Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

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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,

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

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”
His face suddenly changed again.
“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.

Gastro Weekend

We were at the breakfast table on Thursday and all was well. The kids had baked beans, toast, eggs and bacon. The Mamanator and I had something hearty – I can’t remember – and the kids were their normal, exuberant selves. Not a cloud in the sky.

And then there was a gurgle.

Suddenly last nights dinner was puddled on the floor and on the table around The Lad. The Mamanator and I both said “Oh dear” to our son. While our inner voices both said “Oh, shit”. The plague was upon us, we were pretty sure, and we were right. The poor boy vomited again before I left for work in the morning, and was consigned to stay at home for the day. I trooped on to work, hoping I didn’t start feeling queasy part way through the day, and see how I went.

The Lad kept throwing up, poor boy. While I was out for the day, and even after I’d come back. It didn’t let up on Friday, and he was seen by a doctor to get checked over – it was gastro, and we were told if he didn’t pee by Friday night he’d need to go to emergency (as if we hadn’t had enough of hospitals recently…). But, on a strict diet of jelly and pears, he started to perk up on Friday afternoon. Until….

I got a message at work from The Mamanator saying she’d started throwing up – fortunately it was nearly time for the bell, and Friday is that one day teachers can actually leave work after the students are gone, so I made a b-line home.

The Lad was eating some food, it was a start, and I broke out the emergency frozen pasta rations for The Lass. We were going through a familiar ritual… “I DON’T LIKE IT”, “But you haven’t even tried it, just give it a try!!!” etc. etc. etc. She is belligerent at dinner time. She wanted to be picked up, so I saw an opening. “Try this and I’ll pick you up!” She took a bite of ravioli, I picked her up. She declared her dislike for it in no uncertain terms and then threw up all over me.

Lass 1, Dadinator 0.

I knew at that point it was over. Any attempt to avoid or contain the contagion for me were in vain, being spewed on was a point from which there was no going back. The Mamanator was done, The Lad was recovering (slowly), and The Lass had just succumbed. So I did what I could, Mopped up and disinfected what I could, got the kids to bed, completed a “mercy dash” to the supermarket for The Mamanator, got home ate something (on the off-chance it would stay down), and went to bed knowing what was coming the next day.

Mercy Dash

And it did come. In the morning, with a vengeance. The kids watched TV while I sat, waiting. I knew what was coming, but the bloody bastard virus decided to toy with me, took its time, made me wait for the inevitable expulsion of my stomach’s contents.

What followed was a splitting day-long headache that prevented me from moving for most of the day. The kids, little buggers, had just about bounced back by this stage. The Mamanator was still unwell, but had stopped spewing, and I was basically dead weight on the bed, occasionally having a glass of flat lemonade or a bowl of jelly. Which was like manna from heaven, I don’t mind admitting.

So I sat in bed, continued to plow my way through Pratchett and muddled my way through the day untill I decided that we all deserved chips (I really wanted salt….), and ventured out to get us dinner and “help us we’re sick” treats. These included pink doughnuts for The Lass that she then refused to eat because “I just want to look at them!”, a pineapple fritter for the boy, Jubes for The Mamanator and chocolate for the both of us to share.

The good news was that it turned out I was the last to throw up (On Saturday Morning). The bad news was that it cost me my weekend, at least gastro could have struck during the week….

Today was a bit different. We didn’t want to venture out, but got stuff done around the house and garden, keeping the plague as contained as we could. We ate reasonably well, and are all on the mend. There was a blanket cubby at one stage, I almost napped, and all in all the mood was much improved.

My lap is prime real estate as breakfast time....

My lap is prime real estate as breakfast time….

In short, we survived, used a lot of disinfectant, and the kids coped well enough – mostly thanks to ABC4Kids and a touch screen device…. Oh well….

How was your weekend?


The word sticks out at me on the report, “atypical”. It’s not a loaded word. Not like “behind” or “under-developed” or “challenged”. It’s a pretty harmless and neutral word pointing out that some facet is not quite what you’d expect, that it was not quite the same as it is in most people. It’s a word that doesn’t point to someone being “low” in some way, just different.

And it’s a word that appeared a few times recently on a report We were handed.

Doubts and doubting them.

We watched him with doting eyes. We love him so much, and he is such a gorgeous boy. But still there were doubts. You know the ones, those whispers we all get in our heads that keep you up at night, but which you squash down during the day.
Are you SURE this is okay?
Is he different to other kids?
Is this normal?
Is something wrong? 

It was a niggle that grew as he got older. His temper would flare up. He would get into a zone and ignore everything else around him. He would cling to things. He rubbed surfaces, was too loud at the wrong time. He still sucked his thumb….. Niggle niggle niggle….

Alongside it there persisted that guilt…
Did I do screw him up.?
Have I been too strict?
Not strict enough?
Why can’t I seem to help my child?

But that’s not enough. You doubt your child. You doubt yourself. Then…. you doubt your doubts.

Why can’t I just love him and accept him?
Am I reading too much into this?
Does he know I feel this way?
Oh god, he knows i’m worrying, doesn’t he? Is that the problem?

And it persists, and in spite of your own dismissals, quashings of that inner voice and self-rebukes, you act.Because somewhere between instinct and paranoia there is room for reason, and because you know your child. You surrender.

You seek help.

The Wait

Referral roulette. Referrals from GPs to hospitals. From hospitals to pediatricians. From pediatricians to psychologist and family support workers, even a dose of parenting classes. We spent sessions talking to a family therapist, putting ourselves under the microscope, reading our children’s behaviour in relation to their needs rather than as something they inflicted on us.

Then came the Occupational Therapist. I never really knew what they were or what they did. I assumed they did stuff with ergonomics, they were about workplace injuries or something. Sounded right. But as I’ve learned in the past year they do a lot more, and that parents of children with a raft of different extra needs spend a lot of time with them.

And now our son does.

He’s atypical. Well parts of his sensory profile are atypical. He has certain receptive issues, certain sensitivities which once upon a time would have just been called being “odd”. Once upon a time they would have needed “straightening out”. But we’re not once upon a time, we are now. And now we use that word “atypical”.

Well… we’re all atypical I’m sure, a perfectly typical person is probably pretty rare, but it bears more weight when it is found in a piece of paper from an OT.  The Lad had been working with one at the local hospital, and working with The Mamanator and his kindergarten teacher they built up a sensory profile.

And he was atypical in a number of areas, meaning he has trouble “filtering” his senses. I know there’s more to it than that, but that’s probably the simplest way of putting it. It also means that he sometimes seeks certain kinds of sensory stimulation, he rubs my arm, he sucks his thumb, he rocks or sways, he has trouble standing still. Sometimes he gets caught up in what he’s doing and it’s like he doesn’t hear you when you call.

A lot of that is typical. But added together, perhaps, it becomes atypical. I don’t now how this all works. The brain processes a lot of information, and some of it just gets caught up. There’s a lot about the brain we don’t know. But I know my son.

I know he sometimes hears the noise I make, but sometimes he doesn’t hear me. I know that he nudges me like a cat, pushing against my arm with his face. I know he jumps about and has trouble sitting still for too long. I know he’s a clever, bright and vivacious boy with an active imagination, a kind soul and a sensitive heart. I know we have to consider whether he needs to stay in kinder for another year next year, and it will be a decision that we’ll lose sleep over. I know I’ll blink, 10 years will pass and this will probably all mean nothing.

I love him. I’m learning more about him as he grows. We’re finding ways to help and support him as he grows. The help is helping, we’re learning how to be a bit more atypical ourselves.


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