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.

Running, Mumming and Baking: It’s all go here…

Today is one of those days when I want to blog about six different things, and I only have time to blog once – if that. It’ll be a miracle if I get to say everything I want to say and considerably more miraculous if anyone’s still with me at the end. For ease of skimming, therefore, I’ve split things into three categories: running (as in the exercise), mumming (as in a made-up word for parenthood, not a seasonal, traditional folk play) and baking. Baking is the shortest, so we’ll start there, in reverse Miss World (ugh) order:

Baking

I haven’t had time to do much baking at all since Ramona’s been born as she’s a light napper during the day and I’m freakin’ exhausted at night. But I’ve discovered she’s not much of a breakfast eater, except if it’s toast, eggs or yogurt. In a bid to get her to eat a little more, I’m investigating some low-sugar banana bread options. All the recipes are online, so once I’ve decided which one to make and I know how it’s turned out, I’ll post links and descriptions. Cake is certainly the quickest baking option, non-iced cake even quicker and loaf-style bready cakes the easiest of all as the vast majority of the time is spent with it maturing in the oven. Plus they freeze and keep really well, so if she likes it I can churn out a bigger batch next time and freeze it in 1/4 or 1/2 loaf batches for occasional breakfasting / dessert.

She loves bananas, so it should go well; plus it’s never to early to get her in on the Roumbas family addiction to cinnamon. (The Goldsteins are a bit indifferent towards it, but some of them are also incredibly fussy eaters which is not going to be tolerated from the smallest Goldstein).

Mumming (and a bit of Working)

Dear God, it’s been a trying few weeks. I refer you to BitchBuzz and my ‘Stay Confident Through Baby Phases‘ post to see what I mean, although recently we’ve had an unwelcome addition to the fun and games – as the screeching has started to recede – just to keep us on our toes: waking up in the night. It’s only twice so far, and she is only eight months old, but it’s all the worse for being somewhat unfamiliar to us (yeah, I know, there are going to be parents out there thinking ‘cry me a river’ as they go through their 300th consecutive disturbed night. Sorry guys. I feel for you, I really do).

I’m not even sure it’s a good thing for the baby if she sleeps through the night early but ours did and we were bloody grateful for it. Unfortunately it means that when she has been waking up recently, we’re slightly at a loss as to what to do because it’s not like at the beginning when all she wanted was a drink and a burp. We usually tick off the checklist first: water, milk feed, change, cuddle and shushing, soothe. Once we’re sure her basic needs are met and she’s not ill, we try a bit of gentle ignoring for a few minutes at a time, stroke hair, ignore some more. But last night she built up to a fever pitch of upset which culminated in a river of projectile recycled milk all over her dad’s chest. We should be thankful it was a warm night and he wasn’t wearing a top.

Funnily enough the vomiting seemed to calm her down. After a cuddle and some more milk she was out for the count until her normal waking up time. But meanwhile she’d been awake for two hours in the middle of the night. I should be sleeping now as it’s her nap time, but can’t, and Ash is at work. He adores his job; and thank goodness, as it gives him a reason to be upright and alert!

So, yes, mumming is being rather challenging at the moment.

But on the other hand, the last thing I do at night before I go to sleep is cast an eye into her cot, and there is simply nothing in the world more beautiful to me than the site of my snoozing, pouty-mouthed little bundle of gorgeousness looking calm and quiet, arms flung out to the side, or occasionally raised to either side of her head as she used to have them when she was really tiny: the traditional baby ‘pea on a fork’ pose.

I do so adore being a mummy. Although I am also looking forward to being a worker ant again. April 7th marked three years at Dogs Trust, and I have missed the digital team and the exciting and fun things we get to do. It will be a wrench tearing myself from Ramona just as she gets even more independent and interesting, but it would be a wrench to tear myself away from the things that I’m good at: community management, customer service and all that jazz.

Running

I’m not a runner. I’m barely even a jogger. But it seems to be the Done Thing at the moment, doesn’t it? People are giving up the gym left, right and centre – I’ve just quit after going twice in three months and simply not having the time or inclination to make more of an effort – and taking to the streets. It’s cheap; all you need is a pair of decent running shoes. It’s less time consuming; just exit the door of your house, go as far as you can and come back again. It’s flexible; no peak times, opening hours or people taking up machines you want to use. It’s less pressured; little if any comparing goes on, as the other runners are far more focussed on themselves than you and you all look equally red and sweaty. But it’s also quite hard. Running outside is harder work than running on a gym treadmill for all sorts of reasons, including the weather, uneven terrain, not keeping to a steady pace and a harder surface not taking the impact from your joints so well.

So, anyway, I started ‘running’. Actually what I do is interval training, similar to week one of the couch-to-5k (C25K) programme, only it’s the ‘easy’ (ha!) workout on RunKeeper. Basically it means brisk walking for one and a half minutes and then jogging for one minute and doing that eight times, with five minutes walking at the beginning and end for a warm up and cool down respectively.

I’ve been seven or eight times over the last three weeks which is something of a record for me. And though it was impossibly difficult at first – I could only do three-quarters of the workout and just added ten to fifteen minutes of as brisk a walk as I could manage to try and make it up – it got a little easier every time. After one more workout I’m going to start adding 5-10 seconds of extra jogging to each fast interval, so the whole exercise is only about a minute longer but it’s harder work. I expect this means my pace, which is poor but improving, will dip again but now I’ve seen how it can keep going up from session to session I have more faith that it will go well. I’ve found my speed slightly increased even after several days’ break, and even on a day when I felt tired and demotivated but forced myself out of the door so I wouldn’t have any excuse to feel guilty and beat up on myself.

So many people have told me that they couldn’t run to the end of the street when they started but improved very quickly once they got into it. I’ve started exercise programmes over and over again and hardly stuck to them, but this does feel a little different. For one, Ash said he felt a sort of ‘joy’ (his word, not mine!) radiating from me when he saw me running. I can’t say I exactly felt that, as I was desperately repeating ‘you gave birth to a child, you can do another interval’ over and over in my head, but I do feel a sort of determination that I hope will stay with me. I usually don’t say this sort of stuff publicly so I don’t feel all humiliated when I give up, but maybe humiliation will keep me on track. If I can’t think positively, maybe fear of negativity will keep me going instead! I prefer to try and focus on the former, though. I know from HypnoBirthing that positive thinking and mental preparation can do amazing things, so here’s hoping.

And in the meantime, I try to inspire myself by reading posts like this, by the lovely CupCate, who is the founder of and my editor at BitchBuzz, and one of life’s good guys.

And I wrote that literally just as the Ramona alarm went off from her cot. Nap time is over, and so is blogging time. Ding.

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.