Tuesday, May 28, 2013

queer-friendly picture books: in our mothers' house

in our mothers' house
written & illustrated by patricia polacco

this book is about a family of two mothers and three adopted children. their "big old brown shingle house" is the focal point for all of this family's little stories - cooking together, dancing together, being cared for when they're sick - making this story very much about home and belonging.

when the family organise a block party, they encounter some homophobic aggression from one of the other families on their street. they confront this gracefully, and move on. this event is a fleeting one, and isn't allowed to define the story, or the characters.

the children grow up, leave home, marry, have children of their own, but always return to the family home that has been their safe haven all their lives.

the quirky, charming illustrations give this book real character. they're full of energy, colour and movement.

this is an unusual picture book in that it's quite wordy, and it covers the whole lifespan of a family. for this reason, it think it's probably best suited to school-aged children.

i love the picture of a warm, safe, welcoming home that is developed in this tale, and the love that all of the family members feel for each other. it is a very positive take on both gay parents, and adoption.

here is a video of patricia polacco talking about the book:

a day in the life

a day in our lives, with a 16 month old arthur...

arty usually wakes up at around the time that sj gets up to get ready for work. they have breakfast together, and he keeps her company while she gets organised for the day.

the first thing i hear on most weekday mornings is the stomping of little feet, and loud "SSSSSHHHHHH!" noises. then i am patted awake and told "up, up, up!"

i scoop him up into bed with me and we have a quick cuddle. i'd love to have long snoozy snuggles and wake up slowly, but he's already ready to play, and squirms out of my arms saying "down, down, down!"

his favourite game is peek-a-boo, and once he's squirmed down from the bed, he hides himself behind the curtains, then flings them back and shouts "boo!"

mummy would love to stay home and play with us all day, but she has to go to work. we wave her off, and arty sits at the door and says "buh-bye... gone... gone..."
i tell him that mummy has gone to work and she will be back later.

i attempt a few chores. my little helper is keen to stack the bowls in the cupboard. i like to let him help, even if it's sometimes counter-productive.

i'm still not really awake yet, so i have my morning shower. my shower cap is covered in sequins.
while i shower, arty finds miscellaneous objects and drops them into the bath (an umbrella, a toy train, etc.).

we have to head out soon, so i attempt to conceal my eye-bags with a bit of makeup. i think the effect of this is more psychological than anything else, but whatevs.
arty empties one of the bathroom drawers while i do this.

i make myself a cup of tea and a piece of toast for breakfast...

... which my small son thieves half of, demanding "more! more!" like a little seagull.

soon it's time to get him into the pram, and head to the hall around the corner for rockabilbies, our weekly music class. it's a short walk, on which arty points out every singe truck, bus, and tram that we pass.

at rockabilbies we sing, dance, and play all kinds of musical instruments. most of them got tasted as well as played, but i guess that's all part of the full multisensory learning experience!

after all that rocking and rolling we meet up with friends for a babyccino and something to eat. arty normally has lunch at around 11:30, but today it's a litte earlier than usual at 11am.

it's about a 20 minute stroll home, and on the way we wave at trams, point at trucks, and make "brrm brrm!" noises at motor bikes.

it's time for a costume change with this particular fresh nappy, since we're all covered in bits of fruit toast and milk from our brunching adventure.

and now it's time to put on some quiet music, close the curtains, grab our bunny and our "florrie" (dummy/pacifier), and have a nice snooze.
it's hard to know exactly how long i'll have to get things done (or have a rest!) while arty snoozes. i can usually count on at least an hour, but it varies.

i get tonight's dinner going in the slow cooker. it's corned beef, so it's ridiculously easy...

... and since it took almost no time at all to make that, i decide to make some bolognese sauce up too. this will come in handy for another night in the week when we're both too tired to cook. i also freeze some in arty-sized portions so that he can have it for lunches and dinners too.
i wear my swimming goggles because onions make me cry like a big fat crying thing.

i allow myself to flop on the couch for a little while, and read twitter while the sauce simmers and the baby continues to sleep.

arty has a decent sleep, and is pretty smiley when i go in to pick him up. we cuddle on the couch for a few minutes while he finishes waking up.

he has a play by himself for a little while, pottering happily with his duplo. soon he involves me in his play, and we build and chat together for a while.

i get up to turn the bolognese off, and put it in the freezer, and arty is frustrated that i've walked away from our game. he gets quite upset, and this looks like it's about to descend into a tantrum, so i take him outside into the garden for a change of scene. i talk calmly to him, and keep him close. he continues to cry for a little while, but is soon distracted by the goings on in the yard.

due to our early lunch, we have an early afternoon tea. as arty has been so happy playing outdoors, i bring the high chair outside and he dines al fresco.

i hate shopping, but i'm very low on winter clothes, so after a bit more of a play outside, i bundle us into the car and we head to our nearest shopping mall.

i try on a bunch of stuff, but barely any of it is comfortable, so we leave without buying much. i'd hoped the outing would be an interesting diversion for arty, but he's not so keen. i end up carrying him around the shopping centre, and using up all my energy. then i get lost and can't remember where i've parked the car. i vow to stick to online shopping in future.

when we get home, sj is waiting for us! hooray! arty says "mamaaaah!" and is very pleased to see her. there is cuddling and smooching and giggling.

after being out in a hectic shopping mall, arty and i have a quiet sit, to center ourselves and settle into being home again.

then we do a little bit of creative play while sj gets his dinner ready. this blackboard is new, and he really likes it!

dinner time is a bit messy, but sj manages to wrangle a bit of egg and spinach into him. he's not normally a fussy eater, but if he's distracted or overtired it can get a little trickier.

bath time means brushing teeth, getting spinach out from behind his ears, and freshening up after a big day.

we spend the last half hour before bed watching 'in the night garden' together as a family. arty snuggles in between sj and i, with his bunny and his florrie, and relaxes before sleep time.

one last cuddle...

... and it's bedtime.

once arty's in bed, sj and i will usually have some dinner, then watch tv, sew, do school work, write, play board games, or read. we tend to keep things pretty low key because we are nannas and we like it that way. plus, after keeping up with arty all day, there's not a lot of energy left for anything else!

so, there you have it. a day in the life.
perfectly mundane, splendidly happy.
i wouldn't change a thing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

parenting with chronic illness: how i'm travelling

before arty was born i wrote a series of blog posts about what it was like to have chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety/panic disorder, and depression. the point was to be open about what i was bringing to the table as a parent, and to reflect a bit on what chronic illness might mean for my particular parenting adventure.

since then i haven't discussed it much. i've focussed on food, play, arty's development, and other happy things. not on the hard bits.
this isn't altogether a bad thing. for one thing, my life as arty's stay-at-home-mum is a genuinely happy one, and i really do have so much fun playing with him, learning with him, loving on him, and caring for him. i also think that focussing on the hard stuff isn't always helpful.

that said, i think it's important to acknowledge that things aren't always easy. it's ok to struggle, and have hard days (or weeks!).
in the world of online communication, we only present the aspects of our lives that we choose to. when we only share the rosy bits, we can give the impression that we have it all together, which can be hard both for others to compare themselves to, and for us to maintain.

so i'm here to say that i don't always have an easy time of it. i am parenting with chronic illness, and it's often really hard.

we've actually just been through a particularly shitty few weeks here. i've had a bad back, sj has had to take some time off work to help look after both arty and i, and on top of everything arty got really sick with a nasty tummy bug and ended up in hospital. this confluence of events has unsettled all three of us, and has left me feeling extremely vulnerable, fragile, and completely exhausted. i've been reminded of how careful i need to be of my health, and how hard that is when life is unavoidably hectic and full of unexpected events.

this is my tired face

i've also taken this time to take stock of the really good coping mechanisms i have in place, and i thought i'd share them:

there are two facets to this
a) at home - sj and i do our best to be as open as possible with each other about how we're feeling. this helps us to be supportive of each other, and not to get overly frustrated with each other when we're having harder times.
if i'm starting to get symptoms of a cfs flare up, i tell her what's going on, so she knows that i might need a little extra help for a day or two. similarly, i let her know if i'm feeling really good, so she can then take time to focus on herself for a while and not fret about me.
b) with friends and family - we have a wonderful group of friends and family, and i'll often have a wee vent to them via twitter, or on the phone. talking about the harder days helps me feel connected and supported, even if it's sometimes from a distance.

a care package from our friend anna, who knew we were having a tough week

accepting help
this is a really tricky one, but it follows on from all that communicating. the fact is, if you have good people in your life, and they know you're struggling, they usually want to help.
this week we've received a care package from one friend, a home cooked dinner from another, some sweet treats from friends who wanted to cheer us up, and a lot of help from my beautiful mum. while my back was particularly bad different people took it in turns to spend time with me at home and help me when i couldn't lift arty. they helped to keep me chipper too, which was very important!
sometimes it's material help, sometimes it's moral support, and it all helps. the better i get at saying 'yes' to it, the easier the down days become.
and when i start to feel like a big old drain on everyone that loves me, all i have to do is remind myself that these people all know that i would do the same for them and not begrudge it for a moment. because that's what friendship is.

our family has a daily routine. we're not completely rigid about it, but our days follow a predictable pattern that helps all of us feel a little more in control of our lives.
this structure is particularly important for me in coping with exhaustion and anxiety. i find it easier to get through a hard morning if i know that arty is going to be ready for a nice long nap at noon, and i'll be able to have a cup of tea, something to eat, and regroup. it gives me a framework to factor in self-care, and that's so important when you're trying to manage chronic illness.

doing stuff that isn't about the baby
all the parenting books say to do this, and i understand that it's much easier said than done, but it's another one of those psychological things that helps us cope.
time where the baby is taken care of, and i don't have to think about his belly or his nappy or his mood is incredibly restorative for me.
i find that it's best if i do something that actively engages my mind during this time, so that i don't spend this precious break thinking constantly about him. playing d&d with friends is one way that i do this, and reading, going to the movies, and sewing are other things that i like to do.
these breaks don't have to happen often, but i do actively have to make time for them, and i always feel better for them, which in turn allows me to be a better parent and partner.

i'm not suggesting that i have found the perfect way to deal with the problem of parenting with chronic illness, and that others should follow my formula.
i understand that i'm actually very privileged in many ways.
not all parents with chronic illness are partnered, and i imagine very few have someone as wonderful as my sj to parent with.
i am also lucky in that i am not geographically or socially isolated, so i can access my support networks with relative ease.
that said, i hope that maybe some of these ideas can be helpful or encouraging for other people, or at least lead to some discussion on other ways to make things easier.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

queer-friendly picture books: and tango makes three

and tango makes three
written by justin richardson & peter parnell
illustrated by henry cole

at central park zoo, two male penguins called roy and silo fall in love. they build a nest like all the other penguins, but they do not have an egg to put in it (n.b. this is where i burst into tears at every single reading).

the zookeeper notices this, finds an egg that needs to be cared for, and gives it to roy and silo. they tend it carefully, and before long they have a little chick called tango (because it takes two to make a tango), who they raise and love, just like all the other penguin parents.

the best thing about this story is that it's true.

this story doesn't push itself as an overt parable or analogy. it's a simple relation of events, with very little moralizing.
the illustrations are pleasingly expressive, and the tale is a heart-warming one.
it's a favourite at our place.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

queer-friendly picture books: molly's family

molly's family
written by nancy garden
illustrated by sharon wooding

when molly draws a picture of her family to help decorate her kindergarten classroom for an open night, some of her classmates tell her that what she has drawn can't be a family, because families don't have a mummy and a mama.
molly is naturally upset by this. she takes her picture home, and she talks her concerns through with her parents. they explain that one of her mothers gave birth to her, and the other adopted her, so they are both her mothers.

molly takes this information and processes it over the following day, while observing that other kids in her class have a range of different families too.
the next day, molly brings her picture back to school, and the class celebrate their open day. all the different families, including molly's, come together as a diverse community.

the real strength of this story is in the way molly deals with the confusion she experiences. she takes time to think about what her classmates say, what her parents say, and what she sees around her, then integrates this into a maturer understanding of the concept of family.

the illustrations are warm, detailed, and complement the story beautifully.

this book will come into it's own with kinder and school aged kids, who are starting to look outward from their own family, and compare their own experience with their peers'.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

musical shakers

arty and i attend music class once a week, and one of his favourite activities there is shaking the shakers in time with the songs.
shakers are a great way for even quite little babies to engage with music, because they're easy to grip in small hands, and don't require a great deal of dexterity or coordination to operate.
so, when sj brought home a couple of kinder surprises from the supermarket the other day, i knew exactly what to do with the eggs inside...

musical shakers

what you'll need:

plastic eggs, like those found inside a kinder surprise
seeds and grains of varying size (eg barley, lentil, sesame, poppy, sunflower)
washi tape (you can just use sticky tape, but washi makes them prettier)

what to do:
  • open the eggs, and place a small amount of a different type of seed inside each one. don't be tempted to overfill them - the seeds need room to rattle around inside
  • close egg, and seal with washi tape
  • put some music on, dance like dorks around your living room, and shake your shakers in time to the beat

arty was so keen to play with these that he was trying to prise them pout of my hands even before i was finished applying the tape to them.
they're a big hit!

Friday, May 10, 2013

family noms: dried strawberries

after the success of our dried apples the other week, i had a go at drying some strawberries using the same method.

it worked perfectly, and they were delicious. i'm really glad to have another way of preserving strawberries, because i hate it when they go mouldy before we have a chance to eat them all - it's such a waste!