On character

I’ve been working my way through the ‘Bringing Up Britain’ series on BBC Radio 4. They have the last few seasons in their archive and it makes for interesting listening. The episode on materialism was an eye opener.  A mum was talking about how a friend of her son’s was bullied for not wearing brand name glasses so when her own son needed glasses they tried to pick frames that the bullies would find acceptable. Standing in Spec Savers trying on frames and asking “Will I get bullied in this?”.

What fraked up rabbit hole is society in when this is acceptable? When this is the best option? What lessons are we teaching our kids and those around us? If this is “mainstream” society and schooling then you can keep it.  Fitting in is vastly overrated.

Despite being a quiet kid I was always marched to the beat of my own drum, and felt perfectly comfortable sticking out. I dyed my hair every color when no other kid in my school dyed their hair pink or blue. I pierced my ears multiple times. I dressed in borderline goth outfits one day, and hippy cheese cloth the next. I strove to be different. I picked subjects that my friends didn’t take so I was thrust into unfamiliar social circles. I learnt to rub along. In fact when I went on my GCSE geography field trip (at 15 years old) the girls from a different clique said I was braver than them as they wouldn’t have had the guts to be the odd one out.

Was it easy learning to rub along? No, but getting along with people outside of your social circle is a valuable skill. Did my cheeks burn when I realized my field work group was the “leftovers”? Yes, the boys that the other boys didn’t want to pair with as I was the only “leftover” girl. But, I made the best of it. Stiff upper lip and all that.

My parents of course put this in perspective. It was 5 days. I enjoyed geography so would enjoy the trip. It would not kill me. I could always have conversations with the teachers on the trip. It was character building.

The phrase “character building” was bandied around our family a lot. So much so it became a punchline that I rolled my eyes at. Emptying the dishwasher was “character building”, making dinner was “character building”, sticking at flute was “character building” (I conceded to carrying on learning the flute but the compromise was that I didn’t have to play in the orchestra just take lessons, so I was the only kid learning an instrument who didn’t play in the orchestra despite the peer/teacher pressure to join), watching Star Trek was “character building”, a family road trip around Ireland was definitely  “character building”, etc.

I had the confidence to be different as a kid and a teen and an adult because I knew who I was (and am). I have character, I strive to have character, and if there is anything I can pass on to the Cylonettes it will be the pursuit of happiness and character. We will read books and comics about heroes. We will discuss the characters we see in TV and films. We will learn about what values are important to the survival of humanity, and what separates us from Cylons (can’t wait to introduce them to sci-fi). We will all strive to be the best we can be, and to treat others as we wish to be treated.

This week’s episode of ‘Bring Up Britain’ is on ‘Character’.   I had not realized that the building character had fallen out of favor. How is this even possible? I can’t wrap my brain around it. What would my beloved Greeks and Romans have to say on this? They were obsessed with virtues, and dissecting the characters of their heroes and villains in literature and life. During the program I was particularly taken with an interview with Dr. Anthony Seldon, and his view is that the “Our education system should help children to develop the character traits that underpin a happy and meaningful life – including empathy, generosity, resilience and compassion. Because the values that our children learn today don’t just shape their future lives, they determine the destiny of our society.” 

BRAVO, Dr. Seldon, BRAVO. Education is not about multiple choice questions and test scores. It’s just not, and we need to climb out of the rabbit hole we’ve fallen into.

Four things

We are going through a good spell with Zoey and sleep, and our definition of a ‘good spell’ is subjective. Not having one parent up half the night pacing up and down, and then camping out on the sofa is a good spell. Having Zoey sleep next to me and wake up through out the night to have a bottle and/or a little cry as she re-settles herself is a good spell. I’ve woken up in my own (if crowded) bed for the last +2 weeks BUT prior to that there have been four things that have got me through the last fifteen months.

1. Cashmere

Some people may think that it’s a waste to sleep in a cashmere sweater but they haven’t been up half the night in the middle of winter. Oh no, it is essential to sleep-in (or have close to hand) your coziest and warmest sweater (it obviously doesn’t have to be cashmere) when you have an unpredictable night parenting routine. Not only does it keep you warm but your little one will love snuggling up to it.

During the aftermath of Sandy my mum stopped doing laundry at home in support of our situation, and she started buying me sweaters and fleeces. When she came over she presented me with a neon orange cashmere sweater that she prefixed with “I know it’s not your style but you can wear it at night.” and I have, and we love it.

2. Socks

I never slept in socks before having the Cylonettes but now I can’t go to bed without them. On the few nights I’ve forgotten (or kicked them off in bed) it has sucked when I’ve had to get up and pad through to the kitchen with bare feet. And, even worse when I’ve had to walk Zoey to sleep (or at least calm her down enough so I can sit down) with bare feet because the pacing is endless. We’d never know how long it would take. Some nights I’d get her to sleep on the sofa and lose the blanket to her and my bare feet would be poking out, and I’d be unable to move because SHE WAS FINALLY ASLEEP AND YOU CANNOT MOVE AND RISK WAKING HER!

3. Bacon

I love a good breakfast to set me up for a day of Cylonette wrangling. I’d be sat on the sofa at 3am, wide awake with Zoey sleeping across my lap, and I’d think about the big cup of coffee I’d be having in a few hours, and what to go with it. Pancakes with whipped cream and fruit, waffles, gingerbread muffins, omelets, and the best breakfast of all bacon and egg sandwich. Everything, even sleep deprivation, is better with bacon.

4. Alex

You gotta have a supportive spouse who will pitch in even if they are the one working outside of the home. It doesn’t matter. During the worst spells Alex would take Friday or Saturday shift on the sofa, and would switch with me in the middle of the night if she wasn’t settling. He races to the girls in the evening when they wake before I go to bed. This is a huge help in giving mama so downtime.

Eleven Months: Four thoughts on parenting

This week the Cylonettes turned eleven months.

Room to grow

Zoey has started taking little steps, and is fascinated by trying out her feet. She is standing for longer and longer by herself, and gets giddy when we take her hand to walk her across the floor. The girl wants to walk, and by gum when she starts she won’t stop.

“Coming for you, Mama!”

Naomi has only been pulling up to stand for a relatively short period but has fast got the hang of it, and is now cruising around the furniture and standing by herself. She has even “walked” a few steps by pushing a chair.

“Just standing, and looking adorable.”

The Cylonettes are much more like tiny human-cylon hybrids than baby cylons. There ain’t much babying going on here and I don’t feel sad. You won’t find me crying into new born onesies or going gooey eyed over a freshly baked baby. The brutal nature of twins beat all the sentimentality out of me.

Breaking bread, and letting Mama lunch with a friend

Zero to six months was such hard work, and oh vey the crying. My mum was watching a documentary when I was FaceTiming her earlier this month, and it gave the stat that a baby cries for around 470 hours in it’s first year. If you double that for twins it works out to be the equivalent of over a month of crying.

That sounds about right. Perhaps an under estimate.

I feel that at eleven months we have much of the crying under our belts but there are still tears and frustration but they are easier to calm and distract. They are still a lot of work. These are clingy babies that need their parents around so that they can crawl up to touch base whenever. That said, over the last two days I’ve been able to go into the kitchen for a few minutes without both girls standing at the edge of the fence wailing like I’m gone for good.

Playing

Now to segue clumsily here are four thoughts on parenting:

1. Be nice to each other

This is good advice for anyone in general but particularly important to us as we have no family in this country. We choose to live and bring up the girls here without a hands on support system in place. This puts even more pressure on our relationship but I like to think that it makes us stronger, and more of a team. In the short term this is challenging BUT it’s better for our family as a whole for us to be here. We did quick back of the envelope math on going back to the UK, and it sucked. Yes, we would have support but we’d have to sacrifice so much that it made no sense. For Alex’s career NYC is the place to be, and if we move out to the ‘burbs I have a real shot of getting back to school to get my MA.

I’ll be honest it is all too easy to get caught up in everything revolving around the girls, and when they are asleep just wanting to curl-up on the sofa and sleep, but I am trying to shake myself out of this habit. I make an effort to stay awake, to carve out “date night” and watch a movie or a TV show together. To cuddle up on the sofa, and remember that once upon a time it was just the two of us, and that in 17 years time we’ll hopefully be empty nesters.

Hanging out in Princeton outside the Museum of Fine Arts

2. Invest in good outdoor gear

My best purchase this year was prescription sunglasses (thank you FSA account). I spend a lot of time outdoors walking the girls so it was nice to not have to either squint in my normal glasses or be blind in my non-Rx sunnies. As the girls get older we’ll be spending even more time outdoors so I see it as a wise to buy some investment pieces. If I’m going to be standing around at play parks or watching the girls play sport I want to be comfy.

3. Start laying down the foundations of how you want to parent

There are a lot of things you can’t control at this age. Ripping off bibs, throwing food, going after wires and anything out of bounds (hello toilet water!) spring to mind so there isn’t much point in getting upset and frustrated. If Zoey wants to rip her bib off fine she can eat without her bib. If Naomi is going to throw every slice of apple bar one off her high chair tray then so be it (next time I gave her one slice at a time).

There are, however, things that you can control if you want to. At around seven months the girls started to notice and get mesmerized by the television so that was the end of having the TV on during the day. Whilst the girls are young we want to limit their exposure to TV because I think it’s a distraction to real life interactions, and they don’t know any different so they are not missing anything. We are not going the extreme route as we will have the TV on for sporting events (Formula 1 and tennis) but that’s it. I like that we are retaining control of the TV that it will stay in the adult domain.

Food seems to be potentially a big battlefield, and when the girls started eating solids (well purees but you know what I mean) I started paying attention to the types of baby food on the market and what I saw kids eating in the street. The girls eat a mix of homemade, and ready made food. When we started giving the girls finger food we bought a few packets of those puffed veggie/fruit things and freeze dried yogurt drops. They were a good transition food whilst the girls honed their fine motor skills but I didn’t feel great about them eating them as they weren’t real food in my eyes, and when you read the back of the container and see what makes up a serving size your baby wouldn’t have room for any puree! So once they ran out I never bothered to buy any more and started giving the girls slices of fruit, veggies and toast. Real food was harder for them to eat, and more unpalatable so more ended up on the floor but I felt better about what I was feeding them.

“These socks won’t play with their own!”

(Given the fickle nature of infants, and toddlers I’m trying to feed them food that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about if they decide that is all they are going to eat. You know what I mean?)

4. “At every new stage of parenting, the worries of the previous stage appear madly exaggerated.”, Alain de Botton via Twitter

Remember the the good old days when all I had to worry about was the girls obsession with licking my flip flops? Why did I worry? The flip flops were clean! At the moment they are into everything, and Zoey’s climbing means we can’t drink tea in bed in the morning. But, I know that all this will pass and at some point Naomi will stop putting her pointing finger in Zoey’s mouth because it never ends well.

When we were out at a cafe over the weekend (trying to restrain Zoey and Naomi from crawling and bouncing over everything) there was a (calm) twenty month toddler sat at the next table. He walked in with his parents, sat on the bench and drank milk from a little carton. I look forward to that stage.

Tortured artist

Updates from Babyland

My mum arrived on Monday night armed with hats. Proper knitted baby bonnets that I wore 35 years ago. These are bonnets that will stay put on heads unlike everything else we’ve tried. I’m getting fed up of going out and people telling me that I need to put hats on the babies when the stroller is littered with hatty debris. So now I’ll have people commenting on the vintage nature of these hats.

Zoey in my baby hat

Naomi in another old hat

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