Tag Archives: looking after children

some things about turbulence

Today my sister and I took our nephew (6) and our niece (4) on the plane from Melbourne to Canberra for a holiday with their grandparents.

Melbourne – Canberra is the kind of flight where you’ve just opened your book and are contemplating buying something off the trolley, when the captain announces that you will be commencing descent in a minute.

Not much room for anything much at all to happen. Two things happened.

1. My niece wanted me to go through the entire Emergency Procedures booklet with her. She asked me, “What happens if there’s an emergency?”

Oh dear. “There won’t be an emergency, sweetheart.”

Then she gave me this look. Somewhere between patience, disappointment and withering scorn. “What would happen?”

“The crew would tell us, and I would be right here to help you do everything you had to do.”

“Ok,” she said, looking like a kid again.

It’s a bizarre thing about adulthood that we look back at children with such anxious objectivity. When moments like this arise – the “where do babies come from?” and “is Lassie in heaven now?” moments – it practically feels like a moral dilemma. Do I tell her the truth and ruin her innocence forever or lie and keep her perfect?

Hey, the girl just wanted to know what would happen. She wasn’t the tiniest bit interested in my phony cheer.

2. I have never experienced turbulence like it. Lots of potential for emergency. I don’t personally enjoy flying, at all, and if it had just been me and special k on that plane, I would probably have been halfway to paralysing his fingers for life. My face would have been scrunched as tight as it could go, and buried in some warm, alive part of his body.

Sitting between two kids who rely on you does amazing things for the threshold of what you can do. Because they were there, there was no room in me for the fear that we might die. We weren’t going to, because they were there.

“Just relax like a jellyfish,” I told them, and attempted somehow to do the same.

day three: because I said so

I tend to get trumped by kid-logic, which doesn’t always make it easy to assert control. I had two moments of success today that make me think I’m getting the hang of the whole “I’m bigger than you therefore you do as I say” thing.

1. Ella sees it as a matter of personal pride and an important gesture of autonomy to snatch her hand from mine before we’ve reached the other side of the road (any road). She did it today and I gave her a talking to which, as per usual, she interrupted with her own account of things:

“Well anyway, Mum and Dad don’t hold our hands when we cross these roads. This isn’t even a road!”

The road in question wasn’t really so much of a road, it’s true, it was more of a carpark entranceway. This is where I normally get stumped. I think: You know, she’s right, it’s not really a road. I guess it’s not worth fighting over. I don’t want to have to come up with some hard and fast rule about ALL roads big and small when it doesn’t really make sense…

But this time I got it. I said: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a road or not. When I say you hold my hand, you hold my hand.”

Anna 1: Ella 0

2. Benji didn’t get much sleep last night. He had his first sleepover at a friend’s, and apparently they were talking till midnight. Good times.

After he was returned to me he was repeating everything Ella and I said, as kids do. Fair enough. I told him to stop, he did. Then he goaded Ella into copy-catting him so that he could whinge about it to me. I dealt with that. Then he started up the copying again and this time I’d had enough so I told him to stop and he didn’t and then I looked at him and said: “DON’T!” and I really meant it.

Not to be cowed without a fight, Benji said “No, you have to tell me what you’ll do if I don’t stop. I won’t stop until you tell me.”

Is this kid good at manipulation, or what? He knows exactly what the adult says next, he knows the script, so he pre-empts you and pulls the rug out from under you by doing it.

This is where I would normally fall down. I would bluster about and threaten him with something, knowing the whole while it made no difference at all.

This time, I looked at him and said: “There aren’t any consequences. You’re going to stop, because I say so.”

Anna 1: Benji 0.

Now my three days of child-minding are done, and nothing makes a grown-up house feel more luxurious than the silence the little skwawkers leave in their wake.

day two: silence is golden

My mum (hi Chez!) is a priest. During her annual family camp there’s this wonderful hour in the middle of the day called Golden Silence, when all the kids bunk down and the adults get a rest.

What my sister-in-law Kemi very cleverly did was keep Golden Silence going after the camp ended this year. So when Ella sleeps in the middle of the day, Benji knows he has to be quiet.

Ah, peace.

This morning we went to the zoo, which was mostly fun. Lions roared, elephants chucked dirt at each other and one little peccary ran about like mad for no apparent reason.

Then there were the fun moments of me saying “This way kids! I’m reading the map, and it definitely says Baboons this way!”

And them running off the other way saying “Two against one, you have to come!”

Then me looking at the map again and realising, of all dreadful things, that they were right, so I didn’t even get the satisfaction of bending them to my grown-up will.

By the time we arrived home I was fresh out of patience. Patience was not so present today.

And then, blessed be all things quiet, Golden Silence arrived.

Ella went to bed with my stuffed mouse, Boo, after tears of protest, because she really didn’t need a sleep at all. Benji wallowed on the couch for a while till my repetitive tapping at the keyboard sent him off too, his cheek pressed into the cushion, sprawled flat on his belly like a baby furry thing.

(Do any baby furry things sleep on their belly? Probably not. Sloppy metaphor. It’s late again.)

I worked for two-and-a-half hours, and by the time they woke up I’d worked enough spit back into my mouth for the next round of questions.

[A quick post-script: If you can, check out Cheryl’s response to the previous post. She’s got some really good things to say, especially for those of us staring imminent parenthood in the face.]

day one: the moment that forgives everything else

My girlfriends and I keep a continuous facebook chat going, so that we can be in everyday contact even though we live on the four corners of the world.

I recently wrote to them:

I’m still feeling clucky, but I also feel like everywhere I look, parenting looks harder than it looks joyful.

Blech. I just want to know that it’s also rewarding and that there are times when it’s fun and when you all come together and it works. And more than just moments every now and then. Pure biology might not count, if there aren’t nice bits like that.

I’ve also talked a lot with my friend Adrienne, who’s step-mum to a three year old, about how hard it is to parent other people’s children, when you don’t get the unconditional love in return. (Read here for my issues with my niece. Little people can be terrifying.)

But today, I am happy to report, despite all yesterday’s apprehension, I had a moment. The moment.

I was sitting on the couch with the day all wintery and cold outside, my nephew leaning on one arm, my niece (fresh from her afternoon sleep = warm, snuggly and silent) tucked under the other, readingĀ The Magic Faraway Tree.

“Saucepan, have a plum?”

“Crumb?” said Saucepan, in surprise. “Is that all you can spare for me–a crumb?”

“PLUM, PLUM, PLUM!” said Moon-Face, pushing a ripe one into the Saucepan Man’s hands.

“Oh, plum,” said Saucepan Man. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”

I am right back in a world that I loved intensely as a child – these were the first books I ever read to myself – and my niece and nephew’s faces are lighting up with the same imaginative joy.

If life’s about anything, then surely this is it.

I apprehend the day

special k wants me to write a post about him going on an adventure. So far he’s wandered into a forest, found magical bees with magical honey and gotten into a fight with a bear over it.

I might leave that for another day.

What I feel right now is that apprehension the day to come casts over the present moment. Just to clarify: I’m not entirely convinced about philosophies that tell you to “live in the moment”, so that’s not what’s bothering me.

But it does make sense to me that if the future I’m imagining has such pull on the now, so could a future I imagine differently with a very different kind of pull – one to get up in the morning for.

Does that even make sense? It’s late.

Anyway, I’m looking after the niece and nevvy for the next three days. My little bro was meant to fly to Melbourne and help me out, but in the grand tradition of Stef he missed his flight.

As he said, at least he didn’t lose his passport and have to pay $600 US to get it replaced. That did happen, among other things such as being apprehended for being a suspicious person. He’s not suspicious, just vague, and there’s that word apprehension again.

So he missed his flight, my three days with the kids are unrelieved. I love em, I just don’t know where I’m going to find the saliva to keep up with three days worth of questions.

I think that little zombie killer child from the deeps was my niece a moment ago…

my four year old niece is the most incongruous and gorgeous little person on the face of the planet, which means you love her before you even know what’s going on. Her fey little hands just reach inside your chest and pluck your heart right out to put in her nest beside the speckled eggs and bits of string she keeps there.

The same qualities that make you love her fiercely also make her the most impossible person on the face of the planet.

Since me and special k got back to Aus last year I’ve been favourite auntie of the year. Hell, of the decade.

Until a couple of months ago.

The new way of things culminated tonight in her saying “I only want to be looked after by people I love,” and proceeding to name everyone in the room but me.

And God, on paper (screen) that looks so inconsequential. It’s so transparent that she’s four. She’s irrational and there’s nothing to stop her from expressing her feelings. And kids wouldn’t know what they’re really feeling bad about if it used up all their lego to build a boat/shark/batmobile, right?

Unfortunately, I am also an irrational being, and one of those adults who can’t help taking it personally despite all logic. For the first few moments after she’s spat it out, anyway.

For those moments she’s not four, she’s just another person. In that moment I want to never, ever look after her again.

I think this is what it’s about: After her mother and father I’m the person who looks after her and her brother the most. But it doesn’t make sense to her that I – who am most definitely not her mother – also get to be strict with her and set boundaries and get her in trouble. Only Mum is the ultimate controller of her universe. So she needs to test me and test me and test me again.

And the worst part is that I know as long as I go into the situation fully in control it will all be fine. She will push, I’ll show her the boundaries and then she can relax, because one of us knows what’s going on. If she looks at me and sees her confusion mirrored there, hey, all hell might just break loose.