Just do you, Mom

‘Mamaaaaaa’ my two-year-old sobs as I place him into his cot. It’s almost an hour past his usual bed time and he starts crying hysterically every time I try to put him down. This is new to me; my Bean has always slept on his own without any drama and I am getting frustrated – I cannot stand and rock my toddler to sleep for hours at a time after all. This happened the previous night and during his nap time, earlier today and I realise that Bean is suffering from separation anxiety again. He is scared and he wants to be close to his mom. My heart melts, I sit down in his rocking chair and I sing until he eventually falls into a deep sleep.

My little guy is going through so many changes, he is starting school soon, there is a baby on the way and I recently read him a book about a mom and dad who go to the hospital to have a baby and the mom only comes back a few days later. He is worried, he is scared and he is clinging onto me, his caregiver and his place of safety. I cannot be angry with him and I cannot let him cry it out. All I can do is to assure him of the fact that I will always come back.

Once Bean is asleep, I head to my book shelf, grab my various baby and toddler books and I google: how do I get this child to sleep? There are various answers, from crying it out to sleep training and none of the solutions really speak to me. At last, I come across an article posted by a sleep therapist and in it she mentions a few unconventional solutions: from allowing the child to fall asleep on a mattress in the lounge to letting the child fall asleep next to mom in his bed. I immediately call my husband and mention that it is time to move Bean into a big boy bed as this will allow me to lie next to him when he is scared.

Fast forward a few days and our house is filled with a peaceful, rested energy again. Bean loves his new big bed (we did make a big deal about it, allowing him to help choose the bedding and decorating his room, playing games on the bed etc) and he loves that I lie down next to him until he falls asleep (and to be honest, I love the extra cuddles and his gentle sleepy breaths – it brings peace to my worried mom-heart).

Yes, this is against all the usual sleep advice (some might even say it’s taboo), but it works. Bean’s fear might be irrational and it might not make sense to an adult, but to him, it is very real. When I leave him alone, he is scared – really scared. And I will not leave him to be scared if I do not have to. He is only two after all.

There will come a time when he will grow out of this separation anxiety again and one day, when he is a teenager, he will probably shut me out of his room with a no entry sign, so for now, I will indulge him and I will ensure that he knows that he can trust me, that he can trust that I will always be there for him.

One of the many things motherhood has taught me is that no child and parent combination is the same, no problem rears its head in exactly the same way and no solution has the same results. As a mom, you need to follow your gut and you need to do what feels right, rest assured that you are doing the best that you can do.

It can be easy to judge other moms and their parenting techniques, arrogant in the belief that what works for you must work for everyone else. But life is not like that and judging others is simply unnecessary.

So, you just do you, mom. You are this child’s mother. Follow your gut, your instinct and raise your child according to your own standards. Your heart gives amazing advice, all you need to do is listen to it.

A Second Pregnancy: The Good and The Bad

The pregnancy test is sitting on our bathroom counter and although I try to ignore it while it is ‘thinking’, I cannot help but stare at the screen in anticipation. Finally, the result is in and instead of the expected ‘Not Pregnant’ sign, the result is positive. Elation, joy and gratitude all wash over me as I call for my husband to come to the bathroom QUICKLY! Then, as he walks in with our almost two-year-old in tow, I feel a surge of panic and guilt.

Unlike my first pregnancy, which was mostly characterised by an almost naive joyful anticipation, I am overwhelmed by feelings of guilt toward our first born (how could I share my love and devotion toward him with any other being?), guilt toward this unborn little miracle growing in my belly and the utter fear of having another baby, another newborn to contend with. Although most people say you forget how hard those first couple of months with a new baby can be, I remember them all too clearly.

It is as if this second pregnancy is simply less important, less of a milestone than the first. People seem less enthusiastic, less eager to find out how I am (it’s not like I haven’t been through this before, right?) and, at the same time, I am a lot less fussed, often forgetting exactly how far along I am, not obsessively checking how big the baby is every waking moment of every day and simply moving on with life (I still have a two-year-old who needs my full attention after all).

It makes me feel like I am somehow depriving both my kids of the complete attention and total love which they deserve because I now will have to be shared.

And yet, at the same time, I often catch myself lovingly stroking my growing belly, waiting in excited awe for another small little kick as I sit and play with Bean. I might not be as rough and tumble as I once was with him but I do still shower him with admiration, love, discipline and devotion. Things are changing, but change is not always a bad thing – soon Bean will have a little brother who hopefully will become his lifelong friend and ally. Our family will grow and instead of sharing the love we already have; our love and hearts will grow and expand to include this new life.

When the fear of another (unknown) newborn phase grips my heart, I try to focus on the good: that unmistakable baby smell, that first smile, the tiny little hands and feet, those special baby cuddles, and I get gleefully excited. I envision how gentle and loving my big-hearted and kind Bean will be toward his new brother, how our new little fire will grow up with love and admiration in his eyes as he follows his older brother around the room. I smile as I think of sibling fights, followed by love and laughter and I want to literally jump for joy when I think of our chaotic and busy family life, those busy little toddler and baby legs keeping my husband and me on our toes.

Of course, there will be hard times, added financial stresses, there will too many things to do at once and we will be tired, but as any parent knows, the good will definitely outweigh the bad. It will be ok. It might actually be wonderful.

My Special ‘The Usual’ Mother’s Day

If there is one word which sums up life with a toddler, it is the word ‘repetition’: the continuous words of admonishment (‘don’t touch that’, ‘it’s hot’, ‘get down from there’), the almost constant wiping up of spills and cleaning up of messes and the ever-repetitive cycle of ‘silence-crying-consoling’ because the said words of admonishment have once again fallen on deaf ears (‘what does mom know anyway, right? I mean, how hot can that heater really be?’).

And yet, in between this draining repetition, there are moments of pure ingenuity. Moments of surprise in which I stare at our son with wonder and laughter. The moment when Bean decided that it was a good idea to unpack all of, and I mean ALL of, my unused plastic packets in order to create a blanket, for example, or the moment he decided to take my basting brush, dip it into the water lying in one of our vases and to then clean the table, or the moment when he grabbed a ‘poon’ (spoon) from the drawer to fix his toys (‘I fitsin, mom!’).

6

Bean and his plastic-packet-blanket

7

His workshop is ready, now all we need is his ‘screwdriver-spoon’

Last year marked my first ever Mother’s Day and I had high (ok, very high), expectations of this day. I imagined that it would be nothing short of fireworks, rosy cheeks and laughter. The reality was, of course, a little different: although I did get the gift and the cup of coffee in bed, it was just another day. Because nappies still need to be changed, kids can be difficult and yes, I am not the only mother in the world deserving special attention (shocker!).

So, this year, I decided to focus on the moments of ingenuity, magic and wonder, to embrace the usual, to relish in the every-day things of being a mom. Because, that’s what I am: a mom to an energetic, challenging and kind little bundle of toddler-love. Today, I am thankful to be called ‘mom’, I will change those nappies with joy and I will repeat words of love as often as I repeat everything else.

Yes, today is just another day, and it is wonderful.

Happy Mother’s Day!

‘Oh Shit!’

The day I have been dreading has finally arrived – the day my potty mouth has made me fail as a mother: ‘Oh, shit!’, my almost two-year-old exclaims with glee as I am busy wiping up the water I just spilt all over the table. He is, of course, copying what I had just said a minute ago when I knocked my glass over, and although I try and ignore the words, not wanting to make a big deal out of the situation, Bean is now excitedly running around the garden repeating my profanity – over and over and over again.

A few days later, I am trying to phone our gardener, Robert, but the signal keeps cutting out. I, out of frustration, shout into the phone, ‘Robert, ROBERT, ROBBEERT’, misguidedly thinking that this will miraculously change the signal quality of our call. Bean, being the parrot that he is, starts shrieking in a voice which eerily sounds like my own, ‘Robert, ROBERT, ROBBEERT’. I stop, shocked, and in my best voice repeat, ‘Hello Robert’ in the hope that when he sees Robert again, he does not repeat my shrieking outburst (not that this has helped – poor Robert gets shrieked at, at least once, every time he is here).

Do I really sound that bad? And look so scary when I am upset? Because, Bean, not only successfully copies my words and my voice, no, he manages expressions as well! And the worst of it all is that I cannot even be angry at him – he is simply doing what a toddler does. And so, I laugh, a reaction which Bean loves and a reaction which makes him want to repeat whatever it was that I thought was so funny. It’s a trap and a very humbling one at that.

If you think that someone needs a humbling experience, put them in the same room as a parrot-toddler. There is nothing quite like your pride-and-joy holding up that figurative mirror, happily showing you all the flaws which you have so successfully been able to ignore all these years, in all their glory.  Whether it’s your go-to-swear-word or your frustrated ‘AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’ when something does not want to work as it’s supposed to, trust me, your ‘parrot-toddler’ will repeat it. And he will repeat it at the most inconvenient time, while you are proudly telling someone of your most recent parenting win, for example.

Luckily, Bean manages to copy the good as well, the parts of me that I am quite happy to share and see repeated, the parts which make me proud. So, from now on (yes, I have mentioned this before, but repetition does at some point lead to learning, hopefully) I will focus on the good and try and be better, calmer, more patient.

We have started using the words, ‘Oh, sherbet’ now and that seems to be doing the trick, but, I have to admit, every now and again, when my guard is down and I am tired and frustrated, that true Alexa-potty-mouth still makes an appearance. Flaws do not get ironed out overnight it seems. And as for Robert: luckily, he likes our little guy and doesn’t get offended.

Posting Pictures of your Kids Online – What You Need to Know

Being an avid social media follower, I didn’t put much thought into posting pictures of my little Bean online after he as born. I posted pictures shortly after his birth, pictures of our first family outing, pictures of our first family holiday together and much more – these were special moments in my life and, as such, I wanted to share them with my friends and family. With social media being such an easily accessible medium of communication and such an integral part of our daily lives, it was only logical to upload them, share them and to immortalise these memories & moments forever.

I have, however, recently stopped uploading any identifying picture of my little guy (hard as it is sometimes – he is just the cutest after all) and here are the reasons why:

He is His Own Person

Bean, little as he is now, will grow up to become a teenager and adult, who like the rest of us, will want to establish his own online profile and persona on social media. I doubt he will like the fact that the internet is already filled with baby photos and cutesie little moments which might make him cringe (I keep thinking of certain #proudmom moments I have witnessed: a photo of a girl using the potty for the first time, a photo of a boy running around the garden naked and a birthday party photo of a crying one-year-old). I will, of course, give him access to all these photos and videos, but I want him to decide what he wants to share about himself. It is his life after all.

Geotagging of Photos

Did you know that unless you have disabled this function, most modern-day smart phones automatically embed GPS location details into all your photos?  And that these geo-locations are uploaded to any social media platform as part of your photo? As a blogger, I cannot help but live in the public eye, and information like this scares me. It scares me because it means that criminals and predators can see where I am (if I am posting live) immediately and they can get access to my home address, as well as the address of Bean’s school or day care, or any other significant address which might be embedded in any of my photos.

Photo Theft, Manipulation and Loss of Photo Rights

Once the photo is online, you lose control of it: it is stored on a server you have no control over, it can be tagged and shared by friends who might not have the same privacy setting as you and it can be stolen, downloaded and manipulated (without you even knowing about it) to be used by strangers, predators and paedophiles.

Even if you delete the photo from your account (or you delete your account in its entirety), the photo may have been shared to other profiles or tagged by an active account user. It is also stored and backed-up on the social media platform’s server. This means that once the photo is uploaded, it can never be removed. Let that sink in for a while.

Another very important fact is that certain social media platforms give themselves licence to use your photos as they see fit. This means that once the photo is uploaded, you have no control over what that site may do with it.

How to Securely Post Online

Should you still wish to post photos of your children online, be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Think before you post – who might see/share this? And keep in mind that once it’s uploaded, it’s up. There is no back button.
  • Check the photo for any identifying details which could lead a predator or criminal to you / your child (for example, a car registration number, a name of your school in the background etc)
  • Check your privacy settings
  • Read the terms of conditions of your chosen social media platform
  • Know your friends – go through your list of friends and decide whether they are good friends who you trust or just some random acquaintance who could potentially bring harm to your family? Delete the friends who are not really friends – this is not a popularity contest.
  • Disable GPS functionality on your phone
  • Do not allow other people to post pictures of your children without your consent (and be firm)
  • Do not post pictures of other kids without consent

 

How do you feel about posting pictures of your kids online, dear reader? Tell us!

Finding my way through the ‘Terrible Twos’

Bean and I are playing outside, blowing bubbles, and he decides that he wants to try to blow his own. He asks me for the container and as he unscrews the lid, he tips the container over, pouring the soap onto the grass. He cries, turns around and runs away, arms in the air. Once he calms down, I ask him for the now empty container back so that I can throw it away and fetch a new one. As I reach out for the container, he throws himself on the ground, crying.

Later, Bean asks me for an ice lolly, or rather shouts ‘Icy, icy, icy!’ at the top of his voice while running to the fridge. I ask him to say ‘please’, so Bean starts crying and runs away, arms flailing. He then calms down and reiterates his severe need for an ice lolly. This time I cave, giving it to him. I, however, forget to place it in his bowl first, so off Bean runs, again, crying and distraught.

I think it is safe to say that the ‘terrible twos’ have officially arrived. And it is not fun. I feel disconnected, like that confused, anxious and scared mom of a newborn baby, unsure of what to do, petrified of somehow damaging my child for life and so drained by the (what feels like) almost constant crying and whining.

I understand that Bean is merely growing up, that he is trying to assess his independence, that he is frustrated by his inability to do so and that everything is exacerbated by that fact that he cannot yet communicate effectively. I get that he is trying to establish his boundaries and I am fully aware that all he needs from me at this stage is patience, love and positive guidance. But, goodness, it is hard –  where has my sweet little boy gone?

As I navigate my way through this new phase of parenthood, I try to ignore the tantrums by simply walking away. In an attempt to teach him how to communicate, I try to talk about every detail of our lives, I explain our actions, reactions and the subsequent consequences, and I ask him ‘why’ when he simply says ‘no’ to everything.

I try not to lose my patience and I try to set a better example for Bean when I get frustrated with something. I try to be more assertive when I set boundaries and I discipline when he tests them.

Above all, I try to find the positive side, the humour, in these difficult situations. Yesterday, for example, Bean found my secret stash of nail polish while I was getting dressed. Excitedly, he decided that he wanted to paint my toenails. ‘Mama, auf (open)’, he said, pushing the nail polish into my hands. Being slightly pre-occupied, I explained that now was not the right time to do this, asking him to pack the nail polish away. His response: silence. ‘Good’, I thought, ‘he listened’.

A few minutes later, as I was distractedly looking for my mascara in the drawer, I felt something wet on my toe. I looked down and there was Bean, crouching over my feet, in deep concentration, painting my nail. The jar of nail polish in his hand was upside down and my beige bathroom carpet now had blotches of pink on it.

Although my first reaction was to shout, upsetting Bean and causing another tantrum, I realised that he was merely trying to do what I do. So, while my little neat freak was trying to ‘meam’ (clean) the carpet with an entire roll of toilet paper, I tidied up the bathroom, grabbed my things, put Bean in the car, and bought a new bathroom mat. We needed one anyway.

This phase, like the ones before, will pass.

Confessions of a Routine-Driven Mom

I have to confess: I let my son’s routine run my life. And do you know why? Because it’s just easier, that’s why. It’s easier because he is easier to manage, making being a parent less tiring. I admit that I am that mom, the mom that lives according to a schedule, the same mundane schedule every day, not the mom that lives from one adventure to the next, child in tow.

Routine makes Bean happy, it keeps him centred, his world balanced and as it should be – or should I rather say as he got used to it being. The minute something in that routine changes or a person with an integral role in his life leaves for a couple of days (for example a parental business trip), I immediately notice little changes in his behaviour, showing me that something simply is not right with my sensitive little guy: he sleeps less, needs to be rocked more and a little longer, he is quieter, he cries easier and more, and he is a lot more demanding.

And let’s be honest, managing a distraught little toddler who does not understand why things change or why people need to leave every now and again, is exhausting! It’s exhausting because it’s sad to see him upset (even if it’s just a little) and it’s infuriating because I cannot really do anything about it. No parent wants an unhappy child, it’s simply not in our nature as caregivers. And so, I stick to his routine, religiously, because when he is happy, I am happy.

I clearly remember a conversation I had with my mom and sister shortly after we found out I was pregnant. Being a naïve non-parent, I was adamant that I would not let this new baby rule my life – if I wanted to go for dinner, for example, he would simply have to come along. Now, all I do is laugh when I think of this. I could not have known how tired I would be all the time: so tired that dinner and socialising (and the mere thought of having to hold a decent conversation after putting all my energy into developing a tiny human all day) would simply seem like too much effort. I could not have known that taking care of a family means giving so much of myself on a daily basis that at night all I can do is just be. I could not have known that keeping my child happy, content and asleep (when he is finally sleeping) would become my number one priority.

Of course, we make the time to explore new places, to socialise with friends and family, but we do this within our routine. And if we cannot fit it into our routine, then we do not do it. And it really is as simple as that.

One day, when Bean is older, when he has a better understanding of what is happening around him, we will be spontaneous and sociable again. But for now, we will stick to a schedule, his schedule, because it simply is easier and it simply is less exhausting.

The Moments that take my Breath Away

Last week I wrote a post about the bad days I experience as a mom (read it here), and in it I mentioned that no matter how hard a specific bad day is, the good days always outweigh the bad ones. Today I want to focus on the really good moments of being a mom: the moments which take my breath away, the moments of happiness and pride, the moments when my heart is so full I do not know what to do with all this love, the moments of pure gratitude and the moments which highlight the importance of my role as a mom.

It is these moments which lead to days when, after I put Bean down to sleep, all I want to do is wake him back up again so that I can see his smile one more time before I go to bed. Days which are filled with little achievements and simple joys which overshadow the big moments I previously thought so important. Days when I forget about all the things that need to get done and become a child again – our joint laughter filling the house with life and love.

Here is my collection of heart-warming moments:

  • When Bean grabs my hand as he falls asleep, holding it tightly against his chest.
  • When I try put him down and he wraps his little legs around my waist like a monkey, refusing to be let go.
  • When he crawls into my lap for a cuddle.
  • When he calls me simply to smile at me.
  • When I pick him up and he rests his head on my shoulder, his hands enveloping my neck.
  • When he spontaneously decides to give me a kiss.
  • When pride emanates out of his face like a ray of sunshine when he shows off a new skill
  • When he hears the garage door open and excitedly whispers, ‘Daddy?’, his eyes alive with excitement and hope.
  • When he makes up his own words like ‘meam’, a combination of ‘mess’ and ‘clean’.
  • When he runs instead of walking, a cloud of happiness and wonder surrounding his entire being.
  • When he gets down on his haunches before he runs off as if to say, ‘ready or not, I am coming!’
  • When he says, ‘bye’ with an excited little wave to whomever it is we happen to pass, without any judgement or preconceived ideas about who that person might be.
  • When he goes up to children he has never met before and gives them a big kiss.

To me these moments epitomise the beauty of childhood, of a unique character developing and the special bond between parent and child.

If you are having a bad day, dear reader, I encourage you to make a list just like mine. Not only will it make you realise how blessed you are to be a parent, it will immortalise these moments which we tend to forget all too easily.

Mom, be kinder to yourself!

Bean is sitting in his high chair staring at me with an obstinate glint is his eyes, his mouth shut, as I try to give him a spoonful of food. He swings his arm, batting the spoon away and the food goes everywhere. Before I can even think about what has happened my emotions get the better of me and I scream: ‘EAT THIS NOW!’. To Bean I must look like an angry bear in slow motion, jowls shaking, spit flying out of my mouth with balls of pure fury where my eyes normally sit. I have lost it.

Almost immediately a wave of dread washes over me. This has not been a good day.

Since becoming a mom, I have had a few of these bad days. Days where the silence at home and the lack of mental stimulation allows my mind to throw flashes of past mistakes, deeply buried away, into the forefront of my daily thoughts. Days when these memories consume my entire being with guilt and self-loathing. Days of frustration and boredom as I watch Bean build yet another tower, while I reminisce of past adventures. Days when I feel my self-worth slowly slipping away, my only real role being mom and wife.

Nobody tells you about these days. Nobody talks about their self-doubt, their heart broken into a thousand pieces when they get angry or frustrated with their children, the guilt that weighs heavily on their souls as they go on another business trip, or when they finally do something for themselves.

And we should talk about it – we all have bad days. It’s normal. We have all made mistakes in the past – without them we would not be who we are today. What really matters is how we move on from these days, how we work through the negativity and how we, as we work through these issues, become better parents and in so doing, become better versions of ourselves.

Although there are bad days, these are outweighed by good ones and I know that I am a good mom. I know that I do my best to be the best for Bean. So, for this year, my resolution is to be kinder to myself, to let go of the guilt, to let go of the negativity and self-doubt and to let go of judgement (of myself and others).

I am not a perfect parent, and that’s OK.