It’s a freaking miracle

©careerusinterruptus. Original art by CraftyFish

Have you noticed how, in order for a miracle to occur, a whole lot of smaller miracles have to line up first?

At time of writing, I’m 13 years and 17 minutes into a 2020 Mother’s Day miracle.

Which is to say: I’m in my home, alone, for the first time in at least 138 days. My first time alone, at all, in 56 days.

You cannot imagine how miraculous this is.

For this to happen, everyone in our house and the grandparents had to stay well through the first wave of COVID-19. Australia’s curve had to flatline and the Queensland government had to decide to allow the first tentative lifting of restrictions.

Quite apart from all that, we needed a whole string of tiny, personal miracles right here at home: we had to casually broach the idea of the Skeptic taking the kids to see their Omi without me, yesterday, mentioning it a time or two, so that no one felt either surprised or pressured by the idea.

Then the kids had to get to sleep at a decent hour. (This itself involved the miracle of CraftyFish having recently decided she does like reading after all, and choosing Harry Potter rather than a kung-fu rave haka for her pre-bedtime activity.)

They had to wake at a decent hour, too, not so early they felt tired and incapable but early enough to have a solid hour acclimating to Earth, before The Skeptic tried to move them out of the house. They had to be willing to go. This is always the most precarious moment, given that separation anxiety has its cruel claws deep in my kids’ psyches, entwined in their guts, and if I haven’t had any time off in 56 days, well, neither have they.

Spare me your ‘Mummies have needs, too’.

Of course we do. Gimme some credit, darl. I’ve been playing this gig for 13 years now and I was two hundred years old when I started. I’m fully aware of my needs – and of my kids’ need to learn independence and blah blah you know what? Hush up. I have been there, tried that. Bought the t-shirt so long ago, it’s now only good for gently polishing my gin bottles.

Because here’s the kicker: you know that thing about alcoholics, junkies, and bad relationships? About how, no matter what you know and however good your intentions, the person you want to help, has to want to change? Well, guess what? CHILDREN ARE PEOPLE TOO. Just like adults, they have to want to change – or at least, not be primed to full-body-contact fight to the death every single idea that didn’t originate in their own stubborn-as-fuck brains. And they will never, ever be un-primed if they’re feeling pushed.

Trying to get my kids to separate before they were ready has, over the past 13 years, earned me backlash you cannot imagine. I know that because in all that time I’ve only ever met one momma who said, “aw hell, backlash, I hear ya hon, pass the gin”. If you’re not that one momma, you’ll have to wait for the book. Meanwhile, please trust me when I say it took every minute of those 13 years for me to learn to leave it the fuck alone. My kids did not get their SAF genes from nowhere, no ma’am, so for years – YEARS – I pushed and they pushed back and I pushed harder and they threw things and I screamed and everybody cried. And then the next time I needed a bit of space, we’d do it all again.

Until I figured out that the struggle was not about my kids, it was about me. It’s about fighting my fear that they won’t ever get there and accepting that they’re doing the best they can. It’s about trusting that it is okay not to fight them. That it is not, in fact, my job to ‘make them’ anything, but to open the door and keep calm until they’re ready to go through it themselves. That last bit – the keeping calm part? That, my friends, is the fight, and I’m thrilled that these days, it’s one I’ve kinda sorta mostly mastered.

Not all the time, of course. I had a little cry about it last night, truth be told. Come on. 56 days without a break, and the chance that I still might not get the space I so desperately craved? ‘Course I cried. Duh. But just a little, and only at hubby. Does this make me some kind of patron saint of maternal patience? HELL, NO. Go back and re-read the part about the screaming and the throwing things. And the bit about the backlash. This is nothing to do with sanctity, and everything to do with practicing a hard-won skill.

But the fact that I’ve mostly got it – that I’ve learned (slowly, painfully) not to lose my shit when I’m not getting my needs met; to show my kids respect and tolerance instead of panic and anger; to not try and force them meet my needs; to instead nurse myself until I catch a break (to trust that I will catch a break, eventually); to let them know that sometimes, needs aren’t met immediately and while that’s no fun, it’s survivable; to be, in short, strong enough to hold space for them and show them how to do that – coming from where I was, that is a very big miracle indeed, 13 years in the making.

I would not be this person, without my kids. That’s the miracle.

Happy Mother’s Day, me.

New Year’s Revolution

©careerusinterruptus

Resolutions, shmesolutions. Yeah, that didn’t really work, did it? Sorry. It’s day 5 of the New Year and I feel like I’ve just been spit out of a tumble dryer. I’m over-socialised, I’m knackered, my house is a mess, I’ve already lost my new diary. I woke up late and feel like I had no chance to get my bearings before I dashed out of the house for weekly mandated blogging time. Inside my head is a rumbling cavern, echoing with phrases as my poor cerebrum tries to process everything that was packed into it over the past ten days, along with whatever was already in there.

Oh, wait.

That’s what it’s like in there ALL THE FRELLING TIME.

So that’s why I don’t do resolutions. That’s just setting myself up to fail and honey, I do not need any more of that.

I’m also kinda crap at the “Word of the Year” thing I see bandied around the nicer corners of the internet. They’re always so genuinely mindful, and my surly inner 17-year-old cannot resist bait like that. She nominates phrases like “Gin” or “Fuck this shit”, which in some moments, I think, kinda defeats the purpose.

However.

This year is not those moments.

This year, the world is burning. Literally. Here in Australia, 5.8 million hectares are currently alight or have been burnt in the past six months. The fire front is 11,000km long – from here to Pakistan – and it’s burning so fiercely, it is now creating its own weather. Our smoke is polluting New Zealand, 1900kms away across the Tasman Sea; the fires alone have generated half our country’s annual carbon emissions in the past six months. Human lives have been lost; thousands of homes incinerated; tens of thousands have fled; countless millions of animals have died.

It’s still going.

And so are we. Carrying on our daily lives, most of us, as we always have.

In these circumstances, I think, actually, that my inner self has the right idea. Fuck this shit. Appeasing her, I’m wearing a t-shirt that says “Smash the Patriarchy” – because fundamentally, that’s what it’s going to take – and I’m seriously contemplating dying my hair fuschia as a warrior flag. (My eldest says he loathes that idea “with a passion that burns as bright as the colour [I’m] considering”. Heh.) My inner self has huge kicking boots on and she’s ready to charge the barricades.

But, that raging heart is fortunately trapped inside the body of a 50yo. A widely-read 50yo who loves people. I mean, really loves people, in all their wonky, confused, faltering glory. A 50yo who has incredible, beautiful young children to protect and who loves their incredible, beautiful friends. A 50yo who feels like she’s maybe just starting to grow into her strengths, and those strengths are empathy, respect, and compassion. Kindness. And words. Always, the words.

So I participate in the #iamhere movement; I engage in public online battles I could never previously bring myself to fight, because I have the skills and now there is so much at stake, I find I finally have the courage. This year, if anything, I plan to step that up: I want to see proper campaigning, I want to see big changes – huge fucking changes – I want to see us building lives that can withstand the fire. I am full of rage and love.

It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be terrifying. It’s going to be exhausting.

And right now, at least, I am so there for it.

2020: bring on the revolution.

Love and community

copyright CareerusInterruptus.com

Writing time for me is two hours on a Sunday morning. I call it my ‘time off for good behaviour’; it’s often the only time I get to myself in the week.

I’ve been coming to the local library regularly for a good few years now. The women at the cafe know me and what I usually order; they ask after my kids and catch me up on important news in their families.

Then there are the other regulars. The elderly mob who are super friendly and cheerful, who always ask after my Mum.

The big nerdy English chap, whose studies have been interrupted by his stroke, who always comes and says hello.

Most weeks I’m very good at saying, “hello, how’s things, right now go away and let me write”, but this week a new friend finally moved past the ‘friendly nod’ stage. She sat down for a natter and whoops that’s half my writing time gone, just like that. Or more, because after discovering just how fascinating and delightful this new friend is, it takes me a little while to wrestle my brain back into harness. I have to relax, to remember that we have time. Time to ask those questions, unearth those stories, share those laughs. Friendship time is unlimited; writing time is not.

I’m not sorry, though. I am thrilled. The first library friend I made was literally a ten-minute chat before we both turned back to our respective screens. We only connected properly five months later when she turned out to be my son’s new kindy teacher. And over the years she’s become so much more than that: she’s a model of how I want to parent and woman and teach; she’s taught me about chooks and gardens and sewing; she’s started a community project bringing people together to sew cloth bags instead of plastic. I’ve helped her with university papers and childcare and chicken soup when she was sick. Not only are we richer for our friendship but so are our children, who have made friends with each other and gained a safe-house in the process.

We might’ve eventually figured it out during that chaotic kindy year, but with the library encounter under our belts we already knew we were onto something.

That something is rarely what you think it is. We’re not polished, perfect individuals. Every one of us has been shaken: failure, divorce, anxiety, illness, just plain feeling that we don’t fit in. Sharing it with a stranger in the library is really a great strength. It’s how we connect, by being vulnerable.

It’s taken me a long time of being out of academia to get – to remember – that connection is the whole point of this life. Connection is joy, connection is support, connection is power. It is the source of all our strength. We forget that at our peril.

Go. Be vulnerable. Connect.

Teh stubborn

I known, I know. You’re not supposed to use that word, with all its negative connotations. Positive parents are supposed to frame it as “persistence”, a far more admirable trait.

But I’m going with stubborn. In part, this is because my kids own it; I’ve heard “because I’m a pig-headed little butthead” more times than I can count in recent weeks. And in part because it’s genetic. I know precisely where they get it from and this is one I cannot even begin to blame on the Sceptic. The Stubborn is all my family. It’s Mum and both my sisters and my brother and dear god, my niece and nephew, love ’em.

But mainly I’m going with ‘stubborn’ this week to focus on the bottom line. When they are little, conventional parenting wisdom is that you must show children who is boss. Whatever it takes – losing privileges, time-out, the occasional spanking “to get their attention”, you keep upping the ante until you get compliance. They learn through “consequences” to do what you say.

In our family, though, there is … something. Something that gets in the way of that process. My sister and I call it the “nose-cutting gene”: most of us would rather cut off our own noses than do something your way or (god forbid) ask for help.

So Mum, for example, has refused for thirty years to drink the glass of red wine a night her doctor said would help with her cholesterol. She took herself off any number of medications, continued seeing negligent doctors, ate foods that landed her repeatedly in hospital. She won’t use a walker. Recently, when she was completely crippled with back pain and I had to call an ambulance to take her to hospital, I joked, “No more soccer for you, Mum”, as she lay on the stretcher, just to see the look on the paramedics’ faces when she said, “I can if I want.”

My kids inherited that. Oh, they’re not stupid: they were never compelled to touch a hot thing, or pull free to run in traffic. When it comes to a battle of wills, however, there is no backing down. They will do it their way, not mine, even if it hurts them. If I call their bluff, they up the ante. As a gamer friend put it, if they have to suffer damage 3 to cause me damage 6, it’s worth it. The more I invest in my demand, the more they refuse.

On top of that, it didn’t take me long to learn that this likely to cause them to freak the fuck out, because if damage 3 is scary (and it is), being at war with Mummah is ten thousand times scarier. There’s nothing cold or calculated about it; if they lose the plot it is not about ‘making’ me do/give them what they wanted (ie, a tantrum), it’s because they don’t know how to back down and they are terrified of the consequences. So one of my biggest parenting challenges is to regularly model backing down.

Hold your knickers, there! I do not mean that I model “giving in”. They do not get it all their own way. But if I take the heat out of it – if I say, “Oh, you’re not ready to do that, yet? Well, could you do it later? (After food, or rest, or a tickle?) Or could you do this, instead?” then I am teaching them that their needs matter, that they can say what they need, and that we can both get our needs met. If I lower the bar, I take anxiety out of the equation and we are all free to move.

It’s hard, lemme tell ya. I’ve got the same bloody gene. I see a problem, I assess, I come up with The Best Solution, I have a plan, we’re gonna have this sucker fixed by Tuesday. That’s how I got through my whole life, pre-kids, and it worked. But post-kids, doing things that way has meant arguments, all day, every day, about everysinglebloodything, with meltdowns galore to boot. I tried it, okay? I flogged the You Will Go To School horse for five solid years, and all it did was make Mr Pixel hate school. And cause literally thousands of fights.

And I know that in a few years, backing down is going to be my kids’ biggest challenge (especially my son’s). They need to be able to tell the difference between doing what they want because it’s what they genuinely want, and doing what they want to prove me wrong, hurting themselves in the process. We need to be able to negotiate in a way that will not have an angry young person hurling him- or her-self out the door into a car, or into a bad relationship, or an addiction, or a shitty career, because all I’ve taught them over the years is to dig their heels in.

So this week, my big win was putting sums for CraftyFish on the glass door, and asking Mr Pixel to help with painting the bed. He’d watched his sister scribbling on glass with dry-wipe markers; he’d heard us work through several low levels of sum that weren’t too hard. And to my astonishment, he said he’d rather do that than paint the bed. So, okay! Quickly scrawled some sums for him. Which he took five hours to work up to doing, and then made lots of basic mistakes, which we laughed all the way through.

True, I didn’t get help with the painting. Irrelevant. No, insignificant. Mr Pixel negotiated, a crucial life skill that many adults lack. He voluntarily did something he usually pathologically avoids, and which I deliberately didn’t ask him to do, because I didn’t give him a chance to dig his refusenik heels in. He did it and not only was it not painful, he actually enjoyed himself, and building that experience around something he’s paralytically anxious about – and sharing a laugh with Mummah, to boot – that is priceless.

It won’t work twice, I know that. I know we haven’t ‘solved’ his math anxiety. I will have to find other ways around that and yes, it’s hard fucking work. But that’s okay, because we are both learning, and learning is good. I am proud of both of us.

What I’ve learned this week

This week’s – and, come to think of it, last week’s – edition of What I’ve Learned, were cancelled by a ripsnorting, snot-fountaining, chest-crushing, nose-bleeding, eye-watering troll of a headcold that robbed me of the ability to breathe, let alone eat or sleep and thus, write anything to the hard-drive, even if I had been participating in life. Which I really wasn’t.

What I’ve learned this week

  1. Ceramic heat lamps do not glow but they are bloody hot, and that burn’s a bastard.
  2. Home-made apple pie is both breakfast of the gods, and the natural enemy of healthy eating.
  3. Compared to home-made apple pie, home-made golden syrup steamed pudding is healthy eating’s Attila the Hun.
  4. Getting up three times a night for children’s nightmares/head colds/fear of opening a closed toilet door blows just as much as it ever did, and may lead to impaired judgement on the wisdom of making desserts when one is trying to eat healthily.