Parenting - - Contents -

Bud­get­ing a day's rest

WOnce again Pe­tra Bagust takes us on a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery – com­bin­ing words and im­ages in a cel­e­bra­tion of cre­ativ­ity, par­ent­hood and every­day beauty.

ithin all the talk about money and bud­get­ing, let me tell you about the day I was over­drawn – emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. My eyes were puffy from cry­ing the night be­fore – you know the kind of cry­ing that leaves you hav­ing to breathe through your mouth. My nose was so blocked with snot, or emo­tion – prob­a­bly both – that I didn’t breathe prop­erly all night, mean­ing I didn’t sleep well.

The kick-starter to all those tears was a late-night con­ver­sa­tion with my sig­nif­i­cant other. The per­son whom I love the most, and yet the one I can be chal­lenged by the most. I re­ally was try­ing to hear what my hus­band had to say with­out be­ing de­fen­sive or over­re­act­ing – to take it on the chin, so to speak, re­flec­tive lis­ten­ing and all that. And yet it went from seem­ingly good, to mis­un­der­stood, to hard, and hurt, and sad­ness, and tears.

par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion – even though I knew he would have loved to. He made a real de­posit with his at­ten­tion and care. Baby Hazel was dropped off and all of a sud­den I was in­vited to be present – to smile and play with small wooden an­i­mals. The best bit was when she rested in my arms – drink­ing ex­pressed milk – just drink­ing and be­ing. We were quiet to­gether. There was more heal­ing in this close­ness. My ac­count was grad­u­ally get­ting topped up.

De­light­fully, I also found Foy Vance’s new al­bum, The Wild Swan. There is al­ways hope and joy in hear­ing songs that ex­press a wide range of pow­er­ful emo­tions. I re­lated to both the pain and the joy. I soaked in these new songs, just like I soaked in Hazel’s pres­ence.

To­day ended on the couch, next to my man – close and easy – we rem­i­nisced about some of the tele­vi­sion shows we made 20 years ago as he digi­tised old VHS tapes. We had a cup of tea and be­gan to watch a movie. We were re­minded of our his­tory, and then we rested in the present, to­gether and peace­ful. Some­times a day is needed to re­set and al­low time and space to be­gin to be re­stored. I was back in credit.

"Not yet." It is cathar­tic to share our prob­lems – to griz­zle about in­ter­est rates, un­fair bosses, in-laws, cranky neigh­bours – but mea­sure the width of the shoul­ders we un­bur­den on to. It is an adult’s job to carry adult bur­dens, and it is a child’s right to be pro­tected from those cares as much as pos­si­ble. They will have their own wor­ries soon enough. In the mean­time, child­hood should be as care­free as we can make it. If you lack re­cep­tive ears to share with, buy a dog. (Cats don’t care).

My dad was a great sto­ry­teller and many of his best tales came from his time serv­ing in World War II. I was 30 when he died, and I in­her­ited his war di­ary and read sto­ries I had never heard be­fore. In one in­ci­dent, he used the pages of the di­ary to think through whether or not to go to a brothel in Italy with his mates. (He re­mem­bered Mum back home and de­cided not to – I am proud of him). In an­other in­ci­dent, he had a clear view of an en­emy sol­dier who was fir­ing on Kiwi sol­diers, and Dad shot him.

Again, the di­ary recorded his an­guished de­ci­sion-mak­ing in that sit­u­a­tion and the distress he felt af­ter­wards. My dad and I were close, but while alive, he never spoke a word of these in­ci­dents and the many oth­ers in his di­ary. I won­der – as I as­sume he must have – how I would have re­acted as a much younger per­son to these rev­e­la­tions. I can barely han­dle them even now.

So are your chil­dren ma­ture enough to hear of your ad­ven­tures and your mis­takes? Maybe not yet, but I would urge you to share them one day, for two rea­sons. The first is that they can learn so much from them. Life has taught you many lessons and maybe some of the most valu­able ones have been painful and em­bar­rass­ing. Your chil­dren can gain the ben­e­fit of those lessons with­out hav­ing to pay the same high price if you share them as sto­ries. The sec­ond rea­son to share your sto­ries is that your chil­dren are go­ing to hear about them one day any­way. Af­ter you are gone, there will be a line of rel­a­tives queu­ing up to tell your chil­dren dis­torted sto­ries about you. It is far bet­ter they hear them from you so they get to hear the truth and also the wis­dom that has com­posted down from the ex­pe­ri­ences.

Pick your mo­ment, have tis­sues handy (you both might need them), and tell your story. Do not ex­pect even a ma­ture child to ini­tially re­act well. It may have taken you years to process this event – it will take them a lit­tle time as well. Will they think less of you? It is a risk, but I am in­clined to be­lieve they will mainly see

fam­ily mat­ters

the treasures of growth and char­ac­ter you have taken from those sit­u­a­tions, and not the wreck­age and fail­ure. I know two for­mer heroin ad­dicts who each shared with their teenage chil­dren about their bat­tles with drugs. In both cases, the chil­dren see their mums as vic­to­ri­ous he­roes and not ‘old junkies’. It was worth it. If this is all too scary, leave them your di­ary! A sur­vey car­ried out in Amer­ica shows only about 17 per­cent of par­ents tell their chil­dren how much they earn. There are a num­ber of good rea­sons not to tell them. For a start, do you re­ally want your salary blabbed around the play­ground? No­tions of pri­vacy tend to be dis­placed by a need to brag. An­other rea­son – whether you earn $20,000 or $200,000 a year, chil­dren have no un­der­stand­ing of what those fig­ures ac­tu­ally mean. If you've never had more than $20 in your pocket at once, even $10,000 sounds like in­cred­i­ble wealth.

If your chil­dren bluntly ask how much you earn, you can say that you do not want to say be­cause it is pri­vate. But you can also paint a pic­ture for them – “I’m get­ting a good wage so that we can get the things we need and put a bit away for later, but we do have to be care­ful and not go crazy.” Or, “Ac­tu­ally, things are very tight for us at the mo­ment. I know you kids would like us to spend a lot more on stuff but we re­ally can­not af­ford it just yet – but I hope it will get bet­ter.” How­ever, whether you re­veal your in­come to your chil­dren or not, they all tend to roughly work out where on the eco­nomic spec­trum your fam­ily fits. They will gen­er­ally know who is wealth­ier and who is poorer.

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