We bought a house! Wow and yay!!!!!! 

It’s been such a long process – we’ve been seriously looking ever since I went back to paid work and it’s been an exercise in frustration and disappointment. It had started to feel like we would have to give up and look at renting somewhere different next year (mainly because of access – our place is down a flight of stairs from the road, and in Wellington that means not just 4 or 5 steps but 40 or 50 steps). And now we have a house! We’re moving in 3 weeks! We better get our act together. 

Half of our deposit is coming out of our KiwiSaver accounts. I feel like we owe Michael Cullen a beer. 

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Use your words

A few days ago the little dude was playing on the rug in our lounge and I was sitting on the couch watching him and occasionally engaging with what he was doing (Him: “Minny. Minny? Don. Don! Donnnn.” Me: “Miffy isn’t gone, she’s on the chair, look behind you”, etc). So he’s busily playing and then he suddenly leaves his toys and starts whinging and comes trotting up to me and tries to scramble into my lap.

I buddle him up into a cuddle and say “what’s up my darling? Is something sore?”

“No”

“Are you just a bit tired sweetheart, do you think it’s time for the bath soon?”

“No”

“Do you need a new nappy? Is it uncomfy?”

“No”

“Is it just a little bit of random toddler angst?”

“Yeah”

“You just want a cuddle to feel nice again?”

“Yeah”

The next morning he comes up to me and makes a whinging noise and reaches his arms up to be picked up and says “anst”.

———

He doesn’t say “me”, instead he points at his chest and says “dis” (this).

———

Last week I said “turn round” meaning “turn round approximately 180 degrees” and he turned round and round and round and round until he fell down dizzy.

Does it get easier…

Some people with older kids are fond of telling me that it doesn’t get easier, it just gets different.

Ok maybe, but if you go away for a weekend with a ten year old and they wake at 5.15am because birds are squaking outside, they can check the clock and then either go back to sleep or watch cartoons or read or something – and you can stay in bed, right?

Random list of ways that being pregnant with number two feels different

I keep losing track of how many weeks pregnant I am.

The due date is not etched into my mind. Baby is expected in late March. Due dates are stupid rubbish.

I have given almost no thought as to things we’ll need to buy.

Late March feels very far away.

I feel less connected to the baby compared with this stage when I was pregnant with the little dude. The very forceful presence of the toddler in my life doesn’t leave much room to be constantly conscious of being pregnant.

I’m less worried less about all the pregnancy do and don’t lists.

Monthly antenatal checkups seem very frequent. I have almost no questions.

I don’t want to go on maternity leave as far in advance of the baby’s arrival.Last time I felt like I wanted mental space away from work to do nothing except be pregnant and prepare for baby. This time I’m not so concerned about that.

I’m not really thinking about how it will be when the baby arrives, how it will upend our lives. I know that we’ll adjust like we did before.

I wonder what the baby will be like as a toddler and as a crawler. Last time I couldn’t think beyond newborn. This time I actually need to remind myself that the baby will start off a tiny squidge.

Search continues for schools silver bullet

Very brief thoughts, because I’m at work – boils down to you can’t solve deprivation without solving deprivation. 20 years ago just as the 90s welfare reforms were biting I was eight years old at primary school, and my primary school was the closest school to a block of dire council flats in a rapidly gentrifying area. In my class there were many kids who formed part of that “long tail of underachievement”. It’s not rocket science why they do badly at school. I started school knowing how to write the alphabet and count to 20, with a full lunch box every day and warm clothes and a house where parents were present and engaged in my learning. It was like I only had to run a half marathon after months of training and they had to run a full marathon without any training. By the time I went to uni, I didn’t know any of those kids anymore. And I certainly don’t often meet people in jobs like mine who came from that sort of background.

Search continues for schools silver bullet

The small stuff

I blogged last night about parenting for the big stuff – emotional regulation, sleeping, eating. A lot of parenting is also the small stuff. Trying to get them to not throw food out of the high chair. Trying to get clothes on them that suit the weather. I aim to pick my battles with the small stuff. My rule of thumb is, do adults do this thing? If the answer is no, then it’s probable that it will self-correct. If the answer is yes, then it’s something that requires sustained parenting focus over the next several years. 

Adults often behave with appalling rudeness. Adults are often petty. Adults who have good jobs and are pillars of the community and see themselves as generally functional people are often really not good at listening to other people’s perspectives. Adults are often loathe to acknowledge that they’re wrong. 

So when choosing whether and how to address a behaviour that I don’t want him to display, I try to first think – wait, what are the stakes here? Sure, if I laugh the first time he blows a raspberry with a face full of milk he will do it again – but how many adults do this at every meal? Is there any risk that he’ll grow up not knowing that it’s rude to spit out a drink? Not really. So I’ll confiscate the cup and explain that milk is for drinking not spitting, but I don’t need to actually worry about the behaviour. 

Which is well and good at home, but the difficulty is all those times we’re not at home and he is a toddler being a toddler, and I want to not be super critical towards him and at the same time I don’t want random strangers to be super critical towards me. When I’m in a public space with the little dude and not with another adult, I often feel like I’m performing the role of Calm and Competent Mother in Public. Do other mothers feel like this sometimes? And while I know that I can never perform this role to the satisfaction of everyone in the audience, I still really don’t want to be heckled. 

Sometimes I try to imagine instead that there is someone in the audience who is just my kind of parent, but her kids aren’t there right then (maybe they’re all grown up) and she’s looking at me with total sympathy and understanding but my back is turned and I can’t see her, and if anyone heckles me she’s gonna take them to task. 

The ‘mommy wars’ are the patriarchy’s latest attempt to control women | Kim Lock

Such a great article. I wrote about the playground war ad last year, including how I find that parents of kids the same age are the least likely to judge because they know how life is. So much ughhhhhh at this campaign. So much ughhhh. 

The ‘mommy wars’ are the patriarchy’s latest attempt to control women | Kim Lock

Good habits

Remember that song “So Young” by the Corrs? The chorus went like this:

And it really doesn’t matter that we don’t eat
And it really doesn’t matter if we never sleep
No it really doesn’t matter
Really doesn’t matter at all

‘Coz we are so young now
We are so young, so young now
And when tommorow comes
We can do it all again

And it was huge when I was a young pre-teen and now I think it sort of captures that whole period of life when you’re an adult but have no real responsibilities, and it was fine to yeah not sleep and eat chips a lot and whatever. When my husband and I first moved in together we were in our final year of law school and we would stay up late binge watching tv (on dvds hired from the library, this was BEFORE NETFLIX wow I feel old now), and sleep through our first lectures and fuck it, right? Also we once walked out of a lecture because it was so boring. Imagine doing that at a meeting!

Now we can’t stay up late because the little dude wakes at the same time in the morning regardless. I can’t skimp on what I’m eating because I’ve been tag-teaming between pregnancy and breastfeeding for the past two and a bit years. It matters that I get good nutrition and rest.

Anyway, so aside from writing this at almost 10pm when I should go to bed, there’s an aspect of parenting where you’re teaching kids the basics of how to do stuff and it feels like a refresher course. You did that stuff when you were a kid yourself, but then you let it slide when you moved out of home. Stuff like eating well and regularly. Going to bed when it’s bedtime, not when you fall down from exhaustion.

This is true too of the big parenting focus with toddlers around emotional regulation. Being aware of how their moods change depending on what else is going on in their life. Responding to that. Figuring out how to structure the day so they don’t get overwhelmed and throw a hissy fit at the supermarket. I think we neglect this in our adult lives. I know when I feel frustrated, my first reaction is to assume that there is something external to me which is objectively frustrating. Of course more often I’m just tired or hungry. Or I’m getting shitty at my husband when actually I’m annoyed about something at work, etc etc.

I think one of the reasons we did so poorly with the little dude’s sleeping for so long is that we had been very accustomed ourselves to playing fast and loose with sleep. Up late weeknights, sleep in weekends, etc. For the first few months the little dude could fit in with that, newborn sleep is a strange thing. Now, he needs to nap in the middle of the day and he needs his bedtime to be fairly consistent. Push the time out by half and hour and he copes. Push it by an hour and he does not cope at all. He sleeps through the night regularly now, with the occasional exception. When we were on holiday he woke up one night and asked for “wawa” (water) and then downed his entire 300ml water bottle. We’d overdressed him and he was sweating like a little beast. Sometimes he has nightmares. He calls out for me and might say a few words that provide a clue about the content of the nightmare “doose! (goose) no moar, byebye, no, no”. A goose once approached him, hissing and flapping its wings, and it terrified him. Unfortunately we then accidentally reinforced the fear of geese by reading “Spot goes to the Farm”, in which Spot is chased by a goose before finding some piglets and kittens. Therefore, nightmares.

When he gets tired, he doesn’t wind down, he winds up and then if something frustrates him he will burst into tired tears. If he’s had his bath and is in his pyjamas, sometimes he will reach for his sleeping bag before we’ve finished reading stories, but if we haven’t done all the sleepy-prompt routine he’ll just keep going and going until he reaches the point of meltdown. Probably the best meltdown was that time, also on holiday, where he became inconsolable at the idea of moving on from the “O” page in his alphabet book. He just kept crying “O! O! O!” and eventually we’re like, ok, you’re tired, no more stories, putting you into your sleeping bag now and he still cried out for the O, right up until he eventually hiccuped himself to sleep while I knelt uncomfortably by the portacot rubbing his back and going “shhhh”.

Funny right? But also not funny. What works best for getting him to sleep is singing a lullaby after the last story (tricks him out of asking for one more story), then into the sleeping bag while still on the couch, then I’ll carry him through and put him in his cot and stand there doing a babyified version of a sleepy meditation that I’ve used for ages. His version goes like this “you have sleepy feet darling. Your feet are so tired. Your feet want to lie down and go to sleep…” all the way up to sleepy eyes and head, and then I’ll just say “sleepy sleeps, goodnight sweetheart” a few times and he’s usually snoring by then.

Apparently I was a terrible sleeper as a baby and toddler and basically throughout my childhood. I remember lying awake thinking of excuses to get up and go through to the lounge when my parents were up and it was way past my bedtime. I remember reading in bed and diving to turn off the lamp when my dad walked past the door. I remember having absolutely no idea how to switch my mind off for sleep. Dad told me to tell myself stories, which didn’t work, because I’d get caught up in the narrative and keep myself up instead.

The little dude seems to take after me in this respect (his dad falls asleep instantly, anywhere. WHY DOESN’T HE TAKE AFTER HIS DAD?!). I never learnt how to make myself go from tired to sleepy until I started yoga when I was 14. I went to an evening class, 7.30pm – 9pm and I would often fall asleep in the 15 minute guided relaxation that the teacher would do at the end of every class. It was like a miracle for me, learning how to unlock a sense of mental relaxation that could let me drift to sleep. Which is why I use the baby version for the little dude.

Anyway, longform.org recently had a collection of interesting articles about sleep. People say about baby sleep “don’t worry, they all sleep eventually”, but actually lots of adults have sleep problems. So as a parent, you wanna encourage them to have healthy sleep habits just as much as healthy exercise and eating and emotional regulation. But most of the “do something or they will never sleep” advice is kinda harsh. Like, leave them in their cot and ignore them. That seems to be roughly the equivalent of not offering them foods they like and letting them get so hungry that they eat whatever is in front of them. Or the emotional regulation equivalent of putting them in time out without explaining why. It doesn’t match up with my common-sense filter of thinking, wait, what is going to work long term to teach them this life skill? How do we encourage them to want to try different foods? To want to examine their emotional reactions and channel their anger appropriately and communicate their feelings in a way that respects others? To be able to recognise when they need sleep and want to go to sleep when they’re tired? How to we make these things come across as part of a good life, rather than a meaningless directive to be resisted?

On that note, I should really go to bed now.

My submission on the Paid Parental Leave (Six Months Extension) Bill

Dear Select Committee

I am currently 19 weeks pregnant with my second child. My son is 20 months old. Sue Moroney’s first private member’s bill to extend paid parental leave was introduced to the House more than a year before my son was conceived. The Select Committee report was issued after he was born. By the time the Bill had its third reading, he was a year old. I hope the present Bill does not languish so long.

There are many reasons to support extended paid parental leave. This submission does not seek to list them all. The purpose of this submission is to discuss, with relation to my own experiences, the impact of the current lack of paid parental leave for parents looking after babies between four and six months old.

Supporters of the Bill largely focus on the importance of enabling mothers to stay at home with their babies for an additional two months where they would otherwise return to work out of financial necessity. This is a policy goal I agree with. When my son was between four and six months, the age that is currently not covered by parental leave payments but would be if this Bill was passed, he was exclusively breastfed and never away from me for more than a few hours a week. I did not feel ready to leave him in someone else’s care while I returned to work until he was close to nine months old. Even at seven and eight months, he breastfed every few hours, including at night.

We were fortunate that my husband’s salary was enough to support us during my 11 months of parental leave. If I hadn’t had a partner, or if he had been in insecure work, low paid work, out of work, or sick and unable to work, I would have had to return to paid employment sooner. I know that I am very lucky to have been able to take that time with my son, and I feel absolutely certain that being with him in those months was critical in developing my sense of myself as a mother. My father had a chronic illness when my younger brother was a baby, and my mother returned to work sooner than she would have liked, when he was five months old. In her submission on the earlier incarnation of this Bill, she described this as exhausting for her and detrimental to my brother’s health. I find it difficult to even contemplate returning to work with a child as young as four months. It should only ever be a choice made because of the mother’s preference, not from financial necessity.

Under the current system, being able to stay at home with a small baby and remain financially comfortable is not a given. Critics of this Bill commonly suggest that people should not have children unless they can afford to. This ignores the fact that going from two incomes to one will be a shock to the finances of almost every couple, even those where one income is sufficient to support a longer period of parental leave than is covered by the current payments.

The first few years of parenthood are a period of unique financial strain, given the difficulty of combining caregiving with paid work; yet parental leave ends after only four months and universal childcare subsidies do not start until children are three. The threat of a financial veto based on the additional cost of this Bill is therefore galling. The costs of taking time out of the paid workforce are being borne by thousands upon thousands of families across New Zealand, many of whom struggle to afford it. The Government chooses to prioritise spending $10 billion annually on superannuation, while the people who work long hours raising the next generation of taxpayers get only four months paid leave. It is inequitable, short-sighted, and unjustifiable morally or economically.

Being at home with my son was the best of times and the worst of times. I found it difficult and exhausting work. I also felt more sure of the importance of what I was doing than in any paid role I’ve had, and I say this despite loving my paid job. From four to six months, babies seem to wake up to the world – they go from being sleepy newborn bundles to wide-eyed little beings intent on understanding their surroundings. As a mother, it meant the world to me that I could be with my son in those precious months to reinforce the bond we developed in the newborn phase and provide secure and consistent care as he learned about his world.

It is interesting that this Bill only extends paid parental leave to six months. This is a length of time that few would argue with in principle. Some countries have paid parental leave closer to a year. Some even longer. At some point, it has to be asked whether this is the best use of funding or whether subsidised childcare should be offered instead. There is room for reasonable disagreement as to exactly when children start to benefit from the additional stimulation and social activity of a daycare centre. There is definitely room for personal differences among mothers as to how soon we wish to return to work. But few people would argue that four months is the perfect age. Most childcare centres do not even accept children that young.  

The reality is that the vast majority of babies between four and six months are looked after by a close family member, usually their mother. The whole of New Zealand benefits from this unpaid labour. It is essential work, by any measure. The fact that it is unpaid is a result of the very delayed public policy response to the widespread entry of women into the labour market. Parents are caught in the economic reality that the cost of living (especially housing) presumes that a household receives two incomes. Even the Living Wage campaign is calculated on the assumption a combined 60 paid hours across two parents. The result is that many families are worst off financially when their children are youngest. This is absurd. It is no more economically necessary than poverty among the retired, which has been effectively eliminated through a universal pension.

This Bill would not completely answer the problem. Many women are not eligible for paid parental leave, including those who did not return to work after their first baby, and this doesn’t make the work they do caring for new babies any less deserving of social support. My support of this Bill does not mean I think it is a panacea. I support it because it acknowledges the importance of care work, although it could go further. I support it because care work is done mostly by women, and the lack of appreciation for that work both reflects and exacerbates ongoing gender inequality. I support this Bill because although it is too late for my family to benefit from its enactment unless we have a third child, I want to live in a country where my taxes are used to support children and those who look after them.

Finally, though it is not the subject of this Bill, I wish to add some comments about parental leave for fathers (or the mother’s partner). My husband took a month off when my son was born. This was planned in advance; however, due to the physical trauma I experienced in childbirth, for the first three weeks I couldn’t really have cared for my son alone for long periods of time. Paid leave for the second parent in the immediate post-partum period should be a government priority. I ask the Select Committee to look into this matter and consider amending the Bill accordingly.

The length of paid leave is also relevant to the extent to which parents other than the birth-mother are likely to use it. Personally, as mentioned above, I felt ready to return to my paid job when my son was around nine months old. If paid parental leave was a full year in New Zealand, my husband would probably take three months off when we have our next child and experience being an at-home parent after I returned to work. International research suggests that there are long-term benefits to workplace gender equality and fathers’ involvement in childrearing when men share parental leave. My hope is that this Bill is a first step towards a cross-party commitment to reconsider the social support available to families with young children, with the ultimate goal of creating a seamless transition from paid leave to subsidised childcare, including greater support for parents re-entering the workforce after periods of leave to care for children.