Self-Worth

Mapping a pathway for my new future self is turning out to be hard work. The ‘new’ improved me strategy is changing from the stay-at-home-mummy to the ‘working mother’. Also, my end goal is to change career direction and move into a different area of work. However, the process is slow going. There is a dusty CV to be updated and uploaded; enrolling in online courses that will hopefully be helpful in upskilling what I’ve already got to offer the working world; putting my ‘feelers’ out into the world by querying friends and family if they know of any jobs and so on. Part of that strategy is trying to create and update my LinkedIn profile and create opportunities for keeping in touch with the industry I’d like to work in via social media outlets like Twitter. The process in itself is time-consuming and when I peer closely at our economy, the jobs that are on offer are far and in-between at best. Not to mention, not all jobs are advertised or even exist yet. Whenever, I have put out a completed job application and then followed it up, I am constantly hearing from the gatekeepers that they’re sure the application has been received – mine and the other 300 applicants, all vying for the same position on offer.

As difficult as it is, the only comfort I can draw upon is that I know I’m not the only one going through this difficult process. Finding a job is not an easy feat in the current economic climate. At my last hairdresser appointment, I was being regaled stories of other stay-at-home-mothers who were also trying to find part-time work opportunities. Some of them hoping to land the job that fit around school hours, so that they could still do the other 24/7 unpaid job of being a mother/carer/wife/bottom-snot-wiper/negotiator (you get my drift I’m sure) the other 99 per cent of the time!

Thrown in amongst the mix of job hunting is the feeling of anxiety that I’m trying to quash down. When I speak to my other half of my working life goals and the end goal I’m trying to aim towards, he is seemingly not very interested/supportive of hearing about where I’m headed. When I queried his lack of support, he was quick to point out that of course he supported me and my ideas but he was just trying to be realistic about getting a job. His mantra: just get a job first, then you can plan for your career change/goals/study/and so on. I fully appreciate where he’s coming from. I am not putting the blinkers on, if I say so myself, as I am aware that there are bills to be paid. But to me, someone who has been out of work for four years now, I didn’t feel as if I could just take on any kind of job. I definitely don’t think I’m better than anyone else. It’s just that when you’ve been a fulltime mummy for a period of time, you cannot help but feel ‘out of the loop’. As much as I have tried not to let it affect me, my self-worth has taken a bit of a battering. Thus, if I were to simply go out into the world and just do any old job (read as: check-out chick at my local Coles) I think it would erode at my self-worth big time. Not to mention that I’d be terrible at retail, having to stand in one spot all day; I would love chatting to customers, but then I’d probably be the slowest check out aisle in the store! Okay, so the list is endless and there’s not enough room here to even begin such an analysis.

Sigh. Is anyone feeling this? Am I just being too picky?

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.

Satellite

Purple was my mother-in-law’s favourite colour. Whenever I see the colour purple, I think of her and immediately my memories draw upon our time with her when she was alive and still relatively well. My mind can cast itself back to the time when she was hospitalised on a few occasions, but was still mobile, her legs still functioning with ease, and I can see our son sitting on the bed with her colouring in. She had at one time picked up the purple pencil and asked him, “And did you know that purple is Nanny’s favourite colour?”. Her grandson had simply nodded in the way toddlers absentmindedly do when they are busy with a task. My husband and I had looked at one another and smiled at their close proximity. As a grandmother, she revelled in being able to simply sit and watch him. At times, when she was able to sit close enough to him, such as on the hospital bed colouring in pictures, she would lovingly stroke his little head and say, “You beautiful little boy. Do you know Nanna loves you very, very much?”. Thinking back to those days makes my heart ache. Her love for our son, her only grandson, was clearly evident.

It was her wish that whenever our son queried his Nanna’s whereabouts, that we point out the moon and stars and say, “Wave to Nanna. She’s up there with the moon and stars.” And our son has somewhat accepted this as fact, in only the way a toddler can without judgement and too much questioning. But there’s no doubting that his little brain is trying to process that Nanna has gone away and that we don’t visit her in the nursing home anymore; that there are no phone calls to her, where he can tell her about his day.

I was hurriedly applying the final touches of my makeup the other morning, trying to quickly get myself ready to take my son to kindergarten, when he suddenly appeared in the open bathroom doorway and stated, “Mama, we need to get a satellite”. I wasn’t really paying him much attention at first because I was rushing and focussing on what I was doing. But I still gently asked the question, looking over my shoulder at him briefly, “And why is that love?” What a cutie, I thought to myself. Where did he get such a big word from?

He had been quietly watching the morning cartoons and I had no doubt that one of them was “Ready, Jet, Go!”. The main character being Jet, a young boy from a planet called Fortron 7 (ever heard of it?). It follows his adventures with several of his Earth friends, who also happen to be his neighbours. I vaguely recall thinking that a storyline with satellites orbiting the Earth must have been the latest episode. I had quickly glanced at my watch to see how much time we had left before we absolutely had to run out the door. My son answered me with, “We need a satellite so that we can talk to our friends in space”.

“Well love,” I was pretending to give such a purchase some serious consideration, “A satellite is pretty big and costs a lot of money. We also don’t have the room for one”.

Watching his little face, I could see that he wasn’t turned off by such practicalities. “Um…okay. But we still need to get one”. His tone was adamant now.

“But why do we need to get one love?” I had finished what I was doing and turned around to give him my full attention, “Who are you going to talk to?”

At this point, he had only slightly rolled his eyes, as if exasperated that he had had to explain the plain obvious to me.

“So that we can talk to Nanna of course!”.

His response totally threw me and I could suddenly feel the pinprick of tears in my eyes. With my vision beginning to blur, I managed to satisfy his request for a satellite by saying, “Well…let’s talk to Daddy about it when he comes home from work then”. He seemed happy with this and skipped off back to his cartoon watching. I, on the other hand, had to compose myself and quickly gather our things together, including my son’s school bag before madly rushing us out the front door. After dropping him off to his kindy for the day, I felt slightly heavy with the sudden well of emotions from my son’s innocent request.

Eulogy

It was somewhere around late afternoon to early evening on Wednesday, 8th March 2017, that my mother-in-law found the eternal peace she had been seeking for some time. When queried, the doctor who had looked after her in life – and who would now be responsible for writing up his final report and paperwork in her death – had stated that she had probably passed on in her sleep peacefully; that she had not felt any pain. It was the best way for her to go.

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Thinking back to the day, at the approximate time that she would have passed away, my husband and I were sitting down at our local recreation centre watching our son during his weekly swimming lessons. The day had started like any other – the morning chaos of getting Master Almost Four to kindy on time; making lunches; getting out of the house in a flurry of our usual haste. Then onto my usual schedule of running errands, grocery shopping and housework. My hubby had visited his mother after his lunchbreak and had spoken face-to-face with his mothers’ visiting sister. His Aunty had been seated bedside and chatting with his mother, keeping her company for a while. This allowed my hubby the time to ring his mother’s second sister located interstate, so that she too could also have a quick chat with his mother. It was just after the swimming lessons that my husband had received the phone call from the nursing home and received the sad news of his mothers’ passing.

In the aftermath of hearing of her death, my husband and I had sat in the lounge area of the nursing home where she had resided for the past two years. We had organised for my own mother to watch our son, so that we could rush to the nursing home. After visiting my mother-in-law for one last time, where we kissed her now cold cheeks and whispered our last goodbyes, we had sat there in the evening light of dusk, looking out to the street below from the top storey window. Hubby had been trying to reach his brother in order to alert him to the fact that their mother had now passed. But he couldn’t be reached. Although his brother’s phone was operational, it would keep ringing out and then going to voicemail. So we had sat there for a time, waiting for his brother to return the call.

During our silent reveries, I was suddenly overcome with more than just the emotions that grief can bring. I felt a sudden gratitude that my husband and I had managed to obtain some of my mother-in-law’s personal story before she died. Looking back on my earliest notes about her life, I noted the date was sometime around June or July 2016 when we had first started asking about her life story. It was only after I had checked with my husband, that we had broached the topic of her funeral and if she had wanted to make a contribution to her eulogy. Does such a request seem strange? Maybe. Are you reading this and thinking you cannot believe how organised we were? Or perhaps wondering how could we ask such a question of her? Such morbidity!?

It has now been a month since her death from terminal Myeloma, a form of Leaukemia, and life goes on as they say. And so it was that I found myself continuing with the mundanity that only everyday life can bring – I was lying down in the dentist chair for my six-monthly check up, scale and clean. Woohoo! I thought to myself excitedly (NOT!). I enjoy chatting to my dentist; not so much getting my teeth worked on.

In particular, I was catching up briefly with the hygienist before she started cleaning my teeth. She had asked after my husband. How was the mother going? I remember she was ill. So I filled her in on the fact that she was now no longer with us. When she expressed her condolences, she had spoken of the head dentist who owned the business and another staff member. How the two of them had also lost loved ones since the end of the previous year. One of those people had been a father of three very young children who were only aged 2 years, 4 years and 6 years respectively. (How my heart ached for the family and friends left behind to deal with the aftermath of continuing a life without their beloved in it. I cannot imagine how confusing it must be for the little ones left behind without a father).

When I mentioned my gratitude for having had the chance to ask my mother-in-law about her life story, my hygienist suddenly exclaimed out loud, “Wow! You guys are really organised to be discussing her eulogy with her too”. I had cringed inwardly at first. I suddenly felt that I had to justify myself and that’s when I realised that I knew why I had broached the eulogy with my husband and his mother almost a year ago – I had wanted to honour his mother the only way I knew how. I’d wanted to give her the chance of having the last say. After all, when my mother-in-law first moved into the nursing home, we had tried to get my mother-in-law interested in continuing her life within the confinement of her new surrounds, her new ‘home’. Her anxiety was worsening every day, so we offered different options like suggesting different reading books/magazines; listening to audio stories; watching her favourite television shows and/or listening to her favourite radio stations and music. Alas, we tried to get her to put her anxious mind to rest by taking an interest in activities and/or hobbies, but to no avail. Whenever we visited her, we encouraged her to talk to us and let us know if there was anything she wanted to talk about. Was there anything concerning her? Was there anything we could do for her?

I had been wracking my mind for some time about what we could do for her. This was in the time we had with her before she was diagnosed as terminal; before her cancer treatments stopped working. I really wanted to honour her memory and it was when my husband had asked me gently if I would be alright to take on the task of reading his mother’s eulogy at her funeral, whenever that time presented itself, that he didn’t think he would be emotionally up to it… I did not hesitate in answering in the positive. Of course, I would be more than happy to do this for him, and for his mother. That’s when I knew that drafting her eulogy would be the only way to really ‘help’ his mother in getting through the unnumbered days that she had left with us.

We were tentative in our approach when we asked her about taking notes throughout the next few months to draft up a eulogy that she could contribute to if she wanted. But there was nothing to be anxious about. She had accepted happily, without a second thought, and put our fears to rest. She had loved the idea and then asked me to make sure that I brought a notebook with me whenever we visited. That didn’t mean to say that the words flowed easily from her heart, mind and mouth though. She would start and stop at times. There were some visits where she didn’t feel like talking at all or was too tired to think about anything. But we eventually built up her story notes over a series of months leading up to her final terminal diagnosis. It was after this final issue on life that she had been given by her specialist where she would suddenly think up of things on a whim that she’d wanted us to include in her eulogy. l would often find myself fumbling around in my handbag, looking hurriedly for the notebook and then try to quickly write it all down before the moment was lost.

And so it was on the day of the funeral service that I read the eulogy and fulfilled my promise to my husband’s request and the request of his mother in passing on the messages she had me write down in earnest, so as not to be forgotten. In the final drafted version, there were several parts to it. Her two remaining sisters adding their contributions to her life story. I feel enriched for the experience; satisfied that I was able to finally honour her life, by honouring her story – both in her words and ours. Through the eulogy, my mother-in-law was able to impart her final messages of love and hope to those loved ones left behind. It was a touching service and it also felt right that we had honoured her memory in such a way that she too was able to take a part.

Never underestimate the simplicity of asking another about their life story. After all, once they are gone, we continue on with our lives holding onto the precious memories and remembering the stories about the life they lived. A eulogy is a form of storytelling.

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 Hoarder Within…

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On the way to my doctor’s appointment this morning, I drove past a block of land for sale. Only about two or three streets away from our humble abode, it has been on sale for the last few months. Looking at it now it is overridden with weeds about a metre high, the ‘For Sale’ signage hardly visible. It suddenly reminded me of how our own minds, and sometimes lives, can become a bit unkempt and overlooked. How it sometimes becomes an effort to maintain and keep on top of our game.

Further to this analogy, my mother and her remaining living siblings, are sorting through and cleaning up my late grandfather’s deceased estate. The eldest of five children, with one brother (once my uncle) no longer with us, my mother was regaling her day to me and explaining how she had been clearing my grandfathers’ backyard. Together with her other brother, and two family friends, they spent half their weekend pulling out weeds as high, if not higher, than their own knees.

To fully appreciate such extraneous work, one needs to imagine four people over the age of sixty-five and into their early seventies, all with various ailments (including knee reconstructions and only partly successful cataract surgery). All of them bending over at the waist and/or crouched low on the ground performing labour intensive tasks. Obviously I queried if this was absolutely necessary work. The response was swift with stubborn overtones, yet it made sense. Now that it was spring in Perth, our hot summers would arrive shortly thereafter. Despite the absence of my grandfather, the practicalities of life still endured. His property was fast becoming a fire hazard.

It’s only now, a few days later, that I realise my error in how I had phrased my concern. Instead, I perhaps could have reworded it as: Is it absolutely necessary that all of you perform these tasks? Could you not delegate paid work to a professional and pay the fee out of the estate? Understandably, it would have incurred a high financial cost to them, but it would have saved them so much backbreaking work. Surely. Nonetheless, it is not my business to interfere. After all, historical data in our family line shows that the stubborn trait sometimes overrides any sort of gentle coaxing or advice given… Especially when it comes from the ‘younger’ generation.

My grandfather has left behind him a very big clean up job for family to address. A part of his ‘informal’ legacy if you like. No disrespect. In particular, his accumulation of things. Stuff. Some junk. Some not. I would like to point out here that I do not use the word ‘accumulation’ very lightly. The whole and honest truth is that my grandfather was a hoarder, just one description amongst many that could be made  about him.

According to my genetic calculations – I fall into the second generation hoarder category. Yes, alas, I too have hoarder tendencies. I am, after all, my mother’s daughter. Although I have worked hard at trying to curb it over the years, it is still scarily evident in my own collection of ‘things’. Which reminds me, I am due for another purge.

To provide a description of his ‘things’: a pantry overstocked with expired food items; boxes of cassette tapes with copied music, mostly religious; religious paraphernalia of different sorts from prayer books and cards to holy medals that had been blessed by a Roman Catholic priest at some time or other. To name but a few. Not to mention an old tin shed out the back of the property containing an assortment of boxes with my mothers’ things.

Unfortunately, my mother is also a hoarding offender from way back. When she moved house in recent weeks (right next door to us to be precise), we had been walking through her then rental from room to room with me asking: “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you can throw out?”. Man, did I feel like such a hypocrite! You know, from one hoarder to another and all that. How could I ask her such a question? Sigh… My mother had assured me at the time that she had already, believe it or not, let go of a lot of things. Although I didn’t say anything to her at the time, my facial expression might have shown the doubt I felt at her admission. Had she really thrown anything out at all? There was still so much…stuff!

Her lounge area, in her now cosy three bedroom rental, contains a few too many single and mismatched chairs. She hasn’t owned a sofa or couch for some years. Why? Apparently because it lightened the load of carting around too much stuff from one rental to another. Hmmm… The master bedroom looks like a master bedroom should. Take one look at the other two bedrooms and the same cannot be said. One room allocated by her for sewing purposes and prayer, with the other as a ‘spare’ room for junk and my eastern-states visiting sister once or twice a year. At present, both rooms are almost full with boxes of… Well, to be honest, I really don’t want to think about it.

The moral of this story? Metaphorically speaking: try clearing out the weeds in a timely manner. Do it now – before you realise that it’s too late to mow the lawn. Why? Because pulling weeds is back breaking work!