Everything and Nothing


I used to steal moments of time, curled up in bed with my laptop while Stella was at school. I used to find pockets of time tucked away between the children’s bedtime and mine. I used to come to my computer in the quiet of the evening or the softness of the late morning, and write. 

 

Now these moments are spent doing everything and nothing. I’m tickling toes, wiping tears, and changing diapers. I’m cleaning out the pantry, in an endless campaign to keep the weevils at bay. I’m running to this embassy or that office, filling out paperwork, determining the correct person to whom I must make the right payment. There’s school drop-off, playgroup, groceries, and in between “Hi we’re here to fix that drain, mend that shelf, and pest control is here too, and oh, you had plans? Well we’re here and we must do it now now now!”

 

And now I’m shouting at my kid, now cuddling on the bed, now praying that nap time will run five more minutes, so I can just finish this one last thing. Then I’m spinning in the kitchen wondering exactly what I’ll make for dinner, and yes, sweetheart, I’ll play ‘estaurant-‘estaurant with you in just a sec, I just need to put these dishes away, and cook the veggies, oh wait, and change that diaper, and answer this text, and just sec just sec just sec, until bedtime. 

 

There are days that are placid, and I uncover a hidden handful of minutes, but then I’m in the living room holding on to the baby with my every and my all, for fear that letting go of him will let everything around me tumble to pieces.

 

I haven’t been finding those moments to write, or put away the laundry, or finally dig my desk out from the piles of paper that gather there before the light has gone too grey, and dinner is on our faces, and bedtime lurks just around the corner.  

 

I want to find my way back here, and tend to these words on my screen, these pictures in my archives. I want to carve out a few moments of ‘estaurant-‘estaurant (yes, I’ll have a cup of tea and an imaginary nasi goreng,). I want to return to giving high fives to my internet friends. I want to practice my craft, and write down my days, and remember what life was like the Spring after Hugo was born, when the light cast golden stains on our walls each day at 4:38 pm and when life was so full of everything and nothing, and amidst the chaos, I’m standing in the living room holding the baby as the day’s last sun spills into our tiny home.

 

May Day. Labour Day.

 

We celebrated May Day yesterday with plans to host six adults and seven small children in our 90 square meter apartment. 

 

Hugo gently fussed through the pre-dawn hours, and I woke to discover an inadequate diaper and soiled sheets. The traffic circle in front of our building was blocked with thousands and thousands of demonstrators, bullhorns and base blaring. The road leading to our place was choked with busses carrying protestors, bringing traffic to a standstill for kilometres and kilometres.

 

In my kitchen, the tart shell shrank. I burned the veggies. I didn’t have enough eggs, or coffee cups, or chairs at our table. 

 

The skies, which had been clear, began to cloud over and threaten rain. I thought to myself, the signs don’t look good. This might just turn into a disaster. 

 

But it didn’t. We ate. We drank. (BREAKFAST WINE!! PS, It’s a thing!) We laughed and lounged. We cooed over babies and told stories of living. The kids played, and swam, and made messes, ate, and played some more. They found the iPad and shared it around. There was not one squabble amongst the seven of them. 

 

Somehow the day came together, lazy and long, and perfectly lovely. I had cooked for a crew. I tidied the house. I organised a gathering, and accomplished it all with a little baby on my hip. 

 

The first of May marks Labour Day. And Hugo’s three month birthday. I think it was fitting. A small celebration to close the door on the “fourth trimester,” the labour of the newborn days is behind us, and we welcome a new phase. Life with two kids. A new normal. Getting out and living again.

 

It was a good day, the best kind. 

What's Your Mum Talent?

We went to playgroup at my friend's house this week, Stella, Hugo and I. When we arrived, the children scattered, while the mums sat around the dining room table, admiring the Easter cookies decorated in muted shades and trimmed with the most delicate icing. The room was dressed in its Easter finest; seasonal pillows, an Easter tree; a bowl of hand painted eggs. It was lovely, a cultural beacon offering up remembrances of springs long ago when snow melted, crocuses pushed through the dirt, and families came round. 

I thought, then, of my own house: no freshly baked cookies; seasonal ornaments still packed away in the storage room upstairs; no pastel springtime craft; no bonnets, no baskets, no cotton ball bunnies.

In my imagination, however, I had crafted and baked and educated my children about the cultural and religious significance of the holiday. In my imagination there were hot cross buns, hand dyed eggs, and Easter dresses. 

But in reality, it’s Good Friday, and I have done exactly none of the above. Instead of searching Pinterest for preschooler craft ideas, I’ve been passing my days at once incredibly busy, and unbelievably idle, running around Jakarta and lazing on the beanbag chair with my three-year-old.

And this year, for once, I’m glad of that. 

It’s not my lot in life to be a maker of cotton ball crafts, a baker of seasonal treats, or a festooner of mantels. Nor am I the kind of mum who always has a change of clothes, a pack of wet wipes, and a well-balanced snack at the ready. Instead, you’ll find old receipts and loose change from three countries ago rattling around the bottom of my diaper bag (whether or not I actually have a diaper in there is questionable). I won’t be on time for playgroup, I have no idea when my daughter’s school breaks for Easter Holiday, and don’t ask me which vaccines she’s had, because damned if I know. I’m not crafty, bakerly, or particularly organised. That’s just not where my skills, interests or, frankly, talents lie. 

Instead, I hop on a train in a developing country, dragging along my pre-schooler and my one-month-old baby. I traverse unworkable sidewalks with a kid under each arm. I hail taxis, take public busses, and occasionally, hop on the back of a three-wheeled tuk-tuk. I travel down the coast of China with only my one-year-old as company. I fly across the oceans alone with my girl more times than I can count on two hands. I’ve backpacked with my two-year-old, missed a train and instead caught a bus of questionable road worthiness on the side of the road in the back of beyond Central Java, with minimal fret or upset. I’m a mum who’s not afraid to open the front door and get right out into our wild and wonderful world, with my kids along for the ride. 

I've started to think that every mum has a set of skills and talents that that shape her children’s childhoods. Some mums create magical holidays; some are expert memory keepers; some make artful pictures of their children; some create birthday treasures out of thin air; some are unbelievable crafters; some make beautifully healthful family meals; some create engaging educational activities. And me? My mum talent getting out there, traveling, seeing, and doing together with my kids.

So this Easter, we don’t have decorated eggs or actually any easter eggs to speak of now that I think of it. But I’m not going to feel fault for that. I am not going to wish pastel garlands or spring wreaths. Instead, I’ll organise a haphazard easter egg hunt (random Indonesian candies instead of eggs, okay!)  and hold close those memories of taking Hugo on his first train jouney at eight weeks old. And that’s just the way it is, and, actually, the way I like it. 

 

Now how ‘bout you? What’s your mum talent? And how are you embracing it?

A master stroke of parenting genius. Or Something.

So, this morning. This morning I fed one kid. Bathed one kid. Got the little kid dressed. Made breakfast. Fed myself and the other kid. Showered. Got myself dressed (makeup!!!!) Put the little kid down for a nap. Made the mis en place for dinner. Got the big kid dressed, hair done, teeth brushed, medicine taken. Packed snacks and school bags. Cut up some fruit for later. Picked up some toys, and wiped down some surfaces. Nursed the baby, then off in a taxi by 8:30 for school drop off. 

 

No tears were shed (well, a few baby tears, because come on, let’s be real here), no threats uttered, no shouty mummy moments endured. We got out the door and got to school on time like we’ve been doing this our whole lives. 

 

And I mean, it’s not a big deal, right? It’s just a mother caring for her children, meeting their daily needs with a reasonable degree of calm. Millions of mothers do this day in and day out. Feed the kids, get them dressed, and off to school.

 

But for me it feels like a master stroke of parenting genius.

 

Last time around I had such a hard time coping with the daily demands of a colicky, sleepless newborn, while transitioning into my new role as an at home mother in a new country in a new language. I never felt in control of our days. I really worried about doing it all again, but this time with a high-need big kid in the mix. 

 

But here I am, handling mornings, or taking both kids to lunch in a restaurant, or walking through the mall carrying one kid in the sling, and one on my hip and feeling like, yes. I am doing this. I’m competent and confident in basic childcare. My children are happy, And I’m happy. And I’m doing this. And it’s totally major.

 

(Please note, while we can successfully get through the morning or eat lunch in a restaurant, this is not a bragpost. My beds are always unmade, I haven’t vacuumed in donkey’s years, my email inbox is about to explode, there are toys everywhere, and I have yet to leave the house with an adequately stocked diaper bag. So.?) 

Wisdom re. The Wisdoms

I had two of my wisdom teeth out last week. And can I just tell you it was exactly as terrible as I thought it would be. I actually said to myself during the procedure, “I’d rather be in piton induced labour right now!” And considering exactly how fresh those memories are, I think we can all conclude one thing: OMG OUCH EVER AGAIN. 

 

Anyway, this whole ordeal left me with a few new nuggets of wisdom, which I will impart here. You are welcome:

 

If you are going to have two of your teeth yanked out of your head and you also happen to have two very small children at home, make sure that your mother is visiting because you will not believe the shortness of your temper when you’re on day three of an all liquid diet and the kids just won’t stop touching you, and the baby bashes you in the face  for the fourteenth time due to his wobbly neck. You’ll really need a nap. Grandmothers can facilitate that. 

 

It is best advised to not go to a gallery opening the night following wisdom teeth extraction. You will be terrible at small talk (ps tales of wisdom teeth extraction do not make for effervescent anecdotes), your face will be gigantic, and you’ll feel compelled to explain to EVERYONE about your wisdom teeth just so they don’t think you’re naturally fat faced and lopsided.

 

The one up side of oral surgery is that you can drink milkshakes three times a day with impunity. FAnd when you order a smoothie for breakfast only to discover that it’s actually a vanilla milkshake with strawberries thrown in, just dump in a whole lot of chia seeds and call it a health food. 

 

Do not get your wisdom teeth out when you are breast-feeding. You will want the good drugs. Tylenol just does not cut it. 

 

Despite the fact that the dentist and dental assistant converse in a language you don’t speak, you’ll be able to tell that things are going South when the assistant exclaims, “unintelligible unintelligible OH MY GOD!!! unintelligible” and then the dentist follows a short time later with, “ITS A MONSTER!!!” (I am not even joking. This happened. And then I had to have a bone graft. And the dentist said, “Next time you’d better be unconscious.” And I cried actual tears because see above re. tylenol.