Monthly Archives: January 2014

Growing away

All the plays, all the times

All the plays, all the times

The chubby-cheeked, pigtailed child in pink in this picture is now two weeks away from turning 22 months, when she will be two months away from turning two. The foot in the photograph belongs to her beloved nanny, who sent me this picture while I was at work.

This was a momentous occasion – it was Lil A’s first ever playdate. It was at the home of her friend called Sienna, who lives down the road. Sienna’s nanny and Lil A’s nanny are good friends, and the girls apparently seek each other out at the park every day. It is unimaginable to me that my daughter is at an age where she can show preference for certain people over others, where she can choose her friends, never mind that she can go to those friends’ houses without me first meeting the parents and checking the safety precautions in the house. Instead of delighting in this picture of my solemn little girl playing at a friend’s house, I felt my heart swell, and then sink. She was going forth in the world without me – even though, to be fair, she only went forth a few metres.

This was just one in a string of recent moments that have made me realise how independent Lil A is becoming, and how much my control and direct influence over her is dwindling.

For instance. At the beginning of the year, we converted our study/reading room into a play room for her (and by “convert” I mean “dumping all her toys from her bedroom and the lounge on the study floor, and taking out the desk”). It’s great – when she’s finished playing there, we can just close the door and forget about the Megablocks, board books, balls and teddies strewn all over the rug. Her bedroom is too small to allow the proper, spread-out play she seems to need (i.e. pouring out all the Megablocks, sitting on the pile of Megablocks, feeding teddies the Megablocks, etc), and we’re lucky to be able to give her a room all of her own. She goes charging down the passage shouting “toys! toys!” whenever anyone comes to visit  – she’s quite proud of the mess, and wants to show it off. (Warning – long parenthetical tangent ahead: though, of course, she would never call her toys a “mess” – that word’s reserved for a most upsetting kind of situation, one which also proves to me how quickly she’s growing. In the morning, I always give her some of my green smoothie in her Cow Cup – an actual little mug, meant for an older kid – and we stand drinking our smoothies together. And she drinks it so neatly, and looks up to grin at me every now and then, as if to say, “isn’t this cosy, us drinking our smoothies here together”, and I can just imagine us doing this same thing in five, 10 years’ time, and it’s immediately clear to me that I don’t have a baby anymore – I have a girl-child. But then she invariably gets some smoothie on her chin, and she says “oh no, mess! Mess!” and she needs me to tell her that it’s okay, it’s just a little bit of a mess, and she’s actually doing very well. So hey – at least she still needs me for some things! Also, have you ever seen a toddler with a green smoothie-moustache? It’s quite cute.)

But anyway, the trouble with the playroom is that Lil A now has this space where she’s more than happy to play by herself. She doesn’t need her dad or I to occupy her in the lounge while we cook dinner – she just takes herself off to her playroom and gets on with pushing her doll she has called Beebee (which may or may not be a bastardisation of the word “baby”) on the “see-saw” (read: rocking horse/zebra), pushing along her plastic cars, and packing and unpacking her Megablocks (seriously: best. present. ever – she got them when she was six months old and still can’t get enough of them). She’s so happy keeping herself busy, and can spend so long concentrating on one thing that I can’t help but admire her self-sufficiency. But when I have to go find her to see what she’s up to, to join in her game, I get a little twinge of something that feels like regret, or nostalgia. It’s a twinge I I suspect I will have to get used to.

The biggest source of amazement to me when it comes to Lil A’s growth is that we are now looking at play schools for her. There are a handful of nursery schools in our neighbourhood, and we’ve narrowed it down to two possibilities. And, as well as making me realise that in a couple of months, I’ll no longer be my child’s first/second source of information about the world, and comfort, and laughter – I’ll probably be demoted to third place after her teacher and her nanny, who will still look after her in the afternoons – this process brought to light how weird some schools really are.

The one enrolment form I got asked the most obscenely personal questions I’ve ever seen outside of a blood-donor questionnaire. Never mind questions like, “Do the child’s parents live together?”, “What other adults live with your family?”, “Where do your child’s grandparents live?” and “Are there any genetic problems in your family, such as mental handicaps or autism?” – which, themselves, are offensively intrusive – it also asked “At what age did you stop breastfeeding your child?”, “What was the reason you stopped breastfeeding?”, “Did you have any problems during pregnancy or birth?”, “At what age did your child sit/walk/grab objects?” and “Does anyone in your family smoke?”. Bear in mind that this is a school for children older than three. I have absolutely no idea what any of these questions could bring to bear on the people who will be teaching my child for three hours a day, or how it could affect her acceptance into the school. But I do know that Lil A will not be going there. For one thing, can you imagine the guilt-trips on which I would be led, being a full-time working mother who stopped breastfeeding at 6 months because I was a full-time working mother? (Let me just say: I know that there are working mothers who manage to pump at work and keep breastfeeding, but I could not see that working for me.)

The only arrogantly intrusive enrolment form I’ve seen that is worse than this one was for an “alternative” high school that asked similar questions, along with “Do you have a TV in your home?” – if you answer “yes”, apparently your application is immediately rejected – and “Did you fly on a plane while pregnant with your child?”.

Seriously.

But offensive enrolment forms aside, with the playroom and play dates and play schools that have suddenly cropped up in her life, I have had to come very quickly to terms with the fact that Lil A is growing up – towards me, in some respects, but away from me in others. And there’s not a thing I can do about it, except spend as much time as I possibly can rolling around in a pile of Megablocks with her, sharing my smoothie, and joining her in what her nanny says Lil A loves best: “All the funnies”.

Little women

Jingle bells and jangling nerves

Jingle bells, jingle bells, a mother’s jangling nerves …

We all know how it starts: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”

But. As a strong-willed 21-month-old’s mother who survived 25 December 2013 by the skin of my teeth and only thanks to the fortifying effect of cold white wine by the pool after my daughter had finally gone down for her nap, I’d like to set Jo March straight. I now know that, in fact, Christmas without any presents would be, well, like Christmas.

Before Lil A came along, Christmas Day was all about preventing sunburn and curing the Christmas-Eve-dinner hangover (usually with seabreezes, both the cocktail and the meteorological phenomenon, and beer shandies). This past Christmas, though, was all about the beautiful burst of energy that is Lil A – her presence at the table, and her presents under the tree.

For her first Christmas, when she was just 8 months old and crawling, I wrapped up little packages of fabric ribbons, which she, predictably, loved. But now that she is an actual functioning member of the family, and by far the cutest and best beloved member, she was the recipient of many, many presents.

I must say that I am overwhelmingly grateful for the love that all four of her grandparents shower on her. She is a very lucky kid. She is the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and has been given so many things during her little life that her dad and I have hardly had to shop for stuff for her at all (except for nappies – man, will I be thrilled when she’s fully potty-trained!), which, for two people who hate shops and are not terribly fond of spending money, is a massive bonus.

But the trouble with Christmas is this. All the presents. All at once. All the shiny, exciting things she’s never had before, and now suddenly has. All at once.

There was a doll that came with its own little pram – huge thumbs-up from A. But then there was another doll, this time with its own little baby bottle. Another thumbs-up from A, but mostly because of the bottle – she is going through a delayed regression of just wanting “bottlebottlebottlebottle” instead of her sippy cup, even though she has been off bottles for nine whole months. So the doll’s bottle got taken from her and hidden, which I think is where it all started going wrong. Cue first foot-stamping tantrum (or, to use her dad’s word, Haka) of the day.

There was then a Santa sack (basically an enormous version of a Christmas stocking) full of awesome things like a plastic wheelbarrow and books and gardening tools and rubber ducks and so many other toys that I can’t even remember what was in there. Then, before she could experiment by putting the doll in the wheelbarrow and the books in the pram, there came more presents – a zebra rocking-horse (which she called “car”) and a black plastic motorbike (which she called “car”), which was her only present from her dad and I. She’s too little to ride the bike by herself, and got cross about that, and then remembered the baby bottle and got cross about that, too. Then the doll kept falling out its pram because she couldn’t fit its legs through the leg-holes and that was understandably frustrating. And then I realised it was about an hour past her usual naptime, and then, instead of cuddling her teddy and saying “bye!” as she usually does when put down to sleep, she stood in her cot and screamed “PRAMPRAMPRAMPRAMPRAM! No, no! PRAMPRAM!” for approximately an hour and a half before, I assume, collapsing in an exhausted heap.

When there were no more noises from her room, I realised something: firstly, just how wrong Jo March was about what little women really need at Christmastime. And secondly, that if we’d just let her open one of her presents in her mound of gifts, and kept the rest to be handed out one by one over the course of a few days, we’d have had the rest of the morning to stroll down to the beach in a languid and relaxed fashion. Having her grandparents and both parents with her in the tidal lagoon would have made Lil A happier than any of those presents (okay, maybe not happier than the doll in the pram – that might be pushing it, so to speak).

Of course, the mouth ulcer I had wasn’t helping my mood at all (that’s what I get for swapping my diet of vegetables and grains for one of cheese and crackers), and nor was my post-Christmas-Eve-dinner hangover. But I know I’d have been able to cope with those more resiliently if I’d spent the last hour ankle-deep in the lagoon, in the shadow of Chapman’s Peak, watching Lil A holding her breath and dunking her face in the water, coming up with water streaming out her nose and shouting gleefully “FACE!”, instead of listening to her howl in misery and bewilderment and crossness.

So next Christmas, we’ll only be opening one or two presents with Lil A, and the rest we’ll save for a rainy day. If the weather’s anything like this year, she’ll only have to wait a couple of weeks. (“January’s just not January without any sunshine,” grumbled Michelle, frowning out the window at the mist and drizzle.)