The Worst Thing About Kids’ Sport (Mamamia! Part 19)


This one is about the things parents say to their kids at sport. Sound like any one else’s Saturday morning?

Thank you as always for reading,

xx Shanks


“Snatch it Sophie, snatch it!”
Sorry, did that parent just say “Snatch it?” Surely she meant “Catch it Sophie, catch it!”?
It was a chilly Saturday morning at the netball courts of north  Sydney  and it was possible that my inner ear had frozen into stasis. Or perhaps it was premature rigor mortis setting in, it really was damn cold. I thought I must have heard wrong.
But there it was again, “Snatch it Sophie, pull it, PULL IT!” shouted the mummy as her daughter and a girl from the opposing team each held onto the ball tightly, both eyeing the under-aged umpire nervously. Or were they eyeing Scary Netball Mummy fearfully? I was certainly afraid. I wanted to snatch my child (and hide in a warm bed); it was all a little too early in the morning for such hardcore parental “guidance”.
Scary Netball Mummy is not alone at our local netball association. There is also Scary Netball Daddy. I know it’s not politically correct to say this but my heart sinks when I realise we’re playing his daughter’s team. I just haven’t had enough coffee by 8am to get through his impersonation of Al Pacino in an NFL block buster. There’s the excoriating tone, the bullish pacing and the heated huffing as he shouts at Heidi “Focus Heidi, focus! Eyes on the ball! Get in there. GET IN THERE!”
Heidi’s coach recently saw my concerned expression during a game and tried to reassure me, saying that Heidi’s father just wanted her to try her best. I want Heidi to try her best too; I just don’t want her to have daddy issues and a steroid addiction by the time she reaches the U13s.
I’m also not convinced that shouting certain things in certain ways is actually helpful to our children. I think there’s a difference between constructive guidance and “Use your elbows!”
I should have known this was coming. At the start of the season, our pint-sized professional ball droppers graduated from the sheltered world of Netta (a relaxed game for the littlies) to the harsher world of netball (a proper game, real rules). I remember hearing a coach/mother say to her team of fresh-faced 8 year olds “This is netball now girls, we’re not in Netta anymore. Remember that.”
I do remember that, and the netball association’s rule that prohibits parents from yelling at their children from the sidelines. I have been known to break this rule, shouting (sweetly, honestly) at my daughter “No darling, no, run the other way. The other way!”  I’m yet to yell “Snatch it, pull it!” but my time may come. I know I’ve thought it, just quietly.  There’s a difference between thinking it and saying it, but maybe I too am on a slippery slope and I’m not that far away from accessing (or unleashing) my inner-Al Pacino. For my daughter’s sake, I certainly hope not!
What is the worst thing you’ve heard parents yell at their kids from the sporting sidelines? Is it helpful or harmful?

Should the Primary Earner do housework? (Mamamia! Part 18)

Hi there, 

This one was about the way being the Primary Earner, the Only Earner, the Secondary Earner or the NOn-Earner can change the housework dynamic.

I hope you like it!

xx Shanks


A friend of mine recently told me that her husband refused to do the early morning childrens’ sport because he said he was the one who made the money for the family. Therefore (according to him) he should not be expected to do onerous domestic duties and his weekend rest and recreation should be prioritised.
Hmm. Interesting.
I have to say, I wasn’t shocked. I’ve heard this one before (from men and women) and I think what I found most interesting was that he was prepared to articulate this philosophy so clearly and so politically incorrectly.
He didn’t sugar-coat it with a “Darling, would you mind doing the 7am netball again, I’ve just had a really hard week trading over-priced derivatives…”
No, it was a very clear “I hunt, so you must gather, even on the weekends when I’ve hung up my spear and I’m watching the Olympics”.
I also wondered how many men and (let’s be honest) women share this attitude. Another friend (a stay-at-home mum) told me that she deals with all of her baby’s night-wakings, every single night. Her rationale is that her husband (a really nice guy – not some chauvinistic Neanderthal), had to go to work and have his wits about him. He had to be able perform and communicate at a higher level. Therefore his rest was more important than hers and even on the weekends she continued to carry the full domestic load.
I have some issues with that, and not just because driving the car whilst profoundly sleep deprived can be fatal. But I also understand the attitude because I know that I have an impulse to do the same thing. It is possible that I share this attitude whilst also resenting and disagreeing with aspects of it. 
I have almost always been the Secondary Earner in our family (and more recently the Non-Earner). And, whether I am earning or not, I have always had an impulse that I don’t understand (or particularly like). I have this primal (or is it Stepford-esque) impulse to let my husband (currently the Only Earner) rest and recover when he comes home. Thankfully he has an impulse to ignore me and he pitches in happily. 
I understand and am all for good team work. It requires clearly delineated as well as shared roles. It requires that people play to their strengths, that we support our team members to do their best and that we work well together and alone. I also understand that the family unit needs certain roles to be fulfilled by one or both parents/carers for the family unit to survive and thrive. The earner or earners need to be supported and enabled to earn, so that the whole family can eat and have Foxtel.  I get that. 
What I am fascinated by is the notion that the Primary (or Only) earner might be absolved from all non-earning duties by virtue of being the Earner. 
Do many Primary or Only Earners feel that they are entitled to come home after work and rest and relax on week nights and weekends? Do many Secondary Earners or Non-Earners share and enable this attitude by assuming (happily or resentfully) the full or greater load of non-earning duties, even when the Earner is hanging out at home? 
And perhaps most controversially, does the dynamic change depending on who the Primary or Only Earner is? When polling the playground recently about this topic, I was told about a Working Mum who came home to carry more than what was considered the “fair share” of non-earning duties. That Working Mum did not feel as entitled to rest and recover as the Working Dad above did.  For the dads that stay-at-home or work part-time, don’t shoot me down, I’m just citing playground hearsay.
I’m curious and I’d like to poll the cyber-playground – what do other parents think and what have you experienced about this attitude. Let me know…

Go on, treat yourself…


I wrote this for a friend who works for the Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Institute. It’s about their national healthy eating programme for children. I have four of them and I know I need to do more to teach them about healthy eating and living. Please do have a look if you have the time:

xx Shanks

The Mothership and its Forcefield

Hi there,

Our travels with termites continues. Apparently we need a forcefield. I’ve always wanted one of those.:

I hope you like reading these as much as I enjoy writing them. Is it wrong that I’m enjoying writing about termites?


The Sealed Section – for Children

Hi guys,

here is my latest for Mamamia – I hope you like it. This is an ongoing argument in our household about what movies the children are allowed to watch. I’d like to say a special thank you to my brother for allowing his son to watch anything at all. And for getting a puppy. As if my life is not hard enough.

xx Shanks

Before you get alarmed, I am referring to a section of our DVD cupboard that the children are not allowed to watch. I can tell I’ve alarmed you again. I am simply referring to a range of children’s DVDs that the children are not allowed to watch yet.
There is a debate raging in our household and Harry Potter is at the centre of the maelstrom. My 4 year old nephew has been allowed to watch the Harry Potter movies 1, 2 and 3, but my older children (aged 7 and 8) are not allowed to watch the third movie yet.
When I was a child, my parents firmly believed that what we watched on television or at the movies, would be internalised and would influence our emotional development.
It’s not a revolutionary or new theory and at the time I found the parental restrictions frustrating and often embarrassing. I think prohibiting me from watching Dirty Dancing at the cinema with my friends quickly demoted me from Nerd to Super Nerd and I have never really recovered socially.
But now I find myself worried about my children’s young minds (and I fear I am becoming just like my parents).
I love the Harry Potter books and the movies but I don’t think my children are ready for all of them. From Book 3 onwards, the books and the films become darker and sadder.
My 7 year old son is an avid reader. He’s reading Book 2 at the moment and whilst he might be able to “read” the later books I’m not entirely sure he will be able to understand them. Each child is different, I get that. As for the HP films, I feel there’s something more intrusive and frighteningly memorable about cinema. The children are young and if I don’t regulate them, they will be able to watch the films faster and earlier than they will read the books.
Sometimes I feel like parenthood has turned me into a neurotic, anti-freedom of expression fascist. I have been known to fast-forward the first chapter of Finding Nemo. I just don’t think it’s necessary for our younger children (aged 2 and 3) to see a barracuda shark take out Coral and her hundreds of babies. It’s deep sea carnage and I prefer to start the film 5 minutes later.
I find myself wondering why there is so much parental abandonment going on in everything from Disney to Diego (watch it carefully people). And why is there a proliferation of hypnotic American preteen sit-coms with preteens who don’t look preteen enough to me? Someone needs to make Alice Miranda into a TV series.
I could be completely wrong and suffocatingly over-protective. I am torn. I want to challenge the children to read brilliant literature and enjoy film and popular culture. I just want to pace their exposure to all of these things, which is hard when their friends and cousins have cooler parents than they do. Does any one know if Amazon does a Famous Five DVD boxset?
What are your thoughts on TV and movie control? Is this a losing battle given the age of the i-Pad? How much exposure or insulation is too much exposure or insulation? Harry Potter  – cinematic masterpiece for children or maybe a little later? 

Confessions of a Co-Sleeper

I’ve decided to write a book about sleep training. It’s clearly all the rage or at the very least it drives people into a rage and it’s bound to sell more copies than the other book I’m writing.
I’m going to call my sleep training book “Failing Asleep”. I think that sounds catchy and clever, but then I am profoundly sleep deprived, so right now the Bunnings advertisement sounds catchy and clever.
We sleep trained our first three children reasonably successfully, using everything from Tracy-The Baby Whisperer-Hogg to Gina-The Baby Fascist-Ford. We shush patted and we swaddled as directed, although I could not quite bring myself to “eat one slice of wholemeal toast and express from your left breast for 8.9 minutes at 6:53am”. Tracy and Gina, you know who I’m talking to.
Of course, our children’s sleep routines and self-settling abilities seemed fragile. The children would fall out of the routine as soon as they were sick, we went on holidays or the wind changed direction. So we often had to retrain our children to self-settle.
In 2010, we had our fourth child only 18 months after our third child, and you would think we were experienced parents who could confidently teach a baby to self-settle. As experienced parents all I can confidently say is that we consistently make the same mistakes.
And so we found ourselves after a year of chronic sleep deprivation, in need of remedial sleep training (for us as well as the baby). Too exhausted to do it ourselves, we treated ourselves in desperation to a sleep coach (or Sleep Magician, as she was called by our friends who recommended her).
After 3 days of intensive training, she left us with our child being exactly where he was 3 days before. We were poorer and perhaps worse than that, all hope of sleep had been taken away.
I have no doubt that sleep trainers work, I’ve seen it and it is nothing short of miraculous. But our sleep training did not work on our last baby. Our baby appears to be untrainable, unbreakable and untameable – pick any word you want. I’m going with unbreakable because it makes me feel he’s going to be a superhero when he grows up, and who wouldn’t want that?
When our sleep trainer left, she gave me a big hug, a bigger invoice and a detailed sleep programme which we followed faithfully, consistently and desperately for months.
Months and months and months.
Finally, we stopped. We conceded defeat. We resoundingly and completely capitulated to a greater force.
And now, when I wake up in the morning, I inhale the intoxicating aroma of milky morning breath and night sweat. My husband’s eyes smile brightly at me and I like to watch the three dimples that dance on the face next to mine. My sleeping companion puts his hands on my face and kisses me slowly. It’s the sweetest thing. My companion of course is not my husband, It hasn’t been my husband for several months; poor Husband has moved into the spare bedroom and I am co-sleeping with our fourth and final child.
It’s not ideal for any of us, I know that. But it’s significantly less stressful for us than shush patting for hours, controlled crying, controlled comforting, comfort settling or crying uncontrollably outside the nursery door.
Tonight I will kiss my husband goodnight and good bye, and then I get into bed with a little 2 year old boy with pink lips and three dimples. Defeat never tasted so sweet.

Mamamia! (Part 15) – Go on Primaaaa

Hi guys,
it has been a while – a flu epidemic mostly got in the way of life and writing. I really hope you like this one – it’s about Prima and the ways in which she is not like me. Lucky girl.
Please feel free to Comment/Like/Share as ever.
For the Londoners, have a great Olympics and thank you all for reading.
xxx Shanks
I have never understood the jubilation people feel over the sporting victories of others. When Team England wins at any sport, in any competition, my English husband runs around the room, clenching his fists and punching the air. He then drops to his knees (in a manly way) and shouts to the heavens, “Go on Englaaand!” (fists still clenched). It is as visceral as it is vicarious and I just don’t get it.
Until last weekend, when my 8 year old daughter Prima, miraculously played netball with her new team. Prima is Sri Lankan therefore she will probably always be smaller than most of her primary school peers. We are a small and lithe race which makes us physically able to scale tall coconut trees, squeeze into small spaces and wage jungle warfare. Play netball? Not so much. Prima is also related to me – I have very poor spatial awareness and dangerously bad hand-to-eye co-ordination. Prima is so much like me in other ways that her non-sporting career seemed genetically pre-destined.
When I was a child I wasn’t very good at sport so I stopped doing it. I am embarrassed to admit that I am like that with many things. If I can’t do it really well, then I don’t do it. It’s not a good quality, I know.
So what made last Saturday morning truly miraculous for me was that last year, Prima sucked at netball. She spent most of last season running in the wrong direction. Despite that, this year, she asked to play again. She was graded into Team Z and there she was on Saturday, scampering all over the court (in the right direction this time), calling for the ball, not being afraid of it, catching it, dropping it, passing it, tripping over it and even shooting it. She was shooting it.
Suddenly, I felt it. I wanted to clench my fists, punch the air, drop to my knees and shout to the heavens, “Go on Primaaa!” Of course, I didn’t, because I would have looked like an idiot.
Last Saturday, Prima was laughing hard and trying even harder. I was just so proud of her because, unlike me, my daughter had the courage to run onto the netball court of life, wave her arms around like crazy and go for the ball. “Go on Primaaa!” I shouted (on the inside), Mummy loves you so much.

What’s that word again…(Mamamia! – Part 14)

Hi again, this piece also appeared on Mamamia recently and I’ve linked it here:
The dinnertime conversation was about K. Rudd and the recent comments that the more you got to know him, the less you liked him.  The man across the table from me said,
“Apparently Wolfowitz was like that too.” Everyone at the table nodded as though they understood and they agreed. Some nodded so emphatically it seemed like they had heard that about Wolfowitz as well.
I was thinking “Who the hell is Wolfowitz?” The name seemed really familiar – was he a politician, an author or a Wiggle?
My general knowledge may be fading, but I can still pick up on social cues, so I laughed and nodded like everyone else. I resisted the temptation to run to the bathroom and google Wolfowitz on Husband’s iPhone.
The conversation then continued:
“There’s nothing like filling out US immigration forms to make you feel like you’re in a Kafka novel.” This time I knew what he was talking about, not because I have actually read any Kafka (there I said it, I have not read any Kafka), but because my best friend has read a lot of it and 20 years ago she explained it to me – thereby enabling me to fake my way through many a pretentious conversation at the Uni Bar.
This was my first adult dinner party for many years. By “adult” I don’t mean that we placed our keys in a bowl at the front door. No, I just mean that we were invited to a friend’s place for a sit-down three-course dinner, with two new couples and no children, no Lightning McQueen crockery and no leftover fishfingers.
I admit I approach meeting new people with a little trepidation. Having to sit down with them for three hours and sustain a continuous conversation? Cold fear. My current pattern of social interaction is fragmented. Talking – much like sleeping, eating, weeing, showering and even sex – is constantly interrupted by one to four small children who either need something, want something, have broken something or are about to run into a carpark.
I am worried I have forgotten how to converse with adults in full, fluent sentences. At the very least, I know alarming gaps are appearing in my vocabulary and short term memory.
According to my neurosurgeon father, the brain is a muscle, and it needs to be exercised in order to stay in shape. I struggle with mental exercise almost as much as I do with sit-ups. At the end of each day, after parenting and domestic activities, I am drained. I need to watch a depraved American crime drama to relax (complete with perps who were all badly parented) and then I fall asleep.
I can feel myself drifting a little from the world and the exchange of complex ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade this time with my children. I enjoy being here for them, teaching and stimulating them. I want to invest my time, my education and myself into them whilst we can (sort of) afford for me to do this, and whilst the children still love my participation in their lives.
Conversations in our home vary. Today, in Government Studies, my 6 year old son and I talked about the Arab Spring and leadership. According to him, Bashar al-Assad and Senator Palpatine are bad and Obama is good. I have to agree with his politics, Assad has the makings of a Sith Lord. My 8 year old daughter and I studied Commerce, Financial Planning and Philanthropy whilst she sorted her toys into the eBay pile and the Salvation Army pile, to work out how much more money she needs to buy a puppy. My three year old son learnt about Health and Safety (“No darling, you can’t put your finger up your bottom unless you are self-administering an enema.”) and I taught Communication 101 to my two-year old son (“Use your words not your teeth to tell me how you feel.”)
I am stimulating them – are they stimulating me? Yes, without a doubt. Do I find mothering as mentally stimulating as I did trying to set up a legal training programme in Rwanda. No, probably not. For now, I am comfortable with that. Am I wasting my education and intellect by being at home? – No, but unless I start making an effort to exercise my brain a little more, I know it will go the way of my post-partum abdominals.
The dinner party conversation that night continued on to families and the value of generations; migration, diasporas and identity; our worst moving house stories; films and whether Sergeant Brody in Homeland really is a terrorist or just a returned soldier.
I laughed, I finished my entire meal as well as my thoughts and my conversations. I even stayed seated. Once I went to the bathroom and wee’d peacefully. I laughed some more and I felt energised by the company.
And I realised that I have a much better chance of getting my brain back into shape than I do my poor, failing abdominals.

Not Another Painful Learning Assessment Nightmare (NAPLAN) – Mamamia! (Part 13)

This piece was published by Mamamia recently, and reproduced here (sorry about the font size, wordpress is possessed):

This week my little Prima (aged 8) has NAPLAN. It’s her first brush with standardised education and also mine, as a parent.

This piece is not about the merits of NAPLAN, that debate was held last year on Mamamia and it is an excellent read. Nor is it a discussion about the current education paradigm and whether it’s working well or out-dated. If you’re interested, you should check out Sir Ken Robinson on:

It’s 11 minutes long and more informative than the things I usually search on Youtube (did you know you can watch Knight Rider re-runs on Youtube?).

This post is about standardised education and a reminder to myself that Prima might not make the standards set by others or myself.

You see, I can “do” most forms of standardised testing (except reverse parallel parking tests). All you have to do is tell me what the expected standard is, point me in the right direction, and like a greyhound, I will mindlessly chase after the mechanical rabbit. I can’t help it; it’s some weird Pavlovian reaction.

At a recent parents’ drinks, I was asked by a mother whether I had made Prima do any practice NAPLAN tests. Naturally, I lied like the relaxed mummy that I most certainly am not.

During the Christmas holidays, I printed off a NAPLAN test from the site and I asked Prima to do it. I returned 45 minutes later to find that she had answered a handful of questions and then illustrated the rest of the exam booklet beautifully.

I’ve had years of life coaching (courtesy of a former employer) to control the over-anxious achiever within me and to “learn a new and more constructive dialogue with myself and others”. For example, I almost religiously repeat the following mantra to my children:

-Your marks are not important;

– It’s about doing your best not being The Best;

– It’s about being the best you can be, not being The Best;

– Mummy will be happy if you try your hardest (alternatively insert “best”);

– Learning and having fun is the most important thing Mummy wants.

I wonder if my children sense I am faking it; that despite what I say, their grades really do matter to me. To put this into context, my (fully extended) family and community (you know who you are) are the kind of people who:

– instinctively want to get “full marks” on all tests, including driving tests, eye tests, apgar tests and blood tests;

– ask “What happened to the other 2%?” when you manage a grade average of 98%;

– don’t really believe doing your best is good enough if Your Best is not The Best, despite what that life coach keeps saying.

I have 4 children, which means that our family will collectively sit NAPLAN 64 times ie. 4 (children) x 4 (Years 3,5,7 and 9) x 4 (subject areas); plus 104 school reports plus the HSC = OMG.

So I need to get a grip now. Prima’s NAPLAN is far more a test for me than for her. Prima may answer her NAPLAN questions, she may illustrate them. Who knows? Together we have a long road of education ahead and I want her to love it. I want her to value herself for her strengths and find her own definition of success, instead of being tied forever to the standard one.  She’s not a greyhound and lucky for her, she’s not me.

Do your child’s grades matter to you?  Do you tell them it’s just the effort that counts? Are you faking it? 

Heirlooms- Mamamia! (Part 12)

This piece recently appeared on Mamamia – it’s about my grandmother, the things we value and the things we pass on. I hope you like it:
My grandmother (aged 85 and in good health) is obsessed with her own death. This is disconcerting for family because obviously we are worried about it too and we don’t want to be reminded regularly by her that it “is about to happen, any day now”.
For example, one of her favourite conversations is asking us which pieces of her jewellery we would like, “after I’m gone”. She has instructed us that immediately upon her death, we are to strip her body of her jewellery, “whilst it’s still warm”. The “it” being her body, not the jewellery. The reason for this urgency is because “you never know what those rascals at the morgue might take”. Clearly morgues in  Sri Lanka  operate under a different code of ethics to their Australian counterparts, as this troubles my grandmother deeply (and regularly), despite the fact that she has lived in Sydney  for the last 30 years.
When our family moved into our new home last year, my grandmother came to perform the traditional Sri Lankan house-blessing. She boiled the first pot of milk for us and as the milk rose and bubbled over, we all prayed that our home would be blessed with abundance – that our milk pot would always runneth over.  As she left, my grandmother said to me:
“You know, you’re very lucky I’ve lived to see you move into your own home. I never thought I would make it.”
To which I replied, “I know, I really thought you’d be dead by now.”
She laughed. My grandmother helped raise me, so she knows humour is my first line of defence.
Recently we visited my grandparents for Tamil New Year. As she does every year, she had prepared a small shrine which consists of an old steel pot of water, into which a coconut is placed and adorned with mango leaves. The pot is placed on a bed of uncooked rice. My grandmother uses paddy – this is rice that has been harvested but not processed. It is still in its husk. My grandmother’s rice was given to her in 1961 by her own mother, when she moved into her home in  Colombo . She lived in that house for 22 years and it was home to five generations and countless members of our family.
In July 1983 many of the Tamil suburbs of  Colombo  were burned to the ground. Families that were lucky enough to survive often left  Sri Lanka  with nothing but the clothes they were wearing at the time. My grandparents were very fortunate. They lived in a safe suburb and when they were forced to leave their home, they still had time to choose what they would take with them. My grandmother chose the jar of paddy rice (and all the jewellery she could wear). That paddy has crossed oceans and continents, it survived a pogrom and Australian Customs officials. It has been used in the wedding rituals of her children and grandchildren and it has seen 51 New Years, 22 in  Colombo  and 29 in  Sydney . It is invested with the blessings and aspirations of my great-grandmother, who hoped that her daughter would have a life filled with the riches of health, happiness, children and grandchildren. That rice has some serious ju-ju and of all the heirlooms my grandmother keeps trying to distribute, it is one of the most valuable.
When I saw my grandmother for Tamil New Year, I asked her how she was going. She said: “I’m just ticking on, waiting for The Call.”
To which I replied: “Hopefully they’ve lost your number.”
She laughed.