Cars, dirt, and gender stereotypes

IT DOESN”T matter what I give the Little Mister to play with. He’ll find the cars, the toys with wheels, the things that spin, and the muckiest adventures will be all his. His little girlfriends, meanwhile, will sit on their mothers’ laps content to look cute and watch the action. They might put some stuff in their mouths, but generally they’ll be pretty still.

When did it happen? My Little Mister decided, all by himself, to conform almost perfectly, to the stereotype of little boy. It’s not because I dressed him in blue. It’s not because of the games I play with him (muck isn’t my style), and it’s not because of the toys we’ve bought (he has plenty of stuffed toys, including a bear who wears a dress). Yet he has sought out the trucks so he can race them round the floor making brrrrm brrrm noises. He loves bikes, cars, trains, anything that goes. He wants to be outside ALL THE TIME. How dare I bring him in when there is so much mucky dirt to eat, smear all over his face, and get beneath his fingernails.

And he is so busy exploring. Set this Little Mister on the grass and he is off. He doesn’t look back to check that I’m watching. I am. I watch as he chases birds. I watch as he finds life’s debris on the ground and inspects it. I watch as he puts soil to his mouth. I watch as he races towards the steps, or the rusting nail, or the unstable toy. Life is one big adventure for him, but sometimes, I’m right behind him ready to ruin his fun.

Maybe I’m being crass, but I do believe that looking around his playmates, all nearly a year old, the boys and girls are different. The girls sit still far more often. They aren’t wriggling to be set free as soon as they are picked up. They too like bouncy balls, but wheels they give or take. Their actions are more deliberate, their movements more agile. Am I pigeon-holing by seeing them all this way? The Little Mister does love his books and being read to is one of his favourite things. But it is also one of the few times he will sit still.

Perhaps the Little Mister is just a free-spirited, independent adventurer. I hope so.

playground Dirt Waterplay storytime

 

Happy Eleven Months

HANGING out the washing, I could hear your laughter through the open windows. It was more than a giggle, it was a whole-body, from the depths of your belly, almost uncontrollable, wide-open-mouth and scrunched-up-eyes laugh. You were playing with your Dada.

At eleven months now, life is all about fun. Today’s favourite game was throwing socks at Dada. I came in from the garden and found you both engrossed in the almost hysteria-inducing activity. It was a high-energy ending to a day which had already been filled with delighted squeals.

Little Mister, this is the last month of your first year, and you are loving it. You love playing toys, you love crawling, you love climbing, you love being tickled, you love cuddles, you love when I pick you up high after you tug at my trousers. You love playing peek-a-boo, covering your face with fabric and then suddenly pulling it away. “Where’s Milin? …. Boo!” I must play it a hundred times a day. You love spinning the wheels on your cars, and you love pushing them along the floor, crawling behind them. You love standing against the sofa and reaching for things which aren’t toys – like the tv remote. You are trying to walk by pushing your little car/walker around the lounge, but maybe it’s not weighty enough.

You love the garden and being outside. Weeding is one of your favourite games, as is watching the birds. “Birrr!” Is still your most-used word, used frequently when we chase sparrows in the buggy, your finger pointing to every bird we see. You are getting braver amongst other children, my little hero who has so much courage.

You climb face first off the fireplace and over the middle beam of our dining chairs, before turning around and doing it again. You love new people, you charm them of course with your words and – if they are lucky and funny enough – your smile. You love books and being read to. Every night after bath Dada reads you a few, you know them well. Through the day, we read others together, or you sit down yourself and talk to them. Your favourite these last few weeks is Mr Croc. “Mr Croc, how do you feel?” Tony reads it every night.

Little Mister, every day with you is a joy. Your smile, your laugh, your words, your pointing finger, your arms around my neck – you have made me and Tony the luckiest, happiest people in the world. Happy eleven months, Milin Charlie, you are so grown up! X

standing elfmrcrocfireplace jump

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.

Adventures in Oz

FOR what felt like an hour, and probably longer for the strangers around us, the Little Mister screamed. Our first family holiday had been a success, but now it was home time. He wasn’t happy. He was tired out, cooped up, over-awed by all that was going on around him, his ears probably hurt, and he just wouldn’t stop screaming. It was everything I’d been afraid of. The flightmare was underway.

Tony and I kept looking at each other with the same hopeful look in our eyes, desperate for the air to swallow us all up. I kept telling him we’d never see any of these people again. The Little Mister kept screaming. Once we realised he wasn’t going to stop, we acted fast. And, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, he slept all the way through to border control. Success, again.

It was the only blip, and really it was a small, short one, on an otherwise wonderful practice run for our big journey next year. The Little Mister was a super traveller. Everything was new and exciting and the six days were one very big adventure.

He loved meeting his aunties, uncles and cousins. He impressed me with his easy-going attitude. As long as Tony and I were close and he wasn’t too tired, he was happy to be passed around, held, cuddled, spoiled, treated, and generally made a fuss of. He played ball. He charmed, grinned, babbled, and generally made everyone fall in love with him.

The fancy apartment was perfect – sparse and therefore very baby proof. The airport was a big, empty space ideal for crawling around and exploring. But the highlight without question was the beach. He ate bucketloads of sand. He picked it up and watched it fall back down as he opened his fists. He spied seagulls and crawled after them, making a beeline for the shoreline. He splashed his toes while we dipped him in the waves. He sucked the salt off his fingers all the way home. He crawled so far on his beach adventures he got sandburn on his little baby-soft knees. That evening, our tired Little Mister was too sore to crawl anymore.

Sadly for us, he woke at 4am each morning, still on Wellington time. But though he lacked sleep, he didn’t moan or grizzle. Everything was too much fun.

In six days, I feel like he grew up so much. He spent so much time pulling himself up, now home, he is standing up against whatever he can. Buckets that move, the back of the sofa that has no grip, the foot rest on the bar stool. And he wants to be outside all the time to keep the adventure going.

We didn’t only learn what a great explorer he was on the trip though, we learnt lessons too. We learnt that he loves other people, so why not hand him over and take a rest. Eating a meal is so much easier without the Little Mister on my lap. We learnt to take it in turns to get up with a jetlagged baby. We learnt how much the beach and the pool will tire him out. We learnt to keep the buggy with us to the gate. And, perhaps most importantly, we learnt that Calpol is magic.

Into Double Figure Months

You are ten months. Ten. It was probably when you were around ten days that it first hit me how fast this roller coaster journey was already going. Well it keeps speeding up.

There were, of course, hours and even days when it felt like time was crawling by. In those first three months, when we pounded the pavements, paced the hallway, rocked, and shushed, and sang and cried with you in the evening and night time hours, sometimes it felt like time was going very slowly indeed.

But suddenly here you are. Into double figure months. You even look grown up. Your face is getting older, your eyes more knowing. They’re not only inquisitive, but they’re searching, questioning too. Sometimes they want answers. What is this new place? Is it ok? Who are these people? You’re staying with me, right? Sometimes they are cheeky. Like when you open the cupboard in the corner and turn around and look at me for a reaction before trying to pull all the records out. It’s a fleeting ‘look at me, look what I’m doing, hehehehe’ look. I love it.

You know what ‘no’ means. It means I’ll pick you up and take you away from the plant you’ve pulled the leaves off. It means you’ll try and pull them off again but next time you’ll give me that cheeky look first.

You’ve been crawling for a month, and you’re a speedy little four-limbed creature. You skid around the wooden floors, preferring them to the big rug which just slows you down. As soon as a door is opened you have to crawl through the entrance way into the next room. Just to see what’s out there. What have we been hiding from you? Half way between rooms you turn around and look – just to check we’re watching you go.

You love crawling on the tiles in the bathroom, and then watching the toilet flush, and seeing yourself in the mirror. Except you get all shy and bury your head in my shoulder from that smiling baby looking back at you.

A couple of times, we’ve turned around and looked back to find you suddenly standing up. You can pull yourself up on the shelves of the change table, and you’re trying to stand up against whatever you can find that looks like the right height. If I hold your hands and let you pull yourself up onto your feet you look so pleased with yourself. Look at me, your eyes say. And then slowly, gingerly, you work your way back down.

Because you are cautious, about where you go, what you touch, what you do, where we are. You need cuddles, often, and kisses and raspberries, and giggles and tickles. Your toys are just fine too, but exploring all the grown up stuff is way more fun.

Happy ten months Little Mister. You’re amazing. X

Wonder Week 42

BEHIND that little serious face, I’m sure there’s lots going on. I can see it in his eyes when he listens intently to new noises – what are they, where are they coming from? I can see it in his face when he sees new things and watches them closely to figure them out.

Physically, all that’s new each day is obvious. Today, in the blink of an eye, the Little Mister pulled himself up to standing and cruised along the side of his change table shelf so he could reach a bag of cotton wool he had his eye on. Crawling? Been there, done that. The last few days have been all about getting onto the soles of his feet – even if  sometimes his hands are still on the floor.

But along with all this amazing learning and figuring out that’s happening, there is of course the other side of the coin. It’s wreaking havoc with his sleep.

We thought the Little Mister was getting better. He’s been sleeping from at least 7 -7, and with quick wake-ups at about 10.30pm and 5am, nights recently have been better than we’ve had in ten months. And this lovely long night often follows two day sleeps of well over an hour. So of course it all had to change – we were getting too used to the routine.

The Little Mister is so desperate to stand up, that he’s taken to practicing how to do it in his sleep. Still asleep, he sits up in his cot. Thanks to our video monitor, Hal, I can see it all happen. He the either a, tries to stand up and wakes himself up by banging his head on the cot bars; b, falls forward while still asleep and wakes himself up as his head hits the mattress or cot bars; or c, sways for a while and rubs his eyes before lying back down on his tummy and starting the process again ten minutes later.

I’m not a big fan of all the baby books, the ones which make you feel generally inadequate or like you’re doing it wrong because you feed the baby too often/don’t sleep with him in your bed etc etc. But, the theory behind the Wonder Weeks is making a lot of sense at the moment. The idea is that all babies go through certain milestones at around the same time (from conception, not birth date). When they reach these milestones, their sleep is often thrown out of whack while their little brains process all the stuff they’ve got going on. Sounds like exactly what’s going on in  our house. We’re bang on wonder week 42. Apparently the Little Mister’s sleep could be thrown out of kilter for WEEKS. (At which point I will spend my days curled up in an exhausted huddle on the floor while he plays around me.)

Mother nature has come to the party of week 42 tonight by shining an amazingly full harvest moon over our skies. Thank you, moon, thank you. Please wane quickly.

As for the Little Mister, he will just keep on taking his time to figure out the world around him. Hopefully, this big developmental milestone will soon require less and less processing at night, and he’ll get back to having the precious shut-eye he needs.

 

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.