Camp cramps

There are all sort of parents in this world, and you see them at the school camp drop off.

Those who are whooping their way out of that bag drop, punching the air and screaming “Look out silence, HERE I COME!”  They wave enthusiastically at a tinted window their child could be behind (but who would know), knowing everyone is going to love this little break.  As they smile kindly at a tearful mother and feel they should place a gentle arm around her shoulder, they are trying really hard to think as quietly as they can – “YES! SLEEP IN’S, WINE FOR DINNER, NO WEE ON THE TOILET SEAT, BED AT 6PM, AND NO SOCCER PRACTICE WOOHOO!!!”

There are those who are late for the bus – and they are the ones who are never, ever late, apart from this day. Somehow in the lead up, whilst packing for an 11 year old on a commando course (because we do that all the time),

commando outfit
“I think this outfit is perfect for a commando course”

trying to think of how to combat travel sickness in absentia, trying to teach them about the importance of a shower – with soap, or teeth brushing – at all, packing 5 lots of thermals in case it’s cold in Coffs Harbour, and then implementing the crash course in karate should anyone be mean to them, school camp for these parents is the final tug of the lace bringing everything unravelling. Nerves – 1, Mum – none.  They are running to roll call, they are sitting three abreast on the bag to try squaaaaash it in on top of 100 other suitcases, sleeping bags, pillows, back packs and giant teddy’s. They reach up a hand with a kiss on it to a disappearing cheek up the bus steps, and they say “I love you darling!” to the closing doors.  

Then there is me. We have been packed for weeks, so I didn’t have any callouts for new trakkies at 10pm last night – or that’s what I’m telling you, anyway.  We have had conversations, trying to be casual and not frightening, about safety – of friendships, of personal stuff, of health, and of looking after the precious person that is you, my child. We have talked about whether, because “Undies” is not on the packing list it means they are not needed.  We have worn in the “old shoes” we had to buy. We have discussed what you can eat if the bus stops at McDonalds (as all our parental fear-mongering about the place comes back to bite us on the bum).  And we have planted spy’s in Coffs Harbour with fresh fruit, vitamin C tablets, his bedtime teddy’s, a nice fluffy doonah and perhaps, just maybe, a getaway car.

I don’t take lightly to my child being away from me. For a week (yes, four days is a week). On the other side of the country. You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.  

You are very well taking my heart right out of my chest and driving it away on Forest Coachlines.

I do know he’s going to have an amazing time. I do know this year 6 camp is the “coming of age” camp.  But am I ready for him to come of age? No. He is just fine as a not-teenager. So, bring him back. I can just see his beautiful face as he goes into the indigenous preschool with all the gorgeous little kids – I know already this bit will touch his gentle, gentle heart and change him for the absolute better. But he is the BEST already, so, bring him back.  I can hear him, as he rock climbs, bushwalks and surfs, laughing confidently with friends – a place he has worked hard to get to. He is confident now, so, bring him back.

Because until you bring him back, I am half a person here.

But I know if you do, he will be the half a person. I have to let him grow up. Little by little, I have to let him go.

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Fairy Sparkle

 

There is a woman walking around in this world, and specifically on our great barbequed continent, who has earned herself an Order of Australia Medal for making people feel happy.  In this day and age of the overwhelming sadness which is a suicide epidemic, of people with their faces stuck to the unreal, animated screen of a phone every second of the day and addicted to the weird act of the selfie, doesn’t that seem a very opposite thing to do?

I thought she be worthy of a story!

The woman’s name is Fairy Sparkle. She lives in a gypsy caravan, and dresses in silvery fairy wings, a gorgeous shimmering crown, a fluffy puffy fairy gown and wanders the café cultures of Sydney with loud bells tinkling. She cares not what people think of her living her life, no lapses, as a real fairy.  Here she is. FairySparkle

Now, everyone is worthy of a dose of happiness, and of someone helping them to get it if they’re having trouble with the job. I reckon that’s the way God designed us – to be happy and to make others feel the same. But we tend to get too busy and can’t fit it in. Or too wrapped up in trying our hardest to grasp happiness for ourselves – no brain space to work it out for others.

But there is a little pocket of the world whom I believe are the most deserving – kids. Born naturally happy – unless you’re a terrible two when you’re sometimes happy sometimes completely psycho – kids should not feel that deep sadness some adults feel because experience has bitten off a bit of their happiness. But some children do unfortunately. You can find them in Children’s Hospitals.

These dark places hold children who are dying. Children who are suffering, severely, and know they might have a lifetime of it. Not happy Jan.

But, Ms Sparkle has changed that. In 1991 she worked in IT – she was a suit! She decided to leave that job (phew), change her name by deed poll to Fairy Sparkle and became a full-time volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in Randwick. Of this, she says: “I followed my passion, I just love it. This is my life’s work.” She sold everything and is homeless, travelling in her silver VW beetle, and sleeping in her little silver “fairy pod” caravan which sparkles all over inside like the night-sky.  She says: “I don’t see it as giving anything up really, because what I’ve gained is far more real to me, than what I gave up.”

“First you have to choose to be happy, and then, just turn up!” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

As well as spreading her love and happiness to sick children and their families, Fairy Sparkle has taken it up as her mission to create fairy gardens at hospitals. If you’ve ever stayed for more than a few days in a hospital you will know how important this is – somewhere you can get fresh air, somewhere you can see the sky, somewhere you can explore, sit, chat, eat, and somewhere you can forget about the terrible world you’ve been ensconced in on the dark inside for such a long time. The first garden was built in 1999 at Randwick, now there are twelve gardens dotted around NSW, from Orange to the North Shore of Sydney, touched by Ms Sparkle’s very own hands, and many more across the country who have taken up her idea for their own space.

I met her when I was in hospital with my little baby Molly for a couple of months, and we found the magic of peace during turmoil in her garden. Fairy Sparkle’s bells tinkling down the corridor would make the weakest, sickest kids sit up, ramrod straight, in bed in anticipation. Her smiling sparkling laughter and down to earth voice captivated their little faces for the entire time she was present. She knew all the right things to say – a very difficult job when it’s a sick and dying child, for what do you say about that?

Parents behaved the same. In fact, they are more happy to see Fairy Sparkle than their kids. Because, if someone makes your child happy, it makes you happy. But when you have a sick child, and someone makes them forget their situation for a short while, well, you want to kiss her bejangled, silvery glittery-shoed feet.

In 2014 she received her OAM. I wish I could have been the responsible person giving it to her – to thank her for the miniscule but permanently impressed joy it gave us all those years ago, would have made me feel so happy… oh! there she goes again. For the future, thank goodness, she says: “There’s a big wand I’ve got to wave and I’m enrolling all sorts of people to help me do it!” The magic will continue to grow.

I have a character based on Fairy Sparkle in my Miss Molly book. The world needs to know about this amazing Fairy.  She is utterly inspiring. And perhaps we could even take up a small part of her cause ourselves. Perhaps, over the weekend, we might walk out into the world and make a big effort to make someone we don’t know, happy.  Spread a little sparkle, you know.

 “I think real magic, the real magic, is when you can’t explain what is happening but the effect is undeniable.” Fairy Sparkle OAM.

Read more and donate here.

Hip hip hooray #healthyhipsweek

When I was young, I would curse my hips because they wouldn’t make my legs and feet turn out like my amazingly beautiful ballet teacher. If they would only do their job then I would look just like her – despite the fact I had brown short hair, was a plumpa-lumpa and nothing like her 6 foot tall willowy goldilocks.

When I first entered high school, my hips were the place I used to roll my uniform skirt up and over, so that instead of the hem reaching that daggy spot mid-calf, it flew somewhere above-knee. Then, as beachgoing became the mid-teen activity of choice, I became increasingly interested finding and exposing my hip bones. Ultimately, I decided that there were none in there and continued on eating.

As I grew into 20-something, my hips became important in the right way they should be regarded – my physical health. The discovery of a back problem which would be my companion forever, meant more attention needed to be paid to my hips – keeping them straight, strong and stretched, meant I was giving my back the best opportunity to remain healthy for as long as possible.  

I became a married woman. And started yoga. The two were not related. Or maybe they were: My husband’s work took us to living in some weird and wonderful places, and we experienced some really challenging times.  In each place I did yoga for excercise. Time and again I would hear “our hips are the place we hold our fear, our emotional junk drawer, where we put emotions we don’t know how to handle”.hip replacement

Next: Babies. Pregnancy, hips widening, birth, lots of sitting and breastfeeding, and muscles relaxed to the point of being floppy – man, I was a good yogi. A happy hippy time.

Then my mum had an accident and shattered her hip. She had to suffer through a night of the most horrific pain I’ve ever witnessed, before being given some new jewellery – a metal hip ball and joint. A long recovery, and 10 years later the thought of using her hip normally still generates fear.

And another life hip event: A baby with a hip infection. Nasty old pneumococcal disease settled in our six month-old baby’s hip joint, eating it away. She is classified disabled, although right now you would never know to look at her skipping, cartwheeling and being the most beautiful ballerina she can be, much to my delight. She is a true miracle.  The time will come when her hip will get cranky and we will deal with that then. Operations will be soon. But for now, every day, I appreciate her special hip, as we call it, because it reminds me the body is a gift, to be looked after and appreciated for it’s capacity – with a ballet leap and a cartwheel while I can.

So cheers to Healthy Hips Week. Keep them healthy, keep them “junk free” and appreciate them for more than just a pair of hip bones in hiding.  

 

 

Practising Kindness. Kind of.

My late rising New Year’s resolution is kindness. Be kind, show kindness, kind, kind, kind.

It’s everywhere – the new catch phrase to counteract narcissism generated in our age of the selfie.  Me me me it’s all about me, verses Be kind to one another. I should have been an anthropologist or psychologist instead of a mother.  (Same thing, I hear you say? Need one as a mother, I hear you say?)

This woman is fabulous – take the 10 minutes to watch Orlay Wahba speak on kindness, it will change your life.  http://blog.ted.com/the-magic-of-kindness-orly-wahba-at-ted2013/  She nails why kindness is essential and exactly how it makes the world a better place.

So I’m going to be kind. I’ve already started.

I was really kind yesterday when my toddler screamed his way out of swim school, all the way to the car, screamed when I asked him to get in the car, then screamed about me locking him out of the car (never leave a child unattended inside a car), then continued his little screaming argument all the way home.

He is still alive. See? Kindness.

Part of kindness is that it brings you to noticing others. For example, like last night.  My husband must have been practising kindness because when he was putting the rubbish bins out, he noticed the next-door neighbour nicking our greens bin from the verge.  “Hey, isn’t that ours?” came kindly out of Happy Husband’s mouth, to which Naughty Neighbour replied, “oh just taking it to put our palm fronds in”.  Happy Husband practiced further kindness by not saying anything more – perhaps because his mouth hung open in disbelief but hey, the bin was theirs.  

Currently, I am practising kindness with great fervour. Along with noticing, being kind also generates gratitude.  As I write this I am looking out my window at the pool company (here is a description of them), draining thousands of litres of water-slash-money down the plughole, and jackhammering big chunks out of the concrete walls of our brand new pool.  But hey – I am super grateful that we had the pool for the kids for Christmas, because we can’t afford to eat anymore let alone buy something as frivolous as Christmas presents.  And I am tremendously grateful to the actual people who work for the pool company, because now when I turn on the news Donald Trump really truly looks like a super nice guy to me. Really, he does incredibly honourable work, don’t you think?    

So, after a successful week of practising great kindness, I’m going to celebrate. Here is a selfie of me with my big glass of kindness to myself. But we all know it’s not all about me…

woman-with-big-glass-of-wine

   

 

   

A Wise Man and a Bright Star

The day began with the usual unsatisfying vomit; a dribble of bile in the cup of my hand and some in the loo. Not even Christmas Day, with all its miracles, could offer up a reprieve.

I wandered out of our guest bedroom to see a quartet of teenage cousins slothing out of theirs.  Four kids would be nice, I think.

If I was the Virgin Mary.

We all assembled around my aunt and uncle’s Christmas tree in their Southern Highlands loungeroom. The surrounding window’s shone in a beauty of a day – one worthy of new beginnings.

I took the chance, during a brief moment of hush: “We’re pregnant!”

There was teary, surprised giggling all round. Except from my uncle Laurie, who disappeared. What? All my life I’d heard, “You’d make beautiful babies with him”. And now that I am, he walks out?

This man, Laurie Curley, was a colourful character with many shades of intensity – from outbursts of extreme emotion, to the deepest of poetry, to being the life of the party, crackling with hilarious and inspiring stories. On this day, I didn’t know what sort of reaction this exit meant.

After a time, he walked back in. He sat next to me silently – possibly the only moment he’d ever been soft and quiet in his life. He opened a wee black velvet box, revealing a diamond ring, shaped like hands in prayer, and with tears, said: “I have had this for you, for that baby in there, for a long time. Congratulations my darling.”

That baby got out of there eight months later and was the precious miracle that Christmas day had indicated he would be. Oliver. Little boy of peace. He lived up to his name from the moment he lay, with a head shaped like a butternut squash, perfect in my arms.

But with such deep peace, it would transpire, came crippling shyness and uncertainty for this boy. Social situations were debilitating. I believed I had the only toddler in the world who was frightened to death of a playground.

We tried everything to make life seem a little less scary for Oliver.  We thought we were doing well, until the preschool teachers suggested he go into a Child Anxiety Program. We never got there.

He started school, knowing no one. He looked up that day, took a shallow breath and was the bravest person I’ve ever known. I cried: Not because I was losing a child but because I’d gained a stronger one.

But again, the school teachers suggested our little boy go back to that Program. Rather than fixing anxiety, the recommendation generated more. We said no thanks.

A few years later, as Oliver struggled along, special uncle Laurie passed away swiftly from a violent and hideous fight with cancer. We went to see him toward the end. He still found a slice of strength to talk farts with our kids, making them giggle, as always, before collapsing into bed with his morphine. Our children were quiet as we drive home from that visit in the Southern Highlands.

There are some who have completed their work in life earlier than others, and Laurie’s was certainly a life well lived. Once more my husband and I defied popular opinion and took our children to farewell their influential uncle. Oliver lead his siblings in sprinkling the coffin with roses and I could hear Laurie as their flowers flourished around him: “See? Don’t you listen to them, my darlings – you do what you want – anything you want”. It was a saying I’d heard many times over the course of my life. A saying Laurie breathed in and out everyday, with flamboyance and verve.

Oliver’s confidence and friendships began to grow with age. But then one by one, the friends drifted away to other schools and towns. At the start of this year, his little brother whispered, “Mum, Oliver sat by himself at lunch time today”. And then every day, and throughout the year.

As Christmas 2016 approached, Oliver asked about Laurie, three years in Heaven by now.  “Mum, can you tell me that story where uncle Loz didn’t go to the party, but walked around the corner and fixed up the poor kids’ house?”  It was the story which marked the beginning of the charity, Qantas Cabin Crew Team, for which Laurie received an OAM.

A few days later Oliver came home saying he had made a speech at school about an inspiring leader in history. I was thinking the teachers meant the likes of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai. Oliver had chosen Laurie.

It turned out that speech was to the Principal and a panel of the school’s senior teachers.

Later that week, that Principal chose our little boy of peace as a Primary School Leader.

“You really can do anything you want, my darling.”

wiseman-bright-star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hung Household

 

Not to be out done by our country’s not-so-Prime Minister, I find myself this week sitting constantly in a Hung Household. Also known as school holidays.

As the Speaker of the House it is my principal duty to preside over the House and maintain order in the House, uphold the rules of procedure, rule on points of order, and protect the rights of backbench members. Except sometimes this Speaker feels like a backbencher as well.

Kicking off the debate is the Karate Party – oldest boy child with some sort of testosterone surge going on. His policies revolve around the importance of all sport, sleep over’s and TV. He is also well known for his strict policy that all younger siblings being kind to one another – called his protection policy.  He gets a lot of votes from the Upper House (Mum and Dad) for this latter policy.

The Karate Party is sometimes in close alliance with the Always-Right Party (also his younger brother and second in line in the Lenehan Senate).  At other times the two parties are in complete opposition.  The Always-Right Party can swing the Speaker of the House with clever arguments and the odd tantrum.  But no matter how hard he tries, the Always-Right Party will never, not even a tiny amount, influence the policy of the party who sits next down the line to him in the Lenehan Senate….

…Which is the Sustainability Party. The only female on the floor, the Sustainability Party has to fight for her life for equality and a voice.  Aptly named, this Party can sustain a high pitch wail for much of the day and sustain a nagging argument for an entire week.  She can persuade one half of the Upper House (Dad) easily on her policies using these methods and a tiny twist of her little finger.  

Then we have the Shooting Party. It’s a simple policy for this last seat in the Lenehan Senate and three year-old boy: All older siblings, the Upper House and any visitors to Parliament must be shot with a Nerf gun. Great antagonist to the Sustainability Party’s main policy of wailing. Interrupts the Always-Right Party’s sense of what’s right in the world, and is always testing the patience of the Karate Party’s protection policy.  

The Lenehan Senate has been on a constant campaign trail this school holidays.  It’s a battle ground, with each vying for the Speakers attention, via methods of loud voicing of opinion and also by physical example. Such as this:  The Shooting Party wakes late, enters the TV room by stealth while all other parties are still, half-asleep, formulating their plan of attack for the day. Then, BOOM! he shoots them all dead. And it’s on. At 5.30am.  The Karate Party gets up to do what he does best, swinging and kicking and keeyah-ing all over the place. The Always-Right Party is trying to explain at 500 decibels that shooting people while they’re still half-asleep is taking unfair advantage, and the Sustainability Party has begun her day long sustained squeal.

hunghouseholdf

The Speaker rises to her feet.

No one notices.   

She raises the gavel.

No one notices.

She orders the Members to excuse themselves for one hour to their rooms.

No one notices.

She thinks about being history’s second only ever Speaker to permanently expel a Member from the House.

Instead she stages her own #Brexit.

 

 

Notice

Ah, holidays, they’re so good for the soul aren’t they?  Warmth in your bones, cocktails in your belly and pictures of your red toenails against a blue sea on your Facebook account.

Or not – as was the case for our most recent holiday.

Yes, we did have warmth – but only for a few hours in the middle of the days, for a couple of days.  We also had rain for much of a day, clouds, and the chill of early morning and evening which comes with mid-autumn. It was invigorating and restful weather.

No cocktails. (There was wine though – let’s not get too hippy here).

But we did have some chairs and a wee porch, which was situated upon – literally – the sand of an almost deserted beach.  One day, the kids played on the sand, watched a movie, played a board game, played some more on the sand, walked on the rocks and swam, and for about three hours my husband and I sat.  We have many kids, aged 3 to 10 (our fault).  Sitting was an activity we had to relearn.

My red toenail picture I took. IMG_1181However, sadly, and gladly, Facebook was nowhere near us.  Nor phone contact, nor email, nor ANYTHING!  Plenty of chip eating kangaroo’s, pretty finches and fisherman at dawn.  But I couldn’t tell anyone about them.

To begin with I found myself looking for things to do, with no quick fixes of social media enjoyment, or snooping into other people’s enjoyment,  available.  I found that actually, it doesn’t have to be quick fix, because in fact there is nothing quick at all about FaceAche (as my funny friend calls it). Once you’re in there it’s like quicksand – nothing quick about it and you’re not getting out any time soon.  I think I grabbed back hours – in fact I know it was at least three hours that one day on the balcony.

I began by filling the time with my book. Which I finished. Then I read another and I was all outta books.  Because anyone with a 3 year old knows there’s no such thing as finishing a book within the library’s designated 6 month return policy (what? It’s not 6 months?).  The kids didn’t need organised activities – they organised their own.  Yes, the 10 year old boy got a bit sick of being the “horsey” on the beach, but hey, that’s your job when you’re number 1.  They were safe and free.  Doesn’t happen often in the burbs nowadays.

Then I looked.  What I saw when my head was up and out into the open was clearest, magic-coloured water… my two big boys just sitting on a rock gazing, in companionable silence…IMG_1298 a national park of our quite amazing Australian trees swaying and framing the expanse of sky.  I saw dolphins, incredible colours on the rock shelves, and a stingray surfing with my kids (till it ran away from their squeals).  I saw fresh air.  Can you tell me what fresh air looks like? How it feels coursing through you when you’re still?

I saw my husband again. I saw that we need to switch off phones more often.  I saw how I see things when I stop.

Noticing. It’s important.

When we returned I heard of a tragic accident which resulted in the loss of a little boy, just like my own. I cried for them. I wondered if the parent was too busy, too pushed with too many things to do, and in that split second it happened. It could happen to me – I can feel it hovering too close to my heart.  I appreciated my opportunity to notice all the more.

Why not switch FaceAche off for a day and count the hours you grab back?  Look up.  Breathe out.  Listen carefully. Touch the hands of the ones you love.

Understand though, I am not suggesting you give up cocktails…