After the darkness

Earlier this year, when I had my baby, I went through what was probably one of the most difficult weeks of my life. My pregnancy was high risk and my birth, a c-section under general anaesthetic, was in complete contrast to all my other births. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there, and without going into too much detail my baby ended up in ICU after breathing difficulties. It was one thing after another and I was just embracing each hurdle that came my way because, the way I saw it, I had little choice.  But when one of the doctors witnessed a suppressed cough, suspected pneumonia, and I was told that I could no longer visit my baby, I was at breaking point.

I remember laying there, the nurse trying to insert yet another cannula, my arm by this point resembling a pin cushion, tears streaming down my face. I was in hospital, I was in excruciating pain, and I could barely move. I had no recollection of giving birth, I was only with my baby for a few hours before he was whisked away, and although I would go down and visit him for his feeds the pain made it difficult to stay long. To make matters worse the painkillers were messing with my head and when away I could barely remember what he looked like.  And then the last straw – being told I could no longer see him.

It turned out that I didn’t have pneumonia after all.  The doctor panicked after hearing my cough, but I was fine and I was free to see my baby.  My baby was fine as well, all the tests came back negative, and his breathing episode was not due to an infection, probably a combination of being born by c-section, being early, and a side effect of the strong painkillers I was taken.  After jumping over a few more hurdles I was able to have him by my side again and after just under a week at the hospital, I was finally able to come home.

As the weeks went by my hospital stay haunted me, and when I would think back about that time I would more often than not feel tears welling up in my eyes. Sometimes I would wonder if I was ok.  I had gone through a difficult period and I think it’s normal to feel saddened by it, but occasionally I would wonder if maybe I would need some help to get through it all.  I just decided to keep an eye on it, and it appears that time does indeed all wounds – at least to some extent.

About 6 months after his birth I was speaking to a friend about it, I told her about some of the difficulties I went through, and then I added: “in a way, I’m kind of glad it happened, it helped me to realise what people go through”.  As soon as the words left me I realised it was a bit of a strange thing to say.  I mean who is glad to face hardship?  Who reflects back at the most difficult time in their life with some satisfaction.  But I also realised that it was true, a part of me did find something positive in the experience.  It was puzzling.

Then one day, a couple of weeks later, I found the answer.  I was reading ‘The Conscious Parent’ by Shefale Tsabary, and I came across a paragraph that explained my unusual feelings.  Tsabary writes:

 

When you experience everything as a potential teacher, you embrace anything life sends your way.  You cease either being at war with life when it presents you with a challenge, or being in love with it when it treats you kindly.  Rather, you see both the dark and the light as opportunities for becoming a more conscious human being.

 

This dark time in my life was humbling.  It showed me the fragility of life, it helped me to understand what others go through at difficult times, and it allowed me to realise how blessed I truly am. Just like a butterfly struggling to squeeze through its cocoon, this dark time in my life nurtured something in me which was not there before.

So from now on, whenever life throws me a curve ball I will try to remember this experience. I will strive to remember that with every hardship there is the opportunity for growth.  Instead of wishing it away, I will endeavour to recognise that maybe an experience that I would never choose for myself is exactly what I need to teach me exactly what I need to learn.  Maybe it is only after the darkness that we can regenerate.  And maybe it is only with adversity that we can truly flourish.

 

 

Seven Ways in which Facebook has Changed Our Lives

Last week I got an interesting Facebook notification.  Apparently, it was my 11-year faceversery.  Yes, that is a word, or at least it is according to Facebook. It would seem that I have been using Facebook for eleven years. Eleven years!  Has it really been that long? Eleven years of reunions and discoveries.  Eleven years of likes and shares.  Eleven years of socialising in the comfort of my own home.

The first time I used Facebook I had no idea what it would become, in fact, I hated it.  I had about 5 friends, and it appeared to me to have no purpose.  Why are these people sending me cyber flowers that grow?  And what does this poke mean? I was far from impressed.  I don’t think I logged on again for another couple of months.  This time I  found more friends and my wall became less bare.  Slowly it became more and more interesting.  I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but before I knew it I was hooked.  And so began my love-hate relationship with Facebook.

As the world biggest social media platform, with over 2 billion regular users, there is little doubt that Facebook has been influential – for better or worse it has effected the world. Here are just some of the ways that Facebook has changed our lives:

1. Facebook has changed how we socialise:  Why make the effort to get up, get dressed, and actually leave your house to meet somebody when you can do so in comfort of your own home (and in your pj’s!)? When we feel lonely, depressed, or just feel like company, there will always be somebody available to connect to.  As much as this seems like a good thing, its actually robbing us of some much needed face-to-face time with friends which has been shown to have a positive impact on our health. So although it’s fine to hop on Facebook when we’re feeling a little lonely, be sure to also make time for those face-to-face interactions.

What’s more, when we do finally get together with others, our interactions are not the same. The sight of people sitting down to a meal at a restaurant all staring into their phones is so common that some restaurants have taken the extreme step of banning mobiles.

2. Facebook has helped us retain special memories:  Originally introduced three years ago, the ‘On-this-day’ function, as the name suggests, showed us our Facebook highlights from the current date in previous years.  Now, easily accessible as “Memories”, it shows everything from our previous Facebook posts, posts we were tagged in, friendship anniversaries, photos we have posted, and the newer animated recap from the past month or season.

This is definitely one of my favourite features of Facebook.  It not only helps me to remember milestones but more importantly it helps me to remember the beautiful memories and funny incidents involving my children.  Like the time I found my little girls had fallen asleep in bed together, sweetly cuddling one another.  Or the photo I took of the drawing my then 4-year-old made, perfectly capturing her anger at my husband who didn’t let her run across the road and forcibly held her hand.  These are all memories I cherish. Most of them would have been long forgotten if it wasn’t for Facebook and seeing the yearly reminders always bring a smile to my face.

3.  Facebook has changed how we share photos: As somebody who has lots of family overseas, this is another feature that I really appreciate.  Long gone are the days where I would prepare photos well in advance and physically send them overseas, now my relatives can see photos of our family regularly.  They can watch them grow and feel closer to us in a way which was never possible before.  Similarly, friends who live far away or just rarely get to see us can still share in our lives, and suddenly the time and distance doesn’t seem so large anymore.

4. Facebook has changed how we perceive others’ lives:  One of the downsides to photo sharing is this perception that others have amazing and perfect lives.  Let’s face it, we are very selective when it comes to photo sharing. I could cook a hundred relatively boring meals, nothing pic worthy, but that one impressive looking meal I cook all year (not necessarily indicative of its taste) is going on Facebook.  Similarly, I don’t photograph the days we spend at home, in our plain home clothes surrounded by clutter. Instead, I photograph our outings and holidays, with our temporary picturesque surrounds and the rare occasions that my children are being civil to one another.  The result?  Our lives look almost picture perfect, a far cry from reality.

On the plus side, this has lead to attempts to counter these unrealistic standards through photos and descriptions of reality.  Often shared by celebrities, but also normal everyday people, these posts are about everything from post-birth bodies, makeup-less faces, and particularly bad days as a parent.  They normalise the hard slogs, the unglamourous mundane days of our lives, and remind us that at the end of the day, despite appearances to the contrary, we are basically all the same.  More importantly, they help rid us of the impossible standards we start to expect of ourselves.

5.  Facebook has changed how we consume news:  Facebook has not only changed the way we access news, but it has also changed the type of news we access.  I rarely watch news through television anymore, often relying on whatever news articles my Facebook friends share to learn what is happening in the world.  There are positives and negatives to this.  The positive is that the big news corporations are losing their domination, they are no longer alone in dictating what is and what isn’t newsworthy.  Additionally, they can no longer restrict the opinions we are exposed to.  The negative is that this can be rather insular, learning about a very small spread of news that people who share similar characteristics, views and values as ourselves find newsworthy.  Ideally, news should extend us, inform us of what is occurring around the world, and sometimes even challenge some of our current perspectives.  Facebook does not do this perfectly, but have we ever had perfection?  And is this the role of Facebook?

Facebook seems to think so and has recently accepted some responsibility for how news filters through its platform by taking measures to reduce the incidence of fake news. Although this looks like a great initiative, the ease with which the fake news label can quickly turn into a form of censorship and a way of controlling information is of concern. Hopefully, the right balance is found, but given how these things normally work I’m not holding my breath.

6. Facebook has changed motherhood:  Another one of my favourite things about FaceBook is the communities it builds, particularly for new mothers.  As a new mother, it is tough at the best of times, you have hundreds of questions, particularly if you’re a first-time mum.  Beyond the practical help, these groups for new mothers can be a life-line.  Sometimes, just when you’re at breaking point, when it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you don’t know how long you can keep doing this for, just being able to open up, pour your heart out, and have somebody there who knows exactly how you’re feeling is invaluable. The birth of my first was a very lonely experience. Going from working full time and constantly seeing people, to having little communication with anybody for the first few months, made a difficult time even more difficult.  Thanks to Facebook (and to a lesser degree forums) those days are long gone.

7. Facebook has changed how we spend our time:  Although the average person spends 35 minutes a day on Facebook, there is little doubt that many of us spend way too much time on Facebook.  Most of us have our good and bad days and often justify it by using it during our downtime, while waiting for appointments, or instead of television.  The problem is when we use it when we rest at home, it often leaves us unavailable for our families during a time we used to be available and we don’t really know the effect this will have on relationships, particularly with our children. It is rumoured that Facebook is working on an app to monitor our usage to help remedy this. It will be interesting whether this will have an impact on our usage, only time will tell.

 

What started as a way for college students to connect has grown into one of the world’s largest social networks.  Not all the changes described above are specific to Facebook, they do, however, all feature strongly within this platform. There is no doubt that Facebook can be a useful tool, but as with many things in life, there can also be many drawbacks.  The trick is to use it wisely, that way we can reap the benefit without succumbing to the harm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Defending Violent Acts

Picture this: A 26-year-old king hits an 18-year-old.  It comes out of nowhere.  The punch is so forceful that the victim is left with a broken jaw and missing teeth.  After the first couple of days where people are critical, the narrative surrounding the transgressor begins to change.  “He is is beside himself,” it is said.  “Good people do bad things.” Some even go further, seemingly showing more sympathy for the culprit. The victim “will be uncomfortable for a week or two and then he’ll be fine”.  In contrast, “the guilt and the shame will live with [the culprit] for the rest of his life”.  Even the father of the victim weighs in,  showing concern for the offender’s welfare amid “this maelstrom which is pretty intense”.

This is precisely what has occurred very publically in Melbourne over the past few days.  The original incident occurred on the football field during an AFL match on Sunday, with West Coast player, Andrew Gaff, striking Fremantle youngster, Andrew Brayshaw. The story has dominated the media since the event and you’d almost have to be living under a rock in Melbourne to be unaware of it.

On the one hand, I admire these comments. On the surface, showing empathy to one who is clearly suffering is to be valued. By defending him they were trying to help alleviate his shame and anguish, exacerbated by the barrage of criticism he faced in the immediate aftermath. I particularly admire Brayshaw’s self-less father who was willing to overlook the wrong done to his son and reach out to a young man in pain. However, given that this episode is not a private matter and played in the public arena, it goes beyond personal views.

The fact is, as some legal experts have implied, if this had occurred anywhere other than the football field, criminal charges would be laid. “I’ve had people go to jail for less,” stated prominent lawyer, Tom Percy.  There would be no media coverage surrounding the culprit’s remorse.  There would be no character references and statements highlighting the importance of separating the act from the person.  There certainly wouldn’t be any words of support from the victim’s father.

It’s not only the double standards that are of concern.  More troubling, is the effect that this saga will have on society at large.  What is the underlying message are we sending the community when sympathies are almost more aligned with the culprit? What are we saying about violence when it is suggested that the violent action should be separated from the person?  And most importantly, how will this impact on the rates of potentially deadly king hits and violence episodes towards women when we emphasise that good people can do bad things?

Andrew Gaff is not merely a man who made a mistake.  Andrew Gaff is a role model and a hero to many.  When prominent individuals defend him after such a violent act, whether they are aware of it or not, they become defenders of all those who commit violent acts.  Maybe he is a good man and maybe the guilt will eat away at him for the rest of his life, but this is much bigger than the apparent suffering of one man.  The defense of Andrew Gaff can potentially contribute to the suffering of countless others, and people need to consider this before making these public statements of support.

 

 

 

 

Using Screen Time For Good

My 7-year-old is a reluctant reader.  Truth be told, he is a reluctant almost everything good for him.  This has frustrated me to no end and is essentially the reason why I decided to homeschool him.  With most things, he has good and bad days.  Though with reading he hasn’t budged on.

I have never, in his seven years, seen him pick up a book voluntarily and just read.  When I want him to read I have to be there beside him, and even then he refuses. Finally, he succumbs to a compromise of reading a page each, usually insisting on reading the ones with more picture and less text.

This is contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced.  I have always loved reading and can’t imagine a life without books.  I spent countless hours as a child with my head in a book, imagining make-believe places, sharing in the excitement and fears of the characters, and always wishing it was me going on the adventures.

Likewise, his three older siblings have also loved reading. My second, in particular, was practically born obsessed with books.  As a toddler, she would walk about the house carrying books with her everywhere.  At the age of three, she would pile up a stack of books so high on her bedside table that I would have to remove them each night, worried it would collapse and fall on her head as she slept.  Unfortunately, though, my seven-year-old appears to have taken his lead from his older brother, who at some point discovered that reading wasn’t considered cool by his peers and by the time master seven was old enough to notice, his older brother had long given up on books.

I have tried everything to pique his interest. I have started off books with him, hoping once his interest was sparked that he would continue on his own.  The first half of the plan would work, he would become absorbed, asking for more. Unfortunately, however, his laziness would overpower his interest, having to actually read himself was just not worth the effort. I’ve taken him to libraries and tried buying him books on topics or characters he is interested in, he just begs for me to read it for him.  In desperation I even went on a homeschooling page on Facebook asking for advice, I was actually shot down by some who thought I shouldn’t be forcing my values on him and that I should just let him be.  Ummm thanks, but no thanks.

Then the other day when complaining about the situation to my husband, he turned to me and said: “You need to understand that these days books are competing with other things that we didn’t have growing up, they are more interested in their devices.”

Like most children these days, master 7 loves his screen time.  He becomes obsessed, to the point where I have pretty much banned and confiscated everything he had access to.  It was after this remark by my husband that I realised that this technology obsessed boy was never going to willingly chose to read a book over his devices.  And even if he doesn’t have access to them, it’s that kind of stimulation that he is after – the instant gratification, not the long toil.  I realised that the mistake I was making is that I was setting up books against technology and books could never win.   I decided then and there that I had to find a solution that made screen time work for us, not against us.

What I decided to do is set some pretty strict guidelines where he can earn time on the computer.  Firstly, in order to qualify for computer usage, he needs to complete all his homeschooling requirements for the day.  Then once he qualifies he can earn time on the computer by either using educational games (both online or otherwise) and reading.  So far it is working great.  And the beauty of the system is that by the time he finishes all his work and then goes on to earn credit, he really doesn’t have that much time to use his screen time anyhow!

I can’t say it’s not without its hiccups.  Today he tried to blackmail one hour out of me so that he would hold onto his rubbish instead from throwing it on the road like he wanted to.  He is also earning too much credit too quickly so it seems that I may need to tweak the credit system a little. However, on the whole, it’s working like a charm and for somebody who has always avoided work like the plague and refused to read on his own for his entire life, it’s wonderful to see him so motivated.

As an added bonus I have a new discipline strategy under my sleeve.  If he ignores my requests as he has a habit of doing when I’m unable to follow up (eg, annoying his sister in the car when I’m driving) all I have to do is tell him that if he continues I’m taking an hour off his accrued time and its pretty much instant obedience from there.

Will it last? I can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For now, I’m just savouring the simple pleasure of seeing him read in bed before sleep and praying that during this time he finds the magic that can be found in books and he can love reading as much as I did when I was a child – as much as I do now.

When Leaders Betray

Recently in Melbourne, we have heard much about Sudanese gangs. As the new boogeyman, we are encouraged to fear them.  Australia’s minister for immigration, Peter Dutton,  has publically stated that Victorian’s are too scared to go out due to of a fear of African gangs.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.

As leader of this country, I thought that Prime Minister Turnball would take a more measured approach.  Being the head of the liberal party I didn’t expect him to completely dismiss his minister. What I did expect though, was that maybe, just maybe, he would try to be a little more responsible.  Maybe he would provide some context and tone it down a little in an attempt to maintain social cohesion.  I was wrong.

After a warning by the Victorian equal opportunity and human rights commissioner, Kristen Hilton, against “racially divisive statements” the government didn’t back down.  Turnball defended his minister, claiming that “there is a real concern about Victorian gangs” and going on to say that “you’d have to be walking around with your hands over your ears in Melbourne not to hear it”.

As a Victorian who evidently walks around with her hands over her ears, I can honestly say that I have never actually come across anybody who expressed any fear towards Sudanese migrants.  Personally, the only fear I’ve felt towards Sudanese migrants has been that of their prowess on the football field.  What I have seen, however, is a lot of eye rolling and frustration towards a government who are dealing with this issue recklessly.

Even if there is a small minority who genuinely feel this fear, this needs to be dealt with appropriately.  Instead of allaying their fears this government has preferred to capitalise on them.  Instead of decreasing the tensions they have elected to fuel them.  Instead of leading responsibly they have chosen to betray those they are meant to represent.

Last week a 14-year-old Sudanese boy walking home from school was viciously attacked.  He was stabbed twice for no other reason than his African heritage, an attack which the media has chosen to largely ignore.  Where are racially divisive headlines when the victim is of African heritage?  Where is the hysteria and hyperbole? Where are the inflammatory government statements?  Sadly this boy was not only a victim of a cowardly attack, this boy was also a victim of the betrayal of his leaders.

Leaders are those who set the standard. Good leaders promote unity and cohesion among those they represent.  Bad leaders create discord and unrest.  Turnball and Dutton, you both have blood on your hands.

Achievement During Our Struggles

During the early days after giving birth to my last baby, I was struggling a little. I don’t have lots of energy at the best of time, but my inability to do anything at this time was particularly difficult. Debilitated by a c-section and time-consuming feeding issues with my baby there was not much that I could do.  I decided to focus on what I could do and used my time to start reading some self-help books.  The plan was to get myself motivated so that when I did regain my time and health I’d make better use of them and hopefully get on top of it all.

The first book I picked up was Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. One part, in particular, asked the reader to reflect on the past ten years of their lives.  It wasn’t really about the reflection, and it quickly went on to direct readers to plan ahead for the next decade, but nonetheless, it had an immense impact on my perception of what I have achieved. I’ve never been one to feel like a failure, but the truth is I’ve never felt particularly successful either. However, looking back on the past 10 years caused me to view things in a different light.

Without delving too far into my personal achievements the past 10 years have been busy, to say the least.  I completed a post-graduate degree, worked and had three babies.  I raised happy, healthy children while educating other people’s children, before going on to homeschooling one of my own. I breastfed and cleaned, taxied and washed, all the while juggling various roles.  Did I do them perfectly? No.  Could I have done more? Probably.  But I am human, I get tired and need rest.  And like many other mamas, I thrive on some quiet downtime after the kids are all in bed.  I put my feet up, indulge in a guilty treat, and then inevitably regret it amid my blurry-eyed mornings.

During this time I felt I was struggling, some of the time I felt like I was drowning. I always felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was neglecting so many things. My house was a mess more often than I’d like to admit, and I was ridden with guilt over all the things I thought I should have been doing but wasn’t able to, either physically or mentally – usually both. Looking back on these past ten years, and despite my regrets, it made me realise, to my amazement, that I actually did quite well. Despite my feelings of guilt, it helped me to recognise that even though my house didn’t look like a display home, that’s okay. I am not superwoman….really, what more could I expect from myself? Despite my daily struggles and thinking it was never good enough, it made me understand that over the past ten years that I have really achieved a lot.

I’m not writing this to boast, my achievements were not exceptional and pale in comparison to the accomplishments of many others.  I just wanted to share that as individuals, and especially as mothers, we all face daily struggles, feelings of self-doubt and the overwhelming belief that we are not doing enough. It’s really useful to just take a step back and think about what we have achieved over the past 5 or 10 years. And it doesn’t have to be a degree, work history, or something that society values.  Seeing our children grow into the delightful individuals that they are is more than enough. We need to stop focusing on what we are not achieving and start focusing on what we are achieving.