The softening

I thought if I called this post “The softening”, it would mostly serve to give me a giggle once in a while if I say it like Aziz Ansari says “the sickening” in his series “Master of None”. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. He’s a funny funny man, with lots of insights in to the world of being a brown guy in a relatively white world.

“By being softer, you can hear more, learn more, feel more, and love more”
– Rachel Macy Stafford

The 3rd Spring reflection is pretty rich in content. So much meat that I’m not sure I can digest it all in a single post. She begins with this…
I’ve had enough of my hard edges.
I’m tired of straining my voice.

I’m sure I could have written this reflection. I am short-tempered, I am control freak, I am impatient, I am a nitpicker, I am an over-corrector. I choose “diplomacy” over honesty for fear of hurting feelings (which probably adds to my pent-up rage). I choose not to engage in debate… until I’m alone… imagining what I would have said… or possibly even when I’m retelling the story and adding in the witty remarks I had left in my head.

The basic crux of it all is that I have some hard ass edges. Ask my husband. He probably won’t answer. In fact, he probably won’t speak a single ill word of me because he is a heart of a genuinely kind and gracious person. He is much much more than I deserve. I will be honest here though. I have raised my voice to the point of strain. I have sat in Harry Potter’s room under the stairs and wailed. I have had days where I’ve been so overcome with emotion that I have snapped… in half… then in half again. Even in front of my child. So much for being bigger, kinder, stronger, wiser. There are days when how he’s done the dishes just isn’t good enough, or how he does the laundry. It’s just not how I would do it.

So this week, I’m vowing to listen, vowing to hand over the chores and tasks and ask “How would you do it?”. I will vow to be more accepting of quirks and mannerisms, tastes and styles. I vow to stop nitpicking until it bleeds. I will vow to be kinder to my family and to myself, greeting them and me with loving smiles, regardless of what happened yesterday.
Grudge-holding only hurts us all.

Speaking of grudges, I haven’t spoken to one of my siblings properly in almost 2 years. I keep telling myself it’s not a grudge and I don’t think it is, but sometimes I’m really not sure. If you read this and you know me, maybe it’s something you can ask me about. I’m sure I’d appreciate your insight.

 

Mood: pensive
Current sounds: some white noise in the street (sounds like someone has a lot of lawn). Also Hozier’s “Better Love”.

One different element

If there is one thing you could change today on your journey towards becoming better, stronger, wiser, kinder… what would it be?

This morning’s read (courtesy of Rachel Macy Stafford) gave me a little to think about – changing just one element from day to day, week to week even, could even be longer.

What if the most attentive person started with just one question? One question that they asked someone, and vowed to listen to the response. I mean really listened.

I’m not a hugely structured person. I like it but I’m not the greatest at creating it. Neither is my husband. So when either one of us tries to create structure, the other usually kills it. It’s not a negative thing, it’s just our nature and personality.

However, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of structured screen time. I’m sure lots of parents structure their children’s screen time so they’re only getting so many minutes a day of Peppa Pig, but what about me? All those spare 10 or so minutes I have between doing bits and pieces, I spent scrolling through newsfeeds of people’s lives. And we all know that Facebook or Pinterest or Snapchat is just the surface story.

We have this rule about photo-sharing pictures of our daughter. If it’s something we’re experiencing together as a family, then it can be shared. However, if it’s something she’s doing on her own, then it can’t. It’s partly about seeing her as an individual with individual autonomy. She doesn’t have a lot now but one day she will, and she can choose. It’s just a personal preference. I was a rule we came up with fairly recently, so I was going through my photos and deleting a bunch. I came across this happy family photo with the three of us and my sister on a trip last year to Akaroa.
Everyone is smiling and happy. But that day was actually the worst. My anxiety was at an all time high and I was picking fights with everyone. I was such a ridiculously grumpy and shitty person and I remember even at the time, I couldn’t tell you why.

So what if I could actually paint the picture rather than upload it? What if I could share context and colours instead of just lines? And what if by doing this, I gave room for others to paint their own pictures? What if I just listened?

I’m a big fan of technology. I love innovation. I love seeing how far we’ve come and I love how people can create things with coding languages. Of course, I don’t understand a single thing when my husband talks about it but there’s lots of people like him and it’s wonderful. So we’re definitely not anti-screens. But I am pro-balance. And when I look at my QT app and see that I spent 8 hours worth of 10min blocks scrolling through FB, reading aggravating news articles or watching Netflix, I wonder how I could have spread that 8 hours a little better…

Perhaps a little more time jumping off step stools with my child.
Maybe an extra half hour at the gym.
Perhaps using the little time left in my breastfeeding journey to look into my child’s beautifully expressive eyes and marvel.
Maybe an hour flicking through cook books and writing up the next meal plan.
Perhaps a trip to the park with baby and furbaby.
Maybe a coffee date and a walk with a friend.
Perhaps even volunteering an hour or two with a local organisation.

Today I’m committing to using my time to be more present and attentive. I’m committing asking questions and really listening to the answer. I may need help with this.

I’ll let you know tomorrow or whenever I happen to be back here what the time count on my QT app is.

 

 

 

 

 

The beginnings of hurt…

I currently have the most grizzliest, cryingest, saddest, moodiest, teethingest girl in the world. Lately I’ve been discovering that she’s building a super sensitivity to lots of things. She cries when other kids cry, she cries when kids scream or squeal at her, she cries when they growl at her. She cries, I pick her up, soothe her and let her play on my lap a while.

Recently, baby A and I we’re at a support group for other mums who have postpartum mental health issues. There was a 3 year old there and this child can get quite possessive of all the baby toys. Let’s face it, it’s a bit of a monopoly and this kid is Angelica to the rugrats. Baby A got a bit close (but I didn’t think she was too close) and he hissed at her, growled at her, but she just stared. I could see the sensitivity building, the bottom lip quivering. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the child ball his hand into a fist and punch her. The 3 year old punched my 8 month old. The bottom lip quivering turned into a wail and I was in there like Barry Allen to scoop her up for cuddles.

It made me think a few things:
– “aaah my poor baby”
– “man I can’t wait to parent a 3 year old”
– “say sorry you meanie!!”
– “my baby just got hurt by someone.”
– “should I be telling them off??”

At this stage in a baby’s life, you get pretty used to them hurting themselves but this is the first time I’ve seen her get hurt by someone else. It got me thinking about how you even parent through that stuff. When you’re dreaming about having a child, you imagine all the fun you’re going to have making cupcakes, making playdough animals, painting pictures, splashing in puddles, cuddling, etc, but you don’t imagine how you’re going to feel when some other kid punches them, when they get rejected from the school Musical, when they’re sitting alone with no friends. I sometimes wish the only pain she’d ever feel is the pain of her favourite wiggle moving on but the reality is, this is just the beginning.

Plus I don’t even know what the done thing is here. I did tell the kid off but I dunno if it was right and got zero cues from the mum. It was hard for me. I’m naturally pretty non-confrontational, unless it’s absolutely right or necessary (I mean I am a social worker after all). I find it hard to stand up to people, even 3 year olds. I know how ridiculous that sounds and I don’t know if it’s an anxiety thing or what, but lately that’s how I roll. Nevertheless, short of teaching my daughter fight moves (as my sister suggested) so she can fight back, I have no idea.

Just some thoughts for today. I don’t know who reads this but if you do and you have some pearls of wisdom, please tell me. Everyday is a case of “I have no idea what I’m doing but this seems like it won’t damage her forever”.

Also as a side note, seeing my baby’s wailing face made me feel so sad that I went and bought a frozen coke. Damn you McDonald’s and your cheap freezies!! Ultimate wholefood fail.

Adventures in motherhood… of beauty and anxiety…

It seems like I could begin every post I’ve written in the last couple of years with the words “I haven’t posted in a while. It’s true. I wrote about pregnancy and marked the halfway point and then went silent. Despite the fact that I have hours on hand now, I also kinda don’t really. A lot of parenting is learning how to do everything one-handed and I find words don’t flow as easily through one hand if that makes any sense lol.

Baby A. She’s lovely. Everything about her is perfect. From her cradle-capped head to her funny looking toes. She’s the most perfect person I’ve ever seen.
There are some beautiful elements in motherhood. Just beautiful. The giggles, the intense eye gazes, the tight grip of her tiny fingers on… everything, the angry rolling. Parenting is amazing. I’ve always wanted children and have always been pretty good with them. So I kinda thought I knew what to expect.

But alas, it’s hard. It’s a roller coaster of emotions that are so overwhelming that I just don’t know who I am or how to deal with it. As a social worker, I make my living out of assessing people and situations, and then together determining the best foot forward. It’s something else when you realise that maybe you’re the one that needs assessing. It’s probably been the most unexpected of all the unexpecteds, the fact that you don’t actually know what you’re doing and well… the mental health stuff.

I’ve done a little bit of work in mental health over the last few years and as someone who advocates for dropping the stigma around mental health, it’s still such a struggle for me to admit that there is some postpartum anxiety going on for me. I attend a support group for women with postpartum anxiety & depression. And after spending the last few years learning cognitive behavioural therapy for social work practice – learning in order to support others, it’s strange to be on the receiving end – learning in order to apply to my own situation.

I love my daughter with an intense love like I’ve never felt before but I grieve for what I had before. Being surrounded by people doing what we loved to do – helping people. I miss having this expansive identity: social worker, music lover, foodie, friend, sister, wife, student, wanderer. Since being pregnant, mostly my identity has been wrapped around being mother: nappy changer, reluctant milk producer, laundromat, professional cuddler, rocker (and not in the musical sense – though we did go to a Billy Idol concert at around 35 weeks preggo). Part of my new life is trying to navigate all the new stuff while maintaining the stuff that makes me… well… me.

And then there’s the stuff that other women make look so easy… like breastfeeding. May I just say that breastfeeding actually sucks. I don’t enjoy it. I had many a cry and would shudder every time it was time to feed. But the age old “breast is best” line rings constantly through the ears of many mums (I am no exception). While I’m glad I persevered (mainly coz I’m too cheap to want to pay for formula), the only statement mums really need to hear is “happy mum, happy baby. That is best.”

Anxiety can be pretty hideous. A flurry of ugly and scary thoughts and fears running through your mind and it’s so dark sometimes. I am full of fear… fear that I’m doing this parenting thing wrong, fear that I’m screwing up my daughter’s life, fear that I’m not a good enough wife, a good enough mother, a good enough lover, a good enough friend. I often think back to times when I was fearless and I’d spend entire nights on the street wandering around, I’d walk home from random places during the wee hours of the morning or I’d wander around until 5am when I’d see my dad walking down the street ready to head to work (I can see why my mum told me off now). Now, I just don’t know how to turn it off. Where’s the anxiety switch and where did the anxiety even come from? I guess postnatally, all sorts of things happen with women’s emotions. It’s hormonal, it’s new, it’s a massive life changer, and it’s a time of firsts.

These past few months have been a time of firsts:
First raspberries blown, first roll, first toe suck, first thumb suck, first feed, first taste of apple, first smiles, first giggles, first face touch, first face pinch, first hair pull, the first time they wrap their little hands around your one finger, the first time they squeal during a wiggles song, the first time of many times that you wake up singing wiggles songs…
It is a rough and a beautiful journey and most days (like 98% of the time), I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Other days, I just wanna stay in bed and hide from the world. Lucky for me, I have this wonderful partner who chooses to carry on for both of us on those days I’d rather hide.

Grief like cancer…

I started writing a post a couple of weeks ago. Until today, I had totally forgotten about it. I was on a plane from Christchurch to Wellington reflecting on death and cancer – my eyes welling up with tears having only moments before just learned of my cousin’s death to cancer. Here’s what I began writing…

Sunday 8th June 2014
I just finished reading John Green’s “The Fault of Our Stars”. I finished it late last night. If you haven’t read it, I highly and thoroughly recommend it. For those of you who have read it, you may understand just how ripped apart I feel.

Everyone wants to live.
Even cancer wants to live.
But my cousin… she died.

Yesterday in fact.

It’s a difficult thing to wake up and find your facebook newsfeed so full of pictures of your cousin who only a few days ago found out she had cancer. My immediate thought was that people were wishing her all the best for her battle. But the further I scrolled, the more I could see grief, loss and sympathy. That moment was so unreal so I called my dad to ask him what was going on. It was exactly as I had feared. My spunky cousin was gone. Cancer wanted to live, so she died.

It’s not always easy to hear and discover heartbreaking and devastating news on social media sites but as I sit here on this plane reflecting, I think maybe it’s easier to tell it. The internet isn’t a face. There are no tears on your screen, apart from the ones dripping from your own face. There are no awkward questions about how she died. There are no silly stutters as people search for those foreign words of condolence. You can shout it into the void of the internet, and you can walk away. And even better, you the condolence-giver have time to search for those foreign words.

 

I’ve experienced a few deaths in the last few months that have had some effect on my inner-person. I have cried my fair share of tears this year. It’s been both emotionally and spiritually draining. I don’t hold to much faith these days. I belong to a community of people who meet together once a month – who appreciate where I’m at in my current life circumstance and we journey along anyway. Sometimes we talk about faith stuff – God, Jesus, the like. After my cousin died, I kept coming back to thoughts about the afterlife. No one can really give you anything specific – like what’s happening now for my cousin. Where is she at? But there’s this comforting idea that she’s here making sure he babies are going to be ok before she passes on to something different. There’s the comforting idea that they’re all together – all our deceased loved ones.

Before they closed up her coffin, I, a blubbering mess, whispered one thing into her ear…
“I love you cuz – please take care of my Jojack.”

If there’s anything these past few tragedies have taught me – it’s that life is soooo much shorter than we want it to be. I want to write a whole lot more about it but I feel like John Green speaks them all for me. You should just read it. At the end of the day, we get our infinities. Lots of infinities. Maybe not as infinite as that guy over there, but we have today.

I also learned that funerals aren’t for the dead but for the living. I’ve seen a few this past year and I have often wondered whether the dead person would appreciate it as an accurate reflection of their life. But the grieving process is more than just an hour long church service and a few Hail Mary’s. It’s the gathering group who sit with my endlessly sleeping cousin and sing songs to her. It’s the band of boys who gather over a beer to share stories. It’s the grieving couple who sit and reflect on what kind of personality their miscarried child might have had.

This grief, the reflection on loss, the celebration of life – they all take shape in different ways or forms. And that’s ok. Surely.

 

 

On grief, loss and Jojack

Up until a month ago exactly, I was pregnant…

I’ve always wanted kids and I was always excited about having them sometime in the future. However, reality tells a different story. I struggled to find any unreserved excitement. If anything, I was scared. The first 12 weeks of pregnancy seem like that for many women. For women struggling to get pregnant at all, that moment of finding out is the most exciting thing in the world, but for me (and it all happened so incredibly quickly), I was freaked out. Only a couple of days earlier, I was having a few drinks with colleagues. A few drinks turned into a few too many and then into several too many. Then suddenly, can’t eat that, can’t eat that either, don’t eat that, don’t drink that, don’t stress too much, don’t sit on the ground, don’t wander around at night, just relax, and make sure you’re taking your folic acid.

I don’t know if I can begin to describe what it’s like to miscarry a baby. I consider myself an empathetic person and I’ve journeyed alongside people who have miscarried before, but I don’t think you really know how it feels until it all falls out from inside of you and you can do nothing to stop it from happening. And then you pick it all up, hold it in your hands and you wonder what on earth went wrong. 3 days ago, you could see a healthy heartbeat and you could see tiny little Jojack and today you’re holding little Jojack in the palm of your hand. It is a dirty rush of emotions (and I mean rush). One minute I’m fine and within the hour, I’m clutching my gut in agony but I can’t tell which hurts more, my suddenly empty abdomen or my suddenly holey heart. And you’re searching for people to share your agony with but they don’t quite get it. In fact, your facebook newsfeed is overloaded with photos of recently born babies, pregnancy announcements and pictures of healthy scans. Why can’t that be Jojack?

Them tears, they flow.

Jojack is a funny name. Hubby and I had a conversation once about what we would call a child if ever we were to have one. He said Jojack as a bit of a joke. Then Jojack became more a term of endearment, a funny little person with a funny little personality, a bit geeky, a bit nerdy and a bit crazy like his/her parents (and very imaginative like his/her parents).

It makes me sad that there’ll never be another Jojack, that he’ll never live to make us laugh or smile.

There is something dramatically unfair about the way that life pans out. And believe me, I felt it. I’ve never cried so much in my life. The tears are unending. Now, four weeks later, it’s like it never even happened… like Jojack wasn’t even real. But I still weep for what could have been and I still envy mother’s who can listen to their babies cry and laugh and snore and cough and breathe. I’m halfway between excitement for my friends and general guttedness.
A large part of me wonders whether I can put myself through that again. I fear that the next pregnancy will produce the same result… more pain, more tears and some more fighting with my husband. But for now, I guess we’ll just see…

image

sidenote:
After publishing this, I was sent a reminder as to why I posted it in the first place. It’s the loneliest journey in the world. I’m inspired by the strength of women who have suffered, even to a greater extent than I with numerous miscarriages. And in fact, the same week we miscarried, we also lost a friend and fellow musician. I cannot imagine the pain if burying a 26 year old son.
In some ways I feel disrespectful speaking about something so taboo and sacred, but when I was going through it, I felt like I was grasping out in the dark chasms of both real and virtual worlds for a hand that would help me navigate what I was then experiencing.
I’m not without hope. Nor am I without self-respect. Just with a little brutal and painful honesty because that’s what connects us in the end.
🙂

The re-shaping of whanau…

When I was a little younger than I am now, I quite a contrasting view from the rest of my family. I told my parents I didn’t want children because there are enough children in the world who needed love without me bringing in more children who would suck up the little attention that I have to give. I was convinced that my kids were my kids regardless of biology. I’m still fairly convinced that would be the case, but I’d say my views have since grown. I’m not sure what I want these days but that doesn’t really matter.

For Samoans, biology is everything. Blood family is everything because blood is thicker than water. I believe that in it’s literal sense but when it comes to family, I don’t think you necessarily have to be related to me in order for me to have your back. In fact, sometimes I feel like my friends are less likely to leave me than my family are. And perhaps a lot of that echoes snippets of my history and experience (and even my present). I must admit though, I’m more likely to leave my friends than they are to leave me.

Over the last couple of years as my biological family have become a less prominent part of my life, I’ve started to wonder what family actually is and in my mind and thoughts have started to re-shape what family actually looks like. Don’t get me wrong. My biological family is really important to me. I love them all hugely and they mean the world to me. My 8 million or so cousins also mean the world to me and I love them dearly. But often those people aren’t around.

The people I truly do life with, are the people I live life with. They’re my workmates at YSWC, they’re my flatmates at Bermuda, they’re my dearest love and his family. They’re my church community, my faith community, my community.
So my family at the moment consists of a lot of white people (quite different to my biological family). And I’m cool with that. I often miss my biological family and there are moments I have where I pine for them but right here, I’m happy because there’s a greater community of people who really love me.

This post isn’t some particularly deep piece of insight, but it’s insight nonetheless and I figured I better add something to this garden before it gets too weedy.

aroha,
L