filled with the gladness/ of love for one another

A few weeks ago, as we left my sons daycare, another boy approached my 14 month old daughter and abruptly shoved her, knocking her onto her back. My husband and I were shocked, and our Danish is never quick so neither of us stumbled out anything more than ‘Nej. Nej.’ But I saw my son move in front of the boy ‘That is my little sister’ M said in Danish, hands on hips ‘ You must not push her’

I was impressed. Not just with his big brotherly instincts, but also to see his non-violent conflict resolution skills were better than I had expected.

At home we have the usual amount of sibling arguments for their age. M loves to build elaborate duplo constructions. So does A, but her contributions tend to be bashed onto the top, bringing the whole structure tumbling down. We do an odd shuffle around the floor, me trying to keep A away and distract her with her toy, only for M to decide whatever we have looks interesting and so, to come grab it. What I never expected is how when they do play together the game gets very physical. They really are like two puppies, nipping at each others’ tails.

The other week they invented a game where A lay on the bed and M jumped over her or, at least, mostly over her. Knees into chest seemed to be ok, as they were both shrieking with laughter. That is until the inevitable head clash; I held one sobbing child on each knee until the tears stopped and no sooner did that happen than my daughter threw herself down on the bed, looking at her brother with a big grin. He bounced back to his feet.

* * *

I’m the youngest of three so I don’t remember what we were like at this age. I only remember us as older children. My oldest sister always seemed so grown-up. No matter how much I grew I couldn’t catch up. Starting high school I felt like I was in her shadow. But I idolised her too, choosing subjects she had studied when she had started. My middle sister had that ability to play part of the older wiser sibling unit, only to flip and play annoying younger sibling with me. And we were annoying. Especially that time we watched Lady and the Tramp and we imitated the actually quite racist cats ‘We are Siamese if you please, purrrr’ . I say ‘that time’ but it was many times. Heck I can hear her finishing that sentence as I type.

giphy

I’ve always felt lucky to have grown up with my two sisters. So I did want my son to have that. Perhaps a pregnancy barely a month after my mother died was less than ideal timing. But, for all the difficulties of the last few years of our life, I know this is one way my family is very blessed.

The Christmas before my mother died my sisters and I re-staged some of our childhood photos. The photo with my sisters dressed as clowns, me standing proudly next to them in a onesie and gumboots. My sister reading with great concentration an upside down picture book. My other sister with ham on her head – at a wedding! The time I thought lifting my skirt to cover my face while I sat on a chair would be less embarrassing than a photo of me sitting in a chair . My mother loved it, she laughed and laughed.

I wonder, did I know what we were giving her then? Not just a laugh, or a trip down memory lane, not just a thanks for the good times. It was also an affirmation that all that work, every sibling squabble she had soothed, every frustrating afternoon, had been worth it. Here were her three children, together, with bonds that hold them close still.

* * *

My children love to bounce on our bed. They turn the radio on, A bouncing her knees while M jumps around. A few days ago M reached out suddenly and pushed A. I started to intervene, but then I realised she was laughing. Laughing and laughing as she fell through the air and then landing -whumpf- on the soft bed. Then -whumpf- M lands next to her. Their eyes are sparkling as they turn towards each other.

This. This is the start of something wonderful.

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Because you’re worth it

I’m celebrating a very important milestone.

Uh, no not my 10th wedding anniversary. Although that is very important. Or my son’s fourth birthday. Or my upcoming birthday. No, I’m not talking about those.

I’m celebrating going a whole year without washing my hair.

I mean, a whole without washing it with shampoo I mean. I’m not that gross.

Or maybe I am that gross, as that is basically how I managed to start.

Look, when you have two kids, and one is a tiny screamy baby, and you are still very sick so you never go anywhere, and when the baby naps you just kind of fall into a catatonic state, it is hard to find the energy to actually wash your hair. And so I would leave it for days when my husband was home, which basically meant washing it once a week. I’d heard of people who gave up shampoo and I knew that there is a period like a ‘withdrawal’ where you try to cut down your shampoo, and your hair and scalp react to having less soap, less frequently, and I’m like ‘hey, that’s basically what I’m doing anyway’. So I decided to give not-shampooing a try.

Before I get to the methods and results (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I look amazing, or whether I look like a freaky birds nest nightmare just a bit longer) I think it is worth going into the whys. I’ve been following Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake for a while, and had read about her No-Poo (as some people delightfully call it) life for a while. There are lots of reasons that people have for going No-Poo, environmental factors like reducing waste being a major drawcard for me. I’m no chemo-phobe, ok? But it does seem to me we don’t need to be pouring all these industrially manufactured chemicals into our waterways all the time. Some of these are having really nasty effects, like microbeads. Also, everything I use comes in either cardboard or glass, unlike plastic shampoo bottles. Finally I really dislike the beauty industries marketing to women that we need to be more. We need to be shinier, thinner, whiter, smoother. And it is an industry based on lies. I can’t fight this huge industry, but I can choose not to buy into it.

But I didn’t want to be, you know, smellier.

This is where the aforementioned blog really came into use. Along with continuing my, ahem, minimalist regime I started to use a combination of baking soda and apple-cider vinegar on my hair when I did wash it. And you know what? It was good. Like, it looked clean. The basic principle is baking soda massaged into hair and scalp for a clean, and then the vinegar works as a conditioner. A note of caution, you do have to be careful not to do this too frequently. For every blog about giving up shampoo there is one about why baking soda is terrible for hair, and how over time it will damage your hair. And it is true. That is actually the beauty of this routine for me. I wash my hair much less often. I only use baking soda and vinegar on the weekend. And instead of being a not so hot mess by the time Friday rolls around, mostly I look just fine.

I’ve always had very very fine hair that is prone to looking limp. I’ve always needed to wash frequently. No matter what shampoo I used – if I used a really good one I could go two days looking ok; with a supermarket cheapie, I’m looking lank after one day. Not having to wash my hair when I shower has worked out really well for me.

These days tiny screamy baby is not so tiny. It might come as a shock to some people, but it is still tricky to find time for a decent shower. I do make time. I haven’t completely given up on personal hygiene. My basic weekday routine is to hop in our shower with the bathroom door open and I have as long as it takes her to find me to wash myself.

I’ve got some great ways to extend the washing time. Like place the most interesting, noisy button pushing toys strategically on the pathway from lounge to shower so she stops to play with them en-route. Like a mini obstacle course. Or to play peek-a-boo around the shower curtain. The days her brother is home, or sometimes when I need to even if he is not, the TV can distract her a bit. But ultimately a full hair wash is risky and prone to interruption.

Now I admit, if I was working I would have to make more time. But I’m not. If it looks a little limp I’m probably not seeing anyone important enough to worry. But what about those days when even I need a mid-week pick me up? I’ve already mentioned you shouldn’t over use baking soda and vinegar. Turns out they are only the start of your pantry solutions for hair care. Careful though, contrary to what my kids think you shouldn’t just pick up any old food and smear it on your hair. So to help you all out I thought I should taste-test test wash my hair using some of the online solutions. Here goes:

Honey
Sounds sticky right? But the trick is to mix the honey with hot water, allow to cool and then massage through hair and scalp. It feels (and smells) sugary, and a bit viscous, but not sticky. My hair feels soft afterwards, and looks clean. Over the last year this has become my favourite alternative wash. Honestly, it is the best thing I’ve done with honey since toast.

Cocoa Powder
This was a recent trial, after seeing the suggestion on Lucy’s latest haircare blog. Obviously I’m not making a nourishing chocolate drink for my hair. The idea is to use this as a dry shampoo, kinda like how the professional kitchens I’ve worked in throw salt on the floor to soak up grease. Why cocoa? Well I have dark hair. If you are blonde use something that matches eg cornflour, or a redhead could try cinnamon.

So that’s her theory, how did it go? I probably used a bit too much powder, you really only need a teaspoon or so. And brushing it out, which I did bent over my sink left it quite messy. But, it wasn’t so messy I couldn’t do it with a toddler hanging out at my knees, and when she wandered off I could go after her and come back to the sink after a couple of minutes without leaving a dust trail behind me. My hair did look less greasy afterwards, and it was quick. On the whole I’d do it again, it looked fine. Well, fine enough that I took my new passport photo that afternoon. However, there was a slight chocolaty aroma when I showered the following day. So perhaps not a great one pre job interview on a rainy day. Although there are worse things to smell of, right?

Egg
Speaking of smelling, that was probably the number one thing that put me off trying this. Even though I remember reading about egg-masks for hair way, way back in high school. Well, the smell and the mess. But again thanks to Lucy’s suggestion to whip the egg white I was able to get over my fear of the last one at least. I’m not going to lie, this is my least favourite of the washes I’ve tried so far. I’m not sure if it was just because I felt a bit too much like a walking pavlova – actually I’m pretty sure that is part of it – but it is also the most expensive alternative, and the most time consuming which negates my whole reasoning for getting into this situation in the first place.

On the other hand, nobody has said since ‘what happened to your hair?!’ In fact nobody has said anything like that to me all year while I’ve been secretly not washing. I don’t go to fancy hair salons, so it is pretty normal for me to get a haircut without a wash, but none of the hairdressers have batted an eyelid over the cleanliness of my hair. Even when I’d most recently washed with honey. My husband claims to not have noticed the cocoa or egg or honey until I confessed just the other day. And maybe he is unobservant. Or maybe it is because my hair looks great.

Or maybe that is wisdom learnt from ten years of marriage.

Breast vs Bottle

A mother’s group I am part of has had a few ‘debates’ recently about formula vs breastfeeding. I say ‘debate’ in inverted commas, because I really don’t think it is a debate. Ever.

I think that if you have ever had a hungry baby in front of you, at that point there is no ‘debate’ to be had. It is not a ‘choice’, because the alternative is a slow death from dehydration and starvation. How can we portray that as ‘choice’?

I breastfed both of my children, but not exclusively. Breastfeeding is hard. It takes work, and I’m not saying the solution to every problem is to just throw your hands in the air and say ‘oh well. Here’s a bottle.’ But see how thorny this issue is that I feel the need to clarify myself so much?

What I want to say is this: breastfeeding is like a ladder. It always takes work to climb it. But everyone’s ladder is different. Some are steeper. Some have rungs further apart. Some are slippery. Some have broken rungs. So we all need to think about how someone’s ladder differs from our own.

As part of that ‘debate’ I got a little piece of knowledge shared with me. That you never need to offer formula straight away, because you only know you aren’t producing enough milk once you’ve tried. Here is what my own personal experience tells me that is – it’s bullshit.

When my daughter was born I experienced a uterine inversion. That means my uterus came out with the placenta. It is a very serious medical emergency, for many reasons, one of which is that it is typically accompanied with severe haemorrhaging. I lost 3.7L of blood in a very short space of time. Post-partum haemorrhage is directly linked to delays in producing breastmilk. I faced a number of barriers to starting milk production. I was separated from my daughter immediately following birth, I was anaemic, and my body was so short of fluid following the haemorrhage that it didn’t have any to spare for her. Lastly hormone changes after birth that trigger milk production can’t occur because there literally was not blood flowing through my body.

My daughter was hungry and eager to attempt breastfeeding, in fact she latched perfectly. But when my body could not even produce colostrum until day three (really) it was no surprise. We began supplementing early on, and despite this at her first weigh-in at two days old she had already lost 9% of her bodyweight. We increased the amount of formula, as 10% loss is considered a danger zone. Tell me, what would have been gained by waiting and seeing? With me that sick in a hospital bed, listening to my daughter screaming with hunger, unable to produce milk to feed her, and starving her to the point we risked her health. Why should we have sat there thinking that milk would come eventually, when given the specifics of my case, things were going exactly as medical professionals expected. We can all speak in generalities, and discuss WHO guidelines, but guidelines cannot be written that cover every individual case. And, as Monty Python said, we are all individuals.

For me, there was no debate to be had. No choice. No regrets. I will never regret that my daughter was fed formula for her first meals. I am grateful to the nurses who bought it to her. I am grateful I gave birth in a hospital where formula could be supplied by hospital staff.

So that is why when people say ‘oh I’m sure you made an informed choice’ it comes across as patronising. It literally doesn’t matter whether you have read a million studies comparing benefits of formula vs breastfeeding (which frankly aren’t as one-sided as many people seem to think, because any study like that is inherently fraught with difficulties). And that is why people object when people say ‘it needs to be considered carefully, like any medicine’. Formula is not medicine. It is consumed like food, and metabolised like food – because it is food. Someone might have an allergic reaction or intolerance, but that can happen with breastmilk. It is regulated to make sure it meets nutritional standards, but it is not, and should not be, restricted like a medicine.

I am glad I was able to establish breastfeeding eventually. Not because I think my daughter will be healthier for it, but because bottle-feeding is a pain. Seriously: sterilising, getting the right temperature, and most importantly, you need one hand to hold the baby and one for the bottle, so unless you have three hands you can’t use the TV remote at the same time. Rubbish!

Even at the time ‘resorting’ to formula was the least of my concerns, so I’m pretty thick-skinned about my experiences and what someone else might think of them.  But I’m not writing this to defend or explain myself. I just want people to remember that nothing in life goes as planned. A lot of people are absolutely convinced they will breastfeed and then they can’t. And it is devastating for them. Careless words can really add to that pain. Especially when you are in those first weeks of newborn life and just trying to cope. There are some people who seem to think it is just a matter of trying harder (not just feeding – conception and birth seem to bring this out too), but it is much, much more complicated than that. There is a portion of all of this that is just luck.

So if you won in the biology lottery, remember the ladders. Remember that if the bottom rung is missing, like mine was, no amount of oatmeal or fenugreek or pumping or lactation cookies is going to be the answer. And remember some people can do everything right, and find they just can’t get to the top.

I write a lot about not judging others on their parenting journey. But, I’ll admit this – when I see someone standing on their non-slip safety step-ladder, giving themselves a clap and saying ‘it’s so easy. See how I did it!’ while the rest of us wobble around on rickety splintery wood that stretches into the clouds…

That is when I feel a bit judge-y.

#Iamanimmigrant

I wonder.

I wonder about those who cannot walk in another person’s shoes. Those who only see the opportunities taken, but cannot see the price paid.

I wonder about those who feel so threatened by people like me they can only respond with hate. Oh, I know, not really people like me. I am the right sort of immigrant. But, I am still an immigrant.

I wonder if they have ever thought what that would entail.

I wonder if they have ever walked off a plane, out of a railway station, and looked around, lost, no landmarks they recognise. And not with the excitement of a few days to bumble around a city, but with the knowledge this is your home now. Find your way, make it work. This is where you stay.

I wonder if they have had to register people’s surprise, when they open their mouth and begin to talk. Oh, you’re one of those.

I wonder if they know how it feels to stand in a queue, at the shops, the post office, mentally rehearsing the conversation you need to have once it is your turn. Hoping it stays on predictable tracks.

I wonder if they have ever felt the hopelessness of not being able to make yourself understood. I wonder if they know the moment the conversation moves beyond you; if they have ever felt that blank stare on their own face, searching their mind for words and grammar they don’t have, only for it to be met with a flicker of irritation.

I wonder if they know how exhausting even a trip to the supermarket can be. What it feels like to stand in front of all the cleaning products, trying to guess from the pictures which is the one you want. How bewildering the selection of flour can seem. How sometimes you buy something and get it wrong, or you don’t buy, only to find out later you were looking at the right thing after all.

I wonder if they know how it feels to be the person who spends too long reading the signs: the notices up at daycare, the notices to residents of your apartment block. This is, I suppose, what it is like to be functionally illiterate, lacking the access to information everyone around you takes for granted.

I wonder if they know how unpredictable the world can seem, when all the little social rules are so clearly ingrained, and yet so impenetrable to you. That nobody ever knows you didn’t know until too late. The sort of clothes your children are supposed to have, what to take with you to parties, what foods you are supposed to eat and when. That every public holiday is a surprise.

I wonder if they know what it feels like to have a child more fluent in the local language than you. The pride, mixed with frustration at not being able to follow them into conversations they want to have.

I wonder if they realise that these language problems are fleeting and generational. Adults will manage and muddle through and if allowed children will integrate easily. Bi-lingualism is not a threat. It is a skill, an asset, a bridge between worlds.

I wonder if they know the nagging question I ask myself. Is it worth it? So far from ‘home’, from family? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

I wonder if they understand that we make new homes. We grow to love places that were not ‘ours’ to begin with.

I wonder if they know the doubts. The way parents question themselves, as they watch their children assume a new identity. Will they be accepted?

I wonder if they know how it feels to watch their child play with their friends; the funny-sounding parents as important as who does or does not have a cat, less important than who does or does not like to dig holes with you. I wonder if they know how it feels to think that all it takes is media hype and careless words for your children to discover that they were not welcomed after all. Merely tolerated.

I wonder how it would feel for that toleration to disappear. To find decency is no longer required. To find yourself put up for public judgement and the verdict is you are not welcome.

I wonder.

Satins, and lace, and silks

I bought a dressing gown last weekend.

Maybe some people buy dressing gowns all the time; perhaps they have a selection of them in their walk-in wardrobes. A summer one, a winter one, a holiday one.

I have just one. One I’ve had for a long time.

It was green and full length. One of those towelling ones. Not a nice silk one. A practical one. It has lasted me a long time. Cold Wellington student flats, our first cold English flat, our second cold English flat, our cold Australian winters, and our warm Danish apartment. Many many night wakings, up and down hallways to children. And now it was looking decidedly frayed.

Frayed is an understatement. The shoulder had a huge hole. Disgracefully big.

I bought a new one. Another practical one. Turquoise.

It is funny the things that stick in your memory. I remember buying my old dressing gown. I bought it at Farmers in Lower Hutt. I bought it with my mother.

I must have been about 16. My mother took me shopping to buy a good dressing gown that would last a long time. Thanks to surgery that required checking if my growth plates had fused already, I had had the disappointing news I was going to remain the shortest member of my family. So there wasn’t any danger we’d buy something I’d grow out of.

I think 17 years is good going for a dressing gown.

My mother would be the first to laugh and say ‘it was a just a dressing gown’. But she’d also give me one of those little side hugs, not a big cuddle, but a squeeze from next to me. Throwing her arm over my shoulders and giving my arm a rub while she did it. I do miss those.

Life has a funny way of just keeping on going. We keep going and, as is normal and natural, we collect experiences. We change in subtle ways, and big ways. My life has changed in some very big ways in the last two years. I never would have predicted being where I am today. My mother would never have predicted it.

Our lives were threaded together in complicated, beautiful ways. Now I have to manage without her. A new dressing gown feels like the fraying of one more thread. Another tie dissolved. It is sad, but it is also normal and natural and healthy.

Nobody wants to end up like Miss Havisham.

So we cut the ties and dust the cobwebs away. I keep her with me in other much more important ways. But this week, in which we mark two years since her death, when I hung that new dressing gown on its hook, it crossed my mind.

I felt it pull at my heart. I heard the thread snap.

A Room of One’s Own

When I was pregnant people always told me I would have no time for reading once my child was born.

‘Haha!’ They would gloat ‘You’ll be too exhausted. You’ll be too busy. You’ll be too emotional. You’ll be too engrossed watching them sleep. You’ll start watching Grey’s Anatomy so you can obsess over romantic crises and medical mishaps because your poor widdle Mummy brain won’t be able to do anything else.’

I hated it. And in my expectant new parent state I didn’t know what to expect so I kind of believed it.

One of my earliest memories is my mother reading James and The Giant Peach to my older sister and me. I remember the day my sister stormed into my bedroom at bedtime demanding I learn to read in my head; a revolutionary idea that changed my life. I remember the library visits multiple times a week. I remember the librarians, and I remember that they got to know us. I remember how they helped us to choose new books as we grew into the older reading sections of the library. I remember getting to go to a bookstore and choosing a book for myself, My Friend Flicka, to take on holiday. I remember reading crappy books like the Babysitter’s Club, and great books like Charlotte’s Web and A Wizard of Earthsea. I remember my mother handing me Pride and Prejudice from her bookshelf, telling me how wonderfully Jane Austen crafted sentences. I remember the hours I have spent in second hand bookstores building a collection that has travelled around the world with me.

So when people told me I wouldn’t have time to read, I wonder if they realise they were telling me I would lose something so important to me, something that is part of my sense of self.

It was bullshit.

My family knew me well, and for my birthday, just two weeks after my son was born I was given a kindle. I could hold it and feed at the same time! And say what you like about Amazon being an evil monopoly that treat authors badly (I’m sorry Margaret Atwood!), and a massive money pit (pro tip # read free classics. Luckily I like a good Victorian novel) to me, at that point in my life it was a sanity saver.

I know a lot of people don’t read a lot when they have small children. That’s fine. I’d never judge that. I understand being tired and exhausted and the words swimming on the page in front of you. Sometimes I am too tired to read for long. I find however, ten minutes reading in bed, maybe with a piece of chocolate (ok, pieces) ends the day on a good note. It gives my brain a chance to relax. To step back from all the cares and worries of the day. I find a place that is bigger than the world of a story, space that is bigger than the gaps between the text. It is somewhere that belongs to just me.

I hate to say it. It’s Me-time.

Parents (let’s be honest here – mothers) are constantly told the importance of me-time. The world veers between telling us we should be completely fulfilled with the joys of raising children. Oh, how I love endless piles of washing! Oh how I enjoy picking duplo off the floor! Oh the cooking as I balance a toddler on my hip! Or telling us we need to squeeze in some time for ourselves. And that last bit – it’s actually true.

As much as the phrase ‘me-time’ makes me cringe it is important to not get completely subsumed by family life. Whether it is going to the gym or running, a sewing project, a *cough* blog, or a monthly night out, whatever, it is important. It’s unfair to go around expecting people to give every moment of their life to their families. It is unfair to new mothers to joke about how their life is over, they can never have anything for themselves ever again. No seriously. It is really unkind. It is also healthy for our children to learn that we have interests of our own.

The metaphorical Room of my Own might feel quite far away, spending all day with a 13month old in 74m² apartment. My night time reading is somewhat liable to be interrupted by crying or a pre-schooler who wants the potty and is not able to wait while I just finish my paragraph. But, sometimes when my son is at daycare, and my daughter has a nap, I ignore the washing, the dishes, the duplo, and I sit and write or read. For a long time people told me I should try and sleep, but I would just lie in bed awake, thinking about how sleep deprived I was. But, a book, words on a page. They too refresh me, nourish me. I can lose myself and find my thoughts.

Bliss.

Nobody is taught language.

The perils of raising a bi-lingual child (when you are not)

Your child will engage adults in conversations you are not capable of following.
This is especially fun when the adults then turn to you and you just have to leave them hanging, or mumble something you hope makes sense, but judging from their reactions usually doesn’t. But don’t worry…

Your child will explain things
They will learn to carry on the conversation by explaining ‘my Mum doesn’t speak good Danish’. They will also occasionally pass on this factoid to other children at their daycare. As for the woman who said hi to them in the supermarket, why not tell her too? How about that guy who just happens to be sitting in the bus stop at the same time as you, it’s probably good information to pass on to him.

Auto-correction is always at hand
No need to go look at phonetics in a dictionary. Your three year old will be ready and willing to correct your pronunciation at any time.

Don’t forget they are only three
But don’t take their word for it. This can lead to embarrassing errors. After mixing up fro and frø, my son told us he had eaten bread with frogs in it. Seeds, he meant seeds.

Reading is a great way to learn
Reading together will boost both your vocabularies. It is great bonding and snuggling time. Just don’t forget the auto-correcting. Reading will suddenly turn stressful as you are unable to produce the desired level of fluency.
‘Kan du finde kurven?’
‘No. Kurven.’
‘Kurven.’
‘No. K-Uurven.’
‘Whatever.’

Enjoy children’s TV together
There is no better boost to your ego than being able to follow the plot of Postman Pat/Per. You can almost convince yourself you have the language skills of a three year old. As long as you are only listening and not trying to join in the conversation that is. And if you get a bit lost by the intricacies of why exactly he misdelivered the post (again), and why he is still considered a local hero just for sorting out the mess he started, don’t worry. I’m sure if you watch it often enough you’ll understand the complexities of Greendale society eventually.

Worry about children’s TV
But beware, if you leave the TV on for something you don’t know well, you may find yourself sitting there wondering if this show really is age appropriate? It can be hard to tell sometimes. If this happens, don’t panic, just switch it off abruptly, and deal with the following tantrum in a calm and respectful manner.

Sometimes you will have to explain things to them
They won’t understand everything, so they may still call on you for help. Leaving you with the conundrum of whether or not to translate ‘lort’ so they can keep up with the other pre-schoolers. Hint: it involves bodily, uh, excretion.

Pass the buck
When your child calls names at daycare, be sure to disapprove. But secretly console yourself that they definitely only learnt that word in one place. And it wasn’t at home!