Thursday, 22 November 2012

Guest Post: Can you still be cool while being a parent? What makes a parent cool? How to be a cool parent. Advice for alternative parents.

Back in July, Natalie of Winter Love fame invited me to guest post on the topic of being a cool parent. What follows is reblogged from her brilliant website - follow this link to see the piece in it's original format.

Hello there, lovely to meet you. My name is Sandi Darling: military wife to the unbelievably babe-alicious Lee Savage, mother to a one year old chaos-agent named Hunter, and a Brisbane based blogger. I started Milk Eyes as a way of connecting with parents who continue to embrace their unique style, using their alternative point of view and streetwise skills to raise smart, savvy and above all, loved kids. I didn’t have much luck finding this in real life (beyond the few friends I had that had become parents before me) or online, so Milk Eyes became the method by which I created a space to keep connected with all the cool stuff going on in the world, as well as being a place for me to share my thoughts on the amazing transformations parenthood has brought to my life

If there is one thing Milk Eyes has opened my eyes to, it is that all over this amazing world there are mums and dads remaining in touch with the subcultures they love, even as so many other aspects of their lives change to accommodate their children. I’ve found so many new cool friends as a result, including the wonderful Natalie who is currently taking some time out to get acquainted with the newest addition to her family. How exciting for her- and for me because I get to use this opportunity to connect with you even as Natalie is connecting with her little one! When Natalie approached me to write a guest piece I asked her what to write about, and she suggested something along the lines of “why your style doesn’t need to change when you become a mother" or how to stay 'cool'. This is a good question, and I’m not entirely confident I’m qualified to answer it, but I can try.

Whatever your style, once you have a baby you have less time and money to spend on yourself. You may feel a little weird in your skin for a while, post pregnancy. You might also feel a little out of touch with the lifestyle you led pre-bub. Doubts start to lurk in your mind, unhelpful thoughts about what other people will think of you: If you dress the same as you before strangers will think you are a reckless bohemian, irresponsible or worse: a selfish individual who focuses on their own wants above the needs of their kids; if you 'normalise' your fashion sense your friends will think all the hype about ‘babies cramping your style’ is true and exclude you, or push the idea of having babies of their own even further down their ‘to do’ list. Being dictated to by your ideas about every ones else's expectations is an unenviable position, but the worst part about being trapped in the throws of that emotional turmoil is that you honestly don't know what other people are thinking- unless they outright tell you, it's all in your head. I once heard someone say you wouldn't be so concerned with what other people think about you if you realized how very little they actually do.  In other words, some of the reasons you have for abandoning the style that previously rocked your world are phantoms, imaginary barriers of your own construction that take more mental energy to maintain then they do to abandon. What a delicious, energizing revelation!

But what about when those insecurities are realised? Let me share with you a story.
When my son was a few weeks old I took him with me to the store to buy groceries- as you do. As I walked in to the store a middle aged woman muttered under her breath “they’ll let any freak breed these days”. I looked around, curious to see who she was referring to with such venom and spite, but there was no one else around. 

She meant me. 

I mean come on, me? I have a degree and part of multiple degrees, I won an academic scholarship to study at one of the state’s best schools, I donate to charity, buy Australian made, train my pets, eat healthily, avoid television, pay taxes, don’t litter- I even polish my shoes! She hadn’t just implied that I was a freak either- she implied that because of how I looked I was also unfit to be a parent. I was shocked. Sure I had pink hair and tattoos- but I wasn’t a bad parent by any stretch of the imagination. This complete stranger looked at what I was wearing and made a judgement call on the kind of person I was.
Suddenly I felt small and stupid. Perhaps she was right, maybe it was time I grew up. I bought brown hair dye and when I got home I packed up all but the most banal items in my wardrobe, crying as I filled garbage bag after garbage bag with clothes that hours before delighted me as I decided on what to wear. To make myself feel better I took some time out to cuddle my infant son. He woke in my arms and looked up at me with eyes full of love and trust. In that moment I realized that Hunter didn't care one speck about what I was wearing so long as he had a full tum, a clean bum and the love of his mum to sustain him. I began to feel foolish- I had let a complete stranger make me feel like a bad parent because of what I looked like. As I rehung my clothes I consoled myself with the knowledge that phantom powered people who judge others based on appearance alone (instead of the calibre of their actions) are small minded and mean spirited- exactly the kind of person I would avoid if given a choice.
Looking back at the experience I would say that it solidified in me the desire to fight for my right to be expressive. I fight by being a conscientious human being and an attentive loving parent. My choice of battle armour is whatever the hell I want to wear. My style doesn’t make me a bad parent- it makes me creative, unique, interesting, exuberant, joyful, expressive, stimulating and different- but none of these things are bad qualities. Being judgemental, small minded, abusive, spreading hatred and fear- these are qualities that would make me a bad parent- nay, human.

For some people staying cool is about maintaining wild hair, clothes and makeup; using the experiences that image brings as an opportunity to teach their kids about judgement, prejudice and acceptance. For others it is a choice to not hide their tattoos orremove their body piercings, proud of the personal significance these thingshave at a time when every other aspect of their life is shared with or abouttheir children. For others still these matters of style are superficial and easily discarded like the shell of oyster, knowing that the real meat of the issue is deeper inside. This type of parent knows that conspicuous consumption isn’t the only way to stay true to their roots, they keep engaged in the culture they love by other means. Irrespective of their personal style, all of the parents described above are cool because they are keeping their inner child alive and well, even as they foster that same vitality and enthusiasm for life in their own children.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that being a parent and maintaining your cool aren’t two mutually exclusive states of being. Many qualities that make someone stand out from the crowd are the very same qualities that would deeply enhance the emotional and social development of their children. Your style doesn't need to change at all once you become a parent- let your light burn brightly, the love you radiate will illuminate everything around you and banish those phantoms to the ever retreating shadows. Shine in the knowledge that you look fine and more importantly you are a very fine parent indeed. Your child will bask in the glow that radiates from you, their little face lighting up at your approach. 

Let it shine,
Sandi D.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Wonder Weeks App for iPhone: Review. Why Is My Normally Calm Baby Suddenly Crying and Naughty?

Strange things are afoot in the Savage-Darling household. It would appear that young Hunter is developing an appreciation for scientific enquiry. Thank God for the Wonder Weeks app, or I would be lost. Witness a typical daily occurrence:
Hunter: What happens if I pull the CD’s from the shelves? (Pulling a CD from the shelves)
Mummy: “Those are mummy’s. Put them back.” (Helping a reluctant Hunter put the CD’s back in the case, and showing him his tea set)
Hunter: (plays with the tea set for a while, considering the outcomes of his first experiment, before returning to the shelves to test out his new hypothesis) What happens if I pull the CD’s from the shelves, but turn and grin toothily at Mummy? (grabs a CD and grins at me)
Mummy (slightly raised voice. Firm clear tone): “Hunter, put the CD’s back. They are Mummy’s. Where are your toys? Play with your car.” (Helping an increasingly wriggly and reluctant toddler put the CD back on the shelf. Bodily removing Hunter from the area and putting him in front of his toy car)
Hunter: (running from the toy car, one cheeky lap around the dining table and then straight back to the shelves to test his latest hypothesis) What happens if I pull the CD’s from the shelves, and then throw them? (snatches and throws the CD on the floor in front of the shelves as I approach him)
Mummy (raised voice): “Hunter! Stop! You do not throw CD’s. They are Mummy’s. Put the CD’s back, then you can play with your toy car.” (Hunter throws himself at the ground in what for all intents and purposes appears to be a show of temper. Hunter’s head slams into the tiles, and the tears become tears of pain, not rage. Cuddles and cooing noises to calm him, before putting him in his room in front of his toys. Hunter runs from the room, Mummy chases after him. A hilarious chasey game ensues, during which time Hunter develops a new line of enquiry).
Hunter: What happens if I grab a CD and run away with it before flinging it? (Grabs a handful of CD’s, cases clattering to the ground and he flings them across the room and then throws himself backwards onto the ground, struggling as I pick him up and berate him)
Mummy: “Hunter! Stop! Why are you being so naughty! Pick up the CD’s, put them back (struggles with screaming rage fuelled toddler, decides to just do it myself, and even then he reaches again for the CDs...)              

You can basically substitute CD’s for all manner of things- pushing the buttons on the dishwasher, sitting on the cat, pushing books off the bookshelf, opening the record player lid, pouring his sippy cup over the carpet... 

I have read on the newly updated Wonder Weeks app that this behaviour is perfectly normal for a child of his age. Cold comfort, I know, except that it is really fascinating to me to know why, and the Wonder Weeks is simply unequalled in explaining the why of baby-toddler behaviour.
Have you read the Wonder Weeks book or downloaded the app? If you are interested in cognitive development, want to know why your baby exhibits dramatic changes in personality or behaviour for weeks at a time (clinginess, crankiness and crying), or just want to see the world through your child’s eyes while discovering fun baby-age-appropriate games and activities I heartily recommend you download this app. 

Based on 35 years of research by Dutch researchers Hetty Vanderijt and Frans Plooij, the Wonder Weeks lays out a very clear road map of your babies mental (cognitive) development. Just as baby learns to roll, then sit, then pull up and walk; so too will baby master basic intellectual abilities before moving on to more complex notions (such as the rules which govern social interaction).  For example, baby will notice spatial distance (mum is far away from me! Cry!) before baby can link actions together to reach a goal (if I open my mouth and say ‘yum’ I get given more banana). As you can see, in the hierarchy of understanding our world, noticing that you aren’t always being hugged is less sophisticated that understanding if you make one particular sound while engaging in this activity, you get rewarded with more food.

The Wonder Weeks app shows you when your baby makes a mental development leap, which is extremely helpful because it is not as easy to see a mental leap as it is to see a physical one - unless you know the signs. Sometimes I’ll have noticed Hunter has been a real ratbag for a few days in a row, and it will dawn on me to look at the app and voila! The app has already predicted the behaviour change. The Wonder Weeks supplements this knowledge by explaining what your baby can understand, learn and do after this mental leap; and what you can do to help your baby during this development. It lists simple games and activities you can do with your little one that maximise the learnings of the current leap. Best of all it lets you know that you aren’t a bad parent; your baby hasn’t gone to hell in a hand basket; and this rough patch will be over soon- with the benefit of having a smarter baby at the end of it all. 

With regards to Hunter’s current ‘naughty’ behaviour, the app says that during this period my son is beginning to understand certain everyday principles like:
  • making plans,
  • actions and response, 
  • testing ‘what happens if’ (and ’ what happens if I do the same thing- slightly differently?’)
  • negotiating and bargaining, and 
  • using behaviour to get attention (temper tantrums / being sweet).

In other words, he isn’t deliberately flaunting the rules, he is simply trying to discover just what about his actions I object too, and accordingly, what else must he do to get what he wants. Before this moment, the concept that you can sometimes do things that aren’t allowed (for example, he is allowed to play in the backyard with an adult to supervise, he is only allowed to climb up onto the couch when an adult is there to sit with him) simply did not – in fact, could not- exist in his world.

These developmental leaps brings to mind the hours I spent on my cousins Commodore 64 playing Sim City- start with a farm, add shops, houses, industry and roads, soon you have a town- the game gives you a Mayors house. Your town grows bigger, you get a Town Hall. It becomes a city and you are rewarded with a Sports Stadium. You could never of had a Sports Stadium with just two houses to support it. You needed all the other development to make it happen- and the same goes for developmental leaps too.

The Wonder Weeks app has helped me understand why my previously well mannered, even tempered, calm and easy sleeping son has regressed into one who will not sleep through the night while simultaneously developing new and not-at-all-endearing traits such as hitting me in the face to get his way. It described to me how, while making a developmental leap, my son will pour all of his energy into understanding and exhibiting his knowledge, leaving very little left for things such as emotional intelligence, thus a clingy, crying, cranky baby! This has really helped me keep my temper during the rough times, and also helped my mother who often cares for him. 

The new updated app has sorted out some of the bugs which plagued the first version (such as small grammatical errors, and a fault in which sometimes my son would be referred to ‘she’). If you already own the app, update it. If you still aren’t sure if this app is for you, or if your child is 12 months or older, you can also buy single chapters of the book from the app store. I would like for it to have a little bit more information in the About TWW section (a word about the authors and the science), a link to my calendar which will ‘remind’ me my son is about to enter a new leap and also the ability from within the app to purchase the chapter in full- perhaps these are features we will see in the next update, as the developers are kind enough to continually improve their product. Four out of five stars. 

Buy The Wonder Weeks book here, or download the app via iTunes or Google Play for Android

Sunday, 11 November 2012

These Songs Sound The Same: The Wombats and The Koala Brothers

Am I crazy or do these songs sound the same? Like, the exact same.

About 50 seconds into the song Let's Dance To Joy Division by The Wombats starts to sound the same as the theme song for The Koala Brothers.

Australian Native Animals Abound,
Sandi D

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Winner: Fisher Price Toy Giveaway, and a Small Melbourne Getaway

A big congrats to Kelli Stevens of Morayfield, you have a Fisher Price toy pack coming your way! Check your emails, because for some reason Raflecopter won't let me email you...

Apologies for the late competition winner announcement- I've been in Melbourne on my first ever non-baby vacation!

How was being away from my baby? I cried my eyes out as I drove away from Hunter, and continued to cry the whole plane trip from Brisbane to Melbourne. What a baby!!

Despite the tears, as soon as I touched down I put on my biggest smile and allowed myself to have a great time. Seeing my husband again after six weeks of him being away (military life sucks!) felt amazing, and getting to run around like teenagers again was super fantastic. We ate at Chin-Chin and Rice Queen and Bimbo's and Lucky Coq. We drank at every single bar in Victoria (I exagerate, but my hang overs would have me beleive it). I bought some rad Friends of Couture and Alannah Hill dresses and picked up some beautiful toys for Hunter, because he was on my mind.

He was on Lee's mind too- the two of us are hopelessly in love with our little man, we are both as bad as each other when it comes to speaking about him and eagerly showing pictures of him to anyone who would look.

Anyway, here are some shots from the trip, each on of which was no doubt taken by someone subjected to endless talk of how adorable our little man is.

Every day should be a holiday
Sandi d
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