“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Jack Kerouac
I like the water hot. Almost burning. My skin turns pink, and then red, but it’s bliss. It soaks through to my bones and it feels like the sun. I want to keep it trapped in my skin. It always fades. But those moments with the hot water and the steam and the whirr of the fan are my own, I can’t hear anyone else. Their voices are thick and far away through the fog.
I didn’t realise this was part of who I was, this daily ritual of burning and renewal. I thought it was just a shower.
He came out to find me in the living room, ‘You can’t get mad at her,’ he said.
So I got up.
She was huddled in bed.
‘Come on,’ I said, ‘lets clean you up.’
Last time I was exasperated. This time I was ashamed of last time.
I smiled at her and she smiled back.
Relief for both of us.
Wet clothes hit the floor and I tested the temperature of the shower.
She hopped in.
‘Will you come in with me?’
I like the water hot.
‘Of course,’ I said.
We drew faces on the glass.
We ducked our heads under the shower-head for three seconds. Then five.
My skin was cold.
But her heart was warm.
I used to think a day was it’s own unit of time. ‘Did you have a nice day?’ Yes/No.
It’s not though; it’s a thousand choices. And you can’t tally them to see whether the day is more positive or more negative because it doesn’t work like that. There’s no overall score. Just the choices.
I’m trying to make better choices, and I’m not letting myself add them up.
A day isn’t good or bad. But I think the choices can be, sometimes.
I’ve written about anger a couple of times. I grew up in a house where anger was unpredictable and scary. When I was a child I felt that this anger in our household which was directed towards me was often not actually about me – it felt unfair. Yet, I couldn’t fight against it, I couldn’t explain myself or justify my position to an angry adult. I told myself many times that I would not hit my children, or yell at them, or scare them; and that I would listen to them when they wanted to explain their apparent ‘bad’ behaviour. I’ve kept a lot of these promises, but not all of them. Children have a way of forcing you to deal with those issues hidden in the back of your head, and it’s not by controlling their behaviour, it’s by controlling and understanding your own.
I was/am a loved child. A wanted and cared for child. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t handed some of my parent’s own issues that they hadn’t resolved. I’m seeking to resolve my own issues, I’m sure some of them will be handed down. I’m even more sure my kids will develop their own. But I want them to see me taking responsibility for my own actions which affect their lives. That matters to me.
Without further ado, my most recent, but probably not the last article on mental health and trying really hard to be a peaceful parent to tiny weirdo’s on very little sleep 😉
“Our experiences in childhood are still part of our lives, they inform our unconscious reactions and ability to respond to parenting stress. We may think that we’ve left those experiences behind, perhaps through therapy and self-care, perhaps through time and distance. However, there is nothing like raising children to teach you that you really don’t know anything, even about yourself.
Everyone has voices from childhood in their head. Some of them are comforting and speak to us of our strength and bravery. Others shake us to our core and cause us to whisper to our children in fierce voices “I will not do that to you.” Sometimes we do it anyway.
Why? Why do we become the very thing we swore never to become?”
Continue reading psychology stuff and how I chucked a tantrum here –
I have never wanted anything as badly as I wanted to be your Mama. I dreamed about you, I cried for you and I fought for you. Then you were here, and you were unutterably perfect. You made me fierce, you made me brave and you made us a family. You dragged me over coals, you showed me this new world through your eyes. I cherish every beat your ridiculous heart has taken since I saw it flicker away on a screen with a probe I was emotionally ill-prepared for. But I got to see you so I didn’t care.
I have done this twice, I have watched flickers turn into limbs turn into features and then met that face in a perfect moment while repeating ‘Hello baby! Hello! Hello! I love you! Hello!’ Even though I tried really hard to say something more meaningful the second time it seemed I was a compulsive greeter. Which is fine because neither of you really cared. You were there mainly for the boob, which was completely understandable, and having some lady screech the same word at you and sob was probably distracting.
You’re both perfect. You’re both intensely strange little people, one who shouts out after dogs ‘You have a great waggy tail! Really great!’ and then looks at said dogs owner like ‘who the hell are you?’ when they chat to you. Plus another who insists that gumboots are practical footwear for every occasion. Including sleeping. You are joy and laughter all wrapped up in button noses and butterfly kisses with the occasional catastrophic meltdown.
Being your mama makes me feel more inadequate than I could have possibly imagined.
Because I really wanted to be good at this. I am fine with sacrifice, I am so fine with sacrifice. I am patient, kind, and I love you more than anybody will ever love you (I know eventually you’ll probably meet someone and maybe even create additional weirdos but pfft, I will still love you more and that’s just an indisputable fact because Mama) but I struggle to pull together bits of my worth and tape them piece by tangled piece into something resembling a person at least once a week.
This, as usual, has much more to do with me than it does you. This is about my perception of perfection and striving for something which a) doesn’t exist and b) is kinda fucked. This is about failing in public and dealing with strangers. This is about having a plan most mornings to make buckwheat pancakes and instead having three coffees because a child slept on my face. This is about reading articles about the importance of a back up plan when you’re a SAHM because divorce and realising that ‘write some shit about vampires because people love vampires’ is not an adequate back up plan and then giving my husband shifty eyes when he says he’s going to Bunnings.
This is about Mothering in a society that tells you ‘you need a village’ and then shows images of mothers who probably just needed a village, and instead wound up on social media at their lowest moment with their parenting and their hearts open to flagellation. This is about trust, and faith, and how I trust you so much to tell me what you need in some form or another and then get told that I’m pandering to you and you’ll get over it. This is about my complete confusion in raising you in this world neither of us can control or even interpret sometimes, and wanting to just sit down and watch The Little Mermaid with you and explain why it’s sexist and marrying a prince is probably less cool than being a mermaid but still sing along to ‘Under The Sea.’
This is about going ‘yeah, he’s Autistic’ with varying degrees of defiance and warning in my voice because I wish I could say it the same way I go ‘yeah, he’s tall’ but I never quite know what response I’ll get.
I live in dichotomy, and I can’t figure out if I’m giving you either an incredibly valuable childhood or a really shitty role model who is devoid of reasonable back up plans. I’m lucky enough to be a SAHM, but I’m still conflicted about being lucky enough to be a SAHM because there is no other job I’ve done where I’ve gotten so little feedback or been so aware of the impossible expectations placed on me. The most response I get from raising you both is a) you’re growing because I have to keep buying clothes and b) your grandparents really like you.
I’m drowning in being a mama and it’s so weird that I’m laughing while I’m doing it. I try and think of the future, of being on my death bed (I’m so fucking chirpy!) of the things I will find valuable and the steps I’ve left behind me – and of course my family comes first. Then I wonder if I’ll remember the day I hid under the bed to write emails or that sinking feeling when a urine-soaked child crab walks up to you and you know you don’t have spare clothes. The failures stay with me too.
There is an emotional labour to this mothering thing that I don’t think ever ends, a continual outpouring, pleading, joy and a few ‘I can’t do this’ rendings. I just have to trust that this inadequacy I live in, this filtering I do of what to expose you to and what to protect you from even whilst some barbs hit me exactly where it hurts – I need to figure out how to live in this.
So yes, I love this life, but I feel so inadequate.
And yet, every night I tiptoe into your bedrooms, kiss your sweet faces and compulsively say ‘Good night, good night, I love you! Good night!’
Motherhood can feel risky, there is no other experience where perfection is so encouraged and so laughably out of reach. Every decision I make feels like it has consequences. I can never be entirely certain if I’m doing the right thing in the choices I make both for you and with you. However the hours I spend talking with you, watching you and playing with you make me confident that these choices and risks are right for you. Even the ones that look a little mad. Especially the ones that look a little mad.
I’m watching you climb the webbing in the playground. The sky is above you and the grass is below you and the words ‘be careful!’ are rushing to my lips but I bite them back. I’m watching you and you are being careful, you are being so careful. Your hands are wrapped around the rope so tight and you’re tapping your feet along the next one before resting any weight on it. I know you’re really considering your next move because your eyes have the same focus usually reserved for picking spinach out of dinner.
You are being careful and the last thing you need is for me to act as if you’re not. If you can swallow down your fear and place tiny feet on ropes in the air with such trust then I can swallow my fear too. I can trust you, I can trust that you know the limits of your body and you’re learning how these muscles you own move in the wind. You’re learning that you’re strong, and careful and capable. I’m learning to let you be these things without acting like I have any part in it, because I don’t. I don’t know where your limits are – I can tell you that I’m worried so I’ll just stand underneath you, I can ask if you want help, I can point out a difficulty I think you’ve overlooked; but ultimately it’s up to you and the risks you think you can handle. My yelling out at you would just tell you that I don’t think you’re being careful, that you obviously need to be reminded to be careful when plainly you are devoting every inch of determination you have to conquering this ridiculously bright spider web on the beach – carefully.
You take risks. You are glowing when you jump down. Your cheeks are red and your smile is wide and you are loving yourself sick.
‘Did you see me? I went up to the top!’
‘I was watching you the whole time! You chose the places to put your feet so carefully!’
You nod, a sage in this small lanky body, ‘it’s tricky and I wanted to be careful.’
I take risks too. But not with your heart. Sometimes it feels like I’m swaying in the wind, choosing where to put my feet and hoping for the best. I can see the sky above me and the ground below me, and I feel the risk in being your Mama. I take risks with you every day – crossing the road, figuring that a sandwich that fell on the floor is probably alright because I’ve seen you lick dirt and the only after effect was my own sense of nausea. But, I won’t risk your heart. I choose my words. I think about your point of view. I explain things. I hold you when you’re having a bad day. I tell you you’re my favourite in the whole wide world. I ask you what you would like to do. I follow your lead.
You drive me crazy. You make me laugh. It should not be possible to talk all day. I gave you three biscuits so I could relish silence for a few minutes. You sprayed crumbs at me while still chatting and it sucked. The sugar gave you enough energy to tell me all the things you’d already told me, but louder. You ask questions and walk away just as I’m getting really involved in explaining the answer. You insist that a tea-towel is all that’s needed to dry your pants when you were fully submerged in a puddle. You walk slower when we’re running late. You have a pathological attachment to weird-ass t-shirts and a crocodile onesie.
I’m careful. I make decisions that feel right for you, not for any other child – just for you. I may grip the ropes tightly and close my eyes for a second, and I may question these decisions a thousand times but the end result is the same – I’ll keep climbing to the top because this works for us. I want you happy, and healthy, and safe, and confident, and ridiculous, and caring and I want you to never doubt for a second that you are valuable.
Maybe, when this is all over (I know it’s never over) I’ll also look back on the risks I took and think ‘It was tricky, but I was careful.’
I’m watching you play out the front with your Daddy, he’s gardening and you’re pretty sure you’re gardening too but technically you’re pulling the heads off those flower/weed things. You are super proud of your flower head collection. It’s quite a chilled little scene, which is nice because I got so angry with you earlier. I had my reasons, and none of them seem quite good enough now. I regret the way I sat you down and used my Creepy Whisper Voice to tell you how disappointed I was. To tell you that I had expectations and you had patently failed to meet them. You crossed your legs and hid your head in your lap and I thought ‘oh good, he understands how upset I am.’ Look at me, providing discipline and boundaries, except I’m not at all confident that’s what I was doing. Sometimes I think I should just find a nice pack of wolves and be like ‘Hey guys, wanna give this parenting thing a shot?’ Wolves seem pretty confident in their choices, and they have a strong sense of family, which is nice. You’re already a pretty fast runner, so they’d have some basic material to work with there. It could go well. Romulus etc.
I’m trying so hard to walk this line of intentional parenting and not go fucking crazy with being empathic all the time when occasionally I just want to scream ‘IT’S ACTUALLY MY TURN TO MELTDOWN NOW. MY. TURN.’ But experience has taught me that you’ll look at me quite seriously and hold my hand as you say ‘Mummy, we don’t yell at each other in this house.’ Yes, you are immensely capable of being calm when other people are losing their shit and it should be testament to the fact that I am a better mother than the pack of wolves but in those moments it kind of feels like you’re being aggressively sweet on purpose.
We haven’t made up yet. Which is sad, because usually we’re really good at going back to being a team. I’m not quite sure I can walk out there yet, not quite sure I’ve recovered enough to deal with another round of ‘everything wrong with the world is Mummy’s fault’ even though I have consistently explained that I am not in charge of the world. Everything is changing for you at the moment. Our life is changing and I forget that of course you’ll react to that. I forget that I don’t have a monopoly on anxiety and instead of downing chardonnay or rubbing lavender hippie shit on your temples you demand control in other ways.
You don’t fit into the spaces around you at the moment. You’re edges and angles and everything rubs up against you and is cut to ribbons, including me. You have no patience and no time and you’re so quick to get angry and you hold onto it and I can’t get you to share it with me so instead you’re throwing it at me in these short, sharp bursts that take my breath away. I need to find you, to find a way past these edges, edges that I’m sure are cutting you into pieces too. They say all behaviour is communication and you are bursting with pain right now. You’re still so little. I’m watching you count your decimated flowers and I’m counting up the times I’ve lost my shit with you recently vs the times we’ve cuddled and laughed and read books about terrifying animals that you love so much you big weirdo. I’m remembering the late nights you’ve had and how you begged me to play with you earlier today and I said ‘later’ which we both knew meant ‘no.’Maybe I can take the bits of anger you’re throwing around right now and turn them into something else, something that feels less like me vs you and more like the team I know we are. I can hold you close and remember that hurt and anger are so close together and you’re using every tool you have to let me know how you feel; and some of those tools suck but you are trying so hard to tell me things you don’t have words for. Maybe we can figure out what hurt feels like together, because you’ve been doing it on your own so far. I’m so sorry for that.
In the meantime, you’re carrying in handfuls of decapitated flowers and I suspect the wolves have enough issues raising their own young. I’m thinking I won’t start researching handy places to find wolves just yet, because maybe I can do this. We can work out how to blunt sharp edges and how to move through hurt to healing, together. If I see a pack of wolves, I’ll just tell them that I’ve got this, they can move along because I have books about terrifying animals to read to a Small Boy who gives me flowers. Well, bits of them.
“We cannot jolly ourselves into feeling safe when there is a catch in our throat and a racing heart that tells us something here wants us to hurt.”
When I was a child we lived close to a large park. It was a popular place. It had swings, a highly exciting whirly bird contraption that spun people around, picnic tables, a basketball court and a BBQ area where teenage boys would try and blow up their Lynx deodorant (*cough*2000’s*cough*). The most notable feature of this park was a long, winding, walking track that followed a river. It was a gorgeous, relatively secluded track. The trees were high and there were rocks big enough to jump over if you had the mountain-goat urge. There was also a man. We called him ‘Nudie Man.’ Cute name right? He was thought of as a harmless joke. He would walk through the underbrush a few metres from the track, naked, his clothes gripped in his hand. He was never too close, but never far enough away.
Sometimes he would just walk. You’d turn a corner and see him, and if you were twelve, like my friends and I, you’d shriek and run laughing in the opposite direction. If you were twenty, like my sister, you’d set your mouth in a grim line whilst grabbing your little sister’s hand and lead her away with bigger steps than she was used to. Occasionally, the man would seek you out. It could be a Sunday afternoon, a time made for playing games in the water; swinging off tree branches and seeing who could made the biggest splash. You never knew how long he’d been there for. He was silent, and still. He would watch. Watch until someone noticed his unclothed presence and then the shrieking and running would start, an uninvited adrenalin rush on a sunny afternoon. Other times, he wore a coat. It was a cliché tan trench coat, ironic and unsettling. If there was a game on at the basketball court he’d show up, quiet and waiting, perhaps drawn by our laughter. The laughter of children playing. Once you’d noticed him he’d open his coat and once again, naked. Parents knew about him, teachers knew about him, police knew about him and they’d sigh and advise us to stay away and be careful. We weren’t sure what that actually meant, when we’d never sought him out like he’d sought us, but we nodded our heads and agreed, because it was just a naked man, right? Nudie Man. A joke. Harmless.
Except that he wasn’t a joke, because we stopped going to the pond and stopped playing basketball. I stopped walking alone through my local park and when I did walk along the track with friends, we were quiet, subdued. Our park had been stolen by a danger we couldn’t quite understand, and our loss wasn’t really interpreted as a loss. Especially by older kids, who would scoff at our fear and accuse us of being scared of something that would never happen; Nudie Man wasn’t ‘doing’ anything, he was just walking around naked. Or standing there naked. Plus we probably wanted to see a real-life penis anyway. We were over-reacting.
One afternoon I took my brother’s Rottweiler for a walk to the park. He was an overly friendly dog, more inclined to fawn over strangers than protect me from them, but he looked intimidating and my mother told me I’d be fine. I breathed in the tall trees and the singing birds, I felt safe. I didn’t know what to do when I saw the photos, placed carefully along the track, a rock in the centre of each one to keep it there – to keep it visible. The photos demonstrated very clearly that at least one child hadn’t thought of this man as harmless. I shook as I walked home, filled with shame and fear. It was agreed that the danger was real now, the scale had tipped from harmless to harmful and we were exhorted more vehemently to avoid the park, or to only be there in the presence of adults.
The problem with this recollection is that the perpetrator was guilty all along, there was never a point where any of his behaviour was harmless. Yet, the adults in my life at that point in time taught me that a certain amount of uneasiness was inevitable. We were taught to be comfortable with discomfort, that the distortion of power was just the way the world was.
Nudie Man had a cute name, it was designed to take away the fear and make him an object of laughter. We cannot hide danger behind a name constructed to help us feel safer, a name that tells us we are wrong and there is nothing to fear, no one is being hurt. Reverse racism and reverse sexism are such names now, they try and tell us that there is no danger, and if we’re careful we’ll be fine. Personal Responsibility. Except people are careful and they’re still dying. Hate is behind these names just as it was for Nudie Man. We cannot jolly ourselves into feeling safe when there is a catch in our throat and a racing heart to tell us something here wants to hurt us. Something in our world is very wrong. Hate isn’t innocuous. We’ve just been told so many times that we’re overreacting and calm down, it’s just the way the world is, because after all, it’s harmless, isn’t it? It’s not as if people are dying.
Exhaustion happens quietly. There is no sudden realisation – a cold rush of comprehension, that your limbs will not obey you the way you’ve come to think they should. Exhaustion is slow, it creeps its way over your body. Leaving in its path a weight, a heaviness that expands each day as you push and pull heavy arms and legs through this ever-thickening fog. You don’t reflect on it, you don’t truly experience it; you just sigh and think ‘I’m tired.’ Sometimes, you sleep and you sleep (or you don’t and you don’t) and still the weight never quite leaves, it’s anchored to your form as you wrench yourself along the path of motherhood, life and love. Exhaustion does not announce itself. It sighs, it rubs hands over your face and fills your mind with forgotten things instead of facts and needs. Exhaustion is not loud. It is quiet. It reveals itself in slow movements, in deep sighs and sentences beginning with ‘I’m ok, I just…’
Fear hides too. Fear is a finger sliding down your back, creeping up your spine, ice on your skin through the thickest layers. Fear holds your arms and wants to make your helpless. Fear is a memory and a promise and both feel real even when they’re not. Fear lives in corners, in darkness and in the eyes of strangers. Fear pours out of keys struck on social media and wants to leave imprints on your mind, a never-ending wake of vitriol.
Panic is thunder riding on your heartbeat. A pulsing in your blood and a rushing through your brain. A breath that never reaches your lungs and a reaching for something just. out. of. reach. But you breathe the breaths you don’t believe will save you and slowly, the thunder retreats.
Love is quiet too, it stays quite close to panic and fear and exhaustion, it stays where it’s needed. Love is in a friend who told you ‘I know you’re used to accepting second best, but not with this’ and so you didn’t. Love is tiny hands that slip into yours and clear eyes that brighten when you kiss tiny cheeks. Love is still waking up in your partner’s arms, when you can’t remember falling asleep in them at night. Love is patient, it waits while you comprehend the exhaustion, and the fear and the panic; it waits for its turn. Love is always last, but perhaps it needs to be.