This Is What We’ll Remember

horse-756852_1280

She wanted a ride on the merry-go-round. Of course. We line up while she hops from one foot to the other (this is called waiting patiently). When it’s her turn she and her Daddy dash off to find a horse.

I watch, but I’m not really seeing.

Then there’s this moment as the merry-go-round spins, and I’m struck. Tinkly music swells through the air and sunlight strikes the strands of gold in her hair and I love her. There has never been day of her life when I haven’t told her I loved her. But every so often it’s a break-your-heart love, a love that cracks you open, fills you up and makes you realize how deeply and utterly in love you are.

Part of me wishes we could stay here, in this moment. I want to tell her: We could stay here and I could always be your Mummy, I could always watch the smile tiptoe from your lips to your eyes and down into your hands as you throw your arms out wide and shriek ‘wheee!’ in the rushing wind. I wish the farthest the world would take you away from me is the other side of that merry-go-round, and that it would perpetually bring you back. I wish you would always seek me out, eyes roaming through the other people who are waving to their pieces of their hearts riding on painted horses. You see me, you have one hand gripping a cheap golden rod and the other waving frantically. For me. Half your joy in this ride is for yourself, but the other half is sharing that with me.

I remember when I was pregnant and crying one afternoon- a mess of belly on the floor. I knew I would adore you, love you and already loved you with each heartbeat that drummed through me, but I was crying because you would love me back. You would love me. It would be built into your survival, part of your DNA. I am imperfect, and I will hand you some kind of uncertainty in one way or another; and you will love me still. There is no-one in the world that could love me as much as you. My baby. No-one who will seek me out, need me, cry for me and wait for me with every single tick of the clock like you will.

I cried for the beauty of that love, but also for the weight of it. I want to be worthy of your love, but you will give it to me whether I am or not.

Back at the merry-go-round the lady next to me speaks. She’s older, with silver hair and fine lines flowing across her cheeks like cracks in a beautiful vase. She’s watching her grandchildren just as intently as I watch my daughter. ‘Your daughter is an angel,’ she says. ‘Thank you,’ I give my usual smiling shrug, meant to convey unbridled love but tempered with reality.

I keep watching, truly seeing now.

Everything is condensing into this moment. The music, the sun, the gold chipping off the paint and the clear blue eyes that look for me with each revolution.

‘This is what you will remember’, she says, ‘moments like this.’ I nod, I can’t look away from my girl, I’m trying to remember. She’s right. You’re an angel.

I think of all the people who have watched children they love go on this ride, watched them as they carefully or haphazardly chose horses, watched innocent hearts examine the patterns on saddles and waited for the whirring to begin – a slow circle of childhood. There is always someone waving, a heart seeking a heart to make a connection – an endless ‘do you see me? Do you see how fun this is? Do you see me?’ This is what we will remember.

The ride ends, she slips off the horse and runs to me. She smells like sunshine and the grass she was playing in earlier. She is lit up. Glowing. I pick her up and notice how heavy she is now. Her whole body used to fit between my collarbone and my belly button, and now her legs trail down almost to my knees.

She loves me with every piece of her heart. The weight of that is not a burden, it is a gift. This is what I will remember, the love, the moments in the sun: this is what we all remember.

 

Four Easy Craft Activities That Were Difficult.

Please tell me it’s not just me and my genetic legacy that are terrible at craft. I see so many amazing blogs and ideas for craft and I just think ‘is this real? Are people actually doing this? Or is this an industry based on lies?’ I have seen pictures of happy children sitting down and decoupaging the equivalent of a Ming vase, and then apparently waiting for it to be ready. Personally, I have super-glued my own hand to my face. Twice. Due to my own ineptitude I had quite low expectations for craft and my children. This has come in handy.

Here are four easy craft activities that fought back.

Colouring: Or as I experience it, admiring my children’s dedication to artistic work for 23 seconds followed by saying things like ‘Not on the wall!’ and ‘If you stab the paper like that then the pencil will break.’ Which results in ‘Oh no the pencil broke! *under breath* like I TOLD you it would.’ They graduate to using pens, ‘Look Mummy!’ my boy exclaims, ‘You’ve used a lot of orange!’ I say. This is not good enough. ‘Do you know what it is?’ Crap. It’s an orange swirly thing with stabby orange bits. This, incidentally, is the wrong answer.

Nature Boxes: I thought this would be great. Really great. I was excited. Hubris. We all eagerly went into the garden with our cardboard box (thank you Bunnings) and I explained the parameters. ‘We’ll put bits of nature in our box, flowers and beautiful leaves, maybe create a secret garden?’ Dirt. This was interpreted as throwing in dirt. I was carrying a box filled with dirt. I explained again. Eventually, we had a box filled with interesting leaves, flowers and gum-nuts. My children were skipping around like pixies and I was thrilled. I had successfully crafted (kind of). We went inside to add dinosaurs (because we see them in nature all the time). That fucking box was tipped out in 3 seconds flat. There was nature everywhere.

10153788_683011611756172_1500273043_n
IS IT NOT GLORIOUS?!
1457694_683012238422776_889741310_n
I really should have predicted this. Small Excitable Child. Box of leaves. Sigh.

Painting: Painting sucks, for me. They love painting. My husband loves it when they paint too, although I suspect this is because he gets to donate a ‘painting shirt’ which is really just a novelty t-shirt he hates from last Christmas. My children burn through painting, they swish their brushes across the page and shout ‘MORE PAPER!’ I am in a frenzy of trying to hang up bits of wet, dripping paper and supply the demons with more fodder. When I’m not quick enough they paint themselves, each other, and on one memorable occasion – the cat.

IMG_1401
An attempt to get around the constant need for new paper. Lasted 2 minutes. Not worth it.

Making a Sparkly Crown: There was a slight obsession with royalty at one stage in my house. ‘I need a crown’ the small one insisted. The big one chimed in ‘I know how we make one, we get paper and a stapler’ (I was leaning against the wall doing deep breathing at this point). When things stopped being blurry I girded my loins (I’m not actually sure what this means but it is a fantastic sentence) and got paper and the stapler. After the third packet of glitter was flung around ‘I’m opening it! I’m opening it!’ and the fifth finger stapled (mine) we all agreed to use pretend crowns.

I know it’s not just me, there are others out there who too feel the cold chill of fear down their spine when craft is mentioned. I was at a library Rhyme Time watching my small people over dramatize ‘Old MacDonald’ when it was announced: ‘Craft Time!’ The suction created from myself and at least ten other parent’s horrified intake of breath meant a small child cycling past was pulled off his bike. The terror is real.

For those of you who can craft and craft well, and who have children who do the colouring in thing without the stabbing thing – I am in awe of you. You are a majestic crafting unicorn. But alas, I will never be you. I’ll be over here, watching my children massacre ripped up colourful bits of paper and a glue-stick, and thinking ‘hang on, they’re actually improving.’

Yes, My Child is Entitled. To be a Child.

portrait-317041_1920
OMG I can’t believe I just did that in public. Wait, yes I can.

Sometimes my kids look like ‘those’ kids. Those rampaging, loud, possibly naked and undoubtedly dirt encrusted kids. The ones that shout ‘No!’ and flat out refuse to leave the park, even if I pretend to walk away (which I read somewhere is actually ‘withholding love’ so I felt super guilty about trying it out, and then just annoyed because it didn’t even work and if you’re going to do something as heinous as withhold love it should jolly well work right?) I worry that not only does my daughter not always share but occasionally she actually picks up all the toys her teeny arms can carry and runs away, possibly cackling. The concern here is that I might be raising what looks like an entitled child.

The thing is though, children are entitled. They’re entitled to be adored when sticky. They’re entitled to have bad moods and be outrageously grumpy for no obvious reason. They’re entitled to be learning, continuously and constantly learning. They’re entitled to make mistakes. They’re entitled to have fun and be impulsive. Their brains are still developing, and there are concepts they just cannot grasp, and what they truly need is time and understanding (Best & Miller, 2010).

This can be tough.

My daughter does ballet. I say ‘does ballet’ when realistically she romps around in a dinosaur shirt and rainbow tutu and follows *maybe* half the instructions. She also has a complete blast. On Ballet Days she has her chosen dinosaur shirt on hours before class starts. She races into the building and greets her classmates (who are always dressed in pink with brushed and ponytailed hair and I have no idea how that even happens). When the teacher says ‘OK Dancers, time to trit-trot like ponies!’ my daughter says ‘No, I’m a bunny!’ and hippity-hops around. The first time she’s asked to ‘March in line!’ I realise she has never lined up in her entire life. She has no concept of lining up and her subsequent zooming around the room was unsurprising. She practices a version of ballet that is not taught in the ballet class.

This was challenging for me. It was testing to see her so obviously going against the norm; she was putting her preferences into action (preferences we’ve encouraged her to have) in a situation where compliance was expected. No one was outright telling her she was wrong, her teacher would gently ask her to join the other dancers and eventually she would. However, I still struggled. Two sessions into the term, I pulled her aside mid-lesson: ‘You need to listen to the teacher! Do what the teacher does!’ ‘But why?’ she asks, ‘Because you’re here to learn ballet!’ I whisper. Her head drops and she walks back to her friends. She does not trit-trot like a pony. She does not hippity-hop like a bunny. She lowers her head and drags her feet like an unhappy puppy and occasionally throws wounded eyes back at me.

I feel like shit. I have stolen Ballet and replaced it with Sad. She’s just turned three. She’s not really there to learn ballet, she’s there to learn how strong her body is, she’s there to listen to music and pay attention to how it makes her feel. Most of all she’s there to have fun. I did not teach her about impulse control by telling her to follow instructions. All I did was hissy whisper at my kid and teach her that I don’t delight in her obvious, incredible, ridiculous love of Not Quite Ballet.

Children are entitled.

Punishment makes no difference to impulse control (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997). Yelling at a child or getting physical with them for running in the opposite direction when you call them to the car will not make them less likely to high-tail it away from you next time. I was told to sit outside many times as a child, and not once did I use that time to ‘reflect on what I did wrong,’ instead, I reflected on how misunderstood I was and plotted quiet revenge. Sometimes, I even drew a diagram.

Research found punishment is more likely to result in distress than learning (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997). What does work is talking, it’s our ‘inner voice’ that teaches us impulse control (Kemick, 2010). Our inner voice needs to be helpful, positive. It needs to tell us we’re good people, we can do this; we can keep going when things are hard and we make great decisions. While they’re little, kids aren’t great at seeing the big picture. But they listen to what their parents say about them, and they believe it.

Trust your child. They will be capable, maybe not yet though. Maybe they just need to practise Not Quite Ballet, maybe they need ten-minute reminders of when it’s time to leave the playground, maybe they can’t share because first they need to know what not sharing feels like. When their brain is ready they will follow instructions and they will share. More than that, they will know they are good people, people who are learning and making mistakes and learning again.

My daughter and I resumed ballet – the other children imitate arm actions and my girl is looking at me and jumping around furiously. I blow her a kiss, ‘Look at you jump!’ She jumps faster, smiling. Ballet is back.

When the time comes for her to learn why we follow instructions, she’ll be there. But right now, she’s learning about herself – her skills, the things that make her happy and crucially – the way people she loves view her. I will try to always be a safe place for her, my acceptance of my badass girl isn’t based on how compliant she is. It’s based on her: her strength, curiosity, bravery and ability to rock a dinosaur t-shirt and tutu with the best of them.

References

Best, J. R., & Miller, P. H. (2010). A Developmental Perspective on Executive Function. Child Development, 81(6), 1641–1660. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01499.x

Kemick, A. 2010. Inner voice plays role in self control. Science Daily. Retrieved April 13, 2016 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921110956.htm

Straus, M. A., Sugarman, D. & Giles-Sims, J. (1997). Spanking by Parents and Subsequent Antisocial Behavior of Children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 761-67.

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

I’m a Mother, but am I still a Person?

girl-162474_1920
Run! Run like the wind! Just don’t commit any (major) crimes!

While I readily identify with being a Mother (I usually have a small person skipping around me asking me for stuff, and behaviour like that is generally frowned upon unless you belong to/emerged from someone) I don’t feel as confident in being a ‘person’ as I used too. My children have my heart, but I’m not sure what happened to my soul.

I don’t know what to say when asked what I do or what I like: ‘My interests revolve around encouraging my children to watch Masha and the Bear so I can eat lunch and finding the line between the super fun ‘nom nom nom I eat you up’ game and potentially encouraging cannibalism’ (my daughter has been spotted sidling up to other children with an open mouth and a glint in her eye). I also spend my time waiting for them to fall asleep and asking my husband awkward questions like ‘if there was a plane crash, would you rather we both died? Or just me?’ He loves that shit.

My expectations for this period of my life were different. I anticipated fulfillment, like, loads of it. I would practically float I’d be so damn fulfilled. How could there be anything more meaningful than raising children? There are parts of it that are stunning – watching my son put gumboots on his sister’s feet, the feeling of little arms wrapped around your neck and the way they hug you so so tight. Those things make my heart race like it will burst with love.

But. Motherhood is complex.

Nighttime arrives and with sleeping children the weariness I have myself sets in. I don’t get the rush of productivity or creativity I want, instead I get a blanket and a cup of tea. Which is alright, but still mildly unsettling. I don’t daydream about exotic locations. My idea of perfection now is eating a sandwich in bed with Dirty Dancing and no interruptions. Where is the soul in that? Or the alcohol? (I’m kidding, of course there’s alcohol).

I try to absorb my children’s world: I read Thomas the Tank Engine books and develop elaborate actions for I’m a Little Teapot, but the Fat Controller is an asshole and I was starting to develop a crush on that guy from Play School. You know the one I mean. (Yes, you do).

My family and I went to look at a house we were interested in buying. It was meant to be just a drive-by, a glance. The house was clearly empty though and a bit of anarchy pulsed in my blood. ‘Lets go look!’ I said. The latch to the backyard gate was too high for me, so I called my husband to open it. He refused.

Because ‘Mothers don’t trespass!’

I was devastated. The tiny bit of myself that I wanted to pull into the present, the person who totally would have trespassed and probably even waved to the neighbours as she did so; that person wasn’t part of this world anymore.

This was when I realized what I was missing. I had been waiting for someone to give me permission to be myself again. I was waiting for the ‘proper’ mothering bits to be done so that I could be a bit closer to who I used to be. I had to remember the bits of myself that made me, me. They weren’t activities that I did, or places I went, they were characteristics. I’d abandoned adventure because adventuring with babies is, like, hard, and I’d abandoned laughter because I was very, very tired.

I watched my children, these ratbags /cherubs who taught me how to mother would undoubtedly help me expand that definition. They did, I found myself in them. I saw their focus and their passion – things they’d inherited from me. I watched my daughter spend an afternoon with a stick she’d decided was a horse (but still named ‘Sticky’ because she’s three) and remembered the hours I’d spent myself as a child pretending to ride around on a tree branch. I saw my son chatting to his toys, his voice dropped to a whisper as I drew closer; he’s telling secrets and I am not invited to this particular game. These two small people I get to call mine, they led me back through my own memory to the girl I’d forgotten about in my hurry to grow up and look like I had my shit together (which, hilariously, I completely failed to do).

I can’t find the beauty in every part of raising my children, but I can find the soul. I can find the moments to be myself, to dance around the house instead of washing up, to go shopping in costume and to giggle with my son as we hide Daddy’s shoes.

I hide around the corner from my kids as they clatter down the hallway, feeling the same anxiousness and delight I felt as a 5yr old. Wanting the surprise to work, but with an added element of hoping no-one literally wees on themselves. I jump out and ROAR! They stumble back and dissolve into laughter, doing that wriggly thing kids do when they’re excited. Later, I take them for a walk, girl up on my back and boy holding my hand as we make our way through the long grass.

Mothers don’t trespass, my ass.

I still don’t have a great answer when asked what I do ‘My interests include carbs at nighttime, mild anarchy and scaring the crap out of my children.’ But, it has soul in it.

 

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

Why I’m a Shouty Mummy and What I do about it.

monkey-20182_1920
I’m feeling you Screaming Monkey, I’m feeling you.

When one of your greatest fears is hurting your children the way you were hurt, then facing that fear is important. I do this by accepting anger in a way that invites connection instead of dismembers it. When I take responsibility for my feelings – explaining them to my children, and myself; when I bend down and say ‘I’m sorry’ – it means I am not continuing the cycle. I am breaking it. I am smashing it. Previous experiences in life still affect my state of mind. Everyone has echoes of the past in their head, some 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.’

But, sometimes we do it anyway. Or a version thereof.

It’s usually the tiniest thing, something I glide past effortlessly most days. A request for a sandwich in squares instead of already chopped triangles. The ‘Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!’ generally only utilised to make sure I’m aware of my child’s continued existence (I see you child! I see you!) The abandonment of the washing up half way through in order to fix the delicate toy that will undoubtedly break in the next ten seconds; but cannot be thrown out or glued together. Today though, there is no gliding past these things, today – it grates.

So I lose it. Shouting, screaming – the works. Hello Shouty Mummy!

This is when I realise that I’m emotionally done. I have nothing left to meet anybody else’s needs, and finishing the washing up is the most important thing in the universe right now because it means that I finished something I started. And I haven’t finished anything I’ve started in a really long time. All the frustration that I regularly put to the side – out of love and conviction that I’m doing the right thing, and recognition that my tiny people are in fact, tiny, and they are doing the best they can. All of that knowledge can fuck right off because right now, right NOW, I’m done. I’m angry, I’m upset and underneath it all I’m just sad.

Because I thought I’d be better at this. I thought I’d be able to control it.

Sometimes I felt it creeping up, lead inside my bones over the course of a few days. Weighing me down when I glance around the house and decide that yes, living in filth for another day is totally acceptable.

Perhaps I didn’t notice it and felt like Mother Theresa, right up until the moment I said things that Mother Theresa is unlikely to have said. In that moment – all that neglect of my priorities, all the drudgery and exhaustion that is the mainstay of my day – it all explodes.

I used to be scared of anger, getting angry was a failure and it meant that I was that thing I feared – a bad parent. The thing is though, kids can be annoying. It’s kind of their job. They feel their own needs rise up and burn through them and they must be met right NOW! Everything is a potential calamity and a need not met, well that might mean that it could never be met? And me, as Mummy – I am the touchstone for this well of need. I am the repository for all emotions in all circumstances, even the ones that happened hours ago and had nothing to do with me (especially the ones that happened hours ago and had nothing to do with me). Pretending to not feel frustration or anger involved channelling Mary Poppins, who in the book was kind of a jerk. Guess what happened when I pretended to be Mary Poppins? I became kind of a jerk too. But without an awesome outfit. Which is even more sad.

Apologise. If you were a Shouty Mummy, own it. The irony of yelling at a child ‘Stop yelling!’ is fairly evident. Mistakes happen, fixing them is rarer though.

Acknowledge your emotions. They are valid. A fantastic phrase is ‘I’m feeling frustrated, this isn’t working, lets fix it’ rather than ‘Oh my goodness small child what the fuck? What the actual fuck?’ Or say one of them out loud and one in your head. I’ll let you choose.

Let them see you put yourself first. I have a coffee rule. There are to be no shenanigans until I’ve finished my coffee. My children skip around me and peer into my cup, but they wait. The visual of the coffee disappearing helps them understand that they won’t have to wait forever, and seeing me look after myself (those few minutes are gold) teaches them that I’m important too.

Do not become part of your child’s emotions: let them be angry and frustrated without falling into it with them. I tell my children I love them all the time, I don’t say ‘even when you’re angry’ I say ‘I love you when you’re angry.’ Anger is ok now, I can deal with anger. I can see it for what it is, frustration at something not working out the way my child wants it to. It is not aimed at me, or about me. I look at my children in the throes of their anger and I think ‘They are so powerful.’ They pit themselves against the world with determination written on cheeks that are still chubby with babyhood. I wait for the storm to pass and we talk about it: ‘You were so angry! What was happening?’

It works. During a night of infinite wake-ups after a day of stress I put my son back into bed, less lovingly that usual, a gruff Shouty Mummy -‘it’s bedtime!’ ‘Mummy’ said his small voice ‘I love you when your angry.’ I laughed. I laughed because he’d shown me that his childhood was different. Anger wasn’t scary. Anger was just something that people did sometimes when things weren’t going their way, and you loved them through it.

Some feelings and experiences don’t ever truly disappear; they just speak louder and softer at different times. They leave us with different capacities for responding to the needs of our kids. This is ok, it is human. To pretend we don’t have feelings or that they don’t matter is unfair, both to ourselves and our children. We can change the story for our small people. We can talk about Shouty Mummy and what she did wrong, and also what she needs. Name your emotions, put yourself first in whatever tiny ways you can and don’t take on your kids feelings. Shouty Mummy deserves that, and so do you.

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here