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.

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.

2011 – The Beginning of the Rest of my Life

So I stopped blogging for a while at the end of last year. I had just gotten back into it when I started questioning myself. That in itself was a warning sign – and when those questions returned the wrong answers, I put on the brakes. I was in such emotional turmoil last year that this blog stopped being about fun and idiocy and I only ever wrote about extreme highs and lows.

I turned emo.

It then got to a stage where I felt like I was sabotaging my life and I realised that if I didn’t stop, I was in danger of losing my reputation of a witty and fun loving girl. 😉

But you can’t keep an old dog down.

So it’s with a sense of both excitement and trepidation that I make my big return. 2011 is going to be a good year for me. It is going to be a year of change and growth and beautiful things. I am bursting with possibility and I am lost in how amazing the world can be when you open yourself up to it’s possibilities.

I have discovered aspects of my personality that I didn’t know still existed. I am full of smiles and happiness and just generally gay. I’m alive. I am in love with the idea of what my life can be. I have found myself.

I could continue to puke out cliches and greeting card adages but then what will I talk about next time?

So 2011 is a year of hope for me. Hope and great things.

It’s all relative

I had an interesting conversation yesterday. It was about insecurity. More specifically, it was about perceptions of security. I am not an insecure person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t suffer from insecure moments. Everyone does. If I find myself in a situation that I don’t have control over, I work as hard as I can to gain control. If it can’t be gained, or not to the degree that I’d like, then I feel insecure. And that is what has happened.

This conversation interested me. The person in question couldn’t imagine me feeling insecure. But it’s a relative thing I guess. Compared to many I’m not. Compared to me, right now I am. I think the reason for my general security has a lot to do with the fact that I always fall on my feet. Nothing has happened in my life so far that didn’t work out ok in the end – even if it hurt along the way. I think that having that kind of faith helps.

But you only have to do a quick search for the word bulimia in this blog to realise that there have been times of extreme insecurity in my life. Those times were definitive and for that reason I am grateful for them. It has only been 3 years since I unconsciously counted every calorie that went into my mouth. I will never like my body and I will always have insecurities about it. It has always been functional and more recently I am learning that it is possibly even likable, but some insecurities are so ingrained in our psyche that it would only take a very light breeze to bring down the house of cards.

Having said all of that, insecurities about specific subjects don’t really reflect on the whole. I have always had the kind of internal security that comes from having a strong family that brought me up to like myself – or to question and change the things that I don’t like. I think that being a realist and having the ability to look at loss philosophically also helps. Sometimes things don’t work out perfectly, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to try them. You can always cry and get over it.

But even the most secure people in the world will find themselves feeling vulnerable at times. I guess for me, now is one of those times. If you put those vulnerabilities into the hands of someone else, you lay yourself open. I both love and hate that. It makes life exciting but it’s a risk.

But then, what’s life without risk?

Everything that is good in the world

If you read this blog with any regularity (which would be considerably easier to do should I bother to write with any regularity), you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m all over the place at the moment. I am. I don’t think anyone is more surprised about it than I am. I’m not prone to mood swings and I generally see the good in things, but this winter has been long and hard. There is something about being shut inside with two (feral) kids for weeks on end that takes it out of you. But if I’m really honest, it’s the general lack of freedom and independence that has taken me down.

So I’m doing something about that and things seem to be on the up and up. It’s amazing how being true to yourself is good for the soul – and for your mental health…

I have a couple of girlfriends that get what they call the ‘bad persons’ every now and then. I used to wonder what they meant but that, but I think I’ve figured it out. I think they are better described as moments of self doubt. Like when you do something when you’re intoxicated and then you spend half of the next day dwelling on it and wondering whether it was inappropriate behavior. I’ve been doing a bit of that lately, but without the intoxication. It’s not so much a case of having lost my confidence, it’s more the fact that having kids makes you question how you behave a little more. I want my kids to have the freedom to make their own choices and act as they see fit, but I am painfully aware that they use me as an example and I’m not sure that that is a good benchmark for anyone!

Things aren’t all good. Over the last week I have had two people that are close to me become gravely ill. One is fighting for her life at the moment and the other has already lost the fight. She won’t live out the weekend. Life has a cruel way of reminding us that we’re never going to be in complete control. But as someone I know said recently, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone is bs”.

I’ve got a lot of good things going on and I’m grateful for every one of them. Life makes me smile.