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‘.

What is my purpose in life? (and a belated thank you)

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.

Blog celebrate end of campaign

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.


 

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Magical moments and the bitter-sweetness of time passing

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
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Walking and listening to music
  • Dancing
  • 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.

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This spread from our book is about how much our children have to teach us about being ‘in the moment’.

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.

Painting outside
Painting on the footpath

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.

Bar for blog

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.

KissesWhen 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.

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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.

All the photos in this post (except the kisses one) are from my Home installation

 

Related posts:
Learning to go with the flowParenthoodvs.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

A safety net made of love

Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She has written fiction, a famous memoir called Wild, and an advice column called Dear Sugar. Her writing as Sugar spawned the incredible book Tiny Beautiful Things.

Pretty much every time I listen to Cheryl’s Dear Sugar Radio podcast, which she does with Steve Almond, I am struck hard by the truth of something she says. She manages to articulate things that my body/heart knows but my mind didn’t. I am so inspired by her writing and her honest, compassionate advice.

In an episode entitled ‘The Wounded Child Within’, the Sugars address a letter writer grappling with the question: “Are we ever able to fully let go of our past?”

In answering the question Cheryl touches on her own past (which included the all-encompassing love of her mother, an absent and abusive father, and the death of her mother when Cheryl was in her early twenties). After her mothers’ death, Cheryl became self-destructive as a way of coping with her grief. (She chronicles this period of her life in her memoir Wild.) In reflecting on how it is that she managed to survive that period of her life she said:

I had been loved too well to ruin my life.

This idea feels familiar to me, and yet I had never thought of it like that before. I want to put it in bold with rainbows behind it, because I think it is true and amazing.

I have been loved to well to ruin my

Mum, Dad and me
Mum, Dad and me

My parents loved/love me in a way that makes me want a good life for myself and my own family. Their love is present in me like a cell that has divided again and again and is the blue print for my love for myself and my loved ones.

Their parenting wasn’t perfect (just as I am not a perfect parent). Can we just agree there’s no such thing as a perfect parent?

They did their best and there is something about their love which keeps me on a loving path with myself. It’s my safety net. I have had tough times in my life. I have made bad decisions. But ultimately I know how to love myself because of how they loved me.

But what if we weren’t loved by our parents in a way that nourishes us? My Mum had a troubled relationship with her own parents, and she felt saved by the love of her maternal grandmother. Her Gran’s love is present in her love for me.

Surely giving our children this love safety net is one of the greatest things we can do for them.

I find it very comforting to visualise an imperfect but beautiful safety net made of the love of all of my ancestors, present inside of me and my children.

I hope this gift of love is present in our book.

 

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

Illo inspiration 3
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

The challenges mothers face

After spending the last six years listening to women’s stories of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, I have seen women dealing with all sorts of challenges.

Challenges to do with:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth trauma
  • Mother’s health (mental or physical)
  • Baby’s health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sleep (baby’s or mother’s)
  • Feeding
  • Family or relationship stress
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Identity crises
  • Outside stress (death of a family member, moving house, financial stress).

There are surely exceptions, but I can’t think of a mother I know who hasn’t faced one challenge or another (or multiple challenges). It’s as if this is part of a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood.

Sometimes women face these challenges alone – not wanting to tell anyone what they are going through. Especially if their issues are hidden, such as injuries from birth or pregnancy. Other times it’s very obvious that they are being challenged to their core. At the time it’s not something you would ever hope for, but often there are amazing insights that can come out of dealing with one (or more) challenges in that early time.

I found that the challenges I faced as a new mum have given me deep compassion for other mothers’ struggles. Our book has been borne out of this compassion and everything we have learnt.

May all mothers going through struggles

Through Leo’s birth I learnt how to communicate my needs and advocate for myself and my child. I don’t feel like I can know for sure what Clem’s birth has taught me until he is a bit older, but one year on it has taught me that surrendering to, and learning from, life’s ups and downs is my life’s work.

It’s so important to honour our disappointment when things don’t go as we had hoped. I remember my despair when I couldn’t produce enough milk to sustain Leo. I needed to grieve. Gratitude would come later, once I’d honoured my sadness and my profound wish that things could be different. (I will write more about my journey with breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue in a later post.)

It’s easy for people who aren’t in a mother’s position to belittle her feelings of loss and disappointment when things don’t go as she had hoped and planned for, or dismiss them as ‘first world problems’. This is so unhelpful. Everything feels heightened with a new baby around and what the mother needs is support and empathy – not “at leasts” e.g. “at least you have a healthy baby”.

I had mild postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression after the births of both of my children. I thought that all the work I had done and the lifestyle changes I’d had would mean that I’d be fine after Clem was born, but it happened again. Mental illness is bad enough at anytime, but trying to recover while you’re also looking after and getting to know a baby with round-the-clock needs is extremely challenging. Beating myself up about getting sick again wasn’t productive, but I have had times when I felt like a failure for having it happen a second time.

Women dealing with challenges: I salute you.

It can feel so lonely to be going through whatever it is you’re going through. I know so well that feeling of just wanting your family to have a happy life free from struggle. I solemnly hope that you find some peace in whatever your sorrow is.

Related reading:

Loneliness in early parenting

Learning to go with the flow

 

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.