The happiest time of your life [eye roll]

No Mummy-blog would be complete without a post about how to deal with the existential conundrum that is the tension between simultaneously loving your children/baby but also feeling you want to press the ejector seat and zoom up and out of your life sometimes. As the wise and wonderful Cheryl Strayed says, “Two things can both be true”.

Why are people compelled to tell new parents ad infinitum “They grow up too fast” and it’s variations: “Enjoy every second”, “It’s the happiest time of your life”. In my own experience I find that it’s especially people whose children have grown up that say these things.

One possible reason they say it is that it’s all true. Or at least it was true for them.

Another potential reason is that, looking back, they wish they had enjoyed more of their children’s early life.

Or that they weren’t as maxed-out as our generation are with information, technology, work, communication, inner and outer expectations and debt.

Writing the phrase

They grow up too fast

makes me simultaneously roll my eyes, wince, feel a lump in my throat and a swell of love, sorrow, reminiscence and regret.

Being just six years into being a parent, I can see why everyone loves to tell new parents this, because they do grow up so fast. But I hated hearing it when I was in the thick of first-time parenting and feeling overwhelmed, traumatiseddepressed, inadequate, lonely. My days felt unbearably long, every phase throwing up new challenges before I’d caught my breath from the last.

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An opening from our book ‘You’re Doing Great, Baby‘ talking about those intense first months with a new baby

Second time around I have been able to savour a lot more, but my added experience and confidence doesn’t change the fact that having little children is in-tense.

Our two are 19 months and 6 years old now, and I can rattle off a list of my favourite things about these ages:
19 months: Beginnings of talking, learning to run, loves his soft toys Grover and Baby, bright-eyed and always ready to interact and say hello or good bye, his baby curls.
6 years old: Thoughtful, funny, curious about the world, fun to read with, great to play games with, loves his little brother, always ready to have a laugh.

But I can also summon up a list of the things that I find difficult: all the stuff I have to take everywhere, can’t nip to the shops, hard to go out at night, house a permanent mess, washing piled high, night waking, endless negotiations about screen-time, finding healthy food they’ll eat… Writing that list and looking at it alongside the list of the things I love about these ages, the list of complaints look trivial. But they create real frustrations at times, and it’s those times that if you told me to enjoy every moment, I might want to wallop you over the head with poor old Grover.

One of the reasons we so badly need a village to raise a child is that the pure intensity of rearing children is instantly more enjoyable once it feels like more of a shared responsibility, or at least something done in the company of other adults.

I find that time flies by happily when we’re outside. Even faster when there are other adults and children there too. The kids play and the parents chat, while playing with/feeding the smaller ones.

Maybe someone should only be allowed to say “Enjoy every second/They grow up too fast” etc. to a new parent if they’ve also done something to show support for them and all the hard work they’re doing.

An understanding look when their toddler is throwing a tantrum, for example. Or offering to help them load load groceries onto the check-out as they struggle to do it whilst also holding their baby. Or sharing that they themselves didn’t manage to enjoy every second but that in retrospect they see the sacred beauty of that early, intense time.

For more on this subject, read the seminal ‘Don’t Carpe Diem‘ by Glennon Doyle Melton, Andi Fox’s ‘Complaining About Motherhood‘, ‘Savour it Anyway‘ by Alicia from the Magical Childhood blog and Mia Freedman’s piece ‘My son is leaving school and I’m in pieces‘.

Parenting vs. the creative process

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.

I had my first exhibition, Breadtag World, when Leo was 18 months old, and then another called Home when he was three.

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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

Continue reading Parenting vs. the creative process

Ten ways friendship has changed for me post-kids

Friendships have always been a big deal to me. As an only child my friends are the closest I’ll ever come to having siblings.

Here are some ways that having a child has affected my friendships:

  1. I don’t see my friends as much as I’d like to.
  2. I used to keep in touch by talking on the phone, but making a call with kids around is difficult and by the time the kids are asleep I just want to vege out or go to sleep myself.
  3. The best way to see people and actually get an extended time to talk is to have them over or, even better, have them to stay.
  4. Going out at night isn’t as easy as it used to because I’m permanently tired and Clem is still breastfeeding. I also feel guilty about leaving Jeff to get the kids to bed by himself.
  5. I am am both emotionally fulfilled and exhausted by my children. There is a powerful pull to spend time as a family and it’s easy to just stay home.
  6. It takes forever to organise something with a friend because everyone is so busy. If the friend I’m going to catch up with has kids too, then you often have to postpone a date several times before actually going out because someone is always sick or there’s some other family drama.
  7. My childrens’ social engagements and activities dominate the calendar much more than my own.
  8. When I do go out I feel boring and like I don’t have anything interesting to talk about because I’m in Kid Land.
  9. It’s amazing to get to know my friends’ kids, and it warms my heart to see our adult friends playing with our kids. When your kid loves your friend’s kid/s then it’s happy days!
  10. When I do get to have a proper catch up with a friend I don’t take it for granted like I once did. I spent a few happy hours with two girlfriends recently (hello Karmen and Gabby!) and I came home afterwards on cloud nine, feeling so restored.
Two generations of friendship. :)
Two generations of friendship. :)

The best friends are the ones that you can not see for a while and then when you do it’s like not a day has passed.

A dinner out with a friend, or friends, is like a shining star in my calendar. My (often truncated) chats with friends on the phone are a highlight of my week. Tabitha and I rock the 2 minute (e.g. I’m just walking from the carpark into the office) conversation and it’s better than nothing. In fact, a large percentage of my chats with friends are when one of us is in transit somewhere (hello Eszy!)

Some of my pre-kid friendships have fallen by the wayside – but a lot remain, stronger than ever. I am so grateful for them, and also for the new friends I’ve made through having kids.

Let’s raise a cup of cold tea in a toast to friendship. Surely one of the most wonderful things in life.

Continue reading Ten ways friendship has changed for me post-kids

Inspiration for our illustrations

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:

On the rug with Dad

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Both boys loved this hold when they were feeling over it in the evenings.

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.

Continue reading Inspiration for our illustrations

Helpful things said to new parents

tiny handIf you’re having a tough time in those early months, even things said with the sweetest of intentions can induce parental guilt. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

Let’s celebrate the things people have said that were actually helpful! They will be different for everyone but I bet there are some that are helpful for lots of new parents.

One of the cards we got when Leo was born really stuck in my mind. As well as congratulating us and saying how gorgeous Leo was, it read:

I hope you’re enjoying parenthood and there are more ups than downs.

That one sentence, amidst all the cards saying how excited they were for us and how we should enjoy this precious time, meant SO MUCH to me.

It was the kindest little reality check. No judgement was implied – just a simple wish for happiness and an acknowledgement that early parenthood can be hard yards along with all the joys.

Helpful thoughts and practical advice people have shared with me:

  • This too shall pass (the good will pass, the bad too. So you may as well really be in this moment).
  • We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
  • Make gratitude a daily practice.
  • Give yourself permission to feel overwhelmed.
  • Instead of putting your ‘parenting’ hat on, try just being yourself. It’s much more real and less energy.
  • It’s hard work being a baby – they’re learning so much and exposed to everything new.
  • You’ve got to be kind to be kind (rather than being cruel to be kind).
  • Motherhood is a marathon not a race.
  • Think about the sleep you’re getting rather than the sleep you’re not getting.
  • Start making dinner in the morning.
  • Say yes to whatever scares you most. Acknowledge it and then put your yoga to it. The fear will begin to shift and then you can see possibilities again.
  • Holding on tight is the surest way of seizing up any real potential for growth and change.
  • If something’s really not working then change it. Gently.
  • Unless babies have a poo in their nappy there’s no need to change them in the middle of the night.
  • Remind yourself that you’re doing great! (that’s the advice of our book).

In future posts I’m going to talk about some of the amazing people who have inspired me in my parenting (and inspired our book). I’m also going to write about the unhelpful things that people say to new parents.

What have been helpful things people have said to you? Please share the wisdom in the comments below!

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Where else would I rather be?

When I first had Leo, I had a major case of FOMO. Not leaving the house to go to work five days a week, and realising that I hadn’t been out at night for months, was a major adjustment. I think Leo was about five months old when I first went out for a quick dinner with a friend (just down the road so I could rush home if I needed to).

All of the measures of success I had subscribed to up until now (academic, career, creative output, good relationships, number of friends, how busy I was) – they all meant NOTHING.

SO WHO THE HELL WAS I NOW? I didn’t recognise myself.

Who are you again?
The first time we took Leo out to a cafe

It took me a while, but ultimately I came to like the new ‘me’.

New me:

  • Prioritised sleep over pretty much everything else.
  • Thought about someone else before myself.
  • Could say ‘no’ more easily.
  • Was more comfortable in my own company.
  • Could communicate my needs.

Three years after I became a mum, my friend Tabitha had her first baby. We have an ongoing conversation about all things to do with motherhood and one day we had a conversation about all the things you give up when you have a child. All the things that go on hold – some of them never to be picked up again.

I am not sure which one of us said it, but we decided that the key question was “Where else would I rather be?” The vast majority of the time, the answer was (and is) “nowhere“, which was quite a shocking realisation at the time. As much as the days drag on sometimes, by the time it’s the kids’ bedtime, I look forward to stories and bath-time and kissing their soft cheeks and having a sniff of their heads (I’m a head sniffer like my Dad). It’s a mixture of exhaustion, growing older and Stockholm Syndrome… It’s also the knowledge that, as Gretchen Rubin says

The days are long, but the years are short.

Some days I need reminding, but much of the time I am in touch with the fact that there will be plenty of time for dinner parties and long baths by myself and going to the toilet without someone sitting on my lap. (I wrote more about my attempt to live in the present moment in my post about Sarah Napthali’s book Buddhism for Mothers).

Comedian and father Louis C.K. put all this very eloquently:

“When I first got married and had kids, I had some friends I played poker with on Mondays and I thought: The poker game on Mondays, that’s the water line. If I don’t make that game, I’m losing something. I’m losing something if I don’t make it to that game. It means I’m letting go of my youth, I’m letting go of my manhood, all these things — my independence.

“But then after a while I realized: Why would I want to go play poker with a bunch of guys in a smoky room when I could be at home with my family? I realized that a lot of the things that my kid was taking away from me, she was freeing me of. There was this huge pride in having a kid and also that I didn’t matter anymore. The greatest thing about having a child is putting yourself second in your own life. It’s a massive gift to be able to say you’re not the most important person to yourself.”

Transitions and going back to work

My desk at home
This is my desk at home, including: phone, breastfeeding herbs, breakfast, dinner makings, Leo’s word wall and nappies to put together.

I am going back to my job part-time next week after 14 months of maternity leave.

It brings a chapter of my life to a close and another one is beginning. I look forward to: listening to podcasts on my commute, wearing dangly earrings, being part of a team, talking to other adults, warm tea, learning new things, yoga in the office on Fridays and eating lunch without a million interruptions. But as much as I’m looking forward to the break from total 24/7 parenting, I am also sad about missing out on time with Clem and Leo. It’s a balancing act, right?

If mothering was a paid job I would sit down with my boss each year and reflect on what I’ve achieved and identify the areas I need to work on. Instead, I’ll tell you. I have:

  • Loved and cared for little Clem.
  • Loved and cared for Leo, and helped him transition to big school.
  • Recovered from my second bout of postnatal psychosis and depression (the first was after Leo’s birth).*
  • Developed my skills as a cook/cleaner/playmate/dispute resolutions consultant/mumma bear/school mum/washerwoman.
  • Worked hard on everything to do with this book (we are going to launch our crowdfunding campaign to actually get the book printed in August – more details to come of course!).

It’s been great work – all of it. I am so grateful to have had this precious time with my family.

The areas I need to work on are: going with the flow, working exercise into my everyday routine, spending time with Jeff where we are not sitting on the couch working on our laptops, and not flying off the handle at Leo.

I find the time right before a change or transition the hardest. The waiting, the over-thinking – gets me frazzled every time.

Baby and kid land is full of transitions. It gives you the chance to really hone your ‘going with the flow’ skills. Kids are great at living in the moment, but heaven knows I need all the practice I can get!

  • Transitions are hardDropping naps
  • Toilet training
  • New beds
  • New ways of getting to sleep
  • Starting solids
  • Weaning
  • Going back to work
  • New siblings
  • New daycare/preschool/big school

I am exhausted just reading this list! But we get through it all, and afterwards I can’t see what all the fuss was about.

If I’m feeling tense and overwhelmy about a change coming up I try to remind myself that it is going to happen whether I resist it, wish it away, or just hang in there. So I may as well relax into it as much as I can and enjoy the ride.

* I am slipping this in like it’s no big deal, but this has been a big challenge for me. It’s something I will have a post devoted to soon because often people stay quiet about mental health issues and I am ready to talk about it.

– For more about ‘going with the flow’ – see my post about the book ‘Buddhism for Mothers’

Things I see differently post-kid

We are loving this project a lot. It is like our third child. Both Jeff and I have been working on it full-time (with many, many breaks to look after our actual children and Jeff doing paid work) for five months and counting.

If this book is successful I dream of also doing You’re Doing Great, Kid and You’re Doing Great, Toddler.  Jeff wisely tells me to take one thing at a time.

But just say that I was thinking a little bit about You’re Doing Great, Kid. I might think of a list of things I see differently after having a kid, for example…

  1. Hiding vegetables – gives a great sense of satisfaction
  2. Bribery – happens. Also called ‘negotiations’
  3. Hummus – makes vegies palatable
  4. Buying in bulk – it’s like I am permanently getting ready for the apocalypse
  5. Kids eating in the car – I used to think ‘why would you do that?!’
  6. Messy, gross cars – see above
  7. Mini vacs – self explanatory
  8. Toys I didn’t play with as a kid because they were ‘boys’ toys’: Lego, paper planes, trains, cars – are actually super fun
  9. Sushi train – food as soon as you walk in the door and it’s like an outing (bonus!)
  10. Community
  11. My parents – I used to love them and now I love them even more
  12. Having a bath before bed – is actually really nice. I used to be a shower in the morning gal
  13. Choc chips, sprinkles, smarties and hundreds and thousands – add to snacks so kid will eat them
  14. Bubble bath – makes reluctant kid want to bathe
  15. Going to bed early – ROCKS!
  16. Absolutely scoffing your food – Jeff and I call it the ‘parental inhale’
  17. Chest freezers and big-batch cooking
  18. Ordering EVERYTHING online
  19. Drive thrus – don’t need to get out of car
  20. Young men – I used to be a bit scared of young men and now I look at them fondly because I imagine Leo and Clem being that age
  21. Paying a cleaner.

What didn’t you understand until after having a kid? Leave a comment below.

Awkward photos

I’ve been looking through photos of when Leo was tiny, trying to find photos I can use for the blog, and I have uncovered a goldmine of awkward photos.

These are the kind of photos that would never end up in a frame. Jeff and I look tired and dishevelled and Leo is either pulling crazy newborn faces or asleep. You can see my feeding bra and I am wearing a series of the ugliest, most unflattering singlets. I am flabby and I don’t think I’d had a shower in a while.

Bless our hearts – we were doing great.

In the interests of normalising and celebrating new baby photos where everyone looks a little rough around the edges, here are a few choice selections from our family album. At the time I wouldn’t have shared these photos, but now I am so glad that they exist.

… and here are some photos from after Clem was born. Leo and I were permanently in our pyjamas and my teeth were all stained from the breastfeeding herbs I was taking. Clem had lots of pimples and a little-old-man receding hairline. Look at our smiles though, and all that tenderness.

Here are two photos that are super-special to me. One from when Leo was a week old and one when Clem was a week old. In both of them I’m tired and overwhelmed and vulnerable … and full-to-bursting with love.

You can read more about our book, with its message of compassion for tired parents and overwhelmed babies, here.

Ten questions for Mums and Dads

  1. Favourite children’s song
  2. What does it look/feel like to be “doing great” as a parent?
  3. Best parenting hack you’ve discovered
  4. What do you miss about pre-baby life?
  5. Parenting win of the week
  6. Parenting fail of the week
  7. Winning meal of the moment
  8. Craziest thing you’ve ever done to get your baby/kid to sleep or stay asleep
  9. Three words to describe your child/children
  10. What have you learnt from becoming a parent?

My Dad is a statistician, so I love filling out surveys. :)

My answers:

  1. ‘Hush Little Baby’ gets Clem to sleep
  2. House a bit chaotic but I make time to do yoga
  3. Start making dinner in the morning (or the night before)
  4. Time alone to faff around
  5. Making time to wrestle with Leo before bed
  6. Raising my voice
  7. At home: dahl and rice. Out: sushi train
  8. Drove to Bundeena and back just so Leo would have a sleep in the car. Did a pee in the shower because I was wearing Clem in the baby carrier and I didn’t want to wake him up.
  9. Leo: enthusiastic, kind, chatty. Clem: determined, musical, joyful.
  10. Managing on less and broken sleep, multitasking up the whazoo, less procrastination.

Thanks to Kaley Hawkins from the Longest Shortest Time Mamas Facebook group for the inspiration for this, and to Tabitha who came up with some of the questions.