Life and how to live it.

For Alex, who is more alive than anyone else I know and whose love changed my world in a moment x

“Mummy this is my happy song and it’s my favourite when I’m in your car.”

Singing, clapping and bopping along to Ed Sheeran’s new Album on our way to return books to the local Library today my almost 5 year old showed me just how much he understands about life and how to live it. He’s a person who dances and sings when he feels like it. Freely, with feeling and enthusiasm dancing and singing to music he escapes into the pure joy of the moment, of being human and being alive. He is a person who knows how to live, the secret the rest of us agonise over and think about far too much in our adult lives. He, on the other hand, just is. Music is something to share, the joy of melodious storytelling and the inner spirit of life it brings out in those who enjoy it and let it take them away and into the moment in front and behind them is worth more than any commodity in terms of goods you can buy in the shops.

When we come to the end of our lives, I’ve heard it said that people’s number one regret is that they didn’t spend more time with their loved ones. Nobody ever wishes at that point that they had spent more time at work or more money on goods. Experiences, art, love and time with those that you do is what life is about. They are the only things of any real value in this world. Life is empty without these most valuable of things. Travel, creation, giving of your time and attention to those who need and deserve it, using our talents for good to create joy these are the things we should be spending our lives doing and collecting rather than material goods and wealth. When I think back over the happiest times in my life none of them have to do with material good or wealth. Every single one of them has to do with time spent with others, joy experienced, intrinsic rewards and wonders felt at experiencing life propelled each time by the forces of human love and the world around us in one form or another.

For Ed Sheeran and those like him, their talent and gift to the world is music. It brings joy and comfort to others and helps bind societies and people together. Music shows all of us how similar we are, that for all the differences that divide us there is something deeper that unites us and that something brings more joy than any commercial good. We all have talents we can use in this world to bring joy to others ad reflected joy to ourselves. In my job I often find that I get so much more back than I give to anyone else and it’s something that has no price tag. My talents lie in creating human connections and developing relationships, in helping give voice to those who don’t have the skills to use theirs to the same extent that I do. Working as an Integration Aide for the first time this year, more closely alongside students with learning, behavioural and intellectual difficulties than I ever did as a Teacher I’ve experienced a new sort of reward and discovered talents I never even knew I had but more than that I’ve discovered those of others – the students I now work with. They have made me a richer human being for utilising my talents in a new way.

Sitting in a Year 10 English class just this past week alongside a student I was reading a plot summary of the class novel for the term. A conversation was described in the summary between two characters in which one was arguing that the stability of the Utopian Society created in the world of the novel had come at the cost of Art, Science and Religion and that without these things human life was not worth living. Writing for me has always been my therapy and my connection point to the world and my fellow human beings. It’s my art form and outlet for self-expression. All Art does this, music, writing, the stage, film, dance, painting, sculpture, design or creation in any form are the things that bind us together, that allow us to live in the moment,  that tell us who we are, that give joy to our hearts and food to our soul. We are starved of the essence of life without them and for my almost 5 year old they not only teach him how to live they are how he lives. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

The never ending puzzle.

This week I have undertaken paid employment for five days straight – the first time I have done this in five years, or more to the point, since I have become a Mother. Now, on the fifth day, I miss my kids terribly.

This Motherhood gig is hard. It’s hard no matter how you do it. Work, don’t work, work a little, work a lot – every way is full of guilt, highs and lows and never ending challenges that involve trying to keep many balls juggled in the air at once. Sometimes I feel like I’m about to drop all of them at once and I am constantly conflicted. There seems to be no perfect solution so it would probably help if I and all the other Mums out there like me stopped searching for one.

Somedays I feel that working makes me a better Mum. Somedays I feel it makes me a bad one. It’s a relentless battle with my emotions, my heart and my mind. I fully understand where Kate Ellis was coming from when she recently announced she would be leaving politics at the next election because she “could not bear the thought” of spending at least 20 weeks of every year away from her son and the rest of her family. People ask Mums who participate in paid employment outside of the home all the time “Don’t you miss your kids?” Well I can tell you today that the answer is yes. It’s always yes. Every single such woman I know misses their kids like mad when they are at work, including me. So do most Fathers by the way too, although nobody seems to ever ask them the same question.

So why do women work outside the home? Why do so many say it makes them a better parent? Because continuing to work outside the home while children are young helps maintain some sense of your identity as an independent person away from the all encompassing  and seismic shift to it that comes through being a “Mother”. Because it gives you the sense of being a useful member of society with something to contribute. It makes you feel valuable, validated and useful beyond the confines of parenthood. Because doing so helps you feel more like a financial contributor to your family. Because it helps maintain a career you have studied and worked hard for over many years. It keeps your brain active in a different way than looking after young children does. Because women in the 21st Century have been told to be financially independent. Because women retire with half as much superannuation as men. Because it’s important to show our children, boys and girls alike, that women work too. That they are capable, equal and important members of the paid workforce with high levels of education, knowledge and skills who make a valuable contribution. Because childcare and quality early childhood education are good, even vital, to children for a number of reasons. Because of the mental health benefits and the feeling or illusion it may bring of contributing some semblance of balance to women’s lives. Because of the positive effect all this has on relationships and the happiness levels of not just the women involved, but their children, partners and spouses as well. Sometimes the distraction of work can help keep the wolves of an all consuming and lonely Motherhood at bay.

But sometimes another wolf can show up. The one that confronted Kate Ellis. The one that pulls at you to the point that you can’t resist and all you want to do is be home with the wonderful little people you created and that you stare at and marvel at every day. The one that makes you feel guilty – like a neglectful, bad or absent Mother. The one that makes you ask the question as to why (in my case and that of many others), you spend your days looking after other people’s children instead of your own? But John Lennon once said that “all you need is love”. And he was right. In all the ways that count it doesn’t really matter how much or how little you engage in paid employment when you have young children, what matters is that they know you love them. And they do. By god they do. They tell you every day, in words, actions or smiles. In conversations and hugs. Through the joy of the reunions that occur in childcare centres all around this country at the end of every day. Your kids show they know you love them.

As a woman in my late 30’s I and my contemporaries were not only told growing up that we could have it all, we also believed the story that went with it that it was something to be aspired to. We were the divorce generation and the notion of having it all was sold to us as the source of independence, happiness and validation and that if one part was missing you were less than whole or a failure as a woman (or even worse as a Mother). Now I know that not to be true. The lessons learned from those who have gone before and tried to chase that elusive balance and concept of ‘having it all’ have now backtracked as a result of their experience, retreating into the qualifying lines “it is possible to have it all – but not all at the same time”. Nevertheless women like myself and my friends continue to try to achieve the impossible, unable to shake off the shackles, expectations and implications of the idea we were initially burdened with. And sometimes we succeed. But mostly we fail and like all failures in life, you feel it, work through it, learn from it and move on. The best you can really hope for is to tame the wolf; it might be constantly biting at your ankles but as long as it doesn’t destroy you you are doing ok. Life is not a jigsaw puzzle, it’s ok if all the pieces don’t fit together perfectly or as well as you might like them to all the time. You can still make a beautiful picture, perfect in it’s imperfection, content with the knowledge that the missing pieces are just as likely as not to show up some other day.

 

common ground (a place to call home)

 

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I’ve been thinking about the concept of homes a lot lately. How are they defined and how are we defined by them? Tim Winton is one of my favourite authors. I love the way he writes and I love the way he makes me feel. But it’s the landscape aspect of his writing and personal story that I love the most. In the past he has said “There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d prefer to be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings.” I know how he feels.

After recently looking into the minutae, logistics and concept of moving house before deciding to stay put, I feel more grounded than ever. Like Tim Winton, I too have my bearings. They are as strongly rooted as those of the trees in the National Park less than two kilometres from my house and keep me just as grounded. And there is no place I’d rather be than living the life I do now, in the place that I love with an amazing, supportive family and community holding me up so I too can stand tall like the towering Mountain Ash trees in our forest that reach towards the sky.

This morning I went to playgroup. You would think it’s a fairly common experience for mums at home with little ones. Except for me it’s not. My attendance and that of my son could be generously described as sporadic. We started out with good intentions, but like many things in life stuff started to get in the way. Work, illnesses, appointments, tradies, the weather and fatigue have all interrupted our best laid plans. So we have attended when we can, occasionally, and been absent when we can’t. But no matter how long it’s been or how irregular our attendance we are always welcomed back with a smile.

People in this community remember your name. They pay attention, they care and they are interested in others. They know your story. They remember. They understand that life is busy, they forgive your failures and they are always welcoming. They smile and ask about your health. They offer to help. They make you feel like you belong. They keep you grounded in the best way possible and make you feel, always, at home. I am forever grateful to them for it. The common ground we share runs much deeper than just shared geography in my community. It’s shared history, shared challenges, shared experiences and shared lives. And as a result I know that I am not alone. And not being alone makes life amazing. It makes it wonderful, it makes it simple and it makes it worth living. Richer and deeper and more meaningful. All of life; the good and the bad, is better when it is shared.

The notion of a home consisting and existing because of the people in it is something I have realised only recently. It wasn’t until I started thinking about the concept of moving and then decided to stay that it really dawned on me. We were never going to move far geographically. Rather we were looking at having a little more space for our growing family. But I realised when we decided to stay that it’s not the four walls in which you reside that makes a home. It’s the people that you share your lives with that make a place so.

It’s the parents at playgroup, the parents and educators at childcare, the shop keepers, the café and restaurant wait staff, friends made through various local groups and organisations you are involved with, the colleagues you work with, the emergency service workers, the health care professionals, the school principals, the church leaders, the business owners, the tourist operators, the charity volunteers, the council workers, the social activists, the local artists who display their work in the local galleries and sell it at the markets, the neighbours, even the local real estate agents. They all play a role in grounding you up here, making you feel safe and protected and creating the sense of belonging we all need to function at our best.

Up here in the Mountains, the shared physical environment also has a role to play in nurturing the common ground in our community. It shapes people as much as places. The beauty reminds you of the best things in life, the importance and power of nature, its opportunities and the challenges it presents. Everyone up here is aware of the dangers. We live here because of and in spite of them. The bushfires, the cold, the power black-outs, the overflowing gutters when it rains, the black ice in winter, the sometimes snow, the stifling heat trapped by the forest without any sea breeze nearby to provide relief in summer, the trees and branches that constantly fall; creating havoc for road users, residents and business owners alike. And the opportunities – for fresh air and exercise, for time spent in nature that has been proven as beneficiary to not just physical health but mental health as well. For children to climb trees and learn risk, to learn to fall and dust yourself off and climb back up again. To see, learn, live with and experience nature in its natural environment.

There is nothing artificial about the environment of the hills nor the genuine spirit, resilience and kindness of its people. Our environment, our history and each other shape us all, they draw us together and create common ground that runs much deeper than geography. I love this community and all that it entails. The common ground I share with everyone else who chooses to live here is what makes it home for me.

Home, I have come to the realisation, does not occupy a mere physical space in our lives. A home consists of much more than that. It is made up of people. Of places. Of the physical environment around us. And most of all it’s made up of community. The sharing of common ground in all its forms is what makes, for all of us, a place to call home. I have my bearings. And there is no place I’d rather be.

 

My Imaginary Friend

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“Don’t you ever imagine things differently from what they are?”

“No”.

“Oh Marilla, how much you miss.” (Anne of Green Gables)

A month or so ago, my 4 year old started to see objects in the sky. Looking out of the car window whilst it was sitting in our driveway one afternoon he commented: “there’s a baby elephant in the sky.” “Where???” I asked, being the adult that I am. “Why do the clouds change shape?” came his insightful childhood reply. For my Husband and I, our son’s discovery of the possibilities present in the world inside his head was a watershed moment of happiness and joy for our boy as his imagination expanded from things on the ground to the infinite possibilities of the sky and the universe. Imagination has always been a friend to me and I am beyond excited that it comforts my son as he negotiates his way through the forest of childhood as well.

Our lives and world in this early part of the 21st Century are so dominated by our own busy realities that we often forget to imagine alternate ones. But all creation and much of human achievement stems from our imaginings; if we all tapped into it more often our world could be so much more full of infinite possibilities. Like baby elephants in the sky, or splitting atoms that we can’t even see. If you can imagine something to be true then you are more than halfway there towards achieving it.  It’s a key element in childhood development and significant component to our mental health. Lying on the grass, gazing up into the clouds and making out shapes is a valuable way to spend time whether you are 4 or 104 years old. As Anne Shirley alluded to in her question to Marilla above, without imagination we are missing half the world and only living half a life.

Imagination came to me in many guises growing up. There was my imaginary friend Poomie who for a period of time never left my side, much more loyal to me than I was to him. He was there when I needed him, and gone when someone else did. There was my collection of Cabbage Patch and Barbie dolls who helped hone and fashion my maternal, consumer and fashion instincts alike. There were the legions of  stories in the books I read which gave me licence to become anyone I liked – a child exploring the Magic Faraway Tree, a visitor to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, one of Santa’s helpers on Christmas Eve, a friend of Winnie the Pooh, a member of the Babysitter’s club and Anne Shirley herself. And then there was the world in my head, where I became an Olympic Gymnast, a member of the Australian Netball Team, a famous author and most coveted of all, a member of Young Talent Time just like my idol Danni Minogue. I could imagine it. It would happen. And it did happen as I skipped and danced my way around the supermarket with my Mum, and somersaulted across the floor of our lounge room. My childhood imagination made it so.

And now I feel life has come full circle. I listen to my son tell stories of adventure, friendship, calamities and rescues all of his own invention and volition as he manipulates his trains around tracks and asks if we can go to the Island of Sodor one day? To him there are baby elephants in the sky, lying on the brown cow skin rug in our living area he is stuck in the mud, unfolding the ladder on his firetruck there are indeed cats stuck up trees to be rescued in our kitchen (the cats being the unclipped corner childproof locks on our drawers installed to stop our baby’s fingers getting hurt). He’s even taken to emerging from the bathroom after his evening wash with a green towel over his head, oohing and aahing, and calling himself the Green Ghost. Anything is possible in this world of imagination and it’s the best way to live. It’s the stuff real life is made of.

So come, one and all, and do as Willy Wonka instructed us. “Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three, come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” I guarantee you’ll never be lonely again.

Note: The picture is a painting by my son. He told me it was the Northern Lights and the Green bit is a flying Swan. May it soar high and the lights shine forever more.

 

Student/Teacher: An Education

I’ve been teaching now in one form or another for 18 years. During that time I have absolutely no idea how much my students have learned from me. But I do know that whatever that amounts to, its nothing compared to what my students have taught me. When it comes to being a teacher, there is no one you will learn more from than those under your tutelage.

My students have taught me many things over the years. About me. About life. About them. About education. About human nature and psychology. About society. About growing up and the influence we all have on each other. No matter how many lessons I’ve taught to them, they’ve taught me countless times that number over in return. There has been no greater education given to me than that provided by the students I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with.

In a vein similar to Lyndon Johnson, who believed that “If you’re not listening, you’re not learning”, much of the knowledge I’ve gained from my students has come from listening to them. Listening is important. Listening matters. Listening is learning. I’ve heard students complain for example, about teachers from whom they learn nothing, teachers for example who they claim simply write notes on the board and then ask the students to copy them down as the sole method of their teaching. Many students say that this is not how they learn, that teachers should change their teaching to suit students learning styles. And they are right. Students are smart. They know how they learn and how they don’t. They know when they have learned and when they haven’t. And so do good teachers. When students complain we need to listen. And learn. And respond. We all make mistakes and that’s part of the learning process too.

My students have taught me that we all need someone to believe in us. For some of them, the only person who ever has given them that sense of belief has been a teacher. And that’s important. Sometimes teachers make a bigger difference than we will ever know. Likewise we all need someone to care about and encourage us, to take an interest in us and see things that sometimes we can’t see ourselves. Our potential and the depth of our intelligence and strength, to see through the façade we sometimes present to the world that sometimes becomes a means of self deception. To challenge and push us, to dig more deeply until they help us find our own buried treasure. For many students I’ve taught, school is their only safe and constant place, their haven from the world and the connecting point to a better one. We all need such places and I am incredibly proud to have worked in some amazing schools with some amazing people who have provided such an environment to so many of our young people. We all need a place where we feel we belong, where we feel safe and valued; schools are often a buffer point for many teenagers between difficult home lives and the big wide world beyond. Schools matter. And they are important. And through them we witness society at its best and worst.

Human beings are capable of achieving incredible things. Students underachieve when they are underestimated. Everyone is interested in something. Everyone is good at something. Relationships matter. Language matters. Perception matters. Attitude matters. Life is easier for everyone when people aren’t fighting each other. Energy and emotions are contagious and can spread around a classroom and around the world quicker than wildfires. We all need help from others. People can change and with practise we can all get better at things. Knowledge is power and therefore to some the most frightening and threatening thing in the world. This is what I’ve learned from being a teacher and I can never thank all the students I’ve taught enough for the knowledge they’ve given to me. But I can promise them that Nelson Mandela was right when he said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. And it’s one I intend to keep wielding as long as I can.

*This is for all the staff and students I’ve worked with in one form or another from Southern Cross Primary School, St Simon’s Primary School, Scoresby Primary School, VCAA, VASST, VATE,  Vermont Secondary College, Highvale Secondary College, Narre Warren South P-12 College, Doveton College, Hampton Park Secondary College, Wantirna College, Glen Waverley Secondary College, Caulfield Grammar School Wheelers Hill & Caulfield Campuses, Lilydale Heights College, East Doncaster Secondary College, Forest Hill College, Berwick College, Emerald Secondary College and Upper Yarra Secondary College. It’s been a privilege.

Noosa Arts & Crafts Association Writing Competition – Awards Ceremony 2016 Judge’s Speech

Hello to all the Wordsmiths of this year’s writing competition. You don’t know me but I read all your stories! Congratulations and well done to everyone who entered. For most of us writing is a labour of love, it’s hard, takes time and practise and makes us vulnerable to the opinions, judgements and interpretations of others. Stories are an essential component of the patchwork quilt that makes up our society and I applaud all of you for helping add another important square to the endless quest to better understand and improve ourselves as human beings. I am a great believer in writing your own story before someone else does it for you and this is exactly what all of you have done with your entries for this year’s competition.

As readers too we are always looking for comfort and familiarity, searching for stories that tell us we are not alone. There were many familiar echoes for me in the stories I read from all the Authors here tonight. Love, loss, death, sex, youth, family, travel, sport, friends, relationships, crime, fear and bravery are all elements of life I found in your stories that I could relate to. There was a wide range of genres, themes and emotions representing the spectrum of human experience present in this year’s competition and you all deserve praise for bringing comfort to others and making yourselves vulnerable in such a manner. I laughed, I cried, felt fear and love, was unexpectedly surprised and constantly curious as I read your stories this year. If you can make someone feel something as a result of your writing then you have succeeded. As F.Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Find the key emotion, this may be all you need to know to find your short story.”

Writing is, like any other art form, essentially subjective in its nature, open to interpretation and personal preferences. It was tough to find a winner as there were many creative pieces and good ideas. But writing is a craft like any other, you get better at it the more you practise. So keep on writing, for those of us who do it it’s as essential to our existence as breathing but always remember the words of Ernest Hemingway, that “In order to write about life first you must live it.” I wish you all the opportunity to tell many more stories, and the good fortune to find the right words.

The Boy In The Window

For Alex x        

He first appeared in the Winter of 2012. Wearing a green Bonds onesie in the crook of his mother’s arms, the boy in the window looked at me with animated eyes, wide open and without pretence he watched as I appeared like Goliath in his small street. Not many people take notice of me as I go about my daily business, but his curiosity made me see myself and my work anew. Essential to the functioning of society, yet largely unnoticed by its members until we don’t do our job, Garbage Truck drivers don’t usually awaken much interest from our clients. Unable to wave himself, he showed his interest in other ways and appreciation through the small smiles of babies just learning to do so, and his mother waved his flappy arm in my direction, bidding me hello.

The boy lives along one of my more challenging routes, in the Hills just outside of Melbourne. The streets are narrow, sometimes unsealed, twisty and often precipitous; they are not the most friendly roads for Waste Management. In Winter there is the cold, mist, black ice and rain. In all seasons storms bring the extra hazards of debris from the pine, gum, mountain ash and other trees of the National Park environment and its surrounds. There is often smoke – from bushfires, back burning, wood fires and residents burning their green waste in backyards.

But amongst all the challenges it’s also a route of great beauty, of variety, of wildlife and all the colours of the world. The boy is lucky to live in a place with so much fresh air, free from the traffic and haze of industrial pollution that covers other parts of the city like a tarpaulin, suffocating those under it like a burning candle covered by a glass until there is no more air to breathe. And every Wednesday morning I get to see a friend, someone else up early making their start to the day. Someone happy and loved who makes me smile. Someone who waits and looks out for me and who I look out for too. The boy in the window.

I don’t know his name, what are little boys called these days? Ethan? Jake? Harrison? Oliver? Jaxon? Or perhaps something more traditional – George or William or Harry or James? We are friends of a  sort but still there is much we don’t know about each other. Our names, our loves, fears, hopes and dreams. Our stories. Familiar and friendly yet still strangers, for almost four years the boy, his parents and I have watched each other grow and change – him more than me. Tall and slim like his parents, he had little hair until he was almost two years old. For a period of time he wore a helmet on his head, I am not sure why but it didn’t stop the smile on his face. From the cabin of my truck in the street it was hard to make out clearly but I could see there were pictures on it, perhaps of Garbage Trucks or other forms of transport as little boys seem pre-disposed to having an interest in. In the years after he was born and first appeared to me he learned to wave, to stand and walk and use his own legs to keep him upright in this world.

Sometimes the boy appears in the window near the door that opens up onto the front deck of his double storey house, sometimes in the smaller window slightly to the right looking from the street. I have seen him in the arms of his mother, his father and sometimes by himself. As a Garbage Truck Driver you never get to know your customers, not in the way people in other industries do, but you can imagine their life, little snippets gained here and there from the window of your cab and the refuse you collect. I could write the stories of many people from the garbage in my truck.

The boy seems happy, his parents seem interested. In life, in their children (he has a baby brother now), their environment and other people like me. They leave out seed for the birds on a tree stump in their front yard, something I imagine the boy likes helping with. There are rosellas, king parrots and kookaburras aplenty in their neighbourhood. A BBQ and a baby swing inhabit the deck at the front of the house, sun chairs put out to enjoy in the warmer weather. I imagine the boy has many cars and trains and trucks and buses and planes in his toy collection. He seems the sort. He has gone from onesies to superhero character pyjamas as his parents have gone from being new ones to slightly older ones. I too have changed in the four years since he first appeared, putting on weight, growing and removing various styles of facial hair. I wonder if they take as much notice of the changes to me as I do to the boy? I guess as a young child his changes are more rapid, visible and great.

I don’t know what his parents do, what does anyone do? I don’t think they are in Waste Management, they look more like professionals or retail workers or the like, no evidence of a trade has appeared to me anyway. But they look kind and generous, evidenced by the fact they think it’s worthwhile enough of their time in the weekday morning rush to stop, look, wave and share a small part of their life with me every Wednesday. A small gesture of thanks perhaps for the work I do but also I would like to believe acknowledgement of me and my work as another human being valuable and worthy of respect equal to that of any other. Perhaps they know what it’s like to do a fairly thankless job.

I hope the boy lives a long life, that his dreams come true and that he experiences love without too much loss. I hope he finds that which is elusive to many of us – his passion, talents and the courage to pursue them. I hope he lives to see a reduction in waste in the world so that my job becomes a less common and cumbersome career path. I am happy doing it but I wish it wasn’t needed. Perhaps the boy, his younger brother and his parents will help to achieve this. Until that occurs however, I will look forward to seeing him next Wednesday morning as I am waved to by the boy. The boy in the window.

Autumn.

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According to Albert Camus “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I am fortunate enough to live in a place where the beauty of Autumn is all around me. In the Dandenong Ranges you will see all the colours of the changing season in all of their glory. Walking my baby around the block in his stroller in the late afternoon a few days ago I was taking in all the brilliant colours and mist at the end of another unseasonably warm Autumn day when it dawned on me that the nature of the season reflected the period of my life I am currently in. Autumn. Fall. Change and the  multitude of colours that represent its nature in a very physical way. A time of beauty whereby perhaps I have in fact become Camus’ flower without even noticing.

Nature is an unstoppable force; living in the Hills you see it every day. Human beings can try and fight it, manage it, control it but ultimately we are all at its mercy. The life cycle of the physical environment around us is a reflection of the nature of our own biology and often times even circumstances in various aspects of our wider life that are beyond our control. Now in my late 30’s, as a Mother to two young children who found myself unexpectedly out of a job halfway through my second pregnancy and struggling to get back into my former career, I have been through a forced metamorphosis of sorts. Like the season of change I feel like I have fallen to the ground, changed colours and become more alive, multi-faceted, richer, deeper and open to the sun as a result.

Autumn has been good to me in my life. Both my children were born in Autumn as was my Husband who I first started dating also in Autumn, it’s the season I got married in and the one in which my Husband first told me he loved me. A lot of good changes have happened to me in Autumn.

Autumn shows us that change is an inevitable part of life and one that brings with it a chance for growth and renewal, to shed former aspects of our nature and grow new more beautiful ones in their place. Growing up I was sometimes criticised by people close to me for being too sensitive and too soft. Becoming a parent has deepened this aspect of my nature even further but I have always believed better to be too sensitive and soft than too hard and not sensitive enough. Like all of us I’ve been exposed to some harsh realities from time to time that have challenged the optimistic and sunny nature that has been a fixture of my personality since childhood, but instead of making me harder all they have done is served to make me even softer. This period of Autumn in my life, a season that for me started almost four years ago with the birth of my first son, has taught me acceptance, patience and gratitude. I have learned to see the beauty and necessity of change in life whether it occurs through choice or circumstance.

I am excited about the future and the chance for new seasons ahead, grateful for the changes and the added colour they have brought to my outlook in the garden of life and accepting of their passing nature. My children will grow, my career may change, I will no doubt feel again someday that I am like an Autumn leaf falling to the ground but Winters will pass, Spring will come, and Summer will arrive. The season of change that follows will always add a layer of beautiful stunning colour to all of us for the rest of the world to see. And I know that even when I do fall to the ground like an Autumn leaf, away from a tree that may have held me upright until then, another wind will come along and take me to a new place or somebody else like my inquisitive three-year-old son will take an interest in me, pick me up and look at me in wonder and delight, and I will be seen again with a fresh appreciation.

The kindness of strangers

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For my Husband. Once upon a time you were the perfect stranger.

The stranger. The outsider. The other. Ideas, discussion, stereotypes and thoughts about these beings are prevalent in our society. In literature, the Arts, political discourse, advertising and our own inner psyche we are all aware of their existence, defined as they are by their oppositional status. We are ‘us’ and they are ‘them’. So where do you stand in relation to L’Étranger in this world? Do you fear them? Or do you take the route of Blanche DuBois and depend on their kindness? For all of us, surely, are strangers to many more people than we are not.

‘Stranger Danger’ was very much a theme of my own childhood. I was told not to talk to strangers, don’t open the door to strangers, don’t get in the car with strangers who offer you lollies as you walk home from school and if you are lost always approach a female rather than a male stranger. Men in particular were not to be trusted by young girls. But I am not so sure that this is the way I want my children to think of others. Rather than make them afraid of the world and the people in it I want them to know that there are good, kind people everywhere. That the world is full of them and that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.

I see the kindness of strangers everywhere. I’ve seen my husband pay for someone else’s groceries in the checkout in front of us and heard the story recently of a local couple who paid for the meal of a group of young women (who just happen to be hijab wearing Muslim ones) at a local Restaurant in Belgrave. Just today a woman offered to help me unload my groceries onto the conveyor belt as she saw me struggling to do so with child in tow. She said she knew what it was like. We all know what it’s like to be human; people are good. History is more full of good deeds than bad, from people risking their lives to help their fellow human beings for no other reason than it’s the natural and right thing to do to people offering to help you unload your groceries as you try and wrangle a child with your other hand.

Of course we need to teach our children to be wary, alert but not alarmed. But we also need to teach them kindness and to smile at strangers. After all, you never know who you might meet.

 

In Our Natural State

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I once read of a Holy Roman Emperor who believed that if children were not taught language they would naturally speak Hebrew. Now I don’t know if the assumption of Hebrew being the natural language of human beings is correct or not, but I do know that children show us a lot about the natural state of human beings.

My 3 year old son is often hungry, a constant state I don’t expect to decrease as he gets older. Being unable at times to sate the appetite of a 3 year old I hate to think of what it’s going to be like in the years ahead when I will have two teenage boys living under my roof. He was born hungry as the saying goes. We all were. Thinking about my boys when they were first born I realise how basic our needs are as human beings in order to be happy. All they wanted and needed to survive right then and there, as they entered the world and started their journey in this universe, was oxygen, food, water, warmth and human contact. Someone to care for them, keep them clean and catch them so they didn’t fall. The baselines of Maslow’s hierarchy. With these needs met they were happy to just keep breathing, take in the world around them and find their place within it.

Untouched by the world and the layers of experience that adults have, my children and their friends have shown me just how beautiful and good people are in their natural state. They are generous with their heart and their trust; everyone they meet is worthy of their attention, their conversation, their questions, their interest, their stories and their friendship. Children don’t care if you are one or one hundred, if you are male or female or anything in between or if you are white, yellow, black or purple. If you are another human being you are ripe for their friendship. Even if you are a Teletubby, you can be their friend too.

And children are soft. Oh so beautifully soft. Soft before the world makes us hard. Many people talk about how to build resilience in your children and yes it’s important for all of us to be resilient in order to be functioning adults and cope with life and the pressures that inevitably affect all of us. But my sons are 3 and 10 months old respectively. They don’t need to be resilient in the way that adults do. Not yet. They don’t need to know about the depths of hurt and setbacks that occur in the world at the moment. To them the world is a wonderful place and everyone in it is good. They will find out soon enough, too soon, the reality of life as they grow. For now I want them to enjoy the reality of their now; their softness shows me how soft we all are underneath our layers; a nice truth about the nature of all of us and something we should all remember when making judgements of others.

I see in children how happiness, pure happiness, comes and goes at the touch of others. It helps me to be grateful for what I have. There is no greater joy for me than to see my baby sitting on the floor with a big grin on his face, squealing with delight and waving his arms around in a circular motion indicating his desire to be picked up and cuddled by me when he first sees me enter a room. Or when I go to pick up my 3 year old from childcare and see him drop whatever it is he is doing immediately upon seeing me and come running across the room, arms open wide saying “Oh Mummy I missed you!” They are an open book.

Children are honest. With their thoughts and their emotions they have no filter, a fact that after spending so much of our working lives as adults necessitating the employment of tact in this area, can be very refreshing to come home to. Seeing things from their perspective forces us to see the world anew, with fresh eyes, from upside down angles and the spotlight on things you never even knew were there. Children are like mirrors, they reflect back at us who we are in all our glory and faults. Sometimes we don’t truly see ourselves until we do so in our children. Anyone who has ever sworn and then heard it repeated back out of the mouth of a toddler will know what I’m talking about.

At the moment I’m reading Anthony Doerr’s ‘All The Light We Cannot See’. In a similar vein to Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’, Doerr’s novel tells the story of World War Two from the perspective of children. Using a child’s voice and experience to tell stories of War shows us just how stupid an act it truly is. There is no greater tactic for the anti-war movement than seeing it through the eyes of a child (or two). No child would ever wage war on another human being. To children we are all friends. Which raises the question to me of what happens to us between childhood and adulthood, when we are supposedly more evolved, that leads to human beings doing such atrocious things to each other? I haven’t finished reading the book yet but I suspect that the young blind Marie-Laure ends up seeing the world a whole lot more clearly than the adults with seeing eyes in the story. As the young German boy in the story Werner is told by the broadcaster he enjoys listening to “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.” Good advice for all of us; the opening of eyes that focus on the lightness in the world rather than the darkness, aided for me by having children with fresh ones.

Children are curious, they take delight in simple pleasures. They are thirsty for knowledge. What, how, and why are their guiding questions. They desire approval and are insatiable in their appetite to learn. They love stories and believe in make believe. Although life has cured me of many a naïve assumption, in essence I am an eternal optimist. Having children has allowed me to remain forever hopeful. They are natural human beings and wonderful ones at that. And so are you.