It’s me writing about glitter for the Spinoff!
Ah, looking after yourself, the fucking bane of every over-worked mother’s life. I always think of those stupid healthy choice ads, frozen gunk meals I associate with working late nights at a law firm. Yes, I am looking after myself, I’m shovelling down something that tastes like wilted seaweed but hey it’s got the heart foundation tick!
My mum is big on soldiering on, doing what needs doing, etc. But also, she’s always complained about having too much stuff on her plate. From when I was tiny. Til now. I don’t mean to be critical of her; having my own kids has made me realise just how impressively she managed to stay on top of everything. But even so, it’s one of the few areas where I want to make sure my life doesn’t fall into the same patterns as my parents’.
My dad doesn’t stretch himself thin. He believes strongly in giving with a generous spirit, if he says yes to a request you don’t need to worry that he’s secretly annoyed at you for asking when he’s frantic with a million things. He played golf every Sunday. It was sacrosanct. I don’t want to criticise him for that either, I mean sure, there were clearly some gendered issues with division of labour vis a vis my mum but also it’s kinda great that he carved out that space to do something that was neither work or family.
Sigh. It’s such a well-worn trope. Every family sitcom, the harried frazzled mum trying to juggle lots of things, constantly worried about whether she’s doing enough for her kids, meanwhile having almost no time for herself; and the dad who’s less on top of household things but well-meaning and fun.
And it’s so prevalent that it’s almost like the relaxed easy-going mother who makes time for herself is considered tacitly neglectful.
Sunday morning I woke up twice. The first time at 6.15am, the baby started thrashing about trying to find a boob. I feed him and we snuggled but he didn’t fully go back to sleep and half an hour later I prodded my husband awake and murmured something about “your turn”. I fell back asleep but shortly woke again to the little dude clambering in next to me (once they can open their own bedroom doors, game changer), and saying “Mummy mummy mummy put a blanket on me”. We cuddled in bed for a while too, then he got out to make pancakes with his dad, and I reluctantly stumbled into the day. Ugh and I was so grumpy. After snapping about something stupid I thought screw it, it’s a rainy morning and we have no plans, maybe I’ll retreat to the bedroom again. So I did, my husband played with the kids, and I wrote that blog about Christmas. It’s the first time since bub was born that I’ve gone off for time to myself in our own house and not prioritised sleep. I’d forgotten that’s an option!
Then Mr Daddy appeared saying the baby was starting to get grumpy, but the second he saw me he beamed and squealed with delight (“She was here all the time! Wow!). Later, in the afternoon, I retreated to the bedroom again for a lie down. Then I made dinner and we all ate together. Bub got completely filthy so Mr Daddy took him away for a shower.
And I found myself being funny and silly for the little dude, pretending to be a piece of spaghetti cooking in the pot; it was the first time in ages I felt really properly relaxed with him. I’ve been so exhausted lately. You can’t fake being relaxed, y’know? Seems to me there can be a vicious cycle with the kids, they’re not getting Fun Mum so they clamour for more attention but they still don’t get Fun Mum so they want even more attention, and the demands for attention make it feel more and more impossible to get away and recuperate.
But I don’t want them to see me frazzled and snappy too much of the time. It always feels like such a big ask trying to get enough space away, and I need to remind myself that it’s more considerate of others (especially husband) to ask them to help me take a break in advance of feeling burnt out than to ask them while yelling about how I’m exhausted and no-one else ever feeds the cat. Ideally, the goal should be to build it in to the weekly routine, like dad’s golf.
Except, the kids don’t want me to not be there. DAMN IT.
A few weeks ago I went out in the afternoon with a friend. The little dude was really upset. He wanted to come too. He made an enormous fuss. The world was actually ending because I was going for a walk in the town belt and he had to go to McDonalds with his dad instead.
And part of me feels like, oh, he needs me, he wants that connection with his mum. A more sensible part thinks, he will stop crying when you leave and even if he doesn’t he is being left WITH HIS FATHER to go on a special treat outing! Besides, you need this time to be a good mum when you’re with him! (Not that he needs to know that).
A lot of women internalise the idea that motherhood means always subordinating our own needs. It can look like good parenting to put them first all the time. Selfless, ever-giving and kind. It can feel like bad parenting to make space for ourselves. But what message does it send our sons?
Mulling this over, it occurred to me how common it is for adult men to assume that mothers love every minute of time spent with their children. A lot of men don’t seem to realise that caregivers have needs of our own which can’t be met when the children are always there. How does that view emerge? Could it be in part because boys see their mothers doing everything and not complaining, and start to take it for granted that this is what women should do?
Like that ungrateful little sod Charlie Bucket. You didn’t think maybe your mum deserved a day at the chocolate factory?!! What a dick.
It’s a horrible double-bind. Internalising the ideal mother code is harmful but also a powerful defence against feeling angry all the time. It gives purpose to the hard work. The same applies for internalised messages about chores division, all those women who do much more than their fair share while rationalising it with a resigned “well, what can you expect from a man?”
For me, going back to paid work will help in several ways – more money to throw at stuff like weekend outings, more scope for a break at lunchtime on working days. It’ll also mean that my one day a week at home with them can be more of a treat because creche is their norm (a special mummy day rather than just a day). As bub gets bigger it’s easier too. He needs me less. Eight/nine months is so lovely, I love it when they’re still cuddly but also mobile, and I love it that he’s still breastfeeding but also eating heaps of solids. The time when the kids are both awake is getting much easier, bub can tag along to things that interest the little dude and absorb the ambient stimulation and explore. Te Papa last week was good – the first time he could crawl around the play spaces! Finally the start of the chapter where I can have brief moments of watching them play together in a child friendly space.
It’s a Wednesday now and it should have been the little dude’s last day with me before I go to the office tomorrow. Instead, he’s at creche. Because bub is sick and last night was really bad.
Bub woke from his nap yesterday with a bit of a temperature, and generally not so happy. He got worse through the evening and when I got home from creche collection and put him down in his highchair for a minute he crumpled into distressed tears. Oh little one. He’s such a patient baby, he’d been patient all through the trip to creche and the supermarket on the way home, and it was finally too much being parked in the highchair instead of cuddled. I decided to give him a breastfeed and he fell asleep on me almost immediately. With one spare hand I set up a video for the little dude and we all sat on the couch until Mr Daddy came home.
Then I pretty much held the baby for the next 12 hours.
He woke whenever we put him down. Warm little head just wanted to lie on another body.
My husband took a few shifts, gave me a dinner and shower break, then a 2am break and a 5am break. The rest of the night was intermittent dozing with a baby on me.
So this morning when Mr Daddy poked his head round the bedroom door and said “creche has space for a casual day”, I thought, oh hallelujah, that is the best news. Packed the little dude off with his dad on the bus, he was a bit put out by the change of plans “no no no no dis one is a Mummy day”, and suggested the compromise that I could come with him to creche. We tried to explain that things would be very boring today if he stayed home with me, that his little brother was sick and we wouldn’t be able to go out. He didn’t really seem convinced, but I tell myself he’ll have a good day once he’s there. Definitely much better this way for me and bub. I need to rest, and need to make sure bub gets good naps. We want him to be better before tomorrow when – gulp – I have my first day in the office! Poor little dude, four days in a row without his mum will be a bit of a wrench. Maybe we’ll have a special big boy outing together on the weekend.
At least he had a good Monday with me. I was feeling great after my time out on Sunday. I packed the kids into the car early, and we went to Petone. We had some brunch at Seashore Cabaret then a long play on the beach until the rain started to threaten. Bub napped in the buggy on the beach, and the little dude and I had some really nice time together, squelching in the sand, making gardens of shells and sicks, splashing in the shallows. If I’m in a good mood, he tends to be in a good mood. I owe it to him to be in a fit state to enjoy his company, to have that genuine interaction with him.
Need to remember that.
Christmas was not a religious holiday in our family. More than anything, it marked the start of the summer break. Christmas day was a giant bowl of cherries on the dining table. Christmas day was having the doors open all day to the garden, running in and out, the joyous thought of two weeks holiday with mum and dad coming up.
After my husband and I were engaged, I started learning about Judaism, with a view to deciding whether to convert before we married. With a background in philosophy, the questions in my mind were mainly the sort that rabbis like to be asked. But for other people, the questions were different.
– But no bacon!
(um, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 13, so…)
– But what about Christmas?!
The first year after we married, we had a midwinter celebration, a magnificent dinner party in our little flat. I made FOUR DIFFERENT KINDS OF DESSERT. My birthday is in mid June and my husband’s is in early July – it was a joint birthday party. Let’s do this every year, we thought (we haven’t). Let’s do a big winter party every year and make lots of delicious food. It’s nice to have a party in winter.
And it’s nice to have a party in summer.
Celebration makes life splendid. Marking the seasons, marking time, rituals that connect us with other people – we need more of it. For me it was one of the particularly appealing features of being adopted into the Jewish tradition. The patterns of the year, the pauses for meaning. I can see the mini holiday of Shabbat every week becoming more and more central for us now that the hectic year of new baby is starting to even out.
Celebration is why people love Christmas, even when they’re not Christian.
On Wednesday we went to Capital E. It had a winter wonderland theme with Christmas trees and gingerbread houses and fake snow and it was all quite twee but also cool. The little dude said rather adorably “Yay! It’s Tismis at Capital E!” He’s been spotting Tismis Twees all around town, and he thinks they’re wonderful.
We saw a Santa at a department store and the little dude recognised him from the Christmas specials of Ben and Holly, Peppa Pig, and Spot. He said “that man is dressed up yike Sandta Taus!!! Mummy I scared of dat man!” Fair enough on both counts kiddo!
Is it awkward though, for Christians, to have their holy day festooned with tinsel? Probably harder to explain the random winter solstice stuff (in a New Zealand summer!) to Christian kids than to Jewish kids.
Explaining the religious side of Christmas from a progressive Jewish perspective is not that hard. Easier than if you’re explaining it from a non-religious perspective! Once upon a time there was a very very wise Rabbi…
I’ve found since having the little dude that there’s a lovely freedom being a visitor to Christmas. It’s not our holiday, so we don’t have to explain it, we don’t have to buy into it. We don’t have to analyse the consumerism or the implausibility of immaculate conception or the menacing overtones of an omniscient Santa. It’s there all around us – and we can enjoy it as guests, hosted by a community that celebrates Christmas, or hosted by family and friends who celebrate Christmas. Much the same way we took the little dude to see the Diwali celebrations and the Chinese New Year celebrations. These people are having a party and we get to go too! So far, on his third Christmas, it doesn’t feel fraught. It feels like relief. I see other parents anxious about making Christmas a big special thing, and we can just… not! We don’t have to decide which bits to reject and which bits to adopt, because all of it is one step removed. We’ll do whatever our hosts do (except eat Christmas ham of course!). Last year we went to my parents’ place and he had his first taste of mango and immediately fell in love. This year Christmas will be my sister’s place, with his big kid cousins. He’ll get to pull a Christmas cracker and wear a silly hat, and I’m sure he’ll love it, because he’s a big fan of parties.
At Pesach, we’ll host the party, open our house to non-Jewish relatives, invite them to celebrate with us.
And like Jewish kids everywhere in countries where Christmas is a big deal, he’ll soon be bragging about getting extra presents for Hanukkah and about how his mum invented the amazing Fruit Mince Doughnut.
Today is a creche day. Just me and my baby at home. I’m feeling great about starting the new job next week, except, oh this baby! He is so cool! He crawls around racing now, chasing after us, chasing the cat. He does this little squeak of enjoyment, and a snort of laughter. He’s quite a long lean bub, but oh that baby tummy, like soft newly risen dough. Whenever he makes his burbling noises, the little dude says “whas he saying? Whas he saying in his baby yangwage?”
He pants when he crawls fast, ah-huh-ah-huh-ah-huh. The pitter patter of little hands and knees. He explores the house, but stays out of the kitchen and dining area, crying as soon as he puts his hands on the cold wooden floors and loses the soft carpet. If he wants me to pick him up he crawls up to me and headbutts my leg until I do.
When he pulls the little dude’s hair (“my hair is shaggdy yike da yion in da dstory book!”), the little dude says “no, not do dat, wespec my boundwies!”. If he stops the little dude says “ah good, he stopded, he is yistening to me!”
(the original song is Southwood Plantation Road by the Moutain Goats)
I got you
You’ve got whatever’s left in me to get
Our conversations are like a bad sitcom
Mostly dull with predictable conflict
We spend a lot of money
It makes us feel old
We raise up a little roof
Against the cold
In southern Wellington
Where at night the stars blow like milk across the sky
Where the high wires drop
Where the fat tui fly
All night long
The children call out
Your blue eyes
Sunken with doubt
I am not gonna lose you
We are gonna stay married
In this house that smells like stale baby urine
Where nothing gets tidied
In southern Wellington
Where the kids will run amok
Put on their summer hats
And mingle with unsuspecting childless friends
this one is new lyrics to “This Year”, same band
I put my head on the floor
Blunted noise and brief dark
And listened to the children roar
And good things ahead
A boy named [redacted]
Wants a little of my time
A baby competing for attention
Crashing and kicking
Listen to the children whine
If it kills me
I am going to make it though this year
If it kills me
I was seventeen years young
Hurt my knuckles punching the grass
The taste of scotch rich on my tongue
And we hung out
Trading swigs from a bottle
All bitter and clean
Twin high maintenance machines
If it kills me
I am going to make it though this year
If it kills me
I could feel the frustration inside of me hum
Pictured the look on my old lover’s face
Ready for the bad things to come
I sat on the floor
As he opened the gate
The key in the lock
Stuck in the house all day
The scene ends badly
As you might imagine
In a cavalcade of mutual exhaustion
In Mapua next year
If it kills me
I am going to make it though this year
If it kills me
Ok, so it was good to have a bit of whinge the other day, sometimes you just need to rant y’know.
But there are only two weeks left until I’m at back at an office, six days of one-on-two parenting, and being grumpy all through it would be such a waste.
I’ve decided to treat it like a holiday, make it special. Do at least one fun outing each day. My to-do list:
- Chipmunks (today)
- Avalon Park
- Petone Beach
- Te Papa storytime session
- Botanical gardens duck pond
- Capital E
And we’ll probably throw in a few more fluffies than normal too.
(Update: that was 10.30am, it’s now 5pm and I’d like to announce that while Chipmunks was fine, the little dude is driving me up the wall and I’m back to wanting to rave and rant again. I just want some fucking space and adult company! Two year olds are such hard work when you’re sole charge all day.)