Mother of a Man-Child

My life with teenage boys

Playstation – Is it frying their brain cells? September 2, 2011

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playstation remoteHouston, we have a problem.  One of my men-children is addicted to the Playstation.  Addicted you ask?  Well, lets see.  He plays it every spare minute he has (when it’s not hidden from him).  He often crawls out of bed in the mornings, wraps the doona around himself and his boxer shorts, and gets straight on the Playstation.  That’s before he’s even had breakfast, but I presume after his first ablutions for the day!!!!

He has been known to sit on the PS3 for hours on end – and I mean hours.   I might leave him in the morning, go and run errands or taxi children somewhere, and when I come home he’s still sitting playing the thing.  The only difference is the dirty frying pan on the stove after he’s cooked up a big breakfast to fuel his ever-growing body.   Apart from the fact that I can’t get any sense from him when he’s playing, as he’s so intent on the game (if you call killing soldiers with an arsenal of weapons that would have put Saddam Hussein to shame a GAME), I swear I can literally see his brain cells shriveling right before my eyes, and smell them as they fry.

And sometimes when he’s not at home, he meets his mates at one of those gaming centres, where they spend even more hours gaming together, no doubt in a windowless, dark room just like the casino, this way they don’t know what time it is and they spend more time and more money there (yes I know that’s the whole point!).

Of course we do our best to stop the excessive play – especially during the week when it’s a serious distraction from homework.  The best solution is to just hide the remote controls – I’ve developed quite a number of ingenious hiding places over the years, only to have them phone me when I’m out on a Friday night to ask for them.  On occasion I have had to tell their father so he can find them and not reveal the latest hiding spot.

You might have seen the recent article in Good Weekend about the very same topic: “In the firing line” (Aug 20 edition). Naturally I read it with interest.  I was relieved to learn that they haven’t yet linked the obsessive playing of PS3 games with an increase in violence amongst youth.  Although they didn’t rule out a diminished IQ amongst heavy gamers, a point I constantly make to my son, when insisting he stop playing.

It may be that I am being a paranoid, over-anxious parent who just doesn’t understand the PS3, nor the games they play.  Probably.  And perhaps it’s just Man-Child II’s way of relaxing, in the same way I find a good book relaxing, or Father of a Man-Child finds the TV relaxing.  But I also know when I remove the PS3 and boredom sets in he will go and find something else to do, which I infinitely prefer.

I don’t remember spending hours in front of the TV when I was a kid – we were sent outside to play, or would go and find something to do with our friends.  These days it seems there’s just no end to the devices they can all access 24/7, which means they don’t have to actually DO anything physical if they don’t want to.  Mind you my men-children play plenty of sport, so I can’t complain on that front, it’s just the whole balance thing I think I’m after.   An hour or two of PS3 I can cope with, just not ALL DAY.

So am I wrong?  Am I being judgmental?  Should I just let the poor man-child do what he wants at home when he’s relaxing and chilling out?  Happy to be told, really I am. 🙂

Read about my antidote to PS3 here: Gaming the old-fashioned way?

 

Money – The Great Motivator July 29, 2011

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money boxAs the men-children head towards Year 10 (can you believe we’re already talking about subject selection for next year – Gulp!), Father of a Man-Child and I realize we are indeed getting to the pointy end of their school education.  And with that, we are keen to see an overall lift in their performance at school, as we all know that diligence in the early years pays off in the later years.

So with the latest school reports in hand, we discussed how we might incentivize the boys onto greater things during the second half of the year.  One of the men-children is a reasonably diligent student, although we think he does the bare minimum to achieve results, so is capable of a lot more.  And the other is a pretty poor student, in so far as he is not at all engaged by school (academia at least), not motivated (or even propelled by the threat of detentions) to do homework, listen in class, study etc – in short lacking in a basic belief in the importance of school education for his future prospects (sigh from Mother of a Man-Child, the most diligent of students).

On countless occasions the school tells us both are capable of far more – which I suppose is the biggest disappointment, especially with our disengaged man-child.   And so, to motivation – what better solution than MONEY!!!  Every 15-year-old boy who doesn’t have access to an in-built ATM at home, or a paying job, or has tight parents, surely needs money.  Especially with extended summer holidays on the horizon.

So we put a deal on the table for them:  For every B grade or better they achieved in their exams, we would pay them $100 per subject.  So they can both earn themselves $600 if they really want to – not bad for a 15-year-old we thought

In the case of one of the man-children, there was however a catch.  For whatever reason, he is consistently late for school.  No amount of detentions at school for lateness or positive reinforcement from home and school for timeliness seems to impact his behaviour.   His last report had 11 “half day absences” – basically the times he was late and was unaccounted for.  So we added a catch to his reward scheme.  For every late day on his report he would lose $20.  So if he had 10 late days it would cost him $200 offset by the B grades he would hopefully earn.

Do you know what he said?  No deal!!!  Crap – I didn’t see that coming.  He just refused to partake, point-blank, and said he’d rather go without than pay some money back.  I was exasperated.  How hard is it to get up and go to school on time – it’s such a small thing to do isn’t it?  Especially when your mother wakes you up every day!

No amount of reasoning in the next few weeks would convince him to partake in the scheme.  I was pretty pissed off with him especially since we’re even paying for a tutor for one subject, which should guarantee he gets a good grade (yep, double impost for us really).  Not one to be beaten (you know I hate to lose), I came up with an alternative deal that I wouldn’t let him refuse.  I basically flipped the penalty on its head.  So if he got five or less absences we would pay him a bonus $100.  That’s right, not a penalty but a further reward.  It seems weird, but hey if it works it’s worth it.

So time will tell how we go with the carrots for the men-children.  Father of a Man-Child and I are optimistic that it will motivate Man-Child I.  We’re less convinced about Man-Child II, but maybe he’ll surprise us?

Any other thoughts on how to motivate students?  Is the carrot or the stick better?  It’s hard to know sometimes.  Although removing PS3 for the term and taking the plug out of the TV certainly ensures they don’t have much to do except homework whilst they’re sitting upstairs some nights! 🙂

Read about more challenges with educating the men-children: “The Challenge of Educating Boys” 

 

Mother of a Man-Child: Gaming the old fashioned way? June 24, 2011

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A quite fantastic thing happened the other day.  The men-children, and sister of a man-child and me all sat down together after dinner and played a game.  Not just any game.  It wasn’t electronic, it wasn’t on a PS3 or an iPhone, it wasn’t on the TV or the internet, it was a good old-fashioned BOARD game!!

Now this board game wasn’t old fashioned to me, it was Pictionary.  But my kids had never seen it would you believe (or the men-children might have when they were small but they couldn’t remember it).   And certainly it’s way older than the seven-year-old.  So it was exciting and “new” in a strange sort of way.

We found the game a few weeks back in a couple of boxes we pulled off a top shelf.  It’s amazing what you find post-renovating when you decide to reorganize the house.  The kids had a ball looking at the stamp and coin collections that had belonged to my husband and me as kids.  We even found my old swap cards (who remembers Blue Boy?) and some old footy and collectible cards that had belonged to my father.  (BTW, turns out those old 50’s footy cards are worth about $30 EACH!!!).

So the board games had been sitting in the box on the floor (okay, I haven’t put everything in a new place yet) and I had been meaning to actually get the kids to play some of them.  So on Sunday night I asked the boys if they’d play with their sister and me for a short while (mention anything longer than 30 minutes and you’ll only see dust).

I am delighted to tell you we actually had a lot of fun.  We pitched the men-children against Mother of a Man-Child and Sister of a Man-Child.  That seemed fair, and actually we girls held our own easily.  The funniest thing was playing a game that dates from 1985 – it’s the first edition actually.  There were quite a few words none of the kids even understood (e.g. garter belt, punk rocker, bell bottoms, fondue, Mrs Thatcher), so we would just pick another card.  And I was also amazed to witness the different skills for each of my children and to see who can a) draw, and b) think laterally enough to guess what a doctor’s stethoscope is when it’s drawn very, very badly!!!  And oh, there’s not a competitive bone in their bodies (yeah right). 🙂

I’m not sure if we’re unusual, but how long is it since you played a board game as a family?  Let me guess, on holidays at the snow when they have no TV’s at all (yep, there’s a lodge we stay at where there’s no TV – it’s fantastic), or on holidays in Queensland, when it’s raining and you can’t go to the beach and you’ve watched all the DVD’s and the kids find an odd assortment of board games with missing pieces?  Or you pull out the playing cards for a round of poker or snap?  We used to play games a bit at the beach house, but often with the adults after dinner – it was a ritual of sorts.

I do play board games with sister of a man-child from time to time at home, but after our Pictionary experiment I think we should endeavour to work our way through the boxes of old games on a regular basis.  It was such a nice opportunity to have the kids all doing something together and the family for the matter (if you’re wondering Father of a Man-Child was let off the hook last week, but he won’t be again).   With a seven-year age gap the men-children and their sister don’t have a great deal in common as you would imagine, so I like the chance to do these things.

It’s the stuff that memories are made of for me, and I’m hoping it will be the same for our kids.  I can still remember learning to play 500 when we were about 14 years old on one holiday.  We became so obsessed with it we played for hours and hours, day after day – our parents must have been thrilled at their ingenuity.

So pull out the Monopoly, or Pictionary, or Cluedo and get playing!  I promise you’ll have fun!

 

Mother of a Man-Child: A space to call their own! March 18, 2011

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renovationWell it’s been almost seven months in the making but the boys finally have their space upstairs and our renovation is almost complete.  Since one of the men-children has officially relocated upstairs I couldn’t wait to share the news. 🙂

It’s become clear to me that renovations are a bit like childbirth – over time you forget how painful, disruptive, expensive, and time-consuming it can be (a renovation not a child), and next thing you know you’ve jumped right back in and suddenly find your house turned upside down.  Our last reno was 13 years ago, so we’ve had quite some time to forget the original trauma.

Once the builders moved from working upstairs in the roof cavity, which was relatively painless I must admit, to downstairs IN the house, we very quickly got sick of the dust, dirt and constant stream of tradies through the house.   Not to mention living with one small bathroom between five of us, having the new bathroom fittings and accessories living in our hallway for a couple of months, my daughters temporary bedroom (in the study) hosting hoards of teenagers on the PS3 every weekend, a port-a-loo in the driveway for the builders (yes I know the alternative is far worse), bathtubs and scaffolding in the backyard (very attractive) and a laundry chock-a-block with furniture overflow.

Add to that a couple of hiccups with delays in delivery of orders (the custom windows took two months to arrive), and our two new bathrooms look great, but we’re still waiting for the cabinets and basins (so bad luck if you want to wash your hands), and a few other things that just didn’t go my way.

Like making it to IKEA to order the new Queen size beds for the men-children (an earlier promise for our growing boys), only to find they were out of stock of one mattress (of course I need two, they’re not sharing a bed!).  So having queued at the checkout, then queued at the merchandise pick up counter, then queued at the home delivery counter, I have to go back and do it all again this week for the second mattress!!

Or having the electrician drop something on his foot the day he was supposed to come and do all the power, air-con etc, which meant the boys having moved upstairs anyway had extension cords running up the stairs with more power boards than Bunning’s.  I was sure we were going to short-circuit the entire house with the set up they had.   Naturally it was one of the few hot weekends in Melbourne, so no air-con and broken blinds (don’t ask) made it just a little toasty for them!

But all of the above aside, I’m delighted to say the results are fantastic and we are all thrilled with the new space.  The boys love their bedrooms, bathroom and sitting room.  They have Foxtel, their new flat screen TV, and PS3 upstairs.  The only thing they want is a bar fridge (yes you heard right) and they think they’ll be set forever!!  Oh and a dumb-waiter so we can send meals up and they can send their dirty dishes and clothes down – SURE!  Thank goodness we got a solid door at the foot of the stairs – they took it off temporarily and I was shocked at the noise travelling down the stairwell.  No more doof doof music and wrestling SFX for us – bliss.

Even the younger sister of the men-children loves her new bedroom (her brother’s old one), with so much more space for everything.  Just as well because the other day she ventured upstairs and the boys positively freaked out that she was “in our space”.   She wasn’t even allowed to sit on the new bed!  Naturally I’ve promised the boys the novelty will wear off for their younger sister, but I’ve also explained that they don’t OWN the space and told my daughter that whenever they’re not at home she can use it as much as she wants.  Peacekeeping skills also being a requirement of Mother of a Man-Child.

We’ve just christened the bath (as big as a small plunge pool – I promise in all other ways we’re water savers), and we’re still trying to fill the fantastic under stair storage area (okay, cheap thrills I know).   I’m hoping the shutters will only be six weeks on a slow boat from China, or the boys better get used to early morning starts once daylight savings ends. 🙂

So if anyone is taking the plunge and wants some reno tips, let me know.  Sadly I’ve developed some amazing project management skills in the absence of those promised by the builder, so I could be of use to you.

 

Mother of a Man-Child: Quality Nylon Carpet – Perfect! December 10, 2010

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As you may recall, we are in the midst of a renovation to house our men-children upstairs (yes, far, far away from the rest of the household).  Anticipation is growing as progress is made, with constant inspections by all to see how the plans are unfolding in real life.  Bedrooms have been claimed, and a spot for the flat screen TV, Foxtel and PS3 determined (very important assets of men-children).

From my point of view, there are other more important decisions to be made.  Yes we will have the extra heavy-duty insulation for sound-proofing so that their doof doof music will not be heard by us downstairs or the entire street we live in (pity our poor neighbours – I fear they may call the police one day over noise pollution).

The other important decision is paint, carpet and furnishings.  Whilst I contemplated blackboard paint for one minute (shows no dirt does it and they can graffiti all they like) I decided it was best not to encourage this type of behaviour in teenage boys, so white and more white it will be – and of course that makes the space look larger anyway.

We will have carpet throughout upstairs, again because it is better for noise absorption, and also nicer underfoot.  This will ensure that the angry stomping up and down stairs is not so noticeable (when mother of a man-child denies them their latest request), nor the tiger cubs throwing each other against walls or floors during a play fight.

So off I went to the carpet shop with a very clear brief.  I definitely want dark brown carpet – it hides a thousand sins.  But what type of carpet would they recommend for teenage boys in an upstairs retreat?

You could see the look of recognition cross his face – he knew EXACTLY what I was talking about, and why I had asked.  His reply:  “Madam I recommend a quality nylon carpet (I know, surely those two words don’t go together).  Whilst we sell a lot of quality wool carpets from this store, you will find nylon is far more forgiving for spills if you get to them quickly”.

Both he and I then fill in the blanks, thinking about food, soft drinks, alcohol and various other bodily fluids that the poor nylon carpet will probably see in its lifetime upstairs at our house.   And both knowing that I’m unlikely to ever get to the spills quickly, and that the boys will just rub whatever it is directly in to the carpet, but at least we’re making the best possible decision with the information we have.

I am delighted with his recommendation, and could almost hug him for his understanding and wisdom.  Of course I then discover that “quality” nylon costs about the same as “quality” wool – probably because of where I live, but so be it.  I don’t have time to shop around at a thousand carpet stores to find a better price.  And he also recommends a good quality, heavy-duty underlay – again, it helps the carpet survive, and is also good for noise – he SO knows what my life with men-children is like!

I have already picked some new doona covers and towels for upstairs.  Again, my only thought was colours or patterns that will hide a thousand sins.  I learnt my lesson about white towels some time ago.

Read that story here:  https://motherofamanchild.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/argue-this-logic/

So quality nylon it is.  You can all thank me for this lesson in how to select a quality carpet one day when you are catering to your own men-children.  🙂

 

Mother of a Man-Child: Instant Gratification November 9, 2010

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What is it with Gen Z, the Millennial Generation – they want everything NOW.  Take my men-children.  Last night they asked if they could buy the latest PS3 COD (Call of Duty) game (“Black Ops”), apparently due for release today.  My first response was a simple “no”.  This was followed shortly afterwards by “Put it on your Christmas list”.  They thought I was joking – I wasn’t.

Now let me explain my problems with this request.  Firstly, the current COD game (Modern Warfare 2) is in my mind quite repulsive.  It’s rated MA15+, as it should be, and is a modern war game with explicit violence.  So lots of shooting, guns, soldiers, artillery, etc, but the piece de resistance is the blood splatters on the inside of the TV screen each time the player is shot.  Gross.

My second problem is the compulsion amongst today’s teenagers to have everything ASAP.  They are constantly seeking gratification – instantly.  They can’t wait for anything.  Unlike their parents (or more realistically their grandparents) they SAVE for nothing – they want to buy right now, with my money of course.  Give them a few years and they’ll buy everything on credit, or worse still on an “interest free” deal with hideous interest charges hidden in the contract.  Harvey Norman stands to make a fortune on them in years to come!

Of course in some ways they are a product of their environment – with the internet, they wait for nothing.  Information is at their fingertips, their friends are en masse via social media, news and gossip is instantaneously communicated via Twitter, Facebook, or worse still published for posterity on Youtube.  No wonder the thought of waiting for anything is ridiculous to them.

I asked the boys if any of their friends got the game today – yes it seems.  One of them (also 14 years old) was apparently allowed to go and queue at a store from midnight last night.  Another’s Mother dropped him at a store this morning at 5am to queue to get his order.  I’m not sure what they were thinking, but their priorities and mine don’t match.

And with Year 8 exams just around the corner the last thing mine need is another mind-numbing PS3 game to play 24/7.  In fact I’ve just unplugged the wireless modem to ensure there’s no internet for the rest of the month, and therefore no Facebook, but plenty of time for practice exams and revision.  I kid you not after 15 minutes sans internet both my boys are wondering around looking completely at a loss as to what to do, and searching for ways to avoid homework.  Clearly we should have done this sooner!

 

Mother of a Man-Child: Twins – United Momentarily September 17, 2010

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My twin boys are very different – just like my twin sister and I were growing up.   They have different personalities, dispositions, appearances, and quite naturally therefore a different circle of friends.  I love the fact that they are different – completely unique individuals.

At home, they fight often, as all siblings do, especially teenage boys with testosterone surging through their veins.  In fact they remind me of tiger cubs on occasion, sprawled across furniture, the floor, each other, engrossed in TV, Facebook, PS3, then unexpectedly playfully lashing out at each other.  Invariably this sometimes escalates to high level fighting, complete with the strength of miniature men, and the man-child determination not to maliciously harm I think but to “win” – yes they are highly competitive.

Whilst they fight against each other, it is always interesting to see them unite as one in battle, or in sympathy with each other, or even perhaps conspiracy?  Because at the end of the day, whilst they may not like a lot about each other, when pitted against their parents, or other authority figures, they realize that they share a common ground, that of teenagers living in a world that doesn’t understand them, or allow them the freedoms they so surely believe they should have, or just leave them alone and stop nagging them.

So whilst some mothers might feel rejected, left off the adolescent bridge across which they travel, my over-riding feeling on these occasions is a silent pleasure that they can actually be friends (albeit momentarily), and that they do have things in common, and maybe even “like” each other.

I know my twin sister and I were extremely different growing up, with diverse interests, friends, and career paths.  But as we got older and married and children entered our lives, we became great friends.  We talk regularly by phone, we see each other often, we delight in being and having a close family (along with our other sister I should add) and we’re always there for each other.

So when I see Man-Child I and Man-Child II occasionally united, and even looking like friends momentarily, I have renewed confidence that in time they will become good, even great friends, and be there for each other, and I hope their younger sister.  Because we all know that family is the most important thing you can have in the world.