Monthly Archives: February 2015

February summed up

Well, I feel as though I am ending February with a spectacular FAIL. I got as far as printing my resolution chart out but neglected to actually put it up anywhere visible (in fact I’d go so far as to say I lost it) let alone fill it in.

I limped through last weekend at work, thinking “I just have to make it to Tuesday”. Well I made it, and then struggled through Tuesday tired and preoccupied instead of enjoying being at home. Wednesday was better but then yesterday fell hopelessly apart by bedtime with Master L, Miss L and mummy all tired (Master L after preschool, Miss L mysteriously having refused her daytime sleep and mummy having stayed up too late the night before doing nothing constructive).

I feel like I am constantly making excuses for myself- yes I’m pregnant, yes I’m tired, so what? So go to bed earlier! It was MY decision to have a third baby (and a first, and a second), no one else’s (well except Mr L I suppose!) and it’s not fair that I take out being tired and pregnant and fat (not just pregnant fat- too much food fat!) on the kids.

When Master L sobs back at me “Mummy why do you have to shout at us?” and Miss L goes and hides in the spare room…. I feel like the worst mother in the world. Especially when I answer his question in my head “I have no reason, bubba, except that I’m just being a shitty mother this evening”.

Maybe I should have followed Gretchen’s lead and worked on Vitality first rather than Attitude. Some fresh air and more quality sleep might have put me in a better frame of mind….

So, overall, as far as the resolutions went:

 

No negative FB posts- B+ This was easier than I thought
Use your kind voice C- Started off ok and got worse. This is really a conscious decision. I can choose what I use!
Area of refuge C+ I got better at this, but didn’t feel it had a huge impact
Use your kind voice FAIL I was terrible at this!! But it sort of reappears in March, so I’ll give it another crack.

 

Anyway there are just under 48 hours left of Feb… probably not enough time to redeem myself but I can at least improve on the past 48 hours!

On Death and Dying

 I seem to be constantly reminded, especially lately, of the transience of our existence and how quickly it can all be taken away from us, and life turned upside-down for us and our loved ones.

Recently, I have experienced, in varying degrees of proximity, the death of a school friend from a rare form of cancer, the deterioration of one of my closest friends from uni from treatment complications of leukaemia and the death of the daughter of one of Mr L’s friends, a little younger than Master L, also from leukaemia (or its treatment, anyway).

Without wanting to be particularly morbid, all these situations can’t help but make me think about my own mortality and that of those around me. It’s a complex range of emotions- from feeling incredibly lucky to be healthy and alive and to have so much, to profound sadness when it’s someone I know, especially when I’ve witnessed the whole drawn-out diagnostic, treatment, relapse and deterioration process, (or their “fight” as the lay press likes to refer to it- a term I find interesting but more on that later if I remember). There’s sometimes an element of guilt associated with that luck and at times, a feeling of panic, impending doom and pessimism: sort of a “who’s next?” feeling and dread of something striking me or one of my family.

Media “personalities”, naturally, are not immune and I was touched recently by the experiences of two people, both writers, affected in different ways by death and dying.

The first is the author Hannah Richell. I have only read one of her books (Secrets of the Tides) and I was struck not so much by the story line (although it is quite original and entertaining), but by the complexity of emotion she manages to recreate so vividly. In summary, a toddler goes missing at the beach, presumed drowned, while he is being minded by his two teenage sisters. One sister tells the other to make herself scarce while she meets up with her love-interest, each assumes the other is looking after their little brother. To complicate matters, the reason the toddler is being minded by his sisters in the first place, is that the mother is having an affair of her own and lumps her son on her older daughters for the first time ever, not something she would normally do. The end result is that there are 3 people who directly blame themselves for his disappearance. As I read it, I really felt the author may have experienced first hand some sort of loss or grief, the complexity of reactions and emotions just seemed so real. So I Googled her out of interest, and was saddened to find that she had indeed experienced her own loss, not before writing the book however, but since, when her husband was killed in a surfing accident last July, leaving her widowed with their 2 young children.

Hannah continues to write, sporadically, on her blog, and her posts since her husband’s death have, understandably, been about the grieving and coping process. It’s not easy reading- it’s confronting and sad and you feel strangely voyeuristic, not to mention self-indulgent, getting a small taste of the anguish she’s feeling without actually having to experience her loss.

One particularly poignant passage she writes (actually as part of her husband’s eulogy) is reflecting back to the day of her husband’s death. She recalls:

 “…on his very last morning, at his suggestion, he and I enjoyed a rare early morning coffee at our favourite cafe… Then as we left, we kissed goodbye in the sunshine. He turned and threw a last joke and a smile at me and we went our separate ways. For a goodbye you never want to come, it was pretty perfect.”

Occasionally now I have this awful thought after waving Mr L goodbye on his bike, or if he is late home from work, or slow to answer a text “What if that was the goodbye I never want to come??” But of course, thankfully, so far it hasn’t been, and I return to the relatively safe assumption that he will be home tonight and everything will continue as normal. There’s that old saying about living every day as though it’s your last, but as well as the fact that you’d never get anything constructive done, you’d be an emotional wreck if you thought that every time you said goodbye might be the last.

The other author I came across recently facing his own issues with death and dying, is Oliver Sacks, a Neurologist who has written extensively on neurological disorders and neuroscience is his various books, which are aimed not just at a medical audience but also at a lay population. He has recently been diagnosed with liver recurrence of an eye tumour which he had treated some years ago and was believed to have been cured of. His recurrence is incurable. He, however, is 81, obviously has time to “prepare” and contemplate how he will spend the rest of his days and make sure he spends time with the people who matter the most to him. He doesn’t mention if being 81 somehow makes it easier to bear, but you can’t help feeling that dying at 81 is somehow less unfair than dying at 38….

Timely to my own comparison of such different end of life experiences was an article I stumbled across via the BMJ (ok, and facebook) by a man called Richard Smith, who I hadn’t heard of before, about what kind of death he wanted- the slow type you can prepare for, vs the unexpected type you can’t really. After seeing my grandma’s very gradual decline and ultimate demise at the age of 95 last June, I said several times I thought it was better to go suddenly while you were still fit and healthy. The caveat to that, of course, is “but not while you’re still too young”… however young “too young” is. Harder, undoubtedly, for those around you but probably less unpleasant for the person who dies.

Anyway, enough of this, it all seems a bit morbid. At the end of the day, few of us get to choose how we go or how those around us go and so, while I don’t necessarily embrace living every day as though it may be our last, perhaps taking time to appreciate the small things, the big things, the everythings, is a more constructive approach to making the most of our remaining days.

February Happiness project- Attitude

And so (given that I finished her book at the very end of January), I decided February would be the start of my Gretchen Rubin-inspired Happiness project. Not long to plan, exactly, I know, but I thought I’d ride the motivational wave and get stuck in.

More t/f on the rest of the project (assuming I keep at it!) but it’s fairly closely modelled on Gretchen’s: essentially, tackling one area a month with some more specific goals laid out. I thought I’d start with “Attitude”. Interestingly, she leaves this one until November, which didn’t make much sense to me when I read the book. I thought if I worked on this first, the remaining 11 months might be a bit easier.

So my mini-goals/tasks/resolutions were:

1) No negative FB updates

2) Use your kind voice– funnily enough as soon as I started this I got an email from The Parenting Place– some NZ parenting support group I’ve had almost nothing to do with except signing up for their newsletter in a moment of weakness. They don’t send a lot of useful stuff, but I found this timely:

“As parents it’s easy to forget that how we say something often matters as much as what we say. If you have a child who can be resistant, keep the fight out of your voice and try using charm instead. It’s amazing what can be achieved when our tone of voice lets our kids know that we expect them to make a good choice. Making a decision to sound calm and happy often has the added benefit of making you feel calm and happy – a win/win for everyone.”

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Along with it went a resolution to try and say “Yes” as much as possible. “Yes I’ll play with you. Yes we can go to the park. Yes you can help me make your breakfast”. What no one has told me is how you’re meant to respond when they throw it back in your face- when, after a morning of speaking kindly and saying “yes”, Master L has a meltdown because you say (kindly) “Yes we can build sandcastles on the beach…. Another day. Now we have to go home and have lunch and put Miss L down for a sleep”. And suddenly your sweet obliging child turns into an ungrateful, entitled monster and you’re almost sorry you bothered indulging him in the first place.

3) Find an area of refuge– “when people’s minds are unoccupied,” Gretchen says, “they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination- dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events- leads to bad feelings”. I’ve found this hard as it’s a bit vague. Apart from the argument with my sister, which has taken up more of my headspace than it should, what I’ve been trying to do is think of nice things- the new baby, holidays etc, before I go to sleep at night.

4) Smile more– especially when you feel negative or anxious

Gretchen recommends keeping a resolution chart, ticking off each day which resolutions you pretty much stuck to and reviewing it to see how you are going.

Now that we’re half way through February, I wonder if the reason she left this one till last is that it’s so bloody hard! Apart from the fact that it’s a bit more abstract in nature than, say, eating healthily, it requires an incredible amount of determination, resolve and energy to maintain a good attitude towards life in general. As Gretchen her self says,

“It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than be satisfied.”

Especially when you are moderately heavily pregnant with your third child… (Don’t make excuses, fortunately, is not on the chart).

February’s been an up and down month anyway. It started with a solo night away in Melbourne for me at a work meeting. I finished the book the night before I left and was all fired up to plan my project and start! I found 2 days (and one, blissful night in a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet hotel room) unbelievably refreshing. I came back relaxed and energised and feeling like I’d had a holiday. Maybe something to do with the fact that we did, then, go on holiday for a week, back to Sydney, which was also a really enjoyable week.

Since coming home though, I’ve really struggled with work, especially, but also the day to day routine in general. I’m tired, annoyed with the annoying bits (of work) and desensitised to the good bits. Maternity leave is within view but before it lie 2 more night shifts and another weekend. Plus a number of work things I need to get done before I go on leave. And it seems like every week for the next month or so either Mr L is away or I am either away or working a weekend. Other things, like petty arguments with my sister, a slight change in routine for the kids and a ton of things on my to-do list that I never seem to get on top of, have allowed a negative attitude to stomp all over my resolutions and February happiness goals.

So I’m finding it hard! But half of Feb is left. The last couple of days I have been angry Mummy and I don’t like it at all, so I’m going to do and print my chart out right now and hopefully add some more ticks to it…

Happiness is…

One of my “things” for 2015 was to look more into the concept of happiness. I had stumbled across Shawn Achor already and then I stumbled across Gretchen Rubin and her “Happiness Project”. Intrigued, I reserved her book of the same title in the library and I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago.

It’s hard to say what I thought of it. She certainly had a lot of interesting stuff to say and it provided ample food for thought over the last couple of weeks. Evidently intelligent, educated and articulate, she writes about a year of her life where she conducts her own Happiness Project, dedicating each month to a specific task, area or goal intended to make her happier.

I guess I was expecting a light- hearted, witty, entertaining account where she transformed her life with minimal effort into something shiny and bright. Instead, the book was an honest, considered, almost thesis-style report of some of the day-to-day details of her life she felt she needed to change to become happier. As I said, there was a lot of interesting stuff in there, but there were also quite a few bits I skipped (such as reprints of lengthy comments posted by her own blog followers). She came across as a rather serious person who really had to try hard to embrace happiness. In her own words:

“I had a tendency to be discontented: ambitious, dissatisfied, fretful, and tough to please.”

She just doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable author, protagonist and main character and I think that’s partly what un-did me. Likeable’s possibly the wrong word, it’s not that she’s unlikeable either… but then, it’s not a work of fiction and I don’t think it’s designed to entertain, as such, it’s an act of sharing, and if by sharing, it helps people, great. Of course, it’s also how she makes a living now (as a writer).

I think the main things that bothered me about this book, through no fault of the author’s, were

  1. There was no overnight transformation, no magic bullet, just a series of real, practical steps requiring effort and commitment (and therefore much more applicable to most people’s lives).
  2. Instead of featuring someone I fancied myself as in a slightly more glamorous, story-book life (my “superhero self”), the author, in all her serious, grudge-bearing imperfection is actually much more like the real me than I like to admit.

Unfortunately, the week after I finished it, it was due back at the library but I managed to spend some time going through the book again and picked out some of the bits that might work for me. In fact, at the back of the book she includes the web address for her blog and some practical tools that might help the reader with their own happiness project.

And so I have mapped out my own rough Happiness Project for 2015, starting this month, Februray, with “Attitude”…. TBC!

 

How do you tell someone that you don’t like their partner?

Well the first question, I guess, should be DO you tell someone that you don’t like their partner? Of course, it depends. If that person is your boss, then no, you don’t. If it’s a friend, well, it probably depends on how close a friend they are, if they’re happy with said partner, how serious it is and why it is you don’t like this partner. Do you just not “click” or is he (let’s assume for simplicity’s sake your friend is a heterosexual female) demeaning her, cheating on her or hitting her? Ok, so it’s a grey area with a lot of factors to consider.

 Let’s now assume for the sake of the argument that the heterosexual female in question is your sister. And the partner you don’t like is unofficially moved in with her, soon to be officially moved in with her. So the “person” you want to tell is important to you and all the signs are there that this is serious. To be absolutely sure, you ask “So, what do you see happening with Mr P long term?” and she says “Oh we’re planning on getting married”. So that clears up that glimmer of hope/doubt you may have had.

 You are philosophically at opposite ends of the spectrum from your sister and Mr P on several issues, namely religion, which doesn’t make objective analysis any easier, but you try and be as objective as possible anyway.

So what about him? Do you click? No. Have you ever? No. In fact, he struck you as slightly odd the first time you met him. Not just because of the dodgy boy-racer car and service station sunnies he was wearing (at the age of 36) but by the slightly immature way he said he didn’t mind driving 3 (noisy) hours between their houses because “she’s worth it”. Obsequious people always make you uncomfortable. The second time you met him he struck you as downright inappropriate, it was hardly an hour after giving birth to your second child and he tagged along with your sister when she visited you, still in the delivery suite, the blood-stained hospital linen barely cleared from the bed and you still naked from the waist down (under a sheet, but still….) Being half naked and dripping blood from your privates in front of any man other than your husband also makes you uncomfortable.

Is he good to your sister? Well, superficially, yes. He gives her gifts. He holds her hand. Constantly. At family functions. Glued to her side on the couch. According to her he’s very loving and supportive. Now consider your dog. She gives you tennis balls. And places her paw on your knee. And jumps up on the couch to put her head in your lap the minute you sit down. She dribbles a bit, which is probably the main difference from Mr P, but then you haven’t scrutinised them closely enough to be sure he doesn’t either.

Is he good for your sister? No. Definitely not. He has no job. He seems to have no particular desire to obtain or hold down a job. Putting food on the table is easily done when she pays for it. Oh and cooks it for him after he’s had a hard day doing nothing. It gradually emerges that he has some bizarre ideas. Ok so the religion is excusable, being the most widely socially acceptable form of lunacy there is (apologies to whoever I am misquoting there). But the anti-fluoride campaigns? The anti-vaccination sentiments? He never struck you as the kind of person you wanted hanging around your children, but suddenly you’re almost relieved that in 3 months you’ll have a newborn and you’ll be able to emphatically say “NFW he’s coming near my baby and giving them whooping cough”. And then you think “Stuff it, NFW is he coming near any of my babies with his kooky ideas and other weirdness.”

So you try and say to her “Is he REALLY what you need”. And she says “Yes.” Ok. Oh, sorry, you didn’t realise he had reasons to be weird and useless… the ADHD, the depression… excuses, excuses, excuses. And then the moving in becomes official, and they’re moving into a house which is going to be mortgaged in her name only, he’s still without a job, and your parents have put up half the deposit for the place. And they will be defacto in the eyes of the law and in 2 or 5 or 10 years when it all falls apart he’ll be legally entitled to half of what she has. And so you say “I know you think this is a good idea, but I DON’T and I feel I have to tell you why.” And then you wait for a response….