Twelve months of Finn

So, our little troublemaker turned one a couple of weeks ago. This seems impossible, since Emma is still a baby and I am only 21 myself. And yet, here we are. I’m in my mid-thirties. I have an almost pre-schooler. An almost toddler. It’s been a rough year in many ways, since we like to make our life more difficult by adding house renovations to an already full life, and since two children is more difficult than one no matter what anyone tells you. But it’s been a wonderful year too. Watching Finn grow into the cheeky, busy little boy I knew he’d be during that pregnancy has been marvellous. Watching Emma grow from a toddler into an actual child, learning more about what goes on in her head, seeing her start to find her place in the world, has been amazing. Watching them together makes my heart sing.

We celebrated Finn’s birthday multiple times, because a birth festival is much better than a birth day. There was an early family celebration, where he got a caterpillar cake courtesy of his very clever grandma, some awesome presents, and we all exclaimed over the fact that it had been (nearly) a whole year since he’d been born.

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The Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook continues to bring magic

Then there was his actual birthday, which was a Monday, and there were more presents before breakfast. I wonder how many birthdays it will be before he insists on opening the presents himself with no help from Emma? Not many is my guess.

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We gave him cars, because we have a lot of toys already, but not many cars. He thought they were pretty neat.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from his daytime party, where our lovely mums group gave him cake and presents and made a fuss. I felt very blessed to be surrounded by awesome women who care about my kids so much. It has made a huge difference this year to have them in my life. Even if it’s your second baby I highly recommend finding other people with babies to hang out with, because no one else will want to workshop your various feeding or sleeping issues or have spare nappies in their bag if you forgot to bring yours.

After dinner that night there was more cake, of course, using my current go-to vegan cupcake recipe (Emma chose the pink icing with pink sprinkles, because she loves her brother). And this is how Finn felt about that. (This is classic Finn eating behaviour. He loves his food. Finally, someone to celebrate my cooking.)

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And we basically just high-fived ourselves that we survived our first year as a family of four. This is an achievement deserving of cupcakes for all.

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Unlike with Emma’s first year, I did attempt to document Finn’s first twelve months in typical blogger fashion, by taking a picture on the 27th of each month with the stuffed dinosaur we bought him before he was born. Of course some months we weren’t at home, so there’s just a random picture, and then by the 12th month it’s impossible to actually get him to stay still for more than approximately 0.5 seconds, but in any case, I did it, so here’s the proof.

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And here’s the best picture out of about 50 that we took on his first birthday, where he just thought this is a super fun game of tickles and wrestling with the dinosaur:

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Here’s to Finn. Our funny, clever, super strong, lightning fast, deliciously snuggly, determined, handsome boy. Can’t imagine life without him. (Well okay, it would be quiet and calm and easy, but much less fun and much less interesting, and I wouldn’t live it for quids.) Thank you universe for choosing us for him and him for us.

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Evolution of a kitchen: part 1

So everyone who knows me and Toby is nearly as excited as we are about the changes we are making to our house. After nearly 10 years of discussing renovation vs knock down rebuild vs sell, we finally decided on a 4th option. Our friends no longer have to listen to us go round and round in circles about what to do about our old, ordinary house in the fab location. Everybody wins.

The 4th option is a cheap renovation to bring the house up to a standard we can live with for less than 10 years (at which point we will start discussing options again). A bit more storage. A more open kitchen. A bath tub. Fresh paint and floors. Etc.

We did the back of the house late last year, with new wardrobes, new paint and carpet and finally a new bathroom in February. Now we are turning our attention to the front of the house – the kitchen, laundry, living area and media room/study. We are going to install an Ikea kitchen but first wanted to take out a couple of walks to open it up – it’s a classic 1950s kitchen where mum got stuck cooking in a tiny box far away from the rest of the family:

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Please forgive the terrible photo but it does give a pretty realistic look at “living with two children”. There’s the kitchen, that glimpse of aqua in the back.

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My eyes hurt just looking at this.

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Laundry plus fridge. Eek.

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Yep that’s our pantry. Plenty of space. Note the stove top with its single functioning hot plate.

We don’t know any tradies in Canberra and I was on maternity leave so couldn’t ambush people in the office kitchen to ask about their renos so to find someone to knock down the walls I went to the Canberra Mums Facebook page and did a search for builders. I wrote down a bunch that were recommended and called a few. Two came to look; one did a quote, the other declined the job but said the first quote sounded right so that’s how we ended up with the Towner Group.

Last week we packed up and moved into my awesome mother in law Di’s house for a month or so, while she’s gallivanting around South America and Cuba. Meanwhile Dan and Dylan from the Towner Group did this on their first day:

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Note how they not only removed walls and a ceiling but removed our kitchen for us too!!! I am forever impressed by how much good tradies can get done in a day and how nice it must be to really see what you’ve achieved. Bit different to wrangling small children or writing a kick-ass brief for the prime minister no one will ever read, including the prime minister.

Dan and Dylan finished up today (yes they worked the weekend). The electrician will install lights tomorrow and then it’s ready for some Ikea magic.

Here’s what we’ve got to work with now:

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So open! So light! And yes when Toby mentioned maybe putting some shelves in, Dan was like “I’ve got wood left over I’ll just build you some no worries”.

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Fresh paint!  All ready for my beautiful 900mm oven with the fully functional stove top. (I’m just a bit excited about that.)

So I think we can call our first step of the kitchen renos a success. We are so happy with how it looks and our choice of builders. Nothing was too much trouble for those guys (even putting out our bins) and they kept us 100% informed every day. Great experience all round and totally worth the hassle and expense so far.

Next step: finalising the kitchen plan. Will we agree on where to put the wine breakfast bar? Will the cupboards fit? Will we forget to put in a bin? How many Tupperware drawers does one family need, really? We are about to find out.

Race Report: 2016 Canberra Running Festival (and also, how to train for a fun run*)

*when you have two small children, are not a runner, and aren’t going to break any records.

[Obvious disclaimer: Not an expert! Talk to one if you really want to train for a fun run!]

Two years ago I ran the 10km in the Canberra Running Festival and it was not fun. So this year, after Andy and my sister convinced gently encouraged me to register for the 2016 event when I’d not run more than 5km since before falling pregnant with Finn, I promised myself it would be different. I drew up a (very basic) training program for myself, told Toby I’d be training twice a week leaving caring responsibilities in his capable hands, and got to work.

I built up from 5km to 10km by increasing my distance by 1km every two weeks, adding in some cross-training when I could. Any time I was tempted to skip my long run (usually on Sundays – a day of rest!) I remembered how horrible that 2014 run was and how I didn’t want to feel like that again. Also, when you are at home most of the time with two small children it is actually not that hard to want to leave the house and have some time to yourself. It’s like a magic motivator.

The run was at 7am on a beautiful April morning, my favourite time of year in Canberra. I’d been up most of the night before because Finn had started childcare orientation, so obviously he had gastro that night. That he’d caught from spending two hours in a childcare room. Because of course. I thought I’d be okay without much sleep; I was mostly worried about coming down with it myself before I had to leave, but I was feeling fine so off I went.

I had my new playlist ready to go, thanks to Spotify, I was perfectly dressed for the weather (tip: pay attention to the temperature during your training, and what you’re wearing, and how comfortable you are), and I was feeling really great. And that feeling just continued.

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I’d done most of my short runs around Red Hill and Mystery Bay with lots of hills and had been getting discouraged at my times, but I was so glad to have done so many hills as I barely noticed the ones on this route, not even the one I remembered being a killer from last time. And instead of completely losing sight of Jude for the whole thing I managed to keep her in sight for most of it, which was excellent motivation. I never felt the need to walk. I started to struggle a bit around the 8km mark, so I couldn’t catch up to her for the finish like I’d planned, but once I hit the 9km mark I felt stronger and finished with a time of 1 hour 1 minute 30 seconds – a whole 30 seconds off my previous personal best.

I just about cried when I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself. Jude was still there drinking her Hydralyte (she just calls it cordial, because she calls a spade a spade does Jude) so I jumped up and down to make sure she knew how amazing I was. I nearly hugged the girl who gave me my medal. I hung around the event for a while so I could give dad a pep talk for his 5km event starting at the far more civilised time of 9am. But then I started to feel a bit ill, a bit bad for Toby being stuck at home with two kids, one of whom had gastro, so I high-tailed it out of there. (I was fine, by the way. And so was Toby, because both kids had slept until 8.30. Because of course they do that for dad.)

So, if you’re thinking wow, if a person who spent 30 years making up lame excuses to avoid running can now actually enjoy a “fun” run and somehow manage to spend time away from her children then I can do that too, read on!

First, decide you will do a fun run. Talk to other fit people who will encourage you. Don’t mention it to anyone who thinks “fun run” is an oxymoron. Choose one far enough in the future that you’ll be feeling comfortable with the distance, but not so far that you lose your mojo in the meantime. Twelve weeks or less. Then, start training. You can get programs online, in books, or just in your running app on your phone. (You should get an app either way, so you can track your distances and get friendly updates on your pace. I use Run Keeper.) I didn’t follow a specific program this time, because SMALL CHILDREN. I just aimed for a part realistic (one long run a week, two rest days a week when I was at home with two children), part idealistic (four other sessions, including Jazzercise, strength, HIIT and a short/fast/hilly run, plus continuing my core work) program. Some weeks I did it all; lots of weeks I only managed the long run and a Jazzercise class.

If something isn’t working during your training, fix it. Bored? Change up the playlist, switch to podcasts, try running in silence (I’m too scared to try this but many people swear by it), invite a friend, go to a different spot. Disappointed in your times or that you’re still feeling shattered by the end of your long run? The route might be the problem – I was struggling to get past the 7km mark until I switched from the trails around Red Hill to a flat concrete route around Lake Burley Griffin. It’s boring but suddenly I was able to do 10km, and I still do the hills on my short run days. Uncomfortable in your clothes? Invest in a new bra or pants (we don’t want any wobbling), new shoes, socks, whatever it takes. Also, wear sunnies and a hat even if it’s not that sunny. I can’t believe the number of people I see who are so busy squinting and brushing the sweat out of their eyes that they trip over themselves. Really sore? Invest in a foam roller (seriously), book a massage, do more stretching. No, like really sore, like something is wrong? Then go see a physio and think about booking into a running coaching session for some help with technique. You shouldn’t be in real pain. But, don’t let annoying socks or an outdated play list stop you. You’re going to make it!

Finally, organise a post-run celebration of some kind. If you know other people in the same event, convince them to join in. Whether it’s hanging around afterwards for an egg and bacon roll or meeting up at the pub later for a debrief, book it in. Don’t be shy to go to the nearest coffee strip still in your sweaty gear. You won’t be the only ones and you’ll get to feel all smug in amongst the hangover crowd.

I hope this encourages at least one person to give it a go. For me, that feeling of accomplishment at the end was worth every tough kilometre in the lead-up, every Sunday morning spent pounding the pavement when I could have been still in my pyjamas. When you spend your days knee-deep in nappies and play-dough it can be really empowering to do something that’s just for you. Massive thanks to Toby who was just as committed as me to making sure I got out there and didn’t die. It feels really good to be back.

 

 

Reclaiming ordinary

My mum saw a blackboard outside a café once (I think that’s what it was) that made her mad. If it were me, a misplaced or missing apostrophe is what would get my goat. But mum? Mum was mad that the hand written sign was imploring her to live an extraordinary life.

‘What’s wrong with an ordinary life?’ she huffed.

I’ve grown up surrounded by messages to be extraordinary, so I think I’m a bit immune. Is this a recent thing? I feel like once upon a time, there was maybe more value placed on just living an ordinary, good life. Apart from the fact there was no internet to make you think there was something wrong with your life, I suspect most people just couldn’t afford to imagine anything much different to working and raising a family – and that’s if you were lucky. There were also different social norms that came with certain expectations around what was considered “normal”, which was not necessarily a good thing. I might be romanticising the past, of course. Readers older than me (uncle John) please feel free to set me right.

I’m talking about messages like: Do one thing each day that scares you. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Do something you love and never work a day in your life. Every single meme in my Facebook feed. Sunrises and seascapes and triumphant people wearing expensive hiking clothes standing on clifftops with their arms in the air, all encouraging me to be extraordinary, to live my dreams, to hope, to believe. The signs on the walls at Emma’s gymbaroo class, imploring me to feel joy, every moment of every day of my beautiful life. Girls at the gym wearing singlets telling me to run faster, jump higher, dance like nobody’s watching. Entire sections of the bookshop dedicated to living a life less ordinary, to taking the road less travelled, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Inspiring articles everywhere I look about people who left the corporate rat race to sell jewellery or make natural cleaning products or grow their own kale. Yoga teachers who spend the meditation telling me I’m amazing and haven’t yet discovered my own potential, when they don’t even know me or my potential. Tony Robbins and all the people like him – an industry that’s popped up encouraging us to want to be extraordinary, a whole industry, an actual job called motivational speaker. I barely notice it anymore. The whole (Western) world is one big pep talk.

But mum’s right, of course, as she almost always is. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, and thank goodness for that, because it’s what most of us end up living. We might have glimpses of the extraordinary – even mum’s been 4WD-ing in East Timor, after all – but wherever we are, whatever we do with our days, whoever we spend them with, most of it is utterly, relatively ordinary. And I think it’s time to reclaim that. To see the dignity and value in it. It’s enough to be good enough, to be a good enough partner and parent and friend and colleague. It’s enough to work – in fact for most of us, “doing what we love” is a privilege we can’t afford or just don’t have. It’s enough to have a hobby that everyone else has (cycling if you’re a man aged over 30) or no one else has (yes I’m still enjoying jazzercise classes), and to spend time with people you like, and to have the occasional holiday. It’s enough to feel sad some days, and joyful other days, and to take your family and health for granted sometimes, and be overcome with gratitude other times. It’s enough to eat good food sometimes, and crap food other times, and watch good TV sometimes, and crap TV other times, and read the books you want to read even though you know they’re also crap. It’s all enough, and we should never feel that it isn’t. Indeed, if this is your life, you are already incredibly privileged and to think there should be any more than that – or else there is something wrong with you, or the life you are living – is almost perverse.

I have friends who live by inspiring Facebook memes and I love those friends. I love how they approach life and I come away from our conversations feeling inspired and interested in everything, which is exactly how friends should make you feel. And I would never want people who naturally gravitate towards this sort of philosophy – or who want to – to rein it in. I want them to keep posting sunsets and cute baby gorillas and inspiring quotes from historical figures in fancy font. All I’m doing – for myself, for my sanity – is reclaiming the word ‘ordinary’. And if your Facebook feed and all the blackboards outside cafes are making you feel like the ordinary life you’re pretty happy with is actually something you should be ashamed of – something that needs fixing – then feel free to join me. Because it’s not. You, in your ordinariness, are perfectly fine. Ordinary is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice if it’s what you want. Even if it will never spawn an aspirational lifestyle website a la Gwyneth or earn you a book deal. I hope to enjoy a long, healthy life as a decent human being and if I can achieve that, that’s extraordinary enough for me.

Second babies: a (long winded) review

My second baby was delivered in late June, and now we’ve had a chance to get to know him I thought I should put out a review in case anyone else is thinking of getting one. Wondering if you should go for it? Thinking the first really needs a sibling before they become totally convinced they really are the centre of the universe? Sick of nosy relatives asking when you’re going to have another one? Feeling nostalgic about the newborn days of cuddles and that amazing smell on their head and being able to go to mums and bubs movie sessions? Wanting to go back to the days of being able to go out for coffee because they’re strapped in the pram and not going to run into traffic? When you didn’t know which malls had playgrounds or which playgrounds had coffee, because you didn’t have to know? Thinking a year spent away from office politics and dealing with bodily fluids instead might be nice? Read on!

Unlike a first baby, when you’re waiting for your second baby you actually do have a clue of what you might be in for. Will it be just like the first? The exact opposite? Toby, ever the pessimist, used to say, “What if we get a worse one?” and I, ever the optimist, would say enthusiastically, “What if we get a better one?”

They made it look so easy!

 

As usual, the pessimist was right. Sort of.

I’ve already discussed my crappy crappy pregnancy, way worse than the first. Then there was the birth experience, which was a great improvement on the first. So we were kind of fifty-fifty at this point.

I had an inkling we were in for a rough ride on Finn’s second night after he’d had his first proper feed once my milk came in. And he cried for the next two hours. I paced up and down that hospital room (thankfully a big one), singing songs and very thankful this wasn’t my first rodeo otherwise we both might have ended up out the window in despair. I tried everything I could remember, but nothing really worked until he just passed out in exhaustion, as did I. The next morning the midwives agreed that amount of crying was somewhat unusual, but we didn’t really talk about it. Babies are, after all, a huge mystery.

While Emma had jumped straight onto the boob after birth and never looked back, Finn did have some trouble feeding. Part of it was my fault – “You’re holding him like a toddler,” one of the midwives said gently, helping rearrange his little head in my elbow. But really, he just couldn’t figure out how to latch. Many memories of our first week together consist of trying desperately to get him to latch properly and have a decent feed. I was beside myself. It was incredibly frustrating (and painful) and the only thing that kept me going was knowing I had done it successfully in the past. If I didn’t have that previous experience giving me confidence, I’m pretty sure I would have given up. Which would have been totally fine. But after a week or so, he finally figured it out and we could continue on our merry way.

The crying continued though. He was so unsettled after feeds, with the worst period being the middle of the night feeds where he’d often be awake for hours afterwards crying and wriggling and just unable to relax. We tried natural remedies like Infant’s Friend and warm baths and different positions but it still seemed something was bothering him. He was also way more into spewing than Emma ever was. For some reason I didn’t think of reflux but instead I turned to a mums group on Facebook for advice. Several people suggested looking at my diet – caffeine, chocolate and dairy being key suspects.

I was eating a lot of all three so I figured it was worth a try. I gave up chocolate first, reasoning that if it was the culprit and it calmed him down then I wouldn’t need it anyway. I was chocolate-free for two or three days and didn’t notice any change. Caffeine was next with the same rationale and unfortunately the same result. So I finally gave up the dairy. And within a couple of days I had a new baby. Dammit! I’m a vegetarian who couldn’t imagine life without cheese or Greek yoghurt. And yet here we are, seven months later and I’m still mostly dairy-free (not completely – we seem okay with butter used in baking, or a small amount of cheese as an ingredient in a much larger dish, but no more slabs of haloumi on my burgers or bowls of ice cream). I also still avoid caffeine except on days where it feels like a life or death situation, and I avoided chocolate until very recently too. (On the positive side, the lack of dairy and chocolate probably really helped with my 12wbt journey.) And instead of taking the opportunity to become a better person vegan, I’ve started eating seafood instead. Something about losing dairy meant my body was crying out for extra protein and fuel. While I was pregnant with Finn I’d started eating a bit of meat anyway, just because it seemed to be what my body wanted, so I guess the seal had already been broken in a way. So for now at least I’m some strange hybrid vegequarian who doesn’t eat dairy. Or onions. Please invite me to your dinner party!

These issues also led me down the rabbit hole of worrying about food allergies, because apart from showing sensitivity to dairy, Finn also came with eczema – another new problem for us – which can be a precursor according to some recent research. So we became a nut-free household to avoid exposure through his skin until we started solids and made sure he isn’t allergic to anything. So far we’ve tackled eggs, wheat, seafood and several different kinds of nuts with no reactions. This week is the last major one – peanuts. All signs are looking positive though. And the eczema isn’t too bad, it’s only in a few spots and we can manage it with a combination of steroid cream, Sudocrem, and not bathing him every day. (It’s okay, he gets a wipe down. Most nights.)

What else can I say about the second baby? Oh yes – the pelvic floor. This is a public service announcement for women who have had babies (including you, Michelle Bridges). You know those ads on TV with women laughing about their lack of bladder control when exercising or coughing and how it’s okay because they can just wear these enormous pads OR EVEN PAPER UNDIES every day for the rest of their lives and that’s what freedom is? NO.

Freedom is when your lovely doctor says to you while filling out your discharge papers at the hospital, “You’ve had two pretty big babies and two lots of stitches – I’d be investing in some physiotherapy if I were you.” And so you do, because what else are you paying all that private health insurance for (but also, the ACT government provides a free physio service for mums and bubs, so everyone needs to get on this bandwagon), and the physio tells you you can’t run until your baby is over five months old. And you think this is RIDICULOUS, you are young and healthy and you don’t wee when you cough anymore and please can you run but then they show you an ultrasound and while you think you are doing awesome Kegels your insides are actually all soft and flat like the ocean on a really calm day. So you do your homework exercises and do what they say and when you do finally start running you are so glad you listened to the doctor and the physio. That’s what freedom is. Your pelvic floor is a muscle, you can heal and repair and strengthen it just like any other muscle. YOU DON’T NEED PAPER UNDIES.

You also need to rest after a second baby! I was so thrilled not to be pregnant any more that I threw myself back into things once I was home from the hospital. I may have been tired but I had 100 times the amount of energy I’d had the week before. I was doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen, I even did the groceries all by myself on the second day I was home. Then six days after giving birth I noticed a pain right down in my belly and decided to lie down for a bit. While lying down I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw an article about running after baby. Which I started to read, only to be confronted by a warning about running too soon and the risk of prolapse which then continued to tell me the signs of prolapse all of which I was currently experiencing. I rang the hospital in a panic and saw a doctor the same day who said I was okay but for goodness sakes, women used to stay in hospital for 10 days after having a baby, you might not be sick but you really really need to take it easy and be horizontal a lot.

So yeah: see a physio, and take it easy. Your pelvic floor will thank you.

What else about this second baby? He has a little bump of cartilage on his nose that will need surgery (mostly for cosmetic reasons but also to avoid infection if it gets knocked). Had the uneven hip creases needing an ultrasound (they are fine). Had a weird thing in his hand that also needed an ultrasound (and was fine). Had a strong preference for the right side with his head and neck and rolling that needed a physio appointment (and is now fine). He is a really busy, wriggly little thing that gets himself stuck in odd positions and then cries until someone comes to fix it, which is super fun at 4am. Now he’s crawling I just cannot keep up. At all. Changing nappies and strapping him into the pram requires six hands. He also takes longer to make transitions. For example when we moved Emma from a swaddle to a sleeping bag I remember thinking this was going to stuff up her sleeping completely, and she barely blinked. The first night I put Finn in a sleeping bag he just screamed for half an hour until I put him back in the swaddle. This happened twice more, a week or so apart, until he finally got the hang of it. Teething is the end of the world, whereas Emma seemed to barely notice her teeth coming in, with maybe the worst bit being he likes to bite me while I’m feeding him. He’s sensitive to loud noises, likes to eat shoes, drinks from the dog’s water bowl, and enjoys smacking and scratching to the point where he can draw blood or bruise.

Toby’s prediction has certainly come to pass, in many ways.

And yet.

While Finn’s default facial expression might have been “mildly perturbed”, especially when he was younger, when he smiles it lights up the room. Did I mention he has dimples?! It’s such an infectious grin and makes everything seem better. His laugh is amazing, it’s bright and bubbly and is one of my favourite sounds ever. He doesn’t dwell on things – he picks himself up when he takes a tumble, he’s giggling at the mobile above the bed just a couple of minutes after screaming from his immunisation needle, he forgives Emma every time she takes a toy off him. He’s a total snuggle muffin; like a little koala bear who loves to get his face right into my neck for a nuzzle unlike his sister who always just wanted to look around. He just has a lovely spirit about him, which everyone comments on.

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Considering his sleep routine is all over the place due to Emma’s child care and play dates and swimming lessons, all of which clash with his morning sleep times, he is a pretty good sleeper. Given the chance to have a proper sleep in his cot, he’ll usually take it. And if I’m carting him around the rest of the day, he just deals. And while some nights he has me up every two hours just for funsies, he has already slept through the night a bunch of times. There’s no consistency yet, but I’m happy to just have a glimpse of the future. Emma showed no sign of sleeping through until she was eight months or so.

It’s so nice to look after a baby and not feel so overwhelmed about it all. I think with Emma it took me a good six months to feel like I had an even faint clue. With Finn, it was more a matter of getting to know him, rather than getting to know how to look after a baby. I had a few thoughts about what I wanted to focus on in terms of eating, sleeping and routines, and then it was just a matter of rolling with it. In fact I think it’s safe to say – assuming a “normal” healthy second baby – the hardest part of having a second baby isn’t the baby bit. It’s the having two bit. Which is a whole other story.

And of course – seeing my two babies together is a joy beyond any I could have imagined. They think the world of each other. I know that will change at some point in the future – hopefully not permanently – but for now I just revel in watching them. Finn thinks Emma is just the bee’s knees. Emma is so protective of Finn and she’s his greatest cheerleader as he learns new skills and hits the next milestone. It’s the best feeling to know they have each other no matter what, just like me and my sisters.

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So on weighing up the crappy pregnancy, the pushing a baby out, the no cheese or ice cream, nearly seven months and counting of thrice daily pelvic floor exercises, the juggling two children bit…Overall, I’d give second babies a ten out of ten. Eleven, if possible. Yes, definitely eleven.

 

 

Life lessons from Alison the midwife

Sometimes in life you meet someone very briefly and yet something about them stays with you forever. You remember their scarf, their joke, their voice, even just the way they walked. But you remember it, long after you’ve forgotten all other details of the encounter. And so it is, with me and Alison the midwife at Queanbeyan hospital. Alison was one of those people – she came along at exactly the right time, saying exactly the right things, and changed my life in the process.

I met Alison around the 35 week mark. I’d dropped Emma off at childcare after a difficult morning during which we fought over every detail. Breakfast. Brushing teeth. Clothes. Getting in the car. Saying goodbye. I was exhausted and pretty over the whole parenting thing – not a great feeling when you’re about to start all over again with another baby. At the hospital I sat in the consult room making small talk with Alison while she got her things ready.

Then she said, “And how’s Emma?”

And I burst into tears. Between sobs I managed to get out something about “rough morning” and “threenagers”. Alison tut tutted sympathetically and got me a tissue.

“I bet you feel like you’ve been a terrible mother!” she exclaimed.

“I have! I can’t believe I’m about to do it all again,” I said. “I’m going to mess up two children, not just one!” I really was genuinely worried about this at this point.

“This is very normal,” she assured me. “The more pregnant you get, the more you will start turning inward. You are starting to focus on your new baby, and the birth process, and what’s coming up. You don’t mean to, but you are – you have to. Emma will be picking up on that, and she knows there’s changes coming. So between the two of you, this is very normal. Give yourself a break.”

It was honestly like a gap in the heavens opened up, and sunlight poured down on me, and Alison and all the angels were singing in beautiful harmony about how me being a horrible mother was a natural part of life right now. And Emma and I would both survive. The relief was enormous. Alison had more to say about that, based on her interest in evolutionary psychology, but you get the general gist.

Once I’d recovered from that teary moment we talked about other things and she asked how my husband was going preparing for a second baby. I said something about Toby being an only child, and not sure how this whole two children caper was going to work.

“Oh, only children always feel that way,” Alison said. “They wonder how you can possibly love two children.” I distinctly remember she starting washing her hands at this point. “They don’t realise, you just get more love.”

It was so simple. So obvious. After all, I’d been wondering the same thing – and I’m not an only child, it was just hard to imagine. And yet since Finn has been born, her words keep coming back to me. There is always enough love to go around – you just get more of it.

But Alison wasn’t done in doling out words of wisdom. She got me up on the bed and I lifted up my shirt so she could measure my belly.

“What lovely skin!” she said. Which is what every woman wants to hear, all the time, no matter what the situation. I had miraculously escaped my genetic fate and gotten to this point without any stretch marks at all, from either pregnancy. “Do you eat a lot of good fats?”

“Um, yes.” What an odd question. But as a vegetarian and the mother of a peanut butter obsessed toddler who thinks avocado is a vegetable, I guess I do? I hadn’t equated it to my skin though; mostly I was assuming it was this nutrimetics cream which I’d been using religiously.

Alison nodded knowingly. “That would be it.”

[I did get one stretch mark in the end, around the 38 week mark, when my cream ran out and I decided not to replace it. After all, how much bigger was I going to get? LOL. But also, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest; I actually feel a sense of pride towards it. I carried two kids in there, and then got them out here, and the mark is a part of that story.]

And so my appointment with Alison came to an end, having just changed my life – or at least, how I was feeling about my life. I wasn’t a terrible mother. I was going to get more love for the new baby. And I should keep eating good fats if I want to have nice skin. I was in love with Alison.

At my next appointment the midwife commented on my lovely skin. “The last midwife said it was because I eat good fats,” I said.

“Was it Alison? She’s always going on about good fats.” LOL.

Alison was on duty when I was in labour with Finn and I got really excited to see her friendly face but she didn’t end up being with me (which was fine).

The last time I saw Alison was a few days after Finn was born, when I had to take him back to the hospital to have his hearing test. She gave an appropriate comment about how lovely he was and then asked how Emma was.

“She loves him,” I said. “But she hasn’t forgiven us.”

Alison nodded wisely. “That’s very normal,” she assured me, making me feel 100 times better with just three words before rushing off again.

So thank you Alison. I hope you don’t mind I’ve shared your wisdom here for the benefit of others – who knows how many lives you might change.

 

 

 

My 2015 book list

This list presented in no particular order! (Just kidding, it’s almost in chronological order based on Goodreads, but then also the order of things as they appear on my Kindle home page, and then what I saw on my bookshelf when I went to see what I’d missed.)

Sharp Objects – by Gillian Flynn. I got this because I liked the movie Gone Girl but didn’t want to read Gone Girl due to the fact I knew the ending. It was a good read, not going to win any awards but if you like her style (mystery, interesting female protagonist, etc) then I’d recommend.

The Patrons – by Daniella Brodsky. Daniella is a friend of mine – YES, I have a friend who is  NOVELIST and hails from NEW YORK, I’m very sophisticated – and I’d never gotten around to reading any of her earlier work, but I knew she was proudest of this one so I nabbed it as soon as it was published on Kindle. It is a bit strange reading a book when you know the writer, because there are parts when you can hear their voice or their joke, and then other parts like sex scenes where you are like “OMG Daniella!” A main premise of the book is how shitty artists are paid and how they are so often expected to work for free, and how in the olden days a rich person might be patron to a younger, poorer person to allow them to pursue their creative ambitions. But it’s set in modern day Washington, against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election, and stars a very interesting female character. Great read.

The Little Stranger – by Sarah Waters. I discovered Waters last year when I read the Fingersmith and loved it. I didn’t love this one in the same way; it’s still set in period England but is a ghost story so I guess it depends on how much you enjoy those. Still beautifully written though.

Life After Life – by Kate Atkinson. This is one of my top picks of the year. It takes that old chestnut “If you could travel back in time and kill Hitler, would you?” and turns it into a whole novel. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a beautiful, fantastic novel that you will look forward to picking up at the end of every day.

The Girl on the Train – by Paula Hawkins. I got this because it was described as the new “Gone Girl” (and see above re why I’m not going to read Gone Girl). A great read for anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Yes Please – by Amy Poehler. I love Amy. She’s super funny and smart and I’m glad she is getting so ubiquitous (along with Tina, natch) because the world will be a better place the more people like her are involved in it. So yes loved the book.

Midwinter Sacrifice – by Mons Kallentoft. Scandinavian crime. I never know if it’s the translation that make them poor written, or if they weren’t that great to begin with. I think I read it at the coast and everything is better when read there.

Sheila – by Robert Wainwright. I bought this for mum because I read a review and it sounded like her kind of book, and it turned out she’d been very keen to read it as when she and dad were visiting Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland she’d noticed a stained glass window featuring a kangaroo and found out there was a connection between the Rosslyns and an Australian woman who grew up on a farm near Goulburn. That was Sheila. So the book is a biography that draws on Sheila’s papers and letters and what not. I really enjoyed it at the beginning, but I was kind of over it by the end. And then they went to another party and all these famous people were there. And then she met this other handsome man and they went on this fancy holiday and all these famous people were there. Blah blah.

Foal’s Bread – by Gillian Meares. I finished this a few days into 2016 but I’m including it here because it was mostly read in 2015, and also it’s another top pick. Seriously this is an amazing book and I’m so happy it won so many awards. I just wanted to inhale the awesomeness and I read some lines and passages over and over again – sign of a good book. I will never look at horse jumping or jacaranda trees the same way again.

Room – by Emma Donoghue. I read this because the movie is about to come out and I wanted to read it first, otherwise I’ll probably never read it due to knowing spoilers (see above!) It’s been on my list for ages. I wasn’t sure how a book written from a five year old’s perspective would work, but it works brilliantly. It’s about a little boy born in captivity because his mother was abducted and is being held in a guy’s garden shed. Can’t say much more but it’s really great.

Disclaimer – by Renee Wright. I think I read this because again it was marketed as similar to Gone Girl (I think they are calling it suburban noir?) Easy read with a good mystery at the heart of it.

Without the Moon – by Cathi Unsworth. I read this because Life After Life made me more interested in the Blitz generally and it’s a crime novel set during the Blitz. Pretty good although I seem to remember finding it a bit confusing as there were a lot of characters and a lot going on. In my defence, I spent 2015 either pregnant or with a baby so I found a lot of things confusing.

Dark Places – by Gillian Flynn. I enjoyed this more than Sharp Objects. It’s about a girl who is the lone survivor of an attack  that killed her whole family. Her brother is serving time for the murders but there are lots of people who think he is innocent and that she can help them prove it.

The Wool Trilogy – by Hugh Howie. I read this because I needed something to read and Toby recommended it. It’s set in a dystopian future where people have set up a civilisation in a silo and the way they punish people is to send them outside to clean the windows where they die a horrible painful death. OR DO THEY. I enjoyed it a lot mostly for the story and ideas rather than the writing.

Hades – by Candice Fox. I read this because I saw a review about it being Australian crime by a female writer and it sounded good, but it wasn’t really. The ideas were there but I thought the writing was lacking and things like the timelines hadn’t been thought through to make the story make sense.

Hope Farm – by Peggy Frew. This was on my want list and I got it for my birthday from the parents, thanks guys! It was great, I really enjoyed it. Story of a girl who has grown up in hippie communes with her single mother during the 70s and 80s. Well written, interesting characters, everything you want. Top pick.