Learning from Toddlers


Hopping onto a full carriage at Central station, I was cursing myself for arriving in peak hour. Tired and hungry, I stood next to an equally exhausted lady, who grimaced by way of a greeting. People left at the next few stops, and a mother with a stroller boarded. That is when everything changed. I hadn’t noticed the mother and little boy before, seated in the middle section. The little boy stood as I found a place to sit, and wandered over to the stroller, greeting the little girl with  unadulterated joy, as though they were old friends. After he introduced himself, the little girl’s mum was offered a seat by a building worker. He actually insisted. The little girl was let out of her stroller and the kids sat snuggled together. I watched as their rapport was built, sharing toys and French fries.

The lady I had been standing with smiled knowingly, when she heard the mothers describing how hard new parenthood had been, and how they had been certain they were screwing it all up. Parents of older kids chimed in, and told their own stories. We confessed all the things we vowed to never do with our kids, which we all did. We talked of our own battles and what we had learned through the years. I laughingly relayed that I had vowed to never feed my toddler chips, and stories were told about all the silly rules we had administered, pre-children. Banana sandwiches are great, but then so is the occasional bucket of chips. Pretty soon, the whole carriage was chatting, introducing ourselves to one another. The toddler’s energy and ease of friendship had contaminated us all. They alternatively sung Wiggle songs, played with toys and ate chips.

An hour passed, and it was time for the toddlers to say goodbye, and they hugged one another. I thought of the ease in which the little boy had gone up to greet the little girl. It had brought out the best in all the weary travellers. It taught us to get our noses out of our phones, and actually smile at one another. Even if you are only going to be with a group of people for one solitary hour of your life, make it count.

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Pain and Anxiety


When I first read about Jo Cameron-the ease in which she moves through the world- I envied her. Imagine not being woken by niggling fears surfacing at 2am? What a joy to not suffer anxiety, nor terrors, from real or imagined foes! As for aches and pains, imagine not suffering with any? How liberated would you feel?

 

Jo Cameron was interviewed in the New York Times recently. The potential for her genes to be studied, so that pain and anxiety in everyday patients may be diluted, is a tantalising prospect. It may result in the ability to demand that a certain gene calms the hell down!

 

Along with the obvious advantages to living as Jo Cameron does, there are also disadvantages. I have told my daughter to be aware of that feeling in the pit of her stomach, that relays whether a situation or person is giving off good vibes, or not. Are they making her feel anxious? It is a sense that over-rides all logic, and hence doesn’t involve the brain, as much as the gut. I have told her to always honour that feeling, and have promised that I shall too. Imagine if we didn’t have any warning of danger? No rapid heartbeat, sweating, nor adrenaline in overdrive? There can be good stressors, which pivot us beyond what we believed were the limits of what we can endure. Studying, exams, public speaking. Anxiety can be used as a helpful resource, and not a hindrance in these cases.

When I went into labour, I thought they were mild contractions, involving my lower back. Compared to endometriosis pain, it was a walk in the park! The back pain grew worse, which saw me agree to finally go to hospital. It turned out that I was in full labour! If I hadn’t had the back pain, I would never have known. Every segment of my spine is damaged. There are bony spurs growing on my neck, all the way down. My spinal canal is narrowing, leaving little room for the nerves. I am sometimes out of my mind with the pain, and as a seasoned pain-sufferer, I often welcome it. It gets so bad that my brain packs an overnight bag, and we escape the minutiae of everyday life. I laugh more heartily, dream more vividly, and write more eloquently than I would have done.  I appreciate the spider senses in my solar plexus going into overdrive if confronted with danger. The same goes with my hand retracted from a steaming cup, before being scolded.

It would be lovely to have the ability to adjust the settings on anxiety and pain, without turning them off completely. Perhaps, Jo Cameron holds the answers we have been seeking.

Naked Bike Ride Sydney, Parrots and Friends


As a result of a recent slip and fall, I have had to take more pain medication for my spine.   Come Friday, I was hunched over my toilet, continually throwing up (this medication can interfere with the nausea centre of the brain). As a result, I missed seeing my daughter sing at her Highschool’s talent quest. It was the end to a stellar week, which saw us being notified that our darling little home was being sold. We are hoping with all our hearts that an investor buys it, and we are able to stay. Saturday was spent eating dry toast and apple to settle my stomach, and resting in bed. That evening, my girl and I watched a very silly movie, and laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

We had arranged to meet friends on Sunday in the city, and there was no way that I was going to cancel. We all did IVF together, ending up with daughters. We hadn’t seen each other for the longest time, life getting in the way. It were as though no time had passed, as we hugged and caught up. IVF had taken a lot out of us, but it had also given us an inner resilience. Boy, have we needed it!

Strolling along, we came across a very sweet man, who was walking his three dogs and his Eclectus parrot. The girls were invited to hold him, much to their delight!

This gorgeous boy is named Apollo, and you can follow him and his family on Instagram.

Light exuded from Apollo’s dad; he was one of those people of whom you leave lighter and much happier.

We had Italian ice-cream for brunch, then indulged in a gorgeous Earl Grey and rose donut, baked fresh. A long walk was in order afterward, and we found an eatery, where I ordered a zucchini flower and plate of Brussels sprouts, pan-fried in balsamic vinegar. Surprisingly, my friends asked that the surplus be put in a container for me to take home,  and were more than a little reluctant to finish them off!

The girls paddled in the harbour, and as we reclined at a nearby park, we were surprised to have the Naked Bike Ride, Sydney, stream past! A helpful fellow at the front, announced to the gawkers that they were indeed nude riders, as if we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves! I admired their chutzpah, and the whimsy of it all. Such a random event to come across! It certainly made everyone smile!

At the end of the day, I was tired and sore, but no more than I would have been had I stayed home. In fact, I would have been worse off. I wouldn’t have seen my lifelong friends, watched my daughter have fun, met a very kind man with his canine and bird family, eaten glorious food and seen the naked bike ride. I wouldn’t have been embraced by my glorious city. I love that I can go into the city depleted, and come back retrieved.

Scoliosis


When I was in Primary school, the Government funded a scoliosis screening program, to pick up worrying curvatures early in a child’s life. At the time, I passed the screening with flying colours. Then, I broke my back. A few years later, after numerous surgeries, I was informed that my hip graft had failed, and I had scoliosis to such an extent that my heart, lungs and stomach were being crushed. Without major surgery, I would die. I was seventeen when I went into hospital to have this surgery. I had previously spent two years in a body brace, which unfortunately couldn’t save my spine, as the problem stemmed from the grafts failing. They at first opened my chest, somebody holding my heart whilst ribs were removed for grafting and put in via the front. Then I was turned over, and they operated on my spine, installing Harrington rods, screwed into place. I was later put in a fibreglass body cast.

 

 

My scoliosis was rectified enough to save my life, but the rods had to be taken out at twenty, and later fractures in my spine have seen the scoliosis worsen. I live with a monumental amount of pain now.

I worry when I see kids slouching, quite often unable to sit up straight with shoulders back. I am also concerned with the weight young people carry in their backpacks to and from school. It is as though they are carrying bricks around! It is essential that scoliosis is discovered early, before long-term damage is done, and requires surgery. It affects future pregnancies, the work you can do, and your general wellbeing.

My friend’s daughters were diagnosed early, and whilst they require bracing for a few years, they shouldn’t need any treatment beyond that. My friend has set up a petition, to urge our government to bring back screening within our schools. If we can prevent even one child from enduring hell later on, it is worth it.

You can sign the petition here.

 

Hope


How do we survive what life throws at us? It is miraculous, indeed, that a broken heart keeps beating. Hope is found in the friend who has retreated- missing from all social media-and  whom reappears after their dark night of the soul. It is the dawn we thought we may not see, and waking after major surgery that we were warned may kill us. It is the rescinding and rebuttal of bottles of booze and cigarettes after being warned of the inevitability of an early grave. It is continuing in the face of grief, and the exercise we partake in, despite wanting to stay in bed. It is a mindset that urges us to keep going, and keep alive, despite a downward turn in fortunes. Hope has no need for evidence, it is timeless and often without basis in facts. It stands alone, without anything to cling to, as ephemeral as a cloud, and as mighty as a gladiator. I have strolled through areas of Australian bush, which had been decimated by fire. Hope is found in the green shoots and new foliage on charred trees and scrub. You only need a small area which is undamaged to cultivate new life, it turns out. img_1550

You can have it all, and then lose it all. Enjoy today whilst it is here. The one thing that you cannot lose is yourself, a fine purpose-built instrument ripe for remodelling. Soaring above the decimation and loss is a feeling of hope; that you have it in you to rebuild. The hour is not too late, nor are you too old. We are somehow driven to grow in mud and rise from the ashes, again and again. Hold onto hope, no matter what circumstance you’re in.

Stay…


Last week, Sydney lost a talented chef to suicide.  Bronzed and seemingly healthy, his smile could light up our city. There was much commentary after the news hit social media, but what pierced through the rhetoric was the notion that when alone, he’d fallen into a worm hole, and hadn’t the resources to stave off the impulse his depression looped into. These holes seem to have no end, and can be hard to extricate oneself from.

I know a person who was close to succumbing, in January, 2019. There are as many pathways into anxiety and depression as there are people in the world. Hers wasn’t initially caused by a chemical imbalance, rather circumstances conspiring against her. It were as though her mind were a strudel, with layers of pastry piled on top of one other. The apple promised sweetness, and she held the layers of stress in her hands, waiting to reach the filling. All it took was another day of calamity- not of her making- to break her resolve. Heart beating wildly, hands shaking and a mind unable to see a way out, she reached for the phone. Once a playdate for her child had been arranged, and she was alone, her mind led her onto a dark stage. There was no audience, nor were there lights. There were no solutions here.

She had done all that she could to make life better, more secure, and she couldn’t see her way clear. All of a sudden, a beam of light hit the centre of her brain, insisting that she send a text. She asked what her friend was up to, and if she may join her. “Of course!” came the enthusiastic response. They drove to the beach, singing along to the radio. She made herself focus on all the beauty surrounding her. The Bird Of Paradise, alongside hibiscus, in reds and oranges,  dotting the landscape. She closed her eyes and felt the salt air caressing her skin. Her bottle of chilled water felt good as it hit her neck, the Cheezels they had bought, decorating her fingers like rings. She had gone against her wildest impulse, which was to not experience anything at all. It had frightened her, how her brain insisted that the stressors couldn’t be balanced against beauty.

They were gone for hours, away from home and everyday life. She was dropped back revived, just in time to make calls and forge a path through the thorny brackets of which she had been stuck. The next morning, she woke at dawn, and saw something similar to this.

Morning light and lorikeets greeted the new day, alongside the help needed to extricate herself from overwhelming concerns. Within a month, she had begun a new medication. It was a small dose, but enough to chase away the anxiety she had been battling alone, without armour. She could now see her way clear, and a path opened up in front of her. Happiness returned, and she started to engage with the world again. To her amazement, she had been missed. Depression in an active state is renowned for the crap it feeds us. Looking back, she shudders at what she would have missed, in just a couple of weeks. The mundane joy of a cool change after stifling heat, through to her child’s laughter.

She hadn’t the language in her distressed state to tell her friend what the matter was, nor what she needed, other than to be with someone. Perhaps that is all one needs to do; to reach out and say that you need company, even accompanying them as they go about their errands. Anything to not be in alone, battling a pocket of despair by yourself. A wormhole is a tunnel with two ends. Perhaps reaching out to those on the periphery is a way of ensuring we make it back to life. Look out for those self-isolating or who seem to be going through changes. Our psyche can be as fragile as a butterfly wing, and whilst it is tempting to cease all that has ever given us joy, it is imperative that we don’t. The lies our minds feed us tends to be done in secret and when alone.  You are too precious, and life has too much beauty left to unfurl. Let today mark the beginning of us all leaving our particular pockets of despair. If you survived today because you decided to go grocery shopping with a friend, rather than stay by yourself, then that is a miracle indeed. Whatever it takes to keep you alive, do it.

Grief and the Seasons


I spoke to a friend on the matter of grief, and she said something profound. She mentioned that those grieving would be best to give themselves a year before making huge changes. “They have to endure the four seasons…when you think about it, each season contains first’s. There are birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. The list of first experiences without their loved one is excruciating. Enduring those four seasons will take all the strength in them.”

 

Grief can be felt in a myriad of ways. There can be grief for what was left unsaid, and for what was spoken in haste. It can present as regret for what never was and for what had been. The relationship you wished you had, compared to the one you experienced. The pain of an empty chair at your dining table, or felt after reaching for the phone to call. It can present as it’s twin, anger. You may be so bloody angry at everything, not least what others concern themselves with. Don’t they know that an angel just died?

Grief is complex; one moment you may feel fine, and the next be in the foetal position on the floor. It is not a linear journey, rather it is a mass of swirly pathways. Grief is messy, it’s trajectory launching you into a future wherein you have to leave the fallen behind. You take only the memories, and the love, with you. I imagine butterflies, dragonflies and fireflies escorting the bereaved as they rest in a cave. The walls perhaps lined with glow worms as they sit and weep. It can be a lonely journey, and certainly a puzzling trip, for which nobody wants a ticket.

Piercing through the hymns, the eulogies, the visual displays and the flowers, is the love you hold in your heart and the promise of what might have been. It sears through the ICU monitors, silencing the alarms and machines. At the end of it all, we leave with only love; that which we gave and accepted in turn. If you can endure the first four seasons of bereavement,  hope and love wait on the other side.

 

Home schooling, Highschool and what I have learnt.


I educated my daughter for four years, and considered it a privilege. She recently started  high school, and a myriad of emotions hit me. I hadn’t seen her in a school uniform for many years, and I must say, that seeing her beaming face as she tried it on, brought nothing but happiness. I have learnt much from our home school journey, and have made many lifelong friends.

Trust

I learned to trust myself as her mother. I guess every parent second-guesses themselves when it comes to their child. They worry if they are doing the right things and making the right decisions, and many sleepless nights are had. I certainly agonized over my decision to home school. Mothers know more than we give ourselves credit for, sensing the big picture before it becomes clear. If I knew then what I know now… I farewelled my daughter on her first day of high school and she bounded off,  confident and assured. It was beyond my wildest dreams, and I found it thrilling.

Joy

Home education gave both she and I the time and space to rediscover a love of learning. Shakespeare at nine years old, physics and chemistry whilst still in primary… She tried scores of classes, and ended up loving them. She debated and wrote essays, and was amazed at the ease in which she picked it all up, once taught. She was stretched beyond what she thought she could do, and learnt that she can achieve anything.

Friends

She has friends from playgroup, preschool, choir, dancing, drama, home schooling, and from her three years at school before starting home education. They are scattered all over the place, and even if they don’t see each other for ages, they pick up where they left off, and time and distance mean nought. I think it has taught her to be confident in her friendships, that they won’t diminish without daily contact, and can be depended upon as a touchstone to her life.

Self-Reliant

She would map out a plan for each week, and we would sit and discuss the classes and workshops she would attend. She would pack her bag, and any equipment she needed to take for the day ahead, then tend to any homework the teachers gave her that evening. She now unpacks her bag at night after high school, and organizes her own lunch in the morning. She is a kid who loves routines, and scrutinizes her white board to see what awaits the next day. Attending a local high school is like a holiday compared to the planning and time that went into our weeks prior!

Highschool

I know that she missed having the experience of a year 6 formal. There are some experiences that home school can’t replicate, in my experience. Little things that mean a great deal when looking back. Having an entry in the year 6 yearbook and the school camp, for example. The things we used to go to were scattered around Sydney, and I felt it important to attend so to give her a well-rounded education. This left both of us feeling exhausted at the end of the day. Now, she walks eight minutes to school! They have a farm with lots of animals, dancing, drama, hospitality classes, and everything else I had been sourcing from all over the place! She is making a lovely group of friends, and bounds out of here, looking forward to seeing them of a day. As we live outside of the city, trying to organize social outings and classes was pretty full-on. I found as she got older, I wasn’t able to give her everything that she needed. Needs change the older kids get, and what suits one won’t suit another. She needed the buzz of high school, and the camaraderie. If you had an anxious child, or several children schooling at home, their needs would probably be entirely different.

Nothing Lost and No Regrets

When she expressed a desire to go to high school, we attended an information session. I was impressed with the school, and one look at the unadulterated joy radiating from my child told me all I needed to know. I didn’t want her to look back and regret not at least having the experience. What is the worst that could happen? I knew that home schooling could work and work well, providing an alternate pathway to higher education. If need be, we would just pick up where we left off.

Experiences

She has seen and done some pretty amazing things. She knows about the arts, science and history. She has acted in Shakespearean plays and produced art. She is able to talk to a wide range of people, from babies to 100 years of age. Most importantly, she knows where she starts and other people leave off, crucial when it comes to boundaries. Home schooling laid the ground work for the years ahead. It has been a week today, since she started high school. Just as I had when we began home schooling, I am excited at what lays ahead.

I must say that I miss my little mate when she is at school. We divided our time into home days and outside classes throughout home schooling. I loved traveling with her; having lunch together in a new place, perhaps going for a swim afterward. I loved our adventures, and relished the sense that anything was possible. I am grateful to all the teachers, kids and parents who made our journey so special. Her wings have unfurled, and she is ready to fly. It is why we started home schooling in the first place, and I couldn’t be more proud, nor happier.

Womens Wave, Sydney


Perusing the commentary on social media, there are apparently people who don’t believe that we need to march in support of women’s rights. That would be welcome news for  the thousands who marched in Sydney last weekend. If only it were true… We demanded the right to feel safe on our streets, our thoughts turning to Aiia Maasarwe, the vibrant young student killed in Melbourne. She will never be forgotten, and was certainly remembered Sunday. It could have been any one of us…We traveled into the city with a woman who had survived domestic violence. She left her marriage when pregnant with her youngest, and has been to hell, lingering to grab other’s from it’s fire. We stood spellbound, listening to Yumi Stynes, Aunty Norma, Jane Brock, Rae Johnston and Bri Lee. If you can imagine several thousand people, silent and keeping space for the speakers, the trees themselves staying as still as the air. The peace was occasionally broken by rapturous applause. As we began our march past the courts, my friend began crying. So many of us had experienced violence in the past, and being part of a collective was in direct opposition to how alone we had once felt. “Things are going to change for our girls,” I whispered, hoping I was right.

I have witnessed girls being too intimidated to play at a local park, right near their home, after boys demanded that they be their girlfriend. They refused, and the boys didn’t like it. Now, they will only go to the park accompanied. I have seen cat-calling of eleven year old’s, suggestive messages left for them in their bags. I had the displeasure of traveling on a train with two teenage boys the other day. By the looks of them, I would hazard a guess that they were sixteen years old. One was talking to the other about sending “a chick” pics of their anatomy, and demanding that she do the same. The way in which they were talking, and the phrases they used to denigrate young women, made my skin crawl, and I let them have it both barrels. Once upon a time, the defence brought up the fact that I was on the pill as an argument in court. Never mind that I was taking it for severe period pain, later diagnosed as endometriosis. Certainly never mind that it had nothing to do with my being raped. I have seen misogyny at work, and felt it’s cruel aftermath. I have met gentlemen and fabulous boys too, many of whom took part in the march. They give me renewed hope.

Do you know how hard it is to leave an abusive marriage? Even if you are the one fiscally responsible, adept at paying bills and stretching money, real estate agents prefer to have a husband’s name on the lease, particularly if you are at home with small children and he works full-time. So many things in your husband’s name, and none in yours. There are many ways to feel trapped in this world, and a lot of rabbit holes to disappear down. My daughter was asked by a reporter why she was here. She said “because my mum was hurt badly when she was a teenager, and women and girls deserve to feel safe and respected.” We sure do, sweetheart. Her friends chatted to the reporter too, adding their heartfelt sentiments. They are the daughter’s of  women who rose like the mythical phoenix, and shall be silent no more.

The call was placed for a Safe State, a list of recommendations put together by frontline workers and experts to end family and domestic violence. You can show your support here.

Financial Abuse


I recently met up with a friend whose partner (in secret), had racked up substantial debts, which they were repaying at $550 per week. If you asked her partner what he’d bought, I don’t believe he would be able to tell you, such was the lack of value placed on the items. It has added up to a huge chunk out of their wages. Financial abuse is insidious, tied in with emotional and mental abuse, and at it’s heart, control.  Ultimately, living with someone whose goals aren’t aligned with yours, is unworkable. Being lied to, having money taken out of your account and being forced to withdraw what you have saved in order to live, is more common than most people think. It consists of regularly making up excuses when you can’t afford to go out,  whilst trying to keep the household running and school supplies bought. It is incredibly stressful.

I have seen and heard it all in my time. I have seen people I love left with nothing after sacrificing everything, in order to pay off debts that aren’t even theirs.  I have seen people trapped by ill health and other issues, rendering it harder to leave. I have seen people promised money over the Christmas period, or a partner swearing that they would pay their share, and then not do so. I have seen it all, and wept with those on the receiving end.

I have written an ebook about financial, emotional and mental abuse, available on Amazon. It is such an important subject, and my main goal was to help people feel less alone. The fact that you are still here and fighting for yourself and any children you may have is extraordinary! It takes such a massive effort (and toll), when you are locked out of your own life; financial matters and fines, debts and betrayal hidden from you. If this is you, keep going, please. I have seen lives rebuilt after suffering these particular traumas. I have seen a woman five years down the road- and now financially secure-cradling the hands of another, promising that they too shall get through it. I believe her.

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Get your copy here.