Sunday, January 17, 2016

Leading up to Five

The age of your firstborn child is always the marker of the number of parenting years you’ve survived lived. That’s just one of the many reasons why firstborn children are special. (Item: I am the firstborn child in my family).

So in my case, that’s five years.

Five years of parenthood.

And five years with this terrific little fellow.

So what has this past year leading up to five been like?

Well in a few key words, it includes…

School (i.e. kindy)

New friends.

Memorable dates.

Swimming lessons.

Discovering new interests.

Deepening conversations.

Everyday kindnesses.

And Lego. Lots of it.

 

For his birthday, hubby and I bought him this mega-sized Lego City police station set. Actually we bought it during the Boxing Day sales the previous year and intended to keep it as a surprise for his fifth birthday. As hubby was discreetly trying to sneak away to pay for it, Nathan spotted him and asked who it was for. So we had to tell him the truth. He was very cool about the whole thing and having to wait for his next birthday before he could play with it. He did refer to it and mentioned it at various times throughout his past year, but never once demanded or asked for it. What a tremendous display of delayed gratification for a five-year old.

And so, after one whole year… FINALLY!

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Nathan set to work immediately putting it together himself. He’s already quite an expert at assembling Lego models and sets together on his own and following the step by step instructions in the manuals. Here he is posing proudly with his masterpiece.

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*****

I remember when he was two years old, I wrote a post for him and described him as ‘The Boy with No Fear’. However I learnt that children constantly evolve and change. I don’t think I would describe him now as either fearless or fearful. I believe his fearlessness at that age was simply an indication of his inner personality. There are definitely things now that do scare him as he continues to learn and encounter the world around him.

Yesterday when we were out at the shops, there was a giant Lego mascot walking around waving and greeting everyone. “Do you want to go say hello to the Lego Man?” hubby asked the kids. “Yeah!!!” exclaimed Grace enthusiastically. As we approached the mascot, Nathan grabbed my arm, hung back and told me he felt scared and did not want to say hello to the Lego Man. On the other hand, two-year old Grace approached the mascot curiously and touched the hand the mascot held out to her in amusement.

Later on, Nathan explained to me “You know, last time I was not scared of the Spiderman at the shops because I know he is a person, but I don’t like the Lego Man because he is very big. The Spiderman was a person. I am not scared of people”. And I knew that was true. Nathan never hesitates to greet and say hello to strangers we encounter at the shops and ask how their day is going. And he is my constant reminder in giving a kind word to the cashiers and shop workers we meet.

In the car on the way home, Grace piped up and said “Just now I was scared of the Lego club!”. “What Lego club? You mean the Lego Man?” Nathan inquired. “Not Lego Man, the Lego club!” Grace replied. “Are you talking about big Lego Man?” Nathan clarified. “Nooo! The Lego club! Not Lego Man!” Grace insisted shrilly. “Oh, okay” Nathan quickly acknowlegded trying to cool things down. “I was not scared of the Lego club. I was scared of the Lego Man. We are scared of different things” he added. “Yeah!” said Grace in agreement.

So fear and fearlessness are a relative thing. And that’s a universal truth.

What seems scary to me may not necessarily be scary to you. And vice versa…

*****

I don’t know how you do it! How could you look after four young children all by yourself? I could never do anything like that!”. This is the most frequent response I get when I tell people what I do for a living.

I shall tell you one of my secrets of how I manage to do it.

It’s with the help of this fellow…

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Before you dismiss this supposed revelation as some cliche remark about a helpful boy who runs around retrieving things for me or helping to tidy things up, it’s really more than that.

In my Early Childhood Education diploma studies, one of the key theorists I studied on child development  was a guy called Vygotsky. He advocated that children learnt primarily from ‘more knowledeable others’ which include other children and peers.

This is actually a pretty critical revelation.

First you have to understand that ‘play’ is children’s everyday vocation. It’s their work. Playing is how they learn, how they test themselves, discover themselves, discover their world and learn about how things work.

Some parents complain to me, “Look at how independent your kids are. My children can never play on their own like that”. I used to wave of remarks like that modestly saying that all children can play independently, they just need some time blah, blah, blah.

But as I’ve observed how the other children under my care are growing and developing. I really need to give a lot of credit on their learning to the ‘big brother’ Nathan playing alongside them. Sure, I set up the resources and activities for them. I read to them and faciliate intentional teaching sessions with them. I put together art and craft examples for them to follow or encourage them to draw and paint freely.

However once the little  hands get busy and the play gets underway, oftentimes the real learning and teaching happens with each other. Nathan leads and teaches play by example. As the younger ones watch him busily manipulating blocks, creating with playdough, or dressing up, it fuels their own imaginations and ideas on how to create their own play.

They watch Nathan stack the blocks. “I’m making a castle!”
“I make castle too!”.

They see Nathan roll and squish the play dough. “I’m making ice cream!”
“I make ice cream too!”

They follow Nathan as he marches around the house. “I’m a knight hunting for dragons!”
“I hunting dragon too!”

They observe as Nathan puts on a cape from the dress up box. “I’m Superman to the rescue!”
“I Superman too!”

“Stop! I don’t like that!”

“Say sorry!”

“You mustn’t push!”

“Say please!”

“Let’s play firemen!”

“Let’s play hide and seek!”

“You count to ten and I’ll hide!”

“Let’s play What’s the time Mister Wolf!”

“Let’s make a tent!”

“Let’s make a picnic!”

“Let’s! Let’s! Let’s!”

On paper, you might think I’m describing a very bossy young man ordering everyone about. But in truth he does it in such a big brotherly kind of way, that it doesn’t really feel too bossy at all. And I don’t believe it would be the case if everyone is being included and happily laughing and playing together.

This year, our Nathan will be heading off to pre-primary. So he will be away at school five days a week during the term. We will all miss him tremendously. Especially me. But I believe he has trained his successors well to take over the lead in play. And anyway we’ll stil have him with us in the afternoons and during school holidays.

Dear Nathan. I am so enjoying this season of childhood and play with you. The doors and windows to your world are still wide open for me to visit and traverse anytime.

I hope not to miss a thing.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Emerging out on the other side in 2016

This is just sort of a surprise hello after my unannouced extended blogging break. January has always been kind of a slow month, going into energy-saving mode after the busy December holiday season.

I’ve been induging in the rare luxury of just chilling out in my spare time doing nothing in particular, especially after finishing a highly intensive year in 2015… with Nathan going to kindy (and learning to juggle the school drop-off and pick-ups into our daily routine), two almost back-to-back trips to Singapore (and Bali) and Kota Kinabalu for my brothers’ weddings, and getting down to business to finish off my Diploma in Early Childhood Education.

And in between all those big highlights, the year was just jammed packed with lots of learning, work and play… intercepted by incredible and profoundly beautiful stories and scenes like this one about four-year-old kindness and friendship, and this one about two-year-old support for tough moments in life, and also this one about how to be the bestest big brother in the whole entire world.

There are still a few mysteries from last year still left unsolved. Like the mystery of the purple lobster. And the mystery of the stolen designer bag. But I have made my peace with these unanswered questions.

After celebrating Nathan’s big five just before Christmas, I pretty much descended and crashed into power-out mode and fell sick immediately after the party with laryngitis. I was physically unable to speak for three days. Which was incredibly hard. It was an epiphany to me how tremendously verbal our lives are as mothers. Our voice permeates our children’s entire day from morning until night. It’s no wonder they call the first language we speak ‘mother tongue’.

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Christmas and New Year’s was spent with friends. I was very happy to just sit back and just chill out at the lovely homes of our close friends over the holidays. In between Christmas and New Year, my newly married brother and sister-in-law flew over to “hang out with you guys” as they put it. It was all very chilled and relaxed as well. Just driving around to a few favourite places around Perth, a bit of wining and dining, cooking and eating together, and watching movies together.

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Anyway, I’ve emerged on the other side, a bit more refreshed and energised to take on the new year. I’m not really into resolutions in the traditional sense. But I’ve got a few new things and changes up my sleeve…

For one, I’m learning to play the ukulele. Where is this all coming from? Well you could say my mild obsession with the Twilight Saga which kickstarted the previous Christmas kind of started the whole thing, as it led to my determination to learn how to play this piece on the piano, which then reignited the whole music thing. So there you go.

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Two, I’ve decided to do some scaling back in my work hours in my business. Working five days a week for the past two years straight with no official allowances for annual leave was kind of taking it’s toll on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty strong person and can happily keep going at this pace all the way if needed. But I think sometimes when you toughen up so much to power through life, you kind of risk losing yourself along the way. That’s kind of how I feel. I’ve been operating on high power mode the past couple of years, starting up this business, establishing my environment and systems, learning on the job, going back to school, working on assignments, and managing. Everything.

I think I need to go back to the original reason why I wanted to venture into this business in the first place. For myself. And for my family. Again don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore my clients and the children I care for. However if I eventually morph and change into a different person from the one I started out or intended to be, what would be the point of it all for me and everyone connected with me?

In the bloggy space, I’m planning to get a bit more focused on sharing the various play and learning activities I do everyday. I post up heaps and heaps and photos and anecdotes on the activities I do with the children every day for the families in my family day care. I should try and channel more of that into this space. I also have a couple of really cool and different ideas for some feature posts this year. It’s all very new and exciting and I can’t wait to share it with you. So stay tuned!

Finally, from me and my family to you: Have a magnificent, phenomenal, fantabulous year in 2016!

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