Reflections on being Benedict’s mama

Where were you mum?

Look mum, I'm up here!

Look mum, I’m up here!

There is a perfectly good playground on the top of a hill in Canberra, and the parents are ruining it.

Through a misguided idea that all kids need to be able to do everything immediately and need to be helped to do everything, the Pod Playground today was full of helicopter parents hovering. Not just watching closely, but ‘playing’ if you could call it that. At one point this afternoon there was a log jam of fathers in among the children trying to climb the rope ladders inside the acorns to get to the corkscrew slide launch point. I looked up, horrified to see a father with his hand on the nappied bum of a tiny toddler high up in the big kids acorn equipment. This little person wouldn’t have been able to climb up on her own but her father was there, shoving her along with one hand on her bum. The bigger kids pushed past him. He persisted with his mission. Get the child to the top of the equipment. For what? So he can slide down the slide with her on his lap? To give you an idea of the scale and how high up this guy was with his tiny child, here is a shot from earlier this year.

Acorns in the air

Acorns in the air

The irony is that this is a playground is in an Arboretum. It is about nature and growth. To quote from one of its many promotional pieces, ‘the design recognises that play is a vital social development and educational tool for children of all ages, and is particularly important when it assists in forming relationships to its landscape, climate and surrounding context. The world amongst the giant seeds aims to stimulate spontaneity and creativity, to foster the imagination and to challenge and encourage confidence with growth.’

The Pod Playground has won countless prestigious design awards. It’s safer than our house. Much much safer than our backyard. People visit it from everywhere in Canberra and all over the country. It is a sought after play experience with a well thought through intent and experts in design and safety behind it. It is more than million dollars of quality play experience. And yet here are the parents of our future over-achievers with their hands all over their kids and their own bodies blocking the way.

Most of the seating was occupied today and at 11-30 in full sun. Instead I sat quietly on the concrete lid of the  electrics box near the gate. You can see it in the lower left of the photo above. It is one of the very few shady places during the middle of the day. I leaned up against the gate watching on and off as I listened to music, partly to drown out other people shouting at their children to be careful! I inwardly screamed at the mothers carrying babies without hats, and the ones called Jayden. There is a significant issue here, and it isn’t about me judging other people’s parenting, although I will freely admit to plenty of that. The babies without hats! Then there was the mother who shouted at her son, right in his face, ‘stop being a little shit.’ Aside from the obvious, stop being a little shit or what? What was she going to do if he didn’t stop? What reward would he receive if he did? All shades of wrong.* It is much more serious than that.

The mother of one toddler said to her older child, you try telling her she can’t go in there? Well indeed, but don’t give her a leg up. Let her figure it out for herself that she can’t reach the next rung of the perfectly proportioned and safe ladder. She’ll work out she can’t reach, and go and do something else, or cry or eat gravel or something that will be equally irritating to her parents.

I watched Catalyst this week and it featured a story about nature play and how important it was. The Pod Playground at the National Arboretum featured and it reminded me that we hadn’t been for a while. I filled it away as an activity to do over this solo parenting weekend. The story was about outside nature play and how children (some children) do not get enough of it, and also about how vital it is. The story emphasised kids being allowed to take risks, learn things, be themselves and most importantly be outside. As one of the academics, Associate Professor Tonia Gray, who was interviewed said, ‘taking incremental risks, such as this, allows their growth and development to occur in a gradual and sequential rate.’ What she said before that was essentially that while Pod was great, it wasn’t proper nature. She’s right, it is safe nature. So safe you’d have to really be trying.

We aren’t regulars at Pod Playground at the Arboretum for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is very limited shade and the coffee is awful. We do go there occasionally. After today, I will think twice about it, even though Benedict really enjoys it. We have other choices open to us, actual bush for one, just 1 kilometre from our house. With real sticks and rocks. What clinched it for me today was Benedict. After being out of my sight for a good 20 minutes, I went looking for him. He was in the sand sea-saw. Where were you mum? he asked. Just over there I said. I couldn’t find you, he said, so I came over here.

I need to be there less. He needs to want to find me less. Seems to me it is really difficult to take risks and learn with someone breathing down your neck. Or in the case of this equipment, your bum in their face as they follow you through the climbing frame.


* Of course I also shout at my child but I mostly employ the crouched over fierce growling while in public.


You won’t believe how fast it goes


You won’t believe how fast it goes, he said. Mine is 6 foot 4 now.

His beard, entirely white with nicotine stains that betrayed a lifetime of smoking, surrounded his smiling mouth. He followed me out of the shiny new parcel hall of the lego red post office. It goes so quickly, he said. Suddenly, they sleep all night and then before you know it, they are gone. When I see little ones like that, he said pointing to my son, I am reminded how fast it goes. I’m not a pervert, he quickly added.

How I wish this stranger hadn’t had to add that last phrase. It never crossed my mind that he was. I just was pondering the smoking and the tinge of sadness in his voice as he recalled his own son and the fleeting reminder of him. He felt it necessary to reassure me in some way. He signaled that his act of just observing my boy playing with his animals on the floor while I retrieved a parcel, was just an innocent glance of a stranger. As we all walked out of the parcel hall he said, you are doing a great job. I thanked him and marveled myself how fast the last four and a half years have already gone.

There is a strange sadness to all our lives now that a grandfatherly man cannot talk to a woman about her son without an element of suspicion. It made me feel so melancholy that he needed to say that. That our society has eroded to the point where men of a certain age, or even, men of any age, cannot comment about children that are not their own.

Had this man, with his stained beard and soft Canadian accent, simply said, they grow up so fast, I would have just nodded and smiled. You won’t believe how fast it goes.


Boundless Playground #blogvember

Boundless Project - siteplan

Boundless Project – siteplan

The Boundless Playground, an all abilities playground, to mark the centenary of  Canberra is a project which is gift to the children of the national capital, from the public servants of Canberra. An important place designed for all children, regardless of ability, the Boundless Playground will provide a place for all children to play, regardless of what they can do.

A lot of us, all our family actually, has been involved in large and small ways since the beginning of the project. We have rattled fund-raising tins, administered websites, assisted with events, sung in choirs and helped out at events. The effort involved in organising such a project takes hundreds of people, long-term commitment and ideas. Creative ideas to raise awareness and funds. One of the more creative ideas was a mass choir with a Boundless song, specifically written by talented Canberra duo, The Cashews. The best thing about the mass choir is that it was full of real people, of all abilities, young and old. And it featured children. Lots of children. Some of the children were interviewed about playgrounds and the kids, lots of whom we know, made into the video. Here is it. Where do playgrounds come from? by The Cashews and the massed choir in support of the Boundless Playground.

The video features one little boy, talking about slides at about the 33 second mark. You might recognise him.

You can make a donation to important work of the Boundless Playground here.

Talk so I can know where we are going

I can do it by myself

I can do it by myself

One of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child acquire knowledge and know how. Eating with a knife and fork, putting his own undies on, drinking from a cup one handed. He has been so determined he will insist on doing something himself, refusing all assistance, no matter how difficult it is, even to the point of sheer frustration, he rarely gives up.

Together with personal competence, we have reached a stage now where patterns of activity are well understood by our boy. What follows dinner is teeth brushing and story. If it’s Saturday, then its markets and not kindy. The carpark at the shops means cheesy-mite scroll, trolley ride, car parking ticket and change retrieval. He knows. He can anticipate what will happen next. He knows where the money goes in to release the trolley. He knows that change comes out in the slot after the parking is paid. He knows that the faster he can put his hand into the slot, the more chance he has to get the coins into his pocket and keep them. Cheeky minx.

The best part, is of course messing with those expectations and patterns. Sometimes this is his decision. Like refusal to ride in the trolley, or rather insistence on pushing the trolley at the supermarket. He insists he is a big boy and only babies go in the trolley. He is right of course, but it is daunting watching him practice not crashing while remaining calm, apologising to anyone and everyone who he runs into and continuing to shop. Life skills, I tell myself.

Competence. It’s important.

Sometimes it is my decision. Add new things. Add new challenges. Open your own door kiddo. You can get your own shoes on. You can be tricked and surprised. This is my new favourite element of parenting. Carefully withholding information to ensure surprise. At our place, we call these adventures. We have had a few lately. Some big adventures; driving to Melbourne, driving to the coast for Christmas, swimming lessons. Some small adventures; visiting friends, trips to the shops just for ice-cream or coffees. Holidays are great like that. Spontaneity is much simpler.

Didn’t take long, but he’s on to me. You were tricking mama he says, when I pretend not to be tickling, but sneak one. Or when he sneaks one over me and I am forced to relent and admit I was being tricky. He listens all the time. All the time. To everyone and to everything. The other day, I planned a swim and early tea at a friends while he was asleep and then we he woke up, announced an adventure! Where are we going? It’s a surprise, I said. As we set off, Robert and I talked of other things, careful not to let slip our destination.

Then from the back seat a voice, Talk! Talk so I can know where we are going.


Memes, themes, dreams … 2012


I cannot wait to see the back of this year. Cannot wait. From its inauspicious beginning, to the never-ending sick of May to September, the drama, madness and chaos has continued relentlessly. It has featured extremely difficult parenting moments, and pseudo-parenting of the big kids, who while not my direct parental responsibility, still have a big call on my emotional resources. It also featured a seemingly endless stream of challenges.

Benedict turned three. His celebration was joyous and it made my festive season to see him dive into his cake. At least I held my promise of always doing a special celebration for him. Read More

Blogvember post 25 … working and mothering

I went back to working full time in July.

After a reasonable period of part-time with an unencumbered day off to clean, shop, drink coffee, run errands, write, it was something of a shock to go to work every day. In the beginning this was only to be a six week stint, and then back to the previous arrangement. Of course, life doesn’t always work like that, and I found myself negotiating to move to full time and to move jobs.

Lots of people have asked me how I manage. I am always reticent to talk about the difficulties because they are wholly middle class problems. I chose to work full time, and if I were really unhappy with the arrangements I could change them. It is not a necessity for our survival.

I do think that there are compromises, cut corners, sacrifices and bargains. There is also outsourcing and a slackening of standards. What bothers me the most is the enrichment activities that I can’t do with Benedict. In Canberra there are so many activities, lots of them free, it’s easy to get to most of them; the only issue is making time.

I try to take him to the monthly Art and Me program at the National Gallery of Australia. It is a fantastic program with excellent early childhood educators and art is a gap in my knowledge and I always learn something.

NGA Fountain ~ so much joy ~ so little time

Art and Me at NGA for 2 and 3 year olds

I would like to participate more in Libraries ACT’s excellent activities for young children. Watch the excellent Vanessa Little talking on 7:30 ACT last Friday about her plans for the libraries of Canberra and their transformation. These programs in the libraries are vital for all kids, particularly kids with parents with low literacy. The library is a gateway to reading, to experiences, to other people who are not like you, to life long habits and patterns where reading holds a primary place in a life.

There are other experiences that I wish I could do with Benedict during the week. Paint and Play, a weekly outdoor riot of kids activities in local parks around Canberra. Swimming. Kids music programs. Bike riding in the park in the afternoon. These are the activities that I wish I could do. These are the sacrifices.

Of course this choice to work means that we have great financial stability and it means I can buy lots and lots of book to make up for the lack of trips to the library, but it isn’t the same as engagement with the community. It is no substitute for a broad range of experiences with a broad range of other kids and in quality early childhood programs.

My challenge for the new year is how to make sure we participate in more of these kinds of activities that bring joy.


One is exactly enough

9 January 2010

I am wearing a sign. It floats above my head. Like a speech bubble. It reads:

I have only one child, please ask me when I am having another one.

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I’m his mother … I need to let go

Today, being Thursday, I stayed home with my child. That’s how it goes. Thursday rolls around. We wake up, have breakfast, wave goodbye to Robert. Then we fang around a bit and maybe go for a pram walk, to the shops, just do stuff.

In a hectic week, sometime we don’t even get out of our pyjamas. Read More

Tense day in mamaland

Yesterday I was tested as a mother.

This morning, as I was preparing to listen to two lovely people on the radio. I was also in the bathroom, before nine, trying to unblock the sink. While I was trying to do this, my toddler was opening cupboards. He opened the cupboard which contains, among other things, a plastic box full of small ramekins and pyrex dishes. These are great things to bang together, they make fantastic noise. Until they break. And I heard that noise and bolted to the kitchen. I was too late. Toddler was griping the broken piece of glass in his fist. I was there two seconds too late. He gripped and it cut into his thumb. Read More

Besieged by advice

One of the great things about being pregnant is that lots of people give you a barrage of advice.  All of which conflicts with the last book you read or what the last person you spoke to told you. Some of it is laughable and some of it is reassuring. Some of it useful and some of it just bloody annoying. Breast feed, don’t breast feed. Sleep with your baby, don’t sleep with your baby. Massage your perineum, don’t massage. Pick up your baby. Don’t pick up your baby. Let your baby cry. Don’t let your baby cry. You get the idea.


Besieged by advice

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Motherhood … it is relentless

A while ago, in February, I wrote some very black words about motherhood. Black in a way that made it painful to read. I didn’t publish them. I was writing about a black time, from a positive position, but about the very blackest time in my career as a mother. Or what I thought was the blackest time. It seems that I was wrong about that. The black periods come and then recede and then they come again. This is how I experience motherhood. Occasionally, dark storm clouds roll in.

Benedict 6 days old

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Friday – this week I am grateful for … getting the hang of it

This week I couldn’t work out what was the matter with me. This week was supposed to be great. I was supposed to be enjoying myself on my two days off, doing interesting things, being alone! Instead I walked past every single person with a child in tow thinking, oh what a lovely kid, or oh look at that poor mother trying to drink her coffee, or look at that dad with three (!) kids hanging off him. All the while all these people who I passed, and was rudely staring at, were thinking, my god, I hope that deranged woman doesn’t come and steal my children. Because, of course, none of them would know I had a child who I had just left at childcare. None of them know that I usually drag my toddler around just as they were doing. I wasn’t wearing a sign saying – yes I am a mother too. I was just me. With regular clothes on and a regular handbag – no nappy bag, no chuck down my back, no snot on my sleeve. Just me. Read More