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.

The Power of Words

One of the best things about being a parent is that there simply is no time to worry about your own insecurities and how the world perceives you. You just have to envision that almost cliché image of a young mother, toddler in hand and a baby on the hip, with spit up on her shirt, her messy hair in a bun and those tell-tale dark circles under her eyes, getting into her car to go to the shops or to do the morning school run, to realise that she is simply past caring what people think about her. And that is amazing!

It is amazing because at some stage we all need to grow up and we all need to face our inner demons and simply move on and the best time to do this is when you become a parent. Although parents do of course still battle with issues of insecurity, it no longer haunts their every action as they now have bigger issues to deal with (how to prevent your child from living with said insecurities for example). I mean, who wants to project all these issues onto their children, right? So, instead of focusing on how the world perceives us, we, as parents, rather spend the little bit of spare energy we have, to focus on how we can better ourselves for our children so that we can become the best example to them.

Being a blogger, my world is made up of words. I love words and beautiful phrases and when I experience a strong emotion (whether good or bad) or a fun and exciting adventure, words float around in my head, waiting to be written down. I am therefore extremely sensitive to, and aware of, the power of words and how they can influence those around us.

The one way (and there are many) in which I am trying to better myself is to try and use a vocabulary made up of only positive words. I am not talking about sugar coating or manipulating a difficult situation or a hard truth (these need to be dealt with as directly and truthfully as possible), I am talking about substituting those negative words and phrases which we all use in our daily lives, such as ‘stupid mistake’, ‘dumb’, ‘you better love me or else…’ with positive words and phrases like ‘you are so clever, this was just a silly mistake’ or ‘I love you because of …’.

Think back to a time when someone close to you asked you in anger ‘why do you ask such dumb questions?’ and think about how that made you feel. Think about that time when someone said, ‘if you act like that, no-one will love you’ and remember the hurt that these words imparted on you. Now imagine being the one to cause that hurt in your loved ones, or your children (who will have these words thundering in their heads until they grow up when they will hopefully learn to move on and let go of the insecurities we helped create).

If there is one thing I wish we could change in our world, it would be to just forget that words like ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ (to name just a few) even existed – that everybody’s vocabulary consisted solely of beautiful, kind and strong words, such as ‘brave’, ‘intelligent’, ‘compassionate’, ‘wonder’ and ‘peace’, words which lighten the soul and brighten a heart.

My little Bean just turned two, and he is talking a mile a minute, soaking up every single word and phrase he hears and although we have made some parrot-toddler mistakes (read ‘Oh Shit!’) I am trying my best to feed his thirst for words with a positive vocabulary – because his happy, positive chatter is like food to my soul.

Dear reader, I challenge you to do the same. Think about the words and phrases you use on a daily basis and consider their connotations and how they might influence others. Let’s make our world, our perception of ourselves and our influence on others better, positive and simply wonderful.

 

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.

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.