An Afternoon Oasis in a Sea of Stress

An Afternoon Oasis in a Sea of Stress

What a perfect afternoon.

An afternoon to remind me of the power of one-on-one time. Of observation and connection. Of slowing down.

Straight after GG’s nap – when he’s often super grumpy – I took him out for a date. And yes, I totally bribed him out of his bad mood with ice cream, I’ll admit it. But watching him eat it was a meditation. He loved every lick, every bite of the cone. He was so in the moment he couldn’t even speak to me while he ate.

Every meal should be like a 3-year-old boy eating ice cream.

After the ice cream we ran around an empty mall. Hopped, jumped, fell to the ground at his whim. I showed him how to do somersaults in a baby play area. I fought the urge to play with my phone when his attention wandered from me, and instead kept mine glued to him. Yet another exercise in mindfulness. In staying in the present for once.

On the way home we stopped to fill the car up with petrol. He got out with me and asked questions. A million “why’s” that for once I had the time and the head space to answer. Or try to answer.

Why is petrol dangerous for little kids, anyway?

It was just an hour and a half, but we so needed that time, GG and me. Time together with no agenda, no bathing or dinnertime or bedtime battles. No baby sister or other adults. Just us.

When we got home, some kids from his new kindergarten were meeting in the local playground, so his dad took him to join them. And so it was just me and Little A at home. Again – a rare treat.

Babies seem simpler, but I think that’s just because we don’t pay them enough attention.

Every move this kid makes is an exploration, an experiment, an expression. Every turn of her hand is a preparation for her next move, or bite of food, or request. And I’m her mama, I know her back to front, I can preempt her requests before she’s even made them – but sometimes it’s beautiful not to. Rather, to lay next to her and see the world through her eyes for a few moments.

We ate, played, bathed. For once I wasn’t rushed as I washed her, fending off GG’s “help” in the form of buckets of water on her head. Instead I watched her examine each toy with her mouth, giggled with her, cuddled and marveled at how big she’s gotten, though it seems like she was born just yesterday.

It all sounds awfully flowerly, I know. But that’s really how it felt.
An oasis of joy in a sea of stress, emails, anxiety, drop offs and pick ups.

A reminder of what it’s all about.

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Fuckup Nights for Parents

Fuckup Nights for Parents

There’s this global movement in the business world called Fuckup Nights that I think is brilliant. It’s a simple concept; a series of events where people get up and tell their stories of failure. Like TED, but with a twist. Businesses that crashed and burned. Deals gone wrong. Product recalls. That sort of thing.

Along with being generally hilarious, the stories tend to be quite inspiring. Largely because the people who have the humility to be able to get up in front of a crowd of people and say, “yep, I fucked up,” those people are the good ones. It shows real strength of character. These are professionals who are able to look failure in the face, move on, and ultimately to learn from it.

So, I’m thinking, we need Fuckup Nights for Parents. A time to get together and share the times we totally screwed it up. To support each other through it, and to bring failure out into the open. To take the shame out – because we all fuck up, sometime or another. It’s just a matter of how we frame it.

Of course, getting out of the house, on time, without the kids is probably easier said than done for parents of young kids, so I guess a virtual Fuckup Nights will have to suffice for now. Here’s one of my tales of failure to get the ball rolling:

It was about 7 months ago. Little A was a few weeks old, and GG was in the thick of coming to terms with the new addition to our family. About to turn 3 and just having a really hard time of it. He was acting out left and right, but usually the trigger was when he needed me and I was busy with the baby – generally nursing or holding her when he wanted to be held.

His kindergarten threw a holiday party one afternoon, and for some reason I thought nothing of turning up by myself with Little A in tow. She was fussy so I just brought her in my arms, no carrier, no stroller. I’m cringing now just thinking about it.

The party was a low-key affair, just a few little songs and dances and then food, but somehow for us it turned into a borderline catastrophe. GG wanted me to dance with him and Little A was screaming. I had nowhere to put her down even if I wanted to. He wanted me to pick him up and had a total meltdown. The baby needed to eat. I didn’t know anyone well enough to ask for help – or I hadn’t learned yet that sometimes the only way to survive with more than one kid is to get help.

Before long the poor little guy was a total mess. Screaming for me to pick him up, surrounded by kids who had all of their parents attention, and there I was, baby in my arms, failing him. I hadn’t even thought about it, about how much GG would need my attention in there. I’m so embarrassed to say that but it’s the truth.

I could have asked someone to come with me just to hold her, I could have thought to bring the stroller in, I could have asked for help. Now that I’m writing this, I could have even run outside right then to get the stroller from the car! But I didn’t. I was so busy fucking up that I couldn’t think straight.

Eventually we made it out. I let GG eat some gross unhealthy food because I felt so guilty and inadequate, and somehow I got both of them and an armload of bags and jackets into the car.

And that’s it, that’s my fuckup story. Sounds insignificant I guess, and maybe it was, but to me it was huge. Because I realized it, plain and simple. Failure.

So, why am I thinking about this right now?

Because yesterday I had my chance for a corrective experience – the end of year kindergarten party. And this time I got it. I understood what was expected of me, prepared accordingly and we all had a great time.

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I don’t have a photo of that day, but this was around then, and it seems symbolic. The two of them and me, all on top of each other, trying to work out what fits where. 

Accepting my own imperfections is a real challenge for me. My therapist is always reminding me that the aim is not perfection – but rather acceptance. Sometimes I feel like, umm hello, what am I paying you for if we’re not working on making me perfect here? But of course, she’s right. And I think owning our failures can help us move towards acceptance. Not to try to get to a point where we don’t fuck up – coz that’s not gonna happen – but rather to except that we’ll make mistakes, and to learn to see failure, nod and carry on.

So, who’s up next?

Motherhood and Judgy-ness

Motherhood and Judgy-ness

I’ve been trying to write this post all week, about how being a mother has taught me not to be judgmental. About how I used to have all sorts of opinions about other mothers, but now I’ve realized that it’s so hard and everyone’s just doing the best they can and who am I to tell them otherwise. And so I never judge them.

But something about the post just wasn’t sitting quite right. I wrote and rewrote, moved paragraphs around, thought of a cute intro. Nothing was working. And then I realized.

It’s because it’s total bullshit.

I haven’t stopped being judgmental at all – I’ve just learned to be maybe a little less judgmental of people who are basically the same as me. Oops.

Here’s the real deal.

Before I was a mother, I had it all sorted out. I knew exactly how I wanted the birth to go, along with everything after that.

Same goes for how other people birthed and raised their babies. I knew exactly why things were going wrong and what they should have been doing differently. How unnecessary stress was creating pregnancy symptoms, that babies cried because their mothers weren’t emotionally connected, how all nursing problems could be solved if you believed in your boobs hard enough, and of course – that toddler tantrums were always the result of poor planning on the parents part and could be avoided by being totally in tune with your kid.

I knew everything.

What I’ve learned with the benefit of a few years of experience now is that shit doesn’t go to plan most of the time. So even if you planned to give birth floating in a pool of flowers wearing a tie dye bikini top, it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way. And so I learned not to judge women who planned a natural birth and ended up with something different.

But what about my cousin who didn’t have any interest in planning a natural birth in the first place? I wouldn’t say it to her face but the truth – the real, ugly truth deep down – is that a lot of the time, I’m totally judging her for taking an epidural. Hours and hours of very entertaining phone conversations with my girlfriends, judging our respectful-parenting-natural-birthing-baby-wearing-extended-breastfeeding-organic-cotton hearts out. Because there’s an arrogance in me that still thinks that I know better. That choices that don’t fit into my ideology are somehow less than.

A like-minded new friend tells me about her struggles breastfeeding her baby in the early months. How she had her best-laid plans to breastfeed into toddler-hood but the baby wasn’t putting on weight and crying all the time and everyone was freaking out. So she supplemented with formula and pumped round the clock for months and months, trying her utmost to make it work. Ultimately she stopped breastfeeding earlier than she wanted to, and she was devastated. Her story is fraught with regrets, doubt and sadness. Of course I don’t judge her – why would I? It’s so clear that she’s a mother like me, doing a great job, just trying to do the best she can for her son.

So what’s the difference between the two scenarios?

I guess it comes down to understanding. When I can easily put myself in the shoes of the other, understanding and compassion flow. And it’s just more natural to put myself in those other shoes if they look more or less the same as mine. The challenge comes when the world view is different – it takes more of an effort to garner the same level of understanding.

But it’s not impossible. I have close friends who are very different mothers to me, and I manage not to judge them at least most of the time. Because I know and understand them, and so it makes sense to me why my style of parenting wouldn’t work for them. I don’t have to work to comprehend the motivation behind every choice.

The ironic part of all this is that I know how shitty it feels to be judged for your parenting. That sinking feeling of being completely misunderstood, of knowing that someone close to you thinks you’re doing a bad job. I often feel like I’m being judged by family and friends and it’s so horrible. And yet as we just established, I’m guilty of it just like everyone else.

So, here’s the plan. I’m gonna try to do this less. It won’t happen overnight, but I hope I can use skilled compassion and understanding to judge other mamas (and papas) less. To notice judgement as it arises in my mind, and to consciously remind myself that everyone is fucking exhausted, emotional, and trying to do the best they can for their little people. Even if it looks ridiculous and misguided to me. Even if I know just the Janet Lansbury article that would sort them out once and for all.

There’s this sign on the fridge at my Dad and Stepmom’s place, it says, “TEENAGERS! Tired of being harassed by your parents? ACT NOW! Move out, get a job, pay your own bills while you still know everything!” It’s a dad joke, for sure, but there’s truth in it. As a teenager I really did think I knew everything. And while I’ve learned a lot since, the real wisdom I’ve gained is that I don’t know anything. Well, hardly anything.

So – more understanding, more compassion, less judging.

Who’s with me?

A Motherhood Manifesto

A Motherhood Manifesto

The phrase “the type of mother I want to be” comes up for me a lot – in my writing as well as day-to-day conversations. But what does it mean? What type of mother do I want to be? In no particular order, stream-of-consciousness style, this:

I want to be the type of mother who laughs with her kids. Always. 

The type of mother who listens. Even if she doesn’t like what she’s hearing. Or doesn’t understand. Who keeps listening until something makes sense. Until her child feels heard. 

A mother who stops for hugs. If her kids want a hug, she’s all arms. 

I want to be the type of mother who models a healthy, positive relationship. Naturally but also consciously. The type of mother who goes on dates with her husband, regularly and voluntarily. 

The type of mother who lets her kids be who they are, right now – not who she thought they would be. Or who they were.  

I want to be the type of mother who teaches her children to meditate, to express their emotions and to love reading. By modeling, first and foremost.  

A mother who has a career, along with other interests outside the family. And prioritizes them, too. 

I want to be the type of mother who tells her kids the truth, through a filter of healthy boundaries. 

The type of mother who writes. 

I want to be the type of mother who doesn’t sweat the small things. 

The type of mother who holds herself to all of these values and goals and parenting ideals… and knows when to say “bugger it” and break her own rules.

And not beat herself up about it. 

I want to be the type of mother who thinks about what type of mother she wants to be. 

Wish me luck 🙂