The Best Advice

I read somewhere once that when someone seeks advice, they are actually looking for an accomplice.  That is probably true on some occasions.  Often by the time we ask for advice we have almost figured out our own answer, we just need someone else’s validation or to have someone agree with us.

Advice is one of those things that can be appreciated or resented.  Something you receive but might not necessarily ask for.  It can be helpful or make matters worse.  It leaves you open to hearing an opinion that could be the polar opposite of yours, and that can make for interesting, adult conversations or cause a divide in a relationship, particularly if the advice was given not sought.

I think as we get older we become more measured in dishing out advice and more willing to ask for it.  The young are often quick to interject a discussion with “Well, I would do this………” or, more bluntly, “this is what you should be doing.”  Not really advice when delivered in this manner, just one forcefully stating their opinion. A gentle, measured approach works better and will be listened to and reflected upon.

So let’s clarify the difference.  Opinion = “This is what I think.”  Advice = “This is what I think you should do.”  Be sure to differentiate between the two when giving or receiving “help.”

Some of the best advice shared by some of my friends has been;

What is meant for you won’t pass you by.

Whatever you do make sure it makes you happy.

No is a complete sentence.

If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.  An oldie but a goodie that we have all heard many times.  I remember my Nan saying that to me.

When cleaning the microwave remember to look up.  A friend told me this, and I would have been in my late 20’s.  I remember going home and opening up my microwave door. Admittedly it was on a shelf at hip height, not eye level but sure enough, the roof of my microwave could have fed a small child for a day lol.

Focus on what you are good at and do it brilliantly.  I say this to my boys a lot.

Slow down.  Better to be late in this world than too early in the next.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.  I have a friend who says this a lot, but I actually think it came from Gandhi himself.  Maybe she too is a guru.

The best advice ever given to me I received when I was a nervous new Mum.   I have passed it on so many times and continue to do so even now.  You have so many people telling you so many different ways to do things with your baby from how to feed when to feed and when they should sleep.  The list goes on and on, and it is really overwhelming and confusing.  So my friend’s advice to silence the “critics” was to always say very firmly, “I may not be an expert on all babies, but I am an expert on my babies.”  They are young men now, and yes I am.

What is the best advice you have received or given?  Please share. It may be just the thing someone else needs to hear.

 

When the Teacher gets Taught

We are almost “done” in the teaching your kids to drive phase of our life. Well, I say done but my Mum, who hasn’t driven for 12 years, still has advice to offer me on occasion, so I guess parents never stop “teaching” when they are passengers in our cars.

Our youngest son, Matthew, saved his own money and, like his brother, paid cash for his first car.  And, again like his brother, bought a Subaru.  Next doors son has one too, so our side of the street probably looks quite worrisome to our neighbours with much younger children sharing the road space.

Never one to take the easy path Matthew decided on a manual car.  We tried to steer him away from this as my car, the one he primarily was learning in, is automatic.  And, ridiculous I know, but I have never learnt to drive a manual.  So this made teaching him and getting his driving hours up limited to Andrew as once he had his own car driving mine lost its appeal.  We thought that once he got his license and with that gained some confidence and improved skills, then go and buy a manual.  But his mind was set.

His dream first car came along, and that was that. I think Matthew thought that after a few minutes he would get the hang of driving it and away he would go.  Well not quite.  He isn’t afraid to admit that it has been really challenging and frustrating.  He has come back some days feeling entirely defeated.  Andrew has come back many days feeling quite stressed and big brother has unintentionally made him feel less than competent. I empathise with Andrew, encourage Matthew and slap Jesse.  We have all had a few headaches.

So this week he asked me to take him out in his car.  It’s no secret that I love Matthews car, and he loves that I do.  And now that he just needs to practice getting the gear changes “smoother” I feel ok going out with him.  A month or two ago I hadn’t wanted to be in the position of having to take over and drive and not be able to.

So off we go. His driving was perfect, and I could see he was chuffed I thought so.  He had a plan for our drive.  We went to Le Cornu’s carpark, and he was going to teach me how to drive a manual.  Yikes! He gave me a fabulous run down before we started of what to do and what never to do, “Never change from second to first Mum.  Never!”  For a boy that Dad and big brother didn’t think listened to them all his instructions started with “Dad said…………….” or “Jesse said…………………….”  He was kind and incredibly patient as I finally took off after stalling the car twice.  This was way harder than it looked and he shot me a knowing glance.

Well, I’d like to say that I then proceeded to master the art of gear changes.  I managed to get from first to second gear and then failed in my attempt to get to third, instead revving quite loudly in neutral.  I “forgot” to put the clutch in once and overreached for the gear stick twice.  But it was so much fun, and his confidence on the drive home was clearly elevated. He was the more experienced and knowledgeable driver, and it reflected in his demeanour.  He was more sure of himself and so glad that I was complaining how hard I had found it.

I have said all along that Matthew will be a much better driver when he doesn’t have someone in the car watching his every move.  It makes him very nervous and kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy he then makes mistakes he wouldn’t usually do.  Having a supervising driver is not reassuring for him at all.

So today I learnt that I really love my automatic car but should have learnt a manual when I too was 17 years old.

I learnt that Matthew does listen to our instructions and advice a lot more than we realise.

I learnt that an impatient child by nature can have all the patience in the world.

I learnt yet again that saying “me too” is unifying.

I learnt that reversing the role of parent/teacher, child/learner does wonders for both. Enlightens, empowers and brings a lot of laughs.

I learnt that LeCornu’s car park is not big enough lol.

Look Up

As you all know I have been having a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media.   Mainly love.  A lot of love.  But the little bit of hate I received made me take a big back seat from Facebook.  From Instagram.  The ripple effect of that was I used my phone just to text people.  Just to ring people.  Imagine that.  Using a phone only as a phone.  In doing so, I honestly felt my stress levels go down.  My world did not cave in from not having my phone within a 10cm radius of my body.  The need to check my phone the second it vibrated or “pinged” to alert me to a new post was gone.  At times, it was left in a whole other room.  Unheard of I know!!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m the friend that when we go out to dinner puts her phone on silent on the table.  The boys are out and about a lot now, in town, in cars, at parties, and I want to be contactable if needed.  I also sleep with my phone next to my bed in case I am needed in the middle of the night by Mum or the boys, if they are not home. Those reasons are what we all have phones for.  But we are not spending large chunks of our time texting or talking on our phones.  It’s the social media apps that seemingly are “controlling” us.

Since the boys were little, we have always tried to have a family movie night once a week.  Favourite snacks in bowls, pillows and quilts pulled off beds we would all snuggle up and get comfy and be completely together.  This was very easy to do until both boys got to high school.  Then the task of finding a night they were both home, homework-free and a movie they/we could agree on became a bit trickier.  Still, we managed to do it and quite often it would be one of them who would make the suggestion, “Let’s watch a movie together as a family.”  I usually took that request as a sign that they needed to just chill out and relax from whatever stress was affecting them at that time.

The last couple of years though with Uni, high school, and their social lives getting busier by the day, the movie nights are few and far between.  And, when we do settle in, I have noticed that their phones come with them and are checked.  Constantly.  “Get off your phone,” we say.  Phones get put face down, placed millimetres from their hands.  We then hear a buzz and with lightning speed that phone is turned face up to check, whatever!!  Honestly what could be so important?  Oh, and just to clarify, I know the tones, beeps, buzzes of all devices and what apps they belong to.  Facebook and Messenger and Snapchat work overtime I am here to tell you.  Our family movie nights are not their “time out” anymore.

I get it.  I have thought I have lost my phone, dropped my phone and forgot my phone and, on all occasions, I was hit with high-level panic.  “My whole life is on that phone.”  Is it though?  I get my photos printed off and put into albums on a very regular basis.  The old-fashioned past time of looking through photo albums is alive and well in our house, and I love it.  Handwritten notes next to much-loved snapshots of fantastic memories……………………just feels nicer, to me, than plugging in a USB or scrolling through photos on a computer screen.

My contact list.  Well, yes that would be a bit trickier to retrieve if I lost my phone, given I only know 5 mobile phone numbers off by heart but in reality, I just probably “need” those 5 anyway.  The rest I could retrieve when I actually saw the person.  Texting is not the only form of communicating; face to face chats are fantastic too.

Don’t get me wrong, without social media none of you would be reading this so for that I am a grateful subscriber.  To be able to keep in touch and up to date with all my family and friends overseas is a beautiful thing as is watching cute babies grow up all too fast.  But without sounding “old”, I am extra grateful that I didn’t get my first, very basic, mobile phone until the boys were in primary school.  I didn’t use it to text for months and, as for having an iPhone that had apps installed on it, my first was from my brother in law who kindly gave me his old one.  By that stage, both boys were in high school. So luckily for me when I took the boys to the park or watched them kick a soccer ball around I was actually watching all of the time.  My head was up not down.

Only the other day I went for a walk, and there was a family of four at the park, the two youngest on the swings.  Mum was on her phone, and the older sibling, around 14 years old was engrossed on her iPad.  It was such a beautiful day, and the two on the swings were laughing in delight, but no one was watching.  They were missing out on real life because they were potentially absorbed in another’s.

A friend was telling me the other day that at her son’s childcare centre they have a sign on the wall that says “Get off your phone.  Your child is happy to see you show you are happy to see them too!” I am sure that is there for the minority, but I know my jaw dropped open when she said it.  How sad that some need to be reminded to do that.

So I am going to try and live in the moment more, rather than share the moment.  Use the phone to take a photo, as we have all been doing since forever with cameras, and not upload quickly for all to see.  Savour a particular time for my eyes only, not all eyes.  And, try not to take ten photos to get the perfect shot.  Go filter free.  Ala natural.

Today we went and looked at some German shepherd puppies.  They were beautiful.  Black balls of fluff, eyes shut, we gently held one as their Mum anxiously watched us, pacing and nudging our leg with her nose.  As I held this sweet, sleepy girl it brought back lovely memories of our dog Izzy at the same age, they both had that distinctive puppy smell.  We went on to spend a fun hour or so with all the other dogs in the backyard from previous litters.  And, deliberately, not a phone in our hand or pocket.  It felt so good to consciously detach from an instinctive reaction to “post” and share.

I’m feeling less stressed already.

 

 

Me Too

What are the most appreciated words of comfort?

I am here.

You are loved.

You will be Ok.

You are not alone.

I think it is just two little words with big impact that bring the most comfort; they certainly have for me over the years.  When they are said, you find out you are not alone.  That your struggle is someone else’s struggle.  That others feel the same as you do.  Two words that can make you cry with relief, shriek with joy or laugh until your sides hurt.

The two most powerful words one can say.

Me too.

I remember the regular sleepovers I would have at my cousin, Kellie’s house.  Treasured memories.  We would swim in their pool, stage concerts in the living room.  Dance to our favourite songs.  Climbing over the back fence and down a tree, we would visit the good natured neighbours who never seemed to mind our unannounced and frequent visits.  Then, after a day of fun we would go to sleep in her room and in the safety of darkness we would talk about “stuff.”  The boy stuff, the friendship stuff the stuff full of the angst that teenage girls possess an oversupply of.  On more than one occasion, and me being more “angst filled” I would pour my heart out and share my deepest secrets or fears.  Kellie has always been an excellent listener, but she would make everything ok for me.  Her response of “Me too” made me feel relief.

Then there was the night out with school friends in Year 10.  I had liked the same boy for quite some time, but one of his friends had caught my attention.  I hadn’t shared this developing feeling with anyone; I was biding my time to see what might happen.  I finally decided to confide in one friend, “This may surprise you, but I really like ***.”  We were in her lounge, and she looked up, mouth wide open and said, “Me too.”  Ok, that might not be an example of comfort, but boy did we did shriek and laugh.  As it turned out we both went out with him at different times, he didn’t last, but our high school friendship did.

As adults, we try to keep all the “balls” in the air.  Work, partners, home and children, there are some who make us think we are the only ones not keeping up.  Takes a little bit of bravery to let on you might be struggling in some way but it also takes courage to respond with “Me too.”

The kids are driving me nuts today.  I wish I could get in my car and just leave them here.  Me too.

She is so nice, but I can’t stand her.  I am an awful person.  Me too.

I don’t understand why I am finding this work problem so difficult.  I just can’t figure it out.  Me too.

I wish things were different.  Me too.

I miss you so much.  Me too.

I feel scared for the future.  Me too.

I would give anything to have them back.  Anything.  Me too.

Talking to a girlfriend only the other day, she too has had breast cancer, and after a few champagnes, the conversation delved into some very personal territory.  We started tentatively but then the gloves came off, and we spoke as freely as if we were talking to a gynaecologist.  It was funny, inclusive and such a relief to hear each other, amid hearty laughs, say “Me too.”

So say it.  Say it often if you feel it.  Don’t walk away from someone sharing their concern and think to yourself, “Yes, I feel like that sometimes.”  Be honest and supportive.  You will lighten someone’s load, and maybe, just maybe, a little weight will come off your own shoulders too.

And just as a funny side note, Jesse asked me what I would be writing about this week.  I very animatedly told him and that I honestly felt the most important words to hear and say were “Me too.”  Deadpan and without looking up at me he said, “Don’t be ridiculous Mum.  The most important words are I’m hungry.”

Me too.

 

The Happiest Time of My Life……..Eventually

This question has come up in a few conversations with friends of late.  Maybe we are at the age of reminiscing.  Maybe like when you are unwell and think back to the days of good health, as you get older your mind goes back to the more carefree days of one’s youth.  Watching my boys though would I want to be 17 and nearly 21 again – no way! Yes, I would love the wrinkle free face, no grey hairs hiding amongst the blonde and the waist that most belts wrapped around twice.  I would love to feel the “in love butterflies” when “that” person’s name comes up on your phone.  (I can always tell by the grin on their faces when that happens.)  I listen intently as the boys share their worries, all real and valid for them, but sometimes on the inside, I’m thinking these are the best years of your life.  The freest you will ever be.  You are going to be OK.  You are going to more than OK.  You are going to be amazing because you both are.  If but they knew it.

Anyway, I digress.  Back to the question – when was the happiest time of my life?  It takes me less than a second to answer, and I have been answering it the same for 20 years.

Andrew and I had lived in many rental places together.  We then went on to buy a maisonette in Torrensville.  We made a lovely home there, and we were really happy.

We eventually got married, Andrew needed many years to think about that, but that’s a whole other story.  We had recently been on our overseas trip and on returning had grown tired of living with a common wall between our noisy neighbours and us.  We wanted the next stage of housing.  A family home.

We found one in the leafy, eastern suburbs of Dulwich.  It was our dream home at the time and had a mortgage which made our hearts skip a beat.  Well, not mine, I was just thrilled.  I had drawn where I was going to put our furniture on the floor plan after the first open.  Andrew, however, looked a little pale when we were successful at the Auction.

We both had good, well-paid jobs and with our double income, we were financially okay. We set about making minor renovations and buying more furniture as it was twice the size of our first home.  It was so much fun.  We loved being so central to the city, and this was back in the day of Adelaide hosting the Grand Prix.  We could walk to the track, minutes from our front door.  We had cafes close at hand and often walked to the Parade for dinner.  We felt like we had “made” it.

Next step was trying for the baby I had yearned for years. It didn’t take too long really although me being so impatient made it a more stressful time.  I think I spent a small fortune on pregnancy tests each month; “just in case the first one was faulty” and I had a temperature chart that was degree perfect in its accuracy lol. After months of negative results on the “pee stick” one morning the dreaded one line turned into two.  We were thrilled.  Telling our family and friends was just the best and my Mum and Dad’s reaction, in particular, was priceless.  They were so excited to finally be grandparents.

My pregnancy however…………….well let’s just say that there are people who enjoy being pregnant.  There are people who “glow” when pregnant.  I was neither.  Nauseous the first three months and then puffy and bloated I could not wait for it to be over.  I ended up in the hospital for a couple of nights when I was 7 months along as I was fast running out of room housing the long legged baby within.  We were told that I needed rest and to avoid any stress.  Andrew stayed with me until he was kicked out by the nurses each night.  It was the AFL finals that weekend.  Think back to the 1996 Preliminary Final where Sydney was playing Essendon.  Tony Lockett marked the ball in front of goal after the final siren and went on to kick a point which put Sydney into the Grand Final.  All who know Andrew will be aware that watching that game with him was anything but stress-free!!

Two long months later on a warm Wednesday morning, November 13th, Jesse finally arrived.  An incredibly heavy, (to me) 7lb 9oz baby who made a speedy arrival – 3 hours and 15 minutes to be precise. No time for drugs which was rather brutal for me I must say but made for a very quick physical recovery.

I would like to say that I was overjoyed to finally hold my baby in my arms but the truth was I was absolutely terrified.  After the first 48 hours of visitors, celebratory phone calls, gift and floral deliveries I crashed in a heap.  And in a heap, I stayed for about 5 weeks.  I was a hormonal mess, and the only person I wanted was Andrew.  I wanted to remain in the hospital forever.  In the room I never left, not once in the 5 days, I was there.  I had a sign put on the door for any visitors to check in with the nurse before seeing if I would see them.  The answer was always no.  I wanted no one.  My wonderful Dad came to see us on his way to work one day.  He and Mum had bought Jesse’s coming home from hospital outfit.  The nurse came in to say he was waiting outside and I just said no thanks.  Can’t see him.  Remembering that makes me feel so sad. I cannot fathom feeling so sad that I couldn’t see the Dad I adored and the mental picture of him leaving that outfit with the nurses and then walking out of the hospital back to his car……………………..Well, it just goes to show how hormones can play havoc with your mental health.

Andrew was fantastic.  He would come to the hospital at 6.30am in the morning.  By 10.30pm at night he would finally go home after several failed, earlier attempts which would leave me in tears.  Ironically Jesse was mostly perfect in the hospital.  He didn’t cry much and was a very cuddly boy from the get go.  I just could not come to terms with how much I loved him.  The realisation that if anything happened to him, I would die.  The realisation that he depended on me for everything.  Me, the girl who loved kids, most people’s first choice of babysitter had no confidence in her ability to care and know what to do with her own child.  Go figure!

We had a lovely male mid wife who had become a Dad for the first time 6 weeks earlier.  On the day I was going home, still crying, he came to reassure me I would be fine, “Lory, my wife and I are nurses, and we are fumbling our way too.”  That actually did help a little.

The drive home was terrifying.  The sun was glaringly bright after being in a room where I had barely opened the curtains for a week.  We got home and put Jesse in his pram.  Andrew had cooked a beautiful meal and had done all housework.  I didn’t have to do a thing except look after myself and Jesse and unpack my hospital bag.  I couldn’t even do that for another month.

Before long Jesse started to wake up and was hungry.  Luckily breast feeding came very naturally to me after the initial pain of the first few weeks, but as this was only Day 6, I was incredibly sore and in need of a nipple shield.  A dime a dozen you can get them at any chemist but no.  I needed the exact one I had in the hospital.  The exact one I had accidentally left behind in my room.  Completely irrational and convinced that I couldn’t manage with anything but THAT one Andrew said he would drive back to the hospital to get it.  “What???  Leave me with the baby ALONE???”  Yep.  I had lost the plot.

So over the next few weeks, I existed in a blurry, teary haze.  I refused most visitors, my Mum and Dad included.  I felt self-conscious trying to bath Jesse or even changing his nappy because I was unsure if I was doing it perfectly.  I would get him to sleep, and he would stir an hour later.  I was a failure.  One dear friend at the time who broke through my no visitors rule suggested that I wrap him to keep him secure and settled.  She said it so carefully, incredibly mindful of how sensitive I was.  I will never forget the kind look on her face as she gently picked Jesse up and wrapped him tightly like she did her own son.  Like I had wrapped her son.  Of course, it worked, and Jesse slept for 3 hours.  It was a miracle.  He was wrapped tightly for the next 2 years lol.

My lowest point during that time was one morning at about 630am.  Andrew was at work.  Jesse was asleep, and I was trying to decide if I had time for a shower before Jesse woke up.  Should I risk it? Should I wait to feed him first?  Should I put him in the pram in the bathroom while I showered?  Decisions, decisions.  I couldn’t make one.  Who can I ring so early I thought.  My good friend Jodie had recently had her baby boy too.  We had worked together and had shared the worries and the joy of falling pregnant close together.  I dialled her number.  She answered in her usual bubbly voice, and I just cried.  I can’t even recall what I said, but I can remember everything she had to say.  She was marvellous.  She assured me that I was the best person in the world for Jesse because I was his Mum and that I was an expert on his needs – nobody else.  She talked to me for about 20 minutes in a very calm, measured, kind voice.  She went on to send me a card with a guardian angel attached to it a few days later.  She had copied a poem about the power of the love of a mother.  I have it to this day.  She made me feel slightly capable, and I have never forgotten how she, probably unknowingly, helped me more that day than anyone had up to that point.

One morning the following week I woke up and I was quite literally, just like that, back to my old self.  I had a proper shower, did my hair and asked Mum to come with me to the CAFHS nurse to get Jesse weighed.  She was thrilled.  We pushed the pram along the lovely streets of Dulwich to the local hall, and the nurse unwrapped Jesse and weighed him.  He had put on so much weight, and she turned to me and said: “Well, you are doing an excellent job.”  I was elated and virtually skipped back home.

Clearly, I had been suffering from a hormonal imbalance of some kind, an extended baby blues period we called it.  Whatever you label it I was glad it was over and with that came complete clarity.  I was absolutely confident in my ability as a new Mum.  Jesse and I were a team and so in love with each other.  And, just like that, from that day forward the happiest time of my life began.

We were quite literally joined at the hip.  Jesse was a clingy baby and not very friendly outside immediate family and close friends.  He certainly wasn’t a baby that liked being passed around for a cuddle or having people peer into his pram.  Yet if he were on my lap he would sit happily for hours.

We would go to the park and lay on a blanket and look up at the clouds – for hours.  He was that easy and happy just laying together.  We would go for long walks or sit in the garden.  I absolutely devoted all my time to play with him.  I had not a care in the world.  He was my sole focus.  Not much housework or cooking got done I can tell you, but I would not have changed a thing. Luckily I have an amazing, understanding husband.

So after a rocky start, the first two years with Jesse were the absolute happiest time of my life.  Every single day I woke up and couldn’t wait to spend it with my little buddy.  That smile first thing in the morning…………………nothing in this world is better than that and I can honestly say I treasured and enjoyed every minute of that time.  He taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.  Love that is terrifying, all consuming and limitless but oh so rewarding and joyful.

And that dream house in Dulwich, the one with the two income mortgage.  We sold it.  I had intended on going back to work when Jesse was 6 weeks old.  Instead, I didn’t go back to work permanently until he was 7 years old.  A decision we never regretted and one forever appreciated by me.  If not for Andrew’s support I would never have had such a wonderful (eventually) foray into motherhood and the desire to do it all again and complete our family with Matthew’s arrival three and half years later.

And, just like that, the happiest of days become the most treasured memory. There have been many happy times since, and much more to come I know, but I don’t think I will ever have such an intense, special time like that again.

What was the happiest time of your life?

 

Laughing Out Loud

How good is it to laugh?  To laugh out loud till you can’t breathe anymore.  Or to try not to laugh when you know you are not supposed to but you can see your friend out the corner of your eye lose all their composure.  Or to laugh at the mere thought of a past funny memory. Great moments.  I love to laugh, and my Mum and Dad always said that even as a child I laughed easily and often.  I can also make others laugh as for some reason ridiculous things happen to me on a regular basis.

One such person with a great laugh and a great sense of humour is a lovely man I worked with a few years ago.  It was just he, and I on the desk and boy did we share some funny moments.  I am smiling as I write this as I can see his face so clearly, he wore an incredulous look like no one else.  Incredibly professional I loved that my sense of the ridiculous could crack him up.  He would laugh because I was.

He once went away on holiday and left me in charge.  The doctor we worked for commuted between Adelaide and Melbourne, so there were many days where I was alone in the office.  On such days I would have the music playing louder than appropriate through the speaker system.   This was fine as no Doctor, no patients, so other than the odd courier I would expect no one to pop in. I would bring my INXS CD’s and sing away while I worked.

“Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS is one of my all-time favourite songs and I would sing that with extra gusto.  I like to think I sound amazing but probably not.  So, unbeknown to me, as I had my back to the door doing some filing, a lovely elderly lady had walked in.  She had then sat down on a reception chair just out of my line of sight.  It wasn’t until I was singing the line, “AND THEY WILL NEVER TEAR US APART!” that I saw her out of the corner of my eye.  I was mortified.  How long had she been there?  My first thought was one of hope that she may be hard of hearing.  I quickly turned off the music and assumed a very professional face lol as she approached the desk with a letter in her hand.  “Hello.  Can I leave this for Doctor?”  Of course, I said.  Anything you want I thought.  She then smiled and stated in a very deadpan tone of voice, “By the way, lovely singing dear.”   I smiled meekly, went bright red and she left with a grin from ear to ear. It was a funny thing to happen but when I retold this to my very professional co-worker, the look on his face………….I am cracking up now.

Another time I had to ask him about our security cameras in the office.  You see I had a pair of opaque tights which were too long for me.  However, I would wear them now and then as they never felt too bad when I put them on first thing in the morning.  By 10 am though they would drive me nuts and feel like they were falling down.  So, behind the door that separated the reception staff area from the front desk, I would hoist up my dress and pull and adjust these tights several times a day.  You can imagine that there was nothing ladylike in doing this, and some days I would feel like I had pulled them up to just under my chin lol.

I had been doing this for weeks when one day I looked up, and there was a camera looking down at me from behind the door.  I had never noticed it before.  I was mortified.  I had no idea if it was a monitored camera and I was loathed to ask my coworker the ins and outs of our security system.  Eventually, though I had to ask him if I could have been good fodder for YouTube.  He assured me no as he laughed long and hard.

One of the most ridiculous things that ever happened to me though was at a petrol station.  This is ironic given my aversion to putting petrol in my car. I just hate doing it. For years I would run the gauntlet with my petrol indicator on empty in the hope that Andrew would need my car, see it was on empty and fill it up for me.  That worked for some of the time.  It used to stress my Dad out no end.  He worried more than I did about me running out of petrol somewhere.  I then got a bit more responsible and would fill up my car but only from two petrol stations.  And only from certain pumps within those said petrol stations.  If those pumps were busy as I went to pull in, I would hesitate ever so slightly but would always drive on, prepared to run out of petrol rather than go to an “unfamiliar” pump.

One such day though Andrew and I were going away with friends for the weekend.  It was a mad rush for him to get home in time after work for us to be able to head off before dark. I knew that filling up my car as well would be highly irritating.  So this thought dawned on me after I had passed my “familiar” petrol stations.  It had been a rushed start to the morning getting the boys to school, and I was running late for work already, so I was feeling a tad stressed anyway.  I was almost coming to a stop at traffic lights and saw a petrol station on my left.

Mmmmmm…………………shall I go in there I thought…………….Shall I……………………….Yes.  So last minute I pulled in but then………………………….what pump do I choose?  In my hesitation, I ended up parking quite a way from the pump I finally decided on.  I got out the car and grabbed the petrol hose and stretched it as far as it would go to my petrol tank.  I really struggled to do this, and the pump kept clicking on and off.  A man in a baseball cap and Hi Vis shirt was filling up his Ute at the pump opposite and yelled out, “You alright there?”  I replied, “Um no, not really.  I can’t get the pump to stay on.”  He grinned and came over to assist.  He managed to yank the hose a bit further and got the nozzle in the petrol tank better.  “You made it hard for yourself parking so far away.”  Yes, yes I know.  Having a bad start to the day.  I thanked him very much, and he went back to his car.

Well, I was very flustered and a bit embarrassed by this stage.  I finished filling up the tank and then grabbed my purse to go into pay.  There were a few people in front of me, so I took my place in the queue and waited.  As I got to the counter, the lovely Indian man asked what pump number I was.  No idea.  I told him how much I owed instead.  No, he advised, that’s how many litres you have put in.  OMG.  I heard a man laughing at me, and it was Hi Vis man.  I paid and as I left he caught my eye and I said: “I really am having a bad start to the day.”  He smiled back, and I walked to my car.

I unlocked my car.  Got into my car.  Shut the door of my car.  And then realised.  I was sitting in the passenger seat of my car.  The fact that I did not realise this until I shut the car door must have been written all over my face.  Hi Vis man at this stage was walking back to his car, putting his money in his wallet.  He looked up as I looked up and he cracked up.  Hands on his knees, bending over he laughed and laughed.  I got out of the car and yelled: “See, I told you I was having a bad day!”  Still laughing he replied, “Well honey, you made mine.”

This story was the cause for a terrific laugh that weekend, but it didn’t end there.

A few weeks later I pulled into the same petrol station.  I put it as number 3 on my list of petrol stations I would go to now that I had a better idea of which pump to go to and how best to park.

Walking in to pay after successfully filling up with no assistance required I was greeted by the same Indian man behind the counter.  His face lit up when he saw me, and he started calling out the make of my car “Nissan Tiida, Nissan Tiida!”  OMG, what had I done now was my first thought.  He came out from the counter with a Subway serviette and thrust it in my hand.  On it was a man’s name and mobile number with “please call me” written in black pen. He went on to tell me that the man who helped me previously had popped back the following week and had left it for me.  He was so excited, and I felt he thought he was part of a fabulous “first meeting” love story.  “I’m married,” I said.  In his thick accent, he just said very loudly “Oh nononononononononono.”  “Yes yes yes yes yes,” I replied. “Oh nonononononononononono.” He looked so deflated.   For me, his reaction is the funniest part of this story.

I asked him for a pen and on the serviette wrote “Thank you, but I am happily married.  But…….. you made my day.”

And I laughed out loud, yet again.

 

The Power of a Good Teacher

I have been thinking about the power of good teachers.  The kind that you remember for the rest of your lives and, whose words still have an influence on your life now.  One of my all-time favourite movies that portrays such an influence is Dead Poets Society.  Robin Williams brilliantly plays a character called John Keating, an English teacher who’s unusual but passionate way of teaching and relating to his students are at total odds with the strict and staid ways of an all-boys school in the 1950’s. He encourages his students to “make your lives extraordinary,” and to “seize the day.”  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.   Much like a good teacher, it’s a movie that stays with you forever.

My experience with teachers was mostly positive.  I had excellent teachers both in Primary School and High School with only a couple of notable exceptions who wielded their power in a mean way.

There was the elderly spinster who taught the early primary years.   She was infamous for patrolling the school yard in her scary hair net, tennis table bat in hand.  As a seven-year-old girl, I can remember quite clearly sitting on a bench in the lunch shed with my feet up, saving a seat for my younger cousin Kellie.  She came into the shed and before I knew it had whacked me across the back of the legs as she told me off for having my feet up on said bench.  I don’t think there was a primary school student who escaped the wrath of her bat.  Can you imagine if that happened now?

Then when I was in Year 6, a teacher humiliated me in front of two full classrooms.  I was wearing new blue trousers with a matching blue t-shirt and then a checked shirt over the top left open and loose.  I wore the shirt like that because my waist was so tiny that Mum had to sew giant pin tucks into the waistband of the pants so that they would stay up.  The shirt worn over the top covered them up entirely.  As this teacher walked along the corridor of the open space unit, I was in the second to last classroom, and I was walking back to my seat.  In his big booming voice, he shouted: “Lory, tuck that shirt in.”  I was mortified.  To this day I can still feel how embarrassed I was.  Being incredibly vain and not shy about voicing my opinion even then I replied a very confident “No.”  He was less than impressed.  He yelled his request again, I stood my ground as there was no way I was going to ruin the illusion of my fabulous outfit, and I was dragged to the principal’s office, crying by this stage as all eyes were on me.  I don’t remember the ins and outs of the conversation that ensued in that office. Suffice to say when my Mum came to pick me up at the end of that day and saw how upset I still was she flew back into that office.  A  heated conversation took place that saw Mum return to me in the car with a very red face and a “there will be no further problem with what you wear Lory EVER again!”  Go, Mum.

My Year 6 teacher at the time was a cool looking, smartly dressed long haired young man.  He was furious with that incident and did not hide his displeasure for me being reduced to tears.  As he handed out books for the next lesson once I had returned to class, he got to me, and he leant over and said in the kindest of voices, “Good for you standing your ground.”

I had him for Year 7 too, and he was absolutely the first teacher who had a real positive influence on me for all the right reasons. He once wrote in one of my report cards; “Lory has strong opinions and is not afraid to share them, and I encourage this whole heartedly.”  I feel that was pretty progressive for 1976. I actually continued to visit him in his classroom until I was 18 years old and would talk to him about any problems I had, job prospects and just life in general.  He had a similar rapport with many other students too, but I also had a few friends who did not gel with him at all.  It’s interesting how the same teacher can have such a different influence on a classroom of students.

I started high school nervously like everyone else.  I went from the comfort and familiarity of a small primary school to a high school that was so massive it was spread over two campuses, separated by a large oval.  It was imposing. I was lucky though, all my friends were at the same school, and before long it was the new normal.

The classic underachiever I coasted through the first few years.  I was a good student, didn’t get into trouble and got on well with all my teachers.  My Year 8 Art teacher was memorable in that he gave me straight A’s on the proviso that I introduced him to my older sister at the end of the year.   The thing about that was I couldn’t and can’t draw to save my life, and I don’t have a sister.  Lol.

But my “John Keating” came along in Year 9 and taught me for the next two years.  He was my English teacher, and his name was Dennis Carlsson. He was quietly spoken but held a captive audience.  He was passionate about teaching all of us.  He was encouraging and pushed for you to be better in the most nurturing of ways.  The lessons he taught he would relate back to real life.  He believed in me and made me feel I was capable of anything.  Every word he said I felt he was talking just to me – I hung off every single thing he said.  As a bit of a rebellious teenager, his lessons gave me direction.  I looked forward to them, and I looked forward to talking to him.  I would wait with bated breath as he marked my essays as his opinion was so important to me.  His validation and encouragement were everything.  The comments he would write in the margins of my books I would re-read and analyse over and over.  They were always positive as if he knew that even when I got things wrong, he had to handle me sensitively.

It was to him that I confided my love of writing.  We talked about journalism as a career option, but he said he did not want me to lose the art of honest storytelling.  He told me that when he set the essay task where he provided the initial first line and then we had to write a story from there, that he would really look forward to reading what I came up with as it was always personal and raw. In my report card, he wrote that my writing possessed a “maturity beyond her years.”  I was thrilled.

Fast forward to the following year and even though my love of English as a subject hadn’t changed and my joy at still having Mr Carlsson as my teacher was evident, my commitment and effort took a “teenage” nose dive.  He was on to me like a shot.  Made me wait back after class one day and gave me a firm but friendly talking to about not being an underachiever and how disappointed FOR me he would be if I didn’t continue to strive hard.  He did not want me to waste my “potential.”  A lot more was said, and I was in tears at the end of it, but that conversation will stay with me forever.  His use of disappointed FOR me not IN me……………..brilliant use of words.   I felt terrible, thinking I had let him down.  I continued to be a too talkative student (yep, that sounds just like my Matthew) in my other classes but for Mr Carlsson, I gave my very best.  He believed in me, and everyone needs that from someone other than family.

So as much as I loved English that was how much I hated Math.  Again I had really great teachers but just struggled to “get it.”  My Year 10 teacher was a gruff, sarcastic man who I actually really liked.  He would go through a problem on the blackboard and then say to the class in general “Now are we all understanding? Can we move on?”  Without waiting for a response, he would then good naturedly turn to me and in a sarcastic voice would say “What about you Millie?” (A name I got called a bit as my surname was Milligan.)  I would roll my eyes in feigned annoyance if I knew it but more often than not I had yet another question to ask and he, in turn, would roll his eyes but never seemed to mind in going over the problem again.  It was fun, good natured banter.

However, it is he who I think could have used his power wisely and steered me in an academic direction I didn’t take, but with his encouragement, I just may have.

We were at the end of Year 10 and starting to plan our Year 11 subject choices.  Being lazy I was looking at doing the Year 11 Business Course.  I loved typing, found it easy, loved English, and it had the added bonus of dropping Math and Science.  YAY!!!  I wouldn’t have to try quite so hard. One day after a Math lesson this teacher asked me what my plans were for the following year.  I said that I was thinking of doing the Business Course.  His response was belittling although, given the friendly banter we shared I don’t believe he expected me to take his opinion so offensively.  Anyway, he laughed at me.  He said that trained monkeys can type.  Do you want to be a trained monkey? You are not the dumbest in my class……………I don’t think.  I was embarrassed and furious all at once and being the stubborn teenager I was it was like a red rag to a bull.  *#@* you!  So where a few minutes before that conversation I was “thinking” about the Business Course, a few moments after I was doing it no matter what.

Sadly I think if he had had an honest, adult conversation with me and gave me some kind of encouragement that I would have coped with Year 11 Math, as that was a real concern for me, I would have listened to him.  As an adult, I really regret taking the easier path and often wonder how different things would have been had I went on to study further.  Again, the power of a teacher.

As I type this, I am looking at an old school photo of myself.  A young happy girl with messy hair, freckles and eyes full of optimism.  I had a fantastic, loving family and lots of great friends.  But every kid needs that adult in their life that believes in them when they don’t have to.  Who chooses to nurture and guide.  Finds a way to engage them.  Invests in their future.

We all need a teacher like “John Keating.”  I had mine, and I will forever be grateful to him.  He added the spark required to ignite the fire simmering within me.  Who knows, if not for him I may never have started this blog.

Who was your “John Keating?”

Time To Be Happy Again

Seize the day.  Live in the moment. Things will only get better.  It could be worse. You are strong, you can handle it.

I bet everyone has been on the receiving end of at least one of these statements.  Each one I have heard on more than one occasion over the last three years.    Well intended I am sure they were.  Well received, perhaps not all the time.  Only now, as I start to feel physically better, can I look at these words and feel that I can now apply their positivity to myself.

I feel, and hope, that my health issues are almost behind me once and for all.  The past seven days I have felt so much better.  I have energy, motivation and an extra spring in my step.  I am singing out loud again (awful for some I am sure.)  I am feeling like I am emerging from a deep, black hole and that the smile on my face is now real.  I have been faking being happy, ok, interested, for a long time.  I am really good at it too.  But it has been exhausting.

For those of you who don’t know the past three years have been challenging to say the least.  Having said that nothing that I have had to deal with is unique to me.  There are plenty of people who have suffered way more than I and, unlike myself, continue to suffer with no end in sight.  I’m just sharing my story.

Working through my health issues my GP asked me 3 months ago to go back to the beginning, to write down, in list form, all the events that had caused me stress or upset.  I was at an all-time low.  I had finished my injections in February and expected, unrealistically I now know, to return to good health pretty quickly.  I was so tired and miserable and when my side effects continued I hit a brick wall.  My mental health was being tested to its limits.

My list was:

  • Dad diagnosed with blood cancer November 2013.
  • My breast cancer diagnosis August 2014.
  • A dear cousin died September 2014.
  • Very ill October – December 2014 as a result of hormone treatment for breast cancer.
  • Start alternative hormone treatment in the form of monthly injections for a period of two years in February 2015 which resulted in severe nausea (amongst other things) every single day.
  • My Dad died unexpectedly June 2015 four days before my 50th birthday.
  • A close friend died unexpectedly July 2015.
  • Left my long term job February 2016.
  • Got a new job April 2016, left that job July 2016, took Dad’s ashes back to Isle of Wight, England August 2016 and then started another new job on my return.
  • Mum had a fall and ended up in hospital October – November 2016 and already had required a lot of support from my brother and I since Dad died.
  • A dear friend became critically ill October 2016 and was in RAH for 4 months.
  • Izzy, our beautiful dog died April 2017.

All the while, from October 2014 up until July 2017 I was still struggling with severe all day nausea and bone pain.

My GP knew my history or thought they did, but seeing it written down like that was a bit of an “aha” moment.  Cleary,  a lot had happened in a very short space of time.  They asked me what from that list was affecting me most.  I just burst into tears.  “Everything on this list still affects me.  How can I separate any of those things?  I think about them all.  I lay awake at night thinking why?”

Why indeed did any of those things have to happen and hurt so many people?  I am a peripheral person on two of these tragedies but I care deeply for those I love and looking at that list, well it was just too awful.  Too much.

We talked about the analogy of waves which I found relatable and appropriate.  In a nutshell, I had been swimming in very calm waters for most of my life when suddenly I was caught in a rip and dragged far out to sea.  As I desperately tried to swim to shore a huge wave came and dragged me under.  As I tried to surface another wave came and I was fighting for air, not having caught my breath from the previous wave.  OMG!  That was exactly how I felt.  I could see that I had been only half dealing with things because too much happened at once.   And all these things were life changing, significant and terrible.

As I have said before having feelings validated is just so important and I left that appointment exhausted but feeling better about myself and my coping mechanisms which I now realised were under enormous duress.

So how did I cope these last few months?   Well, I hibernated.  I am a happy homebody anyway but feeling flat and having episodes of vomiting that came on with little or no warning well I felt happiest and safest at home with my 3 men.  I managed to work, see Mum and enjoy the odd lunch but pretty much I did not much at all!  And as I withdrew I was able to unravel my thoughts.  And then those thoughts stopped keeping me awake at night.  I went back to writing a to-do list something I have always done but had stopped doing for some reason.  Unfortunately, I am still unable to read a book, and I am an avid reader, but I have been listening to my Buddha music, lighting my candles and truly relaxing.  Hopefully my ability to concentrate and read my much-loved biographies, I have a few waiting for me, will return very soon.  Writing this blog has been fabulously cathartic too.

This past week has seen an amazing turn around for me.  To wake up without nausea………………I cannot begin to tell you what that feels like.  The first few days I was cautiously optimistic but guarded, waiting for that familiar wave of seediness to hit.  But it didn’t and it hasn’t.  I have been more productive and have more energy.   I used to sit down after having a shower. I used to sit down after drying my hair.   I used to sit down after hanging out the washing.  I used to sit down a lot because I was spent doing the simplest of tasks.

In the last 24 hours, everything tastes better.   Food has not been pleasurable for me for a while – just a bland means to an end to having something in my stomach.  I do hope though that this will not become a problem having just bought nice new clothes lol.  I am thinking about food quite a bit.

Physical health and mental health go hand in hand and I feel much happier.  For the most part, I have felt that everyone has been living fabulous, fun-filled lives and I have been stuck trying to get through each day, life passing me by so to speak. But I think I am back.  My new friends at work have not known me well.  This could be eye opening for them lol.

I still have a shoulder that is on its way to being frozen if I don’t get it sorted so that is now a priority.  My repeat mammogram and blood tests are due mid-August.  There is always a certain amount of apprehension with that coming up but I am feeling a little less anxious about that too.  On the whole, I am looking forward with renewed positivity.

If you know or are supporting someone who has been diagnosed with cancer it’s really important to try and understand that the immediate surgery, chemotherapy (I was very lucky not to need and endure that), and radiotherapy are only a part of that person’s fight.  Ongoing cancer treatments, in my case hormonal treatments as my cancer, was oestrogen positive, come with so many debilitating, long-lasting side effects that many people are left unsupported because people just don’t realise that the battle continues. Many specialists (not mine) are only interested in doing whatever it takes to reduce the odds of the cancer coming back – regardless of the toll that may take on other parts of your body, not to mention one’s mental health.

To that end I have already decided that should I be unlucky enough to have my cancer return I will NEVER go on hormone treatment again.  It is just too debilitating for a “no guarantee” outcome.  I feel I have not participated enough in my boy’s lives these past 3 years, even though they were my top priority.  I do not want to be the sick Mum anymore or ever again.  For three years every birthday card, Xmas card and Mother’s Day card from Matthew has made reference to my health, “Hope you get better soon Mum” or, “Wish this nightmare was over.”  No more.

I have said before to always be kind as you do not know what people are really going through behind their smiles. I have experienced a lot of kindness, understanding and support from so many of you and I have appreciated it all. Many of you have not believed my smile and have made allowances accordingly.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Some days I used to think that the “old” Lory was gone forever.  But I think she might just be on her way back.  Going where who knows but here’s to happy days ahead.

 

 

Always and Forever

It will be two years on June 28th, 2017 since my Dad died.

My every thought is consumed with memories of him.  Not just his last few days either, although they certainly play over and over in my mind.  I am just finding that when my mind wanders it is to thoughts of him.  I haven’t found inspiration to write this past week and I think my heart and brain is too cluttered with “Dad.”  So I thought I would share with you all the eulogy I wrote for his service on July 3rd, 2015 – the day after my 50th birthday.

It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do but, to get up and talk about my Dad, filled me with enormous pride.  It was the last thing I could do for him. My final tribute.  He would have known that I would be the one to speak and that gave me the extra strength I needed that day.  And, together with the support of Jesse and Matthew who each stood behind me and at times placed a hand on my shoulder or back when words caught in my throat, my Dad was with me all the way.

I feel he is close by this past week, but he is never far away.

In my heart, he will always stay.

For my Dad xxx 

The last speech I did for my Dad was for his 70th – just over five years ago.  I looked back over that speech the other night and my opening paragraph was how young and fit he was.  It is still so completely unbelievable that that is no longer the case and that he is not even here with us anymore.  It is not how it should be.  Someone got it wrong.  Exactly this time last week he was still cracking jokes with us.  We were all laughing with him together.  We had no idea what horror was going to take place and the speed with which it would come.

Dad was a proud Isle of Wight man who only left the Island and his beloved family to come to Australia for a life of adventure and a better life for his future family.  He said he never regretted that decision but as the years went by he certainly missed the copse and downs he roamed as a boy and his own family. Certainly, most of our chats in hospital rooms or chemo sessions ended up with Dad reminiscing about his childhood or talking about his siblings, his adored sister Josie, the lovely Gwen and his big brothers Bill and Mugs.  We only wish today we had more pictures of Dad with his brothers and sisters but they have all been apart for so long we couldn’t find one remotely recent that had them all in together.

He made Australia his home and what a wonderful home he created with Mum for Mike and I.  We were very fortunate to grow up in a happy, loving and fun household.  We had parents that not only loved each other but were in love.  Music was always playing and Dad would sing and play his guitar a lot.  He actually had a really good voice and would tell us that often.

Dad was a very clever, intelligent man.  He could hold a conversation on any topic and make it interesting.  He was handsome, quick witted and funny.  He was a self-taught handyman who could turn his hand to anything or give anything a go.  I do however remember dodgy tiling, it was often less than straight and a very wonky handmade linen press but he did it all himself.

Dad always had time for us. He took us on lots of camping holidays, Stawell Victoria most often our base.  Off the four of us would go in the infamous red Mini Clubman.  Mike and I separated by pillows in the back so “his feet wouldn’t touch mine.”  With both of us asking Dad, “Are we there yet?” after only 5 minutes.  The getting there with us in the back drove him nuts he said.  Every night after work he would kick the footy with Mike in our very big back yard.  Every night.  He would come and watch Mike’s footy games and my netball games.  I always felt I played better when he was there – I always wanted to make him proud and cared what he thought.

Mike’s best memories of Dad are those nights playing footy or cricket and play fighting.  Mike actually broke one of Dad’s fingers playing karate which made Dad run around the house yelling.  Mike also hit back a cricket ball that struck him hard on the leg and resulted in bruising so bad he had to go to the doctor.  On another occasion, Dad and Mike were motorbike riding.  Dad decided to be a smart arse and zoomed up, and swung the bike around to flick mud over everyone.  Unfortunately, he fell off and ruptured the ligaments in his knee.  Off to the doctors, he went again where the doctor politely suggested: “Don perhaps you should give up the extreme sports with Mike?”

With that advice, Dad and Mike took up kite flying.  They bought a massive orange puffer kite – it was 5ft tall.  They were flying it in the back garden which was not far from Commercial Road, a very busy road when all of a sudden the kite dipped over the power lines and they heard the screeching of brakes.  They waited for the sound of cars crashing but fortunately, the kite rose up again so they quickly wound it in and Dad said to Mike, “Don’t tell your mother!!”  They ran inside and said nothing.  Mum said she thought they were very quiet that day.  Hmm yes they were.

Another great experience they shared together in later years was going to the War Memorial in Canberra.  Mike took Dad Business Class which he loved and they enjoyed a fabulous day.  It was something on Dad’s bucket list he was thrilled to tick off.  In latter years they played golf together and only a month ago they went to lunch at Hogs Breath – for some reason that was a place Dad always wanted to have lunch.  Another tick off his list and now the last day out they shared together just the two of them.

Mike said he used to think it was ridiculous the “junk” Dad held onto. Dad was a collector of all sorts of nuts, washers, brackets and bolts.  Jars and jars of them he had in his shed. However when Mike bought his own home Dad always had the exact bracket or bolt Mike was looking for.  Not so silly after all.

Dads great love of the guitar, he was completely self-taught, led him to teach Mike.  One song only though and that was the song playing when you all walked in today aptly titled “Walk right in.”  Well, unfortunately, Mike never progressed with learning any other songs.  He really liked this one and he played it.  Over and over and over again.  Sadly though, for all of us, Mike was quite hopeless and Dad was not shy in telling him so.  This is why the guitar is over there with Dad.  It’s in good hands there.

As a little girl, one of my favourite memories is standing on Dad’s feet and dancing with him.  Snuggling up close to him on the couch and just always thinking he was so handsome.  I just always adored him.

Dad and I were similar in many ways.  Same bright blue eyes, both very impatient, we never read an instruction book, (which would always result in Mike having to sort it out – “leave it to Mike” Dad would say.)  We share a healthy dose of road rage, a taste for nougat and very grey hair.  We loved our horror movies.  Mum said that as a six-month-old baby she would give me to Dad for my 11pm bottle and go to bed.  She said Dad would prop me up in his arms and we would watch “Deadly Ernest” together.  So that is how far back that shared interest started.  Some of my best days with Dad were when we would go on father-daughter “dates.”  We would see the most horrific movies and then afterwards debrief over a pizza and beer.  Best of all we would laugh.  A lot.

However, there were times when I found him less than funny.  He would laugh very hard when we hurt ourselves and once after I had received a very nasty electric shock and developed a bit of a phobia of anything electrical, he pretended to be electrocuted while plugging in a toaster.  I was furious because I really thought he was going to die and we were only laughing about that the other day.

Dad’s humour with electricity was not isolated to me though.  Many years ago Dad’s lawnmower was playing up.  He was checking the spark plugs and told Mum to put her finger on one, to see if that was the problem.  Innocently Mum did and she got a very nasty zap.  Well, she ran into the house screaming and did not speak to him for days.  Dad thought that was hilarious too.

One of the funniest days with Dad and there have been many, was only last month on one of his chemo days.  I had picked him up and we drove to Flinders Medical Centre.  The parking, as most people who live in Adelaide would know, at Flinders is just horrendous.  So because we thought we would be having months of appointments and to just reduce the amount Dad had to walk with his terrible breathlessness, we applied for a disabled parking permit.  We hadn’t received it at the time but I had the paperwork from Dad’s GP in my glove box.  So I said to Dad that we were going to go “rogue” and I parked in a disabled car park and scribbled in red pen on the paperwork, “Authorised awaiting sticker” and shoved that on the dash.  Dad loved it. So I said look I know you are unwell but really shuffle along when you get out and wait for me to open your door just in case we are being watched.  He very sarcastically asked if I would like him to trip himself over, fall and get some blood on his face, “You know make myself look really bad.”  I assured him that would not be necessary, walking slow and hunched over would suffice.  We laughed all the way into the chemo suite.

We sat down and as I said Dad was incredibly impatient – he would tut and huff after waiting only 5 minutes.  Well, this day we were called in straight away.  Fantastic he said and we went and he sat in the big recliner chairs they have for the patients.  I had mistakenly pressed the wrong buttons on these chairs for Dad on a previous visit.  He had wanted to put his feet up and I pressed the back button and flung him back rather fast.  He insisted I had given him whiplash, “As if I don’t have enough problem, Lory.”  Even the day before he died he was still wiggling his finger at me smiling and telling everyone how nervous he was when I was in control of moving his bed up and down.

Anyway, he was so excited about getting in quick to have his treatment but he had been terribly unwell the previous two days and I had a long list from Mum of things to tell the nurses.  So our lovely nurse comes over, “Hello Don how are you?”  “Not bad,” he says.  I said “SORRY? Not bad?”  He shot me a look and said, “Well yes not the best over the weekend.” I then stood up and reeled off all that was wrong with him.  The nurse raised her eyebrows and said to Dad that we can’t give you your chemo until we look at your recent blood test.  Dad had one every week.  Well, unfortunately, that days result hadn’t come through so she said I will make you a cappuccino but you need to wait awhile and we will decide what to do.  Ok, he says smiling at her as she walked away and then he shot me another look and said, “We could have been out of here if you had kept your mouth shut.”  I said bad luck got to get it sorted and so we waited. For 4 hours.  We chatted away and had a few laughs.  And I loved the uninterrupted time we had together.  The time spent together albeit for awful reasons was not without its blessings.

So while we are waiting a girl walks into the middle of the chemo suite (there are about 12 patients having chemo at one time) and she is pushing a trolley on top of which are copper upturned bowls.  Dad raises his eyebrows at me and I shrug my shoulders – I don’t know what she is doing.  She looked a little alternative – Dad later described in detail to Mum her “weird” clothing.  Green trousers, purple top with bells on the sleeves and messy hair.  I noticed none of that.  Well, she sets up behind me and the bowls are in fact some kind of Buddha/Zen-like chimes which she starts to play with some kind of stick.  Dad, who was speaking quite loudly because he didn’t have his hearing aids in says, “How bloody ridiculous.  Is that going to cure me of cancer is it?”  You could not get any more unbuddha like than my Dad.  I was crying as I was trying so hard not to laugh.  Well, then the girl goes over to the lady opposite Dad and starts swishing the bowl and a brush around her head and upper body humming and chanting as she was doing it.  Worried that she might come pay him a visit too Dad looked at me threw his head back on the chair squeezed his eyes tightly shut and said: “I’m asleep!!!”  It was so funny.  The nurses at the station were watching all of this and they too were laughing.

Well this lovely girl eventually wheels her trolley out and leaves the room.  Dad opens his eyes, once it was “safe” and said to the lady opposite “God I was worried she was going to come to me next.”  She replied, “It’s ok, I find it quite soothing and cathartic.” Dad misheard what she said, remember he has no hearing aid in, nods in agreeance with her and  said, very loudly, “Yes I think it’s a load of garbage too.”  I could have died on the spot.  It was very funny.  So when we finally left he was so relieved to be going “I have a sore arse from sitting so long you know!” that he was walking a little faster than when we walked in.  As we were going back to the disabled car park I had to remind him to slow down a bit and then pretended to “help” him into the car.  I went to put his seatbelt on and he wagged his finger at me again and said with a big smile, “Steady now.”  It sounds ridiculous but that day was a great day.

Andrew is the one and only son-in-law but even so, Dad would say he was the best one.  Dad had great admiration for Andrew and his final words to Andrew were what a good father he was.  In turn, Andrew had a lot of respect for Dad and loved and appreciated all the time, love and interest Dad had for our boys. Andrew always said how intelligent Dad was and that if ever he was on a quiz show Dad would be his “phone a friend” lifeline.  Just don’t ever get them talking about the Crows when they lost.  They both had very strong opinions on how hopeless their team was at times.

However, as wonderful a Dad as he was I think he saved his greatest role till last and that was as Pop to his boys Jesse and Matthew. From the moment they were born they have been his second shadow.  He sang to them as newborns and they stopped crying.  Jesse used to like the song Old Shep so much that Dad wrote out the words for him one day and he keeps that somewhere special even now.

He pushed them in the pram and rocked them in his arms when they were upset.  As little boys he played Cowboys and Indians with them complete with homemade bows and arrows he made for them, he would take them for long walks and made them their own walking sticks.  Once during a day trip to Kuitpo Forest with Mum and Jesse, he walked ahead and dropped 50 cent pieces along the ground.  He convinced Jesse that they had stumbled on a hidden treasure.  Now that’s a thoughtful Pop.

He has played Monopoly, UNO for hours, read them their favourite books over and over, taken them to lots of movies – horrendously violent ones a lot of the time.  Jesse and he share a love of cowboy movies to the point where Jesse tried to watch one with us at home one day and he said that it wasn’t the same not sitting next to Pop so we turned it off.

Matthew makes Dad laugh a lot and they share a quick wit and that terrible sense of humour!!  Dad would watch Matthew’s favourite DVD’s over and over with him even though it drove Dad nuts.  They too used to go for walks together with Scruffy and Dad loved how Matthew doted on his little dog.  Dad and Matthew eat left handed even though they are right handed, as does Mike.  Dad loved that there was a lot of “Milligan” in is little mate.

Quite simply he is fabulous with them and so very proud of the young men they have grown up to be and the beautiful, close relationship they still shared right to the end. They adore him and Pop would have had to have been one of the most used words in our house and his.  He has provided them with some of their happiest memories and for that, I feel so lucky and am forever grateful.

The last few months have been really difficult as Dad got more and more tired and sick. Dad spent an enormous amount of time resting in his chair and his loyal companion, Scruffy was a source of great comfort and his own personal hot water bottle as she lay on his lap all day long.  Dad was a passionate dog lover, Rusty and Milly amongst his best four-legged friends, and he spoke to Scruffy nicer than any human I can tell you.  I had heard him call her darling and once he even called her Lory.  I told him off for that slip of the tongue.

He and Mum always close became even more of a team.  Mum the most devoted carer I have ever seen despite her own health issues. Dad was in the very best hand’s Mum, you have been absolutely amazing – he struck gold with you as we often told him and he agreed wholeheartedly.  Mum was his primary concern right up to the very end.  Look after “Cookie” was the brief.  True love they had.

Dad’s admission into the hospital Thursday night was nothing to be overly concerned about initially.  The plan was to keep him in a few days, get over an infection and come home.  By Friday night things had become more serious, by Saturday morning 630am we thought we would be able to bring him home in a week and have palliative care for a couple of months but then by 930am that very same morning we were told it was too late and we had hours with him, maybe a day.  It was absolutely horrific and unexpected and he passed away 630am Sunday morning.

So, Dad, I won’t say goodbye.  I truly believe I will see you again. Until then you enjoy that long awaited reunion with those that have gone before you – Your sister Gwen, Jos who you loved so very much and Bill, your beautiful, funny big brother who died only 3 hours before Dad did back in England. I am also sure your old mate Uncle Maurie will be waiting with a nice cold beer for you too.  You loved him.

My Dad, I have no regrets. I loved you with everything I had and I was lucky to be loved by you just as much.

I am so proud to be my father’s daughter and I will miss you for the rest of my days.  It was a privilege to be with you as you passed away but I now know what it means to be truly broken hearted.  Always and forever I will be your girl.

Sliding Doors

I think we have all had a “sliding doors” moment.  A single decision that sends you on a certain path, and if but for that decision lives could have been different, changed or never even eventuated.

I made a decision when I was 19 years old that has had everlasting effect and impact on my life to date.

My short-lived marriage at the age of 18 was over (no surprises there but that is a whole other story!) and I had moved to a little flat in Norwood.  It was a small ground floor flat just for me.  It was sparsely furnished including a pine lounge suite that no one was allowed to sit on as it “squashed” down the cushions and made it look messy lol.  I also had a few Marilyn Monroe and James Dean black and white pictures which I carelessly hung from nails I hammered into the wall. Wasn’t a problem until I moved and had to fix the mess that made but luckily Andrew was around by then to help. But this place was all mine.  I could barely make rent each week; I only ever had fruity lexia cask wine and a bowl of smarties in the fridge.  How I survived financially and nutritionally is beyond me but I did.  I didn’t sleep well there either as I was quite nervous.  Luckily I met an old policeman one day.  My next door neighbour had clothes stolen from her washing line which unnerved me no end and he came to investigate and so we met.  From that day on he used to beep his horn as he drove by at night to let me know he was working and keeping an eye on me.  Used to make me feel so much better.  Nothing untoward about his intentions at all.  I was probably young enough to be his granddaughter.

Anyway moving to Norwood was a big change and quite a distance from Brighton and Oaklands Park where I had lived previously.  I had to find new local everything which included a new Doctor.  I distinctly remember getting the yellow pages out (long before Google lol) and scanning for a GP Clinic that I could walk to.  That was very important as I didn’t drive.  In fact, I didn’t get my license until I was 27 years old – yet another story!!!

So I chose the Practice closest to me and made an appointment.  I had a lot of stomach problems which started when I was a teenager and lasted into my mid-twenties so I was somewhat of a regular patient.  I walked into an old heritage house, converted into a surgery.  Quite different to the modern clinics I had been to previously.  It was a nice feel as you entered with very high ceilings and nice cornice detail.  Behind the reception desk sat a very pretty girl with a mass of dark, curly hair.  She had a beautiful smile and her eyes danced with mischief and vitality.  Her greeting was so warm and friendly.  I remember feeling rather chuffed with myself, what a good decision I had made. The GP, who is, in fact, my GP still today, was just as lovely.  Very old fashioned as he came out in his white doctor’s coat (which he still wears) with such an empathetic manner.  He turned out to be the kind of GP that made unannounced house calls when my boys were unwell as babies just to check on them.  When Jesse was born he made a surprise visit to the hospital to welcome him to the world.  Yep.  He is that kind of doctor.  One in a million.

So as luck? would have it I was back and forth to see him quite regularly and began to have longer chats with the lovely receptionist.  We started to continue on conversations from the previous visits.  I really liked her.  One day, as I was leaving she stood up to go on her break and said: “Do you want to come for a coffee?”  I didn’t need to be asked twice.  And just like that, a friendship began.

Her name is Tracey.

Coffee dates turned into long lunches.  Then evening drinks at The Directors.  Sunday drinks and platters at the house she shared with friends in Parkside.  Very soon we were spending lots of time together.  We just clicked.

Then one day she met “that” guy.  A farmer from the West Coast who she was asked to take out with his mate and show him a bit of the Adelaide nightlife.  She was not keen to do this at all but, good natured as always, she did.  That night he certainly made an impression but at no stage did we think that a wedding would be on the cards a few years later.  Nor did we think that he would become my husband’s dearest friend and closest confidante.  Two men, both left-handed, both barracked for Sturt footy club, both loved red wine, both laughed easily and both would go on to be wonderful family men.

So my city girlfriend married the farmer called Tim and moved to a life on the land.  What a difficult transition that was but she embraced it with full gusto.  I have many reasons to admire her and how she adapted to this complete change of lifestyle. Being 6.5 hours drive away from all friends and family is just one of them.  However, her newfound address provided us with the perfect destination to get away and get away we did.  Often.

Andrew would have moved up there in a heartbeat.  He loved everything about the farm and loved spending time with Tim. They would both be off all day working on the farm while we would stay in the house with our wine and platters talking.  Then at night, we would all head off into the bush for a bonfire, wine in hand.  The very best of times.   Andrew and Tim became very close very quickly.  To the point that two weeks before our own wedding Andrew casually says “I think I am going to ask Tim to be a groomsman.”  I nearly fell off my chair.  “WHAT?? You can’t do that at this late stage, everything is organised.”  Our wedding was very small and we had one attendant each.  Clearly, men have no idea what goes into planning a wedding because he was quite taken aback at my reaction.

Soon enough along came our children.  Their beautiful girl was first.  Our visits to the farm became even more frequent after she was born.  I adored her. She became the daughter I never had, still is.  I am her “chosen” godmother and very proud to be too.  Next, their gorgeous, curly-haired boy followed by my Jesse 6 months later and then Matthew 3.5 years after that.  Tracey and Tim are Jesse’s proud godparents.

Both my boys shared their Dad’s love of the farm lifestyle.  The freedom for three boys to be able to set off for the day exploring is just priceless.  There were no devices, TV, PlayStation.  Just imagination, copious amounts of sticks, bonfires at night, camping in tents, no showers and lots of fun.  We literally only saw them when they found their way back to the house for food.

We continued to visit as often as we could with Jesse spending some holidays up there without us.  He, in particular, has always had a close connection with both Tracey and Tim, just as happy in the shed with Tim as he is chatting to Tracey in the kitchen while she cooks up a storm.  His childhood experiences on the farm and chats with Tim are the sole reason he chose to study Agricultural Sciences at Uni.  He is now in his final year and his future prospects look bright all because of the shared love he had for their farm.

I should mention that I too loved the farm but my motivation to go was to spend time with my friend.  I loved the remoteness and peace that the farm had but would have found it quite daunting to live so far away from everyone.  Tracey is way more social than I so again, I take my hat off to her not only for choosing to give up all that was familiar to her for the man she loved but for doing so with such an open heart and becoming an integral and valued member of the rural community.

Our friendship has also seen more challenges than any other.

Within a week of Tracey and Tim’s son being born in May 1996, Tracey was told that she would need a double lung transplant.  She had been terribly unwell throughout her pregnancy with extreme breathlessness and Drs were waiting to safely do a chest x-ray once she had delivered her baby to see what was going on.  The x-ray revealed that she had lost over 70% of lung function due to an undiagnosed genetic issue which pregnancy hormones had brought to the fore.  I still get goosebumps remembering the phone call from Tim telling us that news.  Andrew and I went into the hospital to see them, I was 3 months pregnant. We walked into her room to see Tim holding their newborn son and my dear friend in bed with an oxygen mask, their faces showing the shock and disbelief of such a diagnosis.

Tracey’s transplant story is a whole other blog but suffices to say it was an incredibly scary, emotional time.  They initially went back to the farm but after a few close calls decided it was necessary to stay in Adelaide and be closer to medical help if needed.  Tracey was feeling very vulnerable and was now on 24-hour oxygen.  There is also a certain protocol one has to go through to be put on a recipient-donor waiting list so it wasn’t until August that she was officially on that list.

Two things that happened during that time I still think about today.  Tracey and I were always trying to be thinner than we were.  We did aerobics classes together, not very successfully as we laughed too much, we had tried many diets between us but bottom line we just liked our wine too much.  One day Tracey came to our house.  For someone needing new lungs, she looked amazing.  White pants, blue and white striped top, she was very, very slim and with that gorgeous face and those eyes that were still sparkling, she looked fabulous and I told her so.  She smiled and said “Yes.  You and I say we would die to be thin.  Well, now I am.”  To this day we can still look at each other and say “Be careful what you wish for because it might just come true.”

The other thing that I can never forget is a weekend away that we had.  It was January 1997 and Jesse was only 10 weeks old.  We all decided to go to Victor Harbor for a change of scenery.  Tracey was very weak and the oxygen cylinder was dragged behind her wherever she went.  Her son was a happy, noisy 8-month-old who she couldn’t even pick up which was in stark contrast to me being as fit as a fiddle and Jesse being a clingy, sensitive, serious  10 week old.  It’s very difficult to look at your once vibrant friend and see her struggle just to breathe and walk around.  I felt guilty that at the happiest time of my life she was going through the most frightening time of hers.  We were thrilled to have our boys so close together but all this other stuff was not part of the plan.  The sound of her oxygen tubing swishing behind her on the floor will stay with me forever.

So the transplant went ahead March 1997 and was a resounding success.  We put off Jesse’s christening until we knew that Tracey would be well and back in Adelaide.  The day arrived, 13th July and it was a heartfelt celebration of new beginnings and the joy that she was here with us still.  I remember when we asked her to be Jesse’s godmother.  I had no doubt she would be ok, I really didn’t.  That’s not to say I didn’t worry but I just couldn’t see a time when she would not be around.  She looked up at me with those big eyes and said: “Do you think I will be here still?”  I didn’t flinch because I truly believed my answer.  “Absolutely,” I said.

Now incredibly, in the 20 years since her transplant,  Tim has also had very serious health issues not once but twice and Tracey went on to lose a kidney to cancer as a result of the immunosuppressant’s she must take for the rest of her life. I was looking after her kids while she went to get those results.  I saw her pull up in her car and she was carrying a bottle of champagne.  I ran outside and said, “Good news then?”  She replied, “No, it is cancer, so let’s drink this while I still have two kidneys.”  I kid you not.   Like we have so often said their story would be a great Australian Story on the ABC but for the fact that the episodes only go for 30 minutes lol.

Recently too, Tracey had to fight for her life when she succumbed to a “perfect storm” of lung infections that saw her in the Royal Adelaide Hospital for 4 months, many weeks of that time in ICU.  Seeing her wired up to every machine, able to hear a little but not speak……………….very confronting. Andrew and I would drive home speechless in the car, quietly processing our own thoughts.  It took me back to visiting my Dad in ICU, the power of the memory of sounds and smells.

Tracey’s amazing vitality at the darkest of times was still there, even in ICU.  Her spark for life visible ever so slightly which filled me with the hope that she was going to be ok – again!!!  One visit with her daughter was particularly uplifting.  It was the day that Trump won the Presidency.  We walked in and went either side of her bed, parting the wires to each hold a hand.  I leant over to smooth her hair back and said hello and advised her that “OMG, Tracey you won’t believe it but Trump is going to be President.”  Bearing in mind Tracey was intubated so couldn’t speak, her eyes flew open and she did an eye roll.  We were overjoyed and laughing.  She was fighting hard and had not lost her sense of the bloody ridiculous.  Tracey also remembers another conversation which gives you a little insight to our black humour.  As I said goodbye to her one day I leant over and whispered, “If you see a bright light do NOT go towards it!”  I knew she would have found that comment funny but I never thought she would actually have heard it let alone remember it.  So to anyone visiting loved ones in ICU talk to them as if they can hear everything because you just never know what’s going on behind all those machines.

So from that random choosing of a GP, we found best friends, godparents, I became an adopted godmother, Jesse found a career path and we learnt over and over again that good health is everything as is a healthy dose of hope.  If we lose hope in life we have nothing.  She has shaped how I live my life in many ways. We have learnt the true meaning of “through good times and bad.”  Tracey has personally been responsible for putting me outside my comfort zone on many occasions.  She has taught me resilience and to live in the moment.  We have had times of seeing less of each other, largely due to being geographically further apart as lives got busier, but we always remain deeply connected. We have never had a cross word.  She knows I have lost my way these last 3 years and she has cried with me, supported and cared and given me space to just be.  “You have always retreated when life gets hard till you figure things out.  You will be ok.”  She said that to me just last month and it was good to be reminded that how quiet I am being at the moment is normal for me.

Thirty-three years of friendship from one random decision.  And you know what?  When I got home from that very first doctor’s appointment all those years ago there was a message on my answering machine advising that I had, in fact, missed my appointment.  Turned out I went to the wrong doctor’s surgery.

I don’t think so.

Do you have a “sliding door” story?