And here is a link to our last ABC612 Parenting Panel of the year, containing a rerun of my favourite bit of the whole year, when Brad the Traffic Guy read my parenting traffic update.
Let’s start over. From now on, you are to have first pick of the take away menu. You are to have the drumstick, the big slice, the comfy corner of the couch. No more end of the loaf toast for you, no more cold dinner, no more three dollar shampoo. I don’t ever want to hear you describe yourself as not all that clever ever, ever again. I don’t ever want to hear that acceptance in your voice as you admit that you bought his story that your appearance is somehow less than it should be. From now on we draw a line in the sand. This is acceptable, this is not. And when it is not I want to see you let the tiger out. No more powerlessness, no more keeping quiet, no more waiting and seeing.
I saw it happening, but I didn’t know it until now. I wish I could have saved you from the crushing he has given you as he squashed the fight out of you year upon year upon year. He took away (some of) your spark and that’s not acceptable. I don’t know what kind of fears you have lived with, I don’t know what your new fears are. I hear you say it a lot, that you are frightened. But I want to say to you no. He has taught you that and he’s gone now. He has taught you that you can’t be alone, that you can’t be the strongest person in the house. Every day he has chipped away at you until your own son forgot what your laugh sounded like. Not acceptable.
It’s time now for noisy laughter, for spontaneous decisions, for expensive shampoo. It’s time to own your body and your space and your opinion. No more apologising, much more expecting. No more doubting that you’re worth spending time with. The only reason you didn’t pick up the phone is because he made you believe that nobody wanted to answer. It’s time to separate out the person he stepped on and the person you are. He tried and he failed. No more asking permission no more second guessing. Today is the day for a new haircut, a new puppy and some fresh air.
Next week, starting on Sunday the 9th to the 16th of March is multiple birth awareness week. It’s one of those things that, even as a mother of twins, I would usually pay no attention to. When I discovered I was pregnant with twins, despite the urging of friends and medical specialists aplenty, the last thing I wanted to do was join AMBA or BMBA or whateverBA or anything related to to twins or mothers’ groups or the like. I didn’t want to talk about it, be advised about it or have anyone cook me a lasagne for the freezer. I was in DE. NI. AL.
I lived in what I thought was normal for quite some years. I just thought I had lost myself and that my children had swallowed me whole. I just had to deal with it and come to accept what was a really difficult experience for me because they were my kids and nothing was going to change that. The sense of entrapment was profound. There was a constant sense of outrage, helplessness and despair that was unescapable. On top of that was the mother guilt, which every mother on this earth knows deeply. It’s about as real a state as the photoshopped cover of Cosmo. It’s not how life is meant to be. I didn’t really ask for and commit to help until I was desperate. There was no way you would get an honest answer to the question ‘how are you?’ from me, ever. I hated hearing ‘you’ve got your hands full’ or ‘it gets easier’ or the nauseating,’ twins! what a blessing!’. I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t ask, answer or listen.
It’s multiple birth awareness week. Can I tell you something? Having multiples is not like having kids close together. It’s not easier because you get it all over and done with in one go. It’s not the same as a house full of singletons. It is different. For some it will be a dream. For some it will not. For me it was complicated by the fact that at the very same moment I was scanned and found two little babies, someone very close to me was realising she’d never bear her own children. It was made harder because I wanted to bitch about my lot but I was surrounded by women in the painful throes of miscarriage, IVF and infertility. Fate deals a bitch of a hand.
It’s multiple birth awareness week. With a combination of good therapy, time, medication and prayer, I am getting my life back. I joined BMBA. I’m writing for AMBA. I am looking forward to BMBA Market Day (*details below). I even went to my day care centre’s ‘Mum’s Night’ tonight. SO not something I would have done a year ago. I am falling so deeply in love with my children; something I imagine most Mums do when their babies are born, but something that took me a little longer. It is no less exquisite. I am happy. The inner rage is gone. I am excited on Friday afternoons instead of apprehensive.
Even if you are not ready to ask, answer or listen, you are still not alone, we are here. There are lots of us who struggled hard with this journey, even hated it at times. We are here. If you need us we are here at the drop of a hat, but we will not force you because we understand that sometimes you need to hide in a cave for a few years. If you need a listening ear without advice, we are here. If you need to get drunk and feel numb, we are here. If you need someone to sit there right next to you and not widen their eyes at the amount of baby noise, then yep, we are here. Advice, you can get it anywhere. I am unlikely to give it. What I can give is empathy and complete lack of judgement. You are not alone.
Please consider supporting the Brisbane Multiple Birth Association Market Day on Sunday the 16th of March.
I’m an introvert and a feminist. Hooray!
Why am I an introvert? Because Myers and Briggs say so. And because I know that spending time alone, really really alone, isn’t just a luxury for me, it’s a necessity. It is absolutely therapeutic and I will guard that time fiercely. Please don’t ever be offended if I decline to spend time with you because I am relishing a long planned and long anticipated day alone. Being alone makes me a better mother, a nicer friend and a cooler wife. Being alone gives me ideas, it allows me time to choose good ones and identify bad ones. Being alone gives me a moment to stop the constant noise in my head.
Why am I a feminist? And what kind of feminist am I? Well, I want to define it for myself, without reading anyone else’s ideas about what it should mean for me and who and what I need to believe in. I’m a feminist because I want the world to expect me to contribute richly in ways other than raising my children. I also I want to be able to go running at night without fear. I want to move in public space without thinking that I must act, speak, walk or dress carefully so as to avoid unsavoury, unwanted attention. I want to live my whole life without thinking that at some point, I may be attacked and raped. I want girls to stop dreaming about marriage and start dreaming about personal and community achievement. I want the daughters of my friends to grow up without having to look at images of women and parts of women that aren’t real, pictures that tell them over and over that they’ll never be thin/sexy/beautiful enough. I want the tomboyish girls and the princessy girls to learn from each other. I want parents to stop dressing their girls in ridiculous outfits for rough and tumble play in the local park such that she either curbs her play or shows her knickers to the world. I want men to get over the obsession with boobs. I want us to be able to have women in very high office and there not to be commentary about her arse, her clothes or her hair. I do not want words such as bitch, witch, dog and crone to be used about these women. I do not want words like c**t and slut to be used ever, ever again. I want a new acquaintance to ask me what are you interested in? instead of are you married with kids? I also don’t want as much of the traditional domestic role as I have taken on. Defaulted into. I also want to be able to declare my feminism without a (but I don’t hate men). Just like I want to be able to say that motherhood is boring and hard (but of course I love my kids). Blue Milk said it brilliantly last week on ABC612 (paraphrasing) – parenting is moments of wonderful and the rest is tedious.
It’s not a new year’s resolution. It is not a Dry January nor a detox nor a diet. It’s no post-40 turning of a new leaf. I simply need to know that I can. I have been drinking a glass or two of wine every day of my life for several years running. Mr 6 recently drew a picture of me with my female friends and we were all sitting around a table with glasses of wine. Clearly, it’s time to scale it back. My inner critic has been whispering furiously all this while. Am I…? Inspired in part by fear and in part by my brother-in-law who has had a month long medically induced alcohol ban and has lost 6 kg in the blink of an eye, I have set about a radical overhaul of my drinking habits. I absolutely love wine and wine loves me so I will not be going fully dry. Life is far too short and I’d become an insufferable bore. I’ve set myself two rules to follow until at least the 31st of January. Rule number 1: I can only drink at social events outside my house. Rule number two: I cannot drink two nights in a row. Given the critical blow that young children have inflicted upon my social life, I don’t think there’ll be much drinking.
We (mothers of the young) are the new face of alcoholism. We are the “Oblivion Drinkers” – mums who also work outside the home (or don’t) and self medicate with a glass or two of wine to help the stress of the day get sorted. Google mothers and alcohol and you’ll disappear into a worm hole of writings about how we’re all getting mildly or madly juiced up in the evening day after day and not noticing a habit creeping up on us. We pour with automaticity while chopping the carrots, with dinner and again once the little darlings are finally quiet, having fallen into sleep at last. We sigh and collapse, we deserve this. I could be the poster girl for a generation of Sauv Blanc Mums.
I don’t have a drinking problem. I’m also pretty keen not to get one. I want to continue my love affair with wine for joy, not for survival. So I am just over a week into my new rules. This first week included New Year’s Eve, which was of course an exception. One night of wine consumption though (as opposed to seven or eight) is a win in my view. I’m giddy to report that apart from self congratulatory day counting, I haven’t missed it. My skin in clearer (related?) and so is my head. Wish me luck!
Coming home from China, after three years as an expat resident in Suzhou, was one of the most difficult periods in my life. If I thought I experienced culture shock going over, it was nothing compared to coming back. China is a vibrant, noisy, exciting, boisterous, energetic world where life is lived out on the footpath and in large groups of extended family and friends. Suburban Brisbane couldn’t be more different. When we are out on the streets here, we are alone or in nuclear family groups, quickly attending to the busyness of our day. Come sunset, we close our gates and lock our doors. We eat behind closed doors, we love, argue and raise our children in the privacy of our own homes. We have space, lots of it, and we prickle when someone enters ours uninvited. Coming home was hard. The silence was one of the hardest things to get used to. Quiet evenings, no incessant beeping of bike and car horns, quiet, civilised supermarkets where everyone waits patiently in line. And no nightly fireworks outside my bedroom window.
I had to let go of so many things during that time, and it was a pruning that left me bare and raw; a sad little twig trying to come back to life after a dry winter. If I’m honest, there was a material shock in coming from a place where I was a relative affluent with disposable income up to my eyeballs, to Australia, a regular on the highest cost of living in the world lists. On one salary. We went from two international holidays a year to budgeting to the last twenty bucks in our fortnightly coffers. It was humbling and necessary, and it forced me to reflect on what happiness really was and what my family really needed.
I had to let go of a concept that I had of myself that I was competent, educated, valued and skilled. I came out of the best professional experience of my career, to staying at home with my toddler, failing at the job day after day and wondering who the hell I was. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything well. It was a new experience of hating myself and how badly I thought I was at mothering. It was a dangerous cycle that escalated over the next few years. So much of my identity had ben wrapped up in my profession, that when that was gone, I was lost.
Possibly the hardest part though, was letting go of friends. Not the friends I left behind in China, for those, despite the distance, stuck close by (electronically) and are close still. It was the friends I returned to. After a while, I realised it was time to loosen my grip. I knew that being the returning traveller was nothing special to those who hung around. We have all been away, come home, gone again, returned. It’s the job of the returnee to reconnect, I get that. So, despite being an introvert to the core, I committed myself to making the effort to reconnect with my friends. I phoned, I emailed, I Facebooked, I called again. It was an incredible shock to me to find that a few of my long term friends had simply moved on. I had to, for my own sanity, just give up.
I should add that this was all during the worst phase of my depression, when I was sad but didn’t realise, I just thought I was failing. So everything was sadder, more black and white, less logical and more tragic. I was just desperately looking for a safety net and found it not in old friends, but in new ones. I vividly recall one very very sad day, I was walking around with my toddler, six months pregnant with twins and just killing time as I seemed to do day after day. Heading toward home I considered stopping at the park for a while, to kill another half hour or so. I almost didn’t, but did. I was sad to the point of holding back tears. A woman came along, newborn in pram and toddler on foot. We talked. I found that I hadn’t totally given up because I had the courage to suggest we swap phone numbers. A little over a year later, I ran my first half marathon with her. We now babysit each other’s kids. She cooked for me when I moved house. She saved me. She never even knew it.
It was a painful pruning, but the spring came, as it always does, and the new has replaced the old. It took a really long time, several years in fact, to recover from reverse culture shock. I feel like China was a juncture in my life. There is before-China and after-China. My life BC after couldn’t be more different to my life AC. My work life, home life, social life, all of them are totally not what they were before. Many spring buds have blossomed into full bouquets that have brought me such happiness. Too much with the spring metaphor? I’m thinking too much. Yep, much too much…I feel a little ill….just threw up a bit in my mouth.
A friend recently threw caution to the wind and bravely asked what all of us have probably wanted to ask a zillion times but were too skittish/scared/embarrassed. I’ll paraphrase her to protect the innocent. Is your relationship surviving your kids? Well is it?
Kids suck the life from your most significant relationship in more ways than you can count. I never seem to be able to write about a thing when I’m knee deep in it. Too emotional, too close for comfort, too much too soon. Maybe it’s dishonest of me not to, but I do know I have more insight when a crisis has passed. We all love hindsight right? I am also bound by my main rule of social media and blogging…husband didn’t sign up, so don’t sign him up. He gets right of veto on anything I put out there. My vow in social media and in general, is to never say anything publicly that would embarrass him, belittle him or cause others to think ill of him. I won’t discuss the intimate details of my relationship with him. But I’ll acknowledge that none of us are alone in various levels of relationship crises brought on by the little angels we, starry eyed and naive, brought into our lives.
There are things I know that see us through the tough times we’ve already had and are having and will have. One of course is dating. We have been totally crap at dating these past two years, but are determined to make it happen again. Leaving the house with nothing but your clutch in one hand and your partner’s hand in the other is a feeling like no other. For the first few minutes you feel like you’ve forgotten something, but then you ease into the quiet conversation that flows on and on without ever being interrupted for fight resolution, toilet assistance or apple peeling.
Quiet time alone has helped us too. We are both capital I Introverts. In the Myers Briggs sense. Time alone is not a luxury, it is a necessity. This is another thing that we are crap at, at the moment. When we make the effort to give each other quiet time, we stupidly wonder at the difference it makes. Like a lot of things, we know what helps, we just forget to do it. Running, for example. It makes me feel amazing, I should have my lazy ass out there every day but I’m doing well if I hit the road two or three times a week.
Some other things that help to kid proof your relationship…
Cuddle often in front of your kids. Don’t let them join in. Let them know that sometimes, mummy/daddy is more important than you are little one.
Let them see you fight, but make sure they see you say sorry.
My husband is trying to make me stop and take a few minutes, with him, just before sunset. The kids are playing, it’s cool, the light is lovely and he almost has to tie me down to stop me from being busy. When I do, it’s lovely. Stop together, every day.
This one I would like to do but it’s hard at the moment when my husband gets set upon the moment he walks in the door. I want me and him to be the first person he and I want to see and say hi to at the end of the day. We’ll get there.
When I am having a conversation with him, and the kids interrupt, they get scolded. I’m snatching some precious seconds here people, wait your turn! In a few ways and at some times, I do want them to know that he comes first.
Nothing new or particularly wise here. It’s hard. Young kids will make you or break you. They used to say that about travelling together. Nothing so far has been as hard as this for us. What is different now is that I feel great excitement for the years to come. I don’t have any doubt that it will be easier, more fun, full of laughs and maybe even some travel. I am already feeling moments of peace that I didn’t have for quite a few years. Just little pauses in the chaos that are coming more frequently and are lasting just that little bit longer.