Marriage and the Midlife Crisis

Last week it was my husband’s and my wedding anniversary. We celebrated with hugs and kind words and time spent pottering about with our kids, getting on with the usual chores. In the evening we had a takeaway and dessert. In quiet moments I reflected on our almost 20 years together (13 of them as a married couple).

 

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

 

On the day of our wedding, it would have been good if, along with the marriage certificate, we were given a guide to negotiating the ups and downs of marriage, but as no one presented us with such a guide, like many other couples we bumbled along and came up with our own. Although it took a while to craft, it is, thankfully, short. It goes something like this:

  1. Love and respect each other.
  2. Communicate well.

And voila! That is it!

In the early days of marriage, when we were in our late 20s, it seemed so simple. We had it all figured out. Go us!

But you know what… we got older. We had kids. We were constantly tired. Number 2 sometimes seemed impossible. Simply because there was no time to communicate, let alone communicate well. Time seemed to have sped up and slowed down all at once. There was no time to just be. No time to be alone with each other. But equally, sometimes time stretched on forever… particularly when one of the children was ill or teething or going through a particularly challenging phase of development. You name it… it seemed to go on and on and on…. When we were childless, the importance of time spent together hadn’t even crossed my mind.

So in the glorious muddle of early motherhood I made a note to myself:

  1. Spend time together (with or without the kids, depending on their age & needs).

As the children became more independent and the hazy days of early motherhood began to clear I thought, Aha! We have more time now! We’re back on track. But you know what? We were now middle-aged. And you know what happens at middle age, don’t you? Yep. The midlife crisis.

 

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

 

But this wasn’t something that I’d ever considered in my 20s. The midlife crisis was only for men who had a penchant for motorbikes, wasn’t it? Turns out I was wrong.

Suddenly at the midpoint of our lives, it dawns on us that time is beginning to run out. We still haven’t been to Australia, won the Nobel Prize or travelled in outer space. This is the time of the midlife crisis, which Jung says is frequently marked in men by a period of depression around the age of 40, and at a slightly younger age in women.

Some women seem to hit the midlife crisis when their children have all started school and they suddenly have a bit more freedom. Others, especially those who are working full-time, seem to have a later one when the children leave home.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

Whoa! This was serious stuff! And we both seemed to be going through it.

Not only are us middle-aged folk ‘psychologically vulnerable’ at this time, biology seems to be against us too. Our bodies are changing. Growing older. Hair falls out. Or turns grey. Hormones are in flux. Ovaries are on the downturn… For many women it is a last chance to consider having children. Men don’t experience quite the same fertility anxieties. Yet the possibility of other partners – younger spouses – often adds to the mix of the midlife crisis. As does realising that the ‘career-for-life’ (often chosen in one’s 20s) doesn’t quite turn out to be the right career. Where do you go from there – particularly when the weight of financial responsibility is on your shoulders? Job stuck. Heart stuck. Mind stuck. It all sucks.

I hope (I trust) we are through the worst of it, but you know what, it was sometimes rough. Sometimes more down than up. But what really helped was this:

  1. Communicating well.

Although there was the whole ‘figuring out how to communicate’ thing! In our 20s, talking to each other had always come easily, but real proper communication… well, first we both had to figure out how to do that. Turns out it’s dead simple. But hard. It consists of a) LISTENING to the other person WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (that’s a challenge!) and b) LISTENING to oneself and one’s own needs WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (again, harder said than done). After that, comes honest discussion, with solutions put forward for ways to work through the particular challenge. It’s about remembering that if you do still:

  1. Love and respect each other

in essence you’re on the other person’s side. So make time to talk. To listen. To find a way through a challenging time.

Also, in the midst of the midlife crisis muddles I remember thinking that self-reflection was (again) a real saviour. Figuring out that I was a highly-sensitive person as well as a limerent helped. So I added the following to add to the guide:

  1. Know thyself. (Though I think some Greek philosophers got there before me!)

Finally…

Midlife crisis, then, marks the return of the opposite, an attempt on the part of the psyche to re-balance. Jung says that this stage is actually very important, because otherwise we risk developing the kind of personality that attempts always to recreate the psychic disposition of youth.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

So the last point I’d add to the guide is this:

  1. Be mindful of life’s rhythms, and how these rhythms and shifts in circumstances can affect a relationship. Wild beings (Wild Man and Wild Woman too) instinctively understand the importance of taking note of natural rhythms. There will be ups and downs; as long as number 1. (love and respect) is still there, one of the most worthwhile things to do is to hold on to each other and find a way through.

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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!

Writing Bubble

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.

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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

 

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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.

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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!

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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.)

Pencil, paper… bright ideas!

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play

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 shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors.

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Like many other mothers I love to create. I enjoy baking, painting, drawing, sewing, knitting, writing and gardening. The list is endless! However, since I gave birth to my first child seven years ago I’ve realized that many of those creative pursuits seem to be (or are) incompatible with the actual business of mothering.

Yet over the years I’ve also learnt how important it is for my own wellbeing to have a creative hobby. So, like many other mothers I’ve learnt how to find pockets of time for my own creativity. Some mothers find that they need quiet, solitary time to create. Naptimes and evening times work best for them. I certainly appreciate quiet for drawing and writing, but I can no longer always rely on sleep times now for my own creative pursuits. Which is why I like to get creative alongside my children during the day. By doing this, I can guarantee that I get a little time for creativity each day.

As painting and drawing is something that we all enjoy this is something that we all tend to do if we have one of those days when it’s so cold or windy outside that no one feels like braving the weather.

Two things I’ve learnt from my ‘art sessions’ (as I like to call them) is this:

1) ‘Messy’ art that has the potential to stain clothes, carpets and surfaces are probably best avoided if I don’t feel I have the patience (or energy) on that particular day to be philosophical about the mess. (And by the way, I’ve tried various covers, table cloths, floor covers etc. but my son is too much of a genius of the random splash to fall for any of my cunning protective paint traps!)

Likewise, an art activity that uses very expensive materials is most likely to cause me to worry about how much of that material each child is using, and so again, perhaps making the experience less fun for everyone!

2) Having too high expectations of how much I can get done alongside my children is almost always a recipe for an unhappy mother. I’ve found that starting the art session with a ‘let’s see what happens’ attitude is much better than an ‘I’m going to get at least this done, and then this, and this…’ attitude.

So what do we like to do? LOTS!

At the moment, we’re very much into simple pencil (or pen) and paper fun.

  • One of the easiest things to do is the (what we call) ‘one line’ game. Each person has an A4 (or A3) piece of paper which they draw just the one line on. The line can be curvy, or squiggly, or spiky, though it’s best if it goes right across the paper, from one end to the other. When each person has drawn their line they pass it to their partner who draws something incorporating that very first line. It can be a landscape, or a portrait, or a funny doodle, or a something else — just use your imagination! Once you’re both finished, show each other your works of art. You’ll be amazed at what’s been created from just one line!
RB 'One line art' mountain range

RB ‘One line art’ mountain range

 

MS 'One line art' face

MS ‘One line art’ face

 

  • Another family favourite is the ‘crazy dudes’ game. Again, each person has a piece of paper (portrait orientation works best for this) and you each draw a head in the top quarter of the piece of paper. You then fold the piece of paper over the head (so that your partner can’t see the head, but only the base of the neck) and then swap pieces of paper. Each person then adds a torso below the neck in what is, roughly, the second quarter of the piece of paper. Once you’ve drawn the torso, fold the piece of paper over the torso (so that no one can see what has been drawn before) and then swap again and then draw the legs from the base of the torso. Fold the piece of paper over the legs once you’re done with the leg drawing, swap pieces of paper and then finally, draw the feet. Once you’ve both done the feet, swap and open up each folded piece of paper so that you can admire the ‘crazy dude’ you’ve drawn!

[WARNING: this game can get addictive.]

 

Three 'crazy' dudes (drawn by all the family)

Three ‘crazy’ dudes (drawn by all the family)

 

  • Which brings me on to more collaborative fun. As I particularly like to draw faces I can quickly sketch a something which I then pass on to one of my children. They add the body and the surroundings and voila! a new being has been created.
'Swimming teacher in the garden' collaborative art by MS and 6 year old daughter RB

‘Swimming teacher in the garden’ collaborative art by MS and 6 year old daughter RB

 

MS + JB collaborative art

Collaborative art by MS and 4 year old son JB

For more inspiration on this theme, do check out this incredible post:

http://busymockingbird.com/2013/08/27/collaborating-with-a-4-year-old/

 

  • Origami fortune tellers are also a lot of fun.
Origami fortune teller

Origami fortune teller

Here’s a good link for how to make one:

http://handmadebyjt.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/tutorial-origami-fortune-teller.html

But again, a warning — they can get rather addictive!

  • Then there’s the time-honoured ‘guess what I’m drawing’ game. Both kids like to snuggle up on either side of me and try to guess what I’m drawing. The first person to guess correctly what I’m drawing gets a point. And the first person to get to 5 points gets to be the next one who does the drawing. As we’re all quite attune to what we each like to draw from our imaginations (or surroundings) both guessers often guess the correct answer at the same time!
The drawing guessing game

The drawing guessing game. The object on the bottom right is a very old and deformed candle!

Willy Wonka's chocolate factory board game, by TCB

Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory board game, by TCB

 

So that’s just a small sample of the fun we have with pencil and paper (or magnetic sketching pad). However, once you bring in just one or two other items e.g. scissors and glue then you can start on all kinds of other fun arty paper crafts such as paper cutting or making collages from random bits of paper. (Cutting heads and bodies out of magazines and then adding your own drawings to them is really good fun too!).

  • I really like the idea of using up all the old paint swatches I have hanging around. I think this would make for a really fun project:

http://www.erindarcydesign.com/blog/rainbow-day-creations

(By the way — as you’d expect — my seven year old is more into paper crafts than my four year old who’s most happy with paper and pen, or paint. Actually, he loves glue, but the main game then becomes ‘what can I smear this on’!).

Of course we have days when we don’t just want to draw. Then we have lots of fun with paints or printing or marbling — all sorts! I’ve also gleaned a lot of ideas from the wonderful Amy over at Amy Hood Arts. Her e-zine ‘Art Together’ is inspirational!

The main thing is to have fun. I’ve been so inspired by just watching my children, and doodling alongside them. Their creations and their limitless imaginations feed mine; I always take away a whole bundle of ideas for future drawings/paintings after we’ve been having arty fun together. I’m sure that this stems from the fact that we have no great expectations, no fixed ideas on ‘how things should look’. The main emphasis is on play. And that’s how it should be.

Do let me know if you have any of your own favourite paper and pencil games — I’m always on the lookout for more!

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.” — Carl Jung

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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!
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(This list will be updated by afternoon November 11 with all the carnival links.)

Overwhelm and holidays

Before we went on holiday last month I was exhausted. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up work-wise, writing-wise, art-wise and the inevitable huge list of chores to do before we were suitably ready to finally leave the house…

I was very ready for a holiday. I took my laptop with me so that I could write but in the end I never even opened it. Getting away from home was good for me, and good for us as a family. I had a few very early nights, falling asleep when the kids went to sleep, and a few nights I stayed awake long enough to have a cup of decaf tea and to chat with my husband. We took our time to get ready in the mornings, spent most of the days at the beach (one day at a dinosaur-themed park) and also visited a castle. The only ‘officially’ creative thing I did was to sketch. Spare moments (mostly on the loo!) were spent reading.

 

Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits, August 2014

Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits (August 2014)

 

Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)

Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)

 

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A lot of the time I find myself just about ‘holding things together’ and I (mostly) fool myself into thinking that it’s manageable. This is probably because it is difficult to admit to being overwhelmed by looking after two children, running a household, trying to keep a small press afloat and maintaining enriching relationships with members of my family (and myself!). It is the age-old issue of pressure: pressure on oneself to be more than human and (perceived) pressure from society to be super-human.

From the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, I remembered reading about ‘chronic overarousal’ (or chronic overwhelm). This is when stress/anxiety levels have remained high for a long enough period to turn the highly sensitive person into a gibbering wreck. It also makes the person even more sensitive to stimulation, so that a small issue immediately becomes huge, so the whole thing feeds itself, becoming a cycle of overwhelming anxiety that is hard to break.

I think that before our holiday I had got to this state of chronic overwhelm. So reducing the amount I had to do, getting more sleep and more time out in nature all helped to put me on a more even keel.

Now that my eldest has been at school for more than a week I am getting back into the swing of things, and I am trying to remember the importance of keeping chronic overwhelm at bay, to keep going at a pace that isn’t too frantic…

There is a nip in the air; the soil is dry and tree leaves are beginning to turn red, gold, brown… I lament the loss of the summer, the passing of another season and a season so full of light, energy, things to do… Yet, autumn is a reminder that nature, itself, slows down. I would do well to heed that message.

Preserve

A week ago yesterday school broke up. On that last day of term I took my eldest (youngest in tow, as usual) to school, and the mood in the playground was celebratory. Children, and parents alike, were glad that the holidays were almost here. Yet there were tears too.

On the way to school I had noticed a mother sitting in her car, having already dropped off her child, crying secret tears. I guessed that she had a child in the last year of primary school and that this could well be her last school run.

Sigh… the last school run.

The move from primary to secondary school is a big one. There are many such moves, or transitions, in life and for those of us blessed with a sensitive soul they can be particularly fraught.

For mothers these periods of transitions — milestones if you will — are another reminder of things past… a phase in our child’s life that will never be repeated. And as much as we rejoice in their achievements and look forward to the good times in the future it is bitter, this cup.

There are many times that I’ve thought that I’d like to preserve my children, just as they are, right now. I would like this moment in time frozen, preserved forever, like the swirl of glass in a marble. For a happy childhood is a jewel indeed.

Yet it is not to be. And it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. This is what it is to be human.

But still… I long for control; to be more-than-human, to have the ability to speed up, or slow, or freeze time.

Yet it is not to be.

I can no more preserve this moment in time than a glass-blower can produce a marble without heat.

 

Marble, by Marija Smits

Marble, by Marija Smits

 

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With many thanks to Amanda at Writealm for continuing to provide this writer with inspiration 🙂

And p.s. if you want to draw a marble like mine above, go check out: http://www.art-is-fun.com/how-to-draw-a-marble.html It is an absolute treasure-trove of useful art-related stuff!