Losing battles we needn’t win.

It was a Season 2, Grey’s Anatomy episode that finally broke me. So unexpected. I’d been fighting it off for months, and I was putting up a valiant fight. Every time that voice in my head piped up, I’d hush it with one strong swipe of defence. I had so many justifications that the fight was most often easily won. The scores remained:

Kate : 47,638

Mummy Guilt: nil

We had an incident with a chicken bone some weeks back. I had all the little ones sitting up at the kitchen bench awaiting the dinner that I was plating up. Ben was still at work and I was quietly giving myself a high-five for my organisation skills in having dinner prepared early, and with a smile on my face to boot! I was breaking up a roast chicken when I came across a ‘wish-bone’. A beautiful memory suddenly leapt into my mind of my own mother holding a wish-bone out to me, with her little finger tightly wrapped around one end. I held the bone out to Eve and asked her to take the other end. When she cracked the bone and ended up with the larger end in her little hand, the kids all began to squeal, “Evie, make a wish! You have to make a wish now!” Eve thought about it for only a moment before announcing,

“I wish….I wish I had a happy Mummy…not a cranky Mummy”.

And there it was.

All the months of stress and frustration, all the missed sleep, missed meals, missed exercise, missed everything. Trying to the point of exhaustion to run a household and a business, with a workload that was simply beyond me. There it all was, wrapped up in one sentence from the mouth of a three year old. MY three year old. My emotionally neglected three year old it would seem…

Still, I was strong enough for this. I’d expected these kinds of battles. Moments or words that take me by surprise and knock the air from my lungs. Reminding me that even whilst I’m kidding myself that I’m doing a fabulous job of ‘keeping all the balls in the air’ as a dear friend of mine would say, I had in fact dropped the balls a long time back and was actually being booed off the stage. I took a very, VERY deep breath and carried on.

Barely a day has passed this year without hearing those long, drawn out vowels,

‘Muuum, you are always working on your computer. You never have time to play with uus!!”

True that.

But I had so many reasonable justifications! I have been a mother since I was 17 years old. I never had a chance to discover what I wanted to do or be in this life before I had a family. I never had a chance to sink myself into those beautifully long regular working hours and realise my potential. I never had a chance dammit!! Just pipe down and let Mummy build a career so that I can be a good role model for you kids, and so I can help Daddy bring in an income to pay for this huge family, and so I can die knowing I did something other than mould Queen Elsa out of playdoh and clean up spilt rice! For the love of God, just GIVE ME A CHANCE!!!

It turns out that Mother Guilt is a formidable opponent. She is persistent to the point of relentless. Her cruel swipes have no care for your petty claims of injustice. She has heard them all and regards none as worthy of consideration. No, Mother Guilt will see that a mother cares for her young above herself until the end of time. She’s tricky like that.

And so there I was, taking a moment to switch off my brain before falling asleep, watching McDreamy with his perfect hair and his half-smiles and wonderful choice of words, when BAM! A storyline emerged about a father who was too consumed in trying desperately to find a cure for his dying child, that he failed to realise his child was actually dying right before his eyes, and he was forfeiting his last moments to hold her and tell her how much he loved her. And before I had a chance to construct a clear thought pattern I was gone. Sobbing. Sobbing for all the times I haven’t held my children this year, for all the scratched knees I haven’t taken the time to kiss, for all the books I haven’t read, for all the hilarity I haven’t laughed at, for all the amazing wisdom pouring out of their little mouths that I simply haven’t heard.

Well played Mother Guilt, well played.

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Some photos I took last Sunday when I was far, far away from my computer…after my ‘Grey’s Anatomy enlightenment moment’…obviously.

K. x

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Living well.

It’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself the time to write my blog. Time is just too precious at the moment and every second needs to be used wisely. This of course includes having coffee with friends or impromptu conversations with Ben that go on for hours over bottles of wine.

I feel like I’ve always been acutely aware of time passing, and with every January 1st, I’m reminded that I’ve allowed another year to pass me by without learning the violin or running a half marathon… I’m one year closer to a time when I might not be able to achieve the things on my list, and it doesn’t help that the list grows every year!

I take comfort however, in the fact that both Ben and I are doing what makes us happy every single day. Ben is running a beautiful and successful cafe, creating a workplace where his staff are happy and he can feel proud of his business management and of his product.  I am raising and managing (sometimes questionably) a family of seven and have created a business doing something I would willingly do for free!

At least I DID take comfort in all this, until a few months ago when circumstances suddenly changed and we had to take a good hard look at ourselves and our choices in life. We had been very happily renting a lovely house for the last five years. It was perfect. Big enough for us all to fit comfortably, close to the school and the cafe and most importantly, within walking distance to all our closest friends. We had been there so long that we almost forgot the house didn’t belong to us. Ben had relaid the lawn and I had given birth in the bathtub, it sure felt like home. Until one day in October when I received a call from the real estate informing us that the owners had decided to sell the house.

We knew the house would be listed for close to a million dollars and ‘our’ house would be our’s no longer. Nothing brings the harsh reality of renting closer than when you are forced to move. We were feeling pretty gutted. The rental market had sky-rocketed during those five blissful years of naivety and we were faced with the likelihood of moving out of our community, a concept which I was struggling to grasp.

Whilst Ben had entered the busy lead-up to Christmas at the cafe, I was spending every spare moment searching for our new home and we had very little effective communication during this time. The stress levels were simply too high and there were many unspoken thoughts in both of our heads I’m sure. My head was filled with doubts about our lifestyle and some poignant questions…

‘Are we crazy to think we can just go through life doing what we love? Are we being completely selfish to not be working in jobs we hate to provide a stable roof over our children’s heads? Do we even deserve to want that??’

We were at a barbecue earlier last year when the conversation turned to the concept of ‘doing what you love and loving what you do’. One of the women there was very definite in her opinion and declared, “The whole concept of doing what you love is just bullshit! Work isn’t meant to be fun. You work to earn money to provide for your family. The end.” I sat very quietly and said nothing in response, even though I was in complete disagreement. After all, this woman was successful and much wealthier than me, and a HOME OWNER!

Now I had found myself wondering, ‘Was that woman right? Are we simply kidding ourselves???

…Today I sit at my desk writing this, in my beautiful, light-filled new home office in a lovely house that isn’t ours, but feels more like it is with each passing day. And I think, no, we’re doing alright. We go to bed happy and fulfilled each night and wake up each morning with joy and anticipation for the day ahead. We are proud and confident in what we’re contributing to the world. Our kids are happy and loved, they have all that they need. And when Ben and I find a moment that aligns in our schedules to stop, we have so much good stuff to talk about!

We press on with the belief that happiness is the most important thing, and if we retire on the pension and are buried in cardboard boxes, at least we will have taught our children how to live!

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Building a fort and just generally doing what they love.

K. x

Winning.

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Throughout the years of drought we saw on the farm, my Dad was flat out getting a head of wheat out of the ground. The land was dry and dusty and our front yard consisted of dirt and cat-heads. There was however, a weed which not only survived, but thrived in that climate. The Paddy Melon. It was almost as though they grew just to taunt us, for they looked so similar to watermelon but consisted of a pale yellow flesh which was so bitter it stayed on your taste buds for hours, days perhaps. Mum used to tell us they were poisonous, but I’m not sure that they were. My sister Angela threw one at me one day and it hit the ground and exploded. I must have ducked down as it hit, because I recall getting a mouth full of the foul tasting juice, and Angela almost wet her pants in fits of laughter as I stuck my head under the nearest tap in a bid to wash it away. That taste is still as fresh in my mind as the mango I ate this morning for breakfast. I must have done a great job of washing my mouth out as I didn’t keel over and die, contrary to Mum’s warnings.

With eight hungry mouths to feed, watermelon was a very rare occurrence in our house. They were simply too expensive. In the hottest part of summer, when they were properly in season, Mum would come home with a watermelon from the fruit shop and we would all gather around the kitchen bench as she cut it up for our afternoon tea. It was never taken for granted. Perhaps that’s why the day my brother B.J found a watermelon has never left my memory.

I must have only been five or six, when we were all out in the yard on a hot summer’s afternoon playing cricket. Whomever it was batting (probably Jonine who was hugely competitive) hit a six and B.J ran off to the very edge of the yard, where the dirt met with the wheat, to retrieve the ball. As he was stepping precariously back to us in bare feet over the prickles, we could see he had a melon in his arms.

He declared “Look what I found, I reckon it’s a watermelon”.

It looked just like all the other wild melons growing on vines all over the place and we all laughed it off as not only impossible, but ludicrous. I don’t know what it was that had him so convinced but B.J was insistant. He carried the melon inside to the kitchen with all of us following. Mum enquired as to what was going on and agreed it was simply not possible that a watermelon would grow of its own accord in our barren front yard. B.J got out the chopping board and a large knife and we all held our breath. With a mighty chop down the centre the melon fell open and the sound of B.J’s squeal still rings in my ears.

It was red.

We all cheered in utter disbelief and delight. We had a whole watermelon! And it was free!!

It was such a win for us Kennedy kids that day. We all felt a little like we’d won some kind of lottery.

That day is what I think of every single time I cut open a watermelon for my crew. I feel myself holding my breath for the red and wonder if my kids will ever know the simplicity of a win like that.

K. x

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And just like that…it was over.

I watched my eldest boy walk out the door this morning for his last day of school…ever…in his life. To say I have been feeling reflective these last few weeks would be an understatement. I feel as though all the air in my lungs is being expelled in the longest sigh of my life. It’s a sigh of disbelief, of sadness, of joy, of regret, of pride. Mostly it’s an exhale of all that I have been holding my breath for these last eighteen years. Tomorrow I will sit with all the other parents and watch as Jonah graduates, with the memory of his first day of Kindergarten so fresh in my mind I could swear it was only last year.

I recall so clearly being in high school myself and watching the Yr 12’s graduate year after year. My friends and I would talk with voices full of excitement and intrigue, about how incredible it would feel when our turn came. How surreal and inconceivable the whole experience would be to walk out of school for the last time, after spending our whole living memory between those walls.

It was a day that I never experienced. By the time my friends were living that day, I was at home with a newborn son.

I searched through all my old photos this morning, piecing together the life that Jonah and I have lived, aside from all the other people in our family. In the beginning it was just he and I. Before Ben and the little ones, it was just the two of us, for five years. Now there are so many others in this family, but still a feeling remains of he and I being a unit of our own.

I can’t find the words to express how overwhelmed I feel that we are now at this point, but I have serious concerns that I may cry during tomorrows ceremony -embarrassingly loud and uncontrollable sobbing cries. I’ll be wearing dark glasses and clutching little Eve for comfort and distraction.

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Jonah not quite 2 yrs old.

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The day we moved to Perth. Jonah aged 4.

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The day we moved back over to the East coast.

The words that have been rolling over and over in my mind in recent days have never held more truth.

“The days pass so slowly but the years pass so fast”

K. x

Pre-forty fear.

Birthdays are so much better than they used to be! I turned 36 this week and literally felt like the most loved human on the planet! I feel like life is suddenly, or finally, all falling into place and everything that used to elude me is making sense. I’m thinking perhaps this comes with age..?

I walked into our cafe a few weeks ago and there was a table of six women, all mid to late forties, excitedly sipping glasses of riesling and hurriedly eating their lunch for fear of losing precious talking time. One of these women was an old friend of mine so I stopped by their table to say a quick hello. I was informed it was her birthday they were celebrating. After further conversation we recollected that she was turning 46 and that there was a ten year gap between us. I couldn’t help but put the question that has been rolling around in my head the past few months, out to these women.

“Are your 40’s really as great as people keep telling me?”

Without any hesitation they all agreed whole-heartedly in unison, YES! They really are that great! When I asked them to elaborate, the responses were pretty much what I’ve heard before and came down to one thing.

After 40 you are just beyond the bullshit.

I’ve been admiring women of this age for some time now. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The way they carry themselves, confident and natural. The way they chat easily and without affectation. The way they love…their kids, their husbands, their friends, themselves. They way they seem so much more at peace than the tortured thirty-somethings.

A common theme keeps popping up in my conversations with friends lately -vulnerability. How much should we share with our partners, friends and family? How much uncertainty or fear can we admit to without feeling the heavy weight of regret later? For me the question is always, why do I share so much more than everyone else? How do they have such restraint? And why do they feel it so necessary to be so restrained? How did I miss the importance of this??

I used to think that being ‘beyond the bullshit’ meant that by the time you reached that stage in life, you had it all figured out. That you were not still wondering what to do with your life or feeling uncertain about the state of your relationship, family or job. I’m now starting to realise that being beyond the bullshit is not that at all. The uncertainty and insecurities are still there, maybe not taking up as much brain space as they once did, but still floating around. And life is not all figured out and tied up in a pretty bow.

The bullshit, is PRETENDING IT IS!

I’m thinking that being beyond the bullshit is getting to a point where you don’t feel the need to pretend anymore. You can let go of the charade and say it how it is, admitting to all the good, bad and ugly without fear of being the only one in such a predicament.

Some definitions:

CHARADE: ‘an absurd pretense intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance’.

PRETENSE: ‘an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true’.

At this point I should admit that I am completely guilty of such pretense. In the ten minutes before guests arrive I can be found on hands and knees wiping our bathroom floor by hand just so my guests can be deluded into thinking thats how our family of seven live, in a pristine house with floors you could eat off. Does it make them feel comfortable in my home? Probably not. Why do I keep up the charade? So that my guests will think I’m an amazing wife and mother and pretty much have it all figured out of course!

Umm… the word absurd comes to mind.

With every passing year a new layer of clarity forms and I’m getting closer to the peace and wisdom that comes with age.  Perhaps I should start embracing this getting older business…

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My mum -my biggest inspiration in ageing gracefully and certainly not one to carry on a charade…unless on the stage.

K. x

No match for a Mother’s love.

Sickness hit our house this last week. Aidan came home from a sleepover last Sunday looking shabby and within a couple of hours he was in bed with a fever. It ran through the house like fire. Juliet fell on Tuesday, myself on Thursday, Ben on Saturday. It was a cracker flu. Those little virus bugs high-fived each other when they walked through our door I’m sure. I went to bed last night swallowing down Panadol and coughing up a lung. At 4am I woke to Eve standing beside the bed, crying, and my sleepy brain quickly registered a cough amongst the cries. I reached out from under my warm blanket and touched her cheek, burning. Within a second I was up, babe on hip, briskly heading down the stairs to the medicine cupboard.

After Panadol had been administered, water given, and special blanket and dummy retrieved from her cot, I was back tucking her into our bed, stroking the hair from her sweaty forehead. Ben awoke and immediately asked if Eve was ok, and then, “What about you? How are you feeling?” I surprised myself when I convincingly replied “Yeah, I’m fine”. And I WAS fine…because Eve was sick. My symptoms quickly fell into that big maternal box of ‘Things To Ignore’ because my littlest love needed me to be well.

I lay there thinking about the wonders of Mother Nature again. How strong a mother’s protective instinct is that we are able to put ourselves and all our discomforts aside. I was reminded of a time seven years ago when I first learned the strength of this instinct existing in me.

I was 41 weeks pregnant with Aidan and had a flu not too dissimilar to the one that’s just enveloped our house. I was dreading the thought of going into labour in the state I was in, but that’s precisely what happened. I laboured for 6 hours with both hands full of tissues and head pounding before delivering my ten pound boy in a birth pool. He was born at dinner time and four hours later we were back home, gazing at this unfamiliar new family member.

Early the next morning I was sitting up in bed breastfeeding in that post birth ecstasy as Ben was getting ready for work. Mum and Maisy, were in the kitchen making a pot of tea when I heard a crash…followed by screaming. I lept up and ran towards the kitchen. Mum had Maisy in her arms leaning over the sink, splashing cold water on her face. Maisy who was not yet two, had pulled the freshly boiled kettle from the bench straight down over her face. Her tiny flanelette pyjamas were clinging to her, with the heat burning through to her shoulder. Within minutes I was standing under a freezing shower fully clothed, with my little girl hysterical and with skin turning a light shade of grey. There were two paramedics who were shooting something up her nose to calm her and manage the pain. And the next thing I was in the back of an ambulance headed for John Hunter with Maisy’s little body wrapped around mine.

It wasn’t until we were nearing the hospital that the lovely paramedic who was riding in the back with us said to me “Did I hear that you had a baby last night?” For a moment I was confused. My mind started flicking through scenes. Sitting in a birth pool with a newborn in my arms, gazing at him in the morning light of our bedroom, and finally the moment at the sink, when Mum said “Here Kate, give me the baby” as I took over with Maisy. I had literally forgotten until that moment. Forgotten that I’d given birth barely 12 hours earlier and certainly forgotten that I was sick. All the discomforts were not even registering. My whole focus was on my injured child.

Needless to say, she recovered. We all did.

I often think about those mothers in third world countries who sacrifice their own desperate hunger to give whatever they have to their children. It’s such an incredible example of this maternal instinct at the most basic level of survival.

Aahh, Mother Nature you wondrous and powerful force!

K. x

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For this.

The only word I can think of to describe life in our household at the moment is ‘full’.

This house is full in every sense of the word. Our wardrobes are overflowing with clothes (that mostly don’t fit anymore). My inbox is crammed with bills to be paid, notes to sign, kids homework to be done and Jonah’s HSC assessment schedule. My head is spinning every night when I get into bed, as I madly type things into the calendar on my phone for the next day. My washing basket requires a room of it’s own and I am always looking for a space in the fridge to fit the butter.

Ben and I pass each other on the staircase sometimes as he races upstairs to get changed to go out again, and I’m running, chanting in my head the items I need to get from downstairs before returning to the bathroom where the four little ones are trying to drown one another. We have these fleeting moments of interaction where he will grab me and wrap his arms around me ever so tightly, for a moment on the landing, and I usually ruin it with something like, “Ok, three things I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

One night last week Ben was cooking dinner and I was in the laundry putting on probably the fourth load of washing for the day, when he wandered in and looked at me with that look like we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We were both exhausted and I said to him “It’s just a slog isn’t it? Every day is like a marathon”. He responded with something about how we are both achieving much at the moment and it all being worth it. And I know it is. It’s such a marathon too though. That night after the kids were in bed, we spontaneously found ourselves sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen bench, a bottle of red wine (possibly two) between us. We sat there on a school night until nearly 1am even though we both had a thousand things we should have been doing and a thousand hours of sleep to catch up on. But we sat there none the less and drank glasses of wine and chatted, easily, about all sorts of things. Definitely not the kids. Other stuff like Ben’s latest shed project (an antique fridge…don’t ask) and new clients of mine I hadn’t yet told him about. We talked about all the good stuff, the stuff that makes us feel happy and assured. These conversations inevitably involve a moment of dreaming, about our life twenty years from now. When the kids will be adults and I will be a matriarch, as Ben likes to say. When we will be handing out advice on life and business rather than wiping bottoms, breaking up fights and crawling around on hands and knees picking up fourteen thousand loom bands.

I always knew I wanted a big family and every couple of years I am reminded why. When my immediate family come together, with our partners and kids, there is thirty five of us. The connection that I feel with each one of these people is unacknowledged, it’s just there, as obvious as the day. It’s amazing and almost unfathomable to me that through the relationship of two people, thirty three other lives are laid out.

This is why we run the marathon every day. For this.

K. x

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