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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Clearing out a drawer today, I came across a small, square box which contained a necklace that I had received for some Christmas or birthday and which I had completely forgotten about.  I’ve never really been one for necklaces — I don’t like the feeling of a weight of hanging off my neck, and this one looked particularly heavy.  I could see why it ended up in the bottom of that drawer.

But something possessed me to try it on, and I was surprised to find it was light and really quite comfortable.  And surprised even more by how nice it looked.  I was wearing a pair of old jeans and a plain v-neck t-shirt I’ve worn a million times, but this necklace seemed to suddenly liven things up.  I looked… well… dressy!   I left the necklace on all day.

Lying on the bed to feed E2 down to sleep tonight, she spotted the necklace for  (what was apparently) the first time with a look of surprise, which quickly changed to intrigue.

“Mummy, what is that?!?”

“It’s my necklace.”

“Can I touch it?  Can I touch the middle bit…  there?”  Her face was all scrunched up.

“Yes, go ahead.”

She lifted her hand toward the necklace, finger outstretched, hesitated a moment, and then pressed it gently against the middle of the pendant.

“OH!” her eyes wide, her face a picture of completely shock.

“What is it, sweetheart?” I asked, suppressing a chuckle.  What about a necklace could possibly be so surprising?

“I thought…” she looked up at me, still startled and a little confused, “I thought it was cheese!”

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A few things that every modern mother should keep in mind:

  1. Vaseline has an endless number of uses.
  2. Vaseline is fascinating.
  3. Vaseline comes off of hardwood floors so much better than it does out of carpet.  Hardwood wins again.
  4. Even still, Vaseline is very, very hard to remove completely from hardwood.
  5. Stay calm.
  6. Start by lifting the majority of it off with tissues.  Be sure to grab a full box — you’ll be using a lot.  Don’t forget that clump over there in the hallway…  oh, and another there in the doorway to the bedroom… and, oh look, more Vaseline in the bedroom… in a trail round the bed… on the bedstead…  there in front of the dresser…
  7. Then grab your all-purpose cleaner and start scrubbing, because even when you’ve removed the majority of the thickness of it, there’s still a lot of Vaseline slimed to the floor.
  8. Calm down now.
  9. Once you’ve abandoned the useless all-purpose cleaner, turn to ordinary washing-up liquid.  The sudsing action will start to break through the greasiness of the Vaseline… it will also spread it, and probably not do your hardwood any good.
  10. Vaseline is slippery.  Washing-up liquid is slippery too.
  11. Now you’ll have got the majority of the Vaseline off the floors but you’ll never be able to get it all up — there will remain a very thin coating on the floor that you just won’t be able to get up for love nor money.  So, remember that the floor will be slick and you’ll need to take as you walk back across the roo….  OAFFF!!!  That had to hurt!!!
  12. Terrified children who have just witnessed their already-enraged mother slip up on a thin slick of Vaseline and fall full-weight onto her arse do not take much encouragement to go into their rooms and shut the doors and sit quietly hoping no-one will notice them, so do try to control to urge to scream at them at the top of your lungs.
  13. Stop screaming.
  14. Stop screaming.  They’re gone.  They’re in their rooms.  You’re screaming at an empty hallway and I know it feels good to release, but… stop now.
  15. Put your cleaning materials away.  Then pause, lean heavily against the bed and rub your aching hip  …and then realise the house is perfectly still for the first time in months.
  16. Ah… breathe out slowly and enjoy the blessed quiet.  You see?  Vaseline has an endless number of uses.

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I will be in bed in seven minutes.

I need to go to bed in seven minutes because in seven minutes it will tomorrow, and tomorrow I need to start the day bright-eyed and raring to go.  Tomorrow I need to exercise first, maybe even before the children get up, have my shower, eat my breakfast, charge into the day as if it were the first day of the rest of my life.

I need to do this because I never do this.  I stay up late, late, late into the night, and then cling to my morning-sleep like a drowning man to a rope.  And I get up fairly late — well, very late by mummy-standards — when E1 calls me, and I put her on the toilet, and bring her back to bed with a nice cold cup of milk, and then tell/convince/cajole/beg her to let Mummy sleep a bit longer.  Please, please, let me sleep a bit longer…  I am soooo tired… I don’t tell her it’s my own fault.  It just is what is.  And we can all get up when the clock says…

She’s so good — she waits.  She sleeps, or she plays.  And she watches the clock.  And her sister make wake, but she reads a book to Pink Lamb — I hear her through the monitor, and smile sleepily.  And it’s all good — in our world, this is just how it works.

But I know that sounds wrong — deeply wrong — to most people.  Statistically, the world is mostly made of morning people, and they have set the ground-rules.  Early to bed, early to rise…  The early bird gets the worm… (Seriously, is that last one meant to inspire me?).  And that’s great — it works for them.  But nightowls are actually wired differently — our brains have been shown to be active in the evenings in a mirror of the way that morning people’s brains are active in the morning and, likewise, less active in the mornings the way others’ brains are winding down in the evening.  Oh, we swim against the tide, but it’s not by choice — it’s how we’re made.

And I wouldn’t have chosen it, if I could have.  Life is harder as a nightowl — it doesn’t go down well.  M doesn’t get it one bit — to him, it’s a crime against nature itself that I don’t have those girls up at 6am!  And my mother has commented a fair few times.  It looks like laziness to anyone who isn’t in the same boat.  My dad has no idea how late I stay up…  I dread to think what he’d make of it.

I want to change it.  I do want to claw those hours back on the clock, shift our days back by three hours so they end a bit earlier and so can start a bit earlier.  You know, at a decent hour, like decent folk do.  I’ve been trying for a year, and I haven’t managed it.  Foiled at every turn.

I explained to my mum, you can’t spend two-and-a-half years getting up with the baby once… twice… three times a night without it affecting your sleep patterns for a long time afterwards.  You can’t spend the first 14 months of that child’s life never getting to sleep before 4 or 5am without it having its impact.  Particularly when your body is already wired that way and goes ahead and happily sets the new pattern in stone.  “Hmmm,” my mum said, her disapproval softening a bit, “I’d never thought of it that way.”

So, I go to bed early.  I make myself do it even though I don’t want to, and even though there are books to read and websites to look at and bills to pay and yarns to spin.  And I put it all away and go to bed — and then I stare at the ceiling.  I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for an hour… for two hours… for two-and-a-half, until it finally rolls around to the time I would have gone to bed normally… and then I fall asleep.  It’s incredibly frustrating!  But I do it because I need to claw this body-clock back to something decent.  So night after night, I remain determined… and after three nights, it starts to get a bit better, like a clog in a pipe that slowly starts to break up, the sleep begins to come a bit easier…  And then, just like clockwork, on the fourth night, one of the girls has me up for some reason or another once, twice, maybe three times…  and I am shot away.  My body conspires against me and the whole cycle starts up again.  Please let Mummy sleep for another hour or two…  I’m so tired… We can get up when the clock says…

But now it’s time.  This time, I am going to do it.  I am going to get past this and get it to work!  When M went to bed, I promised him I’d be right up.  Just a couple of things to do, and I’ll be in bed before midnight.  I would!  Which is why I have to be in bed in seven minutes, before today becomes tomorrow and the cycle starts again.  Only seven more minutes.

Except that now it’s gone ten minutes to 1am.

Damn!

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When we first moved into this house, we debated about ripping the carpets up and finishing the hardwood floors.  I knew they were diamonds in the rough.  I wanted to do it — really, really wanted to do it — but everyone else was against it.  M thought we didn’t have the money to spend (and, to be fair, he was right).  My dad couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to “just move into the house and enjoy it, as he would.  And my mum was adamant that hardwood floors are so much harder to keep clean than carpet (but the truth is she just doesn’t much like hardwood).

In the end, I listened to none of them, and I have never regretted it for a minute.  Not only because they are gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.  And not only because I realised with hindsight that, with her allergies and asthma, E2 probably would have suffered a lot more with carpet in her room than she is with that nice clean hardwood.  And not only because there were quite notable decreases in M’s migraine and sinus problems first when we moved to the States and changed to forced air heat, and then yet again when we moved to this house with its hardwood throughout.

No… no… not just for all those reasons.  No, I was so glad that I had decided to go ahead and rip out the carpets, to listen to my gut and get the hardwood finished all though the house…  I was so glad today, as I followed a little trail from one room of the house to another…  A little trail of neat little brown plops of poo — one every few feet — which led me through three rooms and finally ended at a pair sagging, straining training pants, filled way beyond their capacity, employed far beyond their remit, by a little girl who had completely forgotten that she wasn’t wearing a nappy and is now supposed to use the toilet instead.

I lifted her in one swift motion and deposited her — clothes, socks, training pants, and all — straight into the bathtub, and ran downstairs to quickly collect the plops before someone else unknowingly squished them underfoot.  And, as I gathered them up easily with a damp cloth and some disinfectant — to the panicked howls of  “But Mummy I am still wearing my clothes!!!” — I thought back to my mum’s argument…

When she said carpet was easier to keep clean, she was never imagining this.

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Just lately, several people have written to me or left comments on the blog, wondering where I am, whether I’m ok.  The happy-spin answer is that I’ve been taking some time off, basking in the glow of the love of my family.  The truth is, it’s felt a lot more like hanging on by the skin of my teeth, and so I’ve found myself  cutting out anything that’s not about what needs to be done now.  With the emphasis firmly on needs and now.

Things began ramping up round about the time we ended up in the Emergency Room three times in five weeks.  That’s going to be a rough time by any standard but, more than that, it was the fear and unsettling of it that exhausted me.   Would it always be like this?  Is this a spate of bad luck, or is this the beginning?  And I wanted to go to bed and curl up for a while.

But there was no going to bed, and no curling up.  There was work, work, and extra work to be done: holding and loving and comforting and night-feeds and breath-watching and breathing treatments and lots of cleaning up.   All mess and the putting away and tidying up seemed to multiply exponentially, and I don’t know why.  But it did and it called my name and I had to answer, because I am the only one who hears it.

And then there was the book-balancing.  For every trip to ER, there was a follow up appointment with the paediatrician (or sometimes two) and then maybe one with the allergist as well (or two),  and a prescription (or… many), and maybe even a vaccine just for good measure.  And so for every one of those, there is also a co-pay.  In a matter of weeks, we racked up hundreds — hundreds — in co-pays.  And this at the same time that M’s hours were going through (yet another) stage of fluctuating wildly.  One week he’d barely get 40 hours, the next he’s scramble to clock up 30… and then would come a week of 60-plus hours, which provided the blessed relief that almost brought us into the black but also tore the stuffing out of M in the process.  And then start over: short week, short week, work-to-death week; short week, short week, work-to-death week.  M was shattered, I was trying to ride this financial roller coaster, and the copays cut right through whatever cushion we might have had.

And the pressure on M to workandworkandwork was immense.  Every day that he came home early felt like storm clouds gathering.  Every day that he worked late was… oh so good as I looked at the clock and watched the hours mount up, but his work is back-breaking and those extra hours exhausted him, and then the girls went to bed before he got home again.  And then the on-call rota changed: instead of being on call every four weeks, it would now be every three — which sounds more benign than it is.  Because they line up the jobs for the on-call days, what this effectively means is that he works a normal week, then twelve days in a row, and then a normal week, and then twelve days in a row…  Combined with the fluctuating paycheques and the feeling that work had become everything and everything was work, the pressure on M cranked up another notch.

M has never been one to handle stress in a particularly healthy way.  He internalises everything, expresses nothing, pushes everyone else away, and allows his mind to run away with worries.  And then the worry increases his stress, and he falls into a vicious spiral, and he can’t break free.  And as I watch him go down and down and down like this, I feel that I must do something — I must do something — to lift the pressure from him.   And then I am heaping the pressure on myself:  I must get a job,  I must start a business,  I must clean the house more… or maybe better.  I must keep the children quiet, I must give him more room, I must try to talk more, I must draw him out, I must leave him alone.  et répéter: I must make some money, I must get a job…  or work from home… start a business.  And he asks me when I’m going to start a business, when I’m going to pull in some money.  And my mother asks me why I don’t just start a business, or find a job working from home…  And a quiet voice in my head tries to point out that if starting a business were easy or work-from-home jobs weren’t like hens’ teeth… but I feel the criticism so keenly that it never gets much further than that.

The truth is, I don’t know how I’d do it.  The balance between us is off-balance: he works (so hard!), and does the grocery run, he takes the trash out, and cooks about half the time; and I do everything else.  By that I mean everything else that keeps our lives running: not just all the housework and the childcare 24/7, but the taxes, the banking, the bill-paying, the letter opening, the form-filling, all the problem solving, the bureaucracy navigation, the appointment making, the car maintaining…  Every decision that impacts our lives rests squarely on my shoulders.   And the more stressed he is, the more I try to take on to lighten his load.  His pressure spills over to become my pressure too.  I want to take as much of his burden as I can, but thought of adding a job to that — or starting a business – just stops me frozen in my tracks.   And so there I stood, frozen, right next to him, frozen.

So it makes sense that, one day a few months ago, something inside him finally snapped — quite literally.  He came home from work and showed me a protrusion in his lower abdomen, an area about the size of his palm where the muscle wall had torn and his intestine was pushing through under his skin.  It’s not the first time he’d had a hernia — he’d had an umbilical hernia all his life that he’d finally had corrected about eight years ago — but that was nothing like this.  This was big and, with his kind of work, it was only going to get worse.  So a specialist was consulted (co-pay!) and a surgery date was scheduled.  And I asked… how long is the recovery?  How long? Because he gets no paid sickdays.

And here was a bright spark of good news!  The hernia was caused by work, so the surgery and recovery would be paid by Workers’ Compensation.  Oh, thank goodness for that.  And though Workers’ Comp pays reduced wages in order to encourage you back to work as soon as possible, it would be enough.  It would be enough.

Ten days before his surgery, I felt a tickle in the back of my throat.  M could not get sick — a delay would put the surgery to the other side of Christmas and mess everything up.   I got worse, he stayed away.  I felt rotten — rotten — and then E1 fell ill too, and he couldn’t take care of either of us.   So I did everything — all the childcare, all the comforting, all the while just wanting to crawl into bed — and waited for E2 to come down and the inevitable trip to ER.  It would surely end in the trip to ER…

And here was another bright spark, shining through the dark: E2 not only didn’t end up in ER, she actually never even got sick.  This child who has not been able to come within ten feet of a single germ without coming to the brink of not breathing, without scaring us all half to death…  this child kissed us, she cuddled us, she shared a drink with her sister (aughhhh!!!) and yet she never even so much as coughed.  Saints be praised!  Steroids, how wrong I was to distrust you!

And then, one last bright, shining spark.  The surgery is  done, the patient recovering and, by coincidental timing, he is enjoying what is truly  Christmas for him: days on end away from work.  Days and days and days to just rest and relax, in a way that I haven’t seen him do since we arrived in the States.  And as the days have passed, the worry has fallen away, the vicious spiral has stopped swirling around him and…  he has changed.  Today, I caught him looking at E2 in wonder — the kind of wonder that parents should have when they contemplate the miracle of their own children…  but which I haven’t seen on his face in months…  or even years?  I had forgotten what that looks like.   And yesterday, as I as dashing out to the shop, he floored me by suddenly looking up and suggesting to the girls that they make the gingerbread house that had been overlooked in the run up to Christmas.  He offered to make the gingerbread house! I left the house in shock.  Dear reader, I say this in all honesty: I had forgotten what it was to have a partner who wanted to be a part of the family.  I had spent so long watching him want to escape us — really wanting to escape us and the bother and the chaos — and suddenly here he was,  sitting the girls at the table and breaking out the icing sugar…  Volunteering to do something with them.  I left the house hardly recognising my own husband.

And as I drove to the shops, I felt like I was floating on air. Floating on air! The way I felt inside, in that space right behind my ribs — so light, so warm — I can hardly describe.  Like… like maybe we weren’t falling apart.  And suddenly I realised that, with a little more of that behind me — just a little more — I could do anything.  I could do everything!  I could keep this house running, I could make some money, I can put our world on track.  I can get us home.  I just need the love in the house, I just need the strength it gives.

I worry that when he goes back to work, the spell will be broken.  I worry that life will overcome us both again and we will slide down again.  But at least we have seen it, seen how it might be if we can make things change.  …If we can make things change, and keep ourselves up here, up here with our heads above the surface.

Here’s to a fresh start and God’s blessings in 2010.  Happy New Year, everyone.

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…I laid in the near-dark, feeding E2 down for the night, her little body curled into mine, and me drifting in and out of semi-sleep as she fed…   I pulled the covers a little tighter over the two of us, and allowed myself to drift back into sleep for a while longer…

Yada yada yada.  Thanksgiving was on Thursday and, let me tell you, I love me some Brussels sprouts.  Love ’em.  Ate tonnes of them.  A-a-and they’re still working their way through my system.

So, tonight,  as we lay on the bed, I curled my sleeping daughter into me and gently drifted off… once again, that most perfect, peaceful moment…

And then I trumpeted so loudly that I scared myself bolt upright.

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I laid in the near-dark, feeding E2 down for the night, her little body curled into mine, and me drifting in and out of semi-sleep as she fed.  After awhile, I became conscious that she’d stopped and I could feel her breath, slow and even, across my skin.  I gently pulled my top back into place, careful not to disturb her at all, and got ready to carry her to bed and go downstairs, to have a cup of tea and a little mindless telly.

And then… I changed my mind.  For my daughter, there is no better place in the world to be than asleep in her mother’s arms, safe against the warmth of my body, completely at peace here with me in the dark.   I pulled the covers a little tighter over the two of us, and allowed myself to drift back into sleep for a while longer.

This is the best part of the day — for both of us.

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