22 June, 2014

A scene ...

Two female friends are chatting.  One, the one without kids, discovers that the one with kids is having a party. 

“You’re having a Halloween party?”  she says, surprised she didn’t know about it.  “When were you going to ask me?”

“Yes,” says the mother, guiltily, realising she hadn’t mentioned it to her childless friend.  “It will be full of kids, and I know you hate them.”

“I don’t hate kids,” No Kids friend says indignantly.  “And I love YOUR kids.”

“OK, good,” says the mother, defensively,“come to the party.”

No Kids friend is hurt.  The invitation seemed grudging and was most definitely an afterthought, she felt left out, and her love for her friend’s children had been discounted and forgotten.  She was losing her friend; a friend who was shutting her out, instead of inviting her in.

A scene from real life?  Not quite, but close to experiences I’ve had – though usually I found out about parties afterwards.  Or wasn’t forceful enough to say that I would have liked to be invited.  (So of course, it happened over and over again.)

No, this was a scene between Cristina and Meredith, on Grey’s Anatomy.  It was nice to see such a real scene, so subtly done, included in a popular programme.  So often these complexities of real relationships between mothers and their non-mother friends are ignored by modern media.  But not on Grey’s.  It was the first programme to – in my experience at least – show an ectopic pregnancy, and show some of the grief of that.  It was Cristina again  - she’s such a well-written character.  And I've written before about how they deal with the issue of women and mothers.  But back to the scene ...

The awkwardness of the conversation between the two, the hurt on Cristina’s face, and the guilt on Meredith’s, was authentic but not laboured.  It was simply there, to be seen and hopefully understood. Perhaps women who relate primarily to the mother would have interpreted the interaction differently?  I don't know.  But the episode ended with Cristina turning up to the party (having brought cupcakes as requested), looking at her friend so involved with her children and those of her friends, and quietly leaving, feeling she had no place there.

I was watching the end of a friendship – or at least, the changing of a friendship to something much less than it had been – and it was so familiar to me.  I had been there.  And even now, it makes me sad.

18 June, 2014

No more room for excuses

Tomorrow will be six weeks since my surgery.  Whilst I’m still under the care of my surgeon, and will be for a few more weeks until some issues are resolved, today I was cleared to start some gentle exercise, and resume most normal activities.

I have to say, I feel alternately exhilarated and terrified.  Both for the same reason.  Because now (or at least in a month or two) there is no longer any room for excuses.  The health issues that required me to have surgery have influenced my life over the last few years, and very intensely since we returned from our extended overseas travels late last year.  They have restricted my life in a number of ways, and this resulted in a loss of confidence and a mental block when looking at the future.  

But I'm pleased to report that right now I feel free, unencumbered, and enthusiastic about the future.  I remember that this is also how I felt years ago when I realised that I was enjoying life without kids. I realised that I was feeling professionally challenged and satisfied, personally buoyed by accomplishments and skills and feedback as a volunteer, and as a result, personally content with all that was going on in my life.

My aim is to get back to that place.  And the difference is that this time, I don’t have to overcome grief and self-doubt to do it.  … OK, maybe a little self-doubt, but that’s only natural isn't it?

11 June, 2014

Letting it slide

Some years ago I wrote an angry post about the way parents seem to assume that they are the only ones who have compassion towards children.  The use of the “as a parent” or “as a mother” precursor to an explanation of why someone feels compassion or empathy for a child or parent in a particular situation.

Lisa’s post over on Life Without Baby prompted me to look at my original post again.  I realise I still feel pretty much the same.  Yes, I still take offence at the assumption I don’t share empathy or compassion.  But I think I have one or two things to say about it again.

I don’t accept that people don’t intend to cause offence in all cases.  The “as a mother” comment deliberately excludes me.  And if they’re saying it to me, then there is offence, and it is possible the person is intending to cause offence.  People like to feel superior.  Parents - perhaps when they feel they're drowning in guilt, debt, anxiety, doubt, love, stress, sleep exhaustion, you name it - seem to like to feel.  But in order to feel superior, they need someone to be inferior.*  And if they’re saying that to me, then they are intending me to feel that way, to feel inferior, to feel less.  Perhaps not deliberately, but somewhere in their consciousness they must understand what they are doing.  I suspect I felt this way in 2010 when I wrote the original post.  I think I was just scared to say this. 

And that’s a difference.  I am not prepared to feel put down any more and just let it slide.  It doesn't serve me well.  And to be honest, I don’t think it serves anyone very well to just let it slide (depending on circumstances of course). 

By letting it slide, it allows parents to keep making non-parents feel less.  By letting it slide, we let them do it, and perhaps reinforce those negative, shameful feelings in ourselves. 

By letting it slide, we stop parents from seeing that in fact we are compassionate.  By pointing out that we too feel the same way (without the fear of these things happening to our own children), I hope they can see that we can play positive roles in their children’s lives, and that perhaps we understand more about their own lives and feelings than they have previously given us credit.  It helps everyone feel more included and understood, less alone, less riveted by shame.

And maybe it helps them fear less, recognising that there are good people out there looking out for their kids.  Because I think there is a lot of fear out there in parent-land.

All of this can only be good for the children too.

So I'm making a promise to you, and to myself.  I'm not going to let it slide any more.  I will, in the future, gently point out that non-parents are capable of loving a child and feeling compassion and empathy too.

Update: An article in our local newspaper reported on a teenager and a man who rescued a young girl from a river in flood.  "We did what we hope any person would do," they both said.  Amazing how just replacing one word - parent with person - makes a situation so much more inclusive, and gives me the feeling that society in general is a much better place.

*   I wrote about that last year, with - I hope - some degree of compassion and empathy.

08 June, 2014

Blogging block

Yes, as you may have noticed, I am struggling to post.  Pre-surgery, I would spend hours a day at my computer.  Of course, I am self-employed, so my computer is where I do my work.  But even when I’m not working (eg now), I climb the stairs to my office, and do stuff at my computer.  I sort and edit my photos, create my photo books (still haven’t finished the third from our summer/autumn overseas last year), write blog posts, read essays and articles, look for jobs, and watch The Daily Show.

Well, pre-surgery The Daily Show disappeared.  Or rather, New Zealanders were geo-blocked from its content.  I've discovered that was because it is now on one of our cable channels, and so I've been watching it from my red leather couch downstairs, where I have been recuperating from the surgery and pre-surgery illness. 

And I discovered that sitting at the computer for long periods of time is verboten.  Tiring easily and pain stopped me coming up here (for that is where I am typing this) for quite a while.  And typing (and commenting) on my iPad isn’t easy, and anyway, typing also requires me to sit up.  So blogging, and all sorts of other computer-related activities have been severely curtailed.  For which I apologise.

On top of all that, my mind has been swirling with Too Much to Think About.  I've been worried about the future (though I accept I can worry about that when I'm better), worried about my recovery (which is now going to plan), alternately worried about and frustrated with family, and angry about the misogyny that I see everywhere, and have been seeing since I was a girl, and wondering if it will ever change.  Recovering from a uniquely female surgery has I think accentuated my feelings of vulnerability and injustice over recent internet discussions.  Then to top it off the childless Pope tells us we will be bitter and lonely in our old age (is he?) -  at the same time condemning millions of people in the developing world to poverty and illness and maternal death and child mortality because he believes in "fruitfulness."  So my head hasn't been in the right space to post, even if my body was.

I promise that in a week or two, I will resume normal service.  Even better, I’d like to post more regularly.  There.  I've said it.  Make sure you hold me to it!