Tuesday, 29 September 2015

On Growing Great Teens...Staying Connected

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past week about the little teensy steps along my own parenting journey, that have resulted in having great teens.  I said last week, that we need to begin with the end in mind.  That was certainly the first step for me, but it was only the first.  There have been a lot of steps and seasons and years, since then.  Once we've decided what kind of people we want our children to be, how do we get them to the goal?

The second thing that we have been determined about is staying connected.  This will look different in every season of parenting your children.  When our children we teeny we began the day with snuggles in our bed.  Our parenting style was (and is!) to have everyone sleeping in their own bed so having the kids come in to us first thing in the morning was a really special way to begin the day.  Our days ended with tucking our kids into their beds and praying with them.  Dh seems to remember bedtime stories.  I remember being so desperate to not be needed by little people who needed me for everything that I got them into bed in the most efficient way possible.  In any case, between the tantrums and the correction and the boundaries and the discipline there were cuddles and kisses and "I love you's" and laughter and playing together.

Every family will stay connected in ways that make sense to them and their family culture and their personalities.  I have been saying to my kids, since they were the tiniest little things, that they are never allowed to be so big or so grown up that they can't kiss and hug their mum.  A good-bye kiss is mandatory in our house, whenever someone is headed out the door.

We talk a lot in our house.  When I was taking my kids to and from school (up until this year) we would have a little check in conversation in the car.  I would ask them what the best thing in their day was, something that wasn't so great and who they hung out with at recess and lunch time.  Our trip to and from school is only a handful of minutes, but it's enough time to get the highlights.  I don't do that daily school trip anymore, but those check-in conversations still happen when I get home.  And now they ask me about my day and want to hear my highlights.  I often come back to those check-in conversations after we've gotten home too.  They are often where the rubber of our faith hits the road and we can wrestle together with things that we struggle with and think about what God might want from us, or how he would have us respond.

We eat dinner around the table together every night.  When our children were small it meant double-time shovelling for me:  one bite for me, one for the child I was feeding, in alternating forkfuls as quick as I could.  Those meals felt frantic to me, but we ate together around the table.  It really began when Miss Sunshine was about 12 months old.  I would give her dinner and then we'd eat.  But she was never satisfied that she'd just eaten and we would have to fight to keep our meals out of her mouth.  We decided eating together would work better.  These days we don't always have everyone at home, and Friday nights are a complete disaster with people headed in all directions, often before I even get home.  But whoever is here at dinner time sits down to a meal at the table.  Together.

There are a ton of other things that we do as a family:  we take a holiday every year - usually camping, we watch movies together, we go out and do stuff together.  This past month, for example, we have headed out to Warburton for afternoon tea and had a walk along the river.  We trekked down to Sorrento for afternoon tea and walked along the beach there and had fish and chips with the seagulls for dinner.  We hang out with other families and our extended family.  Sometimes we do jigsaw puzzles.  We go and stay with my parents for a few days at a time.  If Dh needs to go up to country areas for work he plans it so we can all go together during school holidays.  We still sit together in church, although we wouldn't mind a bit if the kids sat with friends.  Still...they choose to sit with us.  I've taught the kids to bake and cook meals and they are required to do things that contribute to our household running smoothly.  My kids are almost always seated on the other side of the bench while I'm cooking, just to watch and chat, and have been since they were tall enough to see over the bench.  And now I do the same to them when they're cooking.

All of those things that we do, the conversations we have, the things we do, the memories we create, help us stay connected.  We have always done things together over the weekends.  We deliberately choose to live a quiet, unhurried life without too many commitments and I think this has helped us too.

You don't have to do big expensive things to stay connected.  Just make the most of all the small moments and try and find those small moments in the rhythm of your family's daily life.

Friday, 25 September 2015

A New Holiday Hobby

I have discovered a new hobby to add to the ways I enjoy relaxing.

Jigsaw Puzzling.

There is something so productive and satisfying about putting pieces together, one by one, to create a picture.  There is nothing rushed or hurried, and the puzzle doesn't mind a bit if you end up letting it sit a day or two in between working on it.  There are no deadlines or pressure to work hard or fast or with frantic desperation.  As I discovered, when I sprained my hand a few weeks back, you can do this one handed and feel like there is one small thing that is normal in your world.

I generally get my puzzles from the local Op Shop for no more than $2.  Cheapest entertainment ever.  Inevitably there is a piece or two missing, but I find that oddly part of the charm.  Finding out which piece is missing is part of the puzzle.

This week I have been going between my jigsaw puzzle and completing some PD hours so I could renew my teaching registration.  I have discovered the best puzzles are the ones where there is a lot of detail that is different and unique.  Puzzles with lots of sky are hard.  Puzzles with lots of uniform detail are hard (think lots of lizards with similar patterns, or repeated terracotta pots.  I don't like hard and frustrating.  I like to feel productive and successful!

And I can talk to whichever family member happens to stop by for a chat without feeling like I need to stop, or like I am being taken completely out of what I am doing.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Be Not Afraid Parents of Littles - On Growing Great Teens

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Let's talk about parenting teens.  I've had so many interactions lately where parents of Littles are so petrified of having teens.  Like the precious, sweet little people they have in their homes will be whisked off and replaced with some sullen, moody, rebellious person they don't know at all.   I know how that feels, because I was one of those parents once.  But my children have shown me that teenagers can be so incredibly awesome people.  I recently had an amazing leader, a woman in my church, publicly acknowledge my kids and say "I want my children to grow up like that, and if this is a church where we produce kids like your kids then we are getting things right".  So, let's get comfy, grab a cuppa and talk about getting ourselves some amazing teenagers.

Always, when talking to parents of Littles, my best words of wisdom are:  Begin with the end in mind.  This was instinctive to me, as a parent.  In our church this is articulated very clearly, and I was so excited to hear my instincts put into words!  When Miss Sunshine hit her Terrible Three's she became stubborn and independent and she was reluctant to be parented.  You can imagine what that looked like on a 3yo.  In fact, I remember her telling me things like "You can't tell me what to do" and "You're not the boss of me".  Oh that poor child...she was so incredibly wrong, and I was more than up to that challenge!  At that time I sat down and started to really think about the kinds of people I wanted my children to grow up to be.  What character traits did I want them to possess?  What values did I want them to embody?  What kind of people did I want them to be in community?  I felt like I was always on the back foot, reacting to her behaviour, instead of knowing where we were headed.

So I made a list of the character and value and faith goals I had for my kids and I thought about how I was going to get them there.  I read books about parenting and kids.  To be honest, there wasn't a lot around, back then, about disciplining very young children.  But I had this three year old that needed my guidance, and despite all the books seeming to say this was too young I knew that if I didn't figure it out very quickly it would be too late.  So "Boundaries with Kids" and "The Five Love Languages of Children" were my two go-to books in those early days.  I learnt about setting and keeping positive boundaries and I learnt how to fill up their love-tank to help reduce the negative toddler behaviours.

Then I found some more books that helped me navigate being the kind of family I knew I wanted and that would support my kids growing up to be the very best people they could be:

Raising them Right (published by Focus on the Family)
Family Fragrance by J Otis and Gail Ledbetter
The Family Compass by Kurt and Olivia Bruner
Extending Your Heritage by J Otis Ledbetter and Randy Scott
For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldham and Lisa Rice

I've learnt to look at our family backgrounds and really think about the things our parents did well and the things we felt they hadn't done so well, and to decide intentionally what we would take into our parenting style.  We have set our not-negotiable family rules and we have strong justification for each of them.  We are clear about the purposes they have and the outcomes we intend for them to achieve.

In short we (or maybe I!) decided with deliberate intention how we were going to do this parenting-of-little-people with the end in mind.  This is not to say we haven't had some major kerfuffles to deal with.  We have these really good kids and at least two of them have done some pretty majorly, seriously dumb stuff. It won't all be smooth sailing, because people are messy and sinful and get it wrong with reasonable consistency.  But we can build into our children a belief that they are amazing human beings, that they are loved unconditionally even when they stuff up.  And when they stuff up we have some important moments where we get to say to them "This is not who I believe you are.  I believe you are funny, witty, intelligent, kind, generous, helpful and amazing and you need to decide if those things are true.  And then you need to behave you way into being those things.  You do not need to be defined by your mistakes, but by how you come out of them".  Yes, actual conversation that happened in our house.

I feel like we have gotten plenty of stuff wrong with our kids.  They will certainly tell you all about those things!  I wish we'd done some things differently or handled certain situations better and more carefully.  But here we are.  We've managed to get some stuff right.  Because we have these awesome teens and teenaged young adults who are magnificent to hang out with.  We constantly hear heartwarming feedback about how they serve in community and their cheerful attitudes and their beautiful personalities.

Got some words of wisdom to share, or questions to ask?  Post a comment!

I'm going to post some more on this topic in the coming days, but let's share our wisdom and experience and help one another bring up our children to be beautiful teens who grow into incredible adults.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Best Risotto Recipe Ever

I've been reading Shauna Niequist's "Bread and Wine" this week (not done yet!), and as I suspected I am loving the book.  This is the first book of hers that I've read, and it is dense with descriptive language in a way that just immerses me in her stories.  Those stories are real and raw and true and honest and I feel like we've become best friends.  Of course, we've never met and she doesn't know I exist, so really we're not friends at all.  But this book is about what it is to share community and food and how the two are so intertwined.  And because it's Shauna, there are recipes scattered throughout.  My experience is that Shauna's recipes are always worth trying, even though there are no pictures.  Ordinarily that would be enough to stop me from trying a recipe, but sometimes experience trumps little things like that.

Last night I tried her recipe for risotto.  I'm telling you here and now, not only is this Shauna's "go to" risotto recipe, but it will be ours, now, as well.  You will find the recipe, or rather general instructions, here.  You'll need to scroll down to the Mushroom Risotto.  Last night I roasted cubes of pumpkin sprinkled with thyme, and some mushrooms cut into chunks.  It was perfect.  Full of flavour, oozy, rich, just the right amount of salty without adding any, because of the stock powder and the parmesan cheese.

And here's my tip for those of you who fear risotto because of all the stirring:  After you've added the cup of wine and the first cup of stock dump in all the liquid at once.

I know, I know.  The Italians are shouting things at their screens right now, but it just works.  Whenever I've made risotto with all the stirring, one cup of liquid at a time, it takes forever and I'm never satisfied the rice is cooked.  I don't like it crunchy.  Sorry.  I'm a rice and pasta neanderthal.  I like them both well cooked.  So I do the first two cups of liquid how you should and then I add all the rest of the liquid at once.  And then I cover the pot to cook.  I stir the rice every now and then, and when the liquid is nearly all absorbed, but not quite, I take it off the heat, add a big knob of butter and the cheese and....YUM.  Perfect for this neanderthal.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Adult-ing is Hard

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Recently, in church, our pastor was talking about the statistics around depression.  The statistics for 19-24 year old's is particularly troubling, and my own precious 19yo leaned over and said one profound phrase "because adult-ing is hard, Mum".

It's been so long now since I became an adult that I don't really think of things as always being hard.  In fact, there's plenty about a life that is fun and fulfilling and precious and wonderful.  In fact, I don't remember coming to adulthood with a perception that the shift from childhood lack of responsibility to personal responsibility was overwhelming.   I got my first full-time job at 18 and I married at 19.  My husband and I have been navigating my adult life together ever since - nearly 25 years.

Things haven't been so straightforward for Miss Sunshine, and neither will be for Miss Mischief, it seems.  We've had to teach Miss Sunshine about the questions she needs to ask and the steps required for the things she needs to do and accomplish and complete.  Getting her enrolled in University was a major achievement.  I didn't think it was so hard - fill in the form, wait to hear, figure out the enrolment process and off we go.  Not so with her.  There were trips to the campus.  There were trips to the bookshop with questions about booklists because things weren't clear from the websites.  We've navigated choosing a car and we're about to do tax for the first time.  I thought you just got online, downloaded the form and got on with it.  Apparently I have to sit with her to fill it out.  And let's not talk about dealing with Centrelink, because that's on a whole other planet of pain.  It's taken nine months to get to the point where I can let Miss Sunshine walk into one of their offices without complete and utter terror.

We're about to get ourselves another baby adult in the house in less than two weeks.  Last night I sat with her to fill out her University preferences.  Oh the pain!  This is the child who doesn't know what she really wants to do, beyond interning at church for a year.  But these VTAC preferences have to be submitted in order for offers to be forthcoming and deferences to be possible.  It was painful to watch her read every. single. word. of the online form.  Meanwhile I was skimming through beside her saying "Click no".  Click yes.  Come on...it shouldn't be this hard".  And it shouldn't.  But somehow it is.

When we were in Malaysia recently I was telling a friend there how we've had to hand-hold our baby adult into what it means to do all the adult things.  Their response?  Let them sink or swim. These are people who have no choice but to send their children overseas for a University education.  So they send them to England and their children have to figure it out for themselves.  Because they have no choice.  Because Mum and Dad are half a world away and can't actually come and save them.  I simply can't imagine it.  Miss Sunshine would have been curled, in a foetal position, murmuring to herself on the floor if we'd let her sink or swim.

And then there are those statistics around young adults and depression.

So we're walking our baby adults through the transition from being a kid, where Mum and Dad take care of everything, to being an adult where they have to make all the things happen.  We're dog-paddling our way to an all-out freestyle stroke that feels strong and smooth and confident.

It's hard being the parent of young adults who are sensible, amazing people in every way, but seem paralysed by the responsibility and freedoms that are theirs.  Harder than it was in my family, in my generation.  We all left home at 19.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Sunshiny Spring Sunday

I wonder what your family does when the Spring sunshine begins to show itself and warm the Earth up a little?  We're getting a little of that now that winter is officially over.  I say "officially" because the weather can't really decide if that's true.  Yesterday was one of those early-spring warm sunshiny days that you long for all winter long, so we spent the afternoon down at Sorrento.

It's a long drive from here and we had to convince Miss Sunshine that she'd rather be with us than shopping on her own.  But we managed all of that, even with Miss Mischief clocking up her learner-driver hours on the way down.

We had afternoon tea at the famous Vanilla Slice place - affectionately called a "snot block" by many Aussies.  I never understood that reference, but their vanilla slices were particularly good.  My warmed pear and almond cake was oh so delicious.  I realised afterwards I didn't get a photo of it!

We wandered down to the foreshore area and watched the Queenscliffe Ferry arrive, unload and head back out again.  Everyone headed out along a little teensy pier.  I did not.  I do not like piers so much that I would risk myself along a rickety-looking version, the floor of which is full of gaps and sea can be seen between the boards.  I like my piers solid, large and preferably with bitumen over the base!  Like the pier used for the ferry!  Dh came back and said this pier was barely standing and the railings wonky.  Miss Sunshine thought as long as it wasn't acting like a swinging bridge (her greatest fear) everything was fine.

Whenever country folk like us head down to the beach there is a mandatory fish-and-chips-by-the-beach dinner involved.  We had no picnic rugs so we put the back of the Land Cruiser down and sat there to enjoy the beachy view, and our dinner

And then we had some dinner guests arrive.  They were pretty determined too.  Not quite to the point of flying past us and into the car, but close.  They were certainly excited by the eventuality that we could not eat all of it!

After a long drive home we watched an episode of "The Newsroom" (we're into the final season, *sigh*) and headed to bed.

Perfect Sunday.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lessons for the Classroom from Nehemiah

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I am just loving having another read through Nehemiah with 'IF Equip'.  I am constantly amazed at what we can take away from the Word, even when it looks like there's nothing to learn.  Like lists of people who were counted in a census after the walls were completed.

Nehemiah is my constant companion for my class devotions at the moment; he and Abraham.  These two guys are two of my favourite characters in the Bible.  Their stories always speak anew in whatever circumstance I find myself.  And I've been sharing their stories and what I'm learning with my students.

Lessons like:

  • God goes ahead of us and smoothes the way before us.
  • We all have a task to do.
  • We might feel like we're just working on our own bit of the wall....but when we do our bit and the person next to us does theirs, the job gets done.  We work shoulder-to-shoulder and we need each other to get it done.
  • We will always have opposition....stay on your wall!
  • We are so important to God he names us in His Book of Life individually, just like he named people specifically in the Bible.
  • When we obey God's laws we experience far greater joy in our lives.
  • Speaking out the Word of the Lord in public is powerful.
We love sharing stories, in our classroom.  I share mine - my kids share theirs.  And I ask them to think about how they can apply what the hear with questions like:  "What would it look like in our classroom/playground/friendships/behaviour?"

I adore being in a school where we get to share what we're learning about God and how we put skin on that.  The most exciting part of my day!