Chasing Clouds

The colours of the Yarra Valley in winter are muted. Misted vistas of gums and mountains …and the vines, stacked in soft green rows against the ochre earth. Layers of clouds roll across the skyscape, as if in competition with the beauty below. Look up!  Look here! They roll and twist, jostling for the most beautiful arrangement. Australian skies are big skies, the cloud banks dwarf the landscape. I was mesmerised by them.

13427956_10154373946625815_27677651972801694_n

I went to Australia in search of respite. Thirsty for a change of scenery, a change of mindset, just a change from the daily drudge. I came here hoping for a new perspective. Hoping, if I am brutally honest, that I would want to return home again at the end of my holiday.

On Friday, with my eyes downcast, I watched the toes of my converse lace-ups scuffing along the back streets of a country town. It was early. I’m an urban girl, so to me it seemed utterly reasonable to go in search of an espresso at 7am. I moseyed off along the sleepy streets, following the blue mountain ahead of me.  Tiny white curlicues of mist tickled at its edges. The night blanket of clouds was rolling back, ushered away and up by the sun. I felt transfixed by that small space of heaven, where the gold met the brooding gray. My breath misted in front of me and I felt that familiar heavy consciousness; I recognised that I had brought all of my urban angst here with me. Trailed it behind me as I jet-streamed over the Tasman.

I tried to slow my breathing, to slow my thoughts. I tried to name my anxieties and let them evaporate into the gilt of the new day.

13435524_10154384770850815_6793310085815845320_n

The rhythm of my feet brought me past historic cottages, iron fretwork fencing, elaborate brickwork, local artisan studios, darkened cafes and gift shops. The air was crisp with the aroma of fallen leaves, the mountain reassuringly squat above the little town. Golden leaves gathered into drifts at the edges of the main street, swirling in little eddies down the alleyways. It was an old town, sure of itself and its place in the midst of this popular valley. So many gifts of nature and such abundance of produce. The tourists flock here year round, drawn by the wineries, galleries and a slower, more genteel way of life.

An elderly gentleman waved me in through his cafe window. He was a friendly relic from the hippie era, long hair and a handwoven hat. His old eyes seemed to know too much about me, but I stepped into the warmth regardless. He asked if I was looking for a hot drink. Gratefully, I accepted his offer of a cup of organic brew. We talked about his pretty spot there, overlooking the avenue of oak. He rustled up my coffee and began chatting with his next early riser. I fell into silence with my only my thoughts for company; contemplative. The benign presence of kind strangers was a comfort. I blew the steam from the top of my cup and asked myself the question that had driven me here, the haunting of my peace. The crossroads of my heart.

What choice do I need to make?

13445781_10154384769740815_144847632078476642_n

There is a song I have loved for a long time. A woman’s song. The lines of the impossibly beautiful melody danced through my mind. ‘Both Sides’ by Joni Mitchell. It’s about the juxtaposition of perspective. It’s innocence vs. experience.  It’s how I feel about life right now. About wellness and illness, about mothering, being a wife, being in my forties, about my career. There is a bitter/sweetness to the understanding that life is all of the things; the beautiful and the frustrating, the happy and the unspeakably sad.

I spent a lot of time on that week away, looking at clouds. Chasing the kind of girlish freedom I’d had, once upon a time, when I was unfettered by responsiblities. It took most of the week for me to come to the realisation, once more, that all of my life has been borne of choice. I’ve chosen my reactions when I didn’t have control of circumstance, and I have chosen my life’s direction. The biggest choices are already made. I wasn’t choosing ‘for now’ I was choosing ‘forever’. Now, I can choose how I live with those choices. With an open heart, seeking the gilt edges of dark clouds, or with my eyes shut tight against the beauty that might be there.  Love is hard. Life is hard.

As I blew the steam off the top of my cup, staring out through the glass panes of that little coffee shop, I chose to let the light in anyway.

I wish you the kind of clouds that remind you of angel hair. And also the kind that take your breath away with their severity and stormy brooding. I wish us all, the strength to look up, and forge ahead, honouring the choices of our hearts.

Are you like me? A tired mum, frazzled wife, maybe a bit lonely, hopeful, thoughtful …are you yearning for more ice-cream castles in the air? Here’s to you, and me, and the knowledge that what will be, will be.

 

Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

13423725_10154373945830815_6628180717532856581_n

13427956_10154373946625815_27677651972801694_n

13435553_10154373948535815_4085384062838255891_n

13466419_10154373950745815_1914420783551071616_n

It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!

Motherload

 

It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

It’s heavy, this load mothers carry.

At first, it’s a gently moving tiny thing in your belly. A flutter of foetal fondness, the quiet beginnings of a whole new world. There might be a portent of things to come, as you grip the toilet bowl and heave into it. Maybe at some soul level it is a recognition, and the shock of it makes you suddenly sick. There might be an inkling that things are going to change in a big way as you find yourself asleep on the sofa before dinner, too tired to manage adult conversation. Your partner is suddenly solitary, watching their own shows, doing their own thing. Perhaps neither of you thought pregnancy would be like this.  Maybe at some emotional level it, too is a recognition. You are going on a journey that even they can’t take with you; the slow drip of anaesthetic starts early, numbing the sadness of all the ways becoming parents can change a relationship.

And the moment after the birth, when you gaze over the precipice into your baby’s eyes, there is a knowing made broad by the pain of labour, a realisation that something has begun, something unmappable, unfathomable. Something that will probably take all of you, more even than birthing this baby did.  In that moment it is clear that there is no pathway back to the land of before-motherhood. So you step back from the edge, sure that if there was such a thing as a life’s purpose, yours has been decided. You are a mother: you lift that feather-light load into your arms, and balance the responsibility on your shoulders, squaring them to the future.

I could bleat on about what they don’t tell you about motherhood, but it wouldn’t change anything. The truth of the matter is that motherhood, for me, and for millions of women like me, didn’t come naturally. I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. I couldn’t smile beatifically with baby on hip whilst I simultaneously slid a tray of buns out of the oven. The early years were jaw setting, teeth gritting, mind numbing tedium. I tried so hard to do it well. It mattered so much to me for it all to be just perfect. But I confess, I was a mess.

And all the while I’ve been mothering, trying hard to keep my ducks in a row; my career was stagnating, seeping into the nether. My body, altered for ever. That’s okay, you and your sisters-in-arms tell yourselves, because you recognise that mothering is an Important Thing. The type of humans you are unleashing on the world is an enormous responsibility. So you think deeply about what that means, and make detailed observations about character development, values, ethics… chore lists. You try, every dinner time, to incorporate conversations that go beyond the staples of mashed vs. smashed potatoes. Your greatest goals are for consistency and citizenship.  You are a serious mother. You heave another layer of significance onto your burden. You won’t let society down, no sir. Your kids will be a gift to their world.

Sometimes, after dinner, scraping the food you only just put onto the plates, off the plates; your inner self crouches at the clifftop, eyes drawn deep down into the abyss. And when you are applying the toilet brush again, to poo skids that aren’t your own, or scraping up vomit, or fielding a phone call from a teacher about behaviour issues, or discussing playground politics, or staring at a pile of washing that seems to be stuck on a universal glitch, repeating ad infinitum… in those times, there is a yawning emptiness that tears apart the space time continuum. Threatening to pull you in. You can see something on the other side of the abyss. It seems nicer than where you are. And you know you need to resist it, the same way you need to do everything else.

Because if you don’t, who will?

In those times, the leaden weight of what you have taken on threatens to topple you.  Your well meaning single friends will tell you to take a load off. Leave it to them! They say.  They’ll manage!  Take time for you! And you nod and tell them they are right, but your inner self is shaking her head and scoffing at you. Sure. Uh-huh.  And when you return after they’ve been left to do it for themselves, who cleans it all up? Who makes it possible for the routines that keep things functioning?  Who mops up the tears and has the conversations that need to be had? No, there is no respite from this choice you made. It isn’t a part time job. It’s equal parts love and loss, hope and fear, exasperation and care.

You carry it with you.  It is you. It’s not simply what you do, it is who you are. It’s the motherload.  Sometimes, the heaviness is not joyful and I do not feel grateful for it. I know I probably should. There are so many people I know who yearn for this. Or they think they do. I wonder if they would if they knew both sides of this blissful burden?

I write this in open honesty. I write it because I know there are other mummas out there dealing with this heaviness of heart. I don’t write it because I dislike my children, no, my love for them is fierce, my whole life is an example of what I would do for them, because I do it.  They know my heart, by heart. I write it because I need to acknowledge that it is hard. I guess I just want to say that.  In this world of carefully curated images of motherhood. My own is messy. I do my best. I hope it will be good enough, in the end. That my contribution to the world will be worth all the sacrifice, soul searching and sheer grit.  But it’s a heavy load alright.

What are your thoughts on this?