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Blended Families: One Step to Success

“It’s been a helluva year, and it’s only January 12 !’ What with looking for a house, organising a wedding and starting a new job, OMG I’m stressed. The wedding is just around the corner…three months is just ‘round the corner !
Stress? I’m just like that, having to organise dresses, colours, outfits, making sure that everybody is happy and then the family circus follows. It started out relaxed, but y’know, too many chefs in the kitchen…so that’s changed now.
He has a five year-old son. I met him when he was two, he’s a wonderful child, and he’s a wonderful Dad. Navigating the waters of a blended family has been a real journey, but I am also a child of divorced parents, and that’s maybe one of the reasons why we have a very special bond.. Y’know it’s the questions of the year-old, who will become my son, that helps put things into perspective. Yes, we’d like to have kids, and his son has put in a order for a little sister.”

This is Robyn as she featured in my #humans_of_cape_town Instagram post. Prospective partners and parents must think extra-carefully when combining families. I was a newbie at being a dad, but simultaneously being a step-dad, and it’s not easy.

Blended Family Checklist:

Have you lived together?

Is your new partner willing to really let you parent?

Are they willing to let you establish your own relationship with their child, or do they insist on governing it?

Do they shout in front of their own kids – it’s not easy, but important to know how he / she is when you’re not around.

Check how their childhood was, how their parents treated them. That – and how they dealth with issues they might have had with their folks – is a major indication as to what you can expect. It can also raise necessary flags.

Values – they have to be in synch. As you wil have your own idiosyncracies, so the most normal seeming people can turn out to have their own challenges in particular circumstances. You need ot understand and be able to deal with each other.

 

I have an idea that Robyn has done her homework.

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Single Parenting Holidays: Joburg for Christmas again ?

 

So Christmas has passed and December’s approaching yet again. A little quicker than last year, which was already a little quicker than the 12 months before and so-on and so-on.

That’s what I was thinking last year in about August. Such is the calendar of a single parent battling to see his children; I was thinking this would leave me four months in which to arrange what has become the annual Cape Town–Johannesburg flight to see ageing grandparents and maintain connections with cousin, aunt and friends.

Without being morbid, the thing with the sharp end of ageing is that you don’t know which trip to see the children’s gran or grandad will be their last, so going elsewhere, like a holiday destination, doesn’t happen. Just in case. Like my Dad. He hardly got to know his grandchildren before he moved on. My son has meanwhile learnt about ageing from these visits, and is far braver than I remember being about ‘old people’ at that age.

IMG_4473Drawing with Gran. My Dad and My SonMy Dad and My Son 

There hadn’t been timeous agreement regarding the previous three Christmas holiday suggestions with the my boy’s mother, and again I had no option but to book flights the week before the big day; which for me and my 6 year-old pretty much cost half the price of a ticket to London.

Which, heading off on a tangent, leads me to think how our holiday expectations evolve . If not my son’s friends’ going to the proverbial family holiday house at Kenton-on-Sea or ‘Plett’, favoured holiday spots here in South Africa, my now-global school friends are taking their kids to Europe and the US for skiing holidays.

Cousin T has joined uncle pat as a firm favourite for Fynn. Sassy joined in.  IMG_1057    IMG_1213_2

In comparison, spending my share of the annual big Christmas vacation with my boy and our family down the road from Westpark cemetary in Johannesburg was ok. That’s another  reality of the single-parenting world; if you’re close to your family and not necessarily flush, horizons often don’t extend much beyond remaining families.

We enjoy the relative peace. Well I do, my boy obviously lives for the moment, and if he’s surrounded by love and his holiday animals – with a swimming pool as a bonus – he’s happy.

He loves being with his aunt and cousin. So does his four year-old sister, but unfortunately she only gets to see them on one day a year (for reasons that won’t be addressed here).

I appreciate the quiet of Jo’burg, driving avenues lined with the trees of my childhood (the Joburg-Pretoria conurbation represents the world’s largest urban ‘forest’). It reminds me too, earlier comments or morbidity aside, that the children spending quality time with their fast-ageing and generally immobile granny is also pretty key, to nurture their sense of paternal family.

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And anyway, peak-season airports are hell.

 

 

Frogging For Kids

There can be few greater joys for a young child than being exposed to the natural world at a young age. Those early days of catching frogs, chasing butterflies and feeling the bark of a tree is a gift. It’s also natural, especially for boys; I give Fynn a net, he says ‘let’s go catch frogs !’

Fynn followed a little bloke named Noah - not this child on the right - from the picnic spot to the stream rushing down the mountain 'cos he had a fishing net. Luckily we had one in the car. Noah was catching frogs and tadpoles in a scary fashion - but we soon had three in the bag. Fynn was worried about the other kids having a bucket. Where was ours? I explained the virtues of catch 'n release.

They don’t know it yet, but introducing children to the natural world on their own terms allows for a subconscious appreciation of the world in which they are connected to, are part of. It also stimulates their curiosity.

As much as they enhance skills probably essential to our children’s social and professional development, iPads and phones are not part of their natural world. This randomly selected link speaks to that subject  http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/article-when-introduce-child-smartphone-tablet.html.

Nets are good for frogs, almost essential. A bucket of sorts is useful for holding the creatures caught. My son likes to catch them with his hands when a net isn’t available, as in the picture below with his mate and her two children in one of the ponds at Kistenbosch Botanical gardens*. ‘Hey dad, check this out” or ‘I’ve got one!’ he shouts, pure happiness ringing out across the weekday afternoon ripples. When it’s hot, this is literally a cool environment for the children (and you).

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Some adults, probably most, don’t like slimy and squirmy things in their hands. Probably because they never held them as little children. Much like I’ve always hated slugs, and snails.

I got over that manic wriggling of worms when I got my own worm farm, and the snails, oh the snails…I eventually ate one in my 30-somethings in yes, France, which incidentally tasted like a mushroom vol-au-vent.

Frogs are easy to handle, and their little hearts tire quickly. So tempering my boy’s sometimes relentless pursuit is sometimes necessary, with the little amphibian’s legs simply unable to kick anymore. Putting them in a container or lunchbowl allows the kids to return and check their haul when it’s time to call it a day.

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So allowing them to play and hold such things now is really doing them a favour. Especially the guys. Apart from that, for children there large lawns in beautifully manicured gardens (no ball sports) paved paths, dirt-trails and the funky, designer  tree canopy-bridge called ‘boomslang’. Perfect for picnics.

Check out http://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch

Rice ‘n Cheese fritters

Rice ‘n Cheese Fritters

I’ve got left-over rice from the night before. Let’s say it’s basmati brown, because however they spin it on the latest white bread packaging, anything white is nutritionally a bit like eating paper – which I’d rather not feed to my children **.  Basmati has a nice taste anyway, and I’m thinking rice ‘n cheese fritters would be good; if my son can tear himself away from his Star Wars lego game, he might even want to cook.

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But let’s hold the fritters right there. As I have raised the subject of food and children, I need to get something off my chest.

If you’re reading this I don’t need to ask whether you love your child more than your car. But I will put it out there that some people treat their cars better than their child.

Spaghetti is fun, penne is cool, but if we’re talking about growing healthy children here, my layman research (with a couple of my TV doccies as background) will reveal that pasta is essentially an empty carbohydrate, which means it doesn’t offer nutrition to growing bodies. I’d like to say it’s like putting sugar-water into your petrol tank, but that would be a bit drastic. So it’s fine for a weekly dish.

Let’s face it, no child was born screaming for pasta, or sugar on strawberries. It’s the parents’ choice; grown-ups who are driven by advertisements, peer pressure and the obvious fun involved with twirling long strands of spaghetti around the fork.

I make a cool macaroni cheese. But I serve it once a week, and it’s brown. Oh wow, that sounds so sensible, spoken like I’m part of a normal family, a nuclear unit. But I’m not. ‘We’ are not.

We’re broken on a few levels, nutrition being one of them. If my efforts at inculcating positive values, eating habits and regular activity are the macaroni, it’s as if my significant other left the dish under the grill and tossed its blackened self into the bin.

Eating well is, to a large degree, about learnt behaviour. And balance.

As with the bicycle helmet, saying thank you and brushing his teeth, if my child grows up eating badly, he’ll carry that behaviour forward into his adult life. I’d like to think we should eat to live, to sustain ourselves, to operate at our best, with a lashing of yumminess. Living to eat speaks to a psychological, emotional condition that I don’t want visited on my child.

But it doesn’t have to be like that if we feed our children correctly from the get-go.

In contrast to pasta, brown rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes all offer complex carbs packed with what nutritionists call the right glycaemic index and nutrients valuable for my children’s growth. As for the fruit ‘n veg, I make a real effort to encourage his interest in the range of colours available, like the multicoloured peppers, carrots, superfood broccoli and steamed beans for ‘the green’. Served with lemon, a little butter (while they’re hot) and rock-salt, they’re crunchy and tasty, and my son  doesn’t need to be told to finish his beans. Yes, it takes time, but…hello ?

Now back to the fritters.

So, to the left-over rice add a third of that quantity in flour. Don’t be anal about it, but organic if you can (I’ll explain why on another occasion).

Mix in two eggs, grate in a mature, strong-tasting cheddar and whatever herbs you like; grow them, it’s a healthy focus and distraction (if you need it).

Cut in some peppers (which you can grow btw by scraping the seeds from the peppers you slice up and leaving them to dry). Or add in some sliced up beans or broccoli. Maybe some chutney or slow-cooked tomato and onion mix, and fry them on a ready, hot pan.

 

My mom made simple versions of these for me when, as a six year-old, I didn’t want to go to my new school after moving back to South Africa. It was a bribe.

Please let me know how it tastes, and share your own ideas. I’m running out of easy dishes, and anyway spending time in the kitchen alone – while waiting for that woman-on-a-white-stallion who will eat my fritters – is over-rated.

** For instance,  what about the plastic polymer found in mass-produced commerciall breads to make them more spongy and fresh-seeming? The following story speaks about one global franchise  http://abcnews.go.com/Health/subway-takes-chemical-sandwich-bread-protest/story?id=22373414 – but it’s probably best, since we eat so much of the stuff,  to make sure the stuff used in yoga mats and shoe soles  is not in our breads.

 

Six & The Shoelace

I never quite attached the importance to shoelaces that I did last year, the sixth time the earth has circled the earth since my son was born. We had sat on his floor a bunch of times, him fumbling with those laces, me silently willing him to get it right while offering mild encouragement.

Being aware that he has limited patience for fiddly things, akin to my own, I understood the frustration that I was witnessing.

I remember when collecting him from school on ‘my day’, that a classmate was sitting on the brick floor outside the classroom, tying his laces. Around him, children grappling with bags half their size stumbled towards their waiting mothers*, but the boy remained resolute, focused, and finally stood with a look of triumph.

My first thought was a vaguely competitive ‘hey, we have to practise’. That was something of a knee-jerk, primitive response, but looking back, I hadn’t been here before. With each new developmental day comes a new experience, but I knew this was a landmark event, along with learning to ride a bike and catching his first frog.

Allied to this sense of understanding and appreciation, was a realisation that at his mom’s house he didn’t have lace-ups, only those shoes with velcro straps. Which meant no opportunity to practice.

Yes, they’re much easier to put on and take off, but learning this skill is obviously a non-negotiable that will equip him in his battle with the drawstring in his shorts, and I suppose later on with knotting the rope in the tree he wants to swing from, like the one outside our home.

Luckily this was happening a few months ago, as winter got going and footwear – as opposed to slip-slops – were a necessity. It would’ve been harder now, with summer at last here, as I support he and his little sister going barefoot as often as possible and when appropriate.

But that’s all history now, he’s pretty much got it mastered. Check this out from a few months back:

Yes, he did start with the laces the wrong way around, but here’s a tip (if it’s needed): it’s important to let our children make mistakes, to give them the chance to work them out themselves. The sense of achievement visible on his face when he got it right was a highlight of my year, almost up there with learning to ride his bike.

I will soon be sharing that experience, plus the process of learning to read with this excellent reader I came across. In the meantime when I get my boy this weekend after ten days apart, we’ll fit in a shoelace refresher, working on that coordination needed to tighten those laces. Further down the line, when he turns seven in February, we’ll have a separate bunch of challenges on our hands.

If you have your own tales of success, failures and lessons learnt, please share with me, and in so doing help us all learn from each other.

Parentally, Happily and Paternally Yours 🙂

* not too many dads seem to do the pick-ups at our school. Luckily I work for myself, and with minimal time to see him I treasure the opportunity to learn about what’s going on in his world, even if it’s just a lift, so he knows his dad is present.

PS – you might also enjoy this link.