One Hellish Week

Urgh. Things have not been happy in the Wildling household just lately. Tom came down with oral thrush, which we can only assume was the result of him having been on antibiotic eyedrops for his conjunctivitis. He also picked up a cold from nursery, and, just to cap it all off, his lower canines are coming through.

Needless to say, we have had an extremely upset baby. He went from sleepy and clingy on Saturday, to screaming in pain at every mealtime on Sunday. By Monday last week, he was refusing to eat at all. Thankfully he would accept milk.

We’ve been treating him with antifungal gel four times a day, which has almost cleaned up the thrush. After three days of not eating, he began cautiously accepting weetabix (with added probiotic) on Thursday and is now basically back to normal with food.

Mr Techno and I are lucky to have been able to switch out most of the week, so neither one of us has had to take the full burden of caring for our sick little one. But it’s not been easy for any of us and I’m very glad that the end is in sight.

Unsurprisingly, all of this means we’ve not been getting out much! Apart from to the doctors of course. The new, though still unfinished, mud kitchen has been a bit of a saviour as a distraction when we have gotten out into the garden. But the lack of outdoor time was not helping my patience.

In fact…I did have a bit of a meltdown on Saturday morning. Tom was refusing to nap. I’ve not been feeling well either, and all I wanted was a hot bath. And Mr Techno had to go to work. So I was pissed off. And feeling like an awful mother for not putting my wants to one side to be there for my sick baby. All of which I kind of shouted at Mr Techno. Except with a lot more swear words (Tom wasn’t in the room at the time). Seriously, the man has the patience of a saint sometimes.

Anyway. It was fine once I had the rant out of my system. I got my bath, although it had to involve a lot of Tom ‘help’…so I was joined by lots of toys and had to avoid getting my hair washed. Then we went to meet friends at Victoria Park. We had lunch, which Tom ate (it was mine, but hey, he was eating) and a long walk. And suddenly everything was manageable again.

Thank goodness for the healing power of the great outdoors!

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One Year as a Working Mum

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This time last year, Tom was 6 months old. And I was starting back at work, after 7 months of maternity leave. He had started at nursery two weeks before – one week of settling in and one week of early pick ups – and had mostly settled well, apart from a few napping issues. I was still a bit shaky about leaving him, but could see he was being well cared for.

I know it’s not the case for everyone, but I actually really enjoy being a working mum. Although I miss my boy whenever I’m away from him. I really enjoy my job. I’m extremely lucky that my circumstances worked out to allow me to come back just three days a week (job-sharing with the lady I covered when she was on maternity leave). Also…my job involves organising training courses for a building conservation charity. I get to do things like hang out at the Tower of London or Hampton Court Palace all day, calling it work. It’s not so much with the financial rewards, but the pay off in job satisfaction and life/work balance is more than worth it.

Don’t get me wrong – it hasn’t all been plain sailing. I was still breastfeeding when I went back, and pumping at work was not much fun. I sometimes have to travel around the country to run courses, which means leaving Tom overnight. And the logistics of childcare are often a bit mind boggling. As is the cost!

For the most part though, having something outside my family life gives me a lot of personal reward. It has led to a more equal parenting relationship between Mr Techno and I, as we both work and both stay home with Tom. And I’d even argue that it makes me a better mum – I don’t do well with being home full time. Being away part of the week means I am more willing to concentrate fully on Tom when we are together.

My situation wouldn’t suit everyone – I know there are lots of working mums who would rather be home with their babies. And plenty of stay at home mums who get lots of satisfaction from being there for their kids full time. But for me, this seems to be a good balance.

A Disastrous Walk

There are some really good days in parenting. Not perfect days, those don’t exist, especially when you have a toddler. But days when the house only gets mildly trashed, the toddler only has a handful of meltdowns and gets over them quickly, the whole family enjoys lots of playtime and giggles, and then the toddler goes happily to bed without a squawk.

I really like days like that. Wednesday was not one of them.

We had been in all morning, waiting for the locks to be changed after I lost the keys last week. So when Tom woke up early from his nap, I thought ‘great, we can have a lovely long walk and I can start breaking in my new walking boots’.

I should have twigged this wasn’t going to go to plan when Tom tried to bring an entire armful of toys with us. And had a meltdown when I said no. Then had another one about putting his wellies on. Finally, I got him into the sling and us both out the door.

The first ten minutes or so went fine. We got out onto the Marshes and my boots felt great. But then Tom spotted a puddle and started whining to get down. Sometimes I can do a bit of trotting and he settles back down. Not this time. He wanted out of that sling straight away. So I let him down. At which point he headed off determinedly in the wrong direction.

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After some negotiation, he did agree to turn round. Peace seemed to have returned – he had a great time stomping through puddles and terrorising a slightly older toddler who really didn’t want to play with him. He found a stick which was apparently very good for poking puddles with. At this point, I still thought we were going to have a nice afternoon. Not the one I had planned, but you get used to that when you have a toddler.

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The trouble came when we got slightly further along the path. Tom took a couple of tumbles, the last of which scraped his knee a bit. He was very upset, but didn’t want a cuddle. He stomped on a bit further, complaining loudly, then decided he didn’t want to walk anymore. He also didn’t want to go in the sling. In fact, what he wanted to do was sit down on my shoes and wail. Which was a great look with all the cyclists and dog walkers going past. One lovely old guy stopped to check we were ok, which was sweet but a bit embarrassing. Fortunately the appearance of a stranger surprised Tom enough that I was able to get him in the sling with a minor amount of complaining and back arching. Once we were walking again he settled down a bit and we got home without further drama. About a thousand stories later, he was his normal happy self again.

Normally, this kind of thing doesn’t bother me too much. We are lucky with Tom that he seems to be a fairly happy child, and the odd bad day usually has an easy explanation (teething, a cold, or, like now, dropping a nap). But this time it did bother me. Maybe because it was his first big public meltdown (he’s had plenty of minor ones, but nothing like this). Or maybe because I had woken up grumpy that morning and didn’t have the emotional resources to deal with it well. Either way, I don’t like how I handled the situation – instead of empathising and staying calm whilst he expressed his feelings, I clammed up, got embarrassed, and tried to hurry him along. Not the parent I want to be.

I know everyone has days that go wrong, and that I can never live up to my parenting ideal. So I’m trying to forgive myself for being less than perfect. And despite my impulse to pretend the whole walk didn’t happen, I wanted to share it here. Because our lives aren’t all happiness and mud pies, and it’s important to show that some days go wrong! Thanks to Chloe at Life Unexpected for her recent post emphasising this, which gave me more encouragement to write this post.

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My Husband Does Not Babysit

I was at the theatre a couple of weeks ago with my mum. As we were saying goodbye, she asked me to give my love to my husband. ‘Oh and thank him for babysitting of course’. It was really just a passing comment, so she was pretty surprised when I turned to her and said ‘he’s not babysitting. If I was the one at home with Tom, would you say I was babysitting?’

Now, my mum wasn’t meaning to be offensive to Mr Techno. And chances are, if he had heard her, he wouldn’t even have thought anything of it. But it drives me a bit nuts when I hear people describe fathers as babysitters when they are in sole charge of their kids.

I currently work three days a week. Tom goes to nursery two days a week, and Mr Techno is able to look after him the other day (he is a restaurant manager, so is more likely to have time off during the week than at weekends). Mr Techno also covers childcare on other days if I have to travel for work, which tends to happen at least once a month. I do more childcare because I work fewer days. But Mr Techno is Tom’s father. He plays a full and active role in bringing him up. The day they have alone together every week is not the equivalent of me leaving Tom with a babysitter.

While it is true that society’s view of fathers is changing, there are still an awful lot of depictions of men as charming, but essentially useless when it comes to childcare. Watch any sitcom or film where a father is left in charge of his kids, and he will be making a hilarious mess of it, whilst his overly competent wife swings by occasionally to be quietly (or loudly) disappointed by his efforts.

It is very definitely still the case that women, overall, do more childcare than men. We are more likely to give up our jobs, or to go part-time. For some families, that is what works. Me being part-time and Mr Techno being full-time is what works best for our family and neither of us is in a hurry to change that. But there is also a theme in a lot of families’ conversations where the women complain about the men not stepping up enough to help with the kids (I have to admit, I am guilty of doing this myself).

If we want our men to help out more when they are home, regardless of who works more or who spends more time with the kids, we need to acknowledge that dads are as much parents as mums are. That means changing our language – talking about parents, rather than mums, for example. And definitely never referring to our partners as babysitters when what they are is fathers.

Is it just me who gets riled up about this? Have you been irritated by people making assumptions about parenting being the mother’s domain? Or do you think I am overreacting to an innocent remark? Let me know in the comment section.

Understanding Schemas

Sometimes I think how hard each day of parenting is depends not on our children’s behaviour, but what is happening in our own heads. If I am calm, well rested, and in a good mood, I can handle any amount of tantrums, whining, or limit-testing that Tom decides to throw at me. But if I’m stressed, or have slept badly, or am distracted by other things, the smallest thing can have me at breaking point.

Sometimes, how I see a certain behaviour can have a big effect too. If I see Tom’s constant desire to press the buttons on the washing machine as a threat to my authority, then I lose my temper. If I see it as a schema – a necessary, uncontrollable urge that is a natural part of his development – then I can calmly redirect the urge to something more appropriate, such as the keys on his little keyboard or the buttons on the remote (which hasn’t had batteries in for about 6 months now!)

I’m very thankful that I found out about schemas early on in Tom’s life. In fact, I can’t remember where I first encountered the idea. But if you are looking for further information, the Nature Play website has a great section on it.

In psychology, a schema is defined as ‘a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning‘ (source). More simply, this means a set of actions, such as putting things into a container, or dropping bits of food off a high chair, that crop up repeatedly in a child’s play for a time, whilst he or she works out the connecting principles (that small things fit inside big things in the first example, or gravity in the second). A list of the common schemas and how to give your child opportunities to explore them can be found on that Nature Play site and in this article from Cathy Nutbrown at Sheffield University (NB: opens a PDF).

Tom, at the moment, is very involved with working out an enclosure/container schema. This means that he spends a lot of time putting things into containers and taking them out again. He especially wants to investigate putting water into containers and pouring it out again – and this can be a bit irritating, as his favourite way of testing the principle is to pour his cup of water out all over his food. And his lap. And the floor.

If I didn’t know about schemas, I would be very cross about repeatedly having to clean up puddles of water after every meal. But because I know he can’t really fight this urge to experiment, I simply take the cup away before he can pour it out, saying firmly ‘No. Water in your cup is for drinking’. And then I find other ways for him to meet the urge, by providing lots of cups and scoops at bath time and letting him do plenty of water play during the day.

There’s a quote from Norman Vincent Peale: ‘Change your thoughts and you change your world’. I think it must be true. At the very least, it has changed my parenting.

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