Thursday, 3 January 2019

Working in the background

Yesterday I was walking the dogs, like I do most mornings. I had Luna on a long lead - it's an 8m lunge lead, meant for horses. I like using it because she can still run around a lot, go in the dam if she wants to, explore lots and feel like she's free to run, while she's actually still attached to me and can't run off. Buckley doesn't need a lead - he is mainly content to just trot along nearby whoever is walking. (The only time no lead is a problem for him is when we meet a tractor or car on the paths. His partial deafness and partial blindness and general go-with-the-flow-ness means that he either doesn't know they are coming, or doesn't care. The only way I've found to get him out of their way is to swoop in and pick him up. I need to be careful about it though. If I come up too fast from behind, he thinks we're running now, and starts to run faster. If I come at him from the front, he thinks we're going the other way now, so he turns around and starts to run. I try to come at him quickly from the side - he usually can't see me coming from that direction, and I can grab him before he changes speed or course).

Anyway. Neither Buckley or Luna are aware of the long lead that Luna is attached to, or it's consequences. Luna runs back and forwards across the path, doubles back if she sees something interesting, stops and starts and the lead follows along behind her, often catching Buckley around the back legs or across the head, as he just trots faithfully along. Yesterday (and most days now) I was changing my own course as we walked, so that there was less chance of the lead wiping Buckley out. I was thinking about how easy it is for me to do that, to just be in the background, without fuss, moving to a different side of the path, or flicking my wrist to move the lead over a dog, or whatever I need to do to keep both of them safe. It was just part of my walk and part of having a very old dog at the same time as having a very exuberant dog.

And from there I jumped to how I handle things with my kids and Tony. It's very similar, although sometimes I'm not quite so calm about it. I spend a lot of time surveying the scene, whatever is happening in our lives at each moment, and doing what needs to be done to keep everyone happy and safe. Liam doesn't like the feel or sound of certain fabrics, so I make sure I don't handle those fabrics near him (for example, I don't fold up my reusable bags when he's in the room, and when I'm buying clothes for him I check the feel of them and only buy if I know he'll be ok). Amelie is sensitive to noise so I always warn her before I turn any appliance on, and wait until she's ready (she leaves the room, or covers her ears, and sometimes she wants to finish doing something before she does either of those).  Tony has been getting frustrated with one of the cupboards in the kitchen, so I reorganised it so that things aren't falling out all the time. Caitlin gets flustered sometimes if people ask her a lot of direct questions, so I join in the conversation and deflect some of the comments to me instead.

There are 100s of little things I'll do in a week to help make everyone's life run more smoothly. This doesn't mean that I don't ever let anything upset anyone in my family. There are times when things don't go to plan, or happen without warning, and there are always disappointments in life. But that doesn't mean that when we have the ability to change things, we should just let the disappointment or discomfort happen because kids need to learn how to handle it.

While ever I am able, I am very happy to be there in the background, seamlessly and without needing affirmation, moving things around when I can so that everyone feels comfortable. I know my family well, and I know what things can upset or irritate them, so I can adjust the situation so that those irritants aren't happening or aren't a problem. It's certainly much easier to have tweaked things beforehand, than to have people upset and then work through that with them. Just like with the dogs, often no one knows that I'm doing anything, and I'm happy that everyone's life here can be a bit smoother, happier and more peaceful, and they don't need to know that things needed to be smoothed out. The added benefit of this is that I'm getting so much better at smoothing things out for myself rather than just accepting whatever happens, so everyone, including myself, is having a more comfortable life.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Helicopters and frost

Last night I was relaxing in the bath after a big bushwalk, and I heard a helicopter overhead. Nothing unusual about that - but it kept getting louder and louder as if it was coming in to land  - then I remembered that there was frost forecast for this morning, and the grape vines have started to bud. I was hoping they'd have to send the helicopter in - both to save the vines from the frost, and because I LOVE helicopters. I called out to the kids (by this stage the noise was directly above the house so I figured they'd probably heard it but maybe not realised what was happening) and they ran outside to watch it land. Luna was terrified and was happy to have their company. Tony and the kids chatted a bit to the pilot before he headed off to wherever he stays on the frost nights.

The helicopter has come most years in spring, when there's a frost forecast for the next morning and there are already buds or leaves on the vines. It's job is to fly over the vines and created enough wind that the dew can't freeze and destroy the crop. Some other vineyards have big fans installed to do the same job, or have a sprinkler system installed which stops the water from freezing. If the new leaves are damaged in spring, the wineries will have to wait for a secondary crop which would mean that yield would be down significantly. Usually when the helicopter comes the temperature doesn't end up dropping enough to form a frost, so the pilot gets a good night's sleep somewhere and comes back and picks his helicopter up in the morning.

Last night we went to bed as usual and I woke at 2.40am to a noise I couldn't identify. I'd put the washing machine on timer so that it would wash overnight and at first I thought it was the spin cycle, although I couldn't ever remember the noise taking over the whole house. There as also what sounded like an alarm going off. Then I remembered the helicopter and jumped out of bed to see it - I went out into the carport (where it was pretty cold, just below zero I later found out) and could see the helicopter getting ready to take off (it was over near the sheds). The noise was phenomenal, echoing through the carport and practically shaking the house. The alarm sound was just the high pitch of the propellers whizzing around, and there was a deep throbbing sound as well. I watched it take off in the dark night (it had lights) which was exciting, then watched for a while as it flew back and forth over each area of the vineyard, under an almost full moon. It was totally worth getting up at 3am and standing in the cold to see it.

Luna was once again terrified and when I opened the back door she raced straight into the house (she's usually reluctant to come in). She curled up on the couch and was much happier. I watched the helicopter for a bit longer (from the warmth of inside) then went back to bed - it flew for half an hour then landed again and the noise was pretty loud the whole time. Tony and the kids didn't wake up - I was surprised. I heard it take off two more times through the night - a big night for the pilot this time. The temperarture hovered just below zero for most of the rest of the night, then warmed up quickly once the sun came up. I slept in a little due to being up in the middle of the night, so the frost was gone by time I went outside.

I love living where we do for so many reasons, and this was one that I don't think of very often - it's like a little value add to have the excitement of the helicopter on our property, and I also enjoy the strong reminder of how much agriculture is at the mercy of the weather. I'm grateful to live here and be surrounded by grapevines and that the company is in a good enough position to protect their assets - which helps with Tony's job security and income.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The choosing game

Yesterday I was thinking about some of my learned thinking and how it's not really helpful (for example, feeling like everything should be perfect in the lead up to a fun event, otherwise it's too hard to enjoy it). This morning I'm quite tired (I went out for a fun event last night (after a less than perfect lead up, and I still had a great night) and some more of those learned thoughts/conditioning were swirling around in my head (e.g. thinking people are all good or all bad and feeling confused when it turns out that's not true (every time)), and the thoughts were leading to anxiety, even though I knew they weren't true. Then I started thinking 'Oh I need to change all this conditioned thinking, there's so many things I need to change, I don't know how to do it' and I felt myself about to really spiral down into an anxiety pit...

I was making a cup of tea while these thoughts were swirling, and pouring in our beautiful milk straight from the dairy calmed me a little, and I came back to the moment, and was somehow able to shift perspective on my thoughts, and instead thought 'Wow, there's some conditioned thinking that it would be helpful to change, which will make things a bit easier' and then I felt great. I felt like I was making a choice, a positive choice to help improve my life, and I wasn't saying that things were bad, just that I'd found a way to make them better. My early thinking had been victim-like which can feel isolating and hopeless.

I feel so different in my body when I am thinking negative or victim thoughts - my shoulders hunch, I curl in on myself so my lungs end up squished and it's harder to breathe - and then I feel anxious because I'm short of breath, but my brain assumes that the shortness of great is because of anxiety, so it starts to worry more and try to figure out what I'm anxious about, and (as Sarah Wilson says in her wonderful book First We Make the Beast Beautiful) I 'get anxious about being anxious'. If anything goes slightly wrong or unexpectedly when I'm thinking like that, it adds to the anxiety and before long I can be feeling like nothing is ok and everything is a disaster. I don't seem to be able to stop and think, everything is so swirly in my brain there's no room for new information.

When I am thinking positive thoughts, staying in the moment, feeling in charge of my life, I stand straighter, I open my lungs up and breathing is calm and easy, I can stop for a moment if something goes wrong, think about a way to deal with it, and then move through it. I can feel really happy and content, even if things are going wrong around me - they don't impact my mood.

There's a couple of things that I can learn from this. One is that knowing that my thoughts impact on how I react to things - SOMETIMES when I start to move to anxiousness, I can tell myself that what I'm thinking is not necessarily true, it's not the only way to think. Sometimes I'm not able to change the way I'm thinking, but knowing that there are other possibilities can mean that I know that the anxiety won't last, it's only until something shifts, and that makes it more bearable (it used to feel like I'd be feeling that way forever, and that was scary). The other thing is that if I realise early enough that I'm moving to victim mode, I often CAN change my thoughts, just reframe it a little - sometimes that's enough to lift me right out of it (like this morning), other times it just calms me enough to be able to keep functioning and I can recover more quickly. It helps if I can do something nurturing or notice the great things around me and come back to the moment.

I also know that practice makes it easier. Every time I shift my thinking I get better at it, and I can continue to improve. I know it's not a fix-all and I'm not going to be able to do it every time - any time that I can do it though, improves my life and that of those around me. So I will celebrate those moments and remember that I do have options when I'm feeling low - even if I choose not to access those options every time, knowing that there are choices makes all the difference.

(This activity from Scott Noelle illustrates all the above - I've been doing it a bit lately, and this morning was the first time since I started that I truly remembered the advantage of knowing there is a choice

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Stopping for anxiety

Yesterday morning I was feeling great - I was chatting to a friend online and saying how good I was feeling, and it was true. So I was very surprised a few hours later to discover that I was feeling incredibly anxious and definitely not so good anymore.

Because it was a surprise, so sudden, and without an obvious cause, I spent way too many hours trying to ignore it, pretend it wasn't happening, just get on with my happy day as I'd planned to. Which I know (usually in hindsight) is one of the worst ways to manage my anxiety. The more I push it down the more it bubbles up and can lead to me exploding or collapsing (or both).

Eventually, after I had dithered around and not got very much of anything done for a good chunk of the day, I went with it. I went into Yarra Glen for a while on my own (op shop, library, IGA - very relaxing), came home and watched a movie with the kids (Sing - they'd seen it, I hadn't, and I quite enjoyed it) then played a game of Korners (which I'd never heard of but had picked up at the Op Shop 2 hours beforehand) with all 3 kids - it was fun, easy to play but difficult to win, and resulted in lots of hilarity (which did have a slightly hysterical edge to it but it was a good release). After all that I was able to tidy up the kitchen a bit and then head to bed.

When I get stuck in my anxiety, I'm really best to take a few hours off and do stuff that I really love or that really relaxes me. If I don't, I feel like I SHOULD be doing other things - dishes, tidying, emails, whatever - but I can't quite get my head around doing them.  I start, and stop, and take ages, or stand around trying to decide what to do next, and all the time feeling guilty that I'm not doing what I should be, or resentful that I'm doing something that I don't want to be doing, and it makes my anxiety much much worse. Soon I'm listening to a voice in my head telling me how bad it is that I can't even manage my housework blah blah blah. The fear (and the voice feeds this) is that if I take a day off my 'responsibilities' then they might never get done.

But the opposite is true. I nearly always find that if I take an afternoon, a day, a few days off when I am getting anxious, and when I feel that antsy feeling of 'I should do.... but I really don't want to', then the next day (or even later that day) I do feel like doing all those things, I do them joyfully and easily and much better than I would have done them when I didn't want to.

I figured out what brought the anxiety on - a combination of little things really. I've been going to bed later than I'd like this week, so waking up later, and Amelie has been up before me a few days in a row - so no time alone first thing and I really treasure that time to reconnect with myself for the day. I didn't go for my walk - I know it's important, but sometimes getting the dog ready to go with me makes it feel to hard and I skip it - and I usually feel flatter or more anxious all day. Tony and a workmate had an awkward conversation about the puppy and I was worrying about that. I posted a few things on Facebook that I'd been putting off (sharing information, and organising an event) and putting myself out there like that had me anxious about responses. And I've had a lot going on in the last few weeks with Caitlin's birthday, her party, and a few other personal issues happening. Yesterday was the first day in over a week where I could just relax, and instead I saw it as a day to 'get lots of things done' - I forget that I often need the relax day first before I get up and get busy the next day.

And it's worked. I've woken up this morning, taken the puppy for a walk which was fantastic, had 2 awkward conversations that I've been putting off for ages (including sorting out the dog issue with Tony's workmate), I've done some gardening and some tidying up outside, and I really do feel fantastic and ready to get on with things today. And hopefully I'll remember that if that changes, if I feel like it's too much, that I can stop for a while again today (there's not a limit to how often I can do that, I don't need to ration out my self-care) and play with the kids or read my book or whatever, and it doesn't mean that I'm less worthy.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

How to be remembered

Last week I went to the funeral of the husband of a friend of mine. He had died, in his 80s, after being unwell for most of the past few years. I didn't know him well, had met him a few times, but my friend has been an influential and inspirational person in my life since we moved to Victoria 11 years ago. I first met her at a music session for kids that she was running, and we went to that session on and off for about 5 years. She provided childcare (in the next room so the kids could still come to us) at a mother's group we went to for a couple of years, and my kids loved being with her. We've worked on various children's programs and events together, including starting up a playground (which is still running even though both of us have moved on to other things). We see her regularly at the op shop where she volunteers, and down the street at other events around town, and she always has time to stop and chat to me and the kids, and I love listening to her wisdom and being soothed by her kindness. Over the years I've also come to know several of her children and/or their partners (who are all around my age) and some of her grandkids.

So I went to her husband's funeral to support my friend and her family. It was the most beautiful funeral I've been to, very emotional and personal and loving. The minister knew the family well so all her prayers and blessings were very personal. She told a wonderful story to the children that helped to explain what death and the afterlife might be like (about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and the confusion he felt when he was in the cocoon stage). All of my friend's 4 children spoke about their dad, and she spoke as well. It was really lovely to hear from the entire family and their own experiences and memories, rather than just from one person.

The theme that came through from everyone who spoke was that this man was loving and kind, practical and a hard worker, and was always willing to help someone when they needed it. All the kids talked about times when they'd needed help (often when they'd made a mistake) and their dad readily did what was asked. Other people I talked to afterwards and since also told me about times when he helped with events or parties or anything that was happening, and he was always available to do what needed to be done.

It really struck me how much that meant to everyone who spoke - that he was always there when needed. It felt like such a beautiful, wonderful thing to be remembered for. Our society is so full of messages along the lines of 'let them work it out for themselves', 'I'm not here just to serve you', 'I don't have time to do that for you' etc - we seem to be encouraged to put ourselves first and to 'help' our kids learn to do things for themselves. I've been to funerals of people who parented like that and while their children were sad and missing them, the way they remembered their parents wasn't with the deep love and appreciation and gratefulness I experienced last week.

It was a great reminder that how we interact with our kids and with our partner and our friends and family, every day, is how we will be remembered. I definitely want my kids to look back on their childhood, teenage years, adult years and know that Tony and I were always there for them, would always be willing to help, no matter what the situation was. And I'm talking about genuine, willing help too, not 'oh all right, I'll do it...' type help. I mean 'Yes, I am happy to do that for you'  - even if that is not stated, I know that the energy and thoughts behind helping someone really influences how the receiver experiences the help. I know I don't enjoy it when someone begrudgingly helps me out, I would much prefer them to say 'no, sorry I can't right now' than to help grumpily. And I'm not saying that we should all do everything our children ask us, immediately and happily - but it doesn't hurt to do as much as we can, honestly and lovingly and willingly. Every little interaction helps build our child's world - we aren't going to get them all right, but the interactions are positive as often as possible, then they will build a positive view of the world and of our relationship with them.

We're often told that if we do too much for our kids they will end up spoilt and ungrateful. Last week I saw the results of a lifetime of being willing to help and support people whenever they needed it, and the children of that man grew up to be compassionate, loving adults, full of gratitude and seeing abundance all through their lives. That is what I want for my children and I am thankful for this family for reminding me that living a compassionate, supportive, loving life will help our children to grow up the same way.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Lego Exhibition

Yesterday we went to see the Brickman Wonders of the World Lego Exhibition at Melbourne Museum. I'd been planning to take the kids since I first heard about it sometime in March, though I kept putting off buying tickets because I couldn't figure out a good time to go. The exhibit finishes this Sunday so yesterday turned out to be the only remaining day that we could make it - I've done the same with many of the visiting exhibitions (and other activities) - either scraped in during the last week, or missed it altogether. I don't like to book things in too far ahead in case our plans change, which does sometimes mean missing out. I might try to book a few things and work around them and see how that works.

Anyway - I'd seen a similar exhibition at CentrePoint Tower in Sydney, many many years ago (when I was perhaps 10 or 12, with Mum and my siblings) and I LOVED it and have always wanted to go again. I didn't know if the kids would be as excited as I was - from the first moment they saw the Empire State Building in the foyer of the museum, they were bouncing with excitement and so keen to see more.

We all loved the exhibition and were amazed at the skill of the builders involved and detail of every sculpture. The sculptures themselves were incredibly true to the original, and many of them had little scenes set up around them of people enjoying the site - some of those details were hilarious, and it was all interesting. I spent most of the 2 hours saying to the kids 'hey, did you see the guy over here who is doing ...' and we all pointed out lots of fun and interesting details to each other.

There were buildings (ancient and modern) and paintings, sculptures, natural formations, vehicles, metro maps, jewels and crowns - all magnificent. It was also fun to count how many of them we'd actually been to or seen in real life (12 for me, 5 for Liam and Caitlin. None for Millie which has added to her desire to go somewhere overseas). My favourite was definitely the Titanic, there was so much going on in the set up and the boat design was so intricate and realistic.

Many of the sculptures were surrounded by a moat of lego which we were able to use to build our own designs. These were a lot of fun, we made cars and pyramids and statues and towers. We raced our cars down a ramp put there for that purpose - Liam spent a lot of time engineering his car to make it structurally robust - lots of trial and error and then thinking about how to counteract each new problem. He was pretty impressed with his final product, and amusedly annoyed when Caitlin's vehicle of 2 big wheels on an axle was faster than his car.

As we made our way around we were looking for a particular lego figurine - there was a competition to count how many times he appeared throughout the exhibit, then you can enter your answer online and potentially win a prize. This added another whole level of interest to each sculpture and helped us really look at every aspect of the scene.

There were also tables set up with white flat squares of lego, and lots of coloured one by one blocks, where everyone could make their own design and put it on display on the wall. I tried to make a star and didn't get anywhere (although my statue of David was quite cool), the kids had a lot more success at designing something they were happy with.

Millie's, Liam's and Caitlin's designs
The Flying Scotsman, made from lego. Steam engines and lego combined - super exciting for me!
We explored for 2 hours (although it was hot in there and Caitlin and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed) and loved it all, we could have stayed longer. We made our way out through the shop and bought some road bases to use with our own lego, as we don't have any and this was something that all 3 kids were happy to get.

Upstairs we met up with my Mum and Dad, and my sister's son who they were looking after for the day. We all went in to the new Children's Gallery in the museum - we hadn't seen it before and the kids all loved it. Mum and Dad and I had a coffee while the 4 kids explored, then the kids joined us for something to eat and then we all had a bit more of a play and headed home. It was very cool to be able to combine our trip in to the museum with the kids seeing their cousin and grandparents.

The traffic was heavy though flowing on the way home (leaving just before 5pm was always risky) - we got home in about an hour 20 which wasn't too bad. We grabbed a hot chicken and bread from the IGA and ate that at the hall before going in to karate - Tony came and picked Millie up as she didn't want to do karate that night. Karate was fun and challenging as usual, afterwards we chatted to one of the Sempeis about his recent trip to Europe and then came home to finish our dinner and put the animals to bed and get to bed as quickly as possible ourselves - it was a cold night and we were very grateful for our fire!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Learning without judging

Last night I watched a Transformers movie.

LiAM and Tony were watching it and I was half paying attention and half doing other things (which is the way I watch most TV), and I was getting tired and sat down for a few minutes and watched a bit of the movie without distraction. I really really loved it.

I had planned to go to bed as soon as I could and to read my book - instead I moved to the couch and watched the rest of the movie with Tony and LiAM. It was great to spend that time with them and discuss the movie and Transformers and other things, and it was also really cool watching the movie.

Transformers is something that until a few years ago I would have said 'No' to the kids watching and wouldn't have wanted to watch myself either. I don't even know why I was so against so many movies and TV shows and characters. Some of it was about violence, sure, or concepts I didn't want the kids to see. Some of it was about commercialism, not wanting to expose the kids to the popular shows because I felt, I think, that they had no inherent value, they were just popular because some marketing person had decided they would be and everyone had blindly followed along and watched the shows and bought all the merchandise. I wasn't interested in watching (or even reading) the popular stuff ' myself - I made my own choices based on what I liked - although I mainly made choices based on what I liked, within the range of things that weren't really popular. It never occurred to me that some of these shows were popular because they were enjoyable!

I am so grateful to have discovered and followed this unschooling lifestyle that we have chosen - by opening up and allowing the kids to choose what they watch (and to truly choose, from all options, not just from the options that I have deemed to be ok), we have an environment where the kids have discovered so many wonderful TV shows and movies and books and games, and had SO much enjoyment - and I have as well. There is so much that we all would have missed out on if I had continued to control our viewing and reading. I've discovered that Barbie movies are fun and funny and beautiful and have great story lines and lots of morals. I've discovered that Ben 10 is a fairly typical young (and then teenage) boy who is constantly struggling with his duty to save the world (I was SO anti-Ben 10, and now that I've watched it, I really can't understand why).

It's been a great lesson for me, that judging something before seeing or trying it, is really unfair and doesn't really make any sense. Even without thinking about the kids, my world is so expanded and happier now that I am open to trying things without pre-judging them. And for the kids - it's so much better that they can try things for themselves and make their own choices.

There's stuff that they watch that I don't like - which doesn't matter, because they like it. I watch enough so that I can talk about it with them, and can usually find bits that I can appreciate. I'm also happy to listen to them talk about it even if I'm not a fan. There are TV shows that one or another of them don't like, so they do something else if the others are watching it.  I've really come to realise that there is some value in every show, the kids pick out the bits they like and don't dismiss the whole show because of an aspect they don't like - a great skill to have in life. They are much better than me at deciding in the moment if something is worth doing despite the downsides, or whether they'll give it a miss this time.

I've also discovered that love amassing knowledge about anything, and learning bits and pieces about pop culture makes me very happy. I love that we can discuss the worlds of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Star Wars in great depth. And at first I was restricting my knowledge to just the things I was really interested in, and I didn't value knowledge about other 'world's. Now I am happy to soak it all in, and I really love that the kids know so much about so many things. All knowledge is valuable and it all links in to other things - I've seen time and again how knowing something about, say, Pokemon, helps a real concept to suddenly make sense.

Last night Amelie astounded me by telling me which stone was used for each of the evolutions of Eevee (a pokemon - there was a picture of each of Eevee's evolutions, and without reading or any other clues, she told me which stone was needed for each one.) I don't know how or when she learned that information, she has picked it up through watching and playing and talking about Pokemon. That particular knowledge helps her when she plays the games, or talks to others about Pokemon - and it also shows that she has the ability to effortlessly learn a whole series of reactions or relationships - when she comes across that kind of relationship in maths or chemistry or anywhere, she won't be thinking 'oh no I have to memorise all this stuff' - she will simply learn it as she discovers it and then be able to use her knowledge when she needs it.

Last night I learnt lots about Transformers. I learnt that they all have distinct personalities. I learnt that some are good (Autobots) and some are bad (Decepticons) - and that some have switched sides. I learnt that they can be kind and thoughtful, and that they can have their feelings hurt. I learnt that people can ride inside them when they are in their car or truck form. I did multiple searches on the internet while I was watching and learnt the names of the Transformers in the movie, and a bit of their back story, and followed trails of some of the actors in the movie and found out which other movies they were in etc. As always, once I started taking in new information it led to more and more links - I am amazed every time that learning can be so easy and enjoyable, and I am so excited that my kids know that already and spend their days learning happily and easily and without pre-judgement.