Yes I’ve been kind of absent. Blame the new job. I’ll do the backstory. Very soon. I hope, how are you all? How is life? I haven’t even been blog lurking. I’ve missed so much.
I just thought I’d pop on and quickly share a little parenting moment.
Jman is 2.5 now. As of last Monday. We have Thursdays together, when I work from home.
This week, I felt like he was deliberately pushing my buttons (probably because he was deliberately pushing my buttons). I hate it when I try to do something “nice mum”, like giving him an empty porridge tin & putting some mung beans in it to make a noise, and he buggers it up by opening it up and spilling it everywhere and shoving mung beans down the back of the couch. Really really annoying. I lost my cool at him. I hate it when I do that. Then it cycled up into a “if we had a big house and a yard he could do messy things, and he’s missing out because he’s an apartment kid…” And on it goes. (More on this later, too. We have lots of news).
But I stopped myself. He was so so upset that I’d swept up the mung beans and binned them. I stopped. I got down on his level and looked him in the eye, and empathised. Ok. So he wanted something different out of this than I did. Ok.
We agreed to go and get the messy mat together. We agreed not to spill mung beans everywhere. Then we got more beans, and lots of different containers.
And for two hours, I kid you not, two HOURS, he sat there. He tipped, he ran them through his fingers, he clogged up one funnel so we made another, he got fine motor practice by dropping the beans one by one into the funnel, he talked about “empty” and “full” (scary bright brain, this kid).
And naturally, eventually, mung beans went everywhere. But he’d done his “play work”. And I’d done my empathising and extended his play / self directed learning. And we were way overdue to vacuum anyway.
It was awesome.
Whats that noise
What you doing, mum mum?
Go see her?
I do it
Catch the ball? Mum catch da ball?
Drink a milk, mum mum ?
Open da fridge. Mum ?
Open da freezer. Ice block? Some for daddy?
Drive the truck?
Cuddle mum mum
“I pity da fool!” Done in a Mr T from the a team voice. Really.
Aaa ah drink. I was thirsty.
Running? Running mum mum? Ready, sec, go!
Ryo holiday? Ryo in japan.
Ipad! Ipad? Ipad! unlock it? Unlock it!
We have hit 22 months old. We are in the land of sentences. Many many sentences. Verbs. Pronouns. And stupid long story telling. Sometimes, they are coherent stories. He tells me things he can remember. Like going to Vivid festival but finding the highlight of a garbage truck driver who let him push the buttons and work the truck.
And the visit to the fire station open day. That one comes up every Saturday morning now. He figures, right, mum went to boxing, she’s back, now is when dad took me to drive a fire truck. So….let’s go. It’s hard to explain that open day is only once a year….
“And ummm…..playgroup. Climbing. And ummm, garbage truck, and….running…..and…..lunchy lunch…..and…daddy go in his car?…and….” He tells me stories in the car, stories lying down in bed, stories when we sit down to have a meal. They are long and complicated. They are funny. He is actively making conversation.
“Learning tower? Learning tower! Learning tower?” The best / worst thing I ever did was order a learning tower from someone on Facebook. It was a bargain at a built-to-your-bench-height-$85. It is like a sophisticated step stool very sturdy, with a frame around it to prevent falls. It is very stable. It drives me mental and I also adore it.
Jman has several jobs in his learning tower. Putting the chopped veggies into a bowl. Cracking the eggs during cooking. Stirring anything. Wobetide the person that takes a bowl off him that he’s trying to stir. He tips things between bowls. He leans over and “helps” with the washing up. So it slows things down, and creates a bit more cleaning up. But he will also “cook” with me for forty minutes straight. We have a little nook in the counters where he is equidistant between the kettle and the stove, where he can’t reach the sharp knives by the chopping board or any appliance (apart from the coffee grinder. We’ve ground some excess coffee a few time lately). So he’s no chance at pulling boiling water on himself or anything like that. And he adores it.
He asks for it the minute his eyes open. He loves buttering his own toast, or tipping his porridge Into a bowl and stirring in the milk. And I can see him learning. He is practising sizes. He tries to chop things. He has a blunt plastic picnic knife and another little silver knife, and I let him “chop” mushrooms, and anything else that is soft and ok if eaten raw. He is testing, watching, experimenting, learning. So instead of me rushing to get things done to be “with him”, I am getting things done and teaching him as well.
He counts to 12. easily. All the time. He knows 80% of the alphabet. He sings to himself all the time. Happy birthday, baa baa black sheep, head shoulders knees and toes, see saw Marjorie daw, twinkle twinkle.
He is fearless on his ride on push along tractor. So much so, I’ve had to go out and buy him a helmet. He is ridiculously competent at it, going down hills along the footpath, steering, using his feet to speed up or slow down. Saturday, daddy took him up the skate ramp on the thing, and he did two ramps and was headed into the half pipe before daddy intervened.
He can climb six foot high rope nets. Sometimes these skills seem to arrive without warning, or fanfare. He can’t do things, then he can. Once he started going faster than I could run to hold onto his back, I decided the helmet was a must.
He is so funny, and charming, so ridiculously full of personality, so amazingly stubborn, so energetic, and so beautiful. He is such a person now. A bossy, demanding, engaged and engaging person. He is scary intelligent. When we turn into our suburb he announces “we’re home”. When we pass the local supermarket he says “go the shops, mummy?”. He knows about seven places we drive to without any prompting whatsoever.
He remembers everyone’s name and talks about them, like our Mexican friend who visited twice, a month ago, and he says “Roberto? Roberto gone home. Roberto on the plane.” I sometimes worry we should do more for a kid that Is racing ahead so quickly, but then I remind myself to just follow his lead. He shows me what he needs at most stages, I just need to take them time to listen, then think of things that will extend him, like the learning tower that arrived at the exact right moment for him.
All of a sudden he knows several books off by heart. He has started naming his books. “Cake” is “bear goes to town”, a French and English book about bear’s week. And because bear goes to the bakery / boulangerie on a Monday, this is a favourite book.
“Grug cooking / grug cars” are a series of books about an Aussie character called Grug. He is quite particular about which one is being read.
Then there’s the stunt man thing. I’m not sure if he’s training to be an Italian soccer player, or a stunt man, but jman loves a good fake fall down. First, he started falling down for laughs. Then, he got Dada to fall down. Dada had to fall down in a particular way, then jman jumps on top of him and they wrestle. It is a very important feature of each night. Must get a video of that one before it passes.
So 22 months. Fun, entertaining, full on and a real person.
In the last few days, we’ve caught up with a Mexican friend who I met over a decade ago. I was on the trip of a lifetime (hopefully the first of many), a year on the road, Europe and Africa, and solo.
It was meant to be a trip with my boyfriend at the time. Then I dumped him. Then it was meant to be a trip with a good friend. And she, too, kept delaying the departure date and negotiating for shorter and shorter times on the road. And it morphed into a solo trip.
I never felt brave enough initially to plan a solo trip. But life intervened, and I got exactly what I needed.
When my old travel friend recently started getting closer and closer on his facebook photos, I messaged him. “Are you coming to Australai? Can we catch up?” And sure enough he was. A couple of catch ups ensued. He met my hub-in-boots, he met my j man. We made suggestions for his Australian leg of travel, many wines were drunk, and inevitably the old photo albums were rolled out.
It was many years ago we knew each other. In Romania, a large group of travellers and a few insane Brasov locals morphed into a crazy travel cluster. We put off other plans, for the sheer pleasure of hanging out. We drank beers in the Brasov Beer festival, and played three day long games of truth & dare, we played poker in Speedy’s house with so many people cheating the entire deck of cards was under the rug. We went on hikes and camping, we went horse riding, we visited Dracula’s castle in Bran, we shopped at local markets and cooked up feasts in the crazy grandmas house where many of us stayed.
Yet as Roberto flipped through my photos of that time, he asked me about Morocco. It was a great regret, he said. Like me, he caught the short ferry from Algeςiras in Spain over to Tangiers. And he found Tangiers such a full on assault that he got right back on the ferry to Spain. He never saw the place.
I remember getting on that ferry. There were only a few people on board. The water was not very rough. I put on my long skirt and flowing shirt. I put on my fake wedding ring. And halfway across, on the loud speakers, the call to prayer started. And the other passengers faced Mecca, and prayed. I felt, as we crossed that water, suddenly thrown, immersed in the unfamiliar, away from my comfort zone, a little lost. I was the only woman on board. I was travelling solo to a Muslim country. What was I thinking?
Tangiers took that discomfort to a whole other level. I seemed to hit the dock and be in someone’s Uncle’s carpet shop within about an hour. A man in a gelahbra collected a few travellers, and took us in his car on a tour of the city. Did I agree to this? I must have been insane. We saw spice markets, the kasbah full of children playing, crazy traffic where hatchbacks and Mercedes taxis butted up against donkeys hoofed with cut out car tyres.
Tangiers was too much.
After several hours of this tour, just like my Mexican friend, I felt the need to escape. EVERYONE was in my face. EVERYONE seemed to want speak to me, or touch me. Everything seemed worthy of my attention. So I bought a ticket on a night train to Marrakech, narrowly avoided buying a carpet, and killed a few hours in a tea house. I think I had no facial expressions. I was full of input, I was flooded, I was overrun.
I found the couchette in the night train terrifying. Random guards seemed to open and close the door all night, I was in the top bunk of three with no idea how to get my backpack into the storage area above the door. I felt like I was in a morgue, and they’d pull my bed out simply to attach a toe tag. Somehow, someone helped me to store my pack. Somehow, I slept.
In the morning, watching the sun rise over the plains as the train rattled along was beautiful. Then I realised it was 6am. I really needed to pee. And ALL THE TOILETS WERE LOCKED. At the time, this was apparently a common security measure to stop stow aways hiding in the loos avoiding ticket inspectors. But the train guard had slept in, and I needed to pee. Really really needed to pee.
Somehow I made it to the unlocking the bathroom phase of the morning, and I can still remember looking at the relief on my face in the mirror, after I’d been. Oh the relief. Somehow we made it to Marrakech. Where it was about 8am and I had no plan WHATSOEVER.
A few other totally unplanned events followed. I stood vaguing out on the train platform, only to encounter another Aussie from Western Australia called Tim, also travelling solo. Tim was organised. Tim had a plan. Me, I’d been on the road just a few weeks. I had no clue. I’m not sure I even had a guide book.
So Tim got me to a fantastic hotel overlooking the medina. I got a room. I found an ATM. And about five hours later I had somehow agreed to go on a trip the next morning with another random man with a minivan. Over the High Atlas Mountains, across to Zagora, camel rides into the Sahara Desert, a night in a bedouin tent. Just your usual day out.
The Sahara was beautiful. The moutains were beautiful. The bedouin were beautiful. I met a man in blue who had never seen a city or been in a car. I saw a million stars. I raced camels. I saw a camel spit ten feet and hit a man square in the back of his head. I ate with my hands from a clay pot, with juice running down my chin. This is me, in the early morning in the desert. I am on the bottom camel. It was 1998.
I returned to to the frontal assault that is Marrakech, from the peace of the desert to the hustle and bustle of the city, where two hundred identical orange juice sellers ask you to remember their stall number and return, because after all, their juice is the best. I returned to the beauty of the night markets, to the dancing songs of the snake charmer, to the children running and the hookah pipes chuffing.
It was amazing. But I did not enjoy it at the time. The desert, yes. The cities, no. Marrakech, Tangiers, Fez, they each have their own way of assaulting you, assaulting your senses. And I could not take it all in. I wrote and I photographed, and I wrote and I photographed.
But it was not until I left Morocco, that I liked Morocco. It was not until I looked through the photos, and read my diary entries, and thought about my days there, that I realised what a place it was. At the time, I felt under siege. At the time, I felt in danger for hours at a time (though it really isn’t that bad, as a solo woman you are on high alert). I felt hypervigilant. I felt mentally assaulted, sensory assault.
But whenever someone mentions Morocco, I say, oh you must go. You should really appreciate every day in Morocco. Morocco is amazing.
This is a place where sometimes I had to grit my teeth to walk down a street, looking for a bathhouse, in the guidebook I finally bought. This is a place where I sometimes cried into my pillow each night, or woke in terror at the incredibly loud 3am call to prayer. This is a place where I had to politely explain to the hotel owner in Fez why I had no desire whatsoever to exchange my English language novels for hashish.
And after talking to my Mexican friend this week, I realised something.
Morocco is just like parenting.
You cross an unfamiliar strait. And everything around you changes from comfortable to confronting. You are immersed in the foreign. It is a full on sensual assault. You are on high alert at first. There are beautiful things, but sometimes you can’t even see them at the time. Later on, when the sensory overload has passed, you can remember, and process, and appreciate, and you think, why didn’t I appreciate that more? But so much of it, at the time, is just about getting through. Is just about the next place, the next challenge. You introduce solids, they are sitting up. You deal with the early phase of crawling and all the bumps and falls, then they are pulling up and walking. You deal with walking, then they are able to unscrew the lids on poisonous substances and paint your carpet with nail polish.
And many many parts of it, you cannot appreciate at all until time passes. Until you have time to sit back and reflect.
I think that is why people constantly say to you Oh they are so beautiful at this age. Appreciate every moment. They grow up so fast. You won’t believe it and you’ll be giving a speech at their 21st, or dealing with an obnoxious teenager. Really stop and appreciate it.
These comments, to new parents, seem to put so much more pressure on us. Because not only do we have to get through it, we have to now appreciate every moment or feel extra Mummy (daddy) guilt for our lack of appreciation.
And it’s like Morocco, you know. I’m early on in this gig, but many phases of parenting, you appreciate and remember after you leave. When the sensory overload has passed. When the hypervigilance has calmed down into something more akin to the every day. When we flick through photographs and look at old facebook posts or blog posts and have time to reflect.
Yes, you have moments, many moments, that are like the stars in the Sahara Desert. Funny moments like camel spit. Insightful moments like a man who has never been to a city. These all happen too.
But most of it makes sense after the fact. When the storm of the new has passed. Parenting is just like Morocco.
Stupid mummy morning.
Don’t set alarm, because I’m home sick today after a long lingering cold virus thing that’s been dragging on for three weeks. Yesterday was the world’s least successful sick day, given I spent half of it doing day care drop offs, pick ups, doctor and pharmacy visit, and stupid work emails. Today will be better.
7:13 “Mum? Mum!”
7:14 pee whilst holding jman (just not worth the tantrum)
7:14-7:30 breastfeed in bed, to requests of “more, drink? More, drink?” Every time I try and hurry things up. A few squeeezy hugs to start the day
7:30 see dada off
7:31 make a wrap x 2 for jman lunch, fend him off from stealing all the flatbread
7:35 dress jman whilst he eats flatbread (mummy fail) and holds a large model car. The negotiations to get him to swap hands for dressing could get me a job in the UN.
7:40 deposit jman into high chair and shovel weetbix and honey (bad) into a bowl
7:42 refuse seven requests of “tv, on?”
7:43 pick up spoon from floor. “More, drink?” Pick up sippy cup from floor. Run out of room and get dressed v quickly before weetbix is wallpapering the lounge room.
7:44 “more weetbix?” . Deliver more weetbix.
7:50 “pishes? More pishes ?” Deliver tinned peaches in a bowl.
7:55 “more honey?” Deliver more honey.
8:00 where does the time go? Decide to ring annoying government department, as we received two online letters I forgot to read, and our child care rebate has been suspended. Why? Because jman’s immunisation ( which is up to date) is not up to date. Seriously?
They answer the phone. Miracle. They offer to ring our doctor and sort it out today. What the? Is this HELP?
“More weetbix?”. Decide to brave second government department. The paying one. It takes five minutes just to get through the ID Checks and disclaimers. Then we are experiencing higher than normal customer demand. You are 10 th in the queue….,.
“More pishes?” The weetbix is moving further and further from the target area. As in, it is getting thrown, by the handful, and weetbix art is appearing on the high chair tray. I’ll risk it. Deliver more pishes.
Decide to make tea. Notice slow cooker is still plugged in from last night. Reach over to unplug it. Holding phone to ear and screwing up peach jar. Put arm right above boiling kettle. Hmm, I love the smell of scalded flesh in the morning.
8:10 still on hold, running cold water over my steam burnt wrist at the kitchen sink whilst supervising weetbix art. Occasionally pause for a run in, food delivery, or intermediate clean up. Run back to tap. Its fine, its fine, I’m fine. Continue to make tea. Continue to be on hold . Continue to have wrist sting like the BEJESUS and return to running water on it.
8:15 Freak out whilst on hold. Centrelink letter, dated 7th April, said we had 21 days to sort out the immunisation problems. It is now 29th. We’re buggered. I forgot to read the online letter, notified by their stupid text message system. J man was sick and we put off immunisation twice, by a grand total of 5 weeks. It’s been six weeks since he was immunised, you stupid stupid people. SIX freaking weeks. I havent read your letters, because most of the time, your letters are letters telling me I might get a letter. Generally, they contain no information whatsoever. You people WASTE my freakin time.
And I work full time. And have a child. And keep a house. And shop for groceries. And clean. And see family. And we’ve had two ear infections, a virus, and croup since then. And I have been sick for weeks but only saw a dr yesterday. So pardon me if you whack job government departments are not the first thing on my list ow my wrist hurts.
Such a relaxing start to the day.
8:20am “All finished. All finished mum. Thank you mum mum. Thank you mum mum.” Ok jman, I got you. I’ll move away from the tap. Clean you up. You’re free to go. (his sentences are so damn cute).
8:25 “Hello”. I explain the situation. “Oh thats ok, you’re still active on our system. It looks like you’ve got….til the 10th of May to sort this out.” I breathe. My chest loosens. I wish I knew that at 11pm when I got shouty at poor hub-in-boots for never taking any responsibility and how much I hate government paperwork or forms of any kind and why is this always my problem and you never do anything its always me that has to manage this. Bad wifey ranty rant.
It is hard as I have the more flexible job. So I do all the mopping up around the edges. I do the tradie visits for leaky taps, the child immunisations, the parcels getting delivered to home. I do it and do it and do it. But just because I don’t have strict core hours does not mean I don’t have work to do. I have lots and lots and lots of work to do. I just fit it in. Around the gaps. To benefit our son. To keep him out of long daycare hours. Because I made that choice.
But it is never easy. And the trouble with flexibility is it gives the illusion of not much work. But any time out, it is always paid back. Often double. It is paid back with 1am marking when I still have a cold, or sunday night emails, or hyperventilating 2 hours in the office sorry I can’t talk to you have so much to do. A lack of preparation one week, means double the next week. I work. I work and work and work. Its just you don’t see it.
8:30 “Cmon Jman. Lets go (to daycare).”
“Yes, you can bring trolley. But no big trolley walks this morning. We have to go.”
“Car?” Yes, you can choose a car to bring. Just hang on while I run my wrist under some more water”
8:40 Pull up at family daycare. He’s pooed during the car ride.
My wrist hurts.
Rocket bag (neoprene cooler bag containing lunch), must be placed on the exact correct angle in trowey to be pushed in to daycare. I succeed.
We walk inside. Mobile phone rings. Please let it not be government department. Please let it not be the government department. Its hub-in-boots. “I rang Centrelink. They said they can fix it.”
Yes, yes. So did I. I rang Centrelink too. I fixed my arm in the process.
Big Gay Al (At family daycare, not his real name) finds me some burn cream.
I leave, amidst much teary fanfare.
Happy sick day. This morning may have even breached my levels of chaos tolerance. And I wasn’t even getting ready for work….
The life of a working mother is RIDICULOUS.
I stopped for Aloe Vera. And Schnitzel. And a coffee.
10am I check online. His immunisation status is up to date. Now all we need is govt dept A to talk to Govt Dept B….
11am Game of thrones series 3, here I come.
One thing** I’m concerned about in my return to work in a week is rushing. Rushing the jman too much. He senses “going out the door kerfuffle” like a bloodhound, and then it’s toddler lockdown. Arms wrapped around the knees, cries of “up. Up”. Endless delaying tactics like “book? More book?” And “milk?”. He also invariably craps his pants and or throws food onto himself or something white in his vicinity.
Rushing is something we are good at avoiding in our maternity leave bubble lifestyle. We have flexible bedtimes, flexible meal times, flexible nap times, flexible feed times. And he gets a lot of what he needs: my time. My dedicated, devoted, one on one time.
This is about to change.
Now luckily, my job is pretty flexible. I mean, there’s nothing quite like being late for work when there’s 200 people sitting in a lecture theatre waiting for you. I’ll admit, that’s special. But my hours at least this semester (and omg there’s a whole other post to come on those hours. Return to work sucks balls), my hours are civilised. Not early starts….my earliest is 10am.
Rushing is something I’ve been thinking about.
One thing I am absolutely committed to is Jman time. I read about this in an interesting book Peaceful Parent happy kids : how to stop yelling and start connecting, and the basic idea is that most kiddie problems come down to connection. Re-establish that parental connection and the problem sorts itself out.
Jman time involves me, soon after we walk in the door, setting a timer for 15-20 min, putting down the phone / ipad / laptop / tv remote and just being down on the floor with jman. Following his lead in play. No putting away the washing up, no hanging washing, no I’ll just chop these things for dinner and make a cup of tea. It is hard to do. It is hard not to multitask in that 20 min. But it’s parental gold.
Where else can things go wrong?
The activity of saying no
Well, I think I need to be better at saying no. At ensuring there is free from schedules time on weekends for us as a family. And as he grows, limiting formal activities. Yes, sport and learning to swim and whatever else are important. But too much ferrying around, too much “we need to leave by 4pm” and it’s not really for my child’s benefit anymore, and I’m kidding myself if I think it is. Yes, boys need to burn off that energy, but it isn’t only formal activities that achieve this.
Some of the time suckers in our life, well, they’re just clutter like that pile of mail on the dining room table. Cluttered time sucks.
the fear of stopping still
I think sometimes mums do too much as a compensating strategy. There’s a few things I want to remind myself about this:
My response to depression was to over schedule my time. If I just kept busy enough, I wouldn’t fall in a screaming heap.
I still fell in a screaming heap.
Sometimes stopping is just what we need. Even if we feel the pull to do more, we can acknowledge the pull and not act on it.
fun rarely has an entry price or a timetable.
Formal activities may make me feel like I am doing something for my child, but in reality drawing crap in chalk on the driveway or turning on the sprinkler is just as effective.
gnocchi pesto. Toast. Noodles. Frozen peas. Steamed veg.
Food items that can be on that high chair tray within two minutes. Perfect? Nope. Jman happy? Yep. Especially if it’s gnocchi.
Remember that transition stage in child birth? That “oh my god I’m leaving to go to the pub why is it so HOT IN HERE GIVE ME THE ICE get the ice away from me I hate you” stage of labour? It’s bloody difficult.
Transitions are tough for toddlers too. So my job, of a morning, is not to get things done, but to ease transitions. From asleep to awake, pj’s to dressed, hungry to breakfasted, playing to happy to leave. Smooth the transitions. Like in labour, a transition is tough when you don’t know what coming, will it be better or worse, and how long will it take? Ease the transition for toddler.
My last note to perfectionist self on rushing is the oldie but a goodie if in doubt, lower your standards. Housework, ironing, meals, toddler skills, perfectionist tendencies at work, lower the standards.
So there’s my thoughts on rushing for the weeks ahead. I think it’s important to stop and reflect on these things and have a plan for the harder times in the week, to have a parenting vision when you can get your chin above the tide of toddlerhood.
** one thing I’m concerned about. Ha! Try 50,0000 things. Le sigh.
So on your dark days as a maternity leave mum, you think this will all be behind me when I’m back at work. I’ll feel better when I’m back at work. Like somehow you can slip on your old skin and you’ll be back to “normal” , but with a child after work hours.
I have to admit that even through my tears after leaving jman today for the first time, there was a slight lightening. A lift, a sense of things being simplified. A joy in jumping in the car, turning off the nursery rhymes and throwing on jjj in all it’s loud sweary glory at full bore.
And then I found myself driving along a road, announcing “bump!” As I hit speedhumps.
And I drove past a car accident, not going “bloody traffic” but going “ooooooh. Fire engine. Look at the lights ”
Wanting to point out a helicopter flying overhead.
Ooooh dog, woo woo woo woo. Bird! Ute. Truck. Bus.
Yep, it was awesome filling up the car with petrol without the in and out of car seat drama.
Yes picking up a quick take away coffee and standing to wait for it for two minutes without having to hold someone back from running out the door onto the road, that was relaxing.
I went to the toilet on my own.
But you will never be the same person again when you have a child. Nothing in the world looks the same.
Even when they’re not with you.