Friday, April 29, 2011

On Parenting, and Holy Crap: Three!

Note the Unicorn...
My daughter is three (and one month), and (again with the trite to say so on the Interwebz) she is changing a little (or a lot) every. single. day.  These changes are mostly amazing.  Okay, there's some florid upset and hiding under the table moments (her, not me - though it's a close thing, some days), but mostly I am finding it easier, not harder, to deal with being a parent.  The more she's like a talking, feeling, active, amazing person, the easier it is to remember that when parenting her.

Most parenting fail I see comes from a place of not treating kids like they are human beings.  Or so runs my theory.  Bizarre expectations (like staying quiet and happy while trapped in a trolley at the shops; staying quiet and happy while doing anything that adults like and that the kid finds excrutiatingly dull and uninteresting; staying goddam quiet and happy all the time) and some parental reactions to these bizarre expectations (yelling, belittling, yelling, hitting, shaming, yelling) seem to come from a place where the adult has simply forgotten (or doesn't care) that this is a human being, with their own unique needs, feelings, preferences, and abilities.

It's weird, what some of us (and society) expect of children, and how little we (and society) generally respect them.  We expect them to acheive things that we can't do ourselves: goddam quiet and happy being an example.  I'm not quiet and happy all the friggin time.  Far from it, if I'm honest.  There are things I hate doing, things that shit me to tears, things that scare me.  But if children act this way, we act as if they are broken somehow for not being goddam happy.  And quiet, don't forget quiet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a perfect person, or a perfect parent. I'm impatient, demanding, emotional, and suffer from a lack of logic just as much as the next awesome blogger.  And, funnily enough, so is my child.  Which is kinda my point.  When I am not treated like a full human being is when I struggle the most with feelings of rage and hurt and frustration. I figure it's the same for kids. 

So, the older Lolly gets, the more I can see her, her as a small person, with her own stuff, her own feelings and likes and dislikes, her own needs.  Babies are a bundle of immediate needs, and as we tether ourselves to them to care for them, it can be easy to forget that they are small people, and not somehow extensions of the parts of ourselves that are caring for all those needs.  Toddlers are similar, more unformed, more immediate, more on the borderline of danger and safety.  Wrangling them can become more about some future end result than about them as a person.  Children are transitioning, seeing them a whole people gets easier and easier.  The younger they are the more reminding we need.

This stuff is hard.  Humans are selfish (though not completely, we also rock sometimes) and living in subservience to the personhood of another human being is just plain difficult.   This is why parenting disabled kids is so grinding on the soul: at least with regular kids there is an end of immediate responsibility in sight.  Your charge will grow up and out into themselves and into the world.  For a disabled child, that pathway is crooked and sometimes not there at all.

It's always "all about me," inside our heads, if we're honest.  Raising children becomes an exercise in balancing my Self with the needs of another whole person/s.  Balancing act extraordinairre.  When I'm out of balance, I'm worse at my job. 

So, do I come to a point?  Perhaps it's being three.  Three is an age where Lolly-as-person is more visible and vocal.  She can [occasionally] be reasoned with.  We can negotiate.  She understands time and "later" is becoming more real to her.  She is increasingly happy with her own or others' company, lessening the demands on just me.  I'm finding it easier to deal with the everyday difficulties of parenting, I can talk to her, reason with her, offer substitutes, explain, talk about emotions (hers and mine) and meanings.

So sure, it's demanding, her intellect needs it's own chaperone, and the goddam
horse stories are never ending, but it's also easier for my brain to send that reminder to my mouth: here's a person.  Respect that.

Watch out, your personhood is showing!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Forever Young

Lolly started Cycle One at Montessori today, just for an hour, but still, it's the first on a long series of steps to her life apart from me.  Sniff.  Made me all: 

Which has a lot of meaning for me, because MY mother loves Bob Dylan, and wrote the Forever Young lyrics in my birthday card when I turned 16, which, from memory, made us both cry.

Did I mention...sniff...

Awkward and amusing things one does with one's baby, the retrospective

When you're sorting through your iPhoto album, all approaching 40,000 shots of it, one can't help but post on the Interwebz some baby photo oversharing.  Oh, what fun we had...

Ming the Merciless lipliner eyebrows by DinnerDad, July 2008 [about 4 months old].  Best baby photos.  Evah.  

Baby in a Bucket, another DinnerDad classic, August 2008:

Beering it up with Auntie Jubes, August 2008. She didn't get any.  Don't call DOCS.

Dog dentistry: November 2008.

 Yoghurt, 2009:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cat-puss, or, AcatAlia

We have a cat.  This cat:

Alia is my cat from my previous marriage.  A before cat.  Alia is a grumpy so-and-so who likes no-one, though I mostly convince myself that she likes me.  A bit.  The fact First-Husband and I named her Alia turned out to be prophetic, as sometimes she is very, very like the Baron Harkonnen.

I am above you all...and also quite chubby.
The girls are...let's just say...VERY fond of her.  Alia, on the other paw, has never liked That-Guy [known to me as beloved husband], or That-Guy's Kids.  I'm sure she thinks longingly of the civilised times spent with First-Husband, where snacks were plentiful, children were nil, and all of the attention was hers.  Depsite an attempt at shared custody, after our divorce we tearfully decided that Alia was better off with one home, so I kept her with me.  Adapting to her life in a family is an ongoing project.  After nearly 8 years, she's perhaps beginning to come to terms with it, maybe...

Snail in particular has been Alia's arch-nemesis.  Snail loves to torture the cat.  "Alia" is one of Snail's few precious words, as in "AcatAlia": all-one-word.  For many years she thought AcatAlia was the word for "cat."  All cat's were AcatAlia.  All cats, lions, tigers, panthers, jaguars, small dogs, mere-cats, and, apparently, wombats, were AcatAlia.  Each year, her teacher would get that sudden "aha" of comprehension if we mentioned that AcatAlia in fact was Snail for "cat."  I'm sure it made a whole lot of classroom interactions make sense.

I've always loved the "busted" quality of this shot from a couple of years ago.
Snail: "Let's get AcatAlia!" Lolly: "Sounds Great, sis, let's do it!"  AcatAlia: "Aw shit..."

This is a closeup shot from that moment...
This face definitely says: "awesome" and "I love kids."
Lolly, following in her sister's footsteps, loves to torture the cat, too.  Lolly refers to Alia as "cat-puss," which, much to Alia's chagrin, has become her other name.

I will always be "Alia/Baron Harkonnen" on the inside!
It is, despite herself, a nice life for a Cat-puss these days, with acreage to explore, dogs to love up to, kids to ignore, and That-Guy to hate on.  And a Mumma to pat you.  

Grumpy cat is festive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reading Blogs makes me a better parent, Part the First

You know, when I'm thinking and feeling this parenting gig more, I'm in the zone, it goes great, I'm totally there.  Lolly and I are in sync and get along famously.  If I lose focus, revert to some crap behaviours or strange expectations, things go downhill and we both lose out.  One of the things that has kept me in the zone is the words of other parents.  About what to stay focussed on.  About what to expect from a three year old.  About being a parent and that sometimes that is hard work.  About stuff to do with her.  And how to think about how she plays and engages with that stuff.  About fun things.

For parenting awesome: blue milk; The Crazy Baby Mama.  Stuff to do, and thinking hard about how and why kids do it that way (or not): The Artful Parent; Teacher Tom; The Montessori Goldmine.  Check out more Montessori gems and ideas at What Did We Do All Day; A Bit of This and A Bit of That; and One Hook Wonder

Same with parenting a disabled child.  There are days it seems a never ending tragedy of epic proportions, and I swan about all "woe is me," beating my brow and lamenting and covering myself and my family with ashes* [*ashes are metaphorical].  Other days I'm more "oh yeah, whatevers" and "this is easy-pants!"  Sometimes those hair-tearing ashes days happen anyway, no matter how much zen crap I try about being in the friggin moment, but other times, reading something or thinking about something I've read can turn my switch from crap to slightly less crap.

NOT like this...
Now, I don't mean in a flowery unicorn shit way, about it all being some magical mythical journey and messages from angels and blah blah blah [that stuff generally makes me wanna get my poking stick out], but just a more settled feeling of "life, this is it."  In a positive way.  Some days you see the soul in the child more than the layers of shit to clean (and I mean actual shit), the trouble, the back pain, the near constant welling of tears (mine, not hers), the girl-sized hole in your loved-one's heart, the wheelchair, the sadness, the "look at my pretend seizure, Mummy" from the 3 year old, the actual seizures, the...whole fantabulous everything of what's wrong with this picture.

Official Poking Stick
Some days it just IS, it's not something sad or wrong, it's just a person with their own stuff, same as anyone, but more so.  My job is to help her out, give her some joy in her life, some respect, some love and some care, some family.  And it's easier, trite as it might be to say so publicly here on the Interwebz, to know that other people are out there, with their own people, and their own shit, dealing in their own ways.

Seriously, check out: A Blog About a Bloke; a moon, worn as if it were a shell; Blogzilly; Life with a Severely Disabled Child; the Flight of Our Hummingbird; and My Three Ring Circus.

So, upshot is, reading shit on the internet is good.  Not least of which that when googling images for "poking stick," I found the following:
More Like THIS.

Internet, I love you.

[Image source: poking stick]
[Image source - unicorn poker]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From the Shelves: Styrofoam Sculptures

I had this activity out last month, with all the birthday celebrations she made me several "cakes" with this one!  She found it just the right amount of challenging to do, it took a few goes to get the thicker lollipop sticks into the foam, but once she'd mastered it, she was good to go.

To set this up, you need a block of styrofoam (I cut a square block in half), some toothpicks, some lollypop sticks, large beads, and I added in styrofoam stars.  I sourced all of this (that I didn't already have stashed away!) at my local Spotlight, it's cheap, and there are HEAPS of material left to use for other things (lollipop sticks and toothpicks make great accessories for playdough cakes).   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our shelves in April

A mammoth post on our shelves this month!

They normally look this this (a little crowded!):

I've got (from left of picture) on the top shelf:
- A basket with a rainmaker and bell shaker on (for Snail, mostly, though both girls get going on them sometimes). 
- Snail's spinning top she got for her birthday from some lovely friends!  Both girls love this!
- A tray with a set of ocean animals and fish (after our Aquarium adventures)
- Lolly's horse collection
- The green basket contains a set of Link 'Ems, a building toy I now can't recall the proper name of, or I'd link from here (lol).  This is a close up:

- then a basket with her new blocks, they are awesome, and construct marble rolling castles!!  A present for her birthday from the same awesome family that got the top for Snail (xo).  They are Viola building blocks and you can get them here.

 She loves this!  It is out several times a day, with requests to build castles.  She has learnt to construct simple sections so the marble rolls into the collector, and is gradually making them more complex.

On the bottom shelf, from left, are her stacker blocks (mostly used as horse stables these days), some more horses, then her tools sets, next to the plastic bag of marbles for the blocks, and finally her bug catcher, complete with bugs! and a bucket of dinosaurs.  Oh, and on the end there is a felt board that my sister got her for her birthday, which she is enjoying.

The shelves are a little crowded at the moment, we've been renovating our kitchen, and the rest of the house is full of boxes and things that are going to other rooms, so the playroom is a bit of a disaster.  We've been relying on our shelves for fun things to do lately!  We are planning an exciting family room upstairs, so more on that once we get furniture moved and things going!  There will be a library area, play area, and study up there very soon!

I thought I'd include a pic of her "homework" table in the study next to my desk.  She is very keen on sitting here with me doing "work", which is mostly cutting out dinosaur pictures, colouring with crayons, using stickers, using simple stamps, and making cards to send to Nanna and Pop.  Excuse the mess, she is also fond of chucking everything she is finished with on the floor!  She drags the bin round to cut shapes into.

Serious face!
And this month I've set up proper shelves (finally!) for Snail, normally I was just storing her stuff on a small table or on the floor so she can reach it, but we went to Ikea for a simple cube unit that she can still reach everything.
Old "shelves" for Snail
Snail modelling the new shelves!
 I have her wagon out, filled with soft toys, her snail block toy, the Backyardigans car (it sings a song, she LOVES this!), a stack of toys for Lolly until we get the playroom done (more on these in a future post), and her counting hammer toy (she has out in this pic).  On the shelf behind her are some musical instruments.  Her bubble machine goes on here, too, but it's out on the table at present.  I've added a work table for Lolly in the corner. 

She was very interested in putting this shelf unit together, and can reach all of the things on it, so I'm hoping it will work for us when she's back here Friday!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If not now, when?

You know, for a long time I didn't write much on this blog about Snail, because I felt like an imposter.  I read blogs about special needs kids, and I'd think, well, I'm not her MOTHER, just her stepmother.  And that is pretty much meaningless, out there in normal world.

Well, ya know what, I don't live in normal world.  I live here.  I've been changing, feeding, bathing, holding, playing with, dressing, cleaning, and all sleeping next to listening for seizures, going to school, doctors, hospital, therapists, with this child for eight goddam years.  You don't have to like it, or like me, I don't give a goddam shit about what you think of me as a person, but you have to respect that I'm a part of Snail's life.  Period.

Deal with it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Catching Up: Birthday Parties and Dora Cakes

I may have mentioned, somewhere on this blog of mine, that DinnerDad, true to his name, can cook (here is his long neglected blog on the topic).  Apparently, he can also make cakes!  Lolly requested a Dora cake for her party, and dispite my goddam Martha Stewart efforts on her actual birthday, it was thought that perhaps more effort may be required for an actual gathering.  Ahem.

Under Construction

I can't resist the shot, the genius at work, complete with glasses, and awesome superior over-the-glasses look!

He even built a fridge on the bench to keep it cool as it was too big for our fridge.

Dora's sarcophagus.

Beautiful 3 year old, seeking a bit of privacy to eat her yummy cake!

Party time!  Don't they look just so happy!

Seizure time :(

Though we had to LOL when at one stage she stirred, grabbed the skittle set Lolly got for a present, then conked again with it clutched in her hand.  Now, there's a girl with priorities!

Other than Snail having a seizure and sleeping through it all, Lolly had a wonderful day, we were blessed with some gorgeous gifts, and great company, though we missed my family, who were far away :(

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catching up: Melbourne Adventures!

We are lucky.  At the last minute, last week, we planned a surprise trip to Sale to see my family, and a few days in Melbourne with DinnerDad for his work.  I feel like these little trips (we were in Sydney a fortnight ago, too) are a great way to feel a tad better about the crazy hours DinnerDad works, and how often he is away.

Smash came along on this trip, he was on holidays, but Snail missed out, bad timing, as she would have loved the Aquarium, and seeing my Mum!  Oh and holy crap we nearly missed our plane!!  We were literally the last on.  *phew*  The woman at the hire car place at the Melbourne airport was so lovely, and let Lolly come round behind the counter and "work."  She asked for a "big car" through the two way radio.

The cute!  It burns!!
After much driving about, then picking up DinnerDad, and driving to Sale, Lolly was beside herself to see Nanna and Pop!  She just LOVES them!  It was nice to get some free time while Lolly played and played and played with Nanna and Pop.  She loves their caravan.  And getting Nanna to go on slides.

We had a good, but too short, break in Sale, even catching my sister (who is training to be an air traffic controller at the Air Force, very tough to do and she studies pretty much ALL the time!) and her lovely partner (who we hadn't met properly other than Skype).  Sale is a lovely town, but our time there was too short :(

Off on a whirlwind tour of Melbourne.  Aquarium antics with the big brother. They have these awesome "bubbles" in some tanks that you can climb under to stick your head in. 

She referred to this one as the "grumpy fish"
At the Melbourne Museum.  And can I pause to say, wow!  This is an amazing museum.  Their kid space is beautiful, and huge, and only for 3-8s, and full of wonderful things to explore.  Lolly listened to an aboriginal creation story, rode on a caterpillar, explored mirrors, built things, and discovered how many wombats she is high (three and a half wombats).  We were there for ages, and only explored half of one level!  We were sad to miss the Thutenkamon exhibit by only 2 days!

 It was a grand trip, lots of fun.