Tag Archives: Family

Letting go and finding new

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scary dudes Arch Sept 2012

 

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.

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I am moving on

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red right hand Arch Feb 2012

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 😉

Lost Together

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skeletons and scary stuff Arch July 2012

 

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.

Baby names, guns and feeling great

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Here are some links from the past few weeks of the Parenting Panel on ABC612 Brisbane. We talked about baby names in the wake of the birth of the thoughtfully named North West, we talked about allowing your children to play with guns (or not) and we talked about coming out of depression and feeling strong.

Listen to the baby name madness here.

Listen to the gun play debate here.

Listen to us talking about getting better and feeling great here.

And just because….

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Some Mothers

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Some mothers have nothing in their arms but the ache of the needing to hold their child. Some mothers started and grew, but found their garden suddenly empty. Some could never get their gardens started, no matter what they tried. Despite many many false starts. No volume of tears was enough, no amount of gentle tending, not even a thousand prayers. Some mothers had five, ten, fifteen little dreams and wishes, a noisy brood never to be, silenced before they had a moment to cry mummy.

Some mothers still and always will ache for that one missing little heart. Missing because life allowed them part of their dream, but not the whole. Some, because one went out and never came back. The dream and the memory of the soft cheek and the sweet smell and the darling voice will be an everyday torture for some mothers.

Some mothers hold their little dreams right there in their arms, together in a hell of poverty, hunger, violence, grief. Some mothers slave at machines while fevered angels sleep at their feet. Some mothers forage until their knuckles bleed in the hope of finding a scrap to eat or sell. Some mothers hide in fear from a tyrant, throwing themselves into harms way to protect the innocent. Some mothers are lost in the dark of a cracked mind, sad for no reason, or some reason.

Some daughters and sons wake with red eyes and heavy hearts, a hole in their lives, pain to live with. Some partners, sixty years of love lived, wake in an empty bed for the first time, and will never get used to breakfast alone. Some mothers may not be mothers, but have mothered the lost and unwanted and are every bit a mother.

To the mothers, the missing ones, the broken ones, the tortured ones, the almost ones, the hurting ones, all kinds, every one.

Virtually Married

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How does procreation affect a marriage? We have had the heartbreaking news recently of more than one set of friends seeing their relationships falter and fail. I feel sick to my stomach with the sadness of it, so I cannot imagine how painful it must be to go through. Kids are cited as a major pressure, not the ’cause’, but a major, major pressure. With about a third of marriages in Australia ending in divorce, it is perhaps pessimistic, but sadly realistic to say that these will not be the last of our friends to go through such a seismic life change.

I once would have said that there was no way my marriage would end in divorce. No. Way. I am far more realistic now. I would like to know the statistics on families with multiples and divorce/separation rates. Someone once (perhaps well meaningly) said to me see, having twins is no big deal. Well, I can tell you, it’s been the biggest deal of my life thus far. It has nearly broken me and it has come close to breaking my marriage. I just wrote and then deleted a whole qualification on how I shouldn’t look at things so negatively and had better count my blessings. Our experiences are what they are. For better or for worse, these are my thoughts, feelings and learnings.

We have spent years putting off conversations. Years of nights too tired or talked out to talk again once that sweet silence descends on the house. Years of we really should get a babysitter this weekend only to forget. Years of texting each other important stuff because it is only in that second when the thought comes to you that you can remember what it was you had been meaning to say for weeks. Years of frenetic pace, much too fast to look, listen, be gentle, talk softly. Years of everyone else but us. Years of just just keeping our heads above water.

We have pledged and pledged again to each other that we will not do that to each other, our kids, our family, our friends. No doubt about it, we have had our moments. My I wanna hurt myself moments are often accompanied by I also wanna leave. But I do not. Want to. I want him and everything that goes along with him. He has taken to leaving me notes around the house. I call him every afternoon when I get into the car for my half hour drive home form work. I am always home first. When he finally comes in the door I feel better. He has heard all my stories. He is still extremely funny. Yes, I love him, but apart from that, I really like him. This life has stretched us to the very limit. We have been close to broken and there are many things that need repair, but we are not broken. I’m a bit broken myself, but it’s nothing a bit of mind and heart work can’t fix.

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A shocking lack of perfection

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My plan for my kids was that, number one, they would be fantastic people. I of course would be an amazing mum, who would humbly refuse to take credit for their fantasticness, but I’d be quietly yet smugly thinking how freakin awesome a mum I am. I’ll admit that it was gratifying to hear people, day care teachers, extended family, random strangers, tell me again and again how lovely polite gentle smart creative well behaved my first and oldest is/was. I’ll admit that I thought he was better than most kids I knew. Yes, better, I said. I’ll admit that I, at times, basked in the warm pool of smug self congratulation.

So imagine my shock when I found out one of my twins is in fact a scamp. He is the sand throwing, toy chucking, face slapping, ear drum popping, troublesome one at day care. He is the one around whom the day’s activities are often planned, so that we can manage him. Well, when I say found out, it’s not like I didn’t know. I just didn’t know he was as bad at day care as he is at home. I want to fall into a sink hole, but I paste my smile on. The young day care teacher is nervous. Nervous! Her usual, more experienced partner is absent for the day and management of my boy will fall to her on this day. I want to rewind to the part where I was a great parent. My stomach simmers with a fear that this is all my fault.

I’m terrified that this is not normal behaviour. Somewhere in my head there is a voice saying hey, he’s not yet 3, he will grow out of it. But what if he doesn’t? What if I have in fact, wrecked him? What if all my great strategies actually don’t work? What then? I want him and love him just as he is (and he is fantastic), but I want others to approve of him also. I was devastated recently when someone referred to him as a nightmare. My boy? My little boy?

My children have stripped me bare. I don’t know how to measure success of anything anymore. I don’t know anything about anything. Least of all parenting. Great parenting can’t be as shallow as simply having a well behaved nice kid. Can it? It can’t be intellect, emotional maturity, happiness. Can it? Surely I can hope for more than just raising a kid who can behave? It’s an ugly mess this job. It reduces me to a fool, a bumbling side act in a bad slapstick routine. It takes away any measure of self efficacy I may have, takes my confidence, drags me kicking and screaming out of that nice warm pool.