Tag Archives: daughter

When Your Baby Turns 12…

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.”

William Barclay

So what if it’s my daughter’s birthday? That’s hardly newsworthy. After all, she’s not Princess Charlotte, and the only paparazzi hanging around when she blew out her candles, was her Mum.

Yet, that doesn’t mean that her birthday didn’t mean anything beyond our four walls and her beaming grandparents.

Amelia Geoff Ro

Our daughter turned 12 yesterday. While she’s still not officially a teenager, she’s in her first year of high school. So, this birthday marked a definite transition from childhood into something else. Entré into a zone where it can be difficult for parents to find their way. Are we wanted, or unwanted? In the way, or ignoring them and giving them too much space? Are we expecting them to be kids and adults all in the same breath and setting all sorts of unrealistic expectations? Or, are we feeling like little more than a taxi driver? An ATM only good for more money?  I’ve heard a lot of parents lament that their teens only grunt, and shut them out. Lock themselves away in their rooms. There’s also the great electronics challenge. How do we tear our kids and teens away from Minecraft long enough to even look us in the eye and say “hello”?

Amelia baby

These are challenging times. After all, the teenage years come with the same kind of flashing neon signs as the terrible twos. Having been through that, I’m no idiot. I know it’s virtually impossible to come out unscathed, but I also feel empowered. I make things  better or worse.

However, none of that was at the forefront of my mind yesterday. That all came afterwards, as I reflected on how well everything went and how I’ve built connections with my daughter, her friends and their parents. Also, I’m pleased to say we passed muster. So, I’m feeling really stoked…content.

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Miss in Saphora Sporting Blue Lipstick.

The big birthday, began with a morning of dance rehearsals and classes for Miss, and I set about trying to find the carpet in her bedroom. Even though the girls would be sleeping in the tent in our backyard under the watchful eye of the dogs, kids always end up in the bedroom and hers needed major reconstruction. I’m still fighting off the sinus infection too so wasn’t 100%. Meanwhile, Geoff was salvaging the backyard from the pups. There isn’t a blade of grass out there, and there was all sorts of chewed up detritus. With only hours to go, we had a lot of work ahead. Fortunately, I did my baking on Friday, making Mars Bar Slice, Pavlova, cup cakes. Dinner would be pizzas.

However, before the party began, Miss wanted to go to makeup Mecca, Saphora, with her friend, so she could go crazy with her birthday money from her Godmother and earn double points and a birthday gift. We also spent awhile in Lush.

Saphora really is a kind of fantasyland and they let you play around with a kaleidoscope of eye shadows, lipsticks and highlighers so you can even glitter and sparkle in the dark. It was so much fun. After all, how often do we have the opportunity to colour ourselves in using the brightest of brights without any limitations and get away with it? At Saphora, our face is a blank canvas only limited by our imaginations and our arms are our palettes. Indeed, there’s even a word to describe trying out this multitude of product…”swatching”.“

Not unsurprisingly,  I don’t keep up with make up or fashion trends. I was chaperone. My daughter’s friend’s Mum likes the girls to be accompanied, and that makes the decision easy for me. I’m a slow walker. So, they’re always a metre or two in front and I probably look more like a stalker. However, this means they have their own space, can do their own thing and have an old head with them if required. You just don’t know what those unpredictables can be, and they’re not quite at the stage where they have the life experience to deal with all of that on their own. Also, my daughter is tiny and younger than many of her friends and I’m quite conscious that a stranger could pick her up and cart her off without any effort at all, aside from her resistance. In Australia, we had a young man called Daniel Morcombe who was abducted from a bus stop, violated and murdered. He was 12 years old. That puts things into perspective for me. While a 12 year old might be sensible, trustworthy and intelligent, they are still a child and need a backstop.

I don’t know how parenting a teen will look down the track. Her big brother turns 14 in a few weeks and hasn’t brought us the usual problems of teenagers yet. We tend to be late bloomers in the puberty stakes, so perhaps all of that is just around the corner. You sort of hope it is as a parent, as much as you want to keep pushing it off into the future. After all, they really can’t have a relationship with their electronics. Or, at least not one that’s going to produce any grandchildren (not that I’m wanting them any time soon).

Anyway, my modus operandi for parenting teens at the moment, is to get to know my kids’ friends and their parents. Keep those lines of communication going. After all, what I’m finding so far, is that they’re all quite chatty and we’re all getting on really well and they trust me. This might not matter much at the moment, but it might down the track.

So, I’m now positioning myself as my kids’ parent and their friend. Trying to make the hard decisions and enforce boundaries and deadlines, while also being involved enough that they feel I know them,that they know I have their back and can see their point of view, even if I don’t agree with it. It can be very tempting to think that now our kids are growing older, that we can get more “me time”. Work more. Pull back. I’m not too sure.When they were younger, they could go to daycare or before & after school care but once at high school, they’re home alone…or not. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the family finances or the need for both parents to work, sole parent families and the complexities of life. My complication is my disability and chronic health, which has ruled out paid work for the last 5 years, although I am now starting to set the wheels in motion. I’m currently looking into freelance writing opportunities.

I’ll write more about how the birthday went in my next post. In the meantime, I was wondering what your view are about parenting teens. What are your hot tips for parenting teens? What helped you? I have definitely found that we often have our best chats in the car or around the family dinner table. I’ve also been playing quite a lot of board and card games with our son lately at his request. That’s usually when the wifi gets turned off, but it’s him seeking me out, not vice versa. These games might be old-fashioned, but we’ve had a lot of laughs, the competition is fairly intense, and I can feel the bonds knitting together on the spot.

On that note, I’m off for slice of pavlova. Birthday party leftovers are the best.

xx Rowena

 

Mother & Daughter, Father & Son…

Lately, activities in our household have been shifting gears and new alliances are being forged.

Traditionally, we had something of an unwritten division along the lines of adults in the front, kids in the back. Now, when we’re not doing things altogether, we seem to be splitting up along gender lines with my husband going out with our son, and my daughter and I pairing up. Quite often, this is purely pragmatic.  I always do the dance run, and Geoff does the sailing run. While I love sailing, unfortunately I can’t be in two places at once.

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Like father, like son. The vrroom of a V8 is music. 

Today, was a case in point. The guys went off to watch the V8 Supercars at Eastern Creek, while my daughter and spent a relaxing day at home before heading off to meditation at our dance school in the afternoon. My husband did consider taking our daughter along, but wanted to give our son a special day out. Our daughter and I, also each had a meditation class at the dance studio. So, we were doing our own thing.

That’s not to say that women don’t enjoy and support car racing. Or, that men don’t do meditation. Indeed, I think half the participants in our class were male.  I should also mention that our son has done some meditation before, and that meditation is hardly part of my life. “Maditation” is more my thing. I’ve always struggled to sit still and resemble something of a fidget spinner. Actually, make that a malfunctioning fidget spinner on turbo. That describes both my mental and physical state pretty well. So, you could well say that I’m an alien when it came to meditation. Moreover, our daughter says she would’ve liked to go to the car racing, while it’s not my scene at all.

Rowena with Coffee 2

My usual meditation technique.

I enjoyed my meditation session. We were doing  Kelee meditation was very effective. I recommend that you click through and read more about this. I’m planning to go back for more of a read later. I felt quite energized at the end, although it’s also lifted a partial lid on Pandora’s Box. Stuff’s escaped and is flapping in my face.

While it’s great to let this stuff go, it rarely just flies out into the ether. Rather, it stops and stares me in the face, hovering with threatening, menacing stares. Prods me in the guts. Naturally, it’s very tempting to quickly lock it all back up again. Leave well enough alone. Get it all out of my face. However, it’s easy to forget , that bringing stuff up is the hard part. That it might only take a final boot, to send the lot packing.

My daughter and I arrived home from meditation feeling energized, relaxed and calmed. We also picked up fish and chips on the way home, so were feeling hungry as well. I felt like a treat after a difficult week. We were watching the news when my husband and son walked in from the car racing with beaming smiles, discussing fast cars, deafening engines and flying rubber. Not only that, the photos and video footage were quickly uploaded onto my laptop and my son was perched on the edge of my chair talking me through their day. I felt like saying: “You do realize that we’ve just come from meditation…peace, calm, relaxation.” However, to be fair, the TV had already broken the mood. A seven year old Australian boy is missing feared dead following the terrorist attack in Barcelona. It’s gut wrenching. Evidently, watching the news straight after meditation wasn’t the best medicine either.

I need to lock myself up in a sound proof box.

Make that a dark, sound-proof box. I’ve also just noticed the mess.

 

This is why meditation is a case of “Play it again, Sam” -Casablanca. Most of us can’t live in a state of calm.

Have you got into meditation? Car-racing? None of the above?Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Rowena xxoo

Rowena & Jonathon cooking

A Mother & Son moment when Mr made me pancakes on my birthday. 

 

 

Playing Doctor and Patient.

After yesterday afternoon, I’ve concluded that playing doctors and patients is over-rated. That as much I enjoyed playing it as a kid (and without any kind of innuendo), that it’s no fun in real life…especially when your child has had an accident. All of a sudden, you need to be the strong one, her rock, when you’re nothing but jelly. You can barely breathe. Yet, your alter-ego is supportive, loving, encouraging.She’s holding her hand, exuding calm, while you’ve completely freaked out.

Yesterday afternoon, our daughter was walking back from the station when she walked into a pole quite hard. Her glasses cracked and the edge of the lens sliced into the edge of her eyebrow. It was a nasty cut and needed immediate medical attention.

Meanwhile, I was stuck in the queue at the supermarket. All I needed, was a carton of eggs, but I’d grabbed a few things while I was there. Of course, every man, woman and dog had the same idea.So, that’s where I was when my daughter had her accident and a complete stranger found her and stopped to help.

When I rang her from the queue, her little voice was sobbing. Her glasses were broken. Her head was bleeding and she was at the medical centre. Meanwhile, my husband calls. Our son had rung him and said she’d been taken off to hospital.

Forget Friday 13th. Fridays seem to be bad luck around here. Two week’s ago, we were at Emergency with our son.

Unconsciously, I switched gears faster than formula one driver, Sebastian Vettel. Mummy was on the way, siren blaring. I was given a superhero’s welcome. Mummy was there to save her injured baby bird.

Ouch! The cut was nasty and obviously needed stitches and I started wondering about plastic surgery. Ow! My baby!

The staff at the medical centre were beautiful and so caring, looking after Miss like their own and the woman who’d brought her in, had done the same.

Yet, we weren’t going home yet.

The wound needs to be stitched and Miss doesn’t want to be stitched.

She’s terrified and shaking like a leaf.

Then, the doctor starts talking about “numbing” the area.

Note she doesn’t mention the “n” word and silly me starts thinking she’s talking about applying some form of cream you rub on.

We’re given our options. She could get stitched up there or we could could take her to Emergency where they could also give her happy gas to ease the process. She was also told that numbing the area was going to be very painful but it would only last 10 seconds. We’re talking a needle under the eyebrow.

It was a grueling couple of minutes while she decided and fortunately, she decided to stay put and be brave. I asked her if she had her slime with her, which she could hold to calm herself, andwas relieved that helped. Like fidget spinners, making and fidgeting with slime have become a craze.

Four stitches later, we were on our way. On the way to buy her an ice cream. I’m a firm believer in food therapy. Then, we picked my husband up from the station. He could drive home, and I could pass the baton. Dad was in charge, and I could fall in an exhausted heap.

This morning her eye was all swollen and she could barely open it up. It wasn’t too purple, but purple enough.

This incident has also highlighted the possibilities with her travelling a long distance to and from school. I am also wondering whether I should be meeting her at the station again. It’s only a short walk to the shops and you’d think nothing could happen, but evidently it can and it has. However, it’s also important for her to gain independence and stand on her own two feet.

Of course, things could have been a lot worse. It’s terrifying to think how close the gash was to her eye, but it wasn’t. Yet, it was still traumatic. I still feel shaky inside. Indeed, I had a big sleep today. Wrapped myself up in my blankets and quilt with the electric blanket on. I desperately needed to shut the world out for a bit. Put myself on the charger.

I might be on call 24/7, but even Mummy is human.

Have you ever had an experience like this as a parent? What is your story?

xx Rowena

 

Art: When the Creator Becomes the Created…

Last week at the Royal Sydney Easter Show, my daughter and I crossed to the dark side and had our caricatures done.

For anyone else, this would simply be  a bit of fun, a memory to take home and it wouldn’t also turn into a soul searching analysis of what it’s like to be created, not creating. Of course, yours truly had to analyze the whole experience. Pull it apart and put it back together again…give or take a missing piece or two.

Obviously, you’ve experienced my photography. However, you might not be aware that I did the photography and publicity for my kids’ school for 6 years and gained a lot of experience photographing people.  I know what it’s like to peer into a face, observing details, responding to a smile, a twinkle or even the withdrawal of acute shyness to draw someone out. I know how to work with all these personalities to create a story in 6 x 4 and hopefully bring out their best.

However, it’s a rare moment that I’m in front of the lens. Or, as in this instance, at the mercy of the cartoonist. Sure, he might use pen, ink and crayons but he has an inbuilt lens. You have to have a good eye. Be an excellent reader of people to pull off any kind of caricature. After all, you’re not just reflecting the surface, but peering deeply into the pond needing to fish out hidden gems in a very short time.  BTW, although I’m usually behind the lens, I’m actually quite an extrovert and all the world’s my stage. I have no trouble performing for the camera, or the artist.

Surprisingly, it was actually my daughter who mentioned getting our caricatures done. I wasn’t entirely convinced.

You see, I’d been forewarned. While I was backpacking through Europe as a 22 year old, I caught up with Mum and Dad in Paris and had my portrait done outside Notre Dame. Being a serious, philosophical poet, I insisted on a more serious, reflective portrait. I did NOT want to look like an airhead. Ever since, my mother, who was standing back watching the proceedings with abject horror, has wanted to get that portrait fixed to show “my lovely smile”. I didn’t know what she was talking about until a few years ago and now I agree. “Smile, Rowie. Look at the birdie!” On the same trip, two of my friends decided to get their caricatures done in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower. They were dreadful and I don’t think those sketches have even seen daylight. My two very attractive friends, had nearly been turned into trolls. Of course, I photographed their reactions in situ. What a friend?!

So, when it came to getting our caricatures done at the show, I wasn’t naive. The cartoonist was warned! Yet, I became so relaxed with him, that I forgot to take my glasses off until it was too late. That is very unusual. Indeed, I’d be surprised if any of you have actually seen photos of me wearing the glasses I wear all the time. The glasses which are all but glued to my nose. I’m terribly short sighted and now near-sighted, and am becoming somewhat thankful for the glasses I’ve always despised.

artist

That’s not to say I was entirely at ease in my new role. Not that I’m a control freak. However, I did feel more than just a little curious watching him sketch away, especially when passers-by stopped and inspected OUR portraits in detail when WE couldn’t see it. Well, as usual, I exaggerate a tad. We did get to see quite a lot of the work-in-progress and I know both my daughter and I were noting which pens he used for what. She has a good chance of doing the tools justice, while I dream. I do a much better job writing about drawing (and dancing, skiing, playing my violin and making Nigella’s Nutella Cake) than actually doing it. However, I am starting to wonder about this life as a voyeur…Isn’t life meant to be lived?

However, of course, you also learn a lot watching…including the remote possibility that I might be a control freak after all!

That’s why I wondered whether the artist would ruin it by adding colour and whether the finished product would self-destruct when it went through the laminator, even though it was meant “to protect it”.

However, the thing about control freaks is that we like control for a reason. That when we don’t have control, things can go wrong. Get destroyed. Just like our caricatures when that blasted laminating machine turned us into a piano accordion. Been there, done that myself at home. That’s why I wasn’t sure about the laminator. That’s why I become the control freak. Things conspire against me.

caricature finished with Graeme

Wow! We were so impressed with how we looked. If you’ve ever watched the quintessential Australian movie: “The Castle”, you’ll know this is “heading straight for the pool room.”

It was at this point, that being a creator myself made such a difference. As much as I was very disappointed to see our portraits seemingly destroyed when they looked SOOOO good, I knew what it meant for Graeme to watch as his creation almost met its death. From this point, we were no longer artist and client. We were united in our desperate efforts to salvage the artwork. Performing CPR, twice we fed it back through the very laminator which almost destroyed it, largely melting out the creases. He said it was his best work of the day and that he’d struck a chord with us. Got a vibe. I know what that’s like and what his creation meant to him. It was no longer just a piece of paper. He’d poured heart and soul into each and every detail and you look at our larger than life smiles, and a real sense of joie de vivre really springs from the page. To have that destroyed in front of your very eyes, was horrible. Sure, much worse things can happen, but it’s a hard thing for a creator to see their creation munched up like that. Yet, like the subject, the phoenix has largely risen from the ashes and is about to sojourn underneath  our exceptionally think Webster’s Dictionary, which is the width of two city phone books…HUGE and weighs a tonne!

By the way,I’d like to give a huge shout out to our cartoonist…Graeme Biddel at http://www.caricature.net.au

How have you felt being the subject, instead of the author? The creation instead of the creator? Or, perhaps your creation has been lost in some way? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Love & smiles,

Rowena

 

 

Weekend Coughy Share: September 17, 2016.

If we were having coffee today, I’d be asking you to give me a bit of a pep talk and I’d be more than happy to pep you up as well. It’s a lot easy to pep someone else up when you’re  struggling, than fire up your own engine again.

Last weekend, I got hit with a nasty blast of bronchitis followed up by what appears to be a diluted version of Influenza A. Our son has been sick for the last 2 weeks and has had 10 days off school and my Mum caught “what he was having” and her doctor took a swab which came back with the goods.  Mum was put on 50mg and Mister 25mg of prednisone for 3 days. Poor Mister was in a horrid twilight zone and found it quite disconcerting but is off the stuff now.

There’s never a good time to get sick and to be perfectly honest, I am 200% thankful that I’m getting better. With the auto-immune disease its lung complications, Winter bugs have turned into pneumonia before so I should just thankful that I only lost a week and am doing so well.

The trouble is that this wasn’t the week I wanted to miss. It wasn’t the week where I wanted to be in bed. I missed the last of my adult ballet lessons on Thursday night and I’d really been looking forward to it. Had wanted to do something special…a tiara, a tutu. Definitely not a call out from my sick bed to send my apologies.

Today, I’d been planning to visit my old school for the Annual Garden Party. I used to go every year without fail but have been sick for the last two and now we can add another year to that. However, this is the school’s Centenary and it would have extra special and I might also have run into someone I knew. Adding insult to injury, it’s a beautifully sunny Spring day but, as my matter of fact husband pointed out, I am not perfectly well. No chance of getting there, let alone getting around.

Moreover, this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of my home Church. I have visited about 5 times in the last ten years but I was really looking forward to going to a dinner tonight and the service tomorrow. I’d even done a quick scan through my photos and emailed a few through. I’m not getting to that either.

By this stage, if I wasn’t coughing my lungs out, I’d really be feeling sorry for myself…except it’s probably a good thing that I’m still too crook to have any motivation to even get out of my comfy chair. I am telling myself that these are scenes from the past, which is also why it’s not that easy to pop back. I’ve moved both geographically and personally since then, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to be part of these celebrations.

Rowena quicksand

Getting A Lift Out of Quicksand.

However, the good thing about life is, that it is full of ups and downs. While one thing knocks you down, something  else lifts you up. While this route might not have been the one you’d planned, it might even turn out better.

So it was last night. My daughter had returned from her ten days at two different camps, full of stories and chatter. Much to my surprise, she still had enough energy to get to her ballet lesson and was practicing her steps in the kitchen. I recognised the steps and terms from my lesson  and she started conferring with me.  “How did you do it?” It was a step called the “pas de chat” or cat step. Even though I felt like my legs were moving in a fog, we were working on our dancing together in such an intimate, personal way.

Amelia with ballet shoes

Miss with her dancing Shoes

You could say it was an incredible mother-daughter moment but it went beyond that. Or, at least the mother daughter moments we’ve had before. We were two dancers chatting in the studio corridor, comparing steps and conferring…we were both standing on  the inside. I was no longer outside the circle.

A dancer? How on earth did I become a dancer when I have a disability? When I can struggle to walk, especially down your common footpath without tripping and having a nasty fall?

Probably, in the very same way these incredible athletes have made it to the Paralympics. Somewhere along the way, a “can’t” became a “can” stirring up a kind of levitating magic, bringing us all out of the doldrums and on our way.

As a Mum, this meant the world to me. Being a disabled parent with a chronic illness, there’s been so much I couldn’t do and it eats away at your confidence but it can also send the message that you don’t care. You can’t be bothered. That you don’t love your child.

All of this came about by not only thinking from my daughters’ point of view but also by actually stepping inside her shoes. Well, buying my own to be accurate.

I was stoked.

So, instead of being disabled Mum, sick Mum, or too tired Mum, I was ballet Mum who not only knew how to translate the French into steps, but didn’t need to translate how it felt to dance.I know how it feels when that joie de vivre pulses through my body, reinvigorating the dead wood and making it sing.

So my song is: “Dancing…you make my feet sing”…da..da..na…nah!

Meanwhile, I’ll fly through the last week, which largely falls under the banner of watching the Paralympics. If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know they’ve blown me away. There’s been:

Why We Must Watch the Paralympics.

Sowing the Seed for Rio.

Also, although I’m very much a thinker and usually watch little TV, I have a few  chinks in my intellectual armour and one of them came to a finale this week…The Batchelor.

My rationale for watching the show  is seeing how people tick in this trapped in the lift type situation. And who wouldn’t mind being trapped in a lift with a young hunk/babe? Then, there’s also the big question mark…who is he going to pick? The suspense really gets to me. I wonder if he knows straight from the start. Or, is he standing back like a sensible sort approaching a smorgasbord, cautiously checking everything out before carefully making his selection? Adding to tension, the number of girls dwindles every week. So, you’re also trying to guess whose going home each week. Who isn’t going to get a rose? Viewer favourites emerged and for some reason a very catty girl kept hanging in there, using up all her nine lives. I was starting to wonder whether Richie was completely blind, when she finally revealed herself in all her venomous glory and she was straight out the door. Thank goodness!

The weeks went by and I been watching it with the kids, trying to nut it out. It might sound like a funny thing to watch with your kids but there were mainly adventure trips and a lot of talking going on. Richie did mention “his frustration” after getting out of the mansion… Three months of celibacy in that pressure cooker would not have been easy.

bachelor

Richie with Nikki and Alex.

Anyway, we’re watching the last night and he’s down to two girls and from all the indications I could see, he was going to choose . However, much to everyone’s surprise, he chose single Mum, Alex. This prompted a huge outcry from viewers angry with Richie and coming out swords blazing for Nikki.

bachelor-australia-2016-winner-alex-nation

Miss with her dancing Shoes

It’s been very interesting to watch. I don’t know Alex well enough to comment but I’ve been incredibly impressed at how Nikki’s conducted herself. Thinking she’d won Richie’s heart and was going to be the one, she’s publicly come out supporting the couple, wishing them well and the two girls are still friends. She’s expressed no animosity towards  Richie but is heartbroken  nonetheless. I feel like giving Nikki a huge hug and telling her what an inspiration she’s been. Such a great role model for young woman. She might not have won Richie’s heart, but she’s won the nation’s respect and I’m sure the right person for her is just working out how to ride his horse and will soon get on his way. Indeed, Nikki might just have become Australia’s answer to Pippa Middleton. A winner in a different race and definitely not a loser.

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Nikki in a very stunning dress.

So, for someone who didn’t get very far geographically this week, I actually covered a lot of ground. It’s amazing just how far you can travel in your head.

How was your week? I hope it’s been a good one and I look forward to hearing from you!

The Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Part Time Monster.  You can join this week’s Coffee Share on her blog or by clicking on the linky soon.

Love & Best wishes (and a few coughs),

Rowena

PS So far I’ve taken no photos of me wearing my beloved ballet shoes. My perfectionism is rising to the fore again and while I could have a go at dancing, photography is another story. I’m wanting “the shot”. I’ve been planning to take some photos at the local wharf where the soft, shiny satin will contrast the weathered timber. Stay tuned!

Sorry I exceeded the word limit this week. Haven’t got out much.

M-A Letter to Dr Maya Angelou #atozchallenge.

Dear Dr Angelou,

It is such an honour to meet you and finally feel your words lap around my feet like the waves. Indeed, I seriously wish I could dive deep into all that you wrote and all you are. However, running into you spontaneously like this, can only be an unplanned stop over on the way from A-Z. Indeed, the juggernaut is about to leave without me, which is quite a common phenomenon for a chatterbox like me!

Although I’ve frequently come across you searching for motivational quotes, I’d never read your poems before. Indeed, it was only once I was working away on these Letters to Dead Poets, that I finally read some of your poems. I was blown away and left with such an unquenchable thirst for more. Yet, as I said, the juggernaut was moving on without me so I could only take a few bites…certainly not enough pretend I actually know you any better than strangers passing in the night. However, as I’ve said before along this journey, there also has to be that starting point. That point in time where we make new friends.

heartman 24.6.2010

“Heartman” Drawn by Mister 2010 aged 6.

After all, there’s that constant ebb and flow in relationships, as our lives pass through different stages and terrain. As much as we might resist change, clinging to the friends we know, even by the very tips of our fingers, there’s that changing of the guard. That as time and tide sweep through, people come, they go and some remain. After all, no one grows in a stagnant pond.

Moreover, now that I’m older, I’m gaining a deep appreciation of what it means to learn. That learning isn’t something we simply do at school and put aside. Rather, learning is a lifelong journey. That we need to keep absorbing those all important nutrients to feed our minds, bodies and spirits so we don’t seize up and rust away. While it’s therapeutic to sit and contemplate, we also need to keep moving. Not only with our feet, but also our eyes, absorbing all we see. Only then can we develop vision… insight. See all that lies unseen. That’s when we truly let the bird out of the cage.

Anyway, for someone who was only popping by in a hurry, it seems I’ve digressed completely.

Didn’t I ask you about what it means to be a woman?

This brings me to your poem: Phenomenal Woman:

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

– Maya Angelou

This led me down another path entirely and now I find myself perched into front of Caged Bird glued to the spot:

Caged Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

While I’m not entirely sure what inspired this poem, at this point in time, I only want to read it through my own eyes, from my own perspective.

I am feeling like your caged bird. This is something I feel from time to time as a parent, particularly when my writing takes off soaring like an eagle but then the realities of life snatch me, bringing me back down to earth and back into the cage. Trapped tight within my captor’s hands, I’m trying furiously to flap my wings. Let me fly! Let me fly! Spread my wings! I wriggle, jiggle and even peck at the hands which constrain, but to no avail. I’ve been caught and locked up in a cage for their pleasure.

Sometimes, I look up at the sky and wonder if it’s even worth trying to fly, knowing I won’t get far. Yet, like that stressed-out bird trapped inside a house frantically beating its wings and bashing its head against the window trying to escape, I persevere. Have faith. One day, I’ll finally get out and reach the sun.

While this might sound like a woman’s lot, my husband has even more constraints. While he might appear to come and go with much more ease, he’s actually pinned to the ground. A mouse stuck in a perpetual treadmill going round and round and round through a cycle of bills which need to be paid and the work which needs to pay. Well, that’s on a good week. No matter how much you earn, I’m sure it’s probably a struggle to make ends meet. We’re all “poor”.

I am relatively lucky. Although my mobility issues can place me in a sort of cage and I can feel trapped inside myself, they’ve also set me free.  I have the time and space to write. Express my inner world. Build  elaborate castles made of words, set a few blocks back from the beach where they won’t get washed away by the surf.

beach wide angle 2

 

Yet, as much as being a parent has seemingly clipped my wings, it has also done quite the reverse. Through my kids, I have learned to ski, taken up the violin, been introduced to Haiku and appreciated so much more of our Indigenous culture. They have opened my eyes so much, helping me break through those doors of perception to become a much more complex and multilayered human being. My health challenges have done much the same sort of thing.

I am now finding that what doesn’t kill us, not only makes us stronger. It also makes us more diverse, complex and gives us much more insight and compassion. I can’t speak for everyone who has suffered but ultimately I see beauty in everything around me. There is no longer that Great Chain of Being. We are one. Every single part of this planet is incredibly and intricately interconnected. Without even the smallest part, the whole is inevitably less.

Indeed, I love what Issa’s Haiku:

Look, don’t kill that fly!
It is making a prayer to you
By rubbing its hands and feet.

Issa.

So, this leads me to consider whether we each need to throw our lot up in the air regularly to clear out the cobwebs. Re-examine where we are and see ourselves from a new perspective. Not just ourselves either. After all, we don’t just live in a world of selfies but of millions. Therefore, the journey is not just about ourselves, but also how we connect with the whole.

Earth from space

Our planet needs compassion + action.

I doubt this is a journey we could ever hope to complete. However, that doesn’t meet we shouldn’t pack up our bags and have a go.

Anyway, before the juggernaut leaves me entirely behind, I’m off but I’ll be back.

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

Mummy & Amelia

An extraordinary moment.

PS after completing this letter, I strayed across your Letters to My Daughter. This really seems to be an answer to my unspoken prayer. Thank you very much! I thought you’d appreciate this photo of her:

Amelia cartwheels

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