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Archive for January, 2013

This week David Koch, who is a co-host of Channel 7’s Sunrise, made some horrible, horrible remarks about breastfeeding. His remarks might seem somewhat innocuous, but when you take them in the context that any discrimination against breastfeeding is illegal in Australia, and that women deal constantly with body and motherhood policing, they’re pretty offensive.

I wrote a reply over at The Peach:

Can you not see how ridiculous your comments are, how they attempt to police women, motherhood and women’s bodies? Because nothing will ever quite be ‘discreet’ enough, or ‘classy’ enough. I mean, all breastfeeding women everywhere could sit in out-of-the-way armchairs with blankets draped over their shoulder and child, and someone, somewhere, would walk past and know what was happening under that blanket.

The whole story: My body is not shameful and I will not be shamed.

My article is personal to me, for many reasons – I breastfed my first child for 12 months, and hopefully will do the same with the imminent arrival, if not longer. But more importantly, I am SO TIRED of privileged white men thinking their opinion counts when it comes to women’s bodies. Like they get a say, even if the law is already clear on the subject.

If you haven’t been following this issue, my article at The Peach handily comes with links to relevant news and blog posts so you can catch up.

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This week has been hard for me. I’m having horrible stabby back pain that kicks in every time I try to move/walk/everything. I saw my chiropractor yesterday and while it does seem to have eased a little, it hasn’t been a huge change. And because I’m tired and in pain I’m more likely to snap at Sebastian for little things, which oh god makes me feel horrible and guilty – along with not being able to get down and play with him properly. But my mobility is pretty constrained right now too. This makes everything so much more frustrating because there’s so much stuff I have to do and yet I’m feeling very limited.

It’s now less than six weeks until the baby is due. That really, truly and properly occurred to me for the first time a few days and I’m feeling a bit panicky. The nursery isn’t done! I have no idea what baby clothes we have! There’s so many dirty dishes in my sink! I haven’t sorted my clothes to figure out what I can wear post-baby but can breastfeed in!

The last few weeks of pregnancy are always super hard because the end is in sight, and it is both too close and not close enough. I have moments of truly profound anxiety where I wonder if I can cope with a toddler and a baby. Alex has four weeks parental leave arranged, but I’ll be recovering from a c-section, so it probably won’t be all special fun super family time. More like me with a giant hole in my abdomen trying to shield it from a toddler who likes climbing me like I’m a tree AND nursing a tiny human who is bound to be big. I console myself with the fact that standard recovery time for a c-section is six weeks, whereas I remained in pain and not completely healed after a natural birth for three damn months.

I am huge, too. Look at this picture from just after Christmas:

30 weeks pregnant

30 weeks pregnant

Now imagine me even bigger. And waddling. With my hand in the middle of my back like some sort of archetype for pregnancy. And making that noise when I get out of chairs, IF I can get out without help.

I worry that after I have this baby I will get consumed by the sleep-deprived brain-blankness of new motherhood again. I want to keep writing – I’m writing for The Peach now and finding that incredibly satisfying, and writing this blog has done a lot for making me feel like I have a voice again and my skills haven’t disappeared in the last few years. There’s a lot I want to do with this blog, and none of it will happen if I’m not writing and posting regularly. But then I remember the lack of sleep, the night nursing, the nappies, the overwhelming feelings that come with giving birth and part of me thinks, how will I manage anything else?

It’s supposed to be easier, isn’t it? Transitioning from one child to two? I mean, at least this time I have a fairly solid idea of what to expect. Having baby number one is like getting a reality bomb dropped on you – you think you’re prepared but there’s just no way you can be. At least with baby number two I’ve already lived through it once and confirmed I will actually survive.

The next few weeks will be busy, if this horrid back pain ever gets better – sorting through our baby things to figure out what we need and don’t need; preparing the nursery for bringing the bubba home; arranging our lives a little better in preparation for the big life change that’s about to happen.

Meanwhile I’ll just be the one in the corner armchair, making that noise when I try to get up.

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I fit easily under the umbrella definition of ‘mummy blogger’ – I’m a mother, and I write about my child and current pregnancy. But it’s not all toddler snacks and playgrounds; I don’t exist in a bubble, separated from the rest of society by the status of my uterus. I interact with and observe aspects of society on every level – medical, government infrastructure, consumerism, feminism and education. So why doesn’t my voice matter? Why am I dismissed as a ‘mummy blogger’?

From now on I’ll be a regular contributor at fantastic feminist mag The Peach, and here’s my first article on gender bias in the media and women writers (including yours truly).

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I have watched a lot of films lately that easily fail the Bechdel Test. If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel Test, then hit the link, it’s eye-opening. Basically it works like this: to pass the Bechdel Test, a film has to 1) Have at least two [named] women in it, 2) Who talk to each other, 3) About something other than a man.

The most recent example is The Hobbit, which fails on a catastrophic level. There’s one named female character. One. And people say to me, oh, but The Hobbit was written in a different era. This excuse doesn’t fly for me, because most contemporary films, based on material created roughly a century later, also fail. Think The Dark Knight Rises, or The Avengers, or what about Life of Pi. Some of the biggest films of the last 12 months fail.

This upsets me because I am a woman, and my reality is not represented in mainstream media. There are so many bromance films out there, but so few films about women, with solid women casts, who live complex lives where the film plot is not about romance, break ups or weddings. When I see a film with a largely male cast, with one or two supporting female characters, it doesn’t matter how kickass that female character is when she kind of seems like an accessory to the man.

Here is my reality: I have women friends, and I don’t call them ‘The Girls’, because that’s infantalizing and horrible. Sometimes we talk about our relationships, and for those of us who are heterosexual that means talking about men. With other mothers, we often talk about parenting, where the male partners (for those of us that have them), will come up too. Sometimes I talk to other women about feminist issues, and naturally men come up then, but kind of in a generalized, peripheral way. But a lot of the time, I mean over my whole lifetime, I have talked to other women about things that were nothing to do with men.

I have sat in a Muslim prayer room with Muslim women, who removed their headscarves and bared their arms because they were in a female space, and we talked about god and science as they hennaed my hands.

I have talked with women in their late teens and early twenties about teenage bullying and peer pressure. We discussed women’s magazines like Cleo and Cosmo that seemed to foster unrealistic ideals of femininity, sexuality and attractiveness. We talked about societal expectations of women, the hypersexualization of pre-teen girls and untenable atmosphere of competition that exists amongst young women. We also danced badly to Fergie.

I have had long, long conversations with other mothers I know about baby poo, spit up, sleep schedules and mother-guilt. I’ve talked about my fears and expectations for my child, how the love feels so raw and overwhelming, and which noisy toys annoy the hell out of me. As a stay-at-home parent I’ve talked about meal planning and grocery budgets and maternity clothes, about breastfeeding and stress and time out, about loving my child but sometimes feeling a need for physical and mental space; the paradox of loving your child, needing and wanting them but being overwhelmed by them too.

I have talked to many, many women over my life about mental illness. I’ve spoken at length with other women about having depression, managing it, trying drug after drug and shrink after shrink. I’ve talked about the shame I have felt, the stigma, the rejection and the anxiety. I’ve spoken of my fears and wants and needs, of the physical illness that accompanied the mental illness and made it worse – but I’ve also spoken about my small milestones, my achievements and breakthroughs, the struggles and ultimate successes. I’ve spoken about being sick, and the gratitude I have for being well.

I have lain on a picnic blanket at twilight in summer and talked with a woman about my dreams, my hopes for the future, the things I want to achieve in my life. I’ve spoken about writing, and creativity, and art; I’ve spoken about painters I like and poetry I love and plays I’ve seen and music I’m into.

I have worked hard, with other women, on theatre projects that consumed my life, and we have talked about everything from technical details to the greater meaning of the text. We’ve talked about words that I have written and what they mean, how they can be transformed and represented on the stage. I have had the great pleasure of sharing my writing about women with other women, and heard their thoughts and interpretations and felt that slow burn of satisfaction that what I write has meaning.

I have spoken to women about everything that is deep and meaningful, like religion and the soul and what happens after death, but I have also spoken to other women about clothes I like and shoes and craft projects and shiny things.

I have had conversations with women that were beautiful or tragic, awkward and light; conversations that have lasted hours or just a moment or two. I have emailed women on the other side of the world and chatted to women on the phone who were not very far away. I have sat in dark theatres with women as we’ve caught up on our lives, and asked after their families, or their work, or even their state of happiness. And sometimes, but not all the time, we have talked about men.

Only sometimes.

That’s my reality. That’s what I wish I could see in a film or a TV show with any regularity. I want to see all the parts of myself that belong only to myself, and not to a man.

smother

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My son is an incredibly cheerful, active and happy boy – he’s also a screaming mess when he doesn’t get his way. In many ways, toddlers are not like children at any other age, the same way you can’t compare a newborn to a ten-year-old. The cognitive processing is so different as to be alien.

I’ve recently had the joy of seeing my (almost) five-year-old nephew and niece several times, and because it was Christmas and there was food and presents and toys and territory involved, I saw a couple of meltdowns, or small instances where their parents enforced their rules and boundaries. In a way, I was envious – because as much as five-year-olds can shriek and tantrum as well as a two-year-old, at least they understand what you’re saying.

Enacting discipline with Sebastian is difficult on two fronts – firstly, because finding the language that he accepts and understands is like trying to find a door to Narnia, and secondly because he may not retain that information even if he does understand. But, of course, it has to be done.

Discipline, as I see it, is a matter of schooling your child on appropriate behaviour, and while this can shift depending on location and circumstance, it all has to be consistent. We have a few hard and fast rules (no biting, ever), some rules that come in to play circumstantially (if you’re screaming at me I won’t help you; if you keep screaming at me then it’s time out), and some rules that are effective according to location (what is appropriate for inside play is very different from outside play).

If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. We’re just muddling through, and trying new things, and seeing what works. There are a few things I don’t support, ever – physical punishment like smacking, scary yelling or abusive language (I differentiate scary yelling from yelling-across-the-backyard-to-be-heard by the fact that scary yelling involves anger or rage), acts of shaming or physical restraint.

The last one may not seem like much, but it’s important to me. I don’t like to be held down. It’s a horrible thing. I don’t want to be pinned to the floor, even if I’m yelling and screaming or trying to hit, so why would I do that to my toddler? If Sebastian is trying to hit/scratch/grab me, then I’ll deflect his hands, remove his hands, move away from him, but I would never physically pin him down to make him stop – I consider this a matter of body autonomy – and while different from the body autonomy that says ‘it’s okay not to kiss every adult who asks for it’, it’s still a matter of a child having a say and control over their own body. In relation to discipline, there’s a huge, huge difference between momentarily restraining a child because they’re in danger, or need to sit still for a doctor’s check/vaccination or they’re about to cause harm, and actively holding them down because you don’t like their behaviour.

Our current methods of discipline are probably a bit all over the place, because we’re discovering what works. Things that are working so far:

  • When Sebastian deliberately makes a mess (like yesterday drawing on the kitchen floor with chalk), he has to clean it up. I will help him, but I will also insist that he do it immediately. If he accidentally makes a mess I will usually do it, but more and more I’m noticing he wants to help.
  • He knows how to ask for help or something he wants politely, so when he demands and screams I tell him the way he’s speaking to me is not very nice, I don’t like it and I don’t want to help when he’s screaming at me. Amazingly, this works even when he’s bordering on a tantrum, and sometimes even calms him down because he has to focus on putting his words together in a calm manner and saying ‘please’.
  • When he hurts, even accidentally, he must say sorry. Adorably, he offers to kiss the hurt better, which to him means presenting his cheek to be kissed. Lately even when the hurt he’s caused was accidental he’ll offer up a kiss and a sorry spontaneously.
  • When he’s tired and cranky and getting frustrated with a toy and repeatedly screaming demands for help (to the point where the above technique of insisting on politeness isn’t working), he loses the toy. Today he lost his trains for his train set, and was told he could have them back after his nap. This was the first time I tried this, and it worked surprisingly well – he did cry and rage for a while, and even climbed into bed insisting he was going to nap immediately, he calmed down quickly and went to play with something else. I think having a clear time frame he could understand worked really well.
  • When he’s having a no-holds-barred tantrum, we have a two stage process. First I ask him if he needs to go to his room to calm down. Sometimes, and becoming more frequently, he actually runs off to his bedroom to have a bit of a rage in there, or to climb on his bed to self-soothe. Then he comes out when he’s ready. When that doesn’t work, he gets put in his room with the door closed and told he can come out when he’s calm. Currently we only do this for two minutes before sticking out heads in to check on him. But this does work for us – he comes out ready for a cuddle or wanting to play quietly.

These techniques are of course only what is working for us, right now, at this point in time. Things may change. There are some techniques we can’t do right now, such as a time out spot or chair – I’m too pregnant to chase after him if he leaves the chair and provide consistency. Thus putting him in his room and shutting the door is what works right now.

I try really hard to be consistent – to warn him of a punishment like room time or losing a toy before it happens, to explaining why I’m asking for certain behaviour, and praising him when he demonstrates appropriate behaviour on his own.

That’s the flip side to discipline I think – and just as important. I tell him when he’s behaved well, when he’s been good at listening or asking politely, and when he’s been patient while I complete errands and chores. I want him to know I appreciate when he’s making an effort at remembering what I ask. So it’s not all just doom and gloom when he does the wrong thing, but he gets signs of my pride and happiness when he’s doing the right thing. I love seeing the happy, proud look on his face when I praise him.

We muddle through.

We muddle through.

What are your tips for toddler discipline, or how did things change for you as your child got older?

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Lazy phone blogging! It’s eleventy billion degrees in Melbourne right now, and therefore too hot to do anything useful. But here’s a yummy treat to keep your toddler occupied and cool.

Watermelon is selling for 90 cents a kilo at my local supermarket right now. If I were a better person it would come from a farmers market, but no. I’ve covered a flat baking pan in cling wrap and cut up some delicious watermelon, and put it in the freezer.

20130104-155254.jpg

Bad phone snap!

You know what’s better than delicious watermelon in the summer? Delicious FROZEN watermelon!

It’ll keep the little one cool while being a lovely tasty treat, plus because it’s frozen it can’t be wolfed down in 30 seconds flat like watermelon usually is in this house. Give it a try!

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I haven’t written here because I needed a break; the last few months have taken a lot out of me. We moved house, with all those various stresses, I was working and studying during the same period, and fitting in endless medical appointments for this pregnancy. More recently, Alex has spent the last two months working insane graveyard hours that, while providing a bit more income, has generally just been bad for us.

Because he was sleeping all day and away all night, we were only just snatching conversations about household issues and holiday plans. He and Sebastian got to spend almost no time together, unless it was dealing with a tantrum or putting Sebastian down for a nap. I was trying to get Sebastian out of the house in the mornings so Alex could sleep, and organise Christmas plans and presents, and we were having no quality time together as a family. And that’s important.

We all suffered. Alex was constantly tired when he was awake and home, and I was handling all of the shopping, housework and parenting and reaching my last nerve. Sebastian became clingy and frantic and the tantrums were constant. And we just kind of plodded along like that for two months. Just surviving, not really living.

Christmas was another stress – we had some fantastic family time, but preparing for that and making sure everything was perfect took the last of my energy. The presents were beautifully wrapped and the tree trimmed and I made lovely food, but having a wonderful holiday season takes work.

I made sure I did something I’d like to make a tradition – on Christmas eve, Sebastian, Mum and I made gingerbread for Santa. It was an incredibly special thing, in its own way, just to stir and knead and roll the dough together, to cut the shapes and watch them bake in the oven. Sebastian was delighted because he adores gingerbread. And sure enough, Santa only left a few crumbs.

There is nothing in the world as wonderful as freshly baked gingerbread.

There is nothing in the world as wonderful as freshly baked gingerbread.

Christmas day for us was lovely – probably far too many presents for Sebastian, but he was delighted and watching him with family was a real pleasure. We ate far too much, I made Christmas pudding from scratch and made everybody admire it at length, and we had a peaceful evening, just the way I like it.

But what I really, really needed was the trip we took down to the Mornington Peninsula between Christmas and New Year’s. A gorgeous beach house to stay in, pleasantly warm and sunny days and nothing to do but rest.

I had gotten to the point where I desperately needed to recharge my batteries, and I got that chance. Alex, who’d missed Sebastian terribly while he’d been working crazy hours, spent lots of time with him and wow, I just slept so much. I had long, long naps and rests and afternoons in bed. I occasionally went to the beach or the park and did something fun, but mostly I just got rest. This pregnancy has been draining me so much.

The holiday period is special to me – a time to see family, to put effort into lovely food that everyone enjoys, finding perfect gifts for the people you care about and taking the time to unwind. Christmas has never had religious significance for me, but that doesn’t equate to a lack of meaning. Being a parent only intensifies that – being surrounded by family and spending quality, relaxed time together, Sebastian is the happiest I’ve seen him in months.

Life gets so busy, it’s easy to let priorities slide. For me, that’s time to relax and recharge with my family, so I feel grounded and close.

Sebastian with his train set on Christmas morning. He didn't move for two hours.

Sebastian with his train set on Christmas morning. He didn’t move for two hours.

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