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Milky Cuddles: January 2017

Sunday, 29 January 2017

18 months is...

Nala at 18 months

18 months is hiding behind the curtain at bedtime, always insisting on wearing the same dress, singing ‘twinkle, twinkle’ constantly, making up the words but getting the tune and timing almost perfect, making sure everyone always has shoes on their feet and ensuring doors are always shut.

18 months is tucking Wilfred (teddy) under the blanket each night and patting him to help him fall asleep.

18 months is being left alone for a moment and appearing with eyeliner drawn all over her face. It is knowing that an eyeliner pencil is for the face and not for paper.

18 months is pointing at my belly and saying ‘baby’, and me wondering if she understands the change that is about to happen in our family. It is me seeing tiny babies - floppy, cuddly, sleepy babies – and realising just how far she has come. It is seeing her as my child, instead of my baby. It is me finally thinking she might be ready to be a big sister.

18 months is knowing to be gentle with babies, looking after them so well and bringing them toys to play with. And then it is forgetting that babies can’t get their own toys and taking them away again. It is learning to share, but not doing very well at it.

18 months is wanting to put everything away. And constantly surprising me that she knows where things go. It is opening the cutlery drawer and putting spoons in, regardless of if those spoons are clean or dirty. It is always helping wipe the highchair after dinner. It is seeing me annoyed because there are clothes lying on the floor and picking them up and stuffing them in a drawer (not the right drawer, but a drawer none the less). It is me remembering the (long) days of her unpacking every cupboard and drawer in the house and being amazed at how quickly they passed.

18 months is standing still and silently behind a cabinet, waiting for someone to find her. It is exploding in laughter when they do.

18 months is bedtime with Daddy and breakfast with Nanna. It is living with grandparents and lots of attention. It is walking out the front of the house and always wanting to cross the road and go to the park. It is loving going on the slide. It is climbing up and down play equipment that just six weeks ago seems so big and too hard for her. It is climbing in the pram and sitting there insisting she is taken for a walk.

18 months is being tired but not wanting to miss any of life by sleeping. It is crying at bedtime but almost learning to sleep through the night. It is long naps and feeling great afterwards.

18 months is a time of rapid change. Of moving to her own bedroom, of wondering if she is nearly ready to toilet train, of drinking less milk and eating more food, of learning to rinse and spit after brushing her teeth.

18 months is understanding everything. Knowing more than we give her credit for. It is (finally) listening to instructions.

18 months is 12 teeth and new words every day. It is summer, sunshine, play dates, parks and friends. It is acting like every day is the best day of her life. It is living life at full speed, charging towards the future. Tomorrow, it is being closer to two years old, than it is to one.


Monday, 16 January 2017

Moving internationally with a 1 year old – part 2, the logistics

Moving internationally is about big decisions, chaotic packing days, sad goodbyes and navigating uncertainty (all of which you can read about here). But this move, our first with a toddler, involved new challenges and logistics. Here’s a practical guide to a few of these logistics – a summary of what we did and how we got from our small rental cottage in South Africa to my mum and dad’s house in Australia.

Let me start by saying that moving internationally with a one year old and while pregnant was much more hectic than moving with an 11 week old. Give me a newborn any day. They can’t unpack boxes faster than you can pack, or mess up a house faster than you can clean. You don’t have to chase them around airports. They are small and cute and light and sleepy.

The flights

Now, our daughter, who was 16 months old when we moved is a very active toddler. She never, ever sits still. She is not into snuggling on my lap and can’t even be distracted by watching cartoons. Whenever she does watch TV she does so in a very active way – running up and kissing the screen, copying the dances the characters do, literally bouncing on the couch or my legs with excitement. She is the type of child that you just can’t take to a restaurant or café. She immediately climbs on the table, runs into the kitchen or out the door, lies on the floor and cries if you stop her from climbing on the table. We adore her, she is our ray of sunshine, but she loves moving and space, and I was more than a little scared of keeping her entertained and sitting in one small space for 15 hours and three flights.

A few friends suggested we give her something to calm her and help her sleep on the flight. Now, I’m not one to medicate unnecessarily, but I knew this would be a once off and it definitely seemed worth it. The pharmacist suggested either an antihistamine or an antinausea medicine, both which had a known side effect of drowsiness. We were recommended to do a trial before the flight in case it made her hyperactive instead of calm. First we tried the antihistamine. I watched my daughter run and laugh and play. I tried to analyse whether she was hyperactive or just her normal, active self. It was hard to tell, but she certainly wasn’t sleepy! A few nights later we did a trial of the antinausea tablet and the same thing happened. So off we headed for our long journey with nothing to help if our daughter was unsettled or simply would not sleep.

But I shouldn't have worried. We got on the international flight and Nala fell asleep straight away and slept the entire trip. She was no trouble at all, an absolute angel. The flight was easy and we all slept well. We made it to Australia!

Airport scales are for toddlers too!

The hand luggage

I had put a lot of thought into packing for the plane. Honestly I am nostalgic for my days of travelling alone, when all I needed in my seat was a cardigan and a good book, and I’d settle in to a long flight with lots of time to sleep, read, watch movies and relax. So easy.

This time, travelling with a toddler we needed: 
  • Milk – we decided to take small, long life milks with us, each one the right size for one bottle. This meant we didn’t have to worry about refrigeration and keeping milk cold. I packed more than enough milk so that my daughter could have a bottle to suck on for each take off and landing whether she needed milk or not. Sucking helps stop little ears from hurting. Some websites recommend lollipops for kids to suck on. But there was no way I was going to start the journey with my daughter on a sugar high!
  • Food – toddlers can’t wait for food to be served on flights. They have small stomachs and can get hungry at any time. I didn’t know what the plane food would be or how messy it would be and I certainly wasn’t going to wake her up to eat. So I knew I needed to have food on hand for whenever we needed it. I really didn’t know what to pack for this. She normally eats what we eat, whole cooked meals and lots of fresh fruit and veggies. Not necessarily things that keep well for long flights. I aimed for low mess options. I bought baby food in squeeze packets that you can suck straight out of. I thought these would be good because they were convenient, nutritious, low mess and full meals. But my daughter, who went straight to family foods and never had purees, was not interested in them at all. I also packed dried fruit and biscuits. We snacked on these a few times, but really she mostly ate the plane food. She was asleep at most mealtimes (which was great because my husband and I could eat), so we just asked for her meal when she woke up. My advice here would be to pack snacks, but don’t try anything new, make sure they are foods your toddler already eats and loves.
  • Surprise bags – this idea came from a friend of mine. These were small bags of surprises to pull out when she needed a quick distraction. As I knew we would need to keep the surprise bags with us in the seat, where there is not much space, I challenged myself to make each surprise bag fit within a ziplock sandwich bag. I made four of them – one for each flight and one spare. Each contained a snack and some small toys my daughter hadn’t seen before. I went for pencils and a notebook, magnets, nesting cups (not a great idea these got dropped on the floor too easily), stickers (these were a hit), a calculator, a small book, a magnetic drawing board (also a hit) and a few other bits and pieces. I should have taken a photo of these for this blog. Instead you can enjoy some photos of similar surprise bags that people have posted on pinterest. Or these ones courtesy of Kids PlaySpace

Surprise travel bags (Kids Playspace)

  • Nappies, wipes, facecloths, bibs, spare outfits, change mat, spare outfit for me and my husband (as my daughter notoriously squashes food into our clothes. Being a mum is so glamorous sometimes), a jacket for each of us, toothbrushes and toiletries to freshen up, phone, laptop, chargers and a few other bits a pieces. Again – nostalgia for the simple days of travelling light, alone. I felt so weighed down by luggage, carry on, my big pregnant belly, and the thought of entertaining my one year old the whole way that I didn't even pack a book for me!
  • A pram, which we left with the airline staff at the entrance of each plane.
Once I had created a pile of hand luggage I had to work out how I would organise it all. I needed to make sure we had everything we needed within arms reach but that we also weren’t smothered with luggage in our small seats (did I mention we were already squeezing a one year old and a big pregnant belly into our two seats??). We went for:

  • a laptop bag for my husband with both our laptops, chargers etc
  • a small wheelie suitcase with all the extras and things we didn’t need to readily access (spare outfits, extra milk, extra nappies etc)
  • nappy bag with everything we needed to access. I then pulled out a few things to have in the seat with us – a surprise bag and the wipes. Everything else was overhead. I don’t like being too crowded on planes so this worked well.

The jet lag

Our biggest challenge, however, was not the journey itself, but the jet lag when we arrived. Jet lag has never been a big deal for me personally. It became a bigger deal when I got married because all of a sudden I was not only awake for a few hours while I couldn’t sleep, but also for the hours my husband couldn’t sleep. But I discovered it is 10,000 times worse with a one year old. My daughter was literally wide awake until 4 or 5am for weeks and weeks. I was very grateful that we were only travelling one way because I don’t think it would have been worth it for a short term holiday. Sleep is very precious in our house because it took 14 months for my daughter to learn to sleep through the night. She slept wonderfully for two months and then we uprooted her and moved her to a new time zone and her sleep became the worst it has ever been. Knowing how long it takes to form good sleep habits, and with a second baby not far off, I feared we had ruined her sleep.

There are lots of ways to beat jet lag – forcing yourself to get up according to the clock in your new location, spending time outdoors etc, but in the end you mostly just need to wait it out and let your body adjust. It’s just with a one year old you have to wait a lot longer. We’ve been back for six weeks now and while my daughter has adjusted to the new time zone, she is still waking up at night and is hard to put down for her day nap and in the evening. We’ve always taken the ‘wait it out’ approach to sleep rather than doing any sort of sleep training. It is only now that our next bub is so close that we feel we are on some sort of time frame to get her sleep sorted. But I do believe, like all her sleep stages so far, this will pass on its own.

As with all the challenging baby stages (clinginess, sleepless nights etc) when they pass, they are over and so quickly forgotten. A few weeks ago, in the middle of a long night, I said to my husband ‘I don’t think it’s worth it, people with young kids should just stay in one place’. But now it doesn’t seem like it was such a big deal. Though I’m not looking forward to the day I have to face jet lag as a family of four…

Settling in

So now we are here. Half way through the logistics of starting a new life. We’ve departed one place, but have not yet settled in the next. We arrived in early December, which was wonderful and fun. Everyone was on holidays, we had Christmas and New Year and friends to see. But this is a challenging time of year to arrive if you want to ‘settle in’. We couldn’t start the job search because businesses were closed and I haven’t been able to find my rhythm as a mum here, to join a playgroup, start swimming lessons for my daughter, set up our weekly routine. In some ways it has felt like we are on holidays. In some ways it has felt like life is on hold. And even when everything opens again I know establishing a new life takes time.

But, a few days ago I sat at a park with my husband and watched my daughter play. And words ran through my head, ‘don’t wish these days away Katie’. Soon enough we will have jobs and a mortgage and two kids and a house to look after and commitments and all the things that come with choosing a place and a life and investing in it. So, while part of me feels rushed to ‘settle’ I am also reminding myself to enjoy this season for what it is. New beginnings.


Friday, 6 January 2017

Moving internationally with a 1 year old – part 1, the emotions

I’m a seasoned international mover. I’ve moved alone, as a married couple and with a 11 week old newborn. But most recently I moved from South Africa to Australia, while pregnant, with a 16 month old. 

In my experience moving internationally is a multidimensional event involving a house pack up, a lot of logistics and admin, resignation from jobs, goodbyes to family and friends, setting up life again, a change in routine, a move away from any groups you are part of, a huge financial investment and a whole lot of time (you can read about some of the logistics involved here). On the plus side it is an adventure, it exposes you and your kids to new cultures, experiences, people and places, it allows you to evaluate life and consider whether you really want to live where you live and it gives you a chance to form deep relationships with relatives overseas. 

It also bonds you as a couple and a family - it is an adventure of memories made together, that few others share or understand. Having moved back and forward between South Africa and Australia for 9 years now, I am glad that this is no longer a journey and transition that I make alone, that though everything may change, my family is my little piece of ‘sameness’ that I take everywhere I go. But, as our family grows, the disruption to life is becoming more and more evident and staying and investing in one place is not only becoming more appealing, but seemingly essential.

Knowing that this is the last time we will move for a while, has made it our saddest move yet. One year olds have big emotions and they express them in the hugest way. Every time my daughter sees her South African Gogo she lights up, open her arms and runs to her. She cuddles and kisses her, she laughs with pure joy. She learnt to say 'Gogo' about two weeks before we left and she walked around the house saying it constantly. It's a word I haven't heard from her since we landed in Australia. I know when we left and she happily waved goodbye that she didn't understand that she wasn't going to see her Gogo again any time soon. Never before have the goodbyes felt so hard and never before have I been so aware of the impact our choices have on our kids. Having family split between two countries means that we will always be away from one side. My husband’s family and my family are both very different, which means each offer our kids something else. To choose one over the other is impossible, because they simply cannot fill the gap of the other.

Last night I finished my daughter’s baby book – a record of her first year, which took place in South Africa. The pages are full of her South African friends and family, other mixed race kids who were closer than her cousins, people who are incredibly special to her. But knowing she will grow up in Australia I felt such huge sadness. That she wont remember this season or these people, that, as she grows up in Australia, she will look back on these photos with confusion, of a time and people that were so special but that she does not know. A chapter of her life that is lost to her. I also looked back on my own baby book. The pages are full of people I still know 30 years later – siblings, cousins, aunties etc. Consistency and long term relationships are good for kids. They bring security, identity and a ‘place’. They bring stories and a history and memories.

My daughter, being one, is too young to tell us what she thinks about everything. She continues to be her smiley self, making new friends every day. I do not know if she thinks of the people she adores on the other side of the world, or if they are simply ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to her. We lived on the property of another family in South Africa, so she had playmates outside our door every day. I miss them deeply and I wonder if she does too. She really is too young to understand.

And, after years of change and adventure, I have started to crave that consistency and sameness too. We both know the next season of life is one of ‘staying’ for us. Moving takes its toll financially, professionally and socially. When we moved to South Africa I questioned many times why we did it. And now, having moved back, I am questioning it again. 

Where will our kids grow up? Perhaps no other choice will impact them so much. As a mixed race, multinational family this topic comes up often in our house. And it has been debated since long before our little one was born. We are among the small percent of families in the world that get to make an active and conscious decision about where we would like to raise our family. It is a great privilege and responsibility.

So, why did we come back to Australia? As we navigate the uncertainty, and miss family and friends, it is the wrong time to answer this, but I believe it was the belief that life would be easier and better for our family here – that jobs pay more, that I can birth in a public hospital for free and have great medical care, that our children can have a good education even if we can’t afford private schools, that life for our kids will be as good as it has always been for me.

So welcome to Australia little ones. The land of parks and footpaths and UV rays and beach holidays. May you know this as your place in the world.

Enjoying an Australian park

And, just as I was about to post this piece, this quote popped up in my Facebook feed. So relevant, I had to share.