20 Arrows Every Ninja Parent Needs Almost Everyday
I have just passed the halfway mark, and I used all twenty of these arrows!
For 54 hours I am the sole carer of 5 children, aged 3 to 10.
Julie is away with a group of her friends in KZN.
Five kids under my watch, I see myself as a parenting-ninja in training.
As I have reflected on the craziness and demands of herding five crazies this last day and a half, I have noticed a bunch of arrows that I have drawn on from my parenting quiver.
Twenty in fact.
I thought this post would be a nice overview of the challenges of daily parenting. Maybe women know stuff far more intuitively than guys like me do, but maybe not.
So whether you are a mom or a dad in the trenches, wondering what the parenting task is all about, or if you are alone in the mundanity and madness, I’d like to share snippet insights from the last day and a half.
Although I have a ton to learn, and could have done many moments more effectively, here are some of the quivers the average dad or mom needs in their quiver…
(Sorry for mistakes – no time to edit this one! Got to get back to the kids.)
Arrow 1: Getting enough sleep and coffee.
As a friend said to me, ‘When you sleep enough, you can parent about 3 times better.’
My day off yesterday, I dropped Julie off at the airport at 10h30. First pick up of kids was two hours later. What to do? I could do some admin. I could mess around on social media. Instead, I decided to sleep for 45 minutes at home. After sleeping less than 6 hours the night before, this was the best thing I could do. It put petrol in my tank.
Then at lunch time I was also sure to grab a double shot of caffeine – as a way of putting my foot on the pedal.
Last night I grabbed the chance for sleep.
Having put the kids down, I now had some me-time. I could watch something that I enjoyed, or maybe scroll down to the bottom of my Facebook page (it’s amazing how bottomless that page is, hey?) But instead, I opted to get ready for bed, and sleep.
At the time it seemed so lame and boring. But looking back from today, it was such a clever thing to do.
Arrow 2: Ending the school week well (and the importance of kids being nice to people)
After picking up first my twins at 12h30 on Friday and then my older boys at 13h05 (Ivy went to a play date at a friend), I took them to a local ice-cream shop, where they have two waffles for the price of one. But the twins were adamant that they wanted ice cream without waffles.
But that would cost extra, and I only had enough cash in my wallet for two for the price of one waffle! The solution came from the guy selling the ice-cream. He asked the twins if they had wee-ed in their bed lately. They hadn’t. He said, ‘Well, last time, I had promised you each an ice-cream on the house if you didn’t wee in your bed.’
These twins got their free cones! The lovely ice-cream man explained why: ‘You know what I like your kids? Because I get the feeling they like me.’
Ha. It’s true. People like people who like them. When your kids are chatty and friendly to people, those people will like them – and your kids lives, and your life, will be a little easier.
Arrow 3: Filling the void with music.
Friday afternoon is a come down time for kids.
It involves an emotional low after the intensity of the week’s challenges. (Heightened perhaps by the ice-cream sugar high I’d just provided.)
What to do? Fill the void with happy, upbeat music. This props up the mood of the house, where everyone subduing the inevitable end-week downer.
Nothing like a carefully selected playlist on Spotify or Apple music to inject happiness into the despair.
If you haven’t read my previous post on the power of music, do.
Arrow 4: Cooking for five kids, and making a treat of it.
Usually, we buy pizza bases then make our pizza bases on Friday night. But as the only parent, I opted for the cheapest, easiest, quickest, semi-healthy dish I could muster.
Boil water in a pot. Throw spaghetti in – be sure to break the sticks in thirds. Throw two small cans of tuna and one large can of diced tomato into a pan. Add some garlic and salt. Mix it all together. Wallah! R55 and it feeds 5 or 6!
Okay, judge me if you must, but because it’s Friday I also gave all the kids … Coke. Just celebrating life. Friday night is our cheat night. Just so you know, the coke was the one that is less sugar, and each cup was diluted with 50% water.
As for tonight’s meal, my restaurant-owning parents-in-law have given us Fillet Steak cut offs. Can’t wait. Hm, but what vegetables to give them? Ah, I know – popcorn. And desert? There’s those frozen watermelon chunks in the freezer. Talk about a balanced meal!
Arrow 5: Selecting a suitable movie.
Two hours before bed-time, I put the movie on in the lounge, then cook their dinner. Then I let them eat the meal while they watch.
But what to watch? I got it wrong last night, definitely once but maybe twice. On Netflix, I click on ‘adults’ (not kids), then click on Movies, then Family and Children – and then look for movies. At first, I chose White Fang – a story about a wolf-dog whose mom gets hurt.
Big mistake. Charlie who started missing his mom, cried and cried. He said he was scared, but what he meant was that the little dogs relationship with his mom was tugging at some deep cord in his own little heart that made him feel very emotional.
What else to watch? Ah, I chose the 1982 Annie. I was surprised that it was PG13, and based on the fact I was a kid when I watched it, wrote that age restriction off as a mistake.
But that was a mistake too! Yeah, the parts about Hard-knock life and I love you, Tomorrow were heart-warming. But the mean orhpanage lady was drunk most of the time, drinking spirits! And she tried to seduce a man by pulling him into her room and stripping down to her knickers! What the heck! That needed some explaining.
Note to self: trust those PG ratings!
Arrow 6: Getting everyone to bed (and calming down psycho-kid).
Getting 5 kids to bed after the movie ended was quite a trick.
First, I told Eli and Fynn to brush their teeth, and head-to-toe in the same bed – a Friday night treat. I then let them listen to 30 minutes of an Audible novel that I loved, and they tell me they do too.
I brushed the other 3’s teeth, made sure they had all wee-ed, put nappies on the twins, and put them all in one room. And told them a made up story. Actually it wasn’t a made up story – it was a kidified retelling of part of the very novel Eli and Fynn were listening to.
No time for bed-time prayers.
All was going well, until Ivy got it in her head that I had kept back some of the story. ‘Tell me the rest of the story!’
‘I have told you everything.’
‘You lying! Tell me ALL the story!’
‘I promise. I told you everything.’
Now hell hath no fury like Ivy, when she is tired, and she feels like she isn’t being heard, and she wants something (more story). She started to scream.
At first, I responded wrongly. I poured oil on the fire of her tantrum, by shouting at her, and then threatening her, then carrying her flailing body to the lounge, and closing her in there.
It didn’t calm her at all. I remembered then what she had told us before: ‘When I am angry, it helps when you listen to me, and stay close to me.’ And I remembered what one parenting expert had said, ‘When kids act awfully, it’s usually because they don’t have the emotional skills to cope better. If they did, they would.’
So, I went to the lounge, held her tight while she shouted at me, then looked in her face and tried harder to listen. I repeated her words back to her. I acknowledged how angry and frustrated she was. It took a few minutes, but it worked. She felt heard, and, lone behold, some more details of the story came back to me, details that Eli and Fynn had told her about, and hence she had expected to hear from me.
I stroked her head as I told this part of the story. She started to lull, and I carried her to bed.
Arrow 7: Laying down your desire to lay down longer.
At freaking 6am this morning, kids started to wake up. One of the twins climbed into my bed, and kicked at me, and told me that he was hungry and needed breakfast now. The other twin started to cry from his room. He remembered that he had misplaced his little blue plastic toy the night before. ‘Find it daddy! Find it now!’
Highlighting how cold it is, I managed to lure them all under my warm duvet for another 30 minutes, promising I’d help them feed and find now-now. The stress of kids fighting for pillows, and one even kicking the other in their face – I am not sure that lie in was worth it.
Arrow 8: Getting going early with the day’s outing.
I knew that today I would need to get these kids out once. In earlier years I would wait till later in the day, but what I realized is that a sense of restlessness would mount. Much better to do something fun first thing in the day, then when home for the rest of the day, there is a sense of after-glow and acceptance that this house is our lot.
Arrow 9: Not bothering with shoes.
Trying to put shows on 5 kids is just unnecessary. Sure, by the time they are adults and are getting ready for their first job interview, teach them the importance of presentation. But until then, it doesn’t matter that their pants have holes or are starting to look to small on them.
It’s also probably better that they feel the grass under their bare feet. And please, who is going to judge them, or worse us as a parents, for it?
Arrow 10: Helping kids appreciate nature.
Just before we left, I noticed a horizon-to-horizon rainbow outside. It wasn’t long before I had all 5 kids on the trampoline looking at it. I highlighted the rarity and beauty of it. Charlie wanted us to go get the treasure, but I told him another kid already got it.
When we drove to the coffee shop for brekkie at a nearby wine farm, I told my kids, ‘Hey guys, one day you will live in a city somewhere and you will pull out a picture of this place, and show your friends and say, ‘Look where I grew up!’ So never take this mountain, and all this green for granted!’
At this point one of my kids told me that his friends are on iPad right now, missing out on rainbows and vineyards and breathtaking skies. We lamented together the misguided lives of their friends. I said, ‘Guys, you will spend so much time of your life behind a screen. But think of the happiness we feel right now – I mean look at that squirrel in a tree. Look how happy the little guy is! He doesn’t need a Smartphone to be happy. He just needs that tree.’
Arrow 11: Pep talking them before releasing them into a public place.
Before I let them out of the car at the wine farm, I said, ‘Guys. We’re about to meet people. Your job is to make those people feel special. You know how to do that? Say hello. Say please. And say thank you. And listen to me. When I say come, what do you do? Tell me…. That’s right. And when I say stop, what do you do? …. And when I say to stop fighting or shouting, what do you do?’
Pep talks make such a difference. As adults we know that we need a different set of behaviours in public compared to at home. Kids don’t change gear from their home behaviour when going out, until you help them change gear with a pep talk.
Arrow 12: Talking to other adults for sanity’s sake.
At this coffee shop, I found the gap to chat to some other adults (I hadn’t been in the same place with one of those for some time now!)
It felt nice connecting with a dad who carried one of his 6 month twins. I felt more connected to the wine farm when I chatted briefly to the wine farm owner – and was proud to see one of my kids ask him questions about the new dog. And I was super-proud of Sam when he invited two families to come to lunch – he offered them beer and toast-with-butter. We all laughed, as I confirmed the arrangements: ‘You guys bring the drinks, and I will organize the food.’
Arrow 13: Wiping bums cheerfully.
Parenting involves a dispassionate relationship with other people’s poo. I am sure that God’s main goal in us parenting kids is to humble us. Honestly, my kids think that they are doing me a favour when they let me wipe their bums.
What was interesting today is the three youngest kids all going to a different loo, all at the same time. One toilet roll in hand, I think I broke a record, wiping all those little bums in under 90 seconds.
It even gave me a sense of accomplishment.
Arrow 14: Enlisting help from others.
It takes a village to raise a child. Which is why I am really grateful when other adults I trust offer to help, like the mom who looked after Ivy yesterday afternoon, or the neighbour who let her climb over the fence today for a 30 minute play-date with her child, or my mom who will bring my kids back from church tomorrow while I preach a second time, or like our tenant who will look after them till I get back after the second service.
Arrow 15: Not losing your head while those around you lose theirs.
This is the great secret of parenting.
That said, when I get it right, I will tell you how.
There have been some days when I managed to stay calm. But not today. Today I lost a few times.
The amount of skirmishes I unsuccessfully tried to settle, the spilt milk (literally a liter of it), the wasted plasters (the little ones plastered their entire faces), and the many howling kids demanding that I time-out one of their siblings for this or that offense.
My best moment was when I walked outside, prayed and breathed five deep breaths, and started again – a little calmer.
Arrow 16: Engaging kids with wholesome activities.
Before lunch I set them all up to draw. Other than some freaking out kids (Eli drew a beautiful horse with a fine-liner, but then it smudged!) it went well.
After lunch we all went outside. I taught Eli and Fynn how one bounce works, with the new soccer ball their granddad gave them yesterday.
Arrow 17: Getting used to the mess.
As for a clean house …
Besides, trying to clean up after kids is like trying to shovel while it’s snowing. Let it pile up nice. Then when you can’t cope any longer with the mess, your frustration will explode in a order-making frenzy.
Arrow 18: Figuring out what wound needs stitches.
I spun my head to see Sam upside down at the foot of a sharp-edge coffee table. Then there was the horror of this slit of skin that opened up. Before Eli incurred such a wound, and he needed plastic surgery with his bone deep wound.
But this was not as deep. But it might need stitches. But all my parenting experience meant that instead of marching him off to a doctor, I pulled the slit closed and put on surgical tape.
Arrow 19: Maybe having a drink.
There’s a reason Gin and Tonic is also called Mother’s Ruin.
Now this is not something I always do, but at some point today, an alcoholic beverage took the edge off of me.
Geez, I am admitting my dependence on substances – coffee to speed up, alcohol to wind down. Promise it’s all in moderation (like one drink!) and not everyday.
Arrow 20: Letting them interrupt you, and listening.
Taking out an hour or so to jot these thoughts down is not ideal, but I thought I’d do it for the sake of other parents like you who read it.
What I did do is that when kids called my name for help, or came to me to ask for something or tell me something, I stopped. I got on their eye level. I put my hands on either cheek, and I looked in their eyes and listened.
Most times that was all they needed – 20 seconds of being heard.
I know I said 20 arrows, but while I am rolling, I have two more for you.
Think of them as bonus arrows…
Arrow 21: Telling yourself this is life at its best.
My kids have acted like kids today – high energy, pushing my boundaries, pushing each other’s boundaries, endangering their bodies, acting like people who have virtually no life experience.
And it has been stretching and exhausting in patches. Not always fun.
But I have the words of that parent I saw at the ice-cream shop yesterday:
‘Enjoy your kids while they are you. Before you know it, they are grown up, and WhatsApping you at 12am that they are heading back home, and you can’t sleep till they arrive at 2am. I know the days are long right now, but really the years are short. So enjoy them while they are good and truly yours and want to be with you.’
Arrow 22: (This one for dudes) Not taking your wife for granted.
I am usually the one who gets away, for work-related evenings or weekends or trip. And I express my gratitude to Julie.
But having freshly tried to negotiate with a few drunken bipolar pirates all on my own, I can see how a person might not just walk the plank, but dive off it.
Julie, you are amazing. Not only did you knit their bodies in your tummy, you have poured out your life sacrificially day after day, year after year. I realize afresh I have not been nearly grateful enough. Julie, thank you, thank you. Thank you times a million.
Now please come home already.
(You’ll be so proud of me, babe – I kept them all alive.)
Also published on Medium.