Love is a doing word

su and tom second pic_cleaned up1

Motherhood; day 1. Image: Leslie-Gray family archive, 1998.

 The boy-child was not a model baby. Although delivered full-term, he weighed barely 2.5kg at birth, and we struggled hugely in his first few months with feeding difficulties and erratic sleeping patterns.

I’m not entirely sure what I expected of motherhood, but certainly not the exhaustion, guilt, fear, loneliness and utter helplessness I experienced. I had told clients I’d probably be back to work after about eight weeks. In reality, as eight weeks became twelve, I still considered it a good day if I managed to get both the baby and I dressed and out of the house.

The post-natal depression with which I was diagnosed lasted for years. Long after the boy-child’s sleeping ceased to be a problem, I still experienced the same sick, clenched stomach if he did cry out in the night.

There is a lot I just don’t remember about my son’s first year — and I certainly wasn’t up to taking lots of photos, or keeping a “Milestones” book as many of the other new mothers I knew did.

When I think back on that time, what I do remember is the music. The soundtrack of my son’s babyhood may well be the best bit, and there are so many songs I could choose from that time.

But I’ve always loved the opening line of this song, and I think that although it isn’t about motherhood, it speaks brilliantly to the essence of a mother’s love.

Love, love is a verb

Love is a doing word

Massive Attack, Teardrop

Sarah at Art Expedition is hosting 30 Days, 30 Songs for the month of June. You can see her latest post here.

Why not join in — as Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind so brilliantly puts it “casual players welcome.”

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Wordless Wednesday: fevered dreaming

Unwell, I'm sleeping badly and dreaming much. Last night I found myself wandering this stand of trees looking for protection against the people who want to take my child away.  Photo: Su Leslie, 2013. Edited with Pixlr Express

Unwell, I’m sleeping badly and dreaming much. Last night I found myself in this stand of trees looking for protection against the people who want to take my child away from me. A recurrent dream for me during the boy-child’s early years when I suffered from post-natal depression, I wonder why it returns now (when he’s 16)? Photo: Su Leslie, 2013. Edited with Pixlr Express

Here are some other Wordless Wednesday’s I’ve enjoyed:

http://mamacarriemakes.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-75/

http://curlygirlpress.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-magnolia-blossoms-looking-up-looking-down/

http://karamelissa.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-east-lynn-park/

http://peaceloveanddietcoke.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-summer-longings/

http://krispix.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-lego-dude/

http://harcourt51.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesdayold-gatepost/

http://cevichehigh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/disco-baker/

Wordless Wednesday: Actual blue skies at the Fishhook Pier, Montrose Harbor, Chicago – April 2014

Wordless Wednesday: bundle of love, my cat Wall-e

http://cindi-keller.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-playoff-game-memories/

http://carolfarnumart.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-3/

http://brokeinthebigsmoke.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-regents-canal/

Moving

http://misadventuresandmuses.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-2/

http://plaridel.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-las-ramblas-in-the-dead-of-day/

http://irisgreenwald.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/wordless-wednesday-8/

 

Yellow is the colour of happiness

Once happy to pose for the camera. The boy-child at South Head, Kaipara, NZ. Photo: Su Leslie 2002

Once happy to pose for the camera. The boy-child at South Head, Kaipara, NZ. Photo: Su Leslie 2002

As the boy becomes a man, gone are the yellow t-shirts, the sunny smiles and sadly, the golden hair – now almost always hidden under a cap or beanie.

Gone too the days when I could pick up my little bundle of exuberance and hug him close – on my terms rather than his.

I spent much the boy-child’s early years suffering from post-natal depression and didn’t enjoy a lot of the time I spent “being a parent.” But for a constellation of reasons, I was a very full-time parent, and so alongside the hours and days of boredom, anxiety, desperation and sometimes rage, were others filled with laughter and learning, beach trips and baking, singing silly songs and a quiet sort of happiness and pleasure in his company.

I’m counting down to the boy-child’s sixteenth birthday and trying to capture and save memories. Because in the words of Joni Mitchell:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Til its gone

And I make no apology for including the Counting Crows cover Big Yellow Taxi. The band features heavily on the soundtrack to the boy-child’s early life.

This post was written in response to Ailsa’s Travel Theme over at Where’s my Backpack. You can see Ailsa’s post on “yellow” here or read some other posts I’ve enjoyed:

Travel Theme: Yellow

http://samokan.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/summer-and-autumn/

http://jobryantnz.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/travel-theme-yellow/

2-11-14 Weekly Travel Theme: Yellow (Iteration Department)

http://lingeringvisions.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/travel-theme-yellow/

Travel Theme: Yellow

http://prettypacked.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/the-yellow-brick-man/

http://k2incanada.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/travel-theme-yellow/

http://sunriseadventures.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/travel-theme-yellow/

http://sasieology.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/travel-theme-yellow/

Travel Theme: Yellow (The Hidden Valley)

2-8-14 Travel Theme Yellow (Kidnapped Edition)

http://suitcasey.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/travel-theme-yellow/

http://geriatrixfotogallerie.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/gala-dali/

http://timwolversonphotos.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/travel-theme-yellow/

http://soletusknow.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/travel-theme-amarelo/

http://emiliopasquale.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/travel-theme-yellow/

And here is what has gone before in this countdown:

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/wordless-wednesday-bright-eyes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/10-things-tuesday-hes-ready-to-leave-home-when/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/on-writing-wishes-and-not-re-inventing-the-wheel/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/six-word-saturday-who-said-boys-cant-wear-pink/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/when-two-heads-are-so-much-better-than-one/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/family-photo-friday-kids-no-more/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/three-weeks-out-and-ive-organised-nothing/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/on-the-importance-of-grandparents/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/on-counting-and-gender-stereotypes/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/getting-over-the-grumps/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-word-saturday-on-being-allowed-a-weekend-sleep-in/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-raising-children-and-not-getting-enough-sleep/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/back-to-school-for-the-last-time/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/wordless-wednesday-remembering-birthdays-past-and-counting-down-to-a-big-one/

Getting over the grumps

Antidote for the grumps. Photo: Su Leslie 1998

The boy-child in “cute” mode.  Photo: Su Leslie 1998

Today I am grumpy.

It’s hot, sunny and a perfect day for the beach (as were yesterday and the day before) but I am busy readying our house to go on the market. The Big T’s travel respite is over and he has already clocked up one trip to Vietnam, returning for four days to be ill before heading to Detroit for 10 days. There’s a lot to do, and I’ve been relying on the boy-child’s help.

Big mistake!

Despite being assured he would do a few things – vaccuum, remove dust from surfaces, clean his bathroom – I have spent this morning removing dust from surfaces and cleaning his bathroom. When I cool down (literally and metaphorically), I’ll vaccuum.

It’s not that he didn’t “do” these things – just that he did them late last night, while texting friends. So basically, he’s done a crap job.

So today I’m grumpy and fed up with him and it’s easy to remember all the times in his life I’ve felt hurt, let down, angry – or just totally overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of being a parent.

But having committed myself to posting daily in the countdown to the boy-child’s sixteenth birthday, I thought it might be a good time to remind myself how much I love the little tow-rag. And this is the photo I come back to. Somehow it symbolizes our ability to keep going; though sleeplessness and endless crying (his and mine), sickness, accidents, post-natal depression, emotional melt-downs, arguments and occasional radio silences.

I guess this is what unconditional love looks like.

Here are the other posts in my countdown:

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/weekly-photo-challenge-object/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/six-word-saturday-on-being-allowed-a-weekend-sleep-in/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-raising-children-and-not-getting-enough-sleep/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/back-to-school-for-the-last-time/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/wordless-wednesday-remembering-birthdays-past-and-counting-down-to-a-big-one/

https://zimmerbitch.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/juxtaposition-on-being-reminded-how-far-we-have-travelled/

On baby clothes and making memories

The first item of clothing I ever bought for the boy-child. Photo: Su Leslie 2014

The first item of clothing I ever bought for the boy-child. Photo: Su Leslie 2014

 “It contained so much feeling, this piece of fabric cut from the dress of the baby being handed over by its mother, for life.” — Mollie Oldfield The Secret Museum (p. 88)

The Secret Museum tells the story of sixty objects, held in museum collections but not on public display. Most, if not all, museums have large numbers of items or whole collections that are kept in storage; sometimes because the items are too fragile or valuable and sometimes because there is simply no space.

The Secret Museum, Molly Oldfield. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

The Secret Museum, Molly Oldfield. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

The book itself is a bit unsatisfying; there seems to be no particular logic to her choice of item – except perhaps an expedience of finding several things in the same location to save on the travel budget. And perhaps most frustratingly, there are only very few – generally quite small – photos of the objects alongside some childish illustrations.

That aside, there are some interesting stories of quite fascinating objects. Of them all, the one that touched me most was that of the collection of tokens kept by the Foundling Hospital. Oldfield describes them thus:

When a mother left her baby she was asked to leave a token which would link her to her child, in case one day she was able to come back to claim him or her. Very often, the mother had nothing to leave so a piece of fabric was cut out of her dress, or the baby’s (baby’s clothes were usually made from their mother’s old clothes). The mother kept a fragment, and a matching fragment was attached to the registration billet that was kept for each child. (pp. 90-91)

The billets were kept in books, now held in the London Metropolitan Archives. The Foundling Museum has kept one book (in storage), and also displays some of the more robust tokens “mostly objects and trinkets left by mothers that would not fit inside the books” (p. 91)

The Foundling Hospital first opened in 1741 and was established by Thomas and Eunice Coram, to provide a home and a future for some of the hundreds of babies born in London who might otherwise have been abandoned. On its first night, thirty babies were taken in – as many as the hospital could cope with. By midnight mothers were being turned away.

The history of the Foundling Hospital is fascinating. It was incredibly well supported by wealthy Londoners as well as by artists, musicians and writers. The first performance of Handel’s Messiah was in given the Hospital’s chapel, Charles Dickens and William Hogarth were active supporters and today the Foundling Museum still holds a collection of work donated by Hogarth and other artists of the time, including Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds.

The Foundling Hospital continued to provide institutional care to children until the 1950s and even nowadays is still an active charity supporting children’s causes; operating as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children.

I couldn’t find a figure for how many children had been taken in by the Foundling Hospital over the course of its life, but Oldfield does say that between 1741 and 1760 16,282 children were admitted.

That’s 857 children a year – more than two a day.

She also says that of the sixteen thousand – only 152 were reclaimed by their mothers and that two thirds of the children admitted during the period died – usually from disease and malnutrition.

Oldfield describes the token belonging to one of the tiny minority re-united with his mother; a boy named Charles.

His mother, Sarah Bender, made a patchwork needle case from seven pieces of fabric, and on it she stitched a heart. Above the heart, created in red thread, she stitched the initials C (for Charles) and S (for Sarah). She cut the heart in two on 11 February 1767 when she handed Charles over, with his broken hearted token … (pp. 92-93)

At this point I was in tears.

I’ve written before (Earworm: moments of clarity and silly songs) about the post-natal depression I suffered after the boy-child’s birth and how, one night I snapped and was ready to take him back to the hospital and say “sorry, I’ve made a mistake.” I even got as far as thinking about what I’d pack for him – my version of a “token.”

What stopped me was realising that if I cared that much about what he should wear and the toy he should have with him, then I probably cared enough to persevere with being a mother.

The thing is – I had a choice. I was sleep-deprived and depressed – not homeless and hungry. Compared to the women who took their babies to the Foundling Hospital my feelings seem shallow and self-pitying. That’s not to downplay post-natal depression, just to put my sense of helplessness into a wider social and historical context.

Terry the Tiger: won by the Big T on the pier at Great Yarmouth, and a favourite of the boy-child. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Terry the Tiger: won by the Big T on the pier at Great Yarmouth, and a favourite of the boy-child. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

I still have the first couple of tiny outfits we bought for the boy-child – and the stuffed tiger that slept in his cot with him at night. After I’d read Molly Oldfield’s account of the foundlings’ tokens, I felt the need to take these things out of their box and touch them again. It made me realise how much meaning we can invest in objects – a tiny onesie with cavorting penguins and a stripey tiger from the pier at Great Yarmouth. Out of context they are simply an item of baby’s clothing and a cheap toy. But to me they are tokens – of love and of remembrance.

Earworm: moments of clarity and silly songs

‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’

— Soren Kierkegaard

I suppose this is a kind of footnote to my post on nostalgia.  I can’t remember when I read the quote above, but it would definitely constitute an epiphany moment. Not an epiphanette you understand — a full-blown epiphany.

It’s been a piece of wisdom I’ve held close to my heart and it’s helped me in all sorts of ways, so this is perhaps a bit arrogant, but it has also occurred to me that perhaps Kierkegaard isn’t quite right.

I think there are also moments in life when something happens and you know, just absolutely know, that it will change you forever. And I think it’s also possible in those moments to catch a glimpse of the person you will become.

I experienced post-natal depression and there were times in the first months of my son’s life when I was closer to giving up on existence than I had ever been or have been since; like really close.

One night, probably around 2am, when he’d woken crying for about the fifth time, I snapped and decided that I had to take him back to the hospital and explain that I’d made a terrible mistake and would they please just take him off my hands.

I was out of bed and stumbling around looking for clothes and all the time I was thinking about what to pack for him, and mentally writing the note that I’d hand over to make sure “they” looked after him properly. I remember composing the bit about his favourite toy (he was about 5 weeks old) and how he liked particular songs to be sung to him … and as I was trying to remember the name of the girl band that sang “Kisses for Me” on the Song for Eurotrash album …. I knew I wasn’t going to give my son away.

Call it arrogance, but I knew in that moment a) no-one would ever look after my baby as well as me, and b) that I was going to be a good mother. I saw a future that was clear and defined and although not easy – it still isn’t 15 years later – it was my future.

Until that 2am epiphany, I’d tended to take the easy way out of things; to abandon projects that got too hard. But in my son,  I found a project I couldn’t walk away from.

Has it made me a better person? Probably not. I still waste time thinking of excuses for not doing things when I’d be better off just getting on with it. I do still walk away from things that I don’t think are worth the effort. But perhaps the difference is that now I know I CAN stick with something no matter how horrible and difficult and terrifying it is.

And since this is an earworm post; this is the version of “Kisses for Me” I used to sing to my howling infant. I loved the TV programme Eurotrash, and the album of Eurovision songs connected with it is an absolute mine of fabulosity.

Oh, and the band is called Kenickie.

This is a response to the Daily Post Prompt: Earworm

Others you might enjoy:

http://geekergosum.com/2013/07/10/earworm-que-sera-sera/

http://booksmusicandmovies.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/daily-prompt-inspiration/

http://completelydisappear.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/daily-prompt-earworm/

http://thepigmentsoflife.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/stimulus/

http://gettingridofboredom.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/the-way-i-am/

http://iwork4ajerk.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/picnicking-with-debby/

http://bluejbluej.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/daily-prompt-earworm-2/

http://thethingwiththestuff.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/you-cant-always-get-what-you-want-like-this-song-out-of-your-head/

ain’t no use in tryin?

This song was released in 1965, so I kinda missed it the first time around. In fact, the first time I remember actually listening to it was in 1985. It was a wet, cold Friday and I was visiting a friend and her young baby. She was the first of my friends to have a child – and for quite a long time – the only one.

I was in the middle of a post-grad course and totally at sea trying to put together a manageable thesis proposal. My life revolved around study and partying (probably not in that order), and I think I both pitied and slightly envied her “not having to work” but just being home with a baby – probably reading books and watching tv most of the time. It took another ten years and a child of my own to see how wrong I was about that.

At the time I didn’t realise she had post-natal depression; I’m not even sure she knew it. To me she just seemed a bit dull and disinterested in things I wanted to talk about (like my totally fascinating and complicated love-life). So when I went to visit, I don’t quite know what I expected we’d do, go out for lunch or something I suppose.

But instead we listened to her old records and I appreciated her taste in music. It was probably a good thing we did, because – quite honestly – being the shallow, self-obsessed creature that I was in those days, without that reminder of her cool, I might have given up on the friendship.

I’m glad I didn’t. We’ve been friends for thirty five years now, and although we don’t see each other often, I value her presence in my life. She’s funny, wise, accepts me as I am – and she knows where all the bodies are buried!

coffeeIn many ways, we’ve continued to live divergent lives. Our socialising pretty much takes the form of meeting for morning coffee every few weeks. Our partners know each other, and we have “done dinner” in the past – but not recently.

We text often and both make an effort to find each other the funniest, most outrageous birthday and christmas cards. I’ve kept some of hers, including a couple that go back to my student days and which live on the pinboard above my desk. Ours in a friendship that has never really known conflict, or even drama. It wasn’t forged in adversity or pain. Somehow, as teenagers we recognised in each other some kindred spirit and that has been enough.

When I started writing this post, I realised that there are no photos of us together. None at all – in 35 years. And that makes this post important to me, because in the future, if my son ever looks through the photographic record of his mother, a piece will be missing.  A kind, funny, clever friend whom I care for deeply and who has shared my journey for well over half our lives. I guess I could take a photo of us next time I see her, but I probably won’t. Somehow that feels like it might upset the balance, and I like things the way there are.