Five things at fifteen months

Well, my little darlings, I think it’s time again for a quick recording of what is happening in our lives. Thanks once again to blue milk for this idea- a regular reckoning of the pluses and minuses of baby farming.  Though I am going to play the twin card and reduce to 5 things each.

You are both especially charming at this age, and are learning to play together. Mainly this means concussing each other with whatever is to hand and biting each other, but sometimes you actually do have fun together.  You both also love wiping things with sponges or towels, sweeping the floor, and using forks. You are both pretty steady on your feet now, and we are embarking on the era of playgrounds and INCREDIBLY SLOW walks. Here are some of the things which charm and irritate me at this juncture.

Janek- five things

1. You have become an  incredibly affectionate little boy who likes to cuddle just for fun. I love it when you squeeze me and bury your face in my neck.

2. You are completely unafraid of strangers, and go up to them wherever we are, holding out your arms to be picked up. Last weekend you tried to go home with Marcin’s parents’ neighbour in Pruszków. At the playground, you love to approach other kids and see what they’re doing.

3. You are starting to communicate with language, which I find utterly amazing. Yesterday you asked me for a nana.

4. I love the way you jump from foot to foot pant and snicker when you see food you want.

5. You are sleeping much better since we came home from Australia. Luckily for you.

Janek: another 5 things

1. You still have bad eczema, and it still worries me.

2. You are developing your tantruming skills when you don’t get what you want, flinging yourself on the floor and wailing like a siren. It makes me feel impotent and furious in equal measure.

3. You are often very clingy, especially when you’re tired, and want to be picked up a lot. I now understand my mother’s constant requests when we were kids to ‘get out from under her feet.’

4. You wake up like your father- slowly and grumpily. Even after a good nap or a full night’s sleep, you stagger around grumbling with your dandelion hair sticking up, pissed at being conscious.

5. You have learnt how to climb onto the chair in the kitchen. Technically this is a step forward, and should maybe impress me, but I don’t really like the way it opens up a whole world of benchtop murder weapons and suicide options. Though the way you lounge about there, grinning at me, is pretty funny.

 

Maja- 5 things

1. The way you say “Uwaga!” (look out!) , when you want Marcin  to tip you backwards off his knees.

2. The way you show all your teeth when you smile.

3. You love trying to put your own clothes on. The other day you got into Marcin’s t-shirt, which reached your ankles, and sat on the lounge laughing and waiting for me to notice.

4. You can amuse yourself for a long time, and come up with all the fun games- climbing into the cupboard and closing the door, putting the Mr. Lion puppet on your arm and waving it around, throwing my shoes into the bathwater.

5. Your dancing. You can’t help yourself when you hear music, and you have this hilarious zombie style where you put your arms out and shift from side to side.

Maja- another 5 things

1. You’re an early riser. Need I say more?

2. You’re a biter. I never know when I’m going to get a ferocious nip on the back of my leg. You are impervious to my stern ‘no biting!’, which is basically all I have in my discipline arsenal at the moment.

3. The way you like to poke Janek and sit on him when he is already asleep.

4. Your consummate skill in finding  used kiddy bandaids at the playground or the mummy cafe, and putting them in your mouth.

5. Your ability to hit your head. You have a never ending series of bruises on your forehead, sometimes with no apparent cause.

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Filed under childhood, family, five things, memory, motherhood, twins

Women at work in Poland

 

 

In the weekend magazine recently, there was an article about women in the workplace in Poland- about their pay, their treatment, and their chances of getting to a higher position. I read it with that sort of sick excitement you get at having your worst fears confirmed, thinking somewhere, subconsciously, that things look much better in Australia. And definitely in Australia people might think twice before asking a female architect to make them coffee because she’s a woman, or telling a recruiter that they want a man for the job because they don’t breed, or telling a female in the police force that she should be happy to have gotten this far as a woman, and why does she want a promotion; it will only make her family suffer. In Australia I might not prefer to pretend that I am sick rather than confessing to a childcare crisis (which I have definitely contemplated in Poland.)

Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen? If you are only interested in the pay gap, it’s much smaller in Poland (9-10 %) than in Australia (15-17%). Looking to confirm my prejudices, however, led me here ; the report uses more data than the pay gap, (it analyses four categories- economic activity, health, educational attainment and political empowerment), and now  Australia ranks 24, and Poland 54.

Anyway, one of the things which struck me in the article was that women said they had trouble negotiating; that they were too apologetic, not assertive enough. I realised that it was true, in my case anyway- I am too busy trying to be nice, and my first instinct is to say yes. I vowed to value myself higher, and didn’t have to wait long for a chance; I was offered some work in a preschool, and the first move was to try and beat my price down. As my own children screamed in the background (making it easier to do something which I knew would lose me the job), I named a price only nominally lower than the current one, and said that there was no way I could work for less. I would only call it a partial win; taken by surprise,  my initial instinct was still to please. And I am in a very privileged position- I can only imagine what it’s like for people who can’t afford to say no to work.

 

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Filed under around Poland, feminism, gender, observations on Polish society, Reading

What the eye doesn’t see

Looking back at our photos from Australia, all I see is the kids. There’s only two of them, and they’re only small, but they cover a whole country, a whole continent. There they are: loving dogs, hating sand, patting a wallaby, being indulged by various friends and relatives. The whole landscape in which they do these things is absent, or faded to distant backdrop.

I don’t know when this part of parenting ends, this tight focus that makes the rest of the universe disappear. Quite frankly it doesn’t seem like it will be any time soon. For a taste of what the south coast of NSW actually looks like, may I direct you  here.    If you want to see a small taste of what we saw, read on.

P1160870 P1160897 P1160952 P1160967 P1160968

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Filed under Australia, family, motherhood, travel, twins

Sickness

A week or so after getting home, we all came down with the flu. I got it worst, and as everybody else was recovering, I was taking antibiotics for bronchitis and fighting a temperature of almost 40 degrees. I couldn’t face food and feeding the kids disgusted me.

After 10 days I started to feel better- to be able to go out, to eat again. But I was hollowed out by illness. The world was devoid of colour. Instead of feeling a great excited relief that my body was returning to normal, I felt sluggish, convalescent, and lost. For another week, I was weak, weepy, and inclined to cower.

I haven’t been sick since the beginning of my pregnancy, apart from the odd runny nose, so this is the first time I have had to deal with children when what I really wanted to do was die. I spent one day lying on a mattress on the floor with a fever, hoping that nobody broke a bone because I wouldn’t be able to get up and take them to the hospital, while they gambolled all over the furniture, ate our books, and pulled every single annoying singing toy out of the cupboard and played with them all at once.

As usual, being sick and really incapable (instead of just disinclined), made me regret my usually unsympathetic stance towards other sick people. To whom I now formally apologise for my secret irritation and conviction that they are malingering- it is a failure of my own imagination.

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Filed under family, mental health, sickness

Having two homes

When we went to Australia last month, I hadn’t been home for almost 5 years. During which I had cycled from Tokyo to Warsaw, settled in Poland, learnt Polish, and had two children.

I couldn’t predict what would happen to me when I got out of the plane. On the surface, most of my apprehension centred on logistics- how to transport 4 people, two of them only one year old, from one side of the world to the other, with a minimum of squealing and disruption.

What I was really worried about was what sort of crisis the trip might force. I live fairly happily and unreflectively in Warsaw, and thought that maybe this was only possible because of the lapse in space-time that separated me from my real life and home. I hear myself brushing off people’s questions about why I have made this choice and what life is like with a sort of obtuseness- that I don’t really think about it, that I am as happy as I would be anywhere, stubbornly refusing to admit any real dissatisfaction or make any unfavourable comparisons, though I think this is often what they want or expect. I felt on some visceral level that my life in Warsaw wouldn’t stand up to any real scrutiny- that my friendships would seem superficial, my work senseless, my  attachment to place tenuous, if I started to compare.

And I loved  being in Australia. I loved speaking English all the time, getting all the jokes, talking silly slang and never thinking about my declensions. I loved feeling totally at ease and inconspicuous, I loved the sea, I loved being in a place where I had a long history and seeing my family and all my lovely friends.

But I also felt fine coming back to Poland again. Partly it was just because I was ready to be back in my own space again, after a month 0f screamy nights in other people’s houses. But mainly, I just felt alright. There were people and places I wanted to see. The freeze was over and the days were longer and the language was still familiar. I felt as if I had passed an important test.

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Filed under Australia, family, friendship, history, memory, migrant life

The unattainable dream of order

In my sporadic attempts to improve my parenting, I came across Montessori theory, and I have to admit I like it. Of course I am enamoured of the idea of two busy little toddlers bustling about and making their own dinner and cleaning up after themselves, but more than anything I am obsessed with the idea of a Montessori home. All that white space, order, peace. I cruise the internet reading about Montessori interior design with its clean lines, its little baskets of educational toys which miraculously remain in their places, and find the big brown furniture and chaos in our flat more and more oppressive.

I have no idea how real Montessori people deal with the fact that one year olds sow destruction in their wake. My Montessori shelves conform to the ideal only when my children are asleep. The closest I can find to an acknowledgment of this is the comment somewhere that ‘Montessori environments require near-constant fussing by adults and children alike’, but that it’s worth it, because the benefits of peace and order for those mad little brains are incalculable. The benefits for my mad big brain, come to think of it, would also be incalculable.

But it’s a pure fantasy at this point. Sometimes I try and limit the damage by limiting the amount of things they have to play with. This inevitably results in a tug-of-war and the desperate wails of the loser, who not only loses the toy but then gets beaten over the head with it. My fantasy of a place for everything and everything in its place is still far from being attainable.

P.S I wrote this before we went to Australia, but coming home to my nest, I find it’s still relevant!

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Filed under mess, Montessori

First memories

On the second day of Christmas, we went to Marcin’s aunt’s place for lunch. Lots of meat (lacking in the traditional Christmas Eve meal), lots of staring at babies, and in the interstices, a little bit of conversation. I like his aunt. The most famous story about her is about the time she (as a fiery child), outraged on meeting a flasher on her way home from school, went home for a knife before going back to find him and chasing him down the railway embankment.

In between stuffing ourselves with turkey and trying to stop our children from plunging down the stairs, Gosia is talking about memory. She tells us that she has two very early memories. In one, she is lying in a ‘forest’, which she later decides must have been under some beetroot leaves- the sun is shining through and lighting their red veins. In the other, she is riding in a pram with a squeaky wheel. She is leaning out and watching the spokes turn, and trying to put her fingers into them so she can touch the squeak.

It made me think about my first recollections, which appeared somewhat later than hers, at the more normal age of 3 or 4. The very first memory which I can date is the birth of my youngest brother, a couple of months before my 4th birthday. My father woke us up in the middle of the night and made us cocoa, and took us to the hospital where he left us cocooned in blankets in the car while he went inside. I remember him coming back to the car, starting the engine  and releasing the handbrake in a decided fashion, and saying, ‘It’s a boy, and his name is Hugh Eric Moore.’

I conduct some informal research at dinner. Marcin remembers sitting on a bald old man’s knee- he thinks it was his grandfather, and he would have been about two. Kaśka is convinced she has no memories, and that what she thinks is a memory is really a story repeated to her by her parents. Marek remembers pissing in his snow suit when he was about 4.

It’s called childhood amnesia. Most children, at some point in their childhood, lose the ability to remember things which happened before they were three or four, and in general have a comparative paucity of memories from the time before they are 7. It’s amazing to me that my nephew, who is almost three and can name all sorts of cars and carry out a normal conversation with all manner of correct declinations,  will eventually lose his autobiographical recall of this period. My own children, caught up in their constant power struggle for old bits of cardboard and kitchen receptacles, will retain no trace of the tragedies they suffer.

I feel a mixture of relief (nobody will remember if I shout at them from time to time or let them eat an old piece of orange peel for the sake of two seconds peace) and resentment (what a great big investment of time it all is, and nobody will ever appreciate it). But mainly it makes me marvel at the neural madness of children’s brains. The theory I like the most is that high levels of neurogenesis in the hippocampus in children interfere with the formation of long-term autobiographical memories. It’s only later, when this frenzy subsides a bit, that the neural pathways can be frequented enough to form lasting memories.My own ageing hippocampus interests itself more and more in the past, and I consider it one of the benefits of getting old.

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Filed under childhood, children's brains, memory