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.

Untitled design (2)

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

 

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.”

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.