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Posts Tagged ‘toddlers’

I think (hope) I am getting the hang of this parenting-two-children thing which, frankly, has terrified me. As my partner does shift work that consists mostly of evenings, I’ve been doing the bedtime thing on my own. There have been A LOT of tantrums from the toddler, as I don’t have the same endless time and patience for him, but at least he’s been fed and in bed by some reasonable hour each night.

As I type, the toddler is in bed for his nap, right on schedule, and the bubba is asleep in his swing chair. He’s been sleeping a lot in this during the day – it does a lot of the work for me by rocking him to sleep so I can do things like put the toddler down. And so now I have an hour or two of free time. I have no idea what to do!

Afternoon nap!

I feel like I should be attempting something productive (not that a blog post isn’t productive!) but the endless rounds of laundry and dishes do get tiring. With this opportunity for time to myself I should be sewing or cooking or crafting! But I’m paranoid I’ll start something and get interrupted in the middle.

 

What do you do when you get a few minutes of quiet? Chores that have to be done or something just for yourself?

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

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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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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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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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CHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMAS.

I just had to get that out of the way. I’m excited for Christmas. On Sunday we finally, finally went and chose a Christmas tree, and decorated it with Sebastian, who calls the Christmas tree ‘delicious’. My mother gave us some lovely wooden Christmas decorations that light up too.

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We’re having Christmas with the Melbourne contingent of Alex’s family a couple of days before the 25th at our house, and spending Christmas day with my family on my parents’ farm. I’m making Christmas pudding and gingerbread men. Most of my shopping is done, and we’re slowly getting everything wrapped. No tree looks complete without presents underneath.

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For Sebastian we have one big present – an enormous Chuggington set that I actually bought secondhand, because that much track would cost a bazillion dollars new. He’s obsessed with trains so this is perfect. Otherwise, we have a few small presents – books, a tambourine, and a stocking.

The stocking is a big deal to me. I remember as a child, waking up when it was still dark and sneaking out to the lounge room to see what Santa had left, poking through the stocking while it was still dark. It was always filled with little [resents – a doll, lollies, plastic jewellery, toy cars.

I wanted to continue this tradition with Sebastian, so I’ve been collecting little toys for his stocking for the last couple of weeks. Here’s a glimpse at what I have:

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Asides from the Chuggington die-cast figures, which go with his big present, none of this cost over about $4. In the picture there are:

  • Stickers, both foam and plastic
  • Crayons (his crayons constantly break so more are always welcome)
  • Magnets – you can’t quite see in this picture but there’s a cool metal frog and a jointed lizard on a spring
  • Bubble wand
  • Bead bracelet and necklace in multicolour, and metallic bead necklaces
  • Tiny rubber duckies
  • A crocodile that goes with a zoo toy set he already has
  • Chuggington figures
  • Toy truck with a toy truck on the back
  • And an alphabet puzzle that will not actually fit in the stocking.

I always wanted to put a food treat in the stocking, and have been scratching my head as to what I could put in that isn’t pure sugar, and it finally occurred to me this afternoon – a small package of unflavoured popcorn. That will be a treat because we never have it, but won’t fill him up with sugar or salt, plus I can make it myself and put it in a cute paper package.

I’ve seen other lists for toddler stocking stuffers put on Pinterest, but I didn’t like them because they were gender segregated. I mean, Sebastian LOVES necklaces, but that’s something that would normally only end up on a girl’s list. So here are some more ideas for non-gender specific stocking stuffers for toddlers:

  • Sunglasses or novelty glasses
  • Bug chalk for outside or pavement drawing
  • Finger paint
  • Bouncy balls, not too small
  • Sports whistle (this was last year’s favourite from the stocking)
  • A set of keys
  • One of those small weird soft cat/dog toys that moves when you pat its back
  • Tiny board books
  • Bath stickers
  • Bath toys of any type, or even a novelty shaped bottle of bubble bath
  • New colourful toothbrush
  • A funny hat
  • A simple doll/figurine with no small parts
  • Toy cars
  • A special Christmas teddy
  • A pack of cards with interesting pictures – toddlers can’t play, but they love to look!
  • Alphabet fridge magnets
  • A torch with an easy button
  • Special tree ornament
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Stamps and ink (for supervised use only)
  • Drawing pad with a nice cover
  • Family photo in a frame (with no glass)
  • Cool drink bottle
  • A wallet or purse, just like grown ups!
  • Tubs of Playdoh
  • Home made biscuits

What else would you add to your toddler’s stocking? If I had more time I think I could make a list a mile long, but only so much will fit in the actual stocking!

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I want to try and write regularly about things I do with Sebastian that are toddler friendly in Melbourne, because I think there’s a vast difference between a location/activity being child friendly and being toddler friendly. There’s a lot of playgrounds out there that reaaaally aren’t great for him, because he’s only two and can’t climb very well, and asides from one death-trap animal on a giant steel spring for riding, there’s not much for him to do.

He’s getting to the age where he and I both go stir crazy if we’re around the house too much, even if we go play in the backyard. So I’m trying to get out more, to try new things and expose him to more varied and interesting activities. I’ll blog about the places I go, everything from parks and playgrounds, to child-friendly cafes and educational activities, and give my opinion on how interesting and involving it was, both for myself and a toddler.

So to begin: Edendale Farm. Edendale Farm is located in Eltham in the north-east of Melbourne, and the site itself has a history dating back to 1852. I remember visiting Edendale Farm about 15 years ago with some younger cousins – I think back then it was a collection of garden beds and penned animals set in scrubby bushland. Things have changed a lot.

Now, visiting Edendale is like wandering through a collection of beautiful and interesting rooms, each with its own activities and purpose. There’s the cafe area, where we purchased egg and bacon muffins, coffee and orange cake. We ignored the tables and chose instead to sit on a provided picnic blanket on a slope with the kids, and once the kids were done trying to eat all of the cake and not share, they ran and played amongst rows of vegetable plantings while we sipped coffee and watched. Until an escape attempt was masterminded by Sebastian and we had to retrieve the children from halfway down a dirt track.

We visited an indoor educational area, and even though a lot of material was aimed at older children who could read, it was still toddler friendly with aquariums to look at with Bob the turtle, yabbies and fish, and even a case of spiny leaf insects that were so well camouflaged it took me a while to figure out it wasn’t actually a display of sticks and dead leaves.

Sebastian loved examining the fish. He talked about little yellow fish for days.

Sebastian loved examining the fish. He talked about little yellow fish for days.

Whenever I go somewhere, I judge the location by how easy it is to do a nappy change. Bad nappy change locations can ruin my day, but Edendale farm was very family friendly in this respect – there was a change table in the disabled bathroom that even had a nappy disposable unit. Of course, right outside the bathrooms is Edendale’s spiral garden, which is supposed to be for gentle strolls through, with little watering cans provided that the kids can use. Our kids just screamed and ran through the whole thing, but still. They loved it. I’d like to go back and try the spiral garden properly, because Sebastian has been getting very interested in watering our garden at home, and I’m trying to teach him about where food and herbs and flowers come from.

We also spent some time in a dedicated play garden, which was toddler heaven with little areas set aside for dolls, books, trucks and cars, drawing with crayons and even an easel set up for painting. Unfortunately rain was threatening by this point, so an army of volunteers came to pack up the toys, but still, we had fun.

Painting in the play garden. Two brushes, no less.

Painting in the play garden. Two brushes, no less.

We were on our way out of Edendale when Sebastian spotted the young goats, who were poking their heads through the fence to get to the obviously much more desirable grass. He’s spent the last 18 months on a farm with dogs, chickens, cows and horses, so of course he ran straight up to them and started patting them and ‘cleaning’ their heads with a baby wipe and encouraging them to nibble on his shoes. They were adorable and friendly and one of the highlights of the trip.

He wanted to keep them. I kinda wanted to keep them too.

He wanted to keep them. I kinda wanted to keep them too.

There was a lot I didn’t see and investigate at Edendale – it’s an educational facility that promotes sustainable living, and there are many classes for adults and children throughout the year. There’s a plant nursery, and apparently gunea pig holding on certain days, and composters and worm farms that can be purchased.

For a toddler, this day trip was an absolute delight – the environment is peaceful, the children were engaged with age-friendly activities, and the staff and volunteers we met were unfailingly friendly. I’ll definitely be going back to see and do more.

Edendale Farm does not charge an entry fee, however you can make gold coin donations. The cafe prices are more than reasonable, and I found it to be pram accessible. On their website you can find the latest information about upcoming activities and a location guide.

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