Content warning: bad childbirth (don’t read if pregnant!)

[I read with interest the reporting of a major study on midwife-led care in NZ, and of course it got me thinking about my own births… again… you can prob skip this piece if you’ve been following me a while]

My second labour was awesome. Perfect. Beautiful.

Around 5am on Thursday morning I woke up with strong Braxton Hicks, almost painful, like moderate period pain. Thursday was the estimated due date, so I thought, oh, this might be it. I got up, lumbered to the loo, had a drink of water and went back to bed. The pain subsided and I fell asleep again. I was on maternity leave already, and my husband took the little dude to creche, and I went about my day. Patches of strong Braxton Hicks came and went. I Skyped a friend in New York. I napped. In the early afternoon, the contractions geared up a bit and I called my mum and my husband, arranged for mum to get the little dude from creche. She brought him home to pack his overnight bag. The Braxton Hicks seemed to be turning into real contractions, getting regular, stronger. After the little dude was dispatched, my husband and I went for a walk around the block and ordered pizza. Tried to watch something on Netflix, but I kept interrupting our show to turn around and kneel against the couch and moan through the contractions.

I called my midwife’s cellphone. My lead maternity carer was an obstetrician, but she practised with three midwives, and the prenatal appointments alternated between midwife and doctor. The birth would be attended by both. But the midwife who had seen me during pregnancy wasn’t available – this was the Thursday before Easter weekend and she was going on holiday. We’d joked about the timing, how my first baby was late and she’d probably deliver my second when she got back from holiday. Instead I was introducing myself over the phone to the on-call midwife, saying my contractions were starting to get stronger, but I didn’t think anything would necessarily happen soon. They were still short, and still not ten minutes apart, I’d had a long long long first stage in my previous birth, this is just a heads up. She lived on the Kapiti Coast though so said to call again with an update if they kept getting stronger and more frequent. An hour or so later I called back. A contraction came while I was on the phone, I dropped it and moaned, and she said “yeah, I could hear you vocalising through that, I’ll come in now and will call the obstetrician to meet you at the hospital in half an hour.” It was 8.30pm; at 6pm I was happily eating pizza.

As I got into the car, another contraction came. My husband started the ignition and I shot him a death glare “FUCKING DON’T START THE CAR YOU LUNATIC WAIT UNTIL THIS ONE IS OVER”. The next contraction came in the hospital carpark, as I was going into the after-hours entrance while my husband parked the car. A passer by asked “are you alright”, and I wanted to swat her away like a fly.

The obstetrician examined me at the hospital. Four centimetres dilated. I was over the fucking moon, this baby was being BORN, folks! The obstetrician broke my waters “it’ll help speed it up”. A thought passed through my mind, my grandfather had been born in caul, and my great-grandmother, highly superstitious, always found this comforting later when he became a ship’s pilot – the legend is that babies born with waters intact will never drown. But hell yeah, speed things up, break those waters. The obstetrician left again, I laboured in the birthing pool supported by this amazing midwife I’d only just met and who felt like an embodiment of peace and solidity; and my husband, who was anxious as a bag of cats. I did what I felt would be most comfortable. Laboured in the pool. Decided I wanted a shower, wanted the drumming rain on my back and shoulders. The midwife rubbed my back, just so, as I held the rail of the shower and groaned, and thought how nice these birthing units are. Decided I wanted a rest, climbed onto the bed, curled onto my side. The obstetrician popped back in to examine me again. I’d gone two centimetres further and I was like yusss. The next contraction was STRONGand I couldn’t lie down through it, I turned round. Back in the shower for the next few contractions. Remembering my yoga teacher’s visualisation about the crest of the wave, staying on the crest, riding the contraction. I thought how my baby must be hearing the loud animal noises I was making, hearing that call through my body and into his. Then, another contraction came and I felt an overwhelming urge to push. I got a bit flustered and said “AHHHHHHHH I FEEL LIKE I WANNA PUSH”. The midwife said “probably not yet, let’s get back on the bed and take another look at you.”All the calm. She called the obstetrician through as well. I was examined and found to be 9cm. A+ dilation! Fucking yeah. And I pushed, right there on the bed only seconds later, and the obstetrician and the midwife talked me through it. There was a big push and the midwife said “even bigger, even bigger” and I thought to myself, yeah, I was holding back, and this time I won’t. The next contraction I really pushed, and the midwife smiled, and said “that’s it, that’s it, next one just a little half push”, and before I knew it they were handing me my baby and he was lying on my chest looking up at me with his old soul newborn eyes, finding the nipple, snuggling in, and it was perfect, behold the flesh of my flesh, brought forth, here he is, my baby. It was just after midnight. I’d only been in the hospital three hours.

My first birth was quite a different story.

It never occurred to me to use a private obstetrician. I was the lowest risk pregnant person imaginable. Fit and healthy and young and non-smoker and stuff and financially sweet and in a stable relationship. There were no confounding factors. No health issues with the baby in any of the scans. I had good blood pressure, good everything.

I was a week past the estimated dude date and a few days out from being induced. I started getting contractions around 6pm. My midwife had said to call her when they were about a minute long every five or ten minutes, the standard advice. They didn’t get to that stage, but by 10pm, they were every 15 – 20 minutes for about 20 seconds, and too strong for me to sleep properly. My husband went to bed and I tried to doze on the couch in the crazy arrangement of cushions that I preferred. It was fitful, all night, and I kept thinking – will they get stronger? More frequent? How can you sleep when every 20 minutes your abdomen seizes up with pain?

In the morning I called the midwife. She arranged for me to meet her at the hospital at 10am.

I was only 1-2cm dilated and was told to go home again, call when they got stronger and longer and more frequent.

I went home. Every contraction I would stand up, groan, moan, and then it would pass and I’d sit down again and chat normally.

They didn’t get stronger, longer, or more frequent. At all. They stayed patchy.

At 8pm or so my mum called the midwife while I was in the shower. She needs to come in, said my mum. The contractions are still 15 to 20 minutes apart but she needs to come in. She’s exhausted already and it’s not even the real deal yet.

We went to the hospital. I was only 2-3cm dilated. I was almost too over it to care. Well, now, they do something right? I get some drugs now to speed things up?

No. I couldn’t have anything to speed things up. The baby’s signs were fine. They couldn’t give me syntocinon when I was only 2 – 3 dilated, that’d be considered an unscheduled induction. I couldn’t have an unscheduled induction unless it was an emergency. I could stay and have pethidine or I could go home. The couldn’t give me an unscheduled induction because there needs to be an obstetrician on the floor for an induction.

I stayed and had pethidine, had a two hour nap.

When I woke, I was examined again. Barely any progress. Contractions kept coming, 12 minutes, 10 minutes, whatever. I tried the gas and vomited. Vomited, vomited, vomited, arching my back with pain in the birthing pool wallowing in my own stomach acid, too hazy, can’t remember, never could remember this bit very well, there were ice chips and I wanted more but someone said I shouldn’t because I would vomit again. At some point I’m examined again and I’m told that they’re going to start the syntocinon now because I’m 4cm along so it’s an augmented natural labour now not an induction and they’ll give me an epidural too. It’s been so many hours. They ask me to rate the pain and I say, over and over, that the pain is fine but I’m exhausted, I’m worried I won’t have energy to push later.

The syntocinon gets things going in a flash. The drip starts at about 4am, which is 34 hours after contractions first began, in those 34 hours I reached 4cm dilated and then in the next two hours I zipped straight to full dilation. No-one expected it to be so fast. The epidural was too strong. I couldn’t feel anything, each contraction was a vague pressure but there was no urge to push. I might as well have been in a different room to my body. My midwife and the hospital midwife started talking me through the pushing. The baby was coming out at an inconvenient angle, slightly to one side. “You’ll have a baby soon!” said my midwife. And I pushed. And I pushed. And I pushed. And I pushed. And three hours fucking later I was still fucking pushing. The monitor showed the baby’s heart rate was dropping. The hospital midwife said they would do an episiotomy now. They cut me. I pushed. I pushed. I pushed. They said they needed to expand the incision, and they cut further, as far as they could without reaching the anus. The baby came out, limp, floppy. They didn’t give him to me, he was taken immediately, they were talking. I barely noticed any of this. He was given to me glancingly, seconds, and he was gone, a little mask on him, oxygen, straight to NICU, my husband – his dad! –  went with him.

My midwife stayed with me. Someone else came to sew up the episiotomy. It took over an hour. I had a lemonade popsical and some toast with marmite. My mother came in. She was shaken. I didn’t know what was going on with the baby. I felt like I did when I woke up from having my wisdom teeth removed, what’s going on now? I’m not sure? My husband called my cellphone. The baby was going to be fine. The baby was going to be fine, I thought, pondering, so hazy. Was the baby ever not going to be fine? The baby came out remember! Could I come and feed him, they wanted to know if I could come and feed him or if they should give him formula. I was confused. I was busy. They were still stitching me. I couldn’t come yet.

I was taken through to NICU in a wheelchair, to see the baby, who was going to be fine, the baby who came out, remember. He was so beautiful. I held him, and fed him, and then he went back in the box, all the little monitors on him. I thought, many many weeks later, did they give him to me for those few seconds just in case he wasn’t fine? Oh God.

It was more than two years ago and I might have moved on, be past it, this birth, this bad birth, except for one thing. A three and half hour second stage and an episiotomy the entire length of my perineum have had some lasting effects.

A cystocele is a form of vaginal prolapse where the bladder falls backwards against the anterior vaginal wall, causing the opening of the vagina to become eclipsed by the bladder, or in some cases the bladder protrudes outside the vagina. A rectocele is a prolapse of the other vaginal wall, where the rectum falls forward against the posterior vaginal wall, and can also protrude. I have both a cystocele and rectocele prolapse. They were apparent the first time I used a mirror to check out how the stitches were healing. What, what on earth, what is that. What happenened?! My GP referred me to a physiotherapist who specialised in pelvic floor rehabilitation. I had months of one-on-one physio, and it’s manageable now, by which I mean, it doesn’t cause acute pain and discomfort all the time. It causes moderate discomfort a lot of the time. This is worsened by standing, even for fairly short periods, lifting things (children, especially), walking while carrying things (again, children), defecating, moving from sitting to standing, coughing and sneezing, and yelling. There are some activities that the physio told me to avoid for the rest of my life – running, jumping, some of the more vigorous types of yoga. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to go tramping with a pack on my back again, I will need to wait and see how much it improves across the next couple of years if I keep doing my exercises. This used to get me down more than it does now. Coming to terms with a damaged body was definitely a factor in how rough I found the first year of the little dude’s life. I still get sad about it sometimes, today at Tiny Town watching another mum jump on the bouncy castle, sighhhh. The other day, someone was saying how much they enjoyed baby wearing, which is not something I’ve been able to do once they’re more than about 6.5kg.

I will never know whether this outcome could have been prevented with different care. I tend to think it probably could have. I don’t blame my midwife: when she wanted an obstetrician to step in, there was no-one on the floor.

 

 

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Harmless toddler catharsis 

Little dude has had to deal with some big stuff this past week, tonsils out and recovery has been rough for him. When he’s frustrated it often comes out as throwing things or biting me. I wanted to think of some harmless destruction he could do now he’s improving, provide a better outlet, but without venturing far because he’s still fairly peaky. I’m after some garden or house based activities that take around ten minutes, when he’s having a perky patch.

  1. Smashing eggshells. Nana used to do this with us. Collect eggshells for a few days, then take them outside and crush them by stomping. Then they’re perfect for snail prevention around plants, apparently, I’m not much of a gardener. Bet the little dude would love this.
  2. Collecting twigs to throw on the pile of stuff that we might get round to mulching one day.
  3. Popping balloons (or blowing up then releasing).
  4. Throwing soft toys onto the bed or into the play tent.
  5. Ripping up recycle paper.
  6. Couch jumping (he does this all the time anyway)
  7. Truck derby – brrmming them into a tower of blocks.
  8. Throwing a ball onto the roof and catching it when rolls off.

Transitioning to parenthood

I came across this EXCELLENT RESOURCE:

Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens – And What They Need From Us

So true, whenever I get together with other mums of kids a similar age, we natter about what they’re doing and behold THEY’RE ALL PRESENTING THE SAME CHALLENGING BEHAVIOURS – and the same delightful endearing ones too. Because those behaviours are normal things they all do at this age. There little variations – biting vs pinching vs hitting – and then crazy similarities like, why are they all so obsessed with collecting stones?!

And parents too, we’re all experiencing a lot of the same stuff! Snapping at our partners about little things, etc. Feeling torn between wanting to connect with the kids and wanting space away from them. I thought it would be handy to have one of those guides for us. Based on zero research because when would I get time to do that, just my reckons, so please add in the comments if you’ve got thoughts. These are all things that I’ve experienced at one stage or another, and all things that I feel much much more strongly when I’m at home fulltime.

Developmental stage: new parenthood

  • May feel exhausted all the fucking time.
  • May struggle to figure out harmonious new relationship dynamics presented by the birth of each child and their big developmental changes.
  • May feel trapped by the house (especially if home fulltime) – may simultaneously want to leave the house and to bunker down in the house; to clean the house and to burn down the house; to throw everything away and to move to a much larger house with room for all the random plastic junk.
  • May become preoccupied with one particular parenting thing and get way too stressed about it – because it’s the Big Thing In Your Life. (Feeding, sleep, etc)
  • May feel like you’re in a bad sequel to Groundhog Day.
  • May feel like you’re not getting your rightful share of joy from the kids, because you have to do ALL THE STUFF.
  • May feel like you can’t talk about things with some of your old friends – not many childless people want to hear about how the kid tried to empty the potty by himself with disastrous results, etc.
  • May miss the freedom of your old life.
  • May get unreasonably angry or upset over something small, often something done by your partner, especially after a hard day where you’ve been patient with the kids in difficult circumstances.
  • May lose sight of the bigger picture, and get bogged down in the drudgery.
  • In the golden golden moments, may feel like this is the luckiest best life ever.
  • May feel like the day is an exercise in prioritising needs, and the parents’ needs always come last.
  • May find it really hard to know when to hold em, know when to fold em; know when to resettle the baby, know when to give up on the nap; know when to insist we leave the house, know when to capitulate to videos; know when to stick to the budget, know when to splurge on a bonus trip to a cafe.
  • May feel like your caregiving (especially if home fulltime) is invisible and unrecognised and taken for granted etc.
  • May forget things. All the time. May feel like your brain is full to the brim with minutiae that is actually really important, like how long til the big one needs to wee.
  • May feel overwhelmed with love for the children and fit to burst with the way they are so completely their own little people and you’re their parent.
  • May feel like you’re failing to meet your parenting and life standards. May feel unsure whether things need to change, or your perspective needs to shift – is it as hard as you think? Or do you just need to practice smiling serenely at the chaos? Is he eating too much scrambled eggs and watching too much Peppa Pig? Yes? Probably? But is that also ok?
  • May oscillate disconcertingly between joy and boredom. May feel guilty for not enjoying things more.
  • May want to ask for more help but feel like doing so is an imposition on others.
  • May find your views on some things change in ways you didn’t anticipate.
  • May feel your own experience so powerfully that you assume other parents feel the same, even though you know that’s not true.
  • May feel like the learning curve is RIDICULOUS and you’re just getting the hang of it and then whoa, new thing!

The support we need

  • We need to process the hard stuff. Let us talk about it. Don’t try and minimise it or fob us off. Validate our experiences of things being difficult at this phase.
  • We also want to talk about the good stuff! Tell us how much you love seeing pictures of the kids and hearing stories of their cute antics.
  • We need adult contact. Stay in touch. We might not always get back to you but we appreciate it. A link to something funny or interesting, a nice letter in the mail, commenting on Facebook updates. Especially for parents who are fulltime caregivers, being at home all day can be lonely and regular contact with the outside world makes a huge difference.
  • Provide concrete offers of support, and be persistent in your offers. It doesn’t have to be a major gesture – for example, my brother lives not far from us and sometimes he visits after work for half an hour and it’s always soooooo great, an extra adult in that end of the day stretch, even though it’s brief.
  • We need more realistic standards of parenting. We need solidarity and assurance and useful tips. We definitely don’t need anyone to tell us how we’re doing things all wrong. No matter what we do, someone is bound to think it’s all wrong. We’re fumbling for our version of good enough and it’s a bit of a process – we know the house could be tidier, we know it’d be nice to do sit down dinners as a family, we know that we’re over-relying on screentime, we’re just in the middle of it and trying our best. Please be nice to us while we figure out what works for our families.
  • We need time away from the children. It’s amazing how much more refreshed I am, how much more patient with the kids, even after a short break. I cannot emphasise this enough.
  • We need time with the children. If you work with parents of small kids, please let them get out the door quickly at the end of the working day, please be understanding of sick leave taken at no notice and meetings scheduled around creche drop-off times.
  • We need people to be nice to our kids in public. And to be nice to us. Today I was leaving the supermarket and bub was crying and little dude was kicking off his gumboots, and a friendly stranger got his gumboots for me and said “hang in there”, and it just levelled me out again. Thank you.

What he wants for his birthday 

Dtell me a dtory about my birdtday Mummy.

Ok, on your birthday Saba visited from Auckland and he brought you a present and it was your aeroplane duplo. And we went to Tiny Town –

No! Tell me a dtory about my NEXT TIME birdtday when I even bigger.

Oh. Ok well you told me we’re going to eat muffins and have green bubble water and play mini golf, do you still want to do that?

Ummmm, I not sure. Maybe we dgonna pick backbewwies for my birdtday yike in Ben and Holly and dere gonna be a gnome. 

As luck has it your birthday is in February so we could pick blackberries! That’s a great idea. We could drive out to the Hutt River trail, there are blackberries there and we could pick some and have a picnic. There probably won’t be a gnome though.

Pease can I have a gnome? I just only wanna gnome and he just gonna pick all da backbewwies for us and den he gonna make murnik widt his udeyeye and dat will be a good birdtday.

Heavy limbs

I’m four years old, in my mother’s bet, thrashing about fitfully, a cast on my leg, and my mother sings.

ehara e te mea

It’s dark and too hot and the leg hurts and I can’t sleep and she holds me in sleep, strokes my hair, keeps me from waking.

 no inaianei te aroha

Again, that one again.

no na tupuna

I’m in my grandmother’s bed, much too sick for school, scarlet fever. She helps me sip iced water from a straw, and sings me to sleep.

there are places I remember 

She makes me lemon instant pudding, jelly, grapefruit ice blocks, egg sandwiches, tempting my appetite.

I know I’ll often stop and think about them

A damp brown-blond head rests on my chest and I shshhh and rub his back and he’s my baby again, lying with me in a hospital bed. My mother is sitting next to us, lullaby and goodnight. She sings and I hum. The child drifts to sleep.

when I think of love as something new

The second night at home after the operation, he can’t stay asleep. He coughs and chokes and cries. I lie with him, hand on his chest, and sing.

tuku iho, tuku iho

Storytime earlier 

Me “Spot is happy, he gets to spend a whole day with his daddy”

Little dude “Oh. Where his Mummy?”

Me “Um, she’s at work”

Little dude “All da day? She not coming home?”

Me “Maybe she had a work trip to Auckland and she’s staying one night and will be home tomorrow”

Little dude “Dat a bit sad”

Screen time transitional limits

Have all the parents read that Digital Heroin article? Ughhh scare mongering.

Videos are so great! He sits still watching his Peppa or his Ben and Holly or Spot or Barney or Elmo or Maisy, and so it’s my go-to for when I need to be looking after bub and don’t want him to drastically injure himself while I’m out of the room. We leaned heavily on the Peppa Pig when bub first arrived, and I’m comfortable with that decision. Electronic babysitter better than no babysitter!

But also, yeah, screen time is kinda addictive I suppose. I had a few experiments to see if he would self-regulate and move on to something else if I didn’t impose an end to the endless youtube, but he never did, and I discovered that on a high-use video day he would be a nightmare in the evenings. As my mum has observed, it’s not like when I was little and the video would end, and there’d be no more video. Video ends and he knows that another video is only a click away. Videos are on my phone and I’ve always got my phone, literally anywhere anytime can be a time for video. And there’s such a thing as too much videos when they crowd out other activities.

Some things that have worked well to limit use are as follows:

  1. Carving out times when we don’t (usually) watch videos. For example, no videos after dinner.
  2. Telling him in advance how many videos he’s going to get, telling him that when it finishes we’re shutting the laptop and putting it away, and having a place for the laptop to go out of his reach.
  3. Once I’ve finished doing the thing I’m doing, coming to watch with him – cuddling up with him on the couch, making that time more connected.
  4. Using videos as downtime when he seems to need a rest but I have other things I need to do and can’t sit and read with him; conversely, if he’s asking for videos because he wants downtime and I do have time for him, recognising the underlying need and presenting alternatives.
  5. If he has a negative reaction to taking away the laptop, empathising with the reaction but not giving him more screen time. I know you want to watch another video, we’ll watch more later, we can’t watch videos all day because it’s fun to do other things too – Mummy wants to play trains with you!
  6. Telling him what we’re going to do next, or asking him what he wants to do next in an encouraging way – focusing on the opportunity to move onto a different activity, not the end of the video.  “Put the laptop away now, it’s time for lunch!”, “Let’s go play in your room, should we get the train set out or a different toy”, “Do you want to play at home or should we go out now?”.

Something we’re trying to do…

After a few not entirely relaxed evenings, including one where my husband and I had an argument during the little dude’s bath (me: don’t rev him up when he’s overtired! husband: don’t snap at me the second I walk into the house! me: I KEPT MY PATIENCE WITH TWO KIDS ALONE FOR ELEVEN HOURS I AM A FRAZZLED WRECK AT THIS POINT OF COURSE I’M SNAPPY, etc), we’re trying to work on two things:

  1. Being alert to each other’s moods and trying to both take responsibility for preempting conflict and deescalating when tense moments arise.
  2. Identifying the crunch points and creating rituals/routines to help us through them.

Since the little dude has dropped his nap, evenings are a particular crunch point.

The system we’re working on is to read stories on the couch between dinner finishing and Mr Daddy getting home, which is anywhere between half an hour and five minutes, then we put both kids in the bath as soon as he gets home. Evenings are already much smoother.

 

Making meringues

I’ve always loved mucking about in the kitchen. As a kid I’d bake and make lollies with the neighbours kids, and there were A LOT of failed experiments. Both sets of parents were fairly tolerant on wasted ingredients, though my mother was very firm on cleaning up our own mess.

Once we decided to make meringues. We got out the Edmonds and started making the mixture, then, when it was time to put it in the oven, we were dismayed. Bake forever at a low gentle heat. That did not meet our requirements for instant gratification. We did what any logical group of primary school aged bakers would do: put the heat up high, and hoped they’d be ready quicker.

It didn’t work at all. They were completely ruined, we’d ended up with a baking tray of sticky sludgy singed mess. Insult to injury, as well as inedible, it was a bloody mission to clean.

_____

The little dude has been driving me up the wall emptying the dehumidifier. ARGHHGHH. This week it’s happened four times, FOUR FLOODS, four loads of washing the towels needed to clean it up. I’m trying to remember that experimentation is just a thing kids do, that the specific annoying behaviours are almost always things they grow out of. I’m trying to see the big picture of behavioural development, that I need to role model patience rather than go down the route of imposing ever more severe consequences or ever more lengthy explanations attempting to convey the lesson.

I’m trying to remember that he needs a long time with a gentle heat, there are no shortcuts, that yelling might be an outlet for my anger but it’s not going to extinguish the unwanted behaviour any faster and it’s going to have spin off effects I wanna avoid.

He emptied the dehumidifier yesterday, and it was a total failure of parenting response on my part. First, I yelled. Not great. FOR FUCKSAKE NOT AGAIN! WHY?! Then, as he was still holding the canister, I went to take it off him, and, well, I’m a lot taller than he is and the upshot was the remaining water tipped onto him when he held firm as I pulled it up and away. I came so close to saying “serves you right” or something, but he burst into tears “Mummy it got on my head! It on my head Mummy! It went in my eyes! WIPE IT UP MUMMY”.

Cleaned him up, calmed him down, hoped that maybe the silver lining would be lesson learnt from this consequence, mopped up the water everywhere, another load of washing.

Today, he went to go and empty it again but I caught him just in time.

BUT WHY WOULD HE TRY AGAIN WHEN IT GOT HIM WET AND HE WAS SO UPSET?!

Because that’s what kids do. They keep trying things. Over and over again. 

And that’s what we want them to do, really, we don’t want them to be deterred from a single bad consequence. We wouldn’t want them to stop running because of one grazed knee.

____

We’ve had another behavioural challenge with biting. It crops up every so often, he’ll go through a biting patch and then eventually with consistent messages and explanations he’ll stop, then a few months later he tries it again.

Last week, he bit me while we were walking home from the library, and I snapped. Yelled in the street “THAT HURT MUMMY! WE DON’T BITE PEOPLE”, then “I DON’T WANT TO CARRY YOU WHEN YOU BITE ME. YOU CAN WALK HOME”, and I didn’t relent and pick him up, even when he started to cry.

I later felt like I’d handled that situation poorly; it’s so hard to control the anger/pain response, the bite really really hurt, and I wanted him to see that he hurt me. Ugh.

At the end of the walk home, something happened that softened my heart completely. We got to our house, I went in the gate with the buggy and he was just behind me, I went round the path to the back, and then realised he wasn’t behind me anymore. Panicked, rushed back, called out, and saw him – carefully closing the gate. Closing the gate is his little job.

He remembered to close the gate, even as he was crying, he remembered to close the gate.

A little habit I’d imparted without a thought. Whenever he comes in after me as I’m pushing the buggy I say “can you close the gate behind you?”, and he does. And he remembered to close the gate this time, despite being upset, he still remembered. Even when I’d gone out of sight.

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A month or so ago we visited a friend and when we arrived he stood in the doorway and looked confused.

“What’s up?”

“Where da wack Mummy? Where da wack for my shoes?”

At home, creche, and my parents’ place, we take shoes off at the door and put them in the shoe rack. I had barely registered he’d started doing this independently at home, and here he was, unsure of how to proceed in this house that didn’t have a shoe rack by the door.

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The lesson for me is that he picks up the social norms really effectively when they’re simply part of the fabric of his life, things he sees us do. In terms of a two year old’s psychological development, they have their urges and some are fine while some are not so fine, some can be encouraged while others need to be discouraged. My first reaction was to assume that strong discouragement would be more effective, but I think maybe that’s not the case. The message needs to be consistent and unambiguous, but a high heat for a short time isn’t going to work no matter how high the heat. That’s just not how this child works. And that path is strewn with things that’ll trip us up anyway, upping the ante all the time, where does it end?! A stern word, a sterner word, an explanation that turns into a long confusing lecture that goes over his head, he’s two, it’s not going to work.  There have been several occasions where a particularly negative consequence has resulted and yet he’s gone straight back again to the preceding behaviour. Like when Freddie scratched his face and it didn’t make ANY DIFFERENCE to his enthusiasm for tackling him. And thanks to Anika Moa, now he just proudly tells me “I dewwowizing da cat, yike in da song!”.

It’s such a game of trial and error, figuring out how to manage behaviours that need to be discouraged. I’ve swung back and forth – sometimes wondering if I my attempts to not be punitive has made the message unclear, sometimes wondering if my attempts to make the message clear have been too punitive. I think I find it hardest when I’m hoping for a quick fix. Need to remember there’s not a quick fix: they will eventually be older, and in the meantime, we have to be patient. Talking to other parents, it seems like all the two year olds have exactly the same set of infuriating desires and none of us have cracked it. Kids are just like that huh.

I was recently rereading Thalia’s excellent hard days with little kids post, she writes:

I’m a pretty moral person. I don’t mean that I necessarily behave in a moral way, but that I readily ascribe moral intent to behaviour. I don’t find it easy to separate good behaviour from good moral character – whether that’s appropriate or not. I’m not saying this is the right way to be, it’s just how I am, instinctively.

But it’s also true that I don’t believe, even at three or four years old, that little kids have much in the way of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to their character or even actions. When a kid this age does something ‘naughty’ it is rarely connected to an unkind or wicked intention.

Intellectually, I know that when he’s upset and does something inappropriate, he’s not doing it to hurt me – even if he is sometimes trying to raise a reaction from me. And if the thing he hiffs a toy at ends up breaking, it’s not because he was trying to cause maximum inconvenient (and, erm, rented house) damage.

But my inner moral compass is horrified, and I instinctively want to show him how bad this behaviour is. Especially when he knows it’s not the way we do things (you might recognise that gleeful look on a small person’s face as they check to see if you’re watching them do something destructive).

I’m generally not a yeller, but as often as some parents shout, I very easily sound dreadfully disappointed or disapproving. Instinctively I want to show the moral turpitude in the behaviour on show. Yes – even though I know that the winding-up behaviour of a three-year-old has very little moral content.

I know exactly what she means here, I’m very much the same. When he bites the baby I instinctively feel like I need to make him understand the wrongness. And my first impulse is also to think, why is he doing this thing that is annoying me so much? WHY MUST HE ALWAYS THROW THINGS IN THE GAP BETWEEN THE OVEN AND THE BENCH, WHY IS THAT NOW A GRAVEYARD FOR WOODEN SPOONS?!

But this thinking doesn’t make sense in toddler terms, there isn’t always a why, they’re a bit more random than that. Why did he thrown the thing? It seemed like a good idea at the time, it was a thing, it can be thrown!

The grownup view is to see a stark distinction between the various categories of behaviour, the neutral, the harmful, the positive, we quickly know what goes where. For kids, it is fairly complex, especially with the subtle categories like “you can throw stones in the sea at the beach but not in the toilet at home”, and “yes I know you love jam but you’re not having any right now because there’s such a thing as too much sugar”, and “that is a nice cuddle, ok, gentle now, I think you’re squashing your brother a little bit can we try make our arms looser, ooops, he’s crying I don’t think he likes that.”

My goal is to remind myself that all the irritating little behaviours pass, my focus needs to be on the big behaviours – helping him manage intense emotions, helping him learn how to make space for other people’s needs… and helping him survive til adulthood because apparently now he can drag a chair to the cupboard and climb the shelves and that was where I found him when I returned from getting bub out of bed and he just laughed and said “Me went on a dhocdate hunt but there NO dhocdate in da dupboard! Mummy maybe we go dupermardet right now and GET some dhocdate”.

*SIGH*