Thursday 26 April 2012

No, no, no...

Life as we know it has changed forever.  James has learnt the word no. 

To be honest, he seems far more competent in his usage of the word "Baa" (a sheep), which gets endlessly repeated for every sheep he sees which, despite living in London, happens quite frequently between books and children's programmes!

Nor will one 'no' suffice.  They travel in threes.  He says "Noh, noh, noh".  And then shakes his finger.  Where did he get that from? I don't do it.  Dirk doesn't do it.  It does feature in the actions of one children's song, "Three little monkeys", but surely I haven't sung that song so tirelessly as to encourage a connection between 'No' and a waging finger!

Nor does he know that "Noh, noh, noh" does not mean yes, for which he sometimes uses it. 
"James, do you want dinner?"
"Noh, noh, noh"[read: 'yes please, that's why I'm screaming for the past five minutes']
"James, would you like some banana for dessert?"
"Noh, noh, noh"[read: 'are you kidding?  I always have room for banana']
"James, shall we change your nappy now?"
"Noh, noh, noh"[read: 'NO']
"James, would you like a story?"
"Noh, noh, noh"[read: 'naturally! There is never a time I do not want a story']
"James, put down the sewing box"
"Noh, noh, noh"[read: 'No, not a chance, never.  This has so many new things I've got to explore it several times today']

And on it goes! The toddler years have begun in earnest.  'No' marks the defining of self, an assertion of what he wants to do and be, and a move towards his own independence.  No longer is he a baby who is forced to eat when I feed him, stay where I put him and sleep when I put him down. 

Actually, who am I kidding?  He has always had his own mind, No just replaces some of the screaming!

Tuesday 24 April 2012

I'm normal...

According to research, about 80 per cent of our thoughts have some negative content (Harris, 2007).*  Hurrah!  I'm normal.  I've spent the other 20 per cent of my thoughts beating myself up for being so negative.  What a relief.  I can stop that now.  I'm normal.

We have a lot to learn from positive psychology about enhancing and improving our state of mind.  But, to me, that is the end of the story.  The start of the story is acceptance; acceptance that I have negative thoughts and acceptance that that particular 'story' is not necessarily The Truth. 

Learning detachment is where I am at the moment.  I have a story, but I am not my story.  Not unless I choose to become that story.  There goes the Fat Me story... Ah, there's the Poor Me story... and now the Incompetent Me story.  Hour after hour they weave there way in and around my thoughts.  My body tenses, ever so slightly, as I become vaguely aware of them, but the guilt and shame they induce in me, means that I try to ignore them.  Clearly that hasn't worked, they will outlive even the most determined cockroaches.

Apparently ignoring them, or even arguing with these thoughts is a fruitless exercise.  My life experience backs up that argument.  The trick is to notice them and detach from them, every so slightly, using phrases such as  'I notice I'm having a Poor Me thought'. 

I'm only a novice at this, but it does give me a little more distance.  It has assuaged that vague feeling of shame and guilt that delicately infuse my emotional state.  The biggest relief has been the discovery that I am not a failure because I think like this, almost everyone else thinks like this too. 

Imagine what humanity could create if we weren't looking through at the world through our negatively tinted glasses.

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, 2007

PS I love you Maama

I got my first kiss from James today. 

Well, it was more of an air kiss, but I know he was aiming at me, so I'm going to count it.

How did That get there?

James has discovered fluff between his toes. 

Now, every evening as I take off his nappy for the bath, he pulls off his socks and starts the fluff hunt.  Having the elasticity of an 18 month old, this means that he literally pulls his feet up to his eyes to have a good look, as he rummages around.  If I were to try the same trick, I'd be lucky to get one foot above my naval!

While the fluff hunt is incredibly cute, I realised that it marks a turning point.  It's his first effort at self-grooming.  Food caked on his face, juice matting his hair, yogurt enrobed hands, none of this has mattered to him, none of this has been inconveniencing enough to warrant cleaning himself.  But fluff between his toes... well, that just crosses the line, doesn't it?

Monday 23 April 2012

The value of parenting

The economist Diane Elson makes the point that society is dependent on the appropriate socialisation of children in order to perpetuate and improve itself.  We depend on parents and carers raising children to respect the rights of others, the property of others and the value of work.  Without these basics, society as we know it would disintegrate.
This economic argument highlights the enormous importance of how we socialise our children and the value (economic much less emotional) of the carers' contribution to society. 

It also highlights two further points: first, that one of the most undervalued and marginalised jobs in society is of crucial economic importance.  The second point is that the development of society is predicated upon human values.  The interface between our spirituality and economic survival - and even progress - is much closer than many economists, academics and policy advisers would admit.

What is certain to me however, is that parenting and caring has never been more difficult, nor required greater discernment: the job spec has got harder not easier, on all fronts; not least of these, the question of how we teach our children to be good people.  There is job training in most jobs, but for this incredibly complex, high-value outcome job, the support for both carers and parents is inadequate indeed.

Friday 20 April 2012

Easier does it

Why is it the simplest things are the hardest?  What is most obvious often eludes me, while the obtuse point buried away at the back of an argument gets my full attention.  I can make things too hard, too complex.  I know that about myself.

This afternoon I was trying to decide what to do with James, and what activity to create because  I was worried he would be bored.  Or worse yet, under stimulated!  For a while I played on the ground with him, then he went off doing his own thing; but I stayed drumming on a plastic bowl.  For my own amusement. 

While I played, I watched James.  I realised he wasn't bored. He definitely wasn't under stimulated.  He was exploring his environment in his own way, checking in with me every so often. 

I have been so caught up in doing the best for him, that I have probably tried too hard.  My earnestness(!) may well have swamped him.

Perhaps it's my boredom I fear.  Perhaps in trying so hard I stifle him.  And perhaps by relaxing a little more, maybe even accepting moments of boredom, I can create a calmer - yet richer - environment for us both. 

If there were a theme to my insights, it must surely be this.  Relax Jennifer!  Enjoy it as it is, stop over-complicating it.  And one of these days, I may even take my own advice!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Through James' looking glass

"What advantages does adulthood have over childhood?" asked Julia.

As I thought about it, I couldn't think of an awful lot of advantages.

Perhaps childhood really is lost on the young, but there's no excuse for childhood to be lost on parents.

Being a parent allows us to experience childhood again with, if we are lucky, a little more wisdom.  I realise that in the 18 months since James was born, I have never laughed so much, I've never smiled so widely, nor have I ever loved so much. 

He is so perfectly confident in who he is, unburdened by doubts; even failures, though frustrating for him, are simply brushed aside as he moves on with something else.  He is tremendously curious and open, he hugs and kisses strangers, laughs all day long (well, mostly!), and is completely honest. 

James thinks outside the box, because he has no box.  He is connected to the best of who he is.  He's not second guessing himself - that's me.  He isn't worried about his figure - that's me.  He's not afraid of failing either - me again.  

It is a cliche, and definitely easier said than done, but I do hope that appreciating his kindness, his freshness and openness, will melt some of the adult out of me, dissolving some of the accumulated fears and pains of adulthood and reconnecting me with the purity and joy of my own soul.

Where ever you go

Years ago, I was crossing Piccadilly when I happened to look up.  I saw a couple standing on the balcony of their room in the Ritz hotel, looking out across London.  'I want to have that', I thought, a partner, a lavish lifestyle...  From a distance, it seemed like an idyllic life.

This Easter, through a series of unexpected coincidences, I was standing beside my husband on the balcony of a famous hotel, looking out across Paris and the Eiffel Tour. I was living that dream.

My first reaction was a bubble of joy.  Seemingly impossible dreams can happen.  I wanted to cough loudly so the people in the avenue below would look up and see me living my dream! 

Yet something wasn't right.  It's the odd thing about living a dream, it doesn't always feel as I imagine it would.   Yes, there I was, living my dream, but I didn't feel as though I belonged there, in my own scene. 

When we had arrived at the hotel, both guests and staff had looked us up and down, as if to ask, 'are you sure you're in the right hotel?'  This was a hotel for the incredibly rich, and the incredibly rich do look incredibly rich.  It shows and we didn't have It!
They say that where ever you go, there you are.  I did live my dream, and it included the real me, it wasn't an airbrushed me who lived some perfect life.  I am constantly judging myself, and mostly finding myself lacking; at a deeper level, the people in the hotel merely reflected my inner world. 

I think I shall know when I have achieved Enlightenment, not by the joy and love I feel, but because my inner critic will finally have left the building!

Wednesday 18 April 2012

The best word in the world

Maama!  It has to be the singularly most wonderful word in the world.  Now, the shine may wear off over the years, and perhaps it does, but for now I am luxuriating in my son's first attempts at communicating directly with me.

I hear it murmured from the sitting room, so I turn and look.  I know that any second now, an 18 month old will come toddling towards me at full speed, arms outstretched, eyes sparkling, ready for a hug. 

I bend down, open my arms, and wrap the incoming tornado in my arms.  Just for 20 seconds.  40 seconds is too long, he has places to go, teddies to see, things to hit!  But those 20 seconds, my heart melts.  It is a moment of sheer perfection.  A moment when the blessings of motherhood far outweigh any burdens, when I don't second guess myself and wonder if I am a good enough mother.  In that moment, the perfection of the word becomes my perfection too.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

We are one

When we were in Accident and Emergency room, the nurse asked if my husband would come.  I said I didn't think so, to which he replied that Dirk probably would.  His wisdom was this...

"Once we have loved ones, we discover that our bodies are no longer our own.  When something happens to a loved one, we no longer feel well in ourselves.  We feel anxious, upset, eager to soothe and heal our loved one.  So even though the body looks separate, we're really not.  Our bodies extend out to our loved ones."

Later on, I looked up, and there was Dirk, standing in the doorway of the treatment room.

Many spiritual traditions teach that we are all one, but this was the singularly most graphic demonstration I have had of the truth of that teaching.

Why James rocks

A week after that horrible scalding incident, James is recovering miraculously.  He will have no scarring and his blisters are healing nicely.  But more than his body's ability to heal itself, it's James character that is so outstanding to me. 

At nursery he is very affectionate; when his friends arrive, he puts his arms out to hug them and closes his eyes and leans his head in towards them, so they can rub foreheads. (I did wonder where this came from, and I've come to the conclusion, it's from In The Night Garden!). 

He loves books - like his Mum! - and spends long periods of time looking through them on his own.  He's also a bit of a TV addict; we have to monitor how much he watches.  He dislikes open doors and cupboards, even closing gates as he walks down the street (Dad's influence).  He doesn't seem to like the outdoors much, seemingly happier to stay inside - Mother's genes strike again! 

But the thing that inspires me most about James is how loving he is.   There is simply nothing that can compare to your child saying, 'Mama' and running over to lose themselves in a hug.  Each time, it's like I've touched heaven, as I feel the full purity of his love shower over me.

James also gives me the opportunity to love unconditionally.  I may love my husband, family and friends deeply, but it appears that the love I feel for my son goes beyond all others.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Life is like...

A piece of embroidery.  Well, according to Andrew's granny it is.  She said that during our lifetime all we see is the back of the embroidery; the knots, the gaps, the running threads...   It looks a mess and makes little sense.

When we die, God flips over the embroidery to reveal the design.  Suddenly, it all makes sense.  The beauty of the design shines through, the messy bits disappear.  Life makes sense, confusion and fear fall away and the beauty that was staring us in the face becomes apparent.

It's telling that Andrew told me about his grandmother's analogy yesterday.  Earlier in the day I had done an angel card reading, asking for clarity and inspiration for the future.  I still wonder about the future and my role in that... the answer was: Trust.

 If I can just stop over-analysing everything, I might see that everything is pefect, just as it should be.  There's nothing to worry about, I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.  It said that if we can trust life, we develop mastery in life, letting go of disappointments, stepping forward into opportunities. I like the simplicity of that idea.

My embroidery is progressing as it should.