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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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The kind of parent, the kind parent

I woke up this morning to find an article on Brain Pickings that seemed to crystalise at once my many strands of recent reflections and ah-hahs. There was so much that resonated in that article so I’ll give a taster, but I sincerely hope you read the rest because it places a finger right where it’s most tender and sore in the world we live in.

(A)lthough kindness is the foundation of all spiritual traditions and was even a central credo for the father of modern economics, at some point in recent history, kindness became little more than an abstract aspiration, its concrete practical applications a hazardous and vulnerable-making behavior to be avoided…

The most paradoxical part of the story is that for most of our civilizational history, we’ve seen ourselves as fundamentally kind and held kindness as a high ideal of personhood. Only in recent times… did the ideal of independence and self-reliance become the benchmark of spiritual success.

Today it is only between parents and children that kindness is expected, sanctioned, and indeed obligatory… Kindness — that is, the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself — has become a sign of weakness (except of course among saintly people, in whom it is a sign of their exceptionality)… All compassion is self-pity, D. H. Lawrence remarked, and this usefully formulates the widespread modern suspicion of kindness: that it is either a higher form of selfishness (the kind that is morally triumphant and secretly exploitative) or the lowest form of weakness (kindness is the way the weak control the strong, the kind are only kind because they haven’t got the guts to be anything else).

Eddie Legg, during his recent visit in Canberra with his lovely family, had mentioned how he had done a dipstick survey one Sunday morning during a sermon. I wasn’t there in Perth, of course, but this is my best understanding of what happened: when asked if they seek help from others, a fraction of the congregation had put up hands. All of those who did had been of foreign extraction – they were neither born nor bred in Australia.

That’s right. None of the Australians had raised their hands.

It’s unfair to generalise of course, but even in my short 12-year experience here, I have found the same. Australians are kind, by and large. Big hearts, big hands that help. But many are very reluctant to accept help rendered in kindness. The Galatians admonition to “bear your own load” is one that Australians take seriously, whether they’re Christian or not. And the concept of rugged individualism (as opposed to collectivism) is something that runs deep and strong in Western ethos and pathos, whether or not they’re Liberal/Republican or Labor/Democrat.

We find our own way, we make our own way. “Can you bear it? Can you take it?” “I got it, I got it, I got it!”

I say “we” because in this regard, I’ve always identified more strongly with “Western” ideals than “Eastern” ones. In fact, most Singaporeans do. Singapore is a society that largely believes that hard work pays off, and if you’re not successful in this world it’s because you couldn’t hack it. (Subsets of our society can also be very eager to dispense advice without taking it. I’m talking about the I-don’t-know-you-but-I-need-to-tell-you-you’re-fat Aunty culture that I simultaneously love and loathe.)

But the Singapore fabric is still largely cut out of close family ties and the reliance on relations and domestic helpers for assistance. The village is still alive and kicking, intrusive and kind. And above all, allowed in.

It is with all this in mind that I’ve come to assess how I parent.

In the last week and a half, I’ve had three friends tell me (in mostly admiring and incredulous tones) that they couldn’t believe I’m mothering two young children on my own. This is to say, no maids, no family, just us. Between Tony and I, we cook, we clean, we parent. We juggle a house sale while building another. In telling you this, it sounds like the humble brag, and maybe it is a little. I am proud of our little family and our resilience. Personally, I’m almost relieved that I’m holding up; my house is mostly clean, the kids are still alive and healthy, the husband is fed, the nitty-gritty of selling, packing for, and building houses dealt with in between school drop-offs and play dates.

I know we can do this by the grace of God because we are allowed to have good health and a stable income (for now). And because He knows what an obstinate cow I can be, my inner rebel has been given the most benign outlet: that of co-managing my own household without maid or kin.

Thing is, what I do isn’t extraordinary by Australian standards, not really. Because of its huge land mass, many nuclear families are separated from their relations. For us, the medium-term plan had always been for my mother to live in Canberra while I go back to work. Tony’s parents are ensconced in Queensland with his other two siblings, although we love their frequent visits. Domestic live-in helpers are not affordable, and contracted house cleaners are a luxury. Childcare fees in Canberra easily surpass $100 a day. In fact, childcare fees are a crazy balancing act; earn too little, and it’s not worth going back to work.

It is against this backdrop that Tony and I are flying solo. That said, we have an excellent community of church and mother’s group. But like other Australian families around us, we feel that we need to “bear our own load” without counting too much on others. Even though I’m pretty sure others would jump at the chance to help us.

There is a cost for this self-reliance, this stoic resilience. There always is. There is the physical toll – Tony and I don’t exercise much, if at all. I haven’t slept for more than 7 hours in consecutive days in years – until recently, I’d been operating on a daily average of 5 hours’ sleep. There are spiritual ramifications; all this self-reliance has made me more insular, introverted, and distant from God.

And then there’s my capacity for compassion.

In the last little while, ever since Atticus’s birth, I’ve been growing uneasy about my relationship with Arddun. And yes, I know she’s turned 4. She’s developed a more independent will as she tests the walls of her boundaries. She dreams more, negotiates more, rebels more. All that.

But I haven’t been kind.

With the birth of Atticus, all the stereotypes seem to be rushing to the fore because suddenly, Arddun is the Big Girl. She is the older, the elder, and suddenly much is expected of her. I find myself less tolerant of her childish foibles. I want, need her to pick up some of the slack. In parenting circles (and especially in Christian ones), we talk about teaching responsibility and other-centredness. And it sounds good on paper, and maybe that’s true of the intention.

But oh, there are days when my reserves are low. When I can feel myself running on empty. And it can be a culmination of things – housework undone, packing undone, decluttering unaccomplished, husband not doing what you think in your mind he ought to be doing in the sequence your OCD brain has determined without actually communicating the same to him. Because, you know, we are one flesh. Why shouldn’t he read my mind and know better? All that.

But the trigger point ends up being something Arddun does. Like picking at her dinner for 90 minutes. And then before I can even reason some perspective within myself, my tongue lashes and she bears the brunt of a day’s frustration.

And oh the regret after.

I seldom see myself as a kind person. Kindness doesn’t come naturally to me, because I am a selfish person. I really have to make an effort, almost plan to be kind to others. I have to sit there are diarise it.

But until I had kids, I had never realised how Unkind I can be.

In flying solo, I wonder if I’ve willfully bitten off more than I should chew. All things are allowable, but not all things are profitable. Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. I don’t know what I can change, but I know I need to change some things. Carving out time to sit and distill through writing and praying is one way to start.

My dearest girl, today I resolve to do better by you. xx

Schizophrenia on bus 200

I’ve been travelling to work on the bus this week, and am starting to learn that 8.00am is the Witching Hour on ACT roads. 15 minutes before and after, I can get a seat on the bus easy. But today, I found myself standing.

For about 40 minutes.

It started out innocent enough. Until making my life in Australia, I’ve been a public transport bunny for most of my commuting life. Suffice to say, standing on buses and trains in Singapore is about standard when you’re the 3rd most densely populated country in the world. And with enough government-funded Courtesy Campaigns for the last 30+ years, we’ve been conditioned to try and give up our comfy bus/train seat for those who need it more.

It didn’t dawn on me until about 20 minutes into the journey that I’ve finally arrived. I’m one of them. I’m the Expecting Mother, for whom seat nearest to the door should be abdicated. Phwoar.

(The fact that my feet were starting to kill me softly had a little to do with that shiny piece of enlightenment. But I digress.)

While I revelled in my newfound sense of entitlement, clearly the passengers of bus 200 did not get the memo. And so the brain chatter went something like this.

“Relax. You’ve stood in buses plenty of times. It’s not all about you.”

“But I’m pregnant! And there’s a sticker! On the window! That says I get a chair!”

“You’re not going to turn into One Of Those Women, are you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The kind that carries on like the world owes her a living because she’s now knocked up.”

“Well, maybe they owe me a little..?”

“Stop being such a baby, and suck it up. You’re pregnant. You’re not a bloody invalid.”

“But… look at all these men! Sitting down! In their fancy suits! And the women are standing! Most of the people standing are women! CHIVALRY IS DEAD!”

“Stop glaring… you’re embarrassing me…”

“DEAD, I TELL YOU! YES, YOU! I’M LOOKING AT YOU! AND DON’T PRETEND YOU DIDN’T SEE ME! I’M STANDING NEXT TO YOU, AND THIS IS NOT A BOWLING BALL UNDER MY DRESS – ALTHOUGH IT WEIGHS 11 POUNDS!”

“Stop it…”

“YOU PONCY LITTLE MAN! AND YOUR SILLY IPOD! MY FEET ARE KILLING ME! AND YOUR TASTE IN MUSIC IS HORRID!”

“Okay, now you’re just being unreasonable…”

“I WANT TO RIP OUT YOUR PRECIOUS IPOD EARPHONES AND SMACK THEM OVER YOUR $200 BECKHAM-WANNABE HAIRCUT LIKE THEY’RE MINI NUNCHUCKS!”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you say that…”

“NUNCHUCKS! RAWR!”

and so on. 

Thankfully, someone deigned to get off the bus right then, and this beautiful teenage girl with lioness hair flowing down her back and beautiful big breasts that still point to the sky promptly floated over to the newly-vacated seat, and waved me over.

And I sank into the seat, ever so thankful. And feeling, for the very first time, like a hormonal pregnant woman with fat feet.

I drive to work tomorrow.

Food baby gone berserk

Maybe it was the horrid day at work that made me repress stress with food. Maybe it’s just baby + water retention. But I practically inhaled tonight’s dinner (tiger prawn linguine with spinach, capers, salmon and chilli). And I now have a massive belly that looks positively bulbous.

Which, of course, made me hit the interwebs to figure out if

  • other 13 week olds can look as bulbous as I do tonight
  • other bellies fluctuate as drastically as this – Roseanne Barr one day, Twiggy another
  • someone has made a proper weight-gain chart for pregnant women.

Answers to the above: Yes, yes, and yes.

Work stress. Everyone has it, but coupled with hormones, perpetual hunger pangs and general inexperience with how big/small you should be at which stage, it’s sometimes harder to judge. I suspect the old habit of “finishing everything on my plate” kicked in tonight and as if on autopilot, I steadily steamed through the whole dish while mulling over today’s work incident and getting crosser and crosser. Aussie helpings are ridiculously large – always. And I really should have been paying more attention.

But I didn’t. So now I look like Mother Christmas.

That will teach me. :(

Eng 2/310, leading Aus by 65 and counting…

Tony:

“We’re losing! In cricket! Badly! What sort of world are we bringing our child into!”

Desserts is Stressed spelt backwards

The thing about Growing Blob, right?  Is that I have to seriously increase my dairy intake.

Luckily, this involves – and is not limited to – Connoisseur ice cream. Tonight’s flavour: cookies and cream.

I reckon this is much justified and well-deserved, owing to the absolutely abominable half-week I’ve had with a group of half-wits collectively imbued with too much whimsy, underwhelming foresight, crap listening-comprehension skills, and a death wish.

One of the pregger colleagues (I really have to start giving them shiny names) was telling me how a calm fell over her as soon as she learnt she was expecting. She had become unflappable. “Nothing is worth it,” she told me. “Stress is just so bad for a pregnancy, and nothing is worth risking your pregnancy.”

I think I need to sufficiently scare myself into a coma of calm, because I’ve not been unflappable this week – I’ve been ropable. And if the Western Australian 2008 study on everyday stress in pregnant women is anything to go by, I might inadvertantly be giving my unborn child behavioural problems.

Which sounds like a bag of hooey, really. Because couldn’t another perfectly logical correlation be that aggressive mothers model aggressive behaviour in their young? Which means I’m still doomed, but at least we know it’s not because I “aggressified” my foetus because I yelled at people this week for being very silly. Geez.

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