When the only plan you have left is to have no plan at all

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I have always been a planner. Up until a few years ago my life was displayed as a series of dot points listed on one of those shopping list magnets that you find on the fridge. It read something  like this:  get a part time job tick, finish year 12 tick, get into the course I wanted at uni tick, find a teaching job tick, gain a permanent position tick, have kids by the time I was 30 tick etc, etc, etc.

I would say up until recently that things have pretty much worked out in the way I had planned on my little fridge magnet. I strongly believed that with hard work and persistence you could actually control the people and things around you and could purposefully steer your life towards the final destination you had picked out for yourself. But at aged 32, life jumped out with a stop sign or maybe just a slow- down sign, a sit back and take it easy sign. Life decided that it was time to throw the plan on its head. This week I’ve realised that the only plan you can ever truly have, is no plan at all.

Most of you know that at the beginning of the year my husband and I had decided to try for baby number 3. I had it all planned. Start trying in March pregnant by April (as was the case with baby 1 & 2) that way I could finish off my current school year and still qualify for some maternity leave. The timing would be perfect. Six months down the track, and clearly my senior citizen ovaries are still on a day trip to the bingo. Still no sign of our perfectly timed baby. Excuse me plan-where are you? How dare the plan have not worked! What happens to my list now? Will I have to rewrite it? My husband tells me to relax, that it takes most people a long time to fall pregnant and deep down I know he is right. He is the opposite of me – the ‘non-planner’. After a life time playing football professional football, he learnt at a young age to just take things as they come. He constantly reminds me not to plan too far ahead because you never know what’s around the corner, and of course he is right. I have no right being disappointed. I have two beautiful, healthy sons. I know nothing of the sadness in the hearts of couples who have been trying to fall pregnant for years and have nothing or no one to show for it. I had just not planned on it taking this long. So now my plan is to have no plan at all.

In my high school years I remember thinking how great it was that besides Narelle Maylin’s family, my family was one of the only one’s still intact. We were almost the weird ones. We were close, supportive and all living in the same house. Our house was the one people came to on a Friday night, we liked each other so much we didn’t see the need to leave. This may sound no biggie, but at Parafield Gardens High School it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I hadn’t planned for a time when this wasn’t the case. In fact I could never have imagined back then that we would all be living in different places. If there was one thing I believed back then, it was that family was first. That there was never anything or anyone that could dissolve us. I planned for the day when my own kids were surrounded by my family, Christmas’s, birthdays, good times and bad times.  I hadn’t planned to be here alone.  Now my plan is to have no plan at all.

We had planned to be in a bigger house by now. Our three bedroom townhouse with no yard seems to be closing in on us by the second, as two young boys burn past my feet on their scooters while I’m cooking the dinner. Our tiny dwelling seems to be giving birth to toys. I swear every day that I wake up the toys have multiplied- soon they will swallow us up. Last night I had to remove a matchbox truck, a minion and ninja turtle mask from my bottom before I could get to sleep. We keep waiting and looking. I hadn’t planned on still being here, so now the plan is to have no plan at all.

I had also not planned for a world without my mum in it. A few weeks ago I received a phone call telling me my 54 year old mum had had a heart attack. It felt like a joke.  Are you f&%$# serious was my exact response. Many scenes in our lives come as no surprise, we have usually played out pertinent events in our heads, even rehearsed our responses, but this one I wasn’t prepared for. I hadn’t prepared for the possibility of having already had the last hug from my mum without knowing it, and without having had the opportunity to hold on a few minutes longer. The opportunity to tell her the things a mum should know every day, not just on her last day. I haven’t prepared for a time when I can’t ring her and ask her what to put down in my tax return. I haven’t planned for the time when I go home to Adelaide and she is not there anymore. I haven’t planned for the time when I can’t call her crying and know she will be by my side as soon as she can. Luckily, and despite the poorness of her current mental and physical health, she is still here, alive and kicking with her achy, tingly, smelly diabetic feet. I now have the opportunity to make my last hug count. The day after her heart attack, after a long day at the hospital I returned home to her house for a sleep. We opened the door and looked around at the lounge room left as it was the moment she was put in an ambulance. Her clothes over the back of the chair, her makeup all over the bathroom and her little black shoes beneath her place on the couch. This could’ve been all that was left, and thank God that the image of her little black shoes won’t be the last thing I see of her. I hadn’t planned on ever losing mum, so now the plan is to have no plan at all. Every hug will be the last one.

It is funny how life changes. How what you had planned on never seems to go according to schedule. I am sure my husband is right. It is time to relax, take it easy and take it as it comes. And just hope I am ready for the next detour.

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Public Vs Private (and then there is Catholic)

 

 

It is hard to believe that in just a few short months my first baby will be turning four. With another year disappearing fast, and the last remnants of my baby slowly morphing into a boy, it is time to start considering where this little man will be spending his waking hours for the next thirteen years. I am talking schools!

I know some of you are already freaking out. Yes, he is almost four and I am only just beginning to think about his schooling.  I know that being a teacher I should have this covered by now, but maybe this is also the reason why I have left it so late to make this important decision. Sometimes there is such a thing as having too much information.

Last week’s encounter with ‘Freak Out Mum’ has called me to action with this school business. Those with toddlers will be familiar with the ‘Freak Out Mum’. Freak Out Mum attends every ‘Mumsy’ type gathering within a 100km radius just to prove she is a good mum.  Freak out mum also takes it upon herself to initiate controversial ‘no go’ topics (or as I like to call them…arguments) such as Breast is Best, Dummies or No Dummies and Natural Births vs C-sections and my personal favourite Private school Vs Public school.

Our conversation went a little like this:

Freak Out Mum: ‘So, which school will your little one be going to?’ (translation; I have my child enrolled at a swanky, overpriced school that accepts the enrolment of a child in the womb and I would love you to ask me about this. Your thrilled reaction will also help me re-affirm that I have made the right decision here, even though I will not be able to afford to eat for the next 15 or so years. I hear the ‘no food’ diet is trendy these days anyway)

 

Me: ‘awww….yeah I’m not too sure yet, am waiting as long as I can to see which setting suits his personality’ Translation: What the hell? Actually no……what day is it? I hope I have my pants on the right way? He’s three right? Didn’t I just see him on an ultrasound?

 

I couldn’t believe my ears. Freak Out Mum was deadly serious. She had in fact attended a pre-enrolment interview for her daughter whilst still pregnant with her.

The battle of opinions on Public Versus Private schooling that followed amongst the other mums bordered on disgraceful, and the more and more unsubstantiated rubbish that I heard pouring from their mouths, the more I backed away from the conversation, Until…..

 

‘You’re a teacher, what do you think? Public or Private?’

 

‘Oh no, I hate this question…Don’t ask me’. To be honest, it would have made little difference anyway, they were a pack of wolves.Some people will go to ridiculous lengths to justify their personal choices.

From someone who has worked in the Catholic Education system for 14 years, what I wanted to say was:

Every child is unique. There is no such thing as a super school that will be a ‘best fit’ for every child in the universe. Each school setting, whether it be public or private will be able to offer a unique gift to your child’s learning. Look for their learning style and choose a school that fosters this, not one that highlights a weakness. It drives my wild when a student is diagnosed with a Learning Difficulty and the parent make the assumption that sending them to a Private / Catholic school will be the best option. This is NOT always the case. As a result of reliable state funding, government schools can often provide greater access to other professional services such as Occupational Therapists, Speech therapists and Psychologists. Some of the best Special Education Units in Queensland and South Australia are based and funded by the state governments. If my child was learning with a disability, I would most definitely be sending them to a state school.

Expensive school fees, do not necessarily equal a high quality curriculum and quality teaching methodologies. It may give a good indication as to how well resourced a school is but research indicates (Hattie, John. 2009) that it is what the ‘teacher’ does that matters most in terms of student achievement. In short- There are good teachers at every school, and yes there are also the lemons…I have certainly encountered some big, fat juicy lemons in my time. Expensive schools do however offer that ‘boys club, wink, wink, nudge, nudge’ old scholar aspect to education. They do say it is who you know not what you know that is the key to gaining that perfect opportunity.

Then there is the religious aspect. I believe you should choose a school that will support and reflect the morality and values you plan to instil in your own home. For me personally, this may mean a Catholic School for my boys because I am Catholic, and because I know I am not fighting a different agenda or set of values outside my own. However this is not to say that a religious school will be the correct setting for all children….because it will not be. As a public school student myself, I know that a Catholic School Education is not the ‘essential’ ingredient to being a ‘good’ person.

A good school is one that sets high expectations for all students, not just the ones who are academically inclined. A good school has happy teachers and happy students. A good school is inclusive. A good school is a safe school where there is zero tolerance for bullying. A good school is one helps your child fulfil their own unique potential not one set out by a standardized test. A good school can be State, Catholic, Christian or Muslim School or even a shed in the middle of the Northern Territory.

I wanted these mums to stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and to think about what is best for their child. It is not about that fancy college sticker that you can place on the back of your 4WD like a badge of honour.

So my decision for my own little man? I enrolled him at three different schools and will figure this out later! Instead of rushing my 3 year old off to school, I want to enjoy the time I have left with him at home instead of wishing away the next year.

where do you stand, Public? Private or are you in the who really cares camp?

For those of you interested, have a look at John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’. This book will really change any ideas you have about improving student outcomes. Amazing Research!

‘That’s not how you say my name!’ Bad Baby Names

 

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Warning: This post may offend some readers (Apologies in advance) 

As a teacher you could say that I am in the know when it comes to names. I know stupid, I know common, I know naughty, I know cute. During my time in the classroom I have witnessed the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to this legalised form of lifelong punishment. Baby Naming. Yes parents, what starts out as a cutesy, unique name ends up an absolute nightmare for anyone else who ever has to read it aloud. Ignore what the family has told you, they also hate the name you have chosen. Will they grow to love it? Well, yes of course they will, so I’ll be brutally honest and give it to you straight with some easy Naming Rules for you to follow. These are just some of the things that have really urked me over the years.

Naming rule #1

Alise, Elise or Aleeyce? Anais or Anay? Do not choose a traditional name and try to add your version of a modern twist by changing the pronunciation. No one cares about how you want the name said out loud. Unless you plan on being with your child to tell the story of ‘how you actually say it’ for the rest of their lives…..stop being silly. You can also bet your bottom dollar that your Indian doctor will also not consult you on how to say this silly name when shouting it out in the waiting room. On a Tuesday I teach 6 children with the name spelt ‘Maya’ half pronounced MY-A, half pronounced May-a. To be honest every time an adult reads this name aloud it will most definitely be said the ‘wrong way’.

Naming Rule #2

There is not a chance in hell that we will NOT be calling Thomas; Tom, Benjamin; Ben, Alexander: Alex or Matthew: Matty. Surrender and give up. You are not in control of the abbreviation rule. The kids and their peers are in charge here. Stop fighting it, you will not win. Think footy field, think lunchtime, think again precious mums.

Naming Rule #3

Changing a ‘y’ to a ‘ee’ is not okay…ever really. The letter ‘Y’ has done a great job for years so why all the sudden hate? Natalie or Natalee, Riley or Rilee, Bailey or Baylee? Britney or Britnee? The best part is watching the parents get narky because you have spelt the name incorrectly. ‘Oh I ‘m sorry, I was never good at spelling make believe words, you’ll have to help me and the rest of the world out a little’.

Naming Rule #4

With the exception of a Christening, the back of the school ruler, a graduation or a police citation, you will rarely see or hear your child’s name said in its entirety. Why do some parents get so hung up on what the middle name sounds like by reciting it over and over with the given and surname?

‘We’re thinking Britney Jade, Tiffany Jade or Ava Jade, which one do you like better?’ errrm… does it really matter? It is a beautiful idea to honour a loved one by using their name but as long as you and your partner love the middle name why does it matter? No one will EVER hear it unless you tell them.

Naming Rule #5

Unless you are from Byron Bay, Nimbin or a similar hippy, peace lovin’ town, please refrain from calling your child any of the following: Rain, Rayne, River, Reef, Lake, Star, Snow, Wave. Not so pure and ‘at one’ with nature when they are wearing Nike’s, buying meat pies from the tuckshop and living in high rise apartments.

Naming Rule #6

This of course is completely ‘unfounded’ and not proven but ask any teacher and they will agree that for some bazaar reason a large proportion of boys with names beginning with ‘J’ and to a lesser extent ‘B’ have been among the most unforgettable students. I’m thinking Justin, Jayden, Jordan, Jake, Jenson, Jarrod, Jaxon Jay etc etc and Ben, Bradley, Brayden, Bailey etc etc etc. Not always in a negative way, but let’s just say we will always remember a boy beginning with J.

Naming Rule #7

Please stay away from ‘celebrity’ name unless you can pull it off. It is not okay to call your child Nash, London, Cruz or Mariah if you can be found most days cruising the  the local shopping centre barefoot and shouting under toilet cubicles and looking for your lost child while referring to them as a ‘little sh*&t’.

There are many, many more naming no no’s, I could go on for years. I am also frequently asked about names that are overly popular and of course this list changes yearly, but here are some of the top names right now in the 5, 6 and 7 year old age range

Girls: Ava, Grace, Maya, Mia, Lily, Lucy, Kate, Scarlett, Georgia, Isabella,

 

Boys: Jack, Oscar, Seth, Ben, Luke, Nate, Flynn, Finn, Jake, Alex

For the record I absolutely adore most of these names, but as anyone who works with children would know…it is VERY hard to choose names for your own children.

So now it’s your turn…..What really gets on your nerves when it comes to baby names? Or maybe you disagree with some of my rules?

 

 

 

 

 

Losing that ‘loving’ feeling……

Christmas is and always has been my favourite time of year. I love everything about it, from mince pies to Midnight Mass, every little aspect works together to build that magical feel that you either love or hate. Christmas lights in particular have always captivated me. I remember going for long walks with my dad as a small child and seeing the trees flashing through the lounge room windows. To this day my heart still skips a little when I see a beautiful Christmas tree.

 

I suppose our feeling about Christmas are largely moulded by our childhood experience. Despite coming from a less than affluent family, I have only ever had wonderful memories of Christmas. It is only now that I see that maybe our lack of money and material possessions was what made us so appreciative of that one day in the year when the food was rich and the fridge was full, and it seemed like we were the luckiest kids in the world. I know now that there were some years that my parents struggled to pull the whole Christmas thing together, the expensive presents that they couldn’t really afford and the treats that lined our stockings, but there was not once that we as children went without and knew of the small miracle it had taken to make the day special.

 

This year in particular, after a few personal setbacks I have struggled to get into the Christmas Spirit. On Monday I dragged myself to the shops to do the final food shopping for our Christmas Dinner. When I returned home and unpacked the endless sea of shopping bags I was left feeling empty, and nowhere near  close to my usual Christmassy self. I looked around my kitchen and my pantry and felt nothing. There was nothing ‘special’ about what I had just bought, because nowadays our fridge is always full and our wallets are always lined, 365 days of the year. In comparison to the struggles of our childhood, we are in a privileged position. I remember my mum coming home with the Christmas shopping and be amazed by the chocolates, mince pies, gherkins and pickled onions…all little luxuries that were only afforded at Christmas time.  I felt a sense of sadness that my children would never know that excitement because our lives our now full of little luxuries on a full time basis. I felt guilty that our children have ice-cream most weeks, and Babycinno’s at the local café. I want more than anything for them to have empathy for those who don’t have, and to know that things in life don’t come easy.

 

I know that as a parent you want better for your children. A large part of us immigrating to Australia, was so my parents could provide us with more opportunities, and therefore be in a more desirable situation that they had found themselves in. You want for every generation to have come along a little but further than the last. Our humble upbringing and some very supportive parents encouraged us to strive for more and to be more, and we did and I hope our parents are proud of this.

 

Those of you that know me well, know that I hate being indebted to someone, and I can honestly say that everything I now have, I have worked for and paid for myself from my first house at 21, several terrible choices in cars and the clothes I am wearing. I think this is what my parents wanted for us. If you have always had everything handed to you on a plate, there is no sense of loss or value when it is gone, or as they say ‘easy come, easy go’. Don’t get me wrong, I am also not here trying to have a battle of the have and have nots. I am quite certain that if I am in the blessed position to do so, I will also try to give my boys a solid beginning, because every little helping hand is a head start, but I want them to know the value of a ‘struggle’. I want them to know the feeling of wanting something that you just can’t have until you work for it. I want them to appreciate the chocolate in our kitchen and the lollies in the jars. I want them to feel the magic of Christmas, but not the greedy kind, the innocent kind…when getting an apple and orange in your stocking was a treat. (err yeah thanks mum and dad)

 

Not only did my upbringing teach me 101 meals to make from ‘bread, tomato sauce and peanut butter’ but it has defined and shaped my character. I was always ashamed to say where I was from during my uni years, as every time I did, judgement would follow. Now I realize the only thing they should have been thinking was …..Shit she had to work a hell of a lot harder to get here, and how did she get through high school in those terrible ‘no brand sneakers?’

 

I know in reality my children will never truly share our experiences, but a little bit won’t hurt. So as of the 1st of January there will be a few changes around our place, just to remind us all how lucky we are. If we have love, food and family….we are doing okay.Image

 

Watch this space.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone

 

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If you have anything to do with teens then read on………………..

This past month I have had a disturbing re-introduction to Social Networking, in particular, Askfm. If you have Tweenage (9-14yrs) or teenage children and are thinking this post is about a new radio station, then read on.

As a past year 7 teacher, I used to pride myself on ‘being in touch‘ with my students and being able to relate to what was happening in their worlds. Being in my early twenties when I graduated, it was not that long before that I too had been an insecure teen trying to iron out my identity in the back row of  a Business Maths lesson (yeah I know…Business Maths, I was never going to be an accountant with that under my belt).

Well it seems the generation gap has reared its ugly head, because I have crossed over from being a  hip, happening twenty something, into a daggy, thirty something teacher trying to keep up with a generation who are fast slipping away from us.Times have changed and it is now not what we do see happening that we should be worried about…it is what we are not seeing  that is the cause for concern.

Askfm is a relatively new social networking site that operates in an anonymous Q & A format. Users sign up for an account and are then open to receiving questions from anonymous users. The questions and answers are then publicly published on the page for all to see. After a chat with my 16 year old sister in law, I thought I’d go and have a look at what the hype was about.

After browsing through several ‘open’ accounts I had to get off. I was left with a sick feeling in my stomach. I felt sad, I felt angry and I felt helpless. Page after page of comments intentionally posted by so called  ‘friends’ who in the safety of anonymity were able to strip away at the insecurities of their most vulnerable school mates. The questions would begin quite innocently, What is your favourite food? Do you prefer coffee or tea? Dogs or cats? and then dip to take a seedy undertone, with personal attacks on sexual status, weight and appearance. The insults, the attacks, the bullying is published publicly for the world to see. I wanted to find the children, shake them for being so silly and then hug them. Why would they sign up and subject themselves to this? What was it that kept them answering these humiliating questions? Why didn’t they block these users? The answer lies deep within their impressionable teen minds.  I once asked a group of my Year Seven’s why they stayed on Facebook or MSN if they had been picked on. One group told me ‘If we aren’t on there, it’s like we don’t exist’. This broke my heart.

Earlier this year British teen Joshua Unsworth took his own life after becoming the centre of a bullying campaign played out publicly on the social networking site.This is not a new phenomenon. Facebook is now in its seventh public year and has also been blamed for inciting violence, hatred and facilitating bullies.

But Is social networking to blame for these deaths or for the relentless bullying? Or would these events have occurred without a computer? There are some that will say that bullying has always been a large part of our society, it is after all as old as the hills. Take our friend Jesus for example…I’m sure many more would have attended the Crucifixion if Pontius Pilate had been able to take advantage of the ‘Create an event’ feature on Facebook. Some suggest it is only now being taken seriously because we have the published manuscripts as proof of what is being played out in our playgrounds. Surely we as a society should be taking accountability for the huge slip in moral education that is making it ‘okay’ for us to pick others to pieces, to hound others until they crack.

When faced with cyber bullying, Many parents ask ‘What can I do?’ Firstly you’ve got to find a window into their worlds. This window is now open for all of the world to see…the internet. Get online and sign yourself up for every social networking site you can find. Despite many  having security features where profiles can be private,  they are still kids, which means you can bet they didn’t listen to the constant warnings about concealing their personal details.  Many pages are still ‘open’. You’d be surprised at what you can find out, if not from your own child’s pages, then at least those of their friends. The predators are having a field day!

Secondly, try to stay at least one step behind them. Lets face it, we will never get ahead of them when it comes to technology. Lets at least try to stay within reach, not fall ten steps behind. It is a parents responsibility to find out what’s going on. Snoop away! You’ll be hated for a while, but you’re not trying to make a friend. You are trying to keep your children safe. You may just find that piece of information that saves their life.

Don’t become ‘that’ parent who didn’t know what was happening.

Here is the Link to the Daily Mail Article, a real eye opener.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2308395/Ask-fm-This-week-15-year-old-boy-killed-hounded-No-wonder-mothers-want-banned.html

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