And he said I love you

Tonight I fell in love again.

The Little Mister, for some reason, made a fuss about being in his cot. Everyone was tired, so, as a treat, Tony put him in the middle of our bed. He was quiet. I lay down next to him and he turned to me. He stroked the hair around my face. With the truly-baby-soft skin on his fingers, he stroked the side of my face in the same way that I stroke his.

Then, silently, he looked up at me and smiled. In the night-time half-light, I saw his happy, tired eyes, and his two bottom teeth. I fell in love with him again. At that moment, he was so grown up. He was a son comforting his tired mother. He was a child who cannot yet talk saying I love you. At that moment, there was nothing else but us.


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.

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.

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.

Dear Screaming Fairies

Why? Screaming Fairies, that’s my question to you: Why?

You’ve paid our happy home a visit twice in two nights. We’re tired. The Little Mister is tired. Please don’t come back tomorrow.

Perhaps we’ve had it too good for the last three and a half months. Bedtime has been 6pm, until daylight savings started. Since then we’ve pushed it back to 7am, and got ourselves an extra hour in bed in the morning. Getting up at 7am seems right. Getting up at 6am doesn’t.

And for the last three and a half months the routine has been working oh so well. Did we get complacent? Dada gives the Little Mister a bath, massage and they read some books. Mama gives him a bottle, and when he’s finished, tucks the blanket into the sides of the cot and says goodnight. Really screaming fairies, there was no reason to come a-visiting.

Last night, we thought it was the rescue helicopter loudly coming into land at the hospital that woke the Little Mister up. Cue nearly two hours of refusing to go back to his cot. Well there was no rescue helicopter tonight, but that staunch refusal to go to sleep was back.

We lowered the mattress yesterday. I know he’s some time away (hopefully) from standing up in his cot and trying to make a swift exit, but it can’t hurt to be prepared. Or can it? He’s definitely notice the sides of the cot come up higher now. He’s much closer to the floor, he can see it.

But is that the reason for your visit screaming fairies? See with Tony and I being new at this game, we can only guess. All we know is that we’ve not seen you for four months or so at bed time. Now, suddenly, out of the blue, you’re back.

The Little Mister can’t tell us why you’re here. All we can do, is try our very best to calm him down. He breaks my heart, screaming. He breaks it into smaller pieces when I can’t help him stop. He’s back in his cot now. Sleeping. Please let him stay that way for a while, and please don’t come back tomorrow. In advance, thank you.

Dear Mama: My right of reply

Dear Mama,

I’m going through some stuff right now, and I’m not sure you understand it all that well. Sometimes this stuff gets annoying, and frustrating, and tiring. I think you’re trying your best to help – but I thought I should explain.

Things have been moving pretty fast for me recently. Long gone are the days when I just used to lie on my back staring at the ceiling and the too-bright light bulb in the lounge. Thanks for giving away my playmat by the way, I’d got really bored of looking at those toys hanging over me.

Thanks, too, for seating me upright these days. I like it. I don’t like it so much when you put me in my high chair and try and feed me pureed vegetables, but I like it when you put me on the floor and give me my stacking cups or roll the big green ball from Auntie Jane at me.

You’ve obviously realised I need to go places on my own now. I’ve seen my friends doing it, and it’s my turn now. Sometimes you help me get down onto my tummy, but sometimes you think I’m just leaning towards you for a cuddle. Actually, more often than that, I’m trying to get onto my front so I can get practising on this crawling business. I like practicising. But not for long. When I start complaining, can you please help me get up, instead of watching to see how long I last before I’m really screaming. I don’t like going backwards. My toys get too far away. I know that mostly though you are trying to help, so if you could hoover the rug a bit more often too, that would be good. All those little bits of fluff are a distraction from my stacking cups which are my real target.

You’ve noticed too that I practise crawling when I’m in my cot sometimes. That’s because you put me in there when I’m not tired. I’m not sure why you do this, by the way. If I’m not tired, I won’t sleep. Just saying.

What I will do is roll over and get on my hands, push myself up, and then try and go places. Problem is, the cot is out to get me. It traps my arms in its bars. Sometimes, it traps my head. I really hate that a lot. Thank you for rescuing me and giving me cuddles when I get stuck. But probably the best way to help me not get stuck in the first place is not to put me in my cot when I’m not tired. Just saying.

As I said before, life has been moving pretty fast for me. Soon, I’m going to be going places on my hands and knees. I’ve not quite figured out how to get up on my knees yet like my friends, but I’m close, I can feel it. Maybe you should sort out some of those loose wires now that are behind the toys on my shelf? They just look so tempting. And maybe get a fire guard?

Until I get going though, please help me when I’m stuck, and please keep helping me get up when I’ve had enough. But please stop putting me in my cot when I’m not tired. I just can’t help trying to escape from it when you do. I hope this helps.

Love and big open mouth kisses, Milin Charles x

Why sleep when you could learn to crawl?

WITH his arms pressed into the mattress, his upper back and neck arched skywards, and his legs pushing firmly down, the Little Mister is feeling frustrated. He pivots on his tummy 90 degrees and changes tack. This time it’s downward dog. His bum goes straight up in the air, his heels are flat on the mattress. He still doesn’t move forward. He collapses, tired, rests his head, and cries. He should be asleep.

Thanks to our video monitor Hal, I can watch this process in action. And I’ve been watching it for the last two days. The Little Mister still can’t crawl and it’s driving him crazy. He’s using up a lot of energy trying though, which means no-one is getting as much sleep as they should.

Apparently, time in his cot is the perfect time to try and make progress on the crawling front. For months now he has slept on his side. But now, when I put him down, he rolls onto his tummy. I’ve got tired of going in and helping him back onto his back – I can’t do it all night. So instead, for the last two nights when he’s been really tired, he has fallen asleep on his tummy. Exhausted from trying to move out of the position, he’s given up, rested his head on one side, and finally closed his eyes. When he wakes for a feed though, the screaming is something else. Not only is he (apparently) starving, but he’s stuck in tummy time hell.

During the day, the Little Mister is generally good when it comes to sleeps. He usually has two sleeps, around an hour and a half each. If the second one is shorter, which sometimes happens, I get him out in the buggy late afternoon and squeeze in a third short nap. But learning to crawl is causing havoc with the routine. Instead of going to sleep, he’s rolling over and trying to go places. Except he can’t. And then he gets angry, and upset, and so it goes on.

I wonder how much of this trying to crawl business is conscious. Why would you chose to do it when you should be sleeping? Is it because there’s nothing else to do in the cot, but when you’re up and playing you forget? Or is it a natural inclination to push boundaries and learn new skills – that just happens to take hold when you’re relaxed and not busy doing something else.

Poor Little Mister. He’ll get there soon, they all do. And hopefully when he does, his cot will once again be a place where he sleeps.

Routines are made to be broken

JUST when I think I’ve got the Little Mister all worked out, he changes things up. We’re going through one of those changes right now.

I’m a stickler for routine. I love it. So when I was told, repeatedly, that babies thrive on it, I thought ‘great, me and baby will be on the same page’.

And the Little Mister does, as everyone said he would, love routine. He knows that the start of the nightly bath regime means bed time is not far away and there is no point complaining about it. Problem is, he also knows the routine for impending daytime naps, and this is one he is suddenly not happy about.

For a good amount of time now, the Little Mister has been a three nap a day boy. It’s been great. Every couple of hours he rubs his eyes, I give him a bottle, he might drink it, he might not, and then he goes down for a nap in his cot. Admittedly, it’s not always as easy as it sounds, and sometimes it takes half an hour and a few tears, but it happens. Three times a day. That’s the routine.

But this last week, my little cherub doesn’t want three naps a day thank you very much. If only I hadn’t got used to them. I was quite enjoying the time off to do stuff like a quick tidy up. Or make some phone calls. Or eat some lunch.

So, I suppose we are transitioning from one routine to another. What drama. I’ve already realised there is no point fighting it – I think the Little Mister has already won this one. He’s just having trouble being convinced by me when the best time would be to take two naps instead of three. Which is making for some rather long afternoons. And it’s playing havoc with his social calendar. Working out when to take these two new naps around Space, story time, baby sensory, etc etc, takes some organising.

We’ll stumble along, though, and we’ll get there soon – and that will be another victory for the Little Mister. Amazing, seven months old and already got me doing things his way.

Daytime activities up there with not sleeping: Eating Lego for lunch and Sophie for dessert.

Another highly regarded daytime activity is playing on the iPad. Really.


Bob Dylan at Bed Time

TONIGHT, as the Little Mister fell asleep to the sounds of Tony playing him the guitar, I learnt that everyone has their own way of doing things. And just because I’m used to doing things a certain way with the little boy, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only way that’ll work.

I love putting the Little Mister to bed. The process starts way before I step in. A little before six, Tony baths him. This is their time. I potter around in the background, getting laundry sorted, tidying up, arranging things for dinner, finding clean pyjamas. And then Tony dresses him in front of the fire, giving him a massage along the way. Story books follow. Our current favourites are The very hungry caterpillar (still) and Goodnight moon. Then (a recent and highly successful development in terms of the sleep that follows), the Little Mister has a big bottle of formula which sends him half to sleep.

I bundle him up into his sleeping bag and take him into his room, which is already dark, with the radio tuned off station and humming static in the background. I might feed him some more if that’s what he wants, but either way, we’ll sit in my chair and have a delicious sleepy cuddle until he drops off. Quietly, I’ll put him down in his cot, make sure his bunny is within reach, and tip toe out – silently cursing the noisy door handle on my way.

But tonight, I watched Tony on the monitor, Hal, and what he did was very, very different. I even went in and offered to put Milin down myself. I was turned away. Tony and Milin have their own routine. They perfect it two nights a week, when I am at work.

Tony put Milin in his cot, wide awake. He picked up his guitar and started to sing to him. It turns out that Milin likes Bob Dylan. So much so that he listened quietly for a while, and then turned on his side, jutted his chin into the air, and assumed his sleeping pose. Tony stopped playing, the boy wanted to sleep. Tony left the room. The boy was asleep.

To me, there had been so many things wrong with this scenario. Milin didn’t finish the bottle – he will be hungry and not sleep – I thought. Except he’s already done a longer stretch than  normal at this time. Too much stimulation at bed time, I thought. Except that it put him to sleep. He needs a cuddle, I thought. Except, clearly, he had already had enough cuddles.

As Tony pointed out, he didn’t learn the trick from a ‘how to be a good parent’ book, he didn’t steal it from his baby club mates, and he didn’t pick up the advice from facebook. He did things his way, and did what he felt would work. It did. I already knew the books don’t have all the answers. But tonight, I figured, that between us, we’ll get things right by the Little Mister, just by going with our instinct. And sometimes, that might mean, singing a little Bob Dylan at bed time.