Sunday, October 31, 2010

But I could also tell you



... that the weekend was also fairly heavily soaked with tears; butterflies persistently invading my tummy; sadness; losing my patience with my little 'un, who didn't really understand what the bikkie-baking caper was all about; too many glasses of wine; a thumping headache that wouldn't go away; resentment and silent criticisms for inauthenticity when really I was afraid that other people's achievements reflected badly on me (which I know they didn't, but that somehow seemed irrelevant at the time); racking sobs; hiding behind activity; numbing with junk food; feeling guilty for taking time out; and regret.

Because all of these things would also be true.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I could tell you




... that my long weekend comprised staying in my pyjamas; intending to wash out the bath so I could soak in it, but not getting around to that; losing myself in fantastical stories; baking simple bikkies with my little 'un's help; decadent glasses of wine; time out to see a movie on my own; cuddles; homemade lasagne; the occasional walk, weather permitting; losing myself in exquisite journals; minestrone with grana padano; DVDs; great coffee; a tidying-up binge; pancakes; assiduously ignoring the Melbourne Cup; and finally kick-starting a project I have been putting off for ages.

And all of these things would be true.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Little victories?


Little victories?

“I really did not feel comfortable coming here today.”

That was the first thing my Mother-in-law said to me when she walked in the door, arriving to look after my little ‘un this morning. I had been expecting some sort of “conversation” but not this.

Back story: Last Friday I arrived home to discover my littlie had a very unusual and extremely painful rash in her nappy. As she this was something new, and she was evidently experiencing considerable distress and discomfort, I quizzed my Mother-in-law when she came to visit the next day about what the cause might have been. I suspected it was the Varicella vaccination she’d had a few days earlier, but I was curious as to whether my Mother-in-law had noticed anything untoward or whether my little ‘un had insisted on eating or drinking anything different from the norm when they went out on their usual coffee date. I asked for her help: anything that might give us a clue as to why the rash might have appeared. Unfortunately, in the midst of this conversation, my sweet little girl was uncharacteristically limp and listless, and more than a bit clingy, sending my anxiety into overdrive.

Of course, in a few days my littlie was back to her usual cheeky chatty curious self and the rash faded and all was well. Or so I thought.

“I really did not feel comfortable today. When I arrived on Saturday, I felt like the room was full of tension and it was all directed at me.

It seems to me, your little one has three types of mothering at the moment. You, your mother and me. I try so hard to do things exactly the same way as you do, but it’s not always easy. And if it’s not good enough…

And anyway I happen to know that some things are known to make babies uncomfortable when they wee, so it wouldn’t have been my preference to feed her tomatoes and olives, but that’s what you wanted. And when I spoke to my son about it, he just insisted it was to do with the nappy and wouldn’t listen to any other suggestion.“

And on and on and on it went.

I bit my tongue. I stood politely. I listened. I affirmed that we had been tense last weekend, but only because of our concern for the little ‘un. I apologised if my preoccupation had been read as an accusation, because it really hadn’t been my intention. I acknowledged that I hadn’t really been aware of anyone else’s feelings at the time, because I was so focused on the issue at hand. I also explained that I had called my Mum a couple of times because I knew she would be working (at a hospital) later that week and could look up the full range of side-effects of the Varicella virus for me.

On and on it went, for a bit more.

I excused myself to clean my teeth and put my make-up on. My hands shook as I applied my mascara. Angry words lashed inside my head. I found myself nauseous at the idea that I would have to apologise for being upset that my little girl was unwell. I wondered how on earth I was going to concentrate when I got to work.

I kissed my little ‘un – oblivious to the stand-off going on around her – and wished my Mother-in-law a good day.

There was a bit more of the on and on. Ending with, “And I think that, at the end of the day, we all have to get on because we are like a big family.”

I agreed and reiterated that I was sorry if my behaviour had hurt feelings and that it really hadn’t been my intention. Which was received by a barely perceptible “humpf”.

Walking to the bus, assessed a few of many options.

As much as I love my husband and value his calm, big picture view in a crisis, I knew that calling him would push all his buttons. He hates conducting personal conversations over the phone, especially at work, let alone ones that put him on the back foot. These all contributed to his unsatisfactory response to his mother’s phone call about the nappy rash earlier that week. I knew he still felt bad about their difficult conversation but I also suspected that calling him to bitch about developments would make him feel worse about it, and possibly place him in the invidious position of defending his mother to his wife (which would also make me resent his not defending me). So that ruled him out.

As much as I love my Mum and appreciate her calm, wise perspective I suspected she’d feel bad for me and that would make me feel worse. Mum has a lot on her plate at the moment, but regardless of how burdened she is, she tends to want to “fix” things. I knew that this wasn’t something she could fix, and I wasn’t keen to hear that it wasn’t important in the scheme of things or not to let it bother me. Because I knew that for me it was a big deal. My stomach was constricting, my breath shallow, the butterflies running up and down my arms and legs were making them shake.

I also considered calling my sister, who is sweet and funny and loyal to a fault. But I suspected she would just take my side and say something wittily cutting about my Mother-in-law to disparage and dismiss her outburst. And that wasn’t what I wanted either.

So I called my friend. A dear lass of about the same age who has a son a month younger than my little ‘un. We happened to be in the same mothers group, but already knew each other through friends of friends. I adore her, but also knew she’d see all the nuances of what was happening.

After apologising profusely for calling so early (though, of course, she and her son were up already), I asked for her help in processing what had just happened. I needed her to help navigate my feelings and act as a sounding board for any actions I could take. She agreed wholeheartedly and as soon as I said, “Well, my Mother-in-law arrived this morning…” she said, “UH-OH!”. I told her the story and she listened. And she heard and she gasped at the right moments and was indignant on my behalf, but exactly the right amount.

This sweet friend told me what she heard. She understood that parents who ask their parents to look after their children are perennially in debt. She knew that making specific requests, resolving problems, receiving advice were more fraught in this situation than when the transaction was purely between a paying client and service provider (as in the case of childcare). We agreed that we were apt to receive suggestions as implied criticism, and that this situation had likely pushed similar buttons for my Mother-in-law. My friend saw my hurt and anger and shame, and she also applauded me for handling it the way I did. She reminded me that everything was motivated by love but we agreed that there was no happy ending to this story, and that nothing would “fix it”.

I thanked my friend profusely for hearing me and noticed how the butterflies were no longer coursing through my veins. My breathing had stabilised and I was no longer shaking. I knew I would still have trouble concentrating at work and that I would have to do a bit more work to process the “shame trigger” (as Brené Brown would call it) to lessen its hold on me.

As I got off the bus and walked to work, it occurred to me that I had done the right thing in calling my friend. She listened and she responded exactly as I needed. She didn’t belittle my feelings and she didn’t overblow them. She heard and she could relate. And she helped me see that I already knew what had happened (to me and to my Mother-in-law) and that I knew what to do.

Those of you who, like me, grew up watching BBC television may recognise the title of this post “Little Victories”. It comes from the brilliant situational comedy set in a prison starring Ronnie Barker called Porridge. Barker’s character Fletcher has been in and out of prison most of his life and gives the following advice to a first-timer: “You can’t buck the system: it’s mad to try. But, you can lift the heart with the occasional little victory.”

Families are not unlike prisons. History is not unlike prison. Impulse built on years of reactive behaviour, feeling victimised, being afraid is very much like prison.

I saw today that I couldn’t run from my new family and the differing world views of each of its constituents. I saw that I couldn’t lash out, hide from, or pointedly ignore the people or situations that pushed my buttons. I would have to learn and keep going. I would be OK. In that way, it wasn’t unlike my own little victory.

[Post-script: I feel compelled to add that it is not all sweetness and light right now. I know I’m feeling a lot better than I would have, had I pursued other ways of dealing with my feelings. But I’m not exactly all smug and zen about it. I still feel rattled and am having trouble concentrating. I am half tempted to run over to the campus bar and down a couple of gin and tonics, to take the edge of these feelings and silence the endless loop on replay in my head. Writing this has been another way of processing but it has taken me over an hour and I really should be working. I have no idea what my husband is going to face when he gets home this afternoon (he gets home before me) and I have decided against calling him to pre-warn him, for all the reasons I outlined above. Plus he needs to be able to unravel his own piece of thread in this big knotty ball! In any case, I’m just trying to keep it real here as another form of victory.]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shit a brick!


I have just realised that NaNoWriMo starts next week.

Last week I was telling myself that it was "cool" not to have prepared. At All. In any way. Literally, metaphorically. Mentally, psychologically.

Today I am packing my daks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just a moment


I could just show you
what I want you to see but
the truth is that this

moment was only
that: a moment. Gorgeous and
sweet and endearing

but not a second
later she threw her dog and
screamed so loudly in

my ear it rang for
the next five minutes and I
said horrible things.

I'll resist the urge
to make it sound profound with a
pithy one-liner.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Enjoying a decadent moment to myself?


Or numbing myself to the fatigue, the irritation, the restlessness, the guilt?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Staying present?


Or hyper-sensitive? Questioning everything, looking for meaning everywhere

[It gets exhausting.]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Making a clearing?


Or putting off my true work?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

For some reason


... I'm outta words this week.

Outta words.

Outta ideas.

Outta inspiration.

Outta motivation.

Outta decisions.

Outta energy.

I figure it won't last for long... so I'm just going with it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nothing to be frightened of


"Mr Barnes, we've examined your condition, and we conclude that your fear of death is intimately connected to your literary habits, which are, as for many in your profession, merely a trivial response to mortality.

You make up stories so that your name, and some indefinable percentage of your individuality, will continue after your physical death, and anticipation of this brings you some kind of consolation. And although you have intellectually grasped that might well be forgotten before you die, or if not, shortly afterwards, and that all writers will eventually be forgotten, as will the entire human race, even so it seems to you worth doing.

Whether writing is for you a visceral response to the rational, or a rational response to the visceral, we cannot be sure.

But here's something for you to consider. We have devised a new brain operation which takes away the fear of death. It's a straightforward procedure which doesn't require general anaesthetic -- indeed you can watch its progress on-screen. Just keep an eye on this fiery orange locus ad watch its colour gradually fade.

Of course, you'll find that the operation will take away your desire to write, but many of your colleagues have opted for this treatment and found it most beneficial. Nor has society at large complained about there being fewer writers."


Julian Barnes
Nothing to be frightened of

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New York state of mind



Since returning from New York, I’ve been trying to spend a day (well, a morning) getting out and about with the little ‘un, exploring our own city as if we were tourists. Our first New York day included a visit to the aquarium. Our second (today) centred around a trip to the Melbourne Museum.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that sure about how the trip would go. After all, we’d taken our littlie to the Natural History Museum in New York and, after running around exclaiming at the dinosaurs, she was visibly non-plussed by all the stuffed animals in dank dioramas. The whining eventually got the better of us and we hot-footed it out of there.

Now there was no way that a trip to a museum in Melbourne, only a couple of kilometres from our house, would be a better experience than a museum on the upper west side of Manhattan, right?

The Melbourne Museum also has dinosaurs and stuffed animals, the most famous of which is Phar Lap, the fabled Melbourne Cup winner that died mysteriously and sparked an outpouring of national grief unprecedented for a horse. Having ignored the whiny pleas to let my little un “DOWN!” from the pram so she could go “WALKING!” I finally relented. The width of the walkways, the small number of primary school groups, the thickness of the plexiglass, the nagging little voice that warned me to get over myself and stop retarding my daughter’s physical development just because I couldn’t be fagged running after her the whole time… they all convinced me to relent and let her down.

And, of course, she had a ball. We wandered from room to room. She exclaimed at the sheer size of the dinosaurs. When we stood on the first floor, the head of the diplodocus was hovering at her eye level and she could see his big teeth. The stuffed animals were perched from floor to ceiling and she could see so many things that she recognised: tiger, pingu, bear, owl, birdie. I lifted her up so she could touch the skins and furs being offered her by an education officer, who also complimented me on my dress. When we got home, my little ‘un proudly told her Daddy that she got to “touch ‘nake skin!”.

Her favourite display, though, was one about the human brain that, for the most part, went over her head (literally and metaphorically). “DARK!” She cried, delighted. "'TARS! TWINKLE TWINKLE!”. She followed the little lights that formed constellations throughout the exhibit, I guess to represent neurons or somesuch (no scientist me).

For some reason, it made me think of my dear friend Jen, who had asked how I anticipated “keeping the voice fresh in my ear”, the memory of all the things I’d learnt from reading Brené Brown’s research. That was such a poignant question, it had been marinating in my mind for a while, and I wasn’t quite sure what the answer would look like.

But as I watched my little girl dance through the twinkling lights of a vast dark room representing a human brain, I found myself wondering if that was how the learning would be. Just a tiny twinkling light to remind me, in my darkest moments, that there was another way.

And maybe, just maybe, a newish and nicely thought-out little museum in our home town might offer more than I'd ever anticipated... and that might also be considered another gift from New York.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And then…



I read Brené Brown’s new book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life). And it answered all the questions that last Tuesday raised.

For example, one of the first things that I read – and that jumped off the page at me – was this:

I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.

I now see that cultivating a Wholehearted life is not like trying to reach a destination. It’s like walking towards a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction.

I now see how gifts like courage, compassion, and connection only work when they are exercised. Every day.

I now see how the work of
cultivating and letting go that shows up in the ten guideposts are not “to-do list” material. It’s not something we accomplish or acquire and then check off our list. It’s life work. It’s soul work.

My word. All of a sudden, I could see where my fears and frustrations were stemming from… the shame that I had been wearing like a hideous bruise that told the world I wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t nice enough, hadn’t got it right.

Through reading (nay, devouring) this book I also saw:

* how I numb myself to “take the edge off” uncomfortable feelings, particularly when I have been frustrated by my little ‘un’s behaviour, and especially with alcohol;

* how I also play down the joy and celebration in my life, not wanting to appear arrogant or insensitive;

* how I try and stave off boredom, especially at my day job, and particularly with chocolate;

* how I always assumed that boredom was my fault because I was quick to do things that seemed to take other people a long time;

* how I also found it excruciating to have “nothing to do” or be seen to be “wasting time” or “slacking off” when in fact that’s just the way I work: in inspired bursts that result in extremely focused, quality writing that usually requires little by way of editing or amendment;

* how I just assumed it was my fault, that my boredom was palpable evidence to others of my fraudulence, that I was obviously lazy, hypocritical, uncommitted, and undeserving of the opportunities and accolades that came my way. When in fact, I just had a different working style that didn’t quite fit the 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday mould [I am also indebted to Chris Guillebeau for similar observations.];

* how I compare myself unfavourably to other people, especially parents of a similar age and stage of parenting;

* how the following things REALLY push my buttons: stories of love and tenderness inspired by newborn babies; people pursuing their artistic dreams, weight loss goals, travel plans in earnest; people getting book deals or licensing arrangements or articles published;

* how despite my genuine happiness for people and my eagerness to celebrate their achievements, a small part of me whines that their motivation reflects badly on my lack thereof, and that this makes it even more obvious to others that I am undeserving of my dreams, that are paltry and pathetic anyway;

* and how this will send me running to a family-sized block of chocolate or bottle of red or impulse shopping or specific self-destructive, diminishing behaviours that I am too ashamed to describe here.

And now I can see all this, I feel like I have finally woken up and can clearly see the heart of the matter. And that is: that this is who I am. I am not all that different from most other people, and I am certainly not alone, but this is my work to do. It will never end, and I will never perfect it, but it’s mine to claim and mine to bemoan and mine to enjoy. Because that’s where the gifts really are.

Please do give yourself the gift of Brené Brown’s work. You will never be the same again, and you will be the better for it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I did it all so very badly



I knew it was going to be a close call, even if everything went super-smoothly and all players in the Universe conspired with me.

The tour would go for an hour and a half. I would catch a train and meet my mother-in-law at the front of the church hall around the corner from my home so that my little 'un could participate in her dance class.

The tour ran late. The more questions were asked, the more intricate the answers, the more I squirmed in my boots, itching to get back to the locked closet where my bag and phone were sequestered. I ignored the fascinating tidbits being shared by knowledgeable and passionate tour guides. I made my escape (missing the last little room, the kitchen) and found my phone, called home and got no reply. I left no fewer than eight messages while pacing up and down. My Mum and friend were still with the tour group, enjoying the last little room, the kitchen. My mother-in-law had her mobile phone switched off. A friendly tour guide offered to drive me to the station (some seven minutes' walk away). I refused. She commiserated that the phone reception wasn't all it could be, and I snapped that it wasn't the problem, it was that I could't reach my Mother-in-law, who had needlessly woken my toddler from her nap so as to to meet me out front of a dance class that I would be missing.

My Mum and friend eventually joined me in the lobby. After a perfunctory glance at the gift shop, we made our escape. I ran to the station, giving hasty mild apologies. The train was ten minutes away. My Mother-in-law finally answered her phone. They were at the dance class together, they would start together until I could arrive.

All was well… right?

I paced up an down on the platform then sat stiffly on the train throughout the million-year-long nine minute journey and held back tears. My dress suddenly felt way too tight, so it was no wonder (I now realised) that my Mum hadn't complimented me on it or inquired whether I bought it in New York (which I had). The skies opened and I sprinted to the church hall while the rain pelted on my head, doubtless making my hair frizz a fright. Why had I worn it straight that day? I unzipped my boots and threw them behind my little 'un's pram, parked in the waiting room. The dance class was only just starting: it had got off to an uncharacteristically late start. My little 'un was there, excited as always. My mother-in-law sat on the floor, shoes off as required, happy enough to watch.

All really was well. I took them out for a coffee and iced chocolate (respectively) afterwards.

Then I retired with a splitting headache at 8pm.

But not before sighting these messages in my in-box:

Today, just today, consider the possibility that the way things are right now is not only okay, but might actually be just fine. See what happens when you look at your life through the lens of treasures waiting. Courage, sometimes comes, in the willingness to look with eyes of compassion.

Don't be afraid to face your giants. Don't be afraid to stand face to face, toe to toe with what is scaring you the most. Don't be afraid to pull the things that are taunting you in the darkness out into the light to see what they really are.


From Dream Lab

Our fears, our hurts and our biggest holdbacks very often lose all of their power once they are brought out into the light and to be seen for what they truly are. Many times they are simply figurative bullies, and not much more. Many times our fears have no merit, our hurts are not worth the energy we put into them, and the things holding us back most are things we have outgrown long ago.

From Brave Girls Club

I am reminded that this lesson is mine to learn. Can I stay present even when things are hard? Can I appreciate the beauty of my life even when things are messy and imperfect? Most of the time, I don’t have a quick yes to this answer, and my guess is you don’t either. But what we can do is keep saying yes to the opportunities for appreciation that come our way. We can keep looking all around for what’s beautiful and good and, most of all, be gentle with ourselves when the gift is the unraveling.

How about you today? What’s the imperfection that is asking for your kind sense of humour and the humility that says, "Yes, gratitude for even this. I welcome this, too. Yes."


From Andrea Scher (via Dream Lab)

Lying in bed, I wondered about the gifts of imperfection I've been so assiduously cultivating. Acknowledging I'm imperfect seemed to be one thing. But responding to that, in the heat of the moment? I totally different kettle of fish. Taking a deep breath and going with it? Apparently out of the question. Watching myself go nuts over things I can't control, an ensuring that anyone attempting to help felt the worse for it? The way to go, it would seem.

Intellectually, I know that everything I have ever read on the gifts of imperfection and the limitations of not-enoughness, all the conversations I have had (in person and on line) with kindred spirits, all of these things makes sense. Spiritually, there is a synergy with my world view and my deepest fears and most fervent hopes. Physically... psychologically... when is this actually going to sink in?

Why is it so hard to learn?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Listening



My tummy had a cross between butterflies and a sinking feeling. From nervous elation “up” to a sinking feeling “down”, I stopped and tried to decipher what it was trying to tell me.

I felt guilty because I haven’t done a lot of work that day at my day job.

I felt relieved to have ticked a couple of items off my To Do list: pap smear; calling to arrange quotes for blinds and evaporative cooling; getting organised for the next day's activities; researching birthday options for my husband.

I felt defiantly sanguine about enjoying a dark chocolate and raspberry gelato at lunchtime.

I felt a little deflated that I hadn’t made much of a dent in my gmail in-box and my reassurances that I’d get around to it… bit by bit… eventually… weren't really quelling the guilts.

I felt excited about booking my husband's birthday treat and keen to get a response to the email I sent him, to hear what he thought.

I felt delighted to learn and that there was a very real possibility I'd be able to continue my day job next year.

I felt anxious about the following day's arrangements, in particular, making it back from a special tour in order to take my little 'un to her dance class.

I felt a little flattened by a particular phone conversation with someone kind and knowledgeable but a little abrupt and pushy.

I felt a slightly daunted by the creative play workshop I’d just signed up for –- more time away from my husband and littlie on the weekend -- even though it would be inspiring and informative.

I felt disappointed with the time I'd teed up for an appointment later in the week as it would make a dent in my plans to get out and about with my little 'un, something I'd been trying to make an effort to do since returning from New York.

I felt a little guilty for not being more honest with my GP that I actually knew of her by name. She is a friend of one of the Mums in my mothers’ group, and she joined after I stopped attending. I had seen her name on a few emails but never met her in person... but she WAS giving me a pap smear after all. I kinda got the sense that she knew who I was too, but she was too professional to let on.

I felt touched that my sweet friend brought me back a little babushka from his trip across the Trans Siberian, and was delighted when a barbers shop quartet-style gathering of young men piped up in a rendition of Goodbye my Coney Island Baby while we sat and caught up over coffee at lunchtime.

I felt a little embarrassed and awkward that we may have been overheard saying not-especially-complimentary things about a former colleague as we were walking down the stairs... not realising that she was visiting, chatting to some friends in the stairwell. I said a quick prayer that she didn't overhear us, as it wouldn't have exactly made her day and also decided it was a good lesson in desisting from gossip, as it diminished us all.

I felt relieved for having stopped and listened, and recorded some of the things that were swirling through my body. Somehow this helped me to settle in to the maelstrom in my tummy, and lessen its power of distraction.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Messages from the Universe



This time last week, I was waiting to meet my sister for our much-anticipated shopping trip, and pondering just how lousy I felt. I'd been SO looking forward to this time with her (and also the chance to nab a couple of gorgeous Summer dresses) and suddenly found myself overcome with irritation.

Was I slipping back into my pre-New York fug? Why had I been so annoyed by my little 'un all morning and snapped at her? Why was I composing in my mind terse conversations with my Mum (who would be meeting up with us) about my weight, the way that clothes looked on me, the size of dress I would purchase? Why was I anticipating losing my patience with my sister and snapping at her, just because she liked to take her time over cerain things or talk at length about others? Why hadn't I spent much by way of quality time with my husband over the past week, and why did it feel so much harder to prioritise than when we were on holiday?

Why, came the litany, was I such a horrid mother, ungrateful sister, defensive daughter, selfish partner? And what was with the victim mentality already?

Then I spied these little gems, lovingly painted onto an electricity box. And I knew the messages were perfectly timed, and absolutely spot-on. A trip to the chocolate store and coming out armed with lovingly chosen treats for my all favourite people helped. That, and remembering that it was OK to do it all badly, but to show up and do it anyway.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Epilogue



So that was last year. But this Spring (and Summer) there will be champagne and reading poolside and exploring the city with my little 'un and the craziness of NaNoWriMo and dusk walks and fish & chips and orange nail polish and music and less TV and crisp salads and date nights and maybe even some artmaking and maxi dresses and letter writing and my funky silver Brooklyn Bridge pendant and the odd magazine and delight in exquisite (extra)ordinary moments.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The cup (Part V)



And that’s not where I saw them, the cup and saucer. It was a couple of days later, when our little ‘un was much better and the weather warmed up in earnest. I could put her in a lighter and somewhat less grotty cardie and we headed out to a different winery for lunch.

The room was open and infused with a peachy light. Three other couples – one retiree, one lesbian, one new moneyed – were finishing up their lunches. The wait staff were jovial in a quiet, unobtrusive way. There was no high chair but a spectacular wine list, including an impressive range of Pedro Ximenez sherries.

Little ‘un stood on her Daddy’s lap, eagerly dancing for the little morsels of olive, bread, lamb, and sweet potato that he deposited into her little mouth with the dainty teeth emerging like benign fangs on either side of her rose coloured top gum. It was the same denim skirt and mint-green shirt combo for me but the sun had made sufficient appearance that the snotty-epauletted cardie did not require another public appearance. And I suspect I didn’t bother with the earrings. (Actually, I didn’t wear either the cardie or the earrings again for at least three months after we returned home.)

I was staring out into the golden hues of the vineyard, splendidly showcased by table-to-ceiling windows, when it caught my eye. A blue cup, an inverted trapezoid, with an ornate owl and deer pattern that reminded me of the folk art illustrated books of my childhood...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The cup (Part IV)




Within a couple of days we’d settled into a routine and our little ‘un got used to the different surrounds. She didn’t seem to mind the port-a-cot too much but refused all solids, perhaps because her throat was sore, although she didn’t mind the odd Marie biscuit.

I breastfed her every two hours and put her down so she could nap, so it was a bit like when she was a newborn. Except I’d stopped taking the wretched Domperignon and I had so little by way of milk to offer that I could see her buckling under the exhaustion of having to suckle so hard and my heart broke that little bit more.

And my Mum kept calling to see if her favourite girl (i.e. not me) was OK until my husband got annoyed with the constant phone calls, so she took to SMSing instead. And the clothes that I’d brought our little ‘un were too Summery because it was actually in the high thirties in Melbourne (that’s well over 95 degrees Fahrenheit for our North American readers) but I’d forgotten that it’s always colder at The Peninsula. So she wore the same grotty pink cardie all week because it was the warmest thing she had. She even slept in it and I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t passively aggressively insisted that we bring the heater. And I wore my woollen Pilates pants with three t-shirts one on top of the other and the same grotty brown cardie and the only pair of socks I’d thought to bring. I slept in this outfit too. And still dreamt that I was being eaten alive by Daddy Longlegses even though I was covered from head to toe.

Anyway, the cup and saucer. We’d been out for dinner for my husband’s birthday at a nearby winery that specialised in fine dining. My treat, it was Saturday night and I’d booked for an early sitting.

Unfortunately, in two hours of flustered packing with my little ‘un crying on my chest in the sling, I hadn’t thought to pack anything really nice to wear. So it was a combo of my favourite denim skirt, a mint-green shirt, some earrings which I usually adore because they are handmade and have four-leafed clovers on them and I am ordinarily very aware of how lucky I am but, to be honest, that night I just felt slovenly. The fact that I also had to wear the grotty brown cardie that I’d been wearing all week which was also now covered in shiny snail tracks of little ‘un’s snot on the shoulders did not help.

Looking back I might have been able to carry it off had I just smiled breezily and enjoyed the champagne and the ambience. Looking back, the big vertical fold in the middle of my forehead was probably the biggest giveaway.

Mercifully, the spangly sylph-like blondes laughing over pre-hen’s night dinner champagnes on the balcony didn’t seem to notice as they glided past making cooing noises at my little ‘un, who was smiling for the first time in a week.

And our waitress was very sympathetic, asking if we needed a high chair, making sure our meals came out quickly, topping up my water glass, asking if we were OK. My husband got a bit annoyed after a while, felt she was being a bit cloying, and in all the fuss she did forget to bring out the bread but to be honest I appreciated the sympathy. Although a big part of me couldn’t wait to get out of there and go home where my suffering would be less public.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The cup (Part III)





My husband was on annual leave and we’d planned to go to his family’s house on The Peninsula, which is a lot less posh than it sounds. Actually, no, the area is full of Old Money and the house is reasonably comfortable if somewhat incongruous (as only a Canadian cedar kit home can be, especially when situated on the Australian surf coast). The house has everything one could need in a holiday home, except insulation and an absence of spiders.

So we always take a bar heater for the little ‘un’s room and I always sleep badly because I dream that I am being eaten alive by Daddy Longlegses. Except it’s usually mosquitos. And why is it that the heater tends to be the one thing that my husband can’t fit into the car? After two hours of cramming stuff into the back of the stationwagon, he cracks it and says he’s leaving it behind. Then I go quiet and thin-lipped and it ends up being squashed in against the back of my seat and I offer to hold the change table cushion (or something like that) on my lap for the two hour journey but that never seems to be necessary. Which is probably a good thing because I usually feel pretty spukey on the journey, mainly because of the lurching. My husband is an angry driver, don’t get me started on what red traffic lights mean for our relationship.

So after two hours of packing, we were set to bundle ourselves into the car. I’d been carrying my little ‘un around in the sling on my chest all day because every so often her little face would fall as if to say, “Oh! I just feel so ROTTEN!” and she’d cry and my heart would break.

It was somehow too late to argue in favour of staying home for a couple more days, so she wouldn’t have to deal with a major upheaval disruption, so she could sleep in her own bed and be in familiar surrounds while she wasn’t feeling well. So I could have everything I needed around me. Like a pharmacy, where I could buy a new bottle of baby paracetamol to replace the one I’d dropped on the tiles that morning. But into the car we bundled, and I sat in the back and held her soft little doughy hand and played peek-a-boo above and below the harness that held her baby capsule in place, until I felt too spukey from the bobbing up and down.

We stopped off at the pharmacy and the pharmacist was really sympathetic and helpful and told me what to look out for, that is to say, how I’d know when things were sufficiently bad that I should try and hunt down a GP on The Peninsula that would be gracious enough to admit a non-local into their waiting room, or a hospital within a 20 kilometre radius.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The cup (Part II)




Also, I could argue that I haven’t had time, but the truth is I always manage to find time for things that are important to me. Even if it means sacrificing time for other things, like housework. Domestic work is usually the first thing to go, partly because I like it the least and partly because other responsibilities (like playing with my daughter, preparing food for her or keeping an eye on her as she crawls around the house) are more difficult to ignore. Sometimes, if she’s eating, I’ll bring her high chair next to where the computer is so she can happily munch away and she can still see me, and I can keep an eye on her and chat while I’m in between tasks. This usually buys me about ten, maybe fifteen minutes and when she gets bored of this arrangement I put her on my lap and we make silly videos using Photobooth. I’ve gotten used to getting maximum value for small pockets of time. Actually, this was always something I was good at but I seemed to have honed the skill as a new Mum (particularly when my little ‘un was a newborn and only ever catnapped during the day).

The first object that sprang to mind was a coffee cup and matching saucer. Not because I have a tremendous history with them. It was because I was boiling the kettle and was thinking to myself, “I can’t think what to write about” and my eyes fell on the cup and saucer. I bought them before Christmas last year, but they are saturated with meaning that I haven’t quite been able to make sense of. And somehow, digging deep and unravelling it in the form of a narrative seems like hard work that I am not sure I feel equipped to do (though just writing that makes it sound so lame!).

The story revolves around my little ‘un’s first cold, which doesn’t sound like much but anyone whose baby has been unwell can probably relate to all the emotions this dredges up. A cold isn’t much to worry about, it’s true, and I’ve often found myself wondering how Mums of really sick children cope. I take my hat off to them, honestly I do. This is my first baby and she managed to miss out on all the colds that were circulating Melbourne in Winter last year.

In anticipation of returning to work (a decision-making process that I am not even going to try and revisit here) I started the process of reducing her breastfeeds. The first step was to stop taking the medication that had been boosting my milk supply. This stuff has to have been invented by men, who else would call a medication for desperate lactating mothers Domperidone? When I started taking the stuff I had problems enough without coveting French champagne (which my GP joked would also help matters but agreed that it wasn’t much good to me unless covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which isn’t likely in the foreseeable future.) Anyway, I stopped the meds and the supply declined and I breastfed her less often and BANG! She got a cold.

The Maternal and Child Health Nurse assured me that it there was no relationship between the cold and the feeding, that all every baby in Melbourne was getting over a cold. But I knew she was wrong. I knew it was all my fault.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The cup (Part I)




This is a combination of this week's writing task (where we have to select an object and write about it) and the Free Writing exercise that Amy recommended all the way back in the first week. I am not putting physical pen to paper, mainly because I am at work. I don’t usually write things by hand at work, unless I am filling out a form, and seeing as I am doing something non-work related I don’t want to arouse undue suspicion. That said, an image popped in to my mind of a piece of writing – a report, I think – that one of my staff once pinned up. It had my illegible red pen scrawl literally bleeding all over her print-out, and I gather it was pinned up on her cubicle wall as testimony to my crappiest-manager-in-the-worldness. So while freeform writing might appear an acceptable endeavour if I were managing staff, which thank the heavens I’m not, I’m not surprised I don’t handwrite on hard copies any more.

Anyway, the point is that I have had trouble pinning down one item to write about and I suspect part of it is that I have been over-analysing the task, over-thinking the object, second-guessing the narrative, to the point that it all seems like too much hard work before I’ve even started. Part of me worries that I have too many objects, and many of them don’t have a story or inspire emotional attachment at all. Exercises like this can inspire guilt because it’s hard to pin down just one. Other times I just feel defeated by the prospect that writing about a chosen object is going to be hard work and just come out sounding lame.

Actually, I think I might be premenstrual.

I did actually start writing about the plaque sculpted out of sugar that was on the top of our wedding cake, which is now sitting on top of the mantle in the living room, but the piece sounded so lame that I couldn’t bring myself to continue. Worse than lame, it was hard to render the conversation I’d had with my friend the cake-maker without sounding mean. I just wanted to share the funny story about how she asked me to show her a picture of a cake that I liked, so I found one of a double-decker square job with plain stucco white icing and Japanese flowers on it and she ended up making me a double-decker rounded job with squiggly smooth icing, real flowers and “antique” gold braiding. But the fruit cake was succulently gorgeous and the plaque was a late addition that matched my wedding “branding” in that it had a bird taken from a Florence Broadhurst wallpaper design on it and the whole thing really was made with love. And my friend has recently survived a mastectomy and complications from a breast reconstruction and I am so fond of her and her husband I just couldn’t bring myself to write something about the plaque that might come across as mean. So here I am.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This time last year



We had just returned from a somewhat taxing trip to Sydney. My husband had been attending a conference and I tagged along, for a change of scene. Our six month old little 'un did NOT enjoy the flight there or back, though she coped admirably with her new environment (if somewhat distractedly due to having to share a room with Mummy and Daddy... which didn't make for the best sleep for any of us).

Upon our return, I discovered that my doctoral thesis had arrived in the mail with examiners reports, accompanied my an officious little note requesting an amended copy returned to the University within six weeks. After establishing that this deadline was arbitrary, I did what any self-respecting doctoral candidate does and went into complete denial and refused to look at my thesis or the reports again for a whole month.

In the meantime, I valiantly tried to cope with the realities that I would be returning to work soon and that our little 'un was getting too big to be swaddled. Our little 'un LOVED being swaddled and slept soundly through the night when securely wrapped. I wondered how to manage it now that the warm weather was approaching and also that few commercially bought swaddles were made for bubs of her length. I also feared that my Mum and Mother-in-law would not be able to swaddle her as snugly and as neatly as I could, and that this would impact severely on daytime naps.

We'd made brave forays into the brave world of solids. Actually, we'd started early as my breast milk supply was not so flash and her weight gain, although steady, was not as high as we'd all hoped. So, with a return to work imminent, breastfeeding would need to be reduced... and my mixed feelings about this surprised me.

In the meantime, I learned more about the work situation that I had left and the changes that occured while I was on maternity leave. It was NOT good news. I made several approaches to the woman who was to be my Manager (who just "happened" to be the best friend of the colleague/peer I worked most closely with and who had just "happened" to have been promoted in my absence) and she did what any self-respecting manager at the University seems intent on doing and ignored my emails for two months.

Over this time, more and more teeth appeared and our poor little sweetheart got her first cold. Gorgeous weather appeared and the studio beckoned and fabulous festival events were being held in Melbourne and I just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear for a long, long time. I went to a party and a family friend gently enquired whether I was looking forward to returning to work to "use my brain again" and "enjoy adult conversations" and I found myself bemoaning the imminent end of a beautiful year, where I'd learnt so much about myself through the experience of motherhood, but also where I'd had an intellectual and artistic freedom that I'd never had the chance to enjoy before. I shared all my fears that my work environment would not be supportive of a new Mum returning to work, and he later commented to my Mum that he had never seen me look so anxious and sad.

Looking back, my impulse is to say that I was cheated of a glorious Spring. But I know that the truth is not so simple. My job situation ended up working out perfectly: I took a risk and left the secure ongoing position I was "supposed" to go back to and took up a short term contract doing work I love and with a team I adore. My little 'un and I navigated the realities of growth and separation as best we could, and we did a pretty good job of it. We shared some gorgeous moments, as a family.

In honour of that time, I am going to post a story that I wrote earlier this year for Handmade Writer that really encapsulates my headspace this time last year. [Apologies to friends who participated in the course with me, who have read it before!] I'm going to share it as a serial, throughout the week, as if this blog were my very own New Yorker column, ha!

I was a little mortified sharing it at the time and I'm sure I won't be super proud of it now, but what I can say with certainty is that it was real.

Friday, October 8, 2010

For Ellie Jane



You don't need to be a mother, you just need to have loved someone for this to move you deeply.

Say yes.

This may see you: allowing your favourite little person to cover your favourite boots with sea shell stickers; stepping back to allow her to run riot through the aquarium; collapsing into hysterics as you realise her chant of "hippo-tai-tai" and slapping her knees is actually a reasonably faithful imitation of The Wiggles; melting as she cups your face in her hands then tangles her tiny fingers in your hair and exclaims, "Mummy! Hair! Fluffy!".

You may also stop momentarily and breathe these moments as deeply as you can, silently thanking Liz for the gift of being present in this moment.

You will likely find yourself whispering a prayer that she will one day be able to inhale delicious moments like this with her own daughter.

Do it for Liz and for Ellie Jane. And do it for you.

Say yes.

With thanks to Jennifer for the image and inspiration.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bravery... continued




Many months ago, I started writing a story. Many weeks ago, someone recommended a publisher interested in stories similar to mine.

After many months of inactivity on the story and inaction on the recommendation, I looked up the publisher. And I realised that what I had was a pretty good fit. And that I was less far from finishing my story than I'd previously thought.

So, today, I resumed writing. Put off the chores and the things I "should be doing", put aside the emails, ignored the inner critic that attempted to edit as I write and find reasons why my story wouldn't meet the publisher's profile.

I just wrote. And it felt... incredible!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bravery



From the Brave Girls Club

There really is something you were born to do....just you. There is a plan for your life, there is a mission you were created to accomplish and there is a life that is meant JUST for you.
You were not born randomly....you were not an accident, and you are not a number. 
Keep holding on. Stay with it. There is so much learning that takes place....so much training, so much boot camp that is so necessary before it all unfolds. Have patience and keep listening to your heart. 
You were born for something great and unforgettable. You were born to do things that would never ever be done if you did not do them. 
Keep going, keep going, keep going.


From the personal chart drawn up for me by Jonathan Cainer

Some dreams never die. It doesn't matter how experienced we become, how set in our ways we grow or how hard the world tries to beat our imagination into some more conventional shape. We may suspect we will never gain the wherewithal to fulfil our secret ambition but that doesn't cause the vision to pack up and leave town. It just shrinks and hides, in some quite corner of our mind, biding its time. There is something you have long, long wanted to do. There's a chance now, if you want to take it.

From Dream Lab

Where are you being asked to be brave right now?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The point



I've been reading Chris Guillebeau's The Art of Non-Conformity book and it has got me thinking.

What is the point of this blog?

In starting up his website and blog, Chris was intending to catalogue his endeavours to travel to every single country in the world. One of his friends observed, "That sounds fun, but what does it do for someone like me?". Chris realised that his project ran the danger of appealing only to a small number of extreme travel enthusiasts when, in fact, he had a much greater message to share. This caused him to broaden his outlook, sharing his journey towards unconventional employment and the lifestyle choices he made to support his goals. The result has had wide appeal and his book makes a considerable contribution toward the sum of human happiness (and I say that in earnest).

What it has made me wonder about -- in a languid, perhaps slightly bemused, gentle pondering sort of way -- is the direction this blog is taking me and the purpose it serves.

Originally, I started writing because I wanted to open up and share my stumbling with the world. I felt I was on the cusp of an artistic awakening and spiritual blossoming and knew that the impetus to write every day (and, occasionally, post some art) would represent a considerable step in my journey. I'd read on the blogs of others that nurturing communities could be formed through the blog world, although I was somewhat shy and skeptical about this possibility. My expectations were surpassed on all fronts.

Early on in the piece, perhaps because of some of the other (day job and thesis related) stuff I was doing, I harboured a hope that the blog might be a launching pad for reviewing or "corporate" writing work. I put a lot of heart into the book reviews I wrote and grew tremendously in the process. And I do still share quotes that really move me and provide a serendipitous synergy to whatever else is going on in my life. But I can't say I feel all that compelled to pursue that endeavour with any great energy.

I'm not sure I could say definitively what this blog is all about, or what folk gain by reading it.

Google analytics informs me that the unique visitors welcomed to this site each day are mostly in the single digits and that the average page views are variable but respectable. I suspect I know most of my readers, if not in person, then through email and snail mail and from reading their wonderful blogs. I feel privileged that these genuine, wise, talented, funny women (and two men: Hi Joe! Hi Joshua!) spend a little time in my world each week. Our exchanges have been inspiring and enriching, and although it's always a delight to discover I have a new reader, I can't say that I feel driven to go out and "recruit an army of followers" as Monsieur Guillebeau has done.

If this blog has a "pitch", it eludes me.

So what do I want to do?

Keep writing every day. Keep reading every day. Share and receive feedback. Watch and listen. Learn and grow.

If I need more, I guess I'll share that here. But for now, it's more than enough. Because, after all, a bucket can serve as a perfectly fine hat when the need arises.

And thank YOU, dear reader and friend, for continuing to share the journey with me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Melbourne magic



* The smell of Spring saturating the air.

* Goat's cheese and prosecco.

* My sister and her husband buying their first home over the weekend.

* Carefully choosing outfits to include special pieces bought during our holiday, and wearing them with relish.

* Hibernating in a novel over the course of the weekend, cover to cover in two days.

* My little 'un's obsession with olives (which she calls "grapes". She also calls blueberries "grapes" and grapes "grapes" but I'm pretty sure she's worked out they're not the same!).

* The cardie with a matching teddy that my Mum knitted for our little 'un while we were away, unbelievably cute.

* Printing out photos from our holiday.

* Being present for my husband as he navigates a rough patch.

* The wide expanse of clear days in my diary.

* Sparkly eyeshadow.

* Making an effort to cook and eat dinner early, as a family. "Same!" my little 'un happily exclaimed, comparing the pasta and broccoli on her plate and her Daddy's (after she'd pinched all his "grapes"!).

[Photo taken at Central Park zoo, where poignant literary quotes abounded. Sigh.]

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Random




Yesterday on the
drive to Mum and Dad’s for lunch
I spotted a lone

bag-piper walking
along the side of the road.
I was too far from

where he was to hear
if he was playing, though the
end was in his mouth.

The road was a dead
end and he wasn’t wearing
a kilt so maybe

he just needed space
to think about the things that
pipers think about.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goodbye perfect




For more goodbyes (and goodriddances) to perfection, check out Brene Brown’s magnificent manifesto. Her new book is winging its way to me via Amazon as I write and I can’t wait to dive in! Her magnificent work I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) is still changing my life... for the better.

And, in the spirit of imperfection I am joining Blogtoberfest late and boots and all. If you haven't signed up yet, can I tempt you?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Four word answers




When I left for New York, I had a question very much at the forefront of my mind. And that question was:

“How shall I live?”

The answers did arrive, gently and surely.

Among the mail that accumulated in our absence, Patti Digh’s Four Word Self Help arrived and it was one of the first books that I chose to dive into in the days that followed our return. Inspired by her choice of four word koans to focus her personal growth, I would like to share some of the answers in a similarly succinct and pithy form.

Your family is home.
Your husband sees you.
Listen to your body.
Get out and explore.
Dress up for you.

Although less profound, I feel compelled to share that this one also made the list: Less TV is better.

PS I completely devoured Patti Digh's 37 Days and Four Word Self Help was no disappointment (AND it includes artwork my pal Monica!). I would highly recommend this book – for a tiny volume, it sure packs a punch – even if, or perhaps especially if, you are averse to books that have “self help” in the title.