One Mother’s Musings on Gender

As soon as I said it, I regretted the comment but that didn’t stop me digging an even bigger hole for myself. My weekly coffee after our library trip has seen me make some really bigoted comments of late, which is strange, because I don’t consider myself a bigoted person. I consider myself quite the opposite, actually. So, the fact that I have caught myself first making comments about race and then gender has me feeling quite ashamed.

We don’t like to admit it but Australia can be quite a racist place, at times. Especially out in the country. I grew up in a regional area and have acquired the habit of categorizing people by their race and their religion. I don’t think any less of people after I’ve categorized them, but it just goes to show that you can’t completely separate yourself from the discourses in which you have grown up. Some ways of speaking and the prejudices embedded in those conversations become naturalized within you, even if you don’t want them to.

This week’s transgression was gender-based. Firstly, I whined about working with Lesbian teachers, who were particularly nasty people. Then, I whined about working with middle-aged women. As I made the comments, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, because I am a feminist. Always have been. I also have a degree in Journalism and English Literature, so I know that language has immense power and can be used to do great harm.

However, there is another reason that I am particularly mortified at myself as well. Not only am I a person who respects women, but I am also the mother of a beautiful daughter. I want the best for her in this world and I want her to treat others with dignity and respect. I want her to treat herself with dignity and respect, as well. I believe that when we make comments that disparage others on the basis of gender or race, we hurt ourselves a little as well by supporting the very patriarchal power structure that subjects us in the first place.

As I was driving home from coffee today, I got to thinking about why I was so particularly mortified at myself and why I had come to make such comments that undermined other women. A lot of it has to do with how disillusioned I feel with second wave and third wave feminism. When I was young, I was fiercely passionate about women’s rights and I had to be, because growing up in the country and then starting a career in commercial radio meant I had a lot of prejudice to fight against. I knew I didn’t have the same opportunities as the boys in my university course and when I did start working, I had a battle to try and be something other than a pretty little thing that read the news with a nice voice. It was a battle I ultimately lost, as the pressure from ignorant, bullying, often lecherous, middle-aged men ultimately drove me out of the job and into teaching. Even in teaching, where women are well represented, it was clear you didn’t get anywhere unless you were a member of the boys’ club or a force to be reckoned with.

My thoughts turned to a segment I saw on the news about Miley Cyrus. Apparently, she is at the centre of a furore over her latest video, her comments about which drew an open letter from Sinead O’Connor and Annie Lennox. I thought about what I would say to Miley, if I had the chance to speak to her. I would counsel her about the way she was representing herself, explaining that you cannot control the way people perceive you (cue: Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”). So, even though she may feel that she were representing herself as an empowered female who is comfortable and in control of her sexuality, others may see her as an object for their gratification and exploitation, devaluing the myriad other talents and gifts that she possesses. I would warn that by allowing herself to be treated this way, she implicitly supports the subjugation of other women, even if she doesn’t mean to.

That is also why I feel third wave feminisim has failed us. It is so hollow and focuses too much on sexuality, as though that is the sum total of what a woman is. The very tool, which means to free us, binds us. Young women take control of their sexuality but end up presenting themselves according to some very damaging stereotypes, which have more in common with pornography than healthy self-expression. Sex sells and some very astute marketers have learnt to hijack young women’s attempts to represent themselves as confident and in-control of their sexuality and turn them into a product to market, regardless of the fact that they are exploiting those young women and undermining them in the process.

So should we turn back to the message of the second wave feminists as a means to fight this? Unfortunately, no, because the well meaning attempts of our mothers and their mothers have failed us too. The second wave tried to bring us equal opportunity in the work place but instead just ended up leaving women with more on our plates than ever before and lead to isolation and lack of support within the female community. As a new mother, I have had to resign from my employment because I just cannot do it all, much as I would like to. Of course, I feel guilty about that, as the expectation is that we should do it all these days and being a stay at home Mum is undervalued. I think that was the unintended by-product of second wave feminism.

So, what does it this have to do with motherhood? I am Mum to a beautiful little girl. I care what sort of a world she grows up in and what sort of a person she matures into. I want her to have every opportunity to have a happy, balanced and successful life.  I need to think about what messages I send her and, more importantly, what example I set. It’s a huge responsibility and something I’ll try to keep in mind next time I’m making careless comments over a coffee at mother’s group.

Sleep Easy … I don’t think so!

Self-flagellation seems to be a specialty of mine. As such, I found myself in an information session about sleep for babies older than six months today run by our local Child Health centre. I constantly live in fear that we’ll lose the precious sleep balance we’ve gained in the last six weeks. So, when some of the other Mums from my mother’s group signed up, I thought it would be a good idea for me to do so too.

The issue is that Little Birdie’s (LB) sleep issues are more complex than a general information session can address. I know this but I still hope there will be some magic answer that will help me to relax in the knowledge that the bad old days won’t return. Of course, that is an unrealistic expectation, and so today’s session was always going to be a let down.

It does drive me nuts that the information given in such sessions is so vague, consisting of what is virtually a string of platitudes, rather than concrete strategies that can help those in trouble. I know there are better answers out there and I was able to access excellent help at the sleep school we attended, but it took me six months to get there. My husband and I were on our knees by the time the help became available. In fact, I was on the edge of a nervous break down. Now that we have graduated, I feel terrified that things will go wrong again, because I know that it is so hard to get more help if we need it and it would take months to get back into the sleep school again.

However, as frustrated as I get by these things, it’s important to focus on the positive. In the scheme of things, today’s session was worthwhile. I learnt a tip for dealing with older babies when they stand up in the cot and you want them to lie down. Apparently, it’s best to sit down yourself and get down on their level and they will most likely follow you. I’ll be filing that away for when LB is standing. At the rate she’s moving, that will be the near future! I also had a chance to ask the nurse a couple questions about diet after the session. As it turns out, I need to give LB less banana, because it’s causing her a few bowl troubles. That was a shame to hear, as LB loves banana. I will have to be a little more creative with the fruit I offer her.

Overall, I think my frustration speaks to some wider issues. According to the nurse who spoke to us today, poor sleeping in babies is largely a first world problem. Apparently, this is because we tend to expect our babies to sleep away from us, when in the third world, children often sleep with their parents and mothers carry their babies more. The SIDS guidelines are very effective in saving babies’ lives but they also discourage sleeping on the belly and co-sleeping, two things that can help babies sleep better. I know LB started sleeping better after she learned to roll and has slept on her tummy ever since. There is also the issue of how isolated new parents are. The old cliché says it takes a village to raise a child but we have very little help available to us. My mother is still working full time and my mother-in-law still tutors, so they have other commitments. I also realize so much knowledge about raising children has been lost from our society. I mostly relied on the Internet to find answers in the early days of LB’s life and the advice varies in quality.

In conclusion, I will still keep educating myself about the best ways to support LB to sleep but it’s not easy. At the end of the day, you can only do your best. Attending today’s session was not a waste of time but it reminded me of why parenting is challenging. However, as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. LB teaches me to be a better person every day and, one day, I’ll look back on this and know it was all worthwhile. In the meantime, I just wish LB sweet dreams!

Play Baby Play: Ball Games

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Apparently, I like a bit of a challenge, so when I recently came across a box set of fifty baby play ideas, I thought I would try to work through the whole box by Little Birdie’s (LB) first birthday. The first card I selected was “ball games”. The card said I should roll the ball to the baby, stand baby up and use her legs to “kick” the ball and line up paper cups, cardboard boxes or egg cartons to use as skittles.

To be truthful, the challenge is just as much for me as it is for LB. I want to keep putting in my best effort for her and this helps me to stay creative and enthusiastic, even when I’m feeling tired and a little stuck in a rut. I made sure I was prepared for the challenge by asking my husband to purchase a packet of disposable cups with the weekly groceries.  The cups he brought home were clear plastic, making me a little concerned about how LB would react to them. Would they seem like a target, even though they were clear? However, I pressed on regardless. I had visions of a giggling baby as we played our little game and my heart warmed at the thought of it.

I found a little mini soccer ball that we got with some sunscreen that we purchased recently at the beach and I set the cups up in a line. I sat LB a short distance away and rolled the ball to the cups. It was underwhelming. The ball just pushed the cup a little to the side. LB wasn’t even looking at the ball! I thought maybe we had progressed a bit too quickly, so I spent a few moments rolling the ball to her instead. She still really didn’t get it, preferring to suck on the ball, rather than having a go at rolling it back. I then decided to stand her up and swing her gently to “kick” the ball. Again, she wasn’t really interested. I decided it was time to give up.

When my husband came home, I told him about our little game and invited him to have a go with LB as well. That turned out to be the best idea I’d had all day. Ball games just come naturally to men. He arranged the cups in a diamond shape, like you would for 10 pin bowls and helped LB move her little leg to kick the ball. Finally, I heard the giggles I’d been waiting for.

We played with the game a few more times across the week. However, it turns out LB’s favourite occupation is sucking on the cups. Do I think it was a waste of time? Absolutely not. Both LB’s father and I had fun playing the game with her and she is starting to learn about balls rolling. Now it’s on to the next challenge.

The first card I drew was “Tickle Time”, which involved tickling your baby and playing “This Little Piggy”. We already do this quite regularly, so I’m drawing again. The next card I chose was to create a “Photo Gallery” for bubby. Sounds like a lot of work but I’m committed. LB doesn’t really look at the pictures yet when I read to her, so I wonder how she’ll respond to photos? I do show her the pictures I take of her on my phone and she smiles and she also likes looking at her reflection in the mirror. I have no idea if she knows she is looking at herself. This should make for an interesting challenge!

A mother knows her kind

Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer.

Radhanath Swami

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/mother_nature.html#hEodRQVQVkWXrrDw.99

We had an unexpectedly beautiful day yesterday. Little Birdie (LB) woke very early, so it was a three-nap day. My husband and I wanted to enjoy our Saturday and decided the only way we could do something was to drive far enough away that LB could have a nap on the way there and another on the way back in the car. Therefore, the beach seemed a logical conclusion. We set off, looking forward to a nice lunch in a scenic location.

Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones with such ideas. It was the first day of a long weekend and it seemed every man and his dog also wanted to take a nice little drive to the beach. The traffic jam started fairly early into our journey and neither of us relished being stuck in a car with a crying baby for hours. My husband swung into action and we decided to head out West into the countryside instead. We made a snap decision to visit a winery and lavender farm a bit over an hour from our house. It was an ideal length of time to give LB a short nap and get us to our destination in time for lunch.

As soon as I hopped out of the car at the winery, I felt waves of relaxation wash over me. My eyes soaked up visions of grape vines, rose bushes, rows of lavender, cattle grazing and the surrounding mountains. We were some of the first diners to arrive for lunch and were rewarded with a table in front of a large window with a spectacular view. It was hard to imagine the day getting much better.

Unfortunately, the restaurant did not have high chairs, so my husband had to pop back out to the car to get our pram. Since we were virtually on our own in the restaurant, I decided to take LB a little closer to the window to have a look outside. It was then that I saw her. A mother kangaroo was in amongst the rows of lavender gazing up at us, with a little joey in her pouch.

It was an amazing moment. Two mothers holding their babies gazing back at each other. She had soft brown eyes with long lashes and it amazed me that she didn’t seem uncomfortable that I had noticed her and try to hop away. It was as though we empathized with each other. I imagined her telling her joey to look at the mummy and the bubby in the window, just as I was telling LB to look at the kangaroo and her joey.

This little kangaroo and her joey were just outside the window as we ate lunch.

This little kangaroo and her joey were just outside the window as we ate lunch.

Soon, my husband returned with the pram and I motioned to him to come and have a look at the kangaroo. He came over, phone camera in hand. Then, as suddenly as the moment had come upon us, it was gone. My husband’s presence seemed to break the spell. The kangaroo looked more wary and I knew it was time to go back to the table and order lunch. However, the thoughts stayed with me, that feeling of a mother knowing another mother’s heart, an understanding of the love and commitment it takes to raise a little one, the curiosity about another mother’s experience and a feeling of mutual respect. It seems motherhood is a force of nature and it’s in more natural surroundings that you can appreciate why it is so.

So what is it then?

It seems we have a mystery on our hands. Recently, we took Little Birdie (LB) on her first holiday to the beach. We were having a lovely time, but it was a little bit cold for the first couple of days, even though it is Spring here. So, we hadn’t had a chance to take LB for her first swim in the pool yet. On our second last day, however, an opportunity presented itself.

I was very excited. As always, I was conscious of preserving LB’s routine so that she could have her naps but the week had been going unexpectedly well in that respect. I made a plan to take her for a swim straight after breakfast, so that she wasn’t exposed to too much sun. I was also a little concerned about LB getting enough protein, so decided to give her some scrambled egg for breakfast. Her daddy made a lovely egg, while I put some sunscreen on LB. Her Daddy then fed LB the egg, but she wasn’t too impressed. She had eaten scrambled egg once before and had consumed most of it but this time she wasn’t having a bar of it. I made her a second breakfast of cereal, yoghurt and banana instead and she was much happier. I then put her on the play mat while I got dressed nearby.

It was then that things took a turn for the worst. I was distracted by my joy at having dropped a dress size, allowing me to don a swimsuit I hadn’t worn since my mid twenties. I pranced out to show my husband when I noticed LB was making a quiet little mewing noise on her play mat. I thought she must be over-tired and felt disappointed that our swim plans were about to go awry. However, it was worse than that. I picked her up to comfort her and noticed her face was swollen and blotchy. I carried her into the main bedroom, calling for my husband. I pulled off LB’s little suit to find she was bright red and covered in rash and hives from the shoulders up. By this time, the swelling on her face was getting worse. My husband came in, took one look at LB and told me to call the ambulance.

It took twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive but luckily for us, LB kept breathing the whole time. By the time the ambulance arrived, LB’s reaction had started to calm, although she still looked dreadful. She was very good-natured about the whole thing, sitting up on my lap looking so tiny and vulnerable in just her nappy and singlet. We made a game of having her vital signs checked, and she seemed very amused by the whole thing. The ambulance officers suggested that we put a cool compress on her and the reaction begin to abate. We didn’t need to give her any medication in the end and we decided not to take her to hospital. Instead, I rang our local doctor back home after the ambulance left and they advised us to get some antihistamine.

My husband and I felt very fragile for the rest of the day. We didn’t want to let LB out of our sight! It was terrifying to put her down for a nap, because I couldn’t keep an eye on her while she was in her bed without waking her. I’ve since been told that we probably should have taken her to hospital for observation, but the medical staff we worked with at the time didn’t suggest that we do so. Apparently, there is a risk of a delayed reaction a few hours later. Luckily, it all work out for the best and we finished our holiday and headed home the next day.

It is now almost three weeks later and we have been to see an allergist. This is where the mystery kicks in. LB had a patch test for all the common allergens that affect babies her age and didn’t react to any of them! The allergist said we may have gotten a false negative or she may already have grown out of the allergy. It is also possible that she reacted to something else in the holiday unit. However, for now, we have been advised to live as though she has an egg allergy and we’ll try her on egg again when she’s older under more controlled conditions.

We’ve had so much grief lately, with the death of a dear friend’s husband and my uncle being diagnosed with terminal cancer, that this incident made us very aware of the fleeting nature of life and how vulnerable LB is. All parents have to deal with medical emergencies from time to time but that doesn’t make it any easier. The whole incident was a stark reminder that life is precious and we should treasure every day we have together as a family. It also goes to show how, in such a short time, you realize that you can’t imagine life with this little person who has become the centre of your world.

I will include a link to some information on egg allergy from the Sydney Children’s Hospital for anyone who is interested: http://www.sch.edu.au/health/factsheets/joint/?egg_allergy.htm

Loving the Library

 The medicine chest of the soul.

—   Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes.

Nutrimentum spiritus.

(Food for the soul.)

—   Inscription on the Berlin Royal Library.

A wonderful thing happened today. Little Birdie (LB) woke up really, really early. That doesn’t seem like a good thing when your baby is a poor sleeper. However, today it was a happy coincidence, because today is a day when some of the mummies from my mother’s group meet at a local library for “Rhyme Time”, a nursery rhyme session for babies.

LB and I used to attend this session every week, before we went to sleep school, but since then, I favour her morning nap over a morning at the library. LB still struggles with day naps and by the time I get her to sleep in the morning, “Rhyme Time” has started. Thus, there is often no library visit for us. In the past, LB has been somewhat ambivalent towards “Rhyme Time”, so I suspect missing it doesn’t bother her. She loves nursery rhymes, but as she has had a tendency to be so chronically overtired, the stress of the event meant she was a little surly or difficult to deal with during the sessions. I got hold of a copy of the run sheet for “Rhyme Time” and the two of us have our private session at home, which she loves, but that doesn’t help her learn about social situations.

I, on the other hand, love “Rhyme Time”. Not just because I am a bit of a performer (not really, OK … just a little) but because some of the other Mums from mother’s group go there and they are lovely. Just being around them lifts my spirit. Even when I existed on the thought of sleep alone, I would try my best to get to “Rhyme Time”, because I would always come home feeling so positive. The secret is that we go for coffee afterwards. We take over one of the local coffee shops, feed our babies, discuss our week and relax. The library is located in an excellent spot too, with easy parking, a good department store and some grocery stores nearby. One of the biggest attractions for me is the organic grocer. I swing in just before I go home and stock up on food for LB and my hair dye.

I am so grateful to my local library and their program for babies. It’s nothing grand, just a librarian singing some nursery rhymes out of tune while holding a teddy bear. However, it means the world to LB and I. It allowed me to get out of the house and connect with others when I was really struggling and I think LB has come to appreciate it too. For the first time, she was really smiling when I was picking her up and swinging her around today. As she grows older, I am sure we will spend lots more time in the library and I hope she will really come to love reading the books she borrows, just as I did growing up. It’s just another reason why you should love your local library. It seems libraries aren’t just places to house books, they are community hubs and mine is certainly helping me feel connected. Maybe you should see what your local library could offer you.

Silence is Golden

I have never appreciated silence more than since the birth of Little Birdie (LB). Background noise has never really bothered me, I’m always listening to music and my jobs have always been in noisy places. In fact, when I was reading the news on commercial radio, I got very used to listening to two different things at once, with one earphone on and the other off. In more recent times, I’ve gotten used to the constant rumble of voices in the background while I’m teaching (not from my class of course!?..).

So, I didn’t think twice about noise when we bought our house. Our home is quite close to the city and perches on a long thin block, flanked by houses on either side. You look straight out of our windows into our neighbours’ windows. In fact, we are so close you can reach out the window and touch each other. However, that didn’t seem to matter when we bought, because our house is almost eighty years old and has beautiful waffle glass windows and gorgeous high ceilings. You can’t see the neighbours at all when you are inside … but you can hear them. In recent times, I’m finding you can hear them more and more, because their families are growing. We now have families with three children on either side. There’s a certain level of noise that co-exists with a big family. I know it all too well, as there were three children in my family growing up. Normally, I would find all the noise nostalgic and charming, but that’s all changed since the arrival of LB. Now I’m consumed with concern that she will be woken from her nap by the ruckus.

Meanwhile, it is not just the noise of the neighbourhood children that concerns me. Our house is a unique-fixer-upper. Actually, so is nearly every other house in the street. It’s a beautiful area and as the older residents move on, young families are buying the houses and renovating them. It’s one of the big attractions of the area. The suburb is filled with beautiful old houses brimming with character, good-sized backyards and excellent proximity to services, while being only a few kilometres from the city. It’s a great place to live, but all those renovations make a lot of noise and noise is the enemy of the sleeping baby.

My concern about noise is exacerbated by the fact that our house is noisy. There are breezeways above the bedroom doors which are beautiful, but let in all the noise. We have lovely polished wooden floors, but they echo and the floorboards creak as you move around. To make matters worse, the door handle of LB’s bedroom has broken and the door is slightly warped, so I can’t close it completely. It has led to the ridiculous situation of me hiding downstairs trying to keep quiet while she is sleeping. In the meantime, the housework is piling up around me. I’ve tried playing the radio so that is blocks out the background noise for LB, but that doesn’t seem to be working. I’ve now resorted to replacing the door handles and temporarily covering the breezeways in an attempt to give LB a chance to sleep and me a chance to move around while she’s doing so. However, it’s breaking my heart to cover the breezeways, as the ornate features are one of the principal reasons we bought the house.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this entry. I hadn’t realized how much I had come to crave silence until yesterday. Yesterday was a lovely day. For once, LB was sleeping well, she was in a good mood when she was awake and she was eating well. I used my time during her nap to sort the washing and I was really enjoying the morning. Then it happened. I heard a loud, thundering, enthusiastic knock to the front door. I was downstairs but I could practically feel the reverberations. My heart sunk, my stomach did a flip-flop. I was terrified that it was the end of my perfect morning and bubby was about to wake. I scampered up the stairs, trying to make as little sound as possible and practically floating to the door, ready the shush whomever was on the other side. I peeked through the stained glass and … no one was there. Puzzled, I concluded that it must have been the kids next door playing and the noise had travelled through. However, the mystery was solved later that afternoon when a very loud and overly enthusiastic girl knocked on our door asking for a charitable donation. It turns out she had knocked on the neighbour’s door earlier in the day and it had been so loud, it sounded like she had knocked on my door. She mentioned how the neighbour had told her to be quiet because there were babies sleeping. However, the information didn’t seem to sink in, because she was very loud while she was at my door. Luckily, LB was awake. I did give her a donation in the end but she’ll never know the panic she had caused me!

The moral to this story is that all other considerations go by the wayside when you have a baby. Their needs just have to come first. Since the birth of LB, I have learned to love the quiet. Overall, this is probably a good thing, as it’s important to take some time out from the rat race that is modern living. So many good things happen in the silence, like meditation, relaxation, contemplation and restful sleep. In LB’s world, silence is golden and now it is is golden in my world too.