Milestone update

Tonight I was making dinner and Mr Daddy was emptying the bins, and the little dude was running around the lounge in circles holding a balloon in each hand and saying over and over “dwo badoons!” Mr Daddy looked at me and said “I think he’s passed peak needing us.”

Barely 30 seconds later, the little dude came up to me and said “want beanudt budder dtoast”. I said “remember what you say when you’re asking for something?” and he said “bease and danku mummy beanudt budder dtoast, bease!”. 

When they’re tiny, they can’t do anything for themselves but they sleep a lot and can be left on a rug or a bouncy seat and semi-ignored for brief periods. The little dude is finally coming out the other side of a very long phase in which he required constant supervision. I couldn’t leave him even for a minute. When I was alone in the house and needed to go to the toilet, I’d put him in the empty bath with some toys so that he could be contained and watched. He’s suddenly taken one of those developmental leaps, and is so much more sensible and physically capable and independent than he was even a month ago. Last week, we had one morning when we slept through our alarm and we woke up to find him happily playing on the floor of his bedroom with his toys. What?! Crazy! 

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Rethinking the Work-Life Equation

Fairly good piece. One slightly critical comment though. While I agree that work/life issues aren’t just about families, I’m a bit wary of completely taking family out of the equation. Before I had a kid, my spare time involved a fair bit of voluntary work with a criminal justice reform organisation, and long distance off-road running. Those were both time-intensive activities that could totally be used as examples of why people with no dependants still value workplace flexibility and don’t want to have to work long hours. But having a toddler is a whole different ballgame. There is no spare time.

Rethinking the Work-Life Equation

The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

Gates’s letter is here.

A few observations:

  • The technological advances point is really important. I am still totally in awe of the dishwasher we now have. Before we try and reinvent a cheaper wheel though, let’s remember that if poor people had more money they’d be able to access more of the existing technology.
  • Part of recognising the uneven distribution of chores includes recognising how much skill is involved in doing chores efficiently. Men often seem to dismiss this – at least, most of the men I know count chores in terms of how much time is spent, not in terms of what gets done in that time. My husband gives the little dude his bath every night, and in that time, I tidy the little dude’s bedroom, get him his cup of milk for the bath, clear the lounge and set out his nappy and pajamas and story books and stuffed toys on the couch, put a load of washing on, clear the kitchen bench, check my work emails to see if there’s anything I need to respond to before bed, and get the ingredients out for dinner and start prepping until I hear the call “Mummy! Ready dedt out!” There’s mental effort in getting things done in the shortest possible time, like remembering to turn the oven on to heat up before I get the little dude out of the bath. Also, I do chores while looking after the little dude – which my husband almost never does. Emptying the dishawasher while the little dude semi-competently feeds himself porridge in the morning. Taking the washing off the line while he plays in the garden. Tidying a toy away when he loses interest. Etc. 
  • I have mixed feelings about this point: “it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.” I could pick up more paid work if my husband did more chores, but, it would be low on my priorities list. I work 0.7FTE and I think I get about 85% of a fulltime load done in that time. I just don’t have the lulls that I used to have. I was 0.6FTE when I first went back to work and found I couldn’t quite get the job done in the hours I was paid for, but since picking up the extra few hours, I feel like it’s fairly close to the ideal balance. To my mind, the key goal is to adjust working expectations so that they accommodate equal sharing of unpaid labour and allow for leisure time. Expectations of “full time” should match the a number of hours that can be comfortably worked by two parents while also remaining involved at home and having some time here and there to, y’know, chill out. 
  • Related – the gender chores split necessarily raises the question of “outsourcing”. This transforms unpaid work into paid work, in that it puts a price on something that wasn’t being counted before, but it doesn’t actually add anything to the economy. 

The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

Fleeting thoughts

I remember when the little dude was around 7 months old, feeling like I was still waiting for my family to happen.

Does that sound bizarre? I mentioned it to my mum and dad at the time and they looked nonplussed. I tried to explain that I’d imagined myself as the mother of an older child, or more than one child, not of a single baby. They stared blankly. No, they don’t remember feeling like that with me when I was a baby. No, they weren’t sure even what I meant really. Of course children start as babies. They were busy being parents to a baby.

Maybe they never felt like that, but maybe they forgot. I’ll probably forget that feeling by the time the little dude is my age. I only barely remember it now! It goes without saying now that this is my family. Ah, my boy is so delightful at the moment and we have our nice little routines and everything is running smoothly. When the little dude was in the bath last night I started vaguely thinking about the new baby and how the new baby would fit into our life, and I realised that I almost never think about the bit when the baby arrives and I stop being pregnant. I’m only thinking ahead as far as “feet get even more swollen and varicose vein gets even more painful and afternoons with the little dude become even more dependant on youtube videos to see me through to the arrival of husband to do active play” (this means thinking ahead as far as the next day). The new baby is peripheral. There’s neither eager anticipation nor trepidation about the disruption, it’s as though some part of my mind has decided that we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it and there’s no point spending energy considering what might be. There are a few things in a list on my phone that we need to get done before the baby arrives – sort baby clothes, install car seat, buy some fenugreek, stock up on giant sanitary pads, etc – but that’s about the extent of the forward thinking.

This pregnancy has been very similar to my first, but has felt so different. The newness isn’t there, and that makes it a totally disimilar experience. Lying on my back, I notice my belly is lopsided, the baby is skewed on one side, and I remember that with the little dude. I remember that exactly. Sometimes I feel like I’m not pregnant with another baby, I’m glimpsing back at when I was pregnant with the little dude, a brief opportunity to revisit from the vantage of knowing what comes next. 

I was thinking about this in relation to the back catalogue of this blog. I haven’t gone back and looked at it for ages. While I’m writing, it’s an outlet, but once I finish a piece it’s a message in a bottle to other mums. One of the reasons I like to record my impressions of the early years for anyone to read on the internet is that there are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head, but they don’t seem to stay there for very long. Life moves on way too fast. Writing it down is like trying to get a photo of the scenery on the bank of a river while white water rafting. 

I know writing it as I go conveys more than a retrospective remembrance ever could. This always hits me when I talk to mothers of older kids – they retain the major impressions and a few details, and things come back when something jolts their memory, but it’s all so long ago. I think it’s important to put these thoughts out there, because while my experience of motherhood is among the most privileged in the history of the world, motherhood generally remains a silenced experience. It’s often presented through a male interpretive lens, and women also often present their experiences of motherhood in a way that generously accommodates male power (acculturation or self preservation?). For example, someone saying how lucky she is that her husband earns enough for her to stay home with the kids. And while that might be a genuine acknowledgement of privilege, it’s also as interesting statement. Maybe he’s lucky that you enable him to build his career? Maybe society is lucky that there are women willing to do crucial unpaid work? Maybe the kids are lucky that you’re there for them? Etc. 

It’s interesting too when friends talk about the content of these blogs being very personal. It is personal in a way, but also, what does that mean? We have only our own experiences, our own stories. Women’s stories of pregnancy and birth and childcare are no more personal than any other stories. If anything, they must surely be more universal. Every person who ever lived started out being carried in a pregnant belly. We were all birthed, we all began our existence as tiny bundles of needs. 

Coming to terms with the hard stuff

I don’t know Holly Walker but we have some mutual friends and acquaintances. I loved her piece on the Wireless recently, about anxiety, and on the Ruminator, a while ago, on growing up and dealing with hard stuff. I went back and re-read the growing up one just now. This bit:

It’s not just because we have a small child that we haven’t been out for so long. It’s mostly because the combination of Dave’s illness and my anxiety means that in our new reality, it’s not something we’d usually attempt (in our household a Don McGlashan gig warrants special effort). In the recent past, I’ve thought this makes us exceptional, more than usually unlucky. I’ll be honest; I’ve spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself.

But I started to think, licking my ice-cream back in the darkened theatre, that rather than set me apart, these experiences are my passport to life as a grown-up. The older we get, the more experiences we accumulate. After thirty years, it’s not surprising that they start to include the tragic, heartbreaking, and incredibly difficult to bear. To bear them anyway, and go on finding the joy in small things – that’s what grown-ups do.

Yes.

Yes.

I wasn’t quite a grown up when I had a baby. I had all the hallmarks – relationship, job, etc, but I still felt self-consciously young a lot of the time. In the first year of parenting, especially the first six months or so, I lost my footing a bit on my sense of who I was, and I came out slightly different, shaped by that first glimpse that my body and mind weren’t always going to bounce back quickly from what life had in store.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to feel about this, to allow myself space for the sadness without being lost in it. And still, when I read about people who’ve had worse experiences, I feel selfish for being sorry for myself. Yesterday I had a little cry thinking about the day the little dude was born – then today I felt like a fool for being so precious as to think I deserve to have everything easy all the time. I want to chide myself – life’s hard, toughen up, it could have been worse. I’m way too invested in a self-image of someone who copes with stuff and doesn’t complain. I know this is stupid, I know this attitude isn’t helpful.

I’m five weeks out from the due date for this baby, and two years have gone by since the little dude was born, and it’s probably a good idea to confront all the baggage I have about the last time round. The last fifteen hours of the labour felt like a strange nightmarish state. I remember it only hazily. When they told me they were going to perform the episiotomy, I couldn’t feel pain because of the epidural but I could feel the pressure of the surgical scissors and I felt the moment when the cut went slightly wrong and I saw the expression of concern pass over the midwife’s face. I can put words to this in a way that I hope lets other people understand how I felt, like I’m writing a story about someone else, and that helps create a bit of distance.

I can tell you about the numbness that shot through when they said my baby wasn’t breathing and he was whisked away, and then the hours following when I couldn’t hold him, and I was too exhausted and too shocked to feel much at all.

I can describe the worst moment, later that day, when they kicked my husband out because visiting hours were over and I stayed in the hospital with my baby and I felt like a child myself who had been abandoned. I remember one of the hospital midwives told me off for cuddling the baby in the bed, because I might fall asleep, and I remember crying myself to sleep that first night, so tired. I remember tripping over the catheter when I got up in the night to feed him, and struggling to get him to latch, and pressing the button for assistance. A different midwife came and she was so nice to me.

I can mention how the next day, my nipples were covered in blisters, and the next couple of weeks were an exercise in pain and frustration trying to get breastfeeding established, and the only silver lining was that my husband was on paternity leave so I wasn’t by myself.

It’s harder to talk about the pelvic floor issues, about the extent to which dealing with the ongoing problems is a limiting factor in my life, but hidden, and obviously a strange topic to mention, so it’s something that I have to be reminded of all the time but can’t easily explain to people. Shortly after I returned to work last year a colleague asked whether I had gotten back into running yet, I lied and said that I couldn’t find the time. Another colleague, also a mother, said that she found the opposite – running was the best exercise to squeeze in when you didn’t have much time.

I know. I loved running. I miss running. I’ll never be able to run again. 

I’m not totally reconciled to that, but I have to accept it, so feeling a residual strand of sadness about it is ok.

In the first year, I struggled to communicate how I was feeling to friends – we’re not good in this culture at talking about experiences that make us sad. I couldn’t even begin to broach it with new acquaintances. Two years on I can look back and feel a retrospective tenderness towards past me that I didn’t let myself feel at the time. Maybe that’s part of growing up.

Two years old

He sleeps in a bed, we moved him out of his cot last week. The first two nights he got up after ten minutes and took his sleeping bag off and announced “wape up!”. I put him back in his sleeping bag and said “do you want to sleep in your cot tonight?” – intending to be all gentle and child-led, and give him space to do the move slowly over several nights, etc, and he said emphatically “No! Sdeep big boyyyee bed!” and didn’t get up a second time. He may have interpreted my offer as a threat.

He remembers things for long periods. His Saba visited this weekend, and it’s been seven weeks since we saw him last in Auckland, but the little dude remembered and was immediately comfortable with him.

We went to Tiny Town on the morning of his birthday, yesterday, and he climbed to the top of the slide in the bouncy castle without any assistance. He loved it, and rocketed around saying “djump djump” and “run at da wall! boom!! tash!”. He used the runaround cars by himself. He went into the playhouse and said “put birdday dacte in oben. Wadsh ands unda dap”.

He was so patient waiting for his birthday cake until after dinner. I lit the candles and everyone (father in law, my parents, my brother) started singing while I brought it through to the living room from the kitchen, and he got shy and overwhelmed and buried his face in the couch cushion. But then he sat up and blew at the candles and grinned from ear to ear.

We always read stories on the couch before bed. Tonight the baby started to do some big wriggles and I put the little dude’s hand on my belly and he leaned up against the bump and said “duddle mummy dtummy”.

I love this age. I love seeing him develop his sense of self. I love his little strikes towards independence, his little quirks. I love that he’s so bossy and so definite about what he wants. I know that’s the bit that’s meant to drive people nuts about toddlers. But it’s adorable. Here he is, barely up to my hip, this tiny half pint of person, with absolutely no power, declaring how things should be. He also has no knowledge of the possibilities of the world, so when he announces what he wants it’s something beautifully simple, like a piece of frozen mango, an episode of Elmo’s World, a big push on the swing, and for his daddy to come home from work. Imagine having such modest desires of perfection!

I love it when he does funny silly things because he hasn’t worked out how to do stuff yet. He tries to take his shoes off by bending over and undoing the velcro, but because he’s still standing in them he can’t pull them off. It doesn’t occur to him to lift his feet. I have to remind him to sit down so that there is space to take the shoe away.

I love how he narrates everything. He is such a chatterbox. He talks constantly. The staff at creche all comment on how he just talks and talks and talks. They ask where he gets it from and I’m like “yeah, that’d be me”. He doesn’t do an activity quietly, even if it’s a quiet activity, he gives a running commentary: “dupdo on dere, dtower build it high, yep, moarr dupdo, nudder piece, on dere, moarr dtower up high, nudder piece up dere, yay!!!!!.”

He calls half-deflated balloons “baby bayoons”.

He doesn’t like riding in the supermarket trolley, he wants to push it.

He really really likes reading “torie boodks”. He calls the 2014 photo album the “mummy dadday baby torie boodk”.

He is so pleased to see me when I arrive at creche. He runs up to me straight away for a cuddle, then holds my hand while he shows me to whatever activity he’s been doing. He likes to have his little jobs, like carrying his own backpack to the car. Sometimes we leave the car in town for Mr Daddy and get the bus, and he looks so ridiculous wearing his backpack at the bus stop, like a miniature teenager. He likes to swipe the bus card and he gets really anxious that someone is going to take it away – I have no idea what put this idea in his head or why it’s such a source of stress for him. I spend the whole bus ride trying to reassure him or distract him from his concern that the bus card might be taken. When it’s time to get off, he’s so good, he holds my hand on the footpath and when we have to cross the road he grips extra tight and says “dareful, dareful, dareful, dars on road!”.

When I leave work I often get an almost giddy sense of looking forward to seeing him. And I get such a kick out of how much he loves me. When he says “want mummy” or when he divebombs me for a cuddle, or when he rests his head against me, ahhh, my boy, my big boy, my darling. Two years old! Happy birthday sweetheart. 

Yesterday the little dude turned two and I wrote a post that was half sad sop re the birth, half slice of life about how he is at the moment. Today I decided I didn’t like it and want to split it into two different blogs.