Don’t go breaking my (children’s) heart.

Last week, my son, Ollie, took part in a music festival. We were so proud of him. He’d only taken up the bass clarinet this year, and here he was, playing in an orchestra with over 200 other intermediate school children at the town hall.

When the concert was over, Richard and I and our respective parents were standing at the top of the stairs waiting for Ollie to come and meet us. He dragged his huge instrument case up the stairs, while we congratulated him on his amazing performance, telling him how impressed we were.

Ollie stopped. He smiled. Then he announced, “I met a girl!”

When we got home, I told his sister about it, who responded “You know I’ve got a boyfriend too, right?”

And just like that, we’ve fallen into the next phase of our children’s lives.

I hadn’t anticipated that this phase would happen so quickly. Both have had “the talk” at school, and are learning about romantic relationships as part of their physical education syllabus. Amelia is well and truly through puberty and out the other side, but Ollie hasn’t even sprouted his first hair at this stage!

He’s always enjoyed the company of girls over the company of boys, even from a very young age. At about 5 or 6, he told us that he knew who he was going to marry (the very pretty blonde daughter of a good friend). When we go away skiing, he’s always surrounded by a flock of girls. He’s kind, he picks them up when they fall into the snow, and he likes that he doesn’t feel like he needs to compete with them. He’s always more relaxed with girls.

I’ve talked to Amelia a great deal about the challenges of adult relationships. About being treated with respect. About walking away from boys who are verbally, physically or mentally abusive. About setting your own timeline for progressing to a sexual relationship. About the importance of taking control of your own fertility.  About how we will always be available when she wants to talk, or if she finds herself in trouble, night or day.

As a former teenage girl myself, I understand the minefield that is female teenage romance and sexuality. But I’m a bit in the dark with teenage boys.

I’m not sure how to construct a narrative that isn’t inherently negative. How to teach him to treat women respectfully, without him feeling that I suspect he may do the opposite (which I don’t, by the way). How to stay away from a girl who’s had too much to drink. How to use his brain first and his penis second.

But equally importantly, how to make sure he’s treated with respect. To make sure he walks away from girls who are verbally, physically or mentally abusive. To make sure he sets his own timeline for progressing to a sexual relationship. To make sure he knows the importance of taking control of your own fertility.  To make sure he knows we will always be available when he wants to talk, or if he finds himself in trouble, night or day.

I guess the narrative is the same for both children, regardless of gender. They are both navigating the same challenges, just from opposite sides of the coin. But many of the challenges they face will be exactly the same. Their hearts will be broken, they will make mistakes, they will treat someone badly and be treated badly in return (although hopefully not too badly). And we will always be available when they want to talk, or if they find themselves in trouble, night or day.

In the same way that I would hate for either of them to have their behaviour judged on the basis of their gender, so I need to make sure we treat their emerging sexuality without gender bias.

I just thought I’d have a bit more time.

RECIPE MATCH: PORK BOLOGNESE

I created this dish as yet another way to get vegetables into my children’s diets (yes, even as they head into their teenage years, they are still a challenge diet-wise). It’s a bit lighter than a traditional bolognese sauce, so is well suited to our emerging spring days. Find the recipe here

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Teaching my kids to cook: Macaroni Cheese

Recently I’ve been teaching my kids to cook. I figure I’m equipping them with the life skills they may need if they ever choose to leave home. There’s every chance Ollie may live here for ever, still climbing into bed with me and the cat every morning until the day I die, but we live in hope.

A few nights ago, Melie made macaroni cheese for dinner, which she loves. The main benefit of learning how to make macaroni cheese is the need to make a bechamel sauce. Once your children have this mastered, you open up a world of dishes. In this version, we added the flour to the bacon and onion in fat they’d been cooked in, which reduced the risk of the sauce going lumpy once the milk was added.

Anyway, give it a go with your kids. Feel free to add your own spin with extra herbs, different meats (shredded chicken would work) and cheeses (parmesan would make this a bit more sophisticated). You could also top this with panko or bread crumbs, although I didn’t.

MACARONI CHEESE

500g tubular pasta (I used penne)
50g butter
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups grated cheese, plus extra for topping (I used a combination of tasty cheddar and mozarella)
salt/pepper to taste

  1. Heat the oven to 200ºC.
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2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add dried pasta and cook for as long as the packet says. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water to prevent pasta overcooking, and set aside while you prepare the cheese sauce.

 

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3. Chop onions and bacon
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4. Melt butter in a heavy based, oven proof pan over a moderate heat. Add onions and bacon and cook, stirring, until onions are soft and translucent.
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5. Sprinkle flour over the cooked bacon and onion, and stir to combine. Cook for one minute, then slowly add the milk, stirring constantly to remove any lumps, until the sauce has thickened. Add cheese, and stir to combine. Cook until cheese is melted, adding a little more milk if the sauce becomes too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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6. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir to combine. Sprinkle extra grated cheese over the top. If you want to use a different baking dish, or individual dishes, you could transfer the mixture now, and then top with cheese before baking.
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7. Put the dish in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown.
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8. Remove from oven and serve!

 

 

Regrets. I’ve had a few. With Audrey’s Cheesies.

When our TV isn’t in use for watching actual TV, we use it to play a slide show of our favourite photos. A montage of memories from our past, our travels, parties, friends in various states of intoxication, family events, people who are still with us and those who sadly are not.

Mostly though, our photos are a record of our children, from babies through to the relative giants they are now. There are images of me in hospital holding one new born or the other, looking about as beaten up as it’s possible to be, post birth. Photos of first smiles, first steps, hilarious first experiences with solid food, little birthday celebrations.

Memories all now long past. And the memories are bittersweet, tinged with familiarity, longing, some regret, some guilt.

So many are fond recollections, but depending on the evening, they can also leave me in tears, pining for my children’s infancy, toddlerhood, early school years.

It’s the guilt that comes from being a working mother for so many years. Feeling like your children’s lives are travelling by faster than you can blink, while you put in extra time at the office. Extra time to give your children the life you want them to have, without recognising that you’re missing so much of that life, until it’s just too late.

The thing is, you can’t change the past. You can’t go back and be there for all the moments in your kids’ lives that you missed. Those moments are now memories. So the guilt is wasted. The tears are pointless. You can only learn from the past and be there for them now and in the future.

The thing is, my kids don’t hate me because I wasn’t there enough when they were little. I think about it far more than they do. I’m sure I could psycho-analyse some disorder they have as a result of my absence, but they’re actually pretty well adjusted. My son can be a little clingy and insecure (which is probably my fault), but that could as easily be his nature.

Now we come to the contentious bit – I actually like them a lot more now than I did when they were little. I’ve never really been one for small children. I tire of them quickly, I find them demanding, I just can’t really relate to them. I know this is a personal short coming, but I just prefer older kids.

I like that my kids can talk to me about the things that interest them in detail. That we can spend time discussing the things that bother them, the challenges they’re facing, why Donald Trump is an issue for the world, what we can do to minimise climate change. That we can talk about these things intelligently, in an adult manner. That they are interested and interesting.

At this point of their lives, they’re about to head into their most challenging years. In their early teens, they’re moments away from their first love, first sexual encounter, first heartbreak, first drink, first adult-free party, first car dates, first day of university, first job, first flat. These are the years where they really need me. The years where I can give them all the support they need to help them grow into well adjusted adults.

I know I wasn’t there for them as much as I should have been when they were small. Much as I don’t want to feel guilty for it, I will never feel completely absolved. But I can learn from my mistakes. I can be there for them now. And I am.

AUDREY’S CHEESIES

This is an old family recipe created by Richard’s grandmother, Audrey. Audrey passed away last year, but the recipe endures. My kids love them so much they have to be hidden so they last more than a day!! You can find the recipe here.

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Audrey’s Cheesies

One for the kids: chicken meatballs and alphabet soup

I have a confession to make. I generally cook for myself. I cook the things that I like to eat, with little regard for whether others will like it or not.

By “others” I don’t mean my immediate family. Of course I think about what they like. If I didn’t feed them food they appreciate, I’d never hear the end of it! I cook to avoid complaints from my husband and children. Which sounds terrible.

That means that most of what I cook is now food for adults. My children at 12 and 13, eat most of what my husband and I eat. The notable exception being anything with too many vegetables in it, in the case of my 12 year old son.

So this week, I decided to be less selfish. To think about those of you that may have children younger than mine.

There’s two things I know to be true:

  1. Every child likes L’Authentique Chicken Chipolatas or Chicken and Bacon sausages.
  2. Every child likes alphabet soup.

What’s not to like about pasta shaped like letters, creamy tomato soup, and real chicken sausages with no nasties? Good for parents and kids.

L’AUTHENTIQUE CHICKEN MEATBALLS WITH ALPHABET SOUP
Serves: 4-6 (depending on size of child and hunger)2017-06-28 11.04.46 v1

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup alphabet pasta
1/4 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste

6 L’Authentique chicken chipolatas or chicken and bacon sausages

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring until vegetables are soft.
  2. Pour over tinned tomatoes, stir to combine and cook until tomatoes are thick and reduced to mush, and liquid almost all gone.
  3. Add chicken stock, stir to combine, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook pasta to manufacturer’s instructions. Drain, refresh with cold water, and set aside.
  5. When soup is cooked, blend until very smooth (you may need to push through a sieve). Adjust seasonings to suit your children, then add cream and stir to combine.
  6. Remove skin from sausages. Roll each sausage into three small meatballs. Heat oil in a fry pan over a medium/high heat and cook the meatballs in batches until golden brown and cooked thoroughly.
  7. To serve, ladle soup into bowls with pasta. Top with as many meatballs as your children can eat!

 

To the one I lost. With a roast kumara, carrot and miso soup.

I have two children. I may have already talked to you about them. One girl, one boy. We replaced ourselves perfectly.

I had always thought that two was the perfect number of children. One for each adult to look after. The family fits well in a car, with extra room for one friend. Perfect for a three bedroom house, or providing a convenient spare room in a four bedroom..

I was 32 when Rich and I married. Shortly after we moved from New Zealand to London to further our life experience, our careers, and to have children. We wanted to give our kids the opportunity to live in another country in their future lives, unemcumbered by the burden of visas.

I fell pregnant with Amelia when I was 34, and gave birth to her just after my 35th birthday. I was painfully aware of my age, had seen all the charts showing the increase in risk factors during pregnancy for women over 35. So we didn’t want to mess around getting pregnant again.

I never went back on contraception after having Amelia, and fell pregnant when she was 6 months old. I remember being on holiday in Crete not long after, being so happy and excited about this New being we were bringing into the world.

That one didn’t last. I miscarried at around the 8 week mark. I can hardly remember the details now, just that there was a lot of blood, then nothing. We were staying at a friend’s parents house, they were very English, and I had to pretend to be the perfect guest whilst going through the emotional agony of losing my second child. Watching the blood go down the toilet and wondering which part was my baby.

When we went back to London the visit to A&E confirmed what we already knew. I said to the doctor “well, there was clearly something wrong, so it’s for the best”. She said “I’m sorry, that’s not necessarily true. We don’t know why people miscarry”. She needed to work on her bedside manner.

4 months later, I fell pregnant with Oliver. My beautful son, who I have adored since the moment he arrived.

But I still mourn the one I lost. I’m crying while I’m writing this. I know the statistics for miscarriage. I know many friends and family members who have lost children of their own, often in far more harrowing circumstances than mine. It doesn’t stop me from missing, with all my heart, the one that I never got to meet. The one who has never hugged me, called me Mummy, who I didn’t see grow up into a beautiful little human.

I am thankful for the two we’ve had. My children are growing so fast and I love them more than life itself. I’m one of the lucky ones in that respect. There’s no guarantee that we would have tried for Oliver had our middle child survived. I can’t bear to think of that.

But I can’t help but think that two is not quite the perfect number of children. Perfect would be to have all three.

ROAST KUMARA, CARROT AND MISO SOUP

Serves 6

700g kumara, scrubbed and halved

700g carrots, peeled and ends cut off

1 large onion, skin still on, cut into quarters

Olive oil

Salt/pepper

2 litres chicken or vegetable stock

1/3 cup miso paste

1 tablespoon grated Ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

To serve:

6 rashers bacon cooked until very crisp, sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Place kumara, carrots and onion in a roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour.
  3. Remove vegetables from oven and allow to cool until you’re able to handle. Scrap the flesh from the kumara skins into a large soup pot using a spoon. Cut the ends off the onions, remove the skins and add to the pot with the carrots. Discard the kumara and onion skins.
  4. Mix the miso paste into a smooth thin paste with a 1/3 cup stock. Add to the pot with remaining stock, and ginger.
  5. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Turn off heat. Add sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and extra pepper to taste.
  7. Using a blender, stick blender or food processor, blend the soup until very smooth, being careful not to burn yourself.
  8. Serve, garnished with bacon and sour cream if desired.

The trials and tribulations of school holidays. With a cheesy, tomato-y, chicken pasta bake.

School holidays are a consistent chore. To be fair, it was worse when I was working full time, trying to make plans for what to do with kids over what seemed an eternity.

Now I’m home, they’re home, we get under each other’s feet, and my brain gets muddled with all the stuff they need. I forget that it’s just them on holiday and not me. I forget that I should still get out of bed when the alarm goes off. I forget that there are still chores to do, blog posts to write, exercise to be done.

All normal routine goes out the window and the days drift by. I go to bed very night berating myself for what I didn’t achieve during the day, only to wake the next morning, and let it all drift by again. The washing piles up, plates pile up, crumbs, carpet stains and cat fur take on a life of their own.

And GLASSES! So many GLASSES! Like every drop of water needs a fresh glass. Like my children may be poisoned by a glass that has been touched by the skin of another. They remember where the glasses live when they’re clean, but forget where the dishwasher is when they’re dirty. The dishwasher wears a cloak of invisibility, but it only works if you’re under 18, like some perverse joke from H Potter & Co.

As if having your own kids full time for two weeks wasn’t bad enough, kids at home attract other kids. Play dates, sleep overs, “hang out”s all require other people’s children. So far this holiday we’ve experienced:

  • NERF wars on an epic scale, upstairs and downstairs, inside and out;
  • Teenage toast making at 1am;
  • Light sabre battles, similar to NERF wars, without millions of foam bullets but significantly more likely to inflict pain and possible injury;
  • Loud sleep talking at 4am from teenaged friend;
  • Endless X-Box Kinect games, akin to having a army of pygmy elephants dancing an Irish jig on the ceiling;
  • 6am Instagram/Snapchat related squeals over boy of the week/shoes of the week/cat of the week

In all honesty, it’s cheaper for them to be at school. Other than food that I’d need to give them anyway, my only significant weekly kid-related expenses are fuel and bus fares. During the holidays, there’s movies, snacks, endless cries for sushi, McDonald’s, Starbucks, icecream, trips to JB HiFi to buy more attachments for the latest X-Box Skylanders scam, trips to H&M to buy more of anything really, trips out to the beach…..

But then, that’s the relief of school holidays. We have made a point of committing at least one week of each school holiday period to having a real family holiday. The trips to the beach or the mountain are when the kids can run, can reclaim their independence, where we can all have a break. Where we can reconnect with each other without the endless consumerism driven distractions. Where it’s really a holiday.

One week to go.

CHEESY TOMATO-Y CHICKEN PASTA BAKE

School holidays is a good time to experiment with dinners that are easy to prepare and tasty for everyone. I’ve added extra veg into this too, although my son managed to pick all the spinach out, as he does. Everyone else liked it though.

400g dried pasta (penne is good), cooked to manufacturer’s instructions2017-04-18 19.43.12 v1
2 Tbsp olive oil
750g boneless chicken thighs
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or crushed if it’s easier)
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 cup white wine
2 x 440g tins crushed tomatoes
2 cups baby spinach leaves
Large handful fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated mozarella, plus extra for topping
Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 200ºC
  2. Heat olive oil in a large heavy based frying pan over medium/high heat. Add chicken thighs and cook until browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan, adding more oil if necessary, over low heat. Add onion, capsicum, garlic and oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft.
  4. Pour over white wine and allow to bubble up. Boil until reduced by half.
  5. Add tinned tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, and cook until sauce is thick. This should take about 30 minutes.
  6. Slice chicken thighs into 1cm thick slices and add to sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes, then stir through mozarella, spinach and basil. Season to taste.
  7. Add cooked pasta to the pan and stir to combine.
  8. At this stage you can either transfer the pasta mix to a large baking dish, or leave it in the pan if it’s oven proof.
  9. Sprinkle over extra grated mozarella, and bake until the top is golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and serve.

I’m the mother of a teenage girl. It’s emotional.

My daughter turned 13 last year. Which makes me the mother of a teenage girl. Which makes life interesting, shall we say.

I figure having a teenager is a bit like when you’re pregnant – there’s a whole world of stuff that no-one ever tells you. It’s like there’s a secret society and you’re not getting the key to unlock the code until you’re in the quagmire and up to your neck.

I know there’s books. So. Many. Books. And I can honestly say I haven’t read any of them.

My baby girl is as in the dark as I am. She’s negotiating the path between child and adulthood with more than a little trepidation. She’s fierce on the outside, but can still burst into tears at the smallest imagined slight. She steals my makeup, but still wants to climb into bed with me for a cuddle.

Nowhere is her internal dichotomy more apparent than in her emotions. Her height, appearance and outward demeanour all belie the internal challenges she’s grappling with as her new adult emotions emerge.

It reminds me of the animated movie Inside Out. The console the main characters use to control Riley’s emotions becomes more and more complex as she gets older. When she’s a baby she only experiences Joy and Disgust. Then comes Anger, Fear and finally, Sadness. My daughter was like this. Throughout her childhood she was generally happy, waking every morning with a smile on her face, overwhelmingly positive, and ready to please.

Once puberty hit, new emotions started to show themselves. She started to think more deeply about life and with that, started to feel the sadness that comes with a broader understanding of the world. She started to question her place in the world, then her value, then whether she deserved to be here at all.

This was terrifying.

We’ve since had some counselling, where she presented herself as incredibly well balanced and well adjusted. She talked about her wonderful friendships, her stable and loving home life, how well she was doing at school, and how excited she was for the year ahead.  Which was helpful.

Then some different counselling, where she talked about how much her brother annoyed her, how she couldn’t see any use for many of her classes and how she had thought about suicide.

Again. Terrifying.

She’s now been referred to another therapist within the Auckland Health Board, who specialise in teenage psychiatric issues. The great news is that they do not consider her to be a threat to herself, and while she will continue to see someone for a few more weeks, no medical intervention is required, merely some cognitive therapy to help her to better deal with her new emotions.

Because that’s what it’s all come down to. So much of what she’s feeling is entirely new to her. Her incredibly happy childhood ironically left her ill equipped to deal with the complex negative emotions that have developed as she grows up. Her new emotions are unfamiliar and have been rarely experienced, so feel stronger and more powerful than they feel to those of us who have felt sadness throughout our lives.

As she enters her second year of puberty, as her hormones settle into a more reliable cycle, so her emotions seem to be settling. I travelled to Japan with her last month, and spent a week away from her brother and father. It was amazing time, which reminded me of how intelligent, mature, loving and fun she is. She’s going to be an amazing adult.

PS. This TED Talk from Brene Brown is worth watching and sharing with your teenagers.