The last few weeks have been rough, but perhaps necessary. I have found the process of venting to an invisible listener helpful but not without its own issues. Over the last couple of days I have been feeling slightly vulnerable and overexposed. I have also been questioning my own sanity and validity and needing to work hard to remind myself that I am not insane or worthless. Someone much wiser than me suggested that I make a list of things that I think I do well. This is what I have so far.
Things I do incredibly well.
Studying. On a good day I have to admit that I have been a very good student. On a bad day I have to admit that I have been clever enough to convince everybody that I am a good student. If it is the latter, I still think the fact that I’ve managed to fool some of the brightest academic minds is pretty impressive.
Picking husbands. Ok so the pluralisation of that statement seems a little self-defeating I know, even I am laughing a little, but let me explain. I met my first husband when I was 19. We were doomed to fail from the start but we made a go of it for almost 10 years. Aside from the fact that I probably should never have married him in the first place, it was kind of ok. We really enjoyed each other’s company, had two children and parented very well together. He wasn’t abusive or mean, and up until the end things were peaceful and nice. My next and current partner (technically not yet married but details, details) shares many of my ex’s good traits, but if I had to choose only one word to describe them both, it would be KIND. Either of them would help anyone and everyone if they could. They are also both loving, caring and attentive fathers. Between the three of us, our kids have received so much love, support and parenting, that it can’t help but show. We have worked through all the crap and manage to have a friendly, civil relationship where we parent like a team. We have had birthday dinners and BBQs, and most years we all spend Christmas together. It hasn’t always been easy but we have made it work. I think that if it wasn’t for the extraordinary kindness and compassion of both of these men, my children would have missed out on feeling like they had a unified family. Things could have been so different for my children so easily, and given my history I think that it is kind of amazing that I didn’t end up in really abusive relationships.
Making the most of limited resources. By first-world standards I’m poor. Student poor. Student with three kids and a partner on minimum wage poor. It’s not easy but I think I have managed to give my children a good life. One of things that has always been beyond our means though, is traveling, and we have never taken a family holiday together. It makes me a little sad. I want my children to feel like they are part of a bigger world than just what I can show them here. I think travelling is good for the soul and for humanity and I don’t want my children to think that the world stops at their doorstop or with their perspective. So because I wasn’t able to travel with the kids, I brought the travelling to them. Around 10 years ago now, we opened our house to overseas guests, families that wanted to come to Australia, learn about the culture and practice their English. This has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made. We have all gained so much out of it and we even found a new family.
One of the first families that came to stay was a woman from Japan with her two little girls, 5 and 1 years old. They lived with us for three months over the Christmas period. Despite not speaking the same language it only took a couple of moments for the children to become best friends, and to say that the mum and I shared a connection would be an understatement. The children (and the rest of us) learnt so much about communication, understanding, and patience, it was so beautiful to watch. Together as a big blended family, we just worked. Since then, the same family has returned every single year (except for one, but one year they came twice so that makes up for it) so we can spend time together. On a few occasions her husband has been able to come too. Our oldest kids are now teenagers, and despite still having very limited language between them, they are like cousins. The Mum and I have become sisters. Whatever we are doing together, there is constant laughter. I just love them. I love them all.
A couple of years ago, my middle son who must have been around 10 or 11 at the time, was having a problem. His birthday was coming up and I had agreed to let him have 6 friends come round for a party and water balloon fight. He had already chosen the friends he wanted to come, but as he informed me, was now facing the dilemma of needing taking one of his friends off the list and didn’t know which one to choose. When I asked him why, he explained to me that a new boy had started in his class and he wanted to invite him instead. This new kid had just moved to the country and didn’t speak any English yet. My son was concerned that he might be feeling nervous, shy, and left out, and he thought that if he invited him to the party he could feel properly included because you don’t need a common language in order to have fun pelting someone with water balloons. My heart just burst at his empathy and compassion. Needless to say, he ended up with 7 boys coming round for the party.
Handling my children. There are a million things that I could do better, but every so often I come up with a nugget of pure parental genius. One of my most devious but absolutely brilliant techniques has been to deliberately give my children a tell: I now know when they are lying even before they do. Now I’m going to tell you how I have done this, but first you must promise not to misuse this new power. This kind of devious manipulation is not for the faint-hearted or inconsistent parent. I know that somewhere out there, someone will say “but it’s wrong to lie to your children like that!” To them I say: Oh puh-lease. Last Christmas, I told my 4 year old that he had to go bed nicely because Santa was watching. Soon the tooth fairy will be starting to visit and I will be telling my son that she doesn’t visit messy bedrooms, so go put your toys away. The only difference with this trick is that it’s a long con.
So, timing is everything. You are going to need a child of around the age of two, and then you need to wait until you catch your child in a blatant lie. It MUST be so obvious, and you need to know with absolute certainty that they are lying, like when you ask them if they ate the chocolate biscuits and they reply with their gorgeous little chocolate-covered faces, no mummy. Or when you ask them, did you paint all over these walls? And they cutely reply with full conviction, ‘no mummy. It was the cat. I saw her do it’, while they try and hide the paintbrush behind their back.
At this point you say to them, show me your thumbs. Stare at their thumbs for a moment, tell them you now know that they are lying, and then continue with your parenting. Repeat this trick every time you catch them in an obvious lie and soon they will be walking off into time-out, staring at their thumbs and wondering what it is that gives their lie away. As they get older and start to ask, but “how do you know?” tell them it is a little bit like how the police use fingerprints, but this is an old family secret handed down from generation to generation on the day someone becomes a parent, and one day they will possess the power also. Before you know it they will be coming at you with hands wide open when it’s the truth, and hiding their hands behind their back when it’s not. Of course, just as it is with Santa and the Easter Bunny, it’s not going to be too long before they cotton-on and realize that they have been fooled, but I swear that to this day, my teenagers still tuck their thumbs in when their have something to hide. Lets hope none of my children ever hope to become professional poker players.