The 10 Stages of Dating after Kids

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I would kill for hair like this. Particularly the green. Respect.

You may remember dates with your partner consisting of conversation and connection. They even happened outside the house. Those days are gone, people, gone. You’re a parent now, and you don’t get to have real people dates. You get parent dates. These dates are about survival, and eventually, if you’re lucky, napping. Dates in which communication is limited to ‘gnerghh’ and connection is both of you agreeing your toddler is nuts. However, parent dates still bind you together and potentially decrease the amount of time you spend daydreaming about that remote tropical island. With the cocktails. And the sleeping. Oh god, the sleeping.

  1. You both stare at your newborn as she does nothing. This nothing is the most compelling thing you’ve ever seen. You will talk about the nothing in excited voices and if one of you wanders away the other will gesture wildly for you to return ‘Come on! You’re missing the nothing! She’s still doing it!’ You barely look at each other as you drink in what is clearly and obviously the most delicious baby to ever grace the world with her presence. If there is any doubt, just ask the baby’s grandparents.
  1. Your home looks like bears had a rave in it, you have no real food and you become obsessed with sleep. Because sleep is a measure of personal success in every way except that it has nothing to do with you, and nothing you do actually matters. You are quietly crying in time with the rhythm of the rocking chair as you heroically face another doomed sleep attempt. Your partner comes in and makes soothing hushy noises while lifting a wide-awake baby from your arms. It’s uncertain if the hushy noises are for the baby or yourself, but you’re appreciative. Parent Date. Ten minutes later, you want your baby back.
  1. Partner comes home. Ten minutes later then usual, ten teeth-gritting and excruciatingly long minutes later than usual. You scream ‘Take the baby!’ *run to shower* *sob in shower*
  1. You silently watch your child eat toast he found on the floor. You have not made toast today. Or yesterday. You take this immune-system boosting time to chat with your partner. Parenting ideal abandoned, parent date acquired.
  1. You write a love-note consisting of ‘Buy bread’ and stick it on your sleeping partner’s face before passing out at 4am.
  1. You go out, giddy and wild and carefree, on your first proper outside date since becoming parents. There are vivid plans of staring into other’s eyes and having real adult conversations. You talk about nothing but excrement and leave twenty minutes early to pick up your child.
  1. You go to K-Mart and come home with a stack of things you didn’t know you wanted or needed. Neither of you have any rational explanation for this phenomenon. You have a vague memory of previous dates consisting of late nights and romantic Italian restaurants with checked tablecloths, but then you realize that was Lady and the Tramp. That movie rocks.
  1. You wrap yourself in a giant blanket and sit on the couch. Depending on the trauma of the day, you may be rocking slightly or mumbling. Your partner tentatively puts out a hand to touch your shoulder, then slowly retrieves it. This is their gift to you, the gift of non-bodily contact. You ask for tea as well.
  1. ‘What? Are they in their own beds then?’ Bada Boom.
  1. You could go out, you probably could. But that requires putting on clothes, like, proper clothes, and make up, and driving, and parking, and other people. Instead, you hustle the rugrats into bed and demolish a bottle of wine whilst loudly deriding each other’s taste in Netflix. This is it, this is how you date now.

The main thing about parent dates is that you are having them. You are finding moments when you still think your partner is ridiculously funny, or cute in pyjamas, and you are aware that the life you’ve built together is valuable. The tiny flame that bound you together when it was just the two of you has expanded to fit however many small people you’re sharing your life with. You’re doing it, you’re a family. And it doesn’t always suck.

Linking up with The Annoyed Thyroid here

 

 

 

 

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Labelling Autism: An Origin Story.

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Choose your labels carefully.

I don’t know if it’s because he was my first, or because I’m the kind of person who checks the doors four times before going to bed then wakes up my husband to ask ‘Have you checked the doors?’ but I wasn’t entirely relaxed around my son. He is fire, and power and passion. He smiles with his entire body. I am in awe of this boy who runs down hills with his arms outstretched and screams ‘TOO FAST!’ in between the laughing. But, there was tension hovering between us.

He was the Baby Who Did Not Sleep. He was the Toddler Who Did Not Stop Moving. He was the Boy Who Was Loud. He was the Boy Other Parents Talked About.

He was unpredictable. He loathed the things we’d thought he’d love. He didn’t talk. He didn’t stop talking. He didn’t want to be held. He only wanted to be held. We begged ‘How do you feel? What do you want? What’s going on?’ but he only twisted in on himself, or gave us the answer he thought we wanted. ‘I’m HAPPY!’ he’d scream, fists curled and body shaking. We provided our own explanations for this boy we could not understand by pulling things from various incidents (he was tired/he was hungry/he’s sensitive/he’s spirited/he’s anxious/I didn’t really like that person either/that pasta was shit). We knew we weren’t really seeing him though, he was right there and we just weren’t getting it. Whilst I loved him more than I could ever imagine loving anyone ever, unease was strumming through our relationship. Then one day I googled Autism Spectrum Disorder and the penny dropped. Boom.

In some ways his diagnosis was nothing to do with him. He continued being himself, just as he’d always done. It was my husband and I who really benefitted. Finally we could see him. We weren’t so much handed a letter of diagnosis as a letter of ‘Hey guys chill the hell out, this is your kid and he’s fine, he’s just autistic.’ We stopped freaking out about dinner not looking like eating hot food at the table all together and accepted that dinner looked like rolling around the floor eating frozen peas. I stopped trying to have endless conversations about his feelings and started looking at what his actual communication was. He was still fire, and power and passion, but I was no longer tense. I got him. I finally understood my child.

We told people. Some people were surprised and others were highly unsurprised. The day we got the official diagnosis we made him a cake to celebrate his different brain. It was not all cake though, the more I researched and the more people I told the more I was informed I had no right to celebrate my autistic kid.

We were told to expect a neurotypical child and that anything less was a loss. We were told that disability was scary, and that having a disabled child was worth grieving over. We were told his future was uncertain, that autistic people struggled with finding relationships and jobs. We were told he would be shunned, or bullied, and that we should be grateful if people remained our friends in spite of our child. We were told most people would leave. We were told we would be lonely, our family damaged. We were told he would never fit in and needed to be rescued. We were told we were bad parents. We were told he didn’t look autistic and all he really needed was discipline. We were asked ‘Do you really want to tell people? Do you really want to label him, with all of THAT?’ That being all the ways society would see him, all the deficits my beautiful four year old apparently had.

Yes, we said. We do. Sign me up bitches.

All of that crap is exactly why we labelled him. Because it’s time for all of that crap to be gone, and that can only happen when we know exactly how wrong it is. Everyone else needs to get the chill the hell out letter too – it’s not terrifying, it’s not awful, it’s just autism; and it looks like a bunch of different things because it’s a bunch of different people who are doing different things. Not one of those people is wrong, or inferior. We need people to see the proud parents of autistic kids, the happy autistic adults and the thriving autistic family – all of which exist in abundance.

Labels happen, I want to make sure my son gets the right one. I want him to get the label that empowers instead of the one which shames. I want him to know he’s autistic so others don’t tell him he’s broken. I want my kid to wield that label like a weapon. He knows he’s different; he shrugs when classmates watch him bear-walk into the room ‘Sometimes I just do stuff like that’ then they shrug too, and the world resumes spinning. The power of diagnosis is knowledge, he knows that part of the reason he is so valuable, and loved, and ridiculous is because he’s also autistic.

I have a favourite quote (yep, I’m totally that person) and I always thought I understood it perfectly. It has more meaning now.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.” -Martha Graham.

I don’t want my boy to think that what he brings to the world is not as valuable because of his neurology, I don’t want him to block it, because then it will be lost. Gone. I want him to keep his fire, his power and his passion;  and I want him to have the right label while doing it.

Happiness vs Wholeness, or Why A Nap is Not A Unicorn.

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Light and shade people, it’s all about the light and shade.

I recently complained about my children and was sent a link to a $125 an hour support service. The reasons this was ridiculous are many (MANY). Mainly there seemed to be this expectation that I had to be happy ALL the time, and if I wasn’t then that was uncomfortable and needed to be fixed. Mackay (2016) describes happiness as the ‘most passive, elusive and unpredictable of emotions.’ I do not experience constant happiness in my life, in fact, that seems a bit one-dimensional to me. Happiness doesn’t accurately reflect the maelstrom of emotions that I live each day. Instead, I think wholeness is a better descriptor of my life at this stage. Wholeness means accepting that failure, sadness, and downright ‘this is a bit fucked’ are all part of life, part of what makes us who we are (Mackay, 2016).

It is recognized that parenting is hard, but so often this is followed up with helpful suggestions for happiness. As parents we need support but it needs to be based on connection, and it has to be consistent. We need people to become part of our hearts and lives; to offer their own hearts and lives as well. Too often we’re told to think of three things to be grateful for each day, to make sure we have ‘me-time’ and that we chose to raise children so complaining about it is just not cool. Sometimes, this merely adds more pressure; it’s another thing to be written on an already bursting list and what happens when it doesn’t work?

There is a problem with me-time. It’s seriously hard to get. Even when we make the conscious choice to put our own needs first, it still requires the kind of planning normally reserved for running a small country. Me-time is an exercise in scheduling, finance and emotional fortitude. This occurs even before you say goodbye to potentially sobbing children and freak out about how you no longer know what to do with your hands in public because they’re usually full of a) child or b) child’s crap (ideally this is figurative, but if you’re anything like me it was once literal and you may never get past it). Being sans children does not automatically mean you are deeply and enjoyably relaxed. Bits of your heart will stay with them, even if their best descriptor is ‘not currently displaying signs of criminal/political aptitude.’ I don’t think we should be ungrateful if we carve out some time, but I think we should be realistic. Getting an hour for a nap does not undo five years of sleep deprivation. It is not a unicorn who grants wishes, it does not have magic powers, it cannot sweep away the dark circles under my eyes, the fuzz in my brain or the constant unsettling feeling there’s something I’ve forgotten; it is merely a nap.

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This unicorn is underwater so can’t grant any wishes right now (if that’s what they do?)

Mackay states that people experience their most significant personal development and growth from pain, not from happiness (2016). We grow when we let ourselves break, when we acknowledge what makes us uncomfortable and the reality we find ourselves in. Trying to skip over that experience to the more comfortable one of happiness means we might be missing out. Parents laughingly say things like ‘It’s ok, I do this every day!’ as we throw on ill-considered outfits and inhale toast in the car. Instead of shrugging away the ‘I do this everyday’ we should say ‘omfg I do this every day.’ We should let that sink in, the sheer volume of time and emotional energy that we expend in care-taking other people. This needs to be felt, and acknowledged.

My son was basically the first infant I’d held as an adult. I freaked out, just a little. Luckily I had an amazing friend, a friend who knows more about the light and shade in life than most others; and she texted me each day. She told me about her own experiences (Day 6: This was the first day I didn’t cry. Day 8: I started crying again.) Without judgment or advice she encouraged me to feel the complete uncertainty and love having my son bought me. I was not always happy, but I was whole.

The experience of happiness is not as important to me as wholeness. Wholeness means every mad step of this exhilarating and exhausting life is acknowledged. Wholeness means when I complain, cry, and break over the difficulties of my life that I’m not given another expectation in the name of happiness. Wholeness means I get to live it. When it’s time, with real support, I get to rise from it – stronger and more complete than when I started this life. The detritus of parenting, the sleeplessness, the sickness, the fear and the drudgery – it deserves respect. How else will we know how far we’ve come unless we acknowledge that the journey was super fucking long.

Maybe what we need is acceptance that joy and desperation are both present in parenting, and that it’s all forming a life. I suspect Mackay (2016) can say it best: ‘the emotional spectrum is broad and that to miss any of it – yes, even the disappointments, the failures and the daily grind – would be to miss out on the spectacular experience of wholeness.’

I like spectacular. Even the spectacular failures.

Mackay, H. (2016). Wholeness, happiness, sadness and positivity. Retrieved from http://www.livingnow.com.au/articles/personal-development/wholeness-happiness-sadness-and-positivity