Friday, February 25, 2011

The Stunned Mullet phenomenon

I had the opportunity to watch Mapera in her normal class environment the other day, and it was very interesting.

At home, Mapera is loud, creative, bossy and easily frustrated.  At school, she is a Stunned Mullet.

I sat in on her class for about 1 hour; the teacher was teaching the children verbs (which in itself is marvelous, I don’t recall learning what verbs were ‘til I studied Latin aged 14).  They ran around “doing” things, then sat and looked at photographs and identified what the people in the photos were doing, then they matched up words with the pictures.  All the while the teacher repeated that these were verbs.

They sang a song about verbs and answered questions about what verbs you do with your arms and which ones with your legs.  Then they got given a little paper person and had to stick the arm verbs on the arms and the leg verbs on the legs.  The parents present were asked to assist with the cutting and sticking, so I took the opportunity to see how much Mapera had actually taken in.

“What sorts of words are these, Mapera?”

Stunned Mullet

“Your teacher said it a few times; it starts with a v…”

Stunned Mullet said “vuuuuuh-owel?”

We tried a few times, but the word had simply not penetrated the Stunned Mullet brain, so I left it alone before she started getting upset.

At home later, I tried a different tack.

“Mapera, you know a verb is a doing word don’t you?”

Nod, nod

“How about you think of a verb as being a little creature that goes around doing things, like running, jumping, biting, and swimming”

At that, she became very animated and suggested that Hakopa could be a verb when he does crawling, clapping and laughing.  I said that was a great idea.

Later that day I asked her what type of words she was learning about at school, without any hesitation, she jumped up and down and shouted “VERBS!”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Invisible Mother

I got sent this in an email, and although I am not a religious type, or one to succumb to spam I thought this was worth sharing :)

The Invisible Mother.....

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'

Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'
Some days I'm a crystal ball; 'Where's my other sock?, Where's my phone?, What's for dinner?' I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature -but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going, she's going, she's gone!?

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.

It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.

I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:
'With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'
In the days ahead I would read - no, devoured - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: 1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. 2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. 3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. 4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.

No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he'd say, 'You're gonna love it there...'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What exactly is the "in crowd" anyway?

One of the nice things about our little country school is that everyone seems to know my child’s name.  I worry about her place in her little group sometimes, as I was a bit of an outsider at school.  Oh I had plenty of friends, but I was always on the edge of each group and never sure where I belonged.  I was too weird to be part of the pretty crowd; too into folk music to be part of the heavy-metal crowd; too into science to be part of the art crowd and too interested in boys to be part of the science crowd.

I watch Mapera playing with her friends, and at the moment she seems to be popular with the girls and the boys in equal measure, and plays both quiet games and chasing-shouting games with enthusiasm.  There is one kid in her class who can be a bit mean (there’s always one isn’t there), and Mapera came home once saying that said child had been mean to her.  I asked her what had happened and she said that the other child had said she had a fat bum.

A bit of me wanted to steam in and smite the terrible demon-child with my righteous sword of niceness, but I stopped and reminded myself that a) these are 5 year old girls and b) girls are mean, it’s part of the genetics.
I asked Mapera what she wanted to do about it, and she said “I don’t know” which is the response to everything at the moment.  I suggested she could play with someone else, or say something silly back (not mean, just make it into a silly joke).  Mapera latched onto the idea of a joke and decided to tell her friend a joke to make them laugh.
 We don’t seem to have had a repeat occurrence of the meanness, so I reckon Mapera’s comic timing has won the day.

The older children at our school all seem to be very well-rounded too, which bodes well for my child in the future.  The school has a policy of giving the oldest year group (aged 12-13) some responsibilities around the school, which I think is a fantastic way of getting them to learn empathy and give them a feeling of being needed in school, rather than just being there because you have to.

The only thing we are struggling with at the moment is Mapera’s problem with unexpected things happening at school.  We recently attended the school swimming sports and family picnic, and Mapera happily did the swimming they had been practicing since last term, and played with her friends around the picnic blankets.  The problem began when all the kids had to get dressed again and troop through to the field next to the pool to play a few games.  I hadn’t known this was part of the day, so it came as a bit of a surprise for Mapera, and things began to go wrong when I asked her who was in her house group, so she could sit in the right line.

Her face started to crumple til another parent took her hand and led her over to the right group where she sat sucking her lip and looking like she was in a police line-up where she didn’t have an alibi for the night before.

When the teacher announced that her little group would be playing touch-rugby, that was it for Mapera.  She sobbed as if the little old lady on the other side of the glass had pointed at her and said “that’s the one”.  A concerned parent brought her over to me suggesting I should take her home as she was a bit tired.  I took Mapera’s hand muttering “drama queen” to myself, but then I felt I ought to do the right thing and knelt down next to Mapera.  “Honey, are you a bit stressed because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do?”  Nod, sniffle, “would you like to watch so you can see how to play the game” shake, sob “do you want to go home?” “NO! I want to play with Kaitereo”.

So my “tired” daughter spent the next hour running up and down the cricket pitch with her little sister and another 3 year-old friend, playing her own games, her own way with 2 little minions to do her bidding.
I think she’ll be OK.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I’ve always admired the will-power of anorexics

Ever since I was about 16 or so I have had disordered eating habits.  Not an eating disorder per se as I have never had an official diagnosis, but non-normal eating – binging, making myself sick, overdosing on laxatives, eating tissues to fill my stomach, fad diets, drinking salt-water and purgatives, to mention a few.

Before I left the UK for NZ, I was working at a place where you got free food.  Yes. Free. Food.  Chocolate, crisps, buffet lunch, hot meals.  Mana from heaven.

I suffered.

Had I been single and living alone, I would have been fine (and saved a fortune on grocery bills), but I had dinner with Tareka every night, so I couldn’t have more than a sandwich for lunch without piling on weight.

I overate.  I ate everything in the staff kitchen that I could.  Then I felt guilty and started taking laxatives.  Then my work started to suffer as I was running to the toilet so often, I had to find a way out of this hell of my own making.

I had heard of websites created by anorexic people (mainly girls) who wanted to maintain an anorexic habit but didn’t want anyone to find out.  The movement was called Pro-Ana (as in Pro Anorexia).  I wanted to be thin.  I wanted to stop eating the fabulous food that was under my nose, tempting me, forcing me to overdose and then punish myself.  I wanted to be thin so badly that I thought starvation was my only option.  All or nothing.  If I can’t eat some of the nice food without going berzerk then I would have to stop eating it all together.

I found a site called Project Shapeshift and went trawling through the threads to find out how to be anorexic.  I joined up and poured out my pain and misery online to a bunch of complete strangers.  I was hoping for punishment; to be suitably chastised for being fat, disgusting, weak and unworthy.

What I got was love.

People posted messages of support, of sympathy and empathy and even horror stories of how awful it was to be truly anorexic.  I found people struggling just the way I was, and people who had learned to live with their eating disorders but still be fit and healthy.  People who reached out across the anonymous void of the internet and showed me I was not alone, that I was among friends.

I have been part of that community for nearly 7 years now.  The site has changed a lot over the years, not least in part to a massive schism in the founder members of the group which rocked the long time participants to the core, and forced a lot of people to take sides.

Those of us who carry on are still struggling with our demons, but still supporting each other.  I have met 2 or 3 of them in the flesh, and spoken to a couple more on the phone.  I am hoping to meet more over the next year or so, and I consider a lot of them to be truly great friends.

I went in search of a way to destroy myself and met people who only wanted to help me.  The internet gets a lot of press for the bad stuff, and the uncontrollable nature of it all, but don’t forget that there is a lot of good to be found as well, if you look hard enough.