Tag Archives: coping

Which wolf are you feeding?

I’ve been listening to past episodes of the Slow Home Podcast and the other day heard Brooke recount her interview with Eric Zimmer and the parable of the two wolves.

So apparently this is a Cherokee Indian tale about an old man talking to his grandson. The old man says: “Inside all of us is an ongoing battle, between a bad wolf and a good wolf. The bad wolf is everything undesirable in us, it is anger, jealousy, greed, pride and selfishness. The good wolf is the opposite, it is kindness, patience, generosity, humility and calm.” The grandson thinks for a while and then asks “Which wolf wins in the end, grandfather?” and the old man replies “Whichever one you feed.”

Immediately I realised how universally applicable this parable probably was. It doesn’t take much digesting to understand it, you hear it once and it’s there, in your head. Since hearing it, I’ve been thinking repeatedly “Which wolf will I feed?”

So far, I’ve been thinking about my wolves when it come to the most basic of choices. Do I complain about my sister not thanking me for the birthday present I sent my niece, do I send her passive aggressive texts that try and make a point that she should have said thank you? Which wolf do I feed? I can feed the resentment and anger or I can let it go and just be nice. Do I eat the whole block of chocolate? Feed the bad wolf- the lazy, over-indulgent, mindless side of me, or do I feed the restrained, mindful, responsible one? Do I snap at the kids because I am tired and they have asked me the same question for the hundredth time today? Do I feed the impatient, selfish, childish wolf, or do I feed the kind and patient one?

I then went and listened to the actual podcast in which Brooke interviews Eric Zimmer and her final question to him is “What do you think are particular traits or habits of people who mostly choose to feed the good wolf?” He tells her the things he believes are the most important are:

  • Awareness that there is a choice. No matter how big or small the issue, we choose how we respond
  • Awareness that feeding the good wolf is an ongoing process and a means to an end. You may not always feel like feeding the good wolf, but if you want the better outcome, you’ll feed it regardless.

Food for thought (and wolves!) I have subscribed to Zimmer’s own podcast, The One You Feed. Perhaps that’ll be number 4 in my list of favoured podcasts!!

Moving countries- 6 months on

It’s almost 6 months since we moved country- admittedly not a huge cultural leap from Sydney to Auckland but nonetheless, a move which brought with it significant logistical and psychological challenges.

This is the second time in my life I’ve moved countries, the first was from the UK to Australia at the age of 12. While there are certain aspects that are easier to deal with now, as an adult, there are several things I wish I’d realised back then, which might have made the transition a bit easier. I will endeavour to remember them for next time, should there be one (back home or onwards elsewhere).

  1. Embrace the differences– it’s so easy to moan and groan about how much you miss x, y or z about home, about how things “just aren’t the same here” (anyway, if they were just the same, what would have been the point in coming?). We moved to NZ in winter, and while I was prepared for NZ winter weather being awful (which, as it happens, it wasn’t), I wasn’t prepared for the seeming absence of a spring. The wet, cold weather seemed to go on forever. As I drove home in an icy rain from Miss L’s swimming lesson one day in early November I lamented that it was only 12 degrees in the middle of the day! I’m used to high 20s and low 30s in November! While our friends in Sydney showed off about swimming in the ocean on circa 30-degree days, I just got sick of hearing “November rain” on the radio (yep, hilarious, every DJ seems to think they’re being clever playing that song when it rains in November). This last week or two, however, I’ve been really enjoying the weather. Yes, the rain has eased, which helps, but I actually much prefer 20 degrees to 40- you can’t DO anything in 40 degrees. The kids are hot, no one sleeps well, it’s just horrid. And the odd rainy day is easier to bear, because I’ve valued the nice ones so much more. One of the other things I’ve missed is breakfasting out- we haven’t really found any café that does a decent, reasonably priced breakfast. But we’ve found alternatives: breakfast at home (pancakes, scrambled eggs, home made bacon & egg rolls) and rediscovered the pleasure of lazing around in our pyjamas till 9am catching up with the in-laws on FaceTime, or driving out to the Farmers’ Markets at Clevedon, where they do awesome bacon and egg rolls and coffee, the kids can run around and we can stroll around and pick up some free-range eggs or farm-grown veggies and make a whole morning of it.
  2. Get involved– in September I joined a playgroup. I had always avoided them in Sydney, having had a couple of mediocre experiences which left me wondering why I’d bothered dragging the kids out to sit around with a load of strangers watching everyone fight over the communal toys. But here I have been lucky enough to find a lovely playgroup and have met some very nice, very normal Mums. A couple have become people I can catch up with at other times during the week, a couple more are just people I run into every now and then at the library or the supermarket, and it makes me feel so much more at home in our new neighbourhood to be able to say hello to people I know in the street! Maybe taking up a new sport or joining some other group might have helped me at school, too, instead of sitting around with my instant group of 4 arbitrary friends waiting for more people to come up and initiate contact.
  3. If something’s not working, move on (but give it a good go first)- Next year we are changing swimming schools. I’ve given our current one 6 months and have decided it’s not for us. I sometimes wonder if I’d been truer to myself at the age of 12 and not bothered with things I wasn’t really interested in (like some of those arbitrary friends, perhaps), or didn’t feel rewarded by (the violin, the agriculture club), I might have avoided a lot of the angst I felt then.
  4. Pursue your pre-existing interests but also look for new ones There are so many running events- long, short, on-road, off-road, local, far away, regular, one-offs etc around here. I’m really looking forward to getting into some of them after Baby L is born. We bought a stand up paddle-board shortly after arriving and (to my surprise) I’m actually not too bad at it. Somehow putting on a wetsuit and paddling out on the harbour when It’s 14 degrees doesn’t feel as crazy here as it would in Sydney! When I left England I had just discovered I wasn’t a bad runner and had started playing rounders with a team after school. When I moved to Australia, the spots on the athletic team were all taken and I didn’t know the rules of softball so decided there was no way I could play and clearly I’d never be considered a good runner at my new school if the places were full already, so they went by the wayside, to the detriment of my fitness, weight and probably general well-being.
  5. Put a positive spin on things– so my job isn’t my dream job and in retrospect I should have taken on more hours, if for no other reason than to help me settle in a bit quicker. But hey, that leaves me the luxury of being able to pick up extra shifts when I want to, for a higher hourly rate, and also gives me the flexibility to get some new experience doing other things. I’m enrolling to do an extra qualification while I’m here which will hopefully not only be useful and interesting, but make me more employable next time I apply for a job, as well as giving me something concrete I can say I’ve achieved whilst here.
  6. Make the most of it– we have made a big list of places we want to see and visit while we’re here, and we’ve been making an effort to go to as much as possible around Auckland too- from Christmas carols on the local village green to visiting waterfalls, volcanoes and bike tracks further afield. Not to mention the zoo and the various museums. We don’t want to turn around at the end of our time here and say “Well we always meant to see more of NZ but somehow never got around to it”. As a 12 year-old who’d migrated permanently without any say in the matter, it was harder to see our move from England as something finite to be “made the most of”, but when I look back at my high school days, what I really regret was finishing school and feeling like I’d missed out. On friendships, experiences, hobbies, all sorts, essentially due to the giant chip on my shoulder, which constantly whispered in my ear “It’s not fair, I hate it here, these people aren’t my friends, I wish I was at home”. With an attitude like that, it’s clear to me now that it’s no wonder I didn’t feel like I fitted in. Maybe if I’d been less concerned with fitting in for the sake of fitting in and more concerned with taking an interest in other people, places and activities because they might actually be fun and new, I’d have found my company was much more appealing to other people. No one (really) seeks out unhappy, bitter, grudge-bearers to spend time with. Someone who’s enthusiastic and willing to give things a try, whether it’s sport, music, language or anything, really, is always going to get more out of life.
  7. It’s not just you having to adjust– something I never really thought too hard about after we emigrated to Australia was that maybe my parents found it hard as well. My mother, being the way she is (and possibly because she was the one who drove the move to Australia) was very vocal and somewhat patronising about how wonderful Australia was and how fabulously we were all doing, while I personally thought nothing could be further from the truth. Whether that was cover-up or what she truly believed, I’m not sure. Rather than this false bravado, I don’t think it would have hurt for my parents to have asked how we were doing, or at least acknowledge that things might have been hard for us, and for us to do the same. I remember my sister telling me years later how she’d been picked on and at times pushed around in the playground because she had different shoes to the other kids and because of her accent. I was really ashamed to hear that, because I’d never for a moment considered she might have had trouble settling in too- she was only 8 and I so I thought she was too young to feel any kind of adjustment shock. She seemed to have a close group of friends so what was the problem? Teenage self-centeredness to some extent, but sometimes, even now, I find myself assuming it’s all so hard for ME changing jobs and leaving my friends, when in fact I also need to think about the kids (ok they are really tiny, so probably not analysing the differences too much!) but also Mr L, who has taken on a whole load of new challenges himself, not to mention gaining a (at times) homesick and complaining wife!

Of course, some of these things are lessons learned not through my specific experiences but just as part of the general process of growing up. At 12, belonging to a “group” at school is the most important thing in the world- having people to eat lunch with or walk from the train station with are make-or-break issues in the daily happiness of a teenager. I remember asking my Mum when I started at my second new school in 6 months and she started her second new job “Is starting a new job as bad as starting a new school?” I just couldn’t bear the thought that for the rest of my life I was going to have to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and fear that starting a new school brought, every time I started a new job (which both my parents did frequently so I assumed this was the norm). Fortunately, her answer was “no” and, even more happily, she was right. Partly I suppose, because adults are generally better adjusted and more considerate of social niceties than kids, and of course, a professional setting is very different to the largely social setting that is school.

But what I really like about being a grown-up trying to make new friends is that if I don’t like someone very much, or don’t have much in common with them, I don’t have to spend time with them. It’s ok to have friends who belong to more than one “group”. It’s ok to have friends who are different to all your other friends.

The other thing I know is that if we decide we were happier back in Sydney and that’s where we want to be, then that’s where we’ll go. But I need to be mindful of the last lesson in the list:

      8. Everything changes– Just as you are changing and moving on, so are the people “back home”. When I was 16 , we went back to the UK for a visit and the hardest thing was realising there wasn’t a space reserved with my name on it, people had moved on, they weren’t sitting around waiting for me to reappear (I had flattered myself!) I need to remember that if and when we go back, my job will have changed, my friends will have changed, mothers group may no longer meet, Master L’s preschool may have closed down, neighbours will have moved out, our nanny may not be available any more. But that’s just part of life really, all the more reason to make the most of now.

Choose your own adventure

When I was about 10, I went through a phase of reading “Choose your own adventure” books. It’s probably around that age that many kids fancy themselves as Nancy Drew, or the Secret Seven, or whatever the current trend is (I must be dating myself terribly, now I’m sure it’s all Harry Potter and Wimpy Kid books). Regardless, when I was in primary school (before all this “tween” nonsense and at 10 you were still a kid) all I really wanted to be was a character out of Swallows and Amazons.

I liked the idea of choosing my own adventure and having some part in deciding how the story ended, even if most of the books seemed to be based in haunted houses fighting various ghouls rather than doing anything I really fancied, but they frustrated me no end as I always seemed to end up in a loop. Instead of getting to the end of the story and out of the house, I’d keep being directed back to the same page, having to make the same decision over and over again. Trying to choose a different door to leave the room by somehow never seemed to work: no matter what different options I tried to take, I’d keep coming back to the same page until I eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Of late, on our own big adult adventure, I’ve had a couple of moments (ok days) where I’ve really struggled. I like to think I’ve maintained perspective, that I’m acknowledging that changing countries is going to be challenging and going to take time to adjust to but even so things have, at times, felt a bit miserable.

During my latest bout of negativity, exacerbated by work, child and stress-related sleep deprivation, I got a bit sick of myself and my own attitude towards things and decided I was tired of feeling rotten and looking on the negative side and that it was time to pull myself together. I embarked on this adventure upon without coercion, with my eyes wide open. I agreed to leave my job, my friends, my home, and come here for a change of scene and to experience new things. To be sitting around feeling homesick because I liked Master L’s old swimming school better or I was missing my weekly catch-ups at the local park with 4 women known only to me through the random birth-dates of our eldest children, seemed pathetic, but much to my dismay, it was how I felt.

So I decided I needed to focus again on choosing my own adventure, embracing the positives and trying to see through or around the negatives.

Friends & Family

When we left I boldly declared “I only see each of my friends once every 3-6 months each anyway, I don’t think I’ll miss them.” Besides which, now that no one has phone conversations any more, I wouldn’t even miss talking to them, as the main acceptable mode of communication these days seems to be via text message, email or Facebook.

As you are pottering around the house one morning you decide to:

a) Facetime a friend

b) Skype your Applephobic parents

c) Both of the above

 You choose c. Fuelled by the success of a (long-planned) Skype chat with your parents once morning, you suggest a Skype chat later in the day with a friend. Her kids are at daycare, Miss L is asleep and Master L occupied, and you have a lovely long chat with fewer child-related interruptions than if you’d been face to face on a “playdate” (as catchups with kids now seem to be known).

Kids

Not a patient person at the best of times, I sometimes (ok frequently) wonder how I will keep from going insane and how my kids will ever turn into functional humans who don’t hate me, if I keep yelling and screaming at them. I hate myself for getting frustrated and angry at them but it’s hard when I’m tired, bored and not really sure what I’m doing.

One evening after a particularly angry day, you decide to

a)    Take a vow of silence. Maybe if you don’t speak and just ignore them they will feed, dress, toilet and basically raise themselves

b)    Ask the dog to look after them some afternoons to give you a break

c)     Seek out a simple, more socially acceptable (and legal) strategy to help you change your approach

You choose c. Surfing the good old net (again!) you stumble across the Abundant Mama website and in particular this post strikes a chord. You adopt “Just be kind” as your new mantra and it probably helps reduce your yelling by about 30% on the first day. Plus it has lots of other useful-looking bits and pieces on it to check out.

Things to do

I must admit, at times I’ve been a bit bored. I scratch my head to think what it is I would have been doing at home that would have prevented such boredom, I can’t think of too many worthwhile things there were to do at home that I don’t have here. Perhaps playdates and coffees and catch-ups did happen more frequently than I thought. Or maybe I just spent more time than I like to admit surfing the net and watching TV. Loneliness is probably boredom’s best friend, so not having much to do has certainly not helped me feel any less homesick, either.

Given you have a surplus of free time you decide to:

 a) Bake lots of cakes and eat them

b) Take up stand-up-paddleboarding

c) Plan lots of fun and exciting things to do with the other Ls, in and out of town

You start off with a but then realise your pants are too tight and you have gained 3kg. So you try b and have an awesome SUP lesson with Mission Bay Watersports and learn to stand up and paddle the SUP Master L bought on the weekend. You are also going to do c, but one thing at a time, right?

Work

Possibly the biggest challenge. I’ve taken a slightly less senior job than I had in Sydney, as there wasn’t anything directly equivalent available. While being very positive about this on a good day (I’m getting out of the house, maintaining my skills, not getting caught up in bureaucracy and, if nothing else, earning money), on a not-so-good day it can be a little frustrating being condescended to (on occasion) and constantly explaining myself to people and trying to tell them I’m better than they might think.

After a particularly demoralising day at work you decide to:

a)    Skulk around complaining about how bored and under-challenged you are

b)    Roll your eyes and mutter how no-one realizes you’re more senior than this

c)     Prove yourself by performing and acting appropriately for your level of experience and ability and in time maybe there’ll be an opening for you at a more senior level (unlikely if you choose a or b)

You choose c.  As soon as a vacancy comes up, you are put into the position and everyone expresses their admiration that you were humble enough to get a foot in the door this way, as well as the more junior people confessing they felt secretly threatened by the fact that you are more senior to them.

So there you have it: my very own choose your own adventure. And hopefully, unlike the books, with this one I won’t end up in a loop coming back to the same page over and over again.

Going Solo

“I hope the kids are good for you” said Mr L. 

“I’m more worried about whether I’m going to be good for them” I replied.

Today he left for Germany for a week. As in, a full proper week: 7 nights (actually 7 days, 7 nights and about 8 hours, but who’s counting?) This is the longest he’s been away since Miss L was born. He did a 12 day stint when Master L was about 6 months old and I thought that was hard (now I think- pfft! What could ever be hard about only ONE baby?!?!)

I need to remind myself from time to time that I am the adult. Master L is 2 years old (nearly two and a half). He is impulsive, impatient and self-centred. This is normal for a child his age. It’s developmentally how he should be. He is psychologically & physiologically unable to be anything else until his frontal lobe is sufficiently mature. When I am impulsive, impatient and self-centred, I’m choosing to be. I’m choosing not to be a responsible mother and a good role-model. I’m choosing to shout and scream because I think it’ll make me feel better. And it never does. It makes me feel like a failure. “Childish” is an imprecise term, we use it to describe an adult who is acting like a child but a child is actually doing just what he’s meant to do, the adult’s meant to be…. well, adult-ish.

And so (partly because Mr L is off again for another 6 nights a week after he returns and I think I need to remind myself how to do it) here is my “Solo survival guide”.

Day 1

Do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do– Ok, so for today it was a trip to Bunnings before dinner. Hardly up there in the excitement ratings, but Master L loves the place (and we did actually need an obscure replacement lightbulb for Miss L’s room). It filled an hour between Mr L leaving for the airport and bedtime, as well as conveniently pushing dinner back a bit so the dinner-bedtime gap was shorter. And Bunnings is big! Little legs running up and down a big warehouse = tired little boy at bedtime.

Day 2

Divide the day into chunks- Going to the extremes of 15-minute blocks (a la Will Freeman in About a Boy) is hopefully not necessary but I find 3 sections usually works ok (sometimes these get sub-divided depending how things are going and how much clock-watching is going on). Today divided nicely into “Early” (up until about 10am when my parents arrived to watch Miss L while I took Master L swimming) “Middle” (up until afternoon nap time) and “End” from end of nap until bedtime. I think it helps to schedule some kind of activity for each section- you don’t have to go out, but make some kind of loose plan. For example, our morning “activity” is often staying at home tidying up, feeding the chickens, doing the washing etc but at least something you can tell your toddler (and yourself) you are doing so that you don’t feel like you’re sitting around just waiting for the day to pass.

Day 3

Catch up on “me” things- So far this week, I’ve caught up on TV shows I don’t usually get to watch (thank you internet, watch out download-limit) and last night I managed to go to bed early enough that I was asleep by 10 (and unfortunately therefore oblivious to Mr L calling from Germany). I also plan to make a serious dent in the reading material I downloaded to take on holiday with us (although to be fair catching up on reading requires me to shut my computer rather than have L absent) and also de-forest my legs (using my time-consuming, uncomfortable and not particularly effective home depilating machine which is, at least, cheaper than having them waxed and can be done on the noisy discomfort of my lounge room floor). This again, is not something that Mr L’s presence precludes me from doing but I need to do something in order to prevent him from returning to a crurally hirsute wife and I can’t exactly leave the kids here while I go and get them waxed, can I?

Day 4

Make some extra coffee/play dates- Sharing the kids (usually) shares the pain. Plus I always find it’s nice to gain a bit of perspective by seeing what’s going on in the rest of the world, as managing at home alone seems to somehow magnify your own little microcosm. Also, you generally earn  lots of sympathy/admiration points which you often miss out on with non-mummy friends.

Day 5

Lower your expectations- I always blame every little glitch on a change in routine. I never expect the kids to sleep as well or things to go as smoothly. I was proven correct last night with Master L awake at 9, 1.30 and then 5.15, and Miss L (who never wakes up!) awake at 2.30. Of course their worst night of sleep is always the night before I have to go to work. I used to get really worked up about this and be fretting “they HAVE to sleep! I have to work!” Now I just take them sleeping through as a bonus when Mr L is away, I assume they know things are a bit different and are unsettled too, just as I am. I don’t exactly expect the worst, but I certainly don’t expect the best. So I just go with it now. If I’m tired at work, I’m tired. If disaster strikes, I’ll call in sick. The place won’t fall apart without me and besides, there’s not much else I can do.

Day 6

Think happy thoughts- It’s taken me over two years to really learn to deal with Mr L going away. A  part of that has been learning to shift my mindset and attitude towards him being absent. Although his trips away are always business trips, it took me a long time to get over the feeling of missing out. I mean, I know it’s not as if he’s out partying every night when he’s away, but for a loooong time I felt envious and a little resentful of the fact that he got to go away, sleep, eat and shower uninterrupted and, when he wasn’t working, essentially do what he wanted. I even envied the fact that he got to sit on a plane to Melbourne and watch the Channel 9 special edition Qantas news  if he wanted to (the fact that he actually works on his laptop on the computer was little consolation). Because this current trip is to Europe, he got to fly business class! Particularly so soon after our trip to Canada, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt the teeniest bit wistful about the thought of 24 hours in business class watching whatever I wanted on the TV, uninterrupted save for the meals and drinks. But really, I wasn’t that bothered. And when I heard he was upgraded to First for one of the legs, I was actually really excited for him. To be honest, I doubt I will ever fly First Class but I couldn’t care less. What I’m getting at, is that instead of thinking “Lucky him he gets to go away and have a week without the kids” I’m much more conscious of the fact that he’s not sleeping in his own bed, he’s missing us, he’s having a pretty full-on work week, he can’t get a decent cup of tea, and I’m fairly confident he’d rather having Pizza and Pinot on the couch for dinner tonight that oysters and Dom Perignon in First Class. It’s made it much easier to deal with him being away, knowing that this is a week that’s hard for both of us, not just me.

Day 7

And always, not just on Day 7, but every day, I spare a thought (many thoughts, in fact) for mums and dads who don’t just do this by themselves for 7 days, 7 nights and 8 hours, they do it indefinitely. Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a Mr L who makes it home 9 times out of 10 for bath & bedtime. I know people who have lost a spouse, or whose husbands are in the army, or even just people whose other halves have jobs where they don’t ever make it home for the kids’ bedtimes during the week. How they do it, I don’t know, but they do amaze me and make me feel slightly pathetic for complaining at all.