I can't believe we have made it through the school holidays but we have, and here I sit, on a Monday morning, temporarily childfree.
Moments like this are rare in a household of three young children, and I can't deny they are welcome. Welcome too is the start of the school year, after seven weeks of constant family oversight, which started with the stress of Christmas and cabin fever (caused by three lots of chicken pox and torrential rain), and ended with incendiary days spent fighting over sunscreen or lolling inside, in the shade.
Of course, in the blogger's retelling of school holidays, it's the heat stroke, bad weather and endless battles over computer games that get highlighted. That leaves out the lovely days that worked well, where no-one misbehaved or fought and everyone enjoyed themselves. But then again, you don't read a parenting blog to hear a suburban mother bask in the glow of all things mummy-related. You read - or I do, anyhow - to assure yourself that others are also going mad from time to time, their kids also don't sleep or feed properly; that they also act, frequently, like little turds. And I hope that you have read all of that, and more, on this blog of mine.
This is my last column for Keeping Mum, a blog I started writing almost five years ago now. My mother had just died and I had a two-year-old and a four-month-old, and found I was desperate to busy my brain. I had been reading a fantastic column on the Sydney Morning Herald website by a stay-at-home father, detailing his good and bad days, how he tried to fit in with the stay-at-home mums, and how the whole parenting lark had radically altered his life.
Believe it or not, at that time, locally, we didn't have columns or blogs devoted to mothering or fathering, so I pitched it to the Herald, and the Herald Online came back offering the chance to write a blog (whatever that was, I thought at the time!)
Column or blog, the choice of topics is endless. You could literally have a full-time job detailing everything parenting-related that happens each day. From the all-too-frequent horrible cases of child abuse we read about, to the latest - often contradictory - research on everything from breastfeeding to childcare, to the feelings that are evoked by your own, personal experiences of raising children - including the impact on your marriage - there is no shortage of material. I have hoped to cover as good a variety as possible in that time.
There are a few things I think I can say I now believe as a result of writing it all down:
1. I knew nothing, absolutely nothing at all, about children before having them. On the one hand this was terrible: the first child is the clusterbomb that blows your life to pieces. I firmly believe that, in the main, the first child is the hardest (while the subsequents grow the workload, they are not mindblasting in the same way, major issues aside). On the other hand, fewer people in general would probably have children if they were fully conversant with the effort required. Perhaps that's not a bad thing, which is another purpose an honest parenting blog/column can fulfil.
2. People who are violent to children (not a smack on the bum when they've done something wrong, but serious violence), I believe, forfeit their right to be around children at all. There is never any reason to 'beat' a child and people who do it - men and women - should be treated with the same disgust as sex abusers.
3. Boys and girls are very, very different, and basically need different parenting. Although of course all children need consistently reinforced rules, the right amount of genuine attention, and lots of good quality conversation with adults.
4. Bottle feeding isn't poisoning your child; daycare probably won't harm them; crying babies down at a certain age is bound to restore sanity to a household. However, I think personally breastfeeding (if you can), avoiding daycare when they are too young (if you can) and attending to your babies when they cry are good things. I also believe that if the Government has a role to play in the very early years, it should be to try and facilitate the ability of one parent to stay home with their kids for the first year (and preferably two). Plunket should also be better funded to provide moral and care support to families as well as provide groups (play and music and new mums) to help people actually enjoy their time at home with kids - a time that can be isolating and depressing if support systems aren't in place.
5. I have been incredibly lucky to have a husband who enjoys spending time with the children is an excellent dad. Thank you so much Ali - not only for your brilliant fathering but also allowing your often grumpy wife to vent her spleen on a public forum!
6. There are many days parenting young children (or even older children) that will test your sanity and make you despair. This, I feel, is part of parenting that can not be glossed over. But it is also a great, humbling, and joyful experience to watch a child blossom and grow - an experience that can only be lived once per child. How lucky we are if we can do it!
Thanks to all readers of this blog for your feedback and interest, and may many happy memories be created on your own parenting journeys.