Oh, Breastfeeding.

August 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fifteen years ago I became a mother for the first time, and my breastfeeding journey began: through five children and a few little breaks between babies, it amounts to eleven and a half years of actual breastfeeding.  And this journey now seems to be at its end.

I have breastfed in trains and buses and cars and aeroplanes. I have breastfed whilst doing the grocery shopping, while watching movies, while snuggled up in bed reading a book. I have breastfed while bushwalking, at the beach, even whilst sitting in the boom net hanging off a boat as dolphins frolicked just meters away (did that twice, with two different babies). I have breastfed newborn babies, just minutes old, and three year old sons who could ask for the ‘boobs’ and make a grab for them. I have breastfed for hours on end, through growth spurts and comfort feeds, and I breastfed my last baby in 10 second bursts when he was seriously ill.

breastfeeding William,  2001.

breastfeeding William, 2001.

Now that baby is two and a half, and in typical Robin style (he must be different from his four siblings!), he has been initiating the weaning process.  For months now I have been gently introducing some boundaries around night time feeding, and now Robin is taking the lead, and taking things further.

He often asks for a breastfeed, manouvering himself into position, pointing and declaring “that”. But about a week ago he began sucking for a few seconds, then clamping down and biting. After my nipple was hastily removed (with an expletive or two: it is extremely painful), he giggled and moved off to do something else. This was the pattern for a few days.

Bedtimes became an issue all of a sudden – how would I get him to sleep if I couldn’t feed him? This is where Sol has stepped in, singing Robin to sleep some nights, and other times he falls asleep while Sol and I are chatting. But in the middle of the night, the baby has returned – rolling over and instinctively breastfeeding whilst still asleep. No biting.

Robin, just a few days old, 2012.

Robin, just a few days old, 2012.

A couple of days ago, Robin stumbled out to the lounge after a long sleep. He came into my lap, and began breastfeeding. My breath was held in, anticipating the bite, but he was still half asleep and in that instinctual space so it never came. It wasn’t long – a few minutes of feeding as he came into a more wakeful state. I must have known it would be one of the last ones. I looked down, at his hand splayed protectively over my bosom, lips apart, and a look of bliss of his sweet face. It occurred to me that he was getting much more than just milk in that moment.  He was consciously loving breastfeeding, consciously revelling in our combined energy, and loving the taste of the milk.

His eyes found mine and we shared a moment of loving awareness, and of mutual bliss. It was as though he looked into me and acknowledged the breastfeeding journey we have experienced together: the tender intimacy, and the touchstone that breastfeeding was for us throughout some very difficult times.

breastfeeding Robin in hospital, 2013.

breastfeeding Robin in hospital, 2013.

Last night, he did not roll over and seek the breast at all. I have not breastfed him for a day and a half now.

I think back on all the years of breastfeeding; of the times I hated it and felt trapped, the times of mastitis. Of the satisfaction that comes from being able to nourish a baby, the gratitude of that way to comfort when babes are ill or teething, and the moments of tender connection.

2 year old Robin feeding, 2014.

2 year old Robin feeding, 2014.

I breastfed Robin exclusively for twelve months. Twelve months! Throughout his illness, when I could only literally feed him for seconds at a time before he began coughing, I was so determined to be the one to nourish him. Amidst the clinical setting of the hospital and the intrusive wires, beeping machines, and endless monitoring breastfeeding made him my baby. And that was so deeply important.

I’ve been so lucky, and so blessed with breastfeeding. In many ways it is a relief to finish: it is tiring, often limiting in practical ways, and takes energy. But the end of breastfeeding heralds the beginning of a new phase – new ways of connecting with Robin that are not yet established. Will we still have that closeness? The end of my childbearing and baby years – who will I be now that I do not have a baby to feed? It has been so long that I really don’t know. The prospect is both exciting and terrifying.

 

 

The Crafting Minefield

August 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I began my crafting journey years ago, in a small community centered around the local Steiner school.  My teacher was known for her dyeing skills and simple toys – dyed clothes, felt and rest bags (among other things!), little wooden figures dressed in beautiful felt clothes, and a huge assortment of tiny gifts for tiny people: treasure bags, crystal bags, craft kits, and on and on. And other people were known for other skills: wonderful cloth dolls, or wooden items, or hand sewn clothes.

Anyone who has followed my blog or knows even a little about Steiner inspired crafts knows the very distinctive visual elements that mark it out. Rainbow colours in soft or bright, pure colours that invite the eyes to drink them in, natural materials, wool felt and fleece and wooden toys, along with an overall sense of great quality and beauty. Within the ideas that form the Steiner philosophy, there are a million things to create, and of course even the same hand sewn pouch doll can look radically different depending upon who sews it.

When my teacher moved away from the school, I was so excited to have the opportunity to step into the crafting space (so to speak) she left behind, as dyeing and working with wool felt were (and still are) my particular passions. As a young mother who chose to stay home with her babies, crafting (and selling) was the one thing I could do to bring in a little spare cash, all in the name of helping to pay for my children’s wonderful schooling.

Over time my own style has developed, and evolved into the items I now think I am ‘known’ for – hand dyed wool felt in solid colours or rainbow painted, felt pictures (hand embroidered by me), rainbow dyed clothing items and doona covers, and more recently hobby horses.

one of my purely original designs.

one of my purely original designs.

rainbow spiral cape - an item many people make, but always  original to each maker.

rainbow spiral cape – an item many people make, but always original to each maker.

heart decoration - made original by the use of hand dyed graduated felt.

heart decoration – made original by the use of hand dyed graduated felt.

Felt crowns: not an original idea but the use of felt and decorations unique to me.

Felt crowns: not an original idea but the use of felt and decorations unique to me.

A few years ago I became aware of the issues of copyright and originality in the crafting world.  As a semi-professional crafter, I have deep respect and wonder for the amazing products I see being created around me. I now aim to produce items that are my original work -and if they are inspired by something already in existence – I put my own style and ‘stamp’ on it.

However this year I have felt disillusioned with the crafting scene. From reading in magazines about small time professional crafters having their designs taken by a major retailing chain, to what I have observed on a local level: people copying other people’s work (to then sell for their own profit), sometimes anonymously, sometimes shamelessly. I support a diverse market, and I support everyone’s right to produce items similar to mine, but sometimes I feel frustrated with the lack of clear boundaries in this area.

I am left protecting my ideas and designs until the last possible moment, knowing that once an item goes on sale, it is fair game. I once had two women talk in front of me at a market about how they were going to take my original felt picture and turn it into a craft project for their own community, and another person ask me if she could photograph an item of mine so she could copy it at home! I suppose that is a complement in a way, and I have copied someone else’s work in the past – although I buy the item in question, and as mentioned before, make it my own.

I would love to hear your ideas on this issue. Am I being too ‘precious’ to think that I should be the only one in my community doing my ‘things’? Or is this area open game for everyone?

The Ball.

August 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

1407381731108For most of this year I have been wrestling with just how I can bring my children into greater harmony. They are often like shooting stars – going off in their own direction, to friends’ houses or sports games (how did it happen that every child chooses a different sport?!) I love it that they are gradually forging their own little lives, but I particularly want to nurture the strong centre that is the family.

There are moments: we recently had a few days’ holiday by the ocean, and I was touched one afternoon to see William holding Lily’s hand as we walked along the shore. Last week Samuel played hide and seek with his younger siblings.

Is it naive to want these moments to become the rule, rather than the exception?

As is often the way with serendipity, a rather simple and random addition to our household has provided the pathway to this goal: The Ball.

I use capitals for The Ball because it is not just any ball. Look around our house and yard and you find two basketballs, two soccer balls, a mini soccer ball, a mini basketball and numerous tennis balls. The Ball is different – bought by my mother for Robin: a cheap and light ball.

The lightness is the key – meaning that what is usually an outside toy now works as an inside thing – light enough to kick around in the lounge room without knocking things down or breaking anything. It is light and bouncy, so even the smallest of the family can throw a decent distance.

While the boys have been heading to their rooms to read or sleep after school lately, all of a sudden they are here, near me as I cook, kicking the ball to each other and making creative rebounds. Samuel loves a ball so much he will even kick with Lily (with whom he enjoys a love-hate relationship), while the ball is soft enough not to scare Lily into running away from it. And Robin, well, Robin will kick, roll, or throw with any person he can implore to ‘sit, SIT!’ as they walk by. No one can resist his tender implores.

And here it is: The Ball.

A Special Table

July 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Years ago, when my eldest son had just begun to attend the local Steiner school, I took Samuel to a Steiner Playgroup run by a good friend of mine.

As part of her preparations for the endeavour, she made a special table and bench seats: large enough for a group of ten or twelve children (and their mothers) to sit around, sturdy, and beautiful. In those days I admired the role of a Steiner Playgroup Leader immensely – the special connection forged with each individual child, the creativity, the stories brought to life, and the role modelling provided to younger or less experienced mothers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I used to dream of being all of that, and now, ten or so years later, I am (I hope) all of that, and even more. My friend kept this beautiful table of hers after she finished the Playgroup, using it at home. I knew, one day, that she would choose to sell it on, and was determined to be that person – mostly because I just loved the table. I had no ideas of starting my own Playgroup when she finally decided to let it go.

The table is bigger than any other I have owned. Perfect, as it turns out, for my large sized family. The first few nights of eating at this table felt amazing: a new sense of harmony was present in the room. All seven of us fit around the table with ease.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And when it inevitably became obvious that starting a Playgroup was a no-brainer for me, I already had the most important element: the table. The table is where we gather, we commune, and we communicate. A table of beauty gives something to the people sitting – a vibe, or creative inspiration, or simply a good feeling inside.

Every time I look at this table I think of my friend – my beautiful friend who continues to inspire me as she did way back when. I remember all the baking and eating I did at this table with other mothers and their children: the happiness that was present then. And I think of the new memories I am making with this table – with my own family, and now with a new group of Playgroup families who join me each week to bake, eat and connect.

Every time I look at this table my heart soars.

 

A new Venture

July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

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For the past few weeks, I have been busily preparing for my newest venture.

Toys and precious hand made items have been re-found, after sometimes years in storage. Fabric has been cut, dyed, and sewn: into aprons of course! And the house has been subject to a major de-clutter and premature spring cleaning.

This week saw the first day of the Gaia Playgroup. Eight little children came to my home (well, two of the eight were my own children!) with their mothers, and played, baked bread, sang, and scampered after our guinea pigs.

For five years I have run the Playgroup attached to the Steiner school my children attend – it was a glorious experience – a little job that nourished me as much as the families who attended. A role that I held through the births of two babies. I am so thankful for all the skills and awareness that role gave me. The songs, stories, and rhythm that is so natural to me now as breathing – elements that I can trust, and fall back on, as I embrace the little bit of fear that comes with now launching my own brand of Playgroup.

With five children, the eldest now fifteen, I have realised that maybe I do have some experience or wisdom to share with others. And more recently, I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to share one’s gifts with the world. It is such a privelige to be a part of the life of a child in early childhood, and to be there as a model, or inspiration, or sounding board for their mother.

This week the beginnings were humble. There is so much more I want to do, so many more details to include, so many stories to tell. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

 

I am Enough

July 12, 2014 § 1 Comment

 

Moments from the week: two children cuddling.

Moments from the week: two children cuddling.

Robin trying chopsticks at Yum Cha.

Robin trying chopsticks at Yum Cha.

A night time fire in the backyard.

A night time fire in the backyard.

Happy Birthday Samuel and William.

Happy Birthday Samuel and William.

As seasons slowly pass, I think I am slowly coming to a deeper acceptance of the eternal nature of life. It often seems that as soon as one issue feels resolved, a new problem or obstacle will surface, ready to be addressed.

I am ok with this, because it means that I am alive, I am conscious and awake and evolving. In fact, I don’t often think of these issues as ‘problems’, or as negative any more. They are just one more step in the journey of life, one more opportunity to let go and choose love in each moment…..well, that is the aim anyway.

Of course it is all too easy to sit and write these words when sitting in a space of joy. In the midst of tricky times, it can be really hard to remain in touch with that deep sense of acceptance. I think I have had one such moment this week.

How determined I have been to ride a wave of familial bliss throughout the school holidays. How determined…..to stay on top of the housework, cook great meals and take the children out for wonderful family bonding times. In my determination to avoid being the cliche of frazzled mother and fractious children, you can probably guess what has happened. I have become the cliche.

How I love them, and how I love having a large family. It has been coming on for a time now, this feeling of unease about the ages of my children (15, 11, 7, 4 and 2), and how best to engineer our days for greatest harmony and happiness.

The problem is that I cannot find a way. How can I resolve, dissolve, let go or transform this problem when my mind cannot find a way? With one boy in mid-adolescence and another on the way, it is like having three different sets of children, all with differing needs, desires and interests.

In summertime the beach or pool fits the bill, but those are not applicable in winter. The amount of inertia, and resistance involved in getting every child in the car for a day trip lately is prohibitive. And so, for the first few days of this week, we have done nothing much except a couple of trips to the park for kicks. And the inevitable ‘I’m bored’ comment has been heard more than once by the older ones. The young ones seem to entertain themselves most of the time. It is the older children who seem to be the stick-in-the-mud.

Or maybe I am the stick-in-the-mud. My ‘Aha moment’ has not yet arrived, my sudden insight that will open the doors and let me move on, somehow magically transforming the issue in the process.  So many children, so many differing ages, so many needs….too many for me to ever be enough.

And like a feather, floating gently down into my vision; there, right there, in the line above, is the key to all of this. I finally saw it as I was writing those words.

So, my new mantra: I am enough.

Mother/Daughter Winter Spiral

July 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

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The Winter Solstice is over, and this post is embarassingly belated. But I couldn’t let this night pass without recording it in some way.

Lily was very excited to be joining me at her first women only event, the annual Spiral Walk held at Dural, and hosted by dear friend and Wise Woman Yia Alias.

After some chai and snacks, and a brief meditation, we made our way down to the field, where a spiral was laid out in flowers and greenery. Everyone took turns walking inward, lighting their candle, and walking outward again, accompanied by the gentle singing voices of the women witnessing. First Lily walked alone, then she came with me for my turn too.

I had time and hands free for her to sit in my lap as we watched everyone else walk the spiral. Then she ran off to spend the rest of the night with the other daughters attending, and I connected with other women.

It was a special night – because a mid-winter spiral walk always is – but made even more special for the fact that Lily and I went together. Amongst five children, it is tricky to get some one-on-one time with a parent. After two sons, I am a bit nervous as my daughter grows older. How I want her to see these soulful events as a ‘normal’ way of life, impressed into her very being through her exposure through me. How I want her to develop a recognition of her own connection to Mother Earth, and of the value of woman centered community.

Lately I have been lamenting how mainstream our life seems, here in the suburbs. As a younger woman with much younger (and less) children, my vision for this time was rather different to the reality I now live. As time goes by I hope I am making peace with that, and trying as much as I can to bring nature, connection, soulful living and spirituality into the lives of myself and my children.

I can think about what I do not have, or I can feel lucky for the people I know who invite us to camp on their land and into their lives. I can feel blessed for the wonderful women I know who embody the qualities I aspire to hold, and to pass on to my children: women who can be there as subtle role models for my daughters. I can feel gratitude for the acknowledgement, for the wholistic and earthed passage into adolescence my daughter will experience, thanks to these women.

I am not alone, and neither will my daughter be.

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