Always Connected

I’m taking a brief break from reading (still Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard) and loving it!), to glance around my train.

16 people in the carriage. 14 glancing down at various devices. 13 mobile phones and 1 E-Reader.

I remember not so long ago when sometimes on the train or bus you had time to ponder your own thoughts.  Not read about someone else’s latest fitness trend on Facebook or which celebrity is cheating on their other half. Now when you ride the train, or even in walking to the train you barely make eye contact with everyone else (and more often than not you’ll run into someone who is watching their phone, not their path – I am guilty of this all too often). I know most people are tending to various important matters that can’t wait because of our schedules, just like me.

I sometimes make myself feel better about ignoring everyone since I’m reading a book on the train instead of perusing various social media sites. But I’m not sure it’s any different !

Indeed it makes me wonder why it’s socially acceptable to wander around the streets with eyes glued to whichever phone/tablet you are attached to. If you did it with a book you’d get some stares. (I’ve tried!)

One of the reasons I like reading actual physical books instead of an E-Reader, is because of how much time we already spend on our devices. It’s nice to give your eyes a rest from the lighting on the device and it means when you read, no alerts interrupt you!

That and I’ve always thought it is important for the kids to see us reading actual books to encourage them to do the same ! (Plus I love the feel of physically churning through the pages).  We are lucky the kids share our love of books but it’s something we will always encourage.

 

“Someone Different to Everybody”

In the last book I read (All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven)) Finch, a troubled teenager struggling to get through says “the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody”.

After my first day back at work on Monday, I can completely understand this. Only, as a Mum it feels that almost 100% of the time you are different personality to everybody – we can chop and change as quickly is needed (with the role of Mum, always filling the baseline).

At 5.30am I was a chef and one armed food preparer (V2 insists on her food being on her high chair before she will consent to being lowered into it). By 6am I was giving the role of ‘relaxed wife drinking coffee with my better half’ my best shot. When all children were breakfasted and relatively content, I ventured to prepare for my role in the corporate world as I dressed (thanks to a pre-return to work shopping spree this was quite fun!) and did my hair (a new edgy bob meant some nice edgy waves, which I then decided were too fun for a day back at work so back into the Mum ponytail the hair was swept – I will never get those 7 minutes curling time back!).

At day-care drop off, I had to resume the relaxed mum façade even though I was more than a little worried about the first full day away from the kids. At the office, I tried to be the competent, confident and ‘quick to provide the answer’ employee that I was a year ago. By lunchtime I was swimming in a bunch of things I was struggling to understand and prioritise. I made it all the way to 11am before calling to check in on the kids as the role of worrying Mum prevailed (I’m pretty sure the day-care ladies knew the relaxed Mum was just an act!)

Feeling somewhat frazzled and very tired (despite three hot coffees – the perks of working in the office!) at trying to be what everyone else needed, I’d already lost track of the time and was running late. After a quick sprint to the train I settled in to read and finish my book. With spare time to ponder the book, I began to worry about the fact that I was missing the kid’s dinner and baths as the role of guilty mother surfaced.

And then it dawned on me – no wonder I was tired. It’s tiring being a different someone to everybody, but with practice I will strike the balance and perhaps even begin to really enjoy my time at the office as a working Mum! (I certainly enjoyed the coffees and lunch at a restaurant where I wasn’t picking up morsel of food and spilled drinks repeatedly. Plus, I’m fairly certain I yelled a lot less than I do in an ordinary day (the puppy and V1 are still learning about each other so the yelling is for their own safety!)).

Perhaps once I’ve managed to strike this balance, I’ll be sure to focus on being the different someone I need to be for me as well!

 

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.

There’s a moody, irrational 2.5 year old living in my house – can someone please tell me where my baby went?

For those of you who don’t know me – oh wait that’s everyone! – I am the sister of your host, Reading Mumma. When my busy schedule allows, I too like to dabble in some reading – much of which is catered for by my sister who generously provides my next read each time she visits. I’m sad to say my reading pace is much slower than hers – I probably average one book to her 5 – but it gives us another area of common ground to talk about, that isn’t our children (the mums out there will know how nice adult conversation can be when it doesn’t revolve around children)!

My wonderful husband helps me find my sanity when I misplace it – yep, happens more than I care to admit – and together we have two beautiful children. B1 is a strong willed, fiercely independent, and beautiful 2.5 yr old girl and B2 is a perfect, totally chilled and cool as a cucumber relaxed 8 month old girl. My sister and I find ourselves regularly venting and providing suggestions on the challenges of raising children two children under the age of 3.

I don’t claim to be a pioneer – there are many other brave warriors who have traversed the rocky terrain that goes with mothering 2 under the age of 3. However, knowing numerous others have done it before you doesn’t mean that you (or they) have all the answers. Like all of us, toddlers are rarely predictable, can turn on a dime and have a vicious mean streak to rival Mr Hyde.

In order to relax when Mr Hyde comes out to challenge me, I try to relax with something that I can truly escape into. I’m currently reading Liane Moriarty’s gem, “What Alice Forgot”. Just briefly, this is about a mother of 3, Alice Love, who has a fall at the gym and wakes up having forgotten the last 10 years of her life. This includes no memory of the birth of her 3 children and her nasty divorce.

Alice’s experiences with the oldest of her 3 children, Madison, struck a chord with me. Alice wakes from her accident thinking she is still blissfully pregnant with a perfect, happy baby “sultana”.  In reality, she has a very moody, independent and difficult 9 year old girl. She has been unceremoniously launched into the trenches that is raising 3 children without so much as a twig of experience to defend herself with. No training. No help. No books. No manual. No memory of her experiences and how she has overcome the challenges of parenting to date.

Now, even though I have the memory of the past almost 3 years, I sometimes feel as if the memory of my experience is completely useless. I’ve learned that no amount of mothering experience can either prevent or prepare you for a toddler meltdown. Each one makes you feel like you have no idea what you are doing and that you are simply not qualified to be nurturing the next generation. And the knowledge that you’ve been through it before, only adds to the helplessness of not being able to prevent or resolve it. While Alice is challenged by her 9-year-old, my 2.5 going on 9 year old challenges me on a daily basis. I frequently find myself wondering what on earth happened to my perfect peaceful little baby as she can make me feel like a stranger in my own house. My mind boggles when I try to imagine how Alice survived her kids, without the solid memory of the ups to cling to when the downs prevailed.

In our house, simple tasks (or so we think) turn into challenges akin to climbing Everest in the middle of a total white out. Our words and coaxing are as effective as trying to prop up the Titanic with kids floaties. The floaties might buy you a second or two, but the ship is going down. I’ve read the blogs where people talk about loving but not liking their toddler and I can truly say I can see their point of view. I love my girl to bits and she constantly amazes me but I feel like I am on a constant roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from incomprehensible happiness when she shows you her beautiful, unique and quirky personality, only to come down a massive vertical drop into madness when Mr Hyde comes out to play.

Recently I’ve spent some time thinking about this, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. She is a completely normal 2.5 yr old girl who is just exploring her own personality and her limits (as well as my own). So that being said – how do we survive this phase without being driven insane and developing a very unhealthy coffee and chocolate addiction? OK, ok, you got me –yes I already have a coffee and chocolate addiction but hey I’m trying not to make it worse.

Spend more time and just ‘be’.

Much like Alice, I have realised I need to take the time to observe, interact and just ‘be’ with my children. Alice is forced to do so because of her complete helplessness without her memory.  Being a stranger in her own home she is forced to stop and truly observe her children (for the first time in her present mindset), allowing her to see them in a completely different light. Alice falls in love with their exquisitely individual personalities and needs, and, not being caught up in the highly organised and regimented routine of her previous life, she actually has some time and patience to be able to give them what they need. The lesson – if we take a moment to stop and just be with our kids instead of running from point to point with them, we may start to feel like less of a stranger in our own lives – and they in ours.

Lower expectations = increased patience.

I think it’s fair to say we all expect too much of the oldest child when they receive their promotions to big sister or big brother. B1’s passionate desire for independence actually results in me thinking she can do more than she is capable and I forget she is in fact, still a baby.  Independent dressing is a dream for both of us. Until it ends in a different way to her getting both legs stuck in the undies she is putting on over her pyjama pants (which I politely she suggested she remove several times), she, much to her dismay, needs my help. The challenge here is giving her the opportunity and encouragement to try new things to help foster her independence, but also being there to let her know it’s ok if she needs help – she only needs to ask. So – after 20 minutes sitting on her bedroom floor stark naked we got there. The lesson – DO NOT try and help her until she asks.

This requires a monumental amount of patience. Foresight and knowing the outcome of her trials is not helpful. And I am not ashamed to say, my patience is not what it used to be. My fast-paced life is diametrically opposed to how a toddler functions. She senses my urgency and my quick escalation to frustration does nothing to speed up the loading into the car. My solution? Distraction. Don’t let her see your urgency. Photos, videos, songs, stories of things to come can distract from her sensing my urgency to help keep her metaphorical skittles inside the bag. It’s nice to say we need to slow everything down and just ‘be’ but there are still occasions where life demands we participate so this solution gets us through! – for the most.

I’ve ultimately learned that B1 needs as much, if not more attention as B2. Guaranteed that on the days when I have a to-do-list an Olympic high-jumper wouldn’t even attempt to jump over that she’ll need me every minute of the day, but the simple fact is, if she needs it that’s what I try to give to her.

These things aside, I regularly tell myself that I am the luckiest mother alive, I have two healthy beautiful girls who I love and adore, and who I know love and adore me. While some days my oldest may shake me up more than a gym junkie does a protein shake, she is still my baby. No matter how many years I spend as a mother my children will always have the ability to make me feel like Alice – where I wake up and wonder when my perfect baby turned into a 2.5-year-old going on 16. Ultimately, I know that I am lucky to help shape her beautiful soul into the confident and strong young woman I know she will become but on some days I do feel just as helpless and challenged as Alice.

Truly, Madly, Guilty (Liane Moriarty)

Having ventured out of the house early this morning for some fresh air and breakfast while the hubby watched V1 and V2, I’m staying in for their naps. Despite the near perfect weather today I can’t resist sitting down with the current read (not to mention the essential accompaniments!)

A perfect Sunday
Dreamy Sundays

We both deserve a bit of reading downtime this afternoon. Having had a packed Saturday involving an impromptu trip on the ferry (V2 absolutely adored it despite occasional panic at the wind and noisy rudders!) and Vincent was his usual boisterous self, jumping on the seat too close to the edge with us both constantly grabbing and ruining the serenity with the magical two letter word we become so accustomed to as parents. We decided to push our luck with trying a new coffee place highly recommended by some of friends (all without kids so they can actually enjoy a leisurely coffee!) and our gamble didn’t pay. After guzzling our coffees in almost one mouthful and hastily exiting we scurried home for nap time as tempers frayed.

Perhaps it was sheer optimism that saw us drag them both to the shops for groceries – they love outings! After racing through the shop in an attempt to set a record for efficiency, they both lost it simultaneously at the checkout – we’d come so close. It wasn’t entirely without reason as V1’s acrobatics and his attempts to perfect his spins on the bar at the checkout led to a small, but obviously not insubstantial head bump – V2 clearly loves her brother so much she went out in sympathy (or perhaps she loves the attention, I suspect it’s the latter). My husband made a hasty exit with the V1 and his sore cranium  – (NB: this is the kid who everyday responds to ‘what did you do at school?’ with ‘I bumped my head’ so having done the appropriate checks to confirm he was OK we pushed on.)

So today is a quiet one and I’m thankful because I haven’t been able to put this book down. This is of course figurative, and in fact the opposite is more true given the lack of reading time over the last few days.

This, like all of Moriarty’s other brilliant books, is such an exquisite escape. Her characters are just so realistic and they have me feeling like I might (or actually want!) to meet them on the way to my local cafe or park. Their relationships are so complex yet so similar to the things that young families go through each day. The three couples are perfectly balanced between the happy and seemingly carefree wealthy couple (a second marriage) with one child, the childless couple who live with an amazing sense of order and balance (and like to provide advice to those both with and without kids about how to do things a little better) and the young family with two young kids who wonder how on earth they could consistently keep losing only the things the kids actually want and balancing these issues with their other worries such as their careers . Their relationships with each other as friends as well as partners is irrevocably changed following their attendance at an impromptu backyard barbecue, and Moriarty’s choice to jump from past (the day of the barbecue) to present (several weeks following) for each alternating chapter has meant I haven’t been able to turn the pages fast enough. I am fully expectant I will experience the usual remorse and subsequent book hangover as a result of reading too quickly following the conclusion of this one!

I’m loving every minute of it and will sign off now – to try and finish it before the kids wake!!

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.