/karen/

Astrid (at 12 months)

Sunday, 25 September, 2011

Technically Astrid's now 13 months, but I wanted to write something marking her first year of life. As always, I meant to write this post earlier than I have, but other things have taken priority.

But before we get started, I think it's probably worth me saying a few things about why I'm writing these posts. I'm not sure if I have before and I can't be bothered checking (the clock is ticking and I don't have that long to squeeze some writing in before it's back to being on parental duty). Briefly, I'm writing these posts:

So let's begin.

Playing

Developmentally, the biggest thing is that Astrid is now walking. It seemed to happen awfully quick: one moment she was working out how to pull herself up to a standing position, the next moment she was kind of shuffling along sideways while holding onto something (e.g. the front of the couch), the next moment she was taking a few faltering steps on her own out into the open, and then the next moment she was full-on walking—everywhere! She's fast too—not quite running, but almost, like she wants to (so she can get away from me!). She still falls a lot (particularly when she's tired), but that doesn't upset her too much: she just gets back up and keeps going. She's also getting better at moving to a standing position again after falling, and doesn't always need a prop to help her up.

Seeing her walk around is really funny but also cute: she tends to do it with both hands up—sometimes holding something in each hand. (My father-in-law reckons it's for balance.) She hasn't quite developed good spatial awareness yet because she steps on things, trips on things and bumps into things. I wonder when she'll become more spatially aware.

Walking means she is waaaaaaay more mobile. I think she's got a real independent streak: you can't keep her confined for long because then she will start to complain and want to be let out. This means that long stints in the pram are a thing of the past. She would prefer to get out and explore the world (and put all sorts of things in her mouth—leaves, bark, twigs, worse, etc.) We have started going to playgrounds a lot more, and even though Astrid is a little bit small for them, she enjoys them a lot. She LOVES the swing. One of the mums in my mother's group commented that I was pushing her rather high, but that's because she totally loves it! She's a bit of a daredevil, really: she'll go on the baby slide but she really really likes the BIG slide (and in one of the parks we go to, she can climb up to it by herself. She can't climb onto the slide itself, so I have to help her with that part [and I always make her go down feet first on her tummy because she's not quite ready for feet first on her bottom], but I'm sure she can't wait for the day when she doesn't need me). She likes walking around the park too, but strangely she tends to stick to paths (I think it's because they're level, whereas the grass is a little trickier for small feet.)

Astrid walking has also given me a taste of something that I think will happen throughout my entire life as a parent: the experience of your child leaving you. I guess it started at birth when she left my womb, and then as she has developed and grown in her physical abilities, it's just increased. I realise that it will happen more as she grows up, forms her own friends and interests, starts exploring more than just the physical world out there, and so on until the day she moves out of home/gets married or whatever. I realise that this is a natural thing too—that it's part of the process of parenthood that you gradually let go and allow your child to be independent and free, while at the same time worrying about what will happen to them. I guess I mention it now because I find it interesting, and it reminds me of something that Neil Gaiman said about writing The Graveyard Book (I forget where)—which is that he started writing the story years ago when he son was a little boy, running his bike around the graveyard near their place because there was nowhere else to play, but he abandoned the story because he couldn't quite get it right, and now, having written the book, he said he felt like he needed to have that experience of being a parent and having his children grow up and leave home in order to complete the story. I predict I will think about the ending to The Graveyard Book a lot as Astrid grows up.

Watching Astrid play is rather interesting: it's not so much “playing”, but walking around, holding things, picking up things, dropping things, knocking things together, knocking things over, rattling things, banging on things and taking things apart. She's not at the stage yet where she'll take an object (say a toy car) and make it do things (e.g. drive it along with her hand while saying, “Vroom vroom!”). I wonder when that happens.

She also likes rough play, and laughs like crazy when we do it. In keeping with her daredevil streak, she loves stuff like being held upside down, being dipped, being held by her ankles down my back, being held by her hands while I swing her or spin her in circles. This isn't great for my back (she now weighs around 10kg) but it's a good way to keep her amused.

We find now that she's more of a toddler (toddling around), we now need to be more firm about discipline and dealing with tantrums. Even though she can't talk, we can see that she knows when we say not to do things (e.g. don't hit the television). But she will go and do them anyway while looking at us for confirmation that she should not. Sometimes she will do that multiple times, and each time we will have to say to her, “No, Astrid, please don't do that.” I know this is all normal; I just find it interesting that we have never had to teach her any of this: she just does it naturally. In a similar vein, when Astrid is around other kids, she has to continually be taught to share, to be gentle with others and to not grab things out of other kids' hands. (One mum commented to me the other day that it doesn't matter what it is: if someone else has it, the child wants it.) I think sometimes that surely this is empirical evidence for the doctrine of total depravity. (I'm sure others will disagree.)

Even though Astrid is now having more interaction with other kids, she usually ignores them (aside from trying to take what they are holding). She will often watch older kids intently—as if she is trying to learn how to do what they are doing (running, jumping, swinging really high, etc.) But her awareness of physical contact is still pretty low: she will cry if she's hurt, but sometimes she really doesn't care if other kids hit her, push her away or pull her hair.

The changing awareness thing is quite interesting because you never know what's going to happen next. For example, this week for the first time she was upset by the noise of the vacuum cleaner whereas she never was before. (She tugged on my leg imploringly until I turned it off.) I also thought she didn't care much about her toys, but when we've had other kids over, she's really possessive of them and upset that they're playing with them. (Strangely enough, however, at her birthday party, she wasn't that upset, but that could have been because there were lots of kids playing with her toys, and those kids were a lot bigger than her.)

A note on toys: I think I understand how they tend to multiply and overrun the place. It's not just that people give you toys as gifts (or their old secondhand toys, or the secondhand toys of their friends) and you also buy toys for your kids; it's that you kind of develop toy “collections”—batches of toys for different contexts. You don't want to give a kid all these toys at once, because that would be overwhelming. You also don't want to give a kid the same toys all the time, because that would be boring. So I tend to keep certain toys in the lounge room, certain toys in her bedroom, certain (small) toys in a bag that we take places whenever we go out somewhere where I think she might get bored, toys at the grandparents' places, toys for the car, toys for her cot, etc. And then sometimes I rotate those around, depending on what they are and how much Astrid plays with them. I expect that certain toys will become more fun when she gets a bit older: at the moment, for example, stuffed toys are boring, but cleaned out yoghurt pots with pegs to rattle in them are just fantastic. Also at the moment, she's more interested in knocking blocks down than building them up, but lately I've noticed her starting to put the blocks together. I've been told that at around 18 months, she might start interacting with her stuffed toys a lot more—lining them up and making them talk to each other or something.

Another word about toys: because of the boredom/variety factor, it really is worth not spending stacks and stacks of money on fancy toys when the baby is young. It sometimes feels like a total waste when you pay a lot for a toy, only for the kid to play with it for just five minutes before chucking it away. Secondhand is fine. Also, you don't worry about secondhand toys losing their pristine condition because they've already been knocked around a bit. I got a few from one of the Baby and Kids Markets, but I also rummaged through the massive bin of toys at the Anglicare Depot at Summer Hill and managed to get a lot of stuff—cloth books (which I think are quite good for travel toys because there is something different on each page), little rattly things, a rubber ball and a whole pile of Lamaze things. They were all in excellent condition and just required a little cleaning before I gave them to Astrid.

While we're on the subject of buying things, I should mention that Astrid is now wearing size 1. (I should also mention that in one week, she grew 5 whopping centimetres, and drove me crazy as she woke up through the night and fed like a newborn.) However, size 1 (even though it's not consistent in the kids fashion industry) doesn't always fit her well in places (e.g. her pants are sometimes too loose and too long). It can be really tempting to just buy her pretty dresses, but pretty dresses tend not to do too well when she's playing, so I try to keep her in practical clothes that are fine to get dirty. I've bought a few things, we've been given a few things and we've borrowed a few things, but I think now it's time for me to build up her wardrobe properly as she will probably be in size 1 clothes for a while.

The other thing I should talk about in this section (because I'm not sure where else to put it) is that Astrid is now talking a little. “Mama” was her first word (that is, the first word that she said that I think she meant and understood). “Dada” came second, but she tends to say “Mama” more—especially when she's upset. (And it can be really hard to hear your baby crying out, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” when you're trying to do something that's good for her but that she doesn't like.) It's interesting as well that once she started talking, my perspective on her changed: it makes no sense, but suddenly she seemed much more like a little person. Really, with all these developmental changes, she seems much more like a little person, but I couldn't tell you what I thought she was before. I can tell you that I feel like I'm getting glimpses of what Astrid will be like when she's older. I'm pretty bad at guessing people's ages because, as I said in an earlier post, to me, people are just quintessentially them, no matter what age they are, and it only becomes a “thing” when the age gap is large. I find myself thinking of Astrid in those terms too—that she is quintessentially herself, with all that that entails, and that she will always be such. (That is, unless she turns out like Ben who has an unpredictable element to him; of everyone I have ever known, Ben is the one who has changed the most throughout the years.)

She's still saying a lot of babble talk, and she hasn't really picked up any new words (though sometimes we think we hear her say a word after us—e.g. “light”). But now she is pointing a lot (protodeclarative speech, says Ben; he says it means she wants us to look at the thing she's pointing to). I can just picture her talking more in her little cute voice. People tell me that it can be hard dealing with the incessant chatter of a toddler so I wonder how I will find it.

Sleeping

Astrid's night sleeps vary. At the moment, she's pretty good at going to bed at around 7 pm every evening. If need be, she can stretch out to longer without getting too cranky. I think the controlled crying has paid off in some way, however, around the week when she turned one, she was very upset about being left to sleep, and there were a lot of dramas around bedtime the way there were several months before.

Sleeping through the night can vary: sometimes she wakes around 10 or 11 for a feed, and then again at 4 or 5; sometimes she will sleep for 11 hours straight. (Unfortunately sometimes if she does that, I don't because my body clock has been programmed to wake when she used to wake.) In the weeks around when she turned one, she was still waking a lot—3 am and so on—but then was still raring to go at 7am like before. I found that quite hard, and was very glad when that growth spurt/wonder week passed. I've since become quite sceptical of people who say you can train your baby to sleep more or sleep according to a schedule: I really think it depends on your baby. Sleeping through has nothing to do with the amount of solid food Astrid is getting because she gets heaps (more on that later), and it has nothing to do with ability because she's demonstrated that she can do it (11-hour sleeps! She doesn't do them all the time, but she can certainly do them). I have come to accept it as normal that she will wake in the night, and I consider myself lucky when she does not.

That said, I think perhaps that putting Astrid to bed at a certain time does result in a certain waking time—in that if we put her to bed at 6 pm, she'd wake at 6 am. So now we put her to bed at 7 pm. (NB: This does not work if we put her to bed at 8 pm; she does not then wake at 8 am!) So in the morning, she normally wakes around 7 am (though for a couple of days or so, she was waking at 6 am, which was quite hard on me. I realise that's not as bad as some babies, who wake their parents at 4 or 5 am; to each their own). I get up most of the time to give her a milk feed and then a solid breakfast, but I have negotiated with Ben to have a regular morning when I get to sleep in (by which I mean sleep until 8 am). Sometimes, however, if it's been a particularly bad night, I ask him to get up and do the morning stuff so I can sleep a bit longer. Just knowing I have at least one morning when I do not have to be up makes things a little easier.

Astrid is usually up for about four hours before she starts getting sleepy again. For a while, she was having two daytime naps that lasted anywhere from 40 minutes (and there's not a lot you can do in 40 minutes, so it's basically not really worth the relief time) to (once) 3 hours. I wasn't very diligent at putting her down for the second daytime nap because it occurred so late in the afternoon (and I get the sense that Astrid is an unusual baby because most other babies I know seem to wake at 6 am). But now she's pretty much down to one sleep, which she takes at around 11am for about two hours or so. Meals are still three hours apart (so when she was having two naps a day, I had to make sure she had morning tea beforehand, even though those times lined up somewhat—i.e.

7:00 amAstrid wakes
10:00 amMorning tea
11:00 amNap 1
1:00 pmLunch
4:00 pmAfternoon tea and nap 2
5:30/6:00 pmDinner
7:00 pmBedtime

I discovered that if she did have a long middle-of-the-day nap, she was unlikely to go down for a second daytime nap, even if she was quite sleepy. (She would just stand in her cot and cry if I tried to put her down.) So now she's pretty much down to one sleep at day, and I try to make sure she gets it because not only is it a good break for me, it's very good for her so that she's not as cranky for the rest of the day. That said, sometimes she will take a second nap—for example, if we're driving for a while in the car.

Eating

Developmentally, eating is one of the areas where she's not as advanced. I feel somewhat responsible (though Georgina keeps telling me I shouldn't because I've never done this before and barely know what I'm doing, and it's not like she's starving or looks malnourished). It's true; I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to teaching babies to eat. I think for a long time I was still coming to terms with the fact that you do have to teach babies to eat. You'd think it would be natural and instinctual—like sleeping. But no: like sleeping, babies need to be trained. I think perhaps if I had understood that earlier—and if I had understood the steps you take to train your baby to eat food with textures (i.e. purée to fork mash to soft lumps to finger food), then we might not have had to undergo all the dramas that we did.

Furthermore, I also had to step back and say to myself, “It's okay if Astrid isn't good at eating. She can't be good at everything. What are you, a Tiger Mom?” Some babies are not so good at sleeping (and some babies won't sleep in the car or in their pram), whereas Astrid will. Some babies Astrid's age aren't walking yet, whereas Astrid is out conquering the terrain. Some babies were eating what their parents eat at 10 months; Astrid did not. That's okay.

However, I do worry that my hang-ups—or rather my indifference to food (in that I do enjoy eating it, I loathe cooking it, and if I was rich enough, I'd hire us a chef, and sometimes I think that if Willy Wonka's gum that tastes and nourishes like a three-course dinner ever became a reality, I would just have that sometimes because often I simply could not be bothered)—sorry, my indifference to food has passed onto her. I have to keep saying to myself what the baby books say: “Food is fun! Food is fun!” instead of “Food is so boring!” I am often lazy about food (and it makes me happy that Ben is now in charge of the cooking), but when it comes to feeding my child, I can't be lazy.

At the moment, we're still doing what I outlined in my last post, with a few modifications: basically I make some sort of meal, blend half of it and then mix it with half unblended, and then feed it to her. But I realised I couldn't keep doing that forever and that Astrid needs to develop the skills to eat food so that she can one day eat with us. So now we're transitioning to a new way of doing food whereby hopefully we can cook something for ourselves for dinner and then give Astrid a modified version of that to eat (as opposed to me making a lot of stuff to freeze). Unfortunately this means that I will have to resume cooking duties at least some of the time, but Ben is confident that we won't have to cook every night—at least not for now. (When Astrid is older and is consuming more food, we probably will.) At the moment, I'm trying to encourage her to eat more finger food, so she's having bolognaise sauce (with about a third of it blended) on macaroni with steamed vegies cut up into small pieces on the side. At first when I started feeding her that, she cried and had tantrums in her high chair, sticking her fingers in her mouth like her teeth hurt (and perhaps they did because she was teething a bit too, but then it might also have been her jaw because I think perhaps babies need to develop their jaw muscles through chewing). But after persisting with it for a number of days, she's now starting to get the hang of it, and with some encouragement, she will pick up her food with her fingers and feed herself.

Astrid's dinner

I also think she's enjoying that more as well because it means she has more control. (This fascinating article on the importance of siblings and the effects of birth order had this interesting throwaway line: “Parents shouldn’t just roll their eyes, even though conflicts over sharing are so common, because property for a small child is a critical way of establishing authority and control over a world in which they have virtually no power.”)

On the recommendation of another mum, I bought this cookbook off the internet. (Protip: Whenever you buy books online, go to Booko, type in the title or ISBN [International Standard Book Number] and it will tell you who sells it the cheapest.) It amuses me that it has these gorgeous pictures of puréed food in beautiful bowls on lovely table settings of pristine folded napkins and cute little spoons; I think perhaps it should also contain “after” shots of when the baby has smeared half of it all over herself and the other half all over the highchair. I guess that wouldn't sell many cookbooks though!

The other good thing about the book is that it contains meals that are suitable for adults that can be modified for babies and toddlers, and it shows you pictures of the larger meal and then the portion that you take out for your child. As well as a short section on purées, it also has sections on sandwiches, smoothies, yoghurts, dessert and party food. I haven't tried most of the recipes yet, but I plan to suppress my laziness with food and give them a go. (I think I will need some help, however, as I have no idea where you get polenta and what you do with it.)

At the moment, Astrid's meals work like this:

I am still giving Astrid milk feeds around three times a day: when she wakes, before she goes down for her daytime nap and before bed. I'm still a bit confused about weaning, but I think what I need to do is get her drinking cow's milk more and then start dropping feeds. It's only recently that I've started giving her more full cream cow's milk with meals (because she is more interested in drinking it, whereas before, she would kind of give up on it). In the near future, I'll drop the daytime feed and see how that goes before eventually dropping the others. I know that I don't have to wean her, but I think it would be good thing to do—if only for the sake of me gaining a bit more freedom and energy. I have mixed feelings about it though: I have lost a lot of weight through breastfeeding (and a lot of my clothes are now too big for me!), but I ate whatever I wanted, and if I wean, I'll have to stop that. (That's probably good thing …)

One last thing in this section: because mealtimes were becoming a real battleground, I thought perhaps baby sign language might help. I sourced the wisdom of my Facebook Parentals group and they pointed me in the direction of Australian Baby Hands and the Auslan Signbank Dictionary. Basically you adopt around four or five signs that you want to start off with (in our case, “eat”, “drink”, “more” and “finished”) and start using them with your child consistently. Once you know them, it's pretty easy to do that because the opportunities to use them come up pretty regularly (e.g. at mealtimes). Apparently it's never too early to start, but it may take a long while for the baby to sign back to you. Astrid is still not signing back to me after several months, but I think the sign language helps her understand me and what I want from her a bit better. Interestingly, one of the parents who is a speech therapist says it doesn't matter what sign you use for the word. You as a family can even make up your own signs for things.

Oh: thought of one more thing! It's pretty small so it doesn't warrant its own section. I've noticed that Astrid will tend to do a poo around the same time of day everyday, and that they often coincide with mealtimes—i.e. after breakfast, after lunch and after dinner. It's funny to think that it's that predictable, but there you go. (I have no idea if that helps with toilet training. I guess I'll find out.)

The first birthday party

I figured it was worth mentioning here because it seems to me that the first birthday party is a bit of a rite of passage for the parents. According to the wisdom of my Facebook Parentals group, first birthday parties are really for the parents more than the baby, and they are a celebration of the fact that the parents have survived their first year as parents. All birthday parties afterwards are more for the child; my minister says that even the second birthday party is different because by then, they have started developing their own friendships.

So we invited whoever we wanted to Astrid's party. I think it must have been strange for our single and married-but-childless friends (certainly I've found it a bit strange when I've been invited to first birthday parties in the past), and perhaps we should have been clearer about the purpose of it (apart from subtitling the party with “YAY!!! Ben and Karen survived their first year as parents!”). But anyway, we did get a good turnout. We were going to have it in the park near our place, but then in the week leading up to it, my iPhone weather program said there was a 50 per cent chance of rain, so I changed the venue to our flat. We were a little worried about how we would fit that many people in (we expected around 35 over the course of the day), but I figured people would just cope (which they did). We also asked people to bring portable chairs to help with the seating, which worked pretty well.

Despite being advised to keep the party short and within Astrid's waking hours, we decided to hold it for five hours between 11 am and 4 pm because we wanted to see our friends. We told them to come whenever they wanted and leave whenever they wanted. In hindsight, I should probably have said that formal proceedings (i.e. cake) would kick off at a certain time. Oh well.

We took care of most of the catering ourselves, and as usual, I ended up buying too much food. The night before, I did a lot of stuff, but I also did the bulk of the food preparation on the day, so I was a bit stressed. Nevertheless it came together better than I hoped. So we had:

I asked the grandparents to keep on eye on Astrid so that I didn't have to do that and look after party things. One set of grandparents also brought ice for us. People came by all afternoon—them and their kids (who played with all the toys)—which was just lovely, and I loved how relaxed it was. Astrid also coped quite well—even with the fact that all these strange children were playing with her toys. However, she didn't get a full sleep in the middle of the day, then got really cranky and had to be put down for a second nap in the afternoon.

The party finished up around 4 pm, and clean-up was pretty straightforward, though in hindsight, I should have commandeered some people to help as I was completely wrecked by the end of the day.

We kept Astrid's party simple, but there are people out there who can go completely over the top when it comes to children's birthday parties. (See the posts on Babyology; I particularly like the look of this under the sea party, this vintage high tea party and this aeroplane party, but I don't think I could ever put in that much effort myself. Also, this post on “Are our children’s parties out of control?” gives you a taste of how over-the-top parties can be.) I didn't have a theme. I sent out an electronic invitation that didn't require much design work. I strung up some pretty lights and put the Blurb book of Astrid photos I had made last year on display. But that was about it.

With Astrid herself, in the week leading up to the party, I took her for her first haircut. (I got a friend to do it. Astrid seemed to be coping okay at first, but then burst into tears and was inconsolable, despite the fact that she had watched her daddy having his haircut just before. I think she was just tired. So my friend had to finish very quickly. It's interesting that Astrid's like that with a lot of things: we think she's fine with it, but then she has a delayed reaction and freaks out.) She has a fringe now, so it's nice not having to clip back her hair so it doesn't get in her food while she's eating. I also put her in a nice dress for the day. But that was it.

Motherhood

We're on the home stretch now. I wanted to finish the way I always do—with a few reflections on motherhood and what it's like to be a parent.

Coping with the everyday

I don't want to sound uniformly negative about motherhood. I do enjoy being a mother, and there are times when I need to remind myself to step back and savour the experience. I worry that these posts come across as being rather negative because I am charting all the adjustments and changes that happen with parenthood. So please don't think that.

I did say in my last post that motherhood is physically hard-going. I forgot to mention that motherhood is also very physically affectionate. Astrid is not an affectionate or clingy child (though she has been a bit clingier recently), but every day I spend a good portion of my day hugging her, kissing her, carrying her and so on. I think I have more physical contact with her than with Ben. (That's normal, so I have been told. Some mothers feel like they get their need for physical contact met by their child, they don't need it as much from their spouse.) So that's quite nice.

People also told me that it gets easier. I wondered what they meant, but I think it's because you understand your child better, you have had more practice at doing stuff, and things stabilise a bit more (as much as they can ever!) The changes from 1 to 2 years old are nowhere near as dramatic as from 0 to 1. I do think I'm getting better at this whole motherhood thing: I do have a sense of what's going on instead of just losing the plot and feeling helpless. I find that, for me, it helps to face the day with a plan. (I don't know if that's just because I'm organisationally minded.) Even if it's a simple plan (e.g. walk to the shops), it makes the day go better, otherwise everything falls to pieces. Writing it out also helps (so I put it into my Evernote daily list). I usually try to have something for the morning and something for the afternoon. So a typical day might go like this:

7:00 amAstrid wakes. I change her nappy (which is usually wet and full from the previous night), give her a milk feed, then feed her a solid breakfast. I eat my own breakfast, then change her nappy again because she's usually done a poo.
8:00 amI dress Astrid and put her in her cot with some toys, and go have a shower and get dressed. When that's done, we often head out somewhere—like the park.
10:00 amI give Astrid her morning tea—sometimes at home, sometimes out wherever we are.
11:00 amI try to return home by this time to change Astrid's nappy again, put her into pyjamas and her Grobag (infant sleeping bag), read her a story (and usually one from one of our children's Bibles), give her a milk feed and put her down for her nap. Then I finish off a few household tasks and eat my lunch at around 12 pm, listen to a few chapters of the Bible on MP3, sometimes watch a few TED talks (which I download via podcast), muck around the computer, knit and generally rest.
1:00 pmAstrid wakes. I get her up, re-dress her, then feed her lunch. Then (if Ben is not home), I do the breakfast and lunch dishes. Then we go out to whatever afternoon thing we've got on.
4:00 pmI feed her afternoon tea wherever we are.
5:30/6:00 pmI try to return home for her dinner, but sometimes I feed her dinner wherever we are if we're still out. Then, if it's bath night, Ben will bath her. (If it's not bath night, we'll change her into a triple-stuffed nappy before bed.) Then she might play for a bit.
7:00 pmBedtime. I brush her teeth, put her in her Grobag, read her a story and give her a milk feed. Then I turn off the light (making sure the night light is on), start her sleep playlist, say prayers with her and then bid her goodnight.
7:30 pmBen and I usually eat our dinner and catch up. Then I will do the dishes. Or if we're eating leftovers and I am too tired, I will ask him to do them.
8:00 pmI try to finish all the household tasks by this stage so that I can stop and relax for the rest of the evening. I have varying degrees of success with this. If I do manage to relax, it's usually by watching TV and knitting while sitting on the couch. (Very sedentary, I know, but I usually don't have enough energy for anything more.)
10:30 pmI try to be in bed by this time (again, with varying degrees of success). Astrid might wake around this time for a milk feed.

Then the following day, it starts all over again.

Week-to-week, it's pretty much the same:

I should note that sometimes I do go out on weeknights—like to the movies. (I usually co-opt a friend into coming with me, but I don't mind going to stuff by myself.) I'm very grateful for my single and married-with-no-children friends because they are usually very flexible and can fit around my schedule to do stuff with me. That said, I am also grateful for my friends who are mums: I've found that visiting other mums is a great thing to do during the week, and not only does it give us something to do and provide Astrid with some social time with other kids, it's good for me because I learn from them and can also listen to them and support them.

The relentlessness of it all can be overwhelming sometimes though. I feel like I cope with the ongoing sleep deprivation with varying success, depending on what's going on at the time. Parenthood really is like running a marathon, and I really notice when it's been a long time since I've had a break. But there are no weekends (as in rest) in parenthood: any rest you get has to be carved out. It's kind of sad, but I've found that unless I schedule stuff in and ask for non-baby time, it doesn't happen. But if doesn't happen, I start going a bit bananas: I get depressed and don't cope.

The future

I often feel like I'm just in maintenance mode—just keeping things going from day to day, week to week. It's hard to do much more than this (and indeed, I've found that working on Kinds of Blue stuff has taken a lot of extra effort). So it makes me wonder how other parents cope—especially when it gets harder (e.g. when you have another rugrat to look after). I've been talking to mums who have two or more and from what they've told me, you just end up not doing as much. I asked one how she manages the mental space that two takes up, and how she is able to remember things like feeds and nappy changes, and she said that the kids often get changed at the same time, or she kind of watches them to know whether it's time to feed, time to sleep, etc. Some put their older children in childcare or preschool a day or two a week, which eases the pressure that having two brings. I guess you kind of surrender control and let life take you without getting overwhelmed. And I guess you just adapt and do what needs to be done—whether you're the mother of toddlers, preschoolers, primary schoolers or high schoolers. Good thing the future only comes one day at a time. I must remember that when the thought exhausts me.

Now that Astrid has turned one, I am nervous about what comes next—mostly because I feel like I know nothing. Another mum pointed out that I knew nothing before, but that's not strictly true: you get a sense of developmental milestones and the like from baby books, and when you start out, there are classes to teach stuff like how to breastfeed, how to change nappies, how to transition your child onto solid food, and so on. Now there are no classes, and the books are of limited value because every child is different. It makes me wish that there were classes—that it would be considered normal (as one speaker put it, except I can't remember who said it or where) to attend parenting classes at each stage of a child's development—less for “this is how you should do things” and more for “here are some ideas for how to handle the things you're facing”. I guess maybe I should go back and take another look at the Raising Children Network DVD. And I should keep talking to other parents. But also I know that this fear is part of the control freak in me. I need to keep on trusting God and trying to do my best by Astrid instead of trying to divine the future.

The other thing that makes me anxious about the future is the prospect of returning back to work. I think if I went back, I'd definitely just do part-time to start with. I worry about childcare and what that will be like for Astrid. (I cried a bit during the final scene of The Help when the nanny had to say goodbye to the toddler, and though my first thought was, “I've become so mushy since becoming a mum”, my second was, “How could I leave Astrid with someone else?”, which is a bit of a ludicrous thought since I leave her with grandparents and occasionally friends all the time. But that's never for longer than a couple of hours.) I worry about whether I will be able to cope with work on top of motherhood and looking after a household. I worry that I won't have time for rest or creative endeavours. I worry that I will run out of the mental capacity to hold it all together (already I am forgetting things not long after I think them; writing this post was a bit an effort and was only possible after collating copious notes!) One day soon I should probably read Mommy Wars and see what it's like for other women.

Marriage

I think one of the biggest things that we were unprepared for was the impact of the baby upon our marriage. I don't want to go into too much detail about it, but I will say that I think one of the problems was that looking after Astrid is very emotionally draining for me—especially as I'm an introvert. I would get to the end of the day and feel like I had nothing left to give Ben. Ben and I dealt with it by going back to marriage counselling (and just so you know, if you're ever looking for someone, Relationships Australia do marriage counselling and they charge you according to your household income. However, they are not a Christian organisation and I think the majority of their counsellors are not Christian, so bear that in mind if you are specifically after a Christian counsellor). Counselling had some value, and certainly things have been better since we started. (We are no longer going at the moment.) However, what frustrated me was that there wasn't much out there on the subject of what happens to your marriage when you start having kids. It's a big thing (remember that it's the third task in The Good Marriage), but hardly anyone talks about it, and everyone is very closed-mouthed about their own experiences. But everyone goes through that adjustment.

I asked my Facebook Parentals group about it, and I did get a few private responses (I guess it's hard to talk about because it involves your spouse). But interestingly, the most helpful thing I've found on the subject so far has been this book called Babyproofing Your Marriage by Stacie Cockrell, Cathy O'Neill and Julia Stone. One mum in the Parentals group said she found the book really negative and unhelpful, but did say that she had read it before kids. I'm only part-way through it and I think I can understand why she felt that way about it, but for me, my first reaction was, “Yay! We're not the only couple experiencing this!” I don't agree with all the solutions the book offers, but what I like about it is it explains the different issues from both the husband's and the wife's point of view. Plus you get a little glimpse into other people's marriages and how they operate. Also, it's quite funny to read in places (though Christian readers should be warned that it's coming from a non-Christian worldview, so there will be things you will probably find distasteful). In particular, the chapter on scorekeeping was just excellent.

Nurturing the self

I wonder if I harp on about this too much, but I think it's because it's my way of coping. Sometimes I think I am too soft because other mums have it much harder than I do (they have more children, they have less support, they have less family around to lend a hand, their husbands work long hours full-time). But I think such comparisons are like comparing apples and oranges: everyone is different. For me, I know how I'm wired and how I can keep myself going, so it's probably good that I keep thinking about this topic and how it relates to my situation.

It's hard not to think of mothering as a “job” (a job with no weekends, no health benefits, no holidays and no sick leave). I've already talked a bit about what I do to stop myself from going crazy (have a plan for the day in place, schedule in rest time and alone time, do pleasant event scheduling [e.g. arranging to go to the movies with a friend], try and make sure I actually rest when Astrid is asleep during the day, and when she's gone to bed in the evening). I feel like I'm still coming to terms with what I can now do, as opposed to what I used to be able to do. So now I'm only just keeping on top of my email, I barely check my RSS feeds, I favourite things in Twitter but often don't get time to read them (I stay on top of my Twitter feed but only just; I culled the number of people I follow from 500 to around 150, and I only really check it twice a day—and more because I enjoy reading it than because I feel like I have to keep up), I hardly read anymore, but I know that's because I prioritise television watching and knitting instead (because I can do both at once, whereas it's very hard to knit and read at the same time). Part of me is a bit sad I can't do it all anymore, but that's something I just have to accept.

So that's nurturing myself rest-wise. But I've also discovered it's important to continue nurturing myself creatively—not just for enjoyment and leisure purposes but also in terms of professional development (I mean as a writer). So when I'm consuming media (be it television, movies, books, TED talks, articles and the like), it's not just to be entertained, to be informed or to learn, but it's also to glean what I can about writing and storytelling. In an ideal world, I'd love to be able to earn a living through writing, but in order to get there, I have to produce and work hard. That means continuing to learn about the craft and continuing to practise the craft. At the moment, all the grandparents are travelling overseas and I am not getting the two scheduled writing periods I normally do. Strangely enough, I'm really feeling it—not to the point where, like Rachel Power in The Divided Heart, I feel like I'm going to explode with words, but something similar. I am trying to keep a writing project on the go at all times. At the moment, I'm working on a short story. I know that I don't get a heap done from week to week, but I do feel like I move forward in small increments (as Mark McGuinness says in his post on creativity when you have kids). Hopefully if I keep at it, I'll one day be able to make my dream come true.

In terms of nurturing myself spiritually, I find I have to make sure it doesn't drop off the agenda in the midst of everything else. For a while, Bible reading and prayer wasn't quite happening. Now it sort of happens: I listen to the Bible on MP3 over lunch, I pray bit prayers throughout the day (e.g. when I have a shower in the morning and when I put Astrid to bed at night), and I pray for people when I think of them. It's less regulated and organised than before when I operated on the six-card system, and I don't like that it's not very thorough. But hey, frequency rather than quality at the moment, and then maybe later in life, things will improve. At the moment, I think I am doing well to even fit it in.

Of course, there is also church. I've made it pretty much every week since about eight or 12 weeks after Astrid was born, apart from the weeks when I've been sick. Every time I make it, I thank God and consider it a minor miracle, considering what's involved to get there with Astrid. Every time I go, I get something out of it. I've started doing band, which makes things a little tricky with Astrid, but so far it's working. I've also volunteered to help organise women's ministry things, and I'm helping out at Music Time (doing setup).

There is also my mums Bible study group. We were slowly working through Psalms 1-20, using the Bible brief for those studies. But now we are doing Luke and using the Swedish Method. Bible study with the chaos of babies, toddlers and other distractions can be tricky, but keeping it short and simple seems to work, and amazingly we always learn something encouraging during each study. I've really enjoyed the time we've spent together. I know it's going to change a lot as a few of us are moving away later in the year, and it may dissolve altogether, but I'm thankful for the time we've had and the way it has kept me on track spiritually.

Right. That's enough. Let's finish with an obligatory cute picture of my darling little girl. This was taken the day of her first birthday (pre-haircut):

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