Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Charm, cute and worry

My son is cute. Totally objectively speaking, of course. Not just by my mummy standards, of course not. He has a very good idea about how to work a crowd. He loves an audience and poses willingly for photos with his trademark excited smiley face. Often he finishes a performance with a bow and a wink.

Digger is definitely a pleaser. He wants us all to be together and happy.  All the time. He would make an excellent sheep dog. That is very well and lovely, but I worry that ├╝bercute Digger wins out over his more reflective self. I worry that the urge to please his surroundings may be to the detriment to recognising and acknowledging his own thoughts and feelings. That it is an early and effective cover for some more uncertain feelings.

Trying to make people feel comfortable and welcome is a quality that will probably stand Digger in good stead for the rest of his life. But I worry.  I occassionally try to divert his urge to perform. I make sure to kiss/cuddle/caress him more when he is doing nothing special. Like playing with his cars by himself. Or eating dinner. Those quiet moments when he is just being himself. I used to give in to his urges to perform, dances especially. Encourage even. Well, that has to go. I don't think I will be squashing a budding John Cleese, or Gene Kelly. Or... ? Gosh... never thought of it like that... Still has to go.

Over the festive season the kissing of half strangers rockets. Kisses and hugs everywhere. The British go continental. Digger too is receiving and giving. The other night when we had guests, he walked round the table saying goodnight to each and every guest. With a cuddle and a peck on the cheek. It was lovely, and very sweet of him. We hadn't prompted anything but a wave to say goodnight. But that make me worry. Had we somehow asked this of him? If so that has to go too.

I've tried to curb the pressure to hug and kissing. But it's difficult to get the balance right as pausing to say and wave goodbye to visitors helps Digger cope with the transition of them leaving. Yes he does take our lead, and we kiss away. But clearly we got to be careful and more measured perhaps. Also of overthinking. Oh dear ... I've lost that one already.

It worries me that his prime motivator is the fear of loss. Fear that we would not like (= love) him if he wasn't all sweet and cute. Or that other people wouldn't either. I've got a lot of work to do on this score. It's not about persuading him that he really is loveable just as he is. I don't think that would work, and certainly not with words.  Liking one self, staying with one self, the sense of self has to come from within. And it is that looking inwards that I don't see in his eagerness to make sure people around are happy, preferably laughing as well. The other day he got hurt, and with tears streaming down his face he kept on reassuring me 'I'm happy, mummy, I'm happy mummy.' 'You don't look so happy, my little heart. I think you look sad. Is that so?' But he wouldn't hear it.

If Digger gets worried, he ramps up the charm, which then can have a fake favour to it. Said through tears and hiccups, it is worrying to me that he says he is happy.

Don't get me wrong, there could be worse ways for getting attention and repairing his world. Digger is quite wilful too, so we see the other side as well. Usually though it is the pleaser that the public sees. I am almost relieved when he digs his heels in or gets stroppy. At least to start with. There is plenty of that too.

Once again it is about personal boundaries. Physically as well as emotionally. Admittedly, I like it best too if people are happy, and I obviously have to revisit my own behaviour in all of this. Good manners is not just about a good upbringing, it is creation of an individual with a good sense of self. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Today I'm sad. I'm tired. Exhausted. Digger has been sad too. Something is rumbling deep inside him. Shifting and unsettling him. And so he cries more inconsolably than usual. Several times a day. I comfort him. Listen. While I hold him tight and stroke his hair. And tell him I'm right here. And that I love him. Just staying with him till he is done. 
He's gone cold turkey on the old dummy cause of a tooth-loosening incident recent. He hasn't really looked back. But settling him takes longer now. 
I guess I'm sad because sometimes I see a gulf in him. A black hole. One I can't fill. However much he is my son. My brave and beautiful son. 
It isn't secondary trauma I'm feeling. It isn't depression. It's just a sadness washing over me. The one that recognises the sadness in his story. It happens every now and then. I recognise it now. Acknowledge it. 
Along with the need for more sleep. 
But it is an alarm bell. That I need to slow down. And be present. Rather than buying them. 
Tonight I'll be ramping up the self care. As I did today while buying Christmas gift. Tonight it will involve new DVD of modern family, tea/wine (it can go either way) and a ballerina biscuit. At least one.  
And my husband. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Wellies - right and wrong

Digger's put his wellies on the wrong way round again. The left welly on his right foot and right on his left. His small welly feet are pointing outwards. I think it looks funny, cute even. He doesn't seem to be bothered by it. So I don't mention it. We leave the house and carry on with our day. He jumps through a zillion muddy puddles. Every one he finds. Shrieking with joy. It's not raining. It's pouring. The water profs get their work out.  At one point he is sitting in a 20 cm deep puddle, splashing water all around. We arrive a full hour of joy later to our destination, and when I unwrap him I'm astounded that he is still dry underneath.

Digger loves his wellies. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he can put them on himself. He is so consistent in putting the on the wrong way round that I think he sees it as right. Or perhaps they are easier to put on like that, I wonder? What ever the reason or lack thereof, I don't mind the outcome. I reckon he'll learn without me telling him. Sometime soon enough. 

But I am amazed how many adults do point out this - to us - very obvious mistake. His nursery teacher sat him down and changed them round, in the sandpit, in the rain. I have the outmost respect for her. She is a mild-mannered, hippy teacher of Steiner Waldorf persuasion. She has genuine respect for the kids around her. I particularly love her approach to discipline and I learn  or notice something new every time we meet. Somehow she hardly ever ask any of the children to do anything. And still things get done - hands get washed, toys put away, tables cleaned, even floors swept. But this welly thing ... it just didn't sit right with her. Odd. 

I look at Digger's welly efforts and see something very different. I see he is trying. This is something I don't feel the need to correct. To me it's a tangible and ever timely reminder to have faith in his abilities. I look at them and remind myself that I should apply that accepting approach to his idiosyncracies much more often than I do.

One day he will look down and notice. And that will be the end of that. And I'll miss the funny look.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Uniform of motherhood

I wonder whether there shouldn't be a uniform of motherhood. Some outward mark of the transition into motherhood. No matter how we arrived at it. 

Lord knows our job description has been rewritten when we became mothers. And fathers. 

My wardrobe has definitely changed with the arrival of our son. Jeans have reached a whole other level of logic. Though I love my looses dresses too, I admit it is more easy to get in less than flattering flashes of underwear than it is with my jeans. Not least when you fumble around on the floors.  

Pockets are key. Mine are always bulging. At the moment it's primarily tissues and chestnuts. 

I love the idea of an official uniform of motherhood. 

We could wear it on feast days and never have to worry about choosing something appropriate.  Ever again! Because would be smart. And feminine. And never look dated.  It would be like a female smoking. It would make us look bustier, taller, more straight backed and we would all be sexier it in. Because it would be us to the core. And we would wear it with confidence. Just as many men in their smokings and uniforms.  

It would be very green and sustainable. Perhaps embroidered, stitched and sown by our friends and family like the beautiful bunads of Norway, their national costumes. 

Our parental chests could be crowded with badges of honour. For sleepless nights endured, bruises kisses, meals cooked, bums wiped. Just for starters. Or maybe just years passed since that momentous change. It would be signs of our personal stories. Not to be compared. But to be seen and acknowledged. And appreciated. By all society. 

My clothes are never pristine anymore. 
There is always a smear on it somewhere. Mosty of food. 
And it always arrives within second of me putting on fresh clothes. Sometimes I notice them. Often I don't. People probably wonder whether I actually own a mirror. And if I do whether I ever use it. 
I do. But they don't mean much any more. 

I'm just rounder, often more tired looking, dirtier, wearing less make up and more comfy/shapeless clothes. I look more worn. And feel more loved. And love more. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sally Donovan teaches

On Monday  I went to an amazing workshop with Sally Donovan. Based on material from her upcoming book on adoption parenting, it was brilliantly refreshing, honest, real and useful. She delivered it all with ease, clarity and grace. Everyone should have a Sally D! If I can't, I'll buy her second book. Well... I'll buy that any way. Can't wait. 

I found Sally's workshop immensely reassuring. It confirmed many of my core beliefs and taught me many news things. It made me feel more confident about caring for my son in a way that is different and - on the face of it - softer than mainstream parenting. It is not laissez faire parenting. Just the opposite in fact. It's parenting with open eyes - respectfully, compassionately and gently.

But first and foremost I was reminded that without Digs, his sunny temperament and the boundless love he brought to our house there would be no involvement in adoption parenting and charity. He gives me the surplus energy to do and explore like never before. Parental isolation is a thing of the past for me. I feel supported. And loved. In my family.  And in my community. 

Admittedly I left with a feeling that I have it easy - Sally told us never apologise for not having it difficult. It may all change. My son is a bundle of joy. He was not well when I got back on Monday - another epic cold was announcing itself. But he was happy. Bubbly and chatty as ever. As Sally urged us to do, I told him straight away when I saw him how happy I was to see him and his face did light up. His curly hair even seemed to stand up a bit more too. I got a big hug and a giant lick on my face (he likes to pretend he is a baby cat at the moment). Some things are very simple in the world of bonding and attachment. If only we keep remembering to do them. 

I feel quite certain I'll f*#% up with reassuring frequency - outch and sorry in advance. I don't like the thought of that, yet I know it to be realistic. But I'll continue to do my best. Because you do<em></em> deserve nothing less. 

Thank you, little Mouse. 

Thank you, Sally. Bring on the book!

Sally Donovan's The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting will be published by JKP in November. http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849055369

Friday, 12 September 2014

In his bed

Pierre has a little homemade verse that he likes to recite to Digger at night. He's been doing this for almost as long as Digs has been home with us. 

It's the last words of the day. Said just before Digger falls asleep. The last bit of our night time routine.  Before the final kiss of the day. 

In his bed
In his room
In his house
On his street
His daddy loves him 
His mummy loves him
He is safe and sound

Yesterday I said it as well when I put him to bed. With a little smile on his soft and sleepy face, eyes closed, he lisped it over his dummy and fell into a deep sleep almost immediately. 

As if those words were his night time anchor. Spoken out loud to help him let go of the day. Feeling safe and sound. I always thought falling a sleep is such a massive sign of trust, if not exhaustion. Letting go must be a quite feat for a little one. Especially if they are scared or feeling brittle. I imagine it is like setting off in the little boat, like Iggle Piggle in the Night Garden. Across the ocean, bobbing along alone on the sea til the morning. 

That takes a lot of faith to let go.

I've seen the power and magic of this little verse.
I'll use it now too. 

Thank you daddy. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

ode to a toddler's diaper

He pulls the diaper straps really tight. His little belly is bulging out over the top of it. He wants them to cross or touch at the very least. He succeeds.  We inspect his handy work. 

'Are you sure that's not too tight?' I ask 'It looks kinda tight.'

'Sure. Nice and cozee'. He answers.

We look up. Our eyes meet and we smile. 

Digger has been sort of potty training for months. Potty, loo or standing. Whatever. It comes and goes. I don't mind. I've been trying to be gentle about this whole thing, and to follow his lead. It's his body after all. I've learned Digger can get quite narked if I press the issue. 'No pee now!' 'Okay. Just let me know if you need help when you need to go.'

I heard a good trick to get little (and big) people to aim better: put a Ping Pong ball in the bowl. So I've popped in a bright yellow one. Thinking Digger might be intrigued and that he might be encouraged by it. He's not. He's mostly concerned that it may get flushed out. I think it might well be. I probably tried this trick too early. Like so many other things in parenthood. 

I'm not sure how much to press potty training. I even worry I am keeping him in diapers. So this week I've begun to offer underpants or diaper to him when I change him. He can go either way. Although truth be told:

Digger prefers naked. Anywhere. Anytime. He loves weeing in the garden. With his little arched back he looks like Mannickenpiss. Summer has been great for this. Naked gives him so much more feel for his body and what goes on inside. 

'Exiciting!' He exclaims when he sees what he has produced. A new and favourite word. 

His little bum soon get wrapped in a diaper again. Certainly for naps and nighttime. 

Getting it on can be a struggle. He's quick. It can be difficult to catch him. And catch him is what he wants me to do. It's a game. Currently I have most success asking him which animal he would prefer me or us to be while changing him. Miaow is his favourite.  

Respectful diaper changing and potty training takes on another level of signifance in the context of adoption I think. Few things are more intimate than wiping poo of another person - whatever age. It's private. And about personal boundaries to be acknowledged and respected. It's key for bonding too. I'll admit we hardly knew which side was up at first. Digger got hold off the bum cream at an early diaper change and ate some! In fact it was during introduction. The first day we had him alone in our house. We thought we'd killed him. Confessing guilty to Rosa his foster mum when we returned with him. She laughed in the kindest most understanding way. 

Some of our earliest and most precious bonding moments were during changing. Exchanging all important touch, eye contact and smiles in this preverbal world of his. Perfect to show attunement to use a technical term of something that can be quite magic. Now we sing and chat and take turns. He's quite involved and often pops the diaper in the bin himself. Yeah. 

But is he getting to big for diapers? 

There is a lot of external pressure - prestige even - about early potty training. Am I holding him back? Should I be pressing the issue more?

Thankfully a friend remindeded me that in Scandinavia the question isn't 'Is he potty trained yet?' But 'Has he dropped the diaper?' Much more empowering. And the power-to-the-kid isn't just linguistic. It's an approach. The believe is that it will happen in its own sweet time. On average in these northern parts of the world is 3+ for boys, notoriously later than girls. Digger is a few months short of this. I exhale. This approach sits so much better with me. 

We have become much better at changing diaper. All of us. From fumbling begins of  'sorry darling. Is that too tight?' we now manage quite quickly. At night I can even do it without waking him. Or rather - without him letting me wake him.  Yet diapers are often dry in the morning. Like this morning. Bone dry. Despite the full bottle of milk we still pour into him when we snuggle for milk and stories every night. 

Potty training is about psysiogomy. Maturity of body and mind. And Digger is definitely heading that way. With or without me rushing him. 

Days of diaper changing with Digger are numbered. 

I will miss them. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

busy busy at the beach

From a toddler parent perspective there are few environments where there is next to nothing to break; the beach is one of them. That also means there are few 'no's to enforce. Both parents and toddlers get a break from sentences like 'Hands off! Fingers in the sockets is really really dangerous!' There is some funky electrics on this town. Unnervingly funky. Toddler height.

As you might have guessed we are on holiday. Digger, daddy and me.

An acerbic and funny friend of ours once proclaimed that holiday after you become a parent is just going somewhere else with a child, somewhere far less convenient than home. I know what he means. But I gotta say this does feel like holiday, and has flashes of pre-Digger holidays. My younger sister popped by for a few days. The resulting ratio of 3:1 adult to child felt positively luxurious, and added to the sense of calm. Digger got lots of 1:1, while the grown ups took turn to catch up, or just be.

We are all relaxing.

I'm delighted that Digger seems love picking out stones and shells as much as I did as a child, and still do. He can stop dead in his track, bend down to pick something up, study it closely, and pocket it - if he is wearing pockets that is.

I'd forgotten how much there is to do on the beach. things to study, things to watch, things to touch. Waves to chase; splashing, swimming, and my favourite today: 'Digger floating!'. Where he got that from I do not know, but it certainly an essential life skill.

The beach is also excellent for messy play. Digger, as most people, is not great with sand sticking to him. So once his wet hands got sand all over, he ran down to the shoreline to wash them, and then ran back up to our base to undertake some more sand construction ('Digger building house!'), but.. oups - sandy hands again - oh bum, have to run back to shore line, wash wash, then run up again, and more construction, oh no... sandy hands again - how did that happen?!... He must have run back and forth 20-30 times, until finally he collapsed in his buggy, taking an early but very sound midday nap. When he woke, he had cracked it: take bucket, fill it with water to wash hands when need to, rest of the time: wipe sand off. He seems to be learning even in his sleep.

Digger is experimenting big time. The beach is one big science lab! With no rules. Albert Einstein supposedly said that imagination is the highest form of research. Along those lines I'd venture that play is the highest form of experimentation, since there are no rules. Only things to be learned. Much of it about basic physics. Volumes, weights, gravity and so on. Children's absorbed play is endlessly fascinating, and endlessly fascinating just to watch. This is such all-absorbing stuff for Digger, that I wonder how do I take all this, or just this lesson, home? What is it that I have learned? Partly that Digger has grown so much, that while he is enjoying playing with us adults, he is beginning to really enjoy his own free company. He chatters away while playing. Today he even looked up and said: 'Digger happy!' and smiled. I can actually read my own book while on the beach with him. Yes, he is that absorbed. I need to peer over the edge of it ever so often, but still... Yes. This beach holiday has offered us all important lessons. Not just another holiday to be filed with photos under holiday 2014.

There are 'no's on the beach, we have come to realise. Rules we follow ourselves, second nature, but that does need pointing out to a toddler. Like no kicking of sand; no shaking out towels next to fellow sun worshippers; no using the parasol lower bit as a sword - especially not near other people; no dumping all the biscuits on the sand (though he would have come to that same conclusion very quickly without my help) and definitely no poo-ing on the beach.

The ocean, or indeed any water, is also such a great place for games that puts the toddler in the charge (well on the surface), the parent being the clumpy underdog. Like being knocked sideways by a beach ball. Repeatedly. Our son loves that. All those games where we big ones really let go. And get down to the messy yet simple business of being silly and in the moment. And Digger can bask in our undivided attention.

On the whole the beach is bliss for a toddler. And I love playing here with him too.

But how are we ever going to get him back on UK time? He's only just gone down, at 10.30pm.
On the up it will be a lovely 8am lie in tomorrow morning.

I am quickly coming to think that relax is a very key word in parenting.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

words words words

I think I'm getting tired of them.
I think digger might be as well.

As my husband Pierre points out I wasn't born with the editing gene. Neither were large parts of my family. I marvel at his ability to sum up any situation or episode - swiftly, succinctly and with integrity

Fewer words is what I aim for. 
For clarity. For integrity. For honesty. 

When do I use to many words?
Well ... Often. Here are a few situations where I am trying to cut down:

When he is sad. Or hurting. Then he just need comforting. 

When he is playing. Especially when he is in his flow zone.  Then he just need to be left to his own devises and good company. Except if course when sports casting. 

When we need to ... leave the house/playground, eat, drink, get dressed and so on. Actually ... I ask myself how often we ever need to do something?  

When he find something that is totally absorbing. Like noticing a spider in a hedge. Or spotting a blue truck. Or a crane, crane, Crane!! CRANE!!!

When he is eating - at dinner for instance. He knows when he doesn't like something or when he is full or wants more. 

There can be a lot acknowledgement in silence. Just catching his eye. Or touching him gently. In smiling. 

Let's take one of these situations and dissect it: Digger needs comforting. Digger doesn't need words or even explanations. When he is sad or hurting, he just needs comforting. Full stop. And the acknowledgement of his world and feelings that it will carry. Chances are he doesnt know why he fell of that log. Or why he bashed himself on the head. Or spilled all the milk all over himself. So there is no point in asking for an explanation. He won't be listening anyway. He's little body is no full of feelings - surprise, sadness, hurt, anger, frustration to name but a few regulars. His ears are as tightly shut as his eyes. Only his mouth is open to let out the sobs and cries. 

So now I find it best - and most efficient - just to comfort. I put my arms around him - if he will let me. And hold him. Sometimes I rock him. He likes me to stand up so he is really held tightly - suspended really. 

'Oh dear, little love.  That looked liked it really hurt.'  Repeated or a variation of this, if necessary. It is the tone of voice that carries the most weight of the sounds anyway. It is a verbal hug. The sound of soothing.  

In any of these situations there's a not so thin line between explaining and lecturing. Wrote the daughter of two teachers. I should know. 

Words can crowd and cloud the space between us.  Curiously I write this as Digger's language is coming on apace. This week i estimate 80%ish of his blubber being words. Last week it was 70%ish. When he gets it wrong, I try not to correct him too much. But to repeat. Or ask if him what he meant. For instance 'digger wan aish' he might proclaim and I can ask 'does Digger want an ice cream?' Or 'does Digger want that ice cube?' Always followed by a long pause. I'm practising pauses. If I can master them, I hope to raise a son who is better at listening that my family is. Me included. 

So many messages are lost in words. 

For the sake of clarity, I'll try to sum this blog up like this: 
In parenting fewer words will probably do. Not least in the preverbal world of a toddler. So choose them well I tell myself.

 I'm trying I'm trying!   

Friday, 4 July 2014

Sport Casting Digger World

Digger loves me sport casting of his every move. He cannot get enough. He would have me do it all… day… long… if he could. ‘Peak, peak’ he chimes, pointing to my mouth. (S–sounds are very hit or miss at the moment.)

There are many words for sports casting: 'Peak, peak', verbalising stream of conscientiousness, broad casting, sports commentating, say what you see, voice over and hero sound tracking to name but a few. They are all of course subtly different. At our house we’ve settled on the term sport casting. My husband is getting into it too.

The present World Cup of course is really good for brushing off this particular skill.

It is simple – just say what you see your child doing.

‘Digger’s holding the bulldozer in his right hand. He moves the bulldozer in. In towards the giiiiaant heap of Duplo blocks. He pushes the nose into the pile. And clears a small path. Oouhh… this is tough terrain. And he get’s stuck!! He cannot move the blocks. Oouhhooo… But wait…. he pulls back. He’s free! He backs out.... He backs out a bit further… he hesitates… And now! At full speed! He rams the bull dozer into the pile again.’  You get the gist…

This is not the same as acknowledging their feelings, as in ‘Oh dear, I think you just got a nasty shock there. Is that how it felt to you?’ Nor is it solving conflict (see links below). This is primarily about seeing one child, and to verbalise what you see. And children love that. All the children in our family love it, and cannot get enough. It is a wonderfully effective way of opening your (my) own eyes to all the minutiae of your child's Toddler Kingdom.

But there are many pit falls in sport casting. I definitely had to practice before I got half way decent at it. And I still run out of steam. And end up saying the same few things over and over again.

Most practitioners agree that you should stay away from steering the child’s actions. That includes staying away from saying stuff that may change how your child is playing. Such as ‘are you sure that is a good idea to put the red block on the green block? Here… take another green block. It’ll look nicer’ or ‘Darling, you just need to turn the block over. Then they will fit together.’ or worse still ‘Do you want me to do that for you?’ My sports casting versions of these would be along the lines of ‘He picks up a red block. He puts it on the green block.’ Or..

“He appears to be a trouble…. The blocks don’t seem to fit together… This looks very frustrating for our young hero… he is now audibly frustrated…’ etc (Yes both Pierre and I can end up using less-than-toddler-friendly language – we get desperate, in our fumble for new words and ways of expressing it all.) If I step back and leave him to it, he usually solves the problem himself, if he doesn't give up and move on to something else.

So…absolutely no questions allowed, no interjecting (unless to keep your child safe) and no directing.

Just sit back, observe and speak. It’s a bit like jazz riffs and improvisations. Just go with the flow...

I channel my inner sports commentator. I get into the grove of it and enjoy it. It is fun! And can get very absorbing for us both.

I try to be enthusiastic, engaged and non-judgemental – just like sport commentators. They have to remain fair to each of the competitors, all the while they are completely riveted by the game.

Staying non-judgemental though is nearly impossible. Just try to think of a sentence that doesn’t convey how you feel about it. Even about the weather. ‘The sun is shining.’ See? Impossible.

There are times when I suggest sport casting to Digger. Like when we need to get a move on – e.g. getting home from the park in time for dinner (ie when mummy has lost track of time). Sport casting Digger when he is scooting has been a revelation. He motors off in great style, often so far ahead that he cannot hear my comments. And yes, people may look at me funnily when I continue commenting – I have come not to care about this. Mostly though, they laugh along with me...

Oh, the things we do for our children…

Here’s a few link of some posts with more info on sport casting, mainly from the Janet Lansbury school of thoughts, its origins with Magda Gerber acknowledged. There are others I like but I have not found English web links to these. Lansbury’s way and focus is different to what I describe above, although her sport casting is amazingly effective in resolving certain conflicts as described below:

Friday, 27 June 2014

Digger's laughter - Children’s laughter as a clear demarcation of self

Is there anything more delightful that children’s laughter? It’s right on top of the feel good scale. Digger’s husky belly laughter is an obvious favourite in this household. It’s good for all of us. Scientist will have us know that it releases serotonin, and makes us feel close. Laughter is an amazing social glue.

I have been watching Digger closely when he laughs. Trying to hone in on what he finds funny. The first time Digger laughed out loud at something on TV was at Pingu. That little mischievous penguin, the Bart Simpson in the World of Claymation. What’s not to like and laugh about? I completely follow.

As Digger's language is coming along, so too is his sense of humour. For most children it is a learned behaviour, says Louis Franzini who wrote his phd on the subject, much of it published in Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor. Having a sense of humour plays an important role in developing self-esteem, learning to problem solve, and honing social skills, he states. Digger appears to have a keen and good sense of humour, yet more signs of his sunny personality and of his ever-growing cognitive development. In all honesty I am not sure how much we have to do with it. It seems to be who he is. Most days he is a cheeky cheerful monkey who tries to makes us laugh. And he does cracks us up! Frequently. I bet it feels good to him when we too are in stitches. Especially if it is over something he meant for us to find funny.

Digger laughs at jokes he can’t possible understand. He is simply joining in. Like when I told him an old family favourite: the one about the goalkeeper who didn’t have any children because he couldn’t score.

Laughter has so many terrific nuances. A sound and sight of beauty in everyone. We all giggle, gurgle, chortle, chuckle, guwfaw, cackle, snigger, snort. Well, I snort if I really get going. Perhaps not so beautiful come to think of it… Anyway, those involuntary spasms are yet another dimension of layered communication. And a key into somewhere deep and very personal. Or a wall to keep us from getting hurt. Laughter, as giggles, can be an incredible effective form of defence and release, no less so than many tears.

When I called to tell my mum that my first boyfriend and I had split up – SHE LAUGHED!! Say whaaaaa….???!! I was stunned and nearly dropped the receiver. Was she high?! I called her to be a sympathetic ear... My husband says I too laugh at moments that can definitely be taken as inappropriate if not insensitive. He says it is a family weakness. Geez. That is not at all embarrassing… He he. Only good thing to say about it is that is sometimes … sometimes … can break the ice - like at those tense and yet intensely boring management meetings.

Recently, I have been learning a bit about Theraplay. At a course last week, arranged by PAC, Annie Kiermaier gave some wonderful advice, and showed us many new games to play with our children in which laughter plays an important role. I did exactly that when I stepped through our front door later that afternoon. I put down my bag and started playing, and have kept at it since. Kiermaier showed us a short video in which she pretended to be blown over by a child. So now Digger and I do the same. We sit facing each other on the carpet, then lean towards each other, and when he blows in my face I make a big noisy fuss, and roll over. Feet in the air, all the way up and over on to my shoulders. ‘Mummy bum!’ he exclaims with delight.  If he can talk or move from laughing so hard.

Tickling can be fantastic, tantalisingly soothing even, but it has to be done with great care. As mentioned in an earlier blog on touch I have profound memories of being tickled too hard for too long by my father. Tickling has such a strong potential of being too overwhelming and uncomfortable, and so it can be misuse of power. 

‘Is this good tickling or bad tickling?’ Kiermaier suggested we ask, if we can tell when we are tickling our minions. Just adding little pressure will activate other nerve ends than those that respond to soft touch, she added.

True laughter is the best medicine. Studies are now showing it too. It lifts depression and makes sick people feel better. I always knew that things were going the wrong way for me, when I lost my ability to laugh. That is a serious wake up call, inviting me actively to seek and find it. And it always helps.

Grown ups being silly is the best! It is such an indication that they are genuinely engaged. Emotionally it is the real deal. And that is what children need and go for like heat seeking missiles.

It is also worth being aware of the perhaps less obvious sides of laughter. Say a child laughs inappropriately, when you tell them off. That it is a clear indication that you have overstepped their boundaries, and you need to step back.  They are trying to diffuse the situation and their stress – in an effectual manner. And this we can help channel more effectively for us both when we respond more playfully, with loving warmth and presence. Those qualities are key, and will help me any situation if I can tap into them. Laughter then springs naturally.

I am glad someone pointed this darker side of laughter out to me. Because I have seen and felt it as a demarcation with Digger. I did tell him off too harshly, and he did use laughter to push me away rather than draw me in. Outch. He is such a little adult pleaser, so I feel I must take extra care to notice these other ways of him expressing discomfort. And help him shed it.

I can also recommend HandinHandParenting on their view on laughter:

And Larry Cohen:

Friday, 20 June 2014

Looking back at the barren years

This post is written in support of Mumsnet’s focus on Miscarriage Care. It was inspired by a post on My Life With Katie, where Gem, an adoptive mother, told of her heartache on the road to becoming a mum. Her story is very similar to mine.

I don’t really look back at these years anymore. I have moved on. My life is very full. But this campaign did make be revisit those barren years of mine.

The TICK TOCK got louder as I approached 40, and deafening as I passed it. Childless. It was punctuated by amazing hope and unspeakable sadness.

With the arrival of Digger that tick tock has all but stopped. Now I forget my age. Something I would have thought impossible.

I have also always known the exact ages of the children I had lost. Probably because I had to repeat it so often. To doctors, to the specialist clinics and during the adoption process.

Yet… I did become a mother in the end. 

Parenthood is everything I hoped it would be. And so much much more. But don’t let anyone tell you it isn't hard work. Because it is. And it is not a bed of roses. Neither was the road towards it.

There were 23 years between the first time I fell pregnant til I held Digger in my arms. Over two decades of virtual and actual pregnancy.

In the early years the spontaneous abortions, aka miscarriages, didn’t worry me too much. I took pride in falling pregnant easily, and brushed off the early pregnancy losses, because I knew I could get pregnant again. 

But after the fifth one I was no longer at that juvenile ease. I was in my mid 20s, married, with my studies behind me. I told the doctors about my previous miscarriages, and they did some additional testing, but could find nothing wrong.

The earliest miscarriages had been spontaneous, all around 10 or 12 week, and I had one them fully one my own. The hospitals, and gynaecologist were all reassuring and helpful. No need for evacuations. But from my mid 20s they became what is termed ‘missed abortions’. The foetus had died within me. I went into the third trimester. And everyone around us knew we were pregnant (friends and family can do much by spreading the word that you are no longer pregnant, as that is such a hard thing to have to tell people.)

The last three were girls.

The doctors encouraged me to wait for my body to expel the foetus, as I had been able to do earlier – probably very soon after the foetus had died. But now I was waiting weeks. After 2 or even 3 weeks, I begged the doctors to do an evacuation. They eventually consented after 2 days of heavy bleeding. They admitted a certain risk for my life if the bleeding wouldn’t stop.

The best part of the miscarriage evacuations were the count downs in the anaesthetics. That blissful surrender.

I have never heard a heart beat of anyone of these children. Doctors have been trying to find it. But I always knew when they had died. Usually because I was feeling fine again. No morning sickness, no sleepiness, not tightness in my bosom.

What people often neglect to tell you is just how long it takes to get back on your feet - physically, emotionally and hormonally - after a miscarriage. In my earlier years it was quick – a couple of weeks. Later, in my late 20s and early 30s, it took months. I cannot recommend that part either. 
This is the lonely bit.

A friend of mine had an ectopic pregnancy that had to be removed. She nearly lost her life. She called me the morning after, from the hospital bed. 

‘I never understood why you were sad about the pregnancies you lost. Now I do.
People say, ‘Oh well ... never mind. You’ll soon fall pregnant again.’ But I wanted THAT CHILD. Not the next one. Nor the one after that.’ I think she summed it up perfectly.

‘How many times has this happened to you?’ a kind woman asked when I had my last miscarriage. On hearing my answer, she referred my straight onto a specialist clinic. And that clinic was not a great experience. Sigh. We were made to feel like naughty school children. I felt so nervous I know I did not give half the useful information I should have, because I just wanted to get out of there. I went there in the hope that I could help science, and eventually other women in the future. The very thought that my blood and story might be useful to others drove me on for months of testing, waiting, testing and waiting. And for the insults. I was told there were thousands like me. In reality, I have only ever met one woman, the mother of a good friend in Norway, who had suffered the same number.

I cannot express just how devastating it was to learn that I was perimenopausal. Early menopause is a very lonely place to be. I couldn’t share with my peers, and strangely, older friend often wouldn’t really believe me, as if it was their perrogative. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit the relief I felt when I was told I did not qualify for IVF. Phew. At least I didn't have to make that decision. I did however qualify for surrogacy. On the NHS?! Thanks, but no thanks. Surrogacy and egg donation was not for me. I really. Really. Really. Did not need to go through another miscarriage again. Not even the risk of it.

Egg donation is for me adoption on an embryotic scale. Why not go for a child, already born in need of a home? I have seen families made in very many different ways, and they are all just that: families.
The way my husband and I have formed our little family has been through adoption. And the choice for that particular road was straight-forward for us both. That it took us years to get to the family bit is another story – swings and roundabout... And tons more waiting. Mainly on adopting from abroad as that – at the time we began – seemed the most expedient. Well, that is if you can’t make your own. We’ve ended up full circle in adoption: our boy was born only 1 ½ mile away from where we live. He needed a home. And we dreamt of sharing our home with a child. We have always loved children and the number 1 motivation for becoming a family was not so much to become parents as it was to live with a child. If that makes sense.

And here we are… It is definitely a dream come true. And one worth waiting for. Despite the heartache and decades of dreaming and waiting and aching and longing.

The last paragraph on this post must be dedicated to my husband. He very nearly wept when a friend of ours turn her focus onto him after our last miscarriage. He didn’t stop talking for a long while. She asked him very simply how he was. I am so grateful she did. He had a lot of say. And his pain was as acute as mine. Just different. The fathers are all to often overlooked in the infertility. Interestingly before we adopted our son, we had had our eyes on another little boy. For reasons beyond our control the match fell through. We still often think about this boy and hope he has found a family. That he is well care for, and above all else: loved. Pierre said that when we were told that he could not be ours, the loss felt like that of a miscarriage.

I have one wish for this campaign, and that in all it’s simplicity is that miscarrying women and their partners are shown respect not just by the professionals, but by people all around.

My specific plea for #miscarriagecare is that younger women are taken more seriously. I have wondered what would have happened if I had been taken seriously when aged 25 - after my 4th miscarriage - I asked if things perhaps wasn’t as they should have been…? I think I may have arrived at parenthood a whole decade earlier if they hadn't told me ‘I wouldn’t worry yet, you are still young.’ 

Please don't talk down to us.