The X-files


Today I came across the term ‘emotional bandwidth’. Jessica Grose wrote a piece in the New York Times parenting magazine about why she is resisting having a third child. She has reached her limits with two. Everyone, she posits, has a different emotional bandwidth when it comes to raising children. How she puts it: In the context of parenting, this is how much patience and humanity you have left to give to your existing children.

Her ‘primal lizard brain’ is still telling her to have another, but her rational side is a firm no, and you can tell she is going to stick to it. I think, as I’m 43, biology has dictated that I won’t have another child but if I was younger, I would be in danger of having another one. I say danger because my rational side – so much more shrunken and ineffective than my emotional, instinctive side (nothing to be proud of) – doesn’t even get a look in when I see a newborn. Ms Logic pipes up, weakly, you do realise that you couldn’t cope with another child, don’t you? Then the dreamy side (read: the crazy side) dithers in with a monologue on how special that time is, what a peak moment in your life it is – making a baby, growing a baby, having a baby, holding a baby. That feeling of timelessness, conversely hung in a vortex of swiftly shifting time, when you cradle your little one; who still seems attached by an invisible umbilical cord.

I have three small children, all less than two years apart in age, and my emotional bandwidth has been stretched. Often it is flimsy and at breaking point. When Jessica spoke of this concept, and how much patience and humanity you might have – and might do well to note you have – in reserve for your children, it made me feel a bit ashamed. Lately, I’ve had only miniscule amounts of patience with my children. Yesterday, we instigated a new ‘ticks and crosses’ system for the two older boys. If they get more ticks than crosses at the end of the week, each will be allowed to buy a small toy from the beach shop near the beautiful strand where we are spending the summer. This morning, I had to add an extra column for myself. The middle child was throwing tantrum after tantrum, because he had read one of the letters in his name as an ‘X’. No matter how many times I told him it was not an X, but a letter of his name, he kept stamping his foot and yelling and screaming that it was an X, and I should take it away forthwith. I lasted about six or seven minutes, then came over all Robert de Niro in Goodfellas: ‘You want an X? I’ll give you an X. I’ll give you ten Xs.’  Then I aggressively drew lots of deep big Xs all over his chart, which obviously drove him crazy.

A minute later, I was sorry. How can I teach these children about patience if I have none? How can I teach them about compassion if I am showing none? What about anger? If I am continually losing my temper, how on earth do I expect them to keep theirs? Anyway; I drew an X in my column for unacceptable behaviour and losing my temper, which pleased them both no end. I wouldn’t be allowed to get a toy this Friday if I kept going on like this for the rest of the week. I could only agree with them.

Present to yourself, gift to the world

Meditation, Motherhood

In this podcast, I love what Jillian Lavender says about taking time for yourself, in her case specifically to meditate. She says something like, let’s turn on its head this whole idea of carving out some time for some self-care (yes, self-care, irritating term, but it is self-care nonetheless so let’s go with it) being selfish. It is not selfish, she says, it is the most generous thing you could do for yourself and for your family.

Yes, you are taking yourself away from them for ten minutes, or fifteen, or however long you can stretch to, and it often takes some mathematical maneuvering to find the time, particularly if you have very young children, but things have always changed when you get back. Your perspective has always shifted.

Having small children is stressful, it just is, the end. I’ve got a five year old, three year old and a one year old. The three year old is almost always having tantrums, the five year old isn’t far behind him and the one year old – well the poor soul is suffering so much with cutting teeth, and has been since soon after birth. It means he wakes about five or six times a night, and because he’s breastfed, it’s the only way I can comfort him. Some days, I just find it all really stressful. Let me be clear, the glory hours far outweigh the drudgy ones. Having children is exploding stars and love and joy; but it’s a headwreck too. I’m not sure how other mothers do it, but I find all the constant screaming and shouting really challenging (ahem, to say the least) and the problem with it is, my monkey beast comes out, every time, and I just want to shout and scream back. My son threw an apple at me last night and guess what? I threw it back. I feel terrible about it, it’s not cool behavior for an adult.

So back to what Jillian said, in my case it’s true: I think meditating is the most generous thing I can do for my family and for me, because when I am consistent with doing it, it makes me a better person. It just does. Better, stronger, calmer, less tired, less snappy, less of a dick. It also gives me the extra gift of deeply appreciating the smaller moments, the fleeting pearls of mothering these beautiful tiny children that I know I will wear like a precious, treasured necklace when they are grown.

What do you know?

Meditation, Motherhood

‘My mind is back now,’ said one of my boys last night, bounding up the stairs after a lengthy tantrum because I’d switched the TV off. Interesting, I thought. How the hell did you know that you’d lost your mind when you went to that electric, crimson place of no reason? Then I just said, ‘I’m glad it’s back,’ and I continued feeding my one year old, one eye to my mono-milkable boob with its steadily dropping supply.

So you know that you had lost your mind, here, in the murky, marvellous waters of early childhood? And, of course, you don’t know yet that the ability to cognize such a deep and sensible thing will totally disappear on you, to resurface well into adulthood. If you are lucky.

Wow. How many other things do we ‘know’ at one, two, at three, four, five – then lose completely as we grow, as we learn to cue and curb our behaviours and cater to what we think people want from us? Do we know that we are whole – that we are born this way? It’s plain to see, I’ve seen it in all my babies: they are whole. We were whole, then perhaps our psyches split into hundreds of shards, different personalities we try out, different ways of being. Do we know that we are good? Because there can be no intention to be ‘bad’ when you are so young you remember the sound of your mother’s heart in the womb. Do we know that time is not linear but spherical, always now, never then and never tomorrow?

What do we know about love? Do we know that we are love, until someone unwittingly dismantles that reality, for some children much sooner than others? And do we know about belonging? That every single one of us was born with the same right to be here, with the same potential in our tiny sacred souls and with equal importance to the unfurling of the planet?

We know, we know, we know… in infancy we know so much. Right now I’m thinking it’s absurd that I meditate, that I desperately search for slivers of day so I can be still, because essentially what it is I’m learning is how to be an infant again. To know I’m whole, to know I’m good, to fall into the whirl of time and just be in it – to love – and to belong.

I will scream and shout


How do you deal with toddler tantrums? Actually, are they really toddler tantrums? My baby has them and my five year old has them. In fact, I have them too.

I *almost* had one this morning when the google maps app thing on my iPhone 1) went mysteriously silent so I couldn’t hear the directions but had to assimilate them into my being while driving and 2) Took me on a weird, ill-thought out goose chase to a house which was less than 10 minutes’ drive away but nestled, camouflaged, in a maze of tiny streets.

It’s the small things that derail you when you are trying to hold your shit together as a parent. God, kids are really cute and all – I mean, they are ridiculously cute with their baby bellies and their lispy half-baked sentences – but there’s nothing adorable about tantrums. This morning, I was treading on eggshells, terrified of upsetting the three-year-old because I have a cold and therefore my coping strategies are down. It didn’t work, he pulled a record of one tantrum every few minutes or so for the whole first shaky hour of the day.

I’ve learned that if I lose it after he loses it, he will lose it even more and we will be upping each other on our losing it into infinity. It’s no good. Meanwhile, endless patience sometimes feels like giving in. He’s being unreasonable, and bossing me around. I could be raising a brat. Both of my older boys do this ‘Uggggggh’ guttural sound when they are angry, which they ape directly from me. I mean, these children just copy us a lot of the time. Yes, they have those absurd and explosive tantrums unique to toddlers, but they are still little carbon copies of us.

It shocks me that many of the reactions I have to my own children are precisely the ones my mother had with me. We imprint our ways of being on our children every moment we are with them and once knotted in, they are hard to unravel.

It’s a lot of pressure isn’t it?

I hang on to meditation like a life buoy in an ocean of dodgy learned behaviours, automatic reactions, and those adult-y tantrums which are so much more restrained – and so much more dangerous. I hang on to it for dear life in the belief that I will have a hope in hell of changing my brain, and therefore teaching my children a better way to be in the world.

emperor penguins are like toddlers



Parents, all over the country: Are you living in fear? Are you being held to ransom? Are your captors very short and very loud?

Do you tiptoe around them so they don’t lose it and yell at you? Do they pull your hair and swing off your legs and grab at your boobs? Are you… *glances around furtively* …Are you worried about telling them what you really think of their clinically insane behavior? Do you sometimes tell lies and give them what they want just so the persecution will pause just for… One. Second.

Do you feel like crying because the roaring and the bullying has been relentless, for days on end? Are you afraid of their crazy mood swings? Are you concerned that you won’t be able to understand exactly what they want you to do and then you will be left sucker-punched by the force of their rage?

Do you sometimes think about giving up? To slip, relieved, into a vortex of meek Yeses and absent-minded servitude? To finally succumb to their maniacal tyranny? To let them rule, tiny emperors, and be your bosses forever and ever until the end of time?

Don’t. I see you.