Leaving Godzone

THE BALANCE has been paid, the tickets are ours, and we’re off to England. Not yet, because of course we are no-way-near ready, but in a month not far away.

So, we will leave Godzone, for six months, six years, forever – we don’t know. We will go to a place where children don’t walk to school. Where parents must pass through security and metal detectors to get into their child’s classroom. Where teachers can’t hug their pupils. We will go to a place where the Little Mister will be surrounded by cousins, great aunties and uncles, family. Europe will be a hop skip and jump away, with its castles, ruins, history and stories. We will leave our big house and garden from where we can walk to the shops, the swings, the city, the sea, the zoo. We will leave this place as the barbecues of summer still sizzle, and we will wrap the Little Mister in merino and down jackets and shield his face from the biting cold that is the English winter. We will, next year, decorate a tree while the ground outside is frosty, the nights come early, and the fairy lights twinkle from late afternoon. We will visit Christmas markets, go to see the windows and lights in town, and later make a snowman with a big orange carrot for a nose.

We will spend the next few months running around trying to get ready to say goodbye. We will cry when we hug and kiss those we love here. We will pack boxes while he sleeps, scrub window panes while he plays, and call packing companies and letting agents when he is distracted. We will worry about money, about jobs, about our new life. We will worry whether we are doing the right thing. We are doing it all for the Little Mister.

Who, by the way, had his passport photo taken. This, my darling Little Mister, looks more to me like a photo of you about to start school at four. When did you get so grown up?

Coffee and Groceries

Today, I caught up with my antenatal group over coffee and cake, and, after the Little Mister’s nap, I went to the supermarket. Or, looked at another way, I did this:

  • Built a fort. Yep, for the first time since I was very young, I built a fort in the living room. This entailed pulling the swabs off the sofa, ignoring the crumbs down the side that need hoovering (because the Little Mister is afraid of the hoover so it only comes out when he is away or asleep), and constructing the perfect climbing fortress for new adventures. My teeny crawling boy has figured out that climbing up things and pulling himself up to standing is super fun. So, for hours today, that’s what he got to do in our transformed little living room. It was a pretty awesome peek-a-boo venue.
  • Talked to him the entire way around the supermarket, despite people looking at me like I was crazy. The supermarket is one of the Little Mister’s favourite places. There are a whole load of kids he can smile at, a whole load of women who pull funny faces at him, and he gets pushed around while looking at all these exciting new things. I’m not crazy for talking to him, he loves it, and I reckons he gets what I’m saying. (Stuff like, wasn’t it so nice of that man to climb up on the ladder for us to get your formula because there was none left on the shelf.)
  • Paid work. Well, kind of. I didn’t actually do any work today, but it was nice to see some published here.
  • Scored a massive win by convincing the Little Mister to eat two tablespoons of fruit yoghurt mixed with rice cereal. (Even though he didn’t want/enjoy it.) And, although this would have in itself constituted a majorly successful day, I also got a teeny bit of chicken into him by mixing it with LOTS of banana. It made up for his total rejection of carrots and parsnips. So, he almost got all his food groups from solids today, for the first time ever.
  • Took the Little Mister to hang out with other babies his age. He’s getting a little scared by other babies sometimes, so it’s good for him to be around them. He didn’t hang out on the rug with all the toys and little ones much, and he kept crawling towards the front door when it opened, but hopefully there were some important social skills being learnt. We’re still working on being brave.
  • Made sure the little boy had two very longs naps and got to bed on time after a fun splash-a-mayhem bath and lots of books. Not only did he get to rest, recover, and process all the learning he’d done, but I got to bake, clean, work, and catch up on some real news (politics).

Not bad for a day where I went out for coffee and picked up some groceries.

 

Having It All

AFTER years of working late, putting extra pressure on myself to do better, secretly trying to outdo my colleagues and calculating which moves would help me get ahead – I’ve given it all up. It’s been two weeks since I worked my last shift on the newsdesk, two weeks since I logged in, two weeks since I agonised over what would make the front page, two weeks since I sat around a table at a meeting, and two weeks since I went in to the office.

I’ve not shared stories with workmates about the weekend, I’ve not worn my court shoes, I’ve not joined in any group email banter laughing about some aspect of our job, and I’ve not lowered my voice while making a cup of tea and gossiping with another journo.

Since the Little Mister was four months old, I’ve only been working two days a week. But by resigning, I’ve given up something more than the paychecks.

Of course I agonised over quitting. I don’t quit. After years of manouevring, I was finally moving along the path I had planned, and I was making my way along it nicely. Of course, I thought before he was born, I could have it all.

When he was four months and I went back to the office, it hit us all hard. For two days a week, he went on hunger strike. Every week. He screamed at Tony. A lot. His weight kept dropping until he nearly fell of the chart and Plunket made us keep going back for weigh ins. He started waking every two hours through the night, my hungry baby.

My entire week was consumed by trying to express enough milk to leave for him. We all got more and more tired and stressed. But it never felt like we weren’t coping. We were all, I still believe, getting so much out of it.

Tony was able, twice a week, to look after his four month old son completely on his own. He got him to eat (eventually), he got him to nap, he bathed him, played with him, put him to sleep, sang songs with him, shared precious cuddles, and was the best dad in the world.

He became the Little Mister’s favourite person. Our little boy was so lucky to get this amazing one-on-one time – and they learnt so much about each other while I wasn’t there. I got to keep on moving along that work path I’d been carving out, and I loved it. Even though I was exhausted, I so enjoyed those two days of being among adults in that other world.

Still, on those mornings before work, I had to perform a feat that surpassed winning the Krypton Factor just to make it on time. Planning ahead and taking packed lunch and dinner to the office had never been so hard as in these months when we seemed to have no time to cook, or eat – unless it was takeaway or toast. I would try desperately to feed the Little Mister up before I left incase he decided to go without for the next nine hours. His naps were carefully orchestrated so he’d be due a very long one when Tony took over.

Tony would get home (or meet me at work) at a speed faster than lightning and each week we performed the miracle of getting out of the door by 12.36pm. There was the odd stretch of the truth that ensured he had Friday afternoon off, we called in favours, played sympathy cards, and did whatever it took for me to get to work without us putting the Little Mister in daycare.

I fed him in the work car park, in the health nurse’s room, in the empty office on our floor because I was running out of time to get the newslist done. Tony walked around and around Wellington with him so he would stop crying and sleep through his hunger. I spent the shift planning when I’d get a chance to express, carried sterilised equipment round in my handbag, always made sure the unused fridge was plugged in, and was careful to hold my bag upright in the taxi home. I experienced infections, discomfort, pain that only a working, breastfeeding woman can know.

Finally, logistically, it got too hard. If we didn’t want to do daycare, and if Tony was to keep studying and needing those working hours, we couldn’t keep on. Even when the Little Mister finally realised formula would fill him up in a way his shattered mama was getting less and less able to do, even when he started sleeping a little better, we couldn’t keep on with this life.

I don’t feel like I’ve quit wanting it all. Maybe right now my definition of “it all” has changed. In these two weeks, he’s suddenly gone down to one wake up at night. He’s started crawling. He’s lengthened his naps to two decent stints. We’re in our routine, seven days a week. I’m not checking work emails on my phone while feeding him at night. I’m not glued to the headlines at what also seems to be storytime most nights. Is it making a difference?

I love my new working week, which is spent doing my very best for the Little Mister. I do miss my old working week, but when he’s a little older, I think we will find a way to marry the two. Somehow.

I have given up what I’d worked for. But part of that is because we’ve decided to move to London and be with our family there so they can share these special years with us.

I no longer believe you can have it all, at least not the “all” I once wanted. The “all” has now shifted – and I’m still not quite sure what it is. When I figure that out, maybe then I’ll figure out a way of having something close to it.

Parent-judging

WHAT gave me the right to judge the man in the park who stood around with his mates while his baby slept in the swing? Was it that his little one, younger than the Little Mister, was so slumped forwards that he looked extra forlorn? Or was it that the baby was so completely fast asleep, cap on a slant, that he looked extra pitiable? Or was it that the little guy looked so especially tiny while he was surrounded by the group of men gathered around the swings?

Parent-judging. It’s ugly. But I still do it. I detest being on the receiving end. But I still do it.

The Little Mister and I, after a pretty amazing morning walk around the zoo (where we crawled on the grass and hung out with a wallaby, a giraffe, a pelican and a duck), tried to go to the swings. It’s one of our go-to activities with the park just around the corner and a bit of fresh air is never a bad way to tire the little boy out.

As we got close, I decided we’d keep on walking and give the swings a miss. At 3.30 in the afternoon, a group of young men were gathered around the bench and swings, smoking, drinking, and looking generally harmless but not particularly inviting.

But as we walked past, I saw the baby. He was small. Smaller than Milin. The swing was completely still, because he was asleep in it. His arms were hanging over the top. His chin on his chest at an angle, his head was slumped forward. He was so little, and so asleep.

Around him, they smoked, drank, laughed. He slept. I judged.

What do I know? Perhaps those parents hadn’t had sleep in four days? Perhaps the swing was the only way they could get a break, and he could get some sleep. What do I know? Nothing about them. But my heart ached for that little boy, sleeping in that swing, while the grown up boys around him got on with their day in the sun.

Happy Nine Months

THREE quarters of a year. It’s been that long since you came into our lives and changed everything. For the last nine months, you have made every day better and everybody close to you happier. In such a short time, you have spread so much joy.

Today, to celebrate, we took you to the zoo. Dada bought you a zoo pass, because even though we won’t be here a year, you love that place at the end of the road. It does me good too, to push you around its hills and see the animals on our walks.

You love the roosters, they’re easy to see from the buggy. The one we met today was particularly striking as its feathers were so bright. We got up close to the giraffes, or the big Sophies, and the kangaroos, a goat, and an emu caught your attention too. The big hit today though was a rather angry ostrich, who squaked away right up close to the wire between you two. He tried to get his beak through the fence. You were transfixed by this big, noisy, grumpy creature.

It tired you out, the fresh air, the adventure, the new creatures to look at with your big wide open eyes. Those eyes are taking everything in, as they always have done, but now at nine months you have a wise look about you.

You have worked out how to put your stacking rings back on their stand. You have worked out how to make the wheels turn on your toys that go places. You can get onto your hands and knees from sitting, and then rock backwards and forwards. Sometimes you leapfrog forwards. You push yourself backwards, you swivel round and round on your tummy. Just today though, the elusive forward crawling motion was suddenly a step closer. You worked out you must move one leg at a time. And then you started moving your hands too. You must only be days away.

Our days, yours and mine, are filled with smiles, tickles, laughs, toys, songs, stories and games. Your newest game is clapping your hands. At first I thought you were dancing with your arms. You thought it was hillarious and laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I realised, you were trying to clap. Except your arms moved up and down and your hands did’t always meet in the middle. You still think it’s funny, but you’ve nearly cracked it.

You’ve also figured out how to wave. If you hear the words “say bye”, you lift your hand and give a wave just like the Queen’s. Sometimes, if you want someone to leave, you’ll wave at them out of the blue. It can be a little embarrassing.

You still eat very, very little. But we still sit down at least three times a day and try. The spoon aversion has gone, and you no longer only take a metal tea spoon. You will eat pear, which I steam with cinammon, and purée. Mixed with apple or mango it’s o k. But should I try to feed you anything else you look convinced I’ve betrayed you. Anything with bits in it makes you sick. So, we’re still on purees.

I’m enjoying your new-found affection for me. In the morning when you see me after waking up, you want the biggest cuddles. When you’re trying to crawl and it gets too tiring, you want to rest your head on me for a while. When something or someone frightens or saddens you, you want to throw your arms around my neck. I feel like the luckiest person in the world when you do.

Space. Been there, done that.

GRADUATION, tick. Well, that’s the first one done anyway. The Little Mister has graduated from the Space programme at Playcentre. It was three ten-week terms, which at the start sounded like a very long time. It’s flown.

He slept through the entire first two sessions. Wrapped in his swaddle, on his blanket with his name embroidered on it, he slept on the floor in the centre of the room. The class went on around him and us new mummies sat in a circle. We sang songs, we made toys from household objects, we lamented how difficult it was to settle them, to feed them, we shared how exhausted we were. He slept.

In the third week he woke, for a little while anyway. Then he slept some more. By term two, awake, he paid more attention to the songs. We mummies, getting better at figuring this out, still shared how exhausted we were. But by now we had tricks up our sleeves, for sleeping, for feeding, for settling. We shared these too. Over cakes, teas, nursery rhymes, we learnt more about each other, our babies, and ourselves.

At the end of term three, the Little Mister is not quite crawling. But he has been watching his friends with envy. To think, this little one, rocking backwards and forwards on his hands and knees, was not so long ago a tiny sleeping bundle hardly aware of the babies who have become his friends. Sometimes, this third term, sessions were still cut short because we needed to get home for a nap. But when we were there for the songs, he loved them, his big eyes managing to grow in awe while the five little monkeys jumped on the bouncing blue lycra. He loved painting, water play, being pushed on the swing, sitting on grass for the first time, the wooden blocks with a truck that he figured out how to spin the wheels on. He wasn’t so sure about the sand pit. And when another little one got too close, the corners of his mouth turned down and the big fat tears rolled down his cheeks. He’s still figuring out, I guess, that these are his friends.

But now it’s done. Graduation. We made it together.

I remember not wanting to go to my own graduations (of the university kind). In fact, I think I erased the first from my memory and never went to the second. The first one, which I did go to, was more for mum and dad. Now I understand why it was so important to them. Of course it mattered.

I was so extra delighted by the Little Mister yesterday. Dutifully, I showed off his certificate to Tony. He graduated, I said. I’ve never before felt so proud, I thought. 

My Crying Bundle

I KNOW the Little Mister will fall over, graze his knees, cut his hands, and get some bruises. But I don’t think I’m ready for it. Today, at Junglerama again for coffee group, he got a big soft cube thrown at his head. (By an over-zealous father, in an otherwise empty play-hall, who for goodness sake should have been more careful if he was going to start throwing toys around.) It didn’t quite go bang, but it flew through the air in slow motion and hit Milin on the right side of his head while he minded his own business and played with the giant plastic bricks.

Then there was the pause. The corners of his mouth turned down, and then the Little Mister spun round to look at me with his eyebrows raised, as if to ask why I’d let it happen. And then he bawled. They were big, fat tears. He wasn’t hurt, just sad and shocked.

The tears were soon gone, and it was home time for us anyway. But my heart had skipped, jumped into my mouth, and was going a hundred miles an hour as I gathered up my crying bundle and held him close. I wished in those moments he would never know pain or sadness.