“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!’
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.
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.
Keats said that ‘touch has a memory’, and while he didn’t have a daughter, he was a poet and he loved someone so perhaps he knows something about it. I do have a daughter, you, and I hope he was right; I hope touch does have a memory. I fervently hope that the many hours I have spent holding you in my arms have sunk in somewhere deep; and when you’re older and I’m far away you will run your own fingers over your face and a tiny part of you will light up with memory.
I want the delight I poured into your skin to be swept into your soul, I want it to stay there and keep you safe, keep you strong when the world inevitably tells you that you’re not ‘enough.’ I want you to own your body, to be completely and utterly certain of its power and strength, and also of the undisputable fact that it belongs to you. I want you to feel like iron in your skin, whole and complete.
There are girls, already, who are being taught that they are not the owners of their skin, that their bodies are not built for running and skipping, but for something far darker. When your Daddy blows raspberries on your belly you laugh, you have that guttural laugh that little girls sometimes have – like you’ve been hanging out in the backyard smoking a pack a day rather than making mud pies. Sometimes you’re still laughing as you hold up your hand and say ‘Stop! Stop!’ Your Daddy stops, he stops at your words, he stops when you wriggle your body away and he stops when your laugh just isn’t quite right. May all the people in your life honour your right to your skin. You have a privilege in being taught this, in being protected in ways other girls are not (I know, I cannot truly protect you, and neither can you, believe me I know). Some of those girls are in far-away countries, but probably one is also on our street. I hope the injustice that happens in our society fills you with rage. I hope the way you are loved allows you see that injustice more clearly. I hope you fight for other women, I hope you use your voice as an ally, a supporter but not a rescuer; people are strong but they do need empathy, and understanding. You will be a better person for obtaining that understanding.
I want your body to be a place of safety for you. I want you climb mountains, swim in the ocean and cuddle up under blankets with someone you love. I want you to do those things wearing whatever the hell you want. Society will try and tell you that your skin somehow belongs to them, that other people have a right to tell you how much of it to show, how much of it to cover and what to do with it. Society is wrong. You own your skin. Our world is imperfect but your body is not.
You won’t ever remember the months you spent growing under my heartbeat, or the months afterwards that saw you sleeping over that same heart, my arms wrapped around you and kisses placed on your forehead. You won’t consciously remember how hungrily I searched your face, wanting to know who you were, how I ran my fingers over your baby arms and legs and counted your baby fingers and toes. Perhaps a part of you will remember it anyway. I hope you love your skin as much as I do, I hope you value it as much and I hope you stay out of the sun on hot days because your skin while fantastic, does not like the sun.
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.
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.