I've spent this evening singing Christmas carols for charity with the Roundhill Choir, the neighbourhood of a friend I'm staying with. It's another example of the way I've changed since becoming a mother.
It's almost as if entering parenthood has bridged the gap between me and other adults; somehow, I'm more part of my local community and less embarrassed about doing things like standing in the freezing cold singing 'Jingle Bells'. Maybe it's the way being with children so much takes down one's barriers around silliness and spontaneity, returning some of the magical playfulness we adults forget once we take up our mantle of breadwinning. Or maybe it's just that I've learned the value of being part of something bigger than myself, in ways I never knew about before, as a rather solitary child and lonely youngster.
I had a lovely morning relaxing around my friend's house with our children, who were having a sort of tea party on their little stools while we had our own chats and cups of tea. My needs are in many ways simpler, now: real (albeit interrupted) conversation with like-minded people, spending time with my son, and time in nature.
I don't need that much wild stimulation and excitement (well, occasionally, I admit), as evidenced by my recent clubbing excursion which failed to deliver as much promise as I had hoped for; and I can really see the value of my friend's idea that mothers (or fathers, if they're doing the childcare) get together and having 'mother's creches' at each other's houses, as my friend suggested. This is a very 'Continuum Concept' idea: we do what we do as adults, and all around us the children do what they do as children, and we connect and interweave.
In contrast to, perhaps, organised activities such as playgroups that parents often feel compelled to take their children to. On Sunday I took a departure from my usual 'no plastic' attitude and spent most of the day at Funplex: an indoor soft play centre for children. But it was fun, because I fulfilled both my adult needs by talking to the friends I went with, and my child's needs (and my 'inner child' need for play) by exploring a maze with him and letting him call the shots in some games with me, running up and down a ramp repeatedly - "Mummy, run! Mummy, lie down! Mummy, sing the rabbit sleeping song!"
I came home having reminded myself that parenting really can be, well, enjoyable, an aspect I often forget in the day to day focus on survival. My life, as some of you know, is in considerable tumult again as far as domestic arrangements go. One of my biggest concerns is of course how this all affects my son. But people keep telling me: I am his constant environment. As long as he's got me, he'll feel safe.
I'd like to believe that entirely, but I remember how unsettled he was the first few weeks after we last moved house. Still, I have been so grateful recently that I am still breastfeeding him, even though there have been so many times I've felt like quitting.
It's been such a continuous source of comfort and connection, and since reading Pam Leo's brilliant 'Connection Parenting', which I'd highly recommend to anyone who wants to parent in a heart-ful and connected, rather than coercive, disconnected way, (or is sceptical of the idea and wants to find out how it's possible!), I've started to value it even more.
Basically Pam Leo's idea (based on decades of family therapy experience and her own parenting experience) is that building and maintaining a connection with one's child, moment to moment, is the basis of their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, and the degree to which they cooperate with you as a parent.
The more you try to coerce, the more you break the connection. So coercion (punishment, rewards, shouting, hitting etc) might achieve short-term results, but in the long term it causes your children to want to cooperate with you less because they do not feel connected to you and loved by you. Sounds simple, but of course it isn't that simple to practice!
Focusing on bringing my connection with J back to the forefront has been helping me so much during this uncertain period of our lives. I feel like our bond has become stronger, and the battles between us are few and far between - and mostly occur when I am rushed and stressed and out of connection with my own source.
Breastfeeding in particular seems to meet his needs in so many different situations, from coping with transitions, to dealing with unfamiliar or overwhelming environments, to helping him wind down from a tantrum (or even heading one off). It's a tool I wouldn't be without, yet if you had said to me I'd still be nursing him at 2 years and 2 months, I would have been incredulous. That's what I love about parenting: being open to revising your ideas, and learning to adapt to what your child needs rather than what anyone says they should need.