My Phone and I: A Love Story

“What! Are you on your phone again?!” The familiar protest came from my husband tonight, like it does a lot of nights, if I’m honest. He’d just transferred our sleeping toddler to his bedroom after he’d fallen asleep on the couch (winning!) and I’d seized the opportunity to grab my phone and start scrolling. In fact, it wasn’t even a conscious decision, I’d done it without thinking; it’s such an ingrained habit. He takes exception to this, because the one, maybe two hours (I’m lying- it’s one at most) between Mr Toddler going to bed and me starting to snore on the couch, is the only time we really spend alone together, given that we both work and have no family (aka willing and free babysitters) in this state.

Now, I’m not saying that after Toddler goes to bed is the only time I’m on my phone; far from it, and here lies the issue. I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m on it too much, no doubt. I say “too much” in the context of all of the studies which tell us about the dangers of being on the phone too much: Dangers for us, our relationships and for our kids. I never want to do anything to harm my marriage, myself or my son, so I am taking this seriously and thinking about what will work best for our family.

But I thought I would try to explain (to both myself and hubby) why the phone is such a hard habit to kick (let’s not get crazy; cut down on, not kick permanently)!

  1. It does, well, EVERYTHING. If I was to spend an afternoon leafing through a recipe book, chatting with a friend, reading a book, writing a letter, answering some work emails, shopping for clothes, doing the banking, and then planning my next arts and craft project, you would say that was a highly productive day, well spent. It is NOT MY FAULT that this amazing device allows me to do all that without leaving the couch or putting on pants.
  2. I’m anxious! When you are a parent, there is ALWAYS something to think about. When my son was born, my phone was out of action for a few days; I felt it! There was no way to google, or ask my online mother’s group, EVERY LITTLE THING. I distinctly remember googling such things as “baby never opens fists”, “baby cross eyed” and “baby’s head flat” and asking my mum’s group “approximately how many hours a day do everyone’s babies cry because mine goes at least 25”. Heck, just tonight I asked my mum’s group for ideas on how to get Mr Toddler to learn not to hit the dogs with his xylophone stick (by the way if you have any ideas on this one let me know). Speaking of my Mother’s Group…
  3. I’m connecting. I’m not only a. an introvert but also b. extremely busy and c. unbelievably tired. My day (like most parents, I expect) starts at 5:00 am or earlier. It consists of making breakfasts, lunches, packing bags, changing toddler’s nappy, dressing him and me, and playing trains or dancing to Wiggles before going to work for the day. After work its day-care pick up, drive home, bath, dinner, and bedtime routine. Maybe, MAYBE I’ll watch a show with hubby before crashing out myself. Usually it’s half a show; I fell asleep in Game of Thrones yesterday, after waiting a year for it to come out, if you can believe that! Sometimes I spend some time writing (not enough). All this to say, I am very unlikely to leave my house to socialise with actual real life human beings, unless it is a special occasion, at this toddler-rearing stage in my life. (Yes, I know I “should”). But I do get to feel connected with other mums, friends and family via phone calls, texts, and social media. Sometimes my phone is my only form of connection and communication. So, there’s that. It has been well established that parents need a village; a real life one is not practical for me at the moment, and online is better than nothing!
  4. I’m encouraging a friend. There comes a stage of life where you and your friends start adulting, hard. The stakes are suddenly a lot higher. We are dealing with health issues and pain. We have kids, who we adore, and who sometimes drive us up the wall. We have houses, and budgets, and financial worries. We could be dealing with unemployment, highly demanding work roles, leaving work to be at home with the kids, resigning ourselves to the fact that we can’t stay home with our kids. Our parents are getting older, some of them are ill. We have relationship struggles. We need each other, perhaps more than ever before; but most of us are in the same, extremely busy, unbelievably tired boat. And so, we text…
  5. I’m trying to get my life together! So I’m looking at healthy recipes, shopping lists, fitness apps, craft ideas, planners; I’m trying to get things done for our family, although I am aware that I look like an emotionally checked-out Zombie right now, laying on the couch with my eyes glazing over and probably a bit of drool sneaking out of the side of my hanging-open mouth.
  6. I’ve had a really long day, and I just need to look at some funny pictures of cats being unlikely friends with ducks, okay?! Please leave me be for five seconds, I beg you. I’m so, so tired.

I just want to say again, I am NOT in the business of promoting ignoring your kids, partners, or your work to look at your phone. Like I said, I am really actually wanting to be more mindful of my phone (over) usage. I just wanted to have a think about and process why it has such a pull on me, and I’m sure I’m not alone (I’m not, right?)

Now that I’ve done that, I’m brainstorming some ways to find my own phone use balance. Giving myself a time frame of when I will be on it, and putting it in another room the rest of the time is one idea. That way I can still hear it if people need me, but won’t automatically grab it to mindlessly scroll. I could plan our dinner menu at the start of each week in one go, and write it down, rather than scroll recipes every night. Actually get off my butt and go for a walk with the family, rather than scrolling fitness apps like that is a workout in and of itself (I would be SO skinny). Give up Pinterest altogether, because seriously, I am never going to make a “busy wall” out of toilet paper holders and pipe cleaners. WHO am I actually kidding?

Any other phone use tips would be appreciated by me and, I’m sure even more so, my husband!

Flying with Toddler: What I wish I’d known

Hell hath no fury like a toddler asked to sit still and keep quiet for three hours during “witching hour”. Similarly, hell hath no fury like a new mama interrupted while trying to get her newborn to sleep, or a grumpy man after a long day at work stopped from getting a little much needed shut eye; this is why, a week ago, I had no hope of escaping not one, not two but THREE people’s wrath.

To set the scene: A plane ride (just a domestic Jetstar, home to visit family for a three-day-weekend), leaving at 4:45pm (WHAT was I thinking?) but delayed on the runway for 40 minutes (oh HELL, no). Me, 18-month-old on my lap (I had to pay for the privilege, children are no longer free apparently) sitting in the window seat; another WHAT the heck was I thinking moment. A beautiful new mama and bubs in the seat directly in front of me (and Mr. Toddler) and a grumpy old man to my left (let’s call him 28D to protect the innocent, and because I don’t actually know his name; we weren’t exactly BFFs by the end of the flight; sorry – ‘Spoiler Alert”.

Now, after sitting on the runway for a while I was feeling smug. Little Mister was being absolutely adorable, patiently sitting on my lap and eating grapes. Hallelujah, ANGEL CHILD! This was going to be fine, I thought in relief. We’d been on multiple flights together before, but this was the first one since he’d begun to form pretty strong opinions on what should be happening at all times, and he is now getting  pretty good at expressing those opinions (loudly) so I was apprehensive. Anyway, shortly after we took off, things took a turn for the worse.

Mr. Toddler began kicking the seat in front of me: Hard. On these domestic Jetstar planes there is NOT a lot of space between you and the row in front of you; even less so with a toddler on your lap. His legs were basically pressing into the row in front even before he began bending it like Beckham. Now, you’ll remember, that seat belonged to a new mama and her adorable new bundle of joy, who (miracle of miracles) had actually managed to fall asleep during take-off, thanks to an artfully timed bottle. So my little prince (of darkness, hah!) has woken up this bundle, who minutes before was a peaceful cherub in arms, and was now a wailing banshee. New mama (can’t blame her) has turned around and (quite calmly under the circumstances; more calm than I’m sure she felt) asked me to keep my son’s feet to himself. Easier said than done, but I will do my best, I thought. At this point I was mortified. Completely. FOR SHAME *hangs head*.

So I grabbed out the one thing that all “flying with toddler” articles recommended, the tablet with the games and the Wiggles shows on it. I was going to wait for it all to go dramatically downhill before needing to use that (keeping it up my sleeve), but things were looking pretty bleak, I think this is it, this is the moment, so out it came. It starts making this really annoying noise (no, not Simon Wiggle’s operatic voice, a different annoying game-related noise), and the volume button seems to be broken, but when I try to take it out of my son’s hands, he starts making a much more annoying noise, at a much louder volume and a much higher pitch. So I let it be for a minute. The new mama whips her head around in irritation and Mr 28D joins in with a giant huff and a puff; I know guys, I’m the worst; but I was also really disorganised today, so it’s only on 13% battery life, it will be over soon, I promise.

Toddler got bored of the tablet before the 13% battery ran out anyway; he started in with the “eh eh eh” noise that I’m yet to be able to interpret, but I think basically means “I want something right now, and if you don’t get it for me I’m going to persist at an increasingly high pitch until you figure it out”. I go to the first item on my usual check-list of whinge-triggers; thirst. I pull out the staw sippy cup. Now, here’s a mystery of epic proportions for you: I have two sisters with five kids between them. I have a mum and dad who had four kids. I have multiple friends with kids, some really frequent travellers. So, WHY THE HELL has no-one told me about the straw-sippy-cup-on-a-plane-reaction?!  Thanks, guys. I proceeded to drench Mr 28D, as I unleashed the sippy cup from its lid, and the H2O sailed through the air in a perfect arc like there was a target on his crotch. I called to the hostess for some towels, which they brought to me; I wiped the seat, myself, my son, and offered 28D a towel. He refused with another huff and an angry “no!” turned his head away and closed his eyes for a nap (or probably because he couldn’t stand the sight of us anymore).

Anyway, as you’ll remember, I’m in the window seat. The bub in front of us is still screeching, and my son finds this hilarious and is trying to play with her by kicking the chair as hard as he can; I, of course, can’t let this happen, so I’m holding his legs up around his shoulders as hard as I can, and he is alternating between finding this even more hilarious and continuing his efforts, and screaming out in dire protest and attempting to wriggle out of my arms and into 28D’s arms. And he is STRONG. And my back hurts. And my head. And my pride. This is a losing battle. But at least Mr. 28D seems to have fallen asleep, thank goodness.

But then…you guessed it. A rather repellent and very familiar smell started emanating from our general direction. Nappy! Oh, my gosh. I CAN’T wake 28D up to let us out of the row! Can I?  I’m trapped! What would he prefer? To smell this smell (oh, it’s getting worse) or to be woken up? Eventually the decision was taken out of my hands when the powerful odour seemed to rouse him, and he glared at me and asked “are you going to change that?” “Yes”, I say gratefully and go to get up; when suddenly what happens but the seatbelt sign turns on and the announcement comes through; turbulence. I have to call for the hostess AGAIN, and she gives me special permission to get up and change him (and yes, the turbulence did lead to me arriving in Melbourne with a poo stain on my jumper). By the time I’ve got back to the seat, 28D is asleep again (WHY?!) and I wake him again to let us through.  So, yep…

At this stage, we’re about 20 minutes into the flight.

Anyway, we made it through, AND back home again, relatively unscathed, and I will share with you the FEW things that I learnt through the process.

  1. For the love of all that is holy, get an aisle seat. It is worth the extra $6 seat-choosing fee. Promise.
  2. If your own family and friends are as elusive with the details as mine, let me be the first to give you this piece of information; DO NOT bring a sippy cup onto a plane! Or if you do, aim it away from the crotch of the grumpy man sitting next to you. You’re welcome.
  3. DO NOT fly during witching hour (around 5:00pm-7:00pm), if you can help it. Fly at the start of nap time, or when they have recently woken up from a nap. In hindsight, flying at 5:00pm was on a whole other level of cray.
  4. Bring lots of snacks, tech, toys, and books. And then prepare for all your preparations to go straight out of the window, because kicking the seat in front of you with the cute little baby in it is just way more fun and funny (sorry!).
  5. Be able to let it go: You will have bad days with kids, and bad flights with kids, and people who aren’t as understanding or patient as we think they “should” be (NOT the new mama, she was a saint and I’m sorry!) As I sat there, struggling to fight off and breathe through an imminent panic attack and tears, from 20 minutes into the flight until the end, I felt so hard-done by, and panicky, and angry. And then I thought, this too will pass; I’m not kidding, I actually thought that! Nerd! And when I got to the airport, I could have spent SO much time regaling everyone with my story about my abysmal flight, but why? It was just going to make me angrier, make me anxious about the flight home again, and taint the short and precious time with my family; sure I told the highlights, but for the most part, I let it go for the weekend. Things happen, and people will be people (including grumpy old men AND toddlers).

Well, those are my limited tips for now! If you have any others, please let me know in the comments! Because I’m sure we will be flying again soon! Maybe there are some other sippy-cup-disaster-type-situations that I have yet to come across!

I’m a Highly Sensitive, Introverted, Working Mum: How I (try to) work with it.

Do you ever get that sensation that everything is a bit too much; overwhelming even? The sounds are too loud, the lights are too bright, the room too hot, your clothes too scratchy? I do. I get it a lot. I find myself needing to snatch the remote, turn the sound down, dim the lights and strip down (NOT like that) and just breathe deeply. Or yell “do we live in a three-ring circus!?” and storm out dramatically. Depends on the day.

Or do you ever come out of a movie theatre, or play, or listen to a band, and feel inspired to the point where you are somehow changed; maybe you walk a little taller and with purpose; feel a sense of urgency to make some changes in your own life; find some meaning in the world that you hadn’t pondered on before; feel an indescribable heart-sadness, or nostalgia, or another feeling that you just can’t explain? Where you don’t want to speak to anyone, or come out of that magical space, but are forced out by the fact that the credits are rolling, and the ushers are cleaning up the popcorn, or your friends are waiting on you with a slight air of impatience? And do you get so confused when your friends move on to “where should we go eat?”, or begin to critique the special effects or acting, when in truth you didn’t even notice these things, for you were too busy having an out-of-body experience? Hey, me too!

Or are you really naturally empathetic? You pick up on other people’s moods to the nth degree? Where you worry for hours after you’ve left a person because they gave you a “funny look” and you know… YOU KNOW (!) that something is wrong (usually you think that they are mad with you), even though other people you confess this to will tell you that you’re being paranoid?

Guess what? Turns out that these types of things have a name; it’s called being a “Highly Sensitive Person” or HSP. It turns out that there is a fairly significant correlation between being a HSP and being an Introvert (something like 70% of HSPs are also Introverts) so apparently I’m not (that) strange – who knew?

I am definitely an Introvert, as well as a HSP. This means, I gain my energy from within myself (NOT from others like an Extrovert does), and feel pretty drained when I’m around lots of people for an extended period of time. Working in a people-oriented job and having a toddler at home, this basically means when I’m around more than a couple of people in general for any amount of time in my outside-work life. And when you’re highly sensitive as well as Introverted, this can mean that as well as NOT having your re-charging “me-time” you are also “leaking energy” by taking on other people’s feelings, even the ones who aren’t necessarily talking about their feelings, on top of a hundred other sensory stimuli that are affecting you more than others.

In addition to our social worlds and workplaces, HSPs and Introverts must also take into account what it will be like when they have children. Because children are a gift! BUT they are also loud, emotional, egocentric, and like to be TOUCHING.ALL.THE.TIME. Having children as a HSP and an Introvert means (for a while, while they are young and 100% dependant on you) that you do have to make sacrifices, that probably don’t seem like much of a sacrifice to those who aren’t HSPs or Introverted; It’s not always possible for me to have my body to myself, or to turn down the volume or the lights on the world. I’m happy (somewhat) to make these sacrifices on an everyday basis, because I love my son, and he’s worth it; but this does not mean it doesn’t all get a bit much sometimes.

So I’ve been working on ways to combat this; by making a habit of filling up my “emotional tank” when I can, so that when the moments come where I need to be “on” with people (at work or at home) I can do it to the best of my ability, and be the best mum and Psychologist I can be. For me, things that fill my emotional tank are:

Reading:

Proust reflected on reading as the “miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude”. It truly is a miracle for me! Reading provides me with experiences, people and ideas that I would never have been exposed to before, without the inevitable drainage that comes with other types of full-on social interactions. Between those magical dust covers (or Kindle cover for me these days, as I’m woefully short on bookshelves and space) is an opportunity to breathe in freely, entirely in my comfort zone.

Writing:

Writing journals, stories, and now writing this blog is the exhale to the inhale that is reading – a beautiful quote by Justine Musk and the inspiration for this blog’s name. It’s another opportunity for me to have communication with others in the midst of solitude; it’s strange that Introverts like me will feel comfortable to share their lives via social media in this way, but it does happen pretty often and I think the Proust quote is a good explanation as to why. We Introverts do actually love people too, just in different contexts to Extroverts (I.e. not all at once, and in certain environments ideally).

Quiet Sensory Time:

This is a tricky one, because as a working parent of a toddler, there is limited time to engage in it. I’d love to be able to say “go get a hot stone massage” or “do a yoga class” but for me it’s not practical. We have no nearby family (aka babysitters); so even though hubby and I juggle enough to be able to mow the lawns, clean the house, cook and wash ourselves (usually) for the most part when we are not at work, it’s all hands on deck.

But I have found some “hacks” that allow me to parent and have quiet sensory time at the same time. The sandpit is a good one. Sand is calming and soothing for me, and I can repeatedly fill up buckets of sand with a scoop for an hour quite happily, sitting in the warm sun (as can my son), and find a sense of peace doing it. A warm bath is another; If I give him a few bath crayons, I can lay back and relax (watching him of course!) while he happily makes murals in the bathtub (unfortunately this skill has generalised to the walls AND the carpet in the new house, but hey, can’t win them all!) A long walk is good too; my son sits quite happily in the pram as long as there is stuff to look at, so I can go for a walk outside and push the pram, and though I’m not alone, I can feel like I am for a minute. For double the amount of time if I also provide him with a container of food that takes a lot of time and concentration to eat, like pea and corn kernels, or sultanas.

So, these are just a few of the small ways I keep my head, and keep my energy tank filled. When I do find myself in the yelling, exhausted, or “freaking out” space, it is invariably at times when I haven’t been doing these types of things. We need to remember that we are important, and the people around us (including our kids, partners, colleagues and clients) are better off when we are filled, happy, and energised. SELF CARE IS NOT SELFISH. Sometimes we need to reflect on what keeps us filled up, and what drains us. Of course, it’s not always going to be possible to avoid what drains us, especially at work and as parents, so what fills us up, and what are some creative ways to manage our time so that we can actually do them? Some life hacks, if you will. I’m always after tips on this subject, so if you have any ways that you fill your tank between work and parenting, please let me know!

Stop overthinking it, Mama!

My goodness, I am SPENT tonight! I am touched out, talked out, played out and above all thought out. We’ve had an amazing family weekend, but somewhere around 5:00pm Sunday evening hit, and I was done. I crashed out out on my son’s mini couch when we were “playing trucks” (aka him and hubby playing, and me holding a truck and having a lie down). While I was dozing he rammed a tractor into my head and I only just managed a feeble “oi” before my eyelids started straining back down, like the bags under my eyes were a magnetic field, and my head plonked heavily back onto the couch with the questionable odour (there’s actually no question; it’s definitely vomit).  My body no longer cares where or how it lies, as long as it’s not expected any particular where. In summary: I’m tired! Why?

I am 100% an over-analyser. I overthink EVERYTHING! And as much as I tend to catastrophize everything, you’d think I would have anticipated this, but no…little was I prepared for the onslaught of overthinking that would come with being a parent! We parents have to carefully consider the most random of things! I’ll give you an example. Yesterday morning, Mr. 18 months lobbed a wooden block across the kitchen. I said firmly, (in fairness probably mumbling, it was 5:00am after all) “No throwing blocks! You’re only allowed to throw balls, nothing else”. So, he looks at me in delight, goes and retrieves his two bowls; then proceeds to propel them across the room towards the dogs. I’m so confused at this point (remember it is 5:00am) until I realise “bowls” sounds a lot like “balls” and he thinks I’ve just given him permission to go to town with the plastics drawer.  So, here is my predicament: Do I tell him “no”, when he thinks he’s just followed an instruction and risk confusing him, and him never following an instruction ever again? Do I praise him for listening well, and risk him throwing crockery around until the end of time? What the hell do I do? See! Overthinking, to the nth degree!

Then, later on yesterday, for some really strange reason, I stated to hubby that we should have a family research project every season, and I can’t remember why, but this season, coming into winter, it should be bears. So, we would both research bears (in all our abundant spare time). When they hibernate, are they actually asleep the whole time; how do their bodies know the difference between a normal sleep and a hibernating sleep, or do they maybe not sleep during the rest of the year at all? We would watch bear kids movies, and bear documentaries, and read bear stories. My reasoning seemed sound at the time: Our son would see that learning was fun! And he (and we) would accumulate so much cool knowledge…What?! He’s 1, get over yourself, Shepherd. (Actually I still think it’s a pretty kick-ass idea and might keep it in mind when he’s older). The point is, my brain.doesn’t.turn.off.

Now, while this degree of analysis and overthinking probably isn’t normal (*ahem*) there are things to think about every.minute.of.every.day.as a parent. And I only have the one child! How did my parents do it with four!? My brain is on a constant loop of: Did he eat? How much? Was it enough, according to that food chart? How will we ever wean him off bottles? When was the last time I changed his nappy? Shouldn’t he have wet his nappy more by this time? How long since he’s done a poo, is he constipated, is that why he was unsettled last night? How should I time our day so he doesn’t fall asleep in the car, where that five minute nap will inevitably fill him with the energy of a thousand burning suns, destroying any hope of him having a proper nap and me actually getting the floors done? Do I have enough ingredients to make daycare lunches this week, or will I have to send a sandwich and sultanas and risk getting one of those letters home that question the nutrition of his lunchbox, like I saw on that one morning show recently? If I try to go to the shops for said ingredients, he will undoubtedly fall asleep. Did we do too much screen time today? Is he stimulated enough, but not too stimulated that he doesn’t have time to get bored and develop his own imagination like I read in that one Facebook article, while browsing Pinterest at the same time for homemade craft activities to do to make sure his fine AND gross motor skills are properly developed?! *Brain explodes*.

Some of these things are necessary to be thinking about (I do actually want to feed my kid, I quite like him) and some possibly (probably) aren’t. How do we tell? I think the answer is: Use our common sense and our intuition. We all have different children, different selves, different lifestyles, priorities, personalities, partners, strengths, wants and needs. We also have creativity, imagination, love and know our own children more than anyone else in the world. We’ve got this! Even without Pinterest, I reckon (but how cool is it, though).

I would personally like to get to a point where I parented more flexibly. More from the heart and in the moment, than in the brain and in the future. I’d like to spend less time reading parenting articles online, and worrying, and spend more time actually playing trucks rather than “playing trucks” and conking out because my brain is too fried to function.

As for my tired old brain, I’m going to give it a break sometimes. It’s OK to NOT have a research project going, to read something for yourself rather than parenting books or articles (which all contradict each other anyway) and to watch the Kardashians when you have a bit of downtime (If that’s your thing, I wouldn’t know, is that even their name? *blush* – Guilty pleasure, ok). It’s OK to lie and cuddle with your babies for hours when you want to, and not get anything else done. AND it’s OK to let them run around your feet (even if they whinge) while you get on with the everyday things of life, when you feel like it. They will be fine, and you will know if they are not, because you know them best. We’ve all heard it said that “the days are long, but the years are short”; it’s sometimes annoying to hear when you’re still in the bum wiping, tantrum throwing trenches, but its advice worth heeding, because soon enough it will be us giving that advice and I bet we will wish we had listened to it. And I want to be able to say that the days, while long sometimes, were days that counted, because they shaped a happy, loving life, lived well.

What I wish for this Mother’s Day

card
He is an artiste, oui?

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day! On Thursday evening, Mr Toddler’s Daycare presented me with a card he had made (above), complete with a celery painting on the front. Such cuteness! The kid is an artiste, oui? (Yes, there is a bite taken out of the top, because he was being a puppy and crawling around with it in his mouth, while growling at me; somewhat ferociously it must be said). The teacher asked me did I know what I was doing for Mother’s Day? (I don’t, but I hope it includes bacon or chocolate, or even better, both). Well, what did I want to do, she asked? I got to thinking, what would I wish for this Mother’s Day, if I could ask for anything I wanted? Apart from infinity wishes; that is against the rules in these types of scenarios, apparently.

This is a wish list for Mr 18 Months, who can’t read, nor understand most of what I say, so this makes heaps of sense, not…

  1. It’s very cliché but I wish time could stand still. Because you, in this moment, are perfection. You are an absolute delight. I love your round little toddler belly and your big nappy bottom. Your deep belly laughs that are pure joy. The fact that your whole entire self can fit on my lap and in my arms, and does, every night, to fall asleep. Your raucous screams of excitement and your cheeky side eye that you give me when you are about to do something you know you’re not meant to (like this afternoon when you drew with chalk all over the lounge carpet in the new house we’ve been in for a week – sheesh!) That you are completely innocent, and yet to develop any mistrust, cynicism or fears (except for the vacuum cleaner, but who isn’t afraid of that). I wasn’t a “baby” person, but now that you are a “real” human, I can’t get enough of you. I want you to stay like this forever.
  2. BUT I also wish I could fast forward a couple of years. I want to talk to you. I want you to talk to me. I want you to tell me how your day was, not your Daycare teachers. I want to know what is going on with you, what is hurting, what is scary, what you need, without having to attempt to interpret your cries – then I can help before you get too sad! I know this will come, very soon, and I am just being impatient, and then I will miss these toddler years; can’t I please have both wishes?!
  3. I want to know for a 100% fact that you are always going to be OK. I’m wearing my heart on the outside these days, and it’s so vulnerable. The world is so big, and can be scary and unpredictable. And not everything is controllable, and it’s terrifying. I want a guarantee. I promise that I will always do what I can to keep you safe and well. When you are older, and I can’t be with you all the time (because #creepystalkermum) I would like you to please do the same; whether that means not running across the road without looking, eating your veges, not getting into a car with a drunk driver, saying no to drugs, or talking to someone about how you are feeling when you are not OK.
  4. Likewise, I want to be my best self for you, and I promise that I will do what I can do to keep me safe and well. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing the exercise and stretches I need to do to keep fit. Sometimes I don’t feel like following the diet plan. But I will get there, and get better at it, for you, and for me too. Because on my bad pain days now, when your little cherub face looks up at me wanting me to carry you, and I can’t because of pain, you cry and I break inside. I never wanted to deny you a cuddle or that feeling of safety, but I have, multiple times, and it breaks my heart to think about. You don’t know why I’m not lifting you, it must be confusing. I don’t know if it will get better, but I will try whatever I can, and then keep on trying.
  5. I want you to know love. I want you to feel love, and I want you to see love. I want us all to grow in love and learn more about it, and each other, every day. I want us to speak words of love to each other, and remember that words can hurt, and they are lasting. I want you to grow up secure, and to be able to pass that love onto your own friends and future family.
  6. AND, I want you to go off with dad for a few hours tomorrow. I am due for a long soak in the bath, maybe with the aforementioned bacon and chocolate combo, and an afternoon snooze. And if any of these wishes are manageable, I reckon this is the one! Hope you are paying attention Husby!

So, this is my uncensored, ask for whatever I want wish list. Not asking for much am I? What would you wish for if you could have ANYTHING?

I hope that all you mums have a wonderful Mother’s Day tomorrow!

XOX

I’m a C+ Parent: Why I’m OK with it!

Before I had my son, during my pre-having-a-baby appointments, the midwives kept telling me to make a “birthing plan”. “Hey”, I thought, “isn’t that your job? I’m not nearly as experienced as you”. I planned to have a baby and decided to leave the “how” up to the professionals. I was clued up enough about it to know it wasn’t something I wanted to think about too in-depth. I’d read one pregnancy book (Up the Duff by Kaz Cooke, and it was HILARIOUS) and zero books on the actual having a baby bit. That was future me’s problem, let’s let her deal with it, I thought. Ever the procrastinator. Anyway, I never did a plan. And I got away with it, because when my son was born 5 weeks early I had the perfect excuse, mwahaha *she laughs all sinister like, until she gets to the pushing bit and thinks ah, shite…*.

Anyway, had I made a birthing plan, I’m sure things wouldn’t have “gone to plan” anyway. Because I felt like during the first days, weeks and months of motherhood, nothing at all was going according to plan, and I was failing at everything that having a baby entailed. At least according to the “grading system” that I had no idea existed until after I became a first time mum. The grading system that is sometimes called “attachment parenting”.

When you become a mum, it is a SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM in ALL CAPS. Everything: Your identity, your time, your relationship, your friendships, your career, your body, your sleep – is different; other. You feel like you are in an alternate reality for a while.  So it makes sense that we women want to cling onto some structure, rules, some way of knowing that we are doing a good job. We need evidence! So in comes the grading system attachment parenting.

It is important to know that attachment parenting is NOT the same thing as attachment theory, as in the theory of attachment coined by John Bowlby and his student Mary Ainsworth many moons ago. That was a theory of childhood attachment, not a parenting program. We, as Western Society tends to do, made up a set of non-negotiable rules, behaviours and regulations, a list of what to do (and not to do) and gave it an important sounding name. It implies, if you DO apply these rules to your parenting style, you are golden – A+. Congratulations, you’re a good mum, have a securely bonded child! But if you DON’T abide by these rules, then your child will never be properly (securely) attached to you. This is a myth; possibly started by someone who wanted to sell some books, and perpetuated by us, parents, because it sounds right, and good, and we can measure our worth against it. But attachment theory was never a set of rules, or a list of behaviours to follow, and actually the truth is that most children are attached to their parents; when the parents are simply responsive to their needs and meet them where they are at. But the attachment parenting model would have people under the (false) impression that if they do not follow the specific parenting behaviours specified, then they are in danger of their child not being attached to them. I feel so strongly about this, because I have seen the pressure this myth has put on people in a particularly vulnerable time in their lives; me included.

Some of the “rules” of attachment parenting include having a “natural” birth; I did this one, tick, A+! Breastfeeding, nope “failed” there. F.  My baby wasn’t strong enough to latch and so my boobs never got the message to produce enough milk. FAILURE. Baby-wearing is another automatic A. I actually would have loved to have had my baby strapped to me, if only to relieve pressure on my back and maybe even get some stuff done with two hands free, but it was not meant to be (my baby HATED it). Co-sleeping; well no, not that either. Sometimes, now that he is bigger, he sleeps with us, but back then when he was a newborn no way. I get horrible night terrors, and I was terrified I would accidentally mistake him for a grenade and throw him out the window or something.  Hmm, what else? Well, staying at home and not working outside the home is a good one; sadly not possible in our family. Bub was in daycare from 5 months old. Which he loves, but still: FAIL, FAIL, FAIL, geez you are bad at this. I would say, averaging everything out, I am around a C+ (at best) at attachment parenting, which is not a nice thought, when I, like us all, want to do my very best for my children.

I heard something comforting (sarcasm) by a “parenting expert” not too long after going back to work. Apparently with all these “risk” factors my son was exposed to (he listed them all, one by one, yikes GUILT!), all I have to do is place some “resilience” factors into the mix and he would be “fine” – the risk and resilience factors would balance each other out: “Phew”, right?! *Wipes brow*. Apparently, all I needed to do was make sure he grows up in a multi-lingual house, and learns a musical instrument. That should make up for all the risk factors. So no worries, right-o, I’ll just go learn a language or two, and a musical instrument, and make sure I do that in the first few months while he is most receptive to learning, and teach it all to him after work each night, and everything will be all hunky dory again * sigh of relief*. Man…(in fairness, we did go and buy him a set of bongo drugs and he does have a pretty sick downbeat).

Anyway, the point of that post was not to make fun of any of the practices that go along with attachment parenting, or to say that they are bad. I don’t think any of them are bad at all, and I did try most of them. I think they are good, if they work for you and your family. I think they are bad when you strive for them ABOVE ALL ELSE and push yourself to the breaking point to get them, when the reality is they are just not necessary for a great, secure attachment with your child. My point is that following these rules and regulations do not cause your baby to become attached to you, any more than NOT following them for whatever reason ruins your attachment. The point is to love your baby, and model love to them in your own relationships, to be responsive to their needs, to meet them where they are at, and to do your best with what you have. It’s called “good enough parenting” and to me, it really takes the pressure off!

XX

PS. Another quick note on breastfeeding. I have explained why I didn’t do it, here online. But I actually made a promise to myself when my son was a few months old that I was going to stop doing that; justifying. This was after the third instance of me being “bottle shamed” by strangers. (Yes, this is a thing). I had been defending my reasons for bottle feeding until that day (to lots of people I knew, as well as those 3 strangers) when I thought, no more! Because I had a fairly straightforward and easy to talk about reason; but what about the girl who does not breastfeed because she was sexually assaulted and does not feel comfortable with anyone, even a baby, touching her breasts? What about the woman who is a breast cancer survivor? What about the woman who is completely touched out, and knows she will slide further into depression if she continues to breastfeed? What about the lady who is painfully shy and does not feel comfortable breastfeeding in public? What about the women who choose not to, for any number of completely legitimate reasons, or even no reason at all? I want us to stop having to justify why, and just accept each other’s choices, trusting that we are doing our best and loving our babies and ourselves, the best way we know how. When we women (cos that is where most of the judgement comes from; other mums. Come on, we all know it’s true!) begin to have each other’s backs, fully, I believe we can make headway into improving maternal mental health worldwide and in turn, bond with our babies in the best ways possible.

Rewiring an anxious, angry, tired brain.

Recently I was at Aldi, shopping for food with my toddler. He was screaming the place down, because I looked at him. Seems reasonable! *Shrugs*. Anyway we FINALLY got to the checkout, when the checkout lady said to the bloke behind me “oh you come through first, that lady will take ages to unpack (because I was balancing a 12 kilo wailing banshee on my hip) and you don’t have that much stuff (he had about 5 items less than me)”. I SAW RED! I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself, I’m going to let her have it!!! (when it’s eventually my turn, which at this rate is probably never). Anyway, what that looked like was, I said with flickering eye contact and shaky voice “I really would have preferred you to ask me before letting someone else through. I have a really sore back, and have the baby with me and I am actually in a bit of a hurry”. So assertive! She must have been terrified, not.  Anyway, it didn’t really work, because she just said “well, we always do that as a courtesy to our customers” and then when I repeated “I just think asking the person if they mind would be better, or letting the person offer it themselves” she said “I’m not here to argue with you, I did the right thing”. What the actual…?! *bites tongue* Seems little now, but yeah I was pretty annoyed.

So, I stewed on it all day (as you do), considered making a complaint to Aldi (but then realised I was far too lazy) and then let it ALL OUT to hubby when he walked in the door that night. I looked at him expectantly when I had finished my tale of woe, waiting for I don’t know what exactly, but some form of sympathy or outrage, I guess. He looked at me, genuinely befuddled, and asked a one word question: “So?” Well! I drew my breath, and puffed my chest out ready to tell him exactly why “so” Mister! And then I stopped. I stopped because the question had just sunk in and I didn’t have an answer to it. In what way was that event actually going to affect my life? What was I gaining by holding onto it and wasting time thinking about and even talking about it? In other words, as he so eloquently put it, so?

I have actually heard this lesson before, in a different way. My dad’s favourite saying is “oh well”. (Is it maybe a male thing?). But it hasn’t sunk in for me yet! I like justice, damn it!

There is some comfort in holding tight onto things that offend you. You feel as though the person is paying for their “crime”, so long as you don’t let go. Like if you forget it, then they are getting away with it. And that is not on, we think! But there is a saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies”. And another: “Forgiveness is setting someone free, and then finding out it was you”. Sometimes (most of the time) little things people do are just that: little things. That they possibly don’t even remember, and probably didn’t mean.  Sometimes they are big things, and sometimes they are intentional and that is harder. But it is still worth it to try hard to let it go. For your sake. Because you deserve to live your best life, and harbouring resentment and negativity isn’t it. I’ve spent (wasted) too much time thinking about inconsequential negative moments, and I’m tired, and I bet I’m not alone!

A friend recently commented to me that it is more comfortable to think about the “little” things in life than to have to go there with the big stuff. It gets us out of thinking about the major life issues, the uncontrollable things, and the stuff that really actually does need our time and energy. In the midst of raising a toddler, keeping a marriage alive, having a demanding people-focussed job, buying a house and moving into it, dealing with a chronic back condition, and being away from my family, on top of some other personal issues that are really draining, why do I spend time focussing on this (pardon me, but…) CRAP! Because it’s comfortable? But it’s not really. It’s not comfortable, but it’s easy and it’s automatic. That’s how our brains are wired; for survival.

We are wired to see the potential threat in EVERYTHING, at least according to evolutionary psychology. And we keep these potential threats at the forefront of our minds, to keep us alert, alive and “safe”. But we don’t often encounter actual threats to our survival in Australia in 2017; if someone looks at us funny it doesn’t usually mean we are going to lose our tribe and be left to fend for ourselves in the woods and then probably die of starvation. It probably just means someone has on their resting bitchy face, or something equally benign. The things we tend to focus on are more perceived threats than actual ones, and they are NOT worth holding onto so tightly. What was I afraid of in Aldi that morning? What was the “threat to my survival”? Well, I guess I felt embarrassed about my screaming kidlet, and worried that if I had to stand another minute I may not have had the strength left to pack the groceries and get them to the car and still drive home (not to mention take the trolley BACK to its friends in the trolley bay to get my $2 back – stupid Aldi; they make you work for it, don’t they?) Was that likely to happen? No. There were plenty of people around to help me if need be, and I even had my phone on me for any worst case scenarios. But the anxiety was automatic, and I guess by writing this I’m just realising that this is the way I am wired. I’m normal woohoo!

But there are ways to soften the blow of this automatic reaction. There is a term “Metacognition” which means “Thinking about Thinking”. It’s having the awareness of your own thought processes. Once we are aware of not only what we are thinking but how we are thinking and why we are thinking it, it is possible to use certain strategies to alter the neural pathways in our brains, so that our automatic pilots aren’t always set to fear and anxiety. This is a very basic example of something called neuroplasticity, which I might talk about more another time, cos it’s so fascinating. But what sorts of things should we set our minds to instead of fear and negativity?

Many studies have been done about the “key to a happy life”. One theme that runs throughout them all is thankfulness and contentment. To be thankful and content where you are, not always wanting things to be different, or wanting more, or striving to be better at this or that. Not to be stuck in the past with “it’s not fair” victim type mentalities, or stuck in the future with “what if”, worst case scenario type anxious thoughts. Just to be where you are, and to be grateful for it and content in it. Letting the other stuff, the negative stuff, the unfair stuff, the scary stuff, go. So, next time (should it happen again, which it won’t cos stuff you Aldi – joke! I actually love Aldi a lot) I will try not to think about the Aldi lady all day, making myself more and more angry and worked up. I will pretend I am a duck and let it roll right off my back. I will be like that movie Pollyanna and think about what I am “glad” about. I will concentrate on things I am thankful for every day. I’ll sit still and be in the moment.  I won’t drink any more poison. And then I’ll hopefully be set free. Well, I will try anyway. I’m sure it will be a work in progress!