Tuesday, July 22, 2014

reasons my toddler has cried today

1. I wouldn't give him iced coffee
2. I would let him put him hand in his cup of milk
3. The Play School presenters sang a song about lizards
4. The clock came up on Play School (twice) (yes he is watching a DVD, call the baby police)
5. The Play School presenter made a giant biscuit in the shape of a dog
6. I left the room briefly

It is 7:30 am.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

'austenland' and sexual assault as comedic plot device

I watched Austenland the other night. It was OK: fluffy and predictable, not exactly funny but bobbing along in that romantic comedy way. It's the lightest of light entertainment, which makes it all the more jarring that it features a sexual assault, and uses it as a plot device. (The below contains spoilers, but you should just spend an hour and a half rereading Sense and Sensibility.)

Jane (our heroine) is returning to the house at night and is accosted by Mr Wattlesbrook, who appears to be drunk. When she refuses his advances he forces himself on her and has to throw him to the ground to get him to stop.

The hero bursts in and consoles her (presumably the film is distinguishing Jane as self-sufficient because she doesn't need to be saved by him). Another, sympathetic male character helps Mr Wattlesbrook from the room telling him that he won't "cover up for" him any longer, suggesting both that this is part of a pattern and that covering up sexual assault is an honourable activity that good dudes do for their friends.

Jane doesn't call the police, or complain to the manager of Austenland (who is Mrs Wattlesbrook). Not because she is traumatised, but because the incident is seen within the film as trivial. OK, that pissed me off, but I'm used to that kind of shit in movies. What really got me going was the scene at the end where Jane threatens Mrs Wattlesbrook. She says she will lodge a complaint, and she's sure she's not the first woman he's assaulted. But she does this not because THIS ASSHOLE SHOULD BE STOPPED FROM SEXUALLY ASSAULTING WOMEN, but because she is angry that her romance was not manufactured as part of her holiday.

Then when she returns to the States and her hero comes to try to get back with her (speaking of rape culture: you rejected me in the UK, so I'll catch a plane, find out where you live, come to your door and insist you date me! Romance!) she tells him not to worry, she's not going to file a complaint. Oh good! She's not angry any more, she can drop that empty threat!

Not only is the sexual assault completely out of tone with the rest of the movie, it's treated like a joke and then a throw-away plot device. In short: fuck you, Austenland.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

how I night-weaned my one year old, part two

A Metro shaft in Gateshead 
It's been three weeks since I wrote my last baby sleep update. In that time I contracted the Sore Throat of Doom, which developed into the Hacking Cough of Despair, and I stopped recording every night of sleep. To recap: using this method, I was night weaning my baby, trying to get him to sleep through the night and go to sleep without help.

To start with: Peanut is completely weaned now, his choice. On the second night after I stopped night feeding I offered him a pre-bed feed and he just looked at me like, But we're done with this, right? Then I offered it again and he laughed at me(!) so I stopped. Since then I haven't breastfed and he's been fine with it.

Over the next week after my (painfully detailed) last update, things got better. Peanut was waking up once a night most nights. I would go in, sit by the bed and he would settle down and go back to sleep. Sometimes it would take five minutes, occasionally thirty, but he never got very upset.

Then he dropped that waking and just started sleeping through the night. Eleven hours, 6pm to 5am, every night.

Most nights he puts himself to sleep after a little cry. Occasionally I still have to go in and sit by the bed, but rarely for more than ten minutes. Hopefully as time goes on he won't need to have that cry before falling asleep, but it doesn't bother me. I've heard of magical babies who point to their crib when they want to go to sleep, but Peanut's motto is "rock and roll all night if possible, and also party every day unless you absolutely have to take a nap."

This was a very difficult journey, but it was worth it (ridiculous understatement) and I would strongly recommend it. I know that every baby is different, and I would never suggest that one method works for all babies, but I do think this one is worth a go if you want to try sleep training but don't want to (or aren't ready to) do cry-it-out.

Do you have any questions about it? Want to share your baby sleep horror stories?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

how I night-weaned my one year old

Baby asleep in a shoe from my Tumblr, Too Sleepy

So this post is probably not going to be of interest to anyone not a) currently in the throes of night-weaning and b) desperate for information or at least a sense that they are not alone. But since I wrote yesterday about the method we are using to help Peanut sleep, I thought I'd record our experience of night-weaning him in excruciating detail.

For my non-parent friends who read this because they are wonderful supportive people: night weaning is the process of stopping your child from waking up in the night to feed. Unsurprisingly, this is an extremely fraught topic, with a lot of people making wildly different claims about when and how this should happen. Six months seems to be a magic number in a lot of this advice, as the age when a baby can go through the night without a feed. I think it's absolutely pointless to pick a number and expect all babies to conform to this. I know babies who have 'slept through the night' at two months, others who needed much longer. Peanut had trouble putting weight on during his first six months and there was no way he could sleep through the night at that age. He probably could have been night weaned at ten months, but I was gearing up to go back to work and chose to wean him from day feeds (he eats solids like a champ). At eleven months I went back to work and wasn't going to add the stress of night weaning to the stress of separation. But at one year (well, one year and two weeks) it was definitely time. Getting up to feed him several times a night and then trying to have intelligent conversations with adults the next day was just too much of a strain. He wasn't feeding like he used to when he was younger, when he would latch on like he was starving and feed with all his focus until he passed out. Now he would turn around and try to grab his dad, look at me and smile, pull off and try to stand up. It was TIME.

Gosh, look at that long paragraph of justification! It is so hard not to be defensive when I talk about sleep.

At the same time as night weaning, I have been trying to help him to fall asleep on his own. I know he can do this because he used to be a champ at it, and it's definitely been getting better. I am down to using minimal intervention (go in, sit on floor, shush till he calms down [about a minute] and then sit there or lie down until he puts himself to sleep).

Night One
So, using the method I wrote about, I decided to start night weaning on Thursday night. Peanut's sleep had been crappy for ages and I was at the end of my rope after a marathon session on Wednesday night when he was up from 10pm to 12:30am and nothing would put him to sleep, including feeding. I was feeling strong and determined, but I guess Peanut heard me talking to his father and using phrases like "end of my rope," "completely exhausted" and possibly "pack my bags and run away" because on Thursday night he slept from 6:30pm to 4am. That's NINE AND A HALF HOURS.

This strengthened my resolve, because it showed me that he could definitely sleep without feeding in the night.

Night Two
It took nearly an hour to get him to sleep tonight. He only cried for a little while but then I lay on the floor for ages while he stood up, looked at me, sat down, stared at the fan, lay down, turned over, scooted around, fell asleep, woke up, stood up, ARGH. But eventually he fell asleep.

He slept till 1am, which was great because he had been waking up at around 10 every night for his first feed. I went into his room and sat down with my earplugs in and sang softly. When he realised I wasn't going to pick him up, take him into bed and feed him, he went nuts. He screamed like he was in agony, thrashed around the crib, banged his head on the bars, and generally tried his best to break my heart and make me feel like a terrible mother. After a while he calmed down and tried to fall asleep, but he couldn't quite make it. He kept waking and crying. By 2am I was exhausted, he was wide awake and getting very upset, and I couldn't take it any more. I took him to bed and fed him.

He TOTALLY was not hungry. He fed for a minute and then tried to roll over and see what else was going on. He even managed to twist over and pat his dad on the back to try to wake him up. He was completely calm and happy now.

So once he was finished feeding, I picked him up and took him to bed. I gave him a cuddle and put him down wide awake. I thought I would be sitting up with him for another hour so I left the room to go to the toilet.

By the time I was done, he had shouted out a few times but had gone quiet. I crept back to bed, heard him turn over in his crib and babble and... go to sleep.

He slept in till SIX. This is the latest morning we had had in a long time. It was amazing.

Night Three
Peanut went down easily (I sat by his crib for less than ten minutes) but woke up at 10pm. I went in and sat down, determined not to feed him. He wasn't crying as hard as the night before, by which I mean he was just crying like he was seeing everything he loved being destroyed as opposed to crying like he was being fed into a garbage disposal. He lay down and tried to go to sleep many times but kept waking up after a few minutes and crying some more. You guys this went on for AN HOUR AND FORTY MINUTES. There are Hitchcock films shorter than that. By the time I finally left his room I was sore from lying on the floor. But HE WAS ASLEEP WITHOUT FEEDING.

He was up at five and I let his father sleep for an hour before I went in and woke him up, because I am a saint. (Then I went back to bed.)

Night Four
Peanut woke up at 10pm and went to sleep after just 5 minutes. He woke again at 11 and it took a bit longer, maybe half an hour. (I fell asleep on the floor). But he wasn't screaming hysterically, he was mostly sleeping but then waking up again. He then slept till 5:30am which (I can't believe I am saying this) is almost luxuriously late.

Night Five
Once again I lay on the floor for half an hour to get him to sleep, but he did it on his own (ie no singing, patting etc). Then HE SLEPT UNTIL 4. Even better, we heard him cry out once at 8:30pm (my blood froze in my veins let me tell you) but he went back to sleep on his own! This is progress!

So when he cried at 4am, I thought he was up for the day but wanted to at least try to put him back to sleep. (4am is NOT morning. It is NIGHT.) I sat down and within 5 minutes he was asleep!

To be continued...

Monday, February 24, 2014

sleep, part three

Aboriginal child asleep in a wooden dish, central Australia, ca. 1940s  

Disclaimer: I am writing about my baby's sleep, and there is no reason to suggest that what worked for us will work for you. All of this is my own opinion. I am not a doctor and I cannot give advice on safe sleeping. Also I am about to go on and on about something that is probably very boring for most people, so feel free to skip this. 

It's taken me a while to get back to this; six months, in fact. This is partly a lack of time but partly also feeling like a fraud. How could I write about sleep when Peanut's sleep constantly changed? Looking back, I realise that his sleep was constantly changing because he was constantly changing. And that is one of the Terrible Secrets that the books didn't prepare me for:
There is no such thing as fixing a baby's this baby's sleep. Developmental changes, life changes, illness, and teething are going to completely fuck up your best efforts. The trick is to get back on the horse and maintain good habits as best you can, and try to get back to where you were.
I say 'this baby's sleep' rather than 'a baby's sleep' because I have heard that there are magic babies who learn to sleep through the night and then do it forever. Good for their parents (may they rot in hell).

But nonetheless, in the periods when Peanut has been well and happy, he has slept well. It took an enormous amount of work, and after each slip back it takes a bit more work, but it was worth it.

So what did/do I do? As I wrote earlier, the 'no-cry' methods weren't working, and every time he started screaming I would get worried and pick him up and try to comfort him and get him to sleep. I didn't want to do cry-it-out (CIO) because I didn't think he was developmentally ready for it and I also think it wouldn't work well for his, let me say 'determined' personality (ie he would scream till he threw up, HE HAS DONE THIS BEFORE). I was getting desperate and called the Ngala help line (a wonderful resource if you live in Western Australia, and if not, their forums are very helpful too). They told me that he had outgrown the swing and needed room to roll around in his crib. Also, movement was not helping him the way it did as a newborn. I needed to put him down awake in his crib, unswaddled, so he could learn to fall asleep on his own.

I know, I said, but he screams.

Yes, they told me, this is a new way of falling asleep and he will protest and be unhappy at first. But if you can calm him doing as little as possible (patting him, singing) and then gradually do less as time goes on (soothing with voice only) he will learn.

No, he doesn't protest, I said. He SCREAMS.

And this is how I learned the second Terrible Secret that the books didn't let me in on:
When parenting guides talk about fussing, or protesting, or crying, what this may mean for your child is SCREAMING LIKE YOU HAVE JUST CHOPPED OFF HIS FAVOURITE LEG.
You see, I didn't realise that when they said, 'This is a new way of going to sleep and your baby may protest the change. This will usually not last more than half an hour on the first night' what they meant was 'This change will enrage your baby, who will sit bolt upright and scream with the fury of a thousand devils for two and a half hours.'

(If your baby is like mine, may I recommend a good pair of noise-blocking earplugs? These will not only save your hearing but also allow you to feel slightly distant from the situation, which may help prevent you from dissolving into a puddle of distress.)

So apparently the current thinking, based on the 'circle of security,' is that it's okay for a baby to cry and scream as long as you're there. Peanut knew I wasn't abandoning him and that he was safe. It was okay for him to express his outrage at the new situation; he would get used to it.

And pretty soon I was able to put him down, walk out and hear him fuss and cry for thirty seconds and go to sleep.

And soon after that I was able to walk out without him crying at all.

Of course, soon after that he started teething, and everything went to hell for a while, but it was less difficult to get him back on track. At the moment I'm weaning him off night feeds, which is just awful, and he is teething AGAIN (how many teeth do kids really need?! He was doing fine with six). But when he finally manages to sleep through the night, it will have been worth it.

For those of you who have found this searching desperately for 'baby sleep how please god end of rope', here is a step by step guide of what I've been doing.
1. Bedtime routine. You know this: dim lights, soft music, soft voices, everything the same each night. Don't make feeding the last part of the routine. Our routine is bath, lotion, pyjamas, goodnight kisses, feed, book, turn off lullaby music and turn on white noise, cuddle and sing, bed.

2. Put baby down sleepy but awake in bed. Baby immediately sits up and begins to scream; you walk out the door. (One of the best pieces of advice I was given by Ngala was to give the baby a chance to go to sleep on his own. Some babies just need to fuss for a bit before they go to sleep. Of course it's totally up to you and if the baby gets really upset you just do what you need to do. But before they told me this would put him down, he would start crying and I would pick him up. No good!)

3. Give baby a minute and see if he goes to sleep by himself. After a set amount of time or when the crying starts to Get Real (your choice), you can go back in. (Pop in the earplugs first.)

4. Sit down low. Don't stand over the crib like you're about to pick him up. I sit on the floor so I can see him through the bars. Try not to make eye contact as this is stimulating; it's a form of communication. I close my eyes.

5. Do the absolute minimum you need to do to soothe him. This might be patting his bottom or stroking his head; it might be making a shushing noise like white noise, or humming. Do this till he falls asleep.

6. The next night, do the same except try to do a little less. The goal is to get the baby to sleep with minimum intervention. So your interventions might look like this (totally just a sample, not a suggestion; you need to play this by ear):

First three nights: back patting, singing.
Next two nights: hand on back, singing.
Next three nights: hand gently patting the mattress, singing.
Next four nights: no contact, just singing.
Next three nights: just sitting there. You can even put a quilt down on the floor and just lay down.
And then the magic night when you are sitting there listening to the baby half-heartedly barking and then it stops and he goes to sleep and you drink ALL THE WINE.

Does this make sense? Do you have any questions? What has worked for you?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

the moon and a man

Model of the moon in the Field Columbian Museum, 1898. From the Flickr Commons.

Monday, February 17, 2014


To me, seeing Peanut start to use verbal communication ('talking' is a stretch) is one of the most exciting milestones. Like a lot of babies, 'more' is one of his first words. (Pronounced 'mmmo.') At first he just used it for food, because that's the context we used it in, but he quickly decided it was a catch-all for "I would like something specific to happen." Sometimes it means "I would like something to happen and to be honest I'm not entirely sure what it is, but why don't you go ahead and try a few things and I'll let you know if they work for me." I thought that being able to communicate in this way would make life easier for him, but it seems to be making him a bit more frustrated. Like, "I'm telling you what I want! I'm saying MORE and pointing vaguely towards the window or possibly the yoghurt lid or is that a knife? Okay that is definitely what I want MORE of, why are you NOT GIVING IT TO ME."

girl with camel

I should rename this blog 'Small Girls with Ungulates.'

Thursday, February 13, 2014

one year

It's really hard to write something on your baby's first birthday that isn't a cliche. But all those phrases about time and change and strangeness are true. No matter how expected they are when other people express them, they're still stunning and weighty when you experience them yourself.

Measurements of time are powerful symbols, and today I'm thinking of the hot February day (it was so hot, my darling! And I was so huge) walking up and down the halls of the hospital, around the grounds, waddling into the little op shop there and buying a Hawaiian shirt you still don't fit into, trying to inspire you to start moving out.

On this day a year ago you weren't in the world. You were in another universe, inside me. You weren't in the world and then suddenly you were, and you were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

the baby is teething. again.

Parenting was so much easier in the old days.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

girl with goat

I have so many images saved to my hard drive that I thought I might start sharing a few on my blog. I haven't had any luck finding the photographer or the source for this beautiful photo of a Mongolian girl and her baby goat, so I apologise. One time I fed goats at a farm/petting zoo and they were very aggressive and I got scared and I climbed on a rock and they followed me and climbed up too because they are goats and I was holding the feed above my head because I was scared that they would bite my hand and they were jumping up and my husband had to save me by taking the feed off me and distracting them while I ran away (I was on my honeymoon and I was twenty-nine years old).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

back to work

[Woman holding typewriter ribbon at Royal Typewriter]

Image courtesy Southern Methodist University, 
Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library via Flickr Commons 

I've gone back to work for three days a week. I had an entire year of maternity leave, and even though it was the shortest year of my life, it feels like forever since I've sat at a desk. The first week it felt like I was doing some strange new exercise, sitting and typing instead of the usual laying on the floor/crawling on hands and knees/carrying a ten-kilo baby on my hip while I try to fill a kettle. Also I can wear jewellery, as temptingly shiny and dangly as I like, and there is no-one to try to pull it off or eat it! Three days is an excellent number of days to work. It's enough for me to feel grateful that I get the rest of the week with Peanut, and the four days with him is juuust enough to make me feel grateful to go to work.

Peanut is 11 months old and is developing so fast it's daunting.

He loves buses and blueberries and balls and books and probably also things that don't start with B but I can't think of them right now. If you say "Cheeky grin!" he gurns manically and shows you all six teeth. If he enters a room with a fan, he will spot it immediately and let you know it is off and probably needs to be turned on. He is affectionate and he loves seeing photos of himself and when his father or I walk into the room he smiles like he hasn't seen us for days. Looking at this photo and thinking about him is making me miss him and want to scoop him up and kiss him. I keep thinking, I don't want him to get any older! But then he does and he's even more beautiful and interesting and fun. It's tiring feeling so many different things at once.