Thursday, July 30, 2015

Phrased Out: Talking Toddler

Time is growing up, and so is my child.

In between the commutes and the tickles and the bath and bed routines, my toddler is fast shifting through the months into a fully fledged little person, with a rapidly growing vocabulary to match.
The leaps and bounds into language have provided a plethora of gorgeous moments. Slightly mispronounced words, cute songs from start to finish, muddled up versions of the ABC, and counting from one to fifteen with only twelve numbers. Just last night she told me she wanted to give me a big cuggle and kisses before requesting I sing Twinkle Twinkle one more at door Mummy pwease.

There went my heart, again.

Mastering toddler language has given my daughter the power to express herself. This a great thing, a brilliant part of growing up, an incredibly important developmental milestone, and a really big small-footed step towards an adult future of self determination, autonomous control and clarity of communication.

But for every gorgeous moment we log in the memory bank, our daughter's grasp of toddler language has the ability to throw up an equally horrifying moment, a complete linguistic juxtaposition that has the potential to return your previously stolen heart for a refund and make you feel the polar opposite of warm and fuzzy and happily parental.

The world of toddler language is peppered with exhaustingly repeated phrases, cranky toddler demands and seemingly innocent signifiers of sheer parental doom; it is the beginning of a whole new, demanding and frustrating world for Mummy and Daddy. Or Dummy and Maddy, depending on how you pronounce things at this stage of your life, and/or how well your verbalised toddler demands have been met.

I am led to believe that every parent has a list of their top most hated phrases of the week. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but I like to dream that I'm part of some form of exhausted, grumpy club. Regardless, I press on: here are my top three 'don't ever wanna hear em again' phrases for the month, and presumably the year.

My former cherub lost her cute, fluttery wings the day that she added her high-pitched, cranky 'ME DO IT' to her budding vocab. Everyone warned me about the ME DO IT phase, but no warning could effectively convey the true horror of the ME DO IT months ... oh please tell me it's only months?!

Getting in the car? ME DO IT.
Mummy driving the car? ME DO IT.
Putting pants on? ME DO IT.
Mummy putting lip balm on? ME DO IT.
Daddy cooking dinner on the stove? ME DO IT.
Dog eating a treat? ME DO IT.
Time to vacuum? ME DO IT.
Mummy needs some quiet time. MEEEEE DOOO ITTTT TOOO!

Sometimes, I have to admit, it can be a little bit funny. A little bit amusing to watch a cranky mini-me stamp and yell and fume her way indignantly around the kitchen, having a melt down because someone else dared put the lid on her sippy cup on her behalf, or put the towel back on the bathroom rail without her knowledge, or empty the potty without her express permission.

Sometimes, it's deeply intriguing to just sit back and watch; to watch her undo and redo something and then undo it all over again, to try and try and try to do something impossibly difficult just so she can reach the toddler satisfaction nirvana of doing it ALL BY HERSELF.

But mostly, it's soul-draining exhausting. Day after day, I find myself sitting next to my car, broken, defeated, prohibited from helping, pleading with my mini control freak to please just get in the seat before Mummy loses her final marbles right ... there ... on ... the ... kerb.

If the wings fell off my cherub when independence rocked in, it's fair to say that the broken wings fell right under the twenty ton toddler truck when toilet training entered the picture. My dreams of a nappy free life were shattered as fast as you can say 'Do you need to go to the potty darling?'

My early pipe dreams of a pleasant transition to toilet training land were shot down in a barrage of wet pants, repeat episodes of faux denial, and 'parcels' sent home at the end of the daycare day for fumigation. Sure, there have been days of some success, but these are reliably unreliable and always give way to days of intermittent efforts followed by days of apparent toddler vs. toilet stand-off.

Very few things instill fear in me these days like hearing a sweet MUMMY, I DONE A WEE floating through the shared air of a pleasant, well-populated and otherwise hygienic public space. Because nothing says relaxing family day out than finding yourself standing in a puddle of wee with a sodden, foot-stamping toddler screaming ME DO IT and trying to pull their pants off, in the company of a hundred strangers trying to enjoy their Sunday morning coffee and croissant.

We've read the books, and we've spoken to day care. We've grilled other parents, we've grilled our own parents, and we've spent hours consulting the confused oracle that is Doctor Google. We've tried the little potty and the big toilet, and the big toilet with a little potty modifying device. We've tried cotton undies, and training pants, and no pants. We've tried directing the show with clear instructions, and activating the power of ME DO IT for self directed learning. We've employed embarrassing enthusiasm, and nonchalant apathy. We've tried sticker charts, reward stamps, bribery crackers and even the promise of a tropical island holiday when the big girl status achievement is finally unlocked, BAZINGA.


While I've heard plenty of success stories from other parents who's beloved children have managed to hold onto a cherub wing or two and soar their way through potty training as swiftly as germs flying through an indoor play centre, I've also heard plenty of stories like ours.

I cling to these stories the same way I still cling to solo showers and secret tubs of chocolate macadamia ice cream hidden at the back of the freezer. These stories bring me a much needed sense of universal community - we are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone ... we're not alone are we?!

The toddler truck has also delivered the magical UH OH to our household. In the early days, crying was bad. Teething was bad. Pooplosions were very, very bad.

These days, UH OH takes the 'oh shit no' cake. Every time those two cute little syllables come wafting down the hallway on the parenting breeze, my heart skips a few shuddery beats. Such a cute, sweet, simple combination words; such a horrible  and generally accurate signifier of domestic disaster.

UH OH has delivered pen drawings all over the couch, and pen engravings in the television cabinet. UH OH has ripped the charger and charging port sheer out of the laptop and pulled the laptop off the couch more times than I want to think. UH OH has poured water in the DVD player. UH OH has broken all the ceramic tea cups that were never permitted to leave the cupboard in the first place. UH OH has explored their dirty nappy with their hands. UH OH has drawn on the novels in the bookcase instead of the paper in the drawing book. UH OH has spilt milk all through Mummy's car and failed to reveal the oopsie until the smell crept into the carpet and tried to kill us all through our nostrils.

UH OH sometimes means Mummy, I've done something so terrifying that you might need to hide in the bathroom and eat potato chips this afternoon until there is enough tinge of dusk creeping across the sky to justify opening the vodka.

As nasty as it can be, I should qualify: UH OH is infinitely better than its evil stepsister, I FIX IT. My advice? If you hear I FIX IT coming down the hall, just go straight for the vodka. Even if it's still breakfast time.

What do you never want to hear again?

M x

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lights Up and Down the Street

8pm, Saturday evening.

It's pissing down rain and howling wind like a toddler unwillingly separated from its wilted packet of teddy bear biscuits. A taxi is idling out the front, bleating it's horn at the neighbourhood one impatient honk at a time.

I briefly wonder who the shitty driver is waiting for. Who in our neighbourhood, our city, our universe, would actually go out at the ungodly hour of 8pm? And in the gusty, squalling rain of all recurrent Melbourne weather atrocities?

It must be a mistake. A booking error. A slip of the app, an accidental pocket dial from the comfortable oblivion of someone's pocket squashed against the couch in their lounge room. 

Surely no one else COULD be ready to go out and socialise at this time of night! What about the kids? What about the wind howling at the roof and the dog howling at the wind? What about the half eaten pasta dish and the cheap bottle of red on the bench? What about the unfolded laundry and the Saturday Night footy and the prospect of a soul shattering 6am Sunday morning start? What about the complete domestic madness that lies ahead?

The taxi horn squeals again. And I remember.

Other people DO actually go out at 8pm on a Saturday.

Other people, including the couple across the road who don't have kids, and the smiling couple up the street who have growing teenagers and a growing sense of returning parental freedom.

Other people, including the older couple across the road who only see their children at Christmas and when the fence needs repairs, and the seemingly displaced house full of uni students who have strange coloured hair and parties at odd times and make me feel curiously crabby and even more distressingly old.

Other people, including the disparate congregation of men from around the nearby blocks who drift together in their respective sheds for short and long stretches of night to talk about beer and the cost of things and the house of uni students and how the umpire got it so very wrong again.

Other people, including the young parents who live further down the block who usually remind us of us, but who actually managed to get it together today and arrange a babysitter, wrangle their child impressively well AND get out of their tracksuit pants. Well played, kids, well played.

Other people, including ourselves on other weekends in the past and still to come, when the preceding weeks have been kinder and the weather has been friendlier and the terrifically terrible twos have been a little less trying for the three of us.

Other people, including the old younger version of me. The old younger me, who would have been waiting for Saturday evening since Monday morning, counting down the work days until the fun days and the sun time until the night time.

The old younger me, who would have been dressed and heeled and waiting on the front verandah with a flimsily impractical umbrella to fight the herculean tempest, impatiently tracking the taxi through the app before it even turned into our street. 

The old younger me, waiting with a tiny purse and three pre-drinks tucked under the decorative belt around my not-yet-a-mother waist line, wondering why on earth there were so many lights on up and down the street at 8pm on a Saturday night.

A door slams and the taxi slides off into time.

8:03 pm, Saturday evening.

Time to fold the laundry.

M x

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Those Days are These Days

I used to dread those days.

Those impossibly long, soul draining, parental working days. 

You know the ones. 

The ones that get underway well before the sun comes up, where the dog barks and the child screams and the wind blows the outdoor setting over before the alarm on your mobile phone ever gets a chance to squeal its morning not-so-glory in your ear.

The ones where you manage to squeeze three hours of morning preparation into one, managing to layer nail varnish onto the holes in your last pair of tights whilst co-brushing your teeth with your toddler, making a mental note to buy more milk whilst simultaneously burning a hole in your ear with your straightening iron.

The ones where you, the toddler and your miraculous holy grail head of straightened hair run out the front door smack bang into a cyclonic rain storm, only to find the umbrella is missing: presumed drowned in the toilet, and replaced with a hyper colour plastic phone and six old sultanas covered in indistinguishable fluff and grit.

The ones where the daycare drop off leaves you a mooshy mess of mummy guilt and fluster. The ones where you have to peel your child off your side in the doorway - like sliding a wedge between two magnets - before making a guilt-wracked mercy dash in the rain to the bus, the train, the tram, the overcrowded overpass, that will never get you there on time.

The ones where the barista mistakes your strangled strong latte request for soy latte. Which won’t matter anyway when you spill two-thirds of the stuff in your jacket cuff and down your leg as you try and completely fail to regain some, or any, sense of awesome working person togetherness in the 12 floors of enforced elevator reprieve you must endure while you run late, later every morning.

The ones where the email inbox fills up with emails that you don’t want to contend with, while you stare at the download icon willing the one email you actually need to make its way through the universe so you can please, maybe, yes, perhaps, indeed, oh please just get shit done. Before you have to go back and do the day in reverse again. 

The one where you forgot to put your lunchbox in the tea room fridge, and you are left with a winless choice: a plastic Tupperware container filled with dubious quality and potential gastric disaster, your toddler’s afternoon snack box of cracked up crackers, or a maniacal dash to the food court in the cyclonic rain- which followed you all the way to work and now menaces from the window, daring you to even try. 

The ones where the phone rings incessantly like the mocking failure bells of side show alley, while you doodle on your notepad and daydream of hanging out at the carnival and riding the ferris wheel as like you’re twelve again. You’re thirty, how the hell did that happen? And why are doodling stick flowers and artistically challenged box houses when you have so very much to do?

The ones where your brain turns to puddles of plush pah phoo before four, where you drag your holey stockinged legs through the sideways water bullets to find that the barista has already shut the machine down. And the suit in front of you made off with the last conceivable chocolate brownie standing, perfect stockings, umbrella and all. Oh Murphy, you've done it again, top marks for accuracy.

The ones where the transport system grinds to a smashing halt under the hordes of peak hour crushdom, shuddering along the city streets while you calculate how many dollars this game of human sardines will cost in daycare fines and overtired toddler fees. 

The ones where the traffic lights turn every shade but green as you sit in the thrumming throng, while your toddler melts into a thunderous velociraptor as the situation of the earlier eaten cracked crackers cracks the evening universe into a headache that will lodge deep behind your eye - absolutely cracking and removable only by the power of the weekend and the medication of a bottle of red. Or three. 

The ones where the postie left the bills not the wedding invites, and the parcel man left the slip not the present from Grandma, but the dog left the type of terrifying present in the laundry room that you Just. Don’t. Want. To. Know. About. 

The ones where you oscillate between serving up toast or nutritional value, while sneaking Tim Tams from the top of the fridge and hoping that the pizza gods might arrive on the doorstep and save you from the triple tears of chopping onions with a toddler by your side, finely diced to distraction.

The ones where you manage to pull off a dinner with three finger burns, two vegetables and a side of mash, only to discover that your toddler now exclusively eats muesli with yoghurt from the red bowl, and only while sitting on the floor in slippers. 

The ones where you read half of seven different bed times stories, fairies fractured with sea shells mixed with meatballs falling from the sky onto some kids plate; lulling yourself to sleep while your toddler puts her plush posse to bed and proceeds to march all over the dying dregs of your regrettable soy latte experience.

The ones where you lean your head against the ironing board as the house descends into the sounds of silence, wondering if you managed to hide some Tim Tams from yourself but knowing deep down in your shattered psyche that you've drained the emergency chocolate bank well beyond dry. 

The ones where you finally collapse on the couch, only to remember that you never got the f$%#ing milk … and now the dog is barking at an imaginary cat and the toddler is screaming ‘twinkle twinkle A B D Muuuuummmy’ and you should probably set the alarm before the sun decides to come back up all over again. 

Yep, I used to dread those days. 

Now days though, those days are just these days, and these days are my days.

And I wouldn’t change my days for all the non-soy lattes in the city. 

Would you?

M x

Monday, June 23, 2014

When Life Takes Away Your Lemons

"When life gives you lemons ..."

It's a saying we've all heard. When life gives us proverbial lemons, we crack jokes. Make lemonade. Ask for sugar and water. Squirt them in people's eyes. Get your friends to bring salt and tequila. Bake a pie.

We make jokes until we squeeze our way out of our sour situation into sweeter territory (terrible puns intended). But what happens when the situation spins a full 180, reverses right up onto your expectations, and life takes your lemons away instead? 

I recently had the juice knocked out of my tumbler when the universe decided to play havoc with the natural order of destruction, and take away my lemons - and the tree on which the lemons grew, and the backyard in which the tree stood, and the house over which the tree shaded.

The phone call from the landlord came on a nondescript Wednesday afternoon, an unceremonious conversation to announce that our beloved wild backyard was to be turned over the future: a scraggly grass canvas for a blonde-brick two-story townhouse resplendent with shortened eaves, double garage, paved courtyard and secure gun-metal grey letterbox. 

It would all have to go - the archaic lemon tree and it's communal bevy of produce, the stone fruit tree that ripened from hard to rotten with no in-between, the swaying verandah frame and it's pepper-holed polycarbonate roofing sheets, and the useless bicycle-part-and-reflector-light scarecrow buried beneath the overgrown lawn.

In the space of one phone call, I was brought back down to the reality that I was a tenant and not a home-owner, perched precariously in someone else's house at the permission of their contractual obligations and the mercy of their lifestyle choices, mortgage repayments and blonde-brick two-story townhouse dreams.

More the point, I was brought crashing down to the reality that we would have to move house. Again. With a dog. And a toddler. And three bedrooms full of furniture and cloth nappies and singing walkers and the general accumulated crap of two exhausted parents and a miniature hoarder with a penchant for shiny objects.

There was shock. There was panic. There was anger. There was extreme ranting at my husband, who looked like he might quite like to move house all by himself just to get away from me for a while. Then there was sweet, sweet denial.

The denial phase was kind to us. We had visitors from interstate, we potted plants in the yard, we bought more crap that would eventually have to move house with us, and our daughter  even managed to turn one, complete with a coming of age tricycle and number one birthday cake.

And so it was that we found ourselves knee deep in the aftermath of first birthday celebrations, covered in sticky green icing and crumpled wrapping paper, when the tree loppers arrived to exterminate the backyard and our ability to ignore the situation any longer.

The sound was horrific, much like a toddler squealing their dissatisfaction with the removal of their favourite toy, or a labouring woman expressing her vehement disagreement with her partner's decision to sit down for a quick cuppa and ham and tomato sandwich in the middle of transition.

After several hours of auditory torture, the tree lopping crew and the trees were gone, and with them, the sense of home. Without the trees, without the lemons, without the sun dappled light and the scratchy leaves and the boughing branches banging on the window, our rambling old terrace was nothing but an old house that belonged to someone else - crumbling mortar, sagging front door, cracked pavement, broken lattice, haggard tree stumps and an unshakeable tendency toward shedding dust and attracting ants.

Inspired by the devastation, we packed up our denial and our belongings and got out of there as quickly as we could. One truck, fifteen car trips, seven million trailer loads, and only a handful of tears and swear words, and we have successfully transplanted ourselves into another inner-outer-inner suburb, with the dog and toddler and tricycle all still (relatively) intact.

We don't have any lemons anymore, or a magnificent old lemon tree in a ramshackle old yard to shade under in the summer months. But we do have a giant olive tree out the front of the new place that looks like it's going to deliver in abundance.

Tapenade, anyone?

M x