“Dad, did your friend die?”
“He wasn’t exactly my friend, but he was my student for a while”
“Oh, and did he die?”
“Why did he die?”
“He was sick, and he didn’t get better” Continue reading
Yes you read that right, it’s a post about feminism and it’s about my son. It’s not about how he treats women or how he regards them. It’s not about consent, sex and power (I have covered it a bit before). It’s not about wages and it’s not about privilege (Although it kind of is….).
It’s about rigid masculine roles. It’s about social expectations we place on men to be manly and on women to be womanly – and what those words mean. It is a post about him and the pressures he will face as he grows into a man, and as he lives as one in the world.
What if he’s not manly? What if he’s a “girl”? He might throw like a girl, cry like a girl, run like a girl or hit like a girl. He might care about how he looks, that’s pretty girly, right? What if he’s a feminist (gasp!). Continue reading
I was a theatre tragic through university. It took almost 3 years for me to get on the stage at uni, and once I started I could not stop. There was Street theatre, musicals, Greek Tragedy, Comedies, Jacobean Plays, new plays, old plays…. I acted. I produced. I directed. I did more theatre than study some years…. And after I finished uni, I didn’t give it up. We kept going, did a Melbourne Fringe show, did some Theatre in Education gigs and dreamed of taking over the world….
Back in 2002 I starred alongside The Mamanator, it was where we got to know each other many years before we started a romantic relationship. In fact, we got married on the stage of The Guild Theatre at Melbourne University where we’d been in a play a year from 2004 to 2008.
Then our group dissolved, as happens. People left for greener pastures overseas. There were weddings and baby showers, and suddenly life was full of other priorities. Nights were long, sleep was lacking and attention was demanded. And there was so much love, so much joy and so much happiness but so little time…
Earlier this year an opportunity glimmered in the deep as I swam my way through a clumsy metaphor. The Mamanator glimpsed a Facebook post and tagged me in. Castlemaine Theatre Company were looking for a 6th and final cast member to their upcoming show The Peach Season, and I fit the criteria.
Could it work? I mulled the idea. Could I actually be involved in my first post-dadhood theatre production? My head span with thoughts of stage lights, working with actors and rehearsing. My head simultaneously filled with thoughts of missed bedtime kisses, missed dinners, missed stories and weekends lost to tech runs, dress rehearsals and more.
We discussed it, The Mamanator thought I should do it, and so did I. I responded to the post.
A few days later I walked into Castlemaine Public Library to talk to the director of Castlemaine Theatre Company’s The Peach Season. And suddenly I was in the theatre world again. Rehearsals were two nights a week, with Sunday rehearsals starting as we got closer to opening night. There were 9 shows, tech rehearsals, dress runs and all that malarkey.
It wasn’t long before the world “rehearsal” was embedded in my children’s vocabulary. And it was often met with dread. I tried my absolute hardest to have the kids asleep before I left the house to go workshop/rehearse/play in the local scout hall, and as the days got shorter it generally worked. But still there were nights when The Lad was not asleep by the time I left. When he bawled and demanded “DADDY”, howling “I WANT DADDY!” as I slunk around the house trying to gather my materials so I could leave.
There were nights where this little ritual (which did not happen all that often) made me practise a “resignation speech” in the car on the drive down to the scout hall in Castlemaine. The speech was forgotten after about 5 minutes of rehearsing as I flexed my actor-muscles and the days worries kind of faded away. The speech was remembered later as I drove home, the guilt set back in and I wondered how I could de-prioritise my children so quickly.
But, honestly, I’ve loved doing this. I’ve loved taking some time to do something for me. I’ve loved connecting with people and making friends outside of work and parent-y groups. I’ve loved re-finding an outlet for my artistic side (it has meant I’ve written a lot less recently…. as I’m sure you’ve all noticed). I’ve loved getting back to something I did before being dad and re-finding the joy in it. In a not-at-all guilt assuaging way, I think that when we take a bit of time to make ourselves happy it rubs off on all aspects of our lives, including parenting.
And yet… I’m not actually sure I was ready. This wasn’t an intentional jaunt back into the realm of drama, more of a quirky and fatalistic collapse onto the stage. Like tripping on a gate and landing in a field (in-joke). I think it may be a bit more time before I find myself on stage again… Although if I know myself I probably can’t stay away for too long….
Besides I made an agreement with The Mamantor. She gets to go in the next show. She should. She’s quite good.
And the kids? They survived. Sure they hated it at times, but they seem to have forgiven me. I still feel a slight sting when The Lad comes into our room at night and goes round to The Mamanator’s side instead of mine, but there’s time for us to have plenty more cuddles before he outgrows them.
Who knows, maybe one day I’ll do a show that the kids can actually come see.
Never make time-sensitive promises to your child. I made that mistake week before last after I got a notice in our post box that a parcel had arrived. I had been waiting for a deliver of Bunchems to arrive courtesy of the good folk at Nuffnang for me to review, and the note related to that. Hooray! I had been waiting a little while because sometimes the post takes time when you live in a tiny town.
“Mum will pick it up tomorrow during the day!” I promised the kids.
It never happened, and they were annoyed. Then Friday came and again, the collection of the parcel did not happen.
Saturday was the day! Our post office opens Saturday mornings, and I was going to walk them down and pick it up and… Oh crap, they’re closed. There was a tantrum outside the post office, the owner of the shop stuck her head out to explain that they were renovating, and were shut till Tuesday. The Lad did not accept the explanation and reminded me that I had promised….
More fool me.
But finally, after 5 days of impatient waiting we made it down to collect a new part for our vacuum and a “Mega pack” of Bunchems. I wasn’t home when they got them, but got the debrief afterwards from The Mamanator:
“The kids loved them, and they are all over the bloody house”
And the kids certainly do love them. The Lad, who is 4, is just entering a bizarre phase where he wants to make things. ALL THE THINGS. We’ve had Thomas puppets, race cars, skate boards, a bus, space ship, a robot, monsters, a shield, a sword and probably a billion other things. Any household object is just another raw material to power this artistic mega-brain. Paper, cardboard, bubble-wrap, boxes, disused label makers (no joke), toilet paper rolls… You name it.
He’s a Mini-Mister Maker with extra energy and less of an attention span. The one thread that unites all his artistic efforts is an absolute abundance of ripped paper all over the bloody house….
But, while collecting ripped paper from… you guessed it…. all over the bloody house requires trips to the bin and back, collecting Bunchems from all over the bloody house involves collecting them and putting them back into a container to be used again, which is preferable.
The other thing I like about Bunchems is how easy they are to use. They stick together easily and do not require you to line up tabs and slots in any way at all. You just press them together and voila!. This makes them a wonderful building material that can be used again and again and again.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention one issue. Hair. My son decided to decorate my daughter’s hair with them. No idea where he got the idea from….
Should this happen, and it probably will, there’s a video guide on how to remove them. In all honesty we didn’t go to that much trouble, we just teased them out one by one by one and they came out without too much fuss. They also survived a trip into a clag bottle thanks to my daughter (who, it must be noted, is younger than the recommended age for this particular toy.
So, all up? Our kids are messy, so they still make mess with Bunchems. But the mess is relatively easy to clean up. They also hurt a damn sight less than a Lego brick if you stand on them, so they get credit for that. All in all they are a simple concept that works well. I imagine our kids will be playing with them for a while yet!.
You’re the parent. The adult. The boss. It’s up to you. You are the responsible one. You have to be the grown up. Set Boundaries. Be firm. Don’t give in. Be consistent…
It was coming into the end of the day, and I’d been alone with the kids. The Mamanator was taking a weekend to catch up with friends and go for a drink (scandalous) with some of her old mates who were now mums. It was a kid-free Melbourne based girls night that they’d all earned.
We’d had a good day, with a couple of screaming matches. One in the library when I had to take my son away from the big touch screen-interactive-whatsit they set up in there because he pushed his sister over when she tried to join in. He crossed a line, and I had to be the grown up. One in a shop when my son wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t going to buy him the cars he wanted, in spite of me giving him several other options. But he’d calmed down, recovered and apologised.
Now, however, I was calling for the end of bath time. I’d set a timer to limit the bath that night with my phone, and the allotted time had elapsed. The kids complained, a lot, but I’d set a boundary, and I intended to stick to it. I eventually got one of my kids enthused with the idea of cleaning out the bath and exiting. It was the little one, she always folds first, or changes her mind first.
The Lad, at 4, was sticking to his guns. He had set up his cars to race and he hadn’t finished. I tried to get his attention, repeating his name over and over and over, with increasing frustration, exasperation and urgency, and increased effort on my part to get him to look at me. I had to be the grown up again.
“I’m going to stat putting those cars away if you don’t listen to me now”
He looked up.
“I want you to let your sister pull the plug and put the toys away, bath is over”.
He went straight back to his cars. Not a word. Not a change. Barely a glance. I took deep breaths.
Meanwhile The Lass had managed to wrest the plug free and the bath drained. One by one, with incredible slowness, he put the cars away. By the time he left the bath I had the little girl dressed and ready.
“Okay, now go to your room and get your PJ’s Lad. Go to your room and get your PJs. Go get your PJs in your room”. It’s funny how the wording changes when you repeat yourself sometimes, hoping the new combination of words will sink in. They did not, as you might have guessed.
He was standing in front of the mirror, making funny sounds, funny faces and (I think) trying to moon himself or look up his own bottom… After my 3rd variation on a request he moved and started to walk towards the door. FINALLY. I’d done it. I was the 4-year-old whisperer.
Then he turned around to go back to the bathroom mirror, and I lost it. One of those guttural dad-growls came up and I felt myself shaking for a split second. I can’t remember what words I used, or if I just shouted in frustration, but this boy was milking every second he could out of this bath, and they were seconds I did not want to give him.
He turned around, looking upset and walked out the bathroom door, and turned the wrong way, back towards the kitchen.
“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO WHAT I’VE ASKED YOU TO DO SEVEN TIMES!!!! GAAAAAH!”
I think I said that. Can’t really remember. But it was close to that.
But then he was in bed. I was reading. Both children were drinking milk and time had passed. As I talked about stories and read them I paused for a second.
“Daddy shouldn’t have yelled before. I got angry, and that’s why I yelled, but I shouldn’t have done it. Sorry”.
I wanted my son to apologise for his behaviour that evening. Part of me wanted to DEMAND it, to order him to apologise to him. He’d been a turd.
But then I thought about it. Thought about how his frustration recently had been manifesting itself with my own words of frustration. He’d started saying one of my favourites: “STOP INTERRUPTING ME!” at the top of his voice. How he’d grunt, like me.
Then I thought about the words I wanted him to use. The voice I wanted him to use, and how especially at his age tone means so much more than the dictionary definition of what I’m saying. I thought of all the times I tried to berate him or guilt trip him into doing things for me.
I mean don’t get me wrong, he’s a handful, and he certainly knows how to push my buttons. Yet, I know that in those moments with raised voices, with exasperated tones and with sighs of disappointment, I am letting him down. I’m showing him, demonstrating to him, exactly what I don’t want from him.
And I need to do better.
“That’s okay dad” came a calm and level reply.
Later we were reading stories. There was some discussion (conflict) over how the night would run. Normally I read some picture books then The Lass goes to The Mamanator while I read longer stories, or a chapter book, to The Lad. Tonight it was different, The Lass would need some lullabies from dad, so the stories would have to wait.
“Now Lad, I’m going to ask you to do something alright?”
“I need to help your sister get to sleep. Can you be a big brother for me and wait till she’s asleep for your special stories?”
And then, with a small tear in one eye, I leant over to him “Thanks son, I’m proud of the way you’re looking after your sister”.
Songs ensued. The Lass slept fast. Stories were had and I sat with this boy of mine until he fell asleep.
If I want him to learn to apologise, I need to do it. If I want him to use a kind voice, I need to do it. If I want to see fewer tantrums, I have to throw less of them. Hopefully I have the willpower to do all that in the face of this rambunctious, cheeky and sometimes downright defiant little boy. And when I don’t, have the maturity to say sorry.
After all, I have to be the grown up.