Wednesday, October 31, 2012


After our big day out on Sunday for Jago and Imogen's parties, we had some friends over for morning tea on Monday to commemorate Riker's third journey around the sun.

 Riker's train cake with tracks made from Kit Kat bars and fruit leather strips and trains from his new train set.

 Riker enjoys his moment in the limelight.

I find it nearly impossible to believe that it has been three years since the long night that led to Riker's birth in the wee hours of the morning.  Many of the details are fuzzy now but some are sharply engrained in my memory.  The feel of the warm water surrounding my belly in the bath.  Looking deeply into Heather's eyes, searching for strength and encouragement. Brian's hands unceasingly massaging my lower back. Touching the baby on my chest for the first time and gasping at the softest skin I'd ever felt.

Three years later I feel as if I have been completely reinvented as a person.  I have been pushed, pulled, stretched, delighted and captivated by a small yet powerful being who turned my world upside down in the best possible way.  Three years later, I'm more in love than ever.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Big Day Out

Riker and his friends Imogen and Jago all turned three on Monday October 29th!  In previous years the Octriplets had joint parties but this year each family hosted their own event.  Two of the parties were on Sunday so it was a full day packed with fun kid adventures.  The morning was spent celebrating with Imogen at the Kingston Miniature Railway where you get to ride through the outdoor railway museum on miniature steam and diesel powered model locomotives.

Riker and I must have done the ten minute train ride at least six or eight times.  He loved it!

The attraction is open to the public on the second Sunday of each month and volunteers run the trains.

There was even a teeny tiny model steam engine that could carry one or two passengers on a specially built mini track around the perimeter of the central grounds.  The operator would open a tiny door and use a very small and slender shovel to add to coal to the fire every minute or so.  Riker was completely entranced by the steam and when his short ride was over, he asked to go again and since there was no one else waiting just then, the operator obliged.  How awesome!

At $15 for an all day ticket (over age three and one adult rides free when accompanying a child) it's a great deal and we'll definitely go back.  

Then it was off to Jago's party the Farmyard Nursery, part of Mugga Lowline Stud, a working cattle farm located in south Canberra.  The barns are home to rabbits, guinea pigs, miniature horses, alpacas, sheep, chickens, cows, pigs and ducks.

Riker loved the lambs.  Then he discovered the rabbits and I couldn't drag him away even to have a chance to feed the cows!  He's clearly got a soft spot for bunnies, just like his daddy.

I wish I could remember what he had been saying in this photo, but I'm pretty sure it was something cute.

Later, the kids got to feed bread to the sheep and then bottles of milk to the lambs.

And to cap off a delightful day, we stopped at the toy store on the way home to buy a train set for a very special almost three year old.  Riker adored playing with the wooden train set at Grammy Jan and Grandpa Carl's house and we promised him that we'd buy him his own after we returned to Australia. 

Riker has spent most of his playtime since the train was acquired running the engines round and round the track.  We had to go to two toy stores to find a train set that wasn't Thomas branded.  I think the unbranded ones allow for more imaginative play and are a fraction of the cost.  I'm glad we got the basic set because he's having a great time with it and more isn't always better at this age, plus we can buy extensions as he indicates his readiness to build more complex tracks.  He loves the track too because it's in the shape of a figure eight, which if I haven't mentioned before, is his very favorite number and has been for some time.  And since he does really like Thomas, we did buy him an additional train - James, because he's red, and as you know, Riker loves red

Thanks to Imogen and Jago and families for hosting such great parties!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Boys in the Backyard

In addition to the beautiful garden I wrote about yesterday, we've been enjoying lots of play time outside in this great spring weather.  Since the owner of the house we're staying at has grandchildren, it's conveniently child friendly with cupboards of toys and a swing set outside!

Riker and Ari love to climb and swing together and they seem to have designated spots on the swing.

Riker pauses from helping me photograph the flowers in the garden to chase a bug.

It was only a couple weeks ago that Ari was venturing his first wobbly steps but now he's confidently walking all over the place independently.  Still, he loves to push this little trolley around - it used to be Riker's but has been returned to us by the friends who'd borrowed it.

I just love to see how the boys interact with each other more and more as Ari grows.

Every day is full of new experiences and I'm so glad they have each other to share them!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spring Blooms

Spring is such a wonderful time in Canberra.  The garden surrounding the place where we are house sitting is stunning! 

We're so grateful to have this terrific place to stay while we settle back in.  We've really enjoyed catching up with friends and we love to have visitors so if we haven't seen you yet, why not come round for a cuppa!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Say You’re Sorry

All parents want their children to be socially well adjusted – to be kind, generous, empathetic and conscientious of others.  Most toddlers however, didn't get the memo about social etiquette.  They see the world as revolving around them and they seek to meet their own needs first and foremost.  This is entirely appropriate developmentally, but can make for some frustrating interactions with parents and peers. Thus, figuring out how to send the message about socially acceptable behavior can be challenging.

Parents inevitably have deal with situations involving toy snatching, pushing, hitting, etc. and their response is usually to attempt to extract an apology from a child who likely feels no remorse. This strategy may eventually result in a change of behavior, but it does not address the issues behind the behavior, nor will it help the child learn to consider the feelings of others.

I do not force Riker to apologize because I don't believe that making him recite a simple phrase will cause him to feel remorse for an action that was less than friendly, nor will it help him see the other child's point of view.  Asking a toddler to apologize may make a parent feel that they've taken appropriate disciplinary action, but children don't need to learn to say "I'm sorry" as much as they need to learn to feel sorry.

Apologies focus only on the feelings of the person who committed the hurtful action.  "I'm sorry."  "I'm embarrassed."  Empathy however, recognizes the hurt that has been caused to the other person. Instead of forcing an apology, it's my belief that parents should use such incidents to cultivate empathy and to help naturally egocentric children learn to take the perspective of another person.

This approach takes a bit longer but I believe, will in the long run, yield better results.  If Riker snatches a toy from a child, the first thing I do is get down on the floor and point out to him that the other child was using that toy and it was not okay to take it out of her hands.  I model the appropriate response and apologize to the child myself, but I do not pressure him to do the same.  If the other child is crying, I ask Riker to look at her face and I tell him that she feels very sad to have lost her toy.  I then wait a minute to gauge his emotional response because toddlers take time to process these things.  Then I might apologize again and ask if she would like her toy back.

Getting the toy back to the other child requires some finesse as I do not like to pull a toy out of my child's hands, even if he took it away from another child with force.  That's simply telling a child to do as I say and not as I do.  The best way I've found to get the toy back into the hands of the other child is to say in the calmest and most unemotional tone possible, "Aubrey was using this toy.  It needs to go back to her.  Would you like to give it back or should mama give it back?"  Nine times out of ten, Riker will willingly hand it back.  If he doesn't, then I will calmly hand the toy back to the child, having given him notice of his options.

When everyone is calm again, there are opportunities for further learning.  We might ask again how the other child felt when the incident occurred to reinforce the perspective of the other person. Older children could also be asked if they remember a time someone broke one of their toys, hurt their feelings, etc. and how it made them feel.  Finally, it's always important to ask what might be said to help the other person feel better again. In many cases a child will come up with the idea to offer an apology on their own accord which is always far better than a parent insisting on it in the first place.  Whenever Riker offers an apology to me or to anyone else, I like to point out how it made me feel or how it appears to have made the other person feel.

The most important point here is that we must model the behavior we wish to see in our children.  Forcing them to apologize will not make them feel sorry for their actions. Even worse, it suggests to them that it's okay to say things that we don't mean.  Discussing the feelings of others and witnessing their parent (over and over and over) apologize for mistakes and convey the message with genuine feeling, is the best way to help a child take the perspective of others and to internalize the ability to make a genuine apology. 

This strategy doesn't have the immediate result of an apology offered on the spot, but when we consistently help our children to see how their actions affect the people around them, we are instilling the seeds of empathy, an important long term skill that will benefit them in all future relationships. In my mind we can no more command a child to feel empathy than we can command someone to feel love or generosity. Empathy is best taught by example and by helping a child to accurately read emotions.  Then those other characteristics we are hoping to see, kindness and compassion, can shine through.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

This inspiring poster is from the website of Brene Brown. It captures nicely the parenting intentions I hold on a daily basis - compassion, collaboration and unconditional love. I thought it was well worth sharing.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Back in the 'Berra

We're back in Canberra! 

After six and a half months in the US hoping for an epiphany about where to spend the next stage of our lives, we found ourselves having to make some incredibly tough decisions in the absence of any conclusive revelations. We loved spending time with our families and marveled at the relationship Riker developed with his cousins, but when given the chance, we raved about Canberra.  Brian considered several jobs in Ohio but I adore my job in Australia.  Stay or go, stay or go? The things I want, it seems, do not and seemingly cannot exist in the same place. My belongings, my family, my friends, my career, good weather, affordable health care and a decent economy. We waffled back and forth in the final week of our stay and strongly considered blowing off our return ticket, but in the end we decided to return to the land down under.

The prevailing motivation was that getting dual citizenship would be good for our family in the long term. Although we've been temporary residents in Australia for the six years we've been here, we are now planning to pursue permanent residency and citizenship. We've always avoided these for tax reasons and because as permanent residents we wouldn't be able to access our retirement contributions in Australian dollars until we actually retire. Now we've decided the benefits that Australian citizenship offers are significant - work rights and reciprocal health care arrangements with several countries around the world and the ability to be snowbirds if we so choose, moving to wherever the jobs or weather suit us best. That these benefits would extend to our children for the rest of their lives is an important consideration and as we've put in the years required to be eligible for citizenship, it seems a waste to let the chance pass us by now. 

Our families aren't thrilled with us and we have no way to know if we are making the right decision for ourselves or our children.  For the time being though, we are still mostly happy with our lifestyle abroad.  I appreciate the ability to take a year of maternity leave and return to work part time.  If we chose to stay in the US right now I'd most likely have to accept a full time job or stay at home full time, neither of which allow me to maintain my career while being the parent I want to be.  I am eager to see all of our friends again and for Riker to play with his little friends.  And you can't beat the season's we'll be experiencing in 2012 - summer, spring, summer, autumn, spring, summer. 

Are we glad to be back? Yes and no. Saying farewell to our families was traumatic.  They all hoped that we would decide to stay and despite the fact that they know and understand our tendencies toward travel, I think they feel hurt that we've left again after so many months of quality time together. But we enjoy Canberra and have returned here several times now and the city has a comfortable feel for us.  And in many ways, it has felt like the universe was drawing us back here.  We are going to be living in my friend Carina's furnished three bedroom house while she goes off to do a post doc position in Montana that coincides precisely with my remaining work contract.  Until that house is available in three weeks time, we are house sitting for my colleague's mother just down the street.  Having housing arranged is a big relief and Riker's nanny has even suggested that she will be available in November so reliable child care may be sorted as well. It's somewhat surreal to be back and for now we're just hoping that a few more things come together for us.  We need to buy a car and collect various household and baby items and Brian needs to find a contract after being away from work for over a year. 

Fortunately the travel here, while long and grueling, actually went reasonably well.  There were no airport delays and travel dramas like the ones we experienced on our journey to the US in MarchEntertaining the children while traveling though, required all of our energy and attention, especially Ari who was much more of a handful than he was at six months old. Riker was much easier to travel with this time around as he was kept busy with the in flight entertainment and with our new iPad (thanks Grammy Jan).  Luckily the long haul flight in this direction is mostly overnight so the kids slept through much of it.  Jet lag has been very manageable as a result.

And so, we're still living out of suitcases, we still have lots of details to work out and we still don't really know what we're doing with ourselves in the long term, but for now, the Adventures Down Under continue.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ari on the Move

Having turned one, Ari has really begun to focus on balance and walking. With some enticement from his cousin Teagan and cheers from his adoring family he shows off his newly acquired skills.

Ari's timeline for walking has been slightly ahead of Rikers. He started to walk behind push toys at thirteen months and at fourteen months he was walking independently.

My babies aren't babies anymore!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Wedding Weekend

I'm feeling all warm and fuzzy from a totally wonderful weekend getaway in Hocking Hills for Heather and Aaron's LuckiWedding.

On Friday afternoon we all met for a family luncheon hosted by Aaron's mother Barbara and her husband Bill at Deagan's in Lakewood.  

Heather and Aaron look ridiculously awesome in their retro inspired attire.

Heather and Brian with Aunt Nancy

Teagan impresses us with her talent and generosity by giving Riker her drawing of Pete the Cat (one of our current favorite books) and I get a Cael cuddle.

A cheeky Ari munching a paper napkin

Cael in the sunshine

Time to say farewell before heading off on the next leg of the adventure - Edward gives Teagan a smooch

Then it was off to a stop at Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream in the Columbus North Market

And then on to our final destination, Meadow Lodge, where over thirty family members and friends were put up for the weekend celebration.  Note the hot tub on the right!

Autumn colored flowers graced the tables and complemented the trees surrounding the lodge

The ceremony outline and Heather's bouquet

Cael, Heather and Teagan enter to the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World by Iz

Teagan and Cael are given gifts - an engraved necklace and a compass/watch combination - and Heather and Aaron recite vows to the children.

Joan offers words of wisdom and the couple exchange rings and vows.  Like us, they wrote their own and they used bits and pieces from our wedding vows which was incredibly special to us.

Looking stunning and very happy!

Our little wing of the clan is looking pretty sharp too if I do say so myself :)

Love my sisters!

Family and friends mingle at the catered reception held inside and outside the lodge. Take note of Carl's three tiered cupcake stands made from cut logs. The log candle holders from our wedding graced the tables outside.

Wedding mead. Heather and Aaron are both taking the name McMillin and Heather was given the clan sash and Aaron a clan tie as part of the ceremony.

Liz and I were given the opportunity to speak briefly during the ceremony and we told Heather how gaining her as a sister was one of the best parts of becoming McMillins ourselves.

In lieu of cake, Heather and Aaron opted for six different kinds of cupcakes and mini pies including heart shaped pecan pies and chocolate espresso cupcakes with Kahlua frosting (above) along with carrot cake and lemon raspberry cupcakes and pumpkin and apple pies!

The love and attention put into this celebration was apparent in a multitude of special touches like this tree guest book with individual's finger prints and names.  Heather also made gift bags of tea and biscotti for special guests, gift bags for every child and clearly put lots of thought into crafts and activities for the wing of the lodge known as Kid Village.

Later in the evening Aaron tries his hand at spinning fire!

The tired couple, having changed into matching Just Married tshirts, gather family together so that Heather can read aloud the responses to her request for statements on what it means to be a McMillin. 
My submission: 
"Being a McMillin means being tolerant, accepting and open-minded.  To be a McMillin you must be interesting, somewhat quirky, passionate about travel, food and drink and have at least one unique (if not esoteric) hobby.  Thankfully, McMillin's embrace newcomers into the clan wholeheartedly."  
Did I mention I love this family?

In an extraordinarily special twist of fate, Heather and Aaron's wedding fell on the Harvest Moon, just as ours did ten years ago.  They played our song and we all danced before retiring either to bed or to the hot tub. 

Heather and Aaron, the weekend was spectacular.  It could be no other way given your loving preparations and the love and support surrounding you on your special day.  You are dearly loved and Aaron, we're so pleased to have you join us as one of the "outlaws!"  To you both I offer my favorite wedding toast -

May the greatest of your dreams be the least of your accomplishments.