New York Stories

The first I heard about Hurricane Sandy was on the radio the other day, part of the 7.30 news update, sandwiched between something about a local politician and something about the Hobart Show. It stood out because it seemed so silly, like someone had inserted a movie promo in somewhere inappropriate and they’d forgotten to change the voices. The newsman said a Hurricane was About to Hit New York, and People were Advised to Evacuate. How do you evacuate a city of eight million people? I mean, where do they go? How does that even happen? What happens if these choose not to go? Would it be like New Orleans after Cyclone Katrina, with all those people living in sports stadiums for months? And then the Weird Thought came: This is New York. They’ve faced alien invasions (Independence Day) and giant apes on the Empire State Building (King Kong) and probably attacks by zombies and werewolves and giant purple bats and anything else that could come to mind, and hey, they’re okay! This is New York after all, the most famous city in the world.

I wonder: is that what the people there think as well? Is that why they stayed? No. I don’t believe that.

I kind of forgot about it, because life goes on in small-and-far-away places, and it was the weekend and we had things to do, but then I saw it again on Facebook: American friends expressing sympathy and fear, and I realized again that it WAS real, not a movie, and something I should care about. It sounds dumb. But New York for me is movies and pictures and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sesame Street Brownstone apartments and the Muppets Take Manhattan, and all those Yankee symbols that turn up in inappropriate places like advertising hair products in out-of-the-way hairdressers who like to pretend they’re hip and upmarket because they know what big cities are all about.

We so don’t know, down here in Hobart, what big cities are all about. I remember growing up in my little town and traveling down to Hobart once every few months, and feeling the need to dress up, coz I too was going to the “big city”.

New York is a dream. New York is pictures. New York is movies, and everything is okay in the end, because New York is Hollywood, and Hollywood always has happy endings.* And New York is BIG, so big that funny little things like weather shouldn’t be able to touch it, like it’s possibly even true, in a city of eight million people**, that sheer force of numbers should be able to control stuff like that, should be able to control God. It’d be nice to believe that, but I can’t.

New York City, according to my research, is approximately half the geographical area of Greater Hobart, and contains approximately half the population of my country. I shouldn’t be surprised that I can’t understand it, any more than I should be surprised that I can’t understand the way God works. Or, for that matter, the way weather works.

I’m glad to read this morning that most people are safe, and that the worst is nearly over (although my heart breaks for the families of the ones who are not, those who did not make it through), and I have to stop and remember to give thanks, and not just presume that everything was okay because I knew it would be, because it was New York, or Hollywood, or pictures, or stories.

One day I’ll go there. But even then I don’t think I’ll ever really understand.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

*Please don’t correct me on my geography. I’m talking METAPHORS here, not subway stations.

**I met one of them recently. Well, one who USED to be from there. His blog is really cool, and if you ask him nicely he may put up a whole lot more New York Stories. I hope so.


Why this girl from the Valley is not a Valley Girl

I was eleven when the voices started. They may have been around before, but it was eleven when I noticed them, although, more accurately, it was eleven when the voices noticed ME. I hadn’t changed, pretty much from the beginning. Same hair, too-thick and cut short, boy-short – not bobbed or even mullet or any other pretty girl-style. Same shoes that were too squat and laced, never buckled like girl’s shoes. Same boy’s shorts and boy’s track suits with stupid flared legs (with zips in the leg for extra flare, as if the teasing I already copped wasn’t enough for them), and the same grey boy’s jeans in winter, because they’re warm, because dresses aren’t practical. I don’t like practical. I like GIRL. I am one. I am.

The voices had faces, and the faces had bodies, and those bodies had hair that was always perfect and swooshed in the wind, and their jeans didn’t wobble on the ankles when they ran, and their fluorescent fold-down socks always matched their t-shirts and their jumpers, and the way their fringes curled at the top, and the way their shirt collars sat up and the bottoms hung down were always perfect, and always exactly right. They knew that, and they made sure I knew it too, in voices as cutting as they were breezy and off-the-cuff. It was only the malice in the eyes that gave away their real intent.

By the time I was twelve, and then thirteen and fourteen, and beyond, the faces and the bodies that housed them had moved on to other classrooms and other prey, and although the physical voices went with them they had trained me well enough to replicate them every day on my own. They didn’t need to be there to do it for me any longer, I could do it all by myself. “Oh Megan, did you get your hair cut again?” I’m saying it myself this time. Yes. Boy-short. Again. “Oh they’re nice new jeans Megan”. Yes. For a boy. “Oh, what a lovely t-shirt!” and pity about the absence of anything in the rest of the outfit that matches.

I tried so hard to fit in. I tried to find ways of altering the clothes I had, and tried hard to make something beautiful out of the things my mother brought home for me from the sales and the second hand shops and the discount bins, and from the things I bought with my own hard-saved money. At the end of the day though the voices were always stronger. They became my voice, and they knew and they told me the thing that I would never admit with my own voice: that I would never fit in, that no matter how hard I tried I was just Wrong.

Being wrong all the time is hard, and knowing that you’ll never, ever be right is harder still, so by the time I was sixteen I rebelled, and decided that if I was going to be wrong I’d do it on my own terms. My boy-short hair was finally long enough to put up in a ponytail, and I let it grow down almost till I could sit on it. I snubbed my nose at fashion stores and danced in hippie pants and old men’s shirts with the collars cut off, in army trousers with lacey edges and endless pairs of stripey stockings. I found funny hats and patchwork jackets and t-shirts with badges and strange slogans that meant nothing to anyone but me. I got my ears pierced and wore a cat in one side, and later I got my nose pierced and wore a frog in it. Because I could. Because there was nothing stopping me now, no voices, no eleven-year-old girls with eyes full of malice, no fashion, no fear.

That’s a lie, that last bit.

I WAS afraid. I wouldn’t walk through the fashion shops, I avoided the trendy areas. I steeled myself when I had to walk past trendy girls with perfect hair and make-up and clothes done just-so. I’d never walk into fashion stores, not ever, because the minute I did I was eleven years old again and there were the voices jamming me over the loud-speaker system in my mind: What are YOU doing here? You don’t fit. You are wrong. You are bad. You are ugly. You don’t deserve to walk in a place this pretty. Why don’t you just GO.

I fought those voices, one new t-shirt at a time. Every time I walked into a fashion outlet I forced myself to stay. I forced myself to move in, to the back of the store, to not be afraid, to try things, to buy things. It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable, but gradually, in the way things do, things are changing. This is a good thing.

This is a good thing, because in slightly over two weeks I’m going to be dragging my disheveled and jet-lagged self right into the heart of middle-class suburban Los Angeles, to my friends’ house in the Santa Clarita Valley.*

I love my friends. I can’t wait to see them again, it’s been far too long. I can’t wait to see where they live, and what they do, and what life is like for them now in the USA, so far from little ol’ Tassie where we first met. I should have picked up on this though a while ago, when I first read the post about my friend’s six year old daughter going to a kid’s party with the stylist who did all their hair and (probably) make-up. I should have thought it through. I should have realized when I first saw a photo of their house, that this was a Valley – even perhaps THE Valley. I hope they don’t carry poodles in their handbags.


It’s a bit late now though. I’m going. And honestly, it’s time to root those voices out once and for all, to embrace my inner Valley Girl (hang, on, do I even HAVE one?) and get a mani-pedi (WHAT!!???) and a great haircut (HUH???) and boldy go where no Megan has gone before. Because, as they say in the Valley, “Whatever”.

And as to those eleven-year-old voices? I’ll put on my very best Valley Girl voice and put up my newly polished nails and say “Talk to the HAND, because the face IS NOT LISTENING!”

Legally Blonde 2

*I wrote a post very early on in my blogging life, called “Hey, where did all the perfect people go?” I can answer that really well now: they went to Los Angeles.


The Day God Fixed the Football

Yes. This is a true story. It comes with an apology to anyone who was heartbroken by Carlton’s loss to Essendon in the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Although strictly speaking it wasn’t really my fault – Gill Briggs had something to do with it as well.

Carlton Football Club

Suicide is a lie. I know that now, but there was a time, like there is for so many of us, when it felt like not just the best option, but the only option. I was nineteen. Stuff had gone wrong. Stuff had gone very wrong for a lot of years, but nineteen was the year that the weight of all that wrongness rested on me baldly for the first time, like some enormous grey and hoary bird that had hovered since childhood and suddenly came to roost on my shoulder. You know what it’s like.

Suicide is a lie, but when you’re nineteen no-just-turned-twenty, when you’re forced to leave behind the only thing you’ve ever wanted, when you’re facing a future uncertain of anything but the pain and the hopelessness you now have to carry, the idea of Out compared to another 60 years of nothing, seems pretty sweet. Each day went on through that year, and each day was bad. And then it was September.

Now, if you’re not Australian you may not know what September really means, and if you’re not from one of the southern states in Australia you may not have that same visceral reaction that I do when people talk about the Carlton Football Team. And if you didn’t live already through the 1986 Grand Final, where the Hawthorn whipped the pants off of Carlton and we all screamed and dressed in brown and gold to celebrate, and if you didn’t live through the 1987 Grand Final where we battled it out again and lost to those awful Blues, and if you didn’t watch Hawthorn win the 1988 final, or 1989 or ’91 and all the Hawthorn-Carlton games in between, if you weren’t there you might not get how we knew because we knew that no matter what awful things happened to us in life Hawthorn were Kings, and, equally, strongly, we knew because we knew that Stinking Carlton deserved all the filth we could heap on them That’s just How It Was.

So in 1993, the year that weighted bird of years of pain came to rest on my shoulders there two things in life left that I knew for certain: There was a God in Heaven, and I hated the Carlton Football Club.

It wasn’t a Hawthorn final that year, so I wouldn’t have bothered watching the game at all if it wasn’t for the fact that I was away at a Youth camp that weekend, and that was what everyone was doing. I’d brought my sketch pad and some pencils and had planned on doing some drawing to fill in time until dinner. I didn’t know it was a Carlton game, and I didn’t know how awful that would make me feel, the idea that by the end of the day that giant weighted bird I carried might well be wearing a Carlton Premiers jumper.

I’m nothing if not honest, and in 1993 honest was all I knew how to be. So when I said that thing to God that I did that day I meant it. It was my one true prayer of help from a lost and desperately hurting soul.

I told God, very quietly, maybe even in my head, that if Carlton won the Grand Final that day I was going to kill myself. Maybe not that day, maybe not even that week, but that would be my exit light. That would be all the excuse I needed to one day walk off into the never-never and stay there until the hurt went away. I didn’t even care if God heard me. Nothing mattered any more that day but my pain and my hatred of the Carlton Football Club. Nothing mattered pretty soon except that game.

The game was against Essendon, and Essendon kicked the first goal. I didn’t take much notice. They kicked the second as well, and then the third, so by the time Carlton got possession of the ball the score was Essendon all the way, and still Carlton could only manage a behind for a measly point, and then it was a goal to Essendon again. Not too far into the first quarter Essendon had tripled Carlton’s score, and it stayed that way for the second as well. There would be no catching up, that much was obvious. Whatever happened for them out there on the field that day, the Carlton Football Club had somehow forgotten how to play.

I don’t need to tell you that Essendon won by a mile, that the end was a given even at the beginning. I don’t need to tell you that the last quarter of the game was so boring, so one-sided that most of the others left the room to go do something more interesting. I don’t need to tell you that I watched that game to the very end, the very final siren and then some, right through the medal presentation, right through to where the captain and coach of Essendon hoisted that cup high with a mighty cheer of victory.

I will tell you though that I saw the face of God that day, the wordless expression of love, of care, of I Heard You Megan and YOU WILL STAY.

I don’t know why that game. I don’t know why me. Why I was saved, and so many precious little ones aren’t found in time, or don’t have their “fleeces” answered; maybe because I was silly enough to be honest with the Creator of football and of football fields.*

There won’t ever be answers to that, and perhaps “why” is the wrong question.

Truth is I’ll never forget the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Truth is I will tell stories, hard ones and ugly ones and made-up ones and true, because one day one of my stories just might be the Game That Carlton Lost, for someone. One day my story just might remind someone else that life, painful though it is, is worth the living.

*Two years later, 1995, was a Carlton Grand Final as well. I told God again, in the manner of small children who like to test out their parents, that if Carlton won I’d kill myself. He laughed at me. It was a massive Carlton victory, but I didn’t care much more than to kick the door and have a cup of tea. I’d already had my answer.



The greatest of all is…

My youngest kid has a new habit. He’s taken to talking to people randomly – oh okay, that’s not news. The kid is only three, he’s already declared his undying affection for Susie Finkbeiner (actually he wants to marry her. Pity she’s already taken. Pity also that, if he did, all his new step-children would be older than he is. And he’s never met her. And he thinks she lives on a cloud because I’m going to visit her on an aeroplane). He also once threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t let him invite a middle-aged American novelist to his birthday party (“but MUMMY, she’s my FRIEND!”) so I’m fairly used to chatting with strangers because of him. However, he’s started a new twist on the whole everyone-is-my-friend thing: he’s started declaring his love for people publicly.

It’s very cute. He’s an adorable little fella and I think he knows it already, and he fixes you with those blue eyes and gazes up at you and his eyes crinkle up and he says “I love you Mummy!” and he means it. You can’t help but melt a little, and I think he feels that, truly feels the love that emanates in those moments. I think that’s why, the feeling of that love, that he keeps doing it. He does it to me, he does it to Daddy, he does it to Grandma and to Gran, and probably to his day carer as well. The day he said it to our next door neighbour was a bit weirder. Yes, we love her too, she’s a lovely lady and a great neighbour but we don’t go round…you know…talking about it.

But she melted when this little blond boy from over the fence squeezed her round the legs and said “I love you Aussie” (yeah her name’s Aussie. Because. No, not Ozzie, although she does have dark hair and is about the right age. As far as I know she doesn’t eat bats). She melted. Everybody does.

It made me think a lot about our culture. Australians, for the most part, are a stoic bunch. I know that this isn’t universal, that there are cultures where people profess their love for one another with alarming regularity, and cultures where men walk arm in arm along the road just because they’re friends, but we’re not like that. We’re “educated”, mores the pity. We’re taught to keep our feelings in, and sometimes – even worse – we’re taught that withholding love is an appropriate response to not liking someone’s behaviour, we’re taught that withholding love is okay unless we’re truly emotionally connected, or unless they treat us in exactly the right way.

My youngest is a smart kid. I want him to get a great education. But I want to completely UNeducate him in all of these things. He’s got it right already. There aren’t that many commandments in the second half of the Bible. On the whole it’s the same one repeated in endless ways: Love people. Love people. Love people. Love people. Not because we feel it about them. Not because they once gave us a favourite CD or an awesome pair of shoes. Not “because” anything. Just because.

Challenging, isn’t it? Here’s another challenge for you today: go tell someone you love them. Go on. My kid can. I dare you!

The circle of life



“Son, we eat the antelope…”

And thus begins Mufasa’s soliloquy to Simba on the nature of life in the African Savannah, and why it’s okay to eat animals that worship the ground you walk on, because you’re the Lion King…or something like that. It’s been a while since I watched it, although the fact that the soundtrack has been recently discovered by the children and is now on high rotation (or, more accurately, the only thing they want to listen to) in the car has made me think about it again. It makes me think a lot, on my drives to the supermarket or to after-school lessons, or anywhere really, about why Americans still cast English actors as villains all the time, and why Mufasa obviously grew up in an American school on the African Savannah, whereas his younger brother Scar seems to have gone to an English boarding school (maybe that explains why he’s so peeved). I didn’t know there were English boarding schools in the African Savannah. Perhaps he was forced to move to England. Hmmmm. Now I’m imagining a sulky cartoon lion skulking around the halls of Eton College. Any English people noticed any cartoon characters moping around recently? Watch out, they’ll be dangerous. As is, apparently, anyone with a British accent in the US. They’re a villain, you can tell by the voice. Best to get rid of them now before…


No, just wait up for a bit, okay? This brings me back to the thing that the Lion King makes me think about, and that is why it’s okay to eat the antelope when they worship the ground you walk on, just because you’re the King. I’m not a vegetarian (and the fact that I’m bad with nuts and dairy means I’m not going to turn vegetarian any time soon), but…I don’t like killing things. I don’t like killing animals, and I certainly don’t agree with the idea (which idiot suggested it?!! Oh, that was me) that Americans should get rid of all people with British accents because they’ll probably be villains. Sometimes people think I have a British accent – even other Australians. I’m about to go to the US, where it’s apparently likely that every second person will mistake me for a Brit. I’ll just have to make extra sure I don’t go out with a black outline around me so nobody thinks I’m a cartoon character (aaaaaand back to the point).

The point is this: I believe we all have a right to life, that life is sacred, precious, valuable. I do believe that life was given to us by our Creator, and that we are blessed to have it, and we need to respect it. We can’t restore life, or create it, and therefore we should treat the taking of life with some gravity.

And here’s the only problem I have with this: I eat animals. Every night. For dinner. I don’t like stomping on spiders (although I do if they invade my territory), and I hate to see animals mistreated, although I do squash ants and put the cat in front of any mouse that dare enter my kitchen. I represent the paradox of modern living and thought.*

So this is my point: sometimes what we believe doesn’t line up with our actions, and vice versa. Often we believe stuff just because we always have, and often we do stuff just because we always have. It’s so easy to forget that we’re grown-ups now, and we can spring-clean our minds from all kinds of fears and beliefs and judgements and yellowed pictures sticky-taped on the walls of our minds.  

And it’s okay. Like I said, much as I value the sanctity of life I’m still in no hurry to become a vegetarian. I am, however, working on a few other, more personal examples of the paradox. You know, stuff more along the lines of “that person has a British accent and is therefore a villain”. Dumb stuff. Stuff that’s stuck. Sometimes you know it’s just time for a change.

Know what I mean? Ever found yourself believing stuff, or prejudiced about people because of a once-upon-a-time? I’m ripping a few old pictures off the mental walls. Care to join me?


*I eat cheese mites too. So do you if you eat cheese (although possibly not plastic cheese, and most definitely not that weird American squeezy stuff). Oh I’m mad at the person who first told me about cheese mites! Grrrrr.


The colours of life

Once upon a time (yes, it’s story time, folks!) there lived a small girl with short, fuzzy hair and dreams that were bigger than she was. She wasn’t quite old enough for Kindergarten, and in the mornings she’d watch Sesame Street after her weetbix and then go outside to play for half an hour while the test pattern was on the telly, and her Mum would call her in again when it was time for Play School. She liked to play outside. She liked to swing, and to run, and to find the cat to give it a pat, and to climb up into the lowest branches of the crab apple tree.

What she didn’t like though, was Brown. Brown was a boy’s colour, like blue, and dark bottle green, and tan and boots and corduroy and mustard yellow. Everybody knew that. Everybody knew that girls wore dresses and stockings and shiny party shoes and had hair that swooshed in the wind when you swung.

The little girl swung as high as she could on the swing, kicking her boots up to the boy-blue sky up and over the dark bottle green and brown of the crab apple tree, and down to swoosh the grass and up again. Her hair was fuzzy-short though, and never once swooshed in the wind, no matter how hard it blew, and so, when her Mum called, she’d run in off the swing and wipe her boots on the mat and go inside to watch Play School.

You know, a funny thing happens when we grow up: we somehow keep the little children that we were living inside of us. We pop them in their bedrooms and shut the door and make sure they’re comfortable and have some TV or a good book to read, but they don’t actually GO. And sometimes, whether we like it or not (and most often we do not) we discover that they’ve wadded up the bedclothes with pillows to make it look like they’re sleeping, and then they’ve crept silently out the door and moved into the driving seat of our minds, and it’s THEM, these little children inside us, that’s making decisions for us, feeling our feelings for us and reacting to things around us.

Excuse me, does this suck? Why yes, I think it does! Who, may I ask, gave a four year old girl permission to run the life of an adult woman? Since when was that a good idea?

I don’t remember exactly when I realized it. I remember being newly married in my early twenties and walking on the beach with my husband and ranting as only twenty-somethings can about how much I hated fluorescent pink, how it was the most ridiculous colour in the world and how you’d never find such a stupid colour in nature, and why I always wore colours of nature, like brown and tan and sky blue and dark bottle green. I ranted on that beach for some time, kicking the sand and walking to the dunes and enjoying nothing more than the sound of the waves and my own opinions, until I kicked up some strange sea debris: some fluorescent pink seaweed. I hastily repented to the seaweed’s creator and stood on the hot sand, corrected.

That was the beginning. It took a while though still, to realize that there was still a four-year-old girl directing my colour preferences. A four year old girl who had learned that, even though she was a girl, she would never be a pink dress and party shoe and swooshy-hair kind of girl, not because she didn’t want to be but because she wasn’t allowed to be. Because other people had made choices for her, and those choices were brown and blue and boots and tan and dark bottle green, and trousers.

There were probably reasons, back in the 70s, for those choices and in the minds of the parents who made them, although I suspect that the parents who made those choices were being controlled by their own four-year-olds inside them, and maybe those four-year-olds had once even longed for swooshy hair and party dresses and were never allowed them either.

I remember the day it happened. I was twenty seven years old, and I saw a hot-pink hoodie in a shop and felt sad because I couldn’t have it, because that wasn’t a colour I was ever allowed to wear. All of a sudden it happened though. I realized that I was the grown-up now. I stood there in the shop and found that little four-year-old girl in the driving seat of my mind and took her hand, and together we bought that thing, scared though she was. And then I told her that I was in charge of making the decisions now, because I was an adult, and she skipped back to her bedroom in peace.

I have a cupboard full of dresses now. Some of them are party dresses, and they go well with my swooshy (although still fuzzy) hair. And one of them, the special one that I will never part with even though wearing it with my post-baby body makes me look like a toilet-roll doll (remember those?), is frilly and luridly fluorescent pink.

How about you? Ever noticed that there’s a four-year-old inside making decisions for you? Scary, isn’t it. Have you ever busted out and bought the hot-pink hoodie you never thought you were able to have? If you haven’t, I hope you do it soon. It’s painful – trust me on that one, it’s gonna hurt – but it’s the most freeing thing you can ever do. Enjoy.

All you need is love

Well, Monday’s post on guilt and parenting certainly struck a chord with people. We are not alone. Thank you to all who took the time to leave a comment or talk to me on Facebook or in person about it. It’s been a valuable discussion. Actually, it’s been a very profound discussion in some ways.

Last night I read a comment from Pat Bailey, and I hope she doesn’t mind but I’m going to quote it here: “What is funny is that all the guilt I carried around for YEARS about things done or not done – things that I knew scared my children for life and I would burn in hell for. Those were the things that my children didn’t remember, just gave me the “you got to be s##### me” look. Then they told me the things that I did that really hurt them, wounded them and I thought “you got to be s#### me.” So I guess I carried the wrong guilt around all those years which means I should have just given it up and let them lay the guilt on when they were ready. That guilt didn’t seem like a burden because I said I was really sorry, they said no big deal, and life goes on…”

I found that so profound that I copied it onto Facebook, and Debbie left me this response: “Megan, my mother shared with us at my dad’s funeral that he always regretted the time he overreacted to a ‘potty’ word from one of us when we were little. My sisters and I looked at each other and said, “It wasn’t me, it must have been you.” None of us remembered it. I think guilt gets worse when you age, unless of course, you can let it go.”

AND THEN…(it just gets better, folks), my friend Lisa left this comment on the blog too: “…Interestingly one of my colleagues, who is a child psychologist of many years experience,  told me recently that she read that children need a good parent for around 30% of the time and as long as the other 70% or so is not abusive or destructive they will be fine…”

For me this is hugely profound, and incredibly freeing.

Just yesterday I realised something about myself and the way I thought. I’ve been battling through a mindset shift for the better part of two years, some real foundational thinking that I got wrong many years ago. It was, of all things, a novel that showed me that I’d been wrong for all these years (and locking myself away and suffering in silence because of it), and the journey of accepting the truth has been as difficult and painful as it has been freeing and beautiful. Paradigm shifts are like that. But just yesterday I saw in my mind for the first time exactly when that thought had come in, the words that were used, the conversation, the chairs, the room, the clothes my friend was wearing. Sometimes memories are weird like that. He was wrong. I know that now. But he was also seventeen, and seventeen-year-olds are kind of known for not being altogether accurate on big theological or philosophical matters. It’s not his fault that my thinking about myself and the way I did life with people was skewed. I was in a vulnerable place at the time, and I’d pressured him for answers bigger than he could give. Then hot on the heels of that thought was another one, also from when I was seventeen, and this time it was ME handing out judgemental idealism with a good dose of heavy-handedness (ouch. Oh I’m glad to be not seventeen any more). There were probably more incidences as well…but that’s the one I remember. Ouch. Remembering that so close to the revelation of how big an impact my friend’s words had had on me was…confronting.

I wanted immediately to go write to her and apologise, hoping that her life and understanding of self hadn’t been limited by my rash words all those years ago. I didn’t. Maybe she’s forgotten. Maybe she hasn’t. Maybe I need to. In the end I prayed for forgiveness for myself, and asked God to release her from any baggage my stupid words had left her with.

And then this morning I read the comments I posted above. It’s the full circle. We all stuff up, pretty much all the time, somewhere. And, of all the responses, guilt is the least productive. There’s a bit in the bible that says “love covers over a multitude of sins”, which is kind of what Lisa’s child psychologist friend is saying too – so long as those sins aren’t abusive or destructive – we are doing okay.

So. Go love somebody today. Go shout your friend their coffee. Hug your kids. Say yes. Forgive yourself. Forgive someone else. Love yourself.

Go on, you deserve it.

Results May Vary

When you become a parent, those precious seconds after they thrust that mewling wet creature with tight-shut eyes and flailing hands against your chest, they don’t tell you that you’re probably going to feel guilty at least once a day from here on in. They don’t tell you that as a health-warning on pregnancy test kits either – and maybe they should. Like cigarette packets that carry those enormous pictures of cancerous lungs, I can just imagine pregnancy test-kits coming with a picture of some perfect child from some perfect TV commercial and big letters saying DISCLAIMER: RESULTS MAY VARY.

I had coffee with a friend last Tuesday, and we talked about our kids – as mothers do – and she told me she was feeling guilty. Actually it was worse than that, much worse: she’d been MADE to feel guilty. Now come on people, mothers don’t need any help along at all in that area, and it was another woman to boot that had done it, which just smacks of Treason, and nothing less. I felt angry for her, and sad, because she’s a great Mum, and doing a fantastic job, and all that great-and-fantastic-ness inside her had been overshadowed by the guilt that somebody else had cloaked her with. And then on Wednesday I had lunch with another friend, another Mum who is doing far and above more than many of us have to, thrown into these things by life and circumstance and doing an amazing job to boot, and SHE feels guilty too. I won’t tell you about my Friday friend, because by now you might be sensing a pattern, and I shouldn’t mention my Saturday friend really, because…well, you get the point.

Most of the time we don’t talk about it. Most of the time we are proud of our kids, and we’re proud of ourselves for doing an okay-enough job, because really only we know what baggage we’re carrying, and under what circumstances we labour. And most of the time we share our positive stories: my three-year-old can write her name. My six-year-old can tie his shoes. My eleven-year-old is some kind of mathematical genius and can speak seventeen languages including Klingon*. Sometimes we leave out the bits we’re not proud of – my eight-year-old chews his toenails every night while watching TV, my ten-year-old wets the bed. **

I’d love to know whether this guilt is a 21st Century phenomenon. Did our parents or our grandparents struggle with how well their children did at school/learned to read/cleaned their teeth/toilet trained? Is guilt perhaps an airborne emotion released by small children? Perhaps if they didn’t breathe over us or wipe their snotty faces over us so much we’d find ourselves with stronger immune responses to such strange and feelings. Guilt, apparently, is some kind of by-product of love. This is not right, but it appears to be true. We can fight against it, but I think the best thing we can do is love one another through it.

If you are a parent reading this, here’s a bit of truth: whether I know you or not I’m SURE you are doing an awesome job. Give yourself a pat on the back today. I’m equally sure you deserve it.

And here’s one thing for sure: I’m not going to make the mistakes my parents made in parenting me. Nosiree. No way. The mistakes I make with my own children I’m going to invent all by myself!

And that, my friends, is parenting.


*These are not my children. I’m not sure whose they are, but they turned up in my imagination. If anyone would like to claim them please go to the Lost Property department. Turn left at the shoe cupboard and then take your first right.

**Also not my children. I am not claiming any toenail-chewers thank you very much. I will remain in denial.

The home of the prophet

Here’s another pattern I’ve noticed: sometimes what’s happening in the physical world is an awfully good illustration of what’s happening internally.

It’s not just me, this time. I know this. The Bible has a few such noteworthy examples, and I’m so sorry I can’t provide the exact scriptural references for the dude in the Old Testament that God told to sleep with a prostitute and then cut her up (yes, I said Cut Her Up) into twelve pieces and send a piece of her to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Ouch. This is what they did before Facebook.

Or get this, from Ezekiel Chapter 4 in the Old Testament. Yes, this is the bible. No, it doesn’t get much weirder than this:

The Lord said: Ezekiel, son of man, find a brick and sketch a picture of Jerusalem on it. Then prepare to attack the brick as if it were a real city. Build a dirt mound and a ramp up to the top and surround the brick with enemy camps. On every side put large wooden poles as though you were going to break down the gate to the city. Set up an iron pan like a wall between you and the brick. All this will be a warning for the people of Israel. After that, lie down on your left side and stay there for three hundred ninety days as a sign of Israel’s punishment[a]—one day for each year of its suffering. Then turn over and lie on your right side forty more days. That will be a sign of Judah’s punishment—one day for each year of its suffering. The brick stands for Jerusalem, so attack it! Stare at it and shout angry warnings. I will tie you up, so you can’t leave until your attack has ended. Get a large bowl. Then mix together wheat, barley, beans, lentils, and millet, and make some bread. This is what you will eat for the three hundred ninety days you are lying down. 10 Eat only a small loaf of bread each day 11 and drink only two large cups of water. 12 Use dried human waste to start a fire, then bake the bread on the coals where everyone can watch you. 13 When I scatter the people of Israel among the nations, they will also have to eat food that is unclean, just as you must do.I said, “Lord God, please don’t make me do that! Never in my life have I eaten food that would make me unacceptable to you. I’ve never eaten anything that died a natural death or was killed by a wild animal or that you said was unclean.” The Lord replied, “Instead of human waste, I will let you bake your bread on a fire made from cow manure. 16 Ezekiel, the people of Jerusalem will starve. They will have so little food and water that they will be afraid and hopeless. 17 Everyone will be shocked at what is happening, and, because of their sins, they will die a slow death.” Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Sometimes we do stuff because we just feel it in our gut that it’s the right thing to do, and we don’t know why, but it is. Sometimes we step out, with little more to go on than “I just felt it was the right thing to do”, and sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years, to fully understand the ramifications of our actions, or the good that came of them. And sometimes our guts are wrong. Sometimes we just put too much pizza in them, and the things they tell us are nothing more than “I don’t like anchovies”.

And sometimes – sometimes – the things that happen when we’re trusting our gut feel so wrong, feel like nothing-more-than-anchovies, but in reality they’re deep works that we can’t quite see the ends of just yet. And sometimes, when we’re leaning towards the pizza answer rather than the faith, sometimes then we see something, like God shows us something from the real world that shouts its confirmation at us, and suddenly we get it, like those people in the Bible got it when they saw old Ezekiel lying on his side in the dirt cooking muffins on poo.

Over the last few months my soul has been dug up and dug over and the deepest wiring exposed, and some rewiring going on. I can’t say it’s been pleasant, and sometimes it’s easy to think that it’s so hard because I’ve done something wrong. Then you see this:

My fence and my garden have done no wrong. My neighbour has done no evil thing, or hidden a body underneath her driveway. None of this, strictly speaking, needed to happen, but it is a Good Thing. It means our space is enlarging, and her bank account is being filled, and all it means is we’ve all got to keep our eyes on the goal, and the end result, not worry too much about the mess, and know that it’s worth it in the end.

Trust your gut. Step out in faith. Do something crazy. And know, when you’re in the middle of it all and it hurts like hell and there’s mud from one end of you to the other, that that funny little coincidence you’re shaking your head over just might be the confirmation of faith you need to see the journey through.

The Final Countdown


Do you find countdowns a suck? I do.

The wild abandon and excitement of 71 has whittled down to a slim 35 with a deathly pallor. There’s no going back now, and each day when I get up the number on my phone is slightly smaller.

I am going overseas for the first time. By myself. Leaving my family alone for two weeks.

35. That’s five weeks, or thereabouts. Two fortnights and a bit more. Two more grocery days for me to sequester all those essential goodies at the back of the pantry, because you-never-know. Only one more work cycle before the one I need to start training up my replacement, and making sure he knows all the stuff I keep in my head and don’t even notice that I think about.

I need to write lists. 35 days is definitely the time that lists should be written, although perhaps a brain transplant would be much easier. I never thought before about how much I know, or how valuable that knowledge is to people who may not have it. It makes me feel…valuable. Lunches. What to make. How to make them. Who’s going to complain. What to tell them. Make sure to do the washing. How to peg the socks. (Where to find the socks). What the kids should eat. What the kids shouldn’t eat. What the kids will tell you they want to eat and is actually sequestered at the back of the pantry but shouldn’t be eaten in combination with certain other things.

When to go to swimming lessons. Where to go to violin lessons. How to pack for singing lessons (scooters are a must, although no longer essential for violin). Where the kids are. How much it costs to put them there. Wash. How to peg socks. Wash. Wash kids. Make sure they wash their hair, because they’ll tell you they don’t need to. Lunches. Wash. Peg socks.

I don’t do that much. Not really. (Wash. Clean floor. Wash floor. Peg socks. Fold washing. Lunch.) I’m a stay-at-home Mum with a little part-time-job (oh it’s a work-week. Pack boxes. Report data to boss in Sydney. Take a trip to the recycling centre. Wash. Peg socks) and some days my worst problems are I’m lonely and spending too much time on Facebook, or there are no clean socks. Governments don’t rise and fall on my say-so. The world will not end if I shuffled off to the USA (in 35 measly days), and life will indeed continue, close up around my absence and heal in the space of a trip to MacDonalds for breakfast, and maybe a few tears at bedtime.

But…and here’s the thing…knowing that I’m going, knowing that I need to write lists, and find the time to record this knowledge, knowing that things will go so much more smoothly if I can and do record this stuff in my head, that makes the stuff in my head feel valuable after all. It makes ME feel valuable. Not a world-changer, perhaps, but a sock-washer and people-motivator, an organizer of things that need to be organized.

I never thought I was good at that stuff. Not, that is, until now. I’ve always compared myself to people who seem to do it better, with greater ease, and I’ve somehow forgotten that my own contribution is not only just as good but, to my little family, crucial.

35 days. Tomorrow it will be 34, and on Saturday, 32. I must get onto those lists.

How about you? Have there been things in your life that you hadn’t realized their value until you lost them? Or things you never believed you were good at until you realized that some people are really, really bad at them? I hope you see yourself as valuable today. You deserve to, my friend.