Ego

After missing my train by the customary 30 seconds, I sit here in the cold (how on earth could it have been 32 yesterday and so cold today), pondering all of the ingredients that contributed to this morning’s lateness. 

In addition to the usual eggs (third breakfast of scrambled), milk (which was poured over the carpet requiring a quick remedy), and flour (what V2’s weetbix looked liked after she was through crushing then into the floor), we had the added element of a bit of spice in the form of ego. 

V1 decided he had the generosity of spirit to empty the crumbs of his cornflakes packet into the bin, but his generosity could only extend so far. The plastic wrapper was strewn with a sense of reckless abandonment onto the floor. I made the seemingly innocuous request that he put it in the bin too. Innocuous. Or so I thought.  

There ensued a stand off of sorts. My better half and I stuck firm. We were clear as to what was needed of him in order to secure his seemingly best in the world (he would have you believing this based on the emotions in his reactions to losing them) bowl of cornflakes. He just had to put the bag in the bin (we all know it wasn’t about the bag but rather the act of defiance). 

30 minutes passed (or the whole morning where we should have been enjoying ten minutes together for breakfast before getting ready for yet another absence from the kids for work). As we tried various methods of anger, soothing tones, stern but clear sentences of action and outcome, it quickly became apparent (to us as well as V1) that we might not win this. (I know it’s probably not right to say ‘win’. But when are in a standoff with a toddler, let’s face it, it’s what we are all aiming for – no-one likes to lose. The toddler more so than us it seems). 

We didn’t give in today. While he didn’t put the bag in the bin we extracted a seemingly meaningful apology for not listening and his reward was given (though it was now pretty darn cold and soggy). This only came after V1 was reminded that Daddy had to go to work and it wouldn’t be nice for him to leave without a cuddle goodbye and an apology).

So we used our absence and need to go to work as a tool to extract the result we wanted. 

These past few weeks I’ve been away from the kids for more than the usual days as I’ve been involved in some volunteer work. Extremely rewarding but on morning’s like this where I view every minute with the kids as worth more than 10 minutes because of the lack of time I have with them, the desire to give in and placate his ego couldn’t be ignored. I didn’t want to spend all of this morning’s 1 on 1 time listening to him cry (sob would be more accurate). 

Having finally finished Sapiens (Harari) I was reminded of a paragraph that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. 

Sometimes it does feel like our authority is in retreat. We don’t have the time to follow through on so many things. In an attempt to ensure the limited time we have with our kids is free from confrontation, perhaps we have had to become more relaxed in authority. I don’t know. Our lives are increasingly busy and jam packed with commitments and work. My instinct this morning was to cave but I knew the problems that would potentially lead to, might be much harder to resolve. It might happen that my kids blame me for something later in life (hell, there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t blame myself for something that has happened in their lives, why should it chabge when they grow up?), but I hope that they will understand authority, boundaries, how to follow instructions, and the consequences for not. 

However, in all honesty this is an idealised view. In reality, all too often I don’t have the energy or resilience that this consistency requires. But just as i forgive my kids for their sometimes irrational behaviour, I must remember to do the same for myself. 

This morning was a small victory for us as a team.  My lateness is acceptable in exchange for the belief that we are guiding the ego of our newly 3 year old V1 and assisting him to become accustomed to boundaries and limits. 

All of the small instances are just that – small instances. They all combine to add up to a lifetime of learning and as long as we can try for consistency most of the time, the occasional slips will hopefully be forgiven. In the face of long days of full time work flexibilty is essential. (And sometimes we have to recognise a losing battle when we are in it !)

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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.

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.