inspiration, life, Personal, self care

5 Lessons My Sons Have Taught Me.

IMG_2966As a parent, you spend a lot of time teaching your kids stuff – how to do basic tasks, why manners are important, how to share when you don’t want to, and why it’s a really bad idea to stab that slug that crept into the dishwasher.

 

But we learn from our children too, most often without being aware of it. With the arrival of 2019 I found myself reflecting on some lessons I have learned from my sons.

 

Taking action on a fear lessens it

This is one of those lessons you learn because you’re teaching it – a case of practice what you preach. I will often get paralysed by fear of bills or the fear of inadequacy. When I was terrified about sending out queries my sons reminded me that I always tell them to face their fears.

 

They were right.

 

I’ve seen them face down fear of public speaking, of telling the teacher they haven’t done their homework, of zooming down a big hill, of embarrassment, and of catching public transport by themselves. I’ve seen them learn that the fear is soon over and that once the action is taken and a decision is made the fear subsides. The movie ‘We Bought A Zoo’ has one of my favourite quotes about courage:

 

You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.

 

This last year I wanted to run away from my writing a great deal but I remembered the look in my sons’ faces when they conquered a fear and I did it anyway.

 

Being useful provides a good sense of self efficacy

 

Recently my parents came around to help us make my garden into something beautiful. The boys dug holes, planted the roses they’d chosen, carried clippings, mowed lawns, weeded. The next weekend they cleaned off the deck and helped clear the garage. They didn’t necessarily start out keen about these things but at the end both of them felt proud of themselves, they felt energised and capable. They had been useful, helpful, and active. All these things help build a view of ourselves as effective and help build our self esteem.

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Patience is more than a virtue, it is a kindness

 

Many, many times, I have wanted to rush my kids through some less than scintillating recount of their latest computer game escapades before my brain explodes. I’ve wanted to rush the bedtime story to get to bed myself or to get on with my own writing or reading. But every time that I have stopped and relaxed into it, been patient with their enthusiasm, their chatter, their slow stories, I’ve seen the pleasure in their faces. Being patient with them and their follies, their passions, their mistakes, their stress about their homework, is a kindness. It shows them that they are valued. They know I don’t love computer games – what they take from this is that I love them. I have a tendency to be impatient in some circumstances but when I remind myself to practice patience I am always reminded that what I am practicing is kindness.

 

And what you reap is joy.

 

One of my best memories is going with my kids to North Head – there are a bunch of old military tunnels and slopes to ride down on cardboard, and seaside caverns to explore. Often on a day trip we go we do the thing and I’m “Okay we gotta go, we’ve done the thing, let’s go.” This day I didn’t. I was patient with them. I listened to the long stories and thoughts and I followed them wherever they wanted to go. We explored that whole darn place. I had so much fun seeing their excitement and pleasure in discovering new things.

 

You also, when you’re patient with the world, see magic.

‘Quick we’re going to be late! Quick! Why have you Stopped!’

‘Look Mum!’

‘What? What are we doing?’

‘Just look!’

There, on his finger, picked up from the fence, was a perfect dew drop, shimmering in the sunlight.

Magic. 

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I took this photo towards the end of last year. I was so entranced by the beauty of these dew drops. I’m glad I stopped to look.

Sometimes you can’t fix things

 

Sometimes things suck. Sometimes you lose everything you’ve worked hard to collect on Roblox and you feel devastated. Sometimes you have to go between two different houses and two different parents and you have to deal with all your conflicted feelings about it. Sometimes you have to go to family things and not the cool thing with your friends. Sometimes you feel scared and sad and lonely and you can’t just wish the feelings away.

 

Being a parent all you want to do is make sure your kids are happy. When you’re able to rebuild the destroyed Ninjago dragon lego the dog knocked over (without instructions!!) you feel like a superhero.

 

But lots of times you can’t do that.

 

My oldest son was bullied a lot in primary school. I could help some, but I couldn’t make it go away. I’ve learned so much about acceptance and about positivity and about holding my kids while they cry for half an hour – not telling them it’s all okay because they know it isn’t, but just letting them know that I am there and they aren’t alone. I’ve learned about respecting people’s distress even if you don’t think Minecraft is anything to cry about.

 

Encouragement and Support goes both ways.

 

This last year was incredibly difficult for me (hence the lack of blogging). My sons have been the most extraordinary cheerleaders and supporters. The care and love they give me has lifted me from spiralling sadness so very many times. I didn’t exactly wander around weeping in front of them, but I was open with them about my battle through depression, I was open with them about my initial hurt over my writing being rejected, I was open with them about my insecurities about my writing, and my struggle to feel ‘enough’. I don’t want to burden them but I think sometimes knowing someone is sad but not why can be very upsetting for kids. My sons were able to cheer me, to remind me to be strong, to let me know they loved me regardless of what I saw as failings, and to show me through small but precious ways that they respect and value me for who I am and what I do.

 

I have always strived to support and encourage and cheerlead my kids. To show them that I’m on the side lines and on their side. Knowing that they were wanting to do the same for me was one of the biggest blessings of a difficult year.

let down five

inspiration, life, Personal

Unique or not? We share more than we don’t, and that’s pretty wonderful.

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This week I was challenged by Tiffany Crystal to write a post on something I have encountered or experienced that I’m pretty sure no-one else would have.

I really struggled to think of something.

I’m not the only person to fall down Mt Ngauruhoe. I’m not the only person to have scars all over their face.

I’m not the only person to run off stage crying before her solo song (oh god, I hope I’m not the only one…)

I’m certainly not the only person to have a bad relationship and a broken marriage.

I’m not the only one to have to face illness of loved ones or the suicide of close friends.

I’m not the only one to get in the middle of two massive teenage boys fighting and get them to back down (“Back off. Pretty soon you’re going to hit me, and I really don’t think you want to hit me. You need to back away”)

I don’t even know if I and my flatmates are the only ones to face a possum coming down our chimney and the police coming to our rescue (Yes, that happened. Yes, it was as embarrassing as it sounds)

I don’t even think I’m the only one to ever face the embarrassment of going for a cheek kiss when the kaumatua is going for a hongi and ending up kissing him on the nose.

This made me think about how ‘unique’ my life has really been. Maybe all the important and defining and funny moments are just the same as everyone else’s.

But then, a student said to me the other day:

“Miss, when are you going to write your autobiography?”

“Oh, I don’t think I’m nearly interesting enough for an autobiography!”

“I think you are, Miss.”

This made me think about stories, and voice. There are lots and lots of different stories in the world, but really only a few that get told time and again in different ways. What makes a story truly unique is the person telling it – their voice. We hear often as writers – no-one can tell your story the way you can. It’s the same for life. No-one can live your life the way you can.

It’s like if I had a whole heap of pretty blocks and paper and glitter and pipe cleaners and glue and asked a group of people to each make something that represented them. They would start with the same materials, and what they built might be similar, but each would be different, depending on their vision and their skill.

That’s life.

It’s actually really reassuring knowing that we share more than we don’t. When things were very bad with my marriage and directly after we separated, and I was struggling to understand what had gone wrong, I found a website where many people had shared very similar experiences to mine. It was at once saddening that others had gone through the same thing but a huge relief to see my story played out again and again by strangers. We don’t feel so alone in our experience if we know others have felt it too.

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I am, however, possibly, the only one who has rung back a number to leave a message stating ‘Hi, it’s Clementine from the Auckland University History Department library here, just calling to let you know that Hitler and Germany invaded Warsaw on the 8th of September. Have a good day.’

So there’s that.

What about you? Have you encountered or experienced something you think it’s unlikely that others have? Let me know in the comments!

inspiration, life, self care

The masks we wear – how they help, and how they hinder.

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“Put your game face on”.

 

Often we don’t share our vulnerabilities or our inner selves with everyone. Some of us have different personas, different masks, for different situations and groups of people. Masks are pretty common, even when we think we’re an open person.

 

There are many reasons we wear masks. Probably the most common is for protection.

 

We wear a mask that hides who we really are to protect our authentic self from the hurt of rejection. It is vulnerability that we hide by avoiding the acknowledgement of what worries or frightens us. So, for instance, we maintain a facade of brightly smiling ‘I’m fine thanks’ when inside our loneliness or insecurities is a burden.

 

We wear a mask to try to keep up with the expectations of other people – filters on selfies, make up on before leaving the house, never asking for help or directions.

 

Some people wear different faces in different surroundings so that, for instance, work mates never see their raver side and their raver friends never see their serious academic side.

 

We take on roles as well, that are masks of a sort. These can be affirming but can also lead to imposter syndrome – everyone tells me I am good at something so I behave as if I am but.. what if i’m not??

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When we wear a mask we can feel ‘safer’ but at what cost? Research shows that when people wear a physical mask that conceals their identity they are more likely to engage in behaviours that are anti-social and unlike themselves. I’m not saying that putting on your game face to protect yourself from rejection will lead to anti-social behaviour, but I do think it can be an obstacle to being that authentic self, and therefore an obstacle to making strong social connections.

 

I have written before about seeking to be as authentic in life as possible, so it won’t be a surprise that I am in favour of shedding masks to show people who we really are. I am a very open person and have, 9 times out of 10, never regretted showing people who I really am and how I really feel.

 

Masks that help us:

 

Firstly – sometimes we do need to conceal our emotions. It isn’t appropriate for me as a teacher to let my inner turmoil be apparent to my students. I’m very fortunate in that my workmates are friends, but in many workplaces too there is a level of professionalism that requires stoicism. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ask for help if we need it, more that a mask of stoicism helps us function in a professional setting despite significant emotional stress.

 

Secondly – fake it til you make it. Masks can be helpful in convincing us that we can actually do something.

“Dress for the job you want”

Research has shown that when children dress as batman they are more focused in class and attempt all tasks, therefore being more likely to achieve all tasks.

 

Those of you who have read my post on overcoming fear will remember that when i was 15 I fell down Mt Ngauruhoe, smashing open my face. This left me with a lingering fear of steep slippery slopes. When I returned to the mountain as a teacher, I knew I could not have a break down in front of my students. The mask of a competent and in control adult slipped over my face and I was able (with the help of another adult on the trip) to face my fear and walk across the saddle.

 

As with many things in life, it’s how we use our masks that determines whether they help or hinder us. The moment they restrict us from feeling able to access help, or from being who we really are, then we know we should probably drop them.
Dropping your mask can be scary, but it can also be liberating.

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inspiration, Musings on Fiction and Tropes

Responsibility for our Actions – Lessons from Captain America: Civil War

Captain America Civil War giphy

 

I love action movies. Recently, though, I’ve really started noticing the destruction. I’ve started thinking about the impact on the rest of the people, wondering who gets to clean it up, who was in the car that flipped and spun into the oncoming truck. My mind tracks forward into the emergency rooms and onto the weeping families.  I’ve wondered if perhaps it hits home a bit more because after increased bombings in many countries and the global connectedness we now share, it is no longer destruction that is limited to the ‘other’, to war, or to fantasy.

 

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This is one of the reasons I love Captain America: Civil War. The whole movie, for me at least, focuses on choice and responsibility; whether to save the world you have to risk destroying it.

 

It begins with Wanda making a mistake that kills innocent civilians in Lagos in the fight to contain a biological weapon. This is closely followed by Tony Stark being confronted by the mother of a young man killed in the collateral damage of the fight against Ultron in Sokovia. This affects Tony greatly, leading him to tell the rest of the Avengers:

 

“he wanted to make a difference but we’ll never know because we dropped a building on him when we were kicking ass.”

 

He is not the only one to feel guilt. Wanda feels the responsibility of the deaths of innocents in Lagos deeply.  A line that really struck me was when Steve says to Wanda:

 

‘we have to find a way to live with it, or maybe next time no-one gets saved.” 

 

This brings up the idea of sacrifice – both in terms of collateral damage and sacrifice in terms of their peace of mind.

 

The movie then focuses on responsibility.  This is something that I don’t often see addressed in big action movies where the excitement is in the bangs and the chases. The Avengers are forced to consider signing the Sokovia Accords, which would put them under a centralised international control. The debate over this reveals some great perspectives on personal and collective responsibility.

 

Tony argues for a higher power to give them limits.

 

“If we can’t accept limitations, we’re boundary less. We’re no better than the bad guys.”

 

I think we need to see this in the context of the actions he’s taken since becoming Iron Man. He is a man who used to take no responsibility or thought to where the weapons his company made ended up. When he became Iron Man he changed –  He got rid of the arms manufacturing branch of the business, he was able to sacrifice himself for the good of the world, he saw the impact of his company’s actions in Avengers: Age of Ultron, while still going ahead and doing things without even the blessing of his team. He’s a complicated man and I think he knows that, for him, the security of someone else taking the responsibility by imposing limitations is welcome.

 

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Captain America’s response shows a very different interpretation of responsibility:

 

 “If someone dies on your watch you don’t give up. We are if we’re not taking responsibility for our actions. This document shifts the blame.”

 

He sees the Sokovia Accords as something that not only limits their actions but limits their responsibility. He’s happy with neither. This makes sense as he points out to Tony:

 

Steve: If i see a situation pointing south I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could

Tony: No you don’t.

Steve: No, I don’t.

 

This was seen before he even became Captain America when it was highlighted how he couldn’t let bullies continue without confronting them, even though he was tiny and weak and became their target.

 

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The recurring theme that if you CAN do something you MUST do something is echoed when Tony recruits Spiderman. Peter says:

 

‘when you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.”

 

 

Jean Paul Sartre’s idea of absolute responsibility for one’s actions and how it relates to choice is something I have written about here.  He argued that we have a burden of responsibility for our lives because we have individual freedom of consciousness, meaning that we can choose the way we feel, the way we behave, the things we do, even within a restrictive social framework. When you choose to be a bystander, when you could have done something, the responsibility for that lies on you. When you choose to not step in when you are the only one who could have done something that responsibility levels up.

 

Having a choice, having a conscience, means we need to act when we can. It also means we need to take responsibility for our actions – both good and bad.

inspiration, life, motivation

Life is better when you find your cheerleaders

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Life is often tough, in many different ways. Self-doubt, economic struggle, confusion, emotional pain, lack of motivation. They all suck. They all help to convince you that whatever your goal is it is unobtainable.

 

That’s where cheerleaders come in. Not quite the ones with the pompoms although, you know, each to their own, but the ones who are there on the sidelines, giving their all to help you move onwards to where you want to be.

 

I was literally writing this post and chatting at the same time (because we love to multitask) to writing friends on Twitter. We were talking about trying to get lots of different tasks done and how its always such a balancing act. What happened next is an example of why I love this community and how important the cheerleading squad is:

 

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The writing community on Twitter is a vibrant and wonderful place! The @WriteFightGifClub is a group of amazing people who have fun and go crazy but at the same time they help with writing questions, beta read for each other, and give both emotional and practical encouragement on a regular basis. I am a happier person and a better, and braver, writer because of them. There are many amazing writing communities and groups on Twitter and finding your tribe, your group of people, or collecting them all (like pokemon) makes for a wonderful extended family of cheerleaders. Writers understand self doubt. They’ve experienced rejection and setbacks. They want to learn, they want to get better, and they want to help others get better. I’m sure it’s the same for many other likeminded communities on Twitter, but I do have to say that writers, in my experience, are particularly kind and welcoming.

 

It doesn’t have to come from someone who is doing the same as you either. I have a friend at school who knows I’m writing. I’ve been trying to get up at 5am every morning to get writing done before school and this hasn’t been easy for me as I’m much more of an owl than a lark. Whenever I see him he asks if I did any writing that morning; he high fives me when I do well, he listens with interest to my ramblings about my story, he makes it clear that he thinks what I’m doing is worthwhile and that I’m doing it well. He’s not a writer, but because he’s cheering me on he makes me feel like I can do it, like I want to do it.

 

Encouragement gives us a reason to keep going.

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Cheerleaders are like gold. There are always people who will tell you that you can’t do it, or helpfully point out all the obstacles in the way. The ones who lift you over the obstacles or pick you up out of the mud when you fall off them and cheer you on as you try again (or let you cry on their shoulder for a bit when you really just can’t, and then cheer you on) are the ones you want to surround yourself with. I have written before about facing vulnerability and fear and the importance of letting other people help you when you are faced with difficulties you don’t think you could overcome.

 

The great thing about having a cheer squad is that you become a cheerleader too. There is something wonderful about being able to support and help someone else. As a teacher we do it all the time with our students, and there is a wonderful Ted Talk by Rita Pierson – Every Child Needs a Champion that outlines the benefit to children of this cheerleading, this championing. But we need it too as adults. And we need to make sure we give it to other adults, whoever they are and whatever stage they are at.

 

Imagine a world where every person had a champion.

 

We can’t make that happen for everyone, but we can at least do it for the people around us. Take the time to find out what your friends, family, workmates are wanting to achieve, what they love, what they are anxious about. Make the effort to ask how they’re going and to cheer them on from the sidelines.

 

Find your cheerleaders. Be a cheerleader. Be a champion.