The Power of Parenting

I’m the mother of a three year-old child. As each day passes, she grows more and more independent. She insists on putting her own shoes on (the wrong feet). She insists on microwaving her own hot chocolate (for 30 minutes). She insists on dressing herself (in no shirt, a tiara and three pairs of pants).

Of course I know it’s important for children to grow up and develop their own sense of self whateverblahblahblah, but I’m absolutely terrified. Terrified that this new independence will also breed independent thought and opinion on one issue of great importance to me: silly costumes.

Exhibit A: Baby Santa

As the parents of young children will testify, dressing children in ridiculous costumes is our only way to experience complete and total control/exhilaration at the expense of our beautiful offspring. Some people say it’s humiliating. I think it’s therapeutic. Dressing them like a tiny lobster makes us forget they smeared their own feces all over the bathroom floor.

The window of time that I can get away with this is very small. Sooner or later my child’s tiny human brain will create the neuro-pathways required to fully understand how insane I am. One day she’ll simply refuse to play along and say something far too mature for her age about how I’m exploiting her for my own personal amusement. I expect this will happen by the time she turns four.

I’ll then have to decide whether to give in to my child’s silly demands for humane treatment. If the answer is no, then I have two options:

1. Transform myself into a fully-fledged psychotic pageant mother and force her to dress like a sexy Elvis for money and giant tiaras. (I was born and raised in Texas, so I am genetically predisposed to this option)

2. Find a cunning way to trick her into thinking it’s her idea.

For now, I’ve chosen option 2. I will instill in her a love and respect of history and culture. I will show her that the past is full of people who took risks, forged difficult lives in new worlds, and became the strong, resilient, admired people they were by wearing ridiculous costumes. My daughter will be so intensely appreciative of those people that she’ll insist on paying homage to them by emulating them. She’ll refuse to spend Halloween celebrating dead people from Mexico dressed as Minnie Mouse. Instead she’ll do historical re-enactments of the brave people who walked this earth before her, dressed as tubes of toothpaste.

May the following costumes inspire her.

Colgate toothpaste

Ian Crane, dressed up as a tube of Colgate toothpaste

Ian Crane, dressed up as a tube of Colgate toothpaste. James, Frances M (Mrs), fl 1988: Slides of family, friends, holidays and world trips. Ref: PA12-2551-6. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Mountaineer (with functioning pick ax)

Noel Ross as a child, dressed as a mountaineer - Photograph probably taken by Malcolm Ross

Noel Ross as a child, dressed as a mountaineer – Photograph probably taken by Malcolm Ross. Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972: Photographic albums, prints and negatives. Ref: 1/2-054916-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Oh Christmas Tree

Studio portrait of unidentified girl dressed as Christmas tree with ornaments, probably Christchurch

Studio portrait of unidentified girl dressed as Christmas tree with ornaments, probably Christchurch. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955: Negatives. Ref: 1/2-185181-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Biscuit Tin Robot

Outdoors portrait in front of a dark sheet, an unidentified teenaged boy, head covered, in fancy dress 'Aulsebrook & Co' biscuit boxes costume, probably Christchurch region

Outdoors portrait in front of a dark sheet, an unidentified teenaged boy, head covered, in fancy dress ‘Aulsebrook & Co’ biscuit boxes costume, probably Christchurch region. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955: Negatives. Ref: 1/2-184401-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Letter Box

Studio portrait of an unidentified boy in fancy dress as a GR Post Office Letterbox, showing the boy standing next to a wooden high chair and resting his right arm on it, possibly Christchurch district

Studio portrait of an unidentified boy in fancy dress as a GR Post Office Letterbox, showing the boy standing next to a wooden high chair and resting his right arm on it, possibly Christchurch district. Maclay, Adam Henry Pearson, 1873-1955: Negatives. Ref: 1/2-163510-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Home again home again jiggity jog

We survived our trip to the great North American continent with our darling 2 year old.

There was laughter. There were tears. There were threats of abandonment.

In a future series of posts, I’ll talk more about the actual holiday, but for now I want to cover traveling with a toddler and what I learned along the way.

Because I’m certifiably insane, we created the world’s worst itinerary for travelling with a small child.

Toddler Trip of Terror 2013. Image attribution: Map of Australia: Maxtremus CC BY-SA 3.0 and Map of North America: Lokal_Profil  CC BY-SA 2.5

Toddler Trip of Terror 2013.
Image attribution: Map of Australia: Maxtremus CC BY-SA 3.0 and Map of North America: Lokal_Profil CC BY-SA 2.5

As you saw in my last blog post before the big trip, I was paranoid beyond belief that all the flights and the Ruby-wrangling would send me to an early grave/mental hospital.

The Arsenal of tools I gathered to keep Ruby’s boredom at bay and my sanity intact had some success. The small wrapped toys were a hit. Everytime she behaved like an angel, we gave her a present. Everytime she behaved like the devil, we gave her a present. The only downside to giving her gifts every other hour was that once we were off the plane she continued demanding them. The tablet loaded with kid apps and videos was so amazing. The colouring books and crayons were a waste of space.

Toddlers have an attention span of about 10 minutes max. This means that, in corporate jargon-speak, you have to diversify your entertainment portfolio. One hour of flight time might look like this:

00:00 – Toddler sits in seat and refuses to wear seatbelt, so you distract her with shiny tablet and Peppa Pig episodes
10:00 – Toddler finishes watching two back-to-back episodes of Peppa Pig, gets bored, so you thumb through the SkyMall magazine asking her to name what she sees
10:30 – Toddler names a few things then tries to rip the pages out, so you read her a Thomas book
19:00 – Thomas book finishes and toddler demands snack
21:00 – Toddler finishes snack then drops remaining pretzels on the floor
22:00 – After discreetly shuffling pretzels under seat, you take toddler for walk down the aisles
26:00 – Toddler returns to seat and refuses to wear seatbelt, so you distract her by giving her a wrapped present (match-car)
36:00 – Toddler drops match-car under seat
37:00 – Mum retrieves match-car from under seat and snacks on pretzels also found under seat
40:00 – Toddler takes shoes off
41:00 – Toddler watches two more episodes of Peppa Pig, gets bored, so you sing Itsy-bitsy-spider
44:00 - Mum goes to toilet on pretense of having to pee but really just taking a much needed break
58:00 – Mum returns, dodges questions of concern for prolonged bathroom visit from husband
60:00 – Start all over again

My advice for traveling with tots

After 60 hours of in-flight or in-car travel over a four-week period, I feel qualified enough to offer these very helpful tips for traveling with a toddler. Some of these things we tried on our trip. Some of them are things that, upon reflection, we should’ve tried.

Lower your expectations

This is paramount! Do not sit back and assume your child will be an angel on a 13 hour flight. There is no such thing. Assume they’ll be a holy terror, and you’ll be just fine. For me that meant being as prepared as possible. Run through all the scenarios in your mind. If they do X, I will do Y. Lowering your expectations also means that when they behave for even 5 minutes, your expectations will be exceeded and you can relax.

Pay attention to your child

Man, this one is tough. By far the most exhausting tool in the Arsenal was my undivided attention. I had to pay attention to my child non-stop for 13 hours. I definitely couldn’t make that a regular thing. For those 13 grueling hours, just keep reminding yourself that you are not an autonomous adult who makes their own choices in life. You are a butler.

Travel light

Check the buggy, check the bags, check the kid. The less you have to worry about when sprinting through the international terminal at LAX, the better. Depending on the size of your child, they can either be checked at the check-in desk or at the oversized baggage area.

I’ll end this post with a triptych of my favourite photos from our trip.

Sleeping in Seattle

Sleeping in Seattle

The Trans-Pacific Ruby Plan

We’re flying from Australia to America in two weeks.

I’ve always said the worst age to take a child on a long-haul flight is 2 years old. They’re tyrannical. They’re demanding. They’re tiny little dictators.

Brushing Teeth

So what if I’m brushing my teeth with a sock. I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!

Guess how old Ruby is.

Aw crap.

The last time Ruby went on a long-haul flight was 2011, when she was 8 months old. It was a simpler time. We had a seat at the front of the plane with a clip-on bassinet that she slept in most of the way. When she was awake, she was either eating or cooing. The second she got a bit grumpy I breastfed her. Silver bullet.

Ruby with Auntie Jeanette

A simpler time, visiting Auntie Jeanette in Dallas in 2011.

This time around I’ll be strapped into a giant mechanical bird hurling through the air at 500 mph with a tiny Napoleon for 13 hours and 40 minutes. 13 hours. And 40 minutes.

There is hope

Luckily for us, in the last few months Ruby has entered the Age of Reason. She understands that sometimes she can’t have what she wants. Six months ago we would’ve been totally screwed. Sure she still screams like a banshee when she doesn’t get her way, but she’s much better at understanding my explanation for why she can’t have what she wants.

The Arsenal

Despite her occasional tantrums, Ruby is generally pleasant and well-behaved, but I still live in fear of her going absolutely off-the-rails during our flight.  The only thing that will put my mind at ease about this whole thing is knowing I have an arsenal of tools for managing this situation.  You may recall the last time I built an arsenal.  It came in VERY handy.

For this arsenal, here’s what I’ve included so far and in no particular order:

  • In-flight entertainment system
  • Stuff she can point at and name inside and outside the plane (“Clouds”, “Sun”, “Oxygen mask”)
  • Small wrapped toys for her to open throughout the flight (including a matchcar, a tiny Etch-a-sketch, a set of plastic farm animals, and a wind-up walking dinosaur)
  • My undivided attention
  • Colouring books and crayons
  • A Samsung tablet loaded with heaps of kiddie apps
  • Walking up and down the aisles
  • Showing her how much joy she can get from making fun of the Skymall magazine
  • Showing her how much joy she can get from making fun of the emergency landing card
  • Snacks

Surely some of you have travelled with your kids – got anything to add (besides sleep-inducing drugs)?

A perfectly good excuse for such a long absence

I’ve been working on a very important project over the last few months. Once you see what it is, you’ll totally forgive me for abandoning this blog.

And no, I’m not pregnant again. It’s not *that* kind of project.

I am absolutely thrilled to report that after many long years of perfecting my own cheesy smile, I have successfully passed it on to my beautiful, prodigious child. She may not realise the significance of this achievement, but I hope in the future as she’ll be thankful that I bestowed upon her the best cheesy smile ever in the history of the world.

Here is a tiny sample of photos featuring the classic Chelsea cheesy smile. The last photo is Ruby and her classic Chelsea cheesy smile (TM). Now I know EXACTLY how Mozart’s dad felt when his son wrote and performed his own composition for European royalty at the tender age of 5.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen
Chelsea being Chelsea
Unadulterated glee

Seoul
Snow in Seoul!

Merry Christmas!
Ruby in Tree with Overprotective Mum
Most definitely my child

Yes she’s wearing her toy box as a skirt. My job here is done!

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Why you gotta go and make things so complicated?

Remember when brushing your teeth was an activity that was uninterrupted and virtually unnoticed by any other person in your house?  Remember when you used to be able to pour yourself a glass of milk without having to ‘take turns’ with someone else?

These are simple pleasures of a bygone era, and I now cherish my wonderful memories of these mundane and solitary tasks.  You know why?

Because having a toddler means those boring business-of-life moments are now a shared and often excruciatingly painful experience.  There is now a tiny person near you at all times who wants to do everything you want to do.  Even if their tiny little hands and arms don’t have the fine motor skills and strength to do it without making a complete and total mess everywhere.

Exhibit A:

Chris decided to go for a run at around 7.15 tonight (alone).  Ruby saw that he had changed into his running clothes and began to protest: MY BYE-BYE. MY RUNNING.

Chris, being the amazing guy he is, offered to go on his run pushing Ruby in her mountain buggy.  She put on her shoes (which she hates wearing), then promptly removed them (see, I told you).  She then decided she absolutely had to wear her winter jacket to go outside in 30C/85F degree weather.

At this point Chris changes back into his normal clothes because a run is most certainly out of the question now, as any suggestion to Ruby of getting in the buggy are met with an aggressive hand-wave and a resounding NO.

By now it’s 7.45, and with her bedtime approaching, Chris decides to take her on a short walk.  She accepts this new plan and decides to bring her new scooter.  She insists on taking her ball (which is impossible to carry while riding the scooter).  After some convincing she ditches the ball, then insists on bringing her Dorothy the Dinosaur doll (same dilemma as the ball).

She then brings me my gumboots and tries to get me to put them on, despite explaining a million times that I’m not actually going anywhere.

Finally, after some pleading, she goes out the door with scooter (only!) AND her shoes on.

A small leap for Ruby, one giant leap for my sanity.

She even has to stare at the computer exactly like I do!
Hughes Ladies

Summer lovin’ had me a blast

Oh, btw, we survived our trip to Wellington.  I’m sure many of you were assuming, with the luck we’ve had travelling lately, that we perished in a fiery plane crash.  Welp, you’re wrong!

The trip was great.  We caught up with old friends and waxed nostalgic about how much I missed the old gal (Wellington, that is).  I had many wonderful substitute Chrises while we were in Wellington, so I didn’t really feel like a single parent.  It was a huge relief because my biggest worry was what might happen to Ruby when I got too lazy to look after her the other 50% of the time.  Thank God my fabulous friends stepped up, and I’m happy to report I didn’t lose her, not even once!

So anyway, back to that whole summer thing.  IT IS FRICKFRACKIN’ HOT HERE IN MELBOURNE.  I can see Chris rolling his eyes now reading about me complaining about the heat in this post because for the last week I have done nothing but whinge about this cruel, cruel Summer.  Obviously his ability to feel heat was removed at the same time as his ability to feel empathy for my suffering!

We’ve been doing our best to stay cool and busy over the Christmas/Heat Wave period.  As our apartment has no central air of any kind, hot or cold (unless you consider Ruby running in circles at 100 miles an hour ‘air circulation’ – which I don’t!).  This means that if it’s 40 degrees (100 Fahrenheit) outside it won’t be long before it’s 40 degrees inside!  I only took a few days off work, so for the first time ever in the history of holiday breaks, I was relieved to return to the freezing cold office.

While I wasn’t working, we managed to squeeze in some exciting funtivities (yes, funtivities):

Christmas morning was fabulous until Ruby realised there were no more presents to be opened.

Christmas morning 2012

We went to a few beaches where Ruby quickly learned the art of sand castle building and people burying.

New Year's Day 2013

We even managed a few trips to the local pool. After a bit of nervousness tackling the frog slide in the toddler pool, she was off! She’s a real pro now (and will mostly certainly be selected for the next frog slide pro-tour).

Down the slide!

They say it’s gonna be a long, hot summer.  I’ve read scientific papers that say the best way to cool down is to eat ice cream nonstop.  And 9/10 doctors prescribe at least 6 X-Large Slurpees per day to keep your body temperature down.  Guess I better go fill my prescription!

Stay cool everyone, or you’ll turn into this:

Seoul

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An experiment in group thought

Ok people, I need you. More than I’ve ever needed you in my entire life.  But before I get into that, here’s a cute video of Ruby laughing:


Right, back to my desperate plea. On Wednesday, Ruby and I will make our second attempt to visit Wellington.  You may remember our first, (very) ill-fated attempt.  We cannot (cannot!) have a repeat of that miserable experience.

The best way to ensure this trip does not fail is for me to ask you to think very happy thoughts in unison at 9.30am (Melbourne time, whatever that is) on Wed 5 Dec.

This is the time our flight is scheduled to depart.

Science has proven that positive thinking is 100% effective, as evidenced in fictional stories like Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan.

If you’re anything like me, you might want something more specific to think happy thoughts about because thinking generally happy thoughts feels too vague and unfocused.  In that case, focus your thoughts on one of the following topics:

1. Ruby’s physical health

2. My physical health

3. My mental health

4. The physical health of the Air New Zealand airplane

5. The skill of Air New Zealand pilots who will likely have to land the plane in a Classic Wellington Gale (TM).

So make a note, set an alarm, put it in your diary.  For just a few minutes, I need you focused on me and absolutely nothing else*.

*car drivers and surgeons excepted.

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Some parents are horrible, terrible liars

For any parent who tries to convince you that life after having a child ‘isn’t that different’ to life before, they are dirty, filthy liars. Here is one tiny illustration of why those people are completely delusional (and perhaps drunk):

Breakfast before Ruby:

I retrieve bowl and spoon, fill bowl with cereal, sit down and eat it.

Breakfast after Ruby:

Ruby demands ‘grown up’ bowl and spoon. I retrieve it for her and put it on the table. She insists that I eat cereal too, which I don’t want. She then squeals unbearably until I give in and retrieve a bowl and spoon for myself. I pour the cereal and milk for both of us. We both sit down. She takes one bite of her cereal before deciding she wants to switch the bowls and eat from mine instead. She has a few bites from my bowl, as I finish off the tiny bit she had in her bowl. She notices her bowl (my new bowl) is empty and angrily screams her head off like a bad actress in an overacted slasher movie. I try to calm her down and explain that the cereal is gone because she gave it to me to eat. She then tries to pry whatever food is left in my mouth out into her hand.

 
Breakfast

Don’t let the cuteness fool you. They’re designed to look cute right before they unleash their wrath.

A day that will live in infamy

Li'l Hoodlum

Last Saturday Ruby and I were scheduled to fly back to Wellington to catch up with friends.  I was so excited (and I just couldn’t hide it).  However, looks like this time the joke was on me.  There would be no flight and no trip to Wellington.  Because I communicate best in lists, here’s what happened:

Things that went terribly wrong:

  • Ruby vomitted 5 times the night before the flight
  • After taking the train (20 min) to the bus (20 min) to the airport through check in (10 min) through the departure lounge (30 min) through security (20 min) to the gate, the flight was delayed… and delayed… and delayed
  • The flight was cancelled (3 hours after the original time of departure: 9.30am)
  • We were transferred to another flight that would only take us to Auckland, which meant transferring to yet another plane to get to Wellington
  • While in line to board the new flight, Ruby pukes all over me
  • Everyone stares at me and no one offers to help
  • I have a mental breakdown in the bathroom while I wash the puke out of my clothes
  • I decide we’re not flying, then go home where Chris looks green with illness
  • I wake up the next morning and vomit, then spend the rest of the day in bed, immovable

Things that somehow went wonderfully right:

  • During the mental breakdown, a nice gentlemen came over to make sure we were alright
  • Our luggage wasn’t lost or sent to NZ without us
  • The Qantas employee who personally escorted us out of the airport was very, very nice and helpful
  • Air New Zealand waived all service fees when I re-booked our flights
  • I survived

The day was so full of failure, I couldn’t help but learn a few things:

  • Take an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag for both your pukey child and yourself
  • I will always offer to help another parent experiencing a similar crisis
  • Forget the car seat and hire one at your destination
  • If your child vomits five times the night before a long day of flying, don’t assume it’s a random one-off event even if she appears full recovered and happy as Larry the next morning

If you want to see the tragedy unfold in real-time via my twitter updates, check it out on Storify.

 

I knew this day would come

This morning Ruby wheeled her buggy out into the living room, and when she encountered a bit of trouble maneuvering it, she mumbled, ‘Oh dammit’.  Then louder, ‘OH DAMMIT!’.

I reckon it’s going to be more difficult changing ‘shit’ to ‘shivers’ and ‘damn’ to ‘darn’ than it was giving birth.  I wouldn’t say I love swearing, but sometimes it’s the perfect word to use at the worst possible moment.

What am I going to say the next time I accidentally spill coffee down my shirt, or nearly get hit by an idiot driver while I ride my bike to work?  What words can I possible use to yell at the tv while watching Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo that truly conveys my mixed emotions of disbelief, disgust and extreme pleasure?!

This is that defining moment in every parent’s life when they have to dam up the mighty river of free flowing curse words.

Dammit, indeed!

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