I’m Back!

Well hello. Yes, I know….. it’s been a while between posts. “So where the heck have you been hanging out these days!?” I hear you ask. Hmm, well that’s a bit of a long one to answer…. In a nutshell I’ve been spending my days consorting with various medical types, trying to get to the bottom of my two childrens’ various (and increasingly complex) health issues. Yes, I’m afraid Dr Google has made more than one appearance (despite my best intentions), but I can assure your that there have been a catalogue of far more experienced Paediatricians who have followed in his wake.

Keeping it brief (and without boring you all with the details), Mr 5yrs suddenly couldn’t eat anything I gave him without vomiting and complaining of a swollen, bloated and extremely painful tummy (he once presented his big swollen tummy to me and asked in a sad kind of voice “mum, do you think I’m growing a baby in there?”). He was losing kilograms by the second. At the same time (!), Ms 17months’ weight rocketed off the charts in the downward trend, despite being fed a highly nutritious and calorific diet by her increasingly neurotic mother. Her weight now officially doesn’t even register on the growth charts.

And breathe…..

I should mention here that we are no strangers to food allergies and tummy issues. Mr 5 has been allergic to dairy and soy since he was a wee baby, as has his sister. It seems, however, that both tummies have decided to up the ante over the past 6 months.

So, feeling completely and utterly up to my eyeballs in stress, I kinda decided to take a leave of absence from Mama Maru. Mama Maru is my calm space, and it’s no coincidence that I haven’t visited lately.

It’s also no coincidence that I’m back!!

So, I have decided that I need to take a bit more control of the situation. I have spent the last months in complete flight/ fight mode, reacting emotionally to everything that swung my way. What can I say, it’s been shit! Things needed to change.

So the other night, in an attempt to rediscover that inner calm I had been cultivating earlier last year, I got busy googling ‘mindfulness’. I came across Marie Forleo, who, it turns out is a bit of a personal development guru (she’s been on Oprah, and everything). Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those Dr. Phil/ Oprah self-help types. I once refused to read a highly recommended Wally Lamb book because it was on Oprah’s Book Club list (in my defense I should state here that I was in my 20’s – I like to think I have evolved somewhat since then). I’m not sure what this says about me!? I guess I have always been one to steer away from popular dogma.

Anyway, Marie Forleo spoke to me the other night, in a way that my very well meaning husband and friends have not been able to. She’s wise, intelligent and a little bit funky. She’s my kinda chick. In one particularly goofy clip on YouTube, you will find her hanging out in bed with her husband. Stay with me here… They’re talking about an approach they use called “I’m back”. Put simply, when your mind is super crazy and worrying about this or that, all you need to do is tell yourself “I’m back” and waddya know, suddenly you’re back in the present moment and all that worry and stress is gone.

I’ve been practicing this for a couple of days and I’m converted. It really does work! For example, tonight while making pumpkin soup for my sons breakfast (seriously, this is the only thing he’ll eat for breakfast these days!), my blender had a major blow out. It looked like this:

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What you can’t see is the soup all over the clean dishes drying in the rack , soup spilling down the cupboards and all over the floor. A week ago, I would have cried, stamped my feet, cursed life for being so damn crappy, and then put myself to bed and not slept for hours thinking about how shit everything was and how there was no pumpkin soup for the morning. Tonight, as the glass jug shattered and my sons precious soup splattered all the way across our kitchen, I simply took a deep breath and told myself “I’m back”. And I was!

It’s good to be back.

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?

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.

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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….