Yet more beginners’ running (and some other stuff, too)

So, I have to be honest with you about something, which is not going to be fun to hear if you’re just wavering on the edge of putting your trainers on and getting out there. But I don’t say it to discourage you. On the contrary, I say it because you’re going to hit this patch, just as I did, and you need to know it’s coming and not let yourself get disheartened by it.

Here’s the secret:

Running – or any regular exercise worth doing – never gets easy.

Sure it gets easier to go further. And it’s easier to go faster. But it doesn’t get easy. And as soon as it’s threatening to, you have to dial up the input, and it gets hard again.

I’ve faltered at week six of the C25K. I managed the two interval runs (the second one after two attempts: two intervals of ten minutes are harder than one of twenty). But the 25 minute run has defeated me twice. The first time after 15 minutes – though I was generally not together that morning – and the second time after just over 20, which frankly I still consider a win.

I should do week six again and get my fitness up, but frankly the thought of doing those intervals again is making me want to cry. So I’m going to risk slightly messing this up and do my own deviation from the plan, which is a couple more 20-minute runs, then an attempt at three 25-minute runs and, should that go well I’ll rejoin the plan at week seven and do the three 28-minute runs followed by the three 30-minute runs.

Or, as I pointed out to Ash today: I’m two-thirds of the way to a 5k. A few weeks ago, I was barely a tenth of the way and was refusing to even think “5k” for fear I would totally terrify myself back onto the couch.

Part of the reason for the slow down is that as the runs are getting longer, it’s been harder to fit them in. I can’t run with a stroller, it bugs me, so I have to find time to go alone which means 6am. I’m often too exhausted, which means instead of going on a couple of consecutive days, then having one day off and going back to it, I’m sometimes leaving up to three or four days between runs and my muscles are not up to the next run. But I’ve managed to never let a week go by without at least two runs, preferably three, and I’m going to keep aiming for that.

When I go away I’ll be in the car for three days and I don’t think I’ll get to run. I’m also not sure if I’ll manage it around Athens, but I’m determined to get in some good walking and as much running and swimming on the island as I can for the week I’m there. Especially as I’ll probably eat my body weight in whitebait, octopus and fried courgette while I’m there, too.

That’s where you can stop reading if you were just here for the running. If you’re here for babies too – or just to read my ramblings – then you’re in luck…

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think I’ve managed to make a shortlist of the things that were affecting Ramona and making her screech. As I’ve begun to address them – in as much as I can – I think I’ve made some headway and we’ve had a couple of much less deafening days. In addition, I feel a lot more in control of my parenting, or at least I have a far more convincing pretence of that.

So, the screech inducers are:

  • Me talking to anyone that’s not her. Especially if they’re on the phone.
  • Feeding frustrations.

The talking to thing I’m having to address with a bit of ignoring. Putting her down with toys and walking out of the room, or simply not acknowledging it and carrying on with my conversation. This one is clearly a long war, and it’s going to be fought battle by battle. And actually ever time I ignore her she learns something new, like how to stand up alone, or try to push herself upright, so bit by bit I’m learning to stop the rotor blades a bit and be less of a helicopter parent.

The feeding thing took me a few days to cotton onto fully. Because she weaned quite early, we didn’t go to baby led weaning route, but she came off purees quite happily a couple of months ago onto more chunky stuff. She had pretty much got to the stage where she could just feed herself finger food, and all was well. And then, a couple of weeks ago, just as the screeching reappeared, she started to bite, chew and then spit out her food rather than actually eating it.

For a couple of days I reasoned that it was a phase as she was examining textures. Though I fretted about the amount she was taking in, she wasn’t sluggish, drinking more milk or losing weight. She could – can – still eat bread and loves toast with cream cheese (just as well, as she refuses to eat anything else at breakfast, apart from yogurt). But gradually, she started spitting more and more things out unless they were in really tiny pieces. Soft ripe pear sticks that she used to enjoy were being sucked and spat; so was the odd baby cookie I gave her. The only things staying down were bread, sauces, yogurts, really overcooked pasta, strawberries and those carrot puff snack things which I occasionally give her one or two of.

So as I realised she must be hungry and frustrated and I didn’t want mealtimes to be reduced to hours of me feeding her tiny tidbits, I began reluctantly to reintroduce the stage we left a while ago: lumpy mash. I was scared to go backwards, as I thought it might be an eating phase and that I’d be stuck with a child still eating purees when she turns fifteen. But as she gratefully nommed it all, I realised this was very likely not a battle of wills or a preference or phases, since she actually really enjoys feeding herself (although doesn’t try to grab the spoon when it’s not quite solid stuff, weirdly!). It’s her teeth – or lack of them.

She’s been chewing her fingers like there’s no tomorrow, and even bit my chin with frustration the other day. She’s dribbling like a demon. After nine and a half months – six and a half of which have been spent showing signs of teething and full of frustrated gnawing – she still doesn’t have a single damn tooth. I didn’t either until I was about 11 months, so I think I might have sadly passed that on to her (though I’ll blame Ashley as he was a late teether too). So I’ve come to the conclusion that her gums are now just too sensitive to chew bigger lumps down unless it’s gooey, chewy stuff like bread or soothingly cold and smushy fare like strawberries.

It’s not an entire backwards step, as she’s still having some finger food, but she’s eating about three times as much and seems much more content. She’s sleeping as well as ever – if not better – and is happy with three hearty milk feeds a day, as well as producing several more grim nappies. She seems more content to play and surf the furniture with about a quarter as many bloodcurdling screams.

So there we have it. Why does my baby scream? Attention-seeking, hunger and teething.

The first I’m learning to take care of, the second is sorted and the third is being managed until it takes care of itself.

I’d call that a win… wouldn’t you?

Breakthroughs, milestones and planning a road trip with an infant

So, today has been a slightly less screamy day so far, although I’d rather not speak too soon since her most screechy time is inevitably the tired afternoon, post-nap playtime. I will almost certainly help this along with a nice walk in the park and maybe a go on the swings as this improved yesterday no end. And I didn’t grit my teeth at all when she stopped screaming whilst playing with her Dad, oh no…

Anyway, today Ramona has decided to do the following:

  • Pull herself upright independently, clinging on to a table or bits of me, a handful of times.
  • Walk along, holding my hands, with increasing confidence.
  • Mimic back noises I make including ‘moo’.
  • Return kisses blown to her with very cute lip-smacking noises.

All of which are, obviously, good. She also taught me that she was happy to eat lunch as long as absolutely everything I gave her was finger food. I say ‘eat’, I mean ‘chew and drop’, but in the chaos of flying bits of lamb, cucumber, bread and banana, I think a few mouthfuls did actually get swallowed. And when I made ‘yum yum’ noises at her she rather sweetly shoved her piece of dribbled-on bread in my mouth. Moist, pre-chewed food is the way to go, folks…

Speaking of food, from six months I’ve been feeding her a mix of finger foods and stuff I can spoon into her mouth but she’s now rejecting the spoon unless she can feed herself with it (again, read: smear it around her mouth, with pure luck deciding how much actually goes in). So she was wearing quite a fetching pattern of lumps and Greek yogurt. She usually loves fruit so I added some canned peach bits to the yogurt but she decided to eat the yogurt and spit those out.

Is this the age where you realise every baby is just a toddler in training?

Anyway, I’m trying to focus on the positive today, and get on with getting ahead on the holiday prep. We don’t go for a month or so, but there’s a bit of an epic list of things to get through. I have a packing list and a ‘to buy’ list. The latter includes:

  • Enough ready made formula for the days in the car, there and back.
  • A few packs of disposable bottles.
  • Enough nappies for the days in the car, and swimming nappies for the days at the destination.
  • Jars of food and snacks for the journey in case there isn’t something appropriate on the road.
  • Contact lenses (okay, those are for me. I hate prescription sunglasses and I’m running short of dailies).
  • All the wipes in the world.

You don’t want to see the length of the packing list. As I’ll be in the car with both Whiffle and her grandparents and it’s not a barge or a tank, we’re probably going to look like we’re crossing Europe in Steptoe’s cart.

Honestly. I’m trying to be brutal and take what’s actually needed, not just what I think I need, but I fear leaving something out only to discover it’s absolutely crucial. I’m like Magrat in Carpe Jugulum, frantically packing to get herself and her infant daughter out of a castle full of vampires but nonetheless terrified to leave anything behind: “…and don’t forget the sponge shaped like a teddy bear. And the teddy bear shaped like a sponge.”

But at least it’s something positive to focus on. And it stops me stressing about the actual car trip bit because I’m going to be on my own (well, with my parents, but not with Ashley, is what I mean) for nearly four days. I’m so accustomed to relying on his never-wavering support, whether that’s emotional or practical, that I’m wetting myself at the thought of getting through the days there and back without him; he’s catching up by plane for the bit in the middle so he doesn’t need to miss work – and therefore getting paid – unnecessarily.

So, yes. Better shopping, packing and planning than stressing about screaming and dealing with her on my own. And honestly, what kind of mother is slightly scared of spending that much time being solely responsible for her child? Well, this one. But I do know who the parent is here, and I’m pretty sure babies smell fear and indecision, so I’m going to do my level best not to exhibit any.

Right. Time to go help ma with some spring cleaning while Whiffle sleeps off the five lumps of banana, two mouthfuls of lamb, single cucumber stick, lone piece of bread and four spoonfuls of yogurt she actually ingested.

Thank God she still likes her milk.

Screaming (hers) and crying (mine)

Yes, I’m blogging again today. Mostly because Ramona decided she wanted to sleep around the time I was going to take her out for a walk and try and sort us out for a bit with some fresh air and exercise. The walk has been postponed until she wakes up from her nap and I can take her to the park and pop her on the swings for a bit.

I’ve been doing some Googlechondric type research on the screaming thing. I would ask the health visitor but when Ramona was a colicky four week old she took three days to get back to us to say “oh, yeah… um… maybe baby massage?” and I have faith in my own ability to Find Stuff Out about my baby.

Part of the problem is that you search for ‘screaming’ and get ‘crying’. She’s not crying. She’s not even upset half the time. She’ll be sitting playing and will suddenly just shriek. She’ll be smiling, cooing and babbling happily then stand still and scream, over and over. No tears, no warning, no indication (reaching, signing, body language) that she actually wants anything. It comes and goes without warning or apparent reason. But there’s always a reason… right?

I do have a theory that it’s partly teething related, and it must be frustrating for her to have been teething since she was about three months old and still not to have a single tooth to show for it. A little Anbesol liquid can help, but not always. And I don’t know whether it’s a case of screaming = teething or if that’s just an extra factor that doesn’t help.

One of the reasons I think it might be tooth-related is that she’s just started refusing to eat properly. She weaned quite early and has always been a decent eater, following a pattern of small breakfast, medium lunch, hearty dinner and enjoying fruit and yogurt snacks. But now it’s no breakfast, infinitesimal lunch and snacks but, bizarrely, decent dinner. I think her tummy has also been bugging her as she’s alternately strained then filled nappies copiously, and I know tummy upsets can go hand in hand with teething.

Some people have suggested when babies do this they’re just ‘finding their voice’ but if so I rather hope she’ll misplace it again and get back to the lovely ‘ma-ba-da-ta’ noises she was making before. My ears are actually hurting from the onslaught.

It might also be ‘look what I can do’. She’s been making funny faces and hissing noises for the last week, a bit of a cat-like ‘ssssss’ that makes us all laugh, her included. So there’s no reason why the screaming can’t be part of that kind of experimentation too.

I’d say it was for attention, but she’ll do it right in the middle of my singing or playing or something else that’s totally focussed on her and that she’s otherwise hugely enjoying. I can’t be consistent about ignoring it, because I can’t ignore it in public, but a couple of times I’ve just stopped what we’re doing and sat her down with some toys. After a bit she’ll just play quietly for a few minutes, and then grizzle for attention for real. So I might continue trying that for a while.

I’m guessing it also doesn’t help that she hasn’t yet figured out how to pull herself upright using just the furniture (if you hold out a hand, she can). She also struggles with pulling herself into a sitting position and hates being on all fours – that’s why she won’t crawl, though we do try to get her to play on her tummy when she’s cheerful so that she can develop the necessary arm / neck strength to move herself around more.

In the meantime, I admit I’m struggling. I’m relying on Mum’s help more than before, and passing Ramona to Ashley when he gets home so that I can have half an hour to myself. I haven’t had time to run properly for a week or so (or rather  I haven’t had the energy), which is why I want to get a good, brisk walk in today. I might have to start going first thing, before Ash leaves for work, as I think the exercise will keep me sane and God knows I could do with being fitter to keep up with her.

I’ve had a couple of moments in the last few days where I have just broken down and cried. Poor Ramona got quite upset seeing me lose my smile, which happens so rarely in front of her. But despite being surrounded by mums I simply don’t know any others at the moment who have had a child that did this. It’s only thanks to the wonders of the Internet that I know I’m not alone. I can’t meet up with other mums and get Ramona distracted playing with another child because if she screams (and she will) they’re bound to worry about their children getting distressed – I guess I would. I also can’t help thinking they’ll judge me and assume it’s something about my parenting that’s caused it.

After all, I wonder myself, at my lowest moments.

So altogether my confidence as a parent isn’t exactly soaring at the minute. As if to balance it out, I’m doing other things like finally going back to my long-neglected Monster Book, and flicking through Twitter to keep up with work news and friendly gossip.

Right now, though, I think I’m going to put this aside and take my cue from Ramona; it’s nap time.

The Shrieking Shack: Baby phases again…

Poor Ramona. Life at nine months old just isn’t as easy as we think it is. We look at her being carried everywhere, having a lovely buggy, having people fall over themselves to talk to her, cuddle her, play with her and forget how it seems from her perspective.

Being carried everywhere? Only because I can’t move myself and I want to. (She doesn’t crawl, and refuses to try but can stand unaided for up to a minute and do some holding-on shuffling)

Making new friends? Having strange people talking at me and invading my personal space.

Being cuddled and played with? Mostly good, until I need to communicate what I want and NO ONE SPEAKS MY LANGUAGE.

She has learned one sign – ‘milk’ – and occasionally uses it, and the babbling is picking up pace, which is great because it means that some time in the not-too-distant future we might hear the beginnings of speech. She even tried to moo back at me over the book about the cow. We take the ability to speak and communicate so much for granted, and here she is talking away and not being understood. It’s frustrating for me, so it must be doubly so for her because she knows what she means and I don’t!

So, with every milestone – the standing and shuffling have been coming along really well this week – comes a bout of frustration and that means her shrieking phase is back. I know not every baby does this, but she can’t be the only one. It’s alarming; she’ll be sitting playing quietly and suddenly take a deep breath and ululate painfully and repeatedly. And I will wince. And wince again.

I had to step out and count to ten yesterday, and let Daddy deal with it for a while, which he did with patience and calm. I wouldn’t have shouted or lost my rag at her of course, because she’s a baby and she can’t help it, but I could feel my sanity slipping away and took the opportunity to regroup. After all, you simply can’t find the energy to sing songs, create distractions, read, play, sign and soothe if you can’t think straight.

It didn’t help that we made a Major Parenting Mistake yesterday (note to new parents and parents-to-be: you will make one of these most days. Learn from it). We went to a lovely family lunch day out charity thingummyjig. And it was one error after another. Her morning nap was cut short. Her lunch was late. There was too much noise. There were strange people pookey-pookey-pooing right in her face. I will never forget Ramona’s look of horror as my dad was holding her and this very kindly lady stroked her cheek and ba-ba-baaed at her. Separation Anxiety Stranger Fear Fail Alert!

We both felt like terrible parents for putting her through it, although she did sleep through some of it. I hope she doesn’t hold it against us for too long; at least we have learned our lesson about what she can and can’t tolerate right now.

Meanwhile plans are full speed ahead for a summer holiday road trip. Some of the family think I’m nuts for wanting to put her in a car for a few days (no more than about five hours driving per day, broken up) but she’s fine in a car and a wriggly little excitement monster on my lap, so I am not putting this kid on a ‘plane. I find flying stressful enough, thanks! I’ll take each issue as it comes, allow for lots of breaks, and learn from each day’s inevitable mistakes. Like every other parent, I’m flailing in the dark and making things up as I go along anyway.

Sometimes I take heart from the fact that all the descriptions of really successful, intelligent people include a bunch of kids who drove everyone crazy with their incessant energy and curiosity. Maybe Ramona’s ants in her pants and screaming are just signs that she’s too bright for this recalcitrant baby body; maybe she just wants to grow up already, thank you very much. Maybe I’m one of Amy Chua’s Western parents making excuses.

Or maybe I just love my daughter so damn much that even when she’s driving me stark raving bonkers I will find the good in every situation and go after it hell for leather.

Yeah, maybe.