Reflections on motherhood...


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.
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