See Ya Later NSW!

We have moved house a lot of times. We have even moved quite long distances away. But this has, by far, been the most intense move we’ve ever done. I think it was partly because

  • It was an interstate move
  • Geoff was away a lot leading up to the move
  • We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare
  • We had a LOT of stuff to move and we were paying movers to do it for us (because we literally did not have enough days between Geoff finishing up at one place of employment and starting at his next one, so it was “Bye, bye, holiday pay!!”) so we wanted to get rid of lots of stuff that we either no longer wanted or needed, and also items that were simply too old and damaged to bother paying to have moved!
  • We had quite a lot of trouble finding a house to rent
  • And last but not least, our move was coinciding with our oldest moving out on his own AND he was away on his first overseas trip to Bali for about 10 days leading up to our move!

In the final weeks before moving day, I was constantly torn between wanting to spend time with friends we were moving away from (including one who was going through a particularly difficult time) and also wanting to prepare for Travis moving out of home. I also wanted to ensure we could spend as much relaxed time with him as possible before and after his Bali trip, so we could “end on a good note”. Staying on task and putting tasks before people are not strong points for me, so it was a constant challenge; however, before we knew it the end was upon us and it was time for some farewells!

We had a night out with some of our homeschool friends. This is Molly and her friends being totally silly out on the street after dinner. It was a fun night and reminded me of how much we will miss these awesome friends!
I was driving around doing errands while Declan and Molly were at their final youth group, when I unexpectedly spotted them all walking up the street to the “Senior Citizen’s Centre, where they funnily hold the night session!). I acted like a spy, taking photos out of my window while stopped in a carpark! (They had no idea and I can honestly see a future for me as a private investigator, lol). The vibe was so fun and vibrant, it was easy for me to see why they will miss “Youthstreet” so much!
Getting fitted for reading glasses. Very exciting!
We couldn’t leave town without squeezing in an eye test for Molly (she’d been asking for awhile and had just found an optometrist she trusted and liked enough to have him test her eyes). Lo and behold she does need glasses for close up work, and they fortunately arrived the very day we were due to leave for our move!!
croatianclubfarewell
We gathered with some of our dearest friends at one of our favourite hang out places, “The Croatian Club,” for a farewell complete with woodfired pizza, Polish beer, good conversation and lots of fun. We can only hope we find friends as good as these in our new location!
It was a poignant thing to go to our local Italian restaurant upon Travis' return from Bali to say, "Welcome home, happy 20th birthday for the day after we leave the State, and see ya later!" It is so weird to think that our firstborn is now officially "out on his own"! He will be missed very, very much and I am definitely not used to the idea yet!
It was a poignant thing to go to our local Italian restaurant upon Travis’ return from Bali to say, “Welcome home, happy 20th birthday for the day after we leave the State, and see ya later!” It is so weird to think that our firstborn is now officially “out on his own”! He will be missed very, very much and I am definitely not used to the idea yet!

A Change is as Good as a Holiday?

A little while ago (not very long), we were advised that the owners of our home were returning from their trip around Australia, possibly just for a few months, possibly for good. This meant we had to move out, but would potentially be able to move back in after a few months.

An idea was born.

We could head off on an adventure!

I shared the idea with Geoff, who usually takes a deeeeep preparatory breath when I start a sentence with “Hey, I’ve had an idea…..” I fully expected that he would write it off as totally crazy and that we should simply find a house to rent nearby to our current home, but he surprised me by saying words to the effect of “Why the heck not?!”

So we started dreaming.

My dreams of far-off lands like the UK, Canada and even New Zealand, quickly morphed into more realistic places such as Tasmania or Victoria (Melbourne). I clung to the Tassie idea for awhile, but soon realised it was a no go, and agreed that Melbourne was the place. With lots of extended family already living there, plus better homeschooling laws, better climate (yes, we’re strange, we like the cooler weather!) and, basically, Melbourne being a very “hip” city, it seemed like a great place to base ourselves for the next six months or so. It wasn’t quite an overseas, exotic locale and was, in fact, only one state away from home. It didn’t sound quite as glamorous as some of the other places I’d been thinking of, but it didn’t sound terrible, either! With four-sixths of Geoff’s family already living there, we had good reason to move closer to them and spend time with his half of the family, who we’ve hardly seen for the past seven or so years.

We sat with the idea for awhile and then gathered the kids to have a chat. We presented the dream and asked for their thoughts, moving into a brain storming session where no thought or idea was considered silly or wrong.

Travis thought it was a wonderful idea and said we should definitely do it, but that he wouldn’t come with us. He was almost twenty at the time, and starting to consider his options for flatting with friends, or heading north to warmer weather and bigger waves. My heart started to race at the idea that we could end up living a whole state or two apart, but reassured myself that it was “only for six months”.

Brady quickly wrote the idea off, but within about 20 minutes of conversation had totally changed his tune, and became very excited about the idea, having often thought of relocating to Melbourne himself once he moved out anyway!

The younger two had reservations but also enthusiasm about the adventure ahead, and before we knew it a mutual decision had been made and plans started to snowball, for our “6 month adventure”!

I will save you the dreary details of our hunt for a rental property (which ended in a twelve month lease, rather than six), the sorting and stashing of all our worldly goods, and so on. 🙂

I will say this, though. I have the most amazing mother on earth. I kid you not. I was really worried about telling her our idea, knowing that it would take us much further away from her. We were already three hours away, but this would be a much greater distance, and require flying rather than driving to visit. I wanted to tell her in person, so I invited her to meet me for lunch in the city, because I “had something to tell her”. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised how hard it must have been for her to hear those words, and the possibilities her imagination may well have been dredging up.

So I headed off on my 2.5 hour train trip and she drove the hour trip in to the city, and we talked. And talked. And talked. (Some things never change!)

The short story is (because trust me, if I started on the long story we’d be here all night!) she gave us her blessing to move nine hours away from her. She is a widow and could easily have wallowed in self pity, feeling upset with us for “abanding” or “deserting” her, but instead, she started to get excited about coming down for regular holidays, saying that she’d always wanted to see more of Melbourne and now she had the perfect excuse, and at our expense! She was also very diplomatic, stating that we could have announced we were moving to the other side of the earth!

I was so amazed by the way she embraced our choice, and yet she was also honest about how she would miss us being closer to her.

Before we knew it, everything was full steam ahead and life started to look a lot like this:

IMG_8862
Okay, so there were a few distractions along the way, like playing with bubble wrap. 🙂
... and playing with boxes
… and playing with boxes
Saying yes to helping your child make their first Halloween costume
Saying yes to helping your child make their first Halloween costume
..... and saying yes to helping one of your other kids with their Halloween costume!
….. and saying yes to helping one of your other kids with their Halloween costume!
Having birthdays .....
Having birthdays …..
..... and birthday parties
….. and birthday parties
Sending your first born off on his first overseas adventure, knowing that on his return he will have just a couple of days before moving out on his own for the first time
Sending your first born off on his first overseas adventure, knowing that on his return he will have just a couple of days before moving out on his own for the first time
..... and then dealing with the courier who ran into your son's motorbike and tried to rip you off!
….. and then dealing with the courier who ran into your son’s motorbike and tried to rip you off!
Saying yes to the kids inviting their friends over
Saying yes to the kids inviting their friends over
..... and saying yes to an electronic drum set, even though it takes hours to set up and would have to be packed up for the move in two weeks!
….. and saying yes to an electronic drum set, even though it takes hours to set up and would have to be packed up for the move in two weeks!
Spending your first supposedly uninterrupted day of packing at the roadside with your husband's broken down car
Spending your first supposedly uninterrupted day of packing at the roadside with your husband’s broken down car
..... sorting and purging, giving away and selling
….. sorting and purging, giving away and selling
..... patching up "packing injuries" and buying way too many mangoes just a few days before the big move!!
….. patching up “packing injuries” and buying way too many mangoes just a few days before the big move!!

And that’s only half of it. There were also multiple interstate business trips for Geoff, a couple of bouts of sickness for me, a vomiting child, interstate visitors (which was much more fun than the vomiting child!), and many other intermittent interruptions to the task at hand. The stress culminated in a sudden realisation, three days before the truck was due to come, that it was actually coming in two days! I had inadvertently forgotten to change the amended date in my calendar, and I suddenly had one entire less day in which to get everything finished! There are many good reasons as to why moving house rates so high on the stress scale and we were experiencing them all! But we got through it, as does everyone who experiences similar situations. And before we knew it, the time for goodbyes was upon us, but we’ll leave that post for another day……

Rethinking Gold Stars

I am currently packing to move house, which includes sorting through a whole lot of homeschooling resources and parenting books that no longer reflect my unschooling, gentle parenting approach.

In the process, I found an old, half-completed workbook and was pulling it apart for recycling when I realised it had a sheet of gold stars in it.

rethinkinggoldstars_unshackledFeeling no attachment to them, and thinking that my ten year old daughter might enjoy using them for fun, I handed her the sheet, not realising the kind of fun that would ensue! She looked quizzically at the sticker sheet, having never received a gold star from me for anything, ever. Or anyone else, for that matter. She smiled, pulled one sticker off and put it on my forehead. I did the same to her, and it quickly became a fun-fueled battle to see who could pull the stickers off the quickest, and stick them all over each others’ faces! There were a lot of giggles and it was strangely bonding. We were quite a sight to be seen by the time our sticker sheets were empty! 🙂

As we laughed and fought for sticker supremacy, my heart filled with thanks that she only saw them as sticky shiny things to play with, not as measurements of her worth or accomplishments (unless you count the fact that she definitely beat me in the sticking-stickers-on-faces department!).

I feel sad that my older two children were initially raised with gold stars, praise and rewards, attempting to get them to do what their teachers or I wanted them to do, seeking to make them compliant, “nice” children who would make me look good by their behaviour, who would make my life easier.

I am so glad that my youngest two children have lived free from that kind of parenting!

I am so glad that I no longer dangle carrots on a stick before my children’s faces.

I am so glad that I no longer stick gold stars in their books or on their charts.

I am so glad that I no longer follow behaviourist principles, rewarding the good and punishing or ignoring the bad.

One of the most helpful books that I read in the early days of my transition was Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (affiliate link)

His other classic book on this topic is Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

Here are some snippets:

  • What’s most striking about a positive judgment is …. that it’s a judgment.  Why do we feel the need to keep evaluating our children’s actions, turning them into “jobs” that may, if they’re lucky, be deemed “good”?
  • As with punishments, the offer of rewards can elicit temporary compliance in many cases. Unfortunately, carrots turn out to be no more effective than sticks at helping children become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self-directed learners.
  • Studies over many years have found that behavior modification programs are rarely successful at producing lasting changes in attitudes or even behavior. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program began. More disturbingly, researchers have recently discovered that children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers (Fabes et al., 1989; Grusec, 1991; Kohn 1990).
  • A child promised a treat for learning or acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when there is no longer a reward to be gained.
  • Research and logic suggest that punishment and rewards are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Both strategies amount to ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior–in one case, prompting the question, “What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don’t do it?”, and in the other instance, leading a child to ask, “What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?” Neither strategy helps children to grapple with the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”
  • Rewards are no more helpful at enhancing achievement than they are at fostering good values. At least two dozen studies have shown that people expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing (Kohn, 1993). This effect is robust for young children, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds; and for tasks ranging from memorizing facts to designing collages to solving problems. In general, the more cognitive sophistication and open-ended thinking that is required for a task, the worse people tend to do when they have been led to perform that task for a reward.
  • The data suggests that the more we want children to want to do something, the more counterproductive it will be to reward them for doing it.

If you ask me, relationships have a FAR greater value than compliance. Gold stars may result in an initial increase in the desired behaviour, but the behaviour will often fade even quicker than the shiny star.

This reminds me of one of our treasured children’s picture books from when my kids were younger. It is called You Are Special (by Max Lucado). I even found a video of it!

I am much more interested in equipping my children with a feeling of intrinsic self-worth, irrespective of external recognition or reward. Sometimes this means that they will choose something I wish they wouldn’t; sometimes it means they will act in a way that can cause me embarrassment, but I love and accept them as they are, warts and all, and I choose to place more value on that, than on what other people think. If my children learn something new, the learning is its own reward. They don’t need a gold star to tell them they did a “good job” of learning it! If they choose to behave a certain way, or have a particular attitude, I want it to be because that is their personal choice, and they gain authentic value in making that choice because it is what they want to do, rather than doing something to get recognition or reward from me or someone else.

…… And regarding gold stars? Little does my daughter realise that I have lots and lots more gold stars she doesn’t know about, just ready and waiting to decorate her face with when she’s least expecting it! I mean, what else am I supposed to do with them? 🙂

moregoldstars

Our First Halloween

We’ve never really celebrated Halloween before, which is probably because of our traditional christian roots. After moving away from institutionalised Christianity and towards freedom in our faith, it took us awhile to get past the dogma and stigma, fear and superstition, regarding issues like this. We didn’t really see it as superstition back then, but looking back, that’s what it was. Without even researching the history of Halloween for ourselves, we were quite convinced that it was evil and that “good Christians don’t participate in such things”. We feared that there was a spiritual element to the kids dressing up and having fun, and we feared that if we “let them do it”, they would be somehow negatively effected, and it would lead them down a path we did not want them to go. We feared that the “dark side” of Halloween would somehow creep into our lives if we let them don a fancy dress costume and ask people for lollies.

So much has been written about the history of this cultural tradition, and I won’t bother going into it here, but I will say that so far we seem to be okay. No one has started frothing at the mouth or chanting strange odes to the devil, but you never know. Tomorrow is a new day. 😉

Our oldest son, almost twenty now, didn’t really do anything special for Halloween this year, although he had dressed up for a party last year as a “dead sailor” I think, and so far he’s not shown any ill effects. Tonight he went further down the path to death and destruction, as evidenced by turning up early for work to attend a requested interview because they want to promote him yet again. Then he stayed back late to finish up, and picked up his younger brother from a party on his way home so that I wouldn’t have to do it. Obviously last year’s participation in Halloween has ruined him for the ordinary.

Speaking of the younger brother, he also went to work tonight, after having attended TAFE (community college) all day, amidst preparing his “Where’s Wally?” costume for an after-work party. He really enjoys dressing up as a character, and for someone who used to get the lowest possible grades for effort and results in art and craft during his three years at school (as compared to top results in every other subject), it’s amazing to see how much he enjoys creating costumes now!

Putting the tape on to do the stripes was quite painstaking, but it was great to be able to help my oh-so-independent-17-year-old with something fun like this!
Putting the tape on in preparation for painting the stripes was quite painstaking, but it was great to be able to help my oh-so-independent-17-year-old with something fun like this!

Miss 10 was invited to go trick or treating with friends just the day before Halloween, which didn’t give us much time to prepare a costume, and considering that we’re in the middle of preparing for an interstate house move, hubster is away on business (again), I have been sick and lost essential packing time, and we are also in the midst of birthday preparations, I really didn’t need anything added to my to-do-list, but she was incredibly excited to be going trick or treating for the first time ever, and I was delighted to support her in this. We spent quite awhile investigating costume ideas, and she ended up deciding to create her own character, rather than buy or hire a ready made costume, or try to copy someone else’s idea. She took her inspiration from a chimpanzee mask and some gloves at the costume shop, and we took it from there, ending up with a chimp cop!

You wouldn't think that hand sewing those furry arms would be such a challenge, but with limited time available it was fiddly and annoying. Nonetheless, a chimp can obviously not have fair, freckled, non-hairy arms!
You wouldn’t think that hand sewing those furry arms would be such a challenge, but with limited time available it was fiddly and annoying. Nonetheless, a chimp can obviously not have fair, freckled, non-hairy arms! Isn’t she just gorgeous? 🙂

Mr 13 decided to stay home and try to scare away the trick or treaters. 😉

Apparently it worked! He did actually have lollies to give out, but only managed to treat his littler sister and her friends. No one else was brave enough, apparently! Oh, and the last image there was of my hooded bandit sneaking around to the back of the house to break in, after having locked us out of the front door. Fortunately his identity was hidden!
Apparently it worked! He did actually have lollies to give out, but only managed to treat his littler sister and her friends. No one else was brave enough, apparently! Oh, and the last image there was of my hooded bandit sneaking around to the back of the house to break in, after having locked us out of the front door. Fortunately his identity was hidden!

All in all it was quite a lot of silly fun, and everyone is keen to do it again next year, complete with some house decorations and maybe even a party.

Although, for the purpose of transparency, I did see a vampire in the house last night. Not sure if it’s related at all.

vampire_unshackled

Glimpses of Hope

Yesterday was really crappy. I was on the verge of tears all day long. Alright I lie, not on the verge. Deep in a river of salty tears!

And in that river, I was either going to sink or swim as a mother……

I was sinking.

I didn’t yell at or abuse my kids. I just wasn’t present with them. I was terse in my responses, or simply monotone, non-smiling, and …. boring.

I was sick, and had been for a few days. It was my second bout of sickness since our decision to do an interstate move at short notice, and I was not at all happy about the wasted time! Throw in some huge hormones and it was a recipe for emotional melodrama!

I wasn’t just wallowing in my emotions, I was drowning in them; beating myself up for all my failures, both imagined, exaggerated and real. I was predicting the worst case scenario for our family and how all our children will “turn out”, interpreting everything through a lens so dark it is surprising I could see anything at all.

All of this was, naturally, happening while my husband was away on another business trip, which gave me yet another trophy for my woe-is-me shelf.

We tried conversing over Skype and he was valiant in his attempt at support and encouragement, but I was unable to receive it or shift my mood. So I lay down in my pile of self-pity, covered myself with its dark cloak, and let life go on around me.

I unpublished my post from the other day, feeling like such a fraud, and was on the verge of unpublishing this entire blog.

The funny thing is, these kids who were apparently doomed to “turn out” in the worst way possible seemed to somehow prove me wrong.

While I was focussing on how they “hadn’t helped clean up”, so therefore they were destined to live in squalor like hobos, they showed me that, like most kids, they just hadn’t noticed the mess and simply needed a request for help.

The trouble with my “request” was that it came out something (hopefully not exactly!) like this: “Just look at this place! I can’t possibly do it all! I’m sick and I’m so SICK of being sick! I just can’t cope. Nobody has done ANYTHING to help all day! And anyway, why can’t you guys look out for each other more? Play together or something? You are all doing your own thing, but it would be so nice to see you offering to play a game or something with someone who seems bored. I can’t be the one to do this all the time.”

Yeah, not my proudest moment as a mum.

What shocked me into starting to shift my mood was the response from my nineteen year old son, whose temperament is what some would term “choleric” and isn’t usually my most sensitive or obviously mindful child. He cut right to the chase with this comment: “Mum, you’re saying you want everyone to help more, and you’re also saying you want them to play more. What’s really going on? What’s the real story? What do you really want?”

And out gushed the torrent of truth: “I feel guilty that I’m not able to be the mum I want to be when I have been sick, and now that I have been sick I have missed so much packing time, that when I am better I will be even busier. I also feel really slack for not being able to help meet everyone’s needs for fun and nice food and stuff.” Whooshka!

The kids heard me; they heard the real message behind my earlier moaning. And I heard me, too.

The boys started to help with cleaning up and Molly (10) sweetly suggested that we sit and watch Doctor Who together “to help me clear my head”. I decided to first take myself shopping for some urgent supplies, did some more releasing of tears in the car, read an incredibly encouraging and beautifully supportive email from my husband, and came home in a slightly better place emotionally, ready to relax and enjoy our favourite shared show together.

But first, my daughter announced, she had prepared a surprise treat for me “and even cleaned up after herself”. I was, by now, fortunately able to be amused by her courage in using humour, having prepared something that looked very fancy but was definitely inedible! Having earlier been creating art with chalk and tissues (long story), she decided to use the chalky tissue and some other unknown substances to create what was thankfully a decoy from the real treat: corn thins with cheese, tomato and …. avocado. (The avocado was a huge surprise because Molly is quite sensitive and does not like avocado at all, but she knows that I do, and had managed to cut it open, remove the seed and scoop out the “squishy, sludgy stuff” to bless her sad mum.)

IMG_8763One thing I feel good about from my dark day is that the kids did not seem to feel a desperate need to placate me or “make me happy”, but they did show some insight into the situation, and they did choose to help out in their own ways.

Today I have republished my last post and decided to keep writing, because I want to encourage others by showing that

  • it isn’t about being constantly joyful or upbeat or having it all together
  • it isn’t about being perfect or always happy
  • it isn’t about having perfect kids
  • it isn’t about sticking our head in the sand and thinking everything is all bad.

Equally, it isn’t about putting on rose-coloured glasses and pretending everything is perfect.

It is about walking this path of life together,

being real and authentic,

being true to ourselves,

learning along the way,

caring for one another and holding on to glimpses of hope.

Help is on the Way

Life has been pretty stressful lately. We decided not very long ago to move interstate, because we need to move out of our house anyway, and because it would be nice to spend some time living closer to Geoff’s side of the family for a bit, particularly since his Dad had a major heart attack awhile back and hasn’t been all that well. It will also be nice to have a break from the draconian and onerous homeschooling laws in our State. Oh, there’s also the fact that my sister-in-law lives in the city we’ll be moving to, and she also homeschools her kids and, well, it would be pretty cool for unschooling cousins to live near each other I reckon. 🙂 We think they’re pretty great people, too, and have really missed them since they moved away.

All that to say, it’s been a bit wild, crazy and stressful around here, particularly since Geoff now has a job at the new location , and we therefore have a definite, locked-in moving date and he just so happens to be away on business quite a lot leading up to the move (including the last few days!). When he’s not away, he’s mostly working at his local job, so that leaves a lot of pressure on me.

Tasks and me?
Let’s just say we’re not great friends.
Decluttering and purging?
Yeah, not too great there either.

I find it hard focussing on tasks, to the detriment of time spent on relationships (being an attentive wife and unschooling mum, and spending time with friends and family before we move away) and ideas (reflecting on and writing about the many things swirling around in my head at any one time).

Nonetheless, it must be done!

Since making the decision to move, we have had:

A week of visitors staying with us (which was great fun!)
Day trips and activities that we were pre-committed to
The anniversary of our baby’s death (which always causes my world to stop spinning for a few days)
A week of sickness (me)
Geoff away on a business trip, which happened to coincide with
A vomiting child
And now a vomiting me!

I went to the health food shop and consulted with a naturopath the other day, regarding strategies for coping with the stress. Stress apparently ranks pretty high on the scale of most stressful things. Add to that the fact that one of my biggest personal stressors is time stress, and you have a recipe for…. yuck. I had been letting it get to me, but over the past 24 hours things have started to settle a bit. Perhaps it is coincidence? Perhaps it has something to do with the magnesium and herbs I have started taking? Perhaps it was a long conversation with my mum that stretched into the wee hours of the morning and helped me think differently about our search for a rental property. Perhaps it is to do with the fact that my husband decided to come home from his business trip two days earlier than expected, and worked his magic on the mess. 🙂

Perhaps it is the fact that my three teenage sons got up to some helpful things (without being asked) while I was out doing errands this morning. 🙂

I texted my son while I was out, asking if he would mind hanging my sheets on the line. He replied, "I did it hours ago". :) Later, when we got home and he had left for work, we discovered his wet washing in the machine, so we hung it out for him. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness....
I texted my son while I was out, asking if he would mind hanging my sheets on the line. He replied, “I did it hours ago”. 🙂 Later, when we got home and he had left for work, we discovered his wet washing in the machine, so we hung it out for him. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness….
Our dog Lucy should definitely have been called Houdini! After discovering that she had masterfully escaped yet again, my husband came up with an idea to hopefully foil her Houdini abilities forever. He was away on business, though, and couldn't do it. When I came home from my errands, I discovered that two of my teens (13 & 17) had done it! So far so good....
Our dog Lucy should definitely have been called Houdini! After discovering that she had masterfully escaped yet again, my husband came up with an idea to hopefully foil her Houdini abilities forever. He was away on business, though, and couldn’t do it. When I came home from my errands, I discovered that two of my teens (13 and 17) had found some sheet metal and a drill and done the job! So far so good….

There is something so sweet about a child/teen doing something helpful simply because they see it needs doing and choose to do it, rather than because they are complying with a request (or perhaps, more sadly, a demand).

This move will certainly be a team effort. Not a conscripted team, but a team of volunteers, who may be more helpful at some times than others, which is okay in my book. Not necessarily desirable, but okay. I would much rather occasional help from a willing helper, than more regular help from conscripted slaves, I mean, children. I know this means that there will be days and moments when I feel overwhelmed and need more support.

The trick, I am learning, is being kind and honest about my feelings and my needs, and also respecting theirs. And coming up with mutually agreeable strategies for “getting the job done”. Oh, and also this: genuine requests are better than manipulative demands.

Relationships are the most important thing.

Operation Christmas Child

operationchristmaschildlogo

Operation Christmas Child is a fantastic initiative of the Samaritan’s Purse charity and is something I’ve wanted to participate in for quite a few years! This year I actually managed to facilitate it happening.

I promoted it amongst our local homeschooling group and there was quite a bit of interest, so I contact Samartian’s Purse and they put me in touch with a truly remarkable woman, who was our local contact person. She was so incredibly sweet! She delivered boxes and pamphlets to my home, which I distributed amongst friends, and she also offered to come back and spend some time with us while we filled the boxes.

Based on the couple of stories she told me at the door when dropping off the boxes, I figured it would be quite inspirational for the kids, so we arranged a date.

In the meantime, Molly and I thoroughly enjoyed shopping for gifts to fill our boxes with! While we were at the shops one day, a lady overheard us discussing options for filling the boxes and she came up to us asking if we were talking about the Operation Christmas Child boxes. When we said yes, and that we were organising a group collection, she was so excited, having been doing a similar thing for quite a few years herself, but being currently new to our town and not yet unpacked enough to have managed to get things organised for this year. We exchanged numbers and arranged a time for her to bring her donated boxes to our house for collection.

It’s amazing the people you meet when you start doing things like this!

Only one other family was able to come along on the day when the volunteer came to talk with us, although we did manage to also collect additional donations from some other families afterwards.

It was wonderful listening to her share stories about the boxes! Two stories in particular stood out to us.

One story was about a young girl who was living on the giant rubbish dump in the Philippines. Totally destitute and with no family, she decided to walk towards the centre of the rubbish dump, planning to die there. Apparently it is not uncommon for this to happen. The dump is so large and so toxic that children can get lost there, and also simply die due to the terrible conditions of being there for a sustained amount of time.

Just before this young girl took that sad, desperate action, a delivery arrived of Operation Christmas Child boxes. She had never, ever received a gift of any kind in her life, and the thought that someone, somewhere, cared enough about her to send her gifts from afar, even though they didn’t know her, was enough to change the course of her life.

She did not walk out to the middle of the rubbish dump that day and in fact ended up becoming a doctor so that she could help children living in the slums like she had.

The other story was of a young girl from Chernobyl, who had been terribly affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. One of the impacts of the radiation was that she had no hair. When the gift boxes arrived at her town, they were distributed amongst the children and squeals of laughter and delight could be heard around the room as the children opened the packages.

One of the workers noticed that this little girl’s box contained some beautiful hair ribbons and accessories. The worker’s first thought was to try to quietly remove them and replace them with an alternative gift, thinking the hair ribbons would be very upsetting to this little girl who had no hair. Before she could do this, the girl saw the hair accessories and began to weep. Her tears were tears of joy, however, not sadness, because they symbolised hope. She had always thought her hair would never grow or be beautiful, and she saw these ribbons as a sign that one day she would have beautiful hair.

This story was shared as an example of why the staff don’t interfere with what is put in any of the boxes, and simply trust that the right box will go to the right child. Apparently there are many, many more stories like that. One box, for instance, contained only one item: a beautiful, hand-knitted beanie. It ended up being given to a boy living in Thailand; a country known for its heat and humidity. Again, the worker thought the gift would not be appropriate or appreciated, but it was! It turned out that the boy was from the highlands where it can get very cold, and he had been struggling to stay warm. Not any longer!

Filling the boxes with treasures for children around the world who have so little, proved to be as much a gift to us as it would be to them. Being part of something so wonderful was truly a blessing!

Filling the boxes was incredibly rewarding and also required a bit of spacial reasoning to get everything to fit!
Filling the boxes was incredibly rewarding and also required a bit of spacial reasoning to get everything to fit!
A great storyteller with an incredible passion for what she does, this lady spends a large part of her year sewing and creating handmade gifts for many boxes!
She was such a character, and also a great storyteller with an incredible passion for what she does. This lady spends a large part of her year sewing and creating handmade gifts for many boxes!
It was fun doing this together with friends, and we hope to make it a regular part of our life in years to come!
It was fun doing this together with friends, and we hope to make it a regular part of our life in years to come!

Cosmic Bowling: A Win-Win Solution

Recently my thirteen year old son was excited about attending a youth event with some friends. It sounded like it was going to be heaps of fun, and my ten year old daughter was *not* a happy girl about missing out. We had lots of discussion about her reasons for wanting to go, and my reasons for not wanting her to go. They weren’t easy conversations!! These things aren’t resolved easily and quickly; they are messy, emotional and complex.

Well, it could be “easy and quick” if I just put my foot down, controlling-parenting-style, and said, “You’re not going, and that’s that! And don’t let me hear you complain about it. I’m your parent, and you’ll do as I say!”

It would also be “easy and quick” if I threw caution to the wind, ignored my mothering-instinct and went with the permissive-anything-goes parenting style, simply saying, “Fine! Well just go then! It’s not like I can stop you anyway” or “Whatever you want, dear. You know what’s best…..”

With both of those options, however, I would be left with a seemingly quick solution, but one that overlooked the deeper issues going on:

  • My child had some big feelings about her desire to go and about the option of missing out.
  • I had some valid concerns about her going (it was an event aimed at and marketed to all the local high schools; I knew of no child her age who was attending) and felt I would be negligent to drop her off at that type of scenario.
  • Our relationship was more important than either of us “winning”.
  • She had some valid needs underneath her feelings: the need to be heard, the need for social interaction, and the need for FUN!
  • I had at least one valid need too: the need to provide safety for my daughter.

So with all of that going on, we talked. And listened. And felt our big feelings together.

We also brainstormed possible solutions.

Eventually we found a solution that honoured both of our feelings and met our needs: COSMIC BOWLING!!

It happened to be a Friday night, and this was something my daughter had never done before. She loves ten-pin bowling, loves hanging out with friends, loves dancing and music and pretty lights, and all up it seemed like the perfect alternative to a hall full of high schoolers on a Friday night! It didn’t happen without quite a lot of effort on my part, and also quite a bit of stress: there were enquiries to be made, many text messages to friends, lots of planning, and driving to a few different suburbs to pick up some playmates. But it was so very, very worth it. The smiles on their faces and the sound of their laughter were confirmation that looking for a win-win solution and honouring both of our feelings and needs was the best possible investment of my time and energy. I’m sure, too, that the rewards of the process will have a flow-on effect to other similar scenarios that are sure to crop up in the years ahead.

It was also wonderful for our relationship. She felt validated and valued. She knew I was on her team and that I was trying my hardest to help her have a great night, while staying true to what was important to me.

cosmicbowling_unshackled

All in all, it was a win-win solution to a tricky problem and well worth putting in the emotional investment. I’d love to hear some other stories of people working for a win-win, where everyone’s feelings and needs are respected, and mutually agreeable solutions are sought and found. It can be done! Maybe not always, and maybe not without some time and effort, but it is definitely worth working towards!

Ode to Cody, 18 years on…..

Today would have been my second son’s 18th birthday.

Sadly, he didn’t even make it to his first one.
Nor to the anniversary of his first month,
or week,
or day.

Some would say I should be “over it” by now.
But that’s just a load of bunkum!

Cody Luke was, and is, my son.

Cody's Grave

I just haven’t had the privilege of being a face to face mum with him.
Or the privilege of creating a lifetime of memories that include him.
I haven’t had the privilege of parenting him.

I haven’t had the privilege of helping him learn to
ride a bike,
tie his shoes,
or read a book.

I haven’t had the privilege of
playing with him,
hanging out with him,
bandaging his wounds,
enjoying life with him
or even wiping his nose.

I haven’t had the privilege of watching him grow up,
or watching him spread his wings and fly.

He spread his wings and flew away a long, long time ago.
I wasn’t even with him.

And my heart is still broken.

It beats, but it is different now.
And it always will be.

Did you know that hearts go on beating when they are broken?

I have learned to live with this brick in my pocket.
And that’s okay.

This is who I am.
This is my journey.

It isn’t raw like it was in the early days.

I can now look at another baby without being blinded by tears.
I can now – almost – watch a helicopter without feeling sick.
I can live an awesome life without feeling burdened by a weight of grief.
The brick doesn’t feel so heavy anymore.
It feels familiar and simply part of me.

“Do babies grow up in heaven?” my daughter wants to know.
She thinks they probably do,
but I think maybe that’s not fair
because I want so desperately to hold my baby in my arms again.

I don’t know how things are in eternity, but I know this:
I miss my little-baby-come-big-grown-up-teenage-boy.

Whether I get to hold my baby in my arms again one day,
or whether I get to have a great big bear hug with an adult,
I know this one thing:

My faith in a life that goes beyond our final breath is my sanity in all of this.
It is the hope that has kept me …. hopeful.
It is the root of peace in my soul.

That – and the fact that I saw into his eyes.
So many do not get that beautiful privilege.

For Cody

Cody, you were so wanted.
So loved.
You are so grieved.

I still miss you!
I wonder how different life would have been if you hadn’t left so soon.

I would change so many things if I could,
hoping it might have led to a different outcome
but I would never change the decision to bring you into the world.

I like to think my experience of birth, loss and grief has made me
A better mum to your siblings,
A more compassionate person,
A voice of hope to those who suffer.

You have two other brothers and a sister now.
Only one of them met you, but they all know of you, and speak of you.
And this is such a comfort to me.

I am thankful for society’s newfound awareness of the need to
hold
grieve
photograph
and remember
our little babies who died too soon.

Today we had birthday cake in your memory.
I just wish you were here to blow out the candles.

I wonder how you would have celebrated your 18th birthday?

An 18th Birthday – Without the Birthday Boy

I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her "big brother's" 18th Birthday
I woke up to this beautiful sight: my youngest one bringing me breakfast in bed (her idea) on her “big brother’s” 18th Birthday
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. Giggles and grief are part of the same package.
Today I also had a sick girl which served as a reminder to live in the moment and be a mum to my living kids. I had walked into the lounge room and found her sitting there holding her sore throat. When I tried to take photos of the cute sad face, it turned into a bit of a giggle fest. We also ended up having quite a few giggles throughout the day, as she was using a text-to-voice app to communicate, because her throat was sore. Anytime she wanted to speak, she would type her words into her iPod and this adult British MALE voice would speak on her behalf. It was highly amusing! **Giggles and grief are part of the same package.**
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there were picnic umbrellas to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rains, dishes to wash.....
Life goes on! In the midst of a day of remembrance and reflection, there was a picnic umbrella to rescue from the storm, washing to get off the line when it rained, dishes to wash….. Well, the dishes will probably still be there in the morning….
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect. Some years I spend hours of solitude doing this, other years less so. This year was one of the "less" years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
In the midst of it all, a moment to remember and reflect, to ponder, to browse through the objects that make up the entirety of his physical existence on earth. Some years I spend hours of solitude perusing his two memory boxes, other years not so much. This was one of the “not-so-much” years, but I feel like I wanted more. I am still pleased with other aspects of the day, though.
It's an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by helicopter just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
It’s an odd coincidence, but only yesterday we bought a little remote control helicopter, and it just so happens that helicopters are a sensitive issue for me, being as Cody was airlifted by one just before he died. Today my daughter helped to reframe the issue for me, sending me a little love note by helicopter!
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was birthday cake making time! This is a tradition I started from the very first anniversary. It was cathartic (and poignant) then, and has continued to be so ever since.
Next up was dinner out as a family, to "celebrate" Cody's 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn't with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together.....
Next up was dinner out as a family, to “celebrate” Cody’s 18th birthday. It was a strange thing to do in some ways, and highlighted the fact he wasn’t with us, but it also felt good to at least do something nice. We were sad to also have our youngest son absent, because he is away on camp. Good food, good conversation and sadness all mixed up together…..
Lighting the candles on Cody's cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!
Lighting the candles on Cody’s cake was surprisingly fun! Brady did a stellar job it, only to have someone fly our new remote control helicopter right above the cake, which caused the breeze from the helicopter to extinguish the candles! It was pretty funny and we all needed the laugh. More laughs were had when the family effort at blowing the candles out had far less impact that the tiny little helicopter had!

I’ll finish off with how our night finished off: having a bit of fun with our new toy! That which was once a source of pain and despair, has today become a source of fun and laughter.

Well, a milestone has come …. and gone.
Which is pretty much how grief is, I guess.
The hard days come, but the hard days also go.
And even in the midst of sadness and grief,
there can be laughter and good times.

It is not a black and white, linear process.
It is a black, white, grey, and sometimes multi-coloured
swirling sea with patches of calm, great depths,
and sometimes wild, crashing waves.

In a way, Cody’s birth and death feel like yesterday,
and in another way it is as though it happened to someone else,
or in a different lifetime.

The end result is, the loss never goes away,
the hole is always there.
But you get used to living with it.
Like a hole in a favourite pair of jeans
The hole moves with the fabric and adds character.

You move on with life, living differently than how you did before.
Your perspective on what matters is different, for the better!
You don’t stay the same as how you were;
hopefully you become more gracious, empathic and understanding.

Pain can be a pathway to peace;
the kind of peace that is not dependent on good times,
or happy circumstances;
the kind of peace that is a constant uncurrent beneath the storms of life.

To those who grieve,
You will be okay.
I will be okay.
I AM okay.

Parents Are More Important Than Therapists :)

My husband sent me a link to a great TED Talk the other day, saying that he really liked it and asking what I thought. Before I get to it, I thought I’d share a shorter video by the same very interesting speaker/author, Dr Shefali Tsabary. If you don’t have time to watch the 10 minute video further down the page, just watch this one. It goes for only two and a half minutes. I’ve made it super easy for you, by typing out a transcript of this shorter video, so if you’re a speed reader, you can get through this little snippet of wisdom in probably not much more than one minute. In just one or two minutes you could transform your parenting.

So without further delay, here is the short video:

And because I’m such a nice person 😉 here is a transcript of her words:

Conscious parenting implies introducing the awareness that we as parents interact with our children based on our emotional legacies. We are unconscious, to a certain degree, and it is with this unconsciousness that we interact with our children.

The first step of conscious parenting is to become aware of this unconsciousness. When we are aware and mindful that when we react to our children, we are not only attempting to react to how it is they are in the moment, but we are also, albeit unconsciously, deeply entrenched by the conditioning with which we were raised. So we react to our children believing that we are reacting to them; however, we are unmindful of the fact that we are deeply reactive to our unconscious past, and unless we can illuminate ourselves and enlighten ourselves of the entrapments and enslavements of our own unconscious past, we will not engage in mindful parenting. In order to set our children free, we first need to revisit our past, and set ourselves free from the unconsciousness that exists within us.

Then we will be able to engage with our children

with reflection,
with wisdom,
with pause,
with hindsight,
with contemplation,
with a sense of stillness,

because we are not just blindly projecting and reacting to them anymore; we are aware of our issues, of our baggage. Once we are aware, and we understand that there is something going on within us at all times, we will become mindful of our reactions to our children.

So conscious parenting means to go back into our past, to become aware of the legacies we inherited from our childhoods, and then from this place of awareness, reflect and engage with our children.

I think that a lot of people write off the ideas of consciousness and mindfulness as “mumbo jumbo”, just for hippies. Perhaps some translation might be helpful? Try these on for size, and see if it helps to break it down better:

  • “What do you think you’re doing?”
  • “Hey you! Wake up to yourself!”
  • “Why do you always do that?”
  • “Think before you speak!”
  • “Why do I keep making the same mistake over and over again?”

Statements and questions like these are invitations to wake up. To become aware of what is going on underneath the surface, in us. To be more mindful. It is a matter of listening to those thoughts and questions, and stopping still long enough to contemplate what it is that is triggering us, to contemplate how our past is affecting our present and why we do things a certain way, to contemplate our child as a separate entity to ourselves, to realise that their reality and our reactions are two different things.

When we create a space to contemplate the answers to some of these questions,

  • We can be unshackled from the chains that bind us to our knee-jerk reactions, our impulsive responses, our defensiveness or fiery darts of attack.
  • We can get to a place where we use our past as a platform to stand on as we connect with our children, rather than as a weapon to wield as we seek to control them impulsively.
  • We can wake up and start afresh with these precious children, who stand before us looking for affirmation, support, encouragement……

We can either save our pennies for our children’s future therapy, or we can invest in preventative medicine now. It’s a lot “cheaper”, and a LOT more rewarding. Why put a dressing on a wound, hoping that it heals without infection or scarring, when we can just avoid the wound in the first place? It is far, far better for parents to parent in such a way that therapists are never necessary! It is incredibly difficult to try to erase unkind parental words and wounds from a grown child’s memory.

It is not that our parenting or family life need to be perfect (because it can’t!), but rather that we simply need to be wide awake, mindful, and alert to our unconscious thoughts so that we can operate on a more mindful level.

So after all that, here’s the longer video (still only about 10 minutes):

“Raising a child offers us an enormous opportunity to shed our old skin, let go of stale patterns, engage new ways of being, and evolve into a more conscious parent.” (Dr Shefali Tsabary)

If you’d like to pursue this idea a bit further, there is obviously a lot more information in her book: The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children

I am yet to read it fully, so I recommend it with caution, but based on her videos above, and the reviews I have read, it is likely to be a very thought provoking read.

And for unschooling parents, it’s really worthwhile checking out this webpage about Mindfulness in Unschooling and also a transcript and sound file of a great talk by Ren Allen and Sandra Dodd about Mindful Parenting.

I like an awful lot about what Dr Tsabary says in the videos, and I also love the information from Sandra Dodd’s site, linked to above. What do you think?