Inadequate.

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“But I struggle to pull together bits of my worth and tape them piece by tangled piece into something resembling a person.” 

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!’

 

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The Risks We Take.

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It’s ok dude, you’ve got this. 

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 a Mother, but am I still a Person?

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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.

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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

 

 

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