Monday, March 29, 2010

Speaking in tongues

Phoebe has taken to speaking in tongues. Here is video evidence:

Clever girl!

She also has a new word. Well, it's probably her only word. Other than "mama", "dada", "nana" "tah" and the crazy tongue-roll "trtrtrtr" sound she makes for cat. Her new word is "dog" and I'll try and capture that on video too as it's very cute. It's more like "doh".

And she now has a new sign. She has finally learnt the sign for water but she doesn't use it consistently and it looks more like she's pulling a pint than drinking from a cup. That's my girl!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In sickness and in health: Mother Guilts, and The Debate of the Working Mother

For a while now I've been meaning to post an update on what it's like to be a working mother. Especially after my many rants on the issue.

Generally, it hasn't been too bad. Actually it's been pretty good. Apart from the weight of the imminent five-day week hanging heavy on my shoulders. I have managed to persuade my boss to let me work four days a week until the end of April, based primarily on some back problems I've had lately. Same old story: pelvic instability flared up again due to lack of mobility. Basically I wasn't doing enough exercise after getting back to work and sitting in a chair all day made things even worse. That's on the mend now but I asked for the extra time to make sure that I can fit activity into my week. If I have a bad back I'm no good to them or Phoebe. So, the boss said "yes, but that's your lot".

So that's that then. Absolutely no chance of part-time work. Unless, of course I take up the matter with HR but I suspect that would do more harm than good so I'm not going to.

Phoebe settled in well at daycare, and quickly too. She has bonded with her carers, loves the toys and books there and gets to go and play with the older children in the late afternoon, which she seems to like. She's been a happy, well-adjusted little baby and has done us proud. She no longer cries when we pick her up or drop her off and even dropped her late afternoon breastfeed. She still has sleep issues but seems to cope okay. Toby and I have often commented on how her adaptability has made the transition of me going back to work, and putting her in daycare, so much easier than it could have been.

Then she got sick and everything changed.

Last Thursday night I was on the phone to me skin and blister getting all the lowdown on the birth of her beautiful 3 day-old son, Ben, when I heard Phoebe cry. It was about 9pm, an unusual time for her to wake, and she sounded strange. Eventually Toby called me in and my poor baby was sitting in her cot, pale, crying, very upset, having vomited raspberry jelly on her sheets. First attack of the Mother-Guilts for having fed her the jelly in the first place. It's a rare treat and she'd been such a glutton at tea-time I thought she'd appreciate some dessert.

Then I wondered whether she was sick because after her bath, I'd come out of her room to find her sitting on the kitchen floor eating from the pile of dropped food that I'd swept up. Second attack of the Mother-Guilts for having not actually put the food pile in the bin and not having watched her like a hawk.

Oh, and of course I felt guilty because I'd been half listening to her cry, half listening to my sister telling me about the midwife popping a water sac next to Ben's head, and at the same time thinking, "maybe she'll go back to sleep in a minute". Even though I knew it was an unusual time for her to wake up and she sounded strange.

Anyway, I comforted Phoebe and checked her nappy whilst Toby changed her sheets but she wouldn't stop crying. Eventually I took her to our room for a change of scene where she threw up again. Next attack of the Mother-Guilts when I realised I felt slightly relieved that it wasn't the jelly that had made her sick.

We knew friends who'd recently had a 24 hour vomiting bug so we figured that's what it was and Toby contacted them for advice. The best advice they gave us was to give her water from a spoon at regular intervals. Anything more than that and she'd throw up again. She vomited about 5 times over the next four hours and retched every 15-20 minutes. Finally I managed to get her in her cot but she still woke up crying every hour and just needed me to rub her back before she'd fall asleep again. I slept on her bedroom floor for part of the night but even when I got to my own bed I was alert to the slightest noise she made. She was unwell for the whole of the next day and slept on me for most of it, vomiting another couple of times. Once when she tried to eat a corner of my toast and again when she grabbed my water bottle and gulped it down.

The following day both Toby and I got the same bug and were also horribly ill. It probably lasted about 2-3 days for us but Phoebe is still off her food and now has a nasty cold.

And to put all this in context, on Thursday I had my first attack of the guilts with regards to dropping Phoebe off at daycare. She was really really clingy with me and still didn't have her usual gluttonous appetite back. The previous day I'd had to work late so I got Toby's mum to pick her up from daycare. I still went to zumba so I only really saw her for an hour that night. The night before that Toby had put Phoebe to bed. So basically I think she was missing me.

I knew she'd be fine once she got to daycare and I really didn't feel comfortable taking another day off work as I'd missed two in the last week. Still, she was happy if I was giving her lots of attention and unhappy otherwise so I knew she just wanted some time with me. It probably didn't help that Toby's mum was there and, naturally, was concerned about Phoebe. She was very tired and due for a nap but she often is around the time we take her to daycare. I felt torn but took her in anyway and asked them to call me if she was miserable.

Ever since then I've felt awful, especially as the next day at daycare she "didn't have a good day", and now she's got this yucky cold, which was obviously ramping up on Thursday morning. I can remember what it's like to be a little girl, not quite feeling yourself, and just wanting your mammy. My mammy was always there for me when I was unwell. Apart from the time I had earache and she had to go to university and I ended up lying on the floor at Gran's house, with my ear on a hot water bottle, watching the telly through a mirror. But I was probably 12 by then. Not that it matters. I mean, I'm 34 now but I still wished my mam had been there to look after me when I was sick last weekend. It just broke my heart that I couldn't be there for my little girl.

I know this is just a blip. Phoebe will get better and she will want to go to daycare again but it has just opened up the can of worms again. I'm sure I can't work full-time but I'm also nervous about working part-time. I mean if I'm only there three days a week anyway then taking three days off because one or both of us is sick means I miss a whole week. I can't half do a job. I'm either committed or I'm not. That's not to say that my job is more important than my baby. Absolutely not.  Obviously if she's sick or injured I'm there for her 100%. But there are some days when it isn't black and white. Days when she's just not in the mood. She just wants a quiet day with her mammy. She's just feeling a bit sensitive or tired. How can I justify keeping her home from daycare and me home from work on those days? I mean, it's not like she has a lot of them but still... It is hard for me that I can't be there for her on those days. (Although it's possibly a good thing as they're exhausting and can drive you a bit balmy.)

Another reason I'm nervous about part-time work is that it means leaving my current job and all the nice things that go with it. I've been there for 6 years. I like the people I work with. I enjoy the work for the most part. I know the environment very well. I understand the business. I know how my clients work. I'm confident. I get paid well, I get good superannuation (pension). It's close to home. I can ride my bike there and pick Phoebe up on the way home. It's a nice environment. Whilst a move might be to something better, I could also end up much further away, meaning that I see even less of Phoebe on the days that I'm working. I might end up having to contract, which means I won't get paid for the days that Phoebe is sick, and I wouldn't get super.

I went to university so that I could build a good life for myself and my future family but I really didn't think about how that might work. I guess I thought I'd have saved lots of money by now. And I didn't really understand how I would feel. So, the jury is out, the debate is ongoing. Nothing has changed. Although I do think small amounts of daycare are good for a child with Phoebe's disposition, I still don't think that long days, or lots of days are good. She's still too young and is there longer than I'd like.

I currently feel like I can't win. If I don't work, I'm not bringing in any money, plus I don't think it would be that good for my mental health. I was already starting to get demotivated at the end of last year. There's no hurry to do anything when you're at home every day. You can always do it tomorrow. If I do work, I'm not there for Phoebe when she needs me. I mean, Toby can be there for her, and maybe it wouldn't make any difference to her which of her parents is there, but I suspect that isn't the case. Toby's relationship with Phoebe is slightly different, probably because he didn't spend ten months at home with her, he didn't grow her inside of him and he hasn't breastfed her for the last 13 months. It doesn't matter how much equality we want, or get, between the sexes, fundamentally we are very different. And we offer different things to our children as a result. And that's a good thing. But when the nurturer, the soother, the parent who really comforts you and cuddles you when you're sad or sick, the parent who just lets you feel that way and sits with you through it, instead of trying to cheer you up or distract you with toys, when that parent can't be there for a child, that's not a good thing.

And I suppose this is never-ending Debate of the Working Mother.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tidy up

Conversation between me and Toby the other day amidst a lounge full of scattered toys.

Me: We're gonna have to start teaching Phoebe to tidy up after herself.
Toby: Yes! This has gone on for too long.

Cracked me up.

Baby Sign

Today I taught Phoebe two more signs: "more" and "enough". I'm not sure she actually understands the meaning of them yet but judging by the last two meal times I'd say she's definitely getting there.

Babies are very expressive with their bodies and signing comes quite naturally to them. In fact, Phoebe makes a lot of her own signs up, as most babies do. For example, sucking on hands generally means "my teeth hurt". Pulling on ears means "I'm getting tired". So teaching them a few more is actually quite easy.

You don't have to teach many. Just those words and phrases that are most important and are used most often. And they don't have to be by the book either. My mam gave us a baby sign language book and we refer to it if we can't think of a nice simple sign for something, but generally we just make it up, use what comes naturally or base it upon the signs our 6 year-old niece learnt as a baby. She still remembers them (or has been reminded of them) so it makes sense to teach Phoebe signs that other family members understand too.

Most people teach their babies to wave when they're about 8 months old anyway. Signing works in the same way. You just repeat an action in the right context when using the correct words. They soon pick it up.

After "bye", the next sign Phoebe learnt was the one for "milk". This is particularly useful now that we're towards the end of our breastfeeding days. I still haven't decided when to wean Phoebe so for now I'm going with baby-led weaning (with some slight encouragement towards dropping the mid-day snack, which was going well until she got a chest infection). La Leche League recommends "don't offer and don't refuse" so having Phoebe be able to ask for it when she wants it is pretty helpful. Some days she doesn't ask so she doesn't get it.

For a long time she only really knew the sign for milk and often only used it when I reminded her. Her milky cry is now being used, or adapted, for so many things these days. It generally just means "I want" so I have to encourage her to accompany it with a sign that tells me exactly what it is that she wants.

Then just last week she started using the sign for "food" and uses this whenever she's hungry. We're also teaching her signs for "home" and "drink", which generally refers to water. I haven't decided where to categorise cow's milk. I'm pretty sure she uses her milk sign to mean breastfeed and she'd be a bit dirty about it if I tried to palm her off with cow's milk instead.

Well, I was writing this whilst Phoebe had her dinner and I can confirm that she totally gets "more". The issue is "more" of what? I was feeding her yoghurt and kept asking if she wanted more or had she had enough. When I asked if she'd had enough she shook her head and then she started making the sign for more. But she didn't seem overly interested in her yoghurt. However, she ate it all up and I eventually found out that what she actually wanted was more grapes. Clever girl.

About the shaking the head thing, well often it means "no" but she still just does it for the sake of it, Stevie Wonder style, and she's now added a sort of a nod too. In the car on the way home from daycare she shakes her head all around and cackles this false-sounding laugh. I think that's her "excited" noise, as she also makes it when we find Diggedy (her favourite toy) at bedtime. She cracks me up.

She has become au fait with her shape sorter. Well, with the circle anyway. The other shapes are still a bit hard although she can do the star with a bit of help. She'll sit and push the circle in over and over again for ages. She also sounds like she's trying to say some words. Her vocabulary is still fairly limited to "mama" "daddy" and repetitive consonants but in the past few days she seems to have attempted "no" and "Grandad" ("nan and "nana" having been mastered a while back). However, she does seem to have a sound for the cats. It's quite complex - Toby thinks she gets it from hearing him making the "tt tt tt" noise when he calls them for dinner. She sort of rolls her tongue behind her front teeth and it sounds a bit like a cat purring. She sometimes says it in the car coming home from daycare and Toby thinks it's because she's excited about seeing them again.

And before I go, I just wanted to say that Phoebe got a new cousin to add to her collection today. And I got a nephew. He's such a cutie and we wish we could cuddle him soon. I can't wait to speak to my sister and find out how it went and how Lucy is adapting to being a big sister. I can't believe it was only a year ago that Toby and I were basking in the glow of having delivered a newborn unto the family. And now we have a crazy toddler. They grow up so quickly.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Theory of Mind

Amelie came around to play today.

We haven't seen her for a few weeks. Last time she visited she zipped around the house using Phoebe's ride-on car as a walker. Lucie followed excitedly exclaiming it was the furthest Amelie had walked. Now it's her favourite thing and she's pretty adept at it although she's yet to take her first solo steps.

Phoebe and Amelie are developing a lovely friendship. At lunch they wave at each other from across the table and end the meal by yelling loudly together. Admittedly today it did seem to be Phoebe doing all of the yelling. She was apparently very excited about having her little friend come to visit.

After lunch they had a play.

Lucie sat Amelie in the ball pool. She wasn't too sure about it. Phoebe loves the ball pool. It's one of those sandpit clams that you can put sand in one half and water in the other. She likes to throw balls from one half to the other then climb into the other side and throw them back. Then she climbs back to the first side and rolls around. Eventually she lays back abd body surfs the balls which end up spilling out and rolling all over the floor.

Phoebe was obviously thrilled to have a friend to play with in the pool and climbed in to join Amelie. But as the balls started to move around Amelie freaked out and started to cry. Phoebe stopped and watched Amelie closely. She seemed acutely aware that her movements in the pool were upsetting her.

Later, Amelie practised her walking with the ride-on car. Again, Phoebe got very excited at the opportunity to share her toys with a friend. How I hope this behaviour continues through toddlerhood. Phoebe grabbed the seat of the ride-on car. I'm not really sure what her intention was. Did she want to sit on the seat whilst Amelie pushed, or was she helping Amelie push it? Either way both children were playing with the same toy and Amelie couldn't get on with the business of walking. Which is a very serious business for a 10 month old. She got very frustrated and the tears came again.

Phoebe stopped what she was doing and hugged Amelie.

It was so cute but it was also evidence that my little baby is developing theory of mind. This is a big milestone in social and pyschological development. Baby girls show empathy as young as 6 months old, when they cry in response to other babies crying. Phoebe's behaviour demonstrated an ability to empathise, and to understand cause and effect. She could see that what she was doing was upsetting Amelie so she stopped. She has also learnt that when she is upset we cuddle her and it makes her feel better and so she hugged Amelie, presumably to help to make her feel better.

From the limited reading I have done, Phoebe seems remarkably young to be developing such skills. I do wonder to what extent her time at daycare has helped her social development. Certainly being in the company of other children and learning how to behave in social situations must be a contributing factor. Some of it is also her personality. She has always been the kind of baby who likes to play with others, in as much as such a young child is capable of playing with others. Unfortunately, the other children generally prefer to play alone and quite often squeal at her when she attempts to play with the same toys.

This is a fascinating period of development and, as Phoebe was a bit fussy a week or two ago, I checked out whether she was in a wonder week. Sure enough, she is just emerging from Wonder Week 55: The World of Programs. I still haven't read the book, although I'd love to. It seems expensive and the local libraries don't have a copy. Previously I have always managed to find a mum who had blogged about it but not this time. There are mentions of it but no one has gone into detail on the skills acquired during this phase. From what I can gather, following the previous period of learning about sequences ("this happens then that happens"), this is more about cause and effect, if-then (speaking my language now), that is, "if this happens then that happens. But if this happens than something else happens". This certainly seems to fit in with the understanding Phoebe was demonstrating yesterday.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Babies produce oodles of dirty laundry.

People tell you this before you have one but nothing quite prepares you for the horror of it. Especially because you have months of a beautiful, clean newborn (who only occasionally poos and vomits on clothing) before the full extent of the constant pile of washing actually hits you. I remember wondering what bibs were for.

When I first considered using cloth nappies people would warn me that there'd be enough washing to do anyway. I countered that with the argument that if there was that much to do anyway a few tiny nappies weren't going to make much difference.

Here's the surprise: cloth nappies are good for dirty laundry.

You see, bamboo nappies, such that we use, and presumably your common or garden terry too, need to be washed every couple of days. A bamboo nappy can't sit around wet for much longer than 48 hours or it will start to deteriorate. I imagine this is fine if it happens once in a while but as a general rule we wash our nappies every second day.

This isn't as onerous as it sounds. We have a reasonably sized laundry with a squirty hose thing, some buckets, a clothes airer and a tumble dryer. The drill goes like this: we take soiled or wet nappy (after having disposed of any lumpy bits down the loo) and squirt it with the squirty hose thing. Then we stick it in a bucket. Over the next couple of days the bucket gets full then we empty the contents into the washing machine and stick it on a good hot wash, usually overnight. Then, the next morning we pull the nappies out and stick them on the airer. In damp weather, if the nappies aren't dry that evening we stick them in the dryer. In the good old days when I was on maternity leave I hung them on the outdoor line and the sun bleached any stains. Thankfully we don't have so many stains these days.

This is why cloth nappies are good for dirty laundry. There is a wash going in every two days anyway so it's the perfect opportunity to throw in any towels, bed sheets, face cloths, burp cloths, muslins, bibs, or any other item that can withstand temperatures of 50-60C. This helps reduce the number of bibs and wipes thrown away because they are covered in black mould that no amount of soaking in Nappi-san will get rid of. Not the baby-friendly one anyway. Unfortunately this does not completely eliminate mouldy bibs. The only thing that does that is not having children in the first place. Although stripping them naked before each meal then bunging them in the bath afterwards does help too.

A beautiful moment

I had a beautiful moment this morning.

I was breastfeeding Phoebe, and Monty (my beautiful big black pussy cat) jumped up onto my lap. The cats are taking refuge from the rain in the house, which they normally avoid due to the presence of the midget cat terrorist.

So there I was, cuddling my baby in one arm, tickling and stroking my feline friend with the other hand. When Phoebe had finished her feed she sat on my lap and petted Monty with me, shrieking with pleasure. Monty purred as he lapped up the attention.

It's nice how a day that starts full of poo can be followed by a day that starts with comfort and cuddles.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I have had the most disgusting morning.

To set the scene: the weather is miserable. It's dark and rainy and we had numerous heavy showers during the night. As you can imagine the cats do not like going out to poo in such weather.

You can see where this is heading, right?

So, fast forward to Monday morning and I'm trying to get everything that I used to do between Monday and Friday done all in one day. I won't bore you with details but suffice to say it's a lot. I finally get Phoebe settled in her chair having her breakfast and find the time to tend to the cats.

I have no idea whether Toby has fed them before work but something is bothering them. At the very least they need water. So I give them some food and water, and open their cat flap.

And then I see the three piles of little brown nuggets, two of them swimming in water from the umpteen millimetres of rain we've had.

At this point I should probably point out that the cats live in a roofed, fly-screened patio, not actually in the house, thankfully.

Still, it is gross and needs to be cleaned up. I decide to leave it until after I've had my breakfast. Dealing with cat poo is not conducive to a healthy appetite.

After breakfast, with Phoebe all cleaned up and having a pre-nap nudie run around the house I head out armed with a plastic bag, a trowel and the litter scoop and collect the offending articles. I go to let myself back in and there is Phoebe standing on the door mat in her own poo! It is my own stupid fault really for letting her have nudie-dudie time when she hasn't yet done a poo today.

I stick Phoebe back in the bath and get her off to bed before cleaning up her poo too.

Today I am meeting one of my mum's group friends for a coffee. I think I will also buy a new door mat.