This moment is just it.

source: kslyesmith

The floor is dirty. Small piles of dusty hair sit in the corners. Lego pieces are scattered under the kitchen table, on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. The sun hasn’t reached the back room where I sit. I see it over the trees waiting for another hour to pass before it hits the ceiling windows. It is quiet. Very quiet. The baby is asleep. The visitors have left for an hour. I have time and space for a small moment, my first in a week. I am lost, sitting in front of the computer waiting for my fingers to move as they hover over the keyboard, aimless. I look around me and realise that in fact, this is a kind of meditation. Jazz is playing unobtrusively. There are no other noises. No thoughts are going through my head. And it strikes me, isn’t this the Zen I’m constantly looking for?

I’m sitting at the kids’ table. I notice more permanent texta scribbles, bits of dried Weetbix and remains of milkshake Sdash spilt two days ago. My legs are too long for the little red chair I sit on. I’m cold but not cold enough to walk over to the heater and put it on. It’s like time stands still. I don’t know which way to go. Whether to get up. Whether to go outside. Whether to get my black cardigan which is lying freshly dry-cleaned on the bed upstairs.

This is just another Monday morning except this moment feels laden with something more. Something I can’t grasp but I feel I should. It’s as if there is a secret being whispered to me but I can’t quite hear. Is this moment, this indistinct, fleeting, unremarkable moment meant to mean something? I can’t help but feel it does.

Perhaps it just means that it is. This is. This just is. This is just it. Life isn’t really much more than an accumulation of these moments. We try hard to make it more but it doesn’t need to be because this moment is full of so much. For me, it is full of peace. I know it will last just a brief time. It will not be long before I remember something I should be worrying about. Before I remember to get the wet clothes out of the machine. Before I remember that I need to cook Lbaby something for lunch. Before I remember that I need to shop and begin looking in our cupboards for what needs to be replaced. Before I remember the phone call I forgot to return. Before I remember the article I bookmarked last week to read. Before the phone rings, my husband reminding me to collect the dry cleaning. Before I hear the postman shove letters into the box and wonder what news befalls us today. Before the floor’s accumulation of dust gets the better of me and I collect the broom from under the stairs.

In this fragile moment, it is just me and my breath and the chill in the air and the sun slowly moving towards our windows and the baby’s breath as he sleeps in his cot and the piles of dust scattered on the floor. I think of nothing. Nothing speaks to me, nothing pains me, nothing moves me.

It is these moments I should wish for and not worry that they seem so expansive. So empty. Because, thank goodness, this is just it.

 

Real estate

our house,

is a very, very,

very fine house.

- Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

This isn’t going to be a long post, don’t worry. While I could wax lyrical about the ups and downs of real estate, I’m here in the afterwash of a house purchase only to say – I survived!!

Buying a house (and selling one to a degree) is, on the whole, an emotional process. Of course these emotions are tied to finances and geography and land size, but in the end one’s response to a house is pure instinct and pure heart.

The moment we walked into our new house for its first inspection we both saw our family running through the rooms, sitting at the dining table, watching tv in the living room. We saw ourselves waking up looking out the french doors, we saw us walking the children across the road to the pool tucked away at the back of the park across the road. We saw the boys in the cubby house and bbqs under the wisteria. And when we looked at each other, 2 minutes after being in the house, our eyes said everything. We both knew we had to have it. And that we had to do all we could to get it. And we did.

It had to be emotion that filled us that day because we shared it equally. That moment we looked at each other had nothing to do with the check list tucked in my husband’s back pocket.

The stress I have experienced this week has been immense. And this tells me that what I have been involved in – the organising of building reports, phone calls to the bank, sudden trips into the city to pick of cheques from dear, generous friends, the many emails at all hours to agents and conveyancers, early morning panicked overseas phone calls, intense conversations in bed at 3am night after night – all these things were borne of emotion. I wanted this house for reasons that could not be placed in tick boxes on a page. Does the house meet all our original criteria? No way. But none of that seems to matter.

The house is not perfect but it fills my heart. When we settle in 3 months time, we will be handing over more than money (and a lot of it!). We will be handing over gratitude in return for a whole lot of love which will fill our new family home.

Book buzz: Alfie and the Big Boys

I’m a HUGE Shirley Hughes fan. So is my mother-in-law, which is great because it means between the two of us we’ve managed to collect almost all of her books.

I’ll say here that my boys have never responded quite so enthusiastically to her books as both of us would have hoped. We’ve read them a few times and they enjoy it but they never ask for them again. They are usually only read with my prompting. As a kid, I would lose myself in her illustrations and I hoped that my children would as well.

But recently, we found a new and unknown Alfie book at the library. The Abomb wasn’t with me but when I flicked through it, I saw it was about Alfie starting school so I thought it he might get something out of it.

Since borrowing it Friday week ago, this book has now been read a total of 33 times (to the point where I am almost sick of it, which is saying something when it’s a Hughes’ book). The Abomb loves it.

The book is a very subtle examination of young boys’ behaviour: their propensity to form groups, they’re simultaneous fear and respect of each other, their rough play and their gentleness. And the issue of bullying is given deft touch as it is explored in a refreshing way.

I get somewhat overwhelmed by the constant conversation around bullying. I fear far more that the Abomb may bully than he be bullied. I loathe bullying behaviour. It turns my stomach and is extremely frightening to watch, let alone be the receiver of it. But I also worry that what has traditionally been normal child behaviour (perhaps competitive and even combative, especially for boys) is now labelled bullying and children are being typecast as bullies when they are actually acting out normal, natural impulses to play ‘rough’ or form groups of allies or compete with each other.

I know it’s a fine line and conversations around bullying have to be extremely considered. But, I’ve been a teacher. I believe I can recognise true bullying. I was also always quick to act on it if I felt I saw it. I’d like to be remembered as one of those teachers who actually did something about it.

But, what I love about this book (and obviously the Abomb is getting something out of it given how many times he’s asked for it to be read) is that Hughes looks at the behaviour of young boys, sometimes rough, sometimes a bit frightening, sometimes awesome, sometimes sensitive, as just that. Behaviour. Nothing judgemental about it. She shows us that these children, all children, are just children with contradictory impulses given the situation they are in. She shows little boys enjoying being rough as they also enjoy playing dolls. She shows us a leader of a gang who is both admired and feared but who is also just a little kid trying to make his way in the world. She portrays the intentions (which are mostly benign) of these little boys rather than simply portraying and judging their behaviour.

I highly recommend it for all kids but, especially those parents of little boys, read it with your sons.

What are your current kids books recommendations? Please share!

 

 

At the moment

source: lvillani

At the moment I am

reading ::: Just Kids by Patti Smith. A brilliant snapshot of the art scene in 1970s New York in the 1970s – absolutely fascinating.

listening ::: I’m very late to discover the Fleet Foxes but I’m LOVING THEM, especially this song.

making ::: tasty, tasty sourdough using starter given to me by a dear friend who’s had it for years and using this recipe.

watching ::: my middle boy grow up so damn fast having just made the transition from the ‘togglers’ (read: toddler’s) room to the preschool room at daycare.

hearing ::: the ‘bah-bah-bah’ yell of my baby. I do so love baby talk.

loving ::: the fact that I know longer feel totally under the weather. I now feel I can actually face each day which is sweet relief.

eating ::: too much cake, including this one.

celebrating ::: my dear husband’s birthday with his absolute favourite, ice cream cake.

enjoying ::: a rare night out to celebrate said birthday with a lot of sushi, jazz and cold white wine.

stressing ::: we are completely involved in whole house buying, house selling business and it’s so awfully stressful. I will be so glad when it’s over. I can’t bear this level of stress and I’m doing what I can to combat it. Bottom line is, I have my family wherever that may be. We are not defined by the roof over our heads.

drinking ::: a lovely shiraz grenache to cope with above mentioned stress. Oh and enjoying this lovely Blue Mountain tea in the afternoon with above mentioned cake.

wearing ::: my huge ski jacket every day as I walk the Abomb to school.

missing ::: my ma. She’s away overseas and everyday, I find myself wanting to talk to her.

anticipating ::: an amazing creative project with a friend of mine that will see this blog transformed. Can’t wait.

What are you up to this week? I’d love to hear what things stand out for you at the moment.

Back in the playground

I’ve spoken before about the fact that I’m reasonably introverted. I have come face to face with this aspect of my personality since the Abomb started school. Where, specifically? In the playground. I have found myself, once again, hanging out in the playground when I drop him off and pick him up. But I also find myself back ‘in the playground’ in the metaphoric sense.

It didn’t take long to understand that parent groupings in the playground mirror any playground you might find. It was easy to work out who were the ‘cool’ crowd, who were the ‘new’ kids, who were the kids that had been there forever and were ready to move on, who wanted to be ‘seen’ and who wanted, very much, not to be seen. And I fell very firmly in the last category.

I am ashamed to say that apart from a couple of parents I knew prior to the Abomb starting school, I very rarely initiate or join a conversation in the playground while waiting for my son. I’ve avoided these connections partly because I find them hard but also, because I dread that feeling of entering the school gates every morning and having to make conversation with someone. I dread ‘being seen’. Every. Morning. It’s just not me.

But lately, I’ve been feeling a bit bad about it. I notice that there are now very settled groups of kindergarten parents some of whom obviously knew each other prior to their kids staring school but some who didn’t but have clearly found a community through their children and their shared experience. And from where I now stand, on my own, attached firmly to my pram, it’s all looking rather nice. Warm and fuzzy nice.

I admit that a couple of people have introduced themselves, and on occasion, I do chat briefly with them. But I’ve started to wonder whether my efforts to join a particular group or community in the playground would enhance the Abomb’s connection with his school. It’s clear that these groups get together on the weekend and that their kids play together on a regular basis. He doesn’t seem fussed so I haven’t pushed playdates. And he has one very close friend in his class who he knew previously at daycare. He seems fine on the friendship front. Now. I just wonder, given that we’ll be with these people for 5 1/2 more years, whether we should make more of an effort to connect.

And I’m not sure why I find the idea of connection so, I don’t know, formidable. Frightening.

I write this because this morning, a mother who have only known since school began because her daughter invited the Abomb to a birthday party, approached me for a chat. I felt a touch on my shoulder and turned around to see someone making an effort to be kind and to speak to me as I stood on my own. What ensued was a very heartfelt and thoughtful conversation in which we discussed difficulties we were having with our respective children. She was reaching out to me. She was warm and easy and kind. She made me feel completely connected.

And as I walked out of the school gates this morning, I realised that this is exactly what community is. These small moments of connection. Of shared experience. Of kindness.

I get it now. And I think I want in.

What role does community play in your life? Do you join communities easily? Do you like to? Does it enrich or exhaust you?

Daycare dilemma

This morning I found myself writing an email to someone very close to me about the role daycare has had in our lives. Her son is about to start daycare for the first time. He is 18 months and quite naturally, she is feeling a little anxious about it. She knows that she will miss her baby very much. She didn’t say this in her email to me but I guessed that she’s wondering whether it is the right decision and whether she is being fair to her son. I should say that she has a 7mo baby at home with her as well and does some contract work, so, on a personal level, she needs and really deserves a break in her week.

I’m a firm believer in the role our communities play in raising our children. I feel that with the right people in the role of carers, our children benefit a lot. The unique relationships our children have with other family members, carers and family friends can enrich their lives and assist their cognitive, emotional and social development. I do acknowledge that we need to be mindful about the type of people we allow to care for our children. We do need to feel comfortable that they have our children’s best interests at heart. But I can also say that there have been carers in my sons’ daycare experience that I have not necessarily connected with but who have proved to be the most caring and loving to my children and who have, in turn, really assisted their development.

While we seek daycare for our children mostly for financial reasons (that is, it enables our return to work), I also think it is really important that we as mothers do get the break that childcare allows. Even if we’re working. If we are fortunate to have access to family members to provide this, perfect. But if not, I do believe that other carers can facilitate this necessary separation. For me, being apart from my children allowed me to be a much better mother when I was with them.

So below is a copy of the email I wrote to my friend this morning. I hope she won’t mind that I have shared it. But I think this subject matters.

I really (and I mean this sincerely) don’t think you’re a dreadful mother for putting T in daycare. I say this with complete conviction but daycare has been the best thing for both A and S. For A, it helped his intellectual development so much and socially I think it did wonders for him as well. For S, it has been brilliant in helping us set boundaries for his behaviour and also socially, it has helped him come into his own without the shadow of his older brother. I mean this. I have never had doubts in the morning dropping them at daycare except when I started S at 7 months and he was too young. When he went again at 1, it was perfect. I wasn’t that happy with our Melbourne daycare and that made me feel slightly less sure but the carers were wonderful and seem to take a genuine interest in S. Our Sydney daycare is the bomb and the carers and educators have enriched all of our lives.

I feel a lot better having S in 3 days rather than 5. A was in 5 from 1 – 4yo and when I look back at this I feel a bit bad although at the time he loved it and it suited us well.

I honestly think this is a good thing for T (and not just for you giving you a little break). I think, potentially, he could find strengths in himself that are only encouraged when he has to negotiate his independence and doing things on his own. Does this make sense?

On the other hand, it HAS to feel right for you and I understand that if it doesn’t, it can be upsetting. Of course it didn’t feel ‘right’ for me at the beginning, not for either of the boys but how could it? However, it has developed into a fantastic experience that I recommend highly. I had to negotiate my own emotions about it at the time but I realise they were my emotions and and not my sons’.

I totally understand how you’re feeling. I doubt there is any mother who hasn’t or doesn’t have similar feelings at the beginning of their daycare experience.

love to you you fantastic mama and your beautiful boys.
francesca x

I know that this is a controversial subject. But I’m really interested to have a discussion up and running. I really want to hear about your experiences of childcare and your beliefs about it.

Saturday morning market love

Here is a little documentation of our regular Saturday mornings. We arrive at the markets early, drink hot coffee while juggling oversized bacon and egg rolls. The  boys enjoy organic juices and blueberry bagels with a heavy dusting of sugar on top. We’re a bit chilly but happy and well sated. It’s a very happy little ritual we have.

 

 

 

 

The greatest wealth is health*

 

Again, I apologise for the recent quiet round here. Yes, I’m still sick and no, being sick, despite how Byron was portrayed in the film Bright Star, doesn’t feed writing inspiration. But I have done much aimless web searching and found these quotes about what it means to be sick. And, well, I just liked them.

Sickness shows us what we are ~ Latin Proverb

A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illinesses. ~ Hippocrates

To feel keenly the poetry of a morning’s roses, one has to have just escaped from the claws of this vulture which we call sickness.  ~Henri Frederic Amiel

I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better.  ~Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, 1903

Be careful about reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.  ~Mark Twain

Sickness comes on horseback but departs on foot.  ~Dutch Proverb, sometimes attributed to William C. Hazlitt

* Virgil

 

To my book, I must be true – 4 recommendations

It’s no surprise as the daughter of an English academic and a ex-English teacher, and as an English teacher myself with 2 English literature degrees, that I love to read.

Since I was very young, this love was complemented by a reading speed that made consuming books pretty easy. I’ve always read a lot and before kids it was pretty standard for me to get through 2 books a week.

Now, I’m not so lucky. In fact, it took me 4 weeks to get through our last book club book (enjoyable and tortuous both at once) which, to date, is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a 300 page book. I despair over the little time now available to me for reading. I can say without hesitation that it is my passion so when you’re passion is on hold (in a way) you can become quite despondent.

But I digress. The purpose of this post was to share with you my latest reading obsession which is the personal memoir. For me, this genre provides me small windows into the lives of other mothers, something which really fascinates me. I also read many ‘mummy’ blogs (although fewer now as I’ve worked out the ones that really resonate with me) for the same reason. I guess it’s my way of finding a thread which weaves my experience with others. This thread helps me feel strangely connected in that strange world they call ‘online’. I’ve talked before that I have not always had a strong community of mothers around me (although that’s changing) and so reading the experience of other mothers online and in print, is my way of understanding that my experience is shared – my anxieties, my hardships, my joys. My life that is motherhood, is shared. I find this beautifully comforting.

But lately, despite the overwhelming love and moments of joy that becoming a parent provides, I find myself thinking a lot about the ordinariness of this mothering life. The loads of washing, the dinners cooked and left uneaten to be cleaned away. The stripping of beds and restacking of book shelves. The baking of muffins and the feeding of fish. The trips to the park, the kissing of grazed knees and the washing of hair on reluctant heads. The persistence in helping little bodies get back on bikes, the weekly trip to the supermarket. The dropping off and picking up to and from school, daycare, friends, and family. The reading of stories, the building of lego cities, the making of dinosaur worlds. The elaborate designing of train tracks that are so soon abandoned and dismantled. All of this repeats itself again and again to become ordinary life.

And I’ve been wondering how I may make peace with this ordinariness and even come to celebrate or at least appreciate it. I have more to write on this idea in posts to come but for now, I want to share with you a few books whose authors manage to render the beauty of the ordinary in family life.

1. Planting Dandelions: Field Notes from a Semi-Domesticated Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pittman’s lyrical writing clearly shows her talent as a poet. Her stories are funny and heartbreaking and she shares so much that is unspeakable which is both refreshing and inspiring. There are so many hard conversations we avoid having with ourselves about things we might not want to face but which are likely inevitable and worth pondering. Pittman does this with candour and grace.

2. the gift of an ordinary day: a mother’s memoir

 

 

 

 

 

You really should watch this youtube clip about Kenison’s book. It is inspiring and prompted me to buy the book immediately!

I love the sparsity but acuity of Kenison’s writing. There is so much pathos in the glimpses of family life she provides.

3. Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path to Motherhood

 

 

 

 

 

I read this a long time ago as a new mother. It was moving then but I’d like to reread it now my children are older and we have all settled onto the ordinary, albeit crooked, path of family life.

4. Devotion: A memoir

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, while this book is not ostensibly about mothering or family life, Shapiro shines clear light into what being a mother means (not much and so much all at once) as she explores her own spirituality. This book really moved me as I find myself traversing that fine line between atheism and agnosticism. I was fascinated to read someone else’s exploration, one I have not had the courage to do myself. But really, I was so moved by the snapshots of family life she provides throughout the book, that I had to include it.

Have you got any books to recommend? Personal memoirs or otherwise? I’m lucky that our next book club book, Just Kids by Patti Smith, happens to be another personal memoir although I don’t think mothering is at its heart! What are you reading at the moment?

Under the weather

source: timobalk

I have never read a book, an article, or even a blog post which offers a ‘how-to’ guide to mothering when you’re sick. And yet, so far in this mothering gig, I find this to be one of the hardest things imaginable.

I had a moment this afternoon when I truly did not know how I was going to make it to the end of day. The weight of my head and my body and my heart was too heavy to bear. The boys were maniacal, feeding off my weakness and fatigue. Everything hurt and I could barely hold myself upright. C was in bed, as I’d had a sleep-in. We were out of cold and flu tablets and the 2 minute walk to the chemist with 2 out-of-control children was too much to contemplate.

I’m not getting any sleep because the baby is also sick and is feeding every few hours all day and night so my body has not been given any real chance to recuperate. And I’ve felt like this for over 2 weeks. Something has to give.

What do we as mothers do in these situations? I really need some tips, some practical help.

I guess there is the TV but I can’t tell you how uncomfortable using this as a baby sitter makes me feel (I already worry my boys watch too much). Truth be told, I didn’t even think of it this afternoon. Of course a bit of TV would have been the perfect answer. I needed to be in bed and asleep for just a short time. But I would still have felt like crap doing it.

My other problem when I’m sick is not physical but psychological. Because everything in the house comes apart at the seams when I’m sick, (our meals are average and repetitive, the boys snack too much, the washing piles up, the floor gets dirtier and dirtier, the TV is on too much, the bedsheets become crusty, I notice more cockroaches), I start feeling very guilty and pretty useless as a parent.

I wish I could offer some insight about how to manage these situations but right now, I have none. I’m so tired of feeling sick but I’m even more tired of trying to keep up with everything around the home. I have no energy to parent and my kids are becoming increasingly feral. Something has to give but I’m just not sure what that is right now.

I need to tackle my immune system so that I don’t pick up every random bug that makes its way into our house from daycare and school. How do you ‘stay well’? Any immune boosting tips?

And how do you manage mothering when you’re sick? Do you find it so hard?