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Friday, 29 April 2016

#12 Seven Life Hacks if You Have Babies / Toddlers

Efficient in the extreme

Ah, life hacks. Or cheats. Call me old-fashioned, but aren't these just the same as 'hints' or 'tips' from back in the day, mainly to be found in naff women's magazines (the type with soap actors on the front and puzzles at the back)?

Well, it seems that in this world of so much to do and so little time, we are all looking for shortcuts these days. And who needs to save time and resources more than parents of little ones?

Over at Here's Looking At You I certainly didn't want you to miss out, so here goes.

Oh, and rest assured that these have been tried and tested by yours truly.  Many times over.

1. Wiping the Slate Clean

Don't waste precious baby wipes, or your time! Upon each trip to the bin to dispose of one of these multi-use bad boys, providing it is not too completely scummy (your call), make sure the clean side is faced down, and there you have it: a wipe for any surface en route, including that bin lid that's always got pesky tea splashes on it.

  • Got some dried-up ones lying around? Use them to give things a little buff n' polish.
  • Concerned about hygiene? Surely you've given up on that by now.

2. Cot Pit

On a rainy day, why waste time and money going to a soft play area? You can simply put your toddler in his cot and fill it with all his toys. Yes, all of them. You can even leave them in there at sleep time; my son loves to roll around over bits of Duplo while snoozing and it really doesn't wake him up! It's like a spiky ball pool minus the cost. And the nits.

3. Wardrobe Mal function

Is your baby’s clothes drawer too full, hence being tricky to open and close? Help is at hand if you follow these simple steps:

1) Remove clothes you do need for right now; stuff back in the ones you don’t.
2) Close drawer, with force if necessary.
3) Walk away.
4) Your short term memory is so shot you'll forget this problem exists in a minute.
5) If you do remember it exists, repeat steps 2-4 ad infinitum.

4. Bounce n’ Bronze

Aching for a tan but that ‘me me me’ baby just won’t let you sunbathe? Easy. Attach one end of a metre-long piece of ribbon to the safety harness of your baby’s bouncer. Tie the other end to one of your big toes, give that foot a rhythmic jiggle and...boom! Sun yourself, sip your pina colada and satisfy your sprog with bounce-time, all at once.

Footnote: OK, I have never tried this but I’ve seen it done by ladies in Italy. Seriously.

I’ve also heard that Greek ladies extend this same trick to when they’re having sexy-time with their husbands. Seriously.

Have you tried either? Please write in and let us know how it went!

5. Prehensile Toes

Continuing from  #4 is this little nugget. Don’t waste time, effort and your precious back muscles bending down to collect toys or clothing off the floor; simply get used to picking stuff up between your big and second toe, and then perfect the ‘kick and flick’ where you kick your leg out, flick up the item and either catch it in your hand or deposit it straight in its rightful place. One for mums who are often carrying and /or feeding babes-in-arms on foot.

6. Schmindow Cleaning

If your windows look filthy, make sure you only invite guests to come over in the evening. Just wait for darkness to fall and...presto! Those naughty marks/ smears / rain spots literally disappear from view, leaving you with twinkling glass. This hack can be adapted to most grubby surfaces, including your own face / hair. The term ‘mood lighting’ doesn’t exist for nothing.

7. Neighbour Saver

Live in a flat / terraced house, where you’re constantly worrying about the noise pollution created by your little ones’ loud night-time crying/ tantrums / crashing about on wooden floors at 6am? 

Fret no more by practising The Sorry Simper. Here’s how it works:

  • Assuming you have failed to avoid the neighbour-in-question completely in the hallway, at the corner shop, etc, meet their dead-eyed and resentful smirk with a barely audible ‘hi’ and an awkward half-smile and be relieved when the exchange ends there. There, you’ve been friendly / British.
  • If you still feel some guilt, try the Excessive Hello: smile, joyfully greet them and wave your arms about so ostentatiously that they will feel forced to say hello back. This way you can say to yourself ‘it must be fine, or they wouldn’t have said hello’ as you part company. Job done.

Do you have any great parenting shortcuts? Feel free to send them in!

Bye for now and happy hacking,

Erica :)

Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom

Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby

Saturday, 23 April 2016

#11 On Your Child's Artistic Talents


Let me be clear: I'm not totally sure my son has any artistic talents (and my daughter is still a newborn, so we'll leave her for now). However I am trying to see whether it's worth helping him to hone some for the following reasons:

1) I live in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, where the accepted diet is one of yoga, cafe-culture and self-expression. It is also an area where cello or flute lessons tend to trump BMX-ing or urban dance. It is only fair that we help Son to adopt a 'When in Rome' attitude while we live here.

2) It's too early to tell yet if he has any of his father's maths/ science- type abilities. Obviously these are the lucrative ones, as I've said before, but....

3)  Son has shown a tendency to be a massive show off (er...perhaps my genes) so it might be worth pursuing the artsy route while he's still innumerate.

So. Keeping my best Pushy Parent head on (adopted only for these purposes, you understand), I start categorising the artistic areas where Son has shown merit so far and take some notes, as follows:

Fine Art:

I loved drawing at school: would like him to be good at this.

- Him? Hard to say. His own sketches = barely evolved beyond finger painting but he does like colouring.

- BUT not sure I want anyone else to see his colouring; it's a little unsettling. Tendency to focus on faces of subject matter and scribble in the eyes and mouths so they look quite horrific, like the deranged defacings performed by a madman from Luther / a 90s horror film.

Verdict? Maybe stay away from this one for now.


- Enjoys music- we used reggae to get him to sleep when tiny.

- Talent? Not sure, BUT does have swagger of frontman. Definite ego- when Husband or I sing, Son stops us mid-line:

'No no no. No. You can't sing this Mummy / Daddy...
I can.' (commences singing).

-Also, attitude, manners and scowl of Liam Gallagher at times.

Verdict? Attitude to fake it, if not talent to make it. One to return to.

Literature / Wordsmithery

-NB not helped by Husband + I reading abridged versions of his stories, which we can get away with since Son currently illiterate. Eg:

Me: ‘Where is the green sheep?” Hmmm, let’s see…

[Sidestepping all subsequent pages speculating upon said sheep’s whereabouts, flicking straight to the last page].

     Ah. There he is! Behind the bush all    along. Night night, then.

- Also, loves to reflect on past events in Shakespearean format.  For example, his friend Margot lent him her toy  he stole a toy from his friend Margot, who cried even harder when her Mum said he could borrow it:

Son: Margot did lend me this toy. And she did cry.
Me: Yes.
Son: And she did scream.
Me: Yes.
Son: Her Mummy did make her share (fails to see irony in his own uselessness at sharing)

Without being too boring and nitty-gritty (teacher alert) I know that this is Son’s way of addressing English past tense, which baffles lots of children.  In its own way, it’s logical and not entirely incorrect, if a little Renaissance-era.

Verdict? Quite flowery and yet dignified. Might pursue this one.

Theatre / Performance Art

Exhibitionist gene definitely at work here.

-Less convincing when pretending to be asleep: grins widely, breathes really fast and his closed eyelashes keep twitching / fluttering. Snoring noise also pretty hammy.

- BUT- in prima donna mode he is peerless. Able to throw himself prostrate upon ground in paroxysm. Very quick to produce real tears and purpling face, all at will. Can remain thus for quite some time, plus plaintive wails:

‘Pleeeease, Mummy! Pleeeease give me back that toast (that I’ve eaten as he said he didn’t want it). Now! Plee- hee- heeeeeeese. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.’ (continued indefinitely, getting only stronger with each attempt to pacify him).

- All this= extremely convincing until a dog appears on TV/ his sister burps sick everywhere. Suddenly, his face melts into a summer’s day,  rigid body softens and he laughs ‘hur hur! Yook! Milk everywhere! That’s FUNNY.’

Verdict: Worryingly convincing. Might keep this under wraps for now to avoid him being screened for psychopathy.

Expressive Dance:

- Not much evidence of rhythm / coordination yet, BUT does love to do ‘the crab’ (sidestepping across floor with hip-thrusting motion, snapping his thumbs and fingers together as ‘pincers’. Novel).

- Also, now that putting him in a sleeping bag has failed to stop him escaping from his cot, insists upon parading victoriously around the flat, still in said sleeping bag and shuffling like a little geisha.

Verdict: Potential.

As for comedy? That is pretty much tied in with all of the above, whether deliberate or not.

So, when Pinterest flashes me up ‘articles of interest’ entitled ‘Ten Signs You Have a Nervous Child’ and ‘How to Build Your Child's Confidence' I hastily close the app and start putting 'child agents' into Google.

It never did Macaulay Culkin any harm.

Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby

#10 On Having Children Who Are Sick (and not meaning good)

Bedridden and subdued. For now.

Both of my children have just been sick.

Let me clarify: my newborn daughter has just been sick, as in ‘vomited’, as in right now.

And again just now.

My son has just been ill, as in vaguely recently in the last few weeks. More on that shortly.

Daughter’s version of sickness is astounding. It's not just the excessive frequency and volume with which she empties her oesophagus. The actual substance consistency is something that would impress the Roux Brothers: it is a white mixture - impossibly both slime and soufflĂ© - that slides and flops its way down my shoulder, my back or - my favourite - my cleavage.

What to do about this? Not much, apparently, except be grateful for my washing machine. She's a 'happy puker' which means that her 'oesophagal sphincter' (excellent word) just needs to mature until it can keep food down. In short, this is not a health but a laundry issue.

And how. Glad as I am that she's doing fine, she and I are like actors in an unglamorous Bollywood film: we undergo multiple costume changes per diem. However, actual Bollywood actors do not, of course, have to launder said costumes themselves. Me? Add all this to Son's potty-training knicker-slip-ups and I'm riding a tidal wave of washing every day.

In fairness, I have got used to the laundry. Hell, I'm now even quite proud of the military efficiency with which I can do it. Sad, I know.

What it is that bothers me, then? It's not the actual breastfeeding of Daughter either, which must have increased since I’m sure what she chucks up is double what went down. No, feeding her is time we share and something I enjoy, particularly as I look down at her doing her best Popeye face mid-feed, with one eye wild-open and the other scrunched shut. Ug ug ug ug.

Besides, I'm hoping that the more milk I make, the more calories I burn, so hooray to that. Spew me thin, Daughter.

No, it's more the general aroma that is troubling. The faint, cheesy whiff has embedded itself into the fibres of our clothes and our lives, even when the telltale white goo or silvery smears are nowhere to be seen. Since we rent our current property and live abroad, we've filled it with cheap and / or second-hand rugs and furniture that I do not think would survive being washed. So the smelly spectre lingers on, forever haunting and mocking us from each room: when I put on clothes I think are clean; when I lie down to play with her on the rug; when we invite guests to relax on the sofa.

Yet even all this is something that we have had to grow used to; Son's recent illness was something we could not.

The day before Good Friday, my vaguely productive afternoon was cut short by a phonecall from his Daycare: he is coughing wildly; please come and take him home. Sure enough, Son's coughing fits sounded like a hurried conversation between a walrus and an old donkey. It was officially labelled croup, a type of laryngitis, by the visiting doctor.

Now we were not too worried about the croup. It is highly contagious but the illness itself sounds a lot worse - literally-  than it is. Also, he had had this before, about eighteen months previously. But back in those days, filled only with his jolly chuckling and baby talk, it was quite easy to bear. This time, having had eighteen months to cultivate his language and tantrum skills, he truly tested us.

So over the Easter bank holiday, family plans were shoved aside in favour of strict instructions:

  1. Any further swelling of larynx = trip to hospital, thus:
  2. Keep subject indoors + pacified to the extreme, as any upset / raising of voice = further swelling of larynx (see point 1)

Pacified to the extreme, eh.

'Good luck with that', the doctor forgot to utter as he left.  No sooner had he gone than right on cue Son leapt into full Kim Jong Un mode. What a picture it must have been, him stomping his way around the cramped flat,  demanding here and refusing there as we slithered behind him, obsequiously shushing and fluttering our fingers at him in attempt not to trigger his temper. Croup or no croup, he must have enjoyed it.

People say that under-fours have no capacity to wield willful control yet. Those people cannot have met infants who are sick, in any sense of the word.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

#9 On My Son's Obsession With His Nether Lands

                                                                                        Let's be honest: rude bits are funny

Sorry for any confusion, Dutch friends. It is definitely biology and not geography that grips my son. Now we know he is no stranger to the rear content of his underpants, as you'll see if you click here. He also still loves to take a turn about the apartment wearing only said pants and with an entire buttock popping out at the back. Yet the latest obsession has brought us back round to the front, as it were.

And how fixated he is. Recently, potty training has introduced him more fully to his man-tool as he needs to focus on what it actually does and then what he must do with it at crucial moments. A once unknown object has now become a cool new toy. Indeed, he will often sit playing with it on the sofa, twanging it in full view. If we're lucky, he might even get just the end of it to sit peeking out the top of his pants for us: 'yook, Mummy.'  All of this meets hesitant and mixed reactions from us- a light tut, a theatrical grimace and  'stop iiiiit' or 'put it away.' We try to be all cool about it, but we are British and it is hard.

'It's the start of a man's lifelong obsession' Husband says, but more on that later.

In case you thought females had slipped under the radar, fear not. For Son, all human lowlands deserve equal scrutiny and he has made some crucial comparisons. With me it's one of wistful disappointment: ''ve not got one, Mummy.' As he shakes his head, I wonder if Freud can be ingested by illiterate toddlers. In 2016, who knows what his sneaky little fingers have come across in The App Store. 

With his baby sister, the attitude is more like the scientist's detached fascination, complete with an urge to name said item.   

Son: What it called, Mummy?
Me:  OK. No prodding, thank you. It's her...lady bits. 
Son: Oh.

 (slight pause).
        Daddy! She's got a lady bag! (pronounced 'yady bag') Yook!' 
Me: No...oh never mind.

But back to males: Husband has not got off any more lightly. I mentioned his making the comment on 'the start of a lifelong obsession' with, was it a degree of pride? Well if it was, Son stamped all over it in his shower time observation about the willy,

'wee-yee, Daddy! Yook! You godda small one and I godda BIG ONE, hur hur hur.'

Now I've mentioned before that Son is a smart arse: if he's capable of grasping Freud, perhaps he is aware that he and his male toddler peers do have proportions that would shame most adult males. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the link between arrogance and being 'bigheaded' started with this exact boast being made by infant males with their massive crania.

Yet I digress. Slightly. Nothing I've written about here will surprise anyone who has sons and so nor will it shock them. What unites us as adults is that the innocence of preschoolers renders them incapable of tact or subtlety and so their failure to appreciate taboos - verbal or visual - means that they confront us with them all the time. So, Son's casual reference to the Lady Bag? No worse than our own failed attempts to find an inoffensive female equivalent of the word 'willy' (though the streets-ahead Swedes have managed it and you can read about it here). His self-prodding? We all know that isn't going away any time soon; we just hope he figures out that the issue of time and place comes into play here.

This is all quite complex stuff that's as current as it is timeless: I can't help wondering if it's really all down to Son's innocence or if it's his precocious comment on the contradictions of the human condition. Any proud mother would hope it's the latter but who knows.

Complexity aside, I guess we do owe it to him to be taught what is and is not OK in all this re: the Big Wide World. Basically, I don't wish him to meet the same fate as my primary classmate, 'Phil', whose sad story involves an incident during class story time. For there we all sat, cross-legged upon the big mat at five or six years old, eager little cherubs bathed in the sunlight of the huge classroom window and, As Mrs S slowly rolled out the opening lines of the book, I was as transfixed as anyone. Or I was until a tap on my knee startled me and I looked around to see Phil beaming at me, wide-eyed and pointing silently downwards to the special puppetry he was performing, exposed through the gaping leg of his school shorts. The cautionary element to this tale ends with the ultimate pupil fate: banishment to the Wooden Shoe Box in the dark corridor, forever an outcast.

I mentioned the Swedes earlier and my reference to the Dutch was no passing one, since I wonder how such issues play out in cool Northern Europe. Since their attitude to bums and willies and more besides  - in short, their attitude to bodily taboos - is so much less awkward than that of us Brits, it's a wonder whether an equivalent Phil would even think it were worth exposing what is not that remarkable. There is a link between what is forbidden and what is funny: children know it and comedians make a career out of it.

So it should come as little surprise that with so much material Britain has some of the best comedy in the world. Nobody sees the hilarity of British pomp and discomfort more than a Brit.

And nobody exposes this better than Blackadder. In light of all this, the scene that springs to mind best is the one where Edmund mocks the self-importance of Samuel Johnson and his writing of the English Dictionary:

Johnson: (upon seeing the words that have been underlined in his precious dictionary) Fart; fiddle; fornicate...Sir! I hope you're not using the first English dictionary to look up rude words!

Edmund: I wouldn't be too hopeful; that's what all the other ones will be used for.

So, we may try our best to educate our son to be forward-thinking, confident and unashamed. But if we go too far he may never enjoy the British diet of Blackadder. And to me that would be a fate worse than any Shoe Box banishment.

Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby