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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

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

Why is it so hard for me to be an organised mother?

4 May

My nook

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.

Last night I thought my house might just float away

24 Feb

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Image courtesy of news.com.au

It was the rain that woke me. I had to be up at 4am to work the Sunday morning shift at Bankstown Airport and I was doing my best to get some shut-eye but it was just so loud. The rain was loud because there was so much of it. And it wasn’t just the rain.

The roof gutters were overloaded and water was streaming so loudly past our doors and windows that I was convinced the roof was leaking and searched for it. Thankfully the roof held up.

Then the wind picked up.

I felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. It was positively howling. I will never know how the house stayed standing. The glass in the windows shook and even though they were closed the curtains and blinds were moving each time a new gust slammed into them. At one stage the wind was so furiously fast that it emitted an intense whistle. I swear my heart stopped.

I started wondering about the roof caving in on the kids as they slept. I started wondering about the streets being flooded and us being stranded.

I started wondering about driving into flood water and being swept away. How would I get us out? How would I keep us safe?

Mother Nature can be scary when she wants to be and with the intensity of current weather patterns across the world you’ve got to wonder what will happen next.

My son Philip is 9 and he asks questions all the time about possible disasters. Does Australia have earthquakes? Yes, but just little ones. Does Australia have hurricanes? No (although last night I heard of several mini-twisters). Does Australia have fires? Yes, bad ones but not in Sydney. Does Australia have flooding? Yes, bad ones but not in Sydney.

I think of silly things, like how I’ll buy an inflatable raft and put one in the house and one in the car just in case. I’ll stop up on kids vitamins and Space Food Sticks and store them in waterproof containers. I’ll build an underground shelter in case of fires, cyclones and other dangers. It can double as a panic room.

I’ll put Uno, Monopoly and some books in there. I’ll pack water, long-life milk and chocolate.

I feel like saying I’m lucky to live in Sydney is like asking for trouble (I’m knocking on wood as I speak!).

Last night I was scared to death. I can’t wait for the sun to come out again.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

How one mother helped her obese daughter lose weight

17 Feb

The Heavy, Dara-Lynn Weiss

“There is no truth, there is only perception” Gustave Flaubert

I’ve been thinking a lot about perception lately. How we perceive the world, how we are perceived…it’s truth mixed with subjectivity mixed with judgement.

So it’s fitting that I stumbled upon a book written by an amazing women who was a victim of perception. By the end of the book I couldn’t believe how inaccurately she has been portrayed; disbelieving but not surprised.

Her name is Dara-Lynn Weiss and about a year ago she featured in a Vogue article discussing her decision to put her seven-year-old daughter on a strict diet with the sole purpose of helping her to lose weight. It didn’t help that the essay she had written appeared in Vogue, that she was packaged as an upper class New York mum and that the photo showed her and her daughter looking like the last thing they needed to do was diet. I remember reading it in shock. Putting kids on a diet? Can’t she just play netball or something?

But this was an active little girl with a huge appetite and a skinny brother.

The outcry to the essay was just as swift and the judgement harsh. She was irresponsible. She was materialistic. She was teaching her child to rely on her looks too heavily. She was obviously a vacuous and misguided woman.

Far from the truth. As far as you can get.

Dara-Lynn faced a dilemma many of us are familiar with. She had a clinically obese child. Her son could eat what he wanted but her daughter paid for her voracious appetite with uncontrollable weight-gain and the associated nasty treatment at school. Concerned friends and family suggested Dara-Lynn help her daughter lose weight. Dara-Lynn didn’t know where to begin.

She tried to do it herself. She’d always fed her family healthy foods with occasional treats but what she quickly learned and something I realised over 12 years ago when I first tried a calorie restricted diet. It’s not so much what you eat, but how much you eat. When it comes to weight loss and weight gain a calorie is a calorie. There’s no magic pill.

Dara-Lynn came across research I too had stumbled upon and felt fascinated and validated by. Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University went on a “Twinkie Diet” to prove that people can lose weight eating anything as long as what they eat doesn’t exceed the calories they need to eat for weight loss. Not only did he lose 11 kilos, his health improved, his cholesterol lowered and his blood-work showed improvements in his saturate fat count.

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html

The other new information she discovered that when it comes to diet vs exercise, most experts conclude that exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss. If you eat too many calories, no amount of exercise will help.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1914974,00.html

This mother of an obese child had limited success in managing her daughter’s weight in a world where it’s just not possible to control our child’s diets constantly and where one excessive meal a day can easily undo any weight loss. I myself know that one bad day of eating with abandon takes at least three days of restriction to correct.

So Dara-Lynn turned to an established program which focused on helping children lose weight and then she continued on her own until her daughter reached a ‘normal weight’. You need to read the book to understand her journey and she deserves a bloody medal. She knew she was the only one who could help her daughter and she did it with the judgement and stigma associated with placing a child on a diet.

The happy ending is that not only is her daughter a ‘normal weight’, she can make the right choices for herself now. She knows she can only have a treat twice a week and she knows she has to be careful how much healthy food she eats to. Dara-Lynn has empowered her daughter to be in charge of her own health and I can’t help but think that her daughter will be able to use this skill in other areas of her life.

The book is called The Heavy and it is a brilliant read for any parent or anyone who has struggled with weight. And it’s a wake-up call.

Managing our growing obesity crisis is going to require us to take a hard look at how we eat, how we socialize, what we teach our children and how we deal with weight issues. Just as Dara-Lynn explains, a diabetic child or a child with food allergies doesn’t suffer from the stigma an over weight child does and yet each is a serious health issue which requires careful management.

 

Sick and tired of waiting to see doctors

13 Feb

Kids Line Up

Since the birth of my first child I’ve felt like I live at hospitals and medical centres. After the birth of my second child it became worse and after my little girl arrived I may as well brought along sleeping bags.

Hardly any of those visits have been for me. I usually just shuffle my way through illnesses and only go to the doctor for me when I absolutely have to. Case-in-point this week when a virus struck me down like a thunder bolt.

I was at the gym working out when I noticed tiny red spots all over my arms. My first thought was that it was a sweat rash but later in the shower I realised it was all over my body. I googled it and was told I could have Leukimia. Or measles, or meningitis. With three kids in tow headed for the medical centre but instead of going to our usual centre where we have to endure a one hour wait I chose a different centre where you can make appointments.

I still had to wait 40 minutes.

The doctor actually came out after 30 minutes but Caterina had chosen that particular moment in time to use the toilet so he saw another patient before me.

Finally we all fell into his office and my kids who were tired and bored started destroying his office. We both told them to sit down and behave which they did for about 50 seconds, long enough for him to quickly examine me.

The good news – I wasn’t dying. The bad news – it’s a virus that just has to ‘run it’s course’ and there was nothing to be done but rest. Rest?!? I have three children. As if.

After a 40 minute wait I felt entitled to at least some new multi-vitamins, some cream or perhaps a hug?

This is why I NEVER go to the doctor for myself.

With the kids it’s different. I always take them ‘just in case’ because if an illness is ever going to become worse it’s always at 2am when everything is closed. They never take a turn for the worst during daylight hours. And after several 4-6 hour waits at our local hospital emergency room I’d prefer to take them to the doctor for every tiny little thing than have our precious rest interrupted. This doesn’t always work. Like the time Philip and I were dancing to the music at the end of Gnomeo and Juliet and he jumped into my arms, some how turned himself upside down and I dropped him on his head. I heard a crack and called an ambulance. I thought I’d broken his neck. He was screaming and crying.

We rushed to hospital with a neck brace on him and they delivered us to emergency. My little man fell asleep. As he slept doctors (who probably had DOCS on hold) asked me to describe how this had happened, asking if I’d ‘wrestled’ him into a headlock. I explained how it had happened and they woke him up and examined him.

My previously crying, distressed child said he felt fine. It was like nothing had happened.

Because I couldn’t slap him in front of people (just joking) we stayed for observation and then were sent home after 2 hours.

People ask why I carry around such a large handbag and it’s because when waiting for doctors, dentists and other professionals you need an array of items to keep your children from going nuts, thus preventing your own nervous break down. My over-sized handbag contains snacks, drinks, toys and several discarded Happy Meal items. It’s saved me several times.

Next time you are at the doctors office waiting waiting waiting might I suggest adopting a calm attitude, ignoring those giving you and your children dirty looks, teach the kids thumb wrestling and settle in. Because they never stick to their appointment times and it’s never a 10 minute wait. Use it as quality time. Talk, play, have fun. You may as well.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

 

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