Prescription for Happiness
Vibrant splashes of purple have been appearing in my neighbourhood, the bloom of the jacaranda trees shout to me that summer is on the way.
My daughters and I hop over the fallen lilac leaves, careful not to slip on the damp petals.
'Look Mummy, look!'
'Come on we need to go!'
I'm grumpy, shouty and desperate to wipe off my television make-up. The padded, underwire bra that I've been wearing all day is digging into my back. I'm busting to rip it off and get changed into my daggy cat patterned pyjamas.
White plastic shopping bags are starting to slip from my sweaty fingers, the bags full of the familiar dinner ingredients of already crumbed chicken schnitzel, corn and potatoes. Dinner, bath and bed. This routine is something I yearn to fast forward. It's a moment that I don't want to be in and a moment that I get stuck in every afternoon.
'Oh it goes in the blink of an eye! Make sure you enjoy every moment,' is a refrain I have often heard from well meaning older relatives and kind strangers. But I'm not enjoying every moment, I don't want to be dragged back to the beautiful tree. I just want to get home, unpack the shopping bags, and see if I can get hide in the bathroom for a few minutes of peace. Is there something wrong with me that I don't want to be exciting this very moment?
'I don't like it, I'm not eating it!' says my youngest daughter.
'What do you mean you don't like it. The only thing you eat is schnitzel and mash, and you told me you wanted it for dinner tonight!'
'Stop it, don't hit your sister. I don't care who started it. Someone will lose an eye, put that Barbie down right now!'
'Mummy why can't I get my ears pierced? Can we have dinner in front of television? Why do I have to go to school. I'm sick and you wouldn't send an ill child to school. And why do I have to go? I don't need to go to school if I'm going to open my florist shop!'
'But Mummy, I don't want to have legs, I want to be a mermaid.'
'I don't want to be a mermaid, I want to be a boy, so I can marry a princess...'
In the blink of an eye and a wiggle of a Bewitched nose I want to time travel to a Greek Island, ringed with a turquoise sea where the only sound I hear is the water landing gently on the pebbly beach. Does that make me a bad, ungrateful mother? That negative soundtrack that questions my mothering skills has become all too frequent. No amount of antidepressants or retail therapy can dull that voice. And that voice becomes the next layer of my mother guilt, the fear that I'm not living in the present and missing every precious, often tedious moments.
One way I have of trying to appreciate the little things has been to deliberately lose my mobile once I get home with my girls. It removes the temptation to escape into a parallel universe, even if it means my husband has to ring me twenty times before I can find it, and talk to him. The realisation that I had to kick my phone habit hit me once my seven year old daughter told me to get off Twitter.
However, hiding my phone hasn't been enough. I have been on the search for something else that will help me be more present. More and more I draw on 'mindfulness' - a term I had originally discarded as being too hippie because it jarred with my prejudice about science over the spiritual and 'new age'. However I have now learnt there is oodles of science to explain mindfulness. I just had to be prodded in the right direction by my psychologist. I also stumbled across a book written by comedian Ruby Wax, called 'Sane New World', that is devoted to the topic. Essentially our clever brains can re-train and re-wire themselves to throw out the damaging thoughts that hold us back. For me I have learnt to take slow deep breathes and focus on either what I can see, feel or taste as a way of short circuiting those destructive thoughts. And these thoughts are not true, they are only feelings, not fact.
Taking those deep breathes helps bring me into the present. Now I notice that it's raining cats and dogs. A large black cat, with a long tail, and a soft fluffy white chin lands gently on the grass, right next to the yellow picnic rug I'm sitting on. It's quickly followed by an orange, stripy cat with wiry whiskers and blue glass eyes. Next out the window comes a black tufty Scottish dog with a red, velvet collar and a soft looking nose. Next a little grey, cuddly rat comes spinning out of the upstairs window and lands with a soft thud onto the damp grass.
I laugh, my loud, guffawing laugh, as I look skywards to see even more cuddly toys coming out of the window. My girlfriend, Pip and I, who only seconds before, had been trying to help each other negotiate work politics and pushy school mums, fall back onto our picnic rug, and laugh.
Four little blonde girls come running and squealing around the corner. More animals are being thrown high into the air. Another cat, a long eared puppy dog, a teddy bear, a brown horse, a white rabbit. I look upwards and see a fistful of stars decorating the night sky.
The next day, a small warm hand drags me back to the sandstone fence under the jacaranda tree. My youngest daughter points out a silver lizard which is frozen in the shadow on top of the fence. As we get closer it disappears down the sliver of a crack between the bricks. Suddenly I notice a flicker of movement, there is a family of lizards living on this fence. I make a conscious effort to stop, to be here, to be in the right now. And for that moment in time, the present, I am filled with joy.
First published in Sunday Life magazine.