TCKs

Hello!  I am a terrible twitterer, but today I woke to find my blog listed on a best of TCK list (Thanks Summertime Publishing!).

If you came to my site today through that link, here are some of my posts that relate to being a TCK:
http://rachelfaithcox.com/problem-like-maria/
http://rachelfaithcox.com/reunion/
http://rachelfaithcox.com/papua-new-guinea-paradise-lost/

Are you a TCK? Follow summertime publishing’s tweets, they’ll be adding more bloggers and books to their directory…
http://www.expatbookshop.com/extra-resources/directory-of-tck-cck-blogs-websites-a-to-m/

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I See You

 

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I found the baby photo albums this morning.  Of course… any excuse to stop…

I settled in to the sofa to spend some time reminiscing.  I always look at pictures from this time with surprise.  Like a spectator trying to understand the family I am seeing.  At the time I was barely functioning; so sleep deprived and anxious that my memories are a hazy fuzz.  But in the photos; that mother.  She looks so happy, so …together.  She is holding her babies, smiling and laughing. There are baby bath shots, feeding shots, solids, walking, play time and coffee group shots.  Family time and baking and washing folding and all the hallmark Mummy Activities.

But Mummy was acting.  I remember how it really was, inside my head.  I just wanted to cry, with as much feeling as my babies did.  Sometimes, I was scarily detached even from my own distress. Sometimes I just felt empty and dead inside, at a time when I knew my babies needed me to feel connected and certain.

Looking back I can see how it all happened as it did.  There was big stuff going on.  My own mother was fighting her battle with Ovarian cancer in the two years after my first baby was born.  I fought with her, desperate for her to stay with me.  But she passed away. Then I was fighting my own battle with grief in the years after my second baby was born.

I feel a deep sadness for that Mummy.  The one pretending to have it all together.  I wish I could go back in time and reassure her, tell her to take a good look at me now, and see that it will get better.  Maybe I could do some loads of washing for her and cook some dinners for her freezer.  I remember one of my friends did just that one day, when things were very dark.  She knocked on the door and shyly handed over a quiche. “Just in case you could do with an easy dinner” she said.  I lost it.  Cried then.  Cried in that embarrassing, gasping fashion.   Sobbed my sore mummy heart out.  Somehow she had seen through my ‘keeping it all together’ facade.  She saw me as I really was; scared, struggling and in need of gentle kindness.

So I was looking at these photos this morning, and one in particular really struck me.  It’s the moment after my daughter first met her little brother.  We are in the maternity hospital and she has been without me for the first night of her life.  She is giddily happy to see me; nervous about seeing him.  Her face is the picture of apprehension. She knows he is her special little brother, but she is afraid.  What does it mean?  Will Mummy and Daddy have enough love to go around?  Will the baby love her back?  Why does everything have to change?

She is about to turn three.  Her whole world is shifting on it’s axis.  She smiles when she gingerly touches the little pulsating triangle on his downy head.  And erupts into the most heartbreakingly overwhelmed sobs.  There just aren’t words to explain how she is feeling.  The bittersweet love-fear that comes with big life stuff.  She is lost.  In that moment, I put my Mummy arms around her and shush quietly into her hair.

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I am sure that I am a broken and useless Mumma, but this stuff, I get.  She needs me to see her.  I put her tiny brother into the bassinet and settle him in.  She sighs and settles back into my arms, safe in the warmth of knowing that I know.  I sing to her and tell her the story of when she was born.  A tiny little bundle, even smaller than her baby brother.  I tell her how excited we were that she was coming, and all the things I noticed about her. I skip the bit about my own terrors.  I talk about how much she loved to hold my finger and sleep close to her Daddy.  She asks me if she was a good baby and I kiss her forehead.  “You were my baby, and that was better than good” I skip the facts.  I tell her how clever she is, how creative and how big.  I tell her that she is already everything she needs to be to be a big sister.  She’ll be great.  I tell her it is okay to wish she wasn’t a sister sometimes, because in the end, the love will be bigger than the upsets.  She nods and falls asleep.

We all need someone to see us when things are overwhelming. To talk to us that way. And sadly, sometimes, that someone has to be ourselves.  Somewhere between those early baby years and now, I have discovered how to mother myself.  When I am lost and need to be seen, I make a point of encouraging myself.  Giving myself the kindnesses my own mother would give if she were here.  I give myself the freedom to let go and give the kids eggs on toast for tea.  To treat myself to a pedicure.  To tell myself I am fantastic, right to my own face in the mirror.  When I am being irrational and emotional, I let myself cry and yell and be a big fat baby.  I talk to myself like a mother would.  I see myself through the eyes of love and then, all things can be handled.
Maybe you need to be seen too.

I see you.

How are you?

If I met you, I’d smile.  
Maybe you’d ask me how I am.  And my smile might wobble a little.  It’s not a question I can easily answer.  I don’t want to lie, but if I told you the truth of how I am, you might do that little sliding sideways step and make a mental note not to get stuck next to me next time. So I’d say
“…fine, thanks.  How are YOU?” and we would talk about that instead.

But I think it might be time to break out the real answer.
“I’m not doing so well”.  Thanks for asking!

My name is Rachel and I have a neurological disorder that is a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.  That means, all the functions of the body that are automatic.  Breathing, Heart-beating, Blood Pressure, Temperature regulation, Digestion, Bladder and Bowel functions.  Just a few of the things that make our bodies efficient places to live.  In my body, all of them are affected.  I have a pacemaker to assist my heart and medications to help with the rest.  They are the ambulance at the bottom of my cliff. But when you look at me, you can’t see how I am falling.  They call my illness an ‘Invisible Illness’.  It isn’t easily apparent. On my worst days, I’m in the emergency department, or here, in my bed.  Dealing with all manner of broken body problems. I might be tapping away on my keyboard. Connecting with the world in the best way I can, out of sight.  But on my good days, when I am visible, I might be beside you, chatting about how you are, and smiling. Looking fine.

There is no cure for Dysautonomia.  My doctors haven’t found a cause, but for some, a cause may be found and a treatment begin.  For the majority of us, ‘treatment’ means symptom management. A regime of medications and interventions; it is a ride on a runaway roller coaster in an abandoned theme park.  Frightening, unpredictable, overwhelming.  Autonomic dysfunction like mine is more commonly seen in late stage Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis, but without a primary cause it is rare. There are few of us in Australia and New Zealand, but we are resourceful!  We have found each other on the internet and we work together to find information, resources and hope. I cannot imagine how it must have been for people with rare diseases before the internet.  It makes me want to cry imagining how very isolated they must have been.  I am so grateful for my finger tapping friends all over the world.  Shouting a two dimensional hello into the ether.  Arms reaching far across the digital divide with comfort and solidarity.

So, How am I?  Really?
So frustrated, so scared.  See, I have two kids and they are still so little.  Zed is six and Bee is nine.  I linger at bed times, holding them in my arms, always for just a bit longer.  My lips against the hair on the tippy top of a warm head, my cheeks pressed up against the moist stamp of little hands. My thoughts, always on what the future may hold for them.  My heart in my mouth and my own hands grasping at the time slipping right through them.  I want to be the mum who walks beside her grown kids, head up high, laughing and joking. Not the incontinent invalid, too spent and struggling to keep pace with the conversation.

I’m heartbroken, so sorry.  See, I have this husband.  He’s the best man I have ever met, and I got to marry him.  He’s tall, and lovely and practical and smart.  When we argue, we make up.  When we struggle, we push through.  When we love, well, there is no song, no poem, no flower that could help you understand.  It’s friendship to the power of two.  It’s trust in the face of despair. It’s warm and good. It took me so long to find him and then, Dysautonomia found me.  How is that fair?  It breaks my heart that he has to live my diagnosis with me.  My husband; my friend.  A commitment in sickness, but where is the health? I want to be the wife he can run away with, when our child-rearing is done. The wife he can play with; he’ll chase and I’ll run.

I’m lost, so empty.  See, I had a great career.  I was a teacher, and I loved it.  I worked with kids who had exceptional ability.  My last job was teaching a small group of gifted child writers. And I still think about every child I have ever taught.  I still yearn for a classroom of my own and a chance to engage in those exchanges when learning is the light illuminating our world. Where sparks fly and inspirations blaze.  Where questions and commentary, connections and community fill me with hope for the future of our world.  I miss being their teacher.  I miss seeing them shine and watching their possibilities unfold.  I want to be the one lighting the bonfire, I have so much tinder for the fire. But now, I just teach myself. Patience.  Every day.  I grit my teeth and get through the next thing, I swallow my shame about what my body won’t do.

But I’m really glad you asked how I am.  Because even though I am all of those things I write about above… I am also amazed, so genuinely gobsmacked by this life. I have lost so many of the things that meant so much to me.  I had very specific plans for my life, for all the things that I thought I should achieve.  But I am finding out something quite extraordinary.
I actually have, SO much.

I have everything that matters.  

I have love.  I have a purpose.  I have words (and I intend to use them!)  Being sick is not a picnic.  But it is a bit of a fast track to finding your true self.  And in spite of everything, I am back to the basics of Rach. For the first time in my forty years of life, I like me. I have so much more insight and empathy than I could ever have had before.  I am writing and connecting.  I am meeting ‘my people’, from right where I am.  In the comfortable discomfort of the present situation.  From my bed.  From a place of real true, me. I feel all these sadnesses, all the fear and loss and frustration.  But I also feel a peculiar kind of free. 
I feel like I have found: me.

I turn and I smile, at you.

Because, actually, I am fine, thanks.
But truly, how are you?

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Chain Gang

Remember when chain letters were the thing?  You’d get one and quietly sigh at the knowledge you’d have seven years of bad luck…unless you hand copied them onto every sheet of that pink floral letter writing paper your Nanna gave you last birthday. And distribute them faithfully.  Oh the frustrations of pre-facebook ‘sharing’!

Sharing is so easy with facebook.  I love it.  But recently I have been discovering a world beyond my beloved facebook, in the ‘Blogosphere’.  When a fellow blogger, Annette, whom I seriously rate, asked me to be part of her ‘Blog Hop’, I said yes before I said,
“Wait, what?”
A Blog Hop, thankfully, is not a chain letter.  It’s a bit like a tag-pass-it-on kind of thingummy. A group of bloggers making a kind of a chain gang.  We all write about our writing process and then nominate three more writers to do the same.  It started back here, with Josefa. So here is my contribution to the wonderful Annette’s Blog Hop.
By the way, you should head over to I Give You the Verbs, she writes like a boss.

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I have been working on my brand new (baby)blog.  It’s four weeks old and a bit of a fractious baby!   For a start, like any newborn, it just won’t behave the way I expect it to; there are strange stray bits of fluff that can be found in all sorts of odd nooks and crannies.  And no instruction manual in sight. But yeesh, this new baby is loud. It’s been yelling itself red in the face since it’s birth.  And like any new Mum, I am exhausted and completely in love.  I even love it’s imperfections, cos I made it, and it was so overdue, I didn’t think it would ever get born.

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I write for relief.  I write to explain myself and my invisible illness, so people will understand both of us better. And I write for people like me, stuck with progressive health issues they can’t control, fighting for good healthcare, for treatment, for more time, better time, with their families.  I write so that my words can reach people who are beyond my arms reach; can provide them with an understanding voice, words to express some of the hard stuff, kindness or compassion when the sky is bleak.  I write so that others won’t feel so alone, so that I won’t either.  I write because I have always written.  Because writing makes me feel like my best self.
And I write to remain.

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I have listened to so many writers discuss their process.  I listen with awe as some describe their writing ‘discipline’ or ‘routine’.

What happens with me is a little bit more impulsive.  I will be mulling something over, some idea, feeling, injustice, bit of beauty, a phrase my child says, or a concept, something that has hooked my attention…  Sometimes it only lasts for a few minutes before I pull the laptop up from it’s charging station by the bedside table.  Other times it will be a few days of ‘background thinking’.  Then somehow… music.  Like a cosmic coincidence, I will hear a song on the radio, or begin humming a tune that reminds me of the very thing I am musing about.  I think all coincidences are on-purpose.  They are signposts. STOP!  FORM ONE LANE! WRITE! The music gets my fingers twitchy.

I get writing and write until it is all out and finished. I write in bed and directly into WordPress. I don’t plan it or structure it.  I just write.  It comes out with it’s own shape and usually, I like that. I hit publish.  If I don’t, I change it.  If I go back to it the next day and I need to tweak it, I do.  Having it already out there on the internet is powerful motivation to check and edit. I only add pictures after the writing; it’s too easy to procrastinate during the find-the-right-picture stage.

If I am writing for my other blog job, over at Nic-Nac, the process is slightly different.  Kylie will send me parenting topics she wants covered, or a link to an online debate, or a news article or parenting site forum that is discussing something juicy.  “An Idea?”  she’ll pop into the subject line.  I try to keep her posts to 600 words or less. When I write for Kylie, I write wearing a different hat.  In her pieces, I am not an unwell mum; just a mum.  I keep all references to ill health for my own platform.  I like writing her pieces just as much as writing my own, because when I’m writing for Kylie, I am everywoman.  I like that slice of life.  And writing for work is like …playing for pay!

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My genre is a tiny corner of the health sphere.  The two most prominent Dysautonomia blogs belong to Michelle, from Living with Bob and Carrie from Just Mildly Medicated.  Michelle’s style is far more ascerbic and funny than mine, she has a gift for presenting information in a way that is accessible for both practitioners and patients.  Her work makes me cry and laugh and she has incredibly cool personal style.  She is a superhero.  And Carrie, from Just Mildly Medicated  is stoic and strong.  She’s funny too and I love that she lists reading as a hobby.   Carrie’s a military wife in the States, with a big brood and bigger health problems.  Yet none of them too big to break her sass.  Both of their styles are similar to mine in that we talk about the heartbreak and the hardship of our disease.  But different because I am a new to blogging and I am not funny (according to my kids who know about these things). I am just finding my voice and trying it out.  And I hope people will find my openness helpful.  I’m not afraid to discuss the nitty gritty stuff.  It helps me.  I hope to find the best words to express what many of us experience.

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The three writers I have nominated for the Blog Hop are beautiful people as well as interesting reads.  I met all of them on my Blogging/Writing course.  It all finishes in two days time, but I know we’ll be a ‘group’ for much longer than that.  I have found ‘my people’ and I am not letting them go!  I like their work and so it follows, if you like reading mine, you’ll like reading theirs, too.  Click on over to their places in this Blog Land.  They will be telling you all about their writing process, some time in the next week. But in the meantime, there are lots of treasures to unearth where they keep their words! They’ll make you feel right at home.

Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 8.56.09 pmYvette writes for her blog
Bear Loves Dove
She’s a creative, crafty, snap-happy, flower-loving, treehugging, motorbike riding, daydreaming, zen searcher who is never too far from a gorgeous ball of yarn and a crochet hook and is a bit obsessed with Peace Love & Harmony.

Sarah writes for her blog
Sarahs Heart Writes.
She is a tri-nation girl who is a champion of compassion and kindness, a dabbling cook and the worst housekeeper ever.  She is a traveller on this journey we call life, documenting its crazy, funny, sad and joyful moments along the way.

Kate writes for her blog:
One Small Life
Kate has two little kids who are her gurus.  She runs, she meditates and she writes about it.  She struggles with balancing a perfectionist streak with an imperfect life.  When she cooks and makes things it never looks like it does on Pinterest, but she’s learning to be okay with that.  Life is full of big   messes and little beauties and she’s trying to focus more on the latter.

When Annette asked me to join her in a Blog Hop, she nominated two others from our course who I love too.  Have a look at why Karen writes, and what Naomi loves. X

 

 

…and just because I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head since I wrote this post…

 

 

 

Brave

I was the youngest of four siblings. We were all dressed alike, in clothes often made by my Mum. I loved that, the anonymity of being able to blend into the amorphous group of us; “The kids”. I also liked the feeling of belonging it gave me, I was part of them, and if anything was to be asked of us, my big brothers or sisters would usually step up. I remember hiding behind my Mum’s long seventies skirts and being happy to be in the background of whatever was happening. Vicariously exploring the world. I guess it is true to say that I wasn’t a naturally plucky individual.

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…frowny girl on the left is me. I think Mum has just cut my hair…

 

My early life panned out in ways that forced me, whether I liked it or not, to find some strategies for encountering the new. My parents moved around a lot; in and out of three different countries, numerous cities and so many different houses, I literally lost count. I do remember how many schools I went to: thirteen. I remember each one vividly.
I remember every first day like it was a tattoo etched onto my memories.
Painful.
It’s hard to belong anywhere in a hurry. I was always grateful for the schools that had uniform.
A costume for conformity.

As I grew older my early realisation about anonymous dressing became my modus operandi. I opted for the most commonplace pieces of fashion, nothing too bright, nothing too memorable. I yearned to be creative and express myself in rainbows, ra-ras and fluorescent exclamations. But it was easier to wear grey, black, taupe. To layer the invisibility on like armour. I realised that shape, too, had to be conformist. Too thin, too fat, people would look. Everything I did was to avoid people looking at me. But there was nothing I could do to halt my height. So with despair I climbed to six foot tall by the age of twelve. I perfected the sideways slouch and head-dip; sayonara six inches. I lived awkwardly underneath the radar, skirting the periphery, hiding in the shadows.

Under all that cloak of invisibility there was an extraordinary girl. I look back at old photos and I see her. Now, with the years spinning past there is so much I can see that was never clear to me before. I see that girl and I want to shout her into action, push her into the spotlight, drive into her the strength and self belief she deserves to have. She is a good friend, already. A deep thinking, good person. She is also hot, if only she’d realise it! She has so much going for her, and a limited time to enjoy it. She doesn’t know what is up ahead or how her life will be sideswiped, first by heart break and then by her heart itself. I want to wrap my arms around her and explain that even if she doesn’t feel brave, she needs to take a deep breath and jump. Jump into the degree she would have preferred to do, leap at the job opportunities she thought she wasn’t good enough for, dive towards the fastest, scariest opportunities instead of running away. And I want to tell her to look how the hell she wants to look, to wear anything she likes and to enjoy the freedom of being unique.

Now, my body and my health make it hard to blend. Sometimes I am tempted to stay away from people altogether, so they won’t look at me. But then determination ruffles my big brave girl panties and a strident voice in me shouts for attention. I go out anyway. I go out as I am. I look people in the eye and I will them, to see me for who I am; strong, stroppy and sassy. Soulful, sympathetic and sensitive. Sexy, in the way you can only be when you know yourself well. I meet people with my hand extended and my heart fluttering. Inside myself I am full of shaky affirmations, “take a deep breath” “be brave”, “you are a special and useful person, just as you are”. I don’t know if any of you need to reassure yourselves this way, but I do. And more now, than in all the years I have been alive, I think that I am worthy of my own friendship. I support myself and prop myself up. Cos that’s who I am. A Big Brave Girl.

I have a daughter of my own. A tween, just teetering on the edge of self awareness. She looks in the mirror and smiles at herself. She describes herself as an artist and without guile says “I am very good, you know”. She prefers shorts to skirts, hair out to hair up. She knows what she likes. Soon she is going to face an onslaught of ideas that will challenge her self perception. She will notice that boys notice her, and when they don’t. She’ll add up all the small comments made by her peers and the messages propagated by media and she will equal them into something about herself. She will discover her own imperfections and berate herself for her weaknesses.

All the while, I will stand by her, telling her, as my mother told me, “You look lovely”, “You have a good brain” “You are enough, just as you are”. She probably won’t hear me. Until later, when the echoes will reach her. I want that day to come quickly for her, but age tells me that we find our bravery our own way. Our wounds show us the way. I hope that she will let me be close enough to be able to listen to her words as she grows. I hope she won’t spend so long away from her brave self that the journey back is treacherous. I want to her see her self and smile.

Baby girl, hope of my heart; be brave.
Meet the world and find your path.
Breathe deep and find your strength.
Give much and love yourself.
Choose your words slow and use them strong.
Be your own version of beautiful
Find a passion worthy of your soul
and indulge it.
Create your own thing, to leave in this world, of you.

And know. That if I had my time over again…
Again, my creation would be
you.

 

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

A few years ago, at a meeting for the parents of toddlers, you would have seen a lady with a distinctly uptight twitch to her posture.  My hair might have been brushed, but there is no telling if I would have managed an outfit that looked ‘together’. My foot would have been wriggling up and down and my hands grasped nervously in front of me.  I would have been dragged there by another well meaning mother from my son’s kindy.  We would have been there to listen to a wise old white-haired lady talk about parenting in the early years. I might have introduced myself like this, my voice rising with every sentence:

“I’m Rachel. My boy is three.  He is going through a ‘stage’.  (Oh-my-goodness-I-hope-it’s-a-stage!)
He is defiant, wilful, deliberately naughty.  The direct eye contact as he does the very thing I have asked him not to do.  The little Dennis the Menace smirk.  The panic rises in me as I realise all over again that I don’t know what to do, he’s figured me out!  At three! I can’t do this!!!!”

I wanna hold your hand...

There might have been other mums there who understood.   A barely audible hum of acknowledgement from people who’d been slaughtered that battle front recently, or the averted gaze from another who was too afraid to show her own rising panic.  The wise old lady just nodded and moved on to the next introduction.  She said lots of things that were all well and good.  But she said one thing that I lingered on.  “Your son is asking you to hold his hand and help him”.  Pffft!  I’ll help him, alright!

But later, I thought about some more about what she’d said.
Of course I didn’t take the time to hold his hand when he was in the middle of destroying the newly tidied toy shelf!  I didn’t want to hold his hand when I was calling him from downstairs, for the tenth time, and we were already late for kindy. I didn’t think of holding his hand when he was struggling with his fork at dinner time, or smudging cake crumbs down between the sofa cushions.  To be frank, I was so riled with him I thought if I reached for him when he was being naughty I might be tempted …nah. Hadn’t thought of holding hands.

Desperation will drive a mother to try many things.  And that is why, mid-tantrum, I remembered the wise old lady.  (I know, a girl my age shouldn’t be having tantrums, but I was upset!)  My son had just made a snow storm in his room with talcum powder.  Everything was completely covered and I could see the cleaning hours ahead, stretching into the infinity of forever.

I went over to him and held his hand.

He didn’t know what to do.  I said “how can I help you?”.  And his little white powdered face crumpled up.  We walked, hand in hand to the bathroom and I helped him get in the bath.  We talked about how talcum powder can get everywhere, really fast.  We washed it out of his hair and eyelashes, from the wrinkles between his toes.  Then we went out and left the snow storm to itself for a while.

I began to try hand holding whenever I felt like I was losing control of a situation.

He liked the attention.  The more of it he got, the happier he was, the more connected we were and the more often a good morning turned into a good afternoon.  A thought that had never crossed my mind before, swooped in.  The more attention he had from me, the less naughty he was.  I could hold his hand and he would understand! Hand holding was the conduit for communication!   On a kindy day, instead of racing downstairs with all the bits and pieces and yelling for him to join us, I went to his room, gently took his hand and walked down the stairs.

That wise old lady might have known a thing or two about small people.
All people.

Bonbon Break

I like you.

The other day, someone told me that the best advantage you can give kids is the ability to build good relationships with other people.  They learn this from watching the relationships in their world.
What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
It’s probably a bit different to what it looked like before the kids arrived. Like, an interplanetary timewarp, different.  Same people, different planet.  Whole new meaning for the word ‘good’.

I like you...

Pre-kids, we measured our relationship success so differently.  Gifts, beautiful meals, the occasional romantic getaway.  There was lots of physical affection, winks, nudges, eye contact and fascinating, far-roaming conversations.  We’d gaze at each other in the candlelight and congratulate ourselves on how connected we were.  Passionately in love, deeply in lust, we had gigantic doozie fights, with door slamming and name calling.  And we were proud of the fact that we never walked away from an argument without resolving it. Ah, lurve.

These days I think love has smoodged over to make room for something pretty important.  Like.  Those two together are what I call a successful relationship when you are parents.  I love you, and dammit, I choose remember why I like you, too.

Remember when you were at school and someone nudged you and said “he likes you!” and being ‘liked’ seemed like the highest form of devotion possible?  We denigrate the word ‘like’ to a much lower than ‘love’ status.  But liking your partner, even when you are sleep deprived, your boobs hurt, you disagree on dummies, and you are certain that they really don’t ‘get’ it, whatever ‘it’ is that day….actually liking them on Planet Parent can be pretty tricky.  The increase in relationship break ups is testament to just how tricky it is.

It matters that you like your partner, because your kids are a product of your relationship.  If you don’t like your partner, the message to your kids is that you don’t actually like half of what makes them who they are.  It matters that you like your partner because it is easier to parent as a team than as two people who aren’t even friends.  It matters, because when you like someone, you are kinder to them.  Kindness in human relationships is exactly what kids need to see.  The future of our world literally does depend on it.  If there is something they are doing or not doing that you don’t like, remember that it is a behaviour, not who they are.  And tell them about it!  Most of us haven’t got a clue what pushes each other’s buttons.  Talk about it before it erodes you.

The kicker about this love+like combo, is that somehow, finding a way to have both in your heart for your fellow parent matters, even if you aren’t together.  I have taught so many children whose hearts are broken because their parents marriage is broken.  It happens; often it needed to.  But not to the kids! They watch with eyes, ears and self esteem wide open as the two people who made them rip each other to shreds.  They suffer your battles on a much more personal level than you do, because they are biologically attached to both sides.  There is no escaping who they are.  But it really sucks if you are hearing your parents point out the worst of both halves of you, ad nauseum.

Find the character strengths and positive personality traits your child inherited from your co-parent.  Focus on those things when you are discussing them in front of your child. The rest of it can wait for another time when the intended audience is the only one hearing you.  I am not a big celebrity fan, but I read this quote from an love-embattled star recently “We’re parenting, and working out if there is still a relationship to salvage”.  I think it is awesome that the parenting comes first.

What does a good relationship look like when you are parents?
You know those scenes in war movies, where everyone is leaving the smoky battle field?  They’re battered and worn out, maybe an eyeball or limb is missing, they are smeared with grime, matted and messy?  They slap each other on the back and say something wry and witty.  Satisfied glances are exchanged and the grins are contagious.  They’ve won.  They did it.  Together, somehow and against all odds.  That is what a good relationship looks like when you are parents.  It’s a look between two battlers.  It’s congratulations after a day hard fought and won.  It’s celebrating the beauty you’ve created by acknowledging the good bits in each other, in front of the kids you made together.  A good relationship between parents creates good self esteem in kids.  And it is a much friendlier way to take the journey of life.  Together, with someone you like.

I want my kids to be ambitious about love and find someone to be with that they actually like!  Someone whose company and conversation brings them comfort and calm.  The very best way I can show them how to find that, is by finding it with my man, every day. If they see the way good friends can resolve conflict without hurting each other and shoulder burdens without dropping the bundle; well I think there is a good chance they will know what a good relationship looks and feels like long before they have to choose one for themselves.

Mister Wordsworth

There is a poem by Wordsworth (An Ode to Immortality), that suggests we are born with magic still a part of us… that time imprisons our other-worldliness… until we have forgotten all it is to be heavenly creatures.  Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.   Mary Poppins, (a personal hero of mine) shared his philosophy, but for her it included the loss of an innate ability to understand the languages of animals. Remember when she explained to the children that they couldn’t understand what the bird outside the window was saying, because they were too old? Those two must have been in on some kind of ancient wisdom.

Ah, here it is… a little extract of poetry for you:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;

Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen
I now can see no more.
The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.  

I watched a chubby fisted bubba the other day, she was like a miniature conductor, waving her hands with conviction. Commanding the wind, waves and water to do her bidding.  She looked absorbed by the feeling of the wind between her little baby fingers, the sounds and syllables bubbling out from her, a symphony of connection with nature.  She was doing Important Work, of a kind we cannot understand.  Talking to the world itself; to the forces of nature like they were personal friends of hers.

We forget.  We forget how very magical this world is to small people.  The glitter of sun on sea.  The industry of the ant in the microcosm of our own lawn.  The dusty musty warmth of a face buried in the dog’s fur.  The smell of jasmine. That terror-delight as the swing arcs through the air and falls back to earth.  It’s so easy to forget.  We are so busy doing all  the things that “must. be. done”.  Frankly, it bites being the one who must do those things, but it is okay, it’s good, to pause and switch perspective a little sometimes.  Get a little bit of magic back.

When is the last time you lay on your tummy in the grass?  Made snow angels in the sand? Sat in a mud puddle and squiggled your toes through the goop?  Marvelled at the way the sun shines through a marble or the beauty of rainbows in the overspray of the hose?  Have you jumped on the trampoline or ridden a bike lately?  Have you leaned your forehead on the forehead of a loved one, closed your eyes and felt the gloriousness of their presence?

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Dear old Wordsworth.  I’ve thought of him often in the years since my HSC English class.  He knew a thing or two about shaping words to express things that are hard to explain.  And he loved to write about our world and the way we respond to it.  Today, I am going to be a little one again.  I’m going to grab a moment to do something that lets me see the world through the eyes of a child.  Join me?

We, in thought, will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!

– See more of the poem here.

He’s a little bit old fashioned, Mister Wordsworth, but every now and then, a little poetry for me and for thee… makes thine heart filleth with sunshine! 😉  Indeedy and veritably so.

Baby powder, Burqas and Bikinis

Summer has just begun to slip off the seasonal dial.  It’s been a hot one and getting to a pool or a beach has been a prime objective most days.  I’ve seen countless little ones splashing through rock pools or creating sandy kingdoms, hollering to their friends in the water.  Pre teen girls running along the beach and squealing at the waves and each other.  The sun is high and the swimmers are mostly on, though it seems the younger the child the less likely you’ll find them wearing a one piece, or even two pieces of their cossie. I have an adorable photo of my daughter looking out to the horizon, her little bare butt cheeks dusted with golden sand.

Speaking of sand and butts, have you discovered that fab little trick with baby powder?  Who knew? Baby powder is the most efficient way to remove sand from feet after a trip to the beach.  Works a treat for butts too!  But I digress.

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The thing that bothers me, is that we are so acutely aware of the dangers within our society, that we can’t relax about nudity.  Pedophilia has frozen our reason, so that it is difficult to see the innocent sweetness of little nudie sweethearts without being hit by a bolt of anxiety.
Are they safe?
Is some predator watching them?
Can I prevent harm by covering them up?
Can you even buy baby Burqas?
Am I doing the wrong thing as a parent by letting my child run nude, or wear an itsy bitsy bikini?

I faced similar anxiety watching my son in his first dance concert.  Groups of heavily made up girls wearing cropped lycra confections and eyelash extensions took to the stage for the act before his.  They gyrated their way through a raunchy rendition of ‘Trouble’.  The crowd went wild.  I cringed, thinking of my young lad looking on from the wings. Then gave myself an internal face slap.  They are just kids, it is me that is interpreting these things through a sexual filter. What does my son see? Colour, rhythm, fun. I hope…. the dilemma.

I’ve read the forums about the sexualisation of young girls, the distress about the increase in products like padded bras, g strings, high heels and bikinis for pre teens.  I sympathise with both sides of the argument and I suspect that like many of the things on this parenting journey, we have less control than we think we do.  Girls have dressed up and emulated older females since the beginning of time.  Child fashion reflects adult fashion.  Girls will change away from home to wear the latest fashion, even if Mum and Dad don’t approve.  Didn’t you?

The media delivers skinny, minimally curved  women clad in little; bronzed brown and perfectly fashioned for the male aesthetic.  Young women everywhere depilate all the hair that shows they are, in fact, women. It’s a disappointment that, after all,  the predominant media image of women has not yet been revolutionised by the women’s movement.  Music videos add their controversial spin on what being a woman should look like.  The adult world is sending out the archetype of womanliness. And we wonder why young women go out with their backside creases showing.

It’s very difficult to see all that(!) and not wrap another layer around your daughter. But the thing is, I really, really want my girl to feel proud of and comfortable in her body, regardless of whether it is covered or not.  I want her to have the power of body-freedom.  Not the self limiting fears over what isn’t ‘perfect’ about her image.  I want her to think, “This is me.  Just as I am”.  I don’t want her to feel that there are parts of her body she should feel ashamed of.

She should grow up considering all her parts, private or otherwise as equally important, special and beautiful in their own right. I don’t want her to cower under the possibility that some freak somewhere is getting their jollies because she is wearing something that highlights her female-ness.  I certainly don’t want her to ever believe the lie that it is possible to ‘ask for it’ by what you wear, or don’t wear.  Rape and sexual abuse occur because there are people who make disgusting choices to overrule the personal freedom of another.  They do these things because of their own mental illness, because of hideous social norms, because humans do bad things to other humans.

I want to teach her to be as safe as she can be; within the understanding that she is a glorious and beautiful person.

I guess I want her to learn make good choices herself.  Not because she is afraid of the power of sexual predators, but because she values herself.  Is this something that you do by encouraging  chaste clothing? Or is it about encouraging safe behaviours, open communications, informed choices?  I know that this topic is something we will not shy away from talking about as my girl grows up.  I can’t change the world as it is.  The media, the pedophiles, the GenY fashion situation.  But I can build up my daughter to know that her worth is far deeper than what she does or doesn’t wear.  When she was a tiny toddler, looking out to that horizon from the beach, she couldn’t know all the issues that would face her as a female in this society, but she did know that she was awesome, just as she was.  I’ll do everything I can to help it stay that way.

There is a popular story that has been doing the rounds about Mohamed Ali.  It is told by his daughter Hana in her book about her life growing up with her Dad.  She recounts a visit to her father:
My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.”
He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.” 
Source: Taken from the book: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes.

Except that it isn’t true.

Everything valuable in the world is not covered and hard to get to.  The beauty of nature, the abundance of the earth, the joy of relating to other human beings from a place of confidence and peace.  Value is not about rarity and market dictations, I choose to have a different value system.

What do I value most in my daughter?  Her unique self. Sandy bottomed, hip hop happy, free, innocent and unfettered by all this grown up anxiety.  Long may it last!

What do you think?   Do you have daughters and worry about what they wear? How do you address the issues of body-shaming vs. over sexualistion?  Does it bother you?