Monday, 11 November 2013

I don't know you ... I love you!

I haven't posted for a long time. There is plenty I could have written about, but I just couldn't seem to write it! I spoke it, though. I do like to talk!

I have a constant battle with myself about whether I should be writing at all. The ever-present crisis of confidence. The crisis I have about every aspect of my life. Am I a good mother ... am I a good editor ... am I a good friend ... am I a good [fill in the blank]??

There is one day of the week, however, where my inner critic takes a break, where I don't have time for the usual self-analysis. On this day, I spend time with people who have dementia. When I first started doing this, I felt all the usual trepidation, the usual doubt. Will I be good at this? Can I even handle being around people who are suffering such a cruel disease? I had some idea of what it would be like. My mum had dementia. It wasn't pretty. She had a slow agonising decline.

There is no doubt that dementia is a horrible illness. There is no doubt that watching someone you love slowly dying is heart-wrenching. I wasn't sure I had the "right stuff" to be around people with dementia.

I will admit, it's been a steep learning curve! It's not that I really "do" much. I sit with people, serve morning tea, do puzzles, serve lunch, chat. But you have to be completely "present" in what you do. It's the most important aspect of the job. Here's the amazing part. I love being there. It's a joy in so many unexpected ways. I don't know much about the past history of the people I'm with. I know very little of who they were before the disease took hold. This gives me an important advantage. Unlike their loved ones, I don't grieve for who they were. I can enjoy them for who they are now. I can be with them in the present. We sing, we dance, we laugh, we play with balloons, we talk, we comfort each other, sometimes we cry. They never fail to surprise me with their insight, their kindness, their gratitude. We take each day as it comes. Sometimes they remember me, usually they don't, but it doesn't matter. The only prerequisite is that I am "open" to whatever happens. I accept them for who they are now, and they accept me in the same way. There may not be a tomorrow.

A couple of weeks ago I was greeted with this by one of the dementia patients: "I don't know you ... I love you". If only we could all express that sentiment.

Today was Remembrance Day, and ironically I spent the day with people who are losing their memory. But it was the perfect place to be. One of the carers saw this quote on the way to work, and she wrote it on the board: "If the power of love could overcome the love of power, the world would be at peace"!

Remembrance Day, indeed.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Giving Good Blog!

So, I noticed a rather sizeable spike in my blog readership! Obviously, the strong, silent type readers, because they certainly haven't commented on anything I've written.

I am rather inclined to look for the cloud in any silver lining, so I was dubious about my new fan base. I decided to do a search on the domain that was providing my newfound popularity. According to other bloggers, it's a porn website! Imagine my surprise ... NOT!

I was trying to re-create the scenario. Joe Reader is online looking for his daily porn fix. He comes across one of my blogs entitled "Hooking in the Suburbs". "Ah," he thinks "this could be interesting. Perhaps a blog revealing the real secrets of desperate housewives!"

Instead, however, he discovers that the blog is talking about anxiety and the fine art of rug-hooking! Disappointed (and more than a little restless) Joe reads on, convinced at some point he will find what he's looking for. Then, an amazing thing happens, he becomes "hooked"! Yes, he was hoping for enormous boobs and shameless acts of debauchery, but instead he is drawn in by the subtle wit and stunning beauty of the prose he is reading. He is a convert!

This is fiction, of course. Joe and all of his friends came and went, or ... perhaps it was the other way around? Either way, you know what they say, what goes up must come down! And in my case it was the readership!

Fortunately, I'm not the least bit disappointed. Since starting this blog I have been discovering how much I like to write. How much I need to write. Sometimes, my inner critic tells me not to write. It is convinced that I have no business writing unless it's serious, unless it's important. But so much of my life is weighed down by seriousness. The thing that saves me is laughter. Funny things I read (like other people's blogs), funny friends, funny movies. I need laughter as much as I need writing! I like the serious stuff, too. In fact I've just finished reading the most beautiful, inspiring book, which I will share with you another time.

For now, though, I am just going to keep this one light. And to Joe, wherever you may be, thanks for the memories!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

My Induction into the Hall of Shame!

On Tuesday, I went for a WH&S induction. I was told that WH&S replaces the old OH&S framework. Apparently, HSRs help to monitor contractors. Contractors must ensure that appropriate PPE is used. Contractors must also provide up-to-date SDSs for all chemicals used on site. Furthermore, a PCBU has an absolute duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety of workers.

I wasn't sure if I was being inducted or if I'd stumbled into an English As a Second Language class! One acronym came to my mind ... WTF?!

In case you are wondering why I was participating in this induction (and surely you are!), I have been doing some volunteer work at a hospital in an arts program! Me and my new best friends (three electricians, an air cooling expert, and two cleaners at a mental health facility) were being inducted! 

I was very nervous. The course started at 8.30am and was held at the local hospital. I barely slept the night before. I've worked on my own for so long that I've forgotten what it's like to do any kind of course with real people in a real place of employment! This feels way too grownup for me!

"Do you think there will be a test?" I asked my husband. He had done this kind of thing before.
"Nah, not for this. You're just being inducted."
"Phew," I thought. 

"So," said the lady running the course, "first I will go through the presentation, then there will be a short quiz."

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck" (Me ... not her!)

"Now, don't worry," she assured us "no-one's failed it yet!"

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, I'm going to be the first person in history to fail." (me again!)

At least now I was alert and awake, despite my four hours of sleep. I then proceeded to annoy everyone by asking the teacher questions. I thought I'd better clarify things if there was going to be a quiz! Even she looked exasperated with me. I was slowing things down. People obviously had places to be. Finally, the moment of truth arrived. She handed out the quiz. 

"Now, I'm going to leave the room," she announced. "Feel free to discuss things, if necessary."

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, I came alone! People in front of me and behind me were whispering, comparing notes. Fuck, Fuck, Double Fuck!"

I read through the quiz. OK, I took a deep breath. I am an editor. The questions were multiple choice and seemed pretty obvious. Hesitantly, I answered the first few questions. So obvious!! What was I worried about. The cleaners behind me were agitated. The guys in front of me were crossing out answers. I was already done! 

The course instructor returned. She began marking the guys in front. Perfect score. The second guy (who looked to be the age of my eldest son) also got perfect! "Well done," praised the instructor. She must have had doubts about him! The next guy motioned for me to go. I knew he'd come with the others, so I let him go ahead. He looked pretty nervous. Perfect! 

Now, it was my turn. Correct, correct, correct ... and then a pause ... and then a big X! "Oh," she said, "looks like you've got one wrong!" 

I could feel my face getting hot. "Really?" I said.

She pointed to the question. It was a true or false answer: You are prohibited from consuming alcohol in the workplace.

I'd answered "False"!!!! 

"So, the correct answer would be?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, of course, the answer would be true!"

"It's OK, love," she said. "A lot of people get that one wrong. It's sort of a trick question."

I couldn't really see what was so tricky about it, other than the fact that you had to read the question carefully, which I obviously hadn't done ... unlike my friends, the electricians! Thankfully, I still passed the induction. I sheepishly accepted my card.

Something occurred to me later in the day. I work from home ... so, technically, I do allow alcohol in my workplace! 

I'm glad I didn't think of this at the time, however. I don't think the instructor would have appreciated my little joke! 

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Child That Got Away

It was my birthday last Saturday. Birthdays are a time of mixed emotions for me. I can't say I really look forward to the occasion! It's more than the fact that I'm getting old. I am getting old! I'm still trying to pinpoint when exactly that happened?!

Aside from the obvious issues related to getting older, I have other, more personal, issues! For many, birthdays are a reason to celebrate. I love my children's birthdays. I couldn't wait to meet them. Their births were painful, yes, but they arrived into a maelstrom of love!

My own birth was not a joyous occasion. My birth mother had decided to give me up for adoption. I get the impression that my birth father didn't want a baby, but left it to my birth mother to decide. They were living together, but weren't married. She was from a different country and had no family support. She had had a difficult relationship with her own mother, and questioned her ability as a mother. I can't help but acknowledge that my birth was painful on so many levels. When I was giving birth to my own children, I didn't know my birth mother yet. But, at the time, I remember wondering how she must have felt, how difficult it would have been going through the agony of labour, only to relinquish the baby. There was also the realisation that for months afterwards there would still be hormones and other reminders to deal with.

When I finally established a relationship with my birth mother, I anticipated that all my questions concerning my birth would be answered. I was wrong. My birth mother is still grappling with the guilt and pain of having given a baby up for adoption. We email each other, but that's it. She doesn't want to meet me, or even speak to me on the phone. After years of pleading, she finally sent me a family history. It answered the practical questions of heredity, but stopped short of giving me any real indication of her emotions, other than that the absence indicated to me just how painful it must have been. With respect to my birth, there was hardly any detail at all. She said she only held me once.

I love to recount to my children the story of their birth! They love to hear the details of what it was like when I was pregnant with them (so and so always had the hiccups, another decided to kick incessantly whenever I tried to sleep). They want to know what foods I craved, what names I had picked out, what they were like as newborns! I was wearing a George Thorogood T-shirt when I gave birth to my eldest, my daughter was born in the back of a four-wheel drive, my third child was born with his hand extended like some superhero emerging, and my last was induced and emerged so confidently I couldn't quite believe he was mine!

I don't like to make a big fuss of my birthday. It's not false modesty, which some presume! I don't have parties, or invite people to dinner. In fact, I usually don't even tell people. If they know, and want to acknowledge my birthday, I'm OK with that, but I won't seek it out! I don't have it on Facebook! I can't imagine that my feelings toward my birthday will ever change, but I won't say "never"! Regardless of the fact that my birth mother and I are still trying to define our relationship, she sent me an email for my birthday ... and I was happy to receive it. I also have a birth brother. My birth parents split up for a while after my birth, but then they got back together and eventually married. They had a son!!! He sent me an email too. At the end of it, he said he loved me!! Again, it's a difficult relationship. We don't really know each other and it's not easy to suddenly become close to someone, just because you're supposed to be. It's a start though.

I've been reading The Art of Happiness, the philosophy of the Dalai Lama. In it he talks of the importance of compassion. I think I am learning to apply that to my life ... starting with my birthday! Letting others celebrate your life is a form of compassion towards yourself! My birth may have caused pain and anguish, but I want my life to be about love and compassion.

Monday, 15 April 2013

What Lucy Said!

On the weekend, I attended a two-day yoga workshop. I am already imagining the eye-rolling!!!! If it's just too "peace, love and everything groovy" for you, feel free to go straight to Woogsworld! If, on the other hand, you can't sleep, or you are feeling guilty about something and would like to indulge in a little self-flagellation, then ... read on!

The yoga workshop was split into four sessions over the two days. The morning sessions focused on the physical practice, while the afternoon sessions explored meditation and philosophy. 

A woman by the name of Lucy Roberts ran the workshop. Right away, I liked her. She radiated a genuine warmth. Most importantly, she also had a sense of humour. I'm always a little afraid of "retreats" and "workshops"! I like to practise yoga, and I am interested in learning more about the spiritual side, but deep down I am more than a little cynical!

There was one thing that Lucy said, however, that really resonated with me. She was talking about meditation, a practice I have always struggled with! To say that I have an active mind is a huge understatement. My mind is the poster child for hyperactivity. My mind is the wise-cracking smartass who makes fun of everything, but, at the same time, desperately wants to embrace everything. I am terrified of my mind! I am terrified of looking inward!

Lucy described her meditation as a way for her to re-connect with herself. "Yes, yes," I thought. "I get the concept, but the trouble with me is I'm not sure I WANT to re-connect with myself! I haven't spent all these years running for nothing!" Then, Lucy said something that stopped me in my tracks.

She said that when she doesn't take time out to meditate, that she loses a connection with who she is, and sometimes that manifests itself in feelings of isolation. She explained that we sometimes attribute loneliness to not being around enough people, but that what we might be missing is ourselves!!! In that moment, it all made sense to me. 

It's true that I have lost myself somewhere in life. And it's also true that I have been imagining that if only I had the right job, or was surrounded by the right people, or living in the right place, that happiness would fall into my lap! But, I think, Lucy is right. I have lost the truth of who I am. Who am I? I said in my bio for this blog that I am looking for myself! But I think I have been looking in all the wrong places! I have been searching for myself out in the world. 

I need to stop looking outward and start confronting my own inner terror! I need to create more space and slow down. I need to quiet some of the noise in my head. I need to stop running and start sitting! 

Thanks Lucy!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

You Can't Roller Skate with a Toothpick in Your Mouth!

I woke up this morning at 4am. There is something about 4am that destroys me. It's as though no living creature should be awake at that time.

I felt an overwhelming rush of hopelessness. I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't imagine how I would get through the next day, let alone the week, the month, the year, the ...

Life can become so complicated, so exhausting.

I was on the train this morning reading a short story by Somerset Maugham. The name of the story is The Fall of Edward Barnard. It's about a man who goes to Tahiti, probably in the 1920s, with the intention of making his fortune and then returning to Chicago to marry his fiancee. The plan falls apart, however, when the gentleman chooses a life of simplicity in Tahiti over a life of wealth and society in Chicago.

Maugham describes Tahiti as such:
Below them, coconut trees tumbled down steeply to the lagoon,
 and the lagoon in the evening light had the colour, tender and varied, of a dove's breast. 
On a creek, at a little distance, were the clustered huts of a native village, 
and towards the reef was a canoe, sharply silhouetted, 
in which were a couple of natives fishing. 
Then, beyond, you saw the vast calmness of the Pacific and twenty miles away, 
airy and unsubstantial like the fabric of a poet's fancy, 
the unimaginable beauty of the island which is called Murea.

As I've mentioned before, I am a city girl, through and through. But, even I could appreciate what Somerset Maugham was getting at. When the man in the story was asked to justify his decision to eschew a modern life, he responded:
Do you know that conversation is one of the greatest pleasures in life?
But it wants leisure. I'd always been too busy before. And gradually 
all the life that had seemed so important to me began to seem rather trivial and vulgar. 
What is the use of all this hustle and this constant striving? ... 
And what does all that activity amount to?

Later in the story, he quotes this famous line:
We know that it will profit a man little if he gain the whole world and lose his soul.

I realised, I am "soul weary". I long for simplicity, clarity, peace. I live in a largely self-induced chaos. I want to strip away the unessential, and figure out who and what gives me contentment.

My youngest son was roller skating in the house the other day. I was horrified to discover he had a toothpick in his mouth!

Today, it occurred to me that that is exactly how I feel about life. I feel like I'm roller skating with a toothpick in my mouth. Part of me is sailing around, experiencing the absolute joy of the moment, going as fast as I can, arms outstretched, embracing life ... but part of me is plagued by the terrible notion that, at any moment, I might stumble and fall, causing a toothpick to lodge in my trachea!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Tell Me What You Want ... What You Really, Really Want!

I was in an op shop, and I saw a pair of clogs! They were powder blue and the sweetest clogs. Instantly, I was transported back to my childhood!

My friends and I have spoken before about things we wanted as kids, but never got. Sometimes, we were given "versions" (probably cheaper!) of the things we actually wanted! My mom was so earnest in this, and I was so afraid of hurting her feelings, that I never showed the disappointment I felt.

My own children have no such concern for my feelings! They indicate their wants and needs with frightening alacrity. I'm on the fence about whether that is a good thing or not. Sometimes, I think what we didn't get as children helped define our sense of what we wanted as adults. Perhaps, it helped develop an understanding that we had to "work" for things we wanted, that we weren't just entitled to them because we wanted them! On the other hand, I think that sometimes getting exactly what you want as a child can be a good thing. It reinforces the positivity that comes with believing life does, on occasion, work out! That life can deliver the goods!

So, I wanted to write this blog as sort of a tribute to those childhood things I wanted, but didn't get. Which brings me back to the clogs! The ones I lusted after were leather and sleek and oh-so-stylish. Instead, my mom bought me a faux denim pair that were adorned with huge gaudy flowers and red laces! My toes used to hang over the edge and I could barely walk in them. I must have been a sight in my flares, my tube top and "clogs"!

I have to admit I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid, and I developed an enormous crush on a toy called a Big Wheel. This was an incredible piece of 70s' engineering ... a low-slung plastic tricycle, with a "hand break" you could pull to spin out! A bunch of kids in the neighbourhood had Big Wheels and I begged my mom for one. I didn't get a Big Wheel, but I did get an orange plastic skateboard! It might have been okay, except that all of our roads had gravel, and the wheels on the skateboard would get stuck, catapulting you off the skateboard and onto the asphalt!

Another item high on my wish list was a denim jacket. I really really wanted a denim jacket. This time, my mom bought me a mustard-coloured jacket in the "style" of a jean jacket! It went well with the two-tone shoes my dad had previously bought me because they were the only ones in the store that fit me, and he was too impatient to get me a proper pair of shoes. No word of a lie, these shoes were half-red and half-blue! They looked like bowling shoes. Even my mother looked horrified when she saw them. Perhaps, she imagined the mustard-coloured jacket would take the focus off the clown shoes.

Other coveted items included an Etch A Sketch, a Lite-Brite (which my cousins had!), and a proper Barbie doll. I have to say that I did get to use an Etch A Sketch much later on, as an adult, and was completely frustrated by how little I could actually "draw" using straight lines!! Architecture was clearly never going to be a career option for me. 

My mom, in her attempt to support her rather fluctuating feminist views, was completely opposed to buying me Barbie dolls. I wasn't a huge doll person myself, but ALL my friends had Barbies and ALL they did was play games involving Barbie. I had enough social issues, I NEEDED Barbie as currency. I thought my luck had changed when I went to a garage sale hosted by a friend of my mom's. This woman was an artist and apparently not concerned with how Barbie might warp her daughter's perspective on life. Her daughter was grown up now and she was prepared to sell me her whole collection ... kit and caboodle. You can't imagine my excitement at being presented with a mysterious leather case, apparently filled with Barbies and clothes. My mom relented. I was about to be initiated into social acceptance. I opened the case and could feel my face begin to burn, the tears pricking my eyes. These Barbies were ancient! They were practical, brown-haired dolls with conical breasts rivalling Madonna's infamous costume. The clothes they came with were tailored, conservative numbers, befitting secretaries and teachers. These Barbies were biding their time in offices until they could marry and have children, until they could become the housewives they were always meant to be. 

I accepted the case with as much grace as I could muster. I took my Barbies to my friends' houses, and tried to "modernise" them as best I could. Unfortunately, I couldn't dress my Barbies in any of the modern clothes. Nothing would fit over their very pointy breasts. My social currency was counterfeit!  

It wasn't all bad news, though. There were some toys I begged for and actually received! Two standouts were the pogo stick and the Easy-Bake Oven. Sadly, I bounced a few times on the much-anticipated pogo stick, only to discover that it promptly gave me a headache, and it was actually really boring! The Easy-Bake Oven was much more of a success. The only problem being that you cooked with a LIGHTBULB!! I can remember making my family eat the "cakes"! The fun really began when I ran out of the "official" cake mixes and started experimenting on my own. I loved my Easy-Bake Oven, but it didn't love me!
Generic child with her Easy-Bake Oven!

All of these experiences did teach me valuable lessons. They shaped me as a person! As long as my future career didn't involve straight lines, excessive bouncing, fashion, road racing, or cooking, I knew I would be on the right track!!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

I Fell in Love with a Polyester Nanna!

Recently, I went to a fundraiser for a hospital in East Timor. I knew absolutely nothing about East Timor.

Now, I know that East Timor is just over 600 kilometres off the coast of Darwin. I also know there is great diving there! And that the roads can be quite dangerous. I know that people get tapeworm because they keep pigs as pets and then kill them and eat them! Ok, that's all I really know about East Timor!

The fundraiser was for the Bairo Pite Hospital. The clinic is supported by Australia and is always in desperate need of funds and volunteers. It was confronting to eat and watch images of sick kids. I was left with that feeling of despair that there are so many needy people in the world, and so much injustice, but also with a positive feeling that on the flip side there are so many good people willing to help.

During dinner, I was looking around at the people in the room. People "give" for various reasons, some genuine, some self-serving. I felt an energy in the room that suggested these people were genuine. They were mostly an older crowd, with grownup children, many of whom were there, sitting at their own table.

I am really really bad at small talk, but I made an effort and muddled my way through. When dinner was over, however, that's when the real magic happened.

The event had a DJ, and, as I suspected, the music was of the "wedding" variety! My musical tastes are a little less mainstream. As soon as the music began playing, however, almost the entire crowd jumped up from their seats and swamped the dance floor. I sat in my chair completely gobsmacked! I've seen people run for buffets like that, but never a dance floor!! It's been a while since I've danced, so I wasn't sure if I was up to it. Then, a woman caught my eye. I can still picture her clearly.

She was wearing a safari-style outfit, pants and a jacket, with a nice blouse. Her hair had the "permed" look about it, but it suited her perfectly. She was immaculate. It was as though she'd stepped right out of the 70s, perfectly preserved. What caught my attention, more than her clothes even, was the smile on her face. She was having an absolute ball! She was dancing up a storm, and there was a look of happiness and joy on her face that made me feel so hopeful, so full of love. I dispensed with my dancing anxieties and took to the floor. I just had to be near her! I felt her energy, her passion. I fell in love with her style, her absolute grooviness!

This is what life is about, I thought. Loving when you can, dancing when you can, helping when you can, doing whatever you can ... but doing it with love and passion and joy!!!!

I don't know who my polyester nanna is, or where she lives, or even if she is a nice person! But I will never forget her smile. Rock on, Nanna, rock on!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Meditate on This!

The other day I actually wore a strapless bra to yoga. Yes, I do confess, it was in the name of vanity! Sometimes a girl's gotta do, what a girl's gotta do!

For Christmas, I bought myself a cool yoga top. Normally, I wear secondhand singlets that have seen better days. The cool top has a cool strappy thing at the back. I've admired the style on other women at yoga. Apparently, though, these women have REAL boobs!!

When I finally exchanged my maternity bras for real bras (which, I'm ashamed to admit, didn't happen until the need for said bras was long past), I discovered padded, push-up bras! I am so attached to my miracle bras that I honestly forget my boobs aren't real! These bras actually give me cleavage. Granted, I've never caught anyone, male or female, staring at that particular area of my anatomy, but, still ...!

I admit I was disappointed when I tried on my cool yoga top at home. You aren't supposed to wear ANY bra with this top. It has some elastic, extra fabric feature, which I imagine is supposed to give you support ... if you have something to support that is! In my case, it completely flattened out the little I have! OK, I know that yoga isn't about cleavage. And I know that vanity is really uncool and unspiritual and probably even unethical, and un-everything else. On top of that, I read an article in Sunday Life (yes, I know I said I would stop reading supplements!), entitled "I Use Botox and I'm a Feminist ... I've Come Clean". The article was written by ... wait for it ... Jessica Rowe!!! Jessica writes, and I quote: "My brand of feminism is about choice and supporting women and respecting the decisions they make for themselves ...". Of course, this article made me want to vomit.

And yet ... here am I, Madame Hypocrite, swanning off to yoga in her best black strapless ... without a tree pose leg to stand on! I spent the entire class worrying that my bra would end up around my waist, something that actually happened to me during a vigorous game of table tennis recently. I did, however, get several comments on my top!!!

The next day, though, it was back to a comfortable, daggy singlet. I haven't yet retired cool yoga top. Or made any resolution to go bra-less!! I had every intention of raising my daughter with a feminist sensibility, but I will admit, sadly, I can't say I have modelled that sensibility. All I've done, it seems, is pass on the confusion I learned from my mother! So, perhaps, as much as it pains me to admit it, Jessica and I are in the same "Rowe" boat! OK, that was a really bad pun, but I couldn't resist!

I don't know what the answer is. In fact, I'm quite sure I don't even know what the question is, either!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Me and My Brother

The other night I saw a Belgium movie called The Giants about three boys, two of whom were brothers. It was a simple film. The young teens had been left to fend for themselves and were trying to survive as best they could. This involved, among other things, lots of silliness, swearing, wrecking, ransacking, smoking, fighting and some farting. It was a very touching film.

The movie made me wonder what my three boys would be like, if left to their own devices. A terrifying thought! It also made me wonder about the complex relationship of siblings.

I have one brother who is five years older than me. We have a complicated relationship. There is no doubt that we both love each other, but we are very different people. Our parents' "dysfunctional" marriage meant that, like the boys in the movie, we were often left to figure things out for ourselves. We had to grow up fast. The legacy of those years, I believe, has affected our ability to be close now. Both of our parents are dead, so my brother is the only witness to my childhood.

I did a painting from a photograph I had of my brother and me, standing knee-deep in water at our grandmother's cottage. There was something about the way we were standing that made me want to paint it.

My brother is probably aged 10 in the photo, so I'm about 5. I am wearing a red two-piece bathing suit, with my back arched in that little girl way, tummy sticking out. I was no lightweight when I was little! I have a stunned mullet expression on my face. Very flattering! I think my mother must have been cutting my hair at the time. If she wasn't, she should have fired the hairdresser! I am pale and freckled. My brother is lean and brown. He is looking directly at the camera. His expression is confident, bemused. (I know he is just as insecure as I am, but doesn't show it. Still doesn't!) The angle of his body is what fascinates me the most. He is arching to the side, one hip thrust outward. It is such a boy pose, angular and athletic at the same time.

I sold the painting in a charity art show. The woman who bought it said there was something about the painting that reminded her of growing up and going to the beach. She said the painting brought back happy childhood memories! I was really thrilled that she bought the painting. And I was grateful she shared her story with me. I hope she has the painting on her wall somewhere. I like to think of it hanging in her house ... me and my brother!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

I'll Take My Feminism with a Dollop of Whipped Cream!

Have you ever had one of those awkward self-conscious moments when you just want the earth to swallow you whole? I had one the other day!

Here's the scenario. I was invited out for lunch with a group of women to celebrate International Women's Day. Yes ... I know ... that in itself can be problematic! But I am trying to say "yes" to things. Trying not to retreat into my usual place of safety.

I've never been relaxed about going out with people. To begin with, I'm never sure what to wear, and my anxiety has been heightened by a series of outfit blunders over the years. One of these disasters involved attending a feminist pot-luck supper when I was at university. This was a time when women's studies had emerged on the curriculum and there was a heightened sense of feminism. My mum had been a women's libber, so I was both drawn to and repelled by feminism!! I liked the aspects of female independence and choice, but I wasn't sure about the responsibility part! I still kind of liked the idea of being wooed by a guy and put on a pedestal. I still liked the idea of doors being held open and chairs pulled out! I wanted to be romantic and feminine but also kick-ass!

Things were a bit confusing in my house concerning women's rights. Firstly, my mother married a chauvinist, so she wasn't really off to a good start! Secondly, she proceeded to allow him to control her life and to rob her of what was left of her already low self-esteem. She would dutifully cook dinner for him, and then keep it warm in the oven while he was out drinking and spending the household money. Her main act of defiance was to play Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" at full volume.

On the flip side, however, my mother was largely responsible for establishing a lunch room at my primary school, so that women who worked wouldn't have to send their children home to an empty house at lunchtime. Ironically, my mother was a stay-at-home mum! She had strong feminist ideals and she would make them known, even if she couldn't follow through with them herself. I can remember her outrage at a Paul Anka song "(You're) Having My Baby"! My mother felt it was an affront to all women ... and, actually, listening to the song now, I think she may have had a point! YouTube it if you don't believe me! Here's the link:

To further add to my confusion, my mother also loved Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass! One of their album covers, called Whipped Cream and Other Delights, depicts a naked girl covered in whipped cream licking her finger! Not to mention, much of Herb's music sounds like stripper music! Is it any wonder I grew up confused?

So, back to my feminist pot-luck supper! My friends and I intended to go to the supper, after which we would kick on and see a band. We showed up at the poor host's house, dressed in our "going out" best. As I recall, I was wearing a red mini skirt and high heels. I had bright red lipstick, black eyeliner and my hair was teased and sprayed to within an inch of its life. Nothing says feminism like a mini skirt and high heels! The women were shocked at our appearance but had the decency not to make a big deal of it. I think they could see we were hungry undergraduates and despite our appearance our hearts were in the right place!

I wish I could say that my days of inappropriate dressing are far behind me, but alas not so. Only a couple of years ago I invited a friend to go to a cabaret style night out. I had it on good authority that everyone (and I mean everyone) dressed according to the theme of the event. On this occasion, the theme was based around the movie Caberet with Liza Minnelli. I donned my fishnets and hot pants with all the "divine decadence" I could muster. My friend did so as well. We arrived at the event to discover that everyone (and I mean everyone) was wearing normal clothes! To make matters worse, the event took place in a rather seedy district, making us look less like we were there for the entertainment and more like we WERE the entertainment!!

Now, back to my International Women's Day lunch. Are you still with me? I spent an uneasy afternoon trying to find something to wear! Something that said serious, but not too serious ... sophisticated but not too overstated. When I couldn't find anything in my wardrobe along those lines, I settled for op shop chic ... my favourite. I don't even have a proper going-out handbag. I have a backpack. It's a nice backpack, but it's still a backpack.

Things were going OK ... until I arrived, that is. I arrived right on time. Yes, right on time. Usually, I arrange to go to events with a friend, because I am so hopeless at entrances. I hate the awkwardness of arrivals. This time, however, I slipped up and went solo. I swanned confidently into the restaurant clutching my backpack, only to discover I was the first one there. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was a nice restaurant, with stuck up waitresses and lots of men in suits. The waitress sat me at a table for six, right in the middle! There I sat, like the proverbial sore thumb ... for half an hour!!! I was dressed appropriately, at least, but I still felt completely self-conscious. By the time the others finally arrived, avec swishy handbags, I might add, I was exhausted from trying to look relaxed and confident! I realised I had nothing left for the lunch. After placing my backpack surreptitiously under the table, I spent the rest of the lunch nodding and smiling. The conversation ranged from boob jobs to designer shoes to children's birthday parties!

As I sat there listening, one thought came to mind ... I'm still confused!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

What do Crocodiles and Vegetarians Have in Common?

Today I got a compliment from an old guy in a park who was holding two plastic crocodiles! I think he was trying to sell them. He told me he liked my hair and not to cut it! The interaction lasted for only a minute, but it made me smile all day.

I don't know what I would do without the oddballs and the misfits in life. I'm reading a book of Haruki Murakami's short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. In one of the stories the main character makes the following observation: "I much prefer imperfect, more memorable types of people". I agree, wholeheartedly! Over the course of my life, I've met some incredible people who live outside the box. I have learned that first impressions are just that.

The neighbourhood I grew up in was pretty conventional and conservative. I remember when a vegetarian family moved into the street. The gossip was alarming. The poor parents were condemned for depriving their children of red meat! Only one diet was considered suitable: meat, potatoes and vegetables. Even pasta was cause for suspicion!

Fortunately, this particular family had a strategy for dealing with criticism! They invited everyone in the neighbourhood to a housewarming. Curiosity killed the cat ... and, apparently, higher moral ground! Not a single neighbour refused the invitation! And the menu? ... entirely vegetarian. This was also the era of being polite, so to refuse food was not an option. By the end of the housewarming, the entire street had to eat their words!!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Times They Are a Changing (Part 2)

Are You Being Served?

So, I did step out into the world today, and I did open my eyes ... and it's a damn scary place! I stood in Spotlight with my daughter, who had to buy fabric for a sewing class.

My mum was a sewer, and I have memories of her buying Butterick and Vogue patterns, for a jumpsuit or flared pants, or, for a special occasion, a floor-length skirt! I remember the thin tissue paper patterns covering the dining room table. She used to make all my clothes. Some were more stylish than others! This involved lots of polyester (durable, yes, but no-one cared whether the fabric actually breathed!), and geometric patterns. I, of course, dreamed of owning shop-bought party frocks like my friends, who had less talented mothers ... like myself, funnily enough.

So, it was with some irony and chagrin that I found myself in Spotlight today! I only wished I'd paid more attention to my mother's sewing advice. I tried my hand at sewing, but I just didn't have the knack for it, much to my mother's disappointment. Today, though, I managed to assist my daughter as best I could, and we made our way to the counter. As we waited behind a couple being served, a rather large queue began to form behind us. Rainy days must bring out the craft in people!

Then, to my horror, in slow motion, I watched as a woman behind me leaned forward to take a number! I should have rushed over right there and then, but I was frozen to the spot. In succession, the entire herd of people behind me took number after number. Still, I stood like a grim statue. Surely, I thought, the woman behind the counter would understand. She could see that we'd been standing there patiently for 20 minutes. Surely, I reasoned, common sense would prevail? The couple in front finished their transaction and I felt the adrenaline flooding my system. I was ready to leap forward with my bolts of fabric and explain my predicament.

It was like a shoot-out in an old Western movie. Before I made it to the counter, I heard the woman say in a loud voice: "Number 22"! And before I could open my mouth, number 22 sprang from behind me and handed the woman her purchase. Finally, I spoke, in a rather pathetic squeaking voice: "I didn't know we needed a number ..."

The woman stared at me, expressionless. My daughter was elbowing me. "Just take a number," she hissed.

I turned around and saw the mass of people waiting, triumphantly holding their numbers. I looked into the woman's eyes, and I repeated: "I didn't know we needed a number ... It's my first time ..." My voice dwindled.

"How much?"
"Sorry?" I said.
"How much fabric do you want?"

With those words, my faith in humanity was restored. Maybe, it was divine intervention. Maybe, my mum was pulling some strings. If anyone could, she could! Maybe, the woman behind the counter was a softy hiding beneath a grim exterior. Maybe, all the stars were aligned. Maybe, it was the rain! Whatever happened, this woman was my new best friend!

Another story, another moral ... if you are ever in Spotlight buying fabric, take a number!

Times They Are a Changing ...

I just finished reading Franz Kafka's short story Metamorphosis. At its most basic level, it is the story of a man who is transformed into an insect-like creature. It is quite a bleak little tale! The main character comes to accept his transformation, but those around him are repulsed by his exterior. They are unable to accept that the creature might still have a human consciousness and understanding, which he does. 

Alienation is a feeling with which I am all too familiar ... perhaps the reason I found the story so heartbreaking. At a very early age I was told I was adopted. This wasn't something I was able to process very easily as a child. I wanted to belong, but there were physical reminders that I was the odd one out. I was the only member of my family with fair skin and freckles! My brother wasn't adopted and I could see family resemblances in him that made me envious. 

My family wasn't religious, but I was sent to a Catholic school after primary school. I hadn't even been baptised, so you can imagine how I felt at school. A bastard and a heathen!! This sense of alienation has pretty much continued my whole life. Perhaps my decision to live in another country was an unconscious desire to make that metamorphosis complete! 

This isn't a lament, although I know it sure sounds like it! I am actually quite grateful for these experiences. They have provided me with a different lens through which to view the world. I've met countless other "strangers" like myself, who are all struggling to find a "home". 

I met up with a friend yesterday. I haven't seen her for years, but it was a sweet reunion. We first met when our children were only babies and we were both searching for friendship and understanding. With another friend we formed a trio, and we would get together and drink tea and eat and laugh. Each of us came from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints, but what we had in common was our sense of alienation! Eventually, various forces pulled us in different directions. Seeing this friend yesterday, however, reminded me of what our friendship meant to me during that period of my life. All these years later and we are both still grappling with "belonging", with "identity" with "purpose" and "meaning" in our lives. 

The truth of Kafka's story, I believe, lies in its simplicity. He isn't dealing with "alienation" on a grand scale, it's represented at its most basic level, in the home, with family members. Kafka reminds us that "alienation" can occur in any setting. 

I often feel the hurt of alienation in the most simple of circumstances: standing in a group of people and not being included in the conversation; or listening to people happily making plans that don't include me, acting as though I don't exist. In these moments I can relate to Kafka's insect character! I wonder whether I, too, have transformed into some hideous creature that people can't abide! It is such a simple thing to make someone feel noticed, included: a nod or a smile to show them they are welcome. I read a book once where the main character, an older man, was so afraid that he would pass from the world unnoticed that he would create minor disturbances, such as dropping a bag of apples, so people would see him, would acknowledge his presence. 

I am constantly amazed by how insular we have become. People go about their business but rarely interact anymore. 

I am still hopeful that I will find a sense of belonging, somewhere, somehow. But experience tells me not to make assumptions anymore, not to discount people who look different or who act differently. I think that's what's so great about blogging. Connections are made without knowing or caring what the person looks like or where they come from. Connections are made from the inside out! 

Today, I am going out in the world and I'm going to open my eyes, really open my eyes and take a look. I want to see people, to talk to people. I want to belong!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Where is My Mind?

Today I sat in the car with my teenage daughter. She was eating hot chips, drinking ice tea. She had Ed Sheerhan playing through her iPhone. We were parked, looking out at the ocean.

"Stop!" I wanted to scream, like the start of the Pixies song. I wanted to paint this picture of mother and daughter laughing, sharing a moment. I wanted her to be older than her 14 years, to be coming home from Europe, maybe, or on a break from uni. More than anything I wanted her to be telling me how happy she is. More than anything, I just want my kids to be happy and healthy.

Here's the real picture. She is crying. Actually she is sobbing. She is sobbing because she did the wrong thing, she betrayed my trust ... and she got caught. The thing is, I'd planned to read her the riot act. I'd planned to ground her for life, to take away every electronic device she owns. I'd planned to be smug in the knowledge that my instinct as a mother was right, that she'd done exactly what I thought she was going to do, and she got busted.

As soon as she started crying, though, it just broke my heart. My resolve faltered. I wanted to believe what she was telling me, even though I know differently. I did read her the riot act, but I am still trying to negotiate all of the other boundaries. I'm trying to figure out exactly what punishment I should mete out, or if I should punish her at all. It all seemed so black and white before, before she started sobbing and telling me she knew she'd made a mistake. And then there was "the moment" ... when I realised, of course, that she did what she did because she is just so insecure, so desperate to be loved and to be accepted.

I said everything I was supposed to say, but I felt unsure about every word I said. Nothing prepared me for this. Nothing.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging

Today I Won the Lottery!

OK, not the "I can now quit my day job and buy a bigger house or take a world trip" kind of lotto, but another kind ... a better kind. Well, I think it's better anyway. The prize in this lottery will never diminish, never run out, nor is it likely to inspire envy, or cause long-lost relatives to appear from the woodwork.

I know you are waiting with anticipation to find out more! Today, I had my first blog comment ... and it was the best comment I could hope for. It was made by a beginner blogger like myself. Her opening words were so simple, so achingly beautiful, they made my cry: "You have a reader now".

I googled her blog and was astounded to discover words so similar to my own:
"So the idea was to introduce you to my little family with some stunningly hilarious well-written prose about how we all came to be here. I would have had you all hooked by now, hanging on my every word and waiting for the following instalment. But I don’t really write like that. I tend to blabber out whatever my sleep-deprived mind is currently thinking about. Occasionally, I may even write a sentence or two that makes sense. More importantly, I write for me. To get all the chaos in my head out onto the screen. I don’t want a thousand followers, eagerly awaiting the next chapter of my life (though that would be kind of cool!). If anything, I want one… yes, just one… person to say “I know how you feel” or “Yep, I’ve been there”. Because right now I’m feeling a little alone and lonely and wondering if anyone in the world understands me."

If you are interested, and I hope you are, read her blog:

Talk about serendipity!

My daughter came home from high school today and actually shared something with me. I was holding my breath in case some noise interrupted her train of thought and reminded her that she was talking to me, her mother, the person she both loathes and loves. The person she runs to and runs away from. The person she is so terrified of becoming. She told me that today she actually sat with some kids at lunch, and that a girl in the hallway told her she was pretty. I let my breath out slowly and silently, and took a chance:

"I have some news, too," I said. "I got a comment on my blog."
"Was it Dad?"
"No," I replied.
"What did they say?"
"They were really nice."
"Looks like we both had a good day," she said.

I am welling up as I write this. I think her final words were something along the lines of: "Well, don't make a big deal of it, OK?" Man, she knows me too well.

Gulp ... "Too late," I said. "I think perhaps I went a little overboard in my reply."

She rolled her eyes.

Double gulp ...  I definitely won't tell her about this blog!

I don't care, though. What happened today is proof to me that there are good people out there. It's proof that even if you aren't religious, miracles exist and prayers can be answered!

And to my reader (who is probably by now regretting having made a comment!): I know absolutely how you feel, and, yep, I've been there. I'm still there, in fact, but feeling a little less alone thanks to you. Let the eye-rolling begin!!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Lighthouse and the Waiting Room

I was walking to the train station and I overheard the fragment of a conversation that made me smile. It went something like this: "No, Mum, I don't know where Bridge Road is ..."

That was the sum total of what I overheard, said by a grown male obviously to his mother. It wasn't so much the words that made me smile, but rather the way he said it, with a suitable mix of exasperation and love. I also felt sad overhearing this little vignette. Both my parents are dead and I miss them. I miss having parents. I miss being driven crazy by them.

I sublet an art studio in the city and I try to go there once a week. It's not nearly as romantic as it sounds. Artists, as I am discovering, are like cats. They tend to be skittish and wary of strangers. The studio is in a rundown building and mostly I am there alone ... always alone, trying to convince myself I am having a good time. I hate getting there. It takes me two hours on the train, but once I'm there I feel like I can breathe again. Somewhere deep inside, I know being there is a good thing for me.

I started a new painting. It was from a photograph I took at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It's a simple painting, three chairs in front of a window near some lifts. I took the photo because I loved the peacefulness and stillness of the empty chairs, and the reflections of light on the floor coming from the window. I started to cry as I painted. The waiting room. That's what those chairs represent for me. There is so much joy and sadness in a hospital waiting room.

I don't know if you recall, but I mentioned in my first-ever blog that I would talk to you about lighthouses. This story involves serendipity. I love the concept of serendipity!
  1. ser·en·dip·i·ty  Noun The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: "a fortunate stroke of serendipity".

The day I purchased a book from the junk shop called Instructions to Lightkeepers, I was also reading Jean-Dominique Bauby's book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In 1995, Bauby, a 43-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed and a victim of "locked-in syndrome". He was only able to communicate by blinking his left eye. It was in this state that he managed to compose and dictate his memoir, published two days before his death in 1996. The book is a beautifully written account of Bauby's struggle to accept his physical imprisonment, and to find meaning in his existence. I was afraid to read it at first, afraid to confront my own fears about existence and the meaning of life, but Bauby wrote with a sense of humour, and the story was encouraging and reassuring rather than depressing. 

On the same day after I'd purchased Instructions to Lightkeepers, I read this passage in Bauby's book: "There is always the chance that we will stumble upon some unknown corner of the hospital, see new faces, or catch a whiff of cooking as we pass. It was in this way that I came upon the lighthouse, on one of my very first expeditions in my wheelchair, shortly after swimming up from the mists of coma. As we emerged from an elevator on the wrong floor, I saw it: tall, robust, and reassuring, in red and white stripes that reminded me of a rugby shirt. I placed myself at once under the protection of this brotherly symbol, guardian not just of sailors but of the sick ... those castaways on the shores of loneliness."

I miss my parents. After their death I felt as though I had been cut loose, set adrift in the world on my own. I am one of those castaways Bauby was writing about ... on the "shores of loneliness". 

Bauby finished his chapter on lighthouses with this thought: "I wait for winter. Warmly wrapped up, we can linger here until nightfall, watch the sun set and the lighthouse take up the torch, its hope-filled beams sweeping the horizon."

Bauby has become a lighthouse for me, as have so many others. Kindness is a lighthouse. Laughter is a lighthouse. Everywhere I go, I am searching for lighthouses.

Yesterday, when I was on my way home, I saw a bus. The word "uncertain" was written on the front of the bus, as its destination! Even a bus can be a lighthouse ...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Would You Like Some Shame with That Humiliation?

or When Good Ideas Go Bad!

Someone at my kid's school came up with the bright idea to have "waste-free Wednesdays"! The concept goes something like this ... on Wednesdays, the kids try to bring in a lunch without any excess packaging. In theory, I support this. Honestly, though, I'm not entirely convinced that "saving the planet" is such a great idea. I mean, who are we to assume that depleting the world's resources and hastening our demise isn't actually part of the master plan? Putting that debate aside, however, since I've already gone to the effort of having children, I am committed to doing my bit to save the planet ... or, at least to save the planet from my children, if not for them!

When it comes to school lunches, my offspring would rather go hungry than eat the nutritious, healthy snacks parents are supposed to provide! So, in order to keep the peace and make life easier, school lunches originating from our house contain a healthy variety of processed food snacks. Waste-free Wednesdays haven't changed the content, but rather the presentation of our lunches. This involves removing snacks from their packaging and re-gifting them into lovely snap-lock containers. I thought we were doing pretty well with our little subterfuge, until my youngest informed my husband that for two weeks in a row his name failed to make the chalk board reserved for those whose lunches were completely "waste-free". Apparently his drink popper let the team down. As Maxwell Smart would say "Missed it by that much"! 

I was immediately reminded of my own school days of "public shaming". Specifically, I am referring to the dreaded "snowman"! Our class spent days constructing beautiful snowmen out of coloured paper and cotton balls. I wasn't a particularly great student, but I loved art. I was proud as punch over my snowman. Unfortunately, my warm glow lasted about as long as a snowman on a hot summer's day. The teacher informed us that we had just made "grammar snowmen". Here's the punchline ... every time we made a mistake with our grammar, we had to remove an item from our snowman. Cute, right? You get the idea. Our incompetence would lead to the subsequent dismemberment and death of Frosty, and everyone in the class would be witness to the crime! Needless to say my snowman suffered a quick and ignoble death. I only hope it was painless for him, because it certainly wasn't for me. The snowman exercise didn't help me with my grammar, and neither did it bolster my low self-esteem. I'm not too fond of snowmen either!

What annoys me most is that I chose my children's school in the first place because I didn't want them to suffer the same ongoing humiliation I endured at school. Generally, my kids have had a much better experience. Their school gets it right, most of the time. 

This need to be "seen to be doing the right thing" doesn't just happen in schools. Something I've noticed lately is how many theories are espoused on the basis of being "good for us"!! I think we need to be careful not to lose perspective. There should be a balance in life. Otherwise, the "fun-free fuckwits" will end up ruling the world!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hooking in the Suburbs

Perichoraphobia: fear of suburbs

I have this vivid childhood memory. I'm in the car with my family (depressed mum, manic dad, angry brother). As usual, I'm anxious! My mind won't shut down. It's winter, which is depressing enough, but I notice something as we speed past the city limits. My anxiety begins to increase tenfold. We're on our way to visit the relatives: angry grandmother, sullen cousin, detached cousin, alcoholic uncle, nervous but nice aunty.

They live in the suburbs. And even though I'm probably only seven or eight at the time, I'm aware of something sinister about the suburbs. My chest begins to tighten as the landscape changes. There is an emptiness in the suburbs. There are fewer trees, and the houses are all the same. Everything is symmetrical, orderly, neat and tidy. Perfect.

I'm frightened by perfection. I know already that I'm imperfect, flawed, that I was a mistake, given up for adoption. I am already trying (and failing) to be perfect. I'm convinced it's the only way I can make amends. This desire will lead me down a dark path. Never thin enough, never pretty enough, never smart enough.

We stop at my aunty and uncle's house. Inside, it's spotless. It's clutter-free, mess-free, dust-free. In other words ... soul-less. My brother and I are the perfect foils for my cousins. We are non-believers. They are God-fearing and church-going. We don't have any obvious talents. They both play piano. We have a cross-eyed Siamese cat that my grandmother hates. They have a poodle that my grandmother adores. I hate the suburbs.

My cousins always have a new hobby. The one closest to me in age does rug-hooking. She brings it out after we arrive, and sits with a serenity that rivals the Madonna, poodle at her feet. I am jealous and miserable. I draw and write poetry, but both seem ridiculous activities. My poems are amateurish rhyming laments. My drawings reflect my desperate need for security and happiness. They are filled with smiley faces, sunshine and rainbows ... none of the things I feel inside. I hate the suburbs.

All these years later, I find myself living in the suburbs. Technically it's not. Technically it's a beautiful seaside "city". The house I live in is anything but suburban. It's ramshackle and old and chaotic, which I love. But it's still the suburbs. Even the small community of creative people here conform to the stereotype of being "creative". They remind me of the skit in Little Britain: "I'm the only artist/writer/musician/gay in the village!"

I have tried my best to conform, because the true heart of any suburb beats to the rhythm of conformity. The worst possible sin is to "stand out". But I just can't do it. Recently, I read Sarah Silverman's autobiography, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee. In it, she describes her battles with depression. When asked by someone what it feels like to be depressed, she answers that it feels like homesickness. I couldn't think of a better description. That is exactly how I feel at the moment: homesick. Homesick for family, homesick for friends, homesick for the city. I hate the suburbs.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Parent Trap

Something occurred to me yesterday as I watched my daughter sit in the back seat of the car clutching a pink bowl in her lap. She is still adjusting to a new school, and every morning this week she has been throwing up. Yesterday she told me it wasn't nerves, she was really sick. 

I patiently told her I knew she was sick, but she had to at least try to make it to school. I felt unbelievably cruel watching her get out of the car, dry heaving, and walking the last little way to school. I know, though, if she doesn't make it through this week, the nerves will be just as bad next week. Still, there's a part of me imagining that I've misdiagnosed the situation completely, and what if she really is sick with some terrible disease?

Why, for the love of the universe, do we ever become parents? Do the benefits really outweigh the negatives? Why didn't anyone sit down with me and explain what it would be like to live with your heart in your throat for the rest of your natural life? Why didn't anyone warn me that I might not be cut out for this as a career?

And here's what I came up with! I think that lying is part of the evolution of the human race. I think the whole entire purpose of a human being's ability to lie is to ensure the continuation of the species! Sure, we use lying for a number of different reasons now, mainly selfish, but in the beginning lying was purely a means of self-preservation! I will bet that when someone asked Mary if she enjoyed being a parent, she said: "Well, Jesus is certainly no angel, and I wasn't really prepared for motherhood, but now I wouldn't have it any other way."

Isn't asking someone with children if they love having children, a little like asking someone if they love the haircut they've just had? It's not until you get home, behind closed doors that the tears flow! Who wants to admit they've made a huge mistake? Hair, of course, will grow back. And children will grow up, but you are parents forever, and ever, and ever!

If parents were completely open and honest about the challenges of raising kids, just how long would the human race continue? Of course, maybe I'm a little jaded. I have four children, two of whom are teenagers.

That being said, if you asked me right now, right this very minute, whether I made the right choice to have children, or whether the good moments outweigh the bad, I would say ... YES, absolutely! I love my children more than life itself, and I love being a mother.

Would I lie to you?!!!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Cool Kids

"We're through being cool. We're through being cool." Devo

I've been thinking a lot about friends and what they mean. I didn't grow up in Australia, so none of my childhood friends are here. The upside about that is you can reinvent yourself without anyone challenging you, or exposing you! The downside is that you can end up feeling like the ancient mariner, constantly telling people the story of your life. And, sadly, there is no shared history, no shared understanding.

Recently, I went to a 40th birthday party for a friend here. I had a good time, but I struggled to make conversation with people that I know only as acquaintances. Small talk is hard work. When I looked around at the groups of people laughing and talking, I felt a little jealous. My friend had invited people from all the various stages of her life: family, uni friends, parents, work colleagues. There was genuine love and affection in the room. I have avoided such parties for myself, because they would only highlight the people who aren't present in my life. I still keep in touch with many of those people, but it's not the same thing as having them here, in the flesh.

The other day, I had a lovely conversation with a high school friend of mine on Skype, minus the camera! We had a great connection in high school and then lost touch. So many years later, and so much water under the proverbial bridge, it felt as though the lost years never existed. I felt a rush of joy and exhilaration. When the conversation ended, I realised I was so completely understood. Here was a friend, halfway around the world, who I haven't seen for years, and yet the connection was as strong as ever.

This reunion brought to mind another friendship. Throughout our lives, we make decisions that define who we are and who we want to be.

 I made one of those decisions in Year Seven, and it has impacted on me ever since. That year, I went to a new school. It was traumatic and challenging on every level. My daughter is facing that challenge today, as I write this. I so wish I could help her to adjust, but there are things in life no-one can help you with, you just have to ride them out.

I developed two good friendships at my new school. The first friend was very unique. She wore skirts and low heels to school (something nobody did then!). Surprisingly, this never held her back from excelling on the monkey bars. This friend also had very strong opinions, which she was always happy to express. The other friend was the complete opposite. She was cool without even trying. She had long shiny chestnut hair and hazel eyes. Her mother had had her when she was quite young, and looked more like a sister than a mother. They used to share blue jeans. Tragically, her younger brother (one of twins) had died on a school excursion. I can understand the magnitude of the tragedy now, but then I only really understood that it gave my friend a certain attractive vulnerability.

These two friends did not get along with each other. They were always disagreeing and fighting. I was constantly in the middle, trying to act as peacemaker. I had enough conflict with my warring parents at home, and didn't want to face it at school, too. Things went from bad to worse and it soon became obvious that I couldn't be friends with both girls. Something else that became obvious was that the cool kids had recognised my cool friend as one of their own, and were trying to reclaim her! I'm not really sure why, in retrospect, she ever humoured me in the first place. However, the benefit of my association became obvious when I was invited to a party that one of the cool kids was throwing. My cool friend was invited, and so was I, but not the other friend.

I saw this as my big chance to gravitate to the cool kids' corner of the playground. My other friend maintained she didn't want to go to the party anyway, but it was up to me if I wanted to go. I did want to go. I really wanted to see what it was like to be in the inner circle for a change.

My friend and I went to the party, and instantly I could see she was at home. It was a cool party, and the first party I'd been to that wasn't a celebration of something, but was just a party. I was pretty damn excited. I stood with my friend, waiting for something amazing to happen. The music was cool, the people looked hot, I felt great. I was being accepted. I couldn't quite believe how easy it all was. People around me were laughing and having a great time. After an hour or so of hanging out, I began to feel uneasy. Something was missing. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then, all of a sudden, I had an epiphany. I was bored. I wanted to go home! I didn't find their jokes funny. I didn't find their conversation interesting. It was something I hadn't prepared myself for. I was so worried that they would reject me, it hadn't occurred to me that I might reject them! I realised I missed my other friend.

I called my mum and asked her to pick me up.

After that night, my cool friend started hanging with the cool kids. Nothing was really said. I guess nothing needed to be said. I hung out with the fringe kids. We did our own thing and never quite belonged, but we had a lot of fun. The thing I realised about being on the fringe is that there are fewer rules to live by.

My not-so-cool-friend became like a sister to me! She has stuck by me through thick and thin. My mum became friends with her mum, and when my mum became sick, they were a huge comfort to me. I have never regretted my decision that night.

Today, I have an eclectic group of friends scattered across the world. I'm not sure what would happen if they ever came together, and I'm not likely to find out, but it is a comfort to know that they're out there!
They're funny, they're smart, they're honest, they're real, and they never make me feel insecure. How cool is that?!