Growing up – the both of us

Something’s happening in my house, and I’m not sure I like it.     I am becoming increasingly irrelevant to my tweeny-child.  Irrelevant is perhaps not the right word, but it’s hard to think of one that better captures my feelings. She turns her nose up at suggested activities that were once a mainstay of together time – like baking, or playing a board game, watching TV or going for a walk.  She’ll leave a room if I settle down in it.

She’s perceptive enough to know something is afoot, even if she can’t quite understand it herself.  When she gets up to leave, she’ll throw some sort of excuse over her shoulder.  Something like “Oh, it is too hot in here” or “Mhh, I wonder where my book is?”  I recognise that in that action she knows she might be hurting my feelings, and cares, but still would rather be somewhere else.

This is happening quite a bit, and to be honest, my feelings are quite bruised.  I feel a bit like a bad smell, and it’s rather unpleasant.  I’ve started down a well-worn path of taking it personally, thinking things like “After all I sacrificed…” or “What have I done wrong…?” or “What’s wrong with me…?”.  And judgemental crap like that.  It’s nonsense, and I know it’s nonsense.  But rationality doesn’t stop those thoughts from at least having a jiggle around my head.

Because, deep in my heart I worry that it’s because I am not the fun parent.  I don’t know when I stopped being fun.  I think it was during labour.  I am the parent that says no to donuts, fizzy drinks and questions their desire to eat sugar for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I am the parent that yanks them off their devices and deprives them, apparently, from the source of all joy.   I am the parent that makes them do their homework, and calls them out on it, and gets them out of bed and yells at them when they are late for school.  I am the worrier parent (oh, how I wish that was the warrior parent, but, at least in this telling, I am not) who tells them to look out for stranger-danger and reminds them, every single time they venture to leave the house, to look both ways when they cross the road and not to be drawn in by strange people peddling puppies.  I am the one that  asks them where their Epipens are, and whether they have checked whatever they are eating for nuts.

I don’t mean to imply the other parent doesn’t do his share of un-fun parenting.  He does, but as the one who has been there for most of the hours of their days, and is slightly more neurotic, I have more un-fun facetime with them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, thinking your kids would want to be with you more if you were more fun to be around.  It’s easy to blame yourself (we are mothers with guilt overload after all) and wonder where you went wrong.  But it’s a dangerous game of ego that, and has nothing to do with reality.   Of course, I suspect I’ve done lots wrong but that’s just parenting 101.  No need to get knickers in knots about it.

I realise, perhaps more than anything else, these feelings relate to my role as mother and how it has formed a central part of my identity over the past decade.  As the designated primary care giver, being fundamental to their lives has largely defined who I am for so long.  And now that things are changing, that role is becoming less relevant.  I am not irrelevant, the role is changing. 

Because this is nature taking its course.  It’s the drift, right?  The growing up, pulling away, becoming an adult thing that is supposed to happen.  I should be patting myself on the back, congratulating myself for making it this far.  It’s not got anything to do with what I’ve done right or wrong in the parenting department.  It’s about change.  It’s a new phase, a new stage and I suspect it is time for me to look at what new parenting skills I need to redefine and forge a stronger and improved relationship with my soon-to-be teen.

Like appreciating her need for space, and acknowledging that it means I too can have space.  And finding things that matter to her, in her new world to connect around.

It’s parenting at the next level, and it comes with some perks.  For instance, I know when she connects with me, she really wants to.  Sometimes she pulls me into a hug at bedtime, a fierce hug where I almost feel the child within her still residing, and we lie on her bed and discuss the thoughts going through her head.  My constant admonishment to myself is:  listen, make her feel heard and try very hard not to offer unsolicited advice.

And there are the flashes of the adult she will become.  Her passionate outrage at the mistreatment of animals and the inherent cruelty of human beings, her desire to know more about things that are now within her intellectual reach (like how stuff works and the origins of the universe) and the types of outdoor interests she now pursues.

But more than my relationship with her, there is the space for me to refine my own identity.  Space to work, space to write, space to eat in great restaurants, space to travel and time for theatre, museums and artistic adventures.  Space and time to dedicate to things that interest me, as a human individual, not just as a mum.  Space to grow into a bigger, better, more complex version of myself.

She’s not the only one growing up.  I am discovering that if you let them, your kids help you grow up yourself.

 

 

 

Navigating guilt: The art of motherhood.

It’s getting to be a bit of a habit, this sneaking off for some adult holiday time sans the kids.  Well, not really a habit, but it’s happened twice in 10 months, compared to twice in the past ten years… so naturally the guilt has set in.

It didn’t help that, after plans had been made and tickets booked, a clash of events meant we had to wrangle a complicated cobbled-together solution to get our over-booked eldest daughter from a scout camp down south to a couldn’t-be-missed cheerleading competition in Homebush, right in the middle of the weekend.  With little family to rely on, perhaps the sensible thing would have been to cancel our Hobart Dark Mofo adventure, but instead we pretended we were rich and famous and outsourced the problem.  We paid our long-time nanny to get up at the crack of dawn and drive a two-and-a-half-hour round trip to ferry said daughter from one event to the other, and then sit in the stands, cheer her on and send us photos.

And all through our lovely drive around Bruny Island, and over a delicious vineyard lunch, remotely watching our daughter perform, I felt like I was in the running (yet again) for title of Not-Mother-of-the-Year.  I had to have two glasses of wine just to keep from drowning in the bad-mother feels.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Feel guilty, I mean.  Is guilt a natural by-product of childbirth?  Oh bless, you’ve gone to the trouble of having a child.  Here, have a dose of never ending guilt to go with the sleepless nights and saggy boobs?

Last week, as I arrived for a meeting in Adelaide, the phone rang.  Of course it did.  When else would you really be needed by your kids, other than when you are 1400km away?  My son was in sickbay, crying his eyes out in desperate agony from a blinding headache.  And the school wanted someone to come and fetch him, as they were legally (seriously?) unable to administer a simple paracetamol to my son.  And, my second thought (because, in the interests of full disclosure, my first thought was “Oh, FFS, why can’t you just give him a Panadol, WTF is wrong with you people?”) was, “I shouldn’t be working”.  Seriously, that was the thought that flashed into my head.  I should be back in Sydney at the beck and call of my kids, instead of a thousand miles away doing something that I rather like and am quite good at.  I shouldn’t be working.  It’s a shocking thought, unbidden and unwanted, and it’s all to do with mother-guilt.  (As an aside, my wonderful nanny came to the rescue again, and even took him to the doctor. He’s fine, in case you were worried.)

Maybe this is just me.  But I don’t think so.  One thing is for sure, this guilt definitely seems to be specifically related to being a mother.  Google mother guilt and you’ll find 36.5 million articles to trawl through.  All about the guilt that comes with being anything other than the perfect mother – whatever the heck that means.  There are a few articles on Dad-guilt, I’ll be honest, but they all seem to have something to do with working too hard and having affairs.  Maybe mother-guilt is a physical thing, like some sort of second placenta, that should be yanked out during the birthing process but mistakenly gets left inside to eat away at you from the moment your offspring takes his or her first breath.

I want to say I am over it.  This guilt thing.  But it is an ever present feeling lurking in the back of my mind.  So I’m just doing the next best thing – which is not giving in to it.  So yes, I take holidays without the little critters, and I work because I like my independence and using my brain, and I stretch myself thin doing things that take my fancy, because I want to grow.   Because ultimately I don’t, not for one second, believe that making them the centre of my world is healthy for anyone.  Not me, and especially not them.

And when that pious little voice of mother guilt opens her mouth to shower me in shame, as she does on a pretty regular basis, I admit it and write snarky blogs about it, and explain to it, with as few swear words as possible, that you get one life, and I’m trying to experience as much of it as possible, so if she could just get out of the way, I’d enjoy the process so much more.  And it works, sort of.  At least until someone needs me – which is, of course, only when I am otherwise committed.

 

Beware The Pious

Beware the pious
Wrapped smugly in their hard-edged worlds
With ancient words of steel that crack like thunder
On an open field.
Enrobed with suspicious glare
They march around the borders of minds
They’ve furrowed dry and bare
Wary for ideas buried there

Beware the pious
who control your mind
Wrap you up in culture
Teach you to be unkind
Or worse
Static.
Still.

For the river that does not flow
grows dank and dirty –
festering in its own excrement.
And the mind that fixates on a single point of view
Hardens in its certainty.
Like concrete,
Ugly, stuck and dead
Devoid of meaning
Of love
Of life
Of God.

So beware the pious who invoke ancient rules
with no room for love.
Who make war on the creative spirit,
that is the voice of your better self,
with holy scriptures stuck in time.
Unyielding.
Used out of place to stir up disgrace.

Oh beware, beware
Those who claim to know the mind of God
Who demand your unquestioning silence
With threats of violence
And your oath
Of blind fealty

For they care not for you.

Beware the pious with their myopic gaze
Who’ve never looked up with wonder at the moon
Or stretched their minds into the vast caverns of space
Which throws shadows on conviction.
For they would sacrifice your future on the pyres of a past
They cling to with necromantic fingers,
And braid your fears into blindness.

Beware the pious who police
your food,
your clothes,
your body,
your opinions,
your mood.
Your soul
Which thirsts, with deep desire,
To dream, to seek, to expand
And dare take flight
beyond the confines of cult and slight.
Your soul which shimmers with the glimmer of love
Like a naked body, touched by the whisper of winter air
On an autumnal evening,
And is moved
By art
And music
And a sky full of stars.

Beware the pious.
They care not for you.
They speak not for you.
They would destroy you to protect their own desires.
And claim the glory for a God of their own imagining.

Sharlene Zeederberg April 2016

Going Bush… camping.

I am not a huge fan of camping.  It’s one of those things I like the idea of, rather than the actual, somewhat uncomfortable, practicalities of it all.   So, it came as a huge surprise to me just how much I enjoyed our recent bush camping adventure.  And by bush camping I am talking a shared porta-loo and no showers.  Sounds yuck, right?  Except, it was excellent.

It probably helped that the weather turned up and did the right thing – beautiful sunny days, crisp mornings and huddle-round-the-fire evenings.  In what might have been a first for me, it did not rain.  Not one little drop.  Nary a fluffy cloud marred the strip of blue sky we could see from the depths of our valley.  I suspect this made a massive difference to my opinion on this weekend, as none of the things I like about camping involve being cramped together, vaguely damp, in a shelter you can barely stand up in, playing endless card games with tetchy kids.

And although significant investments in the camping stash – good mattresses, a party-sized gazebo, tables and chairs – were positive improvements, it was the location that tipped the scales from “meh” to “wow” in the camping rating stakes.

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A river runs through it

We visited Wollondilly River Station over Easter.  This unspoilt slice of nature, just a few hours south of Sydney (depending on the traffic) is reached via a somewhat jolting and slightly alarming 45-minute crawl down a bumpy, narrow, unsealed road that winds its way, somewhat precariously, down the mountain side and into a lush, river-runs-though-it, valley.

Although a popular destination, campers are spread out so that you feel, largely, you have a little slice of Australian heaven to yourselves.   By the time the tent was up, the evening fire prepped and the first Gin & Tonics poured, the stress of urban living had floated mysteriously away.

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Camping

Here, the kids were able to run free, inventing battles and adventures, as they conquered new territory and laid claim to never-before set upon islands.   They canoed and swam, built forts and raced around on bikes without parental consent or involvement.  They tested themselves against the elements, and fizzed about fired up by their imaginations.   And all I needed to do, whilst dozing in the hammock, was cast a periodic lazy eye in their general direction to make sure they haven’t abandoned anyone along the way.

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In search of adventure

Our campsite, nestled under trees, fronted a shallow river and gave us a beautiful view of morning mists hovering across mirror-still water.  In the afternoon, we were captivated by swooping swirls of red-tailed black cockatoos.

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Campfires are encouraged at this campsite, and wood provided.  We had the campfire going early morning to stave off the cold and from mid-afternoon to huddle around and cook dinner on.  There is a rule in our house of Scouts, and it is this – a camp, is not a camp, without a fire.   For the kids making fires is an absolute highlight, and while we didn’t quite get as far as putting the billy on to boil, there were marshmallows melted on sticks collected during earlier adventures, and plans to make damper (even if they didn’t quite eventuate).    On the downside, everything smells of smoke, but sitting around a fire, with a glass of wine and a hearty meal, talking with old friends is what special memories are made of.

It turns out that bush camping, despite the potential horrors associated with unsophisticated ablutions, is where the joy of camping lies.  Because here, in these sorts of places, it feels like you really are communing with nature.  Out of commercially run campsites, with their individually marked sites, shops and free WIFI, you literally unplug and drop out, and it is a gorgeous feeling, and one we plan on repeating soon!

The art of holidaying

We have different holiday styles, my husband and myself.  His involves a lot of sleeping and reading and resting and relaxing, while mine seems to moving, doing, visiting, seeing, achieving.  I think he may have the right idea, but I don’t seem to have the skill set required for restful recuperation.  I am trying though, and sheer exhaustion is helping me get there.   Today, after I got up at 6am and walked along the beach for 4km, I fell back into bed and slept until 11.33.  Unprecedented.  Oddly – that feeling of lethargy and slight breathlessness that has accompanied me for most of this year  seems to have abated as a result.  Think my body is trying to tell me something.

Actually, combining our two holiday styles works best.  Rest day, Do day, Rest day, Do day.  I just have to remember it is okay to rest.  I think I have always been highly strung, achievement focused, busy.  I get itchy in my head after sitting still for too long (and by too long I mean about 25 minutes).  My mind pulls up the list of shoulds and coulds, things still undone, opportunities abandoned.  I literally have to get up and move about, make something happen.  Write something, bake something, fix something, think something.  Make a list, set a task, put together a plan.  I think resting is a skill and I don’t appreciate its value enough.  I have to learn to rest and appreciate stillness, rather than trying to fill the quietness with activity.

Which is what this Christmas holiday is about.  Here in Perth we aren’t on any mission to see new things.  We’ve done most of it before anyway.  We are beaching and chilling by the pool, eating too much, going to movies, playing board games, hanging out with family and sleeping.   Right now the kids are wallowing in the pool, making up games and playing together without squabbling, and with no device in sight!  (Now, that actually is an achievement!).   And, I am enjoying sitting here (okay I am typing, but with no sense of pressure about having to do it – despite the fact that Christmas Eve is almost upon us!) .  In fact, maybe feeling more rested makes us better able to enjoy and appreciate the wonderfulness of our lives. Maybe activity begets activity and rest begets appreciation?

Whatever it is, I am liking this feeling of peace – however momentary.  I need to remember to appreciate things more in 2017.  To slow down and focus on what matters, to do the tasks I choose well and mindfully and to do things for myself for no ulterior motive other than enjoyment.  Perhaps that is the best Christmas gift we can give ourselves – learning the art of appreciation 😉

Wherever you are in the world, thank you for being part of my extended circle of family and friends.  Wishing you all a wonderful, peaceful, restful Christmas and a 2017 full of hope and an appreciation of those moments of joy!

Game Hunters

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There is something faintly absurd about rattling around the largely unspoiled African bush in a rickety, open land rover in search of wild life, when it would be much more convenient and reliable to see the animals at the zoo.

A game drive is an exercise in patience.  For 90% of the time all there is to be seen is the grey scrub-like bush and surprisingly lush Mopane trees desperately clinging to life in the red dust.  Although no doubt there are plenty of animals magnificently camouflaged just beyond our sight, the odds of seeing something is slight.  The area the animals wander in is huge, their number limited and to be in the same place at the same time as something more remarkable than an Impala is unlikely.

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And yet somehow, almost always, there is something marvellous to see.  And when you do, when you come across a leopard or an elephant, it is an adrenaline fuelled thrill.  It occurs to me that this is perhaps what hunters feel, and that perhaps we are modern day hunters, armed only with a Canon and an iPhone, and without the flawed ego that requires the kill.  The big five – named that way for being the hardest animals to hunt – remain in our sights because they are elusive and majestic to see.  When we find one of these marvellous African animals moving freely we are breathless with excitement and nerves, awed by their beauty and power.

We are spoilt here, in this beautiful parcel of land grand-hearted people strive with difficulty to maintain against the tide of human self-interest.  Here where the efforts of the passionate have carved out a little piece of Africa that is, almost, as it once was.  Here on the border of the Kruger, where they do battle with poachers, we rattle about in our dusty land-rover desperate for a glimpse of a rhino before they are wiped out completely.

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And that is what game drives are about, for me.  Appreciating the importance of these creatures in their natural surroundings.  Looking into an elephant’s eyes, or being pinned to your seat by the steely glint of a lioness and knowing that they have as much a right to this land as human beings do.

 

 

 

 

Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber cake… and lessons in letting go and being a better mum

It’s another birthday party in our house today.  My son turns 9 (nine! what?), and has requested a lightsaber birthday cake.  Not just any lightsaber birthday cake mind you. Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.   “You remember what that looks like from the movie, mum?” he asks.  Ahh, no.  But google does, of course.  There are plenty of photos of this bad-ass sword of laser light, but not a single one of a cake in its image.  Could it be that I am the first to make (and photograph) a Kylo Ren Lightsaber cake.  Oh the pressure.  (Actually, it turns out I was just spelling the name incorrectly, and one or two people have beaten me from the oven to Facebook, as it were.)

But why do I say yes to these ridiculous requests?  Why not just say, “mate, any old lightsaber will have to do”?  Followed by, “And it is going to be blue.  No dark force encouragement here, thank you very much.”  No, I just nod and get to it.  Because I want to be the perfect mother.

So there I was up half the night baking the egg, nut and dairy free cake base and up this morning constructing and icing and, as usual, aiming for perfection.  And then the kids woke up and wanted to join in. Just the very act of asking causes my chest to constrict.  I know I should let them, but I know things won’t turn out like I planned.

And as they got involved, adding bits and pieces here and there, I felt this explosive anxiety building in my chest.  Because now there was mess everywhere, and the perfect cake was no longer perfect.  And I am holding my temper but in that quiet seething sort of way that is more destructive than explosive outbursts.  And my daughter gets icing sugar stuck on the cake board, and in pulling it off rips the silver paper and I feel like my head is going to explode and then she says, in a very quiet, cut through your soul kind of way, “Why do I always mess up?”

And a piece of me breaks off and dies.  In the hollow silence of my head, I see her eyes well up and I realise how much I have failed these kids in this regard.  My desire for accolade, for mothering glory, is paving the way to emotional fragility in this beautiful, amazing, talented, vibrant human spirit of my daughter.  I rush around the table – almost breathless with the need to fix this terrible perspective I have created – and hug her.  “Hey,” I say, “You tried and it didn’t work.  That’s okay.  That is definitely better than not trying at all.  Easily fixed.”  And I hug her until the tears she has held in her eyes ebb away and then I let go.  I hand over the silver balls and icing sugar and show them the picture, and say, with genuine intent in my voice and a smile on my face, “Go for it”.  And so they do.

And I realise the cake is irrelevant, but the experience of creating the cake together is priceless.  And, as I am prone to do, I wish I could do mothering over with this new knowledge.  But I can’t.  I can only hold this vital lesson to the light and let it fill my interaction with my kids for this point forward.

So, the cake is done and the birthday boy declares it the best cake ever.  And indeed it is. Because everyone is smiling and I am more enlightened than I was when I woke up.  And that, really, is all one can ask for in life, isn’t it.