What if

So. Things have been relatively normal around here since Friday. Work, daycare, a rare night out to the movies…

It hasn’t been the easiest week. I drive past that bloody path, or nearby it, five or ten times a week, and without fail it makes me feel sick. Sick. I could actually vomit every time I look down on it from the overpass. I am so angry at myself that I couldn’t find a way to direct the ambulance better. I’m annoyed at myself, and, frankly, disappointed, that I wasn’t 100% there for jman, that I feel I lost it in his hour of need. That I couldn’t think up something more sensible to do than shaking him and shouting his name. That all I could think was “this isn’t happening, not “this is happening and you need to do something “.

This stupid dual thinking of being in the moment and outside the moment at the same time, disconnected from myself, from him. Hearing my stupid useless sobs.

I was bloody useless. And what if? What if he’d not started breathing? What then? What if? I think in essence all of this boils down to I am your mother this was very dangerous and to be a good mother I need to control ALL THE THINGS. to feel safe again.

I’ve done what I can since. I’ve complained about the emergency operator, though I haven’t heard squat since it occurred. I’ve notified his family daycare about what happened in case it occurs again.

I’ve booked an 8 night family holiday to the whitsundays (our first proper family holiday), because I’ve had a sudden lightbulb moment that life is bloody short.

I’ve been really frustrated with jman this week. Leaving the house is like trying to run through lava. He’s been waking up really aggressive and cranky (for him), not crazy bad, but just narky and uncooperative. He hates breakfast all of a sudden. And I’ve only just clicked about an hour ago that all of this behaviour might be head injury related. Derr.

After the observations in hospital, they did an ECG etc and everything was fine. The lumpy bump and graze turned into hardly anything at all, not even much of a bruise. They said he had a “reflex anoxic seizure” in response to the pain of the fall. He didn’t come good for a long time after that short (maybe30 second?) seizure. I didn’t recognise it as one at the time, and it was only when the ambulance officer described his son having one that it clicked. It was exactly as he described.

I feel at some times, totally normal.
At some times, I feel skinned. like I am walking around without skin, not just without clothes, without skin. Totally exposed and nothing holding me together. And I feel like there was a gossamer curtain between us and shittsville last Friday, that we only barely stayed on this side of it, that certain disaster is lurking. Because we’ve snatched it back from the brink too many times. IVF, haematomas, bad risks of downs, I feel like it is all back and currently happening all at once, like this has pulled out the drawer of the universes filing system of possible tragic events and they’re all just floating, free form, waiting for somewhere to land. I don’t know if it is possible to be hypervigilant and completely flatly without affect at the same time, but if its possible, that’s me right now.

I also know these thoughts are ridiculous.

It is hard to self care after events like these, when you are a mum. Because he just wants me. He’s clingy. And I feel as though I have an empty tank to start with. So I alternate between moments of really looking at him, thinking oh my god thank god you’re still here and oh my god why are you still here hanging onto my leg?

I’m going to follow up with a GP (dr) visit tomorrow, I think. His crankiness concerns me, as do the uneven pupils I spotted tonight. Another source of sleeplessness for me. The first night, we kept him in our bed so I could poke him and check him all night long. Since then, he’s slept really well, but he’s hard to settle and cranky on waking.

He was so happy over the weekend, though we were dosing him up with Panadol which may have helped. He was funny. His sentence making has made this huge leap this week. We’ve gone from “truck, mummy? Truck in bath?” To “I want the truck in the bath, mummy”. He’s testing out limits, and I can’t tell if the shouty shouty limit testing is “almost 2ness” or “head injury”.

“We don’t speak like that here, jman. We speak nicely to each other.”
“Can I have the ipad please mum, please”.

I find it worse when I can’t see him. When he’s not in my face, I’m on the express train to “What If”, and I feel sick. My chest feels tight.

I’m looking forward to our holiday.

Just breathe

Every reflective blog post in the world cannot prepare me for today.

Every on top of my parenting game we’re getting out crap together assurance, it is nothing.

Today, after a few hours working at home whole jman played garages and made imaginary pasta dishes, we headed out for a big walk. We haven’t done it for ages, as he was in between able to walk a long way and willing to sit in the pram. it was a walk of the wear you out before you nap variety.

Today, we went for a nice combo of pram and running alongside the pram. Jman was cracking along, having a great time. I was walking along, ironically, thinking of all the other times I’d walked this particular path. Like when I’d just got off bed rest after five months, and felt like we would finally have a baby. Like when I ran this path, during IVF, burning off the stress running, listening to Gotye’s Eyes Wide Open. This path has seen a lot of changes.

And Jensen was loving the pedestrian over bridge, which looks down on six lanes of very exciting traffic. We left the road and followed the footpath through a bushy reserve to get onto the next bridge.

Then it happened. He was running. I was pretend running beside him, pushing the empty pram.

He tripped and fell. He face planted on the concrete. With an audible thunk .

I stopped and swept him into my arms. He was doing the silent, open mouthed, I’m really hurt cry. I was, cynically, using the open mouthed cry to check his teeth, scoped out his two face grazes and made plans to stop and clean them up with water and wipes.

Then he arched his back, almost in a complete U. He went very white. He threw his arms out, rigid and straight.

I leaned to lift his head back to my shoulder when it happened. His eyes rolled back in his head. He went limp. His chest stopped moving. I shook him. First aid course or no first aid course, I had absolutely no idea what to do. I screamed his name. I could hear the panic in my own voice, watching myself from outside, He eventually took a great, shuddering breath, but his head still lolled around, he wouldn’t make eye contact, and his eyes rolled backwards every few seconds.

Somehow in all of this, I grabbed my phone, which is often lost in the bottom of a big confusing handbag. Luckily I grabbed it quickly. I crouched down, cradling him in my lap. I dialled. But I was also outside myself saying this isn’t really happening. This isn’t real.

The woman on the phone was telling me to calm down, no, shouting at me to calm down, before I’d even said a word. She didn’t even know who I was calling about. My son. This son, who is not breathing.

So I’m sitting in the middle of a bush path, with Jman, head lolling, cradled in my lap. Trying to talk this idiot through where I am. I’m between two overpasses, but I’m nowhere, nowhere easy.

And I’m taking her through the directions, and time is passing. And he’s changing, minute to minute. A long time passes. And I hear a siren. Driving past. Driving past us.

It seems to go on forever. I’m telling him to look around, pointing out bird, planes. He is not responding. He is staring into space, or his head is lolling, or he is drifting off into a sleep I am not sure he will ever wake from.

There isn’t anything to prepare me for this. How can this be? The stupid operator is talking inane crap in my ear. She is distracting me from focusing on him, on his condition. I want to kill her. I want him to wake up.

And then a council van pulls up, with the ambulance following. Thirty minutes may have passed. The ambo runs down a grassy verge and jumps a six foot high cyclone wire fence to get to us.

And the council worker opens a gate on the fence. And eventually, I carry jman in my arms up the hill to the waiting ambulance. And he looks up, and speaks. “Ambulance! Police car!”. And I breathe.

And I breathe.

Finally, I ring hub-in-boots from inside the ambo. The council guy offers to drop our pram at home. They test his pulse, blood pressure, blood sugar. We head into emergency.

They observe him for four hours.
He has a late (missed) nap on the way home.
He is currently running around insanely and jumping on the bed.
I am currently drinking wine.

Just breathe.

Making space

It’s a common refrain of mums group meet ups. Of Facebook posts. Of sisters’ Bitch sessions. Men are bloody useless. It is true, we have much better partners than our mothers did, in that they are partners in parenting, by and large. They can change nappies. They can cook meals. They can vacuum (sort of). They have emotional intelligence. They can hug their children and tell them they love them. They can wash a sippy cup (at times).

But not all partnerships are created equal.

It is the source of a lot of marital stress. It is the source of arguments and resentment. It is the source of a lot of quietly stressed mums with their heads down and bums up not saying a word, just getting on with the job(s).

Because when you have kids, the split of work done by wife / husband (significant other) isn’t 50/50. It probably isn’t 60/40. You’re probably doing well if it’s 70/30.

And often, we have that whole worky work employer type job, as well.

Yes, ladies, you can have it all. A family, a career, and that unique mummy stretched beyond belief misery. All of it.

But in the last few weeks, I’ve learnt something.

You have to step back.
You have to step back, for them to step up.

See, here’s the drill. You become a mum, right. Usually, you’re breastfeeding. This enforces you as the primary caregiver. When the child is attached to your body for 8 hours every day, it is hard not to be.

Then, your partner goes back to work. You look at the yawning stretch of 11-12 hours until they are home, terrified of this small creature you’ve acquired, unsure how you will make it through.

At some point, the making it through changes to rocking this gig. Mostly. There are still days where the next 45 minutes may break your heart and shatter your delicately balanced psyche. But for most of us, we find our mummy groove.

And the three hours trying to leave the house becomes a twenty minute turnaround. And you realise no one’s head will explode if you forgot the sippy cup. Not just this once.

And see, this is where we bugger it up.
We do it because we have to do it.
We do it because we’re terrified of the alternative.
We do it because our husband finding us still in our pyjamas at 6pm with sick in our hair is just not cool.

And our little forward planning brains, our “it’s three hours since he was up, I need a snack, a changed nappy and a soothing car ride” brains, they get hard wired into this stuff.

Our competence creates his incompetence. Let me say that for you again. Our competence creates his incompetence.
Feel free to chuck in a different pronoun to suit your situation.

Because then, on a weekend, for a family outing, you can dress bub, pack a bag, shower and dress yourself and feed everyone breakfast, in the time it takes your significant other to clean his teeth and find two matching shoes. So all of these tasks become your job.

You are so used to clock watching doing complex critical path analyses only seen in manufacturing environments, that you become the time keeper. Meal time. Bath time. Bedtime. These all become your decisions. Your rules to enforce.

And then you start to lose. Because then, not only are you the timekeeper, valet, chef and personal shopper, you are also the fun police.

So I had myself a quiet little campaign. I didn’t really think it through. I’m not that sinister. But I think it’s working.

First, I wouldn’t enforce bedtime.

“Should I put him to bed now, babe?” Hub-in-boots would ask.
“I don’t know!” I’d reply.

And jman would be up until 10pm. And sleep in. And make me late for work.

“He’s making me late for work” my email would say.

“Should I put him to bed now, babe?”
” I don’t know?” I would say.

And jman would be up until 8:30, or 9pm. And we’d manage. He’s always going to be a night owl. But I’m not the timekeeper all the time anymore.

Next, I wouldn’t screw my work up and make all of my days stressful with daycare pickups.

Sometimes it is really hard to leave lectures, when everyone wants to talk to you.

So one day a week, I got the bus. Hub-in-boots had to switch to an earlier start time, and do family daycare pickup. I can’t tell you the mental relief it brought me, to be at work just one day a week where I wasn’t clock watching constantly after 2pm, with one eye on daycare pick up. It is stressful. It hangs over your head.

And occasionally, I became unavailable to start dinner on that day. I would run late, or accidentally visit the shops.

“He was insane when we got home!” He’d tell me.
“Did you pack a pick up snack, for the car home from daycare?”
“There’s a pick up snack?”
“There’s a pick up snack. It makes everything more calm when you arrive home.”

He did the classic planning an overly complicated dinner with a hungry toddler error. He did the sat down when we walked in dinner will be ready at 8 error. I tried, and often succeeded, to not comment. Like iPhones, I do believe eventually husbands have an autocorrect. Like iPhones, the autocorrect is not without it’s problems. Like when I type Judith, and it autocorrects to nudist. This is not a message you want to send to your mother in law….

Next, I planned ahead for Busy times.

I am marking final exams on these dates. These are not daycare days. And you’ll be needing to take leave.

I will be working long hours.

On Thursdays, we go to playgroup. You might like to take him.After playgroup, you’re expected to buy a babycino and a gingerbread man. You need to then do some running around, so that by the time he gets in the car, he is worn out. Got it?

So last week, we had two days of daddy daycare. Three blessed days in a row where I didn’t have to clock watch. Thursday was the longest time I have ever been away from jman in his entire life. 12 hours. 12 hours of not clock watching, going to the toilet alone, actually getting stuff done. I marked about 250 essays over three days. And it was bliss. I wasn’t menu planning, snack packing, clock watching. I was just working.

And here’s the thing. I left home before jman was up. I arrived home and he had gone to football training with Dada for the first time ever. The boys were out on the town til 8:15. Hub-in-boots packed snacks. He packed nappies. He packed warm clothes. They’d done several loads of washing. They went to playgroup. They got their babycino and gingerbread man. They had a great time.

And this week, for the first time ever, for three days in a row jman went to family daycare without a tear. He waved and smiled and said “bye, mum. Mum , car? Mum go work? Bye mum.” Three days in a row.

There has also been a marked difference in hub-in-boots forward planning, preparedness and general confidence with jman. When they don’t see me for 13 hour stretch, hub-in-boots has a chance to try things, stuff it up, correct, try again. Without comment. Without “helpful guidance” from me. And that is important. Because that is how you learn. And I also think it makes a difference when he’s walked a mile in my shoes. Or, at least, a Thursday in my shoes.

So I don’t know if you’ve had similar parenting / partnering issues as I have. But if you have, maybe just make a choice?

Maybe, just get a little bit less competent once in a while?

I think you have to make space for co-parenting. Just get out of the way. Sometimes you are the primary caregiver. But sometimes, you’re just clutter in the way of a whole new way forward.

Promoting myself

This week, I spent a day filling out about 20% of a very long form to apply for promotion at work. I had no intention of applying for promotion, and I’ll still probably chicken out. In fact, when my boss called a meeting with his boss, him and I, I laughed in their faces when they suggested I apply for promotion.

The criteria for promotion at our place is ludicrous. Historically, people used to get promoted by going for an externally advertised job, because they were more likely to be successful in an external application than an internal one. That is how difficult it is.

I laughed in their faces. Like out loud. Not a chuckle. A laugh.

And that got me to thinking why? Why do I view myself as impossibly ineligible? I am sitting in a meeting with two people telling me to go for promotion, and I am telling them the idea is ridiculous.

1. It is difficult to understand which period they are assessing when you’ve had career-us interruptus ( i.e. Mat leave).

I’ve been back at work four months. I had two years off.

And yet, in my research interviewing women partners in accounting firms, I didn’t bat an eye at a woman getting promoted to partner whilst on mat leave. I could understand that. It makes sense for other people, but not for me.

2. I have always had imposter syndrome

I never feel like I know what I’m doing. Even ( especially) when I do know what I’m doing. . It’s a particular problem for women, it’s worse for academics. If they ever come up with a medication for imposter syndrome, I’m just mainlining it.

3. I come from a professional background, but I’m judged on academia ideals and qualifications.

I don’t have a PhD. Or a masters. I have a degree, a grad dip, and a professional accounting qualification. But I don’t tick the boxes for academics.

4. And here’s the clincher. I am not her.

If they are looking at my last five years’ performance, i do not know that 2011 woman. She could work back until 7 or 8pm without calling anyone, and remember 120 student names. She was beginning to get a research career going. She knew stuff. She remembered corporate systems and could have intelligent conversations at conferences…so intelligent she’d get contracts from publishers out of it. Students rated her teaching. Highly.

I am not her. I am running to a daycare drop off balancing a just cooked veggie pizza for jman’s lunch on a pile of assignments and a bag of nappies and a sippy cup, while chasing him down the footpath as he runs away from the car we are late getting into . I am answering emails and talking to colleagues with one eye on the clock for daycare drop off. She worked 5 days in the office and extra at home. I work on the same conditions but work three days in the office and patch and patch and patch to get things done around the rest of the time. It is more organised. It is busier. It is less visible.

She used to care so much. She cared so much it exhausted her, it stressed her out. Now, my care box is full with one special little face, and the rest of it? I do as much as I can then say I’ve done everything I can. And for now, that’s good enough, most of the time.

Who would they be promoting? Her? Or me?

5. The gobstopper

My employer likes to tout that the are an Employer of Choice for Women.

In my theory unit, I talk to students about a theory called legitimacy theory. Firms in a society are viewed as having a “social license to operate”, and society must view them as legitimate for them to have continued access to resources, and thus, survive.

One legitimising strategy is to deflect attention from an area of concern, to an area of strength or a symbol of legitimacy.

That is what “employer of choice for women” is. It’s a badge. It does not reflect the underlying reality of a school where at least two women with small kids have left without another job to go to. Because it is that bad. Or it can be. They can ask you to teach at any time between 9am and 10pm mon- fri, on any subject, and you may not find out your programme until three weeks before it starts. Every six months, it changes. Completely.

Try doing that with a daycare that has a two year waiting list.

But all of that isn’t the real gobstopper. There’s an equity section on the application. It asks you to bring to the attention of the promotions committee anything in your personal circumstances that should be taken into account when assessing your application.

I filled this out.

There is only one other time in my life I’ve filled something like this out.

In my academic studies, I never once requested an extension or a special consideration. I never failed a unit. But once, a friend made me fill something similar out in high school. A little box on a little form. That form, that little box, got me into university when I fell a few marks short. But me, I felt like a cheat. I didn’t think it was fair for them to take into account that my father had a terminal illness, I knew, and he died in the middle of my exams. I thought I should be able to do well anyway. So yes, not a great history of cutting myself any slack.

But here was this box. What equity factors should they take into account, in assessing my performance? That I got my (tiny) research grant during infertility diagnoses and two rounds of IVF? That I recruited some interviewees for the research whilst I was lying in bed hoping my unborn child didn’t die? That the gap in my research and teaching performance was me lying in bed praying 24/7 , for six months that we’d make it? That the next gap was not just maternity leave, it was a nephew’s dying in tragic circumstances when jman was 9 weeks old, it was my mum in three separate hospitalisations with two operations and two falls with broken bones and weeks of rehab? That I ran from childcare centre to childcare centre for weeks, a year later, unable to find anywhere with space that I could actually leave j in?

That I don’t want to work nights or 9am classes, because jman is still breastfeeding at 22 months!!!?!!!??! That I don’t want to start early, because when he wants to point out a bird on a wire to me, or, like today, we stop the car on the way to daycare to watch a digger for ten minutes, I don’t want to have to say “sorry mate, we have to go”?

I filled in that box. I filled it in, and I stared at it, matter-of-factly. If I was a member of that promotions committee, I don’t think I’d believe it. I left a quite a few things out, in the end. The digger didn’t make the final draft, for one. But I read it, and went bloody hell. What a few years we’ve had. We are lucky to be still breathing in and out. We are amazing for still breathing in and out. I thought to myself, when I finished that box (incidentally, the only part of the form that is actually finished with a month til the deadline), I should get a bloody trophy, for that three years. We should get a bloody trophy.

Then I remembered. We did.