Fijian escape and a baby on a bender

The holiday started at a crowded and chaotic Wellington airport. We were off on a much anticipated family trip to Fiji. There was fog; a lot of it; and yes, it was lingering. Air traffic around the city had ground to a halt. Our plans of being poolside, cocktail in hand by 3pm were diminishing fast. The weeks leading up to this trip had been fraught to say the least. The hubby was doing some crazy hours at work (often 12-14 hour days), which left me lone-wrangler to Mr4 years and Ms9 months. Mr4 had also been experiencing some health problems which resulted in some minor surgery just before our trip (thankfully with a positive outcome – phew!). Add to this, the stress of trying to sell a house and voilà, you have one pretty stressed out mama. Yes, I was in desperate need of a nice, relaxing tropical holiday!

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So, back at the airport. With the hubby on his way back home in a taxi to collect his forgotten passport, I found myself in command of a wayward luggage trolley, several large suitcases and two small children, one of which was harnessed to my front, the other manically speeding around the over-crowded Air New Zealand check-in area pretending to be a jet. It occurred to me at this point that things hadn’t started well. In an attempt to quell the rising anxiety, I felt it was time for a little mindfulness. I really needed to put aside the stress of the past weeks and the frustration and uncertainty of how and when we were going to get to Fiji, and just concentrate on what was happening in that very minute. I knew we’d eventually get that poolside cocktail, and I just needed to go with the flow until we got there.

With a passport holding husband back in the fold, we hunkered down, waiting for the fog to lift. Long hours were spent playing any and every child’s game that involved a pen and paper. Every shop in the airport was explored. Twice. We watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ plane land (interesting how their plane seemed to have no troubles navigating the Wellington fog!?). We ran into some old friends we hadn’t seen for ages. We chatted to other stranded passengers. My husband and I chatted with each other. It was actually a very pleasant family day out. In the end our flight didn’t leave until late afternoon, which meant staying in Auckland overnight and then an early morning flight the next day to Fiji.

By 11am the next day we were there. Hoorah!! The resort was gorgeous. White sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and recliners. Enormous pools that snaked their way around the resort. We had arrived and it was going to be bliss! There was even an adults-only pool, the Holy Grail. Two years ago, we’d had a Fijian family holiday. There were only three of us then, back when Mr4 was Mr2, and Ms9 months was not yet here. Back then, the hubby and I devised the most perfect holiday formula. We would take it in turns (day-on, day-off) to be on child-duty. On your day-off you could chose to do what-ever you liked. I would often spend the morning with the family, but then take my leave in the afternoon, heading straight for the much coveted adults-only pool. Book in one hand; cocktail in the other; the rapturous sound of silence in my ears. What could be better!? We left Fiji feeling renewed and refreshed. Family holidays are awesome!

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Or are they!?

So, the hubby and I figured we’d just apply our winning formula to this holiday. Eeeeeasy! However, there was one particular variable that we failed to factor in; the small matter of Little Ms9 months refusing to sleep in the hotel cot. In order to get our cherub to sleep I ended up having to share a bed with her. Given that Ms9 months is still breast feeding, sharing a bed with the milk truck was just a little too exciting for her. She managed to work her way through the entire week on a constant milk bender. It was almost like she was a teenager away on an end of year schoolies trip, but instead of binging on Midori and lemonade, it was mums milk all the way. The milk truck was exhausted! There was little hope of me catching up on sleep during the day, since our bundle of milk would only sleep in the daylight hours whilst being chauffeured around the resort in either the front pack or pram. The minx! I hasten to add that she sleeps perfectly well in her own cot at home, so this was a complete surprise to us. I spent the entire holiday in a sleep deprived state and feeling utterly wrung out.

Dad, forget sleep, where's the milk truck?

Dad, forget sleep, where’s the milk truck?

Sadly, our winning holiday formula didn’t make it out of the bag this trip. There was no time hanging out by the adults-only pool and neither of the two books I’d packed for the trip made it out of my suitcase (two – what was I thinking!?). We did have lots of family fun though. Mr4 spent hours swimming and digging in the sand. We took a boat trip out to a gorgeous tropical island. We ate out for every meal. The sun shone every single day and the sunsets were just simply stunning. We spent time all together, the four of us as a family.

IMG_6050Since we got back, I’ve been reflecting on the trip and the mismatch between how I thought the holiday would be, and how it actually was. I have come to the conclusion that I have probably been a little selfish in my expectations of what a family holiday should be. Holidays have always brought out the hedonist in me, and I guess this one was no different. Looking back, I now realise that I was so focused on the things I wasn’t doing (i.e.: sleeping, relaxing by the pool, reading my book etc), that I struggled to focus on what I actually was doing. It’s a shame that the mindfulness I had been practicing so well back at Wellington airport didn’t join me for the Fijian leg of the holiday. Family life is busy and family holidays are no exception.

Is there such a thing as a relaxing family holiday? Any tips welcomed!

New Merino and a Bolting Horse

A friend informed me the other day that 2014 is the Year of the Horse. Now, I don’t know much about the Chinese zodiac, but I do know that there has been more than just a touch of the bolting equine about the past few months in our household. At the risk of sounding prosaic, where the hell has this year gone!?

ImageWe find ourselves now in April (well, almost), and our house that was meant to sell in February is still on the market. It’s simple case of supply versus demand. The housing market is over-supplied and the punters are thin on the ground. We are now faced with a catalogue of decisions about the rest of the year. Do we take the house off the market for a while, or do we rent the house out and hightail it back to Australia? If we do stay, then which school should we enrol our son in when he starts in October? If we go then how do we juggle the logistics of selling a house remotely? I feel a bit irritated with having to ponder all of this. The Grand Plan had us selling the house back in February and being all settled back into Aussie life, complaining about all this heat, by now.

I found myself at the shops the other day, perusing merino for the kids. I even made a few purchases. Here in Wellington, this is what you do at this time of year. You invest in new winter woollies in anticipation of the coming winter chills. The fact that I have made these habitual purchases gives some hint as to my state of mind. I keep thinking that in a parallel universe I’m living it up in sunny Brisbane, buying sunscreen in bulk and throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

ImageIn the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty, I am mostly keeping up with my goal of being calm on purpose. There are times when the anxiety of the unknown abducts me and holds me for ransom. I pay the ransom fee (usually about 5 uninterrupted minutes of quality time with a bar of chocolate) and then I just get on with it.

I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to tame my unruly Horse? I guess I just need to hold on tight and let it take me where it will. If that means we stay here in Wellington, well then at least the kids have new merino.

Has your Year of the Horse jumped the fence and bolted up the road like mine?

When the Glitter Rubs Off: Adjusting to a New Baby

In any family, the addition of a new baby brings with it a period of adjustment. The dynamic that once was, will never again be. The new baby of course, has been much yearned for and is a welcomed and treasured member of the family. But the shifting and shuffling that happens after this new little being enters the world can bring many challenges. This has certainly been true for our family since the arrival of our daughter almost 8 months ago.

Our son, Mr4 had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new sibling since the moment we told him I was pregnant. He sang songs to the bump and frequently had conversations with it, often planning out the things they would do together… and then when you’re bigger we can take turns on my scooter… After we found out she was a girl, Mr4 was the first one in the family to choose a name for her (which has since become her middle name). As the arrival date got closer, he told me not to worry about setting up the cot, because the new baby would sleep with him in his bed. He had it all sorted out.

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Oh, we were smug, the husband and I, so very smug. We wouldn’t have to worry about all that sibling rivalry business. Oh no, that wasn’t going to happen in our family. Our well balanced, gentle natured little boy would welcome his sister with open arms, and we’d all live happily ever after.

And this was how it was for about the first 6 weeks of our daughters’ life. Mr4 fell instantly and completely in love with his baby sister. We would often find him gazing at her as she slept in her cot, all the while cuddling up to his own little baby doll. He was my helpful little assistant, immediately at hand with a clean muslin, a fresh nappy, a cuddly toy for his sister. It was adorable and just as we had imagined it to be. Ahh, the blissful smugness….

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One morning when our daughter was about 6weeks old, Mr4 dropped a bombshell. The four of us were all snuggled up in bed discussing what dreams we’d had the night before, when from out of the blue Mr4 said ….mama, I think it’s time we put baby in the bin…. And with that, the glitter had quite suddenly rubbed off. Our gentle, caring, doting little son suddenly turned into an irritable, short tempered, tantrum throwing rogue.

The gentle kisses and cheek stroking he had once bestowed upon his sister were soon replaced by rough and vice-like ‘cuddles’. When he thought we weren’t looking, he would stand on her tiny hand as he walked by her or squeeze her cheek just a little too roughly. For months, the littlest thing could trigger a complete meltdown (like not having enough brown sugar on his porridge), and often mid-tanty he’d yell at us that … you hurt my feelings or that …I don’t want you to be in my family anymore… I’m not sure if he was talking to us or his sister in those moments?

It’s safe to say that at this point, we were cured of all smugness.

These were some long, hard months, and in my sleep-deprived state, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. Up until this point, I had always prided myself on my gentle parenting style. And while I knew that Mr4 was grappling with some huge changes, I really struggled to give him the support and reassurance that I knew he needed. My respectful and gentle approach bit the proverbial dust, and I spent most days feeling utterly furious with him and his impossible behaviour. I was rigid and shouty. I used the Disney Chanel and Time Out too often. I’m not proud of my parenting-self when I think about those months.

I think the change started happening when I began paying more attention to my own state of calmness (or lack there of!). By being calm on purpose, I found myself less reactive to every little thing my son did. I can’t emphasise enough how powerful this was. Mr4 and I had created this volatile dynamic, like two sparring roosters fighting beak and claw to the very end. By being calm in the face of his raging anger, there was no longer a battle to be won.

IMG_5737I can now confidently say that I have re-established my gentle and respectful approach to parenting and thankfully feel much more connected with my son. The meltdowns do continue, but gradually they have become less frequent and angst filled, and he seems to recover from them more easily. Mr4 has also started to be kinder and gentler with his sister once again. Interesting how his behaviour seemingly mirrors my own. He has even admitted to me that …it’s good having a baby in the house. I can play with her when you’re busy doing stuff

Have your children struggled with the addition of a new family member?

Did your parenting style change in the face of these new dynamics?

A Brutish Virus & Career Angst

The past week has seen the entire Mama Maru household violently knee-capped by a brutish virus. A whole eight days later and we are only just hobbling our way back to some semblance of health. When my husband woke me in the wee small hours with his violent shivering, I knew we were done for. Since then we have been on a carousel of fevers, lethargy, aching bodies, trips to the loo (post haste!!), pounding headaches, a crying babe, a whining pre-schooler and two particularly cranky grown-ups. Good times!

With all these distractions, the sense of calm that I had been nurturing, has completely abandoned me. My worrisome mind has been let out of its cage and is roaming the streets of my brain freely, baring its teeth and terrorising all my happy neurons. My mind has been fizzing with worries about finding a buyer for our house; wondering if we’ll ever get to move back to Australia; whether our son will have to start school here in New Zealand instead of in Australia as we had planned. The list goes on and on…..

Surprisingly, I have also been consumed with worry about my career over this past week. I say surprisingly because I thought that I was very happy to be staying at home with my two children. My youngest is only 7 months old, and I have absolutely no intentions of going back to work before she’s 12 months (or even older). This past week however, when I think about the current state of my career (i.e.: dead in the water), I am overcome with a thick blanket of dank stagnation. I have been very fortunate in my career, and before we had our children I had enjoyed great success in my professional life. As is often the case for many women, our priorities shift dramatically when we have a family to care for. I have loved this. I adore that these two little beings are the centre of my universe.

So why this sudden nagging feeling?

My eldest is 4 and half years old, and we moved to New Zealand when I was pregnant with him. The idea was that we would nestle down in New Zealand, have our family and then move back to Australia after a couple of years. In my mind, I had calculated a career hiatus of maybe 2 or 3 three years. Have a couple of kids, enjoy being a SAH mummy, get back into it. Sorted. A traumatic miscarriage, then the loss of our baby girl to stillbirth sees that 2 or 3 year hiatus stretched out to 5 or 6 years. That’s a bloody long time to be out of the game! Sure, I have dabbled with working in between this time, but I haven’t really had any strong commitment to my career. In the grip of illness this past week, I have never felt so desperate to reconnect with my old self. The one that was productive, determined, focused, successful and respected. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m not those things now, but I think the old me just had more potency.

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So, now that we’re out of the viral woods, it’s time to put the leash back on the wild beast that is my angst-ridden mind and get my inner calm back on. Today, I am focusing on breathing. When I water my garden, I will practice some mindfulness. Out of the ashes of this dreaded virus and a week of unbridled angst, has come a newly determined me.

 

Having Kittens

As predicted our house didn’t sell at tender. Big sigh….. It’s still on the market so we haven’t given up entirely, but the market conditions in Wellington at the moment are less than ideal for sellers. The good thing is that there is no real urgency for us to sell (except of course, my deep desire to escape Wellington before the looming winter descends). The only deadline we have is Mr 4years’ first day of school, which isn’t until January 2015. Plenty of time. Still, the control freak within is having kittens with the uncertainty of it all. I am a girl who needs a plan. A set of objectives that are clear and concise, with concrete time frames and regular evaluation dates. I’d like to say I’m exaggerating here, but really, I’m not. Without a plan, I’m all at sea. When I’m all at sea, free-form anxiety rules the waves.

ImageTo try and balance my anxieties in all this uncertainty I have practicing a bit of mindfulness. I have been hearing about mindfulness for many years through my job as an Occupational Therapist, but had never really found a use for it in my own life. That was until about a month ago. I was listening to a radio interview with Vidyamala Burch, a kiwi woman living in the UK who has experienced chronic pain for many years. In the interview she described an experience she’d had many years ago where in the midst of her physical pain, she was able to suddenly stop and focus her mind solely on the present moment. In this moment she was able to let go of all that had been and all the worries about the future, and suddenly her life seemed more full and rich despite her pain. She has since gone on to hone these skills to not only manage her own condition but she also trains others in the practice of mindfulness. For a more eloquent and detailed description of Vidymala’s journey, you can find her at http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/articles/being-here. A truly inspirational lady. What particularly resonated for me that day was Vidyamala’s idea that the present moment is always bearable.

So obviously I’m not grappling with a debilitating illness, but I find that my mind is so often full of worry, either analysing past situations or planning contingencies for what might be to come, that I am very rarely just living in the moment. All this worry, analysis and planning is quite simply, exhausting! It’s also distracting me from all the fantastic things that I have in my life. Surely mindfulness has something to offer me too? My practice is very much in its infancy, and I find that I often need to take a firm line with my unruly mind. There are times when it’s just like a rebellious toddler making a run for it in a crowded shopping center. I almost need one of those toddler harnesses to rein it in. But then there are times where in the middle of a worrisome thought I stop and I focus completely on my precious baby girls’ little hands as they grasp her toes, or the vibrant red of the roses in my garden as the water from the hose falls all around them. Those moments are pure magic and the calm I feel is like a tonic. I find that I come away from those moments with more energy and a real sense of purpose. I like it! So I want to become better at being more mindful in my daily life and I will continue to practice and practice.

Do you practice mindfulness? Does it get easier to tame a worrisome mind?

The whole bag

This week is a big week. It’s the fourth and final week of our property tender campaign. It’s the week that we’re supposed to sell our house. The weeks leading up to now have been a blur of house painting, wall sanding, de-cluttering and garden control (curse those weeds!), all mixed in with child wrangling. Then with the open homes. Gah, the open homes! What a mission they have been with our mess-oblivious, toy crazed, tornado child romping through the house. I never thought I’d say it, but thank goodness for the Disney Chanel. Never have I been so pleased to see my little son sitting zombie-like, eye’s glued to Jake and his Neverland Pirates. This is a child who, at his 3rd birthday, thought that a DVD was a book. My, how things have changed around here.

It was around the time of Mr4’s 3rd birthday that I also discovered something quite profound about myself. After a particularly stressful morning, I found myself with my head in the pantry, ferreting around the shelves for something sweetly satisfying. I had just had lunch and wasn’t at all hungry. This was a pattern that I had been quietly noticing over some weeks, but it was at that moment that the penny really dropped. I realised that day with a mouthful of rocky road, that I am a bona fide emotional eater. It’s true. The first sign of stress or anxiety and you’ll find me in the pantry. It’s the sweet, sugary delights that I crave – chocolates, cakes, icecream, lolly’s of any description – I don’t discriminate. My favourite are marshmallows. Seriously, in the middle of one of my son’s raving tantrums, nothing calms or comforts me quite like a handful of those little pink and white puffs of sugar. I must admit that I can never, ever just stop at one or two marshmallows. And actually, if I know they’re in the house, I simply can’t stop thinking about them until they’re all gone. This often results in me devouring the whole bag in just a few short hours. Yes, of course I feel totally disgusting afterwards, but when faced with a stressful situation my willpower abdicates and I’m left with an empty bag and a sickly sugar hangover.

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Anyway, back to the house sale. Just a few short months ago Wellingtons’ property market was especially favourable for sellers. Just 10 weeks ago a house a few doors down from us sold for $90K over the asking price. Fabulous! Fantastic! Hoorah! What great news for us! Hmm, I think we may have been a little hasty on the optimism. Thanks to some recent government regulation changes, a looming interest rate hike, and a sudden glut of properties on the market, these favourable conditions have apparently turned a little sour. The feedback from our agent is not great. There has been very little interest from the punters and it’s looking like our tender closing date this week will pass without any cause for celebration.

I’m trying very hard to take the philosophical route when I think about our house not selling this week…. it will happen when it’s meant to….. everything happens for a reason. Blah blah blah! But really, the obsessive planner/control freak inside me is going crazy with the uncertainty of it all. We really want to move back to Australia to be closer to our family and friends. We really don’t want to be in Wellington for another blustery winter. There’s a lot weighing on the sale of this house. So along with the stress and anxiety that all this uncertainty brings, come those devilish sugar cravings. We have a big year ahead with our relocation plans and undoubtedly, a whole lot more uncertainty and stress to come, and I’d like to be able to get through it without a mouthful of marshmallows for company.

Any suggestions out there for kicking the sugar habit?

Brown Sugar

I have a new strategy, a new skill for my purposefully calm toolkit. I should probably clarify… this skill is not necessarily that new to me. Apparently I’ve been practicing it since before I was even born. It’s something that I’ve been doing, and doing very successfully I might add, every single moment of every single day, since the moment of my birth. My new/old skill is … breathing, and what a revelation it is!

I once saw a photograph of Lindsay Lohan. It was the usual pap-fest pic of the poor girl; Lindsay looking all wrung out, falling out of a club. This particular photo showed a tattoo on her wrist which said ‘breathe’. I remember laughing at the time and thinking how ridiculous. If you need a tattoo to remind yourself to breathe then really, you’re in serious trouble! Or maybe not….

ImageI noticed a few weeks ago, during one of Mr4’s seemingly ubiquitous outbursts (this one about how much brown sugar I had put on his porridge) that I was actually holding my breath. As he threw himself on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably and yelling at me that I had “hurt his feelings” with my miserly sugar rations, I could feel my entire body tensing and my mind drawing itself inwards. Good lord, I hadn’t even had my first coffee yet. There was definitely rage brewing in the pit of my belly, and I was doing a good job at swallowing it and keeping it down. ‘Cause that’s what you do right? You repress it, so that you don’t blow your stack and yell at your poor wee child who is trying his very best to cope with the fact that he didn’t get a heaped teaspoon-full of brown sugar on his porridge on this particular morning. So you keep holding it in until the moment comes, and it usually always comes, when you just can’t. Then with the yelling; the tears; the Time Out; the guilt. You know the story.

So anyway, back to the brown sugar morning. In the moment before the yelling was to start, I noticed something. I noticed that my rage was being held in place by my breath. But as I was holding my ever dwindling breath, the rage was resisting and pushing itself forcibly higher. It was like a school-yard tussle between the two of them. Who was going to win? The rage was the buffed-up school-yard bully and my breath, the puny new kid. My breath didn’t really stand a chance. So I had an idea. Instead of letting my breath escape with a tirade, I made a decision to release it, in a very slow and controlled way. I then reloaded with another deep breath, and then another and another. There was no yelling that particular morning. The brown sugar tears continued for a short while, but there was no Time Out and there was no guilt. Mr4 eventually sat up at the table and ate his porridge and I sat with him and drank my coffee. All the while, breathing.

So kudos to Ms Lohan. It seems we could all benefit from a little reminder to breathe every now and then.