Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The One I Hope My Daughters Read When They Are Older And Hate Me.

To my daughters,

I love you. Sometimes, I wish it was that easy, that, in parenting you, I could just say "I love you" and convey in those words everything I feel about you, everything I want for you, everything I struggle with. All I ever wanted was a daughter, and I was lucky, I got two. I am a woman, I am a wife, I am a mother, and I feel so privileged to have two beautiful girls who I can help to become women, wives (or partners, I'm okay with that) and mothers themselves.

What a task. What a huge, scary, enormous task. How can I possibly define what it means to be a woman, wrap it up into a neat little bundle and feed it to you in age appropriate chunks throughout your journey to become one? How do I figure out what is really important to teach you, what you absolutely have to know, without imposing my own values unnecessarily onto you? How do I warn you, without scaring you? How do I guide you, without making you dependant on me? How do I let go, without losing you?

I really do love you. Intensely. But the dark side to love is fear, and worry, and anger, and frustration. I hope that as you look back through your life, these are not the things you remember the most. I hope you know that under it all, is a love like a slow burning fire, warming me everyday, hurting if I got too close, but beautiful, so beautiful to sit with.

You are both so different. So raw, and so vulnerable, and fierce, and joyful, and caring... but different. Four-year-old, you are my worrier. My helper. The one that needs so much from me. You wear me down, with all your questions, and demands, and the way you want everything done just right now. You love to learn, and do things, and work things out, your own way. You want me to sit with you while you figure things out, and praise you all the way to the moon and back when you get it right. You struggle with disappointment, both your own and others. You seek out the love and attention of others - your affection is hard earned, but once it is, you are fiercely loyal. Your feelings are so strong, they scare you sometimes. They scare me sometimes. You are my mirror - when I am down, you are down; when I am joyful, you are joyful. This is such a responsibility, and sometimes I react to you as if I am reacting to myself. You show me my own flaws, and I am so sorry for passing them on to you. I worry for you, because I know how hard life may be for you.... and, then again, it may not be. You are strong, and self aware, and you are not me.

Three-year-old, you are my enigma. You are a dreamer, a thinker, a creator. You live half in this world, and half in a world of your own making. But sometimes, when you think I am not looking, I see you watching, taking everything in, taking more in than you let on. You are clever, so clever, but in a different way to your sister. You come at things in your own way, in your own time. You sift through information, keeping what is important to you and discarding the rest. Three-year-old, you wear your heart on your sleeve. Your feelings are to be shared, loudly, and with great ceremony. You dance in the street, sing all day and are most comfortable in fairy dresses and Wellington boots. You are slow, so slow, and you remind to take time to notice things around me. I get frustrated at you, and try to hurry you along, but nothing hurries you unless you are ready to be hurried. You are fiercely independent, and if I intervene in your efforts to master something, you brush me away and go right back to the beginning to do it all over again. You teach me patience.

I have to parent you both differently. You tell me it's not fair - you both tell me it's not fair - but if I parented you the same, I would be missing the point with both of you. You both have your own journey, and I try to be there for each of you. I get it wrong. Sometimes I get it very wrong.  Sometimes I worry that I have gotten it so wrong, I will damage you irreparably. I know you intimately, in ways that no-one will ever know you - and yet, you both teach me something new everyday. There are days when I am heavy with the weight of you both, the burden of carrying you both through the obstacles of life, especially on the days where I find myself on a part of the journey that neither of you wanted to take. I forget, sometimes, that you are your own people. I try to shape you too precisely, and you fight me.

That's okay. Keep fighting me. Keep challenging me. Keep engaging with me, and teaching me, and loving me. If I can feel the pressure of you, then I know that we are still in it together. One day, you will be ready to move on. My role in your life will change. That's okay, too. When the time comes, I will try to be ready. I hope that you will have enjoyed your journey with me enough to revisit it from time to time.

But, for now, you are still so small. You tell me each day how big you are now, and you know, sometimes I start to believe it. I start to expect more from you than I should, and you struggle under the weight of my expectations. I will try to remember how little you are. You have been on this Earth for such a short time, and you are learning so much everyday. I will try to be your safe place, your quiet place, your soft landing. I will try to remember to carry you when you are tired, and let you walk (slowly) when your feet are ready.

So, again, I love you. I love you enough to forgive myself for my mistakes, dust myself and keep going. I will always love you, remember that, even when I am showing you the dark side of my love. I pray that I can teach you to love you, too. And to forgive. Love and forgiveness. Everything else will work itself out.

My daughters, you are my world. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Second Child: The One That Taught Me Not To Judge Other Parents.

But only silently... or I will probably live to regret it.
The other day, I was driving down the road with The Husband and the small army all tucked into their respective car seats like sardines in a can. A car drove past with a little girl standing on the backseat looking out the window. I said, "Put your bloody seatbelt on!" The Husband, thinking I was talking to one of our kids (ahem, not that I ever speak to my own blessed children like that), reached behind his seat..... and calmly clicked in the three-year-old's harness.

That is my second born. The one who continually reminds me not to judge other parents - because chances are, someone else is looking at me, shaking their head at how I could let this angelic looking child completely run the show.

She is the kind of child that trades on her looks. Lord knows where she got that from. I tried it, but sadly, all my looks have ever gotten me are some retail 'assistant', head cocked to the side, lips pursed, saying, "Try it in the black, dear, black hides a multitude of flaws." The three-year-old, however, has old ladies wrapped around her little finger, mothers smiling at her indulgently and burly men melting into little mushy puddles, rendered completely helpless by her dreamy charm.

This morning she informs us that she no longer has any need for her bedroom door, as she prefers to exit using the window. As all good mothers do when their children tell them things, I assumed she was bullshitting and rather condescendingly said, "When have you ever used to window to get out of your bedroom?"
"At nighttime," she tells me, "to play outside."
A quick check of the window reveals that sure enough, the flyscreen has been slit across the bottom and there are grubby footprints on the outside wall where she has clambered back in. The four-year-old confirms her story. "Yes, mum, she's never in the room when I wake up!" Unsure whether to berate the four-year-old for not thinking to tell me earlier, berate the three-year-old for roaming the garden at night, or applaud her resourcefulness, I glance at The Husband and we do what all concerned, responsible parents would do in this situation: we laugh. I tell The Husband that I deserve a bloody medal for parenting this child, and we try very hard to convey the Seriousness of her behaviour.

She is also the kind of kid who always looks like an orphan. I could dress her in a $100 David Jones dress and she will look like a street kid who has raided the leafy green suburbs' Salvo bin. Her hair refuses to conform to society's idea of what neat looks like, and I have seriously seen dirt fly through the air and land on her face, for no reason at all. She's not mad keen on underwear, either.

A couple of weeks ago, she went to three-year-old kindy for the first time. My kids go to our local private school, and, let me tell you, that is a lot of pressure for an already frazzled mother of three. There are rules. Not school rules, mum rules. The Husband laughed at me, when, on this first day, he got up from the drawing table after colouring in a picture with the three-year-old (yes! Just one!) and made moves to leave. I hissed at him through smiling lips, "You can't go yet!!"
"What?" he said. "Why not?"
"You can't be the first parent to leave!"

He thinks I take it all too seriously.  I don't tell him that I chose our current car based purely on how it would look in the afternoon school pickup car lineup. It's no Prado, but it's close enough.

Anyway, at the end of the three-year-old's first day, I throw some (nice) shoes on, brush my hair and try to look unfrazzled as I wait outside the kindy door for her to appear. She prances out, looking very pleased with herself, and I notice she is wearing a skirt. A pink, lacy skirt.
"Who's is that skirt?" I ask her.
She vaguely gestures towards the dress up corner. I march her back into the classroom and ask her to put the skirt back in the box. She pulls the skirt off..... and is wearing nothing underneath. Nothing. No shorts, no knickers, nothing. We hunt around and reclaim her shorts, but it seems her knickers have vanished. The teacher's aid tells me she has never come across anything like this before. Keep your knickers on unless you are in the toilet is now a classroom rule.

Sometimes I think I should be driving a panel van.

Now, I do try not to judge other mums. I am fairly sure children are aware of how little we mums like to be judged and how much we actually do it, and use that awareness to their advantage. So unless, you are this mum...

or this dad
you are probably pretty safe from me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Detachment Parenting: Growing Them Up Resilient, Independent.... And, Well, Alive!

In the inevitable pram lineup that occurs whenever mums of young babies and toddlers congregate (you know the one - where you eye each others' prams off to work out where you sit in the pecking order. Best leave the $20 Big W stroller at home) my child was usually the one with a bottle propped up against a rolled up bunny rug, dummy on a string pinned to her top and a flat head from being left on the floor while I do housework. All that is missing is the flashing neon light that says "I CAME OUT OF THE SUNROOF!!"

I am not an "Attachment Parent". I'd love to have it in me, but I'm a personal space kinda girl. And the odds were stacked against me anyway, with boobs that never got the memo about why they exist, and a pelvis too small to fit my big-headed babies through. (Yep, you heard, too small - just waiting for the rest of my body parts to catch on.) When my kids started pulling themselves up to stand holding onto my trousers I'd involuntarily shake my leg like a dog when you scratch their stomach in just the right spot. The Boy is on a rotation between playmat, bunny rug on the floor with toys, bouncer and cot. Two of my most favourite parenting moments are when they learn to hold their own bottle and when they learn to swing themselves on the swingset. I wake up excited on Mondays thinking "TGIM - school day!!" I spend hours hand making toys and games and dressups for the kids but never have the energy to actually play with them.

I love my kids. No, really. But if you've been reading along you will know that I don't consider this parenting gig to be a walk in the park. Smell the roses? You've got to be kidding me. Most days I can't get the smell of poo out of my nostrils.

Yesterday, some friends and I took our collective tribes to the local pool. It's a bit of a weekly ritual for us, mainly because we realised that we had Friday mornings free and were terrified at the prospect of having to entertain our kids AT HOME, for the WHOLE DAY! We set up in our usual grassy spot, and laid back to watch our kids playing in the baby pool while we compared stories about how feral they had been. Suddenly, the local homeschooling mums, with an average tribe of six kids each, came and set their towels up - in a circle around us. It was like an intervention. A homeschooling, attachment parenting intervention. I panicked. I put The Boy's bottle away, hid his dummy in the pram and tried to think of something, well, attachmentish to say. I talked about the weather. "It's been hot, hasn't it? Yesterday it was so hot I left the car running with the aircon on for the kids while I popped into - ah shit. Um... Oh, your little one looks a bit off colour. Teething, you think? You should try using amber. Panadol? Uh, yeah, I have some - never leave the house without it... ah, bugger." The Husband joked that perhaps they were on a personal development outing - reminding themselves of why they have made the parenting choices they did. Thanks, Husband.

I'm not sure why I felt like this. I said to my friend, I would love to want to be the homeschooling, attachment-y type of parent. But something in me rebels against it. Maybe its the Universe protecting me against complete and utter failure. I mean, I find parenting hard going enough, and that's WITH the help of ABC2 and school. If I homeschooled my little angels, they'd be lucky to get through Year One alive.

When I googled 'detachment parenting', some keywords jumped out at me. Playful parenting, inspired parenting, peaceful parenting, natural parenting, unconditional parenting, scream free parenting. The insecure, paranoid part of me (which is actually quite a large part of me, come to think of it) immediately gets all defensive and whispers in my ear, "See? They think you aren't natural enough, or peaceful enough, and by the way, you scream too much." I imagine a giant checklist, with some babywearing she-god checking off my parenting qualities with a frown on her face. Smacks her kids. Values sleep over the closeness and bonding opportunities of bedsharing. Forgets about baby massage.

On the bright side, though, my detachment style of parenting has yielded some pretty incredible results. The older two both learnt to walk early, no doubt aided by me shaking them off my leg when they were just beginning. They are very comfortable with other adults - probably because I have never hesitated to leave them in others' care so I can enjoy a night off. (The Foxtel salesman looked slightly concerned when it was his turn, but, hey, he won't be knocking on my door again!) They are both very resilient, most likely due to me not mollycoddling them when they hurt themselves. (This backfired on me once: the three-year-old was howling in her bedroom one night, and I stood at her door and yelled that it had better be important because if I come in and it wasn't important you'll get a smacked bottom! Is it important? No? Well, goodnight then! Turns out she had fallen out of bed and gotten a blood nose. I was washing sheets and carpet all the next day. They now know that blood noses are important.) Both of the older two know how to use the TV remotes and they can prepare simple meals for themselves. (Sultanas and dry cereal is a meal, right?)

So, detachment parenting is my thing. When I drop the kids off at school, my slight guilt at how much I enjoy leaving them there is alleviated somewhat as I sip on my iced coffee at the cafe and watch the attachment, home-schooling mums try to rush through their grocery shopping, all six kids in tow, while they worry about getting home with enough time to manage six different curriculums and still get dinner on the table. The grass is always greener, but, on school days, I kinda like my pastures.