The Nursing Chair

I’ve been meaning to get rid of it for a while now. It’s been sitting in the top corner of the boys’ room, largely unused. The foot stool that came with it is water-stained, and marked by kids experimenting with textas. It’s not an expensive or fancy looking chair, it squeaks when it rocks. It’s always squeaked though, I think some screws need loosening, but it never bothered any of the kids, so I never bothered doing anything about it.

We bought it when I was pregnant with our daughter. Dylan was still a babe himself. My husband was posted to sea, and while we knew he would be on leave when my due date rocked around, he and his crew were doing weekly runnings around Sydney. We lived in a tiny duplex, with all the bedrooms upstairs. While I wanted a feeding chair for our soon to be new arrival, we bought the chair months before she made her entrance. As my belly got bigger, it was harder and harder to give Dylan his night-time milk while sitting on the floor. His dislike of being touched, of being cuddled, of being held, was becoming more and more obvious, and nursing him while he drank his milk was when he didn’t try and push me away.

Mahalia came along, the baby who didn’t sleep. None of my babies have been great sleepers, but my girl was definitely the worst. Thoughts of nightly feeding in the nursing chair went out the window. Co-sleeping was the way to go if I wanted any sleep myself, so the nursing chair was relegated to the task of rocking us both when she wouldn’t sleep during the day. While she wouldn’t always fall asleep while we we rocking, the chair would calm both of us, slow the tears that rolled down both our cheeks, and bring a truce to our battle of me trying to get her to sleep, and her fighting to stay awake.

When our breastfeeding journey was over, and we moved house, the nursing chair lived in the lounge room, but didn’t get much use. It sat there looking forlorn and out of place. I had plans to sell it, or donate it to another family. Plans that went nowhere. I wasn’t ready to let it go.

The Chair

 

We found out we were pregnant again. I was excited by the thought of feeding this new and final baby in the nursing chair. And then we found out that baby number three was in fact babies three and four. Sadly, the chair didn’t see much use with Harry and Zach, at least not in the early days. Tandem feeding was the way to go to get any sleep. The nursing chair wasn’t made for two babies and a huge breastfeeding pillow.

When the boys were around 12 months old, their feeds were much shorter, and there was no need to wake the other if one woke during the night. The nursing chair was finally being used for feeding babies. We would rock and feed and sometimes it felt like out bond grew strongest in those dark hours, rocking and nursing until sleep came again. 6 months later, we were weaning off night feeds as sleep was desperately needed by this mamma. Shortly after, the boys weaned completely. And the nursing chair became an object in the room, gathering dust. On the odd occasion one of them would have a night terror, we would head out of the room so as not to wake his brother. The nursing chair had become something to climb on, rather than to nurse in.

The other day, it was nap time, and Harry was distraught from being over-tired after an early waking, and an exciting morning digging in their grandparent’s backyard. While Zach happily went into his cot, but Harry and I sat in the nursing chair and rocked. We rocked and we rocked, until he was calm enough to sleep. Those minutes spent snuggled with my babe, smelling his toddler scent and whispering sweet nothings in his ear, brought memories flooding back. Memories of rocking to soothe crying babes. Of quietly singing. Of breathing in the scents of my children. The chair didn’t see much action when it came to feeding my babes, but it spent many hours nursing us together. In that moment, I also realised that my journey with the chair has come to an end, and as much as it is tied up with memories of bonding with my children, it is time to move it on.

Yesterday I offered the chair to someone in need, so that another family and their children can be nursed by the rocking chair. After eight years, I am ready to say goodbye.

FAQ: How do you do it?

Day two of the seven day Problogger challenge has arrived, and the theme is answering a frequently asked question. Now, because I’m such a random and inconsistent blogger, I haven’t got a large group of followers, comments, and certainly no frequently asked questions. So I’ve decided for today’s challenge, I’ll answer the question I get asked most often in real life. It’s phrased many different ways, but essentially comes down to: how do you do it?

How do I manage to juggle 4 children, including one kid that is autistic, and a set of twins? How do I manage to study full-time, train for long distance running events, and work around a shift-working partner who also runs long distances, and remain calm and optimistic. How do I manage extracurricular activities, and still get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour?

To preface, I’m not currently studying, but I am job hunting. Up until last month, I was studying full-time, and had been since the beginning of 2012 (except for 10 months in 2013/14 when I took a break due to the twins being born). I’m going to answer the question based on how I managed life while I was studying.

The older two kids are at school, and the twins are in day care full-time, so it’s not like I’m trying to do everything with young children under my feet. I’m hoping to be employed in the very near future, so the boys are staying in day care so that they don’t lose their spots when I do start working. Also, running our family is a family affair, everyone helps out in keeping things ticking over, even the almost three-year olds.

The key to managing my family’s life and commitments essentially boils down to planning, organisation and communication.

At the start of each semester, I would program in my study time – which units I would study on each day, and at what times, assignment writing, and contact hours. I would book my gym/running into this schedule as well, and include travel time and showering. I managed to largely stick to this schedule, although at exam time, study time increased and fitness time took a dive.

I menu plan. Every Sunday, I plan our meals for the upcoming week. I factor in the kids’ sports, or any other activities we may have that week. I write a shopping list, and do my shopping on Monday mornings after my gym session, and after all the kids have been dropped off. If I have an appointment on Monday morning’s, I’ll order my groceries on-line, and choose the ‘click and collect’ option. I start preparing and cooking dinner at the same time each day (unless it’s a slow cooker meal), and the big kids do their homework during this time, before we head off to pick up the littlest boys.

While having twins is hard work – the caring required is much more than with a singleton – the boys are at an age where they generally play really well together, and with their older siblings. I can generally rely on all four kids to play with, and look after each other while I hang washing, or finish off dinner.

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Extracurricular activities are either on weekend mornings, or if they are after school, they don’t finish later than 5.30pm. At the moment, we have football (soccer) training on a weekday from 4.30-5.30pm. I drop Master 9 at training, spend 20 minutes doing homework with Miss 7 in the car, collect the twins from day care, pick up Master 9, and then we either have take away for dinner, a slow cooker meal, leftovers, or something that is super quick and easy to prepare like cheesy pasta and baked beans. The kids skip their baths and showers this night so that they are all in bed by 7.30/8pm.

For both my husband and I, our weekend long runs are scheduled around Saturday morning dancing, and Sunday morning football games. On Saturdays, I take the big kids to dancing, my husband takes the twins to his parents (who then take them to the library for story time), and he goes for a long run. Or he will wait until the boys are back home and having their nap before running. On Sundays, one of us will usually get up early and go for a run, we’ll all then go to Master 9’s football game, and then the other parent will go for a run once we are back home.

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We pretty much stick to the same routine week-in, week-out. Autism means that routine change without decent preparation causes meltdowns and struggling to get to where we need to be. Any change needs as much warning as possible, as much information as possible, and lots of discussion. Autism has been part of our parenting life for so long, that having a routine and being organised is second nature.

Household chores are equally divided up between my husband and I, depending on who is home. We don’t have set jobs, whatever needs to be done just gets done. The non-essential stuff gets done when we have the time and motivation. With 6 of us, our washing machine is pretty much always on during the day. I have to admit, I much prefer washing and hanging out to folding. I’d be lying if I said I did most of the washing folding in our house.

The final thing that is essential to keeping out little (big) family running smoothly, and me not losing my cool on the regular, is coffee. Hot, bulletproof, with double cream and butter, and lots of it. The day doesn’t go anywhere if I haven’t had a large cup of joe.

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Quiet. Behind the scenes.

Well didn’t this little blog fall off the face of the earth for a few months! I’m not going to apologise though, because, well, life. And priorities. People often say to me that they don’t know how I manage with four kiddos, and twins to boot. I get told I always seem so calm and relaxed, and they don’t know how I do it.

While I appreciate the acknowledgement, they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes in order to stay calm and present in my children’s lives. After 17 months of broken sleep (I’m counting pregnancy here too), my brain doesn’t have the energy to focus on the unnecessary. No knitting, no sewing, photography, and no blogging. When all the kids are in bed for the night, the tv goes on, and I veg, letting my brain have its down time before the cycle of sleep, feed, sleep, feed begins. Sometimes I read, but more often than not, I drown out the day with the tv.

What people don’t see, is the support my husband’s family gives us, to make our lives a little bit easier. We are insanely lucky to live rent free in a house my in-laws own. It was such a relief when hubby left the Navy, and it took months to find a job that suited him, and our family. Our savings would not have lasted as long as they did had we been paying rent. We won’t be here forever, we will eventually need to find somewhere bigger for our not-so-little family, but living here has given us some breathing space as we adjusted to life outside the Defence Force.

I’ve just finished 3 weeks of practicum in a mental health hospital. No 9-5 work day as a (student) nurse. And while Harry and Zach are in day care, prac would not have been possible without my mother in-law dropping them off some days, and picking them up on others. Those late nights, my father, brother and sister in-law would all come along to feed my tribe and put them to bed.

This week begins my first semester back at uni after Harry and Zach’s birth. Once again my mother in-law will be helping out, picking the bigs up from school once a week, and dropping them off another day. We are eternally grateful that we have such a supportive family in our network. My return to uni would not be possible without their help. Sure I could delay going back to uni another year, or go back part-time, but I’m looking at the bigger picture. I want to get back into the workforce, I want to pay taxes to help fund the healthcare, education and infrastructure our family relies on. I want us to once again own our own home, I want breathing space in our budget, I want my children to grow up knowing that if you work hard, you can achieve your dreams. I want to be in a position to support those we love when they can no longer support themselves. I want to give back.

So, I may be calm and have it together, but I have all these thoughts inside my head. I’m like a duck – above the water, a duck’s body seems to glide effortlessly across the surface, while below water, it’s little legs are paddling furiously. I have all this support around me keeping me afloat, and the unnecessary just falls by the wayside while we get through. Because the unnecessary will still be there once the hard days are done. Those other things will wait while my brain rests, and I breathe.