Tag Archives: family

On weariness

I want to talk about fatigue.

I want to talk about the second and third shifts. The don’t-even-look-at-the-dishes-in-the-sink fatigue. The double-booked because it’s too hectic to look at the calendar and now I’ve had to let someone down busyness fatigue.

I want to talk about gear changing. The weary rousing of oneself from work mode to parent mode and back again. The feeling that a day, any old day, without any juggling acts would be some kind of bliss. A selfish, perfectly selfish, bliss.

I want to talk about bone tiredness: the I-don’t-have-time-for-the-gym which becomes I-don’t-have-the-energy-anymore-ask-me-tomorrow. I want to talk about the physical slowness, the inward curling and energy slumping that comes from mental fatigue.

I want to talk about emotional wear. The sense of hopelessness that comes with never having enough left to give. The guilt, of letters unwritten and phone calls un-made. The frustration that the work of relationship maintenance so readily eclipses its rewards, or feels like it will.

I want to talk about pacing and rocking and please please just sleep for crying out loud just sleep for fuck’s sake please just GO TO SLEEP.

I want to talk about the need to do writing and not having time for writing and not having energy left with which to make more time because the rewards of writing, the energising release and the pleasure have all been doled out. The stores are empty.

I want to talk about email in-box anxiety and bursting into tears over upended laundry baskets.

I want to talk about the fatigue of being fatigued. The wearing down of it. The hurt of coming up against one’s limitations and having to remember, always remember, that they are there. That illness is there at the edge of one’s capabilities, or near.

I want to talk about the work of wishing to be healthy. Of trying to think of shopping and cooking and eating well, of filling prescriptions on time and seeking recommendations and referrals and making appointments and dreaming of finding a yoga class and thinking as if there will ever be time.

I want to talk about the shame of even talking of doing too much when others do so much more. And about how maybe too many of us do so much that there can only be a deficit between doing and being.

I want to talk about all of that. But really, I’m too tired.

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Gender according to Bean, 3 years

On aspirations: When I grow up I want to be man.

Okay, how come?

So I can go to work like Daddy. And drive a fire truck.

At the moment, do you want to be a boy or a girl?

I want to be a girl, because I want to play nicely with my friends.

***

On anatomy: Daddy doesn’t have a vulva. That’s funny.

***

On trains and relationships: James [the engine] is a little bit upset. He needs to go and talk to Thomas about something, and then he’ll feel better.

***

On careers: What is that lady [in the book] doing?

She’s a teacher. I’m a teacher too.

I could be a teacher when I grow up.

Do you want to be a teacher like mummy when you grow up?

No, I don’t think so! I want to be a Work Man.

***

Upon reading 10 000 Dresses: Bailey is sad because her mummy says: ‘you’re not a girl Bailey, you’re a boy!’ and they say ‘Go away!’. But I think she is a girl … ’cause she feels like a girl.

***

On pinkness: I like pink because E [girl at childcare] says it’s the best colour!

***

Upon seeing a big red tractor slashing grass: Mummy I am going to get a tractor. It will be small so I can put it inside. And it will be pink. I will cut the grass with it so Daddy doesn’t have to cut the grass.

***

On International Women’s Day:  I’m wearing green and purple because it’s International Women’s Day today. That’s a day for girls and women like us. Do you want to wear green and purple too?

Okay! I will wear green and purple and PINK!

(And she did)

Three year old girl, wearing a purple skirt, green tshirt and pink sneakers

Purple, green and a splash of pink sparkles

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The good wife

I’m a good wife. We have a modern relationship – you know, equal and all that. I help out around the house all the time. I don’t mind emptying the dishwasher when I get home from work, that’s my main job. I iron my own work clothes, too. I know my grandmother never did that in her life, but I don’t feel that it makes me any less womanly. I’m secure in my womanhood, I can do a bit of ironing!

My husband works really hard doing everything at home so I don’t mind giving him a break. He works outside of the home too, but not so many hours as me of course. But still. I know he’s tired after work too. So when he’s had a really big day I put dinner on so he can relax for a bit. On the weekends if we’re having people over he usually wants to do a really big clean-up, so I help out. I mean, I don’t really see the point sometimes! It’s not like anyone’s really looking at how clean the toilet is. But I do it to keep him happy. He says that I just don’t see the dirt but to be really honest I think sometimes his standards are just too high. Men are always expecting things to be perfect when really, it’s not necessary. I mean, I guess some wives are really critical when things aren’t all neat and tidy but that’s not my style.

I baby-sit too, so he can get out of the house and get his hair cut or see friends. I’m really supportive of his interests. He plays squash on Tuesday nights so I make sure I’m home from work on time so he doesn’t miss out. On the weekends I love playing with my little girl. I even take her to the supermarket. A lot of people comment on how nice it is to see a mother out with her child, and we do have a lot of fun. You can make anything into a game, you know? My husband says that when our daughter has a tantrum at the supermarket people are really critical of him. Maybe they are but I wonder how much of it he’s imagining. He always thinks people are judging him, like one time when we went out together and I forgot to change our daughter’s top after she got tomato sauce all over it. He couldn’t stop talking about how everyone would be thinking he was hopeless because he couldn’t even dress his own kid in clean clothes. I mean, really, it wasn’t a big deal, and I was the one who dressed her anyway. Why would they assume it was his fault? Well I guess most husbands do most of the laundry but, still, that’s changing.

I’m a really hands on mother. I think it’s only fair that I change my share of nappies when I’m at home! Just the other day I overheard a guy saying to my husband, ‘Gee, you’re so lucky. I wish my wife would do that.’ It’s not like I’m patting myself on the back or anything – I mean, in this day and age you can’t just sit back and let the husband do everything anymore. Just between you and me, I do get a bit annoyed with some of my friends who treat their husbands like doormats. But then again, men have to stick up for themselves too. I mean, if a wife is used to having everything done for her, dinner on the table by six, that type of thing, of course she’s going to expect it. Men really need to take some responsibility for asking for more equality in relationships. Problem is too many of them are real control freaks; if their wives don’t make the bed just so, they get all snarky about it and their wives never want to do it again. Same with bathing the kids and stuff. I know a guy who kept telling his wife she was putting too much shampoo in their boy’s hair and so of course she just gave up. A woman can’t win that battle, better not to even try.

Sometimes my dad says to me that I do too much, ‘your mother never had to lift a finger around the house’, he says. I tell him that times have changed now. Dad never had a job or anything, he just spent his whole time looking after us kids and mum so these days with lots of husbands working everything’s changing. I think it’s great; men need to have a life too, they can’t just be stuck at home all the time.

I think having equality in our relationship is really good for us. It’s a good example for our daughter too. My husband and I show her how to do things like unpack the shopping, fold her clothes that type of thing. It’s important that she doesn’t grow up just expecting men to do all of that for her. We even bought her a toy vacuum cleaner. My mother-in-law was a bit upset about that! But I mean, really, it’s 2010. It’s time for her to get over it. If I’m okay with my daughter playing with a toy vacuum then everyone else should be too. It’s not going to make her any less of a woman when she grows up. In fact she’ll have better luck finding a husband if she’s ‘house trained’!

Actually my mother-in-law can cause a few problems for us. My husband always gets really antsy around Christmas  when we have the whole family over. His mum likes it when he does the meal – gravy and everything – just like his dad used to before he passed away. I help out of course but I usually get kicked out of the kitchen pretty quickly after I burn the onions or something. It’s always such a big deal and usually someone’s in tears by the end of the day. Men are so emotional! They really do put too much pressure on themselves – it doesn’t have to be like in the Mens’ Weekly ‘Christmas special’ every time, you know what I mean?

But basically, we have a really good balance. I don’t look too closely at the credit card statement and he doesn’t nag me about the typical stuff like picking up wet towels – it’s all give and take and compromise, like all good partnerships should be. I’m really proud of my husband and how well he can balance everything going on. And he is such a devoted father, there’s  nothing like a father’s love. My daughter and I would really be lost without him.

***

Inspired by this little piece of ‘news’.

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Chapters

A letter came from my mother today.

It’s been, approximately, eight years since I’ve received mail from her. This came via my childhood home, forwarded by my step-mum, who it should be said, gave me fair warning.

At first I was thrown by the improvement in her handwriting despite her increased age but then, I remembered: she drafts. She was always a prolific letter-writer and equally good at filling waste paper bins. One summer that I visited she embarked upon an autobiography and splurged most of a pay-cheque on a second-hand typewriter. I was excited because my mother was going to be a famous author – as I wanted to be – but my brother scoffed and was, of course, proved right. Her mood turned and she gave up after two days, the typewriter hefted out onto the pavement beside the bins in the caravan park they were calling home. I had read the first few pages of her failed memoir and had found it cloying and stilted compared with the novels I enjoyed. But I do recall the central theme which touched and unsettled me even then: the opening anecdote was something about a memory of shopping with her own mother and of coming to the realisation that no one, not even her mother, loved her. In the memory she was about five years old: I, the reader, was ten.

Two decades later and she has written to admonish me for not knowing her and yet, her words spill out all over my skin and under it and there is nothing of them I do not already know. A careful reining-in of impulse here, a sentence fragment there, an imperious judgment over the page and then finally a breaking free of the draft to add extra exclamation marks and to literally underline the evidence of her goodness in contrast to my own character … none of it, none of it, is unfamiliar. I don’t doubt that in the twenty-seven years since she left dwell huge gaps in knowledge and understanding. There is an unshared lifetime between us. But I recognise her syntax, I remember her posture as she keeps cigarette ash off the page, I see how she writes her Xs and Os just so. I know her.

She is written on me; she is writing on me.

The surprise tonight is that even after all I have learned and done, even though my rational brain tells me not to heed it, her criticism still smarts. I don’t want to write that I felt ‘crushed’ or ‘deflated’ or ‘wounded’ but nothing serves as a better descriptor. I have adapted to living without a mother’s love but that doesn’t mean I can live happily with her disdain.

Yet, this does not feel as bad as other times. Tonight I looked at my precious Bean all fresh and shiny from her shower, her blue eyes so wide and open, her hands grasping at my shirt, and I was reminded.

I write letters. I draft. I write of my daughter and to her, I wrote my genes into her, I write my stories onto her experience. And I have a certain syntax and a way of writing Xs and Os, and I don’t know what the end of the story will be, even if I do know very well what it won’t be.

But from here the plot only moves forward. From here, I write on.

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Two years, five months

Bean has started to sing songs, like this

Eeyore! Eeyore!
Poor Eeyore lost his tail, sad!
Eeyore, Eeyore! Lost his tail.
Doodoodoodoodoo say the magpies!
Doodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoo say the magpies!
Doodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoodoo!

I don’t recall any magpies in the Hundred Acre Wood but, there it is.

Sometimes I overhear her talking to her Teddy, cradling it like a baby and saying ‘stars coming out now, time to go sleep’. Sometimes she tells us that Teddy is a baby, and that he’s crying, and that he needs some milk so he’ll feel better. And then she drinks the milk.

Her favourite toy is a doctor’s set. We all submit to being ill. The stethoscope is called ‘stripey goat’, I can only assume because she can’t bear to mumble or use baby-talk but can’t quite master the correct word. She listens to our chests and our backs (and her toys’) and prescribes medicine in the form of sloppy affection and multiple needles and bandaids, always the bandaids.

At some point, I must have told her that I was putting petrol in the car because it was hungry, because this week when I said we were stopping at the petrol station, our conversation veered thus
‘Car hungry! Poor car. Petrol tastes yummy!’
‘Well, the car likes petrol. But people can’t drink petrol. And it smells really bad.’
‘[Bean] very sick! Get a sore tummy.’
‘Yes, you would get a sore tummy. Actually you’d have to go to hospital.’
‘That’s okay. Doctor kiss it better.’
The world where kissing-it-better is legitimate and effective medicine must be a lovely place.

My formerly shy and clingy babe has grown into such sociable creature. At a restaurant for a family celebration on the weekend, she spoke up to ask the waitress for juice and left my side to be with other relatives without a backwards glance. This, from the same girl who would wail and scream when a person other than her parent dared look into her face. And she is courageous: we let her play in the park outside the restaurant with her ten year old aunt, running and sliding and swinging. I doubt she even noticed we weren’t there – but I noticed, as I ate my dessert uninterrupted.

Planned obsolescence is already coming into effect: yesterday, after bumping herself painfully, she disappeared off to the freezer to retrieve her little icepack and then settled down on the couch with it held to her face, all without being prompted. Some moments I can only sit back and stare with wonder at this little person, this bright and busy little person, that we have made.

It probably says something about me, that it is her great independence of which I am most proud.

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Two years, four months

The story-telling has begun.

Yesterday, Bean looked out of the window and said to me Mummy, Ellie’s up the top of a tree!

I said, really? Right up the top?

Yes! Up top! And Ruby’s up the top of the tree too!

Wow, I said. Are your friends really up that high?

She looked at me for a long time before laughing and saying No, I don’t think so mummy!

I totally just failed the gullibility test.

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Retrospection

For two years I have thought almost constantly of the past; is it the immediacy of living in ever-changing motherhood that leaves me grasping for perspective? I don’t know.

I think of the future, too.

Here is a piece I wrote three years ago, during my pregnancy. I post it now because pregnancy is on my mind (not in my belly, don’t get too excited) and because it is the past and the future; and it is the beginning of the story we live now in this little house.

Bean on ultrasound

Dear Little Bean,

Today we ventured to the ultrasound clinic so that they could use soundscapes to look at you again.

At home I already have three collections of ultrasound photos. Two are of my uterus, empty of life beyond its own red vigour which I know must be there, although in the image it looks like an inert, grey blur. In these series of images are ghostly orbs: ovaries.

The first set were taken eight years ago by a kind woman who apologized for the coldness of the gel and the internal probe, who confided that her report would say all was in order, and that anyway I was too young for her to find anything. She meant well but it was small comfort for one longing for an explanation for the pain that incapacitated me each month.

The second series also shows oval orbs, unrecognizable to my untrained eyes, but nevertheless labeled as ovaries. These have shadows and marks, like moonscapes. There is a little cursor printed across the image, a measurement of the width of the largest moon-crater. In the envelope is a note to the doctor: both ovaries polycystic. These later images represent the beginning of a parade of intrusions into my body: syringes taking blood; gloved hands palpating organs; dieticians probing and dictating; acupuncture needles prickling the skin on my ankles, my feet, my abdomen; friends’ questions about baby plans flippantly thrown into conversation and falling into a black hole of awkward silence; a thermometer assessing me each morning at the same time; the dark knowledge of litres and litres of vainly tested urine; the secret, ecstatic meeting of flesh into flesh practiced in our marriage bed rendered clinical, routine, depressing. Especially the last of these intrusions, I cannot abide for long.

But now I have a third set of soundpictures of my insides. This time they show a little creature, twelve weeks old, nestled deep inside. My parasitic joy.

Today we come to the clinic with great anticipation. We clamour to know you. The sonographer is late and a little impatient, and she jostles you in the hope you’ll move and show her your heart and all its chambers. We laugh at you resisting. ‘She’s not a morning person. Like her mother,’ your father says. His voice is already full of love and pride, for you. Lucky you.

Eventually you twist and squirm for us and we see your spine, curled slightly but stark white on the screen and strong and sure looking. You have ribs, a heartbeat, blood flow, kidneys, toes. The pieces of your skull hold together delicately – in some ways you look ghostly, ghastly even. But your father looks up at the screen with shining eyes as if you are the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. When she has finished checking you over like a second-hand car and declares you healthy, we ask the question.

‘I see female genitals’, the sonographer says.

One day, you’ll be a woman.

The first thing your father says after we have left the clinic clutching your ‘photos’ and our happiness is ‘maybe one day I’ll give her away at her wedding. That is if she wants to get married. And if she’s not a lesbian. And if she doesn’t elope.’ I laugh at his wordiness. What he wants to say really is what we are both thinking; our daughter ought to be free. Whoever you are we already love you.

Mostly, I want you to be strong. I want you to be spirited. I want your first smile to drive me out of my own head.

I just want you.

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Mother cupboard

*this post is my first contribution to the Writing Workshop over at Sleep is for the Weak. I chose Prompt #4, clear out a cupboard.

“Only a mother could love that face!” You know that your mother doesn’t love you, before you have words to say what it is that you know. “Remember, at least one person loves him – his mother!” It’s an ugly kind of knowing; a shameful kind. “There is no love like a mother’s love.” You push the knowledge right to the back of the forgetting cupboard. “God could not be everywhere, so he made mothers.” It is knowledge that sets you apart, marks you as unlovable. It is better not to show that you know.

***

When I was about three years old my parents held some sort of party at our house. My mother, annoyed that I had interrupted her talking, deliberately dropped the hot ash off the end of her cigarette as I stood between her and a friend. It hit the delicate skin of my shoulder and burned me. I don’t think I retain this memory because of the searing ash. What I remember is her intently watching the ash fall, the look on her face, as she realised she had actually hurt me. Blank. And the look as I began to protest, bottom lip quivering. I knew at that moment, as she vehemently denied burning me at all, let alone on purpose, that there was nothing – nothing – I could say to make her feel sorry.

This reads like a melodrama, or a twisted and childish fantasy. Don’t think I don’t know it.

I wore the cigarette scar for many years, and I would show it to people, sometimes. There was no one who would accept it. It was an invented story altogether, or it was an accident, but evidence of callous disregard from the woman who was meant to care the most? You need to show a lot more than a few little white marks to prove that. Some people won’t ever believe that lack of mother-love exists in nature, searching for alternative explanations even when a child dies.

Beyond what was acceptable as discipline in the early eighties, I wasn’t beaten. Beyond what was acceptable in fat-shaming at that time, I wasn’t starved. I had things, I had sunshiny days and icecreams. Some days, I had love, or an indistinguishable facsimile.

One of my other earliest memories? My mother wiping my bottom. Being so young that I needed help with toileting, I remember calling for her, I remember her careful touch. I also recall the day I had my first serious asthma attack, when I was left in the corner at kindergarten, terrified and wheezing. Picking me up at the usual time (they hadn’t called for her to come get me, despite me turning blue) was the maternal lion you’d expect: the furiously protective and anxiously attentive mother I know I would be if Bean became ill when out of my care. But that kind of mother only made fleeting appearances for me.

It was probably self-defensiveness as well as mental illness which turned this sporadic affection into an even rarer disposition after my parents became estranged. Eventually the wounds of separation formed a callous against further sentiment. Blank unfeelingness became the default setting, punctuated by cruelty.

I believe she burned me that day, and abandoned me not long after, and inflicted me with hateful words over the ensuing years, because she was ill. I believe if she could have loved me: if her narcissism wasn’t so overwhelming, her grip on ‘normal’ thinking so tenuous, then this would be a different story.

But this is not a Choose Your Own Adventure. This is how the story went – and goes – and I cannot change it, no matter how far back into the cupboard I push these dusty memories.

I too am ill, though differently. Although there doesn’t seem to be a permanent way to change that, there is no choice for this mother but to write a radically different narrative. And so I am, crafting our days in ways that I hope won’t have to be pushed into dark memory-cupboards in years to come. Sometimes, this task seems unspeakably difficult. And there is no thing in this world that is more terrifying to admit to feel to say to hear to write
to live
than that.

**
I owe a debt of inspiration to isabelthespy for this post. This wonderful piece from her helped me to unjumble some of my thoughts around parental love.

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A visitor

I have quite a thing for strange and unusual animals. The cute/furry kind delight me – but I’m also the kind of person who is cheered by a huntsman taking residence in the corner, or a skink flashing through the grass. This morning I trudged out of the house (slow to wake, slow to move, slow to warm up to life these days) but my step got springier when I saw one of these little fellows on the front steps.

Stick insect

Stick insect on our house

(I took this photo a few years back, after we first moved in, but the stick insect we saw today looks very similar. It’s been that long since another chose to visit. This one’s about 25cm long.)

Bean was pretty nonplussed – fair enough, since I was clearly getting overexcited about a stick. But then, by happy coincidence, the episode of Playschool we watched together this afternoon was all about garden animals and featured some stick insects in a museum. So out we trotted to look again at this remarkable creature, and this time Bean obliged me with a few interested noises.

I’m kinda hoping that Mister Sticky will hang around with us a little bit longer. It’s not quite Tony Soprano and his ducks, but there’s definitely a feeling that this Ent-like little guy is good for my wellbeing.

Sometimes the good things are gentle and slow. And very well camouflaged.

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Ten things I love about you

Bean investigates the camera lens

The bearable lightness of Bean

* Now that you are a little wary of the dark, we leave a lamp on for you and turn off the main light each night after you have gone to sleep. This means we can gaze at your perfect sleepingness, and giggle at how much of your bed is taken up by soft toys.

* This morning when I said I don’t feel like this bullshit like the unreasonably grumpy mother I was, you shouted ‘Bullshit!’ in your two-year old parrot voice and made me laugh myself out of the grumps. And then you let me put your shoes on.

* You know what sad means now, so sometimes you’ll tell me that Teddy is sad and then you’ll hug and kiss him, because you know that sad people and bears need cuddles. You know happy too: my favourite is when your dad comes home from work and you jump around shouting ‘Happy! Happy!’ I hope you will always be so unabashedly loving.

* You love to draw. You’ve learned how to stick your ‘pichers’ onto the fridge with magnets. You make lovely multi-coloured spirals, and stripe patterns, and dots. And then you make ‘rain’ on the page. I can see that already this creating brings you joy. At the gym creche and at daycare, the carers know this and will offer you chalk or textas whenever you seem at a loose end and they tell me it works. I believe them: if you’re drawing when I collect you, it’s hard to get you to come home.

* For your own entertainment, you say things at the dinner table and see if we will parrot them. You love to say the word ‘Party!’ over and over, with different intonation, until we start copying. Actually you just love the word party full-stop. If you’ve had a fun day you say it was a Party! Life, sometimes, seems like one long party punctuated by bouts of screaming.

* If Teddy doesn’t get a bib, or some toast, or a drink, or a ‘car’ to drive when he wants them, you cry. Everyone must be nurtured, even the lowliest, non-descript little soft toy fallen behind the couch.

* You make us laugh. Some days – some weeks – I probably wouldn’t laugh at all if it weren’t for you. You’re learning to repeat little jokes and antics for the entertainment value and it’s wonderful to see you blossom in that way, and to share giggles with you. You are so much lightness, for all my complaining about the heaviness of motherhood.

* You call all elderly women Nanna. I’m not sure if this is because you think ‘Nanna’ is the word for ‘grey-haired woman’ (which, let’s face it, isn’t far from the truth in Australia) or if you think they look like your Nanna. It doesn’t matter – I, and they, enjoy it anyway.

* Today you called the cat a puppy-cat and then cracked up laughing at yourself.

* If you nap in the afternoons, you wake up clingy and out of sorts, which sounds like a negative thing. But I like it, actually, because you will come and sit with me and let me stroke your hair and drink in your little girl growing-up-fast-ness. The rest of the time, life is so full of action for you. Everything is taken on with relish. I can’t help but admire your pluck and marvel at your energy but I like the stillness, too. It reminds me of those newborn nights with just us, Cat Power and the moonlight coming through the cracks in the curtains. Remember those? Of course you don’t.
But I remember, my little love, I remember.

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