How to embrace the long and winding road that can be toilet learning

‘I don’t need a nappy anymore,’ chants my youngest as she skips into the room.  She’s been at her first Montessori kinder now for 4 days.  They have toilets and the children are encouraged not to wear nappies from about 18 months of age.  They have special underwear that is more absorbent than normal knickers, but that still let them know when they are wet.  

‘Is that right, darling?’ I say, bending down so that I can celebrate this new milestone.  

My eldest, however, is devastated.  A gastro bug has swept through her school and only ten minutes earlier she had agreed to put a nappy on because she couldn’t get to the toilet fast enough.  She is humiliated and she is angry.  The offending symbol of babyhood is whipped off followed by inconsolable tears.  Sometimes life really is cruel.

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Are you brave enough to get a Pixie cut?

‘I thought you were growing your hair long’ laughs our nanny as she walks through the front door and spies my hair.  

‘I was….  I am…’ I run my hand through the centimetre of hair I have left, ‘It’s just that I’ve had this bee in my bonnet about a pixie cut, and if I don’t do it now I’ll grow my hair to my shoulders, then get irritated with it because it’s at an awkward length and it’s taking too long and then I’ll cut it all off again.  I figure if I get it over and done with now, then I can let it go.’  I’m really very complicated, I think as the words pour awkwardly from my mouth.  

I’d like to be simple, to ease through life, steady, reliable, consistent.  Instead, I’m up and down like a yoyo.  I’m growing my hair long, I’m cutting it short.  I’m a writer.  Yes.  I’m writing a novel.  Also, I’m writing a picture book.  And, actually, now I’m writing a chapter book for kids.  I’ve also written a ten-minute play, and now, well now it’s time to focus once again on the novel.  

‘I’m starting a blog,’ I tell my husband.  

‘Good,’ he says, ‘I think you should.’  

‘I think I’ll start a blog,’ I say again, a month later.

‘Okay, great.’

‘Do you think I should start a blog?’ I ask him a few weeks after that.

He doesn’t answer.  I’m irritated, but not surprised.

A month later, I’ve started two blogs and am possibly collaborating on a third.  There’s an all or nothing thing about me.  It bugs me, but I can’t seem to find the balance.  I took up salsa dancing in my 20’s.  Some weeks I couldn’t be bothered and I would miss classes for a month.  Other weeks, I was so obsessed, I danced three nights a week until I could no longer stand.  

Sometimes I think I force myself to do things, just to chase the fear into the dark recesses, to prove to myself that I will not be beaten by it.  Eventually, though the effort exhausts me, and I collapse in a heap of fear and self-loathing as I watch too much bad tv and eat an entire block of chocolate (or maybe two, but ssh!).  

I went skydiving once.  It was the most terrifying thing I’d forced myself to do up until that point.  I didn’t really want to jump.  I remember that clearly, but I forced myself to. As if it would prove something. When the door was pulled open and the woman I was strapped to inched us closer to it, I decided I’d changed my mind.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hear me over the raging wing.  There’s a reason they ask you to tilt your head back and stare at the sky above you before you jump, because if you’re anything like me, when you look down at the patchwork quilt of earth just waiting to smash you to smithereens, you’ll never jump.  I didn’t realise until about halfway into the free fall when it occurred to me that I had not only stopped breathing but that I couldn’t actually recall how to get started again.  ‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear had told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

So I screamed.  As if I were being murdered.  

‘You’ve got some lungs on you,’ she said as the parachute opened, and the world became eerily quiet.  I’d have felt embarrassed if I wasn’t just thrilled to still be alive.  A friend of mine had also jumped, and when I caught up with her on the ground, she was jubilant.  I’d wished I was jubilant.  

Terror, has been my constant companion for so long, I don’t really know what life is without it.   I wish it had made me more comfortable with its existence, but mostly I just throw myself into awful situations as a way of ‘facing’ the terror rather than running from it.    

So when I rang the hairdressing salon to book an appointment for a pixie cut, and the woman suggested I come in that afternoon, my stomach jumped into my throat as if I was jumping out of that stupid plane all over again.  

‘Okay,’ I said weakly, not really sure now that I wanted to cut all of my hair off, but still unable to let go of the idea.  So, I got on my bike and cycled across town and let a strange man I didn’t know cut all of my hair off.

Do I love it?  I’m not entirely sure, but it’s done now and I feel relieved.  

‘You look like Grandma,’ says my eldest when I finally take the beanie off my head the next day.  

‘Thank you, darling.’

‘You look like Papa,’ says my youngest, touching my hair.

‘Do you think so?’

She nods.  ‘You look like a boy.’

‘You’ve got the face for it,’ I hear over and over again.  So I suspect I’m not the only one who is not entirely sure if they like it. 

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When Caring and Fear Dance

My eldest places her pink bunny on the toddler swing, carefully doing up the seatbelt that will not hold her bunny until it nibbles the correct side of  Alice’s mushroom, but she does it up anyhow.  Her bunny falls to the ground.  She picks it up, dusts him off and places him tenderly back onto the seat.  

She pushes the swing with all the care and love I used to push her.  She’s bigger now, and no longer needs me, ‘I can do it,’ she insists whenever I attempt to recreate one of those earlier moments.  Now I get to sit and watch her.  I smile, I can’t help it.  

‘Watch her,’ she says to me, running over to get her croissant.  She tears off a chunk with her teeth but she doesn’t race back, the way I used to with her.  ‘Tell me when the swing slows and I’ll push,’ hers is a much more relaxed approach.  I wish I’d been more like that.  Less panicked that something disastrous was going to happen the minute I turned my back.  She eats her croissant leisurely.  

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When kids are the mirror you may not want to see

‘Stop arguing,’ says my eldest, dropping her fork on her plate and folding her arms across her chest.
‘We’re not arguing, darling, we’re just discussing,’ but my husband has gone quiet and refuses to make eye contact.  At least I didn’t think we were arguing.  I hadn’t meant to argue, I was trying to make a light-hearted point about him reorganizing my fridge.  It was light-hearted, wasn’t it?  Well, it started out that way, but then I went on and on about it, continuing the joke, the jibe, pushing just a little further.  The frustration taking over, and turning it into more of a poke than a jibe.  The table is quiet.  The aupair, is awkwardly smiling, pushing her food around.  My eldest is very clear that if it was a joke it stopped being funny a little while ago.  And my husband has that familiar flush he gets when he’s embarrassed.  I’ve shamed him.
So what?  My self-righteousness argues, if he’d bother to ask a question here or there then we wouldn’t be in this mess.  Sure he was trying to help, and I really appreciate that he was trying to help, but he would so make my life easier if he would bother to find out what would actually help, rather than deciding himself what the problem is and then going about solving it.  More often than not, it just creates more problems, more work for me.  So yes, I’m grateful for the effort, but I wish it didn’t have to cost me so much. 
‘You were in bed,’ he said to me.
‘Yes, but I had already organized with our Au Pair, what to put in the small fridge so as not to upset the system I’d spent about 2 hours this afternoon creating.’
‘2 hours, that’s a bit of a stretch.’
‘Did you ask her, how you could help, or what you could do that would help?’
He doesn’t answer, avoids eye contact, and I can see him winding himself up for a rant that has absolutely nothing to do with the point I’m making about asking.
‘Well, next time I just won’t help,’  he says, his jaw hard.
‘Well, now we’re fighting.’ 

The thing about children, is they have a knack for pointing out things you haven’t yet noticed.  But they also ensure you get time before you can respond.  The girls don’t go to bed for another hour and a half, we cannot talk about it now until they are asleep, and at the moment that takes at least half an hour.  So that’s two whole hours to sit and stew and be self-righteous and process and then be curious and self-reflective and … eventually even remorseful. 
‘Are you not talking to me?’ I ask him as I leave the girls room and sit on the floor in the lounge.  He is reclining into the corner of the couch, his iPad open in front of him.
‘I’m reading,’ he says not looking up.
‘Are you angry with me?’ I say to the back of his iPad.
‘Yes,’ says the blue glow behind the screen.
‘I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to embarrass you, it wasn’t my intention to shame you.  I took it too far.’
‘I don’t want to talk about it now, the girls aren’t quite asleep yet.’

A little while later, one of the girls are snoring, I contemplate staying in the lounge to do all the things that I need to do, my dutch homework sits there expectantly.  I’m so far behind.  I’m meant to do an hour tonight.  That’s not going to happen, I decide, tired.  I collect my books, my laptop, my drink, and head up the stairs to our bedroom.  He looks about the same as he did in the lounge.  Reclining on the bed now, iPad in front of his face.
‘Are you ready to talk now?’  I ask, keeping my tone light.  I don’t feel anxious this time, which is new.  Usually, I do when we argue.  I feel okay, safe, well safe-ish, I never really feel completely safe.  But this is the closest to safe I’ve felt arguing with him in a long time.  Usually, the first sign of conflict has triggered a massive upsurge in cortisol, which in turn stimulates too many memories of conflict turned dangerous.  Screaming, swearing, threats, and punches being thrown.  But not tonight.  Maybe the antidepressants are helping. 
‘About what?’ he says, his voice deliberately distant, almost cold.  He’s still angry.
‘About the argument.’
‘You’ve apologized, I’m still processing that.  It’s fine.’
‘Have you said everything you need to say?  I may have apologized but you might have more to say.  You don’t seem fine to me.’
‘Well, I’m angry.’
‘Yes, I see that.  But what else, what’s caused the anger?’  Growing up, my husband learned there are only two emotions, joy/pride and anger.  Everything else is rolled up into one neat package called anger.  When he is sad he is angry, when he is embarrassed he is angry, when he is confused he only shows anger.  It’s taken years, 4 of them in therapy, for him to begin to learn to scratch the surface of anger and see what lies beneath.
‘Well, I don’t like the way you spoke to me.  You were disrespectful. You were…’ he continues describing how bad I was, how wrong I was.
‘Yes.  But how did I make you feel when I was being disrespectful.’
‘Well, when I say someone was disrespectful, it’s usually because I didn’t feel heard or valued.  What did it make you feel?  Sad.  Embarrassed.  Ashamed….’  His face lights up.
‘Yeah, that one.’
‘Which one.’
‘You know I don’t like talking about this stuff.’
‘I know.’  It’s like I’m back at work.  It’s hard that he doesn’t know how to do this stuff.  It takes so long to get anywhere. 
‘I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to shame you.’  We made it!
‘Okay, thanks’ he picks up his iPad. 
‘We’re not done yet.’  I ignore him rolling his eyes.  ‘I’m frustrated.  I know that you were trying to help, but I don’t understand why you don’t ask for more information.  You didn’t ask Gabriela what you could do to help, you just took the job over and did it the best way you thought.  That’s completely okay if there is no one to ask.  But why didn’t you ask her what she was doing, or whether there was a plan before taking over?’
‘Well, I just won’t do it anymore.’
‘But that’s not helpful either.  I love that you want to help.  I love that you’re trying to help.  I don’t want you to think that I don’t want your help.  It would just be really helpful if you found out what you could do that would be helpful rather than decide that for yourself.  I don’t expect you to know everything, and you are not going to do things the way I would do them, but if you had asked, Gabriela would have been able to tell you what food needed to go into the other fridge without you having to rearrange the veggies that I had organised earlier that day.’  The conversation goes on because I cannot say anything simply or succinctly, but when I get to the end, he tells me that’s ‘fair enough,’ and I think, wow, did we just get somewhere?  And within half an hour?  Years of therapy, and I think we can finally do it – well, today anyway!

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To Pixie or Not To Pixie

‘I need a haircut.’ I say complaining for the millionth time about my unruly locks. I’m still morning the loss of my fine, dead straight blond(ish) hair, the kid of hair I did not appreciate when I was letting it dry naturally straight from the shower and running a brush or my fingers or whatever I had handy before sauntering out into the world without a backwards glance at the mirror. Now the mirror just laughs at me, and I’ve tried all different cuts to figure out what to do with my now frizzy, slightly curly, thick, wiry mousy brown hair. Whose hair is this anyway? If some one had told me my hair would change this much with kids, I might have not gone into it so brazenly. Then again if someone had told me my life would no longer be my own, that it would almost kill my marriage and as a bonus I would be so tired I’d feel it in my bones, oh hang on, they did, I just thought It’d be different for me, somehow, I naievely/arrogantly thought I would figure out a way to be more resilient (I did not).

‘Why don’t you get a pixie cut?’ says my Mum.

I’m sure my eyes grow wide and my skin pales somewhat. ‘Maybe…’ I say attempting to find a polite way to say hell no. I’m still holding out hope that one day I will wake up to find my hair had miraculously returned to its former glory. I’m also hoping to sleep soundly through the night. Neither look good at this point.

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On fixing oneself versus accepting oneself…

I type away, feeling particularly good about myself, as I sit waiting for a train. It’s one of those moments where I feel not just grown up but successfully grown up. With my laptop out, and my book. My green jacket and checkered grey and black scarf hung over my hand luggage. Yes, I think, far too smug, I look the part. It’s a lie, of course, I’m not sure if the jacket really goes with the jumper. Or if the boots are too much. Technically they are snow boots, and it is not snowing. But I’m cold, really cold, I mean it’s after midday and the fog still hasn’t lifted. I’ve seen other people wearing them already, so I should be okay, shouldn’t I. Not a complete newbie. And the scarf, which I love, is one from Zara and I’m afraid I’ll walk passed someone else with the same one like it’s high school, and that matters anymore. Beyond that, I don’t really know how to wear it. It keeps slipping off my shoulder, and I keep flipping it back up but I think it’s a battle I’m losing.

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