This time of year can be pretty hectic what with starting school, going back to school, returning to work after leave, moving to a new town, changing day care centres and so many other lifestyle changes that come with a new year.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a working parent or not, finding some time for yourself is always tricky. When I was at home full time with my children I felt just as “in demand” as I did when I worked. In fact, going to work was my time out and I felt “in demand” from the moment I picked the kids up to when I put them to bed. Likewise, when not working, I was with them all day and longed for some quiet time.
Making a phone call, going to the toilet, hanging out the washing – none of those things were an escape. I would wait until everyone was occupied and sorted before picking up the phone but it seemed as soon as I did, some need would arise and a little hand would be tugging at my clothes or a not so wee voice would start calling. “I’ll just be a minute” I would tell the little tugger, excusing myself with hand over mouthpiece, but the kids soon learned that unless they continued nagging, I would forget they had called me by the time I hung up, so nag they did with great effectiveness.
Then one day, while trawling the local recycling station – as home renovators this was a regular outing for me and kids which they loved as much as I did as there was always a cheap toy or trinket to bring home alongside the period windows, doors or planks we would somehow get into the back of the stationwagon. Anyway, this one particular day, I found a trinket that would change my life for the better for the next few years. I picked it up as a private joke not realising it held the power of an Aladdin’s lamp. A simple wooden cut out of a mother with three pegs attached to her waist, this robust little lady would sort out the nagging. On each peg hung a small wooden heart numbered one to three – one for each child. Across her breast the words – “Mum’s busy, take a number”. Each child claimed their respective number and would henceforth take it off the peg if they wanted my attention when I was on the phone or slaving over a hot pan and simply place it in my hand or in my pocket. As soon as my attention was free, I had a little token to remind me that my attention was required, and even which child needed me. Truly a miracle of organisation. They knew they didn’t need to nag as I could now not forget them in their crisis. What began as a little joke was now a key force in running a happy household…so much so, that at 20 my daughter still answers to “Number 1 Child”.
Such visual and physical reminders became a real working part of our lives as I moved on to discover the power of “Star Charts”. Not the zodiac type, but real A4 size charts with boxes and pictures of daily tasks that could be moved along or down as the task was completed. Not only did the children know what was expected but I knew where they were up to at any given moment. Well, if the robust wooden lady with her pegs stopped them nagging at me then the prettily coloured stars stopped me nagging at them! We didn’t have specific rewards. It was simply expected that the tasks be done…surely not hearing me nag was reward enough! I’d like to think that I gave lots of verbal and physical praise as reward but I truly don’t remember…they were busy mornings! Most of life back then is a blur. I do know as they got older the completion of tasks became linked to rewards like pocket money and having friends over.
Our robust wooden lady still hangs in her place at child height near the kitchen. We mend her pegs and screw the wire hairs back into place when they fall out. I do hope someone will love and value me as much when I become tatty and faded for even when she is finally gone I will still hold my children's hearts in my hand.