Future tripping

August 29, 2014

DownloadedFile-10No matter how many books you read or courses you attend or talks you listen to, nothing fully prepares you for parenting. No one warned me about the paradoxes of motherhood which means how you can feel different, opposing emotions at exactly the same time.

I adore my Megan. It is difficult to articulate exactly how high, how deep and how wide my love for her is. Yet, there are some days when she is whinging and moaning and I could easily drop-kick her through the nearest open window. I treasure her like I have never loved anything or anyone before but sometimes, when she has a tantrum and is wailing red-faced and spread-eagled on the floor, I want to scream, ‘MEGAN SHUT THE £^*& UP!’ which is not very motherly or loving.

Another paradox is that I enjoy being a stay-at-home mom but part of me also thinks it could be pretty cool to have a mentally stimulating part time job. The list of contradictions goes on … the exhilaration, the exhaustion, the love, the frustration, the peace, the boredom, the fulfilment, the guilt, the joy, the isolation, the laughter, the loneliness…

The biggest paradox is that I am the happiest and most stable I have ever been in my whole life but, at the same time, I am probably the most fearful I have ever been in all my 34 years. It doesn’t make sense, really. I think that my love for my little family is so intense and so deep that it tips itself into The Fear.

Few new parents are prepared for The Fear. It hits you when the baby is in your arms for the first time. Even though my personality tends towards the somewhat unhinged, I know everyone gets varying degrees of The Fear but they sometimes can’t articulate or process it. I think it is often the reason why people get post-natal depression – because they are so stunned by the sudden and unexpected anxiety.

I bumped into an acquaintance the other day. He is 41 and said he would like to get married but it is difficult to find a suitable girl because he adamantly doesn’t want kids. He said, ‘Julie look at the world around you. Do you really want to bring new life into this mess? And another reason is because I wouldn’t cope with the fear. If I had children, I wouldn’t stop worrying. My laid-back, self-focussed status quo is gentler on my mental health.’

what ifThe Fear is when you worry about the future. I wonder how I can protect my family from illness, accidents or pain. Megan is utterly dependent on us and that freaks me out because I wonder what I would do if xxx happened, how can I protect Megan from yyy or how I would cope if our family had to endure zzz. Alastair has asked me to sign a will, which is wise and responsible, but I can’t bring myself to think of the terms of that document because it makes me feel physically ill. I have procrastinated about it for over two years.

An interview with Paul Young (Author of The Shack) resonated with me because he talks about future-tripping. Future-tripping is when you think about tomorrow and imagine yourself in scenarios in the future. You picture something that could happen and then take an emotional and mental trip to live there for a bit. I think The Fear of parenthood comes from future-tripping more than you used to.

As a parent, it is impossible not to future trip because children are naturally curious and oblivious to danger. By mistake, I once left the baby security gate open and Megan waddled half way down the stairs in her socks. I beat myself up as I imagined what the consequences could have been if she slipped. I once turned my back for a split second and Megan picked my sharp Victorinox knife off the kitchen counter and waved it about as if she was conducting an orchestra. I shuddered and tearfully considered, ‘what if I hadn’t caught her in time?’ Then, a friend’s child has a debilitating genetic condition and another’s recently died of cancer and I imagine how I would be a gibbering wreck if I were in their shoes.

In this age of social media, it is hard not to be even just a tiny bit fearful. We are all knitted together in this great big electronic web and you become part of people’s collective misery whether you want to or not because it is glaring at you in your newsfeed whenever you log on to Facebook. It seems people are dying left, right and centre. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has cancer. People constantly share and link me to articles on cancer-preventing superfoods and carcinogenic items such as additives, plastic bottles, wifi, cell phones and Teflon pans. All this confusing, fear-mongering, often unscientific information makes me want to run screaming into an open meadow where I can then sit quietly chewing on a stick of celery with a tin foil hat on.

sky fallingAnd the news! Is the world spinning out of control or what? I’m not sure we were created to know so much. We hear about every natural disaster, every atrocity and every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. Our hearts are not big enough to process and contain this much sorrow. I feel like Chicken Little when I read about Syria, Libya, Ebola, Gaza, Israel, ISIS etc … it’s all so apocalyptic and I wonder what screwed-up, godless world Megan is growing up into.

An old Cherokee told his grandson: ‘My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, fear, inferiority and lies. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.’

The boy thought about it and asked, ‘Grandfather, which wolf wins?’

The old man replied, ‘The one you feed.’ I’ve realised that Facebook and social media are feeding the Fear Wolf inside me. I give my fears power by giving them my attention and I know the solution is to disconnect myself from the internet and throw my computer into a fast flowing river.

Paul Young talks about how he conquered fear by living in the moment. He created a place in the present where fear was not allowed. By future-tripping, we imagine things that could go wrong so we give life and emotional energy to something that has no reality or substance. Fear destroys us from the inside out.

We need to pretend we are a ship that can shut off compartments to keep water out. We must live in day tight compartments. Of course it is important to plan ahead and prepare for tomorrow but we don’t need to let the worries of tomorrow rob us of the joys in today.

When we think so much of things that can go wrong in the future, we panic because we become the gods of our lives. The future becomes about our certainty and control because God is not in it. When we imagine ‘what if’ we never picture any kind of supernatural strength or comfort. I don’t think we are meant to panic this much about our futures. Jesus even said we should live in the present by praying for our daily bread.

images-30Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian woman who hid Jews during World War 2.   She once confided her fears about capture to her father who responded, ‘When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?’

‘Why, just before we get on the train,’ she replied.

‘Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.’

When we give into The Fear, we do so without remembering that if, God forbid, we have to endure some crisis, we will be given a coping ticket. In the mean time, we must learn to control the snakes in our head and live in the moment, in the grace of a day. Life is much easier, lighter and happier that way and it makes parenthood way more fun.

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Summer, where are you?

August 18, 2014

Last week, The Black Dog reappeared. Not the overwhelming, in-your-face St Bernard variety that was my constant companion in London but a milder, less intrusive breed along the lines of a chihuahua or miniature poodle. This Black Dog is reasonably sized so as not to be completely unbearable but it has made its presence known and could become a nuisance if it hangs around much longer.  The good thing about this situation is that I am a navel-gazer and fully in touch with the inner me so at least I know what has brought on its sudden appearance and I can deal with it.

imagesCA8SX2QLIt is the middle of August which is the peak of the European summer. It is supposed to be hot. It’s not.

As I type this, I am wearing my socks, slippers, tracksuit pants and a long-sleeve top. The leaves on the tree outside are turning rusty and yesterday the heating in our house automatically kicked on. The squashes, a classic sign of the change of seasons, have appeared unusually early in the supermarket. Last year, I used up two bottles of sun cream between June and September. This year, I reckon I’ve applied sunscreen only a handful of times.

This summer has been a total bust. The weather has gone topsy-turvy. I read an article in the newspaper which said that this is the coldest, wettest summer in Switzerland since the 1960’s. Apparently there has been a depression that keeps getting stuck over the Alps and this has caused the constant rain and autumnal temperatures.

Wouldn’t you have some Black Dog if you saw this forecast for the week ahead?

Weather

As someone with weather-dependent moods, I knew after 5 years in London that it was essential for my well-being that I leave the UK. Now it looks as if the UK has come to me. It won’t leave me alone and follows me around like chewing gum stuck to the bottom of my shoe. These endlessly wet and grey skies are getting to me. The incessant damp and cold is tormenting when you have to amuse an energetic toddler in a country like Switzerland where everyone is away and everything is shut for two months over the summer.

Summer bustIt is a challenge for me to channel Megan’s exuberance when she is so young and has such a short attention span. I feel sorry for the poppet because she can’t take this shitty weather either. We can’t go to the lake. We can’t go to the park. We can’t go for a stroll round the block (mind you, that’s a challenge with a toddler even in good weather).

I have perhaps been sedating Megan with a little too much TV. I suspect this because she jack-in-the-boxes out of bed every morning, punches the air and shouts, ‘Pooh! Pooh!’ because she wants to watch her favourite TV programme, Winnie the Pooh.

Megan’s using my lounge furniture as a substitute for park climbing equipment and the other day she dive-bombed off the top of the couch, bounced off the cushions and landed on the tile floor with an almighty crack to the head. I then spent the next hour on the phone with an on-call doctor who assured me that, given her symptoms, she was unlikely to develop an aneurysm.

It is not just me who feels bored and claustrophobic. All my friends who are still in town feel the same way. We complain on social media or over the phone and feel like tearing our hair out. I want to say to them, ‘Right. You are at a loss for what to do and so am I. Now invite me over to your house.’ People rarely do. They always want to meet up at some third party, neutral turf which drives me insane because there is nowhere suitable.

chimpsThe solution to our collective frustration would be to arrange meet-ups at various people’s houses but no one is gung-ho about inviting round the kids. It is like having a chimps tea party in your lounge and the thought of dealing with the aftermath is more unbearable than the weather. We would all love a playdate, but at someone else’s house and not our own.  So we continue to whine and moan and pray someone will invite us over.

On Friday, I woke up to that UKish steam bath type rain that drifts in quietly and threatens to hang around for a while. The day felt bleak and grey and lay before me like a ream of unmarked paper. I wondered, ‘What the heck am I going to do today?’ Megan has an attention span of 15-minutes max so I arrange crafts, stimulating activities and entertainment in 15 minute slots. Do you know how many 15-minutes slots there are in a day? Lots.

Fortunately Alastair came to my rescue and suggested I meet him for lunch. Megan and I arrived at the agreed-upon venue at 10am and Al was a bit surprised when I called him and announced, ‘We’re here!’

VacancesToday I saw a sign on the door of the local auberge. It said they are closed from 5 Aug – 21 Aug. I took a photo of the sign with my iPhone because, at that moment, I had an epiphany that has given me a jolt and some well-needed perspective.

I hate it that everything is closed over the summer but I also love it that things close over this time too. I like it that places bolt their doors and say, ‘You need my services? Too bad! I’m on holiday. I’m taking a well-earned break. Wait two weeks until I get back or go somewhere else.’

In other countries, business owners don’t take breaks or they hire temps to cover while they are away. They become a rat in the race that goes, goes and goes some more. They never quit moving. Here, things stop. That’s good. I LOVE that. In my twenties, I wished I could take more pit stops. I craved a calmer life. The world is about more, more and even more whereas, over here in Switzerland, it seems to be about enough. And really, enough is all we need.

So now I will stop complaining about the weather and the fact that everything is shut and there is f*** all to do in the miserable weather. My little predicament has good and bad sides. It’s ying with yang and pros with the cons. You can’t have your cake and eat it. I will appreciate all my activities when they recommence in September and for now, the three of us are going to take each day as it comes and enjoy our time together – me, Megan and our little black lapdog.


Things I have learned so far … PART 9

August 6, 2014

An aside: You know I have been so frustrated by how detached and cold the Swiss are? Life sometimes throws us lovely surprises. Last Saturday, a neighbour who lives at the end of our road, popped by and gave us some lettuce and courgettes from his veggie patch. How sweet was that? I was so shocked that I almost prostrated myself at his feet in wonder and gratitude.

When you have kids, you MUST get a cleaner.

Until Megan was about 18 months old, I cleaned the house myself. I look back and think, ‘Was I amazing or just completely insane? How on earth did I do it?’

It is no surprise that during summer last year, in my valiant attempt to adjust to parenthood, be a domestic goddess and overcompensate for not working, I burned myself out, developed an overactive thyroid and weighed only 50kgs.

images-7When you have kids, you need household help no matter how much it costs. When my cleaner said she was going on holiday for three weeks this summer, I fought back tears and felt the urge to handcuff her to a doorknob. I wanted to shriek, ‘How can you do this to me?’ but then I composed myself and realized everyone is entitled to a break.

My cleaner is called Candida and she comes for two hours every Tuesday afternoon while Megan is at crèche.  It is odd that my Portuguese cleaner has the same name as a yeast infection and I have to be careful how I refer to her otherwise people get confused. Once my mom skyped and I said I couldn’t speak for long as ‘I have Candida’.

She said, ‘You poor thing. Is it very itchy? Are you in pain?’

‘No, no.’ I replied. ‘I have Candida here, in my house. She’s cleaning.’

By the time Candida leaves, this is what the lounge looks like. It’s the BEFORE picture:

BEFORE Photo

I sit on the couch and appreciate the zen of my surroundings because I know it won’t last long. When Megan returns from crèche, she tornadoes in – I’M BACK! MWAHAHAHA! – and unloads, unpacks, dismantles, flings and tosses. She enjoys the order because she can start her destruction again on a clean slate and that’s so entertaining.

I took this photo five minutes after Megan trotted through the front door. It’s the AFTER picture:

photo

Kids are like dogs, only more needy

The other day I bumped into a friend who had a raging cold sore on her lip and looked as if she’d been tinkering with live wires. Mind you, most of my friends have that glazed, hair-on-end look of someone who has stuck wet fingers in an electric socket. It’s the nature of life as a mom in a foreign country.

She explained she was going crazy in this rainy weather. Her son was bouncing off the walls because he couldn’t go outside. She said, ‘He’s like a dog. He needs to be walked twice a day.’

imagesI reckon most toddlers are similar to dogs, only more needy. Raising a child is like hardcore dog training. You must lovingly but firmly mould them into shape and channel their exuberance and creativity in appropriate ways. You must teach them discipline, self-control and obedience.

Megan plays at the boundaries and she likes to veer away and pull at the figurative leash so she can sniff and explore. That’s not a bad thing but she must understand that I am her master and sometimes it is necessary to trot close to the heel because, for now, I know best.

I am forever issuing short, sharp commands – SIT! STAY! COME HERE! NO! STOP! DON’T TOUCH! Then when she obeys and willingly puts on her shoes or lies on the floor for a nappy change or opens her mouth for me to brush her teeth, I gush with positive reinforcement.

The challenge with kids is that you must train them as if they are glorified (and much loved) dogs but they tend to react like cats, which brings me to my next point …

Setting boundaries is the most challenging part of parenting so far

Without a doubt, the hardest part of parenting so far is establishing boundaries and asserting my authority.

I expected I would need to assert boundaries for things that Megan MUST NOT do such as wander into the street, wriggle out of her car seat straps, jump on the couch, walk in front of a swing and touch sharp objects. I didn’t anticipate that it would take so much energy to enforce the things that Megan MUST do such as change her nappy, wash her hands before a meal, put on her shoes, get in the carseat, get in the bath, get out the bath, sit at the table, eat her food, get dressed or get undressed.

boundariesI’ve read that a good way to teach children is to give them a choice. For example, ‘Megan, you are going to put on your shoes now. Do you want to do it yourself or should Mommy help you?’

Apparently kids find that empowering. The astounding thing about Megan (and most children, it seems) is that she generally chooses the path of most resistance and adopts a posture of sack-like uncooperativeness. Sometimes it feels as if everything is a fight for dominance and the simplest tasks take so long. Getting anything done is an almighty rigmarole and a trip to the shops down the road feels like coordinating a mission to Mars.  Just leaving the house is an achievement which is why many of my friends are consistently late for commitments.

imagesG2RNYVB8I’ve wondered if I should choose my battles and focus on establishing limits and asserting my authority for the big dangers and then not sweat the small stuff. But that kind of laissez-faire approach always comes back to bite me. If I leave Megan with a heavy, droopy nappy, she gets nappy rash. If I don’t brush her teeth, she will get cavities. If I let her dress herself, she will catch pneumonia. Enforcing boundaries is to her benefit.  It’s a form of love.  Parenting is hard core and you have to maintain limits no matter how wiped out you feel.  Now I must just put that theory into practice.