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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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work-life balance

Second week back at work, first week doing two jobs, Husband at the game in the freezing cold with house guest, children asleep for hours, me alone watching Bridget Jones’s Diary.

(Still makes me laugh and get the giggles. Still magic, after all these years. Guilty pleasure.)

Very satisfying end to the work week.

Still the funniest screen fight ever
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Meternity: insulting or ingenious?

The New York Post recently had an article on Meaghan Foye’s concept of Meternity – or as the headline suggests, maternity leave without the maternal bit.

Unsurprisingly, there has been quite a bit of indignant howling. I’ve been reading the comments with the morbid fascination of watching a traffic accident in slow motion. You didn’t just do that, I clutched my face in horror mingled with the kind of inappropriate mirth that bubbles over after a loud fart at a funeral. You didn’t just liken maternity leave to Eat Pray Love.

Continue reading “Meternity: insulting or ingenious?”

{Monday Me} Sleepy, hollow

Atticus’s latest party trick is to fight bedtime from 7pm to 9pm, and then wake up at 2 or 3 am to fight sleep for another two hours.

And while he gets to catch up with his beauty sleep in the day, I of course do not get that luxury because I have this whole other child to stay functional for.

This is why I look like this lately:

Lying in bed, looking exhausted
The face of a jack-of-all-trades who is seriously jack of it.
Christian women are told a lot that they should aspire to that wonder woman in Proverbs 31 who, among other things,

  • is a savvy property magnate,
  • probably could win the annual Great British Sewing Bee if she was
    • a) British, and
    • b) had wool, flax, linen and something called a distaff at her disposal, and
  • feeds the needy.

She also has a slew of female servants whom she apparently dresses up in fiendishly expensive garments, and she tarts up pretty well herself. She apparently likes purple. Woman after my own heart.

In the past, every other criterion had me going, “Yep, yep, doable, doable…”. All except for the sewing (no talents or inclination there), and that bit where she “gets up while it is still night” to provide for her family. As someone who is more night owl than daybreak do-gooder, that wake-up time used to intimidate me. It used to be the one thing that shamed me about my work ethic – the fact that I’m not a morning person.

Then I had Atticus, and the truth finally dawns on me: Proverbs 31 Wonder Woman isn’t sub-human. She’s just a mother of a baby boy who friggin’ won’t sleep through the night.

I am definitely getting up while it is still night to provide sustenance and comfort to this family member. It’s been 8 months and counting. And while I know you’re not supposed to compare your children, I just want to explain that this has all been a rude shock for me because Arddun had slept from 7 to 7 every day since she was 4 months old.

Never underestimate the soul-sapping realities of chronically broken sleep, people.

Arm-across-eyes
Can’t… sleep… Gotta do school run soon!
Because of the hours we keep, I haven’t been able to blog. Or write. Or pore over my roles in several church-related projects. Ironically, I haven’t been able to do what I’ve been meaning to do for months – get more organised by waking up at 5am every day. Staying ahead of the game by carving out some early morning time when I’m fresh and the batteries are fully charged, so I can write and meditate and think. So I can jump in the shower before the kids awake. So that I’m ready and able when the day officially begins.

But it’s nigh impossible to wake up at 5am every day, when I’m lucky if I get back to sleep at 4:30am after spending 2½ hours settling Atticus. And it’s incredibly frustrating when I wake up to find half the morning over, but my body is still weary and yearning for sleep.

And in case you are wondering, yes we’ve been trying controlled crying, no it doesn’t seem to be working – in fact, it seems to be getting worse. It isn’t for want of steel and effort, folks. I’m not running into the room at every whimper. But this boy has determination, stamina, and a set of lungs that would make a howler monkey think, “Hot dang!” Meanwhile, I feel guilty about possibly frying precious baby neurons in the process, and I feel defensive about the youngest member of our family turning dictator of our nights. Even while I believe that we should give our babies every reassurance of love. Even while I am patently aware that the sleeps of my husband and firstborn are also at stake. Even while I wonder if the concept of “sparing the rod = spoiling the child” should even apply this early. Even while I believe that our children shouldn’t become the all-consuming focal point of our marriage. Even while I suspect that my health is important too. 

I know this is a passing season, and perhaps I’m being unrealistic about the number of outcomes I’d like to knock out of the park while mothering two young children. But right now, I just feel like my whole day revolves around this boy when I need to pack So Many Other Things in my day yet I can’t, because I have no reserves left. 

They say that I have to treasure these days because he won’t stay my baby forever. That these lonely stretches with him, just the two of us alone in the dark, me cold, exhausted, and – dare I say it – bored out of my mind, are actually precious, fleeting times. I know this. But gee, a part of me would really like my body back.

He’s still a very cute kid, though. And innocent. And I love him to bits.

(Want my body back!)

Love him to bits.

Sigh.

Preparing the other me

I haven’t been blogging very much lately, although many biggish things have happened. We flew to Brisbane. We flew to Singapore. We had in-laws come over. My mother’s been well. (Hooray!) We’ve been sick. (Boo.)

We ran out and bought a new car so now I need to go back to work.

The last bit isn’t entirely fair, and isn’t entirely accurate. The new car is one of many reasons I need to go back to work. The new car is one of many reasons I even want to go back to work. But I’m still building up to it.

Lately, I’ve been racking my brains to remember what my mindset had been before I had Arddun. To remember the version of motherhood I’d believed myself capable of, Before Child. And it’s blowing my mind how differently I feel now. I remember warning Tony over and over. About how I’m not one of those women who could do the whole barefoot-and-pregnant schtick. About how all the women in my family for at least three generations have been working mums. They’d gone out. Earned the bread and butter. I’ll be like that too, I had told him. In my blood. Can’t help it. I reminded my husband, over and over, how I suffer dreadfully from cabin fever. How being a homebody would destroy me. I pictured a life of spilt dinners, soiled rags, Teletubbies and tedium. And I shuddered at the loss of independence. The seeming lack of mental stimulation. The irretrievable disappearance of personal identity.

And in part, some of those “losses” have happened these last 16 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Or at least bits of me have eroded, faded, or given way to something new. Part of me is infinitely mushier. I used to look at babies and think, “Squished little thing.” And now I peer into the prams of total strangers and sigh adoringly at their precious gifts from God.

Part of me is harder. I understand more. I feel like I have more to lose. I know I have a new great purpose.

And yes, part of me has been put away for now. The self-absorbed me, and I don’t mean that I’m less selfish now because I am still incredibly selfish at times. But I’m talking about that sense of separateness and individualism that free adults enjoy. You lose some of that when you become a wife because your life is entwined inextricably with another’s. But I found I lost a lot of that when Arddun was so very tiny and so very helpless. She came from my body, but I largely became hers.

And so for over a  year, I’ve been very happy to lose myself in Arddun and to lose myself in my family. I feel like I’ve poured myself out, which probably accounts for the constant gooey, liquid feeling I carry around inside of me. I’ve been on a high – I am still on a high.

But now my family might need me in other ways, and so I am at a crossroad. Because I’ve had to re-evaluate what I think motherhood should look like and for 16 months, I’ve been hoping the answer is something like “Stay at home forever! Or at least for 5 years! Have 2 babies! Maybe have an accidental third!”

But the other voices in my head are starting to say things like, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have family you love outside of Tony and Arddun. Your world is shrinking and you’re getting insular. What about your other God-given talents? You have to stop being so selfish.”

What a twisted world we live in.

I look at my friends who’ve chosen to stay at home for their children, and I love and admire them greatly. I acknowledge their sacrifice and selflessness, I applaud their resourcefulness and economy, I love their happy products – their beautiful, Godly children. Their humble, cheerful homes. Their sense of peace and calm. And rather erroneously – even sinfully – I think I’ve been ascribing a higher value to their family choice than the choice of many other beautiful mothers who have gone back to work.

I mean, everyone says that the best job in the world is being a mother, right? So isn’t the best job in the world that of a full-time mother? And therefore, shouldn’t it follow that working mothers are not the best mothers? Isn’t that how the equation works?

That’s the guilt talking. That’s been the guilt talking for 16 months. And it’s been hard, hard work trying to look at it any other way. And then I feel HUGE guilt for inadvertently passing judgement on the many other mothers who have chosen to go back to work.

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it. Whatever parenting choices you make already passes judgement on the other options you rejected.

Very long story short, I’m preparing to re-enter the Corporate World. Which means I’m waiting for childcare to get back to me, which means I’ve talked to my boss, which means I’ve been tuning my brain to think corporatey things and I’ve been spending my evenings writing more corporatey gook. I’ve started working out clothes Arddun can wear to childcare, and ordered name labels to paste on everything she owns. And it’s been hard. Honestly? Part of me is heartbroken I’m even doing this but as the days wear on, I’ve also been getting strangely excited.

Because it feels good to embrace parts of my old self again. To flex those muscles and air out dusty rooms in the corners of my mind. Coupled with my new priorities, I feel a lot more purpose-driven about where I need to be, and where I don’t want to be. And so I’ve taken steps to shift the course of my professionally development. Just one or two inches to the left or the right. Which is more than what I’ve done for my career in the last 5 years.

The lovely thing is that I’m surrounded by many mothers who have already rejoined the corporate world. Who have already gone through the heartrending bit. Who’ve cried in a lonely toilet cubicle when they missed their child’s milestone for the first time. Who are currently managing the whole part-time work schtick really, really well. They have been such an edification.

“I am a better mum for it,” at least two have assured me repeatedly, and I believe them. I don’t think they’re just saying it to make themselves feel better. “I appreciate my child more. Every moment really counts. I’m a better time manager. My priorities are crystal clear now. And the house is a mess but I don’t care.”

And so I’m on my way.

On a completely separate note – the car we’re in the process of buying? Reverse parallel parks itself. PHWOOARRR!

Justify my love

Now that almost everyone is back at WORK-work (as opposed to stay-at-home-with-baby-full-time work), I’ve likewise switched gears. Or at least my conscience has. The honeymoon period is definitely over, and my child is not a newborn. She’s not even really a baby. And so it feels like a very lame excuse to play the New Mommy card when I try to explain (to myself) why I’m not doing more.

I’ve had a chat to other mothers, and it’s a small relief to find I’m not alone. Somehow, staying at home in this day and age feels too much like a luxury, and so we guiltily cram as many chores as we can into precious little time. The 45 minutes Arddun plays by herself in the cot is spent washing dishes, cleaning her eating station, tidying the kitchen, putting a load of laundry on, emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the stove. An additional fifteen minutes is spent distracting her with TV while I run to the bathroom and try to have a quick shower. (This does not work, by the way. I can hear her complaints when I turn off the taps and I know that she’s been yelling for a time like a caged baby baboon while Playschool is blaring in the background.)

And yet, while I’m towelling off and grimacing about her wails, I’m also wiping down the bathroom sink, bench top and bathtub.

Because we women multi-task. We do not compartmentalise, we connect. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. I find myself cleaning up as I go along, and constantly daunted that I can never get enough done. And when we’re finally back to the job of caring for the child, we read to them, we sing to them, we play hide-and-seek, we cook Jamie Oliveresque baby meals. We take them to the doctor’s, the library, the mall, the playground, the park, the supermarket, other mother’s houses. We take them to baby swimming classes and Gymbaroo classes and Giggle & Wiggle at the local library – even though the librarians cannot sing. All the while kicking ourselves for not stimulating them enough, and secretly wondering if a childcare environment wouldn’t be a better alternative for socialisation and quality early childhood education.

At least, that’s my perversity.

In great contrast, our men – when left in the sole charge of the offspring – are perfectly capable of letting the kid crawl around the house on its own while they enrich their souls and minds on the Xbox. They have absolutely no qualms about doing something they REALLY enjoy while “watching the kid”. Because it’s a weekend. And they’ve worked all week.

And Tony still does the laundry. And he still does his ironing. And he still takes out the garbage, and does the gardening. It’s not like he doesn’t help out – he does. Heaps. But it’s just… different. He has a list. He ticks the items off. He reaches the end of the list. He sits down, and he plays Battlefield 3.

I have a list. It grows by 5 items for every 2 that I tick off. And while I’m ticking the items off, I worry that I’m not making the most of my time with Arddun.

I really get it now. I really understand what they’ve been saying, when they say that motherhood is a full-time job. It is. It never stops. It is unrelenting, and there are no weekends because there are no imaginary lines. And I’ll tell you why there are no imaginary lines. It’s because Mothers are Women. And Women mostly don’t know when – or how – to switch off.

I was reading Kate’s blog post yesterday, and how she’s loving the age of 2 because suddenly, it’s not that full on. The tykes, they’re more independent then. They can communicate a little clearer, they can play independently for longer. And I love my little girl. But she’s not a big napper, so she’s awake a lot of the time and always getting into scrapes and gosh I’m tired. My house was a mess when I was a white collar worker, because I was hardly at home. And now it’s a mess when I’m a SAHM, because we’re always at home.

And I feel like I accomplish precious little. Always.

Will the voices in my head please pop a Valium and drop off?

TTT – Good masters, good memory, good weather

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done a Thursday’s Three Thank-you, I know. And it’s not like I haven’t felt thankful since The Big C hit our shores. I think I’ve mentioned the scores of silver linings our recent trip illuminated, even while Tony and I struggled with roller coaster emotions, and a teething, jetlagged baby.

But I’ll admit, I’ve struggled to care enough to write about the blessings. Some days, my prayers feel like, “Oh my Holy God, why crazy cancer?! But thank you that my strep throat’s a lot better, and that you took care of last week’s baby-sniffles too. Amen.”

Gratitude, when up against intense angst and supplication, can feel a lot like emptying a leaky boat with a tablespoon.

Still – it’s good to give breath and words to grateful shivers. And I know that I’m being quite facetious – there really is a lot to my life for the heart to smile about. And so I bring you this week’s list.

1. Job masters that care.

It’s only natural for children who live interstate or overseas from family that they feel intense guilt, no matter which side of the equator their hearts or feet lie. And I spent quite a pretty sum of time in Singapore wondering if I had inadvertently made things Very Complicated by choosing a new life in Australia. It’s self-pity, I know. And completely counter-productive. Speculating over coulda/shoulda/woulda manages to achieve very little AND throw sand in God’s face. But I wonder all the same if I’d sold out on my mother, by casting my future with The Good Man from Australia.

And yet, it’s precisely because we live and work in Canberra that we were able to drop everything and run back to Singapore at a moment’s notice. Such a perfect blend of timing and situation meant that I could be with family during my extended maternity leave, and that Tony was able to take a month’s leave with little warning or certainty. I’m so, so glad we both have compassionate employers who are serious about work-life balance… and who are enlightened enough to understand which is the greater of the two.

2. Creating memories

One thing I found sorely lacking in recent moments of bewilderment and fear was the effortless recollection of scripture. It’s been ages since I’ve committed the odd verse or two to memory, let alone whole chapters. I can paraphrase many concepts and roughly tell you who I thought said what, where… but when the heart wilts, it needs to call on reserves. Doubly hard to do when the smartphone is dead or has no 3G reception.

So since last Sunday, I’ve started memorising scripture verses. My aim is to memorise a verse or two a week. I figure I need a whole week for the verses to worm their way into my intermediate and long-term memory, so it becomes so reflexive that I don’t need to focus on the individual word order anymore, but dwell on its meaning and comfort instead. I’ve also deliberately chosen translations that are more contemporary, to keep the cobwebs away. Some scripture verses have been quoted so often in KJV, ASV or even NIV, that I’ve lost sight of their beauty through rote and overfamiliarity.

I’m grateful for the wake up call, and the boot up the bottom. Long overdue.

3. Staying alive

Arddun and I were driving home this afternoon from the mall, when the heavens opened and we got caught in the hugest deluge of water I’d ever experienced.

Ever.

Do you know what driving on an expressway is like when you cannot see? Petrifying. And it wasn’t like the rain had built up over time so I saw it coming. Oh no. It was sudden, it was vicious, and when it hit our little car, it scared the living crap out of me.

This is why I need to memorise more scripture texts, because the only thing I was able to recite over and over in my head was the 23rd Psalm. Which is a great piece of scripture. If I were herding sheep. Or being accosted on all sides by nefarious men wearing dark cloaks and twirling thin mustaches.

So here I was, crawling across the expressway half blindly, trying to make out where I could stop safely on the side in peak hour traffic, while muttering to myself

The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want… He makes me lie down in green pastures – THAT I CANNOT SEE, LORD! He leads me beside quiet waters – QUIET WATERS, LORD! – He restores my soul. He guides me through paths of righteousness… or roads… if you could mark my lane a little clearer for me, thanks… for His name’s sake… and even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… or Gungahlin Drive Extension… I will fear no evil… ; Nope, nothing relevant. Okay… let’s start over.

The Lord is my Shepherd… I shall not want… The Lord is my Shepherd.

He leadeth me. Or rather, we drove through the craziness and into Gungahlin proper, where there were patches of blue sky to behold and the mighty rain dried to a drizzle. And Arddun didn’t seem to notice the difference either way, because she had been chatting to herself and her toes. And my heartbeat finally slowed. And I was SO thankful. I am so thankful.

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