We have cancelled bubba’s place in family day care. I will explain.

My big caveat here for this post is that I absolutely do not want anyone to read this and feel that our decision is any sort of judgment on theirs to use childcare. At ALL. Just as with the bottle vs breastfeeding, I think that we can all care for our children in whatever way works, and as long as the bub is fed and loved, she will be just fine.

We took bubba to day care three times: once to meet the carer, who was absolutely lovely. We wanted family day care as it seemed more homey, and like it may offer more scope for attention to the individual children. Then we took bubba for a test run, where I stayed with her for two hours and then we tried to settle her for a nap (see my last post about childcare). That day, there was only one other boy there, as it was still ramp up time for the carer. Bubba was perfectly happy to play, as long as I was there. She would not settle for a nap under any circumstances. We then had to go away for a week, but upon return took bubba back again. This time she was again happy to play, even though there were now three other kids there (and another would start the following week). Whenever I was out of sight for a brief moment, such as going to the loo or putting together her familiar portacot (in an attempt to help her nap better), she screamed until I returned. The nap was a failure again.

This time, when I went home, I had to face some realities. I want bubba to adjust to daycare, and with time she probably will. But the daycare we had chosen was not right for her and won’t be until she is big enough to feed herself, and get around, and communicate – basically, until she is about 18 months old or thereabouts. The carer was lovely, but does not have the time to take care of a bubba of our bub’s age – 10 months.

We are now looking at our options. We are going to visit a day care centre and see what the babies room is like. From this experience, we have learned that actually, a formal centre may be better than a family day care environment, if it means a dedicated room for babies of our bubba’s age group. We are also looking for babysitters who can come and babysit bubba at our home for two hour slots, two or three times a week. This is going to be an expensive option as it is not eligible for government rebates. But it might at least get our bubba used to being cared for by another adult. We have the luxury of doing this, because we work from home and so we can be flexible.

Part of me wants my bubba to learn how to be around others more quickly. I am impatient for her success. I feel like it is a failure that she has not been able to adjust and that we have to take “baby steps.” I feel indulgent; I feel extremely Western. There is something which rears up inside of me and scoffs at my “transition,” something which fears turning my baby into an over-protected princess/sissy: something vaguely working class, coal-coloured, something that looks a lot like my hardworking dad and his sacrificial ways: something about sucking it up, and getting on with it. Something about not wanting to be on the receiving end of those condescending glances I liked to give to those helicopter parents I swore I would not become.

I don’t really need to excorcise these particular demons at the expense of my bubba, whom I love and in actual fact, I don’t want to part with that much, anyway. She may be the only baby I ever have; in fact it is quite likely.

And we do have the flexibility to ease bubba into this. So we will work with a babysitter to get her used to other adults, because she has had so little exposure to anyone outside of me and my husband. We will take her to playgroups, to get her used to being around other kids. Gradually and eventually, we will get her across the line and into childcare.

The current approach to childcare does bother me, though, in the same way that all the state infrastructure around having a baby once bothered me. Economies of scale and the way in which we support individual freedom means that the state now provides the types of services that once your village would have: child care, mothers groups, playgroups and so on. This is wonderful in the breadth of expertise available at low cost to us all. But it is sad also that these things are part of a market economy at all. I wonder if there is a website where mums in their local area can connect and share their children’s care: either through sharing nannies, or directly by working out their work days so that they can not just job share but child-share. Hmm. Time for some interweb research – maybe there is another solution to my childcare dilemma after all.

Just starting

I am officially 7 working days into my creative writing PhD. It’s hard to feel much pressure for something which I have three years to complete (FAMOUS LAST WORDS). So I am going to do some planning tomorrow, where I break it down into years, then months, then weeks, then days. Then I will send my plan to my supervisors, so that they are not such rubbery, self-imposed deadlines, but ones which mean something.

I think I have been blessed with two good, complementary supervisors. Both are warm and encouraging, and very respectful of my ideas, making me feel like the peer I hope to become. Our supervision meetings so far have been in the nature of conversations, rather than polemical discussions – I do not feel I have to defend or obfuscate – I feel we can talk openly and explore. That is what three years gives you, I suppose – at least in the beginning. Anne has already sent me excellent reading suggestions for my creative piece. Janet, I get the feeling, will help to keep me on the straight and narrow – gently suggesting that I write an action list after every supervision meeting, and that I get on top of my first milestone, which is “confirmation.” In a PhD, this comes one year into the course, and is the reverse of the Catholic type – instead of you affirming your faith in the holy spirit, they, a panel of academics confirm their faith in your ability to finish the PhD which you have so hopefully begun.

For the first time, before embarking on a creative work, I feel I do want to research. I want to know how other people have gone about writing this sort of a thing. I want to read about structure, and ways of telling story, and voice. I want to learn, rather than just create. I can’t tell you how absolutely right and luxurious it feels to sit, and read, and know that this is good work towards my goal. I had worried that a PhD would somehow cramp my creativity. But it seems – it is early days yes, but I think, hope and feel that a PhD structure may be a good thing for my writing after all.

First day of childcare

We had our first attempt at childcare today. In the morning, I was feeling a deep, echoing sort of sadness, the type of melancholy which threatens to gush up like an oil well, the deeps of which would make you a wealthy woman if you could trade in those sorts of riches. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself what Margaret, my PND counsellor used to say: “Approach, don’t avoid.” I also skyped Julie this morning in London, who reminded me that this could just be one step – a day, a few hours really, at someone’s house, playing. I didn’t have to make more of it than that. I didn’t have to think about all the days to come, when my baby might be crying for me, or I for her.

I have been re-reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and taking bubba to childcare reminded me of his description of the feeling a human got when pulled too far away from her soul – she would ache with the deepest longing, like an elastic band stretched too far.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. But the thought ran through my head, driving down to Kristy’s house.

By the time we got there it was about 10.15 am and I had already been through all the reasons in my head why this would not work out. When we entered, I put bubba on the playroom floor and sat down a few paces away. Most uncharacteristically, bubba did not cry. She did not cry, in fact, for a full hour – and then she whinged, just because she was hungry. She played. She touched Kristy. She sang, eventually, in her own way – the bababa lalala way she has of imitating sounds. She watched the other little boy play (the other kids will start after school holidays), and occasionally looked as though she might like to play with him too, except he was busy packing and unpacking the toy supermarket.

True that she checked where I was sometimes. True that she whinged for her breastfeed at the usual time. And when she started getting tired, I carried her around a bit while Kristy fed the other child his lunch.

I grew cocky. I decided to experiment with putting her down for a nap. I bundled her into her sleeping bag and put her in the portacot. She cried, for about a minute or two, then went quiet once she found her thumb. I grew cockier still. I went out to lunch, calling my husband from the cafe with a positive report. And then I found myself, with my child cared for by someone else, and with nowhere I needed to be for another 30 minutes.

My mind expanded with the possibilities. I had only hoped for two hours of childcare, two days a week to begin with, afraid that bubba would not handle much more than that. Now, I started to think what might be possible if I did not have to breastfeed. If she grew accustomed to the bottle? If she learned to take this midday nap at Kristy’s? If, in short, she grew used to childcare? The hardest moment had been watching the other boy cry for his daddy – then I felt the guilt reignite – but he was soon quietly sleeping, having simply been overtired. And presumably, my baby was sleeping too.

I got back to Kristy’s on the dot of 50 minutes – the sleep cycle. I could not hear a baby crying. I tiptoed hopefully to the glass door, and there was my bubba, sitting on Kristy’s lap. She had red eyes and had only slept for 5 or 10 minutes, before screaming the house down. Kristy had been comforting her and distracting her as well as she could. When I took her, she demanded full body contact – not this piddling, holding her up so she could stand on a chair. Not adequate! Visions of my 10.00 am to 4.00 pm drained away, and I watched them go as regretfully as I had earlier dreaded being a simple 2 hours away from my bubba.

I brought bubba home and agreed with my husband that there were 2 options: to go cold turkey, or to transition her in slowly, and then transition me out. We have opted for the slow transition. Am I being too namby pamby? Should I throw her in the deep end, so she will learn to swim? Babies are far more resilient and adaptable then we give them credit for, and bubba only knows what is acceptable because we show her what is.

I know it’s weird and unfair, but those 30 minutes gave me a taste. I started out mapping ways to not have to put her into childcare for another 8 months, and I ended up resenting the fact that I can’t put her in for a full day yet. I wanted more, and bubba crying for me meant that I can’t have it, or I choose not to have it, not yet, not until she is OK with it too. It did something to my sense of freedom, and made me remember my obligations. It is time to get her more used to the vicissitudes of life, but gradually.

I am grateful that I have the flexibility to take this sort of approach. I am impatient now for the approach to work. Time to myself – an almost forbidden elixir. I’m sorry bubba. Soon.

9 and a half months

Bubba has now been street side of the belly for longer than she was inside. Still, I told her the other day, “I invented you.” But I could never have invented everything about her. It’s more than I could have imagined.

We have been through a lot of changes in the last month.

Bubba’s head is bigger

Bubba has gone through another “wonder weeks” transition, which rocked her world, literally. Her brain got bigger and changed the way it metabolises glucose. Apparently now she can understand “categories,” and is busy comprehending that a picture of a dog and our neighbour’s poodles are part of the same group. She has also started to comprehend her own power, and has been using it to get what she wants from her gullible parents (I reckon she wins that game 80% of the time in the first round, and 100% of the time in the second. We are featherweights to her championship, 0-sized belt).

My sister is leaving home

I feel like my soul has been through the wringer – you know, that battered feeling you get in your chest after a hard, emotional pummelling. It has to do with moving house – always stressful – and the changes in our lives. It has to do with bubba getting bigger and starting family day care later this week – so soon, too soon! It has to do with my heart turning over with another thud, as my sister transitions to supported disability care. Her move is getting very mixed up in my head with my bubba’s care, and so I overreact to any wish bubba might have, as if I could somehow make my sister’s life a little happier that way. It makes no sense. It makes total sense.

I remembered that I was not alone

My husband suggested that I take a few hours of downtime, and so I went for a drive on the weekend, alone. It breathed air into my self. I gathered myself with more confidence; I recalled that I was not only on the planet to fulfil other people’s needs. I had a chat with a friend who could advise me about this, and I made a pact to let go of some control – I had seized it, and then complained about how heavy it was. I carry around this load on my back, like a Nepalese grandmother, except she carries far more useful things like aluminium sheets and bundles of blankets, whereas my bundle is a load of ideas and strictures about pleasing others, taking care of others, and not being worthy of others’ love unless I do so. It has backfired if you find yourself dizzy with the absence of weight when you do step out, alone. It is time to make some changes, to the words in your head and the baseball bat you have been using to beat yourself with.

And then you find that your partner doesn’t mind at all; in fact, he was just waiting for you to say the word (and in my case, saying many of them for me so all I had to do was say, “Yes.”)