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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.

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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!

“Every city has its own internal logic” – Angela Carter, “The Kiss”.

I knew my city from the first time I saw it. Strange that it is ‘mine’, now, when I was born in Cape Town, but there’s something different about a city that you have chosen to live in. And Cape Town seems increasingly distant and abstract to me now, after six years in my adopted country.

I first ‘met’ Brighton in June 1998, on a gap year holiday to England filled with pubs, pool and boys. It was only for one summer’s day, but it reminded me very much of the seafront in my home city, and I felt instantly at home. I saw it in an idealistic way, and Brighton stayed in my head for long after that.

I spent longer in Brighton during November 2003, when I came up for my best friend’s wedding. The unaccustomed cold didn’t put me off: I was in love with the place, taking photographs of the beautiful University buildings, the Pier, even the pebbles on the beach, to show eagerly to my then boyfriend when I returned home (I was trying to convince him to join me when I moved to England).

Brighton is both more and less innocent than Cape Town with its laundromats and rastafarians competing on street corners with glue-sniffing little boys offering to clean your windscreen. When I first moved to Brighton I thought it was a haven compared to the perpetual threat I felt in my home city. The lurching Big Issue sellers with their cheeky or frozen smiles depending on how much hope is left in them, and the clink of change in Londoners’ pockets as they walked past beggars under Trafalgar Street bridge – all seemed harmless in comparison. All I really saw were the lights and bonhomie of the North Laines, the way people could wear any hairstyle or costume without it attracting ridicule – unlike in conformist Cape Town – and the sunshine glinting off the pebbles on the beach which were still a novelty then.

In Cape Town there was no way I’d walk through the centre of town at night without a man at my side – so when I first came here the freedom was intoxicating. I walked everywhere without fear. Recently, though, I’ve been noticing the underbelly of Brighton a lot more.

Maybe it’s having a child, and an awareness of what I don’t want him exposed to – but the gap between the ‘ideal place to live in’ and the place I actually live in, seems to have become ever wider. Every time I walk down Western Road or North Street there seems to be a fight going on – even in the daytime – and I have to positively gird myself up to face London Road and the Level with the perennial alcoholics at midday.

It’s also the sheer unstoppable force of the city – the way there’s always something stimulating happening, and finding peace in the face of that can be challenging. I feel like I’ve become hooked on it, though, because everytime I consider moving somewhere quieter – like Totnes in Devon, a recent bee-in-my-bonnet, I feel paralysed with fear of boredom, and something missing.

I know that the sheer amount of choice I have on a day-to-day basis in this city is something to be tremendously grateful for. There are centres where we can connect with others in similar circumstances, have access to communal organic allottment gardening free of charge, many different parks to choose from, some of them beautiful, and of course the unchangeable sea – having grown up by the sea, I’ll always have a bit of an attachment to it.

I know that my long term dream is to live communally and close to nature. In the meantime, though, and until I find the right people to do that with, I’m faced with the question of where’s best for a growing boy and his mother? How do we meet both of our needs? It’s clear that Jude loves the city and thrives on the excitement. He’s not yet noticed the things that make me cringe. And I have to sit in the gap and know that sometimes peace has to be cultivated regardless of my surroundings. After all, as meditation teachers say, wherever you go, there you are.

Lately I’ve managed to touch that, but it was only when I decided that I could and eventually would leave Brighton, despite my love for it – that like a relationship with a lover, you don’t have to wait till it’s all falling apart to see the sense in moving on – it was only then that I started to feel the peace even walking down the busy streets with the shouting teenage mothers and the clamouring shoppers. Only then did I start to re-discover all the things I once loved about Brighton, and still do. It had to be a special place to become my adopted city, and often what I hear in people’s voices when they criticise the place, is a cynicism I don’t want a part of – a lack of appreciation for what we have here.

Sometimes it is about accepting that nowhere is going to be perfect. Obvious as it sounds, this is something I really struggle with! For now, it’s about just taking baby steps towards my vision – and right now, that looks like it may be moving to a smaller town or village in Sussex, where Jude can still easily see his father and I can still see my friends here.

It’s not perfect – it’s not rural idyll, and I would be giving up a lot, and facing the uncertainty of having to build up a network of friends all over again. But I’m reminded of the huge risk I took moving countries six and a half years ago, and how I have never truly looked back since. In the meantime, I’m hunkering down for winter and aiming to enjoy this city as much as I can while I am still here.

It looks like autumn is here, teetering on the edge of summer like a surfer poised to take a wave. It brings with it a gust of feelings, memories and images – but many of them, strangely, are to do with summers past. And even though I am now the veteran of six winters in England, I feel the same terror of the sudden stripping away of warmth as the sun deserts us.

Its visit is so fleeting compared to the seemingly endless summers of my South African childhood and early twenties : I have memories of churning up mud with ecstatic feet beside sprinklers on the lawn, of eating peaches in the pool, dripping juice onto the sizzling tiles, and melting Smarties while paging through Archie comics – all under a mind-blanking curve of lucid blue sky.

Back then, it seemed easier to relax into the natural gaps in life. I think my addiction to ‘busy-ness’ began at university – the sheer workload of a Psychology degree combined with trying to have a social life. Yesterday morning I sat on the seafront while Jude was at creche, and what seemed like a million to-do lists were cascading through my head. Aware that this was probably one of the last days of good weather, I wished I could just listen to the waves and let myself float with them.

But I’ve been facing a big decision, which was churning around in my mind: whether to continue working an 81-hour week looking after Jude (i.e. unpaid childcare) and studies, or to take the plunge and convert sixteen of those hours into ‘official’ work – i.e. what the government recognises as taxable income.

Even though I would be doing things I love for money – teaching yoga and writing freelance – because I don’t want Jude to be in significant amounts of non-parental childcare, it would mean giving up some of my already very limited fiction-writing time and ‘dreaming time’ and cramming work into every single gap in my life. Like so many decisions, it’s hard because both options involve gains and sacrifices – so it’s a real process of sifting through my values and defining which ones are non-compromisable.

If I choose the working route, I’ll have more money, of course, and the freedom that brings. And the satisfaction of sharing my gifts with the world. But I’ll also lose the freedom to rest when I need to during my child-free time – and to be available for spontaneous things like contemplating waves, or going for an Artist’s Date.

These may seem like indulgences, but it is the very space to breathe that allows the rest of our life to exist, whole: the same way that music could not exist without spaces between notes.

In my last post I wrote about the stress that creeps in – as it would if you were working an 80 hour week at anything – simply because of the lack of space and, crucially, silence. In ‘Finding Sanctuary’, Abbot Christopher Jamison says some compelling things about the downside of being too busy – how it denies the soul’s yearning for silence and is a sickness our society perpetuates to keep us consuming more and more.

Even I, who consider myself a very un-materialistic person, fall into this trap because of the powerful messages that equate working (as defined by the government) with self esteem and money with security, happiness and freedom. Let’s be honest: ‘single mother on benefits’ isn’t a label that inspires pride.

But I’ve been encouraged of late to see that some of the gaps I’ve written about here are starting to be filled in a very satisfying way – and not through me ‘trying’ to do anything. Community, for instance. I’ve been bumping into my neighbours in the park and having good conversations, and in fact there’s an event called ‘Hanover Zocalo’ happening in my neighbourhood this weekend where people put their chairs outside and hang out with the neighbours.

Then there’s nature – another of my core values: I’ve been spending more time in locations like Stanmer Park, picking blackberries with Jude – which he loves – and even in ‘ordinary’ Queenspark up the road, Jude has been enjoying playing ‘Pooh sticks’ in the (admittedly smelly) stream and ‘fishing’ with a stick. It’s been so heartening to see him enjoying nature, trying to climb trees, wanting to explore, when I was starting to fear he’d always prefer urban concrete playground environments.

So…I guess real life is in the gaps, sometimes. The unscheduled connections and synchronistic meetings, the times you let go of what’s been planned to follow an instinct – to walk into a gallery to have a closer look at a bewitching painting. It’s often only when I allow gaps to exist without compulsively filling them, that a solution to a problem will appear. Those gaps, I think, cannot have a price put on them.

Dispensing raisins with one hand and scribbling with the other is probably not what Julia Cameron intended when she advised writing ‘Morning Pages’: three longhand pages first thing in the morning to help artists recover their connection to their gifts.

The idea is to become familiar with your ‘first thoughts’, before the world intrudes, and thereby get in touch with what you really desire in life – clearing the pathway to right creative action. You’re supposed to get up before the others in your household and set aside at least half an hour to allow for these important musings.

Well, the world intrudes on me at approximately 6 am these days – since the recent end of our breastfeeding relationship and the sad loss of the ‘feeding back to sleep so you can get some more shut eye’ manoeuvre. And it’s usually with a bit of a thump: a two and three-quarter-year-old thump with an emphatic “Woke up Mummy! Woke up!”

Prompted by the block I’ve been experiencing with my novel, (which I’ve been working on, on and off, for years), I turned to the ever inspiring Julia Cameron, author of the acclaimed “The Artist’s Way” which helped me recover from writer’s block – and general creative blocks – several years ago.

But a couple of nights ago I felt more than a little annoyed with Julia. Reading her ‘Walking in this World’ with Jude tucked up asleep beside me,  everything she suggested struck me as impossible for me, a single mother juggling study and part time work, to actually implement.

Having time to go on an artist’s date? Sure, no problem when I was 24 and running on my own schedule, and I did find them very beneficial back then. But now…? The gap between where I was at, and where I wanted to be in order to nurture my creativity, seemed to loom very large indeed.

Just as I was about to toss the book aside in despair, she said something that turned it all around: she related the story of how, as a single mother, she had started to lose joy in her very joyful, lovely daughter. Serving her daughter’s needs and not serving her own creative needs was taking all the sap out of her. She was irritable, resentful, and snapping at her child.

I could hear a mirror of myself here. I go through regular periods where the enjoyment of motherhood sounds like a far away ideal rather than a lived reality. My life feels hectic, overwhelming, and a struggle to meet everyone’s basic needs, let alone my creative ones – hardly a tranquil pool of bliss.

Of course, as a yoga teacher and long-time yoga practitioner, none of this should be a problem for me, right? I should be able to meditate and asana myself into a state of imperturbability, just with my regular practice. Well, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I practice yoga most days (usually with my son playing nearby, regularly talking to me and clambering over me – so not exactly relaxing). I meditate most days, though not nearly as long as I would like to.

And still, although things are much worse if I don’t practice, it’s challenging to keep my perspective, to not succumb to stress, to not… you get the picture. But Julia Cameron’s words made me stop and think.

She said that she had been told by a mentor that instead of listening to the prevailing ‘cultural wisdom’, which says ‘your child must come first’, she needed to listen to her innate wisdom, which was saying: your connection to yourself and your creativity comes first, and then your mothering will flow out of that abundance.

It was such a relief to read that. I have long compared myself to what my friend and I call ‘Uber Mothers’ who just live, breathe and sleep mothering, who just seem to love being with their children more than any other activity. Well, I love my child, but I also love reading, writing, being in nature alone, meditating and experiencing my soul. I would love to be one of those mothers – if in fact, they really do exist – but I can only be what I am.

So. I have had a look at what I can prune from my over-committed schedule, and what help I can marshal to create a bit more space and time. I have newly committed myself to morning pages, and to waking up even just 15 minutes before Jude – early as it is – to do those in peace, without having to answer questions about helicopters at the same time. I’m also going to somehow fit in an artist’s date – taking myself off to do something or be somewhere just for me, just to feed my inner artist – once a week.

Even if you are not a parent, I think we all probably have areas where we need to let go of over responsibility in order to give ourselves the space we need to grow and flourish.

I’ve realised that it’s not enough to try and get an early night and recover from my 13-14 hour days looking after Jude. I need to drink from the pool of my own creativity, and this replenishes me in a way that no amount of sleep can. I’m also reading novels that directly relate to my own novel, speaking in the language of magic and mystery and forests in which my own work is steeped, and giving space for that to breathe. Hopefully, out of that will come a more energised, happier mother.

And I notice my creativity flowing into my motherhood more: making up stories which Jude loves listening to; turning the bathsponge into a friendly monster-creature; just grabbing those moments with  him and making the most out of it instead of just living through them in the hope that I’ll come out the other end intact.

I’d like to share some lovely quotes that have recently inspired me in this area: “A wise parent does little, yet so much gets done! After all, the Eternal does nothing, yet the entire universe goes on. When you get too busy, stop and return to centre. When you are centred, you easily keep things in order.  When things are in order, there is not much to do”; “To allow the Mother principle to work to centre your family, take time for yourself. Otherwise, the self will be constantly grasping for its share. This grasping obscures the Mother principle from within you and from your family, and leaves everyone alone and lost.” – Vimala McClure, ‘The Tao of Motherhood’ (I highly recommend it as a ‘daily reader’ for mothers).

And finally: “In the quietness of a woman’s life she is at peace. Seeking nothing more than to be still and listen with the source of all life moving through her. Showing her the one consciousness of love” – Casey Leasure, ‘The Color of a Woman’s Heart’ page, Facebook.

Nothing to Prove

Have you ever noticed a gap between how others see you and how you see yourself – or what you’re doing in life? It can go either way- negative or positive. As a parent I’ve experienced both.

Yesterday over tea and brownies a friend, who has her own business, told me how she’s got to the point where she ‘doesn’t have anything to prove in life’, and is happy to just follow her desires – and right now that it is to have a baby.

I must admit I felt envious. I wished I could feel no need to ‘succeed’, to achieve anything. My entire motherhood journey so far has been peppered with frustration at not being able to fully explore my creative interests and develop my career which was just starting at the point when I became pregnant (even though I really wanted a baby).

My friend’s remark got me thinking: what about achievement as a mother? What about the never-complete, but always ongoing, success of a child who is happy and open to life?

Recently I’ve had a lot of compliments on my son: he’s independent, he’s secure, even-tempered, ‘fearless’, confident and trusting of people, and he knows what he wants (which could be taken either way I suppose).

I never know quite how to take these remarks. He’s his own person, after all – he came into the world with his own character, which responds to what goes on around him, but he was definitely, quintessentially Jude from the beginning. In fact, a friend of mine even coined the term ‘Jude-ness’ – as in, he’s really growing into his ‘Jude-ness’.

As an ‘attachment parenting’ mother – the title makes me wince a little, with my dislike for leaping under any banner – I’ve put myself in the line of fire of much criticism. I’ve been accused of spoiling my son; being responsible for his ‘clingy’ behaviour because I respond to his requests for cuddles and breastfeeding; creating a rod for my own back with a child that will never leave my bed; and ‘trying to protect my son from the outside world forever’ – this is my favourite one, from a family member 😉

The worm seems to have turned. At just under three my son is a sensitive, articulate, very confident and empathic (for his age!) child who knows what he wants – and is fun to be with. He now plays independently for long periods of time and his breastfeeding has (with some help from me!) decreased to two times a day in a smooth transition. He happily goes to creche two mornings a week and is able to be left regularly with trusted friends and family.

And of course I can never know this for sure, but I do think that had his dependency needs been denied and ignored, or only erratically responded to, we would perhaps be seeing a very different picture.

Attachment parenting ‘guru’ Dr William Sears writes about ‘shutdown syndrome’, where babies who are left in their cots a lot and not carried around or picked up when they cry, become withdrawn, apathetic, and unresponsive, and even lose weight, failing to thrive. In terms of the more long term picture, in his ‘Attachment Parenting’ book he includes an account from parents who remark how easy their three year old is to discipline, thanks to the strong bond that has been formed through attachment parenting.

Reading that recently, something resonated with me: I realised how what seemed to be a never ending cycle of meeting the needs of a baby and young toddler – the sleep deprivation from feeding through the night, the sore muscles from wearing a sling almost all the time (yes, even an ‘ergonomic’ one), feeling ‘tied’ to being with him most of the time so that he could feed and go to sleep; being unable to leave him with anyone until he was far past the age that children are ‘supposed’ to be able to do so – has had a lot to do with Jude now feeling safe to come out into the world and show us all he’s got.

And more experienced mothers – yes, I know things could change at any time, but I’m still waiting for the onslaught of the ‘terrible twos’ with him. His strong relationship with me and his ability to communicate and express his feelings verbally, while I validate and allow them, seems to iron out most difficulties very quickly. Things really changed when he turned two – he suddenly seemed to realise that he could relate to and trust the world outside his immediate circle, and this change was sudden and remarkable.

I suppose this is where the ‘rewards’ of parenting come in. So much of the time it seems like a task without end, like a process without a finished result. For the first time I’m seeing that I can enjoy the person my son is becoming, and feel proud of the work I’ve done. Yes, he has brought many of these qualities with him, and at the same time they would not be able to flourish fully without nurturing and sensitivity in his environment.

And that’s where the gap comes in…parenting is different to a completed writing project or a ‘job well done’. It’s more challenging to internalise the appreciation and feel proud of the work I’ve put in as a parent. Why is that? There’s definitely a sense in which parents (mostly mothers, if they’re doing the primary care, and even if they’re not) are given the blame for children who have behavioural problems or in some way don’t ‘turn out well’, yet there are never headlines about what a wonderful mother a Nobel Prize winner is.

Partly, though, it’s a human condition, I think. I have friends who I think are the most amazing human beings and mothers – full of love and empathy and deep respect for their children, who I just sit in awe of when I witness their parenting and their being – who regularly knock themselves, and no matter what I say, I can see that deep down, they can’t quite take it in. I think the best we can do is keep supporting each other and reflecting back to each other what we can see, and hopefully the truth will slowly drip in.

But back to my friend who’s let go of the need to prove: I would love to get to the point where I truly feel I have nothing to prove, even to myself. I definitely need feedback from others in order to feel that I am on the right track, although my authentic parenting journey has helped me more than anything else to start trusting my own instincts of what is right. I’m grateful to my friend for her reminder that life is a continuously unfolding journey of creation, and that there is no end point. In the meantime, I’m going to try and take in the vantage point from where I am, right now: and it’s really quite good.

Midsummer Camp East Circle sharing food

I went to a great talk by Kate Evans recently – she’s the author of Food of Love: Your Formula for Successful Breastfeeding which was published in 2008. Her talk touched on much more than breastfeeding, though: she talked about what a baby ‘expects’, on a biological level, when it comes into this world, and what we as parents also biologically ‘expect’: and how modern nuclear society fails to fulfil this.

Basically, for millennia of our existence as human beings, a baby wouldn’t survive unless it stayed close to its parents day and night. Crying when separated from its parents is not, as Gina Ford would have us believe, a manipulative device to make our lives difficult, but an adaptive mechanism to alert the parent so that it does not get eaten by a tiger! I remember coming across the idea that ‘We keep on giving birth to Stone Age babies’ despite all our modern innovations.

The high contact needs of babies was not a heavy burden on parents, though, because people lived in tribes or extended families where they received support and co-parenting from the other members. Many people could carry the baby around – not just one exhausted mother as in today’s scenario – and as soon as a child could walk, he was off exploring with and learning from the older children.

Kate Evans, in her characteristically frank, humorous style, pointed out the contrast with the scenario we have today of a parent (usually mother) or childcare provider having to, largely in isolation, provide all of that child’s ‘stimulation’ and learning experiences. At the same time the mother has to severely restrict the freedom of exploration that child has, to keep him safe in today’s urban world.

Kate made the point that today’s cots and separate sleeping are very much a recent phenomenon which doesn’t necessarily work with what babies really need to feel safe. Yet we are often encouraged to ignore the cries of a baby or young child at night in order to ‘train’ them to sleep through the night. Yes, I’m aware that for many parents this seems the only way to save their sanity and survive in a world where the full load of parenting and managing of day to day life falls on their heads.

Kate’s comments echoed the sentiments of a list I saw only a week before, at the Midsummer Camp in Norfolk: an excerpt from a book whose title, unfortunately, I can’t remember. It was a list of what we, as human beings, expect on an evolutionary level: living in groups of 20-30 people; co-parenting or shared parenting among the members of this tribe; working 5-10 hours per week; and living in connection with the land and its cycles and seasons. This is the way we lived for thousands of years and what is most adaptive for us, what allows us to thrive, feel safe and connected.

This was followed by a list of what, in reality, we get in modern Western society: living in isolated nuclear families; parenting mostly done by one or two people; working 40 hours plus per week; living in disconnection from the land and its cycles.The suggestion was that the imbalance, stress and mental health problems that are rife in our society are due to the breakdown of our supportive structures, overwork, and our relationship with the land that sustains us.

As I touched on in my first post on this blog, my week at Midsummer Camp was a concrete experience of our ‘original’ way of living, and it felt so deeply fulfilling on many levels. For a week we lived in groups of 20-30 within a larger camp of 90 people, and in those groups grew surprisingly close. It’s not an exaggeration to say we felt like family. We shared cooking and chores and everyone did what they were best at – rather than having to cook every night although you hate it, for example. For those who like their privacy, there was space to be alone and no pressure to interact with others all the time. People shared their skills for the benefit of everyone: chopping wood, making wooden structures, massage, teaching yoga.

My son had the opportunity to interact with people he wouldn’t usually: to form bonds with seven year old girls for example, who, reciprocally, could ‘practice’ their mothering skills for the future (while most new urban Western mothers have never taken care of or sometimes even held a baby or small child – causing bewilderment and overwhelm when new parenthood hits); and he gifted people with his presence who usually lack these opportunities: childless older men and women, for instance.  It worked very smoothly on the whole.

And of course, we were living right on the land and being outdoors most of the time. Yes, it was a holiday, and you might say utopian – but I’m not suggesting this way of living is a solution to everything, just that it’s perhaps far closer to what our bodies and minds need to feel refreshed and avoid burnout.

Reading this list, and attending Kate’s talk, affirmed for me that there isn’t something ‘wrong’ with me because I don’t want to, and can’t, fulfil all my son’s needs 24/7 while living alone. That I’m not ‘weird’ or a bad parent because my needs as a human being aren’t completely fulfilled as a single full-time parent. I can go to the park of a morning with my son, surrounded by other parents and children of my neighbourhood, and still feel totally isolated. And this is in a relatively ‘community minded’ city and neighbourhood. To meet my needs for mental stimulation and adult companionship often requires both a lot of organisation and time away from my child, which is often difficult to accomplish.

I’ve been playing with the idea of living in community for a long time. I’ve tried living in communal house shares, but for me this is too confined a space with too little room for personal space – and still living in the city with all its attendant problems. What I dream of is living in a dwelling with others on the land, where we each have our own space and can come together for meals, shared childcare and conversation. We as humans have the capacity to look after each other and share love and support in ways that are obscured by our isolated lifestyles in the Western city, and my sadness at this is balanced by my inspiration and excitement to co-create something different. So I’ve got my eye on this…until then, and while I exist in this gap, I’ve been very grateful this week for the help of friendly, kindly neighbours when I a) locked myself out of my house; and b) was mobile phone less for an extended period. I have to add though that I am quite good friends with this neighbour already 😉

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!

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog. As a mother, writer and yoga teacher, I’ve been thinking lately about the gap between our ideals and the real messiness of life. As a mother, so often I’m measuring myself up against some idea of the perfect mother, and I know from talking to my friends that this is a not uncommon experience. Whether we’re ‘attachment parenting’ or following Gina Ford’s schedules, we’re all trying our best to do the right thing, and this can be a lonely journey.

But it’s other gaps too. In many areas of life. The gap between doing and being: between going after your goals and just allowing things you need to flow towards you. The gap between focusing and multi-tasking. The gap between  my mom friends and my friends who haven’t crossed this bridge yet, or may never do so. The gap between being a writer and a creative person and, as a parent, having to put another being’s needs first. Negotiating these differences can feel like stepping across a chasm at times. Other times it happens in a more fluid space.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week at Midsummer Camp in which many of these contradictions could exist side by side. I was able to be a mother and also a woman, friend, dancer, hedonist. I could play, dancing around a fire, and also be serious and soulful with long conversations under the stars. I could take my son for a fun wheelbarrow ride and pretend we were going to Africa, and have a release of tears in a singing workshop a couple of hours later.

Most importantly the co-parenting that evolved from the communal living situation at this camp showed me that the different parts of me could be held in a space, allowed to be, and flourish, as I was not carrying the full burden of my son’s wellbeing – and let’s face it, in our society where parenting is done largely alone, it is set up to be something of a burden. He benefited from it too, and I could see him blossom as he interacted with others and experienced the freedom of movement that is so difficult to find in the city.

I want more of this, and I want to explore how to do this in our everyday lives. Join me to share ideas on how you do it – whether you are an artist, writer, office worker, businessperson, parent or non-parent.

I will share my tips and ideas on how I live with these gaps or attempt to do so, including: simple yoga and breathing exercises, visualisations, books that have helped me, etc. So join me on this journey as we attempt to not only straddle the gap but be comfortable in it!