Alone, lone, lonely.

This post has been in my drafts for a long time. I’ve edited it over and over again, sometimes at times when I’ve felt angry, sometimes when I’ve been particularly mellow… At one point it was more than twice as long as it currently is. If it seems slightly jumpy and non sequitur, well, that’s because that’s how my thoughts on the matter are.

I finished reading Parenting Beyond Belief.
The sub-heading reads ‘On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion’, but it’s not so much a how-to as a collection of essays regarding the subject of secular parenting. I’d recommend it to anyone who is non-religious, and in fact anyone who is religious and would like to understand more about atheistic approaches to life.
Being a book largely aimed at US readers, I did find certain aspects less identifiable – I don’t think the divide between religious and non-religious people is as big in Australia, and I don’t think religion (specifically Christianity) is as deeply ingrained in the national identity. So for a start, I don’t particularly feel as if I’m fighting against anything – or if I am, it’s not such a large hurdle as if I was living in America.

The book covers a lot of ground, with a lot of different approaches to issues that arise while raising children in a secular household. The appeal of the book, for me, isn’t so much in those approaches (although they are certainly potentially helpful and thought-provoking), but in the mere fact of it being. That is, I like having in my possession a book, a well-composed book, that was made by atheists for atheists. I don’t agree with it all, of course. I find Richard Dawkins in particular quite harsh and condescending. But the fact that I could open to almost any page and read a sentence or paragraph that so perfectly puts into words the beliefs and thoughts that I often can’t express… it’s just a good feeling.

The one thing I envy religious people is that they have at their disposable an instant community. Enter any church, say, and you immediately have at least one huge thing in common with everyone there – the belief in God.

Secular families have scarcely any of the resources that Christian, Moslem, Jewish and other theistic families in this country have in abundance. Religious communities have attractive places for families to gather every week to be spiritually uplifted and share community, youth groups built around their family’s beliefs and values, and trained personnel to guide them in their spiritual lives and help them work through problems in ways consistent with their beliefs. They have libraries with inspiring reading and songs handed down by a variety of music traditions, with spiritual messages seasoned over many years. Pete Wernick, p.257

Obviously, atheists have none of that, not least of all because the definition of an atheist is, rather broadly, ‘a person who disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings’. That’s it. As quoted in Parenting Beyond Belief, “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby”.
Nonetheless, feeling an active and welcomed member of a community is important and desirable to the majority of people, regardless of what some (like me) might try to insist. (“I prefer to be alone, I don’t need people, I don’t like people, I’m a loner, I’m better alone.”)
Before I had my own family I may have been happy to carry on independently and detached, but I’m finding myself wishing more and more that we had the kind of infrastructure that theists have, that avenue to use as a stepping stone to creating and expanding our circle of peers and friends. Support.

I did say above that I don’t feel as surrounded by religious practise as I might if I lived elsewhere… But there are still opportunities for feeling awkward and isolated. Easter and Christmas are big events, most people celebrate them in some way, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Whole months of the year are dominated by these events that have no real significance to me.
If you’re having a hard time, I’m never “praying for you”. You’re not “in my prayers”. How can I appropriately convey condolences and hope? It might seem a silly thing, but I do struggle to think of ways to express genuine concern without sounding cheesy or trite, to really impress upon someone the meaning behind my words. I don’t, after all, have a known, conventional system of belief as a referee.
When Devin goes to school, even a public school, it’s likely that, at some point, I’ll have to expressly state that, no, I don’t want him to attend the weekly scripture class… I would be much happier if such lessons were general studies and discussions of religions, philosophies, morals, and ethics.

The crux of the matter is that I, as an atheist, often feel lonely. I sigh wistfully at the community resources and tradition that religious families have, and I frequently feel adrift in a sea of mostly complacent Christianity.

(To be honest, I don’t particularly identify with the label ‘atheist’, though I certainly don’t believe in any supreme being/s. I might consider myself a Humanist, I suppose, but it seems silly to call oneself something that should just be a given. I’m just not religious. That’s all.)

Yes. No. Yes. No.

Do you ever look at the number of photos you have and think, ‘No. That’s ridiculous. It can’t be that many. Why do I have that many? I only want to see that number in my bank account.’

See, I’m a textbook Pisces. Whether that means anything or nothing to you doesn’t really matter – the sign of Pisces is two fish swimming in opposite directions, and that’s pretty much my personality. I can’t make decisions and I never really know what I think or how I feel, because I frequently feel many conflicting things at once.

So – I like things. I like buying things, I like things that are functional and things that just look pretty. If I had the means to furnish and decorate my own home in exactly the way I wanted, I suppose ‘cluttered but organised bohemian’ would be the best way to explain how I would do so.  (For example, I saw a royal purple velour lounge suite on clearance at Harvey Norman recently – I gasped when I saw it and said to Jene, “this is my couch!” Despite the fact that even discounted there was no way I could buy it, I kept thinking about it and feeling cranky that it would end up in someone else’s house.)
I derive great joy from material possessions, sure, but I also get it from other things – I’m not completely materialistic.

Even so, I am constantly wrestling with guilt about owning things. I say I like clutter, but more accurately, I like a home to feel full and complete. I like shelves to be heaving under the weight of many beautiful, quirky, meaningful things. I like feeling cosy and surrounded by stuff that I love. I dislike modern design and big, open spaces. I’m not a fan of open plan living. But, I don’t want my home to be stuffed, especially not with junk – I’m a tidy and aesthetically-driven person – and even when I love most things I own, I feel that tug in my stomach that says, ‘do you really need that, though?’ And I mean, this is just one example of the dichotomy of my silly head – I want things but I feel guilty when I have them.
Devin has quite a number of toys now. Most of them are things that Jene and I bought for him, and most of them are toys that I really like. It’s not an absurd amount, far less than many play rooms I see these days, but I’m reaching a point, as I do with any group of items, where the accumulation is making me uncomfortable. I’m becoming more and more aware of my consumption, and feeling bad about it. (Another thing to know about me – guilt is one of my biggest motivators.)
Additionally, a large collection of toys can become detrimental to a child – they don’t learn to fully appreciate and play with what they have, to explore all of the potential. They move from one thing to another because they can, because it’s all there.

And this is where I come back to the photos. I have a lot on my hard drive. No part of Devin’s life up until this point will be a mystery – it’s all documented in those photos.
Obviously the only space they take up is virtual. (Unless you happen to have several full photo albums, too. Ahem.) But I know they’re there. Just sitting there. Gigabytes of information, waiting and waiting… For what? The day that Devin wants to see his baby photos? The day that someone comes over and says, ‘so – fill me in on EVERY MONTH of your life from 2009 until now’? For me to get nostalgic and browse through the archive? I don’t need that many, no, and I don’t know why I keep them all. I don’t want to delete them, but I don’t know how I feel about the constant expansion of that folder.

I guess I am at least partially trying to grapple with the realities of life these days, and that includes things like instant gratification, information overload, rampant and disposable consumerism and incomprehensible amounts of digital data.

And because that sentence was a little heavier than I had hoped for the end of this post, here is a picture of Devin doing his Excited Happy Dance on the slide.

Courtesy

You know what?

I might be negative. I might complain about something different with each passing minute of my life. I might descend into long-winded rants about the behaviours of others. I might find it difficult to express my happier thoughts. I might be moody and hard to live with at times and yes, I admit, I have a habit of taking out bad moods on the people I love.

But at least I’m not nasty.

I have angry reactions to things, to people. I write logical but terse, sometimes sarcastic responses to them. Just in blank documents. I rarely do anything with them. Usually, I find my frustrations are transferred from my mind to the screen as I type, and when I finish I’m fairly placated.

I react most strongly to things that are at odds with my beliefs, not my tastes. If someone hates the music that I like, I don’t rightly care.  If someone thinks that the only way to ensure their children are exposed to ‘good’ people is to send them to a religious school… well, that’s where my little temper gauge starts to quiver. It does seem a little contradictory to me – personal beliefs are as varied as personal tastes, and theoretically I’d like to say that everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether it’s about a piece of art or about euthanasia. But in practice, I’m not really like that. Besides, the opinions of euthanasia would arguably be much more impacting than those of a piece of art.

Things that I find close-minded, petty, personally insulting, insensitive, illogical, deliberately mean, ridiculous or just plain stupid will immediately make my brain skip. Like a broken record. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t dislodge the irritation, the disbelief that someone would actually think/say/do that.

“Why would you be annoyed that your in-laws bought your unborn baby a beautiful, expensive cot? How controlling and ungrateful can you get?”

“How, how, how could you possibly say that being alive at any cost is preferable to dying with dignity before your quality of life is completely taken away? You would euthanise a suffering animal, but not a human?”

“Yes, I can see how it would take a lot of effort to walk ten steps to leave that shopping trolley in the return bay. I completely understand why you would leave it in an empty parking space, so that I have to stop my car mid-park and get out to move it. You don’t, after all, co-exist on a planet with over 6 billion other fucking people.”

“Right, of course. You were born in this country, so of course you have more right to be here than people who immigrate. Despite the fact that you are a racist moron.”

Well, I could give examples until the end of time. I apologise for the descent into sarcasm. Sometimes I’m just not sure what else to say.

Holy moly. ANYWAY.

My whole point (a point! there’s a point!) is that I get angry and snarky about (I think) legitimate irritants. When I am able and inclined to disagree directly, I try to do so with reason and basic human respect. If something frustrates me so much that I can’t respond with control, that I wouldn’t be comfortable attaching my words to my name, I don’t say anything. (Well, to be completely honest, this is often where the people close to me cop earfuls of my attitude.)

If I see someone wearing something I don’t like, then that’s all it is – an outfit that I wouldn’t personally wear. I poke fun at the conventions of ‘hipster’ fashion, but I don’t hate them, and I certainly would never single people out and degrade them because they’re wearing things that don’t suit my taste. Because I recognise that it’s my taste. And I would not be impressed by someone picking on me because they don’t like my shirt.

I’m not mean. I’m negative. There are a lot of things I don’t like. There are a lot of people I don’t like. But I would never, ever be intentionally and unreasonably derogatory, bitchy or hurtful, especially not while hiding behind an anonymous persona.

I’m extremely tired of people.

Vague thoughts on Tuesdays With Morrie.

I started reading Tuesdays With Morrie on a whim at my parents’ place a while ago. I was eating breakfast and I saw it there and picked it up, because yes, I can’t even sit and eat without getting bored.
I kept reading it in little pieces over a week, and I finished in bed one night. And yes, I did shed some tears.

I wouldn’t say it was life changing. None of Morrie’s philosophies were huge revelations to me, at all, and I think that’s why I have such a problem with everyone else, the world…
I am, of course, not really anything like Morrie, apart from sharing his view of how people should be. But, you know, I get so confused and so, so frustrated, because I can’t understand why people are horrible to each other. Why we ended up with such a screwed up culture, an everyday normal. Why everyone is so desperately seeking ‘happiness’ lately, when it’s so obvious that it’s all the normal, average things about our lives now that are making us so miserable.
The end product of the work that most people do, for instance, is completely removed from them personally. They are given money in exchange for their labour, but they’re missing the satisfaction of working for a real purpose, you know? One thing that came up a few times in the book was the materialistic race that everyone is in to always buy new things. Buy the newest things. And of course it’s not their fault. They work, they make something, they don’t get that product, but they do get money, and what are they supposed to do with that money? Keep themselves alive, and try to find some meaning in life. They’ve got this money, they’ve worked for it, surely it must mean something?

I am digressing a little, though. The book was enjoyable. It was a nice read. It was nice to read about someone who was a little more compassionate than the ‘average’ person.
And while I know that it’s not supposed to be a self-help book, I was a little disappointed after reading the one-sentence reviews that occupied the first few pages of the book. Maybe it would have been life-changing to someone like Mitch Albom who was all about career and money. I found it a little light. Plenty of ideas. Not much elaboration. Enjoyable enough, all the same.

*sigh* Another mother vent.

I’ve mentioned before our misadventures in cloth nappies, how we could only afford flat squares, and how we had to recently stop because it wasn’t working anymore. I persevered for over a year with those damn things. I never had a problem with the washing – it was always issues with absorbency and fit and comfort for Devin. And you know what? He did get nappy rash in them. All the time. In fact, since we’ve switched to disposables, he’s barely had it at all.

I know what people are advocating now is the modern, fitted cloth nappies, but they are too expensive. And I know how much disposables will cost over the years. I know, all right? I am really tired of the constant pushing and smugness about it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a huge lump sum to spend in one go on 24 nappies and inserts and covers. I don’t have a ‘cloth diaper clearance shop’. I don’t have a natural parenting store. I don’t have a sewing machine or skill to make my own. I never had a baby shower to ask for them as gifts. I don’t have money.
What I do have is a fortnightly payment that pays for rent, bills, groceries, (now) disposable nappies, and not much else. Even if I bought one nappy per pay, it would take a year to amass enough to have a complete system. And by that time, Devin would be close to toilet training (hopefully).

Next time, maybe I’ll be more prepared. I can start collecting modern cloth nappies as soon as I see a positive test.
In the meantime, though – I freaking know. I know, I know, I know. Same applies to benefits of breastfeeding. I would if I could. For both.
Enough about nappies. Enough from me about nappies.

Lacking clearly defined characteristics.

I think there a couple of things women need to stop doing in regards to pregnancy and parenting.

One, stop using ridiculous hyperbole in regards to labour and birth. It’s not like ‘someone putting two hands up your bottom and pulling out your intestines.’ It’s not like ‘pushing a watermelon through a pinhole’. It’s not worse than getting hit in the head with a chair.
Be realistic. Yes, it will hurt. Of course it will hurt. But comparing it to horrible things like the aforementioned isn’t helpful or accurate. Labour pain is good pain. It means things are right, and you get something awesome at the end.
There are no reasonable it-feels-likes, because I can’t think of anything in life that is at all like expelling a small human from your womb via a narrow orifice. And you can’t equate the pain level to something else, because everyone has different pain thresholds. That’s why some people need epidurals and some can go without.
So, enough of that. Expect that it will hurt. Expect that you’ll get a baby at the end.

Two, oh my gosh. Where do I start.
I’ve touched on this before… People seem to think they’re doing expectant parents a favour by describing ‘what parenting is really like’. I’m seeing it a lot lately – big, sweeping generalisations about the ‘truth’ of parenthood, from ‘it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do’ to ‘it’s so easy what’s the big deal?’

I think it’s great that people have the opportunity to, you know, tell their side of things, but really, that’s all it’s ever going to be. There will never be one Big Truth.
So I really don’t like seeing people writing articles and blogs and comments that include phrases like, “you will” “you won’t” “it is” “it isn’t” and/or pass thinly-veiled judgement on anyone who might feel or say differently.

A good example is a post I recently read by someone who just had to ‘put the truth out there’ on the realities of parenting a newborn…

“…when you start to wonder why you even did all this in the first place… welp, that’s the majority of the time, k? More often than not you’re exhausted and at your wits end. That’s just the truth. Plain and simple.”

Well, it’s not. It’s not the truth. It’s your truth. I mean, let’s ignore the use of ‘welp’ and ‘k’, because although it was just a blog post, it got a lot of responses, which means this whole thing is just being perpetuated.

It’s like everyone is under the impression that no one has any idea at all what being a parent is actually like, or that what they do know is wrong. Like there’s some Universal Parenthood Law that dictates how everyone will feel about it and cope with it. Like everyone is, for some reason, hiding The Truth.

I’d really like this trend to stop. Sharing personal experience is fine. Using personal experience to make blanket statements about parenthood is not.

Uncertainty and true feelings of parenthood.

Often, I have doubts about myself as a parent.

I am certainly not negligent or irresponsible. I know that I take good care of Devin.

Whether or not I parent him well, though, is something entirely separate.

When he was a newborn, I took solace in the oft-repeated line that mothers begin to understand the cries of their babies, knowing that this one means he is hungry, or this one means he is bored. I waited patiently for this knowledge to become apparent.
But it never really did. Eventually, I learned what his bored, attention-seeking cry sounded like, only after reading a description of it in a magazine. As for if he was tired, wet, lonely or hungry? I remained completely in the dark.

It is also common knowledge that babies like being talked and sung to. Many mothers do that without thinking – swaying their babies around and speaking to them in a sing-song voice, pointing out things in the room, describing what they are currently doing.
If I ever did that, it was because I was consciously trying. I would realise that, though I looked and smiled and made faces at Devin, we were spending our time in relative silence. So I’d force myself to talk, and I’d try to think of something to sing, and it was hard. I couldn’t even give a running account of what I was doing – that is how much difficulty I have getting words to my mouth.
I had hoped it would get easier, but it hasn’t. Everyone tells me, “it doesn’t matter what you say, just talk!” And that’s just marvellous, except, I can’t just talk.

Sleeping and feeding routines are too boring and extensive to delve into. I will say – Devin’s are lax to the point of almost insignificance. I’m not strict, I get easily frustrated, and I have practically every minute of every day to tend to his needs. That is to say, I don’t rely on his routines to keep a schedule of my own, because I don’t have a schedule. He’s been the centre of his world for the past year, simply because he can be, and I don’t really like that.
What have I done to amend the situation? Not much. And I don’t have any excuse for that.

I worry about his lack of social interaction outside of home. Because it’s basically non-existent. I was invited to join a mother’s group by someone from my hospital birth classes, but I never went, because the thought gave me no joy whatsoever. I don’t enjoy making new friends, and I am not very good at keeping old ones.
I would like to enrol him in childcare for at least one day a week, just for the social exposure, and that is a whole new, scary process that I have no idea how to handle, not least of all because I am afraid of making phone calls and general inquiries. Afraid.
How am I going to cope with the plethora of appointments, enrollments and inquiries that will be required throughout his childhood? I don’t know.

All these doubts, I think, stem from the fact that I have a very negative personality. I’m not inherently happy. When I am, I don’t know how to show it. Smiling takes effort.The only emotions I exhibit with any kind of conviction are anger and frustration. I’m socially anxious, constantly worrying. I’m impatient, extremely introverted, I have a short temper, but I am also often very passive.
These, I am finding, are not traits that are particularly conducive to smooth parenting. For me.

Overall, I like it. I like being a parent, I like raising a child. But, in addition to being interesting, funny and rewarding, it’s also difficult and fraught with doubt. I expect this is normal for many parents, but perhaps not in the same ways as my experience.

It disheartens me a little to hear that some parents downplay how easy and joyous they find parenthood to avoid upsetting those who aren’t having a great time. No one should feel bad that things are going well for them, and they shouldn’t feel bad for saying so.

On the other hand, when people like Jacinta Tynan write smug articles about how easy motherhood is and cast a huge, disparaging blanket over every woman who actually does find it difficult, I’m going to be pissed off. There is a big difference between expressing your experience of parenthood, and rubbing in your experience of parenthood and then suggesting that anyone who doesn’t feel the same is a horrible person who resents their child because they ‘can’t find time to read a book’.

Yes. I find motherhood difficult. Not because I have less free time, or less sleep. They contribute, of course, but my real challenges are with myself, my attitude, my doubts, my self-awareness. I don’t find life particularly easy, so why would being a parent be any different?

I love Devin. Too much to express.
And I love being his parent.
And often, I find being a parent hard.

And that’s just… the truth.