Mar 23, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Disney's Peter Pan

Walt Disney's Peter Pan
Disney Enterprises, Inc, 2005 (Funtastic)

There once was a house in London where a family named Darling lived. There were Mr and Mrs Darling and their three children, Wendy, John and Michael. Watching over the children was Nana, the nursemaid, who also happened to be a dog. It was to this house that a most interesting visitor came on one magical starry night. His name was Peter Pan.

A. borrowed this book from the school library last week and has loved it. It's a large format book in the classic Disney style, retold in simple language and with magical illustrations from the animated film. 

It's not the "real" Peter Pan (which I do have a lovely edition of), but the kids love it.

Their grandmother read this to them on the weekend and both girls were transfixed, loving the story and the illustrations.

I do remember as a child being similarly enchanted by these beautiful Disney books, with their gorgeous pictures.

This one is a prized loan at the school library, and A. was pleased as punch because she had coveted it this week and managed to get it.

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Mar 22, 2012

Career: Part Time Vs Full Time Work

I've spent a good part of this blog fretting about how hard it is to combine child-rearing with full-time work (like here, and here, and here). Having gone to the brink of a nervous breakdown (though my husband would probably say I went right on over that brink), I am living proof that it is very very hard, or that I can't do it well. I still haven't decided which of those is more true.

You'll notice I don't say that combining full time work with parenting is "impossible". This is for two reasons. One, there are certainly many smart, capable and loving mothers out there who ARE doing it, and are doing it well and enjoying it. And two, no one likes to acknowledge it much, but it is just not possible for every parent who wants to, to work part-time.  Sometimes circumstances preclude it, such as:

  • being a single parent
  • tight job market (few part-time opportunities or too risky to leave/change your current job)
  • type of work makes part-time work difficult or less convenient than full time work (e.g., shift work, evening work)
  • unwilling employer
  • difficult family circumstances such as a sick or absent spouse
  • family debt too high to afford it

So I know I am not the only one who gets irked by magazine articles, books and the like which imply it is within reach of every woman to "re-prioritise" or "scale back". It just can't always be done.

Having said all that, I am currently (and temporarily) fortunate enough to be working part-time. Yay!! After what feels like so long working full-time and working very hard, I can still not quite believe in my new life. Don't get me wrong, I am loving it - but I am just too well aware that this cannot last forever. If nothing else, we will need to bring in more money to shore up our future family and retired life (to say nothing of the kids' education - shudder).

But for now, as my circumstances allow it (thank you redundancy!), and while I have a flexible and advantageous arrangement with an excellent employer, I am taking advantage and working part-time.

So here is what I believe to be true so far, about full time vs part time work.


Less money. Duh. Currently I am earning less than I was at my last job, even pro-rata. I would love to be earning more. But for now the job I have is wonderful, and it is worth it.

Less career. The holy grail - fulfilling part time work with a career path - remains elusive (at least for most). But then, even working full time if you are the woman leaving at 5 to pick up kids and unable to work extra without massive adjustments and personal impact, your career path is going to be limited anyway. On the other hand, don't dismiss all part-time work as dead-end work. Especially if you can work 4 days (instead of 2 or 3), there is no reason why you can't do most full-time roles.

Less interaction with co-workers. This is not a given but it stands to reason if you are working a 3 day week you will miss out on some team lunches, and you are likely to be working full-tilt during the short time you are in the office, which tends to cut down chit-chat and coffee meetings. But you might not give a toss.

Less (or no) paid leave. If you are contracting, there is usually no sick leave or annual leave. If you are working 2, 3 or 4 days, your entitlements are the matching proportion of full-time entitlements.

Less superannuation. Not a small thing, so don't dismiss this. Working part-time reduces your superannuation benefit considerably by retirement age.

More time for kids' activities and school, not just volunteering in classrooms (if you want to), and taking your kids to school, picking them up at 3.30 instead of 6pm - but even just the logistics of managing school notices, lunches, catching up with teachers, and other bits and pieces, are so much easier when you have some time (however little) at home during the week.

More time for home, including (obviously) your kids, but also personal admin, food prep, planning etc. The whole point of working part-time. A huge advantage for living an organised, calmer life, and one that offers some semblance of the work-life balance that the world's been wittering on about for the last 30 years.

On the other hand, it may involve...

Fewer breaks. If you work within school hours on weekdays for example, you might only be "working" 20 hours a week but from the time you get up to the time you go to bed, you don't stop (assuming you don't take a lunch break at work, because you're only there 4 hours). This can leave you as exhausted as before, with much less money for your efforts. The advantage of course is more time with the kids and being home in the afternoons - but it can still be hard.


Basically the opposite of all the above.

Studies seem to consistently show that most women would like part time work, and prefer this to either full time work or being home full time. Also, the way women (and increasingly men) work changes with different stages of their lives, including the age of their children.

What is your preference?
Have you been able to get it? 
Or have you learned to work without it ?

Mar 21, 2012

5 Reasons I Know I Work In Finance

Okay, so I'm into this "five" thing now. I just posted Five Reasons I Know I'm a Mum to link up with Kate Takes 5's latest Listography (here). Here are my thoughts about my other public persona.

Top 5 Reasons I Know I Work in Financial Markets:

1. I know the ASX Operating Rules, ASIC Market Integrity Rules, Corporations Act, Financial Services Regulation, and the Anti-Money-Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Act really, really well

2. I smirk and shake my head cynically when politicians pretend to criticize the Reserve Bank for lifting rates

3. I thought the NAB got it really, badly, stupidly wrong with their ad campaign about divorcing the banks - unlike the rest of the public which deemed it a massive success and worthy of a major advertising award

4. Like most people working in markets I cannot pick stocks for crap, AND I continue to think I can

5. I am appalled at the worst excesses of Wall Street and I empathize with the Occupy movement - but I don't think you can do a whole lot to legislate for fairness or ethics beyond the basics. I know the traders will always be ahead of the regulators, because constant evolution and innovation are part of how markets work.

If you want to see some other 5 Reasons lists, look here.


5 Reasons I Know I'm a Mum

Photo: Il Conte di Luna via Flickr CC

This post is linking up to Kate Takes 5's latest Listography linky. I love the simplicity and speed of lists of 5 things!

So here are my Top 5 Reasons I Know I'm a Mum:

1. My favourite time of the day is early morning when I sit alone with a coffee and NO SOUND other than birds outside. No music. No radio. No TV. No talking. Ahhhh, sweet relief.

2. I leave the house with a bag full of stuff for the kids and forget my own jacket/cardigan/make-up.

3. My tabletop is mysteriously sticky no matter how often I wipe it.

4. My social life centres around the school gate.

5. My emotional state ricochets between bliss, despair, rage, frustration, hope, contentment, fierce blinding love, heart-stopping fear, gratitude, anxiety, giddiness and relief, every day.

If you want to see some other 5 Reasons lists, look here.


Mar 16, 2012

A Surprisingly Easy and Lovely Week - but I'm very tired

The last 10 days my husband Y. has been away. I won't annoy the hard-working single parents I know and admire by saying "I was a single mum for a week!" as I know, I really do know, that it's not the same thing at all.
But it has been an interesting week.

It was not hard. I expected it to be a bit hard. I thought I'd be stressed and exhausted and angry.
Always the optimist, me.

I was not at all stressed, exhausted or angry - emotions that I tend to feel on a regular basis as do many mums I think.

On the contrary, I was relaxed, organised, calm and happy the whole time.

I know that sounds bad, but don't worry, my marriage is not on the skids and I do love my husband.
But I have always been something of a loner and very independent. I like being able to run my own show at home, do things how and when I want to do them, keep up with the household things I think are important and know my free time in the evenings and while the kids are occupied is 100% my own. I know that's not what life is all about, but to me it's a little bit lovely.

Though I like being married and Y. and I are tightly bonded and have a lot of laughs together, I have always found relationships a little... stressful, I suppose. And while I'm not going to fall into that thing of denigrating men by saying things like "it's like I have another kid" there is no denying that it can feel sometimes like everyone wants something all the time, and my teeth are set on edge by kids and husband all talking at me at the same time. So it's nice not to have that for a little while.

I wouldn't want this long-term of course. Even I get lonely, and there is no denying that two parents run a household (and raise kids) a lot easier than one.

At the simplest level, without Y. around I can't take the dog for a walk before the kids wake up, or nip out to the shops unless I take the kids with me. And there's no one to tidy the kitchen while I do laundry, do the morning drop-off at school so I can get to work on time, or pick up the slack when I lose my shit.

So these last 2 weeks, I did not lose my shit, not even inside my own head where the kids don't know I'm doing it. Where I am usually very organised, this week I was scary-robot-organised, because I had to be. I also decided I was going to keep up with everything and not let anything slide, to avoid the chaos-theory effect when little things keep adding to the pile until you have the full catastrophe at the end of the week and a crappy, catchy-up weekend. I figured the weekends should be free for the kids, who the first week especially, missed their daddy and felt a bit insecure at his absence.

Also, perhaps, if I'm honest, maybe I wanted to keep the house in really good shape (for our house) so I could show Y. that (a) my way is best and that's why we have to keep up with these various jobs I nag about every night, and (b) I'm not always an emotional stressed out wreck, I'm actually super capable and impressive.

So here's what I did:

  • I used Smart Working Mother's tip to "commit to wash, dry and fold every single day". I folded and put away laundry every day so we didn't have (too many) baskets piled high around the living area.
  • I made school lunches the night before, every single night.
  • I tidied the kitchen and eating area every single night, so that I always got up to it clean and tidy.
  • I laid out the girls' school clothes and my work clothes every single night.
  • I vacuumed 3 times a week (as opposed to my usual rate of once every 2 weeks. It helped that we recently got a new vacuum cleaner)
  • I changed all the bed sheets twice - but this was partly due to the dog weeing on them in the micro-seconds I wasn't watching him and before bedroom doors were closed.
  • I maintained constant supply of snacks, fruit and veggies in the house, cooked rice in the fridge and meat for dinners. That's so much easier when you don't have to account for a spouse eating things from the fridge out of schedule!
  • I re-used or froze leftovers.
  • I didn't faff around with the snooze button or set a new alarm on my phone for an extra 15 minutes when the alarm went off - because there was no-one next to me to thump me and say "Wake up, and for Christ's sake get up or set your alarm later!"

None of this is new to me or anyone of course, and these are all things I have done before, but when you work full-time especially it is very hard to keep them all up consistently. And in fact - my main beef with all these well-meaning time management tips - it is not actually physically possible to keep them all up  consistently. Things happen, we get tired, we make mistakes, we have to work late or someone is sick, etc. But, I did it these last 2 weeks.

And along with all this - more awesomeness - I found I gave a lot more time to my kids. I spent more time talking with them, hanging around with them and doing stuff with them. What I did a lot less of was playing on my phone, tweeting, blogging, scanning news sites and Zite, talking on the phone, and reading.

Also, I have to say, it was fun and easy to spend time with them as just the three of us. That doesn't mean that's the way I want things to be. But it was nice.

The downside is, I rarely got to bed before midnight, so I am now a little bit exhausted.

And here it is midnight again, and I still have some tidying to do. We pick up Y. from the airport tomorrow and then take the kids to school and me to work, so I definitely need some sleep.


Mar 14, 2012

Pre-Schoolers vs School Kids

Any parent will tell you that your kids Grow Up alarmingly as soon as they hit school.

When they're babies and toddlers you hear this an awful lot from other parents: "Enjoy every minute; it goes by so fast."

Fast? I remember thinking, during those first two years. I feel like I'm walking through molasses.

It wasn't until they were about 4 that I started to get a sense of that "goes by so fast" thing.

While I've loved every stage my kids have passed through (each time thinking, "Oh, this stage is the best!"), I always looked forward to their school days when we would do fun stuff together, talk more, and grapple with schoolwork, the schoolyard, life and the universe.

I have always loved older kids, and before I had my own kids I was pretty good talking with school kids and pretty hopeless/uninterested with babies and toddlers.

Now I am a parent, of course, I am BRILLIANT with all of them. Such an expert!

So today I drew this quick cartoon about the differences between pre-school kids and school kids.

There are charms and horrors to both stages, of course.

Pre-School Kids
  • are always up for a cuddle
  • don't get embarrassed by you
  • revere you as the centre and light of their world
  • will happily eat cooked carrot as a snack
  • will wear what you buy for them
  • love The Wiggles and will still watch ABC2 and Play School
  • bounce up and down charmingly when they run
  • can throw tantrums that are horrible and terrifying, and that can last for a long time
  • need you to play with them and talk to them and smile at them and give them your sole undivided attention for at least 25 hours a day
  • want to do everything themselves but can't, and get crabby as a result
  • have night terrors and sleep issues that leave you exhausted and wondering why the hell you are STILL having these problems with a four year old

School Kids
  • are very particular about what they wear to school, so that you find yourself washing the same item 4 times a week while alternatives sit unworn in the drawer
  • are still delighted to see you when you pick them up
  • are adamant that they don't want anything "babyish" such as Winnie the Pooh, The Wiggles or Dora - but still love their My Little Pony, Fisher Price Little People and Dora Princesses
  • if they are girls, revere Barbie and Bratz in a way that chills your blood
  • are clever and insightful and will amaze you with things they have figured out
  • are no longer excited by bubbles in the bath or homemade milkshakes
  • are sneaky and manipulative and will prey on your tendency to think of them as young and helpless
  • make you smile with their cool dance routines and street slang
  • alternatively join in and fret over the Lord of the Flies stuff that goes on in the schoolyard
  • will let you know when you embarrass them
  • don't always want you to play with them
  • hanker for the society of other kids
  • alternate between not wanting you to hold their hand or cuddle them at the school gate, and crying "MUMMY!" and running to your arms

Have I missed anything in these lists?
What age(s) did you enjoy with your kids and why?

Mar 10, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Five On Kirrin Island Again

Five On Kirrin Island Again
By Enid Blyton
Hodder Children's Books, 2009

Anne was trying to do some of her prep in a corner of the common-room when her cousin George came bursting in. 
George was not a boy; she was a girl called Georgina, but because she had always wanted to be a boy she insisted on being called George. So George she was. She wore her curly hair cut short, and her bright blue eyes gleamed angrily now as she came towards Anne.
'Anne! I've just had a letter from home - and what do you think? Father wants to go and live on my island to do some special work - and he wants to build a sort of tower or something in the castle yard!"

Of all the books I read and loved throughout childhood and into my tweens, the Famous Five books were my favourites by far. I loved them more than anything else, escaped into them often, re-read them in my teens, and still have vivid memories of scenes and dialogue in the stories. I yearned for a dog like Timmy, wished I was George and kept watch wistfully for any scent of adventure that might come my way.

It's easy to make fun of them now, and they are rightly criticized for outdated racist and sexist attitudes. There are far superior and cleverer books out there for kids now, as you'd expect when considering books that were written 70 years ago.

But I have a selection of beloved books from my childhood and some newer classics (Harry Potter) that I have put in the kids' bookshelves, and this one has now joined that collection.

When I was nine my parents relocated to the States for my dad's work, and Enid Blyton books weren't available there. So my parents did something wonderful: they bought every book they could get in the Famous Five series for me, and in the Secret Seven series for my sister.

I still remember the awe, excitement and disbelief of suddenly owning a box full of shiny new books in my favourite series - it is one of the best memories of my childhood!

Unfortunately, the books did not make it to my adulthood. Some years later we relocated from the States to New Zealand, and the two dodgy guys packing up for the removalist company took a great interest in the more unusual of our things and stole half the stuff they were supposed to be packing - including two boxes of quaint British children's books.

On a recent visit to a toy shop I bought this book on a whim and have just finished it. I enjoyed it immensely, and the bits I remember so vividly are just as I remembered them. I would have preferred to find the editions I had as a kid, which had colour photos from the 1970s TV series on the front and contemporary illustrations inside (Uncle Quentin had permed hair if I remember correctly).

This edition was published in 2009 but uses the original 1947 illustrations which I hadn't seen before.

In 2010 Hodder announced they would be modernising some of the most outdated language in the books, with words like "jolly" and "queer" being replaced with "very" and "strange". Otherwise the books will remain unchanged, with parents having to navigate the trickier outdated bits with their kids.

This edition predates that, so is all original text, but regardless I was pleasantly surprised by this book; I enjoyed it more than I expected and it wasn't as dire as I anticipated.  One for the children's library, without any qualms.

On a side note, I was interested to know what Uncle Quentin's experiments on the island were all about. I couldn't remember from my childhood, and there were not many clues throughout the story. I was beginning to think we would not find out, but we did towards the end.  Uncle Quentin divulges that his work is "to find a way of replacing all coal, coke and oil - an idea to give the world all the heat and power it wants, and to do away with mines and miners."

That's just what I love about old books - the simultaneous feeling that "the past is a foreign country" and the jolt of recognition when you see people in the past working with what you thought was a "modern" idea.

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Mar 6, 2012

Crafty Owls

Currently our 6 year olds are somewhat "over-scheduled". As well as school Monday to Friday, they go to Greek school on Friday nights, and swimming lessons on Saturdays.

This is not a state of affairs I aim for - it's temporary. But I will save you the drawn-out justifications for this situation, and move on to my point, which is that I am trying to keep Sundays very free and low-key. We do one "physical" activity such as walk or ride bikes or go to a park, and other than that the kids do whatever they want for the day. If that includes sitting around and watching TV most of the afternoon I have no problem with that.

However, one thing about kids, even if they are tired and need to hang around and do nothing much, they can still get bored. So the "no plans Sunday" can be a bit hard to pull off week after week.

On some such days, you sometimes have to bite the bullet and do a craft.

I actually don't mind craft activities too much. They take up lots of lovely time *, make less mess than the kids playing freestyle with their own toys, and you create beautiful things to keep! (ha ha)

Some time ago I came across this beautiful craft "Owl Family Play Set" at Inner Child Fun.
It looked easy, and I already had a box of googly eyes and assorted scraps of paper and fabric in my craft box. I started collecting toilet paper rolls sometime last year and told the kids we would be making owls with them. We all kept collecting the rolls and forgetting to do the actual craft, until last Sunday, needing a stay-home activity, we pulled out the toilet rolls, paints and craft box, and got stuck in.

In case you're wondering, I am pretty sure toilet rolls don't retain "germs" for the approximately 4 months they had been sitting in a paper bag on top of our washing machine.

I am pleased to report that this activity was easy peasy lemon squeezy, and they came up great.
You just paint them, let them dry, then press down the tops to make the "ears" (very easy no glue needed for that bit), and stick on yellow triangles for beaks, googly eyes (or draw eyes with a black marker), and bits of fabric or coloured paper for wings.

The only problem was I had been collecting the rolls for so long I ended up with heaps, and the kids wanted to do them all, so we ended up with a definite surfeit of owls in the house.

Whoo-hoo's found a cute and easy craft then...

* hence, on the flip side, January is a bit teeth-gritting as you work your way through all the Christmas gift craft sets.

Mar 2, 2012

Fiction Fridays: Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You?

Mr Brown Can Moo! Can You?
Dr Seuss, 1970 (Bright and Early Books/Random House)

Oh, the wonderful things
Mr Brown can do!
He can go like a cow.
He can go MOO MOO
Mr Brown can do it.
How about you?

I have always loved the Beginner Books, including but not only those by Dr Seuss. When I had kids and there was a subscription special at Scholastic I finally had two excuses to buy up heaps of them.

I started reading them to the kids when they were about two, and they held their attention more than many other books did - I believe due to a combination of the winning cadences, humour, unique illustrations, and mother's obvious enthusiasm while reading them.

The kids' favourites were Wacky Wednesday, The Cat In the Hat, The Eye Book, In A People House - and this one.

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