Category Archives: Compassion

Our Son and the Rescue Pup.

This afternoon, I was tapping away on my laptop, when I glanced over and spotted a priceless moment. Our son was snuggled up on the couch with our Border Collie pup, Zac (ie Isaac Newton)  watching The Good Doctor. It’s Sunday afternoon, which quite frankly should be declared a “snooze zone” before having to return to the realities of “The Week” on Monday. Hence, I’d slept in, and was still in my PJs. That explains how I managed to capture the moment. I didn’t need to leave the house, or even my chair. My camera was sitting faithfully by my side, just waiting.

Zac is almost 4 months old, and we’ve had him since he was a little 6 week old pup, along with his sister Rosie. Rosie was meant to be a foster pup, and simply passing through. That was before she got caught in our heart strings. Zac and Rosie have also become inseperable. After all, they’re more than brother and sister. Now that the rest of their litter has dispersed, they’re “twins”.

Rosie & Zac BW

Rosie (left) Zac (right). Not quite identical twins.

Of course, with such young pups, you don’t know anything about their personalities, psychology or outlooks on life. You can only base your selection criterion on things like markings and which pup comes to you first. I was the one who chose Zac, because he had distinctive black and white markings, which I thought looked more like Bilbo. Our daughter chose Rosie as she has a broad, white stripe on her face, which she thought looked like Bilbo. Rosie also has black spots on her legs, which I wasn’t too sure about, but others loved. Both dogs were looking short-haired and Bilbo and every other dog I’ve ever had, has been long haired. However, I reasoned that short hair is better suited to our beach lifestyle. It was a tough choice.

Zac was instantly “my dog”, and he was also the pup most determined to turn a  recalitrant, growling Lady, into “Mum”. Rosie palled up with the rest of the family and was a little more cautious about turning to Lady for love. It soon became clear that Zac and Rosie were inseparable, and that having both dogs could be much less work than the one. They could occupy each other.

Back at the end of June before the pups came along, our beloved Border Collie Bilbo passed away. He was 11 years old and we’d had him since a pup. Back then, our son was 2 years old and our daughter was crawling. So, not only had Bilbo seen the kids go through the childhood years, he’d also been with us through each and every up and down with my severe health struggles. I don’t know whether all of that made him a sensitive soul, but he certainly was a very special dog.

And, Bilbo was also a survivor himself. Indeed, he was only a young pup when I was admitted to hospital for about eight weeks and he went from having the kids and I at home almost every day, to me being in hospital, the kids staying at my parents’ place and Geoff getting home super late from work after touring Sydney seeing the rest of us every day. On top of that, the pup also lived through the trauma. A stress beyond stress.

 

Above: RIP Bilbo.

At least, that’s how we explain Bilbo’s act of determined destruction, which could have killed the wee pup. Bilbo went exploring under the house chewing the the wifi and computer network cables. When an exhausted and irate Geoff retraced his paw prints under the house, he found that Bilbo had even started chewing on an electrical cable and must’ve received a slight zap, which made him stop.

Obviously, that wasn’t the best of times for us.

So, when Bilbo passed away, he took a lot more than memories along with him. There was also the deepest and most compassionate empathy, and an understanding of us which came with walking through the valleys and mountain tops with us and in our hearts.

Lady kids coffee

Lady.

While we have another dog, Lady, she doesn’t have that same sense of empathy or emotional depth…and isn’t quite so melancholy either. She’ll greet you with an uber-enthusiastic wag of the tail, which could almost take your leg off. She has different talents, but she also doesn’t fetch which was a rather difficult gap for us to ignore. We are a ball throwing family and that requires a dog to fetch, even if he was an annoying, obsessed maniac  more often than not.

Zac & Rosie

Zac & Rosie when they first arrived, aged 6 weeks.

Wanting to let our emotions heal before we adopted another dog, we were going to wait until next year and get another pure-bred Border Collie. However, I got word through the pet rescue group that some Border Collie x puppies were coming in. I could also see that our son could use another dog  now. At the time, this was more of a vague hunch than a neon sign.  although until Zac settled in, I had no idea that he had such a special capacity to heal. A capacity not unique to him, but not universal among dogs either. That he has a gift.

Reversing up a bit, not long after Bilbo died, I caught the flu and a nasty respiratory infection. With my underlying health issues, such infections become life threatening and I developed a powerful, incessant cough which was absolutely terrifying. After losing the dog, the kids were particularly concerned this year and didn’t have Bilbo for support.  After all, it was hard times like this, that Bilbo had always been there for every single one of us. Shaken by such fear on top of grief, our son in particular needed the love only a special dog can give.

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That’s why I was so stoked to see our son so snuggled up and entwined with the dog today. As a parent, we so often feel like we’re flying blind.Even when we know we’re doing our best, it’s all to easy to feel like we’re floundering. That despite our best efforts and utilizing every single resource we’ve got, that we’re still getting sucked into the vortex and drowning…along with our beloved child. Seeing our son so relaxed, content fused with the dog and knowing we’ve all made it through the storm, was such a relief. An answer to prayer in a way that made so much sense and yet seems hard to put into words on the weekly praise list…RESCUED DOG SAVES TRAMATISED CHILD.

And, so I’m happy.

In addition to sharing my joy, this photo marks Day 4 of the Seven Day Black Photo Challenge, which a friend roped me into on FB. The idea is that you post a B & W photo every day for seven days and you nominate someone new to take up the challenge every day. Today, I’d like to nominate Trent from Trent’s World.

Have you have a special dog or pet who has whispered magic into your life? Please share.

xx Rowena

Family Life Lessons in a Game of Cards.

Today, we had a family game of three-handed 500 and had so much fun. Moreover, we even invented a new lexicon, which I’ll blame on the cards rather than the players. They could be incredibly uncooperative!

Although playing cards might sound like an activity for a rainy day, it was windy outside and we could even see the Spring allergens in the air with the naked eye. So, we were hibernating inside. Moreover, it’s not only school holidays here, but also a long weekend. While for some, this would signal an increase in activity, for us it meant doing as close to nothing as possible, which as it turned out, didn’t even come close. Our daughter needed to be picked up, and my husband and son went off to see a movie together. So, we aren’t such miserable sloths after all.

Anyway, with our daughter in Sydney, that left the rest of us playing three-handed 500. I know I’ve played this before, but it never seemed so brutal and unforgiving before. Today, it seemed that the person who won the bidding and played out the game was almost destined to fry and burn, and very promptly end up in negative territory. Naturally, the player most likely to hit rock bottom, was Mr 13 whose teenage love of taking risks got him into considerable trouble, which we ultimately dubbed: “The Minus Club”.

Even now, I still remember what it was like to play 500 as a 13 year old with my friends at school. I still haven’t forgotten the allure of winning the kitty…the curiosity. It had to be a pot of gold and I couldn’t possibly let anyone else pick it up. It was mine. Of course, it helped that we didn’t score our games. So, it didn’t matter if I went backwards faster than a speeding bullet.

However, with my husband, being one of those mathematical counting types with a mental calculator stuck inside his head, after a few practice rounds, we were scoring. Well, HE was scoring. I was jotting down some priceless family gems,  and as this game progressed, the pickings were ripe.

Now, this takes me back to Mr 13 who has been asking me to play 500 for weeks, but didn’t really know the rules. Moreover, he has no idea just how brutal a three-handed game can be, when your rivals pair up and you’re fighting for life on your pat malone.

So, when asked which suit he was going to bid on, he replied: “I’m playing eenie meanie miney mo”.

That didn’t sound like a good start.

Then again, I somehow managed to bid the wrong suit. I blamed that on the coffee not kicking in.

Meanwhile, my husband who is very difficult to beat at cards, Scrabble and chess, was having a bad day. We hadn’t taught our son Masare, so even though he probably had great hands for that, we just stuck with conventional bids. So, my husband’s gems for today included:

“Wanna play snap?”

“Who dealt this mess?”

“Blerk! Waiter bring me a bucket”.

My husband only bid about once throughout this game, which lasted a couple of hours what with my son and I returning time and time again to the minus club and my husband’s score creeping along at a rate of 10 -30 points a hand. That made for a long and very slow road to 500.

I reached my PB or personal best when I romped home getting 10 hearts. Those 250 points just managed to get me out of the sin bin at the time.

Anyway, all of this is leading me towards the grand finale…

I was the Champion!

Of course, I immediately jumped around doing the victory dance, singing “we are the champions”. Not because I’m a bad sport. Rather, it’s a rare moment that I beat my husband at anything. As for the whole thing of needing to beat my 13 year old son instead of letting him win, I say it was good for him. Will put hairs on his chest, as my Dad used to say. One of the most important things you can do as a parent, is to teach your child how to win and lose gracefully. Moreover, as he struggles to beat my husband and I, we’re training him to compete well against his peers. This is his training ground.

Yet, at the same time, nothing beats winning.

Well, that is unless you’re writing some mamby pamby piece about families spending quality time together and learning how to interact and communicate when devices are switched off. Then, it would all just be about bonding, creating memories and you wouldn’t need to keep the score.

Humph! We must be talking about someone else’s family!

Do you have any games you play to the death in your family? What are they? 

xx Rowena

Captain Clean – Friday Fictioneers.

“Mum and Dad built this place after the war,” Muriel said. “Lived in the garage, while they built the house.”

Captain Clean was very tempted to add that nothing had been thrown out since, but bit her tongue. Condescending self-righteousness never worked with hoarders. So, she stuck to the script.

“Keep or throw? Keep or throw?”                                                                                                                                                                     “There you are,” Muriel smiled.

Captain Clean screamed, bolted and drove away.

Muriel had finally found her spare set of teeth, playing hide & seek in her husband’s old shoes.

“I could’ve handled a dead body,” she told the psychologist. “But not false teeth.”

…….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Sarah Potter

xx Rowena

 

Never Give Up!

Yesterday, I almost cried with joy…relief. It was a true Eureka Moment moment. Just like you can strangely sink into a pit of despair over that proverbial glass of spilled milk, I found myself close to tears of pure joy, just by having my carpet cleaned. The “new” carpet wasn’t perfect, and still has its battle scars (mostly thanks to the fish tank). Yet, the metamorphosis was UNBELIEVABLE!!

We have wrestled for years about whether to get the carpet cleaned, or replace it. While replacing it seemed the obvious choice, we couldn’t agree on what to replace it with. So, its been  lingering on life support for eternity.  It’s only thanks to the funding I’ve received through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), that this became possible. That’s largely because I didn’ need to think about it. I could just do it. “Have a Nike moment”. Well, to be honest it took a lot more than just a Nike moment. It took a hell of a lot of work to “be prepared”, and that could only happen because the dermatomyositis is in remission and I have this NDIS funding.

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Now that the carpet’s returned from the dead, I have a glimmer of hope that the rest of our house isn’t dead after all. As they say, success breeds success, even when it comes to something as small and seemingly insignificant as the carpet. Slowly but surely, I’m getting my dignity back…and not just in relation to the state of the house, but I’m also feeling the cogs moving much more smoothly within.

Being something of a lounge chair philosopher, this brings me back to something I’ve considered before:

Is your house is a reflection of your soul, who you are as a person or your state of mind? Or, does it stand alone?

Naturally, it would make logical sense that whatever “stuff” is going on in your household or your life, that your house would become some kind of mirror or reflection. However, that can work both ways. Some people seem to throw themselves head long into maintaining the fascade during a crisis, seemingly to hold up the crumbling interior. For us , that hasn’t been an option. I’ve been sick for way too long and even the support crew’s had it. So, at our place, the house and garden have also cracked…along with the mirror.

However, is this crumpled wreck of my self or the accompanying shell, the real me, especially when I’m not living alone? After all, a family home is a family home, a canvas each of us paints and even when we live alone, a house isn’t a blank canvas. There are functional, financial and cultural considerations which reign our vision in. Most of us can’t just splat our real selves everywhere. Or, at least shouldn’t!

 

The photo on the left shows me having a transfusion of IVIG. I had these every 3 weeks for five years until my treatment regime crashed with a flare and I had chemo. In the photo on the right, I’m playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata after a chemo treatment. 

Yet, strangely we are resurrecting. I’ve been in remission for 3.5 years. Moreover, about four months ago, I was approved for our National Disability Insurance Scheme and any looking back has only been to celebrate my onwards and upwards progress. Well, that’s aside from my usual bout of severe chest infections, and the operatic cough which hails from the dark side of Hades. Indeed, I’ve been wrestling with all sorts of horrors lately as I’ve barked my way along some grueling, grim tributory of the River Styx filled, which is populated by all sorts of ghoulish spectors and shadows. Just picture the grim reaper, and I definitely believe he’s been stalking me for the last four weeks. However, I’ve become a seasoned veteran of the battle, and his attacks are not as severe as they once were.

 

Anyway, under the NDIS, I’ve been able to get extensive help at home and we’re steadily chipping away at years of neglect, struggle and the too hard basket, which has been overflowing with so much rubble that it’s toppled over.

So, you could just imagine my relief, my exuberarant joy and tears, when I said: “Hello carpet” yesterday.

It was also: “Hello sky”, because I also had the windows cleaned and much to our amazement, they’re clear. My daughter even joked this morning, that the magpie might fly into the glass and hit it.

The state of the windows was just another thing I’d switched off to. I know people do get their windows professionally cleaned, but this was out of our league and in terms of DIY, we’ve been struggling to put one foot in front of the other before NDIS. Windows, to me, is a computer thingy.

So, even though I’ve missed my usual contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share this week, I’d love to invite you round for coffee right this minute. That is, while the windows and carpet are in a blissful state of suspended animation, and you can actually see the floor. I know it won’t take long for trouble to return. We’re moving into Spring here and we have a little black dog who covers our carpet in a layer of felt. We also have two kids and my husband and I are also human.

In other words, we live in the real world…not Facebook or a magazine.

Have you experienced anything like this lately? Something you would call a “Eureka Moment” which has almost had you jumping out of the bath and running naked through the streets like  Archemedes? If so, I’d love to hear it and these stories are so encouraging to people in the thick of the storm, who doubt there’s any way out.

dog in the storm

Stupid me actually drove into this storm in search of “the shot”. I ran to my car which became my “tin can”, while hail the size of a golf ball pummelled the car. Even the sound alone, was terrifying.

On the other hand, if you’re currently feeling trapped in the thick of the storm, know you are not alone. A lot of people have been there or are there right now, and are only too willing to hold your hand either figuratively or in person. I would encourage you to hook up with some people sharing your experience, especially veterans and survivors of your particular battle. I know I’ve certainly found a lot of comfort with “my colleagues”, my “fellow travellers” in the same boat.

Take care and don’t forget to count and even search out your blessings. There’s always something, no matter how small. Or, perhaps it’s so big, you’ve only seen its feet.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Rowena sun

Here I am at Railway Park, Byron Bay. The artwork was done by a mum whose son died in the park from an overdose of prescription drugs. She undertook this art in the park project to help save others.

 

Heaven or Earth? Reflections from the Dark Side of the Moon.

Before I get started, I thought I’d play Alleluia sung by Ed Sheeran. Get you in the mood. The last week has been deep, dark and philosophical punctuated by blasts of Spring sunlight and tail wags from the dog.

Actually, the last couple of months have been “challenging” after the death of our Border Collie, Bilbo. We’ve had him since our daughter was crawling and he’s seen us through so very much.  Moreover, I’ve also had another brush with severe asthmatic coughs and chest infections, which get me every August.

Not unsurprisingly, the kids have been distressed and shaken up. They’ve had questions, and I’ve had to come up with the answers. This included a particularly curly question, which I decided to share. It’s big and it’s important:

Why should we stay alive when life is painful, when we could be in heaven where there’s no pain, no troubles?

I hadn’t quite thought of heaven as the ultimate “grass is greener” before. However, I suppose it is. Otherwise, why would it be called “HEAVEN”? Furthermore, why wouldn’t you, I, want to get there on an express trip? Why do we fight so hard to stay alive, when we could be living up there in the clouds? Even Cloud 9?

While I’ve had my dark moments, and even extended interminable stretches of raw anguish, I haven’t really thought of heaven as my greener pasture. At least, not in the here and now.

I’ve known too many people who’ve lost someone to suicide and am very conscious of the anguish suicide leaves in its wake… an anguish which has no end for the multitude of people who get touched by even one death.

So, I guess for me, particularly when I’m in a  level-headed state of mind, knowing that I’d be going to my ulimate happy place when everyone who means anything to me gets to suffer, doesn’t add up.

At the very least, it’s not a very nice thing to do.

However, that’s not something I would share with someone who wasn’t in a particularly level-headed state of mind. That’s something I might now start putting out there on one of my routine drives with my kids, now they’re my son’s 13 and my daughter isn’t far behind him.

As a parent, I’ve been wondering how to talk about sex, dating, periods, condoms, relationships, drugs, but amongst all of that, I’d forgotten all about the other fairly “normal” aspect of puberty…the E-word. EMOTIONS. Thinking back to being a teenager myself, I don’t believe there was any such thing as “an even keel”, being “level-headed”, “grounded” as as for balanced? HA!!

Moon bike

At least speaking for myself, my emotions were extreme, even turbo-charged. Well-intentioned comments like “there’s more fish in the sea” fell flat. My parents meant well, and believe me, I’m getting a better understanding of what it’s like to be a parent scraping the bottom of your psychological and philosophical barrell. When your child is combusting and you’re trying to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Trust me. That whole “bird and the bees stuff” is a veritable piece of cake compared to discussing emotional equilibrium.

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I can usually relate to The Scream by Edward Munch

How do any of us venture and and carpe diem seize the day and all that entails, without getting hurt? We can’t live our lives in bubble wrap and while you can have safe sex, there is no condom you can quickly wrap around your heart and it’s way too easy to get burned.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m no statistician either. I don’t know what it is which causes one person to take their life, while others persevere. What I do know, is that it’s not straight-forward. I also know that we can’t control someone else. We can’t stop someone else from taking their life. And yet, we sometimes can. Here, I’m speaking about the more collective we, but sometimes, it does come down to the individual. At times, we do become that person staring despair in the face, and it is up to us to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Or, I guess if I was some kind of professional at this, you’d be trying to get the person to find their own reasons for living. Or, at the very least, find a shift in gears.

A friend of my parents used to call the teenage years: “the swirling vortex of pubescence”. He was a very charasmatic gentleman and he’d roll this phrase out like a showman on stage. I always pictured these wild churning seas with the damsel in distress thrashing around in the waves. Never sinking, but not getting out either. I always found that phrase rather entertaining, although on reflection that note of humour, has it’s sting. Tony also put me onto a poet who knew those waves. Knew that intensity of emotion. That was Nan Whitcomb in her “Thoughts of Nanushka” and I’ve since found another kindred spirit in Australian  poet and cartoonist, Michael Leunig. Of course, there was also Keats and I’ve always questioned the merits of studying his Ode to Melancholy while studying for our HSC (final school exams = HUGE stress!!)

“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim: 20
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs, 25
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.”
John Keats, Ode to A Nightingale.
Ay, in the very temple of Delight 
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine, 
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue 
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine; 
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might, 
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
John Keats, Ode to Melancholy

I also remember listening to Queen’s  Bohemian Rhapsody. That song needs no introduction.

Hot chocolate & book

How will the story play out?

The trouble is, that when you’re caught up in the more turbulent passages of that “swirling vortex of pubesence”, you have no idea how the story is going to play out. Speaking of myself, I was so caught up in the immediate present, the current devastating disaster, that I lost all sense of perspective. That it morphed into some kind of hellish bubble, my world. I couldn’t see it was a storm in a tea cup. I couldn’t see, that perhaps being dumped by “the bastard” was the best thing for me. That it really was a case of there being millions of fish in the sea, and I only needed to find one. That I wasn’t trying to catch the one, last surviving fish in an empty sea.

I never saw my life as a novel back then. Indeed, it’s only been this past week, that I’ve appreciated the close parallels between real life and the structure a novel or play where the main character (protagonist) has their difficult person, adversary (antagonist) but after a few rounds, they come through. There’s usually a twist at the end, and more than likely, real life doesn’t turn out quite like you expected either, but you can still live happilly ever after. Well, at least until the next challenge fires up. Bearing this in mind, you have to make the most of those high notes. Carpe diem seize the day. Gobble them up with a cherry on top. Yet, you also have to be prepared for troubles. Expect storms and rainbows, as well as sunny, blue skies.

If I was going to talk to my 13 year old self. Or, in my case, it was more my 16 year old self which was really doing it tough, what would I say?

Firstly, what I would say, wouldn’t be something eloquent, well-written, or an outstanding piece of philosophical writing with all the answers. It would be more of a stuttered, muttered and garbled story about how if I’d pulled the pin then, I wouldn’t have gone on to experience the highs of my life. For me, like so many others, the school days weren’t the best days of my life. However, they were the necessary precursor to getting into university which I loved on so many levels. I went through many relationship ups and downs and had way too many friends run off with the guy that I liked. I also spent all the years from my birth until I was 27, living with undiagnosed hydrocephalus or fluid on my brain, which really did make me “different” in a myriad of ways I am still trying to get my head around. Yes, I wasn’t “unco” and more than likely, the intensity of my emotions weren’t just puberty either. The inside of my brain had been flooded, and I was under an entirely different kind of “pressure”.

So, if I’d pulled the pin at 16, I wouldn’t have known that I had this underlying condition which was greatly relieved through surgery. Yet, even if I hadn’t had that or if there had been no “magic fix” to my problems, I still believe that it’s worth persevering through the very darkest of challenges and fighting hard to find any glimmer of light which will lead us out of the tunnel. Why? Because there just might be something better ahead. That you could well resolve your current troubles through whatever means. a change of curcumstances, meeting someone else. Another door opens.

Indeed, I still remember the night I met my husband. A friend of mine was holding a New Year’s Eve Party in another friend’s apartment in Wollstonecraft, which had a view over the back end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was supposed to going to that party with the boyfriend I’d had throughout the whole brain surgery saga and as you could imagine, things were rocky on so many levels I don’t know where to begin. Anyway, he dumped me just before the party and I really didn’t feel like going. However, it was only more of a soiree with only a few of us going and so I went. My husband opened the door. Now, I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight. However, we talked a lot that night and he gave me some really good advise  and I thought he was wise. Obviously, it was that old thing of crying on someone’s shoulder. I also remember standing out on the balcony together and I would’ve been photographing the fireworks, and he told me that he was also into photography. I clearly remember making a mental tick in my head. He also drove an Austen Healy Sprite, which he described as “English and tempremental”. I remembered that when we were driving through the Tenterfield Ranges in pouring rain to avoid the Grafton floods, and the exhaust pipe fell off on a pot hole. BTW, we’d been wearing raincoats in the car on that trip and had been soaked by the time we’d reached Newcastle. (We had been driving from Wahroonga in Sydney to visit his Mum and sisters family in the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s about a 10 hour drive.)

The ironic thing is that it can be these very worst moments, our greatest disasters, that we turn into our funniest stories. It’s often these moments which we’ll share around a barbeque laughing our heads of and entertaining the crowd, rather than the good times. I am now thinking that part of that is that we later find out these disasters weren’t so bad after all. Indeed, sometimes they proved to be a blessing in disguise. Or, they were a necessary step to get us to a better place, or to our ultimate destination.

So, now I would say that instead of pulling the pin, who have to keep breathing so you can keep living the book. Find out how you’re own story unfolds. Just one point here, too, and that is that you are not a passive player in your story. You are helping to write the script, as well as all the other characters. This is a team effort. You are empowered. However, you are empowered to do the best for yourself, AND the worst. Too often, it’s not the bully or our nemesis we need to watch out for, it’s our own selves. We shoot ourselves in the foot way more often AND we need to own that. Take responsibility. Not necessarily in a guilt way, but in an empowered driver’s seat way. JUst like if you were driving and made a wrong turn, you’d do a U turn and try again. You hopefully wouldn’t just sit in your car hoping it would magically take you where you want to go.

The ironic thing for me these days about people taking their lives, is that I am fighting with all I’ve got to save my own. This July marked 20 years since I had the brain surgery which saved and changed my life. This coming Tuesday, marks 10 years since I was diagnosed with a systemic auto-immune disease, dermatomymyositis which has left me with 60% lung capacity on a good day. I am getting through flu season again this year but again it’s been a battle. Three years ago, I had chemo to knock the disease on its head and fortunately that worked. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve been staring death in the face, and trust me. Not once was I thinking: “Heaven, bring it on!” No, despite being a Christian, all I was thinking about was my kids, my husband, my Mum, Dad, Brother and my friends. Giving them that kind of bad news, is devastating. The fact that I’ve survived, doesn’t negate that. We have lived through it and we continue to live with it.

So, this brings me to the very real need to talk to those we love about those times when the swirling vortex has taken hold, and give them concrete proof that they can get through it. That it’ s not only worth persevering through the hard times, that it’s possible to get there. Achievable. Moreover, they are not alone. Not only in the sense that we are with them now. Not just us as an individual either, but us as a community. The many layers of the onions…family, friends, teachers, pastors, the person you need down the street while walking your dog. But, we also need to make that time available. Leave enough space inbetween the words, the lines, the busyness that someone can sit along side us and be without being rushed, sped up, or brushed off.

I am not someone who has ever professed to have the answers, but I’ve always had the questions and I guess this is where they lead me now. But before I head off, another word just popped in my head. That is gratitude. While it’s not often possible to feel grateful for our let downs at the time, that can change through hindsight…especially with many of those heart breaks, which were the end of the world at the time. I wouldn’t be where I am now and while some of those guys were great people and simply not right for me (or me for them), I’ve been married to Geoff for 16 years now. We’ve survived some extremely hard times and miraculously stayed together. We hae two beauti ful children who can stretch us beyond the very brink at times, but who we love more than life itself. Sometimes, when things have been so hard, it’s hard to comprehend how the sun still rises in the morning and how life goes on. Yet, I’ve often found that very annoying and harsh reality, provides the momentum to keep me moving, which is ultimately a good thing.

I didn’t intend to write about this when I woke up this morning. I haven’t edited more than a couple of words and this is how my thoughts have landed on the page, or to be precise, my laptop screen. All of a sudden, in bright neon signs, I’ve realized that we as a society don’t talk about hard times. The cultural rhetoric is all about making it happen. Being whoever you want to be. It’s almost like you’re expected to find happiness in a fizzy drink…or a pill. Rather, what happens WHEN your journey through life hits the big snake just when you’re about to reach your goal and your sent straight back down to the beginning again? What happens when you’re a marketing executive and you’re diagnosed with hydrocephalus and you end up having brain surgery, getting a blocked shunt and requiring more brain surgery, the person you thought you were going to marry, dumps you because all of that’s too much and you’ve moved back home living with mum and Dad and going to rehab with the elderly at 28? BTW, that was also when I went to my 10 year school reunion. That was two weeks after the second brain surgery and I had no hair under one half of that bob. Indeed, there was a scar. I made it through that reunion and I was triumphant. Despite brain surgery being a much more sensitive embarrassing thing that the bad haircut.  I also had friends whose lives were picture perfect either. Some had divorced and one of my class mates had tragically died from cancer, which shook me to the core.

The fact that I’m still here, isn’t because I have some uber-amazing coping mechanism and I’m “Tonka tough”. I’ve had breakdowns. I’ve fallen face down in the mud and refused to get up. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and wrapped myself up in my doona and refused to get up. I’ve thought about how. I did jab myself with a pair of kindy scissors once when I was struggling to learn how to drive and fighting my brother for access to the car. That’s the closest I’ve come in a physically crossing the line sense, but these lines resonate: “hello darkness my old friend”.

Somehow, the collective “we” needs to have more of these conversations. The “where I was, how I found my way out and some of the joys of life we’ve experienced since” type. Talk about how life is ups AND downs. That we have to keep  walking, dancing, flying, dragging out feet, sleeping, talking, dreaming.They’re all part of it. Share and model that there is no magic pill, which will give you perfect, lasting happiness. However, there could well be multiple pills of darkness, which we need to approach with caution. Walk away from jealousy, envy, wanting to be someone we’re not, putting our value on stuff instead of relationships, replacing people with work. The list goes on.

Now, I’m turning it over to you. What has your experience been? I would like to invite you to share as much as you like in the comments below. What would you say to your teenage self about the dark times you’ve experienced? I could even see these becoming a series of posts. It would be truly beneficial to get a swag of letters together on this very important subject.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

PS I just had to drop my daughter off at meditation of all things (our dance school is running a session for kids followed by a session for parents so I’ll be heading off next). Funny how walking and driving gets you thinking. Pops something so obvious into your head, which you’d missed entirely while tapping away into the screen.

My other advice to my teenage self, is not to put all my eggs in one basket, and to remain diverse. I had very good friends out of school and I’ve encouraged this with my own kids since dot. However, as someone with a fairly obsessive, driven personality, I’d like to share that focusing all your energies on one thing, isn’t a good idea. If something happens to that one thing, whatever it is, then you’re devastated. You’re left with nothing. There is no “Plan B”. You have no identity left. Naturally, I was devastated when I couldn’t work after the brain surgery. I had grief counselling where I was told “We’re human beings, not human doings”. It’s taken me a long time to get that. In the aftermath of the brain surgery, I turned to photography and although it wasn’t making me any money, I found it was a great topic of conversation. Far more interesting than work. These days, writing  is my main thing followed by photography. What you might not know, is that I started learning the violin four years ago, and last year I started dance classes and have made my way through short adult courses in ballet, contemporary, lyrical and tap. I’m not even keeping up in the dance classes, but dance is now part of my psyche. Who I am. It’s added another string to my bow, and exercised more than a few neurofibres as well. It’s very important not to get stuck in what I’ll call “bubble worlds”…becoming “a dancer”, “a lawyer”, “a mother”, a “father”. Rather, ideally, we’d be more of a spangled web or texture, colour, sound, taste and smell stretching somewhere over the rainbow and back again. We must wear many hats, to be fulfilled, and really just to survive.

The End.

That's All Folks

Lady Di…Once Upon a Fairytale.

Once upon a time, a little girl with her hair in plaits and eyes full of dreams, watched as a magical fairytale unfolded on TV. Prince Charles was engaged to Lady Diana Spencer. Indeed, there was Diana fever and every single magazine around the world flashed Lady Di’s face on the cover. Moreover, as photographers pursued “Lady Di” like a frightened deer, millions watched on, including the little girl, entranced by her beauty and even the fairytale itself. Consciously, and even unconsciously, millions were swept up into this unconventional fairytale, where the not-so-handsome, big-eared Prince, had fallen in love with the shy, young kindergarten teacher hiding behind her fringe.

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The Royal Wedding, with all its pomp and circumstance, was held on the 29th July, 1981 the day before the little girl’s 12th birthday, when she was delighted to receive the commemorative stamps. Indeed, in the lead up to the big day, the little girl had been cutting up magazines and newspapers and pasting them into an exercise book with her school logo of the front. She might’ve lived in Sydney on the opposite side of the world, but she lived and breathed Lady Di, and now had concrete proof fairytales really could come true. Meanwhile, thanks to “Gran”, her friend ended up with a Lady Diana haircut…

Rowena 1981

Here I am aged 12 back in 1981.

The little girl knew everything there was to know about Diana. Indeed, there was nothing she didn’t know about the Royal couple. It was all in her book.

Princess Diana and Charles carriage

So, it will come as no surprise, that the little girl was glued to the TV set when Lady Diana Spencer arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral in her magical horse-drawn carriage wearing “The Dress”. If you were there, as in parked in front of your own TV set, you’ll also remember that moment when Lady Diana turned to the crowds with her dazzling smile and waved. It was a moment frozen in time. Who could not but fall in love with the beautiful Princess?

As we now know, almost the entire world was in love with Lady Diana Spencer, except her Prince.

Indeed, an invisible worm had infiltrated the dreams of England’s Rose and William Blake’s famous poem almost seems prophetic:

The Sick Rose

O Rose thou art sick.

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

William Blake

Princess Diana engagement

Interesting body language here.

However, right from the beginning, the clues were there. Even while they were announcing their engagement, Charles let it slip in an interview. When he said he was “just delighted and happy”, the interviewer sought further clarification, “And I suppose in love?”Charles’s reply is now haunting:  “WHATEVER ‘in love’ means.” Diana instantly replied, “Of course,” with a grimace and an eye roll. “Yes,” she giggled. Then Charles added: “Put your own interpretation on it,” as a feeble attempt to cover himself.

Perhaps, he’d hoped that love would come. However, as we now know, the Prince wasn’t in love with the beautiful, kindergarten teacher. Rather, he was still in love with Camilla, who for better or worse, has often been cast as the Wicked Witch in this fractured fairytale. However, the little girl knew nothing about all of that back then, and neither did the shy kindergarten teacher. Rather, she had found her Prince.

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Twenty years after Diana’s death, it is hard to fathom that sense of Diana Fever which engulfed the world. It’s impossible for me to explain it to my kids, because there’s nothing like it. There’s no one like her either. She was omnipresent. There was the Lady Di hair cut, the Lady Di collar with the bow around the neck, THE Wedding Dress, I’m not doing to touch all the dirt that came up during the divorce and so much more. Then, there was her funeral. Two thousand people attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey[1] , the British television audience peaked at 32.10 million (one of the United Kingdom’s highest viewing figures ever.[2]), and two billion people traced the event worldwide.[3] This makes Diana’s funeral one of the most watched events in history – Wikipaedia.

Somehow, the fairytale became so all-consuming, that it became one-size fits all. So many people wanted a piece of her, until there was almost nothing left for herself. Well, that’s how the theory goes. No one can keep giving and giving or even worse having themselves constantly taken away, particularly without their consent, without fading away and dying on the inside. Indeed, in some kind of reverse fairytale, couldn’t it be possible that every time the princess’s photo was taken and her image was stolen away, that her sparkle started to fade on some parallel portrait, just like Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Grey? That by the time of her death, that the Princess’s portrait had completely disappeared, with nothing left but the last veil?

diana and boys.JPG

Yet, that was not Diana. Rather, she rebuilt herself. While I don’t profess to be any kind of expert, it’s not difficult to infer that Diana found meaning and a zest for living through being “Mummy” to her boys. Recently, William and Harry have spoken out about losing their Mother, and shared her great sense of humour and how much fun they had with her. What losing her, has meant to them.

There was also her charity work, which was so much more than sipping cups of tea and attending cocktail parties. Indeed, she was quite a revolutionary and physically went to places angels feared to tread.

In April 1987, she shook hands with a man living with HIV/AIDS without gloves, while opening the UK’s first purpose built HIV/Aids unit at London’s Middlesex Hospital. While this might not seem a big deal now, at the time, AIDS was the new leprosy. Touching someone with AIDS, was a ground breaking act. With that single gesture, Diana showed that people living with HIV/AIDS needed compassion and understanding, not fear and ignorance. So it went, that if Princess Diana wasn’t afraid of shaking hands with someone living with HIV/AIDS or cuddling an affected child, we could do it too. It wasn’t going to kill us. She broke down some pretty major barriers on that front. As I said, her actions and deeds were revolutionary, making such a difference. It wasn’t just words and playing it safe.

Diana Landmine.jpg

It was the same with her support for banning of landmines. While this remains an important issue, back in 1997, even the British army still kept land mines in its arsenal The Princess was a benefactor of the nongovernmental organization: the Hazardous Areas Life-Support Organization, or HALO.  On Jan. 15, 1997,  she walked through an active minefield in Angola, and detonated a mine in front of an audience of international reporters, with the help of a land mine removal expert. “I did not want to be on the front page of the news the next day,” that mine removal expert, Paul Heslop, recently told the BBC, “as the man who’d blown up Princess Diana.”

Although Diana died a few months later, her efforts saw the UK ratify the international convention banning land mines the following year. Today, 80 percent of the world’s countries have signed on to the treaty. Among the countries yet to ratify the international ban on land mines are China, Russia and the United States.

So, despite her divorce, it seems Diana still believed in fairytales and in trying to make the world a more loving, safer place. Not only that, she took action and worked hard towards those goals, to the point of risking her own safety. Indeed, she was the Queen of Hearts who worked with love, compassion, drive and wasn’t afraid of stepping out and challenging her own fears to make a difference. Moreover, you can see this legacy living on through Prince Harry’s work with the Invictus Games, which use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and generate a wider understanding and respect for wounded, injured and sick Servicemen and women.

That is the Diana I choose to celebrate and honour now. The survivor and trail blazing revolutionary, who truly carpe diem seized the day and changed the world around her using love and influence. Sure, she had issues, but I’m not about to cast the first stone. My house is well and truly made of glass.

Meanwhile, my precious exercise book with the school logo on the front and Diana inside, is somewhere up in the attic. Although it’s a bit cringy-worthy these days, especially as I am an  Australian Republican, it’s still precious. It took a lot of hard work reading, cutting out and pasting to produce that book, and it’s as much a tribute to that little girl. Moreover, I still believe in Princess Diana and all she’s left behind. That’s because when you put all the hoopla aside, Princess Diana remains a truly remarkable woman…an eternal inspiration.

Is there anything you would like to say about Diana? Any memories? Please share them in the comments. 

By the way, I just found this article which goes to show I wasn’t the only one with a Diana scrapbook: Royal Weddings

xx Rowena

Love is… A Dog In Uniform.

Last night, I found out that my dog Lady has an online boyfriend. So, today I’ve been processing the ramifications, and am going into what’s known in professional circles as “Harm minimisation”, but in the real world as “going into damage control”.  Just like parenting your own kids, there’s no manual advising you on how to parent your dog either. Only an educated guess, gut feel and prayer.

While conventional wisdom recommends to “let sleeping dogs lie”, I’m discovering that these so-called “sleeping dogs”, aren’t sleeping after all. Rather, they’re like those enchanted toys. They come to life while we’re asleep, and then there’s mischief. Pure mischief.

While food theft has always been high on their list of misdemeanors, the most recent survey conducted by Naughty Dogs Research, shows clandestine cyber activity is rife.  Indeed, many dogs have become so tech savvy, that they’re accessing our lap tops while we sleep. Not only have they taken to writing on their parents’ blogs and posting selfies and vlogs, they’ve also turned to online dating. So, while I thought Lady was little more that a sleeping ball of black fluff curled up in her bed, she’s beeen hooking up with Gavel, the Queensland Governor’s dog. No longer content with Maltese Max, she’s punching well above her weight. Gavel’s official title is: “Vice-Regal Dog”.

Lady & Max

Lady chatting with Max online.

Obviously, like any responsible dog owner, I’m taking steps to reign Lady in. I’ve changed my password, and now keep my laptop in with us overnight. She has to be stopped. As I said, zero tolernace. I’m even thinking that I might need to catch up with the Governor over coffee, and just set up a few ground rules. After all, I doubt Gavel will be able to perform his Vice-Regal duties after staying up all night.

Anyway, this all came to light last night when I caught Lady in the act. A simple trip to the bathroom, and she quickly tried to do that alt-tab manoevre you do when the boss turns up. You know, how it works. You’re on Facebook, and quickly bring up some spreadsheet to cover your tracks. However, she wasn’t fast enough. So, thats’ when Lady being Lady, looks up at me with her ginormous puppy dog eyes and says: “But Mum! I couldn’t resist a dog in uniform! AND… like me, he’s ALMOST part of the Royal family.”

By this point, I was well and over all of her blue-blood talk. Indeed, I was sorely tempted to remind her that she’s a “Working Dog”, and that her grandmother was apparently a Blue Heeler. Nothing but a farm dog. That indeed, she is a mix, and NOT a pedigree.

BUT, as usual, I said nothing. I could hear my husband telling me that I’d catastrophized AGAIN. What’s so bad about two dogs talking over the net anyway? She’s desexed, and they can’t even share their fleas.

But, what would he know? Just because he’s an IT guru for a university, doesn’t mean he knows everything there is to know about the dangers of dogs talking over the Internet. While this Gavel seems squeaky clean, he could be TROUBLE. He could be one of these dangerous stalker types and he could arrange to meet up with her at a park or the beach and we’d never see her again. Not that I’m catastrophising. I’m troubleshotting instead. Forewarned is forearmed.

Anyway, not unsurprisingly, Lady wasn’t happy when I took away the laptop.  Like a fuming, exploding teen, she errupted: “You just don’t want me to have any friends. I hate you!”

Then, she delivered this dramatic monologue with all of Hamlet’s gravitas:

“Gavel and I met in an online chat room for dogs in distress. While you humans seem to think you’re the only ones who miss Bilbo (our Border collie who passed away a month ago), I miss him too. However, instead of being able to express my grief and talk things over with my mates at Dog Beach, I’m having to look after you lot, feeling like I’m about to snap in four, what with each of you fighting over who’s going to have me on their lap. That’s hard on a dog, especially one who’s spent her entire like wagging her tail, making people happy and having to disprove all those stereotypes of black dogs being the bearers of depression, anguish and angst.

“Gavel understands me. He was recently sacked from the Police force for being “too friendly”. While he now tells me that it’s worked out for the best, like me, he needed to grieve. Ooze out all the nasties and learn how to enjoy life again. Of course, he’s grateful that the Queensland Governor kept him on, and has recruited him as the Vice-Regal dog. However, he’s still coming to terms with the knock-back and was concerned that the Gov had only kept him to be nice. Anyway, he’s had time to get his head around it all now, and knows he’s better off. That it’s more of a case of dogs for different jobs, than being a dud. That he’s the master of the meet & greet, not concentration. Indeed, since they interviewed him online, “his story’s gone viral. He’s a star  and he’s promised to light up my star as well…just for a very affordable $1000 per month. I’m going to be famous.”

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What do you think? Am I wrong to be concerned, and take pre-emptive action?  Surely, that doesn’t mean I’m controlling? Treating her like she’s putty in my hands, which I can mould in any particular shape I like?

I don’t think so,  but clearly I have doubts!

Anyway, I almost forgot to mention that Lady’s been sending him postcards on our walks, sneaking them into the post box while she’s seemingly sniffing and I caught her posting this photo of herself, which she’d labelled as “My bed”.

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Lady caught sleeping on my son’s bed while he was at school. 

Who does she think she is? Soon, she’ll be angling for her own TV show. Or, better still he own movie: Love Is…A Dog In Uniform.

Meanwhile, I’m heading off to yoga, following my a massage and a huge piece of chocolate cake.

That’s what’s known as “self care”.

If your  dog has been up to any mischief lately, please dob them into the comments below.

xx Rowena