Category Archives: motherhood

10 things at 3 years- Maja

This time I’ve decided not to be stingy with my list, and give both of you the full ten. Here are yours.

Nice things

  1. You are sucking up information like a sponge and processing the world with your own logic. When we tell you you can’t run with a fork because we saw a picture on the internet of a kid who did that and had to have it surgically removed from his nose, you file the information away.  One day, we get into the tram and see a woman with a nose stud. Mummy, you say, that Pani mustabeen running with  a fork.
  2. You draw beautifully. Snails in a car, a snowman with a scarf, a beautiful graphic of a giraffe made of an L with 2 dots for eyes, bespectacled portraits of Daddy and Jaś. All entirely recognisable
  3. You are getting socially braver and don’t have to be bribed with cake to go to preschool on your own when Janek is sick.
  4. You ride your bike like a little professional, with madness and pure joy in your eyes.
  5. You have started to tell your own stories sometimes at bedtime. They inevitably contain a dog, and an adventure that ends with a nice warm cocoa (your words) and going to sleep.
  6. You recently took great pleasure in informing me that Babcia is Daddy’s mummy. I can see how this messes with your head and it’s so funny.
  7. You totally love books  and remember whole chunks of text after what seems to be a single read.
  8. You are eating by yourself quite happily with no coaxing . Though your choice of food is not always what I would wish for you.
  9. You are getting more and more attached to Marcin.
  10. You like making nonsense rhymes ( mummy-gummy is your favourite)

Less nice things

  1. Tantrums. In a word. At night, in the morning, in the middle of the day. Sometimes the things you want are so crazy that we have no choice but to do battle (for example when you threw yourself on the floor and kicked because you wanted to eat all the breakfast eggs for everyone by yourself.)
  2. You always want to have exactly what Janek has, and you’re not afraid to bite his ears off to get it. Your fights with him are getting incredibly violent.
  3. Wanting to be carried home from preschool because you don’t feel like walking or riding your bike.
  4. When we don’t have something you want and you say go to the shop and buy some.  It makes me want to lecture you for hours about children in Africa.
  5. The mess you make
  6. The late hour at which you deign to go to bed
  7. The way you demand that someone scratch your back for what feels like 5 hours before you will go to sleep. I hate scratching you.
  8. Watching you ride your bike down the hill as fast as you can, knowing you are going to fall off and being powerless to stop you.
  9.  Still worrying about your shyness, although you’re much more forthcoming than you were.
  10. Your erratic affections- when you scream all the way to our friend’s place in the taxi because you don’t want me sitting near you, but Marcin

 

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On this winter’s morn, everyone asleep, this is what I found.

  Ah,  behold, there’s poetry in motherhood!

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Meditations on 2 years of motherhood

Janek and Maja have just  turned 2. The night before they were born, I was  watching Skyfall with Marcin in Złoty Tarasy and intentionally avoiding meditating on what awaited me. 24 hours later, I was off my head on morphine and a mother of 2. This system (no baby one day, baby the next) never fails to amaze me.

And they’re still here, 2 years later, changed beyond all recognition. The fact of them stretches out to colour a time before they ever existed- sometimes when I think about the cycling trip we made to Poland, I catch myself wondering where they were- what did we do with them while we were sleeping in an Iranian caravanserai or crossing a pass in Tajikistan? The things they have learnt in these 2 years stun me- I don’t know if they will ever have another time in their life where they come to grips with so many new skills.

It seems clear to me that I love them more now than I did then. The fact that I just let somebody else take care of them on their first night on earth now horrifies me, to the point where I would like to have another baby just to redeem myself. When I think about the 10 days we spent in hospital together after their birth, my memory is full of horror-film special effects- the dressing gowns, the groans and wails, the night walking, the fear and confusion in the air. The icicles dangling in the yellow lamplight. And so forth. The sight of newborns, with their veiled, sleepy eyes and creaky wails, fills me with a complicated mix of tenderness and fear.

In these two years, I have spent plenty of time feeling either judged or self-righteous. Who knew that parenting was such a competition? Maybe it’s because there’s so much at stake that the thought that you’re doing it all wrong is unbearable. There’s a small, sneaky satisfaction that I can’t deny in seeing someone else lose patience with their child, or palm them off with an electronic device to get a bit of peace and quiet. If I had any plans to become a better person, I would start by trying to eliminate this Schadenfreude.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mad July

I have been slacking on the blog front. For the whole of July I have been teaching 5 hours a day, and I am stretched in so many ways that I can hardly believe I am still standing at the end of the week. I spend all day (beginning at around 4:30 in the morning) in a ferment of lesson planning and teaching, and come home to the whirl of dinner-bathtime-bedtime. After which I fall into bed myself and the whole cycle begins again.

I’m happy and relieved to find the teaching exciting instead of terrifying. I have a class of 11 young Belarusians who amaze me and amuse me (“Rose, your tights remind me of a rabbit”) every day. Their neurons are also firing madly,  so we are in it together. They do not realise the extent to which I am experimenting on them-I feel like I need to try out any new trick I can think of while I have such an energetic and responsive audience.

So much of this is new. For the first time I am developing warm and constructive relationships with my colleagues. For the first time I am farming out my children all week long, so that I hardly see them. Sometimes I hear their sleepy early morning jabbering building as I exit the flat in the morning- more often, everyone is still sleeping when I leave.  I know that my parents (who have the kids 3 days a week and often do overtime on weekends) are stretched as well, and I barely see them either. I call in the afternoon to remind them I’ll be late and hear the sounds of their secret life together-we’re just in the kitchen having our nana, says my father, and then, he’s escaping too! We’ve got two Trobriand Islanders, and they’re not wearing their leg ropes!

I don’t plan to live like this on a permanent basis, though I know that many people do and somehow manage. But I don’t feel guilty either. For this month, I can wallow in work and see how it feels.

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Getting our summer on

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Finally set up our bikes to carry the kids and went for a ride and a barbeque by the big brown Wisła, all full of foam and swirling brown water from the southern rains.  They had no objection to travelling this way and were happy to have their own (hideous gendered) helmets at last.

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Filed under around Poland, childhood, family, friendship, happiness, motherhood, travel, twins

Comparisons are odious

This is what my mother used to tell us when our constant  competitive childhood ranking  (his is better, his is bigger, she got more!) was getting her goat. It sounds like a piece of wisdom inherited from her own mother, and possibly used for the same purpose.

I make them anyway. It’s a constant source of amazement to me, how different my children are. I could touch each of their bodies with one finger and know whose it was- Janek’s dense wombat-flesh, Maja’s springy little muscles. I watch their different kinds of bravery- Maja, who hides behind my leg and wards off strangers with a murderous scowl, has no qualms about sliding headfirst down the slippery-dip. Janek is devoid of any fear whatsoever of unknown humans, and goes about the playground stretching out his arms to other people’s Babcias, saying try!try! (this is what they say when they want to do something and need help).

Their absolute and irrefutable difference  has saved me endless mothering guilt, in particular over Janek’s eczema, which I would otherwise think was my fault. It’s one of the biggest advantages of twins- seeing the way they turn out to be themselves, regardless.

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Conversations with my daughter

Do you want to go back to bed? No, no, no.

Is Babi coming today? tak, tak, tak. (emphatic nodding of the head).

Holy mother of God- she is talking back! She also has her first bilingual words- shoes/buty and light/ lampa.  It’s like the walking – I know everybody does it, but when my kids do, I am amazed and delighted.

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Why having children doesn’t mean social death

Who knew? Because when you don’t have children, all the staying home at night because you don’t have a babysitter, all the not going to restaurants because your kids will wallow in the sugar bowl and then smash it into a thousand pieces, all the I’m- too -tireds and I-can’t-because-it’s- nap- times seem to mean it’s all over. But I, ladies and gentlemen, would like to report, both truthfully and optimistically, that it’s not.

My first inkling came when I managed to find a mother’s group. We would  meet once a week in a yoga studio, do yoga for a while (our kids were still tiny, and only one was ambulatory), and then talk about our tribulations- about our experience of birth and feeding, about what had happened to our relationships, about what had happened to us. Most of us were on our first babies, and still reeling. Contact with strangers is harder to make in Poland, but we seemed to have created a charmed circle where the usual rules of standoffishness didn’t apply. We would share our dark secrets amongst a chorus of wails, and I would go home feeling slightly less shipwrecked.

I also have another set of new friends which my children have brought me . A couple of months after they were born, looking for some connection, I joined a Facebook group of women who had twins due around the same time that mine were. Most of them are in the States, but some are in Europe, one in Australia, one in the Gambia. It’s secret group, which means that our ‘real’ friends can’t see anything that we write there. And oh, how they save my sanity. Together we have obsessed over sleep, over feeding, over the weights and skin conditions and moods and teeth of our offspring. Many of us have older kids, and one has already produced a younger sibling for her twins.

But it’s not only about children. When I get a new job which I desperately want to boast about, I boast to them. When one of their husbands is diagnosed with MS, she tells us. We confess  our  pain, our fear, our isolation, our triumphs.  We advise each other and commiserate and cheer each other on.  It’s the internet, and we are total strangers, and engaged in that most competitive of businesses-motherhood-, but we are gentle with each other, and unjudgmental.

And then there are the playground friends. At the mummy-cafe, I met an Austrian who takes care of his daughter while his wife works, and a Frenchman who does the same. We go to the playground, and try not to lose our children or let them kill themselves, while engaging in desultory conversation about all manner of things. The Frenchman divulges his plan to become a failed writer (“I’m well on my way”,) the Austrian tells me about his hobby of motorbike racing and shows me a picture of the 6 screws and a metal plate he had put in his knee after an accident. We cover the usual- food, sleep, a quick boast about new achievements- and then are free to talk about ourselves.

I expect it to go on like this, more or less. There will be preschool and school, and they will have friends whose parents I might like or not, but they will bring us into the orbit of people we would never otherwise have met. I don’t expect each and every one of them to be my bosom buddies, but it makes me realise that maybe kids aren’t tyrannical little jailers after all.

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Filed under childhood, friendship, happiness, mental health, migrant life, motherhood, twins, Uncategorized

Covetousness

On Saturday, we were on Plac Grzybowski in Warsaw with the kids, chasing pigeons and having a picnic. Suddenly a group of English-speaking tourists appeared, trailing behind their guide across the bridge. I was with Janek, who stopped trying to jump off the picnic table as the parade went by and stood there like some knee-high old man in his corduroys and cardigan, mouth open, shamelessly staring.

One of the teenage boys with the group noticed him and stopped. He dug around in his bag and came up with a little bag of Canadian flag pins, and said, would you like one for him? I took it, not because I thought a pointy little choking hazard was a great present for a 16 month old, but because I suddenly remembered a time in my life when I desperately coveted a pin exactly like this.

I’m in year 2, so I must be 7 or 8. It’s most likely 1984,  and we have a great big ginger moustachioed exchange teacher from Canada called Mister Teeft. His son is called Patrick- he is  the same age as me and has the most exotic accent I have ever heard. This must be time for the initiation of adult memory, because I remember quite a lot of things from this year. It is the year that my penchant for going to the toilet in rainstorms is noticed and commented on. Our classroom is the demountable on the hill, not far from the principal’s residence, and the doors in the toilet block are painted pumpkin-orange.It is the year of my spelling triumph, when I successfully spell ‘ocean’ in our class test. Kylie Taylor, the pert, curly-haired, snubnosed policeman’s daughter,  writes ‘oshen’.

Anyway, Mr. Teeft gives out these pins as prizes throughout the year. I desperately want one, but despite my genius for spelling, I don’t manage to get my hands on one until the very end of his stay, when he clears out his maple-leaf pin supply and the whole class gets one. I keep it for years in a little box of treasures- I like collecting things, especially teeny-tiny things.

Remembering all this among the waving grasses of Plac Grzybowski, I realise my own children are embarking on their own path of  unfathomable, thwarted desire. They will urgently want things of which I will be totally unaware -I’m pretty sure Mr. Teeft had no idea how I yearned for a pin. I decide to keep it in mind at moments when their hankerings seem especially baffling.

 

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Love your work

If I have made any resolution this year, this is it. It is made partly in the spirit of resignation-there are certain things I have no choice about- but it is also recognition of the fact that the things I have to do bring a measure of enjoyment which isn’t marred by the sense of obligation.  It doesn’t prevent me from facing some days with the feeling that I am trudging off to my own execution, as I wonder where I will find the energy and enthusiasm to make it to nightfall.

There are two things which I consider to be my work. One is taking care of the kids, and the other is teaching. I have to confess that I am more inclined to find the childcare draining and the teaching energising. Maybe it’s a matter of the sheer number of hours I spend at each task, or maybe I am an attention junkie who needs to perform for others, and I don’t treat Maja and Janek seriously as an audience. Maybe it’s just exhausting to perform repetitive tasks all day- in particular, I am not a fan of cleaning high chairs.

Anyway, the point is that, though I often wake up with an internal groan,  I generally feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I don’t mean a I-am-clearly-raising–two-children-who-will-cure-cancer-and-teaching-all-the-Poles-perfect-English kind of way.  More like an I’m- not- dead- and- haven’t– killed- anybody,- now let’s- sit- down- and -watch- Game- of- Thrones  kind of way.  It makes me realise that there is something to be said for compulsion- doing things which I don’t necessarily feel like doing  makes me paradoxically content.

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