This morning was the first swimming lesson of the new term. The plan was that Mr Daddy would take the little dude to the lesson while I swam some laps. I used to go swimming several times a week when I was pregnant with the little dude, not so much this time because my evenings and weekends have a toddler in them now.
So I’d done maybe eight laps when I see Mr Daddy and the little dude standing at the end of the lane, and I’m thinking to myself, what are they doing there, it’s nowhere near been half an hour! I get to the end of the lane and Mr Daddy says “yeah so he had a total meltdown when he realised you weren’t watching from the side of the pool and I couldn’t calm him down and he was just screaming and crying so we had to come find you.”
I very awkwardly clambered out of the pool. I should have gone to the ladder but when I’m swimming I forget about the pregnant belly and so started hauling myself out of the deep end, then got stuck, and sort of side-flopped over the edge. The little dude thought this was funny “Oh no Mummy yie down pool! Dedt up Mummy!” And as soon as I was up he reached out for me to hold him.
We tried to redeem the swimming experience by taking him to the splash pool with the fountains, and he had a good time for about five minutes before they closed the pool because of what the staff describe as a “faecal incident”, and what the parents all call a “code brown”.
I’ve changed a lot in those two years. In ways I didn’t expect, and ways that I maybe could have expected. I hope that some of the sharp corners are smoothing themselves off, part of growing older, part of being mindful of how I am as a mother. This includes thinking about the areas in which I want to be different from my own mum. In some ways I take after my dad more, so for example I will naturally tend towards not worrying about things as much as she did, hallelujah. But I do get stressed and flustered like she does, not all the time, just when I’m overstretched and tired.
One big thing is to prioritise taking care of myself more. Looking back on the first year, I wish I’d been more matter of fact about what my own needs were and how to make sure they were met. It can mean asking when you don’t want to, and that is something I find hard. It can mean justifying why your needs should trump someone else’s, which I also find hard. It means accepting your limits sit somewhere below where you want them to be, which again, I find hard.
When I was pregnant with the little dude, my husband was looking for a new job, and we were talking about the whole working hours problem inherent in big law and how to manage it. He left one big firm for another, after trying for a few in-house roles for which he was still too inexperienced. When he moved to the new firm, I remember saying “Look, no-one is ever going to tell you to work less hard, no-one is ever going to tell you to go home early. You have to set those boundaries. And that’s hard but you have to take responsibility for it or you’re going to crash and burn in five or ten years. It’s just the nature of the beast. And setting those boundaries is the first step in changing the system.” (He is way better at setting those boundaries now).
What I said to him about corporate law is also true of motherhood. No-one else is going to set those boundaries for you. Sure your partner or your parents or your mother in law might say something like “sit down, I’ll play with the baby, you have a cup of tea” – but that’s small fry. It’s really hard though, because it’s still very true (despite decades of feminists talking about how this is a problem) that the buck ends with the mum when it comes to making sure the kids have all their needs met. The perfect mother is one who has very few needs of her own, and who carefully manages to fit them in around her kids (#metime!). Just like the perfect employee is one who zealously springs into overtime because ohmygollygosh they just love the work so much! Both of those types of people are a fiction.
Realising that I had to set those boundaries also meant realising that I could set those boundaries, and that I might as well do so firmly and without prevaricating. I notice how much better I am with the little dude when I’m well-rested and have been eating well and getting some time to do things that are not paid work or house work or childcare. Things run more smoothly at home when I’m not spreading myself too thin. At the same time, it’s always going to be bloody difficult to feel like you’re the person at the nexus of competing needs, setting those boundaries is always going to be complicated, a building project that requires constant adjustments. And I’m about to add another baby to the mix! Eeek.
I’ve been going through the photos and making some albums, looking back at the little dude when he was a tiny one, and looking forward to having a new born again. Two years is kinda a long time. We look so young in those photos of the first few months – like newborns ourselves, all blinded by the light. That first year of parenthood, yeah, I’m glad it’s properly in the past now. It was … more transformational than I could have imagined. It was like five years condensed into one. It was recovering from birth, getting breastfeeding established, learning how to care for a newborn, it was teething, solids, crawling, sleeping, it was just getting the hang of something then feeling the world completely change again, it was like doing one of those crazy Japanese gameshow obstacle courses.
The second year was basically fine. It was finding a new normal somewhere in between the life I had before, and the life I had with a piripoho. I leant that word last week. Nursling, baby in arms; also meaning treasure; literally translates as “keeping close to the chest.” A baby held close to the heart. That’s what they are in the first year. They are close to the heart, they are sweaty heads in the crook of an arm while they nurse, they are strapped in a baby carrier, they are asleep in your arms. In the second year and towards the end of the first, they start to move away a bit – the mobility of crawling and walking isn’t just physical, it develops in pace with the desire to explore, to be left alone, to go out into the world. This feels like a loss as well as a reprieve.
Last night the little dude stayed with my parents, and this morning when we met up at the fruit market he didn’t immediately want a cuddle with me, he wanted to take the nectarine from my hand and climb the ladder to the slide. I wonder whether I’ll enjoy the baby phase more with number two, knowing that it will all be over soon? Hard to tell. I might just be so overwhelmed by the juggle of toddler needs plus baby needs that the year passes in a blur of sleeplessness.
The little due is well on the way to being an older toddler. He understands a lot. He talks a lot. He’s eager to help me and he always wants to do things by himself, like carry the watering can from the tap to the pot plants. He remembers things from several weeks ago. He is still talking about his cousins we saw when camping, which is a month ago now.
I don’t think we give small children enough credit for how complicated the world is and how tricky it must be for them to figure it all out. Until the past two hundred years or so, almost everyone saw the same people every day. The little dude is old enough to remember all the people we’ve seen from out of town during the past six weeks, but young enough that he might not still remember them next time.
That said, the older they get, the more they adjust to how things are done in the culture in which they live. In the first year, I felt so strongly that our post-industrial way of life makes everything much harder than it needs to be for babies and their caregivers. This is still true with a toddler, but less so. And because they are more independent and individuated, there is less pressure and expectation towards caregivers to do things A Specific Way, more acknowledgement that what works for one kid might not work for another kid. The most personal aspects of new motherhood – the pregnancy and birth and choices around breastfeeding – are over, and the hardest bits can be compartmentalised as having happened to a slightly different version of yourself. The past starts to shift into soft focus. Growing up, eh.
So our old place didn’t have a dishwasher and the new house does and I’m still not over how revolutionary and amazing and life enhancing it is to have a dishwasher! All that time spent rinsing and washing and drying dishes is now condensed into a really small amount of time that doesn’t even feel like a chore. We had a housewarming on the weekend and thanks to the dishwasher, the clean-up was a breeze! Every night we look at our clean kitchen and go “wow, dishwashers are awesome, how did we used to cope without one?!”
Then it struck me this is basically the perfect metaphor for how having money makes life easier.
There’s one of those articles up on the Herald, which has the headline “Women must take responsibility for their actions” and ya just know it’s not going to go in a good direction. Adopting the “don’t link, don’t drive traffic policy”, here’s a good piece about it by my mum-blog-crush-in-chief over at Emily Writes.
Well said Emily.
We all have those stories, right? We all have stories of nights when we acted in a way that would mean, if anything shitty happened to us, we’d be blamed a bit for the outcome.
I was 18. I was travelling solo in the USA for two weeks before meeting up with a friend in Costa Rica. I did a tour through some company that tried to be not your ordinary tour company (we stayed in cabins and made chilli over an open fire and we went to a drive in and sat on the roof of the van and watched Harry Potter). The tour guide was this awesome guy, built like a bear, from the south and he charmed us with his “y’all”s, and maybe part of that was shtick but he was also pretty cool. And I was 18 and we were in Las Vegas. The guide had organised a “surprise” part of the itinerary, hiring a stretch limo, and inside was lots of premix vodka and Sunny D and some awful cheap American beer, and I got whoppingly drunk on the vodka mix because who can tell how strong it is when it’s mixed with Sunny D?
I remember posing for photos by the Las Vegas sign and I sort of remember throwing up in a bathroom sink in a fancy hotel/casino and then I also remember throwing up in a taxi and then I remember the Bear Tour Guide taking me into my cheap hotel room and buying a bottle of water from a vending machine. I remember him putting the bottle of water by my bed and telling me to go to the toilet then telling me to lie down on the bed and stay lying down until the world stopped moving. Then he left the hotel room and turned out the light, and I woke up the following morning and thought a) I never want to be that drunk again, b) I’m so embarrassed, c) do I owe the guide some money for a taxi clean up fee? d) I don’t feel hungover at all, maybe I threw it all up? But I didn’t think “wow, that was a close one, I could have been raped!” because I didn’t know that women are sometimes blamed for rape. Certainly, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind for even a split second that the tour guide might have been a threat.
I was 19. My boyfriend got drunk at a party and I took him back to my house because it was closer to the party than his house and taxi money was something to be spent wisely. He lay down in my bed, I cleaned my teeth then joined him, and then he tried to kiss me and I said “roll over and go to sleep, you’re drunk and I’m not interested” and he did. And then that same thing happened again many times over the next several years – if we were out together, we would always go home together to save on taxi money. Eventually we moved into the same house. On no occasion did it ever occur to me that I was sending misleading signals by getting in bed with him when I wanted to go to sleep rather than have sex. I didn’t know then that some people think inviting a guy back to your place automatically means that you plan to sleep with him, and if he then tries to have sex when you’re not interested, well, whaddidya expect? You led him on!
(Side note – we’ve just finished watching “Master of None” and I love that it shows scenes on the Nashville trip when they go to bed together and nothing happens.)
I was 22. I was overseas for a geeky law student competition and one of my team mates was a guy I got on well with, and I went to his hotel room to do some prep one night. He was married and I was engaged. We chatted and did serious prep work and then I went back to my hotel room. At no point did it occur to me that we should have done the prep on more neutral territory. He was a friend. We were both with other people. I didn’t know that some people think all men want sex all the time from every woman and that just being in the same room alone as a man is like raising a giant banner saying “up for it!”
I was 26. I was on a work trip with an older guy, senior to me in the organisation. We went out to dinner together because that’s what you do when you’re on a work trip with one other person and know no-one in the town. It didn’t occur to me that I should make up some sort of excuse to avoid dinner and secretly eat alone in my hotel room, because that’s just ridiculous. Though actually I was pregnant and ravenous so after dinner I also secretly ate a second dinner in my hotel room.
Let’s imagine women actually did take all the bullshit advice and always behave “in a manner that signals that you are precious” (bleugh bleugh bleugh). What does that mean for men, interacting with women on those terms? If women are taught to see men as potential threats and men are taught to see women as potential conquests, then we all miss out on half the available human-to-human relationships.
The tour guide who was doing his job by getting me home safe, how much shittier would the already fairly shit job have been if I’d been scared of him and hadn’t wanted to let him take me back to my room?
(Granted his job would have been easier if I never got drunk in the first place – but who hasn’t been way too drunk a few times in the process of learning how much booze they can comfortably handle? I was 18!)
Or my boyfriend when we were at uni, should I have left him at wherever we were and just gone home by myself? He would have been fairly offended at idea that he was nothing more than a bag of testosterone fuelled impulses.
Or my friend whose hotel room we prepped in, or the guy from work, how awkward and weird would it have been if I’d tried to come up with some bullshit reason why we shouldn’t be together alone?
Like Emily, I think of my little boy and imagine what the “wise up young women” line of thought means for the boys. ‘Cause it would basically mean teaching them that it’s normal for men to be opportunistic rapists. How can you tell a girl that she and only she is ultimately responsible for keeping herself safe (FEAR ALL MEN!) while also telling a boy that he and only he is ultimately responsible for making sure he always treats others with respect?
It’s been a really big past couple of months for us.
We bought a house.
Madly, we moved into the house three weeks after buying it, the weekend before Christmas. I took two days off work before moving day to pack everything up and sort our stuff, but the little dude had a bad bout of diarrhoea and had to be kept home from creche, so the packing went something like this:
My husband’s three awesome younger sisters came down to stay with us for a couple of days and unpacked things and played with the little dude while I stared vacantly into space and felt tired.
Meanwhile, my mum went up to Whangarei to be with her dad and his wife, who had just entered hospice care.
At the end of that week, it was Christmas, and we went on our Big Family Camping Holiday with my dad’s side of the whanau.
The little dude wasn’t a fan of sleeping in the tent on a camping mat, and I got all stupidly stressed out by how much of a drag it was to spend an hour trying to convince him to lie down and go to sleep each nap and each bedtime, when I wanted to go to sleep myself (leaving him there and ignoring him was not an option: not only would the cries of distress alarm the whole campground, but the kid has mastered zips, and could easily exit the tent). He played in the sea a lot and ran around outside and got to know my cousin’s kids, who are close enough in age to be his little playmates. He’s still talking about them.
The first week back in Wellington was the little dude’s first week transitioning out of the baby room and into the toddler room at creche. He has a different primary caregiver, and he has to get used to the new routines like sleeping on a mat on the floor rather than on a cot, and eating with a spoon and fork unassisted. He cried when we dropped him off, but was happy when we picked him up.
That was also the week my Grandad’s wife died.
We upped sticks again and went to Whangarei, to spend some time with my Grandad before the funeral. They were together for 34 years. She’d been sick for the last two of them. Cancer. What more can you say? I kept expecting to see her, in that way where it doesn’t seem real that someone has gone when they’ve always been there before. I can’t remember the last time I saw her well. The first time I saw her sick, I was pregnant with the little dude and I was shocked at how suddenly frail she looked.
It seems unreal that just a few weeks ago we were thinking we would hopefully still get to see her again before she passed away, that we’d go up for a weekend after we got back to Wellington and maybe she’d still be doing ok.
Through these topsy turvey weeks there’s been in the foreground, the needs of a very active toddler, and in the background, the steady march of pregnancy into the third trimester.
The little dude has coped remarkably well overall, but I’ve noticed he seems to be more in need of checking in with me for reassurance, and also the sleeping has taken a major step backwards. We haven’t done the old system of “one lullaby then mummy says goodnight” effectively since before moving house. In Whangarei, Mr Daddy was on main parent duty to give me space to be with Grandad, and he developed a technique based on my baby meditation scheme that we used to use. It’s super cute. It goes like this. First, he gets the little dude’s attention by starting a story about some dinosaurs, then he adds the twist that one of the dinosaurs is running through the forest and stumbles over another dinosaur who is asleep. The running dinosaur (let’s call him the blue dinosaur) falls over and hurts his knee, while the sleeping dinosaur (green) hurts his head from being crashed into. They kiss each other better, but then the green dinosaur wants to go back to sleep. So the blue dinosaur has to help him. So the blue dinosaur says he’s going to tell the green dinosaur a story to help him sleep. And the blue dinosaur says that the green dinosaur’s feet are filling up with sleep, and they’re warm and cosy and sleepy, and the feet fall asleep. And the sleep goes up the legs into the knees and the knees get all warm and cosy and sleepy, and fall asleep. And so on and so on all the way to the dinosaur’s teeth and feathers. After ten minutes of the dinosaur falling asleep piece by piece, the little dude is also usually snoring softly.
In the last few months, she would wake in the night, but be unable to get up by herself. Her daughter flew over from Perth and took over the night shift, and would give her sips of water and soothe her back to sleep.
Today was our first day back to normal life – back at work for me and Mr Daddy, back to creche for the little dude, and he seemed totally at home in the bigger kids room and didn’t cry at drop off. There are some new babies starting this week in the baby room and it feels absurd that my big boy was in there with the littlies only a month ago.
Yesterday he counted to ten. What the hell? We read “Ten Frogs” a lot. When he hurts himself we do “close your eyes and Mummy will count to ten and it will be all better”. He’s clearly picked up on it – completely without prompting, last night he started counting the rows of seats in the aeroplane.
“One, du, dwee, boar, bibe, siz, seben, aiiiiiit, nine, den. One, du, dwee, boar, man dere! Man dere seat! Sit down man!, boar, bibe, siz, seben, bag up dere! Up dere bag!, one, du, dwee…”
He speaks a strange language closely relate to English.
The baby he was when he started creche this time last year has gone. Or he’s still there, where he always was, in 2015 – he’s just not here now.
And she’s still there too, where she always was. She’s making preserved fejoas on our Easter holidays in the early 90s, stewing them briefly in their own juice and then pouring them into jars, leaving some out for me and my brother to eat with French vanilla ice cream, the ice cream melting more quickly than we can eat it. She’s giving us packets of lollies to keep us happy on the car trip home, mum not sure whether to approve or not. She’s making us scrambled eggs in a bowl in the microwave because we don’t have a microwave and we think it’s a novelty that food can be cooked other than on a stove. She’s setting out a lunch of bread and salad and hard boiled eggs and tinned beetroot under fly covers so that it will be all ready whenever we arrive, so that the two hot sticky hungry children can come straight in for lunch when the car pulls into the drive. She’s asking mum to send new photos for the wall in the hallway, because she likes to have current pictures of all the grandkids.
But she’s not here now. She won’t be there when we next visit, to give me a hug and tell me to sit myself down and make myself comfortable. She won’t be there to scold my Grandad for talking too much and to make him cups of tea.
It’s the absence of new beginnings that brings on the tears.
It rained a lot on Saturday and we decided to bail on the camping trip and head home early. Stopping off in a small nowhere town, Mr Daddy slipped on the wet road while carrying the little dude, and the little dude hit his head on the tarmac. He was ok – nothing major – but he bit his tongue in the fall and his mouth was bleeding and there was a bit of a lump on the head too. So we went into a cafe and gave him an ice block to a) calm him down and b) numb the tongue.
On Sunday, the little dude bit me. I’m doing the whole “ouch that’s not nice, that hurt Mummy” spiel, “just like it hurt you yesterday when you fell and hit your head and bit your tongue!”. The little dude said “Mummy ide bock!”, and seeing as we had some in the freezer, Mr Daddy gave me an iceblock.
Today, the little dude keeps biting his own hand and saying “owwwwch, oh no!” and asking for an “ide bock”.