Monday, 30 April 2012

How to raise a leader.

Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook and mother of two) has left me questioning what kind of a daughter am I going to raise? And how will I explain to her that despite living in a 'lucky' country, where women have the same rights and liberties as men and are equally educated, women hold only 15% of the nation's leadership positions? Julia Gillard presents a promising role model for the next generation of young women, however she is the exception to the rule and the numbers of women in such leadership positions are dwindling.

Why is it that women and men may be equally competent, but men are liked for their achievements and women, on average, are not? Why is it that in families where both parents are in full-time employment that the mother will be doing twice the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare? Why is it that women shy away from taking on more responsibility at work the moment they decide to have children? And why is it that women are so afraid to champion themselves in the workplace and demand a payrise, a promotion, or at the very least, credit for their achievements?

In Sandberg's video, she addresses these points and suggests ways that we ladies can change the statistics without necessarily having to make sacrifices. It's inspiring stuff. My favourite take-out is that women must be prepared to "Sit at the table" - have an opinion, share it, and show everyone that you believe yourself to be a valuable contributor. In my own experience, this is something I know to be difficult and have on many occasions sat back and let others make decisions for fear of appearing unintelligent and unworthy.

I hope that in years to come Frankie understands that whatever work she does - whether she is a homemaker, astronaut, or Prime Minister - that she is respected for her contribution and can adopt a leadership role if she so chooses. I hope that the person that offers her the most amount of respect is herself, and that she realises that having a child can be the end of her professional career but it will be her decision - no-one elses - and that she is responsible for her own fulfillment.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Glum Mum

Lately I feel as though I am sliding. I can't seem to grip onto the sides; there is no branch for me to grab to halt my descent. I'm sinking under a weight of options - a hundred kilos of decisions to be made. I'm overwhelmed by it all and I seem to have given up all hope that I'll make it out of this funk I'm in. 

Where did it start? I would have to say it all began when Frankie started to take the bottle. I was joyous at the prospect of independence for the first time; I could give Frankie over to someone else to look after so that I could grab a few precious hours to myself. But with this good fortune came fear - I no longer had an excuse for not putting Frankie into daycare and going back to work. 

The dreaded 'w' word (that's right, 'work') has plagued me my entire life. I have never found my niche or comfort zone professionally and have lived a life of freelance ever since, wanting never to be bound by the chains of permanent employment. With the end of every contract I've uttered the words "I want a career change", but I've never had the guts to go out and do it. (NB: This is not exactly true. I did try, once, and did  my TEFL course in Prague. This coincides with the time that Frankie was conceived, so I never actually achieved that illusive career change). 

I now have a child that I'm responsible for. I'm not married to a doctor. My partner isn't even a banker. So I guess it means I simply must return to work to make sure that we can afford Sydney rent, swimming lessons, GP appointments, and petrol. The deadline is looming - we move out of my parents' house in a little over a month, so I simply must decide what I want to do when I return to the working world. It is this decision which is weighing me down and causing my chest to compress until the air escapes from me in a whimper.

What makes things worse is that I see supermums all around me. You know the type; women who have no problems making it to their exercise class, cooking, keeping a tidy house, looking a million dollars, and raising well behaved babies all at the same time. Here I am, exasperated by a child that never stops moving, my hair in a permanently disheveled,  still with 5kilos of babyweight to lose, and takeaway on the table more nights than most. How will I ever manage going back to work? 

There are thousands of options for me professionally and I am grateful for my education and experience in advertising. But is this what I want to do? Can I afford to start in a new career on a hefty paycut? And what career, exactly, could I get into?

I haven't even thought about my childcare options which is yet another worry, because I'm led to believe that the waiting lists are longer than a queue to the Primark sales in Manchester. "Everything will work out in the end", or so we are constantly told, but who really believes this? 

I know I want another child and I feel guilty that I want this bubba to arrive soon to give me another excellent excuse for delaying my next career move. Motherhood is without a doubt my favourite job ever, and the realisation that this is going to move from a permanenet role into a part-time position when I go back to the real world has me much more upset than I would ever wish to be.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Call me mother. An ode to the 1950's housewife.

Inspired by my grandmother’s life story and motivated by my parents’ absence**, tonight I attempted my best impersonation of a 1950’s housewife. And let me tell y’all – it was tough work!

My goal was to have an impeccable (or at the very least, tidy) kitchen, dinner in the oven, cold beer in the fridge, baby in bed, and be wearing perfume and pearls by the time my husband returned from a long day at the office.

Sound impossible? Challenging, certainly, but achievable with a bit of forward planning. Let me tell you how I accomplished this miraculous feat, my fellow sisters of the 21st century motherhood club.

(1)   Forego your coffee dates with other mothers. Gulp. Doesn’t that sound so utterly unfair? You’d have to be some kind of crazy to give that up, right? Let me put this into perspective for you. My grandmother had four children and a husband who worked 3 jobs every day to afford to put food on the table. When she wasn’t cooking, she was doing laundry. When she wasn’t doing laundry, she was mending socks. And when she wasn’t mending socks, she was cooking again. Occasionally, bless her, she’d get some respite when she’d pop next door to Mary’s place for half an hour to borrow a cup of flour and have a yarn. We modern mums need to remember that we are living a life of luxury with our coffee dates and yoga classes. You’d be amazed at how self-satisfying it can be to sacrifice these indulgences in order to have a tidy home and a delicious meal in the oven. One missed coffee date and I had a valuable hour up my sleeve to do the vacuuming. Incredible.
(2)   No late afternoon walk to appease the whinging bub. At some point we are all guilty of treating our children as though they are the centre of our universe. But consider the French for un moment (as is the fashion in the world of motherhood literature at present). Their children are important and loved, but they are not treated like miniature-sized kings. I am pathetic when it comes to pandering to my child. Ever restless, I find myself having to pacify her in the pram or the baby bjorn at least twice a day. I’m keeping my weight down (yay!), but losing valuable “housewife points” by constantly being on the move (boo!). In the afternoon my grandmother would be sorting out the evening meal and making sure she was beautiful in preparation for my Grandpa’s arrival. My late-afternoon stroll has me looking more gym bunny than playboy bunny, and so I vowed to leave Frankie to her own devices to amuse herself for a while. There were a few tears, but we both survived it. Bien Sur!
(3)   Remember the bedroom. Lately, my own bedroom has been feeling a little neglected. I have been able to keep the rest of the household in some sort of working order, but my room has turned into a dumping ground of epic proportions. This is our love den! This is our sanctuary! My lack of respect for its condition is proving that I am lacking in good housewifey-ness. Make the bed. Straighten the sheets. Sweep. Dust. Put on a candle. You’ll not only feel better as a wife, you’ll feel better as a human. I promise.  

I appreciate that life has moved on since my grandmother's generation of women and things have been
made a lot easier for us. But with all the great advantages of the modern age, maybe something is
missing? A little bit of selflessness can lead to a real sense of achievement. For one of only a few
moments since having Frankie, this experiment made me feel like I was both a confident mum and a
credible wife.

**Yes, I am 30 years old, living with my parents, my partner and our 7month old baby. Don’t judge me.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sans-Cappucino and my hyperactive child

She moves across the floor like a wagon making its way through the wild west. She is wobbly, but focussed and sure enough she gets where she wants to be.

Not content unless in motion, she cranes her neck looking for an object heavy enough to suit her purpose and soon finds it. A cushioned footrest is the perfect climbing aparatus. Now she needs to work her yoga magic to pull herself into standing pose.

"Here I am" she shouts for all the world to hear. It comes out like an excited groan; I wonder when she will finally start using syllables instead of this manly monkey mating call that she's fashioned onto? She groans again, "Look at me".

I smile from across the room and continue to drink my coffee. She mimics me, but puts my own smile to shame. Her two bottom teeth flash like icebergs above her gums.

Thump, thump, thump, she plays music by banging her palms against the footrest. This action contents her for all of four seconds before she deems that she has had quite enough of this malarky, and is ready for her next adventure.

Madamoiselle surveys the room. Where to next?

Suddenly, she realises she is stuck. Her excited groan soon turns into a frustrated one. I hear a "humpf" escape from her as she looks left, than right, but knows she can't go either way without falling over. Resigned to the fact that she's going to take a tumble, she lets go of the footrest that has been propping her up. I hear another thump, but this is the sound of her chubby bottom connecting with the wooden floorboards. Whilst the laws of physics were always going to command that she fall down, it still came as a surprise to her. The wailing begins.

I leave her to cry and keep an observant eye on activities from behind my coffee cup. "C'mon poppet" I purr, "You're ok". She accepts that no cuddle is coming, and realises that ten seconds has elapsed without her having moved. Putting my own exercise regime to shame, Frankie does a mini-press up and her body is in a perfect inverted 'V' against the floor. She pulls her knees down and starts moving, this time towards the vase in the corner of the room with the sweetest fragrance of fresh lavendar.

This is trouble. We've yet to formally baby-proof our home and she has already broken this vase once, requiring emergency glue treatment . I have tried my best with a playpen for emergencies (when I smell like a 4 week old crust of parmesan that's been hidden in the back of the fridge and simply must, must, must have a shower while she is awake) but she hates her prison confines. So I choose to watch over her during playtime instead of leaving her be - on my own head be it.

Quickly I whisk her off the floor and away from the already damaged vase. Trapped in my arms she wrestles against me - I wonder briefly whether she'll ever have a career as a self-defense teacher in girls' high schools. She certainly has a knack for getting out of tough grips. In my arms she pushes, kicks, and wriggles with a strength that defies the 8kilos she is packing.

This little ball of energy does at time exhaust me. I wonder where she gets it from. Certainly I am no lazy sloth, but nor am I a hyperactive middle-aged girlguide wannabe with oodles of energy spilling out of my every pore. As I ponder her maddening nonstop motion it dawns on me that perhaps I am responsible. For there, on the other side of the room, lies my second empty cup of coffee. What I have presumed to be a necessity for managing her energetic behaviour may in fact be the cause of her energetic behaviour.

And now I am left in a frightfulfully awful predicament. Am I willing (and able) to survive a week without coffee to judge the impact on little Frankie-pants's behaviour? Can I sacrifice my daily caffeine injections?

Wish me luck as I embark on a week Sans-Cappacino, and establish whether it's the nature or nurture that's contributing to my daughter's endless restlessness.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Five rules all new dads should live by

Thanks are in order to my own dear fella - and the fellas of my Crows Nest Mother's Group - for these fatherly rules to live by.

(1) Yes, you can clean their 'bits'. In fact. You have to. As far as I know, my child is unable to reach down and give herself a good healthy wipe. So too can you have a bath with your baby - even if your baby happens to be of the opposite gender. I guarantee you they don't know your Knob from your Knee. In the water, you're just one big life raft anyway.

(2) You must locate the nappy resting place in the sky. A nappy lives a short but fulfilling life. Once it has served its purpose it humbly accepts its role as martyr and is ready to move on to the hereafter. The nappy does NOT belong plonked on the end of the changing table. It does not follow the from-dust-to-dust-ashes-to-ashes routine. It will NOT self destruct. Your task, dear Man, is to honour the humble nappy and lead it safely on it's path to heaven. Put it in the nappy bin. Or the garbage. Just get rid of it, because the changing job doesn't cease the minute the bub has a fresh one on. It's the circle of life, and I'll be damned if I have to do a funeral service for each nappy you change, as well as for my own...

(3) No, you can't go surfing. Just because you work all day in an office doesn't mean that you're entitled to have weekends "off". Suggesting that we go to the beach so that you can go swimming is not my idea of a balanced parenting act. Oh, what fun - I get to watch you on your surfboard while I feed, clothe and entertain our daughter. Again. For the 7th day in a row. No Sir, I'm afraid your days of individual hobbies are temporarily on hold.

(4) A nappy does NOT constitute an appropriately attired bottom half. Dudes - I will give you some credit here. Fashion isn't exactly your forte. Which is why (most of the time) it's the mums who are out on shopping duty ensuring that our precious bundles are, well, fashionably bundled. We provide the clothes and ask only that you dress your child on the odd occasion. What surprises me is that given the infrequency of the requested dressing scenario, men seem genetically programmed to only do only half a job. Repeatedly my baby is delivered to me in a tee shirt without any leggings. Repeatedly, I'm handed Frankie with only the requisite number of buttons are done to ensure the fabric won't fall to the ground. C'mon guys - we don't ask you to spend hours dressing yourselves, simply that you spend a few minutes to make your child presentable!

(5) The "Hunger Hospital Pass" is unacceptable. Righto fellas. You'll have to own up to this at some point, so it might as well be now. When you sons and daughters cry in the middle of the night and you have spent all of 5 minutes trying to settle them, what is it that makes you pass them to us and mumble "he must be hungry" as you're crawling back under the covers? It's an excuse that will fly for the first few weeks if you're lucky. But there comes a point when those exact words start to mean "I've had enough and I want to go to sleep." Humph. Maybe next time you snuggle up under the covers with those roaming hands of yours,  I'll just roll over pleading the "I must be hungry" defense...