Friday, 31 January 2014

January Daze

Well the last few days of holidays have been and gone. Eight and a half weeks sometimes dragged but often flew. Some days it felt like it would never end. Then it was all over in a flash.
We managed to fit in quite a few fun activities in the last week. But not so many that we were exhausted when it came time for school.
Okay, well I was exhausted. But the kids were fine.
More or less.
Before then, Jesse squeezed in a day with a favourite friend's family. He even got to go out on their boat.
He caught his first fish ever and had the best time.

At the same time as Jesse was on the water, I took the girls and Arch to a Summer Reading Club event at our local library. I think all the public libraries ran a Summer Reading program over the holidays, and ours offered a special incentive for kids who had read a certain number of books: A Magician's show and pizza party. How cool was that!?

The librarians had put in a super effort to make the afternoon memorable and fun. There was great hilarity during the magic show, and I felt for the ageing magician in this age of Harry Potter movies and computer games etc. Is there any thrills left in the old sleight of hand? Still, when his grand finale was making a child seemingly levitate above the floor as he pulled a chair out from under her feet (she was lying horizontally on a board between two chairs), there was a collective gasp of wonder and amazement. Phew! Some tricks must be timeless.
And he produced a real rabbit at the end, out of a hat.
The kids loved it.

After a few games of musical chairs and pass the hot dice (which Arch was very taken with) it was time for pizza and cake in the library. Eleanore got to cut it. She's loving her $5 Christmas gift shirt, by the way (North Rocks pop-up store).

And then when all the fun was over. It was time to get out the uniforms and pack the bags.
It was done with a minimum of fuss.
Here they are beaming and ready to go.

Now the house seems a little too quiet with just Arch and I there during the day.
Not that I'm complaining mind you!
It's been nice to reflect on the last 8.5 weeks. How we got through (sometimes I wasn't sure we would). How we had fun. Thankful that the kids didn't kill each other, or get brain strain from watching too much television.
Another week to take stock and concentrate on getting Arch ready for preschool.
He might be ready in time, but will I be?
I'm looking forward to all that this year will hold.
I. Really. Am.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Oh no the keys!

Yesterday we had one of those mornings. You know, the kind where the older kids have woken up way too early, forgotten how to whisper and hence woken everybody else up - way too early.

Yes, our house really is, where the wild things are..

So that by 9am Arch had emptied his box of 100 Thomas the Tank Engine pencils (whose stupid idea was it to give a three year old so many? Oh that would be me) across several rooms; tantrumed long and loud about not eating the two weetbix he'd insisted on having; tantrumed about getting dressed, cleaning his teeth, putting his shoes on... 

The others were generally ratty, the house was a mess and I fantasised about a world where no parent had to endure eight weeks of school holidays in a row. Ever. 

So at 9.30am as I frustratedly grabbed the irate toddler and wrenched him out of the house to join the other arguing kids in the car, I felt some satisfaction in slamming the front door behind me.

Satisfaction that was instantly regretted as I realised I had left my phone on the bed together with the nappy bag and house keys. We were now locked out.

There wasn't time to dwell on it, we had overdue books to return to the library and twenty minutes to deliver Ellie to her holiday craft lesson at Top Ryde.

This is your fault, I railed at the older kids. You woke Arch who is now way overtired. We're locked out, Arch is in undies (did I mention we're toilet training?) without a change of clothes (or three) as backup, I can't ring anyone and the day is already feeling like a disaster!

I don't think I was overstating it. The kids seemed chastened. Possibly. It was hard to tell over Arch's yelling.

We made it to the craft class and Ellie settled in to a morning of felt, buttons and stuffed owls. The rest of us had two hours to fill in (or a whole day, depending on how you looked at it) so we headed for the bathrooms.
"Any wee Arch?"
After waiting hopefully for ten minutes with no result we left. Ten minutes later.
"Mum! Wee!"
Aghhh! We made a mad dash for the next set of bathrooms. Result. 

Next we visited two supermarkets, the bathroom, the Reject Shop, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the bathroom and the toy shop. Finally it was time to pick up Ellie. Apparently the hot glue gun wasn't working and the craft lady looked harried. The minutes ticked by and our free parking ran out. 
"I need the bathroom Mum" said the ten year old. 
"Of course you do, I snapped. We've only been like, what? Twenty times this morning?"

We left the unglued craft with assurances we could pick it up another day (if this one ever ended) and rushed to the nearest amenities.

As my parents-in-law have our spare keys we drove to their house. They weren't home. Neither were our other relatives close by. We couldn't ring anyone for help so after a quick dash into the grandparent's backyard (for you guessed it, another wee stop - not by me!) the afternoon stretched out before us. 

"Let's try the children's bookshop, I ventured. Who's feeling brave enough to browse?"
"Could we get a milkshake too?" Someone dared to ask.
Yeah right, like you all need more liquids..

We got a car spot near the bookshop straight away. Unusual. Once inside, Jesse and Mim did a quick recon and appeared looking excited. "There's cupcakes and juice!"
"Oh. There must be something on." I looked around vaguely as one of the assistant's caught my eye. 
"There's an author's event upstairs," she smiled. Two children's authors and an illustrator. It's just started. Get some cake and juice on the way. It's all free." She gestured for us to follow her.

The older three squeezed into the crowd of kids seated on the floor as I scanned the back row for a seat. There was one. Next to Michelle, my best school Mum friend. Like she'd been saving it for me.

For the next hour (or more, who cared?) we sat entranced as two wonderful authors spoke and the illustrator drew dragons and dinosaurs. Arch sat on my lap without a murmur. Then it was back downstairs for book signing and free pizza. Plus we got free book journals and bookmarks from Random House. 

I didn't stop smiling, even when Arch wee'd in the hallway on our way out (sorry bookshop). Michelle lent me her phone and I rang my parents-in-law. They were home!

So seven and a half hours after we left the house in a tumultuous rush of angst and recriminations we arrived home. 

As we pulled into the driveway, Jesse apologised "Sorry about this morning Mum."
"That's all right," I sighed. "I'm the bozo who locked us out." 
"You know what Mum? Jesse continued. "Even though some things went wrong today, a lot of things went right."
It was exactly what I'd been thinking too.
Arch only had one accident in a whole day out. Ellie had fun at craft. I had a coffee. We got a car park straightaway in Beecroft. We had met some inspiring and creative people at an event we'd stumbled upon by accident. We'd eaten cupcakes and pizza with friends and had the spare set of keys in our hand.
There was a lot to be thankful for. 
And we were.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Bawled out in the Bookshop

Yesterday my kids and I were bawled out in a bookshop. The bookshop in question is a small cramped outpost (not as roomy as the pic above) of what is probably the largest chain of bookstores left in Australia. We visit it fairly regularly. Its range of books is middling to fair, and we regularly make purchases there as it is one of the few limited options we have left for bookshop browsing.

Upon entering the store I had an inkling of a a regime change. A rather imposing sign had been stuck on the wall near the classics section. "No food or drink to be consumed in this store. We are trying to protect our books from becoming soiled." 
Fair enough, I thought, making a mental note not to bring takeaway coffee inside the store anymore.

"Good morning, how may I help you?" A bustling woman I had not seen before in the corporate colours, greeted me. I smiled and replied that I was happy to browse.

I led Archie to the picture book section where he grabbed a stool sitting near by to reach the Thomas the Tank Engine books displayed tantalisingly on the top shelf. Jesse and Ellie already had their noses in books from the young fiction section and Mim was roaming. A young sales assistant hovered. "Can I help you find anything?" She questioned. "No thanks," I replied. "We're just browsing."

I moved over to the children's classics and another assistant materialised. 
"Are you looking for anything in particular?" She enquired politely. The question caused me to stop and consider. No I wasn't.  Oh but maybe Jesse was looking for a particular title. "Jesse, did you need help finding anything? " I asked, across the aisle. "No thanks, I'm fine."
"We're fine" I assured the girl. 
Wow, they were really on top of customer service today. 

I made my way towards the middle of the store, heading for Decorating and Craft. On the way I quickly scanned the History section and Adult Fiction. The end shelves often hold discounted stock, but I didn't see anything great. Still, you never know what you might find.

I was just admiring a Mollie Makes Craft book when the senior lady who had greeted me upon entering the store appeared with my seven and thee-year-old beside her. I looked up a little surprised. 
"These children should not be on their own. They were throwing books". Her disapproving gaze swept over me and back to the criminals children.
"What?!" I exclaimed, looking with appalled disbelief at Mim. Wondering why I hadn't heard the noise of my kids turning feral only a shelf or two away. 
"Were you throwing books?" Even as I said it I couldn't quite believe it. It's just not the sort of thing my kids would do. Still, there's always a first time I vaguely thought. Mim looked stricken.
"Arch dropped a Thomas book and I was picking it up" she whispered. I could hardly hear her as the woman had not stopped talking. "This is not a library," she continued. "These children are too young and should not be unaccompanied in our store." Her speech finished, she walked away. 
I stood there stunned. I opened my mouth and then shut it again. 
"I want to look at the Thomas books!" Arch insisted as, on automatic pilot, I hastily buckled him into his stroller. "Well you can't!" I muttered as we lurched towards the door. 

Collapsing on to the bench outside I looked back in to the store where my husband was blissfully browsing the aisle next to where I had just been. He hadn't heard any of it. I bit my lip and willed him to look up. 

Jesse and Ellie appeared. 
"The lady told us to stop reading the books. She said it's not a library" Ellie looked at me quizzically. 
"How about you go get Dad?" I said as I watched the shop lady and her assistants smile and chat with an elderly couple who were purchasing books at the counter. 

Jonathan appeared. "Sorry. I didn't know you were out here." His smile faded as he looked at our faces. "What?" 
We left. 

In the car on the way home I stared out of the window and tried to objectively analyse why I felt so upset. Yes it's mortifying to be told your children are misbehaving. It's also upsetting to realise that the accusation is untrue. I felt bad for not standing up for my kids. While knowing book throwing was unlikely, my kids aren't perfect. It could have happened. So I'd been slow to respond. Browsing the bookstore is something we've always encouraged. Now I questioned it. 
Were we wrong?

I thought about how our family still laments the demise of the BORDERS book chain. Borders totally got the whole browsing thing. They even encouraged it! From wide open spaces, to comfy lounges and the in-house coffee shop (oh, and the toilets) - the whole scene was geared to make you want to stay. Heck, on rainy days we almost stayed all day!! 
There were beanbags in the kids section and stars painted on the night sky ceiling. There were story times and stuffed toys. My kids used to loll there for hours. 
Jonathan could always be found in the photography, gardening, history or war sections. And I flitted between the decorating and design books (Martha Stewart galore!), classics, contemporary fiction and the magazines (best international range ever). Oh and I also loved the quirky stationery.

It wasn't just a bookshop, it was a destination. We didn't always buy. But we did find lots of wonderful books there we never saw anywhere else. Yes, it was often expensive. But it was the place where we got our fill of reading and fun and imagination. 

Then it went bankrupt.
Maybe all that browsing lead to bankruptcy?

I understand that a book shop is not a library. I also get that the stock is for sale and that we are not always intending to buy what we enjoy looking at. But then again, we do buy some things. So how do you decide what is browsing with intent and what isn't?

Oh look, here's Archie at the library.

Surely a main argument for why we still need bookshops is browsing. It's how we peruse new titles and discover others we didn't know existed. It's about picking up a cover because we've been beguiled by the picture on the front, or captured by the words on the back. Or maybe it's the feel of the paper, the smell of the pages or the font. It's when you spy an authors name you recognise or become intrigued by one you don't. 
It's the tactile and sensory experience that e-books can not provide. (I may have written about this before, once or twice..)

Bookshops ignore this at their peril. I understand the no food rule and get that they are not a library. But if they treat the reader as simply a consumer who should not tarry within their  hallowed confines, we'll go online and stay there. We'll make do with the lack of browsing, because we can sit on the bench outside and surf the net on our phone and purchase the books cheaper and with free delivery.

But my kids love books and I'd hate them to lose interest thanks to the struggling local bookstore. 
Wouldn't you?

The girls meeting one of their favourite authors Jacqueline Harvey at a book launch last year - at the fabulous Children's Bookshop in Beecroft. They definitely encourage browsing there.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Our days at the coast are numbered. Oh of course there'll be takeaway coffees when I get home, but I won't be able to drink them whilst staring at the sparkling sea. Almost enough to make one give up takeaway coffees. But I think I'll just move near the sea instead. The life change will be far easier to implement with four children and the withdrawals from city life will hardly hurt a bit. 

If it's not too late to talk about New Year's Eve (sorry, the coffee/sparkly sea..) can I tell you that it was great fun with the kids at our coastal town!? 

At 8.30pm we hopped in the car and drove five minutes down the road. Obviously we could have walked it but someone would have inevitably tripped in the dark and grazed a knee or scuffed a toe. The serious injury would probably have forced us to turn back or we'd have been arrested for drowning out the local festivities with the wailing. 

So we drove five minutes then walked five minutes till we got to the park overlooking the harbour. We walked right up the front and sat on a spare patch of grass. There were crowds, but there was also room for everyone. There was also nothing happening and with only about ten minutes to go I wasn't surprised when the man with kids next to us said, " excuse me, but what time is this supposed to start?" Hmph, a cynical city person, obviously. "Nine pm." I answered, matter-of-a-factly. 

I love the fact that in a coastal town the New Year's Eve celebrations start at nine, but at 8.50pm all is quiet.

This is what we could see.

There's a light or two on the harbour and a light or three in the town. Otherwise, nothing. Actually there was a boy behind us with a lit up light saber that he was swinging around like Luke Skywalker (yes I remember seeing the original movie at the movies, first time around). So I know what everyone's getting for Christmss next year...

And then, at 9pm, right above us - and I mean RIGHT above us, we saw this:

And this:

And finally, this:

It was fantastic. It was glorious. 
I said WOW about fifty times.
And then it was over. 
Everyone picked up their stuff and quietly walked home, or back to their cars. There was slight traffic congestion, on account of all the people walking up the middle of the road, but we were still home in about seven minutes. And like the rest of the town, as far as I could tell anyway, we were all tucked up in bed by ten.

Happy New Year everyone.