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.

Reflections on Ramona: 8 months in

April 3rd 2011

I’ve found myself rather missing this blog. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crafted blog posts in my head lying in bed at night but not actually released them into the world. Mostly it’s just plain tiredness; sometimes it’s because I save it for BitchBuzz. I’ve been so terrible I haven’t even linked over to my posts there, but I am still writing about babies and parenthood and stuff bi-weekly on a Wednesday so if that interests you a post will be up tomorrow. I have two ready for publishing, so it’ll either be on things to keep in your nappy bag or dealing with phases.

The latter is what my reflection is all about today. Phases. Specifically, shrieking. I’ll leave the details to that post, but basically she’s in full-on screamy phase where everything seems to need to be accompanied with high-pitched, ear-damaging yowls. There are all sorts of reasons but primarily I think it’s teething. We’ve given her frozen rubbery teething rings and have been recommended chamomilla (haven’t tried it yet) and Anbesol liquid (reasonably effective). To top it all she has a manky cold, and teething makes her nose run anyway, so she’s definitely not her jolly self at the moment.

That said she still does manage to bounce vigorously up and down in her ‘doughnut‘. And we had a lovely first Mother’s Day together, which I will treasure always (that photo was taken that day). She got me a beautiful copy of The Hunting of the Snark, illustrated by Tove Janssen. Amazing taste in one so young.

The frustrations I’ve spoken of before aren’t quite gone. She can feed herself some things, use her cup independently to drink water and eat more complex food, which is great. She can stand, wobbling, holding on to the sofa. She can right herself if she’s slightly reclined. But she can’t crawl, doesn’t enjoy being on her tummy for long and is not quite able to sit up from lying down flat. This leads to a lot of grumping, and I have to balance helping her out with encouraging her to try and do it herself. She’s a bright spark – alert and observant – and that can be the problem sometimes. There’s so much she wants to get into and she can’t yet, and it makes her grizzle.

On the other hand, she’s yammering away now – da-da-da, ba-ba-ba, ma-ma-ma – and imitating sounds she hears. “Casper!” I called to the cat. “Ath-puh,” came a little sound from beside me as she played peacefully. I’ve started to get more consistent with certain signs, such as ‘milk’, ‘drink / water’, ‘cat’, ‘hello’ and ‘finished’ and although again she mimicks them from time to time I don’t think she’s really got it yet. Still, it should help with the communication. And said cat is very tolerant of her and hangs out with her, even going so far as to curl up on her feet during one nap time.

Speaking of cats…

Snaffle May 2008 - March 7th 2011

When I wrote my last post, I was still too distressed from the events of the day before to focus on what had happened on here. Our first cat, Snaffle, a little less than three years old, collapsed suddenly. Despite my rushing him to the vet within 20 minutes, less than two hours later he’d been euthanised. The cause of the collapse had been a very unexpected heart attack, complete with blood clot cutting off the circulation to his legs. There were no prior symptoms and he had always seemed the epitome of a healthy cat.

We miss him a lot.

It makes me sad that Ramona will never know him. But she’s already developing a sound friendship with Casper, which I’m enjoying watching.

Right. Nap time has already been disturbed once for a milk top-up and soothing, so I’d better stop with the clattering typing…

Reflections on Ramona: 5 months in

Or 24 weeks, if you prefer. I find there’s some sort of unspoken agreement that just as months turn to years after age 2, weeks turn to months after the first post-birth trimester. I wonder if that’s because my sister was right: the first three months is pretty much an extension of pregnancy with the baby on the outside.

Perhaps it’s also because of this magical thing that seems to happen around the 12-week mark: babies develop a personality. And you fall in love with them all over again. The way I’ve got it worked out is like this (and this is from observation of others as well, although of course every family is different):

Week 1-6: WOAH. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Awake. Not awake. Not quite sure. WHAT THE… Why are they making that noise? (And the version for colic: HOW DO YOU MAKE IT STOP?)

Week 6-12: Okay, we’re cookin’ with gas now! Now achieving expert level at feeding, changing, dressing, bathing… The cogs in this machine are turning beautifully.

Week 12: BANG. Oh. My. God. I love you so much my heart might explode out of my chest and shower everyone with melted chocolate and marshmallows.

They can smile. They can laugh. They can play. They notice things: you moving around the room, the cat pootling by, the cartoon on the television. You hold a book in front of them and they swat at the more vibrant pictures. The playmat turns out to have been an amazing investment. And so on… If the three month mark is a reward for sticking out the adjustment and hard work of the first few weeks, it’s also a much-needed precursor to the next stage.

If there’s one word that dominates the fifth month – at least with Ramona – it’s frustration. She’s bored with milk and wants to eat real food (I’ve started weaning her, actually, but that’s a post for another day). She wants to sit up, but only in the last two days has she shown any signs of being able to do so a little – and of course it’ll take weeks before she can do so reliably. She wants to stand, and can be held in standing position for hours giggling hysterically, but gets terribly upset when her parents’ arms prove fallible. She doesn’t want to lie down, ever, arching and spluttering, until oh, actually she does. She doesn’t want the damned milk already, until you put it in her mouth.

So from the golden moments of the burgeoning personality, there’s now a phase where you have to accept that personality is hers to command. Of course you get to shape it, but frankly she’s going to test you at every moment…

And I love it. Oh, God, do I love it. Every day I am wiped out. Freakin’ exhausted. I spend my day crawling around at floor level, removing my phone from her mouth, feeding, changing, singing, clapping, playing, rocking, trying to keep an eye on naptime and trying to ignore the indignant wailing when I dare to take two minutes out to go to the loo. But every single little milestone – when she twists the ball on the activity centre and looks up expectantly for my clapping and praise, when she managed a full minute sitting only semi-supported – makes me fall in love with her that little bit more. Her eyes. Her smile. The sparkle, that twinkle, that gives her expression such intelligence and baby sweetness.

And now I’d better go; she’s woken up from her nap and does not appreciate the laptop getting more attention than she is.

Quite right too.

This photo, which I think of as the Emo Whiffler, isn’t very flattering and is an overexposed phone shot with zombie red-eye. But it was taken today and I love it.

BitchBuzz: Baby Maths and Milestone Envy

My parenting, pregnancy and baby column appears every other Wednesday. Here’s a taster from the 1st of December:

When four weeks are no longer a month and every movement had better be the sign of a genius in the making.

The minute you get pregnant, conventional maths goes out of the window. The day you conceive, you’re two weeks pregnant. Even though there was nothing there for two weeks before. In fact, you’re pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last period even though by definition you couldn’t have been pregnant then.


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