One Mother’s Musings on Gender

As soon as I said it, I regretted the comment but that didn’t stop me digging an even bigger hole for myself. My weekly coffee after our library trip has seen me make some really bigoted comments of late, which is strange, because I don’t consider myself a bigoted person. I consider myself quite the opposite, actually. So, the fact that I have caught myself first making comments about race and then gender has me feeling quite ashamed.

We don’t like to admit it but Australia can be quite a racist place, at times. Especially out in the country. I grew up in a regional area and have acquired the habit of categorizing people by their race and their religion. I don’t think any less of people after I’ve categorized them, but it just goes to show that you can’t completely separate yourself from the discourses in which you have grown up. Some ways of speaking and the prejudices embedded in those conversations become naturalized within you, even if you don’t want them to.

This week’s transgression was gender-based. Firstly, I whined about working with Lesbian teachers, who were particularly nasty people. Then, I whined about working with middle-aged women. As I made the comments, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, because I am a feminist. Always have been. I also have a degree in Journalism and English Literature, so I know that language has immense power and can be used to do great harm.

However, there is another reason that I am particularly mortified at myself as well. Not only am I a person who respects women, but I am also the mother of a beautiful daughter. I want the best for her in this world and I want her to treat others with dignity and respect. I want her to treat herself with dignity and respect, as well. I believe that when we make comments that disparage others on the basis of gender or race, we hurt ourselves a little as well by supporting the very patriarchal power structure that subjects us in the first place.

As I was driving home from coffee today, I got to thinking about why I was so particularly mortified at myself and why I had come to make such comments that undermined other women. A lot of it has to do with how disillusioned I feel with second wave and third wave feminism. When I was young, I was fiercely passionate about women’s rights and I had to be, because growing up in the country and then starting a career in commercial radio meant I had a lot of prejudice to fight against. I knew I didn’t have the same opportunities as the boys in my university course and when I did start working, I had a battle to try and be something other than a pretty little thing that read the news with a nice voice. It was a battle I ultimately lost, as the pressure from ignorant, bullying, often lecherous, middle-aged men ultimately drove me out of the job and into teaching. Even in teaching, where women are well represented, it was clear you didn’t get anywhere unless you were a member of the boys’ club or a force to be reckoned with.

My thoughts turned to a segment I saw on the news about Miley Cyrus. Apparently, she is at the centre of a furore over her latest video, her comments about which drew an open letter from Sinead O’Connor and Annie Lennox. I thought about what I would say to Miley, if I had the chance to speak to her. I would counsel her about the way she was representing herself, explaining that you cannot control the way people perceive you (cue: Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message”). So, even though she may feel that she were representing herself as an empowered female who is comfortable and in control of her sexuality, others may see her as an object for their gratification and exploitation, devaluing the myriad other talents and gifts that she possesses. I would warn that by allowing herself to be treated this way, she implicitly supports the subjugation of other women, even if she doesn’t mean to.

That is also why I feel third wave feminisim has failed us. It is so hollow and focuses too much on sexuality, as though that is the sum total of what a woman is. The very tool, which means to free us, binds us. Young women take control of their sexuality but end up presenting themselves according to some very damaging stereotypes, which have more in common with pornography than healthy self-expression. Sex sells and some very astute marketers have learnt to hijack young women’s attempts to represent themselves as confident and in-control of their sexuality and turn them into a product to market, regardless of the fact that they are exploiting those young women and undermining them in the process.

So should we turn back to the message of the second wave feminists as a means to fight this? Unfortunately, no, because the well meaning attempts of our mothers and their mothers have failed us too. The second wave tried to bring us equal opportunity in the work place but instead just ended up leaving women with more on our plates than ever before and lead to isolation and lack of support within the female community. As a new mother, I have had to resign from my employment because I just cannot do it all, much as I would like to. Of course, I feel guilty about that, as the expectation is that we should do it all these days and being a stay at home Mum is undervalued. I think that was the unintended by-product of second wave feminism.

So, what does it this have to do with motherhood? I am Mum to a beautiful little girl. I care what sort of a world she grows up in and what sort of a person she matures into. I want her to have every opportunity to have a happy, balanced and successful life.  I need to think about what messages I send her and, more importantly, what example I set. It’s a huge responsibility and something I’ll try to keep in mind next time I’m making careless comments over a coffee at mother’s group.

Sleep Easy … I don’t think so!

Self-flagellation seems to be a specialty of mine. As such, I found myself in an information session about sleep for babies older than six months today run by our local Child Health centre. I constantly live in fear that we’ll lose the precious sleep balance we’ve gained in the last six weeks. So, when some of the other Mums from my mother’s group signed up, I thought it would be a good idea for me to do so too.

The issue is that Little Birdie’s (LB) sleep issues are more complex than a general information session can address. I know this but I still hope there will be some magic answer that will help me to relax in the knowledge that the bad old days won’t return. Of course, that is an unrealistic expectation, and so today’s session was always going to be a let down.

It does drive me nuts that the information given in such sessions is so vague, consisting of what is virtually a string of platitudes, rather than concrete strategies that can help those in trouble. I know there are better answers out there and I was able to access excellent help at the sleep school we attended, but it took me six months to get there. My husband and I were on our knees by the time the help became available. In fact, I was on the edge of a nervous break down. Now that we have graduated, I feel terrified that things will go wrong again, because I know that it is so hard to get more help if we need it and it would take months to get back into the sleep school again.

However, as frustrated as I get by these things, it’s important to focus on the positive. In the scheme of things, today’s session was worthwhile. I learnt a tip for dealing with older babies when they stand up in the cot and you want them to lie down. Apparently, it’s best to sit down yourself and get down on their level and they will most likely follow you. I’ll be filing that away for when LB is standing. At the rate she’s moving, that will be the near future! I also had a chance to ask the nurse a couple questions about diet after the session. As it turns out, I need to give LB less banana, because it’s causing her a few bowl troubles. That was a shame to hear, as LB loves banana. I will have to be a little more creative with the fruit I offer her.

Overall, I think my frustration speaks to some wider issues. According to the nurse who spoke to us today, poor sleeping in babies is largely a first world problem. Apparently, this is because we tend to expect our babies to sleep away from us, when in the third world, children often sleep with their parents and mothers carry their babies more. The SIDS guidelines are very effective in saving babies’ lives but they also discourage sleeping on the belly and co-sleeping, two things that can help babies sleep better. I know LB started sleeping better after she learned to roll and has slept on her tummy ever since. There is also the issue of how isolated new parents are. The old cliché says it takes a village to raise a child but we have very little help available to us. My mother is still working full time and my mother-in-law still tutors, so they have other commitments. I also realize so much knowledge about raising children has been lost from our society. I mostly relied on the Internet to find answers in the early days of LB’s life and the advice varies in quality.

In conclusion, I will still keep educating myself about the best ways to support LB to sleep but it’s not easy. At the end of the day, you can only do your best. Attending today’s session was not a waste of time but it reminded me of why parenting is challenging. However, as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. LB teaches me to be a better person every day and, one day, I’ll look back on this and know it was all worthwhile. In the meantime, I just wish LB sweet dreams!

Play Baby Play: Ball Games

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Apparently, I like a bit of a challenge, so when I recently came across a box set of fifty baby play ideas, I thought I would try to work through the whole box by Little Birdie’s (LB) first birthday. The first card I selected was “ball games”. The card said I should roll the ball to the baby, stand baby up and use her legs to “kick” the ball and line up paper cups, cardboard boxes or egg cartons to use as skittles.

To be truthful, the challenge is just as much for me as it is for LB. I want to keep putting in my best effort for her and this helps me to stay creative and enthusiastic, even when I’m feeling tired and a little stuck in a rut. I made sure I was prepared for the challenge by asking my husband to purchase a packet of disposable cups with the weekly groceries.  The cups he brought home were clear plastic, making me a little concerned about how LB would react to them. Would they seem like a target, even though they were clear? However, I pressed on regardless. I had visions of a giggling baby as we played our little game and my heart warmed at the thought of it.

I found a little mini soccer ball that we got with some sunscreen that we purchased recently at the beach and I set the cups up in a line. I sat LB a short distance away and rolled the ball to the cups. It was underwhelming. The ball just pushed the cup a little to the side. LB wasn’t even looking at the ball! I thought maybe we had progressed a bit too quickly, so I spent a few moments rolling the ball to her instead. She still really didn’t get it, preferring to suck on the ball, rather than having a go at rolling it back. I then decided to stand her up and swing her gently to “kick” the ball. Again, she wasn’t really interested. I decided it was time to give up.

When my husband came home, I told him about our little game and invited him to have a go with LB as well. That turned out to be the best idea I’d had all day. Ball games just come naturally to men. He arranged the cups in a diamond shape, like you would for 10 pin bowls and helped LB move her little leg to kick the ball. Finally, I heard the giggles I’d been waiting for.

We played with the game a few more times across the week. However, it turns out LB’s favourite occupation is sucking on the cups. Do I think it was a waste of time? Absolutely not. Both LB’s father and I had fun playing the game with her and she is starting to learn about balls rolling. Now it’s on to the next challenge.

The first card I drew was “Tickle Time”, which involved tickling your baby and playing “This Little Piggy”. We already do this quite regularly, so I’m drawing again. The next card I chose was to create a “Photo Gallery” for bubby. Sounds like a lot of work but I’m committed. LB doesn’t really look at the pictures yet when I read to her, so I wonder how she’ll respond to photos? I do show her the pictures I take of her on my phone and she smiles and she also likes looking at her reflection in the mirror. I have no idea if she knows she is looking at herself. This should make for an interesting challenge!

A Real Bundle of Joy

Little Birdie (LB) is only seven months old and already she’s been to two funerals but I’m so glad she was there.  That might seem a strange statement to make, but in amongst all the struggles we’ve had with bubby’s reflux, her unsettled nature and her sleep problems, some of her brightest moments have been at our saddest.

When my grandmother fell and broke her hip at 90 years old, LB was only a week old. Grandma’s last weeks were filled with pain, but a trip to visit her in the retirement home was one of the few trips out I could manage with a newborn. As a former nurse, Grandma didn’t mind at all if I sat in the corner and fed the baby while I was talking to her. Meanwhile, the incongruous sound of a crying newborn in the halls of the home brought curious stares and smiles from the other elderly residents. Grandma was in so much pain, yet she enjoyed seeing LB so much. It made me feel so good to be able to bring her a small joy in her last days.

Likewise, the death of my dear friend’s husband brought us all to our knees a month ago. My heart was breaking so much for her and after the funeral it was a struggle to know what to say. However, I knew I just wanted to give her the biggest possible hug and not let go. I waited for the moment and as I hugged my friend, I honestly didn’t know if I could let go, but I didn’t need to worry. As I wrapped my arms around her, my friend looked over my shoulder and saw LB and a smile spread across her face. Even in that terrible moment, LB was able to bring a few seconds of joy in the darkest of spaces.

We had another sad day today as we went to visit my uncle, who has terminal cancer. As we drove out to the country town where he lives, I told my husband I wasn’t going to dwell on what we were about to encounter but, again, I need not have worried. It was shocking to see my uncle’s gaunt figure as we arrived. However, it was a pleasant morning as we sat in the lounge room drinking tea and watching LB play on the mat in the middle. We even managed to get a few happy snaps before we left. I’m sure we will treasure those couple of photos in years to come. However, LB really came into her own as we were leaving. She really seemed to take to my aunt during the visit and my aunt picked her up for a little cuddle just as we were leaving. Uncharacteristically, LB was quite relaxed and decided to start kissing my aunty on the nose. For a woman who is having a really tough time at the moment caring for her ailing husband, it was a delightful moment and it was certainly a precious moment for me to watch.

As I’ve struggled through a difficult seven months as a new mother, there have been times when I’ve wondered (as much as I adore my daughter) whether things would ever improve. I’ve truly been pushed to the edge this year but days like today remind me that I’ve been blessed with a real bundle of joy.