Last week, in addition to my daughter starting pre-school, we achieved another family milestone – our first bout of gastro through the household – and the experience got me thinking about change.
When you’re in the throws of a gastro bug often all you can do is wait. Although you feel absolutely horrible, there’s some comfort in knowing that things will change and in 24-48 hours you’ll almost certainly feel much much better. All you have to do is simply survive (and try to maintain some humour and perspective). Similarly, in parenting, what I’ve learned 4 1/2 years in is that sometimes just waiting it out is just what you have to do to get through a period of discomfort, pain, frustration or suffering (whether that be related to sleep, toileting, eating etc). Often trying to initiate, force or speed up change is ineffective or just not worth the effort. It makes me wonder how often I’m getting stressed and trying to intervene and change something in other parts of my life, when I’m better off just having faith that the hard stuff will eventually end? But on the flip side, how often am I clinging to some hope that things will be different without making any (or sufficient) effort to bring that change into being???
In other news, I’ve taken my friend Summer’s recommendation and started using some bluetooth headphones (well, I’ve appropriated Jason’s AirPods) and am finding evening chores much less painful with a good podcast or audiobook to listen to. A few new podcasts that I’ve been enjoying over the last week or so are Women At Work from HBR, The Pineapple Project (which actually makes personal finance interesting), and Anecdotally Speaking (a business storytelling podcast).
I read this article – Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read – and saved the link in my journal. A day or so later when reviewing my saved links, I couldn’t remember what the article was about, or why I thought it was important to save, which just kind of just proves its entire point! On re-reading, the key takeaway was acknowledging the difference between simply acquiring information and actual knowledge. Often I’m sucked into seeking out new information and the momentary experience of feeling like I’ve learned something, without actually learning. So one thing I’ve decided to do, instead of always focusing on the new article/book/podcast, is embracing re-reading and re-listening. This week I’ve relistened to Episode 1 of the brilliant 3-part Making Oprah podcast series (if you’re searching for it in your podcast app search for ‘Making Obama’ – the new series name), and I’ve just started re-reading Sarah Ferguson’s The Killing Season Uncut. So many life and leadership lessons from both (and plenty of #stickywisdom too) that I plan to blog about separately.
Stephanie Coontz (a historian who studies family and marriage) has been popping up in my feeds in several places this week – in episode 2 of Women at Work on couples that work, on the most recent episode of Hidden Brain (When Did Marriage Become So Hard?), and she also wrote this NYT opinion piece – For A Better Marriage, Act Like A Single Person. Date night always feels like enough of a logistical challenge to try and organise, but this article has inspired me to try and schedule in a few double dates this year!
Finally, I’m really enjoying walking Ella to and from pre-school. It’s so nice to live within walking distance from the school and it’s great to have the opportunity to chat. Asking ‘how was your day?’ is a hard habit to break, but I’m trying hard to ask better questions that get her sharing more. This list gave me some good ideas to try.
**Head & Heart is an occasional capture of what I’m thinking about, doing, reading and listening to**
As I approached the end of 2017, the two things that stood out when looking back over the year were 1) Lincoln’s birth and the vortex of life with a newborn, and 2) illness (lots of it)! It seemed like a year of survival rather than flourishing or achieving, and honestly, by the end, I felt a little defeated and knocked around.
But I spent some time over the new year reviewing my journal entries and writing and reflecting, and I discovered that there was so much more to the year that I feel grateful for and want to remember. I love reading end-of-year wrap-up posts and particularly like the ‘what worked’ format from Modern Mrs Darcy. Although it’s now a full month past the end of the year, I still felt it was important to capture and to share, so here (in no particular order) is my list of what worked for me in 2017…
Banning TV for Ella
A one week TV ban back in late June was far and away one of the most positive parenting moves we’ve made, and seven months on the ban is still in effect. This change was motivated not by concerns for her development, but entirely by a self-interested desire to avoid the whinging and tantrums that went along with her wanting to watch ‘just one more?’! It worked!
Family gratitude practice
One of the advantages of J working from home is that we’ve always been able to do an early dinner as a family. Last year we started a practice of taking turns at dinner time to share something from the day that we’re grateful for. Dinner time is a challenging time of day – everyone is tired, hungry, feeling rushed and ready to get through the bath/bedtime routine – so this practice temporarily pulls us out of that mindset and forces us all to reflect on our day and find the good. It also feels important for me to set up small practices now that may help my kids’ mental health as they get older. Thanks to Kristen for recommending this!
We didn’t do heaps of it in 2017, but Ella is now at an age where she is more capable of independently walking a few kilometres, so we did manage a few longer walks at Tidbinbilla. Walking in the bush makes me happy and relaxed, and with nothing else to do but walk and talk (no housework, meal prep etc) I find I’m a more present and engaged mum. I think this is another little practice that will be increasingly important for our relationship and mental health as she gets older, and I love developing a shared passion with her.
Buying a second car
In many ways (financial, environmental) I would like to have fewer cars, so I was a bit reluctant to include this in a list of what went well. We could have made do this year, but with the additional stresses and logistical complexity of a new family member, Jason and I could do without the potential source of stress and conflict in negotiating car use.
Small improvements to our home
In 2017 we did a few small things to improve our home. None were done cheaply (but they weren’t expensive major renovations either) – new dining chairs, a new back fence, replacing the back sliding door, a block out awning for our west-facing deck – but they added a lot of value to our lives. Spending money to make our home more enjoyable and comfortable feels like a worthwhile investment.
Midwife-led care for Lincoln’s birth
L was born through the Canberra Hospital’s Birth Centre program (as was E). I had another hugely positive experience and received excellent care from a wonderful midwife. I am so grateful for the access to this program and can’t recommend midwife-led care highly enough.
Decluttering and being more intentional about our ‘stuff’
Last year we transformed our spare room (junk room) into a guest bedroom where we accommodated family members for over four weeks, and then into a nursery for L. As our family has expanded, our home hasn’t, so it’s really prompted us to get rid of a lot. I’m far from my ideal decluttered home, but it’s a journey and we’re making progress. We’re also being much more intentional about toys and gifts for the kids and our families are getting on board too. For Christmas 2017 the kids got fewer toy gifts, and more practical or experience ones (a trip to the zoo, new sandals, a cupcake and movie date, a new lunchbox etc).
Journalling using Day One
I’ve been using Day One for a couple of years and it has certainly made it easier to maintain a regular journaling practice. Last year I upgraded to the subscription-based version – it’s one of the best things I’ve spent money on. I have several journals set up – including one for each of the kids. Having it always available makes it easy to just snap a photo, jot down a funny thing they say, or capture a few words to remind me of what we did on that day. The ‘on this day’ feature and the practice of re-reading and reviewed past entries is also something that I get more benefit from than I expected.
Lead Mama Lead book club
I’ve wanted to be in a book club for ages but never found one that read the kind of books I did – non-fiction, mainly psychology, management, and leadership. Joining the LML book club has been such a delight. I’ve read some books that I wouldn’t have otherwise, the act of discussing a book reinforces the learnings and deepens my reflection, and I have a regular time set aside to spend in authentic conversation with some wonderful women.
Getting a regular babysitter
Without family support in Canberra, I was much more realistic this time around that we’d need to pay for support. Having time away from the daily ins and outs of child care has helped me mentally and to maintain my sense of self. I believe it’s also valuable for my kids to interact with and be cared for by other trusted adults.
Standing up for myself and the people I love
I learned and forgot and re-learned this lesson several times over 2017! I pride myself on being an easy-going, low fuss kind of person and I hate feeling like I’m inconveniencing people or taking up too much of their time or resources. But in 2017, in some big and small ways, I had situations where I had to back myself and be really clear about what I, or my family, needed and wanted – telling my GP that I still wasn’t well and wanted further investigations, making a complaint at the hospital my mum was in and advocating for improvements to her care, getting Ella the help she needed from a more experienced swimming instructor. And every time I raised an issue or asked for additional support, things got better.
Although it may now feel like a distant memory, I’d love to know what worked well for you in 2017?!
Whenever E wakes in the night to tell us that she’s scared of monsters, spiders, or a Backson (thanks Winnie the Pooh) we tell her that we’re nearby and that ‘mummy and daddy won’t let anything bad happen to you’. This shooting in Las Vegas just makes me realise that of course that’s a promise that is impossible for us to keep. Pain and hurt and fear and disappointment will inevitably be part of our kids’ lives, and I need to remember that it’s not our job to protect them from it, but rather to ‘assure them that when the turbulence comes, we will all hold hands and get through it together’ (and keep serving the peanuts!).
On a happier note, we got out for a family bushwalk at Tidbinbilla and it was great. I’ve mentioned it before, but bushwalking is really my happy place and it’s so nice to be sharing this with E. I listened to a recent episode of the Australian Hiker podcast on hiking with kids (#40) and used some of the tips on this most recent outing – getting E to be the guide, hold the map and look for the trail markers, and to carry her own water and snacks. She really took to the leader role (which won’t be a surprise to anyone that knows her) and managed to walk 3.3km herself (although there was a fair bit of whinging at the end and we had to pull out the promise of an icecream).
…one of my biggest takeaways was that we shouldn’t lie to children when they are asking us about grown-up words or ideas — otherwise, they will just ask Siri. If it’s between YouTube and me to explain prostitution, I pick me.
Part of supporting kids through hard stuff is being honest (in an age-appropriate way). While I try to avoid lying to E (as I know she’ll figure it out eventually and I want us to have a relationship that has a strong foundation of trust), I find it difficult to find truthful and acceptable alternatives to ‘we won’t let anything bad happen’, and the more innocent ‘I don’t know where that picture/bag/toy is’ (when it ended up in the bin during last night’s clean up)! This piece has prompted me to pay more attention to those moments duing my day where I have to make a choice about honesty.
This is my latest podcast discovery (thanks to Carly Findlay’s recommendation). I started with the latest episode (#14 – Best Friends Forever) and I’ve been thinking about it for days. It made me cry and reflect and filled me with gratitude for the wonderful friendships in my life. I’m now making my way through the back catalogue. Such a great podcast about love and loss and the hard and beautiful parts of being human.
Most of us, I think, have had this experience: behaving quite differently according to the people in the room at the time. With some people we feel in perpetual shadow; with others, the sunlight seems to angle in and we are aglow.
This piece by Richard Glover was published almost 5 years ago, but it’s one that I think and talk about often. This week it came up twice in conversations, so I thought it was worth sharing here too.
“We don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11.30”
~ Saturday Night Live producer and mastermind, Lorne Michaels.
Here I am writing a post, not because I have three things ready to share, but because it’s Monday. I wonder if the reason I don’t have a number of articles, posts or podcasts to share is because I didn’t come across anything that engaged my head or heart, or because my head and heart were distracted or weren’t as open this week? Regardless, I’ve decided that the habit and practice of regular writing, no matter how scrappy, is more important than being ready with something I feel is worth sharing.
That said, one of the things that I did enjoy reading this week and that is making the rounds of the internet is this amazing story by Dr Mary-Claire King – The Week My Husband Left And My House Was Burgled I Secured A Grant To Begin The Project That Became BRCA1.
I love stories which remind me of how many things in this world, including those we take for granted or seem inevitable, are actually products of people being in a certain place at a certain time and the small interactions they have along the way. I had a similar feeling when I read Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street earlier in the year and was struck by how many conversations, collaborations and people saying ‘yes’ were necessary for the Sesame Street we all know and couldn’t imagine life without, to actually come about.
I feel a bit like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day at the moment – reliving an experience over and over until I’m finally able to reflect and learn some lesson. But instead of watching Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his hole, I just keep getting sick – over and over again!
In my quest to figure out the lesson, I’ve been thinking about ‘me’ and ‘my body’ and the connection (or lack thereof). I tend to think of my body as something that serves me – or that can fail me and let me down, and that something that is somehow separate from ‘me’. I don’t think that this is particularly uncommon. Just the way that we talk about someone’s relationship with their body implies some kind of distinction between the two. By definition, a ‘relationship’ requires a connection between two or more things. I’m not quite sure where this thinking will lead and I haven’t tied the ends together to make a neat and coherent answer, but I do wonder if I could be healthier and happier if I was able to integrate my body and physical health more with my sense of self.
When I’m sick I also do more mindless scrolling and Netflix viewing than reading, but I still found three things worth sharing this week…
Related to the above thinking about my physical health, I’ve also found myself asking ‘why?’. People who have worked with me will know that I’m always trying to analyse failures and improve systems/processes, so I’ve naturally being asking ‘what went wrong?, what could I have done to avoid this?’. It’s impossible to know for sure, but one of the possible answers I’ve come up with is sugar. In my subsequent Googling I came across this piece which reveals that glucose can dramatically impact the type of inflammation that different infections cause.
The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.
This is a long but fascinating (if rather depressing) read on the impact that increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are having on plants and the potential implications of this for human health. It also makes me wonder how we can get more smart people to solve problems that matter.
Teenage girls now live in a world where reality is warped by Instagram filters and Photoshop, where friends look like models and models feel like friends. They exist in a society that values ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, ‘follows’ and ‘shares’, one where beauty is defined by brands that profit from your insecurity.
So what does all this have to do with hiking? Everything. Because hiking can dismantle it all.
Although E is only 4 I already feel a little anxious about how best to support her through the social/emotional challenges of being a teenager! In recent years I’ve been noticing more and more just how beneficial walking in nature is for my own mental health, and I’ve loved beginning to share the joy of bushwalking with her (the 800m Koala Path at Tidbinbilla is one of her favourites and manageable for little legs without too much complaint!). This piece makes me feel excited and optimistic about continuing to build on our little nature strolls.
On Friday evening I drove into town for my Genius Bar appointment (sadly nothing could be done to revive my Mac, so this is another post from my phone) and I saw the huge, bright moon in the sky. I’m rarely out at night anymore so when I am I try to make an effort to look up. On nights when the moon is full and huge I like to think about who else might be looking up and pondering the same thing. This feeling of connection to people I’ll never know makes me smile. (Just like those night feeds at 2am when you feel some kind of invisible bond to the other unknown women you know are doing exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.)
So I was particularly delighted to read about the One Sky project in Austin Kleon’s newsletter this week. Eighty-eight women from around the world all looked up into the sky at exactly the same time and drew/painted whatever they saw. The result is this lovely wholistic capture of what the sky looks like from different perspectives. It’s a great metaphor for how a simple change in position (physically, but also mentally) can provide new perspective and change what we see.
There are so many things I could share this week that have made me stop and think/feel, so it was challenging to just pick 3….
as time goes on, friendships often face more hurdles to intimacy than other close relationships. As people hurtle toward the peak busyness of middle age, friends—who are usually a lower priority than partners, parents, and children—tend to fall by the wayside.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about friendship lately with the sudden shift in demands on my time that full-time parenting with a new baby brings. In many ways the constant hands-on work means that I have less freedoms to catch up with a friend for a meal or coffee, but in other ways, without the constant intellectual stimulation of work and the interpersonal connections that work brings, I’ve felt a loneliness and longing for connection with friends that has often being hard to satisfy as they deal with their own ‘peak busyness’. This piece has some interesting insights about the contexts and containers that adult friendship exist in, which makes me appreciate the complexity and requisite effort required to sustain these relationships.
…problems are often best solved when they are reversed… it’s often easier to think about what you don’t want than what you do
Our new nanny started today (yay!) and so I’m right in the thick of figuring out what ‘work’ might look like for me over the next 6-12 months. Without a functional computer I was limited in what I could do this morning so spent some time with a pen and paper using this technique to brainstorm what I don’t want my work to look like.
It’s a technique I’ve used before (and have blogged about) particularly in relation to business improvements, but this was the first time I applied it to my own life design.
To make us feel loved and valued, our spouse must convey appreciation for the person we currently are. To help us grow, he or she must emphasize the discrepancy between that person and the person we can ideally become, typically by casting a sober, critical eye On our faults.
I feel I’m frequently navigating (often awkwardly and painfully) the tension between playing the role of supporter/empathizer or coach/advisor in my own marriage, so this piece particularly resonated.