Tag Archives: society

Organic, Free-Range Children

So Matilda’s gap year has come to an end. 2014 has been an adventure in homeschooling. I’ve had a teacher’s dream job – a classroom with one gifted student, eager to learn.

This is the year I made new friends, learnt Japanese, went on interesting excursions and got re-acquainted with our local library.  Matilda now plays guitar, tutors one of Christopher’s friends, plays a mean game of netball and can rollerskate with the best of them.  She also walks taller, stands up for herself and chatters warmly and effusively to her new friends.

She’s still a sensitive child – she wouldn’t be Matilda if she wasn’t – but her eyes have lost that hunted, anxious look, she eats her lunch and goes to sleep at night.

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy.  It’s hard work organizing regular social catch-ups for Matilda and regular sanity-breaks for myself, and I often feel I could be doing more with her (her brain is enormous).  It’s no picnic having to explain myself everywhere I go, either (No, she’s not sick, we homeschool.  You want me to explain my reasons for homeschooling in 140 characters or less?  Forget it.  She’s sick.)

But it’s a lot easier and a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

I love the lifestyle.  I love learning about how Matilda learns.  I love the rich curriculum and I love being able to tailor it to Matilda’s needs.  I love the freedom and the simplicity.  I love socializing with other families.  I love the space it creates for extracurricular activities.

I feel like the most stress I’ve dealt with this year has been related to Christopher’s school.  The pick ups and the drop offs.  The tiredness and crankiness.  The readers and the homework books.  The bullying and standard-issue cruelty.  And the endless, endless admin.

Homeschooling is rather strange, I guess.  But sending my children off to a one-size-fits-all institution for an inefficiently mass-produced education is a different sort of strange.  Not that I’m anti-school.  And not that I’m telling you to homeschool or judging you for not homeschooling or waiting for you to list the manifold reasons why you can’t homeschool.  I’m just trying to work out what works for my family.

All through the year, Christopher had begged me to homeschool him too and I’ve struggled to find a reason not to do it.  It was difficult saying goodbye to the school, but in another way, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

So, I’m committing to one more year of homeschool.  After this year, things get a little more complicated.  Harry will be old enough for school and Matilda will be in Grade 6 and might benefit from a year at school before she goes to high school.  But I’m only doing things one year at a time.  I will have a clearer idea of where to go later this year.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

Am I a mad person?

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5 Reasons Why Stay-At-Home Parenting = Writing Success

I used to think I would have to wait for my children to grow up a bit before thinking about becoming a writer, but now I realize I’m exactly where I need to be. Here’s why:

 

1. You will be desperate for a creative outlet

odd socks

There are only so many lullabies you can sing and pretend cappuccinos you can sip before you start craving a use for your brain.  Harness this hunger and write!

 

2.  It’s the ideal set-up

"The Frenzy": a cartoon depicting chaos surrounding an oblivious Kate who is writing furiously. Annie empties cornflakes onto the table, Harry is watering the television and the other two have kindled a small fire on the table and are roasting marshmallows

If you were trying to write on weekends whilst working full-time, you might struggle to get yourself into the right frame of mind.  If you took time off work to focus on your writing, you would have to face the unbearable pressure of producing something good and printable to validate your choice.  When you’re a stay-at-home-parent, you have the luxury of writing for fun.  If you ever get to the point of writing something print-worthy, that’s a bonus.

 

3. Writing time is precious

Pretty notepad with pen, tea and chocolate

Let’s face it: If I had all day to write, I would probably spend it drinking tea, flipping through Facebook, re-organising my shoe collection and staring at a blank page.  As a stay-at-home-parent, writing time alone is a rare treat for me.  I try to make the most of every second, whether the words are flowing or not.

 

4. There is a never-ending supply of writer’s block cures

fairy dresses on washing line

I find the best antidote for blank-page-syndrome is menial work.  Doing something boring with my hands frees up my brain to explore ideas.  Fortunately, being a stay-at-home-parent provides me with an endless supply of these cures.  I’ve chewed over writing while I’m doing the dishes, shopping for sausages, pegging out washing, changing nappies and buttering piles of sandwiches.

It works wonders.

 

5.  You will be provided with a perfect abundance of material

Hand drawn cartoon. A wild-haired Kate is holding a saucepan and looking disconcerted: her five-year-old daughter has collapsed under the weight of her saucepan costume. Caption reads "Enid Blyton versus Newton's law or universal gravitation"

Can you tell there’s a squashed child under all those saucepans? Can you even tell they’re meant to be saucepans??

We all think we would write better if we could just go off to some cabin in the woods and be a hermit for a while.  But I don’t think it really works that way.  Apart from the obvious homicidal-mania-related side effects (haven’t you ever seen The Shining?), shutting yourself off from daily distraction would also mean shutting yourself off from a wealth of inspiration.  If I didn’t spend the bulk of my time making colossal mistakes as a parent, I would have nothing to write about.

 

So there you have it.  I know you think you don’t have time, but use what small pockets you can set aside.  A lot of this can apply to other creative pursuits as well (just replace the word “writing” with “painting”/ “pottery”/ “international space-station design”)

What do you think?  Have I missed anything?  Am I totally off my rocker?  Tell me your thoughts in the comment section below.

Frugal Fail.

Free Aldi flowers - still going after 2 weeks!

I’ve always wanted to be a queen of thrift.  Well, no.  That’s not exactly true.  I’m pretty sure at various points in my childhood I wanted to be a fashion designer, a movie star, a member of the A-Team and a boy, but since I’ve become a full-time mum, I’ve aspired to get really good at saving money.  I suppose I want to earn my keep.  I’d love to save so much money by making miracles out of rice and tuna that we would have EVEN MORE to spend than if I’d been working – that’s how clever I would be with the budget.  I pore over websites like Simple Savings and Cheapskates for tips on making a single income look sexy.  I see it as a kind of sport.  I have friends who are also trying to save money and I’ve noticed a subtle sense of competition making its way into our conversations.   It’s like the Frugalympics.

“I can make a million things with mince meat!”  I boast
“That’s nothing!  You should taste my spam-burgers!”,  says one friend
“You mean to say you guys can afford meat?”, the other friend exclaims in smug triumph.

Whenever I make an extravagant purchase like movie tickets, cappuccinos, décor magazines or disposable baby wipes, I try to keep a lid on it.  If news got out amongst the other frugalympians, I’d lose points for sure.

Having said all this, I’m not deluded enough to think I’m in any way poor.   I’m talking about first world problems here.  I won the birth lottery in a big way.  Australia has an extravagance of riches compared to the majority of the world’s population.  I wash my clothes and my dishes in fresh drinking water and, while I might agonise over which school to send my children, I never have to question whether they get an education.

I suppose part of this comes from a desire to resist a culture that has become rampantly consumerist.  I’m sick of getting told I need to put my marriage under pressure and outsource my mothering to an institution so that I can afford stuff I don’t need to impress people I don’t like.  I would much rather be frugal (and I appreciate that not everyone is in my position and I am attacking the pressures placed on working mothers, not working mothers themselves, please don’t write me angry letters, end disclaimer)

Grocery shopping has become a military operation.  I take stock of the freezer, pantry and fridge and try to incorporate it into my meal plan.  I write my meal plan, making allowances for any events or meals out planned for that week.  I look at the meal plan and any shopping list notes and make a master list.  On this master list, each corner of the page represents a corner of the shop.  I write the items according to their location in the supermarket (as Aldi really only has two major aisles, this is not quite as impressive as it sounds).  I pay close attention to the two “red zones” – the sweet biscuit and lolly section at the front of the first aisle and the meat section at the back of the second aisle, where everything is at toddler height.  I need to have a clear idea of what I need from these red zones and move through them at lighting speed as she who dawdles is lost (and buried under a pile of grocery suggestions from her helpful son).  Pay attention!  There can be no doubling back in this jungle.  But if you’re good you can get a vegemite scroll at the end.

Last week was a good shop.  Both Harry and Annie were enjoying their weekly ritual with cheerful enthusiasm.  Harry didn’t toss too many items into the trolley and Annie didn’t toss too many items out of it.  I stocked up on meat and even bought a whole chicken to roast (I’d read all about how you can make three meals out of one roast chicken and was longing to try it to boost my frugal credentials).  When I got to the end of the shop there were free fresh flowers on the packing bench (too old to sell, but still good).  I grabbed a bunch to brighten up the house and sailed home feeling unutterably smug.

I packed the groceries away, putting the bulk meat in the bottom drawer of the fridge to be divided into portions and frozen.  Then I got to work on the roast chicken.  I stuffed it with onion and half-eaten-apple, rubbed it with oil and salt and herbs and cooked it into a culinary masterpiece at only five dollars a kilo.  My smug levels rose ever higher.

After dinner I got to work stripping the chicken (for stirfry meat) and inspecting the carcass (for soup stock).  While there wasn’t nearly enough chicken left for another meal, I stuck it in the fridge for sandwiches and pulled out my phone to search for instructions on turning a roast chicken carcass into a delicious winter soup.  I was met with a bewildering variety of opinions on how to do it involving all manner of ingredients and equipment I didn’t have.  I drudged back into the kitchen only to find that Mr Knightley had tossed the carcass in the bin whilst cleaning the kitchen.  I hugged him in relief.

“What’s with all the meat in the fridge drawer?”, that worthy personage asked casually.

“I’m buying meat in bulk now.  It’s more economical, don’t you know” I gushed enthusiastically.

“You should probably put it in the freezer”, he said, filling the roasting pan with water.

I treated him to one of my best eye rolls.  “Of course I will!  I just have to separate it into portions first.  It’s all under control.”

Later that week, after I posted my Sticky Tape Pudding recipe, my levels of smugness had reached epic proportions.  Oh look at me – the mother who bakes with her children and makes it to the bottom of her laundry basket!  I’ve finally got the hang of this parenting malarkey!  Just call me Captain Awesome and be done with it!

And then it hit me all at once – the meat!

I scrabbled to the bottom of the fridge drawer. Surely it hadn’t been that long?  Surely it was still good?  I sought the fateful use-by date.  It was two days ago.  My bottom lip started to wobble violently.

meat fail

Mr Knightley walked into the room to find me wailing amidst mince meat and sausages.

“How can I manage a family of six,” I hiccupped, “if I can’t even manage basic foodstuffs?!”

I may have been just a little hormonal.  Mr Knightley knew it and wisely chose not to say “I told you so”, but instead steered me to the couch and allowed me to sob tempestuously whilst he cast furtive glances over my shoulder at a repeat episode of Futurama.

In the commercial break, Mr Knightley gave my shoulder a squeeze, “Some women”, he said, barely managing to suppress a twitch playing on the corner of his mouth, “blow the budget on shoes or cigarettes or designer clothes.  You’re the only one I know who splashes out on budget meats!”

At Mr Knightley’s suggestion, I tried to find a dog in the neighbourhood to benefit from this tragic situation, but it would seem every dog in the area is on a special sausage-free diet.  So it came to pass that the sausages and mince stare up at me reproachfully every time I open the outside bin (along with the chicken carcass).

But I’ll be fine, really.

I just need to work out a way to keep the IFC (International Frugalympics Committee) from inspecting my bins…