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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Futureproofing – Part 1
I began writing these posts for my children. I wanted to share with them the things that we weren’t likely to talk about over dinner, or at family gatherings or just hanging out. I wanted to tell them how special they are to me, how essential to who I am, how they have shaped my life and to thank them for letting me into their lives as they grow and change.

So much has happened in the five years that I started writing. Weddings and grandchildren; better management of my pain and continued improvements in my walking and gait; shifting to a home near a beach in preparation for my husband’s looming retirement. But most of all, I have discovered a growing determination to look time squarely in the eye and to fight its ravages – I will not go gently “into that good night”.*

Futureproofing has been on my mind for a couple of years as I get older. Where to retire and when to relocate? How to support family, and how to ensure never to become a burden in any way to family? How to maintain my upper body strength and minimise muscle and joint disintegration? How to keep improving my walking gait? What does quality of life mean to me? What will make my heart sing?To sum up, how to live a full and satisfying and even exciting life?

“Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas*

First thing to tackle has been to find a place where I can take my stand. No more coping with Wellington’s cold winters. I didn’t think I could manage one more. The decision to move was difficult. We have a son and daughter law with two little ones in Wellington, a daughter and son in law with a toddler and another one on the way, and a son and daughter in law in Auckland.

What was important in deciding where to live? It had to have warm summers, be near a beach, be accessible to family, a place to tempt grandchildren, a place to welcome and draw people to, a place to retire to. And, we realised, a place that my husband could work from until he retired. I wasn’t worried about proximity to medical services. My instincts tell me not to make it a problem. It’s on my radar, but barely.

Our kids were right to advise us not to decide to live somewhere because it was close to one or other of them – the world is mobile and our kids may not stay in one place. We have moved our kids backwards and forwards between cities as work dictated.

So here we are on the Hibiscus Coast. Where people come on holiday. Thirty minutes from the CBD (don’t drive in peak hour traffic) yet a world away in culture and stress… And house prices. We up-sized, got a better quality house, more land and we are 600 metres from a fabulous and mostly empty beach. For pretty much the same price as the home we left in Wellington.

Oh, how I love this beach! In summer I wheel down in my wheelchair with my crutches clipped on twice a day. At low tide so I can walk the length of the beach. That’s my rehab and therapy. At other times I wheel down then walk into the surf and just stand there as the waves sweep over my thighs and higher. My heart sings! The locals have come to know that when they see my wheelchair at the top of the boat ramp I am somewhere on the beach.

The locals, my neighbours, are all here for the same reason we are. They love the beach. All summer long people wander along the roads that lead down to the beach wearing only their swimming togs with a beach towel slung over their neck, or round their waist. Some carry a body board or surf board or paddle board. My husband is not alone in pulling his kayak on its trolley along the 600 metres to the beach. People of all ages and all unselfconscious. Oldies with their wrinkled saggy bodies, teenage boys with rippling abs, girls in bikinis, men with their bellies hanging over their board shorts, walking in groups or singly. Greetings and waves to friends and neighbours. It’s wonderful. Acceptance all round.

It’s like going back in time. We know our neighbours. I call them if I need something while my husband is away. They ask me for favours. I have good friends here.

My daughter and son in law come here in the weekend to recharge. We play with our grand daughter. She loves it here too. Our neighbour lets us use her swimming pool. Our grand daughter goes down the road to the play area either sitting on my lap in the wheelchair or pushing herself on her trike, speeding down the slope.

When our son’s family stays with us everyone piles in too, bodies in every room.

As I write this I can hear the ocean, my friend’s dog barking, some birds singing. I can see the palm fronds rippling in the slightest of breezes, huge hibiscus blossoms, tropical greenery. I can feel the tiny edge to the temperature that tells me that Autumn is coming.

This place is everything I wanted as I contemplate a future to look forward to.

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Just over a week ago our son married a wonderful young woman.

She is witty and wise, has a wonderful laugh, a radiant smile that brings joy to others, is caring and giving, inclusive, and loves my son. It may seem odd, but one of the things I love most about her is that she loves her mother. Family is important to her. Of all the gifts she offers my son, this is one of the greatest.

Their vows to each included that they would love each other through sickness and good health, and they mean it. Both have experienced trauma in their families and both know how difficult it can be to keep going forward together. It can be easy when things go well, but, as they alluded to in their vows, times together can be mundane, can be frustrating, can be sad, troubling, difficult. But where there is real commitment, love can be uplifting, the source of goodness and fulfilment.

This couple knows that. I love them for this, and for what they bring to each other.

I watched my son as his bride walked towards him. His face was lit up with happiness and joy and excitement. She was glowing and so very happy to be walking to him, about to marry their lives together.

We say that all we want for our children is to be happy.

This is a very happy couple. I thank my daughter in law and her family for bringing so much to this marriage.

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Our Family Grows

Just a few weeks ago our family celebrated something most wonderful and momentous. (Oddly, that which is so very special to us, happens in the world four times every second of every day!)

My daughter in law and my son have a daughter.

My daughter in law has done all the work so far, but for both of them their journey is beginning now.

After a difficult pregnancy, my daughter in law has fallen in love with her daughter. Nothing prepared me for seeing my son fall in love with her too. He has always been good with young children, and when he was little he and his brother played with and cared for their much younger sister. Still, I am proud of the way he takes care of and loves his daughter.

Unlike I was, my daughter in law is expecting sleepless nights, tortured days, exhaustion, having to deal with the unknown. Women are now perhaps more open in talking about the times of frustration and despair as well as the times of utter joy and ecstasy when holding a contented baby. Still, nothing really prepares us for the roller coaster ride of being a new parent. The highs, the lows, the mundane. Women also have to cope with a new identity, one that describes us primarily as a mother rather than a lawyer, accountant, manager ….

But the greatest, most responsible, most fulfilling, most awe filled, most wonder filled work of all, is that of being a parent.

I thank my son and his wife for bringing into the world a delightful little person, and for including me in their lives. And I thank my daughter in law and her parents for including us.Our families are forever linked.

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My daughter was married on Saturday. 

Some highlights:

* As we waited for my daughter and her father, my husband, to arrive I was surrounded by our family. Next to me were our sons, and behind me were my daughter-in-law (wise, warm, an essential part of my life for so many reasons) and my future daughter-in-law (with a radiant smile that embraces and spreads joy). How blessed to have such a family. They make me complete.  In this moment I know my cup brims over.

* The man about to marry my daughter watched her slowly walk toward him and as he smiled it seemed as if, for him, this was his entire world. He took her hands in his, looked into her eyes, and was moved to tears. In this moment I loved him more.

* As they exchanged their vows the sun came out and it was as if the universe smiled.

* The mother of my new son-in-law gave a wonderful speech. She was funny, witty, and, best of all, her words embraced her daughter-in-law.

* In mid sentence my son-in-law said “my wife”, chuckled, paused and smiled as he again said “my wife”. 

* The first dance together as husband and wife was spectacular. It was a mix of romance, drama, fun and action, and moved easily into everyone joining them on the dance floor. Even me! Young and old rocked on together. Everyone stayed on the dance floor for hours.

* An atmosphere of happiness and joy pervaded the ceremony and celebration. It was tangible and touched everyone. The high spirits, emotions and energy of this couple lifted me up and made a magical celebration for everyone. They dismissed every potential stress, and their calm and focus on what was truly important soothed me, and I laughed and shared their joy.

But the moment I most remember is at home, minutes before we left. I stepped into the living room and saw my daughter,  a bride. In that moment, every memory I have of my daughter flashed before me and merged into this vision of beauty. I saw the baby lying asleep on my chest as we lay on the couch in the afternoon sun. I saw the toddler jumping off the stairs into a bean bag. I saw the little girl who wriggled into a space beside me to be as close as possible as I lay immobilised in a tilt bed in the spinal unit. I felt the arms of the little girl who placed them around my neck as she sat as close as possible as we wheeled on the prone trolley months later. I saw the little girl who never saw the wheelchair I sat in, only seeing her mother whose lap she wanted to sit in. I saw the ballerina, beautifully serene and beaming as she waited to dance as a unicorn. I saw the little girl who looked after her crippled mother and elderly grandmother when we flew to Melbourne – lifting luggage the size of own little body off the carousel, and making us cups of tea in bed. I saw the little girl arriving at Wellington international airport having flown alone from Sydney. I saw the girl who rode horses ten times her size. I saw the tomboy who climbed trees and was fearless. I saw the public speaker, confident in every situation. I saw the athlete who ran, cycled, swam. I saw the young woman who has seen so much of the world, determined, overcoming challenges. I saw the young woman who took me on road trips to Mt Maunganui. I saw my brave, loving, kind, strong daughter. I saw my best friend. I saw a goddess standing before me. I saw my wonderful daughter on the happiest day of her life … and I burst into tears, my heart so full love for her, and joy that she loves and is loved.

I saw my friend and daughter who had included me in her wedding preparations. Who the evening before had included me, with her bridesmaids, in drinking cosmos, eating pizza, and watching Moulin Rouge, laughing and reminiscing. My generous daughter who opened our home to her friends and family on the morning of her wedding, to share her happiness this day. Her happiness was infectious and as we all scrambled to get ready at the last minute, we laughed as we found ourselves  sharing space, three or four people in every room.

As we waited for the bride, I watched the groom and thought of my son who two years before had stood waiting for his bride. I remembered his nervousness. I remembered the smile and joy as he watched her come toward him. I remembered the happiness that she reawakened in him when they found each other. I turned to my future daughter-in-law and she smiled at me, reassuring me. Sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, friends and more. I, and my grown up children, are truly fortunate to know love and be part of loving, caring, growing families.

“There is no greater happiness than to love and to be loved in return”

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My children are adults and either married or engaged to be married. As they approach a time when they will have their own families I often think of them with profound gratitude.  I find joy in all my memories of them as babies,  as children, as teenagers and as adults. Most of all though, I am grateful that I find joy in them today and every day.

I hear women talking about how they found it difficult to “deal” with their teenage children, or how little they hear from or see their adult children. My own mother used to say how much she enjoyed us as babies, and how this was the happiest time of her life. I don’t think she realised how hurtful this was (at least to me) to know that she found it difficult to connect with us as people.  Yet she often spoke of wishing she had a better relationship with us as adults.

A wise woman once advised me long ago to find enjoyment and to love unconditionally every stage of my children’s lives. She said that it is too easy to linger in the excitement of watching a toddler learning to walk, the relief of a child learning to read and write, the pride of a child competing in sport, achieving at school, rather than to live every moment with a child in the here and now. Not to look back wistfully, or to look forward unnecessarily, but to enjoy the moment and to explore whoever your child is. She stressed the importance of having a relationship with your child no matter, because when a child becomes an adult, that adult chooses what sort relationship develops with his or her parent.

I have had times when I have failed my children, but also times when I have given my all to them, and times when they have supported me. Whatever has been happening I have seen my children as individuals and continue to love them as individuals. I know I am fortunate. I am fortunate because of who my children have become, and I am fortunate because a wise woman advised me to enjoy every moment of their lives.

What I wish for my children is that they find the same joy and love in their children that I have found in mine.

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Building Nests

I spent the weekend in Auckland. My daughter and her fiancé have bought a house and I was more than just a little curious to see it ..

(Incidentally, you know that you’ve grown up when your own children are all either married or engaged. I know it’s a cliche, but where did the time go?)

But back to my daughter’s new home. I know the blood, sweat and tears that went into them finding and purchasing a house. At the time they started looking, a few months ago, the Auckland house market had hit its low and was starting to move, particularly for first home buyers. This movement hadn’t yet shown up in the statistics, and had implications for the couple. The bank required a valuation from a registered valuer and they couldn’t make an offer above this. Every time they found a suitable house, paid for a builder’s report and valuation, they were out-bid or out-tendered by around ten per cent. Imagine this: you spend months looking through hundreds of homes til you find the ideal place. You spend mega bucks on builder’s reports and valuations. Then you have to start all over again because someone else is able and willing to pay thirty or forty thousand dollars above what a registered valuer says a place is worth. The frustration, disappointment, disillusionment takes a physical and psychological toll, and hope begins to fade.

Then their luck takes a turn for the better. The valuer they had been using introduces them to a vendor whose house she has valued for a private sale. Everybody is happy!

The couple’s new home is lovely. Fabulous layout, good condition (after a few very last minute alterations required before the sale can proceed and that threaten the sale), great location, and a good investment, but mostly an ideal home. A little tired in places, but that gives them an opportunity to add some value. It’s sunny and warm and private with a fabulous outdoor area that will give them enormous pleasure in the summer. (And a great play area for any little additions!)

They’ve shown persistence, determination, flexibility, and an intelligent approach to what is undoubtedly one of the most stressful things we ever do – buying a first home.

I enjoyed my stay in this lovely home. Thanks! And congratulations.

I’m very proud of them.

Speaking of pride, my visit was a timely opportunity to take with me the recently published list of top scholars at Victoria University for 2010, among them my daughter! Good job on both counts!

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When I saw Nigel Latta on TV talking about teenagers I was at first amused until I realized what a load of crock he was talking. Not only was he talking rubbish, but his theories about teenagers are not funny, they are dangerous. Calling teenagers another species or aliens is marginalizing and isolating them. Categorizing people, giving them labels, mocking them, dehumanising them has been done before. The nazis did it. Bullies do it in the classroom and in the workplace.

Comedians do it, but usually it’s done to make us look at ourselves, and to highlight an issue that’s wrong. Perhaps Latta thinks he’s a stand up comedian or an entertainer. The thing is, he’s an educator, and I think that what he says about teenagers, and the way to treat them is wrong. An element of truth there may be, but this is what makes what he says so dangerous, so insidious. He can hook you with a half-truth, make fun of it, and, wham, he can reel you in.

You can group people according to age: toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults, the middle aged, the elderly. And you can find something to endlessly mock in each group. The self centred, tantrum throwing toddler; the rude obnoxious teenager; the lost middle-aged person in crisis; the senile, forgetful oldie. Or you can show respect for people regardless of age, race, religion … We can choose to be inclusive, embracing the wonderful human-ness of others, celebrating our differences and seek to understand and learn from others.

It’s not funny to marginalise the teenager. At a time when someone is seeking independence, security, self-awareness, an emerging sense of empathy, questioning of identity … Hell, that could be me now … The difference is that I’ve reached a point in my life when I realize that I don’t know who I am, and that it doesn’t matter because change is good, complacency is not.

I like teenagers. Their minds are developing at an extraordinary rate, and their perceptions of the world can provide us with an opportunity to take a fresh new look at our own world that may have become stale, fixed or cynical. We can choose to be threatened by their questioning of mores and values, or we can choose to honestly re-evaluate ours. We can choose to outright reject their ideas, or we can choose to defend and rationally argue our own positions. Teenagers are learning to control and co-ordinate their thoughts. We can assist or resist.

Teenage angst, can be positively redirected to creative or sporting activities. Some of the most insightful poetry I have read has come from the troubled minds of teenagers. Same with stories and music. Teenagers have shown me that expressing creativity is a path to personal fulfillment and a sense of self. The discipline, team work, and focus that come from physical activities are captured by teenagers who discover the joy of successfully implementing strategies and tactics and the comfort and excitement of being part of something larger than themselves.

Realising that we are tiny specks in the universe can be terrifying or it can be empowering. Following a teenager’s journey to find a place where she feels comfortable is an opportunity to make that journey myself. To be part of that journey is a privilege, and the rewards are infinite.

Sure, teenagers can be smelly, hostile, hurtful, inarticulate and incomprehensible, but they need us (adults, parents) more than ever to love them despite this, perhaps because of this. They’re pushing boundaries, pushing parents, seeing what they can get away with. They need boundaries, but these boundaries can often be negotiated and mutually agreed upon. Where there’s room to compromise we should, but some things are so important we must only say no. That’s going to test our ability to explain our reasons. Teenagers force us to develop communication skills, to become negotiators, and enforcers. Being around teenagers sets us off on a journey too.

We may not enjoy dealing with aggression from toddlers and young children, but we accept that we need to learn strategies to constructively deal with it. We may not like the behaviour but we don’t resent the child throwing a tantrum, nor should we resent teenagers. We don’t isolate and marginalise the toddler, nor should we isolate and marginalise teenagers.

I delight in seeing the world through the eyes if a toddler – stopping to marvel at the butterfly or the snail trail. I delight in seeing the world through the eyes of a teenager – discussions about social injustice, corrupt political and financial structures; learning to negotiate through minefields of personal responsibility.

I love the certainty with which teenagers hold their convictions. I love their wisdom and their insight. I don’t think I’m any wiser now than I was as a teenager, I’ve just learnt a few more skills. I love being reminded that we are all on a journey, no matter our age, and that we choose our destinies. Oh, the angst …

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