Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Wednesday Column

***Travel Advice***

This is really pushing my “health-related topics” brief… well, I guess we could say it’s about mental health. Yes, let’s go with that.

There must be something in the air - people seem to be booking overseas holidays. The something in the air would probably be Winter. A few of my friends have recently asked me what my tricks are for surviving long-haul flights with children. This makes me smile, because I can still remember asking a dear friend of mine, six years ago, this exact same question. Now I get to pass along all the things I remember from her, as well as some things I’ve made up along the way.

Buy about 10 of those mesh laundry bags for delicates. Keep reading and you’ll see why.

Pack food that you know they’ll eat. Often my children won’t eat the airplane food because they don’t recognise it. In my opinion, now is not the time to expand their culinary palate. They are already getting expanded in so many ways by the experience - I’ll take food for them, no problem. Put the food in one of the laundry bags. This means that you and they will be able to see the apples, or the muesli bars etc without having to unpack everything.

Pack toys that you know they’ll enjoy. Buying a new toy is a good idea too. Don’t take toys with lots of small parts unless you have one of those children who are good at keeping all the parts together. I don’t have one of those. So I take only single-part toys. Trying to origami myself to retrieve that one Esssential Part from under the seat in front, whilst keeping a toddler asleep on my lap is not my idea of fun. Pack all the toys in one of the laundry bags so you and they can see them… I think you get the picture.

Pack many changes of clothes in your cabin baggage. Honestly, drinks get spilled, food gets slopped and suddenly you’re paying $100 for a pair of trousers for your four year old at the airport so they’re not walking around in their underwear. Yes, this has happened to me. I have been known to buy zip-lock bags and pack entire outfits in their own zip-lock bag, then put all the zip-lock bags into a laundry bag. One laundry bag for each child, with the child’s name written very largely on the bag.

I still have the small bed-sheets that my babies first slept on, and a couple of days before we leave I lay one of these on the bed and sleep on it for a night or two. Then I take this on the plane with us. Children and particularly young babies navigate the world by smell, and the smell of home will help my children settle for sleep.

Take a selection of toys, food, clothes, books and anything else that will entertain your child, and place them in one of the laundry bags. Do one of these for each child for each leg of the journey. Make sure there are some “surprises” in there for emergencies.

This is my most important piece of advice, and the piece that is most often disregarded. Plan a long stopover halfway. We do at least 12 hours. We book an airport hotel and have a shower, a swim, lie down to sleep, eat a meal with metal cutlery, and walk around. I cannot stress enough how much having this break in the middle helps with the mental-health of each member of our three-person unit.

And lastly, treat it as part of the adventure. The adventure starts the minute you put the first article of clothing in the first suitcase. The adventure keeps going at the check-in desk, in finding your seats, in looking up what shows are on their TV, in seeing what all the buttons do, in walking around the plane looking out the windows, in talking about the countries you’re flying over. The adventure starts with you, and they will follow.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Wednesday Column

***Chicken Pox***

Chicken Pox has been visiting our house. I now know the words and tunes to more theme songs than I care to think about. We have spent the week snuggled on the couch, running baths, dabbing on creams, eating ice-blocks and watching TV. That’s about it.

Homeopathy is a funny wee beast. In the books the typical remedies for Chicken Pox are listed, based on fevers and itchiness. Well, I tried those on my son and to be honest they weren’t really touching the sides. Until, on night three, at about 2am, in the bath, he was wailing in a manner that I recognised from childbirth. Crazy, huh? I remember getting to the point where it was all just Too Much. I just could not do it anymore. I just wanted it to be over. And I know from my homeopathy training that at this point in labour there’s a really good remedy to help women through. Well, recognising this emotion in my son was the turning point. His wailing in the bath that he didn’t want the Chicken Pox anymore, and that it was too itchy and crying very loudly, all echoed that same set of emotions. So I gave him that remedy. And sure e-bloody-nough, he calmed down and got about three hours sleep, finally. And then, the next time the itch was getting to be Too Much, we gave him the remedy again, and he settled down and had another sleep.

One of my lecturers at college said that to be a good homeopath we need to know what the remedies look like – we need to be able to recognise the backs of their heads, the same way we can recognise good friends across the room at a party. Every time I give a remedy and every time I take a remedy, I’m building my knowledge, storing away another facet of the remedy so that I can recognise it better later on. And the geeky-exciting thing about it for me is that I never know when or where I’ll be required to transpose one experience onto another, like child-birth onto Chicken Pox – who would have thought?

Monday, 20 July 2015

Taking A Moment

This morning I managed to stop, mid-losing-my-shit, take a breath, and say, “I’m just gonna go calm down, and THEN I’ll come back and talk about this.”

This is cause for CELEBRATION people!! This is monumental!! I’m so freaking proud of myself!!

So, I know you’re wondering what I was losing my shit about, right?

Well, I’ve been trying to foster an atmosphere of working together. So, when I can see that Joss wants to work with Louis on something, but she’s just annoying him, I’ve been dong a couple of things – sometimes I’ve been suggesting ways that she could help him, sometimes I’ve been re-directing and offering the space for her to come and help me with something, and other times I’ve been getting down on the floor with them to facilitate everyone having something to do on the mission to creating an airport out of books (for example).

Well, this morning, Louis was whining at me that Joss interrupts him when he’s playing on his iPod. And for some reason, I was tired of the message not getting through. I was tired of my attempts at cooperation gliding right off their conscience like water of a duck’s back.  And I was in about third gear of my rant before I took my foot off the pedal, threw myself into neutral and took a moment to idle.

When I went back, coffee in hand, I could talk in a normal voice, a voice that was true to cooperation, a respectful manner, about my vision for a cooperative family. I could check in with everyone to see whether this was something they thought they might enjoy, and I could get everyone’s buy-in for making it a priority. WAHOO!!!

And you know what?! It worked!! Hallelujah! I can see Louis’ mind ticking over now, when I’m suggesting ways that Joss could be involved, and he’s filing it under “Operation Cooperation”. I have heard him try to think of ways to deal with it, he’s come to me for help instead of bopping her on the head.

All because I took a freaking MOMENT. Lordy.

Long may I continue to take them, whenever needed.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Monday Memories

I don't remember writing this piece - I don't remember the brief, or when I wrote it or anything. I think perhaps I was trying for a little Daphne du Maurier flavor :-)


I walked, creeping almost, up to the door and knocked so timidly that the moment after, I knew no one would have heard and I knocked once again, louder. I thought then that if anyone had heard the first attempt they'd think me most impatient, so I took a step back to make it look like I had all the time in the world. And so it was that the door was opened while I was half-turned away and my attempt to look casual gave instead the impression of storming off without waiting. My snap-back to face the door further dispelled any impression there lingering of calm (if indeed there had ever been any) and in my mind I told myself to breathe.

So we strangers took quick stock of each other and thus our impressions were formed. He asked me if he could help at which point I asked if he had a spare room in which I could sleep. My impression must have been favorable because after a quick glance and my (disheveled) attire he stepped back and let me through.

The initial enquiry aside, my anxiety did not much abate as I was now confronted with a whole new set of dangers. The door shut behind me with a thud and before I knew it a decision had been made. We discussed our arrangements and upon hearing of my ability in the area of culinary (which progressed from average to excessing in the course of our conversation) the deal was struck and I would cook and he would supply me with a bed. 

No luggage to stow, I followed the man into the kitchen, and it being four o'clock, began preparations for dinner.

The kitchen yielded no surprises as far as a bachelor (or at least a single man, for I had discarded the notion of single father: the house had none of the energy of children within it, but he may still yet prove to be a widower or divorcee) goes. So, I set to cleaning straight away. Anyone can clean who has a mind to, and I didn't have anywhere else to be, so I had a mind to.

A quick inventory of supplies told me that there would be enough for a few meals, but I put together a list so as to be prepared should I stay more than a couple of days. And then I set about preparing dinner. 

With dinner in the last stages, I set the table and then set off to find my host. Having found him, I mentioned dinner was ready and he complained at the early hour. I replied that he had not indicated any preference for time and if he wished to eat later, he would eat his dinner cold.

I returned to the table and sat down to eat. A short while later he came to the table and stopped at the sight of me. He started to say something, stopped - perhaps thinking better of it - and then walked through to the kitchen. My ears, untrained in the noises of this house, could still track his movements through the kitchen: plates and cutlery. I wondered if perhaps his invitation to cook for him had not included one to dine with him. I was just getting up to leave and let him dine alone when he came back through carrying a candle stick in one hand and a plate and cutlery in the other. I sat back down and watched as he walked around the table and proceeded to set another place at the table. For whom? I wondered. And then, What will they eat? I watched as he lit the candle, righted the cutlery, walked over to his place at the table, and sat down to his now luke-warm dinner.

I asked no questions, and he offered no explanations. We exchanged the skeletons of our respective days' journeys, which brought us to the close of dinner. He got up and, as he did, started clearing the table. I took my plate and as he started in the direction of the kitchen, I blew out the candle.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Illusion of Coercion

I've been reading John Holt's How Children Fail. It's an amazing book. I'm lucky enough to have a cousin living 20mins away who has wonderful books about unschooling, and this was the book I recently chose off her bookshelf.

I finished reading it about a week ago and a piece of it has been swimming around in my mind (the sign of a good book, right?). He wrote about coercion always using fear. When we're getting a child to do something that they don't want to do, we are always employing fear.

"The idea of painless, non-threatening coercion is an illusion. Fear is the inseparable companion of coercion, and its inescapable consequence."

Wow - that hit me. It's so true! When I raise my voice to get them to put their toys away, they do it because they're afraid - of me, of some intangible maybe that hangs in the air, of my anger, of what my anger will do next - they're scared. Ouch. Even when I'm doing it "nicely" - when I'm speaking kindly, with compassion in my heart, the threat is of my kindness being withdrawn. That's some confrontation right there. Yuck! What a way to live! for me, and for my kids. I mean, how positively fucking awful for them to be living in fear in their own home.

It's really made me stop and think before I react (which is ALWAYS a good thing). Like, when Jossie has told me that she wants to go to bed, and we get all snuggled up, and I'm drifting off, and then all of a sudden she says, "I don't want to, I want to get out" - previously I would have made her stay. "No, it's bedtime. Lie down. Close your eyes. Go to sleep." I might have been pleasant about it, might have spoken in a kind gentle manner. But her protestations and my persistence were a war of how afraid she was that if she got out of bed something BAD would happen. YUCK.

A few months ago, pre-How Children Fail, Louis was playing out in the back yard with two friends of his and I heard the ominous phrase, "I'm not going to be your friend if you don't …" Yuck! a six-year-old's version of coercion. I had heard this phrase being bandied around by a group of boys at Louis' playgroup and had spoken to the head teacher about it. I knew that they'd had a specialist come in and talk to the teachers about how to deal with it, so I got on the phone to her and asked her what the specialist had had to say. And low and behold, she had said that what needs to happen is that every threat-based phrase needs to be axed. That every time we, as parents, say "If you don't help me pick up the toys, then the TV won't go on", we are validating using threats as a way to navigate the world. What struck me is that there's no real difference between threatening, coercing, and bullying. Coercion is just the word that we use when grown ups bully. We like to think it's different, but is it really? It's just like smacking being the grown-up word for hitting. (Actually - that's quite cool - I'm gonna make me a meme out of that one: Smacking is to hitting what coercion is to bullying. Watch this space.)

Wow, mind blown. Of COURSE!! But, you know what? It's a bloody hard habit to break. "If you don't put your helmet on, you can't go on the bike track." "If you don't come up to the table now, you won't get any lunch." "If you don't… " You fill in the ones that roll of your tongue. And then, I imagine my children saying these things. See how that sounds. Usually it sounds fucking awful! And the few times that Louis has used it with me: If you don't let me xyz then I'm not going to abc! it has been awful.

So, in the interest of reforming my ways - in the interest of my children having a childhood NOT ruled by fear - I've been employing different strategies. Now when Jossie begins her going to bed dance, when she announces that she wants to get out of bed again, I say "OK", roll over, turn the light on, and start reading my book. Mostly, she'll go off and potter around for a few minutes and then come back. We might do a few rounds of this, but eventually - when she's ready - she will snuggle down and go to sleep. Meanwhile I've had a chance to chill out and read my book, and she's exercised her autonomy about bedtime and gone to sleep without fear getting a look-in. How cool is that?

I love John Holt's writing! My stretching and growing on this unschooling path doesn't have much to do with learning - it has to do with personal autonomy. It has to do with me relinquishing (well-meaning) control. John Holt's later thoughts and writing are a wonderful support in this. I can't wait to get my hands on more.

Wednesday Column

***Everyone Has a Story***

Years ago (a lifetime ago) I watched an Oprah Winfrey episode where she was talking about realising that everyone has a story. To prove her point, she selected a random woman out of the audience, and asked her what her story was. The woman’s initial response was that she didn’t have one but with careful questioning Oprah uncovered an amazing story about how that woman came to be in the audience of the show. 

Now that I’m practicing homeopathy, this "thing" about people always having a story, it sticks with me. Everyone does have a story. And most of the time we don’t hear about it. Most of the time we talk about the little things, the chit-chat, the daily stuff. Not often do we connect and resonate with someone’s story.

One of my favourite things about my life is that I get to connect and resonate with people on a daily basis. It serves to inoculate me against the nastiness in the world, and gives me hope that we’re all doing the best we can to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Often, a consultation is the first time that people have told their story to anyone. Sometimes it has been weighing on them, sometimes there is an element of shame, or embarrassment, or fear about naming something that they have hidden for so long. Sometimes they laugh and say “I haven’t even told my husband this!” and often people are amazed at the ground that they cover during a consultation.

I really believe that owning our story is the first step back to health. Until we own who we are, where we’ve come from, who we want to be, we cannot move in the direction of wellbeing. To get out of the darkness we must first light a candle. We must first step into the spotlight on the stage of our history and celebrate it for who it has helped us become. Whenever people are ready to, we approach that spotlight together and I observe what’s going on and I bear witness to their courage. 

So many times, people have said to me that they feel better after a consultation, even before they’ve started the remedy. And I think that this is why – because we have shined a light on something that they have been ignoring or hiding for so long, and that feels gooooooood.  

Then they take the remedy and I think it helps by matching the story and taking up some of the weight of it. And once the weight is lifted, people can for the first time lift up their head, look around, and see options that they never knew existed. They can make changes that they’d never before considered. They can take another step on their journey to being their best selves. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Finding Community

It’s a “thing”. I mean, I knew it was a thing, but I didn’t know it was a “thing”. There’s a name for it. I am a road widow (apologies to those women who have lost husbands in auto-crashes – the name has not much in the way of good taste). I was searching on the internet for blogs or sites or…. something that might help us navigate this very ebby-and-flowy way of life. And I found Road Wives, which won me over with this post:

I think The Sound Guy has said every one of those things. And I’ve had every one of those reactions. J

I just got up to make chicken soup for the troops when they get back from hunting snow. While I was stirring, chopping, seasoning, I was thinking about (I know! This isn’t good for my mindfulness!!) how people give me “The Look” when they ask whether The Sound Guy's home. The Look is a mixture of sympathy, wonder, not-understanding, and judgement (as in – “it’s not REALLY a life, is it?). Then I thought about all the concerts my friends go to without thinking about the families that each member of the team that puts on that show has at home. I mean, I know that’s totally normal!! They are there to enjoy the music! Then, I thought about all the All Blacks and Black Caps and all those other sports stars that my friends watch on TV. I bet if my husband was an All Black (I just had to giggle at the thought), I wouldn’t get so much judgement about the time he spends away from us. I bet, when I was talking about how difficult Louis is finding it at the moment, they wouldn’t be so quick to suggest that he find a new job. Because rugby players are next-to-gods. Musicians are just fooling round, right? It’s not a Real Job, right?

I love that one of our priorities is that we work at jobs that we love.
I definitely do not love that it hurts my son when The Sound Guy goes away. But the universe is not an all or nothing being. There is a space, somewhere close, where we are all happy. And this is what I need help with from other mums who understand. I need to ask the question, “What can I do to help Louis navigate his father’s comings and goings?” without the first response being that The Sound Guy stay home and get a Real Job. For things like this, I find groups of like-minded women and I learn from them.

So, Yes! It’s a “Thing” and somewhere in the middle of that realisation, is a sense of contentment that we are not CRAZEEEEEE. That we are part of a community – an as yet unvisited community – but a community, available and understanding – potential.