Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On choosing not to write

I missed October and will likely miss December, and today's post is only in existence as an explanation.

Recently a couple of lovely people suggested that my writing was improving.  I am very touched by your comments... and think you might be right.  Unfortunately the reason is not so positive.  It basically boils down to mild depression.

I have come to recognise a very specific brand of melancholy perfectly suited to word-craft.  It was quite a sensation to find the creative "zone", and I hope I will be able to safely access it again for the purpose of working in my strongest art form.  But for now, I don't want to go there.

It turns out I've had a case of post-natal depression.  I'm sure I'll tell you all about it sometime, but at this stage what I'm doing is recovering, and simply enjoying feeling joy again!  My moods are still on a bit of a roller-coaster (even more than usual... or at least different to the moods I've previously known and loved); the happy-pills are AMAZING, and some therapy was useful, but I've yet to find completely solid ground again.  And until I do I'm going to reside in happiness.

Happiness is very boring to read about, but rather lovely to live in.  I've been indulging in my other beloved, yet all but forsaken art form, of music.  I finally found a choir at the right level with the right repertoire; singing in a group making beautiful sounds is so uplifting, very clearly good for body, mind and soul.  Being told I have a deep, dark, "chocolatey" contralto voice during audition was rather nice too.

And since receiving my rather necessary diagnosis and treatment, I am finding great happiness being with my little family.  I'm finally enjoying our first house, and playing in it with my favourite people.  I find myself overflowing with warmth and joy and love.  Having two young children is, of course, still hard work, full of frustrations and cause for tears... and anger.  But I love this little team; my son, my daughter, and my husband are three very splendid chaps.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Prior to motherhood I wrote that I would need some strong mental reserves to avoid being consumed by my children, and this has proved true in ways I failed to imagine.  For I didn't understand then how physical, how primal, and how consequently irresistible the urge to become purely maternal would be.  With the accumulated force of hormones of two pregnancies, two births, breastfeeding and bonding, my body is nearly taking over my entire mind, and its purpose is singular: MATERNITY.

In my rational (aka non-parental) mind, I am still an individual adult.  Aesthetically I have plans for my body and wardrobe that submit neither to long-term breastfeeding, nor to accepting a move from pear to apple.  Recreationally I intend to flirt and dance and occasionally get high, to once again have long, late-night chats with my husband.  Professionally I hope to advance my wee career, do clever things for decent pay.  Creatively I need to keep singing and writing and get back into some artistic projects.  And domestically I still intend to move abroad in the next few years, after improving and enjoying our newly acquired first house.  Somehow I would also quite fancy some more sleep.  All of these aspirations require regular escapes from parenthood, and all of them will be sooner (and more likely to occur at all) if I stop having babies now.

And that is the plan. Only in lah-lah land do I want more children.  In real life, with my real brain, my real stress levels and my real coping mechanisms (not to mention real age and very real budget) I am at my limit.  Yet my body compels me otherwise.  My once reliable instincts are drowned out by the screaming of my now maternal body, protesting that I am now "Mother", and must continue with no other purpose.  This is the thing I didn't account for; my body becoming so notably mammalian, so... female.

Simone de Bouvoir pointed out that women are disadvantaged by being more bound to the species than men, and in my second undertaking of motherhood I have felt it.  The physical burdens of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all a woman's alone, and subsequently the emotional consequences are ours alone too.  And I have felt alone, and burdened.

At the other end of the scale I notice that babies are genderless.  Other than a different genital-cleaning technique, the needs of brand-new-boy humans and brand-new-girl humans are identical.  Both require love, physical affection, food.  (Frighteningly, I also notice with my two babies - both the hungry one and the one who lives on air - that they would choose the former two before the latter; humans would starve for nourishment before touch.)  Yet very early we are told that in fact we boys and girls are very different.

I have tended to think of gender differences as almost exclusively societal, not biological.  As a feminist mother I want to burden my children with as little gender-based expectation as possible.  But early motherhood is inescapably biological.  Now I have been feeling the weight of the old myths of women; becoming a "nurturer", despite all my former life as a roaring, independent, traditional-gender-role-hating human.  Turns out there is nothing mystical about it, we aren't emotionally designed to be goddesses of life; it is pure mammalian fact.

I am woman: hear me breed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Breastfeeding Rant

This post has been a long time coming.  (It's taken so long partly due to the rather exhausting activity of breastfeeding that has caused most of this post to be written one-handed.)  I had planned a comprehensive list of all that is wrong with the current propaganda, but I will avoid the parental crime of over-universalising my case, and instead share what I know for sure - my personal experiences with my two children.

First there was my little man.  My drama-queening, first-born, soul-mate child who stole my heart the moment I saw him... and refused to feed.  The first two weeks of his life remain the most stressful of mine, all due to my desperate attempts to feed him from my body.  Two weeks doesn't sound like a long time, but they were.  Non-parents could perhaps imagine about three months of that job you loathed, but without the weekends or indeed home-time, or of course much sleep.  And harrowing moments that will stay in memory for life.  The nurses prodding at me, giving me conflicting advice; the night I broke down and forced my husband to admit that this was shit, as I watched him feed our baby my milk from a bottle, while I sat hunched over the breast-pump; and of course my little man's distressed, panicked little expression the few times he did manage to suckle.

That was what ultimately made the decision for me.  The notion that this seemingly hideous activity could possibly be a bonding experience was soon proved false. The first bonding feed I enjoyed with my son was the first time I fed him from a bottle.  And as my milk-supply slowly dwindled (the warning that one would need to feed or pump almost constantly to keep up the precious "supply" not necessarily so), the memory of that unhappy breastfeeding face was what kept me from trying again.

So I refused guilt, at least in theory, and became the most efficient producer of sterile and portable bottles, water and formula the world has ever known.  Narrowly avoiding post-natal-depression we got on with our lives and some pretty damn decent parenting.

Fast-forward a year and a half, and we began baby-wrangling, take two.  And from the moment she was born my hoped-for daughter showed her different nature, not least in the matter of feeding.  My sweet-treat, my pure-smiled youngest who winds her way further into my heart each day, she took to the breast like... well like a baby to a breast.  She came out hungry, found a nipple, latched on, and has barely latched off since.

I was so grateful to avoid those dramas again (and rather pleased not to have to prepare bottles every night) that I barely minded the first nights of almost constant feeding.  I braved weeks of cracked nipples and aching, engorged breasts, not to mention taking the full burden of feeding that had been shared with husband last time; for now I was a proper, natural, breast-feeding Mum.

Okay, maybe once or twice in sleep-deprived angst I've told my poor, innocent child that I prefer her brother - for being less hungry.  And yes, I may still be witnessed getting somewhat irritable during her nightly fussy, biting, feast-a-thon when my nipples become her chewing toy.  And alright, perhaps I remain a trifle resentful that I have become more milk-dispenser than woman, and have been left feeling alienated from my own body.  (And while we're on the subject of body, I must admit to a reasonable level of disappointment that the initial miraculous weight-loss effect has since been more than negated by my new found cake addiction, entirely attributable to motherhood.)

But once again it is my child herself who dictates how I continue.  Just as my son's loathing of the breast made it essential to give up breastfeeding, so my daughter's love of it keeps me persisting now.  The few bottles she has submitted to (of formula, in my opinion only a nutter would express unless they have to) have brought her nourishment, but little pleasure.  So while she's lucky that there's a little oxytocin-hit in it for Mama (and even more lucky my nipples healed), the only reason I'm still breastfeeding is the look of bliss that sweeps across her dear face every time she feeds.

So breastfeeding can be a pain in the, well, breast.  And it can be impossible, or at least horrendously difficult and emotionally destructive to achieve.  Yet while it's only slightly better for a baby than formula (for us in the priviledged West with money and clean water etc), we are bombarded with the message that we must breastfeed, at almost any cost.  And it's this militant, guilt-mongering stance that I cannot forgive.

I remain angry about a lot of attitudes surrounding my breastfeeding experiences.  I still believe that poor nursing care was at least partly to blame for the failure to breastfeed my son.  One particularly insensitive nurse haunted my nightmares for months, but in general I encountered a stubborn belief in forcing breastfeeding, but inconsistent and counter-intuitive advice in attempting to make it happen.  This attitude was itself an echo of the Breastfeeding Association's mantra of 'breast is best', without any real help in how it can be achieved.  I'm afraid I've come to think of the BA as purely a self-fan-club for successful breastfeeders, rather than any sort of advocacy group for struggling mothers.

And then it turns out that even when you avoid the guilt of failing to breastfeed (oh yes, I failed at it), you get hit with a new set of traps for guilt and censor.  In trying to gain advice on healing my poor nipples, for example, I learnt that it was my fault for doing it wrong - apparently "correct" breastfeeding doesn't hurt.  One article even claimed that while most newly feeding mums experience pain, this is not normal.  Apart from needing a dictionary to check the definition of "normal", they could certainly do with a lesson in compassion... and reality.  I promise you, having your nipples suddenly being sucked on for hours and hours a day is painful, no matter how perfect your "attachment" is.

And of course there's the old can of worms of public breastfeeding.  Somehow I hadn't previously twigged just how hideous the attitude is until I was in the situation of having to be one of them - a mother, with boobs.  To be a properly good woman, one should really still become a mother if at all possible.  And as anyone who has become a mother will have been told and told and told, to be a good mother, one must breastfeed.  And yet, this activity should really not be seen in public.  So, women should be breastfeeding, but we should not be seen doing so.  Turns out, women, still, should not be leaving the house.  At least not in ways that are upsetting - doing something as grotesque as using our breasts to feed a baby.  Breasts should be pretty accessories for men to enjoy and potentially be aroused by, and they clearly don't want to think about babies when they're thinking about sex.  The fact that sex and breasts only exist for the continuance of the species is a rather inconveniently real and gruesome fact that people would rather not be reminded of.

So you may have gathered that I'm not much of a fan of breastfeeding.  And I've got a beautifully feeding baby and heaps of milk and I don't much mind getting my tits out.  I simply couldn't carry on without so much in my favour.  I hear some women love it, and that's wonderful.  But the breastfeeding "Nazis" really need to change their attitude towards the rest of us.  It doesn't even promote breastfeeding, in fact it can sabotage genuine efforts, cause unneccesary misery... and in some cases create nearly two years of pent-up rage requiring expression in a ranty blog-post.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Split Pear

I am now a mother of two. "Two under two", in fact. Which hasn't felt particularly significant actually, mostly because we never considered any option other than having children exactly as close together as our children are. Well, other than the forced option of second child ending up as twins... so comparatively we've got it easy! With both our babies sleeping well and crying little for their relative ages, we've got absolutely nothing to complain about.  Oh yeah, except that we are parents to two very young children. So we do have it harder than people who don't have two young children. Such as our very recent selves.  When I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by my life and wondering what on earth my problem is, it's useful to remember that.

I definitely feel divided. Sorry soon-to-be parents and present-parents-who-prefer-sugar-coating, but it's true. Okay, my love isn't divided - I have discovered to my relief that I have individual loves for my two individual children... as I do for my husband, my different friends... everyone who has entered my heart.  But in practice that doesn't amount to much.  I only have one body, one set of eyes and ears. Having two hands gives some ability to share my time, but I only have one mind... and that is severely compromised these days.  Caring for two is a matter of alternating priorities, deciding moment to moment who needs Mama more.  And I've only got two children! I have absolutely no idea how people handle more, or even keep track of where they all are.

Meanwhile I've come to think of childless people as the real adults. Your lives are very other to me now.  I think of the things you can do - watch adult television at leisure and without guilt, go to the toilet without an audience, vacate a car in under twenty minutes - and feel a little envious of your now alien existence.  These freedoms I took for granted! Squandered!

I wonder, occasionally, vaguely, if it's a little different for younger mums. I see them sometimes and think how vibrant they look, how willing to indulge in their children's childhood, being so much less attached and used to life as one of the real adults.  I had a long time as a proper adult, wearing what I chose, developing tastes and passions, throwing away sleep and time and money and dignity at will.  I can get a trifle resentful that not only my time, but also my body, my personality and my mind now belong to others, and to people with not very good taste (yet, at least).

I guess I could talk to these young mums and find out, but this is the very problem I have been contemplating today.  Even when I make the hideous effort to attend a mothers' group or such-like, I find very little satisfaction can be had.  They might yawn on about parenting for hours, but to no purpose: it is all logistics, zero emotion. We're thrown into a room of strangers and small talk prevails.

Damn the small talk. I'm going to make a point of seeking out deep talk. Even if I only have a dim, scattered, half-a-brain with which to delve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On being an "adult"

Within the past month I birthed our second child, and we finalised the buying of our first house.  My (slightly) younger brother found this turn of events a little disconcerting.  He noted that it seemed that perhaps we were at an age to be acting like adults, and perhaps he should be stepping up to adulthood too.

I responded that I didn't find it such a stretch, as I'd always felt like an adult anyway.  I found childhood frustrating, and not only accept but indeed embrace the responsibility of adulthood that brings the subsequent reward of freedom.  But I've since come to see things from a different perspective.  I think the fear many of us hold of adulthood is not the responsibilities, but the perceived lack of fun.  Not simply a change of lifestyle due to circumstances (children can indeed cramp one's partying / flirting / staying-up-past-8pm style), but of becoming less fun as a person.  And that is something worth fearing.

Maybe rather than always feeling like an adult, it's more that I've managed to take on adulthood without giving up feeling like a child, at least in the fun ways.  A friend once described me as 'young at heart'; at the time - about a decade ago - this seemed an odd thing to say: I was still very much young-in-fact.  But I think I now understand what she meant.  Having had a taste of the opposite I'm coming to appreciate my youthful heart.

We're doing rather well for being so newly into the job of parenting two children, but of course we are still bloody exhausted.  At the moment I'm pretty much a full-time milk-bar, and husband is pretty much a full-time toddler-entertainer / house-keeper, both with some part-time house-painting thrown in, and just managing a few hours sleep a day in between.  Meanwhile, our relationship was founded on conversation, and we continue to be a verbose household, but since our second arrival husband and I have managed a total of about five minutes of chat in which the children were not both present, and the topic of conversation.  All in all our present life is ticking along, but is not, say, the sort of thing we would choose to do on holiday.

The up-shot of our present circumstances is that I've been regularly feeling pretty, well, mean.  And that's when I feel like an adult.  When I'm thinking of all the things husband could do better, and all the ways my children are burdensome, and all the ways the rest of the world abandons me or f***s stuff up for me, I suddenly feel the weight of responsibility on me.  And it's the awareness of that weight that feels very grown-up, and very unpleasant.

I am aware that I am priviledged.  I don't normally feel much weight because I don't have much weight to feel.  But then my readership are generally as priviledged as myself, so I won't apologise for that too much.

In any case, someday soon I hope to feel the lightness again, and this time appreciate it.

In the meantime, time for the milk-bar to open again...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Life as a Parenting Expert - aka Full Review of Parenting Books

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Pickled Pear - hoorah!  Well done little blog, you've amassed as many as a dozen readers... (oh dear.)  Meanwhile, I intended to have a new baby by now, but we're still playing the waiting game, so I have taken advantage of the free-time.  With impending-one still in utero, and little-man having been out at day-care all day, my children kindly gave me the opportunity to finish this here project I've been working on.  Which happens to be all about them.

Today I complete my self-imposed literary course in 'parenting'.  I grant myself a Diploma in Parenting Theory, and move on to continue my years as a graduate-apprentice in the art of Parenting Practice.  Ever reluctant to undertake a task without formal training, husband and I have taken what we once termed the 'intellectual approach' to parenting - ie. reading lots of parenting books.

One of the books I read pointed out (rather ironically) that the entire 'parenting book industry' could be seen as something of a scam - just a means of making stay-at-home-parents feel intellectual.  But I remain rather committed to the idea that I should do the very best job I can of nurturing my children's emotional, social and intellectual development with all the resources to hand.  Still, in the name of drawing a line in the sand, and perhaps to spare others some of the trouble, I present this piece: a review, of every parenting book I have read. 

The books to follow obviously represent a personal journey, and not an exhaustive list, but I would note that I checked for any major books that I may want to include, so any glaring absences are likely a deliberate choice.  Given to you in the order in which I read them:

Emile, or on education - Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1763)

I read this during my degree, long before preparing for actual parenthood myself.  Obviously not exactly current, but ground-breaking in its day.  Although written as a political text, it also functions as a parenting guide and was early in advocating the sort of emotionally-enriching childhoods we now take for granted as a child's right.

Recommendation: Required reading if you're interested in the history of modern parenting.

Vindication of the rights of woman - Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)

My poster feminist (well technically a proto-feminist, but her views were amazingly progressive for her era.)  I read Wollstonecraft's response to Rousseau during the same undergraduate unit in which I read Rousseau.  She was impressed by his views, but disappointed with the limited role he outlined for Emile's imagined wife, Sophie.  As an advocate of women's role being largely as pedagogues, Wollstonecraft believed (logically enough), that if women were to be the primary educators of the next generation, then they should be comprehensively educated themselves.  She also recognised that mothers were guilty of part of women's oppression by teaching their daughters to be silly and superficial; a point I find - frighteningly - still true today.

Recommendation: You should definitely read this because we should all read all of Mary Wollstonecraft's writing.

How to be a woman: 'Why you should have children' & 'Why you shouldn't have children' - Caitlin Moran (2012)

This was the last book concerning parenting that I read before actually coming close to doing the thing myself.  This book is what I would class as a feminist work 'of its time' - not a deep philosophy of feminism itself, but a worthwhile take on the current, real-life issues faced by women today.  It's a great read that I highly recommend in general, and the chapters on mothering are the very best in the book; poignant and powerful.

Recommendation: A worthwhile current feminist text that yes, you should read... although perhaps don't read the mothering stuff just before giving birth yourself (Moran does not flinch from being graphic.)

Up the duff - Kaz Cooke (2009 edition)

I used this as my primary pre-birth information source, and it's pretty comprehensive, as well as entertaining.  During my first pregnancy we celebrated our impending arrival with a religious, weekly reading-aloud of the information and semi-fictional diary; during my second pregnancy we have gone through it again, mostly to remind ourselves that we do indeed have another child on the way.  I like that she's included a range of common issues and feelings so that something will resonate with most readers.  Most importantly it made me laugh.

Recommendation: If you like her style, as I do, this can certainly function as your one-stop-shop for pregnancy and birth.

Magical beginnings, enchanted lives - Deepak Chopra (2005)

Tellingly, I don't remember a word, even though I seem to remember liking what I read of it at the time.  This was a re-gifted gift to me, that I have since passed on further, so the message is at least being well shared.

Recommendation: If you're a proper hippy, which I'm clearly not, you'll probably love this.

Baby and child - Penelope Leach (1977 edition)

I have been lovingly lent the original 1977 edition by my own mother, who read this in her early parenting years.  It hasn't changed much since the 1970s version to today, which I like.  I have only read a few sections, most notably the description of birth - from the child's perspective - recommended by my mother.  It's very evocative and beautiful... and probably best appreciated from a 30-year nostalgia point.  But I loved discovering my mother's hippy-earth-mother-side through reading this and discussing it with her; and for me - once I was ready to even think about the reality of birth - it was a lovely way to prepare emotionally.

Recommendation: I have to recommend this just from my experience of it.  If you prefer your hippy-wisdom with a 1970s flavour as I clearly do, then choose this over the Deepak.

Brain rules for baby - Dr John Medina (2011)

This book constitutes pretty much the sum-total of my 'scientific' reading into child psychology.  The idea of the book is to summarise what scientific studies have found about how to raise clever, happy, socially-successful children.  The philosophy comes out that if you want to raise clever children, you need to raise happy children; and it gives real information on how to go about doing that.  I certainly haven't followed all of the advice (not so much because I disagree, but because it turns out parenting is kinda hard work and exhausting - so yes, my child does watch some television, but no, I don't believe it's any good for him), but I like having it as a bit of a yard-stick and evidence for some of my own parenting philosophy.

Recommendation: I recommend this with the caveat that I should check its credentials with my more educated friends.

French children don't throw food - Pamela Druckerman (2012)

Well personally I love this seredipitous find, but there is plenty of reasonable criticism against it, and against the entire 'the French are better than us' genre.  In reality French children may well be subject to emotional oppression and even continued corporal punishment unacceptable to most of the Western world; and their mothers' are certainly behind many of their European neighbours in terms of feminist outcomes and attitudes.  But, well, I just like it.  I also like Mireille Guiliano's French women don't get fat, which I shouldn't.  I find that in both cases the amusing, narrative tone is appealing, the advice is useful yet relaxing, and the French-ness just lends it all a certain frisson.  Both books remain on my bookshelf as pleasant little reference guides.  I noted to an acquaintance: after reading these books, I am still fat, and my child still throws food - but we are doing these things in much more sophisticated ways now.

Recommendation: Read this if you're happy to enjoy some pleasant, French-style advice, which doesn't quite hold-up under scrutiny.  Don't if you're not.

Kidwrangling - Kaz Cooke (2010 edition)

Again this functions as basically my sole resource, at least in book-format, for all the day-to-day, physical, real-life parenting stuff, from bathing-feeding-sleeping to checking development milestones.  It isn't perfect, and my number one criticism is in finding the medical information far too brief; but as that's the most changeable and in need of being up-to-date (and useful to have pictures), I find the internet more useful for that in any case (you know, as well as seeing actual doctors).  I've had times of finding it a bit preachy, which is the opposite of Cooke's intent, but mostly it is clear, helpful and even tear-inducingly comforting.

Recommendation: Yep, this works as intended (except for the above caveat on medical info).  Again, if you like her style, certainly get this as your main textbook.

Motherhood: the second oldest profession & If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits? - Erma Bombeck (1983) & (1978)

Another couple of loans from mother.  Famously necessary books for making it through parenthood, I was surpised by how sentimental and tear-jerking they were as well as funny.  I particularly enjoyed the second oldest profession.  But they are out-dated, and I just read them once then handed them back and that was enough for me.  Having other parenting-based comedy in the house - Reasons my kid is crying and Go the fuck to sleep being very well-chosen gifts - I can personally live without Erma, but am glad I read them.

Recommendation: If you come across them, give them a read.

Free-range kids - Lenore Skenazy (2010)

Amusing, but rather defensive in tone (no wonder after the back-lash she received, but still annoying), and just too American.  Although most of the books I've read have assumed there are similar parenting attitudes throughout the Anglophone world, this book kept making me think "thank goodness I don't live in America!"  I enjoyed reading it and there were some very interesting stats and facts, but overall it wasn't ground-breaking to me.

Recommendation: I'm afraid I wouldn't bother with this one (sorry husband who bought it for me!)

All joy and no fun - Jennifer Senior (2014)

I bought this on kindle sold by the title on a difficult day.  It didn't really offer the particular solace I was seeking, and again was just too American for me.  There was also a surprising amount of cross-over with Free-range kids, so I didn't feel I needed to have read both.  Again some interesting stats and facts and quite an enjoyable read, but was left thinking it would be better to just take the best bits from this and Free-range and others and just make one really decent book... if, that was, the world needed any MORE parenting books!

Recommendation: Again, I'm afraid I wouldn't bother.

Baby and child care -  Benjamin Spock MD (2012 edition)

I downloaded the latest (and first kindle-enabled) version of the American guide to parenting, purely so that I could feel I had completed this project.  I have only read this latest version which is actually updated by Robert Needleman MD, with selected quotes from Dr Spock himself, but Spock is still credited as the author.  It was revolutionary in 1946, and the current version is still quite lovely.  I was surprised by how left-wing the philosophy is, given that this remains the primary parenting text in the US, and it gave me some optimism for the next generation.  Not at all displeased to have read it myself, not least as I can't help myself hearing Leonard Nimoy's voice when reading the Spock quotes (sorry).

Recommendation: Probably unnecessary outside of America these days - in Australia I'd recommend Kidwrangling for the basics.

The second sex: 'Situation: the mother' - Simone de Bouvoir (1949)

So far it has taken me near-on a decade to read less than a quarter of The Second Sex - I find it marvellously but exhaustingly DENSE (or maybe I'm just a bit thick myself).  But today I decided to read the specific section on 'the mother' in order to complete this particular project.  And this section, like the rest of the book, is potent, dark and brilliant.  De Bouvoir gives her customary psycho-analytical, existentialist take on the reasons for women's problems, and ends with the startling conclusion that motherhood can only be fulfilling for the mother, as well as optimal for the child, within a context in which mothers are empowered and fully engaged in society.  Again, it depresses me how much of this work still holds true today, over sixty years after it was written.  Can we start raising our children to be FEMINISTS please?!

Recommendation: Once again, you should absolutely read this simply because we should all read the entire book.

And there we have it!  My take on all you need to know about parenting.

Friday, April 17, 2015

In the eye of the storm

"If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs... you've probably misunderstood the seriousness of the situation."*

I won't divulge any personal information of course, but quite seriously the list of things affecting people around us right now include (but are not strictly limited to): murder, drugs, mental illness, and cancer.  In comparison our little family are living on a somewhat lonely, but rather lovely, island-oasis of joy.

Recently I had an epic dream that my mind keeps returning to for guidance.  I was exploring a vast, high, sandy landscape overlooking the ocean.  Rain began and between solid, red-brown rocks the sand began to shift; at first in trickling rivulets and soon in swathes of falling earth.  I ran with increasing panic from one island of sand to another, escaping just before each gave way; eventually realising - just in time - that the entire cliff was no longer safe.  The dream was infused with fear and remembering it returned the emotion, but the ending and my initial waking were awash with euphoria.  At last I made it to higher ground, to the very pinnacle of the rocky mountain against which the now fallen sand-banks had nestled.  From my final location I sat drenched in the storm, but safe to watch the drama and await calm morning.

This is surely a metaphor for my present situation.  While chaos reigns outside my door, our current narrative is one of imposing deadlines and enclosures.  For the most part these are pleasant in nature and deliberately plotted and planned, but restrictive none-the-less.  When my heavily-pregnant body keeps me up at night, it's the deadlines I'm aware of, a tangible sense of constriction. (One of the few negative side-effects I do suffer during my otherwise easy pregnancies is the phenomenon of being unable to return to sleep when I wake at night.  What a charming gift from mother-nature: you're about to be ludicrously sleep-deprived - here, have some practice.)

My dream spoke to me of escape, of breaking free from the shackles of my suburban life.  Yet it is this very life keeping me safe.  Perhaps instead my family and my home are the mountain, the rocks I need to cherish.

*Love me a cynical take on a classic platitude; no idea the source of this one.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday morning idyll

Some days I don't feel exhausted or overwhelmed by this parenting job at all.  Some days I am struck by how utterly perfect and beautiful my life is; how intensely lucky I am to have landed myself in this glorious position.  Today is one of those days.

5.30am.  Child awakes on cue for too-early wake-up soon to be trained out of.  Daddy gets up and feeds him back to sleep - Daddy can deal with consequences of early-morning bottle addiction.  Mummy went to sleep soon after 10 last night and slept through = full night's sleep.  Continues resting in bed.

6.15am.  Child awakes properly.  Mummy gets up.  "Good morning cherub!"  Open curtain, just enough light to be morning.  Little man has further bottle of water, sleepily plays in semi-dark room, practices new words.  "Book", points to top of shelf, Mummy selects correct book, happy face.  "Up", cuddles and animal-sounds on sofa.  Go find "Dada".

7am.  Daddy up, family together in lounge, child sorts crayons.  Eventually agrees to raspberry jam on bread in high-chair, submits to change of nappy, addition of trousers and "shooss" before heading "art".  Blue sky, cool breeze, pleasant walk.

8.30am. Mummy acquires coffee and the jam-donut she's been craving each morning all week.  Return through leafy streets to empty park with age-appropriate play equipment.  Child plays happily.  Mostly agrees to stay within park.  Mummy sits.  Coffee, sugar, willow-tree, breeze, beautiful child. Traffic calm - other adults at work in office buildings.  Follow child around park, engage in wonder.

9.30am.  Pleasant walk.  Isn't suburbia grand?  So I'm suburban, who cares?  Judge me at leisure, I'll continue in blissful pleasantness.  Trees and parks, people but not too many, a short train journey or drive to the city or the country.  Daddy still home, kisses, off to shops.

10.30am.  Child wanders shops, interested not crazy, Mummy follows, engages in wonder.  Mummy finds fabric required, little man flirts with strangers from safety of Mummy's arms, submits to leaving shops without any additional items.

11.30am.  Child falls asleep in car and stays down when moved to cot - result!  Mummy makes chicken salad, eats and reads, completes task with new fabric.

12.30pm.  Mummy writes blog-post while child continues sleeping.

Perfection. :)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Self-sufficiency vs Parenting

It has been a little while since posting, with various half-written things on the boil, and I've decided that I'd best start back by addressing the somewhat alarming fact that the Pickled Pear has inadvertantly become yet another "parenting blog".  My apologies to all non-parent readers (and indeed parent readers who might actually want a break from thinking about parenting), but it cannot be helped: I have a blog, and now I have children (well, one child and one brewing), so here we are.  I may yet write about other things, but I cannot guarantee it.  Meanwhile, it occurred to me that this new phase is more than a little removed from my original topic of 'self-sufficiency'.  Indeed, the two notions are entirely incompatible.

The idea of self-sufficiency that I had in mind - ie. my own desire to be as autonomous from other humans as possible - doesn't really fit with parenting.  This parenting gig turns out to be rather involved with other humans!  My fond little hope of getting to a state of independence has been completely stolen by the new focus on my children.  I don't even miss it - I'm too filled with love (and, perhaps more to the point, exhaustion) to give much of a care for my own identity.  I am aware that the kids will grow and leave and I will need to re-claim more of my independence, again find my primary satisfactions outside of meeting their needs, but for now I don't have much choice but to be all about 'them'.

I have also had to accept that aiming for self-sufficiency is not particularly important when engaged in raising children - indeed, trying to do so would not only be madness, but potentially negligent.  What matters is the end result - giving them the best life possible - not the method.  Accepting as much help as possible is a really positive thing to do.  I have felt guilty for how much help I get from my husband, aware that most 'primary care-givers' have a lot less input from their partner (even when they have one), but I soon realised that this guilt was absurd.  Anyone would LOVE to have such an involved partner: I should not berate myself for not doing enough on my own, I should just be thankful.  This is not the time for pride, for insistence on proving my mettle as a full-time mother - this is the time for doing whatever it takes to do the best for the children.  The fact is, I am not a full-time mother.  I am a part-time mother, part-time paid employee, and occasional independent person; the rest of child's full-time needs are taken up by his father, his grandmother, some help from other rellies and friends, and regular time with paid-carers.  Indeed our child often has several of us caring for him at once. I like to think of our life as offering the Capitalist version of 'the village' ideal for raising children, and I know our child is benefiting as a result of all the different people in his life.

Finally, I have discovered to my occasional horror and frequent exhaustion, that I will never be emotionally self-sufficient again.  It turns out that even part-time physical parenthood still comes with a perpetual inner-state.  I'm not a worrier by nature, motherhood didn't instantly turn me into the pessimist my own mother can be (thank goodness!), but I find that whatever I am actually doing, this parenting thing is still... there.  Even when I have time away from my child, when I feel completely confident that he is safe and well and happy, and I have no pressing deadlines or demands on my time, 'relaxation' is simply not quite what it used to be.  I do manage to un-wind to an extent, I have a pleasant time and get enough of a recharge to face it all again, but there is still... something.

That 'something', is simply an awareness, under the surface of even the greatest relaxation, that there is a person in the world dependent on me.  Because he exists, I will never be truly alone again.  Not in my heart.  In my heart, for the rest of my existence, I will be a mother.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Actual vs imagined parenting

As a child, I had a very clear view of the perfect mother.  She was my castle-on-a-cloud daydream for myself, and I hoped to become her someday for the benefit of my own children.  But I have had to accept that I am not that person.  One of the many lessons I've had to learn as a parent is that my personality didn't magically disappear at the moment of birth, to be replaced by a new creature designed for raising children.  Indeed one of the most surprising things about becoming a parent has been how very much I am still the person I was before.  With all the flaws and foibles that entails.

The perfect mother I imagined was a calm, nurturing earth-goddess.  She didn't just hold some of the leftie ideals that I hold politically, she carried them out in every-day life with a glorious hippy-aura of universal love, supreme forgiveness and infinite patience.  (Feel free to picture her in a flowing white gown through a soft-focus lens.)

Well I am not, and never have been, particularly calm.  Acquaintances have mistaken me for such, but that's my polite, still-scared-of-strangers front.  My nearest and dearest bear the full brunt of the subsequent frustration that regularly boils over into ranty, tantrum-y yelling matches... often with inanimate objects.  I am moody, easily irritated, and frankly often plain difficult to live with.  Not serene.

I don't think anyone could describe me as an earth-goddess, calm or otherwise, either.  As I have written, my attempts to grow a few veggies didn't go so well, and that lack can pretty much be extended to my life and personality beyond the garden.  If I were a deity, I'd be more akin to Thor - throwing hammers about when the mood takes me; or perhaps Dionysus - getting pissed as if that were my royal right - than any of the life-giving feminine types I used to worship.

And forget hippy.  The dresses didn't suit me as a teenager and do even less for my figure now; in any case I lean ever further towards cynicism than love of my fellow man.  'Universal love'?  More like 'universal contempt'.

I never actually thought much about the word 'patience' before parenthood.  I didn't need to until mine was actually tested - and I have been found severely lacking.

I am quite forgiving I think, but then I have to be or I'd be guilty of hypocrisy on top of all my other parenting crimes.  And when it comes to my children (unlike my veggies), I would give myself some credit for being 'nurturing'.

So that's two out of... six?... perfect-mother characteristics?  Surely a fail in anyone's book.

But there is some good news.  Firstly, my innocent child isn't judging what sort of a mother I am - he just knows that I'm the mummy, and that's good enough for him.  I am aware that even if I were officially abusive he'd have this attitude, so I find his love humbling rather than validating; a challenge to match his trust in me as much as I humanly can.

Secondly, countering my efforts, there is the realisation of how little effect I actually have on him anyway.  While a parent certainly can do plenty of damage to their child, most of us don't.  When worrying about my skills just pre-parenthood, a gorgeous friend suggested that it's pretty simple - they just need love.  Oh, and boundaries.  Love and boundaries she said were the basic rules of good-enough parenting.  And it seems to be true.  His personality is his own, and as long as I meet his primary physical and emotional needs the rest is largely beyond my control.

And finally, I realise that my actual personality, rather than the perfect one I imagined, has some benefits of its own.  That earth-mother might never have yelled, but would she ever have laughed hysterically at her child's jokes either?  Could I picture her wrestling a one-year-old in mutual shrieks of joy on the lounge-room floor, or agreeing that dribbly-farty-face-noises are the height of comedy?  My occasional (okay, regular) lack of organisation and inability to stick to schedules, with subsequent making-it-up-as-I-go-along-ness might even teach my children something about adaptability.  And my overall flawed and subsequently self-forgiving nature might just teach them to forgive themselves their own perceived flaws, and give them the opportunity to revel in their glorious, messy, unique humanity.

I am no perfect mother.  But perhaps this knock-around gal is a fairly decent, and pretty darn fun mum instead.