What seems like a very looooooong time ago, when I was pregnant with Bean, I began making a quilt as a future gift for her. I probably haven't mentioned that I enjoy embroidery, probably because I haven't had time to actually do any since giving birth! My sewing box has been discreetly gathering dust in a cupboard since I became a mummy...that is, until recently.
I pulled it down one day this week on the pretext of doing some mending that was long overdue, but as Bean and I riffled through the contents I found the panels I'd sewn for her quilt 18 months or more ago, and the mending was swiftly forgotten!
I felt freshly inspired to continue my creation and so a few days ago I started a new panel...
I find it's a great way of winding myself down in the evenings or when Bean takes her nap in the afternoon. It brings me out of my busy mind and guides me to a more still and quiet place that's hard for me to find after being in the middle of 'Hurricane Bean' all day! Lately, I've been searching for a way to centre myself when my the tension in my mind and body starts to build up, and I think this may be partly what I was looking for. It's something I can do in any spare few minutes to help melt away some of the daily stress before it bubbles over onto my family. It seems perfect serendipity that I rediscovered this project, completely by accident, when I really needed to find it.
As for Bean, the sewing box is an object of great curiosity and delight (as well as housing many enticing forbidden items!). She's taken to sitting on the floor with me to explore this new treasure trove, carefully examining each ribbon and thread she finds, admiring my completed panels, and trying desperately to get her little hands on the wheels of Coloured pins! Hopefully she enjoys the finished product as much as its many parts...although at this rate I may not have it finished for a few more years!
To start out I would like to say for the record that this is not intended to be a sugar-coated diatribe about the goodness of breastfeeding or the evils of formula. I was never breastfed and hold no judgement towards those who don't breastfeed. In truth, I wasn't always sure about the whole breastfeeding thing myself. I always knew I would try it but to be honest the entire concept of it scared me. I had so many doubts and questions in my mind before Bean was born. What would breastfeeding feel like? Would it be weird? How would I feel doing it? Would I be comfortable breastfeeding in public? And so on and on. I didn't really have a plan. Really the plan was not to worry about it and just give it a go when the time came. I read no books on the subject, a friend gave me a breast pump that I didn't unwrap...I just didn't want to go there. It was an area I was somehow too uncomfortable to explore.
From all the recent media hoo-ha over extended breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public, it seems there are a lot of other people out there who feel the same discomfort!! Why is breastfeeding such a controversial issue in our culture? Is it because we've sexualized everything about the human body to the point that we cannot separate the image of a woman breastfeeding her child from pornography? Maybe it's because as adults living in this disconnected modern society we're so starved for nurturing and closeness that we simply can't bear to see it on display? Sadly, I think it's a bit of both.
Unfortunately we've created a world where artificial is promoted over natural, controlled promoted over spontaneous, convenience is grossly over-valued, and instant gratification reins supreme. As women we've been exposed to generations of media meant to sell us on the idea that our natural state just isn't good enough, rather than selling us on ways to enjoy our beauty as it is, so that we in turn seek out ways to rectify our newly perceived imperfections. And here we are now, good consumers of ideas that keep us separate from ourselves and our infant.
I think for me feeling uncomfortable with my own body played a big part in my fears around breastfeeding. Somewhere along the way I'd lost the confidence and trust in my body to be able to do something as natural as feed a child. More likely I may never have found it in the first place. Also because my own mother had difficulty breastfeeding and suffered emotional trauma around this, I carried the fear imprinted in my mind that the same would happen for me.
And then Bean was born. In that moment everything changed. I had a home water birth that brought out the warrior in my heart (Jake loves imitating the growl that came from me during birth) and Bean was having her very first feed within 20 minutes of coming into the world. Suddenly all my fears and questions dissolved into nothingness. I can't really explain what happened, but after giving birth to this new beautiful life, breastfeeding felt like the most natural thing in the world. We've been incredibly lucky that it all came very easily for us, with minimal issues and lots of support from our midwife. When I hear about the difficulties that other women have gone through to breastfeed i'm humbled and extremely grateful to have had such an easy time as we did.
Now 18 months months on, it still hasn't lost the magic. Boobie time is pretty much any time for Bean and I, home, park, supermarket, back of the car, wherever. It mostly doesn't bother me, because I still genuinely love feeding Bean. She feeds for hunger and also for comfort, and she still feeds to go to sleep most nights, and I'm OK with that. I don't believe that at this tender age she needs to learn to 'self soothe' in the way that many in modern culture define it. I believe that by giving her a secure emotional foundation she will gain stable independence in her own good time, and I have seen this in plenty of other cultures that don't feel such a strong need to have control over who a person becomes. (Let's just say modern notions of optimising the person weren't what kept the human species alive this long.) Even when she wants to feed in the middle of Safeway because she's tired and hungry it's OK, we just walk and feed - although I'll admit she's getting pretty freaking' heavy for this now!
I'm aware that my feeding Bean in public draws some negative onlookers from time to time, and occasionally I feel self conscious about that, but mostly people seem to just look the other way. I feel it's vitally important that I (and all the other breastfeeding mums out there) not give in to any societal pressure to cover up or confine ourselves to the toilets or dressing rooms! As one brilliant lactivist sign I recently read put it: "I breastfeed in public. But feel free to eat YOUR meal in the bathroom". The only way to normalise something is to keep doing it, and the more people do it the more quickly accepted it will become. And it's not just about feeling OK to breastfeed, but also about feeling OK to nurture. Publicly. Openly. And for us to bring back into our modern cultures constant reminders of the how precious nurturing is. Which is what breastfeeding can be - a constant reminder that without the deepest gentleness and need for love in ourselves there is much, much less to live for.
There are, of course, some days when feeding a toddler doesn't feel so great, like when we're in the midst of a cranky teething spurt and she's on and off the nipple what feels like ALL DAY LONG. Sometimes I don't feel like being her human pacifier, particularly when she bites! Then there are other times I feel so privileged to able to offer her that comfort and soothe her pain. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, but for the most part it's still a joy and a pleasure for us both, and this is why we're still doing it. Because apart from all the well documented benefits of extended breastfeeding (see links below), my main reason for continuing is the joy and intimacy that it brings to our relationship. Bean takes my hand and leads me to our family bed (her preferred place for boobie snuggles), we lie down and she burrows into my chest. I hold her close, breathing in the delicious milky scent of her head, softly kissing and caressing her hair whilst she feeds. These are some of my favorite moments of our days together, so I savor the sensations and wrap them up safe in my memory, because I know they won't continue forever.
I don't have a fixed time frame of how long I intend to breastfeed Bean, when she was born I thought I wouldn't go longer than a year, and now I think somewhere after 2 years will be my limit. Despite the fact that I still love feeding Bean, there have been other challenges in the choice to continue long term. Because I have a chronic pain condition that came back gradually after Bean was born, I've had to deal with the reality of only being able to use minimal pain medication. It's something that has made me seriously consider weaning several times in the last year, and my decision not to is a daily choice that I make both for Bean and for myself. For Bean I choose not to wean yet because I believe it's in her best interest both physically and emotionally. And for myself I know that any drug I could take wouldn't actually be a solution to my problem.
So for now, I'll cherish boobie time as often as possible for as long as it continues. And when it's over, yes, I'll probably be sad. But I will end this chapter secure in the knowledge that Bean and I will never cease to share the intimate bond and loving relationship that grew and was nurtured at my breast.
I'm taking a cue from the Natural Parents Network and making Wednesday's wordless from now on! Just photos, no words. Like a story told purely in pictures for the reader to enjoy and interpret.
This week has involved a LOT of play dough...
This is a creative (and easy!) alternative to buying rubber stamps, which can be expensive and also limited to the designs available. The potential for these is limited only by your imagination and the amount of bottle tops you can collect!
All you need is:
Foam scraps (ours were off cuts from foam stickers so already had sticky backing, but if yours don't just use white glue)
Originally i had planned to just buy foam stickers to make this even easier, but after searching for a few weeks i couldn't find any small enough to fit the bottle tops i'd saved. Then i found the foam sticker scraps at the craft shop for $3 a bag! Bargain!
All you do is cut out shapes from the foam to fit the size of the bottle tops, stick it on, and stamp away!
I also decided to buy a washable paint stamp pad from the craft shop for $4 to make this activity potentially less messy. However, once Bean gets the hang of it I'll just use poster paint on a plate for more color variation :-)
Today's activity was dead simple and so much fun! All you need is this....
Assorted bits to make the picture (Coloured paper, wrapping paper, cellophane, Pom poms, magazine cut outs, ribbon, bows, feathers, etc)
Use the masking tape to stick it to a surface (we used the back of the dining room door) sticky side facing out...then start sticking!
When the picture is complete you can preserve it by sticking a second piece of contact paper to the sticky side, and you could even place of frame of colored paper or cardboard around the edge. Bean is still pretty much in the 'create and destroy' phase, so i didn't back this one! But we'll give that a go next time.
With Bean madly teething at the moment and the weather outside being less than inspiring, i've needed to come up with spontaneous activities fast! This one was a hit!
One evening last week I was sitting at the dinner table with a good friend of mine, therapeutically sipping a glass of wine after a particularly tough couple of days with Bean. I was lamenting the fact that Bean's emotions had been so heightened lately I felt like I'd spent the last few days running after a ticking time bomb trying to prevent an explosion! My friend, a connoisseur of great literature, reminded me of a wonderful line from J.M Barry's 'Peter Pan':
“Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for only one feeling at a time. ”
Sound like anyone you know?? :-)
Small children are often compared to fairies, elves, pixies...probably because their translucent innocence and mischievous nature holds a certain magical quality for us big people. But they also have the same emotional tendency of which Barry writes in Peter Pan. Bean, at 18 months, is entering a new phase in the way she behaves and relates to her world. She's been SO much busier lately! Toddling from one activity to the next...to the next and the next etc...completely self-directed, whilst I stumble along bleary eyed in her wake while she smears wet paint through her freshly washed hair at 6pm. Trying not to snap? Ummmm, that about says it...
She's also working hard to communicate a lot more, but struggles sometimes because she doesn't have enough language yet to always get her needs across. This is where we run into difficulty sometimes, because she's trying so desperately to tell me she wants something very specific and, despite my super-psychic-mummy powers, I don't always know what that is! < insert back-arching, writhing, biting, blubbering, tears-steaming, MELTDOWN! >
Another situation that often provokes an emotional meltdown lately is when Bean REALLY wants to do something she knows isn't kosher...like painting the furniture! A gentle explanation of 'Paint goes on the paper, not on the furniture' or 'Paint brushes stay at the table' is often the final straw for an already tired and fussy little Bean. MELTDOWN! Of course this is all basic toddler stuff, and in time this too shall pass. Sometimes though I find myself looking up from the bottom of the pool searching to see something, ANYTHING clearly.
These types of emotional outbursts seem to happen in clusters, then we come to the end and maybe I just write it off as a bad week. But when I take a moment to look back and examine the week and reflect on the bigger picture, I usually find that Bean has made some kind of developmental leap in that time - which I see as some kind of new awareness, understanding, or abilities that have blossomed. It also often coincides with teething, the onset of illness, me being in a bad space emotionally, something stressful happening in our family life, or all of the above!!
Toddlers are very sensitive little beings, with big emotions in a world that they're still learning literally everything about. Every moment for them is learning something new. It's not to say that their emotions aren't as complex as adults, but rather that when they feel something they feel it in its entirety. Like a tidal wave it swells up and fills every corner of their mind and body, leaving no room inside for reason, inhibition, or logic to temper the force of the overflow. In some ways, it's probably a much healthier way of dealing with things - just letting emotions flow into and out of you like a giant wave, no suppression, no grasping, no holding on. That way when it's done, it's done. The very same toddler who was in a state of internal apocalypse one minute, is suddenly babbling and exclaiming with excitement the next.
So when I witness Bean's next meltdown, I remind myself that her feelings are actually no different or more dramatic than my own, it's just that she FEELS and EXPRESSES every emotion she has...whereas, as an (English) adult, I've learned to barely acknowledge most of mine. There are many things we can learn from our children, and I think here the lesson is two-fold. First, we need to re-learn sensitivity both in relation to ourselves and to each other; and second, to recognize that emotions are, in fact, OK (healthy even!). So lets take a cue from our toddlers - express and let go, express and let go. When they explode, we embrace the explosion, let it flow through us and them, and then relax as it flows past. Take a breath, don't hold the emotion, acknowledge it then move on to the next thing.
This way we might be lucky enough to take a step backwards in time, to an age before we carried the worries and woes of the world on our shoulders. A time when we could cry hot salty palpable tears over spilled milk, then run out into the sunshine and let the breeze whisk them from our cheeks. A time when we still felt free to be ourselves. A time when we still believed in fairies.
It looked like great fun so I tried it a couple of times with Bean, who was about 11 months old at the time. Bean loved the water beads! But despite my best efforts and the very familiar refrain of 'That's not for your mouth', she just kept sneaking them in! And being a synthetic product I really didn't want those getting into her system. Needless to say, I lost patience with the whole thing and decided to wait until she was a bit older.
Then a little while ago I started contemplating giving the water beads another try...when Jake had a sudden flash of inspiration! He suggested using Tapioca Pearls instead, which are used in making bubble tea and easily purchased from asian grocers. These are almost exactly the same size and consistency as water beads but they're 100% edible! So we bought a couple of packs of the multicolored variety and today I finally got round to using them...
The only down side to these versus water beads is that they require a bit more preparation time. First you have to put them in water and bring to a boil on the stove...
Simmer for 5 minutes then scoop them out and allow to cool...
I found it was good to strain them through in a colander under cold running water a few times to help cool them, and also to remove the layer of goo that builds up during cooking. You can also add a bit of sugar or honey to them whilst they're cooling if you like, although I just left them as is this time round.
It takes about half an hour from start to finish, but totally worth the effort! So I set up this invitation for Bean whilst she was napping...
Since the pearls end up semi-translucent I chose to incorporate the light panel - but first I wrapped it in cling wrap to make for super easy clean up!
I put the pearls in a clear plastic container and set out various scooping implements with some other containers and an ice cube tray to fill up. When Bean woke up she dived straight in (still half asleep!)...
So, you may or may not have noticed I've been a bit quiet lately. I've been working on a few different posts, writing a bit here and there, but it's been so hard to keep my focus for more than a few lines. So I decided in an attempt to cure my writers block I'm just going to be honest about what's been going on...
I've been in a rut. A depressing, self pitying, woe is me, please-everyone-just-leave-me-the-f**k-alone kind of a rut. You're probably all familiar with these! So I've nothing really to hide, but somehow I felt like as a "positive parenting mum blogger" I probably should keep things, well, positive! But maybe that's just an insane notion. When the reality of daily parenting for most of us often feels more like an uphill slog than a sunny walk in the park, and even when we're really trying our best there's not one of us who gets it right all the time.
So why not just be honest about it when we're having a difficult time? Maybe it's actually a more beneficial thing to write about the so-called 'failures' sometimes, because guaranteed there's someone else out there whose struggling with the same issues. Maybe trying so hard to be inspirational means we end up missing the point of inspiration.
When I fall into a rut it takes time and motivation to get myself out of it. First off just allowing myself to feel whatever I'm feeling really helps level the situation, which basically means giving myself complete and total permission to feel like c**p. There's no harm in this, in fact it's actually an important part of the process, because as long as I take responsibility for how I'm feeling and know that it's my own, I'm much less likely to take it out on anyone else. So rather than trying to force myself to be 'positive', I just relax and let it be. Once I've managed to relax and diverted myself from driving down the guilt-trip highway, I may actually stand a chance of becoming freshly inspired and re-motivated. One thing I find useful is doing something out of my comfort zone and different from our usual routine. It may be the last thing I feel like doing and I'll usually resist the idea a LOT, but if I can just push myself a little it generally pays off.
Today I decided it was time to shake things up, so I took Bean into the city for the first time in almost a year! It's a long trip for Bean, an hour each way, so that's mostly why I haven't been game to do it much! But I made a date with a friend from playgroup and was absolutely determined to keep it. Well, needless to say It turned out to be a wonderful morning, Bean had a fantastic time and it really helped me step out of my head space. I also find the simple act of being with another mum who I can relate to, helps break some of the isolation and loneliness that can quickly build up when you're a stay at home parent.
All that being said, there's no easy or quick fix for getting out of a rut. I'm still just as exhausted today as I was yesterday, and I'm still dealing with chronic pain, and navigating Bean's newest developmental stage. And even though we had a good morning, come 7pm I'll probably still be scrambling to locate the last frayed scraps of my sanity! But I guess the difference is in the way I look at things, and bit by bit, day by day I re-frame what's been happening and gradually the negativity dissipates.
All I can say is that today was a better day, and tomorrow is another chance to find the light at the end of the tunnel.