Tales of a Country Tiger

Every time it’s the school holidays I wonder if I’m manic-depressive or if this is just how having 2 young kids and a teenager is supposed to feel.

Every day I wake up and walk into the living room, and all the sensors and lights in my brain start screaming OVERLOAD! SELF-DESTRUCT!

For example, last weekend, Dylan splashed red paint all over the floor of the playroom and by the time we discovered it, there were red footprints everywhere including doggy paw prints in the cream carpet we lugged home all the way from Morocco. So the Irishman yelled at her and gave her a bucket of soapy water to mop the floor with and (crucial point) did NOT supervise the “cleanup operation”. Which meant that when I came running into the playroom to yell at someone for something, I went skidding across the floor and wrenched something in my back, which several hours and a CT scan later turned out to be a bulging L5 disc, resulting in many days of bedrest in a slovenly house.

So I’ve been rather grumpy of late. The kids, sensing that I’ve been out of action, have been even more rambunctious than normal. And god help me if I receive one more piece of “advice” on social media from a person who doesn’t have kids, I may add human flesh to the dinner menu. After all, I am an expert on livestock dispatch and butchery.

My personal favourite is “Oh Finn and Dylan fight so much! Why don’t you tell them not to fight?!”. OMG. My toes curl up like slugs and my ovaries could combust. Seriously. That’s like “Wow, Israelis and Palestinians are so quarrelsome! Why doesn’t someone tell them to stop it?”. Finn and Dylan fight because they’re contesting holy territory of personal space and parental attention. It’s annoying but perfectly normal and in 15 years time they may even grow to like each other, much like myself and my 2 younger brothers.

Or there’s also the “Why did Dylan eat that medicine / sweets / dead fly? Didn’t you TELL her that those things are bad for her?”. OK. Yes I told her. Just about three hundred thousand times, and yes she “knows”. But 2 things:

Firstly, Explicit knowledge is different from Tacit knowledge. You can tell a child that fire will burn them. That is explicit knowledge. But a child does not know what “burn” really means until the child plays with matches and gets burnt. Now that’s tacit knowledge which can’t be taught.

Secondly, even if children know that something is bad for them, it doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyway. People don’t smoke because they think that cigarettes are good for them. People smoke because they know that smoking is bad but they’ve made a decision to choose the pleasure that they get from the smoking over the potential hazards. Kids make bad decisions all the time. That’s why my household is not a democracy. If my kids were allowed to choose they’d be having McDonalds for breakfast lunch and dinner every day. Just. No.

Anyway, yesterday when I walked into the living room, I saw the usual scene of destruction and I could have exploded but I did something different. I called the children into the room and got them to sit down. And then I asked them a question.

Me: “How smart do you think you are?”

Finn: “Quite smart. No. Very smart.”

Dylan: “A bit smart?”

Me: “There are three types of people in the world. Smart, Normal and Stupid people.
A Stupid person is the type of person, when you tell them there’s a problem, they’ll ask you what to do about it, and when you give them the solution, they may even tell you that they can’t do it.
A Normal person is the type of person, when you tell them there’s a problem, they’ll think of a solution and try to fix it.
A Smart person is the type of person who you don’t even have the chance to tell about the problem because they’ll walk into the room and use their brain to see all the problems there are or could be and will go to work fixing those problems before needing to be told.”

Finn: “So a smart person is like a mind reader?”

Me: “Exactly.”

Dylan: “Is that why you got mad at Sean the other day when he said he couldn’t clear the table?”

Me: “Yes. Because he was being Stupid. I was cooking dinner, and I needed the table cleared but when I asked Sean to do it, he said he couldn’t. When I asked him why, he said it’s because Dad organised all the medicine cabinet supplies on it and they couldn’t be moved. That was stupid because the problem was that we needed somewhere to eat dinner. If he was being Normal, he would have thought Oh, maybe I could move all the bottles and boxes closer together and make some space. Or maybe we can set the kitchen island for us to eat dinner at. Or maybe I could move the boxes in the order that they are in, onto the floor. But he just told me no. I can’t do it. Now a really really smart person would know that I’m about to finish cooking dinner and clear the table already without needing to be told.

Now this doesn’t mean Sean is stupid, any one can be Stupid, Normal or Smart in a situation. You have the power to choose.”

(Short pause while Dylan and Finn absorb this information.)

Dylan: “I’m smart because I can see 4 problems in this room that I need to solve!” (Darts off and starts packing her toys away and cleaning up.)

Finn: “I’m smarter because I can see 6 problems in this room that i’m going to solve also!” (Runs over to the playroom and starts packing up Pokemon cards)

The Irishman, who has been eavesdropping in the corner, looks up from his laptop and says “Well I think we all know who the smart one is around here.”

I give it about 3 days…

Confessions of a Neglectful Mother

“You’re NOT doing meditation Mom, you’re actually sleeping!!!” Oh no, I’ve been sussed. I am so, indisputably, regrettably, NOT a morning person. The Irishman is on a business trip this week and has left me in charge.

Never before have my children been so terrified. You see, while I am sufficiently credible as a parent (after 10.30 a.m. GMT +8) , my morning routine is based on the little-known parenting philosophy known as Benign Neglect.

Let me share my typical morning routine – you may wish to get out your notebook mes cheres!

Now imagine if you will, the setting for this bucolic scene – my beautiful bedroom converted into a ramshackle shanty town as I have cleverly moved Finn and Dylan’s mattresses to the floor next to my bed to avoid having to trek to their bedrooms in the morning. The whole room is strewn with soft toys, cups of tea and random articles of clothing including a pair of pants belonging to Finn’s classmate’s sister.

7.15 a.m. – Alarm goes off. Finn and Dylan wake up and run off to the kitchen to find the most responsible person who’s awake (Sean) and get him to fix them breakfast.

7.16 a.m. – Dylan runs into the bedroom. “Mama, there’s no more milk!” “Dylan, milk sucks. Drink some juice. ”

7.18 a.m. – Finn runs into the bedroom. “Mama, why are you still sleeping?” “I’m meditating.” “Is meditating sleeping Mama?” “Something like that Finn.”

7.19 a.m. – Dylan pops in and announces – “Mama, there’s no more juice!” “Dylan, juice sucks. Get one of your brothers to make you a Berocca cocktail”

7.20 a.m. – Sean shouts from the kitchen – “Muuumm, are you awaaakeeee????”

7.25 a.m. – Finn & Dylan jump onto the bed. “Mama, go put on your makecup!” “Ok darlings… Mama is just finishing my meditation visualisation thing…”.

7.28 a.m. – I feel tiny gentle strokes on my face and open my eyes to find Dylan rubbing my cheek as if performing ministrations for a very elderly person, whispering “Por Mama, Poooor Mama” in a slightly patronising manner . “OK OK Dylan I’m getting up!!!” Drag myself out of bed and get started on my 28 step morning abolition routine. Step 1 – Lymphatic drainage facial massage.

7.30 a.m. – Sean sticks his head around the door. “Muuum, I’m walking to the bus stop!” “NOOOO DON’T LEAVE ME WITH THE… I mean have a great day honey!”

7.45 a.m. – Dylan comes in to dress me. “Mama, put on your brawr! I will choose your clothes for you!” Lays out an outfit worthy of Tradies Night at Frankston Disco.

8.00 a.m. – Breakfast of avocado, tortilla chips & salsa while Finn & Dylan quiz me suspiciously on whether I’ve packed their lunch boxes and brief me on what things I have to sign for class.

8.15 a.m. – “Come on Mama! We have to go to school! ” Accusatory looks and pointing at the door. Mama slinks off to bathroom to perform last minute search for missing phone.

8.25 a.m. – Kids are in car with Finn beeping the horn. We drive to school with the music blasting at 200 decibels to cheer me up and to drown out any arguments going on in the backseat.

This week my iPhone is at the D section of my playlist, which, very appropriately, consists of the following songs –

1.) Don’t Panic – Coldplay
2.) Don’t Stop the Music – Rihanna
3.) Don’t Wanna Go Home – Jason Derulo
4.) Don’t You Worry Child – Swedish House Mafia
5.) Dosed – Red Hot Chilli Peppers

It’s pretty much a spot-on soundtrack to my morning.

Now let me tell you, we’ve gotten to school every morning pretty much on time, with zero nagging from me.

Which goes to show that a little bit of judicious neglect can foster the most amazing independence! And didn’t my therapist Volker tell me that frustration tolerance was the best skill I can teach my kids?

Thank you kids. Take a bow! Have two Berocca tablets! Don’t go drinking them at one sitting now!


The Benignly Neglectful Mother