Saturday, 30 January 2016

An adventure in ombhus...

I love babywearing - but if I'm honest, I love the slings just as much. I have a couple of wraps, a Lenny Lamb ergo carrier and a few homemade mei tais which do different things (newborn soft, padded shoulders for comfy back carries etc).

I love making carriers too and if I hear someone's pregnant, chances are I'll make them a cute mei tai - because even if they're not into babywearing much, or even at all, there are times when your baby wants to be held, you want to get on, and a sling - if it's there - might just be the magic answer that time.

With my latest Peeling, a Goliath of a chap who was in 9-12 month clothes from 20 weeks, I've hit a bump to get over... Munchkin could be worn on my front with a waterproof over her sling and my waterproof zipped up to meet her bum, keeping us pretty dry, until around 9 months old. Goliath stopped fitting around 4 weeks ago. He's too young to be exposed to the elements really, but on very wet days, we need a way to both keep dry and be comfortable. An umbrella is a poor solution when you live on top of a windy hill, too.

My solution is to make a carrier out of an old waxed jacket - and to add poppers or zips so that my waxed jacket can meet it. Then, when he's older, it's a waterproof carrier in its own right and he can have his Muddy Puddles onesie under it (other brands are, of course, available!)

My mum gave me her old jacket - but it's a beautiful Barbour and I couldn't bring myself to hack it apart until I knew exactly what I wanted. And almost the same time, I came across ombhus... Hmm - maybe I want a Barbour Ombhu? So I started my prototypes.

An ombhu, or ombhuimo, is an Asian carrier similar to the mei tai, only instead of having ties at the waist to hold the carrier in place and create a seat, it has little loops which the top straps pass through - so as you tighten the straps, the seat gets deeper too, holding the little'un nice and high on your back.

A brilliant carrier for squirmers and legstraighteners, it seems, because the seat cannot be gotten out of whilst the straps are on your shoulders. With the lesser amount of fabric, (only 2 straps and a short body - see further down the article) these are really compact carriers, and are great for out and about with walking toddlers who want to be up and down a lot, they're so simple to put on and take off. Because they don't have a waist strap, they're good for pregnant wearers or those who don't like a waist tie. These carriers literally look like a standard rucksack.

My first ombhu I made fabric loops, having read that some find the traditional metal rings dig in a bit. Only I made the loops too big so they meet when I'm tightening the straps and I can't get a tight enough carry. My straps were too long and really bugged me with all that tail. And I attempted to pad lightly around the leg given my big little man is only young and I thought it might be comfier on his tender legs. The problem with the padding is that it's in the wrong place while the loops are so big - the seat is really very deep. Finally, my body was a bit long - I read after making this one that an ombhuimo body is generally shorter than a mei tai, and designed more for older kidlets with arms out. So, my unpicker will be coming out to re-do the loops, and I'll be lopping off a chunk of strap tail on each strap. I'll also be popping a little padding into the top section of the straps so they stay spread when in rucksack style on my back. It'll be perfect if ready for summer as it's a really lightweight one with a vibrant colour scheme and it'll fit beautifully by then (it was close to beinget too high on his back - almost to upper neck).

All this learning under my belt, I set to making a new-and-improved prototype. I cut a good 2" off my length to shorten the body, went for shorter straps, smaller loops and light padding on the shoulders. I'm a bit proud of this one; it looks quite cool - as the Munchkin calls it 'the boofaloo carrier' - but it's still not quite right. The loops and straps are good, but the body's slightly shorter than I'd like, in that it's ok for an older child (Munchkin is just ok in it but I wouldn't advocate her napping...) but it's too low on my Goliath's back. With the padded shoulders there's less grip on the wearer and my husband and I both found we needed to tie Tibetan to get a good snug fit (crossing straps back through the shoulder straps to give an X shape on chest then tying it off). The biggest issue though isn't, I think, to do with my making...

As with all carriers, there's a learning curve, even if only a little one. With the ombhu it seems to be getting the perfect balance between tight and loose... To explain: not tight enough and there's not a good seat, they're not secure on your back, you start to get backache after a short while and your centre of gravity is all wrong. BUT tighten too much and the seat pulls up too much, off setting the top of the carrier and causing a bit of a tilt. The body shortens too much, the tightness at the bottom pushes out the top and you're left feeling like your little one is pulling back from your shoulders.

When my husband wore the Munchkin, I was able to help pull the carrier back up on her back and feed the seat back a bit while he kept tension on the straps, which stopped the leaning - but a carrier should be fine to use on your own, unassisted - or at least for me it should.

I rather love the second ombhu I made; it's so compact a carrier that it's a perfect option to carry in my bag for if Munchkin gets tired when she insists on walking and I know she's not going to manage it all. It's also handy, given that I tandem carry when she's in a carrier, that you can thread the ombhu around the child, stand them on a bench or similar (when they're toddler age or older, obviously!) and tighten them up onto your back without the standard 'forward lean' of babywearing set-up. Ideal if you've already got a mini person strapped on your front.

However, it's going to take a bit of shifting weight and pulling fabric each time to get a good, snug and safe fit, I think. I'll persevere, and I'd welcome any suggestions or tried and tested ways around this issue, but for that reason, I'll not be making any more. It'll be a Barbour mei tai for me, I think.

If you're an ombhu fan and you have any thoughts on avoiding the lean, please let me know. Or have you also tried an ombhu and found it less straightforward than it seems?! I'd love to hear :)

My first mei tai - 
with a 3 day old Goliath in it! 

Monday, 18 January 2016

The wilderness years...

Yesterday, my husband and I were driving to church for the morning service - not our own church, as we were staying with relatives for the weekend. The conversation went something like :
Me: Who's going out with munchkin?
Him: Well if you go out, you'll have both of them and be a novelty, but if I have her and you have him..'
Me: 'Divide and conquer approach. Got it.'
So he got covered in paint and checked on munchkin's need to wee every 10 minutes and I handled a teething 4 month old due a feed and a nap.

That was an easy weekend too. At our own church, with my husband a deacon and me the worship coordinator, a Sunday morning is one of my busiest days at the office. We want to bring up our little'uns to know and love God, to have respect for other worshippers and to enjoy their time at church, so we do our best to help them engage with the more structured worship of a Sunday as well as the daily living with Jesus as our model. We want to live our roles within the church to the best of our ability, in tune with God and His will for our church. Both of us have a responsibility to help those around us engage with our Father, see Jesus more clearly, make space for the Spirit to work in His people. These wants and aims are a wonderful privilege. They do, however, leave very little space to engage with God ourselves.

The last time I listened to a speaker and took in all of their message was some time ago. The last time I worshipped without having an eye on the congregation or a child was a fair while ago too - and the last time I actually focused, in a prayerful attitude, on God's message for me or prompts in my life, I can't even remember. 

Away from church, we pray with our little'uns every day and we talk about Jesus, about how He taught us to be. I grab snatches of time to ask for help, to say sorry for losing my patience yet again, to be thankful for a beautiful moment. But it's like texting God rather than visiting him. I send out my messages, sometimes I check for a reply and partly take in what it says before getting sidetracked again.

I can't be alone in this. Often, men and women my age, with a young family, are hugely active in their churches. I can't be the only one who is finding that having young children means very little time for nurturing your own relationship with God. Surely others are also wandering the wilderness during this phase of life?

It has been frustrating me of late, this wilderness. I'm having times where I resent the work my role requires, especially when it cuts into, perhaps, time with my husband, which is also on the lean side. He and I have exchanged rueful glances when one of us tentatively asks the other what they got out of a service as we leave the church. I feel guilty that, as I sing most weeks in our worship group, he has to go out to the creche with our munchkin so misses the service. I feel guilty that my youngest gets chucked in a sling on my back and ignored, that my eldest spends an extra hour and a half trying to find ways to entertain herself as we prep for the service. And this guilt is no friend to the servant heart I want to offer my God and my church.

Then, yesterday, after we agreed to divide and conquer, something occurred to me - or maybe I finally heard it... 

My family is a blessing from God and for this time, right now, we should be meeting with Him as a family, with all the disruption and mayhem that implies. We can't find the space to do more than that at the moment and maybe that's ok. Maybe texting God right now is fine, maybe he knows that I'll try and visit as often as I can and he'd rather hear from me in a few messages each day than not at all. 

My attitude needs to change. I might be in the wilderness, but why does that mean I can't find time to meet with God? Jesus popped off to the desert expressly to find Him!I need to find Him within my life as it is rather than trying to carve a space away from them to focus, because that space isn't there at the moment. 

Lent is on the horizon, and that's a time of wilderness; an opportunity to strip back in order to understand more. I think my aim right now is to embrace my wilderness. I want to accept it, to keep on trusting that God will seek me out in it, to keep trying to walk his path, and to keep an eye out for the rare oasises that are sure to be found here and there, if I walk it for long enough.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Squeezing me into the new year

It's a new year. I have spent the last two years brewing and birthing Peelings. This has left very little room for other things because bumps and breastfeeding seem to take up a lot of room / time.

This year there are going to be no pregnancies. No births. I will be attempting to bestow some semblance of order onto life with two under two. It's not a task I'm looking forward to really, but it must be done because I think I've reached the point where I need, from the point of retaining my last vestiges of sanity, to create something that's been overlooked.

Time for me.

Not 'me time' in that beautiful, quiet, in a bath with a glass of vino and Einaudi on the stereo kind of serene time - I don't think my mind would handle that much space - but time where I don't have a child clamouring for attention or being sustained in some way.

I want to use my sewing machine for longer than 20 minutes in one go. To reupholster the two wingback chairs bought as a Project when I was pregnant with the first munchkin and had no idea what was about to hit me. To cook real meals that take more than 10 minutes on the hob, or to get stuff done on the house and to feel a sense of achievement afterwards.

Because at the moment, I don't feel like I accomplish anything. Ever. I don't know if I'm alone in this, but it makes me feel a bit flat sometimes. I stumble through the day, making sure we all survive - and with an aim that everyone feels like they're enjoying life for at least a small chunk of the time - trying not to be hideous to my husband when he comes home from work, and getting as much of my Life Admin done online as possible whilst my newest clusterfeeds through the evening. Then I climb into bed too late, get chatted at throughout the night by my good natured Goliath of a baby, who finally falls asleep a couple of hours before the Munchkin wakes up - and around we go again.

Before you read misery into this, I love this odd little Groundhog Day that we live in. My little'uns, hard work as they are, stun me with their awesomeness in copious little ways daily. They're truely the most incredible things. But that doesn't mean there aren't times where I feel thwarted in living the bit of life that they don't occupy. Because they brutally invade and I seem unable to mount a decent counter attack.

Before I get to the point where resentment creeps in, I want to try and order life a little so that a space reappears for me to occupy solo. Or to choose to share with another - like my husband, who I miss chatting with about real stuff rather than aforementioned life admin, or friends who are subjected to the split attention and erratic eye contact of a day time parent.

So here I am, writing this on my phone in the dark, my little man asleep on me, trying to pluck up the courage to leave him sleeping on his own. It's the first night of trying. I'm likely to spend the evening thus: Lay solidly sleeping child down carefully, take ten minutes to retract arms, hands, face, ensure top with smell on is nearby and hold breath - as their eyes ping open at the last hurdle and back to square one we go. And that's my evenings for the next few months, I expect.

It's worth the time, I know, and when I look back it'll seem quicker than a blink.

And every time I feel frustrated that I'm picking him up once again, after hours of feeding and rocking and cuddling, I'm going to remember two things:

1. that, we speculate to accumulate - and I must do this for my own sanity,
2. that just two weeks after I can successfully put him down first time and am free by 7.30 most evenings, I'll be lamenting the loss of my extensive cuddles and wishing time wasn't flying by so fast.