Squiggly

Life sometimes feels very squiggly when you are in a period of remission.  You’re busy trying to rebuild life and pick up old threads but there is messiness in trying to find your equilibrium.

Recovery_reality

I used to feel quite scared of the scribble, the days when out of nowhere I don’t feel like getting up again or I find myself mind-busy and frazzled.  But as you look at the featured image for this blog don’t you think that in some ways that the messy line is actually quite beautiful?

Quite a few things have been squiggling me lately (but I’m learning to accept them as part of the beautiful tangle of life and recovery).  I was offered an ongoing role facilitating mums’ mental health courses from September this year.  In many ways it’s the role I have been dreaming of – but I knew I had to turn it down at this point in my own life journey.  I felt torn between guilt and relief as I sent off the email to say no.  No is a hard thing, but a precious thing too.

Little One has been providing us with some very tangly challenges.  The shift from winter to spring has really unsettled bedtimes and we have had more than a few nights of really screaming at the top of her voice “It’s day not night! I don’t go to bed in the day!” There have been moments of parenting genius like digging out the ‘Sunshine at Bedtime’ poem from Shirley Hughes Out and About collection. There have been many more moments of wondering what on earth to do and the pain of listening to an angry, crying child behind the bedroom door who is so very, very tired but doesn’t understand.

Eldest is going through her own messy time at the moment too and I’m there helping her to untangle some of it. There have been many cups of tea and slices of cheese on toast at the end of another upsetting day at school.  Friendships for pre-teen girls have always been challenging and fraught, but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing this when your precious girl is in tears as she tries to be her authentic self and gets knocked back.

I had something of an epiphany in the midst of the tangles.  I’ve been searching so long for that time I go “back to work” and I’m healed, whole, a functioning member of society again.  That time when I’ll have the career success I imagined when I headed off to University back in 1994.  But the thing is I already have a career.  The most important, draining, fabulous, meaningful work I could have imagined.  I’m a mother to Little One and Eldest.  The paid work is going to have to continue to take a back seat, as much for my wholeness and well-being as theirs.

Glorious mess

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Zen and the art of losing it

I guess there was a certain inevitability.  Mindfulness as a parent is hard work, it’s discipline, it’s continual practice.

It all started with the trees.  I tend to drive in some kind of reverie – caught up in lists, planning, evaluating, daydreaming.  In the spirit of everyday mindfulness I kept trying to bring myself back to the present, to notice the different shapes and shades of the trees along the journey.  Trying, trying, trying.  It wasn’t gentle and it certainly wasn’t very peaceful.  I found myself increasingly frustrated with my flighty mind and its insistence on fleeing back to the future or the past.

As best you can.  It’s a mantra often repeated during mindfulness-based therapy and I see it written down a lot in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books.  Cultivating a compassionate mind towards myself, can I accept that in each passing moment I will bring my attention to the present as best I can?

Moment by moment parenting.  Now there’s a challenge.  In the ‘spaces’ before and after school there is time pressure, competing demands, a structure and a schedule needed. Little One has a completely different schedule to mine. It consists of “play babies until it’s time to leave for school”.  Breakfast, getting dressed, phonics – mere distractions, taking mummy away from the important business of pretend play.  In contrast my mind is ticking over – lists, lists, what next, what time is it, has Eldest done her homework, how can I give her some time and attention before she skips out of the door to meet her friends?

I held it together before and after school yesterday.  I made a conscious decision to set aside time to be absorbed alongside Little One in ‘baby world’.  It wasn’t very long, perhaps ten minutes in the morning and half an hour after school, but still trying, trying, trying to be present and not planning the dinner or the work e-mail or the blog post.

I’m going to be honest, I felt proud of myself but also depleted.  It takes energy and commitment to shut out the world and play.  I think it takes practice too, and wisdom.  For me, the sensory world of playdough is better at the end of the day than the demands of the imaginary ‘baby world’.  Little One has learning difficulties, and so she likes quite routinized scenarios for playing babies yet often flits from one topic to another.  One minute we’ll be feeding baby in the high chair and I’m taking on the role of granny, the next minute Little One is ‘Jan Vann’ the paramedic rushing the baby to hospital.  It can be at the same moment boring, repetitive and difficult to keep up.

The rupture

Things reached boiling point after dinner.  You know those moments where it all feels perfect and delicious and then you’re suddenly plunged into a power struggle?  Eldest and Little One were sharing a bath, which doesn’t happen very often nowadays.  I was just looking at their beautiful bodies, enjoying their sisterly love and simply feeling grateful for them.  Time for a hair wash.  Trying to imagine my best mindful parent I gave Little One the choice, “shall we wet your hair with the pot or the shower?”  She chose the pot.  Wriggled away, climbed over her sister, resisted the water at all costs.  Patience, patience.  “This isn’t working love, I’m going to use the shower OK?  Put a cloth over your eyes and tip your head up”.

More wriggling, arching her back, standing up, turning around.  Absolutely no looking up or sitting still. Lather up, with help from Eldest.  “It’s time to sit really still now OK?  We need to wash the bubbles out of your hair”.  Climb over sister, arch back, wriggle away, stand up, repeat.  After imploring her three times to sit down with a cloth on her eyes I just lost it, spraying water directly above her head and down her face.  Shampoo in her eyes, stinging, shock and crying.  I felt so guilty and drained.  Too late after the event I tried to ask her why she didn’t sit still for the shower.

Children need to experience this, too, namely that their parents are human, that at times we can be insensitive, misattuned, even unempathic – that we can get upset and angry.  Much can be learned from such moments of stress and disconnection, and from the important process of repair and recovery… the strength of the parent-child relationship… is based as much on this tumultuous process of rupture followed by repair as it is in feelings of closeness and safety

Everyday Blessings, p.73

The repair

Little One dried her own hair with the hairdryer.  I gently toweled her body and told her I was sorry.  She said she didn’t like the shower, so I asked her if she would like to play with it a bit while brushing her teeth, to get the feel of the water.  We shared a story, a song, a goodnight kiss, an “I love you”.

As best you can.  It’s all we can ask of ourselves.

Secret smile

Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me
Nobody knows it but you’ve got a secret smile
And you use it only for me

So use it and prove it
Remove this whirling sadness
I’m losing, I’m bluesing
But you can save me from madness

beer-bubbles-1-astha-tuladhar

I found a tiny heart made of bubbles at the bottom of my beer glass today, and it made me think of the ‘secret smiles’ that we so often miss when life is busy or ill or sad.  I was chasing Little One as she made a beeline for the kitchen at Wagamama, but suddenly she was distracted and we found ourselves in a peaceful courtyard filled with white blossom.  Another secret smile in the midst of a fraught moment of parenting.

Now that Little One has more freedom from the buggy she roams and if I let myself get caught up with whatever she’s looking at, it almost always enhances my day.  There are some textured glass sculptures near the Cathedral and today she loved exploring them with her hands and was murmuring ‘shell’ to herself.  To us weary ones it can be just street furniture, just another distraction on the way to the carpark but how wonderful to stop and feel the green-blue ‘shell’ in the city centre.

I’m hoping I can create the space to keep learning from my kids, and to let them continue to help me appreciate how we can look for beauty even in the more challenging times of our lives.

Wabi-Sabi at the Welcome Cafe

Tulips are quietly fading in a vase on a shelf.  Little One is being noisy and wobbling precariously on her chair, and I feel conscious of all the other people around us wanting to relax with their cups of tea.  We’ve come to shelter from the cold and to share scones, cream, jam, tea and hot chocolate.  I feel aware my heart’s not fully in it today.

You’re used to grey England Skies

Cloudy days, colder nights

And your heart’s not right

On the way home, I’m reminded of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, a kind of unique beauty of the imperfect and transient. The fading vase of tulips or the ‘grey England Skies’*

I was thinking how this concept could help me to appreciate moments of imperfect beauty more.  Reading the more detailed description of a wabi-sabi approach to life and aesthetics I was really interested to find out that ‘wabi’ used to be associated with sadness and loneliness, and ‘sabi’ with desolation but the meanings are now transformed to a way of looking at life which accepts transience and looks for beauty in the faded.

In my gap year there are going to be moments of pleasure and beauty which are inherently transient.  I want to really live in those moments rather than grieving their passing.  In myself I feel I need to look for the deeper beauty in a life that has felt weathered and eroded by mental illness.  I still need to learn more about appreciating moments of joy amidst the challenges of parenting a Little One with learning difficulties.  I’m planning to go back to the Welcome Cafe and contemplate those tulips some more, maybe with a notepad and my camera phone.

*Lyrics from England Skies by Shake Shake Go

Reality bites (and we bite back)

Monday, heavy lids and limbs start the day

Screams and thrashing as I change your clothes

The windscreen is dotted with teardrops

The sky is cloaked in grey

You spill your milk, I rush my coffee

I’m not giving up on today

Mahler on the radio, I catch sight of you making ballerinas with your hands in the air

We venture to your dance class

Your joyfulness lifts me like the chiffon scarves twirling around your arms

We bite into gyoza

You shout “YO!” at the top of your voice, and everyone breaks into a smile

We’re not giving up on today