Parenting Level 2: Access Denied

This week I’ve learned a valuable lesson, namely that just when you think you’ve turned a corner with parenting another hurdle will pop up in the road and floor you. The only way to cope with such hurdles is to try and keep sight of the bigger picture i.e. you may be facing another setback now, but look at how far you’ve come (answer: very far, well done you). Adopting the ‘this too shall pass’ mentality is also helpful. And keeping a sense of humour is (hard but) vital. [See also: Cake.]

For us, by far the biggest issue to date has been sleep. Sometimes I feel I’m going crazy with my obsession to get C to sleep. There are (many) days when it is literally all I can think about. I look at other mothers (big mistake) and wonder why they aren’t tearing their hair out over this issue. They don’t worry that their appointments clash with baby’s nap times, or refuse to leave the house until their little ones have slept at least twice. Are their babies just better sleepers than mine? Or am I making too big a deal of it?

Last week we started a two week sleep routine, working with a sleep consultant in the UK. It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start as, on the very first day, I got struck down with a high fever and stomach bug and C developed a cough that has since turned into a cold (which, as I type this I can feel the beginnings of  in my nose and throat – joy!)

Despite these issues, by some miracle we saw an almost immediate improvement in C’s sleep. Indeed for several nights he slept virtually all the way through from 11pm until 6.30am without any night feeds (you may remember that previously he was waking three to five times a night for feeds). It seemed so easy I didn’t dare to tell anyone of our success, which is just as well because right now I would have a serious amount of egg on my face.

Fast forward a week and we seem to have had another full on regression. Those halcyon nights without wakings or feeds have been replaced once more with broken sleep and – worse even than before – fits of hysterical screaming (to say he’s found his voice would be an understatement) that cannot be abated with the tried and tested sleep methods. It’s hard enough leaving a baby to cry for ten minutes at a time during the day. When it’s the middle of the night and you are in the same room it’s virtually impossible. Last night, after almost a solid hour of screaming I gave in and went against all the sleep training rules – rocked the crib, picked him up, fed him, you name it. And still he cried every time I put him down. His day naps have got worse again too. Last week there was one day he slept for a glorious hour and a half in one go. I didn’t know what to do with all the time! Then yesterday we were back to fighting for a paltry thirty minute nap every few hours. When you only have two (fragmented) hours in your day where baby doesn’t command your full attention it’s a very different experience…

With all the angst of the (not) sleeping it’s easy to lose sight of the wonderful things about being a mum. C is, in the most part, a delight. His little smile lights up my day, no matter how hard things are. I absolutely would not be without him. And in my more lucid moments I know this is another phase and it will pass (and that motherhood is made up of such phases, and I just have to learn to live with that). But by God are some of the phases challenging. This one has been especially so because the sleep training requires us to be at home most of the time, eschewing all non-essential trips out (read: coffee and sanity checks with friends). I have been optimistically telling myself it will be worth it if we manage to crack the sleep problem, but now I’m beginning to wonder if ‘cracking the sleep problem’ is too ambitious a goal. Either way, I’m conscious I am in dire need a mental health break, so today I’m breaking the rules (again – sigh) to meet a friend for lunch. It may mess further with his naps, but if it helps mummy take a step back from the ledge I’d say it’s worth it…

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It’s a good job he’s cute…

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The Happy Place

Despite the wonderful Thanksgiving dinner that our friends hosted last night, I woke up this morning feeling sad. R only got back from five days away at 6.30pm last night, and left again today at midday for a work trip. Lately we’ve been like ships passing in the night, and the next couple of weeks promise to be just as tough. It’s hard sometimes living the crazy life we lead, but at least we both recognise the importance of staying emotionally connected as much as we can, despite the challenges. There is a lot going on and potentially some big changes afoot for us both – all very exciting, but transition always brings with it a certain trepidation.

So anyway, I woke up feeling sad and when R left felt even sadder. But instead of sitting around moping I gave myself a much-needed kick up the arse and went for a walk to my happy place, Tenbosch Park. There is one specific spot where I love to sit and listen to the birds tweeting and just breathe. In. Out. Until I feel calm again. It works every time.

Sometimes the world comes crowding in and it’s hard to get perspective, but there is always a way to get back to what matters, and, for me at least, it usually involves seeking out nature. Trees have a particularly calming effect on me, I think because so many of them have been there for so long, standing tall and strong. Nothing moves them, or riles them. I find them inspiring, and always think when I’m amongst them that I need to take a leaf (excuse the pun) out of their book and not let things get to me so much.

Life is crazy. The best way to deal with it is to accept it and enjoy the ride. Happy Sunday 🙂

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Friends Like These

Last Friday, UK-based social media news feeds were awash with post-election bitterness. Profanities, accusations and rudeness abounded between those who were – according to their profile descriptions if not evidenced elsewhere that day – ‘friends’ with one another. Characterised by a desire to shove opinions down each other’s throats whilst savagely and wantonly disregarding the pesky facts of emotional sensitivity and human decency, this was a war of attrition using words as weapons. And by God was it unpleasant.

To quote a friend who has herself been subject to recent politically-charged vitriol:

“Friendship does not spout vile names. It involves two parties making equal effort. It involves honesty delivered with tact and kindness. It involves laughing, a lot. It involves knowing when to step in and when to step back. It involves communication, balanced and regular. Anything that feels one-sided and wrong, probably is.”

Friendship isn’t always easy. As individuals (the clue is in the name), we will rarely find people with whom we always agree. But that’s okay, because being challenged in our views is the best way we can grow – so long as those who are challenging us do so in a way that is considered, measured and, above all else, respectful. Without mutual respect, friendship cannot exist. In its place is a barren wasteland of forced opinions, deaf ears and closed hearts. This world is full enough of hatred as it is. If we turn on those closest to us, what hope is there for a better future?

Another feature of friendship that is paramount to its survival is honesty. So many people let the behaviour of so-called ‘friends’ go unchecked, despite it impacting negatively upon them, because it’s easier to put up and shut up than it is to rock the boat by being honest. But if you can’t be honest with the person in question, can you truly call your relationship a friendship?

Finally, and most importantly of all, friendship cannot flourish without kindness. When we are going through our own struggles, it is easy to forget that others have theirs too. We cannot change the way others behave towards us during challenging times, but we can try to understand and forgive negative words and behaviour, and stop ourselves from getting drawn into a vortex of negativity.

We are, all of us, only human, and our time on earth is short. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we have, so instead of squandering it we would do well to work on nurturing it.

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It’s the Little Things…

My boyfriend has a theory about me. He says I’m a product of my own environment, which apparently means when faced with challenging situations – like the one in which we met almost four years ago in Borneo – I thrive, but when conditions are less harsh, I struggle. He says sometimes he can’t believe I’ve travelled on my own around India and Indonesia, when only last week I got so anxious about moving to a flat five minutes down the road.

I haven’t been convinced about this theory until today, when I got to work and spent most of the morning fretting because I’d accidentally put some salt crystals in the rinse aid compartment of the dishwasher, and the dimmer switch for the kitchen lights appeared to have broken. After having to get a plumber in to descale the shower head yesterday morning I was loath to tell the landlady there were two new issues to deal with in our first week of residing here. It was bothering me so much, in fact, that I felt that familiar feeling of panic rising up inside me.

Considering this in the context of my boyfriend’s theory, I realise he is absolutely right. When I was in the wilds of Borneo – dealing with giant bugs, floods and lugging 20kg bags of cement up hills whilst also fulfilling the dual roles of communications officer and photographer – I was in my element, with rarely a moment to dwell on the minutiae of daily life. Sure, it was emotionally and physically draining at times, but I didn’t let silly things get me down. I didn’t have time to worry (least of all about a dishwasher – that’s if I had actually had one), I needed to survive; I wanted to excel.

Fast forward four years and here I am, living in a lovely flat in Brussels, with a lovely man and a pretty great job. But with no threat of danger and no great challenges to occupy my time, the little things are slowly but surely creeping back in. Whereas a broken light would have barely registered in my consciousness when I was recovering alone from a sickness bug in the remote Himachal Pradesh region of northern India, now it’s enough to set my pulse racing and make me feel sick with dread.

I’m glad to have recognised this tendency because I want to nip it in the bud. Life’s too short to stress about broken appliances, and too precious to waste on negative emotions like worry.  It’s important to keep things in perspective, to sense check whether the thing that’s causing stress will really matter a year from now, which invariably it won’t. So from now on I will try to do just that. One broken appliance at a time…

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If Carlsberg did overtime…

This weekend we’re recording a short film with some of our young people which will be shown at the charity’s annual supporter event in November. Tonight was the first stage; getting everyone together to rehearse their stories so they feel comfortable in front of the camera when we shoot for real tomorrow.

I knew it would be a powerful experience but in reality it blew me away. Even though they’ve all faced so many challenges in their relatively short lives, every single one of them was able to open up and tell their story honestly and from the heart, which was testament to how much they trusted and felt supported by one another. The rapport between the group and the strength of positive feeling towards the charity – all the young people without exception attribute it to changing their lives for the better, some even said they didn’t know what would have become of them without the intervention – was so incredibly moving, my words can’t even do it justice.

The whole experience left me full of admiration for these astonishing young people, who are taking their negative experiences and turning them into positive ones – literally turning their lives around with our ongoing support and encouragement. I feel humbled to have been present as they shared their stories, and so excited to see them again tomorrow as they do it again ‘for real.’

And, most of all, I feel incredibly fortunate to have myself had such a comparatively trouble-free life. Hearing some of the young people’s stories really made me realise just how trivial some of the things I’ve been through really were, even though at the time they may have seemed horrendous (I always have been good at melodrama). That’s not to say at times I haven’t been through tough times, just that I’m so grateful to have always been supported through those times by people who loved me.

Wow, what a night. Sometimes working overtime isn’t a chore at all – it’s an honour and a privilege.

The warped perceptions of time

In a moment of distraction from the task at hand (aka job searching) I watched this video from my expedition in Borneo at the start of 2011, all the while scarcely able to believe that it was two years ago, and all the while wishing (with every fibre of my being) I was back there.

In times of uncertainty and stress it’s only natural to look back at past experiences and wish we could re-live what we remember as being a joyful and uncomplicated existence. Back then, we tell ourselves, we are able to be fully present in the moment. We had no concerns about what lay ahead of us. Why can’t life be like that now?

But it’s all too easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses at times your brain perceives as ‘happier’ than the time you are currently experiencing. If you take a moment to fully re-live the past experience in question – rather than just skimming your memory for the highlights – you will often take a more ‘warts and all’ approach, acknowledging that there were difficulties then in just the same way as there are difficulties now.

The positive take out from this is that you overcame those previous difficulties and now reflect on them as minor – almost completely insignificant – blips in your life path. Surely this would, therefore, suggest that the difficulties you are facing now will be viewed by your future self in much the same way?

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I love this picture from Borneo, taken during my ten days in the Taliwas region with a group of venturers. We had to get two of these barrels up an enormous hill on physical strength (or lack thereof!) alone. A challenge to say the least! It was such a beautiful place and we lived in a camp beside the river, cooking over fires and sitting out at night under the stars. It was a really magical experience and one I’ll never forget.