When nothing matters more than being here

The story behind today’s terror attack is still being written. The news is still being made. We don’t know everything yet, but on a street in London, a man lies dead.

He is a son, he was a once a child, he would have brought love and laughter and brightness into the world.

This news as it becomes known is hurting those who hear it. It knocks the breath from me. Is it because I am now a parent? I moved back to this city for my child. Partly for a better life.

What we don’t know tonight, as we go to sleep in our quiet and leafy London suburb, is why. We don’t know the extent of it or what it may be. We are calling it a terror attack.

In September 2001, when this city was sent home from work after the towers across the ocean fell, I rushed home to my parents. In July 2005, living in Taiwan, I called them in a broken voice from a public phone box while London panicked and people died on its streets.

Tonight, I lay my child gently in his cot after holding him tighter and holding on to him for longer than I had last night. I had just heard the words: terror attack.

I had pressed his body to mine and let him rest his head on my shoulder. I stroked his hair and felt his breathing slow. When he slept, I stood for a while and watched. There was nothing to rush away for. My sixteen-month-old boy – this is your world.

I have been reminded tonight of what is important. There is nothing more important than truly being present in the life of my child. I do not mean being here in body to put him to bed each night. I mean being here completely, to listen, to watch, to care, and to love. I mean him knowing that I am here, always. There is nothing more important than seeing him happy. There is nothing more important than showing him the best of this world.

He will learn of the grief and despair. He will come to know the anger and hurt and heartache. He will discover the unjustness and the ugliness. But while he is too young to know that evil exists, there is nothing more important than me being here.

Old toys for an older baby

Our old life turned up on our doorstep this week. It came in 17 boxes which were unloaded from a big truck and stacked on our living room floor by three men. The boxes looked pristine and hardly like they had come off a container ship from the other side of the world.

It has been three months since we left New Zealand and life has changed dramatically. London is still cold. Our daily battles centre around whether you will be warm enough if I take you, wrapped up so that you can hardly bend your knees and elbows, to the park. Most days our activities are indoors. You are walking, but you still drop to your knees when you become unstable on the ground outside, so a snow covered park is not the easiest place for you to get around.

You were delighted by the boxes. We found your toys quickly and put them in one big box for you. You spent the afternoon unpacking it. Did you remember them? The toolbox you got for your birthday and loved, the shape sorter, the alphabet caterpillar, the rubbish truck with the balls which spin around…. you loved them all over again and spent the evening rediscovering them. I think, perhaps, they were familiar, and that was partly why you were so happy to see them.

One box is already in our wardrobe, I know you wont play with its contents. You’ve long outgrown the baby rattles and toys and barely gave them a glance when you saw them again. Even the toys you are playing with will soon be tossed aside and ignored, I imagine. You are growing up and toys designed for small people are not as much fun as the day-to-day objects you find in kitchen cupboards. Three months ago, these toys that have come off the ship were your world. Today, you seem too grown up for them.

I rotate your existing toys already. You have so many it seems like you could never play with them all at once. So every few weeks I bring a different batch into the lounge, swapping them with the others. You still play with the cars, making their wheels spin and driving them along the floor. The teddies get cuddles when you are tired and anything that makes music sees you standing up and swaying from side to side and dancing. Often, you sing along.

But really, your favourite toys are the plastic attachments to mum’s juicer. You also love the rotating corner cupboard full of tupperware which can keep you amused for an entire afternoon. And then the ultimate is your dustpan and brush set we bought for you last week. All day, you walk around sweeping the floor. It’s adorable. Another recent hit is a box of crayons. You love drawing and it amazes me that you can hold a crayon and use it to make lines on a page. You love watching us draw, of course your father is better than me, and as his animals come to life in front of you you look on in awe and happiness.

While you play, you constantly amaze me with how much you have learnt from watching us. You use the jug from the juicer and pretend to pour liquid into the measuring cups that it comes with. I don’t even remember when you would have seen us do this. You stack the Tupperware containers, match the lids to the bowls, and stir vigorously to show me you are busy cooking.

It seems like you understand every word we say. If we ask if you want a bath in the evening, you walk to the stairs and wait for us to open the gate. If I ask if you are tired you lie down on the floor with a teddy. You are constantly finding bits of fluff or other debris on the floor and bringing it to me. When I ask you to put it in the bin, off you go and do exactly as you are told.

In the last month, your comprehension has amazed me. It seems like you have gone from understanding a few simple words, to understanding most of the things I say to you. You can’t answer back, but by your actions you want to show me you understand.

You are talking more too. You can tell me the noises a monkey and a lion make. You can’t woof very well, but you can pant like a dog because your father taught you how. Daddy is still your favourite word, but nanny is also used, and so is yumyum when you are eating. (Which is still a never-ending battle….) If you drop something or fall, you say “oh dear” with the loveliest inflection you must have heard from us.

You still love your books, my grown up baby. You are learning the actions to your heads, shoulders, knees and toes book; and you try to show us you know how to move your arms round too for the wheels on the bus. You will sit enthralled for ages in the lap of anyone who reads you a story, but you don’t just want board books with pictures. You want us to tell you about our novels. You want us to read you the newspaper and supplements which you find around the lounge.

You are nearly fifteen months, and it is this month more than any that I think you have suddenly grown up. Not only are you walking everywhere, or sometimes running to the next adventure, but you seem to understand your world these days. It’s a joy to watch you figuring it all out and playing your part in it, Little Mister, it really is.

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Adaptation

LIFE has changed completely, and I wonder whether the Little Mister remembers how things were a month ago. We were in Wellington, it was summer, he played outside in the sun all the time, and our little household of three was generally quiet and calm.

We have lived in our new home in London now for three weeks. Milin loves it. I am still amazed by how quickly he settled in. A new routine, a new house, a new season, a new family around him – he hasn’t taken long to accept it and embrace it. Well, apart from the cold, Milin’s not so keen on that.

How is it that a little boy who is 13 months old can adapt so fast and make such a major transition so smoothly? Of course, to him, moving across the globe brings no worries of the practical things in life. He knows he is loved and safe; his mummy and daddy are still beside him, and everyday is filled with fun and laughter – perhaps it doesn’t matter what continent he is in.

Since we left Wellington, my Little Mister seems to have grown up so much. He still doesn’t want to eat, but he now spends his days practicing how to walk and talk. Suddenly, he is a little boy. Soon, I will have to call my baby a toddler.

With his arms waving beside him for balance, with his toes hip-width apart and his feet flat on their soles, he is taking his first steps. They are slow, purposeful, and usually in my direction. He claps at his achievement when he reaches me. His smile takes over his whole face. He is SO HAPPY he can walk.

All around him, we clap too. All the time. Because Milin is constantly doing things which make us laugh. He knows the radiators are hot. He won’t touch them but he points them out to us and blows out as if trying to cool down hot food. He does the same when he watches us drink cups of tea. The entire household thinks he is the cleverest boy in the world.

Milin knows not to touch the fireplace, the plugs, the compost bin. Again, he points them out to us. This time he shakes his head. No, he is telling us. How can we not admire his communication skills?

And all day, he talks. “Daddy” is his favourite, most-used word. It is not used sparingly, and everyone is Daddy. Sometimes things are Da. Sometimes he says Ta when given a toy or a biscuit. But mostly, it’s Daddy.

Our Little Mister is growing up in a new world. He has a new park with a slide he can climb up and a new library where there is a creative room with paint and a toy room with cars. He has been on a tube and looked at the Thames. He has seen the snow and didn’t like touching it. He is nearly a toddler.

 

Life as he hasn’t known it

OUR new life in London has begun. The Little Mister is, so far, unimpressed by the cold and snow, but otherwise delighted with the turn of events in this big adventure that is his life.

We have of course had hiccups along the way. Thailand was hot, and Milin was very jetlagged after a horror daytime flight. We were there a week, and then, the big one – London. A pro by the time we got on that plane though, Milin slept for most of the journey. Phew.

It took us an hour to leave the gridlocked car park at Heathrow. What a welcome. My little superstar hardly complained. His daytime routine was quick to sort out, and now, over a week later, we’re hoping we’ve cracked nights – but we’re not celebrating that milestone just yet.

What the week has really been about though has been visitors, and the Little Mister has coped wonderfully. Only initially unsure for a short time, he has realised that attention is a wonderful thing. Smile, and the adults smile back. Watch the bigger kids, the cousins, and learn. He is fascinated. Already, he is getting better at being with other babes. Relief.

We showed him the snow today. There was no sledding or snowman building as he wouldn’t touch it – too cold. But from within the house, he was transfixed. He pointed at flakes, his eyes opened wide, and he told us ooh, aah, while watching the white stuff fall to the ground.

Indoors, the Little Mister can stand alone without leaning on anyone. If he feels like it, he will take a few slow steps.  I can’t wait for him to walk now, I feel like it will help him enjoy being outdoors a bit more. Funny the difference a season can make. He wanted to spend every second of summer outdoors. Now, in England, he has already learnt it is just too cold out there. He’s smart, this little one.

 

Saying our goodbyes

Sometimes when you say bye, the Little Mister waves. Sometimes he doesn’t. He’s getting lots of opportunities to do it this week. We have started saying goodbye to our friends and the Little Mister’s friends and playmates.

He has only known them for a year. They’re just getting to take notice of each other. Although only to take toys off each other. It’s still not quite playing together. Through Milin I’ve met some other wonderful mummies and become closer to people I already knew. He’s just starting to get to know Wellington, the city he was born in, and we are saying goodbye.

It is less than a week until we go. We said goodbye to some very good friends on Saturday. Over a drink and some snacks, while the babies played with cars and trucks at our feet, we looked back, looked forward, and I tried not to cry. It’s hit me this week. I’m leaving a life I love, I’ve already left a job I loved, and we are parting ways with too many people.

It’s too late, Tony said, to change your mind. There were boxes all around us and I still had packing tape in the hand I didn’t use to wipe away the tears.

Of course, you can’t have everything, and this has been my choice. It’s ok, I think, to be sad for what we’ll leave – while at the same time being excited for all that will be new.

On Saturday, the wind howled around us as we walked to our leaving party. It made me feel better about going. But on Sunday, Wellington turned on it’s sunniest most beautiful charm. Under a bright blue sky, the Little Mister squealed when I put his toes in the icy water of the South Coast. He might grow up like his father and rarely swim in the sea, but I hope not.

We took him to the aquarium where he got his fingers in the water and played with the seaweed after pointing at the big fish and octopus. We said goodbye to our antenatal group – our first baby club – our group who got to know each other so well because we were all sleep deprived at some point and getting desperate for tips, advice, anything that might work. Tomorrow, more goodbyes. More friends the Little Mister and I have in common.

We will wipe away tears though for this windy city, and very soon, as long as the snow clears and we can land, we will say hello.

The Kiwi grinch that stole Christmas

The excitement, the anticipation, the festivities and feasting – I’ve always loved Christmas. The Little Mister is going to love it too, because we will make a fuss, and I won’t be able to stop myself. But that might be in the years to come, years, that is, in the Northern hemisphere.

Because this year, on baby’s first Christmas, I’m struggling and I’m going to have to keep my excitement in check. Christmas will consist of just our little family being together on the day. The Little Mister, his mama, and his dada. For me, Christmas at home was always a big family get together, so it’s hard to think that this little boy won’t have that. But then, to make the blow easier, it’s also true that he won’t remember a second of it anyway.

And do we spoil him? Well of course I will. But, with a removal company coming two weeks later to ship our boxes to London – do we really need to buy more toys just to send them half way across the world? (Where he will of course be ridiculously spoilt on arrival.) The Little Mister’s favourite toys right now are cardboard boxes. Is it mean to wrap a couple up for him? I know he won’t remember, but there will be photos. Fast forward ten years time to Milin looking at photos of his first Christmas. He’s alone with his parents, there’s no tree, but he’s opening big presents, beautifully wrapped, and perfectly box-shaped. “Mama,” he will say, “what was in those presents you gave me for my first Christmas?” What will I do? Lie? Or tell the truth – “We didn’t get you presents darling because we were leaving town soon, so those were just empty boxes. But you really did have fun with them, promise.”

The not-getting-a-tree-thing is something I’m still undecided about. Part of it is because my Little Mister is so adventurous these days that it would need to be somewhere up high and well out of reach. The lights would NEVER be on while he was awake, courtesy of these southern hemisphere long daylight hours at this time of year, and there might not be many presents under it. So do we get one? Just for the three of us?

I have brief pangs of worry that Godzone has turned me into a Christmas grinch, with its lack of all things festive. There are no roasting chestnuts, few lights, fewer window displays, and no Christmas markets. Instead, there are barbecues, camping trips (not for us), and a distinct lack of Christmas-themed festivities.

My reasons for loving Christmas are of course not religious, but they have a lot to do with history. As a little person, it was always a time when the whole family got together. Everyone was on holiday. It was an excuse to spoil each other, to be extra good to each other, a time to be grateful for each other and forget about our worries. So what if I’ve bought into the commercialism of it? I have no apologies for using a few public holidays each year to be happy and try and make others feel the same.

But this first Christmas for Milin will be different. It will be a little quieter, a little less extravagant, and perhaps a little less festive. We will still sing to him, spoil him, make sure no work is done, laugh with him all day, and of course dress him up in his Christmas best. But it will be a very southern hemisphere Christmas.

(I got my first chance to dress him up yesterday, by the way. He missed the Santa parade as it unhelpfully clashed with nap time, but we made it, briefly, to the Christmas party at Waitangi Park. The music was a bit too loud for him, and the tree wasn’t lit up, but he liked crawling on the grass.)

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Getting ready for the Christmas party with Aunty Julia

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Christmas parties in the sunshine, not particularly Christmassy.

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Our first family Christmas is a-coming

With each new second

THE COUNTDOWN is on. In two months today, we will leave Wellington. First stop, a week catching up with family in Thailand. Final stop, London.

It’s so hard to imagine what the Little Mister will be like when we get on that plane. Two months ago, he had just mastered crawling. Now, he shoots around the house so fast on his hands and knees that he wins every race. Two months ago, he was still bringing up even the tiniest lumps in food. Now, he will eat a bit of a Cruskit – and he seems to enjoy it. Two months ago, the thought of him standing up was so abstract I couldn’t picture it, let alone wonder when it would be. Now, he pulls himself up against walls, doors, the oven, the sofas, and, still holding on tight, takes a few testing steps sideways before deftly sitting back down.

Time changed when the Little Mister arrived. It started passing so incredibly quickly, and it keeps speeding up. At the end of each month, it’s amazing to look back at the progress he has made in just four, short weeks. But looking forward is harder. Will he be walking when we go? Saying some more words which sound more like real words? But, I don’t want to wish away the time between now and then, so will put those questions aside.

What the Little Mister has done has given me a new appreciation for time. It’s fine to look forward now, it’s exciting. But it’s also exciting to make the most of every second we spend together. He grows so much each day, so yes, the days pass quickly, but they are filled with discoveries too. Today, he laughed at the baboons at Wellington Zoo. They were playing at the front of their enclosure. He’s never noticed them before. Tonight, he put his big toe in his mouth. He’s never managed to reach it that far before. In the last few days, he has started tapping on the first page of his Mr Croc book. It’s because the book starts with a knock on the door and Tony always taps the book when he reads it. The Little Mister knows not to tap on any other page.

Yes, I wish time wouldn’t pass so fast. But while it speeds by, it is also filled with a richness that wasn’t there before. And as long as I’m watching for every new discovery, and treasuring the laughs or babbles or expressions that new seconds bring, it’s still a time I wouldn’t change for the world.

Flightmares, time differences, and a little holiday

The flight-mares have begun. In fact, they begun quite some time ago. Taking a 13-month old to the other side of the world in a plane filled with other people who probably just want to get some sleep fills me with dread. So we’re having a practice run next week.

Well, we’re not going all the way to England, and we’re not getting on a plane just to experience the sheer hell of travelling with a mobile baby, but we are having a bit of a holiday-trial.

Earlier this year, in a moment of careless disregard for our financial situation, I booked us a ridiculously over-priced holiday. There were lots of reasons to do this, and apart from the idea of putting the Little Mister on a plane, the only reason against booking the trip was that neither of us really have much of an income at the moment. (But, look, I’m doing a little work like this here.)

So, we’re off to Australia. Despite living here in Godzone for seven years, I’ve never been, and I thought it was probably time to get there before we return to England in January. Tony has three sisters on the Gold Coast, and so what better place to take ourselves? The Little Mister will get to meet his aunties, uncles and cousins, and we will get to have a good old-fashioned family catch up. We’re staying in luxury (or so it appears from the brochure) and I can satisfy my craving for genuinely warm weather, a splash about in the sea and a very nice hotel pool (with cute separate kiddy pool) to make up for arriving in London in the dark depths of winter.

The holiday too was a surprise father’s day “gift” from the Little Mister to his dad, so of course, there didn’t really need to be any other justification for it. (Not only was it Tony’s first father’s day, but the present also takes care of a rather large birthday in a couple of weeks time.)

So, super holiday in the sun, here we come. But wait, it’s not like it used to be. Throw beach dresses and hat in suitcase, drink some wines on the plane, and spend five days behaving like there’s nothing in the world to trouble the soul. That kind of holiday, I fear, is long gone.

The only trip we’ve done with the Little Mister was up to Auckland when he was not even four months old. Of course he was a dream on the plane – any hint of a grimace and I fed him. It’s different now. This boy has places to go. How on earth is he going to sit on my lap for four hours?

It’s not only the confined space that worries me. It’s the timing of it all. Our flight is at 7am. Way to start the day, then, by waking up my sleeping child, bundling him into a taxi before dawn breaks, driving for less than ten minutes, and then expecting him to fall back to sleep at the airport for a bit. That’s before we even board. I have worries too about take off and landing. Will giving him a bottle help his ears? What if he doesn’t want one?

Then there’s the time difference. Should I start trying to make him go to bed later each night now – we still have ten days to go? And once we are there, will he sleep anyway given it’ll be a strange place? Recently he’s not been so keen on new, unfamiliar places….

At least its only a few hours on the plane, the time difference isn’t too bad, and we’re only away for five days. I’m sure he’ll be a trooper. It’ll be  our first overseas holiday as a family of three, and we might not relax in the way that we used to while abroad, but I’m sure we will have an extra special time because this is how life is now. We’ll just try to forget the plane journey very quickly. And after all, it is only the practice run.