Aside

Getting to Know You

A few weeks ago a dear friend asked me, “So, what’s she like?”

I loved the question. I loved that she wasn’t asking me what the nights were like, with all the loaded expectation that the question brings, or if she likes her bath, or what the weird rash on her face was from. I love that she was asking about my new daughter as a person.

But I didn’t know how to answer.

Or rather, I didn’t like my answer.

She seemed exactly like GG. She looked like him, sounded like him and moved like him. The way she stretched as she woke and squished her lips together after a feed brought back strong memories of the last time round. She was transfixed by anything with stripes, just like he used to be. She wore his clothes, and she felt like him in my arms.

I felt like such a phony.

I’m constantly ranting about how all babies are individuals, how they are whole people from birth, and yet I couldn’t even tell the difference between my own two babies. I’m embarrassed to say I even had a hard time remembering that she was a girl from time to time, and I constantly called her the wrong name.

And by comparison, GG with all his rambunctious toddler energy, babbling away in two languages, running and jumping and joking and yelling, he felt like so much more of a whole person to me. The little one felt like just an outline, whereas GG is full, vibrant color.

Things are shifting now, but slowly.

A few weeks on and it’s clear, this is a different child. This one likes to sleep, swaddled up and cozy in her bed. She knows exactly what she wants, and as long as she gets it she’s content and predictable. She loves to nurse but only when she wants to – there’s no shoving a boob in her mouth when it might be convenient for me. She picks the pace. She’s calm and clear, as articulate as a newborn can be. And she’s beautiful, naturally.

But still, I can’t believe how hard it is to write this without making a comparison to GG. To write a preliminary sketch of my little girl’s emerging character without referencing her brother. Even though they’re so different and I’m supposedly so observant and perceptive. As bad as I feel saying it, he’s my only benchmark.

She’s almost two months old now, and we’ve got the basics down pat – eating, sleeping, and diapering. Apart from that, all I really know is that when she smiles at me I melt, and when we gaze into each other’s eyes it feels like I’ve known her forever. I guess it’s just a matter of time, as she reveals more of herself to me, and we build a relationship that’s ours and ours alone.

For now, though we’re still physically linked as a little ecosystem, as individuals – as mother and daughter – we’re still getting to know each other.

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Sweet moments with the little one
Finding the Zen in Toddler Turmoil

Finding the Zen in Toddler Turmoil

Our 2-year-old has been having a tough week. He’s happy one minute and irritable the next. Picky with food. Super opinionated about everything. And of course his sleep is suffering too – which in our house translates to extreme bedtime resistance and hours of screaming between the highly questionable hours of midnight and 4am.

Lots of fun for the parents.

Luckily, both of us are certified google doctors so we’ve gone through everything. Could he have an ear infection? Or worms? Maybe he’s teething again? But apart from disturbed sleep, none of the symptoms fit.

Yesterday during an intense medical research session (read: Google search) I found a couple of articles on the “2 year sleep regression.” These made more sense: basically new separation anxiety, nighttime fears and lengthened wake-times all join together to screw up toddlers’ sleep for a little while. Satisfied with my diagnosis, I sent the links over to my husband.

“So?” he asked later, ever the Mr. Fix-it, “How do we fix it? What do we do?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “We just keep doing what we’ve always done, we stay consistent, and it’ll pass.”

All of this frantic searching for something wrong, something to fix, something to do had made me miss the point. With the exception of when there’s something really wrong – in which case we usually know right away – our job is to show our kids that everything’s okay. That even if they’re having a hard time, acting out, testing boundaries – we’re still here. We’ve got it. They can lose their shit and throw everything on the floor we’ll still be grounded, calm and in charge. We’ll know what to do.

With this renewed strength I had a chat with GG before bedtime. Summarized the tough week we’ve had. Explained the routine anew. Prepared him for every step. And what do you know – bedtime was a breeze and he slept for 11 hours straight.

So much of this game is about how we handle it – rather than the details. When we stop letting the little things ruffle us, the big things are so much easier.

Mindfulness and The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Mindfulness and The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Our 18-month old has finally got the message that the boob restaurant is closed overnight (yay!), but now he has a new demand – “BOOK”! Yep, he wakes up at midnight, 2am, 4am, whatever and calls out “BOOOOOK” (along with “mum,” “dad,” and “water,” just to mix it up). And of course, he’ll scream bloody murder if his demands are not met. So fine, if he needs to hear a story to fall back to sleep, it’s not the worst thing in the world. And I’ve read all of his books enough times to know them off by heart so no need to turn on the light…. or have I? To my surprise, I recently found out that I don’t know his books off by heart. What’s going on?

I decided the issue needed some mindful exploration. So the next time we were reading, I brought my full attention to the activity. And what do you know – for the first few words, I was there, fully, reading with him… and then I was off. My eyes and my mouth kept reading but my mind? Outta there.

And so my reading meditation was born. Now, whenever I read to him, I pay keen attention to the moment when my mind starts to wander, and I bring it right back to the task at hand. To that sweet, fleeting moment when he’s snuggled up in my lap, totally absorbed in the story – even if it’s the seventh time he’s heard it today. To his anticipation of each word, his exploration of the pictures, his delight at repeating a new phrase. I take care to really read each word, with my eyes and my mind, to speak those rhyming verses with my entire being. To anchor myself to the present, just me, the book, and my little guru.

Last night, just when I thought he was asleep, he sat bolt upright and yelled “BOOK!” And what do you know – I can now recite “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” from start to finish, without blinking an eye. Or touching the book.

The Opposite of Mindfulness

The Opposite of Mindfulness

Readers of this blog will have enjoyed (or rolled their eyes at) my recent rants about mindfulness – about the value of bringing your full attention into the present moment, nursing and meditating etc. And I really do believe it’s a transformational practice – both in it’s seated form and as an exercise of consciousness throughout our everyday lives.

The thing is – I haven’t slept that much since having a baby almost a year ago. And sometimes mindfulness is just too much for my poor, exhausted brain. There are moments that I’m so damn sleep deprived that I’m decidedly unmindful – or should it be mindless? Two examples from the past week:

Unmindful Episode #1: I took the car to work last week, as it was raining and I was picking up Gadi from daycare. I left the office, got into the elevator, pressed the button for the parking lot downstairs, and played with my phone while waiting for the lift to descend to the car park. It didn’t. Instead, the lights went off, and I was left alone in a pitch black metal box. I started to panic. My heart rate rose, I started to think about how long I might be stuck there, who I should call, whether I had cell phone reception. I reached my hand out in the dark towards the buttons, and suddenly the lights came back on. And it was then that I realized. I had pushed 1, the level of my office, rather than -1, the parking. Duh. What actually happened: I stood in a stationary lift so long the lights turned off.

Unmindful Episode #2: While the baby and the husband napped this afternoon, I made two batches of Anzac buscuits. Super pleased with myself, I decided to have a coffee and sample the goods. I got a mug, put a pod in the machine, pressed the button, and heard the coffee start to pour as I put a couple of cookies on a little plate, all the while commending myself for being so brilliantly domestic. I took my mug and my cookies to the couch… only to find the mug completely empty. Where was my coffee? Steaming away in the drip tray of the coffee machine, of course. I forgot to put the mug under the spout.

Guess I should have taken a nap with the boys, huh?

Which brings us to my point –  I am not getting enough sleep. Over six months ago I wrote a smug post about how Gadi started sleeping through the night – a rookie mistake. He hasn’t slept more than five hours straight since. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it yet either, who knows, but now we’re ready for a change. I can’t just sit around waiting for the next elevator terror or empty coffee mug shock. Tonight we’re starting with Dr. Jay Gordon’s super gentle night weaning plan. I told Gadi all about it before he went to sleep tonight, and I’m convinced it’s the right time. The plan is for Gadi to be getting (at least) 7 hours straight sleep – and a more mindful mama – in time for his first birthday next week.

Wish us luck!

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Okay, I Have to Brag – Look What I Made!

As if the amount of baby photos I post on Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp groups wasn’t enough, today I’d like to share the new toy I built for our 11-month-old over the weekend.

Behold: Gadi’s utility board! Gadi's utility board

Inspired by a Facebook post in a RIE parenting group, I decided to make a board with all of the things that Gadi likes to fiddle with but either can’t reach or gets told “no” because of safety/cleanliness. With few exceptions, he seems to get more pleasure from playing with household objects than toys, so I wanted to make a safe, accessible way for him to enjoy the things that interest him most. The light switch isn’t hooked up to anything, the LED lamp is battery-powered, string-operated and made of plastic, and the clip moves freely along the strap.

He’s been mildly interested in it so far, and keeps coming back to check new things out. And me? I keep thinking of all the cool things I can add to it in months and years to come (a lock and key, a dial, a door handle…). Fun for all ages.

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Next project: A helper stool, so Gadi can really get involved in the heart of our household – the kitchen. Stay tuned.

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

Ostensibly, I’m all into doing things naturally. I read the books, follow the blogs, join the Facebook groups. I breastfeed and babywear. I’ve got the hippy pants. I tsk judgingly from time to time at people who do otherwise (oh come on, admit it – you do too). But sometimes I’ve gotta admit – it feels anything but natural. I feel like I’m stopping myself all the time, trying to find the “right” response, the healthy way to react, the RIE way. That I’m trying so hard to be chilled that my movements end up jerky, that I’m over-thinking and second-guessing every word I say to Gadi, every move. Every time I offer the breast as comfort, take the stroller instead of the carrier, let him taste a cookie out of my hand. Every time I let him fall asleep on me.

When he was younger it was easier. He stayed in one place, his needs were simpler. All my varied and conflicting sources agreed that there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. He just needed me to be there, to tend to his basic needs, to respect him, to love him. And all of that came naturally.

Now, he’s testing. Not in a behavioral, toddler sense – not yet, anyway – but rather he’s trying to understand sequences, cause and effect. If I do this, then this will happen. And that’s fine, it’s great – I just so badly want to do my bit right that it’s doing my head in. And all of my attempts to be natural and mindful and connected and tuned in are somehow colliding with each other. My mind and my heart and my maternal instincts, all pulling me in different ways.

There’s a problem with the word “natural,” or at least the concept. We mean so many different things when we say it – the way humans are “meant” to be, pre-industrial revolution, before medicine, without plastic and screens… But the truth is that natural doesn’t feel natural anymore, not in this day and age. What’s natural is what we’re used to, how we were brought up, what we see around us. Perhaps that’s why everything I do ends up feeling like it’s going against the grain.

I’ve felt it since the beginning of the pregnancy, in some way, shape or form – that I was doing something weird. I’d tell people I was planning a natural birth and they’d look at me like I said I’d decided to birth my (huge) baby out of my left nostril. Exclusively (“only?!”) breastfeeding is somehow seen as subversive behavior, especially past the age of six months, when babies should apparently be eating bucketloads of processed shit sold in tins. And don’t even get me started on Baby Led Weaning. And though these things do feel natural to me – certainly when I think about them and sometimes in practice, too – implementing them can be a bit of an uphill battle.

I was telling my boss a couple of months back about our efforts to get Gadi’s sleep on track, and our deliberations about whether or not to enlist the help of a sleep therapist. About painstaking lists of bed times and wake ups, books and articles, taking turns and careful routines. Her suggestion? “Maybe you just need to go with it.” I was so taken aback – that’s what I thought we were doing. How did I manage to turn laid back and relaxed parenting into something so anal?

I like to think – I hope – that these are just growing pains. That just like anything else, it feels a bit awkward at first and then eventually becomes second nature. And of course, it’s not always like this. When I’m really there, right in the moment connected with Gadi, there’s a perfect flow. When I’m responding rather than reacting – yes – but easily, quickly, naturally. Like Victor Frankl put it:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Deep down, I know the fact that I’m thinking about all of this means I’m being exactly the type of parent I want to be – a mindful, intentional parent. That I’m trying things out, seeing what fits. I also know that it’s when I’m living in the past or the future – going over and over things that happened or trying to plan out the future move by move – that this conflict exists. In the moment, when I’m really present, everything is great.

But in the meantime, it’s hurting my poor tired brain.