The Magic of Holidays with a Toddler

Gone are the days when going on holiday meant late, warm and sultry evenings dancing the night away, nights philosophising about the meaning of life over too many bottles of wine with a loved one or friend, your words becoming a whisper as you hear the birds announcing the arrival of morning, and late morning lie-ins with brunches which become lunches, which become dinners. Those were the days when holidays were one spontaneous activity after another, with no set routines or place to be.

Now we have a toddler and the meaning of ‘going on holiday’ has changed: it means planned holiday outings revolving around napping and feeding schedules. It means finding child-friendly venues instead of cocktail bars and spending afternoons in the pool teaching your child how to swim, the sound of shrieking and laughter filling the air, instead of relaxing on a li-lo, cocktail in hand, dozing off to the sweet sound of splashing water.  It means spending the day indoors cooking or baking, wanting to spoil your loved ones with a special meal, instead of booking a table at the trendy new restaurant down the road.

Being on holiday with a toddler means being awake before dawn, softly reading a book in the hope of letting the rest of the family lie in, the house filled with a peaceful silence, the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air and golden rays of light peeking through drawn curtains. It’s realising that this is the best part of the day (and of being a parent) – the allure of a new beginning, of a new adventure and of another chance knocking on the door to your soul.

One morning during our recent holiday, Bean decided to wake up at 04:30 am. It was still dark outside, and after trying to ignore his insistent calls, ‘Mama, MAMA, MAAAAAMAAAAAA’, I decided to fetch him from his cot in the hope that he might doze off again in bed next to me. As I lay down, Bean comfortable in my arms, he popped his thumb into his mouth and I, elated, thinking this plan might actually work, closed my eyes as I let out a sigh of relief, ready to go back to sleep. As I was taking in the sound of silence engulfing us, feeling blessed to have this little body lie next to mine, I felt his soft hand caressing my cheek, then moving onto my eyes and finally landing on my nose, where it hovered for a while until I felt a gentle squeeze, Bean gleefully shouting ‘meep, meep’. Needless to say, playtime had officially started.

Our holidays are now filled with important moments like these and I wish there was a way we could photograph these special never-to-be-repeated scenes in an attempt to keep them in our memory banks forever, instead of the monument or the view which will probably still be there in 10 years to come: the moment when your child shouts out ‘woweee’ every time he sees a flag or when he runs to his sleeping gran’s bedroom door at 4am excitedly shouting ‘Oma, Oma, Oma’, as he knocks on the door and the groggy but happy face beaming down at him as the door opens.

These are the moments which are truly unforgettable and magical and simply wonderful.

 

Didn’t I tell you not to do that?

A while ago I wrote a post about needing to discipline my Bean. A few months have since passed and I thought I would share my progress, and the lessons I have learned along the way, with all of you. Before I dive right into the various scenarios however, I thought I should first give you some background about certain aspects of my personality:

I am a perfectionist control freak, convinced that I can control every aspect of my life so that everything is always exactly as it should be, exactly as I have planned it. Being this person, I am of course also a neat freak obsessed with cleanliness: everything has its place in the house and if something is even slightly out of place, I go a little bit mad. Although I mostly manage to control this obsession, I do sometimes get into these tunnel-vision-like cleaning modes, when I dart around the house like a meerkat, my hawk-like vision zooming in on messy or dirty spots, and I do not rest until everything is just perfect.

Now, imagine my surprise when Bean arrived with his very own strong-willed personality, meaning that although he does sometimes listen, he often decides that his way is the better way and subsequently simply ignores his mother’s attempts at discipline (something he inherited from me by the way). This of course infuriates and frustrates me and although I do recognise the behaviour in myself, I often lose my patience and then always feel guilty almost immediately after.

You could reason that he simply does not know what the word ‘no’ means but Bean definitely does. Yesterday for example, I was on the toilet and Bean, not wanting me to ever feel alone, graciously decided to be my audience. I realised that there was no toilet paper left and so I asked Bean to fetch a roll from our second bathroom. Let me just add here that he is well aware of what toilet paper is and where it is kept – to my dismay he loves playing with it and it does not matter where I hide this über-desirable toy, he will find it. But back to the story at hand: as I asked my son for help, he looked at me, his eyes starting to crinkle into a smile and responded quite emphatically, ‘No!’, after which he started to giggle gleefully, fully aware of what he had just said.

Bean has recently started the habit of rushing off to our TV room sofa and climbing onto it, whenever I give him a snack. This of course means that he smears whatever snack is in his hand into the suede fabric as he climbs this specific mountain. Once he makes it to the top, he proudly smiles at me and sits down to eat. As this is quite endearing, I have decided to leave him be (against my own rules, but, he does stay off the other sofas and chairs, I persuade myself) and in order to appease my own neat freak tendencies, I usually hover around him, wet cloth in hand, ready to clean up any mess. So, the other day, I gave Bean an ice lolly with a word of warning that this particular snack can only be eaten in the kitchen. As I was preparing dinner, my back turned, I however noticed that my sweet child was slowly edging away from the kitchen into the direction of his much-loved sofa. I admonished him with another word of warning and as he came toward the kitchen, I turned my attention back to cooking dinner, confident that he had listened. About five minutes later, I looked up and glanced over to the sofa, only to stare straight into my son’s big blue eyes, the sofa now a mess of melted orange juice. I was angry. Immediately I stormed over to him, told him, ‘No!’ in my sternest voice, grabbed the remainder of the ice lolly and stormed back into the kitchen. Bean, baffled, stared at me until all of a sudden he climbed off the sofa, ran over to me in the kitchen, grabbed the wet cloth out of my hand, ran back to the sofa and started to clean! My son, broad chested, with a cheeky grin, looked at me proudly and I had to laugh.  I had warned him that I didn’t want a mess on the sofa after all.

First lesson learnt: be a better example. Bean started to eat on ‘his’ sofa, because he sees A and I doing it all the time and he simply cleaned up the mess because I am forever cleaning. (On a side note, he has started to clean everything all the time, which makes me wonder how often I run around the house in meerkat mode with crazy eyes).

A few days after the sofa incident, my husband and I were both sitting at the dining room table, working through our taxes, while Bean was running around the lounge, playing. We interacted with him every now and then but for the most part he was delivering his usual monologue while entertaining himself. Suddenly it became quiet (yes, that peaceful sound everyone yearns for until they have a toddler to contend with) and my husband looked up, his eyes expanding in surprise. I turned around quickly, only to find Bean casually sitting on our coffee table, peacefully pulling apart my plants. Instead of being angry, I laughed – my little boy was now able climb on top of the table! I immediately grabbed a camera and started snapping away, until I realised I should actually be angry. My smile faded and I gently asked him to get down (which he did without a fight).

Second lesson learnt: it’s OK to let kids be kids sometimes. I will of course teach him (consistently) that he should not climb onto tables from now on, but in that moment, he was simply a little boy, learning a new skill. Sometimes we just need to let go.

Being a toddler who struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively, Bean often gets frustrated, so much so that he started hitting me a while ago. This is, of course, not acceptable, but I soon realised that raising my voice and shouting at him in these situations only seemed to make things worse. So, instead, I started to teach him a positive action (a loving stroke) to replace the hit whenever he raised his hand. I consistently did this (and I still do it to this day) and he has stopped hitting me all together.

Third lesson learnt: be consistent and respond positively to negative actions.

Although I am here to teach my son life skills, he in turn teaches me about life and one of the biggest and most challenging lessons I am now faced with is that everything in life does not have to be perfect. Although there need to be certain boundaries and certain rules in life, it’s OK if things are not always 100% as planned. Kids need to explore and learn and they cannot do this if they are always being controlled and always being placed into moulds.

Let them break the mould every now and again – with our positive guidance they will create their own moulds soon enough.

 

 

Magic and Cynicism

‘Where is my Bean?’ I call into our living room, as I see the swaying movement of the curtains behind our sofa stop. The scurrying noises I heard just a second ago stop as well and I hear a stifled giggle as I make my way to the area where he is hiding and call out his name again. I peak behind the sofa and see my 13 month old on all fours ready to dart away should I come too close, with his head bopping up and down as he is trying to contain his loud laughter. I burst out laughing in child-like delight and pick him up in one swoop. ‘I’ve got you!’ I declare loudly as his laughter resonates through our house. He wriggles in my arm trying to free himself so that we can start the game again and as I place him on the ground, I realise how wonderfully adventurous it must be to him.

He is able to communicate, not with words, but with sounds and actions. He is walking and crawling with the purpose of exploration. He has his own sense of humour, allowing him to laugh out loud in arbitrary moments, sometimes making me wonder what it is he is laughing about. He stares at cars as they drive by, making a ‘brrrrrmmmmmmm’ noise and he waves at lights as they go on and off. When he sees an empty bowl, he lifts his hands as if to say, ‘where have the contents gone?’ and he squeals with delight, waving his arms excitedly, every time he eats somethings he likes.

Everything he does, he does with a vibrant energy, a sense of adventure, of learning something new; and I often wonder staring at the openly curious look in his eyes when he sees, feels or smells something new: at what point when we grow up do we lose this sense of magic and replace it with the cynicism and bitterness so prevalent in adults? When do we stop being delighted by the simple things in life in an attempt to be more, have more? When is it that we become so entrenched in the drama and politics of everyday adult life? When does our ego become so important that we forget to appreciate the beautiful –  the vibrant colours of a sunset, the soothing sound of a breeze blowing through trees, the gurgling sounds of a river, a child’s laughter?

We are going to the Vaal river for a weekend getaway soon and as I was telling one of my friends about the trip, I jokingly mentioned that before I had Bean, I used to travel the world (for work) and now I get excited about a weekend to the Vaal. To be honest, sometimes, when Bean is being difficult and the day to day routine of being a mom gets a bit much, this little sentence makes me a bit depressed – I really miss getting on a plane wondering what adventures the next couple of weeks will have in store. But then I remember the drama and the politics this life brought with it: my own ego often getting in the way of happiness, being so easily swept up in unnecessary drama. So, despite no longer travelling the world, I really am excited about our little trip! It is a place I have never been to and although it is close to Johannesburg and by no stretch of the imagination an exotic break away, it is something new: a new experience and a new adventure which I can share with my little family.

It is the simple things that really matter: to be surrounded by the people you love, to enjoy a good glass of wine and a delicious meal, to partake in a lively conversation with strangers, learning something new. We need to see the world through the eyes of our children to know that every day is magical, every day is an adventure.

When you see your children changing into cynical, bitter and ego-driven adults, remind them of their inner child-like wonder, joy and magic. Remind yourself and your children how easily they got back up after they had fallen, how quickly they forgave you when you were having a bad day, how pure and unconditional their love was.

Children are simply and wonderfully magical, and we as adults have the inherent ability to be like this too – we were once simple and magical, after all.