Four

If someone had looked me in the eye more than five years ago and said, “You will go through a difficult time after the birth of your first child and feel a sense of loss of self and your identity” – or words to that effect – I would have scoffed at them. I would have raised my eyebrows and questioned such a negative futuristic vision of personal experience. Disbelief and disdain. In my eyes, motherhood is supposed to be a happy and momentous occasion; not riddled with issues such as depression (how green was I?). Now, on the anniversary week of my first-born and only child turning four years of age (the Saturday just gone), I look back at where I’ve been and how far I’ve travelled in this life and I can honestly say that I’m better off for the learning curve that postnatal depression has provided. The personal insight has been invaluable and I realise that I wouldn’t change a thing. And so it is that I mentally pat myself on the back and celebrate this milestone – my son turning four years old. I’ve come a long way.

Milestones can be found everywhere in our lives. From the moment we celebrate reaching our 21st birthday, getting our first car, landing our first job, having our first child and so on. There are so many firsts and they all deserve a mention and, for some, deserve equal celebration. When it comes to depression and anxiety, it really is no different. Each day is a milestone, each week and month that you manage to get yourself out of bed and insist that your mind also “get up and at ’em” is in equal measure something that should be celebrated; to give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ and a good talking to in the bathroom mirror for being able to ‘raise yourself up’ to everyday living.

These days, as my son screams around the house on his little four-wheeler “car”, I manage to remember at times not to yell at him or have a negative outlook on some of the things he does. After all, yes he is only four, but I celebrate this because there was once a time where everything seemed too hard and I wasn’t coping; trying to operate as a functional human being with a brain that was riddled with the heavy weight of depression. I can fully appreciate that my son’s brain is still developing and he has a lot of things about life to learn. Having said that we are at the stage of his development where he has learnt the art of fibbing. He’s also learnt to suddenly push all of my buttons – all at once! Such is the life of a toddler…and I’ve become accustomed to his now daily worship of the word “No”. He uses it so often that it is painstaking to hear anyone else use the word, including myself! (But that’s another blog post…).

There are still days where I find myself mentally struggling with the prospect of facing the day ahead. Most often than not, those days that I struggle are due to not getting enough sleep. Sometimes it’s simply because I haven’t honoured myself in pursuing some ‘me-time’ or downtime away from my child. Even if it’s just reading a chapter of a book (reading is one of my favourite things to do, but is considered a luxury these days) or taking some time out to catch up with a good friend for a coffee. But those off days are far and in between now. I celebrate that fact too.

In the early days of my parenting journey, my perspective was skewed by negative thoughts fuelled by broken sleep and a hormonal tidal wave that I had absolutely no control over. Sadness enveloped me tirelessly each and every day. I look back at how I used to be and think to myself how blessed I was to have the support of my family – in particular, my husband and my dear, dear mother. I still have their support now. However, I am on the mend and able to identify the ‘signs’ – not enough sleep, not eating properly and so on. I may not always do the right thing by myself, but I know to look out and after myself. I am coping much better and better equipped to ‘manage’ my depression and anxiety symptoms, as they flit in and out of my every day life.

Is there something you can celebrate? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering or worthy of a fireworks display necessarily. It can be absolutely anything under the sun. From little things, big things grow.

Toddler, Interrupted

boySomewhere along the way, our little toddler has been morphing into a boy. It has been wonderful to watch; at the same time, I am finding myself missing his babyish ways. In fact, I think that is why, to a certain extent, I have been away from writing this blog. Life has taken over the last four months and we’ve been trying to get through it. Nothing bad. Just the usual suspects showing up at the door: no time to write, not enough sleep, start writing a little then lose my train of thought. The list goes on. But I digress.

In the last few months of 2016, we watched our toddler lose his babyish features. It can probably be said that his metamorphosis began when he finally had his ‘real’ haircut. He lost the soft, rounded baby-faced look that family and friends had gotten used to seeing. Once his locks were chopped off (and his locks were very long, unkempt and straggly-looking) his face was truly revealed and the boy took shape before our very eyes. We received comments left, right and centre from all corners – family and friends and the mothers I often chat to at our local playgroup.

I’ve labelled 2017 the ‘Year of Transitions’ – not just for our little boy, but also for me too. This is the year that said boy in question begins kindergarten (he has now been attending kindy for five weeks this week). This is also the year he turns four years of age and moves past being a toddler into a preschooler.

In the beginning, his transition wasn’t without its downside. Dang! Once upon a time he was a good sleeper. That is, until the end of October last year. All of a sudden we began struggling with his sudden bedtime resistance. This would mean that we would put him to bed and follow our usual bedtime routine – brush teeth, change into pyjamas, pick out a couple of books, read before bed and then lights out. He has a nightlight in his room. There have been no changes in his environment or in our daily lives. No upheavals that would cause him distress. But despite this fact, he suddenly decided that he was not going to sleep at bedtime; instead he would constantly get out of bed and jump around, ask for food and so on. Basically, he would do anything else but go to bed and sleep! To be honest, I never thought we would see the end of such bedtime anarchy!! It affected all of our sleeping habits and the little man would often end up sleeping in our bed. Sigh. Thankfully we’ve managed to get on top of this behaviour and we’ve been able to get him into a reasonable sleeping time and pattern. Just in time for the start of kindy.

After being away from the workforce for almost four years, my transition is to re-enter the workforce. Albeit on a part-time basis at least, but still… I feel a bit out of practice. You know, talking to a little person instead of a steady stream of adults in an office environment with ‘big people’ talk. I’m not sure how I’m going to go with that to be honest. I suppose as long as I veer away from topics on poo, wiping up after little people and the old (but true) adage of needing more sleep – I should do just fine! But either way, I’m looking forward to re-entering the workforce. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

As to be expected, I was more than a little anxious for our son to start kindy. Our circumstances are that he hasn’t been into childcare or any other form of care. We’ve only been to the occasional fitness class (where the crèche has watched him) and then twice a week to playgroup. Since I am a SAHM (stay-at-home-mum), my situation has enabled me to watch him, with the occasional care from my birth mother (his grandma). So we’ve had a nice little routine in place for some time. I feel blessed for this arrangement too. As financially I’ve been able to stay home with our son for the past four years. However, this means that I wasn’t sure how he would go entering a strange environment – for the whole day.

The truth of the matter is, that…  Well, I needn’t have worried myself. All ended well and he is happy going to kindy. He is happy to get dressed in the mornings and knows where he is going to be for the rest of the day. When hubby and I first dropped him off, we were faced with a few tears and a slightly clingy child. But over the weeks that followed, he adjusted well and looked forward to it. I thank our lucky stars for this outcome! There is another mother whom I see every week and is frankly, well…hard not to notice with her child. Her boy is always clinging to her, as she sits next to him and tries to rouse his interest in an activity in order to settle him into the classroom. He makes a small scene when she tries to leave and begins to cry and struggle. I truly feel for her. Transitions can be difficult.

The Secret Stash (aka The Sugar Wars)

Having a secret chocolate/sweet stash doesn’t conjure up the same emotions for me like it used to, especially now an offspring has entered the equation.

secret-stash

Hubby has dared to query aloud the choice of quality ingredients – dark chocolate, dark chocolate with coconut, dark chocolate with almonds, dark chocolate Tim Tams (courtesy of my mother who thought of me whilst purchasing a packet of white chocolate Tim Tams for herself). Inadvertently entering at his own risk into unchartered and dangerous depths with his seemingly innocent question: “Why have you even got any chocolate in this house at all?”. Meaning: Why are you bringing sugar into a household with a toddler in the mix? Hmmmm….

Stupid questions aside (cue for rolling my eyeballs), I feel a sense of entitlement to my sugary decline. My tastes having evolved over the years. Dark chocolate my latest love. I am also too well aware of my toddlers encroachment on such a sacred scoffing space. My sugar. My stash. Now no longer a secret.

Little fingers are all too often searching through my shoulder bag. Every time we visit our local servo to fuel up, he goes to reach for the lollies at the counter before I’ve managed to pay and get away. I can only shake my head repeatedly, say the word ‘No’ with varying falsetto and then mentally kick myself for purchasing the impulse marketing item in front of him in the past. Of course, this is all my own doing. Little monkey sees, little monkey wants to do it again. Every. Single. Time.

Each time he commits a sugar inspection of my bag, I cringe inwardly at his youthful and untainted confidence that he will definitely find the goods. If hubby is around at the time, I can also then count on his predictable and inevitable frown, shaking his head at me slowly. His eyes speaking volumes: How could I? When we haven’t even properly introduced him to a dentist?!

It is of great importance to me as a mother to abstain from providing too much sugar in the little one’s diet. This is easier said than done at times and I admittedly do manage to stuff up the balance now and then. However, it is a somewhat easier task to ‘control’ his consumption under my watch, as opposed to when he attends his first year of kindergarten, then begins school for the first time. From that point forward, his tastebuds will be initiated over and over with new and different taste sensations – some good and some not so good.

Now, I love my mother to bits. I really do. My husband and I are indebted to her and the support she’s provided to us. Her help has been, and continues to be, invaluable. Jack and his grandma have a wonderful bond with one another. It is beautiful to bear witness to it when they are interacting. Their love for each other apparent. However, I am finding it difficult to accept that there seems to be separate grandparent by-laws. Let me give you an example for a moment: the purchase of a cubby house. The telephone conversation between me and my mother going something like this:

Me: But I only mentioned it to you in passing. I didn’t mean that you had to go out and buy one!

Mum: That’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’ve seen it and they only have one cubby house left in stock.

Me: Ummm…(my mind starts drawing a blank, as it desperately seeks refuge in refusal tactics) So…what are the measurements mum?

Mum: Oh…I don’t know. Don’t worry it’ll be fine.

Me: But mum, if you don’t know the measurements…how will you know if it will fit in our courtyard? We only have a small courtyard.

Mum: Don’t worry, it’ll fit. It’ll be fine.

Me: But…

Mum: Wait a minute (I can hear her phone being moved around and voices in the background). I’m just talking to the lay-by office at Target right now and they won’t let me pay for it and leave it here, not unless I can give them a day this week when you can pick it up by.

Me: (mentally kickstarting my heart with self-serve CPR, as I didn’t know I’d been holding my breath…)

But I digress… Back to the sugar situation.

When my sisters and I were teenagers, we used to be able to count on satisfying our sweet tooths with accessing icecream from my mother’s stand-alone freezer. That same access has now been granted to my son. The only difference being that he isn’t strong enough to lift up the freezer lid by himself, the suction proving too powerful for him.

Nonetheless, it seems that grandparent by-laws mostly differ from birth parent by-laws. A few months back, grandma looked at me incredulous. “Why are you giving him a lollypop?”. Followed by a short silence. “I never gave you girls any lollypops when you were all growing up”. Here we go, I thought. I could feel myself feeling a little off. My glucose levels suddenly feeling dangerously low. I waited for a bit, but there was no further verbal onslaught to follow. Thankfully.

I’ll just point out that our son eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, so I am happy with the occasional consumption of sugar. Just last month I was being followed by a very determined toddler, as I tried to eat my icecream (said toddlers icecream was already making its way down through his lower intestines at this stage of the chase). As I hopscotched my way around my mother’s house, holding precariously onto my share of creamy deliciousness, the ridiculousness of such a scenario wasn’t lost on me. I felt mean for running away, but icecream ownership is a serious thing. Not to be contested. Well…unless you’re a toddler of course. I gave up running away, after a near collision with one of his aunties, and half-heartedly handed over almost half of my frozen dessert, waiting for him to take a bite. Rookie parent. I never did see that icecream cone ever again…

And so it is that I persist in mourning my once anonymous saccharine existence. The skirmish continues with no truce in sight.

 

Birthing the Unknown

2016-06-15 11.33.19

Wild. Free. Young.

Truth be told – I thought giving birth was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life to date. I was told pre-birth that I would pretty much lose my dignity because… well…your nether regions get a viewing by all of the participants in the birthing process. Yup. It’s true and I cannot deny that I was warned well in advance on this one. This includes the doctor/obstetrician, anaesthetist, nurses, orderlies, and anyone else who happens to join in on the cacophony of medical speak going on around you when it’s discovered that all is not going to plan.

So forget that you’ve parked yourself in a hospital room about to give birth and have happily made yourself available to the resources on offer – gas, quiet music or whatever takes your mind off the pain – it’s just that when the plan (not that I ever had a birthing plan to begin with) doesn’t go well you have no choice but to go along with the flow. So there I was waiting for someone to do something, to do anything to get out of that scenario! I was posed at the ready on all fours in a public hospital bed, connected to a beeping machine monitoring my unborn childs’ heart. In medically-trained strangers we trust. Apologies for sounding a tad sarky here.

Now I’m not the first to have had a difficult birth and/or an emergency caesarean, but it sucks when it happens. Even if it’s only once. Don’t get me wrong it’s all in perspective for me now. It’s just that something like that stays with you, even if the minuscule details start to fade with time.

I recall one week prior to the arrival of my son the nurse asking me how things were going. I had answered in the positive. However, I also advised her of how my burgeoning stomach looked very different. Almost as if the baby had changed position. We joked about the baby being in breech but the nurse confidently stated how she would know, as she had assisted many mothers-to-be in her career to date. I wasn’t so sure about her dismissal of my concerns, but then…what did I know? I was just a vessel (and understandably a very anxious one) carrying a child – with no medical knowledge whatsoever. Carrying my first child.

First time I’m doing this. I know there are first times for everything. To be honest, it did not occur to me at the time to own up to a lifetime of anxiety suffering. Hindsight tells me that if I had perhaps thought to illuminate the nurse in the pre-birthing stages then maybe they would have sat up a little straighter and paid more attention and humoured me – even if to prove that I was silly for being anxious. Or maybe me proving them wrong and avoiding a traumatic birth. But those are all ‘what-if’ thoughts now. It no longer matters.

So there I was in the formally unrecognised county, commonly referred to by most as ‘Lah-Lah Land’, as I had thankfully been given an epidural when I had requested it. Hence, that slightly floaty feeling had entered my head space when the machine in the room started beeping and concerned looking nurses were trying to determine whether or not to panic. Ahhhhh…the serenity of childbirth…

Surprise, surprise. My son was born breech. Unfortunately, his planned arrival also heralded the unplanned and unforeseen touchdown of postnatal depression. Sigh… But that’s another story for another time.

Reminiscing about my birthing experience is not something I do. After all, my days are spent very much in the here and now where time is short. Unfortunately, I am not always practicing mindfulness and simply being ‘in-the-present-moment’ (which is what I am aiming for). Instead, I mostly find myself in a ‘let’s-just-get-through-this-moment’ before anything hits the proverbial fan so-to-speak. Sometimes that can mean a mild metaphorical ‘boom’ or ‘bang’ that only my ears and senses are graced with in the household during the day.

My toddler has just reached another milestone at the end of April – age 3 – and so sometimes morphs into a teenager (well, to be honest, he did slam shut his bedroom door in my face the other day very teenage-esque style). Yes, apparently the terrible age of 2 is not really terrible. It’s the magic number of turning 3 (can you sense my jaw clenching? my teeth grinding? me talking through gritted teeth?). So now giving birth has been overtaken by the next hardest thing I am having to grapple with – a threenager. You know the type – a 3 year old advocating some serious attitude around the household.

Enter a parenting program called ‘Triple P’. Those of you who live in Perth, Western Australia may have heard of it. Triple P is a Positive Parenting Program. I am halfway through it. What I love about it is the fact that it’s a hands-on course whereby you’re given a workbook with exercises to firstly monitor your childs behaviours. So there aren’t any parental moves on changing any undesirable behaviours in the first three weeks. It’s not until you later implement the strategies in your household.

Participants have access to a facilitator who guides the group through the program. We meet up in a group on a weekly basis at a designated location, sometimes sharing our own personal parenting experiences, and go through the parenting workbook together. It is interactive and visual (each week there is a DVD to watch that supports the workbook and facilitated discussions). Further to meeting up in person, there is a period of several weeks where the group does not convene. Instead, each week at a designated time, the facilitator will contact each individual parent  attending the program and touch base on how the week has eventuated  regarding the problem behaviour they are experiencing with their child or children.

There are four more weeks to go before I ‘graduate’ from the parenting program. There are no medals provided. Although a certificate will be provided if you want one. I’ve already decided on accepting a certificate as a sign that I’m working at this parenting gig. A visual reminder that I can do this.

Despite my birthing memory and the shaky start to becoming a mother for the first time, I am trying to embrace parenting by being open to assistance such as the aforementioned parenting program. Understandably, being a parent is a lifelong journey and I get that it’s a work-in-progress. Having my son turn three is also a milestone for me in many ways, too numerous to mention here in this individual blog post. I can share one thing though and that is it has taught me that I am a resilient woman who rises to the occasion – especially after chocolate and a caffeinated beverage have been consumed. Though not necessarily in that order… 😂