The SAF is a PITA post

A few months ago, Mr Pixel very sweetly volunteered to wash up on nights when the Skeptic works late, to save my eczema-cursed fingers. I dry and put away, we chat. Nice, huh?

Except, this is how he stacks dishes.

Early on I said, dude, if you put them upside-down, they drain better. Quicker process. Less waterlogged tea-towels.

He looked at the inverted bowl, then at me, and he shrugged. And I know, from 13 years wrangling this pesky kid, that his thinking was, “that’s your crazy way”.

I’ve mentioned it once, since, and he argued, claiming it takes too long to flip his wrist as he moves a steaming plate from the rinse water to the drainboard. So, he carries on putting things right-side-up, and I carry on turning them over. ANNOYING, MUCH?

Tonight it occurred to me that this illustrates our SAF issues rather perfectly, so I got my phone to photograph it.

Then of course I had to explain what I was doing. While listening, Mr Pixel placed three glasses and two bowls upside down. (!)

But then he processed what I was saying, and he did this. And this, and this. Yeah. He filled the bowls.

That’s not anxiety-based rigidity, people. Trust me, I see PLENTY of that. It’s not Pathological Demand Avoidance, either. He’s just playing with me.

Similarly last year, when my 83yo mum had to go to hospital after hurting her back. Once she was strapped in, I said, regretfully, “No more soccer for a while, eh Mum,” just to see the ambos’ faces when she whipped back, “I can if I want!”

She was grinning. Like my son, Mum enjoys being contrary. (Ask her. She’ll say, “No I don’t!” And then she’ll laugh, gleefully. The trait is so fundamental, it’s surviving the dementia.)

This, my friends, is congenital Stubborn As Fuck.

SAF is so prevalent in my family – affecting every single one of us, to a greater or lesser extent – that my sister and I have long joked about a Nose-Cutting gene. No matter how sensible any of us appear, sooner or later, we crack, and dig in. And my god, can we dig.

Collectively, family members have dug themselves into chronic unemployment, abusive relationships, bad jobs, a breathtaking array of self-harms, addictions, assaults, more broken and damaged relationships, and more near-death experiences than I can count. Mum was being funny, true, but she’d also spent three agonising days clinging to the walls at home before she let me call that ambulance.

Trouble is, we’re all exactly the same. So when, as parents, our kids refuse to cooperate, our strongest instinct is to reach for our shovels.

Mainstream parenting advice reinforces this tendency, right? Be Firm. Boundaries. Consequences. Tough Love. Find Their Currency. You’re The Parent!

So, in we dig. Whatever it takes to alter our progeny’s pigheaded behaviour.

Some of us, sadly, have resorted to cruelty to gain compliance. That works. Kinda.

Others use talking – So. Much. Talking. – and kindness. My generation are especially big on this. Reasoning, patience, validation, empathy, all the good stuff. That works better, obviously.

To a point.

The kids, though. It’s like they can smell our agenda. Soon as they catch a whiff of Their Best Interests, they’re off. With their excavators.

Because no matter how shiny the carrot, how gently and lovingly wielded the stick, no matter how RIGHT we, as parents, are (and we bloody well are), it’s still about getting them to do something that, for whatever reason, they’re not ready for. The gifted know it, and they resent the hell out of it.

And that’s when anxiety really bites, when they think we’re not hearing them, or only listening in order to ‘help’ them do what we want; when they know they’re disappointing us and yet cannot do any different; when they feel abandoned and alone, in their holes.

Once that happens, of course, the show’s over. Everything we do and say is heard as $@#*!! and all they can do is burrow ever deeper.

I really don’t want to teach my kids to fight like that.

It seems to me, to produce adults who are so habituated to not being heard, that we struggle to let go, admit errors, hear advice, accept help, change tack, or hold our damn tongues.

I especially struggle with that last. Keeping schtum when Mr Pixel was filling bowls nearly cost me another molar. I know he just wants to play. But I just want him to do things the easy, sensible way for once in his life, without fucking arguing, OKAY?

Multiply this by a thousand times a day over every imaginable issue (and quite a few unimaginable ones): When he says “don’ wanna” or “not gonna” to things he does wanna, enjoys, is already, for the love of god, doing.

When he says ‘no’, for no reason, to simple chores, especially ones he’s done hundreds of times before. When I know that a little thing like obstreperous dish-stacking is just the cute baby toe of an issue Godzilla-like in its size and destructiveness.

But when we dig in, we teach our kids to dig in. I have three generations’ proof of that coming to Christmas lunch.

I know that it doesn’t really matter how my kid stacks the fricking dishes. And I know that willfully playfully stacking them the WRONG his way, needn’t necessarily lead to a lifetime’s non-compliance and all the terrible consequences that can follow.

I just have to teach him that, strong as the impulse is, we don’t have to dig.

So whatever my kids’re doing, or not doing, however unreasonable it appears, I take a huuuuuge breath and remind myself: They’re doing the best they can in this moment.

They will do better when they can.

If they’ve done better before, and they’re not now, that’s okay. Learning is uneven.

Then I work my arse off modelling the stuff that I know is hardest for us: Listening. Negotiation. Accepting ‘no’. Letting go. Giving it time. Self-compassion. Self-regulation. Shutting my big fat yap.

Because it’s not about what I think they can do, or should do, or when I think they can or should do it. It’s about showing that I trust they’ll get there, however long it takes. (Kinda the point of asynchronous development, yes?) It’s about giving them space to learn how to identify the help they need and learn how to ask for it. It’s about ensuring that they know I’ll be there when they’re ready.

It’s about showing them how to use tools other than their shovels.

SAF may be congenital, but it doesn’t have to be terminal.

Worth doing badly

When I was five, my dad went to Japan on a longish work trip. He didn’t usually call home – in the early 70s he travelled constantly – but this time he did. And, he promised presents for us three girls. (I can peg my age because my brother wasn’t yet born.) He wouldn’t say what they were, only that the presents were all the same but in our favourite colours: yellow for me, green and pink for my sisters.

Naturally, from this I deduced that I would finally get my heart’s greatest desire, the thing I’d not received for either Christmas or my birthday: A SEWING MACHINE. OUR OWN, FAVOURITE-COLOUR SEWING MACHINES.

Never mind that we were five, four, and two years old at the time. Dad was in JAPAN. What else could he POSSIBLY get there?!

Needless to say, it wasn’t sewing machines. It was (and 46 years later it’s still hard to spit this out) matching jacquard towel-and-facecloth sets. Like that even counts as a present, let alone for kids.

It wasn’t until my 40th birthday that I finally got the long-coveted Brother. However, as I had a 17-week-old no-sleep baby at the time as well as a two-year-old, it stayed in the box. For a year.

At some point in my 42nd year, though, I opened it and started learning to sew. That is to say, I bought a 1988 Readers’ Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (ex-library stock), read one or two free online instructions for making pillowcase dresses, and launched my brilliant sewing career.

Child’s pink top

Over the next few years, I made many, many twee, floaty, toddler-sized peasant blouses like this.

CraftyFish won’t wear them – wouldn’t even model them, being neither twee nor floaty. Toddler-sized didn’t last long either. I persisted because I needed the practice.

Truth is, I sew about as well as the chooks.

I’m too distracted, too brain-foggy, and in far too much of a hurry to do it well. I have 37 years’ worth of not-sewing to catch up!

Straight lines and I have never got along, so a craft that involves both cutting and sewing straight lines, was always going to be challenging. (See also, tracing, pinning, seam allowances.) Also, I can’t much be arsed with measuring, even if I could find one of the seventeen measuring tapes we own, which I can’t be bothered looking for. Wasting valuable sewing time! Eyeball it! In fact, who even needs patterns except as a starting point?

Orange-and-yellow striped toddler top

Plus I’m fairly clumsy. I regularly snip through two layers of fabric instead of one, or nick the fabric whilst cutting ends; threads jam, snap and snarl; seams wobble; edges diverge; I’ll iron a seam flat only to stitch it folded a minute later. I broke my first needle sewing through my index finger.

For a while I plotted an online shop where the shittiness of my productions would be the USP. I couldn’t possibly compete with people who can actually sew, so I’d highlight alllll the flaws (this, I’m exceptionally good at) and let buyers call the price. So what if the top only lasts two washes? It would be handmade and cute! I would call the shop, ‘Teach Me To Sew’. Brilliant, eh?

The Skeptic regarded this ‘plan’ … skeptically.

I did, at one point, sell a pair of skirts to a pair of sisters – well, to their Mum, really – that were not only rather gorgeous, but held together and worn for years, since they started long and both girls grew tall rather than out. Another friend commissioned an owl softie for her daughter after she saw the one I made for CraftyFish.

Pair of tiered skirts, blue and purple flowered fabric, ruffles, and rosettes

But I could imagine the blowback if, despite my meticulous descriptions, someone discovered they could fit three of their kids into one of my tops except that the left sleeve was sewn closed, and that brought me to my senses. I no longer dream of selling my creations.

Nevertheless, I continue sewing, and I’m slowly getting better, though that’s not really the point. I just want to make pretty things. Peasant tops, simple frocks, bags, and baggy trousers will do just fine. I’m proudest of the dress I made for my 50th, extrapolating the whole thing from a single bodice pattern piece with made-up neckline, tucks, sleeves, and ruffles. Made from a $5 piece of op-shop fabric, it looked exactly how I wanted it to and it didn’t fall off during the party.

Apparently I’m not very good with selfies, either. And that mirror needs a wash.

The fact is, making stuff – and making stuff up – makes me happy. Joyful. I love learning a new skill, especially one that waited 37 years for attention, but it’s really just about the prettiness of the prints, the colours, the making. As a result, I own cubic meterage of vintage pillowcases and fabric from op-shops. And buttons. And trim.

Oh, my god, how much do I love vintage fabrics and buttons and trim?

SO MUCH.

So much promise in that magical place: my ‘stash’. Like I can open a drawer and conjure an afternoon’s happiness, any time I want. A new skill or three. A pretty thing. Every piece of fabric I’ve bought whispered to me in the shop what it wanted to be, and I’ve never forgotten. I look forward one day to granting their wishes. They will be beautiful.

Just don’t look too closely.

Back in my lane

©careerusinterruptus. Description: A stack of light

Shortly after COVID kicked off – or maybe when George Floyd was murdered – or was it the Ruby Princess debacle? Who knows? Who can even keep track of all this year’s shitbombs? – I had a fit of needing to Know More.

Specifically, more political economics. I’ve never really paid attention; I’m a small-p politics, big ideas gal through and through. What you can learn from the news has never really stuck in my head. But given the speed with which our handbasket is heading hellwards, it seemed immoral to be indulging in Bridgertons. I had to help!

So I borrowed a giant stack of clever library books. These here times are gonna take some knowledgeable navigating! I’m smart! I can get knowledgeable!

First off, an edited collection about Australian politics. How did we get here? Alas, besides Ruth Barcan’s stupendously useful essay on Hansonism and what she called the ‘lament for modernity’, it turns out I still don’t care about Party Politics, not even three chapters’ worth.

Perhaps John Quiggin’s Economics in Two Easy Lessons would be better. He’s a sensible media commentator and the reviews promised an accessible, entry-level text. So, perfect for someone keen to understand capitalism and what we should do differently.

Or not. Towards the halfway point, I was maybe possibly starting to slightly understand …some of it? Until then, I had to keep going back two, five, twelve pages, retrieving definitions and trying to follow the argument. None of which I retained long enough to finish.

Also in the stack were Thomas Piketty’s Capital, having encountered his idea of Modern Monetary Theory on social media, Yascha Mounk’s The People Vs. Democracy, because that title, from Harvard UP, nails it, and Richard Fortey’s Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms because evolution is happening right now, right? All big, important ideas, that a knowledgeable person should know.

Friends, I couldn’t even open them.

I did open Martin Moore’s Democracy Hacked. The first half terrified me. Proper, chilling, can’t-sleep fear, based on horribly compelling evidence. Fuck that shit. I feel awful about abandoning it – on oh, so many levels – but if understanding means less sleep, then ignorance it is. I function as the frontal lobe for four, sometimes five, people, and I need every damn neuron I can scrape together.

Deciding to forget the past and work towards the future, I tried Clare Press’s Rise and Resist. Wow, she can write – and wow, this book is full of good stuff. Connection. Strength. Power. Women! Just what we need!

But I couldn’t stick that, either. Sux weeks in I’m only part-way through chapter four and it’s about as uplifting as dusting.

I am absolutely no wiser about politics, economics, or what we can do to avoid the iceberg, than I was six months ago.

This stuff used to be my bread and butter, my happy place. Big ideas are my bag and suddenly, I just can’t? Wtf is WRONG WITH ME?!

And then, peeling carrots, I remember: I’ve been here before. 25 years ago, when my dad died. I was young, child-free, energetic, and I didn’t read a book for weeks. Fran Drescher’s Enter Whining took a month, for goodness sake. I simply couldn’t concentrate. Just like now.

Which is how I realised, I’m grieving.

Yes, sure, I’m up to my eyeballs, caring for others, and that uses a huge fucking lot of RAM. But that hasn’t slowed me down much in the past decade: I’ve plowed through all sorts, including cosmology, quantum, histories of science and the Yes campaign, alongside Georgian romances, contemporary women’s fiction, and many autobiographies. Some of which stuck, even.

So it’s not just the daily roller-coaster. Fast ups and downs with lots of screaming is normal; reading through that has kept me sane. (Ish.)

It’s about loss – the great losses we’re witnessing now and the worse ones to come – and terrible sadness. It’s about the tremendous energy it takes to shut that all down so I can keep functioning. I can’t concentrate because my head is working full time, holding my heart in check.

So full that I’ve seen approximately 4,352 memes about this stuff and never twigged they were talking about me.

To me.

Whoops.

This is the bastard thing about being raised on “you’re so smart, you could probably cure cancer”. 51 years old and I am still learning where my lane is. But the fact is, there are already plenty of people out there both specifically and generally far more knowledgeable; millions better at facts, reason, problem-solving. They’re the ones who’ve got to solve this mess, not me, and that’s okay.

My job is to hoist the flag for values – compassion, empathy, respect, love – to care for those around me who need support, to put beauty into the world wherever and however I can, to ally my freaking pants off, to connect, and to raise kids who do those things. That is all.

So I’ve gone back to the library, and I have a new stack of books. Ones that will help me do what I’m good at, not what I wish I was good at, or what I think I should be good at.

I’m glad I remembered.