An Ever Evolving Role…

I’m currently reading Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind  (Yuval Noah Harari). This has been such a fascinating book so far, so many new concepts to consider so I’m taking my time with this one.

One of the concepts that has particularly lingered for me is that of the evolution of the way our brains think and process different pieces of information.

Harari comments that the evolution of script (primitive forms of writing) was the catalyst for changing the way our brain processes the world and its stimulants.

“The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world” (Sapiens, Harari pg146).

So writing forced us to change the way we thought, viewed the world, functioned in every day life and just generally how we live. Our incredible minds are now so flexible we can change the way we think about what we are doing to consider the vast numbers of variables and stimulants we are presented with as soon as we wake up until we go to bed.

This made me think of the changes our brain and body undergo during pregnancy and becoming a Mum. As a Mum I’m constantly saying how things are different for me since I’ve had kids.

  • I place emphasis and value different things.
  • I worry constantly (while this not that new from my previous state, now the worry is usually fixed on child related concerns).
  • I sleep so lightly I can hear almost any peep from the kids.
  • Things that smell awful are tolerable because the kids need me to tolerate them.
  • I’ve eaten extremely questionable food that may or may not have come out of my kids discerning mouths (when you’re at the supermarket, what do you do!)

I started to think about the actual science behind actually why so many things change when becoming a Mum. It’s always been something that has been somewhat of a given but reading more widely about the history of humans has made me start to wonder just why this has happened.

I realised I was quickly stepping out of my scientific depth here (having not completed ANY Science for my final year of school) so I turned to Google. It was there I stumbled upon the Guardian’s article ‘Pregnancy causes long term changes to brain structure, says study” (Nicola Davis, 20 December 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/19/pregnancy-causes-long-term-changes-to-brain-structure-says-study.

(I vaguely remember what it was like not having Google at your fingertips to answer all of life’s questions, a world I will one day have to explain to the kids no doubt!)

Here I learned of the empirical evidence in studies demonstrating a woman’s brain does in fact undergo physiological change, specificity in the form of a slight reduction in grey matter. The study notes that though it’s not certain, this could potentially allow for adaptation to the demands of mothering.

Our brain becomes focussed on helping us bond, nurture and protect our little ones as they are rely on us for survival. Yet, many of us return to work very soon after giving birth when we are still evolving our brains to manage the challenge of mothering an infant (and for many Mums, still sleep deprived and just generally exhausted).

It leads to a fairly simple conclusion. Humans, and the Mums that produce and grow little humans, are amazing.

Those Mums that stay at home are solely responsible for both the nurturing, education, development and entertainment of their kidlets. They are constantly on duty, at the beck and call of the little ones. Constantly prey to their little ones fits of anger. At the mercy of the little one’s precarious moods and responsible for stemming the spurts (or gushes) of tears (that often appear for no reason). But they are exposed to almost all of the smiles, giggles, cuddles and other priceless rewards.

Those that work and Mum somehow manage to juggle the challenges that both generally completely opposed spheres that work and mothering (including all of the above!) present them. The spheres often spill into each other (we worry constantly – we are programmed to do it. And the phone often rings on days off for work) yet we manage – no, we succeed!

So we keep adapting to all of the challenges multitasking mothering and work throws at us – ever changing and evolving to be best equipped to overcome the little (and often big) challenges of every day mothering.

Having a ‘Moment’

It’s been a while since my last post (which came at the end of a rough week). It seemed that life continued to dish things out in a similar thread and the combined stresses of things piled up in a monumental way, forcing a break in routine and, more importantly, an understanding of the need for an attitude change.

  • I had been away from work for the week with the injured V2 (you might remember she touched the element of the stove while I was holding her!) The stress and worry (and guilt!) about the burn were playing on my mind.
  • I had been trying to work remotely as much as possible during my days with her, to not fall behind while out of the office but no matter how much I did, the emails continued.
  • We had a hugely social weekend planned (a trip to the Opera, a night out, trip to the Heritage Steam Train Expo, an afternoon shopping exhibition and a family afternoon tea). While all were lovely and enjoyable they didn’t allow a lot of room for rest.

Ultimately, the build up of a very stressful few weeks where I’ve been racing around in every aspect of life (work, kids, marriage, and a social life) meant I had a ‘moment’ while trying to clean the house to make it spotless for the next round of entertaining which brought things to a very abrupt and noticeable halt. (My efforts to make the place perfectly clean actually led to me leaving a fairly noticeable not clean mark!)

Many Mums know these ‘moments’. Mine usually see me having somewhat of an outer body experience watching myself disappearing into a rabbit hole of overreaction. Usually, the ‘moment’ passes and we continue along our merry (and busy) way until the next one appears.

Unfortunately this ‘moment’ lingered and proved to be an awakening moment (or rather an awakening half day) for me. I won’t go into the background of what I discovered to be the problem, other than to say it of course was not the cleaning that was the problem. I will say that it was this moment that allowed me to see just how much pressure I had placed on myself since my return to work. I hadn’t really given a shred of thought or time to ensuring that I, personally, was managing our hugely busy lives – which I have no doubt is something many Mums do on a daily basis.

We soldier on through the mammoth list of tasks that are too multitudinous to list. We act as teacher, chef, cleaner, counsellor, chauffeur, friend and disciplinarian, amongst others, all before we’ve even headed to the office.

I don’t know how many times I’ve said the phrase, “if my kids are happy, I’m happy”. While I am of course happy when my kids are happy, this one tiny hiccup in the day and the resultant ‘moment’ made me see that a few things needed an adjustment to ensure that my happiness wasn’t just anchored around that of my kids.

My first step was to cut myself some slack so I took the week off work to have a rest, recover from the whirlwind of life that we have been living these past few months since returning to work and to take a hard look at what we can change to stop this ridiculous race to an unseen finish line.

Everything I have discovered is something someone has already suggested. Something I have read in a book and thought ‘that sounds great – maybe one day I’ll give it ago’. Something I’ve listened to someone else say they do and thought ‘it won’t work for me’. Until I could see the measurable impact of running at full speed 100% of the time, I couldn’t listen to the advice. (Funny how we often let our kids learn from doing – no matter how many times I tell V1 that if he rides his bike full speed into a wall, one of these days he might get hurt – it’s only the act of doing it, and the subsequent grazing of knuckles that lead to the change. In much the same vein, I have now been able to learn from experience).

I have committed to trying a few things. I say trying because I’ve spent 30+ years in my current ways, and they are pretty set so this is a gradual process. I’ve tasked myself to:

  • try to stop over scheduling every waking moment of our days.
  • try to utilise my urge to organise to my advantage. I’ve finally realised that being good at being organised means you are organised enough to have some downtime. When I tell people what we squeeze into the 2 weekdays I’m not in the office, I’m greeted by comments usually along the lines of ‘I’m exhausted just listening to it’.
  • try to let myself see that it is OK to not get something finished every once in a while, to need a bit more time to do something, and to ask for help from my team. These are all OK and a necessary part of returning to work part-time.
  • try to focus on having faith in the knowledge that I am a dedicated and honest Mum, wife, friend and worker and unreasonable expectations do not lead to success.
  • I will take time off when I need it, and I will enjoy it, not feel guilty about it, or spend the time planning how I can get more things done.

 

Book 2 – Done and Dusted

So it was a momentous day yesterday for a number of reasons.

  1. I finished my second book from the list: All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven); and
  2. I returned to work for the first day back after more than a year.

All The Bright Places was really an enjoyable read. The cover describes it as “the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die”. Theo (Theodore Finch – Finch for short) and Violet are two troubled teenagers who find each other at a tumultuous time in their respective lives. Violet recently lost her sister in a car accident where she survived. Theo is searching for the meaning for his existence and his identity following his parent’s divorce, troubled school life and the usual ups and downs of being a teenager at school. Their first meeting is precarious as they find themselves on the ledge of the bell tower at school, for different purposes. They become friends, and more, sharing their lives and fears together as they work on a school project ‘wandering’ around beautiful and eclectic places in their home state of Indiana. They share their love of writing, words and books and this extends to numerous communications in the form of extracts of books and poetry ranging from Virginia Woolf to Dr Seuss. Even the most childish of phrases appear prescient to their budding relationship.

Finch changes his persona often – ranging from what he calls ’80s Finch’ to ‘Badass Finch’, amongst others. He has a small group of friends that accept him and his various personalities without question as he struggles to find his identity and his purpose. He helps Violet through her grief and guilt as she remembers her purpose and what she enjoys. However she still struggles to understand why her life was more important than her sister’s life which was taken so arbitrarily in a car accident. Finch takes solace in the fact that, in his own words, “The great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody”.

Finch does this well, and he is transforms himself into various different someones to everybody else, but it seems he doesn’t understand which someone he needs to be for himself. When this overcomes him he terms himself ‘asleep’ as he disappears for stretches of time to find himself, with limited communication with his family and friends.

This book reminded me of the huge challenges parents face:

  • Losing a child;
  • Dealing with the grief and staying strong for your other children;
  • Trying to understand the teenage psyche without intruding and overstepping;
  • Fostering the right amount of freedom and responsibility without being too lax; and
  • Knowing when you have to step in and take control of a spiralling situation.

When I think about my first day at work and the stress I felt about getting the kids ready for school and heading to work (which required me to venture more than 20 minutes away from the centre for more than an hour – the first time ever!) and the anxiety I felt about this, it pales in comparison. It wasn’t a bad day, however I only made it to 11am before calling the centre to check on them, only to find they were completely content and happy.  On the train I willed it to rush me home (I had also finished my book and didn’t have a spare so was additionally keen to get home!). My better half was completely capable of daycare pick-up, dinners and baths but I couldn’t let my worrying mind rest. When everyone screamed at us both this morning for half an hour over seemingly inconsequential things (V2 flipped her weetbix over on her table (intentionally, of course) and V1 gave his dummy to the puppy to lick so couldn’t understand why he then wasn’t allowed to have it), the phrase “will we look back at these times fondly?” runs through my mind.

It is then that I remind myself that every problem seems big at the time however at this young age we are extremely lucky that the problems our kids present us with are relatively ‘simple’ ones to deal with. It will only get more interesting, exciting and challenging as every day passes. I know our practising and discovering how to help our little ones now will hopefully put us in good stead for when they come home as teenagers with grown-up problems for us to help with and provide guidance. Granted, nothing can prepare us for some of the problems the parents in this book have to face, but I was reminded throughout that it is so important to look at a little bit of a bad day, with a lot of perspective.

When You Really Want to Take a Sickie

Though there are pros and cons of soon having to return to work, today reminded me of some of the differences between performing the job of Mum and the job which pays the bills. By 7am I was desperately thinking of how on earth I could call in sick. NB: I haven’t returned to paid job yet. I don’t go back until later in April. I really needed to call in sick for my job as Mum. Sounds horrible, I know. But I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes you just know you are going to have one of those days. And with that attitude, the job really is unrelenting since a negative attitude will always influence the day.

It’s not every day I refer to it as a job. The majority of days it’s my privilege, pleasure, and joy to look after the kids (and the minor hiccups each day, are in fact just hiccups!) However, today started out somewhat differently to those days.

I should have been rested after a lovely weekend away in the mountains with my better half, V1 and V2. We stayed with our family in a lovely refurbished convent with lots of grass for V1 to roll around on and numerous breakable antiques for V2 to set her sights on (aside from some artistic doodling applied to a cupboard and a little spew down a lovely looking fabric upholstered – eek – chair, it was a relatively incident free weekend!). Looking back on the weekend I can see with only the clarity that hindsight brings that I consumed far too much alcohol, slightly too much good food, the perfect amount of good company and not nearly enough chocolate. Chocolate deficiency aside, it was a lovely weekend and I was relaxed enough to happily sacrifice my reading time (hence why I’m not talking about the book I’m only sadly 50 pages into!). I ambled casually by myself for almost two hours through Leura Mall and supported the local economy with some small purchases including a well chosen gift for my better half, which he actually liked – well done me!

So, my mood took a hit and was replaced by dismay when this morning V2 was still insisting on rising at 4.30am, three mornings after the end of daylight savings. I should also point out a pointless pre-bedtime argument with my better half was lingering in my mind and therefore created an environment conducive to anger and negativity when coupled with the early hour. Sadly, having forgotten to change the clock in the bedroom, my better half tried to help out with our little rooster. I heard the beep of the microwave as he heated her breakfast and her screams amplify when someone other than me, entered her room. She was quickly put back into bed after a quick cuddle, however she was rather unimpressed about her false start to the day.

When 6am finally rolled around and she was still not back asleep, we all gave up and rose. When 7am arrived and mid nappy change, V1 strolled casually into V2’s room to advise he had spilled my coffee I gave up hope for redeeming the day. I reconsidered the wisdom of my decision to drink my coffee for enjoyment instead of in the usual three gulp fashion mothers have made so fashionable. I’m fairly sure the freshly cleaned fabric sofa bed was reconsidering the wisdom of my decision too. I then spent the next 15 minutes multitasking:

  • task 1 involved scrubbing the fabric
  • task 2 involved cultivating anger at myself, instead of V1, for allowing the situation to happen where he was given the chance to spill!
  • task 3 involved being almost overcome by extreme guilt at the anger I initially directed towards V1 when I knew pure and simple this was my fault.

As many of you know, guilt and anger are time hungry emotions. They sucked up a large portion of the early morning rendering me incapable of active participation in the kids’ play for a significant portion of the morning, supporting my initial idea that a ‘me’ day would have been appropriate for today. After all, I wouldn’t head in to the office and sit at my desk doing essentially nothing but observing. Since this wasn’t an option (despite my better half’s kind offer of doing a half day so I could at least take a half!) I researched my other options.

Option 1. Bury angry and guilty head in a giant bowl of fried carbohydrates.

There were a few problems with this. It was 7am. It would render the diet useless. And since it’s only day 1 after a few too many off days, it’s probably too early for a cheat day. The main hurdle however was that I don’t have anything fried in the house, it was raining and I was still in my pyjamas.

 Option 2. Make another coffee

I couldn’t bear the thought of this on being knocked over so I scratched this one quickly.

      Option 3. Start the day over

Stop throwing myself a pity party (after all, I was the only one in attendance). Be positive, head outside with V1, watch him ride the bike, take in some fresh air, listen to the birds and try to start the day again while V2 finally decided to sleep.

I went with Option 3 (after shedding a few therapeutic tears), which also included a bought coffee while making a trip to town before soccer as well as, rather embarrassingly (or resourcefully, you decide!), devouring the haloumi out of the mini haloumi pastry puffs purchased for V1. It’s not technically a carb – please don’t correct me, I know the argument is tenuous at best – so I enjoyed every mouthful of cheesey goodness without even lamenting the lack of pastry. (It now seems I managed to find a solution which involved an element of all three of my options – that’s efficiency for you!)

Since then we’ve had a few hurdles for the day (my washing outside has now been wet and dry three times because of Sydney’s marvellous ability to showcase three seasons in one day) but nothing we couldn’t overcome. And I certainly will not complain – the kids are performing the miraculous and occasionally mythical synchronised napping and I have a quiet moment to myself (and I remembered an open packet of Lindt balls under the bed that V1 had already made a dent in when we weren’t looking so I can resolve the chocolate deficiency!) Goodbye diet and hello day continually getting better ! A switch to a positive attitude, admitting a few tears is sometimes helpful, and being a little kinder to myself has certainly paid off and made a less than inspiring beginning to the day fade into memory. And the sun is now out again so the next load of washing might stand a chance at drying.

Now I will capitalise on both V1 and V2 being so exhausted from the morning’s exertions and attempt to get at least another 50 pages into my book!

 

What I’m Currently Reading

I sit here in the midst of a rather torrential downpour which has quickly flooded the gutters and down-pipes. It sounds beautiful on the roof with the doors open. Perfect for reading, and since our TV is officially broken and won’t be replaced for at least a week, I’m actually prioritising reading outside of that half hour before sleep time in bed!

The usual time for reading has been interrupted the past few days due to the toothageddon going on in V2’s mouth. Instead of relaxing with a hot coffee and a book, I’ve been sipping my once again cold coffee while intermittently returning to her room optimistically dreaming she will settle and my free time has not been wasted doing the chores – why do we always make the same mistake of cleaning before we relax?

I currently have three books on my bedside table. Jane Eyre, awaiting a re-read. Alain de Botton’s, The Course of Love of which I’m half way through the re-read. The third is Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty.  I’m almost finished my current book so I can make a start and return to that pile which I’m eager to do before I commence this year’s 101. However I will be sad once this one is finished. It is Sarah Wilson’s First, We Make The Beast Beautiful and I’ve been finding it somewhat eye opening.

I must first admit however that it has taken me some time to write this as I’m worried I simply won’t be able to address the seriousness of the topic the book delves into, or do enough justice to the author for her amazing presentation of so much research and experience in this book. (In fact I have sent this post to my twin sister to proof read to be sure of this!)

However, I’ll do my best. I was initially immediately drawn to the beautiful cover (I know we shouldn’t judge by the cover, but this judgement was spot on) which describes it as “a new story about anxiety”. In her work, Sarah Wilson presents an abundance of varying sources and a diverse range of research into what has been thought to be the cause of anxiety; ways it has been suggested to be managed both in the past as well as presently and, most prominently, her own personal experiences with her own anxiety including some suggestions to make the journey through life with anxiety a little smoother.

I found it to be written in such an amazing conversational style with so many pearls of wisdom about, to use the author’s words, the various ‘ironies’ that those with anxiety are faced with one a day to day basis. The whole work is delivered succinctly, but expanded upon appropriately to ensure each pearl sinks in nicely and I found her work did in fact convince me that anxiety is not something of a disorder but rather something to be made ‘beautiful’ for each person (as her title suggests). Her consistently positive tone combined with the vast amount of research convinced me of some of the ways to in fact make each aspect of anxiety a positive and useful part of everyday life and who I am.

It has been such a relaxed read, I have been able to pick it up and put it down often without feeling worried (there it is!) that I had lost my place or that I hadn’t made it to the end of the chapter (something Mums never get to do given our reading time is always interrupted by something more pressing – usually someone arising early from a nap!) and still gaining a greater understanding of anxiety.

Not all of the aspects of the book relate to me. However, as a Mum of 2, I’m a constant worrier about what has been eaten, what hasn’t been eaten, what could be eaten and everything else in between. I’m obsessed with plans, not changing plans, spreadsheets to record plans (just to mention one type of spreadsheet clogging up my computer!) and how best to communicate said plans to others to ensure there aren’t any changes (which just ask my husband, often result in a flat spin into chaos). These are just a few of the things that fill the day. I can safely say the book spoke (and is still speaking!) to me now that I’ve almost finished. As any Mum knows, when you are organising anything involving the children, it is an an enormous challenge and achievement to actually organise something involving the kids. It is almost insurmountable to actually stick to those plans. To be anxious about this is challenging given the almost certainty of an inability to control the outcome. I don’t list these things with the intention of trivialising the issue of what is at the heart of anxiety but I personally find that it is these day to day small worries that creep over me, so I found I experienced a definite lightening (as well as numerous light bulb moments!) to read of others who have researched this hugely common mental condition and to read of suggestions to manage these challenges.

I’m not an expert on anything in this book but feel I’ve learned a lot more about myself, anxiety and how others thrive during challenges and difficult times and can only recommend it to anyone who carries a little more worry, stress, and anxiety than they can handle sometimes.