Friday, 10 November 2017

A New Vocation

We need money.

The cold hard truth - we are just about managing on one salary, but it's tight and the house is still a project with much more to do than we have money for! So, we need some more income.

 Mr. and I sat down for a long chat about that. He can't change jobs; in his industry there is great uncertainty due to Brexit right now, and he sees lots of colleagues being made redundant. He's got a good pension scheme where he is, and has been due a pay rise for several years (!) now - hopefully that will come to fruition at some point. So changing jobs isn't workable for him, and changing careers (which he would quite like to do) would mean taking a huge pay cut for several years as he gets stuck in to his new career, which also isn't workable right now.

As for me, I'm qualified as a marketer (postgrad). But I don't have the mental capacity at the moment to really apply myself in that field; if I wanted to be employed, it would be difficult to find a job with better conditions than the one I had before baby #2 - that was only 8 hours a week, from home, completely flexible on times... yet I could barely do it with one baby, certainly not with two! Only 8 hours, sounds like nothing, but working them around kids naps or occasions when the grandparents can take the kids was incredibly stressful and I don't feel I was able to give my best to that job. If I wanted to be self-employed and work as a consultant or similar (charity marketing, fundraising etc. being my specialities) I'd have to spend years to build up a client base and reputation, and would have very busy periods within projects which I couldn't necessarily work around the kids.

So... what to do?

It was for me to find something to do, since Mr. isn't in a position to. I set out my requirements:

  • a completely flexible job that I could do around the kids
  • something that would bring in money quickly (not years of building up)
  • something that would definitely be needed
  • something that didn't require strenuous training or time away to train (because of the kids)
  • something that wasn't too mentally demanding - as my mental energy mostly goes on my kids! now I'm training as a hairdresser.

It's a one-year course, after which I'll be qualified to be a mobile hairdresser. I can go to people's own homes, or have them come to mine. This means I can set my own working hours around what works for me and my clients!

And is there a market for this? You bet! I know lots of mums who avoid going to a salon due to having to organise childcare, as well as the cost; also elderly people who find it hard to get out to a salon. Both of these groups, mums and elderly people, are also often lonely and need a chat. This is the vocation I'm increasingly becoming aware of - having chosen the profession and training on the purely practical points above, I'm now finding that perhaps this is actually what I'm being called to do... a way in to be a listening ear, an encourager, a sympathetic presence in the lives of people who don't often get the chance to have an uninterrupted conversation (and with toddlers, don't I know all about that!)

I can't wait to get stuck in. Several months into the course now I find it's so much more interesting to learn about all this than I thought it would be!

Sunday, 22 October 2017

The lure of coping mechanisms old and new

In my previous post, I illustrated the way I feel like a car on ice - I've lost traction and it feels like going into a spin is just a matter of time.

Now, this isn't a sudden, new thing; it's built up over months, until finally the penny dropped in my head. I'd been going, running, slipping and sliding and instead of stopping to think what's going on, I turned to coping mechanisms. I see this so clearly now! But in the months leading up to this realisation that I need to actually put some commitments down, I found myself desperately trying to fix myself somehow.

Because it had to be me that's wrong, right? Too lazy / disorganised. My first instinct is to find the problem within myself, and fix it. My second instinct is to do the ostrich: focus on something completely unrelated and hope that the actual issue will go away.

So at first, to fix myself, I started making plans. A well planned day wouldn't get away from me! I knew what I was going to do when, what I would clean on which day, what I'd cook each day of the coming week. None of that was a bad idea as such, except that I failed to account for the fact that I'm not a robot and sometimes I'd really need a moment to have a cup of tea on the sofa instead of mopping the floor. No time for slacking like that in my plan - so I'd fail at keeping up with it and try harder next time. Except I'm still not a robot.

Grace. Plans are good, organising is good, but when I'm overcommitted and unable to allow for a break now and then, I need to consider that maybe all the things I'm planning and organising aren't realistic to achieve... ouch.

And so after trying for way too long to organise my way out of overcommittment, I found myself going down a well worn old path to escape thinking about things - to do the ostrich. I had thought that perhaps this path would have grown a few brambles by now, as I had avoided it for many years.... but it's still here and wide open as ever, I found.


Like any old addict I almost sleepwalked straight back into the familiar misery of disordered eating. I walked right across several lines in the sand that should have sent claxons blaring in alarm - cutting out food groups; telling Mr. I was going to do XYZ (I have made a promise to myself to keep the morass of my body/ food issues away from him as I wouldn't want him to see what I see when looking at me); weighing often; compensatory eating ("been good all week, I deserve a treat") and loss of control.

Those things aren't easy to admit but if I've learned one thing in my recovery it's that they fester and grow in the dark. Secrets kill.

So what's pulled me up to consciousness?

I'm not sure, is the honest (and frightening) answer. Perhaps the years of freedom and recovery, becoming used to healthy behaviours, eventually kicked into my subconscious with a resounding HELL NO. Or maybe having the kids, needing to be fully present for them, stops me getting absorbed the way I used to be. Or maybe, just maybe, I have God to thank. He's the one that got me out of the food mess all those years ago, after all.... and though he did warn me that if I really wanted to go back then I could, I know he wouldn't just wash his hands of me.

I have to trust that he can and will take me back to the fork in the road where I turned towards self-destruction to distract myself from life. Life is for living, it's for being fully present!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

I'm doing too much

Confession time: I'm not up to it all.

Lately - that is, over the last six months or so - I've been increasingly feeling like a car that's gone on an icy patch: I'm still going in the direction I want, momentum is carrying me, but I've lost my grip on the road. Plates I'm spinning are beginning to drop.

I need to do less, and that is a very tough realisation to come to.

For someone who's always worked full time, volunteered, was active in the church.... I often feel like I'm hardly doing anything now! But somehow this "hardly anything" takes much more of my mental and physical energy than anything I've ever done before. But it's hard to remember this when I'm asked, oh can you JUST do this.... help there... because all those requests are small things in themselves and they're oh so easy to add to my plate. Sure I can do that little thing! And this too. And the other. And - then I'm starting to slip and slide on the ice.

So I'm having a long, hard look at my priorities. None of the many plates I'm spinning are bad, they're all worthy and important, but I need to remember what I'm here for and that I just can't spread myself too thin!

  1. Family. I'm spending almost all my time with my kids, and that's intentional. I want to be a mum who is giving them the best, rather than the rest, of her energy and attention. To support my family and my ability to be with them, I've started to train as a hairdresser - that's a one-year course I've committed to and after that I'll be able to make an extra income that works around the kids. 
  2. Local community. When we moved to this area, we decided to become part of a local church on the estate and to give it our all. The church is an incredibly exciting, dynamic group with a real heart for reaching and supporting local people - I help regularly at the kids club, which draws lots of local children whose parents have absolutely no connection to church. Helping there is very much part of my purpose. 
  3. Service. This is the tough place, where cuts have to happen somewhere. I serve in various ways - typing for deaf people, leading a Bible study group - all of which I care about greatly, but which aren't part of my core calling. 
It's not that I can't say no - if you've ever met me in person you'll know that I usually say what I mean, and I won't say yes when I mean no. (Some years ago when I was happily single and child free, I moved to a new city and began attending a new church. After a few weeks there, a lady approached me asking if I'd like to help with kids ministry - my face must have said it all - and my no was so clear they never asked me again about anything to do with kids!)

My problem is that I underestimate ALL THE TIME what it takes these days to complete even the simplest of tasks! 

So I'll have to make my default answer,  "I'll think/ pray about it" rather than yes, even if I feel I could do it. And then to consider whether it's part of my core purpose or not. Now for the hard task of letting go of some commitments to regain some traction on that ice patch....

Friday, 12 May 2017

A question of obedience

I read something the other day. A Christian parent, with the best of intentions, said their goal for their child was to build "a habit of cheerful, first-time, complete obedience".

I thought about that.

I mulled it over for days.

And I have pretty strong feelings about it: this is not what I want to build in my children. Not at all. It's something I have read and heard fairly frequently in Christian circles, this idea of instant obedience as a goal for your child. With the idea that they will then be quick to obey God in a cheerful and complete manner.

So why do I disagree so strongly? There are just so many things wrong with this idea!

  • Firstly, I don't want my children to obey any and all authority out of habit. A habit of obedience is not good in an adult, and adults is who they will become.
    "I was ordered to do it, and I obeyed." - as an Austrian, with the shameful past of the 20th century behind us, this makes me shudder.
  • I want my children to choose to obey God out of conviction. Not habit. This is something they will need to choose at a later stage in their lives, when they are able to; and I want them to think it through carefully, commit completely, and obey because they are convinced and because they love God. Not because they've been taught, or out of fear, or out of habit.
  • Equally, I want my children to obey me because they love me and they love to please me. Not because they've been trained into a habit of not questioning my authority. In fact I would welcome their questioning - I want them to trust that I will only require obedience at times where it truly matters, and I will always have good reasons for requiring it. They are welcome to ask me what those reasons are, and I will explain it to them.
    That is how I want them to obey God, too: out of love and trust. I believe God is good and requires obedience for good reasons, for my good. That's why I obey him. That's how I want my children to follow him - with their minds engaged.
Obedience training is for dogs - a child is not a separate being, they are persons who will be adults and I really try to think through what I'm building into them long term. Would "cheerful, complete, first-time obedience" make my life easier? For sure it would! But that's not the persons I hope to build as they go out into the world.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sleep (or not): an experience of powerlessness

It's 9.30pm and N - now 2 years and 4 months old - has only just fallen asleep. We started this evening at 7pm or so.

At times like this, every single minute truly stretches. She doesn't fight, as such; she just lays there and stays awake. Counts her fingers. Plays with her lips. She doesn't try to get up but she's definitely awake and conscious.

And it's the most infuriating thing! Why? Because there is nothing, nothing whatsoever, that I can do to get her to go to sleep. She's not doing anything wrong. She even closes her eyes when I tell her to sleep now (for a moment or two).

Over the course of these long 2+ hours I go through a lot of approaches. None work. We start with breastfeeding, as usual; when one of us has had enough, she comes off and I'll cuddle her. That's when I expect her to go to sleep.

But no.... the fiddling, whispering, finger play - or, if I crack down on everything, simply laying there awake continues. And continues. She stops doing whatever it is when I tell her to stop, but starts up again a little later. And I get frustrated. Later I get angry. And I have shouted at her before, making her cry.

It's all because I'm powerless.

I can't make it happen.

I can't force her.

Maybe this is a taste of parenthood reality.... as a baby, I was in charge and if I wanted her to sleep, I'd put her in bed, feed, done. But babyhood is over and piece by piece, this small person is wrenching control of her life from my grasp.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Life with 2 under 2

For 5 months in 2016, I had two kids under two years old.

There's been the occasional comment about their "close gap". I don't know.... we never planned any of it and I never had a fixed idea in my mind so this gap to me is the perfect gap. It's what we've got and once I got my head around it, we got it to work! Helpfully, big girl has never been hostile to the little boy. She was very angry at me for the first few weeks but from the start she liked her little brother. She'd stroke his head and on occasion I've had to intervene when she tried to share her food with him - once I found half a grape in his mouth!

While it's been lovely and they are both giving me lots of joy, I have never worked so hard in my life on a 24/7 basis. Worked mentally, emotionally, and physically. The demands are constant and immediate. Sit down with a cup of tea? Don't make me laugh - I count myself lucky if I get to brush my teeth in the morning and showers have become a twice-a-week occasion (how's that for openness??)

So how do I cope - how do we make it work? A few things we've learned...
  • I learned how to feed both at the same time, while lying down in bed. The secret - big girl lies on the side and feeds from that side, and little boy lies on me on his belly and feeds there. Practice made perfect!
  • When my milk came in, big girl thought it was great. Too much so! She woke up more often in the night to feed than the newborn did! And I just couldn't do that for long - so we night weaned her pretty rapidly. For the first three or four months therefore, Mr was sharing a bed with big girl and I was in a separate room sharing a bed with baby. She cried for three days but Mr was there to cuddle her and she eventually accepted that nights were for sleeping. Within a week or two she was reliably sleeping through.
  • I gave big girl only one side to feed on, whereas little boy fed from both sides. That way, one side was reserved for the baby at all times. Now we've pretty much come to a point where one side is his and the other is hers.
  • We go out every day, morning and then again in the afternoon. Staying at home, without outside space, just doesn't work. Going out can be something as little as going grocery shopping, but mostly it's playdates and playgroups.
  • This has taught me that somehow most families seem to only go out in the morning but in the afternoon all the family activities cease! No playgroups in the afternoons, even the play cafe closes at 3pm. It's an ongoing challenge finding things to do now that playgrounds aren't much of an option with the winter weather.
  • Big girl had settled into a routine of one big nap in the middle of the day even before the boy was born, and I made sure she continued that way. There have been a few occasions where she wouldn't sleep - sleep regressions at 18months and 2 years - but she's always settled back into the mid-day sleep. Which both the boy and myself join her for. This keeps me going when the nights are long with hourly feeding!
  • Oh, and grandparents. Twice a week they take big girl away for a couple of hours to give me breathing space. And when things get on top of me they're there too. Grandparents are the best.
We're getting to a point, baby being 7 months old, where they're actually interacting with each other occasionally and it's so cute to see them laughing together! I cannot wait to see their relationship blossom as they grow older. 19 months is a great gap to have.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Adding baby 2: the first few weeks

I haven't written in months, and for good reason. Life has taken on a whole new level of hectic since the boy joined us in May; he's now 7 months old and starting solids and sitting unaided! So quick, I must have blinked....

A conversation with a friend today made me realise that I'm already half forgetting the early days - maybe mentally blocking them out? - and I don't want to forget. Those were hard times, but I don't want to bury them because we got through and we've all grown so much because of them.

Like last time, Mr had two weeks off after I gave birth. Unlike last time, his role was mainly to occupy and be there for the toddler, who had just started walking. Luckily I was physically much better after this birth (going for a family walk the very next day) so I didn't need rest as much... and the first days as a family of four were anything but restful! Mr did what he could but of course toddler girl still wanted mummy and the newborn was windy and cried quite a lot.

At the end of his 2 week paternity leave, Mr sat down opposite me, looked wearily at me and asked, "are you angry at me for some reason?" - ouch.

I had been short with him, easily annoyed, expecting him to read my mind and getting angry when he couldn't - all the while I knew he was doing his very best yet I couldn't help it. I was stressed and worn out and I took it out on him. My rock and anchor was where I dumped all the rubbish feelings and he really didn't deserve that!

I'd love to say it all got better after this. In fairness, I didn't take out my stress on Mr quite as much but that's at least partly because he went back to work and simply wasn't around! I had to sink or swim with my 2 under 2. And for the first month or so, I barely kept us above the water. Constantly torn between toddler and baby, neither getting my full attention much of the time - but, eventually, a routine came about and I learned a thing or two about what was feasible in a day and what wasn't. I'll probably do a separate post about what our days look like now.

Having two kids who are actually really easygoing and lovely, having parents in law close by who are willing and able to help, and a solid support network of local mum friends: those are the things that made all the difference in the early days.