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Posts Tagged ‘Children’

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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“Dream deep, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Reach high for every dream precedes the goal.”

Starry, starry night by Vincent van Gogh

This is one of my favourite quotes. With passion, insight and resolve we can achieve whatever we want. How do we go beyond just knowing ourselves and our talents, and not limit ourselves to what we think we’re able to do now or in the near future? We dream … and then we can use what we know about ourselves and our strengths to move forward … and become passionate. Capable is good, but passionate is better.

I like the language: “Dream deep”, “Reach high”  the words punch through complacency, implying the passion and energy that we all have within us … “hidden in our souls”.

It’s one thing to dream though, it takes insight, foresight, thought and work to define our goals through those dreams. It takes courage to set ourselves goals. We have to have faith in ourselves, hope in a future, and trust that we can get there. We have to find a path, or many paths to reach a goal. And we have to work. And never, never give up.

I thought I knew about setting and achieving goals. It was expected that I would go to university. My mother desperately wanted it for me. It became my goal to become the first person in my family to get a university degree. I did. But I wasn’t passionate about it. “C’s get degrees”  was what my generation was about. It was elitist at that time simply to have a degree. It wasn’t until I got to work in business and discovered that I was good at it that I began to reach for something higher, something less ordinary. I became one of a handful of women in management, then one of an even smaller group who had children while working in management. But still I didn’t dream. I didn’t see myself as the CEO, although others may have. Because I couldn’t visualise myself in that role and because I couldn’t dream it, I couldn’t see it as a realistic goal for me.

I dreamt of being a good mother, wanting my children to be happy, to be kind to others, to be good, and to reach their potential. This was the first time for me that a dream preceded a goal. I learned to be patient, to love unconditionally, to see the world as they saw it, to be fierce for them, to protect them while letting them learn about risk … and so many other things that every mother learns.

Yet I had so much more to learn about dreams. I had to break my back to learn about turning dreams into something real. I dreamt of walking, and my goal became to stand up and walk with crutches. I found health professionals who could help me, or fate brought them to me and I wrung every bit of knowledge and expertise from them. I expanded time so that I could exercise, sleep, exercise, look after my children, sleep, exercise, try new equipment, care for my children, become exhausted, re-energise, love my children. I did not place limits on myself. I reached high, and I dug deep. In return my children took care of me. Young as they were at the time, just 4 and 10, they found ways to support me, nurture me and help me. They joined me in pursuing my dream. Now, as adults, they still support me. They are always enthusiastic about every small change, and support any new path I take. My husband too, supports my dream to walk. He helps with stretches, finances a personal trainer, massage therapist or any other resource that might help. When others doubt, my family and health professionals who work with me reassure. The universe conspires to keep my dream alive and to show new paths for me to explore.

I sometimes wonder if this made me a better or worse mother. I was less able to look after the children’s physical needs and less able at times to look after their emotional needs. I wasn’t always there for them. But my world opened another world for them. We skied with disabled skiers. The boys buddied skiers with one leg, or who were partially sighted, or who had had head injuries. My sons and daughter saw people with physical limitations having fun, reaching high, digging deep, coping and excelling in a world that is often hostile to them. They saw opportunities to help others, expected nothing in return and were rewarded with maturity, insight, empathy and an appreciation of privilege. Perhaps it gave them a desire to find the stars hidden in their souls, and to reach high. They are certainly wonderful adults.

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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“Your first swan. Your first day by the sea. Your first walk through a field of spring flowers. The first time you heard and loved Chopin. In sharing your childhood discoveries, I have relived my own.” – Marion C. Garrety

My first children were twin boys who were outgoing, funny, gentle, clever and curious. They loved going on outings when they could take their own time to admire new and amazing things like the way a caterpillar pulls itself along, a snail leaves a silver trail, the number of tiny creatures that can live under one small stone. I loved the way they included each other and me in every little discovery and the joy of every little moment. It took me back to  a time when I was a little girl living in a house with its own creek near a pine forest and surrounded by trees and bush with seemingly endless opportunities for adventure. Being with the boys reminded me of what it felt like when I discovered my first toadstool, bird’s nest or weta. They transported me back to my own childhood. Through reading poetry to a son who loved its rhythm and rhyme, the words and the way they sounded, I rediscovered my own pleasure that I’d lost when “taught” to appreciate poetry in class. My other son’s infinite optimism, cheerfulness and ability to laugh and giggle his way through any situation, good or bad, gave me back the joyfulness of childhood. His need to understand the universe and to ask the questions I’d been unable to articulate as a child reminded me of how mysterious the world had seemed when I was young.

I was lucky to be able to enjoy these experiences all over again nearly seven years later with my daughter who was so similar to her brothers . When the boys were at school I could spend endless hours exploring the world all over again reliving my childhood and that earlier time with the boys. My daughter also experienced the world when I carried her on my back as we all walked through the bush up to Johnson’s hill or toward’s Wilton’s bush. The children’s curiosity about the trees, the ferns, the sounds of the bush took me right back to that time when I had spent so much time exploring.

Much of my daughter’s  experience of the world however, came from sitting on my lap while I sat in a wheelchair. Her favourite book was “Mama Zooms” in which the little girl sits on her mother’s lap as she zooms about in her wheelchair. The favourite bit is when mama zooms down a ramp, everybody’s hair flying in the wind. And that is what we did of course – zoom down every ramp or path life showed us. My daughter and I were forging new ground and it often wasn’t easy for either of us. Perhaps that is why she is so wise. She watched me struggling with my lack of mobility, I watched her struggling with things in her life. We talked about almost everything and, as a child, she knew more about dealing with adversity than many adults.

I am touched that this clever, busy, confident, efficient, beautiful young woman has always had time to include me in her life. I have notes from her and poems, reminding me how special she is.  Once, in a classroom somewhere in Quebec, she watched a friend paint a picture of a butterfly in  a wasteland.  She asked her friend for the painting and she posted it to me along with a note she typed specially. (Do not underestimate the effort involved for a teenager to wrap something carefully then take it to a post office and spend money on postage, when e-mailing a short note is quicker, easier and cheaper!)

“This is a drawing my friend did in our art class. It really reminds me of something you tell me  a lot. I can see it as finding beauty in struggle. The imagery of  a beautiful butterfly amongst the dull scenery, like a rose that grows in manure…”

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“By means of an image we are often able to hold on to our lost belongings.” – Colete. The  same day that I read this my son joked that the rooms left empty by adult children were full of photos and ghosts. The synergy of these statements started me thinking how important it has always been to me to have photographs of my family, not just of important occasions but doing everyday things – dressing up, sharing moments, playing, eating, anything really.

It’s not that the house is full of ghosts, but the photos are immensely powerful images that take me right back to moments in time that I can feel and touch. Not only are they wonderful memories but they are images of transformations. It’s not that children are “lost belongings”, but during times of change, or times of boredom, these images can be calming, or they can be uplifting. I can hold in my mind’s eye images that sustain me and enrich who I am. These images are even more powerful because I have taken photos and made collages that hang on the walls. Not only do I have an attachment to the memories of the photos themselves, but also to the time when I made those collages.

Proust had a lot to say about memories too, and the triggers to those memories. Seems the French were on to something.

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