Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places


maternal instinct

The bicycle pump

I have Momastery on my Google reader, as she’s one of the few blog writers out there who has the power to make me weep like a hormonal teenager. Today was such a day. I got home after mother’s group, nuked my very late lunch, read her latest post about her heartbreak and healing over the adoption process… and then blubbered like a goon.

Tony and I had been trying for a baby since 2007, and we were getting to the stage where we were tossing up the possibility of adopting. And I’ll be very honest – I wasn’t ready to adopt. I was petrified. Until I fell pregnant, I never thought I had it in me to truly love children. I’m not talking about playing piggy-went-to-market and babysitting. I’m talking about Real Love. And yes, the idea of turning my life upside down and bestowing a perfect stranger unconditional, gut-wrenching, I’ll-die-for-you love was very hard to fathom.

I didn’t feel the love. I was petrified I’d never feel the love. That I just wasn’t wired that way.

Before Tony and I got married, we had talked about adopting and it was an intellectual exercise. Of course we’d adopt, I said. But as the years passed and the children didn’t come (yes, we planned to have more than one), the idea of going out and “getting one from the pound” made me nervous. Ill, even. I already have enough trouble caring for pets and plants. I had a Tamagotchi once, and it died 5 times in a week. Bringing up a baby – essentially someone else’s baby – was starting to look waaaay outside my range of competencies.

And again – what if I never grow to love that kid? How devastating for me, for Tony, for Fictitious Adopted Kid. Special place in hell, etc etc.

I had a friend once – and we don’t talk anymore, because I think we were incapable of being lovely to each other. I had a friend who, when I once admitted I scored a paid writing gig for a children’s television program (looooog story), looked me straight in the eye and drawled, “Really? But you HATE kids.”

Shock. “I don’t hate kids!”

“Oh please. You hate kids. You’re lousy with them. You can’t stand them.”

And that, I tell you, has stayed with me. Since that day, I’d think of myself as a mother and cringe. There’s a voice in our heads that Cuz and I used to call The I-Am-Fat. Everyone knows that voice. I-Am-Fat gives you a running commentary of your worst faults and insecurities. And for years, I-Am-Fat told me that I was incapable of being a great mum because I’m awkward around children and so obviously, I secretly hate them. I am a baby-hater.

But then I had Arddun. And to borrow a great line from Sal’s blog, I never knew love this deep existed inside me.

So fast-forward to this afternoon, and my reading Momastery’s post on adoption, and blubbering like an idiot on Oprah. And I want to document that moment because I want to remember that a part of me has arrived. I want to tell myself this: that Arddun came into my world, blew it right open, and brought along the teeniest bicycle pump that managed to inflate my heart just that little bit bigger so it now has room for others.

Because now, I can finally see myself loving another baby fiercely – blood or no. And I can finally kiss that sorry I-Am-Fat goodbye.

Needing patience now

So far, Motherhood has been a long exercise in patience. No surprises there, huh.

Except… I’d always thought that the patience was needed for the baby. That the love, compassion and long-suffering was about dealing with the baby, you know?

The endless crying during Arsenic Hour.

Her uncanny ability to create the biggest mess juuuuust after you’ve slid the soiled diaper away, and before you’ve had the chance to jam the fresh one under.

The fights before sleep time.

The clumsiness, hand-in-hand with baby stubbornness.

The house in perpetual mess.

The fact that it takes 50% longer now to do everything you’ve done before – like leave the house for a walk or a drive, for example.

The fact that you have 90% less time to do things that used to be important to you before – like brushing your hair and matching your clothes.

I mean, all this is true. And it requires patience. But the patience for such things comes naturally, ungrudgingly. With little grumbling or complaint. Effortless.

No. The kind of patience I’m talking about – the kind of patience that needs to be wrung out of me – is patience for others.

Because until I had Arddun, I hadn’t realised how stupid and inconvenient people and things around me can be.

BECAUSE it takes such effort to cart a baby around, BECAUSE she is vulnerable and defenceless, I’ve turned into a grouchy mother bear. It is a fight every day not to growl at strangers for being obtuse to the needs of my poor defenceless baby and her struggling mother with the pram and the 21 other things hanging off it.

Things that threaten to set me off include:

  • Competitive, selfish, boorish, impatient drivers who delight in cutting you off, who turn every roundabout into a drag race and/or come within a hair’s breadth of dinting the side of your car where the baby is seated. RAAAWR!
  • Big Fat Cars parked willy-nilly beside you so you can’t open your car door to get baby in or out.
  • Mothers who don’t wipe down baby chairs after they’re done.
  • Smokers near entrances and exits so when you walk through, it’s like entering the Vortex of Baby Lung-Blackening Hell
  • Customer service with Attitude (I’m already growing my own teenager. I don’t need your angst or sarcasm. Especially if you’re paid to help.)
  • Shopping trolleys left inside the last convenient parking lot, so you and 38 other cars before you were deprived of the one good lot nearest to the lifts (near lift = less time with pram on road with impatient drivers)

etc etc.

And sometimes, it’s manageable. Sometimes, you just grit your teeth and soldier on. But other times, you just want to freeze everything around you so you can get to that selfish stranger (with your crying baby on your hip), and with your free hand, grab that selfish stranger’s neck and shake it so hard you can hear his or her teeth rattle, while yelling,


(Which is, you know, a euphemism for Ass.)

And while things like that used to bug me before, THEY REALLY BUG ME NOW. Because I have more to lose. Because I’m her protector. Because it’s harder and because I have less time. Because Arddun doesn’t understand, doesn’t read a clock, and doesn’t have patience.

And yes, I am aware of the irony – that while I’m jumping up and down about the supreme selfishness of such acts, I am in fact making it all about ME. I have, in fact, grown a huge entitlement complex. It came free with the stretch marks and permanently widened hips.

And so I try not to take things personally, because that’s half the issue. I’m not suddenly special because I’m a mother, and I’m not suddenly a target because I’m a mother. I’m just a mother.

And so I try to slow down. Do one less thing while multi-tasking. Bear to be late for events. Give 4WDs, Utes, taxis and Audi drivers a wide berth. Smile at rude sales staff after they’ve insulted me, and let them think I’m simple. Because the cure for impatience isn’t patience – it’s submission. I am not in control of everything or everyone and never have been. The universe is large and my troubles, on balance, are trivial.

If we’re having a bad day, pull over and hug the baby. Both of us might feel better after the time out.

Peace like a river, baby.

What that cockroach says about you

This morning, to my absolute horror and disgust, a teenage cockroach came traipsing across my kitchen floor, bold as brass. It thought it could hide under my electric kettle, but its miserable feelers gave itself away.

It’s been ages since I’ve  had to spray anything, but I knew exactly where that Mortein was. It’s one of those “new improved fragrance” ones that try and smell like a deodorised toilet, and apparently it’s a “multi-insect killer”. It also promises “fast knockdown”. Whatever. After removing Arddun far, faaar from what I thought would be the dead zone, I found that brazen cockroach and gave it a nuclear winter. I sprayed it so hard, I think it drowned.

I think I overreacted, mostly because I felt rather insulted. And guilty. Because the cockroach felt like some living testament that I was a dirty, dirty housewife. And therefore a bad, bad mother.

Now that Arddun is half-crawling and into semi-solid meals in a big way, I’m torn between building up her immunity and sanitising the hell out of anything and everything she comes into contact with. It actually takes a degree of self control NOT to blitz anything that has touched the floor and MIGHT go back into her mouth. The worst is food. Two-second rule – do you or don’t you apply? See, now that my immunity has worn off in her, she’s on her own and there’s the whole chicken-and-egg deal about her depleted immunity and yet the need to build it up through resistance to “dirty” things.

And in the midst of all that, I see a cockroach and want to give it – and myself – hell. Because it signifies. It whispers that I haven’t given Arddun a safe and clean environment. It’s silly because it’s the first of many lessons that I’ll have to learn: I won’t always be able to shield her from the icky. As much as I’d like to Martha Stewart the house into respectability, I don’t always have the time or – let’s admit it – the care factor.

And Arddun will be fine. Because the fact is that the little bugger (pun intended) says only one thing: that it’s summer. That all the creepy crawlies are up and about and alive because it’s finally warm enough for them to get their kicks. That said creepy crawlies have probably lived in my ducted-heating vents and in my shadow for months but only had the temerity today – in 35ºC weather – to poke their little heads out and say hello. And maybe it also says it’s time I wet-vacuumed my floor again. But Arddun and I will live.

Occupational health and safety

About 10 days ago, I put my back out.

And while I could dedicate an entire post to how wimpy that sounds (“Her baby weighs 11 pounds and she puts her back out! Pffft!”), I’d like to talk about how terrifying it all was for the millisecond I realised I couldn’t be there for my baby.

By “there”, I mean functioning 100%. You need your back to take the pram in and out of the car. To twist and negotiate the baby capsule in and out of its pod without flinging its contents (i.e. baby and blanket) onto the backseat or oncoming traffic. To carry baby out of the cot and to NOT drop your baby to sleep quite literally.

The day I put my back out, Arddun’s sleeping and eating patterns took a turn for the funny. Mostly because as soon as she was near dropping off to la-la-land, I’d try and lower her back in her cot or any flat surface and end up dropping her instead.

I’d like to say it was funny har-har. But no one was laughing that day.

Here’s the rub: while I have, in the last 7 years, a heightened measure of self-preservation because I’m now answerable to myself AND a man who loves me, having Arddun has completely upped the ante. Because no mommy = no honey. For once in my life, I have someone who really needs me. Who literally cannot stand up without my help. And that means that I need to think seriously about how I take care of myself.

Where once I’d turned a half-deaf ear to all the safety training on box-lifting at work, I’m now paying attention. I’m eating a little better. I’m praying more fervently. I’m driving a little less like a stereotypical Asian woman (heh!). Where once I had scoffed at fuel-guzzling soccer-mum cars, I now see the huge appeal. HUGE being very much the operative word. Between my car and another in a road accident, I’d like us to emerge with not so much as a scratch on our foreheads. If the turning circle didn’t take after the moon, if it came in prettier colours AND if it wasn’t such a doozy to park in Canberra Centre, the Manic Mommy in me would like to get a humvee, thankyouverymuch. Anything that could secure our safety just that little bit more.

There’s a scene in Steel Magnolias where Dylan McDermott’s character comes home from work to find his infant son screaming blue murder and his Julia Roberts wife sprawled on the back porch, unconscious. That scene terrifies me now. It’s the reason I don’t climb ladders alone in the house, for fear of losing my balance (the klutz that I am) and either landing on Arddun or bashing my head on the carpet and Tony only realising this when he walks through the back door at the day’s end. Paranoia. I think we’re all allowed some kind of neurosis now and then. This one’s mine.

I think I’m starting to understand what it feels like to live for someone else. Whoa!

You can’t make friends with salad

There’s a verse that goes something like this, “…then we will no longer be like infants, tossed by every wind of doctrine.” And while the context of that verse is all to do with what happens once one reaches maturity in Christ, I’d like to say that the imagery is a vivid one and I’d like to steal it for what I’m about to say.

Except, I’d like to replace the word “infants” with “n00b parents”. And I’d like the promise that every n00b parent will no longer be tossed like a greasy Greek salad, each new leaf of information sending us into more turmoil than ever before.

I am in completely new territory. Usually, I can get thrown into something big and new, and I’d try and wing it. New job. New industry. New country. New church. New network. New man. Marriage. Hit me, and I’ll find a way to survive and get prayerfully comfortable with my choices. Small (by Chinese standards), rustic wedding. Three-bedroom starter townhouse in suburbia. Settling down with a foreigner in a foreign land. Changing churches. Leaving and cleaving. Many, many others may have tut-tutted at these choices but for the most part, I’ve shrugged and breezily gone on with my life.

It’s not so easy with this parenthood shindig.

I’ve been thinking (oooohhhh!), and there’s a couple of reasons I’ve temporarily lost my mojo, and ability to think for myself and pee into the wind.

  1. The stakes are so much higher because it now involves someone completely helpless and important. Not just someone important.
  2. The consequences of not following parenting doctrine is usually couched in terms of the rebel being completely selfish and the effects, rather dire. (“You are teaching your child that you do not love her and that she cannot trust you.”  “Your child may develop life-threatening allergies and will swallow a legume one day and die a terrible death.” “You will spoil your child rotten and she will become one of THOSE children. Your friends and church will shake their heads in shame.” “Child services should really be bashing down your door and escorting you off the premises now, you selfish buffoon.”)
  3. The advice is always, always personal.

The third point is the hardest to wade through, and calls upon good growing of thick skin and fantastic discernment. I was reading a parenting forum that was discussing the use of a certain parenting method. A few parents had started complaining about the method’s limitations, when a mother stepped in and basically said that the methodology in question was fantastic and the reason everyone was wrong and sucked was because they “didn’t try hard enough”. And even though that comment wasn’t directed at me, I was itching to jump on the forum and tell that woman to bite me. Because if there’s one thing we don’t need in this tremendously challenging terrain, is one woman oppressing and rubbishing another’s efforts.

Parenting is ALWAYS personal and emotional. It is not like any job I’ve ever had, because it isn’t one. It’s not even a career. For the most part, corporate life sets professionalism up to be the antithesis of emotionalism. But I can tell you right now that parenting cuts right to the emotional core because it partly answers the question of Who You Are.

And the advice out there. The literature. It’s riddled with labels to help us along.

Are you an Attachment Parent? You are either very flexible and attentive to your child’s needs, or you are incapable of saying no to your child and will bring up a spoilt brat who has no understanding of routine and rules.

Are you a Hyper-Scheduler? Then you’re either a very organised person, or that’s pig latin for anal-retentive control freak who treats her child like a robot.

I suspect some opinions are put forward so stridently because the adviser, rather than the advised, stands to be the main beneficiary. If you need to feel confident, perhaps the first place to start is by sounding very confident. The truth is, all of us have the answer – which is that none of us knows best. But all of us have been blessed with a sense of good-enough, and the rest… the rest is providence, baby.

Last week, I started putting away books that advocated any parenting methodology over another. I just didn’t want to be picketed at anymore, and I needed my mojo back. Those books may work for others, but I could feel my confidence getting leeched every time I did something – like pick Arddun up after she’d been crying an ocean – only to feel guilt on both ends of the spectrum. Enough. Maybe I am building a rod for my own back because I did the whole “controlled crying” thing wrong. Maybe she will be a head case twenty years down the track because I didn’t pick her up fast enough and she cried two minutes too long.

Whatever. I’m here now. I’m her mommy. And like my little girl, I am peeing into the wind.

How’s motherhood: the response

It’s funny how small talk can sometimes demand the most profound answers. We get together and, in the most casual of circumstances like a BBQ, drop huge Meaning-Of-Life type questions like,

“How you doin’?”

“How’s Married Life?”

And in the last 6 weeks,

“How are you finding motherhood?”

Well, here’s my answer.

My life is now broken into three-hour installments, and my world has expanded and contracted at the same time. This Mommydom is a black hole. I am sucked in and free-falling, alternately bewildered and blissed out, and all the rules I once held against fellow human beings no longer seem to apply – at least for now.

All the adages about motherhood go off like light bulbs every day, and yet the words – poor imitations, crude descriptors – pale in comparison to the living, breathing reality that I am holding a babe in my arms, she is mine, and I am hers. My world has officially been rocked.

All at once, my ambitions have hit rock bottom and shot to the moon. I hear myself fervently wishing things like If-you-could-just-stay-in-the-bouncy-net-without-going-off-your-nut,I-would-be-so-happy. My goal for the week would be to get this brand new person to learn what night and day means for sleep time. While my ambition would be teach her the meaning of kindness and goodness, even though I haven’t come close to mastering the same.

Such lofty sights. Such intangible dreams. The stuff of project management nightmares.

We are smitten. This pooing, spewing, gurgling, sighing, yawning, stretching, heartbreaking product of our love has consumed our day and night. I get it now. I can see how a child can glue and rend apart marriages with her arrival and her leaving. It is so easy to get distracted by the New Kid on the Block, so easy to build your day around feeding her, soothing her, clothing her, loving her. It is too easy to push aside the marriage, until it is subsumed and buried in Gymboree classes and softball practice and singing lessons and playdates.

And I have changed. Or perhaps there’s a part of me that never got to see daylight until now. Who knows. But I can no longer watch or read anything about babies starving to death, or being abused by the hands they love and trust most. And my usual cocksure self is riddled with insecurity and doubt every day – a mild side effect of stupendously strong feelings of love and protectiveness. Also, who knew I’d have such a high threshold of the icky – bad smells, loud diapers, projectile milk fountains… God only knows.


My house has a smattering of Baby everywhere. My wardrobe has transformed into a collection of nursing uniforms. My eyebags are permanent. My fringe is perpetually pinned up so it won’t get in the way of gazing into her tiny face and laughing.

Oh, but you only needed the short version? Very well. How’s motherhood? Terrific and terrifying, thanks for asking.

Hypochondriacs R Us

I need to take a chill pill. Ironically, that might involve a doctor.

Okay, back up. Here’s the situation. In just 2 weeks, my girl’s got the sniffles. And then 10 days ago, her face exploded into a gazillion pimples so innumerous, they’ve sorta merged into one giant crusty, flaking mask of yuck across my offspring’s gorgeous face.

Baby modelling career over before it ever began.

On a more serious note, it’s really distressing to watch. Mostly because it just looks so painful. To add to the litany of skin-related woes, her nappy rash came back with a vengeance and now we’re talking major ouchy looking sores.

And I feel terribly guilty. Like I didn’t wash her face properly. Or keep her dry enough. Or hydrated enough. Or cool enough. Or warm enough. Or something.

Not enough! Nothing I do feels like enough. I feel like a man, and want to run out and DO something. Get a cream! See a doctor! Alleviate the pain and suffering. Except the books and websites all claim that nappy rash and colds and baby acne happen, and I should just sit tight and let it run its course. That medication at this age would be overkill. That it’s normal. That This Too Shall Pass.

Not on my watch! another part of the brain yells. And as with any extensive sleuthing on the internet, the worries grow. It’s probably nappy rash… but it could be THRUSH! Quick! Run to the chemist! Call the GP! Get Canesten! No wait, too strong for baby! No, it’s alright! Leave it alone! No, do something now before it gets worse! No, if you fiddle, it WILL get worse!

She has a snuffly nose. Or it could be… the FLU! Viral! It’s winter! What if it gets to her lungs! Quick! Get her booked into the after-hours clinic at the hospital! Turn up the heater! No wait, too hot. No wait, turn down the heater but turn on the humidifier. No wait, get the Vicks vaposteam thingamajig to menthol-ise the air! No wait – not advisable for babies! Might burn her lungs out. Or something. No wait – says it’s okay on the box…

She’s got a bad case of baby acne, but it could be… DERMATITIS! Or SEVERE ECZEMA! She could be allergic to EVERYTHING! Quick, change her formula supplement to soy! And change your diet so your breastmilk doesn’t taste of chilli. Or something. And run out and get this cream that everyone swears by – Aveeno. Or Weleda. Buy them both. But patch test first! But where! Which part of baby would you like to patch test on, so that if it goes balls up you can just say, “Phew. Thank goodness that was only on [insert body part here]”. Tell me that.

They never told me this was part of motherhood. I wish I can turn this part of my brain off.

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