Monday 3 February 2014

Spin class - aka Bikes of Toment

Spin.  This is a curious word, because when spoken out loud, it seems to cause the same reactions in people as the word “tequila.”  People shudder, dry retch, close their eyes, moan painfully and say things like, “No, God no, never again…”  Spin class, which is simply a bunch of stationary bikes in a room, is known the world over for being a brutal and sadistic experience.  Having never tried spin personally, I headed down to Ashmore PCYC gym to work out what all the fuss was about.

Walking into the spin room, I was confronted by dozens of bikes and a very tiny instructor.  She greeted me with a huge, sweet smile and considerately helped me adjust my bike to an optimum seating position.  With gentle words, she explained that the little lever would increase the resistance when pushed up and where to look to see how fast I was pedaling. 

As the rest of the class filtered in, I observed the kinds of people who were spin enthusiasts.  Our group contained a few well-honed bodies, but there were also several larger people and a granny.  With my bike cruising along at warm up speed and people laughing and chatting around me, it felt very relaxed and social.  The lovely instructor switched off the main lights and bathed the room in the glow of UV bulbs, sending all white objects a brilliant purple.  It was fun and different and I felt raring to go.  “What are people complaining about?” I wondered…

I didn’t wonder for long.  Warm up finished and my friendly instructor suddenly morphed into a screaming commando.  “Come on people!  Get those legs moving!  I can see you’re not working hard enough from here – LET’S GO!!!”  Blindsided, I pumped my legs as fast as I could, hoping it would get easier.

Nope.  Over the next 40 minutes, I ran a full and extreme range of emotions:

Fear: “Oh God!  Please don’t let her look at me!  Please let this end!” 

Childishness:  “NO!  I will NOT give you another 10 second sprint!  I DON’T WANT TOO!!!” 

Anger:  “ForGET you lady, I don’t have to put up with this.  Push YOUR resistance up…” 

Nausea:  “Yup.  I’m gonna vomit.  I really am.  Lucky there’s a basket by the door…”

And grief:  “I CAN’T, I CAN’T!  (Tears roll silently down my face)  I’m just hopeless!  You’ve broken me!!!”

But when I looked at the display on the bike of pain at the end of class, I realised I’d burnt a ridiculous amount of calories.  Leaving on shaky legs, I waved at the instructor, back to her perky self again. 
“Bye!” she called after me cheerfully.  “See you again soon!”  I let out a manic giggle that made a few people look up from their stretching and smile at me knowingly.

For two days I walked like a cowboy, and I really did think I was done with bikes that went nowhere.  But I kept thinking about that amazing calorie count and coupled with my resolve to try every new class 3 times before writing it off, I went back again later that week and once more a few days later.

And you know what?  My thighs actually changed shape!  And my belly got tighter!  And the sprints and hill climbs, well, they didn’t get easy, but they did get easier.  The resistance levels that seemed impossible on the first day had become an intense and satisfying challenge.  I even converted enough to approach a couple of new girls after their first class as they lay glassy-eyed on the floor.  “Don’t worry,” I said confidently, “It gets better.”

Spin classes are available at most gyms around the Gold Coast and range in price from $10-$20 a class. 

The Happiness Plateau

Smudge has just finished up at Kindy and started at school.  About a week before he made the transition, he informed me, “Mummy, Kindy doesn’t make me happy.”

“Why not?”  My over-active imagination begins to fill up with worst case scenarios.  Maybe he’s being bullied by other boys.  Or maybe he’s being bullied by girls.  Is there a Kindy teacher secretly abusing my child, or has he suddenly developed agoraphobia?

Of course, it’s a simple explanation.  “I don’t like rest time.  I get bored!”

We made it through the last few days, but the question stayed with me, because of how he phrased it:  “It doesn’t make me happy.

If there’s one topic even more dividing than Miley Cyrus, it’s happiness.  There are millions of books, studies, pod casts and web pages dedicated to the pursuit of this elusive beast.  I actually didn’t have any intention of adding to the already vast pile, but as a mummy, this is a subject which slaps me in the face regularly.

Have you ever felt like your motherhood journey will be perfect when?  For example, “I’ll be so glad when he starts sleeping through,” or “God, I can’t wait till she’s three,” or “It’s much easier once they start school.”  We set ourselves these markers, and expect that we’ll be happy when we reach them.  Instead, we just find the mountain keeps going up, and happiness seems to be elusive.

It’s not just in our parenting lives where we feel this phenomenon.  How many times have you heard your girlfriends lament, “If only I could lose these last five kilos….  If only he’d propose…  If only I’d get that promotion…  Then I’d be happy.”  But it’s garbage:  the five kilos come off and we despair over our loose stomach folds.  She gets married and worries that she’s made the wrong choice.  The promotion happens and the work load doubles. 

There’s also my least favourite happy mantra:  “I’d be happy if I was rich.”  Now, people say that money doesn’t buy happiness, which isn’t exactly true.  If you live below the poverty line, more money will actually increase your happiness, up to a certain point. 

But if, like me and millions of other Aussies, you’re not a homeless person, just a family wavering financially between “just okay” and “kind of okay,” the stats show that an unexpected inheritance or a work bonus won’t actually increase your happiness beyond three months.  That’s it.  

My hubby loves buying lotto tickets, and delights in having long, detailed discussions with me about exactly what we’d do with the $6.8 million, including the breakdown of what we’d give to our extended family, the size of the jetty on our waterfront mansion and the itinerary for our round the world trip.

I loathe the lottery and the conversations associated with it.  I have a really visceral reaction to imaginary spending of pretend winnings.  My toes curl up, my body temperature rises and I leave the room.  Unfortunately, I know too much about the correlation between dollars and smiles. 

Think about it: when we were teenagers, we probably had more disposable income than we do right now, but were we happier?  How many stories have we read about the idiot who won lotto and was broke a year later?  Or realise that the last time we jumped income brackets, we just found a whole slew of new problems?

Money isn’t the answer to happiness.  Neither is a flatter tummy, a bigger house, a new job, better behaved children or exotic travels.  Don’t get me wrong: all of those things are great!  But if we don’t work out how to be happy right now – nothing external will ever fix what’s missing on the inside.

At the risk of sounding like Yoda, happiness isn’t the peak of a mountain: in every moment of the climb, it is.  If we truly believe that another baby or a million bucks or being a size 10 will make us happy, we’ll waste years of our life chasing goal posts.  Happiness is a choice and a journey.  We may experience unhappy moments (being left at the altar, doing time in a French prison) but it’s how we choose to react to the moments that define our happiness throughout life.

“Stop your rambling!  Tell me the secret of being happy!” I hear someone scream.  Sadly, I’m not a happiness expert or an academic or a spiritual guru.  Although I have been told that I look like the guy in this photo before… 

I can pass on a practice which has helped me reach a happier place:  A friend of mine gave me a “happiness” log sheet.  Every day for a month, you write down three things you’re grateful for, genuinely thank somebody for something in writing and spend five minutes relaxing or meditating.  For all of the women out there who are tired of chasing the happy, I’d love to encourage this practice as a way of allow the happy to find you.

Incidentally, my written thank you today is to you, for reading.  If I’ve said anything which made you smile, nod sagely in recognition or snort in disagreement, I’d welcome hearing about it - please leave a message below.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Mothers Without Children

My youngest just turned two and has mastered the art of climbing in and out of his highchair unaided, much to his mother’s horror.  So this week I jumped on Gumtree and found a brand new booster seat for sale at a house around the corner for me.

When I arrived, I knocked on the door to find an eight year old boy playing Xbox.  He yelled for his mum who let me in.  She was a quiet lady with dark, sad eyes, and as she left to find me change, I noticed the corridor of the house was filled with different baby items.  A car seat, a bassinet, a play center, a pram.  All brand new but opened, like they’d been set up ready to use.  This isn’t the normal way you find baby gear on Gumtree – even if it says “good condition”, you know chances are it has teeth marks and has been vomited on more than once.

The one thing missing from the house was a baby.  There was the older boy and the sad mum, but no bub or obvious signs of one, like used nappies or baby smell.  My husband pointed out that I’m overemotional (to which I burst into tears) and that I have a tendency to jump to conclusions.  His theory was that the lady had simply bought a bunch of stuff for wholesale prices and was now reselling to make some cash. 

That’s not the feeling I get.  There was only one of each item and why would you open something and set it up if you were simply planning on selling it?  My instincts tell me this was a home that had recently experienced a loss and the baby sale was an effort to purge the grief.

Of course, I didn’t say anything to the lady.  I was buying a seat, not trying to pry.  And how do you even start a conversation like that?  “So…  Where’s the baby?”

All of this got me thinking about the different levels of motherhood.  The old saying goes that men become fathers in the delivery room and women become mothers as soon as they’re pregnant.  But I’m not sure if I agree with that anymore.

I believe motherhood is a mental state.  I believe my motherhood journey started the first day I took an Elevit tablet and had deliberate procreational sex (even though it was another four months before I actually fell pregnant).  I don’t believe you become any less of a mother just because you’ve lost a child, and I believe you can be a mother long before you skip a period or cradle a bub in your arms.

So my message today goes out to all the mothers who go unrecognised in this world…

…For the woman who suffers in silence as she endures another round of invasive, expensive IVF therapy. 

…To the lady who puts on the smile for her friend who’s pregnant again for the fourth time when she’s just gotten her period again

…For anyone who’s ever lost a child, whether that child was still in the womb or a fully grown adult. 

…For the foster mother who grieves after handing back a child she’s loved and looked after for years because the birth parents swear, this time they’re clean. 

…To any woman who has filled in endless mounds of adoption paper work, only to be told, “Sorry, you’re not an ideal adoptive parent.”

Today, I offer official recognition that you are as much a mother as my Catholic mother-in-law who had baby after baby until her uterus fell out.  Motherhood is a state of mind, not a state of being.

This Mother’s Day, celebrate your motherhood, whatever stage you are at.  And if no one gives you slippers, go and buy your own, with the knowledge in your heart that you are a mother, no matter how many branches extend underneath you on your family tree.

Friday 11 January 2013

Patience is a virtue

I spent a week interstate at a work conference just before Christmas last year.  It was a very long week of meetings, discussions and unrelateable guest speakers and many of my colleagues were feeling their patience pushed to the limit.

One younger colleague of mine approached me towards the end of the week and said, “I just wanted to tell you, I really admire your capacity for tolerance.  We’ve all been stressed and annoyed this week, but you just seem so calm.  Nothing seems to bother you – not even when the really irritating people in our team go off on a tangent.  It’s something I really need to work on personally; can you give me any pointers?”

How could I tell her that in order to achieve a Zen master-like inner peace, one only need to spend 20 minutes in the car with my children?  Then everything else becomes infinitely more bearable.

Take this morning’s drive for example: home to my parents’ house.  20 minutes.  And yet, my boys can turn 20 minutes into an unfathomable dark voyage, the likes of which can never even be conceived by the childless.  Let me give you the edited version of my dialogue during this period, and we begin by backing out of the driveway with the toddler, Toes, already shrieking like an injured seal…

“Toes, what’s wrong?  Toes?   Toes?  What do you want?  A book?  A car?  WHAT???”

Picture me nearly driving off the road as I try to hand random items to the source of the noise, now reaching glass-cracking volume.

“How about a dinosaur?”

I hand him a stuffed toy.  My older son, Smudge, immediately corrects me.

“Mummy, that’s not a dinosaur, it’s a dragon.  Mummy?  It’s not a dinosaur.  It’s not a dinosaur mummy…”

“YES, thank you Smudge.  Here Toes, take the dinosaur.”

Toes grabs the toy and says, “Dinosaur!”

Smudge pipes up again.  “Toes, it’s not a dinosaur.  It’s not a dinosaur.  It’s not a dinosaur Toes…”


The not-dinosaur gets thrown on the floor and the wailing continues.

“How about some water?”  I pass a squeezy bottle back to Toes.  Mercifully, it goes silent as he sucks it down.

Smudge realises he is missing out.  “Mummy!  I want a drink too!  Mummy I’m thirsty!  Mummy!”

He makes a grab for the bottle and Toes begins to scream again. 

“SMUDGE!  Leave it!”

“But I’m THIRSTY!!!”  Smudge bursts into tears so violent, I am concerned he may vomit from the heaving.  It’s happened before.

“Smudge, Smudge, calm down, you can have a drink in a… TOES!!!”

Toes is merrily squeezing water over himself, his car seat and the door upholstery.  A small battle ensues while I rip the bottle out of his hands and try not to crash while turning onto the freeway.

“That’s IT!  No water for anyone!”

Both children erupt into wailing so loud, other drivers begin to pull over, believing that an ambulance is behind them.

There is only one solution in this situation: turn up the radio and sing along.  And I completely understand the strange looks from my parents as I turn into their driveway belting out Taylor Swift with two hysterical children in the backseat.

So, for anyone looking to improve their tolerance levels, my children are available for rent by the hour.  Although long term, I’m not sure repressing this much can be good for me, but short term, it sure beats caving into the urge to hop a one-way flight to Fiji on my own.  

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Episode 13 - Mondays ROCK!

I have a secret: I love Mondays.

It’s a bit embarrassing really, after all, who even likes Mondays, let alone loves them.  “Back to work, bleurg.  Here we go again…”

But I do, I really love them.  And there’re really two reasons why.  One is reasonable enough.  The other, I share at a great personal risk.

The first reason is because Mondays are like New Year’s Day every week.  It’s like a mini do-over every seven days.  What is more exciting than the opportunity to do what you did last week, only better?  I awaken on Monday mornings, with a sense of hope swirling around me.  THIS will be the week I lose ten kilos, get the phone call I’ve been waiting for, land a huge work contract, win lotto.  This could be the best week of my life!  And if it isn’t – no big deal, there’s always next week.

The other reason Mondays get me juiced is something mummies don’t speak of normally, but I know we’re all thinking it: Monday is back to Kindy/school day.

I am not a bad mother – I love my little men, even when looking at my disastrous house, my sadly depleted disposable income, my woeful deflated-balloon stomach.  They are my world and I can’t imagine a life without them.

But sometimes, after a full weekend of poo-filled nappies, sugar-fuelled tantrums over banned TV shows, and unending questions (“Can we got to the park?”  “Why is that lady so fat?”  “This came out of my nose, can I keep it?”), Mondays can seem like the holy land:  quiet, ordered, calm, logical.  My work-head is on and in full control, the universe is my playground.  And in the hour between when work finishes and Kindy pickup arrives, there’s normally time to tidy without the constant delight of someone trailing after me, creating mess behind us.  Washing gets put away, meals get planned, hey, I might even squeeze in a nap!  Mondays rock.

Please don’t hate me for admitting I enjoy time on my own.  It is no reflection on the way I feel about my kids.  But as any mummy will tell you, sometimes, your identity as a mother can overtake every other aspect of your being.  Example:  For the two years I breastfed my sons until their first birthdays, my entire wardrobe was dictated by whether or not the boobs were easily accessible.  Looking back on it now, I’m not sure how I didn’t lose my mind, trying to find dresses with stretchy straps and wearing the same three maternity bras on a cycle. 

And how many other choices do we make on a daily basis because of the child factor: what to cook, when to eat, what to wash, where to holiday, whose oxygen mask to fit first, the list is long and will continue indefinitely.   I suppose it’s all part of the rich experience called “parenting”.  Just like a rollercoaster, sometimes you feel sick, sometime you want to get off, sometimes you scream.  But you also laugh till you cry, hold the people you love close and when it’s over, you’re hugely glad you took the ride.

So my message to all mummies is to enjoy Mondays guilt-free.  Viva la Mondays!

Having said that, Saturdays are pretty awesome too… How long till the weekend now?

Monday 14 May 2012

Episode 12 - June is the most wicked month...

Have you noticed how every family has a horror month for birthdays?  There’s always a month on the calendar where birthdays cluster like tween girls around a One Direction poster, and no matter how well you try to prepare, the sheer magnitude of the significant dates overwhelm all your best intentions.

Mine is June.  My best friend, brother, parents and three other close friends are all born within thirty days of each other.  And salting the wound, my parents are actually born on the same day. Unacceptable.  It’s such a major issue for me, that when my hubby and I decided to have kids, there was a three month period where I flat out refused to attempt procreation, just because conception then might lead to a June baby.  Imagine that conversation:  “Sorry honey, not tonight.  How about six weeks from now?”

June is my personal hell, and after many years of living with the dreaded 06, I have noticed a peculiarity about my behaviour towards this time of my year.  My moods always follow the same five emotions as people dealing with grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Let me explain…

This normally hits about mid-May and lasts until the first day of June.  My poor tiny mind simply can’t grasp the fact that it’s almost June and shuts down.  This is where I start sounding like my eighty-six year old nana by making senior-style statements like, “How is almost half the year gone again?” and “Each year goes faster than the last…”

June 1, and with birthdays looming only days away, presents unbought and cards unsent, a tsunami of rage boils within me.  Lord help innocent bystanders if this stage happens to coincide with THAT time of the month.  About now, I’ll normally scream completely redundant proclamations to the sky like, “WHY!!!???  June is STUPID!!!  I HATE birthdays!  What were all your horny parents doing back in September anyway?  This is everybody’s fault but mine!!!”

In desperation, I turn to online shopping and card creation sites, with futile hopes that the delivery promise of three days, doesn’t mean three business days.  I try fooling myself that “There’s still time!” and find myself wandering idealess around Target or Ikea, looking for a gift to jump off the shelf… then end up leaving with a gift card.

As I arrive for parties and family dinners, sheepishly proffering flowers from Woolies and a $1 card filled out two minutes earlier in the car, the sinking sensation hits.  Inevitably, there’s always some smug show off in attendance with a thoughtful and generous gift that just makes me want to drown myself in the nearest wine glass.  And the excuses I make sound vapid even to me, “Sorry, I’ve been busy, I thought this party was next week, etc…”

At the end of the month, I finally cut myself a break: I am a full-time working mother of two, with a husband who runs his own seven day a week business.  I will NEVER be the kind of person who plots perfect gifts months in advance and I can barely remember my own birthday, let along other people’s, without my calendar.  If my family and friends choose to be offended over late cards and hasty gifts, then they’re not paying attention to the other eleven months of year when I strive to be a loving daughter, supportive friend and tolerant sibling.

Having said all of that, with the advent of so many awesome and creative websites for online buying, an automatic birthday calendar with weekly reminders and a strong self-motivation to do better than before, I am truly hoping this year will be different.

I’ll get onto it next week.  Or the one after.  I’ve got plenty of time…

Sunday 29 April 2012

Episode 11 - Littering

It’s been a few weeks between posts.  I’ve been busy. 

Thursday.  My alarm went off at 4:30, so early my body tried desperately to convince me it must be a horrible mistake and to go back to sleep.  The day proceeded to be so jam packed, I didn’t even manage to get to the bathroom for about twelve hours, wondering vaguely at one stage, “I’m sure that can’t be good for me…”

By the time I got home with the kids from kindy at 6pm, we were all exhausted and cranky.  As I threw together a less than nutritional meal of baked beans for the small people, I realised three things: our neighbours dogs were making more noise than usual, our dogs were making more noise than usual, and there were loud birds squeaking outside.  My deduction was that the neighbours had bought a couple of birds that their dogs were barking at, and our dogs were barking at theirs.  Simple.

But night fell, and the bird noises continued.  “Hey honey,” I yelled at my weary spouse the second he walked in the door, “I think next door got birds.”  He ignored my clearly delirious statement, and we both set to work getting the kids into bed so we could collapse too.

Cleaning up the kitchen, I threw some scraps to our German Shepherds.  But Saba, our ravenous female, didn’t appear.  And then I noticed the squeaking was even louder, despite it being long past birdy bedtimes.  And finally, the slow mummy had a very belated epiphany:

“Babe?  I don’t think it’s birds…”

My husband came to the door and listened.  “Oh my God, we need a light!  Where’s the torch?”

“We don’t have one!” I said frantically, my skills as a shoddy home-maker exposed.

“We have to!  What about Smudge?  Doesn’t he have a torch?”

So that was how we found ourselves searching the backyard using a Thomas the Tank Engine shaped flash light, which only stayed on for ten seconds at a time, and made inane statements like, “Hello!  I’m Thomas!” and “I’m a really useful engine!” in an overly cheerful voice.

And we found seven puppies.

Yup.  Saba wasn’t just hungry and a bit fat.  She was pregnant.  She'd had the puppies near the fence, hence next door's dogs barking, our dogs were barking at next door's and the "birds" was the puppies crying for milk.  We moved her and the litter inside, both myself and the husband more than a little shell-shocked.

“You know,” I said to Saba as I lay on my belly an hour later, attempting to attach puppies to dog nipples, “I was going to drink wine and go to bed early.  This isn’t how I was planning on spending my night.”

In response to my lack of wonder for the life-changing event that is birth, Saba stood up, faced her rear-end towards me and another puppy fell out not ten inches from my face.  Nice.

There was one final surprise for the evening.  After we finally fell into bed, we discovered that puppies are even noisier than newborns.  Husband went to check on them around midnight, and returned saying, “Now there’s nine.”

“Nine what?”

“Nine puppies.”

“…No… No I refute that.”

But denial or not, there are now nine puppies in my laundry.  Add that to the three dogs, two kids, one husband and many houseplants in various stages of decline and there seems to be no end to the list of small needy things that require my constant attentions. 

And so, I must take my sleep deprived self and I must go.  The puppies need repotting and the basil simply refuses to poo outside…