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Thursday, 29 September 2016

#24 On Having Multiple Children (or at least two)

Ever the entertainer

I’ve got this kid thing down. Sleep? Routines? Pacifying? Sorted. As it stands, I now have pretty much a 100% hit rate with all of my strategies and I don’t see that changing...

Or so I stupidly thought when I had just one child. Pregnant with my second, I mused over how it would be with two, you know, in the way you muse over anything which you can never truly appreciate until it happens. So far, my concept of ‘being a mum’ had involved honing my techniques for the previous eighteen months with Son, until I’d reached a point where I felt pretty secure in the whole business. A second would be easy, surely: imagine all the experience I could bring to the role this time. Imagine all the hypotheses I’d formed, into which baby #2 would neatly slot.

Obviously, I would discover, this was utter crap. I got heavily served. Yes, my ability to rock, shush and nappy-change an infant had been fine-tuned, though I’d argue that all parents figure out how to do all that pretty quickly anyway. Equipment-wise, I’d tried to be one step ahead; the brand of dummies my son had used had been  becoming - cheapo as they were - increasingly difficult to get hold of. Then, pregnant again, I remember going into a supermarket I’d never been into before, and seeing them stocked in their dozens, a myriad of sizes and colours, shining from the shelf like rare gems.

‘So this is where you’ve been hiding, you bastards’, I thought. ‘Come to me...I’ll take five, six, no….nine of you.’ So smug was I to have found them that I just hadn’t fathomed that my new baby, once born, would not simply need a little persuading to take a dummy, her eyes would widen and she would disgustedly eject said object, accompanied by Hammer Horror gagging sounds. So now, moan as I do about our current lack of space, I have a whole shelf in the kitchen dedicated to a mass of boxfresh dummies, ever unsucked, that I should probably try to sell or give away.

The tricky thing about parenting is that you try and be prepared, but preparation involves prediction and kids are often pretty unpredictable. Go and look on ebay or various kids’ classifieds and just look at the amount of toys for sale ‘never used’ or ‘used once and then he/she lost interest.’ As grownups and professionals we pride ourselves on our ability to plan ahead, not to be caught out, and yet little ones will often undermine this.

One major reason for this is just how different your newest's personality can be from its predecessor/s. Son? Bottle, dummy, cigar, given to him by a total stranger for all he cared. Daughter? Mammocentric all the way: it has to be boob so it has to be me. Son: sleeps anywhere, any time, like he’s on valium; in the pram to send him off all I had to do was take him over some rhythmic bumps (cobbles, a boardwalk, etc) and he’d be out; Daughter, the Princess and the Pea, takes far longer and bumps appear to ruin her day. Imagine actually taking a pram out and avoiding any kind of these; I urge you to try it.

That said, these differences tend to have presented only temporary issues once you begin to adapt to them. One thing that remains a constant is the effect of plural babies on your time and energy. Yes, you do become better at military-esque logistics. Your ‘Mary Poppins’ handbag becomes even more bottomless. You begin to wonder how just one baby used to take up so much of your time and effort. But dealing with a double onslaught of illness, having two under-threes sharing a bedroom where one shouts a lot and the other still wakes at night, is some next-level trickery. Often Husband and I have to take one each - She needs feeding back to sleep and He needs taking off as he’s insisting on sleeping in our bed at 4am- to the point where we become passing ships in the night. Unsurprisingly, the combination of broken sleep and physical distance does no wonders for a relationship; bickering definitely increases and in those poisonous silences that follow hissed exchanges, there are definitely more times where you narrow your eyes and send waves of hatred to the back of your loved one’s turned head. Still, that’s what those marriage vows were invented for, eh. Dammit.

‘This, too, shall pass’, all parents quote, as they reflect on the tricky, but transient, stages of having little ones. I know the same is true for us. There is one advantage that overrides these pitfalls, however. Having a sibling has made Son a better child - no, really - since he’d have gone through tantrumming and the terrible twos anyway, but we’ve seen another side to him. For all his loudness and mania, it is he who shushes us in the evening with a grave authority:

(finger theatrically pressed to lips) ‘You’ll wake my sister. Stop talking. Shhh.’

He is desperately protective of her, reduced to an impossible and almost comic gentleness around her. And the comic element extends to being their truest bond, because she is the most loving and indulgent audience of all of his performance and jokes. It is excellent to watch. And, dare I say it, probably worth relearning a whole set of skills for.


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

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Wednesday, 21 September 2016

#23 On Children's Birthday Parties

So wouldn’t you know it, November the fifth is rolling around soon which can only mean one thing. Correct: it’ll be the day before my son’s third birthday party.

Significant why? Well because we’ll be frantically preparing for it unlike most of his peers’ birthdays - many of which are happening most weekends at the moment - which will have been prepared, in advance, for more like 24 weeks than 24 hours. Yes, this is Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs (think London’s Chelsea or NY’s Greenwich Village) and so like it or not, just like at Christmas that weight of expectation falls on your reluctant shoulders to produce the perfect party in keeping with all the others you’ve been to/ heard whispered legends of.

Let me give you a brief outline of how our efforts will compare to those of the local norm. Incidentally Daughter is still not one year old and so has not yet warranted a party; this post might double up as a ‘what to expect’ document that I can show her before she starts getting any ideas:

Local Birthday Parties
Our Children’s Parties
Adult-centred. Many of our friends over here indeed have kids, but many don’t and once you’re a parent you need as many excuses to see people as you can get
A start time of 10am; finishing at 12.
What?? OK, I get it- it fits with kids’ sleep times, you do two hours then you get to kick everyone out and go and enjoy the rest of your weekend.

i) Our childless friends are very unlikely to be anywhere for 10am on a weekend, unless they are still out

ii) We are tramps and cannot break the ‘party= boozing’ truism, yet even we have (mostly) gone beyond the days of morning boozing, so an afternoon party it is

iii) Children - especially those fizzing on E-numbers - are much less annoying when you are tipsy

Elaborate spread, often outsourced from pricey caterers
Much as I like attending these parties as I love a posh nibble, old trampy habits die hard and once again our money tends to be prioritised for booze.

Other than that, something easily barbecueable is provided.

Veggie? Kosher? Help yourself to either the burger buns or some Aldi crisps. I don’t think even the ‘meat’ flavours have ever even flirted with genuine meat, so that’s all good.

...Which may include high-end sweet things

Aldi’s finest jelly sweets and packets of teddy biscuits, I’m afraid. I’m sorry if your children end up twitching a little.

Adhering to a theme with matching activities, bunting, tablecloths and more besides
Adhering to theme of ‘weekend’. If there is a children’s theme it’s something like ‘Wacky Races’, i.e. ‘get your kid to bring their bike and someone less-unsober may vaguely supervise them.’ No really: this is what last year entailed.

-Bunting, etc, originally sourced from Hot Dollar, cobbled together from previous parties. If it remotely matches I feel most proud.

...And also matching invites, which may have been hand-crafted, hand-written and posted weeks before

A sketchy Facebook invite with what I consider to be a zany picture of my son as the masthead.
Showcase a beautiful themed cake, often professionally outsourced
This is the one concerted bit of effort I do make, as I enjoy doing this. But don’t confuse this with being that good at it. For me, fondant icing is just grownups’ play-doh. And even if the cake looks passable from 2 metres away, step closer to feast your eyes upon:
  • The cheapo battenberg I have used for the inside
  • The piped icing used to conceal a multitude of amateur errors
Hired entertainer

Tired entertainer, often in the form of my dear brother, half-cut, dragging around chuckling toddlers that have their hands clasped about his ankles.
Otherwise see ‘bring your own bike’ point above
Face painting
Does food colouring from eating the cake count?
Or..battle scars from a felt-tip fight
And finally...goody bags containing themed goodies.
Are you serious?? There is some definite input-output inbalance going on with preparing these things. Consider your memories, your ensuing hangover and a day where your kids have hopefully entertained themselves a bit, your goody bag.

If, after reading this, you are still keen to join us on 6th November, then you are a true friend indeed and welcome to enjoy with us some craft beer (sourced by Husband) or cheap prosecco (sourced, yes, by me).

Oh yeah, and hopefully your kid, if you have one, will enjoy it.

See you there.


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

Friday, 9 September 2016

#22 On Returning to Sleep With a Baby

Now if you’ve come here for wisdom or useful pearls of advice on getting your baby to sleep better, please let me set you straight. There are various books, websites and forums dedicated to that and they are written by experts. This post is none of those. It is a far less useful musing on what it’s like trying to return yourself to sleep in the daytime when your little one has cruelly robbed you of zs the night before.

So if you’re still here, at least it’s not on false pretences. Right then. Today, following yet another appalling night’s sleep due to a baby full of cold, I am about to do that thing I never ever do: sleep when the baby sleeps. You know, it’s that thing that all the advice tells you to do and which usually makes you smirk when suggested because all you can think of is your endless, sisyphean task list for that day. In my case this usually is reason enough to abandon returning to sleep. But worse than that: I’m a crap sleeper anyway. In the military, my brother taught himself to sleep standing up, anywhere, anytime. Consider me the opposite. To be fair, if I put on a film or TV show I’ve been really looking forward to for a long time, give me twelve minutes and I’ll be sparko on the sofa and miss the whole thing; any time I actually wish to drift off it can be aeons before I do, even if conditions are perfect. Then I’m awoken again if a butterfly sneezes outside; if a spider stubs his toe. I’m useless. So even if I were frivolously to abandon my task list there’s scant chance it would be worth it.

But today, I argue, it will be worth it. That’s how bad my cumulative tiredness has become. As a result, my decision to go back to bed has now taken on an air of decadence, it has a seductive aura of ‘me time’ .

‘It’s going to be so awesome’, I think. ‘All this...sleep.’ And I keep fantasising about post-sleep-me later on today, how fresh, tingly and zen-like I’m going to feel. Outwardly I’ll look glowing and my skin peachy and I’ll be smiling, smiling, probably to the point of being quite punchable but I won’t care. God it’s exciting.

It’s approaching nine-thirty AM. I’m just waiting for Daughter in her cot to nod off/sod off (sorry, Daughter, but most of this is your doing). And there it is: silence. She has stopped making noises. No time to lose. Since the kids’ bedroom has blackout blinds it is the most cocoon-like, so I head there. As quietly as possible I set out the bedclothes on the sofa bed, snuggle down and prepare my equipment for procedure. Eyemask-lower: check. Earplugs - yes, the gross silicone ones that make your head feel squeakily airtight: in they squidge, thuk, thuk….. check. Optimal prostrate body position: check.

Come on sleep, you bastard. I’m ready.

And then what was excitement starts to turn to slight nervousness since the next bit is beyond my control. As I lie there in the blackness, wrists and palms to the ceiling, taunting sleep to come and wash over me - come on, come on -  it almost feels like I’m waiting for one of the horsemen of the apocalypse to come and take me. I’m certainly knackered, I’ve done all the right things to prepare, but still this cruel, mystical state may come, or it may not. Like with death/life, when casually doled out by the flick of the emperor’s thumb in the colosseum, none of it is in my power any more.

So. I lie here, at first studying those weird shapes swirling on the insides of my eyelids, like watching a lava lamp or a crap nineties screensaver. Then I kind of fall beyond that to deep black nothingness where it feels like I’m in a flotation tank: I’m letting go but still present. Dammit, still present. Thoughts about various things start to fizz to the front of my mind but I try to let them fall away. Begone, you bastards. As if it might change things, I shuffle and change positions.

Still bloody present.



After this comes two potential endings. I’ll let you figure out which is more likely. It shouldn’t be hard.

Ending #1

I realise I’m a bit hot and sticky, or Daughter is crying, or both. I feel a bit woozy and unsure of what has just happened. As I think, though, I also realise I have just had a dream. My body feels light and happy, my head clear. Yes, I think. Yesss. Come here, Daughter, come here, rest-of-day. Let’s do this.

Ending #2

I realise I’m a bit hot and sticky, or Daughter is crying, or both.

Or, even better: the horrible intercom-buzzer is warbling:


Is it mine or downstairs? I take my earplugs out and the sound is magnified through the whole flat. I get up feeling mildly less achy than before but the aches slowly start to seep back in. It felt like a lifetime I was lying down but when I look at my phone, it was about forty minutes. No dreams. Turns out I had just got bored and I was, the entire time, present.

Once the delivery man has scuttled away, terrified, I head towards the coffee beans and all that they can do for me. Trying to suppress the urge to moan inevitably to myself about time wasted, I grab my pen and pad.

Best start writing blog post #22, then.


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

Thursday, 1 September 2016

#21 On Long Haul Travel With Children

They say children are a societal leveller. I would say this is nowhere more true than with air travel. That is, unless you can afford your own private jet, or at least have your nippers banished to coach class with the nanny while you sup champagne (Madonna), then I'm afraid we're all in this together, parents. And I must admit to a tiny bit of schadenfruede, as someone who has never exceeded premium economy, imagining those used to business class not only returning to coach but also with a sprog or two to really enhance that experience. Double whammy.

And then my smug grin packs up and sods off because I'm awoken from my reverie (probably by Son pouring yoghurt into my lap) by the reality that I too am in coach class and about to embark on the very same journey. Cue Husband and me mentally readying various banalities to be trotted out at crisis points to come: it is what it is, it'll be over before you know it, this totally sucks; you know the ones.

And whatever we say to ourselves, there is nothing quite like feeling you've been airborne with children for a biblically, bum-numbingly long time, rolling in and out of consciousness, only to look at that bloody diagram of where the plane is on the map and see you've covered about a sixth of the journey so far. That is a feeling indeed.

So, why were we doing this two weeks ago? Well, we were headed to a wedding in east-coast USA: Massachussets. Flying East from Sydney, changing in California, rather than west over Europe, we used United rather than our normal choice of Emirates. The switch was a mixed blessing, to say the least. United has none of the crispness of Emirates on any level, but where its relative slapdashery meant shabby check-in service and a lost suitcase on the ground, onboard we were never hassled to shift all the bags or sleeping toddler beneath our feet at any point, and whatever the turbulence Daughter slept unhassled in the bassinet. It was like being looked after by Uncle Buck rather than stiff Aunt Edie and I have to say, it did improve the actual flight for us.

Because nice menus and plush fittings aside, when you travel with kids - much like when you do anything with kids that you once did without them - your standards change (slip?) to simply wanting them happy; in this case this means either asleep or iPad-comatose.

But nonetheless do not mistake this for a highly pleasurable experience, or even one to be compared with the flight of the childless. I've said before that pre-kids I would inwardly tut upon hearing infant cries on a flight, when all it would take was some earphones or headphones and I'd be free of said cries once again. How little I appreciated the decadence of being bored, of apathetically punching my way through entertainment choices on a little screen. Now, I am nostalgic for boredom and apathy. They have not been my inflight friends for a very long time. Instead, I am lucky if both children sleep at the same time. On this journey, our first with Daughter, she sensed when we'd all truly had enough and picked up nicely, wailing plaintively while I marched up and down the aisles trying to shush her in the darkness, passing row upon row of slumped bodies with slackjawed and eyemasked faces, all in a state of rest. Bastards.

That said, thanks to the aforementioned ‘United touch’ we were left alone when the kids were actually sleeping, and at such times Husband and I got to enjoy those uniquely aeroplane experiences such as eating freezing cold, stale bread rolls and sipping chilly red wine from a little plastic goblet with the relentless din of the plane engine in your ears. Screw you, first class; we’re in the lap of luxury here, we thought.

But it didn’t all end with the flight, of course. For, when once youngsters we assaulted jetlag head-on with nights of partying, now we were condemned to see in the wee hours in a far more sobering (and sober) way. Arriving at our overnight B and B, we packed the kids off to bed at 8 and despite feeling fairly woozy, managed dinner downstairs followed by our 10pm bedtime. All was silent in our one shared room and we plopped into bed feeling quite tidy.

Then. I remember Husband and I both coming to, confused. The room was weird and everything bathed in navy blue darkness. The one familiarity was the sound of Daughter’s cries, shortly followed by Son’s slow yells:

‘Muuum. Daaaaad. I wan’ get up.’

And so it began, the 2am eternal wakeup. Sleep would elude us for another twenty hours. And despite any previous experience with newborns, there is still a special nightmarish tinge to wakeups like these; blinking into the gloom you await that feeling that when morning peels around, bleak and blank, you have a whole day to face in a fuzz. And in the meantime, some dark hours where you and your partner may exchange many hissed swear words. All of this must you face.

And you do. And you live. And it gets easier each day. Now the trip is over, we are experiencing all the same stuff this end like some cruel mirror image but with Getting Up For Work thrown in for good measure (at least in Husband’s case).

I get it, kids: we put you on the jet that gave you the lag. But come on. Seriously, come on.

Still, if it gives you any idea how great the actual trip and wedding were, then I shall say this: it was still worth it. There were long nights, swear words and hazy daytimes and yet the laughs and the sight of naked infant bumcheeks flashing in the sunshine made it all worth it. Perhaps it was just a two-week version of the last three years of our lives.


Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow

Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom

Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby