My husband and I received a nasty letter this week from our real estate agent. You see we belong to that second-class group of citizens known as renters, who live at the mercy of our landlords and we received that notice we live in fear of – that the rent is going up… again. And whenever we get one of those letters I find myself thinking about all the things we don’t have in our very basic three bedroom house – no dishwasher, no air-con, no built-ins, no lovely ensuite. But there is one thing we have that I appreciate more than all those other things put together and that is the humble bathtub!
The bath is just such a great way to keep small children occupied at the end of the day when they’re getting to that ratty, “I’m bored, I’m hungry, I’m tired” time of day known to many parents as ‘arsenic hour’. There have been many occasions when I’m looking after my niece and nephew and I’ve reached the point where if I have to adjudicate one more squabble I’m going to pull my eyelashes out one by one, so I’ll just chuck them all in the bath together and buy myself half an hour of peace.
There seems to be something about the bath that has a natural calming effect on kids. You know yourself how at the end of a bad day a warm bath can be really soothing. It’s the same for kids, all that warm water seems to calm down their overstimulated little nervous systems and help them relax. Also, so often when kids get ratty it’s because of some physical need that’s not being met. If they’re hot, you can throw them in the bath to cool down, if it’s a cold day you can throw them in a warm bath to warm up. If they’re hungry, it distracts them until dinner’s ready. It’s a win-win situation.
The bath also helps bridge the age gap between kids. There’s almost five years between my girls, but when they have a bath it’s one of their best play times together. Water play really isn’t that different whether you’re five or three or one. Before we had Molly I used to feel quite sad that Birdy had nobody to play with in the bath, so now I get a lot of joy from seeing them playing and laughing together. And for babies, it never gets boring! They learn so much from playing with water – splashing, pouring from one thing into another, learning what floats and what sinks, blowing bubbles, watching the water disappear down the plug hole – what a great mystery that is for a baby! The properties of water are endlessly fascinating.
So yes, bathtime is now one of my absolute favourite times of the day. It probably comes a close second to Mummy’s quiet cup of tea time, while Molly takes a nap. That’s also a pretty special time of day.
Last week I wrote about getting kids active and in my weekly chat with Aaron and Erin on Hope Breakfast, we touched on another topic that I thought we should explore a little more – winning. Well, winning and losing really, because you can’t have one without the other.
In our conversation, Erin touched on the fact that we’ve stopped letting kids lose. We want to protect them from any kind of disappointment in life and I’m not sure that does them any favours. We hear a lot about resilience – resilience is the ability to bounce back after adversity – but it’s hard to develop resilience in a culture where everybody wins a prize.
I was at a kid’s birthday party last weekend, (actually I’m at a kid’s birthday party pretty much every weekend), and they had the obligatory game of Pass the Parcel. When we were kids, – if you were lucky enough to get a party and a cake and a Pass the Parcel then you’d struck gold already – there was usually only one big prize at the end of the parcel. There may have been a few lollipops scattered through the layers, but they were usually those awful green ones that nobody likes. And it certainly wasn’t expected that every layer would contain a prize. These days, every child has to win, and all the prizes have to be the same so that nobody thinks their prize is worse than anybody else’s. A few years ago, at Birdy’s 3rd birthday we did a pass the parcel and we left some layers empty. I warned the kids, “Not every layer will have a present,” but everybody was talking about it as though we’d served up brussell sprouts instead of fairy bread.
I think is important to give kids lots of practice at both losing and winning. We are all going to experience both in life. When we apply for a job, not everybody will get the job. When we want to win over a love interest, they may decide they prefer somebody else. We may not get into the course we wanted to at TAFE or Uni. So losing and missing out are inevitable at some stage. But how we deal with winning and losing really comes down to how we manage our expectations.
It’s been interesting to reflect on this during the Olympics. If an athlete wins a silver medal, when they were expected to win gold, the story will be, “Seebhom has missed out on the gold medal…” There’s also been lots of talk about the Mens Four, who were acting like silver medal was worse than a kick in the head. Whereas for an athelete who wasn’t expected to win, the headline would be, “So and so has taken out a silver medal”, like it’s a great triumph, which it is. So how we perceive winning and losing is all about our expectations. I don’t think we should let our kids win all the time. If every time you play a card game you let your kids win, you’re creating unrealistic expectations and they’ll be devastated when they don’t win. On the other hand, if they lose all the time, they’ll become discouraged and won’t want to play. The way to manage this without rigging every game is to make sure that what you’re playing is on the right level for your children, so they can win sometimes. For small kids, a game of chance may be fairer, or a game that combines elements of skill and chance, otherwise the youngest sibling in the family is never going to win anything.
Having said that, it’s not healthy for little kids to feel like their performance is being judged all the time. After all, they are only learning (everything!) so they shouldn’t be expected to perform to a certain standard, or to always be compared to their siblings or peers. It’s helpful to have other goals besides winning. If you play a sport and your only goal is to win, then you are going to be disappointed. You need to have other achievable goals so that when you don’t win, you can still be proud of what you’ve achieved. I’m a writer, and for every manuscript that gets accepted I would probably get 30 rejections. If I felt that every rejection was a failure, then I wouldn’t bother trying. So when I first started sending out my stories, I would consider my submission successful if I got a personal letter back with some positive feedback. At least that publisher thought my work had enough merit to want to offer some encouragement.
So while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, encourage your kids to have other goals as well. “I want to improve on my best time.” Or “I want to pass my maths exam.” If we can help them set some goals that are realistic, then winning doesn’t have to be the be all and end all.
Are your kids naturally competitive? Do they get upset when they lose? Should children be protected from the whole concept of winning and losing while they’re little? How do you strike a balance between playing for fun and enjoying the achievement of winning?
Yes I’m talking about MJ. She’s a runt. There’s so much emphasis on losing weight that it’s a bit of a shock when you find yourself with the opposite problem, not putting on enough weight! According to the paediatricians and the infant health nurses and the health department an infant needs to put on about 150 grams a week to be doing well. In a good week, little MJ has managed about 100 or 110 grams but in a bad week sometimes even less. It is natural for weight gain to vary from week to week, and there is some genetics involved, but even small babies still need to be putting on weight. And MJ just isn’t cooperating in that department. Each time after I’ve weighed her, I’ve been really diligent about trying to squeeze in extra feeds, setting my alarm for 3 am, dragging myself out of bed to give her an extra feed, but then after a week or so of that, I see her little double chin and those little fat rolls on the top of the thighs and think she must be doing OK. Then I put her on the scales again and she barely tops 5 kg. But she looks so healthy! It’s not like her skin is flapping around like an elephant or anything. But no matter how good she looks and how happy she is, the scales tell a different story.
So how can I fatten her up? Both the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Raising Children Network recommend feeding more often as the best way to boost your milk supply. They say the evening and night-time is an especially good time to fit more feeds in because you tend to make more milk then. They also recommend giving little top-ups or snack feeds in between each feed, so you may as well just have the baby hanging off your boob all the time, African style. Of course you also have to make sure you’re drinking well, eating well and resting well, which for me probably means a few less social events and trips to the city.
This has all come as a bit of a shock to me because Birdy was a tank. She didn’t feed anywhere near as often but she just packed on the weight. I had milk spraying across the room. She could have survived a week in the Antarctic just on her own body fat if she needed to.
So the question is does it really matter if babies aren’t putting on the correct amount of weight? Surely to get those averages there have to be some babies above average and some below. The answer to that question seems to vary depending on who you ask. I was speaking to a midwife at a charity function a few weeks ago, and she told me not to even bother weighing her. She said if she’s happy and she’s got plenty of wet nappies and she’s sleeping well then don’t worry about it. And lots of Mum’s say that as well. Any time I tell another mother that she’s not putting on enough weight, they usually have a story to tell about their own baby who had the same issue. My own mum even said that I didn’t put on much weight until I started solids. It was the good old Farex (the baby rice cereal) that fattened me up. We’ve only got two weeks to go until we start solids so I’m hoping that will solve the problem. But there is always the risk that the baby could have some kind of food intolerance or an infection that is preventing them from putting on weight so that’s why it is important to see a doctor if giving extra feeds doesn’t help.
And if that doesn’t work, what next? I have considered eating hot chips and chocolate chip cookies and see if that helps fatten her up! But usually if a baby isn’t getting enough milk, and if you’ve tried to boost your supply without success, then the next step is to compliment with formula. I really don’t want to do that, because I know that once you start giving formula there’s a risk your milk supply drops even further. So on the advice of a paediatrician friend, I’ve just started expressing extra milk. But it’s so demoralising. I sit there pumping for about 20 minutes and wind up with 20 mls if I’m lucky so it hardly seems worth the effort. The plastic pump just doesn’t get the feel-good mummy hormones flowing in quite the same way as cuddling a beautiful baby. But as much as I love breastfeeding, if she’s not thriving then it’s really not the best thing for her, so I may just have to overcome my pride and put her on a bottle. For now though, I’ll keep setting the alarm for 3 am and hope it pays off at the next weigh-in later today… it’s the least I can do for my little MJ!
Have you had the same problem? How did you fix it? What was the turning point for you? Do you think it matters if some babies put on less weight than others?
If you’re over 25 and you’re on facebook, there’s a good chance you’ve been seeing lots of photos of kids posing proudly in their school uniforms, wearing clothes and hats that hang off their tiny frames. It’s that time of year, when so many little ones are starting school for the first time, including my eldest daughter Birdy. Among my friends there has been quite a lot of discussion about it.
To say Birdy has been excited about starting school would be a major understatement. Every day for the past two weeks she’s been asking me how many days were left before school started. Then at night she would pray for the days to go quicker. I was really trying to play it down, because I know that if you build these things up too much, they can get a bit overwhelmed when the big day finally comes. I certainly didn’t need to remind her that she was about to start school, put it that way.
But I wanted to open a conversation with her, so I said something like, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re starting school tomorrow.” And she replied that she couldn’t believe it either. She said that she just couldn’t believe that she was really five. She said she still feels like she’s 4 on the inside. So there was definitely a bit of disbelief there on both sides. On the actual morning, the alarm went off and I said, “Birdy, first day of school today!” She literally leapt off the bed and had her school uniform on within seconds. I’m still groaning and trying to get my butt out of bed, but she was already dressed before I’d even rolled over. Let’s hope that continues.
When we got to the school gate, I was feeling fine, although I have to tell you there were a few sympathetic smiles between the parents and a few rather teary looking eyes. Of course, I was totally together. Afterwards, a few of the parents went out for coffee and I thought, “Well I handled that quite well.” It wasn’t until I was at home by myself and the house was just so quiet, that I started to fall apart. I had this ridiculous sense of being redundant. Because everyone knows a 5 year old is totally independent and ready to move out of home and no longer needs a mother at all! A totally irrational response, I know, but talking to the other Mums at pick-up time, I wasn’t the only one who found myself feeling a little teary and irrational that day.
As for Birdy, she loved it. On the way home, she said, “I love my school Mum!” And she said that she had so much fun. But she was bit confused. She said, “Mum part of me feels like I’m 5 because I’m going to school, but part of me feels like I’m still 4 because we just played all day like we did at pre-school.” I think she was expecting it to be a bit more difficult, but they haven’t done any actual schoolwork yet. On the second day of school she was just as excited to go back. But already she was playing it down, trying to be cool. At the school gate she dropped my hand and took a couple of steps away from me when she saw some big kids arriving at the gate. Already, I’m not cool enough for her!
Having your first child start school feels like the beginning of a whole new era. For some of my friends, who have their youngest child starting school, its also the end of an era. I’m very excited about Birdy learning to read and making her own friends. But more than anything I’m looking forward to the community aspect of it. On the first day I met 2 or 3 other mums, and they all lived within one or two streets of me, so I’m really looking forward to getting to know more local families. And hopefully I might bump into them at the shops or the library or the local park and get a bit more of a sense of community. I’m not signing up for the P&C just yet, but I’m certainly looking forward to getting more involved in school life. I just hope Birdy keeps bounding out of bed like she did last week!
Did you have a child starting school last week? How did they go? And how did you go?
I am not very good at living in the moment. Ask my husband. I’m only happy when I’m planning the next holiday or working towards a goal. I always need something to look forward to. I remember when mobile phones first started to become widespread. It became quite common to go to a party and see people talking on their mobile phones, talking about the next party while ignoring everybody who was actually at the party with them. Or you would find yourself having lunch with somebody who would be on the phone planning the next lunch with somebody else. At the time it seemed utterly ridiculous! Now it’s just normal. We accept it. But with smart phones we’re not just talking to somebody else, we’re also updating our status, checking tomorrow’s weather, catching up on emails, googling for information. We’re never fully in the moment. We’re never just with the people we’re with. We don’t give each other our full attention. Maybe I particularly feel this because I’m a ‘quality time’ person. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). Spending quality time with people, especially one on one, is what makes me feel loved and connected to them. But to get ‘quality time’ people have to be fully present. And you just don’t get a whole heap of that from anybody these days. Except maybe kids.
One of the best and hardest things about having a baby is that it forces you to live in the moment. The real and present moment. You can’t plan ahead too much. You can’t put the baby on hold. You can’t make him or her wait. If the baby wants to be fed, they’ll get fed. If the baby wants to sleep, the baby has to sleep. The baby only knows the here and now. And children are the same. When you spend a day with a small child, you spend it in the moment. And that can be a challenge to our task oriented, list-making, adult way of thinking. But children at least give you quality time!
One of the reasons I decided it was time to have a baby the first time was because I wanted to spend more time with friends and family. My Dad had just recovered from pretty serious bowel cancer surgery and we all felt we were lucky to still have him with us. About eight years before that he’d had a triple heart by-pass. It was like we’d already been given a second chance and now we were being given a second ‘second chance’. Suddenly it hit home to me that family was the most important thing in life. I wanted my Dad to meet my children. But I also figured that work had eaten up way too much of my life and it was time to just slow the pace a little and spend time with the people I love.
Here I am now with a second baby and the world has changed. In just five years, it’s changed. People don’t spend as much time with people now, they spend it online, connecting through social media and blogging and emails and facetime and anything but face to face contact. This becomes more obvious than ever when you have a new baby or a birthday. When I had Birdy we were inundated with visitors. This time we were inundated with facebook messages. Nobody feels the need to come and see the baby because they’ve already seen it on facebook. Ten years ago, when you had a birthday the phone used to ring all day. Now those same people send a text or leave a facebook message. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like these forms of communication are a bit less personal. They’re more immediate and it’s nice that you can have conversations with people on the other side of the world, but it’s also a more distant way of communicating. And more temporary. I know I’ll keep every single card that was sent to welcome Molly into the world. And when she’s older, I’ll get them all out of their musty shoebox and read them with her, whereas the facebook messages and texts will be lost forever. To me, there’s something unspeakably beautiful about the fact that those cards once ran through a physical printing process, travelled to a shop, were carefully selected, were held in the hands and homes of the people who wrote them, that they then travelled through real space and time to get to us, were delivered by another pair of hands to our mailbox and were held and read by us in another place and time. It’s like a big community effort to deliver those greetings and messages. One day when Molly is much, much older she’ll hold them again, even if it’s only to throw them in the bin!
We Mums have particularly embraced social media. When you’re stuck at home with a sleeping or feeding baby you can go online and feel like you’ve connected with somebody. You can put a question out there and a bunch of people will have something to say about it. But I think it can also make us lazy and, in a way, isolated. We’re less likely to pick up the phone and call our friends. We don’t bother to drive across town to visit. We don’t open up our homes quite so much as we used to and we miss out on spending really good quality time with each other.
Last weekend we had Birdy’s 5th birthday party at our house. We always have our parties at home. It was nice this year to include a few of Birdy’s pre-school friends who have never been to our house before. I always think you never really know a person until you’ve been to their house. Sure you can see on facebook what a person’s fave movies and TV shows are, but you learn so much more when you eat a meal in their home. You can tell what year they got married by the colour of their crockery (Blue & yellow, 1999, Square plates, 2005, Brown & maroon 2006, black & white patterns, 2010 and 2011)! When you visit someone’s home you see photos of their family and their travels, artworks they treasure, their CD collection, instruments you never knew they played, books on the shelf (or the fact that there are no books on the shelf) or whatever!
So my goal for this year at home is to try to reconnect with people face to face. To have more friends over to my house and to just pick up the phone and call, rather than always sending messages on facebook or by email. I don’t have a beautifully renovated home or a blitzed backyard and I don’t cook like a Masterchef, but hey, I’m aiming for reality, not reality TV. So if I blog a little less this year, hopefully it’s because I’m calling a little more often! And living in the moment. The fully present, real, right now moment. And hey, if you’re my friend and you’re reading this, maybe you could call me too, and we could catch up sometime… face to face, not on facebook or facetime. But right now, I’ve got to go. Molly needs a feed. And she needs it right now!
Do you use social media and technology to connect with other Mums and to the outside world when you’re at home? Is there a down side to all this interaction or do you feel it’s only a positive force in your life? Do you agree that children help you to live in the moment?
For the past four weeks I’ve been learning how to be a pre-school parent. I’ve learnt that I have to wash Birdy’s little sleeping bag every week. I’ve learnt that they bring home enough artwork every day to decorate the Vatican within a year. I’ve learnt that if you don’t get to the car park at 20 to 3 you’ll spend the next 25 minutes circling the car park like a hungry vulture. And I’ve learnt that its a very bad feeling to be the very last parent to arrive at the end of the day. (Negligent mother alert!)
I was really excited about Birdy starting Preschool. Unlike many of my friends, I wasn’t at all nervous or upset about the idea of being apart for the whole day and I wasn’t really worried about how she would settle in and make friends. (I had enough to worry about with all her medical dramas.) But since then I’ve had an emotional reaction that I didn’t anticipate: I actually feel left out. Well, just a little.
For the first time in her life, Birdy is having all these amazing experiences without me! I’m not part of it at all. Yes, I get to hear about what happened at Preschool, but I don’t actually get to experience it with her or witness it. This was brought home to me over the past two days because Birdy got to be one of the first ‘special helpers’ at Preschool yesterday and today. She was really proud of this achievement. Yesterday she went to bed talking about it, and today she woke up at 6 am still talking about it. I would have dearly loved to see her handing out the morning teas and tapping the students on the head when it was their turn to go to the bathroom. Instead I have to simply imagine all these things in my minds eye.
Today Birdy came home with a special sticker on her shirt that said:
You have been a TERRIFIC SPECIAL HELPER this week at Preschool. You have led the class from place to place, called your friends by name to go inside and done special jobs for the teachers in group time. A job well done.
We are keeping that sticker forever!
The other aspect of Preschool that I was unprepared for is the post-Preschool meltdown. At the end of the day, Birdy is so tired she can’t concentrate on anything! Although she hasn’t yet had a complete and total meltdown after Preschool, she has been right on the edge on a number of occasions. As I work during the mornings, I am feeling the loss of our afternoons together. Birdy is no longer capable of playing games, or doing anything much at all after Preschool. She just collapses like a zombie onto the kitchen floor while I offer her her favorite comfort snack of a cup of warm milk and biscotti.
I have to say that we seem to have scored the most amazing Preschool in Sydney. I’m just inspired by all the love, care and attention shown to the kids. And by all the thoughtful touches that make the experience so special for the children – the stickers describing something they did that day, the sharing bag, getting to be a special helper. If the first four weeks have been anything to go by, I have a feeling that this year of innocent, joyful discovery will fly by before any of us have a chance to fully appreciate it.
Did you enjoy your child’s first year of Preschool? Or are you looking forward to it? Do you have any memories of your own Preschool?
We’re at Brown River settlement, just outside of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. The children are sitting in their age groups, boys 2 – 5, girls 5 – 9 etc. They wait patiently. They don’t smile. They don’t even hardly wriggle. They just sit, wide-eyed while seven foreign, white media professionals take photos, videos and stick microphones in their faces.
These are some of the most disadvantaged kids in Papua New Guinea. They’re almost all dirty. Some of their eyes are inflamed and infected. Many of them seem malnourished. The innocence of childhood is hard to recognise. These children are probably the most neglected children that I have ever seen. They’re not used to being the centre of attention. They’re not used to having much attention at all. That’s why they’re sitting in such stunned silence. They hold their shoeboxes reverently. Not just because of the stuff, but because they are special, because they have been remembered. Because for these few minutes, strange white people want to take their picture, and hold their hand and see them smile.
One of the shoeboxes that I took with me was from a woman called Gaye. I give her box to a young boy called Tony. He takes out the soap and holds it up for me to see. He takes out various other gifts. His favourite is a blue recorder that he follows me round with tooting. He toots it right in my face. He follows me more and toots again. It’s a hideous, screeching, obnoxious sound. He blows his “flute” (as he calls it) right in my ear. I have to laugh. He’s deliberately annoying me and seeking my attention. He’s being a kid again.
Just a few days earlier, one of the media team had their (very expensive) camera equipment stolen. It was locked in a car which had many people guarding it, but while a decoy was waving goods for sale in their faces, another rascal had opened the side window of the van and just happened to hit the jackpot. The camera bag was right underneath the window. The Brown River squatter settlement is a refuge for rascals. They steal from people in Port Moresby then escape to the outlying areas like Brown River. Though we were there for only a short time, the atmosphere was volatile. Many of the men were drunk or on drugs, and immediately after the boxes were delivered they started to shout out their political messages. I found myself very quickly separated from our group for just a minute or two, surrounded by a sea of people I couldn’t trust. Within ten minutes of delivering the shoeboxes, we were bundled back into the car and taken down the road to a quiet place where we could do interviews with the local pastors. But even in that short time, I had seen something transformative take place. A child was being an innocent, annoying, attention-seeking kid again.
The previous day we had visited a village, Bonanamo, where shoe-boxes were delivered last year. It was good to see the children still cherishing their presents from last Christmas. But we were also there to open five new wells that had been funded by Samaritans Purse as a result of last years’ shoebox drop. There were also many latrines that had been installed by SP’s partner church in Port Moresby. The local pastor explained how for them the shoeboxes opened the door to do other development work. The goodwill created by the shoeboxes meant that they were able to say, “What do you need? How can we help you?”
While we were there, we got talking to a village mum. Only it turned out she wasn’t a mum. She was an Aunty. The children’s mother had died of TB just a few months before, so now the Aunty, who didn’t have children, was looking after the three youngest kids. How many people do you know who have died of TB? It really brought home the importance of clean water and sanitation, the two things that Samaritan’s Purse and their partner church had delivered to the village, thanks to the shoeboxes and their ability to open doors.
Brown River settlement won’t be receiving water pumps next year. The village lacks the structure, organisation and leadership to cooperate on a project such as installing and maintaining water pumps. Without a dedicated group of committed leaders, projects like that will fail to make an impact, the pumps will fall into disrepair, infighting will break out. However the church hopes to take a medical clinic to them and help them to improve their houses. The shoeboxes are a first-step in reaching out to them. They’re a sign that somebody cares about their children.
Before we escaped from Brown River, another boy came up to me. He said his name was Andrew. He spoke perfect English. His eyes were clear. His face was smiling. He was polite. He was also looking for affirmation. I told him he spoke beautiful English and he beamed at me.
In an age and society where our children have so much, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that that’s what a Christmas gift is all about, an affirmation. It says, “You are special, You are loved. You matter to me.”
And that’s what it says to the kids at Brown River. “Someone cares about you. You are loved. You matter.”
Merry Christmas, Brown River.