Juuuuuuuust Right.

FullSizeRender

While browsing through a fashion magazine recently, I came across a call to writers. This mag was looking for new contributors and in order to drum them up posed a question:

In 500 words, write about a relationship that is important to you.

Though I knew I’d never meet the word count, I thought it would be an interesting exercise.

And then I read the question again and again and tried desperately to conjure up a different response within myself than the one that kept floating to the top of the pile. I wanted to write about my mum, her immeasurable influence on my life and my aspiration to see the world through her infectious positivity. Or my dad. And how his hippie-greenpeace-sage-Neil-Young-wisdom has always rescued me from the emotional Titanics I seem so prone to in this life.

But the truth is, however meaningful those relationships are, they are not centre stage at this point in my life. And though it mortifies me to say out loud, the relationship that means the most to me right now, is the one I have (or more poignantly, don’t have) with myself. Suffice to say, the self-indulgence of this admission makes me want to climb beneath the rock of shame and never emerge. How, after over three decades of life, does one feel so separated from a sense of self? Surely a crisis of Eat, Pray, Love proportions must be imminent.

Or maybe not. Somewhere beneath all the self-loathing, I have this niggling sensation that this might actually be normal? Maybe it’s just that the struggles of a somewhat-normal-30-something-woman-morphing-into-a-parent hardly breaks the internet like an Ellen selfie.

At this point, all I can say for certain is that the old ways of identifying who I am aren’t working anymore. I am no longer a competent student. Or a stand-out athlete. Or a meandering wanderlust blown about by whims and fancies making one questionable decision after another. I am now a wife. A mother. An aspiring writer who lives in a house (well, a part of a house…its London) and has to cook dinner and fold a million pairs of tiny underpants. And this transformation seems to have happened so quickly and with such intensity that the mental image I have of who I am has yet to catch up. I have spent the last three years so sleep deprived and utterly consumed with keeping my boat afloat the stormy seas of motherhood that I have forgotten all else. The lighthouse of Self has failed me and I am officially lost at sea.

Most days it feels like my imaginary 24-year-old single-creative-prolific-artist-self has been trapped inside the body of an uptight, super-stressed and often angry mum that wags her finger at little boys, complains at every opportunity and is confrontational on London public transport. Like the poster child for cognitive dissonance, my internal and external selves are worlds apart. And the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz of contradiction is driving me mad.

So, I got a nanny. Two mornings a week another person looks after my tiny humans for me. Its nice to have the break and I have enjoyed being able to go to a yoga class that isn’t at 9pm or buy toiletries without ten spiderman toothbrushes being launched into my basket. High standards, I know. The thing is…its not as satisfying as I thought it would be…having time to myself. Sometimes I just wander aimlessly around. I pop into this shop or that shop like a zombie when I should be freaking Dick-Van-Dyke-ing my way through the streets of London, hopping from curb to curb and spinning ‘round light posts as I sing about how great it is to be alive. But I’m not. Most of the time, I just don’t know what to do with myself.

Because I think I have forgotten how to be happy.

I can hear the gasps of horror from those out there that swear that their greatest happiness began the moment a tiny person emerged from their lady parts. Gasp away, everyone. I love my children no less. But the truth is, I have struggled to find personal happiness in my life as a parent. And I have struggled even more to maintain the connection to what made me tick before having children. Some days I fantasise about putting a hoop in my nose piercing or tattooing something in a desperate attempt to snake charm my former self to the surface. And then exactly ONE second later, I am buying decorative pillows for my mid-century modern couch that say “HERE AND NOW” as a reminder of the preciousness of the present moment. I’m pendulum swinging like some sort of high flying circus act. Its dizzying and utterly disorientating. Like a blindfolded five-year-old swinging a baseball bat for a piñata at a birthday party, I am recklessly flailing around trying to find the sweet spot.

And maybe that is okay. Maybe flailing is the only place to start.

Maybe the act of swinging is the only thing that really matters.

Relationships (even ones with yourself) require nurturing and attention. Like any other living, breathing thing, they grow and flourish when you pay attention to them. I have paid attention to my unhappiness for quite some time now. I have moaned about it. I have agonised over it. But moaning and agonising haven’t gotten me anywhere but here. And now, I’m not even sure where exactly I am, but my dad’s sage wisdom of “wherever you go, there you are” has never been more true. Its not the place that is the problem…it’s me.

The brass tax of the situation is that I am not the girl of my own imagining. The picture I have of my TRUE self as an artistic-laid-back-creative-free-bird is a mirage. It’s not real. And its also not who I actually want to be anymore. I long for some of the flexibility of my old life, yes; but it was not without its failings. And I love my current life and its quirky charms but somedays wiping noses and vacuuming floors falls significantly short of satisfying. I know I sound like freaking Goldilocks here, but my life porridge thus far has been either too hot or too cold. And I am looking for juuuuuuuuuust right.

Aren’t we all?

But juuuuuuust right is all about timing. Had Goldie tried Baby Bear’s porridge one minute later it would surely have been too cold. One minute earlier, too hot. And maybe that juuuuuust right moment was made that much sweeter because she had learned from her mistakes.

She knew what she wanted when she tasted it.

And what if its that simple? What if life is all about trying and failing and trying and succeeding…over and over and over again. So much so that the result becomes less important than the trying. And what if that means that I don’t need to make huge changes to my life at all? Maybe, like Goldie, all I need to do is scoot over and try something a little bit different. And then do that enough times until I begin to feel more comfortable with this person that I am becoming.

And maybe even like her.

 

Home.

IMG_4676

So far, I have a love/hate relationship with London. Its still early days, I know, but we have yet to find a tempered place of mutual respect and admiration. Maybe we will, maybe we wont…at this point we seem to be pendulum swinging from HIGH highs to LOW lows…ad infinitum. And that’s okay. By now, I understand that this is part of the evolution of a move, international or otherwise. New places are exciting and motivating and inspiring and they go on that way, well…until they’re no longer new. As time moves on and we animate these places with our memories and our milestones, what was once strange becomes intimate; a place you know like the back of your hand…and little by little starts to feel like home.

Like home…but not actually home.

For me, Home is a mystifying concept. It’s right up there with the heavy-hitters Right and Wrong and Heaven and Hell. We all understand Home. We all have a personal version of it. Home connects us to parts of our past and draws us forward into our imagined futures. Most of us know Home when we feel it…but sometimes it can transcend our definitions and defy our little boxes. Every once in a while, we can feel at home the first time we set foot in a new place. Sometimes a person, not a place, makes us feel at home. Even smells can transport us across time and space to a memory of home. Over the course of our lives Home takes many shapes, many forms; all equally as authentic as the one before.

London certainly does not feel like home yet. This city buzzes with infectious energy and poisonous negativity and irresistible possibility and crippling despair. A witches brew of polarities swirls above, somewhere in the lower atmosphere, creating the haze of hope and desperation through which we experience our urban lives. The relentless rain both nourishes and drowns us and as we breathe the city air it stains our insides, scars our lungs… and shapes little parts of our souls. Londoners, like true addicts, smoke their pack-a-day of her…this enigmatic city is a buzz that they crave; a chaos that comforts. But I am not a true Londoner, not even close. I am a transplant. And like a heart that is forcibly hooked to new veins and capillaries and nerves and valves…I still feel wildly out of place.

As a girl, growing up in rural Wisconsin, I never imagined that my life would be like this. Living far from home, miles and miles away from family and friends and raising two little boys in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world. Its exciting and terrifying and lonely and some days I feel like I am totally in over my head. As a kid, we moved like a million times when I was in primary school. Our family’s staying power in one place usually didn’t surpass the one-year mark and so I was eternally the New Kid. Forever finding new places to sit at lunch tables in unfamiliar cafeterias and navigating the politics of 6-12 year olds as best as the New Kid can. It was never easy but, miraculously, I always made friends. No matter where we went, I found a little group and tucked right in. I was a precocious, social kid and thanks to my mom, had the self-confidence of a peacock.

“Of course, they will like you,” she would reassure me before each first day of school. “You are amazing.”

In all my peacocky displays as a child, some cute and some wildly inappropriate, my grandmother would often suggest that it was time I learn a bit of modesty. But my momma, god bless her all-knowing heart, disagreed:

“The world will teach her modesty when it knocks her down again and again. It’s my job to give her the confidence to keep getting back up.”

If only all little girls had a mother like mine.

And she was right. So so right. Over the years I have been a pinball, bounced from place to place, obstacle to obstacle, sometimes getting stuck, other times disappearing down a deep, dark hole…but so far I have always emerged, though bruised and battered, with my chin up, ready to be sprung back into the game. And the truth is, despite being knocked around a fair bit, especially by motherhood, her words still spur me on.

You are capable of anything.

Even though my experiences in life have not always reaffirmed this belief. In fact, sometimes life has done its best to bury it deeply beneath hurt, despair and pain. Against the odds and because of my mother’s commitment to building my confidence, this heart still has the courage to remain soft and hopeful. Even thousands of miles from Home. And that folks is testament to the power of being a mother. And being a great one. Its the kind of mother, I can only aspire to be for my two little boys. To have them feel about me the way I do about my mom would be the greatest honour life could bestow.

As I collect year after year in places other than my little Wisconsin hometown, I am beginning to think that Home isn’t a place at all. Maybe home is a feeling. A recognition that washes over us when we feel contentment and gratitude for the life that we are living. A knowing that sweeps in and fills our hearts with warmth when we are surrounded by the people and the things that make us feel like the truest version of ourselves. Maybe Home is an evolution that changes and grows and adapts alongside the progression of our lives. If that is the case, then it means that anyone can feel Home, anywhere. And that thought makes my little ex-pat heart smile.

This morning the boys and I had already navigated buses, taxis and trains before the clock had even struck midday. City life can be stressful and complicated and I’m still getting acclimated to it’s breakneck pace. But as we sat on the last leg of our journey and I watched my precious boys devour their bacon sandwiches while the British countryside whizzed by, I felt it.

I felt Home.

 

The Universe conspires…

All the Universe conspires...

 

I see you, momma.

IMG_5021

Her eyes were haunting and beautiful, maintaining eye contact just long enough and then darting sweetly away, at once revealing her shyness and the cultural framework that shapes her social interactions as a devout Muslim woman. She wore a long black dress, her whole body covered save hands, feet and face and her head was wrapped elegantly in a black hijab. My only regret from this brief meeting was that I didn’t ask her name.

“Hello, ma’am, can I help you with the sizes?” Her thickly accented English rolled out with genuine interest, eager to be helpful.

“No, I’m fine, thanks,” I lied, utterly baffled by the Arabic on the front of the packages of the unfamiliar brands. For some reason the American in me insists on soldiering through alone rather than admit my need for help. Not a helpful trait as an expat lifer. Actually…not a great trait under any circumstances.

“How old is your baby, ma’am?”

“He is one next month.”

She smiled. A smile I would soon understand more deeply.

“I also have a baby, ma’am, a little girl. She is 6 months.”

Her gaze dropped and despite being a professional-uncomfortable-silence-filler, I smiled and waited. There was something else.

“Yes, ma’am, it is very hard,” she continued, “I am missing her so much. She is at the daycare now while I am working. But sometimes we have to make sacrifices for our children, yes?” Her kind eyes were brimming with tears now and as I reached for her arm to offer some comfort, I saw a reflection of my own pain and struggle as a mother.

“Yes,” I managed, choking back my own emotion, “We are all just doing our best…”

What followed was a twenty minute mum-to-mum heart-to-heart in the centre of aisle 3 in the middle of Dubai between two women who might have underestimated their common ground. In fact, the depth of our “commons” was vast and intimate and far transcended any anticipated or actual differences. And what began as an innocuous trip to buy nappies morphed into an unforgettable moment. One that, for me, speaks to the nature of motherhood and the power that is released when we connect with one another in honest and authentic ways.

And that got me thinking.
About mothers.

About how sometimes all we need is to know that someone else understands. To be reassured that another soul can relate to how hard and rewarding and demanding raising children can be. To look into the eyes and soul of another mother and bear witness to her battle weary resolve to keep putting one foot in front of another. And be inspired.

That day as I walked out with my nappies, a rush of hope came over me like I have never experienced. It’s going to sound cheesy but it was a big hope, a hope in humanity, a reminder that even in the face of significant differences, we as mothers can see each other and stand in the light together. We can acknowledge the courage in each heart. We can call forth the warriors that get buried beneath fear and self-doubt. And we can hold each other up when the load is too heavy.

We can whisper the it-will-be-okays when depression and anxiety and hormones and body image wreak havoc on our sense of self as we are becoming this new, unfamiliar version of ourselves. And when it seems that the person we were before is being absorbed and then utterly rewritten for the new role of Mother…we can remind one another that she is still there. Underneath. You know who I am talking about; the ambitious girl driving the totally-impractical-for-a-family mini-cooper in her power suit all the way into her executive parking spot. Or the girl that was always the life of the party. The gumption of that girl lives on within you, momma. And someday she will rise again, phoenix from the ashes; but she will ascend profoundly changed by her experiences.

If I’m honest, some days I look in the mirror and I might as well be wearing Groucho glasses complete with a massive nose and a bushy moustache. Because that is about how much I recognise myself.

And that is okay, for now. Little by little I am going to get to know that reflection again. She still seems interesting and strong and funny and courageous. And I would really like to get reacquainted. Maybe that sounds weird but for a long time, when my babies were teeny, I couldn’t have said that. I didn’t have time to think about me and who I was or who I was becoming. I was too tired, too overwhelmed, too absorbed in the all-consuming role of momma. But there is a change on the horizon, it’s coming for me…and it comes for all of us, mommas. A day when you will again have the time to look in the mirror and admire how this whole motherhood thing has shaped you. You may see some scars and some wrinkles, it’s true. But you will also see unimaginable depth. You will see your beauty, momma. It may seem hard to believe while you’re in the trenches, but you will.

But on those days that we don’t recognise ourselves at all when we look in the mirror, lets take inspiration from eachother…

…from the beautiful friend who faces her mother’s degenerative disease with courage and positivity, holding her hand and being present in each moment they have together…

…through the ambition of a lovely friend who manages to balance a successful executive career and a beautiful family…

…in the kindness of a new friend going out of her way to make someone feel welcome and included…

…and in the guts of that unforgettable mum in Dubai who saw a chance to share and connect and DID. NOT. HESITATE.

That’s our calling, mommas. That is our power. To cry out “ME TOO” and take the shame out of the struggle that some of us feel in the first years of motherhood. To shout across the vast uncertainties: YOU. ARE. AMAZING.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I see you, momma.

 

…Say what?

As it stands, motherhood is a sort of wilderness through which each woman hacks her way, part martyr, part pioneer; a turn of events from which some women derive feelings of heroism, while others experience a sense of exile from the world they knew.

Rachel Cusk

 

The Beginning…

IMG_4782

Hey Momma,

Welcome to The Nite Feed!

It is my greatest hope that this space will be for you a soft place to land in a time of life that can be intensely lonely and isolating. The idea for this site was born out of my own experiences as a mother. Up at all hours of the night with my second son, I struggled profoundly for the first six months of his life. He was a terrible sleeper and by the time he was 5.5 months, I hadn’t gotten more than two consecutive hours of sleep. Life was unravelling…quickly.

My relationships were strained. My temper and emotional stability was significantly compromised. I no longer recognised the person that I was becoming and life seemed to be spinning out of control. My anxiety was at an all time high and after an episode of scary crying at the doctor’s office one afternoon, she recommended that I speak to someone. I sought help for a few months, and it did make a difference to talk openly with someone about what I was experiencing. But I was tired. That was the main thing wrong with me. I was tired and I felt so so so alone. If that is you right now, momma, hang in there. Keep going. It is hard hard hard but you are STRONG.

The idea for The Nite Feed emerged early one morning.

I was up feeding and scanning old text messages on my phone…looking for the ones that I read that day but then had forgotten to reply to, as you so often do as a mum with young children. I clicked on a recent message from a close friend and when the screen opened up, I saw her little ellipsis pop up as if she were typing something!! I immediately texted her; the conversation went something like this:

Me: ARE YOU AWAKE?????

Her: Ugh, yes. Nightmare of a night. No idea what is going on!! I just want to SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

Me: I know, this is my third time up tonight. I feel like I am losing my mind.

Her: Me too, my lovely. Its so hard. Hang in there.

Me: You too, lady. Sending love.

After that night, we would occasionally catch each other when our nighttime routines overlapped. It was such a comfort; knowing that she was experiencing the same thing as I was. Knowing that another human being was facing night after night of sleep deprivation. Knowing that her world was just as upside down as mine. I guess you could say its a bit of “misery loves company” but it was so reassuring to know that I was not ALONE.

And that is what The Nite Feed aspires to be. A reminder that we are not alone.

When we are up in the middle of the nite or early early morning or even dragging ourselves to the finish line of morning nap…we are not alone.

When our partners slip easily into undisturbed sleep and we lay down only to be consumed by irrational fears and imaginations…we are not alone.

When we feel the harshness of judgement from those around us and their “advice” seems to be confirming our failures as a parent…we are not alone.

When we are trolling the internet and finding only news that fuels our hormonal sensitivities and fears…we are not alone.

When we just need a friendly face or a funny story at 4am to make us smile…we are not alone.

The Nite Feed is a safe place for us. It is a positive community that is determined to encourage one another. No matter your positions. No matter your opinions. No matter our differences. We are women that are committed to our children and to each other. Committed to remembering who we are and the strength we can muster when we join together.

We are AWAKE but we are not ALONE.

I am so looking forward to building this community with you, momma, and I look forward to your feedback and vision as we move forward together.

Lots of love,

gretchen

 
Skip to toolbar