Guilty Pleasures: Dressing my Daughter

We barely had to buy either of our children anything. Our kind and generous friends and relatives passed on furniture and clothes, bought us presents and even on one occasion donated baby-related itTiny Ugg bootsems won in a raffle. I struggle to think of one thing we bought for our son ourselves. Every time we tried, a kind grandparent would jump in and say: ‘Let me get that for you.’

Once we knew our second baby was going to be a girl, I started wandering through town and looking at baby clothes. We needed nothing. Once again, zealous loft-clearing friends had provided us with more than we needed for our little girl, and still mums I barely knew were clinging to my sleeve at the children’s centre saying: “Oh, are you having a little girl? I’ve got baby clothes for you. Really good quality. I can bring them tomorrow.” And yet, I desperately wanted to buy little dresses.

“Maybe I like to show my love through gifts,” I mused one evening. “I just want to buy something for our daughter because I love her.”

My husband, dispenser of harsh truths, observed: “Little babies don’t need or want anything other than milk and cuddles. You don’t want to buy pretty dresses for her sake, but for your own. That’s not love, that’s retail therapy.”

The thought of ‘accChristmas dressessorising’ your baby, especially your unborn baby, is a little distasteful I feel – but so hard to resist. The companies out there know how to get the money out of our bank accounts. Changing bags are a case in point. Yes, they have handy pockets, but really you’re just splashing out on a new designer bag. A friend put me on to this awesome website for the ultimate yummy mummy. Just look at the women on the front page, with their pearls and their pushchairs! Only one picture has an actual child in it, although the ‘mother’ looks too immaculate to be the primary carer – where are the snot and sick stains? But I digress…

Our daughter is here now, and most of the time I am sensible and put her in sleepsuits. Ultimately, she spends most of her time asleep, so it makes sense. But occasionally I let myself go and allow myself a joyful fifteen minutes rummaging through all the lovely donated clothes and picking out a pretty dress – and teeny tiny tights – and a soft woolly cardigan – and tiny Ugg boots. Perhaps I am treating her like a little dolly on these occasions, but I do get to give her a big squeeze when she’s all dressed up and start whispering an important truth into her ear that I will need to keep telling her throughout her entire life, until she believes it: you are beautiful.

Game for a two year old and a five month old baby

Regular readers may have noticed I have started to post regularly on Mondays and Thursdays. I am adding this bonus post because I had to share this lovely moment:

The Toddler announced it was “picpic time”. I sat down next to him. He ceremoniously held his shopping basket with groceries on his lap.

“What are we going to eat?” I ask. “Can I have a green cabbage?”

Yes, yes, I know, not traditional picnic fare, but I panicked, okay?

“Plates, Mummy!” the Toddler said. I went to the kitchen and got three paper plates. “One for you, one for me and one for the Baby,” I said.

I got the Baby and sat her on my lap. She was first offered a plastic lemon, but it rolled onto the floor.

Then, the Toddler invented the Best Game Ever. He took his paper plate and started to go: “Flap flap flap!” I followed suit with my own. “Birds!” he laughed. The birds swooped and flew and bumped into each other with big theatrical bumps.

From my lap, I suddenly heard a new sound. It was giggling. I looked down to find that the Baby was watching the paper-plate-birds, enthralled, beaming – and laughing.

Magic.

“Look, the Baby is laughing! She likes your game!” I excitedly told the Toddler. “Let’s give her a plate and see if she wants to join in.” I held the third paper plate near her, and she dutifully grabbed it.

The Toddler snatched it back out of her hand and told me sternly: “Very little, Mummy.”

And that was the end of that.

Epilogue:

It occurred to me the next day that we could make an actual bird out of the plate.

paper plate bird2paper plate bird1
Made in a minute, yay!

Further grammar

It has been a little while since I took stock of the Toddler’s language development and it has come on a lot since my last post. This is a snapshot of our bilingual toddler’s speech at two years and four months old.

Possession
He has been interested in who things belong to for a little while now, especially whether things are his. When we leave the house to go on an adventure – or just to the supermarket – he will start to look out for “Mummy car” and once in the car, he will wave goodbye to “S house”. When Fat Cat comes prowling along the dining table, he gets told off: “No, Pike, not table. S food.”

Very recently, though, I was excited to hear that he has started adopting “my”. The other day he would not relinquish a story book when it was bedtime and said: “No. My book.”

Pronouns
Aside from “my”, we also get “you”. He is handing out plastic plates to eat plastic cake off: “You plate, you plate, you plate.” Or I am handed a Duplo brick: “You present, Mummy.”

“Everyone” is also new. “Hello, eddy-wan!” he says when faced with a room full of people.

Indicative pronouns have also appeared. My favourite is “zwis” [this], as in: “No, Mummy, not zwis way anymore.”

“I” appeared for the very first time recently, but only in a phrase that he had obviously heard someone say: “I did it! Yay!”

Verbs
Verbs are now usually conjugated. He is my little spy on the backseat of the car, and will report: “Mama, A. slaapt!” [the baby is sleeping]. Previously, he would have used the infinitive only, but now he correctly uses the third person singular. The verb ‘to be’ is usually left out, though: “Mama, A. wakker.” [the baby awake]

He is also working on auxiliary verbs. In fact, he has invented his own to cover most eventualities: “a”. A little like the French verb ‘avoir’, in fact. Proudly, he displays the completed Maisie mouse puzzle: “S a maakt puzzel!” [S has made puzzle!]

His most complex sentence to date, including various verb phrases, was: “S a maakt zitten billen Teddy.” [S has made sit bottom Teddy]. There are many wonderful things about this sentence, for one that although it is in Dutch, the expression ‘to make someone do something’ is English, and he has translated it. Also, it shows that “zitten billen” is an expression to him, in the way that the two words always occur together and in that order, although in Dutch you would split them and put “zitten” at the end of the sentence in this case.

One
At bedtime, we read two stories. The Toddler can choose which.

“Which book would you like to read?”
“Zwis one.”

We read one story and he picks number two. He clearly knows the drill, because as he opens it, he says: “Last one.”

Adjectives
He has been using adjectives for a little while, but they are now modified as well.

We are reading Monkey Puzzle at bedtime. Is this the monkey’s mummy? “Nooooo, issa slake [snake]! Very long, Mummy.”

Mummy has romantic notions of entertaining the Toddler by playing some classical music on the piano. It is not popular: “Oh, too noisy, Mummy!”

He can do it in Dutch as well. If I suggest some kind of interaction with the baby that he considers her incapable of he will set me straight: “Heel klein, mama.” [very little, Mummy]

Colours are now used as adjectives too, usually the correct ones but not always. Colours and numbers can also be combined, as in “two black cats”.

Prepositions
The Toddler knows quite a few prepositions now, but often mixes up the opposites. He will ask “uit [off], Mummy?” when he wants the light on or “beneden?”[downstairs] and then set off up the stairs.

Sometimes he will improvise if he is not sure of the right word. He will point at a toy he wants that is on top of his bookcase and say: “High, Mummy. Top.”

Question words
He still only really uses ‘where’, although that has progressed from “wawa Teddy gone?” to “Where’s Teddy gone?”. ‘What’ is usually silent: “doing, Mummy?”, “Happened, Mummy?”. Same in Dutch: “Beurd, mama?”. ‘How’ only appears in the stock phrase: “Hello, Mummy, hawa you?”. ‘Why’ and ‘when’ I assume are not due until later, when he has developed concepts of cause/effect and time.

What I find both interesting and frustrating is that he also has trouble understanding question-word-questions, particularly if he is already feeling frustrated. When he is in a rage about something and I don’t know why, asking “What did you say?” or “What is it you want?” throws him into an even more hysterical fit of sobbing. The only way out at that point is yes/no questions: “Do you want milk?” will often cause the crying to subside and he will nod, his face still buried in a chair cushion.

Stepping into the Unknown

A few of my friends are about to become parents for the first time. I now feel that irresistible urge, that my friends-with-kids obviously felt when I was pregnant with my first, to inundate them with valuable advice to help them through those nightmare first few months. I found, however, that although a lot of advice proved useful at some point, in general nothing helped to soften the blow of suddenly having to take care of a tiny baby. Basically, all I can say is that you will probably feel like you’ve been hit by a truck and like life as you knew it has ended – and that it will take a month or two or three before you come to think that perhaps what you got in return was worth it.

So instead of advice, I thought I’d share a poem I wrote when I was twenty weeks pregnant with the Toddler. Here it is, especially for my pregnant first-timer friends.

The moment before

In my dreams it happens sometimes
The rite of passage
The moment that changes
everything that went before

A confused kiss with a stranger;
Embarrassing nakedness;
Our child, in our arms, but talking already
and bossy at that.

No dream can prepare us
No stories, no good advice
Twenty more weeks till you arrive
and change our lives
in ways we can’t imagine.

The cliff seems too steep,
the gulf too wide to ever cross.
I can barely see the other side –
just shadows of our future selves,
waving merrily,
their shouts of encouragement
lost on the wind.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2010

Tantrums – and Mind Reading

I had mentally prepared myself for the Terrible Twos. I thought there would be fearsome battles over “I want another biscuit!” or “No, I don’t want to go to bed!” I thought I would win them with Logic and Being the Parent and by standing firm. I was not prepared, however, for shrieking tantrums caused by my son’s disappointment at a lack of evolutionary advancement on my part.

Let me explain.

The Toddler is lying facedown on the – not very clean – floor, screaming, kicking, crying. There are actual tears. If I come near him, he starts to mow his arms about to try and hit me. Just before he launched into this rather theatrical display of displeasure, we had the following conversation:

Me: Would you like porridge for breakfast?
Toddler: No, Mummy.
Me: What would you like to eat then?

Cue tantrum. What is going on?

It seems similar to the tantrums he has when, out of blue, he says: “Again, Mummy,” without specifying what; or “Pleeeeeease, Mummy,” without asking for anything. Attempts to clarify what he wants dial up the rage. He does not understand “What did you say?” or “What do you want?” and seems to interpret them as ‘Mummy will not acquiesce to my request’.

The Toddler has always been quite prone to extreme frustration. He would shriek and cry in the days when he could not move around yet but desperately needed to reach a particular toy. Later on, building a tower or putting train track together would reduce him to tears. In fact, I had to teach him to say “Mummy, help!” very early on, to deal with the constant shrieking that accompanied a task he had set himself but could not complete due to his own physical or developmental limitations.

Now he is frustrated at mine. Is he waiting for me to develop mind reading skills?

Slowly, the breakfast-options-tantrum subsides a little, and now when I come close his arms don’t wave about but they stretch up to me. He wants to be held. I kneel down and he climbs onto my lap where I hug him close until he stops sobbing. Over my shoulder, his eye falls on the remote control: “TV, Mummy?” he asks sweetly.

Everything is back to normal.

Just a Mum

“Oh, I’m just a mum.” This phrase always irritates me. It suggests that mothering is not an activity or a job worthy of mention, deserves no praise or status, and is tantamount to frittering your life away. However, it cannot be denied that using the word ‘Mum’ to describe yourself basically means you are defining yourself purely by your relationship to other people, specifically: your children. It doesn’t say anything about you except that you have procreated.

It felt in some ways like taking a step back, having a second baby. I was just getting used to having a little more freedom: the Toddler mostly slept through the night, he could feed himself from a plate of food placed in front of him, he was getting more independent and happier to spend time away from me. I had started to expand my freelance work a little by doing some work out of the house, and that was fine as my son was happy to play at a friend’s house for the occasional afternoon.

The Baby’s arrival meant I was once again permanently attached to a child. I know it is possible to express milk, but it takes me quite a few goes to express enough for just one feed and with all the sterilising and storing it hardly seems worth the bother when you could just take the baby with you wherever you go. It just means outings are restricted to child-friendly locations or the supermarket, and need to finish in time for naps to avoid a double apocalypse around 5pm. Also, the late night ‘dream feed’ acts as a curfew for dates with the Husband and limits drinking to one modest glass of alcohol which must be consumed before 9pm. My pyjamas have once again become my best friend, and it is a rare night when I am not in bed by 11pm – and out of bed again at 3, 5, and 7am. There is not much left of the evening once the kids are in bed, and not much energy for doing anything more exciting than cooking and eating dinner and lurking on Facebook. This gets tough, psychologically. Most of the time, I feel like Just a Mum.

I used to describe myself as a writer and I still do. I don’t have the time or the brain space to write entire novels right now, but this blog has helped me to keep going – a short post a couple of times a week I can manage. But what am I writing about at the moment? About motherhood. Am I ‘Just a Mum’, even in that?

As a teenager, I formulated why it was that I wanted to be a published author, what it was I wanted to achieve with it. My aim was for people to read my writing, heave a big sigh and say: “That is just exactly the way it is.” I wanted to capture the world in words, to give my readers that thrill of recognition and describe for them how they felt in a way that they perhaps could not express themselves.

Looking at it that way, perhaps being ‘Just a Mum’ in this blog is not a failure but a success. I can still capture a common experience in words and hopefully what I describe will resonate with other Just-a-Mums and Dads. Hopefully, I can make you feel understood, less alone and perk up the odd grey day.

What do you do when you feel you are losing yourself in your kids? What helps you feel like an individual again?

The Big Fat Yummy Book

I was a terrible eater as a child. My favourite dish was plain pasta with grated cheese on top. I would also have meat, potatoes and veg, provided there was no sauce involved and none of the foods were touching each other. Everything needed to be just so: my porridge quite runny, my slices of cheese neatly tiled on my bread, orange not apple juice, not too much milk with my cereal, and definitely nothing spicy or new.

My Mum was at a loss. She would attempt to get me to try new things by using Jedi mind tricks on me: “You will like this.” Unfortunately, I was of strong, sound mind and eager to prove my mother wrong. She tried shaming me – “I can’t take you anywhere” – but I was impervious. I went everywhere anyway and just asked the waiter to bring me a plate of chips while my mother cringed in a corner.

My father tried playful encouragement. My limited diet made it tricky if I went to stay with a friend or relative, so he made the “Big Fat Yummy Book” for me. It was a homemade notebook with an optimistic number of pages on which I could write all the food I did like. I could show this to my host to help plan the menu – and I think my Dad hoped I would try new things because I would want to fill up the book. This also sadly failed to do much good.

I am loathe to admit it, but this is how I ate until I was nineteen years old. What happened then? I moved out of home and had to cook for myself. Cooking plain pasta and grating some cheese on top got old fast, so I learned to cook and eat more interesting things to avoid dying of boredom and/or starvation.

Having gone from being a very picky eater to someone who enjoys food – cooking it, eating it, experimenting with it – I am determined that my children will not spend the first eighteen years of their lives going on sleepovers with a hopefully named Big Fat Yummy Book under their arm.

When it was time to start our son on solid food, my husband and I decided to try something called Baby-Led Weaning, which basically does away with purees and jars and encourages babies to eat with the family from the start. The thought is that babies are designed to feed themselves: the maturation of their digestive system, ready for solid food, coincides with them learning to sit up, grab things and bring them to their mouths. They naturally want to try to chew and eat everything they see. So you provide them with easy to grab titbits from your plate and let them get on with it. It takes a month or two for them to start actually swallowing some food and realising that it is not just a plaything but that it fills you up and stops the hunger-feeling. Then they are away and you can start dropping milk feeds.

Part of the idea behind baby-led weaning is that you provide them with a wide range of different types of food but let them decide what they want to try. You don’t put any pressure on them, there is no “here comes the aeroplane” or “just one more bite, darling”, they munch what they want to munch. And because it is like playtime for them, they really do want to try everything.

My son took to baby-led weaning like a duck to water. By eight months, another mum at a toddler group was gaping at him as he munched on a piece of toast and said: “I have worked in nurseries for ten years, but this is the best eating I have ever seen a baby do”. He devoured everything: he was eating hummus and tzatziki, mango, trout, avocado, chickpeas – you name it. I was really hopeful that he would avoid being a picky eater altogether.

But no. It appears picky eating and what they call ‘neo-phobia’ is just a natural stage of toddler development, and now my son likes eating plain pasta with grated cheese on top. It is seriously his favourite dish. Oh, and he loves pancakes.

I keep offering him other types of food and I am told that he will return to them. He has already discovered that actually, meat balls are quite nice and chicken is good too. Also, if he refuses to eat dinner we don’t offer alternatives, just an extra beaker of milk. Hopefully in time, he will broaden his repertoire again.

I’m sure that was what my parents kept telling themselves as well.

So, what will we do with the Baby? We will definitely be doing baby-led weaning again – to me it seems more natural, easier and it really helps foster independence. But I won’t hold out hopes that it will avoid picky eating. That is just a phase we will need to weather.

 

For more information on Baby-Led Weaning, I can recommend this book. As with all parenting books, do read it with a pinch of salt. Spoons are not as evil as the book makes them out to be.

Play!

Having just shared some of my bad parenting moments, I thought it was a time for some of the good stuff. Yesterday, I made Story Corner:

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It has proven very popular. We sat down and read four or five books together, then I went to cook dinner and the Toddler stuck around to read a bit more by himself. After bedtime, Fat Cat decided it was the perfect place for a snooze.

The Toddler remembered this morning and ran towards it when he came downstairs shouting “Tory corner!” – I assume he means ‘story’, but it is always possible that he expects to meet David Cameron there.

We have also been having fun with Duplo. The Toddler reverently lifted this magnificent creation out of the box first:

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I’m sure it is instantly obvious, but just in case it isn’t, this is Mount Doom, with the Duplo baby acting as Frodo and the little Scotty dog playing the part of Gollum. It was created by our friend Z., who made it with great architectural skill, even ensuring it had that little walkway on the inside for dropping rings off of. The chicken is purely decorative.

Then Mount Doom had to make way for IJsie’s house:

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IJsie de IJsbeer – or Icy the Polar Bear if you prefer – is both a skilled and a domesticated bear. He lives in this little house and is most usually seen driving his car:

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His attempts at flight, however, have been less successful and ended in a rather unfortunate accident this morning.

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Don’t worry, I’m sure the intrepid little bear will be up and about again in no time.

Setting an example

I have been excusing myself some less than ideal parenting lately. I am tired from the baby waking in the night, frazzled from tandem screaming, physically worn out from the constant lugging around of two children and all their gear… It is easy to come up with excuses. And of course you need to cut yourself some slack otherwise you would go crazy.

But.

It hit me the other day that I am my son’s model for acceptable behaviour. For example, how do you deal with frustration? He looks to Mummy for inspiration.

Mummy drops a fork on the floor that has just been washed up and makes a loud GRRRAAARGH! sound, as if it is the end of the world. He comes running over:

“Happened, Mummy? Matter, mummy?”
Stressed out Mummy says: “THE FORK FELL ON THE FLOOR!”
The Toddler comes over and strokes my head. “Oh, Mummy. Nummumind.”

He vocalises his own frustration by shrieking and rolling on the floor. I then tell him that it really isn’t all that bad: look, the magnets do stick together when you turn the train round. How can he learn that it ‘isn’t all that bad’ if I myself go mental over a dropped fork?

He has also started to parent himself, treating me to a little replay of my own favourite phrases. At bedtime he runs up and down the corridor with a toy broom. To himself he says: “S, time-a bed! Come on, S, hup hup [chop chop].” He takes just as much notice of his own nagging as of mine, and keeps on cleaning.

What brought me up short was when he started saying “Go-way,” to me. I was quite shocked, and told him that was not kind, and to say “Excuse me,” which he duly parrotted. I tutted to myself, wondering where he had picked that up from.

Then I was in the kitchen cooking, stirring pans with one hand while holding a screaming over-tired baby in the other. Hungry toddler came in, demanding snacks like a broken record.

“Get out of the way, S!” I say in irritation, “Mummy is trying to cook. Out of the way.”

I stop and listen to myself. I did not say excuse me. I was not kind, or even polite. Tired and frazzled I may be, but how will he learn to be kind and considerate if I cannot keep my temper over little annoyances?

Keeping morale up is a bit of a high wire act when it comes to parenting. You want to reassure yourself that you are doing a good job and not perfectionist yourself into an early grave, but still set yourself standards so that your children grow up to be loving, considerate people. In that vein, I would like to leave you with a bit of wisdom from a parenting course I attended a year or two ago:

All the most important, foundational input into a child’s character happens in the first three years of its life – [cue panic: almost missed the window!]

– but you only need to get it right 30% of the time for a child to grow up a happy, secure and well-rounded human being.