You deserve a break

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.

Our house
Our house looks like this a lot of the time

Cutting corners

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.

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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

 

Expectations of parenthood

Shannon
Shannon and her daughter

We are very lucky to have another guest post. This time by the lovely Shannon Taylor.

Shannon is a crafting, beginner vegie-patching, freelance writing mum of two, living with a muso hubby and a pug on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Swirl

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything can really prepare someone for first-time parenthood.

You know you’ll be tired. You know it’ll be hard. You know you’ll be sore. You know you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You know you’ll be crazy in love with your baby and will do anything for it.

But no matter how much you expected to be tired, sore and clueless, and despite being totally crazy-in-love with your new baby, nothing quite matches the utter culture-shock of having a child of your own.

Now, I always was the maternal type. The one who, as a kid, mediated arguments, soothed boo-boos and make decisions when consulting a grown-up would have resulted in big-time big trouble.

As a teenager, I was the one who dealt with pissed-paralytic friends, broken hearts and friendship infractions. “You’re going to be such a good mum one day,” I’d always been told.

So when I became pregnant, I had no worries. I could do this! Motherhood would just come naturally to me. Mothering was what I did.

Parenting would be hard, for sure, probably the hardest thing I’d ever done. It would be relentless and I would be tired and my patience would be tested. My body would be weird.

But I would take it all in my stride, quietly and determinedly, like I had done pretty much everything in my life so far. Or so I expected.

Continue reading Expectations of parenthood

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

Stuck on the couch

I spent a lot of Leo’s early life on the couch. He spent most of his day either breastfeeding, bottle-feeding or asleep on me. Jeff would leave for work and I’d be on the couch, and then he’d come home and I’d still be on the couch.

Jeff on couch
Jeff stuck on the couch

Jeff was much better at being stuck on the couch than me. He always seemed to manage to have a snack in his hand and his laptop nearby.

I always managed to be busting to go to the toilet or thirsty or hungry (or all three) but I didn’t want to move in case I woke Leo.

Looking back at photos from that time I have made an inventory of all the stuff I can see in the photos. It was like my office and I had a good set-up going on.

  1. Glasses of water
  2. Breast pump
  3. Bottles
  4. Pillows covered in blankets and towels
  5. Cloths for wiping up baby vomit
  6. Tissues
  7. Parenting books
  8. Picture books
  9. Motillium (to increase my milk supply)
  10. Laptop
  11. Phone (landline – didn’t have a smart phone yet)
  12. A toothbrush (a lactation consultant said that stimulating the breast with an electric toothbrush could help my supply)
  13. Vitamins
  14. Snacks
  15. A notebook and pen to write down the times of all his feeds

Memories!

For those of you who are new to our blog, the reason we are writing about all this stuff is that we have written a picture book for new parents to remind them how great they are doing. It is the book that we wish had when Leo was little. You can read more about our rough-around-the-edges look at early parenting here.

We have been working on it for years (in our heads), and actually did the writing and illustrating over the past year. The book is finished! We will be launching a crowdfunding campaign on the 2nd of August so we can print a small run of board books. We would love your support – more on that soon.

This is is one of the spreads from the book. Our brown couch from this era has a supporting role.

Lonely

 

Hello, Mum!

You’ve met Baby, now meet Mum.

Mum is doing great, and she loves Baby SO MUCH, but she’s tired and sore and has spew on her clothes.

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Mum enjoys:

  • Kisses and cuddles with baby
  • Getting out and about with baby
  • Singing silly songs
  • Going to bed early

Mum doesn’t enjoy:

  • Feeling exhausted
  • Her various aches and pains
  • Feeling bored and lonely sometimes
  • Not having time to shower

 

You can read more about the project here, and join our mailing list:

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