Article by Clare Zeschky
I’ve been playing a lot with Lego recently. I mean A LOT. My daughter is obsessed. I have to say, it’s not the worst part of this parenting thing.
There’s nothing better than this box of bricks. There’s nothing she can’t build- we’ve made schools for aliens, vet surgeries, day cares, windmills, cars and vehicles of all shapes and sizes. When we first started we had varying success. Long rows of bricks were laid down, walls were built with no thoughts of structure or integrity. Weak joints, gaps, spaces for windows and doors that didn’t fit, wheels poorly placed so cars would run in circles. But our building has gotten better with time. We learned to stagger our bricks to strengthen our walls, find pieces to fit gaps, place wheels to balance cars.
While my daughter has been enjoying the engineering I’ve been thinking about how our buildings have been a lot like the journey we’ve been on together. In those really early years, things were often wobbly, pieces often didn’t fit and frequently it would all come tumbling down into a mess of tears, self-doubt and tantrums. On both sides.
But fitting pieces of a wall together, creating a slide for a “day care” I can see how much we have learned. For our creations to stand tall they need support. Pieces need to be put together in a certain way to work, fragile joints and tall structures need extra supports to keep them strong.
I spent a long time- too long- being fragile and refusing support. In our early years as a family I believed I could do it all. I hid my struggles from my friends and family, refused to let my husband in and denied, even to myself, that in order to stand strong I needed support.
I thought I looked after myself pretty well. I ate well, I exercised, I rested whenever possible. My daughter was a poor sleeper, exceptionally poor, and I put most of my struggles down to her sleep patterns. It would get better, I said, when she started sleeping.
In the big picture I was low on the list of priorities. My husband worked long hours so I made sure he got sleep, got time off to do things he loved. I could wait. I didn’t need anything. Or so I told myself. But slowly, over time, I crumbled like our poorly built Lego creations. My walls wobbled, there were gaps that needed to be filled.
I’d love to be able to say here that I saw the light, that I started to ask for help and started to look for what I needed. But I didn’t. I carried on like this for two years- angry, depleted and refusing to see I needed something more than the basics to survive.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Not long after my daughter turned two I got in touch with Pacific Post Partum Support Society looking for volunteer opportunities. Things were getting better, mostly because our sleep improved. But I was still raw and fragile. I remember the information session vividly- it was like a light turned on in the room and I could see myself clearly. There was a also a message, one that I carry with my to this day and that I hope I can carry with me through my life, and pass on wherever I can: It was self-care. I learned that I deserved to be looked after too, that I didn’t have to do everything alone. It went deeper than the simple acts of eating well, resting, and exercise that I usually managed on a daily basis. It was about caring for myself at an emotional and spiritual level.
It looked great on paper. I went home full of good intentions, full of the idea that I would use this new knowledge to not just improve things for me but my whole family. And I wish I could say it was easy. But it is still a work in progress. Some things are hit and miss. I thought taking breaks would do it- but it turns out I actually like spending time with my family. Getting out for a coffee and going to a yoga class helps but so does spending quality time playing Lego. I realized there was a duality to a lot of my self care.
One one side I need to ask for help (and accept it!). This has been hard- I’m exceedingly independent. But I learned that people like to help, my husband especially. And that my daughter can thrive in other people’s care as well as mine. On the other side I also need to say “no”. I never used to say no. I would do anything that was asked of me- work extra shifts, babysit for friends, run errands. Learning to manage what I can reasonably do without getting stressed has been huge.
I have learned to recognize the signs when I’m running low on energy and positive emotion. I get angry and I see myself closing people out. It’s then I know that I need to step back, open the doors that finally fit into place and let people in, accept help and take the time to restore myself with the things I love. I let the dishes pile up in the sink while I build a rocket ship, or cut down on commitments for the week.
So while I sit surrounded by multi-coloured blocks it’s nice to recognize the work in progress that is my journey as a mother, knowing that I’m starting to find the blocks I need to support my walls, and find all the pieces that fit to keep me strong.