Monthly Archives: May 2014

Famous last words (and a few first sentences)

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“Nope. I’ve never had that.” I tried not to make my relief too visible.

We were at our local bar-slash-restaurant, our group of neighbourhood mothers whose kids are all around the same age and at the same school, and one of our party was describing her daughter’s tantrums.

“She flails around and looks like she’s possessed? And just screams her head off?”

The other mothers could identify. Most of them had had to carry their toddlers, in the throes of serious meltdown tantrums, through shopping malls at least once; or have to steer their screaming progeny into the special naughty corner of their bedroom every few days.

You never want to be the mother to admit that, actually, your two-year-old just doesn’t do tantrums. She is extremely stubborn, yes, and has a very set idea about how things should be done, but she’s just too even-tempered to ever throw her toys, literally or otherwise. So I just muttered quietly that I hadn’t experienced that particular parental rite of passage, and then, when the subject changed to our kids’ wilful independence, tried not to feel a bit embarrassed when one of the other moms told me how her daughter tells her every day that she has to help Lil A put on and take off her shoes at school (how is it that my kid is the only one in her class who can’t dress herself? I obviously didn’t get the memo about making your kid independent enough to have total dominion over her footwear). At the end of the night, I walked home with the unsettling suspicion that Lil A was developing differently to her peers.

But then there was Sunday night, and Lil A’s first full-blown, fear-instilling, limb-flailing, blue-in-the-face-howling tantrum. And then her second, about an hour later. Both meltdowns left me quaking, shaking, baffled – they were both at bedtime, usually a very tranquil hour in our home, involving a storybook, a cuddle from both parents, laying her down in her cot and hearing her saying “bye, Mummy” as I close the door. Last night, instead, she started wailing and flailing as soon as I lowered her into her cot, and then stood up and screamed so loudly and for so long that she went hoarse and her lips went blue. The whole time, I was fighting every instinct to pick her up, knowing that as soon as I did she’d be less likely to go down again. But when she got to the blue-lip phase, I finally gave in, only to be kicked and pummelled, and told “porridge!” in no uncertain terms.

“Oh my god,” I thought as I carried her quickly through to her high chair in the dining room, “I’m basically an abusive mother, making my kid go to bed when she’s starving.” But then I tried to put her in her high chair, to  more kicking, more shouting, furious shaking of head. Then I left her standing in her room alone, with the door open, hoping she’d get bored or distracted, but had to go back in five minutes later when her wails hadn’t changed in pitch or intensity. I checked her nappy, checked for fever, tried to cuddle her, tried to rock her, tried everything in my comforting-mom repertoire, and eventually left her in her cot so that she didn’t see my tears.

She fell asleep, eventually, after an eternity of my adrenalin-fuelled heartbeats.

And then woke up an hour later, must have remembered that she’d been expressing her dissatisfaction at something or other, and continued where she left off.

This time, I picked her up immediately and took her to her high chair so that she’d eat something. She’d been too tired to eat supper a couple of hours earlier, and sure enough, she immediately grabbed the piece of toast I put in front of her.

She took a few shuddery breaths before taking a bite.

Then: “Ava’s cry.”

A few bites later.

“Ava’s sad.”

(Chew, chew, chew)

“Ava’s noise.”

A small pause, and then, matter-of-factly:

“Ava’s naughty.”

Cue my already fragile heart breaking a little bit.

I assured her that she wasn’t naughty, but that her crying and making a noise wasn’t very nice, and next time she should say “Mummy, toast please”, and then I put her to bed, and she said “Bye, Mummy” as I closed the door.

I stood outside her door for a while afterwards. So it turns out my daughter does do tantrums, I thought. And that I was just as helpless in the face of her overwhelming distress as the other mothers had described themselves as being. I’d scrambled around, trying a million different things to appease her, hoping she’d guide me on what she wanted and needed, but of course, she was too tired and too upset and too little to communicate properly with me, and I should have been firm but kind, and just made her sit in her highchair until she’d calmed down enough to eat the first time around. But, in those moments, I’d literally been unable to think. I don’t think I’ve felt as useless as I did that night since the time Lil A threw up all over me in the reception area of a very fancy game lodge (and then rushing with her to the hospital two hours away when she didn’t stop throwing up) just before her first birthday.

All I can hope is that it’s another year and a bit before I feel like that again. As the mother of a generally chilled child, I am ill-equipped to deal with any deviation in her behaviour. Basically, the problem is, my daughter has spoiled me.

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Seven sun-drenched days

I feel absolutely amazing. It’s been a long time since I could say that. What’s my secret? Well, spending a week in my husband’s family beach house in the Eastern Cape had a lot to do with it.

The house sits square in the middle of two rivers, both of which had opened to the sea, and its views are pretty much 180 degrees of ocean. It’s a stone’s throw to the beach at low tide, and a stride through the rivers to the sea at high tide.

The river

The river

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The river

We’ve spent at least one holiday every year for the past eight or nine years in this house, but this week has to be the best one ever. Lil A, Dyl and I were the only people in the house for a change and even though we obviously missed the vibeyness and bustle that the rest of the family bring to the place, it was really nice to have some alone-time. Compared to December, the whole little suburb that the house is in was eerily quiet – or, rather, blissfully peaceful.

Cell reception is limited there, and we didn’t connect to the internet at all while we were there. We didn’t even take a laptop with us. We didn’t switch the TV on until our second-last day (there was cricket or rugby or something on, apparently), and even our iPod stayed off – because it had gone flat, to be honest, but still. So without any other people around, without any communications or entertainment tech to distract us, and with dawn after dawn of warm, still, sunny weather, this was more or less the shape of our days:

  • 6am-ish – Lil A wakes up.
  • 6am-7am-ish – Lil A lies in bed with us in the dark and says things like “Daddy’s sleeping” [pokes him in the face and waits for him to react]; “Light’s broken” [when I say I’m not turning the light on]; “Birdies sleeping” [when she realises she can’t hear anything outside]; “Mommy’s a good boy” [strokes my face and talks to me the way we talk to the dogs]; “Mommy, kiss better!” [kisses me on the cheek]; “I love me, I love me, big hug, kiss to you” [her version of the Barney song]; “Ava’s cheeks, Daddy’s cheeks, Mommy’s cheeks” [poke, poke, poke]; “Daddy’s sore”; “Daddy’s okay”; “It’s okay, Daddy, it’s okay” [until Daddy gives up on sleeping and takes her upstairs for ‘pottage’ ie porridge].
  • 7am-9am-ish – Dyl and Lil A go down to the river on the west side for the first swim and splash of the day while I sleep, because some people are morning people and some just aren’t, even on holiday – or especially on holiday.
  • 9am-11am-ish – Dyl and Lil A have second breakfast, I have first breakfast, Lil A helps me to load the dishwasher and sweep the floor while Dyl reads.
  • 11am-1pm-ish – We all head down to the west river and the beach, swimming, tanning, splashing and mucking about to our hearts’ content (until Lil A starts asking for “pasta” ie lunch).
  • 1pm-ish – Give Lil A her “pasta” and then put her down to nap, Dyl and I each find a comfortable spot on a rocking chair or sun-lounger or couch or bed and snooze (daytime naps have not happened for us for about two years, really, so this was a real treat).
  • 3.30pm-ish – Lil A wakes up, we put her back in her cossie that’s been drying in the sun, or her lumo yellow boardies, pack a couple of beers for ourselves and make our way down to the river on the east side for sunset. While Lil A paddles in the lagoon and runs up the dunes whenever a little wave comes along, we watch the same little family paddle across to us in their red canoe and settle in to fish in the late afternoon sunlight. They never catch anything, the little boy chats non-stop and the dad stands so still and patient with an indulgent smile and a floppy hat. I want to tell them they make a beautiful picture, but I don’t want to disturb them.
  • 5.30pm-7pm-ish – Go back to the house when the sun has dropped behind the hill, wrap up warmly, do the whole evening routine for a happily exhausted Lil A – bath, supper, book, bed.
  • 7pm-10pm-ish – Dyl and I lie on sun loungers on the deck with a fire crackling next to us, no other light and no other sound, looking up at more stars than I’ve ever seen at once, talking about meteors and space and the future and other otherworldly intangible things.

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These are the sorts of days you live for. They’re the ones that remind you that the way you spend your life is the way you spend your days, and of why and how you fell in love, and that it’s the very simple things, like water and sunlight and a cheerful child, that make you happiest.