Enjoying the vanilla icecream

I punctured one of the tires on the pushchair tire yesterday. There was broken glass on the road, I didn’t see it, bugger. It’s annoying because everything is such a palava with a baby. Take today – I was planning to leave the house for the goodbye morning tea of a colleague, but then it’s horrendous weather, and it’s just not worth the hassle of trying to carry bubs up the slippery wooden steps to the carport while juggling an umbrella and a nappy bag, then finding a park in town, then keeping him dry while taking him out of the car and walking to the office building, then doing the same in reverse to get back home. I didn’t think the logistics of babywrangling would be so complex, back in my childless days. Oh, just take the baby with you, no biggie. Babies are portable. Well, yeah, they are – but our cities aren’t designed for them. Circling for ten minutes to find a park with a baby screaming his little lungs out in back seat, not fun. Paying for two or three hours of parking in town ain’t cheap. Finding suitable places to breastfeed or change nappies is hard. There’s always the risk that Unencumbered Adults will resent the presence of a baby in the grownup space. And, while my perfect day involves leaving the house, bubba’s perfect day involves staying put. So he might get grumpy. When it’s sunny, I can always just walk around with him in the wrap or the pushchair (bugger, it’s broken); when it’s rainy, wherever you go, you’re a bit trapped. And if you’re going to be trapped somewhere, it might as well be your own house. 

There are measures that could improve things. Some cities overseas have cheap parking or subsidised public transport for caregivers of under-5-year-olds. A shorter working week would help – other people would be around to help out during the week, their houses could be places to visit. But even if things were better set up for babies, becoming a parent requires a massive mind shift. Last year, an effective day was one where I got to work with a mental list of things that needed to be done, and did them. This year, an effective day is one where I take it as it comes, in an opportunistic and impromptu fashion, and am guided by what bubs seems to need and be willing to accommodate. There’s no point making plans weeks in advance, I don’t know what he’ll be like this time next month. For a while mornings were the best times to do things but since about this time last week they’ve been the worst. Some days, he sleeps a lot, and I can get other things done (I proofread my brother’s dissertation last week, that was fun); other days, not so much. Some days I take him out all day and he seems fine with it. Other days, I take him out for half an hour and he has a little baby meltdown and I scoot back home. There are days when I feel tremendously unproductive, until I remember that meeting his needs is all I’m required to do. He’s just a baby, and he needs constant care. Don’t fight it. Preserving sanity requires choosing attitude, even though you can’t choose circumstances. Like my dad explained to me as a kid, enjoying the vanilla icecream even when you wanted chocolate (“like Pollyanna” I said “yeah, but less annoying” he said “Pollyanna isn’t annoying!” I said). A little bit of basic existentialism.

It’s hard to remember to do this. It’s easy to feel frustrated by the weather, or the flat tire on the pushchair, or whatever. It’s easy to feel frustrated at 9.30pm when the baby is exhibiting no signs of sleepiness, and every sign of wanting to play peek-a-boo. But it’s far better to just shrug and enjoy making him laugh. There can never be too many baby giggles in the day. 

Bloody hell it’s cold

We’re fortunate to rent a house with a pellet burner – but, the bag of pellets ran out, and I forgot to get more. We’ve got the oil heater cranked up and bubs is sleeping in so many layers of merino that Mr Daddy says he is an “onion sheep”. It’s so cold! A draft is making its way through the window, despite the thermal curtains we bought in the last Briscoes sale. And all over New Zealand, babies are sleeping in rooms colder than this one.

As a child, I loved reading children’s books that my mother had enjoyed, and imagining her as a little girl doing the same. I always liked the books with tomboy heroes, so naturally Little Women was a leading favourite. One aspect confused me – the March sisters often referred to themselves as being poor, but they didn’t seem poor. I knew what being poor was: it was the kids at school who wore the same ragged track pants all winter and lived in the council flats. The kids with sores on their arms, that just wouldn’t heal.

Well, my mother explained, the Marches aren’t really poor – they’re middle class, they just feel poor compared to Laurie because he’s rich. Middle class people sometimes feel poor, because they don’t have everything rich people have. But it’s different to being really poor. Remember, there is also the scene where the girls give up their breakfast to the destitute German immigrants, who are cold and sick and hungry: “A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.” It was a scene designed to tug at the heart strings. 

Policy-wonkese speaks of deprivation versus relative poverty: but let’s cut to the chase, why shouldn’t all children have nice lives? As nice as we can make them, given the resources of the community. Comfortable lives. Opportunities to flourish. It’s not just about whether they ”turn out OK”, that’s a narrow and limited framework. It’s about the conditions for a decent childhood. One of those conditions, perhaps one of the most important conditions, is warm, dry, cosy housing.

I often catch myself in the midst of the March fallacy: we can’t afford it, we’re poor now. Last year we were double-income, no kids; and two middling incomes combined to put us up near the top of the household income ladder. Now we’re smack bang in the middle of that ladder.

When you go from the top to the middle you realise how much money you used to have. Another two or three years and we could have bought a house, done it up, double-glazed the windows. Then you think – wait, what do the really truly wealthy spend their money on? There’s no way, no way, that someone on $175,000 would notice paying an extra $14 each week in tax. It’s just not plausible.

I went to this symposium on inequality last week. It was a surprisingly baby-compatible activity. I sat at the back, and slipped out frequently, but I saw some of the sessions all the way through. It was a bit ivory-tower-ish, all the speakers were white, middle aged, reasonably well-off (inferring from their jobs, largely academics); of nine speakers only two were women. There was mention of low benefit rates, and high housing costs. There was mention of energy poverty. One speaker tossed about some figures: 40% of take-home pay on rent and  9% on power, gas and wood. Families using inefficient oil heaters to keep a baby’s room warm. Well that’s us. And if that’s us, it’s a lot of people.  On the same day as the conference, David Farrar suggested that we have an extremely generous welfare state; but with housing and energy costs so very high, and housing quality so very poor, these cash transfers don’t necessarily mean high standards of living. 

Tim Hazledine, who always speaks with wit and clarity, discussed the validity (or not) of questioning personal choices – in particular, the issue of having babies before being financially stable. I had a sudden memory of half-listening to Professor Hazledine in an Econ 101 lecture, while having a competition with the guy next to me as to who could make the most paper cranes before the hour was out. I wonder what we’d have thought if someone had told us that nine years later, we’d have a baby. There are socially unacceptable oops babies, and then there are socially acceptable oops babies.

Personal choices, rada rada rada. We’re so accommodating of the choice to sidestep Responsible Adult Life – oh, he’s working in a nightclub in Melbourne, yes, he’s loving it, no plans to get a proper job, having too much fun. Yet so unforgiving of early entry into Responsible Adult Life – oh, yeah well she got pregnant in 7th form, then she had another kid not long after, the younger one is just starting school now, but she hasn’t found a job yet, no skills at all, never really worked, just looked after babies. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything really. We pathologize the actions of the poor, forgetting that the already successful create the preconditions for success. It’s not objective, it’s not neutral. If you can only scrape together 25 hours of work, 45 weeks of the year (for instance, because you’re a port worker in Tauranga), you won’t get the full working for families credits. You don’t count as being “in work” says the government, heaping insult atop of injury. If you have an accident while unemployed, you don’t get ACC for lost income. Conversely, if you own a damp, cold, miserable house you can rent it out, offset maintenance against the tax paid on rental income, and accrue untaxed capital gains, all while your tennants shiver and cough.

“The kids are sick all the time. It is dripping wet. There are gaps in the doors and windows.”

That’s not from a 19th century children’s book. It’s from a newspaper article two weeks ago.

It’s shameful. 

Some birthday thoughts

Wow. A baby. You made a baby, and now here he is, all soft and cuddly and so precious, and you are his mama. You still can’t quite believe it. Your baby is here! This one is yours, you are his, you are irrevocably his. And you can’t imagine him any other way. You can’t see him as a five year old, trotting off to school; you can’t imagine him at 15, towering over you. Won’t he always be a baby, right here right now? His dependence and his love so complete, so terrifying, so affirming.

You remember your birthday last year, five days after the two lines on the test. You had breakfast with a friend visiting from out of town, the two of you talked about plans for study overseas, your recent holiday in China, the engagement party you would both be attending on the weekend, a mutual friend who won a Fulbright and would shortly be taking it up. You didn’t let slip that all your overseas study plans would be put on hold.

You also talked briefly about Jacob, another mutual friend, who happened to have the same birthday. Universally liked, conscientious, unfailingly courteous, quick to smile, such a good heart. He was gone, and your little boy – David Jacob, for his great-grandfather and his parents’ old friend – was just starting to grow in you belly. Life unfurls in its precarious, unknowable way.

Next year your little lad will be a whole new baby. A walking baby, maybe a baby with a sentence or two. You can’t imagine that. Since he was born, the future is slippery and you can’t grasp it. Life just is, and life meanders along, and we get caught up in it. Life just is, and this moment exists suspended in time forever.

Happy birthday.

Diary of a baby

(Yeah, this is totes inspired by Diary of a Wombat. Great book)

7am

I’m awake! Wait, what? Why am I awake? I’m hungry. My bum is wet. What’s that noise? It goes binlingly-blinblingliyliy. No-one has come to rescue me from my sleeping prison, I should also make noise. Hello! Hello!

Oh, I can hear mummy, she sounds like this: “your alarm woke him up again, goddammit”. Better make more noise so she knows I’m awake. Mummy! Milk now! Also my bum is wet!

Oh hi mummy, oh hi, oh hi, thanks for rescuing me, yes please I’d love some milk oh yum yum yum yum sleepy again now so sleepy….

Wait where am I? My bum is free! Hallelujah. Oh, nope, she’s wrapping it up again. Dry though. That’s something at least. Time for play? Wait, you’re putting me back in my sleeping prison. No, I want to play.

Hello?

Play time?

Yawn.

I might just have a little rest.

8.30am

I’m awake! I’m STARVING! MUMMY!!!!!!!! HELP!!!!

Oh, what a relief, yes, milk, oh thanks so much.

I HAVE A BURP IN MY BELLY.

Buuuuuuurrrrrrp.

Where are we going? Colours! Things I can hit. Flail! Flail! Noises! Right above my head. A thing! I wonder if I can grab it? I can!

I’m bored. Mummy, I’m bored!

I’m bored.

Where are you?

Hi!!!!!! Play with me. Oh you’re so funny mummy oh I love it when you tickle my chin, this is great!

Yawn.

I’m not tired.

Sleeping prison again? Always with the sleeping prison.

Fine.

But I’m hungry!!

I just realised!

Thanks mummy, yes please, more milk and I’ll go straight to sleep.

12.15pm

I appear to be awake. Um, mummy? I’m awake. It’s not urgent. No, it IS urgent. Rescue me! Help! I’m trapped here!

Milk! My favourite!

Ok, fine, you can change my nappy, that was over quickly but wait, what? Why did you put me on the floor on my tummy? I don’t like being on my tummy. I really don’t. Hey! I said I don’t like this!

Hmmm, bouncy chair, well that is an improvement but why are you taking to the hard shiny thing? Mummy? I’m down here. Pay attention to me. Pay attention to me. Hi! Oh I love it when you smile at me. Let’s chat.

Hold on, sorry to interrupt our chat, but things are happening with my bowels. Gotta concentrate.

OK. Another nappy change, I can cope with that but then more milk, deal?

Yummmmm.

Might have another snooze now, actually.

3.45pm

Last thing I remember, I was eating, now I’m back in the sleeping prison and I’m hungry. I seem to have blanked out. This happens disturbingly often.

More milk! More playing with mummy! Time without my nappy!

I’m knackered.

I’d rather cuddle up on mummy than go into the sleeping prison though. I feel safe. I feel cosy.

7.30pm

Hate to bother you mummy, but I’d quite like a snack. Oh, we’re going to feed on the soft island where you and daddy sleep? OK. Mind if I rest here after my snack? So comfy. So comfy. I still want more food though! Don’t take it away! I can eat and sleep at the same time, it’s easy.

8.30pm

Noises. DADDY!!!!!!!!!!

Mummy sounds grumpy. She says “if you’re going to be home late, you need to tell me sooner.”

Daddy hasn’t said hi to me yet. He is talking to mummy instead.

Mummy says “I know I should wake him earlier from his nap or he won’t sleep til ten or eleven, but if you’re home late he’ll be all disrupted anyway.”

I’M SO EXCITED MY DADDY IS HERE.

We’re going to play!

Where am I going? Why are you taking off my clothes? Oh, splashy splosh time. Flail! Splish. All done already? OK. I like it when you rub me with the dry cloth. Don’t forget my leg creases!

ARGH SLEEVES! I HATE SLEEVES. Why would you do that to me?!?!

I just, I really need milk now. Those sleeves were an ordeal.

Yum yum yum.

THERE IS A BURP TRAPPED IN ME!

IT HURTS!

I’M NOT COMFY!!

IT’S STILL THERE!

YOU ARE WOEFULLY INCOMPETENT AT ALLEVIATING MY DISCOMFORT.

burp.

Also, my gums are sore.

EVERYTHING IS SHITE.

NO, I DON’T WANT MORE MILK.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT PUTTING ME IN THE SLEEPING PRISON.

Let’s play. I’ll laugh at you, and then you laugh at me. That’s our game.

I’m not sleepy.

I’m not sleepy.

I don’t want more milk.

I’m not sleepy.

I don’t want more milk.

Wait, I do want more milk.

Sleeeeeeeepyyyyyy

But now you’re changing my nappy, not sleepy anymore!

Let’s play again!

I’m not sleepy.

Don’t you dare put me in the sleeping prison.

I’m not sleepy.

I don’t want more milk.

I’m not sleepy.

I don’t want more milk.

Wait, I do want more milk.

Sleeeeeeeepyyyyyy.

I’ve got a burp though, you don’t mind holding me upright til it comes out while I snooze, do you mummy?

Stranded in June

Sleep baby sleep
The day’s on the run
The wind and the trees
Are talking in tongues

I am tired, I am weary
I could sleep for a thousand years
A thousand dreams that would awake me
Different colours made of tears

I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
No, no, no
I’m so tired I don’t know what to do
I’m so tired my mind is set on you