Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

What he does.

I was driving home after my son’s swimming lesson, and I wasn’t happy. The lesson hadn’t gone well. He’d kidded around, acted unsafely and hadn’t listened to the teacher. He was a smart-arse and was unrepentant. I had told him not to worry and that he’d do better next week. I had asked him how he was, wondering if he was tired or if something was wrong. I was calm. I was breathing. I was doing it all right. “How do you think you did this week?”.

But before long, I was criticising him, telling him how he should do better at swimming, that he had gone backwards, that he was acting like a baby.  It got more heated as he started answering back, declaring that he knew how to swim because he was 5. I threatened to withdraw treats until he picked up his game. The argument spiralled and my blood boiled.

I felt the words form in my head. I felt part of my head say “Oh god, don’t say that”. Words only travel one way, there’s no reverse. But a second later out it came:

“Well, if you keep doing that you’ll drown. Then you’ll be dead and you’ll never be 6”.

WHO THE FUCK SAYS THAT TO A FIVE YEAR OLD?
Yep.
This guy.
W.
T.
F.?

Yep. Told him to listen to me or he’d die. And even now I can’t get the image of it out of my head, even though it’s 2 weeks later. I just wanted him to shut up. I thought I could scare or hurt him into stopping. And it worked. And the croaky “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that” afterwards didn’t take the words back.

He’s impulsive, stubborn and defiant.  He pushes boundaries, answers back and is even moodier than me.

That’s what he does. He’s 5.

But that’s not all he does.

Up they go.....

Up they go…..

We were going out geocaching. The actual geocaching part often a secondary consideration during our outings… My son found a “mountain”. It was a rock pile, leftovers from the Red White and Blue mine near a very small town called Muckleford. He climbed it. He did it without my help, at his own insistence, and he stood tall at the top and declared that he’d climbed it. “I’d never climbed that mountain before, dad. Have you?”. “No, I haven’t…”

He’s climbing mountains.

That’s what he does. He’s 5.

Waiting for another first.

Yesterday we were out, and the children were on a playground. The Lass, was stuck up a slide and had lost the confidence to come down. She was crying and we couldn’t get up to her, the playground was not designed for adults to ascend. Calm as anything, The Lad called out to her and told her not to worry. He went up and helped her calm down, then he helped her come down the slide. They played together beautifully, as his little sister found she could climb and slide like her big brother. He’d showed her how.

There was another younger kid on the same playground that day. The Lad helped him join in and looked after him. The small one’s mum said thanks to him for taking care of her son, and she said thanks to us too, although we don’t think we deserved any credit. Our boy is just a caring and tender soul.

That’s what he does. He’s 5.

But that’s not all he does.

img_1569

He’s trying to make sense of time at the moment. “Dad, when I was 3 how old were you?”. “When I’m 40, how old will you be?”. He wants to know when he’s big enough to do things, play computer games, trick or treat, ride a bike… He wants to know when he’ll be a man. When he’ll be older than me (and yes I’ve explained that won’t happen, still asks though) and what school will be like.

He is so excited and optimistic about the future. About our life together and about all the things he’s going to do in the world.

That’s what he does. He’s 5.

But that’s not all he does.

img_1472

My children weren’t sleeping. They weren’t listening and they were back-chatting. I’d asked them stop, told them it was time for bead, put them in bed and started singing to them in my famous soothing dad voice. But they were kicking bed sheets around. I felt it rising, again. I had read stories (3 of them). I’d let them cuddle me and soothed them as best I could. And it was getting me nowhere.

“Kid’s, daddy’s starting to feel frustrated, can you please lie down?”
Both kids kicked off their blankets, and The Lad started laughing at me. I took a breath.
“Okay, daddy needs to step out for a couple of minutes and cool off.”

I hadn’t planned to do that, or say that. I mean what kind of dad can’t hack putting his kids to sleep. Well, tonight that dad was this guy. So I stepped out. Took 2 minutes, went back in and at least got one of the kids to sleep. Okay, the other one wanted mum, but still there was no yelling, no grumbling and no saying of words I couldn’t take back.

He’d pushed me to the limit, and forced me to deal with it. He’d made me grow up and made me a better man.

That’s what he does. He’s 5. And his sister helps too.

img_1595

He’s 10cm taller than he was 10 months ago. At his age average growth (according to our family doctor) is 5cm a year. He is growing up and up. But it’s not just his height that’s increasing, it’s his depth. New ideas, new concepts and new perspectives are filling that brain of his. He’s getting bigger and bigger. His body, his mind and his soul.

That’s what he does. He’s 5.

And I’d better get used to it, because I don’t think he’s going to get any smaller any time soon.

Weight Loss, Body Image and Me.

There’s an upside.

seamus-big

A larger me…

“Have you lost weight?”
If I was in a cheap romance novel I’m sure there’d be mention of coy blushing in delight at this question. I grin demurely to myself, cast my glance down to the ground and nod silently.
Actually I respond with a gruff and manly:
“Yeah I have shed a bit this year”.
“Well, good for you, Seamus”
And on the inside I am beaming at myself.

Continue reading

ParentWorks

This post is brought to you by Nuffnang and ParentWorks

When I found out about ParentWorks my first thought was simply: “Finally”.

  • Finally a parenting support program you can access even if you work.
  • Finally something that doesn’t require paperwork, waiting lists, wads of cash or navigating a maze of different service providers.
  • Finally a program that mums and dads can do together at home on their own time.
  • Finally a service that doesn’t just acknowledge the importance of dads, but makes a real effort to include them.

ParentWorks is a self-directed, free online program for parents who are concerned about their child/ren’s behaviour or just want to learn more effective parenting skills. It grew out of a survey of fathers across Australia conducted by the “Like Father Like Son” research project at the University of Sydney. It found that only 10-15% of fathers turn up when their child is seeing someone about behavioural issues (for a bunch of reasons, work being a major one), but also found that most dads would happily participate in an online program if one were offered.

So, what’s it like? Before you start there are a bunch of detailed questions to answer about you and your children. This information will feed into future research and future programs; so it’s important you do it and take it seriously.

The main page.

The dashboard.

The program is set into modules, each designed to be looked at in one go and then put into practice over a week. The modules take under half an hour and are a series of videos, and short questions finished off with a task for you to focus on for the week. You cannot access the next module for one week, which gives you the chance to hone in on one aspect of parenting at a time.

As for the advice it gives? It is practical, positive and realistic.

For example: Module One asks you to identify 5 positive behaviours you want to see in your child, and try to reward them through the week in different ways. Not that complicated, right? But it can make a world of difference as your child starts to get attention for positive, rather than negative, behaviour. Later modules include: responding to misbehaviour, sibling conflict and bullying. There’s loads of useful, highly relevant, and effective stuff.

The program is pitched really well. The tone is informative, without being patronising, and is built on authentic research into effective parenting. At no point did I watch it and think, “oh god, I’ve really screwed up my kids”. Instead I found myself thinking, “oh, that makes sense” a lot.

I loved this gem of a quote:

“We can’t change children’s genetics and biology, but we can change what we do as parents”

ParentWorks is a great initiative that can help a lot of parents, especially dads who have difficulty accessing traditional services. So, if you have concerns about your child’s behaviour or development, ParentWorks is certainly worth a shot. It’s low-pressure, self-directed and it is built to work around the rest of your life.

For more information, check out the program here.

Father’s day card 2016

Dear Dad,

I don’t know why it is, but father’s day especially reminds me of you. More than birthdays or even the anniversary of your passing. I always remember you on this Sunday in September, especially now.

I’m still writing, just so you know. I’m writing in a few more places now, even earning a bit of a living off it (as of this month actually). I’m doing some spots on a radio station too. Not the radio radio, but on digital radio, and they’ve asked me back regularly so that’s something pretty cool.

Still teaching. Yes I know you don’t like teachers, tough luck dad. I think I’m actually pretty good at it, and it’s making me happy, so I’m sticking with it. I’ve lost weight this year, I know you always thought I was too fat, so that’s good news.

Now let me tell you about the children.

The Lad starts school next year. He’s nearly 5. I know, school???!?! When did that happen? I swear I was changing nappies yesterday, watching him lift his head for the first time and talking gobbledy gook to him as he lolled about on the floor. Yet there he is. Walking, talking, counting and even reading a little bit. He’s 5 soon, and there’s school next year.

He’s still got your eyes. Bright blue. He’s got enough energy to power a small island nation coursing through his body most of the time. He gets moody, but I think that’s just a bit of the “Magee men” coming through, you and I are both guilty of sulking from time to time. But I’m proud of him. Just on Friday I took him out on his bike, training wheels off. He’s so keen to learn to do things. He’s life aim at the moment seems to be to count to 100, and he’s almost there. He sings and dances his way through life, and very rarely stops moving.

I love him to death.

The Lass is almost 3, and she is going to grow up to run something at least the size of this country. She has a motor mouth, and is very quick to enter into discussions, debates and arguments. She starts a lot of her sentences with “actually”, and is quick to point out when someone around her has made an error.

She does not pull punches this girl. If she’s cranky she’ll let you know, and may god have mercy on your soul, as there’s no chance of mercy from this little terror. I’m writing this as she’s telling fridge magnets where they ought to be. She’s not being tyrannical, just insistent. That probably sums up her assertive nature…

And as for me? I hope that my fathering is up to scratch. The kids have made me things for father’s day that I’ll put on my wall or on a shelf, and I’ll look at them in 20 years and wonder where the time went, I’m sure. Did I grow this fast? I can’t have, I swear childhood took ages, it dragged on and on while I was in it. I feel like if I blink right now my two babies will be adults.

When did you think I was grown up? Did that ever happen? Am I still a kid to you, if so what are my kids?

The Lad today said he wished I could have you back. It was such a sweet idea. Honestly I wish you could have just one day to see us, to see me being a dad. I don’t know if you’d agree with everything I do, I don’t know what you’d think of how I manage my own children – hell you might hate it – but I wish you had a chance to see it.

But maybe you do see it, and you mutter grumpily under your breath about what I do, but smile on the inside like you did when you were around.

Whatever the case, I hope I’d make you proud

Happy Father’s Day dad.
Your son,
Seamus

Letting him be sad.

My son has a sad, old and tired lunchbox. It’s falling apart, there’s no escaping that fact. It is on its last legs, if it still has any legs left at all. I felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw it. It had lasted through day care and through 3-year-old kinder. It was our son’s first lunchbox, and I felt an odd emotional connection to it. (I once got emotional over a back pack, so that’s just me I suppose).

So I decided to show it to The Lad. In my head it would be one last look at this relic of his past before we sent it off into the great beyond of the kitchen bin. We would pause to remember its noble spirit, how it served us all well, and then set it afloat in a shop and shoot a flaming arrow at it. I really like viking funerals….

Here’s what they look like new:

And here’s what his looks like now:

Truck lunchbox

He was happy to see it. He hadn’t used it in months, it had been sitting neglected in the cupboard for a substantial period gathering dust, but seeing it again made him happy. He cuddled it, as he is often want to do, and he paused to remember the good times.

Then I told him that it was broken and it was time to put it in the bin so he could get a new lunch box.

And he paused.

His lips trembled.

And he cried. Not the screaming tortured cries of a tantrum, but the lip-quivering, soul-destroying despair of a boy who was just plain sad. Intensely sad. Perhaps the saddest I had seen him. He sobbed as tears filled his eyes and he cried quietly to himself.

What had I done? Somehow I had amused an emotional rupture in the boy,  traumatising him by suggesting that this lunchbox needed to go in the bin. I cuddled him, much as I found his outburst absurd I am never one to stifle them when he expresses them.

Besides often at times in my life this has been me:

Eventually we helped him settle again with promise of a new lunchbox with rockets on it when he started school. He picked it out himself, and in the process of selecting his replacement he calmed down.

Another occasion, out of the blue, he got the same look. It was a distant and sad look. The kind of look I’d expect to see from an old man remembering watching his childhood home being demolished or something. It was strange to see it on a 4-year-old.

“What is it Lad?”
“I’m thinking about my balloon”
“Which one?”

We’d been at a birthday party the weekend before and I discovered one of my parenting super powers is my ability to blow up balloons that are almost impossible to blow up. Seriously, I played brass instruments in high school (I was super cool! Yeah!), and it has finally paid off.

He didn’t answer, but the penny dropped.

“Your balloon that you lost at the fireworks?” I asked
“Yeah….”

The balloon that he lost at the fireworks were lost at fireworks about 5 months ago. It was a helium balloon with a ribbon on it, you know the kind. It was tied to his wrist, but not quite well enough, and it flew away. The Lass offered him her balloon at the time, but he still spent most of the fireworks and light show grieving for the loss of his balloon. The festival (at The Great Stupa in Bendigo) were pretty good by the way.

And at this moment, after nearly 5 months had passed, the memory and the sadness he felt for that balloon came flooding back to him.

Today He wanted to play Star Trek on my phone and I’d said no. We launched into a discussion about screens and he was insisting that they were the most interesting thing in the world. Yes that’s an issue I need to work on with him, and I started to work on it then and there. We talked about all the other things he does that are fun, and eventually we got to this one:

“What about your friends at kinder? They’re better than screens”
“Yeah….”
His face suddenly changed again.
“What?”
“Oh I’m thinking about ……”

He was remembering a mate of his at kinder that had moved away from the area 5 weeks ago. Again a memory had surged back into his brain. He suddenly switched from argumentative and bullish to melancholic in a few seconds flat. I went from argumentative and bullish to counsellor in a few seconds flat too…

“I know you miss him. It’s hard when someone you like moves away, isn’t it?”

We talked it over together, and he went into the bath sighing.

There’s something raw about the way a 4-year-old experiences emotions. He’s not had enough lifetime to build “perspective” as we adults like to call it. From what I can gather ‘perspective’ is when an adult has spent enough time being sad that they understand there are lots of levels of sadness.

When a 4-year-old feels sad he feels it with ever fibre of his beautiful soul, even if it’s just for a balloon, because he hasn’t spent much of his life feeling sad. There’s no levels, no barometer. There’s just feeling sad. He sighs, he frowns, maybe he cries. His body goes into the emotion, and he dwells on it for a time.

So what do I do? Not much. I sit with my son and let him be sad, tell him that it’s okay to feel sad and that I love him. I ask him if he wants anything from me, and he never does, and we sit until the sadness passes. Because it always does.

“Dad gets sad too sometimes when he remembers things.”

I fight the urge to divert, to distract or to try to “cheer him up”, because he’s quite capable of doing that himself, and it’s something I want him to learn to do. It’s hard, because we always want to “fix” our kids problems or to make these things easier for them.

If I want him to learn to cope with his feelings, to process them and manage them, the most important thing I can do for him now is to let him feel them.

« Older posts