motherhood

Bye Bye Baby

I don’t want another child. I was never especially maternal. So I never thought I’d be someone to mourn the passing of the “baby years”. I used to read stories of women’s sadness at saying goodbye to this time with, if not scorn, then at least bemusement. But you had those years with them, what gives? But now, I’m here.

My youngest child turned three near the start of this year, next August, he’ll start school. I went back to an office job at the beginning of June. It’s a seismic shift in my life, after 4.5 years of being a freelancer and stay-at-home-parent.

This week it’s been hitting me: the baby years are gone.

I thought I’d be pleased, entirely. I have tried to enjoy each step of my two children’s development and I’ve always relished the next stage, skipping ahead, looking forward without regrets. I don’t want to hold them back, or fix them in time. I love seeing them grow and become more independent. I see my biggest success as a parent displayed in their increasing ability to do without me.

And yet, and yet…

I find myself tearing up with regrets. Yes! Me! Maybe it’s a natural backlash to major change to glance back over one’s shoulder as your train leaves the station, wondering if you should have stayed one more hour, one more day.

A passage in a novel described a new mother “kissing every inch of her baby’s body” and had me welling up in tears. Did I ever do that? Did I stop, and take the time to explore his skin, lip-print by lip-print until I’d covered it with an invisible velvet of love? It wasn’t the author’s intention (I suppose) but, like all the bestworst parenting articles I read, it had me questioning myself.

Because maybe… I just got through? Maybe I didn’t stop and simply exist in love. Maybe I didn’t even feel that perfect, gentlefierce babylove they describe in stories. I am not doing mum-guilt here. I honestly do not remember.

I do remember feeling anxious, feeling the need to get things done. Being miffed by the books that said “leave the housework!” because, what is worse than sitting, pinned to the couch by breastfeeding and contemplating a huge, dusty mess? Ugh. I got things done, I met my friends, I did the grocery shopping, I went for long walks listening to music and exploring the suburb while the baby slept. I walked an hour a day, easily. I read books and newspapers. I produced a 48-page quarterly magazine for the local NCT branch. I cooked food and kept the baby fed. I went to the pub occasionally. I organised minor repairs and renovations on the house. I went to the park, to baby swimming, to coffee dates and tea with mates. Did I ever just kick back though, suffused with joy in my small perfect creation? I don’t know.

Probably I did? And maybe I still do. We’re all attempting to be more mindful these days after all.

Perhaps it’s that the moments of quiet joy are just that – so quiet and humble and unmemorable. You can’t recall them, much less write a whole 750-word column about them, unless you’re really smug?

In another novel, the mother regards her newborn as “the most perfect thing she’s ever seen”. OK it’s another one of those clichés, but I don’t know if I ever felt this either. Others must feel it, I believe that. Was I too busy, too sensible, too practical, too nervy to have allowed myself to feel that pure love and contentment? Did I have postnatal anxiety? I do remember describing that first year of maternity leave in London as “the best year of my life” and it was. I went back to work, eventually moved countries and had another baby, then spent another busy “maternity year” and beyond. In many ways, things have just got better and better.

But I can’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But now, I never will know for sure…

So I’m mourning a little. And it’s somewhat unexpected. Goodbye baby years and all your chaotic, scary, busy intenseness and boredom that means I can almost only remember rushing about and enjoying myself, sometimes frustrated and upset, other times happy and occupied but almost always with something-to-do rather than sitting in a post-natal haze of rosegold glow. Ahh, maybe that’s just my own version of it.

Whatever it is, or was, I find myself surprisingly sad to say farewell to that bright pocket of time as my life moves, ever swiftly, onwards.

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Lodestone

I wake to

your call

in the night

we lie parallel

I I

two, at 2am

asleep

your nose

tucks beneath my shoulder

I’m your lodestone

head buried, body pivots

north

to 3 o’clock

how can one so small

be half my life

how can one so small

rob half my night

how can one so small

take up so much room

in the bed

 

Photo: https://unsplash.com/@hirsch

Motherf*cking February

Photo: Marco Ceschi via https://unsplash.com/@spantax

Photo: Marco Ceschi via https://unsplash.com/@spantax

A little something for everyone this week. Here’s a short spoken-word piece

 

Every mother looks tired today

Or perhaps it’s the harsh light of Monday

As she sat with a baby in a sling

With the sun on her face

I could see the exhaustion

of the night before

And I also saw

Those dedicated mums meeting their friends

In cafes for lunch

Trying not to be in the way

Trying to get their two year olds to eat something

It’s not even much fun

But better than not having gone

What a mess they make

And I think maybe I’ll just get a job

And outsource all my childcare from now on

Every mother looks tired today

Motherfucking February

 

Soundcloud link: https://soundcloud.com/user-808707280/motherfcking-february

Guest blog: Breastfeeding

 

This week, my guest post / interview for Milk and Motherhood about the troubles I had with pain while breastfeeding was published. Here’s an excerpt

I hate being bad at things and I was bad at this… Looking back now, and maybe even at the time, I can take the perspective that there are some things you just aren’t good at and, for me, breastfeeding was one of them. Some people are terrible at maths, or they’re tone deaf, or they can’t catch a ball to save their life. I was yet to learn that motherhood is a series of “amateur hours” and I’ve always been scathing of amateurism. However, unlike deciding you’ll quit the basketball team or only do Arts subjects from now on, you can’t walk away from the aspects of motherhood that you suck at.

Read the full story here: http://www.milkandmotherhood.com/2016/11/interview-with-claire-constant-pain.html

The Spring Thing

Springtime in Zurich

I wanted to write a more cheerful post, as promised. This is not so easy for me – as anyone who has read more than two entries on here will know, I tend to go for cynicism over sentiment, self-deprecation over life affirmation. But hey, it’s springtime! Let’s bring the happy.

So I’m going to talk about parenting again. Funny story, actually. Last week I spent Mon-Weds working quite a bit, and doing my German. Then I took “time off” Thurs-Friday and spent it with my kids without working (ahem-much-except when they were asleep-ahem). And it was SO NICE. It made me realise two things. 1. I tend to think of myself as a Stay At Home Mum but I guess I’m really not. (I actually read a nice blog on this very thing – the Stay At Home Mum (or parent) Who Works) and 2. It’s soo fucking hard to get the balance right.

I make point #2 because it seems like the obvious answer to More Happy should be – well, just work less and spend more time with the kids. But I know that wouldn’t work either. I’d get bored, frustrated, and feel like I was losing myself, losing my edge in the workplace. Or do I protest too much? Hmm maybe I should try it. Unlikely. And, to be honest, I don’t think many Stay at Home Parents (SAHPs – waitasec – Saps? Really?! yikes) are “just” that anyway. Whether you’re doing the muffin tin meals I talked about last week, or not, or whatever else, there’s loads of stuff to get through when you’re fulltime on “home duties”: from grocery shopping, bill paying and, yes, fun crafternoons as well (which, I’ve since been informed that dads do do with their kids, although that wasn’t quite how I meant it… but I digress). I guess what I did last week for a couple of rare, early-Spring days was push all the other stuff aside and just hang out with my kids and my mum friends (I’m afraid I don’t know any local SAHDs – ooh, another unfortunate acronym!) and it was lovely and it made me happy.

As kids will do, both of mine seem to have moved into a new stage lately. The baby started walking a week or so ago, he sleeps better at night and is generally a pretty happy chap. It’s lovely although not unexpected – poor old second child is not breaking any new ground! I find I’m far more content to sit back and enjoy each stage with him, as opposed to chivvying for the next development. The downside is, we’re full-on into that Clash of Schedules time, which I also remember from my first kid. This seems to happen in the months around their first birthday… you’ve got yourself into a nice little groove with doing stuff with the baby, seeing your mates, maybe a bit of daycare in place… then suddenly: everyone’s schedules change! The kids are no longer napping. Well, not at the same times. Some are still doing 2 per day. Some have a longy in the morning, others have to be home by 11.45am for lunch and arvo nap or the whole day is shot. Some kids are walking and need to run around outside a lot now. Others are just observing life so their parents are still keen on the cafe. Some parents are starting to get back to work, so there’s a juggle around that too. It’s an awkward time. In a weird way, almost lonelier than the early days of motherhood when at least you’re in a sleepless babylove daze most of the time. Now things start to feel a bit more serious, a bit more this-is-how-it’s-gonna-be.  A new normal.

At the other end of my parenting spectrum, my big boy is nearly five. He’s been at Kindergarten / school for six months now and he’s just started some swimming lessons too. I don’t really see him in action at school but I took him to his second swim class last week and Oh, my heart. In half a year, he’s gone from being a toddler who wanted to carry his bunny everywhere to a proper schoolboy. There he was, bobbing about in the water, with a bunch of other kids his size, following the instructor, doing the stuff, occasionally getting distracted. So normal. Until I became a parent, I never wanted to be normal. But from my pregnancy onwards, I have started to appreciate the comfort of normality. “Everything’s normal” is mostly what you want to hear when it comes to child development from the womb onwards. OK maybe eventually you want to be told they’re super-special-whizzbang-genius at something… maybe… I dunno. But for now, normal is good. I never thought I’d say that.

Cars and a book about WWI

Cars and a book about WWI

Another interesting factor of my kids growing up, particularly the older one, is he’s starting to reach an stage when I can clearly remember myself at that age. I have some memories of Kindergarten (which you attend for a few hours per week from 3- and 4-years-old in Australia) but I recall a lot more of early primary school (from ~5yo). I’m remembering the toys and stationery I had, going to friends’ houses to play, the games we had at playlunch, lunch and afternoon recess… I hate to say it, but it’s given me another pang about not having a girl. All the stuff with dolls and hairstyles and glitter pens and dressing up and whatever else. I loved that shit. And it’s not that boys can’t or won’t do that but at the moment mine seem pretty content to play with cars, trains, weapons (we try to discourage this but what can you do, it’s the reality) and read books on animals and World War 1 (again – eesh. I don’t mind him knowing real history but I guess I wish he’d turned his attention to this a bit later). And it’s not to say that a daughter would necessarily be into “girl” stuff either. But still… a small sigh.

Anyway, my kids are generally awesome. And they really made me feel good last week. I even managed to channel some of the fight-play into a heavy metal battle dance off to Soundgarden with my eldest so I shall not complain. Plus, it’s springtime after what suddenly feels like it was a looong winter. The blossoms are coming out in Zurich and there’s lots to look forward to.

So that’s my cheerful post. Happy Easter.

 

 

21 unexpected benefits of being a sleep-deprived mother of two

Making music together

  1. I get things done in a crazy adrenaline rush with the idea that it might give me time for a nap later. Today I dropped my eldest at Kindy, took the empties to the bottle bank and completed my grocery shopping by 9am. I never take a nap later.
  2. I give less fucks about attempting my abominable German in shops now, and then switching halfway through to English anyway. Haben sie putzessig? Um… you know… für… putz-er-(mumble, mumble) cleaning?
  3. Sometimes I don’t even bother putting on makeup before leaving the house. This is a big deal for me.
  4. Likewise, I tend to choose one outfit and wear it all week. Maybe a fresh top here and there. Fuck it. Who am I trying to impress?
  5. When my husband’s away, I can get both kids through dinner-bath-story-bed in about one hour flat. If he’s around to help, it takes 3. Once they’re down, it’s wine o’clock.
  6. That said, I drink less. I just can’t handle the hangovers when I’m up several times in the night and there’s no lie-ins. So that’s a health benefit.
  7. I’m thin from all the anxiety. I may look haggard, I may eat poorly, but I am thin. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate that.
  8. Trips to the basement laundry room, rather than being a chore, are now a delightful “me-time” mini-break. Ditto for showers. 5 minutes when I can’t hear if someone’s chewing on the power cords or stealing each other’s toys. Bliss!
  9. When I see my friends, I can download information about everything I’ve been thinking, feeling and doing for the past week in about 30-minutes flat while we’re both kid-wrangling. My friend then does the same. We’re like socialising supercomputers. Or something.
  10. If I think I can hear my kid crying in the Kindergarten playground (it’s right next door to my house), I “just walk away” – maybe my heart is breaking but I gotta be callous and let him work it out himself. I’m so tired anyway: fuggeddabouddit.
  11. I used to be great at remembering birthdays, sending cards etc. Now they just whizz by and I don’t bother. Meh. Does the world need more Hallmark? I think not.
  12. Emails from friends are precious missives – I often read them several times over and look forward to sending my replies. Please write! 🙂
  13. I’ve become so efficient at clothes shopping – nup, nup, nup, yep that’ll do. At the moment, I no longer even consider dresses (because: breastfeeding), shoes with heels, “office wear”, anything with tight sleeves (can’t heft a baby with constricted arms) or anything too tight really, straight skirts (can’t sit on the ground), plain tops (show too much dirt), etc. It makes shopping very efficient, if rather boring. I don’t shop much for myself anymore.
  14. A night out is so rare, I get stupidly excited. I can’t believe I used to take this for granted! It’s almost worth having no social life in exchange for how wonderful it feels when I do finally get to go out of an evening. Almost.
  15. The precarious loveliness of small overtures – two playdates, a few yoga classes, a lot of information-sharing about our kids, and we’re becoming friends. We’re all just hanging by a thread, it feels like sometimes we just catch each other by the fingertips before one of us slips through the net.
  16. The look another mum gives you when you think you might have gone too far, but it’s fine because we’re all so exhausted and we understand.
  17. I’ve only got time to “play it forward” – I can’t remember enough day-to-day to return favours and I’d like to think we’re all helping each other as and when it’s needed. Plus, it’s SO NICE  when it comes back around.
  18. A true appreciation of the money vs. time/effort equation. Here in Switzerland I call it the “Going to Germany” conundrum (cheaper prices, but more time and effort).
  19. I’m learning to switch off my phone and shut down the laptop and try to spend “quality” time with the kids… um not right now as I’m writing this, obviously.
  20. Getting better at saying “no” or, at the very least, “not now”. It’s still hard and I don’t like it. But the saying-no-anxiety seems to melt away quicker with so much else on my plate!
  21. My emotions are much closer to the surface. I cry easily, whether it’s due to happiness, sadness, anger or stress. When I do something enjoyable (sightseeing, swimming, a good conversation, dinner out) I really love it. I may be finally learning to acknowledge my emotions. It’s a crazy time. I wouldn’t swap it.

The Great Divide

grandcanyon

Ok I’ve enjoyed the first two months of new-motherhood but now I’m ready for some time off. Maybe a week’s holiday? Or a two? Perhaps I’ll tackle a fresh project now, or return to an old one – get back to my German lessons maybe… What’s that? I can’t? No leave can be granted? Well maybe I could just chuck a sickie? Nope, not that either. What… not even one day to myself?

Sigh – just one of the many laments of early motherhood – it’s relentless and there’s no holidays in sight. Especially at this stage. Feed, sleep, poo, repeat. And the baby doesn’t do much more than that either.

It’s got me thinking about the roles of mum and dad (in general) again. I say “again” because the last time I properly contemplated this was the first time Himself and I became mum and dad (specific). And let me tell you, nothing highlights the Great Divide between the genders* much more than having a new baby. This huge change in the status quo of your relationship is something I’m yet to see listed in all those “Why I’m never having children” articles, but it should be right up there. Alongside the zero-holidays policy.

When you’re the one parenting a new baby at home while your partner is back at work, there’s no getting around the fact that in these early months, you are doing the motherload of childcare (pun intended) and dad is, well, working. In other words, you’ve suddenly taken on very traditional gender roles. And it makes your day-to-day lives very different indeed. Granted, this was more of a shock to the system the first time around when we went from the relatively equal footing of both being full time working “people” to a Mum-at-home-with-baby and a full-time-working-Dad (as opposed to just full-time-working person).

But in a funny way, the gender gap is gaping even wider now. Because I’m also a “trailing spouse”, I currently exist in a weirdly segregated world. The only new people I meet are other women, mostly mothers and other expats who are also usually trailing spouses. The facebook groups I join are generally populated by females and are parenting-focused. I never come across males in a social capacity, unless they’re the partners of mums I’ve met. It kinda sucks.

On the flipside, I chose this.  And I’m lucky to be able to spend this time caring for my kids and not having to work for money outside the home. Himself would love to be home with them more often. If money were no object, I’m sure he’d quit work in a nanosecond (although how long it would take him to reach the boredom/resentment/need-a-break threshold I’ve just bumped into is hard to say… and I guess we’ll never know). If only it were easily possible for me to go out and find employment in this foreign country that pays as well as a male salary…

Not that I even want to work full time. Do I? I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of this move to Switzerland wasn’t the sweet notion of being able to QUIT formal work indefinitely. Of course nothing is ever quite as good as it seems. And this is an almost entirely female problem. Not many men even get the choice of whether to quit or take a break from work to stay home and look after their babies, although it would be great if they had real options for this**.

As the kids get older, stay-at-home Dads become slightly more common. Slightly. [ASIDE: You don’t hear the male voice in parenting very often so I found it really interesting what Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard writes in his semi-autobiographical book A Man In Love about the mind-numbing mundanity of life as a primary parent. It’s basically several chapters of Toddler Time but more brutal! I can’t imagine many mums admitting the “job” bores them so starkly although it certainly struck a chord with me.]

Then there’s the money and value factors. Of course, rationally, we’re equal partners who are both contributing valuable work so we can afford to live and raise a family. But in reality, it can be hard to see it as entirely “our” money or perhaps more importantly, half “mine”, especially when it comes to the more frivolous purchases I might want to make. And in terms of valuable work, sure I’m doing a very important job but, well, no one’s flying me business class to Boston to be a Mum for 8 hours then back again.

So it’s an odd conundrum. A paradox of feminism? We have the choice but we have no choice. And things aren’t equal, but how can they be? Parenting, at least in the first year or so, is not really an equal opportunity playing field.

In some ways I can see it’s actually worse for the dads – slogging away at a crappy job (all jobs are a bit crappy right?) and missing out on time with the babies that goes so quickly. Plus, he has to do a big chunk of childcare and housework too – particularly putting in the hours with our first child in this second-baby situation. And yet, and yet… he also gets to go out of the house every week day, he gets to talk to people who aren’t obviously involved in their own childcare battles about things that aren’t to do with kids, he gets validation for skills that have nothing to do with parenthood. And he gets the chance for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep per night. It’s not a competition, but if there were a ledger of achievements and sacrifices, I’d say sleep is a biggie.

Likewise, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding and feminism. Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? Feminism is about choice and equal opportunities. So Bfing is another paradox. Sure you have a choice, but there’s also no choice, as in, no one else can do it for you (with rare exceptions), well, your partner can’t anyway. And, like giving birth, it’s in no way an equal opportunity situation between the sexes. So I’m stuck. But I chose this. But, only by dint of being a woman was that choice possible. And, based on where we are at as modern, first-world people and parents, it was in many ways the only option. So therefore I had no choice. But still… I chose this. Argh.

I’d really like a day off.

 

 

*I suppose this is true for same-sex couples (assumptions, assumptions!) if you substitute “mum” for “primary carer” and “dad” for “the one who continues to go to work”.

** I’m a total advocate of The Wife Drought theory articulated so well in Annabel Crabb’s book – for society to move on, men need a life and women need a wife.

This sux, baby

Grumpy mum/to-be

After my recent moan about motherhood, I thought I may as well have a pop at pregnancy too – go for broke.

I’m totally bummed this whole second baby has got off to such a horrible start. I’ve been unwell, unhappy and uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy. I had all these rosy tinted dreams about having baby no. 2. I don’t know why I assumed it would be so wonderful but I guess I felt like the first time around, while it was all new and (relatively) exciting, it was more about getting through, moving to the next stage, wondering and worrying about what would happen next. And I think I was a bit thrown by it. Maybe even slightly… embarrassed? So, this second and final time, I was keen to embrace it, and even enjoy the pregnancy.

The first fly in the ointment of this plan came with trimester one’s fairly ick morning sickness. I wasn’t spewing but just felt rotten most of the time, physically and mentally. Unfortunately this also created a perfect storm/vicious cycle of not wanting to go out much, which meant my feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of friends/support here were compounded. I did, however, have the slight comfort of assuming the baby would be a girl, purely by dint of the fact that I was so unwell. But I was wrong about that too.

The second trimester was all right. I felt a bit physically uncomfortable but I was mostly in Australia, so I was enjoying myself and managing to block out a lot of the negative feelings I’d been having. Also I had friends and family to talk through stuff with. Plus all the grandparental support made it easy to take it easy.

Since being back in Zurich, I’m pretty depressed again. It’s cold and dark and – surprise – since I’ve done nothing about it, nothing has magically changed about my life here to suddenly make it great! I’m feeling achey, tired and heavy and my 3.5-year-old son is annoying me just by being a 3.5-year-old (I read this article about how Time-Outs are damaging your child, oh how I laughed… don’t the authors realise that time-outs are so the parents can calm down and regain their composure?!)

I’ve read up a bit on antenatal depression. Unfortunately there’s not that much info – there’s more on PND (postnatal depression). I don’t know if this is because AND is less common, less talked about or purely the fact that there’s a time limit to it. So, for what it’s worth here’s what antenatal depression feels like to me:

It feels like: a big ball of regret and failure – physically and mentally.

It feels like: I can’t have this baby.

It feels like: I wish I wasn’t pregnant.

It feels like: is it too late for an abortion?

It feels like: knowing things are going to get worse before they get better – because how could this situation possibly be improved by adding a squalling, boob-sucking, sleep-deprivation machine?

It feels like: hating my body. I look disgusting.

It feels like: no one has touched me for months except my little boy. No one’s felt the baby move except me.

It feels like: drinking an extra glass or two of wine because you’re unhappy and alcohol has been your crutch for the past 20-odd years and it’s really hard to break that habit now, even though you know it’s doing untold damage to the unborn baby. (However, the stuff I’ve read on AND says it’s advisable to keep taking your anti-depressants. I am not on any SSRIs.)

It feels like: over-eating because I’m depressed. Then feeling sick and overfull – oof!

It feels like: I haven’t talked to the baby or “bonded” with it like I did with my first pregnancy. I can hardly bear thinking about this one.

It feels like: being angry a lot of the time with my beautiful, wonderful 3.5 year old because he won’t walk, or won’t come and get ready NOW, and insists on wearing a nappy even though he’s fine to use the potty.

It feels like: being terrified of PND – and not knowing how to prevent that.

It feels like: being scared of completely cracking up and/or doing something really dangerous to myself and/or others.

It feels like: being trapped. I really don’t know how to get out of this.

It feels like: there’s a sort of primal need to find a “safe” place to give birth and a part of me is frantic that I don’t have it.

It feels like: I should have stayed in Australia but I let convention and la-la-la-not-thinking-about-it guide me back here.

It feels like: I should just shut up with my #firstworldproblems because women are giving birth in refugee camps and other horrible places all the time.

It feels like: I’m afraid of the pain of giving birth. If I don’t even want the child, how can I endure labour? Should I be planning for an epidural? C-section? Would that make it worse?

It feels like: what if I don’t love the kid once he arrives? Everyone says “oh you will” but what if they’re wrong?

It feels like: not being sure if my marriage can survive this.

It feels like: smiling awkwardly when people say – you must be so excited about the baby!! Being envious but slightly appalled that other mums-to-be are thrilled to bits.

It feels like: wincing when people say: wow you’re getting big/ looking really pregnant / walking like a pregnant lady.

It feels like: No one wants to hear it. I should just get over it.

It feels like: when bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t put it all into perspective. I just feel worse, like the world is a bad place.

It feels like: I’m wasting all these amazing opportunities but I just can’t seem to find contentment, let alone happiness.

It feels like: I must just be a cold, nasty, unfeeling person.

It feels like: I’ve made a huge mistake.

It feels like: I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

It feels like: a life sentence (ok: bad pun). But if motherhood is not really doing it for me already, how’s it going to be in six months, 3 years, 10 years… 😦

It feels like: being really, really tired.

It feels like: being bored.

It feels like: I hate myself and baby, you suck too.

Toddler time  

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A rather mundane post about the frustrations of a day spent toddler-wrangling…

As parents of young children will know, it’s expected that, on the days you’re home with them as primary carer, you take your kids out to the park (or some equally worthy place of child-centred activity: a friend’s house, playgroup, family-friendly cafes, the zoo etc.) Sometimes I find this a bit of a fraught activity. My son often says he wants to go initially, but when it comes to the ritual of actually getting dressed, shoes on, out of the house, he objects. Strongly. This is usually because he’s in the middle of some little game of his own devising, so I have the double whammy of tearing him away from self-perpetuated activity, coupled with the fact I’m not that plussed about going out myself. (I think I’ve become a bit agoraphobic since moving to Swizerland – fear of foreign places). And pregnant: it’s all soo much harder trying to manoeuvre physically and mentally right now.

Also – is this as recent phenomenon / modern parenting trap? My mum and her peers seem to think it’s slightly bonkers the way parents these days around and try to do something with/for the kid EVERY DAY. In their time it was much more about the child fitting the parents’ routine, it seems. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten. I’m also really starting to wonder if it’s one of those situations that’s worse for the part-time parent? Full-time stay at home, you’ve got the routine going a bit more smoothly (maybe?! I seem to remember this from my year off on maternity leave but of course that was with a baby. This is probably just a BS grass-is-greener feeling on my part). Part time, it seems like you’re constantly juggling and adjusting and so is your child. Those three or four days a week of daycare are great, but it often feels like you’re right back at amateur hour when the “mum time” kicks in…

Anyway so, back to my toddler day. We finally make it out of the house but I realize I also need to get some groceries in. Is the park in any way near or convenient to any shops? Is it fuck. Ok so now begin the negotiations of what we do first. Park first or shops first. You can imagine what a 3-year-old who has no idea of the joys of delayed gratification is gunning for. Ok so park. We get there. It is closed. Great. So… the other park it is. To get there, we may as well detour past the shops. But I’m already feeling somewhat defeated. Why is it so hard to achieve two relatively simple things? Park and shops? Why must I lug my prego belly so far just to buy food and go on the swings? Sigh.

We make it to the shops, I haven’t brought the list because I’d been thinking we’d just go to the park but once I was out, it seemed crazy not to swing by the supermarket as well. I get a clutch of goods comprised of some stuff I remember off the list, a few things I’ve thought of since and various bits that catch my eye as we whip through. I wonder, for the 837th time since P was born, if anyone without a buggy in the supermarket realises how bloody awkward and annoying it is to try to shop with one. Manhandling the stroller with one hand, while an increasingly weighty shopping basked dangles off the other arm… and pregnant. Ugh.

We leave and by now I’ve decided that fuck it, it’s already noon and we need to buy some food for lunch and we can take it to the park and have it as a picnic. This food will be Macdonalds. Fuck it. Yes, I feel bad, yes, part of me has THE FEAR that having fast food right now will set a dangerous precedent with P but it’s been a rough morning. The doctor told me yesterday after clocking my low-ish weight gain with this pregnancy “it’s ok to eat!” And I want a treat. I steel myself for feeling like slapper mum of the year and walk into maccas, negotiating the large stroller round school bags of teens and inadvertently ramming ankles. The area in front of the counter is packed. So full there are not even clearly defined queues . I can’t deal with it, I can’t be bothered and, literally  we can’t even fit. We trundle back out. “Are we going to the park now?” Asks P who, in all honesty, has been pretty patient up until now. “Yes” I sigh, thinking of Burger King one street over but knowing it will be equally full of student lunchers.

We make our way to the park. I have to wheedle and cajole P to hop out of the buggy to walk up the steep hill to get there – it’s too heavy for me to push with him in and the shopping, and did I mention 8 months pregnant? Finally he agrees. We get to the park. We stop for a pastry snack on a park bench in the sun. It’s nice. We get to the play area. It’s completely deserted. I remember that I sort of hate the park. Where is everyone? Am I missing something? Sheesh it’s no wonder I feel lonely. Of course, the times when another parent-and-child are there, they speak in German so I’m out of the picture either way. It’s almost more isolating when that happens, in fact.

I push him on the swing for a while, he demands more, more, more. I make bargains about finishing and have to back down every time. This is why parenting is so much harder than office work: the emotional undermining . Constantly being denied, overridden, bossed about by a 3 year old who in no way knows better than you and, in fact, you’re meant to be guiding to become a decent human being. Others have said this better than me. I can’t be bothered looking up the links to the articles right now.

I try to look around and enjoy the glorious autumn display of trees, leaves are all the colours, from bright lime green, yellow, orange and all shades of brown. A puff of wind sends a shower of them spiralling to the ground, looking up, it’s like a gentle leaf snowfall spinning out in the sky above me. It’s really beautiful. There’s squirrels and birds flitting about in the thinning branches and almost no one around, a few dog walkers passing, pleasant, productive sounds of hammering and home renovations nearby. But it doesn’t sustain me. We’re back to negotiations. I’m bored of pushing this shitty swing and it’s nearly 1pm now, we need to go home and eat a proper lunch. I don’t know where this Timetable Of Correct Parenting comes from, I just know I need to adhere to it as well as possible or I’ll feel even worse. As he screams and cries and I give in once again, I have tears my eyes. How can I feel so defeated after just a couple of hours? What do you do when a depression trigger is taking your son to the park?

We get home, he goes straight back to his toys. I can’t be bothered insisting on lunch although I eat some myself. When he asks for TV an hour later, I capitulate. When I finally convince him to eat, around 3.30pm, we have a 20-minute long fight about butter – whether it’s on the toast I’ve made him (of course it is, but he insists it’s not and demands I remake the meal to his specifications) which involves him crying and us arguing until I finally dab a token amount of butter on top of the already-spread toast and he eats it.

I’m sometimes get so sick of this motherhood gig, to whom do I address my resignation letter?

The Smell of September

Josefswiese Park, Hardbrucke

Josefswiese Park, Hardbrucke

The world has turned.

It’s a little bit darker in the mornings. I’m taking a jacket out with me again as standard.

I’m feeling the flutterings of new life in my belly.

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed.

Again.

P has gone from crawling into our bed each morning at 5am to sleeping through past 7 sometimes. He’s also gone from a few weeks of whining and “nup” to everything back to a lovely(mostly) kid again. It’s so hard to tell with these phases – is it us? Is it him? Something else? Even though I’ve done this parenting thing for nearly 3.5 years now, I always forget that each phase only lasts a couple of weeks. The good and the bad.

I’m in a new phase too. I feel different. Things are OK. Somehow I’ve clicked over from raging against my fate to accepting things and it’s so much better (for now!). I am cool with the boy thing too – so much so that I almost can’t fathom why I was so upset.

Even the language – somehow a shift there as well. From worrying if I “could” or “couldn’t” if I was “good” or “bad” at German to realising I just have to learn it. It’s just knowledge that’s there to be gained and I am taking the classes, doing the study. It’s hard but not insurmountable, it just takes work. Work I can do.

Some piece of myself has returned and I’m organising stuff! I’ve been teeing up a few social engagements and going out to things, buying household items and planning travel. It feels good.

I went to this Motherhood Support Group the other night. Only three people of a projected six showed (including the organiser) but it was good to have a small group so everyone could say lots. We talked for nearly 3 hours! The organiser, who is a psychologist, expat and mother herself, said some interesting things about moving cities/countries/continents that I hadn’t thought of before.

When you cut yourself out of the fabric of your life and try to re-establish those threads of familiarity in a completely new environment, you lose so much. The subconscious things I hadn’t realised were smells and geography.

Smell is such a primal sense, not something you think about so often. When you relocate to a completely new place, you lose all those familiar scents of home. Even of your own home. The streets, the odour of your local newsagent, the office, the Tube. It’s very disorienting to be without all these smells. I almost cried when she said this – it’s so true! When I was in the nasty throes of morning sickness, with the bloody churchbells reverberating through my new apartment, I would crawl into bed and think “I hate the smell in here”. It was a completely innofensive odour of clothes, sheets, dust (I guess) but it was different to “home” – different washing powder, different water, new trees, less pollution.

Feeling a chill in the air this week, I found my nose reaching for the familiar Autumn smell of Horse Chestnut trees and fox shit. A smell I actually didn’t like. But it signalled something: London/Autumn/Now. And drawing a blank on that scent was really odd – like walking into an unlit room in my brain. Early Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. What does it smell like in Zurich? I don’t quite know yet.

Geography too. Just knowing the patterns of your local area – the well-trod journey to the train station, the local park, your corner shop. They build reassurance in the brain: I have been here, I know this, I know what I’m doing, I know who I am. Losing that is tough, it takes time to re-build those familiar routes, make new connections to your local landscape. It’s fascinating, and sort of terryfying to think how lost I felt without this. Also explains why my homesickness often takes the form of small yearnings for odd places – a nondescript corner of Castlereagh Street, Sydney. The view of the sky above the railway tracks as you walk down Bedford Street, Newtown past the Hub. My bit of the Thames as I strode across London Bridge to work. The curve of the path through a crappy Tottenham estate where I weekly pushed my newborn child in his buggy…

This week, we also had a lovely afternoon at Josefswiese park at Hardbrucke, where I’ve actually spent enough time for it to feel like a familiar friend now. When we came to Zuri in Summer 2013, with the move still very much up in the air, I took my son to this park and had my first “This is good, we could live here” moment.

I love it there. I’ve fallen in love with Josefwiese! For me, to fall in love with a place is important. It means taking it into my heart, owning it, but also giving something away. It’s that thing of committing, admitting vulnerability…  I now own a piece of that park and it owns me, a tiny part of my heart will be left there if and when we leave Zurich. And I’ll miss it and yearn for it in odd moments. Like my bit of the Thames in London, or that chunk of sky in Newtown.

And soon I’m going home. To one of my homes. Home, home, home. Oh Sydney, I can’t wait. But I’m working hard to make sure I want to come back to Zurich too.