Turning 40 – some reflections

 

Some treats of turning 40! Photo by Marija Smits

Some treats of turning 40. Photo by Marija Smits.

I’m not particularly worried about getting older, but there’s something about the number 40 that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. You see, in my quirky little overthinking brain, numbers have personalities. 5 is probably my favourite number because it’s a little bit curvy but it also has some straight bits. I consider it a friendly (but upstanding) number. It’s odd but, somehow, warm. The number 4 is all straight and cross and it looks rather irritable. And 0, well, that could be taken as a disappointed ‘oh’ (as in ‘forty, oh dear’). Or perhaps a rather surprised ‘oh’ or perhaps it’s sole function is to look like the shape of the mouth of the person screaming in Edvard Munch’s famous painting. I don’t know. I digress.

Yet, time marches onwards and it doesn’t care for my own particular preferences when it comes to what my age is now. So… I’m 40 now, and it’s time for a little reflection on the past decade and the forthcoming decade.

At thirty, I was pregnant with my first child, my darling girl. She was born in April, approximately a month before I turned 31. That 31st birthday was not particularly memorable to me because my life didn’t seem to be about me anymore. Instead, everything was about this tiny being who had entered our lives and time itself seemed to have shifted. I have photo albums which, instead of being labelled by months (or years), were instead labelled with my daughter’s name and by how old she was (in months). It took me quite a few years to shift back to ‘normal’ calendar months, which, I guess, shows just how much my life back then revolved around her.

So, in essence, the past decade, for me, has been very much about becoming a mother, first to my daughter, and then three-and-a-half years later to my son. It has been about breastfeeding, coping with little sleep, finding my own path as an HSP parent, finding a ‘tribe’ of like-minded mothers and lots and lots of nappy changing.

But it’s also been about finding a new surge of creativity within me and learning hundreds of new skills (some of which I used to set up and manage my small press, Mother’s Milk Books – but that’s a whole other story!). And throughout this hazy decade, I’ve been reading and writing, which has helped me hugely with reflecting on who I am, my place on this earth, and what I want to spend my days doing. The non-fiction books I wrote about here helped me enormously with my reflections, but I realize that not everything is done, soul-work wise, so I’m sure I’ll be adding more to this list soon. I’m aware, too, that I want to read more about politics, psychology, feminism and history; Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond have been on my reading list for a while. And I’ve also just got Love and Limerence, by Dorothy Tennov, which I hope will help to clarify some of my (as yet) incompletely developed ideas about love, lust and romance and what they mean to me as an individual.

Writing-wise, I *think* I’ve served my apprenticeship having written an okayish first novel (which will most likely stay hidden away in a drawer), lots and lots of poetry, a fair few short stories, a children’s chapter book, several children’s picture books and lastly… a good beginning on an epic fantasy trilogy.

So, what will the next decade be about? Well, my last decade taught me a lot about time. And how it’s very precious. And finite. So, perhaps, my oh-so-very-urgent desire for ‘better’ or ‘success’ was understandable. I was child-like in my impatience for wanting to be ‘better’ at art NOW! Or ‘better’ at writing NOW! But when it comes to mastering a skill, time and patience and dedication to the skill are the only things that will make a difference. So I am definitely going to be more accepting of that fact. And I have to face the fact, too, that if I don’t make time for my creativity it won’t happen. And I don’t want to live with the regret of not having tried my very best to master a creative skill and then shared the fruit of my labours with others (although my view on how to share the products of my creativity is still very much in flux).

So… as ever, boundaries will be important. It’s too easy to let social media, never-ending work and other societal pulls drag me away from what’s really key to my wellbeing: time spent with my loved ones (at home, and in nature) and time spent on creative endeavours.

I know I have a tendency to overthink things (the horrors of OCD rumination never seem too far away) but I am cautiously (I’ve got to be cautious, right? I’m an HSP!) looking forward to this decade. And what more can I give myself than the gift of being open to the challenges and gifts of the next decade? None.

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits.

 

And a huge welcome back to Maddy from Writing Bubble after her week’s internet break. It’s good to have you back!

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Dear highly sensitive soul

Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

Dear Ten Year-younger-self,

You are about to begin a new phase of your life. You are excited and a little fearful, but mostly excited. You look back on your life, your childhood, your teens and twenties, and somehow know that they were leading to this moment.

All those years of desperately NOT wanting to get pregnant well they seem ridiculous to you now, because getting pregnant is ALL you can think about.

Don’t worry, it will happen, and it will be all that you wished for and more.

The deep ache of maternal love that you can already feel the one that tugs at the fibres of your heart will grow and expand as your first child grows in your womb. This love will, at times, be all-consuming. This love, so pure, so uncomplicated by ego or shame or guilt, will make all the romances of your past ridiculous they will seem as flimsy as the film of a newly-blown soap bubble.

Mother and child sketch, by Marija Smits

Me & my girl (Mother and child sketch) by Marija Smits

But there will be more that you won’t have anticipated. Fear will be an ever-present companion to this deep maternal love. For by witnessing, and being an active participant in the miracle of birth you will also understand death better. You will catch a glimpse of your mortality, and your child’s mortality, and it will shake you to your core.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you. This knowledge, so vast, will be useful. It will deepen your understanding of the world and yourself. It will help you to grow as a person. And your husband will always be there for you, to help you absorb this new, vast, knowledge. He will hold your child with great tenderness. He will support you. He will protect you.

But fatherhood will change him too, although the change won’t be as drastic. You will have to work harder at communicating with each other. You will have to trust your instincts and parent your children in the way that you both want to, rather than how anyone else wants you to. You will have to learn how to assert on behalf of your new family unit and your husband will be your most loyal ally.

Yet it won’t be a smooth journey. You will have to learn how vital clear communication is. You will have to be creative in how to meet the needs of your little ones and your needs as a couple. Be patient, listen to each other. Know that your husband is ‘always on your side’. You will find a way.           

There will be more too… more things you won’t have anticipated. You will find birth to be an empowering experience. You will be amazed by the strength of your birthing body. You will also find breastfeeding and co-sleeping and carrying your little ones in a sling to be deeply satisfying. You will find a tribe of like-minded mothers and share the joy of breastfeeding with them. You will become passionate about helping mothers to breastfeed and the necessity of normalizing breastfeeding in our society. You will become a breastfeeding counselor and meet some wonderful women who will play a large part in your life. You will discover life-changing books and then set up a small press with the aim to publish books that normalize breastfeeding and celebrate empathy and femininity. You will sometimes wonder at how your life so suddenly changed direction, and for the better.

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits        

And lastly… along the way you will come to understand and accept your true nature. Remember all those many, many times, and those many, many years, when you thought that there was something wrong with you because you somehow always felt too much, much more than anyone else seemed to? You will come to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with you. Other people have those feelings too but you (like many others out there too) experience them with a greater amplitude.

Some days you will hate being what is now recognized as a Highly Sensitive Person, because you’ll hate not having a ‘dimmer’ switch in your brain; you’ll hate that when you get an illness or an ache in your body it will niggle at you constantly and then turn into a monstrous fear that there’s something seriously wrong with you. You’ll hate that guilt and shame for past misdemeanours will often threaten to cause you to want to rip yourself apart, out of life itself, and you’ll hate that sometimes you feel as though human interactions aren’t worth bothering with because they’re a minefield of subtle physical and verbal gestures (yours and the other person’s) that are just so complicated that they send your mind reeling. And as much as you love, love, love your children, you will hate that there will be days when their arguments, shouting and never-ending stream of questions and requests will jangle your nerves so much that your normally patient self will snap! and then you’ll feel so bad that you’ll want to crawl into a hole and never, ever come out. You will hate that shopping or the school run is a big, big deal because of the noise and the possibility that something untoward might happen. You will hate the feeling of powerlessness you’ll experience when you know that politicians and giant corporations are doing scary, scary things to our planet and inhumane things to the humans and animals in it. You will cry when you see another human in pain on the news, and you’ll have to turn it off, and you’ll hate yourself for being overwhelmed by the pain and overwhelmed by the feeling that there is very little that you can do about it.        

But then there are the days when you wouldn’t swap being an HSP for anything. Those are the days when you’ve listened with empathy to a loved one and felt that you’ve helped them a little; the days when the sight of a blue sky can cause you to weep with joy; the days when you write something you’re pleased with or you make a good job of editing something for someone else; the days when you create art (something you’d always wanted to do but was frightened of doing for fear of it being wrong); the days when someone out of the blue says that an act of charity or an act of kindness you performed a while ago helped them; the days when the love for your family flows out of you and you thank God and all the stars in heaven that you got to be blessed with this beautiful family who love you so much.

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

I know that you’re probably weeping as you read this; I know because I’m weeping as I write. But you know, that’s okay. This is who you are. This is what you always will be, and it is better to know yourself than to not know yourself. This is the bittersweet gift you have been presented with: self-reflection.         

Try not to spend too much time worrying the future. Get yourself a couple of books Quiet & The Highly Sensitive Person (they will help you to learn all about yourself and people like you) and People Skills (so that you can learn how to communicate better and assert for yourself since passivity is another unfortunate trait of the HSP). Get hold of a couple of good books about mothering and breastfeeding (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 7th edition and What Mothers Do for a start) and then you’ll pretty much be sorted. Oh, and keep on reading all that fiction – especially fairy tales – that sustained you through your childhood and early adulthood. It will be a constant source of comfort and a magical escape from the everyday stresses and strains of being a sensitive soul in a life full of noise, cares and people who say you need to get a thicker skin. (You don’t, you’re fine as you are, [but knowing that a useful critique of your work is not a criticism of you as a person will help!]

Sending you much, much love.

M x

 

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dear Me. — Meegs at A New Day writes to her decade-younger self offering a good reminder of how far she’s come, and she addresses some fears she wishes future her could assuage.
  • Reflecting on Motherhood with Parental Intelligence: A Letter to Myself — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence writes about raising her two loving, empathic sons with Parental Intelligence and finding they have become industrious, accomplished young men with warm social relationships.
  • A Letter to MyselfThe Barefoot Mama writes to herself in the moments around the birth of her daughter.
  • A Letter to Myself — Holly at Leaves of Lavender offers a missive to herself in the past… three years in the past, to be precise, when her little one was only four months old.
  • Dear me: Nothing will go the way you’ve planned — Lauren at Hobo Mama gets real with her just-starting-parenting self and tells it to her straight.
  • A Letter to the Mama Whom I Will Become — Erin from And Now, for Something Completely Different writes a letter to the Mama whom she will one day be, filled with musings on the past, present, and future.
  • Dear Me of 7 Years Ago — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes to her pre-baby self telling her about the whirlwind she’s about to enter called parenting.
  • Talking to My 18 Year Old SelfHannahandHorn talks to herself as she is just entering college.
  • Dear highly sensitive soulMarija Smits tells a younger version of herself that motherhood will bring unexpected benefits – one of them being the realization that she is a highly sensitive person.
  • Talking to myself: Dear Pre StoneageparentStoneageparent enlightens her pre-pregnant self about the amazing transformations life has in store for her after having two children
  • Dear Me: I love you. — Dionna at Code Name: Mama wrote herself a few little reminders to help her be at peace with who she is in the moment. That may give her the greatest chance of being at peace in the future, too.
  • My best advice to the new mama I was 8 years ago — Tat at Mum in Search shares the one thing she wishes she’d figured out earlier in a letter to her 8-years-ago self (that’s when her first baby was 6 moths old).
  • A Letter to Myself — Bibi at The Conscious Doer sends a letter back in time eight years to her darkest moment post partum.
  • To me, with love — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama makes peace with her past and projects what a future her will need to hear.
  • To Myself on the Last Day — Rachael at The Variegated Life tells her panicked last-day-before-motherhood self not to worry.

Things I have done today (and every other day for the past seven years)

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.

***

Things I have done today: 26th February 2015

 

  1. Wake and breastfeed my son.

 

  1. Persuade my sleepy daughter to get dressed and ready for school.

 

  1. Throw on some clothes over my own pyjamas.

 

  1. Take my daughter (whilst carrying sleepy son – still in his pyjamas) to school. Cuddles and kisses all round as we wave her off.

 

  1. Come home and eat some breakfast in the kitchen while helping my son, J to make a big tower from boxes of tea on one of the counters. I pass the boxes back to him when they topple over.

 

  1. Sit at our art table and begin to draw. J sits beside me and organizes his pencils. He tells me that I should put more colour into my drawing. He draws a picture too and we (mostly) swap compliments!
Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

  1. J then wants his ‘plano’ (a tinny-sounding electronic keyboard). We hunt for the plano (even going into the attic to have a look) but there’s no plano. We phone daddy who is at work. He tells us it may be hidden in the kitchen. We find the plano!

 

  1. I start to clean the bathroom (it desperately needs doing!). J plays his plano. I hope that this will keep him busy for a bit but it doesn’t. He soon wants to do some baking, and so he goes downstairs. It is quiet as I scrub the inside of the shower and take out gunky bits of goo with a pair of tweezers. Note to self: clean the tweezers before I use them on my eyebrows.

 

  1. It is too quiet. I ask J what’s going on. ‘Sorry mummy, I made a mess.’ I go downstairs and discover a ‘semolina soup’ in a Tupperware container. There is semolina on the table and the floor. It’s not too bad. I’ve seen worse. We clear up the spilt semolina and my young scientist/chef says he wants to add baked beans to his soup. He gets out a tin and I help him add JUST THE ONE SPOON.

 

  1. I help J to cook his semolina soup in the microwave. He’s adamant that it’ll be delicious. He eats a spoonful and then says it’s too hot. He goes off to make a ‘shop’ in the lounge. I go back to cleaning the bathroom, and occasionally encourage him to come up and help me.

 

  1. I try to have a shower, but J says he now wants to play with me. I get all huffy and a bit shouty – I’m feeling grubby and I want that shower! Then I feel bad and help him to build a slide out of beds. I remember to cut myself some slack: Hey, I’m doing all right! Before I enter the shower I see J playing with some blocks. The slide’s already got boring.

 

  1. Have a shower, get dressed. J goes downstairs while I dress. It goes quiet again. I go downstairs and discover black paint all over the art area desk. A big bouncy ball is sitting in the black paint, dripping with paint. I do my best to clean the desk and J. We then go to the kitchen and cook scrambled eggs and beans. J helps me with cracking the eggs into the frying pan. He even stirs them about with a fork.

 

  1. We eat our lunch and then J goes off to play by himself. I tell him that I’m taking him to pre-school soon and so I try dressing him. I try but it’s not happening. He says he doesn’t want to go to pre-school and I end up chasing him around the dining table, looping around it about 20 times. I’m puffed out and I realize that we’re evenly matched in this race. I use my mama strength and start to block him in a corner by moving the dining table. He realizes that I’ve got him now, so we talk constructively about how I can help him settle in pre-school.

 

  1. I give him a quick feed and then we go to pre-school and J is happy. He’s really involved in the counting they’re all doing and although I tell him a few times that I’m going now he doesn’t take any notice of me.

 

  1. I go home, slightly worried that J may be unsettled when he realizes that I’m no longer there. I make a strong coffee, worry a little more, then focus on the work at hand: answering emails and editing a short story. I’m a little surprised and disappointed at how little I get done in 2 hours.

 

  1. I pick up J who is happy, but then I ask the careworker how he was, and apparently he was upset for a minute or two when he’d realized I’d gone and he’d forgotten to say goodbye. He was okay soon enough though, she says, but still, I feel bad. I try to mentally give myself a hug (while giving him lots of hugs course!).

 

  1. We go home (it’s not far) switch on the telly, watch it for 5 minutes and then go back out to school to pick up my daughter.

 

  1. And then it’s snacks and swimming… When they’re both in the water I get out my note book and write for a tiny bit. Then it’s back to running after my son, whose lesson has finished. He has taken off his swimming trunks and is running into the shower. I get wet as I walk into the public showers in order to persuade him to put his trunks back on. My daughter looks on and giggles. They stay in the shower for as long as they want (well, until all the other kids have gone) and then I manage to grab a big changing room for all three of us and J has a quick feed as I’m getting him dressed.
J and I, photo by Marija Smits

J and I, photo by Marija Smits

  1. Shopping with the kids – always a bit fraught, and then home again, to a bit of social media while they watch telly, and then cooking. My husband comes home, tired and weary, and we eat together, sharing the highlights of our day.

 

  1. I help J build a machine (gluing and sticking cardboard and then painting) while trying to get a tiny bit more of my drawing done. My daughter, R does her homework with her dad.

 

  1. Then it’s bedtime shenanigans, with books to be read, ‘sneaky’ snacks to be eaten… Sandwiches for tomorrow to be made. Teeth to be brushed over and over…

 

  1. By 10 p.m. J is finally asleep. I read for a bit, then make my husband and myself a cup of tea (he’s working on his computer) and I spend an hour working.

 

  1. Another cup of tea and then I write when everyone else is in bed and fast asleep. I lose myself to the world I’m building in my head, and finally go to bed at around 1 a.m. beside my four-year-old son. I feel incredibly grateful to still be able to snuggle up next to him. It won’t be long until he’ll want his own room like his sister (although she does still love to snuggle with her mummy). My mind returns to the book I’m writing and slowly… my thoughts become dreams.

 

  1. J wakes and stirs. I feed him back to sleep and then doze off myself.

 

Blue Moon, by Marija Smits

Blue Moon, by Marija Smits (the pretty-much finished version of the drawing I started on the day I wrote about). I think J still thinks there should be more colour in it!

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 10 with all the carnival links.)

The Cold Cup of Tea


Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).

 

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

***

 

'The Cold Cup of Tea' by Marija Smits

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’ by Marija Smits

The Cold Cup of Tea

 

An already-cold cup of builder’s-strength tea

is sat by the sink, and saying to me:

“I’m delicious, delightful, so drink me up, do!”

But I’m knee-deep in nappies, and children, and poo;

so call me again when I’ve sorted this mess

and have time to relax, and unwind and de-stress…

*

Later, much later, when the kids are asleep,

in my nightie and slippers I quietly creep

to the kitchen, and there is that cold cup of tea,

still delicious, still delightful, and still waiting for me…

 

MARIJA SMITS

(This poem was first published in Musings on Mothering, published by Mother’s Milk Books, 2012)

 

I wrote this poem about two years ago, when my youngest was still in nappies. Back then, every single day was hectic. It seemed as though no sooner had I dealt with one kind of bottom mess I had another one to deal with… The laundry machine seemed to be constantly on, with load after load of terry towels, nappy liners, wraps and body suits. As soon as I had met one child’s needs the other needed me. As soon as one household chore was completed another one needed to be done (and we’re not talking about fancy things like dusting ornaments but real heavy-duty stuff like cleaning very icky toilets!). When my youngest was hungry I could immediately satisfy him with a breast feed. When my eldest was hungry I’d rummage around in the cupboards hoping that some nutritious snack would be readily available to keep her tummy from rumbling. When I longed for a cup of tea and a little break… well, sometimes, I just had to wait until the end of the day when the children were asleep or when their dad (or their wonderful grandmas) could help me out.

It all sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It was tiring, of course, but looking after two children is tiring (no matter how much support you get, or what your mothering style is) but when I was in the thick of it I had the help of the lovely mothering (and breastfeeding) hormones to keep me going, and going, and going…

Now that my two are older it’s all rather hectic in a different way. Yes, they are independent enough now so that I can (mostly) enjoy a quiet cup of tea when I want to, but the list of ‘other’ essential chores grows: the ferrying to clubs, providing a listening ear for when there are friendship troubles, helping with maths homework.

And alongside all of this are the rest of the never-ending household chores…

I’ve been a mother for 7 years now and it seems ridiculous to say this, but it is only now that I really – and more fully – truly understand the implications of having a child. For this mothering work goes on and on… It will, no doubt, ebb and flow in its intensity but I am in it for the long-haul and more aware – and so better prepared for – its many seasons. It is also now that I feel immensely grateful for all that my own mother has done (and continues to do) for me and my children.

Mothers, what you do is valuable, it is necessary. Go make yourself a cup of tea and take a well-earned break. Better still, get someone else to make you a cup of tea. I hope you get to enjoy it while it’s still hot 😉

***

Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here:

http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/carnival-2/

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.

‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.

‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.

‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.

‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.

‘Baby Body Shame: it’s Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.

Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.

Mother(hood)

Love this poem entitled ‘Motherhood’ by Jessica Starr of every day magic at the end of this video of snippets from the anthology Musings on Mothering. Of course I’m biased (I edited the anthology) but still… that poem is very, very special. Enjoy! 🙂

Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the writing prompts – they make me move my ‘writing butt’ (well, most months!).

 

Words to live by: “I’m on your side”

Being a mother of two children – one who is 6 years old and one who is 3 years old – means that I spend a lot of my time helping to calm nerves and sort out disputes. It gets tiring (particularly when I’ve only been awake for half an hour and had to ‘referee’ a couple of arguments already!) yet I know that this is normal. Squabbles between siblings is part and parcel of growing up and it’s my role to help ease the situation and find positive outcomes for all.

 

Arguments, frayed nerves and short tempers (and sometimes long, cold silences) are some very obvious ‘symptoms’ of unhealthy (or poor) communication. And of course things such as stress, tiredness and illness only serve to make a person’s communication skills even worse. As part of my training to become a breastfeeding counsellor I learnt a lot about the importance of clear communication – the value of listening, really listening, and how to respond to a person who is asking you for help. The excellent book People Skills (by Robert Bolton) taught me a lot about the many, every day ‘roadblocks’ to clear communication which many, many humans can’t help but use. They are things such as:

 

Logic (avoiding the other’s concerns)

Person 1: “I’m so upset about getting my writing rejected.”

Person 2: “Don’t be upset – it happens to all writers.”

 

Advice (sending solutions)

Person 1:  “I got locked out and now I’m stuck outside my own home!”

Person 2:  “What you need to do is keep a spare set of keys on you all the time.”

 

Criticizing

Person 1:  “I’m soooo tired.”

Person 2:  “Well, if you hadn’t stayed up late, writing your blog, you wouldn’t be feeling awful today.”

 

Right now I kind of want to punch person 2, although person 2 may well be a loved one who, at heart, only wants the best for me.

 

There are so many ways to easily improve communication – listening being the main one – for what, after all, is Person 1 really trying to say in all these scenarios? And what would they appreciate Person 2 saying to them? (I’ll leave you to figure out the interesting back stories…!).

 

Of course we can’t instantly become great communicators, or know exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right moment. But if we keep listening and keep asking ourselves what it must feel like to be in that other person’s shoes (aka empathizing) it would definitely improve matters. My children (like many other adults) don’t know all this communication-skills jargon so I make it nice and simple for them. ‘I’m on your side’ I tell them. And they look at me with hope. They realize that I want to listen, and that I want to help them figure out a happy solution.

 

"I'm on your side" by Marija Smits

“I’m on your side” by Marija Smits

 

When either I or my husband find ourselves down, let’s say, an argumentative path, we do our best to stop and remember: ‘I’m on your side.’

 

That’s all it takes. ‘I’m on your side.’

 

 

p.s. and yes I’m person 1.

 

***

Many thanks again to Amanda at writealm for the daily writing prompts (although I only seem to be able to do one a month!).  They are much appreciated :-)

 

Finding peace in painting

Over the past ten years I have done a lot of painting. Of walls, doors, ceilings, door frames and skirting boards. Also some painting of the outside parts of the house. I loved choosing the colours and considering what fabrics and furnishings would best complement the colour on the walls. This, I thought, would be the closest I got to ‘real’ painting, as – sigh – I still well remembered the lack of comment from my art teachers when I proudly presented them with my own paintings.

Art, I thought, was simply something I had no aptitude for. No teacher encouraged me or gave me praise; no teacher gave me any basic skills or techniques. Yet, undaunted, I tried again and again… At age sixteen I bought a basic set of watercolour tubes and did a bit of painting at home. However, the paper crinkled as I added the watercolours, I didn’t know how to mix the paints properly to get the colour I wanted, and I was disappointed with the results.

At age eighteen, when I started university, I gave it another go. I bought a book on watercolour painting and tried again. It gave little information as to how to get started properly. It was a kind of ‘dive in and give it a go’ book (sorry to have to say it, but it was poor). I was disappointed again and lost heart. I put the tubes of paint away, and the one tiny sketch book of decent paper that I had now realized was key for painting watercolours successfully and forgot all about it. I was just not meant to paint…

I can’t help but think of the analogies here between the art of painting and the womanly art of breastfeeding. For women ‘ do not breastfeed in isolation’ i.e. if no one was to give a new mother useful tips about positioning and attachment, or how to keep her milk supply plentiful then she will not have the tools/techniques to maintain a happy breastfeeding relationship. And if there is no one encouraging her, giving her praise for her efforts, then it is all too understandable that breastfeeding becomes something ‘she was just not meant to do…’ 

Paint materials, photo by Marija Smits

Paint materials, photo by Marija Smits

Almost twenty years later, having encouraged my daughter and son to paint, to have fun in creating swirls, splodges and – whatever! – I thought to myself, why not? They’re having fun, so why can’t I?

I dug out my old paint tubes – and my one tiny sketchbook – and invested in some new paper and decent brushes. I borrowed my husband’s excellent book The New Encyclopedia of Watercolour Techniques by Diana Craig and Hazel Harrison, and began to really learn things in the snatched moments that I read and studied the book.

I have found great joy and peace in painting – particularly as in the past few months I have received more writing rejections which, of course, have disappointed me. I am so, so proud of my first attempts at ‘art’ and wonderfully, too, painting has inspired me to write poetry about painting, which again, I am so, so grateful for.

If you’ve ever thought ‘I was just not meant to do that…’ about any creative activity, I’d urge you to rethink it. Unlearn what you’ve learnt, and just give it a go. Whatever the world thinks of your painting/poetry/sewing/cooking/knitting etc. it doesn’t matter. You would have put in some valuable soul-work in the actual creation and the rewards will be many.