I waited four years to have my second child. I wanted to be able to enjoy him properly and it seemed the perfect time when I fell pregnant with him just after my first-born Philip celebrated his fourth birthday. We were both so excited. Philip was old enough to understand what was happening and each day changed his mind as to whether he wanted a brother or sister. He suggested names, Baxter (our dog’s name), Susie (because that’s what Spot called his sister in the book we read)…
Giovanni was born with much fanfare. We lavished him with affection.
When Giovanni was seven months old I fell pregnant again. It was an accident (gift from God). My well thought out plan to have my children spaced out by four years, thus preventing any feelings of neglect, was ruined.
I am one of four children. I am the second-youngest and my memories of my childhood are not great. My mum was too tired to pay much attention to me unless I hurt myself. I fell over a lot and the hugs, kisses and affection I received made all the pain and bleeding worth it. It’s this childhood that led me to space out my own children. Oh, and I was only planning to have two.
I determined that I wouldn’t let Giovanni be affected by this. He would still receive all the attention he deserved. I’d just have to figure out a way so he didn’t feel left or neglected when the new baby came along.
Giovanni was 16-months-old when Caterina was born. All my intentions quickly went out the window as I battle fatigue, mastitis and tried to recover from my third c-section.
Giovanni was lost. He wanted me to pick him up but I couldn’t. He tried to sit on my lap as I breastfed his sister but there was no room. He went from being to the centre of attention to being forgotten way too often. And I saw it. I knew it was happening but I couldn’t do anything much about it.
I taught him to sit next to me as I breastfed the baby and we’d hold hands but it wasn’t the same. Whenever Caterina slept I tried to have some one-on-one time with him but there was so much to do. All too often it became Philip’s job to play with Giovanni so I could wash the dishes and cook dinner. My husband tried to help but he worked such long hours that his assistance was minimal.
I knew exactly what was going to happen. Giovanni was well on the road to middle-child-syndrome.
Fast-forward to today and Giovanni is a gorgeous five-year-old boy who has trouble expressing himself with words and prefers to express himself physically (by hitting and throwing things). He is unnaturally attached to his teddy bear and sucks his thumb constantly.
He CRAVES attention and when he doesn’t get it something is broken. I have plenty of time for him now but it’s not undoing what has been done and it’s made worse by the fact there are no other kids in our family his age. The older kids leave him out of their activities (so he usually breaks their favourite toys and makes them cry) and the little kids are a touch too young to keep him entertained.
I’m at my wit’s end.
Enter : the sticker chart.
I used a sticker chart for Philip when he turned four to iron out some of the kinks and it worked a treat. At first he was earning stickers so fast I had trouble keeping up and had to set the reward at twenty stickers instead of ten or I’d run out of money.
I have set it up for all three children. Five stamps means they get to choose dinner, ten means then can choose a $10 toy at the shops and twenty stamps means they can choose an activity like the circus or bowling.
It’s working a treat.
Philip and Caterina are steadily earning their stickers by trying new foods and putting rubbish in the bin. Giovanni is the only one so far who has lost stickers due to bad behaviour (pulling the cat’s tail, playing with the flour on the kitchen floor). When he loses a sticker he is devastated and immediately eats a piece of fruit because he knows this will earn him a sticker. It’s working so far and it’s great to have a way of dealing with Giovanni’s behaviour that is clear and removes the need for me to yell or get upset. That saves all our time for hugs, kisses and conversation.
He had his interview for ‘big school’ this week. The principal could immediately see that he wasn’t a talker like his older brother. But if you mentioned the right topic (the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar did the trick) he could talk up a storm.
He knew his colours but mixed up his numbers once he got to fifteen.
I was asked if I have any concerns for him. I said he expresses himself physically and would benefit from clear rules.
I wasn’t able to prevent Giovanni’s middle-child-syndrome but I am doing my best to rectify it. We all make mistakes as parents but armed with the right tools we can certainly repair some of the damage.
How do you handle middle-child-syndrome? How do you discipline your children?
I have a question. I know it’s none of my business but I really want to know. It’s not an easy question to answer. Normally when someone asks you this question your instinct is to lie. Sometimes it catches you off guard.
Sometimes you drive yourself crazy asking it of yourself.
To me it is THE question. It’s the only one that matters. Achievements, accomplishments, money, family, friends and possessions aside…none of it matters when it comes to this.
Okay, here it is…
Are you happy?
I know, annoying right? Are you happy. Is anyone happy? What does it mean to be happy? Is happiness even a goal? Is being in a constant state of happiness achievable?
To me, happiness is not a state of being. Happiness is a feeling. It comes and goes, like sadness and anger. So to ask someone if they are happy is a false choice. Happy vs unhappy. I don’t believe either of these is possible as a constant.
I’ve annoyed you by asking the question so I’ll show how I deal with it. I’ll ask myself and you’ll understand why I think it’s a silly question to ask.
Am I happy?
Happy isn’t how I’d describe myself. Satisfied? Yes. Fulfilled? Yes. Happy? No.
Happiness comes and goes. I have moments of happiness. It comes and goes. I’ve felt happy several times today and then I’ve felt sad, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed, cranky, lonely…
I go through so many feelings more than once each day. This is normal.
I am happy with individual things. I’m happy with work but I’m not happy with how cold it is on the bus each morning. I’m happy with my family but I’m not happy with their behaviour at bedtime. I’m happy with my marriage but I’m not happy with how my husband hardly helps out around the home. I’m happy with my home but I’m not happy that we are only renting. I’m happy with how I look but I’m not happy that it seems to be deteriorating at a rate of knots as I approach forty. I’m happy with my health but I’m not happy that it takes me three weeks to recover from exercise-induced-injuries.
So, are you happy?
Or, may I ask, are you satisfied?
We are all a work-in-progress. We are a work-in-progress until we take our last breath. One of the motivating forces for life is the search for happiness. It’s the search, the process, the seeking, the consideration and the hope that makes life worth living and when those moments of happiness come it’s great, when they go we can look forward to the next.
Next question, the last one, I promise.
What do you think it will take to make you happy? We all have something.
To be fair, I’ll go first.
I will be happy when we own our own home again. It’s my current motivation for everything and once we have that home I’ll have another happiness goal that I’ll focus on.
So, what is your happiness goal? I really hope it isn’t a weight goal because trust me, you’ll never be completely satisfied with that. Instead of a specific goal I prefer a weight window – a five kilo window of weight in which you are happy to hover.
Is it a career goal? Have you ever really tried to get the career of your dreams. It’s never too late. I’ve met and interviewed EVERYONE. Trust me when I say anyone can be anything and you can STILL achieve your secret dream.
Is your happiness goal financial. Come up with a plan. Financial goals are great, especially when you can see exactly how to get there and be confident in your process.
Do you want to get married or have kids? I have seen people jump through some incredible hoops to achieve these. Nothing should stand in your way. Never give up. Never.
It’s Friday night. The weekend looms. Tomorrow is ultra-busy and I won’t be happy as we race around cramming it all in. On days like tomorrow when the kids have more activities than I do in a week, I consider myself a facilitator of happiness. I facilitate my children’s happiness. At night once it’s all done I’ll be happy that the day went well. Then that feeling will go and be replaced with fatigue or another fleeting feeling.
I have a project for you. This weekend think about your happiness goals. What are they? Don’t be afraid. Say them, at least to yourself. Write them down even. Because they are worth it. They are achievable. And you too can be the happiest you can be.
Then, when someone asks you, “Are you happy?” you can say, “I’m as happy as I can be, thanks. And you?”
La Dolce Vita,
I’ve always wanted to be the kind of mother who had a school bag nook. I’d carefully and lovingly design the nook in the perfect position in our home. At the start of each day I’d pack my children’s bags and they’d retrieve them from their designated hook on their way out the door. When they arrived home they’d hang them back up without me having to remind them because I’m super organised and so are they. Our family runs like a well-oiled machine.
Instead our bags are piled on a chair that is always so full we can never actually sit on it. I dig through the artwork, notes and toys to find the bags to pack them and then yell at the kids as soon as we arrive home to put their bags on the chair. Sometimes they listen.
The pile of school bags on the chair often collapses and only in the middle of the night to create maximum terror and panic.
I came across an amazing website called The Organised Housewife and her most recent post was all about how she’d craft the perfect nook for her family. I want to be just like her!
My style of parenting is complete chaos, despite the best of intentions. We’ll have a good day here and there, a good week but something will happen and chaos reigns. Sickness, extreme fatigue, forgetting to buy ham, a washing machine that is on the blink…
This month is has been moving house.
I can’t quite describe the challenge of viewing houses with three reluctant children who you have warned in the car on the way to behave so the agent doesn’t put a giant red cross across our application with a note saying, “Nightmare children.” We viewed several houses but each had a non-negotiable issue like no air conditioning, a giant tree in the backyard that had killed all the grass and created a mud pit, too small, too far from school…
Then, I found our new house or should I say, our new house found us.
I viewed a house near where we are now and it turns out it’s owned by a friend who approved us immediately. And, it has a school back nook!
Six retro hooks hang in the kitchen near where we have put our fridge. It is the PERFECT place for school bags. This house has been waiting for me.
I’m a more organised housewife in this house by default because they hooks are pre-existing but just like this amazing house that is cleverly designed for maximum living pleasure, I too plan to create a schedule that works, take the vitamins necessary to complete said schedule and make the most of life with a nook.
The nook is a metaphor for the kind of mother I’ve always wanted to be. The nook symbolises a mother who doesn’t forget birthday parties, who uses proper name tags on items, who attends P & F meetings, who uses sticker charts to moderate her well-dressed and clean children.
The nook has raised the bar and I plan to meet it.
A new era of motherhood has arrived. My children aged 9, 5 and 3 can look forward to a functioning home with no yelling, no last minute drying of the school shirts on heaters the morning of, plenty of ham and red apples in the fridge and set chores which they will complete without complaint because the organisation is infectious.