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How more technology means less technology

28 Aug

A couple of days ago I got my first android smartphone. It’s low end, but I love it! I have had my piece of crap cellphone for several years – it’s so crap it even freezes when I text. And that’s all I do – text, use the alarm, and receive calls. I didn’t even make calls because it was too pricey. Not anymore. I scorn gadgetry… but now I am rather chuffed with my smartphone.

Here’s why I think it’s good for me and my son:

I spent too much time on the computer. I know this, yet I feel helpless to resist. As a single Mum, the computer is often my only contact with the “outside world”. When you live alone with a toddler who goes to sleep about 7pm every night, it can get pretty lonely. And even throughout the day I find myself checking emails a lot, even when he’s awake, because frankly, his conversational skills aren’t up to much. No matter how much you love someone it can be exhausting being with them all the time. And a 17 month old is very demanding of attention!

I feel pretty guilty about this. I feel guilty because my son deserves my attention and he is learning that the computer is pretty important to me. I feel guilty because sometimes I sit him on my lap and let him watch Sesame St songs on one half of the screen while I do things on the other half. I never wanted to plonk him in front of a screen. I feel guilty because it does stave off my boredom, and if I didn’t have that, I’d probably think of more creative things to do that would be better for the both of us.

So here’s how my new phone helps with all that. I have synced my Gmail and Facebook accounts to my phone. This means that I get a bleep every time I get an email, as well as texts. I don’t even have to read the emails, but I can see who it’s from and what it’s about, and decide to ignore it or check it, without going back and forward to the computer. Yesterday I was having a conversation with my friend on Facebook and I decided to take the baby for a walk. I didn’t have to stop the conversation, I just took it with me! My son was perfectly happy walking along without my talking to him all the time – in fact I think he’d prefer if I left him to it! Both our needs were met.

My computer time has been drastically reduced. It’s much easier and more discreet to check my phone than to check my computer. And I’m not replacing computer screen time with phone screen time, I’m just not having as much screen time full stop. I find it easier to completely forget about it all until my phone bleeps, and even then I am able to ignore emails more than I would if I was on the computer.

And of course it has other cool features.

So that is my story of how my smartphone has helped with the thing I feel most guilty about – time on the computer.

Outdoor preschools

4 Aug

Last night I came across a link to a Forest Preschool in Canada. Something about the idea instantly captivated me. My son is such an outdoors kid – he really would spend all day outside if he could. Because of his personality, I’m really interested in these outdoor preschools.

Link to What Are Forest Schools?

And here’s an article about one in Scotland.

Although I think it’s a fantastic idea, there are other things that I would personally like to see incorporated. I think it is great that they spend all day outside, but I also think that some other outdoor activities could be incorporated, rather than just being in the bush. For example the children could feed chooks and collect the eggs. They could grow a vegetable garden. I think it would be valid to incorporate a democratic education angle, as well as some quieter activities, like reading. Books can be read outside though! I think they can also have some directed activities, such as painting (easels can be set up outside), playing with things like wooden go-carts, and cooking (eg. mini pizzas for lunch).

I like the idea of having a yurt as a classroom for extreme weather. I think for younger children it may be a nice space for them to sleep in. And of course there would be a compost toilet.

I am quite excited about the idea of sending my toddler to something like this when he is a bit older. It makes me wonder if I should set one up. But although I would really like him to go there, I’m just not convinced I want to look after other people’s children for a living, much as I enjoy children. Something to think about.

Today a friend posted a link to this lovely video which reminded me how magic the natural world is.

Snow snap

28 Jul

Last Sunday night, it snowed! Right in the middle of town. I thought it was cold, but didn’t realise it was that cold. I’ve lived in or visited Motueka since I was 11 years old and it has never snowed this low down before. I had just put the baby to bed when Mum called me outside. I went outside, started shivering immediately, and got a snowball in my face! She’s been telling this story with glee to everyone we see.

It was a surprise to see it snowing, but it was even more of a surprise when we got up in the morning to see that it had settled, several inches thick. By the time the photos below were taken the sun had been up for several hours and we passed several cars on our way to Atamai with 6 inches of snow on their roofs and bonnets. We stood up on one of the elevated lots and looked down over the beautiful Motueka Valley, with snow right down on the hills.

It’s common here for the mountains to be white all winter, but apparently it’s been 100 years since it last settled in the valley and in town. For those in colder climes there is nothing special about these photos, but for locals, it was a rare and special event indeed! I was so glad we were here (rather than home in Wellington) and that my son got to experience snow for the first time.

Motueka Valley with snow in July

 

 

Atamai Eco-Village

 

Snowy logs

 

My toddler learns to walk on crunchy grass

 

My mother and my son

 

Snowy hills

 

Me and my baby standing on one of the Atamai sections, with the stunning Motueka Valley behind us.

Activity book

26 Jul

I made my son an activity book. I believe these are traditionally called quiet books, and were given to children to keep them quiet in church. Since my intention is not to keep him quiet, nor to go to church! I have called it an activity book. I think they are also called busy books.

This project took me hours and hours. Cutting out the fiddly little leaves and flowers and the tree and the edges of the barn and sewing the envelopes and all the velcro and and and. I think if I had realised quite how time consuming it would be to finish it, I wouldn’t have started it. But I am glad I did, so there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

My toddler loves it. Admittedly, he likes the pages where he can pull things off (the flowers and barn pages are his favourites for that), and the book is already looking slightly worse for wear. He also really loves the family home page – he gets really excited opening the flaps and seeing his favourite people. At 16 months it is definitely a supervised activity, but I think it will last him a long time – he hasn’t even explored things like tying the shoelaces yet.

The whole book - I love the cover fabric!

Snaps shut

he pages are made from calico

The first page has my son’s name sewn in felt block letters.

The barn and seasonal tree pages.

The family home. Each window opens in a different direction, and contains a picture of his favourite people. He loves this page.

Summertime tree.

Autumnal tree

Winter tree. (The leaves and flowers velcro on and off and can be stored in the pouch of grass.)

Springtime tree.

The paint palette and shoelace pages.

Mix and match the colours. Each paint blob velcro's on and off, the point is to identify the colours. And a real paintbrush, for the sake of it. (Pretend painting?)

Shoes with real eyelets and shoelaces to practice threading and tying.

Texture and mailbox pages

Different textures to explore.

The mailbox snaps open and shut, there are 4 envelopes with tiny stamps on, and the flag pivots on the buttons.

Dress the boy pages.

He has a wardrobe of red t'shirt and blue shorts, polka dot pyjamas, and brown dungarees. They velcro on and off the boy and can then be put away in the wardrobe.

Flowers and barn pages.

The flowers button on and off.

I think the barn is so cute.

The barn doors open to reveal finger puppets. They're supposed to be a pig, frog, and duck but this was a later page and I was getting a bit over it so was a tad lazy with them. My boy loves them though.

The puzzle page. The pouches on the left each contain a different puzzle, which go on the velcro strips on the right.

Leaf puzzle

Heart puzzle

Star puzzle. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I failed dismally at putting this one back together. I'd like to blame sleep deprivation but I'm not too sleep deprived. Think I might redo this one with a simpler star and more even cutting.

Laundry and basket pages.

They are real mini pegs. The basket has an open top that the clothes can be put in.

The basket is for weaving practice. The bottom and right edges are sewn down, the rest can be undone and rewoven.

Clock and tent pages.

The clock hands can be moved when he is ready to learn to tell the time.

The tent can be unzipped to reveal a smiling teddybear.

The last page contains pouches for crayons and a little notebook. Although he loves to draw, he has also been testing his boundaries regarding eating the crayons. So they have been confiscated for a little while.

The people who stabbed my baby

20 Jun

I feel awful today. It was my son’s 15 month vaccinations this morning. He had no idea what was coming, but I have been dreading it all week since I forced myself to make the appointment. At his 6 week, 3 month and 5 month shots, I didn’t feel quite so bad, because he didn’t have much understanding of what was going on. It hurt, he screamed, got a cuddle, and he went to sleep. There were two injections at the last three batches, but three this time – one in each leg and one in his arm. This time, I had to hold him down so he didn’t wriggle away. He cried so hard, that awful cry when you can’t quite catch your breath. I had his dummy on hand and gave him a big cuddle and lots of kisses, and yes, I was crying too. I told him that he had a big ouch-y but that he would feel better soon and he was such a brave little boy.

We had to sit in the consult room for 20 minutes in case he had a reaction, and every time he heard footsteps along the hall, he clutched on to me and started crying again. Oh, my heart! I felt mad at his Dad because our son has had four lots of vaccinations now and he hasn’t seen a single one. He was determined to get him vaccinated (I wasn’t sure either way so I went along with his decision) and yet he has never seen him in pain like that.

I still can’t make up my mind about vaccinations, and I hope we’ve done the right thing. I couldn’t find any convincing research against vaccinations. The autism link was shaky, and disproved not long ago. There have been stories of bad reactions to vaccinations, but there are stories about bad reactions to everything. Children die in car crashes but I still take my son in the car. Children have severe reactions to peanuts, dairy, strawberries, fish, etc., but I offer my son all types of food. A little boy choked to death on a piece of apple a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that no one should ever eat apples again. Children die of all sorts of things, and it’s awful awful awful, but that doesn’t mean we should all live in bubbles. Although I tend to err on the natural side of things, I also didn’t want my son to contract whooping cough, or meningitis. To me that is scarier than a possible and unproven link to a side effect. The rates of the diseases we vaccinate against have plummeted since they developed vaccinations, and there is a sense of community responsibility too.

I have had asthma since I was seven, and diabetes since I was eight, and I wouldn’t have survived my pregnancy if it weren’t for the hospital, so I am more inclined than some to trust medical science. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for taking pharmaceuticals every day. The list of ingredients in vaccinations is intimidating, but like I said, I didn’t feel strongly enough about not doing it to go against my husbands wishes to do it. But how I hate it. I hate those huge needles that go into my son’s tiny tender thighs, and the way he cries with betrayal.

A Sandbucket List

16 Jun

You know how people make ‘Bucket Lists’ of things they want to do before they die? Well I decided to make a ‘Sandbucket List’ of things I want to do with my son by the time he’s five. It’s likely I will add things to it, as this is all off the top of my head right now. And possibly some are a bit ambitious by five, but that’s OK.

  1. Go to the zoo
  2. Take a donation to the SPCA and see the animals
  3. Make fruit ice blocks
  4. Have a water fight
  5. Collect fresh eggs from a farm
  6. Ride a pony
  7. Take the same picture every month
  8. Play in the rain & puddles
  9. Make giant bubble wands and blow giant bubbles
  10. Make a time capsule
  11. Build forts
  12. Make a kite and fly it
  13. Paint pet rocks
  14. Make wind chimes
  15. Make lemonade
  16. Wake him up late at night and pack him the car with sleeping bags, drive to the top of a hill and stargaze snuggled up together
  17. Have themed dinner nights – Italian, Chinese, etc.
  18. Dip candles
  19. Tie dye shirts
  20. Go camping and roast marshmallows
  21. Go ice skating
  22. Pick blackberries
  23. Go to the orchestra
  24. Go to a music festival
  25. Write/draw a book together
  26. Go to an outdoor movie
  27. Bake bread together
  28. Do a road trip to a special place
  29. Go sailing
  30. Check out the inside of a lighthouse
  31. Play croquet
  32. Go to a bowling alley
  33. Have fish and chips on the beach
  34. Go see a children’s play
  35. Play frisbee
  36. Learn to hula hoop and skip rope
  37. Pick wild flowers
  38. Press flowers
  39. Have a pillow fight
  40. ‘Drive’ a go cart
  41. Go on a ferris wheel
  42. Go on a rollercoaster
  43. Boogie board in the ocean
  44. Have a garage sale and let him be in charge of the money
  45. Feed the ducks
  46. Make a car out of a box
  47. Finger paint
  48. Put on a puppet show
  49. Play dress ups
  50. Go on a treasure hunt
Fifty things by five!
(I was going to add ‘Play in the dirt’, but he’s done that many times… sometimes with taste testing…)

I don’t have a television

14 Jun

It is awesome.

I’ve never been a big television watcher; in fact I don’t think I’ve personally owned a TV. But I can’t think of anywhere I have lived where there hasn’t been one. Oh, there was that hippy flat for 6 months which didn’t have a TV.

Photo from English Photography. I'd much rather stick my child on a couch in a field of sunflowers than in front of a TV. Wouldn't you?

This is the first time in my life I have deliberately had no TV. What’s the point? I am not interested in watching it, it would just take up space. It might possibly tempt me at some point in the future to stick my active, intelligent, creative child in front of it as a babysitter. Letting him grow up with TV as a big influence in his life is something I swore I’d never do. So far I haven’t. But who knows. Sometimes removing the temptation (I just need a few minutes to cook dinner…) is the most effective form of self control.

I must confess here that I do still watch Desperate Housewives online. (Why? I don’t know. I enjoy it. I’m hooked. But I’ve deliberately not got hooked on other programmes!) And I would be a much grumpier story if I had no computer.

That being said, I am definitely in an unusual situation here. I have only one friend I can think of who doesn’t have a television in her house. It was a deliberate choice for them too. In fact, I have been offered no less than 3 TV’s since moving here a few weeks ago. I’m amazed, although not surprised, that it is considered such an essential household item. I’m proud to not own a TV.

The sweetness of motherhood

14 Jun

After all the nappies, the food mess, the endless toys, the demands, the constant attention, the night wakings and all the other challenging aspects of parenthood are put aside, there come moments where nothing was ever sweeter. There are two things I love the most about motherhood. The first is making my son smile and laugh. I swear his giggle is the happiest, most pure sound in the world. The second is the cuddles; especially when he falls asleep in my arms… his nursery is warm and dark and we are snuggled up, just the two of us, and the trust he places in me is such that he falls asleep within minutes, breathing softly against my arm. Oh, my heart! I don’t understand how parents can ever leave their babies to cry themselves to sleep.

Cutting down on waste

10 Jun

Remember these guys?

When I first saw this segment on Campbell Live I remember being almost disbelieving. Only one plastic bag of rubbish? How is that possible? Do these people eat? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that they were really on to something. Rubbish plays a huge part in our modern lifestyles. We are so used to being able to pick up a packet of anything, and then throw it away. You can buy apple slices in the supermarket, wrapped in plastic. You can buy individually wrapped slices of cheese and crackers, which are then packaged in a container. It’s quite absurd. It has got to the point where we don’t think things are safe unless they are triple wrapped. Last night I stopped by the Organic Gypsy wellness blog, written by one of my readers (hi!). Her top post was about how zero waste is hard. It is! But not impossible. I figure it’s like transitioning from a standard to a raw diet. It requires a radical change in thinking and habits, and may involve slipping back before the change is complete. So I’m going to start now.

According to rubbishfree.co.nz, there are now estimated to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square kilometre of every ocean in the world, and in the past 25 years in NZ, we’ve increased what we throw away by 73%. If we put our waste onto a rugby field we’d have a pile 30 stories high – every month!

I feel like I want to justify myself to Waveney and Matthew on the rubbishfree website. But you don’t have a baby. It’s harder with a baby. For example, although I have used cloth nappies with my son from birth, I have also put him in a disposable nappy overnight. They hold more moisture and pull the wetness away from him so he doesn’t wake up wet. I really like getting a good nights sleep and it sucks to be woken up and have to change his nappy (and his outfit) and get him back to sleep. But having said that, he occasionally wets through his disposable too, so I may as well at least give it a go with the cloth nappy overnight. I have enough inserts; I just hope it won’t be too uncomfortable for him with that much padding round his bum.

So this is my first thing to address. I am feeling myself really resistant to not putting him in a disposable overnight! It’s also winter, and I am occasionally using disposables during the day as well, as I just can’t seem to get the cloth nappies dry in time. It takes a good few days to dry them in this weather. I have one small rack in the hot water cupboard, and a larger rack in the hallway.

The next big thing to address is food waste. I am not particularly careful about the food packaging I buy. To give myself some credit, I do take my reusable shopping bags, and I buy my organic produce in a box, so there aren’t a zillion little plastic bags for each type of fruit. But I don’t think twice about buying a block of cheese, a packet of crackers, some ham in a bag from the deli, frozen peas and corn, snacks. So much plastic! This is going to be a BIG change to make! I’m rather nervous, if I’m totally honest with you.

Another big issue for me is that I don’t have a compost. I left my worm farm behind when my husband and I separated. I now live in the upstairs flat in a block of two. There is a small grassy section at the front which isn’t fenced and is right on the road. The small back section is almost unusable; it gets no sun and is very steep and borders on to bush. I don’t feel comfortable gardening out there with my son toddling around. So, thinking of solutions… I could ask my nice landlord if I can put a compost on the back section – there is a small area that looks reasonably flat, and it won’t be used for anything else. Although some of these changes are difficult, not having a compost goes against the grain. It’s something I have had everywhere I have lived, except for a few months in an apartment when I didn’t cook much anyway. I feel reluctant to ask anything of my landlord, given that I flooded the place the second night I was here, when the washing machine hose popped out of the sink. The floors are having to be relaid and it is a drama. They are very nice, but still…

This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll do another one on zero waste solutions shortly.

Home for life

5 Jun

For those of you who come here to read my ramblings about Peak Oil and permaculture and raw food and such like, I apologise for my parenting-focused posts of late. It’s just at the forefront of my brain right now, and for some (sometimes annoying) reason, I have no concept of privacy and always need to write my thoughts down.

Although it has only been 7 weeks since my husband and I separated, I am considering more children. I know, I know, but hear me out. I always wanted a big family. At least four children, thanks. Then I got pregnant. What followed was 3 months of hell as I spent seven weeks in hospital with severe nausea and vomiting. As in, all the time. It didn’t stop when I slept. I often didn’t sleep because it didn’t stop. For six days I couldn’t talk or move. It was awful awful awful. Although the severe nausea abated at 16 weeks, I continued to take anti-emetics for the whole pregnancy and felt mildly nauseous most days. It’s hard to imagine how it feels unless you’ve felt it, but it really is hellish.

So I am not in a rush to get pregnant again, but dangit, I love children! I love my little boy more than I can describe (how often have you heard that said?), and I know that there is also room in my heart for more children. When I was still married, permanent foster care or adoption wasn’t an option, because my husband could ‘only love his own children’. Personally, I don’t need to have given birth to a kid to love him/her. So foster care or adoption is actually a really appealing prospect for me.

Last year the NZ government announced a programme called ‘A Home for Life’, where children who can’t go back to their birth families are placed in a ‘home for life’. To me it seems like a different way of going about adopting a child, but I’m sure there are some differences that I’m not aware of. I would love to foster and then permanently care for another child. According to the CYFS website it doesn’t matter if you’re married or single, work full time or stay at home, own your own home or rent. If you have the resilience and love to provide a permanent home for a needy child, they will consider you. They offer financial assistance as well as ongoing support from a social worker.

I have more than enough room in my heart, and I’m sure my son would love a brother or sister. The idea of there being unloved children in the world has always made me incredibly sad. I used to want to start up my own orphanage or child’s refuge where I can nurture children who have been neglected. (I was only a child myself at the time.) I know it’s not easy to look after a child who has had a traumatic start to life, and it’s not easy to ‘get’ a child. But I have no doubt that ‘Home for Life’ or something similiair is something I can do. So I am seriously considering applying. I’d like to attend their seminars and find out more information. My only hesitancy is that I really love babies and I’m guessing they have more older children who need homes. I’m confident with babies but I’m not sure how to deal with older children who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatised. But that is something to think about further down the line.

Schooling in the context of Peak Oil

5 Jun

With all this thinking I’ve been doing about homeschooling, I have come to the point of considering it particularly in the context of Peak Oil. I’ll be honest here; if I thought society were to continue on as it currently is, then I would be more reluctant to homeschool. I don’t want my kid to be the weird one. I was the poor hippie kid with a single mum and was bullied at primary school and while this is part of the reason I am interested in homeschooling, it’s also part of my personal stigma against it. I wanted my kids to be normal.

Despite the fact that I now recognise the goodness of much of my childhood and appreciate the great things my alternative mum did for me, I am not quite over the desire to just fit in. The other day I was at the Southern Cross for a free mama massage, and a mother there had pikelets for her daughter. I thought ‘what a good snack idea’ and resolved to make some. Mine were made with wholemeal flour, A2 milk, free range eggs, honey, and oats and raisins, rather than white flour and sugar. I watched my son devour them and thought ‘uh oh, I’ve turned into that parent’. I’m glad that my son is eating more nutritious pikelets, but part of me still wants him to be the normal kid I never was.

However, I have been thinking that by the time my son would be due to start school (2015), there may not be the option of public schooling anyway. If there is, it could be so radically different that it either becomes really valuable and I won’t need to homeschool, or even worse than it already is because there are fewer resources but parents have to send their kids there. I don’t know exactly what impact the energy crisis will have on schooling, but it will be massive, just like everything else.

In the post-crisis world, I foresee that my kid won’t be weird for not going to school. Perhaps we will have a return to more traditional tribal / village life; where the kids learn what they need to know to survive. He won’t be the odd one out. Of course I will teach him to read and write and other academic things. But he will get much more use out of learning about how to grow vegetables and build a compost, how to bake bread and preserve fruit, how to carve wood and weave baskets, how to fix things and build things, how to mediate and listen, care for chickens, and understand the weather.

It definitely sounds like I am leaning more towards unschooling, but I think as many homeschoolers have found their own paths, I will find my own path too.

It also sounds like I have made up my mind, which I haven’t. But perhaps I have and just haven’t admitted it to myself yet.

Tips from a homeschooling mum (or mom, rather)

4 Jun

Pioneer Woman is a really cool and impressive blog. I came across it yonks ago but it became a bit more relevant today with my brain going haywire over homeschooling. My brain tends to do that with things. I get a thought in my head and I have to think it really hard from lots of different angles and I devour information. So anyway, I’m always interested in real stories. Not a ‘you could do this’, but ‘this is what I did’.  They have a section of ‘Homeschool Mom Interviews’ and I liked these tips from Asha Dornfest:

  • Don’t be afraid. Only good can come out of giving homeschooling a try. Even if your homeschool adventure lasts a single year, it will be a year to remember, and there will be no lasting academic harm.
  • Be open minded. In a way, it’s just like having a baby. You probably have some deep-seated values about how things “should be,” much of which will change with actual experience. Homeschooling gives you a chance to broaden your definition of learning, and the time to explore different methods.
  • Have fun! When you don’t have to cram activities into the couple hours after school but before dinner, the world opens up in wonderful ways. Go do all the stuff with your kid you’ve always meant to do “when you have time.” This is when true learning happens, for both of you.

Homeschooling / unschooling

3 Jun

It’s getting kinda late and I really should be in bed, because I have a toddler and I don’t get to sleep in on a Saturday morning. But a friend just posted this fascinating article on Facebook and I can’t stop thinking about it.

No Thank You, We Don’t Believe In Socialization! by Lisa Russell from The Mystical Kingdom

I have wavered between thinking that homeschooling or unschooling is the only way to go to truly help my son become the kind of adult he’d like to be (and help him create a better world), and thinking there is no way I could cope with homeschooling him, provide a rich enough education, and that after five years of full time parenting, won’t I deserve a break?

It’s interesting to note that the two opposing thoughts are: what is best for me, and what is best for him. If I am really honest with myself, I think that homeschooling him is the best thing for him. IF, and only if, I can remain motivated, dedicated, and have a spirit of joy and curiosity while helping him learn. But for me? Perhaps it’s because we are only just out of the very demanding baby phase and into the very demanding toddler phase, but part of me is really looking forward to him growing a bit older and being able to be away from me for periods of time. This subject is really far too big for this meagre blog post at 10.26pm, but Lisa’s article has really got me thinking again. I really want to read the rest of her blog posts but I really will go to bed after this post.

What she says about socialisation, the ‘real world’ and bullies makes so much sense that I wonder why I have any doubt. And I tell myself that although things can be pretty tiring now, he is only 15 months and likes to be carried. A lot. He can’t really talk. He can feed himself food that I give him but he makes one heck of a mess. He’s in nappies. By the age of three, these factors won’t apply. And I don’t even have to have a strict or structured curriculum; we can learn together. If we live in a village then he will learn incredibly valuable skills just by being part of village life and having the freedom to pursue the things he is interested in. So: pressure off, tiredness dismissed.

In the context of the looming energy crisis, we don’t even know what kind of schools will be available. So perhaps it is better for me to prepare myself for homeschooling than to keep wavering until the decision is made for me, either way.

So many more thoughts on this, but for now, bed…

Cheap childcare

3 Jun

I confess, the idea of putting my toddler in daycare really does not appeal. I have a couple of close friends who are early childhood teachers, and I mean no disrespect to their wonderful profession. I hope that my son benefits from early childhood education when he is older. But it is simple, as far as I can see. No one except family is going to give your baby the loving and focused care you do. Although there are good things about daycare, it is just not for me while my son is under two years old.

But sometimes I need a break, sometimes I need to work, sometimes I need to get things done. So how do you get quality childcare when you have no spare moolah? Cheap childcare doesn’t have to mean bad childcare. Here are some positive ideas for single and two parent families:

Babysitting co-op

Say you have a few friends who are keen to swap some evening babysitting. For those on low budgets, having to pay a babysitter can make the difference between being able to go out once in a while, and having to stay at home all the time. I remember babysitting for $10 for a whole evening; these days the going rate is more like $15 per hour.

So you all get together and agree on some basic rules. Safety, screen time, food, etc. Whatever is important to you. I like the idea of buttons or poker chips, or some other ‘babysitting currency’. Each member of the group gets 10 buttons. Each button represents half an hour of babysitting. This means that you don’t have to do a direct swap. You ‘pay’ your friend to babysit, and receive buttons when you babysit for them. No money needs to be spent, and you can all be sure that your child is being cared for by someone you know and trust.

This one is a bit more difficult for single parents, because you can’t necessarily leave your child at home with the other parent. But they could sleep where you are if that works for both parties. And if it’s during the day they can easily come and play with the other children. Also, a word of caution to Dads. I have a friend who was part of a babysitting co-op who eventually got fed up of doing all the babysitting while her husband did none and still got the benefit of a cheaper night out. You can have as many members as you like in this co-op. The more you have, the more likely it is you will have someone who can be available when you need them. Just make sure all members know and trust each other.

Childcare swap

This involves one friend, and a direct swap. For example, my friend Jess and I have toddlers two weeks apart in age. We look after each other’s child, along with our own, one afternoon a week each. The day and time changes according to our schedules. We both trust each other and because our kids are close in age they are on the same level. I can imagine it would be harder with an 18 month old and a 6 month old, for example. Although still possible of course! We work it so that the babysitter goes to the child’s house. We figured that it would be more relaxing for the child whose parent wasn’t there to be at their own home.

Private creche

This is a bit like a cross between the swap and the co-op. Say one morning a week, you have an extra two children at your house. It helps if the children are similiar ages and get along. In return, your child goes to the other children’s houses on another two mornings a week. So you get two free mornings in return for one morning looking after two other children. You already have the toys and a childproofed home for your own little one; chances are it will be even more exciting when he or she has a couple of friends to play with.

As the children will be awake (as is unlikely with the evening babysitting co-op – although there’s no reason the co-op can’t be operated during the daytime) it’s important to agree on things like safety and discipline. The other parents can drop off their children with nappies and snacks, or you can agree to provide snacks for all the children on your duty day.

Playdates

This isn’t childcare, exactly, but it is amazing how relaxing it can be to just sit down and have a cup of tea while your child plays with another. I have found that when we are out and about my son is far too absorbed in what’s going on to get grumpy about anything, and having a whole new set of toys to play with, as well as another little person, really stimulates him. No cost, no pressure, just hanging out. I kinda feel like I’m having a break, even though I’m still on call for nappy changes and feeding. It’s hard work entertaining a 14 month old boy, so it eases that aspect of parenting for a couple of hours.

Grandparents

Wish I had some of these around. Having someone look after your child who does it for the pure joy of it is priceless in more than one way. My brother is a really helpful and loving babysitter which is wonderful, but he does expect some fiscal compensation.

Au pairs

This option is well out of my budget and unnecessary for me. But if I had a few kids, a spare room, and worked full time, or at least more part time, I would totally hire an au pair. Part of their cost is offset in board, and in my opinion, being exposed to a different culture and language is brilliant for children.

And last but not least…

WINZ childcare subsidy

If I were to put my son in an approved daycare, I would receive a subsidy of $3.84 per hour. Currently my work commitments don’t require me to put him in daycare but it’s possible that in another 6 – 12 months I may need to have him in care one day a week or something like that and the subsidy would certainly help. If you are in NZ, it’s definitely worth investigating the childcare subsidy – even if you’re not on the DPB.

Community currency

If you’re a hairdresser or you have some spare honey from your beehives, consider joining a community currency programme like LETS, Green Dollars, or other. You could ‘trade’ your skills in return for childcare. (Obviously hairdressing and honey aren’t the only useful things you can trade.) I haven’t yet found out what my local community currency is or who to contact to join it, but you can be sure I will!

The dysfunction of nuclear families

21 Apr

Now that I have a baby, and I’m a stay at home mum*, I realise how dysfunctional the nuclear family system is, and how smart other family structures are. One of the women in my coffee group** in Auckland lives with her husband’s Samoan parents, and despite having a baby who didn’t sleep for long, and only when he was actually on someone, they got pregnant again and will have two babies only 14 months apart. The rest of us were flabbergasted that they were having them so close together, but when you have 4 adults in one house, who are all committed to family, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all. It seems do-able.

Although I have a ‘good’*** baby, it is still  a struggle sometimes. His Dad comes home every day after work, plays with the baby, gives him a bath and his bedtime bottle and cuddles him to sleep. He spends the weekends with his family and is happy (well, willing at least) to change nappies, feed, and get the baby to sleep. And yet it still feels like I do it by myself most of the time. In the last 13 months I can count on one hand the number of times I have been away from him. It’s not that I want to be away from him, it just gets really hard to entertain him, look after him, carry him round, do the housework, run errands, work on my business, and be myself. The few moments I steal to myself to sew or write are golden.

Since my brother moved to Wellington it has been easier. He doesn’t have a job, and we are really close, so he is happy to come and hang out with me and the baby for the afternoon. Having that extra pair of hands to ‘just hold the baby while I…’ is a surprising relief. Imagine if I had more family around. Not just to hold the baby, but to share in with the housework and all the other minutiae of daily life that gets overwhelming when you are doing most of it by yourself, but which is totally manageable when you have many hands to make light work.

I’m not talking about making relatives come over to clean my house and look after my kid. I’m more than willing to work hard and do what needs to be done. But when there is a more communal attitude and lifestyle, any burden on the individual is lessened.

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*’Stay at home mum’ is such a silly phrase. Implying that all I do is stay at home, when really what I do is take care of my child instead of paying someone else to look after him. Quite aside from all the other things I do, like run a business.

**I could never fathom why they are called coffee groups. Do we sit around talking about coffee? No! So let’s call it a mothers group, or baby group. Sigh.

***Yet another strange phase associated with parenting. All babies are good. To imply otherwise is just plain wrong. I guess when people say ‘is he a good baby?’ they mean: ‘does he sleep well, does he do what his mother wants, does he cry very much?’. Yes, he sleeps well, he does exactly what he wants and sometimes it coincides with what I want, and no, he doesn’t cry very much.

Who says kids won’t eat their greens?

19 Apr

I know green smoothies are all the rage with raw foodies, but I don’t actually have any greens growing, so haven’t got round to making any yet. Then I remembered that I have 1.5 packets of Claridges Life Greens which a lovely family friend gave to us when the baby was born. So this morning we had our first green smoothie, which was basically our normal breakfast whizzed up in the magic bullet with a spoonful of green powder added. (Wholegrain oats, fresh banana, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, shredded coconut, plain yoghurt, a smidgen of honey.)

I tried to feed it to him with a spoon, but he didn’t put up with that for long…

So who said kids won't eat greens?