Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nature versus Nurture

I spend a lot of time trying to analyse my children’s quirks and mannerisms – a self-indulgent attempt to identify some chink in their DNA chain that came from me. Like a charm bracelet, they throw little gems of personality that dangle and dazzle, like flashes of silver lining in the cloud of nappies and toddler emotional outbursts. What chinks of charm have come from me? What jewels of high jinks came from my hubby? What treasure trove of theatrics come from our families? Like Daisy’s shy performance of an acorn growing into a sycamore, I reconstruct our family tree from their blossoming traits.

And while I can often place their quirky origins with a jubilant yelp of “Oh, she’s just like my mum!”, and “Oh, she gets that from you!” – every so often they laugh in my face and trump my house of cards with an ace of their own, a gem on the bracelet that is all their own. New additions to our family collection of traits, a new leaf on their own branch. And it makes me smile as I ponder the nature versus nurture thing. I was recently reminded that it also applies to me, but in a slightly different way. Where nature is all instinct, nurture is all learned, and sometimes you have to remember which is which.

Last week I got knocked off my mothering perch – one I had perilously climbed to sit high and safe in contentment and some satisfaction that I’d finally worked out how to do this gig with some semblance of sanity and success. For a little while I forgot how precarious that perch can be.

One night, Poppy went into melt-down and a few days later, I followed suit. She started crying hysterically when I put her down at night, to eventually fall off some hours later exhausted. Just as I would carry my weary self to bed, she would start again, rejuvenated for another few hours of screeching unless I was with her. After a week of this I was beside myself and no longer mother-in-charge. I shouted, I panicked, I lost my nerve. I tried various ways to stop her – soothing, ignoring, surrendering. No consistency, just chaos. No plan, just panic. No mothering, just madness. I read the books and begged my friends for advice, and they all told me different things. And so was I...

My heart was telling me she needed me and I should just be with her no matter if I never slept. My head (and all my friends) told me to be firm, and strong and don’t give in, we had to break this ‘habit’. Then one morning, her ‘habit’ broke out in spots all over her body. Poppy had chicken pox. She hadn’t been trying to ‘get her own way’, she had been sick. And so was I. Sick with guilt. That night I took her into bed with me and we all slept for the first time in over a week. She had needed me and I had ignored my instinct to respond the way I should. (Luckily she fell out of bed at one point which I wisely reminded her of the following night, so no issues of her demanding a repeat for eternity!).

And so I go back to basics…. Instinct is there for a reason. They are what they are – charming charms on their bracelet of life, some are given and some are grown – and I need to be what I need to be to make sure all their charms are the most precious they can be. I need to trust my nature, so I can nurture them effectively.

That said, its not abnormal for my instinct to tell me to run to the hills, so I’d better chuck in some common sense too!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fickle Fancies

I’ve come to the conclusion I’m fickle. Not only that, I’m shamelessly shallow and materialistic. I also think I’m a bit smug. It took a new mirror to reflect the real me….
Oh how I would mock those grasping celebrity types who looked so needy as they paraded themselves in OK magazine, their homely splendour spilling opulence onto every glossy non-recyclable page, their smug smiles trying to hide their delight at living in a larger house than my tiny little railway cottage, while the rest of us mere mortals tutted and toiled over loads of washing, panted and puffed over endless meals to be planned, bought, prepared and cleared up after, fretted and fussed over the non-existent time we have to pursue our ‘other work’ – be it writing or whatever.

Reading back over my previous but one blog about moving house, I saw how fickle I’ve become when after a week I realised I had not cast a single thought to my old house, not once. Not one swaying tree had disrupted my childish, fiendish delight at my new (spacious – there I go, smug again) home, where I can now officially swing a cat. I haven’t actually tried it yet, but to know I can is enough. Ok, it’s not actually that big, but compared to our previous doll’s house, it’s positively palatial.

We had bought our beautiful (little) cottage because it was quaint and full of character. Then we had kids. Quaint and character are about as useful to parents as a two seater car. So after much scrimping and saving, sacrificing and shameless standard-dropping, we bought a house – completely devoid of quaint character but bursting in super, sensational space. Beautiful things may come in small packages, but maternal merriment comes in a big open kitchen, large landings and enough rooms to loose your kids in. In our old house we could literally step from our bedroom into theirs without touching the 2 x 4 landing, so I actually cried tears of joy the first time I couldn’t find the girls after we moved!

So there you go. I left the sturdy swaying trees for the fickle smug satisfaction of a kitchen I can cook in without braining the children at my feet when I take a saucepan from the pot stand. Ok, so I still have all those loads of washing, but now there’s somewhere to hide it when I can’t be bothered. I still have an unfeasible amount of meals to manage, but now I can do so while watching the girls play in the garden and not in the vegetable cupboard. I still have no real time to write, but I see a spot in the attic room with my name on it where I can sit and muse over my meandering thoughts and hopefully the children will take so long to find me I might actually get something written down.