Crossroads…

It sounds like a good name for a slightly pathetic country and western song…hang on, I think it is the name of a C&W song, though how pathetic it is would require listening to it and…then I’d never get this written and I’ve already procrastinated enough for a Tuesday, so delete that…

Do you ever get that feeling that you are at a crossroad, that there is a moment looming in the near future that is going to require a decision, one that you feel highly unqualified to make on account of the fact that you don’t know what that moment is going to look like, where the forks in the road are going to lead and no idea at all what that decision even is? Maybe it’s just me then!

Having our first child was a  scary but fairly straight forward decision for us. Our closest friends had just asked us to be legal guardians for their first child should anything happen to them (God forbid!) and we were so in love with this little dot of a girl that we were delighted at the prospect of making her, in some small way, ours. It was our friends’ confidence in us, and our willingness to say yes, that convinced us that it was time to start our own family. So we had our first son, and not without a fair degree of physical damage in delivering a 10lb 12oz(4.88kg) whopper of a boy. We were in love with him, but any parent knows that there is a reason more experienced parents look at you with an expression somewhere between pity and longing. I had no idea what that look meant until I’d had my first baby and realised that there is NO WAY you can ever be prepared for what happens to your life when you have a child. How can anyone tell you that your heart will explode like an atom bomb when you see your baby for the first time, but that your life will look like ground zero! You have no framework to imagine emotions that strong, especially when they are magnified by sleep deprivation or worry, disappointment with yourself or the thrill of being able to fit back into your pre-baby jeans (I’m told that feels pretty darn amazing…will let you know if I ever get there!). Life as you know it ceases to exist and it gets better…and harder…and more terrifying…and more exciting.

Thankfully, the decision to have a second child was out of our hands because he was a surprise, which was a relief really, because I don’t think I could have made a rational decision about it! But the stress is hidden there in the idea that, if you don’t make a decision, one will be made for you, a decision that has more to do with your momentum than what you actually desire. We’ve all been there, at that place where the desire to do something new and daring with your life/relationship/future/chicken salad takes more effort than you feel you can put in because the momentum of your life/relationship/future/chicken salad seems to outweigh your ability to change it.

I feel like that today. I can see this crossroad looming and, this time, I am prepared. Thank God your thirties come with a little more wisdom than your twenties…or your teens…hopefully! I can see that there is a momentum to my life that means I am most likely to roll one way down this road BUT, there is a desire in me to roll the other way, along that higher path that will take me somewhere unknown but not unimagined. I can see myself travelling there, imagine the journey and the other travellers I might meet along the way and the way it will feel….scary as all patoodies. But I’m up for it this time, because I have FINALLY learned that, to say YES to this path, means saying NO to others. The day has come to acknowledge that we are not (not one of us) superheroes, we cannot do everything. We can only choose to do the right things.

I feel freedom in this, not because I am a self-centred hedonist, because I am not- I spend hours each week marrying my passion for helping others, and being a mother, and encouraging literacy with the volunteer work I do. I feel freedom because, when I say YES to doing something, I mean it (most of the time…not perfect, remember?) and when I say NO thanks to something else, I mean thank you, but NO. Does that sound too simple? All I know is that it sounds better than saying yes to something and then loathing every minute, mustering my courage and grinning falsely through the obligation and giving less than it deserves because I wish that I were somewhere else.

The hardest part is learning to deal with not being able to please people. It’s nice to be a person that others can rely on, that they know will do their best to help…but I also know that the appreciation really only lasts for the few minutes during which they write your name next to the tick on the to do list before moving on. I have also seen how, when I say YES the opportunity stops with me…when it might well have found a better home three people down the list from me. As it turns out, I really am not the centre of the universe (who would have thought?)!

So what crossroads are you at? What is pulling you one way while you yearn to go the other? What do you need to say No to, so that you can say YES to the right thing?

Verbal threats of grievous bodily harm…

The only thing that makes beat-em-up blow-em-up macho movies worth the time it takes to watch their gap-infested story lines and content poor dialogue, are those once-in-a-while one-liner threats of grievous bodily harm. My favorite of the week went something like this…”If you don’t (act of life-threatening stupidity), I’m going to shove my fist so far down  your throat that you’ll taste my armpit hairs.” Such charm, such class!

Not that I am opposed to macho action movies at all! I am quite open minded when it comes to movies with eclectic tastes that range from the big blockbuster right down to little indie art house films, foreign language films and Aussie classics, black and white, Western, Anime and musicals. There is very little I won’t consider watching (though I am ruthless with junk- a movie gets ten minutes from me and if it is rubbish, it gets the flick- I have wasted too many hours watching movies that really shouldn’t have made it off the cutting room floor!), though I have never managed to venture into the horror genre much! I don’t like to be frightened- ever! I’m not talking about that biting your nails feeling you get when you watch an edge-of-your-seat thriller like “Shutter Island” or “Dead Again” but the fear-mongering horror movies that make you afraid to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night- I hate those. They don’t even get a look in!

There are some movies I’ll watch just because an actor is in them….Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, James MacEvoy, Cate Blanchette, Daniel Autieul, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche, Tim Robbins, Denzel Washington, Kristen Scott Thomas (she’s done some great French movies too!), Geoffrey Rush, Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Audrey Tatou, Rhys Ifans, Hugh Jackman, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp….people who are good at their craft, who speak the language of story telling, who suck you in until you have forgotten that the gay statesman he played in the last movie is the same person who is watching his family fall apart in the one you’re watching tonight, that the South African running around in the bush last year is the same as the middle-class suburban salesman whose life is imploding in front of him or the mental patient whose life is a fantasy. There are dozens more who usually deliver and hundreds of others who are perfect for those specific genre movies that you need on a Friday night with friends, or for a family movie on a rainy saturday afternoon.

I watch dozens of them! I have foresworn television and it’s 40 minute mini-plots and rehashed story lines and EXCESSIVE advertising. The two Tv shows I do enjoy, I watch online or when they come out on DVD. I do have to wait a bit longer to see them, but no cliffhangers….no adverts! Seems like a fair trade off to me. And there are plenty of movies to watch in the meantime…for free…

…because, like my other passion, they are freely available to borrow from my local library. I can borrow one for every night of the week (which I frequently do) from any one of five or six categories. My Local has a fantastic selection of foreign films as well as Hollywood dollar-earners. Anime, they’ve got it. Swedish cult movies…got it (I saw the original “Let the right one in” before “Let me in” was released in Hollywood) I use the online catalogue to get in early and reserve the ones I want to watch and they send me a nice little SMS to tell me my ship(disc) has come in and voila….new release DVD’s at my fingertips. They even have Blu-Ray! AND NO ADVERTS! And it’s legal…because we all know that ‘Australia makes great movies and what we’re really burning is the future of our movie industry.’ 🙂

So what about you? Do you love movies? What are your faves? Any recommendations? This week I was really impressed by ‘Trans America’, the first movie I’ve seen where a female actress played a male playing a woman…it was thought-provoking and heart-wrenchin, and controversial..but I’m cool with that…thinking happens to be one of my favorite past-times….they say it helps prevent Dementia in later life…if only I could remember what I was talking about…

Ever have one of those days?

Why do I always say yes? Why??? I have three children and  one husband to feed, a dozen fish who are constantly feeding or breeding or both, one house to clean, too many pairs of socks and jocks to launder, a school assembly to prepare for and take, a child to pack up and send off to his first school camp (he is fine, I am tearful, his socks are still damp and un-paired) a pile of research to complete, a business proposition to research and comment on and two books to write….why do people keep asking me to do things? BUT WORST OF ALL, why do I keep saying yes???? Don’t they know that there are only 24 hours a day and that I can not be counted on to be compos mentis for more than 12 10 4   a few of them!

I have not yet ruled out brain damage…

or people pleasing…

or sheer insanity…

I think I will give myself a stern talking to…in a foreign accent…in the car on my way to collect my gorgeous kids from school. I think I’ll be Hildeguard…no one can give you a lecture like a German Nursemaid…unless it’s an African-American grandmother from somewhere in the Southern USA. Granny Mae opens a can of whoop ass like no one I know…pity me. Seriously!

And pity my children!

Starve it baby….

This week has been a week for discussing body image! I have had the same discussion with more than three people in separate conversations in separate contexts: How do I learn to like myself when I feel like such a waste of space/learn to accept myself when I look like a science experiment gone wrong/when I feel like Snow White in a house full of dwarves/ when I feel like a dwarf in a house of Snow Whites…und so wiete….

I don’t have the answer to this or, trust me, I would be making millions teaching people how to do it. This has been my learning so far….

A Native American was speaking with his grandson outside the teepee one day. “Son, there are two wolves that live inside each of us: love and hatred. They are constantly at war within us to see who will be the victor in our lives.”

Concerned the boy asked his grandfather: “Which one will win?”

The grandfather answered: “The one that you feed.”

I read this on a blog a few months ago now and it has stuck with me. The wolves inside of us are many and fierce. It would be fair to say that self-hatred and self-acceptance war within us; that self-loathing and self-love fight side by side with them. The point is this: THE WOLF THAT WILL WIN IS THE ONE WE FEED. Any woman who is honest will say that there have been (and possibly still are) times when she looks at herself in the mirror and thinks “I hate you. You’re too fat/tall/thin/short/ugly/full-lipped/blotchy/pale/clumsy/stupid/barren/Ethnic/plain…” We all have those moments! I bet Angelina Jolie has those moments…and Jennifer Hawkins…and Kylie…and michelle Obama…and me. The secret to be had is this, that the women who overcome the criticisms and the self-hatred are the women who STARVE it. Not starve their bodies, but the thoughts that are looking for a home to nest in, for a life to feed off of.

The little acknowledged fact about self-hatred is that it is a parasite that breeds prolifically once it has found a safe place to call home. Like yeast it creeps from the mirror into your head and makes it yeasty way into your heart where it poisons every belief you hold about yourself and feasts on your self worth and dignity until you have nothing to hold onto but the vague hope that, with enough anti-ageing cream and enough hours at the gym and the right man on your arm or the right Gucci on your feet, that you will feel good about yourself again. And then, to quote a friend, “you are schlonkered” because the advertising world gets on the bandwagon and hammers home truth from the outside. They are quite happy to partner with the self-hatred and sell you a life-time of products that will help  you buy back your dignity. The problem is this: NO ONE CAN SELL YOU SOMETHING THAT IS ALREADY YOURS. Not unless you are really gullible…which most of us are! DIGNITY IS NOT A COMMODITY, IT IS A GIFT.

So evict the parasite, stop the thought in the mirror, before it gets into your head, scream your worth at the top of your lungs until you start to believe it….

Starve the self-hatred. Feed the healthy me. Its what’s written on my window this week!

Brothers, birthdays and balloons

My eight year old turned nine today and has barely stopped hugging himself with excitement. He was awake till eleven last night tossing and turning in his bed and fantasising about all that today would bring. He was not disappointed…

He crept into bed with me at 7am while his dad took a shower. He was followed by brother number one (who is 7). We whispered our happy birthdays to him to avoid waking baby brother (age 3) who was also in my bed after crawling in during the early hours of the morning. With no warning at all, baby brother went from fast asleep to bolt upright and talking: “It’s time for *brother’s* breakfast in bed,” which he squealed with sheer delight and accentuated with a little hand dance for effect. The rest of us collapsed in giggles! Before we left for school we’d had phone calls from grandparents overseas, presents, breakfast in bed and a house full of streamers. The birthday boy was delighted and has declared us the best family ever!

When was it that I lost this kind of innocent excitement, the magic that literally charged the atmosphere and made ME something worth celebrating? When did I forget that breakfast in bed is about as exciting as it gets, that streamers make the house a wonderland rather than a trash heap and that balloons are the best thing since…almost anything else!

Thank God for brothers who make us laugh and are happy to see us happy even when we get given what they most desire. Thank God for birthdays and the sheer joy of living that invades the mundane ritual of our daily lives. Thank God for balloons!

And with that thought…I am off to cook up a celebratory feast…the best food ever…Hawaiian Pizza, chocolate cake and lemonade! Maybe the excitement is a little catching. Rest assured there will be candles, and strawberries and balloons…lots of balloons!!!

Boys…

As I sit here thinking about what to write, there are four boys under the age of nine playing dragons. I love their imagination and the way their play shows you what’s really important to them. Below is a snippet of their dialogue. I will call them B8, B7, B6 and B3 (the number after their B is actually their age).

B6 “So while B7 is away, you sneak into my lair and steal me.”

B8 “No. You sneak out of your lair and break in to mine and then I just capture you.”

B6 “Yeah, yeah. And then you tie me up but I can get out because I have freeze power.”

B7 “You do have freeze power, but you can’t get out because I come rescue you and I break you out.”

B8 “You can’t break him out because, if you look here (points to the elaborate diagram he has drawn of his lair), there are billions of little creatures, baby dragons really. And I don’t feed them, well, I do feed them,  but not too often. And literally billions of them are released into this tunnel and they block your way…”

B6 “But I freeze them and…”

B7 “Yeah, Yeah.”

B8 “No you can’t because they are immune to freezing and besides, I can unfreeze them with m y fire power…”

B3 “And my parents died when I was a baby dragon, and they gave me a present when they died. They gave me a bowl of cereal and some colouring pencils. And I put water on it and ate it and then I died and went to them again.”

A dragon is currently suffocating while another is holding his breath to see if he can beat the suffocating one. B3 has turned into a teapot and is walking around singing “Do you want a cuppa tea?” (Must be my child then!) And the other dragon has given up rescuing the other one from the lair and is playing lego…. You have to love their imagination….and their attention span…and their concept of fair play (fair play is any play in which I beat you despite your best ideas because I am, in fact, the superior dragon). Good Luck St George… this dragon is impervious to swords, bullets, toxic waste and WMD. But we can offer you a refreshingly hot cup of Earl Grey if you like!\

BOYS!!!! I LOVE THEM!

Intentionality…

Intentionality: ‘the fact of being deliberate and purposive’

Intentional. Deliberate. Calculated. Conscious. Intended. Planned. Meant. Studied. Willful. Purposeful. Premeditated.

I currently have the word “Intentionality” written in large, chalk letters across the glass door in our dining room- the one I look at dozens of times a day. My children talk about the word, I see it regularly and it is driving me insane!

My husband is by far the best person to choose any new appliance we may need for our home! He will not choose it quickly (not by any means), but he will choose well. If choosing were an Olympic sport (with no time constraints), he would be a gold medallist.

He starts by looking at why we need said appliance and for what purpose. He will quite likely write up a very thorough list of requirements (which,on our list, always includes extra length, height or the potential to extend…think vacuum cleaner for 6ft 7″ giants…which is exactly how tall my husband is). He will revise this list at least once or twice. He will then do a little market research to find out what brands are available and what the rough costs and advantages of each brand are. This he will detail in an Excel spreadsheet (he has mad Excel skills), taking into account the history of both the company and the track record of the specific product. After he has done a random survey of our friends and relatives to discover their personal preferences and experience with said products, he will then make a choice…of his top two or three products before launching a thorough investigation into the actual cost of the ‘Top Two’. Once he has found the best item, with the best features at the best price, he will ask for my input, make the necessary adjustments and then announce that his decision is made. NOTHING you say will dissuade him from his decision that it was the best choice. NOTHING!!! And he is almost always right (except for the odd occasion when I am ! )

Now to some, this may seem like a painful process, but it works for us. I can live with an un-vacuumed floor for a while, or a sputtering fridge, or a clanking car….but in the thirteen years we have been married (and the 18 years we have been together), we have owned one fridge (which is as good for the five of us as it was for the two of us…because he thought ahead about that…and it has never broken down), one vacuum cleaner (which is heavenly because we can both use it without getting a sore back and it deals very effectively with the regular moulting of my long hair and the excessive crumb-to-son ratio we experience on a daily basis) and one bed (custom made so that we can stretch out without our feet dangling off the edge) and one washing machine (which is a family-sized front loader that loads from the top and takes up next to no room in our small house) and the list goes on….

What this proves is that my husband is, in this particular area, a man who demonstrates a great deal of intentionality. He is spontaneous in other areas, and  a great deal of fun to live with, but he is by no means rash. I love this about him…after all, it is probably what has kept us together in the hard times (that and a mixture of his devastating good looks and my phenomenal intellect !), not to mention the regular opportunity to practise forgiveness and a great deal of laughter).

The reason the i-word has been driving me insane is this: for years we have upheld the notion of falling in love as the pinnacle of our human experience of love. I think we may have been wrong. Along with the writing in chalk of the i-word, began a consideration of what I consider intentional love to be.

The opposite of intentional love would be accidental love…as in: “Whoops, I was walking along and just fell in love.” I have experienced that kind of love…the first time I fell it was for a man so far above me that I was bound to suffer. Superman never once called, never once returned my eight-year-old adoration. I married Clarke Kent instead (those who know my husband will know why this is apt…but I’m not saying anything about how he wears his underpants!) I fell in love with my husband when we were both eighteen..or perhaps it was into infatuation, because I remember a moment when I had to choose to love him more than just enough to say I’d go out with him…enough to really love him in the I-love-you-enough-to be-vulnerable way, the i-love-you-enough-to-let-you-see-the-real-me way…I chose to do that…with trembling hands and beating heart…time and again…in the face of other options…and in the face of doubts and disappointments and detours…

Did I fall in love with my babies that first time I held them squawking and bloodied to my breast? I think not…I loved them when I first decided that I wanted to be a mother, to have them, to create them out of the relationship I had with their father (and there was a surprise son in there too). I loved them when I started taking vitamins and planning for pregnancy. I loved them all through those forty weeks of waiting, of heartburn and aching back and stretch marks. I loved them passionately before they took that first squalling breath. And I’ve loved them every hour since…through countless sleepless YEARS and hospital stays, through the sleepless hours at their bedside praying that they would keep breathing till morning. I loved them enough for all of that…despite how they behave, despite what I actually have to give them. I can’t count the number of times I have sat weeping myself as I comforted a distressed or sick child because I was too tired to go on…but I did go on…I do go on…because I love…

Falling in love is wonderful, but it is at best, second best to something far more powerful. Intentional love. Love that chooses to love, to stay, to forgive, to believe the best, to give, to love in all its many shades of meaning.  I know my husband chose me, chose to love me, and he stands by that every day. I love him for it. I am grateful for it. I am trying to emulate it. I know where he learned it too. He is a man who has his own faith, who speaks openly of his relationship with God and how that changes and shapes his life. He says he loves because he first was loved…unconditionally…with intention…by the God who defines love. There is something in that, no matter what your personal beliefs are.

Intentionality…its a bugger but it gets me every time!
INTENTionality.

INTENTIONality.

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