Posted on July 28, 2015
Getting your baby to sleep is really quite simple.
Some people say look for tired signs but actually you should look for signs that they might be about to do tired signs. Before there are tired signs make sure you put your baby down to sleep. Immediately.
Try to connect telepathically to your child – ask them: Are you tired but not so tired that you’re showing tired signs?
Tired but not too tired signs are varied. They generally sound like cooing, screaming, crying, blowing raspberries, strong language, and singing R&B classics from the 90s.
Sometimes there is no sound.
Is baby biting their fist? Opening their mouth? Sticking out their tongue. Do they have a tongue? Are their eyes open? Are they closed? Did they blink? Did they move their body in any way? Did their foot twitch? Did they move their arm?
These are tired signs.
This means baby is tired.
You have a .36th of a second window to get your baby into their cot.
DO NOT LET THEM SLEEP IN YOUR BED OR ROOM OR THEY WILL NEVER LEAVE HOME. They’ll be 57 and you’ll be on your death bed but you won’t be actually in your death bed because they’ll be in your bed. You’ll be on the floor. Miserable, and not because you’re dying. Death will be a sweet release.
DO NOT LET THEM SLEEP IN THE BOUNCER. They will grow up to be one of those people who doesn’t stand up for old ladies on the bus. They’ll call you from London on their OE and say they just need to borrow $8k. And they’ll always forget your birthday and they won’t call till really late on Mother’s Day. They’ll borrow the car but never put petrol in it. You’re going to have to be buying their clothes when they’re 49. Is that what you want? All because you let them sleep in the bouncer.
DO NOT LET THEM SLEEP IN A MINI-CRIB OR MOSES BASKET PAST 39.7 days old. You will regret it. They will literally, literally, literally never sleep again and it will be your fault because you’re a terrible mother.
Let them sleep in the buggy if you want them to be held back in third grade and never be able to do basic arithmetic.
Get back to nature. Leave them in a tree.
The ideal sleep environment is Nanna’s house.
Once they’re in the cot, hold your hand above them and kiss their forehead but not with too much affection. Kind of like if someone else’s child went to kiss you on the lips but you know they had a vomiting bug a few days before so you kind of dodge them while still letting them kiss you. Kiss your baby like that.
Take a step to the right, put your hands on your hips, and pull your knees in tight.
If they wake, pick them up. Then put them down. Then pick them up. Then put them down. Then pick them up. Then put them down. Then pick them up. Then put them down. Then pick them up. Then pick them up. WAIT! IF YOU COULD DO THAT, THAT MEANS YOU PUT THEM DOWN AGAIN. You’ve got to start over now.
Pick them up, put them down, then pick them up, down, up, put them down now. Pick them up.
Then put them down.
Do this for around 72 hours.
If your baby still isn’t sleeping, it’s likely they’re overstimulated. Remove all furniture including their cot from your house. Put in white carpet. Put white padding on the walls. Doesn’t that look better? Now you can sit in the corner and rock in peace.
Place baby in the centre of a pentagram and finish sacrificing your goat to the sleep Gods.
Baby is also understimulated. You need to get the sweet spot where they’re just stimulated. Pop up and down from behind the cot – if this terrifies baby, you’re overstimulating them. If they don’t scream, you’ve understimulated baby.
Rocking and shushing can help – rock your baby for around 22 hours. Then shush your baby. Try to shush every six seconds. If you shush every seven seconds you will have to repeat the process over again. Do this for around eight months.
Put them down awake but a bit asleep. Baby should have one eye open and one eye closed and one eye kind of half open and half closed so you’re not sure if they’re awake or asleep.
Feeding and weaning
Feed them to sleep.
JUST KIDDING. Never feed them to sleep. ARE YOU CRAZY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Shoot breast milk across the room into their mouth. Make them beg for a bottle. Otherwise they’ll grow up soft.
Don’t spoil them with food. Food is not a necessity. It’s a luxury. A luxury your greedy baby can quite frankly do without.
Think about it – have you ever climbed into bed and then wanted a glass of water or a snack? Have you ever woken up during the night and wanted a sip of water? Been suddenly hungry? No, that has never, ever happened.
Use logic – is it more likely that your tiny baby is manipulating you and actually hates your guts and wants you to never sleep? Or are they maybe a bit thirsty?
Exactly, they’re all manipulating jerk babies that hate you and sleep.
Give them solids even if they’re six hours old. If it was good enough for a cave baby with a life expectancy of 17 it’s good enough for your baby.
Use sleep drops or opium.
Swaddle your baby until they’re 22 minutes old. And then until they’re 4.92 months old. Swaddle them tightly enough that they feel like they’re trapped in a cold and cruel world, but not so tight that their circulation is cut off.
Only use muslin wraps. Clean the wraps with your bitter tears.
Put on some (Barry) White noise.
But remember, if you use white noise they’ll never be able to sleep without it ever and you’ve created a rod for your back and really you should have thought about that before you had children. Isn’t it a shame that you can’t do anything right when that other mum in your coffee group has a baby that actually asks her in three different languages to put him down for a sleep?
Your baby may settle when you cuddle them but this is just your baby being spiteful. When you’re not around they call their baby friends and laugh about you behind their back.
Check the temperature of the room. It’s probably too hot and too cold.
Get a night light, but never turn it on.
Now that you know how to get your baby to sleep – make sure you tell other mums how to get their babies to sleep. If yours sleeps, theirs should too. Because all babies are the same. Here are some helpful things you can say to mothers of babies about sleep:
“I slept through the night from birth”
“My child basically hasn’t woken up since I got home from the hospital”
“That’s interesting, my friend’s baby was like that and it turned out the baby had Horrible Disease with Awful Prognosis”
“Babies need sleep or else they won’t develop properly”
“I think babies need tough love”
“I don’t know why people become parents if they’re not willing to die or become severely ill from sleep deprivation”
“It’s actually easy to get babies to sleep, other mums just overthink it”
“My child sleeps TOO much! It’s a nightmare”
If none of these suit you – you could just randomly yell incoherently about “mums these days”.
Goodnight. See you in 45 minutes.
Posted on July 23, 2015
Trigger warning: Ableist slurs and language
EDIT: I wanted to add something to this post after a discussion on Twitter. All disability communities have their own preferences for the best way to address identity-first language issues. In the Autism community this article really eloquently sets out the reason why there is a preference for “autistic person” rather than “person with autism” UNLESS they have a personal preference for “person with autism”. They talk about the issues with identifiers that focus on the person first as separate to their disorder:
“It is impossible to affirm the value and worth of an Autistic person without recognizing his or her identity as an Autistic person. Referring to me as “a person with autism,” or “an individual with ASD” demeans who I am because it denies who I am.”
I think that should be considered in the context of reading this post. My child is neurotypical and I am presenting the views below as a parent with a child with health challenges and a health condition that has massively impacted his young life. I am his voice and advocate until he no longer needs me to be (or forever if he wants me to be) I can only talk about the language that I believe is dehumanising below – as a parent of a child with a health condition. But there are absolutely commonly understood ableist slurs that are absolutely accepted as ableist slurs. The discussion I had on Twitter really helped me understand how important it is to not speak for a community you’re not part of.
I am blessed with good comments on this blog. Generally, everyone is really nice. I occasionally get comments that start with “I feel really sorry for your kids…” and I just trash them. I don’t need to hear that shit. Particularly from people so pathetic they trawl mummy blogs just to insult the women writing them. I’m not here for that.
But sometimes comments stick with me and they hurt. Not just comments on here (though I’ll get to that..) but just comments in general.
I’ve never really understood the “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” adage. Names and words do far worse than break bones – they can stay with you for months, years….forever…When you think you’ve moved on from them they wake up with the baby at 3am and sit at the back of your brain. They cloud over your eyes as you try to focus on just enjoying a moment with your children.
So many times I’ve stood grinning ear to ear watching my son twirling or leaping or singing or drawing and suddenly horrible words said to me months before have jumped into my brain. They sit in my mouth as if I said them myself. I know they’re not true. And often the intent was never to hurt me. But they hurt nonetheless. I sometimes physically shake my head to get them to leave.
All parents have to deal with hurtful comments at some point. It seems to just come with the territory. But just because it comes with the territory, and it’s common, it doesn’t mean it’s OK. It doesn’t mean we should just accept it.
And cries of ‘just ignore them!’ do not help at all. If we could ignore them – we wouldn’t be upset by them. And the ‘who cares what other people say’ – often coming from people who say mean, shitty things and use that defence. Who cares what they say means who cares what I say and it’s so convenient to have no care for the impact of your words….
I’ve blogged before about my son’s health journey. I don’t talk about it much – it’s difficult to talk about. But his condition is behind one of the most unintentionally hurtful comments I’ve received – and that’s what I want to write about.
I got many comments on the Grateful post that wished for me to have sick children. If I had a sick child I’d shut up. If I had a child with a disability I’d be grateful for my “normal” kids. I was told I was a selfish bitch who should have a stillborn or have my kid die – then I’d stop complaining. Then I’d be a good mother.
A good mother is a mother who never complains. A good mother is quiet and meek. A good mother never, ever voices an opinion on anything. She lives for her child and never for herself and diminishes herself as much as possible. If children are seen and not heard a good mother is invisible as well as voiceless.
Here’s the thing – I knew the people writing those comments didn’t have children with disabilities or health conditions because of the language they used. For a start, parents of children with extra needs don’t call children without health issues “normal”. They don’t call children with autism “autistics” or children with delays or disabilities “deformed”, “dumb” or “feeble”. They certainly don’t use the term “crippled” or say “if you had an invalid”. Language is important here, and here’s why:
Our children aren’t their conditions.
Our children aren’t their health challenges.
Our children aren’t their disabilities.
They are children WITH conditions. WITH health challenges. WITH disabilities. But they’re not only that condition, that challenge, that disability. They’re not your inspiration. They’re not your sad story to tell at coffee group. They’re not your thing to shame mothers who share the difficulties of parenting with other parents.
I had many comments and emails from parents whose children are on the spectrum, whose children have disabilities, chronic health issues, and conditions that are both visible and invisible. They all talked about being silenced by others, not being allowed to express pain, frustration, fear, stress. The constant narrative that they should just be grateful their child is alive (particularly if the child’s birth was traumatic and dangerous or the child’s condition had a grim prognosis). That they had no right to be anything other than an inspiration to parents of children with health privilege. And if they’re not an inspiration, they’re a story used to encourage other parents to “be grateful”.
I see this a lot. It’s isolating enough when you are actually isolated – unable to leave the house at all because of germs and illness or the stares of strangers or the fucking unnecessary comments everywhere you go (“what’s wrong with his breathing? It sounds like he can’t breathe? Should you have him outside in this weather?” – I once had a woman peer into my buggy and say to my son “did mummy really have to drag you out today when you’re so sick? Poor baby!”)
But on top of that actual physical isolation – to be further isolated by being shut down every time you try to talk about what it’s really like for you on this journey? That sucks. And it’s not fair.
And people don’t mean to shut others down – but they do. With careless words. And we all do it – I’ve said way more than my share of shitty things. But I do my best to really listen when I hear what hurts others and make sure I don’t repeat and use words and phrases that I know hurt.
My most hurtful thing that was said to me, that still comes up all the time in my head, and I know the person didn’t mean it the way I took it – but intent isn’t magic – was when I was pregnant with my second. I was asked:
Do you hope it’s not like Eddie?
For a second, I couldn’t even work out what they were trying to say. Of course I want my baby to be like Eddie? Huh? He’s perfect?
And then I realised. Oh, you mean, do I hope my child doesn’t have the same condition he does?
I think I was so numbed by the phrasing that I kind of just hurriedly said something like, it’s not genetic apparently, in any case, we would just deal with whatever happens.
Every now and then I watch my babies play and that comment pops into my head and I think oh gosh I hope so.
I hope Ronnie is bold and brave and kind and generous and strong and compassionate and sweet and gentle. I hope he can’t say “M”s and he says bechanics for mechanics and bachines for machines. I hope he loves twirling. I hope he shakes when he’s excited. I hope he falls over his words when he just can’t wait to tell me something. I hope he gently pats adults and children and says “you OK darling?” when he sees someone upset. I hope he calls me Dear Mama like Eddie does. And calls his dad Dadam. I hope he has his brother’s eclectic dress sense (sometimes). I hope he plays rocket ships and yells out THREE FIFE ZERO. I hope he loves cuddles and snuggles as much as Eddie. I hope he will be his own person but I’ll be so happy if he has Eddie’s bravery and joyous and soft, caring nature. I hope he is described the same way Eddie is by the people who love him:
A precious, fragile but so resilient, wonderous, loving little soul.
Kids with health problems aren’t their health problems.
They’re not their disabilities.
They’re not their conditions.
Or their disorders.
They’re not their speech delays.
They’re not their learning difficulties.
They’re not their inability to focus.
They’re not their feeding tube or their noisy breathing.
They’re whole little people. Who have heaps to offer the world. They’re human beings who hear you when you talk about them and the things “wrong” with them.
There’s nothing wrong with these kids.
Posted on July 19, 2015
I am a huge fan of birth stories. And I am also a little obsessed with birth videos. I recently watched that freakin phenomenal video of a woman giving birth to a 10 pound baby in the car and it made me think about whether I should write about the birth of my baby AKA The Burrito AKA The Christmas Ham (pink and delicious).
Eddie’s birth, two and a bit years ago, is a bit of a blur. I wish I’d written about it. But I was in such a fog. And then he got sick quickly and everything just disappeared into a stressy haze. I mean, don’t get me wrong, his first year wasn’t just stress – but I lost myself a bit in there.
The baby made me find myself a bit. This blog has made me rediscover myself a lot.
Anyway, about the baby’s birth….I’m not sure where to begin. I suppose I should begin with the absolutely batshit ridiculous expectations I had about his birth. Eddie’s had been relatively straightforward. I stupidly assumed a second baby would be easier than the first. Because Eddie’s was quick – I went into labour on Friday night. Went into hospital Saturday night. Had him Sunday morning – I figured I would basically cough and baby two would come out.
Because I’d managed without an epidural last time, I figured I could do the same second time around and go even crunchier with a home birth. HA HA HA. There’s a big difference between a baby facing the right way, in the right place, that’s only six pounds and a baby that’s facing up, is huge, and isn’t in the right place. I was a massive, insufferable dick throughout my pregnancy – although thankfully I was only a dick in my head. I kept telling myself “Please, this will be a piece of piss. Just chill for a while when you get the first contractions and hang out at home. The baby might even come before the midwife gets here”.
I had images in my head of just gently pushing the baby out (hahahaha gently) and placing him on my chest and then my husband being like “Ok, she’s had the baby” to the midwife by phone. In this fantasy Eddie didn’t even wake up until the morning. He then climbed into bed with us and we all snuggled.
So utterly convinced I was that my birth would be a breeze, that I booked a birth photographer. You know how I said I love birth videos? I LOVE birth photos. You know those ones in a pool where the mother looks all blissed out? I was like – yes, please. I’ll have that photo thanks.
Needless to say, it didn’t go down that way. At 35 weeks I had contractions after seeing the midwife. And they were agony. Leaving the midwife’s office I almost squatted on Dixon Street. Luckily, it’s Wellington, so nobody gave me a second glance. My husband was like hissing “what are you doing? Stop squatting in the street jeeeez!” and then Eddie was squatting next to me saying “whatchoo do dear mama?”
I got into the car and said “I’m having it. Call the midwife!” My husband was like “hold on, we were just in there, how painful is it? Can we just walk back over?”
And I was like:
So we rang the midwife and she told us to head to the hospital and she’d meet us there. On the way I tried not to scream because Eddie was in the car. Eddie kept rubbing my back and saying “Sokay my darling! SOKAY DEAR MAMA! You alright dear mama?” When we got to the labour unit he was quite stressed and when reception asked for my name he said “MAMA” I settled in and the husband took Eddie home. I started to think “This is good. I don’t have to be pregnant anymore”. For some reason I never thought 35 weeks was too early. I had long thought I was a few weeks ahead and had had heaps of scans that suggested the baby was big. I asked to fill the pool and my midwife explained because baby was early I would need to stay in bed. I was distraught by this. Apparently it’s only after 37 weeks that you don’t have to be strapped to a bed. So six hours later, I was actually kind of happy that contractions stopped. I went home. I was put on bedrest. Goal: Make it to 37 weeks.
The next night – contractions started up again. They lasted about four hours at about eight to six minutes apart.
The next night they started up again. This time for about six hours.
It was the same night after night for a week.
I had no idea that this could happen. Eddie’s birth had been straightforward. I’d had a contraction, then another one, they got closer together, then baby.
I had an exam and I was two cms. I did not react well.
I asked for a stretch and sweep and began to Google “How to get a baby out”. I knew I didn’t want an induction, and that since my waters hadn’t broken I wouldn’t get one anyway. So I ate 1500 pineapples, so much curry I never want to eat curry again, had the most joyless sex I’ve ever had in my life (I’m sorry I was so aggressive toward you husband), and walked my street endlessly.
The contractions were awful. I felt so alone – how do you say you’re in labour but you’re not in labour? I got all these comments like “Can’t you just get an induction?” or worse: people assuming I wasn’t in labour because they didn’t know you can be in labour for weeks…
Eddie took to pacing around the house, one hand on his back groaning.
I laugh now, but it was pretty terrible. I threw up constantly, couldn’t pick up Eddie, couldn’t do anything but lay in bed. A walk around the street exhausted me. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely eat.
We ended up back in the delivery suite again a week and a half later but I was only 3cm. I was offered pethidine to help me sleep but instead decided to go home. I was distraught – if I was in this much pain now, I’d never be able to handle actual labour. This baby wasn’t coming.
At 37.5 weeks I was still having contractions all night and part of the day. I picked up a birth pool from a friend on Twitter who was also a midwife. I needed something other than panadol to take the pain away.
I set up the pool in my room in front of the TV and spent seven hours in there and in the shower. My contractions were close together and it was agony. I began screaming and losing it so we called the midwife – “we” as in my husband rang and said “I think the baby is coming or something” and in the background I just emerged from the pool screaming:
CHANGE YOUR TOP
What? Is it dirty?
I CAN’T HAVE SKULLS IN THE DELIVERRRRAGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
*changes top to a singlet*
WHY ARE YOU WEARING A SINGLET AND A HAT AND SUNGLASSES IT’S NIGHTIIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCKKK YOoooooooooooooooooOOOOOoooooOOooooouuuuuUUUUUUUUUU!
We got into the car and began driving to the hospital which involved me screaming at him to drive faster and him saying we needed to drive to the speed limit. We hit every light on the way and at one point this guy pulled up next to us eating KFC and he turns and looks at me in the car and I’m like:
He almost dropped his chicken wing. The contractions were so strong and I felt like I had to push. As we entered the hospital car park I basically jumped out of the moving car and screamed at a person trying to open their car “GIVE ME AN EPIDURRAAAAAGGGHHHHHHHHH”. They flattened against the side of their car in terror, keys fumbling in trembling hands.
I banged on the glass doors at the hospital entrance screaming at the top of my lungs as my husband sheepishly followed behind me. The bored security officer pressed the button and I lunged inside. “IT’S COMING OUTTAAAARGHHHSHHHHHIIIIIIITTT” I hurried to the lift, I knew where to go as this was my third time in the hospital for this labour. The orderly in the lift looked like a character in a horror movie who is desperately trying to escape a serial killer. He frantically mashed at the lift buttons and tried to make himself as small as possible in the corner of the lift while I screamed “I NEED DRUGS DRUUUUUUUUUGS”.
“Miss I can only push the buttons on the lift” he quivered in fear.
My husband suggested I calm down. I did not take it well.
When I finally got to the labour ward my midwife heard my screaming and grunting and told me she wouldn’t check me. She said if I felt like I needed to push I should push. And I really, really felt like I needed to push. So push I did. As hard as I could. While screaming for drugs.
After an hour or so (who knows really? It felt like 8000 years) she checked me and I was only 4cm. I was devastated. I don’t think I’ve ever been so upset about anything in my entire life. I was sobbing, exhausted. How would I handle active labour if I was only 4cm and in this much agony? It was around 10 at night. I got into the pool and cried. At one point my midwife told me ‘You know this baby is going to come out right?’ and it sounds so bizarre but I really didn’t think the baby was coming out. I actually thought I might be in labour forever. Like it sounds so stupid now, but I really thought I might just be in labour for the rest of my life. I had hoped when I had finally got to hospital and begun to push that it would finally be easy.
I still had the overwhelming urge to push but there was no baby. The baby was posterior and pressing down on an anterior cervical lip (or something I don’t even know but there was something about a cervical lip and it was anterior). He was facing up instead of down. Grinding against my pelvic bone. That was behind my need to push, and also why he wasn’t coming out.
The only upside was that he was never in distress. He was happy as a clam through the whole process. From 35 weeks until his birth at 37.5 weeks.
My midwife was so calm. And the calmness helped me even as I felt totally at sea. I was in AGONY. And felt that the baby just wasn’t coming. I showered for a while but kept grunting and trying to push out the baby. I felt like my spine was being crushed. I just cannot describe the pain. General things I said over the next five hours:
- CUT IT OUT
- PLEASE I NEED DRUGS
- I CAN’T DO IT (the main thing I said)
- I’M DYING PLEASE
- I’M GOING TO DIE
- PLEASE PULL IT OUT PLEASE
- WHY WON’T IT COME OUT??
- HELP ME (I said this heaps)
My midwife was calm and collected. If she was stressed, I didn’t see it. She kept telling me how strong I was and reminding me that not only could I do it, I was doing it. The baby would be born she said. I spent a lot of time apologising to her after yelling at her. I spent a lot of time whimpering that I was dying. My husband was quite pale at this stage, he was in a fair bit of pain from me gripping his arm. But let’s be clear – IT WAS NOTHING LIKE MY PAIN OK. NOT EVEN CLOSE.
I had to push again and so I got into all fours. I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed. I felt absolutely delirious with pain. Eddie’s birth had not been painful like this – the pushing had been a fantastic relief from the contractions. This was beyond anything I’d ever experienced before. I begged for any kind of drugs available. At one point I even said I would take experimental drugs. Just anything – just whatever is left over next door. Just like punch me in the face or give me some plants from outside the hospital. Just like ANYTHING.
My husband stroked my hair and reminded me that my plan was an unmedicated birth so that we could get home as soon as possible to be with Eddie. I told him that I hope he died and went to Hell and then died again just so he could be sent to Hell again because he’s a fucking monster.
For the next little while I pushed and screamed “Is he coming? Is he coming?” The midwife said something about “I’m just going to get my hand and…” I just screamed “PULL IT OUT JUST FUCKING PULL IT OUT” at her.
Now, I would love to say he just came out. But he did not. He DID NOT. I felt his forehead. Then the ridge of his eyebrows. Then his nose. Then his chin. Then his shoulders. Then his arms. Then his bottom. I felt it all. Ring of fire? It was an inferno. The entire room was on fire.
When he was put on my chest I lost it. I sobbed and sobbed. I’ve never felt such relief in my life. Just writing this I’m sobbing. I DID IT. I got him out! My husband kissed my forehead and I stared at my beautiful ginormous nine pound three baby.
He was screaming. He was bruised and red. His head was enormous and swollen and misshapen. I awkwardly asked if his head was going to stay like that. She assured me it wouldn’t.
She told me she was just going to have a look at my lady garden which was now a tornado-destroyed desolate waste land. I hissed at her. YOU BETTER NUMB EVERYTHING FROM THE WAIST DOWN BEFORE YOU TOUCH ME. She prepared a needle and I relaxed into the bed holding my screaming cone-head. “Please sew my vagina up entirely. I will never use it again” I told her.
As I lay there with my legs apart I remembered the lovely birth photographer Jane was there. I’d completely forgotten about her. I quietly said to her “please don’t take photos of my butthole”. She assured me there would be no butthole photos.
My husband gazed adoringly at our little boy. “Wow, he’s perfect” he said. I called my family and told them the wonderful news. Our gorgeous baby was here. We were four now.
We went home a few hours after he was born and climbed into bed together. I felt completely at peace. It was over. Finally. And now the real fun would begin…
My midwife’s words hung in the air “You did wonderfully”. And it was wonderful. A wonderful world for our new baby to be born into.
The sun began to peak through the curtains. We cuddled. Wonderful.
Posted on July 14, 2015
I’ve spent part of this evening reading poetry to my sick little boys. They just adore poetry. One of Ronnie’s first outings was to a poetry reading at the Auckland Writers’ Festival. He listened along to readings by Indian-Canadian novelist Jaspreet Singh, Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo, Vietnamese-Canadian novelist Kim Thúy and the incredible Wellington poet Chris Tse (author of the staggering How To Be Dead In A Year Of Snakes).
Ronnie smiled and cooed quietly as he listened. It seemed to make him calm. It was after that reading that I began to read poetry to the boys. It just seems to quiet them. To put them at peace. So this evening I have been reading to them from the poetry posted under #teswiftseven on Facebook. These poems are posted as part of the Matariki event te swift seven: matariki rising writing challenge.
The online event was created by Kani Te Manukura and co-hosted with a friend of mine Krissi – the super power behind Hei Reo Whānau (an amazing initiative to encourage and celebrate speaking te reo Māori at home with your tamariki and mokopuna – go check them out!) Krissi is also a huge inspiration to me. She is not only my friend, but my kaiako.
The aim of te swift seven is simple: to write something, anything, inspired in some way by Matariki. It was there that I saw this poem by my friend Ella. I asked her if I could republish it here and she kindly agreed.
You may know Ella Cartwright as Ella Anais. Ella inspires me so much – as an activist and as a mother. She is kind and generous and fiercely intelligent. I could talk about her all day.
This post really spoke to me as the mother of two Ngāti Mutunga tamariki. Ngāti Mutunga is an iwi of Wharekauri (Chatham Islands). Many, many of the poems on te swift seven made me tear up.
My sons are very lucky that as they grow they have so many loved and loving whānau to teach them their whakapapa, to answer their questions, and just to BE there for them. To support my tamariki I speak as much reo in the home as I can. I try to collect kupu and encourage a love of their language. I hope to be fluent. It’s through wahine toa like Krissi that I’m able to do this.
Thank you Ella and Krissi and everyone who celebrates and encourages the use of te reo Māori.
Arohatia te Reo.
Every time my daughter sees a tāne Māori with a moko
she calls him “Māui”.
So foreign to her is this presentation
that she thinks it’s just one person
every time she sees it.
How do I teach a two-year-old ethnicity?
How do I teach her it’s hers?
No one taught me it was mine.
At Te Papa a staff member tells us to put our food away in the play room
‘cos there’s taonga nearby, which is sweet until she bitches about ‘the whānaus’ who bring in KFC and McDs.
“What do you mean by whānau?” I say but I don’t need an answer.
My blood burnt hot under my pale skin, too whakamā to tell her
my daughter and I are Ngāpuhi.
“If anything’s noa here, it’s you lady.
And maybe if this country wasn’t colonised to the hilt tikanga would be
in everyone’s homes and you wouldn’t need to worry that we don’t
all know the same rules.”
That’s not what I say, though.
I say, “Put up a sign.”
I speak to my daughter in reo
while we gather our things.
The woman’s face turns red like mine
as she hears the familiar sounds,
which mean nothing to her.
Now we’re both coloured.
Piece by piece I am placing the reo back in our mouths.
Each time kupu fall off the tiny tongue of tāku tamāhine
I feel a great victory has been won.
Her pronunciation is so good
it’s like her mouth remembers it.
We talk about ngā whetū together and somewhere our tīpuna sing.
Posted on July 13, 2015
Surely I’m not the only person who finds making mum friends quite difficult?
I struck gold with my ante-natal group and three years on, we are all really close. I have often wondered if it’s rare – I feel like I was really lucky that they all ended up being really intelligent, chilled out, funny, and fun. We are all on to our second babies now and don’t get to hang out nearly as much as I’d like us to due to work and life and illness. But we will always have a special bond because we had all of our boys (yes all boys) together. We now have (almost) all had our second babies together as well – six boys, one more boy on the way, and one little girl.
I have another circle of mum friends that I met online. There are big benefits to meeting mum friends online – you know their politics, general outlook, ideological beliefs etc. BEFORE you get them into your house. I mean sure – I have met a few people online who have ended up being creeps (who hasn’t?) but thankfully I got them out of my life fairly quickly. My circle of online mum friends (who really, are just friends) is my lifeline. I adore them – they’re my best friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.
I was pretty much the first in my circle of friends to have kids. It’s great that my closest friends are now catching up. But it means my mum friend circles are those two really – antenatal group and friends I first met online.
Trying to meet mums in other ways is often a total failure. Someone will say something about “natural” birth and I’ll be all *lip curl* or they’ll start talking about baby led weaning or cloth nappies and two hours later I will come back and they will still be going so I’ll go on a short holiday and then come back and they’re just winding up and they have a book for me to read. And I just…why is it so hard? I’m not even that picky?
I feel like I have a script for meeting new mums and it’s like speed dating.
It always begins at the swings aye? And the first question from either mum is almost always “how old is yours?” Then there are comments about size of said baby – so big! So small! Testing the waters a little there are comments about “how do you find it with two?”
I always find the conversations so difficult. I feel so anxious all the time. So unsure of how to be cool for other mums or say the right thing or at least not say the wrong thing. After being inside all week I feel like I can’t even make conversation. I mean even at home I’m like “CAN YOU NOT PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH IF IT ISN’T FOOD. IS IT FOOD? NO. TAKE IT OUT. NOW. FOOD. MOUTH. NO FOOD. NO MOUTH”.
If the other mum starts talking about the weather you know you don’t have a chance. They’re bored. You’re boring. The conversation grinds to a halt. And Eddie is always awkward and refuses to get off the swings so I have to just stand there.
Sometimes if the conversation actually seems to be going somewhere, and I’ve managed to not say something really terrible “yeah definitely my vagina was super sore afterwards” I will tentatively drop vaccination into the mix just to make sure I’m not putted wasted effort in.
I wish I was just better at social activity. Just cool and smooth. Like that mum you see at the park with her latte and she looks really great and she’s surrounded by other mums and they’re all cackling. Heads flung back, beautiful Barbie hair shining in the sun, “OH JANA! YOU’RE TOO MUCH!” And she pulls out a hip flask and tells another amazing story and her perfect kids just sleep perfectly in their double buggy (one girl and one boy) and the buggy is one of those fancy ones that has the super sweet black and white pattern on it.
I mean I have mum friends, I’m not a complete loser. It’s just that all of us are at different stages – studying, working outside the home, that kind of thing. Those that are stay at home mums don’t live near me, so we’re not hanging out at the local park. And winter makes me anxious – there are germs everywhere. People take their kids out when they’re sick. Everyone is coughing. It’s cold. Winter really is a bullshit season.
So where is the anxious mums club? We can all sit around and take turns being Janas. Have our moment in the sun. We can forgive each other for having verbal rota-virus (do you know I once said to a person I only just met that I once puked in bed and slept in it because I was too sick to move. Who says that to someone? Over lunch? OMG I just told all of you three people reading this. What is wrong with me???).
Where was I – we would forgive short attention spans and inability to keep on topic, tangents and stories that don’t go anywhere.
We can just be casual mum friends who txt and say ‘going to the park want to come?’ or ‘mums and bubs movie at midday – keen?’ I have friends who aren’t mums that I can do this with, so I just wish I had more mum friends, with kids the same age, who I can do this with.
And we can just see a movie. Or hang out by the swings. And not talk forever about boring “parenting philosophies” or whose child is sleeping through the night or on solids or whose birth was the most natural (it was Jana’s – she gave birth in a field with a paleo string quartet playing).
Maybe – the trick to finding the right mum friend is to approach it like dating. Have a list of things that are non-negotiable. So here are mine. And I want to know yours. Then we can match each other up.
1) Must love modern medicine and vaccination
My closest dearest mum friends know what I’ve been through with my son. They know modern medicine saved him. And they know the importance of vaccination.
2) Must not talk about super foods. Particularly chia seeds. And quinoa. Preferably not able to even pronounce quinoa.
For a really long time I thought it was a fish and I called in Kwin-oh-ah. The fact that so many people never corrected me really cranks my crank. Fuck quinoa. And super foods. And conversations about food that aren’t cake-related.
3) Likes beefcakes
I would like my mum friend to be someone who isn’t unnerved by my obsession with The Rock, Idris Elba, Thor, and recently a return to my fantasies – Joe Manganiello. Also, the captain of the Samoa rugby team. And Roman Reigns. If this obsession can’t be matched, I would at least like someone who enjoys spending a portion of their time talking about crushes.
4) Their children must be terrible sleepers
I just want to be with my people.
5) No diet talk
I don’t want to feel bad about how I look. Particularly because I don’t feel bad about how I look. Despite the fact that I think society wants me to feel bad about how I look.
6) Wine and coffee – solid relationship needed
Yeah, I feel like my great loves in life are wine and coffee (and my kids and husband I suppose after wine and coffee). So if we have that in common that’s going to be helpful.
7) Good politics
You don’t have to agree with everything I do. But you kind of do.
8) Must not mind lists ending at 8.
It’s all a bit silly I know. I think it’s just winter. It makes you feel isolated. It’s too cold to go out. The kids are always sick. When your child is finally better, your mum friend’s child is sick. So you just never get to hang. It sucks. Maybe I’m just being an emo.
But today I did meet a mum by the swing. I dropped a comment about vaccination and she said there should be a law requiring people to vaccinate. And then I dropped an F bomb just to see what would happen and she didn’t even flinch. And then she said her almost three year old still wakes up. So…wish me luck?
How long do I wait before I call her?!?!
Posted on July 9, 2015
This guest post was written by one of my dearest friends KVN. I absolutely adore her and can’t imagine my life without her. This post is about her parenting journey with her daughter. KVN is an incredible mother – this post will break your heart, but this kind of honesty is so needed. We need to share these stories and make sure parents know they’re not alone. Arohanui to all of the parents out there who know this pain.
I am sitting in a blue, vinyl lazyboy staring at my dry, cracked hands. The lazyboy is set upon a bulky wooden frame, set upon discordant castor wheels. The lever propels the footrest up at a badly lopsided angle and I cannot rest my legs without them slipping off the side. I am sitting in this lazyboy with my dry, cracked hands on my knees. These look like the hands of someone much older, who has worked too hard. They look like my mum’s hands. I notice all of these things.
The heavily bleached blankets that bandage my child in to the bed next to me fall on the floor. She squirms and I launch myself up and pump sanitizer all over my hands and arms. I rub the excess on my neck. I pick up my sweaty, weak, groaning child and climb back into the lazyboy where she nestles under my chin, my hands smoothing her hair.
I think about how easy this is now. The familiarity of being in hospital. The jokes we always make with the nurses about how it’s like being on holiday at a resort, every time they ask us if we need anything. Room-service with a smile. And canullas and respiration monitors and vials and vials of blood. I think about how easy the build up is. How the previous few nights at home I’ve laid awake for hours with a pain building in my chest, waiting for the fever or rash or cough that will send us to the hospital. In spite of my anxiety I have performed myself calmly, I have gone running each day, I have eaten well-balanced meals and looked after myself, I have not yelled or sworn or gone awol. These are all healthy habits my doctor informs me, each time he writes out my quarterly prescription for antidepressants.
I notice this calm too. When my child cries I wait a moment too long. It is during this pause when I jump start myself, becoming warm and loving and strong. The truth is during times like this I am numb. I have compartmentalised my child’s illness so that I can cope. I file my knowledge about this chronic disease carefully in my memory; well filed so that I can access it when I need to cite studies and peer reviewed articles, but deep enough so that I can forget it’s existence day to day. I joke with the registrars and make cakes for our consultants. I celebrate Rare Disease Day as if it’s something to celebrate. I heartily join in with friends, making lifelong plans for our children’s futures, because the alternative is too horrible. When people ask about her diagnosis I give them the sanitized version about how things will definitely get easier. People don’t want to hear about sickness, especially not unsolvable sickness in children. What they want is inspiration.
The issue of my hands. My mum, who has dry, cracked hands of her own, tells me I should moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. She doesn’t do this herself, because she’s too busy taking care of her own grownup children and other people’s children too. The day I told her about the diagnosis she cried into the phone, and was on a plane towards us the next day. She has raised my chronically ill sister, and her grief that I would now have to go through what she goes through is something else for us both to compartmentalize. She is one person who understands, and one person it is too painful to talk to about this. My mum is calm like me.
I don’t have time to moisturise my hands. Even when I’m sitting alone in that sticky, wobbly chair I am busy. I am busy thinking the worst thoughts, practicing not falling apart if they happen. I think the best thoughts too, for balance, I tell myself. I coach myself through them, encouraging and cheering, because often it feels most terrifying to hope and dream.
Posted on July 7, 2015
My precious babies
When the sun shines let it warm your skin
Your heart is warm
Your home is warm
When it is cold know you can find warmth in my arms
I will be your shelter
I will help you build a shelter for when I’m not here
You have such strength my little ones
I believe you will do amazing things
I know this
Because I’m your mother and your mother knows things
Be anything you want to be
I will be here no matter what
And you can be
a digger driver
a caterpillar in a cocoon
You can be
And when the sun shines I will play with you in the garden
And when it rains we can stay inside
because it’s ok to not like the rain my sweet babies
Everything will be ok
The sun will always shine again
Did you eat your matchbox car?
Oh my God why would you do that?
How did you even do that?
No I’m not angry.
But don’t eat your cars. Jesus.
Posted on June 29, 2015
A lot of what we do as parents is teaching. And I see a real focus on that in society – you need to teach, they need to learn. But I see very little about how much our children teach us, how much we can learn from them.
I have learned so much from my children. It seems like every day my son is teaching me some new lesson, he’s teaching me how to see the world a different way. Quite frankly, a better way.
I get kind of bummed at how people treat children. I’ve written about it before. One of the things that annoys me is the constant “teaching” that children have to deal with. And how adults often don’t ever consider that they could learn just as much (if not more) from children as children can from them.
To explain that with just one micro-aggression: I really hate it when people spend all their time correcting children. I loathe adults who correct adults. You know, those people who pompously say “It’s to whom, not to who” or “you mean fewer not less” like the world will implode because someone used the wrong term in an every day conversation. As if language doesn’t ever evolve. As if the mistakes we make are more important than the fact that we are trying to communicate with each other as people. It’s just about making sure everyone knows your status. You’re a clever person. And being clever is important apparently. It puts you ahead of me. Ahead of others. You get to be at the top of the pile, to whoming and fewering everyone you come into contact with so that they remember you’re just so clever.
When people do it to children – it irritates me so much. And they do it all the time. Eddie used to confuse words like “hot” and “cold” and “up” and “down”. He would say ‘Can put me up?’ instead of ‘can you put me down’. It was clear what he was saying, but people always said NO YOU MEAN PICK ME UP. PICK ME UP NOT PUT ME DOWN. Never mind that he meant put me down. It was condescending and patronising and they weren’t even listening to him. And here’s the thing – people think you can’t be condescending or patronising to kids. They think that’s just not possible. As if children are some subset of humanity immune to being talked down to, unworthy of basic respect.
This isn’t about talking to children like they’re adults. It’s about giving them some credit because they’re learning a damn language and they’re learning to communicate (all at the same time!) It’s like when some people who only speak English speak to someone whose first language isn’t English – THEY SPEAK LOUDER. As if yelling will somehow work. Because if you can’t understand what someone is saying, surely yelling in their face will help? Right?
Children are learning how to function in a new world. There’s all this random stuff going on that they have no idea about. Every day I will say something and then catch myself and think – oh wow, he doesn’t know what that is! He saw an emu at the zoo and I could *see* his internal monologue like OH OH NO NO NO NO WHAT IS THAT THING?!?!? IS IT A BIRD?!?! IS IT A GIRAFFE?!?! THE NECK IS LONG BUT IT HAS FEATHERS?!? IT LOOKS LIKE A DINOSAUR?!?! IS IT GOING TO EAT ME?!?! WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!?! IS IT DANGEROUS?!?! IT LOOKS TERRIFYING!?! Can you imagine that? Cruising along and seeing a creature you’ve never seen before and it’s just right there and you don’t know what it’s called or what it is? And you’re tiny? That’s the shit kids are grappling with daily. Except it’s not just an emu it’s tin foil or sand or earrings.
When Eddie bursts into tears when he hears a hand dryer it takes him a full minute to truly believe me when I say hand dryers can’t hurt him. Can you even comprehend what it must be like to be afraid of hand dryers? To not have the cognitive ability to wrap your head around their actual use? To you they’re just boxed death attached to a wall that will go off at any time?
And yet – some people feel they just have to say to toddlers all the time “No it’s 1 2 3 4 5. Not 1 3 4 5” as if they’re never going to ever be able to count unless they’re corrected when they’re two years old. Or “It’s a clothes LINE not a close lion” because so many adults can’t say clothes line. Or “You said princess but you meant prince” – leaving aside the fact that you’re clearly trying to say boys can’t be princesses, what if he really just means princess? When have you ever said princess and meant prince? Never? So maybe consider that he knows exactly what he’s saying and what he’s saying is what he means?
You can actually almost see people closing themselves off to children in this way. My son stutters a bit when he’s excited or when he’s trying to get a word out and he doesn’t know what the word is. I see people not even bother to wait to hear what he’s trying to say. As if they’re so rushed and busy they can’t wait a second to hear him, to let him finish his sentence. It’s because they’ve decided what he has to say is unimportant.
Because children can’t teach us anything.
Well with that attitude these smart and clever and important people are losing out. Because kids are giving out gems for free! Kids are way smart. It’s just not necessarily the kind of smart that people value. That ‘I’m clever, you’re not, which means you’re at the bottom, and I’m on top’ kind of smart that has so much social currency.
Children are smart about life. About what matters. About treating people as they should be treated. To children, there is no Us and Them.
To my son there are about three or four jobs that are the greatest jobs there are available. Garbage man, digger man, petrol man, Bunnings man. As a grumpy old feminist it does my head in a bit to hear everything as man. But I’m not going to correct him. I’m just going to make sure that when I talk about these roles it’s “people who collect garbage” not garbage men. Every time he talks to anyone who has any of these jobs (a trip to Bunnings takes a really long time because he has to talk to every worker there) he simply cannot believe that they have the mind-blowing good fortune to be able to wake up every morning and do what they do. If he finds out we went to the petrol station without him we hear about it for weeks.
When he found out his dad worked at a petrol station he could hardly speak. His dad was already his hero and now he finds out he worked in a petrol station? Dear god, is there nothing this man can’t do??
And yet – my husband has had numerous people (many, many, many people) make comments to his face about how petrol station workers are morons. Society pumps out (yes pumps out) classist shit about petrol stations 24-7: Go to school or you’ll end up working at a petrol station. Forget about the bullies, they’ll be pumping your gas some day. Better work hard or one day you’ll end up working at a BP.
All of my husband’s jobs have been blue collar. He has heard people talking about their gardener and saying that they’re thick as two bricks and another person will chime in with “well what do you expect he’s a gardener?” or how road workers are lazy “they were there all day and didn’t even move” (umm it’s their job dickwad). Often with a bit of fun racism thrown in as well. People don’t think about how quick they are to (incorrectly I might add) separate people into smart and dumb. As if you can’t be intelligent if you have a particular job that doesn’t involve academic skills. Or you can’t find joy in a job like collecting garbage. Or you’re not doing a job correctly, as decided by someone who has never done that job! The point they’re making is that these jobs are low value and the people aren’t of value either. When nothing could be further from the truth.
Really, the sad people are those who have to put down people who work in services they can’t live without in order to feel just a little bit OK with themselves.
Eddie once got so excited that a man in a digger showed him how to use the controls that he burst into tears. He was so overcome at how wonderful a digger was that he lost it.
I can’t figure out what age people get to when they stop thinking “diggers are awesome and the people driving them are amazing and I’m so happy to see one I can’t control my emotions” and start thinking “what a dumbass that person is they drive a digger”.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all start tearing up over those mini-cranes at Bunnings. But maybe we could do better than to consider the world through our kids eyes and think about why they see life the way they do. And wonder, maybe that’s the way we should be operating. Not always rushing to insist we’re smarter. We know more. There’s them and us and we’re better.
Maybe we could try learning instead of always insisting we’re the teachers.
Posted on June 24, 2015
A little while back my son announced that he wanted to be a ballerina. He wanted to dance with other ballerinas he said. Can I “PEASE PEASE PEASE DEAR MAMA” let him dance with other ballerinas?
I googled ballet classes and began calling around. After half an hour of this I was pretty gutted.
At the moment like many families we are on one income. When I return to work we will be able to do more but at the moment we are on an extremely tight budget.
Most ballet classes I found were around $120 a term. Plus admin fees. Plus uniforms. Yes, uniforms. For a two year old. I know. I know.
Some didn’t seem to have any boys in the classes and looked Very Serious by the photos. The people on the phone sounded Very Serious. There was grading. And performances – where you had to pay extra for costumes. Hidden costs you’re unable to budget for.
I googled ballet shoes.
I felt like I needed a wine after doing that.
I went on Twitter and complained about ballet classes being out of reach. Because $100 a term is out of reach for many parents. $150+ and a uniform (when ballet shoes can cost upward of $40 and that’s just the shoes) – well that is beyond out of reach.
Even if you can scrape together enough for a term fee, the way classes are set up can be really challenging when you’re on a low or no income. Being at class every single week is tough – if you don’t have enough for the extra bus fare because you had to pay a $5 script fee, there goes the ability to get to your ballet class that week. And you’ve lost that money for the class. Very few places have make-up classes. And I get that – I mean, businesses have to make money. I’m just trying to explain how these things quickly become out of reach for many whānau.
If you can *just* afford a uniform – do you buy shoes a size bigger so they fit? My son has changed shoe sizes twice this year and it’s only June.
Also – he’s two. What if he doesn’t like the class? I couldn’t find one place that did a tester class.
So, as I usually do when something upsets me: I went on Twitter and moaned. And soon I was inundated with messages from other parents. They told me about crying late at night over a budget trying to pay for classes for their children. And let’s be clear – it’s not just ballet. Most activities for kids that run on a term basis are expensive. I guess ballet is just at the extreme end.
I just don’t think it’s fair that kids miss out because their parents don’t earn enough money, or are between jobs, or are in caregiver roles and therefore without a regular wage. Dinner on the table is a priority for many families – not ballet. It isn’t the fault of these parents, it isn’t the fault of these kids. But I thought it wasn’t fair that some kids missed out. A friend who is a dancer agreed.
So we concocted a plan. Ballet for everyone. Free.
I began asking around to see how much interest there was and we began deciding what the classes should look like. Here’s where we got to:
- Free or koha.
- All ages, all genders.
- As accessible as possible.
- No uniforms or extra hidden charges.
- Tutus for any kids who want them – but no pressure to wear them.
- No grading, no strict rules, no competitiveness.
- No need to commit to an entire term – classes would be “drop in” if possible.
- Kids wouldn’t be forced to participate.
- Emphasis would be on fun and letting the children lead.
- Children wouldn’t be separated based on skill – it would just be basic ballet with a focus on joy.
We set up a GiveALittle page to ask for donations to cover the cost of booking a studio once a week. Then, suddenly – the donations started rolling in and word spread.
Now we have a heap of demand and we are trying to meet it. And we’re both really overwhelmed by how much of a desire there is to let kids dance and dream and have fun regardless of what their parents can afford.
Also, we are seeing there is a real need for “classes” that support kids whose needs are a little bit different. The mixed ages and genders and non-competitive aspect really seems to appeal. And that’s so awesome. So hopefully, we will be able to run some classes that are koha and those classes will be able to support the free classes.
Right now I am trying not to get teary every five minutes from the lovely support we’re getting for our Ballet is for Everyone kaupapa. The donations! So much has been given! We have had two more teachers offer to run classes. We have had brand new leotards donated. We have a wonderful person who is making tutus for us – for free! Another person is dropping off second hand dance gear. We’re beaming and sending messages to each other that are just hearts for eyes emojis.
I love this about our online community – we support, share, create, and promote kindness every day. This is just one example of it. But it’s wonderful, and joyful, and awesome, and inspiring.
And we are very grateful.
So this post is just a thank you. A “look at how amazing this is!!?!” A watch-this-space.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this wee venture. I’m excited about what we can achieve. But most of all – I’m just chuffed that a little studio in Wellington is going to full of excited children who have been given a chance to do something that was previously out of reach.
How you can help:
- Give a little to give a lot!
- Like our Facebook page
- Follow us on Twitter.
- Contact us on the form below to let us know if you help. We need dancers to volunteer to teach classes. We need dance gear – tutus, leotards, skirts, shoes, costumes, those pretty ribbon things…
You can also contact us if you would like to attend the classes or you would like more information.
Posted on June 22, 2015
This guest post is by my dear friend Gem Wilder. Gem is a total badass, a beautiful writer, a babe of epic proportions, and a really great mum. I love what she’s written here about her experiences parenting her awesome daughter. I reckon you’ll love it too. Truth above all. Thank you Gem ❤️
The Word I Wish I Could Take Back
Motherhood comes with its own language. As soon as you find out you are pregnant you acquire a whole new vocabulary: Ante-natal, post-partum, meconium, placenta, nuchal fold, lactation, and so on and so forth forever and ever amen. Some of these new words can inspire a plethora of emotions and memories. Words like ‘latch’ can bring on a cold sweat. My sympathies to you if you gave birth in a New Zealand election year, when every utterance of the word ‘labour’ can reduce you to a sobbing mess rocking on the floor, nothing but a bundle of PTSD and hormones.
There are words that come freely with motherhood that are suddenly easier to say than ever before. Words like “I love you,” and more than that, “I love you so so SO much, you make me so happy, come here so mama can snuggle you to pieces”. Yep, you’ll say these things, and you won’t even gag when you do. You’ll say them in public without an ounce of shame. You’ll say them even as you are wiping your kid’s snotty nose with your bare hands because you don’t have any tissues, and you’ll mean them sincerely.
You will understand a language that makes no sense outside of your small family unit. My family know that ‘Bawnmolly’ was my nephew’s word for lawnmower when he was a toddler. That ‘donner’ was the cord on the side of his sleep sack that he would wrap around his hand as he sucked his thumb. We know that when his younger brother asked for a ‘cuggle’ he wanted to suck on the side of his mothers thumb, her skin tough and dry from many a night spent soothing her boy. We know that when my daughter talks about ‘pippit’ she means cricket, and we laugh when she talks about how pippit players wear iPads. When my daughter pipes up from the back seat of the car, excited about having seen a ‘pane,’ I have to decipher whether she means plane, train or crane.
There are the words that people get wrong, like my daughter’s name. People that have known her since she was born, who hear us pronounce Kōwhai with a long o, like core, then call her Kowhai, co, as if it doesn’t matter how they say it. As if it is still her name if they pronounce it an entirely different way. I knew this would happen. I have no regrets when it comes to my daughter’s name. She will tire of correcting people, or not. Maybe she won’t care. Maybe her presence in the world will inspire a few more people to learn the correct pronunciation of the beautiful native tree she was named for.
There are the words we use as terms of affection for our children, the nicknames that they endure. My bunny baby, kokomo, koko pops, my only sunshine. And the words she uses to define us, her parents. Mama. Papa. Titles we earned and owned the second she took her first breath.
My daughter is three and a half now, a chatterbox with a growing vocabulary. I hear her mimicking me often. I hear her testing out new words to see how they feel on her tongue. A few weeks ago she was describing an incident that had happened to her at daycare. “I was feeling…” and she paused, thinking of the right word to describe her emotion, “…frustrated” she finished, confident that she’d used this new word correctly.
All of these words I treasure. I wouldn’t take back a single one of them. Except….there is one word that I have overused during my time as a mama, and that word is ‘careful.’ I utter it numerous times a day. When my daughter is climbing along the top of the couch, when she is carrying a glass of water, when we’re out walking, when she’s playing rough and tumble with her cousins, when she’s curiously stroking a baby, when she’s climbing out of the bath. I say it, and then I see it. I see my daughter being careful. I see her playing at a playground and avoiding ladders she thinks she cannot climb. I see her wary of the touch pool at the aquarium, standing in such a way that she can look at the starfish below with no risk of getting her hands wet. I see her being careful, being cautious, being wary.
Careful is the word I have used the most since becoming a mother, and I hate it. I don’t want it to be the word that defines my motherhood. If I could start over I would tell my daughter to have fun. I would let her learn for herself what she is capable of, before planting the seed of danger or failure before she’s even tried something. When I told her to be careful I did so out of love, but also out of fear. I’ve learnt my lesson though and these days I sound like a cheerleader, or a motivational poster. “You can do it!” I call from the sidelines. “Just try it!” I plead. And hopefully, if I keep this up, before too long she will start to believe me. If I say it out loud enough times, maybe that’s what she’ll start hearing inside her own head.