Monday, 25 February 2013

The grass is always greener. Always...

So we are at the end of "the weekend of tonsillitis". It was a weekend of paracetamol, throat lozenges, tissues and tag team parenting. George and Ella had a cold at the beginning of last week. Ella shook it but George's developed into tonsillitis with a dose of ear infection thrown in. Poor baby. Blocked and running nose, watering eyes, sore throat and fever. I succumbed on Friday and on Saturday I had a headache that threatened to push my brain out my cranial orifices ( hyperbole is totally allowed when ill). Hubby succumbed on Saturday and was in the thick of it by Sunday. Thankfully it was the weekend, and our suffering was staggered so that one of us could be horizontal while the other maintained feeding and watering children, laundry, dishes and comforting of very unhappy wee man.

It is at times like this weekend that I think "Why on earth did we have children?!"
I mean, when you feel sick it is not unreasonable to feel a little regret that the days of feeling sick and being able to stay in bed and get better are over, at least for the forseeable future. My perspective fails to acknowledge there is a horizon or that kids grow up when I am feeling this way. By Sunday I was feeling more chipper and while hanging out the 5th load of laundry for the day, I realised that wishing I was at another stage of my life really has nothing to do with the specific situation I faced this weekend, it is more of a habit and fact of how I think.

I always think the grass is greener in someone else's life. Our neighbours are an excellent example or this and a constant reminder of how it could be or will be. We love our neighbours on both sides. On one side we have a couple in their 40s with late teen kids. They are doing some home improvements at the moment. New kitchen and solar hot water heating. When I hear the Mum yelling at her kids it is usually about midday and she wants the lawns mowed. She has trouble waking her kids. I have trouble getting mine to sleep.

On the other side are a younger married couple who bought the house soon after we bought ours. They both have good jobs and have a couple of flat mates to help pay the mortgage. They all are a busy, going to the beach, going camping, going mountain biking, to music festivals and having parties. They leave the house when they want, sleep in at the weekends and generally burn the candle at both ends. We often share meals with them and I don't think we give the best impression of life with preschoolers. One commented on the amount of laundry on our line, another on the fact she got home late from a party and heard hubby asking Ella rather the forcefully to please "Do a wee, just do a wee" at about two in the morning. They told a story about going to a one year old's party for a friend's child who has had the first baby in their social circle. "There were babies every where! They were all over the place!" Oh the shock, oh the horror. But as I heard them heading off to Laneway the other weekend, I admit, I was jealous.

But my lovely neighbours haven't caused these moments (or days) of wistfulness about the past or the future. I have become a professional admirer of other people's life stages and situations. Before we had kids I was just desperate to become a Mum and have our own. It got to the stage where I was certifiably obsessed. I mean, it was understandable. We had talked about kids and having a family for years before we got married and then finances dictated waiting a while longer so that my biological clock had moved from clanging to some kind of earthquake. That kind of wanting and waiting is really not healthy. And for those people who have to continue to wait and want, I have absolute admiration that they can keep on or the ability to have some balance and joy in life. I definitely was quite unbalanced. The lost and grief of losing our baby was piled on top of that.

Now I find myself with everything I ever hoped and dreamed of. A genuinely fantastic hubby who I joke about cloning and selling online because he is such a great model. I could make a fortune. A lovely home which we hope will be our forever home and a wonderful suburb which gives us a quality of life we can't really believe. And to complete the perfect picture, two beautiful kids who are a delight to watch grow and get to know.

But despite this it is still possible to look at the people around me and wish my life were different. While Ella and I were shopping yesterday I saw a dreadlocked guy sitting in STA travel. I imagined he was booking some exciting trip to an exotic destination and continuing his journey to see more amazing places and to discover more about himself. I started quickly calculating the cost of four round the world tickets and talking to Ella about visiting her godfather Paul, in Spain. But of course we couldn't do that. Young kids, mortgage, no money yada yada yada. Later on we saw the same guy. Except this time he was accompanied by his wife and toddler. Mmmmm maybe if you want to do something you should just do it Marion instead of assuming your life is so different from the guy with dreadlocks.

And I think that is what it comes down to. Whether by choice or chance, I am where I am. And I do love my life. There are always tough things about life. Some times are tougher than others. But at the moment anything I have to complain about is small and fleeting and kind of symptomatic of my age and stage. Nothing is massive or disastrous. Admittedly, some things are painful, especially the growing up and facing facts kinds of things. But I think most of us have those experiences.

Before I go and knock on every wooden surface in my home (paranoia anyone?), I am trying to focus being content and to appreciate my life as it is right now. It is hard when I am tired and sick and George is waking hourly at night cause he is still sick. But wishing I were 24 again or wanting to fast-forward to world trip in our twilight years has some pretty obvious draw backs. So focusing on my own green grass and being grateful. Cause I love my life and if I keep looking over the fence I might miss it.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A crying shame

Today I got a call from George's daycare to say he had a temperature and could I pick him up. I headed across the road and picked both George and Ella up. A lovely friend looked after Ella while I took George to the doctor. He has had a cold for a few days plus is teething and with a stuffy nose, he has had trouble feeding. While we waited he felt hot and between grinning at everyone in the waiting room, he grizzled and his face had the look of a kid whose head is stuffy, with big bags under his eyes.

The doctor has a look at him as I explained his symptoms. He had a few spots on his hands and dermatitis from the constant chewing on his fingers to relieve his sore gums. I said that we had been in earlier in the week to get them checked as some kids at his daycare have been sent home with chicken pox and scabies. I hadn't wanted to send him along with spots without knowing he was fine. The doctor said hand foot and mouth virus had been going through the local daycare.

He proceded to check George's temperature, his ears, throat and his chest. He diagnosed viral tonsilitis with a possible ear infection and said that it was possible it could turn into bronchiolitis. I nodded.
"Do you know what that is?"
"Yes, I've seen it at work."
"Where do you work?"
"A teen parent unit in Otara".
The doctor gave me a wry smile and nodded.

Thankfully the appointment was free, since George is an infant. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up some more paracetamol. While I waited I also got some baby balsam to help ease his congestion and a "snot sucker" to help clear his nose so he can have his bottle. When I went to pay it came to $37. The paracetamol free because of the government subsidy but the rest was pretty pricey.

When I got home it really started to hit me. George goes to the same daycare. He is exposed to the same germs as all the other babies, many of whom are the babies of the mothers I teach. They love their kids just like I do. Today, when we had the doctor at school, we had four Mums who wanted the doctor to see their baby. Most of them had already seen a doctor in the last few days about the same issue they were concerned about. They really care about the well being of their kids. Some are formula fed and some are breastfed. It doesn't seem to make much difference to how often their kids are sick. It hasn't made any difference so far to George. This this first time he has been sick since he was born and he is formula fed.

What seems to make the difference is money. George lives in a dry house with only three other people. It is a cold house in winter but we can afford to have a fire and a heater in every room that needs to be warm. It is expensive to keep the house warm but we can afford it (just).

Another thing that makes a difference is control. There are only 4 people in our house and hubby and I call the shots. We don't smoke and we don't have to deal with anyone who might want to smoke inside our house. The women I teach are often living in houses with their parents, aunties and uncles, older siblings, and or older adults, who may smoke and have more control of what happens in the house. It is pretty hard to stop bugs spreading when there are four people to a room, no heating and the house has no insulation. Expecially if the heating is an LPG gas heater which fills the room with condensation, and in many situations, carbon monoxide.

Oh and getting their own place is not an option. A Mum on her own on the DPB will get a maximum of about $380 per week, including the accommodation supplement, which is a maximum of $165/week. With rent for a damp and cold 2 bedroom unit in a dodgy area starting at about $280/week, you can see that it would be financially impossible to live independently with your child. If you have a partner you get a benefit based on being in that relationship but you then have two adults to feed, clothe and transport and it will be less than the DPB plus his benefit. If your partner works you probably won't qualify for anything. Hmm, benefit fraud doesn't seem so shocking anymore and more like the action of a mother who can do maths.

If you are under 19 you get less and  if you are under 16 you get nothing and have to depend on your parents to either pass on a portion of the benefit they get for you to pay for nappies etc. or to support you and baby with no extra assistance). So overcrowding is really pretty predictable and as well as being the only option when living with multiple generations is the cultural norm, it is also an unavoidable reality of affording a roof over your head. Things are pretty tight when the offer of a corrugated iron garage with a cold concrete floor seems like a blessing.

It is also pretty hard to afford to buy healthy, fresh food when you are living on so little money. It is even harder to prepare that food when every adult in the house is working shift work and no-one knows when anyone else will be home. You may also live in a house where only Grandma knows how to cook. But she has had a stroke and so can't cook. And Mum can't work cause she's looking after Grandma cause they don't believe in rest homes and couldn't afford it even if they wanted to ship her out for a stranger to shower her and change her and feed her.

So things are a bit different for the Mums I work with and their babies. I drove George straight to the doctor cause I have a car. To have a car you have be able to afford to buy it, put petrol in it, register it. Insurance is a bit of a bonus. If you don't have a car you have to take your sick kid on the bus or walk to the doctor. And you probably can't afford a pram that lies flat for a really young baby. So you have to carry them. Oh and if your baby gets really sick and you have to go to hospital you could call an ambulance. But when you get discharged with a still-sick-but-not-in-danger baby, you still won't have a car and will have to catch the bus (if you have any money left after having to buy your meals cause no-one brings you food when no-one else has a car or money) or walk.

If you check out the Ministry of the Health website, scabies, bronchiolitis and other illnesses are common when you combine the trifecta of overcrowding, poor housing and poor diet. Add smoking and you have an almost certain recipe for preventable, communicable illness.

So this is the crying shame, that my beautiful boy who I love, just by the accident of being born as my son, is probably going to be fine. But another child, just as loved and beautiful and with just as much miraculous potential, won't. Because the love of a mother, her whanau, her community, just isn't enough. Because poverty does exist in New Zealand.

People look at me funny some times when I say my kids go to daycare in Otara. They also say my job must be pretty hard working with teenage Mums. But you know what makes it hard? Not the mums, not their babies. Instead it is the injustice that tonight while my son sleeps fitfully and needs cuddles and more cuddles, another Mum is worrying about her baby as he gets sicker. And there is nothing she can do about it.

It's a crying shame...

Monday, 18 February 2013

The joy of 'selling out'

I have been mulling over this post for months. It seems that the dust is settling since George's arrival and life is seeming 'normal' as a family of four. Something I have given a lot of thought to is how the ideals I may have had before Ella arrived and again before George arrived have had to be dropped or let go of over the last few months. And 'selling out' on some of my ideals has been fantastic!

With Ella a big ideal I had was not too much or no t.v. That quickly went out the window and we joke that t.v is one of our most useful parenting tools. Being too sick to move during most of my pregnancy with George made me a great fan of Kidzone. That experience really taught me that it is not all or nothing. Sometimes t.v helps us get through the day. Ella rarely is left in front of the t.v alone and we had lots of lovely naps and cuddles on the couch as my tummy got bigger. Since George was born Ella often watches t.v while I am getting George to sleep. He finds his big sister way too entertaining to be able to sleep with her around. Since he has arrived I have tried to reduce how much we watch but some days it is on more than others.

I also told myself I wouldn't use food rewards. Well when it came to toilet training and specifically Ella and number twos, icecreams were magical. And at the moment they are also helping us get Ella used to going to sleep without her Daddy or me lying beside her. Maybe she will reward herself with food when she's older, but hopefully not. 

Feeding George has been the biggest challenge to my ideals. Letting go of breastfeeding and then slowly realising that it wasn't the end of the world, has been an eye opening journey. It has forced me to question a lot of the rhetoric used to 'encourage' (guilt trip) mothers about breast feeding. I am still a hand on heart breast feeding advocate, but not because of the evils of formula. (If you want to read more about this check out The Fearless Formula link in sites I like). Accepting formula and bottles helped me to stop stressing and focus on bonding with George and having time for Ella again after being so absent while I was sick and pregnant. It has been really tricky to navigate the new world of formula types, bottle feeding and all the pro breastfeeding but actually anti formula stuff I have had in my head which I have needed to work through. But it has also been so freeing to realise that so little about being a Mum and the relationship I have with George is about boobs or no boobs. Feeding him is just as special as it was with Ella. I had also these ideas about how not breastfeeding would change how I parented. But it hasn't. I find myself still cosleeping and feeding him to sleep. I have dabbled in changing that due to burps waking him but have come back round to the fact that he likes to go to sleep that way.

Doing things differently this time has freed me up to let go of some other ideals - like cloth nappies. Mine are currently listed on trade me. It is tough enough to get the washing done and hung out. So I am letting that one go. George loves his food. Ella wouldn't let a spoon near her mouth so she never had baby food. But with George I just couldn't face the pureeing so he is on commercial baby food and finger food from our meals. And it is great. I think I felt bad about it for a day. Then I just decided it worked best for us and moved on.

I think changing ideals is a normal part of parenting and so many things I thought I would 'never' do or 'should' do, I have either changed my mind about, couldn't actually manage or have decided were basically stupid. And instead I have tried to focus on being the parent I want to be rather than 'doing the right things". My kids want me, not a mother who does the 'right' things. Enjoying our life together is more important than meeting some expectations I used to have or thought meant I was a good Mum.

I guess I have said goodbye to ideals and got back to my values. What is really important to me and to our family? I guess some 'doing' things do matter - like eating food we have grown, spending time together, keeping things simple. But there is no prescription for how that looks in practise and no rules about how family should be. Kids want their parents to be present, to be loved, warm and fed. That's it. That is why kids who grow up in all sorts of families all turn out ok. And kids who don't know they are loved, all suffer for it. So it isn't about how you do being a parent. I'ts that you love your kids and they know it.

Letting go of ideals is another step in my quest to banish perfectionism from my life and on the other side of idealism there is a much more peaceful and joyful reality. As I drove along the motorway today I thought "I am truly happy and relaxed" and George has a cold, and I am tired and I have work tomorrow. So I think that is worth celebrating. No more ideals. A bit more real.

Friday, 8 February 2013

It's not ok, but it's normal

You know those days, when you wake up full of the flu, or gastro, which means you are empty. Or you have had about one hour sleep total cause someone can't or won't sleep or is sick etc, etc, etc. You know, those mornings. On those mornings I usually think "This is not ok". I never feel like I can get through the day and on those horrible ones that don't fall on a weekend, I feel like it is a disaster.

This is what usually happens in my head ..."How will I cope being sick/exhausted/sick and exhausted all day? How can I look after two kids when I am not even fit to look after myself? I want to sleep all day but I can't. Its not fair! Ok I have to get a plan. What can I do?"

In the past the plan usually involved either seeing if hubby could stay home or seeing if someone could look after a not sick kid. If it was a sick kid - and I was ok - no problem. If it was sick me and sick kid, not so much. It felt like I was going to have to climb Mt Everest. Actually it still does. But you know what? I think as my confidence has grown as a Mum and don't always jump to thinking it is a disaster. I am starting to think it is normal.

A few weeks ago I was up literally all night cause I was sick. I was telling my sister in law a few days later that I had just thought "This is not normal. A person with zero sleep should not be looking after kids". She quickly replied that it is actually totally normal. And it is. All over the world, every day, are parents looking after kids when really they shouldn't even be operating a kettle. Cause that's what I am, a parent. And there are no days, hours or minutes off. No-one else can step in. I mean, if I had lost a leg, or as in the past, was losing my mind, then family and friends come to rescue. But for the more mundane and every day shocker of a day, it is just me. And I am learning that I can cope.

I think when Ella first arrived I went through the normal shock of all first time parents. The realisation that this completely dependent human was totally dependent on me. And in my case was totally dependent on someone who was on morphine and recovering from major abdominal surgery and by 3 weeks in, was also losing the plot. In any normal circumstances, that would require care and protection notification to CYFS. But oh yeah, that is pretty much normal for new parents. So no child protection officials. Just getting through the new landscape, full of sleep deprivation, complete confusion and the delight of this little person, who keeps you going, despite it all.

And when I was sick or had a terrible night, it was just us. Me and her. It was still tough but I just had to manage the two of us. Now there are three and when I wake up from another night of hardly any sleep I really do wonder how I am going to manage. And there have been many days where the plan has involved Ella going to someone's house or me getting help and I think that is definitely the way to go if you can. But I think I am starting to accept that it is normal. That it will keep happening. And I am less freaked out.

I think the main pressure I feel on a day like that is my own expectations. I don't want things to slip. I feel really bad about having a day in front of the t.v. There has been a lot of that over the last year and I hate it. Don't get me wrong, T.V is a frequently used parenting tool at our place. But I feel bad when I can't manage. I think I feel like I am doing a crap job as a Mum.

And I think that is the clincher. It's not a job. You can't call in sick or get a replacement so you can't have the expectation that as a Mum, you can "work" at it each day. You have to just be as you are sometimes. The kids are fed and warm and dry and that is all that is possible that day, or week. And I am learning to accept that. And hopefully in learning that crap days are normal, maybe my kids will be better than me at dealing with the crap days they face and see them as just a normal part of life that we all have to face and it doesn't have to be a disaster, or mean there is something wrong with you. They just are.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Freedom of Speech?

My lack of blogging in general is almost a feature of this blog. There are lots of reasons for this, you know, life getting in the way. But also I find myself thinking of something I want to write about and then analysing all the people who might disagree, judge me, be offended or hurt, by what I have to say. And so I don't write anything.

Now I actually think that is a good thing in a way. I don't want to write things that have a negative impact on the people who read them. I definitely don't want to stridently communicate my opinions as right and everyone should agree with them. I guess over the years I have become acutely aware of the fact that everyone is fighting their own battles and we are all travelling our own paths. Each of us are impacted by life's twists and turns and strident opinion and being certain of myself seems less and less wise and more and more tricky.

I apologised to a friend recently about pressing a fresh metaphorical bruise she is dealing with. You know, those experiences in life which wound and when a certain word or idea or opinion or assumption is made you feel the pain of it. At first it feels as if everything pushes it but slowly less does. Or the pain is less fresh and raw. We all have bruises. And it is impossible to avoid having them pressed or pressing someone elses. Bruises happen, shit happens. It seems to be the stuff of life.

But I don't want to press bruises. And at the extreme end of trying to avoid it, you just say and do nothing and hide away. And for me at the moment I feel like anything I write threatens to hurt. Probably if I am honest I am not so worried about hurting as the idea that someone might not like me or be angry at me for something I say or in the blogosphere, write. Now I know all the stuff about not being responsible for someone else's reactions or feelings. But I think that can often be used as a way of avoiding the complexity of life and as an excuse to rant about whatever you want without thought for the feelings of others. I don't roll that way. I want to love others as I have been loved. I want to tread gently and compassionately and be wise because I have only been on this ball of matter flying through space for a short while and with each turn on its axis, anything could happen. I have not seen much or felt much and my perspective and thoughts now are just that. Now. Temporary and always retractable or incomplete.

As I have thought about all of this I have realised that I have lots of bruises. Some are so faded that I often forget they are there, while others are still painful and blue. And I guess when I find them pressed, usually unintentionally, I have to choose what to do. It is good to say it hurts. It is good to acknowledge the wound. But then I have to work out whether to hide away to avoid the pain or to take another risk.

For some bruises I have had to protect myself because there is a certain inevitability with some situations or people where I know it will hurt a lot and often and there is no benefit to it. For others it is good to face the pain and let it just become part of the background. Somehow the pain gets integrated and becomes a scar which I own as part of my identity and that is ok. And for others it is a mixture.

So I guess I don't really believe in freedom of speech. At least not thoughtless speech. Sometimes we need to hear painful things and sometimes no one can prevent it hurting. But sometimes it is worth it to realise that no matter what I think about something, it is not simple and my opinion and thoughts aren't going to help. So it is best not to say or write anything. And maybe after a few more turns of the axis things may seem clearer and it might be a better time. Or not.