In praise of Book Week

Last week social media was full of Book Week. Friends shared photos of their kids, people on various groups asked for suggestions and shared photos and some lucky grown-ups even got to dress up too. So many posts were positive and fun – even if there was a level of stress and relief that book week comes but once a year.   

But occasionally there would be a post that would make me a little sad – parents complaining that Book Week was an imposition or a waste of time and suggesting their kids would just stay home. I get that not everyone enjoys being crafty but thanks to the internet and the $2 shop, there are loads of options.  I’m not saying it is something everyone has to enjoy but I think it sends a bad message to our kids that they should just skip things that they don’t enjoy or that takes a bit of extra effort. 

Our school reminded parents that Book Week was not about creating lots of extra work. Kids could wear their sports clothes and carry a sports related book. There was no rule that the book had to fit within the theme “Escape to Everywhere” or that movie tie-in books were out. On this, I have to admit to previously pushing my boys toward characters from books (not movies) but when our youngest said  he wanted to go as Yoda this year, I agreed with this post and decided this wasn’t important. He has loads of Star Wars books and he was excited about dressing up – and he is six! .

I love Book Week and always have. We are lucky that even in our small town, we have an amazing cheap shop that stocks everything! We also have a Spotlight close by. I could google patterns for costumes (although this can be dangerous) and the op-shop came in handy. I certainly don’t have the time I had the first year when I made Mr Funny’s shoe car (below) but we’ve still been able to come up with costumes with only minimal swearing and acceptable amounts of wine.

Our first book week in 2014 – just back in Australia and not working. Might have gone a little OTT

I thought about my Mum putting together our costumes every year and she worked wonders! Case in point is the photo below. Mum would have found clothes at the op-shop, and my rapunzel hair was plaited yellow crepe paper attached to a shower cap. I should point out, that the family photo albums provide evidence that my Mum was quite the fan of a dress-up – even if I am scarred by the year her Physical Culture team dressed up as the Seven Dwarves (with their stomachs as the faces…..and no, I am not finding a photo – just use your imagination).

Rapunzel and Mary from Mary May Quite Contrary – circa 1984

I don’t ever remember Mum complaining about book week, although I guess she was pretty happy when we started coming up with our own costumes. I remember going as Erica Yurken from my favourite book Hating Alison Ashley in Year 6 – which I seem to remember simply involved a more daggy (than usual) combination of my own clothes, bad hair and make-up. Come to think of it – probably what my 11 year old self was wearing.

This year I had planned to be extra organised – but the first trip to buy supplies (one Saturday after a rare girls’ night out) was not all that successful. By Wednesday, I realised I had to get moving, just in case anything failed. I had to get Willy Wonka and Yoda sorted. Praise the internet! A pattern for Yoda’s cape and a printable mask and printable Wonka bar wrappers and golden tickets (although the judges returned the Lindt bar bribe!). A $4 ladies dress cut off for Willy’s coat (who cares that I was cutting off the sleeves to fit the morning of the parade). Last year’s top hat, and one of my old wigs and a painted stick for a cane and we were done. Yoda’s original mask was a fail when I stapled it to the dining table (hence the printable mask). The light saber was his blue one wrapped in green crepe paper. The cape wasn’t hemmed but in this scenario done is perfect. The kids loved their costumes and that’s what mattered.

Willy Wonka and Yoda – Book Week 2017

After a week of rubbish weather, it was a lovely morning and we watched all the classes from Reception to Year 7 and the Disability Unit parade around the basketball court. So many great costumes and kids having such a great time. A group of Year 7 girls covered in cotton wool, including one in a bath as the sheep from Where is the Green Sheep? An incredible darlek. Footy and cricket players, princesses, Spidermen, lots of David Walliams and Roald Dahl characters. Old favourite books and some I’d never heard of. This the best bit of Book Week – seeing kids excited about books and . Teachers joined in the fun as Trolls, pirates, Harry Potter and animals. Then 450 kids danced to the theme from Ghostbusters and I’m from the country. Best of all – smiles – lots of them from the kids, their families and the school community – and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only grown-up plotting excuses for a dress-up party of our own!

Last year’s costumes – boys said no to face paint this year

5 things the viral teeth post taught me

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Just a selection of the news articles about the photo-shopped teeth – US, Finland, Belgium, US and France

Last Monday, I really thought the story of the photo shopped teeth was done. I  declined interviews from a couple of local radio stations and a national evening show because I was concerned that perhaps I’d already said enough and I figured I didn’t need to spotlight my son or his school further.

Then I had an offer to republish the post with my byline on Mamamia, a popular Australian online platform.  I’d just read its founder Mia Freedman’s book, Work Strife Balance and given that I’m trying to build my profile as a writer, I thought this was a good opportunity to have my post republished.

As the week went on, the sites that were directing traffic to my blog continued to grow. I found myself asking if anyone could translate the Belgian, French or Finnish articles that had linked to the blog. Articles are now actually referring to the post going viral.

The story was picked up by a couple of sites in the United States, including the Today Show who wrote to me with more questions. So I wasn’t that surprised when a friend on a work trip in the US tagged me on Facebook with screenshots of the story on their breakfast program on Monday. Requests from various US blogs have followed and this morning I’ve had an email from Canada. A couple of photography websites have asked to republish my blog in full – which is great if the industry are thinking about the ethics of photo shopping.

I can’t get over how much interest this story has generated but it has definitely given me a few insights:

  1. You can’t pick what will go viral and once it’s out there, anyone can write about what you have written and share photos.

This is a good reminder for all of us – and a good lesson to share with our kids. While this post might be about embracing the embarrassing photos we have as kids, but let’s encourage our older kids to be a bit careful. Once my blog post was reported on and republished, I wasn’t in control. I was also a bit surprised when one UK news site published a photo I’d posted on Instagram the night before (quickly set my Instagram to private for a little while). Once the post started going viral, I was definitely glad I’d kept my son’s name, his school and the company out of the post.

2.  The media cycle isn’t as short as we might think.

I was excited when my post was first shared by a couple of bloggers with big audiences. Watching my readers spike was exciting. This post has been read by about 4700 people – the next most read post on my blog has had about 370 visitors – and that was published in 2014!  Last week I thought the story was done here, but then other countries picked it up. Politicians make announcements to kill off stories they might feel have gone on for too long, but when your story has been picked up out of nowhere, it’s pretty hard to influence what gets covered next. It’s  a bit like a baton relay so I’m now just waiting to see who picks it up next – and hope nothing gets lost in translation

3. Just keep writing – even when you don’t know what to write.

I originally shared the story on a closed forum because I was so baffled. But then I learned it was more common and it was sometimes a paid add-on. I wrote the blog to start a discussion about authentic photos – not just for our kids, but also for ourselves. Now my challenge is keep writing and as I wrote in my last post, to write about things that matter to me. It will probably be a long time before I’ll have 4000 people reading my posts again, but I’ll just keep writing anyway.

4. Blogging and social media has changed traditional media.

Although some articles have just copied parts of my blog, many journalists have contacted me to ask follow up questions and ask for permission to use photos. In what feels like an era of continual cutbacks to journalists and photographers in news organisations, I can appreciate journalists need to use the resources out there – in this case bloggers – because they don’t have the time/money to go out and find content. In that case, I’m happy to play a role, and is it really any different to an organisation sending a media release? On the other hand, I hate to think this justifies the shrinking of an important profession. Social media and blogs can play a role in modern journalism but they shouldn’t replace proper well resourced investigative journalism.

5. The overwhelming response to my post has been that people don’t want their kids school photos photo shopped because those memories are precious.

Can we please all remember this when the expensive photos we have purchased come back less than perfect? This is not to say that we should accept poor quality photos – but if our children’s hair looks bad, their teeth are wonky and there is a pimple on their chin, smile and remind yourself that this just is how they look right now. The same can probably be said for any photos have done. As a Mum, I know there are times I have missed out on photos with my boys because I didn’t have make-up on, my hair done or the right clothes on. But this has made me stop and realise, its up to me to set an example and just accept capturing the moment – even if it isn’t “perfect”.

While Gappy thinks its all a laugh, and our six-year-old is feeling a little left out, this whole experience has been a great lesson in social media and more importantly in accepting ourselves, just as we are.

So if you knew your post would go viral, what would you write about?

Don’t mind the gap!

Edited 1 June:

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to this post. Who knew that a little rant about imperfect photos and memories would be shared so widely and generate such interest.

The photo company involved have been really honest, explaining that a number of staff had been seriously ill and it had been stressful dealing with this and training new staff. The staff member who swapped in his “2016 mouth” now realises it was an error of judgement. It was sad to hear that in the past they have been criticised for NOT photo shopping out messy hair, bruises, cuts and stains on shirts.

The best thing has been the realisation that for the most part parents want these memories of their kids to be just as they are. Its also a good reminder to all of us – and especially to those of us with kids –  not worry about filters and photoshopping. Sharing photos should be about sharing authentic memories – even if they are a bit messy and wrinkled!

There is something amiss with the photo below. I’m not talking about the missing teeth on the left – that’s the right photo. The problem is the photo on the right.

Surely we have lost the plot when we start photo shopping an 8 year old’s gappy grin.

Arriving home from work yesterday, my excitement at finally receiving the boys’ school photos was quickly replaced by bewilderment. As I looked at the photos of our eldest, I thought – “I didn’t realise he still had teeth when the photos were taken”.

In the world of a primary school Mum, and one whose term two started with both kids down with chicken pox in week one, photo day in term one seemed a lifetime ago.

But then I looked at the family photo and his class photo – and there he was. Gappy McGapster (as he currently calls himself) in all his glory.  At first, I thought they’d given us last year’s photo – but then I looked closer. Nope. His mouth had been photo-shopped with what looked like last year’s baby teeth swapped in.

Some people might have been angry at this point but I was just baffled. Why would anyone think to do this? At what point did missing teeth because something to be “fixed”?

Body image has not been something we have had to worry about too much yet with two young boys. But having recently finished Mia Freedman’s new book Work Strife Balance, I was reminded how often we are confronted with unreal, photo-shopped images.

While I did turn a blind eye to the guy in our local photo shop in Vietnam touching up my passport photo a few years ago, I’m too lazy to filter or alter my own social media images.

But this wasn’t touching up the light on a sunset or brightening up the group shot to see everyone better.

This is a kid who didn’t lose a tooth until he was almost seven. He’s not embarrassed by the gaps and wonky teeth, he’s excited because lost tooth = gold coin. He doesn’t notice the crooked new teeth because he’s a kid and he is more interested in basketball, hockey, Netflix or finishing his collection of Marvel disks – and what he can eat next.

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Year 4 – buck teeth, centre part and a skivvy. It was 1983!
I had really bucky teeth as a kid (my Year Four photo above is a good one!) While kids can be awful, and reciting a poem called Butterflies before I got braces probably didn’t do me any favours, I love looking back at those old photos. I want my son to be able look back over all his school photos and see how he has changed.

And while some might blame social media for this obsession with “perfect” photos, for me, social media – especially Facebook came into its own last night as I shared my “WTF” moment. Not only did it save me from publicly railing against the company, but sharing it with my friends and then with the wonderful community that Mrs Woog has created made me realise this was something really quite weird – and wrong.

But instead of getting angry, I shared my bafflement and quietly send a pretty measured message to the company.

I went to bed giggling at some of the exchanges I’d had with friends and strangers and woke up to a very apologetic message from the company agreeing it was wrong, promising it wouldn’t happen again and attaching the original photo (with reprints to come). There was no excuse made which made me think this was not the norm and so I was happy to leave it at that (who knows why someone thought it was a good idea). I let the school know (and had a chat with the completely flabbergasted principal).

I am glad I called them on it and while I heard a few similar stories from others, I feel pretty confident it’s not the norm and best of all, there didn’t seem to be anyone out there agreeing that this was a good idea.

But had I not said anything, who is to say it wouldn’t become the norm?  It was also important for our son to know we love him as he looks now. Accepting the photo-shopped photo says to him that we think there is something wrong with how he looks.

Our kids are growing up with so much technology that for them that perhaps we do have to remind them (and ourselves) of the importance of imperfect authentic photos and memories – gappy teeth and all!

The Chicken Pox blogging challenge

Hello and welcome to the Chicken Pox Pity Party. If you’re related to me or one of my friends on Facebook, you’ll know that two days into the term, after what seemed like an eternally long holiday, I got the call from school that every parent dreads.

“Hello, it’s the office – we think A has chicken pox”. 

So at least wasn’t the school sores the teacher had suspected and I’d dismissed after a quick search of Dr Google.

“I’ll come and get him”.

I didn’t dispute it – after all it’s 27 years since I had the chicken pox and I hadn’t seen it since. The biggest mystery was where they had picked it up as we’d been away from school for two weeks and we haven’t heard of any cases recently.

The day before, I’d looked at his spotty face and assumed that it was the usual mosquito bites or grass rash – because like his mother, this kids blows up from the slightest mozzie bite.

I picked him up and he was chirpy. He perked up more we he realised that sick kids home from school get to binge on Netflix and the iPad – especially when their mother needs to work. At this point, I should thank my lucky stars that while I have a casual job with no sick leave, I have a very accomodating boss who is happy for me to work from home – and the office (which I’m usually the only one in) is 5 minutes from home.

He was a little itchy so we stocked up on Pinetarsol solution and Clarantyne. I’d already booked a doctors appointment before the school called after the teacher’s suspected diagnosis.

By the time I went to pick the small one up, he already knew his brother had gone home sick. Off we went to the doctor, who agreed it probably was chicken pox but took a swab anyway. Vaccination means the cases are less severe but the odd breaktrhough case happens. X wasn’t likely to get it. The doctor even got the student doctor see if she knew what it was because apparently young doctors have barely seen a case – but in his usually confident manner, A announced he had chicken pox (no need to be so proud about catching that one mister) as soon as she walked in.

The worst bit was having to let the school, hockey and basketball know. We were those people. Most friends were relaxed. One friend with older kids suggested I open “pox camp” and get it out of the way for everyone.

Pox-kid and I stayed home. I searched for ear-muffs and decided larangytis would be preferable. He didn’t even seem sick. He still needed to be fed.

We survived another day at home, took the small one to his first Crossfit Kids class at my  gym,  sent him off to basketball with a friend for the first game of the season (with the team his brother had probably infected on Monday).

All good – until bath time.

Six spots – maybe ten at best. ON THE SMALL ONE!!

Next round of apologetic emails and texts to those he’d been around – and dread that quarantine had been extended by another two days. And not only that – two of them – together – one iPad, one TV. The small one can’t be guaranteed to bury his head in a book.

And so I went to bed last night, wallowing in my own little pity party. I also decided I’d probably better chuck myself in quarantine – just in case.

However, as we come to the end of Friday, they haven’t killed each other, I still don’t have spots, I’ve done some work and the doctor called to say the diagnosis is inconclusive but to proceed on the basis of it being chicken pox.

But, I’m focusing on the positive. I got to work from bed, in my PJs until after 10 this morning, and I’ve decided to use this extra time at home to read and write – hence the chicken pox blogging challenge!

Husband is also coming home with wine – and I figure I’ve just doubled my Mother’s Day present!

Stay tuned

5 reasons I don’t stop working when my boys come home

Leaving on our posting to Hanoi - and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011
Leaving on our posting to Hanoi – and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011

I went back to work when my oldest was 7 months, my youngest 3.5 months, and by then I was working long hours, and sometimes weekends during my posting in Hanoi. I was lucky because I was still able to be involved at pre-school but I also missed out on things like the day-to-day stuff of kids growing up.

Reading to Xavier's class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday - before going to work, September 2013
Reading to Xavier’s class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday – before going to work, September 2013

I remember an Australian colleague in Hanoi recounting a story about another father at the international school who didn’t want to give up his weekly golf game to coach the kids soccer team. What he said to the other dad really stuck with me:

“your kids are growing up really fast, and soon they won’t want you coaching them. Make the most of the fact they do want you around, and your golf game will be there later”.

Now, I’d like to think my boys will always want me around but it did get me thinking. I also realised I was dreading the thought of work more and more and I was procrastinating by doing other things when I should have been focusing on my work (which meant I worked longer hours because I still got stuff done). I realised that if I was going to miss out on that time with my kids and my family and friends, it had to be to do something that I really loved and that I felt really passionate about.

As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities - like hosting this social media training session for local journalists
As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities – like hosting this social media training session for local journalists

I didn’t actually set out to have my own business. As I have written in some previous blog posts, deciding to set up my consultancy was a decision that evolved. Leaving Hanoi I said I was happy to work full-time and long hours, provided I could have some flexibility about where I worked and again, was doing something I really believed in. But as I settled into the life of the stay-at-home mum/student in the Barossa, I realised that actually I did want a lifestyle that provided a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to be my own boss.

A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy
A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy

So unlike a lot of other Mums that become business owners and entrepreneurs, this decision wasn’t just about spending time with my kids, and consequently, I don’t always confine my working hours to the time they are at school or asleep. I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about always being present for their kids, and not working if they are around, and I completely get that. I certainly don’t want my work to stop them from being able to do after-school activities or spend time with friends. But some days, when they are just having out at home (and they are only 6.5 and almost 5), I do work from our home office. That said, I do prefer to work when they aren’t here so I’m not distracted by constant requests for food and the adjudication of fights!

There's also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate - which I missed when working
There’s also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate – which I missed when working

At first it wasn’t really a conscious decision, but then I realised that they really didn’t “get” that Mummy wasn’t working. Working to them involved me putting on a suit or a nice dress and “going to work”. It probably didn’t help that to start with, I was also studying.

I hope as my business takes off, they will start to understand more about what I do. For now, the 6.5 year old thinks my business is my website and he’s very encouraging.

For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website
For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website

So I was listening to lots of great podcasts and this idea of not working while your kids were around made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, but I also realised that I want my boys to see me working, for a number of reasons:

  1. I want my boys to understand the value of hard work, failure, entrepreneurship and setting goals.
  1. I want them to see a strong woman and realise both parents have jobs, careers and contribute to the running of the house. Having boys, I think it’s especially important that they don’t pick up gender stereotypes from a young age.
  1. I want them to appreciate that Simon and I work hard to provide stuff for them. Our lifestyle in Hanoi probably set up some false expectations for the boys – having a housekeeper, disposable income to buy stuff and lots of holidays and we are working to refocus that
  1. I want them to understand that as important as they are, the world does not revolve around them. Simon and I also have goals and interests and friends. We’re a family, and a team and we all have to play a part to make things work.
  1. I want them to be able to play together, entertain themselves, use initiative and be creative.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Right now, as I work on finding my first clients, I am still getting that balance right. It seems to me that technology has changed the way we work and there are more parents –male and female – working from home. While the goal for many, and the reason for doing this is to spend time with their kids, I don’t think anyone should be feeling guilty if their kids are playing on their own (or watching TV) or waiting 5 minutes for their next snack while Mum or Dad gets some work done. Hopefully the next generation seeing the entrepreneurs and small business owners of today, working hard and hustling to make a success of their business is providing role models and inspiration for a future generation of entrepreneurs and business people.

My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting - helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities
My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting – helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities

P.S: I got my new business cards last week and I am so damned excited. After years of plain black and white cards with only a government crest for decoration (and maybe a foreign translation on the back), I finally have fantastic, funky cards for my own business. I’m so grateful to my graphic designer Erica Brady, who was able to take my creative brief what she knew of me from our interactions on social media over the last year, to create my fantastic brand identity. It has been great to go to events and hand these out and I’m looking forward to updating my website, social media and other marketing collateral in the coming weeks.

8 weeks until Christmas – buying for kids

Christmas-4

Only 8 weeks until Christmas and it’s almost November, which makes me feel like planning can really begin in earnest. All my favourite magazines are arriving with great suggestions of things to cook and to make. I’ve also finally sorted the spare room – just in time for the in-laws arrival today but after they leave next weekend, I will have a sewing room and can start on the projects I’ve been waiting to do.

The first of these is a Christmas sack for my niece Saskia. For Angus’ first Christmas (technically his second as he was born at 3.47pm on Christmas Day), I made large calico sacks for him and my niece Zali. There was no real pattern so the size was dictated by the width of the fabric and as luck should have it, I had enough to make 4. I always figured we’d have two kids and same for my sister, so I made 4 sacks at the time. I was glad I’d done this bit of preplanning the following Christmas, as I only had to sew/stick Xavier’s name on – in the midst of packing up our house for 3 years! We weren’t home last Christmas, but my sister figured at 7 months, Saskia wouldn’t know she didn’t have her name on her Santa sack, but this year will be the first time we’ll all be together so getting her name on is my first job – a nice simple one to start.

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I also picked up some lovely fabric so the girls will have some dresses as part of their present from us. I have to admit, I like that the girls are still happy to receive clothes, while my boys at 4 and almost 6 have started to turn their noses up. I’m also looking at some Goldie Blox which are very cool toys for girls interested in building and problem solving.

Which brings me to buying for boys. I think my boys have everything they need and the house already feels quite cramped. I’ve always liked the idea of one big present and some smaller ones. I also need to come up with Angus’ 6th birthday present (we celebrate after Christmas lunch), so it becomes quite tricky. And I’m not working this year, so I’m not feeling as extravagant as I might have in the past. After 3 years in Hanoi they are enjoying the toy catalogues that come in the junk mail and I have been using these for inspiration while at the same time hosing down expectations that Santa will bring the $300 water slide and castle.

In addition to trying to make sure they are getting things they both want and need, I’m also trying to make sure the presents are age appropriate. This gets tricky as they want to have what the other one has which isn’t too bad as the age gap is only two years.

I’d also like to see them outdoors more and being a bit more creative, which then means the house is littered in glitter, foam shapes, pens and cardboard creations but is a better option than having them in front of the TV all day.

Thanks to the fact Halloween seems to be getting bigger here every year, I have already picked up a couple of superhero costumes, and was very excited to come across this great present spreadsheet by Nicole Avery over at Planning with Kids so I can remember what I have bought and more importantly, where I have hidden it.

So far my ideas list includes:

  • soccer goals and soccer boots
  • Lego
  • Craft materials
  • New rash vests and board shorts plus some other beach gear
  • A Slip and Slide – which I’m hoping will keep us all cool and amused on Christmas Day
  • Some old Disney movies
  • Some sort of Hot Wheels track that involves some construction
  • Something to do with science experiments
  • Books – and on this I would love suggestions of great options for a 6 year old who loves to read and is reading quite well.

Writing it down it, there is probably almost enough there to write on the list for Santa and for us, plus the birthday present, but as the grandparents will also ask for ideas, I’d love some more suggestions.

What do your kids like? What are the toys that get played with over and over?