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.

Days at home

 

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I recently began a series of instagram photographs tagged #thirtydaysofhomeschooling. I loved the idea of recording a whole month of moments but as the days passed I realised it was not so much the recording or the online interaction that I was enjoying (although these things were great), it was the rhythm and repetition of ensuring I did the same thing every day.

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Although I don’t have a lot of time or skills to take fantastic photographs one of my favourite things to do is curate and assemble objects. I love moving furniture around a room for this reason. In the course of this little self assigned project I’ve looked forward to deciding what to photograph on a daily basis, initially I gave myself an exact time to photograph but with breastfeeding that proved difficult so I chose a window of a few hours.

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I started to discover that the act of recording was causing me to be intentional not just about the photography but about the actions I was undertaking to create the image – making a meal, reading to the children, setting up a homeschooling activity, I started to approach these things with a reverence I don’t normally have simply because I was paying more attention to them.

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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.

Recollections

It’s four years since I started this homeschooling blog and  I have at times questioned why I am blogging. Now my oldest child is in high school and my ‘baby’ is six  and we have a new baby.

I have been looking back through some of our old photographs, the children have grown so much and it makes me realise how quickly this time will pass and that they will soon be adults.


Parenting in this age is so difficult, we are no longer held safely in the embrace of the village and we are deluged by choice. By the time we figure out the best way to approach things our children have already grown up.

 

 

 


It is so incredibly rewarding to actually be with your children as they grow and learn.

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Every week I have days when I wonder what the hell I am doing.

When it all seems like too much.

But I’ve learned to just take a deep breath and ride out the feeling of being overwhelmed because it will pass and soon enough we will be feeling inspired and joyful again.


Homeschooling takes courage and stamina, there will be times when it feels like the whole world is against you. It’s still very counter-cultural in Australia, people think it is strange.
But even on the bad days I love it and I recognise it as an amazing gift.
We are just getting back into it now after the birth of Little Man and we are finding our feet trying to get things done with a baby in the house. It’s different and tiring, sometimes I want to pull my hair out. But it is also deeply satisfying.

Within another five or six years my oldest children will be nearing the end of their ‘schooling’ and Oliver will be just beginning. He will probably be the fortunate child who has a parent who knows what she is doing! I want to treat the coming years with the reverence they deserve, the teen years are so critically important.

 

I remind myself that I just need to do my best and to trust in God, the Source of all.

The time is nigh….

This is the view from my bedroom window.

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We have had a lot of rain and the plants are happy. We prepared the soil late this year and so we didn’t plant a lot of things but we have had rocket and bok choy and lots of cucumbers and tomatoes and there are capsicums still to come. It really was a struggle to keep this garden watered over the hottest days of summer and sometimes I used up my last little bit of waddle doing so but it is all worth it when it comes time to pick the produce. There are few things that make me as appreciative as freshly grown home veggies and fruit, there is something so beautiful about the whole process of growth and variety and something so calming about being immersed in greenery.

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I am spending most of my day looking out upon this view because if I spend too much time on my feet the SPD problems become really intense. It is frustrating because there is so much I would love to do in the house in preparation but still I am grateful that I can sit down and that the children are old enough to not require my physical aid and intervention all the time.

So much of our experience during pregnancy is influenced by what occurs at a subconscious level. And because we are conditioned to be rational not intuitive our emotions can get pretty confusing. Because I spent the first 30 weeks of this pregnancy completely avoiding the medical model I was able to really enter the beautiful rhythm of pregnant space. I didn’t worry about anything, I was not obsessed with time or what date I was up to, it was a lovely process. And I found the discomfort of having to suddenly exit that space and enter the world of medicalised birth very challenging. It involved a process of grieving for the birth that I longed for and because we don’t live in a society in which it is acceptable to include the mothers real experience as a priority then there is usually no vehicle for processing the grief, we are expected to just be grateful for whatever care we receive and it is thought selfish to consider otherwise. This is so short sighted because it is all so interrelated, the mothers experience IS the baby’s experience, there is no separation between these two things.

I felt very torn as I went about the decision making process, what aspects of the standard hospital procedure for dealing with Gestational Diabetes was I going to go along with? Induction is not complication free especially an early induction. And how do we really way up the odds between the risk of induction and the risk of macrosomia or stillbirth etc? It is difficult to be needing to make these decisions because what happens is that the more we are pulled into our analytical minds the more we lose touch with our natural intuition which is ultimately the thing that can help guide us make these kinds of decisions properly.

Initially I was told that I would need to be induced between 37 and 38 weeks and I was not happy with this. If left to go naturally I usually go into labour around 41 weeks. To be induced at 37 weeks is considered pre-term but particularly so when compared with my norm. Thankfully they did not push this when a scan showed that the overly excess amniotic fluid previously discovered had settled down and whilst the baby looks big there is nothing to suggest that it is big for me. At this stage it is just hypothetical, it can’t really be known.

I decided that I would refuse induction at 38 weeks and insist on being as close to 40 weeks as possible and I was kind of expecting a bit of a battle or at least being treated like a negligent fool but surprisingly it was not like that at all which gives me a lot of confidence because if there was any real medical need for early induction they would insist. I just gently asked if we could move the induction date forward a week and the doctor said it was fine. And this has taken a lot of the pressure I was feeling off, there is still a chance I will go into labour naturally and if not then at least there is far less chance of my body not being ready for birth at 40 weeks than at 37-38.

So now is really a time of waiting. Last night I dreamed that I moved with a group of women and children to a log house by a beach in Norway or Denmark. Our contemporary life is too fractured to make the real connections of sisterhood available but our bodies remember a more archaic time. I would love to spend these weeks sitting in a circle of women of different ages engaged in doing and making, to thread baskets and tell stories, to be quiet and listen. The odd conversation with a loved friend is not enough for me, I want it all day every day, I feel the absence but such is modern life.

I am being well cared for by the people around me and that is such a blessing. It is so, so hard for me to relax into needing the help of other people but the more I am forced to do so the easier it gradually becomes.

I decided to write down how I felt about not being able to home birth and it helped process the feelings.

Weary. Tonight I had a good sob after months of stoicism. Hopefully this means a good processing of all those things we are not supposed to feel but instead cover with a dose of saccharine gratitude. When another casual directive to ‘think positively’ made me want to start flying punches.
Acknowledging discomfort or loss or grief or worry does not cancel out positive thought. In fact it can be a stepping stone and a process. But it is so ingrained in our culture to silence the raw and churning places. And perhaps this is why so many live as dead zones enacting culturally prescribed roles but never really getting close to the pulse of life.
I am grateful and excited, there are a million things to be thankful for from basic food and shelter to the love of small people to the lightly showering rain.
I am also a woman on the edge of birthing sitting close to the heart of the world feeling it ache. There is exhilaration, anticipation and fatigue, fear and disappointment. I wanted to home birth and I can’t. I was pulled out of the intuitive rhythm of pregnancy into the analytical fear spaces. Trying to weigh risk against risk, decisions that seem impossible.
Birth and other rites of womanhood always open in me a gap, the longing I have for sisters, blood sisters. And aunts. Woman love. People who speak the languages of being female accompanied by unconditional love. The love that generally only blood or a shared childhood can accumulate. Pregnancy takes me into the heart of the island, my island-ness.
But well rehearsed now I can shed the tears and simply let it go. Trusting and knowing that weary spaces open us beyond our small limitations and in those openings there is peace. Shedding now the exhaustion and the hanging on and the million ways we women try to micromanage our lives. Birthing is the most beautiful time to surrender our illusion of control.

A couple of days ago I felt a real hormonal shift. I have not felt overly fragile this pregnancy compared with previous experiences but definitely in the last few days something has shifted. I have been weepy and grumpy. But it makes me happy because I know it means the time is nigh, everything is conspiring in preparation. InshAllah.

I have half packed my hospital bag and assembled the baby seat in the car. I enjoy the late summer afternoon air in the garden briefly before returning to my spot on the bed looking out on the greenery. It is time for waiting and patience and enjoying these last weeks, possibly the last time I will ever feel a baby kicking inside me.

I enjoy music that reminds me of being twenty and yet oddly contains lyrics that suit my current perspectives in life.

My little people also react to the slow pace of the household, all ‘formal’ homeschooling on hold now.

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I really truly believe that pregnancy is a journey for women designed to untie the places we are knotted. It’s impossible to articulate and so I won’t try. It is just such a truly amazing experience, a wonderful awe inspiring journey every time.