Creative Spaces

creativespaces

I’m not sure if it was the labour itself, or perhaps the new event of being forced to sit, with little to do for long periods of time, but when I became a mother, I had a new, insatiable creative itch. Stories, ideas, thoughts, concepts, images swam through my mind. I longed to take a net, and capture them.

But between wrapping a baby, carrying a baby, feeding a baby, walking a baby around the town, and rocking a baby to sleep, it seemed I had little to no opportunity to cast a creative net. It was frustrating, because the pool seemed so deep, yet so alive with life. All I needed was five minutes – an hour, to reach in, and catch what I needed.

Around that time, my great and amazing friend Fritha was starting her journey as a life coach, and was looking for someone to test her new skills with. My arm, tired from carrying child, shot into the air, as if coffee hung from a cloud above.

One hour chat with Fritha changed everything. The first thing was identifying what I really wanted. Was it to amble around the lake, admiring the fish? No. It was to lower the net, and start making something happen.

What was stopping me? So much, I asserted. A baby. And all her many needs. I have absolutely no time.

She encouraged me to look at my week, not as a whole, but in fractions.

‘So, when are you having these creative thoughts?’ she asked.

‘Walking the pram.’

‘How often is that, would you say?’

‘Most days. Twenty minutes to town and back.’

‘OK. So that’s seven days. Forty minutes. So at minimum, you are spending two-hundred and eighty minutes being creative a week?’

It sounded like a lot. But it was true. I started to get excited. Where else were these creative pockets?

Hanging clothes. Washing up. Rocking baby to sleep in the dark. The creative minutes piled up before me.

‘And what time does Baby go to sleep at night?’

‘Around seven.’

‘Then?’

Then… well, exactly. Then. Then my creative life really began. All those thoughts accumulated through the day, baskets of creative fish writhing and alive, were waiting. And all I had to do was open my computer, and let them free.

It was a wonderful feeling.

I discovered blogging around that time. I blogged most nights. Not because I felt I had to. Simply because I had to. The need was irrepressible. My husband kindly washed dishes while I wrote short stories and posts. The accumulative effect of being creative was like a snowball, ever growing the more I rolled.

In recent years, I haven’t had a structured nine-to-five job. My work day has been broken over many hours and days, a week fragmented into slices of parenting and shards of work. I worked when I could, and parented around work. But thanks to my early conversations with Fritha, creativity was never far from hand.

I’d sit down to work, and before launching into a project, would quickly tap out a blog post that had been burning within. Between dishes and folding the washing, I squeezed out a status update. Or maybe jotted down the outline of a picture book. Creative ideas were everywhere, as long as I was looking.

As busy as we were, technically, my week was bursting to the seams with creative space.

The richest space of all, ironically, came from what was otherwise the hardest hour of my day.

As a constant do-er, I found lying down with my kids to help them sleep initially lovely and wonderful, but later challenging, the longer it took. Some nights, lying beside my eldest, waiting an hour and a half for the wiggles to cease seemed like a small torture, as lovely as she is. I longed to get on with my night.

But then I let my mind sink into a creative space. The richest, deepest most wonderful creative lake there was in my week. Stories formed, almost in tact. Blog posts too. Entrepreneurial ideas I felt convinced would change the world. My subconscious was in overdrive and having the time of its life.

And as soon as the child’s arms finally became heavy, I lifted them off, and turned my thoughts into words on a page.

My life as a parent is never static. Nor is my husband and my work schedules. Things are forever changing, particularly this year, as we travel Europe with two small children, and no official address, taking life as it comes.

My creative spaces are sometimes elusive, and harder to find. Lately, they’ve appeared in the swimming pool, in the forest, running through the gardens and at seven in the morning, when I am the only one in the house awake.

The important thing about catching fish though is to do it. If I harness that creativity when its there, it grows.

Where are your creative spaces in the week? 

Bamboo Mother

bamboo mother

You know you are winning as a parent when your three-year-old cries for over an hour each night, and finally falls asleep at 9.30 – 10pm, a perfectly reasonable time for a small child.

After books are finished, and lights are out, I am calm. I lie peacefully beside her, remaining quiet in the face of escalating requests: milk, food, pyjamas, no pyjamas, blanket, song, no song etc… The later it gets, the stronger the emotion and the more ridiculous the requests, and while I take myself away to pretty places in my mind, or try and sing a soothing song, {which is probably more soothing for me than her} my emotions too are rising.

If the episode really does take an hour or more, I often snap. I stand, strut out of the room, frustrated. Or her little, strong legs start hurtling down on top of me, and it’s impossible for me to lie calmly.

‘That’s it!’ I cry, exasperated. ‘I’ve had enough! I have to get Dad.’

Of course, the emotions escalate further…and if I don’t return to a quiet, calm place beside her, there’s no end to it.

Most nights, once sleep is finally achieved, I leave the room feeling battered and weary. The wonderful day just gone is forgotten, as my adrenalin and cortisol levels have left me feeling rubbish, and in need of Netflix and chocolate. I abandon all my evening’s creative aspirations, vent to Husband, and collapse.

Mostly, I am mad at myself, for at some point cracking. For losing my calm, and my cool. For getting exasperated.

But, there was one night, recently, where an hour had passed, and I finally stood with her in my arms. My legs were strong {thanks to jump squats}, and my arms too {thanks to the twelve push ups I do once a week}. She leaned into me, all 24 kilos of her, crying heavily. And I breathed her in deeply. Exhaled.

‘It’s okay,’ I said into her sodden hair. ‘You can cry. Just cry. It’s okay.’

She cried with relief, then, for about a minute, and fell asleep.

I held her, calm and strong, and an image came to be then, which felt like an aspiration for motherhood.

Bamboo.

Strong, yet flexible. You can build houses with bamboo, yet it can bend in the wind. It’s persistent, consistent, and all consuming.

Standing with my jump squat strong legs, and push up strong arms, with an enormous child in my arms reminded me that calm, strong and flexible, like bamboo is what I need to be.

Shades of guilt

shades of guilt

It’s not new – this guilt thing. It’s as intrinsic to motherhood as loving a child. With loving a child comes a sense of falling short – for me, at least. There is just so much responsibility in raising a human. Not only do we have to provide shelter, food and the basics, but we ideally need to provide stability, peace and of course a constant stream of love.

And even when the basics, and the not-so-basics are met, there’s still a sense of falling short.

This week I have been feeling a little more sensitive than usual, so the weight of those times I lost my temper, or got agitated at my kids pressed heavily.

Don’t take their emotions so personally, I tell myself.

But as a mum, it’s hard not to. It’s easy to take the final meltdown and track back to that one time earlier this morning you forgot to give them morning tea. Or that one time when you lost it at your partner in front of them. Or that one time you rushed them out the door for no good reason at all.

And suddenly the meltdown feels completely personal.

Then something subtle and tiny changed for me in recent days.

My youngest and I are usually first awake, and have a ritual of playing Lego together in the living room while we wait for her sister to wake. I sip my tea. She chats and fiddles with blocks.

The last couple of days, I have got myself comfortable, half shut my eyes, and breathed in. Deeply. I lighten. I warm. I breathe. It’s kind of a meditation, but I am still present with my daughter, answering her questions, and acknowledging her.

It barely lasts a minute, but that brief meditation somehow sets the tone for the rest of the day. I am way less ruffled. Get out the door, no worries. Huge explosion in the play park. Centred. In control. Responsive. But not ruffled. Not blaming myself.

I feel stronger somehow.

I don’t know… I am not setting out to be a perfect mother, and feel redeemed of all guilt. I think guilt has a place in mothering. It keeps us in check. We lose our temper, guilt eats away at us, and then we try hard not to lose our temper.

But any little kindness towards myself seems to go a long way towards a peaceful, sunshine-y home, don’t you reckon?

Do you have any little rituals or secrets that help you find peace in your day? Have a lovely Mother’s Day tomorrow. Hope you are all treated spectacularly, and have no guilt whatsoever.

Things I wish they’d told me

parenting-truths

I was chatting to a friend over tea recently. Our first babies are now five, and six, respectively. As we talked, we realised there are some things about motherhood that no-one tells you when you are a glowing, watermelon-shaped goddess. But maybe they should. Maybe, if we knew some of the things we know now, things may have been easier, in many ways.

There are infinite truths about motherhood, and of course one person’s truth is not necessarily another’s. But these are things commonly talked about over cups of tea among parents I know.

Happiness is not always the first emotion that comes after having a baby.

I’ll never forget the realisation that dawned on me, Day 3 of being a new mother. I was staring at my crying baby the change table. Tears were running down my face. I missed me.

Although I had spent a lifetime wanting to be a mum, now I was here, I wondered if it actually was the place I wanted to be. From this moment on, I realised, I would have to worry about someone other than myself. I was suddenly so responsible. And I wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

In the first few months of having a baby, a lot of women I know experience what they describe as grief for the person they used to be.

They mourn going to cinemas alone, at any hour they please. They mourn their once taut bodies, and the most inane activities, like being able to go to the toilet when they like. They mourn the way their relationships used to be.

Post-natal depression is a common experience after having a baby. Many mothers don’t have a clinical diagnosis of depression, but they too experience deep sadness.

I wonder if by knowing that most mothers struggle as they come to terms with their new station, new mothers would feel less guilty about this experience.

Many children have trouble going to sleep.

I occasionally walk past a sleeping baby in a pram and think, Wow. That’s amazing. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent bopping around with a baby on my chest, trying to get her to fall asleep. I rocked, bobbed, swayed. I still spend at least an hour most nights with one child wriggling one side of me, fiddling my ear as she tries to go the sleep, while the other squiggles and squirms on my chest, legs, head – wherever’s least convenient and comfortable.

I dearly wish my kids were wired a bit more like me in the sleep department. I hit the pillow, and am asleep.

My kids aren’t malicious, or naughty – they just have trouble getting to sleep. And I know lots of kids do.

And while we are on the topic…

Every kid is different.

Comparison is the thief of joy, so they say. And comparing your kid to someone else’s kid who creates Da Vinci-esque masterpieces at the age of two is not happiness. It’s pointless.

I really didn’t think I would be a helicopter-type parent {and I am mostly not}, but I do find myself lying awake at night, worrying about one or both of my children because they aren’t doing as much as so and so, and they are thriving less than so and so, and they really should be doing this and that by now, shouldn’t they?

For years, people have been telling us to put our older daughter into the water, and get her swimming. She did not want to. Wouldn’t have a bar of it. But we knew her.

At five-and-a-bit, she’s suddenly diving and swimming under water. She needed that extra time. Every kid is different. And some take longer than others to reach certain milestones. So maybe…

If we can hang in there for an extra month or so, your child will get there in the end.

All these milestones. Steps. Points our children are expected to reach. Starting to crawl. Eating solids. Toilet training. Starting daycare. Starting preschool. Reading. Writing. Starting big school. Etc.

At 6 months, my baby was apparently ‘not normal’ because she was not sleeping every two hours for two hours. What? When I ran this by my mother’s group, it seemed that all our babies were ‘not normal’ according to this weird rule.

With these milestones hanging over us, it’s tempting to want to reach them at the ‘normal and desired’ time.

With my first child, we rushed head-on to meet the preschool goalpost. But at 3, it was too early. My child was labelled with ‘separation anxiety’, but my gut told me had we left it six months, or even maybe twelve, she might not have cried so much when we left her in care.

With my younger daughter, I am less focussed on milestones, and more focussed on her and our rhythm. She’ll go to preschool when she’s ready. When we are ready. Not when some book or other tells us she should.

Last week, my older daughter not only learnt to swim, she learnt to write. For the longest time, I have been wondering why she didn’t recognise letters. It was strange to me – her vocabulary is so rich. She can understand so many subtle, complex things. But letters were beyond her.

Then, for whatever reason, something clicked over, and she got letters. She suddenly wanted to practice and recite them over and over. She’ll spell out words, and try things out. It’s exciting. But I don’t think I could have pushed her into this.

Everything I have tried to force, like getting a child to sleep or hold a pen correctly, has back-fired. What I have got better at is patience. Patience and persistence.

Parenting changes you in ways you don’t expect.

It’s inevitable, really. You birth a watermelon. You lose the ability, and the opportunity, to sleep more than three-hour stretches at a time. You no longer know what it’s like to shut the door when you pee.

But it’s the character changes that have floored me.

Yes, I can be slightly more grumpy, and highly strung thanks to whiny kids, and a heightened sense of responsibility and potential failure. But on a regular old day, I am just hanging with my kids, talking in a gentle, kind voice, which feels good.

I am more creative than ever before; inspired by my kids, mainly, and by the flexible hours I now work.

I am more patient, and more persistent {generally}.

I am less selfish. For me, that’s changed the way I feel too. Being less self-focussed has meant I am happier. I focus on daily activity, and the needs of others, rather than my own. For me, at least, it works.

So these are some of my truths. What are yours? Do any of these ring true for you?

Come find me over at Facebook for news about my children’s book and lovely discussions.

Linking with Essentially Jess

The gentle lull of motherhood

lull of motherhood

Wake at 6:30am to the sweet face and voice of Baby Rosie. “Blah,” she says. Get her up so she won’t wake the others.

Potter around for an hour and a half. Drink tea. Check my emails. Give Rosie some food.

There is an hour injected with energy, making breakfast for all and lunch for preschool once Big Sister and Husband are up. The coffee machine whirrs and grumbles with promise. My husband and I celebrate life and the day over coffee (with leaf patterns) and we all eat smoked chorizo and brie on bread.

The door closes. The rush ends. Husband takes Sunshine Girl to preschool, then heads on to work.

Rosie needs sleep, so I rock her and as her eye-lids close, I put her in her cot.

For an hour or so, I am at a loose end. No work. No Sunshine Girl. I temporarily weigh up different house chores, and then decide to write a blog post. Rosie wakes as I press publish.

We potter again. I follow her. She follows me. I go out to the line, hang out the washing in the heat of the morning. Pull out some weeds. Rosie sits on an upturned terracotta pot, wearing only her rainbow hat.

She follows me inside and I feed her. The morning is dripping away, slowly. Drip. Drip. Drip.

“Doh-doh,” she says, pushing the front door. Mindlessly, I push her on her little bike up and down the front verandah.

I realise our matching Saltwater sandals have arrived from overseas. Rosie is as ecstatic as her mother. “Shoes!” We try them on, and point our toes towards each other.

I give her more food. Water. She follows me into the bathroom, while I polish the mirror with vinegar.

She motions towards a book, and sits, bare-bottomed on my lap as I read. “Boop,” she calls it. She looks out the window when she hear a bird. “Burb,” she says.

I check my phone again. Linger on an email – a blog post. Flick over to Facebook. Instagram. Rosie calls for me – “Mama,” and I follow her out to the verandah again, where we do more doh-doh. She tries to put on her sister’s helmet, but it falls over her eyes.

Suddenly, she’s too tired for do-do. Nappy on, feed, sleeping bag. I put on her music, and the fan, and again rock her. She cries into my shoulder, fighting the pain of sleep. At last her sweaty head is heavy against me, and I lay her down on her sheepskin.

It’s only 1pm. Half the day has gone. Half to go.

I work on my blogging course, and am surprised I have time to finish the slide presentation. Baby stirs, and calls out for me. I pick her up.

The others are due back soon.

It’s cool enough, at last, to take her next door to the little play park. She pulls on her rainbow hat and excitedly puts her foot forward to be donned in shoe. Hand up, she pulls me along, knowing the agenda exactly.

The see-saw is still hot. She sticks to the slide. We see a “burb” in a tree. Move closer to have a look. I am conscious of an older man sitting in his backyard, looking over the fence at us. I feel like we are too close to his territory.

I encourage Rosie home with promises of her sister’s return. She eagerly heads towards the house.

It’s nearly 5pm when they pull up – Big Sister. Husband. The lull is interrupted with chatty, giggly storytelling (Big Sister) and commentary of the day (Husband).

~

I value slowness. Being in the moment. But truth is, I find it hard. I am comfortable doing, making, moving, completing, achieving. I will happily sit in front of a computer and tap out 6,000 words plus in a day. My mind is comfortable when occupied.

Moving slowly after a toddler, fighting lethargy, laziness and addiction to tea is less natural for me. But today, I needed this lull. This baby-led space of simple, unhindered exploration. The greatest achievement I made today was putting away all the washing before Husband and Big Sister returned – and it was enough.

Are you are be-er or a do-er? Do you enjoy pottering around the house, or are you more comfortable being busy?

Would love to see you over at my Facebook community sometime…

css.php