The tantrums will continue until morale improves

Moss and leaves

We had reached the stage in the recipe of adding the eggs. “Let’s put the eggs in!” I said, and took the container out of the fridge. The instant I turned to get a whisk, there was an smashing noise behind me. I spun around to see egg all over the floor, and Frances giving me a keenly helpful look, as if to say “yep, done that! What’s next?”.

When Edward was little we built a stool so that he could stand up safely and do things with us at the kitchen bench. I always enjoyed baking with him. It was usually quite messy – the urge to fling just a little bit of flour around is fairly irresistible – but my memory is that he always concentrated very hard on my instructions and tried to copy what I was doing. (Having said that, I am somewhat wary of trusting my memory when it leans towards a “first child was so easy, second child is a devil” narrative, which I suspect has much more to do with the mellowing effects of time than reality.)

The vagaries of memory aside, baking with Frances is definitely different to how it was with Edward. I don’t recall entering into a physical tug-of-war with Edward for possession of the mixing bowl while he howled “MIIIIINE”, for example. I’m sure this is exacerbated by the intensely independent stage Frances is going through at the moment, flying into little rages when you try to do outrageous things like things like take the bowl of brownie mixture back because she’s about to slop it all over the floor, or prevent her from climbing onto a ladder, or stop her from wading into deep water at the pool and drowning herself.

Edward was given Christmas cards containing candy canes from many of his classmates at kindy at the end of the year. It’s a tradition I didn’t participate in for several reasons, such as 1) I didn’t have bloody time, and 2) I think the interest that five year olds have in receiving a Christmas card is extremely minimal. I do feel a tiny bit miserly about this decision though, and hope that all the parents who make the effort to prepare those little gift exchanges are doing so because they thoroughly enjoy it.

The kindy candy canes were hung on our little Christmas tree, and every day Frances would gaze at them and ask hopefully “tanty tane?”. They are such an enticing colour, and she’s a fiend for anything sweet. Christmas Day arrived, and Frances discovered a candy cane in her stocking which yes! She was allowed to eat, much to her sticky delight. On Boxing Day she bustled towards the tree, said “tanty tane!” and was informed that candy canes for breakfast were a once a year event. I did my best not to laugh at the absolute stunned horror and disappointment on her face, which she followed up with an elaborate performance of lying on the floor giving great noisy howls of sadness. Once soothed, she still choked out the occasionally broken “tanty… tane…”, just to make us aware how cruelly we had hurt her. I find it much easier to briskly ignore toddler tantrums the second time around, which perhaps also contributes to an increased number of them. I know that’s not the received wisdom regarding tantrums, but I expect Frances is an advanced case, a tantrum genius, working diligently on pitching those screams just right until she gets the desired reaction.

Advertisements

Ceiling of stars

Bruce

I make sporadic unsuccessful attempts to encourage my son to sleep in his own bed, because I have hitherto undiscovered reserves of mad optimism. My previous effort involved the pet fish he asked for on his last birthday. We put them in a tank in his bedroom, and I gave a long and heartfelt speech about what wonderful company fish were when one happened to wake up in the night. How lovely that he now had fishy friends with him in his room all the time! You’re never alone when you have a fish, I said. The first night he decided that fish were not actually very good company at all, particularly in the middle of the night, and back into our bedroom he came.

My latest idea for lulling my son to sleep by means of commercialism is a turtle with a fluffy head and flippers that shines stars onto the ceiling through its shell. It is quite as ridiculous as it sounds. Apparently some of the stars are Real Constellations, so it’s not only soothing but Educational. I presented him with the turtle and started on my hard sell – this was a new special friend! Who would live in his bed! And when he woke up at night he could press the button and the lovely stars would shine! Didn’t that sound beautiful and peaceful? Maybe he would like to give his special friend a name?

He looked suitably solemn and gazed at the turtle.

“Bruce.”

Uhhh.

“His name can be Bruce.”

I managed not to laugh.

Bruce the special shining star turtle has not been a success. Of course he bloody hasn’t, I don’t know what I was thinking. He has actually become part of the bedtime routine, just in the opposite way to which I had hoped. Bruce lives in the Big Bed now, and must be ceremoniously turned on each night, shining his soothing stars onto the ceiling so that my son and whichever adult is lying down with him can enjoy an Educational display of constellations. Instead of removing a small child from my bed, I’ve added a shining turtle. It’s not an improvement. Bloody Bruce.

6 months

Bee

Six months passes a lot faster with your second child. It felt like an absolute age with my first. You’re learning how to look after a baby, second-guessing everything you do, and also adjusting to the massive change to your life; the sledgehammer of parenthood. With your second, you’re too busy to dwell on time passing and so it speeds by.

Things I’m enjoying at 6 months:

  1. Frances’ constant smiles and laughter. It seemed to take her quite a while to laugh, and when she first began it was an odd, forced sound, very similar to the sound of her sobs. Now it is an easy chuckle. She is most amused by her brother, and sometimes sits there laughing at him while he’s doing something very ordinary, much to his bemusement and occasional irritation.
  2. Watching the steady progression of new skills – she has been rolling both ways for a while, and seems to be making progress towards being able to sit, although currently she still lurches and falls over a few seconds after I carefully place her in a sitting position. She is very focussed on new things she can do with her hands at the moment, and spends ages concentrating on moving a toy around, or tearing paper to shreds (I must confess until recently I let her go to town on catalogues we get in the mail, as she “plays” happily with them for so long, but then she started eating them, so I’ve discontinued that baby-entertainment method). She babbles away with consonants in random emphatic streams of sound – dadagagadamamama.
  3. Starting solids, which we did a few days before she turned six months old, as she was very interested in our food. I thought we would try more of a baby-led weaning approach this time, but Frances was very perturbed by the chunks of soft food she managed to gnaw off from larger pieces of food and immediately gagged them back up. I’ve been mashing up things with a fork instead and spoon feeding her, which she enjoys much more, and I love her fascinated/horrified expressions whenever she encounters something new.

Things I’m not enjoying at 6 months:

  1. The lack of sleep is my major complaint, but then again it usually has been with both my children, and Edward improved. So, I trust, will Frances.
  2. I am beginning to chafe slightly at my stay-at-home-parenthood lifestyle. I return to work in three months, and I think by then I’ll be really looking forward to some time on my own – oh that’s an odd thing to write, as I don’t have a whole lot of social time with other adults at the moment. But I am never without Frances – particularly at the moment, as she has been in an intensely clingy phase for the past month or so, never happy with anyone else, and I am beginning to look forward to a break from that. When I returned to work after my first maternity leave, I really enjoyed the novel feeling of only being responsible for myself in my hours away from home.
  3. In almost equal measure, I find myself worrying about my return to work and Frances going to a family daycare for four days a week; an arrangement which we are experienced with and will no doubt work perfectly well, but I dread the awful feeling of removing yourself forcibly from a crying baby and rushing out the door. It’s never a pleasant experience.
  4. Not being able to hand off the baby to anyone else without her howling – I don’t remember Edward being this excessively attached to me, and I hope it’s a short-lived stage.

3 months

3 months

Baby number 2 is three months old. It seems far longer than that, like she’s always been around, hanging out in one of my arms while I do everything else one-handed.

Things I’m enjoying at 3 months:

  1. The one tiny laugh we’ve heard, a throaty “haHA” accompanied by a wide gummy grin. She’s quite a jolly little thing, usually happy to smile, but we’ve only coaxed one laugh out of her so far.
  2. Admiring her chubby little tummy and legs, and the vigorous way she thrashes about in the bath. I have to curve my fingers around her head so she doesn’t rocket herself skull-first into the side of the bath.
  3. The way she sleeps far better than her brother did at the same age. I am doing exactly the same things I did with him – swaddling, feeding on demand, feeding to sleep – and the way she sleeps is completely different. She will even wake up as I put her down in the cot, and then DRIFT BACK TO SLEEP ON HER OWN. Previously I had thought everyone who said babies did that was lying. It seems that the way babies sleep is just the way they sleep, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to change it.

Things I’m not enjoying at 3 months

  1. The fact that I have another child who only has decent naps while in a baby carrier. I can’t say that I’m too devastated about this given how comparatively well she’s sleeping at night (I feed her two, sometimes three times during the night), and I’m optimistically presuming that she’ll grow out of this habit, unlike her brother.
  2. think there were more things I wasn’t enjoying a month ago, when she was spending much more time in unexplained tears while I jiggled her and put in the baby carrier and walked up and down pointing the Baby Shusher at her (a virulently orange electronic thing that “ssssshhhh”s loudly at your sobbing child. It’s actually surprisingly effective, which is nice given that I spent $50 on it). She abruptly changed at 12 weeks, suddenly becoming more settled. It was a pleasant surprise, and I am very much enjoying dropping her brother off at kindergarten without her howling hysterically in my arms.

The hours

Numbers game

I make notes about the baby’s sleep patterns. When she’s had a string of bad nights I like being able to look back a week and reassure myself that she is capable of sleeping for five hours at a stretch when certain mysterious circumstances align. What those circumstances might be are between Frances and her conscience; she’s certainly not letting me in on her secrets.

I am much more relaxed about co-sleeping this time around. At the moment I’m doing a weird combination of baby-carrier (during the day), putting her to sleep in her cot, and giving up during the early hours of the morning and sleeping with her on a mattress on the floor (as then I don’t have to worry about her rolling off a bed). Motherhood is so very glamorous.

Sleep deprivation steals my patience. Other things as well, but lack of patience is what I notice most; when I’m trying and failing to respond positively to being asked the same question for the fifth time in a row, or repeating my son’s name again and again as he fails to respond. There are quite a few pre-schooler behavioural traits that make me want to scream, but selective deafness is one of the most frustrating. I suppose from his perspective he is busily considering very important matters like volcanos and space shuttles, and in contrast I am wittering on about something incredibly dull like eating.

With a couple of months of broken sleep under my belt, patience is slowly coming back to me and I find myself able to parent with some grace again, to find enjoyment in Edward’s endless questions. “I have spotted an ibis having a drink!” he said to me importantly a few days ago, pointing towards an ibis picking its way along the dam edge. The intensity of his fascination with the world awakens my own joy, and the muddy little dam is transformed; the ibis is beautiful, gleaming in the last light of the day as it gracefully steps through the shallow water; the chirping high calls of the frogs in the reeds are like music, their notes following us as we eventually dust ourselves off and walk hand-in-hand back towards the house.

On the full moon

Flowers

My daughter was born on a full moon. This was not due to some mystical cosmic alignment, but rather to the fact that the hospital had space on that day for an elective caesarean section. Placenta previa had upended my easy pregnancy and plan for a relaxed drug-free birth, and meant that the hospital was reluctant to let the pregnancy go beyond the 38th week due to a significant risk of bleeding should labour commence naturally. I had expected the surgery to be booked around my due date, and I drove away from the hospital after that appointment feeling rather blank.

I was disappointed when I found out I had to have a caesarean birth. Prior to the birth of my son, I had taken hypnobirthing classes and intended to have a drug-free birth. His birth was induced, which meant I had constant and fairly invasive monitoring and took pethidine for the pain. I hoped the birth of my daughter would be closer to my original plan, being free to move around the birthing suite and breathing through the birth. The thought of giving birth in an operating theatre surrounded by people was so far from my original plan that it saddened me, and I felt quite anxious about it. Giving birth was about trusting my body. Having surgery meant placing that trust in other people. I spent the last two weeks of the pregnancy reading positive stories about other women’s elective c-sections, and trying to think about the surgery in a relaxed way, but it still took me until a few days before the surgery date to finally start to look forward to meeting my daughter.

The surgery itself was perfectly straightforward. The morphine included with the anaesthetic made me feel relaxed, and the anaesthetist looked over the drape and talked to me throughout the whole process. “They’re making the first incision now… there’s a few layers to get through… now they’re cutting through the muscles…”. It was quite surreal to listen to this commentary as my body moved and shook occasionally as the surgeons worked. A few minutes after the first incision, they pulled my daughter out and I heard her give a wet gurgling cry, sounding like an angry cat.

The worst part of having a c-section is the recovery afterwards. Getting up for the first time and staggering to the shower while a nurse walks next to you holding your catheter bag, going to the toilet the next day and wondering how you’re going to manage to get back up off the seat again, calling the nurse during the first night to change your baby’s nappy because you can’t face getting out of bed – I found it so much harder than the recovery from my vaginal birth. Healing is certainly fast and I only spent two nights in hospital, but it is frustrating having to gingerly manoeuvre yourself up to breastfeed in the middle of the night without using your abdominal muscles, and to avoid picking up anything slightly heavy.

My full moon baby is almost two months old now. She smiles at me. I am sure the experience of having your first child in comparison to your second differs not only because they’re different children, and because you have some idea of what you’re doing, but also because of your inevitably foggy memories of what it was like to have a newborn. I don’t remember life with a newborn as being terribly pleasant, what with the shattering exhaustion and all that accompanies it. Life with this baby is actually quite enjoyable, aside from her occasional fits of inconsolable crying. I still don’t appear to have mastered the mysterious art of getting a baby to have a nap without putting them in a baby carrier, but am trying to appreciate this as a “well, one day you won’t have a warm sleepy baby strapped to you and then I expect you’ll miss it” experience. And while I suspect this is not actually true, as I type this and bend my head to press her soft hair against my cheek, and smell the sweet scent of her skin, I think to myself that this is actually the most wonderful thing in the world.

Baby-To-Be

Phasmid

The changes to your body are much less interesting during a second pregnancy. I don’t take enthusiastic bathroom-mirror photos of my expanding girth, and my feelings towards the pregnancy mostly consist of eagerness to reach the end of it. My recollection of the first months of parenthood with my son is that they were grindingly exhausting, and I think this contributes to my general longing to get on with the whole pregnancy business and start work on the brand-new-baby bit. Selecting potential names is an activity I am more wholeheartedly enthusiastic about. I have various draft lists of name combinations and occasionally bombard the husband with series of texts of my more outlandish choices. “Clementine? Beatrice? Wilhelmina?” These are inevitably not met with glowing approval.

My memories of childbirth have blurred in the intervening three and a half years. While I remember thinking at the time that it was the most shatteringly painful thing I had ever experienced, the very definition of unbearable, I can no longer recall what that pain felt like. Last time I had rather lofty ambitions of following the lessons learned in my hypnobirthing classes and breathing my way silently through birth. This time I’m limiting my goals to things like a) take your skirt off before giving birth so it doesn’t get covered in gore; b) don’t try and complete a conveyancing while being induced – little things I feel I can improve on from last time. (The conveyancing thing was just spectacularly poor timing and not because I thought it was somehow a good idea).

I remain hopeful that the brand-new-baby-business will somehow be easier the second time around. Less weeping despairingly in the middle of the night longing for sleep, that sort of thing. (From me, not the baby. I figure the odd bout of weeping despairingly is fairly central to babyhood.) Combining this version of brand-new-baby with parenting the already existing toddler will no doubt be an interesting experience. Although he is no longer a toddler, I suppose, given that he is heading rapidly towards age 4 and about to begin kindergarten. A pre-schooler. Albeit a pre-schooler who still needs to be snuggled to sleep and who has an unhealthy attachment to my hair as a soothing aid. I won’t be making that mistake this time around. Baby-to-be can get unhealthily attached to a teddy or blanket or anything that’s not actually physically part of my body.

3 years

Birthday Cake

Someone foolishly showed Edward the classic Women’s Weekly birthday cake book and he flicked through every single page, eyes gleaming avidly. “I would like… that one! And that one!” he said eagerly, until I informed him that birthdays were a one-cake-only kind of deal. Naturally he eventually settled on the cake that graces the cover of the book, the train with carriages filled with cargo. I had engineering assistance from the husband, and Edward was reasonably delighted with the result (although I think he mostly ate the icing).

Things I’m enjoying at 3 years:

1. It’s genuinely fascinating having those kind of conversations with your child where you see them connecting two concepts and coming up with original thoughts. It’s not so delightful when that original thought is “womans don’t know about taps”, due to my failure to answer a plumbing related question with sufficient specificity, but I was interested to see his first extrapolation from “things Mummy does” to “things all women therefore do”.

2. Invented semi-monotone songs that are half nonsense, half random phrases like “the open road”. They always end on a long drawn-out note, possibly accompanied by twirling, and then a glance at the audience for a suitably enthusiastic response.

3. We bought Edward a little junior drum kit for his birthday because drums has always been the instrument he’s been most enthusiastic about, and we’re keen on giving him decent instruments to play on when he’s young. I did regret this decision a little bit when I heard how loud they were, and I had to buy him a set of children’s drumming headphones to limit the noise levels he’s exposed to, but watching him hammer away at them and do a full run across the kit ending with a triumphant cymbal crash is so much fun.

4. No more nappies. Well, mostly. He’s still in nappies at night, but they’re frequently dry in the morning.

5. Edward is rather reticent in returning my declarations that I love him, which makes the infrequent occasions that he very seriously tells me that he loves me even more endearing.

Things I’m not enjoying at 3 years:

1. The Why Stage. Oh god, the Why Stage. I know I’m probably supposed to delight in it, and I do enjoy the insight it gives me into the way Edward processes information and the things that interest him (which at the moment is very much focussed on How Things Work). But he is RELENTLESS. The stream of constant chatter, the repeated questions if I don’t respond; it’s exhausting. I resort to “I don’t know” and “just because” far too often, just to make it stop.

2. At age 2 and a half, I was triumphantly declaring that Edward slept through the night. At age 3 he is only doing that sporadically – he wakes up because he needs to go the toilet, he wakes up because he wants me to sleep in his bed (“Mummy come iiiiiiiiin”), he wakes up because he wants to come into our bed (“I don’t want to be in heeeeere”), or for several other unknown reasons. This is probably a lesson never to triumphantly declare anything when it comes to parenting. Nothing is certain; nothing remains the same.

2 and a half years

Things I’m enjoying at 2 and a half years:

1. MY CHILD SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT.

2. This honestly feels so momentous that it should take up two points. It was probably around two years and three months when he started sleeping through the night more often than not, and suddenly he was only waking up very occasionally, once a fortnight or something like that. It is a rather glorious state of affairs, all this unbroken sleep.

3. The conversations we have with Edward are so immensely enjoyable. He is intensely inquisitive about everything, soaks in information, eavesdrops on our conversations (well, it probably doesn’t count as eavesdropping if we’re talking openly in front of him, but he often seems absorbed in what he’s doing and will then surprise us by chirpily repeating something that we’ve said).

4. Edward’s imaginative play is so very amusing to watch. At the moment, much of it revolves around cars – driving cars, getting in and out of cars, and discussing car aerials which are a particular intense interest of his for some mysterious reason. He narrates what he’s doing at a rapid speed, only about half of it clearly intelligible. Multiple times a day, he will dash up to us, shout something like, “I’m going shopping! Will buy milk and meat! And the aerial will go UP UP UP ALL THE WAY UP, bye-bye!”, and then open an imaginary door and brrrrm off loudly.

5. He has started a lot of dancing and singing recently, by which I mean he gallops around in tight circles, trying to cajole myself or the cats into dancing with him (he doesn’t have much success with the cats), and chanting in a monotone. I naturally think this is the most adorable thing I have ever seen.

Things I’m not enjoying at 2 and a half years:

1. Getting Edward to sit down and eat can be a bit challenging; eating is a very dull activity and there are many more interesting things for a toddler to be doing. Despite telling myself for the past year that I really would put my foot down about proper mealtimes, I still feed him some meals by following him around and shoving food at his mouth as he plays. I feel keenly the weight of my inadequacies as a parent while I’m trotting around after him though, so it all evens out.

2. My hair being his favourite soothing aid when he’s tired. This is a much, much more annoying habit now that he’s older and stronger, and I frequently fantasise about shaving my head. It’s probably the thing I snap at him about most, frequently hissing “will you let go of my hair for god’s sake” with much intensity in the supermarket.

3. The reason that happens is that I generally take him grocery shopping when he’s tired and ready for a nap, so he refuses to ride in the trolley, instead clinging to me and pulling on my hair. And the reason I do this is that I can usually only get him to have a nap if he falls asleep in the car, and I then shift him into his bed. Yes, this does strike me as a ridiculous thing to be doing with a two and a half year old. However, let us recall that he sleeps through the night now! This makes me feel so successful that I am willing to continue to do ridiculous things in order to get him to have a nap. (I also still lie down with him until he goes to sleep at night which can be quite a long drawn-out affair at times, but – HE SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT. On reflection perhaps sleeping through the night was a cunning stratagem on Edward’s part to get away with all sorts of other nonsense.)

4. Edward gets into these strange contradictory ruts when tired or just feeling particularly two-ish. He will whine that he wants to do something – close the door, for example – and then when I say yes, please go ahead and close the door, he will cry with chagrin that he does not want to close the door, why on earth would he want to close the door, am I quite mad? Alright, I will say peaceably, don’t close the door then. “WANT TO CLOSE THE DOOR”, he will howl, before selecting another topic. We will then enact this thrilling little play over and over again until one of us collapses screaming with frustration.

On the South Island

In preparation for our holiday in Wanaka, I ordered several sticker books from the Usborne sticker book range on such varied themes as dinosaurs, trucks and farm animals, and I recommend them heartily as plane entertainment aids for two year olds. “Where do you think this dinosaur should go, Ted?” Edward considered the matter with due seriousness. “Maaaaaaybe… in water!” he said every single time. Soon all the dinosaurs stickers allocated to that page were stacked on top of each other in a small pool of water. Watching this requires a certain amount of parental restraint in not rearranging the dinosaurs in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion, but the lengthy decision making process over each sticker makes it an enjoyably time-consuming exercise.

We stayed in a house next to Lake Hawea, and did various wintery holiday things. The area around Wanaka was a great place to holiday with children with plenty of interesting things to do within easy driving distance. Two year old Edward’s highlights were:
1. the dinosaur slide in the playground next to Lake Wanaka. It’s a slide shaped like a dinosaur. You slide down the dinosaur’s neck. From the perspective of a two year old, this is obviously the greatest thing of all time.
2. repeatedly sliding down on a tire with a parent down a snowy slope – “again! again!”.
3. making “snow balls” and a “snow man” ie. playing around with extremely icy snow which didn’t compact into balls at all.
4. staying “very very quuuuuuiet” in one of the dark kiwi houses at a bird park, and watching a kiwi scurry over a and take a drink from a little pool next to the glass.

Before this holiday, I had underestimated the vicarious enjoyment I get from watching Edward gleefully experience new things. I had wondered whether I would wistfully remember how holidays were pre-children, but instead I really loved watching his first tentative experience with snow and his wide-eyed gazing out of the back seat window as we drove through mountain ranges. (I also very much enjoyed my mother spending a day with Ted so that I could go skiing at Cardrona – vicariously enjoying your child’s wonder is always more fun when you’ve had a day off).