I was looking forward to the school holidays. If for no other reason than the relentlessness of school lunches, I was looking forward to the holidays. Some people enjoy a sleep-in during this time but apparently, we are not those people. And if any of us try to be those people, there is always one little bastard who can be counted on to wake early and take the rest of us with them. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Angie, you can't call your children bastards!" and my response is A: I never call them bastards to their sweet little bastard faces but also B: Bren and I are NOT married which makes me factually correct and I'll call those little bastards whatever I like.
But I've strayed off my point. My point is that the thing I most look forward to when Semester 1 draws to a close is report time. I love school reports so much! I love reading all about my child and scratching my head in wonder at the little stranger being described to me.
A sample of this year's reports:
Not bad for a couple of bastards! But seriously, WHO ARE THESE CHILDREN? And where do they go when I pick them up at the end of the school day?
I'm not suggesting the boys have no redeeming qualities and in fact, I think they ARE capable of being sweet kids, but the way their teachers describe them so glowingly is somewhat at odds with the little people who skulk around this house fighting and whingeing and begging for food. If I've told Luca we don't resolve issues with hitting, I've told him a thousand times. Just in the last 48 hours. "But Mum!" he'll implore, "Ziggy is the most annoying person IN THE WORRRRRLD." The other day, I pulled him aside and I said, "Listen, mate, I know. And between you and me, we're all thinking the same thing. But this is a burden we have to carry together." He winked at me and we had a little laugh and all the while, Brendon stared at me weirdly. Like, disapproving or something. I don't know. I'd already moved on.
And Ziggy a can-do kind of kid? Um, not if the 'do' involves brushing teeth, putting on shoes or carrying his own school bag. Or walking. He doesn't much care for walking either. His legs hurt, you see. If the 'do' involves watching marathon episodes of Scooby Doo, eating donuts or making fart noises with his mouth, then yes, I agree, he CAN DO and WILL DO. But as far as I knew, these activities were not a part of the school curriculum.
So I love report time because I get to glimpse my kids through someone else's eyes and as parents, I think we really need that. We need to be reminded of who our kids can be, the very best aspects of them. Yes, it's balls that their behaviour is often the polar opposite at home but isn't this true of all of us? Don't we expend a huge amount of energy putting our best foot forward when we're out in the world and relish the opportunity to dispense with all that shit within the safe confines of home? It's not that those aspects of our personalities are not genuine but it's exhausting to be good and gracious and wonderful ALL THE TIME. Sometimes the annoying ginge needs a slap upside the head. Or not. No. That's not the answer. But at the very least, when Luca and Zig go 20 rounds, they're learning valuable lessons about interpersonal relationships. They get it out of their systems which enables them to be better friends with their school peers. They save the very worst for each other because they know that no matter what, they are still rock solid. Luca is a total dick who makes up games and changes the rules as he goes so that his little brother can never win but tomorrow, Zig will be there, willing to put up with his shit once again.
They're smart kids and I'm totally proud of the academic aspect of their reports but the shit that really pumps my tyres is that they are walking around this world not being complete jerks. "Look, honey, it says right here the kids aren't arseholes!" It's heart warming, is what it is.
Next time they get on my nerves (tomorrow, AM), I am going to remind myself that my kids are pretty amazing. Amazingly ridiculous and whiney. Amazingly cute and hilarious. Amazingly unwilling to let me shower alone. And just plain amazing.
Sometimes I watch on enviously as my single child friends go about their parenting business. I'm not saying it looks easier necessarily, but it looks quicker. For example, when it's time to go, parents with one child just, you know, go. They grab one school bag and strap one kid in the car and they go.
When it's time for my family to go, things are less straightforward. There are three children, three sets of belongings, someone has inexplicably brought along a vegetable peeler, and when you finally strap every child into their carseat, it's not unusual to discover that someone has forgotten a shoe. Or their pants. I don't know how this happens but it does. More than I can truly comprehend.
So I look longingly at single child families and wonder, just for a split second, whether I traded in another small piece of my sanity every time I got knocked up. And the answer is a resounding yes. Let's not bullshit one another.
But then I take photos like the ones below and the magic of siblings is revealed. This is Harlow and Luca - the baby and the first born. I marvelled at the way their hair seemed to hang in exactly the same way as they bent their heads to important kid business. Why important kid business must involve sticks and rocks and dirt, I can't really say, but it does.
And their faces, same, same, but different. Harlow looks very much like Luca did at the same age, but the years have stolen away his rounded baby face, replacing it with more angular features which hint, achingly, of the man he will one day be.
They're both ridiculous. Thick as thieves. I can hardly stand looking at their adorable faces.
Is it ironic that the middle child is missing from these pictures? Poor Ziggy. It's hard to be the ginger. I mean, the middle child. Whatever.
But this picture is less without him. He is the vital link. He brings a level of cray that we would all be lost without. I need to go kiss his little face while he sleeps. And maybe take some photos of him.
Harlow has this way of replacing the first consonant or two in some words with ‘fw’ – hence cream becomes fweam, promise becomes fwomise, Granma becomes Fwanma and so on. It’s obviously very cute and the day she stops doing it will be unimaginably sad, I am sure.
Yesterday we’re in the car after school waiting at the lights. There’s a big semi-trailer beside us.
“Look, Mum, a fwuck!” says Harlow.
Now in this situation, it was probably prudent to be the parent and hush the giggles coming from the back seat, but in my defence, I couldn’t hear any back seat giggles over my own guffawing.
Instead, I ask, “What’s it called again, Harlow?”
And then Ziggy says, “Say truck, Harlow!” Then Luca. I ask again. And we’re killing ourselves laughing until Harlow gets sick of our childish shit.
And in these moments when I am clearly a fourth child and definitely not the grown up, I tell myself it’s okay because I’m the fun mum and these are the moments we’ll all remember. Bren is far more disapproving, thinks I’m teaching the kids bad habits. But if we raise three kids who DON’T laugh when someone mispronounces a word in a way that makes it sound like fuck then I’m sorry, but I will have failed. God sakes, isn’t there enough seriousness in this fwucking world?
Maybe sometimes I go too far. Like the time Luca admonished me for air-drumming in the car. “Mum! You have to have at least one hand on the steering wheel! This isn’t safe!”
I told him to stop killing my vibe, man. I wanted to tell him how I used to roll a cigarette while driving stick shift back in the day. But I didn’t.
Because I’m the parent.
The memory is vivid in my mind. One little body versus one comparatively huge car. This story has a happy ending. I wonder if I could tell it if it did not.
It was school pick-up. I was ten, maybe eleven years old? I was sitting in the front passenger seat beside my mother who was slowly turning a corner and just beginning to accelerate. From nowhere, he ran – like a skittish animal. But there were no blinding headlights, no moment of disorientation. He just didn’t see us. BECAUSE HE DIDN’T LOOK.
In slow motion, his body rolled off the front of our car, as though he was made of rubber. We were travelling at a speed of no more than 30 km/h, perhaps less, and for this reason, it was as though we bumped him out of the way rather than struck him.
Grabbing him by the arm, the boy’s mother yanked him angrily off the road. “How many times have I told you? You don’t run on the road!” I was so surprised at her furious reaction. My own reaction was something closer to tears and all his mum could do was yell. I didn’t understand why she didn’t cuddle him. Wasn’t she glad he was okay?
But I’m a mum now and I get it. I think most mums get it. When your kid does something dangerous, fear is often masked by anger. Adrenaline is surging, your heart is pumping out of your chest and in some small, subconscious way, you’re thinking about how this behaviour reflects on you as a parent. More than anything though, you want the moment after a close call to be a chance to finally get a message through. “This is why we don’t run on the road! It’s dangerous!”
So now I’m thinking about that little boy and how the story could have ended so differently if we had been travelling any faster, and I’m wondering whether my children have better road sense than he did. Huh. I’m not so sure.
You’re probably familiar with the Early Learning Association Australia’s Vic Roads-funded program, “Starting Out Safely.” No doubt you’d have seen the “ThingleToodle” TVC campaign on television and wondered, “What kind of name is ThingleToodle?” and also, “What even is that guy? A pig?”
Fair questions, both. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers BUT I did learn that despite watching zero hours of children’s television personally, I can sing this jingle word for word.
Now Thingle Toodle, mysterious guy that he is, has five important lessons to impart. These are:
So initially, I read this list and thought; this is all no-brainer stuff. I do all of it without question. The kids ALWAYS wear helmets when they ride a bike, we use pedestrian crossings whenever possible and wearing a seatbelt is as second nature as breathing. I would never compromise the kids’ safety in this way. And in these things, yes, I am an excellent role model.
But I have realised that crossing the road with three children is such a stressful business that I often ignore best practise. Impatience sees me hurrying my kids across roads with the merest glance for oncoming traffic. It’s chaotic at best. In my defense, the logistics of trying to hold hands with two kids while carrying a third is like a mathematical equation with no solution but if it means the difference between my kids being safe on the road and not, then it seems like it’s worth my time to try and solve it.
Instead of rushing from point A to point B, I need to slow down and use the tools that ensure the development of good road sense in my kids. Stop, Look, Listen and Think is simple and effective but only if we take the time to practise it consistently. I find myself constantly reminding the boys not to run across the road but to no avail. It dawns on me that my words are ineffectual when they so sharply contrast with my actions which are almost always to hurry us across roads.
Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey don’t care so much for what other monkey say, y’know?
So if my road safety skills could use a little refresher, maybe I’m not alone. As a parent, it’s easy to begin with the best of intentions and then fail to notice the gradual way things begin to slide. In the moment, the objective is for everybody to get across the road as quickly as possible and live to tell the story. But the aim is to make sure our kids learn road safety to last them a lifetime. We won’t be there to hold their hands forever so cementing road sense early is crucial.
I looked at some statistics and they’re confronting. Every year, pedestrians die crossing our roads and children are especially vulnerable because they are smaller and their ability to sense danger is less developed. This is a wake-up call.
My kids are absolute sticklers for wearing seatbelts because I am. I never waver. We ALWAYS buckle up, every single time. They don’t have the same inbuilt discipline when it comes to crossing the road and I am responsible for that, too.
So my plan of attack going forward is to:
In summary, parenthood is hard and there are too many things to try and remember. But some things are more important than others. Keeping kids safe on our roads is one of them.
This is a sponsored post for TAC.