Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lines of communication

I have always thought it was hilarious (in a very unfunny way) when people say that babies become "interesting" and "develop personalities" when they are 6 months old, or older. Call me a biased mother if you will, but I reckon my kids have all been fairly 'interesting' since the two little blue lines appeared on the pregnancy test. And as far as personalities are concerned, in my humble opinion, anyone who thinks that tiny babies are born without personalities has clearly not had one rolling around in their womb, or spent any time with a newborn! As far as a jolly eight month old is concerned, the personality traits are positively bursting from every orifice...!!!!!

Some kids crawl and walk early, others chatter away from a very early age. All three of our kids share a very distinct personality trait in that they all enjoy the sounds of their own voices. None of them move anywhere until around 11 months, which suits me perfectly!! But as far as chat is concerned, we have the market covered (any idea why my children might be chatty?? Anyone??) Jack was a very vocal baby, jabbering away in his own little language. I think he began 'talking' (by this I mean, using words which had a clear meaning for him, regardless of the strange pronounciation!) at about 10 months old. Certainly at this age I understood him perfectly when he was hungry, tired, or wanted something really badly! Phoebe topped Jack's grasp of vocabulary by beginning to talk when she was 8 months old, and I was particularly pleased with her efforts as her first word was 'Mum'. Clever girly!!! And even though I try not to compare my kidlets, I was certainly not expecting Maisie to speak even earlier than her sister. However, there is absolutely no doubt at all that Miss Mouse has been trying to speak since she was roughly 5 months old. She now routinely greets Christian with something that sounds distinctly like "hello, Dad!" (and come to think of it, she doesn't say it to anyone else...) Today, on a trip to the city, it struck me that simply by using one word in different ways, Maisie is able to communicate exactly how she is feeling. With this one little word, she can portray her sunny little personality to the world, so that there is no doubt what she is saying.

For example, while eating her lunch sitting in her pram and people-watching in Australia On Collins, Maisie kept up a stream of quiet little "Dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad"'s, interspersed with blurty raspberries in response to Jack's antics. She was clearly happy with the world but not overly excited, just content to let her brother and sister be the clowns for once. When we had been in the menswear section of Myer for a little too long, the "Dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad"'s developed a growly edge, became louder and a bit sooky, and it was obvious to all and sundry that she wanted out of the pram! Once safely ensconced in the Baby Bjorn and strapped to Mum's front, the "Dad-dad-dad"'s were joyous yelps at passing strangers, conveying relief at escaping the confines of the stroller, determination that we should go faster, and the discovery that simply by leaning backwards in the sling, she could grab Mummy's face for a big wet kiss. A trip into Borders saw Maisie Mouse back in the stroller next to her big sister, and it was there that her attentions were captured by a little hardback Maisy book. I noticed that the book was being examined very closely (and gummed, and drooled upon...), and she was very, very quietly singing "Dad-dad-dad-dad-dad-dad" to her new possession (which I had to buy because I didn't think Borders would appreciate a thin veneer of spittle on their products...). She was so clearly delighted with the tiny book, and was taking such pleasure in discovering the pictures and textures that her voice had dropped to a soft little baby whisper, with a melodic message that said she was completely happy. Minutes later when I removed the book from her clutches to pay for it, the gentle baby song became an angry how-dare-you-take-my-special-chewing-toy "DAD-DAD-DAD!!!", which wasn't improved when I laughed at her...whoops!! I managed to get her laughing again once we had exited Borders, and thought I would test the waters as far as her new word went. She looked at me and began a conversation. "Dad-dad-dad-dad-dad?" I replied, "Mum-mum-mum!" She eye-balled me, smiled, and then screeched, "DAD-DAD-DAD!! Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!" Uh-huh. Nice one, Mais.

I know it won't be long before she learns other words (goodness knows I wish Jack and Phoebs had smaller vocabularies...I seem to be followed by a running commentary most days!), but it's a bit cute at the moment, using only one word for so many different emotions. With just one syllable my baby can display her already distinct personality to whomever cares to interact with her. Spending only a short period of time with Maisie reveals a very interesting little girl, who has strong likes and dislikes, recognises and loves different people, and who very clearly has her own personality. My only issue is her particular choice of first word, and so tomorrow, the coaching begins...her second word will most definitely be Mum-mum-mum-mum!!!!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Maisie goes to the movies

I was really dreading today, as we had an appointment with the paediatric allergy specialist for Jack and Maisie. He is a lovely man, and a brilliant doctor, but the skin prick tests they have to do to check the kids for allergies is pretty painful. We left Phoebe with Grandma for the day, and they went for a trip to Melbourne. Lucky Phoebs!! Meanwhile, Jack, Maisie, Mummy and Daddy had a quick coffee at Maccas before heading off to the doctor's. (Jack entertained the breakfast crowd at the Golden Arches by dancing and singing in a terrible Scottish accent, "I'm an Irish dancer!" - he's so shy, my son.) I was so proud of both of them, as they endured the test very bravely. Jack only squirmed briefly, and Maisie didn't cry at all! The great news is that Jack is slowly growing out of his allergies, and might be able to sample cow's milk soon. The bad news is he has developed a new allergy to peanuts - boo hiss!! Maisie's good news is that she only has asthmatic airways and sensitive skin...and is allergic to peanuts! Peanuts??? We have been a dairy and egg-free household for so long, what am I going to do now?? I'll have to completely overhaul my pantry and take forever reading every label in the supermarket to make sure we are dairy / egg / AND peanut-free. But at least I might be able to start eating wheat again soon, as long as Maisie's skin and rattly chest clears up. Cross fingers!

We had planned to do something special for Jack after the specialist, just to take his mind off a yucky morning. Even though it was a bit risky, we took Jack and Mais to the cinema to see 'Despicable Me', and we had an absolute ball! I couldn't believe it, but Maisie sat up next to Jack and watched the entire movie - I didn't know whether to be proud of her, or worried about her square eyes! She only stopped briefly to have a quick feed and a cuddle, but for the most part she watched that screen as though she understood every word. Jack laughed his backside off, and I must say Christian and I enjoyed it too. I was so prepared to miss the movie, simply because I didn't think Maisie would make it through two hours in the dark and noise, that it was a nice surprise to see the whole thing. We might even try and do it again!

After having dinner out at La Porchetta with the family, we are back at home for our last night at the Wild's. The chickens greeted us in the dining room with loud chirping (and one bewildered escapee, who had jumped out of the box in our absence and looked as though he wished he hadn't), and the roosters crowed long and loud. The kids are fast asleep, worn out by a long and emotional day, and I am currently ignoring the packing I need to do! We have had such a magic time here, the kids and I have loved every minute - right down to extinguishing fires in the lounge room and being attacked by rampant roosters. I want to thank Anna, Adam, Aiden, Harper and Aurelia for allowing us to inhabit their wonderful farm this week. I hope we have cared for your animals properly - goodness knows they have been "loved" in spades! You have a beautiful home, and if there are no objections I think we may be frequent visitors, if only to come and play with Sunny and Flancy! (I'm not too sure about the roosters, though...)

See you all back at home! xxx

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New shoes and toothy pegs

Another jam-packed weekend for Team O'Toole...

We were still recovering from our day at the Show yesterday morning, and being a Saturday the natural urge to go a bit more slowly was way too strong to fight. I allowed the kids to loll around in their jarmies for most of the morning. Apparently, jumping on the trampoline and playing with the dogs is way more fun when you're still in your pyjamas! I ignored the dirt and mayhem and enjoyed the happy vibes of my kids...until they discovered the garden hose. All of a sudden we had two sodden children in the house, dripping all over the floors and giggling, "Mummy, I'm soaked!!" As I already had a string of washing flapping around on the line all the way up the hill (strung between the trees, it's brilliant!!), I didn't really want any more washing, so I made them dry off naturally before letting them go back outside again - is that bad parenting?

After a quick trip to the supermarket, the kids had an afternoon kip and awoke just in time to watch the Grand Final. Actually, if I am to be completely precise, they woke up just in time to run back outside while Christian and I watched the footy. Apart from one little incident involving an umbrella (Phoebe's brand-new Dora umbrella she received in her solid-gold show bag on Friday) and the trampoline, they played exceptionally well with Sunny and Clancy (or Flancy, as Jack calls her!), our two adopted dogs, for the entire afternoon.

All three kids were in bed by 8pm last night, and I should have taken advantage of this unusual situation. Instead, Christian and I watched three episodes of 'The Royle Family' and only got ready for bed just in time for Maisie to wake for her late feed. Silly, silly Mummy! I took her into our bed with the idea of feeding quietly under the warm doona, so that I would be able to get her back into her own cot with a minimum of fuss. Wrong. After a massive feed, she had a coughing fit and launched a deluge of breastmilk and pureed vegetables all over the bed, Christian, myself, herself and the floor. Apparently she felt marvellous after this episode of purging, as she then started laughing and kicking and blowing raspberries. We got Maisie to sleep after another cautious breastfeed. Mummy and Daddy eventually went to sleep on towels, after mopping up the rivers of vomit and taking showers to rinse away the stench.

After a very late night, Christian and I were not prepared to be woken this morning by a little voice whispering, "Mummy, Daddy, the dogs ate my shoes" Despite the kids bringing their shoes in every night after being outside, they forgot after their hose-induced glee yesterday. Sunny and Flancy must have thought they had been given a special treat, so believe me, I don't blame the dogs at all. As far as dogs are concerned, I reckon if you leave something outside in their reach, it's fair game! The only trouble was, I had only packed one pair of shoes each, plus a pair of gumboots for the kids. So off we trooped to our swimming lessons clad in gumboots - quite the fashion trendsetters!

Jack and Phoebe had a great time at the pool, while poor old coughy Mais watched from the side. It was while I was sitting with her watching Jack's torpedoes that I discovered her very first tooth had come through! I know it wasn't there last night, as just before she spewed everywhere she had bitten me quite hard and laughed uproariously. But at the pool this morning, I tipped her backwards in a game, and in a split second when the drool spilled sideways out of her mouth and her tongue rolled back, I saw the ridged little edge of a brand-new pearly white!!!! (Can anyone predict delicate moments in breastfeeding coming my way...???)

We had a golden afternoon with Pa and Aunty Miffy, running around in the sunshine and collecting yellow 'daisies' in the yard behind my Dad's shop. It was so nice just to sit and chat while the kids explored and only answered to Dora and Diego. After a couple of hours, we packed three very tired kids into the car and let them sleep all the way to K Mart. I must say, the replacement shoes we purchased were exceptionally popular - Ben 10 runners for Jack, sequinned Tinkerbell runners for Phoebs, and the cutest little sandals for Maisie Mouse (absolutely no use except for decoration, I know!) And the new shoes are now proudly lined up INSIDE the front door, ready for another jam-packed day tomorrow!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Our Royal Melbourne Show Debut

Yesterday morning, we farewelled the chooks, packed the car with Vegemite sandwiches, and headed off to the Royal Melbourne Show. It was a first for our little tribe, and even though they had no idea where we were going, they were very excited! Going to the Show was a childhood tradition for me, something I looked forward to every year. When I suggested to Christian that we take the kids to the Show this year, I knew there was a chance that the crowds and noise (not to mention the long and tricky trip to Flemington) could make our day less than pleasant. However, I was willing to give it a shot, and I am so glad we did!

Once we'd made a quick stop to K-Mart to buy sun hats and a bike pump (I wasn't prepared for a 21 degree sunny day when I packed to go to the Wild's, and the pram tyres were flat!), we found our way into the city, along with a couple of thousand other people with the same idea. We decided to park in my old neighbourhood and catch a tram, which (apart from hoisting the pram up the tram stairs) was a triumphant success. I have no doubt that had we decided to turn around and go home at that point, the kids would have been happy. A trip on the ding-ding!!!! How excitement!!

First port of call at the Show was lunch (home-made, of course - if they're still happy with "Bedgeemite sammiches" and a box of sultanas, who am I to argue??), a nappy change and a quick look at the map. We decided to head towards the animal nursery first, however, the little train ride at the entrance to the nursery stalled us...then the flying elephant ride distracted us...then it was the bouncy castle...the magic circus...and finally the spinning teacups...and by the time Jack and Phoebe had spun, bounced, danced, flown and toot-tooted their way around the littlies' amusement area, the queue into the animal nursery looked a little too long! Maisie, meanwhile, had sat in her pram patiently watching the big kids on their rides and smiling away, until she dropped off to sleep sitting up.

It was pretty hot work having all of that fun, so we stopped off at the parents' room to check pants (the kids, not ours!) and have a quick drink. We had a visit to the alpacas and the poultry pavilion, but the sight of hundreds of caged chooks was a bit distressing for young Phoebs so we moved on! Christian and I made the executive decision at this point to begin moving towards the front gates, as we could see frayed edges getting more prominent. However, we avoided disaster by two small but clever manouvres - we put Phoebe in the pram and Maisie in the Baby Bjorn, and we bought everybody icy poles. Crisis averted! The kids were so delighted with their icy poles that they stood (or sat) perfectly still in the middle of the crowd and ate their ices with big eyes. I got a running commentary from Jack about the colours in his icy pole, and what they tasted like. Phoebe didn't utter a word until the wooden stick was licked clean! Meanwhile, Maisie had discovered a new trick with fantastic results. She loves being in the baby carrier, both facing in (so she can snuggle me) or facing out (so she can see everything). Usually when she's facing out, she waves her little arms up and down and jigs her legs, so she looks and feels like an 8 month old Irish dancer on speed. Yesterday, the noise and sheer excitement must have inspired her, as she discovered how to in screech at the top of her lungs with joy. We parted the crowd effortlessly, my baby and I, simply by flapping arms and emitting eardrum-bursting yelps of happiness. The louder the music became, the more enthusiastic Maisie's screeching was!

The last treat we had promised the kids was a show bag, although at this point in the day we were pretty sure the icy poles had clinched our nominations for parents-of-the-year. But I just couldn't renege on our promise, and even the exorbitant prices (since when did show bags have an average price tag of $25???) didn't dissuade me. We told them they could choose one (and steered them away from kids walking past with five or six each...), so Jack decided on a Ben 10 bag, and Phoebe wanted the Dora one. Well, I must say those bags were worth every cent!! There was some fantastic gear in there, and they were so overjoyed at their prizes that it was worth it just to see their little faces (Classic moment: Jack was pulling everything out of his bag, and came across some 'punching' gloves and a body protector. My face fell, until he exclaimed, "Look Mum!! Cooker gloves!! Like the ones in the kitchen! I can use them to make cakes!!" Yes, my darling, you can absolutely use those toys meant for violence to bake anything you like!!). Clutching their show bags, with rings of icy pole-goodness around their mouths, we screeched and flapped our way to the tram stop to begin the journey home. Apart from dropping Phoebe's hat in the traffic and nearly losing Maisie out of the Baby Bjorn when I bent over to retrieve it, the trip home was fairly uneventful. All three fell asleep in the back seat, which meant they were full of beans when Aunty Bec and Uncle Chris came around for dinner. We had a lovely night with them, especially since Aunty Bec had baked a delicious dairy/egg/gluten-free chocolate cake (with strawberries on top!) After polishing off their fish and chips, Jack and Phoebe enjoyed a piece of cake so much that Phoebe declared proudly, "Mummy! I've got a chocolate t-shirt!" Not to mention a chocolate face, and chocolate fingers...

Eventually, the kids were worn out enough to go to bed (or to be more precise, they went to bed when the unusually high glucose levels in their bloodstreams had subsided) and the grown-ups sat up chatting. It was a lovely way to end a fantastic day, as we always love catching up with Bec and Chris (and they are always understanding when the extent of our 'entertaining' is to flake on the couch!) I am so glad our kids had fun today, and Jack already has plans about which rides he wants to go on next year! It won't always be as simple and inexpensive (?!) as it was today, but it's a special September holiday treat that the whole family can do together. It would be lovely if my childhood tradition could be perpetuated through my children, if only that it would mean I would have a legitimate excuse to go to the Show for a few more years (or at least until they are teenagers and I am too embarrassing for words...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sleep peacefully, little chick

Last night I spent a few hours cradling a tiny baby chick in my hand in the vain hope that I could make it better. Even though the logical part of my brain knew that it was too little and weak to survive, the mothering part of me was trying desperately to convey enough love and warmth to help the baby either come back to chirping life, or pass away peacefully. As long as she was breathing I held some hope she was just really, really tired - at one point she even gave a few little cheeps. Ever the optimist, I sat with Christian on the couch, held my chick and watched telly, but I couldn't tell you which program was on the box. Around 11pm, Maisie began to cry and she was quite distressed as she appeared to be coming down with a cold. Daddy's cuddles wouldn't cut it, so I had little choice but to relinquish my feathered baby and snuggle my blonde, blue-eyed baby to comfort her. Christian held Chick for a while, and in the end her breathing was pretty stable and she seemed calm, so we put her back into the box with the other chicks and watched her be surrounded by her brothers and sisters. They all seemed so big and energetic compared to our little one that I wondered had there always been such a huge difference? Or had she diminished so much that she would never catch up?

With all the chicks huddled under the heat lamp and Maisie feeding hungrily at the breast, I tried to sleep. But the snorting and snuffling of my baby with her snotty nose, and the thought of Chick slowly dying outside my bedroom door prevented any real rest. Maisie was so disturbed throughout the night that I gave up on trying to settle her in her own cot and just let her sleep in our bed all night - something I had never done with any of our kids. By doing this, I did not get out of bed at all, and therefore did not check on Chick between midnight and 6am. By the time Christian got up for work, Maisie was breathing easily in the middle of the bed. My poor little Chick, though, was not breathing any more.

When I went to check on her and feed the other chicks, her tiny, fluffy little body was burrowed down into the sawdust. Her eyelids were closed and she was cool to the touch. The other chicks were no longer huddled around her, but were avoiding her body. Jack came over to the box and asked if the others had stood on her. I asked him, "Do you know how you think, and feel things, and love people? You know how you decide to do things, and like things and make your body move and run and jump?" "Yes, Mummy," he said gravely. "Well, that's your soul," I replied. "And when you die, your soul leaves your body and goes to Heaven." He considered that for a moment, looked carefully at the dead chick, and said,"But then you come back again, right?" "No honey, once you go to Heaven you can't come back. But she's not in pain anymore, she can't feel anything. It's like being asleep but you don't wake up" I said. He looked once again at Chick and exclaimed, "Oh Mum! Her leg is dead too!" I explained that all of her body was dead and didn't work anymore, but it didn't hurt. "Mum?" "Yes, Jack?" "Can you make breakfast now?"

Later on this morning, Jack asked if the chick had come back to life again. I said no, she hadn't, and did he remember where her soul had gone? "Sydney?" he said, hopefully. "Ah no, darling, not Sydney. Her soul has gone to Heaven." "And she won't come back again?" "No sweetie. Once your soul has gone to Heaven, your body doesn't work anymore. " It was at this point I realised that we might need to have a little burial for our baby chick, if only to illustrate how death can be dignified and gentle, if you are lucky. I told Jack we would wait for Daddy to come home and then we would bury our chick. "In the floor?" he asked. "No, in the ground outside" I said. "And then she will be alive again!" he said cheerfully. I sat him on my lap and started to explain again how she wouldn't feel any pain anymore, and that she was in a happy place, but she was dead and wouldn't be coming alive again (I thought I might leave conversations about reincarnation for another day...). "Mummy?" "Yes, Jack?" "Can I go outside on the trampoline?"

While the kids played happily, I put the chick's cold little body into some tissues and a paper bag. I decided to wait for Christian to come home for the burial, as I didn't fancy keeping the two dogs and the feral roosters away while I dug a hole with three kids in tow (although I'm sure the possibilities for the comic side of this would be many!!) I'm not sure how well I dealt with all of this today. I knew I wanted to be honest with Jack without scaring him, and to be very truthful, I'm a bit relieved that his first experience of death was with a little animal as opposed to a beloved great-grandparent. However, when I held Chick in my hand last night, I knew she was dying, and I think the person who had the hardest time of all, was me. I had absolutely no control over Chick's life or death and just had to let Nature take it's course. Her death was not violent, and did not appear to be painful, and I know that many small animals die in the first few days of life simply because they are not born strong enough. But it's not often that we have absolutely no control over a situation, and in this case I knew that explaining what had happened to our chicken to my young son would possibly be the hardest part.

I'm still not sure exactly how much Jack understands. I know that when the time comes to bury Chick tonight, most likely I will cry a little. I don't think that's a bad thing. And as sad as I am for poor little Chick, I am grateful that my children's first knowledge of death was quiet and gentle. They have not had to grapple with strong emotions of separation, or watch their parents deal with horrendous grief. (Actually, I mentioned to my husband last night that we were lucky this was the first time we would have to explain death, as I was very fortunate to survive post-natal complications after Maisie's birth. He must have been thinking about this, because he said, very quietly, "I know.") I know we will show our children how to handle the little body with kindness, and bury her with dignity. We will tell them why it is important to bury our dead, and to learn from their deaths. And with any luck, we will avoid having to do anything like this again for a very, very long time. And when we do, I hope that I will have learned how to deal with it better than I did this time. Sleep peacefully, little chick. Thank you for sharing your little life with my children and I. We are the richer for it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I have used the phrase "running around like a headless chook" many, many times in my life, but funnily enough it has never applied to me more appropriately than in the last two days. We have been housesitting at the Wild's place since Sunday, caring for the chickens and dogs (not so keen on the roosters, but the kids were very much entertained by Daddy pulling out some ninja moves on them!) Jack and Phoebe were absolutely loving the baby chicks in the living room, especially as another one hatched yesterday morning. It was while I was feeding and watering them that I noticed the lightbulb in the heat lamp had blown, which sent me into a tailspin. It was already cold and the chicks were huddling up which meant they were cold too. My first thought was "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod the chicks are going to die!!!!"

Ok, keep calm, I thought, you're a grown-up. What do I do? Phone my mum?? Nope, wrong emergency. O-kay - phone my sister! I took the chicks down to Maisie's room and put them next to the little heater in there, covered the box with a blanket (?) and shut the door.  I phoned my sister who used to be a vet nurse and is just amazing with animals, not matter what species they are! She knows absolutely everything there is to know about animals, will handle anything at all with aplomb, and is my go-to person for any beast-related crisis. Unfortunately I caught her commuting to her job (well I suppose I couldn't really expect her to drive from Keysborough to Boronia to take care of the problem, could I? Could I?) so she suggested I just get a replacement bulb as soon as I could and keep the chicks in a warm room until then. So far, so good. I then checked with the Wild's, who said exactly what my sister had said! Excellent. I chucked the kids in the car, found a replacement red lightbulb, and spent the rest of the day checking the chicks for signs of their ill-treatment.  Apart from one very quiet little chicky, they all seemed happy enough.

This morning I was woken by Jack lifting my eyelids and telling me very excitedly that another baby chick had hatched! We left the new little baby in the incubator while we went out for the day, and only returned in time for the children's bedtime. Pyjamas were put on, teeth were brushed, dogs were fed, hens locked away, chicks fed and watered, you know, the usual. We were in the midst of the usual bedtime chaos ("No, you may not stay up and play Lightning McQueen" "Yes, you can have a story but only when you're lying down" "Maisie, for goodness sake, the boob does not stretch that far") when I noticed the smoke billowing in the living room. The heat lamp to keep the chicks warm had fallen down onto the sawdust in the box. The entire clamp that held it in place had disintegrated!! The sawdust was already smoldering and the room was full of smoke, and the poor little chicks were huddled in a corner of the box cheeping very, very fast! I swallowed a swear word, grabbed the lamp out of the box and threw the water bowl onto the sizzling sawdust. Christian ran around opening windows while I grabbed another box and threw the chicks (gently) into the new box and took the old one outside. Jack kept asking, "Are the chicks all dead? Are we going to die?" (Did a swear word pop out without my knowledge?) Phoebe kept running around in glee, as I think she thought bedtime had been postponed indefinitely. Maisie kept on eating her toy monkey, so obviously she had been traumatised by the whole experience. Once we had the chicks safely ensconced next to the heater (again) and the kids in bed, I cleaned out the scorched sawdust, and Christian drove to a 24 hour KMart to buy a new lamp!

The chicks are now happily cheepcheepcheeping around their clean box, under a new lamp that cannot fall on them, and Christian and I are sitting white-haired together on the couch. I am so very, very grateful that the lamp waited to fall until we were home, or this may have been a lot worse! And as for my poor quiet little chick? I moved her back into the incubator only minutes before the lamp fell as she was getting trampled by the others. She is sleeping a lot, and I don't think she will survive. I sat and held her for a while, trying to give a little comfort and love in the absence of her real mummy, and she curled up in my hand and tucked her little beak into my palm. I feel so completely helpless that I cannot do anything for this little baby. I know how helpless I feel when my own babies are sick, and this tiny chick is so fragile compared to my robust children. I can only hope that she gets the rest she needs in the quiet incubator, and that this will be enough to get her through the night. Or if she passes away, I hope it's quick and painless for the poor little mite. It's entirely possible I may be explaining what death is and where heaven is at breakfast tomorrow morning. I think the kids will probably deal with it better than I will! At least the other chicks can go to sleep without any fear of becoming fried chicken...oh lordy, who'd want a boring life?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adventures at the Wild's

Day one of our holiday at the Wild farm:

* Jack and Phoebe polished off half a bag of lolly snakes very, very quietly in the loungeroom before Mummy and Daddy woke up. When they were questioned about it, Phoebe said very sweetly, "Sorry Mummy, but I did liked them!" Jack was slightly more suave, explaining that he only had three, while Phoebe "ate hundreds!" Neither of them ate much breakfast, funnily enough.

* Apparently Phoebe climbed the bunk to hop into bed with Jack, also very early this morning. We only found this out after she complained of a broken foot. When questioned about how she sustained this injury, she explained it happened when she jumped off the top bunk. At this point we were beginning to wonder if child restraints might be necessary to get a good nights' sleep...

* I copped a rooster to the back of the legs when we were heading off to the shops! Part of the appeal of staying at the 'farm' is the chickens (although, I must say I think the kids are more in love with the tiny hatching chicks in the house as opposed to the strutting hens and crowing roosters outside...) Even the rooster who decided it was time to get up at 4:30 this morning and shouted his stuff for an hour didn't dampen our enthusiasm. However, getting the c@#p kicked out of me on the way to the car this morning put a slight dent in my affection for the chooks. I have decided to rename this particular rooster "Agro". He should be very careful. I know lots of recipes.

* Maisie found an ingenious way to entertain herself today, with frightening results for Mummy! Whilst rolling around on the floor, she discovered that she could get under the coffee table (and thus hide herself from everybody...) After I recovered from my initial panic at losing my baby whilst in the same room, it was pretty funny. And she was chuffed with herself!

* Jack and Phoebe had a great time sifting through Aiden and Harper's toys, and have developed an unhealthy obsession with 'life savers'. No, not the round lollies with the hole in the middle but rather the light swords used in Star Wars. We tried explaining numerous times that they were actually called 'light sabres', but Jack would not be convinced. He now thinks Mummy and Daddy are complete toonkynunks.

* We have not yet caused any harm to any chickens (baby ones, hens, or roosters), although I can't promise anything if Agro keeps his macho act up. The puppy dogs are being absolutely gorgeous and very smoochy, which I love and which frightens the bejeesus out of Phoebs.

* So all in all. a pretty excellent first day!!! Tomorrow will be a fairly quiet one, I imagine. In fact, I don't have any intention of getting out of my pyjamas (an entirely plausible possibility, when you don't have any neighbours who can see you...!!!) The kids just want the weather to be dry enough to try out the trabobaline, and I reckon Maisie might give that coffee table another crack...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Wild Resort

Once upon a child-free time, Christian and I would go on holidays at the end of every school term. Being teachers with cushy school breaks (and may I just state for the record, teachers earn those breaks!!!!!! Without a regular end-of-term hiatus, most teachers would go insane...) we could go away a few times a year. It was always lovely to get away no matter what we did - our holidays ranged from camping at the Tara Valley to going to Bali. One time we even cycled along a rail trail and stayed in a feral old caravan with free samples of peanut brittle stuck to the mattress!! Those were the days.

Since Team O'Toole arrived, our holidays have been few and far between (and funnily enough, we need them so much more these days...) We went to Bright when Jack was 10 weeks old. We stayed at my Mum and Dad's place at the beach one summer when Jack was about 20 months and Phoebalicious was 3 months old. (That was brilliant - built-in babysitters!!) And in July this year we spent a week at Merimbula with all three kids. I can't tell you how decadent that felt! So considering we had just been away (well, three months ago but you catch my drift) I had not even thought about going anywhere on this school break. As you may or may not know, we are currently building a new house (or to be more precise, we are currently waiting for the builders to START building our new house..). For the past six months my lovely in-laws have been allowing us to share their house while we are (technically) homeless, as we had to leave our own place rather suddenly (the subject of which is another blog altogether!) As a result of this, our two cats and our puppy dog are being cared for elsewhere, which meant that when we were offered a friends' place to housesit for the week it was an opportunity too good to pass up!! Usually we need to plan holidays well in advance simply to get the cats into the cattery. This time, we literally threw some clothes in a bag (or 20), kissed Grandma and Grandpa goodbye (I think they'll enjoy the peace and quiet!!) and drove up to our new holiday house! Woohoo!!!

We arrived tonight after a day of swimming lessons, shopping for a new couch and a fair bit of driving. The kids are beside themselves with joy, as our new abode has hens and roosters, hatching chicks, dogs, and a trampoline. The only disappointment for Jack was that his friend Aiden is not here, but he consoled himself by reading books in his new bunk bed (thank you Aiden!) Phoebe is happily ensconced in Harper's beautiful girly room, and Maisie is only slightly freaked out by being in Aurelia's cot (although that may have something to do with clonking herself on the head in her swimming lesson today...not as bad as it sounds, I assure you!) This came as such a lovely surprise this week that I didn't stress about going away and remembering everything the way I normally do...and also I think because it was such an unexpected holiday that I feel so very appreciative to our friends for allowing us to stay in their home and have a little break from reality! Now that we are surrounded by trees and native bush, far away from other neighbours and our own phone, I am beginning to realise after only a few hours how stressed I have felt over the last few weeks. Even giving Maisie her asthma puffer tonight didn't phase me! I think we are going to have a gorgeous time here (and possibly there will be a few stories about Jack's adventures with the chickens...) I promised Anna and Adam no frat parties, but promises are made to be broken! (Just kidding. But not really) Time to check out my new bed, and pray that the kids find theirs to be exceptionally comfy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Three Candles for Phoebalina Ballerina

Three years ago today, I was in hospital gazing at our brand-new beautiful baby daughter. Phoebe Anna Louise was born at twelve minutes past nine in the morning, weighing a perfect 8 lb 1 oz, and measuring 54 cm long. She had dark brown fuzz covering her little head, which surprised everyone! Although she showed her indignation at being disturbed from the womb and screamed very loudly for half an hour after she was born, I swear from that time on, she never cried. I remember having this tiny bundle placed naked on my chest in the recovery area, under a warmed blanket. She lay on my skin for several hours after her birth, covered in vernix and snuggly-warm, fists curled into little flowers and eyes tightly shut. We knew we were having a daughter, but had not completely decided on her name until we saw her face. After a couple of hours, it became apparent that this little person was not an Emily, but rather a Phoebe (named for the character in 'The Catcher In The Rye', not Phoebe from 'Friends' as many of the nurses thought!!). On the day she was born, we were told of an old saying in England: to say "Aunt Phoebe had come to visit" meant the sun had come out. What a lovely way to describe how she made me feel - as though the sun had begun to shine in my heart.

Jack was only 17 months old when Phoebe was born, so she quickly became known as 'Fifi'. She was the most placid baby I could imagine, and simply adored her big brother. Very quickly she lost the dark hair and became a real little blondie - so much so that for the first year of her life she appeared bald! Her hair is still so fine that it's usually a halo of fuzz around her head - so many other little girls her age have ponytails and pigtails, but Phoebs still has wispy little curls around the nape of her neck. As soon as she could talk, she named herself 'Beebee', and I was a little sad when she grew old enough to pronounce her name properly.

Phoebe is three years old today, and has grown into a happy, quirky, stubborn, sweet, affectionate, talkative, imaginative little girl. She insists that she is "Mummy's little girl" instead of being a big girl (although she can be a big girl when it suits!!) She loves anything pink, and is currently obsessed with babies and dolls. She has become a real girly girl, something I must admit I am quite pleased about!!!! Phoebe will often appear in outfits of her own making, such as gumboots, a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, a nappy, a few random necklaces and a scarf. Or she will stroll through the kitchen with her doll in the pram, saying "Mum, I'm going to the shops. I'll see you later, ok?" She is forever making cups of tea and coffee in her toy kitchen, and isn't satisfied until you pretend to drink all 32 cups she has prepared. Her special dolly is the beloved Lucy, who regularly has a bath in the washing machine but still always looks very loved! Lucy goes everywhere, and I don't know what we'd do if she ever went missing,

The other love of Phoebe's life is Maisie. Everybody asked us about the issue of jealousy when Maisie Mouse was born, but it has literally never been a problem. Both Jack and Phoebe have adored their baby sister since the day she was born, and Phoebe in particular just dotes on her. Every new doll she gets is named 'Baby Mais' (until today when she received a Baby Alive from my mum and dad - her name is Baby Ben!!). She plays for hours with her dollies (mostly all named Baby Mais), loves drawing, the Wiggles, and pretty much anything that Mummy is doing. She has peanut butter on her sandwich every single day, eats the pineapple off the top of the pizza and leaves the rest, insists on sitting in the middle of the car on every outbound trip, is content with the world after a ride on the "toot toot chugga chugga" at the shops, and insists on holding my hand throughout the day, usually when we're just walking through the house. She always has to be the one to push Maisie's pram, is excellent at getting tissues for you if you sneeze and have "boogers". is obsessed with "blut" (blood) and regularly role-plays with her dolls about the perils of jumping on the bed and breaking your nose (and she is speaking from experience!!!)

Today, Phoebe had a party with her friends at a play centre, and then came home to have pizza for dinner with her family. I was so proud watching her today, interacting with her friends, thanking grown-ups for their presents, expressing surprise and gratitude when she opened them. I am so grateful that she chose me to be her mummy, as she is such an affectionate and funny little thing, she reminds me every day that love is all you need. I love the fact that she's still little enough to climb on my lap and want cuddles. She's at that age when they can seem so grown-up one minute, and the next you look and see the tiny baby that was in the perspex cot in the hospital. Sometimes I squeeze my eyes shut to try and remember my beautiful dark-haired baby of three years ago, and then a tall, blonde, giggling bundle will wrap her arms around my legs and say, "Mummy, I need a cuddle!" We have had three years of joy with Phoebalina Ballerina, and I am so proud to say she is my daughter. Happy birthday, my darling girl. I cannot wait to see what you will show us next.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Excess baggage

Maisie and I went shopping today, as it is Phoebe's birthday on Friday and there were lots of little details that I needed to take care of while she was at daycare. It was quite nice strolling through the shopping centre with only one smiley little person in the pram, and I got a lot more done in two hours than I normally would with the tribe in tow! The shops were so quiet that we spent quite a lot of time chatting to the sales assistants in several shops. Maisie also tends to attract attention with her big blue eyes and blonde fuzziness (and her tendency to smile at unsuspecting strangers in a beguiling every person who says "well, aren't you beautiful?" she grins gummily at them as if to reply, "oh, I know"!!) The passing observations of a couple of ladies serving me in two different shops got me thinking  about comments that I have inspired from others during pregnancy, after childbirth and in-between. Rather than becoming despondent about disparaging remarks, or getting big-headed over compliments, I decided to collate them for your amusement. Trust me, everything you read here is true.

While pregnant with Jack: "Are you having twins? No? Gee, you're big, aren't you?"
While pregnant with Phoebe: "You've got a lovely little bump this time, don't you? Not like with Jack - you were huge then!"
When Phoebe was ten days old: "When's the baby due?"
While pregnant with Maisie: "Gosh you look well. Not like with the other two - you looked really tired and puffy then"
After giving birth to Maisie: "Gee you've lost weight! I mean, you got really big in the face at the end of your pregnancy, didn't you?"
From a salesperson today: "Gosh, you look good for having three kids! You must be tired though...aren't you?"
From another salesperson today: "No, I don't think that shirt would suit you - it tends to emphasise the tummy. You would be better with something that distracts from the tummy area and camouflages. Try this one, it's very slimming"
From a little old lady in the supermarket: "You have three kids? You don't look a day older than 16! *squints eyes, peers closer, and shakes head*
From a shoe saleslady: "Yes, ballet flats are great for running after the kids, aren't they? And you don't have to be glamorous to wear them either"
From a clothes shop assistant after Phoebe was born: "Did you used to be slim like your mother, or have you always been big?"
From the hairdresser: "Um, I'd probably go for a colour that doesn't need regular don't get here very often, do you?"

It doesn't take a genius to work out that a lot of mothers are time-poor, usually with roots showing, ragged cuticles, unshaved or unwaxed legs, crows-feet crying out for moisturiser, bags under the eyes that would pass for excess baggage and a bit of excess skin that was not there before childbirth. I'm the first to acknowledge that my personal maintenance is somewhat lacking, and that my glamour-rating would have to be below zero. And yes, there is more skin (and fat, and stretch marks!) than I would like around my middle, but it is slowly shrinking. I am confident that my body will one day resemble it's pre-baby shape (with significant help from under-garment support, the right lighting and blurred vision), however, I'm really not all that fussed right now. What I need is to be healthy and strong enough to keep pace with my kids (and to wear pants that I can tuck my tummy into...) I don't need judgemental strangers telling me how unglamorous and chubby I am - I can do that by myself, thank you very much!!

Anyhow, after a very interesting day at the shops, Maisie and I managed to buy enough fairy paraphernalia to sink a birthday ship, a heart-shaped cookie cutter for the fairy toadstool cake I must create tomorrow, and a couple of lovely tops that, ahem, distract from my midriff. So if you see me wearing them, beware: any comments you say may possibly end up featuring in a future blog.....

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dreaming of a quiet place

"Mummy, what time is it?"
"6:30, sweetheart"
"Can we go out to the loungeroom to play?"
"Yes, as long as you play nicely"
"Mummy, Phoebe broke Grandma's statue again"
"Well, Jack, you broke it first. Stay away from Grandma's statue please."
"Mummy, I'm hungry"
"Well, Phoebe, finishing your breakfast would help"
"Mummy, can you make me a ramp for my skateboarders?"
"When you are dressed for kinder, mate"
"Mummy, Jack pushed me!"
"Say sorry, Jack"
"Mummy, Phoebe pushed me!"
"Say sorry, Phoebe"
"Mummy, I want sumpin else"
"There's still breakfast in that bowl, Phoebe"
"Mummy, I'm still hungry"
"For crying out loud, Phoebe, finish your corn flakes!!!!"
"Mummy, what are we doing today?"
"Going to kinder if you ever get dressed."
"Mummy, can I wear my red gumboots?"
"Yes, Phoebe. They will go well with your pink beanie, patterned jumper, and corn flake moustache"
"Mummy, where are you going?"
"To have a shower (and throw a hair dryer in the bath...)"
"Mummy, Maisie is crying. Give her a booby"
"Thank you my love, I wasn't aware of what that sad noise was. I'll feed her when you stop running past"
"Mummy, look at me!!!!"
"Jack, please stop running around the lounge room, Maisie won't feed if she's watching you"
"Mummy, look at me!!!!"
"Jack, please. You're not being my helper"
"Mummy, look at me!!!!!!!!!!"
"Go to your room, Jack"
"Go to your room, Jack, before I make you"
*makes challenging face* "No."
"OK, let's go" *drags self out of chair with baby attached to breast, heaves four-year-old to the bedroom*
"Yes, Phoebe?"
"I'm hungry."
"Phoebe, let's get dressed, ok?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Do you want to go to the naughty space?"
"No, thank you"
"Well, then, let's get dressed!"
"Mum, can I sit in the middle when we're in the car?"
"You can sit on the roof racks if you just get in the car...ahem, I mean, of course, sweetheart"
"Mummy, what's that noise?"
"The Beastie Boys, honey"
"Because Mummy needs something to find a happy place"
"Because it's too early in the morning for Mummy to start drinking."
"Mummy, what time is it?"
"It's 8:30, darling. 8:30 in the morning"
"Yes, Phoebe?"
"I'm hungry"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meeting Marla

Thank goodness for high school girlfriends. I was very, very grateful today to spend some time with some of my oldest friends (not that they are old women, but rather I have been fortunate enough to know them for a long time!!) and meet the newest member of our group, the beautiful 10 day old baby Marla. As you could probably imagine, my children were a little rough around the edges this morning after their epic night out last night. I managed to get them out the door this morning without any major meltdowns and had a pretty good run into the city while Jack maintained a running stream of chatter from the back seat. Seriously, the boy did not draw breath!

The kids were happy to sit up and have their lunch while Maisie and Emily played quietly, and my friends and I took turns cuddling the teeny tiny bundle of newborn deliciousness. I was pretty happy at this point, as the girls and I were managing to catch up on the news and enjoy each others' company. However, an interesting situation was unfolding under the blanket that Jack was playing under...every now and then, a whiff of something less-than-pleasant came from under the blanket, accompanied by a little giggle. As is the case when there's more than one baby or toddler in the room, we checked everyone's pants to see where it was coming from (the kids, not the grown-ups!!) The culprit was Jack, and when I told him in no uncertain terms to go to the toilet, he refused. In the end, I barricaded us both in the bathroom and wouldn't let him leave until he'd, ahem, dealt with the situation. After a minor tantrum (you're not my best friend anymore Mummy!)he acquiesced, thankfully. However, upon returning to the group, it was then Phoebe's turn to colour the air brown (and may I add, no one else's kids joined in!!) Maisie was content simply farting on my lap (if you can't beat them...)

As if that weren't enough, Phoebe spent all day (and I mean ALL day) asking for food. She sounded like some poor little waif that never got fed. At one point she had asked for a second biscuit (after a sandwich and fruit salad), and I told her that if she asked again I'd just say no, as opposed to waiting a minute. She looked at me and said, "Mum, can I please have another biscuit? I love you very much." I still said no!!! Heartless cow. Seriously, the girl had hollow legs today, it was embarrassing!! I'd bet you any money she doesn't eat a thing tomorrow.

Anyway, Maisie Mouse had a lovely time being cuddled by Aunty Fleur, Aunty Deb, rolling around on the floor and laughing at her brother and sister. I know Jack and Phoebe had an absolute ball, regardless of hunger pangs or issues of gaseousness. And I was exceptionally grateful to be in the company of some beautiful ladies who have known me since I was about 14, who know that my cross voice is pure bluff, who possess the sense of humour necessary to deal with a four year old's misbehaving colon, and who I hope understand how much I enjoyed being with them today. Seeing Mama Nat with her new little girl was sheer magic (and I fervently hope that I haven't dissuaded her from having more than one child...). And I must say, my three little angels slept all the way home and woke refreshed and ready for action at the other end of the trip. And me? Well, let's just say I'm ready for bed!!!!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Social butterfly

Once upon a time I had a very robust social life. During a typical week I would be out of the house on three evenings, and would consider it very poor form to stay in on a Saturday night. Since Team O'Toole arrived, my social life has taken more than a severe battering...I think it would be fair to say that since having children, my social life has been left gasping for breath on the floor of the morgue. Although I still adore my friends (and crave their company), the one-two combination of breastfeeding and early-morning wake-ups have spelt the death-knell for any shenanigans out on the town. And so, this weekend came at me like a bolt out of the blue - and my goodness, it was great fun!

On Saturday morning, Mum and I took the kids to the photographers to get some professional portraits taken. We spent several hours coaxing the kids into various positions - sitting, standing, jumping, cuddling (and may I say, there is nothing like the promise of a visit to Toys R Us to get a bit of cooperation...) It was totally worth the effort, as the photos looked absolutely gorgeous. I think the kids had fun being supermodels for a morning, and Mum and I had two cappucinos apiece! Nice.

After such a busy morning, you'd think we'd just flake out for a while...but no. Christian and I had an end-of-term dinner to go to, so we packed Maisie back up again and took off for a hootananny with all the staff from our school. Since I have been on maternity leave this year I haven't seen most of my colleagues for a fair while. It was great to have a chat and a glass of wine, catch up on the news (and gossip!) and just generally get away from the remote for one evening. Maisie Mouse had a ball being passed from one adoring adult to another, until her eyelids began to droop and the yawning started. When the karaoke machine was cranked up, we decided to call it a night. Unlike the days of old, we arrived home well before midnight. But also unlike the days of old, we were up at the crack of dawn to three people who were ready to party!!

Although Christian and I were a bit creaky this morning, we still had swimming to go to, so we all went off to the pool for a bit of a splash and a giggle. A quick lunch after the swim, a sprint around the supermarket, two loads of washing and a baked cake later, and we were back in the car heading off to dinner with a group pf gorgeous friends. Do you remember when you were a child, some evenings that stand out in your memory that were simply magic? Tonight was one of those nights. We sat outside around the pizza oven, cooking delicious homemade pizzas, chatting and laughing and carrying on. The ten kids ran completely wild, and I know my two big kids had more fun than they could ever have imagined because I didn't lay eyes on them for the entire evening! There was not one squabble, not one injury, no whinging whatsoever...just a tribe of kids having the times of their lives. The babies were either being constantly breastfed or cuddled and cooed at. I think Maisie might have fallen a little bit in love with Uncle Adam, as she was perfectly happy in his arms, even to the point where she saw Mummy and didn't start to grizzle! It was a fantastic night, and I am so grateful to Anna and Adam for having us there tonight. There is nothing like a great evening with friends to make you feel relaxed and happy and recharged. I only hope I still feel like that in the morning when I'm getting three kids out the door to go to Melbourne!!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Team O'Toole behaving themselves

I was so proud of our kids today. I was so convinced that today would be a complete debacle, that when it turned out to be the opposite I was delighted! There was a very special assembly on at the school where Christian and I teach, and I really wanted to be there. Of course, it was on during Period 1 which meant I had to have all three kids out the door by 7.30am (taking into account a stop for a drive-through coffee!) Incredibly, we were all fed, dressed and in the car on time, a feat I am sure was only possible because Maisie woke up at 5am for a feed. It was absolutely pouring with rain too, so I took my time driving very carefully. I had to pull over at one point, as Maisie did such an explosive sneeze that it required a three-tissue mop-up. Jack thought I was very funny, stopping the car on the side of the road, putting on the hazard lights, and climbing over the seats into the back just to wipe Maisie's face - I was not getting out of that car, I can tell you now! When she did it for a second time ten minutes down the road, I'm afraid I let the mess run down her chin - there wasn't anywhere to pull over!

It was still raining when we arrived at school but light enough to scramble inside. It was lovely to see some of my students (and a few also gave the distinct impression that I could stay on maternity leave for as long as I liked...the longer the better!), and we all sat in the Activities Room for the assembly. Whether it was my threats about behaving properly or just a lucky day, I'm not sure, but our three kids were impeccable. Maisie was alternately cuddled by the lovely Aunty Bec or Mummy, or lay kicking on the floor with her beloved piece of track; Jack had a Hot Wheels car and a box of sultanas to keep him happy; and Phoebe had her dolly (Miss Polly), a box of tarnies and the perpetual game of "Where's My Daddy?". (Halfway through, Phoebe told me with a little smirk that she'd done a look of alarm must have been hilarious because she dissolved into laughter and admitted that she hadn't...little turkey). After sitting all the way through the assembly and (finally) seeing Daddy, they also went for morning tea with the Principal. Despite my anxiety, no one was shy or rude, no one spilled their drink, and no one made impolite smells. It was a miracle!!!

I was so relieved to have escaped unscathed that I took them to a local play centre as a reward (after all the angst it was still only 10am!). Maisie ate her apple, had a little feed and fell asleep in her pram amongst the hysteria that is a weekday play centre. Jack and Phoebe stopped briefly for lunch but were having far too much fun together to think about food. They're very cute at those big places, they stay very close together and I often see them fly past holding hands. There was only one moment when I couldn't see Phoebe, and when Jack and I found her she was sitting in the Daytona arcade game, driving like a pro! "Look Mummy, I driving fast!!" They ran and ran and ran their little hearts out, and when the legs began to slow, I packed them all up into the car and came home. When we arrived back at the house just after 1pm, I felt as though it should have been dinner time. We had a really cruisy afternoon watching a DVD (or a TVTV as Phoebs calls them), and I bathed them at 3 o'clock. I think I was dreaming though, if I expected an early night for the terrible two - obviously they were pretty hyped after their big day, because even though they were in their jarmies and fed before 5.30, we had an awful time getting them to bed tonight! Maisie is currently practising her rolling over on the floor, but I can hear her getting tired. Cross your fingers she feeds and settles well tonight, or it will be my sixth night in a row to be up for a night feed. (Actually, I've been taking the lazy way out - I take her into bed and doze...not the most restful night but it's warm!)

I really enjoyed today, and I should give my kids kudos for being brilliant. However, I am ever so slightly concerned that I may have used up all of my allocated "good behaviour" cards for the week - tomorrow we are off to the photographers to have some portraits taken. When you consider the mix of three small children, bright lights, music and a flashing camera, so many things could go wrong...wish me luck!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Visiting Argie

My beautiful grandmother always welcomes the kids and I for a visit with open arms. I try and get down to her once a week, although with all of our coughs and colds lately I haven't liked to go there laden with germs! We have always called her 'Narnie', and when Jack arrived I wanted my mum to be a Narnie too, so there was great debate over what my Narnie should be re-named! We went with Great Narnie, which morphed into Narnie G, until Jack settled the debate by mangling this into Argie. I think she loves her new name, especially as Jack came up with it. Anyway, today was a lovely day for visiting Argie, and the kids were excited. I love the fact that not only do I get to indulge in some adult conversation when we visit her, but the kids have developed a very close relationship with their great-grandmother - a luxury not many kids have.

We have been visiting Argie since Jack was a newborn, so the kids are all very familiar with her house and where the toys are located! We always go down and have lunch together, which Jack and Phoebe love because they get to sit at the 'grown-ups' table. Typically, Argie and I attempt to have a conversation while the wild things run rampant. Argie's toy box holds all the wooden blocks, cars and books that my siblings and cousins all played with, and now they are being loved by my children too. Argie has always been one of my best friends, and she is incredibly easy to talk to. No matter what my children have thrown at me (literally and figuratively!), she always has good advice and an ear ready to listen. Not only that, but usually she can relate with a story about her own four children! Every single time I visit Argie, she tells at least one story about a time when her children were little (and most of them I have heard a few times over...). Argie had four children under the age of five (including twins), which in anyone's language is hard work. Given that she raised her family in a time before washing machines, tumble dryers or disposable nappies, I could never compare my workload to hers!!

Today we sat and chatted while she knitted Phoebe a cardigan, and the kids played on the floor around us. I was listening to her tell a story about my mum, and it occurred to me that regardless of how hard it had been, or how little sleep she got, the years when her kids were little were the best of her life. It never matters what the story is about, but talking about her babies brings happiness to her face (never mind that her babies are all grown up and have grandchildren themselves!). The love that she has poured into her family is so evident, simply by watching her speak about her children and remember details from 50 years ago. And as a result of this love, Argie has four children, three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren who would walk over hot coals for her. What an amazing legacy for a mother's hard work, to have a large and loving family who love each other, seek each other's company, take pleasure in other's successes, and comfort each other when there's sadness. She has always been an inspiring woman to me, but today a new reason for inspiration occurred to me. I know that if she were given the chance, Argie would jump at being able to live my life with young children, even for just one day. Even this week, when Maisie has slept in my arms for three nights in a row (screaming if I even think about putting her down), and I have driven all over the countryside taking small people to appointments and kinder and the supermarket, and the rain has stopped any washing from drying, and my husband has been at work every hour God sends, I know Argie would love to be back in the thick of it. And I also know that one day, when my children are grown, when the house is quiet, when I'm not needed every minute of every hour, I will wish for all of this lovely chaos again. And so my lovely grandmother has inspired me to pour all of my love and energy into my children, and cherish every second of the noise and inability to stop moving (and jumping and hopping and skipping). Hopefully, if I am very lucky, one day I too will have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will visit me and bring the chaos I crave, when the house is quiet except for my memories.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Traipsing with Maisie

Wasn't it a glorious day today? Even though it was still quite cool, there was a hint of warmth in the breeze that made me want to crack open the summer wardrobe! Perhaps I'd better think about doing a bit of D.I.Y on the legs before the hemlines get raised...

Phoebalina went off to daycare with Daddy early, so Jack, Maisie and I had a little snuggle in bed before the kinder rush began. Maisie had a check-up with the doctor this morning, so after we dropped Jack off at kinder, we had a leisurely stroll through the supermarket, saw the doctor (Maisie almost certainly has asthma...that's another blog!!) and it was still only 10am. How lovely was this? We strolled through a couple of baby shops looking at clothes we didn't need, had a chat with the local hairdresser, smiled at the greengrocer, grabbed a decaf soy latte, and basically acted as though we were ladies of leisure with not a care in the world! (To look at us, you'd never guess at the horrific scenes of domestic destruction we had left behind us this morning!)

Around 11am, Maisie decided she was ready for her midday refreshments, so we tootled off home. While she slept, I ran around like a madwoman folding washing and putting it away (there was absolutely no dignity involved, I assure you!). By the time Maisie woke up to a clean house (magic, isn't it?? Everyone goes off for their day at work or school or kinder, and comes back to a clean house and a full fridge...those housework fairies are amazing!!) it was time to head out again. After a quick visit to the lovely Holly, my naturopath extraordinaire, we dashed back over to pick up Jack and got him to the hairdresser just in time for his appointment. It was well and truly worth the mad dash in the traffic to get him there, as Whitney our hair stylist snipped her way around Jack's bushy head until he looked absolutely gorgeous.  With only two children in tow, I felt positively calm about the whole dinner-bath-bed scenario tonight (but don't mention tomorrow night - I'll be a work widow then!). We came home, whacked some dinner in the oven, watched a bit of 'Horses and Vomit' (that's Wallace and Gromit in Jack-speak) and were in our pyjamas before Daddy and Phoebe arrived home.

Isn't it funny how a day in which nothing really happened got so crazily busy, and yet felt like a relaxing day anyway? I had three appointments today which I potentially could have been very late for, and yet I wasn't...I had a shedload of washing that potentially could have been left draped all over the house, and yet it wasn't...I dragged a baby from pillar to post who potentially could have been very tired and grumpy, and yet she wasn't...ask me what I remember about today, and it would be traipsing around the shops, coffee in hand, baby in pram, sun shining. It doesn't get any better than that!!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Passing judgement

It's really easy, as a mum, to judge yourself on every aspect of motherhood. I know that I began watching other mums when I was pregnant in an attempt to gauge if I was doing the rights things - was I gaining too much weight, was I taking the right vitamins, would my baby be adversely affected by over-consumption of 80's music? When Jack arrived, I continued to measure Jack's and my progress by others - was Jack gaining enough weight, was I losing enough weight, were his developmental milestones being affected by watching too many 80's movies with Mummy? The judgements continued with every aspect of babyhood and childhood: did I introduce solids too early? Should I have encouraged him to roll over / crawl / walk earlier than he did? Did I stimulate his early vocabulary enough? Would having a baby sister born only 17 months after him affect either of them? Have I ruined my children by going back to work and putting them in childcare part time? How much television is too much? Should a two year old be able to recognise a DVD simply by looking at the spine of the cover? This is only a tiny fraction of the questions I have asked myself over the last four and a half years (and I do realise that my neuroticism is only too evident!)

If this isn't bad enough, I know that many mothers judge other mothers in a negative way. It's one thing to look at your own behaviour and try to be the best you can be; it's a totally different ball-game to observe a snapshot of another person and make a (derogatory) decision about their parenting skills. How many times have you heard a judgement passed in a mothers' group about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding? Or heard someone discuss another mother's disciplinary action (or lack thereof!) Or seen children's physical prowess compared (oh, so little Johnny isn't sitting up yet? Are you worried?? Epponnee Rae has been sitting up since she was four months old!) I know that I time my visits to the supermarket to minimise the chance of a tanty (from the kids, not me!) because I know the raised eyebrows will be worse that the tantrum itself. People already feel free to express their opinions on my small brood (gosh, you must be a busy lady! What's the age gap? Were they all planned?) and I regularly find myself defending not only my parenting, but my decision to have my children close together! Seriously, who are these people - the reproductive police?

Although I make a conscious effort to recognise and praise good behaviour in my children (as opposed to continuously jumping on the screaming / fighting / snatching / whining / flinging during day-to-day business), I rarely stop and think that I might not be completely screwing these kids up. Today, a lovely stranger made me realise that mothers judge other mothers too, but in a positive way. We had been to the doctor for Maisie (yes, again!!), and I decided to brave Safeway as we had no milk in the house whatsoever. I had Mais in the pram, Phoebe 'helping' me push the pram, and Jack trailing along beside. Jack and Phoebs had both decided to go out in their dress-ups today, so a lot of people were commenting on Superman and Tinkerbell. A lovely lady in her 70's stopped me in the bread aisle, and said "What beautiful children. I had three in three years, you know, just like you I imagine. You're doing a marvellous job, dear." And with that, she made my whole day brighter. Admittedly, she caught my children at a point in the day when they were (relatively) clean, quiet, and occupied in a task, so they must have looked happy and well-behaved. But what a difference she made to my mental health. Not only did she make me realise that for the most part, I'm doing ok, but that she survived, and so will I!

So next time my children are losing the plot in the fruit and veges section of Safeway, I will just smile serenely at the other mothers around me. I will not panic and think wild thoughts about the judgements being made about my lack of discipline. Rather, I will wait for the tantrum to subside, look one of the other mothers dead in the eye, and think, "Ha. It'll be your kids' turn tomorrow!"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Today was Christian's fifth Father's Day. Even though we don't go in for commercialised "days" that heavily, it's still nice to celebrate days like this together. It reminds us of what's important, and also reminds us to tell the special people in our life that they are indeed special. We usually see my Dad and Christian's Dad for a coffee or a little catch-up, but the dominant part of Father's Day for us simply means letting the kids hang out with their Daddy. All three kids wait desperately for the weekends, as that is when Daddy is home and ready to play. On Father's Day, when they have the chance to give Daddy presents and go out for meals in cafes, it's like a weekend on 'roids!

Our first Father's Day as a little family was when Jack was only five months old, so we have a few photos of baby Jack (complete with jowls) giving Daddy big cuddles. Our second Father's Day fell a few days before Phoebe made her big debut, so we went on a little picnic out near Emerald. The photos from that day capture 17 month old Jack toddling around a picnic ground, with a very pregnant Mummy in the background!! On Christian's third Father's Day, we had a pretty quiet day with Grandpa and Pa, as we were preparing for Phoebe's first birthday party. Last year, I had a cute little five month pregnant belly that was still comfortable to cart around, so we actually went out for dinner. And this year, Christian's first as a father of three, we have had a very busy, very fun day.

This morning the kids gave Christian an assortment of handmade and Southland-purchased gifts (including a card with Jack's first attempts at handwriting on it - bless!!) at an absurdly early hour (but still normal for a Sunday!) We went to our swimming lessons as usual (although Maisie was under doctor's instructions not to swim, and she was not impressed) and Phoebe had a ball splashing around in Daddy's arms. After swimming, we had lunch in a cafe, went shopping for a bike for Phoebe's birthday, and visited my Dad. At this very moment, Phoebe is curled up in her Daddy's lap, watching  his new Tour de France DVD. Very soon, we will be taking three rather tired kids out for dinner with Christian's Dad.

When you think about it, both Father's Day and Mother's Day function fairly similarly to any normal day when you have small children. You still need to get up with them, regardless of the hour, to dispense Weetbix and break up squabbles. You still need to clean dirty bottoms, feed hungry children, and settle tired babies. You still need to pretend to eat pretend porridge (or coffee, or cakes, or whatever Phoebe's kitchen is cooking up), answer endless questions, and wash ridiculous amounts of dirty clothes. You also get to enjoy the spontaneous cuddles, listen to the made-up songs, receive Weetbixy kisses, hold warm sleeping babies, and enjoy the company of your children, for whom every day is Father's Day. Because all they know about Father's Day, is that it's day you tell Daddy you love him. They may not comprehend the hours that Daddy works just to pay the mortgage, but they do remember the hours that he spends playing with them, wrestling with them, reading stories with them, riding bikes with them. So thank you, both to my own Dad and my children's Dad, for the love, kindness, laughter, discipline, sharing, listening and time. Happy Father's Day, we love you.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sumpin' else

As I have mentioned before, both my husband and I are teachers. I feel a bit sorry for our kids, as my "teacher voice" tends to come out quite often at home (and come to think of it, I have used it on teenagers on public transport more than once...). I know my students think I'm a bit tough on them, and I am, it's only because I've learned that high standards beget high standards! I suppose when you're dealing with other people's children all day, you learn pretty quickly how to manage rowdy groups...perhaps you could say I specialise in persuasive tactics and crowd control! Anyway, whereas at school I use rewards for students who finish all of their work, at home I use rewards for children who finish all of their dinner. Jack has always been a good eater, especially considering the limited diet he has to follow because of his allergies. We have had to be strict with him by necessity, and he is pretty good about understanding what he can and can't eat. Usually he finishes his lunch or dinner without a problem, and then receives "something else" like a soy yoghurt, some fruit or a biscuit. I don't know if it's because he's the eldest, but Jack has rarely demanded "something else" without finishing his veges.

Phoebe, on the other hand, has evolved "sumpin else" into an art form. The lure of the treat that follows the meal has always been Phoebs' main goal, as she definitely has a sweet tooth and would happily exist on cake alone. Phoebe regularly sits in front of her plate for up to an hour, singing, rearranging her food, pretty much anything except eating her meal. She's usually very sweet about it, and will let you feed her like a baby bird if you are so inclined. However, as I usually have Maisie on one hip and a basket of wet washing on the other, typically I let her shovel her dinner into her own mouth. Lately, Phoebe has become so fixated on the 'sumpin else' component of the meal that she asks for it before the first plate is on the table. For example, if I am cooking pasta, Phoebs will ask if she can have "sumpin else when I finish my noodles, Mummy?" I always reply "Let's just eat your dinner first, darling", to which she will swiftly chirp, "And then I can have sumpin else!"

Yesterday, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous. I was having "one of those days", in which you could practically hear the Benny Hill music in the background. Phoebe and Maisie were so patient sitting in the back seat of the car while I ran hither and yon, that I got the guilts. While I went through my favourite drive-thru coffee joint (for the obligatory decaf soy latte!!), I bought Phoebe a gingerbread man (she calls it a ninja man). Now, as far as treats go, this was up there in the realm of awesome. We typically don't have gingerbread men, simply because Jack can't eat them unless I make them (and when you're in a car, on the run...that's not going to happen!) So I thought the sheer awesomeness of this snack would keep Phoebe happy for a little while. With a huge smile, she ate his buttons (and told me all about it), bit his head off (and told me all about it), and then with a mouthful of gingerbread said, "Mummy, can I have sumpin else?" Are you serious? How can you want something else when you are in the process of eating something so yummy??

I'm not quite sure how far this trend will go but I think we need to nip it in the bud. When we went out for dinner with my mum tonight, we walked into the restaurant and Jack piped up, "Mum, after our dinner can we have gelati please?" We hadn't even sat down, let alone ordered! Talk about jumping the gun! I wonder what would happen if I turned 'sumpin else' into more veges? Or perhaps a glass of soy milk?? Possibly the only thing that might happen is it would make me the worst mother in the world...hmmm. Now there's a social experiment I could enjoy. What do you think?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The umbilical link

Jack started at a new pre-school this week. We had kept him at his old kinder after we moved even though it was a long drive, as all his friends were there and he loved it. However, as the year has gone on the commute has become harder and harder on the little man. Initially, we reduced his days from three to two, but it still wasn't enough to alleviate the exhaustion from leaving home at 6.30 in the morning and returning with Daddy after work. We also realised that he would know absolutely no-one when he started school next year, which wouldn't be very fair on him. So we decided to find Jack a new kinder, close to the school he will attend in 2011 and a much shorter drive from home. And it would seem because of this move, half-way through Term Three, the emotional impact upon Jack's mummy has been considerable!

When Jack started four year old kinder at the beginning of the year, I had a three week old baby. To be honest, there was so much going on at that time (Phoebe had broken her nose; Christian had only just had heart surgery, and I was recovering from a near-fatal brush with septicaemia) that Jack's start at kinder was a very positive blip on the radar. I didn't really suffer from separation anxiety at the time, as he was so happy going off every day and I had so many other things to think about! (Bad mummy, bad mummy!!) I also haven't really thought much about the impending Prep year either, considering since February we have been enduring the aftermath of the home invasion, and the whole moving-house-building-house-renting-house debacle. So I suppose it came as a bit of a surprise this week that I became quite emotional about my baby boy all of a sudden becoming quite grown-up. (Me, emotional??? Who would have thunk it?) I took Jack into the pre-school room the other morning, and after perhaps 30 seconds of being a bit clingy, he launched into a game all by himself and told me I was ok to go. I looked at my boy, so independent, so confident, and all I could see was the tiny little baby they brought to me in hospital four years ago.

When I was pregnant with Jack, the realisation hit me that my body was taking tiny bits of itself to fashion another human body. That essentially, Jack's body was my body, and no one could tell when the division into two separate people occurred. I think most mothers would feel that you never feel completely separated from your children - certainly I still remember what each one of them felt like in my belly, how their distinct personalities shone through with their kicks and rolls. When they are sad, I feel it in my gut; when they are happy, my heart leaps with joy. When they are frightened, I want to take the source of fear away; when they are angry, I want to fight for them. This week, I have come to the abrupt realisation that Jack is about to take a tiny step away from me; fight his own battles, face his own fears, achieve his own triumphant successes. And of course, I will celebrate every moment with him, for it signifies the fact that he is growing into a happy, healthy, strong young man. In the meantime, I will cherish every second of little-boy sweetness...when he runs and grabs my legs for an impromptu cuddle...when he shares a little joke that makes no sense at all...when he crawls on top of Maisie and nearly squashes her in a hug / wrestle...when he wants to wear nothing but his Superman costume that makes his bottom look so little.

He will absolutely love school, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. When we get to the school gates in February next year, I know he will stride in with pride, excitement and confidence. And I will have a little cry (because I am a sook), and wait to pick him up at the end of the day, ready to hear all his stories. But a little part of me will go with him, always. And I will carry a piece of Jack in my heart.