Twenty Things I’ve Learned in 2016

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“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

There is a peculiar feeling that accompanies the closure of another year. Memories of last Christmas flood back in and I begin to experience that strange mix of surprise and familiarity at the way the year rolls to a close. It is a bittersweet realisation of how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

I have been chatting with fellow writer, Christina Hubbard, over the past few weeks about our reflections on 2016 and what we have learned. The time and space to look back and learn from our mistakes and celebrate our little steps forward is such a powerful thing, and I hope this will become an annual tradition for me.

2016 was a year of embracing life in a way I hadn’t thought possible previously – taking the time to figure out and follow my own dreams and learn what makes me tick. There were adventures and setbacks, new life and injuries, moments of fulfilment and falling completely apart. This blog is such an important part of cataloguing life as it happens, and it is so interesting to go back and read my own thoughts from a year ago, and realise how much I have discovered in 12 short months.

So without further ado and in no particular order of importance – here is my (slightly random) list:

1. A year is a lifetime in young kid phase

Photos and videos of the kids show instantly how much they have grown and developed in just four seasons and the incremental change that was so hard to distinguish in the day to day rhythms suddenly reveals itself. Pictures of Ivy with hardly any hair catch me off guard as I glance over at the spirited little girl prancing around in mismatched shoes carrying her much-loved, threadbare teddy. Hudson’s charismatic way of posing a question to himself and then answering it (usually deep in the throes of telling a dramatic story about how Fireman Sam or Heatwave rescued him last night) allays my fears a little about the way he is developing language skills. I marvel at Eli’s newfound ability to control his emotions even when he is possessed by anger and frustration and the depth of friendship he has managed to create at Kinder this year. Looking down at my now significant bump it amazes me that this precious life was merely a thought bubble last year, yet is more than halfway to being developed now.

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2. Neighbours can be great friends

I never really understood the power of good neighbours until this year… they were people to wave to, be friendly to and randomly chat with, but actual real life friends seemed a little out of reach. Then one of our neighbours began a tongue-in-cheek housewives group for the neighbourhood and we made it a goal to meet up monthly for dinners. During the week we had our Christmas break-up party and I went home massaging my face from the pain of all the laughter. We have made such great connections with so many in the streets that surround us now and enjoy the benefits of doing life with what has become our little village.

3. Podcasts are a perfect medium for learning on the go

Previously, I thought podcasts were a nice idea but just not for me. “How am I supposed to fit in listening to a podcast when I’m surrounded by kids all the time?” I responded with exasperation when Dave first suggested it to me. It turns out that podcasts are actually very well-suited to this life stage. Long car trips with the kids, playground trips and the monotony of pushing swings, doing the dishes while Dave does the bath, an overlay for any form of housework – these are all the perfect opportunity to chuck in some headphones and journey to another world in which adults converse, problems are solvable and learning is possible – even while your physical surroundings might be complete and utter chaos.

4. It is good to pursue interests outside of motherhood

Last November I had an identity crisis. After rearranging my life and priorities around motherhood for so long the cracks had begun to show and it was no longer possible to ignore them. I lamented the fact that Dave seemed to have so much energy and passion to pour into extra-curricular projects while I couldn’t even muster an idea of what I thought I might be interested in. Over the past year I have begun to follow the white rabbit, finally admitting to myself that I needed to figure out something to pour myself into that was just mine. As a result, my novel was (is being) borne and I have relished the opportunity to further my writing in a purely creative way. Strangely, this shift in perspective has created enormous freedom for our entire family – I am no longer resentful of Dave for pursuing his dreams and I have so much more emotional energy for motherhood when I return from a writing session. Who would have thought?

5. Shit happens

Whether it is Dave having to go in for emergency surgery to remove his inflamed and infected appendix or Hudson diving head first into the kitchen chair leg and splitting his head open, you can never really escape the reality that things are going to go wrong at times and that is to be expected. As much as my inner control freak would like to pretend that I can save my family from hurt or heartache, it just doesn’t turn out that way in real life. The real lesson is that friends and family are incredible in times of struggle and that suffering makes you realise keenly all the things that you have hence forth take for granted.

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6. I’m not equipped to handle a worm farm

I had such high hopes of sustaining the garden area, nourished by scraps from our kitchen that had been magically transformed into nutrient-rich food for the plants. At first it seemed to be progressing well, but the daily chore of upkeep and staving off bugs and other pests became too much and the poor structure has become abandoned. I hesitate to even open the lid now, horrified at the thought of what might be breeding in there. It certainly wasn’t pretty last time I was brave enough to take a peek.

7. Family Daycare is the bomb

As much as I’m loathe to admit it, I used to secretly judge other mothers for ‘taking time out’ from their kids. “I don’t need to do that”, I pridefully told myself – all the while wearing a flashing badge of martyrdom for always being at the beck and call of the kids. Strangely, I saw the break as a sign of weakness rather than strength and it wasn’t until it was only my nose and mouth poking above the water that I finally admitted a small break might be a good idea. It has been the best decision. Of course, the first time I dropped the kids off it was the hardest thing ever as I wrestled with the internal narrative of guilt and shame. But as they thrived and I regained emotional energy, I now firmly and enthusiastically recommend the idea to all mothers.

8. A ‘Coffice’ is an excellent venue for writing

There is something pretty special about stepping through the glass doors into a climate-controlled environment, approaching the counter and being greeted with a smile and a “Just the piccolo today?” A year of regularly visiting McCafe has both Dave and I pointing to ‘our’ black cushioned chair in the corner and it amazes me to think of how many words have been churned out collectively in that space. Having tried to retreat  in the past to the bedroom or garage to do writing, somehow there is something magical about getting out of the house entirely – away from the overhearing of chaos and calamity – that greatly increases productivity. All for the price of one delicious coffee.

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9. There will always be something to worry about in parenting

It hits you in the moments of complete despair, when your child is deep in the throes of an enraged tantrum and shouting at you all the most awful words he can conjure: “What have we done wrong?” Parenting is such an all-in, emotional commitment that it is very hard to separate your own worth from the day to day decisions that must be made. Whether it is worry about their pace of development, the number of vegetables/fruit they have consumed that day or reports that they have been ‘breaking up’ with their friends at Kinder – I have come to realise that it is impossible to feel as if you are ever really ‘nailing’ parenthood. The most you can hope for are those magical moments when everyone seems to be happy at the same time and hold tightly to that fleeting feeling.

10. Kinder mums are awesome

I’m not sure whether I just got really lucky at Eli’s Kinder, but I feel like I have made such strong friendships with the other mothers in one short year. When you send your kid into the wide world of Kinder you have such high hopes for them making new friends but you don’t realise how much their parents will become such a big part of your world as well. We have spent many hours hanging out at restaurants with indoor playgrounds, braving Crocs, attending birthday parties and playdates together as well as countless messages commiserating about how difficult parenting can be. Who knew that we as parents would be just as strongly affected (maybe more) by which class our kids would be assigned to next year as we raced to catch a glimpse of the noticeboard together.

11. Online friendships can be incredible

Growing up, I remember Mum talking about her pen pal in America. To this day they exchange letters, Christmas presents and anecdotes and we have all been at different times to visit their historic property in the picturesque rolling green hills of Pennsylvania. Friendship can spring from the most unexpected of places, and I found this out first-hand when I joined the Five Minute Friday community on Twitter. The weekly Twitter parties became a great way to connect with other writers and make new friendships, one of which has become so close and amazing as we now communicate regularly over voice messages on Voxer.

12. Interactive entertaining is the most rewarding

2016 has been the year of interactive hospitality – from cocktail parties to our recent woodfired pizza party, I have discovered that everyone has a lot more fun when the event comes together as a collaboration. Our cocktail parties involve everyone nominating a signature cocktail to share with the group and we sampled some incredible concoctions as a result. With the woodfired pizza party, I supplied all the basic pizza ingredients, but guests were asked to provide a gourmet ingredient to share. We ended up with the most incredible array of produce and it was exciting to see everyone become inspired and put together some creative pizzas of their own.

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13. Pregnancy is a lot more manageable with a yoga practice

This has been the first pregnancy in which I have had a regular yoga practice and I’m really seeing the results. I still struggle with energy and random pains every now and then, but overall I have noticed that it is a lot easier to move around and even simple actions like sitting/getting up are non-issues. I’m hoping the increase in body strength will serve me well when it actually comes time to give birth, but we’ll have to wait and see for that.

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14. The Enneagram is like magic

Can it really be a mere year since I have discovered the Enneagram? This compelling and comprehensive way of understanding myself and the people around me? If you have any kind of sustained conversation with me about anything mildly deep, there is a significant chance that the Enneagram will crop up in some way. For me it has been a completely revolutionary lens by which to understand personality and more importantly, the underlying fears and motivations that unconsciously govern our everyday actions. I feel like I understand and have so much more grace for myself when I fail now and can appreciate both my strengths and weaknesses as two sides of the same coin. It has also been incredibly helpful for our marriage as I realise so clearly now that Dave really doesn’t see the world in the same way that I do, and that his motivations and fears are very different than my own. I could probably talk about this for far too long, so I’ll wrap it up now!

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15. Friends who know your dark side are invaluable

It happened when our dear friends were living overseas and feeling a little isolated from their community back in Australia. Three of us formed an online confessional group to encourage each other to share honestly about our failings and mistakes and this year we were able to meet up in person almost every Friday. The space to chat deeply about life, parenting, marriage issues, sex, podcasts, narrative therapy and the Enneagram has been so completely invaluable to me. The fact that I can shoot off a completely unfiltered, expletive-laden message to these girls whenever I am losing it helps so much to avoid that feeling of shame and isolation when things are going to shit. We know each other at our best and worst and there is complete and utter acceptance. Such an absolute privilege.

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16. Monthly themes are more helpful than New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t know about you but I haven’t ever really experienced success with New Year’s Resolutions. They seem a little trite and surface level and I usually end up forgetting them by February. Enter the monthly theme idea (modelled after the monthly focuses that Gretchen Rubin used in her year long experiment to better understand happiness in her book ‘The Happiness Project‘). At the start of the year I wrote down in my calendar a different focus or theme for each month and committed to write about any discoveries that I made at the end of the month. This process led to some surprising and unforeseen revelations about life, the concepts and myself and I am determined to follow the same process for 2017.

17. Poetry is an unrivalled medium

Ah poetry, how is it that I only discovered you this year? Sure, I penned some (probably awful) verse in English class in high school, but I never really grasped the power that the medium of poetry can have in getting underneath your skin and conveying emotion in spine-tingling ways. Now, if I am struggling to put my thoughts into words and the cursor is rudely blinking at me, I turn immediately to poetry and find instant reprieve. You can find my collection of poetry here.

18. I’m going to lose my shit

I’m a Type 1 (‘The Perfectionist’) on the Enneagram. I like order, peace, predictability and routine. Life, on the other hand, does not lend itself to being contained neatly in these rigid boxes, and parenting – wow, doesn’t even come close. For a long time I’ve struggled with this – beating myself up about my less than stellar reactions when things didn’t go to plan, descending down the shame spiral and lamenting my lapse of judgement with great woe. I’m getting a lot better at realising that sometimes I am bound to fail and make mistakes and that this merely makes me human. Of course, these moments tend to lead to some pretty confessional pieces at times too – such as here and here.

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19. Writing Challenges are a great way to connect and develop as a writer

This year I participated in the #Write31Days challenge with a group of other bloggers and writers. The aim was to commit to a whole month of free writing for five minutes every day. Overall, I found the experience to be a positive one – discovering great writers out there and connecting with kindred spirits. The daily rhythm of writing was mostly enjoyable, with a few hard days mixed in (and an inevitable writing hangover when the month ended). I would definitely be up for doing the challenge in 2017, though I’m very glad it wasn’t called the #Write365Days challenge. You can check out my collection of pieces here if you are interested.

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20. Being a Mum is a pretty special experience

Don’t get me wrong, there are countless exhausting and difficult moments that make up motherhood, and sometimes I look longingly into the past when my job as a lawyer involved predictable, achievable outcomes and (mostly) satisfied clients. But I’m realising more and more that this stage of life is a privilege, that the little moments that I get to be a part of every day are priceless and that we are constantly forging memories that will become part of us forever. It is simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding role that I have ever played and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Now, over to you! What did you learn this year? Did you discover something that has revolutionised the way you did life? Maybe it was a new mindset, a book that changed you, or a practice that has made your life much easier? I would love to hear from you and even link below to your own version of this post.

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2 comments

  1. Ok, so I didn’t realize you had been to Pennsylvania. How cool! Would love to know what you thought of it. Your list is so inspiring. A year gives so much insight. I remember being really judgemental of moms who said you needed to have other pursuits when your kids didn’t require so much of you anymore. They were right! Your coffice and daycare days=what a gift! And your friendship-finding inspires me to no end. Agreed—God is good at giving the unexpected. Yes, it is also great to be self-aware in shit-losing moments (or at least be able to pick up the pieces afterward.) This list is amazing!

    1. Will fill you in on the details of our trip in tonight’s Voxer message 🙂 I was so surprised looking back over the year about how many lessons and insights can be gleaned… particularly when you are regularly engaging with people who want to talk deeply about life and how to do it well – so important! Cannot wait to read your list when you get around to it -really looking forward to that!

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