Archive for July, 2013

Repeat after me

July 25, 2013

Muddling and stumbling and fumbling our way through parenthood, several things tend to get forgotten. I think reminding ourselves of them should become mantric.

We forget who we once were. We forget that as children, we too had night fears and wet beds and phobias. Making friends wasn’t always easy, and not all of our teachers were terrific. We too felt the desperate, physical longing for a particular toy, and the need to sometimes just be by ourselves. Siblings and friends could make us lose ourselves in silliness, and yet cut us to the quick with a cruel word. As children our world was home, school, family, friends, play. The simple things that meant everything. If we now remind ourselves of this view, of these feelings, of these values, we will parent better. Our children have not yet been adults, but we have once been children. We should say: I was once a child and I remember.

We also forget about phases. Having been through a doozy with a seven year old recently, I realised how unprepared I was for it, and I blame this largely on the fact that not a lot is said about phases beyond Terrible Two. Babies and toddlers have obvious, explicit, universal phases: teeth, growth, talking, toileting. Beyond that, until adolescence, there is a large unchartered territory of childhood which goes largely unchecked. But the phases continue. They become idiosyncratic and more complex. As there is perhaps little or no uniform nature to them they are seen as personal problems. Individual issues. These they might be, but they are still phases, and if viewed as such, take on a far less ominous hue. To say “It is just a phase” can be quite a comfort.

Perhaps the most profound thing we tend to forget in the fog of parenthood is that every person, and therefore every family, is unique. No one model of family life suits all. We can pick and choose the chapters we like from the self help guides. Not all of it will fit. It is vital that we remind ourselves often, firmly, loudly, that we are doing what is right for our family. From a starting point of life we aim to travel to the point of happiness and wellbeing, and the path there will be different for everyone. You go your way and I’ll go mine. We may see each other along the way but for the most part our scenery will be vastly different. It’s whatever works for you.

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Endings and beginnings

July 17, 2013

Something has been happening to me over the past two years. I have lurched from need to need. From mood to mood. From post to post. Nothing has been consistent, or clear, or smooth in my thinking. Directions change daily. An endless push-pull effect. As soon as one track has started it stops, to be replaced by another leading nowhere. Part circular, part messy crosshatch. Thoughts leap, overlap and submit in an exhausting directionless struggle.

I have been in transition.

This is what it feels like when you have a foot stuck in mud. When you want to stay but you want to go. When you wish someone would push you out or pull you in, but you know no one is there to do either. The next step must be committed: mud or water. But how to know? And if tempered by a reluctance to move, how to even start?

I have wanted another baby, a fourth child, for two years. At least I thought I did. Now I suspect the wanting was for the comfortable mud. For the halcyon days of pregnant attention, birthing triumph and newborn need. For the days when life was clearly signposted; when duty and purpose were apparent and unequivocal. Life was easier then. Decisions were made on your behalf. Life had a map, a route with detours and variations, but still a direction.

I followed the signposts and they led me to here. With no further directions I look back over old territory: the familiar, well worn tracks. Could I not just retrace my steps?

But I can feel I am edging my foot from the mud. It is taking time. A long time. Nobody told me this would happen. I wish someone had said: be prepared for the end of the map. Be ready to let go. Move on. Everyone fears they will be the one to say if only, and so we are hesitant. If only I had another baby. If only I hadn’t. I need to move away from this thinking. It is what stifles clarity. The water ahead is mysterious, deep and tempting. A map will emerge. I will find a new path. I just need to take that first step, and allow myself to move slow in doing so. This mud is hard to forsake.

Having the time of their lives

July 13, 2013

I love a good generalisation. While often risky at dinner parties, when cast in their broad sweeping arc they inevitably capture the odd accurate truth.

Generalisations about the generations are especially fun to fish with. For instance, is there not a modicum of truth in the notion of war-timers having a strong work ethic and a tendency to hoard? Salt of the earth with good old fashioned values and hopeless with technology? I know of at least two septuagenarians who would ably support this theory.

We all know baby-boomers as the greedy privileged egotists who spent their formative years stoned in the sixties, they received a free tertiary education before becoming economically established whilst basking in the Ken Done glow of the wealthy eighties. Shares, no cares, no mortgage. Struggle? What struggle? Their life is a cinch. But I could be wrong.

Their offspring, Gen Y, are well known for their dumbed down, spoiled, lackadaisical approach to life. Effort? Meh. Ill b thr whn I get thr. Set up and sponsored by their financially independent parents, these kids have got it made. Why not lounge at home until your mid-twenties? Save up a deposit on a house, attend an auction with your overbearing proud protector and have him outbid struggling couples on a house you may not even live in. You haven’t decided yet. Thanks for the help Dad. It’s a good investment Son. Cu lata.

And then there’s Gen X. The layer I call home. What are we? Jammed between the spoils of the boomers and the conceit of the Ys, it can be a struggle. We often seem guilt ridden, down trodden, misplaced and hard done by. We have revolt in our veins and compassion in our core but we are overwhelmed by information in an increasingly homogenous and consumerist world. Our character seems now to be anachronistic: nostalgic for originality we realise it has all been done before. We would have been great in the sixties. We are forever on the cusp: temporally, economically, technologically, environmentally. We are the sink or swim generation. Our revolution? Perhaps our offspring. Armed with more answers, more awareness and more urgency, we are carefully imbuing our children with a greater sense of the world whilst ensuring they have more fun. Painfully aware of life’s brevity, we are cradling our progeny as we hand them the precious baton. A generalisation about their generation? I’ll say it is hope.

F is for Fail

July 10, 2013

In the Degree of Life I fear I am failing my elective.

Having signed on for Parenting 1A (0-4) and 1B (5-9), and the myriad follow-on topics, I assumed they would merge seamlessly, each one the preparatory pre-requisite for the next. I felt relatively prepared for the rigors of 1A: the sleepless nights and nappies. The sore boobs and stretchmarks. The crying. The confusion. The frustration. The pain. Even the odd midnight dash to emergency didn’t phase me. I had done the reading, received minor tutelage and was excited by the challenge, and by the end of the topic my efforts duly warranted a credit. A pass mark at least. I enjoyed the learning. Those were the days.

The requirements of Parenting 1B appeared suddenly. Without warning. Life upped the ante.

The happy rewards and easy rhythms of this topic’s predecessor are gone and in their place await a bombardment of demands. Where previously intuition and instinct confidently underpinned much of my decision making and action, I now find they are letting me down. My response in so many situations now seems to be lost amid a frustrated internal scream and without any clarity I lose control and resort to anger.

I am shouting. A lot. The shouting feeds resentment which feeds more shouting and the ugly animal continues to grow and fester. It needs a cage.

I am not enjoying it much. At some point in my studies I lost control. The demands seem so great and so vast and so varied and for so little reward. Just as I feel confident with one assignment another looms to demand my attention. But I can only be in one place at a time and so vital work goes unfinished. Unattended. Such is life when you are outnumbered.

I don’t want to fail. Far too much is riding on this topic for me to founder. I know what I need to do. I need to see success in the small things. Even the tiniest assignment can bring reward. It is hard to see the celebration of shoes on when you are already late but it has to be done. The little bricks of good, of positive, of distinction are there beneath the rubble but they have to be sought and each time, celebrated.

I hate to say it goes against the grain. My instinct seems to be to punish: all too easy when things needing admonishment appear so often and so obvious. Perhaps the real assignment of this topic is to seek out the fragments. To build a positive foundation from those tiny bricks of good. Pay more attention to the smaller things and less to the more overt, however challenging. Perhaps, over time, the good will triumph. The shouting will stop. The animal will die. Perhaps this approach will lead to a pass.

I just wish someone had told me I would need a microscope.

Trying hard not to think about it

July 3, 2013

Over the last few days, with the weak wintry sun casting its welcome dappled light through the half leafy trees, I have had cause to relish many a moment. I have needed them, and sure as sunset, they have come.

Moments with boys scooting off fast ahead. Happy. So precious. Oblivious, excited, free. Desperate to get home.

Moments holding soft little hands. Delightful timeless walking chats about this and that. Lions versus cheetahs. Ants nests. Best friends. What else matters?

Examining the beautiful, developing features of my sons’ faces. Changing every day. Growing up in front of me. It is happening too fast, and yet not fast enough.

This painful process of parenting which we all share. This profound indescribable love, more like longing, so painful in its depth. How on earth do we bear it?

Our elders tell us it goes by so fast. Enjoy them while they are young. I am focussed and savouring and relishing the interspersed joy. Yet all is tinged with an intense mourning which threatens to topple the peace and expose the truth: it cannot be captured. Each moment, each fleeting breathless delight, is blown and wisplike vanishes.

Yet these joyous instants have a restorative power that propels us forward. Cumulatively each moment combines to provide some protection from the taunts of time. We can know that it flies but – for now – can not care.

I will just live and enjoy.