The Real Prize Giving

The tears have been near the surface for me again today. It’s always a bad time of year for me but just recently parenting life has taken on a new bitter-sweetness.

I’ve been watching other people’s children on facebook, kicking goals, making ground, celebrating life. Prizegivings, certificates, milestones.  Their parents radiate pride as they share footage and photos and so they should. I click away, liking, loving and wowing all the posts. I am all for recognition and reward; praise is the foundation of solid self esteem. And what they’ve been doing is so impressive! The highlight reels I see of other people’s children are in the particular vernacular of the winner:  best, excellence, outstanding, achievement. Their joys and successes follow the same arc as one other, soaring to the top of their worlds, what ever those worlds may be.

With each of those social media posts, I think of the other parents. Parents like me, whose children march to the beat of a different drum. Their own rhythm, slightly out of step with the norm but no less laudable. I think of all the myriad of other parents whose kids are not at the tip of the standard bell curve. I wonder why we don’t tend to post as much about our children, about their successes and achievements. Do we worry about the opinions of the traditional ‘winners’? Do we feel embarassed? I hope not. It got me thinking about what I really value in what my kid’s have done this year.  None of it has been recognised by either of their schools; we wagged both Prizegivings this year. No one stood in assembly to acknowledge them.  It’s a shame, because they both deserve it.

If I were the leaders in their schools, I would have noticed these things about my kids.  I would have recognised their brilliance, perhaps. But I’m just their mum, so I will shout it to the blogosphere instead.  Let’s start with Bee.

She has grown to the staggering height of 6’1 this year. That’s a long way up for a 12 year old. And a lot of exhausting growing for her body to do. A few times, the school nurse has called me and expressed her concern about Bee’s rate of growth. We spoke to an endocrinologist, she’s fine. She’s just a tall girl. Willowy and beautiful and still with that gangly pre-teen kind of way of loping about, completely unaware of the head-turning going on around her.

Early in the year, Bee lost her Nanna, followed swiftly by the loss of her beloved pony.  These twin sadnesses were felt keenly and can still knock the wind out of her sails. Emotion runs high for her as the hormones storm through. She is changing and learning the harsh realities of life and death as her eyes open up to the adult world.

For the first time since starting school, she built a new kind of friendship group. Her assorted friends gathered together based on mutual respect and kindness; turning away from the ‘cool’ girls who would turn on them and try to make them feel bad.  How proud I am that she has learned how to identify kindred souls and nurture friendships with them. This is a massive life skill and she aced it. In addition, she has begun thinking about the bigger issues in our global community, often beginning conversations around our dinner table about topics like poverty, gender equality, international politics and ethics.

And yet, through all of this massive amount of change, Bee has retained the sweet childlike loveliness that really typifies her nature. She is still the animal loving, cheery, kindhearted, tea-making, tomato loving darling she has always been. She still squeals with excitement about things and says inappropriate things at inopportune times (ha!  wonder where she gets that from!)  And I feel positive about braving the hormonal storms with her in the year ahead. She’s amazing and I am so proud of her.  At my prize giving, I would award her with a ‘Quiet Wisdom’ Award.  She’s faced the hard stuff this year and made it through with insight and sensitivity.  I rate this chick. I hope that when she’s older she will choose to be my friend, I’d really like a friend like her.

Zed has had a tough year too. It’s the fifth year running that he has been ostracised by a big portion of the boys in his year. He’s been tormented about his looks, told he should go kill himself, been heckled for being sensitive and different. In the bigger context, he’s been dealing with a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and has been so tired that most mornings I have had to physically dress him. This bone sapping fatigue meant he had a massive struggle at school on the days he made it there. Even when he was able to spend energy, he has had to pay for it dearly. Sometimes, he would crawl into the bushes at lunchtime to sleep and get away from the teasing. When he was discovered, the mean kids just turned even that into a new thing to give him grief about.

He’s been physically bullied too. Zed achieved his karate black belt this year, and although I am proud of that, I am prouder that he didn’t use it to hit back at his tormentors. He could have and neither his Dad or I would have blamed him. But he took the pain they inflicted and restrained himself, crying only after he got home; all of the emotion and difficulty of each day released in a tidal wave of grief and confusion.

He’s a brilliant kid.  Funny, soft-hearted, quirky in the most entertaining way. He can be aggravating too, but if you explain it, he is quick to stop. He’s not the kind of boy that is considered cool by those with social cred at his school, and so he and his heart have been battered and bruised. He has borne all of these things with dignity and determination. At my Prizegiving, I would award him with “Most Stoic in the Face of Significant Difficulties”. Because, in spite of it all, Zed was a dedicated team member at basketball, an enthusiastic student of karate, a ceaseless seeker of friendship. He dug deep during his first ever exams and tried his best. I am proud of my boy.  At ten, he still can just manage to curl his long limbed frame up into my lap and lay his head on my shoulder. He is compassionate and caring, hilarious and interesting. He deserves so many accolades this year; he’s a dude.

Both of our kids are starting at new schools in the new year. I don’t know if their new schools will see them for who they are but I hope with all my vulnerable mother heart that they do. Thing is, I am having a prize giving, but the prize is my children. I’m giving them into the care of their new schools, desperately hoping they will be valued as they should.

Perhaps your kids are like mine. Precious, unique and outside of the norm.  I hope that you and they take a moment to appreciate what makes them amazing during this season of awards. And for all those parents out there without certificates to share on social media, please know that I see you and your beautiful children, shining on regardless.

“Success is not achieved by winning all the time.
Real success comes when we rise after we fall.”

Muhammed Ali

 

Finding Family

That particular time, I was admitted to hospital through the emergency room. I’d been battling a pseudo-obstruction, which is when my digestive system behaves like there is blockage, but there is none. Basically all the nerve messages that are supposed to make me poo, stop working. And the result is a painfully distended belly; a cocktail of treatments and medications. I have to go into hospital if the distention lasts more than four days. It’s all part of Dysautonomia, the diagnosis that seems to define so much of my life.

Apart from being painful and distressing, a pseudo-obstruction is mildly embarrassing. Firstly because I’m in for poo related reasons, so there’s a lot of discussion about bowels with the nurses and doctors, all within earshot of my ward-mates. Secondly, because I look like I missed my due date for delivering a hefty baby.  My belly gets so huge. So if I walk, I waddle. I rub that tummy a lot, because it is sore. And of course, people passing think it is cute to see a waddling pregnant lady pacing the hospital corridors.  I get lots of comments like ‘Not long now, love!’ and ‘hang in there!’.  If only they knew that the delivery I was so desperate for was poop baby!  I’m sure they wouldn’t find it so cute then.  Perhaps they’d run for cover!

This particular admission, the hospital was really short on beds. So because of a new policy, made in some administrator’s office, somewhere far from the ward, I was put in a room with three male patients. At first, I was too distressed to really notice.  I waddled my way off my bed as soon as possible and began to pace.  Locomotion is supposed to help, so I was getting mobile. Every time I passed by my neighbour’s bed, the old guy would make a low whistle, and wink.  I observed that he did this when any female was in the near vicinity, but somehow, that whistle just for me, made me feel the opposite of my big bellied waddle. I felt like someone could see the girl behind my diagnosis, the real me. It made me feel special.

That first night, lying in beds a few metres apart, a curtain between, we both tossed and turned.  I could tell he was in pain too, but I didn’t know why.  Then, around 4am, he whispered
“-are you awake?”
“Yes” I whispered back, “can I get you some help?”
“No,” he murmured “I just can’t sleep.  Want to talk?”.
So Tony and I talked until the nurses came to do change-over.  He had just had a tumour removed from his groin. He was worried. He was 68, his family were a long way away in Italy, and he was afraid of the future. I was half his age, supported by a loving family and dealing with a neurological condition that affected my autonomic nervous system.  He told me I was lucky. Lying there in pain as my abdomen continued to distend, I found it hard to agree.  But I said I did. It’s all relative, right?
I knew I was pleased that I didn’t have his problems to deal with. He sounded so sad and alone.

Untitled design(15)

In total, I spent a week in that room of men. There was snoring, wind passing, belching and cheerful enquiries as to whether my bowels had moved every time I returned from the bathroom. It had its ups and it’s downs, sharing a room with all those guys. And every night around 4am; chats with my friend Tony.  We talked about life.  We talked about being sick.  We talked about the things we loved and the lives we’d left outside the hospital, histories, regrets, the highlight reel. We became friends.

The next time he was in hospital was a few months later. He called me and asked me if I could come visit him there. He sounded fragile. I made my way up to the neurology ward. I arrived and within minutes his neurosurgeon walked into the room. He wanted to talk to Tony.
“Oh, good,” the surgeon said to me, “we’ve been waiting for you to get here”, I raised my eyebrows to Tony, ‘what for?’ I asked him with my eyes.
“Ah… you’re my support person” he said, looking down at his hands. I was shocked. I’d only met him in hospital recently… did he really not have anyone else in his life who knew him better than me?  Who cared for him more than I did? For the next ten minutes I held Tony’s hand and listened with horror as his neurosurgeon spelt out the awful truth.  They had not managed to remove the additional tumour they’d found in his head.  He had weeks, not months.  It was unlikely he’d manage an overseas trip to see his distant relatives. He should get his affairs in order.  The young neurosurgeon looked at me.  Nodded.  Held my gaze for a little longer than was comfortable, and asked Tony if he had any questions. When Tony had asked all he needed to, the surgeon turned toward me, saying to Tony, “…and your daughter?”.  I was floored. “I’m not-“ I began to say, but then I just shook my head.  “No questions”.

In the weeks that followed, Tony and I stayed in close contact. I visited him in the hospice as his time drew closer. It became clear to me that he truly had no real friends. He cried a lot. Cried that he wouldn’t be able to see his elderly mother one more time. Cried that his wealthy brother was too busy to fly over and see him. Cried with regrets for all the things in his life that hadn’t worked out. He asked me to write his life story, and so I did, sentence by painful sentence, as he rasped or slurred his words. The tumour was beginning to take his ease of speech; his fragmented final memories were pieced together by this random girl he’d met in the hospital.  I emailed it all to his brother, but got no reply.

The last time I saw him, I kissed him on the forehead as I said goodbye.
“Sleep well” I said.
“…wish you really had been my daughter”  he murmured back. I think I saw his good eye wink. I’m sure I heard a low whistle follow me out the door.  I smiled then.  And that night, he passed away.

I am lucky. He was right. Lucky our illnesses brought us together in the strangest of ways.  Lucky I had the chance to meet someone who made me feel like a girl who still had something to give, not just a sick person.  And lucky that I got to spend time with another human being through the darkest most dignified days of his waning life. I will never forget the things I learned from Tony.

Life is short. Luck is relative. And family can be found in the strangest of places.

… enough …

10377602_10153062840055815_6376513503687859213_n

Auckland is at her best today.  It’s a warm summers day with a light breeze.  The pohutukawa flowers blaze against the blue and white skies.  The hubster is still on holidays and today, we’re up in Orewa to try the cycleway.   They’ve unloaded the bikes, strapped on their helmets and cycled off down the track.  I’m here, in the car, watching them go.

When I saw the map of the track and realised that it was 7km, I knew it was out of my reach. My seven year old can manage a flat 7km ride without any hardship, but for me, it’s out of the question, even at a walk.  Just sitting here in the car, the world is tilting out my window.  I ache all over, and I have that residual irritability that comes when I have been overdoing things.   When we planned today, I felt so daunted. I thought seriously about staying behind.  The idea of a day in bed was exactly what my body and I wanted to do.

But next Monday, my Bobby D will be back at work.  Our opportunity for family time will have passed.    It’s far from ideal, sitting here in the car for an hour while they hit the track; but it could be so much worse. I have the most beautiful view over the Te Ara Tahuna estuary.  I hear children laughing and the sound of the ice-cream van.  And at both ends of that cycle ride, we’ll all be together again, hanging out in the summer holidays.  To all appearances; normal.  My hand on his leg while we drive, the kids laughing and bickering and chatting in the back.  Us.  If I close my eyes and use my imagination during those moments, we could be any family. We could be us, but in a parallel universe, where I am well and all is well.

Yet, in all honesty, I’m feeling left out. Even though I know that it was the right thing for me to come, anyway.  I’m feeling grumpy. I’m tired and tetchy and alone.

So what.

I get to be their Mum, his wife. I get to be with them.

I close my eyes and let that summer breeze take me to a place of relaxation. I breathe slowly and thoughtfully. I rest. Just what I need for the next bit.  There’s a rhythm to life when you stop fighting it.  I can do it, I think. One breath at a time.  I visualise all my grumpy dissatisfaction, words upon words upon words on a page.  In my mind’s eye, I take that page and screw it up.  Toss it over my shoulder.

This day, being there when they return from their ride, smiles wide and faces pink with exertion, being there.  Being there, with their happy energy, being the smile they find at the end of their track.

That will be enough.

————————————————————————————–
PS.  My friend just told me about this, I hadn’t seen it before.
You are right Mel, it is special.
I thought I would share it on this post in case others haven’t seen it either.

I wish you enough sun to keep your

a Good Girl…

10683605_10152974884045815_8422752186771938796_o

The kids have been writing their wish-lists. I love the funny things they still think are realistic. I love that they still dream pie-in-the-sky christmas dreams.  That they pretend to not believe in Santa but still harbour hopes they won’t admit to. I have been ever more grateful for the way online shopping helps people like me make Christmas dreams come true.  How did people with health challenges manage before the internet?  I just can’t imagine.  I am mindful that gifts aren’t everything; there are other ways to show love, but oh my goodness I adore Christmas gift giving.  I love choosing things and the thinking about how tickled each recipient will be over each gift.  But the crazy commercial nature of it all has me thinking about the non-material things I wish for this Christmas.

Do you have a grown up Christmas List?  Maybe mine is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but if there was ever a time for dreaming big, it’s Christmas time…

For my family, I wish time spent in contented company with one another. Making memories and enjoying the benefits of our antipodean summer Christmases.  Beaches and picnics and bare feet on grass.  I wish ice creams and kite flying and movie nights with fish and chips.  I wish them rest and recuperation from their busy year and time to get excited about the new one. I wish for them, the ability to see how lucky we are.

For my friends, I wish good self esteem and inner peace.  I wish recognition for their efforts in whatever field they’ve been endeavouring this year.  I wish them health and body vitality and the ability to look out beyond their daily grind to the beauty all around us. I wish them calm and joy and love.

For my community I wish greater connections, stronger ties between the people we pass on the street.  I wish the safety net of good medical care and provision for timely mental health services. I wish clean streets and strong infrastructure.  Clear water and fresh vegetables. Room to grow and mountains to climb. The ability to see the beauty in each person they connect with and especially, their own significance as part of the whole.

For my country I wish for a burgeoning sense of value in what we have, right here in this beautiful little nation.  I wish wisdom for the government and gratitude from the people.  I wish for strong safety nets to catch the needy and better programmes to build self-determination and strength among the marginalised.  I wish for compassion among the people for one another, personal accountability.  And kindness.  More kindness in this country.

For the world… sigh.  I wish someone would call a stop to the madness.  We are all people.  People should care for each other, not kill each other.  Our similarities are far more significant than our differences. I wish we could look in the mirror and see our neighbours instead of ourselves.  I wish we could gaze at our children and see the faces of our enemies children. I wish we could stop the violence because it makes no sense.  The problem is so big because no one seems to think the answer lies within themselves. If you can change your heart to include the people you feel like you should hate, if everybody could do that.  It would be done.  I wish we could all live and let live.

Is that too much to ask for, Santa?
I think I have been a good girl…

 

Deep In Our DNA

My family dispersed like seeds on the wind when they grew up. I remember how it felt, being the last one left at home. The quiet emptiness.  I spent a lot of time with Mum in those late years and as a bonus, I finally got the front seat!  In those years we were living in Sydney.  I still don’t know all the circumstances around the sudden departure from PNG, but I left boarding school in Melbourne to join my parents and my next brother up, stayed on.  He was closer to the finish line.  My Mum was very sad in those first months, adjusting to our new life. I’d come home from school, sad myself and we would sit together on someone else’s vinyl sofa, in our rented house, hold hands and cry.  It all got better, as life does most of the time.  And I do treasure the time I had as the last chick in the nest.

I am one of four kids.  All two years apart; boy, girl, boy, girl.  Pretty impressive family planning… or lucky coincidence?  I’m not sure if having four kids under six could be called luck!  Knowing my mother, I’d say there was no accident in any of it. It was mostly good being the youngest.  They all tease me that I had it easy; I tell them they made the rules tougher, by breaking them before I had the chance. It was great being part of a big family.  Sitting around the dinner table feeling the strength of it, no matter what dramas were going on, feeling the “us-ness” of our circle as we held hands for the compulsory grace before dinner.

Four of us & Timbo(2)

Now, I have a brother in Sydney, a brother in Darwin and a sister in Gisborne.

They’re all a long way away.

But for my recent big birthday, my sister decided she was coming up.  She’s a whirlwind that girl. She began planning, months out from the visit (she’s like Mum that way).  Who would sleep where, what she would bring, what the order of events would be.  There were phone calls, thick and fast toward the departure date. She arrived on the Saturday, helped my hubster put together a primo roast lamb feast for our celebration dinner. Flo arrived with the cakes, (she made two… and yes, I ate them! Yum!).  A new kind of family celebration was had. I sat there at the end of that table, looking around at our circle.  It has changed, but the “us-ness” was present.

My sister, Trissy, spent a night looking after our kids so the BobbyD and I could go out for a night in town. And then, this week, she took them away again for two days and nights in the country with her extended family.  Oh, my!  Such gifts of love!  They are coming home this morning.  I must confess, my nest has been feeling empty without them. But I have slept in, rested and relaxed.  I haven’t had to think about the usual school holiday stuff. I’ve been able to deposit some energy in that account which is usually in deficit. I know the kids have been happy and busy, running around the countryside with their cousin and his cousins. That’s a special kind of break.  I will feel the benefit of her visit for a long time.

There’s a thing, with family.  A kind of familiarity.  There’s seeing your own mannerisms in someone else, and having the same thought patterns about certain things. There’s sharing Mum-memories and feeling like those memories have been shored up for a while. Somehow, when someone else talks about her, I feel like she is less far away.  There’s laughter about things we used to do and petty arguments about what did and didn’t happen in our lives.  There is the frustration of seeing your most annoying habits in someone else.  The mirror family hold up for us. There’s a way of cooking, folding, hanging the washing.  All of it, echoes of my Mum.

I saw Trissy whisk my boy up into a sudden embrace the other day and shower him with kisses.  Like machine gun fire.  Just like my Mum would have done.  I felt a sudden upsurge of grief; then relief. He will know the kind of love she gave because he will know my family. It didn’t end with the loss of my Mum, we still have it.  Deposited deep in our DNA, built into our behaviour.  When ever my kids spend time with my people, they are experiencing some of what it might have been like to spend time with their Granny. Little pockets of love from her, invested in her own kids so that we might carry her on.

Me and my Sis(1)

Time for a break…

Hello!  It’s time for me to interrupt transmission while we go away for a while.
We’re all packed and ready to make the big break.  Just a couple of appointments between me and the big blue sea.
Thank you for reading my blog.  I’ll be back to my keyboard and look forward to seeing you again when we are home.

Five go on an Adventure(1)

 

 

Tomorrow

When I was a little girl, we lived in Christchurch for a short time.  And right in the centre of the city, there was a cinema.  I remember the steps, and names of movies up on the light boards.  I remember the flip up seats.  And I remember the movie: Annie.  It was my first movie, ever. And it is glued to my memory with steadfast affection. The songs, the message, the sadness and hopeful happiness of that little girl lost; found by her new Daddy.  It was the ultimate rags to riches fairytale and I sang all those songs with blustery seven year old conviction.

When I’m stuck with a day,
that’s grey
and lonely
I just stick up my chin
and grin
and say….

Annie was so optimistic about the world.  So plucky and cheeky and doggone cute.
Of course that shaggy-dog-wonder wanted to follow her anywhere, of course Daddy Warbucks wanted to change her fate. She was the archetype of America’s sweetheart.  The freckle-faced never-say-die psyche of the American people.  A depression poster child.  A disaffected victim come good. The good news story.  And yet all that I understood of her at seven was that she missed her Mummy and Daddy, but they had abandoned her.  So she stuck up her chin, and grinned, and made her way.  Straight into the arms of a billionaire.  I thought she was clever, that little orphan Annie.  And I wanted to sing like her.  So I tried to… (shhh! I still belt out a few Annie tunes when I am on my own, nothing cheers me up quite like it!) but I am no broadway broad.

Annie the movie
Today we took the kids to see Annie, the musical.
It was at the Civic Theatre in downtown Auckland, one of my favourite places.  I love the kitsch Afrikana of that place.  The painted sky of pinprick stars, the gilt ornate features, the elephants, lions and tigers.  I even love the brass bannisters.

10351302_10152559086330815_752573764443344772_n

Stepping into that theatre is like going back in time.  I first visited the Civic as a young girl, not long after I’d first ‘met’ Annie.  I was there with my ballet dancing cousins, backstage, marvelling at the catacombs of dressing rooms, the old lightbulbs around the mirrors.  The smell of rosin and hairspray.  They were rehearsing and I was transfixed.
It’s no less magical today.

Here are some snapshots I took of the old theatre.  She is beautiful.


1959487_10152559086335815_3952632706721210721_n

10375906_10152559086115815_8542257332917120874_n

If you are in Auckland, there is still a chance that you can get tickets to Annie.  I would urge you to, especially if you have kids. The cast, sets and overall performance are
impressive.  I laughed out loud at Miss Hannigan as played by Su Pollard, and I thought Ilena Shadbolt made a perfect Annie.

ANNIE2_PhotobyHagenHopkins
Ilena Shadbolt

Her long notes were pitch perfect and sublime. The audience lacked a bit of enthusiasm, but that is what audiences are like here in New Zealand.  Apparently, deep down inside everyone was whooping it up, even my hubster.  So he tells me. It’s just not the done thing to go bananas down in this part of the world (I felt similarly dismayed but the sedate audience reaction to Neil Diamond a few years ago.  But that’s another story for another time).  Going to musicals with my family is making the kind of memory that we will cherish forever.   I love it. As much as I love looking at the show, I love to sneak a look at their beautiful faces as they stare, completely absorbed, at the theatrical spectacle.  I love seeing Zed giggle at the funny bits and sing along, just like I did all those years ago.
I just love being part of their crew, one of their kin, I love belonging to them.

Maybe it’s all too kitsch for you.
And sometimes, it is a hard knock life.
But the sun’ll come up tomorrow.  

You can betcha bottom dollar that tomorrow, 

there’ll be sun.

 

Photo credit:  Ilena Shadbolt as Annie, taken by Hagen Holt photography.