Saturday, 18 October 2014

Uniform of motherhood

I wonder whether there shouldn't be a uniform of motherhood. Some outward mark of the transition into motherhood. No matter how we arrived at it. 

Lord knows our job description has been rewritten when we became mothers. And fathers. 

My wardrobe has definitely changed with the arrival of our son. Jeans have reached a whole other level of logic. Though I love my looses dresses too, I admit it is more easy to get in less than flattering flashes of underwear than it is with my jeans. Not least when you fumble around on the floors.  

Pockets are key. Mine are always bulging. At the moment it's primarily tissues and chestnuts. 

I love the idea of an official uniform of motherhood. 

We could wear it on feast days and never have to worry about choosing something appropriate.  Ever again! Because would be smart. And feminine. And never look dated.  It would be like a female smoking. It would make us look bustier, taller, more straight backed and we would all be sexier it in. Because it would be us to the core. And we would wear it with confidence. Just as many men in their smokings and uniforms.  

It would be very green and sustainable. Perhaps embroidered, stitched and sown by our friends and family like the beautiful bunads of Norway, their national costumes. 

Our parental chests could be crowded with badges of honour. For sleepless nights endured, bruises kisses, meals cooked, bums wiped. Just for starters. Or maybe just years passed since that momentous change. It would be signs of our personal stories. Not to be compared. But to be seen and acknowledged. And appreciated. By all society. 

My clothes are never pristine anymore. 
There is always a smear on it somewhere. Mosty of food. 
And it always arrives within second of me putting on fresh clothes. Sometimes I notice them. Often I don't. People probably wonder whether I actually own a mirror. And if I do whether I ever use it. 
I do. But they don't mean much any more. 

I'm just rounder, often more tired looking, dirtier, wearing less make up and more comfy/shapeless clothes. I look more worn. And feel more loved. And love more. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sally Donovan teaches

On Monday  I went to an amazing workshop with Sally Donovan. Based on material from her upcoming book on adoption parenting, it was brilliantly refreshing, honest, real and useful. She delivered it all with ease, clarity and grace. Everyone should have a Sally D! If I can't, I'll buy her second book. Well... I'll buy that any way. Can't wait. 

I found Sally's workshop immensely reassuring. It confirmed many of my core beliefs and taught me many news things. It made me feel more confident about caring for my son in a way that is different and - on the face of it - softer than mainstream parenting. It is not laissez faire parenting. Just the opposite in fact. It's parenting with open eyes - respectfully, compassionately and gently.

But first and foremost I was reminded that without Digs, his sunny temperament and the boundless love he brought to our house there would be no involvement in adoption parenting and charity. He gives me the surplus energy to do and explore like never before. Parental isolation is a thing of the past for me. I feel supported. And loved. In my family.  And in my community. 

Admittedly I left with a feeling that I have it easy - Sally told us never apologise for not having it difficult. It may all change. My son is a bundle of joy. He was not well when I got back on Monday - another epic cold was announcing itself. But he was happy. Bubbly and chatty as ever. As Sally urged us to do, I told him straight away when I saw him how happy I was to see him and his face did light up. His curly hair even seemed to stand up a bit more too. I got a big hug and a giant lick on my face (he likes to pretend he is a baby cat at the moment). Some things are very simple in the world of bonding and attachment. If only we keep remembering to do them. 

I feel quite certain I'll f*#% up with reassuring frequency - outch and sorry in advance. I don't like the thought of that, yet I know it to be realistic. But I'll continue to do my best. Because you do<em></em> deserve nothing less. 

Thank you, little Mouse. 

Thank you, Sally. Bring on the book!

Sally Donovan's The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting will be published by JKP in November.

Friday, 12 September 2014

In his bed

Pierre has a little homemade verse that he likes to recite to Digger at night. He's been doing this for almost as long as Digs has been home with us. 

It's the last words of the day. Said just before Digger falls asleep. The last bit of our night time routine.  Before the final kiss of the day. 

In his bed
In his room
In his house
On his street
His daddy loves him 
His mummy loves him
He is safe and sound

Yesterday I said it as well when I put him to bed. With a little smile on his soft and sleepy face, eyes closed, he lisped it over his dummy and fell into a deep sleep almost immediately. 

As if those words were his night time anchor. Spoken out loud to help him let go of the day. Feeling safe and sound. I always thought falling a sleep is such a massive sign of trust, if not exhaustion. Letting go must be a quite feat for a little one. Especially if they are scared or feeling brittle. I imagine it is like setting off in the little boat, like Iggle Piggle in the Night Garden. Across the ocean, bobbing along alone on the sea til the morning. 

That takes a lot of faith to let go.

I've seen the power and magic of this little verse.
I'll use it now too. 

Thank you daddy. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

ode to a toddler's diaper

He pulls the diaper straps really tight. His little belly is bulging out over the top of it. He wants them to cross or touch at the very least. He succeeds.  We inspect his handy work. 

'Are you sure that's not too tight?' I ask 'It looks kinda tight.'

'Sure. Nice and cozee'. He answers.

We look up. Our eyes meet and we smile. 

Digger has been sort of potty training for months. Potty, loo or standing. Whatever. It comes and goes. I don't mind. I've been trying to be gentle about this whole thing, and to follow his lead. It's his body after all. I've learned Digger can get quite narked if I press the issue. 'No pee now!' 'Okay. Just let me know if you need help when you need to go.'

I heard a good trick to get little (and big) people to aim better: put a Ping Pong ball in the bowl. So I've popped in a bright yellow one. Thinking Digger might be intrigued and that he might be encouraged by it. He's not. He's mostly concerned that it may get flushed out. I think it might well be. I probably tried this trick too early. Like so many other things in parenthood. 

I'm not sure how much to press potty training. I even worry I am keeping him in diapers. So this week I've begun to offer underpants or diaper to him when I change him. He can go either way. Although truth be told:

Digger prefers naked. Anywhere. Anytime. He loves weeing in the garden. With his little arched back he looks like Mannickenpiss. Summer has been great for this. Naked gives him so much more feel for his body and what goes on inside. 

'Exiciting!' He exclaims when he sees what he has produced. A new and favourite word. 

His little bum soon get wrapped in a diaper again. Certainly for naps and nighttime. 

Getting it on can be a struggle. He's quick. It can be difficult to catch him. And catch him is what he wants me to do. It's a game. Currently I have most success asking him which animal he would prefer me or us to be while changing him. Miaow is his favourite.  

Respectful diaper changing and potty training takes on another level of signifance in the context of adoption I think. Few things are more intimate than wiping poo of another person - whatever age. It's private. And about personal boundaries to be acknowledged and respected. It's key for bonding too. I'll admit we hardly knew which side was up at first. Digger got hold off the bum cream at an early diaper change and ate some! In fact it was during introduction. The first day we had him alone in our house. We thought we'd killed him. Confessing guilty to Rosa his foster mum when we returned with him. She laughed in the kindest most understanding way. 

Some of our earliest and most precious bonding moments were during changing. Exchanging all important touch, eye contact and smiles in this preverbal world of his. Perfect to show attunement to use a technical term of something that can be quite magic. Now we sing and chat and take turns. He's quite involved and often pops the diaper in the bin himself. Yeah. 

But is he getting to big for diapers? 

There is a lot of external pressure - prestige even - about early potty training. Am I holding him back? Should I be pressing the issue more?

Thankfully a friend remindeded me that in Scandinavia the question isn't 'Is he potty trained yet?' But 'Has he dropped the diaper?' Much more empowering. And the power-to-the-kid isn't just linguistic. It's an approach. The believe is that it will happen in its own sweet time. On average in these northern parts of the world is 3+ for boys, notoriously later than girls. Digger is a few months short of this. I exhale. This approach sits so much better with me. 

We have become much better at changing diaper. All of us. From fumbling begins of  'sorry darling. Is that too tight?' we now manage quite quickly. At night I can even do it without waking him. Or rather - without him letting me wake him.  Yet diapers are often dry in the morning. Like this morning. Bone dry. Despite the full bottle of milk we still pour into him when we snuggle for milk and stories every night. 

Potty training is about psysiogomy. Maturity of body and mind. And Digger is definitely heading that way. With or without me rushing him. 

Days of diaper changing with Digger are numbered. 

I will miss them. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

busy busy at the beach

From a toddler parent perspective there are few environments where there is next to nothing to break; the beach is one of them. That also means there are few 'no's to enforce. Both parents and toddlers get a break from sentences like 'Hands off! Fingers in the sockets is really really dangerous!' There is some funky electrics on this town. Unnervingly funky. Toddler height.

As you might have guessed we are on holiday. Digger, daddy and me.

An acerbic and funny friend of ours once proclaimed that holiday after you become a parent is just going somewhere else with a child, somewhere far less convenient than home. I know what he means. But I gotta say this does feel like holiday, and has flashes of pre-Digger holidays. My younger sister popped by for a few days. The resulting ratio of 3:1 adult to child felt positively luxurious, and added to the sense of calm. Digger got lots of 1:1, while the grown ups took turn to catch up, or just be.

We are all relaxing.

I'm delighted that Digger seems love picking out stones and shells as much as I did as a child, and still do. He can stop dead in his track, bend down to pick something up, study it closely, and pocket it - if he is wearing pockets that is.

I'd forgotten how much there is to do on the beach. things to study, things to watch, things to touch. Waves to chase; splashing, swimming, and my favourite today: 'Digger floating!'. Where he got that from I do not know, but it certainly an essential life skill.

The beach is also excellent for messy play. Digger, as most people, is not great with sand sticking to him. So once his wet hands got sand all over, he ran down to the shoreline to wash them, and then ran back up to our base to undertake some more sand construction ('Digger building house!'), but.. oups - sandy hands again - oh bum, have to run back to shore line, wash wash, then run up again, and more construction, oh no... sandy hands again - how did that happen?!... He must have run back and forth 20-30 times, until finally he collapsed in his buggy, taking an early but very sound midday nap. When he woke, he had cracked it: take bucket, fill it with water to wash hands when need to, rest of the time: wipe sand off. He seems to be learning even in his sleep.

Digger is experimenting big time. The beach is one big science lab! With no rules. Albert Einstein supposedly said that imagination is the highest form of research. Along those lines I'd venture that play is the highest form of experimentation, since there are no rules. Only things to be learned. Much of it about basic physics. Volumes, weights, gravity and so on. Children's absorbed play is endlessly fascinating, and endlessly fascinating just to watch. This is such all-absorbing stuff for Digger, that I wonder how do I take all this, or just this lesson, home? What is it that I have learned? Partly that Digger has grown so much, that while he is enjoying playing with us adults, he is beginning to really enjoy his own free company. He chatters away while playing. Today he even looked up and said: 'Digger happy!' and smiled. I can actually read my own book while on the beach with him. Yes, he is that absorbed. I need to peer over the edge of it ever so often, but still... Yes. This beach holiday has offered us all important lessons. Not just another holiday to be filed with photos under holiday 2014.

There are 'no's on the beach, we have come to realise. Rules we follow ourselves, second nature, but that does need pointing out to a toddler. Like no kicking of sand; no shaking out towels next to fellow sun worshippers; no using the parasol lower bit as a sword - especially not near other people; no dumping all the biscuits on the sand (though he would have come to that same conclusion very quickly without my help) and definitely no poo-ing on the beach.

The ocean, or indeed any water, is also such a great place for games that puts the toddler in the charge (well on the surface), the parent being the clumpy underdog. Like being knocked sideways by a beach ball. Repeatedly. Our son loves that. All those games where we big ones really let go. And get down to the messy yet simple business of being silly and in the moment. And Digger can bask in our undivided attention.

On the whole the beach is bliss for a toddler. And I love playing here with him too.

But how are we ever going to get him back on UK time? He's only just gone down, at 10.30pm.
On the up it will be a lovely 8am lie in tomorrow morning.

I am quickly coming to think that relax is a very key word in parenting.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

words words words

I think I'm getting tired of them.
I think digger might be as well.

As my husband Pierre points out I wasn't born with the editing gene. Neither were large parts of my family. I marvel at his ability to sum up any situation or episode - swiftly, succinctly and with integrity

Fewer words is what I aim for. 
For clarity. For integrity. For honesty. 

When do I use to many words?
Well ... Often. Here are a few situations where I am trying to cut down:

When he is sad. Or hurting. Then he just need comforting. 

When he is playing. Especially when he is in his flow zone.  Then he just need to be left to his own devises and good company. Except if course when sports casting. 

When we need to ... leave the house/playground, eat, drink, get dressed and so on. Actually ... I ask myself how often we ever need to do something?  

When he find something that is totally absorbing. Like noticing a spider in a hedge. Or spotting a blue truck. Or a crane, crane, Crane!! CRANE!!!

When he is eating - at dinner for instance. He knows when he doesn't like something or when he is full or wants more. 

There can be a lot acknowledgement in silence. Just catching his eye. Or touching him gently. In smiling. 

Let's take one of these situations and dissect it: Digger needs comforting. Digger doesn't need words or even explanations. When he is sad or hurting, he just needs comforting. Full stop. And the acknowledgement of his world and feelings that it will carry. Chances are he doesnt know why he fell of that log. Or why he bashed himself on the head. Or spilled all the milk all over himself. So there is no point in asking for an explanation. He won't be listening anyway. He's little body is no full of feelings - surprise, sadness, hurt, anger, frustration to name but a few regulars. His ears are as tightly shut as his eyes. Only his mouth is open to let out the sobs and cries. 

So now I find it best - and most efficient - just to comfort. I put my arms around him - if he will let me. And hold him. Sometimes I rock him. He likes me to stand up so he is really held tightly - suspended really. 

'Oh dear, little love.  That looked liked it really hurt.'  Repeated or a variation of this, if necessary. It is the tone of voice that carries the most weight of the sounds anyway. It is a verbal hug. The sound of soothing.  

In any of these situations there's a not so thin line between explaining and lecturing. Wrote the daughter of two teachers. I should know. 

Words can crowd and cloud the space between us.  Curiously I write this as Digger's language is coming on apace. This week i estimate 80%ish of his blubber being words. Last week it was 70%ish. When he gets it wrong, I try not to correct him too much. But to repeat. Or ask if him what he meant. For instance 'digger wan aish' he might proclaim and I can ask 'does Digger want an ice cream?' Or 'does Digger want that ice cube?' Always followed by a long pause. I'm practising pauses. If I can master them, I hope to raise a son who is better at listening that my family is. Me included. 

So many messages are lost in words. 

For the sake of clarity, I'll try to sum this blog up like this: 
In parenting fewer words will probably do. Not least in the preverbal world of a toddler. So choose them well I tell myself.

 I'm trying I'm trying!   

Friday, 4 July 2014

Sport Casting Digger World

Digger loves me sport casting of his every move. He cannot get enough. He would have me do it all… day… long… if he could. ‘Peak, peak’ he chimes, pointing to my mouth. (S–sounds are very hit or miss at the moment.)

There are many words for sports casting: 'Peak, peak', verbalising stream of conscientiousness, broad casting, sports commentating, say what you see, voice over and hero sound tracking to name but a few. They are all of course subtly different. At our house we’ve settled on the term sport casting. My husband is getting into it too.

The present World Cup of course is really good for brushing off this particular skill.

It is simple – just say what you see your child doing.

‘Digger’s holding the bulldozer in his right hand. He moves the bulldozer in. In towards the giiiiaant heap of Duplo blocks. He pushes the nose into the pile. And clears a small path. Oouhh… this is tough terrain. And he get’s stuck!! He cannot move the blocks. Oouhhooo… But wait…. he pulls back. He’s free! He backs out.... He backs out a bit further… he hesitates… And now! At full speed! He rams the bull dozer into the pile again.’  You get the gist…

This is not the same as acknowledging their feelings, as in ‘Oh dear, I think you just got a nasty shock there. Is that how it felt to you?’ Nor is it solving conflict (see links below). This is primarily about seeing one child, and to verbalise what you see. And children love that. All the children in our family love it, and cannot get enough. It is a wonderfully effective way of opening your (my) own eyes to all the minutiae of your child's Toddler Kingdom.

But there are many pit falls in sport casting. I definitely had to practice before I got half way decent at it. And I still run out of steam. And end up saying the same few things over and over again.

Most practitioners agree that you should stay away from steering the child’s actions. That includes staying away from saying stuff that may change how your child is playing. Such as ‘are you sure that is a good idea to put the red block on the green block? Here… take another green block. It’ll look nicer’ or ‘Darling, you just need to turn the block over. Then they will fit together.’ or worse still ‘Do you want me to do that for you?’ My sports casting versions of these would be along the lines of ‘He picks up a red block. He puts it on the green block.’ Or..

“He appears to be a trouble…. The blocks don’t seem to fit together… This looks very frustrating for our young hero… he is now audibly frustrated…’ etc (Yes both Pierre and I can end up using less-than-toddler-friendly language – we get desperate, in our fumble for new words and ways of expressing it all.) If I step back and leave him to it, he usually solves the problem himself, if he doesn't give up and move on to something else.

So…absolutely no questions allowed, no interjecting (unless to keep your child safe) and no directing.

Just sit back, observe and speak. It’s a bit like jazz riffs and improvisations. Just go with the flow...

I channel my inner sports commentator. I get into the grove of it and enjoy it. It is fun! And can get very absorbing for us both.

I try to be enthusiastic, engaged and non-judgemental – just like sport commentators. They have to remain fair to each of the competitors, all the while they are completely riveted by the game.

Staying non-judgemental though is nearly impossible. Just try to think of a sentence that doesn’t convey how you feel about it. Even about the weather. ‘The sun is shining.’ See? Impossible.

There are times when I suggest sport casting to Digger. Like when we need to get a move on – e.g. getting home from the park in time for dinner (ie when mummy has lost track of time). Sport casting Digger when he is scooting has been a revelation. He motors off in great style, often so far ahead that he cannot hear my comments. And yes, people may look at me funnily when I continue commenting – I have come not to care about this. Mostly though, they laugh along with me...

Oh, the things we do for our children…

Here’s a few link of some posts with more info on sport casting, mainly from the Janet Lansbury school of thoughts, its origins with Magda Gerber acknowledged. There are others I like but I have not found English web links to these. Lansbury’s way and focus is different to what I describe above, although her sport casting is amazingly effective in resolving certain conflicts as described below: