Last year, I took all three kids, aged 15, 10 and 3, to the Ekka BY MYSELF. The ‘Ekka’ is short for the Royal Exhibition, or Royal Show – like a huge country fair, complete with animal displays and cake competitions, in the middle of the city. This was a major undertaking, with all of us being sensitive in different ways, and needing to manage those sensitivities to make sure we made it through the day – and public transport – intact. When I got home, I sat and wrote this blogpost, to get it all out of my head. It’s sat in my drafts for a year now, so I thought I’d post it, as we head into Ekka Week.
This morning could have gone very differently, if I’d made different decisions. This post is to remind myself of the value in slowing down, and even stopping, to keep our family functioning well.
Our life feels so full lately, with the teenager taking part in many extra-curricular activities as part of the Duke of Edinborough award he is working towards, and the tween beginning to test the waters of more formal learning than previous years (ballet and yoga!). And the poor old 4yo gets dragged from pillar to post, from Ju Jitsu to drama lessons, from piano classes to art sessions…none of which are for him!
So, this morning, it was piano classes for the very-nearly-16 year old. I left the 11yo snuggled in her bed, on a very icy morning for our sub-tropical town, while her father worked in his home office. And the teenager and his little brother and I headed up the mountain for an hour’s piano lesson.
A few months ago, there were toys everywhere. I mean everywhere. We had too many toys…and a four year old’s birthday coming up.
It seems hard to believe that 16 years ago, there were no toys in our home. None. No soft animals lying forlornly flung on the bed, no Lego pieces lying in wait to sabotage the innocent walk of the barefoot parent in the dark, no Barbies arranged in contortionist positions on the kitchen bench. But steadily, since 1999, we have been slowly accumulating an astounding amount of paraphernalia that all comes under the general heading of “Toys”.
So, the youngest child, being 7 years younger than his next sibling, has inherited all of it. Masses of different kinds of toys, from ‘educational’ wooden ones, to McDonalds free give-aways we got in op shops. Early this year they were overtaking every storage item in the playroom…and I realised that we had never really sorted it, since moving into this house two years ago. The 4yo hardly played with any of it, as it was just too overwhelming. I needed a new plan.
Do you have particular paraphernalia on the toilet walls for everyone to read while they’re…um…busy? The things we choose to stick on the walls of our loo offer so many opportunities for inspiration and ideas and conversations that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. It can be especially helpful in a homeschooling life. It struck me recently how this has always been a part of my family history that I’ve now taken into our own family…
When I was growing up, my parents were always motivating themselves to try new things, see new places, eat new food, and develop healthier habits. One way they did this was to always have a map on the tiled wall right next to the toilet seat. These maps were lift-outs from the National Geographic magazines my father subscribed to, and depicted interesting visual images that told a story about some distant part of the earth. Perhaps they illustrated ancient burial sites in and around Israel, or showed how Europe’s map looked at the time of the Celts, or the winds that fuelled the sails of tall ships around the Cape of Good Hope and beyond.
After a year’s break from my blog…I’m back :)
Starting things off with a flashback from 2010, a time where I kept a journal about our life, but didn’t yet have this blog. I’ve shared this little snippet from an ordinary homeschooling morning… in a scenario that I could never have set up, where my kids connected, and imagined, and created, and explored life.
Listening to my kids playing this morning…
They have all their Pokémon out (they have a whole stash of small plushy pokémon), and they have arranged them to have a wedding between two of their favourites : Bellossam and Pikachu.
Almost as soon as I’d pressed “Publish” on my last post titled “Screens Are Not the Problem”, I began receiving responses. They were all positive, but one in particular stood out to me. It stood out because it made me very uncomfortable. I received it in a private email, and have reproduced it here, with the permission of the woman who sent it to me.
She wrote : “Thank you so much, Jacaranda Mum, for this very timely post. I have just begun to feel unease about my son’s growing interest in (video) games and such things and truly appreciate the insights you have shared here. It’s inspired me. Thank you again.”
Her lovely email made me realise I had unintentionally omitted important information about screens-as-they-are-used-in-our-home. I feel this information is really important to take into consideration, especially for someone with younger children than mine, as the decisions I am making relate to where my kids are now (with a 14yo and a 9yo), and are different to the decisions we made when they were younger.
Sometimes I love screens. Having all that vast information at our fingertips is thrilling. Being able to finally discover the real lyrics to a song is satisfying. I love settling in front of the TV cuddled up to my family to watch a movie together. I love being able to show my daughter a You Tube clip of the 2000 Olympic Games opening ceremony, to see Nikki Webster ‘swimming’ in the middle of the stadium. I love seeing the brilliant artwork my son has created with his tablet, and hearing the funky music track my daughter has sung and recorded all the different parts for, on the Garage Band app. I love being able to use Instagram to pretty up an ordinary looking photo. I love writing in my blog, and reading other peoples’ blogs, and gathering ideas from all corners of the globe to use in creating my own little life right here. At those times – I love screens.
But I also hate screens. I rail against their existence, and feel like shaking my fist at them. “Stop stealing my children away!”, I want to yell at them. Well, actually, maybe it’s not the screens I hate…it’s more the helpless feeling of knowing they are there, and that sometimes they are the most alluring thing in the house. The screen’s enticing, relentless call to action seeps into my kids’ brains, inviting them to try more, watch more, create more, interact more, and yes, play more video games. Even the toddler wakes up and asks immediately to watch “somefing on the ‘pooter”. I feel my heart sink as I see that he, too, has been hypnotised by the lure of the screen.
And of course, I have to accept responsibility for that. Screens are an inevitable part of our life. My toddler sees me using a screen to find a recipe for his breakfast, to chart a course to a new park for homeschool group, to communicate with his grandma, to order food. He sees me use my iPhone for photography, to write shopping lists, and to ‘zone out’ when it all gets a bit much (something I am not proud of, this last one, and trying to avoid).
But hating screens does nothing for anyone. Well, nothing beyond giving me an initial call to action. I’ve realised that when I am hating on screens, what I am really doing, is reacting to the state of our family in that moment.