The Things My Mother Never Taught Me

My mother never taught me to arrange flowers

There are times as I have grown older when I’ve suddenly realised I don’t know something that everyone else seems to know. Does that happen to you?

These bits and pieces of information have been many and varied throughout my life. But they cropped up constantly when I was a young adult. Usually it was the little things . . . like I didn’t know how to make smooth custard; and I also chucked out so many pots of burnt stewed apples. Lumpy custard with burnt apples anyone?

Sometimes though, there were relational issues when I had absolutely no idea. Such as how to relate to unknown males as a young married woman. One day, not long after Stephen and I tied the knot, I had a big heart-to-heart with a young man while sitting at a dimly lit table at a church coffee shop. At the end of the evening he offered me a lift home! I am not sure who was more uncomfortable when I showed him my wedding ring.

One sunny day a few weeks later, I smiled at a young workman labouring with a team in our street as they worked on powerlines. To my embarrassment, when I left the house a little later, a wolf-whistle echoed up the street in my direction. His supervisor growled at him – and I finally learned a valuable lesson about not encouraging strange young men.

Yes, I have Gaps!

I put these gaps in my knowledge down to the fact that I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was just 16. She was sick for a couple of years before that though, so in reality my learning from her probably stopped when I was 13 or 14 years old.

There were so many areas where, in a perfect world, I should have picked up the information from my Mum: child-rearing, keeping house, cooking, relating to people in general, relating to boys in particular, and these are just a few of them.

Then there are skills she had, which I would have loved to learn from her. For example, before my mother became unwell she made beautiful sponge cakes, our home was always filled with stunning flower arrangements, and her dress-sense was impeccable. I am sure she would have passed these things on to me if she had lived longer.

As it is, I’ve had to rely on others showing me, such as my mother-in-law, who taught me to make a sponge cake. Or I make things up myself, which is why I still have trouble working out what clothes suit me. Or at least I do research and figure it out – this is how I learnt about gardening. I am quite resourceful, and I’ve managed to make a success of many areas that were once a mystery. But I still am aware of the possibility of those gaps, and always wonder if there is something I don’t know, just outside my awareness.

Yorkshire always produces great cooks!

Last year while I was visiting my sister in England, I was telling a lady called Jackie about my mother’s death when I was a teen. Jackie’s mother is still alive and well, and while she was moved by my story, she couldn’t really personally engage with what I had to say.

Until I started to talk about the many places where I have gaps.

Suddenly she said, “Oh, I’ve just realised. I have gaps too!” And her story tumbled out.

It turns out that Jackie grew up in Yorkshire, “And everyone expects women from Yorkshire to cook very well,” she said. “So, people always say to me, ‘You must a be a great cook. You are from Yorkshire!’

“But I tell them, that no, I am not. I am a terrible cook! I never learnt.”

She leaned a little closer. “I never learnt to cook because my mother never learnt. And she never learnt because her mother died when she was 18!”

I don’t think Jackie had quite realised about the huge impact her grandmother’s early demise had made on her. It wasn’t just about the cooking. The big question was: if she missed out on learning to cook, what else had her mother failed to pass on because she simply didn’t know?

It wasn’t just Jackie becoming aware . . . the penny dropped for me too. Suddenly this concept of “having a gap” took another turn.  It goes much further than your own parents running out of time to pass on things they know, because there can be generational gaps. I am aware of this happening in my children too. There are things I never learnt from my mother, and so they haven’t learnt from me.

It is a much bigger issue than I first thought

The fact is, everyone has gaps!

For whatever reason, either parents run out of time (like mine), or they simply don’t know every detail to prepare their children for the big wide world of adulthood. Most of us do our very best to provide all the knowledge and wisdom we can, passing it on to our children at the right time. But often there are things we do not know – and the sad thing is, sometimes we don’t even realise what they are.

We don’t know what we don’t know.

Personally, this is where I ask God to show me. It is what I did when I was first pregnant, and overwhelmed with the task ahead. And I still do it, even today. The number of times inspiration has struck, not long after praying, tells me he has shown me an awful lot!

As a result of all this, I have begun to compile a list of things my mother never taught me. Of course, there is plenty you can work out for yourself. Google and YouTube are pretty good knowledge banks these days. However, some of the gaps take a little more skill and ability, and I am still learning. Plus, I am sure there are other gaps I have yet to realise are even there!

My blog will slowly begin to feature some of these practical realities, and stories about how I learnt them. I’ll be telling other people’s stories too. Soon there will be a treasure trove of all sorts of things that were gaps, and how to fill them.

Let the discoveries begin!

questions for you:
Are there areas where you know you had gaps and had to fill them?
Or that you still have no idea what to do?

The Secret to Long Life and Happiness

Rose Garden

The last few weeks were like a roller coaster for me as the year rolled on past significant birthdays and anniversaries.

First . . .

The date of my mother’s birthday in late January – a quiet day which rarely rates a mention, but is always silently remembered by us four sisters.

Soon after . . .

My birthday in early February, followed by the anniversary of my mother’s death only a week later. About 10 days after that, arrived a personal glass ceiling for me ever since my mother died: the day when I equalled the age she reached on her final day.

I know many people experience this barrier – it is impossible to imagine what your life might look like after you reach the age that your mother died (for daughters), or your father died (for sons). As a primary relationship, your role model simply no longer exists after that date.

That day was a milestone for me

It brought a day of both reflection and amazement – I had made it in full health and happiness! Remarkably the day closed with a chance phone call from my lovely stepmother, who had no idea how perfect her timing was. It was good to share my thoughts with her.

With all this reflection and awareness, it made sense to visit the place where my mother’s ashes are buried. I planned a trip from Hobart across to Melbourne a few months ago, unaware of how important it would become. I am not really the sentimental type, and only once before have I visited the cemetery. To be honest, I am happy to remember my Mum anywhere, and don’t have a need to go and visit. But it seemed fitting to see this place, and take some time to remember her life, especially given my recent glass ceiling breakthrough.

I asked my eldest sister to come with me

I would have asked my other sisters also, but they do not live in Melbourne. More than a decade separates us two, and I often feel like the kid sister in many of our interactions, but this was a good way of connecting a little more deeply than usual. It was only later that I realised how unusual it was for me to take the initiative.

We arrived at Springvale Botanical Cemetery and the memories flooded back. The day of Mum’s funeral, and cremation service afterwards, are forever etched in my mind. It is a beautiful place, and it struck me how this is a special place of reverence, honour and respect for those who have gone on ahead.

After making some enquiries, we found the specific rose garden and searched for the Rose Garden_plaqueplaque, engraved in our mother’s memory. We had a beautiful rose with us which we placed in the space provided. And we remembered. Standing there quietly in those peaceful surrounds, we reflected on Mum’s life, recalling a few incidents over those days, so long ago.

Tears were shed.

Hugs exchanged.

The world stopped for a moment.

On the way back to the car, she said,

“It’s lovely to be here with you today. Sometimes, it seems like you are so much older and wiser.”

I quickly responded with equally loving words. But it occurred to me that perhaps I am changing. Perhaps this journey of honouring my mother, even so long after her death, brings me to a point of maturity and self-awareness I have not known before.

Stephen reminded me later . . .

My husband, Stephen, is so good at helping me keep things in perspective! He reminded me about one of the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses when the Israelites were setting out on their journey to the Promised Land. It  says this. . .

“Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Deu 5:16 (NIV)

And then many years later in his letter to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul re-wrote that command and added a little editorial comment . . .

 “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph 6:2, 3 (NIV)

Ohhh! Of course. It’s a promise!

God says to us, each one,

“If you do this, then I will do that.”

If you honour your parents, you will receive blessing. Things will go well. Long life will come.

It does not mean the opposite is true. My mother died young, but not because she did not honour her parents. This world is broken and fallen, and things like cancer take hold, which is awful, but no one’s “fault”.

While she did die too soon, I know my mother did honour her parents, because her “life was prolonged”, which is how the Amplified Bible translates the words given to Moses. I know that. Her life was extended. She did last longer than expected. That is part of another story.

So, here are my reminders for you today:

  1. The Promise: It is good to honour your parents – don’t forget about that promise! Life, wisdom and good things come from honouring.
  2. The Difficulty: Perhaps you feel it is too hard to honour one, or both, of your parents?
    • Maybe you don’t feel that they did much for you – but let me remind you they did give you life, which is something to be grateful for.
    • Perhaps you find them hard to honour because they are no longer with you? However, I think I have shown it is possible to do that, no matter how long they have been gone. Even if it is simply with thoughts and words.
    • I know there are those who struggle with elderly parents, requiring so much love, care and attention. It can be very difficult. But I also know God sustains, God knows, God understands. Lean into him. He will give you strength, ideas, and solutions to honour your parents that you didn’t know were there. Just ask him.
  3. The Problem: Does honouring your parents mean agreeing with them? Well, no. Perhaps you have confused honouring with saying “YES” all the time. And that’s not what is means.
    To honour means to give respect. To listen carefully, and consider what they say. But this does not imply you must do as they say. If you truly cannot agree with them, let them know in as respectful way as you can, and make your own decisions with a clear conscience. Then don’t bad mouth them or put them down.

Honour them!

That’s how things will go well with you, and you will live longer.

You can listen to me talk about this here >>>

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.

Five Golden Rules to surviving the “Why?” stage

Why do lanterns go up?

Facebook is a mine of information!

Recently and friend of mine posted the following plea . . .

Ok, Thoughts and opinions welcomed. Son is asking lots of “WHY?” questions at the moment, which is awesome but does make me want to bash my head against the wall just a little bit. I need help with this question, asked yesterday “When is something not new anymore?”

A friend of mine posted those words and oh my gosh! I could so identify with her. It seems as though every child has a time in his or her life when the reaction to every single thing is, “Why Mum?” or “What’s that there for?” or “How come?”

Talk about tear your hair out! It is such a frustrating thing to have every minute peppered with the six-year-old’s Five W’s: Why? What? When? Where? How? You could almost describe it as a syndrome – the Little Voice with Endless Questions or LVEQs.

So, when my friend posted about her son, I got it. The long-term effect of the LVEQs is enough to plead for a Lunch Break. Or a Leave Pass. Or even a Holiday!

I think everyone has their own family stories of the LVEQs. I remember my own exasperated parents saying to me when I had it: “Just because” or, “Because I said so.” It didn’t really answer the question, but it kept me quiet. For a minute.

And I must have asked this one often when out in the back shed on hot, sunny days: “What ya doin’ Dad?” and he would ALWAYS say, “I’m pumping up my bike!” Which was code for, “Don’t ask me, can’t you see what I’m doing?” It was sort of funny, but it was sort of not. I remember thinking it was a terribly unsatisfying response. I wasn’t asking any old trifling question – I was curious, and I really wanted to know what he was doing!

So, when I read my friend’s post, not only could I see her irritation, I could see her son’s perspective too. When he asks questions, he really does want to know more about the world around him, which means the questions often do require a genuine response. But it really is a dilemma when the record (or the CD, or the MP3 player) feels as if it broken.

There had already been a few responses by the time I saw my friend’s status update. Interestingly, at that point, everyone had given answers to the LVEQ raised by said son, helping her explain to him when something is no longer new. Which was great.

But no one had yet tackled the heartfelt cry within the post: “I think I am going mad with the LVEQs!”

Her frustration caused me to stop and reflect. I remembered that at the coal-face I frequently forgot something very important, and I was so glad whenever Stephen reminded me. He would say, “Jenny, IT IS JUST A PHASE! Don’t forget to keep a longer-term perspective.”

Only then would I stop and think. It is always hard to think straight, and keep the long-term view when you are in the middle of a maddening stage like the LVEQs.

Here is what I ended up writing in my reply to my friend:

I often used to say [to my son/daughter] something like, “Why do you think it’s not new?” That way you engage him in the answer, and get him to reason through what he’s thinking, instead of relying on your response all the time. Also… Remember this is a phase. It won’t be like this forever. One day you might be asking why God has blessed you with a monosyllabic teen! So, if the habit becomes to create conversation then it’s a good thing.

So here are my golden rules for keeping your hair on when going through difficult phases.

  • Every child goes through phases. It is part of growing up, so expect them. They can be good as well as bad. Remember to take time to enjoy the lovely ones.
  • Phases happen at every age and stage. It is more than just the LVEQs, it is also sleepless nights, teething, bad-violin-playing, learner driving – and the list continues.
  • Look for the good. Every difficult phase has a silver lining. Take a step back and be objective about the phase you are going through right now. Here are some positive outcomes of the list above:
    • The LVEQs – a wonderfully educational time, which can develop verbalization and communication skills. It fosters healthy curiosity. It also provides opportunities to talk about inappropriate nosiness.
    • Teething – well, one day there will be teeth, happy toothy smiles, increased food choices and sleep-through nights.
    • Budding musicians – Children who learn the violin, or any other musical instrument, are learning harmony, rhythm, self-discipline, and are growing important neural synapses in their creative (left) brain – plus a great many other skills.
    • Leaner drivers – Gaining a driver’s license is almost an unofficial rite of passage into adulthood for our young people. They learn independence, safety, responsibility for themselves and others. It can be nerve wracking, but once successfully completed will have a long-term positive outcome. Prayer is a lifeline during this phase!
  • Keep calm and carry on. Some phases are very dark, and it is difficult to find the silver lining. At those moments, the good outcome is that you are the one being refined, and your own character is growing through adversity. Will you become bitter or better? That’s your choice.
  • Phases are temporary. Believe me when I say, I am with you! It will not go on forever. One day, each phase will end!

In the meantime, let me remind you to treasure your children. Every stage is precious. Value these moments.

What are some of the phases you are going through at the moment?

Slowing Down

Slow down – Things happen!

SAMSUNG
Browns River, near where I live, is a go-slow river

I finished working with Samaritan’s Purse as the State Manager of Operation Christmas Child only a few days ago and I suddenly came down with the worst cold I’ve had in years. It is making me go slow . . . really slow. It’s probably not the best way, but it is surely forcing me to stop!

The bright side is that it has given me time and space to organize my copious notes, books and research material (more on that in future blogs). Plus I have started reading through some of that copiousness. And I’m doing some journalling which I haven’t done regularly for a long time. Already I have learnt a few things:

  • I feel guilty about not pushing through when I am sick like this. I remember deciding to “keep on keeping on” when I was in Year 10 and I’d had a horrendous attendance record over the previous two winters. While it is good to do that at times, I am now giving myself permission to stop and (surprise, surprise) the world has not fallen in!
  • While it is a long time since I have journalled, I don’t have to feel guilty about that either. I have reflected on some important things the last few days, such as what stage of life I am in; ‘crucible’ turning points over the last year or so; and my relationship with my Dad – who would have turned 98 yesterday. While no doubt it would have been valuable to have pondered on some of this well before now, that is time which has flowed beyond my reach like a leaf on a river. But I CAN take hold of today and savour this moment, without regret.
  • God’s timing is always much better than I could have planned! I am just so grateful that I didn’t get sick two weeks earlier, or finish up two weeks later. Now that would have been very difficult. I have to keep reminding myself that He has got things under control – and that’s much better then me trying to control everything.

Going S-L-O-W. Hard work. But worth it.