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Archive for the ‘meltdown (theirs and yours)’ Category

Thanks to a comment from Nikola Ellis I was reminded of Jane Lazarre (author of well-known feminist motherhood memoirs Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons [1999] and The Mother Knot [1976]), and I found this interview with Lazarre over at The Mothers Movement Online.

The entire interview is just wonderful but this bit particularly stood out for me, particularly after this episode here concerning whether mothers complain too much and that episode over there concerning whether ‘mummy blogging’ is mindless.

We seem as determined as ever to live up to the impossible and tyrannical idea of the perfectly “good mother,” an idea that has proven itself to be literally maddening. In the 19th century, many women who were new mothers suffered breakdowns, were hospitalized for many years and in large numbers, because of the inability to live up to this false and destructive ideal in actual, ordinary life….

.. We can begin, as we always did, with our own stories, but if the stories and narratives that have gone before are not used, then we are truly sabotaging our own possibilities.This is not to say the effort is any easier now than it was a generation ago. There is nothing more threatening, for me at least, than telling the truth when it might hurt or anger someone I love, and there is no one I love more than my sons, or when it might provoke public criticism and contempt, as honest writing can often do. And we live now in a time of regression and reaction, so I do not mean to suggest any of this is, or ever was, easy. I do have faith, though, in the importance and potential transcendence of personal story telling — in private groups of like minded people, in intimate confessions, as an aspect of political organizing, and in works of art.

You see? Lazarre says fuck ’em.

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One of the best things about Mummy Blogs or mothers blogging or whatever you want to call it is the way in which women (and men) have started sharing their darkest moments of parenting online with each other. This article by the very wonderful Anne Lamott, calling for mothers to start talking about their moments of rage was written back in 1998 and I would hazard a guess that that silence has well and truly been broken now.

I once wrote about my own parenting meltdown but eventually changed it to a ‘private post’, mostly because it was written in the heat of a lot of emotion and was badly written. I am comfortable enough to admit to the facts of the meltdown here, which are that it was a very bad time for me, and that one morning I found I just couldn’t cope any longer, I couldn’t bear one more second of sadness and anxiety and responsibility and keeping-it-together so I shouted at my child terribly and then I locked myself in the bathroom. Lauca was two years old. She was distraught. The facts sound simple enough but it was ugly. To this day there is nothing Lauca hates more than to be forced apart from you, it sends her into a complete panic, and knowing this about her made my meltdown all the more awful. I knew how terrified she would be, and was.

I don’t punish myself over that meltdown, too much. I did something very smart after I unlocked the bathroom door. I picked Lauca up into my arms and I drove us both to a mother friend who was going through even worse than I was that year. She had told me about a meltdown or two of her own before, and she was the right person for me to tell. I told her everything. And she gave me real wisdom. She said every mother loses it and locks herself in the bathroom from time to time. That it happens. That children recover. That mothers are human beings with anger and sadness and everything else. That children can’t be protected from the human-ness of their mothers even it if was the right thing to do. That I wasn’t screwing my child up.

Some of my favourite posts ever on parenting blogs have been confessions of meltdowns. (Like this and this and this and this and this). Honesty between women, about our lives, especially when our lives are at their most difficult, is a profoundly feminist act.

Anne Lamott’s Mother rage:

A few mothers seem happy with their children all the time, as if they’re sailing through motherhood, entranced. However, up close and personal, you find that these moms tend to have tiny little unresolved issues: They exercise three hours a day or check their husband’s pockets every night looking for motel receipts. Because moms get very mad; and they also get bored. This is a closely guarded secret, as if the myth of maternal bliss is so sacrosanct that we can’t even admit these feelings to ourselves. But when you mention these feelings to other mothers, they all say, “Yes, yes!” You ask, “Are you ever mean to your children?” “Yes!” “Do you ever yell so that it scares you?” “Yes, yes!” “Do you ever want to throw yourself down the back stairs because you’re so bored with your child that you can hardly see straight?” “Yes, Lord, yes, thank you, thank you …”

So, let’s talk about this.

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This is Cormac when he saw snow for the first time. Just adorable.

How I love snow.

Oh it all looks so jingle bells, though in all honesty we had a lot more of these moments (see below) than those above.

Lauca and Cormac had the most dreadful simultaneous melt downs in the snow. Bill and I had a child each and we really struggled to keep up. God it was ugly. And lasted quite some time too. After a while we took them inside and dumped them on their aunts and uncles while we took a quiet ten minute walk together to decide if we wanted to be parents after all. We spent the first part of the walk slagging off our children and once we had that out of our systems we could hold hands and admire the view. Then we went back to collect our children because we loved them again.

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We’re racing. Are we ever not these days, I wonder. The toddler is strapped into the stroller, he won’t wait any longer. I have carried the five-year old’s bicycle down the steps. The picnic is packed. I remembered everyone’s water bottles. We’re due to meet the other mothers and babies in fifteen minutes. If we walk fast to the park we will be fine.

Put your shoes on, where is your bicycle helmet, I ask. The five-year old protests. Close to an emotional meltdown. Keep it together. Not just her, but me too. If I lose my patience now we’re sunk. Emotional meltdowns in highly strung five-year olds take too much time. I remember now, the helmet is on her father’s desk. I run inside to retrieve it and as I do I remember why it was there. The helmet has peeled apart and while it has lost none of its safety features it has lost all of its aesthetic ones. I dread showing it to her. She is at an age now where she can describe something as “too embarrassing”. She will dissolve into floods of tears and disappointment when she sees the helmet. But she will be just as disappointed to be told to walk instead.

Poker face on and I hand her the helmet. Daddy hasn’t had time to fix it yet, I say. And how old are you exactly, I wonder, too old to wear this monstrosity on your head? A moment passes. The toddler bucks against the restraints of his stroller reminding us that he is there. The five-year old shrugs and puts the helmet on. Ah, so you are still that young my sweet.

We’re on our way.

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On work days there is not a minute to spare in the morning for me. A million tasks need to be performed in the space of three hours.

My partner needs to work a lot of extra hours at the moment. He leaves the house not long after the kids have woken (and sometimes goes back into the office on weekends). The morning chaos that ensues is largely theoretical for him, for everyone really, but the children and I, who are this strange little home team battling away together. He offers sympathy but it doesn’t even touch the sides for me; my pity party is deep and wide, and besides he isn’t entirely to blame for the state of the world. And fortunately, this isn’t supposed to be permanent.

He has also had to temporarily drop his day working from home, so for the time being I am doing all the drop-offs in the mornings – there are at least three of them – and they’re in opposite directions.  All of this before I even get to work. If so much as one thing goes wrong in the mornings, one five-minute glitch in the schedule – an unexpected pooey nappy; a forgotten school book; a car with an empty petrol tank; a cold-ridden kid, clingier than usual – I risk an entire day of unravelling.  I don’t have time for negotiation. I arrive at work exhausted and thirsty (ie. it’s what happens when you don’t get around to having a drink all morning after a night of breastfeeding).

So this morning when Cormac had this melt down about wanting to take the iron with him – the iron?? – I was like, FUCK IT we’re taking the iron with us!

Image taken with my mobile phone.

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Well, that got ugly didn’t it?! (If you can’t really bring yourself to face the shit that is going down in the comments thread over at Feministe on hating children in public space then you can get a little whiff of some of the stupidest comments profiled at the perfectly safe and lovely in a garden.. somewhere instead). I have read most of the comments on that Feministe piece and it has all become so torturous that I confess to having lost most of my energy for discussing it here.

Got a couple of thoughts though: Jill’s views in her Feministe piece sound quite reasonable but see how highlighting your ‘tolerance’ for certain people (in this case children) always seems to send the exact opposite message to the world. The nastiness that has come out in the comments could be seen as a message to the authors of such opinion pieces – your views sit uncomfortably close to a very conservative agenda; one that includes a complete loathing for social services, advocates family violence, is deeply insensitive to its ableism, and refers to women by animal names.

Also, whenever these kinds of discussions about the behaviour of children in restaurants happen I wonder where the hell these people are eating? I am not denying some incidents happen, but are they really the biggest problem in fine dining today? All the tales from commenters of kids throwing food at our boyfriends, running around screaming, and jumping on tables during our romantic dinners – where are these incidents happening in such numbers? What restaurants or cafes are they frequenting? Because I don’t see much of these behaviours. And seeing as how I hang out quite a lot in places with children around, being a stupid parent and all, you’d think if there was some kind of epidemic in table-jumping in this youngest generation that I might have come across it by now. All of this leads me to suspect that we are dealing with one hell of a straw-mother (and don’t lets kid ourselves that this venom is being applied equally to both parents).

Is this to say that I have never been disturbed by a child in a public place? No. But I will honestly say that I have not been more disturbed by children than other groups of the community in public places. You have good days and bad days, you have accommodating people and a small number of obnoxiously rude people. You also have people doing the best they can and inadvertently offending you.

And this child-hating crap gets to me. A while ago I cancelled dinner reservations when the restaurant manager sounded too put out about us bringing my daughter with us. Why pay for an expensive meal when you’re going to be worrying about whether the manager is giving you the side-eye all night? I was polite but I also let them know why I was cancelling our reservations and choosing another restaurant. They sounded disappointed. Hard financial times are hard times for high-end restaurants.

One final thought. Sometimes being kind makes a world of difference. One of the comments on that Feministe thread complains bitterly about a baby crying during a visit to Target. I had a similar experience recently. During a shopping expedition in our local Target store I heard a child having a melt-down from one end of the shop to the other. My partner and I chuckled at first – been there, done that – but after a while it wasn’t funny anymore, it just went on for too long. When we were going through the check-out I heard the siren wail approaching us. It had been a good ten minutes of melt-down; I knew the state the child would be in and I could guess the state of the parent. So I was pleased when I saw this mother come to the same check-out we were lined up in. I waited and waited to catch the mother’s eye, she kept her eyes down, she had beads of sweat on her forehead, she was panicking. Finally I caught her eye, I gave her a smile. And fer face lit up in relief.

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See previous lists here.

  1. You still wake sometimes and scream for a while before you will calm down enough to go back to sleep. Now you might only scream for 15 minutes whereas there was a time you could scream for up to an hour so that is an improvement.
  2. I  don’t get to spend enough time with you alone. When I am with you I almost always have your baby brother with us too and he claims most of my attention.
  3. You are quite introverted and while we are very close you keep many things to yourself. There are some things I am missing out on with you and it worries me.
  4. I yell at you too much and as if that is not bad enough you now copy me and yell at other people too much too.
  5. You chose to stop going to horse riding lessons. I told you that I would love you just as much even if you didn’t want to learn horse riding.. and I might have been lying.
  6. Your loyalty to people; I think it might make you susceptible to getting hurt in the future.
  7. All the many, many times that you come and jump on the bed while I am trying to get Cormac to sleep.
  8. Brushing your hair and fighting with you about brushing your hair.
  9. Things you used to eat which you no longer will and which have severely limited our lunchbox options for you include: avocado, fish and cheese (unless melted on a pizza or feta, why?).
  10. Now that Cormac can walk some of his gloss has worn off and you spend a lot of time getting cross with him and pushing him over.

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Two aspects of this post over at Bitch PhD (see below) really appeal to me. First, I like to know that other parents can also feel that deep, pit of the stomach dread at the thought of uninterrupted days alone with their children. And I mean alone, not those days when you have kindergarten or mother dates, because even with exhaustion, parenting in parallel with another mother and her good company is easy peasy. Relatively speaking.

Really, it cannot be articulated in enough ways, motherhood is hard. I’m not even talking about those melt down moments, I’m just talking about the grinding day-to-day tedium, the monotony, the isolation.

And also, I like the description in that post of those unexpected moments when you find the zen of parenting. Suddenly it is all coming together, suddenly you’re just enjoying the hell out of your kid; you’ve found the rhythm, the speed of it all, you’ve let go of the world for a time and mothering is fun. Of course, the minute you get all smug about having found the zen of parenthood, it is lost, which is why I will only allude to having found a bit of zen this morning on my deck with Cormac.

From here.

I dreaded the summer for all the aforementioned transition aspects, but also because I would be doing it mostly without childcare. Just me and the little girl, packing up the house, moving to a new one (Mr V has precious few vacation days), transitioning to a new town, on our own, for 6 weeks before school started.

I have never been very good at spending long periods of time without parenting help. Not having Mr V here every night to help with dinner, with bedtime is its own challenge, but the long days in a new place without playdate partners, without babysitters, without family and with two sets of anxieties – one 4 yrs old, one 31 yrs old – daunted me to the point of nausea. Partly, I do not enjoy playing with my kid for long stretches. She is interesting as a human, she says funny interesting things, she is smart, but she plays boring games. And I can only fake it for so long. But the bigger part was knowing she would need a lot of comfort, a lot of stability from her caretaker, and being terrified that I didn’t have it in me to take care of both of us.

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I know I’ve only just talked about him (Looky Daddy!) and it is too soon to be plugging his blog again, but I have a total weakness for parents writing about their meltdowns and this post is beautiful, as all grimly honest and tender posts about one’s meltdowns are. If you’re a first time parent reading this and right now you’re in that rollercoaster first year, and barely hanging on, then.. my heart goes out to you, and I know this whole parenting thing is very tough, and I can honestly tell you that you will survive it. Really. Because we all did, kind of.

Those were the days in which I used to eat my breakfast cereal dry, because adding milk meant I had to finish it before it got soggy. Milk gave the cereal a deadline that simply was not realistic. And even dry, some days that cereal bowl would still be sitting there, full, when my wife came home from work that evening. Those were hard, hard days.

So it was one night that week, one of many, that I was up with the twins,  strapping them into their carseats so at least the rest of our shore rental house would be spared their 3 AM infernal wailing, that I passed the lime on the counter. It had three or four wedges missing, but it was still there, waiting for the next round of drinks. And I lost it. I drove around Ocean City that night, back and forth on the deserted roads, with the twins in the back of the minivan slowly trading in their cries for sighs and sleep, and I bawled.

Looky Daddy! is the stay-at-home father of twins and a third daughter, and I do like to go on about how hard I have it and I’m aware (occasionally) that some parents have got it so much harder. And speaking of having it harder, here is Domestic Blister talking about that first year, only with twins, and autism, to boot.

The other day, Mr. and I came across some video clips of Neener and Roo when they were seven months old. The same age as Squiggles now. Seeing those videos affected me very deeply, and in ways I had not anticipated. Of course there was the warm fuzzy nostalgia of seeing my firstborns back when they were relatively new, giggling and wiggling around. And naturally, it got me thinking about those early days.

The unexpected thing that dawned on me was that those videos were from the ‘Before Time.’ They were made about two months before we knew we were looking at a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy for Roo, and long before we knew anything about Autism.

But almost immediately, I felt a pang of envy watching that younger, more naive me playing and singing with my babies. I was gloriously unaware that raising those babies would be complicated by the many bumps and detours in Autism Land. Carefree compared to the me of today. Seeing the bliss in my own past ignorance made tears well up in my eyes.

I don’t write nearly enough here about the issues facing those parenting children with disabilities, mostly because I don’t have first-hand experience and so like any able-bodied ego-centric it doesn’t pop into my head often enough. I should make amends because the politics of this caring work has got to be one of the most neglected aspects of parenthood writing and it is a campaign that must be taken up by more than simply the exhausted carers themselves.

Finally, quite a fascinating post about fatherhood (and not at all about meltdowns) here at Daddy Dialectic, in The astonishing science of father involvement and it is relevant not only because I’m posting twice in a row around a fatherhood theme but also because it has something to say about another recent topic of mine, the importance of parental leave. See? Kinda relevant to this post.

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This month my feminist mothers’ group discussed the Slacker Mum Movement or Mothers Who Drink. You know, like this article from The New York Times about mothers’ cocktail hour, and these books currently making a big splash in the pond of parenting (normally so dominated by Alpha Mother reading material)? Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay, Naptime is the New Happy Hour, Daddy Needs a Drink, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids, The Three-Martini Playdate, and the most recent, Dirty Little Secrets From Otherwise Perfect Moms.

Our mothers’ group always meets of an evening, over a glass of wine and sans children, so we’re totally qualified to review this movement and the real question is why it has taken us so long to get to this particular topic. It is no surprise then that we found many aspects of the Slacker Mum Movement extremely freeing, after all, a number of us are pretty much card-carrying Slacker Mums (unfortunately I’m still a little nerdy but I’ve got some runs on the board). However, we noted two less favourable features of the movement during our discussion – its willingness to embrace liberation without even mentioning feminism, and its classism. Almost certainly, a mother from a low socio-economic group wouldn’t get away with a book of this kind of humour, she’d risk being seen as neglectful rather than endearingly chaotic – imagine if the mothers in that New York Times article were drinking bourbon and cokes instead of Cavit pinot grigio, would this be seen as the emergence of a trend in sophisticated motherhood?

Our group then moved along and talked about the gift of the Slacker Mum trend – the way it reduces our expectations of motherhood, and the breathing room it gives us all to be less than perfect. As we sipped our wine we wondered if mothers really were judging one another so much or if it just felt that way in our weakest moments. Well. I can say, following our own confessions of judgementalness that yes, we are judging one another, quite a bit. The snottiness of your children’s noses, the groceries in your shopping trolley, and the way you’ve taught your children sex education are all being noticed.

And then we moved on to our dirtiest little secrets of motherhood.

Our group’s confessions took a decidedly darker turn than those generally expressed in books like Dirty Little Secrets From Otherwise Perfect Moms – this again was another beef we had with the Slacker Mums Movement. The false slackness, the confession that actually makes you, the confessor look good, the confession that through its lightness makes everyone else feel bad. In our group we were having none of that. I’m not going to repeat the melt-down type confessions because they seem too personal to discuss outside the group but what follows are a couple of the more endearing moments of slackness. Among us was the mother who turns the music up in her car to uncomfortably high volumes when her children are fighting to drown them out, but mostly to antagonise them (the speakers are in the back seat of the car and they hate her music). The mother who felt so insecure about the wealth of the other mothers at a children’s birthday party that she got drunk on the expensive champagne in front of the other parents and had to take her child and herself home in a taxi.  And the mother who gave a rather furious time-out to her screaming toddler before realising that she’d completely forgotten to feed her all morning. When we say slack, we mean it.

Bask in your relative glory or lighten the load and ‘fess up here (don’t forget to make your comment anonymous). If you’re too shy here then you can try this one instead.

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