Winter Update

Today is a particularly lazy stay at home Winter day. My two school going children are on holidays, we are all moderately unwell, we’ve had a conglomerate of different viruses for a few weeks – gastro, sore throats, coughs.  My lovely not so Waldorf homeschoolers are watching movies and yes we have been literally glued to screens for the last two weeks! I’ve been watching Christian homemaking vlogs again, I love families that make mine seem small and I love all the organisational tips. I’ve been wondering lately about my introversion and sensory issues and how they kind of propelled me into domesticity through necessity not ideology but now fifteen years or so into it I genuinely value the art of homemaking. I don’t however, excel at it but I do my best and I’ve learned to be gentle with my failures and shortcomings.

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making cookies during Ramadan

Ramadan and Eid came and went. Bit by bit we are getting closer to an understanding of what might be the cause of our littlest man’s health problems. I can’t really describe what it’s like to have a sick and vulnerable child. Alhamdulilah for this amazing public healthcare system that is providing us with wonderful care for free! I’m just so grateful for his daily health, grateful for every day we spend together.

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Over the last year or so I’ve felt a profound shift in my own attitudes and sense of self. Perhaps it is just the extended break and time alone after years of conflicts but I am feeling very internally quiet. It’s not that I don’t still get caught by some thorns or barbs but I don’t take them so seriously anymore. It’s like Rumi’s guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

feelings come and go and there are amazing things to learn from them but ‘I’ am something deeper and more substantial than emotions and thoughts and I appreciate that sense of wholeness/spaciousness in the centre of my ‘self’.

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I’m gradually starting to feel reconnected with my faith and maybe I shouldn’t jeopardise that by writing about it but it is something I am grateful for, to be able to approach Islam without negative associations and connotations and find in it something like the way of life I first loved (and to have learned to stand firm through all those negatives).

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Mother’s Day Delights

Homeschooling wise we are becoming more and more eclectic and unstructured.
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edendale farm
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And Art. I need to find a way to make time for it. Art is the thing that makes me happiest.

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the beginning of some wall decoration using wet on wet watercolours

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. How do I protect them?
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. 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

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?
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.

Radical Homemaking

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So it seems that out there in the real world beyond my house there is already a term to describe what I am trying to get at with matriarchal homemaking – domesticity without the gender inequality….and a whole heap of other stuff.

I’m still trying to get a real grasp of what I really feel and think about these things so today I’m going to tell a story and this story will provide context and make sense of the questions I am trying to answer. It’s a story about gender, culture, spirituality and religion. It begins in my childhood home where feminism was espoused but not necessarily fully  lived. Still a home in which gender norms did not necessarily prevail – a mother, a (gay) step-father (the marriage ended when I was twelve), three small half-brothers. A home full of art, culture, music, discussion, intellectual argumentation. Unconventional and in some ways brilliant, sometimes dysfunctional (aren’t we all?), hilarious, difficult, enriching and stimulating, challenging and tough. In many ways it was a fabulous life and in some ways it was heartbreaking.

We were, for all intents and purposes, homesteaders before it became trendy. We raised our own meat, my step-father had a beautiful jersey cow that he milked. We churned our own butter, we drank the milk raw. We grew vegetables, we ran food related businesses, we worked. He preserved fruit and made jams and fruit cakes. My mother spun fleece from our sheep and knitted it into beanies and thick woollen sweaters. Tasmania is cold. We lived in one hundred year old farmhouses. We worked. Life on a farm is hard, running your own business is difficult. It was all hard work, it wasn’t really intentionally gender specific. It’s hard to remember but my mother washed the nappies and did the bulk of the cleaning and childcare. I think.

She also read Germaine Greer and I wore overalls.  The women I encountered as a child were feisty and loud. Most people we knew laughed at religion and laughed at the idea of the home being the domain of women, we were people of equality or so it seemed.

By the time I got to university I was adamant that I’d never have children. I lived within a small subculture of art students all with similar ideals. Gendered oppression was something I read about in books, I couldn’t recognise it in its more subtle forms at that stage, I thought it belonged to faraway worlds. It was not part of my life or my conscious thought.

Because of this ideological basis (which I did not recognise as an ideology) I never considered motherhood as a viable career choice. It was lesser, you couldn’t just be a mother, you had to be something else. I went to art school and I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to live in the inner city and surround myself with bookshops and art galleries.

Our family hit a series of hurdles and I experienced fairly severe clinical depression. I was diagnosed with PTSD but I didn’t know what to do about it so I did what many soul searching young adults in the first world do, I travelled. I found myself in Morocco and I became fascinated by Islam. When I wrote about my first trip to Chefchaouen I described it as a town which was filled with a sense of ‘in-placesness’ , a tangible stillness unable to be expressed in words. I filled my sketchbooks with my new ‘obsession’ layering and pasting Arabic and Persian newspapers with text and drawings of my own, it looked like a kind of orientalist exoticism but it was building as something so different than that within me, I just did not have the language to articulate it and I had a conditioned resistance to considering that it was something spiritual. Five years later after a move to Melbourne I met a Muslim man and my curiosity about what he believed led me to look into Islam more deeply. Quite astonishingly within months my ‘research’ became a personal quest and I became a Muslim. I didn’t know what I was doing. Most of me recognised it, resonated with it at a deep non-verbal level. The other bit railed against it, rejected some of it.
It was, to say the least, turbulent.

I was occupying that cultural no mans land that often happens to Muslim converts. I wasn’t sure where my culture ended and Islam began. Often people assume that I converted to Islam because I fell in love with a person but it was the other way around, I got married because I had fallen in love with Islam.

Immersed in a world that was the complete opposite to what I was used to, a world in which there were distinct roles and expectations for men and women my reality was turned on its head. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I didn’t know what the religion really indicated about these things , I loved the idea of being at home with babies. I was filled with a warmth that I wanted to pour over things and gift to my family – love. I thought our expectations and wants were in alignment.

Needless to say it was the utmost naivety and a recipe for conflict. Our expectations of each other were way out of whack. I wanted to be at home, I wanted to be with the children but not the way he wanted it. Both of us felt like we were experiencing injustice.

My experience of domesticity within the framework of strict gendered expectations is what has made me a true ‘feminist’ . It was all theoretical before, lived experience is what creates a fire in the stomach. Yet motherhood has also seasoned me and brought me into being a woman in a way that is in conflict with some aspects of feminism. I don’t want an equality that is a sameness. I believe I have the right to be with my babies when they are small, it’s more than a right, it’s a known…the small child belongs to the woman’s body and space, psychcically mother and child are one in the infant years.

So what exactly is my feminism and my homemaking, my spirituality and my womanhood? These are things I am fleshing out. I know what I don’t want, I know what I feel is harmful, not just to women but society as a whole.  I’ve a large family to raise, they are my purpose. I love order and cleanliness but I’ve learned that I can’t do it all without killing myself. I protect my physical health now and I prioritise the education and guiding of my kids into adulthood over a superficially perfect home.

My roots have me seeking out the ways and methods of my childhood. I want to grow my own food, I want to handcraft. There’s a fullness in me that wants to nurture the world, I long for beauty and calm and peace. I’m attracted to fully-fledged home keeping.
Yet, not as some kind of insipid pandering to systemic male power, so I guess I am radical.

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.

 

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….