The tiny people days

There’s a song on the radio at the moment called ‘The Days’ by Avicii. It’s one of those upbeat summer anthem types, yet I can’t listen to it without getting choked up. Because while the carefree lyrics are, I think, aimed at those in their halcyon university years, somehow they have come to carry a much more substantial meaning to me. While I have found various lines that are applicable to me for weird, personal reasons, it’s really the chorus that gets me:

These are the days we’ve been waiting for
And days like these who couldn’t ask for more
Keep them coming
Cause we’re not done yet
These are the days we won’t regret
These are the days we won’t forget

On good days, these words feed into my joy. On bad days, they become a bit of a mantra, helping me regain a bit of perspective and reminding me of the value of the time I’m investing in my tiny people.

Colin and I often talk about the paradox of the toddler years. They are so fundamental to who we become, yet we don’t remember them. As children we don’t remember how cute we were, or all the games and outings we had. But as parents, once the trauma of sleep deprivation has passed, I think they become golden years. Already I know we are going to miss these days and look back on them with nostalgic fondness. And isn’t that the strange thing about time? Because right now, the average day is pretty hard!

The exhausting days
At two months old, Aiden is now such a part of our family that it’s hard to imagine a time without him. But wow, it is exhausting! Cameron is an absolute whirlwind, always on the go and perpetually bursting with energy. When that force (and believe me, it is a force) is combined with the energy depleting nature of breastfeeding and broken nights, it’s a deadly cocktail. And so the exhausting days have a number of spin offs including the ‘forgetful’ days, the ‘impatient’ days and the ‘what were we thinking having another kiddie so soon’ days.

One of my challenges at the moment is that my reserves have been depleted by a long and tough year. So I reach that tired, emotional breakdown point, where everything feels overwhelming, much more frequently that I did when Cam was a newborn. As Col is also suffering from burnout we are having to regularly call in the grandmother reinforcements. We are just so grateful to have both our moms near by and available.

The ‘just say no’ days
I am finding that if I keep my social and personal engagements to a bare minimum, and focus my energy on Cameron and Aiden, then life can be really pleasant. But the problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t leave any time for Colin or myself, and after a while I start to crave something other than finger painting, playing dinos, reading stories and rocking Aiden to sleep. But the moment I let my expectations include something not toddler or baby friendly, tension immediately arises because Cam wants to be involved or Aiden refuses to sleep and I quickly find myself frustrated and impatient.

So right now I am just trying to say no. It’s especially hard at this time of year when there is so much going on socially, and there are so many little traditions that I love but need to shelve (like making fudge – a truly risky undertaking when one is at the mercy of temperamental nap times).

The rapidly changing days
The equilibrium of peace and merriment in our house can change in an instant. We go from playing happily outside, with Aiden gurgling away under a tree, to Cameron hurting himself and throwing all his resources into fighting off my Savlon wielding hands. By the time Cam is sorted, Aiden in inevitably crying and my half drunk tea is stone cold. Next thing I know I am utterly drained and wondering bemusedly how twenty minutes ago I was feeling so energetic.

The thankful days
One of my coping strategies at the moment is my Happier app. I try to end off each day by sharing three things I am grateful for. Even on tough days there are usually far more than three. Because Cameron is just so delightful, coming up with the cutest statements and antics. Because our house and garden is a blessing and is full of unexpected wonders if you have the time to look for them. (For example, two days ago we saw a pair of hoopoes mating!) Because Aiden is growing before our very eyes and is starting to give us glimpses of his personality. So back to Avicii:

These are the days we’ve been waiting for
Neither of us knows what’s in store
You just roll your window down and place your bets
These are the days we won’t regret
These are the days we’ll never forget

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A heavy mommy heart

Last week Cameron started playgroup three mornings a week. We’d arranged it months ago, but the timing worked out incredibly well with my first premature labour scare. I was really comfortable with our decision as Cam has been getting bored at home and he seemed ready for it. This was confirmed when he absolutely loved his first three days, waiting at the door with his bag in the mornings and not wanting to leave when Col went to fetch him. In fact, Colin and I struggled far more than Cam! It was the first time we’ve had to let go a bit, leaving him with someone who isn’t family or a close friend. It was Cam’s first ‘grown-up’ step and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to getting a little choked up.

Since I was discharged after my first hospital stint Cam has been really sensitive about being left with his grandparents, something which usually doesn’t bother him in the slightest. I can understand this as he’s spent the last two weeks been passed around between my parents and Col’s mom. He loves them all dearly but I think the magnitude of change has caught up with him. So on Sunday, when we all went to Col’s mom for lunch, we reassured him that mommy and daddy weren’t leaving him this time. And then while he was having his nap, I went into labour again and what did we have to do? Leave him! I struggled with this more than anything.

Fortunately the doctor only kept me for two nights during this last hospital visit, but both Col and I have noticed an increase in Cam’s mommy-radar since Sunday. He wants to know where I am all the time and gets upset if he can’t stay with me. Yesterday, when Colin dropped him off at playgroup he was a bit niggly so this morning we decided it might help if I went with for the drop off. Huge, giant, colossal mistake. My poor little boy utterly lost it. He struggled desperately in his teacher’s arms, crying for all he was worth, screaming for his mommy and daddy, while Col and I got out of there as quickly as we could. I managed to hold myself together just long enough to close the car door before I collapsed into tears too. I cried all the way home and my poor husband had to console me as best he could before rushing off to work (as if he doesn’t have enough to deal with right now).

Cam’s teacher has let me know that he calmed down quickly, and the truth is, we really need him to be in playgroup at the moment. I can’t look after him by myself right now so having these three mornings makes a massive difference in the complicated logistics of our family life. But this morning’s drama has brought all my concerns for Cam to the surface and my mommy-heart is aching. With the best intentions, a lot of people have told me not to worry about Cameron right now and to just focus taking it easy for the sake of the new baby. But telling me not to worry about my child is like telling me not to breathe, especially when I can see he’s struggling with the situation we are all dealing with. His whole world until two weeks ago was being at home with me, with weekly visits to his grandparents and Nans. Now his mommy keeps disappearing unexpectedly, he’s never alone with me when I am around and he is spending more time away from home than at home. It is a massive upset in life as he knows it and it’s totally understandable that the poor kid is reeling.

We’ll all get through these next few weeks, and hopefully with some extra love and reassurance Cameron will settle down again soon. He understands a lot more than we realise so my strategy at the moment is to talk to him about what’s happening, focus on him whenever I can and shower him with cuddles. (There are also a lot more ice-creams and treats being consumed in our house right now, but honestly I think I need them just as much as Cam!) This inexplicable objection my body has to the third trimester of pregnancy is making life incredibly complicated right now and I am just praying that it’s not going to negatively affect Cameron’s reaction to having a little brother. At the same time I am praying that the little brother remains in the womb for at least another month. Needless to say, it’s a rough period for our family, but we will just continue to take it one day at a time. We’re grateful for the huge support system we have, and are finding little things to celebrate. Like summer, ice-cream and three-for-two specials on tissues!

Mac and cheese with a side order of guilt please

Over the last few weeks (okay, okay – the last few months) I’ve gotten into the bad habit of letting Cameron eat lunch in front of the TV. For some reason I decided today was the day to revert back to eating lunch at the table. What a disaster!

I was totally unprepared for the resistance I was faced with. I ended up eating alone while Cameron lay on the couch in floods of tears, alternatively asking for ‘Beebees’ (TV) and Bunny (the only thing in the world who understands him). The situation escalated far more quickly than I anticipated and I found myself in an unplanned battle of wills, having to stick to my point even though I wasn’t sure why I’d decided to make it in the first place. I’d told him he could watch TV after lunch so in the end I got him to eat three forkfuls at the table and then let him watch one show.

I’m still not sure who won.

I find these battles utterly draining, especially when they sneak up on me like this one did. Cameron moves on from them before the tear stains have even faded but I find the fallout much longer lasting. I know how important it is to stand my ground, but I often find myself having treacherous thoughts like, ‘I should have given him some warning that the routine was going to change.’ And today as I sit here devouring his uneaten mac and cheese (assuaging my guilt with carbs), I have to wonder if he’s fallen asleep hungry.

I find disciplining a toddler hard, hard, hard work. The frequency of ‘boundary battles’ is just discouraging at times. A perfectly happy morning can disintegrate into a war zone in seconds, and then swing back to a peace and tranquillity shortly after. (If I had to experience the level of emotion that Cameron does in the average day I would be an utterly exhausted wreck! I don’t know where kids get their stamina from.)

But I think the biggest problem is that these situations often leave me with a gnawing feeling of guilt over how I handled them. (Having the maid hovering at the doorway with accusing eyes while Cameron flings himself dramatically on the couch probably doesn’t help.) Mom-guilt is an insidious, evil beast, and as there’s never a right answer when it comes to parenting, it has ample opportunity to attack.

The worst part of it is that now I’ve started this process so for the next few days I will have to continue with my quest to have lunch at the table. Not a thought that encourages me. I think I’ll go find some chocolate now …

Not much room for pride in parenting

I find parenting to be a hugely humbling experience. Firstly there is the miracle of conception, pregnancy and birth. Then there are those terrifying moments when you feel utterly unequipped to raise a child. There’s the wonder of watching a little person grow and develop, which makes your heart swells with pride. And then there are those times when that little person brings your ego down a peg or two…

One Saturday a few weeks ago, Colin and Cameron were having a jam session. While VH1 blasted 80’s hits into our lounge, they danced madly and generally had a great time. Sinead o’Connor’s Nothing compares to you, provided a breather, and as they sat on the couch, Colin enthusiastically belted out the words to his adoring son. As he hit the chorus and his voice quavered over that classic high note, Cameron leaned over and placed his little hand deliberately over his dad’s mouth. Colin hasn’t been heard singing since!

Some days later, it was my turn. Cam has been learning new words every day and we were running through the names of family members. In his confident little voice, he churned out, ‘GG’, ‘Pop’, Nannan’ and ‘Daddy’. But when asked to say Mommy, he replied ‘Dum Dum’. I only wish I could say it was a one-time thing!

Bye-bye baby

Over the last few months Cameron has transformed into a real little toddler. While I do have moments when I miss my baby, I am enjoying this phase so much. It’s just cuteness at every turn!

I am constantly floored by how much Cam understands. It’s so rewarding to watch him following simple instructions like, ‘Go sit at the table’ or ‘Choose a book to read.’ It has made me realize how much I rely on others talking to feel that I’m understood, but Cam clearly understands without being old enough to articulate it verbally.
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Until recently Cameron didn’t show an affinity for any particular type of toy. He’s always loved birds, but blocks, cars or dinosaurs didn’t elicit a strong reaction. This changed suddenly over December and now cars, trucks, planes and helicopters are the fad of the moment. ‘Brmmm brmmm’ reverberates around our house all day and one is in constant danger of tripping over wooden cars and trucks which lie strewn on every floor. He also loves helping Col reverse his car every morning. He climbs into Col’s lap and waves happily at me as he ‘turns’ the steering wheel and honks the hooter.

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Col has started some other cute traditions with Cam too. Every day when he gets home from work Cam follows him to bedroom when he goes to change. Cam then takes Col’s shirt and socks and deposits them in the laundry basket after which he gives himself a hearty round of applause.

Imitation seems to be the primary medium of learning right now and our little copycat is trying to emulate us at every turn. When I put cream on in the mornings his little hand joins in the smearing. If the gardener is raking leaves Cam rushes out to join in. When Col does his stretches Cam limbers up too. He’s feeding himself really well at meals and often rejects his fork in favour of a ‘grown-up’ one.
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One of the things I’m enjoying most about this phase is how apparent the thought process is. You can just see the wheels turning as Cam tries to figure things out and his delight when he gets things right is contagious.

Watching Cam learn has led me to another conclusion – parents are really very simple creatures to please. The tiniest accomplishment on Cam’s part results in totally disproportionate levels of pride on ours. But as our expectations for Cam are within reason, and as he thrives on our praise I say bring on the parental pride!
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Intelligence is the ability to adapt

Today, for the first time (but undoubtably not the last) I was the mother of that child – the one who has a full on tantrum in a public place and leaves his poor mother utterly bewildered by the force of his will. It began during Cam’s swimming lesson. We’d been having a lovely time. And then eight minutes before the end of the lesson he spotted the jelly bean jar. Whining and pointing quickly escalated to full-scale screaming, while I tried valiantly to distract my son by continuing with the exercises. Humpy Dumpty, Willie Wallie and Ring-a-ring-a Rosies were all ignored by my inconsolable child. We tried hiding the jar, but it only made things worse (apparently my new strategy of hiding sweets at home has left Cam with deep seated fears that he’s never going to get any ever again). After rushing through the last bit of the lesson, during which the other two babies in the class also started crying (because clearly something awful was happening), Cam was finally given his sweets. Instantly the crying stopped. My child, who ten seconds previously, had been screaming bloody murder, was all smiles as I slunk past the parents waiting for the next class. A mortified mother? Yip, that was me.

We are no strangers to tantrums (moms of little ones – tantrums begin way before the second birthday so brace yourselves), but this was the first one I have had to deal with in public. To be honest, I just didn’t know what to do. I have a few coping strategies for tantrums. Sometimes distraction works. But despite the fact that Cam never focuses during swimming lessons because there is so much to see, after spotting those jelly beans he was suddenly utterly devoted to keeping them in sight. Time-outs are my next weapon if choice, but I couldn’t very well leave him alone in the corner of the pool. And reasoning with a seventeen-month old is an utter waste of breath. In hindsight I should have left the pool and cut the lesson short but it didn’t occur to me at the time so I just rode it out, apologized meekly at the end and got out of there as fast as I could.

Since Cam turned one, we’ve been seeing more and more evidence of what a strong-willed child he is. I am also learning that I need different strategies to Col for dealing with him. For example, if Col raises his voice Cameron listens; if I raise my voice Cameron laughs at me. So a few weeks ago I decided that instead of raising my voice or lowering my tone, I’d grab Cam’s hands, make eye-contact with him and firmly say ‘No’. My first few attempts at this were hugely successful and I was encouraged. But then that sneaky Rip caught on. Now when I grab his hands, Cameron immediately starts looking at the ceiling, bending over backwards and twisting left and right – all in a desperate attempt to avoid making eye-contact! If he doesn’t look at me, I can’t say ‘No’. (It probably didn’t help that the first time he pulled this move I started laughing. It was just so cool to see how his brain works – even if it’s working hard at disobeying me.)

I think it was Stephen Hawking who said that intelligence is the ability to adapt. So now the question is, who can adapt fastest – mother or child?

What weekends are made of

When I think back on my childhood there are certain events that stand out – family holidays, birthdays and Christmases. But filling in the gaps in between are countless afternoons and evenings spent at the homes of friends of my parents. These are vague recollections, featuring various other children. My brother and I would spend hours tearing around the garden, taking breaks for sustenance in between, before passing out exhausted on a handy couch or bed. These memories represent uneventful weekends over a period years. They are extraordinary ordinary moments.

Last night we had a few friends over for a braai (barbeque for non- South African readers). Of the five couples, four have children and the fifth is expecting their first next year. The ten kids ranged from nine years to five months and for a few splendid hours our garden rang with shouts of delight (and the occasional and inevitable screams of protest).

There’s always a lot to do when one is hosting people and I spent a fair bit of time running around. But in the midst of getting dinner ready I had a realization – our house is going to feature in the childhood memories of this next generation. And that’s kind of awesome!

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