Treading Water

I’ve been here before. Unable to make it work. Overwhelmed by the debris of daily life, swallowed by both the details and the larger picture.

All this hatred and contempt makes me wonder how to guide my Muslim children into adulthood here in this atmosphere of intense malevolence. I want to run, but where? How do I protect them?

This country is degenerating. Is it? Or was it always like this and I didn’t know? The shield of my whiteness has lowered and all I see is pain and injustice and a deep, deep commitment to maintaining a hierarchy of racial oppression.

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The fight against misogyny and racism is so enormous, so much bigger than me, all I can do is offer it to God. Somewhere I read ‘God is my inexhaustible resource’. I read about a man who had seven versions of himself. I need to be seven. In the minutiae of my daily life it is hard to get the dishes washed or the clothes dry or something healthy cooked and ready for eating. We ate Indomie last week, that’s a register of how my house is falling into neglect. I cannot do everything, I cannot be everything.

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These are the times when I am all ideals with little application. Homelife feels like chaos. I’m seriously contemplating school. The questions I ask myself are

do I get a formal divorce?
are there any clean pants?
what is rotting in the back of the fridge?
will my baby be ok?
how do I guide my sons towards a healthy masculinity?
is crying in the car worse than being forward facing?
can I get up and pray without waking him up?
will Ramadan tip me over the edge?
are we looking down the barrel of a holocaust?
will I be able to cook dinner?
what is the real ‘Feminine?’
will I ever ‘know’ God?
am I making a mess of it?
should I try and get a ‘real’ job?
why is my arthritis flaring?
is this my fault?

and so on

All day, every day.

who am I?
why do other people not question themselves the way I do?
am I strong or self-pitying?
do I know what I am doing?
is homeschooling a mistake?
am I ruining them?

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I’ve been here before and I’ve learned to ‘chop wood and carry water’…be still and be carried. I turn to one small patch of my corner and give it my full attention. This small thing I will do well. I’m sitting quietly nourishing him at the breast, he breathes in and out, the curl of his hair wrapped around my finger. I am only one but I can still give it all I have, whatever I do I can choose to do in love.

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I’ve been here before and I know the days turn quickly. In my country there are people of beauty and goodness, soon my baby will be running and talking and I will make bread and soup.

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I am not a failure, I am just stretched thin.
I am not alone in it, this is our modern world. We are mothers, fractured, carrying weights that were once carried by many..we do it side by side, we do our best.

Joyful Mess

I talk about mess a lot. I guess for people who don’t have children or who haven’t been made responsible for a household mess it must seem kind of boring and irrelevant but for those of us who have been immersed in a life in which mess has become an

Enormous. Central. Factor of existence

it’s definitely relevant, it’s something we can’t get away from, it simply never ends.

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I’m a tidy person, my preference is definitely for things to be clean. Even in my student slum housing days I took a lot of pride in creating a beautiful home space, it’s just something I love. My Mum too always created a lovely home so I probably inherited it from her, I’m grateful for the effort she put into our home environment. There are various reasons why I can’t stay on top of the mess in my house though so it never remains in the state I feel comfortable with but rather than going into those causes I want to talk about how I cope with how things are.

Mess makes me feel anxious, if you aren’t this kind of person you can stop reading now!

I’m a highly visually stimulated person, I’m in touch with what it is about my environment that I enjoy and what it is that bothers me. The ways things LOOK matters to me because it impacts my psychological state. So conversations about roles and gender norms and women and housework only matter to me up to a point, in the end it is ME that requires a clean, organised and beautiful home. It is what I strive for but I simply can’t achieve.

So where’s the joy in mess?

It comes down to priorities. I tried for years to stay on top of it and tore my hair out failing. Who did what and when and how was also a highly contested and charged topic during my marriage. So mess brought with it a whole myriad of negative emotions for a while. It is why I came up with the term matriarchal homemaking. I have learned to discover what I do want through what I don’t want. I know what I can do through what I can’t do.

I’d love a clean and peaceful and beautiful house but the experience of family togetherness, of creative shared endeavours, of love and learning together, travelling places together, eating healthy time intensive foods, caring for the environment, mentoring and guiding the children through adolescence, these things are all more important, they are a higher priority.

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out and about having a picnic whilst ignoring the abysmal disastrous mess at home

And above and beyond dealing with the negative reactions and expectations of folk who are still attitudinally immersed somewhere in the nineteen fifties I had to come to terms with my own attitudes towards MYSELF about mess. I had to let go of trying to control my environment.

I still want to come up with strategies to make things easier, I still prefer the idea of a house that doesn’t look like it’s being squatted in by a horde of feral elephants but I know it’s going to remain just that, an idea, for at least another ten years and I am ok with that….I think….I hope.

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learning to knit, crafting, handwork, simple meditative togetherness, it’s all more important. 

So embracing joyful mess is what allows me to do things like spontaneous Summer Solstice happenings. I literally trod over boxes of unpacked fruit interspersed with clean washing that had somehow been dragged into the hallway in order to get outside and bask in the sun. I’ll spare you photo’s of our underwear interspersed with carrots and Bok Choy.

Priorities.

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Mess is joyful when it enables us to be. It’s as simple as that…

Preparing for our newcomer

Well it seems I have fully fledged Gestational Diabetes. Now that I have to take insulin I need to be really careful about my food intake, it is different from simply being healthy. It is very demanding having to pay such close attention to food, sugar monitoring and insulin whilst taking care of a large family but thankfully the older children are interested in cooking and have been helping quite a bit with meals.

I love how much learning can occur just through household tasks. Cooking involves reading and planning, it involves maths especially as we always have to double the quantities in recipes, it even involves science.We are compiling a list of favourite new recipes, mainly things Zoey and Zeph have tried making themselves recently. Some meals they have made this week mostly managing with minimal help from me.

Tamari,ginger and chilli fish fillets with steamed veggies
Sweet potato and haloumi burgers with caramelised onions
Thyme, chilli and garlic chicken skewers with coriander rice and salad

 

I have had diabetes once before with my third child and the birth was induced at 39 weeks. Since then I have learned a lot more about induction and it is not something that I want to go through again. I wish that we could trust that such procedures would only be offered when absolutely necessary but that isn’t the case. But it is difficult for me to know whether the complications I am having are reason enough to induce, it is fairly certain that I will be put under pressure to do so. I am trying to not allow my disappointment over the potential ruining of my home birth plans cloud my feelings about the birth but it is difficult not to do so.

Whilst I am trying to come to a better understanding and make a decision about what I will do I am conscious of the fact that an induction would mean birthing in around six weeks so I have become preoccupied with preparing the house and generally getting ready…..inshallah

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And much of that involves rallying the children to help prepare and reorganise and tidy up as with pelvic instability my mobility is not so good. I remember at this stage of my pregnancy with Lili I needed to use crutches to get around. It was much more difficult then because I had three children under the age of six who all needed constant caring for and Tom was a baby who needed to be carried to the car. I had a child in Prep and a child in Kinder and I was out several times a day. Thank goodness our circumstances are different this time, the SPD symptoms are probably just as bad but I need to be on my feet far less. I’m also much more stubborn and persistent about self care.

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So we have been cooking and cleaning and going through boxes and cupboards and generally ‘spring‘ cleaning. The weather has been horrendous, I hate Melbourne Summer’s, it is just far too hot. But we put the roller blinds down and use the evaporative cooling  and it is bearable.

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After some initial reluctance I decided to turn our homeschooling room into a Mama and baby room, I just didn’t have space for the baby stuff in the room I was planning on staying in before. Although I will cosleep I do use a cot during the day as a safe place to put the baby while he/she is asleep or just kicking legs around. I love the idea of baby wearing all the time but I find that it hurts my back too much to do it for hours on end. I do generally spend hours in a day sitting and breastfeeding so we have plenty of time for skin to skin contact and bonding. But the move means we are back to using only the kitchen for our homeschooling…although really we use the whole house and garden, but for arts and crafts and writing that requires a desk/table the kitchen will have to suffice. And it means toys either in my bedroom or the front living room but that’s a happy compromise since the room we have taken over is large and has a lovely view over the back veggie garden.


We are using every available corner of this house, it really can’t fit any more stuff or children! Homeschooling does mean needing more space than usual, I have many shelves and cupboards full of resources and supplies.

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Tom turned 9 during the week and we had a pancake breakfast and he was thrilled with his present, a wooden stable with several horses. All the children love the Ostheimer wooden figures and animals, we have been collecting them for quite a few years and whilst they are expensive they are also strong and lasting quite unlike the plastic crap which my kids can break in a few weeks. I  hope that these toys are things that the children can give their own children one day.

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Organising things….and family culture

Over the last few weeks I have found myself moving into full blown nesting mode. It seems a little early at only 23 weeks but experience has taught me that the third trimester is so exhausting that the things that need to be done must be done now.
I upended the house changing around rooms in preparation for the baby. We have been back in this house for over four months but I still haven’t got it sorted out in a way that pleases me and makes me feel at home. But bit by bit we are getting there and I think by the end of the week it should be done, inside at least.

Homeschooling requires space, we will now be using the kitchen table and a room that I have organised for children’s activities, kind of like a kids living room. This room contains all the toys, the children’s books, a cupboard full of art and homeschooling materials and a small tv and dvd player. It’s a lovely room that overlooks the fruit tree’s in the back garden.

The front lounge room will now be an adults living room or at least a controlled family space meaning it has rules, no toys, no food. Basically I want to keep it clean at all times. We can gather together in this space for quiet family activities, sitting together and talking, movie nights, dhikr and prayer but it’s not going to be a playroom.

So much of the week looked like this

But now there are only a few remaining piles and once the organization is finished then I can get stuck into some deep cleaning….or at least delegate it.
I am becoming increasingly better at delegating!

It really is a relief to have older children who are able to help in the house and so different to previous pregnancies when the maintenance of everything really only fell on my shoulders. I have not had the benefit of having extended family around to help and things like pregnancy and illness were really testing times. This time I am far more relaxed and far more rested. I recently watched a media report in which they stated only 1 in 4 parents required their children to do household chores and it made me feel kind of incredulous, how can this be the case and if it is then what kind of society full of entitled kids are we really creating? I definitely don’t want to overburden my children with too much early responsibility but I think it’s important they grow up within an atmosphere of mutual contribution. I also want them to learn practical skills. But if I ever feel I have to ask too much of them I recompense them financially.

Whilst I have a certain free-rangeness about my approach to learning, I’m really not inclined to a radical unschooling philosophy and I’m almost certain it won’t work outside a niche environment. If the suburban norm is a McDonalds mentality then my children will live on junk food and computer games if I leave them to it regardless of the ethos I promote personally. It is what they see around them. What I can do is set household boundaries.

I often think about the way I grew up and feel frustration that I cannot recreate aspects of my upbringing for my children. There are some things that I felt really shaped me as a person that I simply cannot develop in our family circumstances. My Mum and Step-Dad always had friends that they gathered with from time to time who shared their values but more importantly our daily life was always filled to the brim with stimulating discussion. I definitely have friends, smart, interesting and good friends but we don’t meet often. And whilst I have a fairly rich intellectual life that I pursue alone it isn’t something the children really see or hear.

But it is as it is and everything balances out somehow. Our family has it’s strengths and stabilities in ways that were absent in my own childhood also. All people are different and we do the best we can in the circumstances that present to us.

There may be something in me that craves an aliveness that is beyond the norm but my goal for our family is really centred around warmth and stability.

So I’m kind of in the process of determining these things and creating a plan….

Your problem is not my problem

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spectacularly beautiful Romanesca cauliflower

Little by little the children grow and our home life patterns itself into a rhythm of comfort and closeness. Gone are the days of post natal chaos, no longer just in survival mode we can appreciate the details.

Enthused to create a nurturing, loving and supporting space I take joy in parenting, in menial and mundane tasks, in fashioning this house into a nest. I feel gratitude for my role as a mother, appreciation for the safety of my home.

And then suddenly I see myself blown into something ugly in the eyes of another and momentarily my joy is punctured, this great role we are granted slips into a noose again. Until I stop and realise your problem is not my problem.

Your expectations of women and family are not mine. Your priorities are not mine. I value you, I am in awe of your skills, your speed and attention to detail, your ability to use a knife and decimate an onion in seconds, the amount of children you have birthed. These are all things of great value but I am not you. I was grown in other ways in another world. I have other skills, my worth as a woman cannot be weighed by the cleanliness of my floor or my ability ( or lack of) to cook your cuisine or speak your language. I am not you.

And when you cannot find good in me, your eyes are small. I have small eyes too, there are times when I have retreated into my own cultural vision like a sea anemone poked in uncomfortable places. Sometimes I have even hated, written you off, an entire people tarnished by my resentment, by my inability to carry your expectations without disgust. I made your problem my problem.

But not anymore.

I will love my role as mother and homemaker because I am doing it my way, prioritising what I believe is important, I will not be squeezed into a mould that doesn’t and will never fit.
I will not allow the expectations of others to puncture my own vision, my own joy.

And that is that!