In spite of everything, we are good enough

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I knew it would be a struggle, if not down right impossible, to write a post in the first week back to work. Readjusting to a new timetable, a reduction in the all important me time and the general malaise of February, it was bound to impact my ability to include any creative time. I also thought that after a week immersed in curriculum, professional development goals and new students, that my first post would be a reflection on career and aspirations. But no, even as I throw myself into this new academic year, full of hope and drive, I find that my deliberations are on my role as mum. Maybe I’m finally grasping that being a parent, is always going to be my number one, my first and foremost, even when I attempt to bring my job to the forefront.

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We are all Teachers of Resilience

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As the last public holiday in January creeps up on us and we wonder where on earth did the month go, spare a thought to those teachers you know. Just as all the parents out there are excitedly packing the book list and celebrating the fact that they have “survived” 6 weeks with their children, these educators are nervously checking their class lists and wondering how they will make it through til Easter. Actually, I feel very fortunate to be in profession that affords me such great holidays – I work for them through – as well as being something I am so fiercely passionate about. But still, every teacher gets a sense of dread at this time of year. Will my classes be alright? In the context of Secondary School, I always try to get people to imagine putting 30 people together in a closed room, who don’t want to be there and, at times, can barely tolerate each other, then get them to be productive. You wouldn’t find it in any other work environment. Yes, it is a challenge, but it’s one truly dedicated teachers take up with gusto.

But I can also imagine the nervousness with which any parent send their beloved ones off to school, whether it be into pre-primary, the first year of Secondary School or the first year of external examinations. The pressure, due to an often too demanding curriculum along with the (anti) social structures brought on by mixing groups of people with a growing sense of self and incomplete brain development, is enormous. We must never underestimate how tough going to, and being at, school is for these young people. It isn’t a normal social construct. It calls for such discipline of mind and emotions, and then we add to this the duress to do well consistently. And not just well, but also better than others. When we think about it in these terms, we might be less demanding and more considerate of our young people within the education system.

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Remember when…?

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Last weekend, before the tail end of the tropical cyclone doused Perth and the South West with unseasonable rains, we experienced a unique family situation. It had been a beautiful, hot day in the Geographe region, approximately 34 degrees, and we were now sweltering and fidgeting, trying to get to sleep in the mezzanine of a tin beach shelter with no air conditioning. Little M. had three-quarters of a double bed, I had a quarter and hubby had a single mattress on the floor, which he had previously lugged up the stairs from the bunk bed arrangement in the second bedroom. The double was pressed up against the wall, so the little one was safe and I clung to the edge of the bed with one hand. The other draped over the side to grasp hubby’s hand. We giggled at the ridiculousness of the situation. “Thanks for a lovely day”, he whispered, trying not to wake M. even though we both knew she’d be awake anyway in about an hour’s time.

This was our first break away, just the three of us, since Little M. arrived on the scene. A much appreciated Christmas gift from my parents. It was actually hubby’s first week’s holiday in nearly a year. It is difficult for him to get time off, but also holiday pay never includes all the over time hours. Another one of those things that isn’t really spoken about, or truly prepared for, prior to having a bub. The impact of another mouth, be it a small one, and the reduction from two wages to one and a bit is tangible. But this break was much-needed, not only to enable hubby to recuperate after nearly a year of work, but also to give us the time to reconnect. There are no issues in our relationship, but we have had no time to just be together since having M. We have chosen to live far from family and so must live with the difficulties that this can sometimes bring. This time together was precious and longed for.

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Eight hundred and thirteen days and counting

20160519_193544I was on FB, scrolling through, with Food Safari in the background. I can’t really cook, but I watch this show for International vegetarian inspiration, only to serve up salad and rice the following day. Probably need to watch properly instead of FB scrolling. Anyway, I came across a calculator for how many days mums had been breastfeeding with “ post you number if days below”. Always one for a view and compare, I put in M’s birth date  and got 813.

813 days.

813.

That is a lot of days wearing a nursing bra and easy access tops, was my initial thought.

Then, I thought, I think i’m ready to stop, but I’m not so sure Little M is.

This is a post about breastfeeding. I do promote it and encourage it and love it. And hopefully that is enough notice, so that those who do not want to read about it will just scroll on. Like I did through much ‘stuff’ on FB, with one eye on Turkish desserts with chickpeas and barley.

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Summertime and the living is easy #1

Without the normal Wednesday routine due to the holidays, Little M. and I were somewhat thrown, and grumpy. The honeymoon period of a 7 and 3 ( see previous post) was rudely abandoned last night with frequent waking. Back to the norm then.

This evening, after the bedtime struggle, I decided that I need to document the good and the bad of the day to gain some perspective after seeing the determined ( read – stubborn) and loving ( read – clingy) nature of my two-year old throughout the day. The difficulties of maintaining an incredibly modest garden with a baby who wants to pick and eat everything is at times, a strain. But today we could finally experience the joy of picking the peaches that she has been asking for continually. It is a small tree, but for someone from the UK, growing this type of produce still blows me away. Her face lit up at the recognition that her patience and her zealous watering had finally resulted in the longed for prize. They were the best peaches ever. They lasted all of 20 minutes. Would I advise anyone to bother with the weeks and weeks of watering, caring for and distracting eager little hands to produce 20 minutes of pure sensory pleasure? In a heart beat!

The lack of structured swimming lessons today resulted in the opportunity to drive the 5 minutes (if you hit the two red lights) to the beach. The benefit of having an early riser means you can still get a park in spitting distance of the beach throughout January. Blessings! The water and sand and cuddles with mum after a few dunking, managed to bring a smile to M’s face for a while. It is worth the time spent preparing beach worthy toys, snacks, changes of clothes and then carrying them all, plus a clingy 14 kilos of whinge over the sand dunes. But it does take commitment and heat-resistant feet (as I always forget to pack anything appropriate for myself).  Once home, a quick machine wash and the line is already half full of towels, swim nappies, and sarongs. Fast forward to apre’ nap time, the dreaded two pm until whenever hubby’s home and the numbers unified in battle are doubled. Today is not the day to stay indoors. It will end in disaster. Water. Water is always the answer. It’s a bundle back into the car and off to the pool. It is as I’m putting load number two on the line at the same time as preparing dinner – thank you Peppa Pig for a respite from carrying little limpet M.- that I look at the line of yet more towels and swim nappies and wet vests. Reframing this crazy busy day is so important. The need for gratitude for what we have been through today is what will change this discernment of  ‘unending chores’ to joy for the opportunities that we have been given. “Today, I get to eat what I have been able to grow myself. Today, I get to wash a mountain of towels, because I live so close to the beach. Today, I get to run after a squealing nipper on strong legs and pick her up with strong arms. Today, I get to do all this when so many cannot.” Reframe and let the gratitude in. Today has been a good day.

There is no snooze button

So what has been the reason for starting this today? What has spurred on this desire to write and share the musings of a 40 something woman with a fairly run of the mill life? It is not, as I thought it might have been, in my 20’s, when I knew I wanted to write, a lottery win that afforded me take a year off to pen the next Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson. This was the dream of the newly graduated Literature student in sleepy North Wales. Nor was it in an effort to make the most of those long summer holidays being a teacher has afforded me, with eclectic Fremantle and the Indian Ocean as my muse, as imagined when arriving in WA eight years ago. Nor is it the mid life panic of seeing in 2018 and wondering what am I really contributing to the world in my 40’s. No, it comes at a time when I am chasing a 2-year-old, planning new programs for the next academic year, completing assessments for Uni and trying to get some semblance of order and stress-free living into my life. Do you know what the secret of this new drive is? It is the most underrated thing by child-free individuals and the most precious of commodities to parents. Guessed it? Yes….sleep…

And I don’t mean a post New Year, post hangover, I’m finally getting that holiday feeling, 12 hour, hollow pillow maker. No, I mean a solid 7 and 3. Yes, 7 hours of sleep and a ‘back it up’ of 3 hours. Of course, I don’t mean I had a 7 and 3, I mean Little M. had a 7 and 3. I, as every mum will know, still woke every 2 hours to check she was ok. But she did it. It’s been a long time coming as Little M. has never slept more than a couple of hours. This love of the late night party started whilst she was in utero, and has continued to this day. However, the joy of her first wake up being at 3 am to ask for a drink of water, followed by the obligatory, “well, you’re awake mum, may as well have some boob too” (This is what I believe she says to herself, ten times a night usually) This was followed by a 30 minute shuffle and kick session as she resettled and then bang! another 3 hours.

Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with sleep, or the lack of it. But like I said, no one can even comprehend the mind games sleep deprivation plays on you like another wrecked and weary parent. For the majority of new parents, it is just the first 3 months of a baby’s life that plays havoc with your sleep. Mothers are likely, but I know not always, off work during this time. They have friends and relatives and co-workers and shop-keepers and delivery men, that all understand that being the parents of an under three-month old is going to cause physical, mental and emotional disarray in normally competent adults. “Baby brain” not a problem, “Forgetfulness, that is fine. It will pass soon enough”. But there are a few of us, (maybe more than a few?) whose little delights don’t get the memo about sleep being necessary for proper adulting. So we go back to work – in some capacity. Aim to sleep when baby sleeps – and hang the house work for well over 18 months. Continue to forget the name of household objects like…um…the cold cooker.

I think it was about 9 months in, after a series of appointments with doctors, chiros, homeopaths and other alternative practitioners that I had to admit to myself that there was nothing at all wrong with Little M. She was perfectly healthy, but just wouldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours. I refused to go down the path of CIO, sleep training or anything else that meant I left her alone, in any state of upset or feeling like we, her primary carers, wouldn’t respond to her. This, for me and my hubby, wasn’t something we felt comfortable with at all. Neither was the option of weaning her to see if that helped. I was determined to breastfeed as long as M. wanted it. I was thinking she’d have enough before she was two – I was hoping for a celebratory overnight away from her on my ’21 again!’ birthday bash. “She’ll do it herself, probably between the first two birthdays” Yet another memo that she appears to have missed. In reaction to sleep and really all tings baby, there is just so much pressure out there trying to force something that obviously isn’t going to happen on a fixed schedule. It appears very ‘inconvenient’ to developed cultures to have a child that frequently wakes, and I’m sure those of us who have or are experiencing it, will agree it’s tough. But this is a infant we are talking about, and there is nothing ‘inconvenient’ about the joys a toddler can bring just by saying your name, even at 2 am.  As soon as we accepted it, that M would make her own way to longer episodes of sleep, it wasn’t a problem any more. Of course, I still have a constant, nagging, sleep deprived headache, struggle with the post 2pm slump, eat way too much sugar to help me get through the day and flounder when trying to recall the name of things like… um… the fork wardrobe ( I know, seriously, cutlery drawer is so much easier  to remember than fork wardrobe, or so you’d think.)

Despite this acceptance and willingness to let her find her own way, this last week has been torture. Little M, as I’ve mentioned is a healthy, happy girl. However, as is her nature, she states a few days before Christmas that she has a sore ear. Oh great, ear infection, just before the holidays. Off to the doctors we go, a little fluid, but all fine. “But a little fluid can turn into something worse like infection or even a burst eardrum at two in the morning, so keep an eye on her”.  ‘Keep an eye on her’, to me is THE worst phrase anyone can say. As I’ve mentioned, I have anxiety. This anxiety revolves purely around the health of Little M. I am petrified of illness and do everything I can to prevent becoming sick. I am terrified of doctors and only registered with a GP when I found out I was pregnant in spite of being in Australia for more than nine years.  Now I have this precious girl and I spend so much time stressing about her health, her physical and mental wellness consumes me. This is probably due to the sleep deprivation, but also comes from something else in me that I can’t quite afford the sessions for just yet! Over the holidays, I have ‘kept an eye on her’. I have jumped at every cough, stayed awake whilst she cat napped upright on me through the night, frantically prepared and cooked all her favourite foods to keep her nutrition up, just have her say she doesn’t like them. I have been taking temperatures, wiping noses, stressing like crazy, over a simple upper respiratory tract cold. Yesterday, she appeared better, the cough had almost gone, the temperature was nearly normal, just your average, slightly grizzly toddler. She isn’t a sickly child at all. The last time she had anything wrong with her was July. Which considering she is in daycare three days a week, is nothing short of a miracle. And yet I stress.

Then she goes and does it, a 7 and 3. She was probably knackered after a week of having a cold. She was probably exhausted from running on the beach over the long weekend with her dad and me. Whatever it was, she did it.  I feel rested, ready to take on a new challenge, determined to share the good, the bad and the sometimes so dreadful it’s plain funny.  Who knows what tonight will bring, but today I am hopeful. Things pass, nothing is forever and those months and months of sleepless nights, may be coming to an end. To other parents who know the struggle of continued sleeplessness, we share a special bond. Our babies will be strong and independent as they feel our attachment to them deeply. Why else would they want to touch base with us so much and so often? When we answer their calls, their bids for attention, we are making sure they are developing that feeling of safety so necessary for healthy development. As we feed them, clean them and keep them warm, we are meeting their physiological needs as shown in Maslov’s hierarchy.  By being there whenever they are in need of us, we are actually moving them through to the next stage of met needs, that of safety. This can look like many things to many families. For me it’s a pat and a hug and the offer of a boob in the dark (thank my stars that we co-sleep, or I don’t know what we would have done. “Whatever gets the most amount of people the most amount of sleep” a wise father of two told me whilst I was heavily pregnant and stressing about sleeping arrangements. How I now look back and laugh at my naive, ‘baby will be in its own room sleeping all night by 6 months’, self) They feel secure and listened to so early on in their little lives, they can move through into other stages of development and become independent little people, They know that we have their backs for certain. They are blessed to have us, just as much as we are to have them. And finally remember this, payback is real. Apparently I didn’t sleep through the night until I was 22 months old. Just imagine how many months Little M. will have to put up with when she’s a mumma! A snooze button, ha! who needs one anyway.