With our recent changes, The Engineer’s Baby is no more. But you can find us at The Campground Kid (including an archive of all The Engineer’s Baby content over the years.)
With our recent changes, The Engineer’s Baby is no more. But you can find us at The Campground Kid (including an archive of all The Engineer’s Baby content over the years.)
I don’t know quite how it happened (
well, I suppose I do, but time is weird), but here we are, nearly a month into life with a two year old. Her birthday was a casual family day, but it was also fun and adorable. The Engineer’s Two Year Old is proving a pretty fun person to get to know.
So far, Two is up and down and a bit all over the place, especially because it coincides with having a month to pack up all our stuff and move halfway across the world.
Two is also:
Two is hard. Two is messy. Two is a whole lotta fun.
So often, I open this blog up, and think about writing a post. Often I start a paragraph or two, and then delete it all because it just isn’t coming together. I think I know why this is: it’s because I like to write stories, and life with a toddler is not lived in stories. Life with a toddler is lived in moments. I know that with some time and space, those moments will come together into stories. But life with a toddler is also not lived with a lot of time and space. So today, rather than give up before I even begin, I’m going to embrace the randomness of toddler life, and talk about some of those moments.
Like the moment this afternoon when The Engineer’s Toddler tried to copy me saying hippopotamus. She ended up with popom and a big grin, and we moved on.
Or the moment yesterday when she figured out how to get the roundabout at the playground moving and then stepped on for a (very slow) ride.
Or the moment this morning when she sat on the big blue mat at our swimming class, crawled towards me, and pushed herself into the pool for the first time since we joined the group several months ago.
Or the many many moments that she spends saying Ehss (her version of her name) and pointing to her chest proudly.
Or the moment, while on holiday in Mulu, where she put on her adorable little lifejacket, and held my hand with a huge grin while we waited for our boa’ (that’s boat, with a glottal stop instead of the t. Trust me, it’s cute.)
Even the moment yesterday when she woke up early from her nap and wouldn’t go back to sleep and screamed and signed all done madly and shouted Moose and noi until I turned off the white noise and opened the curtains.
There’s also that moment when she got nearly to her bedroom before running back to me for one last kiss.
And the moment today when she asked me to put a dress on her, then on all her toys, and then her dolls, and wouldn’t take no for an answer when I told her that my big ol’ body wouldn’t fit into her size 1 dresses.
And the moment a couple of weeks ago when we had a big proper tropical downpour and I let her run in the rain at the playground after our toddler tumble session. She definitely liked that moment.
She also liked the moment a couple of days before that when she found a big pile of dry leaves to jump in at the park.
And the moment when I gave her her first ice block. That was a surprisingly short moment, because the afternoon sun is relentless some days, and an iceblock is no match for that heat.
So many of these moments are fleeting, unrepeatable. And that’s part of the wonder of the individual moments and part of the wonder of life with a toddler. They’re changing, growing, learning at a crazy pace, and it’s amazing to see. Even when it’s sometimes not that much fun.
But among the weird and wonderful flyaway moments, there are those moments I’m so glad to get to repeat over and over.
Like the moment each night when she lies down next to me, requests Baby (that’s Hush, the Kiwi version of Hush Little Baby by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan, for those unfamiliar with The-Engineer’s-Toddler-speak), and cuddles in as I sing.
I know that moment won’t be a part of our routine forever, but sometimes I certainly wish it would be.
In the last few days, at 19 months, The Engineer’s Baby has finally started to say Papa. For the last two months, she has called us both Mama. And before that, she just got our attention with grunts and screams, and didn’t really see the need for names. It has been a surprising wait (she has been babbling up a storm since 6 months old, and she LOVES her papa), but watching her learn to communicate has been one of the absolute joys of parenting so far. She took a while to get started (she said her first word, bowl, around 16 months, which isn’t all that late but was late enough for this perfectionist to get a little bit caught up in comparing and worrying), but she soon got the hang of it, and is now going along great guns (although she’s definitely still not the most verbal kid!)
Papa is the latest in a list of maybe fifty or so words that she says (we haven’t kept track very well!) Her favourite words are more and teddy and no, and now Papa. Many of the others are variations of the syllables ma and ba, making it pretty difficult for others to understand her, although I’m getting pretty good at spotting the differences. But even if people don’t understand every word, she’s a great communicator. She uses signs. We taught her water and all done, and she invented several more (including pepper, which came into play around 17 months when she was only just starting to speak and sign, and was an adorably weird view into her priorities). And when she doesn’t have a word or a sign, she uses gestures and/or drags people across the room to show them what she wants.
Interspersed with the meaningful communication is a whole lot of toddler babble, which is totally adorable. She chats to her teddy and her moose. She talks to herself as she works on things. She sometimes talks herself to sleep. A personal favourite is a little “oh dear/ooh ooh” sound that she makes when she is looking for something. It’s impossible to describe, and impossibly cute.
Which brings us to the biggest problem with writing a blog post about toddler talk: It’s completely impossible to convey in words how cute the communication is, and she clams up as soon as a video camera comes out. If you know a toddler of your own, I’m sure you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from. If you have a baby and are waiting on this stage, you have so very much to look forward to. And I guess everyone else will have to just take my word for the fact that kids are amazing and adorable, and my kid is no exception.
I half drafted a post about how it’s been a rough time in the Engineer’s household, and some of the lessons I’ve learned. It wasn’t really a negative post by the end, but I got halfway through, and realised that I’m sick of only writing here in the hard times. I think it’s important to share those hard times, and will continue to do so, but at this rate everyone is going to think it’s all hard times here, and that I’m not enjoying this parenting thing. That is definitely not the truth, so today I’m going to focus on some of my favourite things about life with The Engineer’s Baby.
This age (nearly 15 months if you’ve lost track, which wouldn’t be surprising with my posting (in)frequency) is so much fun, but my favourite thing is the babble. She doesn’t really speak any English yet, but her babble is fairly communicative and totally adorable. She adds sounds and syllables and babbly-phrases every day, it seems, and I love it.
We get on just fine, her and I, but she is absolutely crazy about her Papa. When she hears his car roll up, she gets the biggest grin on her face, and rushes to climb her chair and look out the window. It’s the cutest.
Every so often she completely surprises me with what she understands. I’ll say “I’ve got a sore head”, and she’ll point to her head (and it’s repeated, so I don’t think it’s coincidence). Or I’ll ask her to get a cloth, and she actually does it. The other day she cleaned up her own spill with only instructions from me. It’s pretty astounding to me that babies can go from little newborn blobby cuteness to following verbal instructions in just over a year.
I love watching her play. She’s all over the place, of course, but every so often she’ll really focus in on one thing. Opening a container, getting a shoe onto her foot, pulling her buzzy be around, stacking her stacking rings. Her little focus face is adorable.
She’s gone from a barely-cuddly baby to a really great hugger. Big around the neck cuddles, head resting on chest, the whole nine yards. Each night before The Engineer takes her through to bed, we have a last snuggle, and it’s just lovely.
This isn’t even the half of it really. There is so much joy in parenting a toddler. Sometimes it’s a little hidden behind some very real challenges, some not quite so real challenges magnified by sleep deprivation, and a whole lot of mess. But it’s there. And today, at least, I’m choosing to shine a light on it.
The Engineer’s Baby’s first birthday was more than two weeks ago now, but we’ve been busy with various things, and I’ve been struggling to process all the feelings, so this letter is happening now. Better late than never, I say.
You are now officially one year old. And what a year it has been. It has been joyful, and hard, and surprising, and amazing, and tiring. We are both learning about each other, about the world. Of course, we haven’t always been right in sync. There are times where our needs have butted heads like I never imagined. But we’ve both come out the other end relatively healthy and happy, so I’m calling it a success.
When you were born, you were big and cuddly, and strong. You took a little time and encouragement, but then came rushing into the world with gusto. And these patterns from your earliest days have continued to appear again and again throughout the year.
At one month you were smiling and staring and loved nothing more than your parents. We hadn’t yet figured out what you needed to ease into sleep, and the evenings were fairly loud and uncomfortable. But during the night and day you were a curious wee dot who wowed everyone with those strong legs.
At two months you worked out how to roll yourself over so you could see the world from a new angle. You spent most of the time on your tummy (or cuddled into a parent) from then on.
At three months you were growing and growing. You were moving through clothing sizes rapidly, were figuring out new things all the time and were starting to move around a little. We were still struggling with sleep, but the evenings were a lot calmer.
At four months you figured out forward momentum and could commando crawl to what interested you, which revolutionised your play time. I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, and you showed me that I didn’t really (and probably never truly will).
At five months you worked out hands and knees crawling and how to get to a sitting position. You got your first teeth and tried your first foods. We were in New Zealand for most of the month, and came back with a completely different baby.
At six months it was hard to keep up with the changes. You were babbling, pulling up to standing, and going through your first bout of separation anxiety and we all caught more than one virus. I was tired and overwhelmed and it was a rough month. But we survived.
At seven months we made some changes to your sleep habits, and we all got a bit more sleep, at least temporarily. You took your first cruising steps, and continued to surprise everyone with your movement.
At eight months you finally gave up the carrier for your naps (with a little bit of encouragement from us. Or quite a lot of encouragement…) You continued to get faster at cruising around, started to let go a little, and got a whole lot more teeth.
At nine months you could stand on your own. You also started to clap and wave, and were losing some of your babyness. It was amazing to watch, but we definitely had mixed emotions about how very fast you were growing.
At ten months you took your first wee steps. We were so excited and proud, and you seemed to think it was no big deal at all. You slowly grew in confidence and walked further and further.
At eleven months you were walking more than crawling, and were starting to talk. Your words weren’t English, but were adorable. Combined with a lot more pointing, you were able to communicate more and more every day. Your favourite thing was to stare out the window and watch the birds.
And now, at twelve months you are just starting to run (or at least you want to!) You’re a real little kid, and an amazing kid at that. You love to wander around outside, and are very good at letting us know when you want a cuddle. You are very serious about your playing, and when we’re out and about. But for your favourite people you always have a smile (and often a present).
I share these milestones not because the actual milestones or their timing is important, but to show just how far you have come. But with all that growth and change, you remain the same E underneath. You take a while to warm up to situations, but once you’re confident you go for it. You’re a bold little explorer, but like to have the safety of a parent watching out for you. You’re a scientist, running experiments all the time to figure out the world and your place in it. You’ve got your opinions, and you’re not afraid to show them (loudly if necessary). You are cuddly when you want to be, but are first and foremost an independent wee soul who needs to work everything out for yourself.
This has been the most amazing year of my life so far, and I can’t wait to see how you take these things and build on them in the years to come. I haven’t always found it easy to keep up, but together we made it.
Happy birthday E. I love you.
On Saturday, we celebrated The Engineer’s Baby’s first birthday in Penang. We got up nice and early, and opened some Penang presents. She visited a soft play in the mall while we took turns for coffee and shopping. We came back to our resort for a nice long nap. She ate some lunch (although she threw most of it into the sea before we could save it). We had some cake, which she mostly smashed. We went for a swim and an explore. She found a box of tissues and emptied them all over our room. And we finished off with a sushi picnic at that same orange table.
(I can’t really say finished – turns out we were up half the night feeding, because this baby decided her birthday was too exciting for sleeping!)
All in all, it was a lovely way to finish her first year.
A couple of days later, we are home again. And I still don’t really know what to say or what to feel. It’s overwhelming to think that the first year is truly done and dusted. It’s crazy to think she’s a toddler (officially, she will obviously always be our baby). It’s lovely to look back and see how much she’s grown. It’s sad to think we might not get to do it all again. It’s exciting to see how much she is learning.
I have a natural desire to figure things out, to craft a story and decide what it all means. But if there’s anything that this year has taught me, it’s that figuring out is impossible, and not particularly useful in many situations. So instead of dwelling on this first birthday and trying to say something profound, I’m enjoying this awesome kid. And planning her party. And recovering from the whirlwind that is a holiday with a baby/toddler/kid.
Happy birthday, baby, and here’s to many more!
Yesterday I wrote about needing space. And last night I got space, in the form of a dinner out with friends. Then today I got more space, in the form of some shopping, a fresh lime, and a bra fitting.
It was amazing. Good company, good food, good conversation last night. And good solitude today.
I enjoy the activities and the space and the break. But every time I have a break, I enjoy the tiny details almost as much as the break…
I have worn necklaces two days in a row. And not silicone teething necklaces!
Last night I wore a dress that is not breastfeeding friendly.
Today I went into changing rooms without worrying about a small person crawling out under the curtain when I’m half naked
I wore glasses and no one tried to steal them off my face.
I carried just a tiny bag with my phone and wallet. No bib, no toys, no nappies.
After we finished eating, we sat and chatted.
No one banged their cutlery on the table, grabbed my glass, or threw food on the floor.
Add these to the list of things I didn’t really realise before I was a parent, because I never really thought of a necklace as a luxury before!
On the flip side, people didn’t smile quite as much, and only one person told me my baby was adorable (she had not long been to visit the café with her Papa when I went in, and we’re kinda regulars).
Life is different when she’s there. Outings are more difficult. But even if I love these breaks when I get them, I (obviously) wouldn’t change her for anything.
In general, I am not a black and white thinker. I am not always keen on labels and categories. But there are a few labels that I have found useful for understanding myself and how I can live with a little more ease and comfort.
The first label that turned my life around was “perfectionist”. I resisted the label for a long time, because surely if I was a perfectionist, I would be… better? But once I realised that being a perfectionist was pretty much nothing to do with being perfect (it took until I was 26, but I got there in the end), I also clicked that it was pretty much me to a t. And once I accepted the label, I found it easier to figure out why I was struggling, and what I could do to make things a little better. It’s a work in progress, absolutely, but then again, most things are.
The label “introvert” was a lot easier to get my head around. I am an introvert, and pretty much always have been. When I was young, it was often painted as “shy”, but that’s not really it. I just take a little while to warm up to new situations sometimes. And when the shit hits the fan, I prefer time and space alone (or with just The Engineer or my family) to regroup and recharge.
Before The Engineer’s Baby arrived, I knew that my perfectionism was going to be a problem. Because honestly, there is no way to be the perfect parent, and very few things go perfectly with an infant. I was prepared. There have been (MANY) challenges along the way, but I’ve generally understood a bit of the why and a bit about how to get through them.
But until I read this article yesterday, I truly didn’t make the connection that being an introvert was part of the challenge of parenting for me. I am honestly surprised that it took me nearly eleven months to click, because it is so bloody obvious. But here we are, proof that it did.
When you’re an introvert and you become a parent, your body goes through a little shock. Suddenly, you have very little alone time. Sure, your new baby is not talking to you — and at times, not making much noise at all. But let’s face it: You are never truly alone from the moment your first child is born.
This quote jumped out at me. I knew I was feeling touched out (particularly early on). I knew that most parents wanted a break from time to time (because, duh!). But I hadn’t completely realised just how little alone time I get. My little dot is not a great independent sleeper in the day. She still breastfeeds frequently. So even when I do get a little break, you’d best believe she’s pretty close to the top of my mind. And I need physical and mental alone time to really recharge. (I also need sleep, but that’s a whole different story).
And then there was this:
1. Avoid beating yourself up for craving (or enjoying) time away from your littles. My favorite time of day is after the kids are tucked in bed — and most introverts I know feel the same way. I love my kids. I really do. But I love the downtime I have after they are sound asleep. If you’re an introverted parent, you will find yourself wanting for more alone time… and that is OK. Nothing to lose your “Good Parent” badge over.
If the lack of recharging wasn’t challenge enough, there was the guilt about wanting it (Hello again Perfectionism!) As much as I know it’s normal to want and need a break, there’s a little naggy voice in there that says “but if you were a GOOD mum, you’d love spending this time with her…”
This perfect storm of perfectionism and introversion is my biggest struggle as a parent (so far!) But I am feeling really great about it. Because now I know. I realise. I know from experience that this realisation is not enough to make the challenge disappear. But I also know that it’s a first step. And the more I am aware and accepting of my “labels”, the more I am able to find some strategies to create a life that works with them, rather than against them.
When you’re raising a tiny human, there are days that suck. If anyone says otherwise, they either have the perfect unicorn child of which we all occasionally dream, are ridiculously well adjusted, or they’re flat out lying; most likely the latter.
If you don’t watch out, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the relentless day to day hard stuff that is a big part of parenthood. The more you allow that to happen, the more you forget about the magical joyous stuff that is the other big part of parenthood. And before you know it, days that suck can turn into weeks that suck.
I had a patch of days/weeks that sucked at around the six to seven month mark. And I’m just now at the veeery edge, about to tip into another patch of them if I don’t watch out.
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at watching out. The coping strategy that comes most naturally to me is to withdraw, and to basically quit adulthood as much as I possibly can. I spend way too much time on Facebook, avoid all possible chores, pick fights rather than being open about what I need, and generally become pretty difficult to be around. As you can see, it’s not really a coping strategy at all; if it weren’t for the amazing Engineer, this strategy would be a complete and utter flop (I am ridiculously fortunate that he is willing and able to pick up the slack).
So, today I’m going to attempt to break this not-so-fun cycle and to avoid the pot hole that is right in front of me by creating a new strategy. This strategy is pretty tailored to me. Your mileage may vary!
1. Put down the phone.
No really, put it down. Don’t look at it. Don’t get sucked into it. It’s too easy, too available. If there’s anything you really need to do, there’s always the computer.
2. Set boundaries for yourself.
This is a good idea every day, but particularly important when you’re struggling. It doesn’t matter exactly what these boundaries are, whether it’s finding 20 minutes to do some yoga, 5 minutes to meditate, or simply enough time to go to the toilet alone. You know what you and your small person can manage.
3. Take a minute to breathe.
It’s so easy for your breath to get shallow and uneasy. A minute of slow deep belly breaths several times a day does wonders for your mindset.
4. Do at least one thing each nap time and each awake time.
This one depends a little on your schedule, but for us (two naps/three awake times) it strikes a nice balance. Getting five things done in a day isn’t overwhelming, but can still feel productive. They don’t need to be big deal, important items off the to do list, they just need to be something.
5. Watch and find joy.
It’s easy on the hard days to feel like every moment was difficult. Some days I feel like The Engineer’s Baby has whined literally all day, when in reality it’s probably only been an hour total over the day. There is almost always something good or funny that happens, even on these sucky days. Make an effort to watch and appreciate that thing. Aim for five good things. Write them down if necessary.
To be honest, that fifth point is the kicker. All the others are mainly there to facilitate that happening. On the good days, joy is easy to find. On the hard ones, it’s buried a little deeper, and you (I) need a bit more support to dig it out.
To be even more honest, this list is mainly for me. If it helps someone else, that is wonderful. But I’m putting it here primarily to have a reference for myself. A reference I might need for the next few days… Wish me luck!