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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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.

The Trouble with R U OK Day


Today is R U OK Day, that 24 hour period where Australian’s ask the question over social media. The usual answer is that we are fine, thanks for asking. A number of young people have told me they are dubious about this collective day of enquiring. They have a sharp point of comparison on social media and in real life. If others seem to be together, with not a care in the world, they daren’t declare that in fact they are not okay and life is not alright. Mum and Dad are okay and seem to be emotionally together, as do their friends and the community at large. They don’t see their softball coach collapse in tears, needing to be comforted in their grief, and they don’t often see mum connecting on a level that is beyond a cocktail night or a movie with the ladies, as seen in their Instagram pics. We aren’t great at naming our emotions and sharing our struggles. Pride may come into it as well as shame and embarrassment amid a desperate, silent struggle to make our centre hold. We need to show kids that we cry and need to reach out to a friend when life is hard. They need to see us as open, if we want them to be the same.

I just read back through notes I have written since December, and boy, this eight months has pulverised me, leaving shards of glass scattered around my psyche. My friends only know a little of my depression, and of my anxiety. The experiences which led to this are too much, even for dear friends. I have been loathe to burden anybody with the complete picture. As a result, I reached out to experts. I spent hours explaining things, handing over my notes. They in turn promised that they would organize specialised counselling, at a price I would be able to afford. I waited and waited, and I rang and emailed. Eventually, I had the horrible realization that there was no help forthcoming. It reminded me of the time, twenty years ago when I was promised a dedicated counsellor to help me navigate my past. After a long while, they rang, and apologised. They were unable to offer help for the deep trauma I had suffered. There was no help at all for me. I remember the sinking feeling, as I began to understand that I had too much pain for them to deal with. If I wanted to survive, I had to find a way, without being given any tools. It was like climbing a sheer cliff face without ropes and a harness.

It is lovely to ask people if they are okay, but what if they answer that no, they aren’t? Where are the services? Where is the immediate help? I know so many families who are trying desperately to help their son/daughter or brother/sister hold on, but they are doing it alone. Whatever the mental health budget is at present, it needs to be tripled, at the very least. We are in a state of emergency. I have not been okay, and hand on heart, I hadn’t found the help I have needed, despite searching. I made up my own emotional first aid kit. It contains:

*Contracting in to save energy, necessary for the battle. Huddling up in my home, and retreating from social media.

*Opening my front door and firing up my laptop when I had a clearer head.

*Walking at least thirty minutes, most days.

*Playing soothing music and calming my senses with candles and essential oils.

*When I didn’t have the energy to talk on the phone or meet up in person, I would try and at least converse via text and email.

*Making sure that I eat, and do so regularly.

*Movies and the theatre, always.

*Making a list each day of what I wanted to achieve. I found my brain was so overloaded that I couldn’t remember half of what I needed to do, and so my lists have been a blessing.

*Not comparing my journey to anyone else.

Top of the kit was being kind to myself; knowing that I was doing my utmost to be here in a year’s time. I did so whilst querying all the wild suggestions my addled mind proffered. I would be panic-stricken leaving the house, worrying as to who I might bump into and what I could possibly say. Wondering if people liked me at all, worrying that I was alone. The brain that hasn’t rested at night, and is going full-pelt of a day, is a brain that can trick us into believing any number of scenarios. I wanted to give up searching for tools, I really did. I was tired and it is hard to be vulnerable enough to ask for help in the first place. I did one thing before shutting the door for good; I rang a dear lady who works for a large organization and I told her everything. Within a day, she had emailed me a list of resources and has organized assistance. It is hard-going, locating a service without a huge waiting list (at best), but you are worth it; your life is worth it. Persist, and if you don’t feel you can, ask a trusted friend to persist on your behalf.

On this R U Ok day, I hope that people feel free to answer honestly. Our young are looking at us to not only give guidance as they make their way through life, but to also show them our vulnerabilities and the strength it requires to ask for help. In the past week, I have been honoured to hear several women sharing with me of their grief, that they are suffering domestic violence, and that a child has had a devastating health diagnosis. These women were not okay, and I batted away their apologies and assured them that it was alright to state it. Tea was drunk and tissues were given, as well as the biggest gift of all, which is time.  Imagine somebody came to your door and you asked, R U OK? What if they said they were the opposite of okay? Would you sit with them in their anger, depression and sorrow? Would you be still and silent, leaving room for them to speak? This is what is needed in the midst of our noisy and harried existence. Arms to hold you, hands to dry your tears, cups of water to hydrate and compassion so that you feel heard.

Here a list of excellent Apps which be of assistance if you are in Australia:

Recovery Point

Headspace

Positive Pathways

Daisy

Suicide Call-Back Service

Reaching Out


I have a friend whose visage has no sharp features. Rather, it presents in soft-focus, much like the content of their mind and heart. Sensitive, to them life can feel like steel wool rubbing against debris stuck to the surface of their psyche. Steel wool can be useful for plugging holes to discourage rats and their gnawing teeth, I guess. The aftermath of youthful trauma rears its head- ready to bite- throughout their life. They found the hardest times were when their children reached the ages they had been when they were subjected to horror. The hardest times were when their partner made a flippant remark that reminded them of someone else, in another time. Hell, the past has a way of making itself known, even if one buries it in a pile of compost in order to grow flowers. Turning the waste (as happens in random remembrance), it comes up for air.

I had known this particular friend for many years, had known about their depression and anxiety. I knew about the trauma this person had endured, both in childhood and in their current experience. I knew that they had attempted suicide at thirteen, and that it was nothing short of a miracle that they were still here. I had bumped into this friend twice in as many weeks, and we hugged as though the separation of a year hadn’t occurred. I gave them my new details, and they said they would be in touch. I knew they weren’t traveling well, and each day, my thoughts extended to them, so I was delighted when they finally texted. “Can I come over? Are you home?” I said I was, and put the kettle on. We talked about many things, including  recent stressors  (which would bring anyone to their knees). Without a solid foundation in their childhood, nor a cheer squad, this person was flailing.

They admitted their thoughts had turned to not being here, and they still weren’t sleeping, a long-standing problem. They had used up their free psychology visits, and no resources were forthcoming, despite pleading for help, not once or twice, but many times. They had found comfort in their pets, but when they suddenly died, that support was taken as well. This friend didn’t need advice, they just needed someone to listen. I held their hand and declared, “by you messaging, and finding the energy to come over, you made a powerful declaration about your worth. You want to live, and I am in awe of you.”

The very next day, this friend texted, and wanted to take me up on my offer of going for a walk. It was another powerful statement. I knew it took everything they had to do so, and went against everything they felt like doing, which was to stay in and lock themselves away. As we walked, we took in gardens, and noted the concordant sounds of kookaburras and cockatoos in trees stripped of their leaves. We admired architecture and smiled at the sight of garden gnomes and whimsical sculptures.

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Another friend recently dropped in, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I had loved them from afar, knowing somehow that their life was now complicated and far from the halcyon days of old. They apologized for not keeping in touch, explaining that every shred of energy had been dedicated to their partner, who had been suffering mental illness. I reassured them that in regards to friendship, seven years is no time at all. I meant it. It was a homecoming, and we simply picked up where we left off, spending an afternoon laughing and crying in equal amounts.

People’s lives are complex, and we rarely know what goes on behind closed doors. We have no idea what it takes to prepare themselves for the dawn of a new day. To get up and shower can be an extraordinary achievement, as can visiting a friend or going for a walk. When a friend isolates, seemingly dropping all contact, they may be going through a transformation or they may be going through hell. I have seen the trees outside my bedroom window shake their leaves throughout autumn so they can have the energy for new growth. Hellish times make life contract, reduced to the basics necessary for survival.  People can be like trees, and need to know that the door is always open. They need to be assured that understanding and love await them after a time of withdrawal, and that we will grieve their losses, as much as we shall rejoice when new growth springs forth.

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Happy Galentine’s Day!


What is Galentine’s Day, you ask? It is a celebration of friendship. Read more here. Those precious souls who call in when we are at our lowest, make us laugh and cheer us on. I am blessed to have many gorgeous friends who do the above. This year, I have been remiss, as life has been busy. I have to attend to a few medical issues (boring and laborious), but next year I vow to get together with my tribe to celebrate how awesome they are. Love is a precious gift, not found in red roses or a giant teddy bear. It is found in the everyday overtures of affection, given without condition and with joy. Thankyou to all who make a difference in someone’s life.

If you are alone today, know that you are a miracle and are loved. The odds of you being on this planet were against you, and yet, here you are! Make yourself a pot of tea, have a luxurious bath, listen to your favourite music. Above all, be kind to yourself. Fill your cup today.

My new Heart


I met the most extraordinary lady a few years back, from the USA. Tall and elegant, with twinkling blue eyes and a mischievous sense of humour. This lady had seen it all. She had been beaten up and had her face broken. She had experienced homelessness and then employed as a cocktail waitress. She had her own graphic design business, before coming to Oz and travelling to the Far North. On her return, she taught troubled kids, believing in them until they could believe in themselves. Starting another business, she lived on two-minute noodles and water whilst ploughing away. She endured more heartbreak and found salvation in riding her motorbike and attending Cosplay events. Beguiling and independent, I had never met a more free spirit. She raised her daughter single-handedly, something to be immensely proud of. No family to back her up nor support her. Now, her daughter is grown, and my friend is leaving to  be nearer her. It happened within weeks, and not only did she notice the signs that it was time to move on, but she listened. She heard loud and clear through the notes that were left in her building, neighbours abusing one another over minor infractions. She heard it through her listlessness, and when she added up what seven years of rent had cost her, in a place she didn’t love. It had been the longest this free spirit had stayed anywhere.

We arranged to meet with her, shortly before she left. She gave my daughter this ring, saying that if she wore it, it would remind her of her worth and strength, just as it had her. It is Lapis, and fitted her perfectly. My friend didn’t have anybody to buy her jewellery, and so she bought it for herself as a young woman. I love that she didn’t wait to have it gifted her.

To me, she gave her Cosplay belt, fitted with pockets, so I could travel lightly. She made me promise to go to festivals in her place. She also gave me a gift which reduced me to tears. One evening at her place, a glass heart I was wearing slipped from the cord around my neck, and smashed on her tiled floor. Picking it up, my friend vowed to fix my broken heart. I had forgotten all about it, until the moment I opened the hessian bag and saw this:

My new rose quartz heart and my old, shattered glass heart.

It was quite simply, one of the most poetic and symbolic gifts anyone has ever given me. There was my old heart, shattered and black with all it had absorbed in the past. Here was my new heart, bigger though lighter, and certainly untainted. I shall keep both, as a reminder that one can heal with the right people around you. My friend has taught me many, many things in the past few years. She has taught both my girl and I to always believe in our dreams, to rejoice in being independent and free-thinkers. She has shown us how to survive on very little and how to celebrate when fortune enters one’s life. She has taught us how to be brave, and how to have fun. How learning never ends and what a joy it is to study new things. She has taught us that when life kicks you into the dirt, you can not only survive, but thrive. This woman had nobody to help her, nor cheer her on. Whatever she has accomplished has been done with determination, self-belief and a will of iron. My darling friend, the Lapis ring and my brand new heart can’t wait to bask in your glow upon our next meeting. xxx

Dolly


My heart broke when I saw the tribute (featured below),on the Akubra Hats Facebook page to Dolly. Dolly was a  girl whom had featured in their Christmas ads in years past…

This is not an easy post to write. We were shocked and distressed to hear of the passing of “Dolly” – the young girl many of you will recognise from our past Christmas adverts. This beautiful photo was taken 8 years ago.

Dolly chose to end her life last week due to bullying. She was not even 15 years old.

To think that anyone could feel so overwhelmed and that this was their only option is unfathomable. Bullying of any type is unacceptable. It is up to us to stand up when we see any kind of bullying behaviour. Dolly could be anyone’s daughter, sister, friend. We need to make sure that anyone in crisis knows there is always someone to talk to. Be a friend, check up on your mates.

Our hearts go out to her family and friends.

“Dolly” Amy Jayne Everett 1.5.2003-3.1.2018

#stopbullyingnow #doitfordolly #justbekind

Edit: We would like to remind everyone that this is not the place to speculate, question, lay blame or call for repercussions. Please keep your comments respectful. We will delete any comments that are not fitting for this page and post. Right now is the time to pull together and show support for Dolly’s family.

If you need someone to talk to:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

beyondblue: 1300 22 46 36

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

I can only hope that 2018 shall see a kinder society take shape, a world where Dolly and every other kid on the planet feels valued, respected and has kindness bestowed on them, rather than cruelty. I have tried to teach my daughter to listen to what her peers say. Do they make cutting jibes about others, putting it under the heading, ‘just joking?’ Do they want to get their own way without compromise, and display anger and silence when it doesn’t go their way? Do they exclude? All can be red flags of trouble to come within that friendship. I have tried to teach my daughter to be kind but firm in return. If somebody treats you in such a way, and is hot and cold toward you, walk away. Your emotional health is not worth the friendship, and it is certainly not worth your precious life. Dolly’s beautiful family  are grieving deeply, and even through their despair, they have reached out via social media. They want this bullying to stop. They want to educate. They want kindness to take the place of cruelty. In Dolly’s name, may it be so.

Bad News, Strength, Kindness and Saying Yes


Two years ago, I met a lovely lady from England. Her voice redolent with a gentle lilt, her energy soft and assuring. We talked briefly, and then I didn’t see her again. Last school holidays, she organized a picnic, sending out an open invitation. I took my daughter, and we had the best time! We determined to not leave it two years until the next meet-up.

I became ill last week, and couldn’t lift my head from my pillow. My persistent cough caused excruciating back pain. In the middle of the sickness, I found out an old friend had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. This lady had cheered me on through IVF, held my newborn in her arms, and had been by my side throughout the last fifteen years. She and her husband squeezed the marrow out of life; out every day, travelling around Australia and the world. Taking an interest in everything and everyone they encountered. Still reeling from the shock of the news, there was a knock on the front door. There stood the English lady, a meal in hand. She had found out my address, and made me a vegetarian meal to boost my system. Her kindness and timing were perfect. As I ate a bowl of her stew and dumplings infused with sprigs of thyme and spices, I could feel nutrition flooding every cell in my body. I could feel the kindness behind her gift. I have a mild case of pneumonia, an occupational hazard with my spinal injuries, and the way my spine curves. I need to get better so I can go see my old friend; so I can also prepare wholesome meals  for those that need them.

Today is the anniversary of my fall. There is no guide-book as to how one is meant to feel, nor commemorate the occasion. Anger, sorrow, lamentation, joy and utter gratitude feature heavily. Every year is different. I have gone back to the building, I have gone on long walks or to the movies. Last year, my daughter and I attended the Helpmann Awards. This year, I am weakened by my lungs, coughing and feeling a little woozy. I feel better than yesterday though. In the months I spent in hospital, I assured myself that each day would be an improvement on what came before, and it was. Today is an improvement on yesterday. I got dressed, and am taking my daughter to an appointment in the city. I shall probably get us dinner, and order a cheeky Cab Sav. The night of my fall, I hadn’t eaten for days, and craved fluid. I was frozen, laying on the ground, my blood splayed around me. I craved food, fluid, and warmth. Today, I had all three. Tonight, as I slip into my bed, I will give thanks that I am here. I will give thanks for old friends that extract the marrow out of life and English friends who make me the vegetarian equivalent of chicken soup for my soul. Life is a strange and precious gift.

 

SistaCare 2017


My daughter, her friend and myself were invited to SistaCare 2017, held at the Exodus Foundation. Rev. Bridget Perkins-Ocean organized the day, along with a bevy of helpers. Students and teachers from Ultimo Tafe did hair and makeup for the ladies in the church. It was a delight to see the women and girls see themselves through fresh eyes.

Dress for Success Sydney gifted the women from the Exodus Women’s Group new outfits, and boy, they looked gorgeous! Dress for Success is an amazing initiative, dressing and styling ladies who are looking to get into the workforce, or need outfits to attend weddings, funerals etc. The ladies then see themselves through fresh eyes, imagining all they are capable of. What was inherent and hidden, buried under trauma and life events, has been reclaimed. My girls were thrilled when asked to lead the fashion parade!

The girls with Reverend Bridget

Reverend Bill Crews was there to greet everybody, and both the beauty school at Ultimo Tafe and Dress for Success gave a talk about their services. It was then time to eat, something my two models were very much looking forward to!

Two very brave and inspirational ladies then told us of their pasts, the details of which were gut-wrenching. To look at their radiant smiles, you would never know what they have endured. Women need to tell their stories to one another; to have a circle of mighty and courageous souls to depend on. I would like to thank everybody who made this event possible. To walk into the food hall and see it so lovingly decorated, was glorious. I was the first seated and it gave me such happiness to see the look on their faces as the guests entered. The tables were set for them, resplendent with china tea cups and flowers. The first step to having a woman recognize her value is to treat her as a precious, valuable person. Giving her back what was once taken. The Exodus Foundation, Dress for Success, volunteers from Ultimo Tafe and the speakers did just that.

 

Reaching Out


I have spent a great deal of my life alone, dealing with stuff. I have been alone in court rooms, making police statements; before surgery and after. I have been alone in hospitals and clinics and in my room at home. Of course, being a writer is a solitary profession, and as a homeschooling mother, I have to organize social occasions and outings. There is something comforting about relying on yourself to give what both you and your child need, and yet it is frightening too! Big decisions are made by me. No back-up, just me. No pressure!

There is a low-grade depression which can bring forth ferocious social anxiety at times, making me wary of reaching out. I hadn’t seen a friend for many months, and had missed her greatly. I rebelled against my fear of being dismissed and walked into her work the other day. I was greeted with a big hug, not only from her, but also others I knew. It felt like a home-coming, and I realized how silly my fears were. I had felt as though I was stuck between worlds. One as a mum who travels widely in order for her daughter to see friends and attend classes, and then as a woman who feared she had lost connection to the community in her dear little town.

I see now that I can be both… I can hold onto both. I was afraid that I would be forgotten, left behind. Feeling brave, I texted other friends, and organized catch-ups. I have a list of treasured people I want to catch up with! The brain can tell us porkies as a way of protecting us, but one of the biggest fibs is that to retreat shall protect us. It won’t, we will just feel alone. I have been alone too much in my life, and it is time to reach out. Time to yourself can be reflective, a way of filling your cup. Socializing can too. It is about getting the balance right. Who do you need to make contact with?