Personal


It’s been a long old time on this here blog.
I think I’m tired of the name.
I think I’m tired of the pattern.
The rut.

I think I want to start fresh.
Strip things bare.
Break out.

The name, the style, the blog was right, well-chosen a couple of years ago, but the time since then has been a slow metamorphosis of me.

Then, I was a slightly battered, still tottering girl-woman-newmother, writing essays to answer questions about questions, looking for certainties to cry out into the big void of the world, seeking – something - but without any clear idea of what. And that uncertain, rather diligent little creature has been quietly growing, changing – into – me – as I am now. And setting out in consciousness towards what I will be – when I get to infinity?

But as for now, the only thing worth grasping, how am I now?

Stronger, happier, better, freer. Crashing around the same as I ever did, but aware now more than before that I am crashing around and that it is me crashing around.

(Have I “found myself”? Is this what they mean when they say that?)

And that slow metamorphosis – where does it lead?
Not back here, surely not.

Time to move on?
to emerge?
and fly?

It would of course be lovely if I could be one of those amazing Gentle Parents who aim to act always by consensus, who empower their children to make good decisions for themselves, who never assume dominion or authority over their children – and all that.

Wouldn’t Ariel be lucky if she had a mother like that? A mother who would never shout or punish or say things like If you hit mummy again then mummy will hit you, and I’m bigger than you so it will hurt – let alone follow through with such a threat… A mother who would always be calm and reasonable, or at least wiling to apologise and admit that she’s wrong if she occasionally fails to practice what she preaches…

Well I do truly and genuinely admire people who can follow that model effectively, and in all honesty I do aspire to it, in my way. But I’m not capable of doing it, not all the time, if ever. It’s too hard. If I haven’t the energy or the time to discuss and negotiate, I just don’t. I assert my authority, I threaten, in the event of disobedience I carry out my threats, and I never (hardly ever) back down, even from the fights which in all honesty I wish I’d never started*. I do all these things, and I don’t even feel bad about it.

* Like the one over whether or not I’m going to get out of bed at 5am to accompany my perfectly capable Ariel to the toilet, just because she doesn’t fancy going on her own…

It would be so much better, I’m sure, if I could manage to be a Gentle Parent, but I’m not. I wasn’t brought up that way, I’m not made for it, I wouldn’t know how to do it and stay sane, and I’m not sure (now) that I would even want to try.

Yes, I am somewhat authoritarian. My name is Maia and I am an authoritarian parent.

It isn’t all bad. I am less authoritarian than my own parents and, if she chooses to be a parent, I am hopeful that Ariel will be less authoritarian than me. And I’m not, as the title to this post hints, the worst possible mother. For one thing, I am here: every day. Every day, I get up and I do parenting – some days I do it well, other days not so well – but every day I am here and I am doing it, I am being a parent. And that is not a small thing. It amazes me that so many people do it, because it is not a small thing.

Today is a day
to stand back and say
that this is okay.

So I’m making my peace with my mothering, authoritarianism and all. I’m accepting that there is only so far I can go in unlearning my earliest lessons in how to parent. I am steadily realising that I am not, never will be perfect, in mothering or in anything else – but that, as it turns out, this is OK. I’m OK.

It’s good to know. If nothing else, it’s one less worry to distract me from actually being the person, the mother, that I want to be.

What do you reckon? An abstract masterpiece?
Or – does it go this way up?

We felted by hand and then, because it was basically in shape but not “solid” if you know what I mean, it went through the washing machine and tumble dryer to see if that would finish it – which made no difference at all! Ho hum.

I think the problem may be that we were using alpaca wool and maybe some of it was – not kinky enough? The hairy bits sticking up are all straight hairs. We have a bunch of sheep fleeces to do next and they are definitely kinky enough! :shock: – the coloured merino wool felted beautifully, it was just the alpaca that was troublesome.

Possibly the verdict should be – not bad for the first attempt?

I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.”

Something clicked while I was playing in the bath with Ariel this evening. We were pretending to be at the beach, making sandcastles with my trusty yellow bathjug standing in as a bucket. Ariel could barely even wait for me to lift up the jug-bucket before she was enthusiastically splatting my imaginary sandcastle and yelling with glee – “I broke it down mummy! I splatted it all over the place!”

And I remembered some theory I had read somewhere* about how young children destroy things because, not having the skills to create, they enjoy destruction instead as a way to feel powerful and thereby align themselves with the grownups. The idea is that children (unless they have had a very liberal education and a very sheltered existence) will generally see adults as powerful and themselves as powerless. Because they experience their powerlessness as oppression, they want to become powerful and so they enact power in their games, practising in earnest for the power they crave. An adult builds a tower, a child knocks it down.

If I remember rightly, the author proceeded on the basis that once the child has learned to create – to build wonderful towers of its own – the child will enjoy creating far more, as the more adult (and so more powerful) occupation, and leave off destruction as the mindless splatting of its (powerless) infancy.

Of course, it may not work like that. Maybe the child is encouraged to enjoy destruction and not to reach towards creativity. Maybe destruction is modelled to that child in the home, in the school, in the media, in the world. Maybe the joys of creation are never even seen or approached, let alone taught. Destruction is so easy, there is such a satisfyingly powerful thrill – perhaps it is an addiction – and creativity is a slower, more careful, more patient activity, taking time and skill and effort. A slow pleasure, with pride and joy to be had, but no dramatic climax. The difference between midwifery and Caesarean – or something like it.

And I began to wonder, in the warm water, in a flight of monthly connectedness, whether it is as simple as this: as simple as the possibility that men** have – to borrow from an old, old saw – womb envy. They feel that they cannot create life, they see that women can create life – the ultimate creativity. Lacking the ability to create, they take pleasure instead in destruction… especially in the destruction of the creatrix… because it makes them feel powerful, because by destroying us they are stealing our power for themselves. Maybe the child that is/was mankind feels that it has been always kept out of creation, maybe it has felt that way for thousands of years…?

Obviously it isn’t as simple as this. But suddenly, in the bath, the connectedness of creativity, destructiveness and power come together, in a viscous glob – as the destructive powerlust of those who cannot create. Of those who cannot create – life.

Which all leads to the obvious question: would men be happier if they used compost toilets? What comes from their bodies, nourishes the land, and food grows. Could compost toilets change the world?

——————————–

*I am pretty sure it was in Bertrand Russell’s “On Education” (1926) but I don’t think I have the book any more so I can’t check the reference.

** Tiresome, I know, but I feel I should point out that I don’t mean “men” etc as meaning all men or any particular men but only as broadly referring to constructed masculinity. Or something.

Look what we woke up to this morning!

Ariel and I went out to make a snowman and chuck snowballs – I don’t think she’s ever seen or experienced proper snow before, and she was completely delighted. After we built the snowman we knocked it over and jumped up and down on the snow.

It has been very strange weather today. One minute it is warm and sunny, the next minute the sun goes behind a cloud and everyone’s shivering – sun comes out – starts snowing – sun back out again – chillly for a bit – sun – hail shower – snow – sun – and so it went on. Talk about April showers!

This is what we all got up to on the allotment yesterday – although I took the picture *today* during one of the sunny spells (my camera battery had run out yesterday):

We finished clearing, digging and manuring the third bed.

We also dug over both the first two beds, planting potatoes in the far one, and starting off some asparagus in the middle one. There is one row of asparagus, leaving half of that bed free for salad or something this year, with the idea of possibly adding more asparagus in that space next year. We also put a tayberry (nearest camera) and blackcurrant (farthest) in the “bit” left over from where we dug the asparagus bed too big. Everything we planted got covered in straw because the weather forecast was for snow and frost and things so we wanted to keep their feet warm. :)

Meanwhile, back at home today I’ve started mangetout, purple sprouting broccoli and pumpkins for the allotment, all from seed – and I’m having a go at some thyme from seed for my own garden, as well. I have a bunch more seeds which I haven’t yet started including “normal” (green) broccoli, dwarf beans, baby carrots, brussels sprouts, and okra (and, again, a variety of herbs for home). I also have calendula – marigold – which I bought on impulse because it is pretty and I had heard somewhere that it is a good one for companion planting because it attracts the nice insects or something. I’m not sure we will have space or energy to do all these for this season, especially as we also plan to do courgettes, normal carrots, sweetcorn, runner beans, peas, leeks, tomatoes and probably some other things I have forgotten.

It’s all so exciting!
Yesterday I was even hyped up while digging the trenches for the potatoes…

Oh, and tonight I made a veggie lasagne and (apart from courgette, tomato, onion, non-stringy celery and aubergine, most of which Ariel pretty much refused to eat) loaded it with home-sprouted mung beans, and garnished it with cress and rocket thinnings, both also home grown – super yummy. Ariel sucked off the sauce from a bean sprout and pronounced that she liked them because the bean end looked like a nipple, and then proceeded to hunt through her dinner saying “oh look mummy I found another nipple” every 15 seconds. She had me doing it after a while, as well, so I think mung bean sprouts might now be renamed nipple sprouts in our house. Oh dear.

What else? I planted my own potatoes at home (and covered them with soggy cardboard as a temporary frost protection). My american land cress, perpetual spinach and spring onions have all germinated, along with some of the mixed salad leaves – although now I think about it, maybe the onions haven’t. The others definitely have though! And I made a raised bed planter for my blueberries and planted them out. I’m experimenting with coriander too – apparently if you just chuck the seeds from your kitchen onto some soil and water them, coriander will grow. I’ve put some in the ericaceous compost in with the blueberries and some in another planter nearby, one I’ve had for ages and never given any TLC (it will become home soon to the herbs I am growing). I suspect that neither of these is especially suitable for coriander but I didn’t have anything else prepared so that’s where it ended up.

I feel – quite literally – full of the joys of spring.

Something I had forgotten until today is that fresh pineapples contain an enzyme (it’s called bromelain) which helps to digest protein. That’s great if you are a big meat eater and like to have a slice of fresh pineapple on your gammon steak. Not so great if you are a vegetarian and if you and your three-year-old child devour a whole pineapple in the space of an hour – she had about a quarter, I had the rest – the stuff begins to digest your tongue! Ouch. Ariel had it worse than me (or else she is just less brave and stoical) – but then she is probably less than a third my size and so proportionately she ate at least the same or possibly even more pineapple than me.

In other pineapple-related news, we saw on Storymakers some while ago that you can plant the top of the pineapple and it will grow into a new pineapple plant, and we are experimenting with this. I told my mum about this and she said “oh, yes, I’ve been doing that for years and it never works – everybody does that when they are a kid.” Oh, no, mum not us! Why, why, why were we so deprived? In any case, it never worked for my mum because she didn’t have Google. We do have Google, and it has taught us that Storymakers lied – you don’t just stick the top in the soil, there is all kinds of preparation to be done. Sigh. I may have to dig the thing up and do some work…

Meanwhile, the springfever gardening urge continues unabated. Since the last update, we have done some serious tidying in the garden (we even mowed the lawn, which ordinarily happens only about 5 times a year so that in itself is an event), planted out some sweet peas, sown some spring onions and American land cress and volunteered to help out in the family garden at Ariel’s nursery. I’m also eyeing up the possibly disused community plots at our local city farm, with a view to me and a friend setting up a community group and blagging any plot that may be going begging (Tredworth Women’s Gardening Collective, here we come…) We’re going tomorrow to collect some fleece for felting and will try to find out more about the gardens then.

PS My dad has not thrown his usual cold water over my gardening enthusiasm and is even mildly supportive – horrors! – his new perspective is that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get a lot of veg, it’s still a wonderful hobby… hm, is this really my dad?

PPS I’m still, as you see, determinedly Blogging Lite, although I do have some actual feminist topics up my sleeve for when I feel up to it. :)

Ariel and I have spent much of the weekend with gardening hats on. Boots, anyway.

We have dug up a corner of the lawn, one that I hope will get enough sun to grow some vegetables. My garden is small with high fences all around, so there isn’t much sun at the best of times and my Dad always tells me that vegetables will not grow here. But what the hell – as we have seen, I am the queen of losing causes. My theory is that what with global warming and the wet weather of the last 12 months, we are due a good summer this year. Hm. (If only patriarchy worked that way.)

So we have the beginnings of a vegetable bed. Our soil is UNBELIEVABLY sticky and clayey. The fact that it has rained makes the clay even stickier (you should have seen our boots – no really) but my reasoning is that this beats the iron hard clayrocks that we would have if it were dry. Anyway, we’ve dug in some sand and compost and I reckon that after another 3 or 4 years we might even have decent soil.

The compost incidentally came half out of a bag and half from the compost bin I have been lovingly filling up with kitchen waste for the last five years in the hope that one day I would use it. It is wonderful, black and smelly, just as it should be. Only five more years and I’ll have another load. Hm again.

(Did I say something about losing causes?)

Well we plan to grow potatoes. Apparently they are great for new vegetable beds, and also feature as “A” on my vegetable gardening rotation planning guide thing. I’m also going to have a go at a few mange tout in my front garden (which is sunnier – I have already been growing herbs and gooseberries at the front), some spring onions in a container. Just to see how they go. And possibly a pumpkin plant or two so that we can show off come Halloween… These are the veg that appeal right now, anyway.

Meanwhile, so that Ariel gets the idea a bit, we are doing some indoor sprouting. She planted some cress a few days ago which is starting to come up and we are going to do some mung beans and broccoli sprouts in due course. Yummy. She also wanted some flowers so we are going to grow some sweet peas up the fence behind the potatoes.

Ambitious, moi?
I think it is just the call of spring.
Growing things is something primal at this time of year, an urge I get every single spring.
This year it is just – more.

There’s no denying it: Ariel and I have begun our weaning journey in earnest.

This is a time I knew was coming but tried not to think about. I don’t know how to parent without breasts, without milk. I don’t know how to feel like a mother if milk is taken out of the equation. What’s the difference between a mother, then, and just some woman whose house you happen to share? Is there one? Does it matter?

I wrote some weeks ago that a night came when Ariel chose not to have MummyMo at bedtime. She chose CowMo instead. I think she had been impressed by some chance remark of mine that the reason Oliver Dunkley had CM at bedtime was because he was too big for MM. (Yes I know. It seemed like the easiest answer at the time.)

After that first night of abstention, the choice between CM and MM for bed-time milk went about evenly one way or the other, but mornings were still the undisputed territory of Teh Booby. One day maybe ten days later, Ariel overslept and completely missed out on on her morning MM (a very rare occurrence indeed – this is not a girl who oversleeps, never mind missing out on mo as a result) – but still decided to have CM at night. That was the first time she had ever gone 24 hours without mummy mo.

Last week she hurt her tongue. I think she managed to strain one of those little muscles or whatever at the root – ever done that? it hurts! – so that it really hurt her to use her tongue for suckling. She told me she couldn’t have any mummy mo, and had CM instead. She was upset, and I told her that if she felt better later on she could have some mummy mo then. She didn’t. In the morning:

ME: How does your tongue feel? Do you want some mo?
HER: I will try… (trying)… oh I can’t mummy.
ME: Poor old you. I’ll get you some CowMo and then we will try again tonight if your tongue is better at bedtime. I’m sure it will be.

For the next three days – the same, morning and night. She would go to latch on, and then pull back – it doesn’t work, mummy. I began to wonder if that was it.

Then on Saturday afternoon, she tried surreptitiously to lift up my T-shirt:
ME: Hey, what are you doing?
HER: I’m going to have some Mo now.
ME: At bedtime you can have some.
HER: Well I am too big for Mo now because I am three.

And at bedtime? She “tried” – but it doesn’t work anymore mummy.

I wondered whether she was putting it on. I couldn’t believe her tongue was still hurting and she wasn’t really complaining about that. Nor was she making much more than a show effort at latching on. Could she be pretending? Why would she?

I began to wonder if this is how it goes when children forget how to, or lose the ability to suck. Even though I also believe that this theory is probably nonsense (grown-ups, even those who haven’t sucked mo for years, could manage it – why not a little girl who had some only a couple of days ago?) and in any case three is too young given that everything I have read points to a natural weaning age of at least four… Anyway.

Fast forward through the night to Sunday morning. Ariel woke early. By 7am she had run out of ideas for amusing herself quietly and came back to bed, wanting Attention. Which I was not ready to give her. Do you want some Mo? I tried. (In the past this would have been sure-fire – this time I was less confident.) So she made her now familiar half-hearted attempt to latch on, complained that it didn’t work, and sat right back up. But you didn’t really try! Have another go, properly this time.

And she did. It was so nice.

After she’d had her fill (and I’d had a bit more dozing time) she said But mummy – I am too big for Mo. We cuddled. I told her that she wasn’t too big. I told her that she could have Mo if she wanted, that she could choose and that she was still quite small, that she could still have mo if she wanted, even if she was quite big as well.

[If it hadn't been for her obvious conflict, her conflict between wanting mo and wanting to be big (like Oliver Dunkley?), I would have been cautious about writing this. I would have felt like one of those women that feature in the minds of anti-breastfeeding Daily Mail readers, a woman who manipulates her child into breastfeeding for her own selfish purposes. I freely admit that I had selfish reasons on this occasion for wanting Ariel to have some milk, a good long milky cuddle - huh, I wanted to sleep! But also, my little girl had full agency in this. I wasn't manipulating her. I was giving her permission. I was telling her that she didn't have to grow up all at once, that she could be getting big and at the same time still be quite small. That it was OK to want and need her mummy. My words to her were not commands, not imperatives, but permission.]

She had a bit more.
In the afternoon, she tried the T-shirt-lifting trick again.
And at bed-time she chose CM…
…this morning MM, at bedtime just now, CM again.

So, yes, weaning is definitely on her mind. I think she knows that she isn’t quite ready yet, but she is starting to look towards the day when she will be ready. She realises that big people don’t have mummy mo, and she sees herself as someone who is getting bigger. She knows the time will come and she is trying to wrap her mind around the idea of living without Teh Booby. She is experimenting, practising. This is good, I guess. This gentle lead-up is giving me the chance to wrap my mind around this weaning idea, to experiment and practise breast-free parenting before she weans for real. She is weaning us both – gently…

I know I look so big to you,
Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.
But no matter how big we get,
We still have needs that are important to us.
I know that our relationship is growing and changing,
But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,
Especially at the end of the day
When we snuggle up in bed.
Please don’t get too busy for us to nurse.
I know you think I can be patient,
Or find something to take the place of a nursing;
A book, a glass of something,
But nothing can take your place when I need you.
Sometimes just cuddling with you,
Having you near me is enough.
I guess I am growing and becoming independent,
But please be there.
This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,
Please don’t break it abruptly.
Wean me gently,
Because I am your mother,
And my heart is tender.

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