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How to tackle whinging

  • The lid on the sistema container not being perfectly straight.
  • Me throwing out an empty fruit sachet that everyone assured me they did not need.
  • Only being able to keep one hat on at a time.

These are just three of the things that have sparked a full-scale, my-world-is-about-to-end meltdown in recent days, or worse – hours-long whinging sessions.

I was warned about the “terrible twos” and the “threenager” stage but it seems that almost-four has its own challenges. And we’re now past the stage where a cuddle immediately makes everything right again.

I’ve had to come up with some new strategies to cope.

Try to remember that they’re all actually a bit mad.

Part of the problem is that my son is articulate, intelligent and usually really good company. I have to remind myself that the part of his brain that’s responsible for rational thought and self-awareness isn’t even really starting to develop yet, so of course it’s a world-ending disaster when I won’t allow him to take my work laptop in the bath.  Another thing that helps is treating him like a slightly nutty dignitary from another planet, struggling to learn mysterious ways of society on Earth.

Catch them being good

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent the whole day asking, reminding, pleading “please don’t sit on your sister’. “Please don’t hide in the toilet.”  “Please don’t rub that in your hair.” It’s boring for everyone. If I can seize on the slightest indication of desirable behaviour and perform an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of it, it puts us all in a better mood. You’ll be surprised what you can praise if you really try.

Try giving in

I know! But stay with me here. If the whinging is driving you up the wall, it’s easy to just refuse to listen to any of it. But sometimes, if you can make out what it is being said amid the long vowel sounds and shouting, it’s not an entirely unreasonable request. If it’s “play with meeeee” or “IIIII’m thirstyyyyyy” I try to find a way to accommodate, sometimes with boundaries. If that doesn’t change the behaviour then it usually means it’s just a symptom of something else, like tiredness or hunger.  Then I can resort to my super stash of potato sticks.

Choices

Experts reckon a lot of the whinging and complaining is because kids feel that they’re not in control. If you offer them choices, it removes some of the feeling of powerlessness. This should be things that still get you to your parental goal, regardless, like “do you want porridge or fruit for breakfast” not “do you want to go out or stay here and watch PJ Masks”.

Set up contests

I know we’re all meant to encourage inquisitiveness and creativity in our children but sometimes it’s way too time consuming (“Mummy what is that bird”, “why can’t I wear my undies on my head”) and I need a tactic to keep things moving. It turns out that my son has a bit of a competitive streak. Challenges such as “can you get dressed/brush your teeth/read that book with your sister in the time it takes me to drink my coffee/put the dishwasher on/find my bag” are great motivation and have got us out the door in record time.

I’m no expert and what works for me today may well prove completely ineffectual tomorrow. But it’s wroth a shot, right?

 

 

 

 

 

Baby stuff to look forward to

There’s no shortage of lists of the stuff that’s not so great about having a newborn. But now my second baby is one, and I’ll probably never have to go through all of the stretch marks and the labour pains and the newborn feeding dramas again, I can give you a list of some of the best things.

Here are 10 of the best things about babies.

1. The way your baby smells.
You would not expect that something that has burst forth from a human body would smell nice. One of my friends said she always felt she should ask people why they wanted to kiss her newborn who was yet to have a bath – thinking, “don’t you know where he’s been?” But weirdly, you do. They smell delicious. I could sniff my babies’ heads all day. Which is fortunate, because that’s kind of what you end up doing.
2. When you give your baby to your partner for the first time.
Even if he literally complained about his cold while you were in labour, the sight of a dad (or the other mum or other configuration) holding the newborn like he’s afraid the baby is going to shatter is probably the cutest thing in the world.

3. When you go out for the first time and have everything you need.
I’ve edited newspapers, chaired scary meetings, tackled public speaking engagements but nothing makes me feel as accomplished as when I’ve been out somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong and I can say: “No worries, I’ve got exactly what we need in my bag.” Times like when I’ve had to change my baby’s clothes – and had a perfect replacement set, actually in the right size. (This only worked for the first few months – I’m still carting around size 00 onesies.) Or when my son has got scratchy near lunchtime – and I’ve had age-appropriate snacks on hand. This doesn’t happen very often so I make the most of it.

4. When they start smiling
For the first couple of months, lots of babies grin a lot. But you know it’s totally tied to that rumble in their tummies or the dodgy smell wafting up from down below – they can’t actually even really focus on your face, let alone decide it’s worth smiling at. But somewhere around six or eight weeks, the smiles get a bit more deliberate and a bit less gassy. It’s totally worth the wait. Dodgy smells continue.

5. When they start laughing
There’s such a short period in a person’s life when they’ll see the funny side of anything – maybe from five months old to 18 months maximum. After that, you’ve got to work for it. Many parents seem to get a false sense of how hilarious they actually are during this time – luckily kids develop the ability to roll their eyes pretty definitively by the time they’re about 2.5, to put you in your place.

6. When they don’t complain about being cuddled
My son is only three but he’s already pretty quick to tell me he is too busy for a hug with his mum. Make the most of your first year when you can snuggle as much as you like with no (okay maybe just limited) complaints.

7. When they need you to lie with them for every nap
This is a great stage if you have older kids (and people willing to look after them). If you have a period where your baby will only nap if you’re lying there with them the whole time, you suddenly get a lot more sleep. And no one can complain.

8. When they stay where you put them
Life is so much easier before they start moving around. You can pop your baby on the floor while you have a shower and (sometimes) have them play pretty peacefully while you wash your hair. But once they start crawling/shuffling/however else they get around you have to shower in about 32 seconds, otherwise they’re into the toilet brush.

9. The people you meet.
Have I mentioned my wonderful, wonderful coffee group? I met them in 2013 and it is still these women who get the brunt of my midnight messages – everything from “hey do you think this rash is normal” to “I’m stuck feeding again, do you think I should buy this handbag?” One just asked me if we could get away with wine at a 10.30am picnic. What more could you want? When you have a baby there’s an instant bond with lots of people with whom you’d otherwise have nothing in common, and whom you might never have met. And life would be poorer for it.

10. When they sleep through the night.
I’m sure this will be great. Hopefully it happens before they move out.

When do I get my mum voice?

Before I had kids, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with them. I thought they were cute when I passed them in the street, I attended baby showers and I visited friends with newborns.
When my first was on the way, I assumed that a lot of what I would have to do would come naturally. And it did (sort of).
But there are some “mum” things that I still haven’t mastered.
The mum voice
Most of my friends talk about how they shut their kids down or get them back on track when they’re wayward by deploying their “mum voices”. To say things like “no” or “don’t do that” or “we’re going home”. I do not seem to have this voice. I’ve been horrified to find that despite the arrival of my children, my voice is just the same as it always was and is completely ignore-able. While you’re fixing your children with a steely glare that makes it clear to them that they’ve crossed the line, I’m weakly protesting as mine disappear off over the horizon.
Nappies
I allowed these to be a complete mystery to me before the kids came along. They still kind of are. I’ve done cloth nappies and disposable and had mixed success with both. But while your kids’ nappies are all nicely done up with the tabs lined up (or the clips clipped) mine are on a diagonal slant, with one tab right across, one barely touching and more than enough room for a disaster out the side.
Baking
(Note – I do not think this is necessarily a mum thing.) I always imagined myself baking nutritious treats for my kids. I thought I might even be one of those people who has more than one thing in the oven at the same time. In reality, I only ever do any baking now because my son thinks it’s fun to break eggs and throw flour on the floor. What we end up with is only edible perhaps a third of the time. I dread the day we are sent home one of those cake boxes in which you’re meant to send off a contribution to the school fair. This might be one for the kids’ dad.
Discipline
Yep, I still haven’t mastered this. I had thought I’d find a method that worked by the time it was needed but in reality the longer we’ve gone along, the less I’ve known what is right. The more I research the options, the more things I know I don’t want to do – and I don’t find any replacements. I end up resorting to bribery and distraction. No parenting prizes for me.
Packing
I’ve always been a bit random with what I carry around in my bag. It’s quite likely that you’ll find 43 pens, an old lipstick and the programme for a conference I attended three years ago in there. I had assumed that once I had kids to worry about, this would change. I even bought a huge nappy bag in anticipation. But I still never seem to have a nappy when I need it, or wipes, and the change of pants I have for the kids is usually at least a size too small. Going on holiday is even worse. Last trip, I completely forgot socks. Which leads me to …
Matching socks
I’ve never really cared about having matching socks. As long as I have one for each foot, that’s good enough for me. But you see kids looking cute with their matching sparkly socks, and you would not believe how many pairs of sweet little booties you get when you have a baby. I resolved that I would do whatever I could to make sure my kids’ socks completed their journey through the washing machine at least within shouting distance of their mates. But can I ever find both halves of a pair as I’m trying to get everyone out the door? Definitely not. Other domestic things I haven’t magically developed a talent for, as I had hoped: Vacuuming, tidying, organising toy storage.
Make-believe games
I don’t know why I assumed that once I had kids of my own I’d become a storyteller-extraordinaire with fantastic ideas about exotic make-believe worlds. Instead, we end up playing games where I’m a robot and he’s a plane or he’s a rubbish truck and I’m a bin. Once or twice we’ve played “doctors” just so I can lie still on the floor and he can poke me with an emery board. And when asked to make up stories, I come up with something about a water monster that washes Dad’s car.
But they are only three and eight months. Perhaps there’s still time?

Why isn’t it cool to be a girl?

When is going to be truly cool to be a girl?

I have two kids and I am trying hard not to let their lives be ruled by what other people think is appropriate for their genders.

I’ve noticed some big differences, though, in how each are received when they stray from the norm.

With my daughter, I encounter very little resistance when I tell people she can wear whatever colour she likes, she can play with cars, she can grow up to be a policeman if she wants, and there’s no obligation whatsoever to want to be a princess.

In other words, most people are (mostly) fine with the idea of a girl doing “boy” things.

But with my son, the pressure is much more intense to stick within the realms of what is considered appropriate for a boy.

He is the older of the two so he does not get the gender-crossing hand-me-downs that his sister does.

But when I used to put him in a purple onesie, people commented every single time.

I even had a raised eyebrow about a mint-green shirt from Kmart that – yes, came from the girls’ section – but was $3 and fits him perfectly.

When I thought about enrolling him in a dance class, teachers at two different schools made mention of the fact that what he would be learning was *not* ballet.

I didn’t care – I’d be impressed if they managed to get three-year-olds following any set type of dance. But one teacher told me that she often encounters resistance and outright refusal from fathers who cannot handle the idea of their sons indulging in “girly” ballet.

It seems sometimes even girls aren’t allowed to be girly.

In our desire to make sure that our daughters know they do not have to be pink and pretty, some mothers deliberately reject all traditionally girly things.

I’ve encountered comments from women who are so disdainful of other parents dressing their kids in pink and sparkles that one even suggested it showed a lack of intelligence.

I know I’m hesitant about the prospect of my daughter being interested in Barbie, largely because of the questions about what she might do to her body image. But really, if she understands that Barbie is a fiction, is it any worse than some of the action figures that boys play with? I’ve seen some fairly unrealistic representations there, too.

It all seems to be rooted in the idea that girls and girly things are somehow “less than”.

Girls can strive to do all the things that boys do and that’s to be celebrated. We applaud people’s efforts when they sneakily move “future scientist” and “superhero”-slogan t-shirts from the boys’ section to the girls.

But when boys want to do something that’s traditionally seen as girly, that’s somehow ruled a step down for them. And girls who enjoy stereotypically girly things are seen to be somehow missing out.

Kids of both genders need to see that being “girly” or indulging in “boy” things are both fine – and mixing it up or being neither is fine too.

Girls and the things that (some) girls are interested in aren’t lesser – I’ll prove it to you at my son’s next princess party.

Rules for playing with a three-year-old

It’s the end of a rainy weekend. I estimate that over the past 48 hours, I have spent at least 20 trying to dream up ways to entertain two tiny tyrants.

Through the course of this latest wintry endurance event, I have discovered some key things about playing with a three-year-old.

The rules make no sense. I don’t mind joining in the weird make-believe games in which I am often pretending to be him and he is being some random person I don’t know, or a dragon, or a superhero, or … you get the picture. But then he’ll tell me for this game I have to be willing to “kermangle” or some other such made-up word. I have no idea what this means and he isn’t going to tell me but it is VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT I DO IT IMMEDIATELY. I usually look so stricken that he takes pity on me.

Even when I do understand the words, the conversations are nuts. We spent about half an hour talking about robots and how the robots might one day have a fight with bees but the bees would have to win because we need bees (aye mum?!!!) but robots are big and strong and awesome and we should have a robot that lives with us.

He’s only listening to me when I don’t want him to be. “Put your gumboots on so your feet don’t get wet.” “Please could you put your gumboots on?” “Where are your gumboots?” “How about we find your gumboots… Oh your feet are muddy – that’s why I suggested we might wear gumboots.” But one almost-silent “damn” under my breath and he suddenly has hearing to rival a gifted dog and an indelible memory.

Whatever we do, he must win. He’s totally got the hang of competitions and races and generally winning. But he’s not always so clear on the rules. For some unknown reason I agreed to play a version of statues – that game where you dance when the music is on and stop when it stops. Even though I controlled the music and he kept dancing through every music break, he won. Then he demanded I come up with a prize.

Their attention spans are short… He really really really wants to play trains. But you can guarantee that by the time I set the track up he will be off playing with his rubbish truck and look at me, completely mystified when I suggest he comes back. Or by the time I’ve climbed up in the cupboard to dig out all the colouring pencils and paper, he’s decided that what he’d really rather do is make a fort out of his bedding.

Except when they’re not. When we’re not jumping from one activity straight to the next, we get stuck doing the same thing over and over and over. And over. I thought it might be fun to hide some painted rocks in the house, since we couldn’t go out and hunt for other people’s creations outside. He agreed. So it ended up that we had nine rock hunts in which I had to hide the rocks in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE in the house each time.

The danger element makes the game. He’s going through a stage of jumping off things. The couch, the coffee table, the bed. But it’s not fun if I get the bean bag out and put it in place to catch his fall. It’s only really good if there’s something large and heavy in the way to narrowly miss.

None of his toys are as good as the things he’s not meant to be playing with. Over the weekend I found a whisk, a spoon, a memo pad, a pile of my pens and an amethyst crystal all used in the place of any number of his 456 perfectly good toys. It took me until 10.30 this morning to find my keys, which had somehow ended up in the toy box.

Some of the best stuff happens when you’re at peak “wtf is going on”.  About half-way through Sunday afternoon we were sitting on the couch, me pleading with him to keep his voice down as he battled monsters with his Maui hook, because his sister was asleep. I said: “I like hanging out with you.” He turned around and gave me a hug and said: “I like hanging out with you, too, Mum.” That earned him at least another couple of hours of rock hunting.

 

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One less thing to worry about

This afternoon, the small children I was holding, one on each hip, vomited on me at precisely the same time – like nauseous synchronised swimmers. Four years ago I would have run straight to the shower. Today I thought for a couple of minutes about whether I really needed to change my top.

Being literally covered in sick is one of the things that no longer bothers me at all. (It should be noted I haven’t checked this theory with vomit from anyone other than the children.)

Here are some other things I’ve decided to stop worrying about.

Screen time
When my son was little, he wasn’t going to have any screen time, ever. I had read all the articles about how bad it is for little brains and how no kids should watch any TV until they are 2 and basically not use an iPad until they are 30. But then we were stuck on a bus one day, he was bored and complaining and someone showed him The Wiggles. He was captivated and stopped grumbling for a full five minutes. Six months later we were at The Wiggles’ live show, singing along to allll the words.  Now he has a sister, Robocar Poli is about the only thing that enables me to get her down for a nap without him racing in. I’m choosing not to worry about screen time within reason. As long as it isn’t those egg-opening videos on YouTube, or another precocious American child “reviewing” toys. My iPad swiftly “runs out of battery” if those come up.

Sleep
I’ve tried to follow routines and I’ve looked for tired signs. I’ve tried baby wearing, car-soothing, white noise and blackout curtains. But my baby seems to have missed the memo that she’s meant to have at least an hour’s nap twice a day, and then to sleep 13 hours at night (or something like that). I could tie myself up in knots worrying about whether she’s getting enough sleep and reading all the research about how unhealthy it is for small people to be awake too long. But all that seems to do is keep me awake at night in those small snatches of time when she actually is asleep. For now I’m following her lead. I figure by the time she’s a teenager I’ll probably have to coax her out of bed.

Food
I’d love it if my kids would eat only vegetables and lean protein and look at everything we serve them with pure delight. But actually they’re more likely to want to snack on custard, Nutella and crackers (preferably all at once) and to turn their nose up at our culinary creations. I could spend all day worrying about whether the good in the courgette cancels out the bad in hiding it in a chocolate cake, or I can just try to get the best food possible into them as often as I can. I’m convinced all those Pinterest mothers sharing photos of their kids with plates of artfully arranged, creatively cut “just whipped this up for a lazy night off cooking” vegetables are sneaking them packets of chips when no one is looking.

Clothes
I recently went to H&M and bought my kids some super cute matchy-matchy outfits – tops and trackpants, leggings and tshirts etc. They looked so sweet in them (almost like all the other kids on my Facebook feed). Then the clothes had to be washed and the pieces came through different loads and I’ve never been able to put the outfits together again. My son went out in a pyjama top and a pair of Hawaiian shorts the other day. I’m okay with that.

Keeping up with friends
I’m sure some of my friends must think they’ve mortally offended me because they haven’t heard from me since 2013. They haven’t. But by the time I’ve got everyone sorted, packed my mountaineering kit with the supplies I might need for the three hours we’re out, and organised us all into the car, any event we were going to is pretty much already over. I’m fortunate that one of my best friends is in Bhutan so I can at least pretend that the fact we haven’t caught up lately isn’t entirely my fault.

Sleeping in same bed as husband
I used to be shocked when people told me they slept in separate beds, but we seem to have become that couple. Our daughter (as mentioned) isn’t a great fan of sleeping but will put up with it if she has a milk supply on tap all night. It’s quite cute having three of us squished into the bed but the smallest one tends to take up the most room and the adults end up lying precariously balanced on the sides. Sometimes I actually have one foot on the ground. So when my son turns up demanding his father come and help him back to sleep after a nightmare (or whatever drives the demonic wailing down the hallway) we are both more than a little relieved. I’m assuming we’ll get back to the same bed within a couple of years… right?

Feeding to sleep
How many times have I heard that feeding to sleep is an awful habit that creates bad sleep associations that I’ll never be able to break? I think I lost count at about 1432. But when the alternative is pacing up and down the hallway for four-and-a-half hours, I’ll take the option of feeding for 20 minutes. I figure there aren’t any 12-year-olds still feeding to sleep so we’ll break the habit at some point.

Are you good enough?

Are you a “good enough” mother?

The first time I heard this concept, I was horrified. It’s kind of the “Cs get degrees” of the parenting world, right?

The idea comes originally from a serious pediatrician and psychoanalyst type who talked about mothers starting off entirely devoted to their babies, sacrificing their own sleep to respond to the child’s needs (you know the drill). Then as the child got older, the mother would sometimes allow the baby to cry for a few minutes before a feed – so the child would feel a little frustration.

This was part of navigating the transition from the dreamlike baby-state of “have a need = have it met” to something more like reality.

The idea has now been drawn out to a more literal sense by lots of parents. It’s become the idea that we should be okay with not being perfect every day, nor should we strive to be. Because we are only human (much as some of us might not like to admit it) we need to let ourselves off from time to time. To have days where our parenting is perfectly adequate, but not exactly Pinterest-worthy.

I could not understand this a year ago.

I am not okay with being “good enough” in any other aspect of my life. If my boss told me I was “good enough”, I would be horrified. Why should it be okay for my little people, who are the most important things in my universe?

But since having my daughter in November, I’ve started to recalibrate my thinking.

I was not prepared for how hard the shift would be.  I figured I had done the hard bit in becoming a mother in the first place. Having another would be relatively easier, I assumed.

I was (mostly) wrong. It seems one of them is always awake. One is having a meltdown when the other needs me. The older one wants to roll around on the floor just as the little one needs a feed.

I find myself being less than I would like to be, for both of them. I’m telling the older one to wait a minute and it’s taking me longer to scoop the little one up. Tonight we had fish fingers and chips for dinner. Not perfect. But good enough?

I’ve accepted for my sanity that good enough is going to have to be acceptable, for now.

I’ll aim for better each day and sometimes I’ll succeed. Sometimes we’ll lie under the trees and find shapes in the clouds and learn new words and sing new songs. But sometimes our quality time will be watching Shrek while I jiggle the little one on my knee and worry about when I’m going to be able to get my work done.

Striving for perfection just gives me too many opportunities to fail. My kids are fed, they’re warm, they’re happy, they’re smart (so far as you can determine when one proudly professes that his achievement of the day was eating sand and the other tries to latch on to anything that passes) and they know they’re loved. I hope when they look back on this time in years to come – if they can even remember it – they feel my good enough was near enough to okay by them.

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Things I miss about my old life

My life is a million times better since my kids came along.

I was never much of a baby person, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. And for the most part, it’s been a wonderful surprise. Babies have such bad PR – I was expecting constant crying, endless nappies and mind-numbing tedium. But what I’ve ended up with is gooey gummy smiles, early-morning snuggles and giggles – often about nothing.

But there’s some stuff I really miss from my pre-motherhood life. If you’re yet to have a baby, this is what I recommend you make the most of.

Husband
You know, that man I loved enough to have two small humans with. I haven’t shared a bed with him for a whole night for more than four months. I realised how much I missed him the other night when he gave me a hug (as we were passing each other in the bathroom door – he coming out to make dinner and I going in to cajole our son out of the bath). I’m so used to hugging small people that the feel of a proper hug from an adult felt totally foreign.

He and I give each other sympathetic looks as we pass in the hallway trying to placate one child or the other. He reaches over to pat me when I’m off to feed the baby for the third time in one night.

Most of the time when I see him naked, it’s when he’s climbing into the bath with our son. We sit across the dinner table from each other – but spend the time trying to contain the mess of a small child eating, or trying to convince him that he should. I’m hoping against hope that my husband remembers I can talk about something not child-related and has the patience to wait it out until we get another chance to do so – maybe in 10 years?

Sleep
This has to be near the top of any parent’s list. I used to think I sometimes had trouble sleeping when I had the occasional 4am wake-up worrying about something to do with work. Or when the neighbours started up their electric garden implements before 9am.

How I hate the former me sometimes.

It’s now been at least three years since I’ve had a proper night’s sleep and I think it’s fantastic if I’m only up wandering around the house twice a night. Even when the kids sleep better than normal, I often wake up to make sure that they are still alive. Or I’m so conditioned to listen for a little cry that a meow from the cat has me bolting out of bed.

I want to sleep in but it’s pretty hard to relax and indulge when you A) have your baby in bed next to you squealing and giving you a hickey because she can’t latch on properly unless you lie in a contorted comma-shape next to her and B) you know your husband is involved in a Moana marathon in the lounge to distract the small person who wants to come in and visit.

Being able to go somewhere when I want to

You have to go and do something, so you go and do it. Drop something off to drycleaner? No problem. Go to the post office? Easy. Except when it’s not. Any time I want to do anything now I have to cajole the older one into getting into the car – bribes sometimes included, and strap in the little one to her capsule. Then when we get there I have to take the bigger one out and ensure that he does not run away while hauling the capsule out of the car – or the other way around except the capsule weighs about as much as a small car.

Then we struggle into the shop and I try to restrain the elder without permanently marking my legs with capsule bruises, do whatever it is I need to do, then pile everyone back into the car and hope no one starts crying on the way home. I have to have white noise or Moana playing on the stereo and I have to make sure I have a pile of nappies, wipes and a change of clothes for both on hand just in case.

Being able to accept evening invitations without hesitation

You invite me out and I say “yes”. Sounds simple, right? I have not done this for almost three years. Any time someone invites me out somewhere now I must first check with the husband. Will he be home? ThenI have to think about what should be happening at this time. Will a baby require feeding? Will a child refuse to sleep if I am not there? What work should I be doing that night that I won’t be able to do during the day because I am otherwise child wrangling? It’s usually easier not to try to do anything.

Speaking of which, being able to do nothing 
Before I had kids I sort of imagined they’d just do their own thing and I’d do mine. They might play with toys on the floor while I relaxed on the couch with a magazine. How wrong I was. If I try to work while my son is playing with his cars, he will often come bolting over and demand I stop so that I can help him build a hill out of his road mat. Or the only way to keep my daughter placid and happy is to walk in ever-decreasing circles in the living room, while pointing out birds in the tree outside and jiggling every third step. So I spend much of my day attending to the needs of one small person or the other, fitting in what I need to do around them. This means, when I get a minute to myself, I don’t get to just sit down and do nothing. There’s always something I should have been doing earlier that is becoming a “must do” now.

Not having to worry about where public toilets are
My son’s pretty much toilet-trained but he doesn’t give me a lot of warning. So when “I need to go to the toilet” rings out, I must take action. This means I have a better working knowledge of where the public conveniences are than I have any right to.

Listening to whatever I like in the car
See aforementioned white noise/Moana. Not only are my listening choices dictated by little people but should I dare to sing along, there is a shout from the back seat: Mum stop singing!

Breasts

It seems mad when there is so much more of them than there ever was before but I miss them just being part of me, not something that can get lumpy, hot, leaky or hard, and constantly the topic of conversation with Plunket nurses. I miss the time when it was I who had the final say in when I got them out in public, not a hungry small person. And I miss all my pretty bras.

Going to the toilet alone
I only realised how far this barrier had broken down for me when I was standing, talking to my husband in the bathroom the other day, and went to sit on the toilet in front of him. I know some couples are more than comfortable with this, but it never used to be our thing. Now, I’m so used to peeing with an audience that I don’t think twice.

My biggest mum fails

It’s fair to say that, when it comes to food, our son is not wildly adventurous. He has a few things he really likes – chocolate, banana smoothies, chicken nuggets and Grain Waves spring to mind – and a few he’ll tolerate – eggs, chicken, porridge…
So my husband sought some inspiration online. Today, I heard him asking our boy: Do you want Monkey Toast for lunch?
This was some Pinterest-inspired (or something) creation where you turn a slice of toast into something that resembles a monkey through the clever use of bananas and raisins.
“Maybe we can get him to eat something other than Easter eggs,” my husband hissed at me as the two of them went off to the kitchen.
A minute later, I heard shouting. “No banana! No raisins! Nooooo! That’s not what a monkey looks like!”
Mental note, darling husband: Unless you are actually toasting monkeys you’re at risk of over-promising and under-delivering if you suggest Monkey Toast.
It got me thinking about the times I’ve had significant mum fails.
Skype calls
These look super cute when other people do them. I see my friends’ kids madly Skyping their grandparents overseas or aunts and uncles in other parts of New Zealand and think – surely we could do that? We have tried, several times, particularly with one relative in the UK. Although my son will watch something on my iPad or phone avidly, as soon as we turn on Skype it’s all over. We might get a little view of his forehead or up his nose but then he puts down the device, turns away and wants nothing more to do with it.
Homemade birthday cards
So cute! I remember making birthday cards when I was little. Turns out it’s quite hard to get kids to do this. The first time I thought we had success, he was outraged when I was going to fold the masterpiece in half and give it to someone else. The second time, he assured me one streak of black across the piece of paper was sufficient. I ended up having to help colour in. Luckily my creative skills are pretty weak so it was believably from a small person.
Face painting
We went to an arts festival where there was face painting. “Would you like your face done?” I was upbeat, ready for him to decline. “Yes please.” So we waited about half an hour in the line only for him to get to the front and decide he didn’t like the idea of it after all.
Toilet training
We decided we were okay with “rewards” for using the toilet. Little did we realise that those rewards would turn into bribes. Within a couple of weeks, our son was using the toilet competently – but only if he knew he was to get a treat in return. Wee in the toilet? Better give me a biscuit. Poo? That’s got to be worth some chocolate. Now we’ve got a nascent capitalist on our hands whose expectations only grow. One of my friends said to me the other day: Shouldn’t they go to the toilet because they need to go to the toilet, not because they think they are going to get something? Yes, I agreed. Absolutely. Result: Wet bed for the first time ever.
Baby sensory
This sounds like such a good idea. Expose your baby to shapes and sounds and whatever else you can think of to build up their little budding genius brains. My son had a little box full of treasures – a rock, a feather, a pasta strainer (don’t ask). He paid absolutely no attention to this carefully curated box until he was old enough to use the pasta strainer to hit things – mostly me. My dog ate the pieces of macaroni. I also took him to a music class at the library, feeling very virtuous. He cried when I tried to give him a handheld bell and kept crawling off as the other kids got into their singing and actions. Now my daughter’s baby sensory experience involves being splashed in the face with water when I try to bath her at the same time as my son, and winding bits of my hair she has pulled from my head around her fingers.
Newborn photo shoot
Ah bliss. Beautiful photos of your new one while still sleepy and compliant enough to oblige. Sounds great but I left it too long so my son had a smattering of baby acne virtually everywhere. Someone hadn’t wiped his bum properly so there was also a nice smear of yellow poo across the cheek in the photos of his naked behind. Not one for the mantelpiece. With my daughter, I completely forgot.
Puddle hunts and other flights of whimsy
A woman posted on one of the mums groups I’m a member of something along the lines of: The kids are going nuts. It’s raining, what do I do to avoid mutiny? Someone suggested a puddle hunt. What a good idea, thought I. Son would love that. So the next day when there was a bit of rain, then sun, I told him to get on his gumboots and away we went. We walked for about half an hour. No puddles to be found. “I wanted to have a ‘venture,” he told me as we got back to the house. Sorry darling.
Similar things have happened when I suggested we paint rocks to hide – the paint went all over him and then the rock was chucked into the river instead of hidden. And when we made play dough – he poured the whole bottle of food colouring in so I was too scared to let the playdough touch any surfaces. Treasure hunt in the garden? We only found dog poo but he still wanted to put it in the collection basket. I might just have to accept I’m never going to be a Pinterest-worthy mother.

Yes, you can pay your village

You know what I am really over? Daycare guilt.
We are constantly told it takes a village to raise a child. That it’s really important to rely on other people – leave your kids with friends while you go and do something to replenish your own stores, lean on grandparents to give you a night off.
But if you decide that some members of your particular village are going to be paid professionals working at a daycare centre, all hell breaks loose. Won’t your kids develop attachment issues? Haven’t your seen that study that said daycare kids were all aggressive and fat (or something)?
My son has been in a fantastic centre since he was about one. And for almost all of that time, I’ve felt that it’s something that the world thinks I should feel guilty about.
Every conversation I’ve had about daycare has been littered with comments like “I’m sure you’d rather be at home with him full-time” or “we do what we have to”. Like this is somehow meant to make me feel better.
I find myself hedging and justifying: “Oh, he’s only in three part-days a week.” “We spend lots of time together through the rest of the week.”
Why don’t we turn this on its head? Daycare shouldn’t be seen as a necessary evil. It escapes me how leaving my child with trained and skilled teachers he knows and likes in a centre designed to stimulate, educate and entertain him – and keep him safe – is somehow worse parenting than relying on a revolving roster of friends to pick up the slack when I need to work. I know of people who will proudly tell me their kids are never going to daycare – but then are happy to stick them in front of the TV at their aunt’s place for hours on end.
My son has developed a little crew of friends at daycare and is exposed to activities I would not have the stomach for if it were just up to me.  It’s messy, raucous and ridiculous but it works when you’ve got a team of adults overseeing a group of kids.
He goes for a walk to look at fire trucks with his little friends, does gorgeous art works and comes home full of stories about what he’s been doing.
The teachers are gentle and supportive and loving. Every so often I get a reminder of this – the most recent was when I went to pick him up yesterday and saw one rest her head against him in the same way I know I do.
And there’s what it gives me, too. I get to carry on working, which I love and which gives me a sense of self that is independent from my role as a mum. I’m a better mother for it. And to that beauty therapist who Iaughed and asked why I should need childcare when I work from home, I say: “Please refer to the BBC interview clip that recently went viral.”
The teachers have given me confidence by backing me with every parenting concern I’ve taken to them, regularly telling me the things they like about my son and not being afraid to smother him with hugs and distraction when drop-offs have been tricky.
There is ample research that shows, despite the scaremongering, good quality childcare leads to great outcomes. A study found that people who attended good quality daycare in the 1970s now are more likely to be more qualified adults, with better employment outcomes and had had their own kids a bit later in life than those kids who did not go to daycare. Another study showed higher cognitive and academic achievement scores for teenagers who had been through good daycare.
The key seems to be finding a great centre with low child-to-teacher ratios and well-trained staff. So let’s stop making people feel bad for using centres and instead put our time and effort into helping nurture good-quality care.
I’m going to do my best not to allow my daycare guilt to creep in any longer. My son is flourishing and thriving and I know that’s due in part to the wonderful care he gets – even if is only three part-days a week.