I have recently come to a shocking realisation. As well as having a big nose and bum and a penchant for Shiraz, I am also a crap mum. OK, well maybe not a totally crap mum; just a 21st Century Sad Sally mum. This all came about after a recent visit from a dear friend of mine that I haven't seen for quite some time. She doesn't have a computer so I can write about her *cheeky grin*! This lady has inspired me in so many ways - she was the one who, when my spending was at its worst, showed me such simple things as buying photo frames from The Warehouse, rather than pay hundreds of dollars to cart my favourite pics off to a professional framer (yes, I was that daft!). She also nagged me into running my very first triathlon. And the second, third, fourth...
About a year ago, she moved with her husband and four children into their very first home. They knew things were going to be really tough with a hefty mortgage, but it was their dream. It meant that her husband only had to drive seven minutes to work each day instead of over an hour, giving him more time to spend with his family. They both vowed that what they could no longer afford to spend on their children, they would make up for by giving them their time. This is exactly what they have done and listening to her talk about it just blew me away. They have completely thrown themselves into their new community and being part of their children's activities - whether it's coaching rugby, or soccer, or swimming. They even go along to their kids' school at lunch time and organise games for all the kids, just for the fun of it! This motivated family do everything together. It was brilliant to see them all looking so well and happy, but you know what? It made me feel like a complete failure as a parent. Worst of all was when I heard Ali tell his Grandma that afternoon, 'I wish Mrs Browne was my mum'. I wasn't surprised he felt that way; he had been complaining for the last week that 'you never do anything with us'. OK, so the timing was bad - I was sick for the entire first week of the school holidays, but his words still hurt. Compared to her, I really didn't do anything with my kids.
We discussed my woes at the dinner table that evening. 'The big difference is - your mother works', Noel barked. 'Think of all the things you boys have that they don't - Playstations, Game Boys, computer games, holidays, Sky TV, iPods, all the toys and gadgets you could want. Would you rather not have all those things?' Put that way, the boys said no, they definitely didn't want to go without any of their stuff but I wasn't so sure. A techno-free house sounded pretty darn good to me. I let things lie for a couple of days but then the final straw came. Liam had been having trouble sleeping for over a week and his over-tiredness was leading to anxiety again. In a moment of total frustration at 11pm, I had a lightbulb moment. It was no wonder he wasn't sleeping - he wasn't doing anything all day to make himself tired! What with the foul weather and me being sick, he had done nothing all week but sit in his comfy chair and play Playstation. Our technology filled home had completely robbed him of the ability to think and occupy himself with other things. It was a truly horrible realisation, especially as I was the one to blame, thinking I was being a nice mummy by letting them have all these things. I couldn't sleep that night for thinking about it - there were two things I had to do in order for us to change - move over Supernanny!
The next morning I waited in gleeful anticipation for the boys to appear. 'Mum, have you seen my Game Boy?', Ali asked sleepily. 'Yes, but sorry you can't have it right now,' I smiled. 'What do you mean? Where is it?' came the reply. 'In the same place as the Playstation', I continued smiling sweetly. They rushed into the next room and found their beloved Playstation had gone! So had all their Game Boy games and the real brain drainers, their collection of WWE wrestling DVD's. I felt liberated - I had taken back control! They were somewhat bemused but surprisingly didn't seem all that bothered. I explained my reasons - that I felt they had forgotten how to use their brains and imaginations and I wanted our family to be more like the Brownes. More surprising still, they agreed with me! I even wanted to get rid of the Sky TV but as it would have cost us $600 to get a new aerial in order to watch the free-to-air channels, it had to stay. Part 1 of my mission successfully complete!
Part 2 was also ready and waiting to go - in the shape of a smart roster on the wall. I am one of these real martyr types - you know '*Sigh* - if you want something done properly, do it yourself'. I had tried getting the kids to do jobs before but being a control freak when it comes to housework I had always ended up taking over. Not any more! I explained to the boys that the only way their mum was going to get time to do anything fun with them was if they agreed to help out more, like a lot of their friends had to. I explained to them that it wasn't a punishment, it was teaching them valuable growing-up skills, so they could be independent. So we now have a weekly roster and the boys are doing a wonderful job. I can't believe what a difference it makes! They never complain and it means we can now have civilised and enjoyable family meals at the dinner table every night, rather than having a stressed out mum shoving a plateful of food at them. It also means we have heaps more time to talk and play games after dinner, instead of me still wading through the kitchen mess at 8.30. For the average person this is probably nothing, but it has made an enormous difference in this 21st Century household. I am really enjoying watching the kids doing different things and finding their own entertainment. Liam has been writing stories and making his own comic books, while Ali has been going through all his old half-read magazines and finding all sorts of things to do and make. I have also realised that the cheapest form of entertainment by far is other people's children. Yesterday was spent playing hide and seek and battling with light sabers and all it cost me was a bag of frozen chips. Funnily enough, Liam hasn't had any more trouble sleeping since he got his bum out of that chair!
Once again Simple Savings has been not only invaluable but also a mind-reader. The latest newsletter containing all the great ideas for after-school activities has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea there were so many things to do, even in our small community. Ali is very excited about becoming a St John's Ambulance Cadet and Liam and I are joining a brand new Cycle Club this weekend. We can't wait! Now that we have all this new-found time together, the Forum thread about family games is also very timely and has given me heaps of ideas of fun games to play, even made up ones! There are some great new hints in the Vault too - my favourites this week are the Candy Cane Bath Salts (they sound great and even a craft dunce like me should be able to make those for Christmas) and 'Smart printing saves on needless ink waste'. I thought I was pretty good at saving ink but when I tried this tip out the other day, I saved a whole two pages in one document alone! I'm sure my Mum's favourite tip this week comes from one I spotted in the Forum, entitled 'Slow problems with Microsoft Vista cured'. This well-timed tip from Jen saved Mum a call-out visit from a computer technician! Her new laptop had Vista installed and was running so slow we thought there was something wrong with either the computer or her broadband connection. I always use Mozilla programs myself but Mum was using Internet Explorer and even her new posh Windows Mail was painfully slow. I just changed her browser over to Mozilla Firefox and her email to Mozilla Thunderbird (both free) and whaddya know - it's running like a dream now! So BIG THANKS Jen (Moon)!
Before I go, I must just mention a brand new website that I am honoured to be a part of. MoneyTV is essentially aimed at Kiwis but there is a whole heap of free money saving information for everyone on all kinds of topics, from mortgage advice, to kids' saving habits, emergency funds and investing. It's all presented in the form of video blogs - you just pick the topic you want to learn about and watch it! Yours truly is also on there, attempting to talk coherently about saving money on your groceries, as well as saving on household expenses and everyone's favourite the $21 Challenge. It's an excellent site - I'm just gobsmacked to be listed up there among the country's top financial experts. What a turnaround! I might be hard on myself sometimes but I guess there's plenty of Happy Hanna still in me after all!