Thursday, 30 April 2015

Mummying My Way

Looking after three kids under the age of two is hard work. I find it goes in cycles. If I am organised and create rituals and routines for me and the kids to follow, it does make life much more predictable and it definitely contributes to a settled brood and household. It’s impossible to be a clock watcher and it is imperative to have flexibility; anything too fixed and militant is absolutely impossible if not psychosis inducing, but just observing daily markers and chopping up the day into achievable segments minimises chaos. When I say it goes in cycles I mean that sometimes everything is in alignment and those rituals ebb and flow throughout the day flawlessly. Other days it’s Armageddon. It takes commitment too. I can’t just observe routine some of the time; I have to do it most of the time. Not all the time, that’s impossible. I’d never leave the house. However, it helps to do the same thing over and over again. It can become tedious and boring, sometimes I feel like the walls are closing in on me, but it gives the kids security and it works.

We observe daily patterns anyway as ordinary adults; in our workplaces, on our weekends and evenings at home, on holidays. Humans have historically measured and applied repetition, counted and noted events and actions to get us through the hours, days, weeks, months and years.

Generally, the day can be broken down in relation to mealtimes. I guess it has something to do with survival and base instincts and since having children, I have found that mealtimes are my touchstones. We do breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. We fit in nap times, play time, nappy changes and toileting, bathing and leisure amongst the moments when we employ self sustenance. 

Even with newborns; especially with newborns, breaking down the day and night into doable parts allows us some control over the unpredictable and helps us to survive the difficult moments. Feeding a newborn is frequent, particularly breastfeeding so maintaining my own daily routine amongst the constant feeding, changing, sleeping pattern of an infant (or in my case, two), not only contributes to my own well-being so that I can care for a helpless human, it assists in maintaining a sense of calm so that when the shit hits the proverbial fan; sometimes literally, because baby shit is often like a fire hose spewing out pumpkin soup; I have the opportunity to leave that segment behind and correct my path during the next one. It is often the hardest when the cycles bleed into each other and one stuff up snowballs into ruining the whole day. I’ve had many moments like this. Whether it be over stimulation from having visitors, or a loud noise waking a baby, or teething, or illness, or an outing – a missed or disturbed nap, a disastrous breastfeed, a poo explosion – all these things can throw me and how I handle it, how tired I am and how much positivity and enthusiasm I can muster can mean the difference between simply getting it right at the next cycle or writing off the entire day to start clean tomorrow like erasing a drawing on an Etch a Sketch. Sometimes I can have a week of crazy, especially when the babies are ill or teething or going through a milestone. Some days I cope with the stuff ups. Some days I lose the plot over the tiniest crack in the system.

It took a while to find my rhythm with my first baby. That’s understandable. Being a first time parent can be daunting, confusing, exhausting; the flip side of course is the equivalent joy, but it’s challenging. You made a human. You have to keep it alive. It has to thrive on so many levels and people expect you to look like you are coping and glowing like all the cultural representations of parenthood that are blatantly shoved down our throats to give us an ideal to measure up to and make us feel guilty and shitty if we fall short. Just google celebrity mums or yummy mummy or some shit; the imagery is hilarious and often for most mothers on a day to day basis, unattainable. However, other mothers still insist on giving me pity face. You know, they look at you like you’re a poor soul struggling, getting it all wrong, because you’re not doing it their way or visibly fitting into the cookie cutter version of what motherhood or parenting is supposed to be according to the sheeple of the world. They’re probably struggling in many ways just as much as I am, but focusing on my failings is comforting to them. Mothers should make a pact to always give each other empathy face rather than pity face. We’re all doing the best we can, given the circumstances. There is no right way or wrong way most of the time. 

And it’s competitive. Once you join that world and you start associating with other parents, it’s game on. Everyone wants to tell you what they did and how they did it and what they read and who they spoke to and what technique they used and what products they bought and blah fucking blah blah blah. I participated with my first baby. I listened intently to every piece of advice that I came across. I figured everything would be helpful whether it was right for me or not and I shared my experiences because I thought the interaction was constructive. I was either getting help and support or I was giving it. However since having twins, I’ve completely surrendered. I’ve decided it’s a waste of energy and it’s an exercise in futility. Who gives a shit honestly? Just let me get through my day with all of us alive and well. And sane. In saying that, I’m writing a blog about how I mother….the irony hasn’t escaped me. I guess we just want validity for what we are doing and rightly so. And you know what? I still believe the dialogue is constructive. So humour me. For the record, I wrote this for myself, but if even one person can relate or gets some ideas or it reinforces what they do by disagreeing with me, then we all win.

I’m still breaking down the day. I’m better at it. I’d be level champion if I’d had one baby the second time around, but I had twins and I’ve had to stomp down on the accelerator pedal with both feet. Actually, I am Grade A+ level champion when I have a good day. It’s not quite double the work, but it’s close and add a toddler to the mix and you have a very busy day if you try to cover all bases all of the time.

So now I not only try to see the day in time slots marked by meal times, I’ve also learned that the most important thing that babies and young children need to thrive; heck I need it too, are three things. Good nutrition, adequate rest, basic hygiene. That’s it. If I aim at achieving these three things I reckon I'll survive the first few years of child rearing and instil some excellent habits in my children that will see them through to prosperous adulthood.

Good nutrition doesn’t mean eating impossibly expensive, difficult to obtain, guilt free, completely devoid of any excitement, fad diet type food or eliminating entire food groups. I don’t understand the obsession with food, I understand passion, but not obsession. To me eating and preparing food can be simple, creative and enjoyable – given you are healthy to begin with and don’t have any adverse reactions to certain foods. Food allergies are very real and certainly debilitating to some people and this can’t be ignored. Otherwise, balance is the key. We eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, wholegrain and seeds, dairy and eggs and don’t deny ourselves the sweetest things in life like chocolate. We enjoy beer and wine (I appreciate this the most at the moment because while I breastfeed I abstain). We control our portions. We drink heaps of water and hot drinks often; tea and coffee are the nectar of the universe (I don’t believe in gods). That is not to say that I don’t sometimes fret over where our food is sourced. I have ethical questions too and I limit our consumption of pre-packaged, processed foods and have heaps of questions about sugar and salt and animal by-products (this one haunts me and I’m sure if I were single and childless I’d be vegan), but I must admit I don’t obsess over it. I’m not perfect and I wish I could participate in sustainability more. I stay away from fast food as much as possible, but the only thing I never touch is offal, you know, because IT’S OFFAL! 

I always made baby food for my first and aim to do the same for the twins. Nothing fancy, just introduced vegetables and fruits and stuck with fresh from the beginning. I did give her a couple of those packet meals if I was out, but she was so used to eating our food and my cooking by then that she refused the bland packet stuff. I kept it simple. I mashed sweet veggies like pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots to start. I gave her avocado, banana, apple, pear and blueberry. I gave her baby cereal and cow’s milk by around 10 months. She weaned off the breast by 11 months when I fell pregnant with the twins. Once she was old enough to have more textured stuff, I started blending our own food for her to try. Meat and veg, coarser veggies like broccoli, peas and corn kernels with their skins on, combinations of fruit, leaving it chunkier as time went on and experimenting with what she could handle. I gave her bread and pasta and crackers to gnaw on. As soon as she could I gave her eggs and make sure she has one every other day. She drinks water all day long. I let her try whatever was on my plate if I ate out and when I cooked I was not afraid to flavour food with salt and pepper, curry, stock, herbs and spices and even a bit of heat as in chilli – not too much, just what I can handle, which isn't much. She even eats Thai or pizza (the good healthy versions) if we order out. 

She is an amazing eater, but it wasn’t always without its dramas. If she refused something, I offered something else, but I didn’t give up on that particular food. For example it took many offers of tomato over many months for her to even try it and now she devours them. I employed a little trick I discovered when giving her grapes and mandarin segments. I learned that if I cut them in half before giving them to her she wasn't intimidated by the skin. She tasted the flesh immediately and didn't have to bite through the weird stuff to get to the good stuff. It also goes the other way. She ate baby stick cheese every day for months, then all of a sudden decided she hated it and hasn't touched them since. She prefers grown up cheese now.

I only embraced some aspects of baby lead weaning theory. It's pretty good and backed by research, but I just couldn’t handle the mess. To me, meal times aren’t play time. Yes babies need to touch food and feel their different textures, experience smells and tastes for themselves and no, they aren’t going to sit still and use cutlery like a civilised person from the get go, but I can aim for that can’t I? My instinct was just to aim for getting food into her mouth and belly with a balance between fun and the seriousness of making sure she was actually eating stuff. It felt more natural to build up to solid food from breast milk by not skipping the puree phase. I felt that she needed the mush in between breastfeeding and eating solid food to be able to experience different tastes separately to experiencing textures. I also couldn’t cope with her wearing her food from head to toe. I don’t see the point. I don’t mind her getting messy, but I don’t want her to think that meal times are an opportunity to go nuts either, especially if we were at someone's house or out somewhere. When it’s time to eat it's not time to play, but we can still have games and have fun. I’ll still make faces with her grapes and cheese and tell her that shredded ham around her plate are flower petals and I still feign surprise when the food goes into her mouth off the fork, exclaiming “where’d it go, oh my goodness, it’s gone!!” BLW has some amazing principles, but I didn't follow it to a tea and still reaped some of the benefits. The research and theories behind this practice are incredibly wise and valid, they just weren’t all for me. I took some principles on board, but not all of them and I genuinely respect mothers who go down that path. I might let go a little more with the twins, who knows? 

I recently allowed her to try chocolate. She’d had the baby custards and yoghurts before, but I didn’t want her to eat sweets regularly. At nearly two, she had a couple of chocolate eggs this easter. I didn’t even let her have a cupcake on her first birthday. She didn’t miss anything. I didn’t do a cake smash either – no way, not for me. Maybe on her second birthday she can try a piece of cake.

I’m confident though that she enjoys eating and is willing to try new things; she is curious about food. Meal times aren’t a battle most of the time. We try to sit down together to eat as a family. We have breakfast together before her father goes to work; I often have morning tea and lunch with her. Afternoon tea she has at her leisure, either in front of the tele or at a park or on the balcony. We sit down for dinner together as a family in the evenings. It’s a very important ritual.

I personally feel that the most challenging hurdles to conquer with kids are sleep patterns. Day naps and bedtime are difficult to negotiate because it involves a lot of cue reading and guess work and plenty of consistency whilst at the same time maintaining flexibility. There are so many factors to consider and when I myself am tired and sleep deprived, it is easy to take short cuts and avoid the hard work by looking for quick fixes and instant gratification – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The aim is to make sure babies and kids rest when they need it and understand that they do. Giving them the space and security to sleep and helping them when they need it with cuddles and comfort and a relaxing atmosphere can take up a lot of time, but it is necessary. The biggest lesson I learned that helped me to understand when a baby needs to sleep (at least in their first year until they get to just one nap a day) is to always focus on their waking time instead. It’s no good trying to get them to sleep for a certain period of time. I can’t control that. A noise could wake them; they could just wake up or sleep for ages. The only thing I can observe and limit is how long they stay awake for, for their age group. This is a great resource. I swear by it.

My first baby was nursed or rocked to sleep in arms or a pram til she was around 18 months. At 22 months, she still sometimes needs to sit on my lap to fall asleep, especially if we aren’t home. I don’t think it will be any different with the twins except for them being rocked in vessels like the bassinets or the pram because I can’t carry them both at once and I refuse to separate their schedules too much, otherwise I’m bogged down with them all day, perpetually. I’ve never been keen on sleep training. I think it is futile more often than not because children’s needs for security change so often with different milestones and growth spurts. I never let my first child cry much, but it was easier with one. With two it’s a little harder to avoid because one always has to wait for the other at different times. However, I still try to avoid them getting too distressed. My theory is that they need help to fall asleep and I’m happy to oblige. Yes I can teach them to fall asleep by themselves, but I think there is always a level of disassociation that has to take place for that to happen and I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve never seen anything wrong with comforting a child until they fall asleep and when I get the cues right and they’re tired, it doesn't take them too long. It’s not easy and sometimes it is the most frustrating thing in the world when they refuse to shut their eyes, but consistency and persistence, patience and trial and error reap results; and if they miss a nap, although it can throw out my whole day, it’s not the end of the world (although it feels like it is to me). They’ll catch up.

I maintain loose routines with all three; I’m consistent with what happens before it’s time to sleep while at the same time encouraging flexibility so they can sleep where ever we are when they need to. So whether it’s at home in their beds, the car, the pram or a portacot at someone’s house or on holidays; as long as the sleep happens at around the same times in the cycles of the day and there are familiar things for them to associate with the sleep like a muslin wrap, being swaddled, a favourite toy or if necessary a cuddle from me or dad; they know that when they’re tired they can let go and drift off. It is not always as easy as it sounds and if a nap is missed, so be it, we catch up the next time, but I make the effort to observe it every single day and bed time at night is not negotiable. It’s really important that they rest. It’s important for their physical and emotional well-being and mine. 

For my kids, motion has always been a requirement in the early months to comfort them to sleep. Perhaps I indulged this as an easy way to get the sleep to happen and had I not, then they wouldn’t have needed to be literally physically moved to sleep, but I was more interested in the sleep happening quickly and easily than how to lay them down and make them sleep by themselves. I chose to embrace the rocking of the bassinets by hand, the use of the pram or car or holding them close to me and swaying if it meant the sleep would come asap. It was worth it with my first. She eventually didn’t need it anymore and she is a great sleeper most of the time. My twins are now nearly ready to move from the bassinets to their cots in the elder’s room. I have no idea how we are going to achieve sleep as they are rocked in their bassinets that are on wheels. The cots don’t rock and if I’m alone I can’t hand rock them both at once in my arms. I think the double pram is going to be the best option and then transfer to the cot at night or leave them there for their day naps. My first had day naps in the pram regularly beyond her first birthday. The biggest hurdle is going to be having all three sharing a room and learning to accommodate each other. I envisage many many challenges ahead, but am confident we’ll find a way and they’ll settle eventually. Bottom line is that when kids are tired they will sleep given the opportunity and space to do so. Eventually. Most of the time.  There is nothing more rewarding than watching those sleepy eyes slowly close and stay closed. To say I’m bloody terrified of this next phase is an understatement.

Personal hygiene is a big one for me. I didn’t bath my first baby very often as a newborn; once a week was sufficient. The hospital told me that right after they’re born, the vernix all over their body, that gooey thick white stuff, is really good for their skin and to just let it be absorbed. So we waited til we got the baby home and had a midwife show us what to do on one of her visits. The first time I bathed her, I dunked her face in the water and she cried her heart out. It was far from a relaxing bath. As she got older and we moved her to the big bath and she started walking and playing outside and getting dirty and messy with food and the like, the baths became more frequent. Now it’s like 3 times a week. I’ve never understood where the energy comes from to bath a child every day. My bad because I shower every day. When she’s independently bathing, I’ll encourage her to do the same. I am much more confident with the twins. We bathed them in the hospital. It was helpful that I had a sink that doubled as a baby bath in my room and once we got them home I found that I was eager to get them all fluffy in a bath. One of them hates bathing with a passion; the other one loves it. I do it twice a week. I look forward to chucking them all in the big bath together.

I like to think I keep my kids clean generally though. I wash their faces and hands and feet daily. I have given the eldest a toothbrush to chew on since she was 1. Not a lot of brushing takes place, but we’ve now added some kids’ toothpaste for her to swish around and she’s getting better at it. I just make sure it happens every day. Eventually I’m sure she’ll understand tooth brushing and I’m sure it’s doing her some good having the bristles in her mouth and chewing on them each day.

I get through a lot of wet wipes and not just for nappy changes, which happen very regularly, especially for the babies, after every feed. Particularly if we’ve been handling food or playing outside, hands and faces get a wipe often. Not incessantly, but enough to maintain hygiene. When they’re old enough to reach the sink, they’ll be encouraged to wash their hands. After playing outside, before meals and after meals. This simple ritual escapes many people. I absolutely love washing my hands. I know it sounds weird. I don’t do it obsessively or anything, I just enjoy it. I love the feeling of the cold water in my palms and the aroma of the frothing soap and I just love having clean hands. Add moisturiser and I’m in heaven. The Mor argan oil range is bliss! I've also been known to brush my teeth so enthusiastically that I've injured myself. Once the toothbrush slipped and I stabbed myself in the gums with it, nearly rendering myself toothless.

Don’t get me started on runny noses. I will chase down my kids all day if I have to when they’re unwell, which is rare, to prevent that stream of snot ever reaching their top lip…there is nothing more repulsive to me, let alone watching kids wipe snot into their eyes and having people wonder where their kid got conjunctivitis from. And I will spend an entire morning digging out a booger, even if I heave the whole time. 

If they’re snacking on something messy, you know, banana, any kind of spread on any kind of cracker, it’s nice for them to have that stickiness be temporary. It’s uncomfortable being covered in gunk. Don’t get me wrong. I let my daughter get dirty. I love watching her face covered in food and her trying to lick jam off her nose. She hates having sand on her hands, but will immediately scratch her eyes the moment a grain is on her fingers. I love watching her forget about it and lose herself in play when she starts to appreciate its texture. She loves water play. I don’t care how wet she gets – clothes, hair, whatever. If it brings joy to her, then I’ll deal with it later. But I deal with it. When play time is over, it’s time to get cleaned up and if a bath isn’t on the cards that night then just a change of clothes and a quick do over with a soapy face washer or wet wipe will do. Children want to feel fresh too. Same goes for wearing shoes. Being barefoot feels awesome. Around the house, at the beach or at a park - but I'm cautious. I use a simple rule. If I'm wearing shoes, so are my kids. I know I over worry about stubbed toes, stepping on glass or sharp stones and sticks, hepatitis, salmonella, but I don't think my worries are unfounded and I won't walk around the shops or the streets barefoot so why should they?

The worst possible thing has begun to happen. She’s interested in what’s going on in her nappy when I’m changing her these days. I’ve had to sing songs about putting your hands in the air at that moment because she once grabbed at her poo. I nearly fainted. Of course the dirty hand went straight to her face. I wet wiped her like a woman possessed.

As at the time of writing, I’ve never dealt with food vomit or diarrhea. I hope I don’t jinx myself. I’m very lucky they’ve never been that sick. I dread the day. One of the twins was a real chucker as a newborn. She suffered from terrible reflux and threw up volumes after each feed. Although breast milk spews aren’t that smelly, it still got my goat that I had to change bibs and clothes, both hers and mine (not the bib, I don't wear a bib), so often. She still posits every now and then as does her twin, but it’s manageable. Wet wipes to the rescue. I have an open packet in every room of the house. 

I’m not saying that my way is the only way or even the right way, it’s just my way. In contemplating all of this I've felt conflicted. I don't want to be a helicopter parent, I don't think I am, I try not to be and when I think about all the things I try to consider when raising my children day to day, my attention turns to broader global issues that affect children and how other parents must cope.

How are Aboriginal parents coping whose communities are being closed by our government? What happens to their child rearing routines and customs? The government is claiming they are doing this to save children from abuse, but much of this information is being distorted and statistics the government uses are often mirrored in the broader Australian context, but systematically ignored. 

What about the children locked up in detention at the moment on Nauru? How are their mothers coping in those dismal conditions? I read that "New mothers are forced to queue up for strictly rationed nappies, baby wipes and powdered milk, with staff telling them constantly they will never be resettled in Australia." What does that stress do to them on a daily basis?

What of the children in Syria or Nepal

My ramblings seem rather insignificant. 

Bottom line is we should love and nurture all children and aim to make them happy and healthy at all times. Nutritious food, clean water, warmth, rest, hygiene, access to medicine and vaccinations; this is what we should aim to provide ALL children everywhere. If that was the focus of governments and politicians and corporations at all times, instead of profits, power, accumulation of wealth.....Imagine the planet we would live in!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Haircut - An Odessey

We were drowning in a sea of wiry strands, detaching themselves from my scalp on a regular basis. It wasn’t just when I ran my fingers through my hair or combed it; I shed hair all the time. If I walked a little briskly or turned my head a little too quickly or if there was a breeze from an open door or window or if I stood under the air conditioner. It seemed that not much force was needed to nudge those little buggers loose. Hair was everywhere. Our tiles are white so the dark hair is very visible. Being the length it was made it easy enough to see and pick up. The wiry grey ones were harder to see, but they shimmered silver in the light on everything else. The couch, the cushions, my clothes, the children. Vacuuming the carpet was an ordeal. In fact just walking barefoot meant tangled strands between your toes. If you rub the carpet long enough you collect a ball of hair the size of an adult fist. Yuk.

I’d been contemplating having a haircut for a while now. I was desperate for a trim at the very least, but the acceleration of the hair loss was making me desperate. Nobody tells you much about postpartum shedding. Other mothers mention it, but don’t go into much detail. Most mothers experience it and it passes. Like everything else that happens to your body after you have a baby. It’s the hormones, they keep telling me. I really needed a haircut. It had been ages. I wanted short hair for summer, but I mulled over the idea for so long, it was now nearly winter, so I’ll have short hair over winter instead. Whatever. 

I'd pinned a million photos on Pinterest. I'd done this before; gone from really long hair to a short bob. Bang. One hit. No in between. So it was no big deal. My biggest obstacle was leaving the house for long enough to have it done, in between breastfeeding my now four month old twins. My eldest, 22 months, I can leave for hours and as long as someone else is entertaining her, she doesn't even know I'm gone til I come back. But the babies are still on a very tight loop. They need me two hourly for a drink. And I need them. I need to see them and touch them and hear them and tend to their needs. It’s about me too. I’m still adjusting to them being outside my body too.

It shouldn't take that long to get a haircut though. The shops are nearby, maybe a five minute drive away. They're renovating the car park so getting a parking spot on a Saturday morning could be tricky, but I have other options like street parking or abandoning the car in the middle of the new roundabout. So that’s a five minute drive, let's say ten minutes to park - if less it's a bonus. The bugger is whether or not they'll make me wait. It doesn't matter if you make an appointment - anywhere, not just at the hairdresser's; doctors, mechanics, accountants, whatever; an appointment is an indicator of the time of day (morning, noon or night) give or take a few hours on either side. No one actually sees you at your appointment time. That's a bloody myth. So I call ahead to suss out what the situation is. Calling ahead won’t make any difference, I know that already. It just makes me feel like I’ve covered all the bases. 

I only want a wash and cut. That's extravagant for me. I normally go in there having just washed my hair. I go in with wet hair if I want a wet cut, dry if I want a dry cut. This time I felt like indulging. I was sick of the time it took to comb out all the loose, wet hair after washing it. I'd let them do it. They won't have to detangle it anyway; they're cutting it off!

So I call them. I ask if I need an appointment. They tell me no, only if I'm having a colour or something complicated like an apartment block built on my head. Good, ok. The girl was so chirpy for a Saturday morning. ‘Come on in’, she said. It gave me the final motivation to just pack my boobs away and run. I left them all as is. No nappy change, no swaddling and rocking to sleep. I did up my top and fled out the door with my husband's car keys. If I looked back or thought about it, I'd change my mind again.

No traffic and a pretty easy parking spot. I couldn't believe my luck. Everything was aligning. I was doing this. I was even contemplating a hot beverage, but no time for that just yet. I walked into the salon to be greeted by three hairdressers busy cutting hair, all their chairs occupied and two people in the waiting area calmly reading magazines. Oh oh. First hurdle. I was going to have to wait. I smiled meekly at the closest hairdresser. 

'Hello. I called earlier about a wash and cut'.
Snarly, grimace faced silence. She wasn't the perky girl I'd spoken to on the phone. This was her very wicked and angry co-worker who fucking hated Saturday mornings and all customers who dared to interrupt her very important self.
'Just wondering what the wait time is for a wash and cut. It’s just that I have twin babies at home that I need to feed….hehehe'. I instantly felt pathetic for trying to appeal to her womanhood. She didn’t give a shit.
I'm not kidding she was a dragon.
'Grrrrrrraaaaaaaaahhhhhhh. THERE ARE TWO PEOPLE WAITING...' *motions to the waiting area right in front of my face that I am clearly just noticing now*.....SO AFTER THEM THEN YOU, OK?'

Fucken hell. This woman hated her life….and my face.

I mumbled something about trying the other hairdressers in the center and maybe coming back....she may have stabbed the customer she was working on with her scissors and turned over the nearest brush trolley, I'm not sure, but I ran out of there. I was wasting valuable time.

Hair salon No.2. It was completely empty except for a very young girl, maybe 8 or 19....I don't know, I couldn't tell, she had a freaking tonne of make up on her face, like she'd face planted in a muddy puddle. I think she had blue mascara on. No one is born with blue eyelashes, so she wasn't going for a natural look. Fair enough. She was honest about it. Good for her.

She approached the counter inquisitively, as though she had no idea why I would be in there at all. What could this older woman possibly want? Is she looking for center management to inquire about a mobility scooter and just stumbled into the wrong place? Do nearly old people get haircuts at a salon? Don’t they just sheer at their hair with butter knives?

'Yes, how can I help you?' At least she was friendly.

'Any chance of having a wash and cut?' I said confidently. Confident I'd get a haircut because there was nobody else in there. Not confident that she wouldn't ruin my hair with those rounded blade craft scissors, because there was no way this child was old enough to use real shears.
'Um.....ssssshhh....sorry, we're completely booked out today' she said smugly, shrugging her shoulders. 

Bullshit. She was just scared of catching grey hair. Or maybe they really were booked; I wasn’t sure why it felt personal. Same goes for the dragon lady. I’m sure her hostility wasn’t about me either.

The only place left was the real cheap place or the real expensive place. Then I realised, the real expensive place had shut down due to the renovations; so I went into the real cheap place. 

Well. I had walked into the United Nations. All the skin colours were represented in the very diverse and friendly staff. They were all busy cutting hair and there were a couple of people waiting. Shit....time was ticking. I think like 15 minutes had passed already. I approached the counter. This very lovely man with a European accent - maybe Dutch, maybe Nordic, spoke to me. I don't know what he said because I was completely hypnotised by his very white teeth. They were luminous, they blinded me. I couldn't look at anything else. I wonder if he noticed. Is that why people whiten their teeth? So you look at their mouth and hear every word they say, or none of them? I don't know, I just couldn't look anywhere else. They made his eye balls look yellow.

He said there was maybe a 40 minute wait because there were two people waiting and the haircut would take maybe half an hour so that's 70 minutes. He was very specific and very good at maths and said he could put my name down on the waiting list. I told him about the twins and breastfeeding too and that I'd come back after I sussed out the other salons. What the hell is wrong with me that I feel the need to put a mental image of my boobs in everyone that I encounter’s mind…I’m doing it right now. You’re probably picturing my boobs. Stop it. STOP IT!

I was feeling a little desperate by now. I stood outside the shop for a minute and spun around a few times confused. I must have looked so lost and completely deranged. I had three choices. Wait at the cheap place that was very friendly, go to the brand place with the arsehole woman and wait the same amount of time or just abandon ship and go home with my long, shedding, dirty hair and Pinterest how to cut your own hair again.

I went back to see the dragon, because I'm a glutton for punishment like that. Well actually, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and I thought maybe the wait time was less. Really it was just the name of the salon that was making me question my decision. The brand name versus the cheap brand… the end I knew that it meant nothing. I’d get a good haircut if the hairdresser was good, it didn’t really matter who they worked for.

She was still an arsehole.

I told her given her lack of enthusiasm at my presence in her shop I would go elsewhere. And I'll never go back there again. I went and bought that hot drink, thinking I could very well go and throw it in her scowling face, but I didn't. I drank it during my eventual haircut.

I put my name down at the global melting pot (incidentally their shampoo brand is called Justice), cheap brand shop and sat and waited and with every passing minute my heart raced. I knew the babies would still be asleep, but that didn’t alleviate my anxiety, because I didn’t know when they would wake and where I would be. I could still leave, but once I was in it, with wet hair and mid cut, there’d be no turning back. Every second felt like forever. People kept coming to sit in the waiting area and as each hairdresser finished with their client and I was sure they’d call me next, someone else’s name was called and more people were returning to wait and to be called before me. I wondered where I actually was in the queue. When I agreed to put my name down there was nobody in the shop. I hadn’t realised that they’d all wandered off to get a coffee. I was starting to think that Mr shiny teeth had minimised his wait time guess. Just as I was feeling the strong urge to bolt, they called my name.

The very nice woman representing white people called me to her chair. She wanted to discuss my hair before starting. Very good sign.

The chair she wanted me to sit on was covered in someone else's hair. Bad sign.

You win some, you lose some.

After having a very mature and thorough conversation about my shedding, me apologising for leaving a trail of hair through the waiting area and leaving my babies at home, she asked me where I wanted my hair to sit and told me that I have a very low hair line (hairy neck). I made all my usual jokes about grey hair and having twins and being menopausal when my kids reach puberty and my poor husband - she found none of this amusing, in fact she took every word I said very seriously and validated my feelings - and then she walked away and left me there. I thought she went to get something, but she just didn't come back for like four hours. Well 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Bad, bad sign. I took a sip of my tea and scalded my tongue. Where the hell was she?

She came back eventually. She showed me her index finger and its jagged nail. She'd chipped her nail and didn't have an emery board. She was worried she'd scratch me. Very good sign, she was very considerate. I mentioned I had babies whose fingernails were like kitten claws.

She motioned me over to the sink and started to wash my hair. I'm not too sure what happened over the next few minutes because she proceeded to massage conditioner into my scalp. I couldn't contain my pleasure. She told me I deserved it and that it was just as pleasurable for her. I wasn't fearful of embarrassing myself by appearing to climax...I was afraid I might fart. Sometime later I had to bring myself to stand and walk over to the dreaded mirror seat and I did so groggily. However, this time I was ready. I always look like shit in those mirrors, but I made the effort that morning and put some very subtle make up on and I didn't look like a heroin addict.

She went for it. No hesitation. She cut off my hair. She sectioned the soaked locks and only combed the knots down to where she was cutting just as I thought she would. Before too long I had short hair. She then reached into a drawer and brought out the razor comb. I was still dizzy from the head massage and wasn't quick enough to stop her before realising what she was doing; razoring my fringe....

I raised my hand before I spoke because my mouth and brain were still two days behind my vision from that scalp rub. She stopped dead.

'I prefer if you didn't razor my hair. It's too aggressive.....and....the looks good right now, but tomorrow......crrssshhhhhh, it'll be nuts!'

She apologised. No ego, no dramas. She thought to thin it out, but understood where I was coming from. 

And that was it. Before I knew it the whole ordeal was over. My hair was still dripping wet. I hadn't asked for a blow dry so she shagged it out with her hands a bit and that was it. She took the plastic shawl off and walked to the counter.

They had a special offer. Buy two products and get a free pair of sunnies. So I bought the shampoo and conditioner with the hope of maybe experiencing through some sort of aromatic memory trigger even a fraction of that head massage. I took my pair of sunnies and my goodie bag and I was out the door. 

I could have shopped and browsed for another hour, but I didn't. I bolted to the car and drove home. When I arrived, the house was calm. The babies were still asleep and my husband was quietly playing with my eldest. No body starved.

The haircut took some years off my face, but the experience put them back on. Still, I know it will get easier and now I have the taste for freedom, I’m looking for the next excuse to abdicate.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Retrospect and Living in the Moment

Have you ever looked at an old picture, knowing exactly how you felt the moment it was taken; self conscious, unattractive, miserable, uncertain, unhappy - then looked again a few years down the track and remembered it differently? You were thinner than you felt then, your skin was younger, your smile less corrupted, your heart more free. That's the power of retrospect. When we look back at ourselves we more often than not think they were great times in our lives, even though the reality back then was different.

I often re visit old photos, with exactly that experience. I think most people I know do. I don't have regrets, but I do have many 'if I knew then what I know now' moments. 

I had a fairly happy and stable childhood. It has been captured pretty thoroughly in photographs and film; granted it was the 70s and 80s so not to the extent that say my children's youth will be captured; what with instant digital photo and videography often requiring little more than a mobile phone to capture every significant and not so significant moment of their upbringing. I've also had a running commentary through my mum of the story behind each photograph, so the memories have been kept vividly alive through her story telling, coupled with my own recollection.

The way in which I see my teen years has shifted though. I remember feeling self conscious and awkward, moody, restricted, confused most of the time. Nothing unusual for an angst riddled teenager really. I'm sure my experience is similar to most people at that age - that horrible hormone loaded, in transition from child to adult time, between the ages of say 14 - 17. When I think about it now, it was three years; a drop in the ocean in the scope of a lifetime, but at the time it felt like an unbearable eternity.

I look back now with different eyes. My skin was youthful and smooth, my expression serene - pouty and sullen, typically troubled, but oblivious, maybe even a little bit innocent. My figure was tidy, not posture perfect, but in proportion. I dressed eccentrically. I lived in op shops and Indian boutiques. I had my own sense of style. I applied minimal, but bold make up. I cut and dyed my hair regularly. I was never conventionally beautiful, but I looked after myself. I took pride in my appearance - however slacker and effortless.....ok lazy, it was. I felt like an outsider, a misfit, but there was a shine in that uniqueness that I completely missed at the time. What a shame!

Sometimes I think to myself, 'Why was I so shy? Why was I so self conscious? I had the world at my feet. I could have done more, enjoyed more.' But that's just seeing myself through my current eyes, after all the experience and growth that has accumulated since.

I look at my post teen years in much the same way. In my 20s I was looking back at those teenage years and lamenting the missed opportunities and really not enjoying the present I was living as much as I should have, in retrospect. It didn't occur to me that that present, the time in my 20s when I lived alone, earned a decent income and had the freedom to enjoy every moment, would be something I would look back on fondly. 

I've finally come full circle. It has recently dawned on me that I keep looking back with new eyes on my past and neglecting my present. So why don't I just look at my present in the same way and just appreciate every moment now, not 10 years from now. 

The other day I was driving to my parents' place in my 4wd, three beautiful daughters quietly traveling with me in the back seat. I tuned in to some classic old fogey radio station that plays all those excellent hits you never know you like until they play them on the radio in the car 10 years later. That song by Bryan Adams came on, Summer of '69. That line was a light bulb moment; "Those were the best days of my life". That's what got me thinking about this. The best days of our lives are the moments we are living right now. We just don't appreciate them until later because living in the moment is fraught with so much other stuff to distract us. It's not easy being human. We worry, we feel anxious, we fret about decisions we must make, we agonise over what people think of us or how we look and how we come across to people. It takes our attention away from the bigger picture of what we are actually experiencing. Later on, in retrospect, all that negativity falls away and we are left with the happy memories.

We forget about the ill feelings we carried and the self depreciating, crippling mind chatter that held us back from taking risks and leaping whole heartedly into the guts of our lives. We only remember our past mostly with fondness, the good old days, the simplicity and the innocence of our youth. 

If we can have such clarity in retrospect, why can't we drag that optimism into our present? We should be able to recognise each and every day, each and every moment, particularly when the shit is hitting the proverbial fan, that this is it. This is all we have. This moment is the only thing that is real and it will be gone immediately. Why wait? Why only appreciate it later with the benefit of clarity? Why not clear our vision now?

So right there in the car, with Bryan Adams' gravelly voice reminiscing about his youthful summer and my girls quietly dozing in the back as I drove peacefully to my parents' place, I decided to be more grateful. To be more present every day. To love photos immediately and take more of them doing the things I love with the people that I love. I'll still look back and love them in 10 years time, but it will be the second time around.

I highly recommend reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.