When do I get my mum voice?

Before I had kids, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with them. I thought they were cute when I passed them in the street, I attended baby showers and I visited friends with newborns.
When my first was on the way, I assumed that a lot of what I would have to do would come naturally. And it did (sort of).
But there are some “mum” things that I still haven’t mastered.
The mum voice
Most of my friends talk about how they shut their kids down or get them back on track when they’re wayward by deploying their “mum voices”. To say things like “no” or “don’t do that” or “we’re going home”. I do not seem to have this voice. I’ve been horrified to find that despite the arrival of my children, my voice is just the same as it always was and is completely ignore-able. While you’re fixing your children with a steely glare that makes it clear to them that they’ve crossed the line, I’m weakly protesting as mine disappear off over the horizon.
Nappies
I allowed these to be a complete mystery to me before the kids came along. They still kind of are. I’ve done cloth nappies and disposable and had mixed success with both. But while your kids’ nappies are all nicely done up with the tabs lined up (or the clips clipped) mine are on a diagonal slant, with one tab right across, one barely touching and more than enough room for a disaster out the side.
Baking
(Note – I do not think this is necessarily a mum thing.) I always imagined myself baking nutritious treats for my kids. I thought I might even be one of those people who has more than one thing in the oven at the same time. In reality, I only ever do any baking now because my son thinks it’s fun to break eggs and throw flour on the floor. What we end up with is only edible perhaps a third of the time. I dread the day we are sent home one of those cake boxes in which you’re meant to send off a contribution to the school fair. This might be one for the kids’ dad.
Discipline
Yep, I still haven’t mastered this. I had thought I’d find a method that worked by the time it was needed but in reality the longer we’ve gone along, the less I’ve known what is right. The more I research the options, the more things I know I don’t want to do – and I don’t find any replacements. I end up resorting to bribery and distraction. No parenting prizes for me.
Packing
I’ve always been a bit random with what I carry around in my bag. It’s quite likely that you’ll find 43 pens, an old lipstick and the programme for a conference I attended three years ago in there. I had assumed that once I had kids to worry about, this would change. I even bought a huge nappy bag in anticipation. But I still never seem to have a nappy when I need it, or wipes, and the change of pants I have for the kids is usually at least a size too small. Going on holiday is even worse. Last trip, I completely forgot socks. Which leads me to …
Matching socks
I’ve never really cared about having matching socks. As long as I have one for each foot, that’s good enough for me. But you see kids looking cute with their matching sparkly socks, and you would not believe how many pairs of sweet little booties you get when you have a baby. I resolved that I would do whatever I could to make sure my kids’ socks completed their journey through the washing machine at least within shouting distance of their mates. But can I ever find both halves of a pair as I’m trying to get everyone out the door? Definitely not. Other domestic things I haven’t magically developed a talent for, as I had hoped: Vacuuming, tidying, organising toy storage.
Make-believe games
I don’t know why I assumed that once I had kids of my own I’d become a storyteller-extraordinaire with fantastic ideas about exotic make-believe worlds. Instead, we end up playing games where I’m a robot and he’s a plane or he’s a rubbish truck and I’m a bin. Once or twice we’ve played “doctors” just so I can lie still on the floor and he can poke me with an emery board. And when asked to make up stories, I come up with something about a water monster that washes Dad’s car.
But they are only three and eight months. Perhaps there’s still time?

Why isn’t it cool to be a girl?

When is going to be truly cool to be a girl?

I have two kids and I am trying hard not to let their lives be ruled by what other people think is appropriate for their genders.

I’ve noticed some big differences, though, in how each are received when they stray from the norm.

With my daughter, I encounter very little resistance when I tell people she can wear whatever colour she likes, she can play with cars, she can grow up to be a policeman if she wants, and there’s no obligation whatsoever to want to be a princess.

In other words, most people are (mostly) fine with the idea of a girl doing “boy” things.

But with my son, the pressure is much more intense to stick within the realms of what is considered appropriate for a boy.

He is the older of the two so he does not get the gender-crossing hand-me-downs that his sister does.

But when I used to put him in a purple onesie, people commented every single time.

I even had a raised eyebrow about a mint-green shirt from Kmart that – yes, came from the girls’ section – but was $3 and fits him perfectly.

When I thought about enrolling him in a dance class, teachers at two different schools made mention of the fact that what he would be learning was *not* ballet.

I didn’t care – I’d be impressed if they managed to get three-year-olds following any set type of dance. But one teacher told me that she often encounters resistance and outright refusal from fathers who cannot handle the idea of their sons indulging in “girly” ballet.

It seems sometimes even girls aren’t allowed to be girly.

In our desire to make sure that our daughters know they do not have to be pink and pretty, some mothers deliberately reject all traditionally girly things.

I’ve encountered comments from women who are so disdainful of other parents dressing their kids in pink and sparkles that one even suggested it showed a lack of intelligence.

I know I’m hesitant about the prospect of my daughter being interested in Barbie, largely because of the questions about what she might do to her body image. But really, if she understands that Barbie is a fiction, is it any worse than some of the action figures that boys play with? I’ve seen some fairly unrealistic representations there, too.

It all seems to be rooted in the idea that girls and girly things are somehow “less than”.

Girls can strive to do all the things that boys do and that’s to be celebrated. We applaud people’s efforts when they sneakily move “future scientist” and “superhero”-slogan t-shirts from the boys’ section to the girls.

But when boys want to do something that’s traditionally seen as girly, that’s somehow ruled a step down for them. And girls who enjoy stereotypically girly things are seen to be somehow missing out.

Kids of both genders need to see that being “girly” or indulging in “boy” things are both fine – and mixing it up or being neither is fine too.

Girls and the things that (some) girls are interested in aren’t lesser – I’ll prove it to you at my son’s next princess party.

Rules for playing with a three-year-old

It’s the end of a rainy weekend. I estimate that over the past 48 hours, I have spent at least 20 trying to dream up ways to entertain two tiny tyrants.

Through the course of this latest wintry endurance event, I have discovered some key things about playing with a three-year-old.

The rules make no sense. I don’t mind joining in the weird make-believe games in which I am often pretending to be him and he is being some random person I don’t know, or a dragon, or a superhero, or … you get the picture. But then he’ll tell me for this game I have to be willing to “kermangle” or some other such made-up word. I have no idea what this means and he isn’t going to tell me but it is VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT I DO IT IMMEDIATELY. I usually look so stricken that he takes pity on me.

Even when I do understand the words, the conversations are nuts. We spent about half an hour talking about robots and how the robots might one day have a fight with bees but the bees would have to win because we need bees (aye mum?!!!) but robots are big and strong and awesome and we should have a robot that lives with us.

He’s only listening to me when I don’t want him to be. “Put your gumboots on so your feet don’t get wet.” “Please could you put your gumboots on?” “Where are your gumboots?” “How about we find your gumboots… Oh your feet are muddy – that’s why I suggested we might wear gumboots.” But one almost-silent “damn” under my breath and he suddenly has hearing to rival a gifted dog and an indelible memory.

Whatever we do, he must win. He’s totally got the hang of competitions and races and generally winning. But he’s not always so clear on the rules. For some unknown reason I agreed to play a version of statues – that game where you dance when the music is on and stop when it stops. Even though I controlled the music and he kept dancing through every music break, he won. Then he demanded I come up with a prize.

Their attention spans are short… He really really really wants to play trains. But you can guarantee that by the time I set the track up he will be off playing with his rubbish truck and look at me, completely mystified when I suggest he comes back. Or by the time I’ve climbed up in the cupboard to dig out all the colouring pencils and paper, he’s decided that what he’d really rather do is make a fort out of his bedding.

Except when they’re not. When we’re not jumping from one activity straight to the next, we get stuck doing the same thing over and over and over. And over. I thought it might be fun to hide some painted rocks in the house, since we couldn’t go out and hunt for other people’s creations outside. He agreed. So it ended up that we had nine rock hunts in which I had to hide the rocks in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE in the house each time.

The danger element makes the game. He’s going through a stage of jumping off things. The couch, the coffee table, the bed. But it’s not fun if I get the bean bag out and put it in place to catch his fall. It’s only really good if there’s something large and heavy in the way to narrowly miss.

None of his toys are as good as the things he’s not meant to be playing with. Over the weekend I found a whisk, a spoon, a memo pad, a pile of my pens and an amethyst crystal all used in the place of any number of his 456 perfectly good toys. It took me until 10.30 this morning to find my keys, which had somehow ended up in the toy box.

Some of the best stuff happens when you’re at peak “wtf is going on”.  About half-way through Sunday afternoon we were sitting on the couch, me pleading with him to keep his voice down as he battled monsters with his Maui hook, because his sister was asleep. I said: “I like hanging out with you.” He turned around and gave me a hug and said: “I like hanging out with you, too, Mum.” That earned him at least another couple of hours of rock hunting.