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And anyway, Mozart died at 35.

Twitter is now the place I go when I need something to make me furious at everything. Today I read an entire thread of men arguing over why work/life balance is a myth, and marathon hours and working weekends are fundamentally necessary if you want to be a success.

Look at Elon Musk, they said. Look at Mozart.

Newsflash, fellas: you’re not Mozart. Your work is probably not that important. And even if it is, if you’re doing it 12 or 14 hours a day you’re probably doing it badly.

Go the fuck home and see your kids.

Human brains aren’t designed to do creative or complex work for 12 hours straight. Long before you burn out, you’re going to stop doing good work. And your wife probably hates you.

How do these attitudes come about? There’s a wealth of evidence that extra hours of work don’t add extra productivity. The eight-hour workday is even based on maximum productivity for a factory assembly line — I’d argue the maximum creative output in a day is closer to four or five hours (with some padding for admin and meetings and eating sushi).

Your brain needs to rest to work creatively. Work/life balance isn’t important just because, you know, life is your actual life, but because without downtime your brain can’t process information and make new connections and break down all the things you’ve fed it into delicious spontaneous idea-mulch.

It’s also a socially dangerous argument to have. If it’s necessary to abandon your personal life to succeed at work, you either can’t have a family, are fucked if you already do, or you’re assuming you can dump all of your real-life responsibilities onto your partner forever in order to do your work.

I know I’m very privileged to not have to work in a 9-5 at-the-desk office environment, but here’s how I do my best work:

  1. Do a couple of hours of focused work.
  2. Take a walk, do a load of washing, knit, stare at the shops, eat chips, etc.
  3. Do another couple of hours of focused work.
  4. Stop working and hang out with my family.
  5. Sleep.
  6. Get in the shower in the morning and find a solution to whatever I was working on the day before waiting for me.
  7. Repeat.

I’ve yet to find a work problem that wasn’t solved faster by going to sleep than by continuing to try and actively beat it into submission after doing so had already failed. My brain is a wonderful and amazing creature that will come up with solutions to things without my help — if I let it.

The more I do creative work the more I realise that the time I don’t spend working is as important as the time I do.

I might send you an email at 9pm, but it’s not because I kept working until 9 — it’s because I went and made dinner and put Nico to bed and then sat on the couch staring at The Get Down and suddenly my brain was like “HEY, I GOT THE ANSWER!” and I got up and wrote it down.

Or The Get Down finished and because I’d had a few hours off the thing suddenly wasn’t as hard as it had seemed at 4pm.

And in the meantime, I also got to live my actual life.

Sixtyproof limit how much we take on not just because we have small children and partners and we like to interact with them (and occasionally also our friends and pets and television sets) but because we do better work that way — you can have 25 quality hours of work out of me a week, or 50 terrible ones.

Anyway, this whole post is a nice way of letting my clients know I’m going to start charging them for showers and Netflix.

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One.

And just like that, he’s one. A whole year old. Yesterday I looked at the first photos we took of him — that wrinkled, purple, cone-headed little beauty with his treacle-slow limbs and his crooked stare. He looks exactly the same and nothing at all alike.

A year on, he needs a haircut. His hair is blonder than expected, and curling from the bottom while the top still sticks straight up, waving in the wind like down. He has seven teeth. He’s working on running and jumping and dancing and clapping. This morning, Diogo rubbed my arm and then Nico reached over and rubbed it too. Last night we discovered that if we give him the cloth, he’ll try and wipe down his highchair himself.

He doesn’t say anything but “mama” and “dada” and they both mean all sorts of things, but he’s having a concerted effort at “hello” (because everything from the remote to a stray sock is a phone this week), and it’s obvious he understands at least some of what we say now. (“Take that to Papai” is my new favourite phrase, especially with the most painful of his books.)

He’s happy pretty much all the time and almost all of his favourite toys are books — both these things make me feel like we must be doing something right. He loves people, animals, his two days at daycare, climbing onto and into anything dangerous, and pointing at things and saying “da!”. He’s hilarious and exhausting and charming and exasperating in equal measure.

Every night we lie in bed and say to each other “I want him to stay this big forever” and “I can’t wait to see what he does next”.

He’s pretty much a total fucking delight.

Happy first birthday, Nico pico bumble bum. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

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Hard work

Lately I feel like I’ve been hearing people say “it’s hard work, but it’s rewarding” a lot. Or “it’s hard work, but it’s worth it”. Maybe it’s because I’m (for obvious reasons) talking to a lot of mums about mumming. But I’ve also heard it about writing, about sport or music, about craft and hobbies.

It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.

But.

Does that say something about our culture, that we think hard work and reward are somehow mutually exclusive? Has anything ever been truly rewarding that wasn’t also hard work? I’ve enjoyed watching The Crown this week, but I wouldn’t describe myself as having been rewarded by it. Entertained, yes. Occasionally charmed or delighted. Even educated, on the occasions I felt compelled to look up what really happened and acquire myself some history. But I don’t feel like it could reward me, because I didn’t put in any effort.

It occupied me. I wasn’t occupied with it, or preoccupied by it — I was occupied, in the passive tense. My eyes consumed pretty dresses while my mouth drank tea.

Why don’t we say “it’s hard work, so it’s rewarding”? So it’s worth it?

Surely everything that’s worthwhile is hard? Takes work? Have we broken down somewhere, with this idea that leisure should be easy, and that hard work and responsibility outside of paid work are to be avoided at all costs, or prefaced with “but”?

Is it because so much of the paid work we do feels worthless?

Children are hard work, obviously. So are dogs. If you want to look at it that way, so is baking. Creating. Writing. Gardening. Exercising. Cooking. All things we’ve made easier with technology and outsourcing and money used to be hard work. (And that’s awesome, believe me. I’m eternally grateful that I can tell a machine to wash our clothes, instead of spending all day scrubbing at the side of the river.)

But without hard work, what’s left? What are we doing now with all the time we’re saving buying pesto in a jar and hiring people to mow our lawns? Watching more TV?

My buddy Brock and I were talking the other night about what our lives will look like once the robots take our jobs. Not about the UBI or how we’ll work (for those who will), but what our leisure time looks like. Do we take the opportunity to do uniquely human things — invent, explore, create — or do we keep barrelling down the track we seem to be on, consuming more and more stuff with less and less effort? Do we return to playing and making and building things for ourselves, or do we spend our time playing VR war games while the robots (or the very poor) clean our houses and make our processed food tubes?

Brock made the great point that the way we work now — exchanging our time for cash that we spend on things that save us time — is a blip in history. This model has only existed for a couple of hundred years, and far less for women and minorities. That’s not to say there was some golden age of meaningful work (except perhaps for white dudes who own land, but that’s been true throughout history), just that the system is new, and we’re not tied to it. We can reinvent it, like work and family have been reinvented countless times before.

I think a lot while out in my garden about the ridiculous inefficiency of spending my time trying to grow food. If, as I’ve read on the interwebs, we should take our billable value at work and apply it to chores at home in order to decide whether to outsource them, I’m baking bread and growing carrots at hundreds of times the cost of a trip to the supermarket.

But although my time is valuable, I don’t believe my time is money. That seems, to me, to be the most insidious end point of our everything-is-a-business culture. My life is my life. My time is my time. It has value, but that value should surely be in how I choose to spend it: in the effort and satisfaction of accomplishing things (work or personal) and in my relationships.

I can absolutely pay a supermarket for a loaf of bread and save myself the effort of making it myself, but in return I spend the time I would have spent kneading and mixing in thoughtful (or, more often, deliciously thoughtless) contemplation sitting in a metal box, and then walking through a bigger metal box, to give someone money I had to spend time earning in order to save myself the time I’m now wasting in the car and at the supermarket.

I worry that the world is trying to convince us that things that are not only simple but enjoyable are too hard to contemplate doing for ourselves, while anything that’s actually hard — no matter how worthwhile — is a drag or a burden on our lives, rather than the whole point of them.

Anyway. Goals for 2017: watch less TV, buy less stuff, and work harder at things that aren’t work.

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Rogue One

Dear Hollywood:

I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a good time. But, yet a-fucking-gain, can I just say: making your main character a woman doesn’t mean you’ve met your quota and don’t need to include any other women in your whole movie.

How is this still so hard for you? 52% of the population are women-people. We’re really everywhere now — just all over the place, doing all sorts of things. Your movie is set in space, in the future. It’s probably safe to assume there are some women-identifying folks in future space. They probably even do things like fly planes and shoot blasters, because you don’t really need a penis to operate either of those.

Of the thousands of people who appeared in that movie: in crowds and villages and bases and meetings and squadrons, I counted 11 who were discernibly female. 11. And that includes the main character, her mother, and the cameo at the end. Other than them, I saw two rebel leader types, two rebel pilots, and four others in the background of the big resistance gathering.

Everyone on the side of the empire appeared to be male. Admittedly, you can’t tell a stormtrooper’s gender, but every visible officer/bureaucrat/worker was a dude. All the engineers were men. Everyone who volunteered for the rebel crew. The six visible women in that big resistance gathering is not equality or representation: it’s the most pitiful of token efforts. In order to make crowd scenes with so few women, you surely have to really be trying. We are, again, 52% of the humans. We tend to just sort of crop up when humans are gathered.

And apart from the little critter with the glasses in The Force Awakens, have any of the non-human characters been women? And, while we’re at it, why do all the robots need to sound like dudes?

In a movie that did a great job with casting minorities and generally being a good time without being batshit insane, it’s disappointing. And frankly, I want to watch a movie where I don’t have to do this. It’s distracting and it makes me angry, and then I hiss things at Brazil under my breath and ruin the mood for everyone around me.

It’s not that hard, surely. Just look at all the people you’ve got standing around and talking and doing stuff, and unless their genitalia is actively necessary to the plot, make half of them women.

Seriously. Just do that. Please. Because half of us are.

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In a state about the state of things

The more I read, lately, the worse it gets. The more in-depth, well-researched and holistic the article, the more terrifying the conclusions for our planet and our species. If you think that’s being hysterical or dramatic, I would absolutely love for you to prove me wrong — but I’m going to need to see your evidence.

If your answer is “just stop reading things”, I sincerely hope you’ve figured out how you’ll explain that strategy to your children when they ask you how everything got so fucked up.

Because this is not about the world our great-grandchildren will live in, or even our grandchildren. Our children will deal with this. We will probably be alive to see it. We’ll definitely be alive for them to call us to account and ask us why we sat here, now, and chose to do nothing.

I started looking up the latest general climate change science, but it’s just too depressing to even continue. I just read an article by one climate scientist who said that, as a generalist looking at the big picture instead of focusing on one area of change, he’s concluded we’ll probably all be dead within 10 years, so there’s no point in even worrying about it anymore.

Things that are not the answer:

  • telling everyone to stop having children, especially if you don’t want children or have already had your children. We have too many people right now, but we do need some humans to continue our species, and if no one gets to have kids then we may as well be fucking extinct because what’s even the point anymore, am I right? If the meaning of life is to watch TV and eat burgers, we do not deserve this planet anyway.
  • hoping the government/the “market” will solve this by itself. That has never worked and never will. We need to actually be informed and agitate for real change.
  • saying “one person can’t make a difference” like the world isn’t made up of individual people. You personally can’t solve the whole problem, but you can sure as shit stop making everything a fuck-ton worse. Recycle. Stop buying plastic crap. Vote. Eat less meat. Do your own cooking. Buy sustainable, organic, free-range and fair-trade. Support local business. Talk to your kids about compassion and empathy and the issues. The power you have, as one individual person, is your vote and your dollar. Use them.

I’ve given myself a thumping headache and, as Brazil points out to me six times a day at the moment, my personal distress isn’t actually helping anyone, so I’m going to wander off.

Anyway. Here’s a list of books I’ve read over the last year or so that I would thoroughly recommend:

  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith (good counterpoint to Eating Animals, but gets a bit too out there in places)
  • Postcapitalism by Paul Mason
  • The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
  • Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White

If you have any further recommendations to add to this list, I’d love to hear them. Also any ideas for what we can actually do, here in NZ, to get past the wishy-washy left-right political BS and start having some actual conversations about things that matter.

Also, if you disagree with me, I would love to hear from you. Please, please tell me I’m wrong, or crazy, or being too dramatic. Just also tell me why.

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Seven

My baby is seven months old today. We had a Plunket check this week — our Plunket lady is a perfunctory box-ticker of dire warnings and pointless, prescriptive rules (one day let’s talk about whether Plunket is actually helpful, or just adding more this-way-or-else pressure to mothers who are already under enough of it) so we generally just tick her boxes, lie when she asks about co-sleeping or solids, listen to her standard lecture about Doing Breastfeeding Right and skedaddle as fast as poss.

This time she was like “is he rolling?” and when we said yes, went to move on to her next box. Hold up, lady. This little firecracker is also sitting, crawling, creeping and cruising. He’s pulling up on everything from his cot to chair legs, and yesterday he climbed me like a ladder to get onto the couch. He’s a tiny ball of motion and chaos, and has the proportional strength of ten grown men.

He says “mum mum mum mum” all day long, just not necessarily to me. He can chase a ball and look at something for up to 45 seconds before he puts it in his mouth (on a good day). He plays games. He has opinions and mood swings and two stubby wee teeth. He laughs with his whole fat little body, his head popping up over coffee tables and sofa arms to blow smug, drooling raspberries. He is definitely the best and most wonderful baby ever to have lived, and I find myself wanting to stop people in the street and demand they look at him — look at him! — look at this delicious little human person who grew inside my body. Has there ever been anything so incredible?

To which all the other parents say, with conviction: yes. Each one, until the next one. Yes.

Yesterday he pulled over two bins, the laundry basket, the cat’s bowls (twice), a lamp and his toy basket. He occupied himself with licking chair legs all over the house, climbed into our wardrobe and pulled himself up on a heater (which thankfully wasn’t on, unlike last time he did that in the lounge and I thought he’d burned his hands and both of us cried).

I also tried out my serious angry-mum voice for the first time and he laughed at it. So that’s encouraging.

Every day he can do ten things he couldn’t do the day before. Every day he’s more independent and interactive. (And every time something about parenting him becomes easier, something else gets harder.) The growth curve is exponential. I look at photos of him seven months ago and can’t fathom how we got here in those short months, even though at times every hour of it has felt like years.

It’s incredible, and it’s also terrible: I thought I’d have longer. I can already see the baby slipping away to make room for the boy, and it’s too soon. I love that he’s bold and brave and strong and determined to do everything now, but part of me feels like he’s cheating me out of his babyhood, like we’re going straight from newborn to toddler, and I’m never going to be able to get enough of the chubby, gummy, cheeky little nugget he is right now.

Everyone was right: it goes so fast. Too fast.

And, with a roar, he’s awake. Off we go again.

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We’ve been trumped

Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. A reality TV star real estate tycoon sleazebag, the actual, literal epitome of the smug white male, who ran on a platform based on division and fear, has been elected to be the most powerful person in the free world. And, despite the fact that Clinton technically won the popular vote, he didn’t just squeak in — he cleaned up. Republicans took the house and the senate as well as the presidency.

I’m not disappointed — I’m devastated. I’m crushed.

I woke up this morning and took my baby for a walk in the rain. Then I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I can’t spend the coming weeks like I did yesterday — staring at my phone in a haze of nauseous disbelief, wondering how we got here as a species.

I have to believe this is a sign of wider progress. It’s a last-gasp knee-jerk of a disaffected, worried population who feel that the system as it stands is broken. Millenials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. People of colour voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. Progress always happens — it’s just that sometimes it takes a while, because it’s harder than the alternative.

It’s easy to be generous and kind within your own family or your community, and I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone on earth believes that they are. People vote for things like Trump and Brexit because they believe they’re protecting the interests of their loved ones (and themselves). White people voted overwhelmingly for Trump because they see the end of the great white majority barrelling towards them. Men see their generations-long free ride coming to an end. Mix it up with economic inequality, looming climate disaster/robot apocalypse, ISIS and the Kardashians, and it’s easy to see why people feel that the status quo is failing them.

It’s hard to care about people who are different to yourself. It’s not just hard — it’s actively against human nature. We are designed to divide ourselves into tribes, and to work to secure resources and protection for those we see as like us. Tolerance and inclusivity are difficult. They require constant thought and work. They require acting against our base instincts and digging deep for our better natures. They require accepting that there’s enough to go around — and if there’s not, that what there is is still worth sharing.

Those things are a tough sell on a good day. I read a book a long time ago that talked about our “culture of scarcity”. Our system of economics and government is based on the fact that there’s a finite amount of resources to share out, even as that system requires constant growth just to maintain itself. This idea seems so ingrained in us now that I’m constantly dumbfounded by my garden — I’d forgotten, somewhere in this haze of modern life, that food not only grows in the ground, but from seed that the food itself creates in huge numbers. A tomato, given sunshine and water and time, will create a whole crate of other tomatoes. Everything in nature cycles and recycles, contributing to the growth of other things. Meanwhile, we fill vast swathes of landfill with single-use plastic straws that will be plastic straws forever, and eat deep-fried chemistry experiments because they’re cheaper than vegetables.

We forget, I think, that we live inside of an epic, wonderful system, where everything works together and nothing is wasted. (I think we also forget that it’s a closed system. There are no new inputs once we’ve turned everything into straws.)

Trump’s trumpeted policies (such as they are) are based on protecting “us” at the expense of “them”, like life is a zero-sum game. There’s not enough to go around, so if we need more, we have to take it off someone else. I can get a job if we take your job away. Your rights come at the expense of my ability to say what I like without being made to feel bad about it (which, even if true, is not remotely equivalent).

The system is broken all the way down, left and right. I just don’t think Trump can — or wants to — fix it. Governments act in the interests of corporations and CEOs rather than people, and tell us that because that helps the “economy”, it helps us. Meanwhile, the economy can grow without the average person getting any better off, because the economy is now based on punting money around as corporate profit or interest on debt, rather than on actual humans doing actual work.

The political left isn’t offering an alternative to this system — they’re offering tweaks and reality checks. Hillary’s platform was basically that the system is complicated and difficult and doesn’t work very well, so there’s only so much that can be done because compromises must be made. It’s a shit platform, and it’s not enough.

But Donald Trump is promising to take the system apart in the wrong direction. To annihilate women’s rights and minority progress. To throw out the flawed but better than nothing healthcare system Obama has fought for and replace it with… something unspecified, but “better”. The problem is that Donald Trump’s version of “better” still sees neoliberal capitalism as the answer. The market will still save us, it just needs even less regulation and even more competition.

This isn’t a new way — this is the old way, but without the marketing layer that pretended it wasn’t racist and sexist and designed to fuck over everyone but whoever’s on top.

Corporations have proven they can’t be trusted to act in anyone’s interests but their own. The environment, workers’ rights… these things require the intervention of government to make sure they are protected. Corporations don’t have moral compasses, despite the fact that every corporation is made up of people who should. Capitalism, neoliberalism, democracy, money… these are all systems we invented, as human beings, to help us live and work together. They’re not ends in and of themselves. They won’t be here after we’re gone, because they don’t exist without us — but it feels like we’re now serving them, instead of the other way around.

“Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years”

Some interesting ideas:

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You’re doing time management wrong too

“The math is straightforward. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work fifty and sleep eight per night (fifty-six hours per week in total), that leaves sixty-two hours for other things. The time is there to have what matters.”

Internet, let’s discuss this article. I read it and it annoyed me, not because it’s not a nice idea or because I want to be an angry feminist at all times, but because it assumes that all things that aren’t paid work or sleep are leisure, and that every non-sleeping hour is capable of being a productive hour.

Children are work. They are wonderful, but they are motherfucking hard work. And not only that, but they have a timetable. Removing work and sleep hours doesn’t leave a collection of wide-open hours for me to fill with childcare and leisure in any order I like: it leaves me with a baby who needs three naps a day, no more than two and a half hours after the previous nap. He needs three meals in between those naps, and five or six breastfeeds, occasionally still including at least one while I’m getting my eight mythical hours of sleep.

Sometimes we also need to go places and do things, and those things usually have start and finish times to adhere to. We try to go for a walk every day, and I’m trying to meditate and do a quick yoga class in the lounge after he goes down for his first nap. Those are my “leisure” moments. In between, we cram in feeding me, and housework, and the odd shower. Oh, and work. You know, the rest of my whole life as it was before o bebê, only with six times as much laundry.

So yes, I can find leisure time, but the fact that I made a loaf of bread today and meditated for six minutes doesn’t mean I’m relaxed and on top of things – it means I jammed them in around the sides of other things, sneaking moments wherever they appeared. Usually, my “leisure” is stuff that benefits the household: cooking, gardening, cleaning (which benefits my mental health and thus the household). And usually that leisure is done at a run, while also making baby food or listening to him screech for me to come back or with a baby monitor in my pocket trying to finish before 45 minutes ticks over and he wakes up.

The article seems to assume that fitting something rewarding or relaxing into your “mosaic of time” means that the simple act of doing it was relaxing or rewarding. I’m happy I got to do those things, but I’m not sure they counted as either.

“Being compelled to divide and subdivide your time doesn’t just compromise your productivity and lead to garden-variety discombobulation. It also creates a feeling of urgency—a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over.”

(There’s an article I liked a bit more. Laura Vanderkam can feel free to tell me that’s “limiting my stories”.)

I also waste a bunch of time. Brazil keeps threatening to take my phone off me, because I’m spending way too much time on Facebook. But after four hours’ sleep and then struggling to entertain a five-month-old for two hours, shoving some food in his face, wiping his bum and getting him into bed without a meltdown, I don’t have the energy to sew a casual kaftan or whatever it is my mental self thought she’d get to do at naptime. By the time I’ve made some toast, done the wee I’ve been putting off for three hours and collapsed on the couch to stare at nothing until I get my breath back, the baby’s up and it’s time to start again.

There are holes in my mosaic, but maybe, in the circumstances, I’m cool with that. There will be time enough for casual kaftans once this child-induced chaos calms down. (It does eventually calm down, right?) And in the meantime, there’s people being wrong on the internet.

Until next time, digital friends.

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And yet

I once went snorkeling in a series of caves underneath Cancún. The entrance was a dark, echoing cavern; a deep, ragged hole in the earth. I think of that cave whenever I see my belly button in the mirror. It’s like someone took a clay model of my midsection and left it in the sun too long.

Last week I went to the gym for the first time in a year. Loving (or tolerating) my body has been a work in progress my entire life, and in some ways it’s nice to have this tiger-striped pooch where my waist used to be. It’s like a shield, or a story written in stretch marks.

The first time I saw it after giving birth I thought “well, at least I never have to try and get into a bikini again”. And then, simultaneously, “I’ll wear a bikini if I want!” and “I can’t believe I got so fat”.

I gained 27kg during my pregnancy, due to a combination of ice cream and sitting still. I felt at the time like everything was hard enough without adding exercise and not eating ice cream into the mix. Post-birth, I lost the first 17kg without really doing anything except never having time to eat and pouring all my resources out of my nipples 12 hours a day, but that last 10kg feels like it ain’t going anywhere.

I made a human person, but I’m still obsessed with how I look in my jeans. These things don’t stack up. They aren’t of equal or similar importance. My body did something incredible for me and Brazil (and Nico, obviously). It’s still battered from it — back aches and red, scaly patches on my face, nipples turned chew toys. I don’t know if I can expect it to be like it used to be. I don’t know if I should.

I could name any photo album of my twenties “places I felt fat” and it would be an accurate description. I’ve worried I was fat everywhere from the top of the Temple of the Cross in Palenque, Mexico (I wasn’t) to an island off Tongatapu (also wasn’t) to Tokyo (wasn’t), Sydney (wasn’t) and everywhere in between (still wasn’t. Never was).

I want to be more accepting of my body, but it’s hard. I have 33 years of judging and hating and poking and prodding under my belt, and now there’s this extra weight on my stomach and hips, these gigantic breastfeeding boobs, the stretchmarks and dry skin and darker freckles and tired eyes…

It’s tough to inhabit a new body, one you didn’t choose, that’s older and weaker and looser than the one you used to have. It could be freeing, maybe, to be lifted out of your petty body confidence concerns by having all your former issues pale into insignificance. Worrying about getting into a bikini seems foolish now I’ve added stretch marks and loose pouchy skin and four cup sizes to the mix. Like I could choose to throw the whole mess into the mental trash where it belongs and focus on things that actually matter… or I could double-down and hate myself more, harder, for more concrete reasons.

I know which of those I want to choose, but it’s not quite so easy to actually do it.

I swing daily between deciding I need to go on a diet and announcing I’m going to love myself as I am. I know being thin isn’t the same as being well — but right now, I don’t feel like I’m either. My body has been stretched too far for too long. I’m not strong or flexible. My back hurts all the time and I’ve had a cold forever. It’s hard not to conflate that in my head with being slightly too heavy. In the past, there’s been a direct relationship. I’ve had too much weight on because I wasn’t eating well or exercising, and when I sorted those things out, the weight came off too. Right now, I’m eating well. I’m eating too much, but I’m eating well. I’m exercising, in a new-mum kind of way. Walks with my baby in the front pack. The occasional aborted naptime yoga attempt. There’s only so much free time to go around, and although I want to prioritise my health, I also massively resent feeling obligated to spend the eight seconds of the day I get to myself on making my appearance more palatable to others.

I’m supposed to “get my body back”, but I’m also supposed to keep breastfeeding (and, right now, I want to, even though I have Many! Opinions! that I will write about at length soon). It’s drummed into you that “supply” is infinitely perilous. Eating too little could damage it. Dieting could force you to wean early, or stop your baby gaining enough weight. When you already eat a healthy diet, the only way to lose weight is to eat less, but that could force your baby to also eat less. No matter how self-obsessed I get, I don’t want to jeopardise my baby’s chubby thighs for my own. Squeezing fat baby thighs is like 60% of the reason I had a baby in the first place.

They tell you that you’ll lose weight while you’re breastfeeding because you’re burning so many calories making food. (This is largely BS, by the way.) But that hypothesis ignores what every fad diet also seems to ignore: hunger. The hunger of a breastfeeding woman is second only to… well, a pregnant woman. Your body spent nine months laying down resources in your ass, but it’ll be damned if it’s going to use those if it doesn’t have to. We’re literally designed to store fat in our thighs like a squirrel stores nuts in the winter.

(Let’s talk sometime about how I feel about how women have all the pressure to be thin, when they not only naturally store more fat than men, but find it easier to gain and harder to lose. Then let’s sidebar about the #dadbod thing. Fuck off, society. Fuck right off.)

So, basically, my body is doing exactly what it’s meant to. It’s storing resources for my child — as many as it can get. It’s giving him antibodies and fat and all my liquids, while I drink litres and litres of water to avoid desiccating like a corpse in the desert. It grew and sheltered him, birthed him, and now it feeds him. If you want to get existential, it’s fulfilling its biological purpose. If we were grubs, I’d crawl into a hole and die once he was weaned, confident that I’d lived a rich and rewarding life.

So why can I appreciate that in others, but not in myself? Or caveat it with an “and yet…”. And yet, I’d still like to fit my old jeans. And yet, I wish I was fit again. And yet, I’m not ready to look like someone’s mum.

I am someone’s mum, though. And I remember when I was a child, telling my own mother that I loved her squishy bits, because they were better for cuddling. I remember telling my nana the same thing — she worried about her weight right up into her 90s, when there was nothing left of her but bones wrapped in soft skin.

How much mental effort have I wasted on the circumference of my thighs? How many other things could I have done with that time? How much nicer a place could the inside of my head have been?

And yet.

Categories
story of my life

Adventures in multicultural relationships

“What’s a stick in Portuguese? Stick-o?”

“You’re so racist. It’s galho.”

“Okay, then what’s a trunk?”

“…Tronco.”

“I want you to be happy and do the things you enjoy while giving me your full attention at all times.”

“I’m peeved.”

“What does peeved mean?”

“It means… you know, peeved.”

“Very helpful. Do you even remember why you’re mad at me?”

“…No. Do you?”

“I do. But I’m not dumb enough to tell you.”

“You’re not the boss of me, you’re just my manager.”

“Remember when you used to stare at me, instead of out the window? It was a magical time. You’d stare at me and not fart.”

“And I said, ‘for fuck’s sake, man, I speak two languages and read two others, is there any point on arguing this tiny point of English grammar?’”

“‘In’ arguing.”

“Now I’m peeved.”

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