Tag Archives: adjusting to two

Rain fall from concrete coloured skies

We left hospital in a taxi. My husband held our newborn daughter. As we drove I noticed the trees and hedges on the roadside were out in newly unfurled leaf. I commented and the taxi driver asked if I’d been in hospital long.

 A lifetime.

The seasons here are dominated by the light, by the duration of the day. Winter is dark and grey. You leave the house in the dark. You come home in the dark. Even when the sun is out, it sits so low on the sky it has no warmth. Most of winter the cloud is thick and solid grey. The world can seem strangely uniform, especially when it snows, grey-white cloud above grey-white earth, only the vertical sides of buildings to add perspective and colour.

I know there is no truth to it but winters seem to last forever, an eternity of gloom. If you know where to look you can see an orb of light locked behind the cloud. Have faith, it tells you, the sun is still there. Slowly you notice the days are getting longer. Until suddenly they lengthen in leaps of bounds, gaining hours of daylight in only a single week.

regnbueAfter the long gestational winter I missed last spring. Too sore and huge to go out much in the last few weeks of pregnancy. And then too sick and tired at home. My husband took our son for long walks while I huddled at home, feeding on the couch. It was summer before I noticed. I had worried that the long, long days would interfere with my ability to go back to sleep after night feeds. I needn’t have worried. I was too exhausted to notice.

The days get shorter as quickly as they get long. The closer to the poles you are the longer sunrise and sunsets last. I remember last autumn as being full of coloured skies, lighting us in that beautiful golden sunset glow. Green and gold faded. Frost began to nip the air. It became hard to get out. Hard to get to the shops to buy the snowsuits, the hats, the mittens for two growing children. I bought it all at the last minute as winter settled in and I could avoid the shopping no longer.

In Canberra where our son was born I would take him for walks to fill up our days. In winter the nights drop below zero, but temperatures can rise 20 degrees or so during the day; perfectly pleasant for an afternoon walk. In summer I would go for a walk first thing in the morning, before the heat would drive us inside for the rest of the day. At first he would just sit in his pram. Then the walks got shorter, but took longer as he began to toddle. We lived near some wetlands, so there was always something to see, ducks on the pond or cockatoos and galahs in the eucalyptus. Rocks on the shore to pick up and examine. Ants marching across the pavement. ‘Outside’ was one of his first and favourite words.

The sky was always blue. All except for the storms. When it rains it pours, and the wetlands flooded. Thunder and lightning filled the sky. Maybe it is a trick of memory, but the storms never seem to last long. The rain washed itself away. Living a world clean and soaked and glistening as the sun returned.

Last winter it was hard to find the energy to get out. Hard to spend any length of time in the great outdoors. My daughter and I would venture out for the necessary trips: daycare for her older brother, shopping if I needed too. Otherwise it was easiest to stay in the artificially lit indoors. The walls of our house providing us with warmth and safety. We were insulated; isolated.

Slowly, imperceptibly the days got longer. The light grew brighter. The sun rose on the horizon; lateral light that shines directly into your eyes.

First the crocuses popped up through the soil.

They’ve been replaced with bluebells, and the daffodils are beginning to flower.

My daughter’s eyes are opening to the world around her. She looks past her mother, father and brother. She goes to the glass back door. Presses her face and hands against it. Her eyes ask the question she does not have words for. The door opens and as she pads out, fresh air gusts in.

I don’t spend so long on the couch now. We breastfeed just once a day, in the evening. The other night she was tired, sick and hungry. So we just sat, we two, and it felt bittersweet knowing that this, at times resented, part of my life is about to draw to a close. She fed herself to sleep. And lay in my arms much as she did as a newborn, soft and fat and milky.

I carried her into her bedroom. I kissed her cheek and lay down my baby. Her eyes flicked open and I thought she would wake. But she only stretched, rolled over and fell back asleep. A little girl sleeping in her cot.

Every day with a small child is liminal. You are always on the cusp of change.

Soon the trees will be green again.

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Only one half of him slept at a time. The other head was always awake

It’s 1am, or 2am, or perhaps 4am. I hear footsteps, or coughing, or crying. I want to bury my head in my pillow. Why can’t you just sleep? Either of you.

It’s 5pm. My son is asking to watch TV. I don’t want him to watch TV all evening, but I need to get our tea ready. I cave and switch the TV on. At least one of you is happy. My daughter crawls around under my feet, whining to be picked up. I know what you want but I can’t hold you all the time. I just want to be able to drain the pot of boiling water and pasta without worrying about lifting it with a baby underfoot. That’s obviously a bad idea, can’t you just give me one minute to finish a job?

It’s 11am, I’m trying to read to them both. Providing quality, enriching experience. My son is happy enough. As long as he gets to choose the book. And where we sit. And as long as his sister doesn’t chew the book. But luckily she’s crawled off. Somehow she’s found paper (again) on the floor and is eating it.

It’s 3pm. My son and I stand at opposite ends of the living room, I’m trying to follow his complicated instructions. I’m not doing it right. He flings his arms wildly, his whole body full of frustration. I have no idea what this stupid game is about or what I am doing wrong. His sister sits in the middle of the floor, bemused.
I understand what I’m meant to say

‘How far is it?’ I yell
‘ten past three centimetres’ Is his gleeful reply ‘Now swim like this to me’ He wriggles.
So I copy his wriggle, swimming across the floor to him. He laughs. His sister laughs too, and claps her hands in delight. Suddenly there is nothing more important than wriggling across the room and laughing with my children.

It’s 11am. He chooses The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He finally stays in one place and his sister crawls back over to stick fingers in the holes. When I lift her onto my lap too, she grabs my hair and pulls my face to hers rubbing her mouth on my cheek in her gross but very adorable gesture of affection.

It’s 5pm. My son’s favourite TV programme is on; the one where the presenter Rosa bakes cakes with children to surprise their loved ones with. He turns to me
‘We could fly to New Zealand and sneak into Grandad’s house and find out what he likes, and then bake him a cake with his favourite colours.’
His sister is still whining. I look down into her big blue eyes, and marvel once again that I managed to produce two blue eyed children. I know she’s hungry. Perhaps she knows after I move metal objects around on the stovetop food will be presented. But she doesn’t know it is a necessary part of the process yet. I pick her up and she snuggles against me.
‘Grandad would love a cake’ I say.

There is a character in the Doctor Doolittle novels, the Pushmi-pullyu. It’s so long since I’ve read the books I don’t remember much other than the name and some troublingly racist colonial attitudes that mean I might not urge the kids to read this one. But I love the name. It is a name that deserves a life of its own. It is a word that sums up how I so often feel when I am surrounded by the needs of my small children.

They push me. They push me when I am tired and stressed. When the days are long. And miraculously the nights are even longer. The push me when the amount of rest I get is dictated not by my own body, but by the needs of two small dependent children. And sometimes I want to say ‘enough!’

It can feel like the world expects us to have children that behave every minute, or for us to be enjoying every minute. Instead of just enjoying the ones that are actually enjoyable. It can be easy to feel despondent when your child is the one misbehaving, eating-pickily, or refusing to put their socks on. We forget no parent ever has had a child that did exactly what they were told, every time, without argument. So we joke about being ‘bad’ parents.

This is how I know I’m not really a ‘bad parent’.

Because every time they have pushed me to the edge. Every time I swear under my breath. Every time I snap and take away a toy just so I can get them to listen. Every time I lean my head against the door frame for a split second thinking they might just magically go to sleep in that pause. All of those are not the summation of my parenting, because every time, in the end, I open the door and I hold them.

I don’t pretend to be perfect. Sometimes I think I’ll scream if I see another Janet-bloody-Lansbury article. I spend half my days torn between what needs to get done, and what my children want right now. I can feel pushed and pulled in a dozen directions at once. And I have to remind myself to stop. That even if I yell sometimes, or distract them with TV, or the floor is covered in books and toys, it’s ok. Because the house is clean enough, my children are fed, my children are loved.

When it is good it can be wonderful. When both my children laugh it is the best feeling. Watching my son push my daughter on a swing while she laughed last weekend felt like the highlight of my life. A highlight. Because life is not like that all the time. Never. Nobody’s. So when it’s tough I just have to breathe, and remind myself ‘pushmi-pullyu’. We’ll be on an upward swing again soon enough.

It’s 1am, or 2am or perhaps 4am. I want to bury my head in my pillow, but I don’t. I sit on my son’s bed and stroke his hair. Or I rock my daughter in my arms. In the dark we sway together. To and fro. To and fro. To and fro.

 

 

 

 

Here’s an easy game to play/ Here’s an easy thing to say

Independent play. The holy grail of parenthood. That sometimes feels so near, and yet can never quite be attained. I’ve got drawn into a few debates over it recently. Obviously it is a heated issue in the internet mummy-sphere.

For a child his age M actually has a reasonable concentration span. He loves being read to. Though we don’t necessarily think he has to sit still for this. Or even sit. He’s enjoyed more than a few books while doing downward facing dog on his bed, or jumping on the couch. And he is paying attention, because if you get tongue-tied by Dr Seuss he will helpfully point it out.

Since adding to the family his ability to play more or less independently, more or less supervised, has become more, not less, of an issue. Something that will be familiar to many families. As I’ve seen happen on internet forums, if you dare admit that you are struggling to keep your older child entertained while you indulge in the frivolous activities of caring for your newborn, there are plenty of parents willing to judge you for it.

You let them watch TV? Their eyes will literally go square, and their brain is rotting.

Read to them. Holding a book whilst simultaneously breastfeeding a newborn is easy.

Just tell them ‘No. I’m busy’. They won’t mind at all that this new person in the house suddenly takes up all your time. I’m sure they’ll understand and happily play quietly on their own. The seething resentment they feel is normal, and I’m sure they’ll find an age appropriate outlet for this emotion, such as hitting or biting. Oh no wait. Hitting and biting are bad. Um. Maybe just tell them you understand, and you’ll have time for them later. Like when the baby is sleeping. Or as the baby never sleeps, when it’s ten. You’ll probably have some time then. If they’re lucky.

M hasn’t been overly resentful, and never violent to his sister. We’re lucky, that’s pretty normal behaviour actually. Mostly I’ve been the target of his resentment (lucky me!). But the reality is, there is only so much I can expect from him in terms of entertaining himself. Even when he does, he ends up doing stupid annoying shit. All The Time.

Twice recently I’ve let him have unsupervised water play while I feed A. I sit on the couch, while he splashes in the bathroom sink; I can’t see him, but I can hear. Both times we started well. Then I heard quite a lot of water running.

‘What are doing?’
No response
‘Stop running water!’
No response.
Frantically interrupts A’s feed, gets to feet, into bathroom, just in time to see the water lap over the edge of the sink onto the bathroom floor.

Or the second time, I heard a lot of suspicious splatting noises. Again I yelled out. M happily replied
‘I’m throwing the dirty water in the toilet.’
Yup, he was using a cup to throw water from the sink, in the general direction of the toilet so he could flush it later.

Not much had made it into the toilet.

On neither of these occasions was he being naughty. They were just interesting ideas he got and decided to explore. At three he genuinely is not able to foresee the messy outcomes, and doesn’t really care much about the cleaning up. Yes I got him to help wiping up with a cloth, but that’s sort of fun too, and he is ineffective so I have to do it after him anyway. I wasn’t mad, bud it adds to the generally harassed sense of never ending cleaning-washing-nagging-exhaustion-not-sure-I’m-doing-this-quite-right.

The internet is full of helpful suggestions for play; awesome ideas to keep your littlies entertained for hours. I don’t think I’m the only parent to find many of the suggestions intimidating, and the ‘play’ rather stressful. Coloured rice, paint, glue. It all gets everywhere. M would love it. He’ll spend an hour at børnehave playing with these beads. But it isn’t something I can cope with at home. It’s messy enough as is, add those beads and I’m in trouble. That’s now, just imagine what it’d be like in a couple of months when A will have approximately two skills: crawling, and putting things in her mouth.

Maybe other kids are different. Maybe their playing never results in unintended mess. Or parents yelling at their kids when they really didn’t plan too. Maybe they are a better parent than me.

Maybe their kids are dull…

Truth is, three year olds have plenty of energy, but little experience of the world. Their job at this age is to experiment, and to learn how to regulate their emotions. God knows, enough adults struggle with that. Learning to play independently takes time. Some kids take longer than others. Add in any additional stresses to the mix, family illness, moving house or daycare, new siblings or whatever, only makes it harder. So let’s stop judging parents whose kids don’t play independently ‘enough’

Can I have another/ piece of chocolate cake

The big supermarkets here give free bread rolls to children while their parents shop. M loves getting his ‘bolle’ when we go, and we’ve been teaching him how to ask politely for one – Jeg vil gerne en bolle. A couple of weeks ago we struck a queue at the bakery, and while we waited M admired the nice looking cakes on display. Finally it was his turn

‘Jeg vil gerne en kage’

Cheeky sod.

We’ve noticed a huge increase in the amount of Danish M is speaking in the last few weeks. As well as an expanded vocabulary he is speaking in quite complex sentences. We figured he’d reach this stage at some point, but it is quite remarkable to watch it all happen. When A was born my husband and I both stopped Danish lessons. It is pretty clear that we are going to be overtaken in our ability very soon. He can already pronounce the tricky vowels, and impossible ‘blødt d’, like a local:

At dinner the other day he chatted away to us in Danish about eating ‘jeg skal spise, but du skal ikke spise’ (I’ll eat, but you won’t eat. Clearly the word for ‘but’ is not part of his vocabulary). His instructions and patter about eating went on for quite some time. Until he suddenly leant towards me and said ‘Pirates have torches’.

It can be hard to keep up with the brain of a three year old.

I don’t know how we are going to manage when he is fluent in more than one language. Especially if his little sister is eventually able to join in.

He is also better at distinguishing between the two languages. While my father was staying M asked him to read one of the Danish picture books, and my father gamely tried. The performance was clearly unsatisfactory as after that he took to checking if his book was in English or Danish before reading. Now we get less mixing of languages, unless he doesn’t know the word he needs in which case he is happy to borrow it from his other vocabulary. As his proficiency has increased, so has his ability to translate himself.

‘Flyvende balloner’ he cries, pointing to the ceiling. Then he whispers, for our benefit, ‘flying balloons’ with a little knowing nod.

So if all goes well he’ll be able to translate for us soon. Yes! We’ll be the stereotypical immigrant parents ‘M. We need you to translate our rental lease for us.’ ‘Can you call the bank for me, I need to ask them something’. He is going to be so useful.

Also his incessant questioning ‘cause?’ is now accompanied by ‘why?’, and the Danish ‘hvordan? hvorfor?’ Variety is the spice of life after all.

Children do have this amazing capability to learn just by osmosis. We’ve spent months going to lessons. Looking at vocab lists, and learning the rules of grammar. And we live in a ‘language immersive’ environment. But we just can’t compete with M. He has learnt both his languages in the completely opposite way. Building his way up from pointing and single words, not giving a damn about grammar. Who needs verb tense anyway? Until suddenly he gets the rules. OK, his use of singular and plural nouns still needs work. Yuss, one win to us!

We’ll just have to keep trying to keep up. And we aren’t always going to get it right. I was telling M we were having chicken for tea, because he kept saying ‘vi skal spise omelette’. Until I realised he was actually saying ‘vi skal spise om lidt’. (We will eat soon).

It isn’t just some vain parental boast ‘Quintus can speak five languages, and is learning to read classical latin and greek’. Actually M needs to learn Danish if we are going to stick around here for any length of time. The older he gets the more other children expect to be able to communicate if they are going to play. One friend I’ve made here has a daughter of a similar age to M. They are from Benin, and speak French at home. As my husband says, this is probably the first time in history a French speaking Beninese child, and an English speaking Kiwi have played together in Danish. But they have really enjoyed playing together since their common language improved.

And, I think I am allowed to admire M a bit. It isn’t easy for children to adapt to daycare. It isn’t at all easy when you don’t speak the predominant language. And it’s not as if the last few months would have been easy anyway, between a new sibling, and a parental hospital stay. We’ve thrown a lot at him. More than I’ve felt was fair at times, but that’s just the way things worked out. We’ve seen some of the anxieties played out in tantrums. It’s been hard on all of us. Now, I feel a little like we are coming out on the other side. And not only has he coped, he has learnt and grown during those times. I’m quite proud of him really. As I should be.

…a little child, born yesterday, A thing on mother’s milk and kisses fed…

It finally happened. I always knew it would, it was only a matter of time before I got my first breastfeeding-in-public disapproving look.

I was thinking my morning was going well. I’d already achieved a) a shower b) getting dressed c) leaving the house and d) finishing my shopping. Which is, by the way, four more things than I’ve achieved so far today. So when my daughter began to stir I decided not to tempt fate and sit down and feed her before my bus ride home. So I went into a cafe.

First mistake. You don’t really need a coffee. Are you kidding – I have two children, of course I need coffee!

If you do you should drink in solitude at home. <sobs> But I only have instant.

So I ordered my coffee and sat down and began to do the worst thing some people can ever imagine anyone doing ever. I began to unbutton my shirt. And then I saw it. That middle aged man at the table next to mine. The wide-eyed stare as he realises what I’m about to do. I’m going to sit in proximity to him while I feed my baby. And while he’s thinking something like I need to stop staring, at least that’s what I’m thinking he should be thinking. I’m thinking, that’s right, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

And I’m doing it here, because this is the only damn place nearby that isn’t full of bar stools. And have you ever seen anyone feed on a bar stool? No. Because no women has ever been fool enough to try. Unless she’s really desperate, in which case you gotta do what you gotta do. But we all know sitting on the floor is a better option.

I’m all nonchalant now, but at the time I was a little worried he’d say something. And then I’d have the whole awkward can-you-repeat-that-in-english conversation. But then I realised, while I might not be able to get myself understood, I can understand what other people are saying. Because he turned away from me, and instead starts to complain to his wife (?) about how old and uncomfortable the chairs are. And then their morning tea arrives, and she starts complaining about the lack of butter with her roll. And if you have ever eaten a roll in Denmark you will know that’s not true. Because they always give you like, three of those little packets, and then say ‘let me know if that’s not enough butter’. And really, that should be enough butter for one roll.

So while I prefer not to be evil-eyed while I feed my baby, it was a reminder that the kind of people who have a problem just aren’t worth worrying about. They’re the kind of people that would disapprove if I ended up with a screaming baby for the whole bus ride. And they’d disapprove if I whipped out a bottle. Or a dummy. Because they know I just procreated to inconvenience them. Sorry. (Not sorry).

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, what they do. Being a parent is hard. Feeding your child is hard. Which ever way you end up doing it. It was hard when M had silent reflux and screamed his way through every feed. And it has been hard to get back up on my feet after surviving a seriously life-threatening hemorrhage. And after that, it took hard work (and some luck) that I was even able to build up a supply so I could be sitting here, feeding my baby. Hell, I’m glad I’m sitting here.

So when my daughter is quietly, contentedly feeding, and looks up at me, with her happy little eyes, and I just want to enjoy that quiet moment, don’t put your disapproval on me. I’m not interested. Life’s too short.