I’m too tired for Christmas.

28 Nov

Christmas

I haven’t been writing here much lately because I am physically and emotionally depleted. The stress of work, life, family illness and my little boy starting school has left me feeling incredibly drained. Instead of fighting against it and trying to be bloody perky all the time, I’ve gifted myself time to lie on the lounge and binge watch Nurse Jackie, Party Tricks and Entourage.

So far my energy hasn’t returned but I know it will. Maybe sometime after Christmas.

I’m too tired for Christmas this year. It’s almost December and I’m yet to place my Christmas tree order or even start sorting through the Christmas decorations. My children are asking. It’s really surprised them that I haven’t begun fevered preparations yet because I just love this time of the year. But I just can’t seem to get myself moving.

It’s all become a bit too hard.

I know I’ll rally. I’ll do it for my children and I’ll do it for myself because I know that it will make me feel better and I know just how healing this time of the year can be, despite the stress of the school holidays and the financial drain. Because it’s Christmas!!! And family, food and fun is what it’s ALL about.

And Jesus. It’s also about Jesus…or so my children keep solemnly reminding me. They do attend a Catholic school after all. That’s money well spent.

So I plan to go through our boxes of Christmas decorations this weekend and I may even order a Christmas present or two. I may even buy some candy canes and eat them because sugar can only help.

I might line up to see Santa. Caterina has already visited him but the boys haven’t. Giovanni wants to ask for a iPod. Philip just wants a photo sitting on Santa’s lap for a laugh.

“I know you’re Santa Mum,” he reminds me.

So instead of Christmas draining me this year, I’m look for it to restore me into my usual happy self.

So bring on the festivities.

What is your favourite part of the whole Christmas shindig?

Why I called for swimming pools to be banned

20 Jan Swimming public pool

Swimming public poolSince I started blogging full time for iVillage Australia I’ve spent too much time writing stories about parents who have lost children to drowning. This summer has been the worst. To me, drowning is one of the most preventable causes of death in children under 5 in Australia, but as a nation we are so attached to the idea of a backyard pool.

So I wrote a story called, Backyard swimming pools should be banned and was hung, drawn and quartered by social media.

I stand by every word I wrote.

The reaction has been one of complete outrage. I may as well have said “I hate Australia” or “All parents with backyard pools are terrible parents”. I’m saying neither. All I’m saying is that policy makers need to take a step back and stop focusing on pool fences and awareness campaigns. Instead they need to address a very real danger to our children, a danger that exists in their own backyard.

“More children die due to cars. Should we ban cars too?”

This was one of the most popular comments made about my article and to this I say, just because similar bans are even more impractical, doesn’t mean we reject banning backyard pools. We don’t need backyard pools to get to work, to take our children to school, to visit friends, to buy food, but we do need cars. It’s all about minimising risk. Does anyone really need a pool in their backyard?

“Swimming lessons should be compulsory”

A one-year-old isn’t going to be able to save themselves if they fall into a pool, even if they’ve been in the pool since birth. In fact the most vulnerable age group to backyard drowning is those aged between 1 and 3. They are young, they can’t swim properly, they tire easily and they can inhale a large amount of water very quickly.

“Why are you suggesting something that will never happen”

Never say never. I know this is an extreme suggestion but to me, if fireworks have been banned for causing injuries and deaths in children, then why not swimming pools?

“Supervision is key. If parents did a better job of looking after their children drowning wouldn’t happen”

I have covered countless stories in which good parents, vigilant and loving parents have lost children to backyard drowning. Distractions occur, toddlers sneak out during nap time, outdoor furniture is pushed against pool gates to open them, so many things can go wrong. The stats are in. Clearly supervision and other safety measures are failing.

Before you say anything else, consider this. Isn’t it worth letting go of backyard swimming pools to save children’s lives?

If we don’t ban backyard pools, how do you propose we significantly reduce the rate of drowning deaths in Australia?

I appeared on Wake Up on Ten to discuss the article. It was pretty interesting. Check it out:

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Family celebrations are all about the food, right?

1 Sep Yum

Yum

The plan was in place…

I set my alarm for 6am (a hideous time to wake up on a Sunday). It hurt, but I was a woman on a mission.

I got my work done, dressed for the day, woke my still sleeping kids up and we stumbled to the car. We drove forty minutes to get to our destination this Father’s Day morning. We were headed to Mezzapica in Sydney’s Leichhardt. I had placed order for my dad’s favourite Italian pastry. It’s hard to get. Not many people know how to make them properly and the ones you can buy frozen and imported form Italy just aren’t the same.

We used to have a local cafe supplied them but they’d closed.

It had been months since my dad had eaten a good one.

I picked up the order, ignoring the complaints of my children (where are we, why are we here, can we go home…). The box was filled with still-warm sfogliatelli.

SfogliatelleIt was important to me to deliver these to my dad today. You see, he’s 77 and each year he gets scrawnier and scrawnier. It really freaks me out.

My dad has always been really fit and healthy but he is getting so fussy with his food. He goes off particular foods for months at a time and eats the same things each week. He hardly ever snacks, but if there’s a sfogliatelle in front of him he can’t help himself.

Today he ate three.

Hooray!

In each family there is a food that is a tradition, that reminds them of their childhood and for which their family is famous. As you can see from the food pic at the top of this post, we have lots and lots of favourites. I made the cinnamon cheesecake with fresh ricotta, mum made the torte and the almond biscuits and I picked up the cannoli’s when I bought the sfogliatelle.

Today for Father’s Day we ate and we ate and we ate and it was so much fun. We all have leftovers for dinner tonight and desserts for breakfast the next day and we spend the whole day in one room eating, drinking, talking and playing with the kids.

Sadly my husband had to work today. I know lots of families who have dads who have worked on Father’s Day. We just do what we’ve gotta do.

My children didn’t get to wake their dad up and give him his gifts but we still had a fabulous day. Tonight we’ll do our own celebration.

Thankfully my husband loves several foods and his only tradition when it comes to food is eating as much of everything as he possibly can. Well honey, happy Father’s Day and here’s my mum’s pasta and several desserts for your enjoyment.

Food and family…they go hand-in-hand. And I love it. I love it all.

How did you celebrate Father’s Day today?

Sometimes it’s okay to do not much at all

9 Jun

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It’s 10 am and I’ve just gotten out of bed. I’ve recently trained my kids to let me have a sleep in some Sundays (this is the second time in a year I’ve done it). By sleep in I mean I lie down and snooze while they run in and out asking for things. This morning from the comfort of my bed I handed my iPhone to my son, yelled out ‘yes’ when my other son yelled out asking if he could use my laptop and I even opened a jar of pitted black olives for my daughter – without spilling a drop – before slumping back and cuddling my pillow for a few more precious minutes.

I’m up now. On my way from my bedroom to the kitchen (COFFEE!) I changed all the kids into their day clothes, picked up endless pieces of paper and straightened up, threw toys in the toy box, fed the cat and put on a load of laundry.

It’s the long weekend and we have no plans. I felt like I should organise an outing but we’ve been so busy lately and for the next two months we have an important events pretty much every weekend, even two, and then we segue straight into the school holidays during which my sister and I juggle and juggle hard to get to work, fighting over my mum’s baby sitting services and trying not to go insane when at home with all six of our children and a few extras.

I love life when I’m busy but I also love doing not much at all. When my kids asked me what we were doing this weekend I said, ‘Hanging out’ and now they repeat this constantly. It’s super cute.

Of course fellow mums know that when I say we’re not doing much at all it just means we have no formal events to attend or planned outings. Staying home means catching up on work, housework, paperwork, cleaning, tidying, sorting out my clothes, unpacking the boxes left over from our move two months ago, ducking off to the shops when we run out of dish washing liquid and toilet paper. A bathroom incident during which brushing teeth led to a water fight (STOP IT!) left all the toilet paper soaked. There wasn’t even one roll spared. Why did I fork out for the expensive butt-cushioning toilet paper this week? Back to generic, then fight away children.

I’ve always been a bit of a homebody and I find weekends like this reset me  and prepare me for the flurry of engagements, of doing my hair and make up, figuring out what to wear and making sure the kids are presentable.

In preparation for our hectic schedule I’m also making spaghetti sauce to freeze for quick dinners, eating really healthily and exercising because there’s going to be some delicious food ahead like wedges at my daughter’s birthday at Italian cakes at another function. Self control I do not possess.

Enjoy your long weekend and I hope it’s as busy as you want it to be or as relaxing as mine…

La Dolce Vita

Jo Abi

My son is upset that he’s short

5 Jun

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This is my son Philip. He’s 9 and perfect and funny and SHORT.

“Mum, I’m the shortest in my class, the shortest in my soccer team and the shortest out of all my friends,” he regularly tells me. When he says this it brings back painful memories of school (doesn’t everything!). I was called ‘shrimp’ more than I was called Jo during both primary and high school. Even now as a fully grown adult I’m only 5’3”. But so what? I’m not a model or a basketball player and to be honest, if I’m reaching for something high up I’m a chair away from being able to get it. So what if I’m short. So what?

Except kids hate being different from their friends. They just want to be the same. Same, same, same. It makes them feel comfortable and it makes them feel secure. What they don’t realise is that it’s their experiences of being different that make them into strong, determined, amazing, unique people. Being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s just that Philip feels different enough already. He has food allergies and has to wear a yellow hat at school. All his friends are allergy-free and wear blue hats. He also has silver caps on his top, side teeth. His friends ask what they are. He feels embarrassed when they do.

I gave him the “it’s okay to be different” speech again tonight and he listened but I’m not sure I helped. I even used a sports analogy.

We were watching Origin I (GO BLUES!) and I said that it doesn’t matter if he’s short, especially in soccer. I reminded him that Peter Sterling is still one of the best players to have ever played for the Eels and he’s as tall as me! Philip is fast, he’s fit and he’s an excellent player. Being short hasn’t stopped him from doing anything he wants to do (except reach the chocolate in the high cupboard after I’ve put it there so he can’t have anymore of it).

I then told him that if he eats more fruit, veg and all his dinner he’ll grow big and strong.

I then tucked him into bed and told him he was perfect just the way he was and not to bother getting upset about things he couldn’t change. Whats the point? I tell this to myself quite often too!

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

My son has middle-child-syndrome and it’s all my fault

20 May

Gioavanni2

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?

Can you answer this question honestly?

17 May

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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?

No.

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,
Jo Abi

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