Especially for the Mamas

I wouldn’t normally make a special effort to write about a Hallmark holiday but I am cradling a gorgeous  newborn and I did just farewell my mum as she left for an eight-week overseas jaunt.

Mum has been washing our laundry and cooking for us for the past two weeks but that’s not why I’ll miss her. Truth is that even though she is overbearingly caring (and unashamedly opinionated), she is probably my best friend. We talk every day about everything and nothing and we live about 4.5 minutes away from each other. My husband doesn’t get it. I tell him it’s a wog thing and to get over it.

I became a mother at 21. I was in my last year at uni. One weekend I was partying all night and the next I was stocking up on Bonds rompers. My Jordan is the best thing that ever happened to me; she opened my eyes to love and showed me what life was all about. Having her put me on a clear path to self-discovery, yoga, courage and joy. She is my rock, my angel, my inspiration.

And now I have little India; as fair-haired as Jordy is dark. At two weeks old her gaze leaves me breathless.  I want to inhale her scent and forever caress the soft warmth that is her perfect little head.

When I had Jordan I discovered the way I was mothering had a label: apparently I was practicing  ‘attachment’ parenting. Attachment parenting is rooted deeply in traditional parenting styles so it involves  baby wearing, extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping. The theory is that when parents and babies form deep, trusting attachments the children grow into happy, independent, confident adults.

As Jordy grew and or relationship evolved I found I was also ‘conscious’ or ‘aware’ parenting. This method involves parenting with intention, honest communication, honouring and respecting children as spiritual beings and providing firm boundaries.

I will now do all of the above with Indi but she will have the added bonuses of my maturity and my yoga practice; I am far more confident and calm at 30 than I was at 21.

There’s a lot of scrutiny these days around mothers and how we choose to do things. At times it seems that women are divided into separate camps regarding childbirth, breastfeeding, nappies, childcare and work choices. Motherhood can sometimes feel like a lonely, confusing, guilt-ridden competition.

When my friends or yoga students express these feelings I always offer the same advice:

Listen to your heart: Screw the labels and do what feels right for you.  If you have doubts about something then don’t do it. Become informed about issues that confuse or concern you so that you can feel confident in your parenting choices.
Listen to your baby: Not your mum, aunty, neighbour or sister-in-law. All children are different so it makes sense that we will all parent quite differently. What works for my family and I may not work for my best friend and her family. Pay close attention to your child,  get to know them intimately so that it will be easy to follow their lead. Don’t fight against them or their nature, especially when they’re newborns. Let your baby be your guide and ignore everyone else including your doctor and midwife.
Breathe: It sounds simple but when you have a screaming baby, a toddler in a tantrum or a tween in a tizz it can help to take a deep breath and remember that your child is a fellow human being trying to make their way in the world the same way we are. Take some time to reflect on your interactions with your children, the way you speak to them and touch them. Look them in the eye often and tell them how much you love them. Be present as much as you can. I promise it will make you feel good and it will make your child’s heart dance.

Happy Mother’s Day ladies. We rock.

When Women Are Good to Each Other

I love women and I love being a woman. Some people might call me a feminist. On a drunken night out one of my colleagues told me that she imagined me burning my bras. I was flattered.

Feminism has become a dirty word these days. It evokes images of radical lesbians and man-haters who don’t wax their underarms. For the record I love all kinds of men and my armpits are hair-free.

What I don’t love is injustice against women and inequality for women. I simply cannot comprehend nor accept women being treated differently to men based on gender. Cannot. Will not. And I’m vocal about it. This includes the expectation that women will change their name upon marriage and gender roles in the home.

Deep down I believe that women are superior to men on many levels and I believe that men must embrace their natural femininity if we are ever going to achieve equality at home and at work. But that’s another post.

Today I want to write about what happens when women are good to each other because we all know that sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. We can be competitive, bitchy, judgmental, unsupportive and unforgiving of each other in regards to issues ranging from fashion, career, lifestyle and mothering choices.

But when women are good to each other the results are uplifting, empowering and inspiring.

Yesterday I had about 20 women at my home to celebrate the impending birth of my second daughter. She is due in a week and I deliberately made the event as close to the due date as possible because I wanted to bask in the glow of positive female energy as I approach the birth. (This might sound crazy but new studies suggest being amongst female friends releases oxytocin, the brain chemical responsible for producing feelings of love, contentment, calmness, trust and empathy.)

I was surrounded by my mother and mother-in-law, my daughter, two sisters, aunts and my closest girlfriends. We formed a circle around my birth altar, which was adorned with candles and flowers. We let barriers down, opened our hearts and celebrated a new life and the amazing journey of motherhood. We participated in a couple of birth rituals and then did what we do best: talked and ate.

After feasting I beached myself on the floor in the room that I am preparing to give birth in. In one corner a girlfriend breastfed her baby, in another my daughter was beading necklaces for everyone. There was music playing, a small circle of smokers in the backyard and laughter throughout the house.

I believe that our greatest strength as women is our ability to communicate honestly and articulately but sometimes we are afraid of this power or we misuse it. What unfolded in my home yesterday was my version of feminism: women of all ages, backgrounds and life experiences coming together in joy to support and nurture one another. When women dare to reach out to each other we affirm our individual and collective beauty and brilliance. I love it.

I’m still basking in my good fortune and there wasn’t a hairy armpit in sight.

Yogic Pregnancy: Self-study or Surrender?

On Saturday mornings I teach prenatal yoga. Many women discover yoga when pregnant because their obstetrician or friends recommend it. It’s a great time to start because the woman’s body is transforming daily and yoga helps her embrace the changes and get to know her body intimately.

I’m a passionate advocate for conscious birth practices and recently trained with Janice Clarfield from urbanyoga in Canada. So each week I take the women through a sequence designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, open the hips and pelvis, soothe joints and muscles and prepare the mind. There’s also lots of breath work, mother/baby connection and deep relaxation of course.

Last week I mentioned to my students that I had finished my full-time job and now I felt like I could start preparing for the birth. After class one woman (due to have her baby in just over two weeks) said to me, “You got me thinking; I haven’t really done much preparation for the birth either.”

She left saying that she enjoyed the vocal toning we were doing and would try to remember to keep her jaw relaxed during the birth. I was slightly alarmed that this woman (a professional woman in her late 30s) would approach the birth of her first baby with such nonchalance.

I soon realised that my surprise came from my deep commitment to the yogic concept of svadhyaya or self-study. Svadhyaya is both the study of scriptures and the study of oneself, including a deep understanding of our bodies, within and without. My first serious enquiry into my body began at 21 when I was pregnant the first time and has obviously evolved since starting yoga.

I kept thinking about my student and how little time she had to understand her body better before it performed this miracle and then I remembered that other yogic concept: Isvara pranidhana. This is complete faith in and surrender to God.

Maybe my student has such faith in the god/goddess within her that she will simply surrender to that during the birth?  Maybe that will be enough for her and maybe women like me can become so fixated on deep understanding that we forget the huge element of surrender involved in birthing a baby?

What are your thoughts? Self-study, surrender or a bit of both?

Everett Bogue Is Doing My Head In

I’m having a lifestyle crisis and it’s all Everett Bogue’s fault. I’ve recently dived into Planet Blog, one click led to another and I discovered Bogue. He is a key figure in the online movement to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. On a superficial level this means hard-core de-cluttering and having less ‘stuff’. On a deeper level it’s about mass consumerism, the environment, energy and freedom.

Bogue is a fan of having the ability to live and work anywhere in the world without fuss. He advocates a minimalist lifestyle as a way to reduce stress and increase productivity and contentment. This all makes so much wonderful sense to me because I teach yoga  and we yogis know that nothing you really need for joy exists outside of you.

So I’ve been reading Bogue’s  posts, downloaded his e-book and became his fan on Facebook. I’ve realised that I’ve been on a very slow path to minimalism for a while now (recycling, reusing, buying most things second-hand on eBay and asking people not to buy us gifts). But still I am in crisis. And here is why: I am about to have a baby.

All parents know that children demand huge lifestyle changes. And then as they grow they develop their own interests (my daughter likes to create and play with small, weird things like pipe cleaners, elastic bands, lizards and slime).

The arrival of our baby in five weeks time has been the impetus for some serious action in our home (nesting anyone?). We have repainted, removed, installed, dusted, decorated, scrubbed, sorted, washed and folded. The amount of stuff we have and apparently still need has alarmed me not only because of the cost but because of the storage and the fact that I am too busy (and lazy) to keep on top of it all.

So Mr. Bogue, while I am deeply inspired by your movement and your writing, I think it’s an unfair coincidence that I’m being driven towards minimalism right now because I am in nesting mode. And nesting involves making a nice, warm, cosy home for a baby…you know, with blankets, booties and bunnies (it’s Autumn Easter time in Sydney).

I have asked my family to please not buy anything for the baby and the responses have ranged from polite nods, quizzical stares and a blunt, “That’s just stupid.”  It seems people cannot comprehend coming to meet a new baby empty-handed and I don’t want to offend anyone. I also don’t want people to think that I don’t want their gifts just so I don’t have to buy them gifts! So I find myself at a confused crossroad.

Nevertheless, I will try my best over the next few months to only accumulate amazing babymoon memories…I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

How do you negotiate your minimalist lifestyle with your family and friends?

Nesting in 2010

I am not a bird but I am nesting. Nesting is what animals do when they are expecting a baby. It’s about preparing a warm, comfortable home that will help the new baby survive. Birds gather twigs and leaves. Cats and dogs pad around until they find somewhere soft and warm and then they work on smoothing it out. Rodents scurry about searching for a low, dry place to birth and humans? Humans spend money.

We have lived in our home for over three years. It’s in a nice street, in a nice neighbourhood. The layout is great and we have more than enough room. When we bought it we knew there were improvements to make here and there but we were happy enough to have stopped renting and got on with life.

Magazines are a passion of mine and home decorating ones are no exception. So I’d peruse them with sticky notes in hand, visualising what our home may look like one day when we ran into a truckload of cash. Well the truckload never materialised but I did become pregnant…

Now there are just seven weeks to go until our little girl makes her entrance and I have had:

  • The entire house painted (including front door in a sexy deep blue)
  • New doors and door handles installed
  • Old wardrobes ripped out
  • Carpets ripped out
  • Floorboards sanded and varnished
  • All the windows professionally cleaned
  • New blinds installed

I have also bought new furniture, bedding and electricals and have a little list of items still to purchase once I’m on leave. On top of all this I am cleaning with gusto; mopping, soaking, wiping, disinfecting.

Thousands of years ago expectant women probably just swept out the cave with a broom made from animal hair. But not I. I often ask myself where these urges are coming from (nature or nurture?) because I know the newborn won’t come out admiring the white skirting boards and window frames. Nor will she notice that the books on the shelves are organised categorically or that her wardrobe has a double-hanging feature.

She may notice though that we don’t have any money left and we are living in a nest made of twigs and leaves…

Wii will get there

Today I filled in for a Year 1 teacher. Because she was also absent yesterday her students had not yet gone over their new weekly spelling words. There were 12 words; six belonging to the ‘ig’ family word group (pig, dig, fig, etc) and six frequently used words like have, went, play.

When introducing new spelling words, teachers like to ask their students if they are able to verbalise a sentence using the word. So today it went a little something like this (keep in mind the children are about six years old):

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word dog?”

Student: “I.have.a.dog!”

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word went?”

Student: “The.dog.went.to.the.park!”

Me: “Can somebody give me a sentence using the word play?”

Student: “I.play.with.my.dog!”

And then there was the word we and I saw one little boy’s eyes light up. Up until now he had seemed distracted so I was keen to hear what he had to say. “Yes, Adam*? Go ahead.”

“I.play.the.Wii.at.home.”

At first I didn’t register because I don’t own a Wii but his mates were right onto him, explaining the difference between the two words.

How is a six-year old boy whose first language isn’t even English able to use the word Wii in context but not the word we? Is it a cause for concern or just funny? And I wonder how confused he’ll be when he discovers you can use the word wee for pee?

*Names have been changed.

Out of the playground, into the world

Yesterday I read about two Sydney high school girls who recently experienced two vastly different cultures as part of their study programs. Katie Summers from Kincoppal-Rose Bay traveled to Queens, New York for four weeks and Meriden’s Melinda Heinrich spent 11 days in the Tanami Desert, Alice Springs.

While Katie studied in an old mansion, visited UN Headquarters and climbed the statue of liberty, Melinda slept in a tent, hunted goanna and assisted a vision-impaired boy at school. Both girls go to private single-sex schools. Katie wants to pursue international studies and Melinda wants to work closely with small communities.

As a public school teacher, I am envious of the opportunities these girls have that the kids I teach probably won’t ever have. As a mother of daughters (one on the way!) I hope that some day my girls will grow up to have the same attitudes and independence that these two young girls have. And as a woman I am inspired by all that they will become in the future.

Which trip would you have preferred as a student: a winter in NYC or the rocky terrain of the Australian outback?