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I live with a constant and crippling fear of failure. I live with it every day. It tells me things, creeps up on me in the night and curls around me like a sleeping cat. Not good enough, it says. Never good enough. Might as well stop trying.

It is for this reason that I often don’t write when the mood strikes, or inspiration hits. It’s the reason I don’t send my short stories off to competitions, why I don’t pitch to magazines, send my plays for assessment or ask other writers to look at my work. It cuts me off, shuts me down and silence. My fear. My self-sabotage.

Better not to try than try and fail. Better never to submit my work than submit it and face rejection. Hurts less. Costs me less. This way I still keep my pride and dignity.

All of these thoughts, that have wound up around me and strangled my ambition for a lifetime, they are tangled up with depression and anxiety and low self-esteem. The steel blade piercing my resolve.

I have worked and studied almost half my life to be a writer, and yet I hold the inherent belief that I am not good enough. Not compared to other writers whose work I read and admire. I am not eloquent enough to be printable, and not determined enough to be successful.

Better not to try than try and fail.

Better not to try.

The horrible little voice in my head that talks in the background, that provides a constant litany of reasons why am no good, it uses my voice. It sounds like me, works from my vocabulary and with my turn of phrase. Trust your inner voice, right? My inner voice tells me, often, that I am worthless as a writer. That I have wasted my life doing this. That I will never amount to anything, be a success, be noticed or published or respected or heard; that to keep going is pointless, to procrastinate is best. Better not to try, not ever, better to save face rather than deal with assured dismissal and be shattered.

I see other people who are productive and determined, inspired and adaptable, who work on and on while overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and that little voice simply says, you could never do that. You are not that person. You are not that motivated. You are not capable or competent.

Better not to try.

I’m not writing this as a cry for help, or to be told what I am or am not. I’m writing it to exorcise a demon. To expose this terrible doubt that lives inside of me, masquerades as the best advice I could give myself. Because I don’t want to live like this, crippled by an inferiority complex that targets my dreams.

I’ve decided. This is worse, living like this. Worse than rejection, worse than the possibility of failure, worse than loss of pride and dignity.

Better now, I think, to try.

 

writingonthewall

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I have been finding it very hard to write as I am feeling very dark. I would not call it Post Natal Depression as yet… More that I have felt the edges of things I cannot control crowding into me. Maybe I can control them, and simply feel I cannot.

I feel immense responsibility towards my family – the end of my paid maternity leave looms and that means finding a replacement income. I don’t want to go into part time work just yet, it would mean childcare for two children, which is hardly feasible, and most likely the end of breastfeeding Morgan. I hate expressing milk, it’s time consuming and painful and anyway, what job would be flexible enough to allow me an hour or so each day to pump? I want to be home, with the kids. I need to consider my skills, the possibility of selling my writing and the likelihood I would regularly have the time to write.

I feel angry at a society that sets mothers up to fail – for some like me it is needing income yet finding returning to would come with too many financial penalties. For others it is the necessity of returning to work when they would rather stay home. There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about careers and choice, and I think choice in the workforce is a luxury. I am angry that I spent so many years sick, and thus my capacity to earn is greatly reduced because of interrupted employment and education. I am frustrated that the things I truly want to do don’t result in a paying career.

I am angry that society doesn’t value what I do as a mother, staying home with my two boys. Angry that I sit here, feeling both trapped and worried, doing mental sums in my head but mostly thinking about how I would love to work a day for two, probably, but realistically it needs to be all or nothing, full time work or staying home. For years, possibly.

I love em, but years? Years as a stay at home mother? Alex and I talk about our goal, which is f or both of us to work part time. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Isn’t that the dream, though? To do something you love, just enough so that it doesn’t bore you to tears?

Sometimes I feel like family is pressure, to do better, be better, succeed more, and I must have spent all that time leading up to children just faffing around and time wasting (which isn’t true), and not nearly enough time focusing on my writing (probably true), and now I feel a suffocating need to succeed at something, anything, to earn something for my words (or what else have I spent all these years working towards?) and then of course comes the crippling anxiety…

I look into my boys’ faces and feel I am failing them as a mother.

Which is normal, I guess. 

 

 

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Balancing act

Family


Of course, because I blogged last week about getting the hang of things, life had to tear me down. Last Wednesday I got very, very ill, and by Thursday I felt incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed and yearning for death. Conveniently it was a public holiday, so Alex was home and able to look after me/the kids. On Friday I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tonsillitis and laryngitis and given some rather impressive antibiotics.

I was feeling better over the weekend when Morgan came down with a head cold. Sick newborn babies are the worst – you can’t explain anything, or give them pain relief, or tell them they’ll feel better soon if only they can deal with you spraying saline solution up their nose at uncomfortably regular intervals.

Sebastian went with his dad to see family on Sunday and got worn out, probably quite over-tired, and so for the last few days has been very cranky – not sick, although his nose has been runny, but just run-down and irritable, as though he was fighting off the sickness that Morgan and I had come down with. And today, while I am mostly better, Morgan remains sniffly and Alex came down with a head cold. Sebastian was cheerful all day, thankfully. 

I had energy for once, and so I cleaned – tidying away toys, doing mountains of laundry and putting even more away, vacuuming, doing dishes, cooking a casserole for dinner, sweeping the kitchen and doing groceries. I so rarely feel rested and energised to really get to much housework, so it was wonderful to get a lot done one hit. Of course, it was followed by the guilt for all the other things I wasn’t doing – not blogging, not crafting, not writing or researching. Not doing a hundred things in the limited timeframe on one day where I happen to have some energy.

I keep thinking about motherhood as a balancing act, but really it’s not me that’s balancing – it’s all the things in my life that I need to do or achieve to keep me, my little family and my aspirations running. It’s spinning plates – frantically running from one to another to give it another whirl, to keep it spinning in the air; all the while conscious that while I spin one, another is slowing down and starting to wobble. At any moment it feels like all my plates could crash to the ground.

Today I kept a few plates going a little longer by doing enough chores to keep me sane and to keep the house running smoothly. Right now I’m spinning another plate by writing this blog entry. But while I do this, I’m aware of others starting to slow down – plates about craft projects and gardening, researching and writing articles, photography or writing fiction. They’re starting to wobble because I only have so much time, energy and opportunity and I have to choose where I invest it.

The trick is not to let those plates fall completely. Keep spinning. Keep running from one to the other and hope for the best.

 

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

Eagle_eyes.JPG

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On Saturday I attended the book launch for Karen Adrews’ (of Miscellaneous Mum) book Crying in the Car: Reflections on Life and Motherhood. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have my copy and even just the title resonates with me.

It was a fantastic afternoon for me, and eye-opening in a lot of ways. I was invited by, and attended with, Lily Mae Martin, who is not only a brilliant artist but a raw and honest writer too. Lily and I met briefly two years ago at a Swimwear Galore, of all places. I had no Mama friends, and Sebastian was flirting madly with her, so I asked if she would like to catch up sometime (her daughter Anja is only a few weeks younger than Sebastian). That catch up never happened, because a few weeks later she left for Berlin, and has only returned a couple of months ago after around two years there. But during that time we corresponded by email and Facebook, and I religiously followed her blog Berlin Domestic, where Lily writes about the joys and hardships and mundanities of creating and parenting in Berlin, and her subsequent return to Melbourne. Go look. Now. I’ll wait.

Here is why the day was eye- opening for me – I met lots of writers and mothers and bloggers who are going through the same shit of balancing parenthood and having a brain as I am, and they are out there working, creating, insisting on time for themselves and finding opportunities, while I have been sitting on my arse for 2.5 years feeling empty and tired. And you know what? Fuck that noise.

I haven’t updated my blog in weeks, and a big part of that was moving house and work and study and shitty internet and pregnancy, but an even bigger part of that was laziness. I have written a couple of dozen blog posts in my head and made notes on none. I have thought, Oh I must make time for this because I find it rewarding, and instead faffed around looking at pictures of cats. I have felt tired and resentful that I am not writing, and then continued not fucking writing.

I have felt sorry for myself because I do not go out to things, because I do not meet new people or see old friends, but I moved back to the suburbs two months ago and can no longer excuse this with the thought of a long commute for events/social activities. At a certain point, the problem stopped being lack of time and a 1.5 hour drive to anything good… the problem became me. I have fallen into old habits, habits that I learned as a sick teenager and continued as a sick adult – habits of isolation. I know isolation. I do fine with isolation. Sure I feel lonely, but loneliness is itself an old friend. I read my books and make elaborate redecorating plans and procrastinate about writing anything, because producing work would imply some kind of obligation to do something with it.

So here is my new plan: blog regularly, and not just incredibly long and verbose pieces on A Topic. I want to share the feminist articles I’m reading, the opinion pieces on parenting, the cool tips and tricks on making family life (cooking/cleaning/parenting/crafts/whatever) that I come across. I want to write my thoughts on this pregnancy – can you believe I’ve only got three months to go? And most of all, I want to make contact with other writers and bloggers and produce some damn work and put myself out there a bit.

There it is. I’ve written it in a public venue and it will just be awkward for everyone if I don’t follow through.

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In my life before I had a child, I had a set of goals and dreams. These were based on the idea that one day I would be well, and have the time and energy to execute them, and my god, they were ambitious. They went something like this:

  • Create and manage an innovative theatre company for emerging artists that produced new works and mentored those transitioning from their theatre studies into their professional theatre lives.
  • Finish my degree in publishing and/or religion and spirituality, and go teach English in Russia.
  • Bounce around Europe for a bit, indulging my creativity and wanderlust.
  • Attain a grant to travel into the Australian interior to write about spirituality, indigenous culture and displaced peoples.
  • Finish my goddamn novel to universal acclaim.

This list was an expression of my hopes and dreams. Perhaps they were not entirely realistic, but they kept me going. That future wavered on the horizon like an oasis of hope. It was something for me to work towards.

Now, my goals are very different. They look something like this:

  • Do well at my job and save a little money. (Read as: don’t be entirely broke.)
  • Join a playgroup where I have something in common with the other mothers and don’t feel like a complete outsider for not being a farmer’s wife.
  • Attain a basic certificate in accounting software so I am more employable/can earn more money.
  • Finish that blanket I’ve been crocheting for Sebastian.
  • Write something, anything, and if I manage one blog entry every couple of weeks and some emails to friends, I’m counting that as a success.
  • Remember to eat breakfast.

The main difference between these sets of goals is the immediacy of them. My goals now all revolve around the next few days, the next few months. They are far simpler in nature and yet, in their own, far more complex – they relate to the life I have now rather than the distant future. While I do have far-reaching goals in my mind too, a five-year plan, they are more family oriented: Alex and I would like to move to a bigger house in the suburbs, we’d like to be financially stable with some savings in place, we’d like to expand our family, we both envision a future where both of us work part-time, and Alex has a business as a sound engineer on the side while I have time to write.

Whereas in the past all my dreams and goals were me-me-me, now my dreams are focused on financial stability and the family unit. And the list above is all about things I would like to do in the months and weeks to come to feel stable and satisfied. Because it’s not just all about me anymore. I’m a mother now, and somehow that idea of responsibility and personal sacrifice can creep into your mind and subsume your identity.

There’s a lot I could write about the portrayal of motherhood in popular culture and society – about how mothers are expected to sacrifice any personal interests or satisfaction on the shrine of martyrdom that is their family. But that’s an easy thing to criticise. Yes, I felt judged when I admitted I hated pregnancy. Yes, I worry about those that frown at me when I’m in public with Sebastian and he’s misbehaving. But the reality is far more subversive – when I gave birth to Sebastian, a profound and integral part of me altered and I found it difficult to see myself as anything but a mother to this child. Not a creative person with goals and dreams, not a sexualised adult in a romantic relationship, not even a seperate entity with wants and needs of my own that should sometimes come first. I became absorbed in motherhood, and it encapsulated my existence.

When Sebastian was four months old, I went out to catch a play and ran into a friend from uni. She asked me all the usual questions about life and family, and then said something along the lines of, ‘I want a family in the future, but I still want to be able to go out and see friends and work on projects and have a life – how does that work with a baby?’ I replied something flip, like ‘They’re very portable, you know’, but inside I wanted to laugh like a lunatic.

Here is how those initial months were for me: I felt like my baby was still a part of me. Like I’d just lopped off a limb and occasionally let other people hold it. I felt so in tune with my child it was like we were sharing a brain, and when he was unhappy (as he often was with colic in the beginning), I was panicked and miserable. I could not bear to hear him cry. I longed for time alone but felt a burn of loss when I was apart from him. I wanted to express breastmilk so I didn’t have to be there for every feeding, but my breasts ached when I wasn’t there for one.

I had planned to return to study after Sebastian was born, I’d planned to go to a class or two a week and put him in the campus daycare. That didn’t happen. I didn’t feel ready to return to work, even part-time, until a few months ago because I didn’t want to leave him and found I couldn’t focus on anything else when I did. I wrote and directed a play when he was around six months old and found myself perpetually distracted – it was hard to think or eat or focus on anything else except parenthood. My life revolved around watching him grow and learn, around changing nappies and his laundry and buying clothes for him and his sleep patterns and eating patterns and growth.

Motherhood took over. All my anecdotes to friends and family related to him. All my conversation was about him, and the joys and hardships of being a mother. I could bore you to death with all the funny little things he does that I love, and how tired I sometimes get of doing the same things and going to the same places with him, and all the things I can’t wait to do with him as he gets older, like cooking and painting and cubby houses and blanket forts and learning to read and going to see a movie for the first time. I’m probably boring you with this all now.

In a way, I think my dreams and goals have shrunk because my life has shrunk. I live in a very predictable pattern with very predictable rules like: don’t go out too close to nap time, no I can’t meet you for a drink because I don’t have a babysitter, I could go out and do that thing I’ve been meaning to do but Sebastian was awake several times last night and now I’m tired. My horizons all revolve around a toddler. Everything – the job, the theoretical new house in the future, playgroup, the blanket, all of it relates to him. To being a good parent with a stable lifestyle who is financially sound. Corcheting hats and blankets for him because it’s something easy to do with my hands when I’m zoned out in front of the television after he’s finally gone to bed.

I used to be interesting. I had all these amazing plans. But it’s like I’ve spent the last two years in a daze of maternity, obsessed with my role as a mother because it seemed like the only thing I was capable of at that time. Because everything else seemed too hard. I should have gone back to uni after he was born. I should go back to uni now. I should start seperating my life and goals and plans and dreams from my child – not losing those revised goals like playgroup and earning more money, but making sure there’s something in the mix that’s just for me, only me.

I am a mother, but that is not all I am.

How could I not fall in love with this?

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