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The advent of a new advent

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I grew up with Advent as a central part of my family’s Christmas. It was part of our cultural heritage and my memories of it centre on the four, weekly sessions of sitting around the advent wreath, Christmas music playing, dreamily burning little sprigs of pine on the available candle light so that the sweet smell of popping pine needles filled the house and we had to replenish our wreath for the next Sunday session. It was intoxicating. My sister and I also had the advent calendar with its little treats each day – a chocolate, a bouncy ball, a matchbox car (back when they still actually fitted into matchboxes; before the cars got big and the matchboxes got small).

I like traditions. I think they are an important part of remembering who you are, but in my attempts to continue the European flavour with my own children, I have come to an impasse. Each year for the past three or four, I have tried a different strategy – one countdown that we all share, one little treat for each person each day, a ritualised slow-reveal of a Christmas image – but each one has failed. Dismally. This year I decided to “downgrade” and went for the Aldi chocolate calendar for each child (so they each had something to count down on) and one carefully chosen Christmas book that we could share each day, to give us the quiet together time thinking about the nice Christmas messages that I hope I can reinforce for my children (I don’t think they are ready to burn pine responsibly yet). But even this has descended into a constant nagging about “when can I have my chocolate?”, “why can’t I have two?”, “How come his chocolate is bigger than mine?”, “I want to choose the book!”, “It’s my book!”, bla, bla, bla… The paper covering the books is wrapped in is ripped and thrown on the floor, the books are snatched, the quiet reading time is filled with cries of “get off my feet!”, “I’m getting squashed!”, “I can’t seeeeeeee!”, and invariably it ends with the book being tossed aside in preference for chasing each other with imaginary swords. It leaves me with the distinct feeling that their building expectation has little to do with the impending birth of Christ and a sense of reverence, and more to do with the impending day of “getting stuff” and a sense of entitlement.

In dismay, I asked myself this morning, what I am trying to teach my children about this time of year. And it occurred to me that they are learning three things with the advent tradition as it currently stands: 1) To be forever looking ahead at what tomorrow will bring; 2) That you get stuff for no real reason and with no real effort; 3) That Christmas is about the accumulation of stuff, preferably bigger and better than the stuff your siblings get. Perhaps it is just that my children are too small to be able to put the countdown into perspective, but I fear that if I allow these misconceptions to continue that they will never be able to.

And so, next year I will try a new approach – my fifth and final attempt. Should it too, fail, the tradition of counting down to Christmas will die and I will officially become as much of a Christmas Grinch as I am a Halloween Grinch.

Next year I will go back to the four Sundays before Christmas and frame them as a time to “prepare” for a celebration of giving and sharing. Sunday 1 will be dedicated to putting up the tree and getting out the dusty old carols to hum along to. Sunday 2 will be about preparing lists of gifts to give to family and planning Christmas craft projects for the weeks ahead. Sunday 3 will be dedicated to clearing out toys and selecting items to give to those less fortunate. And Sunday 4 will be about wrapping gifts, making cards, baking treats to share with neighbours. And all the while, I will be avoiding all shopping centres, Santa photos, catalogues and the like, while reminding them that I love and honour the Christ within each of their precious little hearts, and that I hope, with my love, that their light might grow to fill the world with joy… not just stuff.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sing a song of desperation…

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A child who sings is a happy child. I get it.

A singing child is a happy sound. I get it.

But there comes a time when singing is neither necessary, nor appropriate nor, God help me, bearable any longer! There comes a time when the sound is no longer of happiness but of a droning, whining, screeching machine that quite obviously needs to be doused in oil or put out of its misery. And, ashamed as I am to admit it, that time comes at least eight times a day. In fact my day often starts with one of those times and the silence that embraces me at the end of the day when the singer has finally passed out is like heroin.

So I am begging for help here – how can I make my little girl stop singing? Not all together. I don’t mean I never want her to utter another sound. That would be just plain wrong. But how can I get her to stop narrating her entire existence in dubious attempts to reach angelic heights and harmonies? Seriously, it’s an ever-present narration of events both real and imagined… a Broadway musical contains more spoken words!

I have tried: “Darling, Mummy’s ears are tired. It’s time for some quiet now.”

But I’m met with: “That’s alright, I can sing them a lullaby!”

Dear God NOOOOOOOO!

So I try: “I think it’s time for the birds to sing now. Let them have a turn.”

And the reply: “They are singing, Mummy. I’m singing with them.”

Game Set Match

I’ve gone down the path of: “Can I hear what your talking voice sounds like?”

She’s on to me: “But singing is so beautifuuuuuuuulllll.”

Not right nooooooowwwww it’s not!

 

So you get the general gist. I’m running out of ideas. She’s even figured out that if there is silence in the court and “the first one to talk is the monkey”, then she has a free pass to sing. I’m rapidly approaching strategies that are likely to kill every fibre of creative expression in her little 4-year-old being and I’d like some alternatives before I fall into “JUST SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!!”. Or worse: my sarcasm and snide tongue might emerge and then no eye will stay dry.

 

Please help me tame this beast. Show me how I can teach it that a mouthful of spaghetti is not the time to break into an aria; that when the baby is asleep, yodelling will be met with distain; and that when it is time to get in the bloody car because we are already late, I will not join in with a rendition of your impromptu version of a meal-time prayer. Sometimes we all just need SILENCE!

 

2 years in a nutshell

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The writing Bug has bitten me again. Hard.

Actually, truth be told, I never got rid of the Bug, I just tried to turn it into something else. But as I have learned over the last two years, you can try on a whole lot of outfits and at the end of the wardrobe, you will be what you are which is what you always have been. Embracing it is, by far, the hardest easiest road.

So here I am… all Bugged up with nowhere to go…

I still don’t have the great swathes of time that the Bug demands, so, in precisely the same way as my children, my husband, my dog, my garden, my all-together-too-many-projects and my own-little-self do, IT WILL JUST HAVE TO GET USED TO IT! This is life at present – it is a long endless interminable challenging phase and Bug will have to ride it out with the little morsels of attention I can afford it.

The two years since my last confession has included:
1) Some hard-core grappling with and healing from childhood trauma – big and exceptionally challenging.
2) Another baby – the Huge One aka The Boss.
3) Swimming “coaching” without the “coaching” but working one-on-one with some fab young people and, naturally, facing A LOT of my own baggage from that part of my past!
4) Life in the Zone – a program designed to engage, equip and empower young people to make healthy choices for their future – writing, refining and facilitating it in high schools around the place.
5) Embarking on iDAPT programs – a similar gig to LITZ but with wider applications – written by one of the most extraordinary women I know and the woman who saved my life during #1.
6) And all the other stuff – school, garden, book club, charity initiatives, tutoring, and dreaming about writing.

Oh yeah, and raising a family… and starting a Psychology degree… And resurrecting my picture book manuscript that now has an EXTRAORDINARY illustrator on board… I think that’s it… Shit… Where’s my diary?

In a nutshell, it’s great to be back.

Now, for the opinionated stuff…

Stay tuned.

Nx

People are animals too

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Cows have been getting a lot of press lately. Specifically, animals that are being exported live to places where standards of slaughter are brutal at best. The ghastly images from 4 Corners are all over the papers, they’re pouring into my inbox and they make me sick. No creature should have to endure that kind of torture and I wholeheartedly support any legislation that will offer some kind of protection to animals that are helpless in the face of such human brutality.

But this week’s outcry against the barbaric treatment of animals has had me feeling… I don’t know, kind of frustrated. I’m not frustrated at my own powerlessness or at the fact that such inhumane practices still exist (and flourish) in other parts of the world, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was making me so uneasy until today.

You see, after Monday night’s 4 Corners story, I was stewing over the graphic images of those pitiful doe-eyed creatures with their velvety noses and big floppy ears being tortured in blood-smeared rooms when I checked my email for the four-hundredth time in a week. I was looking for a response to an email I had sent to the director of the Every Australian Counts campaign for an NDIS some 12 days previously.

Having had a bit of experience in promoting stuff, doing events, yadda-yadda, and having had some (if I do say so myself) pretty kick-arse ideas and strategies for getting maximum bang for minimum buck to spread the word to millions, I decided to whip together a proposal and send it to the boss – a promotion strategy on a platter where, by the boss’ own admission, there was no real strategy.

Did I get a response? No. Nothing. Not even a “Thanks for your email. We’ll be in touch.” Total, resounding silence that could only mean one of two things – a) he thinks I’m a nutter who needs to be steered clear of, or b) he never got the email because he is on holidays (it’s called auto-response) or the evil internet ether virus swallowed it whole and sent it directly to spam. Either way, I began to stew. Time is a-wasting…

So I sent another email to another one of the campaign team with a call to action and a number of questions. Again, no response. Silence on the airwaves. Grrrr.

The next day I registered for the Sydney City to Surf and decided, heck, I’ll action part A of one of my grand plans regardless of ‘approval’ from the campaign team. My idea was to gather together the largest ever team registered for the Sydney City to Surf, get each person in a red NDIS NOW t-shirt, fill the event with the message that the disability services system needs change now and that now is our chance to make that happen. But when it came time to choose my charity, the campaign was nowhere to be found. Why?

So I sent another email, and as I scanned my inbox for that elusive response, there were the cows, bleating madly all over my inbox and Facebook page. Dozens of invitations to send letters of disgust, to sign online petitions, to click if you’re outraged. And it struck me: the outpouring of concern for animals that were, let’s face it, born and bred for slaughter (of a humane kind, granted, but dinner plates and hand bags none the less) screamed against the stark silence from those who were meant to be driving the campaign for an NDIS. Why?

Is it because those whose passion lies in animal welfare are just better at the publicity thing? Do they have more campaign funds at their disposal? Is it because the bill is before parliament and there will be an equal uprising for disability in July when the Productivity Commission delivers their final report on an NDIS to government? I doubt it.

Perhaps it is because of what I call the “fuzzy factor”. Animals are cute. They are easy to love. But there is noting cute or easy to love about disability. It is confronting and uncomfortable and painful to look at no matter what angle you tackle it from. So, in the same way that we casually spray poison gas at a cockroach but baulk at culling rabbits, we turn a blind eye to the truth of life with a disability and weep for tortured cattle.

Or maybe it’s the “simple sells” phenomenon. Sheep being tied and stuffed in the boot of a car is a pretty simple problem to recognize. A bull watching his peers being butchered isn’t hard to comprehend as wrong. But what kind of graphic visual image could capture the complexities of the lives of those with a disability? The 35-year-old quadriplegic forced to live in an aged-care facility surrounded by dementia patients; the 40-year-old cerebral palsy sufferer barred from a course of study because her parents wouldn’t give their consent; the mother who has to fight to get nappies for her 4-year-old son because he has ‘already used his quota for the year’; the family who, limited by how many oxygen tanks they can carry, have never in 35 years travelled more than half a day away from home because they are unable to afford the machine that would give their son a constant supply of oxygen; the parents who are informed that they are no longer eligible for a range of benefits because they no longer live in the right postcode; the father who worries, every day, what will happen to his son once he is no longer around to bathe, feed, toilet, move, lift, love, care for him…

It’s too hard. Much easier to stir the emotions with blood and wild eyes. Audiences will watch that. Audiences will take action against that. It’s graphic, and we get graphic.

But I say:

Dear 4 Corners, Sydney Morning Herald, Media decision-makers and consumers alike,

PEOPLE ARE ANIMALS TOO! People are being imprisoned in their own homes. People are being forced to give up their jobs to look after loved ones. People are living below the poverty line. People’s freedoms and choices are being crushed by a system that is broken, that is unsalvageable, that is doomed to crumble under a future where the disabled, for the first time, are likely to out-live their parents.

So let’s talk about them. Let’s listen to their stories. Let’s lift the veil of fear that has kept disability out of the spotlight for so long. Let’s confront the prejudice and misinformation that makes us turn away. Let’s look beyond the images, the faces, the broken bodies and see the people in need of our voices.

Go for your lives, support the cows – I have been a vegetarian for 20 years and I’ve sent my letter to Julia. But please, don’t turn away from people as you do so. They may not be cute and furry. They may not be bound and beaten. They may not be tormented before being put to death, but they are being failed by their country, by OUR country, and if we continue to let them fend for themselves, our silence will be our complicity in that failure.

Register your support at http://www.everyaustraliancounts.com.au/, register for the Sydney City to Surf – team NDIS NOW, spread the word to every person you know, link up, send out, stand up and speak out.

No suffering should ever be ignored.