Family is all the people you love. The children, the grown ups, the old ones, the ones not here anymore, or not here yet. Family is the touch of a hand that knows parts of you better than you know yourself. The whispers of I love you before their darling little heads nod off to sleep. The brush of arm against arm in the hallway.
The familiar cackle and gasp of hysterical laughter. The warmth of your person beside you in bed. The reliable safety of arms around you. The warming gift of a cup of tea made by someone else. The knowing smile you share when tonight's the night.
Family is the heavy-hearted sigh of the things we take for granted. The blazing regret at all the useless arguments you ever had. Sleepless, tossing nights where someone else's comfort matters more than your respite. The last chocolate in the box, shared by lovers. The primal pleasure of a baby inside you. The pride at little milestones that matter more to you than anyone else, ever. The tapestry of fingerprints on windows. Knowing, by the immeasurable measure of your affinity with your own child, that THIS is how much your parents have loved you all this time. Sentences finished by someone else. Lost socks, shoes, hair ties - all the lost things. The faith we have every single day that we all be here tomorrow. Frustrations over difficult lollipop wrappers. Thankless days on end. Giving so much of yourself that you just become an extension of the children. Finding reward in things like happy mealtimes. Shouldering your child's heartache more than they do themselves. The mysterious breeding properties of bobby pins.
Family is tempers flaring for the sake of running late. The seeds of faith we plant that there is something in this world beyond what we can see with our eyes. Dishes piled in the sink. Wet washing. Warm breath on your neck. Overflowing bins. Disposable nappy guilt. Sarcastic responses to patronising questions. Assuming a compliment is intended to soften and ply rather than compliment. Settling for the furniture that will do, rather than the one you want because the price is right. Silent treatment and cold shoulders. The soothing lullaby of mummy's voice after a nightmare. Recipes passed down, and clothes that once belonged to an older cousin. The voices so similar that friends can’t tell them apart on the phone, yet so distinct that you know which child just coughed.
Family is the pressure of lips on a forehead, so familiar that you can't tell where you end and they start.
Family is here. It's beautiful. Yours. Together. Authentic. Now. Here. Remember. Capture. Evidence. Take the photos. Take them. Now. #takethephotos
Is anything ever really broken? It’s rhetorical, but relevant.
Last time I really wrote it was about evicting the elephant in the room who stood in my way from moving forward, from releasing some pain and traveling onward. I published it exactly 12 months after he died. The process of writing it wasn’t cathartic, but saying it out loud was.
But I don’t think I’ve really moved on from there. They say the second year of widowhood is harder than the first, though I’ve heard no mention of year three, four, five etc etc, which makes me a bit skeptical, if it just keeps getting worse then I’d kinda like some warning. But year two has so far definitely given me a run for my money, and I’ve only recently realised why…
When Brett got sick, I stood up, I opened the window, let some fresh air in, and, holding hands with everyone who needed me, I lead them forward one step at a time, trying to go slow enough for those who needed it, and fast enough that no one got ahead of me. I didn’t stay in bed for days when he died, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t feel like I could; there were six very little hands reaching for me, and their need was greater than mine – isn’t that motherhood summed up?
If I think back to the moment when I told them that their daddy had gone to heaven, my stomach heaves. If I think back to the very moment when he left this life, I lose my breath. If I look at photos I can’t stand up. So I don’t. I don’t think about those moments or revisit our memories, because those six little hands still need me, their need hasn’t lessened, in some ways, it’s greater now than it ever has been, and if I stop and explore what those moments really mean, and remember how they felt, I will not be able to get up off the floor.
When a death or a trauma occurs, you work out pretty quickly how to cope, and that looks different for everyone. Some people need months in bed, some people need escapism, some need to literally escape, some bake, garden, paint. I just kept going, it was the only thing I knew how to do. And herein lies the problem with year two of widowhood…
Someone cleverer than me once said ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.‘ I have valued that phrase for so long, and used it in my professional life to inspire change and forward motion. The coping mechanisms I’ve been using have kept me alive, kept the kids fed, kept the pantry stocked (most of the time), kept me engaged in life. But, if I was on the Dr Phil show right now, he’d say “and how’s that workin out for ya?” It’s not. Those coping strategies that innately felt right 12 months ago, aren’t cutting the mustard anymore, because to move onward from this point, I need to focus on me (which feels sooooo wrong). I haven’t addressed the trauma of watching my husband die, I haven’t learnt to be vulnerable in grief, I haven’t revisited and metabolised the moments where my heart swelled, exploded and landed back together the wrong way round.
I haven’t ripped the bandaid off, and there’s a festering wound underneath that is about to go septic.
The problem with coping mechanisms is that they work, until they don’t, and if you continue to rely on them when they’re not working, they turn rogue and come back to bite you. They go from being coping strategies to coping defenses, and every good thing you’ve done while you spent all that time coping, starts unraveling and hell breaks loose in your heart, and your mind, and you feel more broken than you ever have.
That’s me right now. In pieces, broken, but still shielded from the pain/hurt/growth by the defensive tactics I put there to protect me. Or am I actually not broken, just so different that I don’t recognise myself anymore?
For 16 months I have stood up and soldiered on, accepting that this is our life now, occasionally pissed off, always cynical, very tired, but upright. And now, it ain’t working; my ability to get up is compromised. I imagine it’s times like this when addiction starts, or when hasty decisions seem good at the time, or even when depression finally convinces you to end it all. Thankfully none of those things are my story. It’s a turning point, a fork in the road, an opportunity for me to grow some more, but letting go of what has held me together is scary as fuck, because up until this point it all came naturally, instinctively, and now I need to actually choose a path for MYSELF, not for the kids, but for me. I feel like I have to get naked and start stitching my clothes onto my body from scratch. I’m voluntarily inviting vulnerability, which, nope, nuh-uh, nosirree is not my thing.
Grief is a complicated monster, and there a million reasons why some people don’t make it from one end to the other, but six little hands – slightly bigger than were 16 months ago – need me. They need more than I have been able to give, and they deserve more than I have in reserve – so, something needs to change.
The awful, real, deafeningly epic thing that happened needs a little poke, the wound needs cleaning out before it can heal. I need to theoretically put maggots on my broken skin, the visual makes you shudder, right? I know I will be a new version of the old me at the other end of this grief journey (whenever, if ever it ends), and I know I may always be broken in some way, but hopefully broken will come to mean different, rather than crushed beyond repair.
Widow out, I have a bandaid to rip off.
Widow in Wonderland - on Facebook
Allow me to take you on a journey of that time a couple of years ago, when a very kind and well-meaning Chinese massage ‘expert’ fixed my achy woes in ways that should only be reserved for infidels.
It was my birthday. I hate surprises and in the lead up to special occasions I spend a disproportionate amount of time ensuring I don’t get caught off guard. I had sleuthed my stuff like a pro, and found out that someone – who shall remain nameless – (*cough-my sister-cough*) purchased a massage for me. At my very loose suggestion, no less! At the time of my hint-dropping foray into birthday preparedness I didn’t realise that ‘massage’ was actually Chinese for ‘you will almost die alone and in agony’. I knew it was coming, so I had plenty of time to think about it and had prepared for it for ages. Meaning, I thought about it, swooned over the very idea of it, day dreamed about the wondrous, knowing, soothing touch of another human. That was before I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun thing.
I walk into the store. Yes, store. Let’s discuss this. Many times in my life I have casually remarked that I’m going to the store for milk, bread, nappies, even, once I went out for, wine. But I’ve never said “oh hey, I’m just popping out to the store for a massage. If I don’t come back you can safely assume I’ve been tortured for national secrets, and I need some time off the grid for all our safety.” Massages should be done in places of serene beauty and calm, by people who aren’t trying to kill you, with oil that washes off your skin after the first shower.
Anyway, I enter the shop and approach the desk. In my calm-I’m-not-yelling-at-children voice I say, “Hi, I’m Cath. I have a 2pm appointment.” A very attractive, kind looking lady smiles, and dramatically waves her arm in the direction of the red velvet curtains. I assume she’s just showing me the way, but she follows me in and steps towards me, her pretty face now void of all expression, and she exclaims louder than necessary, “TAKE CLOTHES OFF!!! LIE DOWN!” It’s then that I should have detected her extensive military training and just politely excused myself, but my back was legitimately sore and I obeyed. She pops her head back throughthe curtain and without warning and says “LEAVE PANTIES ON!!” Yep, thanks Xena Warrior Princess, I’ve had ‘massages’ before, I know the drill. Sheesh.
I’m lying on my tummy, with the feeling that my face isn’t quite aligned in the face hole properly. I’m wiggling my head up and down to adjust myself when she walks back in. She wastes no time, and unlike other massages I’ve had, doesn’t bother to ask if I have any trouble spots, or pressure preference (DING DING DING, WARNING, WARNING, GET OUT, GET OUT NOW!). She lays a towel over me and starts to rock me from side to side, I wonder if I’m not in the right position on the bed but get the feeling she’s not going to communicate what she needs, so I just lie there, being shoved back and forth across the bed, thinking that her concern about leaving panties on was irrelevant because one of my lady lumps is going to bust out from my armpit at any second. Soon the rocking stops and the assault begins.
I hear a clicking sound, and later realised it was at that point that she removed the fleshy fingers she was born with, and replaced them for butter knife-cross-knitting needle droid fingers that she would later insert into the skin of my back for supposed therapeutic benefit. It felt like acupuncture with chopsticks. She’s working her ‘fingers’ up and down my upper back, around my shoulder blades (which used to actually be attached to my body), and watching me closely for the spot where I wince the most so she can start drilling into me. I can’t breathe, I’m gripping the end of the bed and my eyes are shut so tight that I’m seeing stars. I hear the squoop squoop of oil being dispensed and I’m immediately relieved that at least her hands might glide over my skin. WRONG!
I’m only about ten minutes into it, and already I have that feeling of intense labour, where you’re sure that in the next breath you’re going to say ‘ok guys, really, I’ve seriously tried my best, I promise I have, but I just can’t do it anymore, I need drugs or Jesus or Chris Hemsworth’. At this point of labour with my children I was actually vomiting with pain, it was real and foul, but strangely liberating that I could allow my body to be so awesome. However, at this point of the massage, my teeth are hurting from clamping my screams in and HOLY MOTHER OF PETE SHE’S STANDING ON ME WITH FOOTY BOOTS!
She hasn’t even hit the really freaking sore part of my lower back yet, so any pain I’ve felt thus far has been purely from her choice to hurt me, and I’m actually scared. My eyes fly open in terror, and wildly flit around in trapped animal style. I can see the bottom of the bed, there is someone else's dribble marks underneath the massage table/torture chamber and I immediately want to know what kind of mutant could find this relaxing enough to actually lose muscular/facial control. Or perhaps that person died during treatment. More believable.
I think I have internal bleeding.
For some reason, she’s standing at my head, leaning right over me, working on my hips (the really sore area). Her little body is ploughing my face into the wrong shaped hole, and her freakishly pointy elbow is boring a hole in my pelvis and in extreme pain my upper body shoots off the bed and I’m almost at a 90 degree angle, my top half naked and in a cold sweat, at her eye level. She jumps back. I slam myself back down, too fearful to speak, she’s obviously stronger than me and really wants me to be feeling the revenge of whatever crime I have committed against humanity.
Then, she stops abruptly, puts the towel back over me and starts hitting me so loud that the sound hurts my ears. Her hands are cupped and she’s thwack-thwacking me in what I can only assume is to encourage the now deadened blood cells to jump back into life. Suddenly, she bends down to my face and shouts “YOU OKAY!!!!” It didn’t sound like a question, more like a ‘tell no one you were here’ threat, but I couldn't answer anyway, because she'd massaged my voice box into my sinus cavity. I try to flex my muscles enough to nod my head, but only a pathetic squeak of air comes out. “DRESSED NOW!” she commands. “TAKE TIME” she adds with her jack in the box trick through the curtain.
She’s gone, and my relief is tangible, but I can’t move. All of a sudden I’m freezing cold and I’m shaking, and I decide that that this is how it feels to fall off a mountain and land on a stair case made of lego, sakata rice crackers and pizza crusts. Very slowly, I get up and put my clothes back. I hobble out of the curtained room and make my way out.
She meets me outside the curtain with a cup of water, and I freeze, fully expecting her to throw it at me. But she bows a little, and presents it to me with both hands, smiling sweetly. “Ooh, you have sore back!” she says with surprise. Really? It is? I hadn’t really noticed you CRAZY SADIST PIECE OF MASSAGE ARSEHOLE! “Please drink lots of water today, you feel better soon” she kindly says. I look around for her evil twin, assuming she’ll be peering at me through the velvet with sharpened teeth, but we’re alone. I can see she means it, she WANTS me to feel better, she wants my back to feel better, but she needs psychiatric assessment.
I walk out, a little away from the store, and weep. I catch a glimpse of myself in the window and my face is possibly permanently disfigured rom the ill fitting face-hole. What just happened? Where’s my car? Did I even drive here? What’s my name? Every nerve ending in my body is screaming ‘HERE I AM!’ and I need all the wine from all the lands.
It’s taken me almost two years to forget enough of the horror to be able to remember this experience. Needless to say I’ve never been back to the massage store, although, in her defence, my back did feel amazing for a couple of weeks post-torture. Still not worth it.
There’s an elephant in the room, and it keeps shifting uncomfortably and farting death bombs every time I sit down to write. It shuffles into my space, pushing me out of my chair, putting big elephant feet on my keyboard. It’s suffocating me. I have so many words writhing to the surface, tunneling to get out, so many stories I am desperate to tell, but until I deal with that elephant I’ll be staring down it’s trunk, inhaling it’s stench, shoving it’s giantness out of my way. You get the picture. I have been too busy dealing with the elephant to actually write about the elephant.
My husband died (that’s the elephant, in case my cryptic theoreticals stumped you).
My children’s daddy went to heaven.
On December 2nd 2014 we got the terminal diagnosis, with the loose prognosis of six to 18 months. He passed away just six weeks and three days later on January 18, 2015. Our children were two, three and five. Babies. Our oldest child started Prep just five days after his funeral.
A year ago today I sat in an uncomfortable chair in a comfortable hospital room, holding his hand, whispering in his ear, wiping his face, watching him with eagle eyes soaking up every bump and freckle, as he died. I stayed with him, washed him with the nurses, made him comfortable and walked him down stairs with the orderlies. It was surreal. I remember it like it was just this morning, and also feel like it was something that happened to other people decades ago, something that I just happened to accidentally witness.
He stopped breathing, and among so many other things, I stopped writing. Partly because I was thrust into raising grieving children and I am more exhausted than I knew to be possible, and partly because even I, as verbose as I am, could not find the right combination of verbs and nouns to actually, honestly and wholly tell this story. I have attempted writing this for 12 months. Countless paragraphs that seemed right at the time, but during the editing stage sound preposterous. The story of my last 12 months changes every day, sometimes it’s hopeful, sometimes courageous, full of love and forward movement, sometimes it’s a rambling, sleep deprived rant about why cheesesticks are so fucking hard to open (I mean for the love of Dirty Pete, can’t they seal the ends with something less gluey?), sometimes I’m breathless with gratitude for all the people who have helped us this last year, sometimes it’s a raw and burning story that would make your heart burst open and shrink at the same time. Sometimes there are no words for it at all, and even now, I know I will read this entry a hundred times thinking these words are outrageous, inaccurate, and wondering if I’m doing the right thing by opening up. People have suggested that what I might write could help someone else, which seems crazy. Please be kind, this is hard but feels necessary.
When I was posting more regularly for Mama In Wonderland about my for-reals version of parenthood, it seemed that you related. The tantrums, wayward vomit, whimsical poo episodes, accounts of my chaos and moments of epic failure; you, as a collective audience (of four people) said, “yes Mama, it’s like that for me too. You are not alone, and because you’re not alone, neither am I.” My challenges as a parent were ones that you felt too, plus, you know, I’m hilarious so there’s that also… I used to write about how shit and hard and alone motherhood can be, and now, it’s shitter and harder and aloner; and that’s not so relatable. I am daunted by that.
I miss him. I miss the smell of him. I miss his touch. I miss looking over to the other side of the bed and admiring his profile. I miss wanting to smother his face with a pillow when he snored like a nose breathing stallion. I miss his hands, he had strong hands. I miss the way he would tease me. I miss the sound of his voice. I miss every single tiny and inconsequential detail of who he was, and all the enormous ones. At times I’m so overcome with sorrow that I can’t breathe. And at times I am so overcome with solo parenting that I can’t breathe. At times I see glimpses of a future for me, and I’m so intrigued that I can’t breathe. And all of the not breathing feels wrong and foreign. Sometimes I feel like I’ve misplaced my default settings as a person.
People rallied when he died. They worked their arses off and raised money, they delivered meals and gifts. They called in, and stayed away. They overlooked the constant war-zone of my lounge room. They provided for us in ways that a dad would normally. And they did it all without so much as a blink of expectation, and I didn’t have to ask once. I have felt so incredibly buoyed by our very giving community, the sisterhood reached out, and without ever imposing, gently nudged me forward, and kept a net of hands around me as I stood up and walked on. I have never felt so embraced and yet so alone in my life, and also so awkwardly appreciative – when people give and give and give, there’s no way you can ever convey your gratitude. The kindness of these people is actually silencing (there literally are no words to convey it). It’s weird, something you never expect to experience, something that never feels normal, regardless of how utterly indebted you feel. I question everything that feels normal now.
Who am I without this man who has at various times walked with me, carried me, ran to keep up, lifted me to my feet, stood in front to protect me, and very occasionally (mostly accidentally) stood in my way? Who am I now? I’m a widow. A WIDOW – say what?! I’m a single mother. I’m not only raising three kids, I’m raising three grieving kids, which I don’t know how to do (and lets be honest, I didn’t know how to raise three regular kids, that’s the whole point of this blog). My husband died. He was 35. WTF?! Who am I? I’m a different version of me; one that is more weary, less tolerant, more intimidated, more determined, more knowledgeable, less angry, more durable, so much more grateful and more likely to say ‘I love you.’ They sound like great qualities, right? Quite a price to pay for such an impressive list of self-growth though, right?
He knew he was going to die, he had to say goodbye to his children. He was an exceptional dad, and I’m not just saying that, I’m really not. He was attentive, and patient, he would include them in everything; a 30 minute job outside was a two hour activity because each child had a turn to carry something, a go with the screwdriver, they were made to feel included and important. He was a better dad than most, and he was a better parent than me. My little Wonderlings have proven that bravery is innate, taught me to be fearless, and shown me how much I am needed; they miss everything about him, and, they’re too young to even know what they are missing. I knew him better in person than they will ever know him in memory, and it stings. I don’t know how to raise our children without him, and I feel that sometimes I’m staring down the barrel of the rest of my life, being the only one shouldering the real day-to-day responsibility of these babes. It’s just me and the elephant, and it’s intimidating (especially considering I’m in the process of evicting the elephant).
Our year, aside from all of Brett’s medical shiz has been stupid. In the last 16 months the kids have had four surgeries (variation of adenoids/tonsils/grommets), three sets of stitches, 16 courses of antibiotics, six staph infections, we’ve all had whooping cough, gastro and started school. Every single day is a hot mess of managing the health (both physical and emotional) of the kids. I have tried so hard (with the help of professionals, it’s okay, I have a team of people with letters after their names) to create an environment where the kids can explore death and their grief safely, with openness and age-appropriate terminology. For example, his funeral was a goodbye party, it wasn’t a coffin, but the box with flowers with daddy’s body inside. Kids don’t understand what a coffin is and enforcing them to try and understand adult terminology only makes them more confused. I try to use this type replacement language so that they can better understand the concept and have the matching vocabulary to ask questions when they need to.
I field some pretty confronting topics… in preparation for one of the kids’ surgeries, we had to go to a pre-op appointment at the hospital. I was running a couple of minutes late, so pulled into a car park and started the flurry of undoing seatbelts. The youngest Wonderling, at only two years old said, with an open mouth and doe eyes, ‘oh! Have we come to pick up daddy?’ We were going to be late, and so while I found our paperwork, carried her from the car and assembled kids to cross the street, I explained that ‘oh, my darling! Remember sweetie, daddy died, he is in heaven now, and it would be so nice to pick him up, wouldn’t it! But he isn’t here at the hospital anymore.’ Then, before I’d even drawn breath, our five year old asks ‘mummy, do you think the bugs have finished eating daddy’s body yet?’ I answer as honestly as I can, ‘actually sweetie, no I don’t think think so. They put special things in daddy’s box so that his body stays the same for a while.’ That’s a really natural question, but not one that us adults needs to ask, because we inherently know the answer to it. Then our four year old sits on the floor exclaiming his hunger, refusing to move (which was a stall tactic as he was feeling confronted about being at the hospital again).
Going to an appointment with three kids was hard before this happened, but right there in a 90 second window of time, are the valid needs of three grieving children, all making their needs evident (as they should, and I’m glad they’re comfortable enough to), all while I’m running late to a medical appointment in the hospital where he died. I can’t even… This is one micro example of our days. They’re all like this; this is just our life now. Aside from the fact that I burn with white-hot pain for their loss, I am navigating the needs of three tiny little people who are trying to make sense of this new reality. It’s so mother fucking hard sometimes. Every day is a long-distance negotiation of emotions, fears, realities, learning, remembering, lost shoes, cries of injustice and claims of ‘I had it first’. Things are normal and oh so not normal.
But, as we mark the one year anniversary, we are okay. We are eating vegetables. We are brushing our teeth. We are wearing clean clothes. We are finding things to celebrate. We are upright. We are healthy. We make new friends and love each other. We remember him all day every day. We are okay.
Strangely, as intrusive and silencing as the elephant has been, I’m going to miss it. Its giantness and perpetual intrusion have been oddly comforting in some ways. But no more. I am alive, and for an aspiring novelist you’re kind of a downer. Thank you for being my brave and bossy shield, but it’s time for you to go now. Goodbye, Elephant.
Oh, and fuck you cancer.
Last Mother’s Day I wrote about the wonky little pansy. Unfortunately the Pansy didn’t make it through June but it was truly treasured for weeks. Its demise was entirely my fault; I left it outside accidentally one night and Jack Frost murdered it. I’m still a little sad about it to be honest, that pansy carried with it the love and pride of a wee three year old girl who potted that pretty (ugly) little flower just for me.
I’m a teeny bit concerned that this entry will be a bit depresso, but hopefully by some miracle I can redeem myself from a great self-indulgence and write something relatable (that’s always my aim). Be prepared though, it’s less about Mama in Wonderland and more about Person in Wonderland (so if you’re a person perhaps you’ll relate, all aliens and animals go can back to your business, this doesn’t concern you) (if that last statement gets me abducted, I’ll be able to relate to aliens as well, stand by) (any animals reading this are instructed to bring chocolate in return for a scratch behind the ears).
A while ago I was in the chemist collecting drugs for children (NB: that’s medicine for my sick children, not drugs for me to cope with my children although I won’t lie, they have been offered before). I was at the new Amcal in Echuca, which somehow makes me feel a little bit posh and exclusive, no idea why (although the lighting is impressive, it’s so bright and I think it makes my skin looks nice, a bit like Georgie Parker’s), and I saw an elderly gentleman who was leaning against his walking cane as he waited to be served. He had a kind face, the sort that is charmingly aged, making him both handsome and interesting, and he smiled at me. It was a long, slow, captivating, genuine smile which came with a good dose of eye contact and a tiny nod of the head. It was engaging and welcoming… and somehow it was reminiscent. I detected ‘I remember when’ sentimentality in his smile.
And his smile isn’t the only one. There have been more. I have noticed lately that my three darlings are capturing the attention of our senior citizens, and they all wear that same expression. It’s reminiscent and sentimental and possibly a teeny bit regretful. Something about my tribe is familiar to them, and I do wonder if they are remembering their own young family and wishing to turn back time. Not for any awful do-over reason, but because these really are the best years, and they truly do go too quickly. My darling dad went to heaven before he met any of my children (which sucks like a big fat arse), and I am crudely aware that he is missing out on a fair bit. I’m sure he’d give almost anything to be here with us, and he’d give me a talking to for complaining about having air in my lungs. I have moments of clarity where I realise that next year I will have a child at school and in five ridiculously short years I’ve raised what was once a baby, into… a Preppie? I’m going to have a Preppie? Wha….?
Being surrounded by innocence and wonderment and awe in simple things should be refreshing and delightful. Why then doesn’t it feel at all refreshing or delightful? Sometimes I get comments like ‘gee, you’ve got your hands full’ or, ‘those are the best years, treasure them, they zoom by.’
I return the kind smiles and banter of these caring seniors, but in my internally I’m thinking ‘faaaaaark no it doesn’t go quickly! Today I’ve wiped noses, arses, spills, dirty footprints, sticky fingers, washed half a jar of honey out of the youngest ones hair (courtesy of big brother), broken up three fist fights and had cold tea spilt all over me and my clean clothes, and it’s not yet 11am.’ What am I doing wwwrrrrooooooonnnngggggg?!
Quickly? Nope. Precious? Not today. Hands full? Hell yes. (Ungrateful? Don’t answer that…)
Guiltguiltguiltguilt. Alllllll the guilt. By about 11am on home days I’m anticipating bedtime, literally wishing the day away. Not every single day, but sometimes it’s 100% shit-fight, almost devoid of pleasure/fun/joy and genuine, bonafide bloody hard work. I always, always know that I adore their sassy little backsides, but for the love of Pete, they were sent to challenge me.
Lately I’ve had some epiphanies. About myself; spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. Some of these light-bulb moments came gently and with lessons and meaning and soothing sounds to make me feel comfortable. “Yes, that’s exactly who I am and Jesus loves me and the Universe blesses me and all the Hippies endorse that I have the courage and grace to embrace this part of me and I am OKAY.” (try reading that out loud like Oprah Winfrey, ‘tis fun!)
Other realisations have smacked me in the face with such cold force that I gasp for air, saying “is that really what I’m like?” I’ve had a few of those latter ones lately, and the feeling resonates as somewhat uncomfortably familiar, indicating that perhaps somewhere in my sub-conscious I’ve thought this before. Do you have them too? That self-exploration stuff where you wish you hadn’t self-explored? I know, I know, it’s for the greater good of me, but that blissful ignorance was temporarily warm and sunny and there was chocolate and cocktails and now I just have a bad taste in my mouth from that dodgy truth inducing serum. Pfft, damned brain.
You see, I rock at convincing myself that everyone on the planet is more stable and emotionally secure and better at EVERYTHING than me. I know that the rational truth is that we all have moments of yuck about ourselves, be it physically or with our inner goddesses, but dammit I win the ‘I suck’ competition, alright! And, um, becoming a mother has been no help in this department. Apart from the first couple of days post birth when I could have single handedly cured cancer but was too busy being an incredible mother, I haven’t felt full of maternal goodness and naturally wonderful. In fact, I’ve felt less like ME since I became ‘Mama’ (ouch). When I left the hospital with my tiny little baby I was expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder laughing “haha, look at this, she thinks she gets to take the baby home! Sorry love, you can’t leave with her, you don’t know what you’re doing.” BAM! And for the most part I still don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I never will.
But I love them. I love them so freaking much. While they’re jumping on the couch and pushing vegies around their plates and making me age prematurely, I love them. While their tiny, pointy, torturous elbows are bruising my soft fleshy body parts, I love them. When they are walking snot production units, I love them. When they screech at me, I love them. When I sit down and I get mauled and jumped on, I love them. When I am up to them allll night, I love them. When everything I do for them is wrong (I cut the toast wrong, I pick the wrong clothes, I cook the wrong food, sometimes I even cuddle wrong), I love them. When they pick their dad over me, I love them. When I hate me, I love them.
I studied the brightly lit gentleman with the nice smile and great complexion at the chemist for a while. His posture was like the natural stoop of a big old tree. His hands were crinkled and creased and had done their share of work. His hair was fine and grey, not full and shiny. And with sadness I realised that with each of his laboured steps he was getting closer to his final days on earth. But through the subtle curling of his lips, I could see love, and value and worthiness. A lifetime full of it; I could see a sweetheart (who I overheard has already passed away, sob), I saw love for children, love from children. Adoration and respect from friends, colleagues and a whole community people who treasured this human on some level. And in that single, profound moment, I felt that just like the pansy that was potted just for me last year, this man’s smile was just for me too.
I won’t live forever either, one day the world will exist without me. I can’t even tell you how confronting that thought is (classic megalomania, look at me go!). But when I’m (hopefully) very, very old and I lean on my walking stick in the futuristic-new-age-well-lit-beautifully-carpeted-chemist, I hope that my legacy is a whole heap of glorious, cloaking, saturating love, I hope it shines off me like it did this man. And when I smile at that gorgeous young lady with her perfectly behaved children, I hope she knows that despite how much of a battle it feels like, and how much she doesn’t like herself and how much she feels she is getting wrong, she is loved. If I get the privilege of capturing someone with a single smile, I hope it gives them the epiphany it gave me.
Happy very, very belated Mother’s Day, Mamas. Go love yourselves sick. XX
Photo credit: http://hqwide.com/old-hands-cane-life-story-wallpaper-51445/
Mama in Wonderland on Facebook
Waiver: if this blog post didn’t make sense it’s because I haven’t slept since 2008.
Mama in Wonderland on Facebook
I’m sitting at a café, alone. Just ordered lunch. This never happens. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, so I granted myself a mental health day (I should be at work). That never happens either. The playing hooky from work that is, not stress. Right now, at this moment, I’m free. This time is mine. I need it.
I still feel guilty though.
This morning I snapped and told my four year old to ‘get in the *freaking* car.’ The shame was instant. I know I’m not the first exasperated mama to lose her shit, but hearing that kind of language directed at a child (at anyone!) is usually the very thing that makes my blood boil. There I was, in the carport, screaming obscenities at my innocent, beautiful, shocked children. It’s the first time I’ve sworn at them, I don’t want it to ever happen again. And you know the worst part is we had been having a great morning. I woke up happy, the kids woke up happy, eating breakfast and getting dressed was easy, it was a smooth morning. Until. One miniscule incident of accidental hair pulling resulted in an unintended Buzz Lightyear to the foot which resulted in crazy-pain-hopping which knocked the baby over. Three children crying. The hair-pullee was wailing, clutching the side of her head like she’d been shot (no idea where she gets her sense of drama from). The space rangered toddler was half-hopping, half-stomping around the kitchen screaming ‘ow, ow, ow ow’ to the rhythm of Mary had a little lamb (which he actually sings as Mummy had a little lamp, cute, yes?), and the baby was still in a crumpled heap on the floor cry-cry-crying with real tears. In a nano-second I went from gathering belongings to bouncing a baby/rubbing a head/soothing a foot, all with offensively pitched screeches of ‘wah’ ‘ow’ ‘m-m-m-m-yyyyyyy haaaaaaaiiiiiiiirrrrr’ right in my ear. How.the.heck did our lovely morning disintegrate so quickly? Why is it so damn precarious?
One moment, we’re happy and laughing and cuddling and playing, the next I’m pulling a toddler off a baby and removing throwing implements from a pre-schooler while every member of our family is manifesting their frustration either physically or verbally and OMG I just stood on a piece of Lego! Honestly, that’s literally how unpredictable things are. And, I hate it, because I love answers, I love plans and explanations, I research and figure things out, I come up with solutions and ideas. ‘Just because’ doesn’t really work for me.
Is it just because I have a just-turned-four-year-old, a two and half year old, and a 12 month old and precarious and unpredictable is just our reality? Is it because in the moments when then they need me I’m distracted cooking tea or hanging out washing or replying to an email, and I’m not teaching them how to express themselves appropriately? Is it because they don’t get enough sleep (though I’m sure they do)? Is it simply just because of their ages and stages and phases and I need to go with it? Is it because I once used a Ouija board and pissed off an evil old gypsy who has cursed me? Is it like this at your house? Is it?
In the seconds immediately after a group meltdown I feel completely, utterly defeated. Deflated. Spent. Forsaken. Beaten. Weakened (admitting this brings all of those feelings back again). Sometimes my heart is racing. I’m emotionally and physically drained. I feel like I failed. Failed them, failed me, failed that particular motherhood test time this. I think I handled whole thing terribly. I tell myself that next time it happens (in 37 seconds) I’ll get down on their level, speak softly, explain things, remove the danger, stay calm, diffuse. I know how to do it right. But too often the breakdown is upon me without warning and I’m rescuing one child from the angry windmill arms of another and defending the third from any wayward limbs and flying objects. It’s freaking hard, and while I have no answers I do have a rogue theory on why I feel the way I do about being less of a mother than I should be.
It’s because I’m crap and every other mother copes fantastically. Every other mum is doing it better than me. Other mothers don’t lose it like I do. Other mothers are better role models for their children. Other mothers don’t need little victories the way I do. Other mothers manage being time-poor and tired better than I do. They have tantrum diffusing personalities, they are natural mums. Other mothers are just better. Or so my inner voice tells me.
As I said earlier I like answers, so of course I have delved a little deeper with this. Stay right there while I step up onto my soapbox for a second…
STOP SHARING SERMONS AND ANECDOTES ON HOW MOTHERS SHOULD BE DOING IT BETTER!
You know the ones, the ‘What I wish I could say to every first time mother’, the ’10 things I regret not doing with my children’, the ‘Five reasons why turning off the television will be the best thing you do today.’ I know, I know, I sound like a bitter cynic who swears at her children. But puhleeese! You want me to believe that asking my kids to hurry up will damage their precious little souls forever and ever? That sleeping with them will destroy their independence, and not sleeping with them spark feelings of unworthiness? That being a working mum is wrecking them and their attachment to the female ideal? For serious? Don’t get me wrong, an uplifting tale about beauty being all around us and appreciating each moment has its place, but it seems every second social media update and news story is a tiny bit condescending, patronising or smells a bit like misplaced-inspiration, and most importantly, very few of those posts are not sending the message that we should be sending (at least not the ones I’ve read).
So, I hear you beg, what’s the message we should be sending? Well, get off your knees because Mama (the Oracle) in Wonderland has it right here for you;
Being a mother is hard. Damn hard. It’s hard whether you have a two day old baby or a 27 year old son. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and it’s absolutely ok to admit out loud to strangers, to your mother-in-law, to your neighbour, to everyone, that it’s hard. You don’t have to pretend that it’s all rosy and organic and handmade, it only needs to be like that some of the time. Yes, it’s beautiful and amazing and you’ll never, ever regret it, but it’s H.A.R.D., and it will define (consume/become/own) you for quite some time. Hard.
We’ve fallen into a Pinterest- promoted, Facebook-fuelled, Instagram-inspired mentality where we unite in what we think everyone else should be doing. We bake or buy or barter Pastry Chef style birthday cakes, we seek age appropriate playgroups, teach them to write their name, and then we tell everyone about it and complement each other’s children on their cleverness. It’s misplaced motivation on Redi-Pred.
The Psychologist I see (yes, I see a Psych, no surprise there!) said recently that there’s never been as much pressure on mother’s as there is now. Yay to her, boo to us. Where does this pressure come from? Probably not from the besties you hang with, but most likely from the mother-hood. So this I say to you from the safety of my very large soapbox; go easy out there sunshine! There are impressionable, hormonal, tired women just trying to keep their heads above water, live like Johnny Farnham and take the pressure down ladies. Inspiring announcements are often only inspiring to the author, the rest of us can’t live like mother-goddesses who have serotonin coursing through our veins and a well-intended message of support might actually end up being a smack in the face of ‘do it like this, do it better’.
In most cases, our children are going to be a-ok regardless of whether they eat spelt sandwiches, sleep wrapped or toilet train at a ‘normal’ age. Truly. Majority of the mothers on your friends list are doing a damn fine job. How about you tell them that, because it’s possible that their day started out just fine and disintegrated into a shrieking mess than left them feeling completely alone despite the constant company of small humans who haven’t let her pee alone for six years.
Or, that could just be me, but I don’t think it is because it’s hard. For everyone.
Mama out (and off the soapbox. For now).