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‘.

Rock-a-bye Big Boy

It’s Leo’s birthday tomorrow and he’s predictably very excited. We are giving him lots of Pokémon cards as requested and the whole week is pretty much a festival of Leo: cupcakes at school, birthday dinner of fish and chips with his best friend and a party on the weekend with his friends.

As I was getting Clem to sleep tonight Leo was lying in bed and having trouble settling down for sleep. He asked me to sing him ‘Rock-a-bye Big Boy’ which has become a favourite lullaby since Clem was born.

Rock-a-bye Big Boy
In the big bed.
When the wind blows, the big bed will rock.
When the bough breaks, the big bed will fall
and down will come Big Boy, big bed and all.

I didn’t even get to finish the song before both Big Boy and Little Boy in my arms were snoozing.

He can read and write and run and ride a bike (with training wheels) and swim and he still loves a lullaby before bed. Bless his heart.

I’m going to write him a letter tonight – the first birthday letter he’ll be able to read – and tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of the person he is. As the man from the $2 shop where we buy Pokémon cards says: ‘Two boys. Lucky Mum.’

Reading the book

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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Beth talking on ABC Babytalk podcast

Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.

Penny writes:

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!

Listen to Beth's interview here

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

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

Unhelpful things said to new parents

I had some unhelpful things said to me when I was a new Mum that have rung in my ears for five and a half years.

I may never forget them, but with time they are losing their power. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

The power dynamic between people makes a big difference to how a comment is taken. Comments from people in positions of power, such as health professionals and elder family members, can be particularly hurtful.

The two comments that have haunted me the most are to do with breastfeeding, and they were both said to me by people in a position of power.

You'll only ever make enough milk to

Formula lucky

I felt deep shame about not being able to breastfeed Leo exclusively due to what was eventually diagnosed as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). My condition made me feel like I wasn’t a proper woman and had no right to be a mother, so those comments cut me to the bone.

Often the comments that hurt the most are the ones that connect with an insecurity you already had. It’s like they agree with the critic you carry on your shoulder that tells you you’re a crappy Mum/Dad/person.

Hey peeps

Passing comments from well meaning family, friends or strangers along the lines of ‘enjoy every second’ can make you feel like an ungrateful bitch if you are not having a great time.

Often if you talk to the person telling you to enjoy every moment, they will be only to happy to talk about the times they themselves didn’t enjoy every moment. It is so easy to forget the power of that early time and everything going on for new parents. I am guilty of this myself – babies and little kids look so cute that you forget how intense life with them can be and how they can push any parent to their limits.

Sometimes innocent questions like “have you tried leaving them to cry/giving them a dummy/hanging their cot from the ceiling from an elephant’s tail” can drive a new parent INSANE! Too. Many. People. Telling. Me. What. I. Should. Do.

What I am learning over and over again is that comments like those above – that are either designed to hurt, or not designed to hurt but they do – often say more about the person saying them and their preoccupations and issues, than about the person it was said to. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Some comments people made to me about how much their baby slept or fed or ate or pooed or cooed induced pangs of guilt or fear in me. Once again, they were unhelpful without meaning to be. Those comments rang in my ears too, but not as much as comments levelled directly at how I was doing as a mum or how my baby was doing.

Comparison of yourself to others is probably worthy of a whole post of its own. By the way, please let me know if you want to write something about comparison (or anything) for the blog! Would love to have some guest posts. :)

Did you have something really unhelpful said to you when your baby was small (or at any stage in parenthood) that you’d like to get out of your mind?

People say great stuff too! I’ve also written about the helpful things people say to new parents.

One thing we were sure of when writing You’re Doing Great, Baby was that we didn’t want to be giving advice on how to feed, settle or take care of your baby. We hope this gives people room to see themselves in the characters and that no-one is made to feel guilty by our book.

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