On the edge of the void

I wrote an essay about an experience me and Koopa had in a swimming pool a couple of years agp, and it’s up on Manifest-Station today. Here it is:

Martin stands at the edge of a swimming pool, nervously shifting from one foot to the other, his whimpering becoming full blown crying the longer he stands there. I am waiting for him in the water, my arms invitingly outstretched, ready to help him in whenever he’s ready. I’m not pressuring him to go in, but the whole situation is: most of the other 4 year olds at this birthday party have been splashing happily in the water for a quite a while now, their happy babbling at stark contrast with his nervous wails. Some are already out of the water, getting ready to go upstairs to the birthday boy’s apartment for birthday cake and more fun.

Read full essay on Manifest-Station

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The Physical vs. Cognitive Stage of Motherhood

“Mom! You’re not listening!!!” My six-year-old pulls at my sleeve in frustration. He is right. I tuned out mid sentence, when he was telling me something about his new favourite dinosaur. It’s not that I’m not interested, I really am, but we’ve spent the last several hours together, and I just need some personal space. Some personal space to think. Now that he is bigger, I require more frequent breaks from him than I did when he was a baby (or than I do from his baby sister now). Not only that, but the typical challenges of parenting a six year old—setting boundaries, discipline, and so on—are much more of a struggle for me than any of the physical responsibilities tied to parenting an infant.

Read the rest of this piece at Brain, Child

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Life with a 2.5 month old: Baby Grins

You know that magical moment when your baby suddenly lets go of the boob to which she has been almost permanently attached since the moment of her birth, looks at you for a second and suddenly breaks into her first toothless baby grin? You jump up with excitement, elated that the baby has finally recognised your existence. But then, the said baby emits a series of distinctive pooping sounds, which crudely bring you back to reality, making you realise that her smile probably wasn’t directed at you but at her pooping efforts, and actually wasn’t a smile at all but a random pooping grimace. The same scenario plays out day after day, taking its toll on your confidence, and making you question more and more your importance in this little pooping person’s life.

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Koopa’s words disappeared

Here is a book I’d recommend wholeheartedly to any parent of a child with Selective Mutism, or any other kind of anxiety-related disorder. The book, written an illustrated by Elaneh Bos, is called “Leo’s Words Disappeared”, and is about a little boy who starts school and discovers that he can’t say a single word there.


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Big boy meets Belly

There was time when Koopa was fascinated with babies. At first he wanted to have a baby sister. Then, after someone helpfully pointed out to him that boys usually want a baby brother, he adjusted his desires to make them more gender appropriate. He was never particularly impatient about getting a sibling (perhaps because, being an introvert, he never felt the need to have a constant playmate?), but he was always certain that getting one was just a matter of time. Every statement he made regarding the matter started not with “if” but with “when” (“When I’m a big brother, I’ll….), and I didn’t correct him, myself hoping for the “when”. Then, in the last few months, the months ridden with anxieties due to our recent move to a new country, his interest in babies seemed to have waned. Now, when asked about the preferred gender of a potential sibling, he would honestly reply that he would prefer a labrador, reasonably explaining that “he won’t mess up the toys in [his] room”. But I knew that the interest was still there. I mean, somebody must have downloaded the ugly graphics game called “Newborn Baby Care” onto my phone (where you’re supposed to care for pregnant ladies and then deliver and care for their babies), and I promise it wasn’t me.

I waited well past the first twelve weeks to tell him. Partially because I wanted to be 150% sure there was somebody in there. But also because I wanted to savour the moment of seeing him learn the news for the first time. We were sitting at the kitchen table and he was performing an ultrasound on some pregnant lady who came to see him in his “Newborn Baby Care” game. I pulled out the pictures from my first ultrasound and asked him if he knew what it was. He didn’t. I said it’s an ultrasound picture of a baby in my belly, just like the ones in your game. A baby? It’s ME? No, it’s not you, it’s another baby in my belly. A very long pause. “There is a baby in your belly?” “Yes”. “Right now?” he said, suddenly turning into his public self and glancing at my abdomen the way he would look at a stranger in the room: with suppressed interest and suspicion. “Yes, right now.” Another long pause. His voice turned into gentle almost-whisper, as if not to wake the baby: “I want to kiss your belly”, climbing off his chair. Lifted my t-shirt and gave my belly a long and most gentle kiss. Lingered a little, then rose and started to back out of the room, his eyes still pinned to my abdomen. “What’s wrong? Why are you leaving?” I asked. “I’m… I’m worried that I will kick your tummy and hurt the baby”. “No, no, you won’t hurt it, come back…” It took quite some effort to convince him to come back and sit on my lap. He sat on the very edge, all the while anxiously looking back on my belly and asking if the baby was still ok.

He’s become my pregnancy police, strict and vigilant. “Mama, promise me that you won’t drink any beer of wine. PROMISE.”  “Mama, eat your vegetables, the baby needs all the vitamins!” “Mama, are you sure you’re allowed to run? The baby won’t fall out of your belly? Because I really REALLY want to become a big brother.” I feel like he’s already well on his way to becoming a big brother. They say that a woman becomes a mother as soon as she gets pregnant. Well, it feels like Koopa became a big brother as soon as he learned I’m pregnant.

He’s always been very sweet and gentle, but has become tenderness itself since learning the news.  He now talks to the baby and gently kisses my belly several times a day. He kisses my belly goodbye through my coat when I drop him off at school. He kisses it whenever he wants to let someone know that he’s on his way to becoming a big brother and is unable to use his words (because he still doesn’t talk to people outside close family and friends).

But also, predictably, a new wave of anxieties followed. Nowadays, when I’m angry at him for some mischief, he cries “Mama, I’m worried that the baby will think I’m a bad person!” Or, recently, at bedtime: “Mama, I’m worried that you’ll love the baby more than you love me, will you?” “Well. You are my favorite big boy in the entire world. And the baby will be my favorite baby in the entire world.” That seemed to settle it.

“Mama, when I grow up, I’ll build a special shield made of metal that mommies could wear to protect the babies in their bellies. So that bad people wouldn’t hit their bellies. And… and on the shield it will say ‘there is no baby in here’ so that bad people will think there is no baby in there and will not do anything to hurt it.”


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7 Habits of Highly Perfectionist Children

1. Always make sure your bingo cards are perfectly aligned with each other AND with the hardwood pattern on the floor, or whatever surface they are lying on.

2. Every time upon leaving the house, inquire how much time you have left to be outside before you get a sun stroke. Repeat the same question at approximately 2.5 minute intervals. Keep asking until you realize that your mother’s anger is a more imminent danger than any possible damage from the sun.

3. Demand bottled water when brushing your teeth.

4. At a breakfast buffet, don’t forget to inquire which dish has the largest protein content (in strict adherence with your plan to grow 5 cm in two months so you can easily stand on your feet at the shallow end of a grown up pool.)

5. Arrange the toiletries in the bathroom by colour, size, and designated user. Patiently rearrange it every time any of the irresponsible designated users dares to disrupt the established pattern.

6. When signing your name, make sure that all the letters are the same height, width and angle (but don’t worry about the direction they are written in). Scratch and start all over again, as many times as needed, ignoring comments by puzzled non-perfectionists whose untrained eye cannot discern the crucial difference in size between 6 and 6.1 millimetres.

7. When going to a zoo, take with you a carefully prepared and pre-approved plan of the trip, listing the animals in the order they have to be seen. Refuse to deviate from this plan under any circumstances, even if that means that the viewing of a lion at one end of the zoo must be followed by visiting the bear in the other end, skipping tens of of unplanned animals on the way. “Mama, DON’T LOOK AT THAT CHIMPANZEE! We have a bear next on the list!”

P.S. Sadly, it is not always as amusing as it sounds. But that’s what we’ve got. Koopa :)

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Talking about death and…. koalas

Not exactly sure how to talk to kids about difficult stuff like death. My grandfather, who lived overseas, died some time ago. I was not sure how to present this news to Koopa without making him too distressed. So one day, after picking him up from school, I waited for a moment when I had his undivided attention, and just shared the news with him. He studied my serious and sad face, looking a little nervous, as if measuring up my emotions and trying to adjust his own, didn’t say anything. We had talked about death before, in quite simple terms, he knows that all living things die, people grow old and die, but he never encountered it, and so there was no reason to discuss it in much detail. So I don’t know what was going on through his mind when I told him the news. He was silent for a little while, then inquired if my grandma was ok. I said yes, she is. Will she live alone now? Yes, she will live alone now. And that seemed to be it. After that he seemed satisfied with the conversation and ready to go about his five-year-old business.

But as it often happens with five-year-olds, after he digested the information, he was ready for more. Several hours later, unprompted, he suddenly asked “Where will I go when I die?” “You mean you want to know where my grandpa is now?” – I rephrased his question, probably for my sake, because it was easier to handle it this way. I paused because I realized just how poorly prepared I was for this question. I wished I had rehearsed or something, beforehand, or read some stuff about how to answer such questions. I wished I was religious or at least held some deep beliefs about this stuff, that would give me something coherent to say, and that would help him feel safe. But I didn’t have anything like this. So I said honestly and probably quite unhelpfully “I don’t know. Nobody knows for sure what happens to people when they die.” From the look on his face I wasn’t sure if my answer was too terrifyingly uncertain for his five-year-old mind, or if the uncertainty of it just made it meaningless. I decided that maybe offering some concrete ideas would make it more easily digestible, so I added: “Some people believe that when people die, they don’t disappear completely, but they turn into something, like a tree or an animal.” He was quiet. Then I asked “What do you think?” hoping it won’t be too burdensome of a question for him. It wasn’t. He immediately frowned his eyebrows and held his index finger to his forehead as if trying to solve a math problem of intermediate complexity, and a moment later announced, very seriously, “I think he turned into a koala!” “A koala?” I barely managed to suppress a chuckle. Certainly didn’t expect to hear that. “Why?” “Well because its one of my four favorite animals (he started counting on his fingers): panda, mouse, rabbit and koala!” he explained quite reasonably.

Well, it’s all clear then, I guess. I’m so glad this all went so smoothly. And I’m proud of myself I managed to explain death to my five-year-old. I’m just hoping he won’t go around telling people that, according to his mom, his great-grand-dad turned into a koala.

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