Tag Archives: bullying

Proust Questionnaire: Bullying is the trait I most deplore in others.

Today, I’m finally moving on to Question 4 of the Proust Questionnaire: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph!

Working through this Proust Questionnaire is really challenging my brain.

Think! Think! Think! Think! Think!

“For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.”― A.A. Milne, The World of Winnie-the-Pooh

I can almost hear it ticking and there’s this jarring movement between the question which is ticking very fast and my brain, which is very slow..ly plod..ding a…lo..ng…

Back leaning over my keyboard late at night, I’m wondering whether this is all too much. Have I done it again and set myself yet another overly ambitious target and perhaps I should slow things down a bit? Perhaps, it’s also yet another procrastinating, delaying tactic distracting me from simply writing the book instead of doing more “research”?

I’m also wondering whether this Proust Questionnaire is relevant to the 21st century and if is it asking the questions I want to ask my character?

However, this is what happens when you embark on any new, intensive project. You have second thoughts, doubts and if you’re anything like me, you also like to put your own stamp on things and have trouble rigidly sticking to the rules.

Well, in this case, I set myself this challenge and the schedule so I could stop of change this at any time but part of this is also starting something and getting it finished. I also see merit in answering someone else’s questions to add depth to my character in ways I wouldn’t have considered. There is merit in not always beating to your own drum.

Meanwhile, it’s late and the dog’s have left the back door open and a cold wind is wrapping around my legs instead of their warm furry coats. I’m still awake because it’s school holidays and the kids are staying at my parents’ place for a few days and I ended up sleeping much of today. I’m pretty much back on deck after recent bronchitis but get fatigued easily. Besides, it was a cold, windy day and it felt so good sleeping with my electric blanket switched on and the world outside switched completely off!!

I’m not going to mention yesterday’s train trip with the kids to Sydney either but suffice to say that I was relieved to drop them off and meet up with Geoff and have a quiet dinner out.

This brings me to question 4: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph. This is quite a hard one.

After throwing a few ideas around, I’ve found it…bullying.

Bullying doesn’t need any introductions or definitions  because it’s all over the web.

The reason I’ve nominated bullying as the trait I most deplore in others is that involves the misuse of power to intimidate others or to get what you want no matter who or what stands in your way. While this might be perceived as determination, it can also be a form of bullying and should be treated as such.

I was brutally bullied when I was at school. I wasn’t punched, kicked, scratched or even stabbed with a knife but for 6 years I was brutally bullied with words, ostracism and just plain cruelty, largely for being different.Being different, as most of us appreciate, is a serious crime at school and even though the world might open up like a flower once we leave, it’s like being stuck in a lift for six years and for some it becomes too much.

What none of us knew at the time was that I had a serious medical condition, which accounted for these weird and wonderful symptoms. Mum had a very difficult birth with me and that was probably how I ended up with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain, which wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-20s.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

Despite the troubles, I had at school, I attended my 10 year school reunion only weeks after brain surgery and half my hair had been shaved off but no one could tell because they’d left a layer a “curtain” of hair over the top. The reunion went really well and I even made new friends and connections. We’d all grown up a lot, which was really reassuring and there was none of that trademark bitchiness we’d had at school.

Most of the time, I don’t think about my experiences of being bullied at all these days. I found my peace and moved on…right on. However, my daughter recently talked to me about being bullied and said: “You don’t know what it’s like”.

Well, that was time to share a bit of my personal history only I can’t remember very much. No doubt I shut the door on all of that and don’t want to go back. The only reason I’d go back there at all would be to help my kids. Show them that you can go through being bullied and come out the other end being strong, a survivor. I ultimately found my niche at university where I had plenty of friends and was even ran for election for the student newspaper.

The other thing, too, about when I was being bullied was that while it was obviously going on, as I mentioned before, there wasn’t a lot that stood out that you could actually mention. No physical scars or proof and just words. We didn’t use the term bullying at our school. I guess a bully was stereotyped as some kind of thug of a boy and I was at an all-girls’ school. If you were picked on or bullied at our school, you were just a “loser”, “reject” or “Nigel No Friends”. There was no way of pointing the mirror back at the bully, so they could see their own ugly reflection. There was no “portrait of Dorien Gray” either. I don’t think there was any kind of of punishment or action taken by staff. You were just crushed…and your parents paid a fortune for the privilege.

These days I still see bullying and I’m not talking about kids. Parents slaughtering a teacher’s reputation without any evidence or a second thought. Parents judging children, judging other parents and just speaking their mind without any kind of filter whatsoever. I’ve heard these parents described as “gaters”. Not just because they hang out at the school gate but because they’re as brutal as a pack of alligators and show no mercy.

It seems to me that bullies grow up.

While I’m not always good at minding my tongue either, my grandmother, who was a very wise woman, used to tell me: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all”! That is very sound advice, which would prevent a lot of heartache and worse.

Would any of you like to share the trait you most deplore in others?

Just to get you thinking, a few of the other traits I considered were: anger, superficiality and arrogance. I obviously couldn’t mention running late, staying up too late or eating too much chocolate without pointing fingers back at me.

xx Rowena

Racist Attacks on Adam Goodes: The Tip of a Very Ugly Iceberg?

During the last week, what I hope is most Australians, have been rocked by ongoing racist remarks leveled at Adam Goodes, a much loved and honored Indigenous Aussie Rules (AFL) footballer and who was also named Australian of the Year 2014.

Many have come out strongly supporting Goodes, including setting up the hashtag #IStandWithAdam.

However, there are still some pretty vocal critics.

Adam Goodes (born 8 January 1980) is a professional Australian rules football player with the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League (AFL). Goodes holds an elite place in VFL/AFL history as a dual Brownlow Medalist, dual premiership player, four-time All-Australian, member of the Indigenous Team of the Century and representing Australia in the International Rules Series. In addition, he currently holds the record for the most games played for an Indigenous player, surpassing Andrew McLeod’s record of 340 games during the 2014 AFL season.

I don’t know whether this story has made international headlines but it has reignited race debate here and personally, I think it’s about time racism made the front page and wasn’t hidden in the small print. Whether you believe that booing at Adam Goodes was racist or not, that doesn’t deny that our Indigenous Australians as a whole, cop what is often vile racist abuse. That what happens at a football match is just the tip of a very ugly iceberg. That there is endemic discrimination against Aboriginal people here and it has to stop!

Adam Goodes, Australian of the Year 2014

Adam Goodes, Australian of the Year 2014

Moreover, you don’t have to be an Indigenous Australian to see this. You just need two eyes, two ears and a heart…values. Even the smallest child has probably heard of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated and that certainly doesn’t include calling anyone an “ape” or saying they “belong in the zoo.”!!

These racial taunts have been leveled at Adam Goodes from the crowd at games and it is nothing short of a disgrace!

I am not going to address the details here as you just need to do a quick Google search to get the run down.

However, here are a few links:

http://www.smh.com.au/national/in-a-dark-place-adam-goodes-the-nation-and-the-race-question-20150731-giolfa.html

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/aug/01/noel-pearson-on-adam-goodes-booing-australia-is-looking-into-the-abyss-of-despair

The story started out back in 2013 when a 13 year old girl at a Swans match called Goodes “an ape” from the stands. Goodes confronted the girl and she was removed from the stadium and interviewed by Police. Goodes didn’t want her charged and she later apologised to Goodes and made amends. However, there are still rumblings from the sidelines about this. That Goodes was unfair to expose and out her and whether a 13 year old knows what is racist. This has taken the issue way beyond Goodes and the girl concerned and has launched a wider debate. Not so much saying that the girl should be charged but that Goodes made the wrong call.

Since then, there have been other racial taunts directed at Goodes as well as a lot of booing from the crowd.

On the way to see Swans vs West Coast Eagles at ANZ Stadium in 2009. Mister played on the field with his team at half-time as part of the junior Auskick program.

On the way to see Swans vs West Coast Eagles at ANZ Stadium in 2009. Mister played on the field with his team at half-time as part of the junior Auskick program.

I’ve been to a number of AFL matches and am a Sydney Swans supporter myself. I’ve heard that kind of booing at matches and know how a crowd can get carried away, However, even then it struck me as poor sportsmanship and this booing at Goodes falls into another category altogether. Even if it wasn’t intended to be racist in the past, now that it is being perceived that way, that’s what it means. It needs to stop!!

Somewhat friendly banter between opposing supporters at the Swans vs Essenden match July 2007: my husband and I!

Somewhat friendly banter between opposing supporters at the Swans vs Essenden match July 2007: my husband and I!

What I also find quite intriguing is how people talk about this girl being an “innocent 13 year old”. That she didn’t understand what she was saying. What it meant to call anyone a “ape”, even if she didn’t understand what that reference means to Aboriginal people in particular.

As far as I’m concerned, she knew exactly what she was saying. You and I both know that if anyone called a kid in the playground a ape, at the very least, they’d be labeled a bully…not an innocent. So what’s the difference here? Just because Goodes is older than her, that doesn’t give her the right to be racist!

Just to emphasise this point, while I’ve been working on this post, my daughter approached me and said: “How could she not know that calling someone an ape is racist?” Miss is only 9 and she knows!

My kids are incredibly proud of our Indigenous people and actually thought they were Aboriginal. You see, my aunt’s partner is Aboriginal and they simply know him as “Uncle Darryl”. Darryl’s children are my step-cousins and while we don’t see them often as we live on opposite sides of the country, the kids really became attached to Uncle Darryl and believed they were Aboriginal. Even when I tried to explain to them that we were related to my aunt, it simply didn’t sink in. They couldn’t grasp genetics and all of these scientific explanations. Darryl was their uncle. He is Aboriginal. They were Aboriginal. There was such beauty and love in this. One day my daughter finally asked me: “So we don’t have any Aboriginal blood? Not even a drop?” Both kids are very disappointed!

I don’t just attribute this pride to our family situation. Rather, our school has built close ties with the local Mingaletta People and they learn Aboriginal painting and stories at school. Indeed, Aboriginality is truly celebrated at our school and not just given lip service either! It is interwoven in so much of what we do.

A few weeks ago, my son even attended a didgeridoo playing session at Mingaletta with his friend from school and I know that moved him deeply inside. It was a spiritual experience for him.

A few weeks ago while we were catching the train, he also told me that he would be proud to be Aboriginal.

These weren’t things my kids have said or done to be politically correct. Their love and respect for Aboriginal people just flows from the heart as a mark of respect, love and I some sort of connection which defies explanation but I do hope that this is something which will nurture and grow.

My kids, imperfect as they are, show what is possible not only through education but through knowing Aboriginal people in our family, at school and in the community and also being taught over and over again that we are all equal regardless of race,gender,disability or class.

My question and what I see as the ultimate challenge, is how do we reach adults who espouse racism and the like in our community?

Quite frankly, we all need to periodically scrub our brains out with soap and clean out the crap. Acknowledge our own bigoted biases and change the way we think. This doesn’t just relate to racism but also just to plain snobbery. Thinking that you’re better than someone else just because of where you live, what you drive and where your children go to school NOT who you are on the inside and your own actions. We don’t need to knock other people down to build ourselves up.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

So along with the rest of my family, we step out firmly supporting Adam Goodes. More than that. We cheer him on for taking a stand against racism and also for all he has done to encourage, develop and support Indigenous Australians while promoting greater acceptance, understanding and connection among all Australians…and all peoples!

respect

It is a noble cause which echoes the words and deeds of many of the world’s greats but the words of Martin Luther King particularly come to mind:

“I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

xx Rowena

You can read here how fans have come out in force to support Adam Goodes: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-02/sporting-stars-and-fans-support-adam-goodes/6665834

Building Bridges Through A Game of Cards.

After parenting for awhile, you’d finally think you know what you’re doing.

Ha! Isn’t that the biggest joke!

As any parent knows, just when you’re comfortable and in the grove, the ground changes. They have another growth spurt. Start school. Get bullied. Become the bully. They have good days and bad days. There is no consistency.

You feel completely and utterly, lost, stumped, completely out at sea and …a bad parent.

However, no matter who you are, there inevitably comes a day when you kid gets stuck. The wheels stop moving and you, as parent, are called upon to pull out your magic wand and suddenly make everything better. You say a few abracadabras and tap your kid on the head three times but nothing happens. There’s not even a poof of smoke. You’re not sure what’s gone wrong. Perhaps, your wand is bent or the batteries are flat but, of course, you’ve lost the instruction manual.That’s if your wand ever had one. It’s amazing how few things related to parenting come with instructions, most notably, the kid themselves. Indeed, they arrived into this world with nothing at all but a scream.

Away, unable to get your wand operational, you’re stumped.

Your kid is stumped.

Hey, most of the time, even the professionals are stumped. That’s if you can get your kid to see any kind of professional. Chances are if they’re not moving, that’s the last place they’ll go.

Here’s a post I wrote recently about the misunderstood and hurting child: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/loving-the-misunderstood-when-kids-hurt/

Anyway, for many of us, Winter can be a bit of a downer. Mister has had a dreadful asthma cough, poor, broken sleep as well as some troubles with his stomach where he was seeing stars and vomiting for a bit. Of course, the Emergency Department had no explanation and there was the usual mention of a “virus”. He’s missed a lot of school and really was operating at half mast and it wasn’t depression either. At least, that wasn’t the trigger. That said, with all that going on, he was hardly doing the happy dance.

However, even though my magic wand wasn’t operational, I still had my bag of tricks. This is what I’ll call “experience”. Not just my own experiences but what’s worked for others as well.

As much as someone who is struggling can appear like a cactus and needing to be left alone, this can also a time when they cautiously need you to dig in. More hugs, not less hugs. Understanding, empathy, doing things together..even, perhaps, if the bedroom door is shut.

That said, you need a catalyst. Some way of making that connection and lighting that initial spark.

Well, believe me. I was looking. Looking…looking…Did I mention looking?!!!

I’m not saying that this will work for everyone or that this is going to work forever but I remembered that I used to play a lot of card games with my friends in high school. Both my parents were avid Bridge players who taught my brother and I how to play as soon as we were old enough.

Finally, I had that elusive “light bulb moment”! Teaching the kids how to play 500.

In addition to seeing it as something we could do as a family, I also thought playing cards is a good way to make friends. Moreover, being good at Maths, I thought he’d love it and our daughter also loves a strategic challenge. It is hard enough for anyone to feel good trying to get anywhere on their weaknesses and I thought playing 500 would bring out their strengths.

Don't you just love the hot pink of the macaroon mix?!!

Don’t you just love the hot pink of the macaroon mix?!!

So, after refreshing ourselves on the rules, we had a card’s night last Friday along with a range of scrumptious desserts made by Miss: Adriano Zumbo’s Raspberry and Chocolate Macaroons (packet mix but very good) and a Chocolate & Raspberry Surprise…a pizza made out of a firm chocolate ganache with “my precious raspberries” and a raspberry sauce on top. It was exceptional good and yet so simple and straight out of her imagination. I was stoked. Mister also made a Chocolate & Raspberry Fudge which was exceptionally high in sugar but very good as well.

My daughter's spectacular tower of macaroons.

My daughter’s spectacular tower of macaroons.

Our kids are 11 and 9 and although we had a lot of explaining to do about suits, right and left bowers, tricks and bidding, after a few open hands, they pretty much had the hang of it.

Well, that’s as long as you don’t count a mad bidding war between the two of them. We were playing boys versus girls. First, it was my daughter’s turn to go all out with the bidding, stretching it to 8 Hearts (note we can only lose 2 tricks). Unfortunately, we went down in a spectacular defeat. A hand or two later, our son repeated the crime, at least, making the score somewhat even. Neither of them enjoyed going down…a valuable life lesson!

We also had to teach them about “the poker face”.

If you are not familiar with 500, the Joker is the highest card and just let me say there was a certain amount of jubilation when the kids had the Joker. We’re talking about jumping up and down with ear-to-ear grins doing an extremely exuberant version of the Happy Dance. Definitely no mind-reading required.

This is also a good life-lesson. All of us need to learn the distinction between what’s public and private and that there are some things you need to keep to yourself. Given how people plaster all sorts of selfies all over the Internet these days, learning how to hold back is a valuable life skill.

Naturally, we are wanting to continue these card nights. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds, even though we’re all keen. There is always so much to be done! My real hope, though, is that the kids can teach their friends how to play and it’s something they can do together, beyond playing computer games. A way they can connect. With this in mind, we’re already planning to get a few families together to put the wheels in motion. I can’t wait!

I should just add that we are fairly involved in our local community. Our kids both do Scouts. We go to Church. We’re involved with the school. I’m even part of the local dog walking community. This gives our family this extra layer of support. We’re not parenting them alone and they also have also these beautiful outer layers of the onion…as well as our extended family. That means that as we head towards what is often seen as the tempestuous teenage years, that we have back up. We, and indeed they, are not alone!

I have to admit that I was jubilant when our game of 500 went so well and that I’d finally “done something right”! It’s so easy to feel like you’ve failed as a parent and that you’ve really lost your way but then all of a sudden, the light comes back on and the wheels are turning again. You might not always be all “happy family” but at least, you’re content!!

After all, so often relationships and people are not broken. The pathways just need a bit of weeding, maintenance or a new direction to reconnect. Relationships are a journey with ups and downs and twists and turns in the road…not a straight, level road!

Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
Charles R. Swindoll

I should also add that since my son fought off the virus and his cough has settled, he has also perked up a lot. That reminds me that as parents, we need to keep the faith and believe in the bigger picture and not get caught up in setbacks along the way which really can look like the end of the world.

We can never give up.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned, although I guess it is implied, is the incredible love I have for my kids and that connection we have. There is nothing else like it. Somehow, that love fuels my journey, even when I’m discouraged. During the terrible twos, I was told “tomorrow is another day” and that has also helped carry me though the rocky patches.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Do you have any advice for parents facing the teenage years? Anything you’d do differently?

Love and loads of patience and courage for the journey,

xx Rowena

Loads of messy dishes: the sign of a great night!

Loads of messy dishes: the sign of a great night!

A Lifesaving Journey with Anne Frank!

In the opening lines of The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne shared the excitement of unwrapping her diary: “Dear Kitty” …a gift for her 13th birthday. Likewise, on my 13th birthday, I had a similar rush of excitement when I unwrapped Anne’s diary, which was a gift from my mother, along with an empty journal to get me started.

Anne Frank writing in 1941.

Anne Frank writing in April, 1941.

Mum was forever trying to get me interested in reading but she also encouraged and nurtured my writing. When I was around 11 years old, she’d taught me how to spell “enthusiastic” and I was as proud as punch with my new word and liberally started adding it to my compositions at school to receive that all-important red tick and VG in the margin. That same year, Mum also gave me a thesaurus. Although it took me a few years to really master it, that precious book opened my mind to the real possibility of words and engendered a real love of words themselves. Words…not just as part of a sentence, or telling a story but words as individuals. All of a sudden, I could appreciate their unique sound and imagery in the same way you can appreciate the beauty in a single, musical note.

Anyway, having connected so strongly with Anne Frank, not unsurprisingly, I wrote my journal entries to: “Dear Anne”…the perfect friend and confidant. That said, to be honest, writing to her was a bit like staring in a pond at my own reflection. She knew, understood and accepted me in a way I didn’t even accept myself.

Of course, I wasn’t conscious of any of this at the time. I just wrote and wrote, pouring out my very troubled heart to Anne Frank in a way that I couldn’t with anyone “real” at the time. After all, who can? As we traversed the years, Anne became drawn into and even a very part of my heart of hearts.On reflecton, I suspect these outpourings to “Dear Anne” were like writing to a much older, wiser part of myself. An inner dialogue with and to that essential, spiritual part of my being, which The Bible describes as having God living within us.That God was somehow speaking to me through her words…or was that my words or even His words??? Ouch! I’m so confused!!

There were so many, many times when writing in my diary saved me from that swirling vortex of pubescence, which really can engulf a teenager and certainly wasn’t unique or peculiar to me…just part of growing up.

After all, being a teenager can be a very perplexing and challenging time. As if simply growing up wasn’t hard enough, when you add all those surging hormones and mind, body and spirit all get thrown into the mix, you have one very explosive pressure cooker. As parents often lament, it doesn’t take much for the lot to explode! Writing to Anne Frank via my diary, was a kind of pressure valve, letting out the steam before the pressure cooker exploded leaving splat all over the ceiling.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Although I related intimately to Anne Frank, well you might question that connection. After all, we were two complete strangers living in such different worlds at different  times. What could we possibly have in common?

An snapshot of Anne's original diary.

An snapshot of Anne’s original diary.

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
― Anne Frank

Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression and was actually the same age as my Great Aunt. Indeed, they were born only months apart, which has come to intrigue me. With the rising tide of anti-Semitism, the Franks fled to Amsterdam and ultimately went into hiding in the Secret Annexe where she was not only in hiding from the Nazis but was also living under the microscope in impossibly close quarters with her parents, sister and other residents. Indeed, she had to share her bedroom with an old, cranky male dentist, which seems highly inappropriate through modern eyes!! That would be a living hell for any teenager!!! Anyone!!!

Frank Family Photo May 1941

Frank Family Photo May 1941

What did I, a girl born in the late 1960s in sunny, suburban Sydney on the other side of the world during a time of peace and economic prosperity, have in common with Anne Frank?  The casual observer would say that a bad day was having to walk to school or fighting with my brother for control of the TV… such trivial concerns in the overall scheme of things!!

However, underneath the surface, my situation wasn’t quite that straight-forward, which was no doubt an another reason I connected with Anne Frank. We didn’t know it at the time but I was living in a weird sort of prison all of my own.

Anyway, beyond her circumstances, Anne Frank also expressed so much of the frustration, angst and confusion of being a teenager and she did so in such a way that millions have found solace in her words. Just like me writing away at my desk in suburban Sydney, millions of young women have also addressed their journals: “Dear Anne”.

Anne wrote about her strained relationship with her mother and living in the shadow of her perfect sister, Margot. She also felt that she was being constantly criticized by the other adults in the annexe who simply didn’t get her. These are experiences most of us can relate to and so through her words, we found a mirror of our own struggle as well as a much loved and needed friend and confidante.

I also related to Anne Frank as a person as well. We are both extroverts, wanted to be journalists and have inquiring minds. Both of us were obsessed with asking “why?”. We were both fascinated and intrigued by people and what makes them tick. We also struggled with our relationships with our mothers. These commonalities bridged the many, many gaps which lay between us. She was my friend, my confidante and at times, it seemed like the only person on this planet, who had ever walked in my shoes because we both felt a sense of being different, misunderstood and outcast.

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn’t stop you from having your own opinion.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank also became the perfect soul mate for any teen, or anyone at all for that matter, who grapples with being different for whatever reason. Anne Frank’s sense of difference not only involved being a young Jewish girl being persecuted by the Nazis. Once living with her family in the annexe, her sense of difference stemmed more from everyone else in the annexe and it certainly wasn’t easy for her being the youngest and feeling like she was being treated as a child, even though she had become a young woman. At times, Anne feels persecuted by everybody in the annexe and feels she can’t do anything right. Haven’t we all been there?

“Although I’m only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite independent of anyone.”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank

However, as my journey continued beyond the turbulent teens, I outgrew calling my journal Anne, although I’ve never outgrown my love for her. Once I’d left school and started university, I discovered that people come in all sorts of packages and that diversity is a blessing, not a curse.When I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992, I visited Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, which was certainly an incredibly special, deeply,deeply personal experience. I have never forgotten what she meant to me and how writing to her saved a drowning soul so many times all those years ago.

It was only as my journey continued that I came to realise just how much Anne Frank had helped me. All my life, I’d felt different but didn’t know why. I had this deep sense and knowledge that something was wrong but couldn’t work out what or put a name to it. There was something deep and unfathomable going on and I searched, really ploughing the depths it all but it still remained a mystery. Once I reached university, I found out I wasn’t so alone and there were indeed thousands like me but still that nagging doubt persisted. Something was wrong.I developed an intense interest in psychology, philosophy, literature, prayed and wrote angst-ridden poems in an almighty quest to try and unravel my own inner mystery and somehow understand myself.

Meanwhile, I was diagnosed with serious anxiety.

It was only when I was around 27 when these seemingly vague symptoms stepped out of the closet and spiraled out of control, that the mystery was revealed. After feeling like the room was spinning round, I went to the GP who asked me to put my finger on my nose, a classic neurological test and I missed. He referred me to the neurologist and I was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a variation of hydrocephalus. Suddenly, a myriad of weird symptoms fell into place and the unexplained started to make sense. Apparently, I’d had this all my life and it was probably caused my my very difficult birth. Although the symptoms had always been bubbling quietly under the surface, six months after diagnosis, I descended into a neurological hell, which was right out of Oliver Sack’s: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  I went on to have brain surgery and was given a shunt, which managed the pressure in my head. It was a long road back to anything approaching “normal” and I went through six months of intensive rehab where I learned to walk again (this time without staggering around with the broad gait of a sailor on a shaky skiff) and well as overcoming serious short-term memory issues and having virtually no ability to organise myself.

Unwittingly, Anne Frank helped me survive those torturous teenage years where the symptoms of the hydrocephalus were there but written off simply as “Rowena”. Since re-adjusting the settings, it’s been quite a journey…incredibly frustrating and slow moving at first but intriguing in retrospect. While I am still me, there are definitely traits that weren’t “me” at all and were symptoms which have since faded, if not gone altogether. Even now, almost 20 years after surgery, I am still noticing improvements but still have some lingering struggles.  I can now play the violin, ski but more importantly, I met and married my husband and have largely been able to look after our two children and the dogs. I also returned to work as a Marketing Manager, although chemo two years ago has put work on hold for the time being.

I am still an extrovert and full of all the contradictions I shared with Anne Frank and I hope, have a deeper sense of compassion for people who don’t fit the norm and maybe don’t have a “Dear Anne” they can call their own.

These days, I am also a parent and next year, our son will dip his toe into that swirling vortex of pubescence when he starts high school. Somehow, I can’t see him writing to “Dear Anne” but he does Scouts and plays the guitar and I hope these outlets will bridge the gaps for him.

Meanwhile, our 9 year old daughter dabbles with writing in her diary and also loves drawing in there as well. I’m looking forward to giving her a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank when she turns 13 so she can also perhaps experience that same connection I found so many, many years ago.

Last year, I stumbled across this interview with Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who spoke dare I say frankly about reading her diary. This is an absolute must!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWRBinP7ans

Did you ever write a journal growing up and any suggestions on helping boys get through the teenage years would be appreciated!!

xx Rowena

PS: I think you’ll all agree that Anne frank achieved this goal:

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
― Anne Frank

It’s Not Easy Being Green!

G is for Green and as I struggled to think of a meaningful topic for the Blogging A-Z Challenge, I remembered a favourite childhood song: It’s Not Easy Being Green, which was written by Sesame Street songwriter Joe Ripozo and sung by Jim Henson as loveable Kermit the Frog.

It's Not Easy Being Green
It's not that easy being green
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold
Or something much more colorful like that

It's not easy being green
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things
And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're
Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
Or stars in the sky

But green's the color of Spring
And green can be cool and friendly-like
And green can be big like an ocean, or important
Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why
Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful
And I think it's what I want to be

You might even want to have a sing-a-long: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco

This song is dedicated to Freddie the Front Door Frog. If you go back to my post to my post for F about Fractured Fairytales, you might recall being introduced. Freddie lives with my in-laws about half an hour’s hop from Byron Bay when he hitches a ride in the car.

Freddie the Front Door Frog.

Freddie the Front Door Frog.

Well, being an Australian Green Tree Frog, I thought Freddie would appreciate this song. After all, we wouldn’t want him deciding that he didn’t like being green and going all fancy dress, turning himself rainbow colours or hopping around weighed down by too much bling.

That’s right. We want him to know that we love him just the way he is or even because of what he is…GREEN!

By the way, Freddie says that it’s actually a lot easier to be green than you think. That you don’t need to go and change your skin colour, or anything else that radical. Rather, you can start small. Get a worm farm. Reduce the amount of packaging you use and don’t buy snacks in individual serve packets. You can grow a few tomatoes,. Have chooks. Walk instead of drive.

Apparently, all these little things add up and even the smallest and seemingly weakest among us, can make a difference for the survival of our beautiful blue planet and he points out, save more frogs!!

Today has been brought to you by the letter G as part of the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge.

xx Rowena

Happy Harmony Day, Australia!

Today, it’s Harmony Day in Australia which is all about standing up for and defending inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.

However, while it’s much easier to talk and wax lyrically about acceptance, tolerance and understanding, it is much harder to implement these essential values into the daily grind.

While we might fight for the popular causes of social injustice, especially when they are shouted out by the media, we so often miss and even walk over the supposedly invisible battlers who even live alongside us. Their plight might slip through the radar but if we truly used our eyes and ears and slowed down to walk in their shoes, we would know that they could use an extra helping hand to feel valued and included. Given my personal situation, I have a real heart for all who live with a disability. While many go on and become high achievers in a wide range of fields despite their challenges, many are marginalised and living in very difficult and even inhumane circumstances.

The struggle is though, how can we as individuals be more inclusive and help even the most marginalised members of our community feel respected and included?

This is quite a challenge. We are all juggling more balls than we could ever humanly manage. Moreover, when your life’s zipping along in the super fast lane, it can be very hard to slow yourself down. Not necessarily to a grinding halt but the slow, indeed very slow pace, required by someone who is struggling.

As someone with mobility issues, I am constantly struck by those I love who instead of walking with me, charge off into the distance as though their lives depended on it. They can’t walk with me. However, I am just as guilty. I can easily get frustrated when I’m helping the battlers with the reading at school and have to remind myself to be patient. Although I want to help, I also get frustrated because I am having to slow my speed down… the very same way a fast walker gets frustrated slowing down for me.

However, if we all just try, that has to start making some improvement. This is why I love Pink’s epic motivational song: Try:

You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try

Multiculturalism and accepting cultural difference is a major part of Harmony Day. In the past, Australia had the White Australia Policy and a very narrow perception of what it was to be Australian. This vision even excluded our indigenous Aboriginal people. Our Indigenous Australians weren’t allowed to vote federally until 1967. That is a national shame and disgrace and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.Prospective immigrants were also given a notoriously racist language test as well…especially when they came from an “undesirable” country. As a nation, some of our sins run deep.

In more recent times, as in other countries, a policy of multiculturalism has been adopted and we have been encouraged to explore and accept diverse cultures, even absorbing them into our own way of life. This process so often begins with food but gradually extends to other areas through the bonds of friendship and love. Without multiculturalism and diversity our community would be bland, grey and dull.

Countering these values of inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for all, we have what I’ll call a range of “bullies”. They come in different guises: “nationalism”, “racism”, “fear” or simply being too busy. As people take more of a stand against these bullies, we are now also being asked not to be passive bystanders as well. Rather, we need to be whistle blowers, standing up and protecting the weak or disadvantaged against these bullies with their abuse of power.

Taking this a step further, responsibility also needs to extend beyond the bystanders to include the by-passers as well. The story of the Good Samaritan provides a great illustration of how a by-passer can walk passed someone in need or alternatively they could stop and help. Of course, this reminds me once again of that all-important Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated as well as the Inverse Golden Rule where we treat others as they would like to be treated. These are an excellent guide for how to treat others.

At the same time, I must admit that there is so much demanding our compassion that we have to be selective. As individuals, we can’t stop and save everyone. Indeed, sometimes, we could even use more than a helping hand ourselves. Yet, if each one of us reaches out to even a few, then collectively, at least in theory, everyone could be reached, included and belong. That’s if they want to.

Getting back to celebrating Harmony Day, I was very touched by the Harmony Day assembly held at our children’s school on Friday. My daughter’s class sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow in sign language and the kindergarten children sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Japanese. We also had parents from Japan and India talk about their childhoods in their own countries, which were surprisingly similar and just proved what my grandfather has always said: “The Geese go barefoot everywhere”. A friend of mine also performed the most sensational Indian Dance and it was the first time I’ve ever been able to experience its incredible beauty and intricacies and it was such an incredible journey, which I intend to pursue further.

Here is my little contribution to Harmony Day. It’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star where each line is sung such in a different language.I did actually try to find a verion in an Aboriginal language but so far have had no luck. Will have to follow that up.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star English

Brille, brille, petite étoile French
お空の星よ (osora no hoshiyo) Japanese
En el cielo y en el mar, Spanish
He tai mana to rite Maori
Funkel, funkel, kleiner Stern German
Ako namamangha kung ano ikaw! Phillipino

I also stumbled across this Australian variation of Twinkle Twinkle:

Twinkle, twinkle little star,
Daddy drives a rotten car.
Press the button, pull the choke,
Off we go in a cloud of smoke.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
Daddy drives a rotten car.

Source: Far Out Brussel Sprout. compiled by June Factor illustrated by Peter Viska Oxford University Press, 1983.

So this Harmony Day, I encourage you to think about how you can support inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. To achieve this, we each need to get out of our own backyards and start venturing further afield. Take some risks and start talking to people who might take you out of your comfort zone. If you have a dog, you already know that you meet all sorts walking your dog and if you don’t have a dog, go and borrow one and hit the streets. You never know who you might meet. As the song said many years ago: “it only takes a spark, to get a fire going.”

I’m not only daring you. I’m also challenge myself.This is not an easy mission at all but nothing worth fighting for ever was.

By the way, a month ago, I was involved in a world-wide blogging movement to promote compassion…#1000 Speak. This month, we are writing about bullying. This is my contribution to the project. I thought Harmony Day was a good example of how we as the Australian community have decided to stand up against a range of bullying which stems from intolerance of difference in others.

Bullying which comes in so many, different guises has the same effect of crushing and tormenting it’s victims until they somehow find a way to stand tall. Nothing seems to deflate a bully better than strength. Somehow, those being bullied need to inflate their self-worth. Believe in themselves and stand tall. After all, nobody is meant to stand small…not even our kids. After all, you know I’m not talking about physical size but a state of mind. So no matter where you are in this hotchpotch symphony we call community, know that you deserve to be valued, treasured and accepted for who you are. Moreover, you also need to do the same and pass it on. Then, we will all be able to grow into our own shoes we and walk our beautiful planet with pride.

Love & Happy Harmony Day,

Rowena