Sunday, April 26, 2009

Go straight ahead

Friday evening, twilight. The end of a long day at the end of a tiring week. I'm so exhausted I'm on the brink of tears. My temper tugs at the leash like a powerful dog, and I yank it back time and again. No creative energetic chirpy supermum, I'm just a wrecked woman trying not to shout or weep at her grumpy kids.

I suggest a video while I cook dinner. We walk into the lounge, and there are toys all over the floor. I say that I'll help pick up the toys, then we'll turn on the video. "I'm not helping!" huffs my five year old. She's been spoiling for a fight all afternoon. My temper rears again.

I yank it back, and manage not to yell. I'm about to reason with her - it's her mess, her toys; it's her responsibility to tidy these things; if she's old enough to play with it, she's old enough to put it away*; I'd be helping her, not the other way round...

But, a moment of grace. Unplanned words come out of my mouth: "I'm going to read a book." Surprising even myself, I stalk out of the loungeroom and into my bedroom. I shut the door, flop on the bed and watch the evening shadows dance on the ceiling. Then I grab a book and start to read. All is quiet. A page in, and I hear the sounds of duplo being tossed into the tub; train tracks are being stacked in their box. I hear a five year old showing a three year old where things go, and it sounds like they're working together without squabbling.

A few minutes later, a soft knock on the door. A small voice tells me they've tidied the lounge, and asks if I'll put on the video. Of course I will, and I do. With gratitude.

Sister Ruth says, When you come to a place where you have to go left or right, go straight ahead.** I so rarely find that path. But on Friday evening, at that moment, perhaps I managed it. Neither enforcing nor arguing, I just stepped out and left my kids to it. They could have trashed the loungeroom; they could have turned on the telly themselves; but instead they chose to tidy up, to participate in the running of the house.

Why is this stepping away so difficult? Why do I so quickly yell, argue, try and convince? After all, my children knew what to do. They didn't need me standing over them, bossing them around or trying to persuade them to tidy up; in fact, not only did they not need me, but my presence just aggravated them. Walking away from them, on that day, at that time, was the best thing I could have done. It gave them the space to choose to do a task, and to do it well without castigation or comment. And they excelled themselves.

The gentle road is the hardest to find. O, why is it so difficult to let go, to allow myself to be unnecessary? to step out and find the road ahead?

* Thanks to Bec and Gord for this maxim.
** In Kathleen Norris Dakota (New York: Mariner, 2001 (1993)).

Monday, April 20, 2009

A seal's bark

We've had vomit, lice, pus and snot - and now croup. Our five year old was making strange sounds in the middle of the night. Her breath was coming in sharp yanking gasps, and she woke to hoot and cough, loud and hoarse. After soothing her, I ran to the baby books and flipped through the pages. 'Maybe it's croup. Does she sound like a barking seal?' I asked my partner. But he doesn't know what a seal's bark sounds like either. And neither of us are selkies, so we worried and fretted until we could see a doctor the next day. She told us the cough did indeed sound like a seal's bark. It was croup indeed.

The day after that, we drove to Adelaide. On the way, our daughter hacked and barked in the back of the car. And so, of course, by the time we got to Adelaide the other two were infected. We spent our week's holiday up most nights cuddling and crooning, stroking and soothing. The worst night, the baby woke every forty five minutes. And our three year old and the baby wheezed and whistled all the way home.

It could have been unbearable. It was pretty bad. But we went away with three other adults who fooled around with the kids while we had restorative naps.*

It made me realise yet again just how much hard work the nuclear family is. Had we been home, we would have been up all night, then staggered through the days in a haze of exhaustion. But in a village, or away with our family and friends, other people play with the kids and ease the load. Indeed, we often have people come and stay with us, and time and again I find everything is easier with more people in the house. Fractious kids are calm with others; I get more things done because the kids don't rely on me for everything; and I even get to have an adult conversation from time to time.

It makes me wonder whether wealth can be a curse as well as a blessing. Our wealth means we live apart and soldier on, hiding our need for companionship, for a hand, for a presence in the household. With less wealth we'd be forced to share our houses, and our lives. There'd be more people on hand to diagnose a seal's bark, or allow an exhausted parent a nap. And there'd be more people around to be delighted by a toddler's drawing, a baby's smile.

Such an arrangement would certainly mean losing some privacy, but surely the trade off would be lives dramatically enriched by the experiences, the viewpoints, the stories, and the gifts of others. Not to mention lightened by more hands doing a bit of the housework.

*Also restorative, we loaded up on bratwurst and weisswurst, apple strudel and cherry streusel cake, riesling and beer - sing hey! for German heritage.
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