Simple Rest

2022 will be known as the year COVID-19’s tentacles tightened its hold on the lower South Island.

As the North Island battled stoically in 2021 with extra lock downs, school closures, working from home and rapid antigen testing, at times it felt like we were two countries not one – the top half battling on, the bottom half in a bubble.

Man did that bubble burst this year.

In February, Omicron announced it’s arrival in grand fashion in time for the arrival of thousands of students in our university town. We fell like nine pins.

First, our eldest son and his five flatmates went down. A week at home sniffling in their respective rooms. Croaky phone calls and countless drop offs at the door from concerned parents.

Study kicked off the next week online. Three months later, he has just attended his first face to face tutorial. A mild dose, he thought, but his first game of rugby last week showed the cracks as usually abnormally fit young men coughed and spluttered around the field. Winners in the luckless lottery of Long Covid as yet unknown.

Two weeks before the end of the school term, our youngest goes down. Delivered to me in a carpark with another three sick students in the car. The handover is brief, business like. The Dad has already had it but is keen to get home none the less.

He slumps in the car. Sleeps for 27 hours. Attempts hybrid learning at the end of the week but misses memos and doesn’t have the energy to read and reread notes online. He bounces back. Returns to school for the last week of term – keen to see his mates, catch up on missed work. Craving normal.

The Easter break skids in at the end of April and teachers around the country, their ranks diminished, nerves shattered and wits at an end, drag themselves over the finish line. COVID doesn’t care, in fact, in a cruel twist of fate, many of them will go down in the “holidays.”

A week of surrealism follows. We visit family. Do regular RATS tests before meeting a new grandchild. For a moment, we forget. Driving through the autumnal landscape, he coughs on the way home. That’s an annoying tickle, I observe. Turn the music up.

Next day he’s positive and in bed. Damn. We follow instructions. He stays in bed, resting. Lots of fluids, paracetamol. We panic, what if he gave it to the baby? Hurried phone calls follow as like naughty school children we break the news. Our family are kind, philosophical. We are thankful for that. Curtains pulled, cocooned in a chamber of respite, he reassures me, just like a bad cold. I hover anyway, watching.

Two days later the inevitable – two red lines emerge with my name on them.

For the first two days, I test boundaries like a teenager who knows the facts but chooses to operate in denial. Flit around the house, go for a walk, make soup, wash bedclothes. Sure you’re alright? Absolutely. Sinusey, sore throat. This must be it.

Day 4 bam. Wake up seedy, fall asleep on the couch. Crawl back to bed. My head screeches in indignation as the virus steps things up, I fear my head will split in two. My joints ache. I’m hot and I’m cold.

Rest, he says. But I can’t. Can’t sleep. Keep taking paracetamol. Has it been two hours or four? Does it matter? Can’t tell if it’s day or night. Try a sleeping pill. Surely that will knock me out. But no. A crazed period of excessively loud thinking follows. I attempt picturing green fields and long grass waving in a summer breeze to expel the thoughts, or at least turn the volume down.

He rings Healthline. The nurse wants to talk to me. Pathetic tears leak out the side of my eyes. How are you feeling? Not good is all I can muster. She is kind. This weirdly increases the trickle to a silent stream. Runs through a checklist. Each response takes a Herculean effort of focus and engagement. My brain bashes relentlessly against the side of my skull. No let up. I can feel it pulsing, enlarging.

She says something about sending a link with information for self-care to my phone. I can’t see my phone but don’t want to appear rude. Pass his phone back. Might pay to get her to ED, phone first, so they know.

But I can’t. Can’t move. Don’t want to be moved, or touched. He lies beside me, watching.

I lose days. But the headaches slowly subside. In the aftermath, I feel washed out, no energy, no appetite. At the end of the week, test boundaries again by trying work emails. Dizziness. My students are emailing me. The thumbs up emoji gets a hammering. I go back to bed for the afternoons. The dog stays by my side. Can she get it? She exhales, snuggles closer. My eyes close.

Now panic and fear gives way to my old friend worry. Was it like this for my son? Alone in his flat? Can’t breathe for thinking. What about people living alone who get it? My heart aches. Head responds with a dull throb, a cautionary warning . Take a sleeping pill. It works. I sink slowly down through the mattress into rest’s embrace.

Ten days later. Face a mess of coldsores, sinuses blocked, no taste. Eat, he says. I obey. Maybe a walk today on the beach? The dog wags her tail hopefully.

Rest, he says. Just rest.

Stepping up to 20

His childhood in seven short steps:

Bootees – soft white or lemon knitted “boots” made attentively with love, stitched with care by family. Gender neutral, of course. A ribbon carefully threads its way around his teeny, tiny ankles softly tied for protection. Worn on the return trip from hospital, kept for good.

Baby socks – plain or striped, bobbly pastel coloured morsels made to slip on quickly at the end of a wriggly process. Often found like hidden treasure in the bottom of the pram, car seat or cot. Bundled together with a tired smile and kept in a basket like a pick n’ mix of sweets.

Toddler socks – bring on the farm animals, rockets blasting into space, dopey looking sheep, racy red cars, sturdy tractors, plundering pirates and slinky foxes in garish colours boldly proclaiming first steps to independence. Initially wobbly, increasingly confident. Slow down.

School sneakers – the primary school years hearld brightly coloured, branded shoes built for speed, for action and for exploration. He’s out there doing it, he’s chasing – the ball, his friends, shadows. He likes to move it, move it. Little legs pumping hard, stretching out.

Secondary school strictures – straight out of Tom Brown’s School Days long grey stocking socks topped with a navy blue band demand to be paired correctly, must be kept in line. “Socks up boys!” they roar as he stumbles through the gate, bumbling to hoist them up to acceptable levels. Such socks must be matched with sturdy dark monoliths. Chunky for the first few years then, once broken in, discarded for pointy ballroom like footwear. Scratchy junior socks are ditched for cunningly concealed, non-regulation, novelty socks. Pretty Decent Boyfriend his declare cheekily from under long pants. He dances through those years. So grown up.

Teen angst – inevitably they mooch into the wardrobe. From retro streetwear (I used to have some of those, mutters Dad) to budget breaking, must-have “collabs” by who knows? Eyes roll. He’s unpredictable oscillating between conservative brogues “discovered” in op shops to futuristic funksters nabbed online. He uses his own hard-earned cash. Each purchase preceded by currency conversions and number crunching then proceeded by lengthy waits as the latest rendition from some business savvy, fat cat wing their way to the end of the world.

Student of life – whose shoes? My shoes? Nah grab a mate’s. We all wear them. Bargain store finds and mass produced, chain store cheapies. They’ll do. Barefeet in summer but mind the glass out front love. Havianas for Christmas, they’re the best. Slide on jandals, head to the beach, kick them off then run, without looking back, into the sea. Saltwater soothes the skin, heals the heart.

Holding it Together

Almost fifty years ago, Chinese Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong proclaimed that Women Hold up Half the Sky.

I’m unsure if this slogan was motivated by an authentic desire for sexual equality or from a more utilitarian awareness that there was a lot of untapped resource in China. Probably the latter.

Chinese women quickly learned that the reality of economic freedom doubled their workload as they juggled long days working outside the home with sole responsibility for childcare and household chores.

In New Zealand during the 1980s, girls were told we could be and do whatever we wanted. We were encouraged to think broader than teaching and nursing as future careers and strive to be as well-educated a possible. The Girls Can Do Anything campaign became our mantra.

Of course just like the Chinese, we quickly discovered that if we also wanted to be parents, we needed to plan careers around fertility rates. Combined with the introduction of user pays tertiary education in 1990 and before the advent of paid parental leave and 20 hours free childcare, this burden could be crippling.

And then of course there’s the existence of the glass ceiling which continues to keep many women in check – especially those who choose to take time out to raise children. There’s not much time left to smash ceilings on reentering the workforce.

But I’ve digressed.

What I’ve actually been thinking about lately is how men are often viewed as a result of sharing half the sky with women.

My husband works hard both inside and outside the home for which I am grateful.

But what I struggle with is the accolades afforded to him for his contributions in areas traditionally thought of as female domains. On one occasion, visitors were blown away by his knack at folding fitted sheets. This skill (which eludes me) practically earned a standing ovation.

Many times I have been told how lucky I am that he is so helpful at home.

Why is it that a male cooking tea is applauded as a massive contribution to family life? Or a teenage male pushing a baby in a buggy, is viewed as caring and nurturing but a teenage girl is gossiped about as a slut? Why, when a male stays home to care for children is he revered as the ideal father/partner while many women returning to work with babies/toddlers struggle with guilt compounded by (perceived or real) judgement?

Of course I don’t have statistics to back this up. Just personal experience.

And I certainly don’t have the answers but it seems to me that by striving for equality on male terms, we inadvertently created a halo effect for the men who stand alongside us. Probably not what Mao Zedong had in mind but nor, I suspect, was it what the feminists of the 70s and 80s had in mind either.

What is heartening (and I really hope works for future generations) are campaigns such as #likeagirl which slams the derogatory connotations of the phrase “like a girl” in a bid to empower young women to not just change the conversation but to lead it on their terms.

Redefining like a girl might seem less lofty than holding up half the sky but take it from a class of ’89 graduate, even half the sky was impossibly heavy.

Encouraging girls to broaden occupational aspirations in the mid-80s NZ

Recalibration

Nothing like some compulsory at home time to recalibrate oneself.

After rereading my previous post, it strikes me that life’s a cycle of quiet and busy, highs and lows, ups and downs. The trick to a simple life is remembering that rainbows come after the rain and, one bad day doesn’t mean you have a bad life – enough clich├ęs for one paragraph I think!

For me recalibration means pausing, reflecting, getting my head and heart in order and forging on as best I can.

So while my youngest rests in his room, here’s a few things I’m doing to stay grounded:

  • Listening to short stories on Radio NZ
  • Making casseroles and soups to freeze for winter
  • Baking sugar buns, muffins, Belgian biscuits and ANZAC biscuits
  • Organising an Easter get together with family
  • Sorting through toy boxes for items to pass on to our grandchildren (see above)
  • Picking grapes, cleaning them and dropping down to community food stall
  • Freezing individual grapes to be used as ice cubes
  • Taking pre-read books to our Lilliput Library
  • Reading Woman magazine (a positive outcome of the 2019 lockdown was the launch of this awesome publication)

So plenty to do of course and thankful that our most recent isolation has happened before Easter, that we have warm home to rest in and food in the cupboard. What else is there?

Roll on Easter x

Brighton Beach NZ

Self-centered

Most of us have heard the adage that it’s hard to pour from an empty up.

This is especially true when juggling paid employment with raising a family and all that entails. It is even more true if your paid work is emotionally/physically taxing and, when your family is in crisis.

Ironically as our children grow and the pace of the daily grind eases a little, it’s easier to fit self-care in. I shudder to recall the days when I survivied on five hours of broken sleep while breast feeding, running a business, renovating a home and dealing with the demands of being a step-Mum all while my husband worked nights. Not a lot of time for self-care there!

But even if there had been that elusive notion of time, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. I’d become so accustomed to a frenetic pace of life and existing in a constantly stressed, heighthened state, that I still might not have prioritised myself.

When my sister-in law-died of breast cancer two years ago, my outlook shifted. Paula was a staunch proponent of self-care. She encouraged birthday celebrations, trips away, buying linen with high thread counts and freshly cut flowers, date nights with hubby and time for herself to exercise, study or spend time with friends.

Tragically, Paula is no longer here to cajole, encourage and arm twist us into following her example. But her legacy remains. She taught us many things including the importance of self-care.

Taking time to nourish yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually is vital to how you feel about yourself and life. And, to how others feel about you. I now understand that not looking after yourself also signals a lack of self-respect. If we don’t value ourselves, know and honour our worth, the world picks up on that and everything just gets harder.

Maybe that’s just a perception based on my own unqiue experiences. It certainly sounds wishy washy but even if it is, surely feeling good about yourself by taking care of yourself can’t be a bad thing.

So run the bath, meditate, walk, stretch, bake, read, write, paint, garden. Fill your home and heart with beauty and peace. Stand up for yourself and your loved ones in ways that maintain your integrity and mana. Commit to pastimes that fulfill you and spend time with people who build you up. Care for yourself as much as you care for others. It might not change the world, but it might change how you see the world and how the world sees you.

With eternal thanks to Paula x.

Hopeful and Hopeless

Sometimes it helps to have walked in another person’s shoes to understand their challenges. This is especially true when it comes to mental health and well being.

I’m not ashamed to say I’ve battled depression over the years. Siutational, genetic, hormonal, the source doesn’t matter as much as the management. Now, with tools and strategies in place, I understand why life was such a struggle at times. Hindsight is a great thing.

This knowledge and these experiences don’t make it easier when someone you love is in the depths of despair. When they can’t see a way forward. When they lose their joy. When they don’t see the amazing traits and characteristics that others see in them. When they’re hopeless.

What I learned in 2021 was not simple. It was hard and painful. My big takeaway is that while there is lots of talk around mental health, this does not always permetate in a meaningful way into many insitututions, in particular in education and in health.

Schools are extremely aware of the mental health challenges faced by many young people. You’d have to be pretty disconnected from your students not to notice the tsunami of challenges threatening to drown them these days. And you’d have to be pretty selfish not to care.

Our hospitals and counselling services are hyper-aware as they pick up the pieces on a daily basis. Six week wait times to get counselling post suicide attempts, and longer for those with “suicidal tendencies” are standard here in the South. Is it any wonder we have some of the highest suicide rates in the world?

Yet both the education and health sectors are severely under-resourced to provide the levels of support needed. There is a real, and dangerous, disconnect between the talk and the walk.

On top of this, discrimination abounds around the treatment of people once their mental health status becomes public. This can be as subtle as a throw away comment or as insidious as bullying in the myriad of forms and guises this occurs.

These attitudes are why people lie about their mental health status on job applications. As an employer, would you consider a tick in that box as a plus or a minus?

I believe a person who has the courage and strength of character to be honest about a mental health diagnosis is probably in a stronger position health-wise than the thousands of people trying to function with deperession and/or anxiety who are unsupported and struggling on a daily basis. It’s a desperately dark place to be.

Because like any health condition from dodgy thyroids to migraines , once a diagnosis is made and managed, there are positive flow on effects for a person’s productivity and wellbeing.

For 2022, I’d love to see us discuss depression and other mental health challenges as openly as dicky knees and failing eyesight. I’m desperate to see support for our rangatahi match need. I’m determined that schools educate staff about the importance of langauge use and, that leaders lead in a professional and genuine manner.

Most of all, I want the hopeless to feel hopeful.

Jack’s Point

A Fairly Accurate Tale

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a young girl accepted an invitation to join a prince on an adventure.

She worked very hard to buy a golden ticket and secure a seat on the magic Eagle that would take her to faraway lands. (The Prince already had his ticket so promised to meet her there). After 90 days working three jobs, sometimes 18 hours a day, she bade her family farewell and left her homeland to explore faraway kingdoms.

The Prince was initially pleased to be reunited with his love. He had found it hard to share a home with other young women from around the world while waiting for her. She took him at his word, was quickly escorted to another dwelling and never met the young women. For a fleeting moment, this struck her as strange. The young girl had hoped to meet them and, to explore the amazing city their passionate reunion took place in but the Prince was keen to travel further afield. Never mind she thought, I can return one day.

Another small disappointment followed. The Prince confessed that, due to attending several festivals, craic and ceilidh to fill in his time while waiting for her, he had spent all his gold coins. The young girl believed the Prince to be her One True Love, so she told him not to worry, that she would share her gold coins with him.

As they began their adventure the young girl noticed the Prince was prone to dark moods. Some days, he barely spoke to her, others he showered her with affection. It was quite confusing. Because he had spent all his gold coins, they kept their adventures simple, sleeping in forests, washing in streams and eating cheap pasta.

Sometimes the young girl caught a glimpse of a magnificent cathedral or a palace she had heard of and dreamed of one day visiting. But due to their circumstances, these often had to be bypassed in favour of simpler outings, which was a shame.

Still the young girl was reasonably happy to be seeing the world and all its wonderous sights. Except the days when the Prince got angry with her. On those days, dark clouds chased them over country roads and along city lanes. The Prince would sometimes go off alone for hours drinking in local taverns with other travellers, leaving her to look after the coach. She didn’t mind too much except when he didn’t tell her where he was going or when he would be back. Other times, he would leave her at the side of the road and speed off on the coach as tears spilled down her sun-kissed cheeks. But he generally came back.

After many weeks and months, they returned to their homeland ready to work hard again and live a happy life together.

But the Prince’s dark moods only got worse. He took a job in a far off town. When he came home, he was tired and distant. Sometimes his anger was overpowering and he would hold her tightly against a wall or lock her outside their cottage on cold winter nights. And that was okay too. Nobody noticed the bruises on her arms and she had found a blanket outside and managed to stay warm until he let her back inside.

One day, the young girl heard the postman dropping mail at their home. The sun was shining and she skipped down the driveway to find a brightly coloured card sent from a far off city. It was not the Prince’s mother as her handwriting was smaller. Nor was it her own mother’s writing. Curious, the young girl opened the letter. Her knees crumpled and her stomach lurched as she read the contents. On pretty pink paper was a short letter for the Prince from another, younger girl in the far away town. In the letter the younger girl declared her love for the Prince and her wish that they could be together soon.

That night, her face freshly washed and her hair brushed, the young girl gathered her courage together and showed the letter to the Prince. Initially the Prince vehemently denied her claims, accusing her of disloyalty and banging his fist loudly on the table. When the young girl pointed out the letter contained some very personal information, the Prince conceded. They had met. But only once. He cried and asked the young girl if she would accept his hand in marriage.

The young girl went to bed but she did not sleep.

The next day she travelled to the far away city and visited the younger girl who, although surprised, confirmed that she had indeed had a relationship with the Prince and, that they had met more than once.

She returned home, heartbroken.

The Prince was waiting outside. When she told him what she had done, he became very, very angry. Once his anger subsided, the Prince invited the young girl to spend the night with him, so that their story might end on a positive note.

The young girl declined his offer and he left the cottage very, very, very angry.

From that day on, the young girl swore she would never ever rely on a prince to make her happy. She would make and save her own golden coins and learn to be kind to herself. These things did not come to pass immediately but they did eventually come to pass.

And the much wiser woman lived happily ever after.

The Little Things

On pretty much a daily basis, my friend and I share encouragements.

Encouragements are sayings encapsulating life rules. Once immortalised in cross stich, framed and hung on lounge walls nowadays, they’re more likely to be found via social media.

At first glance they may appear (to the cynical) cliched, trite and possibly as a bit try-hard. Your perspective may be influenced somewhat by the accompanying graphics and certainly by your mindset.

My friend and I are both reasonably intelligent, worldly-wise women. Well, we like to think so, yet the collective wisdom summarised in a few simply constructed sentences resonates.

Even more reassuring is the act of sharing them. As my phone pings an alert, it’s as if she is reaching out and rubbing my back across the miles. Some make me smile, others make me wince. They speak to my past hurts and my future potential. They soothe me in the present.

I suspect that even more importantly they signal a deep, inherent understanding that the sender gets me. This human being who has seen me at my best and my worst recognises those hurts, encourages me to rise above them and to put myself first. In the selection and sharing, she is telling me that she cares. That I am doing ok, I am ok and that this too shall pass.

It’s a special kind of friendship I suppose where two people understand each other like that. Maybe we’re both sentimental fools but I doubt it. Life hasn’t dealt us too many cards that allow for that kind of luxury, especially this year where we’ve been dealt more than one sucker punch, a few kicks to the guts and a life altering king hit.

We don’t have time for long meandering phone calls, don’t see each other as often as we’d like to but in those brief moments of shared kindness, we lift each other up. And that’s what really matters, more than the sage advice.

So here are the last three encouragements sent to me, make of them what you will but I intend to follow the well-worn words while basking in the afterglow of the loving, unconditional friendship they represent.

“Start over, my darling. Be brave enough to find the life you want and courageous enough to chase it. Then start over and love yourself the way you were always meant to.”

Madalyn Beck

“Don’t feel bad for making decisions that upset other people. You’re not responsible for their happiness, you’re responsible for yours.

“No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. But any amount of gratitude changes the present.”

Brighton NZ – Michelle Budge

Parenting Through the Years

It comes to all of us at some point.

It’s a strange epiphany. You start off needing your parents for everything. Then you realise that despite their flaws they’re still in charge and life’s not fair and you butt heads. Lots.

Then you fly the nest, one way or another, and attempt to make sense of life yourself. In the blink of any eye you become a parent and now it’s all on you. You try your best. Try to do some things differently to your parents because your cognisant of past hurts and some things the same ’cause it wasn’t all bad.

Next your kids becomes teens and you have another epiphany – parents are human beings. You do the best for your children but they don’t always see it like that. Sometimes you butt heads. Maybe your folks were just doing their best with the tools they had, products of their own upbringings flawed as they may also have been?

And then, just when you think you have your head around this parenting gig, your parents start ageing. They walk a little slower, misplace things (not a new habit for some), forget stuff and talk about the past – a lot. They experience a health scare, lose people they love and suddenly they seem smaller. They are smaller.

Then one day, you speak your truth and instead of it erupting into a heated debate, they listen. There’s a look, a moment of reflection. It makes you feel both sad and relieved. You’re left a bit at sea. Flabbergasted. Discombobulated. We had an adult conversation about a hard, shit topic and we’re still talking.

What just happened?

What happened is the result of decades of love, laughter, pain and tears. It’s that moment of connection when you see fear and loss and pain and suffering and you address it. When the child steps up and grabs their parent’s hand. Not because you have the answers, because sometimes there are none, but because the time is right. Something seismic has shifted in the core of your relationship.

It’s scary, inevitable and little bit wonderful. Even in the grimmest of moments, you know what you just experienced is proof of a bond that was always there but is now, finally, tethered.

Circa 1972

Honest Simplicity

When you’ve suddenly got time on your hands (aka lockdown), initially the possibilities of how to use that time seem endless.

And then after a couple of days, suddenly, the extra time looms overhead like a southern front approaching the beach. You can see it, you know it’s there, you know you should be doing something about it but somehow, you just bury your toes a little deeper in the warm sand and look the other way.

Blogging is a bit like that. Ideas, ideas, ideas. There are plenty floating around in your head but when you sit down to write, the inner critic imposes a massive hand brake. No, not that because it’ll sound trite, better steer clear of that least you offend x, that’s been done to death which leads to – there are no original thoughts anyway so why am I wasting time here?

Yet when I look back at the posts that have resonated most strongly, they’re normally those I’ve written from the heart, ignored the inner critic and stuck with what I know – something I’ve been advising teenagers about the writing process for a decade now.

So what’s honestly going on in our small corner of the world? And how do I feel about it? Do I have anything sage to add to the millions of words currently being constructed by vulnerable human beings trying to make sense of stuff? Still doubtful but here it is anyway.

We’re in Level 4 Lockdown. That means only essential services are open. Essential services are hospitals, pharmacies, petrol stations and supermarkets. We can’t go anywhere past our neighbourhood to exercise, must stay 2m apart and must wear face masks when leaving home. Our home is now our bubble. No one else in or out.

What that honestly feels like oscillates between a sense of gratitude for a warm home, food in the pantry and a family to care for to rising anxiety over the length of the lockdown, needing to get food at some point, returning to work and a growing knot of concern about the long term impacts on our children’s lives, the economy and the planet in general.

It’s a lot to think about.

We’ve been lucky in Aotearoa New Zealand that due to taking hard measures quickly last time around, the past 10 months have been pretty normal. We made sacrifices and in return got some sense of normality back. Now, in the space of a few hours, we’ve been dealt a sharp dose of reality. And it sucks.

Those of us with family living overseas are already familiar with the pain of long absences. But now we have the added worry of possibly never seeing loved ones again. Ever.

So what does that all add up to. Honestly? I worry about Mum who lives overseas, Dad who is unwell, my oldest son who is in a University Hall not far from home but not home, my youngest son who doesn’t enjoy being cooped up, a friend whose father died overseas this week, another friend’s daughter who is undergoing chemotherapy amongst the chaos, my students who will be struggling with school work and for some, home life…

And the only way through is to keep going. Keep ticking jobs off the list, checking in on people you love, offering help over the fence, finding joy in simple pleasures, and being honest – with yourself and others.

As a wise person said to me earlier this week – sometimes just showing up is being strong.

Approaching front, Ocean View – Michelle Budge

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