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?

Daylight Eventually Comes

I struggled to take it all in.

My friend John patiently said it again, “There was more information about your mother than you knew.”

I looked at him blankly.

He sighed. “If things had been properly done, she may not have died.”

The awful truth enveloped me like an empty parachute settling over my head and body, making it hard to breathe.

“I can see it is hard to understand. I’ll come back soon and give you the details.” And just like that he was gone.

John is a good friend and I believed him. What’s more, as an ex-nurse, I trusted him medically. But I struggled to hear what he had to say. More information, he’d said. What did that mean? What’s more, my mother had died so long ago now. Even decades.

My rational brain tried to catch up, and I attempted to reason my way through it. Of course, this makes no difference I reminded myself. It happened. There is nothing I can do. It’s over. God walked beside me all these years, and I can lean on him through this too.

I waited for John to return, trying to make polite conversation with the people I knew in the room. But I wasn’t comfortable sharing this devastating news with them. Not yet.

My mind raced. Would Mum have lived if we had known? Would she have died by now anyway? Why do I have to wait to find out about this information John had? Where was he anyway?

I gasped, and woke up with a jolt. It was 5am, and still dark.

It was a relief to realise it was all a dream, but I struggled to breathe normally. Disturbed. Upset. I just lay there, my heart beating fast, my emotions continuing to wash over me. It had felt so real, so exact, so perplexing. It is true – when Mum died of cancer, I didn’t have all the information. As young teens, my sister and I were not told very much and kept in the dark. With all the best intentions, we were kept in a space of not knowing.

The dream seeped into reality. In a half-asleep stupor, nothing made sense and I dozed in and out of a fitful sleep – too upset to rest; too weary to do anything but lie there. I knew that eventually, daylight would come.

This is the worst thing about grief: When it feels like you have finally got it out of your system, then at the most unexpected moments it comes up behind you, and clutches your heart. Again.

Death was never meant to be part of our lives – and intuitively we know it. Before their sin, Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life, and death was not for them. So, it is not surprising there is something in each of us screaming, “Death is not fair, it’s not right!” Because it isn’t. It’s all wrong. It grates against us with its ragged teeth gnashing.

I’ve worked hard over the years not to allow my mother’s death to harden me. It has been difficult at times, but I wanted to remain soft and pliable, not just for myself but for those close to me, especially my children. It hurts to lean into the grief and roll with it, and it is easy to want to put up self-protective barriers. But I know that hardness brings bitterness, and that’s not where I want to go.

Here is what I have learned – This suffering, this tragedy, this living of my life after death, is the refining thing that changes me. God walks with me closely through it, and shows me the path. He is no stranger to suffering. He leads my steps, and holds my hand. My suffering smooths over the dark and ugly places. The stress and pressure squeeze out the dross, and refine me into someone with more compassion, more kindness, more love for the broken and hurting. Staying soft to death and its horrors, hands me life in all its richness. Such paradox. To allow mum’s death to harden me would have been its victory.  But God brought Jesus to life again. There is such a thing as life after death, and it’s called resurrection.

All these years later, my mother’s death is still a big thing in my life, as this dream last Monday shows. I know deep down, I still treasure her. But thankfully her death doesn’t hold me. Jesus does.

The road is dark, sometimes. Often it feels like an endless tunnel. But if I keep on pushing through, if I keep on pressing into the dark, I know this to be true: daylight eventually comes.

 

The BIG Coverup

Toys

For some reason this day four-year-old Joseph was cross. And I was cross back at him. I was asking him to do something which I thought quite reasonable. I can’t remember exactly . . .  it may have been to put his toys away. But did he want to do it? No!

At this stage, there were three of five children, with the two youngest yet to arrive. I was pretty happy with how I managed things with the two older girls, but my response to Joseph was another kettle of fish.

To explain my dilemma . . . I grew up in a household with only sisters. This means I had quite big gaps in my knowledge of all things “boy” – and I knew it. All the information I had about boys in family life was gleaned from my girlfriends and the relationships they had with their brothers. I had noticed big brothers could be very loving and protective of their little sisters. But I also knew little brothers could be incredibly annoying.

And I had one such annoying little brother on my hands.

So…back to Joseph this day. I asked him nicely to “tidy up the toys” (or whatever it was). Then, I asked him firmly. Then, I gave him the normal ultimatum, and still nothing. He was already in tears, and I was close. I did my usual thing, and asked him to go to his bedroom so we could both calm down. Generally he was happy to do this, because Joseph loved being in his room.

But still he would not cooperate.

So I picked him up from behind, under his arms, to scoot him along to his room for his five-minute time-out.

Which meant his feet flailed wildly in protest all the way through the loungeroom.

Which meant he accidentally kicked one of the heavy, glass doors on the video cabinet.

Which meant it shattered with a huge CRASH into little pieces all over the carpet!

I am not sure who got the biggest fright, me or him. But he did go to his room and stay there willingly at least. After a little while I went in and we talked about it. I said sorry, and he said sorry as well. Then we went back to tidy away his toys together, and he helped me carefully vacuum up the glass.

I was mortified.

While I did talk it through with Stephen later, I never told any of my friends exactly how that glass door broke – we kept the cabinet for years and it always looked a little lop-sided with one door intact, and the other side open to the world.

It was just too hard to admit I was THAT mother, with THAT boy. And these dramas kept happening. I felt like such a failure!

Why do we do that? Why do we try and keep appearances, and pretend we have it all together? While all along, underneath we constantly question if we can do this motherhood thing.

We wonder if we are making the right decisions as we bring our children up.

And we are even a little ashamed at some things that happen behind closed doors.

But this is what I have learnt: If you sweep the shame under the carpet and ignore it, it does not go away.

In reality, it is only by facing those horrible moments, that we get past them. It is only by admitting our failures that we can take a step back and see objectively. It is only by reflecting on what happened to us as we were growing up that we can understand ourselves better.

So next time you feel like a complete failure, let me encourage you not to ignore what happened. Think about it. Reflect on it. Write it down, or tell someone you can trust. Tell God about it. Pray for wisdom and understanding.

By getting to the bottom of it, you may find that next time you are in that situation you have the freedom to operate differently.

And that has to be better for everyone.

For the record, Joe is now an endearing 20-something, who happens to love working with extremely difficult young people. Who would have thought?

What’s your take on this? Do you like to keep up appearances like me?