Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Risky Business

It's the dawn of the 1990s and I'm about 8 years old. I'm standing atop the biggest slippery dip in our Brisbane suburb; it's so high, I can practically see the Gold Coast. Okay, not quite, but it feels like I could. And then, the best part of all - sitting down on the cool metal and getting ready to launch myself down that monster. I plunge down that slippery dip, hair whipping behind me, face full of wind, and when I get to the bottom, I savour the best kind of rush you can get when you're just a kid.

The last time I saw a slippery dip like that was maybe 15 years ago. I've noticed they're not called 'slippery dips' anymore, they're just plain old slides. And they're not nearly as exciting as the ones of yore.

I've noticed this a lot since becoming a parent - the absence of just about any risk in children's lives. Now in the case of these crazy, aforementioned slippery dips, I can see why - broken arms and legs were their specialty. Or nasty gashes. My childhood friend, Hendrik, went down one of these beasts with particular abandon, not realising there was a collection of broken glass awaiting him at the bottom. Needless to say, he required lots of stitches and still sports a pretty tough-looking scar on his upper arm today.

No, I'm quite relieved our little munchkin won't be tempted by a slippery dip in our area.

But has safety and PC-ness taken us just a little bit too far the other way?

There's something to be said for a little risk-taking. During a recent visit, my step-mum (who happens to be a social worker) was talking about 'the dignity of risk', the importance of giving your children a reasonable amount of space to explore and discover their environment. By honouring their dignity in this way, children are more likely to learn about their physical capabilities and limitations in a meaningful way.

It's funny how my childhood memories have altered a little in my mind, since becoming a parent. I reflect back on all the risky things we did - climbing to the top of the huge gum tree in our yard, playing on the roof of our neighbour's house, digging trenches under our redback-spider-infested house, covering the old-school trampoline (which bears little resemblance to the super-safe, super-protected trampolines of today) in detergent and water, then sliding across it at top speed - and while I smile, thinking about how much fun I had, I also shudder at the thought of my daughter doing the same things.

In the end, I guess it's a balance between letting kids do what they do, knowing they're going to hurt themselves sometimes, as well as having boundaries and limits.

I wish for my daughter a fun, exciting, safe childhood that she can look back on as happily as I look back on mine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The First Family of Surfing


I want to tell you about an amazing, strange, inspiring family, the Paskowitz family. Dubbed the 'first family of surfing' in the US, this unconventional family took to the road in a 24-foot campervan for some 25 years while they raised their 9 children. Believing that the best education they could give their children was life on the road, the children never attended regular school; Dorian, their father, instead insisted that they dedicate themselves to surfing and live healthy, clean lives. 

It certainly got me thinking.

On the one hand, I found their enthusiasm for travel, their reverence for the ocean and nature, to be quite intoxicating. Before I knew it, I was imagining my husband, 18-month old daughter and I packing up our essentials-only items and heading out on an exciting, horizon-expanding trip round Australia. Something new every day. 

Oh the experiences we were having in my head! 

Long walks on pristine beaches. Climbing mountains and breathing in the freshest air. Staying in cabins and waking to birdsong. 

Was this the dreamy, idyllic existence the Paskowitz family enjoyed on a daily basis?

Not exactly.

They certainly gained a tremendous amount of experience and joy on the road, but there were definite costs. For one, Juliette, their mother, wore herself down to the ground, having so many babies so close together and with so little extra help. And with no formal education, the children grew up somewhat unprepared for modern life - one son, Abraham, desperately wished to become a doctor, but when he realised how much he needed to do just to catch up on his schooling, let alone qualify for medicine, he knew it was close to impossible. 

Their stories, captured in the documentary, Surfwise, really got me thinking about striking that balance between convention/security/responsibility and taking risks/being creative/defying cultural ideas about what gives us meaning and makes us happy. How many people are slaves to their mortgages, their jobs, sacrificing happiness and enjoyment now for the end of their lives when they retire? Alternatively, who wants to constantly worry about money and security, about feeding their family, in the pursuit of a freer life? 

Surely there's a middle ground. I'm just not quite sure what that is yet.

At the close of the documentary, reflecting on the choices he made for his family, Dorian Paskowitz said, "It's easier to die when you have lived than when you haven't. So go make memories, because when you die, you won't go alone, you will take them with you". 

Sage words. And definitely some food for thought.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why I Choose Homebirth

Birth should be empowering. It should be safe. It should be allowed to progress as naturally as possible, without intervention, without obstruction. When it came to making an informed choice about birthing my daughter in 2010, I chose the only option I felt could meet these needs: home birth.

Now, its obviously not for everyone but here's a few reasons why it will always be my first choice.

The Best Care

Right from the start of my pregnancy, I felt completely respected, honoured and involved in my medical care. My midwife would visit me in the comfort of my own home for our regular check-ups, usually staying for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. In that time, not only would she thoroughly check my blood pressure, test a urine sample, listen to my baby's heart beat and discuss my health/pregnancy in a holistic way, she would talk to me about the emotional aspects of pregnancy. Like my fears and doubts. But also my excitement, my joy at this marvellous process making my body fuller and more life-containing with every passing day. I came to look forward to these visits immensely, particularly as the third trimester approached and I was getting closer to meeting my baby.

The Chance to Labour and Birth Naturally

I read A LOT before and while I was pregnant, about birthing options, the nature of each birthing environment. It seemed to me that the only place I would be allowed to birth without constant monitoring/pressure to accept pain relief/pressure to be induced if I went overdue (and I did go overdue), and in a way that was natural and nurturing, was to labour and birth at home. When I did eventually go into labour 4 days after my due date, I was able to move around my house, in whatever position I wished, and feel completely comfortable in my own surroundings. I was reassured that I could combine the safety and comfort of my home environment with the expertise, knowledge and experience of my midwife attending me there.

The Best Outcomes for Baby and Mummy

With a home birth, I knew I was guaranteed to have my baby placed skin-to-skin on my chest straight after birth. I knew I would be allowed to birth my placenta when it was ready, without being given syntocinon. I knew my baby would be given the chance to find my breast as nature has programmed her to do and initiate our first breastfeed. And I knew all of these elements would ensure I received that lovely cocktail of hormones that ensures my baby and I bond instantly. I was not convinced that I would have these elements in a hospital setting.

As it turns out, I was right.

Though I did labour at home to full dilation, my labour halted after physically exhausting myself, fighting against the contractions instead of surrendering to them. As a result of this extreme exhaustion, my blood pressure skyrocketed and we decided to transfer to hospital. I was blessed to have lovely midwives and a very patient obstetrician attend my birth in the hospital, all the while allowing my home birth midwife to keep 'running the show'. With her determination and fortitude, she helped me avoid the cesarean that was being suggested as a result of my halted labour. Thankfully, not long after we were admitted to the labour room, my urge to push finally kicked in and I was able to birth P. naturally, without drugs or medical intervention.

But much to my distress, after a brief moment of skin-to-skin contact, the on-duty pediatrician (who seemed to know very little of my birthing experience and the way in which P. came very quickly down that birth canal) determined that my baby needed to go immediately to special care for 48 hours of intravenous antibiotics. This was to prevent a possible infection, indicated by some nostril flaring after the birth. My mothering instincts knew there was no infection, that P. was just trying to recover a bit after coming out a little too quickly and having lots of birth gunk in her passageways. But I let myself be bullied, told I would risk her dying if I didn't agree. So we missed that first breastfeed, we missed those first precious hours of bonding. And in the end, no bacteria were cultures were grown, there was no evidence of any infection. This, I am certain, would not have happened at home.

When all is said and done, I got to birth naturally, I birthed a healthy, beautiful girl and I was supported throughout my birthing journey by a midwife (and her wonderful student midwife assistant too) who genuinely cared for me, my birthing wishes, my baby, my family and my overall experience of becoming a mother. While I ultimately ended up in a hospital, I benefited from all the supportive elements of a planned home birth. But I also got to experience what I never thought I would - how birthing is treated and managed in a medical environment.

I now have even greater confidence in my body's natural ability to birth a baby, despite difficulties, despite pressures for it to be augmented and taken out of my hands. I understand now, from personal experience, what it feels like to be caught up in the risk-management culture of modern obstetrics/pediatrics - to apply a procedure or medicine in a situation that did not call for it, that interfered with the natural post-birth bonding with my baby. I feel blessed to have walked the path of home birth, even if my ultimate destination was the hospital. And I have even greater resolve to walk that path again when we conceive our next child.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Mummy Hulk

I've been channelling the Hulk this week. At least the mummy version of it.

(reader has bemused look on face)

Have I developed enormous muscles, I hear you ask? Am I ridding the bad ol' Brisbane 'burbs of criminals? Am I a luminescent shade of green?

The answer is no. And no. And, definitely no.

Instead, I've found myself progressing from ordinary, garden-variety grumpiness to throwing-a-tantrum, eye-bulging RAGE!

Okay, it wasn't exactly eye-bulging rage. It was more eye-twitching irritability, mixed in with a good dollop of stress. But for someone not used to feeling angry - I've always been more of a teary crybaby than a wall-punching aggressor - I might as well have turned into some green beast, rampaging the streets.

It all began to go wrong on Tuesday.

I was dealing with a 3-day old headache while trying to get myself and darling daughter ready for her weekly swimming lesson. We managed to somehow get out to the car before being horrendously late, and as I fastened P. into her car seat, I put the towels and my wallet (BIG mistake!) on the roof of the car. I managed to remember to grab the towels and threw them into the front seat. But the wallet, sadly, went for an unexpected rooftop ride.

Now losing your wallet is not usually fodder for meltdown rages. But it signposted for me the turning point at which my week went from fairly good to fairly crap.

After driving back and forth along the same route after swimming was finished, the wallet could not be found. I immediately cancelled my cards and mourned the loss of my relatively new wallet, a cutesy aqua-colored one with a wide-eyed owl embroidered on it. I also felt somewhat embarrassed; I regularly tease my lovely husband for misplacing his wallet somewhere in the house. Here I was losing mine altogether.

(side note: when someone tells a lengthy, boring anecdote in our house, we ask them, at the conclusion of said anecdote, And then, did you find $20? It denotes that the anecdote was so boring, finding $20 would have been a more interesting story. It's at this point I find myself asking myself, So Kate, did you find $20?)

I swear it gets more interesting from here. Or at the very least, more disgusting.

That afternoon, after finally coming to terms with my lost wallet, P. turned around, arms out, appealing to me to pick her up, then proceeded to vomit all over my shirt. That delightful gastro bug that's been doing the rounds came to our place for an unwelcome visit.

We had a dreadful night's sleep that night (if you can really call it sleep when you're wakeful far more than you're slumbering). And not long after we crawled out of bed that morning, P. vomited on me again. This time in my hair.

Thankfully, after 24 hours of being P.'s projectile-vomiting target-practice (and, in case it isn't clear, being a loving, concerned mother to my poor, sick darling), the voms were over.

And the diarrhea began.

The upshot (or is that upchuck?) of it all is this - shit happens (that pun was TOO easy!) and those who survive it intact do so because they stop fighting so hard against it. Once I'd had a good cry to darling husband about the constancy of it all - not just the voms and poos but holding sick daughter round the clock, not getting any sleep, not getting five seconds to just be alone! - I surrendered to my situation and reminded myself THIS WILL NOT LAST. And tried to see the lighter side of things.

And you know what happened immediately after this?

I got a message on Facebook from the guy who lives in my old house in Bardon saying that my wallet was posted to that address, intact, by some lovely, honest, anonymous person.

So while I started the week in Hulk mode, I certainly didn't end it that way. Isn't it nice how things turn out sometimes?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Lazy Mother Blogger

When I started Musing Mummy at the beginning of the year, I was motivated by largely self-oriented themes - have a creative outlet, get the old thinky-thinky working again (still a work in progress), reflect on my mummy experiences in order to better digest them.  But after writing a few posts, and getting some lovely feedback from other new mummies experiencing similar highs and lows, I realised there was more to this whole blogging thing.  There's solidarity in knowing other women know exactly what you mean by sleep deprivation (and I'm sorry, if you haven't had kids, you really DO NOT know what it is, unless of course you are a clinical insomniac, in which case I retract my use of CAPITAL LETTERS).  And there's sublime joy in describing your child's first steps or first word or first real, arms-flung-around-the-neck embrace to another mummy.

But I've been having serious blogging-guilt this month; I've not had the inspiration nor the inclination to blog.  About anything.  Sure, the occasional idea pops into my head and I think, Yes!  Write about that!  People will want your opinion on that most interesting topic, surely! But I just haven't been able to will it into existence.  So, spurred on by my husband, a fellow blogger - - I've had a bit of a look around at what other mummy bloggers are writing about.

And I've concluded I'm a lazy mother blogger.

While I struggle to write a blog each month, some women are squeezing out blogs weekly, even daily! In the blogosphere (see, using right terminology so I must be a real blogger after all), you can pretty well write about anything you like, no matter how inane or interesting.  Some people write about their observations of others, some write about their day-to-day experiences, others write satirically and sarcastically about various topics.  And it is this style I like in particular.  Check out Cate Pearce's most excellent post on bogans -  I laughed so hard that I almost wet myself (thank goodness I did those Kegel's exercises after all); perhaps it is growing up in an area where bogans are de rigour that made her words so very true and amusing to me.

In an attempt to understand why I am such a lazy mother blogger, I thought back over my life and my various attempts at creativity/writing/reflection.  And the big craft box in the study came to mind.  You see, I am one of those people who gets struck by a creative idea - let's say, sewing my own baby booties - and has to go out, get the materials, do a quick google search to teach myself the basic skills involved, and DO IT RIGHT NOW.  The fact I have a craft box filled with unused scraps of material, pieces of yarn and thread, various bits of scrapbooking paper I was convinced I would use one day, tells me that I am very fad-ish when it comes to creative endeavours.  And so I return to my blog.  While I began with that similar level of, "OH MY GOSH! I'M GOING TO WRITE A BLOG!  QUICK, HAND ME THAT LAPTOP!  I MUST WRITE!", I have struggled to maintain the same level of enthusiasm as the months pass.

But never fear, dear followers (yes, all 10 of you).  I shall not give up just yet.

You see, a recent creative endeavour shows me that despite my fad-ish approach to most creative things (there was also a time I painted posterized images, stitched cross-stitch, and wrote AWFUL poetry), I can maintain energy, focus and commitment through to the end of the project.  And here it is:

Yes, I knitted my very first baby jumper!  One of my friends remarked at its completion, "Wow, Kate, you finished it and it still fits her!" I'm sure they (and many, many others) had hilarious mental images of me thrusting the completed baby jumper into my daughter's arms when I finally finished it, my daughter aged 15, and insisting she try it on, despite obvious physical obstacles.  But I did it!  And as darling daughter wanders around the house in my completed, resolved creative endeavour, I take comfort in the knowledge that I can see things through to the end, despite getting side-tracked with other must-do creative ideas.

And so I shall not hang up my blogging boots (or gloves, perhaps more suitably) just yet.  I might have a tendency towards laziness, towards initial enthusiasm and subsequent loss of interest, but if I can knit an entire jumper (and if you're interested, I'm onto the next one now!  In alpaca wool!), who knows what else I can do if I put my mind to it?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Confessions of an Unabashed Book Lover

Books have punctuated my life in beautiful, magical, sometimes unexpected ways; they have taken me to faraway places, places closer to home, allowing me to inhabit the lives of people very different from myself or characters not so different from me. They allow me to escape the challenges of my own life and live someone else's, or they give me a fresh perspective with which to view my life. They teach me, comfort me, put a spell on me, challenge my ideas and reaffirm my greatest beliefs. They are a loving companion to return to at night, or steal moments with throughout the day. As a young mummy, they are a treasured reward for getting through a hard day, or a way to really savour the hour or two when darling daughter finally goes down for a sleep.

When I recall significant experiences of my life, invariably a book comes to mind as a companion to that time and place. I guess it's a little like certain songs taking you back to an earlier time and all the feelings associated. Here is a list of some of these experiences and their companion read:

1. Discovering books with my dear, dear Granma


I have always been close with my Granma (incorrect spelling on purpose – Granma always signed her name without the 'd' in the middle; she's far too lovely and soft to have such a hard letter in the middle of her name); from as far back as I can recall, she's been someone I look up to, someone I love and admire. And boy does she love books. She bought me a copy of Possum Magic by Mem Fox when I was just a little girl and we'd read about the adventures of a baby possum and her grandmother possum together. It was as if Mem Fox wrote this very book just for me and my Granma. Needless to say, I became rather smitten with books.

2. Being a spectacular dag in primary school

I was not the most unpopular kid in primary school, but I was certainly very uncool. In fact, I can still remember walking past the house of a very cute boy from school one afternoon, dressed in a baggy purple t-shirt, tartan shorts, leather lace-up shoes and bright white socks... I waved to him with a big grin, and he took one look at me and proclaimed in disgust, “Oh, Kate, you are SUCH a dag!” I walked home, my daggy shirt soaking up my daggy tears, and as soon as I got to my room, I buried myself in The Story of Tracey Beaker. The story of a girl who was a total tomboy and just didn't fit in, it was certainly apt at the time. But I still hadn't quite put it together that being a dag was fairly synonymous with liking books, doing well at school - at least this was the case at my school. So did volunteering to read an excerpt from said book on full-school assembly win me any cool points? Let's just say that it was a welcome relief to finish primary school and start afresh in a new school.

3. Reclaiming books

Being required to read certain novels in high school really killed a few classic books for me. Is it ironic that I now insist my students read particuar novels as an English teacher? Anyhoo, after being a major dork in primary school, I found high school to be quite a different story... there was no time for reading when there was so much socialising to be had! And boys weren't gross anymore, they were lovely! It wasn't really until I finished high school that I rediscovered my love of books and I had one person to thank. Kurt Cobain. Well, his biographer more accurately. When I finished reading Charles Cross' biography of Kurt's life, Heavier Than Heaven, I felt as if I knew him personally and was mourning a dear, misunderstood, troubled friend.

4. A New World

Going to university is such an exciting adventure – experimenting with who you are and how you see yourself, trying on different incarnations to see which one fits (side note – dying my hair black and wearing tough, rock chick shirts didn't stick in the end). It was also a great time of trying out new things to read. Sometimes, I would be so engrossed in a book that I couldn't bear to waste a moment NOT reading... I'd even read as I walked to class (it still amazes me now that I never tripped over anything/anyone, given how uncoordinated I am at the best of times). I was reading Firehead, by Venero Armanno, one afternoon before a lecture and I remember feeling so ALIVE, that such wonderful books existed! It was a regular conundrum, whether I attended a lecture or continued reading. In this instance, the author WAS my lecturer, and now a dear friend, so I'm pretty sure my reading didn't always get in the way of my education.

5. Secret Women's Business

My dearest friend in the whole world, Jorja, has been my greatest reading muse for many years now. Jorja is one of these people who just seems to have a knack for discovering the very best reads. And sharing books between friends is one of the greatest ways to really cement your friendship, like sharing secrets. Anyone who belongs to a book club or has shared their favourite book with a dear friend knows exactly what I mean. So thank you, Jorja, for sharing with me The Girl in Times Square, My Sister's Keeper, The Other Hand, The Help and many, many more.

Now I see the seeds of book love in my own daughter. At 13 months, she picks up her books, turns the pages, even mimics the animated sounds we make when we read to her. Loving reading is a gift I hope to give my darling daughter so that she may have many years of adventure, discovery, insight, entertainment, mystery and love before her.   

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Mummy Tank

I first came across this term in Sarah Buckley's most excellent book, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering when I was pregnant with my darling daughter over a year ago. Basically, the idea is that if we are to care for our children well, we need to care for ourselves well. This means that we need to regularly do things for ourselves that will replenish our energy stores, otherwise we are at risk of fatigue, resentment, frustration, etc..

These last couple of weeks have been a big lesson for me in paying attention to my mummy tank, especially when the red light is on and I need to refuel NOW or I'm going to break down somewhere! And I've certainly felt like breaking down at times. At these low points, I've thought to myself, What have I actually done for myself lately that makes me happy? In the mental lists I keep in my head – do the dishes, wash nappies, cook dinner, make sure daughter/husband/family/friends/random strangers on the street (you get my point) are happy – I haven't had a single thing that was for me alone. How familiar does that sound, mummies? Remembering Sarah Buckley's words, as well as countless discussions had with my fellow mummy friends on the very important topic of caring for ourselves, I decided to take action – and write myself a Mummy Tank Manifesto. Here is a copy of it, now stuck up on the wall in our kitchen:


In order for Kate to be her loveliest, happiest, calmest mummy self, she needs to regularly replenish her energy stores. One, or more, of the following can help:

  • taking darling daughter for some period of time so Kate can have time to herself
  • a foot massage (or any sort of massage, really)
  • a cup of tea made for Kate
  • words of validation and encouragement so Kate feels she's doing a good job and is recognised for it
  • a really good book to escape into
  • a change of scenery – a walk to the park, a drive somewhere
  • some housework done – the dishes, a load of washing, general tidying, dinner cooked – so that Kate has a little less to do
  • lending Kate an open and understanding ear so that she may talk, vent, cry, whatever, to get it off her chest.

I'm sure it seems a little silly writing such a formal document about taking time for myself, but in all the months I've thought about it, it's taken me penning to paper to really do something about it. And now, as of this morning, I have Kate's Sunday Morning Ritual of Gloriousness in place! I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination but I now look forward to Sunday mornings as if I were having a divine connection with God herself. Every Sunday at around 10am, I bid farewell to my daughter, my husband, the messy house and the floors that desperately need vaccuuming and instead go the movies. Simple, hey! I get myself a takeaway coffee, maybe even splurge on over-priced movie popcorn at the candy bar and enjoy a cinema experience all on my own. 

Before I had children, I would NEVER have gone to the movies alone. In fact, I would have thought anyone seeing a movie alone is a serious Nigel-No-Friends.

But not anymore! As I get myself seated comfortably in the cinema, food at the ready, mobile switched to silent, I look around to see if there is anyone else there, like me, escaping the domestic life for a couple of hours of bliss, peace and solitude. And there is! I mean, I don't approach them and say, Hey Fellow Loner! Are you escaping a grumpy teething baby too?! High five!! That would be weird. But I allow myself the fantasy that there are many of us, out on a Sunday morning, refuelling our mummy tanks with some glorious alone time.

So, what are YOU doing to fill your mummy tank? I challenge all of you, mummies, to do one nice thing for yourself today that will push up the meter on your energy tank.

Oh, and what movie did I see today? The King's Speech. And it was brilliant!