Our little family of three had the loveliest Easter long weekend. After a busy and full couple of months, Ben and I were craving a longer break than our regular Saturday, Sunday, back to work on Monday. Four free days were just what we needed to fill up our cups and find our feet. Each morning after breakfast, I retreated to my writing desk and dove into work, leaving Ben and Joan to do chores, make cubbies and eat snacks. Building Duplo houses for her soft toys was the only pressing task at hand, and by giving Joan his full attention he was able to step away from his to-do lists and have a proper mental break. Meanwhile, I was able to create and find fulfilment in that area of my heart, which allowed me to come back to my loves refreshed and ready. Ready to eat, as it were. This weekend was filled with long lunches and easter eggs. In order to avoid dealing with caffeine + sugar highs, I chose carob eggs for my 19month old. After tasting one, any guilt of depriving her of a Lindt bunny evaporated because, dang, that “chocolate” is TASTY. A few days before the weekend, I purchased a bunch of little carob eggs, along one with one giant egg, and on Easter Sunday I brought them to Red Hill for our family lunch. Long before my brother and his girlfriend arrived, Joan spotted one nestled on the windowsill, its shiny wrapper shimmering in the sun. What a lesson in patience that was. Joan waited by the front door, listening for his footsteps on the stone path and every now and then exclaiming, “Jackson! Come on!”. She knew that when they arrived, that egg would be hers. As they walked through the front door, Joan grabbed her basket and made a beeline for the back door, running past the eggs I had hidden in clear view, towards that shiny egg by the window. Watching her look for little treasures and put them in her basket filled my heart with more joy than I ever knew a person could experience. That is the magic of childhood, isn’t it? After most of the eggs were found (thought there may still be one hidden in my father’s shoe), we sat down for lunch, which included woodfired pizza, Anna Jones’ greens pie and Autumn panzanella, and homemade sourdough hot cross buns. Ben and I brought a bottle of Moët to share, which we were gifted 8 months ago. We were saving it for a special occasion, and I cannot think of a more special day than this one.
* written over the month of April, in dribs and drabs as I catch moments here and there.
DOING: sitting next to Joan while she naps and typing on my computer. She’s still not sleeping for longer than 40 minutes for her day nap, however by parking myself close by I can sometimes encourage a longer snooze if I rest my hand on her belly when she rouses. I’ve spilt a lot of coffee on her bed sheets this past month.
HEARING: the white noise app. I think Joan must expect that it always rains heavily when she sleeps.
LOOKING: at the coffee stains on Joan’s sheets. I’m still working my way through our laundry after camping last weekend (I had a decent pile waiting even before we left), so these sheets are not a priority. Perhaps they should be, but a coffee-scented room is a touch more enjoyable than a nappy-bin scented one, so I haven’t rushed to clean them. Also, I’m a big fan of drying our washing outside on the clothes line, and there’s only so many sheets one can hang while avoiding downpours.
DRINKING: coffee. How many times have I mentioned coffee in this post?
Each year, a few days after Christmas, my family of five would pack our car and head up the coast to Depot Beach. The nine hour drive was a fine price to pay for weeks of freedom in nature with friends. Our days were spent swimming, playing, refuelling, creating inappropriate songs and singing them in the shower block, chasing the daily newspaper delivery van to purchase Killer Pythons and Nerds, and on the occasional rainy day, reading books in our tents. At night, we slept soundly, having exhausted ourselves in the great outdoors. I have fond memories of this time, and always imagined I’d offer my kids the same experience. Ben didn’t camp as a kid, and if he’s honest, would prefer to spend the night in a hotel, however I continued mentioning the idea, determined to show him how great it can be. I wanted our little family to begin creating precious camping of our own. Recently, when friends invited us on a trip, Ben immediately said, “Great!”, and didn’t hesitate when I showed him the tent I wanted to purchase. I think he did it for Joan. Like most children, she adores the outdoors, and the thought of making her happy was reason enough to agree.
The tent of my childhood was large, green and canvas. It felt secure, spacious and cozy, and I wanted the same for our family. My friend Vanessa, who had invited us camping, raved about her Canvas Camp tent, a big, bell-shaped beauty, so I followed her lead. The weekend the tent arrived, we assembled it in our backyard. The set-up was straight forward and didn’t take long at all. As Ben and I secured the base, Joan skipped along the edge, announcing, “Hammer! Hammer!”. I had forgotten how satisfying it is to hammer tent poles into the ground. When it was up, we lay inside and marvelled at our portable home. I told Ben I could imagine Joan having backyard sleepovers with friends in the coming years, which made him smile. We both agreed we’d made the right purchase. This tent is not a couple of hundred dollars, it’s decently more than that, however we saw it as an investment in comfort and happiness, and a push to get out there and create memories – to camp often and to camp well. To help with the cost, I contacted the company and asked if they’d be keen to give a discount in exchange for some pictures here and on Instagram, and they kindly agreed. Well, upon Ben and my mum’s encouragement I contacted them. I’m not in the habit of asking for discounts, and I don’t enjoy doing it, but I asked politely and explained that I’d totally buy the tent regardless and they were casually cool about it all. I guess that’s a sign to put myself out there more? Perhaps. Anyway, there’s my full disclosure for you! If you’re considering purchasing one of these tents, I want you to know that it is the bee’s knees, and you will be thrilled. We bought the 5m variety, which is huge and gave us an incredible amount of space, even with our blow-up Queen bed from Aldi. I’m looking forward to making our tent even more homely on our next trip, perhaps with a little reading chair and table, and a cabinet for cups and pots.
So where did we camp? Vanessa found a stellar spot along the Blairgowrie foreshore that was an ideal mix of green, dirt and beach – the perfect, gentle introduction for our first family camping trip. On our camp stove, which we’d borrowed from my parents, we made meals of porridge (with dates and coconut milk), scrambled eggs (with toast cooked over the camp stove in one of these things) and pasta (with jarred pesto, spinach, canned chickpeas and tuna). We went into town for takeaway coffees and sipped them as our babes played in the sand. When the kids went to bed in the evening, we sat outside under twinkly lights with wine, cheese and chocolate. It was lovely. I’m pleased to say that Ben is now a camper. As much as I hoped he’d enjoy himself, I didn’t want to force my passion onto my husband, so it was wonderful to see him “get it” on his own. Relaxing in a chair with a mug of tea that he’d made by heating water over the camp stove, I saw him watching Joan. She was soaking up every inch of space, exploring the bushes and running around the camp site in waterproof pants, a cup of water in her dirty fingernail hands and wet shoes from running in the water. She was in her element and we were happy. This is indeed the start of something wonderful.
DOING: sitting at my writing desk in the corner of our bedroom. Joan is napping in her room and I’m taking a moment to write. This past month, we moved Joan into her own bed for naps (see this post for more details), and while she falls asleep happily (her very own “Beddy!” is still a novelty), she rarely sleeps more than 45 minutes. This means I only answer a handful of emails and barely finish my coffee before we’re back at it, but it also means that she’s sincerely ready to conk out by 7pm, and that is AWESOME. Ben has been away for work a bit lately, usually for 4 nights at a time, and on these occasions it is always a treat if Joan goes down easily. And you know, what? I have been really enjoying my evening solo time. I have a shower, then spend a crazy long time stretching and moisturising, getting clean and relaxed and comfortable. I’ll get myself a snack and quietly cozy into our big bed, beside Joan, and watch a show on my computer. Little things like fresh sheets, clean feet and a bowl of yoghurt + honey are my bliss.
HEARING: Vallis Alps. I found these guys over the summer and have been listening to them on repeat. “Young” became my Summer anthem.
LOOKING: at the light on my desk. It’s mid-morning and the sun is shining through the trees, causing shadows of leaves to sway over my desk. Autumn is my favourite time of year. The air is clean and crisp, and the leaves are yellow and orange and brown and crunchy. Collecting and crunching leaves is something I love to do, and this Autumn I plan on making Joan my leaf-collecting + crunching sidekick.
DRINKING: coffee. My weekday routine of late has to make a coffee as soon as Joan naps, which tends to be around 11:30am. I usually have a green tea in the morning, which keeps me going until my beloved, peaceful coffee moment.
If you haven’t read part 1 of this post, I insist you go back and start at the beginning.
When we left off, I had transitioned Joan from baby-wearing, to napping in a bed without me. We were also feeding a lot less during the day. Everything was going really well, but we still needed to address the night stuff.
Offering Joan breastmilk when she woke overnight had been an easy and effective way to keep us all happy and well-rested. Until it wasn’t. Somewhere around the 10th month of her life, Joan began waking more and more, and by the time she was 13 months, she was sometimes waking every hour. And it was different to when she woke due to developmental leaps or teething, she appeared to be waking out of habit. We were exhausted, and I knew that Joan needed better rest, too, so I spoke to friends who were going through (or had already gone through) similar things, which is how I came across Dr Jay Gordon’s recommendations for night weaning babies over the age of 1 (side note: this guy is pro co-sleeping, which is rad, but he’s also anti some vaccinations, which is not how I feel). I showed the article to Ben and we agreed to try it in December, when Joan would be just over 15 months old. I insisted that Ben take some time off work or work from home, as I expected we would be up for hours in the middle of the night, and I didn’t want him driving into work excessively tired. I also didn’t want to do it alone, and assumed he would need to take over the role of comforter, as I worried Joan may not be able to separate me from milk. You can read more about the process Dr Jay Gordon recommends via this link, but essentially you select a 7hour period where you won’t offer milk (we chose 10pm-5am), and either side of that you feed as much as you want. Over 10 days, you gradually do different things when bubba wakes. For the first three nights, you still feed them when they wake, however you remove the breast before they nod off completely, so that they begin to get used to falling asleep without it. After that, you don’t offer them milk when they wake, instead you pick them up/rock them if they need comfort. Three days after that change, you don’t get out of bed when they wake, you just pat their back or verbally tell them it’s time to sleep. Eventually, they start waking less (what’s the point without milk, right?!) and when they do wake, they are used to falling asleep without the breast. There’s a reason Dr Jay Gordon suggest waiting until babies are older and ready, as they are very secure and it is easier to comfort them in other ways. As he says, they may be upset and annoyed when you don’t give them milk, but they’re not distressed. They just need some time to learn the new routine. I still worried, however, that Joan would be distressed if I refused milk, and I knew in my gut that if she was, I would give it to her and wait a couple of months before trying again.
I haven’t wanted to write another post about sleep. It’s a loaded topic and I wasn’t sure I could convey my feelings accurately. I also didn’t want to be another voice in the sea of advice that is given to parents, as loving and caring as most advice is. Sleep, or lack thereof, is an overwhelmingly popular topic of conversation in the baby world. First-time parents expect to be tired when their newborn arrives, but nothing can prepare you for how the sleep deprivation will truly feel (well, besides getting a puppy, perhaps). And when you’re deep in the sleepless days, it’s difficult to trust that you will ever sleep solidly again, even when you are reassured of the fact. Sleep is a big deal. It is crucial to keeping everyone happy and healthy, and it’s a tricky one because babies’ sleeping habits change all the time, as they go through developmental leaps and grow teeth and get sick… and each family contains multiple individuals with different personalities and schedules, attempting to co-exist in harmony. What worked for one family, therefore, may not work for another. And though we may acknowledge these differences, when we are tired and hormonal, we don’t always respond the way we should when receiving advice (even if the advice is respectful and legitimately helpful, and even if we asked/begged for it), which is to take the ideas that resonate with you and tune out the rest. It is very easy to compare your baby and feel like you’re doing something wrong. Joan was never a baby to happily drift off to sleep on her own, Ben and I were always keenly assisting her, and very few of the tricks people suggested worked for us, which made me feel worse. This is why I have been hesitant to share more of our sleep story, as I don’t want anyone to compare their baby or question their gut, because that’s your guide, not me. You can learn very useful tips from gentle parenting books, like those written by Pinky McKay (clearly I’m a fan of gentle methods, here), such as learning how to swaddle and rock your baby, and encouraging a night-time routine. But you need to implement these strategies alongside the knowledge that your baby is unique and they may not take to these suggestions in the manner, time-frame or consistency that other babies do.
When Joan was around seven weeks old, I attended a New Parent Group session that was run by my local council. The topic was sleep – what was good and healthy sleep behaviour, and what not to do. As I stood in the circle, rocking and feeding my baby to sleep, I learnt that you shouldn’t rock or feed your baby to sleep. I understand where this thinking comes from, I do. It is GREAT if you can put babies down happily in their bassinet/cot when they’re drowsy yet still awake, so they learn to fall asleep on their own and don’t wake up going, “Hang on, where am I? Where’s my mum, I was just snuggling her!?!”, but that was never, ever going to happen for us without Joan screaming, and my instinct was to not put her through that distress, so we didn’t. Much advice given to new parents aims to help them survive those early, gruelling days and acknowledges the fact that many mothers won’t be staying home with their babies as long as previous generations (the going back to work thing is another loaded topic, and I won’t get into that now. I’ll simply say, wouldn’t it be great if we were all able to choose whether we wanted to go back to work or stay at home with our children, and for that choice to be properly supported by society and each other?) These days, many families have two working parents because they want to and/or they have to, and a baby who sleeps independently will be supportive of this. However, it was absolutely the wrong advice for Joan and I, and I left the session feeling ashamed and conflicted. I was vulnerable and lacked the wisdom that comes with time, when you see that eventually it all works out and none of the things you did in the early days spoiled your baby.
As Joan has grown, I’ve become more protective of her privacy. I post few shots of her face and I pause before sharing too much of what she says and does, even though I want to scream it loud and proud, because she’s so darn amazing. I adore seeing other families on Instagram, and if my gut told me to keep sharing lots of photographs of her cute little face I would, but it’s not. She’s not a baby anymore, she’s a little girl, and I’m feeling the pull to protect. Me? I’ll keep writing and sharing because it makes me happy, but her? That’s Joan’s call now. Despite all of this, Ben and I are very happy to flow freely on the topic of sleep and gentle parenting methods. The sleep stuff, especially newborn sleep, is less about personality anyway, and more about basic, primal needs. I think the main reason I started sharing my thoughts on the matter is simply because it was a big part of my life, as I wore Joan in a sling/carrier for practically all her naps until she was 14 months old. And it turns out that by sharing our reality, Joan and I have helped normalise the fact that some babies require a lot of assistance and patience when it comes to sleep. I think bubba will be chuffed to learn the number of mothers who have been in contact with me to say, thanks. I know I’m chuffed, because goodness me, I was not prepared for this. I thought babies just slept in a cot when they were tired. Right? Isn’t that what babies do? I know that some bubbas do actually sleep this way, however I now also know that some need a little more help, and some need a lot more help, and that is totally normal. And so I share, because I remember how it felt to see pictures of babies sleeping blissfully in cots and feel like a failure. I share to help shine light at the end of the tunnel, because as lovely as baby-wearing and non-stop sleep snuggling is, you don’t want to have to do it forever, nor do you want to waste those precious moments worrying that you’re doing something wrong. I share so that others will feel reassured that by responding to your child’s needs, you are not creating bad habits, you’re actually helping them thrive.
This post is a long one. Too long, probably. And while I did edit it down, in the end I decided to stop cutting the content. As I said, sleep is a big deal, and to share only part of our story is misleading. So, this will be a two parter. To those with babies who happily sleep independently, don’t worry about reading this post, read something else. And to those with wakeful babies who are requiring a lot of patience, please don’t hope for bundles of helpful tips. I’m not an expert, I have only one experience and you and I (and our babies) will be different. But I’m sharing our story all the same, in the hope that it feels like a giant hug of recognition and reassurance to those who may need it.
Lately, I’ve had ricotta on my mind. I’m not sure why. Aside from the fact that it is delicious, which is reason enough, I cannot recall any recipes or meals from which this craving has sprung. But it’s here, and I’m happy to play along. Yesterday, Ben, Joan and I went out for lunch and shared two pasta dishes – one, a creamy mushroom pappardelle, and the other, a pumpkin, spinach and ricotta lasagne. After lunch, I ducked to the shops and bought a tub of ricotta, and as we drove home, I informed Ben that I had grand plans for our Sunday breakfast.
This morning, as soon as we were woken by Joan and before I had even grabbed a jumper to stay cozy in this unseasonably cold weather, I walked down the hall and into the kitchen to turn on the oven. I then ran back to the bedroom and helped Joan in her endeavour to tickle Ben awake. She loves to tickle these days, though she doesn’t quite appreciate that in order to complete the act, you need to touch the person. Joan’s tickle involves her wriggling her hands near our necks and over our heads while saying, “dii dii dii dii dii!”. After getting up for good (and rugging up good), we settled in the kitchen. Ben prepped a smoothie for Joan, and I sliced a bunch of tomatoes and onions from the farm and popped them in a baking tray. After cloaking them in olive oil and a gentle seasoning of just sea salt and black pepper (we had no basil or oregano on hand), I placed them in the oven to slowly roast. Ben and I munched on walnuts while the three of us played with Joan’s toy cars. I attempted to fold laundry, but the noise kept pulling me back to my two babes. A little while later, in place of an extra cup of coffee, we pulled our beanies out of an old suitcase at the top of my wardrobe and went for a brisk walk. While outside, we planned travel adventures that may never happen but are fun to plan all the same.
“Breakfast won’t be long”, I announced as we walked through the front door. Your sense of smell informs you when the slow-cooked tomatoes are ready. You wait for the stage when the aroma is sweet and the thought of holding off any longer feels unbearable. I popped slices of my Dad’s sourdough in the toaster and warmed milk for our coffee. When the toast went “pop!”, as Joan says, I placed a generous spoonful of ricotta in the middle of each slice. I then topped the ricotta with a few slow-cooked tomatoes and onions, before finishing it all with a good drizzle of the pan juices. It’s a simple preparation, but the results are enriching. I’ll be using the remaining tomatoes in a pasta sauce tonight, that is, if there are any left when I return to the kitchen after typing this post.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Ricotta on Toast
The past Monday morning, Joan woke hungry. More hungry than usual, that is. Usually, the first thing Joan says to me upon waking is “Up!” or “Hiiiiiii.”, but on this day it was, “AhhhUmp!”, alongside the action of pretending to bite her finger. This is Joan’s preferred way of telling us that she wants something to eat. Baby girl’s words have exploded in recent weeks, and she can indeed say “food”, but for whatever reason her instinct is to make that noise and action and Ben and I are thankful for this, because it’s really very cute.
Into the kitchen we toddled, where Joan pointed at the blender and said, “Mee Mee!”. Sure thing, babe, smoothie (mee mee) time. These days, we often have a smoothie in the morning (and at night, too, but more on that in an upcoming post on sleep). I used to be a porridge and granola-lover at breakfast, but these days I gravitate towards smoothies or savoury meals – things like eggs, leftover quinoa and veggies, or toast with nut butter and avocado. And if we don’t have a smoothie for breakfast, we have one throughout the day as a snack. It’s a great way to ensure bubba stays hydrated and I can easily pack a bundle of goodness into our cups. We tend to make berry or banana smoothies using frozen fruit, as well as organic full cream milk and organic full cream yoghurt (one with live cultures). I also add a sprinkle of hemp seeds, which are super good for us (more info here and here), and perhaps rolled oats, chia seeds, spinach or coconut flakes/cream… whatever I’m vibing. Often I’ll remove her serve before jazzing up my portion with extra hemp seeds, spinach, raw cacao powder and a Medjool date (I like my smoothies rich in date-sweetness, and I prefer to save dates for Joan to eat during the day as a snack). Anyway, while making Joan’s smoothie I had a thought that it may be fun to record a day of eats and share it on the blog. I hadn’t planned what we’d eat, we would just go with the flow and I thought it would be neat to see how that unfolded. Over the weekend I said to Ben that I was surprised I wasn’t more concerned with what Joan was eating day to day, that in fact I didn’t give it much thought at all. I guess I just trust that she knows what she needs, while we continue doing our job of exposing her to a range of whole foods that we like to eat ourselves.
DOING: sitting on my bed, typing. I’ve got a coffee to my left and further to my left, Joan is sleeping on the single mattress next to our bed. My, times have changed since we used to babywear for practically all our naps. I suppose I should talk more on the transition. Alright, I’ll start a new post and share some thoughts on the matter. But just know that it will be a while until it’s ready. For big posts like that I tend to dump all my thoughts, then spend a long time editing. I’ll try to be succinct, but you know that’s not my strong suit. Ha.
HEARING: Regina Spektor, live, via my earphones. I adore this woman’s music. And now Joan is starting to appreciate it, which pleases me. We play “On the Radio” and sing the “O Oh” part together. She calls it the “O Oh” song, and it’s adorable.
DRINKING: Lots of water and smoothies. Summerrrrrrrr! Yesterday we made a smoothie for breakfast (see the above pic!) and it really hit the spot, so I thought I’d include the recipe for you. I made it for two, and Joan and I devoured it while Ben slept (he’s been working hard and travelling, and not sleeping a whole lot). I poured 1.5 portions into my cup and gave Joan a half serve, with some yoghurt to extend it and make her feel like she was having a big portion like mumma. I’m making sure I eat lots and keep a good amount of fat on my body to help with my lady hormones. So it’s been an extra scoop of this and an extra serve of that… Joan adores smoothies, and likes to have exactly what we have. She also insists on saying, “cheers!”, while looking directly into our eyes. It’s really sweet. This smoothie also works well as “ice-cream” simply by reducing the milk content. Use any milk you like, we favour organic full cream cow’s milk in our smoothies, though sometimes coconut milk. I plan on making want to make almond milk one of these days, too. Homemade roasted almond butter makes this smoothie even more delicious, so I do encourage you to try that (see this post for details). Next level good.
There are few things my baby girl enjoys more in life than sitting at the table with her favourite people and a big plate of food in front of her (and to be honest, a second big plate of food to her left that she can steal food from). Since Ben and I introduced Joan to solids at six months of age, she has taken to it with gusto. We have ourselves a girl who will try everything that is put in front of her, mood permitting, and usually enjoy it, which makes the whole experience fun and rewarding. On reflection, I think her readiness to eat is a combination of nature and nurture. Joan definitely has food-love in her blood, from both sides of her family. In addition, while I was pregnant I ate a wide range of foods, which they say encourages babies to have an adventurous palate. And finally, perhaps most importantly, Ben and I have been strict from the beginning in how we approach food with Joan. We’ve put a lot of effort into being relaxed about it all, which seems totally contradictory, I know, and I’ll explain more below.
Over the past six months I’ve received a number of requests to talk about what Joan eats and to share a few tips on raising an adventurous eater, and at last I’ve written a bunch of thoughts down. But before we get into it, I want to note that I am completely aware that I have one child and hence only one point of reference. Yes, I am also a dietitian, and have studied ways to encourage healthy eating habits in children, but that’s not the same as having a child who is very challenging in this regard and being able to share real life experience. I am not standing on a pedestal saying that this is the only way, it is simply what works for our family. Furthermore, I know that although Ben and I try hard with this eating business, our babe has made our job easy. We will see how much of Joan’s (so far) easy eating is down to nature vs nurture when we have more kids. Therefore, as with any advice or sharing of experiences that you receive as a parent, take from this post whatever resonates with you, tune out the rest and ultimately do whatever works for your family. Always and forever.
Alright, let’s start at the beginning.