Keeping it cool

Toddlers. They’ve been compared to lots of things: drunken friends, old people, pets and plenty more. They have little to know control of their impulses, are generally clumsy, have a great deal of problem concentrating and don’t always hear/listen to you when you give them simple requests. It can make life frustrating. I thought I’d share some of the things I do to try and keep my cool with The Lad through the days I’m in charge of him. At least I can share some stories with the rest of you that might show you that we all have our moments.

First off:

I have yelled at my son. My reasons are many and varied: he’s about to touch the hot oven, he’s about to eat something he really shouldn’t be putting in his mouth, his rough and tumble play has hit me in me bits or he’s bout to throw a shoe in the general direction of his sister (he actually did this the other day). Sometimes it’s just out of exasperation. Having finally cleaned down the high chair, or having finally settled/changed the baby I find The Lad trying to build sand castles out of cat litter in the bathroom. So, I yell. I don’t do it often, I don’t do it too loudly and I never mean to, but I do. Feels good to get that off my chest.

Second off:

I am many many miles from perfect. I often ignore my own advice. It’s also worth noting that whatever The Lad’s gotten his hands on or gotten himself into it takes a special kind of adult to leave it out for him to pick up and/or throw around. That special adult is usually me…. I wish I was more organised and less absent-minded sometimes, but I am not. My sleep is usually interrupted, this might have something to do with it….

So, when it all goes down how does The Dadinator cope? Sometimes he doesn’t, but he tries his best. Sometimes he starts to talk about himself in the third person. And then he stops. Here are some of what I do and why I do it:

1.) The problem is the behaviour not the child

This comes from some of the stuff I learned while doing teaching. Saying “You’re bad” or “You’re naughty” is useless, instead focus on the behaviour not the child, and tell them what you want them to do. In a situation with a toddler they won’t necessarily understand you, but that’s not their fault. The behaviour is probably not their fault, they don’t know their head from their bums most of the time.

Sure I get sick of saying “Food is for eating, not throwing”. I get sick of saying “We don’t throw shoes”. I get sick of saying “Give me that now thank you!”. But I do it. I try to be persistent and persevere, and we get there. Well I think we do.

2.) Keep your cool

I confessed that I have yelled at The Lad over the years. It never feels good, and it never achieves anything much. In fact, when you yell at a kid, you just stress them out. Interesting when you go into a ‘stress response’ in your brain, the hippocampus (short term memory centre) shuts down. That stops the kid remembering much of what happens, and it certainly stops them from learning anything out of the situation. It’s best avoided. Although we all slip up. Kid’s also learn from the example you set more than from the words you say, so keep that in mind.

3.) Don’t talk at a child that isn’t even looking at you.

I’ve caught myself doing this. I realised that if I say “Put that down” and The Lad isn’t even looking at me. Funnily enough he doesn’t do what I ask. Take a second to get the kids attention before you tell them to do something. It saves you time and effort, plus it also ensures your message actually gets through.

4.) Get the child to help fix the situation

The Mamanator is much better at this than me… If a child throws something on the ground, get them to pick it up. If they spill water, get them to help mop it up. I sometimes just want to shortcut this process and do it myself. Even at my level of domestic ineptitude I can clean up a spilled puddle of water, or gather up sultanas faster than The Lad can at the tender age of 2. I am working on it though, and The Lad frequently impresses me with his ability to help. Sure things take a little longer, but It’s worth the wait.

5.) Don’t hold a grudge

Kids will make mistakes, test boundaries and form annoying habits. It’s their nature. It isn’t personal, don’t take it as such. Do your utmost to move on. I guarantee the little one will do so very very fast.

6.) Catch your breath

We’re trying to encourage The Lad to breath deeply when he’s worked up. We do this by holding him close and taking deep breaths, he picks up the rhythm and joins in. Sometimes I need to take some deep breaths myself before going in to talk to him about how his food doesn’t go on the floor. It is one of the most basic ways of lowering your heart rate and calming yourself down. So take the chance to do so, it does make a difference.

So, I hope there’s some help in there, as I mentioned I don’t always follow my own advice, but I do my best. I’m sure you all do to.

A birthday poem.

The Mamanator is 30 today. So I wrote her a sonnet. Its not very good, but here it is.

Today The Mamanator turns thirty
She finds herself with two kids and a bloke,
The kids keep finding ways to get dirty
While his handymanning skills are a joke

She puts up with me and my many quirks
She cares for me and makes me laugh and smile
She’s seen me at my best and at my worst
And yet manages to love me all the while

Your belly grew a little girl and boy.
You gave them life and gave me fatherhood,
Bringing us both great struggles and great joy
And making sure we sleep less than we should.

So happy birthday to my friend and wife.
Mother, lover and partner in my life.

Getting to know you….

Dear Lass,

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Smiles make up for almost everything they put you through….

We’ve known each other for 7 weeks now. I’m not sure what you know me as… Am I the bearded loud one? The fat one? The hairy one? The one I get given to when mum’s had it up to here? The one that doesn’t have milk so what’s the point of him? I suppose that for the purposes of this address I will refer to myself simply as “dad”, it’s what your brother calls me and I’ve gotten quite attached to the term.

You know, I’ve known you for longer than my shortest relationship. Back in uni I went out with a girl for all of a week once, then she called it off. You can’t call it off, you poor thing. Mostly because you can’t talk, making calling anything off difficult, but also because a father-daughter relationship is not really ‘call-off-able’. You’re stuck with me.

First of all I want to say sorry. I’m sorry if I try games/funny faces/noises/particular holds etc…. with you that worked on your brother and you hate them. I honestly can’t help it. Don’t feel too short changed though, for each thing I did that your brother actually enjoyed, there were plenty that he hated too. I once managed to scare him so much with a variation of “peekaboo” that I made him cry. The worst part of that story is that all I could do was burst out laughing.

I’m going to make mistakes, and that some of them will not be enjoyable. I have managed, so far, to avoid connecting your head with door frames, this is an improvement on my first bash at parenting – pun intended. I will also sometimes not know what you want. I will give you to your mum to feed when you want a nappy change, I will try to change your nappy when you want to go to sleep and I will try to rock you to sleep when all you need is a good burp. I will try to burp you when all you want is to be up against my chest. I will try to keep these misunderstandings to a minimum, but my minimum will be greater than zero, it is unavoidable I am afraid. Please forgive me.

I am also trying my hardest to get used to you as, I am sure, you are doing exactly the same thing with me. I know you like to look at things, especially lights and colourful things. I know you like exploring “near and far”. I know you like to grip things in your tiny hands (which grip like pincers by the way). I know you like to be upright most of the time. I know you like the view of the world from up high. I know you find your brother fascinating. I know you like to be held against a chest, and you like to be kept warm.

I know you don’t like dirty nappies, you’re a bit fussy in that regard. This is taking some getting used to for me, your brother didn’t give a crap – pun intended – leaving me a bit slow on the uptake. Ironically I know you don’t like nappy changes either, maybe it because you don’t like things getting too breezy downstairs. I know you don’t like the cold, very different to me.

Of course likes and dislikes is only part of the picture. There’s much we have to learn about each other, it’s part of the adventure.
I’ll try to make it as fun as possible. I’ll try to make sure you know you are loved and you can count on your dad. I’ll also try to make sure your brother doesn’t body slam you or sit on your face… too much….

So, with all that in mind, I want to say thanks. Thanks for the chance to raise you and to get to know you. Thanks for the smiles you give me every so often. Thanks for the chance to hold you and watch you as you sleep on my arms. Thanks for the chance to love you.

Yours,
Dad.

Toddler Tedium.

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“New Mask”

“Yes, lad, that’s a new mask we put it out yesterday”

“New Mask!”

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The “New Mask” – which we received as a wedding present back in 2010

“Yes, that’s the new mask”

The meal continues. Vegetables are rejected, then eaten and then…

“New Mask!”

“Yes, Lad”.

There’s a fair bit of repetition involved in parenting. I think it’s something that often gets glossed over in descriptions of the job. This little scenario has been going on for 3 days now, and woe betide any who fails to acknowledge the “New Mask” when it is pointed out. I have no idea when it will stop being “new”. I also have no idea when he will have an understanding of what a ‘mask’ is and what it’s for….

There’s a fair bit of repetition involved in parenting. I think it’s something that often gets glossed over in descriptions of the job. The little scenario has been going on for 3 days now, and woe betide any who fails to acknowledge the “New Mask” when it is pointed out. I have no idea when it will stop being “new”. I also have no idea when he will have an understanding of what a ‘mask’ is and what it’s for….

(See what I did there hee hee hee)

People tend to harp on about change and development and how kids grow up so fast, (I did it myself) but some days, well,  you do get a strong sense that you’ve done it all before. Probably yesterday. Possibly just a couple of hours ago. That is not to say you never see new, it happens frequently, it’s just that the new stuff (such as the new mask…) becomes old pretty fast, and seems to hang around until it gets displaced by something else. Which then gets repeated ad nauseam .

I don’t know why toddlers keep on doing the same thing again and again. They press buttons on toys that make the same noise over and over again. They play games over and over again. They say the same things over and over again. It’s probably part of how they learn and how they test the world around them. Or maybe it’s some kind of re-assurance for them, providing anchors in a world that must at times seem scary.

In the example above, Toddler logic says “I see the mask, when I see the mask I say New Mask, then mum or dad says “New Mask” back, and all is well”. It’s like pressing a button that makes an annoying noise on a toy. In some way it’s entertaining.

The real downside of this is that sometimes it all becomes a game.

This is our oven. To you and me, gentle reader, it is an oven. Designed to cook food and make it delicious.

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To a Toddler it looks like this:

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A toy, replete with buttons to be pushed, knobs to be turned and things to play with. I find The Lad has an almost irresistible urge to push/turn/pull any, and I mean ANY button/knob/lever/switch he finds in visual range. It happens with light switches. It happens with the BBQ. It happens with the dishwasher. It happens with his own toys. It happens with the computer if he gets to it.

He also throws things. ALL THE TIME. If it is small enough to be thrown he seems to have an irresistible urge to test his arm out on it. The number of times I have said “….. is not for throwing” (“…..” could be: shoes, food, plates, blocks, books, rubber ducks, trains….) is quite mind boggling given that he hasn’t been able to throw for all that long.

And then there’s the bath water. Blech… He drinks it all the time. I have told him not to so many times. I have said “that’s not for drinking”, “That’s Yucky” and more recently simply “Spit it out!” (which he loves doing), and yet it keeps on going.

I suppose he’s going to keep on testing the world around him for a while yet, and his capacity to do it will only expand as he grows and his capabilities continue to expand. I just hope I have the patience to put up with it, and to take joy in all the new stuff he is learning to do. And then doing it again. And again. And again.

Have other parents experienced this out there? Love to hear I’m not the only one.

Conversations.

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So I was talking to the Lad as I changed his nappy today. What? Some of our best conversations take place on the change table. Anyway I was telling him that this is one of the few phases in his life where he is going to get this kind of service, as I wiped him clean. If he was ever going to get it again, I imagined it would likely be when he was very old, and I probably wouldn’t be there to do it for him anymore. I would most probably be dead.

Then I had to stop for a moment not only because I had to take the liner from the nappy over to the toilet to flush away, but also because the reality of the sentence I just said so flippantly hit me like a falling cartoon piano. I had temporarily stunned myself into silence.

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Mortality is a touchy subject for us mortals. I find it interesting that parents are supposed to fret over ”the conversation” (in BIG inverted commas), that one about where babies come from and sex and all that. Sitcoms tell us it’s hard, and that it’s one of the scariest moments in parenting so it must be true. Right?.

Personally I’m fine with that conversation. That’s a biological process which can be explained with metaphor or a nice allegory if needs be. Alternatively you can stick to the facts and talk about sperm and eggs and all that. It doesn’t worry me all that much, whatever floats your boat. I know how it works.

What scares the pants of me is the conversation about the other end of existence. What happens when we die? Now that’s some scary s***. Its a also something where my beliefs are not likely to be, shall we say, comforting to a toddler. It also sits uneasily with me because I don’t know what happens, and to pretend otherwise feels inauthentic while saying “some people believe blah…. Others believe bleh….” Sounds like a whussy copout that won’t sate the young ones thirst for knowledge at all.

Maybe I just think too much… It remains very likely that all my thinking will come to nought when its time to actually talk about it. Its also likely that we’ll have this conversation briefly and The Lad will simply nod and say “alright Daddy.” And move on without giving it any more thought, impervious to the existentialist crises that plague us older folk. And i’ll be left to contemplate the limits in my own existence, and the fact that my days are numbered.

The weekend

Weekends are great, right? Time away from work, a chance to hang out with family, catch up on personal administration and recharge the batteries. Once upon a time for us it was a chance to catch up with friends, go out for a meal, catch a show… Not so much these days, but they are still fun times.

But not this weekend. This weekend was crap. So, the rest of this post is going to be a whinge. Hopefully it amuses some people, and reminds that among the at time blissfully fulfilling role of parents are spells of despair and frustration.

The struggles of the weekend just gone stem from one simple fact. The Mamanator and myself have both been sick. I was moving through a fog. A persistent headache that felt like my head was a fish-bowl full of thick-shake sloshing around every time I turned or moved too fast. And I was hot or teeth-chatteringly cold all the time. The Mamanator had a sore throat the whole time and was generally run-down, overtired and over it.

On Saturday my mum was up visiting, which eased the burden somewhat. Nonetheless the day still had its struggles. I was trying to determine which medication would help me feel like a normal human being again. The Mamanator was mislead by a recipe that said “4 spoons of curry paste”, and interpreted that as table spoons not teaspoons. The result was a Tom Yum soup that could strip paint. I liked it, but it was a bit too much for a 2 year old. The Mamanator also couldn’t eat it as experience taught her spicy food seems to lead to spicy breastmilk and an unhappy Lass. So, it was a bit of a shamozle, which The Mamanator thought was a catastrophe. A quick pasta was made up for herself and The Lad, and all was well.

The Next day was harder. No mum. I was useless. The day is actually a blur as I lurched about after The Lad and tried to be somehow useful. My one domestic contribution to the day was that I hung out a load of towels on the washing line and brought in the dry nappies. Go me, husband of the year. I also did something I NEVER do, I took a nap. Fortunately The Lad took a nap with me, so I kept him out of the Mamanator’s hair for 2 hours or so. Yes, it was a long nap. I did manage to hang out some washing at some point, and even kick a ball around with my son in some semblance of being a functional father. But for much of the day, we spent too much time in front of the TV.

Then at about 4pm  The Mamanator told me she had spoken to the Maternal Child Health on-call line (essential number parents, 13 22 29 in Victoria), and got advice that we should go get The Lass looked over by a doctor. She had been unsettled all day and her cry started to sound hoarse.

Off we set to the hospital, the only chance of seeing a doctor in Castlemaine on a Sunday. Me still in my fog of head-coldiness, the Mamantor sleep deprived, The Lass crying hoarsely and The Lad wondering why we were heading out so late in the day. We got in. The Mamanator took care of forms and stuff for The Lass. I basically tried to stop The Lad walking into other patients rooms. He was restless, he ran laps of the hospital floor, smiled at every nurse he could find and sprinted up and down corridors. I think he had a great time. Once The Lass had calmed down The Mamanator and I swapped roles, giving me a chance to sit down while she took over Lad-minding duties.

We got called in after a bit of a wait. We were warned it would talk a while. The Castlemaine definition of a ‘while’ in emergency and the city definition of a ‘while’ are worlds appart for one another. We were seen after about 1/2 an hour of waiting. The girl had a throat infection and mild laryngitis (thus the hoarseness in the cry).

So we rolled on home. Dinner was…. fish and chips…. in front of the TV…. I was still in my pyjamas….. Not my finest hour as a family man. The Lad went to bed about an hour late.

Monday I was slightly better, my head had cleared, my throat was sore and I felt I could finally function as a human being. I did a half day at work, got a message that both kids were upset at home and came back as quickly as I could. So we played. The Lad napped. All was well. Something was defrosted for dinner (it was a mystery meal, no label, no idea of what it was but we figured “pasta sauce”, but it turned out to be gumbo which was again too spicy for The Lad. Pasta back-up was called in.

Monday night was hell. In our house I put The Lad to bed. I read stories, sing songs, often end up rocking him and comforting him till he nods off. This whole process takes between 1/2 an hour and an hour nights. On Monday night we went to bed at 7pm. He was awake at 8. He was awake at 9. He was awake at 10. Oh my god, it was frustrating. He was not himself, he wanted to play lively, physical games around bed time. When I tried to redirect to books or something more quiet it was an instant meltdown. I don’t know how many tantrums he through, but it would take more than both of my hands to count them. I called for reinforcements from The Mamanator at about 8:45pm. In the end we figured something was wrong and gave him some medicine to calm him down. It actually worked a treat, and he finally nodded off at about 10:07pm. I was wrecked.

So, when the parenting thing is hard what can you do? Looking back I think we did the best we could have, and we coped reasonably well. The biggest challenge is accepting your limintiins. If you are sick your capabilities are reduced. If you pretend the aren’t sick, you will almost invariably make yourself sicker. Seek help of you can (we can’t where we are, grandparents are back in Melbourne….), and grit your teeth and bear it.

After all, kids don’t take medical certificates.

Who else has had to cope with a half-functioning brain/body while wrangling kids? How did you cope?

Things I forgot.

Walk. Sway. Rock. Vertical. Horizontal. Backwards. Forward. Bounce. Jiggle. Up. Down. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk.
“What did you say?”
Rub. Rub. Rub
“No, I’ve been trying to….”
Pat. Pat. Pat.
“What?”
Shhh. Shhh. Shhh.
“I don’t know”
Kiss. Kiss. Kiss
“Well, sorray, my hands are full!”

Crying children. They wear you down. They syphon off your patience, deplete your energy, tension your nerves and break your heart all at once. You are left sensitive, short and snappy.

Some times our girl cries. There are a few reasons a baby cries. It could be wind/reflux causing pain. It could be a nappy. It could be too hot or cold. It would be some form of discomfort. But they can also cry because they are bored, because its a bad time of day or because of some kind of philosophical or existentialist crisis as they ponder the absurdity if existence. You can’t tell, and they can’t tell you.

The Lad is 2. He can often communicate when something hurts. He can tell me what he wants. He will exclaim “Kiss Better!”, “I want it, a …….” Or “CUDDLE!” to tell me what I can do to help. But two years ago he couldn’t even do that. I guess that’s one of the things I forgot. This time though, I know a bit about what’s to come, which makes it not easier, but at least I know it ends.

It takes longer now to get to either child if they start to cry, especially when The Mamanator or I am on our own. I know that isn’t anyone’s fault, just a fact of life, but I wish it wasn’t. I wish I didn’t wish that, and I could stop it bothering me.

Today she cried the whole time her mum was in the shower, but I didn’t cut The Mamanator’s shower short. That would have been monstrously unfair if I had. Today though, today she snoozed on me and I didn’t want to put her down. Today I sat her next to her brother and read Hairy Maclary books. Today she stared at me, gazing at me as though she knew me better than anyone. Who knows what she’ll do tomorrow…

My mission, and I chose to accept it

Our boy is turning 2 and we decided to have a celebration. Nothing crazy, just some friends and a BBQ. With nearly an acre for the kids to play on. An acre now relatively mowed after I accepted the emasculating reality that I cannot keep that much lawn in check with a push mower and got someone in to do it.

I was to be BBQer in chief. But that was not enough involvement for me. All dads BBQ, so what? No. I decided to do something else as well….

The Dadinator walks into the saloon. Surrounded by thugs, highwaymen and murderers. He casts his eye across the tables, squinting. He pauses for a moment and waits as the room goes silent. “I’m here to bake a cake” he yells across the smoke-filled den of thieves. The piano crashes to a stop. Every jaw drops, every mouth inhales sharply and the silence deepens. “Did he just say he’s baking a cake?” Someone whispers. The barkeep over-pours the drink on the bar. “You heard me, I’m here to bake a cake!”

Okay, the conversation actually went like this “We should bake him a birthday cake” I said, looking blankly into the distance, my mind caught up in a crazy idea. “Yeah.” Said the Mamantor. “Hey!” I exclaimed as my eyes widened in excitement “I could bake it!”. “Yeah. If you want” she replied. “Wow, I could make my sons birthday cake…” I said lost in the craziness of the scheme I had just concocted, as if saying I was going to invent the first aeroplane.

So. The task was set. But what cake? TO THE INTERNET! I thought to myself. I looked at cheese cakes. At gluten free cakes. At decorated butter cakes. I had to take into account the fact that I draw about as well as a epileptic drunken cane toad, so nothing intricate, and no piping or decorating. Also, I would not have much uninterrupted kitchen time, so nothing too complicated. I also had to remember it was a cake for a kids party.

After some procrastination masquerading as soul searching I decided: Rainbow cake. It was partly because of a friend of mine who featured on “The Great Australian Bake Off” (Hi SJ!), and partly because our kid likes rainbows. Seriously, he saw his first one a couple of weeks ago, and keeps on demanding that the sky brings them forth. The sky usually tells him to get stuffed. I had two options. Layers or a marble cake. Layers were unlikely given we only had 1 round baking tin in the house, so marble cake it was!

Saturday night was bake night. Kid needed to sleep fast so I could get it done, and bless him, he did. Fortunately the cake making part was actually made very easy because we own a Thermomix. The Mamanator sells these machines, and I am inserting a plug for her business here because I am a supportive, cake baking kind of husband. But seriously, it made life pretty easy. The fiddly part was colouring everything and bringing the cake together. Here’s my photo story of the event (imagine it as a montage set either to “eye of the tiger” or “montage”, if you know either of those songs.

So, how did it go? Went down a treat. And I got to feel proud of myself, and inflate my sense of self-importance (which was all part of the original objective of the exercise, in case you hadn’t noticed) Also made me feel useful because it turns out that the BBQ plan was kind of wrecked by the weather.

Oh, and our boy is suddenly 2 years old. How the #@)(%*$% did that happen? I swear he was born a few days ago. He used to look small, then we had The Lass. Suddenly this vivacious 13 kilos of running, talking mayhem has started to look very big indeed.

Happy Birthday son, I love you to bits. I’d ask you to stay this way forever, but then I’d never know what I was missing out on. It has been a awesome time in my life, and I thank you for it.

And to the Mamanator who gave birth to you and your sister, look at that thing. Look at that thing you grew inside you. You can even talk to it now. Amazing. Oh and I am so making your birthday cake this year….

And to the Lass, yes I’ll bake you a cake too….. Promise.