonder what super-human powers Postman was endowed with - certainly not the ability to get the post to us on time every day.  But to the boys, he was amazing.  I think it had something to do with the bike - Postman has equipment, somewhat like Batman.  Cool.

Following hot on the heels of Postman came Garbageman.  He was cooler because he drove a bigger vehicle and could stand at the pavement and throw garbage into the truck with one hand.  For a tense few months (for me) the boys wanted to be nothing but Garbage men when they grew up. 

Next, it was the turn of Jack Stone.  For those of you not familiar with Jack Stone, he is a Lego character who can turn any piece of Lego equipment into something else.  He is able to turn a boat into a helicopter and a crane into a lasso that can catch a helicopter out of the sky.  This phase was characterised by the boys stomping around in the biggest set of boots they could find (usually the Sweetpea's snowboots) and saying things like "Where there is a problem, there is a solution", and "Can do, will do, done".  

However, for all of his ingenuity, Jack Stone was just a man, and so faded out when the next hero appeared on the horizon:  Fireman Sam.  All men are created equal, after which some men become firefighters: they are hot stuff according to my two (pun totally intended). The boys insisted on having fire badges drawn on the backs of their hands in pen, which they would flash at unsuspecting people, and they would yell "Emergency, fire!" at the tops of their voices, causing a few moments of alarm in the hearts of unsuspecting shoppers and playgroup leaders.

But now my little ones have graduated on to the real superheroes in life - ones that have muscles on their muscles, those who can fly faster than a speeding bullet, walk up walls, spin webs to catch thieves, or who have small, much-envied sidekicks named Robin.  If it doesn't breathe ice or move mountains, it's just not good enough, as far as they are concerned.  

Somehow, it is programmed into a boy's genetic code to need a hero to look up to.  And I hope that as time passes, my two will set their sights on a hero somewhat closer to home - their dad.  And if they do, they will learn that being brave is all about being the only one that knows he is afraid and facing that fear anyway. They will learn that courage is not brutal force, but force of reason and virtue;  it is the ability to not let actions be influence by fears.  And if they learn the half of that, they are going to turn out all right.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We don't really do Christmas.  I have always thought that to see the spirit of Christmas through the wrapping of commercialism that accompanies it gets harder each year.  The cynic in me sees it as a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in our own way, by going to the mall of our choice. In  packed parking lots, people sit in their vehicles, hopefully following people who seem to be walking towards their cars with the same dedication as the wise men who followed the star.  Everyone is frazzled and upset as they search for the perfect gift like they were searching for the stable in Bethlehem.  It seems as though the whole hype of expensive presents and "get, get, get" fills everyone with an almost religious fervour and desire.  

Also, when you have kiddies, you can't avoid the endless parade of Christmas parties.  Last year we had six to go to.  They all tend to blend into one, I am afraid.

However, a real highlight this year was the Multiple Birth Club's Christmas party.  I think for the first time, the kids have been old enough to really appreciate the entertainment provided.  I was amazed as they sat transfixed by the magician (Little Miss Snoopy too), for a whole half hour.  Normally within that time period they could have got up to some serious mischief, but no - Zappo had them eating out of the palm of his hand.  Just the looks on their little faces reminded me that Christmas  is really not about opening our presents at all - it is about opening our hearts.  It is about seeing the world through the eyes of a child once more, when everything is wonderful, where every decorated tree is thirty feet high and you are surrounded by the ones you love and who love you.

My favourite quote about Christmas actually comes from a book loved by children the world over:

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, 
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?  
It came without ribbons.  
It came without tags.  
It came without packages, boxes or bags.  And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore.  
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.  
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.  
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.  

~Dr Seuss

So to all the cynics like me out there, take heart.  It is not about presents under a tree.  It is about your presence in their lives. You can find the joy of the season in the smiles on your children's faces!  And perhaps (or even most definitely!) that is all that matters.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

All creatures great and small

Today was a bit of a funny day.  Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha.  I received one of those emails with a link to a video, the kind that you normally delete without even thinking.  But this time, I didn't.  It was a story about an old dog, nineteen years of age, who cannot walk anymore, but who has a "ministry", for want of a better word, to the sick and dying old folks in hospices and hospitals.  You can watch the video at this link: Dying Woman Finds an Unlikely Companion in her Final Days - You'll Need Tissues for this Video  Basically, they wheel this noble, aged hound around the wards on a cart, and ask people if they would like a special hug from such a wonderful creature. They didn't show anyone refusing the offer!  The old dog is gently placed on the bed beside the dying person, and they share a moment that can only be described as out of this world, an understanding of the fact that neither has long to be in this earthly plane, and that they have both made peace with their transition to the next.  And yet both human and dog are at the same time treasuring up those precious moments of life that are so important not to relinquish.    

I sat here with tears pouring down my face, worrying that the kids would be scared or disturbed that I was crying.  But then I thought to myself, how are they going to know that it's okay to show emotion if all they ever see is me trying to hide mine?  So I did my best to explain to the three little ones who came to snuggle up in my lap that sometimes things are just sad, and that we cry when we feel sadness.  They showed amazing intuition, especially when I explained that both the old lady and the dog were dying.  At the one point, the camera focused on the faces of both the dying woman and the dog, and it almost seemed as if both were smiling.  "You see," whispered Sam in my ear, "dreams can come true..."  I am not sure if he was talking about the dreams of the old lady, or those of the dog, but it seemed a strange thing to say at the time.  Yet when I thought about it a little later, I think I understood what he was trying to say.     He saw the pain and suffering of both creatures, and then saw how they relieved it for each other, how they were happier together than apart.  And in his mind, that is exactly how dreams come true. 

I kissed the top of his head and held all three of my littlies close to me.  "Yes," I whispered back.  "Dreams definitely can come true..."

My soul is full of whispered song;

My blindness is my sight;
The shadows that I feared so long
Are all alive with light.
~Alice Cary, Dying Hymn