Baby huilen – about siblings

Before the baby was born I was really quite worried about how the Toddler would take the arrival of a little sister. I had read all sorts of horror stories, including toddlers hurting the new baby, taking developmental steps backwards and even rejecting their mother in favour of Daddy as a protest. I tried to do anything and everything I could to reassure him he was loved and not to cause him to attach any negative associations to the baby unnecessarily.

This is what we did:
* We rehearsed the various scenarios for when I went into labour with the various babysitters, to make sure he felt happy with them and that his stay with them was not something new and scary, then followed by a baby sister.
* If I was unable to do something he wanted me to do (like play horsey or pick him up) while heavily pregnant, I gave a reason that was not ‘because of the baby’ – like ‘because it hurts mummy’s back’.
* The baby got him a present.
* We tried to make sure we gave him lots and lots of cuddles and attention in between looking after the baby. We also assured him as often as possible of how much we love him.

So far, he is a very kind and considerate older brother. About half the time, the baby makes it into his roll call of people-in-the-car or people-at-the-table – “Mummy! Daddy! S! A!” – and he gets very excited when she sneezes or hiccups. He is especially pleased that she is awake a bit more these days and does something that looks like playing. This morning I put her in her bouncy chair and left the room for a moment to get the Toddler’s juice cup, only to find on my return that the Toddler had helpfully moved the arch attached to the chair up so she could see and attached dangly toys to it for her to play with. Sadly, the Baby is not yet able to properly appreciate his efforts by swiping at them, but wll done to him for trying.

My favourite, heart melting moment was a few weeks back at Gran’s house. I had propped the baby up with the feeding cushion so she could have a look around. The Toddler came over to us and seemed very happy to find her there. He crouched down and reached out to her with both arms, saying: “Mummy, baby pakken? [pick up baby?] Baby hug?”

Of course, it is not always this harmonious between the two of them. Of late, the Toddler has started to notice the draw backs of having the Baby around all the time. In the beginning, he would say: “Oh no! Baby huilen! [baby cry] Mama, baby pakken! [Mummy, pick up baby!” I was moved that he was so concerned about her distress that he would come and fetch me to help her straight away. He would also go over and pull away all her covers, to facilitate me picking her up. Or he would bring her a toy car to cheer her up, and if that didn’t help, he would toddle off to get a different toy car, as clearly it must have been the wrong car.

Now, however, his exclamations of “Oh dear, baby huilen” seem a little more anxious on his own behalf. I think there is a tinge of ‘It is annoying me Mummy make it stop.’ Or even: ‘this means you will need to give her attention instead of me and I am not pleased.’  Once, the Toddler had banged his head and was wailing and stretching his arms out to me for a hug. Unfortunately, I was feeding the baby at the time. This caused more distress and I finally distinguished between sobs: “No, not baby. Baby liggen. [Baby lie down].”

Very occasionally, if the Baby’s crying happens at just the wrong point of his night, or if he is sleeping fitfully anyway for other reasons, she wakes him up. He joins her with crying of his own. When we go in to him we find him lying in bed, awake but still sleep-drunk. In a small sad voice he says: “Baby huilen.”

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Language soup

The Toddler is bilingual Dutch-English, as you may have gathered. At the moment, he is not yet differentiating much between which language is which and who speaks what. He likes to combine words together into sentences, but sees no need to match Dutch to Dutch and English to English. Here are some of his interlingual combinations:

While putting on his socks: “Goo-bye voeten!” [Goodbye feet!]
Pointing at our cats: “Two poezen” [two cats]
Collecting leaves on a chilly autumn walk: “Nother blaadjes” [Another leaves]
In response to a suggestion of what we could do when we get home from our chilly walk: “No, not sap drinken” [No, not drink juice]
Examining a picture of a whale eating Mr Nosey: “Walvis hap Nosey. A big walvis.” [Whale munch Nosey. A big whale.]
Handing me a book: “Tory lezen” [read a story]

I imagine that in time he will separate the two languages out and start to use them appropriately, but for now, we get language soup.

Rated 18: Blood, nipples, pain, teen pregnancy and changing the world

It happened when my son was little as well, but it doesn’t make it any less distressing when you know the reasons and you’ve seen it before: blood on the sheet and on your baby’s sleep suit. She’s 8 weeks old, breastfeeding has improved a lot, but I am still in pain and still bleeding. In fact, just the past week or so, the open wound – sorry! – looks like it is getting bigger again.  And now there is blood in the milk she spits up.

I hate it. I know I went to a fancy dress party when I was pregnant as Bella Swan, but I didn’t really want a vampire baby.

I hate being in pain. I hate worrying about whether and when that nipple will heal, and whether I really will come out the other side like with my son and enjoy breastfeeding.

I hate the thought that I might put people off breastfeeding. If I feed the baby in public, carefully putting aside the wound dressing, wincing as I latch her on, I think: I may be the only person some young pregnant mum-to-be sees breastfeeding in public. What about this picture is going to make her think: “Hey, that doesn’t look too bad, maybe I’ll give it a go!”

Thankfully, my husband is very sensible. He pointed out that no teenage mother was ever going to be swayed to try breastfeeding by seeing me feed in public, pain or not. Not because of me, but because that is not what was holding her back.

“But, but, role models! Don’t they need role models who breastfeed?” I splutter.

“A random stranger feeding a baby in a shopping centre is not a role model,” my husband replies, leaving the rest unsaid. The rest being that if I seriously want to be a role model and inspire teen mums to break the mould and breastfeed, I need to go and get to know some teenagers, build relationships with them that involve mutual trust and respect, preferably before they become Pregnant Teen Mums and while they are still just girls, and maybe then they might think something I believe in might be worth believing in too.

I’m glad he didn’t say all that, though. Because I would have come up with millions of excuses not to, and now I can keep all those embarrassing lies in my head, safely unchallenged and unexamined. Changing the world is far too much like hard work. I’d much rather be inspiring just by feeding my baby in a shopping centre, which I was going to do anyway.

Perhaps next time I do, I should wear a sign round my neck:

“I know it looks like I’m in pain and not enjoying this. I am and I’m not. But it will get better soon and in the meantime this is still the best thing for my baby. It’s great and give it a go, really.”

Do you think that would do the trick?  

Adventure

Well, tomorrow we’re off to a distant unknown city on a wild and probably ill-advised adventure. The Husband has been invited to get involved in a film project up there and was told that his wife and children would also be welcome to come along. Fools!

The Toddler is going in the car with Daddy and all the stuff. We anticipate that there will not be room for me and the Baby, as going away for a week with two small children basically means taking the entire contents of your house with you, so us ladies are going by train.

I am oddly quite looking forward to a mad dash across town to the station, followed by a three hour train journey with an unwieldy pram and a baby who will need feeding at least once on the way. In a strange way I see it as a little time-travelling opportunity. I get to experience the baby bit again, without a toddler in tow, but with all the knowledge of a second time mum. This is what I keep thinking you see – I’d quite like to do the baby part with my son again. Rather like a re-sit, I suppose, where I’m hoping I’d do better now that I have the benefit of experience. For instance, to the question: “Would you take your 7 week old baby out on a train journey?” I would formerly have responded by turning white as a sheet and hiding under the duvet. Now I am pleased to tick: “Yes, and I will take my laptop so I can do some work on the way.”

But, you know. Talk to me again on Sunday. I might want to change my answer then.

Communication fail

When the Toddler was about nine months old, people would regularly tell me: “Oooh he’ll be walking soon, then your nice easy life will be over, haha!” First of all, we will gloss over the suggestion that life with a nine month old baby was easy and move straight onto the effects of walking on the status quo. I couldn’t wait for him to walk, and when he did I was overjoyed. They get so heavy at that age and it is such a blessing to be able to just hold their hand and let them walk. The only downside that I had strangely not anticipated was that he didn’t want to go where I wanted to go. Yes, he walked and eventually ran, but usually towards a busy road or to the corner shop where he had a better view of the trucks driving past along the main route out of our neighbourhood.

Talking, I also eagerly anticipated. How amazing that he would be able to tell me what he wanted and what was wrong if he was upset! This, too, has mainly remained a fantasy up until now. Yes, he can tell me what he wants most of the time (“Milk, Mummy!” “Juice” “No, not beneden [downstairs]”) but words fail him when it really matters.

He is lying on the floor, kicking and screaming at a volume and pitch that could shatter glass, tears rolling down his cheeks. “What is the matter?” I ask. He just wails.

He is sitting on the sofa, keeping up a constant whine and not responding to any suggestions, other than by temporarily increasing the volume of the whining. “Are you alright?” I ask. “Would you like a drink?” He whines a little louder.

He wakes up in the night, crying. Bleary eyed, muzzy haired, he is standing up in his cot holding Teddy. “Are you in pain?” I ask. He just cries.

I suppose when I am unhappy words fail me too. But it seems a little unfair, as surely the purpose of learning to talk is to be able to communicate with those who can help in moments of distress, as well as being able to count and point out “a big big bus”.

Finally, a little slice of toddler-conversation. In the same five minutes he will be enigmatically unintelligible, desperately trying to explain something very important that I just can’t decipher:

“Mummy, racing car! Pat. Dot. Nuhnuh wheels. Racing car.” This while sitting at the dinner table-

followed by an exchange that is clear as day:

“Klaar, [Finished]” He pushes his bowl away.
“Wil je niet meer eten?” [Don’t you want anymore dinner?]
“Nee. Ziek.” [No. Poorly.]
I double check: “Is het omdat je ziek bent dat je niet meer wil eten?” [Is it because you feel poorly that you don’t want anymore dinner].
“Mm-hm!” he nods, and climbs down from his chair, off to do some more therapeutic counting with his new  number fridge magnets.

Special Feature: Children’s Literature – Joan Aiken

Though I spent most of my degree unpicking the symbolism of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Salman Rushdie (to name but a few unrelated greats), it wasn’t until my final thesis that I got to sink my teeth into my first love: children’s literature. My topic was “Immigrants and identity in Australian Children’s Literature”, and I got to read stacks of wonderful stories featuring  young first and second generation immigrants to Australia. I felt a bit cheeky, like I was getting away with something.

In this special feature – which I hope to make a more regular thing – I would like to highlight one of my favourite children’s authors and hopefully it will encourage those unfamiliar with her to give her a go.

Joan Aiken wrote over a hundred books, but she is probably best known for her series of children’s novels set in an alternative version of the nineteenth century. It starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, published in 1962, and ends with The Witch of Clatteringshaw, published in 2005, a year after her death. Dido Twite, a bright and plucky street urchin with a dodgy father and an aristocratic best friend, is the heroine in many of these books. I have always loved these evocative books, imagining myself roaming the streets of London with Dido or sailing in a creaking ship across the Atlantic, stowed away in the hold. In each book terrible plots are uncovered. Nobody can be trusted, those closest to the main characters often turn out to have betrayed them. The stories have both a brooding darkness and a warm glowing light about them that I always found very attractive.

I first encountered these stories in my father’s collection of children’s novels. He had the first three books, which I re-read regularly. I was overjoyed when I discovered, on moving to England, that the story continued beyond Nightbirds in Nantucket and that Joan Aiken had continued writing about Dido Twite up until that very moment. The series now takes up most of the first shelf of my studiously alphabetised children’s library in my daughter’s room.

So go find The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and get reading! And feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

A Wednesday in November

Plan for the day: visit Gran, have nap, take Toddler to his first ever dentist appointment at 4.30pm.

6am. The Baby wakes up hungry. I feed her and hear that she has also obligingly woken her brother up, who is now shouting from his cot: “Muuuuuuummeeeeeeeeeeeee!” As I feel six o’clock is just too early for toddlers I carry on feeding the baby, put her back in her moses basket and then get the Toddler out of bed.

He rushes to his cars, points up at the clock (“Six, Mummy! Three!”) and kisses Teddy.

“Guess what? We’re going to visit Gran today!” I tell him.

“Glan!” he shouts, “Sandpit! Glan! Hurray!”

This gets the day off to a good start. I explain that we will have breakfast and then get in the car to drive to Gran’s house. We start on the breakfast straight away. The Toddler wants porridge. Then I get a text message from Gran to say that she is not feeling well. We reschedule for Thursday.

For the rest of the day, every time we get in the car the Toddler exclaims: “Glan!” and I have to explain again that Gran is not well (“ziek”, in Dutch) and that we’ll see her another day.

Parenting lesson learned: do not get your child excited about outings until you are sure they are happening.

We take the opportunity to go to the Salvation Army playgroup instead, which the Toddler always loves. He is sitting proudly in his buggy and the baby is strapped to my chest. We wander slowly down the road in the warm autumn sunshine, enjoying the day. At the playgroup, the Baby obligingly sleeps in a bouncy chair for the duration while the Toddler eats his body weight in Rice Krispies and finds vehicles to play with. But uncharacteristically, he comes up to me after an hour and says: “Mummy, home. House. Daddy car. Home. Daddy.” I tell him that Daddy is at work. More disappointment. He plays a little more but keeps coming back to me with similar stories. I decide perhaps it is time we went home.

He wants to walk home and push the buggy himself. He stops on the way to examine his surroundings. “Blaadjes!” [Leaves!] he exclaims, and starts collecting Important Leaves to take home. I explain about the seasons and how the leaves fall off the trees. He stares up at a bare tree and lets out a heartfelt “Oh dear!” I quickly explain that the tree will get new leaves in spring. This seems to make things a little better.

I put him in bed for a nap almost straight away and feed the baby, hoping she will also have a sleep so I can have a nap myself. She spends the next two hours dropping off for just long enough for me to install myself on the sofa with my fleecy blanket, only to wake up again crying ten minutes later. I give up after five false starts and watch home improvement programs instead.

When the Toddler wakes up I realise we must get birthday presents for the two parties he has been invited to later in the week. As there is still the dentist appointment at 4.30pm I decide the supermarket is the perfect gift shopping location. Given how long everything takes with two small people in tow, we set off immediately and get to the supermarket at 3.15.

By 3.45 we are parked outside the dentist’s. Woops. Also, a familiar smell starts to pervade the car and the Baby starts crying. I inspect her quickly to confirm that it is a major nappy emergency, and there is no time to go home to deal with it. So to kill time and hopefully deal with the nappy, I decide to drive to a nearby friend’s house to see if she is home and I can quickly change the baby there. Worth a try, I think, everything to gain and nothing to lose.

As I pull up, the Toddler recognises the house as that of his new friend Rebecca and exclaims: “Becca!!” Uh oh. I tell him I’m just going to check if Becca is home. It turns out the whole family is on their way out the door to an important meeting at school. I tell the Toddler that his friend was out but we’ll see her soon. He squeaks in protest and wails: “Becca! Becca!”

Parenting lesson learned: Phone ahead. From a decent distance. It is not only sensible but also just polite. And also: children are smarter than you think.  Who would have thought he would recognise the house after only about three visits?

We end up in the dentist’s waiting room. I change a crying baby on some paper towels on their beautiful blue suede sofa while the Toddler pulls all the plastic cups out of the water cooler, counts them, makes Teddy drink from them and then kindly puts them back for future unsuspecting patients to use. The dentist is standing by the reception desk watching me wrestle and when the Baby is dressed again he says: “Are you ready?”

“No!” I want to shout! “I am not ready for motherhood! I used to have a nine to five job that I could close the door on at the end of the day! And my clothes didn’t get covered in sick or poo!” But I think he meant for the appointment, so we go in.

The Toddler thinks the dentist’s chair makes a brilliant slide and is also quite happy for him to have a look at his teeth. At least that bit was easy. When we get back in the car and I drive off with a sigh of relief, a small sad voice from the back seat says: “Glan ziek [poorly]. Becca not home.”

That evening I tuck him up in bed and read him Maisy’s bus. He reads along using his Monster Voice. At 10pm the baby is finally settled for the night as well. Time for that nap – although I guess technically at this time of day it is just called sleep.

Plan for tomorrow: Have Baby weighed. Visit Gran. Don’t tell Toddler until we are actually in the car on our way there.

Teddy

At some point in their early life, children often fix on one special toy that becomes their favourite. You know the one I mean: it’s the one you have to drive back 100 miles for when you’ve left it in a shop on holiday and the one you have to buy spares of because your child won’t relinquish their friend for a vital and long overdue ride in the washing machine.

After some false starts where we thought he had found his special toy (was it going to be Alfred the Duck? Was it going to be Slobodon, the great and slimy rabbit dictator? (don’t ask)), the true winner of the popularity contest emerged: it was Teddy. Teddy had shared the Toddler’s bed since birth. He was his first present from his Gran, and after initially not being terribly interested in this quite simple white and blue bear, suddenly Teddy and he were inseparable.

Thankfully, the Toddler quickly latched on to the idea that Teddy must stay away from food, the bath and the ground outside. With great care he will put his friend at a safe distance at dinner time, saying: “Teddy vies” [Teddy dirty]. At bath time, Teddy sits on the window sill where he has a good view of all the fun, and if there is any danger of mud outside, Teddy stays home.

Just recently, Teddy has started to develop a mind of his own. First we overheard lively conversations going on between Teddy and the other toys at nap time. Sadly we couldn’t make out what wisdom the bear was bestowing on them, but I am sure that whatever he was saying was very profound. Then Teddy started having good ideas on the Toddler’s behalf, or “good-a”, as he calls them. Teddy and the toddler would appear in the kitchen:

“Milk!” Teddy would suggest in a squeaky voice.
“Milk? Ok, good-a, Teddy!” the Toddler would concur with great glee.

It wasn’t his idea. It was Teddy’s. Teddy also likes watching TV and having seconds of the Toddler’s favourite meals.

Today, Teddy was nodding. I know it is not quite as clever as the talking, but somehow it really tickled me. I woke the Toddler from his nap and found him not so pleased about being awake – he was not speaking, just whining quietly, ready to burst into floods of tears should I make a wrong move. So I thought the safest thing to do was to deal with Teddy instead, kind of like a UN peace keeper. I carried them both downstairs, boy and bear, into the kitchen. There I asked Teddy if he might be in the mood for some pasta with cheese. Teddy nodded. We got the pasta ready and the whining slowly subsided. I asked Teddy if he’d had a nice sleep. Teddy nodded again. The mood lifted and soon boy and bear were sitting up at the dining table, one with a bowl of pasta and the other with a tiny Tupperware bowl of grated cheese in front of him.

“Teddy?” the Toddler asked his bear in his very high, talking-to-small-things voice. “Meer kaas, Teddy?” [more cheese, Teddy?]

Teddy nodded. I gave him more cheese. How can you resist a nodding bear?

Cats post-baby

I have to admit that my relationship with Fat Cat in particular has become a little more fraught – since my son was born, but certainly since baby number two has appeared on the scene.

My main complaints:
1. He makes a mockery of my authority in front of the Toddler, by refusing to do as he is told. Usually this is: “Get off the table, cat. This is people-food, not cat-food.” The Toddler then gleefully joins in the Cat Reprimanding: “No, Pike. Not tafel. Mensen. Not cat. Tout poes.” [No, Spike. Not table. People. Not cat. Naughty cat.] Fat Cat just continues to sit on the table, staring at our breakfast in the hope that we will eventually share, and as I am usually feeding the baby at the time I don’t have a free hand to follow through on my cat-discipline.

2. TMI, I am sure, but my left nipple is rather badly injured from early breastfeeding issues. To aid with the healing I wear a special wound dressing thing as well as a regular breast pad. While feeding I carefully put this gel pad to one side, away from toddlers. Fat Cat will jump onto the arm of the sofa and put a big old paw on top of it. GRAAAARGH!

3. When the baby is not in it (thank goodness), he jumps into the moses basket and makes it a comfy bed, leaving it coated in cat fur.

4. My feeding pillow is an inflatable travel one. While I am feeding the baby, he will frequently come up to me and lovingly stick a claw into the pillow. It now has a slow puncture.

5. When Fat Cat feels it is dinner time (which is any time after about 3pm), he gets very aggressively affectionate towards anyone who might feed him. The Toddler does not have a finely honed sense of when it is safe to pet Fat Cat and when there might be claws, so this time of day is rather stressful for busy Mummies who are breastfeeding and also trying to keep their toddler safe.

You see a pattern, I am sure: cats and toddlers are just hard to manage while breastfeeding. All in all, I find it so much easier to feed Fat Cat and then encourage (chuck) him out of the house until dinner time. And then perhaps after dinner until bedtime.

Thankfully, my husband sticks up for the poor cat and gives him lots of love and attention in the evenings.

Dinner with the Toddler

I am planning a post about picky eating and Baby Led Weaning, but this is not it. This is just a little snapshot of what it is like to have dinner with my son.

I show him the chinese stir fry we are having with noodles and bean sprouts. “Yaaaay!” he shouts, “Getty!”

“Yes, it is chinese spaghetti,” I confirm, in the hope of encouraging a positive attitude to the dish.

He sits up nicely at the table with his little bowl of noodles and makes yummy sounds as he carefully picks out each noodle from between the other ingredients. “Getty,” he says again appreciatively.

Thinking he might as well learn what they actually are, I say: “Noodles.”

“Doodles!” he shouts in delight. Now he thinks they have something to do with the bitey crocodile from Tilly and Friends, one of his favourite shows on CBeebies.

“Noodles,” I try again.

We settle on “oodle”. By now he has found a lovely long bit of noodle and is sliding it along the (not terribly clean) dining table going “sssssss”.

“Let Mummy have the snake,” I say, carefully keeping any urgency out of my voice, because if he knows I don’t want him to eat it that is just what he will do.

Now he dangles each noodle in the air before eating it, singing a little song that sounds vaguely familiar. I listen for a while to work out what it is. Then I realise it is from a Peppa Pig episode: “You’re a wriggly worm, you’re a wriggly worm, how do you do, I love you.”

The wheels really come off the wagon when his glass of Ribena gets involved. First he dips his fork-with-stir-fry-sauce into the Ribena. “Mixing!” he says proudly.

“No! No mixing. That’s for drinking!”

Obediently, he grabs the glass with two hands, drinks a generous gulp of Ribena-mixed-with-sauce and then tips the rest into his bowl.

Mummy gives up as the Toddler attacks his new and improved Chinese stir fry with renewed enthusiasm.