Reflections on motherhood...


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How did you get here?

Not in the metaphysical sense.  If you can operate a computer, you probably have at least a basic understanding of the chain of events that led to your arrival on this planet.

More in the google sense.  How did you find this blog?

I get the stats.  I know the google chain of events that led you here.  And let's just say some of you weren't looking for a mummy blog.

Some of you were looking for information on co-sleeping.  Or a picture of co-sleeping.  Here's another, taken for posterity as the last co-nap of maternity leave.  As you can see, the baby's nose is dangerously close to my armpit.  Lucky for him, we live in the 21st century, where personal hygiene is not a matter to be taken lightly.  Nor is co-sleeping for that matter.  I wasn't really sleeping anyway.

In cinéma vérité fashion, the camera focuses on
the armpit of doom.

Some of you googled Miss Lily White.  My deceased cat, creme de la creme of burlesque dancers, or vintage fashionista extraordinaire.

Some of you googled Santa Claus.  Sorry about that.  Instead of mistletoe and snowflakes you got this post on Santa Claus and other lies.

Some of you googled "poker" and "boobs".  Or "hot poker pain in breast".

Not sure everyone was after the same thing there, but hey, you learnt something about mastitis right?

Some of you googled "Elisabeth Badinter".  What can I say?  I can see the appeal.  Badinter = Badfeminist.

Some of you googled "breastfeeding positions".  I hope my drawings were enlightening.

Yesterday I added a new one to the mix.  I call it "the dancing Grumet".  Picture one wriggly baby, dancing and feeding.  Oh the unmitigated joy.  And today I witnessed "the calf".  This is the one where the baby, behaving rather like a milking calf, pulls at the nipple, then nuzzles and nose-butts the udder with impatience.  Moo.

Some of you might have found a link to my blog on Kiwi Mummy Blogs.  A very large number of you found your way here via Rhonwyn Newson's article in the New Zealand Herald.

Some of you googled no mum is an island.  

And some of you googled "".  This one is beyond explanation.  

However you found your way here, come, stay a while, sit by the fire.  Leave a comment or a suggestion.  Enjoy, or travel onwards through the big wide web until you reach your destination.  Watch out for hot poker boobs on your way... they're worth steering clear of.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Santa Claus and other lies we tell our children

Last week I came across a blogger who claimed that they didn't have Santa in their house because they don't tell their children lies.  And because Christmas is not about Santa, it's about God.  Um, hello??  Old white guy with beard, lives and/or flies in clouds, just "knows" if you've been naughty or nice, is watching you all year...


Yeah yeah, I know, there's more to Santa than that.  For a start, the guy he's modelled on was once a real person - Saint Nicholas.  Sure, his image seems to have been misappropriated for dastardly commercial reasons.  If Saint Nick was around these days he'd probably be living the high life on the proceeds of his lawsuit against Coca-Cola for portraying him as a ruddy fat bastard in their latest ad campaign.

Coke Time: otherwise known in my house as
Wine Time.

Santa, like all white lies, serves a very important purpose.  And that purpose is to allow the gift-giver to remain anonymous, so either a) that uncreative gift of socks and a hanky can be blamed on Santa; or b) as your child unwraps the latest toy, everyone is focused on the sheer delight beaming from his face, rather than the chagrined faces of his parents, who are wondering how they will pay the credit card bill in January.

And you know what else?  A bit like God, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, unicorns and whatever else you believe in, Santa brings just a little bit of magic into our lives.  And it's magic that makes a childhood.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On why I write

This is one of those blog-linkup things, wherein I've been nominated by another blogger (thank you Rachiebee) to write a blogpost about why I write.  And at the end I'll nominate two more bloggers to do the same.  If you follow the trail back you find some quite interesting blogs.  First in the virtual breadcrumb trail is Rachiebee - her blog really is true to its description of being a picnic of thoughts.  When I read Rachel's blog it's like she's right there in the room with me, as it's written exactly how she talks, which is to say in a bubbling stream of consciousness, full of delight and wonder at life.  I love listening to Rachel talk, mostly because I'm sort of quite introverted and don't do chatter, but I'm very happy to listen to someone who likes to give voice to all their thoughts.  And I could listen to Rachel all day.

Why do I write?
I write, I think mostly, to make sense of, and make fun of, my world.  At age thirty, I found myself in charge of a small human being, and very much not in charge of the thoughts and feelings that accompanied that new role.  My first blog posts were timid, a testing of the waters.  I kept my blog secret for quite a while, before sharing it with my mum.  Buoyed by her encouragement, I pressed on, finding a voice and style that suited me.  My blog posts often, but not always, use some combination of humour, some research, and some pithy reflection on the whole subject.  I like the discipline of a blog post, of having to get my ideas out there in 1000 words, to bring everything together in a neat, organised and thoughtful way, and having to find some pictures which neatly illustrate what I'm saying.  And secretly, I quite like watching my blog stats, and seeing how many people stumble on my blog every day.  It's not many, but hey, at least it's being read by someone.  And maybe, just maybe, my sons will one day read my blog and gain a new appreciation of the young woman who was their mother (and why she so frequently lost her shizz with them).

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?
My blog is most definitely a "mummy blog" (or a "mommy blog" if you're in North America), though there is a part of me that feels quite uncomfortable about that label.  There are many different types of mummy blogs.  I would say that one point of difference in mine is that I make a point, usually, of not blogging directly about my kids.  Usually I use something about their development or recent behaviour as a jumping off point for a post - but I try not to prattle on about the clever thing they did today.  Some stories are too good not to share, but for the most part I use them to mull over some aspect of the broader context or relevant research.

How does my writing process work?
It's pretty stop/start.  If I have an idea for a post, I try and get it down as soon as possible, with some notes on what I was thinking.  Then, when I have time to come back to it, I will write a bit more.  At any one time I have around 4-5 pieces I am actively working on, and I have another 30 or so draft posts in various states of completion, some of which will never see the light of day.  When one is getting near to completion, I'll often stay up late feverishly working on it, reading it, rereading it, adding photos, and checking it.  Even once a blog post is finished, I'll often leave it overnight before I post it, just to be sure I'm happy with it.  My time alone is minimal, so I write when, and where, I can.  Today I'm writing this post from the waiting room at the doctor's surgery, where I'm waiting to be seen for what I suspect is tonsillitis.  Writing is better than reading those germ-laden and outdated mags anyway, and it is a welcome distraction from people-watching.  The waiting room is crowded and there's a young woman across from me sobbing into her hands while her friend rubs her back.  I'm trying not to stare and hoping she gets seen by a doctor really soon, since we all know it's bad when you can't hold it together in front of 30 people in the waiting room. 

What am I working on?
Urgh, too much.  Lately I'm working on balancing motherhood with working, and trying not to lose my shit with my kids because of the sleep deprivation.  Did I mention that I'm really tired?  I'm working on getting more sleep.

I am struggling with this, first because I don't have many blogger friends, and second because I don't like to force this self-expose of bloggery on the ones I do know.  However, if you're looking for some interesting reads, I recommend Tui Mamaki's blog on her adventures in Bulgaria - her writing is lush, like her gorgeous singing, or this new blog by another mama - she has an original and irreverent approach to healthy food.  Blog on!

Monday, August 4, 2014

History lessons with a four-year-old

This afternoon, driving home from a big morning of playing at the park, the news on the radio reminded us that today is the commemoration of 100 years since the start of World War One.

"World War One?" asked Milkbaby, from the back seat.

He often overhears snippets of the news and makes comment; yesterday the weather report was "showers easing overnight" and he said with a giggle "there was sneezing in the night??!".  Oh how we laughed.

"Yes darling, it was a big war one hundred years ago.
"But why, mama?
"Umm, that's a good question.  Let's learn all about it this afternoon, okay?"

I'm floundering here.  The sad thing is, I'm a history major.  But how do you explain the causes of the First World War (or any war, for that matter) to a four-year-old?  The first thought that popped into my head was "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans", but I held my tongue as various ideas, phrases and images from long-ago-crammed exams bounced in my head.

As we pulled up, I thought I'd personalise the war conversation.  More fool me.

"Your great great grandfather was in World War One.
"My great great grandfather?"
"Yes his name was Albert Alfred.  He was killed in France."
[looking upset] "He died?"
"Yes darling, he was shot on Vimy Ridge" [Mama blunders on]
[bottom lip quivering and eyes getting moist]  "But he's died?"
"Yes" [realising that maybe this topic is too heavy and wondering how I can back out of it]
"But ... I wanted to play with him" [the pre-cry whine is threatening his voice]
"Oh that's really nice honey.  It's sad isn't it.  War is really sad because lots of people die.  What shall we have for lunch?"  [How's that for a mid-conversation-subject-change??]

I might have made a mistake here.  Or perhaps opened up a little door to a lifetime of curiosity for history.  Whatever the case, this conversation and the afternoon's activities (drawing a picture of Albert Alfred, watching historical footage of WWI, and poring over the world map discussing which countries were involved and where the major fighting took place) opened the question floodgates.

"But where was he fighting?"  In France, at Vimy Ridge.
"He was in Canada?"  No he was from Canada, and went to France.
"But how did he get there?"  Good question... by boat.
"But who went with him?"  His army mates, his Battalion.
"How old was he?"  I'm not sure, I will check and let you know in the morning.
"I think he was 36."  That's probably about right, he was probably about the same age as me and daddy because he had four young children.  [holy crap, FOUR children?!!  I checked: he was 35]
"But, mama?  You couldn't play with him?  And Cal couldn't play with him?"   No darling, we couldn't play with him either.  He didn't come home from the war.

He didn't come home from the war.  As I walked out of Milkbaby bedroom after blowing more goodnight kisses, it was this I thought of.  He didn't come home from the war, leaving my great grandmother with four children, the youngest of whom (my grandfather) was just two.  FOUR children!

The moral of this story?  Know your facts before starting a conversation with a four-year-old.  On any subject.  And be careful when discussing the war, his eyes might not be the only ones getting moist.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mama makes: a knitted Lego Batman and matching Batman cake

You thinking I'm joking right?  Yes, I actually knitted a Batman Lego action figure, then topped off the whole birthday experience by making a Batman cake to go with it.  I consider this cake and knitted action figure to be the crowning achievements of my motherhood experience so far.

Read on for instructions on how to make the knitted batman.

Batman Lego Action Hero

One 50g ball of black 8-ply wool
One A4 sheet each of black, white and yellow felt
Stuffing, or three additional pieces of felt (felt makes quite good stuffing)
Two 4mm knitting needles, as well as a similar sized pair of circular needles
A needle and black and white thread
Glue, Scissors

Step 1: Get inspired.  Decide that you will make your precious almost-4-year-old the best soft toy EVER, even if you've always slightly despised soft toys and resented how much space they take up in his bed.  Head to your local craft store (in my case, this was Spotlight).  Wander the aisles there, slightly bewildered by the multiple project ideas coming into your head.  Get your supplies, as well as supplies for a bunch of other craft/knitting projects you don't have the time or skills for.

Step 2:  Search the internet for a knitting pattern for a knitted lego batman, because surely someone's made of these before, right?  Wrong.  You will only find a knitted lego batman willy warmer, and countless examples of knitted batman soft toys (not lego-shaped) by people who are just plain showing off their knitting skills.  Decide that you will "freestyle it".

Step 3:  Look at some pictures of Lego Batman on the internet, and then begin to knit, freestyle (a.k.a "making it up as you go along"):

Head and body (two sides done as one piece)

Knit a shape like this:

Or if you really need instructions, try these (I take no responsibility for how the body of your superhero turns out!):

The body is knit in stocking stitch, and the head in garter stitch.
Cast on 20 sts, knit 1 row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row
Knit one row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row (24 sts)
Continue to knit/purl alternate rows, and about every 3-4 rows decrease by a stitch at either end of the row, until you have a body-shaped piece and 16 sts on your needles.
Now it's time to knit the head.  COff 4 sts, then knit 8, then COff another 4 sts.  Knit those 8 until you have a long bit in the middle that when folded over is a square head shape.
Then knit the backside of the body by reversing the instructions above/freestyling it.

Arms and legs

These were knitted on circular needles using the "magic loop" technique.  Here's some instructions:

For the arms, cast on 8 stitches, and knit till the arms are approximately the length of the body.  For the legs, cast on 12 stitches, and knit till the legs are that stubby little leg length that you see on the Lego Batman (about 1.5 inches if you're really wondering).

Step 4: Now to put it all together.  Sew the head together around the sides, and stuff before sewing across the bottom where it joins the body.  Then sew the body's sides together, and stuff before sewing across the bottom.  Sew one end of the arms and legs closed, stuff, then sew the other end closed.  Join the arms and legs to the body in approximately the right places.

Step 5: Use the remaining felt to do the face (white felt under a piece of black felt), the batman sign (black felt on yellow), the belt (a strip of yellow felt with the buckle and embellishment sewn on), and the cape (just cut out a cape shape and braid some wool to hold it on).  You also need to carefully stitch the frowny lips.

Step 6: You're done!  Lovingly wrap it and give it to your little superhero for his 4th birthday.  Admit to feeling just a little proud when Batman manages to bump the other soft toys to the soft toy hammock and take his place as Milkbaby's sole sleeping companion.

Knitted Lego Batman just hanging out

And the cake?  I couldn't provide instructions to enable you to replicate the saved-from-almost-disaster icing job.  Seriously, just 15 minutes before salvaging this into the most awesome icing job ever, I was hanging my head in frustration over the cake, mumbling "I'm such a bad mother...this icing looks terrible."   

"Don't worry," said Captain Boringvoice, "it's post-modern to show the construction of the cake."  "But this isn't how it's supposed to look!" I wailed.  

Realising there wasn't time for melodrama, I gave myself a stern talking to ("for God's sake pull yourself together and think of something creative you can do with this cake").  Not a bad result really - just shows what an impending birthday party and a good pep talk can do.

Batman: so strong he'll rip the icing right off your cake.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Milkbaby's movie meanderings: Ernest & Celestine and Frozen

For Milkbaby's fourth birthday, we took him to Ernest & Celestine.  Here's his review.

Tell me about Ernest & Celestine.
It had a big ummm bear, called Ernest.  And a little mouse who was called Celestine.  Umm Celestine dropped the pencil, and the movie was great.

What was the best part of the movie?
The funny one, the big mouse.   He went "boof!" into the door. [giggles]

What did Ernest & Celestine do?
They jumped in the big house.  Celestine took a big bunch of teeth.  Where to?  To the doctor?  Did she steal them?  No. Ernest stole a whole bunch of teeth.  And that's the end of it.

Who was chasing them?
I saw a funny part.  It was the police holding hands and went "boof" into a wall.  It was very silly. [more giggling]

What else did you like about the film?

Were Ernest & Celestine friends in the end?

But mama? We didn't talk about Frozen yet!

What do you want to say about Frozen?
There's two girls, and one girl went away and said

"Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice
Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice"  [Milkbaby sings this for me, somewhat tunelessly]

That's the song about the girl who was going away.

Where did she go?
She made a tall house and a bridge.  And.  Someone trapped her.  And it was locked.  And.  Uh.  The other girl came to her and tracked inside.  What happened then?  It locked.  They were huggling each other.  But the one he was coming back and the other one was pushing her away.  The guy?   No. The girl.

What else happened?
It's finished.  I want to say Germany wins. [Any guess as to what day we wrote this together?  Yup, the day that one country got their happily-ever-after ending.]

Mama's thoughts
Ernest & Celestine is a gorgeous, fantastical movie, from the creators of The Triplets of Belleville.  For anyone who has read the Ernest & Celestine picturebooks, as far as I can tell, this film doesn't attempt to adapt their simple stories; rather, it is the backstory of how Ernest & Celestine came to be friends.  And what a story it is - they both must overcome adversity (the mouse and bear Police officers go "boof") and their own personal challenges to realise their dream of staying friends.  Celestine is a courageous and smart female role model.  She stands up to the system, and to the "big scary bear" Ernest.  Ernest, voiced by Forest Whittaker, is her lovable and loyal sidekick.

And Frozen? Don't even get me started... I've "let it go" already.

Rating for Ernest & Celestine: ***** (go see it if you haven't already!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My sweetheart the drunk

"It's like hanging out with a drunk person" I said to Captain Boringvoice.  We had just witnessed Milkbaby (now four) push over a large smoothie whilst trying to slide it back across the table to me.  Looking back on it now, even a drunk person knows you don't move a full glass of beer by applying force to the top of the glass.  "Think about it" I went on "- no voice volume control, repeating self, interrupting other people, emotionally volatile, lack of inhibition, argumentative..."

"Hmm" said Captain Boringvoice in agreement, looking at Milkbaby.  "Actually, it's probably more like hanging out with a drunk person who's also on acid", nodding my gaze towards Milkbaby.  At that moment, Milkbaby was using his fingers to create patterns in the maple syrup on his plate, then staring fixedly at each finger before licking it clean and repeating.

A quick google revealed that there's actually more to this comparison than I thought.  In short, the functions that alcohol impairs in the adult brain are quite similar to the functions that are still developing in a preschooler's brain.

It's all about the prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex (the PFC to some, otherwise known as the bulbous bit of your brain immediately behind your forehead) is the smartest part of your brain.  It's the brain's brain.  Its job is to interpret messages from other parts of your brain, and turn that information into a response that reflects both present and future circumstances.  Take crossing the road.  It's your PFC that's saying, "hold it, I hear a car coming, it's not safe to cross now, okay, look the other way, yes, coast is clear, right you can cross now."  See what I mean about present and future circumstances?
The PFC: ensures you don't cry over toast triangles.

It's also the job of the PFC to exert control over the rest of your brain in social situations to avoid socially unacceptable outcomes.  So the next time you order toast in a cafe, and it's cut in triangles rather than squares, and for some strange reason it really really matters to you and you feel like you're going to cry about it or shout at someone but you manage to hold it together?  That's your PFC going "just hold it together buddy, crying about toast that's cut wrong will create a scene, and we don't want to do that now, do we?"

So let's just do a little tally up.  The main effects of alcohol on your PFC will mean you have:

  • poorer spatial recognition and planning (if we take the crossing the road example again, your drunken PFC is going "how far away is that car?  is it a car?  whatever, just cross the road, I'm pretty sure that moving object isn't going to hit you")
  • poorer recall and decision-making (need I explain?)
  • lowered inhibition (possibly not lowered so much so that you are apt to shout "my wees are coming out!" across a crowded bar, but let's just say your tongue and voicebox volume control will be loosened up somewhat).

And what about preschoolers?

Well...  In humans, the PFC is still developing well into your twenties, and structural changes actually occur during the preschool years.  In short, your threenager is yelling at you for cutting their toast wrong because their PFC hasn't yet grown enough to tell them it's inappropriate to make a scene over such a minor matter.  

The PFC of a preschooler is also still developing its other areas of executive function.  Like decision-making and planning.  This is a pretty common conversation in our house most days right now.

"Honey, do you need to pee?  Because we're going out so it would be a good idea to pee before we leave"
"Can you just try?"
"Please?  It's quite a long car ride and I don't want you to have an accident" [read: the back seat of the car is dubious-smelling enough already without adding another bladder-full of wee to it]
"Ok, fine, let's not argue about it."

[10 minutes later, on the motorway or some other place quite far from any weeing facilities]

"Mamma?  I need to wee."
"Okay, can you hold on until we find somewhere?"
"No, my wees are coming!!!"
"Okay, just hold on, I'm pulling over."

[As you can see here I'm quite calm and polite about a late wee disclosure, but Jebus it DRIVES. ME. INSANE. and it's usually all I can do not to shout "You've got to be f#@*ing kidding me!!  We JUST talked about this!!"]

Check out the concentration on his
face with all that PFC activity.
Finally, there's recall and decision-making.  Take a skill like covering your mouth when you sneeze.  That involves anticipation, recall, decision-making and a bit of social control for good measure.  It's quite complex when you think about it.  Such a function requires consistent performance from your PFC.  Some adults haven't even mastered this skill, so why is it that beat ourselves up over our child's inability to prevent the spread of his latest lurgy?  Milkbaby's been berated so many times we had this conversation last week:

Milkbaby: "Achoo"
Me: "Cover your mouth"
Milkbaby: "How many times do I have to tell you?!"
Me: "Exactly what I was thinking." 

So, next time you're hanging out with your preschooler, and you're wondering why on earth they're shouting at you when you're right next to them, picking a fight over the colour of their pants, or refusing to use the toilet even though you know you won't be near facilities for the next little while, blame it on an under-developed prefrontal cortex and pretend you're hanging out with a drunk person.

Or even better, a drunk person on acid.  Pretty sure that entitles you to lick maple syrup from your fingers in a crowded cafe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hello Mastitis, my old friend

This little ditty is a few weeks old now. As soon as I'd thought "well hello Mastitis my old friend" I couldn't get this damn song out of my fever dreams, complete with those ageing ex-folkies gently crooning it in my ear. At one point I was pretty sure Paul Simon had also invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo along for the ride, my head was pounding that badly.  Anyway, the song sort of works, though it gets a bit weird around the third verse.

The Sounds of Mastitis

Hello Mastitis, my old friend
You've come to make me sick again
There's a redness softly creeping
Over my breast while I was sleeping
And the fever that was planted
in my brain
Still remains 
Within the sound of mastitis

"It's all happening at the zoo."   [photo source]
To After Hours I went alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a medical lamp
Doc felt my breast it was hot and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of that neon light
He called it a blight
And touched the sounds of mastitis

And in the Doctor's eyes I saw
Ten thousand mothers, maybe more
Doctors talking without speaking
Doctors hearing without listening
Doctors writing scripts than voices never shared
And no one cared
For the sound of mastitis

"Fools" said I "you do not know
Mastitis like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of mastitis

And the doctors bowed and prayed
To the penicillin god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said 
"The future use of antibiotics is written on the wall
of museum halls"
And whispered in the sounds of mastitis...

Thanks antibiotics, all better now.  And Mastitis, I'm singing a different tune now.  It goes: I am a rock, I am an island... I have no need for (your) friendship, (your) friendship causes pain...

Here's the tune, from happier times in the Simon & Garfunkel partnership.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Strange conversation #3: the pain of childbirth

This is one from the memory banks that I've been meaning to record for ages.

We're at a wedding, Milkbaby in tow. I'm making polite conversation with strangers. The groom's sister is pregnant. We soon get to talking babies, pregnancy, childbirth.

"I expect it will hurt a bit" she says.
"Um, yeah, it's hard to describe. It's different for everyone, but for me it started off feeling like quite bad period cramps."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"Yeah but then it ramps up." I'm struggling to find the words. I want to say something profound, but all I can think of is the bruising I was left with on my forehead from pushing my fists into my face during contractions. Not exactly a nice image. "But remember there's no pain between contractions, so you can relax and focus."
She's mulling this over. I scan her face, hoping I haven't scared the bejebus out of her. I look over her outfit. It's a quirky choice for a 'sister of the groom' look.
"I imagine it won't be any more painful than having your elbows tattooed." she says, somewhat out of the blue. 
I smile, keeping a poker face, as if she's just arrived at a sufficiently adequate comparison. "Hmm", I say agreeably.
"Because that was pretty painful."
I don't want to disavow her of this notion. Hey, who knows, maybe her labour will be no worse than the pain of having your elbows tattooed. Then again, probably not. It's better she finds out for herself.
"Yeah, it could be." I look at the mountains in the distance. "It could be."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What we're reading: The Tiger Who Came to Tea (reimagined)

Have you ever been reading an old favourite to your kids and found yourself cringing at how it's dated, or wanting to talk some sense into the characters?  The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a classic, and a favourite in our house, but on the last read through I noticed it needed a bit of an update...

 Seriously, what self-respecting four-year-old drinks tea?

Notice how it's only men knocking on the door?  Only these days it's more likely to be a courier with something you've bought off Trademe, rather than the milkman or the grocer.

And then, without a thought for their own safety, or even checking to see who it is, they open the door!  Foolish mistake.

This tiger has no manners.

See what I mean?  No manners at all.  But look at Mummy and Sophie's perfect manners.

Mummy was floundering a bit here, and seeming a bit useless.  Sophie knows better than to tell her to buck her ideas up, but thought it would be helpful to point out that Daddy was a dab hand in the kitchen and could probably get his own dinner.

Mummy knew just what to do about the lack of water.

Doesn't this picture just shout "Honeys, I'm home!"?  This is one cool daddy-o.

A cool, beer-drinking, plaid-wearing dad.

Daddy's also very rational and sensible here.  First things first, sort out the tiger sighting, then we'll do fanciful things like go to a cafe to eat dinner.

Mummy hadn't had a great day, what with opening the door without checking who it was, letting in a tiger, letting the tiger eat ALL their food (AND drink Daddy's beer), and then floundering around seeming a bit silly once he'd left.

That's right, they'll certainly be more careful next time.  Or maybe they just like having tigers to visit?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Mother's Day Awards

I wanted to write this post for Mother's Day, but I've been busy.  Was it just me, or did mother's day seem like a big deal this year?  There seemed to be a ton of mother's day activity on facebook, and companies doing all sorts of mother's day promotions.

Anyway, I've got a few Mother's Day awards:

Mother's Day more-viral-than-chickenpox award: This one about the world's toughest job was a bit of a viral hit.  Not sure what the company was selling, but if 1% of the 19 million-odd viewers bought whatever it was, I'm pretty sure it was worth the effort.

Mother's Day will-make-you-cry-like-a-baby award: goes to The Honest Toddler for "I Don't Know if I Love You".  So, so, beautiful.

Mother's Day most interrupted sleep-in ever: goes to me.  By the sixth interruption at 8.30am I gave up and just lay there, pretending to sleep.  But faking it wasn't quite as good as the real thing, so after 10 minutes I got out of bed and headed for the shower.  Interruptions as follows:
  • a baby needing a full outfit change (I hopped out of bed to help)
  • a toddler saying he just needed to "calm me down" [cue hair stroking]
  • a falling stack of DVDs [cue exclamations from mother in law]
  • the baby being brought back in to our room for a sleep
  • the glass shattering on our oven door [thanks to Captain Boringvoice and his brother who thought they'd do some house renos]
  • the vacuum cleaner sucking up the shattered oven door.
Thankfully the rest of the day was not quite so disturbed.

As the day ended, and I rocked The Sailor to sleep, I realised that this would probably be my last Mother's Day with a baby.  I rocked him a little longer that night, savouring his warm little body tucked against me, feeling the fuzz of his head against my lips.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What we're reading (and doing): Getting to Know You

In this digital age, when [almost] everything humanity knows can be found online, and reading is something you do on some handheld device, I sometimes wonder how kids of today (and the future) will fall in love with books, and by extension, reading.

That love affair must start as early as possible, with simple, easy to read board books.  Babies must learn the something special smell of a new book, the texture of its pages, and the thrill of discovering a story as the pages are turned.  It makes me sad to think there are children in New Zealand who will grow up without books in their house.

Lately, we've been reading Getting to Know You.  Published late last year by Niche Books, it's the perfect book to read to your new baby.  The book centres around the routines that characterise life with a newborn - and reminds us that these routines are not to be treated as tasks to be ticked off - they are opportunities to enjoy some space with your new one, inside that weird parenting bubble that envelopes a house for the months after a baby is born.
"change and chat while the world whirls..."
[translation: next time you're changing your infant and you're focusing on not getting shit everywhere, take a moment to take a breath - through your mouth mind - look up, make eye contact with that gorgeous baby and have a chat]

The text has a gentle cadence and rhythm, and is memorable enough for a toddler to learn so that they can "read" it to a younger sibling.  Milkbaby's favourite line - the one he always skips to - is:
"take my time / to breathe you in"  
As you can see, there is poetry here.  This is a board book with a story, albeit a simple one, and it beautifully and thankfully goes beyond those boring name-the-object books you see everywhere.  You can guarantee if a book is boring for you, it'll soon be very boring for your baby.

It's well known that babies are fond of looking at photos of other babies - and this little book will satisfy these cravings.

The Sailor, 10 weeks old, growing brain cells
and falling in love with books.

What's best about these photos is that they're photos of real people, and real babies, in their own environments.  I can say this because Milkbaby is one of those babies in the book, and he was definitely photographed amongst the mess of our own home.*  Heather has a way with babies, and an eye for capturing those moments of 'mutual gaze'.  You can almost see the baby brain cells multiplying.

If you want to know more about mutual gaze and getting to know your baby during those early baby days, watch this gorgeous video.

And if you want to get your hands on a copy of Getting to Know You (go on, you know you want to!),  ask for it at your local independent bookseller or order it here.

*Disclaimer: neither myself nor Milkbaby have any financial interest in the success or otherwise of this book - but it's been a hit in this house so we want to see it do well!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Milkbaby's movie meanderings: Rio 2 and Lego

With the school holidays in full swing, there's a plethora of children's movies to choose from.  Sadly, the release of Ernest and Celestine, the movie we've most been looking forward to, has been delayed in New Zealand, and won't come out until July.  Boo.

Last week we saw Rio 2, and Lego.  I managed a short interview with Milkbaby on each.  Mama rant follows.

Rio 2  [Was there a Rio 1?  It seems to have passed us by.]

Plot synopsis: It's a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids in Rio 2, after they decide to leave Rio for the wilds of the Amazon rainforest.  As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all - his father-in-law.

What did you think of Rio?
I think the bird. The bad bird.

What happened in it?  What was the story?  What did the birds all do?
Ah, hide away. Some birds hid and some birds said "breakfast time!!".

Who was your favourite character
Ah, Rio.  Your favourite bird?  Rio.  Rio, the kind of character.  The blue bird.
You mean Blue?  Yeah, Blue.

What actually happened in the movie?
Um.  The birds went in their nest.

Did they have fun?

Who else was in the movie?
There was an elephant. With a different trunk. He had a long long nose and a long long tongue.  I think that was an ant-eater.  No. In Rio, the elephant. [looks at me like, duh!]  And there was a frog.  It was pink and black.

Were there any bad guys?
Yep, batman.  In Rio? Yep. [Milkbaby's brain: where movie worlds collide, with Batman from Lego starring in Rio 2]

Ok now talk to me about Lego.
I like Batman.

What about him?
I like his batcape.

What happened in the movie?
Um.  The batman flying thing, the batman came.

What was your favourite part?
I don't want to talk about this any more.  You play trains with me?

Mama rant
Before we go on, here's the plot synopsis for Lego:
Emmet is an ordinary, rule-abiding, perfectly average Lego minifigure who is mistakenly identified as having the extraordinary ability to save the world.  He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously underprepared.
With these three films (Sherman and Mr Peabody included), I've identified a bit of a trend.  The male leads must overcome their character flaws (fear, domestication and sheer stupidity respectively) to save the universe/Amazon rainforest/Lego universe.  In their pursuits, they are accompanied by a female character, who invariably is smarter, more well adjusted and sassier than they are.  Yet it is the 'man' of the story who gets all the glory and ultimately saves the day.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - what are we teaching our children?  When are we going to see some children's films that have a strong female lead?  Frozen does not count (yes the female lead was smart, independent and her only character flaw was to be a bit too trusting - but she was a princess).  I have high hopes for Ernest and Celestine.

Back to the movies at hand.  Rio is perfectly watchable for a kids movie.  It's fairly light on the adult gags, but the sub-plot starring Nigel - a cockatoo with a personality disorder and a penchant for Shakespeare and revenge (voiced by NZ's very own Jemaine Clement) is enough to keep you interested.

Lego.  I had high expectations for this film, after it got five stars and had reviews which described it as "dancing on the brink of a cinematic revolution".  It's dancing on something alright, but my guess is that something is more like LSD than cinematic revolution.  If you want to find out if your child suffers from strobe-light-induced epilepsy, this is the film to take them to.  The graphics are FULL ON, both in terms of colours, fast cuts, flashing lights and OTT sounds.  I was actually relieved to have an excuse to leave the movies to change The Sailor and take him for a bit of a walk, even if it meant we had to encounter someone molesting the life-size Spiderman cardboard figure (not joking).

And if you want an earworm that will last at least a month, this is the film to see.  The soundtrack features a song called "Everything is Awesome".  Expect it to be selected by the Internet Party for their campaign song (their slogan is "This is going to be awesome").

That said, the film is packed with irony, adult gags and references and has a complex story line that cleverly mixes fantasy and reality.

Rio 2: ** (only if you need an excuse to leave the house and your toddler is driving you bonkers)
Lego: **** (but don't say I didn't warn you about the strobe effects)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Milkbaby's movie meanderings: Sherman and Mr Peabody

Last week I took Milkbaby and The Sailor to see Sherman and Mr Peabody.  As Milkbaby is now capable of expressing his own opinions on films, I thought I'd do this review Q&A style with him.  To guide you through the review below, here's a brief plot synopsis:
    Mr. Peabody, the most accomplished dog in the world, and his mischievous boy Sherman, use their time machine - The WABAC - to go on the most outrageous adventures known to man or dog. But when Sherman takes The WABAC out for a joyride to impress his friend Penny, they accidentally rip a hole in the time-space continuum, wreaking havoc on the most important events in world history. Before they forever alter the past, present and future, Mr. Peabody must come to their rescue, ultimately facing the most daunting challenge of any era: figuring out how to be a parent. Together, the time traveling trio will make their mark on history.
    So, what did you think of Sherman and Mr Peabody?
    I liked the fighting of Penny.  The fighting of Penny [hand gestures, karate chop style]. I liked the round thing.

    The WABAC?
    Yes, the WABAC.

    What was your favourite part of the movie?
    I liked the killing to get Penny away.  The killing.  [ed: for the record, I couldn't recall anyone being killed or dying in this movie - even "the baddies" had happy endings]

    What happened in that part?
    Fighting came to climb up the building, and he went on the WABAC home. [here I think Milkbaby is referring to a particularly exciting rescue of Penny from the ancient Egyptians, in which Sherman and Mr Peabody climb inside a large statue and impersonate a God who tells them to let her go]

    What did you think of Mr Peabody?
    He did great yoga.  He did standing like that (gesticulates), with her tail, like that too.  It was very funny.

    What else?
    And I know the fighting, the fighting to get Penny back.

    Where did they go in the WABAC?
    To home.  Where else?  And to Penny, when Penny doesn't kill, mama.  Do they go to ancient Rome?  Yes they did, and they're up the elevator.  What about to renaissance Italy?  They went to the honey bees.  The saw a big guy.  Mr Peabody bites someone.  A big guy.  He had pink and white.

    What about Sherman?
    Sherman is a nice boy, and Mr Peabody is a nice boy.  Sherman looks like this tall (hand gestures).

    Mr Peabody is a dog.
    Mr Peabody is a dog.  Silly me ding dong.

    How old do you think Sherman is?
    Sherman is four years old.  He turns five and goes to school.

    Does he like school?
    Yes he does.

    Does he make friends there?  Yes. What friends? Just all of them.  They don't have toys there.

    What else happened in the movie?
    Oh, it did.  What about a different movie?  Madagascar.

    And what did mummy think?  The movie was surprisingly watchable.  It had enough wit to keep me smiling, and I even learnt a thing or two from their visits to places in history.  In this aspect, the learning aspect was a bit lost on Milkbaby, though the pace was probably too fast for children of all ages to actually learn something.  Sadly, the familiar and sickening boy-rescues-silly-girl plot had my feminist hackles up.  Unfortunately, Penny alternates between nasty and silly, and Sherman, for some reason, wants to impress her. In addition, the people they travel back in time to visit are almost all male as well (with King Tut, Agamemnon and all the other male ancient Greeks, Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein and ex-Presidents all making appearances). What are we teaching our sons with female leads and plotlines like this?  I can only hope that the message Milkbaby got out of this was that the guy with the brains [Mr Peabody] will triumph, and you shouldn't do silly things to impress your friends (otherwise you may cause a rift in the time-space continuum). 

    Rating: *** (worth leaving the house for if you're desperate to find something to entertain your toddler)

    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    The Sailor's movie meanderings: Tracks

    I've been looking forward to this movie.  The real, actual, true story of Robyn Davidson's mostly-solo 2700km Australian desert crossing in 1977.

    Unusually, we had company at the screening; people without babes in arms.  "Don't worry" I assured them as we walked in, "he'll go to sleep soon".  And he did, but not before letting out a fair bit of screaming as the movie began.

    This doesn't feel like your average Australian movie.  If your average Australian movie is The Castle, Muriel's Wedding or even Rabbit Proof Fence.  The dialogue is deliberately sparse, sparing viewers from that awkward and grating Australian accent and allowing you to instead focus on the miles and miles of desert and sand.

    Sand.  Grey sand, red sand, blue sand, pink sand, windy sand, wet sand, sandy sand.  You will never again encounter so much sand in a movie - but you'll still not tire of the view.

    I'll admit to a moment of dread as 'Day 1' was captioned.  My fear that we could be watching a movie as long as Lord of the Rings was quickly allayed with the next caption reading 'day 29'.

    This movie is billed as a drama, but there were only a few moments where my heart rate got a smidgen above its usual resting rate.  However, the movie delivers on the usual dramatic questions, even if the pace is lacking:

    • what is she running from?
    • will the camels and dog make it?
    • will she get together with the annoying American photographer who's tagging along?
    • will she make it?

    The Sailor woke from his nap about two thirds of the way through the film, and seemed to take a genuine interest in what he could see on screen.  I decided to treat it like a nature documentary.  "That's a camel", I whispered in his ear. 

    After a while he lost interest, settling in for a feed and another outfit-ruining shart, as seems to be the tradition for these movie outings.  

    He didn't even really take an interest in the ending, when the three other babies there all seemed to be overcome with emotion (or perhaps relief).

    Rating: **** (definitely worth leaving the house for)

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    My two cents on the paid parental leave debate

    This post got really complicated.  I went down all sorts of wormholes, and argued with myself over children being a choice, delayed gratification, the widening gap between rich and poor, whether institutional childcare is better than parent-care (conclusion: you're going to screw your kids up one way or another), and the pay gap between men and women being caused by women quitting their jobs to raise children. 

    [SPOILER ALERT]  So before we go on, and you see the remains of my complicated meanderings, I'm just going to come out with it:

    We should allow parents to "cash in" a few years of their superannuation while they raise children.

    Since, as the diagram shows, New Zealand's doing pretty piss-poorly in comparison to other countries when it comes to giving parents a financial helping hand.

    Source (edits to put NZ on the map by yours truly)

    So why is it that we don't value what parents are doing enough to give them a financial helping hand for much longer than a baby's sneeze?  

    The short answer is, supposedly, the country can't afford it

    Underlying this excuse is the implication that having children is a choice.  And yes, for most people it is.  A difficult one.

    As we all know, the time to bear children is when you're young and healthy.  For a start, your fertility is less impaired (unless you count all that pot you smoked at university).  And you have the energy to run around after the little terrors.  Nights out partying are not such a distant memory that you can hack the sleep deprivation.  Mostly.

    However, for many people, the time you're expected to produce a family is also around the same time that you're trying to make a bit of a life for yourself and gain some financial independence.  Perhaps pay off a student loan, buy a house, sort out some semblance of a career.  Taking unpaid time off work really hurts your chances in all of these endeavours.  It's simply the worst possible time.  

    It's too bad the human body is not designed to have kids upon retirement.  Think of this: you've more than paid off your student loan, you're financially secure, and you suddenly have time on your hands. The only problem is, your knees don't work so well any more, and you need more nana-naps than a toddler.

    So why not allow people to cash in a few years of their superannuation to enable their financial security while they take time off work to raise kids?  The average superannuation is around $350/week, which is probably about the average paid parental leave.  It's not huge, but for some people would make the difference between working and paying for childcare or staying home with their kids a bit longer.  

    Frankly, I would happily give up a few years of retirement to have a little more paid time with my monsters.  Or maybe this just shows that I would have failed that delayed gratification test they do on 4-year-olds.  Gimme that marshmallow!

    **Disclaimer: I should note that I get absolutely nothing out of promoting extended paid parental leave, as we are SO done with having babies.

    Monday, March 31, 2014

    The Sailor's movie meanderings: Cuban Fury

    Last week, The Sailor's Grandma was visiting, so we took her to Cuban Fury.

    It's a familiar plot line.  Underdog Bruce (overweight, middle-aged, single guy) can't get a girlfriend, and must rediscover his talent for Salsa dancing in order to do so.  It's not spoiling the movie to say that he does.

    The comedy is in how he gets there, complete with nasty dance teacher, a Will Ferrell-lookalike and act-alike asshole boss who also wants the affections of this girl and will stop at nothing to thwart Bruce's attempts at romance, a gay Middle Eastern salsa-dancer (he has the best lines), and mates and family to cheer Bruce on.

    The Sailor's quite keen on a bit of music and dance, often insisting on both to get to sleep, so it's no surprise he enjoyed this movie.  First he managed to do one of those outfit-ruining sharts, but this time the lack of subtitles meant changing him in the dark was not so difficult.  He then settled in for a nap to wait for the real music and dance to start.

    There are a fair few laugh-out-loud moments here, as well as a bit of cute thrown in.  The writers and directors of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are onto a winning formula with that awkward British The Office-style humour and a bit of slapstick thrown in for good measure.  With both British and American humour types covered, the film will have broad appeal.

    It's unlikely to win any awards, but I recommend it for an outing with your mother-in-law.  Funny, a bit crass, and feel-good.  And the music was so toe-tappingly good that The Sailor, upon waking from his nap, insisted I get up and dance with him for the last half hour.  I would have preferred to stay seated, but he insisted, reasoning that I needed to start working on that baby flab.  More on that crusade later.

    Rating: *** (worth leaving the house for)

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

    The Sailor's movie meanderings: The Monuments Men and Wadjda

    The Sailor insisted we see two movies last week: The Monuments Men and Wadjda.

    I wasn't so sure about George Clooney's latest offering, but The Sailor reasoned we should get out of the house, even if George wasn't such a great incentive.  The Monuments Men is the *true* story of how the Americans heroically saved almost all of Europe's great works of art from destruction by Hitler during WWII.

    It's like George Clooney, after reading the novel of the dramatisation of the true story, decided it would be fun to get all his best mates together to make a film.  He's managed to collect together a bunch of his favourite actors to make up the unlikely band of stragglers that are the platoon tasked with rescuing the art that defines civilisation (*ahem*).

    This movie should have been called The Monuments Men and Women.  The movie's website itself says that both men and women were part of the 345-strong platoon that worked to save these cultural artifacts.  The Sailor complained that it was sad to see gender stereotypes being perpetuated.  I couldn't have agreed more.

    It was great to see Cate Blanchett in the cast, but The Sailor and I wanted to see more of her.  In fact, she was the highlight, among an otherwise all-male cast who relied mostly on charm and/or good looks to get through the film.

    The Sailor then complained that perhaps we shouldn't have come to see George Clooney after all.  I reminded him that leaving the house was his idea, and if he wanted to cry about it, he could.  A few whimpers soon turned into full-blown anti-George screaming.

    Noooo, not George Clooney!!!

    The Sailor soon quietened with a nipple in his gob, and the stodgy dialogue lulled him off to sleep, leaving me to contend with George and the full-blown all-American arrogance on my own.

    Thank goodness those Americans saved all the world's art - even if it was just so that George Clooney had the chance to make a mediocre war film to tell the tale.

    Rating: ** (only worth seeing if you're desperate for an outing)

    The next day, The Sailor said we should maybe see something a bit more women's lib, a story where the underdog triumphs, something with a sassy female lead.  Luckily, Wadjda was showing.

    Wadjda is a 10-year old girl living in Saudi Arabia.  As far as strong, sassy female leads go, she has it in spades.  The plot is simple enough.  All Wadjda wants is a bike so that she can race (and beat) Abdullah, the boy from next door.  Riding bikes and playing with boys are both frowned on in Saudi Arabia, because of the threat both cause to a girl's virtue.

    Wadjda is rebellious, enterprising and smart - so she finds ways to save for the much-desired bike. Then along comes a Koran recitation contest, with prize money that will more than buy her the bike...

    The Sailor was so excited about the movie, he let out an enormous shart, leaving me to contend with a nappy change in the dark, while trying to read the subtitles on the movie.  I quickly discovered the shart hadn't been contained to The Sailor's nappy - I too was covered in baby shit.  With that incident cleaned up, The Sailor soon snuggled in for a nap, leaving me to cheer on Wadjda.

    This is a story that will open your eyes to life as a woman in Saudi Arabia, and make you grin with glee as the sassy Wadjda takes on the establishment in her own way.

    Rating: **** (definitely worth leaving the house for)
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