Sep 30, 2011

My PC Life

"Despite what my children think, I was not always a mother."
So Dr Bronwyn Harman starts her post "My PC Life" about her life pre-children. I hope she won't mind that I have "borrowed" this idea for my own "PC" post.

Check out Dr Bron's blog The Modern Family for her "PC" post and more. She does great work researching family life and presenting the results in layman's terms on her blog.

So here is a run-through of my life pre-children.

The last stage of my PC life

I grew up in Melbourne, Los Angeles and Auckland.

I studied Social Anthropology at Auckland University and also Spanish. I was fluent in Spanish once but can't speak it now.
While I was at school and in the first year of uni I worked one day a week shelving books at my local library and I sometimes worked full time there on the holidays. In my second and third year of uni I worked part time at a shoe shop in the city and loved it so much I started there full time after graduating.

It was the nineties recession and there wasn't a lot of work in New Zealand for Spanish-speaking Anthropologists who specialised in Melanesian cultures (there's nothing like free tertiary education for encouraging esoteric study choices).

I had a great couple of years in Auckland then moved back to Melbourne but not having lived there since I was a child I didn't really fit in that well. I worked for awhile in a pub and then got a job there hosting children's birthday parties. I absolutely loved it though I had no idea about kids and didn't always know what I was doing, but it was a lot of fun. I was not at all clucky and most people I knew thought it was very funny that "I" was working with kids.

In 2003 I went backpacking to Europe with my cousin and her friend. After travelling for a couple of months we set down in London and I lived and worked in a pub at Twickenham for a year. That was a fantastic time and I made great friends there; unfortunately this was all pre-Facebook and we lost touch over the following years.

My cousin did more travelling and we arranged to work for a summer in the Greek islands. We ended up staying in different parts of Santorini, her at one of the beach resorts and me in the main town. I worked for awhile as a cook in a big restaurant, at first helping the real cook and then working the kitchen by myself when he stormed out one day - until I stormed out one day a couple of weeks later. I worked one more cook's job and then scored a great gig waitressing evenings only at a beautiful restaurant on the caldera. I absolutely loved it and stayed there the whole season. Halfway through I met my future husband, who was on a working holiday from Thessaloniki with some childhood friends from his village.

So that was that. After the summer he and I went to Rhodes for a holiday then Thessaloniki, and I spent the next 3 years going back and forth between Greece, London and Melbourne as I could only stay 6 months at a time. We worked on Santorini every summer and I worked at the same restaurant each time. My second year was the hardest, working 12 hour days 7 days a week at the restaurant. My third year was the best: I started working in the cafe bar attached to the restaurant and that was far cushier - fewer hours, I could wear my own clothes, and much easier swanning around in my new stylish Euro clothes with a drinks tray than running back and forth with plates of food.

After 4 years overseas though I wanted to come back to Australia and get "proper" work. We got married in my husband's village (civil marriage at the town hall only - no way were we spending our hard-earned Santorini money on a wedding), and came to Melbourne.

Not being qualified for anything else I worked a couple of years in restaurants which I enjoyed but it was hard work physically and I knew I couldn't do it forever. I decided to become an English language teacher which I had toyed with in London. I got a TESL qualification at RMIT but again my timing was off - the Asian economic crisis hit and the influx of foreign students to Australia slowed to a trickle, and teaching work dried up. I worked for awhile in the RMIT library, did some exam invigilating and emergency teaching work, and got a term's contract classroom teaching, but I could see it was going to be very difficult competing with experienced teachers for the little work that came up.

I went to a temp agency and got an admin job at a stockbroking division of a bank and there began my glittering career in finance.

After a few years I got a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and thus completed my tertiary education I believe.

So the jobs I did pre-children are:
  • library assistant
  • shop assistant, then assistant manager
  • receptionist
  • bartender
  • children's party hostess
  • cook
  • cleaner
  • waitress
  • English language teacher
  • personal assistant/administrator
  • stockbroking operations roles, then supervisor, project manager and other manager roles

What about you? What was your life like "PC" ?

Sep 22, 2011

Cartoon Capers

There has been a bit about cartoons in the "news" (my Twitter stream) lately.
A study found that Sponge Bob Square Pants could lower kids' concentration after watching it, and Scooby Doo was named "the most active and healthiest" kids' cartoon.
All that running away from innkeepers-dressed-as-mummies, it seems.

Image from Cartoon Clipart

This got me thinking about cartoons. Which ones are good and which ones suck? Are they bad for kids? Can they ever be good for kids?

People have always been suspicious of cartoons and comics. Limited exposure for children has always been deemed best.

I quite like cartoons. I think they are great entertainment for kids and they are more irreverant than any other kids' shows so they can be a bit freer and wilder (and engaging for young minds who love to belong to a no-adults club).

That said, there are some shockers that I hate, and I don't let my kids watch cartoons all day.

But one of my absolute favourite things is when the kids and I get up on a Saturday morning, put on the TV and they watch cartoons while I read or play on my laptop. I'll come and join them on the couch for Ben 10, Symbionic Titans, My Gym Partner's a Monkey, and other select quality fare.

I can't stand LazyTown - too preachy - but the kids like it. I'm bored by Batman which they love, but we all like The Secret Saturdays (crime fighting blended family).

When the kids were smaller, they loved Little Einsteins (which A. called 'Little Stones'), Dora The Explorer, and Charlie and Lola. They are still weirdly entranced by In the Night Garden.

Currently, they are obsessed with Scooby Doo. For awhile I was bewildered by this - to me Scooby Doo is pretty silly, the animation is very average, the female characters are unfairly depicted, and it is so freaking predictable! (It's the caretaker / innkeeper / janitor guy. Every. Single. Time!)

But then I remembered my own childhood, and what was mine and my sister's favourite cartoon? Yes, Scooby Doo. Oh, we would happily watch Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and the like, but I still remember the buzz of excitement when one of our A-list best-quality favourites came on: that feeling was reserved for Scooby Doo, The Flintstones (and to a lesser extent The Jetsons), and Josie and the Pussycats.

My kids are not into most of the old cartoons that we used to watch, and I don't blame them. Most of them are terrible. The new cartoons are cooler, with better animation and more interesting storylines, or they are fast-paced crazy stuff like Sponge Bob that are probably funnier for adults than little kids.

I am pretty appalled that my kids love The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. I loved it as a kid, but watching it now it is dire. I am glad they don't like The Flintstones. They find it 'boring' which is good - clearly they see nothing in it to relate to. Watching it now it is like watching a film of a (thankfully) lost world, its (narrow, sexist) lifestyle seems so remote.

I gag a little at things like Strawberry Shortcake, with so much emphasis on 'girly' pursuits and its saccharine lessons on friendship. But kids and parents don't always like the same stuff, and that's as it ever was.

For instance, I laughed myself stupid watching The Road Runner Movie a few months ago and my kids barely cracked a smile. They will watch Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Daffy Duck, but they don't really get those cartoons.

So here is what my five-year-old girls love at the moment:
    • Scooby Doo
    • Batman
    • Ben 10
    • Stoked
    • Sally Bollywood
    • Symbionic Titans
    • Codename: Kids Next Door
    • Sponge Bob Square Pants
    • The Secret Saturdays
    • The Simpsons
    • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
    • My Gym Partner's a Monkey
    • Curious George
    • The Powerpuff Girls
    • Sea Princesses
    • Strawberry Shortcake

Here is what I used to love as a kid:
    • Scooby Doo
    • The Flintstones
    • The Jetsons
    • Josie and the Pussycats
    • Rocky and Bullwinkle
    • George of the Jungle
    • Yogi Bear
    • Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies: Bugs Bunny / Tom and Jerry / Sylvester and Tweetie ("Hello, Breakfasth!") / Speedy Gonzales ("I like heem. He's seelly")
    • Top Cat
    • Quick Draw McGraw
    • Hong Kong Fooey
    • The Perils of Penelope Pitstop / The Laff Olympics
    • The Wonder Twins ("Wonder twin power, activate!")
    • Kimba the White Lion
I couldn't watch most of these now, but they were great at the time. And I have fond memories of my parents sometimes watching and laughing along with us (Dad's favourites were Laff Olympics, Huckleberry Hound, and Foghorn Leghorn; Mum liked Sylvester, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck).

Good times!

What about you? Do you like cartoons?
Do you let your kids watch them?
Which ones?

Sep 19, 2011

Dinner - Now!

When you work full-time, you are often not picking up your baby/toddler/child from daycare/after-school-care until late. And when you get home, you need to have dinner ready. And I mean as soon as you get home.
Here is the scene. You leave work at 5pm (to the envious glances of colleagues who have no idea what you are about to face). You bolt for the car/train and make the dash to the daycare centre/school, knowing you have to be there by six. Every minute you linger at your desk to finish an email, every missed traffic light, every late train, sets your heart racing and your mind stressing.
Against the odds, you arrive on time. You park the car and race inside, to your little one(s), which is a great moment - they smile, yell "Mummy!", run to your arms, and show you what they've been doing. You hug and kiss them, marvel at their achievements, catch up on their feed/sleep status with the carers, sign them out, grab their stuff and you all head to the car.
From that moment, the nice bit is over.
Assuming there are no dramas getting the kids into the car (big assumption - but let's move on), the drive home quickly turns into a battleground. The kids will start off happy but within five minutes it starts - "I'm hungry!" - "I need to do wee!" - "Stop it", "You stop it", "Mu-u-u-m!".
I chose a daycare centre close to home rather than close to work, and I am glad I did - that evening drive home is just awful. I love it now that school is only a five minute drive from home, and am thankful we went with our local school every night I make that drive (which is only two nights a week, but that is so enough).
When you get home, you need to get the kids out of the car, and into the house.
This is your only goal, though the need to move quickly onto dinner-homework-bath-bed is tapping at your skull like a woodpecker. "Come on, out of the car, come on, inside please, come on, come on, come on," you parrot endlessly while the kids fight, slump in their seats "I'm tired..." or fight over who is going in the front door first.
When they're babies you might have one fall asleep, or both crying by the time you get home.

So you get them in the door, and it's after six. They're hungry, they're tired, they're grumpy, and they have no tolerance for waiting fifteen or twenty minutes while you cook something from scratch.
You need to feed them ASAP or lose them to sleep, tears, your temptation to turn on the TV for them, or they start playing with toys and you can't get them to the dinner table.

So what are some really really quick ideas for dinner? Try these:
  • scrambled eggs
  • baked beans on toast
  • macaroni cheese (yes, the one in the box)
  • picnic on the table: pull out what you have in the fridge and put it on plates on the table for all to share: boiled eggs, left over rice or spaghetti/spirals cooked the evening before, slices of ham and cheese, cut up fruit, yoghurt, etc. Works well as little kids don't even like their food very hot - lukewarm is best (and easy)
  • fish fingers and vegetables (cut up two veg and chuck in microwave/steamer while the fish fingers cook, so you don't have to wait for water to boil)
  • half an avocado and a spoon, and some toast
  • we always have a tub of tzatziki in the fridge and put it out with bread - the kids love it
  • chicken tenderloins cook really fast - couple of minutes either side in a pan with a splash of hoi sin and soy, or butter and honey, and serve with rice and/or veg.
  • (On the weekend when you have more time you can coat chicken tenderloins with egg and breadcumbs and make 'chicken nuggets')
  • my kids love spiral pasta - on its own as a side dish. They're not big on potatoes, but we serve rice or spirals with dinner often.
  • fried rice is fast - if you have cooked rice in the fridge. Chuck in some frozen mixed veg or if you only have fresh pick two veg and chop up a handful. Fry up 1-2 eggs, add the rice and veg and a splash of hoi sin and soy sauce, five minutes in the pan and it's ready
  • in summer time, barbecues are great. We ate a lot of grilled/barbecued meat with rice and carrot and broccoli. Requires designated barbecue operator to be home at same time as parent bringing home the kids
In the evening after the kids are in bed, you ideally cook the next day's dinner, so it is in the fridge and ready to heat up when you get in the next night. If you are super organised you could freeze stuff like spag bol or stews. But this is not sustainable every day, you will sometimes (often) be too tired, or you won't have ingredients, or whatever. When my kids were toddlers they liked cooked carrots and broccoli so we often had par-boiled carrots and boiled eggs cold in the fridge. We did more than the occasional dinner of carrots, broccoli, eggs, bread and tzatziki.

You don't need to plate up meat and three veg, or produce a bowl of something made from all the food groups.

Especially when kids are at daycare, they get a cooked meal at lunchtime, and food throughout the day. My kids sometimes had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. Sometimes they got spag bol or risotto I had cooked the night before. At least one day a week they got scrambled eggs and toast, and one day was baked beans on toast. The other 2-3 days we did the 'picnic' meal of boiled eggs/carrots/whatever from the fridge.

I also took advantage of the toddler years when my kids didn't mind eating the same thing for dinner two or three days in a row (no longer the case, alas).

I noticed evenings went a lot better once I took the pressure off myself to produce a "dinner" and just focused on easy fast and basic food.

Kids love simple food. So do mums.

Sep 11, 2011

September 11th, 2011

I was going to post something off topic about September 11, but decided anything I said would be annoying or irrelevant. Way over here in Australia, what could I possibly say? But I also don't feel like I can post something else and not mention the significance of this day.
My feelings are approximately these:
Heartfelt warm wishes to the people of the US today
After 10 years, it does finally feel (from way over here) as if something has changed, a corner has turned, and things are moving forward in a new way. A decade of fear and war changed our world, but things are feeling a bit different, brighter somewhat at last. I think the death of Bin Laden has helped. The GFC also shifted everyone's focus - nothing like an economic crisis to subvert all others, no matter how powerful!
Here's to a BETTER next ten years.

Tips and Tricks for Managing Twins

These ones are fairly easy

Now I have to warn you - I don't have much.

That's because, as I have learned, there are limits to what you can do, juggling two crying babies for example. (And what about triplets?? Eeek!)
Accept that there are limits, accept that it is sometimes hard, and get on with whatever you need to do until the difficulty passes. (And if doing what you need to do is shutting the door and sitting crying on the floor for 20 minutes, then do it. Been there, done that!)

So anyway, for what it's worth here are my suggestions. I hope they are helpful.
If you have twins and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear about them. What has worked for you? What would you like advice on?

Managing two crying babies
The biggie. When mine were bubs, this was my biggest problem, and one I searched for help with the most. I rang my parent co-ordinator in our twin club for some tips. Her advice? "I always made sure I had someone else with me." Hmm. Thanks. Good idea, not always possible!
I did finally come across some helpful advice on this - are you ready?:

Comfort the calmer baby first.
This is counter-intuitive but it is right. You will calm the less-worked-up baby quicker, and prevent her escalating to the point where you have two screaming babies (at which point, you are pretty much screwed).

Use equipment if you have it.
BEST THING EVER for me was my two simple rockers. I used these all the time and was so fervently thankful for them I don't know what I would have done without them. They cost us $70 each but at cost per use over 18 months probably worked out at about $0.000000001.

Yes, they're both girls.
But I loved that black and white growsuit!
They were great for settling or for popping the babies into for 'playtime' or relaxation, and you can rock them with your foot if you're busy on other things. I put them in the rockers and had them near the kitchen while I was cooking, in the bathroom while I showered, or in the loungeroom in front of a window while I showered. They were always happy in them and as they got older they could rock themselves.

When they were one and a half and sitting up in the rockers while watching TV, I had to admit to myself we had probably outgrown them.

A in the swing

Second best thing ever for me was a baby swing loaned to us by a lovely lady in my mother's group whose baby didn't like it (bless him!!). I swear we used that thing until M was 6 months old and the swing mechanism was groaning under her weight. By that stage I was willing to pay whatever it cost to buy a replacement if we broke it (we didn't fortunately).

Managing two screaming, really really upset babies
Fortunately this doesn't really happen very often. Mostly you will have one more upset than the other, or two crying but not both screaming and unmanageable. It does happen though.

There is no solution to this one. You just have to "choose" one baby and comfort it first, and leave the other one till next (in a safe place such as a cot of course). And yes, it's horrible. But here is where you use one piece of really useful classic wisdom that I used to chant in my head like a mantra:
"This too shall pass."

Settling two babies
Can I just say that having taken myself and my twins to sleep school as soon as we could get in and having only really cracked the sleep thing consistently when our girls were four, I am not in a position to offer advice here. But the following bits and pieces were genuinely helpful to me.
  • have them in the same room when they're little, especially if you are alone at nights a lot (as I was). It's so much easier to tend to two babies, go between two cots, sit and hold hands or pat backs, as well as read stories, use the change table etc, if everything is in one room
  • have them in seperate rooms when they're older. We found one definitely kept the other awake, and should have seperated them much earlier than we did.
  • try and always settle them in their cots, rather than faff about with bassinets, rockers, prams and the like as I did (thinking I was making things easier, when in fact I wasn't). You need a routine and you need it fast.
  • routine, routine, routine. But not one of those crazy regimented ones down to the minute. That will just make you feel inadequate when inevitably your babies don't fall perfectly into line. You also need to be able to accommodate the occasional trip out or unexpected event, so a routine that is a bit flexible is best (but don't hesitate to lay down the rules you need either - for instance I never went out in the morning with my babies as it didn't suit our routine and they were not 'morning' kids). My routine was "11-3-7" feeding times, "feed-play-sleep" with "play" after dinner being bath and cuddle, and the 11pm feed being the "sleep feed" in the bedroom. I had a cheap wicker rocking chair in the bedroom between the cots, and fed one at a time in my arms, or used the rocker for the second one if they were both awake. If my husband was home we'd feed and cuddle one each and whisper to each other which helped keep them settled. The nightime and 7am feeds were my favourite ones - both are a lovely time of the day, even if you are exhausted.
  • soft ambient music or lullaby music in the room works well and is relaxing for you too
  • however tempting it is when you're exhausted, try not to rush the settling because it will backfire and take you longer!
  • once we had the swing, I used to put M in the swing while cuddling A, sing them both a song then put A in her cot, then pick up M for a cuddle and put her in the cot (usually asleep). Yes I did feel guilty that A got more night-time cuddles than M on the nights I was on my own, but at the end of the day you need to get them both to sleep using whatever works, and this worked for us
  • dummies, especially once they're a few weeks old. Newborns keep dropping them out of their mouths and then they wake up.
  • logic. Remind yourself, "Eventually, they will sleep." When I was really exhausted and at my wits' end, I used to look at the clock and think, "OK, this will take me one hour, probably. So by .... o'clock I will be able to go to bed and sleep." Oddly enough I found this very helpful.

Controlling two (or more) mobile babies while busy, or taking one at a time to the car
Use a playpen. Don't even try not to.
If I was taking one baby at a time to the car, or if I needed to go to the toilet, or if I was ironing (I believe I did do that once), I put the babies in the playpen while I was out of the room or busy with the other one. They weren't crazy about it, but it was only ever for a few minutes at a time, and was instant peace of mind.

Feeding two babies: bottle feeding
One word: rockers!
I used to hold one baby in my arms and feed her, and have the other in her rocker, rocking it with my foot, while she fed. Then halfway through I'd burp the first baby and pop her in her rocker to finish feeding, then pick up the second, burp her, and finish feeding with her in my arms. So each got a turn in the rocker and in my arms. These were the times I always felt most competent and kick-arse as a twin mum.
When the babies were really little I just used to feed one at a time, in my arms.

Feeding two babies: breast-feeding
Have to say I did not rack up much experience in this so am not qualified to give advice. But you basically experiment until you find what works. You can feed one at a time but as breast feeding tends to take longer than bottle feeding, you might not be able to do this - eventually most twin mums prefer to find a way to feed both together. Sitting on a couch or propped up on a bed with lots of pillows and twins propped up is the way most go. It takes some getting used to.

Most mothers I know ended up doing a mix of breast and bottle feeding, as breast feeding twins (or more) exclusively can be very difficult.

Taking twins to the supermarket
Avoid where possible. In a word, horrendous. You can have one baby in a sling and one popped in the baby seat in the trolley, or somehow manage to juggle both of them out of the car and all the way over to one of those twin baby trolleys (to this day I can't figure out how you're supposed to do that - leave babies in the car, go into supermarket, find the one trolley with two baby seats in it, and bring it back to the car?). I took my twin pram in, and limited my shopping to what could fit in a basket - but carrying a shopping basket while pushing a pram is not as easy as you may think. Factor in one or both babies crying and it is a nightmare.

Once they're too old for the pram, it's one sitting in the toddler seat in the trolley and one in the main part of the trolley, sitting on the sturdier groceries as their balance is not the best at that age.
My girls are nearly six now, and I can honestly say I have only recently not absolutely hated every second I was inside a supermarket with them. They're quite good now - but I still go on my own unless completely unavoidable.

Keeping track of feeding, medication, who had which breast, who had what solids, who did what bowel movements, etc.
Keep a diary. I had exercise books I just ruled some columns down, one double-spread page per day (one page per baby). Each day I ruled up the columns and wrote in my little heading initials, I toyed with becoming an internet mumpreneur, sourcing and selling custom-made baby diaries so that I wouldn't have to write up the columns and headings every day.

But they were very helpful and also made entertaining reading later on, when I could chuckle at my foggy panic over quite normal little variations in their day to day lives. ("A had very loose poo and looked unhappy. Sick???!")

Even keeping a diary I did suddenly realise one day that on the previous feed I had inadvertently fed one baby twice and the other not at all. No lasting effects thankfully.

Feeding Solids
Unless one of them is sick (and sometimes even then), just use one bowl and one spoon, and feed alternate mouthfuls to each. Have the odd spoonful yourself if it's an especially delicious mix of mashed veg. On the other hand, use seperate bowls if you find that one is eating faster than the other and you want to make sure you don't short-change one (see paragraph above).

On solids, two great pieces of advice from Robin Barker, whose book Baby Love I adored:

(1) Don't bother freezing mash into ice cube trays, as it is a lot of trouble and they don't defrost well. Just make a big bowl of mashed veg and keep in the fridge for 4 days. This is excellent advice and I would add, to make your busy lives as easy as possible, make an extra large bowl, and each evening for dinner the parents eat a piece of barbecued or grilled meat and a big helping of the mashed veg. Delicious, easy dinners.

(2) Her avocado recipe (great simple recipes in this book by the way) goes like this:
"1/2 a ripe avocado (you eat the other half mashed with garlic and lemon juice or just splash in some balsamic vinegar). Mash avocado with a fork."
I love that - love that she thinks of the mum too, with a quick and healthy pick-me-up that is also a practical way to use up all the avocado. Thanks Robin Barker!

Non-Matching but Similar Outfits
Not easy you know. You don't want them to be dressed the same, but you have to get TWO (or more) of each KIND of thing. For instance, 2 long-sleeved tops. 2 pairs of soft pants. 2 coats. 2 sets of summer pyjamas, preferably low fire danger, and of same type (2 shorts and tees, OR 2 nighties) and similarly cute motif /colour to avoid arguments. But, if you have the energy to be fretting over outfits, you have mastered the harder stuff, right?

A couple of other things
Warming bottles without using a microwave
Boil water, pour half a cup into a plastic jug, and sit the bottle of formula in the jug for half a minute. Shake gently before testing. Very easy. Naturally you need two plastic jugs.

Formula out and about
I used to boil water, let it cool slightly and fill the bottles while it was still quite hot, then take formula with me in one of those little formula dispensers. By the time I had arrived where I was going the water had cooled to room temperature, and I just mixed the formula and away we went.

Sterilising bottles
I keep waiting for new advice that tells us we don't need to do this. Because what we do does not really end up with the bottles being sterile. What do you dry them on after sterilising? A sealed vacuum? A tea towel? The draining rack? (I used paper towel, but that's still not sterile. Sometimes I even tore off a couple of squares first to get a really 'clean' square that hadn't been exposed to the air! Even while I knew this was silly). Do you meticulously wash your hands with soap and hot water every time before touching the sterile parts? Do you really use those little tongs to pull the whole teat completely through the ring? C'mon, admit it! If you make up formula in a jug (which the hospital recommended to me, so I did for awhile, until I realised how much easier it is to make up the bottles), do you sterilise the knife that you stir it with every time before you pour?
But, of course, until they come out and debunk it, we're not game to stop sterilising, when the babies are little.
I stopped sterilising around 5 months when we started solids, because no one sterilises bowls and spoons!

So anyway, those are my suggestions and opinions. I hope they are helpful, or bring back memories.

If you have twins (or more!) and there are things you are struggling with, I would love to hear from you.
What has worked for you?
What would you like advice on?


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