Tell me a story

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I’ve been thinking about stories a bit in the past few weeks. When I was little I loved reading stories that allowed me to escape my small, conscientious, timid life. I delighted in the rebellious escapades of the naughtiest girl in the school.  I marvelled at what it would be like to be as bold and adventurous as the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Gosh, my mum wouldn’t let me play outside in our unfenced front garden, and I was only permitted to walk home from school via the side streets rather than along the main road (okay, it was the era of some strange child abductions but still…). My anxious, pimply, adolescent self longed to be one of the girls in the Sweet Dreams novels. Imagine being asked to ‘go steady’ and wear a letterman jacket! As a suburban Melbourne girl, I’m not quite sure I actually knew what that meant but it was clearly the pinnacle of teenage boy-girl relationships. Stories were for entertainment and escapism. True stories? Blah! So boring! Where was the fun in reading about other people’s lives? It all seemed way too earnest to my younger self. I did enough ‘learning’ at school. I didn’t need it when I snuggled down under my blankets at night or was wiling away the school holidays.

But, of course, as we add more years to our lives, our tastes can broaden and change. I still love reading novels and short stories for entertainment and escapism but I have come to appreciate the rewards of reading about the lives of others. A few weeks back, I went to the opening night of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Melanie Cheng, who was the winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, spoke to the audience and she had a great line about writers being the “personal trainers of empathy”. I loved that! It made me think about some of the writers whose stories I have been reading recently, not just in book form but also online, and how they have helped open my eyes and understanding of life experiences different from my own. I have thought about Magda and how societal attitudes contributed to the pain that tortured her as she sought to accept her sexuality, Maxine’s many encounters with racist attitudes in Australia, and why representation of diversity in the media is so important to Carly. I challenge anyone to read the personal stories in They Cannot Take the Sky or to listen to The Messenger podcast and not understand the damage the Australian government is inflicting upon asylum seekers (disclosure: I provide transcribing assistance to Behind the Wire). I have remembered the blog posts Sarah and Amanda have shared about anxiety and MS and how they have reflected experiences in my own life.

Reading – or listening – to the stories of other people’s lives is not about escapism. It is about staring life in the face. Sometimes that can be confronting. At other times, it can be comforting.

There have been times when I have wondered about blogging. What is the point of it all? What am I writing about? For what purpose? Perhaps you have felt that too. Maybe we should reassure ourselves that whenever we write, we are telling a story about part of our life. It is a way to connect with others – and even if that is only with one reader – in sharing our stories we are opening the door to understanding and empathy.

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Taking Stock: June ’17

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Here we are! Middle of the year! 2017 has so far been exciting, disappointing, relaxing, busy, liberating but on the whole MUCH more pleasant than 2016! Phew! So…drawing inspiration from Meet Me At Mikes, this is how the mid point of the year finds me.

Making: chocolate hedgehog slice, collages, a weaving. Busy hands!

Eating: chocolate hedgehog!

Drinking: peppermint tea

Cooking: lots of soup! Broccoli and zucchini, pumpkin, cauliflower. Excellent for lunches and for filling tummies that may be needing meals early, late, whenever!

Hearing: the radio in the background

Listening: to Trace after seeing Rachael Brown interviewed on The Project. We used to live in Thornbury so I have a clear picture of where these events took place. I hope the airing of the podcast will help solve the mystery of Maria’s brutal murder.

Reading: The Good People

Watching: Broadchurch season 3. Gosh, I love Olivia Colman! She’s in the Emma Thompson class for me. She always produces such authentic performances.

Wishing: the tradesmen we’ve had hanging around the house for the last few months would finally finish their jobs. They’re all lovely and I greatly appreciate their efforts to return our home to ship shape condition, but you know when you just want to have the house quiet and to yourself?

Wondering: lots of things! Why do I have so much milk left over this week? Why have so many apparently-sturdy teabags been spilling their contents whilst steeping in boiling water lately? How long will the queue for the Van Gogh exhibition  be today? Would I like Grantchester? Why is marriage equality still an issue in this country?

Pondering: a blog post that has been running around in my head but hasn’t made it to the page yet

Buying; wool for weaving – online and in person

Enjoying: a mid-week dinner and movie date with my man!

Pretending: we are back in New York! Cold weather, a visit to the NGV planned, and tickets to three shows in five days booked!

Looking: forward to seeing Kat Stewart in White Rabbit Red Rabbit tonight

Thinking: about ‘career’ plans

Knowing: I should go for a walk soon – and empty the rubbish bins…

Noticing: I’ve had less hot flushes lately. Happy dance!

Enjoying: going to a yoga class with my boy!

Bookmarking: lots of different colour palettes

Liking: cold weather and cosy scarves

Loving: these cakes. Oh my!

Is your year progressing nicely?

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I’m average. How about you?

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Yesterday I read this article by Kerri Sackville , this one by Krista O’Reilly and this one by Jodi Gibson exploring whether it’s okay to be content with being average in a society that celebrates high achievers. I thought they were pretty interesting because I’ve often thought about the pressure, or need, we have to be remarkable. To be noticed. To be recognised. To set goals and push to achieve them. We are told that if we can dream it we can do it (to which my man always says it’s his dream to fly naked across the sky but no matter how much he dreams it, that ain’t gonna happen!). What is it that drives us – or, at least, some of us – to pursue high achievement? Or to desire fame for the recognition that that brings? Can we aim high, can we live atop lofty peaks but still maintain our happiness, health and relationships? And what if we don’t want to dream big? Are we letting ourselves down if we don’t ‘reach our potential’? So many questions!

I know that there are remarkable people out there. People with enormous capacity and focus, who can take on a multitude of roles and responsibilities with apparent ease. I’ve met people who are highly proficient across a multitude of disciplines – art, music, sport, high academic ability, and who are genuinely delightful company to boot. I’ve read about people who have fabulous ideas and motivation and make things happen for the benefit of others in society. I salute these people. The world needs them.

I can feel a bit deflated looking at these high achievers. I sometimes look at their efforts and think ‘and I have done …?’ Do you ever feel like that? Here’s the thing. I did an Arts/Law degree at uni. I worked hard. I was focussed on those marks. The plan? I was aiming for that ‘big 4’ commercial firm. I’d keep working hard. I’d make partner. Imagine the status that would come with that! The reality? Got into the firm I had so wanted to join and…hated it! Stuck it out for a few years, fell into depression. Working there was unsustainable. So I ditched it. Career number two? Stay-at-home mum. There’s no status, no recognition in that! I know when I resigned that there were mutterings behind my back along the lines of ‘how can she waste all that study?’, ‘why would she give up being a lawyer to be a mum?’ But status can’t overcome being unhappy in what you do. I was happy to be a mum – and, to be honest, it’s what I’d always wanted to be. Why should I feel I’ve let myself down in any way by making that choice? That’s not the same as saying that I don’t want to do my best at whatever I do. If I’m going to do something, I’ll always do it to the best of my ability. But I’m never going to be ‘the best’ at anything. Nor do I need to be ‘the best’ at anything. I doubt I’ll ever be recognised for some stellar achievement, or have people stopping me in the streets to take a selfie with me. But that’s okay. I’ve managed to bring two functioning adults into the world, I still love the man I married 25 years ago, and I’ve gathered some friends along the way. That’s enough for me. Why would I want any more? Why should I need any more?

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This was Monday night

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On Monday morning my girl’s Year 12 result flashed up on her phone. The stresses and self doubt of the last couple of years lifted from our shoulders as she ran to us, her face a combination of happiness, shock and relief. It was enough for her to be able to study her course of choice at her uni of choice. Hugs, moist eyes, and the eloquently expressed congratulations of her brother – ‘I f****** told you!’ – as he flung his arms around her! By evening, the boy had headed to work and the girl was out having dinner with a friend. Just me and the man at home, and he was beavering away in the study. ‘Think I’ll have a glass of wine,’ I said. ‘Think I’ll finish watching Gilmore Girls,’ I said. ‘Actually, think I’ll have A BATH whilst watching Gilmore Girls,’ I thought. The girl texted that she had decided to go back to her friend’s for the night so I didn’t need to do a pick up but could take my book to bed and, with any luck, nod off before the snores that usually hinder my attempts to sleep, commenced!

What is this strange new world? Where is the routine? The predictability? It’s like we’re living in a share house – with less disputes about food and bills! – rather than the mum/dad/kids home of just a few weeks ago. I am acting super chill about their social plans but inside my mummy-bird voice is twittering ‘please come home safely’ and peaceful sleep does not arrive for me until I hear the key in the front door – and then its slam and thumping footsteps down the hall.

And so to all of you labouring under the weight of end of year school concerts, sports break ups, kriskringles, money collections for teacher presents, I remember the precision planning required to coordinate it all. I remember the ‘Really? You need a costume for tomorrow morning?’ I remember being unable to imagine that life would ever be any different. But different it becomes, and a strange new world of wine, tv and soaky baths awaits!

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*Added bonus – no more school lunches and trying to think of what to pack for snack. Gosh, that was a pain!

Taking Stock: October ’16

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Hello lovelies! How are you going? Are you getting your Halloween on? It’s certainly gaining in popularity here in Melbourne. I’ve been noticing on my walks around the street that people have already been decorating their houses. That’s a bit different from previous years when the decorations only seemed to pop up on the day. I’ll make sure we have lollies ready to go but we won’t be doing anything else. Both kiddies have their heads buried in books, notes, or tapping away at keyboards as they’re in the middle of their end of year assessments. The pressure to achieve particular marks to get into courses or higher levels of study – eugh! I always fall into a state of inertia at this time of the year, tip-toeing around the house, delivering sustaining snacks and making cups of tea, doling out the hugs when the a bit of emotional support is needed.   There hasn’t been much levity in our house of late! So what has been sustaining me?

Making: crochet flowers for this project

Drinking: champagne with other parents whilst our girls were in their English exam!

Eating: chocolate

Cooking: my girl’s favourites – anything with chicken, salmon or pasta!

Watching: not a lot. Just started Deep Water which has a stellar Australian cast

Reading: This House of Grief by Helen Garner. I thought it may be a bit macabre and voyeuristic but I’ve been assured the focus is more on the legal and criminal procedure of the case rather than the case itself

Wearing: activewear!

Hearing: the washing machine thudding and whirring

Looking: at the blue sky and sunshine out my window

Hoping: both kiddies are satisfied with their efforts at the end of the year

Needing: to put a bit more thought into holiday planning for the end of the year

Looking: forward to a birthday lunch with friends later today

Wishing: my girl was not so critical of herself

Feeling: a bit emotionally drained. It’s been a demanding few years

Wanting: a magic wand so that I could give the other three people in this house what they want

Knowing: that not getting a particular mark is not the end of the world. Just have to convince others of that!

Hmm. Seems to be a bit of a theme running through that! Guess that’s just where we are at at the moment – and that’s what ‘taking stock’ is all about, isn’t it? Just taking moment to notice what is going on, being experienced, at a particular point in time. Sometimes they’re cheery, sometimes a little more fraught. What would your ‘taking stock’ look like at the moment? Thanks to Pip for the inspiration!

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Farewell stras sandwiches and Friday treats

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When my boy started school way back in 2002, my strategy for dealing with requests for not-so-healthy lunchbox inclusions was to institute a routine – on Fridays he could have a stras sandwich and a chocolate bar in his lunch. Not on any other day, just Fridays. Two years later, when my girl joined him at school, it was the same deal. She once told me that it became quite the event amongst her friends to find out what her ‘Friday treat’ would be! Forty weeks of school per year, 13 years per child. If my maths is correct, I think that means I’ve made over 1000 stras sandwiches and popped over 1000 chocolate bars into lunchboxes. This morning, I made my last Friday lunch box. It’s the last full week of school for my girl. The last full week of being a school mum for me.

When my boy finished school, I remember my heart filling as I watched him conduct the year 12s in singing a farewell song at their valedictory dinner, listened to him – along with all his classmates -tell of his reflections of his time at school at his final cathedral service, and then my eyes moistening and overflowing as he walked out of his final chapel service, candle in hand with the school choir singing Coldplay’s ‘I Will  Fix You’.  I recalled the nights I stood rocking my baby boy to sleep, his tiny hands resting on my neck, and now here he was, towering over me and enveloping me in his embrace as he we stood in the courtyard farewelling his schooldays.

Next week it is my girl’s turn. On Monday she will have her last classes. Tuesday morning will see her celebrating muck-up day with her friends in their dyed and remodelled summer uniforms. In the afternoon we will attend her final assembly at school when all the year 12s will be presented with a rose from the prep girls. The little prep girls they once were, now grown into beautiful young women. In the evening we will attend her valedictory dinner. And then the next morning, the final revision before exams starts.

During their time at school I’ve watched both my boy and my girl grasp the opportunities their schools have offered them. They have been prepared to participate even if they’ve not been overly confident in their abilities and I think that is a wonderful attribute to have – to not feel that we have to shine at something to give it a go. I’ve seen them take part in activities where they have had ability, and this has been recognised by their school and peers. And I’ve seen them grit their teeth through activities they really didn’t want to be a part of – swimming sports, school camps, we’re looking at you! But that’s part of life, isn’t it? Sometimes you just have to suck it up! Through it all, I think they’ve learned that the more you put in to an experience, the more you get out of it. They have learned about themselves – what they like, who they like, what they value.

When my boy was approaching his final days, I wondered how I would cope without the regular school routine. How would I adjust to life with someone coming in and out of the house at odd times, and maybe not even needing to be out of the house on some days? But having overcome that hurdle, I am looking forward to waving goodbye to the demands of the school routine. I am excited for my girl to have flexibility in her days and to take the skills she has learned at school into her new world and to use them to expand her experiences even further. The many extra curricular actvities she has thrown herself into, combined with a constant and heavy academic workload, have made life very difficult at times.  To be freed from the rigidity of the school timetable will be much appreciated by her – and us!

Nevertheless, I know that a bucket load of tears will be shed – by her and me! I will be remembering the touch of her little hand in mine as we were out and about doing the shopping in the days before she started kinder. I will be remembering the little girl who wandered out from her bedroom before her first day of school asking ‘Mum, what if I’m in the secret garden and …’. I will be remembering all the ballet concerts, plays and music performances we’ve seen her in and the joy on her face when we’ve met her ‘after the show’. And I will be marvelling at the beautiful, compassionate, socially aware, witty, interesting young woman she has become – a young woman who is deeply appreciative of the education she has received, aware that there are many young girls throughout the world who do not have such an opportunity.

So. It is now time for me to wave goodbye to their childhoods. But they will always be my babies and I will never wave goodbye to my children.  And they will never be too old for me to tell them I love them to the moon and back and even more than that.

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Taking Stock: September ’16

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Happy spring or happy fall, depending upon where you are! Have you felt a change in the weather? We haven’t experienced a lot of spring warmth here in Melbourne but the days are certainly getting that bit longer. I’ve been watching the shelves at my greengrocer’s for the appearance of summer fruit. Whilst I don’t hate the apple, banana or mandarin, they are a little pedestrian. Berries, stone fruit, mangoes…well, they are just a bit more enticing, don’t you think? But whilst the days have still been a little chill and rainy, this is how I’ve been passing the time.

Making: a skirt for a futuristic themed 18th my girl was invited to. Honestly, there have been so many costumes this year between 18ths and school dress up days!

Reading: The Turner House. I’ve been a bit unfocussed with my reading of late but I am enjoying it.

Watching: The Bachelorette. Love Georgia and LOVE the guys this year. How could you get rid of any of them? Oh well, maybe Rhys!

Smelling: peanut butter and choc chip cookies fresh out of the oven

Hearing: my girl humming as she studies for maths. It creates the illusion that she is enjoying it but I know the reality is different!

Cooking: pasta for boy before he heads out to work.

Drinking: instant coffee. Nothing fancy today.

Eating: maybe eggs for lunch?

Enjoying: sleeping a bit better the last few nights. No night sweats! Do you feel me menopausal pals? Far out! The continual search for the cool spot in bed!

Liking: that our kids are now bigger so that I can have the odd weekend away with my man without needing to organise babysitters. So much freedom!

Wanting: to get onto a new craft project just not sure what.

Pondering: Disgraced, the play my girl and I went to see last night. Lots of stuff in there about identity and prejudice and changing societies. A play for our times.

Hoping: the coming months will not be too stressful.

Wearing: sloppy clothes. Yoga pants, t-shirt and hoodie. Need to change out of that soon otherwise I’ll feel slothful all day.

Finding: myself stressing out too much.

Wondering: why I let myself get stressed out too much! Just let it go!

Opening: my laptop to write this!

Giggling: at Michelle shopping with Ellen

So that’s September! Have you been baking or making? Watching or reading? Taking Stock posts spring from the creative brain of Pip Licolne. Maybe you want to have a go too?

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