Monday, November 30, 2015

Of water phobias and crying poolside

TRIGGER WARNING: this post mentions child sexual assault and may be distressing to some readers.

Tricks has long been afraid of the water. In particular, having water on his face and head. I'm talking full blown phobia. Aquaphobia, to be precise. Not hydrophobia, that's a rabies thing.

Swimming was never on the cards, though occasionally he would paddle ankle deep, at the beach or pool as long as there was no splashing. The first time he got completely in a pool was January this year. It was a momentous occasion and I took about one hundred photographs. If he was splashed in the face, or water got on his hair it would be the end of the world, but THE KID WAS IN A POOL!

Even hair washing was highly traumatic (for both of us) until a few months ago. We tried every contraption, every technique, every "failproof-no-more-tears-this-worked-for-my-water-phobic-child" suggestion we heard. Nothing worked and I was always afraid that the police would be called when we washed his hair, such were the screams echoing down the street from our house.

Lights and sirens, a hard knock on the door and "Excuse me, ma'am, there's been a complaint made against you of child abuse" until Tricky walks out with only half the shampoo out of his hair and they go "Ahh, never mind, I had one of those kids, too".

We never knew the cause of his phobia. Sometimes I would think it was because of his craniosynostosis surgeries because it seemed head related: he would also panic at the hairdressers and very infrequent home haircuts with massive amounts of bribery were the only way forward for quite some time. But at other times I'd think it was just his personality. This introverted, slightly anxious, sweet and sensitive little boy just did not like the sensation.

When a note came around at school that swimming lessons were to start soon, I didn't quite know what to do. Excuse him from the lessons, or pay the money and hope that the combination of someone other than me telling him what to do and a little bit of peer pressure would work wonders? I consulted lots of other mums and they were all very helpful, ensuring me that the swim teachers are very gentle with the "dry heads".

The day before lessons started we headed to my bestie's house to have a swim in her pool with her boys. Tricks got in for a while, but began to panic when it got a little bit splashy. The fear was obvious as tears rolled down his face. He spent the rest of the time on the side, not even wanting to put his feet in.

With the previous day's tears fresh in my mind, I headed to the pool to watch his first lesson. My head was cloudy with an emotional hangover thanks to a horribly timed medication change. A few other mums were there and while we waited for the kids to arrive we talked about how mums cry at things like this.

I told them I've never been one to cry over my kids' milestones. I'm the type to fist pump, high five and happy dance (complete with spirit fingers, of course) but not shed a tear. Which is weird because I cry over bloody everything else. I'm the one smiling and cheering in a sea of wailing mums who appear to be the reason waterproof mascara was invented. They're just so damn happy and proud. It's beautiful.

"You know what?" I said to one of the mums, "If this goes well, I think I will cry".

In hindsight it probably wasn't great for me to head out to the pools when I was feeling low, but there was no way I was missing this lesson.

The bus load of eager little bodies arrived, draped in too-big towels, with goggles covering half their faces so you had to piece together gap-toothed smiles and hair colour to figure out who was who.

As they were led in to the pool in small groups, Tricks was standing bolt upright, making him easy to spot amongst the others who were relaxed and happily bobbing up and down to wet their whole bodies. The teacher, Danni*, knew he was scared and asked him to squat down so his shoulders were under water. He half followed her instructions and made it to chest height. As she spoke to the other kids she took his hand and started trickling water over his shoulders. She was paying him just the right amount of attention - the focus wasn't on him, but she was fully aware of his phobia the whole time, and never stopped easing him in to the water.

Slowly she moved to trickling the water over his head, and her own, laughing as she did it, making it a game. He was still standing stiff as a board, and I could see from the way he held his jaw he was holding back tears.

It came to blowing bubbles... simple enough, but a task that has previously been met with straight out refusal.

He touched his lips gingerly to the water, and stood up. He touched again and blew the tiniest bubble. And again, this time a few more.

I looked to the mums, "Yeah, gonna cry now" I squeaked out.

With the biggest smile on my face the tears started to fall. I was so proud you'd have thought my kid was winning Olympic gold for the 50m freestyle not blowing a few bubbles.

I was handed a tissue and for a moment there, I enjoyed those tears. Everyone knew how momentous this was for him, there was no judgement for crying, the other mums were happy for him, too.

I continued to watch and to my utter amazement, he dipped his whole head under water as they crawled around the shallows pretending to swim. A moment ago he'd never had water on his lips and now his entire face was submerged! He rose up and Danni gave him a little affectionate squeeze on the shoulder.

That was all it took. Watching her (completely innocent) physical contact with him while she smiled.

With my already emotional state, I was transported back to my own horrific swimming lessons where my teacher, Garry*, started off encouraging me with those same little affectionate squeezes, and ended up sexually assaulting me under the water while other children swam laps right next to us.

Garry taught the top class, level twelve, and it was the aim of every kid in the swim club to get to his lane. The furthest from the parents; from the admin; from eyes that could see what he was doing.

He would teach from the deep end where we couldn't stand and would "help us stay afloat" as he gave us instructions for our next lap. Though his idea of help and mine are quite different, with his fingers exploring where they shouldn't have, week after week, month after month.

I would kick away as soon as I could, embarrassed, ashamed, unsure.

I was 10.

When the term ended, I didn't go back. I never got my Bronze and everyone was really surprised that I'd just given up on something I had enjoyed so much and was doing pretty well at.

I look up and I'm watching Tricks again, only a few moments have passed and it is his turn to duck under the water again. He does it, and she squeezes his arm, this time it elicits the smallest of smiles from him.

I feel bile rise up in my throat, and the chlorine, which was fine until now, starts burning my nostrils. My thoughts are all over the place, racing wildly from motherly pride to thinking that I've put my child in harms way.

I excuse myself from the other mums, lying that I want a better view, and I exit the rear of the centre. I suck in fresh air like my life depends on it and flip my sunglasses down so that the others don't notice my happy tears have turned to acrid, trauma tears.

I move to the doors and keep my eyes on him. Trying desperately to focus on how well he's doing and the fact that the teacher is not stealing his innocence. My ears are buzzing and I'm light headed, but I keep staring; counting his kicks, the number of times he readjusts his goggles, anything to pull myself out of my own head, to stop this panic from turning in to a full blown anxiety attack.

Toward the end of the lesson, I regain my composure and rejoin the other mums. I text MG and tell him how well the Trickster is doing, that he has blown us all away with how hard he is trying. My bestie walks in to watch the next session, and I hurriedly tell her that OMG Tricky blew bubbles in the water, and knowing that it's a HUGE thing especially compared to just yesterday in her pool, she tears up, too.

The kids exit the pool and Tricky beams a mega watt smile at me. We high five. We knuckle bump. I tell him how proud I am of him, and I can see he is proud of himself, too. Within a minute they're back on the bus and on the way back to school, and I'm heading to the car.

I don't hold it together long. I drive away crying, amazed at how a shoulder squeeze combined with a bit of an unstable mood could set this off. I've been to pools before since it happened without much of a thought, but it dawns on me I've never sent my kid to swimming lessons before. Put him in the exact same situation that did so much damage to me. Triggers are a bitch and you don't always know where they'll be.

By the end of the week, my new meds had started to kick in and the withdrawal of the last lot has gone (halle-fuckin-lujah), so my mental state is returning to "normal" and I can visit the pool again feeling completely different. I can look at it for what it is for him, not what it was for me.

I watch my little guy float on his front, on his back, swim under four kick boards, duck dive down to retrieve a toy and ENJOY every bit of it. I marvel at how far he has come in five lessons and a tiny little happy tear forms in the corner of my eye.

I smile, the tear slides down my cheek, and I don't wipe it away. Now it's my turn to be so damn happy and proud, and beautiful.

*not their real names

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gotta love the good stuff

Brought to you by Heinz
#S1 For full details please see my disclosure policy

Growing up, my sister and I were Heinz kids. I have the best memories of eating Heinz pureed apples… wait, what? How can I remember shovelling the good stuff in to my gob, you ask? Well, because we ate what we called “baby apples” well in to our teen years.

Mostly we’d eat it if we had a sore throat or had just had our braces tightened and couldn't stand even the thought of chewing, though there were definitely a few times it ended up in our cupboards just because it was delicious. We’d eat it straight out of the tin with a teaspoon, scraping away to make sure we got every last morsel. There were no fancy pouches back then!

Bobbin is past the baby food stage, but we usually grab some pouches to keep for emergency snacks. I'm one of those mums that scans through the empty pouches because my kid has already eaten it while we've done the rest of the shopping. Here’s a tip: don’t go through self-serve checkouts if you do this - it plays havoc with the scales! I may or may not choose the flavours based on the hope that she might not eat it all and I’ll get her leftovers. C'mon, apple, strawberry and passionfruit? You’d do it, too.

I like to incorporate a pouch of the fruit puree in to pikelets to make an easy, take anywhere snack that Bobbin and I can cook together. Measuring, pouring and stirring not only help kids get interested in the food they are about to eat (making them more likely to eat it), but it’s also a bit of a maths lesson. But mainly, it’s FUN! Making memories, and a little bit of mess, well, that’s the good stuff.

1 cup of SR flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 pouch of Heinz fruit puree in one of their delicious flavours
1 egg – alternatively, you can use Heinz apple puree! Roughly 85g of puree is equivalent to one egg.

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Combine the flour, baking powder, Heinz baby food and egg. Stir! If the mixture is a bit thick, add some water a little at a time – the amount will vary depending on which product you use and which age range it is aimed at.

Place heaped teaspoons of batter in to a hot frypan and cook for around 30 seconds each side. You’ll know when it’s time to flip them when the pikelet loses its shine – don’t wait for a million bubbles to form and pop, that’s letting the air out! Fluffy pikelets

Allow them to cool before serving, because duh.

These apparently keep well in an airtight container for a few days, but I wouldn't know because ours are usually eaten within a few minutes, especially when we visit our dairy-free friends.

Being completely honest, I've only tried these with the fruit purees, but a savoury version would probably be yummy, too!

I actually didn't know until recently that most of the ingredients are sourced in Australia – the apples, pears and peaches are from Goulburn Valley, the pumpkins from Victoria, and all the meat is all sourced from Aussie farms. Then it’s turned in to the good stuff in Echuca in Victoria where it’s taste tested daily - *ahem* I'm available for this job, if you’re hiring, Heinz.

For more details, recipes and competitions you can check out Heinz for Baby on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

6 tips to make your kids "good eaters"

Background image - Creative Commons via David Saddler
There isn't a week that goes by when someone doesn't have a peek at Tricky or Bobbin's lunchboxes and say "Your kids actually eat that?! What's your secret?". It could be an opportunity to go all 'smug mother', or show off, but it has been little things we've done since they were introduced to solids that have been the biggest factors.

It is no secret I'm a bit of a food freak when it comes to my kids (if only I could be so vigilant when it comes to my own food). I was extremely strict with what Tricks was and wasn't allowed to eat as a toddler, and, as is often the case, I've had to relax my ideals as school started and every second day there was cupcakes for someone's birthday, and cookie decorating for fine motor skills. Which means Bobbin has been exposed to a shed load of food long before her brother ever was... to the point where we drive past McDonald's and she says "chips". Ahh, second children.

No food groups are out of bounds for my two, but I do try limit the amount of processed food they eat, keeping it mainly for birthday parties and holidays as a treat. Oh, and at the grandparents' houses, duh. Because sometimes, the memories being made take precedence over the nutritional value.

Me from four years ago cannot believe I just wrote that. Heh.

I've been a no-nonsense mama from the get go when it comes to food, and I think that has really helped turn my kids in to so called "good eaters". Some of our simple approaches have come naturally to us, and others we have adopted after reading about them.

1. We eat dinner as a family, every night

I think this is SO important. It's a way to connect after a busy day, but it also lets us model eating and social behaviours so our kids have seen that "we sit down, we talk, we eat" is part of our routine. MapGuy usually eats breakfast with the kids (while I'm trying to get a few more minutes of sleep), and whoever is home eats lunch together. Lately, with just Bobbin and I at home during the day, we have a little tea party together in the playroom.

2. No TV or devices on during meal times

We are really strict with this at dinner, but I will admit that a phone has been known to come out at the breakfast table to help us figure out what is going on that day! On the rare occasion that the TV is on, I find my two will forget to eat, then pick at their food and only eat their favourite bits off the plate before declaring that they are full, only to be starving an hour later.

3. We eat the same food

It doesn't matter what it is, we all eat the same food. Tricky and Bobbin have been exposed to a wide range of foods and will now happily eat almost anything you put in front of them. We dish up their food first, pop it in the fridge to cool down, add extra chilli to the pot because I like it spicy, dish up ours, and then serve it together.

4. Involve the kids in meal times

Tricky, and more recently Bobbin, help MapGuy with the grocery shopping every Saturday. Yes, you read that right, MG is in charge of the dreaded grocery run with both kids while I sleep in - dude, I've got it good. They help pick the food (tiny slaves, FTW!), get a life maths lesson, and learn the names of the different fruits and veggies as they go. They help with some meal prep, and a bit of baking (spoon licking counts as helping) and Tricky is in charge of setting the table. Soon, his job will change to clearing the table and Bobbin will take over the cutlery.

5. We have rules about trying food

Is there a food you like now that you hated at first? I used to hate olives, cheese and wine and now those things make up a glorious trifecta for this chick. You have to try a food a few times in our house before you can declare you don't like it.

I've lost count of the amount of times Bobbin has said "YUCK!" and pushed her plate away just as we sit down to dinner. When this happens we put it back in front and say she has to try it. If she refuses, we say she has to sit there while we eat dinner... every time (so far) she has started eating. Usually saying "ooh yummm" within two minutes and making MG and I covertly roll our eyes.

I also like to point out to Tricks that foods can taste different depending on what they're with; for example, he doesn't like avocado by itself, but if you put it with vegemite, or on a wrap, he likes it. I feel the exact same way, but Bobbin will eat it by the truck load by itself. It's all I can do not to dry retch at the site of it. So my two have to try a few mouthfuls of a food a couple of times, prepared in different ways before they can really declare they don't like it, but...

6. We're not in the Clean Plate Brigade

If they don't like something on their plate and they have at least tried it, they can eat around it, lick it, sniff it, push it around their plate, whatever. They don't have to eat it. Shocking, I know. If it is something that was declared their favourite thing ever the day before I will tell them to eat it, but mostly I try to respect that not everyone is as obsessed with roast pumpkin or whatever as me, and let them figure out their own palate, and their own hungry and full signals, trusting that they won't go around starving.

We follow this up by keeping their food after dinner if they haven't eaten much, and offering it to them later when they're hungry. I'm guilty of using saying "well you can't really be hungry" if they refuse dinner but are angling for dessert. Yeah, I've turned in to my parents.

These have worked wonders for our family, and with Bobbin being so small for so long, it's been really important to me to make sure she eats well.

What tips and tricks do you use to make sure your kids eat well?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Vicious Cycle

MapGuy has been riding his bike the 26km round trip to and from work lately. He usually starts doing it in Spring when the weather is fining up and lasts until the scorching Perth summer mornings where we bake at 35 degrees before 8am, and the lure of an airconditioned train becomes too much.

When he leaves work he activates an app called Glypmse, a GPS tracker, that allows me to see where he is. On the bus, on the train, on a cycle path, crossing the park down the road, or about to walk in the front door. It's great because I can do the little dance that is "shit, the house looks horrible let's hide some crap before Dad gets home". Or start dinner. Or count down the metres until there is an adult to talk to or handball children to. Whatever works on the day.

A few weeks ago mid way through his ride it stopped working and I was quietly freaking out that he'd had a crash. As is the way, as soon as I shared my worry with a friend, he rode up the driveway making me look like I was a bit of a dick. But I do worry when he's riding because have you seen Perth drivers? Shocking stuff. No one knows how to merge, use roundabouts or watch for cyclists (or motorcyclists). It's one of my biggest fears and the morbid movie reel that is my mind has played me a few scenarios that would easily slot in to the plot line of Grey's Anatomy.

Yesterday MG sent me the Glympse as usual as I was figuring out what to cook for dinner. Tricky was playing cars in his room and Bobbin was on the couch "reading" Room on the Broom (for the millionth time). Then my phone rang and MG's smiling face flashed up on the screen.

"Yellooooo" I said.

No one replied and I could hear traffic noises so I thought he'd somehow butt dialed me.

"Hello?" I asked again to be sure.

"Hi, my name's Richard, I'm here with your husband, he's come off his bike. He's OK, he's awake now, but he's bleeding a lot and an ambulance is coming. We're at the corner of [gigantic road] and [major road], do you know where that is?". Of course I did, I had the app, showing me he was not moving at the intersection. My stomach lurched.

Richard, who neither of us had met before, was a good man to have around in an emergency. He and his wife/partner/female person in the car whose name I've forgotten, had seen MG come off (the front wheel fell off as he came down a kerb) and pulled over to help, then used his phone to contact me.

I took the kids straight to my neighbours house, much to their delight, and as they got out of the car (yeah, I drove two doors down - I thought it was quicker than walking them down and running back) she asked if they'd eaten. No. She took them by the hand, told me she'd make them dinner, bath them and put them in her kids PJs. What a legend. I pulled out and headed to the scene, absolutely petrified about what I'd see when I got there.

I arrived at the same time as the ambulance and couldn't see MG, but I could see his bike in two pieces. Richard and the woman (I can't believe I forgot her name!) came straight up to me and took me to the sign he was sitting next to. There was blood pouring out of his mouth and he had bloodied knees and a few scrapes on his arms. Next to him was his helmet with big crack in it, the plastic pushed in to the underlying foam. That could have been his skull. Dear lord, that could have been his skull!

The ambos were looking him over and I got the first look at his mouth. Teeth going in every direction, some half missing. Another man who had stopped, Jeff, started looking for MG's teeth on the road, but we were told not to bother because they'd been broken off, not come out whole. At this point I found out that MG had hit the back of Jeff's car as he went over the handlebars.

While I was sitting with MG, Richard and the woman (her name started with a vowel, dammit!) loaded up the broken bike in to the back of the car, which took quite a bit of manoeuvring because I had a leaf blower and a pram in there. They came back and stayed with me until they were sure I was OK, letting me know that they thought he'd briefly lost consciousness - so important to know! Such lovely people.

At some point as MG sat on the grass, he was bitten on the leg by a bug. Because smashing your face in to the ground isn't enough for this family. You have to hit a car and get bitten, too. Go hard or go home.

MG went off in the ambulance and Jeff made sure I was OK and told me not to worry about the damage to his car - but we swapped business cards anyway (and a lovely email checking up on MG was in my inbox the next morning). I dropped the bike home, grabbed Tricky's ventolin and some spare clothes and dropped them at the neighbour's house, then drove to the hospital. On the way I called my parents to pick up the kids for a sleep over, and MG's sister, Kitty. She works with people with brain injuries so it was a double whammy of letting his family know and getting some advice with what to ask the hospital.

At the hospital, they wouldn't let me see him. He'd been placed in 'fast track' which is for people who aren't badly hurt and will be shoved out the door soon, and they don't like visitors back there. That seemed like a good sign, but I was concerned they didn't know he'd been knocked out.

Kitty arrived to keep me company and we were finally allowed through, about an hour after he'd arrived. He was holding a spew bag to catch all the blood that was still coming from his mouth. When the doctor came in he said he'd stitch him up and he could go because the xray showed no fracture of the jaw.

I told the doctor that MG had been knocked out and sure enough, they weren't aware. Because of course MG can't remember it. I was really concerned though that they would have just sent him away after an hour when he's had a bike crash and hit his head. A bruise was forming over his entire forehead as we stood by, so it was obvious he'd hit hard, plus his helmet really showed the force of the hit. I looked back at Kitty and she gave me the universal "you said the right thing" micro nod.

He was transferred to the main emergency department and had neurological obs taken every hour which made me feel so much better. He remained alert, so with each set of obs they became less and less concerned about a possible bleed in his brain and the need for a CT.

The game plan changed a few times as the night progressed. For a while the maxillofacial surgeons were going take a look at him under general anaesthetic, but then they decided that a dentist would be the better option.

But he had to be stitched up before anything else happened. He had a chunk of skin hanging from his chin, part of his top lip hanging off, and the inside of his bottom lip was deeply lacerated from the top all the way to the gum.

The main doctor numbed him up and started suturing his chin. I'm so in to gory stuff - I watch real life medical shows, autopsy shows, and always watch any procedure I have done. I'm fascinated by it and have never felt squeamish... until then.

I was holding MG's hand, trying to be the loving, supportive wife and the room started to go black. I couldn't hear and vomit was rising up in my throat. I turned to Kitty... "I'm going to faint" and I stepped to the bottom of the bed and sat down. On the filthy floor. I was helped in to a chair and told to put my head between my legs, then proceeded to throw my guts up in to a bag. Niiiice.

The other doctor, Dr Anthony - awesome guy - sutured up the rest of MG's face while I sat just outside his cubicle drinking sugar water and being told I looked green. I was listening in to some of it, hearing the doc say how it was an impressive injury and that MG was doing well.

I rejoined the bedside party after all the gory stuff was over and was so disappointed I had to miss it. The mouth wound was epic and I only got to see it once. Boo. It's all about me, obviously.

Kitty and I had been cracking awful jokes the whole time, because joking about inappropriate things at inappropriate times is a talent we both possess. It reached a new low when, almost crying with laughter, we high fived after a particularly hilarious tooth fairy gag over him as he lay, still bleeding, in the bed. Ahhh, stress does great things. Nothing was safe - grills, Harrison Ford scars, Indiana Jones whips, Smashmouth, and even "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth". We are terrible, terrible people, and will no doubt go to hell.

Some morphine, a failed albeit valiant attempt at a splint made from a scalpel packet, and some paperwork later, MG was discharged with instructions to see the dentist the next day.

He got an emergency appointment in the city and the dentist was a bit excited he got to do something cool instead of just a boring old filling. The xrays showed that four teeth were smashed - two could be built up, one was exposing the nerve and needed a root canal started, and the other was too damaged will have to be extracted once the area heals a little.

For now he has had two teeth capped, one temporarily capped, and one of his front teeth just smoothed off at half height, and they're braced together for support. He never had braces as a teen because he had perfectly straight teeth - but now he has them to stop the bastards falling out.

He says it wasn't too painful, that his mouth is still quite numb, but when the dentist had to lean on the stitches and use a bit of oomph, you could see it was agony.

Because I'm horrible, I went and bought MG a really inappropriate present while the main drilling bits were being done. I presented it to him saying it was the only bike he was allowed to ride from now on.

His teeth won't be fully fixed until next year, likely February, because of all the time needed for the bone to re grow around the roots where they have shifted, and for some stability to hopefully return. If it doesn't, he'll have two implants instead of one.

He's swollen. He can't eat anything but puree for a while, and looks exactly how you'd expect someone to look when they stop a fall with their face. But we don't care. He doesn't have a brain injury, he doesn't have two broken arms, he doesn't have a broken neck. He's alive. A smashed up mouth is nothing compared to the what ifs that have been running through our heads.

Now to prepare for the pain of the dental bills.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I'm with the band

After eleven years together, you'd think I'd know all there is to know about my husband. 

I know his favourite bands, foods, drinks, activities, sports, and yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Well, most of the time I do. I think. Let's not test me on it, OK?

So it came as a HUGE shock to me to find out that MapGuy was in a band when he was in highschool. I knew he was in the school band, but he also rocked out, the way hormonal teenage boys do, in a grunge band.

"This totally ups your street cred. How did you play trumpet in a rock band though?"

"I was the lead singer"

"Oooh that's a bit sexy. Until I remember you were underage at the time. Yeah, not sexy any more. At least you weren't the bass player. What was your band called?"

"Lesbian Sumo."

"Wait. What?"

"Lesbian Sumo."


I had so many questions, but all I could do was laugh and mock him mercilessly. Which is what marriage is all about, isn't it?

Any surprises from your partner?


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