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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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Because I’m the primary caregiver in this parenting partnership, half of what I do goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Usually it’s the mother who stays home with the kids, or only returns to work part-time or on flexi-time, and the mother who becomes the expert on her children and home.

Sometimes, I hate it. I really, really hate it. Because it’s so easy for me to shoulder the load that there’s a perpetual slide, so on days like to today something small happens, like Sebastian not going down for his nap on time while I am out, and I totally lose the plot.

I lost the plot today because if Sebastian doesn’t go down for his nap on time then I have to decide whether to wake him up before he’s had enough sleep and deal with a nightmarish toddler for the rest of the day, all so he can go back to bed at an appropriate hour… or I have to let him nap late, which means he’ll be up later, which means I get more tired and stressed as the evening wears on because he’s still not in bed.

This might seem like small change but I am tired, and pregnant, and reaching the horribly uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, and feeling resentful as I mentally tally all the tasks and responsibilities I have been shouldering lately without any recognition that I do these things, and our home runs smoothly because of it.

It’s invisible work. The things that I do without question, the lists and information I carry around in my head, the schedules I make and the information I obtain. Things that SOMEBODY has to deal with, and because I’ve got it sorted then nobody else bothers.

I know all the relevant parenting information, because I have made myself an expert on the topic. I know my son’s vaccination schedule, I know how to keep our Family Assistance income coming in smoothly from the government, and even though Sebastian’s not in daycare right now, I know which three daycare centres in my area have current vacancies.

I buy all the Christmas and birthday gifts for both my family and Alex’s family, and I’ll be doing all the wrapping. I have a fairly precise idea of what’s in our pantry and fridge on any given day, so I do almost all of the grocery shopping. I know what foods Sebastian will and will not eat, and I’m the one looking up new recipes to get vegetables into him.

Right now, because Alex is on graveyard shift, I do pretty much all of the naptimes and bedtimes – I know the favourite books and the precise routine. I get up with Sebastian in the morning, and plan activities and outings for us – I know where his fresh clothes go when they are dried and folded, and I know when we’re running out of nappies and wipes, and where his clean sheets are for his bed. I buy his clothes, and sort the ones he’s grown out of, and put away his toys and wipe his nose.

I’ve read up on potty training and toddler discipline and early childhood development. I know what behaviours are normal and what to anticipate next, because I’ve spent the time and energy doing that research. When he gets sick I give him medicine and take him to the doctor and hold him and stroke his hair just the way he likes, and I’m the one that knows to call the Maternal and Child Health Care hotline, or that we can call a GP to come to our house with bulk billing. All of this information about him lives in my head, just my head, and nobody else except stay-at-home mums and dads knows this stuff.

But there’s other things too, that aren’t child related – because I’m home, I’m the one calling our landlord about the broken dishwasher or calling a repairman when the washing machine broke. I set up our utilities when we moved in, and arranged for an emergency call out when our gas connection had a leak, and as the bills have come in I’ve paid them. I set up our internet and phone account, and badgered the service provider when it didn’t work, and let the technician in to repair the phone line in our house.

I write lists about household budgets and ways to save money – I think about money constantly – and plan ahead for the baby to make sure we have everything we need. I arrange all of my pregnancy appointments and keep all the medical information in my head too. I plan meals and keep an eye out for sales on meat so we can stock up the freezer, and invest in appliances that will save us time and money. I’m making curtains for the house, and decorating the bedrooms, and organise family outings and babysitting and amongst all that, try to remember to see friends and eat and shower and get enough rest and time to myself.

Single parents, of course, handle all of this and more, with no partner to step in and give them a break. But being a partnered parent, I sometimes wish I could get a pat on the back for the knowledge and care I use to keep things running smoothly. Because when I don’t keep up with one of these millions of little tasks, THEN it’s noticeable. But when I’m doing it right, it’s invisible.

There are people out there without children, or who have children but are not the primary caregiver, who have no understanding or sensitivity for how much work goes into being a stay-at-home parent. I’m sure some of them think it’s all play centres and lattes. But here is the reality: getting a screaming child clean, fed, dressed and out the door but 9:30 in the morning is damn hard work, never mind all the planning behind the scenes that went into it – the breakfast being interesting enough for the child to eat it, the clothes being clean and the right size, and knowing the magic words to make a two-year-old let you close enough to scrub last night’s encrusted snot from his face.

I deserve a damn latte.

 

 

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It’s almost Christmas and I’m fighting the urge to yell with excitement in people’s faces about baking and decorating. I am one of THOSE people at Christmas. I have only resisted the urge to deck my house in tinsel and glitter this long because all our decorations are in storage at my parents’ farm and we haven’t actually bought a tree yet.

Christmas is a problem for me because I want to do Projects. I want to bake all the things, craft ridiculous Marth Stewart-esque decorations and produce elegant and unique handmade presents for family and friends with kitsch wrapping paper I upcycled from butcher’s paper and ribbon or something. The reality is that no matter how much time I seem to have on my hands, there is never enough time for this kind of crap. Plus I have other non-Christmas Projects on the go that I should probably not drop over the holiday season in case they never get picked up again.

Christmas is different now that I have a child – it’s exciting again, full of magic and hiding presents and hanging strings of gold beads on my defenseless son the tree. My first Christmas with Sebastian was one of the best of my life – Alex and I went to my parents’ farm on Christmas eve, and after 5-month-old Sebastian went to sleep we built a terrible gingerbread house, and Alex and I slow-danced to the soundtrack to The Singing Detective – Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing ‘Accentuate the Positive’ and ‘Don’t Fence Me In’.

Sebastian was too small to understand Christmas or Santa or presents that year, but we dressed him up in a silly Santa’s Helper outfit and took him for pictures with Santa. On Christmas day he just wanted to eat the wrapping paper. Ultimately it didn’t matter that he didn’t understand Christmas because we did, and it was special for us just because of all the Christmas’s to come.

Christmas 2010Sebastian 2010, ready for photos with Santa

Now Sebastian is starting to get to the age where he understands Christmas, he understands decorating the tree and presents and yummy food, and I want to make it SO. DAMN. SPECIAL. Thus, the Projects. I’m really having to limit myself to ideas I think can be done quickly and are feasible.

I would like to make gingerbread people with him, because gingerbread is like crack to him. I would like to bake reindeer cookies with him, the recipe for which I found in a Christmas baking magazine. I would like to make a felt Christmas tree that he can play at decorating:

Felt Christmas Tree for toddlers to decorate, click the pic to get to the original blog entry!

Felt Christmas Tree for toddlers to decorate, click the pic to get to the original blog entry!

And of course I would like to decorate a tree, and hang a wreath on the door, and cook a pudding for Christmas day, and possibly a thousand other things that are not terribly realistic. Not when I have other Projects on the go currently – curtains for the whole damn house, sewing maternity tops for myself and toys for the new baby, completing the decorations for Sebastian’s room (including folding 100 paper cranes). Not to mention there are presents to buy and wrap, cards to write, parties to go to and all the other things you commit to at this time of year that aren’t actually Projects but still take up huge chunks of time.

This year is about prioritizing – lovely, small Projects that I can complete in a day, take happy snaps of Sebastian with, and not leave lying around the house half-finished until next Christmas. I’ll keep you updated on how I actually go with this, keeping in mind how much time I can waste on Pinterest finding adorable crafty stuff I vow I’ll do.

What are your Christmas Projects and how do you keep from getting distracted? What gets priority?

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When Sebastian was a baby it was just easier to gender code his clothing. He wore a lot of blue, and his clothing was cuts and styles more frequently attributed to boys. Partly, this was because when you’re pregnant for the first time a lot of people give you clothes – newborn clothes, clothes for when he’s older, both new and secondhand. My own shopping also played into this – boy clothes and girl clothes are segregated in most stores, even opp shops. And partly, his clothing was gender coded because it makes everyday conversation easier when random people you talk to don’t stall in their phrasing, saying ‘…his? …hers?’

Make no mistake – Sebastian was a very pretty baby and still got mistaken for a girl, which I don’t care about. But I’m just not transgressive enough yet to dress him in pink and frills to truly abolish any societal gender expectations when it comes to his clothing. He can do that himself when he’s a little older – and yes, I’m fine with him playing dress-ups with my clothes and make up.

Toys, however, are a different and somehow more complex issue. Sebastian’s clothes are just what he wears to keep warm and get food all over himself in. But toys express behaviour.

About six months ago Sebastian met a newborn baby for the first time up close, and was adorably fascinated. So shortly after I took him to Kmart to buy a baby doll. Naturally he picked the creepiest and most realistic newborn he found, but despite the many, many baby dolls on offer, there were none that were gender-neutral. I don’t mean the gender of the baby doll itself, but rather their gender coding. All of those dolls wore pink, and all of them were female.

I often go to Kmart. They have a huge variety of toddler toys, are very cheap and have a generic brand A-Z that I like very much because A) while there’s lots of plastic stuff, there’s lots of wooden stuff too, B) their toys are often very simple but entertaining to a young child, like a wooden train or set of plastic food items, and C) their toys are largely gender neutral. This last part is important to me. Their trucks are not all blue and tea sets not all pink. They sell little play vacuum cleaners and irons and kettles and other things that kids will see Daddy and Mummy using every day, and there are pictures of both boys and girls on the packaging, while the toys themselves are coloured red and blue or green and yellow.

There are some pretty obvious reasons why gender neutral toys are important. Firstly, toys often represent a way for children to play that allows them to reenact what they see in their lives. Sebastian loves to have tea parties, because his family drink tea. He likes to play with toy tractors and cars and trucks because he sees so many varieties in the country. He likes to cuddle baby dolls because babies get cuddled. He likes to draw, and roll dough, and dance to Angelina Ballerina on the telly, and he has a little play kitchen near our kitchen, where he will pretend to cook an egg while myself or Alex cook. He likes to clean because people around him do. He is using imaginative play to express the patterns and behaviours he sees the people in his life have.

If pink is a girl’s colour, which I don’t think anybody can deny society teaches us, and all baby dolls are dressed in pink, this tells us that only girls are supposed to like babies. Only girls are supposed to want to cuddle and nurture. Only girls are supposed to have a baby they might know in real life, or see an adult with a baby. This is a girl’s toy, and by colour coding it pink the toy manufacturer has signaled it is off limits to a boy.

Sebastian’s baby doll is called Brienne, and he likes to cuddle her and pat her back and make us cuddle her too. He has no idea that the colour pink means he’s not supposed to play with it. And we won’t be telling him that either.

While there are relatively few toddler-aged toys I see that are gender coded, there are still some pretty glaring examples. I would really like a simple doll house for Sebastian. Unfortunately, the A-Z dollhouse is pink. I say unfortunately because I’d prefer something non-gender coded, and refusing to buy items that are specifically aimed at a boy or a girl at this point is my only method of protest. 90% of the dollhouses I’ve seen are pink. I’m currently deliberating over a Fisher Price dollhouse (here), and while I feel like an effort has been made not to colour code it (while a floor of the house is pink, there’s also some blue in there too), it’s like whoever designed the packaging rebelled and slapped pink all over the box and a picture of a little girl playing with the house just in case the toy itself gave you the wrong idea.

Interestingly, while hunting for a direct link to this product so I could happily hotlink the photograph above, I found a Little People dollhouse that I had not seen in my hunt at Kmart or any of the other major stores:

Genuinely non-gendered?

Little People is a subsidiary brand of Fisher Price, and are almost always non-gendered with their toys. I love them like crazy, and the above picture makes me love them more – no dominant blue or pink on the toy itself, and a little boy playing with it. It does make me wonder, however, why I didn’t see this on sale anywhere else – is it the buyers for these stores choosing not to stock non-gendered toys when it comes to dolls and houses?

The whole dollhouse thing is important to me because it seems amazingly idiotic to gender it pink, as a girl-specific toys. Kids live in houses, usually with their parents (or family at the very least), and love imaginative play that revolves around their lives. Why is that a girl-only thing most of the time?

When I walk through the toy section of any store, I see my future there. Right now, Sebastian has the freedom of brightly coloured toys that aren’t aimed at any gender in particular most of the time. But once you start getting into the aisles with toys for older kids, the shift is dramatic. There are trucks, planes, trains and building kits that all show a boy on the packaging. And there are makeup kits, dolls, nail polish and creepy furry cats and dogs that move, that all show a girl on the packaging. In fact, while the packaging for a boy’s toy might be colourful and reflect the item itself, the packaging for a girl’s toy is almost always pink. Read this powerful article about Pinkification for a much more eloquent statement of the rules at play here than I can provide.

Gender coding toys seems really, really stupid to me. I mean, society has been in a state of shifting values for a long time – while the mother may stay home with the baby for a while because of the logistics of breastfeeding and birth-recovery (and the fact that most men earn more so therefore it makes more sense for the higher-earner to stay at work, therefore reducing the woman’s potential lifetime income and career advances even further, but that’s-another-post), mothers no longer stay at home forever and ever, keeping house and getting dinner on the table by six. Men are now, for the most part, deeply involved in child-rearing and housekeeping and cooking – all the nurturing aspects of life that are traditionally female roles. So if Sebastian’s daddy has rocked him to sleep and feeds him and changes him and bathes him and plays with him, why the hell can’t I find a baby doll that isn’t wearing pink so Sebastian can do the same? Why aren’t there baby dolls for boys, or ones just wearing green?

Why is it that today when I went to buy a little toy bath for Brienne, Sebastian’s doll, the only ones I could find were pink? Does Sebastian not take baths? Why can’t he have a toy – aimed at him or, even better no gender in particular – that lets him play in a loving and nurturing role?

Gender coding toys is like trying to draw some very straight lines in the sand right before the tide comes in. Sebastian will (hopefully) grow up in a society where gender transgression becomes more and more normalized and acceptable; he will grow up with his parents teaching him that gender equality is for men and women, boys and girls, and works both ways – that while a girl can do everything he can do, he can do everything a girl does too. He can play with cars and trucks and then play house and dress-ups. He can build forts and wear nail polish. He can do whatever makes him happy, because society’s gender stereotypes are outdated and a bit useless.

So to toy makers who gender code their toys, I want to say this: that water is coming in to wash away those lines in the sand, do why even bother drawing them?

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