Tag Archives: Family

Time out

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I am not sure I can imagine a better finish to a much needed and well-earned family holiday away than a perfectly still, warm night on a beach with a blazing bonfire made of gathered driftwood- my daughter’s first bonfire on her very first camping trip. A dramatic intense sunset slowing working its way across the clouds and through the hues, offset with the first proper blue sky that day, itself contrasting against the darkening silhouettes of jagged mountain peaks. Surf crashing gently on the beach. A smattering of people fishing into the evening. Seabirds gliding through the air and a glassy sea stretching to infinity.

The bonfire drawing others in like moths to a light. Flames mesmerising for young and old: other families and couples come over; camaraderie so easily generated in this moment. Children holding sticks and toasting marshmallows- all brown, crisp, exterior and gooey sticky insides. Roasted bananas split with chocolate melting within. And flour, water, some milk quickly grabbed from the tent to mix into a damper dough, wrapped around sticks and slowly cooked until crunchy on the outer with a scone-like interior. Divine with brown sugar and olive oil spread mixed with raspberry jam- my daughter’s concoction. Shared food passed around. Fireworks created from seaweed balls filled with air exploding on the fire- my natural scientist MissBB came up with this idea herself. Free conversation and utter relaxation- the mind still with nothing but the present. These are the things that create lifelong memories and that catalyse re-creation when children become parents. Total, beautiful magic.

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Kaikoura, where this idyllic scene unfolded is in my mind one of the most spectacular places I have ever been and I’m incredibly fortunate it’s on our doorstep, just three hours from home in beautiful New Zealand. Our brief foray into family camping was but too short. This summer holiday of just 10 days was our first proper travel holiday since a trip south for a week when MissBB was a few months old. There’s been scant in the way of time out in the last four years owing to a variety of factors, including earthquakes and hardship.

Our three days of camping came after another blissful week spending time with some of my partner’s family in the also heavenly Golden Bay, although the weather wasn’t always so sparkly.

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Golden Bay time was a chance for brothers to reconnect as adults, for the wives to bond and for the cousins to form strong friendships and especially for my daughter to have live-in playmates and to negotiate sharing her home life with other children.

Let’s be honest though- not all moments on holidays with children are quite so idyllic and magical. Family holidays can indeed be exhausting and frustrating and at times push you more than being at home- mainly because everyone is out of their comfort zone, despite being hopefully both comfortable and relaxed.

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As a parent it’s easy to tell the people holidaying without kids, unless a couple has been so outrageous as to leave their children elsewhere and are masquerading as a sans children couple. The childless couples are the ones likely fawning over each other, looking stylish and groomed with impeccable hair and makeup, having had unlimited time and a lack of any distractions in getting ready. They’re likely in shape, toned and healthy looking. They’re strolling down streets with just a small, fashionable handbag or along beaches hand in hand, popping into shops for some casual shopping for probably completely unnecessary but lovely possessions, or decadently dining in a café in a long drawn out lunch or dinner. At sightseeing attractions they gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes in between peaceful contemplation of the view. They have long, meaningful conversations. They look relaxed and happy and fresh. Remember those days?

Those with children may well look harassed and stressed, trying to manage child or children and somehow communicate to their partner episodically in frequently unfinished sentences or unanswered questions left hanging, due to the near constant, attention seeking activities of children. Alternatively, they are having harsh words about any one of a number of things (frequently just as an outlet for the frustrations of dealing with the tears, the boundary pushing, the obstructiveness, the incessant I-will-do-anything-to-make-it-stop whining (of the kids most likely)). They will probably have stains on their clothes whether they have a new-born or an older child and feel relatively dowdy, as soon as they catch sight of the glamorous childless, in the outfit they quickly compiled in the few uninterrupted seconds they had to get ready. Makeup may be absent and hair if lucky, brushed.

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They may spend considerable time getting ready and then out of the car at every stop (and the reverse getting back in) and will be carrying large, practical backpacks around full of outfit changes, jackets, packed food that will be refused due to the lure of bought food anywhere. They may be dealing with public meltdowns, manic behaviour. The mummy tummy may well be present, the one that just will not disappear even if there is time squeezed in during a typical week for exercise; bikinis at the beach abandoned these days in favour of the one-piece.

Attempts to find normality in a rare treat of a meal out will be a delicate juggling act of entertaining their child, getting them to eat something, probably with fries despite best intentions and getting out of there quickly without too much destruction or embarrassment. The only shopping done is likely something for their child, because the parents know they will like it (and the adults don’t really need anything, they tell themselves), or alternatively as a means to do anything to stop the whining.

At every step of the way there will be complex negotiation, consideration of sleep routines and dealing with the full gamut of emotions of each child. A true feeling of relaxation may only be captured in moments. Do some of these aspects sound familiar? In our case our holiday has coincided with the unexpected return of the Why? phase to everything, something that we thought we’d left some 18 months ago. What a delight!

Evaluating these two very different scenarios just as presented above leaves the childless scenario at prima facie as by far the most preferable holiday option. However, there are actually many benefits of family holidays. I’m not sure I would trade back to the time of pre-child.

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Taking time out is so important to our wellbeing. Holidays are the big ticket items in terms of recharging our mind and body but there are lots of smaller things we can do on a daily basis to create personal wellbeing for ourselves and for our children (and I’ll refer to them frequently in future posts).

As a mother working a crazily full-on, allegedly part-time job it seems impossible much of the time to have time off, especially this past year, where my workplace has been undergoing significant change. This summer holiday is my first real time off all year, something I will not be repeating I hope in 2014.

Holidays allow us to step away from our routines, to leave chores behind and expose us to new situations that replenish our soul. They’re the chance to get fresh air and exercise, to reconnect relationships- be that with partner, children, family, or friends. They’re the chance to meet new people, to experience new or favourite places, do novel things, or the activities you most love doing. They’re the opportunity to find moments to relax, sleep more, to read a book, to savour food, wine and most of all to find our breath and centre ourselves.

Whilst most of that list can be done without children, there are things that I think holidaying with children do to generate greater wellbeing restoration. My last post discussed what having children does for the wellbeing of adults facing terminal illness; research shows that having holidays also increases the wellbeing of cancer patients. Our moments with our children fly by so fast- holidays provide ideal ways to overdose on capturing the memories of being with our children. Whilst children may seem a whirlwind of energy necessitating your own storm of parenting effort in return, being with children actually forces us to slow down, to savour the little things more, to pace ourselves.

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The best thing though that having children does is it gives us the perfect opportunity to recreate the treasured memories we have of our own childhood and ones that suit our values, now that we are parents. We can do this in the full realisation as adults of just how amazing and special being a child is, so that we truly appreciate the episodes in a way that we could not possibly do as children, when we thought that childhood would last for ever. In a way, it should last for ever and with having children it does.

Helping our children create their own magic holiday memories means pushing the boundaries for all of us- both parents and children alike as we engage in activities that may make us slightly fearful for our own abilities, and maybe for the safety of our children. Yet, it is in this space that we all grow, learn and find ourselves. There are powerful skills that we can teach our children as well- ways that we can tackle our fears to conquer mountains, overcome challenges and acquire new abilities. To me holidays are all about adventures- of the mind, the body, of places.

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On our holiday, apart from tripping around most days to new and old favourite haunts, our adventures were mainly about fossicking in rock pools, climbing rocks, exploring limestone canyons and caves and boulder hopping on rocky beaches. Teaching coping strategies to our little charges is an excellent reminder to ourselves of the techniques we need to employ to cope with the more frustrating and challenging aspects of holidaying with children. Breathe.

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I’ve got two weeks left of my break, based at home now and plenty of home chores to achieve in that time. I’m in absolutely no rush whatsoever, though to return to work. Work can most certainly wait.

I can’t wait however, to go on my next family holiday, to build those memories, find my inner child, discover new challenges to get all of us out of our comfort zone and grow personally and as a family. Unquestionably there’s going to be a beach, bonfire and some rocks in there somewhere. In fact, with all the unpacking still to do but my partner back at work tomorrow, it’s incredibly tempting to throw it all back in the car and sneak away for a mother-daughter adventure.

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Christmas cheer or lifetime fear? Dealing with the Santa myth. Part 1.

Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image from http://www.reusableart.com/d/4608-2/santa-arrival-01.jpg

Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image from http://www.reusableart.com/d/4608-2/santa-arrival-01.jpg

At this time of year around the world, if you had a vaguely Christian-associated upbringing, or live somewhere where celebrating Christmas is standard, you’re probably fully caught up in the madness of the Christmas rush: satisfyingly finished, in mid throes or even yet to start present buying in full dread of the traffic and the crowds that will elevate your cortisol levels; making arrangements for Christmas Day itself complete with anticipation of family dramas based on past prima donna performances; living through the never-ending gluttony of Christmas parties; and planning the packing for those of us in the southern hemisphere for the summer holiday away starting typically on Boxing Day if you don’t travel for Christmas itself. It’s always such a busy, frenetic finish to the year, particularly those also working like myself with much still to complete and it’s easy not to spend time contemplating what Christmas is all about.

Yet thinking about festive occasions and holidays and what they mean personally to you and your family should at some point be a priority. Somewhere in that Christmas lead-up: you may have relatively blindly bought  or are yet to buy secret presents to go in the Santa stocking or sack or pillowcase (my childhood); you might be taking the kids off to have photos taken with Santa in a department store or mall; be at events such as childcare parties where Santa makes a guest appearance; you may be letting your children ring Santa on the telephone to tell him what they want the jolly red gentleman to bring; and be spending time building up the idea of Santa’s imminent visitation with stories and songs and the concept of he’ll only come if you’re nice, not naughty. On Christmas Eve itself, you may have your children writing adorable letters to Santa with their wish list, leaving out milk, biscuits, a carrot for Rudolph. In the morning, stockings or alternatives full, children epicly excited, they may also discover milk drunk, biscuit crumbs, carrot half eaten, note back from Santa. You may go further and convince them of hoofprints in the grass, disturbed chimney. All of this sounds fun, doesn’t it, and harmless, right? What if it’s not?

Wherever we live, we are members of a society that has its own culture and traditions. Some of the finer detail may vary from family to family as families develop their own values and traditions that can get passed down from generation to generation. You may indeed not be aware of what hefty societal and family filters and values are pressing down on top of you, ostensibly shaping you who are, and even how you parent.  You may think that the values you hold and the decisions you make are entirely your own.

A theme though that you will see in my posts is my encouragement that you make yourself aware of these filters or values and spend time analysing their ‘fit’ to see whether they truly serve you. Just because something is tradition (whether that be tradition within your culture or tradition within your family) doesn’t mean that it is the right way for you and your family in the present right now and heading into the future. I feel privileged to be a scientist at times because it’s given me the space to never stop questioning. Having a bit of a contrary bent means I like to challenge the norm at times and fiercely independently forge my own path.

Knowledge is power. When we as individuals or as a society acquire more knowledge we all have the power to create a better and brighter future. Acquiring more knowledge also extends to learning more about our self.

Traditions are lovely but they also need to feel like they fit. So what then does Christmas mean to you and what in particular do you feel about the Santa myth? Once you’ve spent some time thinking about your own values you’re ready for Part 2.

In part 2, I explore who is Santa anyway? And my take on the Santa myth with some science around it.

Life is precious

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This wasn’t the first blog entry I had planned to write. The topic I had in mind was entirely different- philosophical and thought-provoking, yet in keeping with the festive season. It should appear next week all going to plan just in time for Christmas. However, this weekend, life had other plans for me, or more specifically some rather nasty gastroenteritis-causing virus that so typically since becoming a mother danced around the edges of my existence, causing discomfort but not disabling, before it so nicely waged war on MissBB (my only child, aged 4) and my other half. Naturally, this leaves me, the maternal force in this household taking charge, keeping on going, whilst the afflicted victims crank up far too much screen-time in a pallid, limp state.

I am grateful that in the last four years that this is only the second stomach bug my daughter has faced, due I am sure to the extended breastfeeding relationship we have had (expect more on that in later posts). However, it had a violent onslaught at 1am Saturday night and the rest of the night thereafter. The multiple bed changes and all the necessary nurturing, I am sure all parents have to go through at times when their children are similarly attacked by such nasty viral visitors, is exhausting. I should say here that this is but another layer of exhaustion on top of the general working mum fatigue and the fatigue of someone living in Christchurch three years post the quakes that have ravaged my city.

I work an incredibly full-on job as a part-time academic (0.8FTE paid….) but typically far from part-time in hours (more to come in future posts on this). Many part-time parents can relate to this familiar tale of the realities of part-time employment, full time parenting. Some of the flow-on effects can be found here and here (tip of the iceberg- I’ll delve into this intermittently in my future posts). My work comes home with me every night and once the parenting is done, the household chores are sorted, the late shift of work begins. This weekend I had (heck, have, as yet to start) some pressing work to finish, deadlines to meet.

When MissBB first called out at 1am I was trying to get my head around what exactly those work tasks were and decide how I could prioritise to do them the next day. Amongst my instant and instinctive response to attend to my child’s needs, but mainly in the aftermath lying beside her trying in vain to sleep in between holding the bowl for her vomiting episodes, my mind was the pressure of the work tasks ahead of me and the impossibility of the situation. How could I get it all done? Eventually I let go and still much later sleep finally  but briefly slipped over me after 4 am.

Yet nestled within the unpleasantness of dealing with someone being so violently ill, there was a strange but recognisable beauty. Holding my daughter’s hair gently back from her face, whilst she without a whisper of complaint held her head over a bowl for the first time and then again and again reminded me of all the times my mother and partners over the years have done that for me and it felt so soft and gentle to be doing this. Wiping her face with a cool cloth after each episode and holding a cup whilst she ever so delicately sipped water to take away the acid burn was such a symbol of nurturing also, that I couldn’t quite help but be touched by the intimacy of the moments my daughter and I shared.

In the morning that followed with my mind telling my brain to be still about the tasks as yet to be started, I found a pressing need for calm. My daughter needed me and my full attention whilst she lay on the couch, limp, pale and feverish and so uncharacteristically still and quiet. And whilst I may have momentarily glimpsed a sense of panic within me when she curled up on top of me to doze mid-morning for well over an hour (that to-do list just itched to burst into a loud song) , I chose instead to savour that time. My arms curled around her whilst she lay on me in the fetal position like she was a newborn let four years flash before my eyes. It felt so special and so incredibly precious to be holding my daughter and to have this moment that it needed to be cherished, saved up, remembered.

Perhaps I was more sensitive to the need to hold, be still and calm, and reflect this particular weekend. The tragic death of my boss’s wife when their car hit a rogue horse on the road on Thursday reminds me that life is indeed too precious and sometimes far too short. Our greatest gift to the world and to ourselves is our children. No matter how unpleasant the job of parenting may seem at times there is always beauty and tenderness that can be found. Forget the to-do list – it will still be there. Take the time instead to savour the gift you created.