The Gift of Empathy

From the moment my kids were born people have called me lucky. Sometimes because I have twins, sometimes because I have a boy and a girl, sometimes because they are cute, but mostly because they are well behaved. I’m the first person to put my hand up and admit that the first three of those circumstances are absolutely the result of good luck, but I’ll be damned if I won’t take credit for the way they behave. It’s funny – if a child behaves badly in the supermarket you can be sure that the majority of bystanders will be silently judging the parents, but when they’re good no one ever says “Wow, your kids are so amazing, you must be an amazing parent”. It’s always “you’re so lucky”.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to show off about what a great parent I am, or how perfect my kids are (because they’re not perfect, they’re human). The purpose is to share one very simple secret – the secret to having great kids. Teaching them to be polite, to use good manners, to look at people when they speak and to share their toys are all part of it, but what you really need to do is teach your kids to be kind and compassionate.

To point out that not sharing is selfish will never be as valuable as explaining how sad it makes the child that doesn’t get to play. Telling a child that using good manners is polite will never stick in the same way that making them realise how happy it makes other people feel when you thank them for something does.

Children can figure out important life lessons for themselves if they understand the effect that their behaviour has on other people. To teach a child empathy is one of the greatest gifts that you can give them. To teach a child how to be loved is as important as teaching them how to be safe.

So when my 5 year old son tells me for no reason that I’m too special for words, or when my daughter tells me unprompted that she loves me more than it’s possible to love, I do most definitely feel lucky… but not as much as I feel proud.

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Happiness. That is All.

For my entire life – at least for as long as I can remember – when faced with the opportunity to make a wish, I have always wished for the same thing. Every time I blew out my birthday candles or threw a coin in a well or wished on a star, it was always the same. I wished for happiness. Naive perhaps, but then what’s a wish?

There was a point where I considered changing my wish. I decided that I wanted my parents to die together so that neither of them had to be without the other, but then I realised that in order for that to happen they would likely have to die a fairly horrible death, so I went back to my old faithful. Sometimes I thought I was smart. I thought that wishing for happiness meant that I effectively covered all of my bases. Other times I thought that keeping it simple meant that it was more likely to come true.

The other evening I was driving my kids home from somewhere and we saw the morning star. I told them to make a wish. My daughter wished that our pet budgie would learn to swing himself on his swing without help, because that would be fun for him. My son wished that when I die I take him with me, because he doesn’t want to be lonely. He is 4 years old. They asked me what I wished for and I told them. My son announced that I’m very lucky because my wish has already come true.

And he’s right.

It’s taken a while, but I am happy. I’ve realised that happiness is living in the now. It’s about the little things. Cracking a great bottle of wine and cooking something truly fantastic for dinner. Reading a good book instead of doing the vacuuming. Taking a day off work to lie in the sun. Sinking your nose into a kitten’s coat. If you think that sounds weird then you’ve obviously never sniffed a kitten. Kittens smell like happiness.

Happiness is taking stock of what you have and appreciating it. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, it’s just about focussing on the bits that are and not spending too much time stressing about the bits that aren’t. It’s about being pragmatic and present.

And smile. People fall in love with a smile.

Ti-i-i-ime Will Never Be On My Side

Like so many things in my life (food, exercise, my ex-husband) I have a strange relationship with this blog. I think about it all the time but I just can’t get my act together. When I do actually sit down and write, the act is so cathartic that I momentarily commit to getting back into the habit – but finding that time is like trying to get me to leave a party while there’re still other people there. When I logged in this morning I deleted several half finished posts spanning the last few months. I wonder if this one will ever see the light of the monitor.

I feel like I juggle time like Tetris – slotting in work and a relationship around 4yo twins, 3 pets, a fitness obsession and an aversion to living in anything that isn’t spotless. I think the thing that I find the most frustrating these days is the fact that I need to sleep more than I used to. It’s a rare evening that I don’t fall asleep on the couch. I even did it when we had friends over a few weeks back. I don’t remember the last time I saw a movie through to its conclusion.

I used to have the party stamina of an ox. Those years were followed by the inevitable sleeplessness that 2 infants impose, and then on the back of that I managed to work myself into such a state of anxiety over my marriage that I if something woke me at night, I may as well have gotten up and begun my day because there was no hope in hell that I was getting back to sleep. On the one hand it was a good thing because I got lots of planning done, but it’s fair to say that I probably wasn’t that much fun to hang out with.

I was talking to my hairdresser (who is also a mother of twins) yesterday and I had an epiphany. I LIKE being so busy that I don’t have time to stop. I can’t imagine it any other way. I spent my childhood as part of a very tight family unit. My siblings and I are close in age and we did everything together. When I left home I had a job to go to every day and a series of relationships to go home to every night. Then I had my kids and I have spent the last 4.5 years spending every waking moment with them. I have developed a horrible kind of guilt over just doing nothing. When I finish my work and the house is clean, if the kids are still at kindy or they are playing together, I bounce around looking for something constructive to do. To sit down and read a book while other people are still at work feels like cheating somehow. The kids start school next year and it’s going to be the first time in my life that I have ever spent my days alone. I feel quite anxious about it.

I’ve been searching for time for so long and now it’s on the horizon and I feel like running from it.

I guess I’ll have time to blog again.

Mother’s Little Helper

I’ve always had an addictive personality. I grew up knowing it – my mother warned me. Her father was an alcoholic and a gambler. She was (and at 67, still is) a workaholic and maintains very careful control over most other aspects of her life. I have two serious addictions. One is exercise and the other is the 5 o’clock wine. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not what most people would consider an alcoholic. It’s never more than 1 or 2 wines (unless I’m out or it’s an ‘occasion’), but it’s always 1 or 2 wines. I read one of the most interesting Sunday-paper-lifestyle-magazine articles that I’ve ever come across last weekend. It was about the modern day woman’s reliance on that end of the day drink. Turns out it’s not just me and every other mother that I know.

The glass of wine is our off switch. It signifies that the day is over. It’s the modern ‘mother’s little helper’, now that doctors won’t prescribe valium (damn them). My kids learned the word alcohol very early on. It was a bit awkward when we’d be out at a cafe and they would shout in their cute 2 year old voices “Does that have alcohol in it Mama?” Half the eyes in the place would look over with disdain, and the other half with understanding.

Every mother of preschoolers knows that it’s acceptable to have a wine on a Monday, and you only have to wait until 5pm if you’re on your own. Drinking alone comes with it’s own set of rules.

A few months back I had my 6 monthly liver function test and the results came back sub-optimal, to put it mildly. In response I decided to drink my wine with soda. That way two drinks was really only one. That lasted until I forgot to buy soda one week. It’s easy enough to ignore your liver.

I’m speaking mostly tongue-in-cheek of course, but there is an unquestionable truth to what I say. A generation or so ago, women wouldn’t be caught dead without their hair done if company was coming over. I couldn’t care less about my hair, but you wouldn’t catch me dead without a bottle of wine to offer to a girlfriend seeking refuge from dealing with her screaming hoards alone.

So yeah. Addiction. Do I think about it? Yeah, of course? Do I care?

Not enough to stop.

It’s Been A Long Time Between Drinks

If you’re out there and you still follow my blog, you have more patience than anyone I’ve ever known (or not known, as the case may be). But there is a reason for my long silence. I didn’t know what that reason was until recently. My prolific writing of the past was a product of my belief in my own self-worth. That is a powerful gift and it was given to me by my parents. I took it for granted.

For a while there I got so caught up in the things that I did that I lost sight of the fact that to be human isn’t a crime that requires punishment. All mistakes can be fixed with time and the desire to make things right. So I spent a while dwelling on that. And taking time and making things right.

There was a price. I’d be selling myself short if I wasn’t honest about that. My mental health suffered for a while, which is a scary thing for someone with no experience or family history of it. So I take some more pills these days and I spend a lot of time reminding myself to be grateful for the good things. Of which there are a lot.

I think I might even come back and start talking about them… so hold onto your hats.

Life – But Not As I Thought I Knew It

Just over a year ago I lay in my childhood bedroom, staring at the glow-in-the-dark solar system that my dad helped me stick to the ceiling. My mother was sitting at the end of the bed and she was upset. We both were. She wanted to talk about blogging. She didn’t understand why it was that ‘I had to share everything in such a public way’. She suggested that I get a journal. I didn’t even know where to start. Telling her that it’s a generational thing felt insulting, but I was so far past the point of out of energy that I couldn’t even cry any more. I told her how it was and for the first time in my 36 years, I asked her to leave.

It was a variation on that same theme every night for the three months after I left my husband. As soon as the kids went to bed I packed my bed and drove over to my parent’s place. I got up every morning before 6 and drove back home so that they wouldn’t know that anything was wrong. We carried on like that for three months until I moved out.

If you didn’t used to follow my blog and have just read my last post, the timeline here might be confusing. For several years I wrote every day. I wrote as honestly as I was able. I wrote about everything. Some of it was catharsis. Mostly it was about nothing more than getting a laugh. Then in February last year, apparently out of the blue, my marriage ended and things went (for want of a better description) to the dogs. I wrote very honestly about that process – about what was happening and why. I did it fairly and kindly, because as I school people every day as part of my job – the internet is forever. But my husband was hurt and angry. As a result I removed a number of posts and left the building. I actually started up a new blog but walking away from a lifetime of words just feels kinda wrong. So I’m back.

I plan to start writing for me again, but truth be told, I have no idea when I’m going to fit that in. I have twins that are now three and a half. I’m a full time mother. On top of that I work 25 hours a week and spend more time than I should commuting 26,000 km to the office. I have a boyfriend and a step-daughter.

And I have emotional baggage.

All that said, life is good. It’s new and we’ve settled into a routine that is different, but no less crazy than before.

I walk around with a sense of sadness that didn’t used to be present in my life. It’s not a reflection on the life that I have now or of the choices that I’ve made, but of the pain that I caused along the way. When I was a kid I went to a drama club. We got taught that everyone has to have a ‘tear trigger’. Your tear trigger is the thing that you think about that allows you to you cry on cue. For years I struggled to find one and as I got older I learned that it is a rare and lucky person that has a life so blessed that they don’t have a tear trigger. Now I have one. It was that moment when I looked into the eyes of my best friend and told him that I was walking away. I watched the bottom fall out of his world and I will never forget the look on his face or the pain in his voice.

So I was true to myself. Am I proud of that? Very.

But the price was high and I’m not sure that I’ll ever stop paying it.

And that’s enough for now. It’s time for a gin.

I Have Lots To Say. Again.

I realised something today. I am a talker. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I talk a lot (although many would say that I do), it means that there are times when I need to talk. When something is bugging me, or exciting me, or annoying me, or breaking my heart then I need to talk it through. Generally that need is met by my boyfriend, or my family or friends, but there are times when I need to break things down by myself, before I say them out loud.

It is because of that need that I’m re-opening this blog. Because I have lots to say. Again.