Tag Archives: Mothering

Open your hands

We were five days into this two-baby experiment, and something felt off. Of course, it was unbearably hot, I hadn’t slept for longer than two hours all week, and I was hurting everywhere, so there was plenty of off to go around. But this was something else. Tim put Henry to bed and Henry got back up, which had been the usual state of affairs since Edward and the heat arrived together, so I fetched him a drink of water and put him back down again. It was dark in his room, and quiet. I sat by his bed while he drank with his legs in the air. I hadn’t seen this much of him in days. Once he saw I wasn’t moving, he smiled so big it looked like the birthday of his life was here at last, instead of just a sleep-deprived crazy woman with a baby permanently attached to her angry chest.

I started to cry. And I realised I missed him, and there was the off. He was confused and displaced, and I missed him. Now everything was different, and he knew it and didn’t know why. I couldn’t even give him a drink of water without crying like a lunatic.

Was I actually sad because I’d just given my boy a sibling? This is what five days of crazy will do to you. I love this tiny arrival like I grew another heart to accommodate him. He is the most laid-back and lovely of things, all furrowed forehead and delicate fingers. He has a pointy chin and an actual jawline, for which marvel we must thank his father’s genes, because what business do I have producing a child with a jawline? You have never seen anything like the look of resigned dismay on his miniature face when Henry tries to sit on him for the fourteenth time. I cannot imagine not having him here.

And yet, and yet. Henry and I have spent two years as two halves. Not all of our days in each other’s company have been good ones, but we are used to weekdays as a pair. Now he would never have all of me, ever again, and things would never be the same for him, or me. Brothers are wonderful, and it will be so unbelievably good in the end. But in that minute I looked straight into what we were losing, and I was afraid.

Well, I took him out for an hour the next morning, just the two of us. We bought a Thomas the Tank Engine magazine and read it over chocolate buttons on the front step. I worked out the art of feeding Edward with one arm and reading to Henry with the other. I remembered that there are bunk-beds and lego sets in their future, and a million jokes at my expense. Now we’re in the middle of a halfway normal week, I can see that it’s going to be fine. And in this strange, delirious, breathtaking month I am loving this day, this minute, as hard as I possibly can. Even the bits where Henry accidentally headbutts me in the face because he doesn’t want to go to bed without his shoes on (?), or that point where I’m ready to drop at night and Teddy wakes up, all ‘I AM REFRESHED AND HUNGRY AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW IT’.

Because everything is a phase. Everything will be over soon. And since I can’t spend my time wishing for the bits we left behind, this is what mothering means: love it all as hard as you possibly can. And then open your hands, and let it go.

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I want to be a single-tasker

This story starts in McDonald’s.

(You guys, nearly all my stories start in McDonald’s these days. McDonald’s is where Life Happens, and don’t you forget it.)

Henry sat swinging his legs in the high chair next to me. He requested the kite song to supplement his fish fingers. Who can argue with that partnership? I turned away from my conversation to look at him, and bellowed ‘Let’s GO FLY A KITE! Up TO THE HIGHEST HEIGHT!’ There was vibrato and everything. I like to do that song justice, because Dick van Dyke deserves it. Henry’s eyes widened, his mouth opened, and he looked at me like he’d never seen anything so brilliantly wonderful.

Of all the things about motherhood I adore, that look is in the top five. I get it when I turn away from what I’m doing, look him square in the face and hand over all my attention for a moment.

I don’t think I get it enough. Attention is a hard thing to give, all at once.

I am busy, of course, and about to get busier. I’ve always got a list of seven or eight things on the go, and mentally reorder and reprioritise as I do them. Multitasking is more comfortable for me than single-tasking. I can’t wash up without listening to the radio, I never read without stopping to flick through my phone, and talking to Henry is something I do while doing other things: the laundry, a batch of editing, driving the car, washing my hair in the bath.

Which makes me think there must be power in doing just one thing at once. Not all the time, and not for everything. But for people, yes. They want you to turn towards them, look them square in the face and give over all your attention for a moment. I suppose the fact that giving over attention is so very difficult makes it the best kind of gift to receive.

So I want to practice one-personing this week. Just for a few minutes a day – a phoneless moment on the sofa with Tim, a quarter of an hour eating ice lollies on the windowsill with Henry, a few minutes’ writing in the quiet with me.  Where I put everything else away and hand over all of me, all at once. Want to do it too? I think it’ll be something to see.

(Not you, though, washing-up. Not you.)

Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: toddler edition

Oh, my friends, here we are again.

These days, cajoling food into Henry’s mouth has just become part of our family landscape. When we were in London on Friday, he took an unexpected liking to the tiny bowl of pasta we’d ordered for him, and ate almost all of it. He hates pasta. He also hates eating in public (too much else to look at). We were so delightedly gobsmacked that we couldn’t stop talking about it, and took ten thousand photos. Three days later, I’m still greeting Timothy at the door with ‘Dude. I can’t BELIEVE Henry ate that pasta’.

A sweet victory. Also a short-lived one. From where I’m sitting, I can see at least seven peas and a potato he hoped he could hide without me seeing.

I had an arsenal of mealtime strategies I used when he was a just-weaned baby. Now he’s a toddler, the game has changed a little, like this. Did I tell you he’s learned to say ‘no’? Yeah, there’s that.

1. Pick your moment; prepare the ground

For Henry, eating is still a matter of temperament. Sometimes he feels like it; sometimes he doesn’t. After much trial and error, I’ve learned the signs: he doesn’t want to eat when he’s just woken up, or very tired, or in the middle of something. He needs to be pre-warned. So I start explaining that it’s time to eat about twenty minutes before he ends up in the high chair. And then I explain that I’m making his sandwich. And then I explain that he can have a yoghurt afterwards if he eats the sandwich. If he doesn’t have a fair crack at the sandwich, he doesn’t get the yoghurt. It means I’m rabbiting on through most of lunch, but it manages his expectations, whether or not he’s practising selective hearing at the time.

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2. Think continental

Life is not normally neat and organised for us. But the rub is this: he definitely eats better when we’re at home and when we can take as long as we like over meals. Often I’ll put something down on the tray with him screeching indignation, and then fifteen minutes later, if I leave him to his own devices and don’t look bothered either way, he’ll start eating it. So whenever it’s possible, I think continental: long, lazy meals in a relaxed atmosphere. Cheese is optional (he doesn’t like it. Is he my child?!).

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3. Serve in courses, with the good stuff first

This was the one, transformative idea I took from the Bringing Up Bebe book. When is he hungriest? Right at the beginning. When is he most likely to eat the fruit and veg you need him to eat and he, apparently, needs to throw against the wall? Right at the beginning. I serve all his meals like this: I bring him vegetables right at the start (a mug of peas, a few red peppers, some oranges or grapes), and leave him there picking at them for ten minutes while I make the rest. If he eats nothing else, at least he’s had the good stuff. If he doesn’t eat even that, at least you tried.

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4. Force the first taste, then back off

This one still in force from last time. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s screamed to high heaven when I’ve come at him with a spoon, only to change his mind once he tasted it. Most days I have to pin him down to get the spoon near him. Then I leave him to decide whether he likes it. The house rule is still that he has to try everything once.

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5. DIY rules

Sometimes I think he’s throwing a fit over the food, when actually he just wants to use the spoon himself. This involves a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of his outfit and the nearby wall. If it means he eats more, I don’t mind. I can’t speak for the wall.

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6. If at first he hates its guts…

…keep on pushing it. Apparently a child needs to eat a food twelve times before they genuinely dislike it. I don’t force it into his mouth if he seems completely disgusted, but I do serve it again the next week. I’d like to say I’ve had some success stories with this method: the truth is that his dislikes are so random I can’t keep track of them. I live in hope, though. There was one time he ate raw tomato.

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7. Treat in treat-sized quantities

Now he’s past his immediate babyhood, I don’t believe in refusing him cake, chocolate or other dessert-type loveliness, or the occasional fast-food outing, or nice drink. This is where joy can be found, after all. If we’re eating it, it’s not really fair to say he can’t have it because it’s unhealthy. And I think that children who are never allowed treats at home tend to gorge until they’re sick in other places. But make them treats, not staple foods (ARE YOU LISTENING, SELF).

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8. Snack not, lest ye be disappointed

Another still-truism. His appetite is tiny (apart from that one time in London, with the pasta, etc etc). This is an especially hard principle to stick to now I’m pregnant and snacking ALL THE FREAKING TIME, but the fact remains: when he eats between meals, he doesn’t eat meals. I do a lot of secret eating these days.

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9. Big it up

I hope that one of the things we can bequeath to Henry eventually is an enthusiasm for food. Until that appears, I try to look and sound majorly excited about everything I serve him. Sometimes, just asking him for some and letting him feed you is enough to convince him that it’s worth trying. Sometimes. And other times, you just feel like an idiot, cheering for celery. But here’s the thing…

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10. Don’t panic

Can we be very serious for a moment? It’s ok. It’s really ok. You’re not a bad parent. Some kids don’t like to eat, and anything you can get into him is a triumph, some days. If you’re genuinely worried about his energy levels or bowel movements, see your doctor or health visitor. But I have never (ha!) in my life (haha!) worried about Henry’s energy levels (oh, stop!). There are days when he refuses everything and screams the house down and I find the nearest pillow and cry. But as long as he’s drinking plenty and eating some, I try not to worry. You shouldn’t either. It’ll all be fine.

From today. The tear on his face is real, in case you thought I had it all figured out.

From today. The tear on his face is real, in case you thought I had it all figured out.

(Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: baby edition is here. I suspect we’ll be seeing each other again when I post the edition for five-year-olds, but let’s pretend I’ll be posting ‘Ten meals to cook for your sophisticated little gourmet’, instead.)

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