Friday, August 30, 2013

C for Career

I always thought that I'd be one of those women who had it all – the career, the baby – with ease. As an IT consultant, before baby, I used to travel a lot. I'm talking being away from home for over half a year. When I met Mr Fork, I was working in Sydney and coming back to Brisbane on the weekends. The first year of dating, we probably really only spent a couple of weeks together all up. When the travel lightened up and we started to cohabit, things got really interesting. I'm the die hard vegetarian (vegan at home) while he's the raging carnivore. I like to curl up with a good book and he likes to watch TV and mindlessly flip through the channels. I like to cycle, he turns green at the thought of getting on a bike. But we bond over a shared love of dancing, noodle dishes and The Big Bang Theory to name a few things.

We weren't trying to fall pregnant, but we weren't not trying either. We were delighted to find out we were going to have a baby and our little bean was loved as soon as we knew she was coming. In fact, our dogs knew I was pregnant before we did, morphing into clingy little furballs who couldn't get close enough to me. When I started to show, they loved lying against my tummy and taking turns with my daughter to kick each other through my tummy. That was fun, but they loved her before she was born too.

Happy family, Mr Fork remaining mysterious

I went back to work part time after 7 months off and things definitely changed. I'm not the dedicated worker that I once was. My company has never had titles for employees, so over the years I've been whatever I needed to be to get the job done: tester, project lead, senior consultant, trainer. Now, the title that brings me the most satisfaction? Mummy. I often tell me colleagues that I have a full time job and I come in to paid employment to have a break from it. It's a real treat getting to eat my lunch without sharing, leave the room without anyone screaming and use the bathroom whenever I want to!

My eyes have really been opened coming back to work though. It's not as easy as I thought it would be. I get lots of looks as I pack up to leave at 5pm so that I get home in time to have dinner and cuddles with Ellie. I put up with comments like "she's a great consultant BUT she only works three days a week" or "so you only work 3 days a week and do nothing the rest of the time?" It's very hard to bite my tongue and not invite them over to do "nothing" with me.
 
Pumping at work was a challenge. It's difficult to find clothes that look business like but don't flash milk engorged breasts. Many businesses don't understand the legal requirements of breastfeeding mothers too, and often the facilities provided are not adequate or you're left with only a toilet as an option.

So yes, my eyes have been opened. I suppose also my priorities have changed, but being on the other side of the fence, I understand how hard it is to be a working mother. There is very little flexibility or understanding of my new life, especially in my very male dominated industry. With the election approaching, politicians are trying to win votes with their maternity leave policy, but that's only for the first six months of a child's life. If I ever win the lotto, I want to start a company where women are encouraged to return to work. With flexible working arrangements, a child friendly office location, onsite day care, and generous company maternity leave and return to work policies.

What about you? Does your workplace make it easy to be a working mum?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

B for breast or bottle?

It's an old debate. What's the best way to feed your child? I've written a little about my experience here; so I won't go into it again.

What I will say is that there is no right answer. As long as mama is happy and baby is thriving then it's no one else's business. I will staunchly defend the right of women to feed the way they please. In the location and manner they please.

Having said that, like the scouts, the motto "be prepared" comes to mind. Pre-birth I was convinced I'd breast feed until my child weaned itself. I was therefore a little shocked when at my baby shower I was given a bottle cleaner and a bottle. "Just in case," said my friend (the only friend there who'd actually had a baby). I have to say, her bag of essential baby goodies was a lifesaver. I didn't think to stock up on all the things she included. But I was sure glad at the time to have those supplies. I also learnt that regardless of whether you'll breast or formula feed, bottles come in darn handy for storing expressed milk. And letting someone else feed bub so you can get some sleep (much needed sleep!).

There's a lot of judgement out there. It seems to start as soon as people find out you're pregnant and start offering stories and advice. Then when you have your baby, more advice comes pouring in, welcome or not. I sometimes think fellow mothers are our own worst enemy. Instead of unconditional support for each other there is a lot of judgement for other parenting styles. Being a mum is the hardest job in the world, and sometimes it feels like the least appreciated. What we need is support for whatever choices we make, as long as mama and baby well being is central to those decisions. I always remind myself that Ellie won't remember how she was fed. What she will remember is that she was loved and raised in a healthy and safe environment.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A for Actions and Awareness

As Ellie’s first birthday rapidly approaches, I wanted to do a series of posts about what I’ve learnt in my first year of motherhood. I’m going with a bit of a theme here, because there is so much I could talk about, so I’m going to restrict myself to twenty six topics, which I will dub my A to Z of having a baby. This also forces me to make sure I write more often. With that introduction, let me start with my first topic, A for Actions.

Before Ellie, I put a lot of thought into how I’d like to raise my child so that she would grow up strong, confident, sassy and independent. Mr Fork and I discussed our ideas and came to an agreement about the sort of environment we wanted our baby to grow up in. What it came down to for us was that we wanted to allow our daughter to grow able to express herself and know she was unconditionally loved and that her parents would meet and acknowledge her needs as required. Without knowing any terms such as ‘attachment’ or ‘responsive’ parenting we decided that we would be attentive to our child’s needs. If she cried, we would comfort her. If she was sleepy, we would let her sleep. If she was hungry/dirty/playful we would feed/clean/play with her. If she wanted closeness we would hold her. Simple right?

 Just because babies are so small, it doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate and make themselves understood. I believe that they can. In fact, one of the first things Ellie did after birth when we were having skin to skin time was to root around for a feed. She knew what she wanted and instinctively made it happen. She communicated her needs to me and she was only a few hours old! After she’d made her want known, I responded (with the midwife’s assistance) and let her feed. My actions demonstrated to her that I would answer her cries.

To me, actions speak louder than words. I remember being told that as a child and it’s stuck with me. I always try to act nicely, as well as speak and think nicely too. I don’t always succeed but I do try. Children learn through actions before words, so to them, the way you act is so important. I’ve spoken before about teaching boundaries and demonstrating through consistent actions that I support Ellie’s right to own her own feelings and responses. I believe completely that Ellie understands what is going on around her, and so we acknowledge that understanding and tell her what we are doing. We explain what is happening – that we are about to change her nappy, that we are going to daycare. We ask her questions and allow her to answer them in her own way: does she want to give daddy a kiss? Go to granddad for a cuddle? Is she hungry? Thirsty? We also respect her boundaries when she answers.

Don’t worry, I’m not crazy, I do know that children this young can’t talk. They can however, understand. And I know Ellie can communicate so to facilitate a method that is easy for everyone, we have been using some baby sign language since birth. Just for the key signs: hungry, thirsty, milk, book, mama, daddy, finished. I’m pleased to report that Ellie has started to sign them back now to indicate when she wants something. Yay! 

I guess the point of this post is that I wholeheartedly believe that actions do speak louder than words. That I need to show Ellie, by look, word and especially by deed that I’m on her side. That I listen to what she has to say and react appropriately – I’m aware of her and acknowledge her feelings and thoughts. I believe that children are always learning and I want my actions to be something my daughter learns from even before she learns to speak.

Do you ever have problems getting your actions and words in sync?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Coincidence?

So every week, my Fitbit sends me a weekly progress summary email with a highlight of achievements and weekly stats. I can also drill down in my dashboard to check specific days and the breakdown of exercise in them.
 
See that lovely big green spike there?  That coincided with high activity minutes - and that occurred as I was sprinting down the mall to find something for lunch as I'd been working feverishly to get a deliverable completed for a client with a mere three hour notice. And let me tell you, I was starving!
 
 
At the same time, I got this email alerting me to a new badge. Yep, since putting on my Fitbit a little over two months ago, I've walked over 250km. And that's just the steps it knows about, because there have been times I've taken it off, or forgotten to change the battery or something. A coincidence that I reached a new milestone while searching for food? Sort of a proverbial carrot/stick?


Woot! Talk about motivation! Tell me, have you kicked any goals, fitness or otherwise, lately?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Winter Hibernation

The lovely people at Mum's Say recently sent me a Winter hibernation pack to help me enjoy winter with good food, some relaxation and warmth. In the pack was a gorgeous reed diffuser from Freedom and a hardcover copy of Valli Little's Delicious Home Cooking.

 
Of course, with the lovely weather we've been having in Brisbane lately, it hasn't felt like winter at all, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate lovely things nonetheless!
 
I wasted no time in opening the reed diffuser and setting it up. It's a gorgeous Moroccan oil and jasmine fragrance, and it smells beautiful without being too overpowering. The only complaint I have, and it really is just a tiny one, is that getting the stopper out to set it up practically required a university degree. I had scissors, Mr Fork had a corkscrew and between us we managed it, but I did sustain a cut thumb in the process.  
 
 
The cookbook is just amazing. I can't wait until I can write up a new shopping list and add some new things into the meal plan! Valli's recipes are approachable and definitely things which are achievable to the home cook. There aren't any strange ingredients or overly long methods and the book also includes tips to turn ordinary family meals into something you could put on the cover of a magazine. Yes please!
 
The book is divided into the four seasons, with each season thoughtfully containing starters, mains, desserts and a sample menu. I'm especially pleased that each recipe is accompanied with full colour photographs which almost make me want to lick the page. I'm always disappointed when a cookbook doesn't show you what the finished product should look like. I can't wait to get cooking - there are spinach gnocchi and some corn cakes calling my name, along with an impressively easy looking apricot tart!
 
What about you - how do you enjoy winter?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Teaching boundaries

At a touch over 10 months old, Ellie is getting to the stage where she is asserting herself in different ways. One of the ways she expresses it at the moment is through clinginess. She has developed what day care call a 'case of separation anxiety' and what Mr Fork and I lovingly call 'velcro baby'. She loves to be held. If you put her on the ground or leave the room for a moment when she doesn't want you to, she will wail inconsolably and speedily crawl for you.

I have always respected her as a small person and communicated with her as I would anyone - that is, no baby talk, although I do adjust my words for her age. We have used baby sign language since she was small, and I see no need to sneak away from her or tear her from my arms without explanation. I distinguish between short and long absences by me telling her I am going somewhere for '5 minutes' versus 'bye bye'. Lately both of those announcements/signs have usually been met with real tears and her little arms tightening around me. She is only this small for such a short time - I'm in no rush so I make sure I allow extra time at day care for her to feel comfortable with me leaving, for example.

Another thing Ellie has been doing is reaching out for people now. When she wants to be picked up or held, she will lift her arms and indicate this. If she is being held and wants to go into someone else's arms, she will reach for that person, and if not passed over fast enough will try to leap there herself. If she does not want to go, she will cling on tighter to whoever is holding her and tuck her head into their shoulder.

This is a top down view of Ellie burrowed in for a snuggle.
I personally believe that children are tiny humans and as such they have the same rights as bigger humans do. They are in charge of their bodies and by extension, they are in charge of their own instincts and desires. If Ellie doesn't want to go to another person, who am I to disregard her wishes and hand her over regardless of her feelings? This has caused a fair amount of hurt and consternation among my family and friends, especially my dad, who tried to grab Ellie from me for cuddles only to be met with ear piercing screams when she didn't want to go the other day. She stopped crying as soon as she was back in my arms.

I want Ellie to know unconditionally that intimacy and affection are always hers to control. She should never feel obliged to give it to someone else for their benefit if it isn't what she wants to do. Just because social norms demand she provide affection on cue, I say to her that actually, it is and always will be her choice. I'll stand up for that choice for her too - otherwise I'm just teaching her that actually, no doesn't mean no and mummy will stand silently by while people (friends or strangers) force intimacy that she doesn't want to give.

My hope is that this tiny lesson helps show Ellie that she doesn't need to tailor her responses to please other people. Being held is a personal thing, no matter how innocent the intent. The fact is that babies are so small and helpless that we forget they take in a lot of what goes in around them. By teaching Ellie that she has a choice in physical contact and how to respond to friendly advances, I hope that I am also educating her about gracefully recognising and acknowledging others while respecting her own boundaries. I want to make her understand that if she ever feels uncomfortable or pressured into something, that she has an absolute right to say no - even if it offends. If she doesn't want to have a cuddle with someone then she can wave at them or offer a high five instead. After she was back in my arms and settled again, she spontaneously reached for granddad, and this time went willingly into his arms for cuddles at her instigation.

My daughter may be small, but she is learning about boundaries and about personal space. By allowing her to make her own choices and doing it early and in a consistent manner, I hope this will stand her in good stead in the future. I know her daddy will be very pleased that she has a clear understanding that no really does mean no. After all, in the immortal words of Dr Seuss "a person's a person, no matter how small".

What about you? How do you handle boundaries with children?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday tidbits

What's been making me smile lately
  • When I got on the bus to go to work today, the go card machine was down, so I got a free trip. Score!
  • The Tyrannosaurus memes going around at the moment. Especially this one:
 
  • And this one:
 
  • Watching Ellie get more independent. At swimming she is being taught to climb out of the water herself, to the refrain of "elbows, elbows, tummy, knees". I saw her use the exact same technique to climb the stairs at a playground yesterday, all on her own. My little bean is growing up! 
  • Nutella. Mr Fork had a jar of it and was spooning it happily into his gob and offered me a taste. Oh my word, how did I forget how marvellous that stuff was? It's dangerous to have in the house!!
What's been making you smile lately?

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