Not on My Watch!

It was unusual for the time. As a toddler, I had my own special car seat complete with toy steering wheel.

I would watch Dad as he drove, and copy him. It’s just as well he didn’t copy me, or we would have been doing donuts and wheelies!

A few years later, before there was any Australian legislation about compulsory use of rear car seat belts, Dad installed some in our car. This was prompted by the death of a cousin in a tragic car crash – a combination of speed, poor control, lack of safety fencing and no rear seatbelts. I remember it being a huge event the weekend when Dad removed the seat from the back of our car so he could bolt brand new seatbelts in.

Later still as a teenager he taught me to drive. He sat next to me patiently showing me how to control the car smoothly and safely. One of his huge safety concerns involved keeping a good buffer zone between our car and the car in front, to protect us in case of an emergency.

“Better to be safe than sorry!” he would say.

Obviously, my Dad’s commitment to car safety was very important. There were a few reasons for his vigilance. As a teenager, he had been involved in a motor bike crash – the street corner in Hawthorn, Melbourne where it happened was often pointed out to us. Then, as a young adult, he had gone off to the Middle East as a medic joining the RAAF during WWII. Sadly, he came back a broken man. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not properly diagnosed until he was in his 70s.

As a result of these experiences, he had a thing about speed, machines and death, and over-compensated in a lovely kind of way. Death was not something he wanted us to have to face. Ever. His family would not be injured in a vehicle. Not on his watch!

Even though Dad could be mentally unstable because of his WWII trauma, he showed his care and love for us, his daughters, in many ways. Car safety was just one of them.

As I dig deeper though, I realise it was way more than car safety. His protective instinct kicked in. He used his time, effort and energy to prevent a mishap. Although sometimes explosive in his nature, there was no doubt in my mind that he loved me. He treasured us so much. And it means I treasure him in return – even though it was not ever very easy.

It shows me that even if you feel very broken, uninspired, weary or are just plain sick, we can show our children how much we treasure them by the things we do. The priority we place, even on small things, speaks volumes.

It happens on our watch!

Listen to me talk about this to Scottie Haas on Hobart’s ultra106five >>>

 

Never The Same

The day of my 16th birthday dawned hot and clear. The bright Melbourne sky seared impossibly blue outside my bedroom window.

It was the first day of the school year. Year 11 beckoned.

I could hear some commotion in Mum and Dad’s room, next to mine. Small noises, sighs and groans as they moved around to begin the day. I realise now that they were the sounds of deep pain, weariness and anguish. But by then, I had got used to them as the regular course of things in a household with a sick mother.

As it was my birthday, I was supposed to stay in my room and wait, while the others prepared to walk in with my birthday presents, brightly singing a harmonic rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. But after a little while, Dad popped his head around my door.

“Come in here Jen, we’ll sing to you in our room.”

He looked tired.

I quickly got up, skipped to the room next door, gingerly crawled across to the middle of the bed, and sat close to Mum. I was careful because I knew any movement caused her a lot of pain. She was thin and drawn. She smiled at me and kissed me on the cheek.

“Happy Birthday Jen,” she whispered.

I smiled back at her, and held her hand.

I had given her a little white vase with a bouquet of wildflowers in 3-D relief on it for her birthday less than two weeks before. It was there, on her bedside table, with some flowers I had picked from our garden, a silent testament to our birthdays being so close.

I went off to school with my younger sister, not realising our lives would never be the same again. The rest of the day, under that brilliant blue sky, I experienced a full range of emotions . . .

Unexpectedly, Dad picked us up from school.

Sadly, he had taken Mum to hospital that day.

Hesitantly, we went to visit – and told her our news of the first day of school.

Happily, I had been elected Form Captain.

Unbelievably, we had birthday cake with candles, and they sang to me again.

Mum never returned home.

 


 

Last year Stephen and I took some time out for a sabbatical – a wonderful month in France. Every morning I spent time writing and reflecting on the way God has led me over the years.

One night I woke up, only half aware of what I was thinking. I had spent the previous morning writing down my recollections of that final birthday with Mum. She wasn’t expected to last until Christmas, I had written. But, I reflected in my sleepy state, she made it to her birthday, January 22. And once she had got to that date, she kept going until my birthday, on February 4.

No, no, no. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

SHE KEPT GOING UNTIL MY BIRTHDAY!

I gasped and the tears came quickly. I stifled them trying, unsuccessfully, not to wake Stephen. She had kept herself going! For me! The thought of this final act of love was overwhelming. I groaned, and the tears flooded. She was there for my 16th birthday, at home, and at hand, with me in her bed. A special memory.

Maybe it was coincidental. Maybe she would have lasted that long anyway. But in the intervening 40 years I have learnt a lot about the human soul. I have learnt that sometimes people decide to let themselves go, and slide downhill in a rapid descent to death. And sometimes they can hold on. They keep themselves going.

It was another week after my birthday before her end came. Turning Sweet Sixteen? That was not to be my story. But thanks to her gift, I have never had any other birthday marred by the anniversary of her death. I am so grateful.

There are a few things I have realised as I have reflected on those events:

  • My mother treasured me – and it makes me want to treasure her all the more. It has a circular effect. No matter what your mother was like, there will be times when she treasured you too.
  • Sometimes it is worth reflecting on those horrible parts of your life, because while it can be costly, you realise things you didn’t know before.
  • As mothers, we treasure our children, but often they will not realise what we sacrifice for them. Or if they do, it might not be for a long time.
  • It gives me a tiny glimpse of God’s overwhelming love for me. Unexpected, uncalled for, unmerited, unjustified, but complete.

Listen to me telling my story to Scottie Haas on ultra106five >>>

Transition? You are not alone

Tram, Burke Road

Looking out the tram window, I panicked.

Oh no! That was my stop! Quickly, I pulled the cord, high above my head, but it was too late. It sailed onwards – the tram would wait for no man, or little girl even. My heart was in my mouth as we travelled slowly up Burke Road in the after-school crush. Mum had shown me what to do when we caught the tram to my new school that morning, but she hadn’t given me any idea about what to do if something went wrong. It had been an exciting start to my first day, that first tram ride to school. But the trip home was turning into a disaster.

What to do? What to do? I knew I couldn’t get off until the next stop, but it seemed to take forever to get there, and each second was taking me further away from the tiny pocket of familiar streets. Past the Hoyts theatre, past the end of that other busy street whose name I did not yet know, and all the way up to the next set of traffic lights. I was in shock.

Finally, the tram stopped. Nauseous, I grabbed my things, jumped off, and ran. I ran as fast as my seven-year-old legs would carry me. Down the hill, carefully over that busy T-intersection. “BURWOOD RD” the street sign read. Past the Hoyts Theatre, and back to the pedestrian crossing where I should have got off.

Stopping there, I pressed the pedestrian button about ten times, itching to cross over, waiting, waiting for the lights to change. Close to tears, I ran when the sign said WALK, then took the corner into Cookson Street, away from the tramline, and the cars, and the noise and kept running. All the way to our new, still unfamiliar, house.

Bursting into tears as I galloped inside there were both my parents, patiently unpacking boxes.

“I got lost!” I blurted out.

After a long first day at my new school, it was such a relief to be home, such a blow to my pride that I had mucked things up, and such an indignity to my, well, to my everything!

I am sure my parents wondered what all the fuss was about. I got home safely didn’t I? To them it was a successful outcome. But to me, in my heart-fast-beating, adrenalin-rushing state, it was something it took a while to recover from. I must have had my six-year-old sister in tow as well – but to be honest, I can’t even remember her being there at all!

Have you ever had to do a transition that felt awful?

Whether starting at a new school (maybe mid-term, like I did in Grade Two), beginning a new job, or turning up at a new gym, transitions are rarely easy to navigate. It doesn’t matter if you are seven, 17 or 70, moving into new and unknown territory is uncomfortable at best, and downright terrifying at worst.

At this time of year, people are in transition all over Australia. In most states, the school term has already begun. New jobs are starting. New mothers arriving at school. New teachers with new classes. New widows and widowers coming to grips with life ahead. New refugees arriving in our lucky country. And far across the sea, there is even a whole nation struggling to comes to terms with a new government, complete with controversial new President – also in transition. It is everywhere.

Here are some things I have learned to ease the pain of transition, not just to treasure myself, but also to treasure my children.

  1. Be patient. This is the “new normal”. One day this will feel familiar, so this feeling will not last forever. It is a temporary discomfort. So stick it out.
  2. Prepare as best as you can. My mother did what she could to prepare me for that tram ride, and it was enough, because I did get home. She tried to cover the bases – but she couldn’t possibly cover every contingency. I learnt not to miss the stop after that!
  3. Be aware of others going through transition. Kindness goes a long way for new people in new situations. Give new people a break, be friendly, smile, show them the ropes. You would be gatetful if someone did that for you.
  4. Forgive yourself if you struggle. It is normal to feel extreme emotions, and nervousness can lead to headaches, nausea, weariness, sleeplessness, lack of appetite and more.
  5. Learn from this experience! Because of my mid-term move in Grade Two, I decided my children would not be doing that. Our children moved schools extremely rarely, and only ever at the beginning of a year. So, what can you take away from your transition to help next time?
  6. Pray that God will sustain you. The good thing is that he is the same – yesterday, today and forever. He will be your rock when feeling unstable, your friend when feeling lonely and your peace in the turmoil. Let him love you through it.