We had found a small green caterpillar, on one of the leaves outside. They were round leaves on strong, slender stalks, and my first and lasting impression of them was that they looked like parasols. They had sprung up, dramatically, from tiny seeds we had planted with free abandon.
In a moment of weary happiness, we brought the caterpillar and the parasol leaves inside. We poured water into a glass jar, so the leaves would be fresh and juicy, and we read ‘the very hungry caterpillar’ to our very hungry caterpillar, and watched as it transformed the leaves into lacework, leaving tiny green poos around the vase in a circle, like confetti.
Then one day, the fat green caterpillar was gone. We found instead a tiny grey chrysalis on the side of the jar, and have been watching it transform, in tiny incriments; now more patterned on this side, and slightly more angular, and now, look! wings are growing, and I do think it’s changing colour.
And at the moment, I feel like we (husband, J, Son, R, Daughter, E, and myself – katie) are in a period of transformation. It started years ago when R was born – or maybe before that, when J and I first met and discovered that our lives together could be whatever we wanted them to be. There was so much freedom then, though looking back, I feel like we missed some big opportunities. If I could go back, I’d take us to the beach every weekend, and spend more time with friends. But we were brave and fierce in our own ways; J changed careers, changed courses, and I, , completed a masters in education.
~ and I am passionate about education, but there is also a part of me which sings differently when I am creating something. I am braver and truer then.
I was nine months pregnant and working full time when I graduated. I still remember moments of triumph in those last few weeks- sharing songs with my bulging belly as I finished my last prac; rubbing it absently during my final exam as I wrote about things I’ve since forgotten; my week-long residential school eight hours away from our home, the nights, cold and icy.
And then, the birth.
Four short hours (or was it less? I forget now) that changed me forever.
Suddenly, and without warning, this trauma- old and new – flooded in on our lives. And here was this tiny, wriggling, beautiful thing, and I loved him because I knew he needed to be loved, but there was this overwhelming shame and obligation. And I felt as though any other mother would be better for him than I was, as though I should offer him up for adoption, and I felt sad that he had ended up with me. I would regret little things, like being too tired to hold him after he was born, and I would fret over him as he slept and, while I held him as he cried and I would do that”silent scream” they talk about in film studies.
No one knew how hard it was, and far too many visitors read themselves into our situation with comments like “if only you could…”, or “you’d find it easier if you…”. Within days of the birth, any choice we made as parents was subject to scrutiny, as though the difficulty we had with doing life was somehow of our own making, and we were creating problems for ourselves by doing, or not doing, these very mundane things in the wrong way.
And part of this was because almost every new family finds it hard in the beginning, and almost every parent finds ways of doing things that work best for the child and family.
But I also feel that part of this stemmed from this framework (which I believe is cultural) which prescribes that it is not ok to struggle or need help for longer than a day or two. It is as though struggling needs intervention and correction, rather than patience, empathy, and unconditional support. From a therapeutic perspective, I have learnt that sometimes the very act of feeling is the transformative process of healing; From an educational perspective, I believe “failure” is one of the most important parts of learning. We lose touch with our meta-cognitive strengths if we believe that we can’t rely on and learn from our own process of engaging with the world and others around us.
And this discomfort with struggling, with failure, with difference, can lead us to personalise things that aren’t personal. I think maybe one of the reasons why parenting topics can be so controversial and divisive is that no-one wants to feel like they are wrong.
Sometimes, ‘wrongness’ is an unhelpful construct. Sometimes there are only the best choices we can make with what we have.
Some of us have been more damaged than others. This is not a failing, and it is not a choice. It is famously true that trauma often hides until children arrive, or around middle age. That is what happened for me. That is what happened for my husband.
so before writing anything else, I want to say this carefully, kindly, and clearly:
The way I parent is not about anyone else. The way I feel is not about anyone else. It is the best thing I can do, with what I have, for my children, for my husband, for myself. It will probably change as I learn and grow, and I believe that ‘when you know better, you do better’. But for now, embracing the messiness of some pretty crappy feelings is part of our transformation. Embracing the messiness of (maybe some less-than-ideal) parenting is part of our healing journey.
(like how today has been a tv day. Because I just had to write. It has been too long.)
So while we were typical new parents, we also had some pretty difficult trauma to process – and we’re still (exhausted and) processing. I hope to write soon about how I’m learning to do that by ‘expanding the field’ – but for now it’s enough to say that, by writing about it, by talking about it, by allowing for mistakes, I’m processing it.
I was so lucky to see my friend Chloe today, who mentioned that caterpillars have to turn into goop before they become this completely new butterfly thing. They don’t just grow wings, as though butterflies are just winged-caterpillars. It’s fair to say we’re feeling pretty goopy around here at the moment. Maybe that’s just what we need to be for now.
I hope this finds you well, and that you’re able to accept whatever is going on for you at the moment. Feel free to be gooey too, you never know, it might just be part of something amazing.