The season of grief – Mother’s Day and beyond.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My beautiful Dad created this image of all three of my boys.

My annual season of grief has begun. It starts with the memories of two little boys whom I never met, but hold dear. March & April saw their respective anniversaries. I remember those two little boys always. But on the days belonging to them, I spent some time thinking about them and their dear mothers.

Since I lost Xavier, ANZAC day has gained a different kind of meaning. I remember the first ANZAC day after I lost Xavier. For the first time in my life, I did not think of the diggers and their sacrifices during the minute silence. I thought instead of their mothers, their children and the memories that would never be made. I thought about grandchildren who would never been born and worlds shattered that had to continue turning. I have no experience of a battle field. I don’t know what horrors lie there. I don’t pretend my grief is the same as the mother who loses her adult son to the bloody futility of war, but I know a little of that pain. I know how life cracks when a parent buries their child.

May holds Mother’s Day and duality of emotions. Elation that I get to celebrate my two boys on earth and an aching sadness for the one not here. Doubt as I receive presents heralding me as “World’s Best Mum”. For clearly, I am not. The World’s Best Mum would have saved her child. The happiest days can be the hardest. Pressure to be jovial for the children in your arms and pressure to grieve harder for the one not there. Always trying to make space for all three of them, and not always succeeding – they live on such different planes. Mother’s Day will see a six year old attempt breakfast, a nearly two year old smother me in kisses and a nearly three year old visited at a gravesite. Joy and hope and love and sadness all intermingled with an intensified poignancy that only occurs on certain days during the year.

June will see Xavier’s birthday and July will see his anniversary. Three years. How can that be? My tiny little baby, three years old. Three year olds are joy personified. They are full of verve and life. They are the antithesis of sadness. Three seems to have very little to do with my Xavier.  My forever newborn son.

In Australia, Mother’s Day is the second Sunday of May. It can be one of the hardest days in the year for a bereaved mother.

Here is what I have found helpful to get through it:

  1. If it’s important to you that your partner get you something on behalf of your child, let them know. I know you don’t want to have to do that, but it’s better than seething all day if it doesn’t happen. They may not realise how very important it is to you.
  2. Let another bereaved mother know that you are thinking of them. Carly Marie does a range of beautiful cards specifically for bereaved mothers.
  3. Set aside some time to spend with your child. Let your loved ones know that you need that time.
  4. Be prepared for the day to be hard. I am always surprised by how difficult Mother’s Day is.
  5. Step away from social media if seeing pictures of perfect families is all too much. You don’t have to torture yourself.

Be gentle with yourself this Mother’s Day.

 

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Work, Identity and Motherhood

It happens when your child turns a year old.  Mothers group friends start to spend more time in paid work and less  time at coffee gatherings.  People start to ask whether you are returning to work soon.  Others start to presume that you have decided to forgo your career.  And suddenly impermanent maternity leaves feels a whole lot more permanent that you had intended it to.

My career has always been important to me.  One of my anchors.  It has been a part of me, integral to my identity. The way I want to see myself and the way I would like others to view me.

A year after Isaac was born, I was back to work.  It was busy and stressful.  Our family committed itself to the hamster wheel of waking, child-care, working, sleeping.  My work was interesting and fulfilling but the lifestyle did not feel sustainable.  In fact, I kept waiting for the balls I was juggling to drop.  Invariably, the one that did related to my own self-care.  For the first time in my life I felt that what I was sacrificing for my career was too much.  Not only was it too much, no-one seemed to be acknowledging the sacrifice.  After asking myself some hard questions, I stepped down from a senior position and negotiated a two day a week role that did not involve managing people.  Did I go backwards in my career?  No doubt.  Was it the right decision for my family? Yes.  Was I incredibly lucky to work for a company that values family life, its employees and was open to this idea? A resounding and grateful yes.

It was while working within this role that I said hello and goodbye to Xavier.  I returned to work a few months later. That return was not spurred by a desire to advance my career.  There were a myriad of other reasons.  I was grasping for anything that made sense and gave me structure.  My world had blown apart, and I was picking up the tattered pieces, trying to put them together again.  But they did not easily slot back into the places they once did.  Priorities had shifted.  Perspective had changed.  Work gave me a place to go.  Things to do.  A place where my frayed self-confidence could repair itself.  But I did not think of work in the context of purpose or identity.   My life was on auto-pilot and I was in survival mode.

As Elijah turned one and I did not return to work, I felt a loss of identity.  I am due to return in January, giving me another six months with my precious boy.   I have started to take the reins of my life again.  I am no longer in auto-pilot mode but those priorities have still shifted. Yet, the prospect of not going back to work has left me at sea without an anchor I once relied on.  I think that anchor is probably more about purpose than career.  And I have yet to figure out what that purpose is.  Whilst I am sure that my career will still be a large part of it, I need to understand it within the context of a different perspective.

Contentment CompassOne of the things that I do love about my workplace is their dedication to personal development.  It is not some thing we often do outside of the structure of work or education.  But I knew I had to get down on paper what was scrambled in my head.  To that end, I created a series of steps to assess my life as it is, centred around the things that are most important to me.  I have decided to share those worksheets in the hopes that they may help others who are feeling a little lost within their own lives.

If you do decide to use these worksheets, give yourself some time and space to focus just on yourself.  I hope that you find them useful.

Step 1 – Contement Compass

Step 2 – Time and Importance Mind Map

Step 3 – what is important to me

Step 4 – Goals and Achieving Them

 

 

Last Night’s Reality

There is a movement around Facebook and blogs at the moment to document the less-than-pretty sides of life. The idea is to counter-act the “highlight reel” mentality of social media where you compare your real life to the things everyone else has carefully curated and find it cruelly wanting. I am the first to admit that my Facebook feed tends to be full of gorgeous pictures of my kids doing gorgeous things. I don’t apologise for that as my primary use of Facebook is to share those photos with family and friends that I don’t often see. But blogs are places to be real and whilst I always reveal my heart, I don’t often write about the minutiae of every day life – whether it be positive or negative. So, in the interest of honesty and solidatory , here is an account of last night:

Our littlest man is not sleeping well. Twelve month old separation anxiety coupled with teething and the edge of a cold have conspired together. And in a story echoed in bedrooms across the world, we are too tired to do all the “right” things and instead do the thing that gets us the maximum amount of minimal sleep. Yes, Elijah has moved into our bed. I hate this, I feel guilty about this, I feel terrified about this. I also want to sleep.

8:30PM
Knowing that the night ahead is unlikely to yield much sleep, I go to bed. I leave Elijah sleeping peacefully on N as he watches sport for a few hours. This wonderfully self-less act is called “looking after the baby so mummy can get some rest.”

10:30PM
N comes to bed with a crying baby. It cannot be time already can it? Quietly resign myself to the fact the best minutes of sleep for the night are far behind me now. Settle baby. Consider transferring him to his cot. Know that this will result in him waking. Shift him to carefully be between us, away from any pillows and hold breath hoping none of that will wake him. Watch him breathe peacefully. Settle into sleep.

11:00PM
Elijah awake. Soothe with pats and songs. Still crying. Does he have a temperature? He must have a temperature? Must be teething. Has to be something. Do I give him Panadol? Am I really just trying to drug him into sleeping?

12:00AM
Finally have settled him (Panadol was involved). Cannot go back to sleep. Need some water. Creep out of bed to get some water.

12:15AM
Starting to drift off to sleep. N starts to snore. Poke him and implore him to get onto his side. Muffled noises. Compliance.

12:30AM
Need to pee. Why did I drink that water?

1:00AM
Elijah crying. Elijah darling, go to sleep. Please, please, please go to sleep.

2:00AM
Elijah crying. Darling, darling, I thought we were friends? Help me out. Tomorrow I check into a hotel overnight. I swear I will do it.

4:00AM
Elijah crying. Blearily look at clock. 4:00AM? Did I really just get two hours sleep? Two hours sleep!

4:30AM
Elijah crying. Little boy, if I buy you a pony will you let me sleep?

4:45AM
Elijah crying. Wonder if I am unwittingly part of sleep deprivation experiment. Expect David Attenborough type to step out from the curtains “now, watch what happens when the female adult is denied sleep …”

5:15AM
Elijah asleep. Car drives past and I hear the bass before the engine. Who has their radio up at five in the morning? You wake my baby, I WILL hunt you down.

6:00AM
Radio talk show hosts enter our room. The alarm. Elijah still asleep. Thank Goodness. Can I make lunches whilst he still sleeps? Really should. Okay, will get up when the weather is on. Weather is on. WIll get up when the news is on. News is on. Will get up with the traffic report is on. Traffic report is on.

N wakes. “I didn’t sleep that well” he says.

Everything I need to know I learned from my kids

Most parents agree that they learn more from their kids than they ever teach. Today I was reflecting on the lessons my kids are currently teaching me.

From my dear five year old Isaac:
The world is full of friends you haven’t met yet I think every parent has marvelled at the ability of children to instantly make friends in the playground. Isaac never worries whether he will be accepted. He assumes that everyone wants to play with him. He doesn’t analyse the situation and if someone doesn’t want his friendship, it’s accepted with a shrug and viewed as their loss. He doesn’t ask much of these friends. Just to have a good time within the moment shared. There is no sting, no anguish and a world of possibility. He does not complicate things that are not complicated.

My dear little Elijah: Celebrate your wins and don’t compare yourself to others Elijah has an adorable, completely non-conventional crawl. One leg remains curled underneath him whilst the other extends out, acting as a sort of rudder as he manoeuvres himself around. It is effective but it doesn’t look like everyone else’s crawl. When he gets from point A to B, a broad smile of pure joy and pride beams across his face. He doesn’t compare himself to others. He doesn’t fret about being different. He doesn’t frustrate himself by wondering why he can’t crawl like someone else. He doesn’t need to restrain petty jealousy as he watches another baby his age crawl or walk. He just loves what he has achieved. He celebrates his successes with conviction and without comparison.

My dearest Xavier has probably taught me the most. But of all his lessons, one of the largest is about our incredible resilience as human beings. We can survive the impossible. We can rise above what tries to drag us down. The only limits we have are those we build ourselves. Xavier, as a baby, was fragile. A hidden fragility that meant he slipped away during sleep. But he too is resilient. His name has not been forgotten and love for him still abounds. If we choose, we do not need to be limited. The human spirit is far more powerful than we ever dare dream. And sometimes, it takes a human spirit to remind us.

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Reclaiming the Silence – Permission to Just Be

The last few weeks have been a blur of activity.  I have been hard at work organising a fashion fund-raising event for SIDS and Kids, whilst dealing with the every-day craziness of my life.   There have been late nights and mother guilt and reliance on beautiful friends and family.  There have been highs and lows whilst organising the event.   And then finally the event itself, over and done with in the space of a few short hours.

Today, I spent most of the day just holding my Elijah.  I was going to do the neglected house work.  I was going to tie up the inevitable loose ends after an event.   I did none of those things.  I spent some time with a dear girlfriend and the rest of the day curled up on the couch cuddling and playing with my precious baby.  I do not do this very often.  I do not give myself permission to do this very often.

As a society we have an obsession with busy-ness.  We measure our worth against how much we do, how much we achieve.  I am guiltier than most – packing my days with all sorts of activity.  Even when I pause for a moment, my thoughts turn to checking my Facebook or email.  My mind constantly chattering.  Thoughts flying from one place to another.  Rarely settling in one spot.   Rarely allowing me to just focus on Elijah and nothing else.  Not his food or his bath or his sleep routine.  But just Elijah himself.  Getting on the floor with him and playing with him.  Tracing every one of his features and committing each eyelash to memory.  Just marvelling at his smell.   The things you do with a newborn that start to fade as they grow.

After Xavier died, for the first time in my adult life, I had the gift of uninterrupted time.  I chose to spend that time connecting with my son.  A wonderful friend and I would exchange epic emails about our sons gone too soon.  I would craft and create.  I would walk.  And at times, I would just sit and be.  I would sit and wait for a sense of peace.  A sense of Xavier to descend.  I could not do this in the hurly burly bustle of every day life.  I needed to set aside time.  I needed to make that conscious decision because it was the only way I could mother my son.  In the depth of grief, the present was my only friend – the past held too much pain and the future too much fear.  I had to practice mindfulness.  I had to let silence into a life that previously had only known noise.  Because my Xavier can only speak to me in a whisper on the breeze.  My Xavier needs the silence.

Elijah lives and breathes and cries and demands my attention.  I do not need to consciously create space in my life to be his mother – it comes without my doing anything.  But I do need to occasionally reclaim some silence and calm in my life.  I need to stop and smell the baby.  I need to stop the busy sometimes and give myself permission to just be.  Just to sit still and be comfortable in the silence.  To know the value of it.  To appreciate that those moments are part of my being a mother to my three boys.  And a vitally important part.

 

Mumma, I am Five

What five looks like

My beautiful five year old boy often challenges me.   He is teeming with ideas and questions and opinions.  His energy is apparently boundless and his determination to get his own way often stronger than my will to enforce boundaries.  I find myself counting down from 10, and the rage barely simmering by the time I get to 1.  I love him and adore him, but at times I find him extremely difficult to parent.  It is in those moments, I need to remember what is to be five.

If he had eloquence and insight, this is what my five year old might say to me:

Mumma, I am five.  In my veins course fire and imagination, energy and creativity.  My legs were not made to sit still.  My arms were not made to rest.  I am busy, busy, busy.   I need to run and to jump and to play.  Sometimes the enormity of my energy overwhelms me – and I need to get it out. Out. OUT.

Mumma, I am five.  When I see boundaries, both figurative and literal, I want to push against them.  I need to climb them and test them and see where I stand.  This is my job and it is your job to guide me, to limit me, to expand my world and to keep me safe.

Mumma, I am five.  I don’t just play Batman and Star-wars and Octonauts.  I AM Batman.  I AM Luke. I AM Kwazzi.  When I am saving the world or the galaxy or the oceans, it is much more important to me than cleaning my room or eating my breakfast.  Give me time to break away from the places that consume me.  I will listen.  Eventually.

Mumma, I am five. I know you don’t like guns and we aren’t allowed them in the house.  But I will continue to bite my sandwiches into a pistol shape and wield the plastic cricket wickets.  I am playing a game that boys have played since little boys begun.

Mumma, I am five.  I am very grown up and I am still very small.  I am negotiating a whole new set of rules and people and things at school.  I am learning new things and trying new things and figuring out who I am.  I am your grown-up boy.  I am still your baby.  I might push away a hug and want kisses a moment later.  I am figuring a lot out right now – I need you to help me.

Mumma, I am five.  I love you so much and I do want to please you.  I want to do the right thing.  Sometimes, it can take me a little while to figure out what that is.  Please do not think that your parenting up until this point has been for naught.  That I am a stranger adopting behaviour you never modelled.  This is all a process.  I will come back to what I have learned.

Mumma, I am only five.  There are a lot of expectations on me.
Mumma, I am such a big boy of five.  I like to be grown-up.
Mumma, I am such a little boy of five.  I will always be your baby.

Mumma, you are doing a good job