Thursday, November 28, 2013

Constructing Christmas

My name is Meg, and I'm a Christmasoholic. 

When the supermarket fills with tinny Christmas carols each November, I switch from being a (relatively) reasonable person to a tinsel waving loon, with one hand in the decoration box and the other firmly planted in the shortbread cookie tin. 

Like a broken carols record, I insist on mapping out all the Christmas light displays within a twenty kilometre radius and visiting them one by one in all to revel in their multi-coloured high wattage goodness.  

I love to send and receive Christmas cards the old fashioned way, with a pen and an envelope and a stamp and a little love, and have been known to lose afternoons days admiring the glittery holiday trim displays lined up in department stores. 

The Christmas tree is the pinnacle of my home-spun Christmas wonderland, holding court in the lounge room from the first day of December until the first day of the New Year (or perhaps the second, or even the third, depending on the severity of the Auld Lang Syne hangover). 

Sure, my tree is just a spiky plastic shrub wrapped in artificial materials and cheap lights, and it attracts debris and dust and will probably be bowled over by the dog at least twice before the season is out - but it's a special spiky shrub, and it makes me feel like a little magic might just happen. 

My husband does not share my level of enthusiasm for the silly season - while he is more than happy to down a Christmas beer and throw some king prawns on the barbecue, he is a strictly non-tinsel type of guy - the perfect naysaying yin to my obsessive decorative curling ribbon yang. 

He dislikes the triteness of the whole occasion, and the entrenched culture of commercial madness and giving gifts just for the sake of having something to wrap and unwrap on the big day - and really, if we're being honest here, who can blame him? 

The sight of a mile long queue at the end of a gift grabbing bonanza, and the effort of having to conjure up a fake smile of appreciation for your seventh box of chocolate covered macadamia koalas, well, it can deflate even the most buoyant seasonal balloon of happiness. 

It's not just the consumerist aspect that gets under my husbands humbug skin. He hates being dragged along to check out the Christmas window displays, and we have long since ascertained he has zero interest in trimming the tree or trying to form any sort of sentimental attachment to a bauble.
In fact, he is so uninterested in the whole tree trimming business that he usually just settles back on the couch with a beer and shrugs intermittently when I ask if the tree looks wonky or the decorations seem unbalanced.
Tree of disinterest
Last year, when I was heavily pregnant and trying to wrap a tangle of lights around the tree without bursting my waters or my leggings, he took his life in his hands by asking if we were really, actually, seriously, like REALLY, going to do the 'whole Christmassy Santa type thing' with our daughter.
Luckily for him, the lights were too tangled to use as a weapon and the baubles were unbreakable plastic so my only retort was to scowl and mutter angry insults. Sigh-bah-grinchy-humbug-sigh. 

With his aura of Noel nonchalance, it comes as no surprise that he is less than enthusiastic about entering the prime parental decade of nibbling carrots and making up stories about a jolly dude sweating around Australia in a climatically inappropriate red suit. 

To a point, I can understand his reluctance. It takes a lot of parental effort to perpetuate a myth the size of Santa, and even more energy and dedication to allen key a fifty-seven piece swing set together at midnight without making a sound. 

It can also be sheer hard work to deliver a sleigh load of cheer and sliced ham on a non-negotiable date year in year out, no matter the state of your personal credit card economy or how many end of year bevvies you've consumed. 

In the dim light of his unenthusiastic Christmas light bulb, though, I can see that he is conflicted - while he would like to wrap the whole season up and store it at the back of the wardrobe, he also wants to deliver a little bit of Christmas magic to our daughter.

Santa is a top bloke with an excellent team of elves and PR advisers, but he's still just a man with a sleigh and he needs a little parental help to spread the magic right across the world in 24 short hours. 

He needs our assistance to usher kids into shopping centre photography lines, oversee the writing of wish lists and to carry out the all-important tasks of gift wrapping and Christmas morning present placement.

I've been waiting impatiently
to help Santa deliver the magic to my own family since I was initiated into the land of the knowing aged nine and a quarter, when a series of forgotten price tags and a suspicious run in with the Easter Bunny in the laundry at midnight lit up the truth brighter than Rudolph's glowing nose.

I'm sure that when the pudding boils down to it my husband will be willing and waiting too, and when he's actually chewing on those carrots and making up those stories (and feigning excitement about them while stumbling about the lounge room at 5:20am trying to find AAA batteries and a pair of box cutters), he will find himself having the time of his life. 

Goodness only knows I will, complete with jingle bell earrings and a string of tinsel wrapped around my head like a sparkly turkey on a festive mission. 

My name is Meg, and I'm a Christmasoholic - are you? 

M x

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Thorny Truth

My rose bush in better days
There is a bedraggled rose bush in my back garden, stooping limply in a black painted terracotta pot to try and get away from the sweltering November sun.

The plant is a picture of perfect neglect: unpruned arms have wrapped around themselves and spindly offshoots curl up toward the sun. The potting mix has turned to dust and the thorns have deflated into an embarrassing rubbery mess. 

Completely out of place, one lonely bud sits atop the plant tower, defiantly trying to unfurl in the face of overwhelming gardening adversity.

In ordinary circumstances, I would probably pluck this wilting rosaceae from the pot and replace it with a nice green succulent from Bunnings, still strong with the power of industrial strength fertiliser and in with a far greater chance of 
surviving both the summer and my appallingly lax gardening routine. 

These are not ordinary circumstances, though, and this is not an ordinary forgotten backyard plant. No, t
his shining example of plant abandonment is my very own heterotopic pregnancy rose bush, planted in memory of the saddest time of my life and two little chances that slipped by the wayside. 

What is a heterotopic pregnancy? Medically speaking, a heterotopic pregnancy is a multiple gestation where there is at least one pregnancy implanted in the uterus and at least one implanted somewhere outside the uterus (such as in a fallopian tube). 

Keeping on the garden path, we can think of a heterotopic pregnancy as when one little seedling grows in the designated baby patch, while another jumps the fence and tries to grow in impossible territory, like in the middle of the lawn or smack bang under the garden shed. 

Heterotopic pregnancies in natural conceptions are relatively rare, occurring just once in every 7000 - 30,000 pregnancies. They occur more often in pregnancies where ovulation induction and assisted reproduction techniques are used, with numbers estimated to be as high as 1 in 100

Of course, heterotopic pregnancies are far more than the sum of reproductive organs, statistics and medical jargon. Like blighted ovums, like miscarriages, like ectopic pregnancies, like all pregnancy losses, they are human stories involving people like you - and people like me. 

My story began rather unremarkably, with the simple act of putting my contraceptive Pills in the bin and a quick Thursday afternoon roll in the hay (and yes, kids, one time really can last a lifetime). 

Within weeks I was sobbing when the morning tram was late, outgrowing my favourite jeans, and generally being shittier at the world than usual. I progressively broke up with my favourite foods until the only thing left to buy during the weekly shop was spiral pasta, rice crackers and a pregnancy test. 

Despite my obvious up the duffness, the first test was negative - as was the second, the fifth, and the ninth. I worked my way through the entire market of available tests - pee in a cup, pee on a stick, pink dye, blue dye, two lines, single crosses, even the fancy digital varieties with date markers and yes/no answers. 

After weeks of expensive peeing, I finally got the (barely perceptible, when you squinted, husband wasn't certain he could actually see it) positive result I had been waiting for and skipped off to the GP for my obligatory early pregnancy confirmation blood test. 

The day of truth was a Wednesday. I woke up with a stomach ache, which I put down to an unfortunate combination of nerves and a dodgy bacon and egg roll, and my husband put down to my famously overactive imagination. 

We shuffled nervously to the appointment, where the doctor confirmed that we were definitely pregnant, although the hormone levels were reading lower than he had anticipated - this suggested we weren't actually as far along as we thought, and was probably why I had gone through a veritable forest of pee sticks before getting a positive.

We went home as happy and high as little kids set free on a sugar bender in a theme park. Nothing could bring me down, except my tummy ache, which hadn't dissipated with the worry and was still rumbling away with an unpleasant intensity. 

Over the course of the evening, the pain shifted out of dodgy egg and bacon roll territory, through excruciating pain, into the undeniable reality that my insides may actually be exploding and I needed to get to the hospital pronto. 

A short eight hours after being confirmed pregnant, I found myself lying in the Emergency department under the heavy influence of morphine, listening in to a huddle of nurses in the hallway discreetly discussing my likely miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy. 

I was poked and prodded, tested and turned, measured and monitored. The night staff hooked me up to several machines that went beep and wheeled me to the critical ward to doze under a blanket of painkillers until the ultrasound technicians arrived at sunrise. 

A delightful orderly wheeled me to radiology, where the ultrasound technician quickly got down to business and zoomed in on my reproductive bits. The first wave of the wand showed everything to be in order, with a tiny baby jellybean located inside my apparently normal looking uterus. The technician smiled and I allowed myself to breath. 

The second wave of the wand showed a completely different scenario and I stopped breathing altogether: I could see a jellybean in my uterus, which didn't seem to have a heart beat, and I could also see a big mess where I thought my fallopian tube should be, and a large roundish mass free floating around my abdomen. 

The technician disappeared and returned with the head radiology honcho, who immediately lit up like a Christmas tree and started rattling off the features of my internal disaster zone: Incredible, just incredible. Failed uterine pregnancy. Ruptured ectopic pregnancy. A true heterotopic pregnancy. You don't see these very often. Were you an IVF patient? No? Really? That makes this even more interesting.

My exhausted, morphine meddled mind struggled to comprehend what was going on. Yesterday I had been happily pregnant and ready to tell the world, five minutes ago I had been pregnant and sore, and now I was doubly pregnant and rupturing and about to be prepped for emergency surgery. 

Immediately and irrationally, I sided with the uterine pregnancy: it had done nothing wrong and was seemingly being punished for the ectopic pregnancy's failure to abide by the rules and park in the correct bay. Why did it have to do that? Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't it have worked out? Why couldn't I just have a baby?

I burst into tears and couldn't stop. The delightful orderly reappeared and wheeled me back to the ward in respectful silence, where the nurses quietly tucked me in and placed a nil by mouth sign at the foot of the bed. The intern nurse held out the tissues and looked terrified. My husband arrived and crawled into bed with me. 

The surgeon came to prep me for the procedure: they would go in with keyhole surgery, remove my ruptured fallopian tube and the ectopic pregnancy and maybe even my ovary, and perform a curette as well. 

She reassured me that the heterotopic pregnancy was not my fault, just a rare natural occurrence and a horrible case of sheer bad luck. She also explained that in cases like mine, up two thirds of accompanying uterine pregnancies survive, and it was just even unluckier that both of my pregnancies had come to their natural end. I nodded, and cried, and cried, and cried some more. 

In the hours before surgery, I napped in bed with my husband and fell into an incredible state of calm. This sense of quiet and peace stayed with me until a week into my recovery, when I sat down on the shower floor and cried like a maniac - then got dressed, went out and got drunk. 

I drank vodka and wine, and wine and vodka, and then some more vodka for good measure, and stayed up till dawn before doing it all again. I danced to bands and accidentally did some drunken star jumps, before realising the hard way that abdominal stitches and star jumps are truly terrible bedfellows. 

Once the hangover died down, I made my husband drive to the nursery and pick up a rose plant and a big black terracotta pot, which I potted and stared at right through the winter and into the spring. My heterotopic rose bush, with its specialised bag of potting mix and its thorny glory. 

I met with the hospital counsellor, who strongly suggested we wait at least a year before trying to fall pregnant again - focus on work, go to the theatre, take a holiday. 

I put her theory into practice for three whole weeks. I went back to work and I bought tickets to a musical and I felt okay - until I saw my husband play with a friend's baby and was brought to my knees with the realisation that the only thing that could bring me to terms with losing a pregnancy was to bring another to fruition. 

I wanted to be a Mummy, and in that split second of watching my husband bounce someone else's baby I knew that no amount of quality cabaret or trips to Tahiti could make that want go away. 

A month down the track I started crying on the tram again, and ten months later I gave birth to my beautiful daughter - in the space of a year my husband and I went from being that unlucky heterotopic couple with the sad story to the luckiest couple you can imagine. 

There is nothing remarkable about my story. It does not define me and it does not control me, but every now and then, when the world is quiet and no one is watching, I let it out of the genie lamp to prick at my eyes and sit on my heart.

I have experienced sadness and joy. I have one daughter, two pregnancy stories, three keyhole surgery scars and a ridiculously hardy rose bush that I really must remember to water before summer arrives in earnest. 

M x 

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Parent in Six Letters

One simple word.
Six homogenous letters.
Infinite possible individual meanings. 

After seven months in the job, this is how I spell PARENT.

P is for Pooplosion
Welcome to parenthood, the world of the brilliantly brave and the domain of the mighty pooplosion.

Pooplosions are the regrettable centerpiece of every parenting table, and are motivation enough to have you skulling Pinot from a plastic tumbler well before morning tea time.

As with most grand scale disasters, pooplosions have a tendency to be delivered at exactly the wrong time - when you are running late for dinner, when you forgot to pack a spare change of clothes in the nappy bag, when you've just buckled into the car for a long trip and as soon as you've finished dressing the baby after the bath.

There is no point sugar coating the most sour truth in the room, and certainly no way to avoid the clean up. Best just list your rose coloured glasses on eBay, roll up your sleeves and create a toilet training advent calendar for the fridge.

A is for anxiety
Parenting can be one of the most terrifying rides of your life, particularly if you are the kind of person who likes to travel through life with a mapped out travel itinerary and a well-stocked lunch bag.


If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear your helicopter parenting blades warming up from the moment you step foot in the delivery suite and taking off as you walk out through the protective hospital doors.

The fear of something, anything, happening to your adorable little munchkin gets right into your worrying parent veins and runs through your jumpy nervous system like some kind of offspring-induced crack.

The faint splotch of a perfectly normal rash is enough to have you scheduling urgent consultations with Doctor Google and plotting out the fastest route to the local children's hospital, while the slightest coughing sound will have you on high alert and fastidiously checking airways as though you are a plumber checking for bits of wayward plastic in a drain pipe.

You can strap the television to the cabinet and you can follow the vaccination schedule to the day, but you just can't stop the big, bad world from revolving or sneaking through the (childproofed) venetians. 

R is for Rocking
The show is done, the band has hit the bar and the era for rocking out is over. The long nights are now reserved for monotonously rocking your baby up and down the hallway, like a malfunctioning Ugg-boot clad robot stuck on a short wire between the bedroom and the nursery.

To break up the relentless routine there are other soothing motions to choose from - walking, swaying, carrying, pacing, whispering, singing, shh patting, and even downright pleading - but when you boil it down, they are all just rocking by another name, and none of them smell sweet.

Rocking is not confined to the baby kingdom.  Even if you do manage to jump the dirty-nappy moat and hitch a ride to town on a passing pumpkin carriage, you will still be owned by the power of the rock.

Without even realising it, you will lilt from side to side on the park bench, you will sway when you stand in line at the ATM, and you will take the concept of nursing a beer to whole new heights. Rock on.

E is for Exhaustion

Remember that time
you snaffled Foo Fighters concert tickets and stayed awake until dawn listening to their entire back catalogue on repeat even though you had to work the next day? And that crazy week at college when you pulled three all-night essay sessions in a row just to scrape through the semester?

Despite what you thought at the time, you now know that you weren't even the slightest bit tired; you were as fresh as an infuriatingly pert daisy, and gaily skipping through the great park of life with some nice vino and a basket of high quality cheeses.

Tired didn't actually exist until you were hit by parental exhaustion
- the kind of all encompassing, all terrifying lassitude that eats your brain and etches dark circles under your eyes.

It makes you put the butter away in the garbage bin and salt in your coffee, and leaves you zoning out in the cold section of the supermarket with a superfluous packet of smoked salmon in your hand, wondering if you were actually meant to be getting nappies from the discount chemist down the road.

I confess: somewhere around week five, I became so consumed by parental exhaustion that I actually forgot my own daughter's name. Seriously. Luckily, most of the important things come back to you after some uninterrupted sleep and coffee (and a quick check through your Facebook history).

N is for never again
Somewhere toward the pointy end of squeezing a seemingly over-sized baby out of a seemingly under-sized exit hatch, women across the ages have found themselves making desperate plea bargains and promises with the universe: mine was never again, never again, I promise, if you just get me through this, dear poor body, I will never, ever do this to you again.

Somewhere in the early morning hours of new parenthood, you will more than likely find yourself slumped against a wall, clutching a strange assortment of items (maybe a pillow, a single sandal, a bottle of tea tree oil, a microwave steriliser lid) and swearing under your breath: baby, if you will just go to sleep, go to sleep, I will never, ever, EVER, do this again.

Somewhere during the opening set of the childhood teething match, you will probably find yourself trying to pour sticky baby paracetemol between fiercely clenched gums, while prising a warmed teething ring back from the milk spot abyss: never again, just let the teeth come through, then I will never, ever, EVER, EVER do this again.

Then somewhere down the parenthood track, you will likely find yourself staring at a squidgy newborn sprawled on a blanket in the park, feeling strange thoughts stir beneath the surface: maybe just one more ... then never, ever, EVER, EVER again ...

T is for Time

Parenting is a fiercely hungry time vortex, stealing hours and giving minutes while busily spitting out spatially skewed memories to stick on the collective family fridge door.

Time is always hiding out in the bathroom when there are cloth nappies to fold, or sightseeing in Holland or Switzerland (or any other land far from here) when there are toast soldiers to cut and ear drops to administer and cups to stack and unstack and then stack all again.

The days crawl slower than your baby ever will. They creep from dawn to bedtime like individual time thieves, heavy with homemade apple puree and the dark space between routine and familiarity.

In argumentative opposition, the months rocket by, jettisoned by the endless parade of incredible baby milestones and spurred on by the parental desire to grab hold of pudgy little fingers and never let go.

Time is both the bane of my parenting existence and the bees knees of my motherhood journey - never enough, always too much, housing a growing child and her unwritten story.

How do you spell PARENT?

M x 

Linking with Grace for FYBF

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Image courtesy of Miriam Wickett via

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

After school and the rest of the universe

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was four, I wanted to be a hairdresser. To get a jump start on my prospective hairdressing career, I went into business with my next door neighbour Kelly and set up a practice salon in her backyard, complete with deck chairs for seats, toilet rolls for hairdryers and gossip magazines and Cottee's Coola Lime cordial stolen from her kitchen. 

My enterprise was booming until a poorly executed half-mullet with Crayola safety scissors caught the attention of Kelly's mother, who had come to the salon to find her missing bottle of Coola. The incident put paid to Kelly's long blonde locks, my backyard business and my hairdressing dreams with just one foul snip.

Not one to dwell (too much) on these types of setbacks, I went searching for a more suitable career path. While professional carnival ride testing, leaving town with the circus and becoming Penny from Inpsector Gadget were sadly ruled out of the running, there were plenty of options.

My shortlist was a super-sized buffet of hot and cold options: ballet dancer, astronaut, high school english teacher, lolly shop owner, rock star, bare back horse rider, game show host, spelling bee superstar, fireworks technician ...

After many discussions over the sausages and salad at the dinner table and much thinking in the bath tub, I finally settled on my optimum career goal: to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Despite only being the ripe old age of five, I genuinely had a keen interest in politics. I liked the press conferences that played out on the television, I liked the crunchy black and white newspaper stories in the newspaper, and I really liked the yelling part.

My parents were very supportive of my choice, just as they (initially) were when I wanted to be a hairdresser and when I demanded to take a bag full of dead frangipani flowers to preschool as a gift for my favourite teachers aide. In their supportive fashion, they gently questioned my decision to aim directly for the top job: do you really want to be the Prime Minister, or maybe just a politician first?

No, I didn't just want to be a politician. I had no intention of working my way up through primary school and the really big school after that and then the rest of the entire universe just to become an average politician on the average backbench. That would just be boring.

I wanted to be the Prime Minister, thank you very much, the Royale with Cheese, the big boss, the head honcho. I wanted to be on the television, and greet famous international dignitaries on the tarmac, and go to really big cricket matches and yacht races, and have a Canberra suburb named after me.

From within my childhood cubby house of perspective, the job
was exactly what I was looking for: it had all the pizazz of hairdressing, with the added bonus of being able to carry an impressive looking briefcase, be in charge of important things, and argue with people without getting told to be quiet or sent to my room.

Of course, being a wanna-be Prime Minister was no easy task for a kindergarten kid. My babysitter told me I was funny, my friends told me I was weird, and my teacher simply asked where I got such strange ideas from. My grandparents espoused the virtues of nursing and teaching and no one, not even the shopping centre Santa, would agree to grant my wish of a briefcase for Christmas.

My youthful resolve was tested as I grew, but moments of brilliance shone out among the long wasteland periods of school years and doubting questions: like helping the local mayor celebrate his campaign victory, watching the election of a young Natasha Stott Despoja to Federal Parliament in 1995, and - the holy grail - getting to play my dream position of Prime Minister during a school excursion role play at Parliament House.

As high school slipped away, and then university after it, I started to stumble off my career path: I found boys, and Ben Harper, and the Humanities Department at university, where my love of the political sizzle was radically overtaken by an admiration for the political critique.

With every lecture I absorbed and with every essay I crafted, I studied myself further out of my childhood ambition. Then I fell in love, drank way too much wine, graduated, went to rock concerts, slid down ski slopes, traveled across the public and not-for-profit sectors, and started a family of my own.

I did everything and then some more, but I did not become the
first female Prime Minister of Australia, or even an average politician sitting on the average backbench (which, it turns out, is not really that average an occupation at all).

Instead of arranging peace deals and bipartisan agreements, I stay up late arranging my metaphorical collection of titles and the many different values they represent: Blogger, Chocaholic, Friend,
Mother, Partner and Tired.

Most importantly, though, is Dreamer - the spark of the little girl who truly believed she could be the first female Prime Minister of Australia, and the spark of the mother who still asks herself and will one day ask her daughter -

What do you want to be when you grow up?

M x 

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Image courtesy of Jef,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saving the surprise: my corner of the gender divide

Finding out the sex of your baby well before they are born has become a pretty standard pit stop on the modern pregnancy road trip.

Somewhere around the twenty week mark, pregnant women now pull off the proverbial pregnancy highway to visit the ultrasound technician for a pink/blue diagnosis and some nursery colour scheme directions.

This new pregnancy milestone has given a quick and drug-free birth to the 'gender reveal market': pink and blue cream-filled cupcakes, cutesie black and white photographs featuring ribbons and bow ties, and pinatas laden with tell-tale toys and treats.

Gender reveal parties are all the rage; they seem to have almost over taken the tired old baby shower in the must-do-must-have stakes, and now come replete with a mother (to be) load of baked goods, paper decorations and appropriately coloured sparkles.

Call me a cynic, call me a party pooper, call me old-fashioned, but both the concept of finding out the sex of your baby ahead of time, and the market that has grown with the technological capability to do so, goes over my head. Something just doesn't sit right with me about peeking inside my unborn baby's house without invitation and revealing one of life's coolest mysteries before it's fully cooked.

My brain lumps the concept in the same nonsensical category as finding out the winner of the relay race before all the batons have been exchanged, or watching the final season of How I Met Your Mother before starting on the rest of the series.

My lack of agreement is not an indictment on those who have found out their future ahead of time or skipped merrily down the 'gender reveal' path. Each to their own, I say, and while I reserve the option to critique your decision, I will also do the Macarena in an inflatable swimming pool of glittery pink and blue balloons to defend your right to make it.

But as a reciprocal gesture to my embarrassing Macarena performance, I sincerely hope you will accept my decision not to find out the sex of my baby and stand up for my right to keep the surprise alive - with all the gender-neutral lime and lemon baby clothing glory it comes wrapped in.

Because my decision to save the surprise is just as valid, and just as logical, and just as practical as your decision to find out the sex of your baby at the earliest possible scan and reveal it to the world through a clever Facebook status.

My decision to stick it out in suspense for ten months was built upon a solid foundation of personal beliefs and experiences, and was constructed with a unique quilt of handmade individual thoughts and factors.

One of the standout pieces of my decision pie was my unexpectedly awesome relationship with my bump. I didn't like many things about the pregnancy experience, but I loved my bump. It stuck right out the front like a watermelon and also right round the sides like an exploding cheese-ball. It was warm and taut and bouncy and came with me wherever I went like a cool pet rock.

My husband and I named my wriggling, kicking bump Bob - minus seven points for originality there - and included it in our daily conversations: did you like the thai chilli basil dish Bob, how was that crowded tram ride this afternoon Bob, who do you think you'll turn out to be Bob?

Bob was the heart of our pregnancy journey. When our beautiful daughter was born, she became the heart of our universe, and Bob hopped into the happy memory bank. Bob was the possibility, and my daughter is the brilliant actuality, and I love that we got to know them both in their own time. 

It wasn't just the bump though. I also wanted to hold off finding out my baby's sex before the big day because I really wanted to meet my son/daughter for the first time without the baggage of preconceived notions and expectations.

I didn't want to create a mental picture of a little boy or little girl who would never exist outside my subconscious wandering and lazy daydreams - I wanted to meet my child as a complete little person, and it felt like I couldn't do that if I already knew one of their biggest secrets ahead of time.

Another big serving of my decision pie was cut from my dislike of the infamous pink/blue dichotomy. I had absolutely no desire to find out the sex of my baby and dip my toe into the gender-appropriate-colour war, or try and navigate a compromised pastel path through the Great Pink and Blue Dividing Range.

Giving credence to traditional sex and gender stereotypes has never been my thing (I have an Arts degree, it goes with the territory) and I've never been fond of following basic rules - there's just something about accepted norms that makes me want to twist knobs and push buttons and mix up all the puzzle pieces to create a headache.

Not finding out the sex of the baby proved as effective as abstinence previously did in keeping the pink and blue stuff out of the nursery, out of the gift bags and out of the firing line of my wordy ideological rants (until today).

Of course, the house is now full to overflowing with pink and purple plastic stuff and frilly floral dresses with matching socks and headbands - but at least I know I held off the invasion for as long as possible. 

The real stickler for me in the great gender reveal debate, though, it that it's just not cricket - just because we humans can find out the sex of our unborn babies halfway through gestation doesn't necessarily mean we need to or we should.

Technology has given our society amazing capabilities that generations past never even dreamed would be possible, and those capabilities are truly exceptional. We can microwave our cups of tea when they go cold, we can post blogs for global audiences from our couches, we can design and produce motor vehicles and space shuttles ,and we can save sick children and eradicate horrific diseases. We can do a myriad of brilliant things with technology - but we don't have to do them all, and we don't have to do them every day.

We can pick and choose how we engage with technology to suit our personal wants and needs and desires. I choose not to have a television in my bedroom so I don't stay awake all night watching trash, I choose not to have notifications on my smart phone so I don't get fired up every time someone sends an angry tweet about one of my posts, and I choose not to use an electric mixer when I bake because I find something deeply satisfying about creaming a cake batter from scratch with a wooden spoon.

The same goes for finding out the sex of my babies. I could easily have found out my daughter was my daughter before she was born and I could easily find out what sex my future children are before they push their way out into mortal existence, but I choose not to - because I don't need to, and I don't want to, and I don't have to.

Did you save the surprise or embrace the great gender reveal?

M x 

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photo credit: JFXie via photopin cc

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Raising a little mind

Raising a little mind

My mind is a weird universe.

Deep inside my rather average human skull, galaxies of thought merge together in an airless crush of illuminated ideas and memory dark matter, populated by lumbering planets of trivial knowledge and vast black holes of forgetfulness and repression.

My mental cosmos is regularly rocked by solar storms of jealousy and meteorites of excitement, and is littered with nearly three decades worth of useless space junk and eclectic verbal and visual debris.

I often forget that there are universes outside my own. Every now and then, though, I come out of my private starry jumble and realise that my baby daughter has a mini mind universe of her very own.

She has a mushrooming brain which is spinning and evolving in her cute little head at a dizzying rate of knots -  she has a brain which I am currently, completely, terrifyingly, responsible for.

When I am suitably distracted by an outpouring of milk spew, or a wayward pile of dirty socks, or a nappy turned safety hazard, this responsibility jumps out from behind the fridge and terrifies me with it's sheer weight and breadth.

I feel that I am entirely unqualified to shoulder this responsibility, and unprepared for the immense challenge that is simultaneously lying on the change table in front of me today and (perhaps, hopefully not) drunkenly swaying in a brash nightclub in 2031.

Sure, I've had my own mind to look after for nearly thirty years now, but indulging my own mental warblings and insecurities ad infinitum is not nearly enough qualification to guide a fresh mind through the developmental woods and into the adult city.

This sense of inadequacy is not new. It began when my husband and I left the hospital, and we were just allowed to walk out the door with a baby - and take her home, all by ourselves. I kept craning my neck and looking back down the corridor, convinced that it was all a terrible mistake and someone would catch up to us promptly to yell at us with a stern voice and steer us back to the maternity ward for supervision.

Of course, no one came. Time has dribbled on, and so have I, a mask of nice breastfeeding tops and sun protective BB cream hiding my inner fretting from the outside world.

For every cog that turns in her beautiful little mind, I worry: is it turning far enough, is it turning fast enough, is it spinning in the right direction, is it just free wheeling in space?

For every spark of ignition that lights up behind her eyes, I wonder: is it aimed in the right direction, is it producing enough heat, is it too hot, will something else I do accidentally extinguish it?

I worry when I play nursery rhymes for fun that I should actually be playing  classical composers such as Vivaldi and Mozart for education, so I frantically scour Youtube for something different and end up playing heavy rock for her instead. Then I realise she has been watching the clip on the computer screen instead of listening to the music, and I become convinced that I am rotting her brain faster than it can grow.

To feed her mind, I read to her day and night. We are building an amazing and growing collection of picture books , which will one day catch up to my own large scale library of literature and non-fiction. Yet when she becomes entranced by the green sheep, or tries to hit the pages with her sticky fingers, I fret that perhaps I am teaching her to love pictures instead of words, and would be better slowly working my way through the traditional western canon?

To feed her body, I give her a combination of mush and finger food every day. Sometimes, I feel that giving her any form of mush is cheating her out of the chance to develop a normal relationship with foods in their natural state, weird textures and strange skins and all. Other times, such as when she is pushing a piece of cheesy toast directly onto her eyeball, I worry that she will develop a complex about food being a tricky and slippery beast that leaves you red-faced and should to be avoided wherever possible.

My sense of concern spreads from the kitchen to the wardrobe on a daily basis. I don't believe the colours I dress her in will impact on her psyche - pink and blue are just two colours from the big crayon box of life. I do worry, though, that the way I dress her will impact how my friends, her friends and society at large perceive and receive her.

Could a simple colour or frill or logo print cause someone to laugh or sneer or disrespect? Could this type of interpersonal reaction kink the relationship and confidence wires currently cabling themselves through her brain? I still smart when I remember insults about my (one and only) short haircut as a fourteen year old, I can't even imagine what an insult would do to a baby or toddler who is just building their mental world.

Of course, I also panic about sending my daughter to child care. Not only do I stress about the ramifications of sending her to child care at all, I worry about the type of child care our family has chosen and how that one single choice could shape the whole future of her mental universe. 

I could have waited for a family day care position to become available - but we didn't. We could have skipped child care altogether - but we haven't. We could have hired a private nanny - but we won't. Instead, she will run and mingle and jostle with the other little ones in the day care centre and fall into a group routine and a structured activity plan. Will this play havoc with her cosmic fabric or draw a straight pathway through the stars and asteroids? 

I could have sent her to a bilingual daycare centre that offered English and Italian, but I lucked out in the child care lottery - which was good (because I don't have to learn Italian next year) and bad (because I'll probably have to learn Italian anyway sometime to teach her the bilingual skills she didn't pick up at daycare).

Deep down, of course, I fret about this decision too. Maybe this will stop her from traveling to Italy, maybe the mental domino trail set to be affected by bilingual language development will never fall and instead stand like resolute mental obstacles in her brain ...

My mind is a weird universe. I wonder if my daughter's will be too?

M x

Linking up With Some Grace for FYBF

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Switched on, baby

Screened time
When you enter the world of parenting, you inherit a tiny squirming human, an unrecoverable sleep debt and a very long list of things you should never, ever do.

Never leave the baby sitting in a wet nappy, never take the baby outside without socks, never leave the baby to cry themselves to sleep, never let the baby fall asleep with a bottle, never let the baby get their finger stuck in their pram buckle, never let the baby suck your car keys, never let the baby watch the television ...

This morning, while the baby was submerged deep within her breakfast breastfeed, I broke the television rule: I flicked on the TV to watch a stored episode of some-drama-or-another.

Morning television is as rare as folded laundry in our house - and if you could see the mountainous pile of laundry growing out of the disused bassinet in my bedroom right now you would understand exactly how rare that is. But rare does not mean never, and this morning, my husband was out on a public holiday surfing safari and I was suckered in by the promise of adults speaking and some visual stimulation to keep me awake until nap time.

My decision to watch a program featuring farm animals and butchery before eating my morning toast was questionable, but the decision to watch the television at all whilst feeding my baby daughter was downright dubious.

Not only was I exposing my baby to the visual delights of soapie blah before she'd even conquered pumpkin mash and toast, I was also exposing her burgeoning little mind to the brain-drain audio and visual gymnastics of the screen.

It is widely (though not universally) accepted that children should not be exposed to television and screens before the age of two; the big old magic box is not magical at all when it comes to understanding and development.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two take little educational meaning from what they see on the screen, and children under twelve months are not developmentally ready to understand the dialogue of programs or make sense of the narrative story being played out on the screen.

While under-two's may take little meaning from watching the screen, it is possible they may take a mixed bag of unwanted consequences, ranging from less creative play time to trouble falling asleep to issues with behaviour and language.

Little ones can also lose out when their parents get sucked into the screen and out of conversation and focus. It's a relative no-brainer - and perhaps that's the key point - that screens take parents away, even if they are trying their best to multi-task. And while they are distracting mum and dad, the screens also introduce a raft of scratchy visual and audio background noise into the room and the home environment.

There are plenty of interesting and detailed articles floating around cyberspace about the issue of babies and television - if you are a tangential interweb hopper with an extra large coffee break, you might like to try this 2011 article from which elaborates upon the AAP report I mentioned before, or this story from Time Healthland about the convenience involved in letting babies watch television.

Of course, the television is not the only screen on the block. While the good old fashioned telly has
become entrenched in society as the traditional 'family' screen and the beating heart of the standard living room, it no longer glows alone in the screen world - it has been joined by an illuminated set of laptop, smart phone and tablet friends.

The creep of these devices is wide spread and growing. For better or worse, and despite my best new mummy intentions, backlit screens have been an omnipresent element in my daughter's reality since her blastocyst days.

Except for the conception part, and the pee-on-a-stick part, and the throwing up every five minutes part, my pregnancy was pretty well marked out and recorded in digital form:  ultrasounds, smart phone photos of ultrasounds, scans sent by email, test results deposited into online drop boxes, electronic health records, computerised fetal heart monitoring.

Her birth was monitored electronically, by a complicated set of whizz-bang electrodes attached to my giant belly and a computer nestled into a corner of the labour room. Minutes after she was born, her daddy snapped several puffy photos of her on his smart phone and her first vital statistics and measurements were tapped straight into a tablet style device hung on a pole next to the crib.

Things were just heating up - or more to the point, loading up. Upon being wheeled into the rockstar maternity suite (luck was on our side that day), the nurse proudly turned the television on and gave me a full tour of the remote control and channel options. The statistics tablet reappeared, along with some fancy hearing testing equipment, my own smart phone and our digital camera.

Back at home, our freshly formed family unit became stuck in a time warp continuum in the lounge room, where we left the music channels playing on the television to preserve our last shreds of sanity and used our tablet to plead with Doctor Google for advice on how to get the baby to sleep, and breastfeed, and sleep, and sleep.

We loaded white noise soundtracks and lullabies on to our laptops, and used the screens to illuminate endless night time nappy changes and milk-spew recovery missions. I watched brilliant documentaries and terrible soapies into the small hours both to stay awake, and because I was awake, and used an app on my phone as a remote control because I lost the one that came with the television set.

Over the last six and half months, I have chased my baby around the bassinet and the floor and the bath tub with my smart phone camera to capture as many significantly insignificant moments as possible, and then catalogued those moments on my laptop and shared some of them by text message and on social media.

I have recorded milestones on my online calendar, and used it to invite (and remind) my husband to attend vaccination and maternal health appointments. I have applied for birth certificates and health records and family health insurance online, and then saved records of my request for records to a big shiny data 'cloud' in the interweb sky.

As standard par for the course, I use my laptop to read the news and rely on my tablet to flip through magazines and play pointless games with impressive graphics. I take my phone everywhere I go like a toddler with a well-worn blankie - it is my alarm clock, my atlas, my calculator, my compass, my public transport timetable, my weather forecaster, and my friend when I am stuck in a queues or awkward social situations. I panic when I can't find it and get terribly anxious if it breaks.

We are so completely immersed in technology that we can barely recognise our involvement with it unless we step back and survey the scene without a screen in the way. Or we panic about watching a television program about offal in the morning time.

I broke the television rule this morning, and I feel bad enough about it to sit down and write a confessional blog post - yet I break the screen rule every single day and barely give it a second thought.

My daughter is part of a whole new generation of techno-connected individuals, and her life will be intrinsically interwoven with gadgets and widgets and an endless cascade of shiny devices and intuitive applications.

I have to get my head out of the data cloud and give her the balance I've lost - and teach her about high welfare foods and offal sausages, and how to play outside on the swing set, and how to sing lullabies to her future daughter instead of downloading them from the internet.

How do you balance technology in your house?

M x

Linking this Friday with Grace from With Some Grace FYBF - pop over for a visit!

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photo credit: N. Feans via photopin cc