Mother of a Man-Child

My life with teenage boys

Boys to Men August 9, 2013

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footballI was reminded last week of the benefits of sport and how wonderful it is to observe boys becoming men.  One of the men-children played football this season, fortunate enough to play in the First squad with mainly Year 12 boys (sadly his brother has hung up his rugby boots now that he has left school – no amount of cajoling, encouraging or threatening helping to convince him to keep playing).

For our footballer, I noted a couple of benefits from this season – one, he played with older boys, I am sure a good influence as they are more mature (the drinking games they taught him at the end of season party were NOT an advantage!).  Two, he observed up close how they are balancing the demands of Year 12 and sport.  And he formed good friendships with some of his teammates, a strongly bonded group, with a great bunch of very supportive parents.

At the end of season gathering, another great chance for the boys and their parents to get together (they really do the parent participation exceptionally well), there were the traditional speeches, videos and presentations to boys and coaches.  Naturally each parent delighted in the comments made about their son, all clearly proud to receive such public praise and recognition.

I especially love to see the wonderful young men speak publicly, about their coaches, their teammates, their parents, their school.  To witness men-children on the cusp of adulthood, showing grace and maturity is heart-warming and reminds me that my own men-children are on the same pathway, about to emerge from adolescence to adulthood like a beautiful butterfly from a chrysalis.

And whilst we don’t see that side of them often, more the prickly caterpillars at home, or the jousting testosterone-laden lion cubs, I am confident that the persona they present to others is of delightful, well-adjusted, polite young men, with no hint of the way they sometimes behave for their parents at home (isn’t it always the case)?

For those who wonder what happened last week (I know, NO post), could it be that Mother of a Man-Child’s days of writing thrilling stories about the adventures of her men-children is coming to an end?  That they will stop to provide me with excellent material for the blog, simply through the things they do on a daily basis, because they are finally growing up?  Let’s hope not!!!  Although last week passed without any unusual incidents, so I was left bereft of a worthy tale.

I have written about the celebration of boys through sport before – such an important part of their school life.  https://motherofamanchild.com/2011/08/26/a-celebration-of-boys-through-sport/

 

 

New Adventures – So Far So Good February 22, 2013

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When your children enter a new school, whether it’s as a preppy full of anticipation and enthusiasm on the first day, or a year seven starting the journey that is secondary school, just a bigger version of a preppy really when they’re going into “big school”, there is always some anxiety on the part of parents.  Will they like it, will they find friends, will they get lost, will they do well, will their teachers be good, will they make the most of every opportunity they have, and give back to the school as much as they get?

As we have discovered ourselves, each of your children is different, not just at home but at school.  That’s part of the wonderful journey as we watch them grow as individuals and find their place in the world, first at school, and amongst their peers, and later at work, in the land of “grown-ups”.  And as we know, one size school does not fit all, and the challenge is to find options that meet the needs of your child, so they can continue to grow and excel in whatever area they choose.

toolbeltNaturally as our own man-child headed off to TAFE this year to pursue his passion for building, leaving behind mainstream school, we were a little anxious.  All of the same fears are still at work even when they are nearly 17.  But really we shouldn’t have worried.

  • Will he find friends?  In fact he already knew a few boys doing the same course and then bumped into someone he knows well in his own class.
  • Will he meet new people (not the “wrong crowd”)?  It didn’t take him long to be part of a small group that organised a gathering one Friday night.  Great to see them all getting to know each other.  I wasn’t that surprised to learn that they’d already found some nice girls, naturally doing the hairdressing course!!!
  • Will he find his way?  No problems, got himself sorted, early right down to smart tactics to secure a locker for all his gear, and knowing where they offer the free sausage sizzle for lunch or bacon and eggs for brunch.
  • Will he be engaged in learning at TAFE (he wasn’t at school)?  Up early every day, leaving early, getting the work done – all music to our ears!
  • Will he like his teachers?  And will they be good?  He seems to think so, and one of them is already talking of next term when she can offer them building work on-site if they are interested – which he is!  All good.
  • Will he do well?  As we have said to him, if this is what you really want to do, then go for it and work hard.  You want to be the pick of the bunch when the employers come knocking looking for apprentices so aim high at trade school.  The great news is in his first assessment doing a practical task he got 98%.  He was delighted, as were we. 🙂

All of this comes off the back of a moment of panic, which saw him diagnosed with Glandular Fever on the first day of TAFE.  We were waiting for the assault on his body that would lay him low for 2 weeks, but thankfully he seems to have missed that blow.  That said, we will make sure he doesn’t run himself into the ground, for fear it will recur.

As they say, so far, so good.  Our man-child is off to a great start, ticking all the boxes to allay our fears, and by all indications seeming to have found his niche.  We are confident it will continue, and are thrilled to see the first signs of success, because as we all know, success in itself it can be such a great motivator.

Did your kids start at a new school this year?  As a preppy or Year 7?  How did they go?  Did you have the same anxieties as me?

I have written about my own memories of school here following our recent 30 year reunion:  School Memories.  30 Years On.

 

 

Committed to their causes October 26, 2012

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It’s not often I wax lyrical about the men-children (it doesn’t make for the usual amusing reading) but from time to time, to be fair to my subjects, it is worth recognising their achievements and acknowledging that where there is ambition and commitment there can also be success.

Two cases in point. As many would know, one of our men-children has indeed made the decision to leave school (with our support), and head to TAFE to undertake a trade course and an apprenticeship. We were naturally delighted that he conducted himself well at the interview and was successful in gaining entry to the course of his choice. He is looking forward to next year, and to focussing on something he really wants to do, with a clear end goal in mind. He is already talking about the opportunity to work on building sites during the course and get valuable experience on the job. I admire his passion and hope it translates into dedication and success.

As we rightly pointed out however, don’t lose focus on finishing year 10 this year, because without it you can’t continue onto the course. Such is the life of parents, why is it we always seem to dampen enthusiasm! Having recently seen the drop out rates for trade apprentices I was momentarily alarmed. However something tells me our man-child will thrive at TAFE and find success in his chosen career.

Our other man-child will of course remain at school, with plans to head to university eventually. As an aside, yes you are right to realise our twin boys are very different, both in personality and aptitude at certain tasks. Hence one is happy to remain at school and most likely head into a business course, and one is off to trade school so he can work outdoors.

blistersNaturally, in remaining at school, one son is continuing rowing, something which they both excelled in last year. Of course this season, it’s a whole new level of intensity, as it’s “open squad” for Year 11 and 12 boys, and now very, very serious. So whilst we thought last year’s training schedule was demanding, this year’s is incredible. Two early mornings a week, two afternoons a week, lunchtime gym sessions 5 days a week, and a 50km row on a Saturday up the Maribyrnong River (and that’s their light training program)! As you can see, the blisters on his hands are just starting to heal, and the skin harden, as they do at the start of each season. Apparently his hands look good compared to some of his friends!

My son knows what he wants to achieve and is working hard to get it. Each seat in the skull is highly prized and sought after. He has his sights set on rowing in the “seconds” this season and hopefully sharing in the ultimate prize of a spot in the “firsts” the following one. With determination and continued development we hope he achieves his goals. But we are already proud of him!

I do take my hats off to the boys that pursue rowing at this level. The demands are enormous, physically and mentally, and totally time-consuming. It impacts their working life (you can almost forget a casual job), their social life (good news is they forego alcohol), and their school life (reduced time for homework) and eats into their holidays with camps and more personal training. In doing so, it also teaches them the importance of the commitment that is required to pursue sport at a high level, and the sacrifices elite sports people make on a regular basis.

So as we head into the end of the school year (and for one his “school” life), we watch our men-children continue to grow, like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, having left behind their life as hungry little caterpillars. We know they will both be beautiful butterflies in due course, we just don’t know what colour they will be, and what direction they will fly in. All part of the excitement (and worry and stress for parents) of our children growing up. 🙂

I have written about their rowing before: Rowing when they first started out (Row, Row, Row you boat), and their success last year (Hats off to my rowers)

 

School memories (30 years on) August 17, 2012

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sacre coeur bannerAs you know, the men-children are fast approaching the “pointy end” of their education. They are on the cusp of making decisions that will shape their future study and career paths, including one of the boys potentially leaving school at the end of Year 10 to pursue trade studies at TAFE and an apprenticeship.

My own recent school reunion gives me occasion to reflect on how the boys will feel about their time at school in years to come? Will they remember school fondly? Will they keep some school friends for life? Will they willingly return when the school organises functions for old boys? Or will they have regrets and/or fears and choose to stay away?

Last weekend I was delighted to join 46 of my school friends for a reunion to mark 30 years since we departed the hallowed halls of our all girls’ school. Whilst I loved the fact that we were holding yet another reunion (our year level seems to have maintained the tradition very well), I admit some reluctance to tell everyone it was THIRTY years since I actually left school!!! Yes, it was 1982, and yes that would mean I am in my “mid” 40’s (please, I can’t say “late” 40’s just yet).

After much stalking on Facebook, and chasing via old postal and/or email addresses, and using every connection we had, we were absolutely thrilled to have 47 girls attend out of approx. 60 girls from our year level. We even had a couple of international guests fly in, and many interstaters also, which only served to heighten the success of the event and make it even more memorable.

One of the great initiatives for this reunion was using Facebook in the lead up to the event, with an ever-expanding circle of girls all reconnecting over the last six months. Stories were shared, photos were posted, laughs were had, news was spread, all before we even got to the event. The excitement was palpable within the group as the big day arrived. For those who couldn’t attend, Facebook provided them with the opportunity to connect to the group and share in the catch-ups, albeit remotely. And since the event, the group has expanded further, so we can stay in touch with each other in years to come.

Someone asked me if Facebook was the key to the success of the reunion? We had expected 30 girls to attend, with any more considered a bonus. The fact that we got 47 to the event was wonderful, and I think more a testimony to the wonderful memories we all had from school, and the chance to reminisce and share it all once more. I also think in our 40’s that most of us are pretty settled and happy with our lives, and the insecurities one might have when you are younger are diminished somewhat. And there was definitely a feeling that it was timely to come together too. We had sadly had two of our friends pass away in the last 12 months, which made it even more important to get together and celebrate our friendships.

It must be said the evening was a huge success, from the moment the girls arrived at the school to the last drinks at the pub (and then some)!! There were a few very nervous attendees, who were quickly embraced by all and promptly handed a glass of champagne, and a few almost unrecognisable faces, although not for long. Above all else, we were the same bunch of school girls all grown into wonderful, strong, amazing women, with an incredible sense of school spirit and self-worth. The tour of the school bought back floods of memories for all of us, enveloping us with warmth and comfort just like a favourite jumper.

I will admit I absolutely loved my years at school, and I have loved every school reunion since then (perhaps that’s also why I love helping to organise them). I hope my men-children and their sister have the same fond memories of school in the years to come, and enjoy returning to their respective schools for their reunions. Above all, I hope they are lucky enough to be blessed as I am, with a handful of school friends still counted in my closest circle of friends, some 37 years after we first met, and a wider group of school friends that I still see on a regular basis.

I have no doubt the spirits of the nuns that founded our school would have delighted in the sounds of joy and friendship that echoed throughout the school on that recent evening, knowing that the legacy of Cor Unum (one heart) was as strong as ever.

Have you attended a school reunion?  Did you love it?  Or swear you’d never attend another?

 

Should Man-Child Leave School? May 25, 2012

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rowingThey joys of parenting includes surviving the highs and lows of your children’s school years.  From the excitement of the kinder and primary years (such times of innocence and youthful enthusiasm) to the more serious journey into adulthood that secondary school marks.

Our boys enjoyed wonderful years in their primary school.  They had great teachers, made wonderful friends, and both did well academically and on the sporting field.  Happy times in a school with only 300 kids and a wonderful sense of community.

Then off to “big school” from Year 7, into an all boys’ school, which is well suited to our men-children.  It’s a large school, with great facilities, catering to diverse interests of the school population.  And very well versed in how to care and manage for boys on their journey through adolescence and beyond.

In the last 3.5 years we have certainly enjoyed the fruits of their sporting excellence, but it has to be said neither has excelled academically.  That in itself is not an issue, we can’t all be good at everything.  Our hope is merely that they apply themselves diligently and make the most of every opportunity they are given at school.  What we don’t enjoy is knowing that they are in fact intelligent, but not really making the effort required to excel in their studies.

To be fair, one of the men-children is pretty diligent, and doing okay (not amazingly, but well enough).  Let’s just say ahead of the recent careers night I did advise him bluntly that law and medicine were probably not worth pursuing, unless he’s been hiding the report that shows straight A’s!!   Sadly, our other man-child has really not applied himself well to academia at all.  The parent-teacher interviews have been pretty repetitive over the years – very capable, but not really living up to his potential (read LAZY).   And that attitude has extended to homework (not really bothered to do it if the subject didn’t interest him), and more recently school punctuality (why rush when you can sleep in after mum and dad have gone to work?), resulting in a familiarity with key teachers/staff in the school that we’d rather not have.  This familiarity is the result of countless email exchanges, meetings, and phone calls over the years about our son.

We considered boarding school once for him – ironically his own school wouldn’t take him – he was seen as too disruptive!!!  We also considered shifting schools – perhaps he would be better with a fresh start, away from his twin?  I spoke to a few schools, one of which provided us with amazing advice and guidance about surviving the teenage years at school and recommending that we didn’t shift him at all, because the results would be far worse.   (Then again, maybe he was just trying to discourage us from sending him there – LOL!)

The reality following work experience and a recent careers night is that our son is not an academic and doesn’t thrive in the learning environment typically offered by mainstream schools and universities.  He’s just not interested enough.    He knows he doesn’t want to be office bound, but wants to do some sort of trade, and work outdoors.  He loved his recent work experience stint with a builder, spending the day with tradies, doing physical work, driving utes, etc.  So you can imagine how he finds the regime that is school – NOT!  So we finally bit the bullet and seriously looked into VCAL – the TAFE alternative to Year 11 and/or 12, where they can commence studies in a chosen trade ahead of applying for an apprenticeship.   And to be honest, what we found seems the perfect mix for our man-child.   A blend of hands on learning about a chosen trade, coupled with general Maths and English units, and other life skills to ensure they’re still educated to an acceptable level.   We’d rather he be happy and engaged at “school” than stuck in a system that doesn’t work for him.  Who knows, he might one day decide he wants to do further study, and being his own decision he would probably apply himself.  Countless people before him have done the same and gone on to be very successful.

We have discussed the possibility of him leaving to do VCAL with his current school, and they have been extremely supportive, both about our potential decision to leave the school at year-end, but also about the chance to retain him at the school if he wishes to stay on.  It’s almost a relief to have it on the table (probably for our son as much as us), but also an added incentive for him to complete Year 10 well since it’s a pre-requisite for VCAL.

One large regret for us if he leaves the school is him also leaving the school community and the sporting opportunities that he has so far enjoyed.   But to be honest we’re probably more worried about that than our son.   He can still pursue sport outside his current school – it just won’t have the cache that some of the private schools associate with sporting excellence, and again, maybe that just isn’t important to him?

So it may be a very different year for our boys next year, especially if they both find themselves at different schools.  My prediction is that one will go to trade school, work full-time, buy his longed for ute with his hard-earned money and move out (he wants his independence desperately), whilst his brother will go to uni, and be a poor student for years, living at home with Mum and Dad.  As I’ve said before, they’re very different, and no doubt their lives will head in very diverse directions, but I know they’ll be great mates when they’re older, just like me and my twin sister, and hopefully they’ll both agree that we did everything we could to support them through their school lives and beyond.

You can read about the joys of Parent-Teacher interviews here.  As I said, rarely enjoyable.

 

Sometimes you just have to say NO! May 4, 2012

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roadAs you know we now have two learner drivers in the house. The upside – we got “chauffeured” to a school function the other evening – one drove us there, one drove us home. And we didn’t have to worry about nudging 0.05. (Don’t worry, I’m pretty certain you can’t be over the limit if you’re supervising the said learner driver, but you get my point – it’s the difference between relaxing over a glass or two of wine versus drinking water all night because you’re so paranoid you’ll get breathalysed on the way home).

The downside of learner drivers is when one of them asks if he can drive to Queensland with his girlfriend and her older brother in the July school holidays? Yes, the very same Man-Child who has the incredible sum of two hours driving practice currently under his belt (and in his log book). I am not giving any of you points for guessing what the response was, because it was an immediate “absolutely NOT” kind of response that should have ended the conversation right then and there. But alas, it was our Man-Child who won’t ever take NO for an answer. The one who just goes on and on at you in the hope you’ll just give in. But as you know, I’d sooner throw a cask of wine at him than give in. (If you don’t know that story, you can read it here for your own amusement).

Now please don’t get me wrong, we’re not averse to our son having a holiday in Queensland with his girlfriend and the older 30-something brother, but he seemed shocked that we would want ANY detail at all? For example, where in Queensland would you stay? (Last time I checked it’s a mighty large state!) Does the brother work? Will he be on holidays with you or working every day? Who else is going? What does he do for a job? (Okay, maybe a little nosy, but we don’t know him at all, so it’s a fair question). Who does he live with? (I can’t help but have visions of a group of bong smoking, tequila-drinking boys playing cards).

My son was affronted by my questions, and couldn’t understand why I didn’t automatically trust an older brother. Simple I said – because he’s not a PARENT!!! And that changes everything in my book, fairly or not.  And so the conversation went around and around. Can I go by car to Queensland but only as a passenger? NO. Especially since his girlfriend who doesn’t even have her Learner’s permit yet was proposing to test her driving skills (using that term very loosely) on the way to Queensland.

I have done the Queensland drive more than I’d prefer to remember. My scariest memory is leaving the road travelling at 100kmh with a mate (who was driving) and hitting the grass paddock roadside – it could have ended a very different story if there’d been trees trust me. Or with my father driving years ago and the car just missing the semi trailer coming in the opposite direction, who didn’t have his headlights on at dusk as we overtook another car. I think my father nearly had heart failure when he realised what we’d just avoided!!!

So yet again, the wisdom of the parent is lost on the child. I think we’ve made our position clear for now, but we are often getting the “Now I’m 16 I can do what I want” response on a regular basis. How we deal with that is a whole other blog post best left for another time.

So tell me, are we being too tough? Or paranoid? Should we be worried or not about the driving? Or the unknown older brother? I’d love to know what you think.

 

Gaining life experience from work experience April 27, 2012

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work toolsThe men-children recently completed work experience as part of their school curriculum.  In Year 10, they set aside a week for all the boys to complete a week “working” – for some their first real taste of life outside school in an adult working environment.

Not surprisingly, the experiences were as varied as the 250 boys in the year level, ranging from a week spent with the Melbourne Rebels (cool) to a week spent at the Melbourne Zoo (also cool).   Even our boys selected very diverse options.  One spent the week with a sports management company (largely office based as it turned out), and one spent the week with a builder (largely outdoor based naturally).

I think each of the boys learned a lot about working, and the ups and/or downs of the particular companies they worked for.  The man-child who elected for the sports management job probably thought it would be a lot more glamorous than it was.  He did get one outing at an AFL football club, but the rest of the time was largely spent talking with staff to understand their jobs (basically project management), or helping the girls in the office with the database (the alternative to “filing”).  As I explained to him when he told me about having to spend a few hours “cutting and pasting” one day:  “I also have to do shit like that, and I’m paid a lot more than $10 a day”.  Everyone has grunt stuff to do as part of their job, so for me it was a great lesson about starting at the bottom, and being prepared to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty.  I was also at pains to point out that it really is quite difficult to find a meaningful job for someone on work experience for a week, and that he could rest assured when he gets a real job there will be set tasks for him to do and he’ll feel a sense of purpose.

I agreed to drop him off one day and we were chatting about what he’d learned.  He mentioned a discussion by management about the cost for “the cloud”, and then quickly asked me – BTW, what exactly is “the cloud”?  Firstly a very good marketing term, but basically just a bunch of servers where you store all your stuff and pay someone else to worry about its retention, security, retrieval etc.  I was glad he asked, as that’s exactly how you learn.   I also had to laugh the day he rang me from the supermarket to tell me he’d been sent down to buy chips and dips for Friday night drinks (a VERY important job) and to ask me which dips he should choose!  I said you can’t go wrong with Hummus and Tzatziki (and quietly delighted in the fact that he had called his mother to ask). 🙂

In complete contrast to his office-bound brother, our other man-child went off “labouring” with a builder friend.   His turned out to be a great experience, with opportunities to work with multiple “tradies” during the week, coupled with the chance to drive a quad bike and a ute on the large property they were working at.  Teenage heaven!  He also spent a few nights out at the property, and I think really enjoyed the manual work (although he was pretty stuffed by it).  Of course it’s much easier to give someone stuff to carry, dig, cart, etc in this environment, so I have no doubt he felt very “useful” compared to his brother.  However I did also point out to our “labourer” that it wasn’t quite as glamorous as he might think.  I said the “chippies” do the same thing day in, day out.  They don’t get to be a landscaper one day and a carpenter the next.  It’s 365 days a year of hammering timber.

He was also very fortunate to be given advice by said builder about his future career choices.  I was thrilled to learn this and hope our son takes on board the wise counsel of our friend.  He’s very lucky to have someone who cares enough to help.

Post work experience, we learned that next term the boys need to make subject choices for Year 11 (and ultimately Year 12).  WHAT!!  Naturally our thoughts and discussions turned to the challenge this presents, and how hard it is to guide our children in a world that moves so fast, and is a long way from our school leaving some 30 odd years ago.  As someone said, the jobs they may have when they’re 20 probably don’t even exist yet.  And we know they may well have 3 or 4 different career paths in their lifetime.  So we jumped at the chance for any guidance that “experts” can provide our sons and us during this decision process.  We want to be sure they make the best possible choices for themselves, with the knowledge of all the opportunities that are available to them.  And the objectivity that a 3rd party provides when they think their parents don’t know anything can’t hurt either!!!

So hands up who is doing now what they started when they left school?  Have you changed careers, by choice, or by circumstance?  Did you end up doing what you said you wanted to do when you were younger (doctor, nurse, vet)?  Or do you have any tips for us or the boys?   I’d love to hear from you.

PS.  We just endured another round of Parent-Teacher interviews.  It can be a trying experience, especially with one of the men-children.  The Joys (or not) of Parent-Teacher Interviews.