Archive for August, 2013

Parenting then and now

August 27, 2013

Much has been said over the last few years concerning the differences between the way we are raising our children today compared with how we ourselves were raised thirty or forty something years ago. The endless debates about overconscientious parenting, bland playgrounds and trampoline safety nets. The training wheels and helmets and constant contact. The hand wringing over the effects of 21st century popular culture versus the relatively benign (or so it seemed) media influences of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The difficulties traversing the technological autobahn compared with the slow coaches of past eras. It all seems such a stark contrast. Such a drastic juxtaposition. 

We have come such a spectacularly long way into territory which is both overwhelming and fantastic.

One profound difference which I have pondered lately, and which seems to underpin much of the change which has occurred in parenting over the last few decades, is what I would call the Fun Childhood Movement.

Parenting today, for many of us, involves a conscientious eagerness to ensure our children are not just kept safe and healthy, but are provided a veritable suitcase of happy and positive childhood memories to accompany them into their autonomous adulthood. Not content with simply letting our children hop helmetless on their bikes and ride off into the sunset, we are treadling along beside them, pointing out the minutia of the landscape in the hope that some of it becomes their happy baggage. Where our parents let us be – alone to author our own biographies – we have become co-authors of our children’s stories, because we want them all to be outstanding. We appreciate, perhaps more than our parents and theirs before them, that our children are sponges designed to soak up the world around them. In reaction to our expanding knowledge of how dark and dangerous that world can be, we are showing our children the world in technicolour: playdates and parties, pushes on the swing and bedtime stories until we are hoarse. The Best Birthday Cakes Ever. We are bringing in the sun where often there is little light.

In some ways it is overprotective. In others, smothering and oppressive. It can be clingy, and it certainly leaves you vulnerable to the effects of the inevitable day when your child no longer wants you to feature in his script. Whether or not an improvement on the parenting model bequeathed us, only time will tell. With safety nets and helmets there are still broken bones: there are never really any guarantees. But we can say that we tried in our endeavour to provide the safest and happiest childhood possible, and that’s got to be worth the effort.

You know you’re getting old

August 16, 2013

2013 marks a significant turning point for me, as the year I have become officially old.

I know this because of two things:

1. I am not coping with winter. I am constantly freezing and hunched over under my eight layers of clothing complaining about how cold it is. I am wearing thermal underwear to bed. I blow on my hands to get the feeling back into them, and when at home, I wear ugg boots and shuffle like a hunchback with a draped blanket around my shoulders. I wince audibly when I sit on the cold toilet seat, and find it difficult to get back up again. My joints are cracking. I am grumpy and moody and angry with the season. The backs of my hands are wrinkled and my lips are constantly dry. I am hoping spring will make me feel young again; and

2. I am intolerant of typographical errors. I have started circling typos I find in newspapers, and have become so frustrated at the online content of the course I am doing through an otherwise respected “educational institution” that I am sending links to the course administrators with the errors highlighted. I am sure they hate me. Everywhere I look there are typos and grammatical errors. I now expect to find mistakes in virtually everything I read that is of a “professional” nature: newspaper columns, articles, assignment outlines, websites, brochures. Sure enough, there will be a missing “to”, or a “the the” or an “actitity”. Perhaps things have always been this bad. People have always been this slack. I suspect they may have, and in my aging shrinkage I have become obsessed with these miniscule and trivial inaccuracies. Slack or obsessed? I’m not sure which is worse.  

Unfinished symphonies

August 14, 2013

One of the things I miss about being in paid employment – since quitting my “real” job – is the sense of satisfaction upon seeing things through to completion.

In my former life, I had more hours in the day. I had a clean desk, a room with a view, my own computer, my own coffee mug, an In Tray and an Out Tray. Bits of paper would float onto my In Tray with things needing to be done to them. I would do what was required – tick – then crisply slot them into my Out Tray ready for filing before moving on to the next task. There was a rhythm, a contented flow: job to do = job gets done. The course of my working day consisted of a series of completed achievements, of full stops, and whilst the filing may never in truth have been done, nor the coffee cup washed, I would leave at the end of the day feeling a sense of proud accomplishment and personal satisfaction. I had done something tangible. I had made a difference. The evidence was there in my Out Tray.

In stark contrast, being at home with children creates days with no flow, but a jerky stop-start-stop quality. The day’s time dividends are much smaller. You have an hour here, two hours there. Possibly three in the middle but that is precarious. You may sense a flow in the bracketed hours but just as you do it is cut. You are always in demand. You are constantly interrupted. For each small block of time there is a set of tasks. You may be lucky and achieve one. You have to prioritise and forgo the rest.

It is interesting to think of each section of time and reflect on what gets lost. For instance, a morning section might require: getting children up, dressed, washed, fed, and organised for the day. You too need to get up, dressed, washed, fed, and organised for the day. There are the household tasks – beds made, dishes cleared, kitchen tidied – all within a tightly defined time allotment: you have to be somewhere by a certain time.

For me, several of these tasks get culled, or at least postponed. Children don’t always get washed, I don’t always get fed, and we aren’t always that organised. Occasionally Boy 3 leaves the house in his pyjamas, which are often the clothes he had on the day before. Beds are never made, and the dishes and the kitchen can wait. I have whittled my morning time slot priorities down to the bare essentials: get up, get dressed, get the possibly unwashed boys fed and get to school on time. The other tasks often get started but invariably remain incomplete.

Other sections of the day might involve interaction with others, and it is here that the interrupted stop-start nature of being with children has its greatest impact. Again, you prioritise within a strictly allotted time: two hours to walk to the park, have a coffee, watch the children play, enjoy the moment, catch up on life. Finishing the coffee is an achievement, watching the children play – and enjoying the moment – is too often interrupted by need or emergency, and the catch up consists of a series of desperate non sequiturs and half entertained topics. I am so used to this unfinished business of conversation that I now find myself mentally sorting topics to ensure that I at least address the top three: how was the funeral, how is your son’s injury, how did the job interview go. Tell me now because we only have an hour and there’s no time to talk about the weather. Inevitably I walk away with a half drunk coffee cooling in my hand and a half complete conversation lingering in my head. Wishing I had more time to talk. I return to my house with the still incomplete tasks from the morning: the dishes, the kitchen, the beds.

Incomplete tasks have a habit of piling up.

I can forgo the coffees, the washing, the dishes, the tidying in this interrupted landscape. I am getting better at relishing the snippets of enjoyment before they are whisked aside. I know when to let a task fall by the wayside and not get perturbed. It is the incomplete conversations that I wish I could attend to. The times I have left thinking I wish I had said something more: we needed to talk about that. So many incomplete connections that I would love to see through to the final full stop, if only there were more hours in the day.