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.

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Being a Mum…

Most of the aspects of being a Mum are well known and routine:

  • Nappies (including poo explosions, poo landslides, and general poo extravaganzas).
  • Sleepless nights (including sharing your bed, getting kicked in the head, belly and and scratched by extremely long toenails).
  • Constantly running late (and sometimes just skipping outings all together because the stress of getting everyone out the door is too much).
  • Yelling… a lot. And promising yourself each day you’ll yell less. And breaking your promise by 7am.

Just to name a few.

But lately I find it is the more obscure aspects of being a Mum that form part of just about every day.

Being a Mum:

  • Sometimes means providing very descriptive and literal explanations of concepts we take for granted.  Like why we slow down for people crossing at the stripey white lines. I’m trying to work out if I’ve done a good job of this one. V1’s explanation is ‘so we don’t bump the person. Otherwise they might die sad’.
  • Sometimes means sniffing under your arms every 5 minutes at work because there is a suspicious smell in the air around you, and you are pretty sure in all the rushing to get out the door that you forgot to put deodorant on.
  • Means over analysing everything your kids watch on TV  (after you’ve finished berating yourself about the amount of TV your kids watch) including observing things like 10 minutes after escaping her tower, Rapunzel is entertaining a bunch of unsavoury men, while dancing barefoot on top of a bar.
  • Means gaining a whole different skillset.  Such as the Sleeping Beauty Carseat extraction focusing on removing a sleeping baby from the car and maintaining said state. This week’s skillset was built upon by achieving my stretch goal in bubble skills, specifically bubble splicing. In teaching V1 to wave the bubble wand, I have now successfully split one bubble into 4 (in 3 separate splitting actions) Before any of them popped. As well as ‘catching’ bubbles for V2 to pop herself. I’m not about to run off to the circus to nurture my new found talent, however it’s nice to keep on learning new things every day!
  • Means remembering that time is a flexible concept. My 5 minutes is different to my better half’s 5 minutes, which is very different to V2’s 5 minutes which isn’t even vaguely relative to V1’s 5 minutes.  (Incidentally V1 is well aware of this. Before exiting the bath I suggested he had 5 minutes more – he said ‘No, my 5 minutes’. Touche).

A Constant Juggle

A huge challenge in being a working Mum is managing the illness.

  • The constant toddler cough that you try to convince everyone is just the daycare cough and not contagious.
  • The marathon worthy running nose (maybe that’s why V1 needs so much sleep, his nose is tiring him out with all that running). On the upside both my kids can blow their nose properly! (I’m extremely thankful for my better half for teaching them this skill!)
  • The post virus, during the virus, pre-virus rash that, given the number of viruses the kids get, seems ever present. Not contagious in and of itself, but still concerning and requiring at least 1 (generally 2 for good measure) trips to the Dr, and least one day off work/daycare.
  • The occasional bout of ‘conjunctivitis’ requiring at least 3 visits to the Dr (I use the term ‘conjunctivitis’ extremely loosely in this context, since is almost never actually conjunctivitis).
    • Visit 1 – to diagnose the type (very nearly every time we visit, it is diagnosed as an allergic irritation therefore not contagious, yet we still aren’t allowed to go to school, just in case).
    • Visit 2 – the can we go back to school yet? Usually responded by the Dr of, “let me see them tomorrow to check”.
    • Visit 3 – the “oh yes, they look absolutely fine don’t they, perhaps there was nothing there in the first place”. Great. Meanwhile we’ve already missed 3 days of daycare (and work) to get to this point. (I’m not commenting on the cost of these visits because, thankfully, our emergency Dr is a bulk bill centre!)
  • Last but most definitely not the least, the gastro. Since moving to a smaller daycare centre we have avoided the dreaded gastro (I think this is partly because they have the awesome foam soap dispensers and hand dryers – both of which are such a novelty it ensures the kids always wash, rewash (and wash again for good measure) their hands). However, this week we weren’t that lucky.

Thankfully this gastro waited until after the work and school day for both myself and V2. V2 waited until she had devoured her dinner, a very large serve of blueberries (I might never look at them the same way again), and fallen asleep. Her toys in bed didn’t stand a chance.

V1 made it through the night and arose unwell the next morning and, in his words, needed to burp into the toilet. We were incredibly lucky that the second day of the bug was not a school/work day and we were able to laze around the house watching TV, feeling miserable for ourselves and being looked after by my better half.

We are not usually so lucky with our timing. My kids go to daycare on Monday, Thursday and Friday (my workdays). This usually allows them the chance to catch something on a Monday, and through the Tuesday and Wednesday it germinates into something nice and buggy so I often get a call by Thursday lunch.

 

Since returning to work 3 months ago, I think I’ve had at least 7 or 8 days off with the kids while they are unwell (this doesn’t include time when I am actually sick, which I very rarely take because of the volume of time off for the kids!)

Being part time is a huge challenge. Add this to the day off here and there with sick kids and it’s one of the most challenging things I have to manage at the moment. There is barely a week that goes by where I don’t feel like I am choosing between two things:

  • Being a bad mother – sending them to school despite thinking they might be coming down with something.
  • Being a bad employee – keeping them at home for each instance the sick hat drops.

It feels like we never can win but I know everyone is in the same boat. It has become a little bit of a joke that almost all of the Mums I know have celebrated part of their first weeks back at work after parental leave, by having at least one of their work days off with a sick little one.

Bottom line is, they come first. The work will still be there the next day, and the next. Most of us aren’t playing for sheep stations and when the kids need a mummy cuddle, nothing else will do. It is just something to continue to struggle, to juggle and ultimately hope their immune systems build up as quickly as their noses run.

 

 

Friday Musings and Highlights

– it’s interesting that the average toddler grip results in an inability to hold a cup without spilling, a spoon without dropping food, or your hand tight enough while walking to the park that you feel they are safe.  However, show them a ‘lift the flap’ book and they have a grip to rival any member of the ape family (NB: V2 strengthens her grip by practising on my hair so this skill is not exclusively reserved for book renovations).

– despite my best efforts to have everyone sit together for meals, I often end up eating alone.  Tonight I sat with V1 and V2 at their little table. 5 minutes after they had abandoned their seats and half full plates, it occurred to me I probably didn’t need to continue eating on my knees at their table. I did it anyway.  I couldn’t be bothered to move. (I shouldn’t complain – the alternative usually sees me eating with V2 on my lap and me VERY carefully knife and forking my dinner both around her body and over her head).

– while eating uncomfortably perched at the small table, I watched V1 and V2 play together with the puppy – harmoniously.  They were laughing. And chasing. And smiling. And having fun. And playing games. Until, (as the truism of ‘it’s all fun and games until…’ ran through my head), V2 tripped over her toe and smashed her face onto the rim of the waiting Tonka truck  (those things are toddler proof – she came off second best).  For context she’s 15 months and just walking…. and her pyjama pants are too long… and her belly is so big she barrels along…. and she’s trying her utmost to run…. she didn’t stand a chance of staying upright for long once she attempted to get some speed up.

– my mind was blown this week when I worked out Miss Polly Had a Dolly is almost identical to If You’re Happy and You Know it. I suspect I’m coming late to the party on discovering that one. As I said. Mind. Blown.  (Shouldn’t be surprised though – think of twinkle twinkle, abcd and baa baa black sheep).

 

 

Jane Austen

Almost missed my train reading these Jane Austen Facts and Figures on The Guardian site:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/gallery/2017/jul/18/jane-austens-facts-and-figures-in-charts?CMP=fb_gu

Like most others on the platform my head was down and I was not taking any notice of what was going on in the world outside of my phones. Now that I have a seat, I can rifle through my bag for my book! (The hugely interesting and thought provoking Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari).

An Old Favourite

Whenever I get into a book funk and lose my reading mojo, I like to go back to an old favourite. Sometimes it happens as I’ve struggled to get through a new book and I read more slowly (I really loathe not finishing a book. Making the conscious decision to not finish a book has happened twice that I can remember in the history of my adult reading – Casual Vacancy JK Rowling and Fifty Shades EL James (Cue gasp!). And yes, I am aware the first is on the list for this year, and the second was on the list last year I believe!).

Sometimes it happens if I just don’t have enough time to get through any reasonable chunks of a book so struggle to immerse myself in it.

Sometimes, let’s face it, I’m so tired and there is just another episode of House of Cards that I simply must watch (Yes, I am partial to a little TV when time permits!)

Most recently it happened because I went on a Dymocks spree and purchased quite a few self-improvement books. Having finished one, I just didn’t feel like bettering myself in quick succession, so I returned to an old favourite.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) (No. 23 on the list)

This is the book I can safely start anywhere I like and be immersed instantly. I’ve lost count of the number of re-reads as a result of the ease of escaping into the world of the Bennetts.

It is much more than a story about girls marrying well to secure their future, support their sisters and live a happy life (as their father’s fortune is entailed away from them). It has so many big themes of feminism, independence, changes in social propriety, the implications of quick judgements and ignorance.

However it is not the serious themes that draw me back. It is the fact that, every time I read this, I find myself either giggling out loud, or swooning in my seat. Either at the ridiculousness of the circumstances the girls often find themselves in and the individual quirky characteristics of the sisters (and Mrs Bennett, who provide comic relief in her lack of self-awareness and crudeness in all conversations in particular).

Or the incredibly romantic phrases from Mr Darcy (even though he is at great pains to appear disinterested at all times!) His entire demeanour is to convince that he is indifferent to those who court his affections however he falls in the most monumental of ways, for Lizzie (despite earlier in the book affirming her to be rather ‘plain’) (Sorry for the spoiler alert here, but if you haven’t read this and don’t know the story, then stop reading this and go get a copy!!).

Despite being set in such a different time, some of the most memorable lines (like the below), still ring true:

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Caroline Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

The entire language that she uses in the book, in fact, is romantic. She uses words you would almost never hear in every day conversation today. In fact (since I’m going to be honest), most of them I didn’t even know what they meant. So in reading this, I learn, feel smarter and expand my vocab in the process! Words like felicitous, caprice, and affectation just to name a few. Modern English seems so rushed compared with the amount of time Austen spends on conversation. It’s romantic, relaxing and provides a suitable haven to escape into to remind myself why I love reading.