Moments

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.)

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Introvert

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.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

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.

Daddy Daughter Fridays

Friday afternoons are my time off. I love this for me (a break! A mani pedi or a coffee or a long shower or whatever the heck I want!) But I also like it for them. This is time where The Engineer and The Engineer’s Baby get to hang out without me getting all up in their grills. They get to develop their relationship more. And she LOVES her Papa.

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I often sit in another room, but occasionally I sneak back in to watch them together (yes, I’m a creep). Today I took a video (and because I’m a numpty, I can’t embed it, but here’s a link).

Daddy Daughter Fridays: http://youtu.be/oAgqZAIC32A

Then I left them to it, and went to take a really long shower (complete with phone in a plastic bag playing podcasts; I’m a genius.)

Sometimes I forget that taking space isn’t just selfish. I feel bad for wanting/needing a break. But watching this video reminds me that my breaks are good for all of us. They need time together without me. I love her desperately, but I need time without her. It’s a win-win.

And with that in mind, I think I might go and get a coffee!

Growing and changing

EngineersBabyGrows

Every month we take a picture of The Engineer’s Baby with her moose and her sheepskin. And every month I think about how much she has grown and changed.  This month she has:

  • grown 3 cm
  • gained 400 g
  • seriously increased the speed at which she can stand
  • improved her eating in leaps and bounds
  • added lots of new consonants to her babbling
  • “grown up” in that intangible way

This month she has also challenged more than any month previously.  In my last post, I talked about all the things that have been going on since we came home.  The couple of weeks since have added even more to the mess in the form of terrible sleep, a first cold, and a not-so-fun Valentine’s trip away.

But as I look back on the month, I actually look at it as one of my most positive months of parenthood.  Because here’s the thing: it’s through the challenges that you grow and learn.   I’ve had some moments, for sure, but this month I’ve also learned so much about who I am and the parent I want to be.  I’ve thought about my own childhood.  I’ve thought about our relationship.  I’ve written and made lists and read and thought and meditated.  And at the end of that, I feel so much more confident.

I don’t know everything, but I know that rather than teaching her, I want to provide an environment in which she can learn.  I know that I want to meet all of her needs, but that I don’t necessarily want to meet all of her wants.  I know that I want to set a positive example, and be a person she would want to emulate.  I know that she needs challenges and frustration to grow and change, even though it’s not easy for me to watch her struggle.  I know that in allowing and encouraging her big feelings, I am setting good foundations for her.  I know that as the person she trusts the most, I will bear the brunt of most of those big feelings.  And I know that although that is hard (hard hard hard), that is also love.  Love isn’t just the easy, the warm and fuzzy, the adorable.  Love is the struggle, the acceptance, the working through.

I know, of course, that these will be lessons I will learn over and over as a parent.  I know that her big feelings now have NOTHING on the big feelings of a toddler.  I don’t anticipate this making me a perfect parent (or even close).  But for now, these are the lessons I needed to learn, and I like to think they will stand me in good stead for the craziness that is parenting.

Hot Mess

Life in our house has been messy lately.  Since we got home from our trip to New Zealand really.

With a newly eating baby, and no cleaner, it has been literally messy.

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But it has also been figuratively messy.  The Engineer’s Baby had jet lag.  Then due to her newfound crawling and standing skills, she got a little separation anxiety.  Then we had a few days where her sleeps meant we missed some of our favourite activities.  She got her immunisations. Aforementioned new skills led to a few bumps and bruises.  Then she got a sunburn.  A mild fever.  A biting habit.  Possibly a new tooth about to emerge.  She hates medicine, and the ensuing screaming is not fun either (though it does seem to help).  Basically, we’ve been struggling to find our rhythm again at home.

I would like to say that I have dealt with it all calmly and gracefully.  But if I said that, it would be a bald faced lie.  There have been tears and tantrums (not just the baby’s).  There have been desperate phone calls to my Mum and The Engineer.  There have been worries and doubts and negative feelings.  It has been hard.

But in amongst the mess, there have been lovely moments.  There have been loooong naps (a revelation in this house).  There have been new clothes, new toys, and new skills.  There have been smiles and giggles.  There has been a whole lot of attention from the public (people here LOVE babies).  There have been relaxing coffee mornings.  There have been swims and walks.

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And these are the things I want to focus on.  I want to focus on her learning to use her teeth, and the fact that she tries everything we offer.  I want to focus on her determination to pull up on anything and everything.  I want to focus on her snuggling in when I carry her in the sling.  I don’t want to ignore the challenges, but I don’t want to let them take over.

It bums me out that at least half my posts are this way – having to try so hard to find and focus on the good.  I really wish I could post more positively about this amazing baby.  I really wish I could talk about how well I roll with the punches.  But it’s more important to me to be honest, and for now this is the reality of my parenting journey.  At times, it’s really fucking hard.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not amazing. It’s both. SO both. And I’m going to embrace that (or at least try to…)

On Baby Sleep

I have hinted before (or maybe outright stated – I can’t remember) that sleep is a little bit challenging in the Engineer house.  Today it is very challenging.  The Engineer’s Baby is in the middle of a huge development, and she is struggling to sleep.  She has decided that 30 minutes is quite long enough to sleep (even though she’s clearly still exhausted after 30 minutes).  She has also decided that a good way to wind down is by arching back and screaming full volume.

We have had these days before.  I know that it will pass.  But when in the middle of it, it really doesn’t feel like it.  It feels more like I am doing everything wrong and have ruined her ability to sleep for ever.  It feels like I am doomed to rock and carry her until she drops day naps (by which point she will probably be way too heavy).  It feels like I am missing something and not understanding my baby.

I don’t quite know why sleep pulls so strongly on new parents.  It could be the number of times you are asked “How does she sleep?”.  It could be the fact that sleep deprivation makes you low level insane (possibly not just low level, actually).  It could be the prevalence of sleep advice out there.  It is probably a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, the result is that many new parents feel like the true measure of their success or otherwise is how many hours and how easily the baby sleeps.

(The other measures that seem to get the same response are feeding and weight gain, and possibly physical milestones – we have never had an issue with any of those though, so sleep is where all my guilt falls)

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The thing is, though, that a baby is so much more than her sleep habits and a parent is so much more than his/her ability to shape those habits.  In fact, if you were to ask me what I most wanted my daughter to be, a good sleeper would almost certainly not make the cut. Kind, resilient, loving, motivated, curious, independent.  These are things I want for my daughter.  I want her to be her, and to not be worried if she doesn’t fit the box.  And I also think that I have to model that.  I have to be me, and not be worried if I don’t fit the box. And “me” is a baby-carrying, co-sleeping, non-sleep-training mother who believes that sleep will come with time.

It’s really hard to remember sometimes, but this parenting choice actually didn’t happen entirely by accident.  She doesn’t sleep on me because it’s the only place she will sleep (although that’s true).  She sleeps on me because I think it is natural and healthy for her to be held close as much as possible.  She sleeps on me because it (usually) works, and maximises her sleep with a minimum of effort.  She sleeps on me because this way we almost always get four naps per day, and without it I have no idea what kind of mess her sleep would be.

In the face of endless advice about self-settling and putting babies down drowsy-but-awake, it can be quite difficult to stick to my guns and to realise that we’re doing okay.  But the thing is, if those things work they are great.  If they don’t, they are not so great.  And on the very worst days, they are downright stress-inducing.

So today I am reminding myself that The Engineer’s Baby is big and happy and gorgeous and curious. She is getting enough sleep, and I am getting nearly enough most nights. She is fairly portable, since we are her bed.  She loves people, and gives the most amazing smiles and laughs.  And all of these things are more important to me than her being easy to put down for a nap.

With this reminder, I am pledging to stick to my guns and remember why we have chosen to parent the way we have.  I am also pledging to stress a little less about her sleep, to go with the flow a little more, and to remind myself regularly that this too shall pass.  Because I know deep down that we are doing fine, and that I will look back on this time fondly. But some days I certainly need a reminder (or several) of that!

 

Hitting our stride

The Engineer’s Baby is nearly four months old (!) and we definitely feel like we are coming into our own as parents.  This doesn’t mean we always get it right (far from it!), or that there won’t be times when we feel like we absolutely suck.  But it does mean that we no longer feel like those new parents with no idea what to do with the little creature who has suddenly appeared in our lives.  (Because despite the nine months of preparation time, and the years of trying before that, it really does feel sudden!)  We have a little bit more confidence, the wee one is more robust and independent, life is just a little bit easier.

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I think this recent confidence is the culprit behind my recent boredom.  I no longer feel completely overwhelmed with the baby, and have a bit of space in my brain to do something else, for pretty much the first time since I found out I was pregnant just over a year ago.  But I am pleased to report that thus far the writing is helping greatly, along with some lovely play dates and fun activities.  This week was better than last, despite the fact that I spent two full days at home, one of those with a stinking cold…

This confidence might also be the reason I decided to invite a group of people over for a dinner to celebrate my birthday.  A group of eight people, when we’ve never had more than two or three in the past.  It was a decision made on a bit of a whim, and without much forward planning.  So Saturday was pretty much committed to preparing for a dinner party. This wouldn’t have been too complicated if we were at home, with all of our home kitchen. But until Saturday, our Brunei kitchen didn’t even have knives to eat with (which was usually fine, but not ideal when serving a roast!), so it was a little bit more of a challenge.  I always like a challenge though, and I really enjoyed myself.

In the end we had a slightly smaller group, and a slightly different dessert, than we had planned, but it was a lovely evening.  The Engineer’s Baby even slept through the whole thing, after waking three times between going to bed and guests arriving.  We were prepared for a night of distractions, but instead we could focus just on food and guests and fun.

It was a great way to celebrate the end of my third decade on the planet. And this weekend we are headed to Singapore to celebrate a bit more, and to give Baby Engineer the first of three aunty-meetings (the next one visits in early December, and the last one will be when we are at home for Christmas).

It’s been a busy time, and we have even more busy times ahead, so it’s pretty lucky that we have this surge of parenting confidence to carry us through!