Oct 18, 2011

Kids in the City

Photo by Aarwen Abendstern via Flickr CC

Today I was at a cafĂ© on my lunch break and saw one of my favourite things.  A man in a business suit was having lunch with his daughter, who was about 7 years old. She was sitting very tall and straight in her chair with her croissant and milkshake and both she and her dad were enjoying themselves immensely.

I love seeing children in the city. I love the way wait-staff smile at them and other customers smile knowingly at the parent and each other.  I love how the kids feel special and excited to be visiting Mum or Dad in The City.

You may disagree if you are trying to hurry down a busy footpath to a work meeting and have to weave around assorted prams and toddling youngsters on the way, but children breathe life into the CBD and in fact everywhere they turn up.

Photo by Lievensoete at Flickr CC

A little while ago I read an article about the Docklands precinct in Melbourne – I can’t remember the source, but it was about planners and councils wanting to encourage families to live in the city, because children bring life and growth to residential areas. And when you think about it, a residential area without children – while blessedly quiet – must be fairly stagnant. The exception might be the small vibrant enclaves devoted to nightlife, but these are usually tiny parts of a bigger area, with very few residences anyway.

Of course I don’t think children belong everywhere. I have no problem with some restaurants having child-free policies because there are places where it’s hard for kids to sit still for long, people have paid a lot of money to relax and enjoy their dinner, and they rightly expect to do so in a certain ambience.

But cities are made for vibrancy, variety and humanity. They’re not just for suits, or students, or hipsters, or anyone in particular. They’re for everyone.

Photo by Infomatique at Flickr CC

Last school holidays during my husband’s week minding the kids (we take turns), he brought them in to meet me one day for lunch. The kids dressed up in their favourite dresses, and were pleased as punch. And it absolutely made my day. I thrilled with pride as the cafe staff smiled at us all, we had a lovely sandwich lunch, and I beamed like an idiot all the way back to my desk.

What do you think? Do kids belong in the CBD?

Oct 13, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Image: Denise Cross, Flickr Creative Commons

Our primary school is doing its school musical this month. Tickets have been purchased, for mum, dad and grandparents. Costumes have been purchased and labelled meticulously – which means I actually brought out the iron and ironed on printed name labels, instead of scribbling names in ballpoint on the laundry tag as I usually do. The kids are excited. They have been rehearsing their song and dance routines for months at school and in the lounge room, and I reckon I know all the words and dance actions now myself.

Yesterday we got a notice of last minute items for the Big Night. Such as:

“The stage lights require that both girls and boys should have a light tan or suitable foundation make-up. Girls can wear pink or soft red lipstick.”

A facial tan – interesting... And I thought we attended a sun-safe school…
So as I’ve decided a trip to the solarium is out, what is “suitable foundation makeup” for five-year-olds? Will my CoverGirl Aqua Smooth in Buff Beige do? What if I apply too much and my kids look like contestants in a Texas children’s beauty pageant? What if I apply too little and they look pale and sickly under the stage lights while everyone else’s kids look amazing? (What if I just over-analyse and over-stress the whole thing for a change?)

“We kindly request that there is no photography or video recording during the show, as there is a professional videographer recording during the performance.”

But of course. I had wondered whether it would be OK to take a photo of the kids performing (I had no intention of recording a movie), and had already assumed probably not. These days you tend to avoid taking photos of your kids if they’re in a group with others, unless it’s a birthday party. (Privacy, school rules, online predators and all that).

Happily, we can buy a CD for $30.
So we can sit through this 90 minute musical not just once, but again and again! What luck!

In The Olden Days

Things in the past were less glitzy but probably harder.
(That line probably goes as well for anything, not just school musicals).

I remember some sort of musical when I was probably in grade two and my sister in prep. I don’t think it was school but the year-end extravaganza for our callisthenics classes. (Remember callisthenics? Or jazz ballet maybe?)

So it was the mid-seventies, and my mother was given a pattern for sewing the costume. She also had to make a satin-covered cardboard headpiece with sequins and I still remember her being told off by an officious Organising Lady for sewing sequins in the wrong formation on the headpiece, and having to re-do it.

In those days mothers didn’t tend to tell officious Organising Ladies to get stuffed and make the costume themselves if the placement of sequins was so bloody important. Instead their cheeks burned with shame and humiliation and they hurried home to repair the damage while fuming about officious Organising Ladies to their husbands and kids.

I sometimes get frustrated with the school now for what they expect from parents who are so busy – have I mentioned the recent Crazy Paper Hat Day extravaganza? With two days’ notice to make a Crazy Paper Hat?  Have I mentioned that I work full-time? – But how much harder it must have been to be a working mum with primary school kids back in the seventies, when everyone expected all mums were home and had oodles of time and family or neighbourly help to hand. At least these days, as hard as it might get, you know you’re not in the minority.

At least the school musical “costume” is easy – the remit was just a dress or skirt and top in bright light colours, and ribbons or colour spray for hair. Whew! Even I can do that!

...And, just because I am still traumatised, I'm going to throw in a picture of the hats I made on the night before last day of Term 3, for Crazy Hat Day.

Oct 6, 2011

A Week in My Working and Parenting Life

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Planning With Kids is a great blog and resource for parents with loads of practical advice and things to do. Maxabella Loves is a really well-written blog by a woman who knows what it's like to juggle full-time work and parenting. Last month these two good things came together when The Planning Queen hosted a guest blog by Maxabella called Working and Mumming which detailed a week in her life and "how she does it".

I liked this idea so I thought I should copy it.

As Maxabella says, it takes a lot of organisation and strategic thinking to manage full-time work and parenting, as well as a support network. No one does it alone (or if they do, they deserve some kind of award and government compensation immediately).

So here is a week in our lives - work, school and everything else.

We have twin girls who are in their first year (prep) at school. I work Monday to Friday at an investment bank in the city, and my husband Y. works 4 to 5 days a week (it varies) at a cafe in a suburb 20 minutes drive from home. Y. has Thursdays and Fridays off, and works Sundays and sometimes also Saturday.

Our kids go to the local government school which is a five minute drive from our house.
They do before-school and after-school care on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
On Friday afternoons they go to Greek school, which goes from 5pm to 8.30pm (poor things!)

Y. takes the kids to school or before-school care every day, as I really need to hit the freeway before 7.00am to make my 8.00am start at work.

I drive to work rather than take the train, because where we live doesn't link buses to trains very well so I already have to drive to a train station, and because the commute home takes me an hour and a half using the train so I prefer to drive in 40 minutes and be home that much earlier.
However the cost of driving is high, what with road tolls, petrol and parking, plus the hidden costs such as wear and tear on the car, increased risk of accidents, etc etc. This is one of the reasons I would like to work closer to home next year.

Y. picks up the girls from after-school care on Mondays, and from school on Thursdays and Fridays. I pick them up from after-school care on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

When we get home on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays it is after 6pm. The girls are tired and hungry, and we need dinner to be ready right now (I discussed that here). I'm not big on cooking double and freezing on weekends (tried in the past, not my favourite), so on Sunday I'll cook something for Monday night, and on Monday night after the kids are in bed or while they're having a bath I'll cook something for Tuesday night. On Tuesday I don't usually cook a full meal for Wednesday night but cook some rice or pasta spirals and make sure I have enough bits and pieces in the fridge for a "picnic dinner" on Wednesday, or I do scrambled eggs, baked beans or similar on Wednesdays. Takes the pressure off us all. Currently I have a small number of meals on high rotation and I keep meaning to set aside some planning time in the evening to go through my recipe folder and come up with more, as I know I used to have a much higher number of 'favourites' back when I worked part-time and was a little more into the forward-planning.

On Thursdays and Fridays Y. cooks dinner, usually a barbecue or his current specialty, meatballs slow-cooked in spicy tomato sauce.

Monday through Thursday the evening routine is the same: dinner, homework, bath or shower, bed. While I wish we could let the kids just hang and relax a bit more, we have to do the homework, and they have to get to bed at a reasonable hour to manage school. While their teachers bang on about preppies needing to be in bed by 7pm, there is not one family I know which manages this (even without work), so we do 8.30 and it seems to work.

Each night I do the reading homework with the girls while Y. cleans up the kitchen and gets their beds ready for night-time (he has a special touch creating a cosy, neat bed). While they're in the bath they play a bit and I get their lunches and drink bottles ready for the next day, and do any school notice admin required.

On Fridays they're allowed a lunch order so the kids and I sit together and write up the order on Thursday nights.

On Fridays Y. takes them to Greek school and I pick them up in the evening. Friday nights they are very tired so Saturday morning they sleep in till whenever they want - generally around 9.

On the weekend I try to keep our time unscheduled.

Y. cleans the house on Thursdays and I do laundry a couple of times during the week and approximately one million times on the weekend.

Online supermarket shopping is not super convenient for me as there are always a couple of (essential) items out of stock or you have to plan too far in advance, so I tend to stop at the supermarket on my way home from work one night a week and duck out again on the weekend or take the girls with me (if there is no other way!).

My mother is of loads of help very often - she visits weekends and entertains the girls while I catch up on some housework or duck to the supermarket, steps in when we need help, and babysits on the two or three nights per decade that Y. and I have a night out.

On school holidays, Y. and I take a week each, or if we can't get enough time off, my mother will have the girls. Last school holidays my cousin who works two days a week, had the girls for a day with her and her kids which was wonderful - they got to spend time with their "cousins" and do something different. She wouldn't accept any prepared lunches or the like so I dropped off chocolates and a bottle of wine with the kids.

In terms of reciprocating my mother, she won't accept anything, but we do take turns to pay for coffees and lunches when out with the kids and I try not to ask for her help too often (try - don't always succeed...)

So what are the challenges and the compromises?
  • It's hard when kids are sick - we take turns taking sick leave or rely on my mother to help us out, as she has many times
  • There's the constant feeling that you're only just managing it, only just keeping up with it all
  • The housework definitely suffers. I put most of my time into parenting, "being there" for the kids, chatting, helping, homework etc. Once the kids are in bed and the essentials for the next day are prepared, we don't want to do anything.
  • As Maxabella says, you say "no" to weekend stuff a lot. Or more accurately in my case, you don't seek stuff out. There is no way I am doing anything on weekends without my kids, even to "look after myself" - exercise sessions etc are out, much as I would love to sometimes. A friend and I try and get to a movie once a month, but there have been times where I have had to call off, if I've been working late and not seen the kids as much, or one of the kids has been going through a difficult time.
  • If there are parts of my life which are not "in balance" it is friends and socialising, and exercise. Honestly you just can't do it all. I am trying to get up early to walk in the mornings, and recently bought a treadmill - which at some stage soon I am definitely going to unpack and get assembled!
  • You have to limit extra-curricular activities for the kids too. They need all the down time they can get. As Y. is Greek and it's important to him, the girls started Greek school this year. It's earlier than I would have chosen but they are managing well. But it has meant no swimming lessons since they were young so the girls are not yet able to swim. I'm hoping to talk Y. into alternating Greek and swimming by term... I have vetoed karate, ballet and other suggestions while the kids are doing Greek school. They are doing swimming for one week out of the two these school holidays and loving it - also enjoying the break from Greek school! I'm also grateful for the 'Active After School' program which allows the kids to participate in a team sport or physical activity after school one day a week during term, within the after-school care hours
  • When you have people helping you care for your kids, there will always be some little things that are done which would not be your choice. Our kids spent between 2 and 5 days a week in daycare (varying) since they were 8 months old so we got used to this. We never had any problems or real complaints, but there is the odd little thing you're not wild about. This is the pay-off for having help. The flip side is all the benefits and the fact that often the carers will do something great that you would not have done. Plus my kids have beautiful manners which I know came from daycare more than from me, much as I value them.
  • Worry - I'm always worrying that the girls are not getting enough sleep, that maybe they need me around more, that maybe I will miss things that are affecting them
  • Guilt - I'd love to do school runs more often, help out at school more than the occasional day, and attend every school assembly. I would love to be able to offer my kids the SAHM lifestyle and leisurely afternoons after school that I had. But we are never going to live this life (apart from in small bursts on days off or between jobs) and my kids are happy and thriving, so really what is missing?

And that seems as good a place as any to end.

What about you? Do you work at home, part-time, full-time, self-employed?
Or are you a SAHM busy enough just managing that?
How do you juggle it all?

Oct 3, 2011

Some Beauty - The Perfection of Green

I took these photos in my mother's garden - unlike ours her garden is of the cultured, beautiful variety. (Ours goes more for that "wild untamed beauty" look).
Of all the colours in the garden, my favourite is the cool, relaxing green.

And this one is 4 years old - but is one of my favourite pictures. A., enjoying her grandmother's magnolias.


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