Monday, July 22, 2013

There's a bear in there...

Playschool comes to Canberra!

Since Brian and I went to a show to see someone we adore on Friday night, it was only fair that Riker get to see a show with someone he adores on Saturday morning. 

To be honest, we're all big fans of Playschool and so it was good fun to see one of our favorite presenters, Alex, along with all the toys we know and love - Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Henny Penny and of course, Riker's favorite and the star of the show, Humpty Dumpty. Riker carried his Humpty doll along and all the kids cheered as each toy made their appearance. 

Lots of familiar songs to keep everyone entertained.

Filled with fun songs to sing and dance along with, all the kids in the audience were constantly on their feet hopping, wiggling, tapping and wobbling.

Alex and Humpty Dumpty
It was lots of fun to see so many kids (and their parents) humming and singing along with what have now become favorite songs. Neither of us grew up singing "there's a bear in there...." that's for sure, but it's a pretty staple tune for each of our kids!

Sir David Attenborough: A Life on Earth

On Friday night we had the great privilege of seeing Sir David Attenborough speak at the Royal Theatre. David Attenborough is arguably the world’s best known natural history filmmaker, a much loved naturalist and broadcaster whose career has spanned six decades. We've long been captivated by his in-depth explorations of the natural world and have watched his many series time and time again.

When we heard he was doing an Australian tour, we jumped on the chance to buy tickets. Sadly, that tour was cancelled as he had to have a pacemaker inserted in London. The tour was then rescheduled and we were notified of the chance to buy priority pre-release tickets. At 9am on the morning sales opened, we were online and got seats in the center of the fifth row. 

Waiting for the show to begin!
Brian and I were giddy with anticipation and not just because we were out of the house on a Friday night sans children! When the curtains finally opened we saw the man of the hour standing humbly in centre stage with his iconic blue shirt, khaki trousers and characteristically disheveled hair.

Hosted by Australian television presenter, Ray Martin, we were treated to two hours of insights into his  extraordinary life, fascinating stories from the field and the evolution of filming techniques over his sixty year career.

With his oh so recognizable and pleasing voice, one couldn't help but feel that we were in the presence of someone truly special. Describing the beautiful and mysterious treasures of this planet, he was charming, honest, passionate, funny and of course, animated.

We were treated to exquisite stories that kept us in stitches:
The rat catcher.
The flying squirrel loose in the television studio with a priest.
Bush Babies peeing on their hands and rubbing them all over his house.
Producing the Queen’s Christmas message while a horse appears to lip-sync in the background.

Throughout the show, poignant clips of his career illustrated stories that held us captivated and left us deeply moved:

Greeting the seemingly fierce New Guinean tribesman charging at him in full war dress with a polite British handshake which diffused the situation.
Tracking chimpanzees through the jungle to capture the first footage of organized hunting.
Being affectionately stroked by gorillas in Rwanda.

A sneak peak of new 3D filming techniques.
The evening ended with a beautiful spoken version of the song, What a Wonderful World with a montage of stunning clips. With gratitude for being taken on yet another memorable journey with an amazing man, the audience rose to their feet in awe and appreciation.

One of many stunning backdrops.
His ability to bring us up close and personal with some of the world’s most wonderful creatures has certainly had an impact on my love for the environment. I'm sure I'm not the only one working in the field who turns to an Attenborough documentary for optimism and inspiration.

Seeing David Attenborough speak has confirmed my suspicion that he is surely one of the most interesting and influential people alive. I for one will be eternally grateful to him for bringing the infinite beauty of the natural world into people's home for decades and for sparking an appreciation for what otherwise might go unnoticed or remain unseen. 

At 87, he is still going strong and jokes that his new pacemaker has one drawback - a battery life of only 25 years. I can't wait to see what's next.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Riker had an early affinity for letters and numbers. We used to sit with him and look at flashcards before he could even talk and he'd insist we go through them over and over. He's known how to spell his name for some time now but recently he's taken an interest in writing his name as well. 

The charcoal masterpiece below was created at a family Nature Adventure event at Blue Gum. He can write RIKER entirely on his own and he only had a little bit of help to write Brian and Jenn (and the train on a track with the word Ari inside).

"That is my name and I did Diesel 10 with Ari."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Good Enough: Perfectionism and Parenting

I managed to reign in a fair few of my perfectionist tendencies after becoming a parent. When I returned to work at two days per week just after Riker turned one, I realized I had to get a lot done in a very short period of time and I couldn't afford to spend hours on the fine details. I learned to be more efficient and probably more effective as well. Was anything done perfectly? Nope, but it was good enough.

Similarly, I've had to abandon those perfectionist leanings when it comes to parenting. It doesn't take more than three days on the job to realize that parenting is messy business (literally and figuratively) and that by maintaining unreasonable standards, you'd send yourself to the loony bin pretty quickly. Plus, it's one thing to try to ensure a quilt or a document or an event are stitched, edited or managed perfectly, but no matter how hard you try, you just can't project manage a child into your desired outcome.

With so much conflict happening between the boys lately, I've had to revisit the notion of "good enough" parenting. This post is about how I've tried to conscientiously move from a place of frustration to a place of acceptance (more or less) of both mine and my children's strengths and weaknesses.

When Riker was about nine months old, I called up my dear friend Katherine feeling distraught and completely exhausted. I wasn’t enjoying mothering at that moment and I was feeling that my ideals were failing me because Riker was waking up every hour all night long and I was crumbling. Before she'd finished saying hello I burst into tears and told her of my frustration, hopelessness and guilt. I felt angry at my baby for his sleeplessness and had yelled at him in the middle of the night. For this I felt horrendously guilty. The advice Katherine gave me as I was sobbing into the phone has stuck with me to this day. And since I've been experiencing some trying behaviors lately, I've been thinking about that advice again.

The first thing she said was to give up the guilt. Let it go. Throw it away. Stamp it out. This, however, is most certainly easier said than done and I've thought about this a lot in the past few years. I think it's because I waited so long to have children and spent so much time thinking about the parent I would be, that the realities that stand in stark contrast to the ideals I held can be so frustrating and guilt inducing. When I don't respond in ways I'm proud of, I feel bad. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging that a particular action was not one we are proud of or want to repeat, but it doesn't do any good to keep beating ourselves up. One of the only ways I've found to give up guilt is to recognize the ways in which I judge myself and to then consciously stop making those judgments. I know I'm trying to be the best parent I can be (if I didn’t care so much, I wouldn’t feel guilty, now would I?) so I try to curb the self talk that says "bad parent" when I make a mistake. Then I remind myself that I'm only human and that the only person expecting me to be "perfect" is me. So if the day held more yelling than I care to admit, I do my best to forgive myself, learn from the incident and move on. Each day is a new day and all we can hope for is to do better tomorrow.

Back to that phone call that saved my sanity. Katherine went on to say that even if each of us could be an absolutely perfect parent, we would NOT want to be for the sake of our children. Now she had my attention. I know I'm a pretty decent parent most of the time, but I certainly have my share of less than perfect parenting moments. Katherine was telling me that not only is this normal, but perhaps it’s even desirable. Our children will not live out their lives in a bubble where everyone always responds to them with infinite patience. Their lives will be filled with relationships that are emotionally complex and challenging. In order to exist in the real world, our children need to witness and experience a whole spectrum of emotions and learn how to deal with them appropriately. They need to see that normal and healthy adults get angry, lose their patience and even say hurtful things once in a while. But when the angry adult has calmed down, they apologize if necessary and then go back to being their normal, calm and happy selves.

Eureka! This advice was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment of despair once upon a time ago and to date it's some of the best parenting wisdom I've received. The mistakes we make as parents offer us an opportunity to teach our children valuable lessons. When they see us accept responsibility for our own actions, they learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and they begin to learn the art of forgiveness as well. Those same mistakes offer us as parents the opportunity to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves.

We can take some comfort knowing that as long as we are trying to do our best, then it’s surely good enough. In fact, good enough may be just what our children need to become well-rounded and resilient individuals!

 These moments of affection make my heart soar!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


Parenting is relentless. Richer or poorer, sickness and health, good times and bad, you never really get a break. Of course, there are innumerable amazing moments that make it all worthwhile and (most of the time) we feel immensely grateful for the gift of children. But there are the other times too - exhaustion, illness, boundary testing, conflict. And through it all, trying desperately to do the best job you can because the outcome matters so very much. It can feel like a weighty responsibility.

Lately, I've been struggling with this because it seems there is constant conflict between the boys. Ari pulls Riker's carefully constructed train tracks off the table and he lashes out and hits him. Ari picks up a toy and Riker immediately decides that's the one he wants and he yanks it out of Ari's hands. Ari then pulls his hair AND bites his arm. And so it goes, all day long. I want so much to manage these conflicts well so that they learn to regulate their emotional responses and develop a close relationship. But it seems that nothing I do is even remotely effective. Which is of course extraordinarily frustrating and often leads to yelling. Which, aside from also being ineffective, just makes me feel like a rotten parent.

Since I spend so much time in conflict resolution mode, I feel as if neither of my children are getting much positive individual attention or age appropriate structured activities. Before Ari was born I'm pretty sure I almost never yelled at Riker or felt angry at him. And poor Ari has had such a different life to baby Riker whose early days were quiet, peaceful and showered with attention.

Growing up as the only child in the house, I knew that I would have two children. And we planned to have them close in age so that they would grow up with a chance to be close and have some compatible interests and abilities. So when it was tough in the early days, I reminded myself that in providing a sibling, I was giving my children a gift. I still try to remember that sentiment but it often pales in comparison to bite marks on an arm or a chunk of hair clutched in a tiny fist.

I realize all of this is probably perfectly normal for two strong and active little boys who explore and experience the world in such an intensely physical way, but it still feels like I'm muddling through right now. I know I can't control their behavior and I'm also aware that the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning, logic, impulse control and forethought take place, is highly immature in toddlers and preschoolers and actually doesn’t develop fully until the late teens or mid-twenties! Yikes.

To cope, I'm working on embracing the "good enough" perspective on parenting. I show up every day and I care an awful lot about how I engage with my children. They don't need me to be perfect (and I try to remember not to expect more from them than is developmentally appropriate). They just need me to keep showing up and meeting their needs with as much love and patience as I can muster.

Despite lots of conflict every day, one can occasionally find the boys having pleasant moments together. This one courtesy of Peppa Pig.

Stay tuned for some further musings on embracing the "good enough" attitude towards parenting and dealing with my own perfectionist tendencies.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Welcome Porter!

We have a new nephew (and cousin)! Welcome to the world sweet Porter Ashton Croyle McMillin (aka Pac-man)!

Born at home on June 29th in the wee hours of the morning, Porter is oh so lucky to have landed in the arms of mama Heather and papa Aaron, not to mention his big brother and sister, Cael and Teagan.

I'm so pleased that Heather and Aaron were able to have a beautiful birth experience and to enjoy recovering from it all in the comfort of their own home.

Well done Heather and much love to you all. Can't wait to meet him!!