Tag Archives: Motherhood and Parenting
Remember the Great Banana Crisis of 2oo6? (Almost all of Australia’s banana crops were destroyed by a cyclone in northern Queensland, which combined with our strict ban on banana imports due to quarantine concerns, meant that there were amost no bananas available for a few months – and those that were on sale were ridiculously expensive and of low quality.) Personally I don’t eat a lot of bananas so I endured it with the minimum of whinging and instead bestowed my opinion graciously upon others – whether they had asked for it or not. It was my opinion that a banana shortage was just the thing we needed to remind us that food is meant to be seasonal and that our demand for food availability all year round has cost us a lot – environmentally and gastronomically. Not many people appreciated my thoughts on it – even my sister, a chef, said something rather more scatalogical than gastronomical about foodie idealism when she was cranky from missing her morning energy-boosting smoothie.
Anyway, if there were a Great Banana Crisis this year I’d probably weep openly in the streets for the loss of Little Bean’s favourite pacifying foodstuff. Which of course means it would be a far more valuable lesson for me this time around.
This is all just a tangential way of saying that even in this world of 24 hour fast food and lifetimes spent barely touching soil with bare feet, the earth has a way of being noticed. And it doesn’t always take a cyclone or a storm or a bushfire.
I noticed that it felt like Spring today. I can’t even tell you why, but I took a particularly deep breath this afternoon and thought winter has ended. And then I realised that I’ve spent the last couple of days doing more reorganising than this house has seen since I was pregnant and ‘nesting’. Because I wanted to. Because, maybe, there’s something intuitive about spring cleaning. Or maybe another, interior, fog is fading and lifting.
In full bloom,
your grown head won’t recall
the nights we sat holding you while you cried,
or dark hours of pacing
ragged and unhinged.
My prayer if I prayed would be
for the woman that will be you
to sense the solace of her father’s chest and
to feel the rhythm of her mother’s midnight breath
across her forehead –
at any time,
without knowing it.
Unremembered gifts; tiny seeds.
So I’ve finally gotten around to reading Screw Inner Beauty by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby and yes, it’s awesome. I want everyone I know to read it – especially the non-skinny people and most especially the parents. (And yes, people-who-read-this-and-know-me-in-person, I will happily lend it to you if WHEN you all come asking me for it.) Anyhoo, as I made pretty clear in this post a while back, I have a few issues with prevailing societal attitudes towards fatness and I’m sick of the diet diet DIET YOU FAT LOSER mentality.
Now if I’m brutally honest, I’ve not been feeling so great lately. I’ve been gaining weight. In itself that’s not an evil and I’m beyond beating myself up over how I look (waaaaay beyond). But right now I feel lethargic and slobbish and a little too familiar with the biscuit tin. I know if I stopped bribing the boredom and angst to shut up with sugar hits and started eating more of what might actually improve my functioning and, like, moved a bit more, I’d probably feel better. So… here’s to working on that. But you know what? This lethargic phase hasn’t been all bad because I learned some things. Like, I still love myself this way. It’s damn easy to be all warm and fuzzy about self-acceptance when you’re lighter than you’ve been in a while and edging closer to what the magazines tell you to naively aim at but it’s another thing entirely to look at yourself and think ‘whoa, you just got a whole lot bigger’ and still be able to say ‘meh – I’m still the same awesome person I was for the last couple of dress sizes.’ Not that I can always say that or that it’s always easy but the will is there, k?
The other day I was shopping for jeans and I overheard some women talking. One of them was shopping for an outfit for a function and she had a friend along to advise. It wasn’t going so great. She was having trouble with sizes and styles and I guess just experiencing one of those shopping days that makes you want to crawl into a dark, dark cave and live among a tribe of tracksuit wearing troglodytes. I know, because I was having the same kind of day. Anyway, whilst trying on what was obviously one of many ill-fitting outfits, she complained to her friend that everything just looked crap on her. And then she said it: maybe I should just stop eating. Maybe, if I just didn’t eat anymore, something would fit me.
I wanted to call out over the cubicle wall that maybe if they just made more clothing that fit a range of body shapes and sizes we could all spend less time struggling in poorly lit cubicles and more time taking long walks or, you know, eating watermelon sorbet. Luckily she’d chosen a good friend who reassured her she was fine and that they’d find a better dress (not body) soon.
Anyway, this whole thing got me thinking about two questions: one being why the hell do we still think WE should diet to fit into clothes instead of, you know, getting clothes that fit US? and the other being why the hell do I, a fat woman with whole bunch of other neuroses, seem to mostly be able to resist the tendency to loathe myself out loud?
I can’t answer the first one except with sputtering, apoplectic type noises.
For the second, I think a small clue lies in my upbringing. Sure, my biological mother is fat-phobic and has done charming things like greeting me after years of separation with the words ‘my, you’ve gained weight haven’t you.’ Yeah, mum, it’s called puberty and by the way THANKYOUVERYMUCH. I also went to boarding school and learned a lot about adolescent self-loathing and body criticism there. But there was one part of growing up where no one could be bothered with any of that shit and that was in my family home.
It occurred to me when I was reading the chapter on families in ‘Screw Inner Beauty’ that I don’t hear my (half)sisters complain about their bodies. Sure, they mention sometimes that they’ve gained or lost weight and they occasionally rib each other about bust size because that’s a running joke from adolescence. But when they talk about their bodies, they use neutral-ish descriptors and they do not ever say crap like ‘I hate my thighs’ or ‘I wish my arse wasn’t so big’. I don’t remember them doing this even as teenagers. In fact, they often say positive things about their own appearance and each other’s – and mine. As women in their early twenties this seems like kind of an achievement. So why is this so?
Seems pretty likely that it’s because their mother, J., unlike my mother, doesn’t bother to torture herself for not looking perfect. She. Just. Doesn’t. When I visited my incredibly thin and fashionably tanned mother did I hear constant whining about thighs and calories? Hell yes. Did my sisters ever hear this from their mother? No way. At our place bodies were for doing stuff: lifting lick blocks off the back of the ute, going to gymnastics class, making playdough animals, lounging in front of the fire eating golden syrup dumplings. They were not a collection of parts which could be graded and assessed according to factors like size and weight and smoothness.
Remind me next time I see J to ask her how she managed to avoid the seductive pull of all that body hate and how on earth she fitted in with other women when talking the language of diets and thighmasters is practically compulsory in some circles. And while you’re at it, remind me to give her a hug and thank her for showing me and my sisters what a healthy relationship with your body looks like. I bet one day Little Bean will thank her too.
You know, I really love that series Mad Men. I’ve come across a few people who don’t, who say it’s simply a whole lot of trickery and clever costuming and that there’s really nothing interesting about showing how things were ‘back then’. I think that’s missing the point a little – because the wonderful and horrible thing about Mad Men is that the more you watch the clearer it becomes that the only significant social change it documents is the removal of smoking from boardrooms and baby’s bedrooms.
** We visit the GP because Bean has a possible ear infection and I use the opportunity to ask about vaccinations. Tell me, I ask, why my daughter really needs a Chicken Pox vaccine. I mean, isn’t Chicken Pox pretty minor in little kids? Well, yes, it usually is, says this kindly male doctor. There can be complications though. And you have a girl – you don’t want her pretty face to be marked by pox scars. If she was a boy, I wouldn’t be so concerned.
Oh yes. He actually said that, I kid you not.
** I am shopping at a cheap and cheerful chain store because an unprecedented growth spurt has left Bean pantsless. I notice a row of toddler-sized t-shirts in the boys’ section. They are blue, and printed with representations of various careers – there is one with a stethoscope, one with a carpenter’s tool belt and one with a corporate suit and tie. With trepidation I check out the rack in the girls’ section. There are three candy-pink selections in the range. A nurse’s uniform. An apron with wooden spoon tucked in. A floral tool belt with a gardening trowel and watering can.
** At my mothers’ group (oh yes, no ‘Parents’ Group’ moniker for us out here) we are drinking coffee and watching the kids at play. The little girl who lives at this house has a doll in a toy stroller – pink of course. One of the boys spies it and starts pushing the stroller up and down the hallway, his gorgeous curly head bobbing and grinning with glee. ‘Lucky your husband isn’t here,’ someone remarks to the boy’s mother.
‘Oh, he doesn’t know it’s a stroller,’ she says. ‘It could be a cart or anything. He loves to push his cart at home.’
‘Why can’t a boy push a stroller?’ I say.
Everyone slurps coffee and takes another Tim Tam and we start talking about the weather.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a friend that, for his birthay, I had given my husband some tickets to a concert/show/gig/whatever the kids call it. And that we were going together, like a date. And that they might play some songs that would never appear on the ‘Playschool: Songs in the Key of Ning Nang Nong’ album. And that we would be leaving Little Bean at her grandparents’ house FOR THE WHOLE NIGHT ALL THE WAY UNTIL THE MORNING.
So, my friend said, you’re going to pretend to be young people?
I briefly considered an indignant reply – PRETEND? What do you mean PRETEND? but really I don’t have the energy for that these days so I, like, nodded, and just said yeah.
Well, I have to tell you, pretending ain’t like it used to be. A day of precision planning went into packing Bean’s 18 Hour Survival Kit, including a tears-and-urine-soaked supermarket trip to purchase extra provisions just in case her grandparents ran out of weetbix and porridge oats and there was a toaster emergency all at the same time. A toddler can starve to death in about forty minutes, you know. Several sets of clothes had to be laundered and folded and packed because you never know when a poonami might strike. Ditto spare sleeping bags and pyjama bottoms. Socks. Singlets. And blankets. Just in case a household of two adults and a ten-year-old couldn’t spare enough bedding for one very tiny person with cold feet.
In fact, there was so much precision planning going on in the Sleepover Department that the Going Out To Have A Good Time Department found itself rather short-staffed and a little fuzzy on the details. Details that young folk really ought to know. Like, for example, what happened to the Palace St. Kilda quite some years ago now. And that when someone hears you say you’re going to The Palace and starts talking to you about St. Kilda restaurants to go to beforehand, they probably think you mean The Palais. And that the city nightclub you went to in your late teens, where that girl vomited on your shoes, is The Venue Formerly Known as The Metro. AKA The Palace Theatre. You know, the one named on your ticket.
‘Nuff said. Suffice to say that wrong suburb + football traffic + wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels is not a good equation for reclaimed youth. More like a recipe for marital breakdown, particularly when combined with the decision taken by one partner (who shall remain nameless, who isn’t me) to park the car a good thirty minute walk from the venue on the coldest evening of the year, and the realisation upon arriving at the destination at last that the support acts are playing until 11 pm which, frankly, is well past my bedtime. What, are these young folk crazy or something? Could it be that they weren’t up each morning that week with a child who has come to expect hot porridge and daft, cheerful singing before even the magpies think it’s a reasonable hour to wake up?
As is his wont, The Fireman took decisive action to both rescue our ever so rare ‘date night’ and possibly also to make me stop whinging about my poor sore feet, and how standing around for three hours waiting for a band I don’t even like whilst young bogans spilled cheap beer on me would kill me dead, and how if he made me walk forty minutes back to the car at 1 o’clock in the morning and I died of hypothermia or was mugged and bashed to death I would come and haunt him in a fashion that did not at all feature in either ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ or ‘Ghost’, and that the hour-long drive back to our house afterwards would be the worst hour of my life and his as well and how I truly madly deeply hated him right at that moment and how I felt so embarrassingly old I might as well hurry up and die. Or something like that.
This decisive action took the form of a quick call to the wildly expensive hotel where we’d spent our wedding night which, happily for our bank balance, was booked out. But buoyed by our new sense of youthful impulsiveness we were undeterred and of course there was a room somehwere in the city and of course they had a mini bar. So we did make it to the gig with rested feet and the luxury of only a short hobble home and the delicous knowledge that we could truthfully tell the baby sitters that we’d been away from home ALL NIGHT AND UNTIL THE MORNING and that we’d slept in our clothes. Well, out of them, but you don’t say that to the in-laws do you?
So all’s well that ends well, as they say. Best part of all? The hotel was only fifteen minutes away from our Little Bean so after her first ever sleepover was finished it was not very long before she was in my arms. Not very long at all.
People often ask me why I’m still banging on about being a new mother when clearly, if my child keeps growing at her current rate I’ll have a pre-teen on my hands in, oh, about five months. And frankly I don’t have an answer to that except that maybe in my mind I’m still stuck in March 2008. A time when a soundtrack of baby screams plays incessantly for a minimum of five hours a day and the most exciting moment of the week involves explosive poo missing the carpet and staying on the floor boards and/or my leg. In other words, not a time period on the top of Bill and Ted’s list of most Excellent Adventures.
So I’ve been pondering the question: when do you get to take off your parenting training wheels and join the We’re All Real Experienced Parents Now Club? Is it when you’ve changed all the meconium nappies? What about when you’ve dealt with the first solid poo? The first bout of gastro? Or, is it even possible that it’s not poo related at all? After all, The Fireman always says the nappies are the easy part. (In the interests of full disclosure I should probably include the following statistics here: the number of times Bean has shit copiously on my clothing and parts of my personage other than my hands is upwards of five. The number of times this has happened to my husband: zero. ‘Nuff said really.)
Of course, not every parent has to deal with poonamis on a daily basis. If you foster or adopt a toilet trained child, Madonna-style (well, more likely big-hearted-non-famous-person-who-wants-to-give-a-child-a-loving-home style) you might get to bypass the shit altogether. But you still get to join the experienced parent club.
I think the real unifying experience of seasoned parenthood is a public test of your parenting mettle. A test which usually presents in the form of a tantrum.
Little Bean had her first all-out screaming public tantrum the other day. I can’t complain because without a doubt I asked for it - the Friday before I had told my mother’s group that my little darling didn’t throw tantrums yet. Of course I used the ‘yet’ as a rather sneaky way to avoid sounding boastful when really I was boasting my pants off about what a sweet-natured creature I had gifted to the world. No doubt she took it as some kind of criticism and filed it away in the ‘to do later to show mummy I can’ basket.
Now I know why Chinese gymnasts are retired before they reach the mature age of twelve – the closer they are to toddlerhood, the better their core strength will be. Did you know that toddlers can actually turn themselves into PLANKS OF SOLID WOOD, at will?
Yes, my friends, Bean has mastered the art of planking. She planked when I wanted her to walk holding my hand through the Very Large Shop in the Very Exlusive Suburb with a lot of Very Well-Dressed People in it. She planked when I wanted to pick her up and carry her. She planked when I tried putting her in the pram. (More fool her – pram straps can be adjusted to accommodate planks, you know!)
Of course, to say she was plank-like doesn’t entirely do the situation justice because to my knowledge solid planks of wood do not normally scream at a decibel level that would rival that of a fighter jet flying low over a Metallica concert occuring inside an extremely large aluminium saucepan. And if they do, I don’t want to meet the trees they cut them from.
I gotta say though, The Fireman and I passed the mettle test with flying colours. Did we falter when expressionless hipsters broke out into an expression and looked askance at the small thrashing object screaming in the pram? No sirree. Did we stop to coax and cajole our little sweetie with a lollipop when a group of eldery women stalked past us as if we were an indiscretion left on their lawn by a decidedly indiscrete dog? No dear readers, we did not. In a pictorial dictionary there would be a photo of us under ‘unflustered’. No kidding.
Until we got into the car with our hollering plank, that is, and shut all the doors, and drove home as fast as we could without breaking any traffic laws with the radio as loud as we could without breaking any noise pollution laws. Which was pointless really, when you think about it, since Bean was breaking all those noise pollution laws on her own.
So finally I can say I’m a card carrying member of the We’re All Real Experienced Parents Now Club. Yippee. Finally, a club where tracksuit pants and a vomit-stained top meets the dress code. Just what I’ve been looking for to fill those boring Saturday nights.
I’ve been watching Long Way Round – the documentary series about the extraordinary motorcycle journey taken by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. I’m not into motorbikes and I don’t particularly love travel documentaries but there are a few things that keep me watching and only one of them is Ewan McGregor and/or his Scottish accent. Mainly I just like it because essentially it’s an extended buddy movie. The love between Ewan and Charley is not only deep and honest, it’s often foregrounded.
I love Boston Legal for the same reason. Alan and Denny can’t get enough of each other and I can’t get enough of them.
Perhaps this is because in popular culture romantic relationships are so often given the limelight at the expense of many other types of bond. Perhaps it’s because heterosexual men who are undaunted by peurile fears about male-male closeness are appealing. Or maybe I just like teh menz.
I do know that as I get older I appreciate my own friendships more and more, and it’s the womanly ones that stand out. Good female friendships are sustaining. Women get an endorphin hit from spending time with each other. Even relatively disparate and unfamiliar groups of women – like a new mothers’ group, for example – seem to be able to create great warmth and lightness, given the right circumstances. Of course the opposite can be true but sometimes I wonder how much of the bitchy behaviour attributed to girls and women is a construct based on the stereotype of the conniving and neurotic female rather than on reality.
The reality can hit pretty hard though. Women’s magazines stoke the fires of jealousy and cattiness because it sells them copy. Apparently, we love to read about Therese Rein’s diet and exercise ‘success’ but god help her if she falls off the treadmill because that will make the real story. (I can see the Therese can’t Rein it in headlines right now.) Even more insidiously, when women come forward to name and shame famous men (like, rugby players, for instance) who treated them appallingly, it is often women who are quick to dismiss them. Is this because it’s easier to side with the strongest? Or because admitting that we live in a world where women can be – and frequently are – rendered so powerless is a reality too frightening for some to accept? Or is it simply because we have been socialised to be so individualistic that notions of ‘sisterhood’ are viewed as quaint at best and dangerous at worst?
What I do know is that without my female friends this past year in my life would have been unbearable. The support of men is welcome and often delightful but it is women to whom I’ve turned when my breasts were hot and lumpy, when my new role grated on me, when I needed to laugh at myself, when I felt that special kind of loneliness reserved for the full-time parent inside with a small child. But having a sense of sisterhood is about more than just having someone to call when you need it. It’s about self-protection, solidarity, safety.
I don’t want to be Thelma or Louise (they die!) or Carrie Bradshaw (she wears ridiculous shoes to cover up her inadequacies!) or a Steel Magnolia (come on, they’re just sad!). But it would be nice to see more depictions of realistic, flawed, time-poor but ultimately rewarding female friendships on screen. And it’d be nice to think that the women I see walking down the street at night or sitting on a train when a sleazy guy gets on or supervising their kids in a public place or breastfeeding at the shopping centre or confronting a man who’s making a young woman feel uncomfortable outside a pub or speaking up about sexual harrassment in the workplace have got my back.
Because I’ve got theirs.
I’m reading Christiane Northrup’s book ‘Mother-Daughter Wisdom: Understanding the crucial link between mothers, daughters and health.’ All I really know about Northrup is that she’s often on Oprah talking about menopause, and that even though she comes out with some thoroughly bizarre statements at times, she does seem to know, well, things.
But I’m reading this book because my stepmum sent it to me. I don’t know how she knew, but it’s probably exactly the book I need to read right at this moment. We might not talk much but at least that intuition thing is working for us.
Contrary to the myth, nurturing isn’t an innate default setting in the human female. It is active and requires strength, stamina, will, intelligence, and determination: all of the qualities that we tend to associate with maleness. And yet, because femaleness has so long been seen as inferior to maleness, the work of nurturing and raising our young has also been denigrated.
Now that doesn’t sound like something I’ve heard often on Oprah.
And in the same chapter:
When the fuel required for mothering and nurturing others is not replenished regularly, or when mothers don’t get their need for self-development met separately from their children’s or family’s needs, breakdowns and failures in the nurturing system manifest as depression, anxiety, and even violence that affect both mothers and children. Illness then becomes the most socially acceptable way to get nurturance needs met.
Now I know what that’s all about. Anyone who I know might be critical of our decision to put Bean in commercial child care one day a week when I don’t HAVE to in order to eat, gets the ‘by the way, my doctor says I have postnatal depression’ line. Because if I’m depressed, it’s okay to need a little extra space. If I’m just a human being with needs and desires separate from those of my child, then maybe I’m just selfish. Less than perfect.
A major argument in my honours dissertation, written nine years ago, was that we need to dismantle the myth of the perfect mother. That one way to keep feminism from doing its work is the perpetuation of this myth. And here I am, nine years later, beating myself up for not being perfect. No one else does it – in fact, I’m blessed with a loving partner and gorgeous friends who repeatedly tell me what a good job I’m doing, and a daughter who is manifestly healthy and exuberant. But I still tell myself multiple times a day that I’m shit at this gig. Either the Subliminal Patriarchal Propaganda Machines are way stronger than nine years of thinking and believing could ever be, or I have issues.
I’m taking an each-way bet on that one.