A difficult day

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The nuance of connection

Tuesday was, without a doubt, a difficult day for my son.  He is recovering from a virus which has obviously been causing him a great deal of discomfort, alongside growing a full set of teeth at the same time.  Not easy.  Especially not easy for a toddler who is busy grappling with the power of his body and emotions on a good day – let alone on a more difficult one.

Tuesday was also a difficult day for me.  Finding myself unable to shake the disapproving look of the woman in the book shop that morning as my son threw himself on the floor and proceeded to bump his head, that look stayed with me all day.  It gently corroded my confidence in parenting my boy, who was finding the day equally as bewildering and exhausting as I was.  Except we both had the expectation that I should have been able to do something to change it. Instead the day ended with him in my arms, sat at the dinner table, dinner half cooked, both of us crying, when my husband walked through the door.

As my husband graciously took over and I was able to find some space to reflect, it became apparent that I had become subject to an incredible amount of guilt around not knowing how to fix the situation.  I realised that the perceived criticism from another had not only set the tone of our day, but that it had left less space for me to tune into what my boy might have needed, giving us even less of a chance of getting there.  Instead, it had opened up a space where my own pre-occupations and insecurities could thrive.  In my mind the difficulties had built up like a huge tower of Jenga which was going to come crashing down on our heads at any moment.

This didn’t leave me any space to remember the moments of joy.  The trundle down to the park at the bottom of the hill, my son taking great pride in every step.  Watching his smiling giggling face come rushing towards mine as I pushed him on the swing.  Walking with him hand in hand up the high street whilst he marvelled at everything we passed.  His little smiling face peering over my shoulder and saying ‘boo’ as I cleaned the floor after lunch.  Picking him up for another tearful cuddle and discovering that blowing raspberries all over his face immediately rights all wrongs in the world in that one sparkling moment.

Revisiting my role in all of this, I came back to what he needed me to do.  He needed me to be with him.  Regardless of what that involved being with, he needed me to show up.  To be alongside him in all his pain, anger and frustration.  To hold him through his fear as he momentarily realises that I actually cant read his mind and frighteningly he cant clearly communicate what it is he desperately needs to tell me.  To gently hold the boundaries, whilst listening and meeting him wherever I could.

Which also happens to be the bread and butter of my life as a therapist.  As is acknowledging the need and significance of rupture and repair.   As described by Dr Allan Schore, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbfuBex-3jE&sns=em) it is in the interplay of rupture and repair that resilience is allowed to develop.

“The ability to repair ruptures is what allows for the tolerance of negative affect”

Dr Allan Schore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbfuBex-3jE&sns=em – find him at www.allanschore.com

So it is in all those magical moments of connection, however momentary, that the real work of relationship and resilience is being woven.  My initial guilt, shame and slight terror that this is what toddlerhood has in store for us, eclipsed the real beauty and intricacy of our relationship.  I can have a tendency towards perfectionism, which at its best drives me to work hard, but at its worst does not allow for nuance, the bitter sweet, the light and the dark.  It is my hope for my son that he can embrace all of these things, both in himself and in others.  As we go on in our journey together I realise that not only am I helping to show him the world in all its colours, he is also reminding me of the colours I might choose not to see and showing me how truly beautiful they are.

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Apologies and gratitude for a dear friend

It’s been a tough week.  It’s been a tough few weeks in lots of ways, but this week has been particularly rough.  Aside from the whole family having a terrible tummy bug and having to cancel plans we were all looking forward to, we’ve had to really think about whether  a very important member of our family is able to stay with us.

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Ottis is in the foundations of our family, he was the first to bring our family of two into a family of three.  He has been with us through three location moves, four house moves and eight jobs between us.  Ottis was there when he and I used to go walking on the beach every day after work, when I would dream of our little family becoming bigger.  He was there the day that I found out I was expecting our little boy.  He was there all the way through my pregnancy, in sickness and in health.  He was there the day that our little boy decided he was going to join us.  I have a photograph of Ottis standing with his paws on my shoulders as I breathed through an early contraction.  Ottis, regardless of the situation, regardless of the long working hours and the walks cut short in the rain, was always there, wagging his tail.  Mike and I have been married eight years this year, Ottis has been there for seven and a half of them.

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By my side.  The day I found out I was expecting.

This is not to say that our doggy love affair has not been without its challenges.  Having diligently read up on spaniel breeds and considered which would be the right one for us, I would certainly say we underestimated the level of enthusiasm and energy with which puppy Ottis would approach absolutely everything…a hundred miles an hour sounds sluggish.  Despite numerous doggy training courses, doggy psychologists and two sets of dog walkers, Ottis continues to bark, pull on the lead like a whole pack of huskies and do all the things that we were told with due diligence he would learn not to do.  But alongside that, his enthusiasm and passion for a game of fetch remains insatiable (and the only thing to bring him back on to a lead) as does his loyalty and affection, despite the humongous changes in his doggy world over the last two years.

Which brings us to our problem, Ottis is not a fan of young children.  It’s not a new problem and one that we have always known we would need to work with.  Although in puppyhood he spent what we thought was lots of time socialising with dogs and children on the beach and at the park, around the age of two his attitude towards both started to change. A problem that I have recently learned is apparently quite common with some spaniels.  Had we known that this was going to be the case, we would of course have been taking him to every local park in his puppyhood, encouraging all the young children to play, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

We had hoped the vets prediction that Ottis would come to see our son as part of the pack over time would come true and that his nervousness would subside.  Indeed this seemed to be the case for a while, but slowly as our little boy has become more mobile, Ottis has found him more and more difficult to be around.  I have not wanted to admit it to myself and I suppose its partly my response as a mother, but as a result I have been finding Ottis harder to be around.

This rupture in our relationship was only bought to my attention when talking it all through with the doggy behaviourist at our local kennel, who thankfully knows Ottis well.  Suddenly I saw the situation from Ottis’ point of view.  I felt so very sad and shocked at my self; shocked that my relationship with our dog had deteriorated so badly that it was not only having a negative impact on him, but on us all as a family.  The transition of becoming a mother and the pressures of meeting the needs of this new fragile little being having had much more of an impact than I had been aware of.  I thought I had been aware of most of it as it was happening.  I was wrong.

Its early days, but after much soul searching and further conversations with our doggy behaviourist friends we decided that we need to make changes to accommodate both Ottis and our son, in a way that keeps them both safe and happy.  I’m glad that so far this seems possible and my hope is that as my relationship with Ottis gets stronger again, his level of trust will grow strong.  This giving us the best chance that when our son is no longer a waddling toddler, he will grow to trust and love the more predictable little boy he will become.  It might not work, in which case we may have to cross those heartbreaking bridges when we come to them.  But at the very least I will give everything I can to keep our little family safe and happy.

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Although it has been heartbreaking, with nights spent sobbing on my part wrestling with what to do, it has also been the wake up call that I needed.  All relationships require work.  Without realising it I had let our relationship slide, I had stopped putting in.  The cupboard had become bare.  I was starting to become conscious of the deficit, but I couldn’t grasp what it was that was going on, or what needed to change.  As I’ve said, it’s early days, but it’s reminded me of how much connection is about exchange; it may not be like for like all of the time, but there has to be an exchange, a giving and a receiving.  Communication and empathy, which when lost give way to isolation and defensiveness.  These are things that I have been wrestling with in other parts of my life, but it is the canine black and white flurry by my side that has nudged me with his wet nose, reminding me of my humanity, bringing me face to face with my vulnerability, and with my ability to change when something isn’t quite right.

Thank you, Ottis.

 

Mono no aware

Mono no aware has always resonated with me.  It is a Japanese concept referring to impermanence and the fleeting nature of beauty.  It refers to a wistfulness, inferring that the transience of life makes it all the more poignant. Sometimes referred to as “an empathy towards things”, it describes a bitter sweetness in our experience of being human.  It is traditionally illustrated by the image of cherry blossoms; the short term nature of the beautiful flowers followed by their absence.

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At different times in my life I have had a greater or a lesser sense of mono no aware.  I remember feeling invincible at times, like the rules didn’t apply to me.  On the face of it you might imagine this was a carefree and enjoyable existence and at times it was.  However on the same thread there was an unavoidable recklessness to it.  I also remember feeling for a longer while than I would like as if life hadn’t started yet, like it was possible to hit a ‘pause’ button.  This of course, is not possible and whilst I believe all our experiences make up who we are, the option of rewind and replay buttons have felt appealing at times.

Mono no aware suggests that we experience things more intensely when we are aware of their impermanence, something that I feel I have grown to appreciate (although I’ve no doubt it will only become more apparent as time goes on).  The idea that fluidity makes the colours more vivid & the landscape more beautiful. Watching my son grow and change in the knowledge that this time is so short.  Spending time with family and friends in the knowledge that the time that we all have together is fleeting, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

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That said, the notion of constant change being the one constant is sometimes hard to accept, let alone embrace.  This particularly within a culture that often seems to promote a sense of control and power, however much of an illusion this might be.  ‘Wabi-sabi’ includes acceptance and imperfection as part of a similar Japanese concept; imperfection being an essential part of beauty; acceptance being the key to human comfort.

So often for me it is separating what it is possible to change from what I might need to accept and perhaps let go of.  This has become all the more significant when thinking about my son, how he needs me to be able to facilitate change whilst remaining constant; to hold him and at the same time let him go.  It’s through my experiences with him that mono no aware seems all the more relevant; all the more important to bear in mind and not just for myself.  The hellos and goodbyes, the change from summer to autumn, an excitement about the cosy coming winter; we will never have these moments again.  I want to enjoy all the cherry blossoms before letting them go freely on the breeze.

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Show your working out

I remember spending a large portion of my early twenties looking around and marvelling at how other people seemed to be able to do things that I could only dream of doing half as well, and even then the likelihood would be that I would make an embarrassing hash of it.  A little later I started to realise that I too could have a bash at things; I got my degree, I got married, I got my first social work job, we moved from London to Brighton and we got our super charged Sprocker spaniel.

In the years that followed I completed my counselling training and started working with children and families in a more therapeutic capacity – something I had always hoped to do.  I also continued to be an adoring wife to my dear husband, moved to Dorset and in December of last year, became a mother to our beautiful little boy.

I could choose to portray this as a very straight forward journey.  In reality of course this was a journey full of twists and turns, a voyage with no map and no compass. and certainly no sat nav.  Details I have not included in my brief summary, to name a few, include; the myriad of complex decisions that had to be negotiated between my husband and I every step of the way; the continuing dialogue about how we negotiate our journey together, whilst staying true to our own individual paths, and my own excruciating uphill struggle to build and maintain even a shred of confidence in myself at times.

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This is not to say that these struggles or challenges are by any means complete, we are still very much on the journey.  I suppose what I had struggled to grasp for a long time was that the art is in the becoming, and that maybe our ‘arrival’ looks different from different perspectives, but ultimately we are still always becoming.  This is all the more powerful now being a mother; in my growth as a parent and poignantly in getting to know our son a little more day by day, who he is now and who he might become tomorrow.

Embracing every part of the journey, including its detours, its meanderings and its reconfigurations allows a certain freedom, permission to be allowed to make mistakes and to grow from them.  As someone who finds numbers a challenge, calling my blog ‘show your working out’ seems a fitting place to start, as much of a reminder to myself as anything else.  What I found paralysing in earlier years was the belief that unless I was ‘good’ at something to begin with, then I really shouldn’t go any further with it.  Embracing the process itself can make a difference between whether we feel fear or excitement, between curiosity and moving forward or whether we become something more stationary.

I am trying to write bearing in mind the bits that it might be appealing to leave out, being mindful of the potential for the glitter of gold in the muddy stream.  I am also writing whilst taking a break from my career and spending some very precious time with our baby son.  Writing from the place of a new role and a new journey to navigate.

Incidentally, as I  was finishing the notes for this post, with one hand on the laptop and one hand around our son, he climbed up from my lap, insisted on  kissing all of my face, in particular my eyes and explored each ear with unbridled love and insatiable curiosity.  May we never lose that.

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