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.
It’s almost impossible for me to sit down to write without first sifting through at least ten cliched topic ideas. The year in review, recent awful incidents domestic and abroad, how the summer holidays went, my increasing frustration at the unbridled gluttony of Christmas, resolutions for the new year, how good it is that my kids have grown up some. I could do a list, a top ten or a how to. Once I have sorted through all my crappy ideas, I then have to sit frozen for a period while I wrestle with the fear that I can’t write anything. The awfully romantic thing is that I wrote way easier and quicker and (I think) better when I was depressed and wanting to hurt myself. So now I have this worry that I’ve got nothing to say. After crippling self doubt comes the first few words, helped along by a nice lubricating glass of whatever it is at the moment. So then I worry that people will think I am too reliant on alcohol but I have already approached that unease and I prevailed. And then a few more words come, always in little spurts, a sentence at a time, scrutinised for repetition, banality and adages. You won’t believe how often I consult the dictionary and the thesaurus while composing a post. One thing I can’t stand when reading is obvious writer’s habits. A turn of phrase or way of expressing something that a writer uses over and over. So I am hyper vigilant to it in my own writing. Having said that I am in no doubt that most readers could find banality (!) and habits in my stuff.
Sometimes I end up with something I really like and think is good. Like this one. I really liked that one. Then most other stuff is simply OK. Maybe some of it is a bit boring to read, but I haven’t been game enough to publish something here that I think is truly crap. All writing wisdom says you have to just write, and write heaps of crappy stuff before you get to the good stuff. I think my blog is the writing equivalent of the girl who takes 200 selfies and posts only the one where her chin is just so, her eyes are open enough but not too much, and her hips turned just enough to make her look thin enough but not like she has too big of a butt. It’s a bit exhausting. I wonder if all the really cool bloggers I know and read have this problem. Or if their version of crap is my version of good. I’m sure they must at least occasionally write a bit of crap.
I wanted to finish with one of my original cliched ideas. Original cliche, see what I did there? A friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook in her Christmas wishes, I know for some of you today will be wonderful & for some it will be heartbreaking. We all get our turn at both in life. I thought that it was an expression of such lovely and true empathy. There has been a great deal of sparing of thoughts and thoughts going out to and thoughts and prayers being cast about in recent weeks. But my friend’s comment stayed with me right through the day, and the next several days. And I really did spare a thought. Lots of them. My thought sparing came with honest pain in my heart and a humble, joyful acknowledgement that all who were expected at my Christmas table were there. I always liked the idea that you could carry a bit of pain for someone at times when it was unbearable and make it (not less painful) just that tiny bit shared. So I hoped, in my thought sparing, that I did it at just the right time, for the many, many with an empty seat at the Christmas table.
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.
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.
Join us on ABC Brisbane local radio 612 each Wednesday for our parentage chat with Steve Austin.
In recent weeks on ABC612, we have talked about child health and fitness….
And we tackled the minefield of kids’ birthday parties…
And we tried to figure out the stages of parenting…
And just because…here’s Mummy doing the gardening.
Brothers, it’s me. Twin 2 she calls me, or Trouble, or Baby B. When she is in a good mood, or has had a couple of glasses of that yellowy water, she might call me Bunny, or Sausage, or Chicken. Anyway, I’ve snuck away. There may only be moments to spare. Not a sixty second period goes by where she doesn’t suspiciously say where is your brother? Or she shouts my name, quickly followed by what ARE you doing? Honestly that woman does not trust me alone for a single moment. If we tally up the number of times she shouts all the names, I’m way out in front. I am not suggesting for a moment that I am the innocent in all this, but I do think she overreacts at times.
Take for example the time I flushed the bath plug down the toilet, followed by the face cloth, and my teddy, undies and other things she doesn’t know about. She and Daddy pulled out their serious, deep voices that day. So overdramatic brothers. And I can’t help it if I like to empty things. Like bottles of Dettol, and whole bottles of bubble bath, and cooking oil, hand sanitizer, toothpaste tubes and my cup of water into my dinner. Just trying to be helpful people what’s the big deal? Sheesh. And why not bring the business end of the garden hose into the house to speed up the cleaning? She is always wiping things and cleaning food off the floor, surely the hose is more efficient brothers?
I am a born risk taker brothers. When I am a teenager this quality will ensure I am on a first name basis with the local Emergency Department nurses. As an adult, it will make me a millionaire in stocks. And then bankrupt. And then a millionaire. But at 3, well it’s a tricky skill to balance. Mum freaks out when I come out of the garage with a razor sharp pocket knife that I’ve managed to locate (those parental types continually underestimate my detective skills). She also loses her shit when she finds me in the playroom with Dad’s screwdrivers, secateurs and lawn mower.
I am also an unsung artist. We all know about my previous escapades with poo painting. Now that I hold a somewhat more mature view of excrement, my media are less offensive. Or so I thought. She seems impossible to please brothers. I thought that the white floor tiles downstairs were, well BORING!! I thought some dark brown paint would look GREAT! She is always carrying on about how freaking amazing my drawings are so why the big meltdown about my paint work? Brothers, do not try to understand adults.
If the stock market is not my future, then Junior Masterchef certainly is. But still I go unrecognised for my skills in my own home. Let me tell you, grated cheese and breakfast cereal IS a delight, no matter what your mother tells you about having to pick all the cheese out of the cereal box. And why am I the first to discover that custard and orange juice is a match made in heaven? People please.
Brothers, I will soldier on. If only to carry your faith in me as a valiant warrior would. But I am not without self reflection. Before I go (get caught) I must bare my soul in order to seek absolution. To the innocent fish at Day Care, I am sorry. I am so very sorry. You did not deserve the terror that was visited upon you. Please forgive me.
I thought I would wind up Passing Phase when the twins got themselves toilet trained. Having a house full of people personally responsible for their own excrement has been my mental line in the sand for many things. We’ll be able to go out without the children’s section of a department store on our backs, whole days out, less laundry, no nappies, camping even! But the time has come and it has come in lengths ahead of the twins being nappy free. I need to write about stuff other than parenting. I need to move on.
But I’ve fallen in love with Passing Phase. I really have. Writing just gives me something I can’t find anywhere else. So PP stays, but the brief will change. My new Facebook page here (please go and like it!!) will hopefully bring new readers, criticism, praise and disagreement. I am still waiting for my first troll. My writing focus will be opinion, fiction and maybe a bit of parenting.
The whole point is to build readers. I’ve got an important story to tell and when the time is right, I want to tell it loud and clear. I also want to build an audience who is interested is joining the discussion about disadvantage, education and the profound junction at which the two meet.
Join me. We’ll have fun. Or at least, an argument 😉
This week on ABC612 we asked the question, what if you are an Atheist parent and your kid turns out to be a fundamentalist Christian? Or the other way around? Good times.
And just because….
Please note that the following is a fictional reflection on a news story that has appeared in the media in Australia in recent weeks.
She had four children. She was young. She had a long history with bad men, painful relationships, loneliness. She was dirt desperate poor, had been all her life. No job, no education, no back up plan. Her kids were really all she had. Her kids were her purpose, her possessions. It was all she knew. She didn’t really have a lot of say in it anyway. She got fucked. She got pregnant. The first time was against her will at the age of 13. The next one just happened and after that it just seemed like the thing to do. After the birth of one child or another, who really knew, she sunk into a black hole so deep she lost all feeling. Even pain didn’t hurt anymore. Even the backhand of her drunken boyfriend didn’t hurt anymore. She lived a robotic cycle of motherwork and housework. As the months passed, things slipped out of her control. The house got messy, then dirty, then squalid. She noticed, but was catatonic with hopelessness. That she did notice made it so much worse. Made her feel that every inch of her was a failure. Things were just so hard. She woke up tired every morning. Not just bone tired but that kind of tired when simply speaking scrambles your mind. The emptiness she felt overwhelmed her and, given her lack of words, she could not explain it to herself or anyone else. So she fell silent.
The kids slipped away from her too. They went to school dirty, then hungry, then not at all. At least, not that she noticed. Her friends used to describe her as kind and sweet, a beautiful soul. Then she got pregnant again. With twins. Suddenly, there was a moment of sunshine. Hope. This was a miracle, something people wish upon stars for, and she, undeserving she, was chosen. Her friends gathered and said, this is what they needed, this will really give her something to live for, bring them together, put a smile on her face, she was born to be a mother. And it did. Just for a little while. Indeed she did smile. She loved them, of course she did, like any other mother.
But there was an unrelentingness to baby twins that she was in no way prepared for. They took turns in feeding and crying through the night in such a way as to leave her stretches of rest no longer than thirty minutes at a time. The stress of waiting for the sound of the next cry left her unable to sleep even in those moments of sheer exhaustion. The black dog momentarily kennelled came back bigger and angrier than ever. The sadness dried up her milk and she felt a failure once again. She struggled to afford the formula so she watered it down and cut back a bottle or two per day. Another shameful failure. Her children begged her to play, to smile, to cuddle the babies. But again, her words were gone, I’ll be better tomorrow, she thought, and seven days slipped by like one.
She had one single thing that was only hers and no one elses. One place she could be someone else and not her pathetic self. She had nothing that was fun, nothing nice, no joy. So it was easy to tell herself she deserved this one skerrick of something close to enjoyment, even if it was just a stupid internet game. In that world she had an escape, a different name. She could invent whatever past she wanted. She felt, not free from her desperation, but at least separated from it, when she played. But when she stopped, she fell back into hell.
Her friends gathered without her and whispered but did not dare say anything. They worried. But they thought, once the babies sleep through the night, she’ll be right. They didn’t notice, but it had been months since anyone saw or heard from her. Just give her time, they whispered, she’s got her hands full, they said. You don’t tell anyone how to raise their kids, they nodded.
While her friends whispered and gathered and worried, she tried. She was desperate to be a good mother, but incapable, utterly paralysed. Every time she failed, which was hundreds of times a day, she hated herself more deeply, more completely, more ferociously. The shame kept her away from her friends, her children, her boyfriend. The babies screamed day and night, cracking her already broken mind. If she ignored them long enough they would quieten and she would convince herself that they were just sleeping and that she’d check them in half an hour, after a little sleep. Just a little sleep. She knew she should probably feed them again, but she was so afraid that if she woke them she would never hear silence again. This is how days disappeared into nowhere. Months and months of soon, later, tomorrow piled up toward catastrophe.
She woke from a heavy nap one black afternoon with a sick jolt of panic. It was a rare moment of sharp rational pain. She realised she could not remember when she last fed the babies. She realised that it was probably weeks since she had taken them out of their room, and her breathing started to come fast and shallow. The house was silent. The smell of the house reached her as her senses woke up, joining her in panicky clarity. She knew before she walked into the room. She knew before she lifted the blanket and saw their quiet, open eyes. And when she saw, her already broken mind left her completely.
Somewhere in the days before this unspeakable moment, the two little babies had slipped away from the fear of abandonment, the pain of hunger and the life altering injury of constantly wanting to be cuddled. Had they lived, they would never have recovered from the hole left by those missing cuddles. They lay side by side, as they were from the very moment their lives began. When it came time to go, they held hands and went together.
She is the mother and will be visciously tried, judged and hung before a word is spoken in the courts. She is the mother and was supposed to protect them. She will stand trial for their murder, every horrible detail printed, and the father will be a side story. The father that failed those babies too. The friends that failed her will shake their heads and cry. The system that failed her will hope their mistakes are not played out in the media the way her failings will be. She will think of it every moment for the rest of her life and every time she does she will die again until there is nothing left of her.