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Posts Tagged ‘Motherhood’

Our Family Grows

Just a few weeks ago our family celebrated something most wonderful and momentous. (Oddly, that which is so very special to us, happens in the world four times every second of every day!)

My daughter in law and my son have a daughter.

My daughter in law has done all the work so far, but for both of them their journey is beginning now.

After a difficult pregnancy, my daughter in law has fallen in love with her daughter. Nothing prepared me for seeing my son fall in love with her too. He has always been good with young children, and when he was little he and his brother played with and cared for their much younger sister. Still, I am proud of the way he takes care of and loves his daughter.

Unlike I was, my daughter in law is expecting sleepless nights, tortured days, exhaustion, having to deal with the unknown. Women are now perhaps more open in talking about the times of frustration and despair as well as the times of utter joy and ecstasy when holding a contented baby. Still, nothing really prepares us for the roller coaster ride of being a new parent. The highs, the lows, the mundane. Women also have to cope with a new identity, one that describes us primarily as a mother rather than a lawyer, accountant, manager ….

But the greatest, most responsible, most fulfilling, most awe filled, most wonder filled work of all, is that of being a parent.

I thank my son and his wife for bringing into the world a delightful little person, and for including me in their lives. And I thank my daughter in law and her parents for including us.Our families are forever linked.

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My daughter was married on Saturday. 

Some highlights:

* As we waited for my daughter and her father, my husband, to arrive I was surrounded by our family. Next to me were our sons, and behind me were my daughter-in-law (wise, warm, an essential part of my life for so many reasons) and my future daughter-in-law (with a radiant smile that embraces and spreads joy). How blessed to have such a family. They make me complete.  In this moment I know my cup brims over.

* The man about to marry my daughter watched her slowly walk toward him and as he smiled it seemed as if, for him, this was his entire world. He took her hands in his, looked into her eyes, and was moved to tears. In this moment I loved him more.

* As they exchanged their vows the sun came out and it was as if the universe smiled.

* The mother of my new son-in-law gave a wonderful speech. She was funny, witty, and, best of all, her words embraced her daughter-in-law.

* In mid sentence my son-in-law said “my wife”, chuckled, paused and smiled as he again said “my wife”. 

* The first dance together as husband and wife was spectacular. It was a mix of romance, drama, fun and action, and moved easily into everyone joining them on the dance floor. Even me! Young and old rocked on together. Everyone stayed on the dance floor for hours.

* An atmosphere of happiness and joy pervaded the ceremony and celebration. It was tangible and touched everyone. The high spirits, emotions and energy of this couple lifted me up and made a magical celebration for everyone. They dismissed every potential stress, and their calm and focus on what was truly important soothed me, and I laughed and shared their joy.

But the moment I most remember is at home, minutes before we left. I stepped into the living room and saw my daughter,  a bride. In that moment, every memory I have of my daughter flashed before me and merged into this vision of beauty. I saw the baby lying asleep on my chest as we lay on the couch in the afternoon sun. I saw the toddler jumping off the stairs into a bean bag. I saw the little girl who wriggled into a space beside me to be as close as possible as I lay immobilised in a tilt bed in the spinal unit. I felt the arms of the little girl who placed them around my neck as she sat as close as possible as we wheeled on the prone trolley months later. I saw the little girl who never saw the wheelchair I sat in, only seeing her mother whose lap she wanted to sit in. I saw the ballerina, beautifully serene and beaming as she waited to dance as a unicorn. I saw the little girl who looked after her crippled mother and elderly grandmother when we flew to Melbourne – lifting luggage the size of own little body off the carousel, and making us cups of tea in bed. I saw the little girl arriving at Wellington international airport having flown alone from Sydney. I saw the girl who rode horses ten times her size. I saw the tomboy who climbed trees and was fearless. I saw the public speaker, confident in every situation. I saw the athlete who ran, cycled, swam. I saw the young woman who has seen so much of the world, determined, overcoming challenges. I saw the young woman who took me on road trips to Mt Maunganui. I saw my brave, loving, kind, strong daughter. I saw my best friend. I saw a goddess standing before me. I saw my wonderful daughter on the happiest day of her life … and I burst into tears, my heart so full love for her, and joy that she loves and is loved.

I saw my friend and daughter who had included me in her wedding preparations. Who the evening before had included me, with her bridesmaids, in drinking cosmos, eating pizza, and watching Moulin Rouge, laughing and reminiscing. My generous daughter who opened our home to her friends and family on the morning of her wedding, to share her happiness this day. Her happiness was infectious and as we all scrambled to get ready at the last minute, we laughed as we found ourselves  sharing space, three or four people in every room.

As we waited for the bride, I watched the groom and thought of my son who two years before had stood waiting for his bride. I remembered his nervousness. I remembered the smile and joy as he watched her come toward him. I remembered the happiness that she reawakened in him when they found each other. I turned to my future daughter-in-law and she smiled at me, reassuring me. Sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends and more. I, and my grown up children, are truly fortunate to know love and be part of loving, caring, growing families.

“There is no greater happiness than to love and to be loved in return”

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When I saw Nigel Latta on TV talking about teenagers I was at first amused until I realized what a load of crock he was talking. Not only was he talking rubbish, but his theories about teenagers are not funny, they are dangerous. Calling teenagers another species or aliens is marginalizing and isolating them. Categorizing people, giving them labels, mocking them, dehumanising them has been done before. The nazis did it. Bullies do it in the classroom and in the workplace.

Comedians do it, but usually it’s done to make us look at ourselves, and to highlight an issue that’s wrong. Perhaps Latta thinks he’s a stand up comedian or an entertainer. The thing is, he’s an educator, and I think that what he says about teenagers, and the way to treat them is wrong. An element of truth there may be, but this is what makes what he says so dangerous, so insidious. He can hook you with a half-truth, make fun of it, and, wham, he can reel you in.

You can group people according to age: toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults, the middle aged, the elderly. And you can find something to endlessly mock in each group. The self centred, tantrum throwing toddler; the rude obnoxious teenager; the lost middle-aged person in crisis; the senile, forgetful oldie. Or you can show respect for people regardless of age, race, religion … We can choose to be inclusive, embracing the wonderful human-ness of others, celebrating our differences and seek to understand and learn from others.

It’s not funny to marginalise the teenager. At a time when someone is seeking independence, security, self-awareness, an emerging sense of empathy, questioning of identity … Hell, that could be me now … The difference is that I’ve reached a point in my life when I realize that I don’t know who I am, and that it doesn’t matter because change is good, complacency is not.

I like teenagers. Their minds are developing at an extraordinary rate, and their perceptions of the world can provide us with an opportunity to take a fresh new look at our own world that may have become stale, fixed or cynical. We can choose to be threatened by their questioning of mores and values, or we can choose to honestly re-evaluate ours. We can choose to outright reject their ideas, or we can choose to defend and rationally argue our own positions. Teenagers are learning to control and co-ordinate their thoughts. We can assist or resist.

Teenage angst, can be positively redirected to creative or sporting activities. Some of the most insightful poetry I have read has come from the troubled minds of teenagers. Same with stories and music. Teenagers have shown me that expressing creativity is a path to personal fulfillment and a sense of self. The discipline, team work, and focus that come from physical activities are captured by teenagers who discover the joy of successfully implementing strategies and tactics and the comfort and excitement of being part of something larger than themselves.

Realising that we are tiny specks in the universe can be terrifying or it can be empowering. Following a teenager’s journey to find a place where she feels comfortable is an opportunity to make that journey myself. To be part of that journey is a privilege, and the rewards are infinite.

Sure, teenagers can be smelly, hostile, hurtful, inarticulate and incomprehensible, but they need us (adults, parents) more than ever to love them despite this, perhaps because of this. They’re pushing boundaries, pushing parents, seeing what they can get away with. They need boundaries, but these boundaries can often be negotiated and mutually agreed upon. Where there’s room to compromise we should, but some things are so important we must only say no. That’s going to test our ability to explain our reasons. Teenagers force us to develop communication skills, to become negotiators, and enforcers. Being around teenagers sets us off on a journey too.

We may not enjoy dealing with aggression from toddlers and young children, but we accept that we need to learn strategies to constructively deal with it. We may not like the behaviour but we don’t resent the child throwing a tantrum, nor should we resent teenagers. We don’t isolate and marginalise the toddler, nor should we isolate and marginalise teenagers.

I delight in seeing the world through the eyes if a toddler – stopping to marvel at the butterfly or the snail trail. I delight in seeing the world through the eyes of a teenager – discussions about social injustice, corrupt political and financial structures; learning to negotiate through minefields of personal responsibility.

I love the certainty with which teenagers hold their convictions. I love their wisdom and their insight. I don’t think I’m any wiser now than I was as a teenager, I’ve just learnt a few more skills. I love being reminded that we are all on a journey, no matter our age, and that we choose our destinies. Oh, the angst …

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Edith Piaf sang “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing at all, or No, I’m not sorry for anything) with passion, as a personal statement of courage and faith in her future. She sang it, not in desperation, but as an affirmation of hope, of courage and life. The final line she sang is: “Je repars à zero” (I’m starting again from zero).

I have always loved this song, stirred by the conviction and strength with which Piaf sings.  Circumstances, of our own making or out of our control, too easily allow us to  become mired in guilt, regret, and self pity.  Yet Piaf rose above her tragedies. At the time when Piaf performed this song her health was rapidly failing.  She had gained enormous fame, even infamy, and had many detractors who were highly critical of her lifestyle. Piaf had had a tragic childhood, and after a serious injury had became addicted to alcohol and morphine.  She had been divorced, had lovers, remarried. If you listen to the song in the context of Piaf’s life, the words come to acquire a new dimension of meaning. They become her affirmation of the way in which she lived her life, embracing her choices, mistakes, and whatever life threw at her, good and bad.

No, No Regrets

No! No regrets

No! I will have no regrets

All the things

That went wrong

For at last I have learned to be strong

No! No regrets

No! I will have no regrets

For the grief doesn’t last

It is gone

I’ve forgotten the past

And the memories I had

I no longer desire

Both the good and the bad

I have flung in a fire

All of us make mistakes. Some of us dwell on those events, allowing the regret and the remorse to taint our lives forever. Guilt is destructive, but it takes courage to move on. Someone said “Owning your story is hard, but not as hard as spending your life running from it.”

As a mother I know I have made mistakes nurturing my children. Been impatient, shouted instead of listening, said the wrong thing that has hurt rather than healed, been overwhelmed by tiredness and made poor decisions. As a wife I have put my interests before those of my husband. As a friend I have carelessly let time pass and overlooked opportunities to support. But every day is a new opportunity to start again.

When I injured my spinal cord I spent months in hospital. I was unable to celebrate my sons’ birthday. I was unable to hug my sons and daughter when they were sad or needed a mother’s love. And when I returned home I used all my energy to look after myself, leaving my family to muddle on as best they could. I chose to go skiing that day when I broke my back. It was my choice that impacted on everyone around me. Yet if I had let that guilt consume me, I would have taken even more from them. Sure, I wish  sometimes that things had been different. I’m sure my family wishes that things had been different too. I hope they don’t resent my choices too much. Because that resentment will eat them up.

I don’t resent the decisions made by others that day – the ski instructor who was with me, the manager of the ski field who opened the field in atrocious conditions. I accept the choices I made then, and every day I make new choices … to exercise or not, to talk to friends or not, to write or not, to do something special for someone or not.

Every day is a new day, an opportunity for a new beginning, faith in the future.  Be strong; move forward; have no regrets.

“Je ne regrette rien”

Edith Piaf

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“Dream deep, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Reach high for every dream precedes the goal.”

Starry, starry night by Vincent van Gogh

This is one of my favourite quotes. With passion, insight and resolve we can achieve whatever we want. How do we go beyond just knowing ourselves and our talents, and not limit ourselves to what we think we’re able to do now or in the near future? We dream … and then we can use what we know about ourselves and our strengths to move forward … and become passionate. Capable is good, but passionate is better.

I like the language: “Dream deep”, “Reach high”  the words punch through complacency, implying the passion and energy that we all have within us … “hidden in our souls”.

It’s one thing to dream though, it takes insight, foresight, thought and work to define our goals through those dreams. It takes courage to set ourselves goals. We have to have faith in ourselves, hope in a future, and trust that we can get there. We have to find a path, or many paths to reach a goal. And we have to work. And never, never give up.

I thought I knew about setting and achieving goals. It was expected that I would go to university. My mother desperately wanted it for me. It became my goal to become the first person in my family to get a university degree. I did. But I wasn’t passionate about it. “C’s get degrees”  was what my generation was about. It was elitist at that time simply to have a degree. It wasn’t until I got to work in business and discovered that I was good at it that I began to reach for something higher, something less ordinary. I became one of a handful of women in management, then one of an even smaller group who had children while working in management. But still I didn’t dream. I didn’t see myself as the CEO, although others may have. Because I couldn’t visualise myself in that role and because I couldn’t dream it, I couldn’t see it as a realistic goal for me.

I dreamt of being a good mother, wanting my children to be happy, to be kind to others, to be good, and to reach their potential. This was the first time for me that a dream preceded a goal. I learned to be patient, to love unconditionally, to see the world as they saw it, to be fierce for them, to protect them while letting them learn about risk … and so many other things that every mother learns.

Yet I had so much more to learn about dreams. I had to break my back to learn about turning dreams into something real. I dreamt of walking, and my goal became to stand up and walk with crutches. I found health professionals who could help me, or fate brought them to me and I wrung every bit of knowledge and expertise from them. I expanded time so that I could exercise, sleep, exercise, look after my children, sleep, exercise, try new equipment, care for my children, become exhausted, re-energise, love my children. I did not place limits on myself. I reached high, and I dug deep. In return my children took care of me. Young as they were at the time, just 4 and 10, they found ways to support me, nurture me and help me. They joined me in pursuing my dream. Now, as adults, they still support me. They are always enthusiastic about every small change, and support any new path I take. My husband too, supports my dream to walk. He helps with stretches, finances a personal trainer, massage therapist or any other resource that might help. When others doubt, my family and health professionals who work with me reassure. The universe conspires to keep my dream alive and to show new paths for me to explore.

I sometimes wonder if this made me a better or worse mother. I was less able to look after the children’s physical needs and less able at times to look after their emotional needs. I wasn’t always there for them. But my world opened another world for them. We skied with disabled skiers. The boys buddied skiers with one leg, or who were partially sighted, or who had had head injuries. My sons and daughter saw people with physical limitations having fun, reaching high, digging deep, coping and excelling in a world that is often hostile to them. They saw opportunities to help others, expected nothing in return and were rewarded with maturity, insight, empathy and an appreciation of privilege. Perhaps it gave them a desire to find the stars hidden in their souls, and to reach high. They are certainly wonderful adults.

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I read an article called “Sylvia’s Story” in the Sunday Star Times April 17, 2011. It was about the thousands of women, war brides, who sailed to New Zealand after World War two to join their husbands who were New Zealand servicemen. It got me thinking that something extraordinary happened in New Zealand in the decades following World War Two. In Europe people were coping with rebuilding cities and lives, coping with the results of atrocities and dealing with trauma on a scale that had never been seen before. But in New Zealand, far away from deprivation and destruction, connected only by servicemen who would not talk about their experiences, news sources that were sketchy, and immigrants who were regarded with suspicion and wariness, life went on much as it had always done. New Zealand at that time was generally isolated and insular and New Zealanders took pride in their self-sufficiency. The number 8 fencing wire mentality was still essential to survival, and women were strong, independent, able and continued the pioneering successes of previous generations of (European) women.

Into this world came not only the European refugees, but also thousands of women, mostly English, who married New Zealand servicemen they had fallen in love thousands of miles away. If they were anything like my mother, they had been spun a story of a land of milk and honey, a paradise where anything was possible. Instead they arrived in a country so primitive and unsophisticated that many, like my mother and Sylvia must have wanted desperately to go home. I don’t believe that my mother ever forgave my father for uplifting her from the vibrant (if damaged) city of London, to the tiny family cottage in Mangaweka where the toilet was an outhouse, then to Wellington where she found, not a city, but a backwater where facilities were primitive and there was not even theatre for distraction.

Like Sylvia, my mother and father were forced to live with family for the first part of their married lives. This angered Sylvia who wanted a state house.  Sylvia’s husband was an airforce officer and from an affluent family. After the war he returned to the company he had previously worked for and was trained for promotion. My father was an army private and his family was large and poor. When he left New Zealand, despite having left school at thirteen, he had achieved a cadetship with the Railways as a draughtsman. When he returned, injured in 1941 in Egypt, he was told he was too old for the cadetship and so worked variously as a labourer building the Tawa line, and as a porter, but never again had an opportunity like the cadetship.

Living with family was the least of my mother’s problems; she never complained to me about it anyway, but recalled with humour incidents like, when living with my dad’s aunt, taking all day  to light the fire under the “copper” to do the washing.

Sylvia, like most war brides, arrived in New Zealand in 1946 on a “bride ship” carrying hundreds of brides, fares paid for  by the New Zealand Government. Sylvia, married to an officer, had superior accommodation. My mother married in New Zealand and arrived in 1943 in a converted freight ship carrying mostly servicemen returning home. Fortunately, my naive mother shared a cabin with a much older, worldly woman who protected her from these predators. One evening they discovered a line of servicemen spaced out along the corridors to provide an early warning system for a serviceman who intended to try his luck. The older woman, knowing they’d be back, barricaded the cabin door.

My mother’s fare was subsidised by the government but was paid in the main by my father who had proposed by letter from his hospital bed in Egypt. She, like Sylvia needed clothing coupons for her wedding dress. Sylvia’s husband, as an officer received plenty of clothing coupons enough for a dress. My mother and her friends and workmates all saved and pitched with coupons for fabric, and she made her dress herself. It was plain but all she could afford. When she arrived in New Zealand, her aunt-in-law saw the dress and immediately offered her own lacy, pretty one instead. Feeling pressured, my mother wore the borrowed dress. Though pretty, it was at least four inches too short, my great aunt being much, much shorter. My mother always hated her wedding photo, and I believe that she thought she had betrayed the generosity of her friends and workmates.

Sylvia, like my mother was terribly homesick, but was able to return to England with her husband for a few years in the early fifties. My parents could not financially afford to visit England. My mother finally visited when she was in her eighties, with my sister and after my father had died. I sometimes wonder if my father was frightened that if my mother returned she might not come back to New Zealand. I suspect that my grandmother and others may have suggested she return to England.

It is the experiences of these war brides, their struggle to come to grips with their adopted home, that led to something extraordinary happening in New Zealand at that time. My mother felt ostracised by New Zealand women who could put their hand to anything but were probably intimidated by her dress and her “posh” accent. Though poor, my mother always found a way to dress with style, a strategy that helped her maintain her self-esteem. I wonder how many other war brides also felt isolated and abandoned. My mother found herself living in a community dominated by people of Irish descent and she felt threatened by the hatred she perceived the Irish have for the English. As a result of  loneliness, dependence on my father and a sense of obligation toward him, my mother became determined that we would have a better life than she did.

She would do everything possible to ensure her children, including her daughters, were educated and independent. She expected that we would do well at school, she expected that we would finish secondary school, and she expected that we would have a tertiary education. There is nothing more powerful than a parent’s expectations to ensure a child succeeds at school.

The one thing that New Zealand offered these war brides (and refugees) was opportunity for their children. They came from countries where class, wealth and gender determined education and opportunity. The women may have felt isolated and ostracised, but their children were, are, New Zealanders assimilated and part of New Zealand culture. These women saw for their children no class structure, equal education available for all, and limitless career opportunities regardless of gender (fodder for debate, but this has been my personal experience). Their sacrifices would benefit their children.

In this way, I believe that these women, these war brides, contributed to  extraordinary changes in New Zealand over the following decades. Women of my age (50s) and older have careers as doctors, lawyers, judges, businesswomen, university professors, politicians … and families. By the 1980s I was a marketing manager and mother. My daughter takes for granted that she may become a senior manager in the organisation she works for, and issues of gender just aren’t on her radar. My sons assume women have the same rights and opportunities they do.

New Zealand already had a history of women’s rights; the war brides, my mother anyway, saw this and made sure a door to opportunity opened wide for their children.

English war bride married in Mangaweka, NZ, 1943

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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