Mama goes beserk

Have you ever had those days when everything just adds up?

Our entire family had been camping out downstairs in the living room for 3 weeks, ever since Sweet Man started repainting our bedroom during the school holidays. The air-conditioning unit in the children’s room got busted and the blistering hot, humid weather that we’d been having for months was simply too hot to tolerate.

Everyone was thrilled by the move.

Everyone but me.

The living room is one of the most well used rooms at home where reading, music practice, playing and general horsing around take place. Now there was a queen sized mattress, 2 single ones, 3 pillows and 5 blankets added to the mix. Plus a whole range of soft toys that insisted on belonging to the bedtime ritual. It was all as neat and cosy as possible but I simply couldn’t see us doing this for as long as it’d take for the hot season and smell of the low-VOC paint to wear off.

After a few days though, I had become somewhat accustomed to the change. It started to get fun seeing everyone sprawled in contorted positions all over the floor. The nights were cool and the scent of the breeze that came in across our vegetable garden and into the room made it a refreshing place to sleep in.

But as the 2-week school holiday ended and the prospect of resuming homeschooling with bed arrangements continuing in the living room arose, the inner clutter control freak in me began to feel slightly flustered.

Then even more. For, apart from hoping to return to a bedtime routine upstairs and failing because of unavoidable delays in the painting work and the continuing general heat upstairs, we had all began to itch.

Itch we did. Terribly.

At first, Sweet Man and I thought they were simply mosquito bites. We could hear the infernal creatures whizzing around our ears at nights and lost considerable sleep slapping at them. Poor Piglet had it especially tough. He couldn’t stop scratching, even in his sleep, until the spots became open wounds.

A sleepy Mama, a sleepy Papa and 3 sleepy kids – the days went by painfully slowly.

Gradually, we noticed that certain bites were distinctively itchy and left blotchy red marks on everyone. Last Thursday evening, we saw an even series of red marks all over Lamb’s right and left calves. It hit us immediately that these bites weren’t just mozzie ones, they were bed bug bites. Or possibly dust mite bites.

So Friday morning the next day, after about 5 days of really bad sleep and still retching from a 3 day cough that had somehow developed overnight, I set myself on a bug exterminating warpath.

I was going to kill them. All of them. I was going to get my sanity back.

I cancelled morning homeschool with the boys and somehow dragged all the mattresses outside to sun in the blazing heat for which I was suddenly thankful.

I vacuumed and mopped the floors with my whole might like a crazed woman who’d permanently lost her marbles.

I washed all the bedding and laundry that had touched those mattresses at 60 degrees Celcius. As soon as each load was done, I lugged out the bedding to dry in whatever space I could find in our front yard and started another load. I was never so thankful for a dryer in which I could dry the clothing at least.

While all this was happening, I had a whiny Piglet pottering around for lack of attention and a tearful Lamb because he’d scratched his blotchy skin until some parts had became sore. Applying a thick baking soda paste to wash off after 30 minutes and then a slathering of aloe vera (thankfully we have a plant) worked for awhile, but when the moaning started again I finally dumped both 4 year old and 2 year old in front of the screen to watch Jojo’s Circus. That did it.

When Puppy came home from morning school, I informed her of the current happenings and of the consequence that everyone had to expect only rice porridge with preserved vegetables and leftover roast chicken for lunch.

Kids are perceptive and I was glad to have some cooperation. Puppy didn’t complain as usual over her rice porridge and Lamb drew pictures of me resting in a village house (how we shared the same heart!). Piglet napped downstairs after lunch without a fuss and we somehow managed a quiet hour of schooling in the afternoon.

I was so thankful for that bit of an afternoon breather with the kids that I made orange-lemon ice lollies for everyone to have as a treat after dinner. I got breathless, juicing 6 oranges and 1 lemon (physical exercise lacking, obviously) but the little oohs and aaahs of anticipation were well worth it.

We had – or rather, I had – done so much on that day that I felt pretty much like a superhero. We had gotten through lunch and dinner at home with nice freezing lolly desserts, the floors were finally clear of invisible biting creatures, plus I had done 6 laundry loads and dried two-thirds of them all in one day. Six!

In reality, I was quite ready to expire. It was 7.00pm and I wanted to quit.

We decided to move the kids upstairs to their bedroom again, heat or no heat. Sweet Man had to go out to work again, so I hurriedly put on fresh sheets, tidied the room and started the usual bedtime routine.

The little ones were excited at being in their own room again and found it difficult to settle down. I couldn’t blame them. It was like returning to base camp after a long adventure.

The normal mom in me would’ve let a few minutes pass and gradually herd the kids together. But normality had somehow, somewhere, disappeared at some point and I wasn’t sure I knew how to get it back. Harried with post-dinner clean up, impatient to shower off the day’s grime and after a few calls in vain to stop little voices whispering and laughing, I finally did what I thought I’d never ever do.

I didn’t shout. Or yell.

I threatened to eat up their extra ice lollies.

Every. Single. One.

That provoked several giggles but they stayed quiet after awhile. I went to shower, feeling rather flat.

When I returned to check on the kids, everyone but Piglet was asleep. He pottered quietly across the room to me and said, “Milk, Mama. Milk.”

“Cow’s milk?” I asked. Then, “Oh no, we just ran out of milk!”

“Mama’s milk?” he quipped, hopefully.

I tried to stifle a sigh of exhaustion and lay down in the darkness to nurse him, something we hadn’t done in weeks. He gazed up at me happily, then covered his face with his hand as he always did while nursing.

He was still so small. And yet so big.

I breathed in the distinct smell of his wee little head, caressed his fine hair, and savoured the moment.

All at once, I felt that I’d come home. I was as dependent as a helpless babe on God the Father and everything would be okay in His hands. The bugs would go completely after I’d give the living room couches the same treatment and we’d finally get our bedroom back in about 10 days after some carpentry jobs got done.

Piglet finally turned away to drift off to sleep. I went downstairs, guzzled 8 pineapple jam tarts in a row without feeling too badly, did some reading and finished another laundry load.

Then I made some extra orange lollies and had a little laugh at myself for being such a bully.

What does a beserk day look like for you?

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Encouraging autonomy in toddlers through kitchen play

I love Maria Montessori for her philosophy on play.

Montessori says that all children learn through play or work. All children learn through active participation, by being involved in a practical way and by attempting to do something themselves, especially by using their hands.

Montessori turned on a light in my head with her conviction that children will make mistakes, but they go on making mistakes considerably longer if adults never give them the opportunity to attempt and perfect their skills.

I am not a child development expert but have witnessed the truth of Montessori’s wisdom over the past few years, simply by observing our children. Kids (including toddlers!) can and are willing to work. For them, work is virtually indistinguishable from play and vice versa.

As a new mom and complete novice in any area with regards to children (take this from someone who allowed her 6 month old to wallop 3 tablespoons of Japanese sweet potato just because he seemed to like it and vomit violently for a few days thereafter), I embraced Montessori’s challenge to let my children go and try as often as possible throughout the day to perfect fundamental skills.

I did this with Puppy and Lamb and after not only some premature white hair but also hair loss, I’m going through the whole rigmarole again with Piglet, the Terrific Two boy-baby that he is.

When Piglet wants some special Mama-Piglet time, he wants to do what I’m doing. He wants to see if he’s capable of doing something else other than his favourite jigsaw puzzle.

Most of the time, the kitchen presents tremendous opportunities – washing vegetables, watching me prepare them (loving that he can guzzle some raw tomatoes along the way), massaging marinades into raw meat and baking, just to name a few.

After lots of living room play and seatwork activities on any given day, I hustle my 14 week pregnant body to the kitchen and holler, “Who wants to help me wash rice?”

Little eyes light up. Feet come pattering. Piglet is delighted, he is all smiles.

I show him how to avoid spilling rice outside the bowl and he is all ready to go. With a toddler’s hands on deck, I have to spend double the time I’d usually take washing rice, so I keep my peripheral view on Piglet and his rice while picking up another task alongside, like slicing carrots.

Do I use this brush to clean veggies? Piglet, 1 year 10 months
Do I use this brush to clean veggies? Piglet, 1 year 10 months
Gingerbread dough. Better than play dough. Work/play ... eat!
Gingerbread dough. Better than play dough. Work/play … eat!

Piglet thrives on such activities. Over time, I have learned that play like this fosters independence, encourages a healthy sense of curiousity and generates how-to conversations that I wish I could record and recount for always.

As we work together, my memory wanders to days when I could engulf both of his tiny hands in my one big one.

I watch him take in every texture and smell.

I breathe in the wonder of his blossoming vocabulary even though he drives me almost insane at times with a million repetitions.

I laugh because this little human being is discovering how awesomely red a capsicum is.

I am glad because my Boy-Not-A-Baby-Anymore is growing in autonomy and self-respect.

I see these things – autonomy and self-respect – developing at other times when he asks to be excused from the table after meals, when he puts his tin cup in the sink after use, when he tidies his toys after playing.

And I see Piglet in a few years time. He’ll follow in the steps of his older siblings. He’ll fry eggs. Slice vegetables using a proper knife. Assemble his own sandwiches and cereals when I nap. Take his own dishes to the sink and (on a golden day) wash them sometimes.


He’ll create a fair bit of mess.


And have his own chore chart one day...

IMG_3659 Piglet’s growing up. It’s been nothing short of amazing to see how much a small person can progress in just two and a half years from the confines of the cradle.

I try not to mind my newly washed kitchen mat. The adult in me occasionally ponders boring issues like striving for personal responsibility, establishing healthy habits and cultivating a sense of accountability to other family members, eventually to society at large.

On the usual run-of-the-mill day though, these are far from my thoughts. I want rise above the discomforts of a new pregnancy.

I want to continue breathing in the excitement of a toddler’s exploration.

The delight of a world with endless possibilities.

And the glory of learning to stand up properly on one’s own feet.


You might also like: Teaching children to serve.

Upcoming: Our chore chart and how we make it work (and not).


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