Monday, March 29, 2010

Online Socialising


I chat online all day long. I log on at the first opportunity in the morning and it is literally the last thing I do before I go to sleep. This is not my inner geek, many other mums do the same in an effort to keep themselves socialised.

Some women focus on a single forum, these women become very well known in their virtual community. They have post counts in the thousands and seem to be always online. Others, like me, rely on a variety of forums to meet our conversational needs.

Today I have laughed at the antics of my friends children, recommended some books and congratulated a stranger. I have discussed the best place to buy cleaning products, made a bunch of people laugh and learnt how to braid a wrap. I reassured a breastfeeding mum, told an anecdote about little sisters flooding the bathroom and gathered support for my nappy-free attempts. I offered to help sell raffle tickets, asked if anyone knew where to buy Asian-style pants for bubby and chatted with my sister. I explained how my husband made a sidecar cot, proudly showed off a photo of my bubby and discussed baby needs.

This was all done without actually holding a face-to-face conversation. I did not visit anyone today and, aside from the plumber, no one visited me. All of these conversations were virtual, and most with people I have never ever met.

Laying in bed, as I consider whether to check the forums one more time, it occurred to me just how much I am trying to mimic the type of socialisation that I would have if there were surrounded by other adults. Rather than sitting for chunks of time, this socialisation is dispersed throughout the day, a few minutes here and a few minutes there. A single conversation might take all day. It may take several hours to receive a response to a comment. These online conversations provide stimulation to stay-at-home mums as they go about their day, essentially allowing them to chat while they work.

While I am increasingly grateful for the socialisation that modern technology provides me, I am bothered by my acceptance that this is enough. It is clear just how much a mother at home needs to socialise with other people, yet the current norm seems to be online forums with weekly playgroups.

I am increasingly angry just how much we accept that a morning tea in the park is enough for a stay-at-home mum. Extended periods of socialisation are essential, and woman must be able to socialise without completely interrupting there day. Online socialising might seem like a great answer, allowing women to go about their own day while remaining in contact with others. However it is inefficient, actual direct responses are few and can be delayed over days.

It is hard work to hold a conversation online. A mother needs to stop what she is doing and access the computer. This might mean spending time while baby is asleep catching up with people, bouncing a fussy baby while typing with one-hand or using more mobile devices to type responses while on the move. This provides barely enough socialisation to keep ones head above water.

I am reminded of the game called “The Sims” where Sims must talk on the phone, chat online and talk with people in order to fulfil social needs. If a Sims social bar falls too low then they need to spend a vast amount of time to fill it again. This is how I feel every night when my bubby goes to bed. Instead of using my time to relax I find myself sitting at the computer for hours trying to increase my socialisation bar in a way that only a good face-to-face conversation really can.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gutted


I feel like I a woman who has forgotten her place. My departmental head called this morning to talk about last Friday. I had annoyed a teacher by coming in to work. I feel like this is all a big mistake, that I should just stay at home and finish my housework.

I had emailed him last Thursday explaining that I wanted to informally return to work one day per week. I wrote in the email that if I were to do this I would prefer he gave me something to work on. It is an unusual thing to have a baby in the workplace, so I am keen to make it work. That was how I ended up taking his class, and having a productive day at work.

This is where the problem was when I stopped by my old class. In doing so I annoyed the new teacher. The story is simple. It was my class, it is now hers. I checked with my departmental head about visiting and he indicated it was no problem. I waited until near the end of class and found the teacher working at her computer. I asked if I could pop on to which she responded in, what I thought was, a positive manner. I went for a quick tour of the class saying hello, showing off Eleanor and letting them show off their work. I was out in about five minutes. I thanked the teacher on the way out.

My departmental head believes the fault is with him as he did not warn her. I am left feeling like I stepped back into a silly round of office politics. Actually she was not the only one who seemed to think I did not belong. A couple of teachers stopped short of asking me to display proof that I was allowed to be there. It was as if all sense of reason had been thrown out the window. My gripe is not against this teacher, or these teachers. I am annoyed that I had to give up my classes in the first place.

Firstly I must give credit to my departmental head for what, rather than being a lapse, was a display of confidence. He behaved as if it was not a big deal at all to have me come back to help out. That he did not run around paving the way for me made things feel normal. The young tech guy who I shared a staffroom with likewise was completely unconcerned. The one time that my daughter became grizzly he dropped a reassuring comment basically letting me know the students were much more noisier and distracting then she was.

In our society there is no allowance for a woman to both raise a child and work. It had been forgotten that I was a valued member of staff, instead people behaved as if they had never met me. I could see them wondering who was this woman with a baby and what right did she have to be here. I could see them wondering whether it was safe to leave me alone with students. I am thankful for a boss who has common sense… this is not a big deal people, at least it should not be. I am still the awesome teacher I was six months ago, I just have a baby attached to me now.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beautiful Girl


For every moment of frustration, for every moment that my body is wracked with the need to scream, there are many more where I am overwhelmed by how much I love her.

I know her personality. I know the sounds she makes when she is happy and the face she shows when she is excited. I know the noise she makes when I am about to feed her. I know the face she pulls when, fast asleep after a long feed, she pulls off my boob and rests her head back down to sleep. I know that she likes to sleep on her back with her hands behind her head.

My heart somersaults when I see her, my breathing pauses for a moment as I stare at her in adoration. I pop my head in to check on her at night, and so often find myself laying down beside her just watching. My mum tells me that this feeling will never end, I am glad to hear it.

Parenting alone is hard work. This blog is largely about the hidden emotions of motherhood, emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness. This blog focuses on the need for a much more social approach to parenting. I have a private diary devoted to my daughter and the love I feel for her. I want to express those feelings in this blog just this once. Even in the most difficult times of my quasi-single motherhood my love never diminishes. Not one dot, not one iota.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dancing Phalanges

There are mornings when you do absolutely anything to get just half an hour more sleep.

The trouble is you end up doing what my brother calls 'dancing phalanges', that is when he waves his hand in front of her and says "dancing phalanges". It never stops her grizzling but he never stops trying. We all have our own version of dancing phalanges, something that we do instead of meeting the actual need of the child. A dancing phalange always seems easier but if it is not meeting her need, than it is not going to work.

I am lying semi-reclined in bed as I type this. My four month old daughter is on my lap. I am wiggling butt in an effort to get her to settle. It is not working. The problem is that laying in bed juggling her on my lap trying to get fifteen more minutes sleep is a waste of effort. She is not going to settle until I meet her need, but I am too tired to do more this dancing phalange.

She has been whinging, which I believe is how a four month old baby politely asks for something, for about twenty minutes. I know she needs my full attention, but I am still half-asleep. I foolishly stayed awake until eleven o'clock last night. I say foolishly because my little girl conked out at half past four in the afternoon. Yes, you read that correctly. This was a good clue that she would probably be wide awake by five in the morning. I should have prepared myself by also going to bed early.

When you are pregnant with your first baby people give you lots of advice. One piece of advice that I was given that actually made complete sense was to sleep when baby sleeps. This is very wise advice. The trouble is that it is very difficult to follow. If I had followed this advice I would have averaged seven hours per night of unbroken sleep for the past month. What I actually do is attempt to do a days worth of pre-baby activities in three hours. Leaving just four hours for me to sleep before she wakes. Every morning I wake up still tired and I tell myself that I will go to bed early tonight, and every night I stay up for hours trying to bring balance to my day.

This is how it comes about that I am laying in bed trying to make her sleep longer. I know it is not going to work but I cannot help but try. This is also why at four o'clock in the afternoon, yes it took me all day to write this blog entry, as I lay her down in bed I think about how wise it would be to sleep early, but I know that I will not.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Babies at Work


I taught a class today, created a learning object, talked with colleagues and conquered my fear of breastfeeding in front of students.

Two weeks ago my head of department gave me the okay to return to work with Eleanor on an informal basis. I was excited initially, but then found myself unsure about how to return. What would I do when I got there? Would my bubby and myself just be a distraction? Would parents make phone calls if they found out I had fed my baby while in the same room as their teenager?

By complete accident I purchased a book, via my kindle, all about returning to work. "Babies at Work" by Carla Moquin1 talks in depth about setting boundaries, being realistic about productivity, understanding the need for a transition period, and knowing when your baby has outgrown the program.

Inspired by the book I sent an email to my departmental head explaining that I needed to be given something to do, rather than just turning up and visiting. I want to assist in classes as well as help with resource development. My email coincided with him being away and feeling like his senior students were being neglected. That was how I ended up taking his class the next day.

I rehearsed speeches in my head about how natural it is to breastfeed, I prepared anecdotes about my brother seeing more of me than ever before and I prepared to lecture students about maturity. Instead, when I finally stood in front of the class, I simply said "um boys, if she needs a feed I will. But I will let you know...". Not my most eloquent speech, but you cannot say I wasn't straight to the point. It turned out she did need one feed. I was in the middle of helping a female student with a programming issue. I had thought I would sit in the corner of the classroom away from students if she did need a feed. However the male students were all facing away from me, I asked the female student that I was working with if she minded if I fed while I helped her, I told the whole class that I was about to feed her, and then I did.

Once she was on, which was accomplished as discretely as possible, I was able to finish solving the programming problem. The rest of the lesson went just as smoothly. One of the boys laughed when I gave her head a few kisses as I sat down to help him with a problem. I told him that his mother would have kissed him the same way when he was a baby. This prompted some gentle jibing by his classmates that she still does.

One of the girls asked if she could hold my baby. I had already thought about this and declined. I believe it is important to have some boundaries and policies in place regarding having a child at work. One of these is that students will not be allowed to hold my baby. I am going to take my time working on the rest, including having my head of department review them.

At the moment I am kind of operating on an it is easier to apologise way of doing this. I am unsure of what procedure I should follow. There are two hundred staff at our school and I have never even met the executive principal, although I would like to make a time to present my case to him. My thoughts are that at the moment I am being invited into the school by a senior member of staff, who is well aware that I will have my baby with me, and that I will feed her when necessary. I would love to undertake some paid work when my maternity leave is over. However my baby will be seven months old at that stage, she will be beginning to be mobile which might not make for the best work scenario. At any rate, I would like to be prepared with my own personal guidelines, as well as evidence from other resources, for the time that I do talk to the executive principal.

I enjoyed being at work today. I created useful resources for my colleagues, I was able to notice classroom issues that I could relay to the regular teacher, I was able to see and help students with their work in the classroom. I loved that I was able to use the skills that I have, and I love that I did not have to be separated from my beautiful four month old daughter in order to do so.

1Moquin, C. (2008). Babies at Work: Bringing New Life to the Workplace. Lulu.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Doing it again

Getting together to cook was so much fun, so was our day getting clothes organised. I want to keep the momentum going. However two weeks have gone by and I still have not managed to get all three of us together. I do not feel like this is supposed to be something that happens once a month, I really feel like it should be happening several times a week.

The problem is that it can be hard to find a day when we are not busy. We are like tornado people – so busy doing our own things that other people cannot get close to us. I think once we do figure it out we will be a super tornado (how far can I take this analogy?), for now it is a lot of work trying to get us together.

I have finished reading Robin Grille’s book “Heart to Heart Parenting”1 the final chapter offered some practical ideas. Actually I was really surprised by the chapter, as it mirrors this blog, although written more eloquently, in many ways. The chapter talks about what it would mean to be a well-supported parent, and the practicalities of forming a parenting group.

I particularly appreciate the following thought of his:

How often should a parenting group meet? As often as you’d like. How about meeting with at least one other parent (if not the whole group) every day? For a short while at least? Or almost every day? Can you allow yourself to envisage never having to be alone? Can you imagine only being alone, or alone with you child, when you actually want to be? What if the time of early childhood parenting can be the best time you have had in your life?

The quote has made me start thinking about doing some visits of my own. Maybe it is time for me to get out of my house and make sure I visit someone, or am visited by someone, every day. In fact as I type this I realise that it is a very good goal. Starting tomorrow I will do just that for a month, I want to just say a week, but I need a great goal, every single day even weekends.

1Grille, R. (2008). Heart to Heart Parenting. Pymble: Harper Collins.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Help…

I am so tired. In so many ways this feels like a form of torture. My daughter is amazing I love everything about her. If I am complaining at all it is, again, about my isolation, not about my beautiful girl.

For the past fourteen weeks straight I have devoted my life to raising her. Just these few paragraphs have taken hours to write. Every word that I have written has been punctuated with the sound of my daughter crying. In fact I have only been able to write this by typing it out on my iPhone while pacing the floor. I do not know how long I will have to pace tonight but I am exhausted and just want to cry.

I think what I want is for her to be quiet for a few hours but she is a child her worries are honest. She needs something but I am too tired to figure out what it is.

I want to scream. I want a break and I need some help.

For nearly four months everything has revolved around being a good mother to her. I am exhausted. I wonder how much longer I can keep going, I am desperate for some time to myself, some space for me. Why is it that no body else seems to understand? Why do I feel that people reading this are going to think I am not coping. Why are we expected to cope with this alone? I am coping, I am doing well, I am just exhausted from it all. It takes more energy to raise a child than is produced by one exhausted mother.

I need to yell, or cry or something, just to let out the intense frustration that I feel. The thing that I imagine is confusing for people who are not mothers is that we do not spend our days feeling like this. Most of the time it is a joy and a wonder what I do. It is just some times, on some days, that the sense of exhaustion, lack of control and need for space feels over-whelming. Sometimes this is because bubby is wanting energy when I want rest, sometimes it is my emotions that unsettle her.

Am I any different from any other mother? I do not believe so. Am I depressed? Not at all. Any I exhausted? Absolutely. These are the times I need somebody to help.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Our second get together

My friend came over on Friday with her two daughters. We spent the day working together getting some items ready for an upcoming used clothing sale.

Her three-year old daughter had clearly enjoyed our first get together, as she had apparently asked if they were coming to visit every time she has hopped in the car since.

Both of us were impressed at how much easier it was to get thing done when we worked together. I also noticed how much more comfortable her two daughters were around me.

Much more I could write, but bubby wants boobies.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just a quick follow up


I dropped in to work on Thursday. I had my speech all composed. My head of department is an excellent boss and we worked together very well.

In my first semester I had been shocked at how few girls were continuing on to do senior IT, for example, in a class of thirty-three students only three were female. He supported me in my endeavour to change that. I created girl only IT groups and web design clubs. Finally I told him I could go no further if the girls were not offered a more appealing senior subject. He said ‘no’ at first so I waited a semester and tried again. He began to object but by the time I had finished he agreed with me. At least that is how I remember it. He took the cause to his boss, the school principal, and fought for over twelve months to male it happen. Finally we got the subject and immediately saw the number of students doing senior IT nearly double, the retention rate of students going into year twelve increased dramatically and the number if girls shot up from 10% to nearly 50%.


With this is mind I was prepared to tell him I was going to apply the same tenacity toward convincing him that I should be allowed to return to work with my baby. However it all went very easily. I chatted with him at the lunch table while he ate. My daughter wanted a feed too so I unzipped unclipped and popped her on. I think he was a bit unsure as the conversation halted a little. This makes sense as their has to be room to adjust, I mean I just got my boob out in front of my boss. Last year that was a boob to be covered up, this year it is a food source that gets uncovered a lot.
The reality is that regardless of how discrete I try to be if you are around me long enough you will 'cop an eyeful', as my younger brother likes to say.

My boss recovered smoothly and told me he would love to have me back and involved in the classes. I made sure that he realised my baby was part of the bargain and that breastfeeding would be inevitable.

I am not bothered about feeding around my students. Mostly because I believe this is an incredibly natural thing that society should be comfortable with. Our laws in Australia make breastfeeding legal and acceptable in any place where my baby is allowed. It will only be considered natural again once us mums start behaving as if it is.

So I am going, informally, back to work while still on maternity leave. Just popping in regularly and keeping involved. The next step is to teach some classes whenever my boss or replacement are away. Once my leave is up I will see about doing paid work, contracts, supply days, or even take my senior class back.

One step at a time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I will fight

So it turns out that I have been missed.

I never made it into work, it has been raining heavily all day. One if my colleagues stopped in for a cup of tea instead. She told me that I have been missed.

I miss them too.

So I have decided I will fight the battle to engage in my workplace without having to leave my baby behind.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I gave up my job


It has been five months since I started maternity leave but the reality of it really hit home today. I was a high school teacher (note the use of past tense), actually I was a great high school teacher. I gave teaching my all working long hours to create exciting curriculum. Constantly thinking about how to energize and inspire my students. I liked my colleagues and I liked my students, I looked forward to seeing them each day. I found great satisfaction in discussing curriculum ideas with my department head. I loved the high that came with teaching a good class. I like to think that I was not easily replaceable, I like to think that my students and my boss miss me.

I opted to give this up to become a fulltime mum. I did this because i believe whole heartedly in the benefits of breastfeeding and I believe that my daughter needs me fulltime. I was actually so aware that giving up work would be difficult that I gave it up early so I would have plenty of time to adjust before the baby was born. I talked about this a lot with my midwife. I thought it was all fine.

However today I realized that in taking extended maternity leave I really did give it all up. Those are no longer my students excited that I was their teacher. The curriculum was no longer my concern. The senior subject that I had spent my entire career designing was no longer any of my business.

This all occurred to me because I am planning to drop into the school tomorrow and i realised just how much i feel like it is not my school anymore. I was so good at it but there is no room for me to be a teacher if I want to be a mum. I guess I am a little be jealous of the people who took over my roles. It does not seem just. I designed that unit, I had the vision for what it should be, I was the expert, I still want to be involved. Those students are mine, I instilled in them a passion for the subject, I worked hard to make them better than all the rest, I want to see them through.
I cannot do any of this because I have a beautiful daughter who needs me. I want to be there for my daughter far and above my desire to continue with my job. I just wish it did not have to be so black and white.

Tomorrow I will be a stranger in a place where I was a star... I want to keep writing about how things need to change more, how things should be, but I am tired and can only fight so many battles. This one will have to be fought by someone else.

Monday, March 1, 2010

‘Heart to Heart Parenting’


I am an avid reader, and becoming a parent just gave me an entire new topic of books to consume. I have just begun reading the book ‘Heart to Heart Parenting’ by Robin Grille1.
I originally read an article by the author Robin Grille in a back issue of Essence magazine (the magazine of the Australian Breastfeeding Association). The paragraph that appears at the top of my blog was the opening paragraph of the article. It was that paragraph that inspired me to finally do something about the isolation of mothers.
So far I have only read the first chapter of the book, but it is really hitting home. It talks about the same things that I am trying to address in this blog. The author uses the term ‘cooperative parenting’ to describe what I have been calling together parenting. I am posting some excerpts of the book below. I hope it sends you all out to buy the book.
“Kids don’t come with an instruction manual,’ we joke to each other and, as we shake our heads, we invoke the wise old lament: ‘It takes a village to raise a child'.’ But we carry on regardless, without the help of the village or extended family, and with precious little helpful information.

How can we benefit from the help of the village if we have to keep our need for help a secret?

There are many mothers and fathers who … feel deeply inadequate because they are at home with one, two or more children all day and feel at their wit’s end; … they are isolated, cut off from their vital support networks. Looking after children is supposed to be a communal, cooperative endeavour. Our species is simply not designed to nurture its young in separate, nuclear family units. No wonder parenting is so stressful for so many people.

Parenting is such a formidable task. Parents need nourishing social contact and practical help on a daily basis. Isolation is an established, major risk factor for depression in parents

in our culture a parent’s need for support has been very badly underestimated.
1Grille, R. (2008). Heart to Heart Parenting. Pymble: Harper Collins.