Toddler tantrums and two types of weaning

We’ve been going through some huge stuff with the Dude lately. Anyone who knows him will know he is a full on kid, really intense and wilful anyway, and quite unpredictable. I’ve never had much success pinpointing the cause of any particular problem, whether it’s physical or behavioural or emotional, and I think this is due to his nature. He is complex. That’s okay, so am I, and so is his dad in many ways. But it makes parenting him an extra big challenge most of the time.

I took him to a new playgroup yesterday morning and after a really difficult night the night before he was a bit out of sorts, to say the least. He spent about 70 per cent of the time having meltdowns and crying and screaming during the playgroup. The other mums and playgroup leader were extremely understanding and kind, gently offering him ways to be included and making efforts to include me as we are brand new to the group. After my initial tactic trying to coax him from his corner to join the circle of children, I sat down and ignored him and eventually he came over and sat with me, finally joining in a little bit of rough play with a boy of similar disposition. After nearly three years of parenting this crazy child, I am pretty good at remaining calm and giving him just the right amount of time and space to come back down to earth. Today was a massive challenge, though, as he was so unmanageable and screamed during times when the other children were trying to sing and participate in the various activities during the playgroup.

At one point, I found myself explaining what had been going on for him recently and I realised just how much he’d been subjected to over the last few months, how many big changes in all areas of his life. Not only have we made two big interstate moves, the last one barely three months ago, and he’s unwittingly been subjected to the conflict and stresses that inevitably arise during times of massive change, he’s also become more and more aware of the increasing presence of his little sister and the changes that will bring for him. He is really sensitive to everything I tell him about the baby, and takes it all in. I recently discovered, after he rejected me aggressively, refusing to let me lift him into his car seat, that he was just being considerate and not wanting me to lift him because, “you got a baby in there, I too heavy!” I’d only mentioned it once or twice when he wanted me to carry him for more than a few minutes, so I was shocked to discover how much he’d taken my words to heart.

I have found it quite hard going continuing to breastfeed him, although I know this is fairly common for women who are feeding and become pregnant. I have reluctantly night-weaned him in order to save my sanity and allow me to get some sleep, which initially seemed to be working quite well but now is really making it tough for all three of us. I really struggled with how to go about this, as I don’t want him to ever feel rejected, or replaced, and going cold turkey with breastfeeding is not a good idea for either of us health-wise. I wasn’t very consistent in my approach to begin with, mainly because I hadn’t come to terms with what I had to do. I had a brief but profound conversation with a woman at another playgroup we visited who said that she had to really get her head around what she was doing and why and be clear about the rules or boundaries. That really hit home with me and I realised I had to work out exactly what I was doing and how so the Dude wouldn’t be confused. It sounds simple, but in my experience breastfeeding full term (ie. into the toddler stage and beyond) is a very emotional experience and becomes more emotionally complex the longer it continues. The breastfeeding relationship accumulates more layers as it continues, and peeling back those layers prematurely can be painful and confronting. It may sound strange but I never really liked breastfeeding until the Dude was about two and suddenly something clicked. It’s not like I totally love it now, but there was definitely a positive change for me at that point and if I hadn’t stuck it out til then I wouldn’t have experienced anything akin to what I’ve heard described by other mothers in relation to the emotional pleasure of it.

Anyway, instead of arbitrarily refusing him as I’d initially done, I began to only refuse if he woke at night. He still fed to sleep if he asked for it, but if he demanded boobie any time before 6am, I refused him, explaining we had to save the boobie milk for the new baby. To begin with, it was a little hard, but he soon got used to daddy resettling him, and some nights he slept through. I thought it was working really well; until he started waking a lot during the night and expecting daddy to lie in bed with him for hours while he went back to sleep. I soon discovered he was getting really upset due to believing he couldn’t have milk any more, when really it was just at night time. Once that confusion was cleared up, it seemed to get better, until it got worse. That night before the playgroup was particularly hard. He woke at 3am, ran to my side of the bed and asked for boobie, which I of course refused. He immediately lost the plot and demanded daddy lie down with him as I hauled him back to his bed. I have little patience at 3am and didn’t appreciate being kicked and screamed at. I pushed him into his bed and shouted at him that he had to go to sleep and daddy was sleeping and not going to come. Pretty silly really, but that’s the kind of shit that goes down in the middle of the night when you’re just over it! Anyway, daddy came to the rescue, hauling me off the floor and sending me back to bed while he lay down with the Dude who went immediately quiet. I was quite upset and wondered to myself how the hell I would do this when Mr C is away for two weeks in May, or worse still, when the new baby arrives. I have no idea. I’m just hoping this is a phase and some kind of adjustment or growth spurt or something.

The other change we’ve made in the Dude’s life, just over the last couple of weeks, is weaning him off television. We expected him to watch less or none while my mum was visiting as she doesn’t like him watching any and will play with him forever if it means the tv stays off. He didn’t watch any at all while she was here for just over a week, and for the next few days after she left. He didn’t really even mention it or ask for it after the first day or so. I’ve always felt quite guilty about him having any screen time, especially before age two when there is absolutely no reason to put the tv on as far as I’m concerned. I truly don’t think it adds anything worthwhile to the life of a child and while I completely love tv and movies and feel like they add something to my life, it’s really just pure entertainment, so in fact what they add isn’t necessary and can be replaced. Before I had the Dude I was convinced I wouldn’t let my children watch tv, or at least not much, and not at a young age. That all went out the window pretty quickly and we found the Dude was watching hours a day, entire movies, and endless episodes of Peppa Pig. Deep down I always assumed we’d see a difference in his behaviour if we curtailed the exposure to tv. The funny thing is, we haven’t. He’s been without it ten days or so and if anything he’s less manageable, not more, although I don’t think this has anything to do with the tv. I seriously don’t think watching tv affects his behaviour at all, and that really surprises me. But what the lack of tv does is provide space for a little bit more healthy play and imagination, which is always a good thing.

It remains to be seen just how the Dude will progress over the next few months and once his sister arrives on the scene, but one thing’s for sure: he is a challenge and a joy all in one! I always say it’s lucky he is so hilarious and clever, it really does make up for the craziness.

Learning how to really relax: birth preparation

I always thought I was great at relaxing. I’m super lazy, always keen to sit down and watch tv or read or play on my phone. Since becoming pregnant again, I have been thinking about how important relaxation is, particularly during labour. It’s about more than just sitting around doing nothing; it’s a conscious practice that could mean the difference between a purely physiological labour and a need for intervention.

When I was pregnant with the Dude, I had grand plans for doing yoga classes. I thought fairly superficially about it, with an aim to keep flexibility in my body and stretch out sore muscles. I never actually did a prenatal yoga class. For some reason I thought I could just manage by reading a whole bunch of, albeit great, books about natural birth and avoiding intervention. It wasn’t actually birth preparation at all, it was more just education on birth, physiology, biology and history. The only real birth preparation book I read was Birthing From Within by Pam England. I hated it. It was all about finding strategies to work through fears or worries leading up to birth, and ways of shedding baggage brought on by trauma experienced in previous births. I didn’t identify with any of it, and found the strategies around ‘birth art’ and the like to be a bit ridiculous; definitely not suitable for me. I felt like I had no fears at all. I wasn’t afraid of the pain, of tearing, of not being able to give birth. I guess I was afraid of ending up in hospital, although I felt the chances of that were so remote that it wasn’t much of a fear.

So I did no real birth prep. I knew about Hypnobirthing but I didn’t do it. I thought I could switch my brain off. Years ago I used to have problems falling asleep, calming and slowing my mind so as to be able to go to sleep, but over the years I developed ways of telling my self to relax and switch off and falling asleep wasn’t such an issue any more. This is what I thought I’d do during labour. How incredibly wrong I was! Not only could I not calm myself, it wasn’t my racing brain that got in the way, I was completely unable to relax and accept the contractions. I hated them. Of course it didn’t help that for most of my labour I had terrible pain around my waist in between the contractions so I had no opportunity to relax when a contraction subsided. To put it bluntly, it hurt like fuck! And when those pains subsided as the Dude most likely made his way right down into the birth canal? They were replaced with pain in my groin, in my uterus itself. It was like a muscle cramp. The uterus fatiguing, needing a break, after contracting every six to three minutes for 38 hours. The ‘ring of fire’ that so many women talk about was not apparent to me. In fact the crowning was the most comfortable, easy part of the entire labour for me. There was a bit of stinging at the front but not even the tiniest twinge in the perineal area.

Anyway, this time around I promised myself I would take a different approach. As I debriefed from the Dude’s birth, I began to create a small ‘to do next time’ list in my head:

  • hypnobirthing
  • birth ball
  • yoga
  • re-read Birthing From Within

At 22 weeks, the only one of those things I’ve addressed is the yoga. About seven weeks ago I began doing  a class at Kundalini House, run by a lovely and knowledgeable doula and apparent Melbourne birth aficionado, Nina Isabella. I’ve never been too fussed about doulas, to be honest. I think they do a fantastic job, don’t get me wrong, but hiring one is not something I’ve ever considered beneficial to me. I am not great at relying on anyone, let alone someone I’ve hired. During labour with the Dude, I don’t think anyone gave me a moment’s massage or anything like that. I don’t really even like massages. Or at least I didn’t. I pretty much held on to Mr Chewbacca’s arm and endured the contractions. I’m sure people wiped my forehead and gave me rescue remedy or whatever but that was about it in terms of actual support. And it’s how I wanted it, what suited me at the time.

This pregnancy is a whole different ball game, and now I know I’m having a girl, that goes some way to explaining why I feel so different. I am more aware of my weaknesses this time around and I’m determined to put some strategies in place to address them and get through labour in a more relaxed, evenly-paced way.

I didn’t really know what to expect, going to my first yoga class. Is it just going to be modified yoga or is it more meditation or what? I realised I didn’t even really know what I wanted. Within the first 15 minutes, I found myself crying. I don’t know how well I hid it, perhaps Nina noticed, and perhaps she sees that all the time. But the tears came, the emotion just welled up. I think it was due to not having taken any time out for myself since the Dude’s arrival, not real time. It was this massive release. I spent most of the class dealing with emotion welling up. It was a good class, great movements, nothing strenuous or wrong-feeling, and lots of relaxation. The second class, I cried again, but not so much. It wasn’t until the third class, when I didn’t cry, that I realised I couldn’t really relax. I went again and again to the classes each week, I felt really up and down. Some movements I really got into and some just felt confronting or wrong. I couldn’t grasp the acupressure points the teacher explained to us, couldn’t feel them at all, still can’t, and this was really frustrating. As I ended my sixth class, I suddenly realised I’d properly relaxed for the first time. It was a great feeling! I lay there for the final meditation hearing no sound but the instructor’s voice very faintly in the background. None of the trams thundering past outside, the clip clopping of heels on the floor below, the phone ringing in the background, even registered. And I wasn’t asleep. I was just totally relaxed for the first time, well, ever, I think. What a breakthrough!

My seventh class was not what I was used to due to a last minute change to the instructor, but attending my eighth class this week I found myself slipping back into that state of relaxation almost straight away. I had learnt something! There are still many aspects of the movements that feel frustrating to me, and times when I can’t relax my body and it seems like I should be able to from what the instructor describes, but I think that breakthrough, feeling true relaxation, was profound and a good reason to keep going.

This little girl growing inside me is already leading me places I could never find before. I am shifting mentally in ways I could only wish for previously. Beyond the birth prep, there are two significant and crucial blocks I have been needing to overcome for most of my life and for the first time ever I am poised to actually take action and change. I hate saying I will change because on every other occasion in my life when I’ve said this, I haven’t. But I won’t give up. My baby needs me to be the best I can be, as does the rest of my family. And myself.

How the tables have turned

So things have really been up and down since settling in Canberra. The main issue we’ve been facing is that we have no income, yet we’re trying to renovate a house for sale.  We were both applying for jobs, but it was hellishly frustrating as we’re both somewhat unemployable: Mr Chewbacca as he’s not yet a citizen, and citizenship is required for a security clearance needed for the majority of government jobs, which make up most jobs in Canberra; and me, as I’ve not worked in nearly two and a half years.

I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t applying for absolutely everything. The main reason for this was that I felt completely drained of the confidence I left the workforce with back in April 2011. Yes, I’ve done a few bits and pieces of work here and there, but none of it full time or in an office, and certainly not challenging or suitable for adding to my CV. I wondered whether I really could do what I’d done before, and my hellish experience in 2010 working for a large charity organisation and being treated like total crap and victimised all came flooding back. I didn’t want project management roles, not that that’s my forte anyway, but with the right amount of confidence and commitment I know I could get anything.

I’d been quite surprised at being offered an interview for a role about three weeks before we left Sydney, and I ended up doing the interview over the phone. I think I stuffed it up a bit, partly because phone interviews are hard, but also because I rabbited on a bit and it was obvious I was elaborating too much and talking a bit off topic. I also asked a really dumb question at the end of the interview. So no surprises that I didn’t get any further contact. So I had a tiny bit of confidence due to being offered that interview, but soon it dissipated when I applied for quite a few government jobs, working really hard on the selection criteria response, and had absolutely no requests for interview.  I also applied for quite a few roles through recruitment agents and had zero response there too. They’re looking at my CV thinking, what the hell, this woman has no recent experience!

Mr C spoke to literally every recruitment agent in Canberra and they all came back with the same thing: you pretty much need to be a citizen to get anything in Canberra. Demoralising. He was encouraging me to apply as much as possible, given he thought there was no possibility of him getting something, although we did prepare a couple of applications for jobs that came up in ACT Government, which doesn’t require citizenship. I must say I was surprised not to hear anything back, as I used to work there and I know the application process so well. Anyway.

I saw a role advertised on Seek that was with a recruitment agent I hadn’t applied to yet, so I applied. And, miraculously, the next day I got a call back from the agent wanting further information! I had a quick chat with him about my relevant experience for the role, a temporary communications job at the right level, and he said he’d put my CV forward. He didn’t even end up speaking to my referees, as he said he got a ‘good feeling’ about me. And the following day, I was invited for an interview! The organisation, a federal government statutory authority, sounded fairly boring, but the agent assured me that the role was suited to me and the people were lovely and fun and interesting. He gave me a fantastic package of information to help me prepare for the interview, which was at 9am on a Wednesday. I was nervous, but I immediately felt at ease with the people who interviewed me, and I just spoke freely about what I’d done which seemed to gel so easily with what they asked. It was entirely informal and I knew I’d done well. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but as I drove away I thought to myself, “we do really need the money, but I actually genuinely want to work in that office!”

And the following morning, I got a call from the agent. Good news! I got it! I spoke calmly to the agent, trying to take in the info he was giving me about going in on the Friday for a handover and starting on Monday, but as soon as I got off the phone I ran and jumped on Mr C, screaming!  I’ve never felt so relieved! The pay would be decent, enough to pay our mortgage and bills and finance the renovation, and the work would be varied and enjoyable. Mr C would be a stay at home dad, which would work out so well as Dude is daddy-obsessed at the moment. The only negative is that Dude would have to cope without me all day, or more importantly, without boobie all day! But strangely enough, he just coped. He got a bit upset when I had to leave on the second and third day, saying ‘mah mah mah work!’ and shaking his head, which means, ‘no, I don’t want you to go to work!’ but he soon said goodbye and was quite happy with daddy all day, just having boobie in the evening.

I’ve just completed my first week at my new job and I have to say it’s fantastic. My boss is amazing, so lovely and chilled and fun, and the people in my team are just lovely, easy going and friendly, helpful and kind, interesting and funny. It’s been tough getting up so early as I’ve been catching the bus which makes a 20 minute drive into an hour, but providing I don’t miss it, it’s quite relaxing to sit and read or whatever and listen to music. I’m considering other commuting options, other than the car, but that’s for another post.

So far, it’s great. Only one hitch: just yesterday, the end of my first week, I finished up feeling absolutely exhausted but pretty happy as I’d written my first media release and had it signed off by the Chief Executive with no changes. Mr C checked his email after Dude went to bed and found an email asking him to come for an interview for one of the ACT Gov jobs he’d applied for. it’s higher pay than mine and, looking back to see which role it was as we couldn’t remember, having submitted the application so long ago, we noticed it was one that we’d actually submitted late! We sent it through a few hours late with an apologetic note saying it was an honest timing mistake. Obviously they were cool to accept the application. So… how we’re going to tackle this, I don’t know. If he doesn’t get it, well, he doesn’t, and we continue on as we are. But if he does, which would be amazing financially and in terms of career for Mr C, it totally screws us in terms of the Dude. He has never been in care, and I don’t think I could do it to him, even now that he’s two and fairly tough and self-sufficient. I don’t think I can handle the thought of him being with strangers all day. Just this last week I’ve really not seen him that much, only an hour at best in the morning, and an hour or so at night, not including overnight of course where he’s still right next to me. We could consider the option of a nanny or perhaps family day care might suit, but yeah, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of leaving him. This is all probably crazy, as Mr C hasn’t even had the interview yet, but I know how impressive he is and how dodgy the ACT Gov is and I think he’ll blow their socks off.  We’ll just have to wait and see…

 

Two years of the Dude

The Dude turns two in less than a month! Time sure does fly. In some ways, it’s seemed like forever for him to get to two and I feel like he’ll never grow up, but in other ways, it’s hard to believe it’s gone so quickly. I haven’t done an update on him for ages, so here’s the latest.

He’s insane. Not just active, truly crazy. He is the most full on person, even more full on than Mr C in some ways. He is quite destructive at times, deliberately so, sometimes to get a reaction out of me and sometimes just because. He tries to smash the tv with toys or cutlery; he turns on the oven and then stands on the open door; he pulls all the DVDs out and takes the paper covers out and the discs and then stomps on them; he squishes food and cutlery and anything else he can in the smallest spaces, like under the tv stand. He throws toys, phones, anything even slightly delicate, just to see if they break, and when they do, he shouts, “oh no, broken!” He puts his trike or his plastic chair on top of the coffee table and then tries to climb up and sit or even stand on them. So dangerous! Needless to say, it takes every ounce of patience not to lose it with him!

He is well and truly into the ‘terrible twos’. I don’t mean to label him, but it’s true, he is there. He screams every time I put him in the car and will kick up a huge fuss when I try to get him out again, unless there is an incentive like a busy carpark to try and run into nearby. He absolutely refuses to hold my hand when crossing the road and will scream and sit down in the middle of the road, so I end up just pulling him across the road or picking him up, where he squirms and tries to jump out of my arms. He’s not the heaviest kid for his age, somewhere around the 75th percentile – about 13.5kg – but he is, of course, very tall, and still right at the top of the growth chart, which means he can be difficult to wrangle. Gone are the days when I could do a bit of cooking or walk around the house with him on my hip; these days I can manage it for about five minutes before my arm starts to break. On the plus side, he is easier to communicate with as he understands virtually everything I say and I’ve found that sometimes a firm voice can do wonders. It’s often hard to tell when he’s genuinely upset and when he’s just being overly dramatic. And yes, I know it’s probably not very AP of me to ever think his feelings are not ‘real’, but seriously, this child is a great actor! He screams bloody murder for nothing, and there I am trying to find out what’s going on, trying to cuddle him, trying to make him happy so he’ll calm down, and he doesn’t want a bar of it. Sometimes, if I just look him in the eye and tell him to calm down and stop, then put him down and walk off, he’ll calm down instantly and it’ll be like nothing has happened. He really is his father’s son.

Words are coming thick and fast, and two-word sentences are also emerging. He is clearly very musical and walks around the house singing Twinkle Twinkle at least 20 times a day. Whatever he’s focused on or talking about, he’ll start singing about. So if it’s Daddy, he’ll just replace the words “‘Twinkle Twinkle” with “Daddy Daddy”. It’s very cute. He can make himself understood about 80 per cent of the time with me, and probably 50 per cent with Mr C, and it’s really only his pronunciation that lets him down, as he knows so many words and talks so much. I’ve found the transition of learning to say words pretty fascinating, from a linguistic perspective. For example, he used to say “yo” for yoghurt. Then it became “yogie” and now he actually says “yoghurt”. It’s been this three stage process. It was like that with bus too, he used to say “bu” and then one day he just said “bus” and now that’s what he says. He wants to speak whole sentences but he just doesn’t have the capacity to pronounce words all in a row yet, so he’ll say, “viju viju viju viju, work?” and his voice will go up at the end to form a question, so he’s asking “has daddy gone to work?” or something similar. He got the intonation down pat ages ago, so he knows how to alter the tone in his voice at various points in speech to denote a question or a statement or even when he’s searching for something he’s lost; he’ll say, “ba-all, ba-all” in this sing-songy voice when he’s trying to find his ball, it’s very cute. He knows his own name now, which is cute, and also refers to himself as “you”, “me” and sometimes “dude”. Usually after he spills or breaks something he shouts, “oh duuuuude”!

He is pretty good with other kids and the brief period where he threw toys or hit them on the head was clearly just a short phase. I notice other kids who’ve been in care have huge problems sharing toys or waiting their turn or they just come up and hit other kids for no reason. Dude never seems concerned when other kids push or hit him or take toys from him; he’ll usually just smile and try to interact with the kid, it’s pretty awesome. He offers food and drink to others, to his toys, especially his talking Yoda. It’s hilarious, sometimes I’ll come into the living room to find Yoda lying on the coffee table with a fork sticking out of his mouth or vegemite in his hair as the Dude has been trying to feed him. He talks to toys, “hello, hello, hello Yoda” and will say “num num num” when ‘feeding’ them. He also hasn’t lost his ability to turn everything into a phone, from the xbox controller to the potato peeler, everything is held up to the ear and a ‘hello?’ spoken. He also likes to ring ‘ba-mah’ (grandma) – “Hello? Ba-mah? Oh, ha ha ha. Bye!” I guess that’s his extroversion shining through. He’s happy being around others and doesn’t mind what they do or what happens, just being around them makes him happy.

Food is a little bit of a struggle. He’s never been a big eater, but since the beginning of summer I’ve been trying to get him to eat fruit and he just won’t, it’s bizarre. A year earlier, when he was starting out on solids, he used to plow through melon and mango and stone fruit quite happily. He never got the hang of apples, and never liked bananas, but I was never concerned because bananas are known to constipate and apples are pretty hard. But now, he knows what fruit is, knows the names of some and will even ask for it or pick it up out of the fruit bowl or my bowl, but even if he occasionally puts some in his mouth, he’ll immediately spit it out and say ‘yucky’. I really don’t understand, it’s like a phobia or something. It’s not that he can’t handle texture, as he quite happily eats huge pieces of cooked veg or meat in a stew or curry, he’ll eat toast or pancakes or cereal, and he likes some dried fruit. But a piece of raw fruit or veg, no way Jose! Back in the day I used to give him fingers of cucumber and he’d happily eat those, sometimes even raw carrot sticks or zucchini, no problem. Not now. It’s kind of worrying because I feel that raw things are pretty important, but I do make him smoothies now and again and he loves them. He likes to stand up on his stool at the kitchen bench while I cut up all the fruit – banana, melon, berries – to go in, then sometimes add yoghurt or a bit of juice or almond milk and usually chia seeds or cashews. “Moosh!” he’ll shout, pointing at the cupboard where the blender lives. So it’s not the taste of the raw stuff I don’t think, but it’s sometimes to do with the texture mixed with the taste. I really don’t know but I’m going with the flow, continuing to offer him stuff, eat stuff in front of him, and I fully expect that one day he’ll just be cool with it. He certainly has some bizarre tastes – he loves to steal our coffees in the morning and will guzzle a whole cup full of milky espresso if given the chance, even without sugar! I try to stop him and I give him his own babycino in his little mug which is just the tiniest drop of espresso with lots of frothy milk on top and he’ll happily spoon it out and then drink the liquid. We discovered last night that he loves balsamic vinegar. He loves sauces of any kind, tomato, HP, you name it. And he likes really spicy food! I made a curry a while ago that I thought was actually a bit too hot even for me, but the Dude loved it, no problem. So I’m finding it hard to believe that tastes aren’t inherited, as this is all stuff that’s not as much my kind of food but that his dad loves. Strong flavours, spice and acid, anything rich, but not necessarily sweet.

He asks me to dance most days, which involves standing up, holding hands and jumping about excitedly. He loves the swing and the slide and can climb up and go down all by himself now. He spins around until he’s so dizzy he falls over and thinks it’s hilarious. Meanwhile I’m feeling queasy just looking at him! He is now discovering how to roll down a hill and spends ages just rolling around on the grass trying to coordinate his body. A few months ago, he saw some kids crawling on tv and he just got down and started crawling around, the perfect cross-crawl. I was amazed, given his bizarre one-footed crawl and my worries about how right dominant he was. He still is very much right dominant, but it appears to be evening out of its own accord, as I sometimes notice him leading with the left foot or trying to draw with his left hand. He loves technology of all kinds and (I regret this) he watches tv. Mainly Cee Beebies, the BBC children’s channel, and a little bit of ABC2.  He also loves plugging and unplugging all manner of technology, learning how the remote works, and playing music on our phones. I can’t say he’s particularly adept with the old iphone; I’m comparing here, but a while ago I saw a little girl calmly and expertly flicking through the photos on her mum’s phone. She was 17 months. Dude has only really learnt how to do that in the last month, and he doesn’t last long. He’s the same with playing music on the ipod, he loves skipping from one song to the next but a little too much, so he’ll end up hammering the screen controls and eventually pauses it by accident or presses the ‘home’ button.

As far as sleep goes, he is much improved, mainly due to my patience and consistency. He actually asks for “seep” when he’s tired for his midday nap, which is usually one to one and a half hours, and his evening bedtime is 7pm. He is always tired and ready for bed, and although will protest against the nappy change and sometimes be a bit impatient about teeth brushing, he happily goes to bed and we’ve never had an argument about that. I’m sure that’ll come. Most nights he goes down straight away, over the space of about half an hour to 40  minutes, where I just lie down and feed him. Lately he’s occasionally been stopping feeding before he’s asleep, rolling away and just going off to sleep. There are some times when I have to tell him to ‘lie down and go to sleep’ a few times, as he’ll have a bit of milk and be a bit energised and want to chat. Sometimes he’ll tell me he’s done a poo, which is always a lie, just a ploy to get up again. And sometimes he’ll ask for daddy instead of me, which is often just a ploy to stay awake longer but sometimes he’ll just fall asleep on Mr C’s chest, which is nice. Often he’ll sleep all the way through until after we come to bed, which is an absolute miracle considering what he was like when he was littler. He still wakes a couple of times in the night, and I’m finding this increasingly annoying and unnecessary so I’m going to be exploring night-weaning once his last molars are in. Oh, and speaking of poo, we did begin the toilet learning journey a few months ago but so far it’s been relatively unsuccessful. He doesn’t seem to really care about doing wees, and will look down in mild surprise when he wees during nappy-free time, then will either splash in it or just keep playing. He sometimes tells me when he’s going to poo or has pooed and occasionally I notice and ask him if he’s pooing and he’ll say “yeah”. But we’re quite far from actual wees and poos in the potty. I tried for a few days, getting him to sit on the potty outside without a nappy on every few minutes, but he never once got the wee in there. He’d sit for a few seconds, and then run off and then a wee would just arrive at random and he’d ignore it and keep playing. Perhaps I’m being too lazy, but I think I won’t push the issue and will follow his lead. Next time round, it’ll be EC all the way, at least early on anyway!

Gee, this has turned into a whole Dude update… and there I was, thinking I was going to write about how things have changed for me since the Dude’s arrival. Save it for another post.

Break the ache: how I healed my ear infection without antibiotics

I’m a big one for natural therapies. Anyone who knows me well knows I have next to no faith in the medical profession, even though I have met a few doctors who are great. My mum rarely took me to see doctors and it just wasn’t the done thing in our family. We always relied on natural remedies, proper nutrition, and good knowledge of our own bodies. I was an extremely healthy child. I never had any refined sugar until I was about five or six, and I was vegetarian until about age seven or eight (not that I’m saying that’s the cornerstone of good diet, but I was). We never had chips or lollies or any processed snack foods in the house. I was never vaccinated either. Of course, kids still get sick.

I was one of these kids that gets ear infections. Not many, but I did have a few during childhood. I have a distinct memory of lying on our couch in our house in Mawson (which means I must have been about seven), in lots of pain with my ear while my parents argued over whether I should be taken to the doctor for antibiotics. My mum, bless her, did everything she could to prevent me from having any poisons or drugs or processed anything, and because of her knowledge about health and nutrition, she knew that the side effects of antibiotics can be terrible. To be honest, I can’t remember what home remedies she used for my ear at all, although I do remember taking big doses of horseradish and garlic in capsule form, crushed up and mixed in a spoonful of honey. But that was possibly for a cold. And I remember the fever being brought down to my feet by having them wrapped in tea towels soaked in vinegar. That worked! But eventually I think my mum relented and agreed to take me to the doctor where I was prescribed antibiotics. I remember them distinctly, they were strawberry flavoured. My ear infection did eventually go away and I think I had probably two or three more bouts. Since then, I’ve always been quite sensitive to cold air being blown at my head and have ended up feeling a bit worse for wear after not wearing a hat in the cold or sleeping with a fan blowing at me all night. My ears are sensitive. And what’s more, they store a lot of wax, I’ve been told, because my ear canals are unusually curly. But I’ve not had ear infections since childhood; until I had a child of my own.

I think the dude was probably about six months or so when the first bout appeared. But it wasn’t as I remembered it being as a child. The pain wasn’t as sharp and excruciating and it didn’t feel like my ear drum was about to burst. It was more just an uncomfortable build up of fluid causing dull aching throbbing pain. One ear became completely blocked within a day or two, which I found almost as bad as the pain. If I lay on the other ear, it was like being deaf!

I definitely didn’t want to have antibiotics as I knew just how quickly I’d end up with thrush (always the side effect for me) and I especially didn’t want to take that risk with a baby. By sheer coincidence, I went to a mother’s group meeting organised by the midwifery practice through which I had the dude, and got chatting to my midwife. When I mentioned the ear ache, she immediately said: ‘onions!’  Her sure fire cure that she’d used with her kids was to take a raw onion, cut a little piece off and crush it to get a few drops of juice and put that in the ear. Hold that ear uppermost for a while to get the juice to settle in and then wait for it to work its magic. So I decided to try it. And it worked! Within a few days, the ache had gone and the fluid cleared… only to be replaced by the exact same thing in the other ear, urgh! This time I went straight for the onion, and soon enough, that had cleared up too.

But it wasn’t more than a month or two before the infection returned. I still wasn’t willing to give in to antibiotics, mainly because I could feel that this infection wasn’t out of control and was something that I could do something about myself. I know that sounds weird but I wasn’t in excruciating pain all the time, I just knew I was on the right track. It was quite bizarre though, because I started having black stuff come out of my ear! It reminded me of when my dad used to clean his pipe, and he’d scrape years of sticky, black tar out of the bowl and stem. It was the consistency of watery grease and sometimes pitch black, but more often a sort of dark greyish green. So I thought, okay, this is odd, I will go to the doctor and see what she has to say. I always end up giving doctors another chance and they inevitably let me down. Which was the case here. The doctor looked in my ear and said, “yes, there’s black stuff in there.” Gee, really? No shit, Sherlock! I explained all my symptoms and she listened for about two minutes before interrupting to tell me to go across the road to the pharmacy and buy “ear clear”. She didn’t seem to care whether there was an infection or not, and she dismissed my claim that the black stuff had been coming out BEFORE I put in the onion juice, saying that it ‘must’ be the onion that’s causing the black. I was desperate to clear my ear, though, so I actually did buy what she said. Which was a complete waste of money as it did nothing but smell like I was putting petrol in my ear.

So back to the onion. I did it for three or four nights in a row, sleeping on the side that wasn’t blocked so the onion juice could really sink into the ear overnight. I plugged it with some cotton wool so the juice couldn’t dribble out but only once it had been in for half an hour, just in case the cotton wool soaked up any juice. And eventually, the blockage went and any ache with it. It was gone! But it left me with the distinct impression that this was not the last of it. I felt that at some level it was a constitutional thing, a reaction of my body to a time of stress. And the change in my hormones and body generally as a result of pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding affected it.

Fast forward over a year and I started to get sick. I thought it was just the flu, but I had a suspicion it was something more specific to me as both Mr C and the Dude had no symptoms whatsoever. It wasn’t long, maybe 48 hours, before the dreaded earache struck again. It was the same dull, fluid-engorged throbbing pain as before. And as I did before, I embraced the onion juice. There were one or two days where I felt a little uneasy about it, as I was in a fair bit of pain and didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights because the pain was just too much. But it wasn’t eardrum pain, it was just the result of the fluid building up in there. One night I actually took a pain killer, which is rare for me. But as before, the onion did its job, and the infection subsided over about ten days. Because it took longer, I also soaked some raw crushed garlic in olive oil and warmed the oil through and put a couple of drops in my ear. I also put a whole unpeeled onion into the oven until it was softened, cut it in half, and held it against my ear as soon as I could stand it. That didn’t seem to help the infection but the pain was hugely diminished instantly.

I can’t say I won’t ever take antibiotics again in my life, they have their place, but I think onions are absolutely amazing and this remedy is worth a good go!

 

Long haul: coping with big cities and non-child-friendly places

This is the third and final installment in my series on travelling across the world with a young toddler.

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Driving the safari truck. So what if I can’t reach the steering wheel?

Oddly enough, when we booked this holiday nearly a year beforehand, I was most apprehensive about going to South Africa with the Dude. I didn’t really think about being in London with him, and in Manchester and Carlisle we’d be with family anyway. I feared that the other people with us in South Africa were not there to hang out with a little kid and would be wanting to drink and party it up. I envisaged I’d be alone with the Dude a lot, while the others had fun. Which is fine, although it seemed a bit pointless to go if this was going to be the case. In the end, the South Africa leg was probably one of the best aspects of our trip. Not only did it break up the flight perfectly, but the game farm we were staying on for most of the five days was such a great place for the Dude. It was just in the middle of the bush, lots of trees and flowers and dirt and creepy crawlies, but nothing harmful, not like in Australia. It rained really heavily one morning but it was still quite warm, so Dude just went out and splashed around in all the puddles and had a great time.  He sat up in the safari truck and pretended to change gears and steer, it was awesome. And there were a few other kids there, Afrikaaner kids of family and friends, so he played a bit with them which was lovely. Most of our friends loved having him around and were happy to play with him or keep an eye out for him. There were difficult elements, like when we wanted to stay and have dinner and a few drinks and the Dude was ready for bed at his usual time of 7pm. But we managed by putting him in the ergo on my or Mr C’s back, and whoever had him just stood a little apart from the noise of the people for a bit while he fell asleep, then just kept moving so he more or less stayed asleep until it was time to head back to our cabin which was just up the road. It was a challenge with no lights at night, having to light paraffin and gas lamps to change him when he was totally past it and just wanted to be asleep. But overall, a positive experience.

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Misty Manchester. Can’t say foggy, I’ll be in trouble with Mr C who believes in some undefinable but critical scale defining airborne moisture particles. It’s a mortal sin to call a mist a fog apparently!

Manchester was interesting. It was challenging keeping him confined not only to the small space of the inside of the house but also inside for most of the day, as it was just too cold for him to run around outside unless we rugged him up and got rugged up ourselves. And in Carlisle even that wasn’t possible as it was really icy and he couldn’t walk a few paces without slipping over on the ice. He really missed his outside time. It wasn’t fun trying to get him to have his nap at the Trafford Centre (a huge shopping centre in Manchester) as, until then, he’d never fallen asleep in his pram in a shopping centre. If he was in the ergo, he probably would have, but I didn’t have it with me that day and he’s getting quite heavy for it. When he did finally pass out it was really only for about 40 minutes and he was really angry about that.

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On the drive up to Carlisle from Manchester. The British countryside, particularly the more northern parts, is so incredibly inspiring to me.

The lack of light was a hard one too, although it meant we got a sleep-in most mornings as he didn’t wake up until it was getting light. In the afternoon it seemed like it got dark so early, so the days felt very short, and it made his outside time even more precious. When we took him out to Manchester city centre, he stayed in the pram virtually the whole time, and this was like torture for him as he couldn’t really run off his energy. One day we attempted to get some shopping done by taking him to one of those supervised kids’ play areas and leaving nanna to keep an eye on him. Disasterous! He apparently cried the whole time and only stopped when he saw a man that looked like daddy whose leg he clung to and then briefly played with the man’s children before noticing we weren’t there and getting upset all over again. Poor nanna. She did try, but obviously he’s so strongly attached to his mum and dad, there was nothing she could do.

It's like Blue Poles, industrial stylie. Awesome!
It’s like Blue Poles, industrial stylie. Awesome!

In London, we took public transport. Now the tube etc there is just brilliant, an amazing achievement and I think all cities should aspire to something like that. But it’s not perfect, at least not for those on wheels! I loved the idea, in theory, of putting him in the ergo and leaving the pram at home, but it actually doesn’t work if you’re going on a long day trip to the city. At some point, he’s got to have running around time, which means you have to chase him, and when he’s not running around, he’s strapped to your back, all 12kg of him. The ergo is amazing, don’t get me wrong, and it wouldn’t ever cause a back problem, but there is a limit to how many hours I can walk around with him on my back without feeling stiff and tired. And I can’t really sit down for any length of time as the Dude will get restless in about a minute.  I imagine the feeling of being carried completely changes for him when I sit down. So we took the pram. The shitty, horrible, flimsy Peg Perego Pliko Switch. Just to digress for a moment to whinge, my dad bought this pram for the Dude on his first birthday. We hadn’t bothered to buy one before as we were gifted one and I tried the Dude in it a few times when he was really little and it was hell, he hated it, so I just wore him in the hugabub or, later, the ergo. Miraculously, when we tried him in the new pram, he actually fell asleep and didn’t seem to hate it. The pram was on sale as that model had just been superseded  so it would have been $750 but was reduced to $450.  I thought this was a brilliant saving.  I liked the fact that it was fairly compact and not a jogging stroller, and it seemed to do what we needed.  It even had a drink holder! But shortly after buying it, things started to go wrong. Parts just didn’t stay together, the top shade would randomly pop off and end up lop-sided, the wire connecting the brakes would just flick off at random and get caught on things, and the extending handles didn’t really extend very much.  In fact Mr C hates using it because he can’t walk with his usual stride as the handles don’t extend up enough, so he always kicks his foot as he walks. It is quite heavy at 12kg and we soon discovered that the folding action was pretty dodgy.  Not broken, but not easy to do one-handed, as is indicated in the instructions. Plus it never stayed folded and would just start unfolding every time we picked it up! There are few good things to say about the pram actually and we hate it so much. But we don’t have money for a new one, so we took it with us overseas. I didn’t notice when I got it out at Sydney airport, but the front wheel had been totally crushed in transit. The plastic is really brittle and just flimsy, I don’t think it would take much to crack it. So that wheel is all wobbly and the rubber is slowly coming off the crumbling plastic wheel. At least this is a good reason to get a new one, but I must say I’m less than impressed at the idea of having to buy a new pram only nine months after we bought it.

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A brief snapshot on a bridge on a bitterly cold afternoon in London. Think it was somewhere near London Bridge, or possibly on it!

So, when we caught the train in London, we faced some difficulties with the pram. A lot of newer stations, such as all those on the DLR and Jubilee Line are accessible, which is brilliant, but many are not. In addition, you can’t be certain that the lifts or escalators will be working when you get there. We had such a hard time getting from the airport to the Isle of Dogs where we were staying, especially as there were works happening on the Bank end of the DLR which meant going via the Overground and District Line, neither of which had lifts or escalators. After next to no sleep on the ten-hour flight from Johannesburg, carrying the pram, which would have been nigh on 25kg with the Dude in it, up and down stairs was absolutely hideous. The rest of the time it was fine, as we splurged and took the Thames Clipper down to Embankment a few days, and the rest of the time the DLR to Shadwell which has a lift, albeit the smallest lift in the world that only fits one pram at a time so there is always a line up.

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Qantas’ contribution towards the fate of our shitty stroller.

Heading into central London for a day out wasn’t the most difficult thing in the world, but making sure the Dude was warm, comfortable, fed and not bored was really challenging. We did bring lots of warm stuff but I think we could have done better there. I noticed all the UK ‘buggies’, as they call them, had really cool zip-up insulated bag things fitted onto the pram and covering the baby’s whole body.  Our pram does have one of those cover things but it’s not really designed for cold and just sort of clips on loosely. We also didn’t have a full snow suit or down jacket for him, and I would have felt better if he was wearing something like that, although he was warm enough with a few layers and he learnt how to keep his hat on which was awesome as previously he’d just rip it off. He didn’t manage to keep his gloves on for long though, which was annoying as his little hands were icicles in minutes. I think if he’d grown up in the cold he’d be used to the gloves. I put cotton tights on him under his cords or jeans and then socks on top before his little furry leather boots which were really awesome. Ultimately, though, the extreme temperature changes took their toll and he did get sick, throwing up all over me and the floor in an Indian restaurant! They were really nice about it, although everyone at the table was a bit revolted I think, understandable!! There was one day we took him into central London and let him run round Hamley’s for a while, which was an absolute mad house but he loved having all the toys to play with. It got really hard later in the afternoon when we tried to have a late lunch in a pie shop and he was just pissed off.  He screamed and squirmed and generally made life hell for us. Not even breastfeeding did the trick. I always thought I’d get dirty looks and rude comments from the general public when he did this sort of thing, but, although people are clearly unimpressed sometimes, I’m yet to receive a negative comment, even when he’s really showing off and making a scene. People really are tolerant, generally speaking, and for that I’m very grateful.

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The great man himself!

Overall, what would I do differently next time? If possible, I’d avoid taking a child of this age that far away into such a different environment! But if I had to do it again, I’d get a better stroller, I’d have some better winter outfits, and I’d probably try and do the ergo thing more. Generally speaking, though, I wouldn’t take a toddler to central London. The amount of enjoyment he got out of it versus the amount of time he was pissed off was just not worth it. The memories, for us, are a great thing though. The photo with the statue of the Dude’s namesake on the Embankment, getting to see London again, his grandparents, cousins, aunt, and other family and friends getting to meet him, all these things and more made it worth it. It was never going to be a walk in the park, but we did it, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Long haul: co-sleeping on the move

This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing on our recent trip to South Africa and the UK.

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The candelabra chandelier at out cabin on the farm. We never lit it but in winter, with a fire going in the grate, this would be gorgeous. No electricity is lovely!

When planning this trip and getting in touch with all the people we’d be staying with, the question was always, ‘oh, what about a cot for the little one?’ And the response was always, ‘oh no, don’t worry, he sleeps with us’. Most people, I think, know this is what we do.  Some probably just think, okay, whatever, don’t know why you’d do that but okay. Others probably think the ‘rod for your own back’ thing. And obviously some, who do the same, realise how easy co-sleeping can make things. Not that I’m saying I’d have chosen to co-sleep before the Dude arrived. In fact, I was staunchly against it when my midwife first broached the subject. But it has given us more sleep than trying to get him to sleep on his own in a cot, that I’m absolutely certain of. I have a dream that the next one will be like I was as a baby and sleep 12 hours a night from three months. Ha!

So, on this trip, we slept in a lot of different places (including the plane, although I don’t know I’d count that as sleeping, more passing out temporarily from exhaustion, only to be woken by a kick in the face and an angry screech). First up was our good friend’s parents’ place in Krugerstorp, just outside of Johannesburg. They have a typically South African gorgeous big rambling house with heaps of room, pool, tennis court, beautiful grounds, all surrounded by tall iron gates. We spent one night there before driving out to ‘the farm’, and we stayed in a lovely big room which was sort of outside the rest of the house, or at least the entrance was, with an ensuite bathroom across the way. The bed, we were informed, was very old, apparently made by our friend’s grandfather or great-grandfather, beautifully carved wood, but sadly only a standard double size. We have a queen at home with the Dude’s cot side-carted (he has finally started rolling into it sometimes when he’s asleep, woo hoo!) so lots more room. It was very peaceful in the room. I finally succumbed to sleep when I put the Dude down about 8:30pm and he did manage to stay asleep for a couple of hours. We dragged a big old piano stool to my side of the bed and put pillows all around, just in case he decided to roll off, and that sort of worked although he did push it away when he was really restless. Of course, because of jet lag, he woke about 2:30am and started playing around. I gave him some travel flower essence and some rescue remedy for sleep that I’d bought in preparation and let him play around a bit. Mr C, who’d stayed up far too late having beers and catching up with our friend’s brothers, was in no mood to be jumped on, but he sleepily tolerated it. Amazingly enough, Dude was awake about 40 minutes, and then I switched off the light, laid him back down and he went back off to sleep! That was pretty much the extent of his jet lag, and when you consider that Sydney and Johannesburg are something like nine hours apart time-wise, I think that was pretty impressive.

The next day, we drove through to our friend’s parents’ game farm, which is about 90 minutes away.  I sat in the back between our friend’s mum and the Dude.  He slept part of the way and was pretty good, but towards the end he got really upset and just wanted out. Of course, I’d forgotten: TIA! This is Africa! Stuff keeping kids restrained and all that! His mum said to me she’d actually prefer me to have him on my lap and that it’s no big deal, they wouldn’t get pulled over for it. I realised she was right when I noticed all the utes with half a dozen guys just sitting in the back, cruising along the dusty, pot-holed highways at 100km/hr.  So I put him on my lap, held him firmly, fed him, and he was happy. When we arrived at the farm, it dawned on us that there is no electricity. None at all. But paraffin and gas lamps, gas hot water, and even a paraffin fridge meant we had all the comforts of home, more or less. It did pose a bit of a problem arriving home after dark and having to get the Dude changed by the light of lamps, or when we were feeling too tired, our phones. On that first night at the farm, the Dude woke again around the same time, but he couldn’t get up and play because it was absolutely pitch black.  Mr C found it quite unnerving, being unable to see even your hand right in front of your face, but for me it was just brilliant not to have that distraction of electricity and technology. And because it was so dark, I think the Dude must have thought he was still asleep, so he wrestled around for a few minutes, had a booby, and fell back to sleep. And that was it for jet lag, all done. I seemed to have recovered fairly well too, but Mr C struggled the whole time, waking at 2am and being unable to sleep or see anything. The cabin we stayed in was well ventilated but no fly screens were on the windows which we left open the whole time. Luckily it cooled down nicely at night. The Dude had to sleep between us which was a bit squishy, again, in a double bed, but it worked and made things so easy without having to work out the logistics of fitting in a cot and trying to get him to stay asleep in there. The interesting thing about co-sleeping is that when I’m telling others about it, I always find they have their stories about how they did it, even though it wasn’t the done thing. Our friend’s mum had stories like that, and she’d had five kids, all grown up now.

After our five night in South Africa, we headed over to the UK for the Dude to meet his grandparents in Manchester. We had explained to Mr C’s mum that Dude doesn’t sleep in a cot, but I think she had a hard time working this out in her head as her kids had all slept in cots whether they liked it or not. She had gone to the trouble of getting us a travel cot (which was never even unpacked) and even another little blow up bed which was really cute, but again, the Dude just jumped around on it for a few seconds and then was totally disinterested. Because he’s always slept with us, he doesn’t get the concept of having his own bed and I wasn’t about to try and transition him when he’s already in a strange place. So he slept between us in the spare bed, again, a double, which made it pretty squishy. I’d forgotten how much smaller everything is in the UK, space-saving.

We’d decided we’d try and take advantage of having grandparents around and head out a couple of nights. The second night we were there, we had tickets to see Ben Folds at the Manchester Apollo.  I got the Dude down to sleep at 7pm and we headed out. Nanna was in charge. I’d warned her that he almost never stays asleep and that he won’t just go back to sleep after a bit of a grizzle.  She’ll need to go in and pick him up and rock him back to sleep, or lie down with him and cuddle him. Even that, I was pretty sure, might pose problematic. I knew he’d scream because he’s used to me being there, or even daddy coming in sometimes to lie down with him. He barely knew this person, despite the fact she is is nanna. When we got home, shortly after 11pm, the scene was pretty dismal. Nanna was exhausted, having tried everything to get him to chill out, and Dude had eventually passed out once or twice but was lying half awake in her lap. She whispered at me in horror, ‘he’s not normal!’ as I went upstairs to get him back to sleep again. I knew this would happen. It’s nearly impossible to impart to someone with such different ideas about parenting just what we do and how we do it. And I don’t think she realised that the Dude doesn’t ever back down, he never gives up, he tells you what he wants and will keep telling you as loudly as possible until he gets it! I don’t see this as a negative thing necessarily, not for an 18-month-old, as I think he isn’t aware of himself as an individual yet and is just expressing his needs and happens to be very good at doing so. My mother-in-law is of a different school of thought. She believes babies and children should be placed in their cots when the adult determines it’s bed time and the door shut and the baby left to get to sleep any way possible, even if that means lots of screaming and crying. Personally I believe this can permanently damage a child. And aside from that, I don’t agree with ignoring cries of distress from any loved one, adult or child. If my husband was afraid and confused and needing the comfort of my arms, I’d give it to him. Why not a baby?

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London, man, you can’t beat it!

Anyway, the ten days or so we were in Manchester were very interesting. I know my mother-in-law doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on many aspects of parenting, and I know she mentioned it a few times to Mr C, but to her credit, she didn’t try to have a go at me about it or start a fight. She mentioned a few times politely what she thinks should happen and why, and I explained why that wouldn’t work for us and we really just left it at that. I would love the Dude to sleep in his own bed, and yes, in his own room, I’m not going to deny that, but I know that’s not what he needs and it’s not in keeping with the basic, instinctive needs of babies and children, which dominate more than our learned behaviours, particularly at this age. One day, he will transition to his own space, perhaps with some gently assistance from his parents, but never will I force him into anything. I know someone who is now desperate for love and touch and comfort because he never received enough as a baby. I don’t want the Dude to end up that way.

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The pond down the road from Mr C’s nan’s house in Carlisle. Gorgeous and icy!

On our second last night in Manchester, something interesting happened. We went for dinner with friends, leaving nanna to deal with the Dude again. When we got home, he was miraculously sleeping peacefully by himself in bed. Apparently he’d woken as usual but she’d done something different this time. She got the distinct impression that he was afraid of the dark, so she turned on the light. He saw she was there and quickly fell back to sleep! Of course, I don’t know how long all this took or what else happened, but he seemed very different. My mother-in-law said she just knew he was scared to be in the dark and as soon as he could see where he was and that someone was there, he was fine. I have had that idea before, but I can’t say it’s ever helped me, although my experience of getting him to sleep is always going to differ because I’m the mummy with the boobies! So I was relieved that MIL managed to work out how to get him settled and he was happier to be around her. I was also glad because I think she had been feeling somewhat rejected and this really turned things around.

We stayed in London with friends for the last five days of our trip. They’d asked the cot question too of course and had kindly arranged a whole bunch of other stuff for us which we actually didn’t need, like a highchair and stair gates. It was interesting because they have chosen not to have kids, so while they like them, they are happy in their lovely house, just the two of them. We tried our best to make sure the Dude didn’t trash anything and that meant turning off most electrical stuff at the wall and turning the bin around so it was less accessible. The bed, thankfully, was a queen size, so we were pretty comfortable. Of course, the Dude getting sick and vomiting in the middle of a restaurant and then later in the hallway and in the bed (luckily we’d already put towels down) was a pretty hideous way to end the trip, but what can you do? He is a vomity person, it seems.

Overall, co-sleeping worked really well for us while travelling, and saved the hassle of organising cots and rearranging rooms. Small beds are hard to deal with, and I know sometimes he is disturbed by us being next to him, but other times he is woken because we’re NOT there.  It’s hard when the Dude is between us and kicks off the covers as we all end up cold. So there are pros and cons. As I say, if I had a child who would fall asleep and then be put in a bed without waking, I’d be doing that. But I don’t. Next time we go, he’ll be in his own bed, I hope.

The next and final installment in my series of posts on long haul travelling with a toddler will be about coping with big cities and non-child-friendly places.

Long Haul: flying across the world with an energetic toddler

This is the first in a series of posts I’m doing on our recent trip to South Africa and the UK. This first post covers flying long haul with a young toddler.

I knew it was going to be hard. Not only is the Dude at that stage where he just wants to explore everything, he’s also mobile enough to do so, and as tall as a kid a year older, so he can get into things that an older kid would have a bit more awareness of. Breastfeeding is such a godsend in these kinds of situations, but I knew eventually he’d be sick of even that. The flight from Sydney to Johannesburg was 13 hours, then after the five days in South Africa we’d be flying on to London which was a 10-hour flight.  On the way home, we were going right the way through: 13 hours from London to Singapore, a 90-minute refuel, then back on the plane for the 7 hours to Sydney. People had always said how much easier it made it to have a few days in between the legs, and I’d always agreed, but until I did it, I had no idea how true that was!

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The windows in the cabin on the farm – no screens, but we didn’t end up with any Parktown Prawns in our beds. In fact all creepy crawlies are not poisonous in SA, who knew?

We set out for our 10am flight from Sydney and already we were behind the eight ball.  Having tried and failed to utilise Sydney’s train system to get to the airport before (which is literally half an hour’s drive away, maximum), we decided to just bite the bullet and get a cab. Even this proved a huge stress. The motorway was, as usual, congested for no reason, and we sat tight hoping we’d arrive with enough time to spare. Rocking up to the Qantas check-in, we got rid of the pram straight away and the Dude, who was already running around the airport like a crazed ape, was strapped to my back in the ergo. Most people take their strollers right to the gate, but we have never done this.  Little did we know, when leaving South Africa, we’d get a good lesson in why baby-carriers freaking rock and prams are sent by the devil to torture us! Given our 10am take-off, it coincided pretty much straight away with the Dude’s nap time, which is usually around 11am so he didn’t take too long to fall asleep. We had elected not to have the bassinet, given the Dude is so long and probably a little heavy for it, plus getting him to sleep on his own, even if it’s a metre away from me, is pretty hard. I’d resigned myself to having him draped across my lap, and hopefully getting a break for a short while to eat or stretch or go to the bathroom. I had visions in my head of the Dude sort of lying right across my and Mr C’s laps, and then us being able to put our chairs back and get sleep. I had no idea how we’d fold down tray tables and I didn’t expect to get to watch any movies. I ended up propping pillows under his head so I could pull my arm out from underneath and have both hands free for a while. Once he’d had a nap, during which time we managed to eat lunch by positioning both trays of food on Mr C’s tray table, he was rearing to go. He was full of beans and desperate to run, so we took it in turns to let him run up and down the plane aisles, following behind. He met a little girl, about three or so, who was doing the same, so they chased each other up and down, probably annoying a few passengers at the same time, but it was better than trying to restrain him in the seat. I must admit, I got a little slack with following him after a while and sort of let him go up the aisle, expecting him to turn around when he got to the end where the hostesses arrange the food. And then he didn’t come back. I realised he’d probably continued on through up the plane, so I quickly made my way up. No, not in the next aisle either.  I realised I shouldn’t have let him out of my sight! By the time I got to him, he’d made his way all the way up to Business Class (and on an A380, starting near the back, that’s a long way!) I quickly grabbed him and turned him back around, only to be politely informed by a hostess that he really shouldn’t be here.  Oops!  It wasn’t too long after that when things started to really get out of hand.  Both Dude and the little girl were really hyped up and were getting more crazy, bashing into things, stealing random stuff as they ran along, squealing, getting in the way.  As I was grabbing him to bring him back to the seat to calm down, another steward said perhaps we shouldn’t let them run like that as they’re bound to get hurt.  And he was right, it was only a matter of time. So we hauled him back to the seat, and I got to change him in the smallest changing facility ever! For those who haven’t taken a baby on a plane, the change tables are in most of the bathrooms, and they fold down above the toilet.  So you have to sort of lean over and change baby on the side, which is awkward but not impossible. I can’t imagine how anyone over about 5’10” would manage it without doing themselves a bit of a mischief though. I didn’t ask Mr C to do a change for that very reason, as he has enough of a problem folding his 6’3″ frame, complete with herniated discs in his back, into those tiny toilets.

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The view from our bedroom window in Manchester. Could you get any more typically British? I’ll never be able to live somewhere with such a tiny yard…

So we arrived in South Africa without any huge upsets. When we went to board in Johannesburg for the flight to London, we decided to try keeping the pram up until the gate this time. Big mistake! When we got to the gate, they told us to fold down the pram but the bloody thing wouldn’t fold down properly and wouldn’t stay folded (never buy a Peg Perego, worst pram ever!) and the flight attendants just stood next to us chatting while we tried to hold the Dude and deal with the pram, all in stuffy 30 degree heat because they don’t seem to understand what air conditioning is. Never again! The flight itself was pretty hellish too. It was the only leg we were flying with British Airways, and although my experience of them had previously been good, I was absolutely appalled at the service on this flight. The attendants were uncommunicative at best and downright rude at worst. The plane was prehistoric, like they’d spent all their money upgrading Business Class and had left Economy to wallow back in the 80s. We’d made the mistake of electing to get the bulk head seat which sounds fabulous but really it meant that neither of us could get up when the Dude was finally in the bassinet asleep. It also meant very little room, and although the leg room was slightly better for Mr C, the bassinet took up any spare room we had elsewhere, including that required for folding out the screens from our arm rests. At one point, for about two hours total, we did manage to get him to stay asleep in the bassinet  and it was luckily while we ate dinner, so that was awesome, although the food was pretty disgusting and they didn’t provide a meal for the Dude at all which I was pretty surprised about. Qantas provided excellent meals with fresh, often organic, healthy ingredients that I had no problem feeding the Dude.  Anyway, we both got to eat and watch something in peace, bliss! But other than that, the rest of the flight was awful. Dude was pissed off because it was an evening flight so he wanted to be asleep the whole time but couldn’t because it was so uncomfortable and the bassinet was so small that three-quarters of his legs hung over the side. They couldn’t get the temperature control right, and it was even worse than on a normal flight where you expect some temperature issues. For the major part of the flight, the bassinet was used as a shelf/holder for all our shit and we just sat there waiting to land, drifting in and out of consciousness. Getting into Heathrow was such a relief, even though it was 6am and bloody freezing. The Dude was absolutely shattered and finally did fall asleep on the drive up to Manchester.

Coming home from the UK, I realised, was going to be a bigger challenge, given we weren’t going to have a proper break and it would be one long flight the whole way there.  I think it was only about 20 hours actual flying time, with a 90 minute refuel at Singapore after 13 hours. This time, we didn’t choose the bulk head seat, but we got this weird position near where they serve the drinks but just one half row back from the emergency exit. So there were just two seats in front of us, but kind of out in the open. From my seat next to the window, I could get up and walk forwards and around the two seats in front without disturbing anyone, so that was great, although there weren’t many times when I was free to do this! The only downside of the seats was the lack of leg room for Mr C (which is his usual complaint anyway) and the screen folding out of the arm rest for me, which was quite tricky to do with 90cm of squirming toddler trying to get comfy on my lap. Thirteen hours straight is always going to be pretty hideous, but we tried to just go with the flow. The couple sitting in the odd seats in front of us clearly knew how good they had it in those seats and as they sat facing the air hostess on take off they got chatting and she agreed to serve them drinks first before anyone! They must have each had two or three drinks before we even got a first! So when it came time for ours, we didn’t muck about. We each ordered a bloody Mary and I got a sparkling water too. The food options were lamb or fish pasta, and as I hate lamb I went with the latter. I wolfed it down as Mr C held the tray for me and tried to stop the Dude kicking his meal which was balanced precariously on a ridiculously small tray table next to too many drinks. The woman next to him just sat there surly, trying to ignore us. I guessed she wasn’t having a good time. As I sipped my bloody Mary, after failing to eat the whole meal and guzzling my mineral water, I began to feel odd. I decided the alcohol was probably not a great idea and swapped for water. A few minutes went by and I felt no better, worse in fact. Over the next ten minutes or so, I began to realise I might be sick. I am not a vomity person, having really only thrown up from too much alcohol and morning sickness. So throwing up is a bit of a foreign concept for me and I denied I was feeling so queasy. That was a huge mistake! Eventually I said to Mr C that I think I’m going to be sick and I need to get up, but the Dude was fast asleep in my lap and it’d taken so long for him to settle down I didn’t want to move and wake him. I kept trying to breathe through it and convince myself I didn’t need to throw up. I realised quickly that I’d have to get up. Mr C offered me the sick bag and I waved it away in horror: surely only kids use them, I can’t throw up in a bag in front of the whole plane! I frantically looked around me, trying to formulate a plan, a way of getting the Dude off my lap without waking him. It was too late. I felt myself begin to spasm and motioned to Mr C, who had gotten up and was standing opposite me, to get a bag. I was holding the sick in my hand as he finally thrust a bag under my mouth. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do! It felt like I filled up the entire bag but Mr C, so typically non-squeamish, just held the bag up and pushed my hair out of the way. I saw him hand it to the air hostess and I just closed my eyes and tried to become invisible. I needed to wipe my hands and mouth and just as I started looking about for someone, as Mr C had been commandeered by the air hostess for some reason, the girl in front came with a glass of water and a big pile of napkins. She was so lovely. I asked if she was a nurse and she said no, she wouldn’t have the patience. I thanked her over and over as she so kindly got me wet wipes from her bag. Mr C came back and helped get rid of all the soiled napkins. Dude had slept through the whole ordeal! The woman next to Mr C glared sullenly in our direction, but I didn’t hate her for it; that would have been me a few years ago.

I felt so much better after my little episode, and we flew on to Singapore, arriving into slightly uncomfortable humidity late at night to the wonder of modern civilisation that is Changi Airport. We were shattered. We took it in turns to chase the Dude around and stop him getting stuck on the travelators while the other freshened up and before we knew it, it was time to board the plane again for the last leg of seven hours to Sydney. It was at that point I vowed to myself I wouldn’t do this again with a toddler. He was totally out of himself, going from laughing hysterically to screaming like his arm had just been cut off! Even breastfeeding wasn’t really cutting it any more. He was exhausted but feeding to sleep just didn’t seem to be working, probably because there wasn’t a lot of quality milk after I’d thrown up all the fuel for that. I’d been trying to remember to take the Travel Flower Essence and Rescue Remedy Sleep drops I’d bought, and the small pump spray of deionised water I brought was an awesome way of freshening up, plus the Dude thought it was hilarious when we sprayed it in his face. That all helped, I’m convinced, but nothing can substitute for quality sleep and decent food. We staggered off the plane, lining up at border control in our different lines, as Mr C is still on a British passport (although we later discovered we all should have gone to the Aussie line). Like zombies, we collected bags, dragged ourselves out to a taxi and paid an exorbitant amount of money to get home, with a shameful stop at Maccas drive through on the way to get coffee and bacon and egg muffins. The jet lag was hideous, mainly due to sleep deprivation, but we were home. I said to Mr C that we won’t be doing that again for another few years at least, and happily gave him the green light to go home on his own whenever he wants. It’s great to go as a family, but the stress of long haul flying with the Dude is just too much. Needless to say, we all got sick towards the end and weren’t right for at least a week afterwards.

Next post in the series: co-sleeping on the move

How not to return to work after having a baby: part two

As you may recall from the first instalment, I didn’t go back to work after having Dude. I did keep looking for work, preferably something I could do from home. In my heart of hearts, I knew that leaving the Dude to be cared for by someone else regularly wasn’t right for him. I did start to feel more confident about him being ready for a little ‘away’ time from me as he is so very independent whenever we go anywhere. He runs off, gets involved in other kids’ games, climbs things, goes really far away from me without a glance back to check I’m there. I thought maybe he would actually benefit from a couple of half days away playing with other kids.

A few weeks ago, I took him to visit my mum up at Byron. I thought I’d get heaps of time to myself while grandma gets her fix. How wrong I was! He was very suspicious of everything she offered him to eat, due in part to the fact that she mixed up some ricotta and avocado in mashed potato and he wasn’t a fan of the whole mixed mushy thing. And towards the end of the week he started having a tough time teething and just wanted to be held and fed for hours and hours.  He really clung to me, even when he wasn’t teething, and I realised that I really am his security point, so because he was in strange surroundings, he kept me close by.  The whole idea of putting him in some kind of care for a few hours a week completely went out the window; he clearly wasn’t ready.

I must say I was beginning to find it really hard going having to justify my choice to stay at home all the time, and deal with not having enough money to do what we need to do.  Mr Chewbacca stresses out about it all and feels he just doesn’t earn enough to keep us all going comfortably.  I think he’s a bit resentful of the fact that he has to be at work every day and I’m at home, and while he understands the importance of what I’m doing with the Dude, he still feels a bit ripped off.  I guess that’s fair enough.  It’d be different if he earnt a lot more money and we were more comfortable and living somewhere we love.  But that’s another story for another post.

I would still log onto various job-finding websites a couple of times a week and search for work-from-home jobs.  They are few and far between, especially doing writing or editing or online work.  Most jobs working from home involve telemarketing or something equally hideous and I just knew that kind of thing wouldn’t be suitable.  It would have to be something that at least utilised my skills in part and I wouldn’t want to be on the phone all the time.  I half-heartedly searched and found nothing much, although I did apply for half a dozen or so positions over the last few months, with no success, barely even an acknowledgement.

Then, a break! A close friend texted to ask if I was interested in 12 hours work from home doing what she’d been doing for a past few months, admin type work, mainly online.  Yes!  I immediately said I was keen and we had a chat about it. She and I have known each other so long that she knew immediately it would be up my alley, and I knew she is always on the money. She recommended me and I met with my prospective employer, Dude in tow, and she offered me the job!  It’s not great money, but better than nothing and at least a start.  It’s possible the hours may change, so who knows.  I’m actually enjoying it, enjoying the forced routine, and the Dude is coping well too.  It feels like such a smooth transition, no stress, no pressure, defined hours, and a very flexible employer.  It’s been only two weeks so far but I certainly do feel very lucky to have secured something like this.  I now realise that it’s unlikely I’ll ever go back to working 9-5 in an office; that’s so last century!

How not to return to work after having a baby: part 1

One of the most significant challenges that has presented itself since having the Dude has to do with my work. I’ve not been working now for over a year and it’s a new experience for me but feels really right. The issue is that surviving on one income is not easy for us and we didn’t really plan well so now financial issues are putting the pressure on and I’ve been toying with the idea of somehow going back to work. But at my core I don’t think it’s the right thing.

I feel like I need to give a bit of background here: I never knew what I wanted to do career-wise and was always a bit anti-career, at least in terms of the whole ‘independent woman’ thing and making big money selling my soul etc. While I’ve never felt very maternal, I have always considered mothering to be an important element of female identity. Now I’ve had a child, I’ve come upon the realisation that having babies and bringing up children, real wholesome family life, is not in keeping with living in modern-day western society.

I never did any study to get a qualification that would get me a high-profile, money-making job. I only ever studied what interested me. So after my degree I didn’t really have a plan. As most Canberrans do, I ended up in the public service (yawn), and although it took a while to find a role that I was even vaguely interested in, I got used to the job security, decent pay, and other employment conditions that made working fairly cushy. I operated at about 50 per cent capacity at best, and enjoyed being lazy. I had no idea how good I had it. But the downside was that public service achievements are only impressive within the government sphere, which isn’t really in the real world. This means that although I was working my way up and getting into more editorial roles (the kind of thing that really held my interest), I wasn’t really getting ahead. Editing some corporate magazine which could easily get axed with a change of government and contains stories about some nerdy freak working in the public service for so long that he got a framed bit of paper from the Secretary of the department saying how long he’s worked there is really not that impressive. You end up having arguments with your non-editor but nonetheless power-tripping boss about why meaningless jargon like ‘departmental executive briefing paper’ shouldn’t be written with initial capitals and the only story you considered even remotely compelling was canned because it might encourage people to drink too much at the Christmas party and create a public liability insurance nightmare. It’s a whole other world, the Australian Public Service. There’s a book in that… Or at least another blog post.

Anyway, the government stuff did stand me in good stead when I went to London to live in 2007. I got work fairly easily and although the pay wasn’t fabulous, it was good enough to live as I wanted and spend too much on cheap crap from Primark. I didn’t pay a lot of my Aussie bills while overseas, so I came back to a dodgy credit rating in 2010. I made an attempt to sort this out early on when I discovered it while trying to apply for an extension to my mortgage to finance our wedding in April, but then I couldn’t get in touch with the obscure company my debt was referred to and the wedding happened, then I was pregnant four months later and the rest is history.

Mr Chewbacca and I didn’t really plan the Dude’s conception, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and one thing just happened after another so quickly that suddenly I was facing a countdown to having no income and relying entirely on Mr C’s contract money. It’s reasonable money because he’s on a contract but he gets no holidays at all which makes it tough. We moved to the south west suburbs to save a bit but even that seems to have cost us more, or at least as much as what it cost us living in the ritzy eastern suburbs. We now live virtually week to week, with me regularly getting in trouble for spending too much on groceries. I have a bad history with money, let’s just say that. There is a whole series of blog posts in that!

A few months ago I was offered a freelance role out of the blue. It was perfect: digital copywriter, kick ass creative agency, government project, and I negotiated a good daily rate. It was to be 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, for two months. I tried to work out some agreement about working from home but that didn’t fly. So I looked into care. Fuck! Daycare was pretty much off the cards as soon as we considered it. There’s no way I’m putting the Dude in with twenty other kids and getting him infected with god knows what. Plus being away from me and from his familiar surroundings all day every day would just be unfair. So we looked at family daycare, which was a similar type thing. Not doable. My dad agreed to come and care for him while I arranged something, and Mr C managed to negotiate one day a week working from home which was fantastic. Eventually, after finding nothing suitable in terms of daycare, I interviewed a young nanny who was just awesome. I figured we wouldn’t be able to claim government daycare money but I’d be being paid so much that it wouldn’t really matter. I hoped that in the second month I’d get the chance to work from home more.

So… it all fell through! The project I was supposed to be working on was put ‘on hold’ (I’m assuming this means a government agency couldn’t justify that kind of expenditure of a website) and that was it, back to square one.  Oh, I was so happy!  Okay, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to work, and we really need the money, but the whole crazy scenario made me realise just how much the Dude needs me and how important my time with him is. I realised that this time is so very short and it could make a big difference for the Dude.  As I said at the beginning, I firmly believe that the way we live isn’t conducive to an entirely healthy attachment to family and upbringing, so mothering my son in a natural way is all important. But there are sacrifices to be made in order to do that. And so far, returning to work just doesn’t seem the right thing to do.