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.

IMG_5804

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….

IMG_3358

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

In the beginning….

So I think it’s appropriate at this early stage to set the scene. I currently live in Wellington, New Zealand. A city famous for its coffee, perilous airport landings, and of course the wind! It is also a stunningly beautiful city with its rugged coastline, mountain views and what someone once described to me as, champagne air. It took me some time to really get Wellington, but after living here for almost 5 years I can now, hand on heart, say that I have fallen in love with her. Her wild, uncontained beauty seems to have gotten under my skin. It’s like she’s this wise, weathered, charming, and at times cantankerous old lady, who dances to her own tune and simply refuses to toe the line. Some days she’s a shining beauty, with her cheeks rouged and her hair just so. And then there’s the other days…. On those days she’s all snarky and snappy and ready to bowl you over with a single devilish glance. It is with this backdrop that I have lived some of the most pivotal moments of my life; the births of my three children; the death of one; and this city has somehow buffered me and offered solace throughout. I owe her a lot.

Image

I think it’s probably because we’re leaving that I suddenly find myself all nostalgic and reflective? I wonder if I’d feel the same if I knew that I was looking down the barrel of yet another bone chilling Wellington winter, with her howling southerly for company? I guess it doesn’t pay to wonder too much? It can only be a good thing to leave a place that you have called home with a full and warm heart.

So after almost five years, we have decided to answer the call of home and move our little family back to Australia. To say that it is going to be a mission is probably an understatement. We will be selling our Wellington house, shipping all our worldly possessions, farewelling our beloved friends, moving to a brand new city that we’ve only ever visited a handful of times, buying a new house, re-establishing our careers in a new town etc etc….. all while wrangling Mr 4years and Ms 6months.

Despite all the madness that this next year will no doubt bring, it is my plan to embrace it all, the good, the bad and the downright ugly, with a sense of purposeful calmness. I want to experience it all with a level head and a fundamental sense of optimism. By doing this I hope to be able to offer my children a real sense of security during this time of uncertainty and upheaval. The challenge however, is that my normal state is that of the mildly neurotic mother lion, who dislikes change and enjoys a predictable routine. Hold on tight, it’s gonna be an exciting trip….