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The weird things that babies love

7 Nov
My ten month-old baby has a new obsession. It’s Gotye – the indie Belgian-Australian singer/songwriter who sings that song ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’. You’ve probably seen the video, in which Gotye (real name – Wally De Backer – no wonder he calls himself Gotye) gets painted into an artwork. It’s a song about a bad relationship break-up and is a very mournful tune. The Wiggles –  it ain’t. But my baby girl is mad for it.

She grins and bounces and flaps her arms every time it comes on. Whenever we’re having troubles feeding her, we switch it on (we’ve recorded it on the TV) and boom – down goes the food without fuss. It’s brilliant. But very hard to fathom. We’ve just put in the basket of ‘weird things that don’t make sense’ about babies. Her sister, our eldest child, was much the same. For the first three months of her life, she didn’t smile at anyone or anything except a particular artwork in our house. It was a semi sculptural piece made of old clay tobacco pipes from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Our daughter thought it was Christmas. She would beam at it for hours, well, minutes. But in baby-time, one minute of staring basically equals an hour in adult time. Anyone else got some weird baby-loves they’d like to share???

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I’m never getting an I-Phone (and other famous last words)

21 Sep

I’m not going to get an I-Phone. Nor anything resembling an internet-enabled mobile phone. There I’ve said it. I’m putting it out there on the world wide web in the hope that it will force me to stick to my guns. It may be significant to no-one but myself. But yes, it is significant to me. It represents the first major mainstream tech gadget that I refuse to be a part of. I’ve got a digital camera, a lap-top, a TV, DVD player, a digital radio, an I-Pod, and a very basic mobile phone (no video, no internet). But I’m stepping off the tech-gadget-train for the first time. It feels like everyone has one, except me (and my husband). Now, the old ‘but everyone else has got one’ might be the excuse of choice for the average 15 year old, but believe me, peer pressure still exists beyond the age of 30.
I’m making this ‘no I-Phone’ declaration now, because lately I’m finding the pull of the I-Phone harder and harder to resist. I blame Amanda Keller. Yes, the funny lady from WS-FM and the TV show ‘Talkin’ bout my generation’. Have you seen her on that Woolworths ad? Her husband eats the last tim-tam, and she whips out her I-Phone, scans it over the packet and ‘hey presto’ Tim-Tams get added to a shopping list stored on her phone. What an app! Brilliant! Ingenious! I am a chronic shopping list-writer. I cannot shop without one. Every Monday, I sit down and write it out long-hand. It’s tedious. I always forget something essential – like toilet paper. Imagine the time saved if I had that I-phone app. I actually looked up the price of an I-Phone the other day. That’s how I know my interest is increasing. It’s a bad sign. A very bad sign. People who own them love them. So great for the kids, they say, so entertaining for them. It seems true. I’ve seen 2 year olds who can operate an I-Phone better than I can. They finger-flick with ease. My fingers have no flick in them. Neither do the fingers of my 2 year old daughter. Will she be teased at pre-school because she has no finger-flick – because her Mum is some anti-technology weirdo?!!! So, if there are some good reasons in favour of the I-Phone, why am I so against it? One reason. I am a bit of a net-aholic. Give me a spare 10 seconds at home, and I’ll be on-line before you can say ‘W-W-W-dot’. Fortunately, my net use is restricted by some major factors. 1) children 2) I have to physically sit down at my lap-top to use it. Imagine if I could use the net anytime, anywhere. It would be like getting a problem gambler to take up residence in a casino. New gadgets are so hard to resist. Let’s face it, we all luv’em. They hold the elusive promise of improving our lives, of making us look/feel/sound/smell better. Just this week I have lashed out on a new kitchen appliance called a thermomix. It costs roughly what an I-Phone would cost over a standard 2 year plan. It’s a pretty big purchase. The selling point is that it can mix, chop, beat, whip, heat, knead, make the bed, wash the dishes etc etc. The way I rationalise it is this – cooking is something I have to do. There’s no avoiding it when you are a stay at home mum. So, anything that makes cooking quicker/easier/more enjoyable is a good purchase. On the other hand, surfing the net is not something I have to do – it’s something I like to do, sure – but no one will go hungry if I don’t check my email, or post a facebook update. In fact, my family is more likely to go hungry if I did have an I-phone. It might be hard to separate me from it. So, here it is. I’m not getting one. These might be famous last words. I might be like those (few) people in the 1950s who scoffed at the first televisions and said ‘Television? What rubbish! That gadget will never take off. Give me a crystal set any day.’ The I-Phone may just turn out to be the television of the future – something that everyone just ‘has’, without question. Who knows? Check back with me in a year. I reckon if I can withstand the allure for the next 12 months then I might just make it.

Getting my babies to sleep through the night

30 Aug
I’m not sure how, or why, but it feels like getting a newborn baby to sleep through the night has become a parental badge of honour. Good sleeper = good parenting. Bad sleeper = well, I guess you can put 2 and 2 together. Now, with the benefit of actually having had two babies, I’ve decided that’s bollocks. Well, I have to say that don’t I because both of my girls (now aged 2.5 and 8 months)were pretty terrible sleepers for the first six months of their lives. When I say ‘pretty terrible’, I mean that I was getting up to feed them between 2-4 times a night at six months of age. And our bedroom is upstairs – so that’s potentially 8 sets of stairs per night for six straight months. 180 nights. Yes – it was good for my figure. But it was very very bad for my mental well-being.

 At about the 6-7months of age mark, I started to get a little desperate. I knew they were eating more than enough solids and weren’t waking out of hunger any more. It was just habit. A bad habit. I was starting to think I would never have an uninterrupted night’s sleep ever again. It was time for an intervention. So, I consulted my ‘baby bible’ (Baby Love by Robyn Barker). I have no pecuniary interest in promoting this book, I just genuinely think it offers practical and useful information about health, feeding, behavioural and developmental issues. And she addresses the topic of sleeping in some detail. I won’t go into the details but essentially her ‘teaching to sleep’ method involves getting rid of all the baby’s sleep associations (dummy, feeding, bottles, wraps, music, white noise, cuddling) and allowing the baby to self settle – in other words – offering minimal settling (a pat on the cheek, a bit of shushing) at set intervals of 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes – until the baby falls back to sleep on their own. It’s not easy. Inevitably there is crying involved. I know some people say they could never leave a baby to cry. I understand that. It’s hard. But ongoing sleep deprivation, in the long run, is even harder. However, I accept this method isn’t for everyone.  Listening to your baby cry ranks up there with fingernails on a blackboard as being among the worst sounds in the world. Fortunately, our babies did not cry for too long, and they never became hysterical. I made a deal with myself that if the crying sounded like a pained or distressed cry, I would step in and offer a feed. It never reached that point. Both girls cried a protest cry, off and on, for an hour or so on the first night, less on the second night, and very little on the third night. Within a week, they were able to sleep through the night, with a little grizzle here or there. It was a pretty incredible turn around. Some people would call this controlled crying. Other people would call it ‘teaching to sleep’. It’s neither. There’s nothing really ‘controlled’ about it, and at that age, babies are a little too young for ‘teach’ in the formal sense. I guess I would call it ‘figuring out how to self settle’. Because for my babies, that’s what it was all about, figuring out how to get themselves back to sleep without feeding. So, now that my babies are ‘good’ sleepers, do I get to enter the ‘good’ parent’s club? Not at all. My babies are the ones who did the hard yards. All my husband and I did was to give them the chance to work it out.   

 

Mantras for Surviving the First 6 Months of My Baby’s Life

3 Aug

I’m starting this post with a disclaimer. Please do not interpret my comments as parenting ‘advice’. This is just my experience. Everyone parents differently and every baby is unique.  

We made it! We have survived for the first 6 months of our second little girl’s life. When I say ‘we’, I’m talking about me, my husband, our two year old daugther, and of course our gorgeous little bubba. It’s been a test, and a delight, for all of us. I think I went into motherhood for a second time assuming (wrongly) that it would all be a lot easier than the first. It wasn’t. Easier is not the right word. I still think the first six months of any baby’s life are challenging. But it’s been a happier experience, if that makes sense.


The first time, I relied a lot of books about routines and following rules to establish good habits. I know they work for some people, and that’s great. But they did my head in. My baby did not always behave according to ‘the book’. This time, I did things a little differently. Instead of trying (and usually failing) to control my baby’s routine, I decided to take charge of what I knew I could control – my own attitude and behaviour. For instance, both of my little girls have been serious catnappers. With my first daughter, I spent hours trying to re-settle her in the cot, as per ‘the book’s advice, rocking and patting till we were both beside ourselves with exhaustion. With baby number 2, I just tried to accept it. If she woke up, I might try re-settling for a minute or two, but if she was wide awake, I just got her up. It made us both happier.  

In relation to my attitude to it all, I found myself saying the statements below on a regular basis – not in a meditative kind of way – they were thoughts that kept popping into my head on a regular basis. They just made me feel better about my baby and how I was caring for her.  

1) You can’t spoil a little baby too much
2) Remember the smiles and try to forget the tears
3) I will get a full night’s sleep again – at some point
4) Life will get easier – I only have to look at my 2 year old to know that
5) Babies cry because they’re either tired, hungry, have a dirty nappy, need a cuddle, or are sick – when in doubt as to the precise cause of the crying, then treat her for all five options
6) Listen to advice but realise this – no-one knows my baby like I and my husband do
7) This first six months can only last six months – in the grand scheme of life – it’s a blip
8) Trust your instincts
9) Happy baby = happy mummy and vice versa. Therefore, pretty much anything that promotes happiness in either Mum or bub is a good thing.
10) A bad habit can be broken almost as quickly as it is formed

A Real-Life Designer Baby

29 Jul

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this video of fashion stylist, Rachel Zoe, showing us around her four month old son’s nursery. (Sorry, you’ll have to watch an ad before the video begins). I use the word ‘nursery’ advisedly. Little Skyler’s walk-in wardrobe is bigger than most people’s master bedrooms. And that wardrobe is chock-full of designer threads like a Gucci leather jacket which would come with a five-figure price tag. Not that Zoe paid for it. Or at least, I don’t think she did.
As she breathlessly tells us, ‘It came in its own garment bag’ which indicates to me that it was probably a gift from the canny PR folk at Gucci, who, spotting a golden publicity opportunity, probably gifted the jacket to Zoe knowing that she and her son are paparazzi gold – and if the baby’s snapped in that Gucci jacket (a picture that will be beamed across the world) well that’s great, free publicity, isn’t it? Nothing like using a baby as a walking billboard. Look, that probably sounds more mean than it should. Zoe adores fashion, and clearly adores her son, so combining the two probably makes a lot of sense. To her. But the excess makes me feel a teensy bit ill. It just seems – so much – or, in Zoe’s words, it’s ‘everything’. Literally. The baby seems to have everything – as long as it has a logo on it. The upside is that soon Skyler will become a toddler – and like all toddlers, will no doubt revel in jumping in the muddiest of muddy puddles, wearing his prisine white Ralph Lauren shoes. And as he becomes a rebellious teenager, he will probably hate designer fashion altogether and choose to dress in saggy no-name jeans and horrible t-shirts bearing the names of death-metal bands. I wonder how that beautiful walk-in wardrobe will look then? I envision just one big messy pile of dirty clothes on the floor, and Zoe, standing at the door in dismay, wondering what happened to the her little designer baby with the Gucci leather jacket.

Ticking Off the Bucket List

26 Jul

In the next few weeks, I will (hopefully) tick off two items from my bucket list – you know – that list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. The first is to attempt the City to Surf (14km fun-run), the other is to commence further university studies. Note that I have not set myself the goal of finishing either. Of course, completion is my aim. But there are obstacles in my way – they’re called children. But they are also my inspiration and my motivation.

Before you have a baby, everyone tells you the same thing – your life will change. No, really? I thought babies loved nightclubbing? It goes without saying that you enter into parenthood realising that you won’t be out every Saturday night, dancing till dawn. No, a rocking Saturday night involves take-away on the couch watching the footy. And that’s just fine with me. I reached parenthood at a time in my life when I wanted a change. I was more than ready. I didn’t want to be out on the tiles on a Saturday night. So, before you get that crying newborn in your hands, you know things are going to be different – but nothing can prepare you for how your changed life will feel. It’s mostly joy. Utter, ridiculous, joy. There’s also frustration (for the 50th time, eat. your. dinner), occasional boredom (not Dora the Explorer, AGAIN!), and definitely guilt. For me, the guilt arises when I have ‘me’ time. This comes in the form of going for a jog, using the computer, or trying to read a magazine. These activities are not aided by the presence of children, so I try to avoid them (the kids) while I do them (the activities). So, it comes down to trying to squeeze it all in while they are asleep. But with my two bucket-list projects, that’s just not possible. Uni studies are going to take up 12 hours a week, and City to Surf training takes up about 6 hours a week. 18 hours altogether. That’s a part-time job. Fortunately, I have great family support, which allows me to even contemplate these crazy projects. I guess the question I keep asking myself is – is now the right time? With two very young children who need their Mummy, a lot, is this the right time to be undertaking projects that require a fair chunk of solo time? Is it fair to them?

My conclusion is this – there will never be a right time to tick off these bucket list items. There’s no point in waiting for our lives to get less busy – it ain’t gonna happen. Once you become a parent, life seems to be put on a trajectory of busy-ness which only goes in one direction – and that’s up. My brother and sister have school-age children – and from what I can tell – school doesn’t seem to free up much time at all (for the parents, that is). So – now it is. I’m already really feeling guilty. But I’m also coming to the realisation that my bucket list projects are also important for my kids. Being a parent involves a couple of things – showering your kids with love – but also – being a good role model. Sounds a bit pious, doesn’t it? But the reality is – the way a parent lives their life is incredibly influential on the way a child lives out theirs. I want my girls to understand that it’s important to set goals, and work at achieving them. I don’t want them to be afraid of trying new things, and I definitely want them to know that learning doesn’t stop in your early twenties. So what’s the best way to teach my girls these ‘life lessons’ – well, I think for me, it’s to live them. And that’s what I’m going to try to do. Wish me luck. I think I’ll need it. That, and babysitters. That would be help too.

Dreams don’t always come true – and that’s OK

28 Jun

Last week my 2 year old daughter received her first pair of ballet slippers. They’re powder pink, in soft-as-butter leather, with little satin bows at the toes. I wish they were mine. As she excitedly showed them to me, I held them to my nose and inhaled that gorgeous, new-shoe, real leather smell – and with that whiff came flooding back a host of childhood memories – and the sense of a dream – unfulfilled, and never likely to be fulfilled. As a child, my dream was to be a famous prima ballerina with the Australian Ballet Company. I certainly pursued my dream, attending weekly dance classes with teacher Marylin Jones – herself a former Principal and renowned dancer with the Australian Ballet Company. I remember our uniform exactly – pale blue leotard, pink tights, ballet slippers, a chiffon over-skirt and hair always scraped back into a bun. What really motivated me through the hours of arabesques, plies and jetes, was the thought of wearing a tutu in the end of year concert.
 I did get to – once – a hot pink number with layers and layers of frothy tulle. I took it very seriously – my family, not so much. My Mum says tears of laughter ran down her face when she saw her chubby little 7 year old daughter prancing across the stage. There were a couple of on-stage tiffs between the performers as we bossed each other into the correct position. Graceful, elegant, artistic – we were not. At the age of 11, ballet class started to get serious. It was time for pointe work, and that meant an extra two classes per week, making a total of 3 afternoons devoted to ballet. As much as I loved it, I also loved other things – like tennis, piano, and speech and drama. And there was another issue – I simply wasn’t a very talented dancer. No one ever said so. I think I just knew it. And it wasn’t like anyone begged me to keep dancing – which is a sure sign that I wasn’t a big loss to the ballet world. To be a great ballet dancer you need to work bloody hard but you also need to have genes on your side – a natural turn-out and flexibility are pretty important – I had neither – I’m about as flexible as a plank of wood. But did my dream die? Absolutely not. I continued to love dance – not as a performer, but as a spectator, and I read copious books about little girls whose dance dreams did come true. To this day, ballet is still a passion. I still go to ballet concerts and marvel at the artistry of the dancers and the ways they can manipulate their bodies in ways you can hardly believe possible. I really want to do one of those adult beginner ballet classes. At the age of 35, I still fantasise about wearing a big, white tutu and pirouetting my way to fame in front of loving audiences. But I know it’s never going to happen. And I’m OK with that. With maturity, I’ve learned just how hard a career it is – it’s tough on your body and at best, can only last about 15 years. In some ways, I’m glad it’s a dream that’s never been fulfilled – the reality may not have lived up to my imagination. So often, we’re urged to ‘follow our dreams’, or in the words of solo-sailor Jessica Watson ‘live your dreams’. In her Australia Day speech, the 16 year old said “You don’t have to be anyone or anything to achieve something. You’ve just got to believe in it and work hard… So, to all you Aussies out there, particularly us young guys, let’s dream big. But more importantly, let’s make it happen.” I don’t disagree with this comment, and I would never want to discourage  anyone from pursuing their dreams but I would say this – dreams can still be wonderful, even if they don’t come true – even if you can’t ‘make it happen’. Achieving a dream takes more than hard work and belief, it also requires a fair bit of luck, which is beyond anyone’s control. I wasn’t lucky enough to be born with a dancer’s body. Jessica Watson was lucky that a rogue wave didn’t destroy her boat, and therefore, her dream. I think we put too much emphasis on achieving our dreams and therefore, feeling like failures when they don’t come to fruition.The reality is that there is enormous enjoyment to be had in simply having a dream and`working towards it. Let’s accept this – some of the best dreams are only ever played out in our heads, and that’s where they should stay.