Hard

I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.

This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.

This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!

I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.

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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.

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.

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: 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 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.