April 24, 2015

the sweet spot

Have you ever done a hill start in a manual car? It's very tricky to learn. You have to release your right foot from the brake whilst depressing your left foot on the clutch, but you have to find the sweet spot in the middle; release too quickly and the car will roll, release too slowly and the car will stall.

Well, for me, parenting is a bit like driving a car, and my love for my kids is the clutch, and my anxiety is the handbrake. And I am constantly needing to find that sweet spot between the two in order to drive smoothly and not roll down the hill.

Too much anxiety paralyzes me. I worry endlessly about my kids, I fantasize about worse case scenarios and I don't want to let my children out of my sight. If I wasn't constantly mindful, I could be consumed by anxiety. I can feel that person in the back of my mind, that crazy anxious parent who sees danger in every corner and awaits the day some terrible tragedy will occur.

But I won't be that person. I made that decision when my kids were born that I would not cripple them with my anxiety, and I haven't. I will not allow the dark thoughts to enter. I push them away and allow my kids to take risks. I send them down the road and let them play in the park and allow them to climb tall trees and encourage them to be independent.

I will not be that anxious person, not for their sake, and not for mine.

And yet... and yet... the anxiety is there. I won't allow it full expression, but it is there. And so I use it, I channel it, I hone it and I finely tune it so that it serves me and my children well. I access it when I need to. I allow myself moments of dread. I allow myself to think of what might be, just for a few seconds. Just enough. I release the brake, just a little bit.

I find the sweet spot. I find that sweet spot where I am not paralyzed by anxiety, but feel enough vulnerability to appreciate in every single part of me how lucky I am that my kids are okay. I find that sweet spot where I feel that surge of pure love, still so strong even after nearly 16 years of parenting. I find that sweet spot where I can stand over my sleeping child and feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude. Because anything could happen, and it hasn't. They are here.

The brake and the clutch. The anxiety and the love. I'm moving forwards. My hill starts are smooth.

April 10, 2015

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birth

I rarely talk about the birth of my third child. I did, however, include it in the book that was never published. And after Lana raised the issue of birth this week, I decided to haul it out and share it with the world. Be warned. It's traumatic.
My caesarean section was bizarre. There was no labour, no pushing, no transition, no process. One moment I was pregnant, and then, within a few minutes, I wasn’t. And there was my daughter, beautiful and healthy, emerging from the other side of the screen.

The baby was cleaned up, and shortly afterwards we both returned to my room. After twenty minutes or so my mum brought my big kids in to the hospital to meet their baby sister. Photos were taken and phone calls were made. I was light headed, but calm, and glad to have my daughter safe in my arms.

Then they left, and it was just my (then) husband, me and the baby. And suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so great. My stomach hurt, and it was grossly distended. And when the nurse came in to check my pad she noticed that my legs and my gown were soaked with blood.

“We’ll need to keep an eye on this,” she said, and I felt a tinge of alarm.

“Is everything okay?” 

“I’m just going to give your stomach a massage to help move some of these clots,” she told me.

“So I’ll be okay after that?”

The nurse just smiled. She massaged my stomach, but it was agonisingly painful.

“Stop!” I cried. “It hurts!”

“I’ll get you another shot of morphine,” she said, and left the room. My husband looked worried, and he never looked worried.

I counted the minutes until the nurse returned. By the time she gave me my shot, my pad was drenched again.

“I think we need to call the doctor,” my husband said.

“I’ll call the registrar,” the nurse told him.

“Call Kerri’s specialist,” my husband shouted after her, but she had already left the room.

Around twenty minutes later, an unfamiliar doctor pushed his way through the curtains. He looked about fifteen. I felt woozy, and my stomach was still sore.

“I’m Dr Amira, the registrar,” he announced briskly. “I’m just going to check your stomach.”

He felt around my stomach and I winced. Then he checked my pad. More bright blood.

The doctor chewed his lip, furrowed his brow and made some notes in my file.

“I want you to call Dr H,” my husband said.

Dr Amira paused. “We don’t disturb the specialists unless there is an emergency.”

“It is an emergency. My wife is bleeding.”

The young registrar looked profoundly uneasy. “Let’s give it another hour and see how she is, shall we?”

“Call him right now or I will go downstairs and page him myself,” my husband hissed at him.

Just then, my mobile phone rang. It was my son, calling me from my mother’s house.

“Hi Mum. How’s the baby?” asked my beautiful son.

“She’s good darling,” I said. “How are you?”

He answered, but I kept losing track of his words. I tried very hard to focus, but I felt like I was floating away. It’s the morphine, I thought. The drugs are making me fuzzy.

My son was saying something about homework and bedtime, but I couldn’t understand him. And I felt strange. Very strange. I was staring down a narrow tunnel, and I was being sucked into its vortex.

I was fading. I felt it. I was fading.

“I have to go now darling,” I said, and I let the phone slide from my hand.

Suddenly there was a commotion. People gathering around. Loud voices, needles being stuck into my arm, thermometers in my ear. I floated in and out of the scene, trying to stay awake. And yet, even though I was losing consciousness even though my eyes kept drifting closed I was panicked in every fibre of my being.

I was haemorrhaging both internally and externally and I could do nothing to save my own life. I was completely in the hands of the medical team, and they had not inspired me with confidence. I could feel myself dying. It was my worst nightmare coming true. I was dying. I was going to die.

I didn’t think of the new baby, who wasn’t even real to me at that stage. And I didn’t think of my husband, although he was standing there next to me. I thought of my parents, who had just lost their only other child. And I thought of my older two children, and how lost they would be without me.

“You don’t understand!” I screamed to the registrar. “You can’t let me die! YOU CAN’T LET ME DIE!”

The registrar spoke firmly, but I could hear the unease in his voice. “Please try to stay calm, Kerri. We’ve called Dr H. He should be here any moment. Just hang on.”

Hang on? HANG ON? What was I supposed to hang on to???

And then I saw the most wonderful vision appear before me. My white haired obstetrician materialised in my room. He was already in his scrubs.

“We’re taking you straight back to theatre,” he said briskly, and laid a reassuring hand on my arm as the staff began wheeling my bed out the door.

“Am I going to die?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Absolutely not. I won’t let you.”
 Here is the discussion with Lana that triggered this post. More to come.

April 6, 2015

An Open Letter To The Man Who Likes Older Women

Dear Man Who Likes Older Women,

Thank you so much for approaching me on a dating site. I was touched to hear from you. 

You mention specifically in your profile that you are looking for someone over the age of 45 as you, and I quote, 'LOVE MY OLDER WOMEN'. I am not actually 'your' older woman, but that's really just semantics. I totally get that you want to hook an elderly person such as myself, and I'm honoured that I am considered old enough for you. After all, I really just scrape in there at 46.

You are clear that you 'know how to treat a lady' and will treat your partner 'as a princess'. This sounds very exciting to me as I would love to be treated as a princess. I particularly like the idea of having servants to wait on me and travelling in a private jet. I'm not sure about being on the cover of magazines, but presumably you can get your people to insist upon my privacy, as I used to be just a commoner. Of course, being an older woman I am probably more qualified to be a Queen than a princess, or perhaps even a Queen Mother, but again, these are fine details that we can thrash out later with my ladies-in-waiting.

I'm excited about my date!

I was curious about why you prefer the company of older women, and happily you cover that in your profile. You explain that older ladies are better confidants, better communicators, and better lovers. It is definitely true that I am a better lover than women under the age of 46, though admittedly women 47 and older are, by definition, better than me. 

As for being a better communicator, I think I am indeed very good at talking. To be perfectly honest, I talk more eloquently to intelligent people than to dickheads who approach women on the internet because they're old. But I'm sure I can make an exception for you.

And yes, I am certainly a better confidant than a young woman. Most young women wouldn't listen to you for more than 30 seconds without deleting you. I'm giving you a whole blog post! I know. You can thank me in the palace later. 

All in all I think we will make an excellent couple and I eagerly await our future together.

There's just one small issue.

Man Who Likes Older Women, you state that you are 43 years old. That is only three years younger than me. I am looking for someone way, way younger. Like maybe 24 or 25 at the oldest. They are such great communicators and terrific confidants, and I will treat my younger man like a prince....


April 1, 2015

Gratitude is a Commodity, and I'm Not Sold

Gratitude. Do you remember what it used to mean?

It was that feeling you had when you were nearly hit by a car as you crossed the road but it missed by that much (also linked very closely to 'relief').

It was what you didn't actually experience when your grandmother gave you a birthday present that was way too young for you and you were really disappointed (see 'ungrateful brat').

It was the emotion that rushed through you when your boyfriend arrived at the door and looked really cute and you felt hugely lucky to have him (also known as 'I can't believe he's mine!').

It wasn't a movement. It was a sensation. It was something that came from the heart, or didn't.

But gratitude has been packaged and commodified in our social media age. It is something that you 'practice', not feel, as part of a Way of Being.

It is something to be cultivated and shared, and expressed in public forums.

What are you grateful for today? people ask.

Today I am grateful for my cat, my hot coffee, this new assignment, they respond.

Gratitude is memes and blog posts and apps and Instagram pics. It is a way to live, to overcome depression, to ease anxiety, to enhance positivity. It is a panacea for all sorts of mental and emotional distress.

And yet... I'm not sold. I feel grateful when I'm grateful, which, admittedly, is a lot. I live a fortunate life. I have much to be thankful for. But when I'm anxious or distressed or in pain or sad, forcing gratitude for what is good can't fix my woes. Gratitude for my children or cat won't palliate my grief for my sister. Gratitude for my friends or parents can't heal a broken heart. Gratitude for having had two books published can't ease the anxiety over the third.

But many people I know practice gratitude, including someone unexpected. We discuss it below. And I would love to know your thoughts. Are you a 'grateful' person? What are you grateful for? Has it changed your life? Am I missing something?

March 25, 2015

Single or Attached, This Is How You Need To Feel

This morning I made myself a coffee from my beloved coffee machine, walked downstairs to sit at the desk I chose for myself, and did a few hours of work.

And then I paused, and looked around at the bedroom which is mine, in the apartment which is mine, in this life which is mine... and I felt happy. Really, truly happy, in this moment.

I don't always feel happy. Life as a divorced mother is often challenging. I can feel lonely. I go on bad dates. I spend many a Saturday night alone. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of sole parenting for much of the week. I wonder if I will ever take an overseas holiday with a partner again.

But today I feel happy. Today I feel a sense of ownership of my life, a sense of control and peace that I have rarely known.

I often worry that if I speak of feeling content in this life that it will be taken as a slight to my ex husband, and this is not at all what I intend. I have enormous respect and affection for him, and I always will.

But I really never lived alone until now. I moved straight out of home and into my then-boyfriend's home. After we broke up I moved back in with my parents for a while, and then lived on my own in an apartment for only a few months before I moved in with the man I would marry.

And from then on there was joy and there was travel and there were children and there were the infinite highs and lows of married life. But I never had the opportunity to learn my own tastes or desires or preferences independently of my partner. Or rather, I had the opportunity to do so, but I didn't take it. I chose my own path, but didn't understand it's impact until now.

This home is the first home I have decorated myself. My last holiday was the first holiday I have chosen alone. This desk was the first desk I have bought without consulting another. I choose my friends, the men I date, the work I do, the places I go. It is an incredibly empowering feeling, to make decisions about your own life.

To me, this sense of ownership of one's own life is fundamental. Whether you are in a relationship or single, you need to be in control,  of your decisions, your choices, your path. Relationships are about compromise - hell, life is about compromise - but that sense of ownership is vital. If you don't have it, then take the steps necessary to do so. This is the only chance at life you're going to get.

Whatever your situation, life will be challenging. But life is about moments. It is about those fleeting snatches of happiness.

And for me, today is one of them.

March 24, 2015

Social Media: The Never Ending Argument

"Kerri, you don't know when to stop!"

If I had a rabbit for every time my parents said that to me during my childhood, I'd have an entire nation of rabbits. Because I didn't know when to stop. And I'm still not sure when to stop. When it comes to arguments, or opinions, or ideas that I hold passionately, I can go on and on and on like the proverbial bull at a gate. (Who, presumably, would stampede over those rabbits, but that's just mixing metaphors.) I feel an intense need to convince others of my opinion. and if I can't actually convert them to my way of thinking, then at least have them acknowledge that my point of view is valid.

Before social media there was a natural limit to my arguments. I only had contact with a certain number of people every day and there were only a certain number of topics we would discuss.

But Twitter and Facebook and blogs have changed all that. They offer me an endless number of potential subjects to debate, and an infinite pool of people with whom to debate them. I could, quite literally, spend all day every day on social media arguing. And I have spent hours and hours doing so.

Strangely, however, it's actually had a paradoxical effect. It has started to teach me when to stop. Because there is no organic end to arguments on social media. You can finish with one person and have ten more waiting in the wings to take up the challenge. You can write a tweet or Facebook post or blog about an issue and be inundated with responses from people itching for a fight. It never ends. It never ends unless you put a stop to it.

So I am learning to do so. I am learning when to say Enough. I am learning how to let things go, how to accept that there will always be people who think differently to me, how to maintain inner peace in the face of heated opposition.

But it will always be a challenge. I will always be a person of opinions. And I suspect I still have a few more rabbits to collect along the way.

March 19, 2015

Looking. Searching. Pining.

I have a problem.
I've become obsessed. And I mean obsessed. I've had obsessions before but this is different. I can't concentrate. I can't work. I can't focus on my kids. All I do is surf the web looking, searching, pining for the one.
And I can't find it. Or rather, I've found it about five times, but then I realise it's not right. It's not the one. It isn't satisfying me. There's another, that's right, that's perfect, that is going to solve everything. There's another, that is going to make everything okay.
And I can't stop.
It's been going on since Sunday. I have spent hours and hours and hours searching online for....
A desk.
A new desk.
A perfect new desk.
I hadn't even thought about a new desk before Sunday. I was happy with my (admittedly worn and a bit crappy) desk I bought when I first moved into my new apartment. I was rushing, at the time, and didn't put a lot of thought into it, but that's okay. It was fine. It served its purpose.
Until Sunday.
On Sunday I decided I needed a new desk. At first I wanted a super modern desk. Then I decided I needed a ladder desk. Then I was sure I wanted a secretaire desk, with a pull down front, and tiny little compartments. Then I was absolutely positive I wanted a super-cool vintage wooden desk, which unfortunately was only available in the States and couldn't be shipped to Oz.
Then I broke down, because it was hopeless. And then realised I didn't know what I wanted. I was just searching. I was searching for something. I was searching because I am lost.
I finished my manuscript on Sunday. My manuscript for my latest book. I sent it to my agent last November, and she recommended some revisions, which I worked on for the past four months. I worked hard. Really hard. Every single day I worked on my book. How I laugh when I hear of people writing novels in a month. This novel took a year of hard, all-encompassing work. And then I sent it in.
And now it's over.
And so I am searching, searching, searching for the perfect desk. Except that maybe I don't really need a new desk after all.
Maybe I just need to start a new book.
And it won't matter at all what I write it on.

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