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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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

God help me. My kids are learning to cook. With extra fluffy cheese scones.

Amelia has started cooking.

She cooks twice a week. The twice weekly cooking incidence involves the stove and oven. She cooks dinner on a Friday and bakes during the weekend. I pay her to do both.

She also makes lunches for herself and her brother. This does not involve any heated appliances, generally. I also pay her for this.

The theory was that I could pay her to do some low level cooking which would firstly, take some chores off my hands, secondly, earn her some money, and thirdly, give her some valuable life skills.

The irony of this entire scenario is the amount of time it now takes me to:

  1. Harass her to ensure that we eat dinner before 10pm,
  2. Shout at her to ensure both she and her brother have lunches made BEFORE they depart for school
  3. Threaten her to ensure there is some baking in the tin so they actually have something to put into their lunch boxes other than fruit and sandwiches
  4. Clean up the low level natural disaster zone she leaves behind after she has finished

The food is great! The fact that I don’t have to make it is great! The endless cleaning up when she’s done, not great.

I’ve always felt like a bad mother for not really wanting my children to attempt cooking when they were small. Given my love of food, you would think that I would be the model foodie mother, encouraging little hands into mounds of bread dough, to stir cake mix, to carefully cut carrots. But no. Between being terrified of little hands being cut by sharp knives, or worse, grated (!!), I just couldn’t handle the mess.

I’m hardly a neat freak. My husband will tell you when we first were together he couldn’t cope with my idea of tidy versus his uber fastidiousness. Even then I cannot handle clouds of flour flying into the air, cheese being grated onto the floor, batter being spilt all over the bench.

I don’t think it’s fussiness, it’s mostly that I’m a bit lazy, I can’t stand cleaning at the best of times, and I prefer to minimise the amount I have to do. So I’ve avoided teaching my kids to cook until now.

Now I’m reminded of why I’ve left it for so long, as the dishes pile up in the sink, potato and carrot peelings scatter over the floor, and the rubbish in the bins begins to over flow, while my teenaged daughter creates a culinary masterpiece.

Then come the endless questions.

In moments of good motherhood, I have actively encouraged my kids to ask questions. “People who ask questions learn more” is the general gist of conversation. Except I prefer that to apply to school rather than home life. At home, I quite like not too many questions.

I particularly like an absence of questions that start with “Mum, where’s…”

When partnered with cooking, the “where” questions are matched with a stream of “how” questions (which I know is fair enough, given the girl doesn’t know how to cook yet). I’m not renowned for my patience.

Despite the mess, the irritation, the lack of actual time saved, Amelia is doing a pretty good job. Her food is delicious, made even more so by the sheer fact that I didn’t have to do it myself. She’s getting better at preparation, following recipes, and serving well cooked, well balanced meals.

It’s been worth it. I should have taught her sooner.

EXTRA FLUFFY CHEESE SCONES
Makes 6-8 generous scones

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Originally this recipe was made with lemonade, but I found it weirdly sweet with the cheese. I’ve changed out the lemonade for soda water, which retains the dough’s lightness, but removes the extra sugar. If you want to make these extra indulgent, you can add in crispy bacon pieces (4 streaky rashers, cooked until brittle) or caramelised onions (1/2 onion, sauted until very soft).

2 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
2 cups grated cheese
150ml milk
150ml plain soda or sparkling water

  1. Pre-heat oven to 220°C, and line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl
  3. Stir through grated cheese
  4. Pour over milk and soda water, and stir until just combined. Do not over mix or the scones will be hard.
  5. Pour the dough out on the baking tray (the mix will be very sticky and wet) and spread out until it’s about 5cm thick.
  6. Dip a knife into flour and cut the dough into roughly equal pieces.
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot with lashings of butter.

 

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.

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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.