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my magical gap year

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More than ten years later I was living in Sydney, commuting two hours a day and travelling interstate an obscene amount for work. I loved my job, I had a great husband who was looking after my 18 month old daughter full time. I was pregnant with my second child. On those long commutes the same question kept playing in my mind, “Is this what I am really supposed to be doing?”

To answer that question my husband and I have decided to give ourselves the gift of a grown up gap year.  We would both take a year together, go and live in my home town and enjoy the incredible miracle of our family, This is our story.

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In the trenches

So all of a sudden there is no “role” for you to play. You’re having a gap year. You’re a wife and a mum. You’ve never really just been a wife and a mum before. You’ve worked. Hard. Done quite well. You’ve been clear about who does what, when and received feedback when its been needed. Work is after all structured. Organised. The tasks are clear but so is your role in the group. It’s written down after all. you have a job description.

So what happens when you remove all of that? it’s partly liberating. You can do what you like, within the constraints of a 12 week olds feeding schedule and the needs of a very independent toddler. “I do it myself Mummy. I do it for you Mummy.” ” I do a cooking together Mummy. ‘ You can go to the beach. You can go to the shops. You can visit with your Mum and your aunties. Even write a blog. 

It’s partly confusing. There are no guidelines. Throw in the fact that your husband has been solely responsible for the house and the child raising for two years and you get a bit of cross over.

It goes something like this.

 Me “Can you watch the two year old while I ….” 

Him “well she doesn’t need to be watched she can just roam around the house.”

Me (silently) “Well, what if she jumps of the second level balcony while she’s not being watched? ” (Out loud) .. “Sure OK” which is universally known to be translated as “You’ve got to be kidding.” 

Negotiating all of this is really relying on incredible level of communication between two very independent people. Which doesn’t always work. At the heart of this is a constant and brutal competition to see who’s needs are going to be met today?

The baby’s will. Obviously. The two year old. Sometimes reluctantly. and then comes the choice between the adults. That’s where the fun starts.Well, they said marriage required hard work. Some days I think I want to go back to work and get a break. Does that seem odd to you? I am assuming that there is another level of freedom and relaxation to come. Here’s hoping.

10 things I can’t do when extremely tired

  1. Open small plastic bags.  Not really a skill you need when you aren’t a mum but once you are , small plastic bags become indispensable. Biscuits are stored in them. The balance of the packet of sultanas and crucially a nappy bag. Really challenging when one hand is holding the little ones feet and the other is trying to open a plastic bag at two am.
  2. Remember anything at the shops. On my first trip to the shops I left my wallet at home. Such a devastation after the hugely self congratulatory thoughts I was harbouring about how clever I was to get out of the house. Thanks goodness my mum was along for the ride.
  3. Construct coherent thoughts. This morning when talking to my two year old, I caught myself wondering why is she acting like such a child. …I mean really.
  4. Put together an outfit. I am wearing dresses as they require absolutely no matching at all. A weakness before the children this is now a complete gap in my life. My husband had started sending me back to the wardrobe. Nicely but still questioning my choices
  5. Create craft activity. My husband has given me a new definition of success in craft. Not .. that was really creative. Not … wow baby you have hidden skills, your drawing is fabulous. Not … wow that little bus you made from the huggies box really lasted the test of time. no … was she occupied for half an hour. My new measure of success.
  6. Choosing movies of any quality. i-tunes shares are going up as you read.
  7.  Reading in facebook. My eyesight seems to deteriorate the more tired I am. Sorry if you have gotten a weird message from me. Or if I haven’t replied.
  8. Consistently exercising . For some reason pure tiredness wipes out any prospect of a ten minute walk.
  9. Eating well. When tired I am happy to eat anything.. . but I really really like chocolate.
  10. Write a list of ten things .. time for bed

Rabbits are brave

Through each of my pregnancies i had a little saying that kept me going when I was worried about something. In my first pregnancy it was “women in Africa walk solo through the desert and deliver babies on their own. I can do this.”. My second mantra was incredibly different.

The first time around I went to calm birth classes at the suggestion of my husband who had heard it was really great to have a natural birth. Of course he had ! He wasn’t thinking about delivering the baby. We went along to the two day course and it started by sitting in a large circle. They nearly lost me at that point. We had to say why we were there. Everyone in the circle talked about wanting to have a natural birth and wanting to really enjoy the experience on some level. I was next to last and I said I wanted a backup plan but my preference was to take every drug known to modern medicine. No-one laughed. They all looked at me like I was crazy. As far as I was concerned I was not the crazy one.

The premise of calm birth was actually extremely rational. They explained what happened during labour. At 42 it was the first time anyone had ever explained what the physical stages of labour were and what your body needed to do it well. (Deets here: if you are interested http://www.calmbirth.com.au/ ) . I was shocked by how little I knew and how nearly every woman I knew had been through this process but no-one talked about it.Like ever. The only time it ever came up one of my high school friends said you might do a poo during labour. (Might ! ummmm how about 99% chance you will.) The course connected me with the experience I was about to go through and it gave me some tools to deal with if I couldn’t take the drugs so I felt more confident. “women in Africa do this drug free all the time”

On the actual day of Lily’s birth I was induced and she came so quickly there was no time for drugs. I used all my calm birth powers and just like a woman from Africa gave birth drug free. That’s were the similarities ended.

My water broke late and Lily had meconium in her lungs. She didn’t cry when she was born and after a terrifying period I heard a nurse say its been five minutes. Five minutes without crying. Lily was whisked off the NICU and spent 6 weeks there. She is now a healthy happy little girl but that experience changed my life in so many ways.

Women in Africa don’t have NICUs and if I wasn’t at the top hospital for new born care in NSW, RPA, I have no doubt that my story would be very different. There are literally people who go to work every day that look like the rest of us but are really angels in disguise. A team of ten worked on Lily for the first eight hours of her life. There is nothing more unnerving than to watch the doctor working on your new baby pace up and down next to the crib. While she was in complete control medically, her body language revealed the intense stress she was experiencing,  We didn’t know it then but they had saved Lily’s life.We are so lucky to have access to these talented and beautiful people.

My mantra for Charlie’s birth reflected all of my fears and anxieties at going through birth again. Rabbits are brave. Charlie’s birth had its own challenge but he too is safe and well. The mantra proved to be true. Rabbits who are small and want to do things , can do them,  if they are very very brave, and so can we.

 

What would you do if you weren’t commuting?

Have you ever sat in the car, frustrated by the time you spend in your car, fantasising about what you would do if you got the time back? In my case I spent over two hours a day in the car. Such a frustrating experience. In the morning I was cursing that time. I  felt I had to be at work at a certain time because of the appearance of being there when I really could have gotten to work in half the time  if I left 45 minutes later. In the evening I was desperately trying to get home in time to be there for my daughters bath and spend at least half an hour with her before she went to bed. Often failing. Sheer frustration.

I had a narrative going, If only I didn’t have this drive as part of my life I could be…well the perfect version of myself. I would drift off into a fantasy life. I would work out, I would eat better, I could learn to code. I could start my business. I could spend time playing with my daughter. I could cook again. I could have coffee with my husband, maybe hold hands on the way to the coffee place. Now it is true that a two hour commute has a genuine impact on your time and it does limit what you can do every day but it shouldn’t stop your life.

I realise I created a mythical version of myself on those long long drives. I became aware of a perfect self that in my mind I couldn’t actually become. All because of this commute. What an incredibly negative pressure to have in your life. The presence of a better more perfect self that only emerges when you have a life you can’t possibly live. Except that, at least in part, the commute lead to the creation of the magical gap year as a reality. As my friend Tom Panos says, sometimes the best gifts come wrapped in shit packages.

Every day I am conscious of giving myself the gift of this time. 10 hours a week for 48 weeks. 480 waking hours or 20 full days.  So in the last week as I have been coming out of the haze of newborn feeding my husband and I have been asking each other what is it that you really want to do today. 

Some days the answer is I want to have a shower (after a bad night of no sleep) or we need to wash the floor. Some days we are really honouring our choice to come here.

I have been cooking. I used to love cooking. Music on, wine in hand, I am normally a follow the recipe, pre cut the ingredients, go step by step, kind of cook normally. I put a lot of pressure on myself as Andy is a great cook. This time I relaxed and just enjoyed it. No wine of course but somehow I think that made it better. 

Today it was a glorious day. I walked with  my mum and little charlie to the end of the beach and breathed in the view. The local headland is called  “Look at Me Now” headland and it was ringing in my mind. Look at Me Now. I had a swim in the ocean. It felt absolutely glorious. I swam with Lily and she was laughing and loving the water. “Mummy and Lily are swimming together, Mummy Mummy!” She was so happy. It was brief as feeding time crept up on me but it was wonderful.

We are on the right path to finding out who that new version of ourselves is.  Every day there’s more joy (and sleep) and definitely a whole lot less commute.

This gap year just got real

Now that all the tourists are starting to pack up and head back to work our gap year is feeling real. As the immediate family all head back to work and we stay here it feels very different. We aren’t heading back to our normal lives and back to a routine we are very familiar with. We have to create a new world. It seems so so quiet.

The loss of work and all that goes with it, the busyness, the interaction, the constant stimulation, the achievements will be hard for me to adjust to. I’ve really loved working and some may say I’ve loved it a little too much. My closest friend has headed off to Columbia for a gap year with her husband for much the same reason. Time to quit the work addiction and discover the rest of life. Right now there is a sense of withdrawal. It probably seems crazy to most people but this a big change and like most changes it’ll take a while for this to feel natural.

Time for lunch and a walk on the beach. That might help….