Surprise Blog Post - Constant Fear Three Year Old

Surprise!

Surprise Blog Post - Boy or Girl Image

Be Careful What You Wish For

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided that I did not want to know baby’s gender until he or she was born. A typical conversation from about six months into my pregnancy was as follows –

  • Other person: “Do you know what you are having”
  • Me: “Yes, a baby”
  • Other person: “I mean a boy or a girl”
  • Me: “Yes, hopefully either a boy or a girl”
  • Other person: “But don’t you want to find out?”
  • Me: “I think it will be obvious when the baby is born”

Yes, I was deliberately being a bit antagonistic but I had decided that there was very little that was a surprise in the 21st century information age. Everything seems so immediate nowadays. After all, we can online shop with next day delivery, look up information on the internet and have an answer straight away, plus take a photo and not only see it but upload it in a flash.

Not many people saw my point of view and I thought it was because many of us had lost the respect of waiting for something wonderful to happen. But I was wrong. It was because most of the people I talked to were already parents. They didn’t understand my wish for surprise with the gender because life as a parent is chock-a-block full of surprises.

 

The Day One Surprise

In fact my first surprise with Dylan occurred before I found out he was a boy. Just before he was born, my midwife said to me – “Your baby is coming as I can see blonde hair”. With my brown hair and brown eyes, I never imagined that I would have a blonde haired, blue-eyed child.

Over the past three years I have encountered all sorts of surprises as a mummy. Here are a few, split into the good, bad and the ugly…

 

The Good Surprises

Most of the good surprises arise from the astonishing amount of development that occurs in the first three years of life. Dylan’s first smile at a few weeks old, his commando crawling by five months and when he first started saying ‘Mummy’ at 18 months – all of these were good surprises.

His ability to learn new things amazes me. At two he not only said “nigh nighs” to his toys but pushed them over to imitate that they were sleeping. He has learnt his manners a little too well and now when I say “time to go to bed” he says, “no thank you please”.

Seeing imagination emerge has been fascinating. Just after Dylan turned two, he was eating some cucumber in his high chair and held up the dark green crescent part that was left over and said “boat” to me. It was also an eye-opener when I realised his long-term memory had developed. When Dylan was two and a half, I pulled out a t-shirt for him to wear and he said to me “thank you Granny Trish” – my mum had given that t-shirt to him over six months earlier.

I sometimes feel like I am at most two steps in front of my child. Just the other day, Dylan pointed out a fly inside the house and asked me to move it outside. I asked him how I should do that. He said I should “blow the shoo-fly out with my hair driver” – that is, get my hair drier and use that to blow the fly out of the window.

 

The Bad Surprises

I have had my fair share of bad surprises. At seven months, I discovered my baby lying on his tummy in his cot despite being in a swaddle and a Safe-T-sleep. At eight months, I left him alone with a magazine for a few moments and then found a huge wad of paper in his mouth. And at ten months I trialled the ‘leaving him to cry method’ when he wouldn’t have his nap, only to eventually go into his room to find blood all over his face where he had cut his lip on the wooden cot rail.

The worst surprise so far was seeing how much blood could come out of one little finger shut too quickly in a door and subsequently spending a long evening at A&E.

Sometimes the bad surprises can be good. At 18 months, I left Dylan alone in the secure living area of our house for a few minutes only to come back to find that he had climbed onto his high chair then onto the kitchen bench and crawled along and got into the advent calendar chocolates. He turned to me and said “chocolate” for the first time.

 

The Ugly Surprises

Then there are the ‘ugly’ surprises. These are mostly scatological in nature, but thankfully not that common. The unexpected arc of pee when changing a nappy, the surprise number two in the bath a couple of times. When a cry wakes you in the middle of the night and you walk into your child’s bedroom to be hit by the overwhelming smell of vomit – now that is one nasty surprise you don’t forget in a hurry.

At ten months, Dylan would follow me into the toilet, pull himself up and when I flushed it, he would put his hands down into the cascading water. One day when he was just over one, he looked like he was chewing on something and when I opened his mouth I discovered a dead fly. At 18 months old, I caught him just in time after he turned on the oven, opened the door and tried to climb in.

Now he is almost three, I worry most about what he says and does in public. Recently at the supermarket, he asked me quite loudly “why has that man got a lot of chins?” And although I like the fact he is pretty much toilet trained, when he pulled down his pants at a busy picnic area to “water the forest” I didn’t know whether to run over to help or pretend that he wasn’t my child.

 

The Biggest Surprise of All

The biggest surprise of all is that my tiny baby has grown into a little man. Dylan, you are almost three years old. Happy birthday my beautiful boy and may you continue to surprise me for many, many years to come.

Surprise Blog Post - Constant Fear Three Year Old

The 'I Will Never Game' Blog Post - Dylan and Santa

The ‘I Will Never’ Game

The 'I Will Never Game' Blog Post - Dylan and Santa

Childhood Distress

I swore that I would never ever wet a handkerchief and use it to scrub something off my child’s face. This was something that happened many times throughout my childhood and I absolutely loathed it. Yes, my mother was one of those mothers. She would even do it to other people’s children.

Yet, unbelievably, the other day, I caught myself licking my finger to wipe some pen marks off Dylan’s face. I just lost again at the ‘I Will Never’ Game.

 

The Game

I have called it the ‘I Will Never’ game, although you probably didn’t think it was a game at the time. It may have started when you were very young. Most probably when your parents did something gross or embarrassing to you in public.

Or you may have added to your ‘I Will Never’ list in your head as you got older and saw some example of parenting that you disagreed with. In my twenties I remember seeing a harassed looking mother yelling at her child in the middle of the supermarket, and thought, ‘I will never do that’.

Then when we found out we were expecting Dylan we added to our growing ‘I Will Never’ list. I decided I would never force food into my child’s mouth, I wouldn’t use food as a reward and my child would never go without at least some vegetables on his dinner plate. And that is just the food list!

I am sure you have done it too. Said to yourself: I will never use a dummy, overspend on birthdays or say clichéd things about money to my kids (“it doesn’t grow on trees”).

I read up on all the scary dangers of too much screen time for tots and decided I would never let my son watch more than half an hour of TV a day, and definitely not have any screen time until he was over two. (All the reasons to decide this seemed very compelling at the time but I couldn’t tell you what they are now).

This ‘I Will Never’ list is usually only in your head but if you took the time to write it out and put it in front of any parent, they would fall about laughing like they all do at that end of every ‘Peppa Pig’ episode. I know this because it is Dylan’s favourite TV program.   Well it’s a tie between that and ‘Thomas’.

 

The Santa Claus Myth

Take another example. In the glow of my first pregnancy I started questioning whether I wanted to perpetuate the culturally acceptable lies that accompany the legion of Santa Claus. In a flush of pre-natal philosophy, I did a simple equation: Santa is a lie – lying is bad – thus there shall be no Santa myth in our household.

Of course this lasted to Dylan’s first Christmas when he was only eight months old and wouldn’t have understood Santa as different from the nose on his face. Partly what changed was that I was worn down by society’s expectations. The path of least resistance is much easier to tread. And I really didn’t want to be the mum of that child – the one that screeches in the middle of daycare that “THERE IS NO SANTA”.

But really when it comes down to it, I lie to Dylan a LOT. Probably every day. “No you can’t have another lolly as there are none left.”, “Peppa Pig is not on TV now – go outside and play.”, “We can’t go to your friend’s house – they are sleeping/ not at home.”

So really, the Santa thing – well that is one of the good lies.

 

Values versus Reality

So why do we play this game? Why do we think our situation will be different? Why do we set ourselves up to fail? I guess it is because ideals such as being honest are very important and we want to teach our children to value them.

So what do we do? How do we reconcile the ideals and values that underlie our ‘I Will Never’ lists with the reality of parenting a living, breathing separate human being? In other words, how do I turn around at a later date and point out that lying is bad even though that is exactly what I have been doing to Dylan for his whole life?

I guess it all comes down to teaching our children to aspire to our highest values (the truth, being healthy, something about less TV), but also that the world is complicated and messy and not all situations will slot easily into rules and lists. Walking the fine line between these two opposing things is what being a parent is all about.

And it also means that you will always lose at the ‘I Will Never’ game.

However, if that means that I get to see Dylan’s eyes sparkle when the Christmas tree lights turn on, or he surprises me with a verse of ‘Jingle Bells’, or he bursts out with a “Merry Christmas Everyone” in the middle of the mall, then I am absolutely fine with losing at this particular game.

Festive Greetings to you all. Love Julie, Andrew and Dylan.

The 'I Will Never Game' Blog Post - Christmas Bucket List

Embrace the Chaos Blog Post - Order and Chaos

Embrace the Chaos

Embrace the Chaos Blog Post - Order and Chaos

Prenatal Worries

My friend Jen is about to have her first baby and is somewhat anxious about what going into labour and giving birth will be like. This is of course a very natural and normal thing to worry about.

One reason we spend a lot of time thinking about labour and birth is that it is a complete unknown. Even if you have done it before, even if you have been present at someone else’s birth, the birth of this child will be different. Like snowflakes, no two births are the same (who really has actually decided that fact about snowflakes?).

The stories and advice you get from other mothers can actually add to the stress: “Oh I was in labour for 27 hours, it was awful….but I am sure you will be fine”.

Therefore, I find myself saying to Jen and other mum-to-be statements along the lines of ‘you have the advantage of being born in modern times in a first world country so even if the unlikely event it all goes wrong, you can get the help you need’.   I sound like an airplane’s safety announcement.

 

The Perfect Introduction to Parenting

So I have made a decision to approach this in a completely different way. Labour and birth are the equivalent of being thrown, screeching, by an arm and a leg, into the deep end of the pool. There is no option to dip your toe in the shallow part.

Having a child is in fact the perfect introduction to what being a parent is all about. It is completely out of your comfort zone, fill of things you cannot control and often leaves you physically and emotionally vulnerable. This precisely describes how I feel about being a mum.

Unfortunately this is also not that helpful to Jen, who would still like to be able to have some semblance of control and order. I can completely understand – I am the organisation queen of the world. Here are two examples of how I have tried to put structure around both the labour process and child-rearing. Compare and contrast:

 

The Birth Plan

First Step: Write out a birth plan. Feel better that you have a plan and it sounds reasonable. Pack it in your hospital bag.

Second Step: Go into labour and forget to look at plan. When you are fumbling around the bag for that squeezy stress ball that you threw in you find the birth plan piece of paper. You read the first couple of lines, get another contraction and rip it up in a huff of annoyance.

Third Step: Way down the track, when your infant is quiet for a moment, get another copy of the birth plan and have a good chuckle at how ridiculous it was and that it didn’t even come close to how you imagined your baby coming into the world would be.

Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with labour and birth is that it will not follow your birth plan.

 

The Bedtime Routine

First Step: Decide on a bedtime routine for your older baby/ toddler that includes a basic structure and a set bedtime.

Second Step: On a typical weeknight watch your structure and bedtime fall into an abyss as you get home from work late and watch your toddler eat so slowly that glaciers have formed in the interim. He then has a massive splashy tantrum in the bath because the ‘Thomas’ towel is in the wash and insists on reading the same book four times. Result is eventual slumbering by 8.30pm (me not my child – who knows when he fell asleep).

Third Step: Decide that the bedtime routine is a merely a loose framework and that a win is defined as getting some semblance of dinner into toddler (even half a banana) and being asleep before me.

Conclusion: Realise that the ONLY guarantee with the bedtime routine is that it should be viewed as a lofty goal, not a structure set in stone.

 

The Helpful Bit

I realise that the above scenarios do not really help the worried mum-to-be, except perhaps to add a little amusement to her day. So I have three things to add. Firstly, organisation, routine and structure are still things to aspire to as a parent if you like that sort of thing. I am not telling you to give up on them completely. When, on the rare occasions, Dylan is actually in bed by 7pm, I feel like a rock star.

More importantly, we need to remind ourselves that the only things that we control in this little place called Earth, are our own feelings and reactions. You do not have to feel miserable that the bedtime routine was in complete disarray for the third night in a row. Or you can choose to feel a bit annoyed and then let that emotion pass. Either way, be kind to yourself, you are only human, just one imperfect parent, and you always will be.

Parenting is filled with real stress, regrets and worries. But having a child is one helluva wacky, wonderful and surprising journey. You cannot control where the rollercoaster takes you, but you can choose to enjoy the ride. And the best way to do that is remember that at the core of it all is love. And love doesn’t conform to lists or rules. It often doesn’t make much sense at all. So embrace love and embrace the chaos.

Embrace the Chaos Blog Post - Birth Plan

Paradox Blog Post - Cupcake with Two Candles

The Parenting Paradox

Paradox Blog Post - Parenting Paradox Cartoon

Like

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted this as her status update on Facebook:

“Equal parts love and horror today. I have the two most beautiful, frustrating, wonderful, annoying, brave, wussy and amazing children.”

I had a little giggle and pressed on ‘Like’. But why did I like it? We all know that parenting is hard work, but this little quote perfectly encapsulated why it is so hard.

Parenting is not hard work only due to there being an overwhelming responsibility for another life. And it is not difficult purely because of the breathtaking array of things that we want children to discover and learn for themselves. It is hard because between these two concepts – protecting our child and also letting them be free – there is an inherent incongruity.

This paradox, this jumbled mess of contradictions, is a tightrope that somehow we as parents have to find a balance on.

 

The Simple Part

Having a baby can be terrifying and extremely difficult at times. I am not saying it is easy, but at its core, parenting a little baby is quite simple. Think about it in terms of a mathematical equation.  Food + Sleep = Good. Any thing else = Bad.

I have decided that they start out as babies with basic biological needs so that we are eased into parenting slowly and do not get overwhelmed with what is ahead. We are not hit with the inherent contradictory nature of parenting first off.

Dylan is now almost two and I have only just started to get a glimpse of this minefield of mess and contradictions that sits at the core of parenting.

 

The Hard Part

I went to a parenting course and the tutor asked us what we wanted for our children. The usual answers got uttered: to be “happy”, “healthy”, “rich”. But these seemed so ill defined and trite. Then one smart daddy said, “ I would be happy if my kid didn’t end up in jail”. There was a gentle sprinkling of laughter from that corner of the room.

Later, I thought what a brilliant example of the parenting paradox. What do we wish for our children? We cannot even define it. It is easier to state what we don’t want.

 

The Contradictory List

So what do I want for Dylan? Here is a little sample…

Want him to strive to be the very best he can be in any situation But do not want to push him too hard at the expense of other things
Want him to not take for granted the status quo, be curious and question everything But when I tell him to do something, I do not want him to question me
Want him to hold onto a central core of self-love, develop self-confidence and stand up for himself But not in an arrogant, narcissistic or weird way (like certain high profile celebrities)
Want him to face his fears head on and embrace the many challenges life will throw at him But do not like the idea of him letting off fireworks, riding a motorcycle or taking up base-jumping as a hobby
Want him to identify and challenge when rules are inappropriate or unfair But he should follow the rules in our house, they are there for a reason
Want him to embrace diversity and accept different cultures But some cultures purposely hurt animals or discriminate against women and I personally do not find those things acceptable
Want him to dream big, reach for the stars, have big, hairy, audacious goals and make every effort to achieve them But he should also have his feet on the ground and understand that life doesn’t always give you want you want every time
Want him to not be defined by his gender But if he wanted to wear hair clips to school, I am not sure I would be too supportive
Want him to be careful with money and learn the value of saving and preparing for the future But he should learn to spend without feeling guilty and embrace being generous to others
Want him to be polite But not be a pushover

 

K.I.S.S

How do I hop through this minefield? The only way I can think of to handle the parenting paradox is to look for and embrace the moments when parenting becomes very simple again.

When Dylan was a baby I could spend ages gazing at his face and cuddling him. It seemed so much simpler back then. Now with a toddler who is always on the go, the moments may be more fleeting, but when they do occur it is important to stop and realise how wonderfully simple it all can be.

The other night when Dylan was in his highchair eating dinner, he started laughing and saying “sun sun”. He couldn’t see the actual sun from where he was sitting but what he was looking at was the sunlight dappled on the dining room wall making sparkling waves of shadows. He was delighted with this shimmering display. It was a moment of pure simple joy.

 

Happy Birthday

Dylan, you are the most sweet, challenging, delightful, exasperating, fun, naughty, cheerful and awesome child. Happy second birthday my gorgeous monster.

Paradox Blog Post - Cupcake with Two Candles