What is the Perfect Age Gap Between Having Children?

If you knew me and my husband you would know that we didn’t exactly meticulously plan out when we were going to have our children. If we had, we may be considerably better off financially (because of visas we were on and working arrangements at the time). At the age of 33, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and given a rather gloomy prognosis from the specialist. He informed me that it could take as long as 10 years for someone with my condition to conceive and wellit might never happen.

I was devastated and left the clinic in tears. The one thing I’d always been absolute on was my desire to have a family.

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Bedtime Shenanigans

We have finally got our 3 year old and 18 month old daughters to sleep in a room together. Admittedly, it’s a work in progress, but after several disastrous attempts previously it’s a start. We took the plunge after our youngest began to sleep through a few weeks ago (the same time we weaned her from breastfeeding – coincidence?).

Ironically the youngest has now generally become the better sleeper. She’s still not that keen on going to bed, but once down she usually stays like that until around 6am. Our eldest (who has been a good sleeper since 9 months old), has started having nightmares during the night often resulting with her in our bed or waking super early, yelling at the top of her lungs for Daddy. This early morning wakeup call is almost always before 6am. My husband or I, still recovering from the abrupt awakening, jump out of bed and with bleary eyes make a dash for their bedroom in an effort to grab her and avoid her sister waking. This sprint/stumble is more often than not in vain as we are usually greeted by both of them wide awake, one or both crying and ready to start the day.

So, at approximately 6.29pm yesterday I formulated a plan. I use the term ‘plan’ loosely as plan suggests a certain degree of thought and preparation went into it – this wasn’t the case. Aware that the eldest is growing out of her cot and we need to set her up for the transition from cot to bed, I decided it was the perfect time to make the big step of taking the side off the cot.

For the whole of her life to date, she has slept within the safe confinement of a bassinet or cot. I like the words confinement and safe very much when it comes to toddlers. It helps me relax and (when they allow it), sleep. I have been happy in the knowledge that she was not free to naturally roam or perch anywhere except in her own cot. She could not escape, hurt herself, or her sister.

At 6.30pm last night I began pulling the cot apart, much to the delight of the girls who squealed and giggled in excitement. Their happiness at the most banal things always amazes me. I suspect it was more to do with the fact it looked like I was deviating in some way from our normal bedtime routine, thus assisting them with their usual delay tactics.

“And my sister’s cot now Mummy?” the eldest suggested helpfully when I’d finished.

“This is happening to your cot because you are such a big girl now. If you wake up and need Mummy or Daddy, you can just step off the bed and come to our room. No need to scream anymore” I explained to her. Nodding her head purposefully, eyes twinkling like grains of sand in the sunshine, she proudly grinned back at me. She loves believing she’s getting special treatment due to being so grown up and was excited by her ‘new’ bed.

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Jumping up and down in joy on the new side-less cot

Both girls climbed on top and proceeded to jump up and down in joy. As is often the case, they are always able to find a sudden burst of energy pre-bedtime. Interestingly they didn’t have this energy three hours earlier when I needed them to do the short walk home from the playground. No, I had to carry both of them home as they collapsed in protest on the ground.

Whilst my husband and I try desperately to maintain a sensible and calm bedtime routine consisting of bath, books/quiet time and bed -the reality is very different.  They both get easily distracted as we try to read to them preferring to jump off the sofa and dance around the lounge naked hysterically. The words calm and quiet time are wholly inappropriate to use for our house at bedtime. It is clear that our 2 children are completely running the show.

When we initiated project ‘get them in the same room’, we put the youngest down first therefore allowing our eldest to stay up later than usual. Unfortunately this has backfired on us. A few days in, the youngest started to play up often taking us an hour or longer to get down. This meant the eldest going to bed later and later. If we suggested she went to bed first, she refused. A creature of habit, regardless of how exhausted she is, she’d reply with, “But my sister has to go to bed first”.

So we continued to try to get the youngest to sleep first.

This is what happens:

  • On approaching her with any items that that indicate it might be bedtime such as pyjamas, dummy or sleeping bag, she runs screeching in the opposite direction. On picking her up the screeching gets louder, she writhes around, arching her back and her latest trick – holding her breath until she turns blue.
  • Once she’s finally calm in our arms, the minute she senses the slight drop in elevation suggesting she is being placed into the cot – she squirms, strains and protests.
  • If we get past this stage and place her into the cot she proceeds to scream, stamp her feet and shake the sides of the cot. Knowing we are losing the battle but unable to bare her screaming any longer, we pick her up. She points towards the door sobbing.
  • We try to keep her in the room, in the dark however her wriggling and screaming starts again, we put her down. She toddles off, towards the door, pulls it open and runs, as though her life depended on it, into the arms of her sister. They both then begin giggling and jumping up and down in joy.

We’ve been played –  AGAIN!

It became apparent that what she was actually suffering with was FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I came up with an anti-FOMO strategy ( I actually did put a modicum of thought into this plan). I pretended to go out with the eldest, waving goodbye to her sister as we left. It worked… for 3 nights.

Time for another new strategy.

I enlisted the help of my 3 year old suggesting we all play sleeping bunnies in their bedroom. She was keen to help out – as long as it was all on her terms.

By this point we are losing the will to live, feeling desperate and prepred to agree to anything.

Her Terms:

She needs the two cushions from the sofa.

Mummy must lie there. Not there – THERE!

“Please may I have a cushion” I ask.

“No” she replies.

Daddy must lie there. Not there – THERE!

“Please may he have a cushion?” he asks.

“No” she replies.

Her sister must lie there. Not there – THERE!

The door must be shut (making it as difficult as possible for us to make a sneaky escape)

Her music player/projector light must be on (she then spends the following 20 minutes moving it around the room to find the exact perfect spot for it so the projected image has absolutely nothing obstructing it).

At this point we are all lying on the floor in their bedroom and usually myself and my husband are trying desperately not to fall asleep whilst the girls fidget and move around the room.

Gradually as the girls get sleepier we put them in their respective cots.

When we think they are asleep one of us attempts to leave the room commando style (as in crawling across the floor in total silence not naked). Aware that one wrong move could send us back to the beginning our hearts are racing as we will each other on to make a successful escape.

Usually the first person succeeds however their movement slightly disturbs one of the girls resulting in the other person left stuck in the room indefinitely.

Whilst it’s by no means ideal, actually it’s completely ridiculous. It’s become a strangely uniting and amusing time for all involved.

Last night was yet another family bedtime session. I reminded my eldest several times that now she can get out of bed all by herself, if she woke up and needed us she no longer needed to shout at the top of her lungs. I left a light on in the walk through so she could see. All bases covered! You can imagine my disappointment at 4.30am this morning when I was startled awake by the familiar screams for Daddy. I did my usual sleepy sprint into their room. Not quick enough – I was greeted by 2 crying children. “I heard a noise mummy” my eldest sobbed. I reminded her that she could just have come to us herself, to which she replied, “I don’t like the cot side off”. It seemed her initial excitement at her new bed had disappeared, much like my apparent need to sleep past 4.30am.

Hoping to reignite her enthusiasm for her cot I spent the next few hours reminding her of the freedom she now had at the hands of her sideless cot. Finally she replied, “Ok mum, I’ll do that tomorrow”.

We live in hope!

The Gift Of A Sister

Being one of 3 girls, I know what it’s like to have sisters. Growing up there were the obligatory fights and sibling rivalry however there were also hours spent happily together playing princesses, producing theatrical shows for our parents to watch and plotting our escape in order to run away together. As the youngest of the three, I tended to keep out of some of the heavier disagreements that ensued as my elder siblings went through their teenage years of angst and insecurity together. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to hang out with them much during that time, I was younger and not able to do many of the things they did, but I do remember witnessing some of the fights they had about clothes swapping/stealing and boys and was relieved not to be involved.

Regardless of what disagreements have taken place between the 3 of us over the years there is one fact that remains constant – we love each other and would protect and stand up for each other no matter what. Throughout our adult years we have shown solidarity towards each other at times of need and I have come to realise that one of the best presents my parents ever gave me was sisters.

When I found out that I was having another girl only 18 months apart from her older sister, I was ecstatic. To be able to give my first born the gift of a sister felt wonderful. I’m not saying a brother wouldn’t have been equally wonderful but I have no understanding of that. I hoped (and still do hope), that they will be best friends and show each other the same loyalty through times of need as I’ve experienced.

My eldest was 18 months when her sister was born, still pretty much a baby herself she didn’t really know what was going on. Now that she is three I have really started to see the bond between them developing and its heart melting stuff.

When the eldest has to be woken from sleep, it’s not a pretty sight. She grunts and groans, moans and sometimes screams. However, if I send her sister in to wake her up, she’s a different child. Squealing with joy and delight as her sister swipes her over the head with her chubby toddler arms. It seems she can get away with behaving in a way that no other being on the planet could do. When one is crying the other will rush to comfort them. Often it’s more of a rugby tackle to the ground and sometimes it will result in tears but the sentiment is there.

The youngest insists on doing everything her older sister does no matter how ridiculous, inappropriate or dangerous it is. Every day she attempts to put her sisters knickers on over her nappy, climb up on the sofa or high walls (much to my distress) and brush her teeth at the exact same time as her sister whilst both trying to fit precariously on a small activity table in order to reach the sink. As she is too young for toothpaste I perform the same ritual each day, pretending to put some of her sister’s toothpaste on her toothbrush.

It’s not just the youngest who looks up to and worships her sister. This love and adoration is reciprocated by the eldest and she too likes to copy her sister. She tells me at least 20 times every day “I love my sister, so much mummy”, “my little sister’s my best friend mummy” and although she does tell me that Daddy and myself are her best friends too, if she has lost favour with us the label is quick to be withdrawn. To date it’s never been withdrawn about her sister even though she takes her toys, food and often hurts her as she whacks her with a doll, pushes her off a wall giggling or pulls her hair. When the eldest goes to bed she needs to know which way her sister’s head is facing so that she can be the same.

We’ve been lucky to have our in-laws visit us in Australia from the UK for 5 weeks over the Christmas period. There were quite a few days they took my eldest for a few hours which meant some quality time for me and the youngest. As much as I appreciated the break with only one toddler to look after, I could see how much she missed her older sister. Often she would cry when her sister left then toddle around the house looking lost. She kind of got over it when she realised she could play with every single toy in the house and it would remain in her possession for as long as she wished it to. However, I sensed that this revelation was short-lived and didn’t compensate for the companionship and fun of being with her sister. The minute they were re-united they couldn’t have looked happier; the snatching toys and food, over-zealous cuddling, copying each other and giggling immediately returned.

They are young and I’m very aware that as the grow up together there will be many ups and downs in their relationship as they try to establish themselves and find their way in the world. They will no doubt experience many of the emotions me and my sisters have done through the years such as jealousy, anger, love and sometimes even hate. I’d love them to be best friends but I know that I can’t force that to happen, I will just have to step back and observe (perhaps attempting to steer sometimes) as their relationship develops over the coming years.

 

 

 

Pink Pear Bear

What’s Mine Is Mine And What’s Yours Is MINE!

 

 

 

Today I bought my youngest child (16 months), a brand new pair of shoes. This is very special for two reasons. Firstly – they are the first pair of shoes that I have bought for her, she’s been waddling around in her older sister’s scuffed cast offs since she started walking. Secondly – because they are too small for her older sister (nearly 3), so there is absolutely no way that she can claim them as hers.

When I discovered I was having another girl I was delighted. I hoped that one day these sisters would be best friends as I am with mine. However I can’t deny that some of that delight was due to the practicalities of having 2 girls. I had cupboards bursting with girl’s clothes. Having a second child required a lot less preparation too. We already had all the equipment and toys we needed, even if they were a little stained, worn or broken – they’d do!

I have moments of guilt when I realise the extent to which I sterilised and cleaned everything for my first born. With my second child it’s more a case of lick and spit and off she goes. I actually went and bought a heap of batteries a few months ago when I realised most of the developmental flashing and talking toys she was playing with were no longer functioning as intended.

At Christmas the presents ‘Father Christmas’ bought my eldest were fun and, on the whole, things she’d requested. Whilst my youngest received more practical gifts such as beach towels, lunch boxes and a ladybird icepack to put in the freezer in case of an emergency. Despite the practicality (and rather boring nature) of these gifts, the octopus hooded beach towel with the red fish on it, only stayed in her possession long enough for her to rip off the wrapping paper. It was immediately claimed by her sister in exchange for her older, tattier and very well used purple princess one – all this performed under the guise of kindness when it was nothing more than blatant stealing.

Meanwhile, the giant rabbit teddy with pink hands and feet that my eldest so specifically requested from Father Christmas, has not received anywhere near the same level of love and attention as the towel. In fact, said bunny teddy sits rather depressingly hunched over in the corner of her bedroom, neglected and unloved.

Almost every other gift my youngest received for Christmas or her birthday from friends and relatives has been stolen or swapped with the older, worn or used versions of her sister’s.

When giving them food, I am careful to distribute  everything evenly. However, the minute my back is turned my eldest is on the prowl. Grabbing her sister’s food out of her hands or directly from her mouth, if it looks appealing enough. If they are sitting down to eat at the table, she is usually to be found leaning across the table with her fingers wriggling around in her sisters bowl; busily picking out the items that take her fancy and, (if she’s feeling generous) exchanging them for her rejects. Occasionally my youngest squawks at her, grabbing hold of her bowl or toy and wrapping her arms around it as though her life depended on it. On these occasions my eldest will use all of her might to extract the item from her sister’s tight clutches. If this proves unsuccessful she starts chanting ”sharing’s caring” – a rather one dimensional view on sharing. However, more often than not my youngest  gives in, resigned to the fact that her sister will usually win.

I have learnt that literally whatever the youngest has, her sister will always want – at that precise second. There is no negotiation. Even when I try to step in, in an effort to teach her about sharing or inform her that it’s not actually hers, she has no interest in what I’m saying. Somehow she always manages to walk away the winner with a rather smug satisfied smile on her little face.

On the couple of days a week when the eldest goes to kindy, I love watching my youngest enjoying the freedom of playing with each and every toy (especially the ones that are 100% her sister’s that she never usually gets to lay a finger on). You’d think she would be so happy to not be bossed and pushed around by her elder sibling, however I sense that she  misses her.  As soon as they are reunited, her face lights up like a ray of sunshine and she squeals in delight.

Since returning from the shops this morning and waking from her day sleep my youngest pulled her new shoes from the cupboard and brought them to me. Insisting that I put them on her feet immediately, she sat down and held one chubby little foot up in the air, eagerly waiting for her new shoes to be placed on her feet. I wonder if she somehow knows that these are HERS?

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Eagerly holding her feet out to wear ‘her very own’ brand spanking new shoes

 

 

The Truth About Toddlers

Before having toddlers, my perception was that they were little people who ‘toddled’ along, smiling cutely as they went. Sure, I’d heard of the ‘Terrible Twos’ and witnessed the odd tantrum, but I thought they were the exception rather than the rule.

I never realised there was SO much more to it than that. Their autocratic and often teenage-like behaviour coupled with their Jekyll and Hyde mood swings, never ceases to amaze me. Their inability to understand what seems so logical and reasonable and absolute inflexibility, makes time spent in their company a little fraught at times.

Sorry?

I’m aware that we are not alone. I Have enough mummy friends going through similar challenging times and have now read enough articles, confirming our two toddlers are by no means unique in this respect. My simplistic and naive understanding of ‘toddlers’, has gone out the window now that I have 2 of them living under my roof.

My youngest is 15 months old. Having just started to walk independently, I can confirm she is 100% ‘toddling’. Often she does this smiling and laughing as she goes. Revelling in the attention she gets from us and other onlookers. Still a little unsteady on her feet, there are often moments when she falls. We hold our breath and wait…..she looks at us……still holding our breath, still waiting. She smiles, then drunkenly stumbles back to her feet and carries on her merry toddling way. Phew, we are relieved – exhale. Unfortunately there are also many occasions when she falls, looks at us, turns her bottom lip downwards and the tears come. Or, she doesn’t fall, the tears come and we have absolutely no idea why she is crying.

Having no idea why she is crying happens a lot. It’s got to the point where I am so often at a loss, I resort to asking her nearly 3 year old sister if she can shed any light on it. Her reply is consistent, ‘’she wants booby milk Mummy”. Hence why my youngest is a breast-aholic.

For the first year of her life she suffered severe reflux. It was heart-breaking. She struggled to self-settle, needy of me and my boobs and physical in the way she demonstrated her discontent. At first I put everything down to reflux. As she has grown older I’m learning that lots of her tears are because she’s just not getting what she wants. She literally throws her dummy out of the cot, her food off the high chair and toys out of the pram with such force she could compete in the next Olympic shotput rounds.

I have suffered many a bruised foot at the hands of a hurtling Sippy cup, flung onto the floor for the 10th time that sitting. I’m often left scrabbling around in the dark in her bedroom or under cars searching for her abandoned dummy. Luckily she is not of an age where she can repeat the swear words coming from my mouth!

We have a bedtime ritual. Forgive me, I know how ridiculous this must sound. I put her dummy in my mouth by the handle, carry her into her room and wait until she decides she’s ready to take the dummy from my mouth, before attempting to place her in the cot. If I try to put the dummy into her mouth before she’s ready, onto the floor it goes. If she won’t take the dummy from me, I know it’s time to retract back to the lounge and try again later. Often she teases me, taking it from me and then flinging it in disgust across the room.

When she decides she wants a breastfeed, she climbs on me, pulls my top/dress up or down and helps herself. She hates to be restrained, in the pram, cot, car seat or high chair. Sometimes food provides a distraction, but that’s short-lived and she soon starts wriggling and screaming leaving me no choice but to set her free.

Our eldest daughter (nearly 3) was relatively tantrum free until she reached 18 months. She’s making up for lost time now. This coincided with the arrival of her baby sister. I have heard that how she felt could be likened to how you would feel if your partner brought home a new lover, moved them in and had them attached to them the entire time – ouch!

Occasionally whilst at the playground, if she fell over, I’d go to comfort her – she’d scream and run away, turning up the volume the closer I got. Aware that each step nearer resulted in her becoming more upset, I stopped. Seeing her this way and feeling so helpless broke my heart. Gradually I’d begin moving towards her again, desperate to take her in my arms and console her. This made it worse. She’d run away screaming as though I was some crazy stranger attempting to abduct her.

I willed her words to come in the hope we would understand each other better and relieve her frustrations. At first her repertoire of words was limited; ‘dummy’, hot milk’, ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’ and ‘MORE’. Often she’d sit in her throne/ high chair and have me run ragged as she shouted her orders. As we chatted more I started to toughen up, realising that she did understand the meaning of the word ‘no’ perfectly well and it was ok for me to use it. With the implementation of ‘no’ came the arrival of the truly terrible twos.

I began seeking advice from parenting Facebook groups and reading more articles about how to deal with toddler behaviour.

  • Get down to their level
  • Remain calm
  • Explain why you are saying no
  • Be consistent
  • Don’t raise your voice

Every time I read a new article, I felt inspired and hopeful.

The tantrum begins:

Deep breath, bend down, stay calm

“I’m sorry you are feeling upset sweetheart, I understand you want a whole biscuit but unfortunately it was broken when I took it out of the wrapper”

Following the advice to the letter, I’m ready for the current mood to change so we can continue with our day.

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I want a whole one, I want a whole one now. I want a whole apple biscuit NOW”

Be patient, I remind myself. Try again.

The screaming gets louder, leg kicking and lashing out begins. We are attracting the attention of passers-by who look at her with pity, like I’m the one being unreasonable.

“Poor thing, bless her”

Bless her? My patience fading and my frustration increasing. Often, against my better judgement and with a quick risk assessment, I give in.

“Fine- wear your shoes on the wrong feet”

Unfortunately, I have to confess, there are occasions when all my good intentions go out the window and I lose it. I raise my voice and get angry.

I have learnt, she’s not a morning person. Upon waking she rubs her eyes, grunting, refusing to look at me. I hold my arms out towards her but am met with,

“Meh”, whilst shaking her head vigorously from side to side. Consequently I’ve encouraged her to call for Daddy when she wakes (especially as it’s been getting earlier). He talked me through their morning ritual:

  • She demands to be placed on a particular sofa
  • He tries to take her sleeping bag off and is met a stern look, head shake and grunting
  • She demands hot milk (usually sending it back saying it’s not hot enough)
  • She demands he sits on the other sofa
  • She demands to watch Peppa Pig on the IPad – when he says no to the iPad she starts to scream
  • He gives in

The toddler timeframe is generally considered to be between age 1 and 3. Ironically whilst I’m willing an end to the tantrums I’m also wishing time would slow down. With our youngest I love seeing her drunkenly toddling along, stopping to examine everything in her path. Whilst her neediness of me can at times be exhausting, I’m also aware that it is not going to be forever and it is her unique connection with me that creates this need. With the eldest, whilst the ability for her to converse has at times resulted in a stroppy, demanding child, it’s also enabled a hilariously cute, slightly bonkers little girl who cracks us up daily with her commentary and constant questioning to emerge.

Our 2 toddlers have very different temperaments, therefore what worked at times for one hasn’t worked so well for the other. It has taught me that as a parent, I have to adapt my parenting style to suit that particular child and situation. There is no ‘one size fits all approach’. There are some similarities, they are both stubborn, strong willed and determined little people trying to find their way. They may be able to transform from darling to devil in the blink of any eye, but the darling bits are delicious and the devil bits – well we’ll put them down to a ‘developmental phase’.

Pink Pear Bear

Don’t Be Afraid, My Lovely Sister

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What words exist to comfort you for what you have just lost?

Time will heal, this is true, but no one knows the cost.

Don’t be afraid to scream and shout, whilst stamping both your feet.

About the baby who breathes no more, you never got to meet.

I wish so much, I was there with you to hug you, oh so tight.

I want to whisper in your ear, that all will be alright.

The distance we have between us, has never felt so far.

You’ve always been a rock to me, my friend and shining star.

I know that you are blessed with a great husband and 3 gorgeous boys,

They make you laugh and make you mad, when you stumble on their toys.

But knowing this doesn’t take away, the sadness you may feel.

Don’t be afraid to let it out, sharing will be the best way to heal.

I love you more than words can say, I’m feeling for you so much.

Please don’t be afraid to call me often, we need to stay in touch.

The emotions you may now feel could be up and down, who knows?

You’re brave and strong and really tough, that will pull you through the lows.

These words I write for you alone, they can’t express enough

How sorry I am to hear your news, and know you’re having it so tough.

Please don’t be afraid to moan and swear, a right you surely own

When you have lost some part of you, a spirit that has flown.

I LOVE YOU X