Tag Archives: parenthood

Feeling weighed, measured, and found wanting

I did not stop to seriously consider the implications of my actions before stenciling a giant PATIENCE on Dominic’s cast.

Luang Prabang is a tourist town and it’s the tail end of the cool season here. There are thousands, literally thousands, of tourists in town. Not many of them, however, are walking around with babies, so our little trio already made an unlikely sight even before the accident. Now we’re a downright curiosity.

I watch people watching us when we’re out and about. First they see the stroller. They do a double take and search for the baby with a smile. Then they see the cast and their eyes go wide and a look of voyeuristic concern washes over their faces. Then they tilt their head sideways just a fraction as they take in the artwork adorning Dominic’s leg. Then their eyes jump up to my face.

The gaze seems confused and, sometimes, speculative.

But do you know, not a single person has asked me why on earth that word is on his leg? Plenty of people have asked me what happened to his leg, but no one has followed it up with, “so, uh, what’s the go with patience?”

I sometimes wonder if they know what I now know – that 70% of femur breaks in babies under 1 year old are the result of child abuse. I sometimes wonder if they suspect that the story about a fall down the stairs is just a convenient cover and that I needed a daily black and white reminder to reign in a vicious temper.

I would be willing to bet our first-born chi – OK, our dog – that the specter of feeling judged by strangers on these points has never entered Mike’s mind.

The difference between Mike and I in this regard was apparent long before Dominic’s accident.

Every time we go out walking with Dominic I need to build in several minutes to stop and exchange greetings with people who live on our street. There’s the friendly couple who own the small paper-supply shop and the unfriendly woman who blatantly rips us off at the fruit stand because we’re falang (foreigner) but who adores Dominic – he’s the only one of us she ever smiles at. There’s the disabled teenage boy who occasionally takes my hand when I walk past and gently kisses it. There’s the woman who sells donuts that ooze bright pink custard, and the one who sells organic vegetables from a blue tarp laid down on the sidewalk (sometimes she sells dead rats or cats, too, but let’s not go there). Then, of course, there’s anyone walking past who just wants to stop for a peek at the chubby white baby with coppery hair.

When I walk past with the stroller, none of these people hesitate to tell me when they think that Dominic is too hot or too cold, or that it might rain on us, or that he looks like he needs to sleep, or eat. When I was out with Mike one evening and the second person had stooped over my child, felt his fat little arm and then commented that it was cold and pulled up the wrap to cover him, Mike felt me tense.

“What’s the problem,” he asked as we continued on our way.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I said. “All these people telling us that we’re getting it wrong? That we’re not taking good enough care of him?”

“What?” Mike said. “That’s not how I take it at all.”

“How do you take it then?” I said, wondering how else you could possibly take a phalanx of virtual strangers telling you that you haven’t dressed your child warmly enough.

“I take it as: ‘Wow, you have a beautiful little baby. We all love babies. Let’s find some common point of discussion whereby we can connect with you as parents and demonstrate that we’re paying attention to caring for the baby’s wellbeing,’” Mike said.

“That is a much nicer way to take it,” I said, not completely convinced.

“Do you really feel like people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job as a mother?” Mike asked, amazed.

“Sometimes,” I admitted.

I wonder if this is only the beginning – whether I’m always going have to fight the instinct to take it personally whenever other people comment on what my child says and does. And I wonder where it comes from – what hidden deficit of self-esteem or deep-seated need for affirmation fuels this tendency to feel judged when others reach into the stroller and tug up my baby’s blanket.

I can tell you one thing though. If, heaven forbid, anything like this tumble down the stairs happens in the near future I won’t be adorning any casts with the words “gentleness” or “self-control”.

When have you felt judged as a parent? What helps you in those moments?

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24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

Back at Home are Mike and I: Jottings on art, parenthood, and home

Well, we’re back from Thailand and we hit the ground running this week. Although, after a full week of looking at this on Koh Tao…

And this on Koh Samui…

And strolling through resorts…

And buying satay off the beach…

And dining in lovely seaside restaurants as the full moon rises over the ocean…

Well… let’s just say I wouldn’t expect any sympathy from anyone if I tried to complain that we’ve had some re-entry shock with getting back to work. So I shall just say that we’re well and truly back at work.

Mike returned to scores of emails and the usual collection of unruly work-related campfires needing to be tended (and, in some cases, extinguished). I have returned to a new schedule of memoir work in the mornings and consulting work in the afternoons.

I’m jotting this down in between switching from memoir to drafting a distance learning chapter on personal resilience. I have ended this morning’s memoir work without much idea about how to fix a tricky chapter transition. Or, maybe more accurately, how to fix a tricky whole chapter.

That would be chapter, uh, two.

Sigh. I hope something shakes loose on that front this week as I am determined to finish this edit before the baby arrives. Because, of course, after the baby arrives my life as I know it now will end. I will never again find the time or energy to write anything worth reading, and Mike and I have probably just gone on our last truly relaxing holiday and enjoyed our last meal out at a lovely restaurant.

OK, so maybe I’m being just the tiniest bit melodramatic. But I have to admit that stalking my genuine happiness about this coming baby is no small army of fears – fears clothed in thoughts similar to those above. So, as I get into a serious creative writing rhythm again, I was particularly delighted to stumble across a great article recently called The Parent Trap: Art After Children.

Frank Cottrell Boyce writes:

There’s a belief that to do great work you need tranquility and control, that the pram is cluttering up the hallway; life needs to be neat and tidy. This isn’t the case. Tranquility and control provide the best conditions for completing the work you imagined. But surely the real trick is to produce the work that you never imagined. The great creative moments in our history are almost all stories of distraction and daydreaming – Archimedes in the bath, Einstein dreaming of riding a sunbeam – of alert minds open to the grace of chaos.

Writers have produced great work in the face of things far more stressful than the school run: being shot at, in the case of Wilfred Owen; being banged up in jail, in the case of Cervantes or John Bunyan. Yet that pram is lodged in our imaginations, like a secret parasite sucking on our juices.

While I would argue that it may, in fact, be easier to write while locked up in prison than while trying to get kids ready for school every day, I loved this article for standing in opposition to some of my fears. Well worth reading if you are an artist with a family, or thinking about having one.

In addition to all things babies I’ve also been mulling on all things home as I start to pick up the threads of my memoir once again. I stumbled across this poem by Emily Dickinson recently and it intrigues (and baffles) me. Anyone want to help me out by offering their thoughts on it? I am particularly confused by the last two lines – about feet retiring and faces remaining.

Away from Home are some and I

Away from Home are some and I —
An Emigrant to be
In a Metropolis of Homes
Is easy, possibly —

The Habit of a Foreign Sky
We — difficult — acquire
As Children, who remain in Face
The more their Feet retire.

Thanks for dropping by!

Puppy lessons in parenthood (2)

It’s lunchtime in the McWolfe household of (temporarily) seven. Chaos is reigning. The three and six year old are loudly demanding their lunch, Mike is trying to finish his before he has to go back to the office. The baby’s been strapped in his stroller. Zulu is meandering around hopefully.

Mike and I watch as Zulu wanders over to the baby in the stroller.

“Awww…” we say fondly as our little dog sniffs nicely at the baby’s toes, then moves upwards to the baby’s hands – exploring ever so gently and sweetly.

“Good dog, good boy, nice gentle licking, good kissing of the baby,” we both praise him proudly, then pause as Zulu turns to trot away, tail wagging, and with something long and yellow hanging from his snout.

“What’s that in his…” Mike and I say in unison, just as the baby’s mother – from the kitchen – calls out, “the baby has banana!”

Zulu flicks his head back and the banana disappears.

“Awwww, Zulu!” we say in an entirely different tone, staring at our unrepentant puppy. “You stealer of baby food! You furry little thief! You should be ashamed of yourself – we are ashamed of you!”

“Welcome to parenthood,” says the mother in the kitchen.

Zulu playing nicely with another baby – the puppy next door

…And playing less nicely with the puppy next door

…And playing less nicely still

…And this was the end of that particular play session

Some of the funny responses

Firstly, thank you all. Mike and I have been positively overwhelmed by the flood of support and well-wishing we’ve received via the blog, facebook, and email since we posted the news last week that we’re expecting a baby! We’re very touched. Your notes and emails have made us smile, share snippets with each other, and laugh.

This week is going to be a busy one for me. I’ve got a lot of work to do on two separate consultancy projects and am not quite sure where blogging will fit in during the first half of the week (not to mention pregnancy yoga and the article I’m also trying to write on expat living in Laos). So, as Mike and I are sitting here on Sunday afternoon answering some of the emails, I decided to keep track of some of the comments that have come in over the last couple of days that have made us laugh and share them with you. Because laughter is always more fun shared.

So here are just a couple of the lines that have made Mike and I giggle over the last couple of days.

“Congratulations – I am quite sure there is no “reset” button so would be best to just go with it now.”

“Lisa. That is fabulous news!!!!!!! Yea and combats to all!!!!!” [I’m assuming that this was meant to be congrats, but even if not, I think it could still be very apt]

“Congratulations – this is great news – enjoy the 6 quiet months left in your life!!!!!!”

“That’s a record. You’ve only had a puppy for 3 months surely?  He must be even cuter than a chocolate Labrador to have worked this type of magic so quickly.” [To which I replied, “He’s pretty darn cute. Then again… he’s also got a mouthful of razor sharp teeth which he is still constantly using to bite our hands, and he has recently taken to leaping on me from behind and humping my leg when I try to walk away from him and he’s in the mood to play.]

“You’ve lived through natural disasters and man-made wars–you’ll not only survive this, you’ll have even more great stories!”

“Unlike many other followers of your blog, I have no idea what it’s like to be pregnant. And to be completely honest it doesn’t sound that appealing…” [To be completely honest, so far I have to say that it’s not that appealing]

“Lisa, my experience of being pregnant was: 1st trimester – the whole world smelled terrible and most of the time I forgot how happy I was to be getting a child because I was vomiting the whole time; 2nd trimester – before I would skip meals because I was busy doing every-day work, and now I would skip everything (even important meetings at work) to go grab something to eat; 3rd trimester – This is when I needed my husband most…to lift me out of chairs. I used to walk faster than everyone on the road and now even slow-walking, elderly, people were walking faster than me. And the toilet becomes your best friend…”

“You don’t want to be a marsupial. Keeping a pouch clean sounds like a hassle to me.” [To which I replied: “We live in Asia. We can hire people to keep a pouch clean. Problem solved.”]

[This comes from someone we know who has previously lived in Laos] “Boy, some people will do anything for some R&R!  Seriously, much congratulations.  We named one of our dogs “kop chai” (thank you) I hereby give you permission to name your child “kop chai lai lai” (thank you very much).”

“Hey Mike – congratulations! Keep in mind that ‘Vinay’ would make a great name for the baby. Even if it’s a boy.” [There’s no keeping this one anonymous. Vinay is a guy Mike met during a trip to Sudan last year.]

“Congrats! Are you guys worried about health care for the birth in Laos?” [To which Mike replied, “Why yes.  So much, in fact that Lisa’s already booked her tickets to Australia.  Even middle class Lao women try not to have their babies in Laos if they can help it (most of them go to Thailand rather than say, Australia).  Yesterday we were talking to a shop keeper (talking in the sense that my Lao is very basic so I probably understood about half of what she was saying) and when I told her that we weren’t going to have the baby in Laos, she looked so relieved that you’d have thought I had given her an injection of valium. On the up side, she taught us the Lao word for “afraid.”]

“Congratulations!  What wonderful news.  Not all babies are like hand grenades.  Alex was more of a claymore mine.” [I think this takes the prize as the single line that made me laugh the hardest, and the longest.]

“Tell Lisa, hand grenade does it no justice at all. Something like seeing the roads in Afghanistan after they’ve been visited by a B52 would be more accurate but you grow to love the new landscape even more than the old.”

“While we all wait patiently for photos of the miniature Wolfey-McKay, please do post more photos of the little monkey!!” [I’ll do my best. In fact, here’s one for you now of Abu doing what I do now when confronted with a glass of wine – look at it longingly.]

To close, here’s one final quote that I love. “You are right–you and Mike will make fabulous parents. And, you are right–there is no good time to have kids and they do change your lives forever. You will never regret it. Keep us posted so we can celebrate with you!”

We will. Thanks again.

Lisa (and Mike)

Puppy lessons in parenting – resource guarding

It’s been a while since I updated you about our little chew monster (aka kea-puppy, shark mouth, demon dog, and Zulu) so here’s a puppy post.

We had a “clueless parents faced with a defiant toddler” moment this week. Zulu is, on the whole, a sweet and friendly dog. He adores people and when we walk him he looks up at the passerbys, wagging his little tail, clearly curious as to why they’re not stopping to shower him with affection and attention. He takes himself off to the toilet outside. He doesn’t chew on the furniture, our shoes, or destroy our trash can. We must admit that he is, overall, an excellent puppy.

Except…

Two things, really. First, he doesn’t chew on the furniture, but he still loves chewing on us. The minute we sit on the floor he’ll climb (or, more frequently, leap) into our laps then immediately start chomping on our hands and arms. As he is now significantly bigger and stronger than he was when we bought him home this can really hurt. We’ve tried all sorts of things, but so far nothing’s worked except coming to love-fests armed with a chew toy to substitute for our more delicate fingers.

Incidentally, the vet we found here suggested we cut off or file down his canines to render this puppy biting less painful – apparently that’s standard practice here. Puppy lovers never fear, that’s one practice we won’t be adopting.

The second issue is potentially more serious.

On Saturday our neighbor bought over a treat for him – a big, meaty, raw, bone.

How did Zulu show his thanks for this unexpected bounty? By jumping up, ripping the gift out of her hands (plastic bag that it was still wrapped in and all) then scurrying off with his prize.

When Mike went to unwrap it for him he was rewarded with a growl. A serious, “I’m not messing around here” growl. And it was when I heard this and said we should take the bone away for a little while to show him who was boss that the trouble really started. When we went near him with his new bone our sweet, lovable, affectionate puppy was transformed into a snarling, growling, hellion who did his best to bite us – really bite us – and twice succeeded.

I did some research online while Mike engaged in a battle of wills with Zulu over the bone and was deluged with contradictory advice regarding how to deal with this behaviour.

Some sites said that a puppy who growls over his bone is confused about his place in the pack and is trying to dominate us. We should, these sites said, pin him to the floor, smack him for being aggressive with us, and take away his treat.

Some sites said that he wasn’t trying to dominate us at all, merely instinctively guarding something he thought was very valuable. Punishing him harshly for resource guarding, these sites said, was only likely to make him guard more fiercely and earlier in the future as he’ll have learned that we (unpredictable owners that we are) tend to swoop in and take away his treats with no warning. Instead of punishing him this time we should work on gradually teaching him to let us give and take away at will less valuable items – toys, smaller treats, etc – and work up to things like raw bones.

“What do you think?” Mike asked me, washing the blood off his hands – the fruit of his latest “I can take your bone away because I am your pack master” foray.

“I don’t know,” I sighed, watching our recalcitrant puppy, who was crouched under the stairs keeping surly eyes on us even while he chewed away furiously.

“I guess this is like parenting,” Mike said. “People tell you different things and sometimes they conflict and in the end you just have to trust your instincts.”

“What do your instincts say?” I asked.

“Smack him,” Mike said. “Smack him hard for trying to bite us, and keep taking it away until he learns.”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “I was that puppy that smacking never did any good for. It never made me sorry that I’d done something, it just made me sorry that I got caught. And it made me angry.”

“Yeah.” This time Mike sighed. “I bet you were that puppy.”

So, puppy lovers out there, any thoughts on this? I think we have a strategy in place we both feel good about now but I’m curious about your experiences with your dogs guarding their food. Oh, and any advice on how to stop Zulu from chasing chickens that are unwise enough to wander onto this property also welcome.

Until next time, here’s a look at Zulu in action the other day…