Kindergarten Conundrums (Mamamia!)

Hi guys,

Here is my latest for Mamamia. Today was a big day – my third one’s first day at school. And now I’m back to writing as school holidays are officially over. You know where to find me.

http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/is-your-child-ready-for-school/

 

My three-year-old knows how to find Youtube clips of Lightning McQueen in German – also in Spanish and Cantonese – which he would happily watch 24/7, if left to his own devices. Let me assure you, he’s no multi-lingual child prodigy; he’s just addicted to the iPad.

He also throws himself on the floor and wails inconsolably, when he’s denied anything, such as…the iPad. And have I mentioned that when he’s not begging me for the iPad, he’s giving my tummy mouth-to-muffin-top resuscitation. He has a disturbing habit of ripping up my top (or my dress) and face planting into my belly, whispering the words “Oooh, tummy time.” At least I think that’s what he’s saying; it’s a little muffled down there.

All of this has me counting down the months (there are twelve left) until he can legally go to school with his siblings.

But should he? My baby is a March baby, which means that if he goes to Kindy in 2015, when he is able to go in NSW, he will be one of the younger kids in the class. Not the youngest, but one of the younger ones. I confess I hadn’t given this much thought – he’s the fourth child and it was on my list of things to think about in 2014 – but I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, which got me thinking, perhaps over-thinking and then over-worrying (Me? Never).

Gladwell writes about the factors and environmental conditions that assist children to become exceptional achievers. He notes that Canadian professional hockey teams are largely comprised of players who were all born in the first quarter or the first half of the year. The selection year for competitive hockey runs from January to December in Canada, and scouts start selecting squad players at the age of nine or ten. Children who are older in their year will generally have developed before those born later in the year (duh, you say, keep reading): they will be bigger, stronger and have greater hand-to-eye co-ordination than their younger peers. Children that are older in their peer group, Gladwell argues, are more likely to demonstrate the qualities or “talent” that pro-hockey selectors are looking for. Those children are then streamed and given special or extra training opportunities, and they fulfil the prophecy that was in part created by their advanced age. Gladwell extrapolates this example across a number of other areas, arguing that being older in one’s peer group, gives one an advantage.

Now unless watching Lightning McQueen for endless hours becomes an international endurance sport, I don’t think my son will make it into any national teams. Who knows and who cares? The point I took from Malcolm Gladwell was that being older in the year is somehow better for children.

A quick search on the internet resulted in me getting lost in various parenting forums for days. I was directed to Kathy Walker, an education and parenting consultant who has written a book about the topic, Ready, Set, Go? It was published in 2011 but as with many things that happened in the first 18 months of my son’s life, I missed it back then.

Walker writes about school readiness and emphasises the importance of this, rather than simply age as an indicator of when a child should begin school. So what the heck is readiness – my head was ready to explode and there are times I am ready to drive my son to the local primary school and beg them to take him now.

Apparently school readiness is about emotional and social maturity – it’s about being ready to thrive at school rather than just show up and cope with it. Walker provides a checklist of questions that help you determine if your child is indeed ready for school. The checklist is referenced in this helpful Kidspot article by Fiona Baker, here. It includes questions such as Can your child recognise and express their feelings and needs?

If the iPad is a need then yes, my child can recognise his needs and express them regularly.

Checklists aside (and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good checklist), I turned to the school playground for advice too. Parents told me they never regretted holding their child back from Kindergarten. Some (but not all) parents said they regretted sending their children when they were younger in the year. All parents said that each child is different and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. As far as empirical, longitudinal education studies go, it’s not awesome but it’s all I’ve got to work with.

I started investigating my options: I called local preschools to see if any would take my child for an extra year of preschool. One director said the following: “Unless you have to send your son to school for financial reasons, you would do him a great service by holding him back. Delaying his kindergarten start allows him to further grow, socially and emotionally. Whilst it’s hard to imagine your three-year-old as a teenager, he will be one in the blink of an eye, and he will have to make decisions about drinking, drugs, driving and sex. Holding him back will give him an extra year of maturity with which to make those decisions.”

Yikes. The thought of my child having sex is an image I can do without (don’t think about, don’t think about it). The thought of him getting drunk and going anywhere near a steering wheel fills me with cold fear.

The director said all of the above without judgement or criticism of parents who make different choices. She recognised she was making generalisations (“every child is different” etc) and she made some more generalisations (“boys are less developed than girls and they need the extra year of maturity in particular”).

The comment about finances was very relevant – all parents I know are working hard, in the home and outside it. We are trying to provide financially and in other ways, to meet all our children’s needs. Preschools are expensive and keeping him at home for another year has its own complications. Everything feels like a trade off of competing and sometimes costly priorities.

We have about a year before we need to make any firm decisions, during which time I will be scrutinising my youngest child’s school readiness (rather than the likelihood of him ever playing professional hockey for Australia or Canada).

When do you think is the better time to send a child to kindergarten? Have you also had the “do we hold him back” dilemma – and what has your experience told you about the best time to send children?

 

 

 

 

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Me Time

Hi guys, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas,

Here is one I wrote recently for Mamamia about Me Time:

http://www.mamamia.com.au/health-wellbeing/moccona-what-to-do-for-me-time/

My sister-in-law recently invited me to a girl’s weekend in Melbourne. “Come on,” she said, “When was the last time you had some ‘Me Time?’”

I haven’t peed alone since 2003 so it was a good question. That night, as my three-year-old thoughtfully handed me four pieces of neatly folded toilet paper, I asked myself: What do I do for Me Time?

This is what I came up with:

1. Reading – Most nights, I read, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. It’s a dangerous habit (obviously not like cocaine or extreme base jumping in a wing-suit, but dangerous for this suburban mummy) because sometimes I find a book so awesome I desperately want to give the kids an iPad and a box of muesli bars whilst I keep reading. I don’t – which is why I read at night.

A whole weekend away with people would require, you know, social skills and energy. If some one gave me a weekend away for Me Time, I would go to the Chatswood Public Library (or the Darwin Public Library) by myself, with a six-pack of water, 5 kilos of trail mix (ok, a family size box of Lindt balls) and a good book for sustenance.

2. A State of Motionless – I stop moving. Like all parents, I feel like I am in a constant state of motion, going from the fridge to the washing machine to the car to the school to the Lost & Found Box to the dentist to the grocery store to the post office to the school again…

Every Thursday – the day there are no children in the house – I need to sit down and drink my morning coffee slowly, instead of skulling it standing up. I like to breathe it in and think about it, instead of burning myself on it, or forgetting about it and drinking it later, reheated in the microwave (three times this morning people, three times, what the hell is going wrong with my mornings?).

At a recent family holiday, my cousin suggested we do burpees together. Burpees. The words “It’ll be fun,” followed by “drop and give me 20” should always be treated with suspicion. I like to be still, preferably in my PJs, holding a book and a coffee.

3. Hence Book Club – Hanging out with the girls is vital for me. However, shopping with girlfriends fills me with fear. Yes, I hate shopping. I’ve never liked it. It involves nudity, small changing rooms with multiple mirrors and decisions about colours and styles.

Last night, after years of piking, I attended my first Book Club with a group of local women. It was wonderful. We ate cheese and biscuits (note to self, I can not be trusted around soft cheese); we scoffed chocolates (see previous note to self, ditto) and we talked about The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It was a new kind of clubbing and I can not wait until next month’s meeting.

4. Pedicures – I love a pedicure with the girls – not with the kids in tow, I tried that once, and please God never again. I have unnaturally long toes. They’re almost like fingers. Seriously, you should see them. They look so much better when scrubbed, polished and painted. I love sitting with my friend Bek, having a pedicure and comparing foot deformities, whilst reading trashy magazines.

5. Movies – at the end of the school holidays, after listening to a litany of complaints from my children about how they hadn’t had enough play dates, I decided they were a bunch of ingrates. Husband came home early, expecting to be lovingly received, and instead I vented bitterly. He suggested a massage – bless you Husband, I love you deeply but I’d spent the day being manhandled by our four children. I had a better idea. I left him with the kids and I went to the movies, by myself. I even had an over-priced choc top. It felt decadent and oh so good.

How do you take time out for yourself? Are exercise, massages and shopping your thing – or your nightmare? Tell us your Me Time activities.

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In vaccination veritas

Hiya,

This was my first sponsored blog post for Mamamia – it is about vaccinations and the things we do to get through them: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/in-vaccination-veritas/

xx and best wishes for the season,

Shanks

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Physical activity in the age of the ipad

Hi guys,

I wrote this for Mamamia as a sponsored blog post for Springfree Trampolines. I hope you like it (and have a great day tomorrow). x:

http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/fun-ways-keep-kids-outdoors-springfree/

Fun ways to keep your kids fit (and outdoors) without them even knowing

One day soon, the iPad and other screen-based devices may replace all forms of play previously known to mankind.

Now I am not completely against screen-based devices for children. There are times when I am outsmarted or simply ground-down by my four offspring, and ‘screen-time’ as it is now known in modern parenting parlance, is my only lifeline. I use it as a reward, a threat, an education tool and a distraction*. There are times when that screen is my best friend (God bless you Steve Jobs).

However, in our house, screen-time is also in danger of becoming the default play (and exercise) option for us. The challenge for me is finding fun ways to keep the children entertained, fit and outside, rather than simply playing Wii Sports. Here are some of our attempts:

1. The International Chandran Handball Federation (ICHF)

Every generation has its thing. When I was nine, my girlfriends and I played elastics. I am super-uncoordinated so this game always ended painfully for me.

Handball is The Game of the Moment – it has its own rules, language (“Intoes!!”) and cult of celebrity. Everybody wants to eat lunch with the reigning champion at my kids’ school. It’s so cool it has its own international federation (not to be outdone, I created one of my own). Line disputes require impartial adjudication and rights of appeal – bad line calls are never forgotten. At our local primary school and in our back yard, handball is a very serious sport that masquerades as a really fun game.

2. The Classics

Despite the passing generations, some things never change. When Husband comes home, he puts on his trainers and plays Tips with the kids in the back yard. He looks so darn cute it makes me want to have babies with him all over again. Then one of the children falls over and hurts themselves, wails annoyingly and I get over it. Variations of the game include Hide and Seek Tips and Stuck in the Mud. As the non-athletic member of the family, I get to be “Homey” which involves standing in the middle of the maelstrom, like a static and aerobically-challenged beacon of hope and safety. When you hug Homey, you can’t be tipped “it”.

3. The Trampoline

This fine piece of recreational engineering could fall into the category of The Classics but it’s so much fun it really should have its own, separate category. A few months ago we bought the Springfree Trampoline and the kids are on it constantly. When Husband announced that he wanted to get the children a trampoline, I had my concerns.

“What about falling off?” I asked him – to which he said “Aha – the Springfree Trampoline has a wall of fall-proof mesh around it, and even you can’t fall out of it.”

To which I replied, “I can fall out of anything.”

To which he replied, “No really – it is the World’s Safest Trampoline. I can zip you in. It is Shankari-proof.”

To which I replied, “But what if they pinch themselves on those awful springs?”

To which he replied in a surprisingly unpatronising voice “It’s springfree – it doesn’t have any awful springs.”

To which I replied, “Are you sure, because one time in high school I even got my leg hair stuck in a trampoline spring.” (Puberty wasn’t kind to me people).

To which he replied, “It’s springfree – really, completely springfree and completely safe. Plus, none of our children will ever be as hairy as you.”

Our Springfree Trampoline has been an absolute revelation. The children play on it together, they play on it with their friends and they play on it alone. They even play on it with me – it’s something sporting and fun that I can do with them too. They are building stamina and strength. It uses muscles – all of them (you have no idea how hard I have to clench my pelvic floor when I’m on our trampoline).

It’s a piece of play equipment and a piece of exercise equipment. The children laugh hysterically whilst they give themselves a work out, and they don’t even realise it. When we’ve finished playing on it, we lie on it and look up at the sky together. They like to roll on top of me and I am reminded how much I like our trampoline, and how much I love being Homey.

4.    The Obvious

There is the obvious one which I’ll state anyway because it’s so obvious I completely forgot about it – bike riding. Yes, I forgot to teach the kids how to ride a bike and only remembered when my cousin sent me a clip from England, of him teaching his four-year-old. The next day I took my eight-year-old to the park and conducted a series of parental-guilt-ridden riding drills. Other obvious activities include walking to school and play-dates in the park rather than in the living room.

5.  The Underhanded

My son had a play-date last week and his lovely friend brought over a backpack brimming with Skylanders figurines. It was 26 degrees and sunny outside.

The boys asked for Screen-Time and I negotiated a deal with them – they could have Screen-Time if they had Sun-Time first. They slipped, slopped and slapped appropriately, and once protected from all forms of UV radiation, they went outside to earn their right to come back inside. Despite the self-negating premise for the outdoor play, they had a wonderful time playing many of the above games, and kicking around a football, for hours.

Do your children sometimes prefer Wii Tennis to real tennis? Do you struggle to get them playing (and exercising) outside – how do you help them keep fit without them realising?

* No children were distracted by an iPad during the writing of this post.

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Dear Kate (Middleton),

This one was about the Royal post-baby bump:

http://www.mamamia.com.au/celebrities/kate-middleton/baby-bump-thank-you/

 

Dear Kate Middleton,

Thank you for being a friend. I’ve had four children in seven years, and an untold number of family size Kit Kat packs. The Kit Kats were for medicinal reasons, prescribed by… myself. My youngest child, now aged three, frequently pulls up my top and buries his face in what can only be described as a post-post-partum muffin top. Recently, at swimming class, I asked the three-year-old not to do this any more.

He asked me, “Why?”

As I struggled to reword “because it’s embarrassing for mummy”, my other son (aged four) leaned over and said, “Because it’s lumpy.”

Yes, it is lumpy. At night my two youngest boys take turns in rubbing my tummy. It’s just this thing they do. I don’t recommend it as a sleep cue but it’s all we’ve got at the moment. And, as you can tell, sometimes they rub my tummy during the day. In public.

I should exercise more but beyond running after pre-schoolers, there’s just not a lot of time for it in my life. I will get around to it, I swear. It’s on my list. As I stand in the checkout at Coles, clenching my pelvic floor and visualising my core (no, not really – I’m trying to remember what vital food item I’ve forgotten), headlines glare at me: How Kim Kardashian lost 10kg in a week, Kim says “I love my post-baby body”.

Although I’ve never thought of Kim Kardashianas a role model (please God, let her never be a role model), the post-baby photos are annoying, unrealistic, unfair and some of them are airbrushed and carefully staged. I don’t need to see it – and I feel sad that so many of those celebrity women who have just had babies, feel the need to do it.

After each of my babies, I have left the hospital looking pregnant. My mother-in-law tells me it’s trapped wind. I love my mother-in-law so I just nod. She may be right. She makes me eat buckets of cooked garlic which she swears is the remedy back in her village in Sri Lanka. Sure enough, it makes me pass the most garlicky gas you can imagine. Actually, don’t try to imagine it, it’s noxious. After a few weeks of alienating loved ones, my tummy has “deflated” a little and then my body and I step onto a path familiar for many women. My tummy’s not awesome, it doesn’t look like Miranda Kerr’s did post-baby, but then neither do I.

So when I saw you leave the hospital with the baby, William and your baby-bump, I just wanted to fly over to London, push through your security entourage, risk arrest and high five you.

Thank you for wearing your bump, not hiding it. If the weeks and months ahead are hard, feel free to take a break, and have a Kit Kat.

Much love and all the best with the baby,

Shanks xx

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To Read a Mockingbird

Hi guys, this one went up on MM a while back. It’s about my favourite novel and my favourite man:

http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/my-husband-took-7-years-to-read-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

 

In 2010 Husband embarked on an important personal journey. He began to read To Kill A Mockingbird whilst we were on holiday. He’s not a prolific reader of fiction. It’s one of his few failings and over the years I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve grown to accept it and to focus on his many other strengths as a best friend, husband and father. He is an avid reader of The Economist, which has a Valium-like effect on me, despite the fact that I have been known to publicly pretend that The Economist is where I get my news from. In reality, I get most of my news from Husband who I use like a hot RSS feed with fringe benefits, in between reading the works of fiction that I love.But I digress.

As I said, in 2010 Husband began to read To Kill A Mockingbird. I can not begin to describe my excitement that finally he was going to read this masterpiece and we would be able to spend hours talking about it together. And I mean hours. Like many people, I love this book. I read it as a child, I studied it as a teenager and I memorised it as a young adult.  As an older adult, it is the novel I turn to when I’m anxious or worried.

To Kill A Mockingbird inspired my childhood belief in justice and the importance of defending fairness, even when, as Atticus said to Jem, “you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”

I could go on and on and on about it.

In 2010 Husband started To Kill A Mockingbird but he didn’t finish it. I KNOW. I hear you, people. He has continued to carry it with him on the following three years of holidays and long train journeys. When he wasn’t reading The Economist, the European football scores or other books, he dipped into this piece of the literary canon.

I have had to learn to swallow my impatience and incredulity as the months stretched into years and he still hadn’t got to the court case, Mrs Dubose’s camellias or even that timeless scene with the rabid dog.  I had to learn not to ask ” What do you think?” instead, confining my desire to book-club it to my head. (Yes, to book-club is a verb).

And finally, on holiday in Fiji, aided by a Kids Club and poor Internet reception, he finished it. I was so happy I could have jumped him. But of course I wanted to know what he thought of it first.

“Yeah, it’s really good.” FULL STOP

I had waited three long and critique-barren years for that. I probed him gently, hoping to elicit further comment that would allow me to unleash the torrent of deferred deconstruction that was waiting, bursting to come out. But no. He loved it, no further comment.

I tried “Would it help you to talk about the novel if we were both naked? ” It helped but not to talk about the novel.

He did add that over the years, when he read the novel on public transport, strangers would come up to him to tell him how much they loved it and he enjoyed this break with public transport privacy protocol.

I briefly pondered recasting the novel. “Darling, if Atticus was Arsene Wenger, and Jem and Scout were a younger, idealistic version of Arsenal, and the court case was the European Cup Final, how would it make you feel…?”

In the end I decided to hold hands and watch the movie adaptation with him instead, to re-read the novel (again) and to join a book club.

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Did I marry my father?

Recently an old uni friend (Friend M) and I went bush walking in the Blue Mountains. The last time we tried this was in 1994 and it ended badly, so I don’t know what we were thinking. In an attempt to distract me from the physical pain of sustained exercise, Friend M put one of her observations about the human condition out there for discussion.  
 
Friend M thinks that her male friends have ended up with partners who have the opposite personalities to their mothers; and her female friends are with partners who are like their fathers.
 
As Friend M hauled me up endless stone stairs (and I wondered what the hell Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson were thinking), she suggested we develop these observations into a theory. 
 
I realise that this theory is based on observations of ourselves and her group of friends and relatives; so the field of research is narrower than it should be. And as longitudinal studies go (this one is only about twenty years old) it’s too short to yield credible conclusions (yes I know it has far deeper credibility issues).
 
Nor is it an original or new theory; apparently Freud and Jung developed something far more insightful on the matter. 
 
But when I reached the point in our leisurely 4 hour bush walk that I was ready to cry or waste the time of the NSW search and rescue services, Friend M cleverly suggested that we test the theory against all of our friends, colleagues and acquaintances once more. We encountered a few couples who undermined the theory and so we excluded them from our research pool. As this was not a funded study, we figured we should be allowed to use any wacky methodology we liked, including excluding evidence we didn’t like. 
 
It’s not a profound theory and there are many examples that disprove it. But take for example my Husband’s mother, my Mother-in-Law. She is a joyous, sociable lady who faces the world with unassailable optimism and enthusiasm. On the other hand, I am too happy with my own company; and I often feel uncomfortable in new social situations, sometimes even in familiar ones.  Whilst my Mother-in-Law fearlessly expects the best from life, I am more anxiously braced for the worst. I have drafted contingency plans and cumbersome but still legally binding documents to deal with all manner of emergency situations. At family weddings, I have wondered what would happen if a terrorist attack took place, killing all of my heirs and their heirs and their heirs. (In such an event, my original Millennium Falcon has been bequeathed to my best friend K, who I know will treasure it as much as I do.) My Mother-in-Law is a lot more fun to be with at family weddings. 
 
And take for example, my father and my Husband. Both are principled men who love exploring, studying esoteric subjects and watching Bond movies. They have both had responsibility thrust upon them but they handle it with fortitude and an endearing sense of humour.
 
In our assessment conducted over the life-threatening terrain of the Blue Mountains, our sample set supported the theory. Our male friends did seem to be with partners who were very different from their mothers  - not that there was anything wrong with their mothers. And our female friends seemed to be with partners who were very similar to their fathers – not that their fathers were all necessarily shining paragons of humanity. It was just interesting to see a strong pattern emerging.
 
Is this only the case with me and my friends (and our faulty research) or are you the same – is your partner like one of your parents or the opposite?  Are you like your mother-in-law or different? Do you think men seek partners who are not like their mothers and women seek partners who are like their fathers? Or is this one Dr Phil-esque generalisation too many?
 
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