Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Let me explain you something: Children crying

There are certain times that you don’t need the shrill crying of a child in your ear.  When you’re on a long haul flight.  When you’re having a root canal.  When you’re hiding from zombies and not wanting to give your location away to the undead.  

But the rest of the time, I’d suggest you get over it.  Children cry.  It's something they're supposed to do.  All that unashamed emotional expression tells us that a kid is normal.  It's the non crying, all too calm ones you have to watch out for, like the little scheming, blonde mini-psychopaths in children of the corn. 

Then again, babies also need to travel across oceans sometimes, visit the dentist and escape zombies, too, so maybe just get all the way over their crying.  

As with my personal enlightenment about aggressive buggy pushers (aggressive buggy barging), I’ve walked a mile in the shoes of the judgemental, eye brow raising, 'Can't you control them!' brigade.  I've been on flights, with nothing to worry about other than when the drinks trolley will make an appearance, feeling like a jet-setting superstar, when you see a hunch-backed giant making its awkward way down the aisle.  As they get nearer, you see that it’s not a hunchback, but a pretty normal albeit unkempt and tired-looking person weighed down with bags and juice cups and teddy bears and a little excited snot bucket of a child.  You look at the empty seats next to you in panic and you say a fervent silent prayer, ‘Please, Lord, not next to me! Send the obese guy instead!’

Yes, I confess my lack of compassion.  I guess I had to learn through being on both sides of the fence.  But I also admit that a child crying is a horrible sound.  It’s horrible because it’s supposed to be horrible.  A child’s cry is meant to evoke action.  And even if that action is motivated by sheer selfish desperation for peace and quiet, it’s effective.  It's mother nature’s own natural panic alarm.

But once you hear the cry of your own child, it drives a pain so deep into your body that you feel convinced that their unique cry is coded into your DNA.  Like somehow your bloods mingled so that their pain and discomfort is felt in your flesh.  It feels so physically painful that you forgo food and sleep, offer them your painful, beaten up boobs to feed on and deprive yourself of batteries for the TV remote to get the magic lullaby sleep buddy working again.  You'll do all manner of seemingly insane things, but not just to stop the noise.  You'll feel genuinely driven to protect them from the pain, discomfort, hunger and loneliness that makes them cry. 

Somewhere along they way, the cries change from meaning I'm hungry, I'm sick, I'm cold, I'm dirty to things like I'm ticked off that I can't wear lipstick, chuck myself off this wall, stay in the grocery store, keep that dog.  And that's when people seem the most annoyed by the crying child.  They are louder and more angry.  And they are usually unreasonable.  So child will be crying and the parents will be doing those things that annoy onlookers even more than the crying.  They will be ignoring, trying placate, offering sweets, even just not caring.  Why don't they stop their child crying?  Because they can't.

Life with a two year old is all about that little person you love more than anything, but whose delicate emotional balance is as changeable as their diaper and as predictable as the lottery.  You still have to do all the daily things you need to do, but you'll have the additional job of keeping them calm, happy and as inoffensive as possible to the rest of polite society.  So sometimes when you see a parent and crying child, and they are just calmly ordering their latte or strolling through the grocery store with a screaming, red-eyed demon child, you’d assume they are stupid, deaf or insane.  Nope, they’re probably in their 'happy place' where patience springs eternal.  Or they're just pleased that this isn't as bad as little Junior can get.

We’ve all cried and screamed at some point in our lives.  And we probably would still until we learned how much it can get on the nerves of strangers.  These parents aren't immune to the sound of crying.  They just know that their time for crying is over and their little people are having their time now.  

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Let me explain you something: Aggressive buggy barging

When I moved to the UK in my 20’s I was struck by how much more walking they do over here.  And I was also struck by buggies.  Strollers, as I would have called them back then.  Strollers being pushed by terrifying, frazzled women hunched over their buggies, loaded down with shopping bags.  They had the look of a demon in their eyes and pushed their buggies with the ferocity of a linebacker at the Super Bowl.  Get in their way and you’re losing a toe.    

‘What’s the matter with these rude people?’ I’d wonder, ’As if having a kid gives them the right!’  I was self righteous and oh-so incredibly stupid.  I know this now because I am the frazzled shell of a woman ploughing down those who fail to jump out of the way.  And let me tell you what exactly is wrong with people like me and what gives me the right:  pushing that buggy is bloody hard! 
So for anyone out there who’s lost a toe to the woman pushing the buggy, let me explain some things to you. 

1) It might be 10 am, but she’s been trying to get out the door with that damn buggy since before you were awake.  – It may be unbelievable that someone who’s been awake since 6am hasn't even managed to do her hair and forgot to brush her teeth.  She’s been making sure the baby’s fed, cleaned, re-cleaned and probably re-re-cleaned.  Then she has to gather nappies, wipes, bottles or snacks, toys, extra clothes.  It’ll have been a miracle if she remembers her purse, let alone her lip gloss.  And those are the easy days when there are no tantrums, teething or baby colds – those days are harder.  She’s trucking that buggy that way because she’s exhausted and lugging more baggage than Rihanna. 

2) She’s in a bigger hurry than you – Everyone has somewhere important to go, but going out with a baby is like being sent out to the shops with a time bomb.  That bundle of joy has no audible ticking, nor is there any red wire we can cut to diffuse it, but he is defiantly set to blow at a specific time.  Mums get good at sensing it in the air.  They know that if lil’ junior doesn't get fed or napped or changed or home by a certain time, there will be hell to pay.   If you don’t make your bus, you’ll be a bit bummed, write a tweet about how it sucks and get on with waiting for the next one.  If that mum with the wild-eyed crazy determined stare on doesn't make the bus, she’s sat with a screaming baby in the bus shelter for the next half hour.   Your glares will let her know it’s no fun for you, but trust me, it’s far worse for her. 

3) She doesn't care about the point you’re trying to prove – She’s just pushed buggy, baby and all 50kg of necessary baby stuff up a hill, over broken pavement and through puddles.  She’s dressed like a hobo, and her hobo rags are covered in baby puke and little crusty bits of baby snot.  She’s had 2-3 hours sleep.  She’s not had sex in 3 months.  She’s remembered the rain cover for the baby buggy, but not her own umbrella.  So when you meet her on the narrow pavement and stay on the side where you are, even though she’s trucking along towards you, she’s not going to move.  It’s not that she’s being a bitch.  It’s not a game of chicken to her.  She really can’t maneouver that buggy as well as you want her to, so be warned.  Move it, or say bye-bye big toe.

4) She’s been dealing with hundreds of pavement hogs already today – She’s also been dealing with doors that aren't big enough for the buggy, shops that are impassable because of steps at the entrance, feeling like a frumpy mess and even feeling guilty that everyone is pissed off that her buggy is in the way.  She really doesn't want to ruin your day.  She really doesn't think she and her child are more important than you.  She’s just trying to make her way through another day filled with obstacles – physical and metaphorical.  She may not have noticed you there amongst all that, or she may have hoped that your common decency would have had you step to one side. 

I know I've been the one on the other side, failing to appreciate the plight of the buggy mum.  Sorry to all those I didn't get right out of the way for - I should have given you all a medal!  Or at least a hug.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Potty training: Adventures in wee puddles

The changing table sits in the corner of the living room - an overflowing, all-purpose trap for all things diaper and cleaning related.  Wipes, towels, clothing changes and random bits of baby equipment fill its shelves.  It was a life saver in the early days, but is beginning to out live its nesessitiy. And it's charm.  

Ethan has been able to request nappy changes when needed for a few months and has even taken to climbing to the top the changing table on his own.   We can all tell it's time for the next stage.  

We bought the potty, made a big thing about how cool it was, but he could smell us out.  You could almost see his little cogs turning, thinking, 'So now you want me to do something new, do you? Well, we'll see.'  Ethan has never been one to do things in demand.  It's all on his schedule.  There was a long period where we knew he could walk, he knew he could walk, but he just didn't want to, almost as response to our wide-eyed, you-can-do-it encouragement.   But in the end, he did it when he was ready.  Not a moment sooner.

And the same seems to be unfolding with potty training.  Every attempt to talk about the potty has been met with a sort of 'Yeah, whatever!' as he trundles off towards something else.  But I know the key to all attention - M&Ms! So we made a big deal of it - going to buy the big boy pants, placing the M&Ms in sight but out of reach like a colourful, enticing temptation.   We put a his favourite shows on the iPad, whipped that nappy off and waited.  

We waited for 2 hours.  He drank juice.  He drank milk.  He sat on the potty intermittently, but preferred to roll his full bladder around on the sofa and other soft furnishings.  Turns out, that boy can hold it.  Finally, the smallest trickle of wee made it into the potty, and at a time when he just happened to be perching on it.  Hurray!  Lots of M&Ms and snuggles!  I put his new tiger-print big boy undies on him and said that if he had to do another wee, we could use the potty instead of a nappy.  He nodded, but looked a little stunned.

I went to the kitchen for a moment, feeling like super mom, but I had no idea a little guy could have such a massive bladder.  As I returned to the living room, he was awkwardly trying to sit back on the potty, as he peed with full hurricane force through his new tiger pants.  Still I was proud of him aiming for the potty, so even more M&Ms which he stuffed in as fast he could.  

Still fairly pleased, I set about mopping up the wee puddles.  Wondering what kind of cleaner one uses for these things and if they make a special one for potty training, like the cleaners for dog messes.  But the seal had been broken, and I was only in the eye of the wee hurricane. He sat himself on the floor - in another pair of new dry pants - and an even larger puddle starts to spread from under him.  I must say, I really underestimated the amount of wee those nappies must hold.  I used up almost a whole roll of kitchen towels!

But we are off to a start.  We revisit the potty most days and expect he will just decide when he's ready to make the change.  Even the M&Ms don't fool him, he's on to us and our tactics.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying the last bit of babyhood before we pack that changing table away and reclaim the living room.  Truth is, I don't know whether to smile or cry.


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Transatlantic Two Year Old

I'm a good long haul flyer.  I can fall asleep before take off, stay hydrated and turn up feeling ready for anything.  Now that I am a mommy, everything is naturally more complicated.  And it is not a question of whether I'm good at it, but how well I can manage the embodiment of hurricane force tantrums at 30,000 feet.



Ethan and I are now in the states, visiting my parents and I am amazed to say that I have survived a solo transatlantic flight with a two year old.  My husband couldn't make it with us, but we decided it would still be a good time for Ethan to see his grandparents.

In the days leading up to the flight, I panicked a little.  On an everyday shopping trip on a hot day before the flight, I gave Ethan an ice cream.  He didn't eat it, just held it, until it melted all over his hands and dripped down his legs.  I took it away, and he threw a massive tantrum complete with flailing arms smacking my face and full body convulsions.  He seemed to want to chuck himself headfirst onto the ground.  As people stared, I held back my impulse to blurt out, 'Just eat the damn ice cream!'

Ethan was deaf to anything I had to say, anyways.  Many tears later and covered in sticky melted ice cream juice, I thought, 'how am I ever going to manage this flight alone?'

That evening, I told Thom that I was worried.  His advice -Man up.  And after being a bit miffed about it, I decided he was right.  I am the mom. I'm not going to be pushed around by the two year old in tantrum mode.   In fact, if I wanted to make sure he didn't actually crack his head open mid-tantrum, I needed to wo-Man up!

I had many more carry on's than I would in the old days - filled  with snacks, toys, extra clothes and kilos of nappies and baby wipes.  I felt like a commando approaching a potentially deadly mission.  The day started before the sun came up and tiredness alone could have turned my little cherub into a screaming banshee in a moment.  I had to be sharp and ready to improvise.  Being soft would not do.

As soon as we waved goodbye to dad, I took a deep breath, got down to look Ethan in the eyes and said, 'Now, I want you to be good and listen to mama. We are going on the plane.' He nodded, maybe a little surprised, but did exactly that, even to the point of letting the security people frisk him (we set off the metal detector) and holding his baby-chino very carefully with two hands as we waited at Starbucks for our gate to be announced. 

I was impressed by what I could see.  He was a pretty switched on, grown up boy in the seat next to me.  But he is a two year old after all, and probably entitled to his fair share of tantrums.  The funniest ones, in hindsight, were after looking out the window as the plane took off, saying 'done' and that he wanted to go in the car now.  He was not pleased that we had to stay where we were for what is an eternity in two year old time.  And also in those seemingly endless minutes when the pilot demands everyone stay seated with seatbelts on after landing, Ethan yelled 'Go? 1, 2, 3...Go!'  And then when it was time to leave the plane, he decided he wanted to stay and fell to the floor at the exit screaming that he wanted to stay on the plane, as all the other weary passengers were piling up behind us. 

It wasn't all about being tough, though I learned.  It is also about a good dose of keeping him engaged when he's bored and relaxed when he's upset.  Finding ways to have fun when you're cramped into two small seats for 9 hours takes creativity and lots of energy.  So different from my long haul sleeps of my pre-child life.   Finding  and enjoying the sweetness in him was essential. Things like when he yelled, 'Weeee!' after some bumpy turbulence and yelling 'Crash!' just before the landing.  Gotta love that funny child outlook!

Friday, 23 May 2014

What in the heck is 'Gammato', Part 2

I think I will be sad when Ethan talks in the same language as us and leaves his own little expressions behind.  In his first few months he used make a little chirping squirrel sound, now gone.  Then it was endless 'da-da', then 'uh-oh', now also changed and used in only appropriate times, like when he sees dad or spills something, rather than the constantly repeated syllables they once were.   In a strange way it seems to suddenly hit me that he is far from that little baby he once was.

He understands more of us than we do of him these days.  I say, 'Don't touch that!' or 'Wait for me, please.' or 'Be patient, just a minute.' and he knows what I mean.  I think the words he has picked up tell us a little something about what ignites his young imagination.  Cars, colours, numbers, cooking utensils, dirt - are all things he has words for.  Numbers especially get him very excited.  So much so, that we have to limit the times of day he can watch one of favourite kids shows, the NumberJacks. 

They are like little number-shaped superheros that live a sofa and come out to help kids solve counting and maths related problems.  Sounds innocent enough, but it sets him off.  He is so excited by it that if he sees it too late in the day, bath time becomes a real battle and he jumps around in bed for a while before finally going to sleep. But he loves it, so now and again we give in.

The other day the Number Jacks were helping to solve a problem where people were counting wrong.  Ethan was chiming along, repeating his favourite numbers.  'Five! Eight! Twenty-nine!'  The went to a bakery and a woman was piling endless cream filled cakes and buns onto a tray. 

'Gammato!' Ethan yelled out.  Thom and I looked at each other, puzzled.  What is this Gammato?  Is it a cake instead of a tomato?  I asked Ethan, what is a gammato? 

'Yes', he answered , matter of factly.  We are none the wiser.  But it makes me a little sad that one day he will be able to tell us exactly what he means and Gammto will be gone.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What in the heck is 'Gamato'?

Thom is rushing Ethan around the grocery store the other day.  As he scurries down the aisles, Ethan is pointing his little finger everywhere, exclaiming, 'Dinosaur.  Rawr!'

Thom couldn't see any dinosaurs, and after a while asked, 'Where?'

Ethan turned his finger around to reveal a tiny dinosaur sticker on the end of his pointer.

And so it goes, as the little man soaks up language like sponge and then surprise us with it later.  He still has a language all his own, and it frustrates him when we don't get it.

For several weeks, he would turn to us and say, 'Gamato' with such certainty and be wildly upset when we couldn't figure out what it was.  At first we offered tomato, but that wasn't it.  It reached the height of desperation one evening with Thom peering into the fridge with Ethan on his hip, pointing to various food items to find out what was Gamato.  Every item got a big 'No!' from Ethan.

We would spend evenings stewing on it.  Discussing it and mulling it over into the night.

Finally, the other day we BBQed and I was cutting up a tomato to add to dinner.  Ethan pipes up: 'Gamato!'  Our jaws drop.  We only offered him tomato about 300 times when he'd pleaded for Gamato before.

I held one up to him.  'Is this Gamato?'

'Yes', he stated matter a factly, reaching for it.  We sat down to dinner.  And you know, he didn't eat a single one.

Monday, 24 February 2014

A boy and an iPad: a love story

Take a look around you and it can seem that every member of the human race has their eyeballs glued to a little handheld screen.  Smartphone, iPad, whatever - we're hooked.  I gave my husband an iPhone for Christmas 3 years ago and haven't seen his eyes since.  

So baby comes along and from day one, we're all shoving these little gizmos in his face to snap his photo, playing with them while he's taking ages to feed and talking on them when he wants attention.  It's really no wonder he's fascinated.  Plus, these touch screens and apps are super simple and easy, he takes to it like a fish in water.  

We try to keep it rationed out and educational, but despite us stocking up on drawing apps, ABC apps, telling time apps, learning words apps, it still usually degenerates into something to keep his little hands busy while he his eyes turn square and he catches flies through too much mouth-breathing.  It's just s reflection of us all as we all like to believe that our smartphone use is important and useful when actually it's just a seductive time-waster usually.   

The other night, we were playing the telling time app.  If you tell the time correctly 3 times, you get a star.  5 stars and you get a fish that swims in your own little aquarium that you can feed with virtual fish food.  Fun.  Problem is Ethan is of course too young to understand the clock.  He likes to parrot back the numbers '2, 1, 8' and copy words, but he wouldn't stand a chance of getting a full fish tank on his own.  

Enter Daddy.  Thom often helps him move the hands of the clock and tries to get more stars and fish.  This evening, as Ethan's attention begins to wane from telling time, he climbs over to me for a story and a snuggle and some good fort-making by the sofa with a blanket.  Thom is on a roll though and keeps playing the app.  Whizzing through without the interruption of Ethan's sticky little fingers, Thom gets one fish, showing Ethan who is delighted.  Ethan gives the fish some fish food and returns to our playtime.  Minutes later, Dad has another one.  The another.  Each time, Ethan takes a break from our fort or story to have a look. 

But then the greed sets in.  After about the 4th fish, Ethan, dizzy with delight, shouts,'More! More!'  That was all Thom needed and he went off, telling the time like, well, like a grown-up and stocking up on fish.  I noted that even though Ethan was busy playing and forgetting about the iPad, Thom fed every new fish before going back to tell the time some more.  

Then, bath time arrived and Ethan cried and screamed to be dragged away from his virtual fish tank.  Thom had to placate him with the promise of 'one more fish, and then tubby'.  I'm not sure if that was for Ethan or himself.  Those damn fish are a little more than addictive.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Parenting, John Wayne style

 As I sit here on a quiet train carriage on my way into london, I love having a 2 year old.  He's funny and there's no pretense in him.  If he wants it, if he likes it, he lets me know.  It's refreshing, simple and sweet to see him becoming more grown up everyday.

But I admit that if you catch me dealing with him mid-tantrum, I'll be cursing the two-year-old logic of 'gimme what I want, no not that, now I'm losing it'.  In quiet times I can reflect on the frustration that must build up in him as he gets more independent but is still so reliant on us.  As he can express so much more, and yet we can struggle to understand him.  It's enough to piss off anyone.  

And in our adult minds, we imagine that we can reason with him.  'Just a minute and we'll get some juice.'  But two year old mind doesn't understand waiting.  It wants juice 5 minutes ago!  And then he's screaming so loudly that anything we say is lost in the noise.  

After a fortuitous incident, I discovered that Wild West rules might work better than negotiation.  And I have pretty much resolved to deal with tantrums in the manner John Wayne would deal with a raucous bar brawl.  Talk low, talk slow and don't talk much.  It gives him less to argue with.  

I'm also inclined to find something that could serve the same function as John Wayne's six shooter firing into the air.  That always punctuated the madness with silence, getting every gun slinger's undivided attention. 

We recently had some family over for lunch on Ethan's birthday.  There was a bottle of bubbly in the fridge for ages and this seemed as good a reason as any to crack it open.  Lunch was set and Ethan was getting worked up over the selection on his plate, saying 'No!' and trying to wriggle out of his chair.  Thom was trying to placate him and I was anticipating a stressful stand off.  But just  as he was about to launch into nonsensical scream-mode, the cork popped off the champagne and flew like bullet into the ceiling.  Ethan instantly stopped.  The room was silent and the spiral into tantrum land was halted.  We all had a wonderful lunch.  

Now I'm on the lookout for one of those loud popping toy guns.  There's a new sherif in town!