Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Transition; From Crawling to Walking and the Subsequent Baby-Proofing

Few subjects get talked about as much as mobility when you have a baby or toddler. "Is he/she crawling yet? Is he/she walking yet?" is the frequent question when you're updating family and friends on your child's progress. Indeed, its the thing that makes us realize in a heartbeat that what we are dealing with here is in fact a little person. Nothing is more in your face than a crawling or walking little being getting into the cupboards or grabbing at cords they can now reach or pushing chairs around on the floor and creating the most untolerable scraping noise on the linoleum. Until your baby crawls, scoots, or walks, people will think of your child as cute. When they make this transition however, they will now think it's hysterical, because now, you must baby-proof.

No one is more quick to point out the humor of this new situation than grandparents. Having already been there once themselves, they are completely immune to the distress that this transitionary period can inflict on the parents. And don't think that you'll get any sympathy either, because the moment you open your mouth to complain, rant, or just plain old get something off your chest, they will remind you how much trouble you were at this stage (as if you could remember, let alone do anything about it at this point). They make it pretty clear from the get-go; they will not be complained to, and they will not give you the pat on your shoulder that you so desperately want. They also are usually pretty tight-lipped about what they did to keep you out of the tangle of cords that your own son is now obsessed with. I guess they want me to figure out the secret for myself. (Note to self: do not be this unhelpful to Andrew and Morgan when they complain about their children getting into stuff.)

For myself, I didn't do a ton of actual "baby-proofing." By that I mean I didn't go and put corner protectors on every hard surface, tape foam to edges of furniture, or remove every object from reach that could hurt Andrew. And I know some of you mothers may be cringing at that thought, but resist the urge to compulsively come over to my house and soften every hard edge or corner there is and hear me out. Yes, I have moved a lot of objects out of his reach, and yes, for a time certain areas were blocked off entirely, and yes, there are some cupboards that have special locks on them because Andrew was too smart and strong for the traditional sliding cupboard door lock, but I have also deliberately left a lot of things out and within reach because Andrew needs to learn that there are things in his environment he is not allowed to touch.  I have also avoided baby proofing a lot of the hard surfaces because it teaches balance and agility. When a child falls into a certain corner or surface a couple times, they learn to slow down or to improve their balance in the vacinity of it, and other surfaces really quickly.

I know it sounds a little heartless, but I want my child to fall, and hurt himself now and then. It's how they learn, heck, it's how we, adults, learn too. Do I leave the door to the garbage can open anymore? No. Because I walked into it once when it was open, and I still have the bruise it left on my thigh. Lesson learned. Does Andrew sit on the couch with his back facing the room anymore? No, because he fell off backwards twice and hurt himself. Having obstacles in his environment teaches him to be careful, and aware of his surroundings. It teaches him better balance and agility, and as a result my child is 13 months old, and has been walking for only 3 months and rarely falls down or crashes into things. Yes, he still stumbles around like a drunken sailor, but his balance improves rapidly because of some stubborness on my part to not coddle him to death.

I also want to go back to the boundaries subject and clarify that. This is not meant as a judging statement, merely an observation of how some parents choose to raise their child, and the flaw I see in it, and my reaction to the perceived flaw. If the following is how you choose to raise your child, that's fine, you go do it. I simply choose to do things differently. I see quite often a toddler reach for an item they want and simply seize it - a telephone, a bottle, another child's toy, and think nothing of it. That's the way toddlers are - instinctive. They see it, they want it, they take it, even if they only keep it in their possession a few moments before tossing it aside. Many parent's response to this reaction is to put everything they don't want touched out of reach; cell phones, the house phone, etc, and yes, there are things I never let Andrew have if possible, like my own cell phone, since it's a) expensive and would be too costly to replace or b)it's very dangerous for him to have it, like a knife, but for the most part I have now chosen to use the word "no" and then actually stick to my guns.

In this way, Andrew learns boundaries. He no longer plays with the cords under the computer because he learned if he touched them, he would get in trouble. And the same thing is going for his most recent obsession, the house phone. He tries to touch it, or the Xbox controllers about 10-15 times a day. But that's down from the 30-40 times he tried just last week, and it will continue to go down as he learns from my repeated removal of the objects in question from his hand, and his punishment when he won't leave them alone. He tries to play with them too much, and he gets put in a time-out in his crib or playpen, end of story.

Going from stationary to crawling or scooting, and then to walking is a busy and important time in a child's life. I keep reminding myself that while some of the measures I have decided to take in raising my child are yes, more frustrating at the moment and sometimes very trying on my patience and sanity, that the first 5 years of life are the most important in a child's, not to mention a person's life. I believe that children learn to be aware of their surroundings and to be mindful of boundaries if those are empathsized in early childhood. Things like this are just as important as playing and eating at this time, and the lessons they learn now stick with them for years to come. Remember, the traits you want your child to have as an adult are not always the traits you want them to exhibit as a child (ie: independence) but it's important to foster them now, because your job will only get more difficult as they get older. There are days I resent it when Andrew tries to get into things, but I try to remember that curiousity, the desire to learn, and independence are all things I want him to have as an adult. So, I take a deep breath, remove him from the unwanted area, and then reward myself with a piece of chocolate (or 10) when the going gets tough.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't Make Resolutions

It's that time of year again folks, when the diet commercials run, and skinny actresses and models tell us to sign up for this, that or the other program that will help us look like them, and the time when people vow to quit smoking, get active, or lower their cholesterol, or even quit drinking. It's when we rethink our bad habits and what's missing in our life, and reevaulate what's important to us, and then, we make them. The List of Resolutions. Things we will do differently in the New Year.

Here's a novel concept though, this year, don't. Don't make resolutions that will be forgotten in a months's time, or with the first bite of a piece of cheesecake, or the first sip of a guilty pleasure beer, or puff of a "I'm not ready to quit cold turkey" cigarette. Don't make resolutions that you'll come across by mistake in 6 month's time and put a guilt trip on yourself because you got off track. I suggest instead, that you make changes.

It's tempting to look at your life and see what's missing, and then resolve to do more of it, or less of it as the case may be, but the problem probably isn't your desire to make that change, it's how you go about doing it. Whatever you want to change, you need to incorporate into your life so that it's as cemented in your brain that it's a part of your life, like the morning coffee, or feeding your child breakfast. And whatever you want out of your life, you need to do the same thing, but restructuring things so that it's no longer part of it.

This time last year, I was all about the resolutions, and trying to make sure that I lost the baby weight, got my body back, and that I would go on that inevitable search for "balance" (whatever that is, anyways), and after I had my appendix out and was not able to work out for months, and I ended up being a little more busy with the new baby than I had ever imagined, well, the guilt got laid on pretty thick, and those resolutions were out the door. My biggest mistake? That I thought I had to keep everything as it already was, PLUS incorporate the changes into my life. Days still lasted 24 hours though, and my responsibilities and hobbies were still there, so something had to give, and of course, it was going to be the new thing that I hadn't yet learned to incorporate into my life in something else's place.

So this year, I've got only two things on my list that I want to do differently in my life, and that's make more time for yoga, and time for writing. Something has to give though, right? So I examined my day, really examined it, and what did I find? The television. That was my culprit. It's on almost all the time, and it was sucking my attention away. When I could have been writing, or doing some yoga, the tv would almost always suck me in. So, I made a change. During meal times and Andrew's nap times I keep the tv on, but I switch the channel to a music channel, Galaxy it's called, and I pick something that will not distract - classical, opera, whatever suits my mood. It keeps up the background noise that I love having in the house (and that's so beneficial to making sure Andrew learns to sleep through noise) but it allows my attention to be focused elsewhere, mainly, on my writing, and my yoga.

In fact, it worked so well that before I knew it, I had gotten two full hours of writing in today, and I hadn't even looked at my blog. Love it! So remember, don't make resolutions, make changes. Take the time to reflect on your life and how you spend your day. Think about what you want more of, or less of, and then find a way to restructure your life so you can make that change. If you have to, schedule it in in your daytimer, and make sure you make it a priority, as much as eating, drinking, and sleeping.

Hope everyone's holidays are merry and bright, no matter what you celebrate!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Having a life? Yeah right!

If it's one thing I hear constantly from my friends who have children (which unfortunately are few and far between, most of my friends remain childless) is their desire to be able to do something, anything away from the kids. And I must admit, before I had children of my own, I really didn't get just how 24/7 kids really are. Even when they're sleeping, you're still there, waiting for them to wake up, praying they don't wake up, keeping an ear out for them, just in case they wake up. I couldn't even go to the bathroom on my own for a few months, until I finally got up the nerve to close the door in my screaming boy's face. I had to draw the line somewhere, right? If I'm not going to have much of a life outside of Andrew, then I will at least pee in privacy. That's my viewpoint, anyways.

But forget peeing alone, sometimes just an hour or two away from the kids would be nice. But the problem? Who will look after the children? If you're going out on your own, the father is often the solution, but what if you want to do something together? Life is not as simple as it was before children now. You can't make spontaneous plans - babysitters must be arranged, and ones that know how to cope with your child's various quirks too.

Take today for instance, I have a friend who is single and pregnant, and moving. Neil and I are both going to help her move, but we had no babysitter. So what does that mean? We're bringing the toddler! I'm sure this will mean half the day will be spent in keeping him from touching certain things, from getting underfoot, and from escaping the old apartment, then the new apartment. I'm more there for moral support if you think about it really, Neil will be doing most of the lifting. And it's not as simple as just bringing him either, naps had to be planned and thought out carefully, to coincide with arrival time, lunch time, and when we most likely expect to be done. Because guess what? We're also having my parents over for dinner and Survivor finale tonight, which means we have to plan that he'll be awake and able to visit when they're here too. Is your head spinning yet?

I used to think that once you had a baby, that's it, your life was now about them all the time, and that taking time for oneself was a selfish thing to do. But having walked the road of a mother for the last year I finally understand that in taking time for myself, it's making me a better mother. I get time to reflect, to relax, and to recharge my battery. Time away from Andrew makes me love him more, and enjoy the time I play with him and see him all the more. Taking care of myself means that I'm happier, and that in turn affects how I react to stressful baby situations, and it makes me get down on the floor and play with him more. When I wasn't doing anything for myself I snapped at people sometimes, had little random crying fits, and I was prone to be emotional at the oddest times. None of those things have happened since I started letting myself escape now and then, and though I feel the odd twinge of guilt at leaving Andrew and hearing him cry as the door closes in his face, I come back blissful, and I can't help but love how he runs to me and practically tackles me when I get back.

I wouldn't miss out on being a mother for all the world, but now that I know how important my me-time has become for my mental health, I wouldn't miss it for all the world either.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Babies and Yoga

The following is a long version of an essay that I wrote and submitted to Yoga Journal for (hopefully!!!) publication. It is completely and totally unedited because I worked in drafts. But hopefully you will enjoy reading it regardless!

I know this sounds cliché, but I never expected my life to change this much when I had a baby. I rolled my eyes at the people who teased me for thinking I would have time and energy to do yoga with my baby, and I scoffed at the people who mocked me saying “sleep now, because you're not going to get any for the next 3 years!” It was going to be different for me, I had yoga under my belt. I would be doing downward facing down over my baby while I cooed at him and made him giggle, and we would curl up happily for naps during the day, and if we were up at night, well, that's alright too. Boy, was I ever in for a rude awakening.

After 20 hours of difficult labour that was primarily in my back, I delivered a healthy baby boy, Andrew, into the world, and from that moment on, every plan I had went out the window. I was blessed with a sleeper, thankfully, though not the sleeps-all-night sleeper. But we got in decent amounts of sleep at night, and he was a wonderful nurser. But yoga? Ha! Life had a few surprises in store for me. Andrew might have been an eater and a sleeper, but he was not okay with being put down, not for yoga, not for sleep, not for anything. From the time he was three weeks old until he was 3 months old, Andrew slept in his swing. And it had to be on. And you could forget about carrying him around in a sling and happily going about your day tidying or making a meal, because he wasn't having any of that. Andrew wanted to be held, and talked to, and smiled at and teased into a giggle; he had to be the center of attention every moment.

Two days before Andrew turned 2 months old another wrench got thrown into the works, and I ended up in the hospital having diagnostic surgery for a mystery pain in my abdomen. It turned out to be my appendix, which was about ready to burst, and I spent a couple weeks recovering. Andrew and I lived on the couch when we weren't in bed. It was 6 weeks before I could even think about moving my torso in a crunch-like way, and 8 before my digestive system felt like it was working normally again. Yoga had been the farthest thing from my mind, and he was almost four months old; I felt like a complete failure. What had happened to my dream of mommy-and-me yoga?

It wasn't until Andrew was almost a year old that I really started to integrate yoga back into my life, but in a very different way than I had planned. Instead of the quiet yoga time I would have during his naps (which I admit, I thought would be longer and more frequent than they actually are) I've given over to my toddler's demanding nature, and I instead practice freely when he's up. A typical practice starts with me unrolling the mat and letting him run all over it laughing and screaming for about 5 minutes. Then, I shed my socks and flip on a video, or prop up an issue of Yoga Journal and open it to a sequence, or sometimes I just wing it and do whatever pose comes to mind. I often swan dive right into my son's sweet-smelling hair, or push up into cobra to look into his grinning face, with an open-mouthed kiss coming right my way, or even get perfectly balanced in Tree Pose to find myself almost knocked over by the force of him trying to climb me.

Yoga isn't like how it used to be. It's not a long practice anymore, nor is it peaceful and relaxing. Instead, yoga has finally brought into my life the lesson I truly needed to learn. Go with the flow, take it “one pose at a time” and enjoy the time you have in each one, even if Tree Pose only lasts for a few blissful seconds. Andrew has finally taught me to live in the moment, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. Besides, there's always times for that good intense yoga session in about 4 years when he's going to school, right?

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

Everywhere you go! This is not Andrew's first Christmas, but this is the first of the toddler/child years of Christmases, so it's a lot more interesting than last year, which was a jumble of breastfeeding, changing of dirty diapers, and making sure my Dad didn't hog the baby the whole time we were at my aunt's house for Christmas dinner. He got spoiled rotten by his family and Santa Claus, but there really wasn't a lot to bring him. He had lots of clothes already, and toys weren't really necessary, so people gave him more clothes, and blankets, and someone even kindly bought us some diapers. But mostly, he just slept. I was cruel enough to get a picture of him in a stocking though...

But the years you have a toddler, well, everything changes. Trees must now be "unbreakable," meaning you have no ornaments on there that can break or cut them should they get them down, and it means you will be on constant "Tree Watch" to make sure they neither touch the ornaments, nor bring the tree down on their own heads. Both of which have happened this year by the way.

Oh? You didn't know it was possible for a 2-foot something toddler to bring down a 7-foot something tree? Well, it is. I'd heard the stories about myself and Neil, of course. Trees tied to the wall, lots of handsewn ornaments made by my mother so I couldn't chew an ornament and end up with a mouthful of shattered glass, etc, etc, etc. But it wasn't until I was cooking dinner one night and heard a very distinctive crash and then a scream that I knew what was really possible. There was Andrew, still standing, the main steel trunk of our fake tree somehow having missed hitting him on the top of the head, and his head almost poking through the branches of the tree. In fact, the only injury he suffered was a scratch on his forehead about 2mm long, and it's long since healed and gone away.

We tied the tree to the wall in 2 places the next day.

Last year, Neil and I put our gifts to each other, and the gifts to the kids from us under the tree before Christmas Eve, it heightened the excitement, and it meant a lot less unpacking from the storage room and arranging on Christmas night. But not this year. Not with little Mr. Grabby-hands as we like to call him. Those presents will be dragged all over and unwrapped within an hour of putting them out. Everything goes out Christmas Eve (after he goes to bed) this year.

There is also no fireplace this year, or toys with tons of little pieces and parts, and there are definitely no real candy canes on the tree. There is absolutely nothing that can tempt him to eat what he's not supposed to eat (like candy) or to go in his mouth and choke him (like Polly Pocket). In short, while these next 2-3 Christmases are going to be exciting in new ways (like trying to outsmart the toddler) it's also going to be very boring others (have you tried to find toys for a 6-8 year old that do NOT include tiny pieces without getting them only stuffed animals?).

I know it's kind of cliche, but I didn't know how much my life really would change after Andrew, and Christmas is one of those things I just never really thought would change. If things keep going the way they are going, we might even have to change what we do on Christmas. It's getting hard being at 4-5 different houses in one day, we may have to start getting people to come to us. Oh well, there's time to figure that out another year! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to try to teach Andrew that the keyboard is a)not a toy and b)really not fun to play with.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Babies get dirty in the weirdest places.

If you have a baby or a toddler, then you already know this. But, if you don't, you may be surprised by the sheer weirdness of where your baby/toddler can get dirty. For instance, I once found a Cheerio stuck to Andrew's skin in his armpit. People, he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

Babies get dirty doing of course, the obvious, number 1's and number 2's. Wiping bum is just a normal part of a baby's day, and you will of course do it several times a day. But babies also get dirty doing another normal everyday activity, eating. A simple cup of yogurt or cereal can end up in any of the following places, and more: under the fingernails, on the arms, in hair, behind and/or in the ears, up the nose, in the eyebrows and/or eyelashes, stuck to the bottom of socks/feet, under the first inch of the diaper, on their private parts, and of course, down their shirt.

Then, you have the adverterous toddler, which I was blessed with. These toddlers will go to any length to get into every cupboard and drawer, and empty the contents onto the floor, and injest them. Today for instance, Andrew got into the dried goods cupboard and opened a box of Ritz Crackers. Now, he did the same thing yesterday, and I was fine with it, since all he did was grab a cracker and eat it. He did this 3 times, and then when he had his fill, he left the crackers alone. Not today. Today, the package of crackers onto the floor. He then stepped on and rolled all over the crackers and smushed them into the carpet. Andrew's older cousin has emptied an entire box of cornstarch onto himself and the floor. These toddlers are to be feared, and their ability to get past child safety locks should NEVER be underestimated.

For the first 3 or so months of life, babies don't really need to be bathed all that often. If you wipe their bottoms thoroughly when changing their diaper and clean the spit off their mouths, a bath every 3-4 days is sufficient. It's also better for their very sensitive skin to not be bathed on a regular basis. But once they start to eat solid foods and move around, a bath everyday or every second day is not something to be skipped. You will strip your baby down, and even if you think you saw every inch of their body at some point in the last few hours as you changed or dressed them, you will be surprised by some sort of glued on piece of food in a very odd part of their body. It is not unusual to find part of Andrew's meals crusted to his back or feet, or a whole piece of carrot clinging for dear life to one of the folds in his neck.

Yes, if you have a toddler, you will be no stranger to weird messes. I suggest you stock up on a little more baby wash if you haven't yet.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Toddler's First Birthday

So we've talked about labour, and we've talked about sleeping and nursing. For the first 6 months of a baby's life, that's pretty much all you think and talk about, except for popping of course. But for the last 6 months, everyone reminds you about the all important event coming up, the baby's first birthday.

"Have you started planning his party yet?" "What will the theme be?" "How many kids are you inviting?" "What flavor cake will you serve?" "What does Andrew want for his birthday?" are only a few of the questions people start asking you the moment they hear your baby has graduated past his first 6 months of life. And up until he was 11 months old, my response was "I don't know, I'm not thinking about that yet."

Truth is, I'm a big believer in trying to live in the moment, so I attempted to soak up as much of how Andrew was at that moment, rather than living in the future of what he will be, or what his party would be like, etc. I spent a lot of time on the ground with him, playing peek a boo, handing him toys, crawling beside him, playing chase, and all manner of games while he was still limited in mobility. His first birthday was miles away from where I was, and I didn't want to touch the subject until it was almost time. Cause I'll be honest...I've been fighting the whole transition from baby to toddler, tooth and nail.

If my Grandma had her way, Andrew would have stayed as a newborn, as he was in that first month, always sleeping and eating, so helpless and dependant on your touch. If I had my way, he would have stayed at 3 months, sleeping lots, and eating quite a bit, but able to interact with you, smile, and do a few cute "baby" things when he was awake. As he got further and further away from it lots of exciting stuff happened, but he wanted to be snuggled less and less. Now, he only wants to snuggle when he's really tired, or asleep completely. When he gets up at night to eat, I hold him after he's fallen asleep for a few minutes, just because it's the only way I ever get to do so anymore.

Andrew's first birthday was going to be a big affair. I knew that before I ever started planning it. He is the first blood grandchild in my family, and my mom has 4 sisters, 2 of which live locally. Neil's parents live locally too, and we each have 2 siblings. By the time cousins and friends and spouses of family were all factored in, we had 30 people squished into our living room/kitchen area. Yeah, 30 people turned up rather excitedly to see my little guy make that transition from 0 years to 1 year. We did a jungle themed party, with a monkey cake, and Andrew was shell shocked throughout the entire thing. My dad fed him bits of hot dog (which didn't really go over well) and Andrew managed to mooch small pieces of chips from probably every grown person there.

But by far the most interesting part of the day was present time. For the entire party, the children present spent their time in the kids's bedroom, playing with toys and making a total wreck of the place. But man, they heard "presents" and they were out of there so fast, that bedroom ended up a ghost town. Every child then was gathered around me, salivating to get their hands on the gifts and help tear them open "for Andrew!" and then whisk the new toy off to be played with. Every child watched disappointed as I instead had to take the toy away from them, and put it in an ever growing pile on the chair behind me. I wondered what the kids must really make of another child's birthday party... they got to help unwrap the present, but they don't get to keep it? It must be very confusing for them.

Most confused though, was Andrew. Between the paper that was handed to him, and the new toys that were placed in front of him for him to try to play with with all those people watching, and admire new clothes, he was looking mighty overwhelmed. I'm pretty sure he spent most of that time in my dad's arms, observing the mayhem below.

If I learned one thing from throwing that chaotic party, it's this: Never throw a big party for a toddler. We didn't spend a ton of money, or go big and fancy on anything really, but I should have known that that many people was going to be too much for him to deal with. I should have made it close family only, and then let other people come and see him at their leisure during the week, and not put the poor kid into such a state. Next year, it'll be us and maybe grandparents only... and if we ever have another baby, I won't put them through such a rucus. Cause really, it's not for them, it's for us. And that's just not fair.