The small things

Yesterday I wrote about needing space. And last night I got space, in the form of a dinner out with friends. Then today I got more space, in the form of some shopping, a fresh lime, and a bra fitting.

It was amazing. Good company, good food, good conversation last night. And good solitude today.

I enjoy the activities and the space and the break. But every time I have a break, I enjoy the tiny details almost as much as the break…

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I have worn necklaces two days in a row. And not silicone teething necklaces!

Last night I wore a dress that is not breastfeeding friendly.

Today I went into changing rooms without worrying about a small person crawling out under the curtain when I’m half naked

I wore glasses and no one tried to steal them off my face.

I carried just a tiny bag with my phone and wallet. No bib, no toys, no nappies.

After we finished eating, we sat and chatted.

No one banged their cutlery on the table, grabbed my glass, or threw food on the floor.

Add these to the list of things I didn’t really realise before I was a parent, because I never really thought of a necklace as a luxury before!

On the flip side, people didn’t smile quite as much, and only one person told me my baby was adorable (she had not long been to visit the café with her Papa when I went in, and we’re kinda regulars).

Life is different when she’s there. Outings are more difficult. But even if I love these breaks when I get them, I (obviously) wouldn’t change her for anything.

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Introvert

In general, I am not a black and white thinker. I am not always keen on labels and categories.  But there are a few labels that I have found useful for understanding myself and how I can live with a little more ease and comfort.

The first label that turned my life around was “perfectionist”.  I resisted the label for a long time, because surely if I was a perfectionist, I would be… better? But once I realised that being a perfectionist was pretty much nothing to do with being perfect (it took until I was 26, but I got there in the end), I also clicked that it was pretty much me to a t. And once I accepted the label, I found it easier to figure out why I was struggling, and what I could do to make things a little better.  It’s a work in progress, absolutely, but then again, most things are.

The label “introvert” was a lot easier to get my head around.  I am an introvert, and pretty much always have been.  When I was young, it was often painted as “shy”, but that’s not really it.  I just take a little while to warm up to new situations sometimes.  And when the shit hits the fan, I prefer time and space alone (or with just The Engineer or my family) to regroup and recharge.

Before The Engineer’s Baby arrived, I knew that my perfectionism was going to be a problem. Because honestly, there is no way to be the perfect parent, and very few things go perfectly with an infant.  I was prepared.  There have been (MANY) challenges along the way, but I’ve generally understood a bit of the why and a bit about how to get through them.

But until I read this article yesterday, I truly didn’t make the connection that being an introvert was part of the challenge of parenting for me.  I am honestly surprised that it took me nearly eleven months to click, because it is so bloody obvious.  But here we are, proof that it did.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

When you’re an introvert and you become a parent, your body goes through a little shock. Suddenly, you have very little alone time. Sure, your new baby is not talking to you — and at times, not making much noise at all. But let’s face it: You are never truly alone from the moment your first child is born.

This quote jumped out at me.  I knew I was feeling touched out (particularly early on).  I knew that most parents wanted a break from time to time (because, duh!). But I hadn’t completely realised just how little alone time I get.  My little dot is not a great independent sleeper in the day.  She still breastfeeds frequently.  So even when I do get a little break, you’d best believe she’s pretty close to the top of my mind.  And I need physical and mental alone time to really recharge.  (I also need sleep, but that’s a whole different story).

And then there was this:

1. Avoid beating yourself up for craving (or enjoying) time away from your littles. My favorite time of day is after the kids are tucked in bed — and most introverts I know feel the same way. I love my kids. I really do. But I love the downtime I have after they are sound asleep. If you’re an introverted parent, you will find yourself wanting for more alone time… and that is OK. Nothing to lose your “Good Parent” badge over.

If the lack of recharging wasn’t challenge enough, there was the guilt about wanting it (Hello again Perfectionism!)  As much as I know it’s normal to want and need a break, there’s a little naggy voice in there that says “but if you were a GOOD mum, you’d love spending this time with her…”

This perfect storm of perfectionism and introversion is my biggest struggle as a parent (so far!)  But I am feeling really great about it.  Because now I know.  I realise.  I know from experience that this realisation is not enough to make the challenge disappear. But I also know that it’s a first step.  And the more I am aware and accepting of my “labels”, the more I am able to find some strategies to create a life that works with them, rather than against them.

For the days that just suck

When you’re raising a tiny human, there are days that suck. If anyone says otherwise, they either have the perfect unicorn child of which we all occasionally dream, are ridiculously well adjusted, or they’re flat out lying; most likely the latter.

If you don’t watch out, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the relentless day to day hard stuff that is a big part of parenthood. The more you allow that to happen, the more you forget about the magical joyous stuff that is the other big part of parenthood. And before you know it, days that suck can turn into weeks that suck.

I had a patch of days/weeks that sucked at around the six to seven month mark. And I’m just now at the veeery edge, about to tip into another patch of them if I don’t watch out.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at watching out. The coping strategy that comes most naturally to me is to withdraw, and to basically quit adulthood as much as I possibly can. I spend way too much time on Facebook, avoid all possible chores, pick fights rather than being open about what I need, and generally become pretty difficult to be around. As you can see, it’s not really a coping strategy at all; if it weren’t for the amazing Engineer, this strategy would be a complete and utter flop (I am ridiculously fortunate that he is willing and able to pick up the slack).

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So, today I’m going to attempt to break this not-so-fun cycle and to avoid the pot hole that is right in front of me by creating a new strategy. This strategy is pretty tailored to me. Your mileage may vary!

1. Put down the phone.
No really, put it down. Don’t look at it. Don’t get sucked into it. It’s too easy, too available. If there’s anything you really need to do, there’s always the computer.

2. Set boundaries for yourself.
This is a good idea every day, but particularly important when you’re struggling. It doesn’t matter exactly what these boundaries are, whether it’s finding 20 minutes to do some yoga, 5 minutes to meditate, or simply enough time to go to the toilet alone. You know what you and your small person can manage.

3. Take a minute to breathe.
It’s so easy for your breath to get shallow and uneasy. A minute of slow deep belly breaths several times a day does wonders for your mindset.

4. Do at least one thing each nap time and each awake time.
This one depends a little on your schedule, but for us (two naps/three awake times) it strikes a nice balance. Getting five things done in a day isn’t overwhelming, but can still feel productive. They don’t need to be big deal, important items off the to do list, they just need to be something. 

5. Watch and find joy.
It’s easy on the hard days to feel like every moment was difficult. Some days I feel like The Engineer’s Baby has whined literally all day, when in reality it’s probably only been an hour total over the day. There is almost always something good or funny that happens, even on these sucky days. Make an effort to watch and appreciate that thing. Aim for five good things. Write them down if necessary.

To be honest, that fifth point is the kicker. All the others are mainly there to facilitate that happening. On the good days, joy is easy to find. On the hard ones, it’s buried a little deeper, and you (I) need a bit more support to dig it out.

To be even more honest, this list is mainly for me. If it helps someone else, that is wonderful. But I’m putting it here primarily to have a reference for myself. A reference I might need for the next few days… Wish me luck!

My Favourite Things #2: Thai Triangle Cushion

We don’t have many big toys, or a lot of space for big toys, but when we came back from New Zealand in January, and The Engineer’s Baby was starting to climb, we decided we needed something safe for her to learn and explore on.

I thought about it and researched and worked out how much it would cost to get all sorts of interesting structures built. And then The Engineer had a brainwave, and instead of making a mission for anything special, I just headed down to the department store and spent $30 on a Thai triangle cushion.

And it has been amazing.

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In February she surprised me by being able to climb up the little step to grab at her art.

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In March she chased The Engineer around it and worked out how to push it around the room.

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In April The Engineer discovered it could be used as a tunnel too.

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In May she has climbed and clambered and rolly pollied all over it.

It is easy to move and adjust, it is soft enough not to hurt her, but firm enough to be fun, it is something we can use once she grows out of it, it fits with our plan to not buy any toys.

Basically, it has been pretty much the perfect purchase for us, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a big baby.

It has been used for peekaboo and resting and lifting and walking, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.