Why life with a toddler is an extreme sport

alec and eloise

When my baby was tiny, I used to pop her in a sling and take her everywhere. She’d sleep through lunch at Balthazar, exhibitions at the MoMA, and if she woke up, she’d quietly look at the Whitney Biennial with her big blue eyes, taking in performance art at its finest.

I thought I was raising a cultured New Yorker, and expected that as she grew into a toddler that our excursions would be even more fun. I imagined her learning colours from Monet and Van Gogh at the Met, and developing a broad palate from devouring dim sum at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor.

Perhaps this lies FAR in our future, because today’s truth is that taking my 21-month-old toddler out of the house is an extreme sport. There’s pushing, pulling, lifting and shoving involved. There’s running, jumping, grabbing, cajoling and (yes, I admit it) yelling.

This makes for an exhausting outing pretty much every time we walk out the door. Looking on the bright side though, here are five extreme sports I will never have to try myself – because I’m living vicariously through my little girl.

Skydiving
Everytime we enter a playground, my toddler dashes for the play equipment. The big kid play equipment. She hauls her tiny body up the stairs, and then bolts, squealing with joy, for the first cliff edge. Where she then proceeds to hurl herself off the precipice, as I run, heart in my mouth, to catch her.

Parkour
Just like parkour-lovers, my toddler thinks every single gutter, step, stoop and ladder rung is made for climbing on, over and through. Walking down the street has become a teetering bolt between each apparatus, her little head wobbling just a split second behind the rest of her body, and her mad circuit interrupted intermittently by faceplants, grazed knees, and even the odd busted lip.

Extreme biking
Toys that require toddlers to be pushed by adults bending over are instruments of torture. Of course we bought our toddler one of these before we realised what a trap it was. Now she lights up with glee when she discovers its latest hiding spot, and squawks with demanding insistence until one of us suckers pushes her around and around and around the apartment till we’re dizzy and in the throes of deep lower back pain.

Ice climbing
This winter has been brutal in New York, and we’ve had snow days, with ice that lingers in playgrounds for weeks. Toddlers don’t seem to feel the cold, so off we went every day to play at the park, slipping and sliding over ice, getting numb fingers, toes, legs and noses.

Extreme eating
Ok, so I made this one up. But what else do you call it when you’re foolishly at a trendy restaurant with your squirmy toddler, passing her from parent to parent like a hot potato and simultaneously stuffing food down your throats until you’re both done – and so is the tablecloth, the floor and the restaurant staff, who are not-so-secretly glad to see the backs of all three of you as you slink out the exit after apologising for the mess (and tipping big, of course).

I know this phase is fleeting. Every day she says new words, gets more agile, sprouts more hair on her fuzzy little head. So we chase. We run and catch. We watch and laugh, and store up these insane days in our memories for the day when we are having civilised high tea at The Plaza, and discussing the importance of Impressionism at the Met. Or perhaps we’ll just be buying her every type of protective gear we can get our hands as she takes up sports like kite surfing or motocross, and we’ll wish we were back in the toddler days when we could still catch her with our own two hands.

Why we’re only having one kid

People ask me all the time when we’re planning on having a second child. When I answer that we’re not, I always get a barrel of questions. I feel like everyone’s choice to have any number of children, from zero to 10, is a very personal decision, yet people seem to feel free to ask about our (and everyone else’s, it seems!) child-choices, frequently in front of other people.

(Brief sidebar on asking people about when they’re planning to have children, be it their first or fourth. You never know someone’s personal situation. People who are childless might have been trying to get pregnant for years. Someone who has one child who has hit two, might be wanting a second child, but either can’t conceive or may have had a miscarriage. From someone who found it difficult to get pregnant, and who struggled to cheerfully answer people’s questions on when we were having a baby, please, please, please don’t EVER ask someone when they’re going to have a kid. Sidebar over.)

For the record, Alec and I are pretty sure we only want one child. Maybe in a few years we’ll change our minds, but I think it’s unlikely. Here are the reasons that we’re pretty sure Eloise is going to be an only child.

1. I had a horrible childbirth experience.
2. The first six months of Eloise’s life were miserable for all of us. A sad reflux baby and no sleep for anyone. We’re still traumatised by it.
3. I didn’t get a full night’s sleep for the first 10 months of Eloise’s life. She’s still a bad sleeper, and wakes up a few nights a week on average. I am so. tired.
4. Alec and I feel like we are just holding everything together, with having one child. We have no idea how people manage lives with multiple children. Our respect to all parents with lots of kids! We know that we just couldn’t handle it.
5. We want to spend a lot of our lives travelling, and want to take Eloise with us. The more kids you add to that, not only the more expensive it gets, but the more years you spend not being able to travel.
6. We want to give all of our attention and resources to Eloise to help her achieve her dreams. We don’t feel that with multiple kids we’d be as able to do this.
7. For a very selfish, personal reason, I feel ready to get my life back on track, after spending two years pregnant and taking care of infant Eloise. I’m finding it really hard to get back into the work force after this gap and trying to take care of Eloise, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much even harder it would be if I had a second kid – both because of time out from the work force, but also trying to take care of two kids and balancing work. I can’t even begin to imagine how people do it. Again – my utmost respect to everyone who does! You’re all super human 🙂
8. We both love Eloise so much it’s just insane. We feel so complete as a family of three that we just have no desire to add anyone else to it. I probably should have put this as number one, as it’s the absolute main reason. The other points are factors that reassure me that this is the right choice for us, but, at the end of the day, it just keeps coming back to our family feeling complete. Me, Alec and Eloise.

I constantly think about how this choice of ours will effect Eloise. I don’t worry about her being bored or lonely – especially since we are living in Brooklyn, where she has friends all within walking distance. I expect it will be hardest on her being an only child when she is an adult. A lot of my friends get a great deal of support from their siblings who live nearby, helping with their kids. A lot also don’t get any help from siblings living nearby, so just having a sibling doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have more help with your family later on.

The other thing is ageing parents. My number one biggest concern about having only one child is that Eloise will have to deal with Alec and I ageing and dying on her own, with no siblings to share this huge burden with. Life is so uncertain though, and you never know how things will go. While I’m a massive planner of everything possible, I don’t feel like this worry of mine is worth having another child, just for this specific concern. I hope with all my heart that Eloise will find an amazing partner like I did, who will happily share her life – and all the baggage it brings – with the grace and unselfishness that Alec has brought to my life.

Tale of a lost lovie

Mimi

We picked up this mouse on a trip to IKEA. It was in a 99 cent bin, and we gave it to Eloise to kept her quiet while we shopped. At the checkout, we thought, “It’s only 99 cents, why not let her keep the mouse!”.

Fast forward six months and this mouse is now one of two toys that Eloise simply can’t live without. The mouse is called “Mimi”, and Eloise calls for her before going to bed every night and every nap.

Once we realised Eloise was getting so attached to this mouse, we went back to IKEA to get a back up mouse. Totally out of luck. It was only two weeks later, and all the ballerina mice were gone.

We told ourselves that we’d just be super careful so it wouldn’t be an issue …

Sadly, the worst thing possible happened – Mimi fell out of the stroller and was lost somewhere in DUMBO while Eloise was on a playdate with her babysitter. I didn’t realise Mimi was missing until it was bedtime, and Eloise was calling for Mimi when I put her in the crib. I looked around for Mimi, thinking she’d be under the crib or in the living room. No. No Mimi. I felt panic rising as I searched the entire apartment – the recycling bins, our bedroom, the shoe cupboard, and the stroller. No Mimi. A flurry of texts ensued, to our sitter and my husband, who’d been watching Eloise in shifts that day. No one knew where the mouse was.

I digress. Back to bedtime, with no mouse. With a sick feeling and a huge knot in my stomach, I told Eloise that “Mimi’s on holiday! you’ll see her soon!”, and put her in the crib. I hoped I would be wrong, and that she’d just roll over and go to sleep. Oh no. Of course not. Eloise cried for Mimi for over an hour before finally falling asleep. During the night, she woke up multiple times, asking for Mimi. It broke my heart every time that I couldn’t give her the little mouse that brought her so much comfort.

In a desperate attempt to find the lost mouse, I emailed all of the Brooklyn parenting mailing lists, in hope that someone had found the mouse. “Help! Lost mouse!”, “Have you seen this mouse?”.

The next step was eBay, where I found the mouse alright – now $13.95 instead of 99c. What a mark-up! Clearly I was missing out on a big business opportunity that other cunning entrepreneurs had stumbled upon – re-selling IKEA toys at a 130% mark-up. GENIUS for them, irritating for me. I ordered the mouse, and emailed the seller to request rush shipping. “Please!” I begged, “Can the mouse get here any faster?”. The seller helpfully offered to upgrade the shipping to get us the our new Mimi faster, but that still left me to get through the next several days with no mouse.

The next morning I considered calling IKEA and asking them if they could rip off the ballerina mouse I’d seen nailed to the wall in the kids section. The only thing that stopped me was the logistics of how I’d get to and from IKEA (it’s an hours walk) in between Eloise’s naps, playdates and class schedule.

Four days later, thankfully the new mouse arrived. Every day in between, Eloise asked for Mimi before bed, after waking up, and every time she walked through the door, like Mimi had magically come home after her trip away. I’ve never felt so relieved as I felt when I saw that four-inch mouse in our mailbox.

Lesson learned – I ordered yet another mouse from IKEA, just in case. We have new rules in place – the mouse doesn’t leave the house, and no more toys that aren’t easily replaced!

Why not just not replace the toy, and let her get over it, you might ask. Am I enabling her dependance on toys? Quite frankly, I don’t care. I love seeing Eloise’s joy in her toys. She talks to them like friends, and feeds them pretend tea and Vegemite toast. I don’t want her to learn to “get over it” right now – there will be plenty of that in her life as get gets older, and I don’t want her to have to learn that lesson just yet.

Hopes And Dreams For Eloise

I like to joke about wanting Eloise to be a dancer, or a software engineer, but the truth is I don’t care what career path my little girl takes. What’s most important to me is the type of person she grows up to be. I have a lot of dreams for her – and I hope that I will be a good enough mother to help her become the kind of person who people will love and admire.

So here’s my advice to my baby girl, on what I’ve learned so far is the path to happiness, peace of heart, and love.

Be kind. To everyone, even people you don’t like. Be kind to animals, be kind to your elders, be kind to people you see being picked on.

Be patient. You already show signs of my impatience, so this will be hard for you. Slow down, take deep breathes, control your irritability. I promise you if you can master this, it will serve you well throughout your whole life, and you will regret your behaviour far less than I do. Good luck with this though, as you’re already a little spit-fire.

Know the consequences of your actions. You’re only one person, but everything you will do through your life will have reaching consequences, even if you can’t see them. A flippant comment to someone you don’t know might ruin their entire day.

Be empathetic towards strangers and people who do you wrong. This is something that I’ve also struggled with a lot – not empathy towards friends and family, which is easy, but trying to keep my temper in check with people who aren’t in my immediate circle is really hard for me – and for you too, if you inherit this trait from me. Someone who is unkind to you might be having the worst day of their lives, you just don’t know it. When someone is a complete A-hole and steals your seat from you on the subway when you’re pregnant, imagine their hardships before assuming the worst. Try your hardest, anyway, and then tell them to give you the goddam seat.

Value all life. If you choose to eat meat, know that an animal gave its life for it and think about that before you dig in.

Stand up for yourself and what you know to be right. Note: this will not make you popular. But it will make you someone who is true to themselves, and not a sheeple. Please don’t be a sheeple, both your dad and I can’t stand them. Learning to act for yourself, especially when it’s against what everyone else is doing, is so hard when you’re a teenager, and even in your early 20s. People like people who are like them, and find comfort in it. If you’re different, it will start out hard, but will be ultimately rewarding as you find your true path in life. Standing out as a true individual will help you in ways you won’t be able to imagine when at the time all you can see is your friends at a party pressuring you to smoke something nasty. When you want to succeed in life, being an individual will help you step above the general masses to land jobs, be offered opportunities, and also help you to be truly happy with the person who you are.

Go with love. Love as hard as you can – your friends, your family, your animals, your hobbies, and, hopefully, a life partner and then children, if you decide to have them. Love every day you wake up to, love the details, just love, love, love. It’s the most fulfilling pleasure you will have in life.

Peace as I know it comes from acting kindly, patiently, empathetically and with love. When I do something like snap at friends, or take out my frustration on people who don’t deserve it, a few hours later I always feel bad. If it’s a particularly bad things I’ve said or done, I’ve felt bad for YEARS – in some instances I still feel bad whenever I think about it. Please learn from me. Make your own mistakes, don’t repeat my thoughtless ones.

Little girl, I love watching you grow, learn and attack the world with joy. I hope I can guide your footsteps while you’re learning to run, skip and hop, and watch with pride in your shadow as you take flight into your own, beautiful life.

Love you, baby girl.

Raising a Little Aussie

Something I think about frequently is identity, specifically through nationality. The full identity issue is a much larger discussion and blog post than I’m tackling here. My national identity is pretty simple – I’m a Australian – at least fourth generation if not further. No matter how long we live abroad, I will always think of myself as an Australian. My parents are 100% Australian, as was my childhood home and education.

So where does that leave Eloise? Is she American or Australian? Will she feel American because she lives here? If we move back to Australian in a few years, then what will that make her? Technically she’s an Australian born in the US, with dual citizenship. I often wonder what she will feel like as she grows up. As she starts school she will pick up an American accent (nooooo!!!) and identify with her friends more than with us. Whereas Alec and I yearn for things like Cadbury chocolate and Gippsland yoghurt, will she prefer (god forbid) Hersheys and Chobani?.

How do we help Eloise embrace her Australian heritage and nationality so it forms part of her identity? Read her Playing Beatie Bow, serve her Vegemite, make her watch The Man From Snowy River? Will she even care?

The point is we do care, even if she won’t for what will probably be a long time. I hope that by constantly going back home to visit and by surrounding her with global experiences that she will embrace an identity of being more than just an American.

Sydney, December 2011

Eloise – 18 months

I turned around and suddenly my little squirmy noodle hit another 6 month notch.

Since turning one, Eloise has developed into a real little kid. Running everywhere at top speed, dancing, play pretend with her dolls and her toy kitchen. She’s so physical, and is getting really agile. She loves walking on the balance beam at kids club and swinging on the parallel bars like a little gymnast. Put on music and she taps her feet, sways and shakes her head to the beat. The independent streak she’s shown since she was born is still at the forefront of her character – she’s so physically brave.

Cheese!

One of the best developments is the physical affection. We now get hugs and kisses and real interaction. It’s so magical. Eloise understands so much of what we say to her now, following directions and replying to questions we ask her. She also speaks! Lots of words where she says the first syllable, like cheese, water, milk, duck, more, cheddar bunnies, dog, ball. Some words she can say two syllables, like bubble and baby. She’s also started to string words together, like “hi dada”, and “bye becky” (becky is a butterfly).

Eloise has gotten really attached to a little toy mouse, who she’s called Mimi. If she can’t find Mimi she gets hysterical.

All of her baby teeth have come in, with the exception of the 2 year molars. We had a brutal few months while they came through – hopefully now we’ll get some sleep again. Eloise’s sleep in the past few months has been terrible – a big remission to waking multiple times a night again. Bad, bad news.

Eloise has started to love drawing with crayons, and particularly loves books. From when she wakes up in the morning to when she goes to bed, it’s all about “books, books, books!!!”. She likes to have them read to her, and also likes sitting in the armchair in her bedroom looking through the books herself, particularly books with animals in them. If we point to animals she can either make the noise they make, or says their name. It’s co cute! She also refers to herself as “Cheese”, which is a parenting fail, but incredibly adorable.

She’s also started to play pretend with her toys – feeding her dolls, making us tea in her kitchen. It’s so adorable, even if she’s making some dubious recipes like carrot-flavoured tea.

Tea, yum.

In Defence of Toddlers

I feel like toddlers get a pretty bad rap for being out of control maniacs. And there is definitely some truth to this – most days Eloise spins through my life like mad squirrel, leaving total destruction behind her. Even though some parts of this stage can be trying (mind-numbing exhaustion at the end of each day!), it’s actually my favourite stage yet. Here’s why:

1. Hugs and kisses. I get them ALL THE TIME. Open mouth French slobbers, little pecks on the mouth, and little hands that grab me from behind and nestle in for a snuggle. Ahhhhh this is the best thing of all.
2. Words! Finally, she is communicating! True, it’s still hard to understand what she’s saying a lot of the time, but hearing this little baby-child wrap her lips and tongue around words like bath, dog, duck, flower just fill me with awe at seeing tiny changes happening every minute of every day.
3. Pretend play. Eloise holds up any phone-sized object to her ear and conducts a deep conversation with it, complete with the correct intonations. Kill me now, I’m dying from the cuteness of it all.
4. Dance moves. The little girl has her own groove going on. Put on music and she’s swaying and tapping her feet out of natural instinct.
5. She can feed herself. Here’s the food, off you go, baby.
6. She’s not that screaming, refluxy infant anymore who made me doubt my ability to do this parenting job. Compared to the first ten months of her life, toddlerhood is a breeze so far.

January Blues

Gratuitous Cheese shot.

I won’t lie, January was hard. Bitterly cold, jet lagged baby, sick family over and over again, plus a case of the blues that just wouldn’t budge. I’ve been struggling to find room for myself again now that Eloise is getting older and doesn’t need me quite so much. I’ve been feeling time slipping by me in all directions. In Eloise’s little face as it slims and grows, in my friends’ careers as they get promoted and start their own businesses. I’ve been feeling torn in a way I never thought possible between choosing myself or choosing to spend my time with Eloise.

It’s a fine line to walk. I love hearing every word for the first time, seeing every new trick she throws out daily. I also feel like I’ve been living my life entirely for someone else, and that I’ve completely lost myself.

So what’s the answer? I’m trying hard to get some freelance and part-time work going that I can do with some short babysitting stints for Eloise, and during her naps. So far it’s going well, but it’s also hard! Hard to focus, hard to spend all my free time working rather than resting up for the next tornado Eloise. It’s better than the alternative though, and I still get to spend most of the week with my crazy, wilful, adorable toddler.

Christmas in Hawaii

We decided to fly to Hawaii for Christmas and meet my family there instead of flying back to Australia. I booked us a three-bedroom suite at a resort in Ko Olina, right on the waterfront.

The flight was brutal – 10 hours straight. Eloise napped just once and then was awake for 12 hours straight.

It’s a miracle, she’s asleep!

The resort and beach were so beautiful. Ko Olina was a little piece of paradise. We spent most days walking around the beaches, swimming in the ocean and pools.

Checking out the beach for the first time since she was four months old in Sydney.

Pure joy.

Ocean!

Walking by the beach with Daddy.

Beach with my Cheese.

Decided she loves the beach.

Hey beach baby!

We also did the toddler dolphin experience at Dolphin Quest. It was wonderful to meet dolphins with Eloise. It totally blew her mind. She was fascinated by them, and has been saying “dolph!” and pointing to pictures of them since.

Dolphins!

View from the balcony.

Sunset.

One thing I really wanted to do was the Disney character breakfast at Aulani. It was so much fun! A decent buffet breakfast with a great omelet station, Minnie Mouse and Goofy wandering around to the tables for meet and greets and photo ops. Every so often, “Auntie” would strike up music and sing cute Hawaiian-y songs, handing out instruments and leading the kids in a parade around the restaurant. Eloise was in absolute heaven.

Disney breakfast at Aulani resort.

Alec and I had a few hours to ourselves one day so went for a drive to Mokule’ia Beach, where Lost was filmed. It was stunning – a pure white sand beach with almost no one in site for miles.

Mokule’ia Beach, Oahu

We also went on an easy hike one day with Tim and Michele up to Diamond Head. It had an amazing view of Honolulu.

View from Diamond Head.

I also got up super early one morning to see Pearl Harbour with Michele. It was a sobering experience to be there and see the sunken Arizona ship.

Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbour.

Even though I get really sea sick pretty much just by looking at boats, I thought it would be a fun idea to get on a boat and go snorkelling and whale watching. True to form, I felt ill the entire time, but we did see about 10 Humpback whales.

Humpback whales spotting.

We went for a stroll through Waimea Valley. It was really beautiful – a little too manicured, but some amazing plants.

Crazy antics.

Waimea Valley.

We also went on the Ranch and Movie tour at Kualoa Ranch, where a lot of movies and TV shows have been filmed. I loved the tour – especially seeing where Jurassic Park was filmed for the famous scene with the log below.

Jurassic Park filming location, Kualoa Ranch.

It was really strange being somewhere other than in Warwick Farm for Christmas morning. It was really lovely, but also really strange! My first Christmas not in Warwick Farm in my life so far. We had breakfast at the neighbouring Marriott resort, followed by present opening and relaxing.

Christmas morning with my baby.

Christmas palm tree.

Family shot, Christmas Day.

What a wonderful trip! It was so great to see my family all together. Hawaii is paradise – can’t wait to go back again.