Saturday, 8 August 2015

Big mouth, smarty-pants: The three-nager emerges

I get to spend a good chunk of my time these days laughing my butt off.  Ethan is blooming into this little mouth on legs, full of interesting points of view, jokes and clever little quips.  Much of my laughing comes out of sheer surprise at the ways he's spontaneously decided to put words, phrases and concepts together in his own novel, unique way. 
I just have to share with you some of more hilarious things he comes out with:

1) New improved food names - Saying things right is tough, and made up words are more fun anyways, we think.  So his unintentional renaming of foods is totally brilliant.  Not cucumber, it's 'fewcumber'.  Not marshmallow, it's 'arse-mallow'.  There's also 'chino', short for cappuccino, which refers to any warm, milky, preferably chocolate-based beverage. And banana phone, which a a normal banana that we pretend to talk into, with a very serious looking face, before cracking open.

2) Onomatopoeia names - There are many hilarious times when he goes about naming things like an Australian.  The names don't sound right, but you have pretty good idea about what he's referring to because it just sounds like a sort of description of that thing.  The other day, squirt gun in hand, he says, 'Mama, I need to phew you....PHEW-phew! PHEW-PHEW!' He pretends to shoot me.  Or that the 'Tig-tig-ah' is the guitar.  He says it such a melodious way, it almost sound like strumming a tune.  Or when he asks me to 'cheese' him, which means, 'Take my photo.'
3) Daddy- related things - The relationship between daddy and boy is really a kind of playful power struggle wrapped in fascination with a big dose of admiration.  Ethan kind of wants to be him, kind of wants to get the better of him.  Ethan's words for daddy's things include: 'daddy's milk' (beer), 'daddy's rainbow' (the mouth guard Thom wears at night to stop grinding his teeth), ‘daddy's doggy’ (the paw print tattoo on Thomas wrist).  There are also the comparisons Ethan regularly makes about the similarities and differences between him and daddy.  The other morning he crept into the bedroom.  I spied him out of one half open eye at Thom's side of the bed, inspecting daddy intently before exclaiming at the top of his lungs, 'I have tiny fingers!'  And then there are willies, a club that I am seemingly excluded from, but is a topic of discussion for the fellas of the house.  I overhear him noting the criteria of their exclusive club with, 'You have a winky, dad? I have a winky, too!'

4) The 'shut up and stop being so clever' things - When he was my little bundle of baby fat, the hierarchy was clear cut.  We were the clever ones and he didn't know much.  Now, it is fairly obvious that the old guard is fading and clever clogs is asserting his smarty pants all over the place.  It sucks to be put in your place by a three year old, but that is apparently how it goes sometimes.  It goes like this:
Thom flicking through Instagram, 'Everyone thinks they're a model now! I could be a bloody model!' Ethan, ‘You not.' Thom looks at him open mouthed as Ethan chews a mouthful of cereal, then adds, 'I am!' 
Or when we were informed by his nursery that he was the ring leader in all the little boys covering themselves with coloured marker drawings.  As Thom was washing him off, he explained that we don't draw on ourselves, to which Ethan pointed at Thom's tattoos and astutely replied, 'But daddy do it.'

5) The world revolves around me things – It’s great that he is allowed this brief window of time where everything can seem to be about him.  As challenging as that can feel at times for the parent, it offers some hilarious times that leave me tears.  While strolling through the grocery store, an announcement booms over our heads calling for all checkout people.  Ethan, looking shocked, yells out, ‘Someone’s talking to me!’  Or when I took him to London, stopping of at my office briefly for some lunch and a potty break.  He’s meeting my colleagues and loving all the attention.  One woman I work with comes into the office and greets him with a smile, and he says, ‘You come to say hi to Ethan, too!’

He is scarily sprouting new words and phrases all the time.  Getting far too grown up for me to feel comfortable!  I ran into a friend from baby massage class in what seems like another universe now.  I remember us chatting away over our little, delicate lumps of baby.  It seems now that in those times, their little personalities were hidden, like their arms and legs under baby fat, waiting to emerge.  It struck me, as I chatted with my friend the other day, how different our little ones were now.  Still our babies, but mostly only because we knew that these chatty, opinionated little beings were physically the same as those little lumps of baby fat we massaged somewhere in the seemingly distant past.  I sometimes miss that little ball of cuddly baby, but he's so fun now, I really couldn't choose which stage is better.   It would be impossible to choose.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Zombie apocalypse cometh

Although I reserve the right to be a crotchety old woman when my time comes, I have often snorted with indignant disgust when those of the older generation criticise the state of youth in society today.  It seems logical to me that the older generations leave the legacy that the younger ones have to survive within by whatever means available to them.  Complaining that that young people don't share traditional values is really just pointing out that the older ones didn't help shape a society where these values were important enough to continue with.   

Selfishness, stupidity, violence and ignorance are not qualities transmitted through genes.   Nor do they creep in via tap water or the air we breathe.  These are ways that have been taught to children who come into the world innocent and biologically primed to fit into the culture in which they find themselves.  That is the primary survival strategy nature has gifted babies - to observe the subtleties of other people and re-create perfectly what they see, even a sort of exaggerated version of their observations.  If children are off the rails and worse than before, it is only because they are the reflection of what they see. 

Deep down, we know this.  Maybe we can't always admit it, but somewhere it registers that we are the masters of our own destruction.  We know that if things all go pear shaped for the entire human race, we've all had a role to play.   I think modern obsessions with vampires and zombies are a sort of way of dealing with this frightening knowledge.  Film, television shows keep churning out programs with slightly different takes on the un-dead.  

The vampires, are blood thirsty killers, clever and beautiful but dangerous and incapable of real human feeling.  Zombies, on the other hand, are mindless.  Slaves to insatiable hunger which leaves the whole world desolate.  Self destructive as well as dangerous, the uninfected people pitted against them strive to maintain some semblance of humanity, even though they can see it is futile against the tide of un-dead millions.  

What an apt metaphor summarising the current direction of the whole human race.  Things change so quickly, and in a few short years the ways we live, communicate, eat, socialise transform in unpredictable ways that reflect new technologies and modern advances.  These technological developments seem amazing and helpful, but we are increasingly drawn away from actual social interaction with the illusion of technology dependant social interactions.  Increasingly, within the therapy room, my colleagues and I deal with the aftermath of social media and the disconnected ways of being always connected.  Fears over what others are thinking or doing are not just the kindling of our internal ruminations.  We can easily check out if someone has just decided to not respond to our email or text.  We know almost immediately if an ex has moved on.  And bullies are bolder than I remember in my childhood, as they operate from the comfort and security of their computer screen.  And the bullied are no longer safe once they shut the door behind them at home.  Are we all becoming heart-less?  Less humane and more selfish and destructive? 

Our friendships exist in electronic realms.  Our lives contained in a handheld device.  We spend untold hours staring at it, asking it questions, determining our next moves with it, creating ourselves and reaching out to our loved ones, all while not actually touching the world we imagine ourselves to be engaged in.  The little screens offer a seductive diversion and become a habit, to the point of creating a zombie out of each of us.  We don't look as human, as we trudge along, eyes downward cast, drooling over whatever has our attention for that brief moment. It sounds terrible but these mobile devices are not actually evil. And they are such a trap in that we unintentionally end up zombie-fied when our actual intention to be connect to others.

"Phone Wall," the campaign by Ogilvy & Mather China

When I think of things in that way, I feels helpless against the inevitable tide of the increasingly insular, disconnected society we seem doomed to create for our children.   But it also offers a wake up call from time to time.  For instance, when I catch Ethan pretending a banana is a phone which he speaks into very a exasperated and rushed manner.  Or when Thom and I catch ourselves staring blankly at our screens while he makes his dinosaurs and hot wheels run up and down our legs.  It's  a tragic sight and one that I feel sincerely sorry about.  

For better or worse, we are here, at this point in history with all these electronic gizmos.  But I don't want to leave my child the legacy of disconnected relationships and impersonal electronic communication.  I don't want him to miss out on the little human things like reading someone's feelings in their eyes and talking face to face.  I don't want to teach him to bury his face into his phone rather than face what's right in front of him. So that means we will have to be different.  Different than we have been and different than the rest of the zombies.  

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Other Side of the Story

I have had writer's block.  Frustrating times where I can’t seem to find an interesting idea or coherent plan.  I stare at the screen.  I surf the internet for stuff I don’t need.  I organize the sock drawer.  I procrastinate. 

But niggling in the back of my brain is a voice reminding me of the reason for my block.  I know it, and I choose ignore it.  It’s that voice reminding me that there are things I really want to write about, but am afraid of facing.  Afraid of seeing as black and white text and of it all leaving me to travel over the electronic space to other people who will read it.  Afraid that all that makes it more real.   So I don’t write it, but consequently I grind to a halt.  The voice gets louder and I start to argue back like a teenager, saying, ‘I KNOW! I’ll do it when I’m ready!’

Through all of this, a passage I remember reading about group therapy in a book by Yalom keeps coming to mind.  Something about, if the group isn't talking about what’s important, then nothing gets talked about.  He doesn't mean that nothing is said and groups sit through their time in silence, but that they go about chattering worthless, meaningless words.  I admit that many, many of my blogs are like that.  Chattering about nothing, trying to put a happy spin and find a sort of circuit for completion.  But life isn’t really like that all the time. 

So I sit here now to write about the other side of the story.

It’s been almost 3 and a half years since Ethan came into my life.  And 3 and half years since his brother Noah died.  I must share with you that I cry most days.  Although it feels an improvement from crying every single day, I realize it is a sign that this pain doesn’t really ever go away.  And I wonder sometimes, if it’s becoming somewhat of a friend of mine.  A constant companion.  A sort of shadow against the sunshine of everyday life.  It’s so hard to describe, but life is a wonderful, bursting bright ray of sunshine from the moment I wake up to Ethan’s beautiful face, through the day of 3 year old ups-and-downs and straight to the snugly bedtime kisses, I am amazed that such a sweet, amazing person came into my life.  And I am happy to just be near him.  Yet, without taking away one ounce of his glittering wonderfulness, I feel depths of sadness – just like shadows seem darker on the brightest of days.  It’s almost as though when Ethan’s beauty strikes me most, I also feel the most grief.  For Noah, who should be here, and who would have been just as beautiful a person as Ethan. 

It screws with my mind a lot.  I think maybe I didn’t deserve to be that happy.  I still imagine ways to get him back.  I still dream as though he’s here.  I’ve wanted to still be pregnant with him, holding him inside – safe from harm – forever.  And it takes my imagination to all the other terrible, horrific things that I cannot provide protection from for Ethan.  Illnesses, bullying, tragedies, sadness, failures.  Normal, everyday difficulties people face, but I am also beset by paranoia that people will break in and kill us, we might die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the night or that I’ll lose him and Thom in a car crash.  So deeply has the unexpected, unjust loss of Noah punctuated my life, that I have turned into a catastrophic worrier.  I’m practising with letting these ideas go and not letting fear get in the way of life, but it is just that – a constant practice.  Sometimes it goes well, and others not so much. 

Listening to that voice, and breaking my writers block silence, is a step in that, I suppose.  Thom also recently helped with another step.  I cannot have my babies safely tucked inside for eternity, for obvious reasons, but also it would not be fair to deny them their lives, no matter how short or how difficult they might be.  And even though I let them go, they are part of me forever, inexplicably but certainly.  To symbolize this and to bring some closure, Thom carefully made ink from some of Noah’s ashes and tattooed me.  It doesn’t change situations or my feelings, but it reminds me that he is part of me, as much as my own cells and skin and blood.  It’s a symbol to last me forever – or at least as long as I last. 

So there it’s out there –real and raw.  I hope that the electronic world and readers don’t find my sadness a turn off.  And I hope that facing fear means less writer’s block. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Let me explain you something: You don’t have to live up to the crazy ideal of ‘Yummy Mummy’

I am admittedly reading too much feminist literature at the moment.  An upcoming project on body image in female weightlifters has me surrounded by a pile of books from the 70's.  It has me thinking far too much and too deeply about the origin of our society's body norms.  But these now old women with no bras have some pretty good points.  We women spend our entire youth learning the art of feminine wiles with the ultimate aim of being attractive enough to bag a fella who's successful enough to keep us housed and fed.  And then you breed, while hopefully maintaining enough of your looks to keep him hooked.

Although it seems a pretty harsh way to look at something that for many of us is our personal love story, it does offer some perspective on the pressures faced by modern mums, and the dilemmas posed by the modern social archetype of the Yummy Mummy.  The books on my desk from the 80's mourn the death of feminism and that from the 60's, in a brief 15-20 years, it was dropped from political and social consciousness like an ugly prom date. And indeed, most women I know wouldn't count themselves as feminists, even though they'd be all up for equal pay.  So feminism got forgotten as soon as women were allowed to work and sexual harassment became an actual crime, rather than just the normal way chicks got spoken to by men.  Now feminism is kind of like a dirty word, as if pointing out any potential inequality still lurking between the genders is just being a grumpy man-hater.

But the feminists nowadays, if there are any left, would surely have something to say about the Yummy Mummy obsession in modern media and society.  It's not enough to have got pregnant, endured the birth, the sleepless nights, the contentious breastfeeding decisions, the relationship changes.  Oh no, what's important is that you looked good doing it.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the immaculately turned out mum.  The one with perfectly toned tummy, despite the three month old cooing away contentedly in her coordinated designer buggy/car seat/nappy bag combo.  Flowing, freshly washed tresses of expensive looking highlights framing a surprisingly glowing and well-rested complexion.  She's had the time to wash her jeans and that shirt looks downright ironed!  And all that before we even start with the well turned out baby.  Hot damn, how does she do it?  And what's wrong with the rest of us?  Trudging zombie-like to the corner shop with Rice Krispies in our hair.  Somebody else's Rice Krispies.  From yesterday's breakfast. 

And I guess the problem with the Yummy Mummy is that it is a concept used against the rest of the Rice Krispie encrusted ones; one that keeps us all chasing an impossible and ridiculous ideal.  A kind of measuring stick against which we all fall short.  It’s an unfair expectation, and one that places the value of a mum on her appearance primarily.  Her sexual appeal is still the most important and defining factor in her value, over and above the other million strengths, abilities and sacrifices she makes daily.  It's a distraction from the important stuff, like actually raising the kids.  As with the term MILF, which inelegantly implies that mothers fall neatly into two categories - ones that you'd still do it with and ones you wouldn't.  And as crude as it is, modern mothers would rather be a MILF than not.  But you can hardly blame them as it's an image that we are bombarded with in the media - how beautiful so-and-so looks and how fast she dropped the baby weight and how bloody happy she is.  Sorry, but I call bullshit. 

What can I say about the frumpy mum?  The fat mum? The frazzled, haggard, one trying to hold down whatever career a person can manage on three hours sleep and un-brushed teeth while still having to be the spring of eternal patience and love for little junior.  The ones that haven't lost the baby weight, can't be bothered to match their socks and let their children wear whatever scabby bits of ill-fitting clothes are clean.  These kind are ignored, although they are the real deal.  They are less represented in what we read and see and maybe even are kind of frowned upon, if we're all honest with ourselves.  Or at least it’s pretty true that the ones who appear to have all together and look good doing it are praised as the shining examples of womanhood. 

It's not fair, and I'd even go so far as to say that the label of Yummy Mummy is sexist.   I'm not blaming men.  After all, we can decide what media to read, what to believe and choose to value ourselves for more than our sexual appeal.  It's just that collectively, maybe even without realising it, we all expect a lot from a mother.  That she has it all, does it all and manages to look good doing it.  For me, I'm giving myself permission to dry shampoo another day so I can focus on what's important rather than whether or not it's attractive. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Let me explain you something: Things that really don't fuss you about parenthood

Before baby, the things parents do seemed unthinkable.  I used to wonder how someone could possibly tolerate wiping the bum of another human being for years.  Surely, they must hate that!  

Very little sleep, spending all your money on the sprog, being fat and pregnant - all things I expected to find difficult, or just plain hate.  But the reality is so far from my imagination.  Here's the contenders for things that most surprised me about parenthood - the things I thought I would hate but actually didn't mind too much:

1) Welcome to Poo-tasia! - Are you someone who is fascinated by poo? Could you discuss poo size, smell, shape, colour and consistency on a daily basis?  If not, don't worry.  It probably means you're just not a parent yet.  When you are, the information gleaned from poo reading is invaluable.  And far from being the pile of steaming stink bomb you'd expect, somehow it becomes as normal and mundane as clipping your own toe nails.  I swear I don't even smell them sometimes.  I remember the poos not in terms of which ones were grossest, but which ones were the funniest.  Thom and I have whiled away many evenings discussing the contents of Ethan's nappy.  Good times.  On a related note: No one told us how much babies fart.  Not little, innocent puffs, but huge, ripping man farts.  These also are not as much of a concern as I would have imagined if someone had told me that a stranger is about to move in and fart on me several times a day. 

2) Money,who needs it anyways -  Little junior is like a money sponge.  I'm sure he's soaked it up somehow, but I'll be dammed if I can figure out how such a little guy absorbed so much of our cash. Babies are expensive, and that scares off lots of people.  Fair enough, I think, because luxuries in life with a baby in tow look more like a night in with a new DVD and less like a long haul holiday.  But, surprisingly, we don’t mind nearly as much as I thought we would.  Somehow, when we’ve blown our beer money on marbles, crayons and lollipops, we don’t miss it.

3) Boogers, Snot and other mucus related splats – Ever had an irresistible urge to sick your finger up someone’s nose to clear a crusty green blob so they could breathe better?  Despite choking back the puke as I write, these urges sprang up within me like instincts of a cheetah to chase an antelope.  And without thinking, or grossing myself out, boom!  I’m picking someone else's nose.  When their poor little noses are blocked, they can’t sleep, they can’t eat and they are miserable.  Somehow digging in there seems like the natural thing to do, rather than the disgusting thing it actually is.  We even had a plastic contraption of tubes that was for sucking the ‘blockage’ out.  It had a filter to catch the green bastards.   Sometimes they were so big that they would land against the filter with a big ‘thud’.  I feel I’ve lost my mind to even have done this, but there it is.

4) Saying goodbye to your old life - Janis Joplin once sang, 'Time keeps moving on. Friends, they turn away.' Sounds sad, but it's another one that didn't fuss me as much as I thought it would.  So now a good night is defined as one with a lack of puking, rather than someone overdoing it so much that they vomit.  And hangovers feel like so much hassle that the wine tastes less appealing.  And so what.  Your old friends don't call anymore and rather than feel upset, you start to see them for the immature douche-bags they are.  And it's all ok.  Life goes like that - we evolve and adjust and accept.  I don't miss the high heel blisters, little friendship dramas or over priced neon coloured shooters.  That just seems all a little bit insane compared to the crayon and play dough parties we enjoy now. 

I surprise myself.  Life is full of surprises, and I guess that's what makes it wonderful.