Saturday, November 27, 2010

Naughty Buttons. You Is Driving Me Mental.

The end of Nerd-Vember is almost upon us. I may cry. Can I tell you, fellas, that the secret to life with two small children is that neither one of you has a job to go to, or friends, or commitments outside the home. You can spend all day tending to the offspring, painting walls, languishing in the bath, cooking, writing novels. It is perfect.

But more on that later.

Right now, I must unload that amongst all this feckless indolence, there is the small matter of the tiny wildebeest Ivy driving me insane.

In the membrane.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Toilet Training (Second Time Round.)

This post originally appeared as a column in Practical Parenting, November 2010

As summer heats up, mothers of two-year-olds around the country turn their thoughts to toilet training. My little Teddy will be excited, I’m sure. He’s spent almost all his life wrapped in nappies, so a season of letting it all hang out will be a wonderful treat to him. As it is, when disrobed, he is always pleased to regard his own naked glory. ‘Pea-nitz, Mama!’ he shouts with delight. ‘Lookit! Pea-nitz!’

Me, I’m not so thrilled. My memories of toilet training his big sister are still quite fresh, and somewhat fruity. Ivy has always been an independent creature. She does things her own way. So our toilet training didn’t go exactly as they counselled in the parenting books. One particularly ‘helpful’ manual advised me not to worry if there were ‘a few accidents’ in the first week or so. A few! I should be so lucky. Ivy wee’d her way around the house, the car and the neighbourhood with gay abandon like a merry, unpredictable little sprinkler.

For a whole summer, Ivy waged what could only be described as a Wee War with me. When she eventually, on her own terms, decided to focus her efforts fully on the toilet, my nerves - and the sort furnishings - had taken quite the battering.

Mainly Ivy’s decorative efforts were confined to the liquid kind. Usually she managed to poo in the potty; but not always. One day Keith noticed she had that thousand-mile-stare as she leaned against the couch.

'Are you doing a poo, Ivy?' he said.

'No, daddy, I just relaxing,' she replied, and then looked shamefaced as a little nugget fell out of the leg of her pants.

Just then I came home from the shop.

'What's up?' I said.

'I did a shorts in my poo, Mummy,' she said.

Another afternoon I come unexpectedly upon a steamy little offering in the hallway. ‘Why is there a poo on the floor, Ivy?’ I asked helplessly. ‘I just wanting to see what it’s look like,’ she told me.

Ivy was particularly good at the psychological aspect of warfare. She would wee on the couch cover, which spent more time on the line that summer than in the house, and when it was removed, would stealthily lay a little egg on the cushion itself. One memorable evening there was an Incident in the bath. It involved Ivy standing up, wailing, a little nugget in each hand, as Keith called for help and tried to stop her putting her fingers in her mouth. The next day she talked about the chocolate Daddy wouldn't let her eat in the bath. I think in toddler-therapy they call it a 'disconnect.'

The weeks passed. The Wee War limped on. Ivy refused to go to the toilet at the park, but instead climbed into the driver’s seat before we went home and let the rivers run. She merrily went though four or five pairs of Thomas the Tank engine underpants a day. I hopelessly tried to keep on top of the groaning laundry and the secret corner-tinkling. ‘Mummy is a bit angry,’ Ivy would say conversationally, with her hand on my shoulder. ‘OK, where is the wee?’ I would wearily reply; cloth and floor-spray in hand.

Will it be easier dealing with a little boy and his pea-nitz? Will it be a summer full of fruity bath-bombs, and a lingering fragrance of Eau-de-Puppy-Shelter? The double-covers are on the couch and I’m prepared for battle, dear readers. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Ladies! The Ladies!

Before Ivy was born, I used to be a really social cat. But since motherhood, I've retreated more and more into the domestic nest and now I am happiest on those days when I don't have to set foot outside the front door.

Sometimes I am so grateful that I waited until I was 75 to have children, because tiny children come with invisible ties that bind you to the home; specifically, to the kitchen and the washing machine. Now I love those ties. I like making my own laundry liquid, a full pantry brings me joy and sitting with a cup of tea to plan a weekly menu is, to me, what snorting a gram of cocaine off the thighs of a nubile virgin may be to Gene Simmons. A rocking good time. But these little domestic ties would have have felt like the shackles of hell to Young Me.

When Ivy was three months old, we moved to a little beach town an hour or two south of Sydney and fell, to our joy, into a fabulous little community of like-minded bobos, bogans and beloved fruitcakes. But every once in a while, I feel the need to take off up the highway, sans babies, and see my Ladies, where we exchange information, pics, gossip and warm, fuzzy love.

Love is the drug, my friends! And the loving love of a loving lady; nay, a pile of them - a cuddle-puddle! An overload of oestrogenated bosom-boasters! Well, that is the loveliest love of all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Power of Nobby Enthusiasm

We took the kiddoes to the circus yesterday. It was a blast except for the part where they squirmed and complained all through the second half. And cried when the clown threw water on them. Oh, and the part where Ivy wept loudly all the way home because she didn't get a Popper.

Still, it gave me some good ideas. And this morning, I implemented some circus-style parenting. 'Come!' I invited Teddy. 'Climb this stool and begin to sort the Cutlery of Fun! You can place these forks in a drawer and before your very eyes, the drawer will be full and the cutlery holder will be empty!'

'Behold, ' I said to Ivy. 'I have prepared for you the Washing Of Excitement! If you empty this basket and place the laundry into piles corresponding to members of the household, you will get a Star on your Chart Of Rewards! And more! You may spend a full ten minutes in the Fancy Baskets of Bunnings Aisle 4 pretending to fly to Dinosaur Land!'

My friends, it worked. I did have to expend a certain amount of energy jollying along and ring-mastering while I did the washing up, but the laundry was sorted, the cutlery was put away, and to be sadly honest, they had perhaps a better time than they did at the actual, hunnerd-dollar circus.

Finally, the game they chose to play in the washing baskets was called Let's Pretend To Sleep.
I may have found my Holy Grail.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Teddy's First Heartbreak.

Poor Teddy is suffering through his first serious loss. Yesterday his dummies all went to the fairy babies down the bottom of of the garden.

Ted's love for Pink One, Green One and Blue One was deep. Once I watched him take one dummy out of his mouth, turn to another and say lovingly 'Your turn.' His love was passionate, but non-exclusive.

He was right into the whole plan to deliver his dummies to the needy fairy babies, just like his big sister had done. 'E-scawy babies want my dummy, mama' he's been saying for a few days. Yesterday the big exchange came.

I felt a little like a heartless salesman ensnaring a hapless sap into a Ponzi scheme as I led Ted with his little bag down to the bottom of the garden. He could talk the talk, but you can see here that his understanding of the fine print of the deal he was entering was limited.

The fairy babies left Ted a present - a big blue dog with cuddly arms and legs to replace his lost plastic friends. Initially, Ted was excited by Big Dog, but when he went to bed last night, he really struggled with his loss.

He took an hour to get to sleep and he tried all his tricks, one by one. Keith and I took turns. 'I dot poo-bum, Mummy!', he tried first; then - bush-baby style: 'I dot tick, Mummy!' and finally, hopelessly: 'But I haffa watch Masterchef!' He furiously rejected our weak replacement. 'Big Dog det outa the bed!'he ordered, weeping. Finally, after a full bedside Wiggles concert, he fell asleep.

I woke him from his sleep this afternoon and he stumbled to his feet and then finished the dance move that he's been doing in some sort of Saturday Night Fever dream. His face was blank but his bod was popping. He was a happy little man, and there was no mention of the dummies. Ah, Ted, will your heartbreaks always be so intense, yet so easily overcome?

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Madness of Motherhood?

I've always been a fan of Erica Jong, ever since I read Fear of Flying as a breathless Catholic teenager.

I love a fiesty dame. Recently she wrote this New York Times article on modern motherhood, and her perspective, as always, made me think. Even when I don't agree with the content of a feminist rant, I will always support a womans right to get shouty. And I understand where these second-wave feminists struggle with the new breed; the bobo, bread-bakey, home-makey, earnest mamas of the current Western zeitgeist. (Guilty as charged.) Jong and her crew fought for women to have choices outside of the home. And here their daughters and grand-daughters are, embracing the kitchen that they emancipated us from.

I thank Jong and her sisterhood for giving me the choice to be at home with Ted and Ivy. I don't feel lessened or sidelined by that choice. But the modern world of parenting is a funny beast, and the opinions of strident women like her, and the French writer Elizebeth Badinter (whose theory 'give the baby a bottle and have a drink and a smoke too, if you feel like it', is sadly missing in the parenting books I've been reading) are important voices.

I think its is time for this examination of modern parenting mores. I worry about the give-me-attachment-or-give-me-death school of thought. Even though I agree with most of its precepts, it always seems to me that Mum comes last in this thinking. Can't you put the damn baby down? Can't you let it cry for ten minutes? Will it really be scarred for life? Really?

Trends in parenting theory will come and go, but what remains consistent is that the whole caper is hard work. Most of the mums I know these days struggle between twin poles of guilt: when I'm house-working, I should be playing with the kids, and when I'm playing, I should be cleaning the house. I am always reading little quotes and thoughts along the lines of 'The dust bunnies will still be there tomorrow. Don't feel guilty about using that precious time to build Lego castles...' Well, frankly, I don't. I congratulate myslef when I'm building the Lego castles. That's fine mothering, dammit! My guilt comes when I'm sacked out at the end of the day watching Wife Swap (I may have mentioned this before once or twice) and the laundry is piled, unfolded on the lounge.

Attachment, helicopter, free-range or unschooling parents are all still just people. Idiosyncratically flawed. That's why all families are different. Me, sometimes I am energetic, affectionate and creative. Sometimes I am buggered, moody and reliant on ABC2. Sometimes Keith is a brilliant mind of his generation. Sometimes he is a grumpy man watching football on the couch in his underpants. I'm not perfect, the kids aren't perfect and our parenting isn't either.

Do the best you can, says Jong at the end of her article. There are no rules.

Hooray for shouty feminists.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

In Which Keith Finds His Inner Hemingway and Ivy Regresses to Potty Town

The novel is limping forward but I seem to be able only to write camp, nobby comedy or black nights of the soul. I don't like my characters yet. It is in fact quite difficult to write a book. Who knew? It is, however, fun to sit around with Keith reading out snatches of our attempts to each other.

How I love my oddball husband. He has found his inner Hemingway and is getting drunk on Cointreau every night and hammering out pages of his novel, a coming-of-age tale about a young nerdy physics student. He is really finding the voice of a character called Choo Choo Delaney. I am equal parts admiration and concern at his ability to inhabit the soul of a ritzy middle aged boiler.

Life at home with Ivy and T-Bone has been a bit full-on. Ivy is covered in some sort of allergic hives and has missed a couple of days of pre-school. No idea of the cause. Ted is throwing objects around the house like a lunatic discus champion, and remains obsessed with the colour yellow. We pulled the potty out of the shed for him. He's a little confused by it but Ivy has greeted it like a long-lost friend. Three times this week she's handed me the plastic insert and said 'I did a big poo in that Mum. You'd better give it a wash.'

Otherwise, life at home on holidays is paradise. Today I made asparagus, poached eggs, home-made Hollandaise and fresh-baked bread for lunch, and Keith and I played footsies on the couch while catching up on the hilarious stylings of Curb your Enthusiasm.

Hope your Nerd-vembers are travelling well too.