Fairy Tales & PIE: why we need both in a marriage.

I am a sucker for a good love story. I love a happy ending when the girl gets the boy of her dreams or vice-versa or the girl gets the girl of her dream, or the boy the boy of his dreams. I am, of course, an equal opportunity love story junkie.

The problem with most love stories is that they end at the "and then they lived happily ever after" and we just assume that this is exactly the case. That love conquers all and it is all they need to keep them happy and together until the end of time.

Imagine if we could see the rest of the story. What happens after the Beast turns back to the Prince and he and Belle start having babies. Or after Ariel loses her fins and becomes human to be with Eric and then decides to take a job that requires her to be away a lot. What happens to all that fairy tale love when reality sets in?

In the past six months it has become painfully evident to me that I am in a phase in my life where I am starting to see the statistics about marriage play out around me. I don't know if it is the 'seven year itch' phenomenon or the 8, 9, 10 or 12 year itch... it just seems to be happening  more and more. Every couple is different and has their own struggles to overcome, but I do see a little bit of a recurring theme in a lot of relationships.

It sounds so bloody cliché, but having kids really does change your life. And until it happens to you, it is hard for anyone around you to really "get it".  Everything for the next few years (read FOREVER) is all about the kids. This is not all terrible, it is after all, what you signed up for. You and your partner created these little humans together and now it is your job to love and provide for them. Your focus gets easily pulled to nurturing these new relationships with your children and it can be a steep learning curve to figure out how to love them, love yourself and love your partner all at the same time. Life is about growth and development and it is not only our babies who are doing the growing. We are too - as parents, as partners, and as individuals. If we don't recognize this growth, if we stop paying attention to our life partners, a vital connection can be lost. And then, one day, there is a very sobering realization that we don't recognize the person sitting across the table from us or even the person (ourselves) looking across the table anymore.

I am a huge proponent of the attachment theory of parenting and how important it is for our babies to have that strong sense of attachment and bonding with us from the get go. Dr. Gordon Neufeld, and many others who study human psychology and development, say that attachment is THE most significant and pre-eminent need of human beings. Connections and a sense of belonging are what make us human. And if we lose those connections in our most important and intimate relationships, if we try to replace them with things or focus our connections away from our partners, we risk losing those relationships altogether.

If life and the kids and the laundry and the yard work and work work and Facebook time and gaming and working out and taking everyone to their activities and whatever else you've got going on, is taking up ALL OF YOU, it is doing so at an expense. We may think that that expense is being tired all the time and not having time for ourselves, let alone our partners, but I am telling you now, that NO, that is not it. The expense is the subtle, slipping away of trust and confidence and the very foundation that supports our relationships.

It is very easy to fall into patterns of behaviour when our babies and toddlers are small and require so much from us. We have a schedule for naps and for feedings, a routine for bedtime, a weekly colour-coded calendar full of music/swim/parent&me/gymnastics/art classes. Not to mention all the rest of the work that needs to be done at home, at the office, at the home-office or what have you. I don't know about you, but I remember so many days that I would forgot to even feed myself, let alone have a conversation or a meal with my husband. Being an attached and connected parent is a wonderful thing, but if you don't continue to nurture the original connection and attachment that MADE your child(ren), then where does that leave you?

I just finished reading Brené Brown's book, "Daring Greatly". In the chapter about Debunking the Vulnerability Myths, one paragraph really struck me. In it Brené talks about the betrayal of disengagement:

"When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears - the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can't point to the source of our pain - there's no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making."

My husband and I have always had a little bit of a relationship radar in place that lets us know when life is getting the best of us. I am pretty sure that everyone has some kind of early warning system in their own relationship. It all comes down to how much or how little attention is paid to it. The increased bickering, the loss of physical connection, the muttering under the breath, being super sensitive to every little thing said to each other - these are the warnings that we can sometimes overlook or not really think too much about, but this is just a small list of the tiny betrayals that can build on each other. And if no one is paying attention to the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of their partner (I think I'll call that P.I.E.!) than going through the motions of a marriage or life partnership will never leave anyone feeling fulfilled. Every little hurt starts to adds up and disconnection is the sum result.

We've all heard it said before, love takes work. It is a choice we have to make every day. It takes a fair amount of vulnerability too. And for a lot of people, accessing that vulnerable place in themselves is a major hurdle. It's a risk to say to the person you are supposed to be totally in love with that something is off. That THIS, the way things are RIGHT NOW, is not working for you. We'll do a lot to avoid these kinds of conversations and our fears only serve to push us further away from each other. We work more, take extra shifts, spend more time on Facebook/Pinterest/Twitter. We become obsessed with perfection and our focus becomes on how we look, how the house looks, and how the world sees us. We drown our fears in booze or food. We live with what Brené Brown calls "scarcity" and become governed by self-talk and thoughts of never being "enough" of anything to anyone. It's the mother of all shame spirals and the only way out of it is to face those fears, be your most vulnerable self and start paying attention.

For me, that meant finding a good therapist to help me face my own negative self-talk and the ways that I avoid my own vulnerability. Jane* has made me realize that I can choose to change the way I think and I don't have to revert to my default avoidance setting of "fixing" everyone else's lives around me and ignoring my own problems. It has also meant having some very honest conversations with my husband and of us sharing our greatest fears within our relationship with each other. Trust me, this was not an easy task for either of us, but I truly believe that it has made all the difference. We are both more aware and focused on making sure that we are both getting our fair share of the P.I.E. more so now than ever before.

I said it above, but it bears repeating:

Attachment, connection and belonging are the pre-eminent needs of all human beings.

We are all doing our very best to ensure that we are nurturing that kind of relationship with and for our children and most of us are getting pretty good at this attachment parenting stuff. We need to remember that we too are humans and have those same basic and vital needs. To satisfy them within our significant and intimate relationships, we all need to remember to keep working on our ATTACHMENT MARRIAGE-ING and keep the focus on our own happily ever afters!

Natasha~

P.S. You all know how much I love Pink and she always know exactly what to say way better in song version...

[youtube]http://youtu.be/OpQFFLBMEPI[/youtube]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On motherhood: the ultimate vulnerability.

I had coffee with a friend the other day. A pregnant friend who is in that "second-trimester, starting to feel uncomfortable in her own changing body, slightly grumpy about the restrictions it is placing on her" friend. We are relatively new friends (and yes, we did "meet" via social media), but our stories are quite similar. She could be me seven years ago. A woman in her mid-30's with a burgeoning career, life experiences and accomplishments that she is proud of and someone who is pretty sure of who she is in this world.

And she is afraid.

Afraid of what becoming a mother means.

Afraid of losing herself to this new role in her life.

Afraid of following in the footsteps of the mothers in her life, who became wholly consumed by motherhood and whom she feels lost all of who they were before then.

So I told her what motherhood did for me as a woman.

I told her that becoming a mother has taught me more about being a woman and has opened me up more to the world around me than any other life experience I have ever had.

And then she looked at me with the wide-eyed look of someone whose fears had just been confirmed!

So for my friend, and for everyone else who may have these fears about motherhood and losing themselves in it, I felt the need to explore this more. This is what I have come up with...

~~~~~~~~~~

You can read every "what to expect" pregnancy and new baby book on the library shelves, watch every TLC show about babies and childbirth, listen to all your friends tell you all their tips and tricks for being a new mom, and it won't matter one bit. The minute you have a child, the moment you open your eyes after that last big push, or you finally hold your baby in your arms after a long adoption wait, or you wake up after your c-section to see your baby sleeping cuddled with your partner in one of those uncomfortable hospital chairs...  you have new eyes.

And they see everything differently.

All of a sudden, everything takes on a slightly different tinge, has a more sweeping scope, uses a different filter.

mommy

I was not a "natural urban" anything before I had kids. I was Natasha, and all I really had to worry about was me. Yes, I was married and we were (and are) a great team and we were as inseparable then as we are now, but my life really was primarily about me. My career, my promotions, my wants, my needs, my whims...

When we started planning a family, in that plan was me going back to work after six months, a list of recommended daycares and day homes and a career to get back to ASAP. We decided to start "trying" in earnest after a trip to Tanzania in 2005 and we got pregnant within three months. All was going according to the plan.

Half-way through my second trimester, all the shit hit all the fans!! I had dangerously high blood pressure. I was admitted to hospital within an hour of a routine OB appointment and 24 hours later we were having a discussion of "fetal viability" with a neonatologist.

THIS WAS NOT IN THE PLAN PEOPLE!!

We had to make some big decisions. I had to take a medical leave from work immediately and was kept in hospital for two weeks. After I was finally allowed to go home, our life became about daily Non-Stress Tests (which is a really ironic name for them by the way!), weekly ultrasounds, perinatologist appointments and ultimately full bed-rest. We lived each week holding our breath until after the ultrasound to hear whether or not our baby would have to be delivered then or if he would get another week to grow and develop in utero.

Maybe it was because my "vision" changed earlier than some. Maybe it was because I "saw" my baby every week from 26 weeks until 3 days before his birth through the lens of the ultrasound wand.  Maybe because I had to read different kinds of "what to expect" books (ie, what to expect in the NICU, how to care for a premature baby, what long term complications we might encounter, etc...). Whatever the case, from that first moment of panic, nothing in my life was about ME anymore.

And here is the plain truth of it all.

Yes, motherhood is an all-encompassing endeavour and yes, one does become consumed by it, but in my opinion, that is more biology than it is sociology. A human child needs its mother to survive. She provides it with warmth, love, nourishment, protection. Our bodies and the systems within them, adjust to the post-natal state and function perfectly to do all of this. A mother and child will breath in sync while sleeping together, a baby will imprint on the mother's scent and will be primarily soothed by her nearness. The hormones released by both mother and child during breastfeeding, not only serve to perpetuate this amazing feedback loop of supply and demand, they also provide both with a sense of calm and an endorphin rush of happy. In essence the mother and child are really just two parts of one beautiful and biological machine of great complexity. It does no one any good, especially mothers, to fight that part of our nature.

I did not and I do not see this initial all-consuming part of motherhood as a surrendering of one's self. I see it more as an opportunity to explore a deeper part of one's self that has not been readily evident before. Motherhood teaches us the true inventory of our bodies, our minds and our souls. Motherhood made me look very closely at every aspect of my life. From the obvious ones, like getting the safest car seat and making sure I knew how to install it properly and using non-VOC paint when decorating his room, to farther reaching environmental issues like choosing to cloth diaper and researching every product that touched his tiny little body. I was relentless in all of this and I spent hours on parenting forums (remember those days?). I was a sponge for all things mothering. I wanted to be GOOD at this. Really, really, good!

What I discovered through all of this was that in order to be 'good' at it, I had to let go. Let go of plans, of schedules, of ridiculous expectations (both mine and those of others), of doing things a certain way without exception. This was hard for me. I am a creature of habit and I like a certain amount of order in my life. Having children has taught me that sometimes a nap is just as important, if not more so, than a shower some days. It has taught me that what I say and do with my children and to my children is going to have a lasting impact on them and therefore on this world. It has made me so much more aware of global reproductive rights and how much work there is to be done right here in our own back yards, let alone across the globe. It has made me painfully aware of all of the misinformation that exists in our world with regards to both breastfeeding and formula feeding. Motherhood opened me up to the most amazing parenting practice ever - babywearing. And through babywearing, motherhood made me an entrepreneur. Motherhood made me an advocate for women and in turn a voice for many... and yes, it made me an ACTIVIST and a FEMINIST too.

Some would look at my life and say that I have indeed surrendered my former self to motherhood. I mean, look at me, I am a stay-at-home mom, I drive a micro-van, I arrange play-dates and go to yoga while my kids are in school. AND I did some of those "extreme" parenting things too, like extended breastfeeding, elimination communication and co-sleeping. Oh, and I have a blog too! They might as well slap a MOMMY sticker right on my forehead and move on to the next person in line to ask what they "do" for a living. It's got the be way more interesting that motherhood, right?

To these people, I would say look closer. Motherhood has opened my eyes to a world far beyond my front door. Seriously people, giving birth (without drugs to boot!) is an experience that tests you both mentally and physically, and I passed that test. TWICE. There is nothing I can't do now! The world has opened up to me, and not just because of the internet (although it has helped immensely), but because I have let so much more of it in!  My children are going to inherit this world after me and I will do my part, however small it may be, to ensure that not only is it a better one for them, but that they in turn will see my example and want to make it an even better world for their children.

You know that iceberg picture that everyone shows at every presentation you have ever been too? (Go here to see the one I am talking about). I think of that image when I reflect on my life. I was the tip of the iceberg before I was a mother. Like my pregnant friend, I had a full life, I had adventures, I had a career, I was proud of what I had accomplished and felt I was a valuable, contributing member of society. Motherhood didn't make me forget about all that, nor do I think that it consumed me. Motherhood just opened up my life to boundless possibilities and to the depths of my mind and my soul that existed below the surface. It has made me grow and has pushed me and made me take risks and venture far out of my confort zone way more than anything else in my life. Motherhood has made me accept my vulnerabilities as a human being and see them not as a weakness of character, but as a path to create more goodness, more beauty and more LOVE in my world.

In a nutshell (and 1700 words later-Ha!), motherhood was the beginning of my legacy. I have actually birthed three babies that will live on after me and carry a part of me with them always and forever. My son with his thirst for knowledge and attention to detail, my daughter with her quirky sense of humour and love of all living things, and finally my writing. My story... their story...

My evolution as a mother

and as a woman.

Both sides of the same coin.

And as I have learned, it serves no one to fear or resist either one!

natasha~

 

 

 

 

the ordinary life of a {closet} loner

This is what I love doing. I am sitting alone at one end of a dining room table that can easily sit 10-12 people. A cup of tea to my right and the Tar Beach Lullabies playlist from Songza playing on my iPad to my left and my sleeping pup at my feet (keeping them warm). The lights are mostly off and I am writing by the glow of my laptop and the still light dusk of a Northern Alberta spring night.

Today, I took my children to a birthday party at one of those jumpy castle play place establishments that are all the rage these days. I knew most of the parents and kids at the party and while it was nice to visit with everyone, I felt this strange urge to escape from this social situation. I wanted to hightail it out of there and run off for the two hours of the party, or at least plunk myself down in a corner and read a book, or pull out my iPad and get lost in the long list of Favourited links from my Twitter stream. I did manage to escape for about 45 minutes and ran a few errands (ie, went to Anthropologie and bought a new top. Shopping, also something that I love to do by myself.)

I know this is going to sound a bit crazy to those of you who know me, but I think I am a bit of a loner.

I sometimes dream of being that woman who hosts perfect big dinner parties or the one who has that group of Ya-Ya Sisterhood friends that meet on a regular basis and tell each other everything and know all of each others secrets - the good, the bad and the ugly. I dream of going on holidays with another family (or families) that we are so close to, our kids are more like brothers and sisters than friends. I think that these are the things that I should be dreaming about.

I just don't know if I am that person.

In one week, we will have been in our Natural Urban Home for exactly one year and we have yet to have an official house warming party. To be perfectly honest, I have only had a handful of friends over and never all at once. I am not ashamed of my house at all, it's just the opposite. I love this place so much and we worked so hard to make it 100% us and ours, that sometimes it feels strange to have other people here. And it's not just me, my husband has always been one to consider his home his sanctuary from the world and on any given day, my kids are usually 70/30 when it comes to going home to play or going out. This is our centre, our starting point and our end every day and walking through our door often feels like exhaling after having held one's breath for a long time.

Now, I know what you are all thinking, "Natasha, you are not a loner. We've seen you work a room! Your the most social of the social butterflies!" I won't deny that I feed off of the energy in a room and yes, I do like to be social, but at most events that I attend I am just that, a butterfly, flitting from one conversation to another, stopping in for a sip of the nectar from this group and then flying off to the next.  I know why I seem like the social, extroverted one. I know the reason behind my flitting about and social insect behaviours.

I fear depth.

I fear that if I spend too much time with people, that they will see deeper into the real me and then not really want to be around me. And I can feel it. I can physically feel the wall that I put up when things get serious. It's both a defence mechanism and a protective shield. I am defending myself from the inside out and protecting myself from any {perceived} attack from afar. If she could, my therapist would tell you that this all goes back to my very early childhood and my feelings of never being good enough, of always being an outsider, of always dealing better with other people's feelings and problems than facing my own. This all makes me think that perhaps then my home, my concrete walled home, and the sense of relief I feel when I walk through it's doors, is a physical manifestation of this fear.

Commander Chris Hadfield of the Iternational Space Station, tweeted this photo and caption today.

That is how I feel some days, like mostly liquid rock covered by a thin crust. For the most part I can control the hot spots and keep everyone {including myself} safe and sound on the surface. If anyone tries to crack that surface though, my biggest fear it that it is gonna get really ugly. Everyone will see the messy, not so pretty parts of me, and will head off running in the other direction. I know that this is not likely true of most people and that I should give folks more credit, but hey, it's fear! It messes with our minds!

I also saw this tweet from Maria at @boredmommy earlier tonight. It is what sparked this rambling train of thought and post.

BoredMommyTweet

 

I thought about this and then came to the realization that I wouldn't change anything. I have a really wonderful life. One that I am incredibly grateful for. I don't want to go back to the career that I had pre-children, it just wouldn't work for our family and I don't foresee myself getting back into the 9-5 workforce anytime soon. I made a choice to be the at-home parent for my children, not just for when they were babies and in the safety of my arms, but for when they are leaving them and beginning to navigate the world beyond the walls of our home. This is when I think they are going to need me the most. I believe that part of my fear in the aforementioned social situations is that someone is going to ask me the dreaded "What do you DO?" question. I am afraid that I won't have an answer that is good enough for them. That me being a stay at home mom and yes, a sometimes blogger/writer too, will not be interesting or extraordinary enough for them.

As it happens when I am tackling issues of fear and vulnerability, I defer to the expert on these things, the wonderful Brene Brown. Please watch this 2010 TEDx talk she gave. At 6:34 she kind of blows my mind (as she has a tendency to do to a lot of people I am sure) and takes ALL THE WORDS FROM MY HEAD and puts them up on her screen!

[youtube]http://youtu.be/_UoMXF73j0c[/youtube]

I am an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life, loving my ordinary husband and raising my ordinary kids. And I like to write alone, at the end of my huge table, in my big beautiful sanctuary of a home.

And I am trying not to be afraid of scarcity anymore.

 

Maybe one day you can come over for coffee and we can talk about ordinary things together.

natasha~