Not so long ago, I found myself in the backyard having a tea party with a five year old, a baby and two teddy bears. My family gave me a lovely tea set for my last birthday, and ever since then Birdy has wanted to have a tea party in the garden. It had to be a real tea party with real tea. Even the teddy’s were poured a cup and Birdy dutifully drank it when I wasn’t looking.
Whenever children play with their teddy’s it’s amazing to see them slide in and out of fantasy and reality.
One day Birdy will tell me she’s going to marry her teddy and another day she’ll carelessly squash him and say, “He’s not real Mum!” But the wonderful thing about a teddy is that they can be real when they’re really needed. In the moment when nobody else understands them, or nobody wants to play with them, a teddy can be a child’s best friend.
When I was a kid, I had a blue furry Teddy in stripy pyjamas! He was called Peter Bear and I absolutely adored him. I always cuddled him as I fell asleep. I also remember times when Mum and Dad were really cross with me, when I would throw myself on my bed and cry my heart out, and in those moments I honestly believed that nobody really understood me except Peter Bear. Fortunately those episodes didn’t last long, but when they happened it was good to have that special Teddy to cuddle. As a child, the worst feeling of all was when everybody would laugh at you. You’d just said something perfectly serious, and then suddenly all the bigger kids or the grown-ups would be laughing at you and you had no idea why. They were teddy-bear moments.
Molly hasn’t really noticed her bear yet, but Birdy’s bear is called January and he’s very special. He’s been a great source of comfort during many hospital trips, operations and road-trips. The downside of having a special toy is that when they get left behind it can be rather problematic. There was one time January got left at pre-school on a Friday and was locked in for the whole weekend. That was a little traumatic. There was also the time we went to Bathurst for a wedding and January was left behind at home. There were quite a few tears at bedtime that night!
We recently did our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
For those who aren’t familiar with the concept this is where you fill a shoebox with presents for a child living in poverty. Samaritan’s Purse actually recommends that you include ‘Something to Love’ in the shoebox. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of going to PNG to deliver some of the shoeboxes to the children, some of whom were quite neglected. For those kids, having a special toy to love could be a wonderful source of comfort. Not just because of the unconditional love they get from the teddy, but also because it’s a reminder that somebody on the other side of the world actually cares about them enough to send that teddy in the first place.
When we give a Teddy to a child, we’re giving them a physical representation of love that they can feel and hold and touch, even when they may not feel loved.
In that moment of high drama, when they run to their room, slam the door and say, “Don’t come in!” the teddy in their arms will still be there for them. So even though kids today have so many fancy high-tech toys, I don’t think anything will ever replace the humble Teddy Bear. Kids in PNG and kids in Australia still all need ‘something to love’.
Did you have a favourite teddy or soft toy as a child? Have your children become attached to a particular teddy or a blanket as a comforter? I’d also love to hear from you if you have been doing the Operation Christmas Child boxes with your children.
About a week ago I found myself sitting on a shuttle bus next to a fellow author who also happens to work in child welfare. While my baby was sitting on my knee, wriggling and chatting away, she kept nuzzling into my shoulder, trying to attach. I commented that babies usually make it pretty clear what they want – you don’t usually need to read a baby book to work it out. My companion said that in her line of work, she sees many babies who don’t communicate like that with their mother. If the mother is unresponsive to the child’s needs, the child doesn’t learn to interact with her. She mentioned that in many of the children she sees, that simple bond between mother and baby just doesn’t exist.
Research is showing that babies first learn about themselves through their interactions with their parents or caregivers.
Normally parents play and interact with their babies and the babies take their cues from those interactions. They learn that mum or dad will respond to their cries and meet their needs and that makes them feel safe enough to explore the world around them. It also teaches them how to form relationships with others and helps the higher parts of the brain to develop properly. These parts of the brain are responsible for developing emotional and relational intelligence – so the child learns to recognise their feelings and the feelings of others and respond appropriately. According to the Australian Childhood Foundation, children that have been neglected or abused may not feel safe enough to even express their true feelings. So next time your child tells you they don’t want to eat their broccoli, take comfort in the fact that this is actually a sign of your healthy relationship. They trust you enough to tell you what they really think.
If people haven’t had a baby before, they might not know how to interact with one.
I know I didn’t spend much time around babies before I had my own. So what should new parents be doing to bond with their baby?
A friend of mine who has just had her first baby commented on facebook that she and her husband are completely in love with him. If you think of it as falling in love and do all the things you would do if you were falling in love, then that will pretty much cover it.
I remember the first time I read a parenting book that told me to ‘flirt’ with my baby! At first I was a bit surpised about that. But you do ‘flirt’ with your baby. You smile at them, you admire them, you gaze into their eyes, you shower them with physical affection and you whisper words of affirmation. People do this instinctively. Hand them a baby and they’ll often lower their voice and say, “Hello sweetheart, aren’t you beautiful?”
The other thing people instinctively do with babies is sing to them or dance with them. I know Molly loves to be sung to. As soon as you sing to her, her little head starts rocking and her hands start clapping and her legs start kicking. It’s beautiful to watch.
You’ll never find a better partner to slow dance with than a baby. Especially if you don’t mind a bit of slobber on your ear!
As well as all this flirting and dancing and sweet-talking, what babies really need is somebody who responds to their needs. That’s what we do when we first start going out with someone, right? They say “Jump!” and we say “How high?” Nothing is too difficult or too much to ask. Babies need us to be willing to drop everything and come running when they need us. That’s how they learn that they really are special and that somebody thinks the world of them.
Has bonding with your baby come naturally to you or have you had to learn it? Do you find it easy to play with your baby? Was it like falling in love?
I’ve just been away in Queensland for a few days at the Word Writer’s Getaway – A retreat and conference for Christian authors. I took baby Molly with me, so it wasn’t exactly a holiday for me, but it was refreshing to meet with and be encouraged by other authors. I could only attend this conference because my parents came down specially to look after Birdy (Thanks Mum and Dad!) I was pleased about this because I have really special memories of time spent with my Granny when my parents were away. Hopefully it was a special time for them both.
I never met either of my grandfathers – they both died before I was born – but I did have a close relationship with one grandmother in particular, my father’s mother. She lived a long way away in Queensland for most of my childhood, but that made it even more exciting when we went to visit, especially as she lived at the beach. Going up there for holidays was one of the highlights of my childhood, and even though we didn’t see her very often, I always felt a deep affection for my grandmother. I was devastated when she died.
I was 15 when my grandmother passed away.
Finding out my grandmother had died is probably the strongest memory Ihave from my teenage years. I remember the teacher standing in the doorway of the classroom, calling my name. As soon as she said my name I knew exactly what had happened! I have no idea how I knew, but I just did.
Ever since my grandmother passed away, I have kept a brown velvet jacket that she used to wear.
I wore this jacket constantly until I was in my mid twenties. For the next ten years I kept it in a cupboard, but hardly ever wore it because it was falling apart. Even though it’s in terrible condition, and my grandmother would be horrified to know I still have it, I just can’t bring myself to throw it out. Right now, it is actually hanging over the rail on my back verandah, waiting for me to ‘de-clutter’ it out to the garbage. I still can’t bring myself to do it!
What should I do? Keep it or chuck it?
I’m not generally a big hoarder, but I do like to keep special gifts and notes and letters from special people in my life. Nothing will convince me to part with these treasures. And my grandmother’s jacket is one of the last things I have from her, other than memories and a few letters. Every time I see it, hanging there on my back verandah, I’m reminded of just how special grandparents are in a child’s life. The thing I remember most about my grandmother is the beautiful hugs she gave me. I can still feel her bony ribs sticking into me as she threw her arms around me and held me tight. Because of those hugs, I never had any doubt that she loved me.
So I hope that Birdy enjoyed her special weekend with her grandparents while I was away. Maybe one day she’ll be the one holding onto something special from her Granny.
Have you ever saved something special from a grandparent or someone who has moved on or passed away? Do you have memories of being looked after by somebody special as a child?
I started thinking about how much my life has changed when I was out at a fortieth birthday party a month of two ago. We were at a fancy bar and we had all dressed up when I went to the bathroom to put on some lippy. As I rummaged through my bag, looking for my lippy, what I found instead was a huge length of Coles Sports for Schools vouchers. As I pulled at the vouchers, they just kept coming and coming, like one of those endless scarves a magician pulls out of his hat. When I eventually got to the bottom, I found a half opened baby rusk and one of the pink hair bands that belongs to my daughter, but there was no lippy to be found! I thought, ‘Wow, my life has really changed since having kids!”
One of the best things about sharing your life with kids is that it makes you do things you would otherwise never do.
Like the other day I took my eldest daughter and my niece ice skating. I can’t tell you how many years it’s been since I went iceskating and I was not at all sure that I was even going to be able to make it around the rink. But I had two little girls clinging on to me for dear life, so I had to figure it out pretty quick. There is no way that I would ever have decided to go iceskating if I didn’t have children. I have to admit I was sore for about a week afterwards but it was really fun!
The other thing that I have to do with my daughter is art and craft. I can honestly say that I do not have an artistic or crafty bone in my body.
I cannot draw, I cannot paint and I am really rubbish at making stuff. If I didn’t have a kid, I would not draw a single thing in my life, ever! But my daughter loves art, so I’ve had to get used to living in a house full of paint and paintbrushes. The other day, while my daughter was painting, she asked me to paint something too. This absolutely terrified me. My instinct in those moments is just to say, “No darling, Mummy doesn’t paint, wait until Dad gets home,” but I know that’s not sending her the right messages. What I should be teaching her is that it’s good to have a go, and that you don’t have to be Picasso to have fun. So I reluctantly agreed to paint something as long as I was allowed to copy it from a book. I painted The Very Hungry Caterpillar while Birdy gave me directions about colours and lines and helped me with the hard bits. It’s not something I would ever have chosen to do, but I really enjoyed the process of working together on it. (Now you can see why I don’t illustrate my own books!)
Last week we went to Canberra for two nights to visit friends. While we were there, we went to Floriade for the first time. Birdy is the sort of child who takes great delight in picking flowers on the way home from school, so I was pretty sure she would enjoy Floriade. I’m always happy to be outside in the sunshine, but hearing her squeals of delight was what really made the day for me. She kept saying things like “Oh, mum it’s so beautiful!” and “This has just been the best day ever!”
Having children not only forces you to do things that you would otherwise not bother to do, but you also get to experience it with the sense of wonder and awe that children bring to new experiences.
I enjoyed going iceskating, but for the girls everything about it was amazing and exciting because they were experiencing it for the first time – the sensation of slipping and sliding on the ice, the intense cold, the boppy disco music, the people spinning and twirling – they were totally spellbound by it.
When you’re a parent, there’s much a about the job that’s mundane. There’s the endless cooking and washing, the daily routine of school pick-ups and drop-offs, making lunches etc – but in the midst of all that, there are these magic moments where we not only do things we wouldn’t normally do, but we also get to share in the sense of awe and wonder that only a child can bring to the experience.