family

Bye Bye Baby

I don’t want another child. I was never especially maternal. So I never thought I’d be someone to mourn the passing of the “baby years”. I used to read stories of women’s sadness at saying goodbye to this time with, if not scorn, then at least bemusement. But you had those years with them, what gives? But now, I’m here.

My youngest child turned three near the start of this year, next August, he’ll start school. I went back to an office job at the beginning of June. It’s a seismic shift in my life, after 4.5 years of being a freelancer and stay-at-home-parent.

This week it’s been hitting me: the baby years are gone.

I thought I’d be pleased, entirely. I have tried to enjoy each step of my two children’s development and I’ve always relished the next stage, skipping ahead, looking forward without regrets. I don’t want to hold them back, or fix them in time. I love seeing them grow and become more independent. I see my biggest success as a parent displayed in their increasing ability to do without me.

And yet, and yet…

I find myself tearing up with regrets. Yes! Me! Maybe it’s a natural backlash to major change to glance back over one’s shoulder as your train leaves the station, wondering if you should have stayed one more hour, one more day.

A passage in a novel described a new mother “kissing every inch of her baby’s body” and had me welling up in tears. Did I ever do that? Did I stop, and take the time to explore his skin, lip-print by lip-print until I’d covered it with an invisible velvet of love? It wasn’t the author’s intention (I suppose) but, like all the bestworst parenting articles I read, it had me questioning myself.

Because maybe… I just got through? Maybe I didn’t stop and simply exist in love. Maybe I didn’t even feel that perfect, gentlefierce babylove they describe in stories. I am not doing mum-guilt here. I honestly do not remember.

I do remember feeling anxious, feeling the need to get things done. Being miffed by the books that said “leave the housework!” because, what is worse than sitting, pinned to the couch by breastfeeding and contemplating a huge, dusty mess? Ugh. I got things done, I met my friends, I did the grocery shopping, I went for long walks listening to music and exploring the suburb while the baby slept. I walked an hour a day, easily. I read books and newspapers. I produced a 48-page quarterly magazine for the local NCT branch. I cooked food and kept the baby fed. I went to the pub occasionally. I organised minor repairs and renovations on the house. I went to the park, to baby swimming, to coffee dates and tea with mates. Did I ever just kick back though, suffused with joy in my small perfect creation? I don’t know.

Probably I did? And maybe I still do. We’re all attempting to be more mindful these days after all.

Perhaps it’s that the moments of quiet joy are just that – so quiet and humble and unmemorable. You can’t recall them, much less write a whole 750-word column about them, unless you’re really smug?

In another novel, the mother regards her newborn as “the most perfect thing she’s ever seen”. OK it’s another one of those clichés, but I don’t know if I ever felt this either. Others must feel it, I believe that. Was I too busy, too sensible, too practical, too nervy to have allowed myself to feel that pure love and contentment? Did I have postnatal anxiety? I do remember describing that first year of maternity leave in London as “the best year of my life” and it was. I went back to work, eventually moved countries and had another baby, then spent another busy “maternity year” and beyond. In many ways, things have just got better and better.

But I can’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But now, I never will know for sure…

So I’m mourning a little. And it’s somewhat unexpected. Goodbye baby years and all your chaotic, scary, busy intenseness and boredom that means I can almost only remember rushing about and enjoying myself, sometimes frustrated and upset, other times happy and occupied but almost always with something-to-do rather than sitting in a post-natal haze of rosegold glow. Ahh, maybe that’s just my own version of it.

Whatever it is, or was, I find myself surprisingly sad to say farewell to that bright pocket of time as my life moves, ever swiftly, onwards.

Missing my mother

The same steak knives in Zurich that my mother has in Sydney

The same steak knives in Zurich that my mother has in Sydney

 

Is it any surprise

We have the same knives

When our lives

Are so easily connected

By flight?

 

But complacency’s unwise

Because not all the ties

Are strong and it’s night

In your world, while in mine

The sun shines

 

And tho the lines

Of communication open lie

The sight of those knives

was a cutting remind

You’re not by my side

I am a feminist

 

I have been on a bit of a blog hiatus. My parents were here all through May and it all just got too much – the blog was something that had to slide. Been feeling a bit burnt out these last few weeks. But anyway. Here I am again.

I’ve been reading some feminist and female-focused stuff lately. Well, I guess I’m always reading this but somehow it’s all come together, as things tend to do. I read Viv Albertine’s autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. And Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist (followed by her novel An Untamed State). And a million online articles (headlines at least) about the Stanford rapist, the Cincinatti gorilla, Johnny Depp & Amber Heard’s breakup and the fucking US election. All of them seem to relate to the topic.

I don’t know. I feel a bit hopeless and helpless with all this stuff. We’ve come so far and yet we’ve come barely any distance at all. I look at my two little boys’ willies in the bath at night and think – how can these mini-Elephant-head-looking bits of the human body be responsible for so much crap in the world? I don’t even need to say “Why do men think they have a right to women’s bodies?” because I sort of know why – because it’s been like that for a very long time.

Why do we tend to believe the male story over the female? Because we’re so much more used to male-led stories, it’s familiar. It’s the authority we know. The norm.

I loved Viv Albertine’s book because it was a female perspective on a time and movement I’ve read so much about (the London punk scene circa 1976-79). I loved her insights on music – that women often focus on the lyrics rather than the instruments because you didn’t see many females playing instruments (still don’t, really) but words are relatable – I totally get that. It’s something often said in feminist and anti-racist discussions but I’ll repeat it: it’s so much easier to do something when you can see an example like “yourself” already doing it. I was somehow disappointed when Albertine disappeared into motherhood and domesticity – someone so obviously talented — (although she’s back on the scene now).. And that she was so concerned with appearance – clothing, her weight, hair removal – but then that’s also me. Completely. So I appreciated the honesty. And it’s not like being a mother or doing domestic stuff is non-feminist… is it? I guess maybe a part of me kind of does believe that. Probably a post for another day. And don’t even get me started on the struggle between motherhood and artistic endeavour…

This leads me to why I read Bad Feminist. Because the synopsis struck a chord – about how the author, Roxanne Gay, strives to be a “good feminist” but lives with the contradictions of things that are considered anti-feminist, such as wanting someone to look after her and loving music that’s horrible to women. In her case, rap à la Robin Thicke and the Ying Yang Twins et al. In my case, hair metal à la Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Motley Crüe etc. (I’d say Steven Tyler is a feminist in many ways but that’s a whole other blog post again). I liked that she was so articulate about not having to be a perfect feminist to still be part of the cause. And how there’s still this lack of… stuff… for women — so few examples where you see “yourself” as I mentioned earlier — so we kind of want everything to tick all the boxes and fill all the gaps, which is impossible, of course. I was also enlightened by her words about how women of colour have so often been excluded from the feminist movement over the years. The book takes the form of a series of essays. Some of her arguments, particularly early on, were a tad patchy, but towards the end, some chapters are searingly on point: concise, cutting, powerful. Her essay on reproductive freedom, The Alienable Rights of Women, nailed it. Really worth reading. You can also watch Roxanne Gay’s 11.5-minute TED talk.

Heard/Depp and Gorillas. Well… you read my poem Over Heard and Cincinatti (didn’t you?!) We enjoy judging, feeling superior, BEING superior. Watching and jeering from the sidelines. It’s human nature. It’s nature-nature: survival of the fittest, red in tooth and claw. I guess that feeling of superiority and entitlement that’s so appealing is something like being a top-of-the-foodchain white, heterosexual alpha male? Maybe I’m oversimplifying. Maybe I should just stop reading my Facebook news feed. All this stuff really has nothing to do with us – it doesn’t really change my life one iota knowing, or not knowing, that, on the other side of the world, a child was endangered and a zoo animal died, or the state of two strangers’ marriage.

The US election probably does affect things. Although maybe not as much as America, or the world’s news organisations, might like us to believe! This week it officially became about Hilary-first-woman-everything and Trump the bigoted alpha male. It will be both fascinating and, I fear, horrific to see how it plays out.

In some ways, feminism, and perhaps even the wider equality movement (if you can call it that), is trying to do something completely radical, get us to go against the grain. Use our brains first, instead of our bodies. Ignore and/or embrace difference rather than fear it and/or seek to oppress. But then we’re too much in our heads they say, we need to live in the moment, be instinctive, feel ourselves breathe.  I wonder if that Stanford rapist was “in the moment” for his 20 minutes of action? Ugh. I feel sick thinking about it.

When I break up playfights between my boys, I’ve been trying to explain to my five-year-old that it’s not cool to push or take advantage of someone younger / smaller than you. In fact, that it’s not OK to physically take advantage of anyone ever. That disputes can be solved in different ways and that violence and using your larger body to push down a smaller body is not one of the acceptable methods. But he is still small (except compared to his brother).  I want him to be able to defend himself. I hope I can give him non-violent tools to achieve this throughout his life.

I’m sad. I’m not writing this very well nor expressing all the stuff I want to say properly. I don’t have any insights, others have said it better (see above). It’s a statement that will surprise precisely nobody but I still feel the need to say this: I am a feminist. I am a feminist. I am a feminist. Everyone should be. I’m not sure I even want to know you if you’re not one. I don’t feel a lot of joy in the world right now. I really hope things get better.

Teeth: a family portrait

teeth

The new one’s teeth are new

Only seven have come through

His little cheeks so red today

I think another’s on its way

 

The big one’s choppers have no caries

But soon he’ll lose them all to fairies

I’ll be sad to see them go

He’s growing up so fast, you know

 

My fangs have recently been cleaned

The nurse was brutal and it seemed

far too painful – I was sore

So now I brush better than before

 

Himself’s pearlies gleam — no worries

Despite the years and years of durries.

Since it’s passed by DNA

I hope the boys’ genes went his way

 

There’s something so lovely about mouths

And the chunks of calcium in ours

might not look like Hollywood

Yet the smiles are very good

 

I’m giving National/Global Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo / GloPoWriMo) a go – write one poem, per day throughout April. Today’s prompt/challenge was to do a family portrait in poetry. I wanted to write about teeth anyway so it seemed to fit nicely.

Toddler time  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A rather mundane post about the frustrations of a day spent toddler-wrangling…

As parents of young children will know, it’s expected that, on the days you’re home with them as primary carer, you take your kids out to the park (or some equally worthy place of child-centred activity: a friend’s house, playgroup, family-friendly cafes, the zoo etc.) Sometimes I find this a bit of a fraught activity. My son often says he wants to go initially, but when it comes to the ritual of actually getting dressed, shoes on, out of the house, he objects. Strongly. This is usually because he’s in the middle of some little game of his own devising, so I have the double whammy of tearing him away from self-perpetuated activity, coupled with the fact I’m not that plussed about going out myself. (I think I’ve become a bit agoraphobic since moving to Swizerland – fear of foreign places). And pregnant: it’s all soo much harder trying to manoeuvre physically and mentally right now.

Also – is this as recent phenomenon / modern parenting trap? My mum and her peers seem to think it’s slightly bonkers the way parents these days around and try to do something with/for the kid EVERY DAY. In their time it was much more about the child fitting the parents’ routine, it seems. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten. I’m also really starting to wonder if it’s one of those situations that’s worse for the part-time parent? Full-time stay at home, you’ve got the routine going a bit more smoothly (maybe?! I seem to remember this from my year off on maternity leave but of course that was with a baby. This is probably just a BS grass-is-greener feeling on my part). Part time, it seems like you’re constantly juggling and adjusting and so is your child. Those three or four days a week of daycare are great, but it often feels like you’re right back at amateur hour when the “mum time” kicks in…

Anyway so, back to my toddler day. We finally make it out of the house but I realize I also need to get some groceries in. Is the park in any way near or convenient to any shops? Is it fuck. Ok so now begin the negotiations of what we do first. Park first or shops first. You can imagine what a 3-year-old who has no idea of the joys of delayed gratification is gunning for. Ok so park. We get there. It is closed. Great. So… the other park it is. To get there, we may as well detour past the shops. But I’m already feeling somewhat defeated. Why is it so hard to achieve two relatively simple things? Park and shops? Why must I lug my prego belly so far just to buy food and go on the swings? Sigh.

We make it to the shops, I haven’t brought the list because I’d been thinking we’d just go to the park but once I was out, it seemed crazy not to swing by the supermarket as well. I get a clutch of goods comprised of some stuff I remember off the list, a few things I’ve thought of since and various bits that catch my eye as we whip through. I wonder, for the 837th time since P was born, if anyone without a buggy in the supermarket realises how bloody awkward and annoying it is to try to shop with one. Manhandling the stroller with one hand, while an increasingly weighty shopping basked dangles off the other arm… and pregnant. Ugh.

We leave and by now I’ve decided that fuck it, it’s already noon and we need to buy some food for lunch and we can take it to the park and have it as a picnic. This food will be Macdonalds. Fuck it. Yes, I feel bad, yes, part of me has THE FEAR that having fast food right now will set a dangerous precedent with P but it’s been a rough morning. The doctor told me yesterday after clocking my low-ish weight gain with this pregnancy “it’s ok to eat!” And I want a treat. I steel myself for feeling like slapper mum of the year and walk into maccas, negotiating the large stroller round school bags of teens and inadvertently ramming ankles. The area in front of the counter is packed. So full there are not even clearly defined queues . I can’t deal with it, I can’t be bothered and, literally  we can’t even fit. We trundle back out. “Are we going to the park now?” Asks P who, in all honesty, has been pretty patient up until now. “Yes” I sigh, thinking of Burger King one street over but knowing it will be equally full of student lunchers.

We make our way to the park. I have to wheedle and cajole P to hop out of the buggy to walk up the steep hill to get there – it’s too heavy for me to push with him in and the shopping, and did I mention 8 months pregnant? Finally he agrees. We get to the park. We stop for a pastry snack on a park bench in the sun. It’s nice. We get to the play area. It’s completely deserted. I remember that I sort of hate the park. Where is everyone? Am I missing something? Sheesh it’s no wonder I feel lonely. Of course, the times when another parent-and-child are there, they speak in German so I’m out of the picture either way. It’s almost more isolating when that happens, in fact.

I push him on the swing for a while, he demands more, more, more. I make bargains about finishing and have to back down every time. This is why parenting is so much harder than office work: the emotional undermining . Constantly being denied, overridden, bossed about by a 3 year old who in no way knows better than you and, in fact, you’re meant to be guiding to become a decent human being. Others have said this better than me. I can’t be bothered looking up the links to the articles right now.

I try to look around and enjoy the glorious autumn display of trees, leaves are all the colours, from bright lime green, yellow, orange and all shades of brown. A puff of wind sends a shower of them spiralling to the ground, looking up, it’s like a gentle leaf snowfall spinning out in the sky above me. It’s really beautiful. There’s squirrels and birds flitting about in the thinning branches and almost no one around, a few dog walkers passing, pleasant, productive sounds of hammering and home renovations nearby. But it doesn’t sustain me. We’re back to negotiations. I’m bored of pushing this shitty swing and it’s nearly 1pm now, we need to go home and eat a proper lunch. I don’t know where this Timetable Of Correct Parenting comes from, I just know I need to adhere to it as well as possible or I’ll feel even worse. As he screams and cries and I give in once again, I have tears my eyes. How can I feel so defeated after just a couple of hours? What do you do when a depression trigger is taking your son to the park?

We get home, he goes straight back to his toys. I can’t be bothered insisting on lunch although I eat some myself. When he asks for TV an hour later, I capitulate. When I finally convince him to eat, around 3.30pm, we have a 20-minute long fight about butter – whether it’s on the toast I’ve made him (of course it is, but he insists it’s not and demands I remake the meal to his specifications) which involves him crying and us arguing until I finally dab a token amount of butter on top of the already-spread toast and he eats it.

I’m sometimes get so sick of this motherhood gig, to whom do I address my resignation letter?