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Friday, August 26, 2011

Being 'in the zone' with babies: an accidental 'tummy time' story

Caring for lots of babies at once, as happens in any long day care centre, can be extremely challenging at times. Our ratio in Australia is one carer to a maximum of four babies; all very well in theory, but when one carer is completely involved in (say) cool-bathing a baby who's developed a raging fever and the other is left with up to seven unsettled bubs at once, with three of them crying for their mothers, things can get a little 'interesting'. (Yep, that was my morning today.)

At times it's very hard to feel that you're giving each baby the sort of consideration that he or she deserves. I admit that I'm not a fan of putting very young babies in care, but it's a fact of life in these days of mortgages and financial desperation. It's so important not to let frustration take over your day, and to stay calm even when there's chaos all around you.  Some days you just have to do the best you can, prioritising, moving from baby to baby offering calming words as you put out the most pressing emotional fires.

If you can stay calm, the moment of stress will invariably pass and make way for something better.  I treasure the moments when I can snatch a little time with an individual baby and witness something beautiful- as I did later on in my day today.

Since I started reading about the RIE methods of infant care, I've become much more aware of the 'zone' around young babies as they discover their world.  You need to get yourself almost into a meditative state to get into the zone I'm talking about, focusing on your breathing.  If you sit very quietly and very still, not touching them but close enough to observe them and respond to the tiniest communication indications from them, there's a sort of peaceful 'bubble' that descends on you both. Inside that bubble, a great awareness is possible.  You see small things as though they're under a magnifying glass.  I try to achieve this 'bubble' with the two youngest of our babies at least once a day, while the other babies are sleeping; quite apart from the magic of the moment, it's a great way to find meaningful moments to record as written observations, using a camera or just my memory.

Today I enjoyed such a moment with 'Kawani'. He's sitting alone, but not yet mobile, and I'd noticed last week that he was able to lean forward and pick up some quite large and awkward toys. He'd showed such joy when he reached and lifted up a bead maze that I decided to offer him some little 'reaching' challenges today.

So I sat him up with the usual pillows behind him and put a small array of interesting toys just out of his reach. Now, be aware that I was right there to hear him if he needed to tell me he was frustrated! But frustration was far from his mind. He looked at the toys, grinned widely and leaned forward... further... further...

... and FLOP! Found himself half on his tummy, with one leg caught up under him and a surprised look. Those strong little arms that I'd observed lifting the bead maze saved him from falling on his face. There was no need for me to save him from falling.

No need for me to save him from where he found himself, either.  When you're 'in the zone', it's much easier to resist helping when a baby gets itself in a tangle. Kawani started untangling himself almost immediately, all by himself. Soon he was on his tummy, and discovering to his delight that he could reach some of the toys that way.  I'm not a fan of enforced tummy time, because I find that most babies dislike it- but when a baby discovers tummy time all by himself and looks happy about it, well, woo hoo!

I noticed that his agenda was definitely 'reaching'; he handled every toy he could reach in turn, mouthing each one briefly, then turning to the next one. The whole time, he was cooing and gurgling and smiling.

Does this sound incredibly pedestrian to you?  If so, you've never been 'in the zone' with a baby.  I was fascinated, because it almost felt like I could read his thoughts now that I'd slowed myself down to his pace by getting inside that bubble of babyhood with him. I wondered what he'd do when he ran out of toys he could reach. Would the 'reaching' agenda be over and done with and become an 're-exploration' of those objects, or would he challenge himself more?

Yep, even infants can challenge themselves.

And he did. Once he was done 'reaching' those toys, he started on the ones a bit further away. The effort was huge. Those chubby little legs were grinding away at the ground, trying to get some purchase as his strong little arms pushed him up to reduce friction. Oh, I'm sure he wasn't thinking 'friction', but it was certainly like watching a little scientist as he experimented with different ways of trying to 'reach'.

Do you know, millimetre by millimetre, half-inch by half-inch, he managed to get to nearly every one of those toys- so slowly that I would never have realised he was actually moving if I hadn't known that he couldn't reach them at first. Babies are so determined. And every achievement was reflected on his face with that gorgeous broad smile.

See, even babies can focus when they're interested in something. Kawani was focused on this task for a good 15 minutes.

I couldn't resist giving him one final challenge- he was such a champion, and he was having so much fun. I picked up his cuddly rug, which rarely leaves his side, and put it just a little bit further out of reach. 'Can you get it?' I said, as he looked at me in bewilderment.

No tears, no frustration- just amazing self-belief. Kawani smiled, and immediately set about 'reaching' his cuddly. 'Come on! You're nearly there!' I egged him on all the way, and each time I said it he'd look at me and grin again. I swear he understood what I meant. And finally, with one big thrust of those little legs, he managed to move a whole inch at once and grab it with a gurgle of delight.

Another worker came over and saw that Kawani was quite a long way from where he started. 'Did he get over there all by himself?' she asked.

Yes, he certainly did. And he took me with him on the whole delightful journey.

If you have anything at all to do with babies, you've got to try getting 'in the zone'. Truly. It's magic.


  1. Long day care has to live for these small moments. hope you have more and more every day - isnt there a saying about it? Found it "Remember, life is not made of great things, it is made of very small things. In the early morning, sipping a cup of tea, do it totally, as if this is the last cup of tea you will ever sip again. Take each moment and squeeze the whole juice out of it." ALL THINGS GOOD

  2. This is a fabulous post Annie. Well done.

  3. Have the new ratios come in yet? If not, Victoria may still be working with one carer to five babies.

  4. Siobhan, I don't think it's compulsory yet but most centres here seem to have bitten the bullet. One to 5 is crazy... and I have a stunning memory of ending up with 10 babies and 1 carer in one centre, where they decided that it was okay for the second carer to go to lunch without replacement.... madness....

  5. We're fortunate in Ontario that we have a 3:10 ration, which usually ends up being one adult for three babies. However, it's still a struggle to find that time to be "in the zone". Thanks for sharing this story.

  6. Here in south Australia we are still 1/5 ratio :(
    I love the special times when I can lay on my belly next to a baby and drink in their presence. Watching them discover and learn and the shine in their eyes is worth all the pooy nappies, snotty noses and vomit times.

  7. I was asked to cover maternity leave in the nursery (0-2yrs) at our centre in NZ and discovered it was my favourite age to work with - it was moments like these that I shared with them that sparked my passion for babies - there's so much more happening than meets the eye! And now I have my own little one it's so amazing to see the determination and focus that such a small person can have...priceless : )

  8. Perhaps if he was on his back and not propped, his movements could have been more intentional, controlled, and repeatable. It's so tempting to prop, but I think you'll find even more magical and powerfully amazing moments without it!

  9. Amy, he wasn't actually 'propped' with the pillows- they were just there so he didn't hit his head if he fell backwards. And he makes it very clear that his favourite position is sitting! -which is one reason why I found it so fascinating when he spent so long happily 'reaching' from his tummy instead of whimpering about it.

    Have just checked out the new regs- many of the good centres in NSW (including this one) are already implementing the new 1-4 ratio, which comes in next year. So if you guys in other states are still using 1-5, don't worry, you're not breaching the rules yet.

  10. perhaps if u stoped breaking your code of confidentiality and all of the centres policies plus gossiping about co workers u would still have a job! shame on you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. (I'm not in the habit of censoring others' comments, so that anonymous one will remain; the writer is entitled to his/her views, though I don't agree with them at all.)


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