Delay on the Line

I can’t hear you.

Can you…hear… me?

Wait. Yes. There. No. Hello?

Mum?

Hello?

I’ll call back.

Calling over WiFi is great. Living abroad, it’s a cheap and easy link to home. But man is it annoying when there is a lag. If you both cotton on fast enough and work with it, it’s managable, but otherwise it’s frustrating and the weekly chat with dad about the weather can typically wait.

Talking with a toddler is a bit like living in a land where all your conversations experience a delay.

Like many parents, we model good manners. Way before any level of comprehension, we used please and thank you with our son. At two and a half, there are still frequent calls of want water! Gentle reminders often illicit a please. Still, it feels like he’s being slow on the uptake. Then last week, out of the blue, I pinched a bit of my kid’s snack. “Mama!” he said agast, “you have to say please!”

It happens all the time. Fifteen minutes after discussing what we’re having for dinner with the only responses being: Look, a fire engine! A stick! Where’s grandad? From nowhere I’ll get a can I have cheese with my sausages?

For almost 9 months we discussed how he used to be in my tummy and be small like his sister would be. Two weeks ago, mid sausages with a random pile of grated cheese (because why argue with such a request?), he announced, “I used to go in your tummy. I was small. I’m a big boy.” He declared it as if he had personally just discovered how humans reproduce and grow; we were stupid for not having realised before.

It’s well known that it’s important to talk to kids. I am in favour of setting boundaries and trying to explain them, even if the child is somewhat too young to understand. I try to chat with my son about the big and the small stuff everyday, try to help him understand where there are rules, and celebrate his successes. But sometimes it’s like talking to a brick wall.

Then I cottoned on to the lag. I realised the need to start talking about issues way before they come up. I decided to keep talking long after he appears to be listening. I repeat myself again and again and again. Of course, when I am telling my dad for the fifth time what the weather is like, I eventually give up and call back later. I can’t hang up on my son. And oh boy, do I feel frustration when there seems to be a really weak connection.

Life with my son is steps forward, backwards, sideways, rightways and wrongways. We leap forward and see him explaining to us why he must stop before crossing the road. We plummet backwards when out of nowhere he tugs his hand away and makes a run for it. We grit out teeth in frustration when he will not accept that one cannot shout randomly on the tram. We laugh when he tells us off for standing on a chair to reach the flour from the top of the cupboard.

But mainly we are doing our best to work with the delay on the line, trusting our messages will eventually get through.

Rocking Horse

The waiting room is empty for once. The only sound is the piercing scream of an infant. It doesn’t matter, my baby girl will be chirping in soon enough when it’s her turn. I feel sorry for the doctor, really. He spends the day administering vital vaccinations and checking over children only to get screamed at.

For now, back here in the waiting room, all is peaceful. My baby is snoozing, the toys in the island are packed away, the books are neat, and the rocking horse and elephant are stored neatly under the coat rack.

Those rocking toys.

They are old, going by the wear on the wood. They lack any decoration and are simply designed. I always wonder how long they’ve been part of the wares provided to distract snotty and feverish kids waiting to see the physician. Probably a decade, at least. Plain and simple compared to the all singing, all dancing toys available, they’re extremely forgettable.

They have their place in my story, though.

It’s two and a half years since I first sat in this waiting room. I had the same bassinet with the same blanket, same wrap holding nappies and wipes. Then, though, it was my baby boy snuggled down in a hat carefully knitted by a friend, his eyes flickering under the green trim. (The flickering eyes of my daughter are so similar, the hat the same style, this time with a purple trim.)

I used to look at the rocking toys and apparently healthy kids swinging back and forth (I’ve since learned kids don’t typically look sick in the way adults do. They still run circles round you between sneezes.) and find it unbelievable that my son would be that kid riding a wooden horse and making clicking noises with his tongue.

Over the last 36 months, we’ve had a few routine trips to the doctor’s office. And each time my boy has engaged more with the rocking toys. Sitting, he was at constant risk of losing a finger as he insisted on pushing back and forth with one hand, the other in the danger zone.

From sitting came pulling himself up delightedly. Then asking to sit on them with enthusiasm, rocking gently as I made horsey noises. (My elephant impression still needed work back then.) Now he can stride over, mount the horse and inform me that he is off to see his auntie or his best buddies. This toy has been a marker of sorts, a way to see the remarkable things he learns as the months go by.

One day, the rocking toys will stop being interesting. They’ll be baby toys, reserved for his sister.

Because sitting here, 5 kilos of baby under a blanket, her chubby cheeks soft and her chest rising and falling slowly, I know I’ll see her growth in part through her interactions with a wooden rocking toy. All the weigh ins and supposed milestones are fine, but these toys have served me well in honing my appreciation for my child’s development. I don’t know or care at what age a child can typically ride on a rocking toy. I only know he couldn’t, then he could

And sitting here, having seen it once before, I can’t quite believe my baby girl will one day also be galloping into the sunset.

We can measure kids in all kinds of ways. We can keep charts and records, look at graphs and compare notes with friends. But providing they’re healthy, the growth that matters is the growth that I can’t believe will happen and that I can measure against a beat up swaying horse.

His, Hers, His, Hers

The spare sofa in our bedroom is the dumping ground for clean clothes. Usually vaguely folded and then ordered by owner/final storage destination, they can sit there for a day or so until someone gets around to putting them away.

And now there is a new pile. Next to my husband’s t-shirts, my socks, and my son’s dinosaur-print everything, there’s a stack of clothes so small they don’t need folding. Many of the items – the blue and grey zip up pyjamas, the elephant onesie, and the stripy vests – have been on these piles before. Only one pile to the left. When the big boy was still the little guy.

white and blue textiles
Photo by Chloe Amaya on Pexels.com

But now they are on a fresh pile, mixed in with some new clothes, sent by family members whose kids grew out of them long ago.

Four piles of laundry not three. It takes longer to sort, the reality of life now. Everything. take longer, we go slower. And it’s a pleasure.

Sorting out the washing is never much fun. But I am sure glad there is more of it these days.

A Kind of Lonely

My phone is full of contacts and my calendar fills up with coffee dates and lunches. My family are on the end of the line whenever I need them. My husband looks concerned every time I stand up and wince. I am enveloped by an army of loved ones, ready to mobilise at a moment’s notice. This baby and me, we are set. We are surrounded by a community ready to catch us and take care of us.

Bloody lucky, that’s what we are.

This does not change the fact that I am alone. Even though my body hasn’t been my own for almost nine months, it’s still me in control of the choices I make for me and my precious cargo. For the last four to five months, I’ve been beautifully aware of the acrobat inside of me. My body is shared but our decisions are all mine, only mine.

And thank goodness. Too many women still have to fight to make independent choices about their body. And thank goodness I have a support network.

It’s just it’s lonely sometimes.

When you wake up at 2 am and your brain starts whirling, you realise that only you can decide what drugs you’ll accept when the time comes. It’s just that, when the doctor says you might want to consider a C-Section because your baby is quite big, only you can decide if that’s the right decision. It’s just that, when you aren’t sure if that discomfort, that trickle, or that twinge is something normal or something more, only you can decide if you go to the doctor and check.

It’s lonely and the ultimate responsibility does not and can not lie with anyone else.

Sharing these concerns with a partner, a friend, your mama army, or your own mum certainly helps. Of course it does. It’s just they can not decide for you. They can only share their anecdotes, their experiences, their opinion. Each woman and baby has their own story and you can’t write yours based on someone else’s.

Hence, it’s lonely.

There’s a narrative that the world is getting smaller. We’ve got social media, blogs, and information at our finger tips. Some of us still even gather in real life to chat and to swap stories. This is all great, truly. However, it sometimes just isn’t enough. Supportive messages are lovely, sharing anecdotes and stories can relieve tension, the Internet has even been known to provide factual information on occasion. Still, at 2 am when your brain starts whirling, you know that there are decisions that will remain yours and yours alone.

That responsibility, that requirement weighs heavy sometimes. Other people help lighten the load, but they can never carry it for you.

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Second Time Around

For the last eight months, I’ve bought into the common wisdom that second time round, having a baby will be easier.  (Although actually having a baby I doubt will be any easier – unless human anatomy has changed dramatically in the last two and a half years and no one told me.) People tell me it’ll be straightforward since I have done it before, that I’ll know what to do, that I am experienced. I, too, have been happily waddling towards 37 weeks thinking that since I know vaguely what to do with a crying infant, how to get one to sleep and how to clothe one, I’ll be fine.

Then, yesterday, I realised something.

I absolutely do not know how to do any of these things. Any of them.

If I’d known what to do with a crying infant, presumably my son would have cried less.

If I knew how to get one to sleep, I wouldn’t have spent an hour last night getting a two-year old to nod off.

If I knew how to clothe a baby properly, I wouldn’t be looking at the various blankets and sleeping bags we’ve accumulated and wondering what I do with them all.

Suddenly, I am lost and anxious. I am anxious and have the additional burden of the misplaced, high expectations of others. Ah, crap.

Personally, I am more inclined to think that a second baby will be a bit like building Ikea furniture. You set out thinking you remember from last time, follow the instructions, but still end up with screws left over and a slight tension in your marriage.

Second-time parents have a whole host of new to deal with. For one thing, there’s a toddler tearing about the place, who has no concept of what’s about to happen. (Mummy, where’s your belly button gone? Mummy, has daddy got a baby in his tummy? Mummy, can I have cake, maybe?) He has needs and demands, which I very much doubt will coincide with the excuse for a routine a newborn works on. (Was it really a feed every three hours? Really?)

And yet.

And yet, I am just having a little wobble. I don’t think it’s fair to assume it will be easier second-time round; I suspect people who make such comments mean them kindly and encouragingly. However, they are right in many ways, too. Some things will be easier. There are tricks I’ll remember, lessons I’ve learn (never leave home without a clean t-shirt for mum as well as baby), knowledge of easier days to come that will get me through difficult days. Plus, one thing I know for sure is that there will be so many great things. First time round, you suspect as much, but, while nothing prepares you for how bone-achingly tired you’ll be, absolutely nothing prepares you for all the wondrous moments, either. There’s a whole new set of firsts around the corner. Another member of our team who we can’t wait to meet.

I am just going to have to remember that every piece of Ikea furniture is slightly different and that the instructions are never really any use.  It is my first time as a mum of two and I fully intend to cut myself some slack and have zero expectations, no matter how many times I hear it’ll be easier. Some days it won’t be. And that’s okay.

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The Slide

We love the slide, my son and me. He climbs up the stairs, grins at me, whizzes down saying weeeee, grins again, I grin, and repeat. It’s great. He likes it because it feels fast and exciting. I like it, because of a) how much he likes it and b) how I can sit and do nothing but watch and it feels like parenting. (Although really reason b) comes before a) in terms of how much I like it.)

The slide presents something of a dilemma, however. A dilemma that is representative of the luxury problems in my life as I know it: do I let my kid climb up the slide part? Do you? Because, almost every kid I have ever encountered at a playground wants to climb up the slide. Having mastered the steps and the sliding, it gets a bit boring. Being able to climb up the down bit is a new challenge, an adventure, and, let’s be honest, a chance to be a rebel. Damn, it has taken my son about three months of trying to make it up the slide at our nearest playground.

Don’t judge me yet, slide purists, I know this isn’t necessarily something to be proud of…

Actually, I was really proud today. Because I was tired, we were alone at the playground, my son was being a delight, making ice creams with me out of sand, pretending to drive us on holiday, and after taking his digger down the slide four or five times, he started working on getting back up the slide part. I sighed. A nagging part of me was saying stop him, tell him to go back up the stairs, while the other part was thinking go on, lad, keep trying, you’ve got this. And he did. It wasn’t a photo book-milestone moment,  but he kept trying and trying until he did what he wanted. And I liked that.

Of course, if anyone else had have been there, I would be been telling him to get down, to go up the steps, to do it “properly”, but not because I think it’s wrong to climb up a slide; I just think it’s a bloody stupid thing to do when others are trying to get down it, given that getting down is what it was originally designed for.

Hence the dilemma. The tiny dilemma, but one of hundreds presented in the daily negotiations that are living with a two year old. When is it okay just to say yes for an easy life, where do you draw your lines in the sand, when do you make decisions based on what you think (think!) other people would do?  At what point do you stop worrying about whether or not it is ‘right’ to let your kid climb up the slide and start cheering them on as they make it to the top, because in that moment, really, who cares?

I am not sure a two year old can handle the nuance of playground rules that apply when other people are there and when they aren’t, but I think I have to try. I spend way too much energy wondering about how other people handle their kids, about how other people view me handling mine, when really, kids are kids who want to climb up slides., and parents are just people who used to be kids climbing up slides.

And we do love the slide, my son and me. Whichever way we are climbing it. 20190803_172305

The Terrific Twos

Being two is amazing: people finally start to understand what you’re talking about, you are allowed chocolate, and your opinion counts for something (although apparently not everything when it comes to wanting the adult definition of too much chocolate – an arbitary figure determined by an unknown formula).

Two year olds are, however, often misunderstood. We are considered difficult, unpredictable, and prone to throwing ourselves on the floor. With a little more knowledge though, you will soon see the fabulousness of life with a toddler. So here’s my handy guide to ensure there is nothing terrible about your interactions with me.

Firstly, language. The following translations might come in handy:

  • don’t like it means don’t want it.
  • Tired means I know I am in the wrong but want you to let me off.
  • Shat means mummy sure is glad I can’t make the short i sound and wishes I wasn’t such a parrot.
  • Daddy? means mummy said said no.
  • More means more, lots, another one.
  • Not working means I can’t do it, so the only explanation is that it is broken.

Secondly, you need to understand the following:

  • I don’t walk anywhere. I run. On the occasions when I travel slower, it has nothing to do with the destination you have in mind, rather it’s connected to my need to inspect the sticks and rocks along the way.
  • A stick is never just a stick. It is an aeroplane, a giraffe, or a helicopter.
  • The only toy I wish to play with is the one that belongs to someone else.
  • I will test your patience regularly…
  • … but melt your heart almost minutely.
  • If it’s got wheels, I need to point it out to you. Bin truck! Bike! Car! The appropriate response is wow!
  • My talent for stalling at bedtime is remarkable. I will ask for milk or water, and it will always be the one you don’t have. I will want, then immediately not want, my teddy. I will be hungry, then thirsty, want blanket then be too hot. I will suddenly be able to sing songs all the way through at the top of my voice to distract you from how frustated you are that I am awake.
  • I will turn and look at you, drop a kiss on your cheek or grip your hand, and any memory of a tantrum will be erased.

That’s about it, the lowdown and language of me after 25 months on planet Earth. It sounds like hard work because it is, but mum and dad sure do smile a lot, so I figure I am doing okay.