Parenting: Simple, Idle and Free Range!

 

GUILTforMumstobe

This was the actual checklist I was given when I went to my first pregnancy appointment! Perfection in the form of an innocent typo.

 

I’m not very postmodern in the sense that I love to solicit advice about all sorts of things. None of this don’t tell me what to do from me. I lean more on the side of oh crap, I have no idea what I’m doing, someone please give me the answer! Now, I am not in any way advocating that trait. I will put my thoughts on that in a separate post, but as an intro for today I’m just saying that my self-perceived deficit of common sense has led me to the self-help aisle of plenty of bookstores. The downside is that as a result I tend to ping-pong between all sorts of philosophies, often in an extreme way. When it came to food it was healthy to organic to vegetarian to detox to gluten free to paleo and now a big muddle of all, which essentially means we just eat whatever I can muster at the time, that usually means fish fingers.

I’m about to embark on my PhD and I can foresee a more intentional and probably academic reading plan over the next few years, and possibly because of this I have been indulging in some new parenting books lately. Or maybe the reading has been part of my attempt to find balance, as recovery after major life burn out that happened in Hong Kong, the city that really never sleeps. Or was that just my life at the time with Dylan’s sleep apnea, the son who never slept. Whatever the case, I’ve read some fantastic books recently and wanted to share them with you, especially if you are in HK and trying to fight off the tendency to freak about about schooling/activities/schedules/budgets/allergies/all things related to raising children.

 

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

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This is a gentle entry point into some parenting ideas that I would honestly say would feel alien to a lot of us young parents these days. The basic premise is Less is More and the author writes with professional and personal experience and real authority about scaling back in order to fully engage and enjoy a simpler life. Ahhhhh, a breath of fresh air :)

There’s a blog too, but I won’t comment on that as I haven’t checked in out properly yet.

 

 

The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson

This one is probably going to offend a lot of parents who pride themselves in trying really really hard every single day. I bookswas one of those a few months ago, and it got really really tiring, and quite honesty ushered me into a season of deprssion. That sense that no matter how much I did, there was always more I could/should be doing…

This book made me laugh and blush at the very silly way I had been parenting not too long ago. I can’t get enough of this one. I was actually quite sad when I got to the end of it. It had me at “children love a tipsy parent” (I’m not sure if those were the exact words, but I will go with the laziness that stops me from referring back to the original text, confident that this would not offend the author). I allowed myself to chill out, sit around with other grown ups drinking grownup drinks while our kids ran feral in the garden for a couple weekends, and low and behold, life started to feel manageable again. Click here for a taster in the form of The Idle Parent Manifesto. Genius.

 

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

I’m in the middle of this one now. It’s funny and again, makes me laugh at myself in almost every chapter – the ability to laugh at myself is one trait, and survival technique I have come to depend on.  Skenazy was in the press years ago for 51y6rCrGsVL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_letting her son ride the NY subway alone. She then went on to become the leader of the Free Range movement, encouraging parents to fight back against the culture of fear mongering that has taken up residency in the land of childrearing. Her message is basically CHILL OUT! And she has done her research into the statistics and facts that would be demanded of anyone with such an audacious message aimed at parents. The book is directed at an American audience, but those of us Internationals will be able to draw great value from it. Chinese culture is funny when it comes to kids, they must be bundled up under multiple layers of clothes all year round, and have to wear face masks to protect others from snot at the age of 2yrs, but they are allowed to be out and about town until 11pm. I’d be interested to know which culture has produced the most neurotic parents…

Here’s the Free Range Kids blog.

 

And finally, here’s a fun article from the New Yorker on the same theme that my sis-in-law Meg sent me the other day.

 

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Health? You mean mine?!

Ha.

Health was one of the first things to go when Dylan got sick. But this is not going to be a poor-me post about how hard it was (for me) for Dylan to be sick. He is doing really well in the UK – maybe it’s the cleaner air, maybe it’s the calmer mum. I don’t know. What I do know is that it it now time to move out of crisis-mode. We are no longer in crisis. Praised be the Lord.

Jacinta, in her former life, was a health & fitness enthusiast. She danced ballet 7 days a week during her Uni years (would have made sense to just study it, but she didn’t really understand that was an option until too late), she taught creative movement as her first job out of Uni, then qualified as a Personal Trainer & Group Fitness Instructor, then Pilates instructor, then opened a dance studio, then trained for a marathon, then went a bit nuts and needed some time out from everything. She sat on the bench of life feeling metaphorical, lamenting the side-effects of the assortment of medicine she needed to take, eventually she got off it all, joined a fancy gym, studied up on nutrition and the use of food as medicine. She got super fit and mentally stable, and then she got pregnant with baby no.1.

 

From that point all attempts to regain former glory fell short. Don’t even get her started on how tough it got once baby no.2 got sick. Or how yummy all forms of calorie became. Very few people she has met in the past four years know the Jacinta who used to care about health and fitness. She feels sad about this, and after some soul searching has come to accept that the best course of action would be to deal with things head on, and that means dropping the rather tiresome third-person approach to the problem.

Yes, it’s the start of the new year, and this is the time a huge number of chubbsters across the first-world start thinking about their fitness. I will join their ranks. I am no longer fit or smug enough to judge. I suppose that’s a good thing.

The beauty of writing is that you can tell the story any the hell way you want. But I am into the non-fiction stuff, to a degree. At least to the point that I reckon if I’m going to tweak the story to the point that I don’t look too bad at all, then what’s the point? I think it’s the honest truth that will be most helpful, in this specific case anyway.

(At this point Jacinta’s husband walks into the kitchen and asks what Jacinta is doing. “Writing for fun” she replies. He drops the questioning at that and asks “Shall we make one of these Angel Delights?” They were bought to put in a care package to send to an expat Brit. They are not part of Jacinta’s current eating plan. It is hard work for Jacinta to be Jacinta. Since she is writing on this very topic at this very time she has chosen to rise above it all).

Here and now, today, I am not happy with my current physical state.

– I would estimate I am 20lbs over my ideal body weight.

– My skin has been constantly badly blemished for about 24 months now.

– I got a really stupid stress-related haircut last year (you know, the drastic sort that you secretly believe will dramatically improve your life), and am still working through the aftermath (it was really bad, the hairdresser actually said “there, now you look like Rhianna!” As if that would be a good thing for me. For her it’s great but for me, not so much. Coincidentally my Welsh middle name is Rhiannon).

– I am tired all day every day.

– Each attempt to get back into a workout routine has left me utterly exhausted and needing a minimum of three weeks’ recovery.

– I am unhappy with my appearance and often revert to dressing to hide myself rather than wearing what I like. To add insult to injury I have been interviewed and professionally photographed for work-related things twice in the past two years.

Where I am now is at the point of being serious about making changes and this is what I’ve been thinking about lately:

– No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, I cannot simply do what used to work for me and expect it to work for me now. My body has changed and now that I’m older and have had babies, I can’t just throw myself into an insanely intensive exercise programme without hurting something. I need to start gently.

– I need to approach this holistically. The best season of super-fitness I have experienced was the one just before I fell pregnant the first time. I was practicing what I had learnt about nutrition, I was exercising regularly, I was looking after my spiritual health, and I was hitting a good balance with my social life (I’m usually pendulum swinging between extreme hermit-like solitude and being out every single night of the week).

I am going to stop there for tonight. I have want to discuss the infamous Maria Kang picture in a separate post but not time to write about that now. Just want to get this one out first in a throwing-the-gauntlet-down sort of way. I’m pumped. Mentally, not yet physically. Here we go!

 

 

A Mummy’s Apology (not the I’m-sorry kind)

The problem: very few natural opportunities to blog.

The plan: write what I can in the time I have available today –

Go:

Tom and I are currently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We are here because Tom is leading the music at every session of the Alpha Emerging Leaders’ Retreat. I am here to accompany him. We have some free time now. He has gone off to see the sights, I spent an hour and a half sprawled out on the king-sized bed with the curtains closed. I have drunk too much coffee and am so out of practice I was unable to nap, so I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the peace for 90mins.  What a treat!

I want to take a few minutes to process what has been happening since last year, when we were last in Malaysia for this same retreat, version 2012.

Highlights: I completed my Masters degree and Tom released his album and it went to no.1 on HK’s iTunes chart. I also got given a job as a part time lecturer at City U, but…

Low point: A couple weeks into teaching at City U my son Dylan got seriously sick. Dylan has been a tricky little guy since birth. He is not a big feeder or eater, and is not inclined towards sleep. Ever. I spent his first year of life trying to figure him out, and failing miserably. I just kept telling myself it would change with time, and there always seemed a reasonable, if not unfortunate explanation for his sleeplessness – teething, milestones, separation anxiety, needs a comfort item, crack of light coming through the curtain, too dark, too hot, too cold, wind, colic, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance… the list grew longer faster than I could attempt to address each item.

One day in October our Helper Eden had gone to the shops, and I was home alone with the kids as they napped, or tried to. I was reading a story to Layla and Dylan was crying down. Only, Dylan never cries down, he cries up. His cry is never half-hearted. He is fully committed to his cry. If I were to download that baby’s cry interpreting app for the iPhone, I’m pretty sure it would tell me that Dylan’s cry means: HELP ME WOMAN, I AM ABOUT TO DIE, YOU ARE A TERRIBLE MOTHER, WHY HAVEN’T YOU FIXED THIS PROBLEM YET? I WILL BE DEAD IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES IF YOU DON’T COME AND GET ME RIGHT NOW.

Layla had somehow fallen asleep so I went to him. I picked him up and he continued to cry, but the cry got quieter, then he started choking and then his lips went blue and then his face went blue. I called my neighbour and asked her to come down and sit Layla until Eden returned. I grabbed my bag and ran out the door. Once I was half way up the stairs Dylan burped, and then he relaxed, but he still sounded all wrong so I took him to the paediatrician.

From that point we entered a season of visiting doctors intensively. between 1-4 appointments a week. Dylan had a bad infection in his lungs. He needed more than 12 medications a day to help him fight it without hospitalisation. We bought a nebulizer that he had to have twice a day, a vaporiser and a very expensive air purifier. We switched onto a hypoallergenic diet. I moved into the spare room so I could hold him most the night. The doctors agreed that it was the best way to go because he was at risk of vomiting and choking in the night. Eventually I made the decision not to sign on for a second semester of teaching – I was cancelling classes to be with Dylan and had no idea when he would recover. More than one of Dylan’s doctors used the phrase “I don’t want to frighten you, but…” and more than three told me very soberly that “he is a very sick little boy.”

From October 2012 to today it has been a slow and painful climb out of the ‘critical’ zone. The weird thing is that he is a very happy and calm little guy for most the daylight hours. During the night he turns into something else, but we fumble along regardless. What else can you do? You still have to get up in the morning and get on with the day.

Everyone knows a rough night leaves you feeling, well, rough. A whole week of them feels somewhat unjust. By the time a week becomes a month, and then a year, you can no longer remember what not feeling rough feels like. A new and highly undesirable identity has formed as the you that you used to be fades into the distance, taking with it whatever it was you used to think was important. This isn’t totally a bad thing. I believe there is value to be found in all the hooha but it will require a rested mind to unearth all that stuff. A few months ago I finally recognised another byproduct of the challenge I’m facing, and this one was totally unexpected. I knew I had been feeling something weird, but couldn’t quite place it, and then it dawned on me: Shame.

I was walking around life feeling deeply ashamed of what was happening to our family. I was never angry at Dylan. That was one decision I have been inflexible on from the start. It is not his fault. I was pretty upset with myself for not being able to comfort him, or fix him, or continue to achieve everything I wanted, and I was regularly mean to Tom for not being able to fix the situation either, or to read my mind to find out how and when to say exactly the right thing, and I was mad at Layla for also needing me despite the fact I hadn’t slept, and I was very disappointed at God for not answering my desperate prayers the way I wanted them answered. As for what Dylan himself had to suffer, don’t even get me started on that. There were lots of unpleasant feelings present that I recognised and could, on some level, understand, but I really didn’t expect shame to be one of them. I think it was linked to the secrecy of the whole situation – not that we were hiding it (I’ve probably tweeted about it at annoying frequency), but just that it has happened behind closed doors where no one else can see how bad it gets, or have firsthand insight into why I’m no longer sticking to the plan. I find it interesting. I don’t really have any further insights on this point though.

At the beginning of this month Dylan’s ENT specialist said Obstructive Sleep Apnea was the main problem we had to tackle, so he had surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids. Putting an under-two-year-old in for an operation was not an easy decision, but the truth was that the whole household was at a point of despair, and the doctors said if Dylan doesn’t start sleeping properly his development will be affected.

The three-day hospital stay was difficult but his physical recovery was perfect. Tom and I can hear that his breathing now sounds normal. He still isn’t sleeping though. He doesn’t know how. He has had to wake himself up to breath since birth, so it’s going to take some time to give him the skill and gift of sleep.

Sleep is a crazy thing. It is very hard to appreciate its value until you go for a season without it. I have now gone two years with less than 20 good nights’ sleep. It shows. My immune system is very weak now. I have a constant cold and sore throat. I have gained a ridiculous amount of weight because I am the opposite of those people who lose weight when stressed. I am exhausted all day long so I eat in the hopes of getting an energy boost to help me through the day. I also eat when trying to feed Dylan – “Look Dylan, Mummy’s eating it!” It doesn’t work. The child won’t be coerced. What I do lose when I’m stressed is hair. Not because it is falling out – because I tend to cut my hair when stressed. I think in a weird attempt to gain control over something, anything, I find myself taking to the scissors more often than good sense would recommend. But the way I see it now, if I’m not bald it means there’s still some fight left in me. Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.

I’m also going grey. There are moments when I can feel the colour draining out of my hair. Tom and I used to marvel at how young we felt. We met when we were teenagers and on some level felt like teenagers ever since. Until last year. We used to wonder where the point was that people really truly become grown ups. I still can’t pinpoint it exactly, but I know for sure that I’ve past it now.

C’est la vie eh?

And, in the truest of all symptoms of mummyhood, I have to go. No time to get to the bottom of all this.

Bye :)

 

Bleh

The morning started with me waking up to the glorious realisation that we had all slept through the night! This is an increasingly rare phenomenon in our household, ever since the arrival of my little lactose intolerate bundle of baby boy joy. He’s now 15 months old and between taking FOREVER to figure out what his problem was, and teething, and numerous other issues, we’ve not been having much sleep.

As a new mum the first thought to rush into my mind upon waking naturally at any hour after 6am, is “has someone died? Is that why no one’s crying woke me earlier?” I realized this morning that the new-mum thing had worn off. I snoozed for longer than I have in ages and then realized Layla, my 3yr old was snoozing in the bed with me. Soon enough little Dylan came toddling in and we all enjoyed some cuddles in bed. Dylan found a ball on the floor and started rolling it around, then fussed as the ball lodged itself under my bed. Layla, the ever-loving and helpful big sister rushed to his rescue, but took us all by surprise when instead helping Dylan, she vomited all over the poor little guy.

Layla proceeded to projectile vomit for what felt like an eternity as I screamed for Eden (our live-in helper) to come and take Dylan to other bathroom as I waited for Layla to finish her business and then got her hosed down in my bathtub. It was a most dramatic 3 minutes.

I work from home. My workload was already piling up to an uncomfortable level due to the fact I’d been shuffling Dylan between three different doctors’ appointments yesterday. I had a lunch appointment booked in with a professor at City U that I really didn’t want to miss, so I jumped at my Mum’s offer to spend the day with the kids. She walked through the door about five minutes after the spewing incident and the kids settled into joyous play with her (she is an early childhood expert and pretty much on par with Disneyland for my kids).

I managed to spend an hour in my room/office catching up with work, and then headed over to Kowloon Tong to chat with Prof Rocio Davis about the possibility of doing a PHD in the nearish future. Lunch was yum and the conversation most encouraging and inspiring. I’ll write about that later.

After a quick-ish stop at Toys R Us (where I bought a guilt offering for my kids for leaving them sick) I came home for a really nice afternoon of family time. I made a hair clip rack out of some old scraps lying around, watched two episodes of The Modern Family, and then worked on my website.

 

The reason I’m recording all this is that today I’m really struck by the truth that life happens and will continue to happen despite the fact that I would like everything to wait for me to get my act together, or step aside so I have creative space and time to really focus in depth on the stuff that I feel needs it at that moment. Ain’t gonna happen. My option will always be to shelf the things I want to do in order to deal with whatever is most pressing, or to find a way to fit in all the things I just know in my gut that I’m meant to be doing. Sometimes I will have to call in sick, and sometimes I will get the balance wrong, but I’m not going to stop trying to fit it all in.

The house still smells a little of sick, and I’ve failed to exercise yet again, but tomorrow is another day. I had to write this post because I’m tired of waiting until I’m ‘ready’ to write. I’m going to write daily. I just decided.