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.

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!

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.