The Runner

For about three months now we’ve had issues with Heike running off. We’ll be out doing groceries or at the playground, and the next thing I know she’ll be gone, which always causes about 10 seconds of panic until I spot her hiding or checking out something shiny in the distance.

I’ve known it was becoming a problem and even my parents had mentioned it when they were here visiting. But I hadn’t really known what to do about it, or really tried. We’ve had a few chats about using our listening ears and consequences for running off (which is difficult – I try to use logical consequences and the most logical consequence for running off is getting lost/killed!).   But I knew I wasn’t doing enough about it and have frankly just been too tired and had too much on my plate and let it slide.

Which brings us to Sunday night, a group picnic on the (crowded) beach at dusk with two kids in tow for the Mid Autumn Festival. We really should have seen it as a recipe for disaster regardless, as both kids made a beeline for the water and we weren’t prepared for swimming, and the fading light made it difficult to keep an eye on them. While I decided not to drink in order to keep a better eye on the kids there was alcohol involved and all the other kids there were older.

We basically had a really stressful time and just as we were packing up to leave, I turned to say something to Justus and laugh at something funny Walter was doing. I took a picture. And when I turned back, Heike was gone.

There were around 10 people at the picnic, adults and kids, and I did a quick scan to confirm she wasn’t with them. I then did a scan of the outer perimeters and still couldn’t see her. It had only been a matter of 15-20 seconds – how far could she have gone? But she was nowhere to be found.

I started freaking out and ran down the beach calling her name. I knew she had been carrying an open umbrella, which was also nowhere to be seen, so she should have been easy to spot. But I couldn’t see any umbrellas. Then again, it was really dark. I couldn’t see many details at all. I saw Justus following me down the beach and screamed at him to go check the other direction.

Our friends were chatting and laughing, oblivious to what was happening. As the seconds ticked by I ran to them and asked them to help. It was amazing how quickly they mobilised – two in charge of watching the remaining kids and the rest of the adults on patrol. A local Hong Kong woman who was sitting behind us and heard the conversation picked up her phone to call the police. At this point I completely lost it – it had been a few minutes now and my instinct (as, I found out later, was Justus’) was that if anything had happened she’d been grabbed. Because it was that fast. My friend could tell I was freaking out and started telling me to stay calm as I raced up to two security guards screaming that my daughter was missing. And just at that moment, I saw Justus coming down the stairs from the road holding a small person clutching an umbrella. She had gone to the bus stop!

I of course burst into tears and was basically in shock, all after a total of maybe four minutes. I can’t begin to imagine what parents go through when their child is really, properly missing – in those four minutes I thought about where she could be, a range of things that could have happened, lamented the fact that there was alcohol involved, felt gutted that I’d yelled at her minutes earlier. It was awful.

Butter wouldn't melt...
Butter wouldn’t melt…

Naturally after the emotional part was over Heike was in real, serious trouble and still is. Triple secret probation as my Dad used to call it. No TV, no iPad, no play group, no treats. But also some effort on my part to curb the running off. Everyone I speak to seems to have a story of when they lost their child at Coles so I knew there must be some information out there and there is, loads.

A few of the tips that I’m now using with Heike (who is four, so old enough to understand what she should be doing and why) are:

  • Explaining before we leave what I expect of her – listening, staying close to Mummy, not running away etc.
  • Outlining the consequences for not meeting expectations – sadly if I say “…then we will go home” Heike often responds, “Great, I love staying home!” so I usually have to make it something like you will lose your TV time or no dessert for x days.
  • Reinforcing expectations while we are out, as well as praise – Heike loves to hear, “Wow, you are staying so close to Mum! You’re really listening today” so I have to try to remember to give positive reinforcement. I’ll often then throw in “I think we can definitely have some ice cream tonight after dinner”!!
  • I also read about the concept of an “I can touch you walk” and a “Free walk”. The idea is you introduce each of these “walks” to your children and use the “I can touch you walk” (walking at arms distance or less from parent) when you’re in a dangerous environment e.g. by a road. At other times you can happily exclaim “It’s really safe here, you can free walk!”. Heike is at that age where she quite likes having a specific rule to follow so I imagine this could work well.

It’s great when kids get older and have the ability to listen and reason, but also so frustrating when you know they understand you and still do the opposite of what you ask! I’m learning as always that with every year some things get easier and there are new challenges to overcome. Thank GOODNESS she is safe.

Z

So Not Perfect

I am a really visual person, always have been. I remember being one of those kids and teenagers who was like “Well I was thinking about…ooh, something sparkly!” – and nothing’s changed. I’m the type of adult who reads fashion and design blogs, who sits on Pinterest drooling and who still buys magazines.

Sadly this means I also fall firmly in the “advertising target market” for all of the aforementioned blogs and magazines. I sit there thinking, ooh, I have to buy that, I have to go there, I need to BE YOU. I also quite often end up feeling pretty disillusioned after spending loads of time ogling other people’s “perfect” lives, particularly if they are other Mums who seem to look better than me, have a nicer house than me and make far better use of their time!

Last week I had a funny experience that I have to share! I was reading one of my favourite blogs, Bikinis and Passports, and stumbled across a recipe for home made granola. I had all the ingredients on hand, it sounded delicious and I thought it could be a good opportunity to share it on my own blog.

So as I made the kids dinner and played with them a bit, I threw together the granola ingredients and popped the tray in the oven. After all, it was a super simple recipe and I’m a keen cook. No problem.

Guys, aren't I awesome, I totally made granola!
Guys, aren’t I awesome, I totally made granola!

About thirty minutes later I recognised the distinct smell of burning nuts and screamed a profanity before running to the kitchen and confirming that yes, I’d charred the granola. Somehow I was in a pretty good state of mind and managed to shrug it off and go about my business. I put the tray of granola on the stove top thinking I’d deal with it later.

Aaaaanyway about 30 minutes later I was stacking the dishwasher with the dirty dinner dishes and SOMEHOW (!?) managed to knock the entire tray of burnt granola off the stove top and into the open dishwasher! I can’t even explain how much granola was in the dishwasher. It was just really, cosmically not meant to be *facepalm*

I wish I could end the story there but sadly, I actually decided I would give the recipe another go the next morning (I was up early and clearly I really felt like granola) and I BURNT IT AGAIN. I mean, what is even wrong with me?! Who even am I?! My sense of identity has been thrown out completely! Well not quite, but I did think I must be under more stress than I realise (also, my kitchen here is really small and not a place I like to spend time. My cooking has definitely gone downhill since I moved!).

But the lesson it did teach me was – you never know the story behind a beautiful photo, or the turmoil behind a beautiful face. Quite an important lesson for someone who lives to judge books by their cover.

You’re doing a good job!

Z

Being Okay With It

I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a bit of freelance work lately and I’ve been loving it. It’s definitely good to give the brain a bit of a workout every now and then, and mine has certainly needed it after 18 months at home with my “baby”. I’ve honestly felt more productive around the home and happier since I’ve been doing a little something for myself – it’s also opened up a whole range of creative possibilities and ideas as I realise, “Hey, I can do this!”.

Up until now I’ve just been fitting things in around the kids schedules and sitting them in front of the TV for an hour here and there, but now that I have a slightly bigger project to work on and am trying to get my website up and running, I realised that wasn’t going to cut it. So yesterday I left Walter at home with the babysitter and instructions to collect Heike off the bus at 12, and went down to work in my “office” for the day – my local Starbucks.

It was nice having an uninterrupted block of time and I did achieve quite a bit. But honestly, I struggled. Like, I reeeeeally struggled. I haven’t left both my kids for the day, except with their Dad or grandparents, ever. I’ve never not picked Heike up from school/the bus, since she started last September. At one point I realised it was lunch time and wondered what they were doing and I felt physically sick.

I know I’m really lucky because a) I really don’t HAVE to leave them if I don’t want to and, b) I live in the time of mobile technology where I can get constant updates and pictures and call them as often as I like. I was thinking yesterday what it would have been like for Mums of my mother’s generation, having to leave kids with family, friends and neighbours or even to let themselves in from a very young age, all the while dependent on the office landline phone that they likely would have been frowned upon for using. It would have been hard. It’s still hard.

So many of my Mum friends from Sydney work full time, for a number of reasons. Many of them are smart, independent women who simply don’t feel a sense of identity without work. Some feel they need to maintain their career for when the kids grow up and have no other choice. Others do it for financial necessity. I’m in awe of all of them – I barely manage to get clothes on for the school run, let alone two kids and myself dressed and presentable for a day at the office.

But the hardest thing for me, as I know it is for them, is the guilt that goes along with it. The feeling that you are missing out. I’ve been a full time Mum for a long time, and yesterday, honestly, I did feel like I was missing out. I hated it.

I don’t really have the answer but I guess you just have to choose your choice. You have to decide what you want, as a parent and an individual, or what’s best or what’s needed, and just be okay with it. I don’t know yet if I can up my workload – whether it’s time, whether I’m ready, whether they’re ready. Being at home when my kids get home from school is really, really important to me. So I think I’m going to have to learn to be okay with that – to work from home, to work at night, to do what it takes for that to happen. Because look what I’d be missing! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZ

Helping Your Toddler to Sleep

Every parent will agree that just when things are ticking along nicely in life and everyone is getting enough sleep, a sick baby or child will throw everything out again. We had my parents come to stay last week and of course that coincided perfectly with Walter and I coming down with something – this happens every time we have my parents come to stay or stay with them! We suspect Walter has inherited my asthma, so every time he gets sick he almost immediately develops a nasty wet cough and wakes himself up all night coughing.

Last week we had a whole new thing – he was waking up SCREAMING like he was being murdered, inconsolable for hours. We tried bottles, we tried singing, we tried rocking and eventually ignoring him. Nothing worked. Eventually a few puffs of ventolin and some paracetamol at least broke him out of his screaming cycle and he’d drift back to sleep. Only to repeat the whole thing the following night. This made for a very tired little boy during the day and two very tired parents. It’s amazing how quickly you forget how much a lack of sleep effects every aspect of life – Justus and I were snapping at each other and the kids, forgetting things and drinking way too much coffee.

The Invalid
The Invalid

Anyway, we got through it – at least, Walter got better. But after a week of being rocked, held and coddled to sleep, he had our number. You want me to read stories and go to bed? Ha! Sorry Mum. I think I’ll stand at the end of my cot and scream until you come cuddle me.

Now that Walter’s been a pretty good sleeper for six months or so, I realised I’d completely forgotten what techniques I used to get him to sleep. I had to really think about what to do…he’s crying, and there’s nothing wrong with him…where to from here? But the last few nights have been okay – I seem to have cracked him without too many tears from either of us, and thought I’d share why.

  • Make sure they have a sleep routine and are following every step – Both my kids love a good routine, but when life is travelling along normally it’s no big deal if we skip it for a night or two here and there. Going out for a late dinner, missing a bath, forgetting to brush teeth – all fine every now and then. But when they’ve gotten into the habit of sleeping badly again, I find it’s really important to stick to a strict routine. Ours is dinner at 5.30pm, bath at 6, stories at 6.30 then brushing teeth, saying goodnight to big sister and toys (I know, I know, it’s sadly elaborate) and then songs before turning out the light.
  • Communicate firmly – I have to remember that Walter is 18 months old now and understands everything I say. It’s easy to forget this because he’s still my baby and doesn’t really talk. But he’s a cluey one! I find it’s effective to place him in his cot and lay a hand on his chest before saying “Goodnight” quite firmly and explaining that I’m leaving and it’s time to go to sleep.
  • Don’t run straight back in – I never leave my babies to cry if they’re upset but I also think it’s important not to run back in the moment they cry out. If he cries out, I’ll usually wait to see if he’s really crying or just “Mama….Mamaaaaaa…” type protesting. If it’s protesting, I’ll leave him until it either resolves (he often goes quiet after a few minutes) or escalates into a proper cry.
  • If you go back in, don’t leave – Once I go back into the room I’m there for good. I find going in and out only distresses him more and takes longer. When I go back in I lay Walter down in the cot and repeat that it’s time to sleep. I then pat him until he goes to sleep. I really try not to pick him up – whenever I do, I can guarantee he will call out again the next night. Sometimes it takes 10-15 minutes of patting to get him to sleep but it is so worth it!
  • Don’t undo all your hard work at nap time – I find if I then rock him to sleep or give him a bottle at nap time the following day, it renders the previous night’s drama useless. It’s important to stick to the same routines day and night.

When I write it down like that it sounds pretty simple, but of course it isn’t in practice – it’s hard to know what to do with an older baby who is smart and determined, and willing to stand at the end of his crib and scream for just about as long as it takes! I find being calm and firm the best approach – if you’re going through the same thing, I hope you and your toddler are back to uninterrupted nights in no time!

Z

FOUR

A big Happy Birthday to my darling daughter Heike, who turned FOUR yesterday. I can’t believe how quickly those four years have gone. I remember her being a baby and thinking, wow, she will be four one day, and that is so old. And here we are, and it’s not that old really. She’s still a tiny little girl, learning about the world, just four trips around the sun. photo-32

But then again, she is so grown up! She fetches things for me and does little jobs and we have interesting conversations. She cares deeply for her brother and her friends and is an excellent nurse to the sick (unlike her Mum, who freaks out!). She loves science and nature and knows more about bugs and spiders and butterflies than I ever have. She goes off to school on the bus every morning and gets dropped off at lunch time full of stories. “I ate a vegetable at school today Mum, are you proud of me?!”

Given that two years ago we would have a guaranteed 30 minute tantrum if we so much as brandished a toothbrush, I count it as a small miracle that this child is now fastidious about teeth brushing! Morning and night she has to brush her teeth so “they don’t fall out” and she presents them to me for inspection – “Mum, are they all white?” She’s taught her brother her techniques and he looks at her adoringly as they brush their teeth together each day.

We are very close, she and I. We have a special bond. There was a lot of time when it was just the two of us, and she was challenging, and only I could handle her. Now she is growing up, and very easy to take out and about, and just as happy to spend the day out with her Dad, or her Granny, or a friend. And her brother needs his Mum more, he’s learning to talk and assert himself, he’s in the danger age! So that sense of dependence on me is waning, but she’s still my first child, and I think that relationship is unique in most families.

She still has her moments, that’s for sure. Just this morning she threw an entire pack of snap cards in my face because I wouldn’t let her win. She is a force to be reckoned with. She has her Mum’s confidence and outspoken nature combined with her Dad’s ambition and ego. Surely one day she will be ruler of the world?! It would not surprise me. That said, nothing much would – this child is nothing if not unique!

We had a magical day yesterday, visiting her school for her birthday celebration and watching her interact with her school friends, which really just filled my heart right up. Her grandparents are here from Australia and it was so nice to have them with us. We all went out for a relaxing lunch and then off to Disneyland for the afternoon – we couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, everything went smoothly and the weather was perfect and we just had the best time. I hope she remembers it.

So, Happy Birthday Heike! I hope that four is another great year for us. You’ll always be my number one girl.

A Big Fat Mess

Heike’s latest obsession is The Solar System. She borrowed a book about planets from her Mandarin teacher which peaked her interest, but sadly it was written entirely in Chinese and my own knowledge of space is very pathetic. All I could tell her was which planet was which, based on my memory of the childhood rhyme “My Very Early Mother Just Sat Up Near Pluto” and even then I struggled to remember if Mercury or Mars was the “Mother”.

So off we went to the bookshop and bought a book about the solar system, which is extremely interesting (okay, I know, I should know all this stuff!) and gets read every night. Today at school was library day and she borrowed yet another space book, so now my knowledge is back up to primary school level.

There are two things that strike me whenever I think about space, so much so that I often don’t really want to think about it. The first thing is, how strangely perfect and magical it all is. I mean, those big, perfectly spherical balls rotating around a beautiful gaseous sun? And like, the only reason there is even life on earth is that it is the perfect distance from the sun for that to happen. It’s just TOO perfect and it makes me get very philosophical and religious and then google “Big Bang Theory” and then my brain starts to hurt and I google “When does Keeping Up With The Kardashians start again?”

The second thing that strikes me is how completely insignificant we are. How utterly, utterly inconsequential. I mean, there are 7 billion people on earth alone. And earth is one of eight planets in its solar system. And sure, there may not be life on those other planets (that we know of) but they dwarf us. There is a hurricane on Jupiter that has been blowing for 400 years! Just doing its thing! And you know when you look up into the sky at night and you think you see pretty, twinkling stars? They are actually other solar systems, that probably have their own suns, and their own planets that are just the right distance from their suns to harbour 7 billion of their own alien people.

What is it all for?!

And so, I think, what does any of it matter? Just live your own happy existence, because you only get one chance… And then I see an image of a three year old child washed up on a beach. And suddenly things seem significant again.

It is completely embarrassing to admit that I only knew snippets of information about the Syrian conflict before last week, but I’ve never professed to be an expert on current affairs. Yes, I am a bleeding heart liberal but I’ve always admitted to thinking more about what I’m going to wear the next day and who’s going to get eliminated on The Bachelor than the global refugee crisis. But that image struck a chord with me, and yes that makes me a cliche, but the best kind. Because now, I can’t not think about it and I can’t not act. And hopefully there are hundreds of thousands of other cliches out there who will start donating money and sponsoring children and having important conversations.

So yes, we’ve made a big fat mess of things here on planet earth. And I still do stand by my sentiment that you have to look out for you and yours, to eat that cake, buy that dress, breathe deep and think about all the other solar systems. But maybe if all the everyday Mums like me speak about the situation in Syria and make one small move to help, we can clean our act up.