Here’s an easy game to play/ Here’s an easy thing to say

Independent play. The holy grail of parenthood. That sometimes feels so near, and yet can never quite be attained. I’ve got drawn into a few debates over it recently. Obviously it is a heated issue in the internet mummy-sphere.

For a child his age M actually has a reasonable concentration span. He loves being read to. Though we don’t necessarily think he has to sit still for this. Or even sit. He’s enjoyed more than a few books while doing downward facing dog on his bed, or jumping on the couch. And he is paying attention, because if you get tongue-tied by Dr Seuss he will helpfully point it out.

Since adding to the family his ability to play more or less independently, more or less supervised, has become more, not less, of an issue. Something that will be familiar to many families. As I’ve seen happen on internet forums, if you dare admit that you are struggling to keep your older child entertained while you indulge in the frivolous activities of caring for your newborn, there are plenty of parents willing to judge you for it.

You let them watch TV? Their eyes will literally go square, and their brain is rotting.

Read to them. Holding a book whilst simultaneously breastfeeding a newborn is easy.

Just tell them ‘No. I’m busy’. They won’t mind at all that this new person in the house suddenly takes up all your time. I’m sure they’ll understand and happily play quietly on their own. The seething resentment they feel is normal, and I’m sure they’ll find an age appropriate outlet for this emotion, such as hitting or biting. Oh no wait. Hitting and biting are bad. Um. Maybe just tell them you understand, and you’ll have time for them later. Like when the baby is sleeping. Or as the baby never sleeps, when it’s ten. You’ll probably have some time then. If they’re lucky.

M hasn’t been overly resentful, and never violent to his sister. We’re lucky, that’s pretty normal behaviour actually. Mostly I’ve been the target of his resentment (lucky me!). But the reality is, there is only so much I can expect from him in terms of entertaining himself. Even when he does, he ends up doing stupid annoying shit. All The Time.

Twice recently I’ve let him have unsupervised water play while I feed A. I sit on the couch, while he splashes in the bathroom sink; I can’t see him, but I can hear. Both times we started well. Then I heard quite a lot of water running.

‘What are doing?’
No response
‘Stop running water!’
No response.
Frantically interrupts A’s feed, gets to feet, into bathroom, just in time to see the water lap over the edge of the sink onto the bathroom floor.

Or the second time, I heard a lot of suspicious splatting noises. Again I yelled out. M happily replied
‘I’m throwing the dirty water in the toilet.’
Yup, he was using a cup to throw water from the sink, in the general direction of the toilet so he could flush it later.

Not much had made it into the toilet.

On neither of these occasions was he being naughty. They were just interesting ideas he got and decided to explore. At three he genuinely is not able to foresee the messy outcomes, and doesn’t really care much about the cleaning up. Yes I got him to help wiping up with a cloth, but that’s sort of fun too, and he is ineffective so I have to do it after him anyway. I wasn’t mad, bud it adds to the generally harassed sense of never ending cleaning-washing-nagging-exhaustion-not-sure-I’m-doing-this-quite-right.

The internet is full of helpful suggestions for play; awesome ideas to keep your littlies entertained for hours. I don’t think I’m the only parent to find many of the suggestions intimidating, and the ‘play’ rather stressful. Coloured rice, paint, glue. It all gets everywhere. M would love it. He’ll spend an hour at børnehave playing with these beads. But it isn’t something I can cope with at home. It’s messy enough as is, add those beads and I’m in trouble. That’s now, just imagine what it’d be like in a couple of months when A will have approximately two skills: crawling, and putting things in her mouth.

Maybe other kids are different. Maybe their playing never results in unintended mess. Or parents yelling at their kids when they really didn’t plan too. Maybe they are a better parent than me.

Maybe their kids are dull…

Truth is, three year olds have plenty of energy, but little experience of the world. Their job at this age is to experiment, and to learn how to regulate their emotions. God knows, enough adults struggle with that. Learning to play independently takes time. Some kids take longer than others. Add in any additional stresses to the mix, family illness, moving house or daycare, new siblings or whatever, only makes it harder. So let’s stop judging parents whose kids don’t play independently ‘enough’

the night’s in a paper cup / when you want it to last

I pick my son up off the floor, no damage done but tears rack his body. He buries his head against me as he howls, and I kiss his hands and elbows ‘Oh dear.’ I say.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out’?

And suddenly it is me who is bereft.

Because in the long fourteen months since my mother died I’ve wanted to hear those words so badly. In that first haze of grief. On my return to this land that is my home, that I don’t belong in. As I tried to cook meals for my son whilst retching at every smell. While finally getting to hold my daughter for the first time, attached to IVs and monitors, still shaking from shock. During all those long night feeds. When both my children need me, and I only have two arms.

Even though I have a husband who has been beside me every step of the way. Holding my children when I couldn’t. Feeding my daughter when I couldn’t. Feeding me when I couldn’t. Getting up and down in the night. Providing our son with shoulders to climb over, and our daughter a beard to pull.

Even though I have a father who has supported this crazy decision we made to move our little family to the other side of the world. Who looked after our son alone for six nights while we both stayed at the hospital.

Even though I have my sisters, the two other people I know who lost my Mum. Who’ve had to balance that with raising their own young children.

Even though I have my uncles and aunts, my in-laws, my cousins, my friends.

Even though I have so much, there is no-one left on this earth who can hold me like my mother could.

My son begins to squirm, the shock has subsided. I lower him, and as soon as his feet touch the ground he is off again. He pounces on his sister, and they smile at each other.

Everything is Awesome

We visited Legoland Billund with my sister last week. This is the first photo we took DSCN0026 It pretty much sums up M’s reaction.

Summer finally arrived the day we left. Unfortunately we were slightly unprepared in terms of summer clothing, and even worse we had lost M’s much-loved sunglasses. Luckily I’m a paranoid traveller, and we arrived at the train station much earlier than we needed to. Early enough to pop into the large supermarket nearby and buy the only pair of sunglasses in his size: pink Hello Kitty glasses that he was absolutely thrilled with. Also early enough to buy a coffee for the train trip. Not early enough to compensate for the panic of trying to board a packed carriage with four kids, three suitcases, and two prams, before realising it was the wrong carriage and having to get off and start again. But after one train ride, and one sweltering bus ride we arrived.

We stayed in the Legoland Holiday Villiage, where they took the name ‘Pirate Cabins’ very seriously. Skull and crossbones shower curtain, a lego parrot, and a treasure chest full of duplo to play with. DSCN0136 Once there everything is made from Lego. Everything. Even the animals. 0245

0246And (I can’t believe I don’t have a photo) even the chips are shaped like blocks.

Considering Legoland is free for under-threes, I was a little worried there might not be enough geared towards M to justify the trip. It turned out to be the most magical place for him. He enjoyed minitown, in particular the airport, and these whales, that revolved in the water and spouted water as they breached. DSCN0133 He got to ‘drive’ cars, and trains. He also got to steer a boat, for real, albeit on a rather restricted track. It took R a moment to realise why they were bumping into the walls, as in every other ride the controls were fake.

He rode in a monorail

DSCN0105And a ferris wheel, DSCN0118Great for a boy who is currently obsessed with photos of the London Eye (nope, he’s never been to London).

I have a sneaking suspicion his favourite was flying these planes. It was so amazing he was too excited to get in the queue, he had to stop walking to watch the planes flying. DSCN0080

The low points (pre-schooler meltdowns aside): the aquarium had a three minute long intro film. Did I say three minutes? Because it felt like forever. It wasn’t helped by the fact every line was spoken in three different languages. M was completely baffled, even though he speaks two of those three languages. Also I had mistakenly called the aquarium a ride, so he spent the three minutes asking when we were going to go ‘ride a fish’. He did enjoy the aquarium once we were finally allowed in.

0247We also watched a show full of physical comedy to appeal to a multilingual audience. Sorry, did I say physical comedy? I meant people shouting ‘oh ho’ before falling over, in a tedious, repetitive, unoriginal show that my sister and I sat through for the sake of her oldest because it had a princess in it. (Note to A, skip the princess thing please).

We were pleasantly surprised at the food options. There was even fruit on sale. But we had ice-cream instead.

0248Little A was pretty oblivious to it all. Now I know what my Mum meant when she said she breastfed her way around Disneyland with me. She did go on one ride though, this revolving tower (no it doesn’t drop!). DSCN0064I’m not so great with heights or enclosed spaces, so I felt pretty brave going on it. The views over Legoland were good. DSCN0075

Unsurprisingly, M is keen to go back. I’m not sure we’ll manage, not unless we stay longer than currently planned. It was a fabulous two days, seeing our little boy so excited made it pretty special.

Nu er det Jul igen

It has been an effort to prepare for Christmas this year. Well, Christmas usually takes a lot of work, it is just this year I have struggled to motivate myself, and feel the Christmas spirit. Not that that’s surprising. We will be having a winter Christmas, just the three of us. And it is my first Christmas since Mum died. And I’m pregnant so I can’t even drink, or eat fancy cheese. For much of the last couple of months it has felt easier to bury my hand in the sand and pretend it would just be an ordinary winter day.

Then Christmas lights started to appear, on shopping streets, and in neighbourhood windows and balconies. My son loved them. Then they had a Christmas party at his daycare, with a tree and Julemand (Santa). Sure, I’d picked up a few things thinking we’d give him some presents. I hadn’t planned to skip Christmas entirely, I just sort of hoped it would come and go of its own accord. Now it became clear that M had some idea that ‘Christmas’ existed. What exactly he thinks it is we don’t know, but what I did realise was that while he is young, Christmas will be what we make it.

So this year I’m giving him Christmas.

We’ve bought a tree and decorated it together. The first Christmas tree R and I have ever had (pot plants don’t count). Mum loved decorating the tree every year. It was bittersweet, enjoying M’s delight over the process, knowing how much Mum would have loved seeing it. M loves to switch the tree lights on in the morning, and when he gets home from vuggestue. And to pull decorations off, and put them back on again.

Last Friday I finally baked a Christmas cake. I’ve bought a leg of lamb, and sweet potato, even though I know it won’t be anything like proper kumara. I’ll make pavlova, stuffing and gravy. And just to prove I’m not doing things by halves, I’ve even made an attempt at the traditional Danish rice pudding, risalamande. M and I will make cheese straws for nibbles. Lunch will be late and M will be overtired and hungry by the time I get a roast on the table. I’ll drive R mad by playing terrible music; it’s not Christmas without Boney M.

I know this year I’ll miss Mum terribly. We all will. Although he is only little, too little to really grasp events, this last year has been tough on M too. He is going to have a great Christmas day, and then we’ll do it again next year, and the year after. Because traditions, and celebrations aren’t something that just magically happen. My parents made them happen, even when times were tough. Now it’s our turn.

Happy Christmas everyone.

You’re my water, you’re my wine/ You’re my whiskey from time to time.

I’ve wondered for a long time whether I should write this post or not. I enjoyed starting this blog, as a way to share my life with family and friends so far away. Without having a wide readership you all know how my life has changed in the last few months. And yet, it felt impossible to come back to writing without acknowledging events; that, at the end of June, my mother died. Perhaps some people will read it who didn’t know, perhaps not. But I’ve realised that the worst thing for me would be to pretend this hadn’t happened. To allow my mother to disappear quietly. My Mum is not an awkward topic. She was my Mum, and I want to talk about her, and about our loss.

Mum had cancer, for a time we thought she was in remission, but that turned out to not be the case. We knew for 23 months that there would be no remission this time. Mum would not get better, and that cancer would be the cause of her death. 23 months. Long enough for Mum to see my son grow from a spewy, cuddly newborn into a boisterous, chatty toddler. To see two more grandchildren arrive, and even both take their first steps. Two more birthdays. Two more Christmases. 23 months of intravenous chemotherapy, radiotherapy, daily chemo pills, bone strengthening drugs, surgery, scans. Mum hated the word ‘battle’. I understand why; battle implies winners and losers. When people declare they won the battle with cancer what does that say about those for whom there can be no victory? The truth is Mum worked for every day she got.

After we moved to Denmark Mum was given the go-ahead by her doctors to travel to Europe with Dad. We were so much looking forward to seeing her here, and showing her where we lived. They started in the warmer south of Europe, visiting Rome where they lived for four years. They only got as far as Nice before it became clear that Mum wasn’t going to be able to continue her travel. Flights were rebooked, but they couldn’t get flights immediately. So the three of us hopped on a plane and joined them in France. I’m pleased to say we had a fabulous time. Mum was so determined to enjoy her time with us. Dad was hard at work pushing her wheelchair over bumpy cobblestones, while Mum tried not to complain. We wandered on the promenade. Ate some lovely food. Saw the Chagall museum. My son loved the wheelchair, occasionally he got rides on Gran’s lap, but best of all was to sit in his pram behind her shouting ‘whoo, whoo’ circulating his arms like wheels.

They got home, Mum was taken straight to hospital. Not long after it became clear her life expectancy was now only months. Then months suddenly became only weeks, and I booked flights for M and I to fly home. Mum died within 36 hours of my arrival in Wellington. She had been ill a long time, but in the end her death was so sudden we were left reeling. I’d absolutely expected when I said good-bye that night to see her in the morning. The loss of that one last day with Mum, in lieu of all the years, has hit all of us hard. But I knew for a long time that however long it was, it would never be enough. I realise, now that the initial shock has dissipated, that even though we knew what was coming, it would always be a shock. That nothing can prepare you for the hard truth of that moment. We’d all grieved a thousand times already, but now we had to begin again.

The last time I spoke to Mum alone, the day before she died, we talked about our holiday in Nice, and how much we all enjoyed ourselves, despite the obvious difficulties. Mum told me that making good memories was what was important in life. I love that M still remembers her, and talks about her. It makes me smile that when he sees a wheelchair he shouts ‘like Gran. Whoo, whoo’. But I know that, at only two, those memories won’t stick around long. So it is important to me, that we talk about her, about who she was, because we are the only way he can know her now.

So here we are. Struggling to get through the day to day in a world without Mum in it. I know that in time it will get easier. It is what Mum would have wanted for us. It doesn’t mean we forget. I know I’ll miss her every day ahead. But Mum raised us well, she taught us to keep going when life was tough. She taught us how to enjoy the small moments, even when life is at its worst. The old clichés are right, the people you love the most never truly leave you. My mother is still with me in ways that are very meaningful to me. And this will give us the strength to do what seems so difficult right now. We’ll make a lifetime’s worth of good memories, even though my mother won’t be there.