Rethinking Money

For my Studio Opening last weekend, I created a goody bag of treasures. This was partly to deal with my anxiety about charging tickets for the first time. I was charging tickets to deal with my anxiety about catering for an event when numbers were unknown. I also like to use small events like this to test run tools or things I want to offer such as my point of sale system, ticketing, or catering. There’s always glitches to iron out and skills to learn, and I like to figure this stuff out small scale first. The irony in this instance is that selling tickets created such severe anxiety for me it nearly completely incapacitated me to actually run the event. I’m working on this. I’ve been reading and exploring about Abundance through a book The Abundance Code and video by Julie Ann Cairns.

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Julie explores the things that block us around money. Anyone who has been following me here on this blog knows I have some big ones. At first I was embarrassed to even be seen reading a book like this. The word ‘money’ on the cover was bad enough, the word ‘rich’ was unbearable for someone who has been choked by the idea that being a decent person and earning money was frankly incompatible… that intentionally seeking money was vulgar and repulsive. I’ve also been pinned by an intense sense of responsibility to support my family and give my kids opportunities. Crushed between these ideas my anxiety has been extreme and I’ve been grappling for a path I can walk.

So I’ve been reading in small doses and journaling, and my thinking is shifting. I’m exposing myself to people who are ethical about money, people who want to make money but without exploiting or harming others, and people who care deeply about social justice and vulnerable people. I’m digging into my history and pulling out the stories I’ve been told or telling myself. With the tickets for my opening – $4 each to help me nail the catering and not get caught running an open tab in case a million TEDx people turned up unexpectedly (numbers are more likely to be accurate when people spend even a small amount on a ticket) – I finally found the thorn in my heel. That it was okay for others to value my work but not for me to assign it value of even the smallest amount. I wrote on my heart that day ‘You do not have to like, value, understand, or pay for what I do. However, I’m allowed to’. And finally, after 4 huge meltdowns, I’d named the distress and the panic drained away so I could breathe again.

The model I’ve run my networks in is one of charity, which is brilliant in some ways but problematic in others. Not being included in a community with something of your own to offer – only being the recipient of care – carries a cost and a distress I’m all too familiar with. 

The model I’ve been running my business on, where I scatter myself across many skills and let clients set the price and value of my work also needs rethinking. With good clients it doesn’t work so badly, with some it leaves me vulnerable to exploitation. Either way it’s an irritating unexpected hassle to deal with when hiring me should be simple, comfortable, and create confidence that of course I will do, to a high standard, what I’ve been contracted to do. 

Rose and I have transitioned from her working and I run the household to the reverse, which has been a huge goal for many years! I am thrilled. Now I want to grow my business with the goal of moving us out of public housing into a secure, larger home. But I’m also taking the pressure off myself. I’ve realised the brutal imperative I’ve been experiencing to be financially independent now, is really not borne out of my values, but a parasite that’s attached itself to me from other’s beliefs. Right now it’s most important for my family to have a parent who is somewhat sane, connected, and nurturing. Burning myself out costs all of us too dearly.

Not so many years ago I was homeless, profoundly ill, isolated, and struggling to survive. My business has been a passion for many years and it is growing well. It’s okay that it’s not supporting us yet. It’s okay that I still have skills to hone and tools to develop. It’s okay that I’ve mistakes the way. And it’s okay for me to explore my values around money and deliberately set out to create a sustainable business. To find my own elegant and ethical way to blend my passions for creativity and meaning with income. 

Poem: Marriage Equality

Here, we are having a postal vote about marriage equality- equal rights for same sex couples. It’s been a nightmare, triggering abuse from strangers and bringing up terrible memories. Both Rose and myself come from backgrounds where who we are and how we love was not at all okay. There’s deep wounds there. It’s hard to understand what that feels like if you haven’t lived it. So here’s a small extract from my journal, recently. 

I’ve no words for this, no words
No persuasion, no speeches, no points strung together in sequence
What I have is a strangled cry
Tears I can’t weep
I’m frozen and desiccated
An old tree curled over itself
Here is where my heart broke.

This is me, as a child, curled on the floor
Weeping and silently screaming as I beg god
To make me other than how I feel.

This is me, wanting to die
In my body is still the memory of that shape
Laying on the floor, wrapped around myself
My hands like claws, the taste of vomit in my mouth.

My body at night remembers the shape of that pain and returns to it
I lay on my side, curled around a self hated so deep, a terror so profound
I have no words or even tears, just the deep grieving in my bones
The void in the pit of my gut
The sickness in my heart, a kind of keening
Oh, oh, ooh
Let it not be
Let it not be like this
Let me keep my face turned from those days
The voice in my head that tells me I’m worth less and should die
Don’t make me look at the fear and loathing in your heart
The darkness in your embrace, the disgust in your eye
The purity of your sacrament that is not for me
Let me keep my arms around the peices of my heart
Don’t tear me open like this
Don’t tear us open where
All your hate falls out
All your brokenness.
How am I to bear it?

I’m asked to speak
To write, to share, to show
We are normal/sane/loving/safe
To lead from fear to hope but
I’m not here anymore, I’m long gone
I’m the little girl on the floor and I don’t have those words
I’m stuffed with darkness and the night and the violence of your rejection that leaves no bruises
I’m broken on the floor while the most sacred parts of my life
The deepest and most beautiful things in my world
My love, my beloved, my children, my friends
Are tossed around me by
People who are not choking on a memory of pain so vast
It still reverberates in my mind and binds my tongue
I’m still on the floor, screaming in fear.

My little girl nurses at my breast
Through the small hours where my sadness
Demands company and keeps me awake
She will not know this anguish
It will be alien to her, outside of her
One of your voices, perhaps, but not
My voice
Not her own voice
Taken and used against her
Not set into her blood or bone
A wound from outside perhaps, but not
Swallowed and poisoning from within.

That is the world I want for her.
No hand turned against itself
No bloodletting agony or self flagellation.
Where I know your rejection so intimately
I want her to know only bewilderment, only confusion.
To be outside of it,
To have grace for it,
To know for certain that she is loved.

Gastro for everyone

It’s been a rough couple of days after a really wonderful week. We’ve all caught a particularly nasty strain of gastro. Poppy came down first and has recovered, Rose and I have been hit hard. Star has just come down today. It’s played havoc with Rose’s other health challenges. I managed to get her through the echocardiogram she’s been waiting for several months to have. Then all hell broke loose that night. It got me while I was walking Poppy to the shops to buy groceries, I struggled home. The world’s most useless home doctor visited for Rose who had been violently ill for hours, took no vitals and gave her an anti nausea med to pointlessly vomit up. With Star in the kitchen and me on the couch vomiting into a bag with Poppy on my lap, Rose got up and passed out, crashing to the floor. It was terrifying. I called my Mum and an ambulance. We were all really stressed, and Star wasn’t sick yet so I couldn’t even give her a hug.

The sadness of missing out on the marriage equality rally in town with so many friends and beautiful families.

Rose is still in hospital but slowly on the mend. It looks like she fractured her kneecap in the fall, but although she smacked her head she’s got away with a lump and a nasty headache. It’s taken a long time to rehydrate her and weird and worrying test results which are slowly coming right. It’s horrible not being well enough to go be with her.

So I’ve stayed home in an angry agitated state of helplessness, sickness and anxiety. Star looked after Poppy all yesterday, thankfully. I dealt with the nights, a cycle of vomiting, crying, nursing, and napping. I put out a call for help but the few kind souls who offered I told to keep away, they had important reasons not to be exposed. Families are so vulnerable in times like this, we have so few formal supports. If I was employed in child care no one sane would ever put a child in my care but there I am putting out the rubbish and vomiting into the driveway, and sorting out my meds and water bottle while a one year old screams and  hangs onto my trousers. We are very lucky to have such good informal supports. My Mum came and cleaned for us, Rose’s Mum did some shopping and took Poppy to hospital to visit her. 

Hopefully we will all be together again and recovered very soon, because that has been a tough couple of days and I could sure use a hug!

5 years with Rose

Yesterday was our anniversary. ❤ I’m so proud of us. It’s strange and a bit painful to be celebrating our relationship at the same time that the marriage equality plebiscite (a postal vote about same sex marriage) is going ahead here. It’s stressful and consuming a lot of emotional resources. We hate it. 

But here we are, 5 years in love. My tiny unit is stuffed to the seams. My once solitary and lonely life is unrecognisable. Through thick and thin, Rose and I have woven something beautiful; dark, bright, strong, and precious. We’ve kept believing in each other, in ourselves, and in our family. Not all the time, sometimes only a little bit, small scraps of hope in dark and painful times. But enough. In the good times we are so strong, so complimentary in our skills, so similar in our values. In the bad times we are strong enough to hold on. Not perfect but not trying to be. We’ve both escaped enough utopias to know that there magic in muddling through. 

Rose and I have now been together, unbroken, for longer than any other family she’s ever been part of. The sheer amount of work she does to have made that possible is hard for people to comprehend. All the times she doesn’t run when that voice deep inside tells her to go. All the ways she’s learned to share and explain and connect so she can function the way she needs to without tearing at our relationship. She’s amazing. 

We are struggling to balance our family, to nurture ourselves and each other along with our children. They are such a joy, so adored and long awaited and we pour ourselves out. There’s little left for each other at times, guilt and exhaustion. But here we are, celebrating us as Spring drips with honey blossoms and rain. We keep holding on, we keep learning. 

Rose sees so much of me, sees me so real. She believes in me, so unwaveringly, and walks with me whatever the path. Her kindness is her shining heart. She’s my safe place to come home to, somewhere where they speak my language and dream my dreams. 

I’ve been incredibly lucky in so many ways. Every year with her is a blessing. She’s absolutely unique and I love living with her, sharing all that we share, waking beside her every morning. She is my beloved and I am hers. 

Nesting under critters

I’m doing a great deal of reflecting at the moment on my work and career and how I’ve got to where I am now and what’s next. 

One thing I’ve resolved to change is the way my imposter experience makes me relate to others. When people value my work I can become overwhelmed and avoidant. At my first solo art exhibition, several people approached me wanting to buy work. I took their email addresses and promised to get in touch the following week. Instead, I froze up and didn’t speak to most of them for 3 years! 

It’s difficult to run a business with this approach. 😉 So I’ve been making time to meet and touch base with others lately, to hear about their projects, discuss potential collaborations, and gather skills and find resources. It’s been quite wonderful. 

Today was a bit exhausting driving all over for appointments and meetings, but this evening has been wonderful – talking to long distance friends and being nested under critters. I’ve got a lot of good people around me and they make me feel that the blocks in front of me are not so high, and the dreams not so out of reach. ❤

Happy first birthday, Poppy

Cake is in the oven, baking. I have backup sponge cake in case of emergency. I’m nursing her to sleep then I’ll make chocolate popping candy spiders for treats, and whip a white chocolate ganache for the cake. Nothing is essential and if anything doesn’t get done, everything will be fine. Nothing needs to be perfect. I can’t quite believe I’m making my daughter’s first birthday cake! I’ve been waiting for this a long time. 🙂

Reflections on the past year:

When Poppy was about 6 months old, I baked peanut cookies. I was gifted a second hand Kenwood mixer for Christmas and I love it. I learned to bake using my Mum’s mixer and I feel very at home, delighted, familiar. Our baker comes out and hums happily around the kitchen, thinking of Grandma. Flour sprinkles into the floor like the lightest snow.
A few months ago was bin night. As we dragged out the bins Rose and I started pulling weeds from the front yard on impulse. It was dark and starry and the garden had been soaked so the earth was soft and wet. In about 20 minutes we filled our green compost bin. We had mud on our feet. Grasping nettles firmly in the dark, fingers fumbling around thorns. A dark joy rising, to be in the earth, in the night, hands in soil, the scent of roses.

Changing Poppy first thing in the morning. She wakes with a sleepy smile and stares into my eyes. Milk runs down my body and spatters like rain on the linoleum. Poppy is so alert and so focused on the world around her but in moments like these it’s just her and I alone and something wordless between us. I have to watch for them or they are easy to miss. It’s a kind of knowing, quiet and strong.

Sick with gastro. Wracked with pain and vomiting. Crying quietly so as not to wake my family. Poppy needs milk. I lie on my side too exhausted to weep and Rose brings Poppy to nurse. I have to hold both her hands or she is like a kitten and folds her sharp little nails deep into my breast, kneading. Her hair is fine and soft as down. I fall in and out of sleep. In my mind I am alone, unloved, unlovable. I have no tribe and no one is coming. The world is dark and cold and everything hurts. It passes.

Zoe has a new passion for escape. She jumps our 6 foot fences and escapes when frightened of fireworks. New Year’s Day I call everywhere and Rose visits the local pound looking for her. I’m a tangled mess of grief, guilt, fear, relief, and shame. She comes home herself, exhausted and sleeps for 2 days. She whines and wakes everyone up several times a night to investigate the back yard for possums. I sleep her in the laundry with access to the back. For one night she is content. The second night she gets into our neighbors yard and then panics and can’t get back into ours. She’s hysterical by the time I find out and go over to bring her home.

Zoe guards our home and barks at passers-by. Each time Poppy is startled she bites me when nursing. One nipple is bloody and mauled. It won’t heal until I get a cream to treat infection. I rest it for days and pump on that side. The air conditioner floods the bedroom. It rains on the nappies that were drying on the line. Poppy loves Zoe and plays with her tail. Zoe kicks Poppy in the face. It’s all too hard. I’m pinned between love, responsibility, and fear. Fear of judgement from others paralyzes me. I can’t find a way through. I spend the morning in bed crying. I’m rescued, family takes Zoe in and cares for her. 

I miss her every moment. My home is so peaceful. People walk past our house and Poppy nurses unaware. I go from 15 bites a day to 1 bite every 3 days. The guilt is like a tidal river that comes up and down. The stress eases away like floodwaters draining, leaving mud and debris and wide open blue skies.

A friend we haven’t seen often visits. I cook pancakes. We watch cute animal videos on YouTube. Poppy loves cats but bursts into tears at the video of a hedgehog taking a bath. Star plays the guitar in her room and my heart melts.

Rose has a tooth extraction. It’s a difficult procedure and there’s a lot of pain. Five days later she’s still hurting. At 4am she’s overwhelmed by it. I hold her. We can’t tell if it’s infected or just slow to heal. There’s only the ER open. We talk through options. I push for hospital but she’s demoralized and afraid. What if there’s nothing wrong and they are mean? Hospitals are not safe places for Rose. I stroke her hand. She falls asleep with an ice pack nested under her ear like a little red and white bird.

Rose is napping and I am cooking dinner. Star has cuddled Poppy to sleep. Frying chicken sets off the smoke alarm. I run out to it and clip our esky  (cool box) on the way, breaking my little toe. Rose races out of bed to help me. “Poor love!” she cries, “I’m so sorry I slept, I can do the rest of dinner.” I push her out of the kitchen, hopping. Snarl at her “Go away! I’m being nice to you! I’m cooking while you nap, don’t wreck it!” Rose wisely decides not to argue. Poppy sleeps through the whole thing.

Poppy shows the developmental signs she’s ready to start trying food. Strawberries, nectarines, and watermelon are big favorites. Banana and mashed potato not so much. As she gets older she discovers the pleasure of dropping food then stomping on it until it’s squished into her toes. She giggles madly.

I crave bed with a single-mindedness that’s embarrassing. The sheets are changed far too infrequently but I’m so tired by the end of the day I never care. Crawling under my blankets is a kind of bliss. My evenings are spent anchored by one nipple to a small person. I learn I can download books onto an app on my phone. If I turn down the screen brightness and add a blue light filter, it’s almost like reading a book but can be done one handed in the dark. I’m thrilled.

Poppy discovers she can squirt milk by suckling then coming off the breast and leaning on it with her hands. She shoots milk up her own nose and giggles. I spend half my life damp. She hates the breast pump with intensity. I pump milk for day care and she stands at my knee howling with despair that I insist on sharing her milk with this mechanical baby. If she can reach it she pulls the plug or runs away with the hose. 

Poppy gets older and doesn’t coo at me like a little dove anymore. But she does sometimes talk to me in soft little hoots like an owl. She lays beside me in bed, kneeding her sharp little toes into the soft skin of my belly. Her eyes are night sky blue and dusted with stars.

Rose takes Poppy on adventures to gardens or the zoo. She comes home full of joy and exhausted and falls asleep on the couch after dinner. Poppy hurls all her belongings over the loungeroom and sits in her toy box. 

I pick Poppy up from daycare. She runs towards me and we snuggle. My heart explodes. She touched a chicken today, I’m told. Or licked a fence. Or carefully piled dirt on a doll. I wish I could book myself into daycare. It’s been a long time since I touched a chicken. She cries for exactly 1 minute, then falls asleep on the drive home, every time. 

Birthday mornings are presents in the big bed. Rose wakes is all for the minute Poppy was born. Star tears a little corner on the gifts so Poppy can unwrap them herself. Poppy tears apart the wrapping with a huge smile. She gets duplo, a wooden toy, an octopus bath toy, a frog book, wooden whistle, small trampoline, and baby bike. Everyone decides 7am is too early and goes back to bed for more sleep. It’s a good day. 

Happy first year, little love. You are my bright and shining joy. 

Birth Workshop

I had a beautiful, and traumatic birth with Poppy. It’s complex. I was glad to have the opportunity recently to attend a birth workshop with Rose and unpack some of my experience. If you’re in Adelaide you’re welcome to attend the presentation of our group’s reflections this Wednesday. Details here.

Poppy fell asleep in my arms in our last workshop. Rose snapped this shot of me while we were meditating. She is the most beautiful, joyful, tender heart of my world. It was precious to reconnect with that sense of the sacred that was so present when she was born. 

Star needs surgery

Our lovely Star has badly injured her knee while sparring in her Taekwondo class. A black belt student accidentally kicked her with so much force it’s ruptured the ACL, torn cartilage, bruised the bones, and sprained another ligament. She’s spent a week in a splint from her hip to her ankle, another week going around to medical appointments, and is now in the care of a physio and walking short distances. The knee has begun to seize so she’s on a program of gentle exercise, rest, and ice to squeeze the fluid out of the joint and regain some of her range of motion in preparation for surgery. 

She will need a reconstruction of the ACL, which is done by harvesting from her hamstring muscle/s. Until then she is not able to do any sports or other activities apart from walking. 

This would be tough for any young person but there’s an extra dimension for Star. She’s been struggling with back pain since she came into our family, and we found a gentle and skilled osteopath to support her. Her assessment was that the pain was being caused by chronic muscle tension – related to trauma and anxiety. (On a small level we all do this when stressed – grind our teeth or get tension headaches. Some of us hold more tension through all our body and unless we take care to tune back in and ease the muscles, we can suffer terrible pain as a result) Star’s osteopath eased the pain with massage and recommended a regular exercise program. 

It took a long time for Star to find something she felt comfortable with and we were surprised to discover she turned out to love and excel at Taekwondo. She’d recently graded, getting 94% and progressing to yellow belt. She was in the process of arranging to train an extra day a week, as well as taking on a yoga class with me every fortnight, and with the regular exercise was no longer needing to see the osteopath.

I can’t emphasize how essential care of your body is when there’s trauma or anxiety. I didn’t know this when I was young and went on to develop fibromyalgia and suffer intense pain for many years. Posttraumatic stress is a risk factor for fibromyalgia. I’ve been thrilled to see Star’s back pain reduce and her sleeping improve, and I’m daunted by how we’re going to manage now she’s only able to walk.

It’s looking like it will take a couple of years for her surgery on the public system wait list, so we are currently exploring ways of funding it privately. It will cost about $9,000, plus rehabilitation. Unfortunately when I sought private health cover we were unable to include her in our family cover because she is not our biological child, and she was too young to sign herself up independently. So we expect to have a little cover through the sports club insurance, but most of the cost we’ll need to arrange ourselves. We’re still figuring that out. After the surgery she will still be off sports for another year while her knee strengthens. 

It’s been a big blow for her and us. But we are doing our best to support her through it and scaffold her with the resources she needs to recover. She’s had the most incredible response to it, from using breathing techniques to deal with the initial severe pain while waiting for the ambulance, to her resolution to practice life skills for when things don’t go according to plan. Her willingness to accept and embrace her own real, painful feelings but also look for the positives is admirable. I am so proud of her. We never choose life experiences like this, but we can learn a great deal from them, especially with some support to process and reflect. So that’s what we’re doing!

In sickness and health

Poppy and I yesterday, visiting hospital. Rose had a very long day of health tests, and one of my best friends had a miscarriage. There’s been a lot of sickness and loss in my world lately. I’m heavy with sorrow and doing my best to be with the people I love. No one should have to endure such things alone. Always my heart aches for the people alone in the ED, especially the elderly. I’m struck by how often I’ve done this, on my life. Sat by the side of someone in pain. And how lucky I’ve been to have someone there for me, holding my hand, parking the car, remembering what dates symptoms started. 

I had a dream the other night that I opened a whole new part of my business, offering personal support for people. I’d done doula training and was there for people in birth or death or at other vulnerable times – at the dentist, getting a pap smear, navigating a psychotic episode, dealing with a severe pain flare… All things I’ve done and learned to do to a high standard in my personal life (although sometimes impaired by my own crises – I’m sick and pretty exhausted this week, I doubt I’ve been at my best in this role). In my dream, I called this work ‘Life Support’ and I could be there myself or teach people how to hold the space for their own loved ones, and of course, themselves. It was very beautiful, hard but very satisfying work.

Rose and Poppy are recovering from the flu at the moment, and Star and myself have head colds and sinus infections. I spent half of today in bed feeling very sorry for myself. Days like today I’m glad I often work from home, my desk is next to the heater and piled with tissues – I’d certainly not want to bring my bugs into an office. It’s not pretty at the moment, but we’re patient and it will get better again. 

Together we are stronger

It was a good day and at the end of it, I’m snuggled into a warm bed with my daughter. My heart is so happy and so damn proud. My family have been through an awful few weeks. We’ve been really hurting. A great deal of loss and sickness and heartache, one after the other. Yet here we are, holding each other gently. Listening and learning and finding what we need. There’s been a lot of self care, reflection, debriefing, and making space for big, painful feelings going on. We are an amazing team, I’m really so in love with us. My heart is full.

Robert Oster Inks

I received some beautiful new inks by local maker Robert Oster and I’ve found a little time carved from work and family and sleep to paint and play. Aren’t they stunning? I’m thrilled, and it’s very special to have inks made in my own area.

Lovely Star suffered a bad knee injury at Taekwondo the other night and our whole family spent all night in the hospital with her. We are still such a young family ,(she only came to live with us 18 ago) all the time we encounter new situations and have to decide how we will deal with them. We decided that everyone would come and be together. It was a long night but we kept our spirits up. She’s home now in a splint that goes from her hip to her ankle. She was amazingly tough, using breathing techniques to manage the pain of damaged ligaments and dislocation while waiting a long time for the ambulance. She’s navigating the loss of independence and needing help with everything with good grace. I’ve taken some time off work to help care for her and we’ve borrowed some movies, and friends have been visiting. It’s miserable and painful, we’re waiting for a referral to an orthopedic specialist to find out how badly it’s been damaged and whether it will heal on its own or needs surgery. 

It’s been a challenging few weeks, Rose is recovering from her heart problems, and Poppy is still getting over an ear infection and tonsillitis. I’m a bit up and down with so much going on. Snatching time here and there for a little art helps keep the lethargy and greyness of depression at bay. On the bad days I cry a lot. On the good days Poppy and I dance to music in our socks. Either way, there’s dishes to be done and nappies to be washed and the ceaseless clockwork of keeping a household functioning. The rage has eased and I’m much more patient still. Rose tries to create time for inks because, she says, when there’s art on my day, I’m my better self for all the rest of it. Kinder, wiser, gentler, more grounded. My heart was green and teal and tranquil and my brush flowed.

Ink on my fingers

Today was lovely. Rose is on the mend. I’ve taken a few days off work for everything not urgent, and rallied the tribe to help keep Rose and Poppy company during the couple of meetings or gigs I needed to attend. I’m feeling better myself after getting a bit more sleep – Poppy seems to have reached her sleep regression a bit early, she’s stopped one of her day time naps and is sometimes up in the small hours too. Last night Rose walked her around the block so I could rest up a bit too after cluster feeding her in bed for several hours, and today Rose slept while I looked after Poppy. 

My headspace crashed when I got sick too, but today I really enjoyed myself. I am feeling a little obsessive about some new art supplies and enjoying researching them and how to use them. I played with inks and typographies, and got back onto Pinterest. I’ve also been cooking the past few days which I love. I’ve made warm chicken salad, cauliflower soup, warm pumpkin and sweet potato salad, and pear and rhubarb crumble. As much as I love working I really do enjoy some aspects of home life, and I’ve missed cooking. We are now looking at doing a bit of a roster for cooking because Rose appreciates a bit of time off and having a nice meal made for her too. 

It’s also been really nice to hang out with Poppy all day. She finally fell asleep at 3pm after being grouchy all day and I tucked her up under a blanket and just snuggled her on my chest and smelled her hair for an hour. It was magic. Star and I walked with her to the local playground and we planned parties. Star, Rose, and Poppy all have birthdays within a week of each other! This will be our first year trying to balance them all. I’m determined to make sure all my girls feel special.

I’m also looking into professional development opportunities, trying to figure out which skills to strengthen for my business. There are some very interesting graphic design, illustration, and media communication courses out there, but so far nothing part time or flexible enough to fit around my work… Doula studies also really interest me but the unpredictable career seems challenging to combine with my other responsibilities. Community consultation has been an incredible joy to be part of, but SA is a small pond for work like that. Extending my skills in service design and evaluation, and organisational culture could be an excellent fit, but again the career is a little uncertain. Certainly there are books calling my name to write them, but only madmen consider writing a viable career. I’d love to add some more skills around arts administration and curating too, and graduate level public health is interesting as is community development and policy writing. I just can’t quite see where my next step is or what my particular career path might look like, so it’s hard to know where to prepare and what skills to strengthen. Hmmmm! 

I’m ecstatic to be working full time between my various skills, and determined to grow my business. I’d like to be secure enough to move my family into a larger home in private rental, and to wean off welfare as much as possible. Currently I’m supporting Poppy to have swimming lessons and keeping a second vehicle running for Star to have driving lessons in and I can’t tell you how proud that makes me. I went to the chemist when Rose got sick and pulled $100 from savings and spent it all on medications and vitamins and probiotics and didn’t need to go without a basic need to do so. I don’t really recommend adopting a teenager, having a baby, and starting full time work within the same 18 months, it has been brutal at times and the bad days are pretty black. I have never worked so hard in all my life. But it’s also wonderful, so many dreams come true. I endure the bad days with help from friends, and soak up the rest as best I can. Keeping a small person (and the rest of us) alive for a whole year feels like a massive achievement and I’m looking forward to celebrating it!

Nursing Rose

My darling Rose is sick. Tonight we’re tucked up on the couch with cauliflower and bacon soup, watching Harry Potter. 

That’s a considerable improvement on last night where she was hanging out in the ER and I was shuttling between her and the girls at home. Fortunately nothing is seriously wrong, and with a few weeks rest she should be feeling a lot better. She went in to have pain in her chest and leg investigated in case they were a heart attack or a blood clot. The chest pain turned out to be inflammation in the lining of the heart, and the leg they believe is a ruptured cyst. Both painful but not dangerous. She’s feeling pretty miserable and has also come down with tonsillitis, poor love. It’s really not been her year, she’s had so many health challenges and difficult circumstances to navigate. She’s still an incredibly devoted parent but is needing some extra down time and support. Fortunately work are understanding so we’ve both taken a few days off. Poppy missed us both badly and has been really unsettled today and struggled to sleep orv play by herself. So we’ve cancelled day care tomorrow to give her some extra snuggles and hopefully with some love and rest we’ll all be feeling a lot brighter very soon. 

My lovely Rose

I came home from work the other day to find Rose sick and tucked up on the couch under a blanket. I washed some dishes and made dinner, which is always a bit tough when I’ve been away all day because Poppy is so sad that I’m home but still trying to do other things. I nursed and cuddled first, and played and sang to her while cooking but after awhile it wasn’t enough and she was crying holding onto my leg. Rose got up and tickle-chased her around the house. My home rings with baby giggles and whoops of delight and I feel like my heart is going to burst.

It’s been one hell of an adjustment, this year. Brilliant, but huge changes and new skills needed. I had a great conversation with my shrink my other day who helped me get out of a hyper-critical mindset I’ve been stuck in and my heart is so much lighter. 

Rose and I have been hurting, feeling like however much we love each other, our relationship was withering. A desert was opening up between us. We moved between talking about love and marriage and having more children, and wondering if we might break up and fall apart, bewildered by how our relationship has changed so much in such a short time. And under everything else has been a kind of fury in me, killing every living thing around me. Every day a few more trees dead and the desert a little bigger. 

Fear will do that to do you. I want to be good enough. I want to keep my job. I want to get my family out of poverty and cramped public housing. I want to raise my girls well. When I’m terrified I’m not good enough, when I feel like I’m straining under a load too heavy to carry, when I’m giving everything and it’s still not right then terror has teeth in my soul and a kind of violent frenzy grips me. I try to succeed through criticism, motivate myself through brutality. Every imperfection is magnified and my campaign of self improvement is bloody. Every error I make – or Rose makes – must be corrected immediately or we will live like this for the rest of our lives. There’s no time to learn, no space for growing and talking over and trying again. Gone is the beautiful ‘muddling’ of our pre-parenting days. The stakes are high and perfection is the baseline of acceptable. 

We tear apart. Even when I bite down all the harsh words and speak none of them, my rage boils just beneath my skin and we can both feel it. I burn like a nuclear bomb and the fallout is soft, silent, deadly, and widespread. 

We talk bewildered. Why? What’s happened? I used to be kind, now I’m scary. The word abusive is brought into view and something in me drowns in tears and despair. It’s true. How did this happen? Why am I like this? How do I stop? What’s happened to me, to us? I used to be her safe place. I hate myself. I cut deep into my own heart, looking for the cancer. Trying to be better. Imsorryimsorryimsorryilltrytobebetter. Self hate and rage and terror add intensity. She has nightmares of me. The desert just keeps growing.

Stop and look at what you’ve achieved, says the shrink. Tell me about your skills and success and accomplishments. Vividly. Feel them, in your heart, in your body. Embody them. Bring them from head knowledge into the rest of you. Every time the criticism, anxiety, or despair comes. Remember your successes. Be kind to yourself and to her. Go back to your healing roots. Get away from delusional self improvement, terror of failure, and brutal perfectionism. 

I come home and we sigh with relief, hold each other tight. The war moves away, out of my skin and bones. No more nuclear winter. The rage leaves like a bad memory of a dream I once had. We touch again, unthinkingly, lightly, like leaves falling. We kiss. When she’s hurting I feel only compassion. I can see how hard she’s trying and how battered her heart is. Her brilliance begins to shine again. She can think more clearly around me, show her strengths better, be more competent. I can see how skilled she is, how amazing she is. I fall for her all over again, her eyes like hazelnuts and green pine bark, her hair a halo of curls. She crawls off the couch and chases Poppy around the house, who squeals with delight. The forest fire stops raging and I become a small fire in a hearth once again, bright and warm and safe to be close to. Banked against the cold night and able to roar if needed, but not burning down the house.

Life becomes a joy again. There’s pain around me, confusion, darkness, death. But a relief bubbles up through it all. She’s my Rose again and I’m worthy of her trust again. She lights down in my heart like a bird nesting. My demons murmur but they don’t run the parliament. The darkness is there between the stars in our eyes, the taste of death and blood. Our hopes like ships upon the waters. The smell of our baby in my arms, milky kisses on my cheek and the quiet steady ache of my arms to have her in them. Finding my way back to connection for each of my precious family. Remembering laughter is what makes the night shorter and less savage. 

And I’m blemished but no longer the snake in our nest. The knife in my smile is sheathed. She doesn’t flinch when I walk near, my beautiful love, my beloved. In her bad dreams she stirs and I wake. She reaches for me in her sleep, fingers tangled into fingers. My heart croons peace to hers like a dove. The joy in my world is like the moon rising. She rests her head against my heart. She rests her heart within my arms. I’m hers again. I’m hers. 

A good day

The perils of a home office in a very small house…

Rose and I have had a beautiful day. There was a lot of anxiety for me but I muddled through it and I’m proud of the work I did today. Friends with good news visited for dinner. I made risotto and between us Rose and I got half the collection of dishes done, and 4 loads of laundry away. Poppy tipped a leftover bowl of milk and cereal on the kitchen floor, then jumped on the soggy sliced bananas in her socks, squealing with joy. There’s been hugs and gentle conversion and connection. It’s been a good day.

Melbourne by night

This is how Poppy lets me know she’s ready to head out. 🙂

All the cultural delights of Melbourne, and so far Poppy has been most impressed with this port in the floor. 🙂 We had a great night roaming the markets and city.

How to tell if it’s been a rough night number 651: you find yourself googling ‘how to tell if you’re a narcissist’ after broken sleep, cold room, fibromyalgia pain, and a little person with night terrors. Feeling a bit fragile today. Off to see Van Gogh. 

Poppy and I visit Melbourne

Here we are sharing a chocolate cherry waffle on the way!

We are hitching a lift with friends and going to spend the long weekend in Melbourne. Rose kindly set up the trip to give me a proper rest. Mammoth work projects and end of financial year business admin has been taking a toll. Even more pertinent, Van Gogh is being exhibited at the NGV and it’s not often in your lifetime you get a chance like this!

So we’re all packed and off on an adventure. I’m nervous and excited and don’t quite know what to expect traveling together. Rose has held my hand through all the jitters and worry about traveling and how much still needs to be done at home. Now I’m feeling free and light and hopeful. Getting back onto this blog has been wonderful, even though there’s so much pressing work. I love to feel connected to my online world, and to reflect on what has been and what’s yet to come. It calms me and give me focus, helps me find my connection to myself again. 

I feel alive again. I get lost and find my way home, over and over. Right now I feel alive and bubbling over with joy.

If you’re in Melbourne this weekend and want to catch up, sing out. 🙂 

My amazing day off

What a glorious day. 

I stayed up to 3am last night finishing the major project my team and I have been working on for weeks, the state wide consultation. Today was planned for a quiet, family day… Taking Poppy to a sensory play group, hanging out with Rose, catching up after all the long days and late nights I’ve been working lately… Tonight was date night and I had free movie tickets from my birthday waiting to go. Thursdays seen to be difficult days to make plans for lately. 

Instead of most of that we wound up supporting friends through labour and birth! Rose cared for kids while I was support person in the birthing room next door to the room I birthed Poppy nearly 10 months ago. What an extraordinary privilege! 

So strange that so many things I’m doing at the moment overlap the same skills sets – birth support, facilitating groups, mentoring, consulting, crisis support, workshops and education, parenting​… Being able to connect, listen, tune in, hold the space, and get out of the way are all essential skills in each of those areas. I feel like I’m falling over my primary saleable skill set, the one linked to income, finally making sense of it. Funny, just the other day I was writing up a consult that discussed the formal vs informal economy and I thought about how much my world has been in the informal and how people have been incredibly generous and supportive because I have been generous and supportive. As I’ve transitioned to full time work I’ve been feeling a little sad at moving away from the informal, at being less available for friends and family and attaching a dollar value to my skills and time. 

But on the other hand, at times I’m able to do what amazing people have done for me – throw money at a problem and help it go away. That’s new and wonderful.

Today was an opportunity to be there for a friend and I felt so many shifts in myself too. I’ve been struggling with birth trauma since Poppy came into the world nearly 10 months ago. I rarely talk about it and I’ve been wrestling with it, finding little keys or insights here and there but still deeply lost. Today, seeing birth through the eyes of a support person instead of the one giving birth, it felt like a circle that had been broken came together again. I could see things differently, literally from the other side. I could experience and connect back to my self in that place. I could be an anchor and hold the space for those there today. Being present and connected and witnessing something incredibly precious.

When baby was safely here and everything was settled I dashed off to pick up Poppy from daycare. When she saw me she lit up and I curled down on the floor to meet her. She crawled into my arms and I tumbled her to smell her hair, kiss her face, hold her hands, her tummy, her feet. She feels new and glorious and her eyes are full of stars. Rose and I manage to meet at the last movie session of the night and we sit in the aisle while Poppy plays, we cuddle and hold Poppy and hold hands and change nappies and eat popcorn and ice cream all the way through Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been a glorious day.

Poppy has a lucky escape

I had a terrible scare last week. I wrote this while we were in hospital for observation:

“I’m sleep deprived, incredibly uncomfortable, and longing for home. We’re back in the local hospital with Poppy. She’s made a miraculous escape from a horrible home accident. One of the worst things I’ve ever seen is my tiny daughter curled up inside the wreckage in my laundry, her little body so vulnerable between huge besser bricks and cast iron pots. 

I was cooking dinner last night with Poppy at my feet playing. There was a horrific crash like the house had fallen in and I spun around to see my laundry a disaster area. I couldn’t stop screaming Oh my God! over and over. I ran to it and found Poppy curled up in the middle of it, screaming hysterically. I scooped her into my arms ran for my phone and called an ambulance while checking for blood. 

Somehow in the few minutes I made all the needed phone calls, turned off the stove, and packed a bag for hospital while Poppy wailed in my arms.”

We were kept in overnight for observation. Watching the bruises appear on her skin at 3am was one of the saddest experiences. But all has been well! Her x-rays were clear, she’s been alert and active, and we have escaped anything serious. Her bruises are already almost healed.

We think one of the large besser bricks grazed her cheek, ear, and shoulder. 

I pulled her out of this. She was curled in ball where the jar of peanut butter is, under the table top, in a triangle between the dishwasher and the bricks.

We came so close to tragedy. We have been so lucky. The overnight vigil at the hospital we just watched and waited to see if our luck would run out. She is a fearless, adventurous child, already walking and now climbing. Our lives split into the possibility of loss, both Rose and I looking into that dark place and wondering if there was a way to survive it. 

Then suddenly, the sun comes out. Poppy is fine. We are all okay. The world keeps spinning and the sky doesn’t fall. The other life is left behind like a nightmare we wake from. It lingers in dreams. The bruises fade. 

Tomorrow family comes to help us bolt furniture to the walls and make the home safer for a climbing toddler. 

Poppy plays on my lap, squeals with delight at being bounced on my legs, sings Mumumum at me while I grin madly. How long I’ve waited for that song. 

The silence did not fall. The song goes on. My heart is unbroken. My life is rich. My world is still beautiful.

Holding spaces

Finding myself needing downtime, debriefing, and reflection space. So many conversations and experiences to digest. I recognise that lingering uneasy feeling of needing to stop taking in new experiences and find a safe place to slow everything down and unpack. 

I find myself thinking of the unpaid and often hidden and unrecognized work of the precious friends, mentors, and loved ones who hold a space like this. I’m seeing how to use such blessings more wisely and waste less time circling the same dilemmas. It’s a rare gift, space in which feelings don’t have to be rational or justified to be explored. I have worked hard to get better at doing it myself for myself and for others, to support people to feel genuinely safe, heard, and understood. 

I’m deeply grateful to Rose who has created this haven for me for years now, hours of conversations that at times seem pointless, confusing, frustrating. But that commitment to validation and reflection where I’ve been able to move out of personal journals and into relationship and conversation has been invaluable to me. Her love and skill and patience is a big part of why we work so well together. She is brilliant at listening, being safe for the vulnerable or traumatised, and remembering a my wildness and my darkness when I’m burned dry and can’t recall that I’m really a mad poet who has learned to mimic a regular person but I live, breathe, and recharge best out in the wilds, running along the edge of the night. 

I’m so blessed to have some friends who also hold spaces for me, online or face to face. Their timely connection has been the difference between lonely anguish and comfort, severe distress and pain I can howl out of my heart. I’m aware of how lucky I am.

I’m struck once again by how many aspects of therapy that are healing and helpful are also aspects of life and relationship. They don’t have to be walled away as trained skills available only in treatment, by those in regulated relationships. They can and often are part of the very best friendships, they are part of the love that passes between partners, parents, children. 

Eugene Gendlin recently passed away. I found his book on Focussing extremely interesting and helpful. I was intrigued that he didn’t take his ideas and lock them away in the exclusive domain of therapists, as is usual. Instead he considered focusing to be a skill any two people could learn and support each other in. Thousands of people have learned and offered this skill of holding space and listening to each other in support groups online and around the world. Precious, peer based. No power. No treatment. Connection. There’s nothing at all wrong with needing professional support. But I don’t like the locking of knowledge into silos, reserved for the experts and not recognised as the significant skill and profound kindness it is when we receive it in our personal lives.

Mother’s Day with Kids

It’s been a wonderful day, very precious to experience a Mother’s Day that didn’t feel like being eviscerated. Rose and I have had a day of tending. We’ve spent time with Mums and women who nurture, and reached out to a few folks who find today hurts. We soaked up the joy of our kids and talked through some of the sadness and yearning that’s part of today when there babies not here and Mother’s not here.

Rose took us to a forest and we breathed it in. She took this beautiful photo of me on the playground, wearing my awesome birthday shirt and boots.

We attended a couples massage class together which was beautiful and powerful and deeply needed. We sat and looked into each others eyes and cried. We touched each other and eased pain. It was one of the first times we’ve been alone together since Poppy was born, and the first that we didn’t use that time to sleep! (It was tempting) 

We visited my Mum and Star’s Mum and enjoyed gifts in bed and sat around a campfire and did no work or housework or admin at all, just connected with each other and our people. 

It was beautiful.

Poppy is doing better

We all came home from hospital once Poppy no longer needed a nasal gastric tube to help with the dehydration. There was an influx of sick kids needing the  beds and they were pretty confident the test results would show she had a bout of gastro that was resolving. We brought her home Monday evening, did fluid tracking for another 24hrs during which time she continued to improve.

So it was a bit of a shock to follow up with her doctor on Wednesday and learn that her test results were not consistent with gastro (not to mention that no one else we know has it or had caught it since she became sick). Brain injury and meningitis were ruled out, which is a relief. But we’re not really sure what happened. And she’s continued to be off colour since. She was severely dehydrated so we’ve been told that if she shows signs of dehydration again, spikes a fever, or vomits twice in a row we’re to take her back to Hospital for assessment. We haven’t needed to do that, thankfully. But it was a long week following.

She’s vomiting once severely every few days, has low urine output, and isn’t sleeping well. Her latch has changed and nursing is painful and leaving blisters.

So we’ve been keeping her close, running on very little sleep, and keeping an eye on her. 9 months in we’ve done both my nightmare parenting scenarios- both parents very sick at the same time, and baby very sick with gastro type issues on a camp. Ye gods. 

So that’s where things are up to. Work is wonderful but incredibly busy and intense. Rose and I both worked at times this week and are frantically catching up on housework and meal prep. I came home wired, excited, and exhausted​ recently and just dropped all my bags by the front door and spent an hour getting muddy in the front garden with Poppy. I knew if I walked in the house I would collapse​ on the couch and not move again. But digging up weeds and getting my hands in soil amidst the last autumn roses was exactly what I needed to calm and breathe again. Sometimes checking out at the end of the day isn’t resting it’s just disconnecting. 

I’ve also been reading about secondary lactose intolerance which can happen following a viral infection that temporarily damages the villi in the intestines, making it difficult to process dairy and breast milk. As the gut heals the villi grow back and bubs can digest everything again, but it might explain the ongoing illness aspect of this. Our GP agrees so we’re just taking it gently while Poppy recovers. If things don’t improve we’ll explore possible allergies but I’m hopeful we’ve got things sussed out. 

Yesterday Poppy spent her first afternoon in day care, which went really well. It’s a Family day care run by a friend with a similar parenting approach to us. There’s a sandpit and opportunities for playing in mud, and a cat and chickens and lots of books. Poppy is very adventurous and fascinated by other children so we’re hopeful that with the right approach she’ll find staying there a treat. Frankly I wouldn’t mind checking in for a couple of days playing in the garden myself. We’re very lucky to have such a quality option close by, it’s a far cry from some places I’ve been in with their obsessive sterilising of toys and anxiety about the weather. 

I guess it’s a little bit like mental health care that way, the most expensive, shiny, clinical settings are often where the worst ‘care’ happens, while the underfunded, homey drop in centre can be where the profound interpersonal skills and human connection that saves lives happens. That kind of ‘impressive professional looking’ and ‘human’ so rarely go together. 

So she and other children played and explored and cuddled and ate together. Rose and​ I fretted quietly. When I went to pick her up she was fast asleep so I sat with her until she woke. On seeing me she cried a little and we talked and cuddled until she felt better. She nursed and slept in my lap all evening, catching up on contact. I felt the mix of anxiety, relief, bewilderment, gratitude, and frank surprise that this is my life that has been a part of parenting since the beginning. We keep feeling our way forwards. My days are bookended by absolute joy.

Advocacy – Breastfeeding in Public

I’ve been doing more advocacy work in several areas lately, and working on my terror of journalists… (I’m queer, poor, out about my mental health challenges etc… a member of various groups often not treated well by media) It’s a little bit of an experiment to see what I’m capable of and what the costs are for myself and my family. I’m pretty comfortable with being my own media but handing control over words and images to someone else, and being vulnerable to having your story fitted to their ideas, values, and perceptions is a very different thing.

Breastfeeding parents deserve much better support. I’ve been unfortunate to find myself in a couple of difficult situation, and fortunate in that the journalists who I’ve spoken with have been friendly and not misrepresented me. So a while ago I was interviewed for a snippet on the Channel 7 news which was also shared to their Facebook page. I watched the social media storm once the story went up. I wrote this blog post and then held it in draft for a few months to let things calm down.

Most of the online conversation completely missed the point, sadly. Which is simply this:

I don’t think it’s okay for a business to:

  • Refuse to own an unusual policy and blame others instead (‘we wish we could but we can’t because they won’t let us’)
  • Keep their policy quiet so many people who it will impact are not aware of it
  • Ask people who have fallen foul of their policy and only found out at the last minute to take down a polite post in the event page online informing and cautioning others it will impact
  • Not release a public statement about their policy once they realise people are not aware of it, but instead continue to allow people to discover it at the gates of the venue where they are denied entrance because of it
  • Randomly enforce their policy by allowing some people to bypass it if they argued it was discrimination

That seems crystal clear to me, and I think most people would agree it’s bad form. That’s why I spoke up. Whether the policy itself is legal is still unclear to me, a call to the Equal Opportunities Commission wasn’t able to clear that up.

What most people were arguing about is:

  • Whether the policy itself is a good idea
  • What ‘good parents’ should be doing

While these are important topics, from my perspective they are not actually the point in this situation. If the policy is legal, then any business that has it should have the decency to own it, be clear and consistent about it, and make sure the people it impacts know about it. That seems simple to me.

I knew that a social media backlash of some kind was likely when I agreed to be interviewed. Breastfeeding, and babies inconveniencing other people are hot topics, and the internet can be a scary place! Don’t read the comments is the mantra for a reason. I’ve been doing more advocacy in various ways lately and I’m slowly extending my capacity and working to reduce my vulnerabilities. I usually follow a fairly careful – praise in public, criticise in private approach with my online sharing, but I do make exceptions when I feel it’s warranted – in this case I’ve already complained directly and been shut down, and this is important to talk about.

The policy in question?

Not allowing babes in arms at an outdoor picnic concert – Missy Higgins and the Australian Symphony Orchestra, because it was an 18+ event. Here’s the context:

  • Here in Australia it is normal that babes in arms can attend many 18+ events, free. They can be brought into pubs or other venues that serve alcohol, they can come to concerts and music events, they can even travel free on domestic flights. It’s generally understood that babies are not benefiting from the event so they don’t need a ticket, and they need to come because they need to be cared for – especially those who are breastfed and like Poppy won’t take a bottle. This is a lot more common than many people think. At the time, if she couldn’t go somewhere, I couldn’t go there.
  • We have strong laws to protect breastfeeding in Australia; it is illegal to prevent someone breastfeeding their baby. These laws are essential because there is a lot of hostility from some people. Mums still have issues with being asked to leave restaurants, told they have to feed in toilets or go home, or being harassed and even abused by strangers while nursing – all kinds of things that make being a breastfeeding Mum really hard. So the laws are important because some people have an intense ‘ick’ reaction to breastfeeding and try very hard to make those of us who do it feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or even unsafe when we try to go about our normal lives. The Equal Opportunity Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone in customer service “because they have a child with them or need to feed a child (including breast and bottle-feeding)“.

Remember the issue at hand – if you’re going to have a policy, own it, be honest and upfront about it, and do your best to make sure people affected are aware of it and don’t get caught out by it.

The Story

So, I’m home with Poppy tonight, while lovely Rose goes off to the concert we planned to attend as a family. Back in August, friends all teamed up and bought us both tickets to a beautiful outdoor concert of Missy Higgins and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as a ‘welcome to the world’ gift once Poppy safely arrived. We’ve been planning tonight for months. Rose has been playing Missy Higgins music to Poppy so she’s familiar with it. We bought baby headphones which we’ve used successfully at other events in case it was too loud. We have infant safe insect repellent in case of mosquitos. Rose especially has been super excited because she’s really into Missy and has been since forever. When they sold out of hampers and we were broke because Rose’s wallet was stolen, she was worried because their website said we were not allowed to bring our own food. So she called them and said I was breastfeeding and couldn’t possibly go 6+ hours without eating, will there be other food available on the night? They said yes and we planned to put a little borrowed money aside for a meal.

So it was a nasty surprise when our mates contacted us and said – so sorry we’ve just found out no babies allowed! We were sad and upset and called the venue to check. They confirmed this and said it was not their idea, they would love to have babies there, but the liquor licensing laws prevent it. We were pretty upset that even when we called them and mentioned breastfeeding, they hadn’t told us about not allowing babies. They said it was on their website under FAQ’s but when we checked those went up months after the tickets had been purchased. Rose put up a sad but polite post on Facebook in the event letting other breastfeeding Mums know they couldn’t bring their babies. Another Mum found herself in the same position and people started to make phone calls to try and figure out who was responsible for this policy, why none of us knew about it, and if it could be changed.

The liquor licensing people said it was nothing to do with them, vendors set their own policy. The local council likewise. Missy Higgins team said they can’t overturn a decision by the vendor. The Equal Opportunity Commission said they are uncertain if a venue has the right to deny entrance to a baby under these circumstances. We got worried about our tickets to see Amanda Palmer next year and checked in with them – yep, babies are fine, please just take them out of the room if they cry. Phew! That’s the usual scenario, and exactly what we planned to do.

So we went back to the vendor and said hey, council and liquor licensing say babies can attend an 18+ event like this, can we please bring her. Vendor still says no and still insists it’s not their policy or fault. Then they ask can we please take down our post letting other parents know about it. That’s the point at which I got really cranky, because it’s one thing to have a policy like this, and it’s another entirely to not tell people about it! We ask for a refund of my ticket and venue says they will do that.

Phone calls and emails are going back and forth and things are kicking off on social media. People are getting the wrong end of the stick and arguments are breaking about out whether a venue can prevent a Mum from breastfeeding (they can’t and they weren’t trying to, they were preventing the baby from coming) or whether a concert is a suitable venue for a baby, which is a whole different kettle of fish. This was about a baby not being allowed in when usually they would be, and the venue handling the situation in a way I found distressing.

A friend of mine who went along on Friday night messages me to tell me that there is a baby there and they’ve been let in. They go and chat and find out that they were confronted with the ‘no babies allowed’ policy at the door. Shocked, they argued that was discrimination and were let in with their baby, but told they might be asked to leave by security at any time. They let my friend take a photo of their baby to prove they were allowed in, in case it helps us argue to be included. Venue continue to argue it’s out of their hands.

One friend emails a journalist who then reaches out to Rose online. I’m madly anxious about the media and worried about the shit storm that’s developing online, but I’m also angry about how the venue have treated people and the misinformation that’s going on. Harassing parents with babies at the gates is rubbish. So a lovely journalist and a cameraman turn up to my house to interview me. I run home from the blessingway (baby shower) I’ve been at and change out of my pants which have baby poo on them (parenting is glamorous) and stand on my porch to talk about how badly this has been handled. They tell us about the media statement from the venue, which to my mind is waffly and vague and implies they are unaware of the issues and unsure how to proceed. It sounds suggestive that maybe they are now letting babies in after all. Rose calls them again and is told that they are not now and have not ever let babies in for this type of event, not do they plan to. They continue to blame licensing despite us having verified directly with licensing that they wrote the license specifically allowing children to be present. When Rose also tells them she knows they let at least one baby in yesterday, they bizarrely claim the baby must have been smuggled in by its parents. Baffled and frustrated, we give up.

Our friends turn up with icecream. They leave the icecream as consolation for me, and take Rose off to the concert. I get a bit teary about staying home. I jitter my way anxiously through dinner, watch the snippet when it comes on the news and feel hugely relieved about it. A couple of words I wouldn’t use (Poppy isn’t a newborn, and I wouldn’t describe myself as devastated) but they’ve been true to the situation. Phew!

I hang out with Poppy, nursing and helping her nap, and when the clip goes up online have a quick look at the comments which are mostly negative, hostile, and missing the point. My Mum comes over and we play board games. It’s hardly the worst thing to be home with Poppy. 🙂 Rose comes home and shows me a video she took of Missy singing a lullaby she wrote for her baby boy. It’s stunning, we both get a little teary. I’m sure Missy wouldn’t be okay with any of this if she knew about it. It was a truly beautiful night.

What do I think of a policy of not allowing babies into events like this?

As to the points people are mostly arguing about – obviously I personally think the policy is not a good idea. A picnic orchestra is hardly a thrash metal mosh pit and seems to me to be a perfectly suitable place for a baby. I’m concerned that banning babies effectively bans the Mum and the breastfeeding, which may even be the covert intention when people insist on policies like this, who knows? I wasn’t the only person unable to attend because I was nursing a baby.

Policies and laws around things like this are trying to balance a few things – parents rights to inhabit venues and public places with their babies, the need to keep babies safe, and the rights of other people to also inhabit and enjoy events and places. People interpret them in slightly different ways and weight them differently which is fair enough. I get that a crying baby on a bus for example, is stressful and no fun for anyone. However parents and babies need to be able to get places, so we are legally protected to be able to use public transport. There are certainly places it is not safe or suitable to take a baby, and it’s reasonable to exclude them from construction sites and surgeries for example. The venue in our case not allowing babies in appears to be a bit of a grey area.

Personally I think it’s fine to bring a baby to a picnic concert, and I’ve done so more than once. We’ve attended concerts indoors and outdoors, as well as the cinema, restaurants, the beach, swimming pool, my workplace meetings, and a camp with friends. We are considerate and take Poppy elsewhere if she is unsettled, we use baby earphones if the volume is loud, and we have a good time together. It’s important to me to include and support parents, and especially to help support and normalise breastfeeding.

Here we are together at the free Neil Finn picnic concert in Elder Park – which was absolutely full of families, children, and babies having a great time. It was the first big concert Star had ever been to and we had a lovely time. (Yes, that is a multicoloured floral stormtrooper headband, Rose is an incredible shopper)

What do I think ‘good parents’ should be doing?

People’s ideas about safety and good parenting also vary, which is healthy diversity when it comes to their own choices, but often needless shaming when it comes to policing other people. If you think having a baby outdoors in the evening is inappropriate, you are welcome to stay indoors. If I’m happy to sit under the stars with my little one, it’s hardly the kind of ‘safety risk’ that warrants shaming. There’s more than one ‘right way’ to raise a baby. Some families love camping. Some parents are into cosplay. Some like music. How wonderful!

There are things that are clearly dangerous to children, then there’s just the huge range of diversity of human interests and passions. We shouldn’t be judging difference as if it is all dangerous. One person who attacked us compared taking Poppy to see Missy Higgins as the same as taking her into a sex shop. I’m not sure Missy Higgins would appreciate that comparison!

The news snippet was brief of course, so people have misunderstood some details or jumped to the wrong conclusions. There was a mess of hostility. Attacking me for everything from my haircut to not being willing to ‘sacrifice’ going to a concert for the sake of my baby. As if Rose and I have not made sacrifices for her – our first little baby after 7 losses! I find it really interesting that there’s this backlash from some people when parents try to participate in their communities – that being a good parent is about missing out, and staying home with your little one. There are many things I’ve sacrificed for both of the lovely girls I’m blessed with, (dealing with a grade 3 tear leaps to mind!) but I really don’t feel that picnics need to be among them.

If Poppy was a more sensitive baby who was easily overstimulated, then obviously we wouldn’t take her to long, noisy events. But Poppy so far is very social and gregarious. She loves hanging out with people and is more than happy to snuggle to sleep in our arms with crowds or through movies.

As many families at that time of year prepared their children for evening, outdoors, noisy carols nights with fireworks, it seems faintly ridiculous to judge Rose and I and the other parents who planned to bring our babies to a picnic with an orchestra. I don’t think that needless sacrifice or exclusion make people better parents. I think they might make people lonelier parents, or sadder parents, or even perhaps more self-righteous parents. But staying home with Poppy while Rose went out to the concert was not character building. It was hardly the worst night of my life – a night with Poppy could never be that! But it was sad and it made me resent breastfeeding and being at home while a great many of our friends were out having a lovely time. Doubly so that it was a gift from our friends celebrating Poppy being part of our family. Hardly the ingredients for a parent who is content and connected to their baby and their community.

Funnily enough there were also other takes on what being a good parent requires. For some people it was sacrificing going out anywhere kids can’t go, for others it was sacrificing having the kids around, so still going out but leaving them with someone else. You actually can’t get it right as a parent. I’ve seen shaming along each of those lines in different scenarios. The shaming can intensify into virtual lynching if something goes wrong in any of those scenarios (such as a babysitter harming a child). Too often, being a ‘good parent’ means ‘parenting exactly the way I do’, and being fortunate enough to have nothing go wrong. What a load of crap.

This feels like a familiar dynamic to me – the way that otherwise basically kind kids will join in bullying the most vulnerable without really being able to articulate their primitive, instinctual understanding that if they don’t, they might be next. Kindness, ‘live and let live’ acceptance and friendly curiosity about diversity do not thrive in environments that are hostile and unpredictably aggressive. We support parents most like us and shame those ‘others’. We shame each other because we have been shamed, because we are hurting, because we feel we need to justify or own choices, and because we are afraid of being shamed. It’s a cycle that costs us all.

I think good parents celebrate diversity and don’t shame each other for harmless differences. I think good parents participate in the things that are important to them in ways that suit their families. I think good parents make sacrifices when it’s needed and don’t get hooked into an unsustainable culture of self sacrifice and disconnection from their own needs and the wider community.

What did this cost us?

The online storm was distressing enough that Rose and I disconnected from the internet for a few days. Friends were mostly supportive and confused by the vitriol. I found myself curiously invulnerable to a lot of the hostility but it distressed Rose terribly to see people being cruel to me. Some friends were so enraged by our preference to be able to attend the concert with Poppy that they attacked us and then cut us off. This isn’t the first time seemingly minor parenting choices have triggered an unusually​ aggressive response and the destruction of old friendships. It’s bewildering and sad, needless and infuriating. It feels to me like there are deep wounds beneath these responses.

Other friends rallied groups of parents to get into the comments and push back against some of the misogyny and shaming. I wrote this post to clarify what was going on and why but shelved it to not draw any of the hostility to my blog or personal Facebook page. After a few days the sense of exposure to people’s dark underbelly started to ease and life went back to normal. I hope the massive swell of support would help any other parents feel that there’s a lot of people who do get this and would back them.

Why did I do it?
I did it knowing the risks of a backlash, because breastfeeding has been difficult for me, for many reasons. If the venue had said no babies allowed, my friends would never have bought us tickets and I wouldn’t have been in the middle of it. Having found out about it at the last minute, I also think it’s an inappropriate policy for this lovely event, I think the venue handled the situation very badly, and I think we need to treat parents with more dignity. I believe that our culture puts stupid pressure on parents, shames and devalues mothers, and makes breastfeeding more difficult than it needs to be. There’s a real vulnerability to this, and an assumption by some that Mums can be mistreated because we don’t have enough of a voice, enough time, or enough energy to make a fuss about it. There’s a lot of misogyny in this. Social media can help connect us as well as vilify us.

Because I chose to be visible in this situation, other Mothers heard about this policy over Facebook – before they turned up and were sent home again. The downside is that anyone who saw the backlash may be even more reluctant to advocate for themselves, but after a few days the supportive comments outnumbered the hostile and rude ones. Mothers and allies banded together and backed each other. 

We are not alone anymore and we can back each other up. It’s not okay to treat us as second class citizens, deride our writing as ‘mummy blogs’, our effort to raise our kids as ‘not real work’, and the vulnerability of breastfeeding as something we should be embarrassed about. It’s not okay to tear each other down. I feel like I’ve been brave and gone and handled some fire. I’ve had my eyebrows singed off but my house is still standing, so I feel pretty lucky considering. If I’m very lucky I might even get across a small point or make some kind of difference, even if just to the other Mothers who find themselves being devalued in situations like this, or on the pointy end of our brutal culture of shaming, blaming, and excluding. We have every right to participate, to parent in a variety of ways, and to be supported to breastfeed. I’d stand up and say that again. 

Poppy is sick

We’re currently in hospital with Poppy, who has some kind of terrible gastro and can’t keep anything down. We drove home from our camping trip a day early and brought her straight to our local hospital. That was a drive I’m not likely to forget in a hurry. She was admitted and rehydrated with a nasal gastric tube. Rose and I have been caring for her in shifts. Last night at 3am I took Star home and we both caught up on some sleep. It was the first night I’ve been apart from Poppy since she was born and if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived I fell asleep the moment I got into my room, I’d probably have had some big feelings about that.

​It’s so strange to be here feeling sad and scared when it’s such a minor issue really and there are really sick kids around. I feel like I’m making drama to be upset, feel like I need to get through this as quietly as possibly without drawing attention to her, in case somehow that means she comes in for something much nastier. At the same time I feel like she’s dying and it’s inevitable that we’ll lose her. I want to bite the nurses who tell her to stop making a fuss, and kiss the ones who touch her gently and are comforting. Just giving yourself permission to feel what you feel instead of measuring it against some yardstick of what’s valid and acceptable is hard but so helpful. Parenting is weird.

I’m trying to stay out of crisis. It feels like my life tips into crisis regularly at the moment and I’m under too much strain. I’m trying to find what I need to be okay. Dashing to the hospital after missing my bus stop this morning, the strain in my body was like my muscles were trying to teleport me there directly, such an intense need to be back with her. I thought about the line I’ve been using to calm my pain levels, from my cranial sacral therapy – breathe into your bones, and the journalling I’ve done around what that means to me- the breath that turns my bones from straining steel under pressure, back to living bone, that takes root like a tree and grows and bends beneath the storms. 

Thinking about the poems and images of wings and how the pain is where they would be if they were visible (I went to say if they were real, but that’s not quite the same thing) and someone had cruelly bound them together so I couldn’t fly. The way wings are related to my poetry, difference from others, my walking in other worlds.

So I walked back to the hospital a little slower and I breathed and felt the straining ease a little, the sense of tendons overtightened like guitar strings about to snap back off. Pain rushes back in with awareness, muscles are stiff but they move again, that sense of being locked shifts. My stride changed, the pain flared worse at first then eased a little, became mobile and moved around between different muscles, felt less like I was on the edge of tearing apart.

I called some of our tribe for help. Some chatted online with me, or visited the hospital with lunch, made us dinner, took Star food shopping for school, put on a load of washing of clothes and bedding with vomit on them… I concentrated on not falling off the edge of the world in my own head and forgetting that people care about us, or feeling guilty about our resources compared to so many parents. We are there for our tribe in many ways, it’s not manipulative or parasitic to call on them for help. I made eye contact and enjoyed hugs and soaked up as much as I could.

Rose and​ I, still negotiating our new roles, fielding the constant question of which of us is the mother, dancing between the needs of our girls and ourselves, having to find a new common language for this part of our lives. Things tangled this evening and our conversation to get back on the same page was the kind where 10 minutes in it feels horribly dangerous and digging into deep wounds and black places and you’re starting to wonder if you shouldn’t just abandon it now before it all goes to hell… But we passed through to understanding and found out way back together. I’m home again for a sleep now. Poppy is sleeping in hospital with Rose after a bath and keeping down the first feed in 24 hrs. We’re hopeful she will be well enough to come home tomorrow.

This was Poppy on camp before she became sick. It was very beautiful and my new tent -a birthday gift from Rose, was amazing and wonderful. 🙂