Australia has a new Prime Minister! Tony Abbott.
Love him or hate him, (and judging by the comments on facebook, a lot of people hate him!) the Australian people made it pretty clear that they wanted a change of government. The massive swings to the Coalition and the drop of support for the Greens is, in my view, less about policy and more a reflection of the fact that Australians want their government to govern, rather than to spend their time trying to appease the Greens and a couple of key Independents, just so they can remain in office.
It’s been a week of new beginnings in my house too. I started a new job last Monday, the day after Father’s Day. The start date was significant for me, because earlier in the year we were expecting a baby, our little boy Alexander, lost to us at four months, back in March. His due date was officially August 31, but as both my little girls arrived the day after their due date, I was expecting him on September 1, Father’s Day.
Those of you who regularly read my blog will know that Alexander was not the first baby I’ve lost. He was my 9th pregnancy and I have two children. From past experience, I know the weeks surrounding the due date are always tough. Even if my mind doesn’t consciously remember, my body does. In the weeks before the due date, I will suddenly start having dreams about pregnancy or breast feeding or trying to hold a baby that keeps slipping out of my arms. Once I dreamed that the baby was actually still alive when it was taken away. Sometimes, in a strange moment of physical de ja vu, I will experience the sensations of being pregnant , in the way that those who have lost an arm or a leg can experience phantom sensations or pain.
So when I was offered a job starting the day after my baby would have been born, I knew I needed to seize my chance to have a new beginning. It wasn’t an easy week. There were times when I would have liked to curl up in a ball and cry my eyes out. Thankfully, I have one or two friends who remembered, and who phoned or messaged me in the past few weeks to say they were thinking of me. At times, my head was completely back in March. But I was also pathetically grateful to have something meaningful to do this week. Starting a radio show the week before a federal election is an opportunity I could never take for granted.
It wasn’t a coincidence that on my first day in the job, I sat down to talk face-to-face with an Iranian Christian assylum seeker who came to Australia (shock horror!) by boat from Jakarta. And yes, he drove to the studio on the M4, which might explain the terrible traffic that day. 😉
My Mum’s family came to Australia by boat. Rev Ridgeway Newland, his second wife and eight children arrived on the Sir Charles Forbes back in 1839. They were congregationalists, fleeing religious persecution in England and wanting to start a new church in Australia. My Dad’s family came by boat too. They migrated to Tasmania in the years after the Second World War because my grandfather had itchy feet and couldn’t settle back into life in post-war Edinburgh.
I am so grateful to my ancestors, who risked everything when they boarded a boat and travelled half-way around the world to give a better life to their children.
Sometimes you just need a new beginning… Whether you’re an Iranian Christian whose home has been raided, a traumatised soldier, a marginalised Reverend… or even a grieving Mum.
The Australian people chose a new PM on the weekend. Even though I don’t agree with all Tony Abbott’s policies, I’m willing to give the guy a chance.
Maybe it’s just time for a new beginning…
When I was in primary school, a friend gave me an autograph book. I thought it was great fun to get all my friends and family to sign it and write a little message. Most of them were silly rhymes or jokes, but there was one message I still remember. It was from my Dad. He wrote, “To my second red-headed daughter and nicest Christmas present I’ve ever had. Love Dad.” He was referring to the fact that I came home from hospital on Christmas Day.
Something about those words from my father spoke very powerfully into my young heart.
I still find it hard to understand exactly why that message was so precious to me.
Maybe it was simply because they were words of affirmation that were written down for me to keep.
Written words endure. They carry the weight of intention. We know that the person wrote them deliberately, so they somehow mean more. We have evidence of being loved, special, cherished.
Perhaps it was the idea of being somebody’s gift that resonated with me. And not just any gift, but a Christmas gift! To a child, Christmas presents are really exciting. And not just any old Christmas gift, but the nicest one ever? Really? Could that be true?
My Dad is very much a present person. He would always buy extravagant gifts for all of us, but especially for my Mum. Each birthday and Christmas she was showered with expensive lingerie and nice perfume or dresses that cost a week’s wages, even when we couldn’t afford it. Then she would model the new clothes and we would all join in with admiring comments, while Dad said something appreciative like, “Whackydoo!” From his actions, it was clear Dad thought that presents were important. Gift giving is definitely one of his ‘love languages’. So being called a present by my Dad was a poignant expression of love.
The idea that children are a gift is not a new one.
It dates back to ancient times. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from him.” Harsh words for anyone going through recurrent miscarriage or infertility, but the part about children being a gift, that bit I can relate to.
Last year on my birthday I unexpectedly discovered I was pregnant.
My one-year-old had just weaned herself and we had plans to go out with friends for karaoke, so for the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to having a few drinks and letting my hair down. I also knew it was technically possible, but extremely unlikely, that I could have fallen pregnant recently. Just to rule it out, I did a pregnancy test. I almost passed out when I saw a feint line appear in the positive window.
For so many women, seeing that line would have been a source of joy – a gift, even. But for me, pregnancy is scary. I’ve been pregnant nine times and have two children. I’ve had far more sad endings than happy ones and some of my experiences have been unusually traumatic. So when I found out I was pregnant, the overwhelming emotion was one of fear and anxiety, of feeling incredibly vulnerable, while still wanting to be hopeful.
At the time, I didn’t tell my family – I didn’t want them to be anxious for the next twelve weeks. So I kept my feelings to myself and went about my day as if nothing had happened. I had lunch with my parents, I went out as planned but drank mineral water – (not what you need for karaoke!) – and I made a passable show of trying to be relaxed, while on the inside I was stressing about how I would get my hands on the specialist medications I needed before the looming Christmas break.
In spite of my worries, the pregnancy went smoothly. At thirteen weeks, we had a very thorough scan in which we were told that the pregnancy could now be considered low risk. I started to believe we were having another baby. I started to change my plans for the New Year and make new ones around the baby. I started picturing my family with three kids and wondering how on earth I would get dinner cooked every evening with my husband on night shift and a toddler and a newborn hanging off me. I started telling my friends we were expecting again. Then at a routine check-up, just before sixteen weeks, there was no heartbeat. Later that night, I was giving birth. And for a few minutes, there was a tiny, purple, perfect little boy, wrapped up in a blanket on my bed. And then he was gone.
“I lost a baby.”
So here’s the thing. I don’t want Alexander’s life just to be an accident. A mistake. A regret.
When I think or speak of Alexander, I think or speak of loss. But when I think or speak of my other, living, children, I think of them as a gift. When really the only difference is the amount of time I got to keep them for. If Caillie or Molly died tomorrow, I hope that I would still consider their lives to have been a gift to me. So I hope that one day I can see Alexander like that too; as a precious gift, not just as a loss, because every baby deserves to loved, special, cherished.
Right now, it still hurts too much, but one day I hope I can write:
“To Alexander, my second son and the best birthday present I ever had…”
The other day my husband taught me a vital lesson in the art of listening… to our kids, that is. (Of course, I always listen to him!) It was about 5 o clock and getting cold outside. I wanted to start cooking dinner. Molly came in from outside and started tugging on the baby gate near the back door. I assumed she was getting cold outside so I opened it for her and stood aside to let her come in. She said, “NO!” very crossly and slammed the gate shut. Then she burst into tears. Assuming she still wanted to come in, I opened it and again she slammed it shut, cried “NO!” and burst into tears. I figured she must have wanted me to come outside with her so I said, “I’m not coming outside, I’m cooking dinner” and she got in a huff and ran back outside to Dad.
A few minutes later Chris comes in and says, “Aren’t you listening? Can’t you hear Molly calling to you? She’s saying, ‘Mumma, push. Mumma, push.’ She’s asking you to come and push her on the swing.” As soon as he explained it, I could hear exactly what she was saying. But because I’d never heard her say that before, I couldn’t understand her until I had the translation.
I actually think the most important thing we can do to encourage our babies to talk is to make the time to listen. And I mean really listen. Getting down on their level, looking them in the eye, waiting patiently and really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.
Obviously it’s also important to talk to your baby, play with your baby, read to your baby, include them in whatever you’re doing, but children will absorb language from all around them, whether you deliberately teach them or not. But to speak they need to be motivated, and the best motivation is when using words gets them the result they want, whether that’s getting a push on the swing, a bottle of milk, or simply getting Mummy’s attention.
Since that incident, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to listen to Molly and try to understand what she’s saying, but it takes commitment. Just yesterday I was pulling up weeds in the garden when Molly climbed up on the double swing with Caillie and said, “Mumma, push. Mumma, push.” So immediately I dropped the weed I was tugging and started pushing her in the swing. But even while I was doing it, she kept saying, “Mumma, push, Mumma, push,” and I thought, “What now? Mumma is pushing!” Then she made this little musical sound, “Mumma, do do do do, la la la Push!” and I realised that she wanted me to sing the Wiggles song I always sing when she’s on the swing. “Push me on the swing, feel the air, through my hair, swinging, swinging, on a swing.” That was what she wanted all along! That’s why it had to be Mumma push, not Daddy push or Caillie push, because she wanted the song. Sometimes, even when Mummy thinks she’s listening really well, it still takes a while to get the message!
This week is Food Allergy Week. Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia are asking us all to paint one nail as a sign of support to the one in ten babies being born with a food allergy. So all this week and next week I’m visiting schools and libraries reading my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party. This morning I’m visiting Broughton Anglican College, tomorrow Pacific Hills Christian School, Thursday I’m at Lane Cove Library Story Time and on Friday I’ll be at Putney Public School. Next week I’m visiting Randwick and Mowbray Public Schools. So even though most of the time I live the relaxed, easy-going life of a full-time stay at home Mum (HA HA), the last few weeks I’ve had a little taste of what it’s like to be one of those busy Mums who work from home.
Based on the week I had last week I think it might be a tad easier to work when you actually go to work.
Let me tell you about my week. On Monday, Birdy had the day off school with a cold, on Tuesday night she was up vomiting all night, so then she had to have Wednesday off school. On Thursday morning, hubby got sick and I also discovered that Birdy had cross-country carnival that day. Somehow I managed to spend almost the entire day down at the cross-country carnival and still managed to miss her actual race! Molly decided not to take her afternoon nap, so by this time it was Thursday afternoon and I still hadn’t managed to get any work done. On Thursday night, Molly screamed the house down from midnight until after 3.30 am, so on Friday I was like a walking zombie just trying to clean up the detritus around my home from the week of sickness and sleep deprivation. On Friday night, I put Molly to bed at 7, hoping to get some work done and after two hours of carry-on she finally fell asleep in my arms sometime after 9. So by the time I finally sat down at the computer it was 20 to 10 on Friday night. Seriously? What’s so great about working from home? Who wants to work at 10 o clock on a Friday night?
There must be some Mums who manage to make it work. A lot of mums seem to be running home-based businesses off their laptops.
It’s definitely easier to work with your kids around now that we have such a proliferation of mobile devices and laptops etc. because you can take your work to the park or out into the backyard. I hear that there are kids who are quite happy to play while Mum types away, but I don’t seem to have one of those kids. (It might be easier if I had a laptop!) I’ve had to master the art of typing one-handed with a baby on my lap because the second I go near our computer, Molly will want to be picked up. And it’s not just when I’m doing ‘real’ work, it’s the same if I start doing housework, or any task that requires two hands. The exact moment that I start chopping tomatoes or carrots, Molly will want to be held. Have you ever tried cutting a pumpkin one-handed? If anyone knows how to chop a pumpkin with one hand, please let me know.
The only time I seem to be able to get anything done is when my kids are in bed.
That’s also the time I want to put my feet up and relax with a glass of wine and an episode of Offspring!
But working at night seems to be the only way I can make it work. Otherwise I get frustrated and cranky that I’m always being interrupted. The other problem with working from home is that although I’m physically present, I’m not fully present, because I’m always distracted by what I’m trying to get done. And that can be true whether you’re running a business at home or just tyring to wash and cook for an army of kids. How do you stop your work from taking over every available part of your time and energy? How do you make time just to be with your children? I know a lot of mums feel guilty about leaving their kids to go off to work, but in some ways it’s almost easier if your work is contained at work and you can just leave it there when you go home.
Do you work from home? Have you tried running a home-based business? What are the pros and cons of working from home? Do you find yourself working odd hours like at 4 in the morning or late at night? If you work from home, how do you stop it from taking over the rest of your life?
We’ve all been waiting for it and now it’s finally happened!
Molly has taken her first independent steps!
She’s already 17 months so she’s a bit of a late bloomer, but hey, we all get there in the end. The first time it happened we were in Dubbo, visiting my in-laws. She was holding onto a chair on the dining table, then took three steps over to the couch to get to Mum. It was probably only just one step that she wasn’t holding on for, but she managed to transfer her weight from one foot to the other so that was exciting.
After that she lost confidence and didn’t do any more walking for a week or so. Then she waited until the one night of the year that I went out with some girlfriends and decided to run a marathon while I wasn’t looking. According to an eyewitness account from a reliable 6 year old I know, she took at least five steps before she fell down on her bottom. I can’t say she has mastered the whole walking concept yet but she is definitely making progress.
I think she has started to understand that it is something she can learn. The thing I’ve realised watching Molly slowly learn to walk is that it really does take a lot of practice. She’s in this stage where she wants to walk, but she’s not quite confident enough to do it on her own, so she crawls over to one of us, takes both our hands, stands up and asks us to walk with her wherever she wants to go. I don’t want to complain, but it’s actually very time consuming and sometimes slightly annoying. I can be in the middle of cooking breakfast or getting dressed and Molly will come over and want me to take both her hands and walk up and down the hall with her. Or she’ll want to climb up and down the stairs over and over again.
Often when people talk about taking on a new task or learning a new skill they’ll use the phrase ‘baby steps’ to mean that things don’t happen overnight. It really is so true. We’ve been enjoying watching The Voice lately. I think it’s a very positive show, but you could so easily get the impression that to be successful all you have to do is go on a TV show, become an overnight sensation and it will somehow change your life. What people forget is all the years of learning and practice and preparation that has got those artists to the point where they can sing on national TV without falling apart.
Learning to walk is one of the most life-changing skills anyone could ever learn. Watching Molly practicing her walking over and over again has reinforced to me that achieving anything in life requires baby steps, lots of practice, lots of persistence and even more patience. I sometimes get sick of holding Molly’s hand as she traipses up and down the hallway, but isn’t that what we all need to achieve our dreams? Somebody to hold our hand, while we practice and stumble and fall over on our bottoms again and again and again, until one day, when nobody’s looking, we discover that if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we can walk all by ourselves. I’m looking forward to sharing that moment with Molly one day soon.
My youngest daughter is about 16 months old now. When she turned one, her big sister gave her a beautiful baby doll to play with. Nothing warms my heart like seeing Molly care for her baby doll. She makes a little crying noise and sometimes even says ‘up’, she picks the dolly up, gives her a cuddle, gently pats her back, kisses her very tenderly, then cuddles her again. After she’s done all that, she either gives her baby a bottle, puts her to her chest like she’s breastfeeding, or tucks the baby into bed, gives her a pat and then rocks her to sleep. At the end of the sequence she gets this big smile on her face like she’s really proud of herself.
It’s just the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen, and I find it amazing that even at 16 months, she’s starting to care for someone else and thinking about their needs. (Even if that someone else is just a lump of plastic in the shape of a baby!)
She’s obviously learned that stuff from watching myself and other adults caring for their babies. And that’s not the only way she mimics the adults around her. One of the first things she ever did was pick things up, hold them to her ear and talk on them like they’re a phone. It could be anything – a shoe, a Tupperware container, a banana. My husband likes to imply that this somehow means that Mummy is always on the phone, which I assure you is not the case!
Yesterday my husband brought home a beautiful hand-me-down toy kitchen from someone at his work. Both my girls spent all afternoon playing with it. They were doing pretend cooking, filling up the fridge with pretend food, stacking plates, washing-up, heating up bottles of milk in the microwave and making tea. They were having so much fun! Why isn’t it ever that much fun when I’m washing up? But for kids, play is their work. Play is how they learn. These little role-playing games that my girls are acting out are their way of learning about the world. And scarily, the person they learn that from, is mostly me.
Sometimes my little mimics aren’t so flattering. Sometimes Birdy tries to cut a deal with me, or makes conditions on what she does. For example, I’ve just asked her to pick up her clothes and she says, “I’ll only clean up my clothes if you let me watch another episode of Mr Moon.” That kind of controlling behaviour is kind of ugly when it comes out of your kids’ mouths, but of course she’s learned that from us. We use those techniques as a way to get our children to do what we want, and then they can’t understand why they’re not allowed to do the same thing. It’s probably just as well that our children’s behaviour can sometimes hold up a mirror to us. I just hope that one day my children will mimic Mummy doing something a little more inspiring than washing up, cooking dinner and talking on the phone!
On Thursday March 14, we said goodbye to our tiny 15 week son, Alexander.
A routine check-up with our obstetrician on Wednesday revealed his little heart had stopped beating.
I delivered him in the wee hours of Thursday morning. He looked as though he had simply fallen asleep.
Birdy wept when I told her that her baby brother had died in Mummy’s tummy.
She drew Alexander asleep in his basket surrounded by twinkling stars. She told me each star represents the love of one of his brothers and sisters, which will shine on him forever.
There are no words to express our sadness.
Alexander Macdonald Roe.
We will always love you xxx