A lone path

I went to a playgroup this morning with Rosie. It was our first time. It has been strange and interesting being on the outside of a group and watching how it functions. What seems to work and what doesn’t. What I was struck by this morning was the lack of welcome and introductions. I tried to introduce myself twice and either I wasn’t heard or I was ignored. I thought later that there is something to be said for formal introductions and ritualised behaviour. Although it seems overbearing and stuffy in our times at least back then everyone knew the steps. It made meeting new people easy. I think it can be daunting introducing yourself whether you are part of the group already or new to the group. Perhaps it is the faint prospect of rejection that can make it hard.

It was while I was standing outside with Rosie by myself that I really tuned into the loneliness that has been dogging my heels for days. Loneliness is a familiar face for many of us, perhaps all of us. But familiar is a deceptive decriptor because loneliness isn’t always very comfortable. In fact for me most of the time it isn’t.

My first brush with deep aching loneliness was when I was ten and we had moved towns. We moved from a smallish town to a bigger town and my new primary school was big. I remember lying on my bed listening to Cat Stevens ‘Miles from Nowhere’. It really resonated with how I was feeling. Even now I love this song. Especially these lyrics:

I love everything, so don’t it make you feel sad. Cause I’ll drink to you, my baby. I’ll think to that, I’ll think to that.

Miles from nowhere, not a soul in sight. Oh yeah but it’s alright.

I have my freedom. I can make my own rules. Oh yeah the ones that I choose.

Lord my body has been a good friend. But I won’t need it when I reach the end.

Back then my loneliness was intricately connected to my sense of self, my identity.  I hadn’t really learnt who I was yet and all the things that created my boundaries and my identity had changed. It was only within my own family that I felt like the same person.

When I was in Year Ten I went to India by myself for four months. I went and lived in Bokaro Steel City and attended St Xavier’s where my father had taught for four years before he met my mother. We had been to India as a family when I was eleven so I had some inkling of what it would be like. However this time I went without my family. It was the loneliest I had ever felt. And I realised then that the labels we assign to ourselves or get given don’t mean anything. Neither do the physical trappings of our life, like where we live, the size of our house, our car, our relationship status and our job. For the first time I was somewhere and I was completely out of context. I discovered that I could be anyone. So what was really important? I’m still answering that question sometimes on a daily basis but I did discover that I have to walk my own path.

This morning was a reminder about walking my own path. It is highly unlikely that I will stumble across a ready-made group of people who all have similar ideals and ways of living to myself. Instead it will take time to meet real friends here in this new place. I am walking my own path. It is just mine. There will always be times of loneliness but perhaps this will allow me to stay true to myself.

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Mind clutter

I am reading AS Byatt’s ‘Babel Tower’. It is wonderful and I’m completely hooked. It has expanded an idea that I’ve held instinctively for a long time. It is marvellous to approach a familiar idea from another direction. Especially because this particular idea is so entrenched in daily life and re-examining it helps me to see more clearly and more deeply.

I’ve always felt almost nauseous at the thought of buying my partner’s clothes and deciding what he should wear. I also loathe the idea that I should organise him. To me it seems to be an invasion of his right to be himself. Not to mention a lot of extra work and mind clutter for me.  My dad always used to do the Saturday morning grocery shop with a bright magenta bum bag on. As a teenager I did find this quite embarrassing but I also loved and respected dad’s right to be himself. I also loved how dad just didn’t worry what other people thought of him. This freedom of self is so important to me.

‘Babel Tower’ is set in the 1960’s and there is a passage on page 280 which expresses this idea about mind clutter so perfectly. The passage begins with two women sitting in a playground watching their children play.  They are talking about how irritating their husbands are. About how their husbands can’t do anything for themselves, like find the bread and butter or the ironed shirt. I love this part: “…. if you’d only ever listen to what I’m saying and remember it. But he thinks it’s beneath him, he thinks anything I say is bound to be trivial and somehow demeaning, he goes on thinking his important thoughts. I tell him, I don’t want my brain cluttered with questions you can’t be bothered to listen to or answer, I could think important thoughts if I didn’t have to remember every trivial thing for you. He doesn’t care about cluttering my brain…..”.

Daily life creates domestic clutter. The dishes need doing again, breakfast, lunch and dinner need to be made and eaten again, dirty clothes washed and dried and put away again. It is endless and sometimes dispiriting. But within a partnership surely these endless jobs should be shared? There does still seem to be a tendency for the woman to shoulder more of this responsibility. I’m curious about this dynamic. How does it end up like this? What was it like in the beginning of the relationship? And why then would anyone add onto this list of endless jobs things like buying the partner clothing, deciding what they would look best in for a particular social occasion and organising them in other ways?

I find the idea of mind clutter fascinating because relationships are created in the present moment. But habits and social conditioning are incredibly powerful and can make it seem otherwise especially when they remain unexamined. Ideally both people within the relationship have the freedom to be themselves and I think mental space is an integral part of this. I think our history influences us more than we think. ‘Babel Tower’ is set in the 1960’s which isn’t very long ago. Yet attitudes towards relationships have changed a great deal however, perhaps not quite as much as I first thought.

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Our co-sleeping journey

When people find out that we co-sleep I often get asked ‘ when are you going to move her out of your bed?’ and ‘do you think co-sleeping is causing her sleep issues?’. My responses are usually saying we have no plan to move her out of our bed, it will happen when she is ready. And no I don’t think co-sleeping is causing her sleep issues. However what I often forget to mention is that co-sleeping is about so much more than sleep.

Co-sleeping began for us because Rosie was miserable in the cot. At around three months of age she had a week of waking every two hours and I thought ‘it can’t get worse than this’. The next week she woke every hour over night and I knew we had to do something differently. Luckily I had a friend who co-slept and she gave me the support and confidence to try it. It was a great fit from the beginning. I felt so much more rested and it got me through her subsequent rough sleeping patches. The benefits for us have been huge. I love giving her comfort during the night I think it makes her calmer and happier during the day. It is also meeting her evolutionary expectation of being near me, her mother most of the time. It is only in the last few hundred years that babies in the western world have been sleeping in cots. Yet we seem to forget this. We seem to expect independence from babies at a very early age.

Co-sleeping for us fosters a deep attachment to each other. It helps me to feel connected to Rosie even when she is being difficult. It helps to keep me rested most of the time and it has helped to establish and maintain our breast feeding relationship. I can’t imagine not having her in our bed. It fills me with such a deep profound joy.

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Bad sleep

I was very grumpy and frustrated this morning. Rosie my 22 month old daughter has had five really bad nights this week. I always forget the aching exhaustion that overcomes me. I also forget how stressful being tired again is. It takes me a few days to surrender to the tiredness and get used to functioning on less sleep.

William Sears has a phrase ‘the mother zone’ which he suggests living in if you have a high need baby. I often have to remind myself to stay in the mother zone, to do less, to enjoy seeing the world through eyes that have only slept a few hours. Because this too shall pass.

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The power of restriction

Restriction is generally viewed in a negative light. It means I can’t have whatever I want all the time whenever I want it. If I always have whatever I want then I never really need to question myself I can simply move on to fulfilling the next desire. This consumption just fuels my appetite.

As a woman and a mother I’m taught to believe that I can have it all. However our society never seems to examine what that term ‘all’ means. Can I have a child, a career, a relationship, a nice house, car and holidays all at once? I can. But will the quality of my relationships, my mothering or my work be compromised? What am I willing to compromise and why?

When I was pregnant I was terrified. I didn’t know whether I would be a good mother. I found the thought of being responsible for another human being terrifying and overwhelming. Once Rosie arrived my fear had abated somewhat but I realised that I wasn’t willing to compromise her. I’m in a privileged position and I’m very grateful that I’m able to stay home with Rosie. In this case I’ve embraced restriction. But it hasn’t been an easy journey. I think the path to self growth is always prickly and painful.

It is only through meeting my restrictions that I learn who I am. It is at the boundaries of my life that I can grow and change. If I just choose to live by a checklist of husband, mortgage, career, baby etc then I’m in danger of never really confronting my restrictions and experiencing change and joy. Restriction is a core part of reality. By being present with my current reality I can see clearly.

In improvisation there is nothing more frightening than being told ‘just improvise’. For exciting, interesting work to be created there needs to be structure and restriction. Pushing against the restrictions imposed, embracing them, is where the magic lies. And I think this is true of life too. 

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Freedom of my mind

The past few days I have been locked in a struggle with myself. I was sick over the weekend and felt the negative forces in my mind come out and begin to wreak havoc. Today they still whispered in the corners although I was starting to gain the edge over them. However it wasn’t until my partner got home from work and we sat down and talked that I got my mind back.

It was then that I realised how important freedom is to me. Freedom has many nuances of meanings but in this context I simply mean feeling in control of my Self and my life. Free to choose and free to be my full Self. Also freedom implies being connected to the world outside myself.

Motherhood directly challenges this freedom or perhaps challenges my perception of my own freedom. I think this challenge between responsibility for another human being and responsibility towards myself is one of the eternal struggles of motherhood. A struggle that can go either way and often does depending on the day. The worst aspect of this struggle is when I feel trapped and resentful. I find it difficult to be present in the moment and to enjoy the details of each day. It is in this space that I look at other mothers and think ‘How are they doing it? They make it look easy.’ It is also in this space that I think about sleeping in, reading the newspaper, going to movies, dinner parties, concerts and wonder if I will ever get my life back. It is a dark space. I don’t like the mother I am in this space.

It is a matter of perception because nothing has changed in my life in the past few hours and yet the way I now perceive myself and my life is entirely different to the way I did this morning. Suddenly I have energy again but more importantly my mind is my own again. Doing the dishes didn’t upset me after dinner the way they did after breakfast this morning. The pile of washing that has been sitting on the couch for three days was suddenly folded and ready to be put away.

I think the shift in my mindscape is fascinating because I know that everyone experiences different versions of it. For me freedom is a fundamental part of feeling positive about my self. I need to feel like I have choices. I need to be able to see the horizon. It is in this freedom that I feel grounded and excited about my life.

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Selflessness

Selflessness, this sounds almost like a dirty word but I feel terrible admitting it. We all know that being selfish isn’t great but being selfless, that just seems terrifying.

I have been reading ‘The Tao of Motherhood’ by Vimila McClure and it is electrifyingly wonderful. I read the section on Selflessness and I was simply without words. In fact I didn’t really know how I felt or what I thought about it. But it did make me feel emotional.

Here it is:

Selflessness

Everything which endures can only do so because Eternal Consciousness gives it sentience.

A mother who gives herself completely to her infant meets herself in the dark and finds fulfillment.

In the hours between midnight and dawn, she crosses the threshold of self concern and discovers a Self that has no limits. A wise mother meets this Presence with humility and steps through time into selflessness. Infants know when their mothers have done this and they become peaceful.

Who then is the doer? Is it the infant who brings its mother through the veil of self concern in limitlessness? Is it the mother, who chooses to hold sacred her infant’s needs and surrender her self? Or is it the One, which weaves them both through a spiraling path toward wholeness?

You can sit and meditate while your baby cries himself to sleep. Or you can go to him and share his tears, and find your Self.

……

Even now after typing it here I still feel like I can only see the truth of it from the corner of my eye. When I try to look head on it disappears back into the shadows. So I am simply sitting with it.

I wonder why I find selflessness so terrifying. Perhaps it is simply that it is unknown and the unknown is scary sometimes. With motherhood I feel there is a daily dance between selflessness and self. Some days I find the balance and other days I don’t. But I think by embracing selflessness I will journey further towards self-knowledge and that can only be a good thing.

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Interdependent

As I age I am becoming more aware of how interdependent we all are. I remember studying ecosystems in Biology and learning how if one species isn’t doing so well all the other species will be effected either positively or negatively. Motherhood feels like a crash course in interdependence. When Rosie was a baby I often couldn’t clearly tell where she stopped and I began. In fact the entire concept of “I” changed and I often wondered where “I” had gone and who “I” was now.


We in the western developed world are brought up to think in terms of I. We are fiercely individualist. There are some great benefits to this way of thinking but I have found with motherhood that it has often made my journey harder until I learnt to surrender to the experience. To allow myself to be changed and to recognise that “I” wasn’t really in control anymore. I think now I am finally seeing the grace in relinquishing control. And I wonder are we ever really in control or are we always entirely interdependent on the people and the world around us?

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The Elimination Diet

We started an Elimination Diet a few months ago to see if Rosie’s night restlessness might be due to food intolerance. It is the diet developed by the Allergy Unit at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) in Melbourne. It has a lot of similarities with Sue Dengate’s work. Her website is a great resource, http://www.fedup.com.au .

So the diet! I was told before we began that “it will get worse before it gets better”. I’m so glad I knew that. We had four of the worst nights ever when we began but then things settled down and Rosie’s sleep has improved. Although there have been two bouts of teething thrown in too.

So far we have only reintroduced Soy and Salicylates, both of which Rosie reacted to. With  Salicylates she became so wakeful. It was taking such a long time to get her to sleep and the restlessness overnight began again. So it’s great to know that.

One of the biggest challenges with the diet is just the sheer amount of organisation that goes into it. It’s like a part-time job. Gone are the days of fish and chips or just popping over to someone’s house for dinner. Now it involves mainly eating at home or if we are going to someone’s house offering to bring our own food. But I have really loved getting back to basics with food. There is a lot to be said for simplicity. I have also learnt how to make jam and chutney which has been oddly satisfying.

Although I really miss chocolate, it’s actually the fruit and vegetable restrictions that are the hardest. We are only eating pear, cabbage, beans, celery, leeks, brussel sprouts and chives. After we have finished the testing stage we will be able to find our threshold level which will hopefully mean access to more fruit and veggies.

The more I read about the naturally occurring food chemicals Amines, Salicylates and Glutamates the more I’m fascinated. They have such a wide-reaching effect and can be responsible for such a diverse range of symptoms. It has been really worthwhile going on this journey with Rosie. She has improved so much on the diet. But it will be wonderful when we can relax a bit more also.

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The Great Wave

Recently I bought Rosie a book, ‘The Great Wave’ by Veronique Massenot and Bruno Pilorget, inspired by the famous woodcut by Hokusai. There is one small passage that has stayed with me and helped to bring harmony and joy to my day. Here is it:

But the wise parents had come to know patience.                                                                          Maybe their child did not want to grow? Maybe they only had to wait a little longer?         Wasn’t it a great joy just to hold such a tiny life in their arms?

It is difficult to be grumpy in the mornings with this in mind. Just looking at Rosie lying next to me in bed reminds me of how precious motherhood is.

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