Friday, August 14, 2015

Same Yet Different: How Motherhood has Changed Me


I see many articles pop up in my newsfeed about the
changes that come with motherhood. These articles stretch from one side of the opinion spectrum to the other, recording beautifully positive maternal experiences through to tumultuous journeys of upheaval and challenge. Some mums seem to rejoice in claiming the cloak of motherhood, while others struggle with a loss of individual identity and space.

I find myself teetering in the middle of the spectrum. My life has changed in so many ways since I entered the murky waters of motherhood, yet I still happily drag my former self with me through all my parenting journeys, much like a toddler who drags their beloved blankie on magical adventures far and wide.

My social life has changed almost beyond recognition. Before entering the mummy zone, weekends were carefree; slow-moving scores of time peppered with barbecues, late dinners out, crowded bars and cold afternoon beverages shared in the park with friends. Now, weekends are frantic two-day jigsaw puzzles filled with oddly shaped pieces of zoo visits, university assignments, grocery shopping, adventure playgrounds, tea parties and battling my way to the washing machine.

Catch-up with friends are now brief, frazzled encounters involving repeated cries of 'please don't draw on Mummy and Daddy's friends glass coffee table with your milk' and 'put that down, it's worth more than our whole house' - or they are rare late night affairs out and about, made possible by combining painkillers and patience with a wonderful partner who is willing to take the burden while my head slowly caves in on itself the next morning.

My vocabulary has also taken a whole new direction. Expletives have given way to sweeter approximations, with fuuu...rrr out shhh....ooot getting regular workouts and my grandmother's trademark Sugar Honey Ice Tea popping in for routine appearances. Letters have replaced key words, with marital conversations within ears reach of our daughter now sounding like a rapid-fire adult spelling bee, often assisted by wild hand gestures and crinkled facial expressions for added conversational emphasis. And it's not unusual to find myself uttering absurd phrases to my toddler that would have made my former self think I was quite mad: if you put pink teddy, mummy horsey or your cow light in the garbage bin again then Mummy will be sad and the new ice cubes won't freeze and you won't be able to put any in your bowl until tomorrow. 

Work and study have become entirely different experiences. Before becoming a mum, work and university were generally the main meals of my day, providing the bulk of my mental sustenance and serving as the fiercest fire up my backside to get up, get going and fight my forward. These days, work and study have transitioned to an essential but elemental part of my independent freedom, a series of happy challenges to sandwich between the many other meals of the day.

Deadlines used to stand up in my calendar like menancing mountains, hard and cold and seemingly near impossible to scale. The project topic or essay theme would consume my mind completely, from shower to third draft to all night, panic stations. Now, the deadlines are merely friendly markers, little flags waving in the breeze requiring a slot in my diary and two coffees worth of brain space.  

My body has also changed irrevocably. Size, shape, girth - even my foot size has increased. After two and half years of slow postnatal deflation, I have retunred to most of my former wardrobe and now outwardly appear to be a reasonable approximation of my previous self. But the changes lurk behind the surface, with a series stretch marks and scars, an expanded ribcage and vastly lowered breast reminding my daily of my physical losses and my incredible life gains.

My new body has found a companion in an increased pain threshold. Having made it through a birth where I missed the window for pain relief and was too uncoordinated to suck on the gas, I seem to have discovered the art of sucking it up. Where once a heavy cold would have me bedridden and moaning for assistance, a headache plagued, snotty attack now serves as added ammunition to grit my shivering teeth and get on with all the various shit on the life list -  because, really, who else is going to pick up the plastic beetle, the discarded wipes, the three hundred lid-deprived textas and the half eaten apple shoved under the couch that are driving me mad?

Curiously, I have also become calm where I used to feel anxious, and anxious in the times and places that I used to feel calm. I am uncertain if the change is due to the shifting priorities in my life, or the many lessons I have had to learn, or the sheer exhaustion running from my tired brain to my expanded feet - but I am too tired to be anxious about it.

The many changes across my world are readily evident. Becoming a mother has changed my life irrevocably and starkly, a giant line drawn across the page of my life in black ink the day my daughter was born. As bold, as stark, as permanent as the big fat marker lines my toddler proudly tattooed onto my couch last month.

The one thing that being a mum hasn't been able to change though is the essence of me. You know, those things that make you, you and me, me. The things that would have to be ironed out of the very fabric of your being by a mystical force far greater than the combined magic of Peppa Pig, Playschool and a box of sultanas on a rainy (hungover) Sunday morning with a two year old.

Through the multitudinous changes and strangeness of parenting, my essence has remained firmly intact. Whether I'm pleading with my toddler to put her pants on or hiding in the bathroom eating chips or sitting in a work meeting, I am immovably, unquestionably still the same me I have always been. For better, for worse, and for all the weird everything in between.

The proof is in the littlest little things, the tiny parts that make up the big moving - generally very clumsy - object that is me. The things most of us never acknowledge about ourselves, but that we all know to be as true as they come and generally as odd as can be.

The little truths. Like I still believe that birthday cake is magical and should be worshipped, especially during office gatherings and mundane routine occasions - I will always be the first to begin the ungainly cake box hover, the first to have seconds, and the very last to leave a piece lying alone on the plate. Or how I will tackle the biggest bully in the room regardless of consequence, but would rather eat my own shoes than complain that someone got my sandwich order wrong.

The unconscious bits. Like I still scrunch and crinkle my nose like a hyperactive rabbit looking for premature crease lines every time I use my brain - left scrunch or uncertain, moderate scrunch for concern, mild crinkle for happy - and I still inadvertently blink my eyes in rapid succession when trying to pretend I'm not having an emotional explosion on the inside.

The quirky quirks. Like I mentally read the word 'podiatrist' as 'po-deeattrist' and add imaginary exclamation marks to uneven words to tidy them up for my liking. I still despise loose socks, pruny bath fingers and crinkling plastic sounds, firmly believing that all three were sent to undo my sanity one horrifically mundane, mundanely horrific sensation at a time.

And the little heart things. Like how I still love coffee in bed and bright flowers in bunches and collecting more books than my shelves can ever possibly hold. And how I believe that cheese is always the great answer, Scrabble is always the great leveller in love, and that antagonism laced with wit is flirting done well.

And so it is that I find myself happily stranded in the middle of the parenting change spectrum: undeniably still the same, yet simultaneously transformed in all the best possible ways.  

M x

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Beginners Guide to Baking a Baby from Scratch

Joining the bun in the oven club can seem overwhelming - but it doesn't have to be.

Here is my simple seven-step beginners guide to baking a baby, from scratch.

First things first, it's always a good idea to check out some already finished products to make sure this really is the right cooking career for you. Take notice of random kids and their parents in their native habitats. Witness how they interact in the park when it reaches home time. Watch the battle of wits in the car park when it's time to get in the car seat. Observe the dynamics at play when they enter the confectionery aisle at the supermarket.

Alternatively, stalk down your friends with kids and offer to cook them dinner so you can examine their finished products up close. See how cute the kids are? See how they cuddle their parents so sweetly? See how they just threw the dinner you cooked for everyone on the floor? See how they just decked each other across the dining table with a Lego truck and started screaming like banshees?

If you haven't started crying into the sink yet or retreated to the nearest pub for therapy, then you are probably in a pretty good space to crack out the apron and get started.

Baking is an acquired skill, and practice really does make perfect. If you're not quite ready to start on your prize winning dish, or you're still feeling somewhat traumatised by the Lego truck incident, take that apron straight back off and practice your skills without the added pressure of a ticking oven timer.

Combine ingredients
Skilled up? If you haven't already accidently created a masterpiece, grab your willing baking partner and set aside a good chunk of time to source and combine your ingredients. The combination stage is an anything goes type of affair. Some bakers use their own ingredients, others outsource some or all ingredients as required, and some find an offsite oven to meet their personal kitchen requirements. 

There is no set recipe to follow here, so experiment with different styles and methods at will, making sure to add your own personal touches as you go. Layer in some prenatal vitamins, calcium and leafy greens for good measure, and season well with your own personal and genetic characteristics and quirks. As overall preparation time can vary wildly, with anecdotal reports ranging from less than a minute to more than a decade, be prepared to spend a fair chunk of time in the kitchen.

Promising early signs that you've chanced upon a successful combination can include feeling a little sea sick, crying over spilt milk and an unnaturally strong desire for potato chips.

Shake it, make it, bake it, baby. Place your prepared dish in the oven and bake at a moderate temperature for 40-odd weeks, until well done or otherwise scheduled for removal by your consulting professional. 

Remember to periodically crank the thermostat right up to ensure you get the full baking experience of sweat-inducing, arm-pit saturating pregnant temperatures. Make sure to pace around impatiently, tapping on the glass and wishing you could just take it out of the oven already. Distract yourself from the impossibly slow baking progress by sneaking spoonfuls of ice-cream from the freezer, and reading up on the week-by-week stages of baking development and growth. It is recommended that you engage the services of the local ultrasound technician to peer in to the oven at regular intervals throughout the bake to assess progress. It can be cathartic to complain repeatedly to your partner about the length of time the dish is taking to cook.

Remove from oven, let stand
Congratulations, your dish is ready to come out of the oven! Attempt to engage your preferred dish removal strategy, then throw the nice plan out the kitchen window and do whatever it takes to get the damned dish out of the stupid oven already. Advice your fellow kitchen assistants to exercise extreme caution while rendering assistance and support, as removing the dish from the oven is hot work and can lead to volcanic eruptions of screaming and expletives.

Admire your creation
TA DA! Well, well, look what you did, you cracking little Masterchef you! Feel free to flump back on your delivery bed pillows and gaze at your freshly baked and delivered creation with awe. Marvel at how well the ingredients combined together. Be impressed at your own talents. Goggle over the cuteness of that little-button nose and those impossibly small hands and feet. Enjoy the bliss  before the first screaming night feed begins.

Allow flavours to develop
Your baking extravaganza might be over for now, but the journey is just beginning. Much like your old favourites, cheese and wine, children have an astonishing tendency to get bolder, bitier and more expensive with age. Sit back, watch the flavours develop and enjoy as your complex, beautiful creation embarks on an amazing journey of their own.

M x

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Half and Whole: Being a Working Mum


At least once a work day, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to drop what I'm doing, turn around and retrace my steps right back to the day care gate as fast as I can.

It's almost as though a pressure lands on my chest, urging me to chuck in the professional towel and cast off my gathered obligations, commitments and professional life choices in favour of the warm hug of play dough and cuddles.

The triggers are usually small things; a child laughing on the tram, a glimpse of my daughter smiling cheekily on the desktop wallpaper, the weekly statement of account from the day care centre landing in my inbox, or finding a piece of chalk or handful of pink hairclips in my pocket while reaching for loose change for my morning coffee.

Sometimes, I feel a sense of personal panic simultaneously grip onto my ovaries and my mind like a vice. Questions slam around me in an anxious frenzy: am I getting the true meaning here, am I missing the best bits, am I doing it right?

Other times, I feel the cold sheet of professional concern creep into my mind. I forecast projected outcomes based on little but emotion and a fluttering of anxiety: can I do this justice, where will I land, how will I even get there?

Most times, I am just knocked out flat by a sense of panicky guilt that I'm letting my daughter, my most precious other little heart with sticky fingers and the cheekiest smile I know, down and further down by the second.

The guilt manifests as a continual sequence of juxtapositions and changing thoughts, influenced by the number of tears at day care drop off multiplied by the quality of the tasks landing on my desk, divided by the drag of the current meter of sleep deprivation clicking through my head.

I suppose this is a living, breathing example of what we all call mummy guilt, a sense of parental anxiety and a feeling of taking too much and giving too little all while just trying to balance the damned scales.

But no matter the approach, the balance never seems quite right. When you have more than one driving force propelling you forward from within, more than one  passion oscillating in your brain, more than one big destination on your radar, the target weights just never seem to line up the right way.  

No matter how you carve up your day or fill up your calendar or dish out your heart, is starts to feel like the grass is always that little bit greener on the other side - whatever that is, however you get there, and whenever you can.

This isn't a problem, and there is no solution. It is just the way it is for me, a permanent straight split, straight out division lanced down the middle of my two intricately fused yet staunchly disparate halves: mother, professional, confused.

I need both halves to make a whole.
I need the whole to house both halves.
And my daughter needs both the halves and the whole mum together.

M x

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Phrased Out: Talking Toddler

Time is growing up, and so is my child.

In between the commutes and the tickles and the bath and bed routines, my toddler is fast shifting through the months into a fully fledged little person, with a rapidly growing vocabulary to match.
The leaps and bounds into language have provided a plethora of gorgeous moments. Slightly mispronounced words, cute songs from start to finish, muddled up versions of the ABC, and counting from one to fifteen with only twelve numbers. Just last night she told me she wanted to give me a big cuggle and kisses before requesting I sing Twinkle Twinkle one more at door Mummy pwease.

There went my heart, again.

Mastering toddler language has given my daughter the power to express herself. This a great thing, a brilliant part of growing up, an incredibly important developmental milestone, and a really big small-footed step towards an adult future of self determination, autonomous control and clarity of communication.

But for every gorgeous moment we log in the memory bank, our daughter's grasp of toddler language has the ability to throw up an equally horrifying moment, a complete linguistic juxtaposition that has the potential to return your previously stolen heart for a refund and make you feel the polar opposite of warm and fuzzy and happily parental.

The world of toddler language is peppered with exhaustingly repeated phrases, cranky toddler demands and seemingly innocent signifiers of sheer parental doom; it is the beginning of a whole new, demanding and frustrating world for Mummy and Daddy. Or Dummy and Maddy, depending on how you pronounce things at this stage of your life, and/or how well your verbalised toddler demands have been met.

I am led to believe that every parent has a list of their top most hated phrases of the week. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, but I like to dream that I'm part of some form of exhausted, grumpy club. Regardless, I press on: here are my top three 'don't ever wanna hear em again' phrases for the month, and presumably the year.

My former cherub lost her cute, fluttery wings the day that she added her high-pitched, cranky 'ME DO IT' to her budding vocab. Everyone warned me about the ME DO IT phase, but no warning could effectively convey the true horror of the ME DO IT months ... oh please tell me it's only months?!

Getting in the car? ME DO IT.
Mummy driving the car? ME DO IT.
Putting pants on? ME DO IT.
Mummy putting lip balm on? ME DO IT.
Daddy cooking dinner on the stove? ME DO IT.
Dog eating a treat? ME DO IT.
Time to vacuum? ME DO IT.
Mummy needs some quiet time. MEEEEE DOOO ITTTT TOOO!

Sometimes, I have to admit, it can be a little bit funny. A little bit amusing to watch a cranky mini-me stamp and yell and fume her way indignantly around the kitchen, having a melt down because someone else dared put the lid on her sippy cup on her behalf, or put the towel back on the bathroom rail without her knowledge, or empty the potty without her express permission.

Sometimes, it's deeply intriguing to just sit back and watch; to watch her undo and redo something and then undo it all over again, to try and try and try to do something impossibly difficult just so she can reach the toddler satisfaction nirvana of doing it ALL BY HERSELF.

But mostly, it's soul-draining exhausting. Day after day, I find myself sitting next to my car, broken, defeated, prohibited from helping, pleading with my mini control freak to please just get in the seat before Mummy loses her final marbles right ... there ... on ... the ... kerb.

If the wings fell off my cherub when independence rocked in, it's fair to say that the broken wings fell right under the twenty ton toddler truck when toilet training entered the picture. My dreams of a nappy free life were shattered as fast as you can say 'Do you need to go to the potty darling?'

My early pipe dreams of a pleasant transition to toilet training land were shot down in a barrage of wet pants, repeat episodes of faux denial, and 'parcels' sent home at the end of the daycare day for fumigation. Sure, there have been days of some success, but these are reliably unreliable and always give way to days of intermittent efforts followed by days of apparent toddler vs. toilet stand-off.

Very few things instill fear in me these days like hearing a sweet MUMMY, I DONE A WEE floating through the shared air of a pleasant, well-populated and otherwise hygienic public space. Because nothing says relaxing family day out than finding yourself standing in a puddle of wee with a sodden, foot-stamping toddler screaming ME DO IT and trying to pull their pants off, in the company of a hundred strangers trying to enjoy their Sunday morning coffee and croissant.

We've read the books, and we've spoken to day care. We've grilled other parents, we've grilled our own parents, and we've spent hours consulting the confused oracle that is Doctor Google. We've tried the little potty and the big toilet, and the big toilet with a little potty modifying device. We've tried cotton undies, and training pants, and no pants. We've tried directing the show with clear instructions, and activating the power of ME DO IT for self directed learning. We've employed embarrassing enthusiasm, and nonchalant apathy. We've tried sticker charts, reward stamps, bribery crackers and even the promise of a tropical island holiday when the big girl status achievement is finally unlocked, BAZINGA.


While I've heard plenty of success stories from other parents who's beloved children have managed to hold onto a cherub wing or two and soar their way through potty training as swiftly as germs flying through an indoor play centre, I've also heard plenty of stories like ours.

I cling to these stories the same way I still cling to solo showers and secret tubs of chocolate macadamia ice cream hidden at the back of the freezer. These stories bring me a much needed sense of universal community - we are not alone, we are not alone, we are not alone ... we're not alone are we?!

The toddler truck has also delivered the magical UH OH to our household. In the early days, crying was bad. Teething was bad. Pooplosions were very, very bad.

These days, UH OH takes the 'oh shit no' cake. Every time those two cute little syllables come wafting down the hallway on the parenting breeze, my heart skips a few shuddery beats. Such a cute, sweet, simple combination words; such a horrible  and generally accurate signifier of domestic disaster.

UH OH has delivered pen drawings all over the couch, and pen engravings in the television cabinet. UH OH has ripped the charger and charging port sheer out of the laptop and pulled the laptop off the couch more times than I want to think. UH OH has poured water in the DVD player. UH OH has broken all the ceramic tea cups that were never permitted to leave the cupboard in the first place. UH OH has explored their dirty nappy with their hands. UH OH has drawn on the novels in the bookcase instead of the paper in the drawing book. UH OH has spilt milk all through Mummy's car and failed to reveal the oopsie until the smell crept into the carpet and tried to kill us all through our nostrils.

UH OH sometimes means Mummy, I've done something so terrifying that you might need to hide in the bathroom and eat potato chips this afternoon until there is enough tinge of dusk creeping across the sky to justify opening the vodka.

As nasty as it can be, I should qualify: UH OH is infinitely better than its evil stepsister, I FIX IT. My advice? If you hear I FIX IT coming down the hall, just go straight for the vodka. Even if it's still breakfast time.

What do you never want to hear again?

M x