Beautiful, beautiful girl.

Two and a half years ago, my girl’s dearest dream came true when she rounded the corner of the stables at her riding school and met a very special pony. A pony of her own.  She couldn’t speak for half an hour; lost in a thrall of wonder and joy. It was the beginning of such a beautiful friendship. This is her on that day, the picture was later used for the cover of the Horse and Pony ‘Ponies’ mag.

We’ve just had the vet out to see our beautiful girl. Her leg has been swollen and not responsive to ice, poulticing and wrapping. She looked at it, grimaced a little and got the ultrasound machine. After looking at the ligaments from every angle, she started her next sentence with
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news…”.
I swallowed, hard. She talked about how the type of injury was the sort of thing they usually see in high performance sport horses, that it is often career-ending. Our mare had injured her check ligament in the paddock (probably reliving her heydays with all her galpals).  The vet showed me on the screen the big hole in her ligament.

Then it was time for a thorough check up. And more bad news; her melanomas have spread into her face and through her gastointestinal tract. She is not a young filly, our girl. This year she’ll be 25 years old.  The treatment for her leg injury means six months of penning, treatment and rehab. There is no treatment for the spread of the melanomas.  She won’t be flying around like the fiery showjumper she is, anymore.

We are faced with having to weigh up that beautiful pony’s future.  To make the hardest decision of all. How do you know if euthanasia is even right? How do you explain that sometimes, that is the kindest path, to a kid who loves this pony with all of her being?  I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way. I’m talking to her about how responsibility means making tough decisions sometimes; about not letting her beautiful pony suffer longer, about letting her go with the dignity she deserves, while she is in a happy place, surrounded by love. And in between I’m fighting back the helpless sadness of this mothering task and wondering how on earth we will say goodbye.

I want to shield my daughter from the sorrow of it all, but my arms can’t hold it back. This pain we feel is as much a part of living as the air we breathe. It’s as much a part of loving, as the happy times. So often I’ve had to say to my kids: the cost of great love is the grief we must shoulder when we lose our loved ones.  When the sadness of loss overwhelms us: it is proof of the depth of our love, of how lucky we have been.

Lyndsay-pony (elsewhere on this blog referred to as Lulu) will always be a special part of our family. The gifts she brought us when we were lucky enough to become hers will be treasured forever. There is no forgetting a beautiful girl like that.  She hasn’t just made my daughter’s pony dreams come true, but mine too. I don’t know how we are going to say goodbye when the time is right, but we will. We will find a way that is respectful and kind and beautiful.  I hope that the rainbow bridge really is there. I hope we’ll cross over one day and find her there, waiting to wuffle into our palms again and push her beautiful big head up against us.  I know my Bee will want to twist her fingers through her mane again and whisper secret pony murmurs into her grey ears.

Until then, sweet girl, we will just miss you with deep gratitude.  Thank you for making our lives so much better.  I’m so sorry we can’t fix you and I wish with all my heart that you could stay with us.  Be free, Sweetness. Go run into the bright sunshine and let the wind fly your hair.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful girl.

 

 

Travelling Companion

471BC, Themistocles established a great military port at Piraeus, near Athens. More than 2000 years later, Joyce, my intrepid travelling Granny, is deep in consultation with her Arthur Frommer’s guide book.  Apparently, the walk to the old Port is a free thing to do, and well worth the effort (FYI… these days, not so safe, so perhaps you don’t want to follow in her footsteps if you are a single female traveller. Just saying!)   Before tackling the port walk however, she pauses over her breakfast at the youth hostel to talk with another tourist.

Their topic is travelling as a woman, alone. Specifically the exasperation both travellers feel being subjected to the unwanted attention of local opportunistic lads, keen for a chance at the burgeoning tourist dollar. These hustlers make pocket-money selling holiday romance by means of flattery and fake infatuation. My Granny, accustomed to male attention but uncomfortable with the cynical commerce of this form, asks her new friend what strategies she adopts with the Greek lotharios.

“I let them carry on, right up until they try to kiss me!  Then I just point to my cheek and say… there, kiss me there. As you would   -your mother.”  The way she nods afterward, suggests this method has served her well.  Joyce smiles at her, finishes her breakfast and takes to the streets in search of ancient port walls.  She doubts whether her fellow traveller’s advice will ever be useful.

___

The day was dry and hot. Joyce walked at a pace, seeking the refreshment of sea views and perhaps a stone wall to perch upon. Suddenly she felt a firm pinch on her buttock. “Oh!” she exclaimed and turned to see who had perpetrated such affrontery. A young boy, around 12, grinned up at her, “Have you got a boyfriend?” he asked flirtatiously. She raised an eyebrow at him, then adjusting her spectacles, looked at him sternly across the top of them. Quickening her pace slightly, but not so much he would fall away, she watched to see what he would do.  He fell in step easily, her spontaneous travel companion.

After a while, they began a simple conversation. When they reached the sea walls, Joyce asked him if he would like an ice-cream. His eyes lit up. They sat there in comfortable silence, eyes on the sea, devouring the cold sweet treats. It was nice to see the boy being a child, nice to be in his company. When he had finished the last lick of his ice-cream, he drew that street bravado back over his young self. Bold as brass, he winked and propositioned Joyce for a kiss. She smiled, remembering the advice of her friend.

“Well,” she twinkled as she pointed to her cheek,
“you may kiss me here…   as you would your mother.”
She would later reflect that she had been correct: that particular advice had never proved useful again, not in all of her travels.

——————————————————————

Last week, my Granny was my travelling companion as we crossed the North Island skies. I leaned in to hear her over the engine noise of our aircraft.  She asked me, if I were able to choose any destination in the world for us to travel to that day, where it be? That was easy.

“Europe,” I replied. I knew she had travelled at least seven times to Europe. I imagined she would be a fascinating travelling companion. As we flew on, she told me tales of her travels; sharing a meal with perfect strangers in Portugal, a heist on the Siberian Railway, her time in the Swiss Alps. How she managed on $25 a day by enjoying the hospitality of travelling clubs like Servas, or patronising youth hostels, finding work whenever she needed to. My Granny makes things happen, it is just how she is. Every time she travels, she has a brilliant time, people adore her. I liked her sweet story from her time in Greece, I thought I’d share it with you.

When our brief trip was up, I took her back home to her little flat. What a wonder she is, my Granny. I leaned in and kissed her soft cheek. Promised to pass on her love to my brood. How fortunate we are to still have our GG. To still have the chance to listen to her stories and sit beside her.  It’s a rare thing to be a grown woman with a granny. For my children to have such an extraordinary Great-Grandmother.  As I waved goodbye a little lump caught in my throat and I found myself hoping I would have another chance to travel with her.

She tells the best stories.
As you would, if you too had 96 years of adventures to draw from!

Because, I’m Happy.

There have been some significant changes in my physical experience of life lately.  I’ve been putting them all down to my new steroid treatment regime.  A not-so-scientific assumption made by me.  You see, my improvement is rather a lot better than can be explained by my protocol. It doesn’t make good scientific sense, hence the terms ‘magic’ and ‘too good to be true’ from my general physician and immunologist.  And my attendant happiness is quite over the top, according to my nearest and dearest. It’s not just a surprise to the doctors who have seen me, my husband, kids and best friend are all a little taken back by this new ‘feelgood’ Rach, too.  She’s a lot different to the previous Rach. Even though I have been working really hard on maintaining positivity and searching for answers for all these years; this level of happiness has only been in my world since the immune suppression therapy happened.

Today, I received an email from my friend, Sheryn. Attached was this fascinating TED talk by Shawn Achor.  He’s pretty famous for his psych research into success and it’s relationship to happiness.  You can read more about him here.  And you can watch his TED talk below, more than 9 million people have already, so there must be some compelling ideas in there!

Something he said really struck me.   See, when you are sick, people feed you platitudes and positive thinking speeches a lot. And it all falls pretty flat.  After a while, you even stop responding to them, because those proverbs, or ‘silver lining’ statements don’t actually help much. They just make you feel inadequate for not being able to take them on board.  More work, more effort, more trying in an already trying set of circumstances.

Shawn has done extensive research on happiness, and this is what he says about it:

“Happiness is NOT the belief that everything is great,
happiness is the belief that change is possible”.

This, and some of the other things he said in his very entertaining talk, have had me contemplating my state of wellbeing slightly differently.  Is it possible that I ‘feel’ better than I can reasonably claim to feel, because I believe that my circumstances are changing? Is all this upsurge of happiness creating a better experience of living in my body? Is it in fact, the reduction of fear for the future?  Perhaps, something to do with laying down that burden of believing I am headed down this disastrous path with only one possible outcome.  Now, I have other possibilities.  Based on my strong response to steroids, we know that my problems are largely auto-immune.  An auto-immune aetiology means treatment, treatment means real hope.  Real hope breeds happiness, ideas about the future; a sense of buoyancy.  Could I be feeling inexplicably better, not only because of the immune suppression, but because I am happy?

It’s something to contemplate. I think we are learning more all the time about the connection between mind and body.  I’m not saying that if you are sick you just need to get happy and everything will be alright.  Far from it! There are genuine and significant physical reasons for illness.  And maybe there are emotional factors that can impact your illness further.  Or indeed, your wellbeing. Shawn Achor suggests ways we can improve our mental habits that will lean us into a more positive frame of mind, but I am not sure if being grateful for three things a day, journalling, meditating and performing random acts of kindness would ever swing most of the patients I know into a different prognosis. What I am saying, is that how we feel emotionally is a part of how we feel physically.  It’s something I hope to explore more.

How what we feel is connected to how we feel.

For now, despite how unsettling Happy Rach is to those around (!) I am riding the wave.   It might dump me at some point, and I’ll probably get sand in my togs and water up my nose.  But right now, I’m riding high, surfing that wave of happiness.   Can you see me up there on my metaphorical longboard, waving at you with a stupid big grin on my face?  Sunshine on my shoulders and wind in my hair.   Hope on the horizon…

Can you see me riding that metaphorical

Because I’m happy.

forgotten something

________________________________________________

It’s my birthday morning and my Mum has gone all out.  I jump up on the big bed and there are parcels from everyone.  Shiny paper, cards.   Such treasures to be discovered!  I reach for a parcel and start to rip off the paper.
Her warm hand rests over mine.

“Have you forgotten something?”

Have I?  It’s a present! There’s paper between me and it!
It’s my birthday! What have I forgotten?
She points to the card and gives me
that look.
I sigh and reach for the card.
It’s been hand made for me by my brother,
he’s really good at doing pictures of googly eyed funny people
and this one makes me laugh.
He’s written something nice inside for my birthday.
That makes me feel like he really likes me, after all.
I look up at his expectant face.
“Thanks buddy,” I breathe… and get stuck into that paper again.

_________________________________________________________ 

Funny, I don’t remember the contents of that parcel, but I do remember the card, the moment of thanks.  Learning that when someone has given you something, you are supposed to pause, look them in the eye and say thank you.  I guess he picked up on the very same lessons. One of his nicknames for me is ‘The Affreciated One’.  I’m not sure quite how appreciated morphed into affreciated, but it’s hilarious coupled with his sappy face of mock gratitude.  He is one of those funny brothers.  Sometimes he doesn’t even need to speak to crack me up. A nostril flare will do it. So many memories, those moments.

When I stop and thank someone, there’s that moment of connection that lasts much longer than the gift itself.
Shining eyes meeting yours; you did that for me?!

There’s been a lot of noise lately about gratitude.  People on facebook, nominating other people to list three things each day that they are grateful for.  Gratitude journals and memes and rhetoric.  It’s a good thing! I was inspired to write a piece about gratitude myself, after watching this amazing TED talk.  There are so many things in our world to be grateful for, so many circumstances, relationships, freedoms and gifts of nature.  But I’ve been thinking about that moment of connection my Mum taught me to have.  The pause, the acknowledgment.  The actual words bit where I tell you how much I appreciate you thinking of me, helping me, giving to me.

I struggle some days with that vague, general gratitude.  Times like that, I resent being pointed toward the things in my life that are good (and there are many things to be grateful for).  Some days, when I am feeling tired of the health struggles, when the only way doesn’t seem to be up, but down.  My thinking heads into a downward spiral too.  I feel sorry for myself.  Right royally pissed off about things.  I begin to mentally list all the ways it is UNFAIR. I know for sure that when I am choosing to have that pity party, I am not comparing my life to people who struggle every day to survive.  I’m not comparing myself to a 39 year woman with ebola virus, or a 39 year old woman who has lost all her family, home and posessions to a catastrophic weather event.  I’m comparing myself and my life to who I felt like I should have been.  That 39 year old middle class woman who has an awesome, fulfilling teaching career.  She writes on the side, raises two intelligent, sporty kids, runs with her husband and enjoys itty bitty quinoa salads.  She is never ever sick.  She helps her friends and always has time for everyone.  She’s elegant and effortless and …absolutely fictional.  Why do I compare myself to her?  The truth of who I might have been is irrelevant.  This is my path.  Comparison, even with fictional superwomen, is the thief of joy.

Gratitude makes you happy, according to David Stendl-Rast.  It’s the answer to the pursuit of happiness.  In the opening moments of his TED talk, he asks, “Want to be happy?  Be grateful”.  I think there is deep wisdom there.  But I also think that being grateful feeds connection.  Grateful to other people.  It’s quite easy to be vaguely grateful to the universe, God or mother nature. I’m so grateful for my children.  But to seek out the people who you should be grateful to, look them in the eye and say it.  That is something different.  I am grateful that I have children, oh yes.  Grateful my body could carry them, grateful my doctor so expertly assisted the delivery of them.  But I am specifically grateful to the man who shared his body with me so that we could create them in the first place.  I am grateful that he agreed to do that, to change his whole life to make a family with me.

I’d like to make more effort to specifically thank people in my world.  Without making it weird. I may not have paused when I was unwrapping the many material or immaterial gifts they offered, to really communicate to them what their generosity means to me.  But the list is long.  So today, I am resolving to make sure that I think about the right way to thank all the people in my physical existence who help me, talk with me, enrich my world.   And for those of you who enrich my online world.  This is for you.  Your comments keep me going.  Thank you for reading, for pausing, for connecting with me.  You matter to me and I am glad you are here.

thankyou_Arizona-300x157

Newsflash

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 11.40.40 pm
I used to watch the news, but now, not so often. When did that change?  
I used to know who was at war with who and what kinds of horrors people were inflicting on each other each day.  Now I find the news is on when I am struggling to get dinner on the table.  It’s the absolute worst time of night to take anything in; the kids are clamouring at the counter, sometimes they are needing school letters signed or doing their last minute homework.  Our family is large and at that time of night there are five or six of us in the dining room. Sometimes, if the homework is done, I’ll try to be a broader citizen. I put the news on and turn the sound up.  The chaos and cacophony reaches crescendo.  I turn it off.  I should probably record it and watch it after the kids’ bed time.  But after bed time is so deliciously quiet and zen… (who am I kidding!  ‘I just need some water!’/  ‘I’m going to the toilet!’/  ‘Just one. more. cuddle!’  The latter always works ‘cause I am a sucker).  What I mean is, after they go to bed, it is my time.  My time with my hubster; if he’s not working.  My time to let go of all the day, disengage and coast.  I don’t want to see the torment of the world out there or carry the pain of those children or shake my head at the follies of youth or tut about some new journalistic low.  I don’t want to think at that time of night.  I need to chill out.
I deserve it.

Or, I’m baking and the choc drops are calling my name.  I pop a few in my mouth.  Why not?  It’s me making all the bakey effort, and I hate baking.  I’m not even going to eat most of these cookies.  I slave and they get wolfed down in a day!  Humph.  Gone in a flurry of after school famish.  All my efforts.  A few choc drops is the least I should have, really.  Should be the whole leftover portion.  After all, I deserve it. Then, it’s 2.45pm and I need to get my skates on for the school run.  A coffee, yes, a coffee might be nice… maybe there is time to call in at the cafe on my way out?  I’m ordering and I spy that gluten free raspberry friand, so far superior to my humble mum creations, beginning to bounce up and down in the display cabinet.  “Hey, Rach!  You’ve had a hard day’s morning!  Eat me!  I will solve all your concerns.  I will soothe all your achey woes.  Eat me!”  And I make friends with that little friand. It would be rude not to, and after all.
I deserve it.

Or, I’ve been in bed most of a week, conserving my energy for the bare minimum.  It’s been miserable.  I feel like a little pick-me-up. So I have a little guilty look over on the Book Depository website, again.  Just window shopping. I believe I should support local sellers, really.  I know I’ve spent more than enough on books in the last wee while, but something new to read?  Why not?  I have to put up with this stupid illness day after diabolical day.  Most of the time I keep the whinges inside my own head.  It bites.  I add books to my cart.  Just a way of grouping my favourites together, I tell myself. Like a neat little pile. I see a new audiobook that would be great for the kids.  I can justify that one easily.  In fact, they need it.  Good for their learning.  I click through to the confirm order page.  I ignore the total and tick the boxes. What?!
I deserve it.

kidwithtyre

Where I grew up poverty was a smell.  A rancid odour of uncleanliness. A reality you couldn’t ignore.  It slapped you in the face and demanded action, notice, emotion.  We lived in a third world country and down on the riverbanks behind our home was a squatter settlement.  The most common sound I heard from that settlement during the daytime was the sound of children laughing, splashing in the river, jumping off the bridge.  A toy worthy of envy was a tyre, toted alongside by a stick, wheeled beside its’ proud owner; belly pushing against skin, malnourished.  Dull eyes and scabby skin. Clothes worn into a polished brown sheen of dirt.  Singing.  Walking.  Feet hardened and yellowed and soles cracked. A wide, woolly headed smile that could crack open the hardest heart.

I think about those kids and I am reminded. We are born fortunate.  We arrive here, our lungs swell and we shout for attention.  We take for granted the care we get.  Food, warmth, love.  We grow in our warm cocoons, surrounded with the comforts of modern life.  Water from the taps, light from the switch, rest from the bed, free education, help from the doctor, subsidies, special programmes, trade agreements, interest rates, infrastructure, welfare.
After all, we deserve it, don’t we?

We don’t deserve anything.
Our rights are not in fact, ours by right.
Nature can give and nature can take.  Circumstances destroy. All we think we own and know to be ours can be gone in an instant. It happens all the time.
But don’t take it from me, you can see it on the News.

I don’t deserve the fruits of my labour or the benefaction of the garden.  I don’t have a claim to this beautiful free country, clean air, real food.  It’s not mine by right, this home, these people I love.  I am splendiferously fortunate. I could have been born into the squatter settlement behind my childhood house.  I could have contracted an illness far worse than my own.  I could have been childless.  I could have been alone.  I could, like millions of women and girls, have been sold into slavery. I am a whisper of fate away from another set of circumstances at any given moment.  I don’t deserve it; all that I have.  But I accept it.

And when I remember to think about how undeserving I am, I am grateful.

 

 

 

picture credits TV3 NZ and  nationalgeographic.org

view an incredible TED talk that made me think.