I needed to be taught a lesson – My husband was man enough to do it.

I didn’t have a fairytale upbringing. I didn’t even have a normal, mundane, run of the mill upbringing. When my mother died before I turned three, it left my siblings and I in the care of a father who was physically and emotionally abusive. I grew up thinking that it was normal for a man to hit – normal for him to hit a girl, normal for him to hit children.
I knew what it was like to go to school with welts from my waist to my knees. I’ve felt the sting of a hand across my face more times than I can count. I’ve seen my siblings punched in the face. I knew the heart pounding terror of rage. I knew what it was like to constantly watch facial expressions and read moods for signs of anger. I became an expert in making myself small, in making myself invisible.
I grew up believing that men hit, and that it was a woman’s fault (my fault) that they did. I promised myself when I left home at 17 (the day after my last HSC exam) that I would never allow a man to lay a hand on me in anger again but I still feared that really all men hit, that no man was really able to restrain himself and that sooner or later I would be in a relationship where I would be hit again.
When I met my husband at 24, I was carrying some pretty heavy baggage and even though he knows I’m strong, even though he knows I’m capable, he loved me too much to watch me keep carrying it. So over the last 16 years he has lovingly, respectfully and gently taken my baggage off me and carried a burden that he didn’t create – because he is that kind of a man.
My husband has shown me that it is possible to have conflict without violence. He has shown me that a strong man is not the one who displays his physical power in order to dominate and intimidate but a strong man is the one who having that power, chooses to exercise restraint and treat others with respect and dignity. To a strong man, the very idea that anyone would raise a hand to a woman in violence is appalling. My husband is a strong man. He has shown me what safe looks like, he has shown me what loved looks like… Ultimately, he has shown me what a real man looks like (and whilst he is showing me, he is teaching our 2 sons how to be real men).
Today is the International Day to End Violence Against Women and around Australia people are taking a pledge.
They are swearing “never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women”. The 9 year old girl in me is begging you to take this pledge. The 15 year old who told her year 10 school Guidance Counsellor about the beatings only to be discounted and ignored, is begging you to take this pledge. The woman I now am; safe, secure and confident that not every man hits, is begging you to take this pledge.
Take this pledge, and then live it out every day. Real men do not hit women.

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Not Drowning… Discovering the Introvert.

source:http://www.rgbstock.comI had a dream last night. I dreamt that we were at the beach (Dave, the boys and I) and a huge wave came. It was okay, though, because Dave, Elijah and I were on top of the rocks and safe from the wave. In my dream it took me a couple of minutes to realise that Joel wasn’t there. He was on the sand…under the water.

I discovered last night that my parental instincts are the same waking or sleeping. In the dream, I jumped straight in the water, knowing that if I didn’t get to him, Joel would drown. So, without a second thought I just did what I had to do to reach him and because it was a dream, I did reach him. He was just standing there, on the sand, under the water, holding his breath – not struggling, not drowning… just standing there. In my dream I grabbed him and pulled him from the water and yelled at him saying; “Why didn’t you swim? Why didn’t you tell me that you needed help?” He just shrugged and smiled and said; “I’m okay mummy” and then he extracted himself from my hands and jumped back into the water. I woke up, heart pounding and wanting to go and shake him awake. I didn’t of course, but only because by the time my feet hit the floor, logic was screaming at  me “just a dream, just a dream”.

I know why I had this dream though…

I had this dream because I’ve been on a journey with Joel and it’s a journey that has at times left me feeling like I was in over my head, but it’s a journey I am so thankful for. It took me seven and a half years to realise that our little family of extroverts was actually a little family of extroverts with one introvert. I spent a lot of time worrying about Joel’s quietness, his tendency to spend large amounts of time alone in his room, his stress in loud and busy environments, his inability to make more than one or two friends at school and his dislike of big social events. I got it wrong with Joel (a lot) and by the time he was almost 8 it was taking a toll on him. Joel was often stressed and teary and I just kept coming up with ways to deal with it that appealed to my personality type. Not adjusting at school – I’ll throw a BIG birthday party to help him make friends (he spent the whole time ignoring the other kids and asking when we could go home from this “too loud” place). Joel shuts himself in his room with screams of “I just need some space” and I interpreted it as him needing to talk about it- so I would go in and invade his space to solve the problem. Nothing I tried worked, in fact it seemed to make things worse.

In so many ways, I felt like we were all standing on the rocks and Joel was somewhere else on the beach – alone. Then about a year or so ago I stumbled across this article and all of a sudden the lights came on (we extroverts are not always the sharpest tools in the emotional shed). There was nothing wrong with Joel, he’s just not the extrovert I had assumed he was.

I’m wired differently to Joel and so it took me a long time to realise that he wasn’t drowning in the silence – he was drinking it in (in fact, if he was drowning at all, it was in the constant noise that we surrounded him with). When we realised that Joel’s personality type was introverted, we set out on the best journey Dave and I have taken since we became parents. We set out to discover Joel. We took time to learn what makes Joel tick and how we can make our home a place that he can enjoy as much as we do. We read lots (particularly Susan Cain) and we found adult introverts and picked their brains but the best thing we did was to sit down with Joel and ask him what he needed from his family.

Here are some of the keys we have learnt so far…

  1. “Let me finish my sentences” – This is the first thing that Joel told us. There’s lots of banter in our home and it usually involves a fair bit of interrupting. Introverts aren’t always quick to speak up – they like to really think about a topic deeply, so it can take them a while to talk. It can be tempting to interrupt or just not wait for them to speak at all but when we do that, we end up shutting introverts down.  In our home, we are learning patience and respect, there’s still banter but there’s also a rule that Joel is allowed to finish his sentences and the results have been amazing. I’ve discovered that my youngest son has a rich inner life and now he invites me to be a part of it – what an honour.
  1. Alone is okay. – In the case of introverts being alone is actually good (I’m not talking about sudden changes in personality and isolation or withdrawal that is out of character for your child). Alone in a safe, quiet, calm place of his choosing is how Joel (and most other introverts) recharges his batteries. Alone time for an introvert is crucial (just like social time for an extrovert is crucial). In the quiet place they gather the emotional resource and energy to deal with an often too noisy world. A few weeks ago, Joel and I had a quiet day (a day where we are home together but just do our own thing – no noise, no requirement to interact) at the end of the day Joel looked at me and said “You really love me mummy, I know because you gave me a quiet day with you”. If you want to give a gift to an introvert, give them the quiet.
  1. Introverted children need tools – There was a cycle in our home where we’d be busy socially for long periods. We would rush out and be social, rush home and be loud, rush around and get ready then rush out and be busy. We didn’t have down time and ¾ of our family liked it this way, but to Joel it was torture and he didn’t know how to tell us when he’d had enough (so usually he would scream at us when he got to snapping point). We realised that we needed to help him find tools to express his needs and to cope when we couldn’t avoid a stressful situation. We asked Joel how he felt when he’d had enough and he answered “overwhelmed” so we taught him to say “I feel overwhelmed” and we taught ourselves that hearing those words meant we needed to start thinking about leaving. When Joel says that he feels overwhelmed now, we make sure we communicate with him on the timeframe we are working to and we acknowledge his need for space. We also learned to take headphones with us when we are out so that if Joel needs calm and space, he can plug in, play music and cut down on the draining ambient noise in his environment. Joel now knows how to create an inner space for himself.

There are so many other things we are learning and if you have tips for us, we would love to hear them. Changing the way we do family has been great for us all and Joel is thriving at last (when home is a haven, everything else falls into place too). The last year and a half has been an amazing time for us. We have discovered Joel – this funny, intelligent, compassionate, connected little soul who is definitely, no longer, drowning.

Dear John… Breaking Up With Bitterness

At some point in our lives we are all going to get hurt. We hope when hurt comes it will be something small, something easy to shrug off, and often it is.  Sometimes, though, it’s the type of hurt that feels momentous and life changing, the type of hurt that changes the way we look at the world and damages our ability to trust. When those hurts come along its natural to feel angry and sad, to grieve and to cry, to withdraw and seek to tend our wounds, but eventually we have to do something about our hurt.

We have to decide to either hold on to it – store it away in some deep place in our heart so that it stands as a constant reminder of the wrong done to us and teaches us that no one is really trustworthy, or we have to choose to forgive.
Forgiveness is not really an attractive prospect is it? I mean, it’s full of hard work and dealing with painful feelings, but what’s the alternative? The alternative is that we can let the wrong done to us continue to hurt us everyday because we insist on holding on to it. For us to refuse to forgive, we have to be willing to constantly remind ourselves what happened to us that has made us hurt. It’s like hurting ourselves over and over and over again. And sooner or later that hurt changes us, it makes us see the world with less joy and more suspicion, it makes us look for the bad in everything- it makes us bitter.
I don’t want to become a bitter person.
That’s why, I’m committed to breaking up with bitterness and no good breakup is complete without a “Dear John”, so here is mine…
Dear John,
You and I have been living together for a long time now (holding on to hurt gives bitterness a home in our heart and allows it to become second nature).
I’m not happy (reminding ourselves about the hurt we’ve experienced sucks the joy out of life). When we first met I thought that I really wanted you (after all, when we’re hurt anger and revenge look pretty attractive, the problem is that they can’t actually undo the pain we are feeling) but I can see now that I’m trapped (ultimately hanging on to hurt makes us miserable). So today I’m ending it (making the deliberate decision to live in forgiveness) no matter what it costs (not denying the wrong that was done but releasing it and choosing not to dwell on it anymore). I deserve so much more (we can choose to look forward to the good that waits for us) and I’m going to start looking for it (we can decide to open up to trust again – maybe with more discretion this time). I know we may still see each other now and then (sometimes when we’ve been hurt, the same issue will raise it’s head again – not all hurts are quickly healed) so I hope you understand if I just nod and keep on walking (deal with pain as soon as it happens and be committed to move on). The truth is, I’ve met someone new (forgiveness) and I’m pursuing a relationship with them instead. I’d like to say thanks for the memories, but really, they aren’t that great.

Yours truly,

Shiv.

 

What Terror Costs

ni3Fii8In recent days, in Australia, we have seen the largest raids in our history on terror suspects. We have seen tougher anti-terrorism laws introduced and then passed by our senate. Our screens are full of heartbreaking, horrendous, utterly incomprehensible reports of violence by extremists overseas and we hear repeated time and time again that the threat of terrorism against us here is high.

The world feels like it is in turmoil and it’s easy to feel afraid as a result of this. Let’s face it, when we hear that police have found evidence of a credible threat by terrorists on our shores it IS scary.

Lately, because of all that’s been going on here, I’ve been thinking…

What is the real cost of terrorism? Is the cost of terrorism, the threat it makes against the lives of the people we all love? Or is the cost of terrorism much more insidious than that? I’ve seen the news shots of people running for their lives in Iraq, of men handcuffed on front lawns in Sydney, of swords being removed from properties, of the police rushing towards our parliament. I have no words to express my abhorrence of terrorism, but I’ve seen and heard other things too.

I’ve read about the young man who lived through persecution in Afghanistan only to survive and escape to a new life and supposed safety in Australia. Last week his photo was mistakenly plastered over our newspapers as a suspected terrorist and he now fears to leave his house and yet again sees the world as somewhere that is not safe for him or his family. I also heard the news that a local mosque was egged following the terror raids and people being accosted in the street based on their appearance. Hearing these things, I think that the cost of terror is something more than the lives taken by evil people with a faulty ideology.

The real cost of terrorism is something so much more insidious, because it requires our cooperation to be successful. The real cost of terrorism is that it bullies us into changing who we are deep inside. The whole point of terrorism is to induce terror, to make us believe that the world is no longer a safe place for us. Terrorism’s goal is to so fill us with fear, that we abandon our moral compass and do whatever we need to do to feel safe. Terrorism wins, when we let it change us, when we let it dictate to us how we will treat those around us, particularly those who are different to us.

So, we have a decision to make; will we let terrorism do its work? Will we allow the horrendous acts of evil people to change our basic respect for others? Will we allow it to stop us from being kind to people based on difference? Or will we choose respect (regardless of difference)? Will we choose to see others with an open heart (agreeing that everyone needs kindness, friendship and acceptance)? Will we choose to let our moral compass be bigger than our fear so that even if terrorists were to manage to take our lives, they wouldn’t have taken our soul? Let’s be people who refuse to cooperate with terror.

 

Hollywood Lounge Story – Love At First Sit.

Last week I trawled a seemingly endless number of op-shops. I was looking for an Art Deco sideboard and having no joy at all. After a long and fruitless day, I walked into one last place. It reminded me of a wardrobe in a hoarders house – a badly organised, mothball smelling, cluttered up, old wardrobe. I walked in from the back door and came across the usual array of clothing (old furs and wedding dresses) before maneuvering around some laminate pieces of furniture in various states of repair when my eyes fell on a treasure.

It sat in the middle of the store and I swear to you, I had a Hollywood love at first sight experience. It’s like all the light in the room suddenly focused down into one area. The harsh sounds of daily life faded to obscurity and someone, somewhere began to play the gentle stirring notes of a love song. And that’s how I laid eyes on the most perfect antique lounge I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it still made my heart skip a beat or two. I resisted my first urge to run over to it, throw myself across it and start hissing at the other bargain shoppers that it was “My precious!” Instead, I strolled casually over and tilted the price tag so that I could glance at the price. That’s pretty much when I came undone. I’m not saying that I definitely foamed at the mouth or that I definitely told my husband that there was no way in the world he would get me out of that shop without that lounge, but, twenty minutes later, I was the proud new owner of a very valuable piece of furniture (having paid about a tenth of what it was really worth). That day was a pretty good day!

It was also a pretty good picture of what life can sometimes be. We can end up feeling like we are sitting in the op-shop of life, surrounded by clutter and looking like someone else’s cast off. Some seasons of life find us so surrounded by sticky little fingerprints, dirty laundry and hard work that it is simply hard to picture ourselves as any sort of treasure. Some of us sit for years with the labels, and tags of other people tied to our heart telling us that our worth is far less than it truthfully is. We are waiting for someone to come along and recognise that we are a treasure, out of place in the every day.

But what if we didn’t wait any longer? What if we decided from this moment on that we would write our own tag, that we would recognise that we are a treasure in every place and in every season? Even in the op-shop seasons of life, those cluttered, chaotic, endlessly tiring seasons. How would life change if we treated ourselves, and those around us, as though we were priceless because that’s the reality; each of us is a treasure regardless of our tag. My guess is that if we began to value ourselves this way, life would get a little better. I believe that in valuing who we are as people we would teach our children their value too. That we would begin to bring up people who saw treasure where the rest of the world saw trash, people who knew how to find and draw that value out of others – and that is something I long to do!

Our lives – The melody that lingers on.

I’m sitting in my lounge room on a soft Autumn day looking out over our peaceful street as Noel Paul Stookey’s, 1972, song “Sebastian” pours into my ears.  It’s an old and obscure song but right now the words resonate in me, reminding me of something I’d forgotten in recent times. 

The chorus goes like this;

“Sing sweet Sebastian,

sing the sweetest song,

sing so sweet that while you sleep,

your melody lingers on.”

I hear these words and I remember that life is a song we are singing to one another.

I’m remembering as I listen in the cool, green peace of this day that songs can and do change in the course of singing them and that’s what makes them so beautiful.  Each verse carries its own message, with every one building on what came before.  No part of the song is wasted or unimportant – just like none of our life experiences are wasted or unimportant.  Some of the verses of our lives are full of joy, love and success.  Others quietly, tearfully, brokenly speak of our pain, hurt or despair but together…oh, together!  Together they are a masterpiece that sings of our strength, humanity and courage.  They are a gift to the people we love. 

We should never assume when singing the sadder verses that this is all there is to our song.  You are a ballad not an ad jingle – You have more than this one verse to sing. 

Your life is a song; sweet, light, poignant, dark, soulful and altogether beautiful. Please sing it loudly when you can or softly when you can’t.  If you come to a place where you seem to lose your voice… If you find a verse where you cannot bear to sing the words alone..If you come to a part where the lines seem to slip away from you… I hope you’ll let us – who love you- sing your song with you.  We may not sing on key, we may sing quite imperfectly but we will still do it for you, because we understand.  Sometimes we all need our friends to stand beside us and raise their voices when words fail us. 

How will our song finish?  What will become of it when the final notes fade to silence? Only time will tell, but let’s sing each verse with passion, honesty, love and courage so that when we at last sleep… the melody lingers on. 

Puberty?… Oh No!

Photo Credit: Jon Stone, Mike Smollin

Kids have this terrible habit don’t they? They just insist on growing, whether we are ready for them to get bigger or not.  It’s exhausting and unstoppable and right now, in our house, it’s terrifying because the growing is pushing us closer to the edge of that cliff…puberty! 

I feel like Grover in “There’s A Monster At The End Of This Book” – I want so badly to chain the pages of our life together, or nail them shut, or brick them up just so that we don’t have to get to the part with the dreaded monster.  The thing with that book though is that the kids just insist on turning the pages.  Nothing this Grover-mum will do is going to put off getting to the back page!  Adolescence is coming to my son (and there’s nowhere I can hide). 

So, because there really is nowhere to hide, I’ve decided that it’s time to grab my flippers and my snorkel and dive right in.  I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to SOTY’s (survivors of teenage years) about how to make it through my son’s adolescence without the need for Prozac or military school and the funny thing is that they are all saying pretty much the same things. 

1.  Be the immoveable object

Picture your child as a small yacht in a beautiful bay.  Up until now, the waters have been fairly calm, the sky pretty clear, and they have had a lot of years to practice sailing around in the safety of your family’s harbour, but now it’s time for them to learn to do what yachts are built to do – it’s time to sail some bigger seas.  As parents, the thought of pushing that small yacht from the slipway and turning our back on it is unconscionable so what is our role in this? 

We have to become the rock in the ocean. The one that he can navigate around, the one that appears on his map, the one that he can anchor himself to in a storm, and cast off from when he is ready.  We have to learn to be the immoveable object in our child’s life.  Loving him bravely – letting him know that it’s good to want to explore the world around him.  Loving him with stability – letting him see that home will always be a place of acceptance, grace, forgiveness, warmth and consistency (a place he can anchor himself to when storms rage around him).  We have to let him see, that no matter what changes around him, we will not change – we will stand firm in our dedication to him.

It may take a great deal of courage to love this way, to love like the immoveable object, but parenting is about making courageous and uncomfortable decisions from its very first moments, so why would this be any different?

Photo Credit: Kevin Tuck

2.  Remember that the person you love is still in there (somewhere).

Every parent I have spoken to has said this to me (after they stopped laughing about the fact that we are just approaching this season and they have already made it to the other side).  They all said, that adolescence is not easy but that it’s really important to keep reminding yourself of your child as a person.  As parents, we need to work on setting the behaviours aside and reaching out to the individual inside.  When we remember that there is a person who we love behind the behaviours that we find frustrating, it’s helps us to focus on maintaining relationship with them.  Adolescence, like all seasons, is not without its end and once it’s over, they assure me, we will get to see and enjoy the beautiful people our kids have become.

Is that all that there is to it? I don’t think so – it’s never that simple, is it? Will this work in getting our son through those scary teenage years?  I think it (and a lot of prayer) will help, and I think we will learn other things along the way too.  At the end of the day, there’s one thing I know for sure, love has been the answer in every other stage of our children’s lives. Not the flimsy, wishy-washy, passive love that watches the world fall apart around it as though it was powerless to do anything.  No, not that kind of love.  The gutsy type of love, the love that is a verb – active and powerful.  The love that is strong enough to say I will not give up on you.  The love that is immoveable.