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.

 

 

 

 

 

Today matters more than yesterday.

I can spend literally hours on social media. According to my Quality Time app (something you can download to make yourself feel like shit), I spent on average about 6-7 hours staring at my screen… and I’ll be real. A lot of that time is taken up by social media, in particular Facebook. I don’t often post things, but I’m always deeply interested by what other people post. I’ve done stints in the past where I’ve decided to rid myself of Facebook to better my life, but usually I replace it with something else… instagram, snapchat, twitter. Last week someone commented to me on a tweet they had made that was quite funny. I recalled reading it at the time and I told him I saw it, thought about responding but that I use twitter to stalk, not tweet. I said it so flippantly too, like it was a natural part of the world. I’m just cool enough to have a twitter and a little too cool to actually tweet. Stupid.

Anyway, while scrolling mindlessly through Facebook statuses about sports, parenting, food, cars, celebrity pregnancies and whatever else other people happened to like, I came across a blogpost that struck quite a chord for me. It was basically about using a kinder voice. Her opening story really captured me because I felt like she was me. Anyone who knows me really well, and possibly those who live next door to me, know that I’m a rage-machine. I yell pretty loud and my family generally cop it. It was part of how we did things growing up: be upset by something, passive aggressively “communicate” this, yell because no one has noticed (despite throwing every individual spoon rigorously into the sink), and then throw something. Sometimes we just skip to the throwing part. There have been times I’ve been flooded with overwhelm, stress and anxiety that I’ve yelled so loudly and so sharply that my child has instantly burst into tears. Immediately she’d run to her dad for comfort because at that moment he is safe, mama is not.

I’ve never really liked children. I’ve always found them pretty annoying. But more and more I’m noticing the amazing capacity children have for love. My child is forgiving. When I’m upset and crying, she comes toddling up to me with a tissue in her hand and she gently strokes my face. There’s no judgment, no expectation to have it all together, just a hope that I’ll be patient with her, share empathy with her during her stage of learning and developing, and speak with kindness. Toddlers ooze so much love and they give it so freely in abundance. They also ooze throwing things at you, slapping your face, wiping their snot on your everything… but alas that’s not what this is about.

Today matters more than yesterday.

After reading that post, I actually went and downloaded the suggest book read to my kindle. It’s now one of about 10 different reads I’m part way through. Kindle even tells me what percentage of the way through I am. Most of them sit under 10%. I like to start and not finish. This one though, takes the pressure off a little. It’s less about getting through an entire read and more about taking something away from the smaller segments. I like that. But it’s not like some daily devotional, it’s seasonal… as you need to.

I imagine all this reading may take some reflection and I’m using this forum to voice a declaration from those reflections. Here’s todays one:

I’m making an effort to use a kinder tone of voice. I may need your gentle reminders.

Maybe the next one will be another year away… maybe it’ll be tomorrow.

We’ll see.

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.

Adventuring in Twenty Sixteen

2015 presented it’s fair share of challenges and celebrations. I lost 4 relatives in the space of about a month, I had a baby, I went on to be diagnosed with Post Partum Anxiety (which was probably pre-natal, pre-pregnancy anxiety too) and I quit my job.

There are a few things I’m realising as I deal with my psycho reality… everything is important, everything is not important and mindfulness is key. Sounds pretty vague I know but I struggle a lot with my own mental health. As a social worker, I’ve worked with clients who I thought were bad and sometimes I’d put myself on par with them. I lose control and I go to these dark places I don’t want anyone to go to. And it’s weird because sometimes you feel like no one really believes you, and you’re not even sure you believe you because the difference between what you behave and what you display is so huge it could swallow Antarctica.

But alas we’re working on that. Along with attending play groups and library for Miss A, I also attend a mums group with mums who have a reality similar to my own… a little on edge, displays of high functionality, yet falling apart inside, losing control and losing ourselves.

This year, I’m also pretty keen to explore a few more things that will hopefully bring about a more relaxed, less anxious, more positive, less angry, reality of sorts. Something different, something new and yet, something old and familiar, as I seek to rediscover what it is to be mum, wife and Lani.

In 2016 we are…

  • being more committed to churching with our community.
  • being content.
  • learning about positive parenting.
  • learning about positive wife-ing.
  • rediscovering sew crafts.
  • meditating and being spiritually mindful.
  • being more active.
  • eating well: organic wholefood.
  • giving time and volunteering.
  • budgeting better (help me!).
  • being intentional about couple time.
  • loving more intentionally.
  • minimizing rubbish footprint.

I’m sure that list will get bigger but for now that’s what we’ve started with. Hopefully I’ll be better at updating as I go along. I never know who actually reads these things but I do know that for the purpose of reflection, it helps having an audience whether visible or invisible.

Ciao,

L

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.

Connectivity

Web of connections

I’ve been trying to write this post for ages. Not sure why it’s taken so much effort (and starts and stops) but it has.

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself lots lately is, “what connects me to people?” We got a visit from an old friend and mentor a few weeks ago and one of the things he said to us was that in this first year of marriage, it’s important that we keep connected. I’m not sure what that meant. Because I felt like I’d spent the previous half hour talking about all the people we were connecting with. But as a Christian leader, I wonder if I can assume he meant being connected to a Christian community.

That question dwelled with me a few days and I was uncomfortable. Usually I would be uncomfortable with guilt at the fact that I wasn’t connecting to a Christian group, but that certainly wasn’t it. It was an uncomfortable frustration that the presumption might have been that the only valuable connection we can possibly have is with other Christians. That might not have been what he meant at all and I don’t think I’ll be able to tell you unless I ask. But what I can tell you is that our connections with people, both Christian and non-Christian remain intact… well some anyway…

It’s that very thing that has me thinking and contemplating…

I’ve been hanging out with a few old church buddies. Our connection is (or was) the church that we were a part of. We have a few other loves in common but often when we’re together, conversation migrates to church/shop talk and I’m simply not part of that world anymore. So take away that connection and what other connection do I have to those people? I’m not sure. Yesterday, I was watching an episode of “Come Dine With Me”. It’s a funny programme where they put 5 strangers together and make them cook for each other. Each person has a turn at being host and they’re judged by the other dinner guests. At the end of the show, one of the guys was talking about how he’d keep contact with one of the other ladies because he thought she was great.

Perhaps connections are seasonal.
Maybe you hang out with people for a time and purpose and then perhaps it’s over. While you continue to respect that person, there’s no real reason to remain connected. It might perhaps be a stage in life where you journey together until the paths start to shift. I think I’m trying to get my head around this. Partly because I feel grieved that the friends that were once so instrumental in my life – the ones I saw so often – I don’t see so often anymore. We’re less involved in each others lives. But I guess that’s ok right?

Happy Saturday 🙂
L

Testing, testing, 1 – 2 – 3…

My husband is an electronics engineer. At present he works as a Senior Test Analyst for a fairly prominent radio communications company here in New Zealand. He often says I should be a tester. In fact, when we started dating, he bought me my very own crystal radio kit. It consisted of parts of a crystal radio that I got to put together using a soldering iron. He certainly is romantic isn’t he?

I guess even then, he knew me better than he thought. When I was a kid, I used to love taking apart old radios. I think I was fascinated by how they worked. Obviously not fascinated enough to do the study required to actually fix radios, so I spent more time breaking them than I did fixing them. Nevertheless, dad (a bus driver), would bring home all these old radios and when they started crapping out, I’d bust out a screwdriver (sometimes it was a knife), and I’d start taking them apart. I managed to prolong the life of about 70% of the radios simply by fiddling around with them. Of course the length of prolonging varied. Then I’d try again and eventually, they’d die. My husband tells me that Test Analysts basically break things for a living. I think I’d enjoy that.

But here’s the thing… I’m not a big fan of science.
I think I’ve learned more being married to my husband than I had when I was in high school. That said, as soon as I didn’t have to take science at school, I dropped it. It was far too technical and detailed. I thought I could become a doctor but realised that the only thing I liked about what doctors do, is helping people. So I dived into other subjects, like social studies, art, statistics, classics, etc. I love people. I love watching behaviour and hearing their stories. Social work is all about discovering certain aspects of a persons nature and behaviour. If you ask the right questions, you get the right hints. And sometimes, if you listen carefully enough, you find the right triggers.

A few years ago, when I started work as a youth worker, I took a personality test called Strengthsfinder. Three out of five of the signature themes that came back were “Connectedness”, “Relator”, and “Restorative”. Connectedness sees the “cause and effect”. It’s about joining the dots and tying together past and present. Relator likes to dig deep with people, asking questions that plunge into the heart of something bigger than a current situation. And Restorative is about fixing things… finding the missing piece and restoring them. Might not be the same as before but it’ll be differently beautiful in a sense.

So while my husband loves figuring out different ways to break a 2-way radio, I like figuring out what’s broken a person. I love the assessment phase of a social working relationship. Someone could come to me needing budgeting advice, but maybe it’s bigger than that. They have no job so with the limited income they receive, they need help rationing.
But why do they have no job? Maybe a conviction hinders them from using their skills.
Where did the conviction come from? Perhaps a drug conviction from way back.
Why did they do drugs? Broken family life.
Do they need a job? Yes.
Why do they need a job? Is it just about getting more money to contribute to society? Ex-partner has banned them from seeing their son and they want to prove they can do it.
(nb. this if a fictional situation, but could be a very real one…)

Criminals are so much more than criminals. Bad parents are so much more than bad parents. And perhaps that’s the reason I’ve never blamed my parents for their bad mistakes (and trust me, there were some pretty bad ones). Bad parenting often comes from bad parenting (note: connectedness). Bullying often comes from bullying. Vicious cycles are hard to stop. Anger & blame, alcohol & gambling were significant problems in my family growing up. So, I’m a careful drinker these days, and I have never touched a poker machine, nor have I set foot into a casino. I also haven’t bought a scratchie card since I was 17. The angry rage part is a bit harder to overcome, but it’s a journey I’m on. Sometimes I get angry and it makes no sense. Or it’s about the smallest thing and I just fly off the handle. And when I’m caught in my bad mood, everyone should stay away. My husband is a good and patient man. He handles me with such grace. It’s not all perfect. Sometimes we make choices that stop us from making negative choices that destroy our lives (and the lives of people around us), other things need more work than simply deciding. It took me a long time to give up destructive drinking.

Anyway, like I said in an earlier post… I’m not sure what to do with psychopathic behaviour. Perhaps I need to take some lessons in psychology.

Talk soon,

L