Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tresillian's top tips

Tresillian is a remarkable place, unique to Australia and so popular, the queue to get in is longer than a James Bond Premier in Leicester Square. It's a "sleep-clinic" of sorts, for newborn babies through to toddlers of 24months. It exists as the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, and is part-hospital, part-"parenthood"-university. You get 24hr assistance with your child and advice/support regarding how best to put your baby to sleep, as well as individual counselling and group therapy sessions. After my four nights in the clinic, here are my key take-outs, based on conversations I had with nursing staff and from what I observed whilst there.

(1) Save Our Sleep and other such sleep doctrines, are not for all please, do not presume that what cracked your child's sleep patterns will crack mine. Well done you for finding something that works for you. But don't be arrogant enough to presume that a baby's sleeping behaviour is a "one size fits all" scenario.

(2) Early developers and hyperalert newborns are usually the ones who have difficulty sleeping. It's one of the only common threads that bind Tresillian babies. So don't beat yourself up over something that might not be within your control; if your baby was the type who had head control from the moment they popped into the world, you'll know what I'm talking about.

(3) Control crying usually doesn't work in children older than 12 months. By this time, your bubba will have developed very strong sleep associations. These associations give your child a sense of control and order in their world. A sense of comfort and security. Suddenly stopping their normal 'routine' (no matter how infuriating it is to you) can be incredibly distressing for everyone - including the neighbours, because at this point your kid could part traffic with the sound of his scream! So go slowly. Ease into your new routine. Stay with them while they fall asleep for their first night... The nurses at Tresillian advised that Baby Love was a good starting point for starting new sleep patterns.

(4) Find some patience. I have none of it personally. And it sucks that I need it. But I am going to have to find some from somewhere (behind the couch?) if I want this new routine to work. And you'll have to do the same. In the words of Rachel Hunter, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen."  

(5) Close the milk bar at 6 months. You can stop breast/bottle feeding babies from 6months of age. They are physically advanced enough to cope without a nighttime feed (obviously, speak to a doctor before you do this incase your child has special considerations). The longer you leave it past this age, the more of a battle it becomes to stop the feeding. Think about it: if you were being offered a warm bottle of chocolate milk every night, even when you were drowsy, you certainly wouldn't refuse it would you? In fact, you'd be getting quite used to the sugar rush at a certain time and would start to wake for that chocolate milk, wouldn't you? Your baby, and your boob/bottle, is no different.

(6) There is no "one way" to send your child to sleep. This was, without doubt, the most frustrating part of my Tresillian stay. One nurse would send Frankie to sleep by sitting on a chair outside her bedroom and repeatedly Shushing her until she eventually fell asleep (this took forever). Another nurse sat in the room with Frankie and patted her, and calmly told her to "lie down". She then crept out the door, shushing the whole way, until she finally exited the room. This too, took forever. The third nurse simply picked Frankie up, plonked her on her tummy, and told her to "Lie down. Go to bed" in a forceful, and commanding tone. She then walked to the door and every time Frankie cried out or made a move to stand up, the nurse would (quite aggressively) shush her and once again tell her to lie down as she plonked her down on the bed. This was the most effective method for Frankie. But I'll be buggered if it has worked for me since I got home! The learning from all this is that you have to work at different strategies until you find the one that works best for you. Frankie is sleeping 2 hrs during the day (ish), and 10hrs straight at night. Something seems to have work, which proves the point that TRESILLIAN WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS...........

Monday, 17 September 2012

Happy birthday, my love.

At 4.30am this morning Frankie woke up distressed and I decided to take her into my bed. I lay her down, coaxing her back to sleep with a rhythmic, gentle shushing. But this time,  I wasn't able to join her in a state of blissful slumber. Instead, I remained awake and positioned myself so that her dream-breath kissed my face. I love the smell of her breath; it sticks to my skin like laundry powder on fresh linen.

Frankie is turning one this week. Time is never truly measurable until you have a child and witness the change that a day can make. It can mean the difference between a stumble, and a stride.  A gurgle, and a word.

The bad days pass agonisingly slowly, and yet by the time dawn breaks the child you put to bed is not the child you now hold in your arms. She is bigger. Wiser. Stronger. And always, eternally, surprising. The good days are the ones you brag about. The ones that you simply can't hold the pride inside, and must share it with the world or you will burst. They're the days that you bombard Facebook with videos, or call your cousins just to say 'hello' (but secretly, to brag a little bit that your baby is now crawling!)

Frankie - Frances - because of you I now live on a wide, flat plain of love. There is air, there is earth, and there is you.

Happy birthday, my love.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Mumma Anxiety: Stress Less Jess

I take a deep gulp and feel the blush creep up my cheek, hot with shame. Invisible pins prink my eyes so I close them, knowing that the embarrassment will be worse if I cry.

"I'm not coping", I whisper. My stomach heaves with the effort of the words. "It's taking over my life".

I open my eyes and see compassion in the face of the doctor opposite me. She sees my child writhing about in my arms, and a look of sympathy washes over her. Instantly my shame dissipates - I know she doesn't think I'm a failure. She just recognises that I have a problem.

Before I had my child, I was an anxious sort of person. Since having Frankie, I've become a mess. I knew things were getting bad when even the thought of doing 'ordinary' things started to paralyse me. I long-ago gave up taking Frankie shopping; it was simply too difficult to have her in the pram for such a long stretch of time. And here I was thinking it was her....restless, active, energetic Frankie. No, quite simply, it was me. And my issues. It's never been about her. The truth is, she feeds off my anxiety - not vice-versa. She sees me panic, and has a field day.

Last weekend I knew it was serious when Andy and I went for a hiking trip in the Blue Mountains. We hadn't done our planning in advance, and I was in a state of full-blown-panic. I screamed at Andy that we couldn't go. How could we possibly expect her to sit still in the backpack for a few hours in a row. We hadn't prepared her food. Where would we change her nappy? She would need to be in the car for 1.5hrs......IMPOSSIBLE!!! The fear welled up inside me and manifested itself into rage, poor Andy bearing the worst of my attack.

Gently, Andy insisted I get help.

This is killing us. This is killing me. And I'm sure, soon enough, I'll be the one to blame for all of Frankie's insecurities too.

It's tough to admit when you're not coping. That the slightest of tasks leaves you feeling weak at the knees. I look at other mums who manage to work, bake, exercise, and wax and I wonder HOW they do it. It's too steep a mountain for me to climb. And I need to stop using my overly energetic child as an excuse and look at the real problem source. Me.

I feel like a spectacular failure, and I wonder why the Universe doesn't hand out points for how much you love your child and the higher the score, the easier the motherhood experience. If that was the case, than I'd be the most chilled out mum in the world, because I love Frankie more than I love breathing. I never cease to wonder why I find things so.........difficult. And not just difficult...........frightening. 

Next week I have an appointment with a psychologist to help me get things back on track. I hope that the adage "Happy Mum, Happy Bub" rings true, and soon enough I'll be calmer in myself and have a calmer child as a result. Wish me luck. I feel I need it.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The grass is greener, and all that jazz.

I look at other mums, and I reckon they've got it made. Their babies sleep longer than Frankie, some even through the night. Their babies don't scream every time they're peeled out of mummy's arms. Their babies sit still for more than 4seconds at a time. It's not that I don't love my child, but my endless baby-comparison-cycle has me questioning - Is the linen really always softer on the other side of the cot? 

I look at the mums around me who somehow manage to do "it all". They make hairdresser appointments, and keep them. They cook organic, sugar-less, salt-less, wheat-less creations from scratch while bub plays happily alone with a trolley full of toys for entertainment. These women can even go away for weekends and leave bubba with the grandparents because (and this point is completely outside my sphere of comprehension) their bub will behave himself and will sleep through the night.

Frankie is healthy, beautiful, and very, very strong. She is 11 months old, and can run. She can push her pram around at the park even when it has its breaks on. I love watching the way in which she learns from the world around her - she is a kinaesthetic learner and understands things best through touch. I love her unconditionally for who she is but sometimes it feels like she is, quite frankly, tougher work than the other kids.

Frankie rarely sits still for a story. Or, for that matter, a nappy change. On a daily basis, like a looped record, I hear myself say to kind strangers who approach Frankie, "It's not you who's made her scream, she's just going through a shy stage right now" (Sometimes I find it easier just to tell people she's sick).

I secretly wish that she'd perform for others the way she does with me some times; I quite literally WILL her to giggle, dance, sing, and kiss like she does for me at home. But Frankie glares at people suspiciously, clings to me, grows silent and stubborn, and at times seems genuinely frightened of others.  And whilst I do get some incredible moments with Frankie on my own, I also find that the majority of my time with her is spent entertaining her. She seems to tire so quickly of the toys she has, and when I leave her she follows me around the house as though the umbilical cord still binds us, and she hasn't quite understood that it was cut 11 months ago.

Sometimes I wonder whether my anxiety is rubbing off on her, but have no way of determining this. All I know is that a very small part of me wishes I could 'trade her in' for a different model - just for a day or two - to see how the other half live.

I'd love to wake up (after 5am for a change) and do my make up or have a shower. I'd love to hear Frankie murmuring contentedly in her bed when she wakes, rather than screaming the house down, and launching herself out of my arms to run around like a crazed chicken. What I'd give for a baby that would allow me 20 minutes alone to prepare her dinner while she pranced about with only her toys for company.

But maybe a "swapsies" to see how the other half live would teach me a thing or two about how lucky I am with my overly-energetic, overly-skeptical child. Maybe the experience would open my eyes to some of the things that I take for granted with Frankie. She eats virtually everything (although, in fairness, she'll eat nothing off a spoon...) She already knows how to tell me when she's doing a wee or a poo, which I think is pretty spectacular*. Perhaps I will find her own quirks and behaviours more adorable, such as her obsession with the electric toothbrush and her fascination with carrying the potty around the house under her arm.

I know that these tough times will pass and that in the not-too-distant future she will be sleeping well, and out of her separation anxiety phase. But this feels like a lifetime away and in the meantime all I can do is ponder whether the grass is greener on the other side, or whether I should stop my pondering and be grateful for the divinely beautiful baby girl I have in my life right now.

*Frankie is virtually always running around our house without a nappy. She tells me when she's going to have a wee by pointing to the ground, and rubbing the spot where the wee is about to fall, and saying "Weh weh". Sure enough, 5seconds after she has done this, she will wee right onto the floor. (Or, unpleasantly, poo.... I really should put her in nappies more often but I love staring at her gorgeous bottom too much!) 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Poor little possum

The dreaded first illness has finally descended upon us. It's taken a full 10months to unleash it's wrath, but it has struck with violent force in the guise of an ear infection.

I should have realised something was up when Frankie's started to tilt a little to the left. She was walking in circles, like a stunned possum who had recently fallen out of a tree and couldn't quite get her bearings. I found it funny at first -- 'oh, look at Frankie, she's doing a silly little dance', but I soon realised something was up when she couldn't walk in a straight line without tumbling over.

Things got progressively worse and I finally clocked that something was wrong when Frankie's temperature registered above 38degrees, and her cheeks were burning like a shamed Aussie rower on a night out after a medal-less final.

My partner and I rushed her to the local GP (PS. if you live in Coogee, don't go to the Bream Street Practice) who wasn't exactly lavishing attention upon our child. She barely took her eyes off her computer screen long enough to assess Frankie's condition; perhaps we interrupted a good game of Grand Theft Auto or something, who knows?

Anyhoo, a barely-there doctor took one look at her and advised us that Frankie had 'Slap Cheek'. What now? I looked nervously about me, wondering whether today was the day that the social workers would peer out from behind the curtain and take my daughter away from me. Dr. Disinterested started to explain it was a type of viral infection, but midway through her monotone diagnosis-delivery, she saw Frankie pulling on her ear and decided to give it a quick looksy. Well, what do you know, it wasn't Slapped Cheek after all (what a name, I tell you!). A routine ear infection, and wham-bam-thank-you-maam, here are the Antibiotics.

5 nights later (2 of which, shock horror, Frankie slept for a whopping 12hrs in a row) and she's not an awful lot better. So displeased with our GP's prognosis were we, that today we sought a second opinion. Turns out Dr. Disinterested was right enough, it was/is an ear infection, but quite a serious one, requiring a fair bit more patience on my behalf to ride out the infection and wait for better days ahead.

Poor, poor bubba has never been so sooky. But I've soaked up the extra cuddles and put up with the backpain inflicted upon me by carrying a red-cheeked baby around 24/7. And, somewhat selfishly, I'm kind of OK with her delayed return to health. It means I clock up a few more hours sleep at night than my daughter would normally afford me!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bambi on ice...

Separation Anxiety (for mums)

You've probably read all about separation anxiety in the baby books that adorn your nursery shelves. Anticipated at around the 9-month stage, it can be full of misery and woe. We mothers suddenly experience a metamorphosis - we are no longer milking cows. Suddenly, we're a second skin - our departure from the room ripping a tiny piece of them away, making them howl in perceived agony.

Or so they say.

This is not the case with Frankie and I. I politely cough and give a weak nod when mothers with similarly-aged babies tell of their woes when they leave their kids. The dramas of daycare. The nightmare of nannies. I was expecting Frankie to go off the charts when I went to Bali on holiday - my first time away from her for longer than 5hours. I secretly hoped she'd scream the house down, rip the vinyl giraffes off the wall, tear the chest hair off her father in desperation and longing for her absent mum. Outwardly, I wanted her to be happy (or so I told my friends). "I just hope she'll cope OK without me around", I said, thinking that even if she did manage, her father wouldn't fare quite so well with the round-the-clock bottle sterilising, cooking, cleaning, washing, cooking, washing, sterilising...

Well, guess what?

In the 4nights that I was away, she slept through the night (ish).

She had the occasional "I am ready for dinner now" whimper.

She took the nappy-changing lying down.

My partner, Andy, emerged from the ordeal without a scratch (whereas I was still nursing teeth and claw marks all over my shoulder and neck).

The moment I arrived at the Arrivals gate of Sydney Kingsford-Smith airport, I was awash with Mother's guilt and certain that Frankie would be haphazardly dressed (with at least one sock missing) and probably stained with dirt and grime. But no, she was rosy cheeked and content; one might go so far as to call her placid.

I had feared that she would stare blankly at me and have difficulty trying to place my face. You know, the "I know I know you, but can't place you" face? This lasted all of 3 seconds, before she erupted into a fit of kicking, squealing, and grinning so hard her little dimple almost burst. I was overjoyed by her reaction -the pleasure radiating from her at my presence. But I was also slightly perturbed. How is it that the world didn't stop turning when I left? 

As Andy shrugged a "she was awesome" response to my question regarding her behaviour, I felt rage surging inside me. Why did she save all her naughty energy for me? Why was I bone-tired and weary at the end of every day, in bed by 8pm with a good book and a medicinal glass of wine?

I can only gulp dryly at the possibility that Frankie's behaviour is, inexplicably, linked to my own. My anxiety feeding hers. My energy drives hers. Dear God, help me - I've created a monster. Frankiestien, shall we call her?

If she was Miss Magic for everyone that looked after her while I was abroad, then surely I am the variable in this scientific experiment of childhood behaviour? Bali has taught me that I need to look more closely at myself before labelling my daughter's own habits. "She is always moving" I say....well, this is a case of pot/kettle it would seem.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

OK - quick one. A little round of applause must go to Kathmandu and their child carrier. This hero of a product keeps Frankie calm and content for hours. Literally, hours. Anyone who knows my child knows how much of a feat this is.

It's obviously good for what it was intended for; long walks and treks in the great outdoors. But it is perfect for shopping (forget about steering your pram one-handed  down narrow supermarket aisles with your plastic shopping basket precariously balanced  in the other), nipping out to hang up the laundry, or even just freeing you up during the witching hour to get some cooking done while bubbalugs enjoys herself watching you go about your business.

Thank you Kathmandu. You rock my world.

More metrestone than milestone for Frankie's first steps.

Well, HELLO walking baby! This is a nice surprise for your mum. (OK, not so much of a surprise; Let's be honest, you've been threatening this for months now. So long in fact that I started to wonder whether you'd just lost your bottle? Ha, get it?)

So anyway - it is official - Frankie took her first proper steps just after she turned 8months. Since then, she's barely managed more than a couple - 4 steps max - without face planting into the carpet, or (ooops) concrete. Yes, my sporty child is now sporting battle scars for her efforts. I couldn't be prouder.

I wouldn't exactly call it 'proper' walking so much as I would call it a very fine impersonation of a drunk zombie. She starts by crawling along an item of furniture until she literally has nowhere else to go. She then turns her body around, takes one cautious hand after another off the sofa/coffee table and propels herself forward - both arms extended - stumbling towards what she hope will catch her and break her fall. Ceeeute.

I had no idea how very difficult a concept it actually is for our children to lift their feet up off the floor. If you watch them trying, it seems as though their feet are super-glued down, with any slight movement upwards shifting their whole center of gravity. It's incredible how one day, poof, this superglue dissolves and away they go...

I've yet to train Frances to do the walking gig on command I'm afraid, hence the lack of video footage for overseas Frankie enthusiasts. Soon enough, I hope.

Thought I'd keep you all in the loop. I guess this move to Coogee has been a winner all round... despite the initial teething and moving woes, Frankie has finally started to properly sleep for 11hours straight, AND she looks set to take to the stage in the next Step Up movie. Atta girl, Frank Frank. Mumma loves ya.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

No friends on Ramsey Street

It's 4am and I hear yet another blood-curdling scream. The thick walls of my 1920's apartment provide little defense against the wails of my 8 month old baby. I throw back the covers with a sigh that gives way to a small gasp, as the chill of the winter dawn assaults me. All I can think is, my neighbours must hate me.

We have finally made the move from my parents' home into a place of our own. With our new found independence comes the sudden removal of some of the creature comforts that living with my parents has afforded us. A full home to ourselves, for example, on its own plot of land, detatched from the innocent ears of our neighbours. A home where our baby could cry to her heart's content without the associated stress of waking up the neighbours. Sure, I had to worry about Frankie's effect on my own parents, but it's a lot less of a worry when you factor in the unconditional love that grandparents have for her.

Our new home is - in a word -  petit. It's far smaller by comparison to Frankie's last residence, and there aren't two whole floors of space for her to call her own. Gone is Frankie's entertainment space, her backyard, her front yard, her bedroom and her own private bathroom. Gone is the bath, for that matter! Suddenly Frankie finds herself 'stuck' - easily bored within the confines of our art deco abode.

I'm freaking out that the neighbours are one screaming-fit away from banging down our door and forcefully removing us with the aid of flaming torches and oversized pitchforks. If the relocation of our 8 month old wasn't a traumatic enough an experience on its own, try adding teething to the equation. She's now sporting 3 shiny new teeth, which certainly make her look cuter, but unfortunately doesn't win her any friends on Ramsey Street.

Having learned much over the last few weeks, here are my Top Tips for moving house with a baby

1) Paracetamol can be a lifesavour:
Only you will be able to judge whether your baby is traumatised emotionally by sleeping in a new house, or whether those screams are ones of pain. We tried good old-fashioned comforting to help ease any fears of a scary new house, but after a few hours of getting nowhere, we found paracetamol did the trick. Obviously, make sure it's baby paracetamol and your doctor ok's it first!
2) Stay with them for a while:
If your baby was sleeping reasonably well before the move, you can at least hope they'll return to the good-old-days eventually. Whilst you will tread the line of creating a bad habit for yourself in the future, show your baby you aren't deserting them in this new environment. That just like always, you're here for them. We found the whole "stay in the room with your hand on her tummy" thing worked for us with Frankie. But we have now gotten into the bad habit of bringing her into bed with us at 4am to get her to sleep longer until 6am. Our mistake, I know, but it's better than having her persistantly wake the neighbours at that ungodly hour.
3) Be nice to your neighbours
We didn't have the guts to knock on our neighbours' doors individually and introduce ourselves and our bubba girl, but by now everyone knows we are here. Kind of hard to ignore the pram in the entrance way.... We have, however, gone out of our way to talk to every neighbour we run into when we see them in the communal halls, and offer our apologies for the baby's fitful slumber. Luckily, everyone has been very kind and whilst they have certainly admitted to hearing her through the night, they seem to sympathise with our plight and get on with their own lives. Still, doesn't hurt to be uber nice, and offer them a cup of sugar when they need it in the future!

Wish me luck, as we continue on our mission to getting Frankie settled and secure in her new home.

Friday, 25 May 2012

A poem for my daughter, Frances Leigh.

I tasted the salt of your tears before you did. I would kiss them away before they fell down your cheek.

I knew every groove, curve and bump of your head before it was dressed with its amber red locks. 

I gifted you music through my lullabies. Sent you to sleep on the wave of my melody.

My body, your first source of food. My naked skin against yours, your first source of heat.

I knew you before you knew yourself. And I loved you before you were real.

You are my daughter, my blessing, my life.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bit behind the eight ball. Say it with me now. "Ball".

On the day that Frankie was born, entering the world via the 'sunroof' option and being held up to me over the plastic screen, she has held her head high. Three minutes after her birth the midwife said to my partner and I that she had impressive head control for a newborn. And from that first day onwards, she's just gotten stronger and stronger.

Often this is to my personal detriment. How I wish for a baby I could have cuddled up with, rather than one who pushed off me to explore the world at the ripe old age of 4 months. Or how sweet it must be to have a child that you don't have to pull off the furniture she's climbed up onto at seven months of age. But there are perks too, and it is nice to see your little girl get progressively quicker and stronger in front of your eyes.

All this emphasis that she's placed on moving around has meant that she's not had the focus or energy for other stuff. Like speaking. And I wonder - what is this mad race she's embarked upon cost her in terms of her mental development? Or should I just be sitting back and chanting the mantra, everything in good time?

Frankie has only started babbling this last month. We got "dada" repeatedly for a very long time, which made her father all puffed up with pride, despite the fact that it was indiscriminantly voiced. Now we're getting a plethora of sounds; delicious in their melody and often interspersed with giggles. But as other babies are connecting their words to things and uttering some very impressive statements such as "dog, here", Frankie is still speaking jibberish.

I'm now experiencing for the first time what it feels like to be on the later side of developmental milestones. It's never been a factor before, because our wee athlete's been streaming ahead physically. And it's not as though I haven't been trying with her. I throw her a ball and say "Ball. Ball. Ball" She throws it back to me and I say "Mummy's ball. Mummy throws ball back to Frankie". And she's staring so intently at the ball, waiting for it to be thrown back to her that she literally drowns out my words. She plain old doesn't care. Frankie looks up at me with furrowed eyebrows and, whilst no words escape her lips, I know what she's thinking "hurry up and throw the damn ball, mum, or I'm gonna come right over there and get it myself."

Well, I'm happy with her however she develops. She's beautiful, and healthy, and delicious. So what if she is no great orator at 8months of age. Perhaps she's a writer in the making; more of a listener, less of a talker. Whatever the reason, she just isn't interested in words right now which is a good thing to some degree. It'll be a lot longer before I hear her say "NO" to me. And that's not such a bad thing....

Friday, 4 May 2012

Your momma's so fat.....

There was a time - when I was about 13 years old - when I used to laugh myself silly at American "Your momma" jokes. My particular favourite was "Your momma's so fat, she sells shade in the summer".

I never thought I'd become one of those jokes myself.

Today I went shopping with another new mum, whose daughter is the same age as Frankie. Now, this mum-who-shall-forever-remain-nameless is one of those mothers that makes the whole thing look easy. She is so in love with her child that it radiates out of her like heat from a Smeg oven. She holds down a full time job, is completing her MBA, cooks muffins that make you drool worse than your 7month old teething baby, and she looks great. Always.

So here I am with my amazing mum-mate, looking for a new pair of jeans. I stumble across some cheap ones that will do me well while I'm unemployed....(good ones are a luxury I can't afford until I reenter the workforce, you see). Anyhow, I pick up a size 10 by habit, whack them in my trolley and continue along my way.

I got home twenty minutes ago and tried these new jeans on. And I was left pondering one thing; when is someone going to invent a 'shoehorn' to help people fit into their jeans?

And then it dawned on me - they have! It exists! It is called a diet and there are literally thousands on the market out there.

I took my jeans off and they were stuck so tightly that I managed to remove my knickers as well. Looking down on my naked self in shame I couldn't deny it any longer. I need to lose some weight.

Goodbye Old Jamaica dark chocolate. Goodbye full fat milk and cheese. I shall henceforth go sulkingly forward with my celery stick and Americano in hand. I have exactly 8 weeks until a certain trip to Bali which will require me baring all in a swimming costume and I don't want to scare the locals.

I am not going to turn into a living, breathing fat momma joke.  So help me God!

Monday, 30 April 2012

How to raise a leader.

Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook and mother of two) has left me questioning what kind of a daughter am I going to raise? And how will I explain to her that despite living in a 'lucky' country, where women have the same rights and liberties as men and are equally educated, women hold only 15% of the nation's leadership positions? Julia Gillard presents a promising role model for the next generation of young women, however she is the exception to the rule and the numbers of women in such leadership positions are dwindling.

Why is it that women and men may be equally competent, but men are liked for their achievements and women, on average, are not? Why is it that in families where both parents are in full-time employment that the mother will be doing twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare? Why is it that women shy away from taking on more responsibility at work the moment they decide to have children? And why is it that women are so afraid to champion themselves in the workplace and demand a payrise, a promotion, or at the very least, credit for their achievements?

In Sandberg's video, she addresses these points and suggests ways that we ladies can change the statistics without necessarily having to make sacrifices. It's inspiring stuff. My favourite take-out is that women must be prepared to "Sit at the table" - have an opinion, share it, and show everyone that you believe yourself to be a valuable contributor. In my own experience, this is something I know to be difficult and have on many occasions sat back and let others make decisions for fear of appearing unintelligent and unworthy.

I hope that in years to come Frankie understands that whatever work she does - whether she is a homemaker, astronaut, or Prime Minister - that she is respected for her contribution and can adopt a leadership role if she so chooses. I hope that the person that offers her the most amount of respect is herself, and that she realises that having a child can be the end of her professional career but it will be her decision - no-one elses - and that she is responsible for her own fulfillment.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Glum Mum

Lately I feel as though I am sliding. I can't seem to grip onto the sides; there is no branch for me to grab to halt my descent. I'm sinking under a weight of options - a hundred kilos of decisions to be made. I'm overwhelmed by it all and I seem to have given up all hope that I'll make it out of this funk I'm in. 

Where did it start? I would have to say it all began when Frankie started to take the bottle. I was joyous at the prospect of independence for the first time; I could give Frankie over to someone else to look after so that I could grab a few precious hours to myself. But with this good fortune came fear - I no longer had an excuse for not putting Frankie into daycare and going back to work. 

The dreaded 'w' word (that's right, 'work') has plagued me my entire life. I have never found my niche or comfort zone professionally and have lived a life of freelance ever since, wanting never to be bound by the chains of permanent employment. With the end of every contract I've uttered the words "I want a career change", but I've never had the guts to go out and do it. (NB: This is not exactly true. I did try, once, and did  my TEFL course in Prague. This coincides with the time that Frankie was conceived, so I never actually achieved that illusive career change). 

I now have a child that I'm responsible for. I'm not married to a doctor. My partner isn't even a banker. So I guess it means I simply must return to work to make sure that we can afford Sydney rent, swimming lessons, GP appointments, and petrol. The deadline is looming - we move out of my parents' house in a little over a month, so I simply must decide what I want to do when I return to the working world. It is this decision which is weighing me down and causing my chest to compress until the air escapes from me in a whimper.

What makes things worse is that I see supermums all around me. You know the type; women who have no problems making it to their exercise class, cooking, keeping a tidy house, looking a million dollars, and raising well behaved babies all at the same time. Here I am, exasperated by a child that never stops moving, my hair in a permanently disheveled,  still with 5kilos of babyweight to lose, and takeaway on the table more nights than most. How will I ever manage going back to work? 

There are thousands of options for me professionally and I am grateful for my education and experience in advertising. But is this what I want to do? Can I afford to start in a new career on a hefty paycut? And what career, exactly, could I get into?

I haven't even thought about my childcare options which is yet another worry, because I'm led to believe that the waiting lists are longer than a queue to the Primark sales in Manchester. "Everything will work out in the end", or so we are constantly told, but who really believes this? 

I know I want another child and I feel guilty that I want this bubba to arrive soon to give me another excellent excuse for delaying my next career move. Motherhood is without a doubt my favourite job ever, and the realisation that this is going to move from a permanenet role into a part-time position when I go back to the real world has me much more upset than I would ever wish to be.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Call me mother. An ode to the 1950's housewife.

Inspired by my grandmother’s life story and motivated by my parents’ absence**, tonight I attempted my best impersonation of a 1950’s housewife. And let me tell y’all – it was tough work!

My goal was to have an impeccable (or at the very least, tidy) kitchen, dinner in the oven, cold beer in the fridge, baby in bed, and be wearing perfume and pearls by the time my husband returned from a long day at the office.

Sound impossible? Challenging, certainly, but achievable with a bit of forward planning. Let me tell you how I accomplished this miraculous feat, my fellow sisters of the 21st century motherhood club.

(1)   Forego your coffee dates with other mothers. Gulp. Doesn’t that sound so utterly unfair? You’d have to be some kind of crazy to give that up, right? Let me put this into perspective for you. My grandmother had four children and a husband who worked 3 jobs every day to afford to put food on the table. When she wasn’t cooking, she was doing laundry. When she wasn’t doing laundry, she was mending socks. And when she wasn’t mending socks, she was cooking again. Occasionally, bless her, she’d get some respite when she’d pop next door to Mary’s place for half an hour to borrow a cup of flour and have a yarn. We modern mums need to remember that we are living a life of luxury with our coffee dates and yoga classes. You’d be amazed at how self-satisfying it can be to sacrifice these indulgences in order to have a tidy home and a delicious meal in the oven. One missed coffee date and I had a valuable hour up my sleeve to do the vacuuming. Incredible.
(2)   No late afternoon walk to appease the whinging bub. At some point we are all guilty of treating our children as though they are the centre of our universe. But consider the French for un moment (as is the fashion in the world of motherhood literature at present). Their children are important and loved, but they are not treated like miniature-sized kings. I am pathetic when it comes to pandering to my child. Ever restless, I find myself having to pacify her in the pram or the baby bjorn at least twice a day. I’m keeping my weight down (yay!), but losing valuable “housewife points” by constantly being on the move (boo!). In the afternoon my grandmother would be sorting out the evening meal and making sure she was beautiful in preparation for my Grandpa’s arrival. My late-afternoon stroll has me looking more gym bunny than playboy bunny, and so I vowed to leave Frankie to her own devices to amuse herself for a while. There were a few tears, but we both survived it. Bien Sur!
(3)   Remember the bedroom. Lately, my own bedroom has been feeling a little neglected. I have been able to keep the rest of the household in some sort of working order, but my room has turned into a dumping ground of epic proportions. This is our love den! This is our sanctuary! My lack of respect for its condition is proving that I am lacking in good housewifey-ness. Make the bed. Straighten the sheets. Sweep. Dust. Put on a candle. You’ll not only feel better as a wife, you’ll feel better as a human. I promise.  

I appreciate that life has moved on since my grandmother's generation of women and things have been
made a lot easier for us. But with all the great advantages of the modern age, maybe something is
missing? A little bit of selflessness can lead to a real sense of achievement. For one of only a few
moments since having Frankie, this experiment made me feel like I was both a confident mum and a
credible wife.

**Yes, I am 30 years old, living with my parents, my partner and our 7month old baby. Don’t judge me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sans-Cappucino and my hyperactive child

She moves across the floor like a wagon making its way through the wild west. She is wobbly, but focussed and sure enough she gets where she wants to be.

Not content unless in motion, she cranes her neck looking for an object heavy enough to suit her purpose and soon finds it. A cushioned footrest is the perfect climbing aparatus. Now she needs to work her yoga magic to pull herself into standing pose.

"Here I am" she shouts for all the world to hear. It comes out like an excited groan; I wonder when she will finally start using syllables instead of this manly monkey mating call that she's fashioned onto? She groans again, "Look at me".

I smile from across the room and continue to drink my coffee. She mimics me, but puts my own smile to shame. Her two bottom teeth flash like icebergs above her gums.

Thump, thump, thump, she plays music by banging her palms against the footrest. This action contents her for all of four seconds before she deems that she has had quite enough of this malarky, and is ready for her next adventure.

Madamoiselle surveys the room. Where to next?

Suddenly, she realises she is stuck. Her excited groan soon turns into a frustrated one. I hear a "humpf" escape from her as she looks left, than right, but knows she can't go either way without falling over. Resigned to the fact that she's going to take a tumble, she lets go of the footrest that has been propping her up. I hear another thump, but this is the sound of her chubby bottom connecting with the wooden floorboards. Whilst the laws of physics were always going to command that she fall down, it still came as a surprise to her. The wailing begins.

I leave her to cry and keep an observant eye on activities from behind my coffee cup. "C'mon poppet" I purr, "You're ok". She accepts that no cuddle is coming, and realises that ten seconds has elapsed without her having moved. Putting my own exercise regime to shame, Frankie does a mini-press up and her body is in a perfect inverted 'V' against the floor. She pulls her knees down and starts moving, this time towards the vase in the corner of the room with the sweetest fragrance of fresh lavendar.

This is trouble. We've yet to formally baby-proof our home and she has already broken this vase once, requiring emergency glue treatment . I have tried my best with a playpen for emergencies (when I smell like a 4 week old crust of parmesan that's been hidden in the back of the fridge and simply must, must, must have a shower while she is awake) but she hates her prison confines. So I choose to watch over her during playtime instead of leaving her be - on my own head be it.

Quickly I whisk her off the floor and away from the already damaged vase. Trapped in my arms she wrestles against me - I wonder briefly whether she'll ever have a career as a self-defense teacher in girls' high schools. She certainly has a knack for getting out of tough grips. In my arms she pushes, kicks, and wriggles with a strength that defies the 8kilos she is packing.

This little ball of energy does at time exhaust me. I wonder where she gets it from. Certainly I am no lazy sloth, but nor am I a hyperactive middle-aged girlguide wannabe with oodles of energy spilling out of my every pore. As I ponder her maddening nonstop motion it dawns on me that perhaps I am responsible. For there, on the other side of the room, lies my second empty cup of coffee. What I have presumed to be a necessity for managing her energetic behaviour may in fact be the cause of her energetic behaviour.

And now I am left in a frightfulfully awful predicament. Am I willing (and able) to survive a week without coffee to judge the impact on little Frankie-pants's behaviour? Can I sacrifice my daily caffeine injections?

Wish me luck as I embark on a week Sans-Cappacino, and establish whether it's the nature or nurture that's contributing to my daughter's endless restlessness.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Five rules all new dads should live by

Thanks are in order to my own dear fella - and the fellas of my Crows Nest Mother's Group - for these fatherly rules to live by.

(1) Yes, you can clean their 'bits'. In fact. You have to. As far as I know, my child is unable to reach down and give herself a good healthy wipe. So too can you have a bath with your baby - even if your baby happens to be of the opposite gender. I guarantee you they don't know your Knob from your Knee. In the water, you're just one big life raft anyway.

(2) You must locate the nappy resting place in the sky. A nappy lives a short but fulfilling life. Once it has served its purpose it humbly accepts its role as martyr and is ready to move on to the hereafter. The nappy does NOT belong plonked on the end of the changing table. It does not follow the from-dust-to-dust-ashes-to-ashes routine. It will NOT self destruct. Your task, dear Man, is to honour the humble nappy and lead it safely on it's path to heaven. Put it in the nappy bin. Or the garbage. Just get rid of it, because the changing job doesn't cease the minute the bub has a fresh one on. It's the circle of life, and I'll be damned if I have to do a funeral service for each nappy you change, as well as for my own...

(3) No, you can't go surfing. Just because you work all day in an office doesn't mean that you're entitled to have weekends "off". Suggesting that we go to the beach so that you can go swimming is not my idea of a balanced parenting act. Oh, what fun - I get to watch you on your surfboard while I feed, clothe and entertain our daughter. Again. For the 7th day in a row. No Sir, I'm afraid your days of individual hobbies are temporarily on hold.

(4) A nappy does NOT constitute an appropriately attired bottom half. Dudes - I will give you some credit here. Fashion isn't exactly your forte. Which is why (most of the time) it's the mums who are out on shopping duty ensuring that our precious bundles are, well, fashionably bundled. We provide the clothes and ask only that you dress your child on the odd occasion. What surprises me is that given the infrequency of the requested dressing scenario, men seem genetically programmed to only do only half a job. Repeatedly my baby is delivered to me in a tee shirt without any leggings. Repeatedly, I'm handed Frankie with only the requisite number of buttons are done to ensure the fabric won't fall to the ground. C'mon guys - we don't ask you to spend hours dressing yourselves, simply that you spend a few minutes to make your child presentable!

(5) The "Hunger Hospital Pass" is unacceptable. Righto fellas. You'll have to own up to this at some point, so it might as well be now. When you sons and daughters cry in the middle of the night and you have spent all of 5 minutes trying to settle them, what is it that makes you pass them to us and mumble "he must be hungry" as you're crawling back under the covers? It's an excuse that will fly for the first few weeks if you're lucky. But there comes a point when those exact words start to mean "I've had enough and I want to go to sleep." Humph. Maybe next time you snuggle up under the covers with those roaming hands of yours,  I'll just roll over pleading the "I must be hungry" defense...

Friday, 23 March 2012

Size Zero baby

When you think of happy, healthy babies your mind usually conjures up rolly-polly Michelin Man bubs with roll after roll of delicious chubbiness.

Frankie is no Michelin Man. Infact, she's more Kate Moss, in a size zero kind of way...

When the inevitable daily conversation with a well-meaning person at the supermarket turns to the question "how old is she?", I get the same blood-curdling response each time: "Wow - she's very small isn't she".

YES! SHE IS! I grit my teeth and reply, "it's in her genes". It is to be expected, given that her father would never have made the NBA's first draft pick, or to the dizzying heights of a Sumo Wrestling championship.

We had Frankie's six month checks this week with the paediatrician and the community centre nurse who have have assured me that she is well and healthy. In fact, the community nurse was at one point close to slapping me to ensure I understood that all was well with my darling girl.

The truth is, deep down I know that Frankie is fighting fit. She's expending an awful lot of energy crawling around the place, shoving real food in her mouth, climbing over me whenever I pick her up, and wriggling around on her changemat. She is more lean than lump. But I can't help but let those comments from other people chip away at my confidence. It feels as though other babies her age are all bigger. Where have the smaller babies gone? Do they just breed them bigger on the lower North Shore?

I have let my phobias about Frankie's weight dictate many of my decisions regarding feeding her.At 4 months I started to get paranoid that my milk was drying up or vitamin deficient to some degree. For this reason, I introduced her to solids quite early. She certainly lapped up the food, which in my mind confirmed that she must have been starving! And whilst she did gain a bit of weight when solids were intially introduced, it wasn't much longer before it plateaud again and my fears about my milk supply resurfaced. Low and behold, she started taking the bottle at six months of age so I immediately gave her some formula. She slept through the night - once again, "proving" that I hadn't been able to adequately feed her myself.

And yet, what the doctor and nurses have shown me is that whilst her weight might level out for a while, on the whole her growth has been steady. She is consistently getting chubbier and there is no need for me to be so damn worried about my milk. Ironically, if there's any reason why my milk would be inefficient it would be as a result of my anxiety over the whole issue! So the key seems to be to Stress Less Jess, and go on happily doing as I have been doing without forcing food unnecessarily upon her. The fact that she can now feed herself (oh, the wonderful joy of a self-feeding baby!) means that I can let her explore and enjoy food on her own and I won't have to worry too much about the exact amount of mL's that she's getting out of my weary jubblies.

So the next time someone remarks on my "tiny" baby, I'll just tell them that we have her in training for the next Featherweight championship of the world!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

BLW - that's Baby Led Weaning, not some kind of weird cricket acronym.

When I noticed Frankie sitting upright furiously munching on her coloured wooden stacking blocks, I realised it was probably time to give her some real food to play with. I'd heard about this Baby Led Weaning lark, and decided to do some sniffing around to suss out what it was all about.

Up until this point I've enjoyed watching Frankie demolish bowl after bowl of the mushy stuff. I've been living through my own private Blitzkreig, ensuring my handblender churned out the perfect sloppy consistency to spoonfeed to my daughter. But maybe there's another way... surely our Sisters in the Sudan don't have access to hand blenders when their bubbas start real food, so what do they do?

The BLW principles seem to be as follows:
1. When they are able to sit up by themselves, give them something soft that they can fit in their fists (because they don't have pincer grips yet)
2. Watch them lick, suck, munch, rip, and swallow the food in their own good time

What is so good about this style versus the standard sloppy stuff?

Well, they apparently learn to eat until their full (rather than eating until the tupperware bowl is empty). They learn that food is fun and interesting, rather than something that mummy thrusts upon her like those blasted nappy changes every few hours. They are more willing to experiment later on down the line with trying new and varied things because they see food as an enjoyable experience, not just a routine shovelling of grub into their mouths.

Now, Frankie LIKES her slurpee delights. She's got my appetite (poor kid) and hasn't refused a spoonful yet. But I am already noticing that she is starting to get bored and isn't really engaging in the food itself.

Queue my first experience giving her a "potato stick" (roast potato chip). Instead of simply eating it, then lazily waiting for the next portion to be handed to her on a plastic silver serving spoon, she took the stick into her hand and cautiously, curiously evaluated it. Deeming it fit for consumption, she whacked it forcefully against her cheek - her aim could use some improvement.

After a couple of misguided attempts, she finally hit target and the chip was in her mouth. She sucked it. She bit it. She ripped some of it with her two bottom teeth. She gagged on it. She spat some out. She let out a little pirate 'rrrrrrrrrrr' as she concentrated on polishing off her meal. by now, the potato was now all over her and she proceeded to lift little bits of "tayto" off her bib and launch them back into her mouth where they belonged. She had entertained herself and was thoroughly, delightfully, incredibly content.

The gagging had me worried I admit, but a devout follower of BLW and good friend of mine from Manchester told me to have faith in our babies' gag reflexes. In the same way that we're conditioned to look after ourselves after a huge night out with a good old fashioned spew, babies are programmed to hurl anything that is a potential choking hazard. So long as we keep sensible about what we give them - cheese strips, steamed brocolli florets, boiled carrot sticks etc - we should stay confident.

For those of us who are essentially lazy souls, this self-feeding has the added benefit of giving us a few more minutes to ourselves instead of pandering incessantly to our children. Well, that is until clean-up time begins and we survey the carnage of battered brocolli limbs and decimated breadstick crumbs scattered around the battlesite of the baby's highchair...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Nothing beats beets.

In hindsight, giving my six-month-old beetroot was a mistake.

I knew it would be messy, but I was shortsighted in my predictions. I planned for the actual feeding process and forgot that one rarely sees food go into the baby's mouth just once. Food will make multiple returns on multiple occasions, and here is what I've learned from the process:

1. You can be as prepared as you like, but your baby's clothes will still get stained. As will yours. All the bibs and towels in the world wouldn't be able to prevent it. Fact.
2. Shortly after feeding, your baby might vomit. Do not do as I did, and plonk your baby onto the cream carpet so soon after her lunch. You'll be scrubbing for hours. Nothing gets out beetroot.
3. Be prepared to have an interesting nappy-change experience. My changemat is now a lovely shade of pink.

My advice if you want to feed your baby beets?

Do it in the tub.

Post-natal fitness and the production line of big, fat babushkas

When I was in highschool I used to participate in icecream eating competitions. I would like to say that I won the grandfinal, but Clare 'Spaghetti' Luchetti holds that record. Needless to say however, as president of the Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College 10,000Lb club, I had myself a healthy appetite back in my highschool days.

And I still do.

And as my breastfeeding days are numbered I am beginning to wonder how on earth I will be satisfied with a standard portion size. How will I rationalise my daily block of chocolate, no longer needed for the 'energy' to feed my baby?

To prepare myself for the D-Day of breastfeeding, I have dusted off my trainers and taken up exercise. Exercise, yes - but certainly not as I remember it. Now, as I do my squats and lunges I have one ear listening out for my baby's cry, and one eye sneaking cautious peeks at my breasts to see whether they might (embarrassingly) be leaking. Am I the only one out there who feels like working out is now a whole new ballgame?

An expat friend of mine living in Poland once observed that it was difficult to find an attractive middle-aged Eastern European woman. When I scoffed at this, he went on to state that he believed there was an invisible production line for Polish women. They started on the production line as tall, blonde, silky-skinned stunners and cruised along happily until they came to the bend on the line. The bend, he believed, was called Motherhood. As the women entered this next stage of production, they emerged shorter, chubbier, ruddier, and decidedly more grey.

It got me wondering.... Have I unknowingly been plodding along the production line of motherdom? Is it the fear of becoming old that makes us push ourselves to pump iron right after we've pumped milk? What's wrong with embracing the physical changes that motherhood can bring us - a couple of saggy breasts, a slightly flabby tum, a bottom that is decidedly more pear-like than peach-like.

Or are we right to fight so hard to return to our pre-baby bodies? Should we do all within our powers to fool the world into thinking "she couldn't possibly have had a baby recently."

Look, I'm the first one to admit that health is super important. Eating well and exercising everyday is a must. But nowadays we see women haemorrhaging money on pilates classes,  bodypump, and Zumba while their babies sit in childcare, and it has me questioning: is it really a question of health or is it a question of vanity?

I have always been an athlete. I have a competitive drive that is bordering on aggressive. I'm an advocate of moving every single day and I will undoubtedly return to basketball arenas and football fields of my youth (as and when time allows). Meanwhile, I will continue the mountain/bush trekking that my partner and I love so much. And I will continue to carry my baby in her bjorn, push her in her pram, and lift her repeatedly into the air to make her giggle.  Exercise suddenly has a whole new spin on it for me - it's about what I can do with my child, not just what I can do with myself. 

I hope that I haven't yet reached that bend in the production line, but I'm not going to die of shame that I've got a few kilos of my own babyfat to lose either. I'm not knocking post-natal fitness of any sort (in fact, runs some fabulous classes) all I'm questioning is our motivators behind the exercise, and what it is, exactly, that gets us off our butts and into the training room?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Frankie goes to hollywood

For those of you who've asked to see some footage, here you go.

The little miss is almost 6 months old and it won't be long before she's able to catch the cat!

Here she is, at the ripe old age of 5 (nearly 6!) months, sitting in the bathtub, fully-clothed, enjoying the company of the fluffy Easter bunny.

Frankie, the animal lover, comes face-to-face with her first dog, Lulu.


Monday, 12 March 2012

One Baby. One Bottle. One trip to Bali.

Hallelujah! Praise Be! Hot Diggity Dog! Frankie's on the bottle.

After nearly six months of trying every bottle, every teat, and every trick known to man (well, known to woman) Frankie has finally backed down and has taken to the bottle. What exactly does this mean? It means FREEDOM dear readers. Freedom!

Sure, it's a bit late in the day for her to start venturing from the breast, given that the weaning process is about to begin anyway. (FYI, how the heck does one start that process? That's another blog in its own right, me-thinks). But when her little mouth wrapped itself around that bottle I didn't care that it had taken her 154 days to manage this small feat - all I cared about was that she had managed it. And even better, was thoroughly enjoying herself!

Selfishly, I did a silent high-five with the Gods above because I was getting desperate. I have a trip to Bali planned on my Jack Jones for my best friend's wedding, and as each day took me one step closer to that July holiday I started panicking that I would be leaving my darling daughter to starve. Miss her though I undoubtedly will, perhaps agonisingly so, I still want this time away to myself. I have six months of interrupted sleep to catch up on.

"Oh", I hear you cry "Poor little diddums. Finding motherhood a bit tough are we?"  I know what you're thinking and I truly shouldn't complain about it. There was a time in evolution when bottles didn't exist, it is true. And people coped. But let me tell you HOW they coped. Women would share their babies around and let other mother's feed their children so that they could get a bit of shut-eye. Don't believe me? What do you think still happens in African villages? It's natural. It's evolution's way of making sure our bubs don't starve, and that Mother's are fit, strong and well-rested enough to get back in the fields and harvest dinner for the village. True true. Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my flip flops.

Frankie has done me a huge favour and I could (and will do repeatedly) kiss her for it. She's now happy for Daddy to give her a feed. Or grandma. Or Mr. Smith up the road. Or Fifi the cat. She really doesn't care. Just so long as she gets her precious milk.

I now look forward to my best friend's wedding in  Bali without any guilt weighing me down. Missing Frankie will be punishment enough for me leaving her; but she will be in the loving hands of her father so I can rest easily at night. And rest I will.

For at least 10 hours in a row.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A wee ditty, for my ditty wee girl....

How did Frankie get her name?

Was it lying on the floor,
Where noone else had looked before?

Did she pluck it from a tree?
It was hanging there so beautifully!

Was it on a pirate ship,
where Captain Blackbeard slept on it?

Was it stuck inside a shell?
Making noises like a bell?

Look! It's there! In the flower pot,
underneath forget-me-nots

Oops, that was not her name -
Maybe we should end this game?

Let me tell you how it came to be,
that you were named Miss Frances Leigh;

Your daddy picked it out you see,
he chose it out especially,

for his lovely little baby girl,
the happiest Frankie in all the world.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Dirty Tactics in the nappy change challenge

I can smell her from across the room. I stretch my neck left, then right. I crack my knuckles. C'mon baby - let the games begin.

Effortlessly, I scoop my child off the floor and into my arms. She's pinned. I hold her tightly and off we go to the changetable. One count, Two count, Three count - she's down!

My hands move momentarily away from her tummy and she seizes the opportunity to free herself. While I reach for the nappy that I will shortly need, Frankie twists sharply to the left. Her legs are now pressed against the wall, and she arches back to grab the stuffed toy behind her. Normal people have mobiles hanging for their children as a pleasant distraction from the changing process, but not my Frankie. She has managed to rip the hook right out of the ceiling, and I've never misjudged her strength again.

I know what she wants, so I give her the toy. I pray that by now my opponent is calm enough for me to go in for the kill - that is, the removal of the soiled nappy.

I hear the velcro rip of the nappy tags as they come apart. I hoist Frankie's legs into the air and hold her ankles. By now, I only have one free hand, as I must manoevre to wipe her wee bottom whilst not letting go of those teeny tiny ankles. I see Frankie grin. If she could, she'd mouth "gotcha", because it takes her only a few twists of her powerful thighs and she's free of me once more. Before I can blink, she is on her tummy having successfully overcome the pathetic sidebar of the changemat.

She kicks her little legs and I move left to right, trying in vain to get in between her bubba-fat-folds. I swipe here, I swipe there, I swipe everywhere that I can manage and (using the if-you-can't-see-it-it-isn't-there argument) trust that I have it all wiped up.

Next comes talc.

I flick Frankie over onto her back and use one hand to liberally sprinkle (OK, pour....) the lavendar scented talc. I drop the bottle to the ground - there is no time to put it onto its appropriate shelf -  and use my newly available hand to pat the talc into her bottom.

By the time she's talced, Frankie is really pissed off. She's smashing her hands repeatedly against her sides - like a drunken version of paper-scizzors-rock, where she seems to have forgotten how to do any gesture other than rock.

I switch to dirty tactics. I squeal like a stuck pig and Frankie is intregued. Deftly, I open the crisp new nappy and fold it underneath her, squealing once again to throw her off the game. She is fascinated: How can that unhuman sound be coming from my mother?\

"Ha!" I shout, as I put my elbow across her knees and fasten the nappy tabs with my free hand. "Done!" I pump my fist with self-congratulation. I feel like running up the 20 steps in my front yard and singing Eye Of The Tiger. She's clean, I DID it! And only another 2 hours before the next one... I better eat my weetabix. I'll need the strength.

Monday, 20 February 2012

An outpouring of love.

Frankie is now five months old. I am already so in love with her that I wonder how my heart will be able to cope with a lifetime of further love to come.

When she gets food all over her face and wedged up her nostrils, I can't help but lick little bits off. I love her plump deliciousness.

When she pulls my hair I smile and wince simultaneously; everything she sees is teaching her something new!

When I recite my favourite Mem Fox book to Frankie as she lies on her back in the crib, she reaches out her chubby fingers and traces the shape of my face. It seems as though she is trying to commit it to memory before sleep engulfs her. When I close the door to her room so that she can fall deep into her dreams, I grieve a little because she is only going to grow in her sleep and will be even bigger when we meet again in the morning.

Today I felt like writing a small tribute to love. What Frankie has given to me is joy, pure and simple. I feel as though I am closer to understanding the meaning of life as a result of her teaching. I look forward to the times ahead - each stage rich with its own perks and challenges - and I thank the heavens for giving me such a wonderful, healthy child. Somebody up there likes me...

Monday, 13 February 2012

The runt of the (breast) litter...

By my calculations I have breastfed Frankie roughly 600 times since her birth. I look back and laugh at the trauma I experienced in those first few weeks, wondering whether she'd latched on correctly, whether she was getting enough, which side she'd fed on last... Nowadays, feeding the Little Miss is every bit as routine as my brushing my teeth.

I must admit that I love breastfeeding. I don't want to echo every hospital pamphlet you receive from the moment you announce your pregnancy, but it truly is fast, free and (for some) easy. But there is a massive side-effect that seems to go unspoken. It's a hush-hush, "mum's-the-word" secret that - brace yourself kids - I'm about to reveal.

In some unlucky souls like myself, your boobs go wonky.

No longer do my lovely breasts enjoy a happy life of identical-twinnage. My left breast has become the runt of the litter, whilst my right breast swells so proudly with rich milk that it's become the Older Sibling Bully.

It was my daughter who gave me this condition. Her and her picky preference for one side over the other. When she decided that my right boob was her vessel of choice, it was "Sayonara Sister" to little old leftie. One breasticle is currently surfing a milky tidal wave, while the other is riding out a drought of epic proportions, doing its desperate tribal rain dance.

I've gone from having pretty 'City Titties' which butt up against each other, to 'Country Titties' which stretch miles apart. If we were to compare my boobs to cities, you'd have the very populous Right "Mumbai" Boob, versus the Left "Timbuktu" Boob.

It's all so unfair! Do not both boobs have equal rights? How has it happened that Rightee is enjoying all priviledges - it's taken top spot in the class-struggle atop my chest.

I can only hope that once the breast feeding stops all balance shall be restored. In the meantime, I shall give my little leftie some much needed affirmations: "Groooow, little one....Groooooow"

Monday, 6 February 2012

Sodden knickers, and my trip to the A&E

The sun was taking its late afternoon bow as I settled down to feed my freshly washed baby. She hooked on beautifully, and so began the tried and tested bedtime routine. Or so I thought...

After a few minutes of feeding, Frankie got restless. I picked her up for a quick cuddle and my reward was a projectile vomit so powerful it literally soaked through my trousers, soiling my underwear! Andy (my partner) and I had quite a giggle. How very unlike Frankie to be so sick. Anyhoo, one costume change later and I reaffixed Frankie to my breast and feeding began again in earnest. Shortly afterwards, Frankie lifted her head and I found myself sodden once more, shaking my head in disbelief that another knicker change was required. I didn't laugh quite so hard this time round, but similarly, I wasn't at all worried that something might be wrong. What's a bit of baby sick in the grand scheme of things, hey?

It wasn't until the third vomit that Andy and I got truly concerned. As Frankie's little body began to heave, all sound was sucked from the room. It went whisper-quiet in my mind. As my child's cheeks reddened with the strain of yet another vomit - this time bile - I felt the fear rise inside me, scalding me raw.

I sprang into action, calling the national healthcare line. I was greeted by Jacinta on the telephone, who grabbed my hand and launched me into a bureaucratic red-tape waltz, first asking me details that seemed so meaningless to me at that moment in time, just to  set up my 'file'. Impatiently I performed the steps required of me, answering about Frankie's name, birthdate, address.... finally, I was asked to answer some questions about her current state of health:

Does she have a temperature? no, it's normal; 36.8C
Does she have a rash? No
Is she breastfed? Yes

I rushed through my responses, getting quite frustrated by this stage as I hadn't yet told of Frankie's symptoms. My baby was turning grey before my eyes and I was being asked about breastfeeding!

'Stay calm' seemed to be the directive of all in the room. My parents were there, my partner, and of course, there was bloody Jacinta telling me - forcefully - to shut up and listen on the other end of the telephone. With a will that defied my fear, I was able to keep the panicked tone out of my voice, sure that Frankie would pick up on it. Whilst the tone wasn't there, the words certainly were: "I'm very worried" I repeated over and over again. "She's not normally like this."

Jacinta tried to reassure me that Frankie's condition didn't require hospitalisation, but I wasn't pacified. My gorgeous daughter, already crawling at 4 months, constantly restless and alert, was now struck immobile and listless. Something didn't feel right... 

I hung up the phone and defied Jacinta's orders. "Get her a change of clothes" I asked my fella, both of us thinking of the old saying 'Better safe than sorry'. What harm would a second opinion do?

As we raced to the car and strapped her into her seat, something curious happened. Frankie's eyes snapped open and she lifted her head, absorbing all of the commotion about her. By the time we arrived at the A&E and met with the Triage nurse, Frankie's face was awash with smiles and she was bearing weight on her legs with such eagerness I thought she was trying to leap into the arms of the nurse to tell her what a silly bunch we all were, getting so worked up by a little baby vomit.

What a cheeky monkey. I must have seemed like a neurotic mother, displaying classic Munchausen syndrome symptoms. Thank God they didn't rip her from me and throw me in a set of cuffs.

The colour returned to Frankie's face and body. Her eyes were strong and vibrant. No traces of lethargy lingered about her. Frankie's one little dimple was flexed and deeply entrenched in her cheek, proof indeed that all was well.

I've never known fear like it, and I've also never experienced a gratitude so deep for her health. Whatever bug it is that has caught my precious child (for it is a bug, she is still displaying some rather unsavoury bowel issues) she will recover and for that, I want to reach out to the world and give everyone a great big kiss. Mwwwwwwwwah!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Becoming Mum, and the pressures of perfection

Reading 'The Mother Load' article from this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald (28/01/12) got me thinking. When was it that women threw instinct to the wind and chose to bow to an idealised image of perfect parenting? According to the Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother, we have seemingly lost ourselves in the process of Becoming Mum, and the result is a new generation where child is king.

Badinter argues that modern motherhood is fundamentalist, and I must agree. When I was pregnant, I was looked down upon in the office kitchen for speading peanut butter on toast in "my condition". More than one person felt it necessary to tell me that eating nuts during pregnancy could lead to my child having allergies. I felt like screaming, "What about the millions of Indonesian women?" who eat nut-rich Gado Gado Satay as a staple part of their diet yet don't have any allergy epidemics? It's not exactly like the Japanese give up Sushi when they get pregnant, yet God Help the Aussie mum-to-be who wants to hoe into a nice piece of Sashimi.

The hunt for perfection is spiralling out of control. I have friends who have been made to feel so guilty for their inability to breastfeed that they have wallowed into the waters of depression. Nowadays, if your child is not exclusively breastfed you are led to believe that they will sprout a third ear and develop zucchini-mush for brains.

And breastfeeding is just the first stage of the food bullying cycle. Once 'real' food is introduced it must be scrutinised to ensure it is sugar free, egg free, gluten free, and organic. Gone are the days when whiskey was rubbed onto the gums of crying children, bothered by the emergence of tiny teeth. Bring up that remedy at your local Mothers' Group and watch Social Services turn up at your doorstep quicker than you can say "dirty nappy".

One can not discuss the pressures of perfection without addressing the issue of sleep. Babies must - of course - be sleeping through the night at three months of age. If they aren't self-settling at this stage than it is your fault for creating an environment of dependency  and you have unwittingly coaxed them into a lifetime of sleep behavioural issues due to your own incompetence. But don't worry! You can play Pick'n'Mix with hundreds of different routine books, all of which offer a unique approach to streamlining your child's sleeping patterns with other babies'. But if your baby doesn't fit the 'mould', just remember it is your fault, not theirs...

Does anyone else feel that mothers aren't allowed to show any dents in their armour?You can admit it is tough, but don't you dare say you aren't coping. Oh no - just make sure you are buying the latest learning-development toys, ensuring your child doesn't ever come into contact with the sun, donning your best Beauty Pageant Queen smile and pretending all is fine. Heaven forbid you greive your old life for even a moment. How dare you yearn for your former independence?

Badinter asserts that no matter what you do now, you will never win as a mother. When your children are teenagers, you will (at some point) be the villain so why get so caught up trying to be Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes now? Women who devote all their time to their children will forget who they once were as independent, childless spirits. And let us not forget that it is independent spirits we are trying to encourange in our own children. So why not throw caution to the wind, relax a little, and give ourselves a break. A little self-congratulatory pat on the back wouldn't do any harm either!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Frankie, the spy....

As the salt of my baby's tears lingers on my cheek, I question whether I will ever get the hang of this motherhood thing.

A few weeks ago, Frankie started sleeping through the night. I silently did a little 'V' is for 'Victory' cheer, donning imaginary poms poms and highkicking it to the heavens.

My partner and I had decided to try theTizzy Hall 'Save Our Sleep' routine and after just one night we experienced success. Frankie's 45minute cat naps stretched into 2hour sleep binges. She woke only once for a feed, if at all, instead of the 2-3 times she had in the past. Winner.

Coincidentally, we tried 'Save our Sleep' on the same day that we introduced our bub to the wonderful world of solids, so who knows which factor was the deciding one for a better night's kip. Whatever the influence, something was working and I wasn't exactly complaining.

But it's now Frankie's 4 month birthday and just when I thought we had it all under control, the little minx got her skates on and started rolling over. She's been rolling during playtime quite happily for a few weeks, but has never before mixed her playtime activities with her bedtime ones. And since she started flipping over in bed, she's never slept the same since. I quite simply don't understand why she insists on turning onto her stomach yet as soon as she gets there she starts crying. If I try to roll her onto her back again, she freaks out as though I've tricked her with some sort of devilry. Cranky Frankie emerges and shakes down the walls with her wails.

For the last two nights she has slept no longer than 45 minutes in a row. I am still trying my best to stick to the self-settling rules of 'Save Our Sleep', but occassionally I crumble and pick her up for a cuddle. Hence my tear stained face, as her cheek presses against mine for whatever token of warmth and comfort I can afford her. My partner is so much stronger than I am and can put up with the tears because he can sanely rationalise that she is warm, well-fed, and comfortable so she must only be protesting against some imaginary hardship thrust upon her. But each cry, each scream, each wail claws at my soul and I literally have to stop myself from drawing blood as my fingers dig into the palm of my hands.

I can only hope that some sort of routine will establish itself and I will finally understand my baby. At the moment it feels as though I am babysitting an alien spy who works ever so hard to imitate human behaviour, but reveals her true self at sleep time by proving unable to match typical bedtime rituals. Be gone, alien! Come back my darling sleep-loving daughter. Oh, how mummy's missed you....

Monday, 16 January 2012

Hungry eyes, fantasize

I'm not one to dish out advice, but in this instance, I think I have some that might be of use. When questioning whether it is time to introduce your little one to the Mighty Mushy Stuff, revert back to the Gospel of our generation: Dirty Dancing. With Patrick Swayze in mind, ask yourself: does Baby have hungry eyes??

We realised it was time to give Frankie a bit of 'nah-nah (banana, for my non-native speaking friends) when she quite literally started panting like an overly-excited German Shepard every time we ate with her sitting on our lap. For example, my partner was happily licking away at his Mango Weiss Bar when Frankie defied her own age-appropriate fine motor skills to reach up and pull the icecream away from her daddy and shove it forcefully into her mouth. What followed promptly was a contented 'hmpf' as she flicked her little tongue furiously in all directions. We stared open mouthed at this creature: only 4 months old and already ready to feast. Atta girl, Frankie - chip off the old block.

Looking back, I think we could have spotted the warning signs sooner if we had been prepared for them. But I  had been so confused about when to move on from exclusively breastfeeding that I had buried my head in the sand about the whole issue. And it's not like the parenting books are universally aligned with their recommendations and suggestions. It seems that mothering tips go in and out of fashion like haircuts. Currently, you are advised that you can introduce a baby to solid food from 4months on. But only a generation ago it was advised to stick solidly to breast milk until the 6th month at the very earliest.

Still, I should have introduced food sooner given that Frankie hadn't put on weight for six weeks. The doctors and nursing sisters told me she looked perfectly healthy and there was nothing to worry about because a lot of babies will plateau in weight for a while. I followed their advice and never even thought about giving her something more substantial! God, what a div....

After the "shove-daddy's-food-in-my-mouth" experience, we immediately gave her the good stuff. And just ten days of being on Farex, banana, apricots, nectarines and pear, my little waif morphed into a cherub and put on a whopping 400grams. Delightful.

As Frankie takes her first tentative steps into the world of real food, I mourn yet another loss of the girl she once was. There goes her complete and utter dependence on me. Granted this dependency had sometimes felt like an anchor weighing me down but now I question whether there is anything so natural - or wonderful - as a newborn baby's dependence on her mother? Here she goes, taking yet another of her big girl steps forward and I have a sneaky suspicion that with each achievement and milestone reached, a little part of me will miss the stage that has come before... 

Friday, 13 January 2012

The lady bush, and all things beautiful

You know that feeling of dread that claws at your stomach when you're faced with something you really, really don't want to do? Like having to tell a genuine 'nice-guy' that it's over because you just don't fancy him enough. Or when you go into work the morning after a boozy office Christmas party, unsure whether anyone captured photographic evidence of what you were trying to do to your sexy (married) boss on the dancefloor.

Well, that same feeling is what I was experiencing today, right before I went for my first post-pregnancy wax. I had been dreading it so much that I'd been delaying the inevitable. At some point, it would be crunch time, and that point was today.

I turned up at the beautician full of apologies. As I unbuttoned my jeans I rambled through a dozen reasons to excuse my lack of self-maintanance: I had been travelling in Africa during a lot of my pregnancy and it wasn't possible to find a good beautician... I was so tired when I found out that I was having a baby that I couldn't find the energy for it.... After the C-Section my scar needed time to heal....

Soon enough the jeans were down and there was nothing left for me but to lie down on the freshly-papered table, staring up at the ceiling and blushing in shame.

The whole experience got me questioning my attitude towards beauty now that I'm a mum. Evidently I don't have the time to preen and polish - I am more likely to hunt the aisles for nappy rash cream than I am for wrinkle ones. It actually took my partner buying me a gift voucher at the beauticians and a promise to babysit for me to finally (and I mean FINALLY) face the music and trim my lady bush. 

Truthfully, I don't feel attractive any more and I understand why:- I haven't had quality beauty sleep in 16 weeks. It's not exactly top priority at the minute. But will it ever come back? Will I ever pamper myself enough to feel 'lovely' again? Or does the ability to put yourself first leave you the moment you enter the recovery room and stare at your little bundle of joy; the essence of beauty itself?

All I know for sure is that the wax was every bit as painful as I'd dreaded it would be and the results don't seem as worth it as they once did. Not for me at least; maybe my fella is feeling a little more favourably towards the results!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Pressure at the petrol pump

I was cruising down Military Road with the windows down and my right arm lightly burning in the heat of the summer sun. Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' was on Classic Hits radio, and I was humming contentedly. My daughter had drifted off into a deep slumber in the comfort of her car seat. It was utter bliss.

My carefree mood quickly dissipated with one quick glance at the blinking red light on my dashboard. Uh oh.... I needed to fill up on petrol.

Having been aware that the fuel was running low for quite some time, I was still holding out hope that I would be able to make it home and let my partner take care of it later. Now, I'm no mathemetician, but I did realise that the only way I was going to make it back to my house without filling up on petrol would be in the back of a tow truck. So, what's the problem, you ask? Fill the car up and be done with it, woman!

The problem, dear friends, is that the filling up of petrol presented me with a certain predicament. My child was asleep in the back of the car.  I was faced with a choice - leave my child be, or wake her from her slumber and take her with me into the service station to pay the bill.

What to do? I tell you what my mother would have done in the early 80's - she'd have left me counting sheep while she strolled into the servo without a moment's hesitation. I don't believe she would feel even the slightest sliver of guilt. If we were to time travel back to 1982 and interrupt my mum mid-pump to question whether she would wake me, I am quite confident she'd look at us incredulously and think we were mad.
My instincts told me that Frankie was perfectly safe in the car with all the windows down, loads of fresh air, and safely within my sight. But my ego kept telling me "this is socially unacceptable" and I'd be looked down upon if I even walked ten feet away from her.

As I continued to ponder the ethics behind the quick dash, a car pulled up behind me. The driver was a woman in her late 30s, with a kid of about 7 years old. I caught myself wondering what she would say if I she saw me leave Frankie to go and settle my bill. Would the mother run in, shaming me with accusations of recklessness? Would the parent-police show up and strip me of my license to Mother?

I sighed as I unclipped the childseat buckles and watched Frankie stir into confused wakefulness. Displeasure radiated from her skin as I carried her into the shop over my shoulder. One brief minute later and there I was, re-clipping the seatbelt and putting Frankie back where she had started from. Only this time, the mood had distinctly shifted and was less Cyndi Lauper and more Nick Cave.

Sometimes I wish there was a Morality Handbook that de-muddied the waters around these sorts of things and gave us a clear guide about exactly what is acceptable, what is forbidden, and what is downright stupid when it comes to Motherhood. On my own, with only my instincts to rely on, it would seem that this particular mother does not know best.