Category: parenting boys


First off, apologies for my silence of late. I have decided to write shorter but hopefully more frequent posts, which many of you will probably be glad to hear! I realised I’d been feeling the pressure to produce nothing but erudite reflections, but sometimes I think it’s important to just shut up and write, as Natalie Goldberg says. My writer friend Lou-Ice’s (Louise Halvardsson) blog is an excellent example of tracking one’s life as a writer (or whatever it is you do), illustrating with well-chosen photographs (taken by herself usually) and inspiring others with the way you bring creativity into life. When I’ve got to grips with my new camera phone I’ll be adding some of my own creations!

As Winter Solstice approaches with the reflections on dark and light that it brings, I wanted to share a beautiful event I was lucky enough to be part of last week: the Mothers UncoveredNight of Splendour‘ party and cabaret to celebrate three years of this amazing supportive network for mothers, which one participant remarked ‘ does more for the psychological well-being of mums than the health profession does throughout pregnancy and beyond.‘ The cabaret featured extracts from ‘The Naked Truth’ monologues and ‘Your Stories’. I have to admit I was in tears at several points of the evening as women bravely shared their (and others’) experiences of the light and dark sides of motherhood and every shade in between.

The very hip band ‘YuMammaMeeMamma‘ had me in stitches in the second half as they sang songs interspersed by hilarious mother-to-mother dialogue that was instantly recognisable – and skirting the edges of provocative at times – and got us all to join in singing ‘We Rock the Pants of Motherhood’ (in harmonies!) at the end. It was so exhilirating to experience motherhood as something to be proud of, something to celebrate and recognise. Instead of an aspect of life that is very much stuck at the margins of society (although of course, I didn’t notice any non-mothers, or indeed non-women, at the event, other than the organiser’s husband).

I read my poems ‘Three Month Mark’, ‘Untitled’, and ‘The Idea of an Aeroplane’ – all stage debuts. (Thanks Lou-Ice and Bernadette Cremin for valuable feedback during the draft stage of ‘The Idea of an Aeroplane’). It was an excellent opportunity to narrow the gap between my creative life and te day to day reality of motherhood. The poems represent three different ‘stages’  of my motherhood journey thus far (all three years of it!), and I’d like to share them. The first one, rather obviously, was written when I was pregnant; the second, when Jude was two, and the last one very recently. So, here goes!

Three month mark (okay, so the picture is of my full term bump!)

Tomorrow

is the three month mark of our baby’s conception

when our blind cells joined, oblivious.

We drank vodka cocktails,

spilt sex conversations

until my breasts ached walking

down the stairs for the thirteenth pee,

and I nearly hit you in a hormonal rage.

Now my Buddha belly grows rotund

with this creature

we created accidentally-on-purpose.

Friends tell me stories

of three-month-point abortions

and miscarried twins

In six months I will meet you

I don’t know what you will look like

or how I will love you

If you will have imperfections

grown in the womb

or pre-destined by genetics

If I will still love you, then.

You are my consolation in the form of a bump

barely visible,

a secret I stroke and hold with a smile

at odd moments of the day,

when work dulls my shiny joy

and the pointless commute wears me down.

The shiver along my scalp

like a bolt out of nowhere.

As you, angel not yet incarnate,

unfurl your blameless wings inside me.

(Untitled)


Holding my boy & he’s breathing.

Something the Victorians wouldn’t take for granted.

But I’m thinking of deadlines on essays

and time running short,

The refuse workers strike

& how rubbish is piling up in the streets.

I’m holding my son,

his warm cheek under my armpit

how little space he takes up,

so new on this planet.

But his footprint will grow

with him, & soon he’ll use more

resources than 10 Guatamalans.

It’s strange how,

when he’s asleep, lying on the pink-

crayon-streaked sheet beside me,

I miss him.

Even as his breath descends

into his chest: rise, fall, rise, fall.

And his feet do that last twitch

before I can do a stealth

manoeuvre & escape.

I wait, like a clock with a stiff second arm,

for the day to release me into my private self:

The self that knows words

like ‘aver’, who guards her evening from the warp

of days given over to chilly playgrounds

and overheated libraries

where today, he ran away from me,

& panic stilled my blood.

Now emptiness rises in my throat to

catch me:

you must live, you must stay,

you must stay

mine.

The Idea of An Aeroplane

An aeroplane streaks blue sky above,

Leaving only trails of white.

I know inside it will be stuffy

With plastic food,

But still there is the longing to

Go

Forwards, to Thailand

With its spices and space,

Or backwards to South Africa,

Strangely comforting

With its barren air of possibility

Every time I hear that

Distant thrum of a plane’s engine,

I look up and am temporarily gone.

Even if I am walking on green earth

And birdsong is caressing my ears

With fresh sound.

Even though I’m walking with your

Hand clasped in mine

And even though the russet gold leaves

Are crunching decisively under each step

And even though I feel

As vast as the remembered sky,

And know that I am alive,

And here, and real

Still

The idea of an aeroplane

Can turn my head

Away.

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One of the biggest gaps I experience in life is between how connected I want to feel – and how connected I feel moment to moment, in reality. Connected to what?

Life, myself, the Universe, God(dess), whatever – to me it doesn’t matter so much what you call it, it’s the feeling I recognise: joy, contentment, openness, and inspiration. Where my energy is flowing and it feels good. Feeling motivated but not compelled to do things – feeling that I am okay no matter what.

Sometimes I feel really ground down by the seeming mundanity of my life, and the endless repetition of tasks that stay-at-home motherhood involves can feel anything but spiritual and connected. Recently I wrote a guest post for Authentic Parenting about this seeming contradiction. The last couple of weeks, though, something has shifted in my ability to connect with that connected state of being.

I sometimes spend more energy trying to escape motherhood, than actually enjoying it; using a lot of the mental space I could be using for being present and feeling calm and joyful in the moment, to orchestrate my next ‘fix’ of something completely non-mother-related, like a spoken word event or a spiritual course. Or looking at friends’ status updates on Facebook too much, to feel like I am part of the real world – filling my mind with often irrelevant distractions.

Because of my fear of isolation, I spent most of Jude’s babyhood rushing frantically around from one activity to another, and it exhausted me. Nowadays our life has a slower pace because Jude often prefers to be at home. Amidst the moments of boredom I’ve started to feel relieved, and to experience that simple contentment of being where I am, with Jude, and knowing him well rather than having a childcare worker share his most significant moments.

I definitely still find cultural and spiritual events inspiring and valuable, but I’m becoming more realistic about my life as a single mother and not trying so hard to squeeze everything in.

I couldn’t organise a babysitter for two arts/cultural events I wanted to go to recently. But instead of feeling deprived, I was surprised to find I felt totally accepting – almost relieved to be able to let go of that pressure to do and be all things, and just read a book in the evening when Jude went to sleep. This has been far more nourishing for me lately. Also, it meant I had more energy the next day to be with my son and join him in his enthusiasm for life.

I’m realising how much energy it takes to be with other people and do task-orientated activities, especially when I am with a high-energy preschooler most of the time, and how much alone time I truly need to recharge.

I think the shift I’ve experienced in feeling more connected has a lot to do with being kinder to myself about how much energy it really takes to mother in a present, aware way, and allowing myself more rest and relaxation.

This requires not believing those less than kind thoughts that insist I use my only two or three hours ‘off’ each day to do goal-orientated tasks. The work of Byron Katie has helped me enormously with this. It’s a radical re-conditioning, but worth it to feel that gap getting smaller.

Cuddles

On Sunday, in London, I attended my second cuddle workshop. For some of you these words may conjure up a faintly dodgy image with perhaps sexual connotations. Or perhaps you might think it’s ‘sad’ to pay money to go somewhere where you can get a cuddle. These thoughts have all run through my head at one point. In fact, cuddle workshops are emerging out of an increased awareness of the effects a touch-deprived society has on us as human beings who all need touch to thrive, feel connected, and to belong.

I think this gap is so rarely acknowledged. Those who are not in an intimate relationship – and even some who are – may spend days, weeks, even months without close physical contact with anyone, without having their human skin touched by another human skin. Touch triggers the release of oxytocin which is the ‘feel-good’ factor that creates bonding between mother and newborn baby, between people who are ‘falling in love’, and it helps create a strong sense of belonging and being wanted in any human being.

While I am lucky enough to have a cuddly toddler, it always makes me wince to see adults wheedling, “Please, give Daddy/Mummy a cuddle, come on,” to an unwilling child. We cannot expect our children to meet our needs – we’re here to meet theirs, after all, and anything else is unhealthy and inappropriate. I think we need to be able to experience touch on our own terms and ask for our own needs to be met, and my experience is that cuddle workshops can provide an arena to explore this.

The reality is that in a British culture – and the South African one I grew up in is very much informed by this culture – many of today’s adults have grown up touch-deprived in one way or another. I have heard men share that the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality has resulted in parents refusing to comfort them physically as little boys, and even girls have shared that their parents did not show them physical affection, particularly past a certain age.

One thing that I realised at the workshop on Sunday is that in adolescence, as sexuality awakens, touch is again ‘on the menu’: but only with a sexual agenda. Is it any wonder teenagers are often so quick to get sexually involved, when it seems to offer them the connection and intimacy they so crave, even if they are not consciously aware of it? After that, unless we were fortunate enough to grow up in a physically affectionate family, touch seems to be forever linked with sex, and we become very wary of touching anyone, and suspicious of anyone touching us.

I was lucky enough to not really have any preconceptions when I attended my first one at Midsummer Camp last Summer Solstice. I was already in such a ‘loved-up’ state from being part of a wonderful setting, sharing food, play, affection and deep soulful talks with some really special people who became like family during that week – some of whom I am still in regular contact with.

So, because I was already feeling very open, it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to do a cuddle workshop: to massage and hug others, and be massaged and hugged, and to end up in a huge ‘cuddle puddle’ at the end of the workshop with everyone there. And yes, everyone remained fully clothed in case you are wondering!

Here are some of the words from the workshop press: “a safely boundaried space in which to connect with others, give and receive quality non-sexual touch and experience the joy and deep relaxation of close physical contact; to discover and let go of hidden agendas around physical contact, and playfully explore your boundaries, enjoyment and challenges around touch. ”

The workshops also promise to help you “gain tools for getting more satisfactory touch in your life and to learn how to say no (and yes) powerfully and comfortably.” As someone who has struggled with boundaries in my life, practising saying ‘no’, and becoming aware of whether or not I really want a particular kind of touch from someone, was challenging but empowering.

At Sunday’s workshop, facilitated by James Lockley and Anna Nathan, it really showed that I had been in a touch-deprived zone for a while. I felt much more vulnerable and nervous than I had at Midsummer Camp, and it took me a while to ‘get into it’. I experienced some very difficult feelings coming up when everyone spontaneously moved into a ‘cuddle puddle’ at the end – I felt a need to protect my own space, but I also wanted to be a part of it. I gave myself space to feel these feelings – there was no pressure to be in contact if one didn’t want to – and eventually, when I felt like reaching out again, I joined in, and was glad that I did.

What I  noticed afterwards as I travelled back to Brighton and dealt with busy Victoria Station and people in various ‘closed-off’ states, was that I continued to feel very present in my own body in a way I normally find difficult to access, often tending to ‘live in my head’. I felt a stronger awareness of my boundaries and less hesitant about moving away from people if they were crowding my space. I also felt a profound compassion for the people I saw, a sense that we were part of a human family that all have the same needs, no matter how much we may try to hide it.

Just as I was wondering how to create more of this touch in my everyday life back in Brighton, I bumped into a friend yesterday who I am just starting to get to know – and she gave me a warm, heartfelt hug. Like many things in my life, I know I can move closer towards this way of being and feeling with others, if I keep holding the intention and remaining open in my heart. In the meantime, practice sessions are always welcome!

Before I became a mother, I was, and still am, a feminist. My version of feminism at the time acknowledged few essential differences between males and females of the human species. I was convinced that socialisation – parenting, schooling, peers, and the media – accounted for most of the differences we see between boys and girls, men and women. Another gap between ideas and the real world, it seems.

Today I found myself at a nearby park at a windy 6:20 p.m. feeling distinctly – well, nervous – as I realised I was the only female for miles around. There were some teenage boys playing basketball in the court nearby and a few rough looking younger boys kicking balls up into trees, and then me and my toddler son, who does such a good drop-kick that he even got an admiring remark from one of the ‘tough lads’: “Good kick, especially for a little kid.”

I notice how at the age of two and nine months, my son’s ball skills have surpassed my meagre ones already, and how he looks at the older boys with fascination, soaking in everything they do with an attentive eye. That’s where he learned how to drop kick: sure, I showed him a couple of times, but he was the one who asked me how to show him in the first place, because he’d seen other boys doing it. As a girl, I avoided ball sports like the plague, even hiding in the cloakrooms before gym (or P.E. as it was called). I was so unco-ordinated I couldn’t fathom how to return a volleyball or hit a ball with a bat, and I froze up with fear when a ball came my way.

So this is all new and foreign territory as I notice I’m spending at least 1o minutes a day doing a formerly despised and feared activity, and almost enjoying it at times. Often it’s all too easy to think of Jude as ‘my child’ and so when his gifts and interests emerge in a different – and very masculine direction – I not only realise that he is after all quite a separate being, but also a sense of foreignness creeps in: after all, I have never even remotely understood the male species (even now).

As a women who grew up in a very female household (a sister, a mother, a grandmother and a lone male: my dad), boys and men fascinate, excite and terrify me by turns. At school, boys were the ones who teased and bullied me most – although girls could be vicious in their own ways. It’s so strange to think that my own child is now the possessor of this masculinity, that can take so many different forms, but often in our society is distinctly twisted in one direction. I walked past a mother with a young son yesterday, saw him fall and bite back the tears as she said, “You ain’t crying, see, you ain’t a cry baby, you’re a big boy.”

Of course there are many girls and women who love ball sports and physical activity: but Jude has been largely brought up by me, someone who couldn’t care less about such things, yet he showed a clear preference for looking at ball play since before he could say the word: from as soon as he could turn his head as a baby.

It’s not just the interest in balls and climbing, the need to be ‘walked’ like a dog (while I was happy to spend hours curled up with dolls and books as  a child), and the ‘vroom-vroom’ gene as Susan Maushart, author of ‘The Mask of Motherhood’ calls it: it’s the sense of separateness, a feeling that in some sense I will never understand my son and what makes him tick, because he is, well, the opposite gender from me. I felt a sadness as I looked at the older boys and realised that Jude won’t want to play ball with me for very much longer, that in the not too distant future he’s going to be firmly ensconced in a peer group of boys. That they will become his barometer of how well he is doing. Now, he asks for cuddles and kisses and to be picked up, and needs me to kiss his knee better when he falls; so I try to appreciate these moments, although I’d really rather be in the bath with a book.

Which, actually, I’m going to do right now that he’s finally asleep (yes, I needed the breathing technique as it was a bit of a battle again…)

But first: a tip for managing the gap between your patience as you’d like it to be, and the rapidly wearing-thin-sense-of-tolerance that is sometimes the less palatable reality. Applicable to parents and non-parents alike. It’s a simple tool called the square breath. Simply inhale to the count of four, hold for four, exhale to four, and hold out for four. Continue until you notice that your state of mind has changed, or at least you’re concentrating more on the breath than whatever’s threatening to ‘make’ you lose your cool. It’s helped me many times when I’m feeling a sense of time pressure or a situation of high emotional velocity.

Oh, and magnesium. I’ve noticed a big difference since I’ve been taking a magnesium supplement once a day. It was recommended on a natural parenting site for helping people cope with the stresses of everyday life, and I’ve noticed since I’ve been taking it that I feel – well, just more in control. I still feel irritated when Jude, say, won’t go to sleep and I desperate for some me time, or he’s asking me the same question for the tenth time – but I don’t feel that sense of water rising above my head. Apparently many of us are magnesium depleted with today’s depleted soil and diets, so it’s worth looking into it. Oh, and it has to be taken separately from calcium or any other vitamin or mineral, so as to be absorbed properly.

Oh, yes…that bath is getting cold. Have a good week!