Tuesday, August 25, 2020

When the Bookends Fell

If you'd asked me back in February what a successful working week looked like, it most certainly wouldn't have looked anything like the like the week I barely survived last week. Or the week I am inelegantly wading through now. Not even a smidgen. 

Back then, four of my five working days each week were bookended by getting-ready and getting-home mayhem. Mornings were a carnival of hair-wrangling, teeth-brushing, uniform-uncrumpling, emergency lost shoe location, daycare and primary school drop-offs, awkwardly running for the train, and then trying not to spill coffee on my fellow commuters.

Evenings were a similar affair, only in reverse; squeezing onto an overcrowded peak hour train in time to try and collect my small people from their respective locations, running baths, throwing endless washing in the machine, cutting up sandwiches for lunchboxes, trying to read my book club novel and consistently falling asleep with the book on my face three paragraphs in. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

I'll admit, the morning and evening 'bookends' were exhausting. Sometimes a little bit exhausting, sometimes a lot. More often than I ever used to admit, I would stop and close my eyes for a nanosecond and dream up ways to get off the treadmill, out of the daily grind.

But somehow, the routine and the rhythm and the structure made it all work. As a full-time working parent, partnered in life and madness with another full-time working parent, the bookends held our world together. Even on my regular work-from-home days, the bookends held strong, carrying out the morning and evening rituals with my children, and running a standard workday in a different location, just in plain clothes, not professional ones. 

The bookends separated parent me, weekend me, bookclub failing, personal, individual me, from working me. They got me to and from the office. They created the glorious, important, productive time, place, and space to focus on work, and doing the things I love to do in my professional life. They gave my work-from-home partner the physical and mental space he needed to pursue his professional goals and achieve his deliverables in peace. They got my children to the places they needed to go each day to learn, to make friends, to stretch their limbs and climb their own mountains, and grow as emerging individuals of their own.

And then, in March, the pandemic arrived in our Melbourne lives and the bookends started to erode. Bit by bit, tid by tad, the narrative began to change. First, it was the office, gone from my daily life with the transition to working from home. Mot just one day a week, but every day of the week. It was a significant change, but only mildly seismic, sending small but survivable tremors through our daily structure. Then it was school, with the closure of physical classrooms and the introduction of remote learning, and the fusing of working and parenting; this was a far more seismic affair, that shook the walls and reshaped the ground.  And then, finally, it was daycare, with the smallest (yet defiantly loudest, largest) member of the family added to the increasing mellee. The slow erosion had become an avalanche, and our structure collapsed.

And now, in the back-end of August, it's an all-in, unstructured family-work-life affair. The bookends have entirely disbanded and structure has unraveled. Time has become an abstract concept, with weeks and months rolling into one elongated stretch of time. 

Instead of opening paragraphs and closing sentences, days are punctuated erratically and very differently, with work deliverables, competing Zoom schedules, and the emotional ups and downs of four humans stuck in infuriatingly, yet endearingly, close proximity, the only markers of time and movement. Along with new episodes of Rosehaven dropped weekly on the ABC on a Wednesday evening - sometimes the only thing that reminds me we are halfway through another 'week', whatever that is. 

We know, beyond doubt, that we are an incredibly fortunate quartet, and we are the first to call it out check ourselves when we feel like things are tough. We are together. We are here. We are safe and warm and healthy and fed. We have electricity, and water, and the technology that we need to work and learn(and watch the aforementioned Rosehaven). My partner and I are both still employed, and we are supported as coworkers and working parents by our wonderful workplaces and our incredible colleagues, and by our family and friends around the globe, as we all collectively navigate the 'new normal' collectively and do our best to evolve and progress and continue.

But things certainly do not look or feel the same. Try as we have, we have not been able to recreate the solidity of the old bookends, in any new shape or form. We are constantly reaching for a structure that doesn't exist and failing miserably to recreate a new one that works. We are trying to be all the things to each other, at the same time as being all the things we used to be in the workplace, as well as trying to find a sense of calm and reason. 

Some days it works. Some days it doesn't. Some mornings start with optimism and end up in a crumpled heap by noon. One morning recently, the day had already been so intense I lost my cool and felt an overwhelming need to return to bed - and it was only 8:05am. Some days, we help our daughter tick off all the remote learning tasks, we 'eat' playdough creations at the backyard cubby cafe, get a load of dishes done, and get all our deliverables out the door. 

Other days, the kids bust in on every phone and video call, we make mistakes because we are tired, and we lose our tempers because the weight of everything and nothing all at once is suddenly too heavy. We fail to see actual sunlight or make it out for a permitted hour of exercise, we experience sensory overload and retreat into our headphones for large portions of the day, and we eat breakfast for dinner while wearing the same clothes as yesterday. 

In February, looking back on a successful week involved getting things ticked off at work and kicking goals; getting the kids to and from school and daycare; progressing something or another on our personal lists that we had set out to achieve - as well as brushing our hair, and interacting with other humans in a face-to-face capacity, each and every day. 

Now, success is making it through another 'week' and keeping it together as best we can. It's about surviving or thriving, depending on the day of the week or the minute of the day. It's about doing as many things as we can, the best we can, and not always doing the best at all the things. 

It's about managing energy over time, necessity over desire, and valuing long term outcomes over immediate outputs and gains. It's about trying our hardest, yet trying not to be too hard on ourselves when our hardest isn't enough. It's about supporting ourselves and our friends and families and our colleagues, and being overwhelmed with gratitude when the support comes flowing back. 

And as for the picture, well, sometimes it's about letting the kids lay every book in the house up and down the hallway to create an imaginary library so you can get through a Zoom call in relative peace. Because even without the 'bookends' of before, the stories of now just keep on coming. 

Wherever you are, however you are getting through it - keep going! We're getting there! 

M x

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Mumdanity Roars On

December weeknight parental survival kit deployed. 

22 days until another Christmas. And in the blink of a sleep deprived - possibly crusted with some daycare conjunctivitis - eye, more than two years have passed since I last tapped out a Mumdanity post.

Yet despite the emergence of daughter number two, the increasing height and sass of daughter number one, and the total annihilation of my final remnants of sanity, the mumdanity continues.

Indeed, the mumdanity is roaring louder than ever. I hear it through the bathtime screams, and over my kids as they shout demands down the supermarket aisles. It is dogged. It pushes its way over the vacuum. It rumbles alongside and in time with the daily commute. It stutters with perfect stacatto through Saturday ballet. Somehow, it even pushes through the infernal wall of white noise behind which we hide the toddler. And ourselves.

Time is limited these days, much like loo paper supplies in our house now that toilet training is back in our lives in earnest. But the squeezing of time is no excuse to let a good outlet for mundane, mumdane, mad, mothering mayhem disappear into the couch cracks with the sultanas and twenty cent coins.

Mumdanity is making a comeback, one Instagram picture at a time - with added ramblings when the universe allows.

Pull up a food stained chair, crack open a sippy cup of wine, follow us on Instagram and put your feet up as the Mumdanity carries on.

M x

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Moment of Knowing

I'm not quite sure why, but for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have two children.

Two squirming, squawking little babies to cuddle. Two, sticky, grumpy, cheeky monkeys to cart around on school runs and family holidays. Two siblings, always present and willing to steal each others toys and fight with one another in the backseat of the family car.

After giving birth to my first cheeky monkey, I merrily assumed there would be a natural progression of parenting and time until my husband and I would just magically 'know' that the time was right for baby number two.

You know, the stars would align, our debts would magically pay themselves off, we would reach parenting level ten and we would know that now was the time to double the laundry pile indefinitely.

Yet as with just about every assumption I made in the 28 years prior to giving birth, and every assumption I made in the delusional six month hurricane period that followed after I squeezed my lovely watermelon sized cheeky monkey into existence, the magical moment of 'knowing' just never came.

Perhaps I was na├»ve to believe that such a moment could exist. Perhaps I was whacked out from all the maternal hormones and new motherly love. Perhaps the moment came and went unnoticed, dashing past us while we had our heads stuck in the washing machine looking for the eternally lost other sock.

Regardless of the reason, somewhere between the early mornings, exhausted nights, daycare drop offs, spilt babycinos, epic tantrums in the supermarket carpark and explanations of WHY one must eat vegetables and WHY must not jump off the couch, the natural moment of 'knowing' got lost on us.

Yet our cheeky monkey was climbing higher, further, faster, we were rapidly running out of room in the shed to store our brightly coloured collection of baby and toddler collateral, and the stars didn't seem to be any closer to aligning than they were on the day I gave birth.

And so we came to an enormous crossroads, smack bang in the middle of our otherwise clearly mapped out suburban lives. A decision loomed large: to continue as a family of three, or take a chance on becoming a rambunctious rabble of four?

We tried to be logical - we tried to look at our bank balance and our credit card statements and be adult about numbers and logistics and what ifs and then whats. We tried to be emotional - we talked about our feelings and our hopes and our dreams and our fears. We tried to be drunk and detached - we just got distracted and watched a movie instead of finding the answers to the universe.

But at the end of the day, we realised that there is no magical moment of knowing and there is no perfect time. There is no right or wrong answer, and no way to predict what the future holds. And the stars are nothing but luminous balls of gas producing heat and bad metaphors in a very distance place, which have very little relevance to our reproductive decisions.

There is no way to definitively know. So we rolled the dice. We took a chance. We were incredibly lucky. And now we are three plus a bump.

And while we still don't know if we will ever know if we really knew or even know that we know, we can't wait to meet our second cheeky monkey at the end of the year.

How did you know when, or if, it was time to have another child?

M x

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Breaking New Traditions

My Christmas experiences have always been punctuated by a series of fast and fleeting traditions, drawn from the different corners of my family and pulled from my celebratory cheeseboard of friends, follies, foibles and life experiences.

As with so many haircuts and dreams and Christmas wish lists, the Christmas traditions that decorate my life have waxed and waned in brightness and closeness with the passing of time and the growing of up.

My earliest Christmas memories centre around the red brick barbecue and the inflatable wading pool, like a festively pegged Hills Hoist in full flight. Presents were swapped in the lounge room, with a joke gift hidden among every piece of present gold, while a lone pedestal failed to keep the summer heat at bay.

Those earliest Christmas days were accented with plastic table cloths, sliced ham, honeycomb bites and bowls of beetroot and pineapple up and down the trestle table - almost but not quite long enough to fit the growing family - and soundscaped with the pop of bottle lids and the rhythmic shhhh-shhhh of the backyard sprinkler.

As time moved along and my legs inched taller, the traditions and family numbers grew too. I remember festive day trips to the annual Christmas Pantomime, followed by melting icecream moments on the foreshore. Then there were the blissfully long Christmas evenings singing carols in the family room, hunting buried coin treasure in the pudding, and competing over board games with the extended family until the grown-ups nightcaps capped the day for another year.

As my childhood morphed into adulthood, our Christmas traditions organically lapsed into lazy days on the back deck; simple days of books and socks ensconced in wrapping paper, topped with a fruit breakfast, sandwiched with a seafood spread, and tailed with a lazy champagne (or four) on the lounge.

When I tumbled into parenthood, Christmas traditions took on a whole new level of meaning. As a self-confessed Christmasoholic, I set my jingly Christmas heart on creating a whole new suite of traditions for our little family of three - making our own Christmas cards, visiting obnoxiously bold light displays, wearing daggy Christmas Eve pajamas, and donating old toys before Santa's arrival each year.

At the centre of my tradition bonanza was the annual Christmas decoration acquisition. Drawing on scattered memories from my own childhood and an embarrassingly strong love of Christmas decorations, I decided we would hunt, gather and add one new special decoration to the family tree each year. With the passing of time, these shiny objects would combine together to tell a unique and expanding family narrative.

The year my daughter was born, I ventured into the city to a department store to purchase one unique decoration to mark the occasion. After extensive oohing and ahhing in the magical cave of Christmas trim and several bouts of indecision, I settled on an ornate glass baby bauble with the year marked on it.

Last year, with my toddler presenting a serious decoration hazard, I opted for a child-friendly decoration - a non-breakable, pastel fabric ice-cream cone with sparkly bits and a large woollen 'hook' for pulling on and off the tree.

This year, my daughter proudly chose her own silver star, from the department store shelf - dripping with enough glitter to start our own decoration factory at home - and carefully carried it with her in the car, in her bag, in her bed, in her hand, to do anything with but hang on the tree.

In line with family tradition, we hauled the Christmas tree bits and bobs in from the shed on the first day of December and hoisted the tree into place for another year. As we set about hanging the ornaments, we realised that the ice-cream cone decoration was missing in action. Retracing our steps, we found a trail of shimmering fabric leading to an ice-cream shaped mess: chewed up, annihilated, in the middle of the backyard, next to our guilty looking dog.

Somewhat deflated by our now truncated tradition, we turned our attention to the original glass ornament that started it all. My daughter proudly picked it up, grinned with Christmas excitement, and dropped the ball hard on the timber floor before I could scoop it out of her little hands: smashed, obliterated, in the middle of the floor, next to our bauble-shocked two year old.

In the blink of an eye, all that was left of my young tradition was some shredded fabric, some rogue glass smithereens, a trail of glitter leading to a portable Christmas ornament companion, and the memory of ornaments now past.

But from the complete tradition failure, I think we have actually managed to create a real story and a real tradition: of broken ornaments, family moments and Christmases lived and laughed and loved.

I can't wait to buy another ornament and live through its inevitable demise next year.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

M x