Falling in love with the Father of my Children.

Dear Father of my Children,

A lifetime ago we sat on my bed and spoke about kids. My heart was thumping because we’d only been together for six or so months, but I knew I loved you. You said that you found it difficult to imagine the person you’d spend your life with (um, hello, I was right there) but you’d always found it easy to imagine having children. You were right. It was easy to imagine having children, especially our children who would naturally inherit your height, but my sarcasm, my eyes, but your eyelashes (you lucky bastard). The reality was a tad different. I called you the day after we were told to prepare for our third miscarriage, one twin lost and a heartbeat nowhere near where it should be. I was lying on the couch and afraid to move,‘Are you ok?’ you asked quickly with anxiety cracking your voice. ‘We’re keeping this baby’ I said firmly, on the basis of nothing but hope. And we did.

You held him, wrapped up in a blanket with the rain pouring down the window behind you. He looked so tiny in your arms but when you handed him to me I said ‘Fuck he’s huge!’ You rocked the crap out of fatherhood. We were Team Breastfeed and you only mildly swore when I woke you up to get more cushions so I could change boobs. You baby-wore and could wrap a stretchy like lightning. You held our son and watched terrible, terrible television in the middle of the night so I could grab a few consecutive hours sleep. Mainly, you loved us. Your eyes would light up as you saw us after a long day, sometimes they would dim again as you took in the carnage, but generally you were pretty happy.

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I want to eat your face Daddy! YOUR FACE!

The boy became our world, and on his 1st Birthday we decided we needed a bigger world. Which naturally meant another baby. Our daughter arrived in the sun, light streaming through windows and resting on her perfect wrinkled face. She was born pouting, and it’s still her fallback expression.

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I may have only been in the world for 24 hours, but I’m old enough to appreciate ennui.

Again, you loved us. However, things were hard. Too often it was easier to take one child each and go our separate ways than navigate this new family. For the first time we understood that marriages can fail, that loving each other didn’t make us immune to not being happy. So you took a year off. Of course you did, we needed you and you were there, like you’d always promised to be. We lived on fumes and noodles, but I watched you fall in love with your daughter and remembered that you didn’t suck. You’d push the stroller and we’d go find trucks for our children to watch while we drank coffee and discovered we could still make each other laugh.

When we were told our perfect boy was autistic we said ‘Yep, we figured that,’ and bought five of the both kinds of shirt he would wear. But later, I cried. I asked if you had known that he would be autistic, would you have still had children with me? You held my hand and said, clearly and concisely so there was no mistaking it ‘I would have wanted him sooner.’

I watch you sometimes, I’m hoping that’s not creepy but it probably is. I see you with our children and you’re not quite the man I remember falling in love with. This isn’t the life we planned, we have far too many conversations about what to have for dinner and we live in the suburbs. My god, we drive a hybrid. But the man you used to be wouldn’t cope with our life. He wouldn’t wear a toddler on his back to look at video games he has no time to play, and he wouldn’t brush his daughter’s hair every morning and put in the dozens of clips she requests. Most of all, he wouldn’t love me with the same intensity and devotion that you do. But you, the father of my children, you love us wholeheartedly. You see our madness and you meet it with your own, you never flinch at hard days, you might order pizza and put beer in the fridge but you’re there with me, supporting us and loving us the best way you know how. Even when that means dancing to Gangham Style before bed. Every.Freaking.Day. I’m privileged to have fallen in love with you twice, and I’ll keep falling in love with you as many times as it takes. Because we’ve got this.

Love,

The Mother of your Children

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

Linking up with This Parenting Life here

Linking up with Open Letters here and here

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Embracing the Flakiness.

Once upon a time, I was not a flake. I made plans, and then, shockingly, I kept those plans. The keeping of plans was accomplished quickly and easily with a minimum of bizarre requests (the current mainstay of my existence). These days I have children and therefore I am a flake. I cancel plans, I show up late and without appropriate clothing, food or that item I borrowed from you ages ago and crossed-my-heart promised to return. If you have children, then I’m guessing you are too.

We are flakes together. Huzzah.

We make plans with wild abandon, hoping that the planets will align and we will actually, this time, be able to go to the thing. We want to go to the thing, we really do! We love the thing. But it’s highly unlikely we will ever be able to go to the thing. Here are four of my most common reasons for flaking, in no particular order. Because I’m so flakey I don’t even do order. 

Emotions.

We are emotionally bereft. Going out requires fortitude, resilience and pants. Sometimes, no-one in my family has any of those things. Even locating the correct water bottle can take twenty minutes and several rounds of the grief cycle. During this time anyone who has previously agreed to wear pants has gleefully de-pantsed. We consider how much emotional energy we have available to us at the time and weigh it up against how much will be expended in merely making it out the door. I could provide my children with a rich intellectual environment and take them out to that multi-cultural night-time event, alternatively I could put them to bed and watch Netflix.

Tired.

We are tired. We are so goddamn tired that we can’t adequately explain what this much tired feels like. We make unintelligible noises instead, which we hope conveys our level of tired. Now, some people don’t accept tired as an excuse. These people don’t have children. If someone, sans children, have ever sat across from a person who has small children and said ‘Yeah, I’m tired too, but I went.’ Your parent-friend is showing masses of restraint if they manage to maintain a strained silence and a slightly raised eyebrow conveying irony at this point, because what they really want to do is grab you and say, slowly and through gritted teeth, eyeball to eyeball is that you have no right to speak on this topic at all. None, because you are uninitiated and have absolutely no conception or understanding of what tired feels like. You are like a turtle, you are a tiny turtle attempting to understand molecular theory with a turtle brain incapable of comprehending. You don’t understand and therefore you should be quiet. Very quiet. Do not talk to a parent about tired. Don’t.

Getting dressed.

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It just sucks.
Getting dressed is highly unpredictable. Getting kids dressed is the equivalent of patting an unknown dog – it might bite your face off, or it could be an easy and enjoyable experience. We were late for a play date because my daughter wanted to wear a skirt, but not any of the skirts she owns. A different skirt. Out there in the world somewhere, and apparently waiting, lonely and scared for her to rescue it and take it home.

This story of fashion love was accompanied by much sobbing and animated head-shaking as various wrong skirts were presented. We searched everywhere. Then she remembered, it wasn’t a skirt she wanted– it was shorts. The shorts she was wearing. Children think ‘Wheee I’m playing a fun game of not getting dressed!’ when you’re chasing them around the house waving a dinosaur shirt and slowly losing the will to live.

Toileting.

I remember my mother frantically checking who had or hadn’t gone to the toilet before we got into the car. She did this until I was approximately 16 and I’m the youngest. I thought it was unnecessary and weird. Then I had children. Children who seem to have the knack of holding in wee and poo until the moment their (admittedly adorable) bottoms hit the car seat. After a series of accidents that I still struggle to recall without scrubbing my hands like Lady Macbeth and screeching ‘Out, damned spot!’ I am now my mother. I hound them before we walk to the car ‘Do you need to do a wee? A poo? Is that wee face? Are you sure? IS THAT WEE FACE?’

I know I’m a flake. I look forward to a day of less flakiness, but until then I ask you to accept my flakiness, my love and my ambition to eventually attend an event I Facebooked as ‘going’. In return I will accept yours. I understand that reading a message and responding to it are two entirely different concepts. I acknowledge that a child who is sleeping is a rare and beautiful thing, and thus should not be disturbed. I get that a precious hour to yourself is more important than a park trip attempting to convince our children that it’s not actually a requirement of the sandpit to get sand in ALL the crevices in their bodies. You don’t have to explain why, because right now I know that maintaining friendships means accepting the reality of the flake situation. I will never judge your flakiness because I get it. Maybe, perhaps, we’ll go to a thing in a few years. Until then, lets maintain our friendship by posting meme’s on each other’s Facebook page. I love that stuff. 

Meltdowns: What I’m doing when you think I’m doing nothing.

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Connecting to your child requires constant work. Not all of that work is visible to other people. But it’s the invisible stuff, the deep down acceptance and tolerance of your maniac child that truly matters.

This is usually how the judgment from others goes. You’re out, in public, doing wondrous public things with your beloved cherubs. You have an exchange with your partner, chatting merrily. You may even get to finish a sentence. But then there’s a cry and you see your child in a puddle on the ground. You go over and you parent your child the best way you know how. You kneel down beside her, this grubby tear-stained cherub whose chest is doing those big gulping breaths and you hold her as she processes the trauma of sharing the slide. And then some complete wanker goes ‘Her kid won’t share the slide and she’s not even doing anything about it!’

Keyhole Judging – (you know if it has a name then it’s clearly a thing). You see a snapshot of someone’s life and draw wild conclusions, generally negative. For example, my child won’t share the slide so I may as well buy her first switchblade now. She can get menacing boots for Christmas.

Keyhole judging very much upsets me.

Hey bystanders! It is not that I’m doing nothing, it’s that you are seeing nothing!

If you want to correctly label the exchange it goes like this ‘So, she responded to her child with respect, and listened to her emotions and point of view and considered the context and any triggers that were around and she knew that she couldn’t listen at that point in time so she stayed close to her and connected in a meaningful way that didn’t send her into flight or fight. That Bitch!!’

I am so tired of having ‘peaceful parenting’ referred to as ‘doing nothing’ There is an insane amount of energy and effort expended in taking the road less travelled with your kid. The one that requires you to constantly label emotions and negotiate, and say shit like ‘It’s ok to be sad’ and ‘I can hear how upset you are’ as you are loving your child through their insistence that a broken cookie is the end of physics, geometry and the world as we know it.

My son is Autistic. This is not news. Sometimes it creates news because he’s also bloody hilarious, but I digress. We have been shopping with him (an excursion which I am one hundred percent positive has led to child puddled on floor scenario’s for every parent ever). We bought him an ice-cream. It was the wrong one. He wanted the orange one. He dropped to the ground like a goddamn stone, wrong ice-cream discarded and face crumpled like an accordion. He crawled into a corner of the shopping centre and curled up like a kitten. A sad, sweaty, wronged kitten. I sat down beside him.

People in shopping centres have opinions. They really do. A stranger saw the sad Boy and the melting ice-cream and inquired as to what was going on. ‘Wrong ice cream!’ I replied with a shrug. ‘And you’re letting him get away with it? You’re doing nothing?’

Fuck off I’m doing nothing, I’m managing my own emotions and modelling fucking emotional development. I’m filtering the looks from other people and constructing a social story in my head. I’m judging if it’s the right time to put a hand on my son’s back because it’s sometimes comforting and sometimes not, I’m making sure I’m beside him instead of in front of him because that can be confronting. I’m giving rage face to anyone that looks like they might intervene and fuck it all up and I’m getting the occasional you bloody well rock glance from other people who know exactly how much work goes into doing nothing. I’m providing a safe space, physically and emotionally for a sad boy and I’m doing it while sitting on the cold ground someone has probably walked on with poo shoes. I’m modulating my tone and I’m choosing my words carefully, I’m offering him a way in instead of shutting him out. I’m matching my breathing to his to help him slow shuddering breaths into deep peaceful ones. I’m looking for exits and figuring out the best way to present moving to a scared child who was doing excellently well in dealing with the lights, noise, movement and confusion of a busy shopping centre and who unfortunately was given the wrong ice cream.

There is no amount of tough love that can convince a child whose body and brain is telling him he’s in danger, that he is not in danger (Nason, 2016). What is this obsession with doing something? Sometimes nothing is magic. Sometimes it’s required. Sometimes it’s the only thing you can actually do. I have broken previously and bowed down to pressure to pick up an overwhelmed child and move them, or yelled at them when what I really wanted to do was crouch down beside him and say ‘let me know when you’re ready.’ The result is inevitably worse. Plus it was really only done to demonstrate to onlookers that I’m controlling my child, the worst parenting choice I can make. Doing nothing will never be a bad choice, even if you just use that time to sit quietly with your child and calm your own mind while you figure out what to do next. I have sat on shopping centre floors. I have held whispered conversations underneath cinema seats. I have described the action in a circus to a child hunched over in my lap who desperately wanted to see it, but couldn’t bear to watch it. I have climbed trees and stayed in parked cars. I have sat on steps outside classrooms and hidden in beanbags at family gatherings.

I DO NOT regret a single second of this.

I am trying to raise people who will not be like those bystanders, or other mothers who whisper when I whisk my child away to quietly talk about ‘appropriate behaviour’ instead of the public flagellation they consider their due. I am no longer interested in pandering to the feelings of bystanders when my children, my (occasionally) angelic children are crying their hearts out. This is the long haul, when we accept all emotions and actually process them then the work eventually gets less. Labelling and accepting provides an extra link between feeling and doing, that link is thinking (Lieberman et al., 2007). It stops knee jerk reactions and helps us consider context and consequences when making decisions (Lieberman, Inagaki, Tabibnia & Crockett, 2011). It helps us know why we do things, and prevents scenarios like looking around at the broken dishes and thinking ‘crap, I actually liked that set.’

With each practiced time, doing nothing during a meltdown gets easier. The fear is less, the trust is more. The doing nothing leaves space for so many other things to happen. More important things than demonstrating control over a child. So if you see a parent doing nothing with their child, just know how much effort that nothing is taking up. I guarantee it’s more valuable and worthwhile in the long term than doing something.

References (oh hush I know you love them).

Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S., Pfeifer, J. H., Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity to affective stimuli. Psychological Science, 18, 421-428.

Lieberman, M. D., Inagaki, T. K., Tabibnia, G., & Crockett, M. J. (2011). Subjective responses to emotional stimuli during labeling, reappraisal, and distraction. Emotion, 3, 468-480.

Nason, B. (2016). Autism Discussion Page: Don’t Punish Meltdowns! Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/autismdiscussionpage/?fref=ts

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid for Down the Rabbit Hole here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Mother: it’s just never finished.

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Becoming a mother is a lifelong journey. I don’t know if we ever truly finish it. My mother still introduces me by saying ‘this is my baby’ and I’m like, I’m thirty-two and capable of running in high heels (which is easily the most fantastic thing about me). But she sees the daughter who was rocked to sleep and that time I got left behind on my first day of school. I know right. Having a child in your life, whether you pushed them out in blood and glory, met them when they were two years old as they sat frightened and uncertain in your lap, or if they live in your memory and the memories of those around you who say their name with love and sadness; having this child means you are a mother. Which is kind of a big deal. Because how we mother is this bizarre mix of self, and child, and family and society. And different bits drift up to the surface of your life at different times.

There’s the saying that when a baby is born a mother is born too. For some, it can be that quick. I have a friend, Luschka, she of the fabulous career which she had every intention of keeping up with after the birth of her daughter. An advance booking was made at a crèche for when her unborn daughter would be 6 weeks old. Then, Luschka met Ameli in a pool of water at night surrounded by love and family and birth, and she’s never left her since (you can find her beautiful birth story here). Creche cancelled, career relegated to second place and this passion that she has for her children (there are two now) is evident in her every move. She became a mother the moment her daughter looked at her.

Personally, I became scared.

Upon meeting my son all the things I didn’t know about raising a child suddenly seemed very important, and all the things I didn’t know was most of the things. And I knew about all the things I didn’t know because I read voraciously during my pregnancy, partly because when pregnant I am gigantic and books are easy to catch. But also because I like to be prepared.

There is no book about the utter despair and exhilaration of your second night in hospital, when you realize that a) this person is depending on you to keep him alive and b) that you can actually do that. I sat in the window of my hospital room holding my Boy, looked out at the 3am lights of the city and cried, not like a baby, but like a woman who was becoming a mother.

Luckily, whilst I was shakily learning how to mother – my Boy knew how to baby. He babied like a Boss while I read more books, then, looked at my kid and threw said books against the door. And slowly, he taught me how to be who he needed.

Initially mothering may be about throwing yourself into meeting the needs of your child, that symbiotic relationship where this small person and you feel like the whole world. This can be a fantastic feeling of the world condensing into your baby sleeping on your chest and giggling at your funny faces. Or it can feel like shit when you’re trapped on the couch and the freaking remote is way over there.

Some people lose their sense of self at this point. Because society can tell you that raising small humans is not as worthwhile as making money for big humans. Society can also tell you that making money for big humans makes you crap at raising small humans. You can lose yourself when you realize that this person who weighs less than 10kg controls every facet of your life. Or when you look at the pile of dishes and think ‘fucking hell, is this it? Is this what parenting is? I used to wear clothes for fucks sake! Why do I only own trackies! I only own trackies!’ Your triumphs aren’t so much triumphant as they are girding your loins for the next battle. Which is frankly the only amount of loin action that’s taking place due to constant exhaustion and the relative importance of sleep versus anything else ever.

But as they get older, they don’t need you as much. Girl drags a small set of steps with her everywhere at the moment. We often hear the grunts of a small child combined with the screech of wooden steps on the floor, and we know, oh how we know, that the next thing we hear will be ‘I DID IT MYSELF!!’ Generally followed by a whisper of ‘Ohhh, there’s a mess.’

I remember what it was like when they were babies, but I’m not living that anymore. That part is done. Now I’m learning to do this part. Which means reaching way back and dragging bits of myself into the limelight that I’d forgotten about, bits that I couldn’t attach to earlier because it wasn’t the right time. But this still feels like mothering, I’m still floundering around and fucking up frequently enough for this to be familiar. This new stage of mothering where the newborn it turns out, is myself, in which I’m learning how to be a part of the world without the safety of my children.

Mothering is sometimes about being, and sometimes about becoming. There were times when this role sat perfectly, I knew what to do and so did they and we did it and thus I mothered. Ta-da. But things change, and I would become a new mother again, the one that they needed this time around, because the last version just wasn’t right anymore. The various selves we are juggling are constantly in flux.

This process of changing states starts long before we meet our children. Research has shown that we build up a picture of our children while pregnant, imbuing them with qualities and characteristics that may or may not be true, then around eight months of pregnancy we drop this view (Pisoni et al., 2014). We let go of that child and prepare to meet the one we have. The one we love just as they are. We repeat this process countless times, for ourselves and our children; we adjust and readjust our mothering. We balance ourselves and our offspring to see who is the most likely to lose their shit at that moment in time, and we act accordingly. Or we whisper ‘for fucks sake’ and then act accordingly.

Mothering changes our bones. Growing a person in your body leaves it irreparably different – your rib cage expands, your heart gets pushed to the side, feet get bigger, hips widen, stretch marks happen and a thousand pieces of your body will never be the same. They leave their mark. They change our bodies, our lives and our hearts, literally. We wear them just as clearly on our perpetually tired faces as we did when we threw them up in a ruck on our backs, had them tugging on our hands, or carried them out in front like a big ol’ watermelon.

The ghosts of the mothers we have been remain with us, but there will always be another mother around the corner. Waiting for her turn with the baby.

Maybe the next iteration of my motherhood will be the one who has her shit together because honestly, I’m still quite scared.

Pisoni, C., Garofoli, F., Tzialla, C., Orcest, S., Spinillo, A., Politi, P, Balottin, U., Manzoni, P. & Stronati, M. (2014). Risk and protective factors in maternal-fetal attachment development. Early Human Development, 90(2).

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid for Down the Rabbit Hole here