Poppy is six months old today and I’m blown away. My whole life has changed so much in such a short time! Not so long ago Rose and I were childless. Now we are navigating the daily intense splendor of parenting in full swing! Star is learning to drive and Poppy is learning to crawl. Life is a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, confused and afraid, then finding our feet again and enjoying a sense of calm, contentment and competency. It’s like the tide, some days we are in touch with our expertise, others most painfully not. We are learning not to panic on the days we feel out of our depth, to just do our best and hold on. We are in a constant unfolding process of creating together what kind of family we are. It’s such a joy and a privilege.
My relationship with Rose, my beautiful, dedicated partner in crime, goes through a huge change. We are a team highly focused on the needs of our girls and finding the safe space we’ve created for each other gets stretched out to include our kids. There’s less time to be young ourselves, less energy for our own needs. The role of parent dominates and we adjust, joyfully. In quiet moments we remember to change form, days where we have barely touched as we tag teamed life, we reach out and remember each other.
Watching Rose be a Mother is a joy I wasn’t sure I’d get to see. I’ve learned so much from her. She is a joyful parent, she naturally gears towards play. She shows Poppy the rain, paddles her toes in the ocean, lets her smear yogurt on her face and squeeze watermelon through her fingers. She sings and Poppy dances. She knows all her ticklish spots, knows her tired cry, her pain cry, her sleepy face. She is highly attuned, watching for the edge where fun turns into fear and pulling back from it. Everything else may be a disaster but Poppy is clean, fed, groomed, in a fresh nappy and dressed immaculately, always.
I have learned so much from her and still look to her first in matters of children. As a child and youth worker her experience is much broader than mine. We’re a good team. There’s a lot of complimentary skills. I’m able to speak to the anxiety about every spot, to help set up the rhythms and routines that keep the household running, to help hold the space when emotions drown someone. I’m chief spider catcher, milk maker, and debriefer. Rose cooks beautiful meals, folds the nappies, cuddles Poppy to sleep. Reads me Harry Potter. Suggests nights down the beach. Reminds me to stop working and soak it all in.
Through 6 months she’s had my back with breastfeeding, which has been a joy sometimes and a hell others. When I’ve told her she needs to change her ideas about being supportive and support me if I need to stop nursing too, she’s wrapped her brain around that. Yesterday she gave me a beautiful gift bag to say thankyou for 6 months of breastfeeding. It had peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, milk bottle lollies, and a three strand milky pearl bracelet from her, Star, and Poppy. I am so touched. She gets it. She gets me.
We are in the thick of some unexpected work opportunities that are some of the most exciting and inspiring I’ve ever had. I’m doing several projects with the SA Mental Health Commission. Rose is also involved with their youth projects. So we’re having a lot of deep conversations about work and parenting and money and vulnerability and mental health, figuring out what we need and how to look after each other and our family and set things up so we can be shiny. It’s a whole new level of partnership where we are both deeply aware of each other’s struggles. We’ve supported each other through all our work ups and downs over the years and we’ve learned a lot. Rose is intimately familiar with the kind of madness I have around money and ethics where being broke and exploited feels safer to me and negotiating pay melts me into panic attacks. This time I’m surrendering a lot of power to her and my other trusted people to help me navigate this area. Exporting the skills I lack. I’ve seen other people with deep wounds or difficulty seeing straight in a key area do this (one brilliant couple I know, she keeps an eye out for his signs of burnout. He is honest and open about his voices and she has the power and right to call veto if the warning signs of overload are present). It’s a very big change from trying to up skill myself in every area, it’s vulnerable and strange to use my best judgement to rely on trusted others instead of continue to try and navigate when I know my compass is very faulty. It’s kind of terrifying and liberating.
Twice since I picked my advocacy work back up, Rose has found language to say ‘my gut is worried about this plan’. Not easy conversations to have or language to create but we’ve muddled through. Muddling through is an approach Rose brought to our relationship and frankly I think it’s our superpower. Imperfect, messy, inelegant, nevertheless we get there. We muddle together. I’ve taken the unprecedented steps of backing away from something that she identified as too high risk, focusing my energy on lower risk ventures for now. Together we are becoming more skilled at dealing with the impacts of my advocacy (both good and bad) on our whole family, now that we have one! Two heads are better than one, it seems.
Rose and I are both brilliant and vulnerable. It’s hard to see both aspects at times, but in our years together I’ve learned they are two sides of the same coin. All those years of suffering, all the skills we lack and blocks we hit and struggles we have are the place where the insights, the deeply tuned empathy, and the sparks of brilliance are. They are a package deal, intricately linked to each other. When things work well we can buffer the lacks and losses and create a setting for the skills to shine. But there’s no way possible to gain all this insight without some scars, and even healed you don’t run like someone who hasn’t been wounded. You don’t love like someone who doesn’t know loss. Our absolute joy in Poppy comes with a thread of terror, a dark numbing loss, memories of death and sadness and fears of being inadequate, incompetent, and alone.
Competence and vulnerability tend to get split off as we try to show one side in our work and our public lives and the other keep hidden for 3am or maybe the shrink. The reality is, that heart is so big because of its scars, and the flaws in the diamond are part of what makes it precious. None of us are invulnerable or competent at everything and dangerous things happen when we try to be or get put under pressure to pretend to be. I’m learning that professionalism is not actually supposed to be a brittle facade of perfection, where you conceal every sign of pain, insecurity, confusion, doubt, or failure. It’s not a superhuman inhuman cardboard cut out of yourself you hide behind and can’t have any realconnection through.
Professionalism is a place where you have a good sense of who you are, your skills and vulnerabilities, and you can talk about them, negotiate around them, set up what you need to be brilliant, and nurture and protect the vulnerabilities. Human and connected. That’s a pretty radical departure from what I was taught, and what most of us experience. (Thinking of my lovely friend in a management position on excellent pay who used to lock herself in the toilet at work to cry, and send me miserable emails from her phone) Spaces it’s not safe to be human do dangerous things to people. Dehumanised roles and workplaces have brutal, predictable impacts on people. It’s only the psychopaths who thrive in them, slick, charming, and invulnerable. People like me tend to simply self destruct without really knowing why. It’s my nature to not fit into boxes I’m pressed into. Most people are able to adapt but find the cost is both more subtle and more profound than they at first realised.
It takes skill to keep the needs of work (be shiny at this time in this way) set up in such a way that they fit with human needs, with the way our energy ebbs and flows, our needs for human contact and for retreat from it, for a sense of meaning in our work. It’s the nature of all industry to wrestle with the line between productivity and exploitation, to look for cheaper, quicker ways to get results, to fall for slick charm and treat people as faceless cogs in a machine. And if resources were limitless and there were no consequences for abuse, that process of chewing up and spitting out people, animals, and our environment would work just fine and be highly profitable. It wouldn’t matter if we all worked like machines, but we ate living organisms and fit together not like cogs but like parts an ecosystem. So kids die in sweatshops overseas making cheap clothes, and middle-class workers with horrible bosses suffer chronic depression, migraines, and the kind of miserable self destructive behavioral ticks we used to see in caged, bored, lonely zoo animals. No resource is limitless. Industry that abuses creates wealth for a few at a high price for everyone else. Ethical, sustainable industry does not exploit but instead invests. Like good relationships. Like good families.
So my beloved Rose and I are gearing less towards self improvement and more towards what discovering what environment we need in our family for each of us to be our shiny best somewhere. What does Star need? What safe place to fall, what resources, love expressed in what way? What do I need to be brilliant and keep my finger off the self destruct button? What does Rose need to allow her painful past to be a source of invaluable insight rather than a millstone of inertia and defeat? Not how can we be less vulnerable, but how can we be more human? Work with how we work. Muddling through. Imperfect but good enough.
This is a love letter to Rose, really, in its own way. She is the heart of our home, the one who reminds us to be in the moment, to soak each other up. She’s here through it all, even when it’s overwhelming. 1 year of loving a teen together. 6 months of loving a baby. She changes nappies, pack lunches, teaches baby sign, wipes tears, gives cuddles. She buys pearls. She is my love. ❤