Tag Archives: Parenting

Breathe

Take a deep breath.

Last night I lay in bed and cried.

Take a deep breath.

Some nights when I try and sleep it feels like I’m adrift in a sea of concerns. The sea is wide and deep and dark. I’m alone and soaked with stress and sleeplessness. The salt taste of regret and angry words. Waves of parental failures buffet me as I float.

Take a deep breath.

People tell you parenthood is hard. I think they do. But what you never know is how it will be hard for you. With newborns it tends to be fairly obvious. You’re tired, listening to screaming, and covered in puke. But when the children get older they blossom into these spectacular little humans. With their own personalities. Their own charms, and interests, and sense of humour. Their own quirks, and frustrations, and problems.

Sometimes your children feel like that lame-ass friend you can’t bring yourself to ditch. You know, the one who always wants to catch up for a coffee so they can tell you all about how difficult their life is, and you listen and are all sympathetic. You visit their house, sit on the floor and eat ice-cream and hand them tissues. You check in on them in a couple of days. But then when you’re stressed, they’re all like. ‘I just have to tell you something. Wait my thing is more important. Listen, listen to me…
… What’s the thing Robin Hood keeps his arrows in? A quiber?’
And you feel like exploding in rage because to be honest you never really gave a shit about Robin Hood.

Take a deep breath.

I read a lovely post from Like Real Life. It was so beautiful, and I want to tell everyone stuck in the doldrums with kids to read it. It has the words we need to hear. ‘It will get easier’.

But the truth is, it isn’t easier yet.

We’re caught up in this place where we need to keep giving and giving, and our children are taking and taking. My husband and I barely have the time to breathe. We try to give each other breaks, and sleep-ins. We even stayed up too late on Saturday, watching Eurovision, just to kid ourselves that we too can have a lame-ass adult evening in like our friends.

It is hard when it is always just us. And the kids don’t sleep well enough that a babysitter feels like an option.

It is hard because M has been sick all year. And it is May. And it feels very unfair. For him, really. He’s tired and angry. And I don’t blame him, but we are tired too. And it is hard that it is just us. I’m tired of carrying this burden alone. I’m tired because it feels like such a grey area and so many parents feel this way, of not betraying your child’s right to privacy, and not isolating yourself unduly because you don’t talk about it.

I know we are lucky that it is ‘only’ asthma. But he has been unlucky in that we haven’t been successful in getting it under control since it first appeared just before Christmas. It has been two steps forward, one step back. And every night we lie in bed and listen to him cough and cough and cough.

Take a deep breath.

Maybe I’m saying something now, because we feel like we are finally making real progress with a new medication. But it is too early to say for sure. We’ve thought that before.

Maybe I’m saying something because I know so many people who struggle behind their closed doors. We only see them open it that tiny chink. My daughter’s struggling to settle in at school. My son has been diagnosed with autism. My husband finished his chemotherapy treatment yesterday. And we console, and condole and celebrate. And we don’t think about all the tears in private. All the worrying about whether it is normal to feel like this or not. All the lying awake in the dark, dark night, stressed and alone.

And yes, it does get better.

But sometimes there is no getting better. Sometimes problems won’t go away. We just have to learn to live with them.

We have to make space in our already cramped, complicated lives. We have to give and give and give some more.

So to all the parents, and people, and carers who are giving and giving and giving.

To everyone who finds themselves adrift at sea.

Take a deep breath.

You’re not alone.

I hope your seas are tranquil soon.

We’re going where the sea is blue

It has been a stressful time recently, so we decided what could be more relaxing than a holiday with kids? We decided to take advantage of a long weekend and traveled to Ebeltoft for a night. For the most part it was fabulous. Fabulous. But it was also testing and tiring.
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We don’t have a car, so travelled by bus from Aarhus. On the way there it worked perfectly. But on the way home, tired after new exciting experiences, M decided to be – difficult. I’ll take some responsibility; we did briefly lose track of time, and then we realised we needed to rush to make the bus home. They are only hourly, and waiting for the next one was getting too late. Have you ever tried to rush our son? After working hard to keep the holiday calm and relaxing it suddenly turned into GET YOUR CLOTHES ON! GET YOUR SHOES ON! While he yelled NO! NO! And then we really only had 15min until the bus, with a 10min walk to the bus stop. So I said WE JUST HAVE TO GO EVEN THOUGH YOU DON’T HAVE SHOES ON!!

He went from uncooperative to hysterical. It was awful. I realised that he hadn’t seen me shove his shoes under the pram, and so thought I meant we would leave his shoes behind. Hysterical, but also cooperative. Shoes on, M dumped down on the buggy board, and I raced off; my husband grabbed the bags and locked the door. We made it. But my son spent almost the entire walk crying. It was not the end to our holiday we had hoped for.

* * *

Nobody has asked why I chose the name I did for this blog. Perhaps some vague assumptions about Scandinavian design, and innovation. The behemoth of furniture shopping that shall remain nameless. Of course that was on my mind. But it is also how I feel about this nomadic-expat lifestyle my husband and I have fallen into. This year will be our tenth wedding anniversary, and we have lived in four countries during those ten years. Not by design, or even strong desire. Life just kinda worked out that way.

Every time we move we have to dismantle our lives. Pack the boxes. Choose what to take, and what to sell. Say goodbye to friends and places and routines. And then arrive somewhere new. Reassemble our lives. Unpack the boxes. Fit our old belongings into a new house. Try to make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

And like flatpack furniture, things don’t always fit together the same as they did before. It is always a little different, the angles have shifted slightly.

The folk-wisdom of expats is something like this: the first year is either exciting or depressing. Then you know your way around, but you don’t really feel like you belong. Three years feels like maybe you could stay. Five years to feel like you really belong. We’ve never managed the five years.

We have gained a lot, and had such wonderful experiences with this life we’ve led. But I also know that every time we leave somewhere we lose something too. There is a part of me that will always call Wellington, Cambridge, Canberra ‘home’. And my childhood homes too – Lower Hutt, and Germany. Some parts of me will never be at home again.

If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that even when you know you are leaving eventually, you can’t live in a state of impermanence for long. You have to make yourself a home. Dig your heels in and build a new life. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

* * *

Ebeltoft is situated on the Djursland peninsula which juts out in to the Kattegat; the strait between Denmark and Sweden, that eventually opens out into the Baltic Sea.  The Kattegat – around here at least – can seem strangely calm to a New Zealander, who has grown up near coasts where winds blow straight from Antarctica. Ebeltoft was particularly idyllic. Nestled into a bay, the opening of which is tucked in under the peninsula, the seas were very calm. It would be spectacular in summer. We’ve had a couple of cold weeks, sleet and hail, wind and rain. They say in Denmark you always need to be prepared for any kind of weather. Well, we were not prepared for the amount of sunshine we got.
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On that stunning Saturday afternoon we walked out to the end of the harbour pier, where in this peaceful place the cannons are still fired weekly. Ahead of us was blue sky and blue sea, green hills curving in to mark the entrance to the bay. Somewhere behind those hills, further down the coast lies our home, Aarhus.

Our home. Hjem. It feels like that to me. And certainly to my son.

I stood at the edge of the sea, feeling these northern winds blowing gently on my skin, the hush of a calm northern sea. The Dannebrog waving above us. And I knew, then, one day we will leave a piece of ourselves behind. One day we’ll ask our son to lose something much bigger, much more important than his shoes. Maybe a different child would take it easily, but we have to deal with the child we have; he is not going to find it easy.

We have a good life here. We are able to give him some wonderful experiences. But we also have to teach him how to uproot himself. This isn’t something that can be done in a rush. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to our life here. To start again, somewhere else. But wherever we end up, we’ll do it. Make new friends, find new places, make new routines.

I also know, we’ll carry a little piece of Denmark with us when we go.

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.

 

 

 

 

I’m a mummy, I scare people

I’ve been asked to post three photos that show why I love being a mother.

Gosh. Only three?!

Of course I love my little darlings. But motherhood is so much more fulfilling than smiling photos of my cherubs could show. In fact sometimes I feel the state of ‘motherhood’ is important than the unique ‘personhood’ of my own children.

And there is so much a photo can’t show. Like the beautiful pitter patter of feet on the way to your bedroom at 3am. The triumph of getting pram buckles closed while your baby is planking. The sense of superiority I get from my son learning to use the word ‘Fuck’ correctly in a sentence before his so called peers.

But I don’t want to sound like I think I’m too good for this sort of thing. So here we go.

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I love knowing no matter how much time I spend picking things up my daughter’s curiosity means she’ll instantly find something else to spread over the floor. Dvds, duplo, plastic containers in the kitchen, the contents of our change bag if I forget to zip it up. Books are a special favourite; I love seeing those getting good use. And while I’m at it, I love reading; I’ve always been a re-reader of old favourites. What a joy when I discovered the hidden depths of Thomas and The Bumpy Line. And you know Mr Skinny is very funny, Every Single Time we read it.

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I love watching my children turn there dreams into reality. Little A has had her eye on the drain for a while. Today, I went to get the camera as her brother was having fun playing in the sink. She seized the moment and I returned with said camera to see this. Oh those cheeky monkeys, I can’t turn my back for a second. No seriously. Because while I was changing her into dry clothes, her brother washed the soap.image_1 I managed to find some pieces, as you can see. The rest of them turned up when my husband unscrewed the pipes later. What larks!

Cooking has always given me great pleasure. That pleasure has only been deepened by the addition of whining for snacks. Of course I have to say No, otherwise they won’t eat their dinner later. Or they can nibble on healthy veges while they wait. I’m no angel though, sometimes they do test my willpower. So while they chomp down on cucumber slices, what I love most is knowing about this packet of chippies I keep on the top shelf…

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Only the best is good enough

Before my son was born I went to the free breastfeeding class at the hospital. It was terrible. They didn’t spend time discussing common problems women have. No mention of tongue tie, delays, or even mastitis. It was a typical ‘agenda’ class. Breastfeeding is natural. Baby will latch on, your supply will magically match itself to baby’s needs. They did have a mother come in to discuss feeding her infant. She hadn’t had any problems feeding, her baby slept through from six weeks (wtf?), and when she fed her baby in a class full of women there to learn about breastfeeding, she used a cover. I’m not sure what we were meant to learn from this experience.

Feeding a newborn is hard. It is work. It is work when it works out, and work when it doesn’t. New mothers are often so badly supported by the networks who are meant to help them. You can go to a class, and not learn anything, other than they thought they should teach a group of heavily pregnant women who had voluntarily turned up that they should at least try to breastfeed. As though that wasn’t exactly why we were there. And then things go wrong, and people say ‘I didn’t know’.

So in the hope that these words will be read by someone who needs them, I offer up to you my story. My stories that should be. Two very different experiences of feeding newborns.

My first. I was lucky. Oh so lucky. How I hate that word. Not only did my milk come in, I had an abundance of it. A massive oversupply that meant I was so engorged my son couldn’t latch on without me expressing first. That sent huge gushes down his throat that promptly came back up again. And that I was in so much pain I wouldn’t sleep, waiting to get him feeding again to ease the pressure. He vomited and vomited and vomited. But he gained weight. ‘He’s just a happy chucker’ they said, though my son was anything but happy. We were drowning in a sea of milk-covered-washing but he was gaining weight. So we had nothing to worry about. He went from the 10th percentile at birth to just over the 50th. ‘He was born hungry’ they told me, ‘babies don’t overeat’ I was assured again and again and again. So I kept feeding. And he kept screaming.

Our doctor eventually referred us to paediatrician, but we had a long wait; ‘baby screams a lot’ doesn’t exactly get you on the priority list. I spoke to multiple midwifes and health nurses. I gave up dairy. I wept. He wept. Then came the night he refused to try feeding after he got upset. The next morning I managed an appointment with a different doctor. ‘Have you tried medication for reflux?’ No. We were told multiple times a baby gaining weight could not have reflux.

It was silent reflux.

Even though we had to pin him down to syringe the medication down his throat, his mood and then mine improved dramatically. Not quickly enough to keep him growing. He developed a phobia of us putting anything in his mouth. He was well into seven months before he would try solid food. My milk supply finally let me down, I couldn’t keep up. He woke hungry multiple times a night. His weight plummeted down to just below the 5th percentile. But once he started eating, he didn’t look back, and was fully self-weaned at ten months.

My second. A difficult birth, with a severe haemorrhage. Blood loss of that magnitude typically causes delays in milk production. My body barely had enough fluid to keep itself going, of course it couldn’t manage colostrum as well. My daughter was a healthy, hungry baby. She latched on straight away and just kept trying. I’ll say this for my babies, they are suckers. But as we got into the second day, she got angrier. Quite frankly we were relieved when a nurse walked in carrying formula. She fed and fell into a happy sleep. She had a few more top-ups that night, as well as sucking away at me. The next morning she was weighed, she’d already lost nine percent of birth weight. We kept going with breast first, formula for afters. Eventually she began to regain weight. And by a month old we were exclusively breastfeeding.

This is where I know I was lucky. We had a cast iron reason for why my body was not producing what she needed. Did I feel like my body had failed? Yeah. I felt like it failed when my uterus went walkabout and tried to kill me. But I survived, so after that we just had to deal with where it left us. But lying in the hospital bed, watching my husband feed the baby I wasn’t strong enough to actually hold yet, I cried. Of course I cried. I cried many times. I cried once we were home and I couldn’t tell if she was hungry crying, and needed more formula, or crying because she just wanted something to suck to help her sleep. The two of us were a big crying mess a lot. And while she was louder, she was also cuter.

Sometimes I wondered why I was so persistent, considering how much I hated breastfeeding the first time round. Once it was working, mostly it was ok. Sometimes it was frustrating to be stuck when my boy wanted me to play. Sometimes boring. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when it’s just me and her it can be nice; I’m not pushing her to quit. Sometimes after four years of pregnancies and feeding I really look forward to putting this work behind me and my body being my own again.

When you have a new baby, and you go out and see other women with theirs, it’s easy to feel that they’ve got it all worked out. That you are the only one struggling. But everyone has a story, or will get one eventually. Those Mums might have had a start as difficult as yours, and with just a couple of months under their belt are able to get out and look ok, because things do, and will get better.

We tell each other this, we tell all new Mums this ‘It gets better’. But that doesn’t always help someone now. There are too many judgey people, and too many people unable to look beyond their own problems. I was told so many times to stop complaining about oversupply because it was not a real problem. And that hurt. When I sat in bed crying, trying to convince my son to stop crying, those words hurt. We have to remember it is not a competition and there is no one legitimate problem.

So here is my most important point: how you feel matters.

‘Fed is best’ might be true. But it is also reductive.

It implies that as long as your baby is fed, it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.

There is no job where you are expected to love every aspect of it. People have a moan about loving the work but hating that their colleague is always yelling. The retail worker complaining about not being free to take toilet breaks when they need them. Or, a waiter, who always gets food spilled on them staining clothes and making large quantities of washing. Or the plumber on call 24/7 receiving midnight call outs when they want to sleep. See if it is an actual job, a real job you get to complain.

Newborn babies can spend eight hours in a day feeding. That is a full-time job. A full-time job where at best they fall asleep, or at worst they crap on you.

So, go ahead complain that it hurts and doesn’t work. Complain that you are sore. Complain about being tired. Complain about the mess. Complain that you are heartbroken that it didn’t work out. Complain that people judge you for choosing not to try breastfeeding, because you are still feeding your baby aren’t you? Reach out in the middle of the night when you feel alone and as though you are doing it all wrong. And the rest of you reach back to lift others up when they need.

Feel how you feel. Own it.

But also know this. Eventually you have to let it go.

And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear

It’s true that nowadays people are more accepting of the wide breadth of gender expression that people feel, rather than the strict gender binaries of yore. And while I fit into a fairly conventional gender role myself, I think it is really important that people have these freedoms. But I worry that our kids are being forced to define themselves much more narrowly than us adults. That while we dream about every colour of the rainbow, big business seems determined to tell how children how they should look.

Have you been into a kids clothing store recently? Where is the green? Red? Orange?

It’s pink. It’s blue.

And it isn’t that I think there is anything wrong with blue or pink. Or boys who like trucks, and girls who like ponies. My son has a very healthy obsession with various modes of transport. When M was born I quite happily stocked up on baby clothes from the boy section, mostly in blue, lots of cute puppies and robots. I love blue! I love robots! But as my son has grown I find the clothes are less cute puppies, more Angry Birds. I bought him a Batman t-shirt, but Batman looks quite frowny. My son loves flowers and cooking, and cuddling his little sister; he worries about growing up and being old enough to go for walks on his own because he will be ‘alonely’. It seems crazy to dress him as though his default emotion is rage.

Now I have a daughter, and my eye wanders over to the girl department, and they glaze over. I find myself frightened to enter. I swear those sparkly ponies are waiting for a chance to stampede. I swear if I squeeze through the aisle of pink frilly skirts I’ll get lost and end up in Narnia.

But what about when she is older? I want her to dress to please herself, not other people. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to look a certain way to be accepted. That she doesn’t have to look a certain way to have her bodily autonomy respected. I don’t want her to think she should look like a Disney princess. Or that looking like a Disney princess is somehow a reflection of inner character, and that all the baddies she meets in life will look like Ursula. That looking like Ursula means you are bad. Though tentacles would be unfortunate…

I want my children to know they are loved however they express themselves. I want them to wear a riot of colour, or black from top to toe. They can be as conservative or not as they like. But the messages all around them are so strong. The boys’ side, and the girls’ side of the clothes store. The shoe shop. The toy store.

And it’s hard. It’s hard to swim against the flow of that message.

And before you say, it’s just clothes, don’t you have bigger things to care about? The answer to that is ‘Yes’. I do have bigger things to care about than if dressing my daughter in too many of her older brother’s hand me downs confuses people. I have more important things to do than to shop once for a boy, and then do the same thing three years later when I already bought clothes that size, just because of a double X chromosome. I have more important worries than if a stranger thinks dressing my son in floral t-shirts because he loves flowers is ‘a bit gay’. Because frankly if he decided he was gay that wouldn’t worry me in the least. And also, that’s not how it works.

The wonderful thing about small children is how accepting they are. They are so curious, and can ask awkward questions, but when we show them things are normal, acceptable, they accept it. But they also take small samples to representative of the whole; my son saw one train driver, and since then every duplo train has a female duplo figure driving it. We need to stop dividing our children into dichotomies of girl/boy, beautiful/boisterous, nurturers/adventurers. Because if we teach them that this is how it should be, how can we expect true equality for them when they are adults? If we teach them these rules matter, how can we expect them not to conform?

I could choose to push hard myself against it. Choose to dress them defiantly. But them I’m forcing that. It has to come from them. I think living as immigrants makes it harder. M is the foreign kid at daycare; with foreign parents who, as one child charmingly put it, understand nothing (but I understood that!). He is a foreign language speaker, and although he is pretty fluent, danish is still his second language, and he has a slight accent. He gleefully wears his pink Hello Kitty glasses; even on dark winter mornings because actually they are eyeglasses, and ‘oh-oh everything is blurry.’ He wears t-shirts with dandelions and other flowers on them, because he loves them. How much more do we let him stand out before the wolves start circling?

It’s too early to know who my kids will be when they grow up. A is only eight months and her preferences are pretty limited so far. Three year olds change so quickly too. Every winter I quietly worry over how much my boy will change. So far each spring when the buds break through the soil my little florist returns to me. He wants to pick every flower. We are barely able to go for walks we spend so long collecting dandelions.

And this is how I want to parent. I don’t want to tell my children how to be. I want them to be. I want to nurture the best of them. To embrace and cherish what makes them unique. To keep it safe. Not in a glasshouse. Not dried between pages of a book. But wild, fresh and blooming for all the world to see.

New Zealanders – looking for gender neutral clothes for kids? This online store Freedom Kids is awesome.

Forgive me for my sinny sin sins

The night after my mother’s funeral my son discovered potato chips with dip. He stood at the coffee table absolutely devouring them. He was so full of junk food, he barely touched a more nutritious dinner later, and I could not have cared less. Quite frankly after the week we’d had, certainly the most stressful week of his life, if not mine as well, I thought the fact that he wouldn’t go to bed hungry was good enough. My extended family were still around; if any of them thought I should find the energy to instil good eating habits in my nearly-two-year-old they knew better to say anything. They joked about it with me, while playing games to keep him entertained.

How lucky I was that in a difficult time, experiencing a ‘parent fail’, I was surrounded by kindness.

Sometimes I wonder why kindness is hard to come by.

Online can be this amazing place where we share or get support, and I love it. Except for when it goes wrong, and then I hate it. Someone makes a joke, or has a bit of a whinge, and so often someone has to come along and throw in their expert ‘advice’, and all of a sudden people are made to feel shit about perfectly normal things that happen.

Here’s a test. A friend posts: So tired, the baby cries for hours and I just want it to sleep. Do you comment:

 A) That sucks. Hugs.
B) Feel for you. Bob used to do that. We ended up using a white noise machine. Do you want me to drop ours off for you to try?
C)We had a good bedtime routine and never had any problems getting Bob to sleep. He learnt it was bedtime, and always slept fine. You should read all the baby books.
D)I knew someone whose baby cried. It had this really awful disease, and they had to pay a doctor a million dollars to rub coconut oil on them and wave crystals around.

Congrats if you chose A or B. If you chose C or D, you actually get a big fat F for Fail. Generic advice that is actually criticism, or diagnoses for perfectly normal baby behaviour are never, ever helpful. Why is this so hard?

And then you get offline, and out in public. Oh boy. That’s when the real evil-eye, sledge hammer judging comes along. Obviously it is all our fault – can’t we all just control our children?! People look askance at the parents of the tantruming toddler, forgetting that tantrums are completely age-appropriate behaviour and not a sign of poor parenting. If we give in to get out of a humiliating situation then it’s our fault, because we are teaching them ‘to get their way’. Or people think we should be prepared to pack up and go home. But once I have dressed two kids in snowsuits, mittens, hats & boots and gone out, maybe, just maybe, I would prefer to arrive home with the food I wanted to cook for dinner tonight. And if we ride it out it can be terribly embarrassing. Like the time M had a meltdown over wanting to ‘choose’ the bottle of coke, and I’m standing there like ‘I swear he doesn’t know what it is!’ but everyone is watching…I felt slightly better when the next time it was a 2kg pack of birdseed. Slightly.

The other day I found myself in town, with A asleep in the pram and a bit of time to spare before I needed to collect M from daycare. I decided to try clothes shopping. And of course I manage one shop before A wakes up; while I’m trying on a t-shirt. And you can’t pick up a baby while wearing a top you aren’t going to buy, so I have to change quickly, while she cries in the pram and everyone is staring, and I’m pretty sure the guy talking to his girlfriend in the changing rooms copped an eyeful of my stretchmarks and feeding-bra while I scrabbled to get clothes on and comfort A in her pram parked outside the inadequate curtain. And of course A doesn’t stop crying even when I pick her up. But I did like a cardigan, so I push the pram one-handed over to the counter and wait, and everyone is staring and going ‘aww’ at the poor baby. Because of course I am just a shopping obsessed woman who cares more about clothes than making sure her child’s basic needs are met. And this is why my wardrobe is entirely made-up of maternity clothes or clothes that don’t quite fit. Apart from one nice new cardigan. And how often do you see or hear snarky jokes about how Mums with babies don’t dress nicely?

Then people judge the parent who over-reacts at naughty behaviour. Without asking if that was the first or the millionth infringement of the day or week. Children are experts at winding their parents up, and sometimes even the best parent loses their cool. That doesn’t make them bad. Or their kids bad.

Or we judge them for ignoring something that we think should be stopped. I know I ignore some behaviour that other parents wouldn’t. But there are only so many boundaries I can enforce each day; and only so many times I can tell him off before we get into a negative spiral, that leaves me feeling like a nag, and my son feeling picked on. So sometimes, when it doesn’t matter, we turn a blind eye. Less ‘No jumping on furniture’, more ‘No jumping on the furniture near the full length glass windows please’. We’re not the only parents who do this. It’s not ill-discipline. It’s just that we expect our three year old to get carried away, to forget himself, to be over-exuberant, and we save our energy for the times we think discipline really matters.

And then, oh god, feeding a baby in public. Breastfeeding = bad. Bottlefeeding = bad. Solids = messy and gross to watch. Then you have a small child, and if you give them a treat then the wrath of god falls upon you. Don’t you realise you are setting them up for modern ‘lifestyle’ diseases? Because people can make an accurate judgement of your child’s actual diet based on one that one time (ok, more than once) you bought them a cake.

We spend our lives around people we don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know who’s sick. Who’s grieving. Who has just lost a job. Who is celebrating a new one. Whose kids have genuine behavioural disorders and special needs. Who was up consoling and comforting a loved one when they desperately needed a sleep.

And it can be hard to take a step back and ask ourselves what’s really going on. It can be hard to know the right thing to say, or how to help. And sometimes we say or do the wrong thing. I know I’ve done it.

Try not to judge me too harshly for it, please?

The way your face could light/ the bitter dark

I listened to Joyce Carol Oates on the radio recently, discussing her widowhood. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said ‘I never knew how weak I was’. Those words really struck a chord with me. On its own parenthood, motherhood, can be hard and exhausting. Combined with my mother’s death, and an extremely traumatic birth. It’s fair to say it has been too much.

I’m not entirely comfortable with using the phrase ‘triggering’. It sounds a bit zeitgeisty, a bit pretentious, a bit precious. Yet, it is a good word for what it can feel like sometimes. Facebook is determined to advertise for blood donations to me. When I see that ad, I see the mess of bruises on my hands and arms from four IV lines, numerous other injections and blood tests. The hospital undershot on my transfusions, and I received more two days after my daughter was born. I feel the chill of the stored blood hitting my veins. When I hear a siren I cringe, thinking no paramedic could have saved me that day; the 200m sprint to OR was far enough.

My son can be anxious sometimes. I’m not sure how it started but sometimes he finds it reassuring to spend time listing our worries; it’s a way for him to get things off his chest. The other day he told me he’s worried he’ll be left at børnehaven. It broke my heart to hear it. That he has been so worried about something that has never, and may never happen. That he is old enough both to imagine it, and articulate it.

And it troubled me because it is so close to my own fear. The fear of leaving my children motherless. I’ve spent the last year reassuring him that although we all die, we expect to live a long time. In the months since his sister’s birth those words have felt like ash and lies in my mouth.

I don’t want to pass on my fears and anxiety to my children. I know I will never forget those moments of my life, but I have to let go of the fear, the guilt.

Because I am here.

I did live.

Sometimes the fear can be crushing. Some days I am so drained I’m not as patient with my children as I would like to be. Some days I’m overwhelmed by the washing, the cleaning, the cooking, the sheer amount of needing.

Some days are glorious.

Some days we read, and bake. We go to the market and count the apples as we put them in a bag. We wrap ourselves in coats and mittens, and throw snowballs, or go for frosty walks, M zooming ahead on his bike. He runs, and bounces, and laughs.

And my daughter?

She watches. She watches the world from the safety of her parents. She watches and smiles. When she turns her bright eyes to mine I feel the aptness of her middle name; the name we chose because it belonged to my mother, and grandmother before her. Joy.

The smell of baking got stronger and warmer and browner.

Maybe it’s a rainy day, maybe there’s rugby on we want to watch in the background, maybe I’m just too tired to leave the house but I need to find a way to keep M busy. Often my solution is to go to the kitchen and start baking. And in M’s own words he is turning into quite a good cooker.

M’s absolute favourite kitchen activity is to whip out the cookie cutters. I often do a double batch of dough and have some in the freezer ready for another day (see, sometimes I am organised!). He still needs a bit of help, and the cookies can get a bit ripped or squished; the teddy bear biscuits in particular tend to lose limbs during the process.

He can, under guidance, tip measured ingredients into bowls for mixing. He’s learning how to crack eggs, how to grate cheese and carrots, and we even let him do some chopping with a knife. I’ve been meaning to buy him one of these knives for kids but my to-do-list is quite…long.

I love having him help me in the kitchen; I used to love helping my Mum. She was an amazing cook. Because my sister has a long list of food intolerances (way before they became fashionable) bought biscuits were a ‘treat’. Mum somehow found the time to bake goods for our lunchboxes. If Mum made pastry there was always enough left over for us to play with, and maybe even a few raisins to stud it with before baking our creations. We learnt how to avoid overmixing muffins, test a cake was done, and whip up the perfect kiwi pavlova.

It is only now that I have M helping me that I see everything that my mother was teaching us.

‘And now we roll the dough into a rectangle. That means two long sides, and two short sides.’
Click. My mother was a high school maths teacher.
Geometry, measurements and ratios. Baking is basically maths.

Teaching our children shouldn’t be about being perfect. It’s not about instruction, or testing. It should be something we just do. Because children just learn. They absorb everything. They’ll do it whether we consciously teach them or not. Every day, every minute they spend with us they are learning. It’s a scary thought. Then I console myself with the thought that I am not trying to teach my son to be perfect. I’m trying to teach him to be human. That it is ok to make mistakes. That sometimes people get grumpy. That we can apologise afterwards. That we love each other, even though he doesn’t nap, and it’s getting late, and I’m tired, and can he just go into the bathroom and brush his fucking teeth?

After I started writing this (yeah, it takes me a looong time to type one-handed with a feeding baby), I saw an article about how to cook with your kids. I clicked. I’m a good blogger I thought. I’m doing ‘research’. I kid you not, the first three or four bullet-points were all about ensuring your kitchen was safe. Make sure any electrical cords are coiled tidely. Make sure anything sharp is out of reach. Make sure you’ve got everything out and ready, and a clear space for utensils once they are dirty. What are the kids doing while you spend half an hour fretting about what to do with your kettle cord? Playing nicely? My kitchen bench is half-pantry overflow, half dirty dishes, half crumbs (wait, that’s too many halves, what would my mother say?) I’d never get anything done if I had to organise a perfect cooking space first. Besides if I don’t teach my son that knives exist and you really shouldn’t touch the pointy metal bit, who will? So for now, I’m just going to leave it dangerously within reach.

My baking certainly isn’t pinterest-perfect. I don’t buy into the ‘clean eating’ that has become so popular. Our cakes are #loadedwithgluten #fullofrefinedsugar. Partly because sugar, is sugar, is sugar. And partly because while we do OK, it’s just way too expensive to use only ground almonds and maple syrup instead. Who knows what the future will be like for my children; what food security they will have. I imagine they will have years that are ‘leaner’ than others. It’s more important to me that they learn the basics of cooking, so they are able to make a cake for a special occasion or cook a nice dinner to impress a date, than feeding them some ideal diet now.

Sometimes we have spills, and mess. Sometimes it takes M ages to individually place every potato wedge I’ve chopped on to the tray, while I fret because I know he’ll be complaining he’s hungry before they’ve cooked. Sometimes he eats way too much biscuit dough. Sometimes I get exasperated at his insistence he can do everything himself, because he can’t, because he’s three. But we keep getting the measuring cups out, and going back to the kitchen; it’s hard not to enjoy his enthusiasm.

So, I’m grateful my mother took the time to include us in the kitchen. Because even though I don’t remember the cake crumbs and fingerprints all through the icing, or the half cup worth of flour I inevitably left my mother to sweep off the floor, I remember the time, the love, the life skills. Gifts that are worth passing on to her grandchildren.

#nailedit
#nailedit

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’