Monthly Archives: June 2012

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exceptions or excuses?

My parents and brother are visiting us at the moment. They’re still recovering from jet lag, poor things, but they’re here for more than a week and we’re bound to be out and about, exploring and experiencing the stuff of Paris. It’s Ian’s choice, really. He only gets a week here, whereas Mum and Dad will be back again and again over the next six months.

I haven’t touched my novel for a couple of days. My excuse: my visitors. We’ve been catching up, in between and during looking after the babies and, as ever, doing laundry… it never ends.

It’s an excuse, and perhaps a poor one, but it’s also an exception. The rule is writing every day. But inevitably, on occasion, I break the rule. Sometimes I have a really good reason… like having a baby. Sometimes the reasons aren’t so solid, like in the past few days. But I am happy to say that these are exceptions.

With the babies we try to follow a kind of routine, or more accurately, a sequence of events. It’s a well-known method and, as with all parenting strategies, a bit controversial. I make no claims that it’s the great solve-all easy-parenting secret. In fact, it’s not easy. But we try to stick to the whole feed-wake-sleep cycle put forward in ‘Baby Wise’. It worked a treat with Louis. He’s a good little sleeping machine, most of the time. We’re trying it with Elena and I don’t remember it being this difficult, but my memory is pretty rubbish.

Exceptions get made. It’d be easy to feel like we’re failing, like we’re messing up the whole thing and teaching Elena bad habits… but the fact is, in order for there to be an exception there has to be a set habit in the first place.

Most of the time Elena wakes from a nap, hungry, and then gets a big, full feed. After her feed she’s awake, though often this kind of gets lost in the newborn sleepiness which is only just starting to pass. And then she goes to bed, awake but dozy (not always awake but if she’s had an awake time then yeah…) and then she sleeps. Of course, sometimes, there is a little crying. Often it feels like a lot, but then you look at the clock and, what do you know? Less than two minutes has passed. Naturally, while I’m writing this, she woke from her nap and went beserk. This often happens after only 45 minutes and, in theory, she should sleep for twice that. I went in to calm her down. She’s supposed to be learning, through all this, to calm herself, to go to sleep by herself, to connect her sleep cycles… anyway, I don’t mean to preach the parenting tactics, though I have found them effective.

No, I’m preaching the balance between discipline and dogma. It’s important to practice discipline in whatever is important to you, whatever you believe in. All good parents do this, even if they believe in a very different parenting philosophy. What’s important is that they are disciplined in following that which they believe, in aid of that which is most valuable to them (their kids). I don’t limit this to parenting, by any means. In pursuing creative arts (something very important to me) I must be disciplined also.

If I take it too far and become dogmatic, then when an exception is made, no matter how good the excuse, I feel guilty. That starts me on a destructive path. Eventually, I think, I would resent the things I value. Guilt is not motivating; it is paralyzing. I must be free to make exceptions, when there is good reason. But they can only really be exceptions when there is a set routine to begin with. A day off, an afternoon, even on a regular basis, are not the end of the good habit. They might be disruptive and difficult, but they are temporary changes. Afterwards, we go back to the routine. If the time off was longer, the change more dramatic, then it might be more difficult to get back into the routine. That’s the price. C’est la vie. No big deal in the long term.

It’s important to keep perspective, to remember that one day is just one day, that these few weeks, even months, are only a small period in the great scheme of things. I have to remind myself at the moment that Elena’s first few months will probably be a difficult time but that it will pass and things will settle down.

Louis’ brilliant sleep habits were not the work of a couple of disciplined weeks. We stuck to our guns for many months – nearly two years now. A great novel, even a kind of average to good one, is not the work of a single really committed month. If I want to be a good writer I’m going to have to stick at it for much longer than that. And, due to the nature of my life (and most people have more than one thing going on) I’m going to have to allow for exceptions to the routine. I’m going to have to allow them, and then get right back to the good habits.

Tomorrow, I hope, I will get back to the novel. Finishing this blog post within one day was mission enough for today.


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further afield

Category : Art , Daily Life , Uncategorized

Today we made it past the park, further than the bakery… that’s right. Today we went all the way to the supermarket in the middle of Antony. The sales are on and I managed to avoid a big splurge… mainly because I had Elena slung across my chest.

After I’d done all the errands (yes, Luuk, I got my passport photos) we headed to the park. We were earlier than usual: other children were still there, yet to be dragged off for their lunch…

There were these three little girls playing with their dolls there at the playground. I bet they got dragged out of the house, away from their whole constructed doll story-world for some good healthy fresh air. I’m projecting of course. These three-year olds speak more french than I do. They didn’t tell me about their game. Rather, I’m remembering some of mine.

I spent most of my childhood in the company of my younger brother and sister, and much of it with the addition of our neighbour Louise. Our favourite ‘make-believe’ game was to be orphans… I’m not sure exactly why this held such great appeal. We are the ungrateful owners of good parents. We all have pretty good relationships with our ‘rents so go figure, our favourite game was to pretend they’d died when we were babies…

I blame ‘Annie’. I’m sure that movie influenced the game because we always had a cruel and stupid orphanage mistress. Very Miss Hannigan. We were usually trying to escape from the orphanage. Not a very original plot.

On some occasions we veered from the Annie story-line and had magical powers. With or without the supernatural we did have elaborate back-stories, costumes and plots to escape, as well as punishments when we got caught.

It was all very involved.

When our actual real life parents insisted on taking us out – to the shops, or heaven forbid, the park – we hated to leave our game. Desperate to stay immersed in our imaginary world we would integrate the outing into our story-world. The evil parent became our evil orphanage mistress and the outing was usually some kind of child-labour.

I loved playing these games. The orphan game was just one of many, but a very popular one. I loved coming up with the stories, and I wasn’t the only one. We would colaborate and take turns directing the outcome. One of us would do the voice of the orphanage mistress and that person could throw all sorts of obstacles and punishments at us.

I realise now that some of the stories we imagined and pretended are actually pretty similar to things we do for real as adults. We used to play shops, throw tea parties, look after pretend babies… wait, that sounds like my to do list: get groceries, make dinner, feed and bathe the babies…

It was such fun when it was a game. The difference, I suppose, was that the game-version had a plot, a purpose. Made-up stories tend to follow certain patterns: there’s a goal, a series of obstacles, successes and failures, and ultimately some kind of resolution. We are guaranteed some kind of satisfaction, which isn’t at all true in reality. Though I did just see a pinterest pic that suggested we’d do better with a theme song. Or perhaps real life just doesn’t throw enough obstacles at us? Nah.

To be fair, I don’t remember ever pretending to do laundry. I do remember making huts with the laundry, but that’s not really the same thing, is it?

Anyway, our games were often interrupted, but in the end, taking the game-story further afield usually made it more exciting. The plot took new twists and we had to get creative to integrate a new setting, even new characters, into our imaginary world.

It’s just like writing a novel, really, making up games and stories. Or perhaps more like writing a television series – a team of writers (four of us kids, collaborating) and then actors bringing it all to life (us kids, playing it out).

I’ve been inventing stories for a while longer than I’ve been writing novels. And I could apply some of the tricks of the great-game-story trade to novel writing, I suspect. For example…

– throw another obstacle at the characters

– take them further afield (into a new setting)

and if you’re really stuck…

– give them all a magical power!

If only we could do all three to lift ourselves, in our real lives, out of stagnation. Instead of an obstacle (cause really who’d want to make their life more difficult?) we can embark on some kind of new challenge or adventure. And we can usually change our setting – I know getting out of the house can do me a world of good.

Shame I can’t just pick out a magical power. Wouldn’t it be fab? Free shipping on magical powers from amazon? Instead, it’s Ballykissangel on DVD that’s calling my name, but I don’t think that will help me get this novel finished.


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Working the system

Category : Daily Life

The secret to getting something delivered fast? Nap lots.

I’m supposed to wait at home for two days waiting for our replacement free box to be delivered. The freebox is the source of our television and videos. It’s name is all about the freedom this is supposed to give us and has nothing to do with the price.

Staying home for two days straight does sound pretty good. Louis wouldn’t agree. Elena won’t mind so much.

But how am I supposed to get my fresh baguette without leaving the house?

And if I’m having a rough day, where’s my pain au chocolat coming from?

Fortunately for me, I figured out how to make deliveries come early.

The first step is the really hard part – get both babies asleep at the same time.

Step two is my favourite bit – take a nap.

And that’s it. I guarantee it the delivery man will arrive any time.

It actually happened twice now. Today, however, I’d been asleep for an hour already and Louis was waking up anyway.

And rather than a vacuum cleaner, we have television again! So I don’t mind so much today.

It’s raining, so I don’t think we’ll be going out anyway, as it happens. We’re out of bread so, with Louis’ help I made some little quiches. And Louis is eating them! I made his ones without any bits (bacon, veges, etc.) but, still, a success!

Lunch!

A nap and baking something that Louis likes. A very good start to the day.

Yesterday started rough and as it went on I realised the nap just wasn’t going to happen. But then, late in the afternoon, I managed to write a whole thousand words! Now that’s what I call a good day’s writing. Anything less and the victory is that I sat down at all, but a thousand words is good progress.

The four cups of coffee probably helped me get over the no-nap hump. I cooked while Elena was crying so dinner was ready to go in the oven at four-ish.And then she slept but I thought Louis might wake up so I didn’t dare nap. I wrote instead.

Elena had a good long nap and Louis didn’t wake till nearly six. Is it just me or are kids more beautiful when they’ve had a good long sleep? Is it just me who loves them a little bit more when I’ve had a little space, a little break?

It’s can’t be just me. Isn’t she lovely?

My baby girl in the hood

 


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little high, little low

Category : Daily Life , Positivity

The baby blues, how they blow. I’m going to say that’s what this is. I hit a wall late afternoon and alacazam, I can’t handle the sound of a baby crying. Not at all. But that’s not the only thing that happens. I lose all resiliency. Any little thing grates on my nerves and later on I’m crying for really no reason at all. I feel totally overwhelmed, not up to this, and I dread Monday, when Luuk goes back to work and I’m on my own with the two kids all day long. Everything seems sad and difficult and never-ending. I suppose this is how depression feels. A little depression, I suppose. I’ve witnessed more serious depression and I’m nowhere near that.

I’ve never been sad much. To my understanding depression is usually something you tend toward, really no matter what’s going on in your life, or it’s something triggered by an event… to my limited understanding that is. I’m lucky, I guess. Through no virtue of my own I tend toward happiness, and no trauma has knocked me off my natural positive tendency. This is just personality and dumb luck. Some might say it’s blessing or providence but I’m really not convinced that God picks and chooses who gets to be happy, by nature, and who’s going to feel down in the dumps for most of their life. If he does, that scares me a bit. So, for want of a better term, I’m saying it’s by luck that I see the glass half full, most of the time. The point is, I can’t take any credit for my personality, my nature, or many of the other things that might have made me this way; let’s say nurture.

But the whole picture isn’t personality and chance. There’s plenty of stuff I do get to choose, or not. And there are a few things I’m noticing lift me out of the dumps.

– Cooking something interesting – flavourful, healthy and creative – and then eating it before it goes cold. Aye, there’s the rub. My lovely newborn baby girl has incredible timing. Sure, it’ll be handy in a year or so when she wants to eat at the same time as we do, but right now it means a few cold or reheated and limp/chewy dinners.

– Writing some blog, or better, novel. Even just a little bit. I suppose, because it’s creative and it’s not baby-focussed, I come away feeling refreshed and reminded that there’s more to life than motherhood. And if the writing comes easy, I get a burst of ‘yippee, I’m capable!’. If things are going less-than-smoothly with the kids then I quickly start feeling like I’m not really up to it, like I’m not doing a good job of keeping on top of things, being a good mum, etc. Getting a sense of achievement from something else pulls me out of that.

– Cuddles. With one of the babies, preferably while the other sleeps or plays happily by themselves, or with Luuk, preferably while both the babies sleep. Skin-on-skin with Elena is meant to give us both a nice little oxytocin buzz. Can’t hurt!

Playing by himself. With pegs.

– Time out, alone. This is going to be my goal every weekend – to get away by myself for even as little as half an hour. Luuk can handle the two babies by himself and has no need of my micro-managing tendencies, which get worse when I’m feeling the pressure and am over-tired. This morning I walked down to town and got some groceries (supplies for my first point). Even though it was raining, ever so lightly, the entire way there and back again, it felt great. Fresh air and exercise – perhaps that should be the next point – felt so freeing, refreshing.

And there are a few things that keep me down in the dumps, or send me there in the first place.

– crying babies. Both at once is a killer.

– failed attempts at naps. Better not to lie down at all than to be woken/kept from sleep by a crying baby. The trick is waiting till they’re both asleep and have been for long enough that I’m sure (as I ever can be) that they’ll stay that way for a while. The other part of the trick is not waiting too long or one will be due to wake up again.

– staying home for too long and not seeing/talking to anyone outside of my little family circle (only one of whom can talk in actual sentences made up of intelligible words – and lovely conversationalist that he is, that’s a lot of conversational pressure to put on anyone, let alone my beloved, slightly introverted husband). Connecting with other people, even when it’s not in person (like writing this blog, especially when I get responses), is a great mood-lift for me.

– a messy environment. Ah, I hate this one. The solution to this one, rather. Ugh, tidying and cleaning, on top of breastfeeding and tiredness and all those nappies… are you kidding? No thanks. Back in NZ, when we had carpeted floors, Luuk’s job was vacuum cleaning. We had a deal. I hate vacuuming so I don’t have to do it. I have to do other things, but not that. We have wood and tile floors here in our little french apartment, but sweeping and mopping are frustratingly un-thorough. We also have a couple of rugs, one of which is lovely and long-haired… and never really clean. So, Luuk went and bought us a vacuum cleaner. And in a day or two, once it’s arrived, he’s going to use it! Yippee!

And then I’ll clean and tidy. It won’t be done properly before then so what’s the point. (Other than not standing on Louis’ toys… sigh.)

So the goal is to accept that this is a normal thing, a hormone thing, and that I’m not losing it, and I’m not failing abismally at everything, even if it feels that way. I have to keep perspective and keep pulling myself up out of the lows, best as I can, and avoiding them in the first case, if I can manage it. And I need to forgive myself, and be patient with myself as well as with my babies (and probably Luuk too), when all this goes out the window…

But hopefully we can avoid that today! They’re both sleeping now, after all. They won’t be for long, so I’m not going to try for a nap. But I’m reaching out for some connection, I’m writing, I’m eating leftover pizza (not very creative but it is yum, and doesn’t make dishes…) and watching old sitcoms on youtube while I look over my novel notes. If I don’t manage a nap this afternoon, maybe I’ll at least get some novelling done. I only need five or ten minutes at a time to make a little progress on the novel.

It’s a first draft after all.

(Should totally rewrite ‘It’s a small world after all’ with that sentence…)


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Out there!

Category : Art

Well, I’m putting myself out there a bit. A fellow blogger is off on camp with one of his kids and asked for guest-posts. Never done this before but thought submitting wouldn’t hurt, right. He gets a lot more hits than I do, and this might widen my audience a little.

So, here is today’s post, written a few weeks back before Elena arrived and my easily manageable 1:1 ratio of one adult with artistic aspirations to one toddler with a consistent napping habit was thrown out of whack…

My Guest Post: “A series of Potentially Dangerous Experiments”


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last day, first day

Category : Daily Life , Uncategorized

Yesterday was the last day of Luuk’s paternity leave. “Are we trying to do to much?” He asked as we lugged two babies and a plethora of bags down to the car.

“Yes.” I replied, without hesitation. Definitely. But I’m glad of it. We decided to make the most of fine weather and freedom (from work, if not from baby-maintenance and parental-lethargy). Luuk looked at the giant map we recently put up on the hall wall. Its purpose there is to motivate and inspire us to go further afield than Paris. So far, it’s working. Luuk made the call for Foret de Rambouillet: a gargantuan forest, size of Paris, just south west of us.

We stopped for supplies (running out of a few things, plus needed extras for picnic lunch) then went in search of this so-big-you-can’t-miss-it forest. Only, the GPS wanted to send us one way and we wanted to go another – the scenic, through the  forest, not on a toll road, route. So we had words… and drove quite a bit longer than necessary. That GPSLady is not popular at the moment. Louis coped remarkably well with waiting till 1.45 for lunch. We found a lake to sit by and Luuk made sandwiches while I fed Elena.

Then Luuk burped Elena while I ate. Once again, several types of cheese and baguette made up the bulk of our meal.

It was nice to be in the forest. We weren’t far in but enjoyed being surrounded by trees and all that good oxygen.

Louis ate bits of baguette and turned his nose up at the salami and delicious cheese (comte really isn’t that out-there, Buddy) then went and played with the acorns, once Luuk showed him how much fun they could be.

At first he was so unnerved by the high-grass that he wouldn’t take more than a couple of steps from my side.

We need to get out of the city more often. He’s a bit too friendly with cigarette butts and unfamiliar with real, rugged nature, for my liking. Luuk coaxed him with the ball and they went for a kick-around while I looked after Elena.

… who pretty much slept through the entire venture.

After lunch we went for a walk along the side of the lake, taking this gorgeous path through the trees.

Louis brought the ball along, naturally, and happily walked the entire way, as a result.

I carried Elena in our new sling-thing. It’s really comfy and most of her weight is carried by the strap that goes around me, not by the shoulder straps. But in the heat it’s a bit sweaty. Still, can’t complain about the heat less than a month into summer.

After our walk we got back in the car and drove through parts of the giant forest. We went to the town, Rambouillet, in search of the presidential summer palace. Had to get out of town again before we found it…

… but we persisted, as both babies were asleep in the car and we had no choice but to keep driving around in circles until the one-way-system let us out of town…

Success!

Then we looked at the map and found another road through the forest to take us home. So, yes, perhaps we did try to do a bit much but it turned out pretty good. And we needed that. The previous night had been a mare. Elena’s great at sleeping for good long stretches but not so fab at going to sleep in the first place.

Unless she’s on one of us. She’ll be straight-up exhausted, too tired to feed, but put her in her bed and she wakes up. Even her lovely bear (from Luuk’s Oma and so lovely and soft compared to Louis’ well-loved toys) doesn’t do the trick.

Tuesday night she just wouldn’t settle and I was up till nearly two, and in tears for a lot of that time. Come Wednesday morning I was a mess…

Luuk took three photos of Louis eating his breakfast and this is the one in which I look the most presentable. But I went back to bed as soon as Elena no longer needed me, and then I slept for three hours. I woke to feed her again, drink my coffee (thanks Luuk) and eat breakfast no.2 (thanks Luuk)… and was somehow cajoled into an excursion to a forest.

Fortunately, last night went much better. I was dreading repeat, but we threw every trick in the book at her and she went to sleep around eleven.

Tricks in the book include: skin-to-skin, cluster feeding, a dream feed, and then basically letting her fall asleep on me… hey! It worked.

I was up once in the night and in that time she sicked up twice and managed to fill a brand new clean nappy, but I coped just fine thanks to that peaceful evening. And today, my first day alone with the two babies, is going pretty well. Elena went down for her first nap, drowsy but awake, and fell asleep on her own, in her basket. Angel.

I got laundry done and wrote my journal, even showered! Probably got the greatest sense of achievement from doing the dishes.

I’m not exaggerating – it’s amazing that this happened before noon.

She’s having her second nap in the sling on my chest: a necessary measure if I wanted to finish making and then eat my lunch.

This sling is on loan from a friend. It’s not as easy on the shoulders as the other one but it is easier to get her in and out, and its great for getting stuff done around the house – or so I discovered today.

Now, for today’s biggest challenge: taking both babies out, on my own… Must post something, so have to do it. Weather will crack soon, or so the forecast says, and it does look that way, so I’d better dash, and take my coat. Perhaps today I’ll buy an umbrella. Hate the things – always poking me in the head – but might just have to get one anyway.


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almost ordinary

Category : Daily Life

Today feels like a slice of ordinary, only it’s not. Luuk goes back to work on Thursday and that’s when I’ll get a taste of the new normal. Mum and Dad left for Ohio this morning. They’ll be back in just over a week but they won’t be staying with us. We’re back in our own bed tonight and what I’m most excited about is that Elena won’t be in our room with us. Babies can be noisy when they’re sleeping. Other than having her in with us, living in the lounge has been all good – no problem. And actually, they do recommend sharing a room with a newborn – but I suspect that’s for the health/well-being of the newborn, not the sleep quality of the parents.

This ordinary-ish day began with feeding Elena. I think I’m right in the assumption that this is a definite part of the new normal.

Luuk and Louis get cleaned up and dressed, then breakfast and, for Louis, another clean-up. Then it’s nap time for both babies and (please let this become normal) they both went down in the same room, pretty much at the same time, and managed to sleep. At one point one cried out and woke the other, but without parental interference they both went back to sleep. Lovely.

And so did I. Had my breakfast, and shower, and then went back to bed. Had a lovely long sleep till it was time to feed Elena again. By the time she was finished Louis was up and so we headed down to the market. Not feeling quite up to taking both kids to town by myself yet, so it was good to have Luuk along. I had Elena in the baby sling/front-pack thing.

We got our fruit (cheap apricots – yum!) and veg (fancy mushrooms – exciting) then headed to the fromagerie… my first time allowed to eat ‘lait cru’ – raw milk. The fromagerie world was my oyster. Got some roquefort (blue sheep’s milk cheese), and some comte (most popular cheese in France – kind of cheddar-like), and something else I’ve already forgotten the name of. Next stop was a stall selling loads of different types of olives and other Mediterranean yummies (for those of us who don’t like olives). Got me some hummus and dolmades. Skipped the cream cheese stuffed peppers – cheaper at the supermarket.

Went to the bakery next, and finally the play ground. Poor Louis, in the pushchair for most of the time he’s awake, and then he gets to the playground and he’s too hungry to hang around for long.

But he got himself well-sandy before we headed home for lunch. PB&J for the wee man, hummus and four types of cheese on fresh baguette for us grown-ups. We offered it to Louis. He passed. Tried hummus and made an interesting face. Ate most of his slice of comte, but I think he prefers supermarket-Gouda. Fine by me – it’s cheaper.

The babies are asleep again and Luuk and I are laxing out, watching a few episodes of ‘The Wire’. Might do some writing this afternoon, though I might be multi-tasking at the time. So I’ll move my story forward but the writing could be average. If ‘The Wire’ has any influence then the language will be fouler than usual.

I’m enjoying the lazy days. Yesterday we did similar, Luuk and I – television and food, looking after babies, and that’s about it. We were, in part, recovering from a full-on Sunday. We went to Paris to visit friends.

Had a fantastic feast of lunch then I napped on their spare bed, with a restless Elena, while everyone else went to this kids park at Bois de Boulogne – the Jardin d’acclimatation.

Everyone got thoroughly worn out but had a blast. Didn’t leave Paris till after nine but it’s so light that it doesn’t seem so late.

We all needed a quiet one on Monday. Mum and Dad went all the way to Paris to sort out some of their tickets for later legs of their travels. Luuk and Louis did a mammoth bike ride. Elena and I stayed home and I tried not to lose my cool when she refused to sleep un-accompanied. I managed a few hundred words of my novel with her propped up beside me on the sofa. But then she did a giant poo and my  writing took a similar turn.  I tried to put her down for her nap but she just cried. I played ‘bejeweled blitz’ on facebook. I used to do this when Louis was crying himself to sleep. The games last one minute – forcing me to sit and wait a little rather than responding immediately to every little peep. Time goes into this insane crawl when there’s a baby crying. It feels like you’ve waited five, ten minutes but then you look at the clock and it’s been one minute, two tops.

But bejeweled didn’t do the job yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t handling it well at all by the time everyone else came home.

She had a decent sleep in the evening, on Luuk’s chest, while he watched an Euro2012 game. And then, thank God, she went down a treat after her dream-feed. She woke once in the night, around three, and then I woke her at half-seven this morning. I suppose if she must be infuriatingly wakeful then at least she does it in the daytime.

I’m also feeling pretty good today because I fit another pair of jeans. I squeezed into these with the help of sucky-inny-granny-pants eight weeks after Louis was born. Elena is all of 12 days old and I’m in them easy, without elastic aid.

Perhaps should limit my cheese and baguette intake if I want to keep going the way I’m going…

 


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Past, present, future.

I keep thinking back – comparing my experiences with Elena, my feelings about all this new baby stuff, with the last time around. My memories are skewed and patchy, even though it was only just over 18 months ago. A lot has happened in that time: earthquakes, novel-writing, moving to the other side of the world…

I don’t remember how long we let Louis cry it out before we caved and got him up out of bed.

I don’t remember what I did when I wasn’t feeding Louis, during the day, in those first weeks when feeding the baby takes up about a third of every day.

I don’t remember falling asleep so quickly and easily… ever, really.

But I’m not just thinking about the past. I’m thinking about what comes next. Tomorrow we go into Paris to see friends. Louis will have a blast with their kids and us adults will chat away most of the afternoon easily, and probably with some good food/drink for accompaniment.

In a few days Mum and Dad are off to my sister’s wedding in Ohio. Then, ten days later, they’re back, with my little bro. I’m looking forward to his visit, to showing him a bit of France. He hasn’t traveled much and I anticipate his joy and interest in all the new things he’ll see in his short visit.

It’s summer – and the hot, sunny bit is still coming. I’m looking forward to my body and energy returning, to being a bit more mobile, to taking Elena and Louis to the park by myself and feeling the rush of empowerment that comes with finding that I can do this whole mother-of-two thing without losing my mind. If I’m lucky I can do it without losing my cool too often either.

Lots of friends and family are visiting over the summer. And when we’re not busy socializing and sight-seeing I have writing to do and a new routine to establish. I do like routines.

Come September I’m hoping Louis will be going to the Halte Garderie – like kindergarten, I guess. We have also been planning a holiday for the end of September. My parents will be back here again then and we’re going to rent a house together for a week or two. In fact we spent most of yesterday looking up accommodation options and sights to see all over the south of France.

It’s good to have exciting things to look forward to. My sister and her new husband might be coming for Christmas and next year Luuk’s parents… Our 18 months here are going to go insanely fast.

Among all this looking forward and back, I am trying to also be present here and now. Elena might be my last baby. I found pregnancy really difficult this time around and frankly have no desire to go through childbirth again, even though the second one was way easier than the first. We did talk about having four, once upon a time before we even had one. Two, on the other hand, means we can take a taxi, drive a normal car and have room for luggage, and we can do all sorts of things more easily because the ratio is 2:2. As soon as the kids outnumber the adults life has got to be more challenging, and travelling, more insane.

Even if we do one day have more children, I’ll only have this time with Elena once. Also, this time in France is pretty special and might only be for 18 months. This phase of Louis’ life is a constant reminder of how quickly things change. He’s growing and learning and changing so fast. I was flicking through photos today and saw some from when we first arrived in France.

Louis in February

Just 4 months ago he was a baby. Now he is definitely a toddler, a small child.

Yesterday, chilling out.

He’s walking, nearly running, communicating much more clearly and obviously understanding nearly everything we say.

Lapping the house – video of Louis from yesterday evening.

He’s trying to talk and copying a lot of our words. He’s helping with household tasks and sitting through meals in restaurants and giving cuddles and kisses to his grandparents, parents and little sister.

I fed Elena for an hour this afternoon. I was so bored by the end of the time – partly cause everyone else was out and so I had no conversation to pass the time. Being present can be difficult. But presence is so vital, for two reasons:

– to appreciate all the goodness and fullness of life.

– to faithfully tell honest stories about life in my art.

So I’m trying to remain present. I’m also trying to slowly start up some of my good habits and routines again, without putting too much pressure on my tired, healing, hormonal body.

Today, after over 10 days off, I started writing again. I stared at the last three lines of dialogue from two weeks ago for quite some time. The blank page below taunted my fuzzy head, but then the coffee kicked in and I was hyper-aware my time was running out. Elena was in her bassinet at my side, content for the moment, and everyone else was out. Neither would be true for long.

So I wrote.

Elena started fussing. I stuck my pinky in her mouth and kept writing, one handed.

Mum and Dad came home, then Luuk and Louis, and I kept writing. (Someone took Elena off my hand – literally – and someone else fed Louis dinner. Go team.)

I paused at 490 words, tempted to stop. But no: 500 is a good round number. And then, all of a sudden, I had 695 words!

I suspect creativity begets creativity. After my writing burst this afternoon I cooked dinner. It was leftovers night – refurbished leftovers. Last night’s curries came with too much rice… I added tomatoes and lemon rind, cream cheese and creme fraiche, egg and flour… fried it all up, and voila! Rice balls! Yum.

Also had leftover flat breads and pasta sauce. Put together with some basil, salami and mozzarella… pizzas!

Pizza and Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Also made yummy salads with toasted walnuts and buttered baguette crutons, cherry tomatoes and chevre chaud (hot goats cheese). Yum.

Three courses of creative food. Doing art is definitely good for me. The whanau (family) are not complaining either.

In other news, Elena is still very sleep and we wake her for almost every feed – even in the middle of the night. Newborns aren’t meant to go too long without food, but if I don’t wake up one night she might just sleep through.
I know better than to think this is the way things will remain, but I can hope. Breastfeeding is still going well, and if feeding and sleeping are both going well then parenthood, or at least new-parenthood, is going about as well as it possibly can.
I’ve only had a few emotional moments – no doubt thanks to the excellent support team I have around me. I’m getting daily massages, my housework and dishes done for me, drinks delivered on request and babysitters on-call when I need to nap. Had a lovely nap this afternoon before my writing/cooking creativity burst.
There’s definitely a connection.

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The second time around

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She’s still sleeping like an angel – three nights in a row of only one middle of the night feed (more like 3am than midnight). I can do this! I can do this indefinitely. Though that seems unlikely.

Theories:

– she’s bigger than Louis – bigger belly – stays full for longer.

– she’s sleeping in the same room with us, hearing us snoring, just like she has for the past nine months. (That’s me sleeping in the couch-bed. Elena’s Moses basket is usually on the coffee table during the night.)

– my memory of Louis is just plain inaccurate.

(a)

– second children are generally easier because (a) the parents are more relaxed &/or (b) there’s a crazy toddler running around and yelling for most of the day and they just have to adjust.

(b)

But it’s probably none of those things or a bit of a combo. Anyway, we’re doing much better now that we’re sleeping.

It’s six days today and I haven’t been overwhelmed by happy-tinged-tears yet. Last time it would get to four or five in the afternoon and I’d be sitting on the couch with a third tear-soaked tissue, sniffling and saying, “I’m just so happy.”

I keep waiting for it, expecting it, but no tears of this flavour yet. There were tears of exhaustion, and tears of frustration, but no crazy hormone tears… Fortunately, last time, I knew it was the crazy hormones and not just that I was losing my mind.

Of course there probably was some mind-losing. They call it baby brain and I would love to say it’s a myth but I more hope than believe that to be true. If I tried to do calculus now I don’t think I’d be getting A’s like I once did. (Wasted talent anyway; never did like maths. Became an English teacher, though I only got Cs and Bs in English. Go figure.)

I have been feeling a bit uber-sensitive. Mum told me about a court case in NZ – a midwife being tried for malpractise or something because things went badly wrong: baby died, mother had to have hysterectomy… but beautiful twist on the end – they saved her ovaries/eggs and a friend gave them a surrogate who was their biological child. Welling up a little just now.

Overhearing the news about Syria almost put me over the edge. Was glad to be making dinner and missing most of it.

Have been feeling quite restless. Wrote in my journal yesterday evening – 2nd or 3rd time since the birth – and that made me feel better. Also had a brain wave: I want some kind of work, something creative to do that doesn’t revolve around food or babies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with giving food and babies lots of attention, but there is more to life – or there has to be in mine or I’ll lose it.

So, I’ve decided to pick up my sketch book in the next few days and, pretty soon, my paints. Novel-writing seems like a huge brain-obstacle that I’m not up to overcoming just yet. Reading would require more attention-span than I feel capable of, but a little sketching, a doodle here, a likeness there – I think I can manage that.

Getting out of the house each day is preserving my sanity, no doubt. Probably overdid it a bit today doing the shopping with Luuk. But we did successfully have a first family outing with just the four of us. Elena slept through the entire thing. Surprise surprise.

We got home and the front pack (ordered online) had arrived – would have been quite useful for the shopping trip.

Elena is so tiny and delicate. Perhaps that’s what’ll get the tears flowing – her delicate little floppy… aw.

Louis is coping pretty well with his new role as big brother.

Elena, lucky girl, even got a kiss today. It was a very sweet moment.

The whole communal living thing is working out pretty well, I think. I’m definitely appreciating the laundry fairy. And yesterday, while I napped, she swept all the floors as well. Elena gets put in all sorts of places, out of the way, so that Louis can sleep un-interrupted in his room and we can use the living room without waking her.

She’s very good at sleeping through everything and anything – long may it last. But I know not to expect too much. It’s a phase common to the first few weeks of life. Knowing these things, I’m sure, makes it all easier. Perhaps I’m feeling less over-whelmed and that’s why I’m less emotional.

 

 


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The difference a sleep makes

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What an angel! I could barely believe the clock when I woke at 3am. She slept for four hours. In other news, I have milk (as opposed to Colostrum) and she could fill her belly, no problem. She then slept till morning. Miraculous! Inspiring! Restoring.

I’m under no illusions that we’ve stumbled upon some magic formula and can manipulate a repeat performance, but a little sleep does make a lot of difference.

My parents are staying with us and between them and Luuk I’ve been pretty much waited on, hand and foot, since getting home. Meals, drinks, heat-packs… I receive delivery after delivery and I get dibs on the baby. I also get naps, massages, whims – some toast? Ooh, yes please. With avocado and cheese please.

It’s cozy with six of us (babies count as people, of course) living here but I’m enjoying it. We have to be organised, but I like having efficient systems – a place for everything and everything in its place… Luuk and I are sleeping on the fold-out couch and this makes for some lovely family time in the morning, first thing.

And it’s fabulous having all the extra pairs of hands. At one point four or six hands were required just to get Louis’ dinner into him. No risk of him being entirely neglected because of Elena’s presence.

The true test will be when Mum and Dad go. Yesterday we had to take Elena back to the hospital for a day-3 blood test. We walked down, even though it was drizzling. We don’t yet have a baby sling/front pack (though we ordered one online today) – so Luuk carried Elena and protected her from the drips.

Mum and Dad walked down with us, looking after Louis. Luuk and I continued on to the hospital while the others went to the park.

After that, our first outing as a family, we got organised for the evening. Luuk gave me a massage while Mum and Dad looked after Louis. After he went to bed, I fed Elena (at eight)… an hour later I finished and hoped we would all go to bed, giving me the maximum time to sleep before her next feed. But Elena didn’t go to sleep. And it took a while for us to get ready for bed. We tried to settle her but come ten o’clock I fed her again. A full feed: keeping her awake with all the tricks – feet tickling, lying her down on a flat surface, talking, changing her nappy – till she’d had lots to eat and wouldn’t stay awake a moment longer. Then she went down and – hallelujah! – so did I. When I woke at three I didn’t believe the clock! She was stirring but wasn’t fully awake, so I got all ready (drink bottle, snack, cellphone – with handy feed-record-app, heat pack for my achy back) and then we did another good long feed. Luuk woke and helped with the keeping-her-awake part. It felt all good and team-efforty. Four hours sleep and I was a new woman!

And then I woke again at 6.30 – morning! Once again, Elena wasn’t even awake yet, but I got everything ready and greeted Luuk, then Elena, then Louis and mum and dad with quite a lot more perk than anyone was expecting.

Was still tired today, of course, but much more positive. My milk is ‘in’, as they say, which means a full and happy, if burpy, baby. It also means some rather uncomfortable water-melon like stuff going on, but I keep reminding myself it only lasts a few days.

We sent Mum and Dad off to Paris today – six days in the country, it’s time they saw the Eiffel Tower – and Luuk was out with them initially, sorting out a french sim-card so they can communicate with us. Louis and I had some lovely one-on-one time.

We made pikelets! I had the urge to bake and this is a recipe simple enough for my tired/baby brain, and for Louis to help.

1. Whisk 1 egg, half a cup of milk and 2 Tbsp sugar.

2. Add (sifted, it says, but I didn’t bother) 3/4 Cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda and a pinch of salt. Also cream of tartar, but I didn’t have any so risked going without. How bad could they be?

3. Mix it all together

4. Spoon into a fry pan. Flip when there are bubbles on top.

5. Taste test. Very important.

6. Serve as you fancy… we had plain jam for fussy louis, jam and cream cheese for me and Luuk, and I had a couple with lemon and sugar. Yum!

Bit naughty, but that was Louis’ lunch. And a good appetizer to mine. Had a nap this afternoon (one good night is, after all, just that: ONE good night) then we took Louis to the park, and Elena too, though she slept the entire time. Wandered down to Antony to get some spring rolls for with dinner. The walk was slow, because Louis was walking, but it still wore me out. So hopefully I’ll have no problem falling asleep tonight. Which won’t be long now. Elena was wakeful again this evening – didn’t get my massage yet – but we’ll try again now. So I’m signing off – and realizing this is insanely long, but once again will not be proof read.