Beth was interviewed by Shevonne Hunt for the awesome Kinderling radio show Kinderling Conversation, all about kids, health and relationships.
I had a realisation the other night that I’m living in survival mode a lot of the time.
It’s a very privileged version of survival mode. My family and I are safe, sheltered and fed. There’s space for yoga sometimes and deep breaths and a lot of laughter, but there’s also times when I raise my voice, lose my patience, tell Leo to hurry-hurry-hurry, and berate myself about being late or not getting something done.
I often feel like I’m constantly lurching from one thing to the next. Frazzled.
I am often doing multiple things at once and there’s also a lot of weighing up of different priorities going on in the background: Clem’s sleeps, keeping us all fed, clothed and bathed, correspondence, shopping lists, logistics planning, school-related admin, general life admin, calling people back because my phone is always on silent, family wellness, work deadlines, Kickstarter reward fulfilment, social commitments, Leo’s needs and wants, Clem’s needs and wants, Jeff’s needs and wants, my needs and wants, SLEEP…
There’s a lot of ‘I’ll just do this’, which leads to ‘I’ll just do that too’, which means I often don’t get to the bit where I feel a sense of accomplishment and give myself (or my kids) a moment of pause.
And I’m not the only one. A lot of my conversations with friends lately include talking about how torn we feel.
A big giveaway that I’m in crisis management mode is that I hoard food. I started hoarding food when I was very pregnant with Clem and having had a taste of it (haha), I can’t stop. Instead of buying one packet of corn thins I buy a box of them. We have 10kg of flour under the kitchen table and many, many tins of tuna underneath the bed. We rented a chest freezer a while back and I don’t know when I’m going to be ready to say goodbye to it. It’s all a bit crazy-cat-lady (minus the cat).
When Clem was brand-new-little and Jeff has just gone back to work, I had a sign on the fridge to remind me that all that mattered was: love, rest, play and food and drink for everyone. I was trying to manage my expectations of what constituted a good day because I am notoriously overly ambitious about what I can accomplish each day. Tabitha wrote about this beautifully.
Just because your day isn’t newsworthy or the fodder for great anecdotes, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. You are accomplishing something monumentally important, but quietly. Every one of those days when you have nothing to report, or no goals kicked, you have been chaperoning a little human through dozens of amazing little milestones, most of them imperceptible to us, and certainly not worthy of retelling, but life-changing for these tiny babies.
But once our babies are no longer newborns and life gets a bit easier, it’s tempting to throw more and more things in the mix. Our book and everything that’s come from it: this blog, the kickstarter, my talk – are all good examples.
I thought my days of holding onto being busy as a badge of honour were over, but I am still doing it. Enjoying the buzz of lots going on. Loving a lot of what I’m doing, but also feeling stressed out and stretched a lot of the time. I’m sure you can identify. We are busy-o-holics in our culture.
We need to celebrate the corners we cut! The things we don’t do!
I don’t hold the key to simplifying, but in an efforts to take the pressure down in our household I’ve tried:
- Lowering my standard of tidiness.
- Sharing household chores with Jeff: cooking, tidying, washing, shopping etc.
- Having cleaners once a week.
- Embracing odd socks and crumpled clothes i.e. no ironing
- Wearing a uniform on the days I’m home (black pants, t-shirt, woollen hoodie) so I don’t have to think about what to wear.
- Online shopping.
- Rotation of meals and snacks (hummus, vegie sticks, muffins, creamed corn, egg mayo, croissants, melted cheese and corn thins are key).
- Freezing big batches of soup/stew for my lunches during the week.
- Washing my hair once a week (I used to do it every day).
- Hanging out the washing with as few pegs as possible (surely not that much of a time-saver but it feels very efficient).
- Having things going overnight so they’re ready first thing in the morning: washing machine, dishwasher, bread maker etc.
I know you have your list of these things too. Please share them in the comments or on the Facebook page – I’d love to hear them!
Something I majorly need to work on in order to simplify my/our life is saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’ … to myself when I want to add another thing to our schedule, to other people when it’s something that’s going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m getting better with this but I still find saying ‘no’ really hard.
If you’re anything like me you have really high standards for yourself but beating yourself up about life being too messy/full on/not organised enough isn’t actually going to help.
I’m going to make an effort to tell myself I’m doing great this week, because I’m obviously feeling like a need a break, and the best person to give ourselves a break is us.
WE ARE DOING GREAT. Tell yourself. Tell a friend. We really are.
I am giving a talk in Sydney on October 13 at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Woollahra.
It’s part of the great line up of talks and masterclasses organised by Mama Creatives.
It would be wonderful to see you there! You can purchase tickets here.
More about the talk:
Enjoy an inspiring, informative and passionate talk by artist, filmmaker, photographer and writer Beth Taylor, who will be sharing her story, body of work and discussing You’re Doing Great, Baby – a book she has co-written and illustrated with her husband – over dinner and drinks in the company of other creative mamas!
“Motherhood has profoundly altered my perception of myself and the world, and changed everything about my art practice. It’s taught me about love, compassion and struggle.”
A look at Beth’s diverse range of work – from photography to writing and illustration, infused with personal stories of the heart-bursting highs and gut-wrenching lows of being both a mother and an artist, and what she learnt from her experience of having postnatal depression and mild postnatal psychosis after the births of her two boys.
There will also be a raffle on the night to raise funds for PANDA.
Getting ready for the talk has prompted me to update my portfolio on our main website – hooray for deadlines. Check it out!
Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.
You’re Doing Great Baby! Is a picture book for babies but it has a subtle message .. parent’s you’re doing just great too! The book was born (like a lot of parenting projects) when a young couple realised that having a baby was a lot harder than they expected… and they really wanted a way of expressing this to friends and families while giving them support and encouragement as they went. So ‘You’re Doing Great Baby!’ was born, a picture book that when read out loud gives parents a beautiful affirmation that they are doing just fine too!
What an amazing month that was! We had never done anything like that before (writing and illustrating a book, publishing 21 blog posts in one month or creating and marketing a crowdfunding campaign) so we had no idea what it would be like. It was fun, emotionally exhausting, hard work and an amazing learning experience. And as Jeff is fond of reminding me IT’S NOT OVER YET! We still have rewards to create, a launch to plan and lots of other things to do.
Thank you so much to all the backers, and those who shared the project far and wide. The online copy of the book had over 4,000 page views which is amazing. The money raised by our Kickstarter project is enabling us to get 750 copies of the board book printed, along with producing the other rewards.
For those who didn’t pre-order a book and would like to buy one, please sign up for our newsletter (link below) and we’ll let you know when they’re ready to buy.
I was meaning to publish a thank you post on the blog earlier this week but I kept on falling asleep with the kids – knackered after pushing through August. And then I saw the pictures of Aylan Kurdi and I felt dumbstruck and deeply sad.
Feeling helpless, and somewhat hopeless, about the larger state of the world and at the same time hopeful for my own children makes me think about the big questions. What are we all doing here? How can I best use all the great good luck I’ve been given? What is my purpose in life?
I have wondered about this at different junctures in my life. When I was in primary school I wanted to save the world and be Prime Minister. At uni I thought my purpose was to create something of lasting value as an artist. And right now I think it’s to do my best to be kind. Kind to myself and others and the world. Years ago I would have thought that credo was lightweight or unambitious but the older I get the more it feels revolutionary. It’s one of those things that is elegantly simple, but if you look closely it’s actually really complex.
So we are getting doing our tax returns, writing mega lists of all the things left to do, taking the boys to swimming lessons, cooking, tidying, wiping up bits of boiled egg from the floor, donating money to refugee charities, going to work and coming home, writing blog posts… the stuff of a life we are very grateful for.
There are moments that are perfect. Where I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing. They don’t come that often for me, but when they do they are magical.
Some of the things that get me in that zone are:
- Making art or craft
- Walking and listening to music
- Playing with children.
(Disclaimer: most of the time when I’m playing with my kids I am not ‘in flow’ – I am thinking of chores that need doing, or writing a shopping list in my head, or tidying up, or cooking (or lately, composing a blog post). Not giving anything my full attention. But the times when I do manage to just enjoy whatever it is we’re doing are pure joy).
Having a baby or a young kid makes it harder to steal moments for all of the above (except for playing with them), and yet spending time with them is a perfect opportunity to surrender and just enjoy some simple pleasures. Clem will happily sit and play with wood-chips or dirt or a patch of grass for 30 minutes.
The best way for me to be more present with my boys (and enjoy myself too), is to be outside. At the park, in the garden or sitting out the front of our house, I’m not looking sideways at the mess I want to tidy, or the dinner that’s half done, or the chair that needs mending.
When I’m enjoying that perfect moment: a conversation with Leo or a bath with Clem or our whole family laughing or enjoying music together, I wonder why life can’t always be like this. And then Leo or Clem will ask for a drink of water and I end up pottering in the kitchen tidying up or loading the dishwasher. The moment lost. Those early parenting years are just busy.
Multiple times a day I’m struck by the fact that time is moving forward, and the kids are growing up. It’s bitter-sweet.
Clem is a-l-m-o-s-t a toddler and he’s (most probably) our last baby. Each time he grows out of a piece of clothing there’s no point in holding on to it for our next baby. Because there won’t be one. The lanolin that’s still sitting on my dressing table from the early days of breastfeeding probably won’t get used again. The toys that we pick up off the floor every day won’t be around forever.
The knowledge that I’ll be able to shoot off to a yoga class, read a book in the afternoon, or go out to dinner with Jeff in the not-too-distant future is exciting. If I’m feeling sad about the prospect of those little-kid years disappearing, then that’s a good reminder to sit down on the floor and just be with the kids or give them a hug.
When Leo was a baby, and I was climbing up out of the hole that postnatal depression had carved into my life, I vividly remember making a pact with myself to remember that there were lots of good times too. That I enjoyed this moment. That I drank him in. That I loved him more than I thought possible.
I knew I wanted another child and I didn’t want to wish away his babyhood because of my own issues.
That pact to recognise all the joyful moments was always an incredible comfort to me. I still think about it today as a reminder that I may as well be in each moment (whatever that entailed), rather than wishing it away. With a young baby the moments are underlined with sleep deprivation, boredom and having to choose between going to the toilet or waking the baby you’re holding. With an older child, the moments are underlined with different worries and discomforts: time pressure, money or career concerns… there’s always something.
Looking back at photos of the last six years I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. I see the fun we’ve had without seeing whatever little worry was on my mind at the time or whatever cold we were getting over… Photos are useful to help us enjoy the moment, but the act of taking them also removes us a little bit. It’s a double bind.
In 2013 I made an installation of 1,000 collaged photos – each one of them hoping to capture a moment in time. Seeing the beauty in little everyday domestic moments is pretty much what all of the art I’ve ever produced boils down to. I’m never going to figure it out or solve it or perfect it, but it’s my life’s work.
This is a post about finding ways to keep creating things when you’re a parent (other than breakfasts, lunches, dinners and clean laundry). And the joys and frustrations of being a parent who needs to create.
After a rocky start, becoming a Mum was the best thing that ever happened to me, both personally and creatively. I had always known that creative work was important to me, but there’s nothing like suddenly having a lot less time to make you stop procrastinating and just do something.
I trained as a documentary writer/director but I wasn’t confident enough about my work to pursue my ideas or apply for grants after I finished film school. I found a full-time permanent job that was related to film, and then pretty soon after that I got pregnant.
Once Leo was born and I had recovered from the shock of it all I was drawn to creative practice I could fit into nap-time and didn’t require other people, big budgets or expensive equipment. I had also grown up a lot and cared less about what other people thought of my work.
Parenting is a hugely creative thing to be engaged in. You are constantly adapting to suit your child/ren’s needs and playing imaginative games, playing with language, song, paint, dance and all sorts of different media (ATM my youngest, Clem, is into wood-chips and banana, and Leo is into pastels and mask making). But it’s not enough for me to just facilitate their creative expression – I want a turn too!
There’s lots of time to daydream but not very much time to actually put pen to paper, brush to canvas or fingers to keyboard.
“I had to learn to be fast, faster than I’d ever been, for every second counts with a child. I had to teach myself to commit phrases and words to memory when I did not have a pen, to scribble notes to myself on the backs of envelopes … I learnt to compose everything in my head rather than on the page, to have whole paragraphs, whole chapters, completely worked out before I even sat down.
… I write this book in my dreams, in buses, in the quiet moments before I go to sleep, in the ink of my blood. I have learnt to write in air.”
– Susan Johnson, A Better Woman: A Memoir
I am naturally drawn to women’s wisdom. Most of what I read is non-fiction written by women, and I have too many heroines to name. I have written about women who’s work has in some way inspired our book, including: Cheryl Strayed, Pinky McKay, Gretchen Rubin and Stephanie Snyder.
The quote in the picture above is from Brené Brown – a Texan researcher and academic in the field of social work, who writes about vulnerability, love, shame and wholeheartedness. I discovered her through her TED talks and have read all her books. I am a major fan of her work.
I was re-reading the chapter on ‘Wholehearted Parenting’ in Brené’s book Daring Greatly, and I basically wanted to transcribe it all into this post because it is all so spot-on. In fact all of her books have nuggets of wisdom that are useful for parents. All of her ideas are based on interviews with hundreds (if not thousands) of people about their lives, their struggles and what is important to them. She distills what she has learnt into her wonderful books. I highly recommend seeking them out.
Below is a quote from Daring Greatly that I hope is echoed in our book. If I keep this in mind during those harder days, I find I’m kinder to both myself and my kids.
Although we were talking about picture ideas from the beginning, Jeff and I wrote the text for You’re Doing Great, Baby (which you can read in full online here) before we drew any pictures for it.
Jeff is by far the better drawer of the two of us, and we thought it would be fun to keep the project just us, so he did the drawings and I coloured them in with watercolours.
If I ever need proof that practicing something over and over makes you better at it, then this is it. Jeff drew and drew, honing the characters as he went. I coloured some of the pictures five times before we were happy with them.
Some pictures (like Mum and Baby lying on the mat on the grass) took two weeks to finish. So many blades of grass! And we did that one three or four times.
Here are some examples of the evolution of the artworks.
Jeff needed quite a bit of persuasion before he was willing to draw the pictures for our book. I like to call him “the reluctant illustrator”. It sounds all elusive and brooding – which if you’ve ever met Jeff is totally not how he is.
I love Jeff’s illustrations so much, and it was incredible to watch his drawings get better and better as he practiced. I’m going to do a post about the evolution of the artworks soon.
While we were still coming up with the story, we toyed around with the idea of having illustrations of lots of different parents and babies (a la favourites The Baby’s Catalogue or Look At You! A Baby Body Book). But in the end we decided that the best way to tell the story was to depict one parent (a Mum – the most common primary care-giver) and baby.
A lot of the illustrations you see in the book were inspired by experiences we had had and photos from Leo and Clem’s early life. Here are some examples:
I will spare you the photo of me going to the toilet with a baby on my lap. Although variations on that scenario happen almost daily, we had to stage it because funnily enough that wasn’t part of our family album.