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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 38, Jan/Feb 2010

The Slow Cooker, by Veronika Sophia Robinson

My husband, Paul, bought me a slow cooker when Bethany was a babe. I would put vegetable chunks, herbs and spices, with water, into the crockpot each morning, and by dinner time a lovely casserole would be waiting. All I had to do was throw together a salad. By day, my babe and I would visit friends, take long walks in the Auckland sunshine, breastfeed, go swimming, sip juice in a café.

In the early evening, I was able to be with my baby at the ‘traditional colic time’, instead of racing around the kitchen like a mad woman with octopus tentacles!

Slow cooking takes the ingredients, and over time, enhances the flavours. Mothering does that to us, as women. Mothers are like slow cookers. We never quite know what delicious morsels will emerge after our juices begin to flow.

When I was a little girl, I had a very clear vision that when I became a mother, I’d be a writer, so I could stay at home while my children grew up around my feet. I was so bathed in love and sunshine by having a full-time, stay at home mum who had fascinating hobbies and interests, that I knew I wanted my daughters to be blessed with a constant caregiver and companion, too.

It’s bitterly cold today; gales and torrential rain are menacing at the front window, but here, by the warm fireside, I write. Eliza’s spent the day sewing, drawing, painting, chatting, and now she’s playing her saxophone. Bethany’s idled away the hours by writing a screenplay, and stopped for piano practice. Today, her dad showed her chords on the new guitar she’d spent four months saving up for.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to write a feature article, tidy up a book chapter, and start this editorial, all amongst the bustle of family living. Motherhood isn’t something you fence off into definable sections. It weaves its way through our day. We’ve chatted, laughed, had a visitor in the village pop by for a chat, rugged up and gone for a walk in the elements, and written a list of outdoor adventures to do in Nature this Winter.

Mothering is rich, and like a hearty casserole, it takes time for our full flavours to brew. Sometimes, however, mothering is more like a pressure cooker than a slow cooker. Daily life is so intense, unrelenting, and, at times, unforgiving. We don’t know which way is up. It’s 3pm, and with four children under five, we still haven’t got out of our pyjamas ~ for the fourth day in a row. We wonder where ‘we’ went. How did we go from being a person with dreams and ambitions, to someone who doesn’t have time to brush her hair? Writing a shopping list seems ambitious, so what chance is there to write anything else?

One of my many joys as editor of The Mother magazine has been offering a space for emerging writing talent; and over the past eight years some of our regular writers have gone on, not only to have their written work in other magazines, but to be published as authors. Most have a blog (online journal), too, whereby they offer inspiration to others on the parenting path.

Writing, whether for fun, therapy or work, is a natural progression for many women after they embark on motherhood. In some ways, being a mother is like a trial by fire. It consumes our being, and tests our inner resources like nothing else on this Earth. We may consider it psychological suicide to be home all day with ‘just’ our children, yet surrender is the key and salve to our sanity when the days are rougher than we envisioned. Loneliness and isolation evaporate when we see our children as companions, rather than testy little creatures we have to escape from.

Motherhood invites us to be whole, to be honest, and to explore our inner child and heal the psychic skeletons of unmet infantile needs. We all have them, and if we deny them, they pop up in other parts of our life until we face them head on.

Our ‘slow cooking’ seasonings include: the relationship we have with the biological father of our children (regardless of whether he’s alive, or not, active in their lives, or not); how we love and nurture ourselves as women; how we perceive the relationship we had, and have, with our parents; the consciousness we invite to, and invest in, our mothering; the rhythm we bring to each day.

The writing life need not ever be visible to others, as in publication. First and foremost, we write for ourselves. We give voice to our inner thoughts. It’s a way to organise and express inner urgings. I don’t know if the aim of writing should ever be specifically to ‘get it published’. If ours is a message to be shared, it will reach its audience, but I don’t believe that should be our motive.

My friend, Victoria Bennett, is an award-winning author, yet her private writing practice is as inspiring and moving to me as her published books. At the beginning of her first pregnancy, Vikki began to write ‘a love letter to her unborn child’. It was in the form of daily poems. This daily, meditative poetry practice continued through the loss of that baby, as her way of both honouring and understanding his unseen life. Vikki continued writing each day. It was a spiritual journey, and led her towards the birth of her son, Django. Near the end of that pregnancy, Vikki’s beautiful and dynamic sister, Sue, tragically died in a canoeing accident. Writing each day allowed Vikki to stay connected to Django in the womb, and to honour his life, even amidst the grief of losing her sister. Her labour at home was three days long. And yes, she wrote each day through that as well.

Writing visits us in many ways ~ it can be in a gratitude journal as handwritten letters and cards to friends (I treasure each one I receive); a handwritten diary; or electronically, as a blog. Some brave the risk of rejection by sending an article off to the editor of a magazine, and others put their efforts into books. However we channel the writing energy, though, it’s always richer because of the journey we live.

Mothering gives us ample fodder for writing. It’s in the minutiae of everyday living. We don’t need major dramas to ignite our creative spark any more than we need a dedicated writing room, ‘time to write’ or a laptop. We just have to trust the words which come from us, and to us, and deliver them faithfully to the page.

In my childhood, a huge bushfire swept through our mountain. I was lost for words, and desperate to channel my bereft feelings at such destruction into a form I could see: the written word. It was there, as I walked through the charred remains of eucalyptus trees and kangaroo bones, that I realised I would write, not because I could, but because I had to. My writing wasn’t for anyone else, but to help me make sense of my world.

I’m my own worst critic, always berating myself for not being able to write creative non-fiction. I desperately want to place beautiful words and images onto the page ~ to transport the reader to another place and time ~ and yet, they elude me. My need to communicate and get the word out, however, overrides all my desirous fantasies of floral script.

I’ve encouraged many mothers to write, and when they say they don’t know how they’ll find the time, I tell them to write it on toilet paper! If we really want to write, we’ll find ways and means. Keep a notebook in your handbag, scribble ideas on the back of envelopes, shopping receipts; and when you’ve got a minute to yourself in the loo, write! You’ll probably find it easier in a notebook than on toilet paper though.

My daughters write regularly. Bethany’s found a creative niche writing plays and song lyrics/composing, and Eliza’s thrill is historical fiction. By unleashing this aspect of themselves now, the flow of writing in motherhood (should they choose that path) will have already had a channel opened.

Some women have no idea if they can write, because they’ve never tried. I encourage the practice of Morning Pages. Made famous by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, this daily ritual of writing three foolscap pages of ‘flow of consciousness’ is a tool to draw out the inner creative self. The idea isn’t to prove one’s writing brilliance, or to show it to other people (including yourself), but to release the inner babble that inhibits creative flow. I began Morning Pages when my girls were five and three. I’d awake tired from tandem nursing through the night, and writing was the last thing I wanted to do when the Sun rose. Had it not been for that daily practice and commitment, this magazine wouldn’t have been conceived, for it came to life in my Morning Pages. I played with the idea every morning.

Even if you never write anything but these pages, your creative genius will unfold, and your life will be richer in many ways. The drama stays on the page, and doesn’t knock you out where you need the most energy: in your mothering. We write to keep ourselves in balance: to get the constant chatter out of our heads. The written word allows us to be more present to our children.

Writing a daily or weekly journal about your mothering experience can act as a guide to where you’ve been, and where you’re going. What may start out as a firm, and indelible belief at the beginning of parenting, may be something we look upon ten years later with horror. Did I really believe that? Why? What’s happened in my life since then to give me a different view?

A mothering journal is sacred space, whether we use it for our deepest thoughts and feelings, or to record favourite recipes and quotes, or to treasure a locket of baby hair. It’s our confidante, where we share our feelings of pride, loneliness, sorrow and grief, laughter and dreams. It’s the story of our life, and every mother has a story to tell.

Paul and I wish you and your family the best year ever.

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