/karen/

Astrid (at 18 months)

Wednesday, 22 February, 2012

Whoops: six months went by and I didn't write one of these posts. Life filled up with things—for example, The Plan to Take Over the World (aka Kinds of Blue), which we printed, launched and sent out into the world (and if you'd like to buy a copy, we still have some left!), I started working on a short story (which needs a little time to marinate before I go back and revise), I had a Mommy Holiday, Ben's work suddenly got really really really busy, we went on beach mission (read one of the talks!), I gave a talk at a Pozible crowdfunding information night last week, and most days I feel like I'm just treading water to stay afloat.

I also didn't keep as many notes as I did on what was going on. (That's not to say that there wasn't stuff going on. Buh: double negative.) Anyways, here goes (and apologies as always for the scatty nature of this post; I started writing it two months ago and am only updating it now):

Toddlerdom

Physicality

Now that Astrid is walking, most of the changes are not so obvious and are therefore harder to quantify. Physically, she's very mobile—not quite running but very close to it. She can't jump yet (not sure when kids can do that), but she can certainly climb: she's learned to climb stairs (going up, and then gradually she's started learning how to go down; however, when she's upright, she relies on us a lot to go up and down as she can't manage it by herself), climb our furniture (she climbs on our armchairs and lounges and sometimes higher than that if we don't stop her), etc. She can also spin on the spot in circles, which is very cute to watch.

Because she's still fairly limited physically, when we go to the playground, she spends an awful lot of time watching other kids—almost studying them to work out how they do what they do. She's pretty independent: I'm sure she can't wait to do more.

I think something is happening in her brain that is allowing her to work at imitating others; I've noticed, for example, during Music Time, she's started clapping her hands or doing things with the wooden rods that the adults do. She's never done that before!

Teeth-wise, she's up to 12—four incisors top and bottom (with the fourth bottom one coming through last), two top molars, two bottom molars, and the four teeth that appear between the molars and incisors. The molars were hard: she cried a lot with the pain of them (they came through at the same time), and even though she didn't complain much about them during the day, she certainly did around bedtime and through the night. For several weeks, we were putting her to bed after dosing her with Panadol and rubbing Bonjella on her gums, and we'd given her a teething ring from the fridge (sometimes two) and even a bottle of cold water so that she would have some respite from the pain and drift off. Oh yeah, and we went through a lot of teething rusks again.

Talking

What else? Oh yes: Astrid is speaking quite a lot now—and not just baby talk either. She knows actual words and what they mean. Her first words in order were:

  1. Mama (when she was almost 11 months old)
  2. Dada (but she now says “Daddy”. Strangely, she says “Daddy” all the time—even when Daddy is not around)
  3. That (probably because she would point to things and I would say to her, “What's that?”)
  4. No (which she would pronounce as a cross between “none” and “nein”)
  5. Row (as in “Row, row, row your boat …”)

I lost track of the order after that. But words she knows now include:

She also seems to understand “Oma” and “Opa” (which is how we address Ben's parents with her), but she doesn't see them as often so doesn't say that as much.

When we're out and about, I find I often name things for her and ask her to repeat them (“Can you say ‘milk’?”). It's made me realise that some words are harder to say than others. Words that begin with “d” are harder for her, as are words that start with two consonants. I know there's some sort of scientific theory about all of this; I guess I never thought about speech until now.

(Interesting tidbit: I was talking to a girl who studied speech pathology the other day and she said that “g” and “d” are opposite sounds, which is why kids often get them mixed up. Also, “p” and “b” sounds are made the same way, but one uses the lungs and one does not. “S” and “r” are one of the last sounds kids master.)

The other funny thing about communicating Astrid is that often I know what she wants even if she can't express it. She often points to things and makes grunting noises like she wants this or that, or she wants this particular toy switched on. When we say no to her, she gets very upset, which I sometimes find very comical because to her, it's like the end of the world. Still, as they say, such boundaries are good for toddlers.

Oh, just thought of something else (sorry; no time to go back and edit!): now Astrid is doing the toddler-y thing of requesting that the same books be read every day. Her current favourites are The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (which she pronounces as “Pater!”) and Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox. (Incidentally, you really ought to read Mem Fox's speech on the making of that book; it's just gold.) I think the appeal of the caterpillar book is the holes in the pages, and the appeal of the sheep book is that it's really simple—so simple that she can often fill in the words herself as we're reading it.

Bother: thought of another thing. Now that I'm making Astrid walk more, I've been counting the stairs as we go up and down them. (We live on the third floor, hence there's a lot of counting.) Because of this (and possibly The Very Hungry Caterpillar), Astrid has started saying numbers, and can sometimes count by herself, say, from two to six, or four to eight. So weird. She really is her own little person!

Playing

It might just be me, but it seems to me that Astrid is a lot better at playing independently now. It's not all the time, but sometimes she is quite content to do her own thing—particularly in the morning when I am completely spaced out and am struggling just to eat breakfast and get going. She's good at getting her own toys out of the various places where we've put them (some in a toy box, some in what used to be my old cradle, some in a drawer in her room, some on top of Ben's keyboard speaker). She's not up to imaginative play yet (I think that comes later), but she does seem to always be quite busy, doing things—whether it be pulling things out of things, putting things into other things, moving things to different rooms, and so on. I noticed in the last three months or so that she's even started hugging her stuffed toys now, instead of just dumping them on the floor. In the lead-up to Christmas, our cleaning lady bought a couple of presents for her, and one of them was a doll with a soft body but hard head, arms, hands, legs, feet, etc.; ever since I gave it to Astrid, she's barely put it down. I don't know what it is about it, but she really likes that doll. (I find it odd because I used to hate dolls.) But I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that her doll looks more human than her other toys.

Astrid also loves books. I am proud that I've managed to infect her with my bibliophilia. Much of the time she spends playing involves pulling the board books or cloth books off their shelves and looking through them. Before she was born, I bought her almost a full set of the Dorling Kindersley “My first …” board books (e.g. My First Word; we have ABC, Animals, Body, Colours, Numbers, Opposites, Things that go and Word). I'm not sure if I had them when I was little (I don't have them now so I assume I didn't), but I remember them from working at Dymocks: something about all that nice clip-art on white backgrounds with text labels attached appealed to me. I wanted Astrid to have books like that. Amazingly, she really likes them! She points to things on the page and we say what they are. She can even recognise certain things and say the words herself. Some of the pictures are a bit out-of-date (e.g. televisions look a lot different now), but overall I think the books are quite useful; I took the Animals one to the zoo and tried to use it to help Astrid to make the connection between what she was seeing in pens and what she was seeing on the page.

When I go to have my shower in the morning, often I leave her in her cot with a stack of books, and she happily flips through them one by one, pointing at things and babbling to herself. I read to her every day—usually a book and a story from a children's Bible before her midday nap, and then a story (or three) before bed at night.

(Incidental note: you really notice the difference between a good picture book and a not-so-good one—particularly with the language. I never read them as a child but I have come to love Maurice Sendak's books—not just because of the fantastic illustrations and plots, but also because of the way he writes; his words just sing, and there's something about them that gets lodged in your head. In contrast, modern works like Guess How Much I Love You? [which I think is pretty much a saccharine pissing contest] and even Lost and Found lack that kind of musicality.)

Aside from the reading, Astrid's favourite toys these days include: Duplo, the ride-on dinosaur we bought her for her birthday (though she still can't manoeuvre it very well herself), old cordless phones (she likes pressing buttons), a toy flip phone that plays music and says “Hello!” and “Goodbye!” (which we keep in the car), the Smurfs and the Smurf house that Ben's parents gave him once for Christmas (um, yes, Astrid knows the word “Smurf” now. Also, “Fraggle” …), sand toys (shovel, rake and plastic watering can), and very very recently, she's taken to pushing one of her dolls around in the toy stroller Ben's parents gave her for her birthday. (She's getting better at steering too!)

We tend to go out a lot from day to day, but when we are home, I keep working at introducing Astrid to new play experiences. Mary put me onto the Imagination Tree blog, which has some really lovely ideas for play written by a mum who used to be an early childhood worker. I particularly love what she writes about play in this post. This is something I don't feel like I'm particularly good at it, so it's great to get pointers.

Last thing for this section: Astrid is now ticklish (mwahahaha!)

Bother: thought of something else. I usually try to limit the amount of screen time Astrid has so she's not watching TV all day. But it's been interesting to see how fast she's grown attached to our gadgets. She knows the words for “iPhone” and “iPad” now, and is starting to show a preference to certain apps. I've started making sure there is stuff she enjoys on my phone (apps, games, short videos) for those times when we're stuck waiting somewhere and she gets restless. Sometimes, however, if I am at the end of my tether, I do put on the TV. I've found that Miniscules works really well because the clips are short (usually averaging 5 minutes in length), there is no dialogue and the plots are quite easy to follow. She can watch quite a few of those before getting bored, however it only works on the TV, not on the iPad/iPhone.

Sleeping

Astrid's been down to one nap a day for quite a while now. She usually sleeps for about two hours from 12-2 pm, but sometimes she's flexible and I can stretch her out until later. However, I have to make sure that she is up by 4:30 pm or so, otherwise she'll be too awake for her 7 pm bedtime.

Fortunately for us, she normally wakes around 7 am (though on beach mission, she was waking between 6 and 6:30 am—probably because of the amount of light in the room). I realise how lucky I am to have this; most babies wake way earlier than she does!

She is still able to fall asleep in the car (and fortunately she did so on the way to and from beach mission), but I think she prefers her room because she often doesn't sleep in the car when I expect her to. I haven't seen her fall asleep in the pram for ages, but then I've been getting her to walk more these days.

Eating

These days, Astrid eats what we eat. I'm so thankful that she's a lot better with textures now than she was before! Maybe the new teeth have something to do with it. Also, I weaned her completely at around 15 months (and was very unsentimental about it and then felt bad because I was unsentimental about it … stupid motherhood feelings). She went easily, but the battle then was trying to make sure she had an appetite for her main meals. Even now, I'm still a bit paranoid about when she has morning and afternoon tea, and what she has for those meals, because sometimes if she's eaten too much, she'll refuse lunch and dinner. I wish the baby books had talked a bit more about eating battles because I certainly wasn't prepared for them. And I know everyone says often toddlers seem like they live on thin air, but even so, toddlers (like everyone else) often prefer to eat stuff they like that isn't so good for them, so obviously I want to encourage Astrid to eat nutritious things first and foremost, then when she's finished that, offering less healthy things as a treat. That's part of teaching her good lessons about food, right?

That said, there are days when, like any toddler, she will refuse things we know she likes, and we just have to let it go. Sometimes we can encourage her to eat by giving her some control (e.g. giving her her own spoon, or letting her feed us, which she finds endlessly amusing). But sometimes it's a flat-out refusal, and we just live with it and move onto the next meal.

Ben and I now have a cooking roster going whereby we make at least five portions—two for us for one night, two for us for the next night, then one for Astrid that gets split into four for lunch and dinner for the next couple of days. Sometimes the system gets a bit messed up (in which case, we rely on packaged baby food every now and then), but fortunately for us, she's pretty good with vegetables, so all we need to do is cook her some broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, peas and corn, plus and egg cooked in the microwave, and she's quite happy with that.

One thing that was an unintended result is that I am trying more new recipes instead of cooking the same thing over and over again. We've had to modify what we make anyway because some things Astrid can't eat (e.g. spicy food) and some things she really doesn't like (e.g. foods with flavours that are too strong). These days, I have a bit more time to explore new recipes and experiment a bit with things I want to cook (trying to work out the “principles” of, say, frittata or pasta bake). But I've also been thinking about this quote by Gaby Hinsliff—

Home takes on an awful lot more significance when you are suddenly spending much of your time there, instead of being part of a bigger and more sociable world. (Source)

—and I can see the truth of it in my life: suddenly I care more about cooking (well, marginally more; I still dislike it) because I care about what I am feeding her.

Here is an approximation of what Astrid usually has for each meal:

Mommy-dom

What, me? A parent?

As you've probably noticed from these posts, alongside Astrid's development has been my development as a mother and parent. It's interesting to me how many of us are on this journey (or maybe I just never noticed it before because I don't frequent that many mommy blogs). It seems like the state of modern motherhood is in crisis—as if this generation is caught up in some existential struggle to resolve what is acceptable—what is “normal”. Part of me finds it fascinating; the other part of me is frustrated with the debate because I don't understand why we have to keep talking about these things—why it's still such a big deal whether or not a mum works or not, whether a mum breastfeeds or not, whether a mum exposes her children to television or not, and so on. The media often doesn't help; sometimes it seems to me that the journalists are little imps who knowingly push certain buttons just to get a reaction from readers, and all in the name of selling newspapers and the like. *Sigh* anyway, here a few pieces that I found really interesting in the last couple months:

Things I've learned in the last six months:

That's probably enough scattergun thoughts for now. More later perhaps.

The Mommy Holiday

I was going to report back on my Mommy Holiday. I enjoyed it, and certain things worked really well (getting babysitters in, minimising the housework—often by doing it earlier, socialising with friends, doing nice things like getting a haircut [and highlights for the first time!], going to the movies and so on, as well as interesting things like attending the Australian Society of Authors Comics Masterclass). However, I wouldn't exactly call the holiday “restful” because I did lots of activities (instead of having quiet time), I went out a fair bit with people (instead of having alone time), and I was also going through that post-adrenaline slump sort of thing that always happen when I take holidays (which means that two weeks is better than one for me, but I couldn't really do a Mommy Holiday for two weeks).

Hmm, I should probably look at scheduling another one for this year …

Day to day, week to week

What we do from day to day, week to week, hasn't changed hugely from last year (though, of course, it changed during the school holidays because things like Music Time and Bible study weren't running). I guess one of the big change is that my in-laws have agreed to come babysit regularly. So now our days usually consist of a morning activity and an afternoon activity, with the middle consisting of lunch and Astrid's nap:

DayMorningAfternoon
MondayMusic Time. (I help out now.)Housework or shopping. Also, Mother's group has sort of changed to this day, though not necessarily this time.
TuesdayI get to sleep in a little! When I'm up, we do some sort of morning activity (e.g. shopping, play centre, go to the park [Playground Finder is extremely useful for this], go to the pool, visit the zoo, go on some sort of adventure [like to the beach] etc.)My in-laws come to babysit and I go off to write/do admin.
WednesdayWomen's Bible study.I've been putting her in childcare for three-hour sessions lately, but I can't always get the slot. Often when she's in, I have appointments or I go off to write/do admin.
ThursdaySome sort of morning activity.Some sort of afternoon activity (same list as morning activities!)
FridaySecond little sleep-in day plus morning activity.We go to my mum's in the afternoon, and she and Peter babysits while I go off to write/do admin.
SaturdaySome sort of family/social activity.Ditto.
SundayMorning church.Some sort of family activity. Or if I need a break, I negotiate with Ben for alone time.

Somehow other housework (e.g. laundry, cooking, cleaning, more laundry) happens around all of that.

We tend to go out a lot because we get a bit bored at home. But when are home, like I said, I try to make things interesting for her. I've introduced her to drawing with toddler crayons, playing with playdough, doing water play on the balcony with containers (bought her an art smock to keep her dry because changing her clothes got tiresome; art smocks can be so very expensive! I got one for her from MadeIt), and so on. When we play, I realise how much I've come to despise mess. It's not that I'm really neat because in certain sections of the house (e.g. my “desk” [which is currently the dining table—how very Austen!]), I'm extremely messy and have to make time to clear things out. It's just that I don't like creating messiness with things such as food, paint, playdough, etc.—I don't like having to clean it up. It probably says something about my OCD tendencies. (Here's another example:

IMG_1946

Notice how the nappies are arranged by colour.) Anyways, I know kids learn by being messy so I have to get over it—or at least create a space where I won't care if Astrid's messy.

Childcare

I mentioned above that I've started Astrid at childcare. It's partly because there's a possibility I may go back to work this year (see below for more about that), but it's also to make things more sustainable for me. I know that from the above timetable it looks like I have plenty of time to myself, but, like I said earlier, everyone's family circumstances are different, and I've learned that mine are challenging (to say the least): I can handle a toddler for most days of the week just fine, and I can handle having a spouse who suffers from depression just fine (and I have done so just fine in the past, as you well know if you've been reading this blog for a while). But putting the two together makes things hard, and one of the things the past six months has taught me is that I am not coping too well. I am in perpetual maintenance mode. Childcare was something someone suggested to me ages ago, but of course, being in maintenance mode meant that it took me forever to actually doing something about it.

Here's what I learned about childcare (in case you're interested):

Working mum

I get frustrated about the whole stay-at-home mum vs. working mum debate because I think so much depends on personal circumstances and personality. Given the way our society is, I don't understand why you can pass judgement on whether a mum chooses to do this or that; looking after a young child full-time pretty much on your own is terrifically hard. It's demanding, it's draining, it's often relentless and it can often be all-consuming. Not every mum can do it, and if you can't, that shouldn't be considered a failure on your part. (I'm not saying that people have been saying that to me; I'm just reaction to the judgemental attitude I see in the media/in books/in other people sometimes.)

Like I said, I've been in perpetual maintenance mode for a long time now. I still haven't worked out how to make life sustainable. At the moment, I tend to get to Friday and Saturday, and I just hit the wall and can't cope anymore. That's even with two regular non-Astrid times built into my week. I find myself feeling excessively tired and drained, and therefore more irritable, less patient, more prone to anger, etc. But I also know that that is partly because much of my non-Astrid time is spent doing “work”-type things—writing (which straddles the fine line between “work” and “hobby”) or admin or some such thing (e.g. stuff to do with Kinds of Blue). I'm not exactly resting. (Perhaps I should be … but, you know, the writing! The writing! I should really blog about The Divided Heart sometime … I know I've been saying that for years …) In addition, Ben's work can fluctuate wildly: sometimes there is very little on his plate, then other weeks everyone wants him to do things and he's working around the clock, which means that his rest time is diminished, which means that I try to help him rest during the times he can rest by taking Astrid out for some mummy-daughter time, etc.

At the moment, I think perhaps working might help. Working will certainly help with the cost of childcare, plus getting out of the home and among peers might also be beneficial for my mental health. Working might also bring some stability to my life. I only want to work part-time (and ideally spread things out so I'm working half-days and spending the other half with Astrid).

But at the time same, I'm worried about whether I'll be able to manage both work and parenting (as with work and art, you do experience that divided heart—something I felt keenly while working on the mailout and launch for Kinds of Blue). I'm worried about what will happen when the demands of both exceed my capacity to meet those demands. I'm worried it won't work out (but then I suppose I could just quit). I'm worried about what I'll do if it doesn't work out. But at the same time, the writer in me is interested to know what this world is like—how working mothers do it—and what sort of working mother I will be.

I guess that's material for another post! If it happens.

Right, need to finish this off and go to bed. Sorry, no obligatory photo of Astrid; my photos are in a mess on my hard drive and have been for the past six months!

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Writing

Kinds of Blue: Cover art

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Blinks:

A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.

Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.

Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.

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