Category Archives: Life With Kids

Parenting, Helplessness, and a Brand New Adventure

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Photo by Flickr user darkday

Master Nine came home from school one day in February and burst into tears. “No one likes me,” he said. “Everyone’s mean to me.”

My heart froze. I would do anything to have my children avoid the type of bullying I went through as a child. And yet here he was, saying the exact words that I remember saying at his age. I wanted to scream and shout and wrap my arms around him and never let him go. But before I did anything, I took a deep breath. It was possible — only possible, mind you — that I was overreacting.

After all, he was eight. And it’s developmentally normal for children his age to go through a period where they feel like no one likes them; where they feel like they have no friends as they take place in normal social push-and-pull power plays.

So I listened to him, and I gave him a hug, and l I told him it would be all right.

I was wrong.

By the end of March, Master Nine no longer wanted to go to school.  He no longer wanted to go anywhere. He was scared. All the time. Of school, yes, but also of everything else. He was terrified of familiar stories; of movies he’d seen a hundred times; of the thoughts in his head; of new people and old friends and leaving the house. He couldn’t get to sleep. And when he finally did, collapsing from exhaustion, he’d be woken by nightmares once, twice, three times a night.

Every night.

By April, he was suffering panic attacks every night. He’d lie in bed thinking about having to go to school the next day, and then stagger out, hours later, whimpering and struggling to breathe. I’d put a hand on his chest and feel his heartbeat, like fluttering hummingbird wings inside his chest, then hold his ice-cold hands while I helped him calm down; breathing with him, in and out, and gently reassuring him that he was okay. Eventually, he’d collapse against me and sob himself into a restless sleep, and I’d carry him back to bed.

One day in mid-April, when I was encouraging Master Nine (yet again) to tell the teacher if someone made him feel upset or uncomfortable, he looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do to stop them. Not even the teachers can stop them. There’s no point trying.”

I cried.

I cried for his pain. I cried for my own. I cried for eight-year-old me who felt exactly like the same way, and desperately wanted an adult to step in and make everything better. I cried for current-day me, because now I was that adult. And I still didn’t know what to do.

I thought I’d felt helpless as a child. But being a parent, watching you child feeling helpless, and still being helpless yourself? Helplnessness to the power of infinity.

We need help, like quick, on the double

One morning in late April, Master Nine snuck into my bedroom and said, “Mummy, I think I need to go to the doctor.”

“Okay, Sweetheart. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. But everybody hates me, so something must be wrong with me. If we go to the doctor, she can give me some medicine to make me normal.”

Once upon a time, about six months ago, Master Nine was a confident young man who didn’t hesitate to talk to people — whether adults or children — and wouldn’t let me go with him into doctor’s offices. So on the day that we went to the doctor — after many hugs and reassurances from me that he is not only normal but perfect just the way he is — I realised just how much he’d changed.

He flat-out refused to talk tot he doctor without me, clinging to my arm like a tired two-year-old and not making eye contact with anyone else in the waiting room. When we went into the doctor’s office, he hunched his shoulders over and hid behind my back, then collapsed into a chair, pulled his knees up to his chest, and pulled the hood of his hoodie up over his head so he could hide in its shadows. Over the next ten minutes, Master Nine answered the doctor’s questions in whispered monosyllables . He said only one full sentence during that visit; one full sentence in response to a question about what makes him feel happy: “I don’t remember what it feels like to be happy.”

We didn’t get magic medicine. But we did get a referral to a child psychologist.

At his first appointment, I took Master Nine into the psychologist’s office and waited for him to be engrossed in an activity before quietly making my way back out to the waiting room. The psychologist talked to Master Nine for almost an hour, and then called me in. “He’s highly intelligent, isn’t he?” was the first thing she said to me. “Such a conceptual thinker.”

In the psychologist’s opinion, Master Nine had a healthy attachment to me and the rest of the family, felt completely secure and at ease at home, but was struggling to deal with the trauma of the bullying he’d endured. Her biggest concern was that he’d lost confidence in his own ability to tell friend from foe — he’d developed trust issues. She suggested he start a new social activity — one completely unrelated to his school or anyone he already knew — to get some social “wins” on the board, and taught me some relaxation exercises to use to help him with his sleeping.

Things started to improve a little. But only a little. The relaxation exercises helped him sleep, and nightmares became less frequent. But he still hated school. His reading ability was getting worse and worse, and he was too scared he’d get a question wrong to practice any maths. I started to get concerned not only about his emotional wellbeing, but also about how his emotional wellbeing was affecting his learning. And then, towards the end of May, he started telling me that he couldn’t remember whole chunks of time. A particular example that stayed with me was the time he remembered going into class, then the teacher raising her voice. The next thing he remembered, the teacher was crouched in front of him, gently suggesting he go out to lunch. That’s when he realised the class was over, and all the other kids had already gone outside.

Decision-making is hard

I started thinking about pulling Master Nine out of school back in March — back when his anxiety symptoms were starting to worry me. But I persevered, trying to make things work out. I probably did so for far too long, in retrospect; not trusting myself to make the right decision. I second, third, and fourth-guessed myself.

  • Was I projecting? Did I think things were worse than they really were because of what I’d been through as a child?
  • Was I being over-protective? Was this something he needed to experience to help him grow? Would removing him from the situation stunt his emotional growth?
  • Was this experience something that would pass? Was it a storm in a teacup?
  • Was this experience teaching him resilience and courage? If I removed him from the situation, would that just teach him to run away when things got hard?

I didn’t trust myself to make the decision. And so no decision was made. Right up until a day came when I tried to drop Master Nine off at school and he literally couldn’t get out of the car. Every time he put his feet on the ground, he started shaking and retching convulsively. His skin had turned a distressing shade of grey, and his hands were freezing cold. I closed the car door, got back in, and drove away.

We saw his psychologist later that day. She listened to me describe what had happened, talked to him for an hour, then told me exactly what I didn’t want (but needed) to hear: “He’s suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms. You need to get him out of that environment. Now.”

I withdraw him that afternoon.

Playing the blame game…

The first instinct of people on hearing about something like this is to cast about for who to blame. Well, here’s what I think: Playing the blame game is counter-productive, unhelpful, and irrelevant. And I have no interest in doing it.

I don’t blame the children who bullied him. Firstly, because they’re good kids — I’ve known most of them since they were five years old. And while their behaviour led Master Nine to a place of trauma, it hasn’t (to my knowledge) had the same effect on the other children. Besides, children will inevitably push boundaries and see what happens. It’s how they learn about the world.  They need guidance to help them develop empathy and socially acceptable behaviour. If they don’t get that guidance… well, we’ve all read Lord of the Flies, haven’t we?

But I certainly don’t blame the parents. Again, I’ve known most of them for years. They’re all wonderful, loving, generous, kind people, doing everything they can to raise their children to be just as wonderful, loving, generous, and kind.

It would be easy to blame the school, but easy isn’t the same as right. I do believe there were some systemic issues that contributed to the situation, however as soon as I spoke to the staff about them, changes were made. The teachers and admin staff were responsive and open and caring. They did everything they could to change and manage and improve things for Master Nine. And I thank them for that.

If I was forced to lay the blame somewhere, however, I would lay it at the feet of our society as a whole, which simultaneously condemns and endorses bullying. But that’s a discussion for another day.

New Adventures, Dead Ahead!

Since the day I told Master Nine that he didn’t have to go back to that school, he’s been getting better. It’s a slow process, and sometimes it feels like two steps forward, seventeen steps back, but we’re getting there. We celebrate the little milestones along the way: A week without nightmares. Two weeks without a panic attack. Talking to a shopkeeper. Attending social activities by himself.

Our Homeschool Emblem

Our Homeschool Emblem

And on Monday we start our next grand adventure.

For the next six months (at least) I will be homeschooling him. It’s not something I expected to be doing, and I am heartbroken about the events that brought us to this point, but I’m excited for the future. And that, my friends, is the lesson I hope Master Nine takes away from this. Not that bullies can’t be beaten, or that running away is the solution, but that all hard times come to an end, and the future shines bright.

 

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The now and then of books

file0002103651804Master Eight is fascinated with hearing about “the olden days” at the moment. Sadly, the days he means when he uses that phrase are the days of my own childhood. I keep trying to tell him that, no, it’s my parents who grew up in the olden days, but to no avail. As far as he’s concerned, my childhood is closer to the age of the dinosaurs than to the present reality of his every day life.

A few months ago, I told him the story of the day I was born.

“My mum, Nana, started feeling funny,” I said, “and had pains in her back. My dad was worried about her, and decided to call the doctor to check if he should be doing anything. But they didn’t have a phone at their house, so he had to run down the street — in his pyjamas (this elicited the laugh I expected) — to the pay phone and call the doctor. The doctor said: ‘Son, your wife’s having a baby. Take her to the hospital!’ And a little while later, I was born.”

Master Eight listened in rapt attention, giggled in the right places, and nodded along. When I finished telling the story, he looked confused for a minute and asked, “Why didn’t they have a phone in their house?”

I explained that, back in those days, not everyone had a phone in their house, so they had to use pay phones. He still looked confused, and then his face filled with understanding. “Oh!” he said. “And his mobile was out of battery!”

I think that moment, more than any other, made me realise exactly how removed his childhood is from mine — he lives in a world where not having a landline is fine, but not having a mobile phone is inconceivable. A world where not being able to look up information immediately from the comfort of your phone or laptop is an alien concept. A world where communication takes place instantly or never — there is no in between.

Since then, I’ve noticed it more and more in the books we read together. Sometimes when I’m reading him Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or Norton Juster, he looks at me and asks why people didn’t just use their phones. Or why they didn’t just google in the information.

I’ve spoken to people who feel this disconnect makes those older stories incomprehensible to children of today, or who avoid reading stories that will confuse young readers. Me? I take a different view.

Every gap in understanding that results in a question about technology is a window into a conversation about the way the world has changed, and a brainstorming session on how the world of the future will look. And, let me tell you this. If it turns out half as wonderous as my son imagines, it’s going to be a bright and shiny future.

I hope I’m here to see it.

(This post was inspired by Owen Duffy’s The books I loved as a child have lasted — but the world has changed.)

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It’s My Birthday, It’s Not All About You

DSCN1591

When I was growing up, there were a few things that were constants when it came to birthdays. No matter where in the world we were living, who we were with, or what the weather was like, my birthday was all about me.

I got presents.

I got attention.

I got a cake.

I got to choose what we had for dinner.

Really, isn’t that what birthdays are all about? Celebrating the birth of someone? Giving them just one day a year where it really, truly is all about them?

So it came as a huge shock when, a few years ago, I discovered that there are people out there who don’t think the same way. 

I first came across this phenomenon in a toy shop of all places. The lady in line in front of me was buying a series of toys. “Its my daughter’s birthday,” she explained to the cashier. Then she looked at the mountain of presents she was buying and said, “But, of course, I always give a little something to my other children so they don’t feel left out. It gets quite expensive when you have seven kids.”

Um, yeah. It would.

Judging by the number of toys she was buying, all seven of them were getting an equal number of gifts — obviously so no one felt “left out”. I imagine that having to do that seven times a year was pretty financially draining. I was a little horrified by the concept, but figured she was an anomaly — that I would be unlikely to ever run across another person who thought siblings should get presents on someone’s birthday.

I was wrong.

It happened first on Master Six’s birthday (he was only turning five at the time). Someone brought along a present for Master Three and said, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

“It’s fine!” I said. “He doesn’t need a present. It’s not his birthday.”

But it kept happening. Apparently there are more than a few people in the world who think that children are incapable of understanding that they get presents on their birthday, not on their brother’s birthday.

This, to me, reeks of the same kind of silliness that results in “medals for everyone!” and “prizes for everyone!” Imagine, if you will, a world where children never learn that sometimes, just sometimes, the world does not revolve around them. Imagine, if you will, a world where a fully grown adult says, “But it’s your birthday! I gave you a present. Why didn’t you give me a present? I feel really left out…”

It’s crazy.

But what, exactly, do you think it teaches children to believe about themselves and the world when you make a fuss of them on someone else’s special day, just in case they feel left out?

And what does it teach the Birthday Boy (or Girl)?

I can tell you that, as a child, I watched my brother and sister get fussed over on their birthday, and I was thrilled for them. Because it was their special day. And because, in a few months time, it would be my special day, and I would get all the attention for myself.

I want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because they have done something special, or because we’re celebrating their special achievement or day. I don’t want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because someone else has done something  worthy of celebration. I don’t want my children to grow up with the expectation that they will be rewarded because someone else has done something worthy of celebration.

That’s just crazytalk.

So I’ve made a decision. I’ve told people it’s not necessary to bring a sibling-present on birthdays. I’ve asked people not to bring a sibling-present on birthday. So from now on, whenever one of my children is given a gift on their brother’s birthday “so they don’t feel left out”, I’m going to take that gift away. They can have it back on their own birthday.

You know, the day that is all about them.

What do you think about presents to stop siblings feeling left out?

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A Mother’s Pride and a Helping Hand

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We were driving home today during peak hour, and found ourselves stopped at a red light. The boys were playing and singing in the back seat. I happened to glance out the window and see the guy in the car next to us — in the turning lane — struggling to start his car. It had obviously stalled (or something worse), and he was getting more and more flustered as each turn of his key resulted in… nothing.

“Aw, dude…” I muttered. I remember all too well the times I’ve been in a similar situation. Fortunately, it’s been many years since the last occurrence, but I recall the heat that rushed up my neck and across my face, the sense of shame and anxiety, the desperation… The guilt as other cars were held up on their journey, or had to drive around my broken-down car. All of those emotions came back in a rush as I watched this stranger turn his key on. Off. On. Off.

I gestured out the window. “The poor guy’s having trouble with his car. He can’t get it started.” I looked around. Both our cars were second back from the front, and the lights were red. “Maybe I can jump out and help him.”“What’s wrong, Mummy?” Master Six asked.

But just as I said that, both traffic lights went green. The guy with the broken-down car put his hazard lights on and climbed out of his vehicle. And the car behind honked its horn. I was holding  up peak hour traffic.

I had no choice but to start driving. But as I did, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the driver of the car behind broken-down-guy climbing out of his car as well. At least he was going to get some help to get his car off the road.

“Mummy!” Master Six said from the back seat. “Wait! Where are you going? We have to help him!”

“I’m sorry, “I said. “I can’t stop here. I have to move.”

That was clearly not enough.

“I’d like to stop, but then none of the other cars will be able to get past. Sometimes we just have to trust that someone else will help when we can’t. And there was another person getting out of their car to help.”

Master Six was silent for a minute. So was I. We drove.

“But what if he’s not okay? Can we go back and check? Please?”

I have to be honest: I didn’t want to. It was almost dark. I had two tired children in the car, and another 40+ minutes drive to get home. I really wanted to just keep on driving. But…

But I always remember another conversation — a conversation I had with my mother five years ago. I was telling her about an acquaintance I had, who spent his every Christmas morning at the children’s hospital carolling; moving from ward to ward, cheering up the children who needed it the most. “I want to raise children who do things like that,” I said. And she gave me a funny look and said, “But if you want them to do those things, you’d have to do them too.”

If I want my son to grow up to be someone who will put himself out to help those in need, I have to do it to.

So I turned the car around, and we drove back to that intersection.

I took off my seatbelt and opened the door. But that’s all I had time to do. Before I could climb out of the car, a few guys pushed the broken down car around the corner and off of the road. Turns out, they didn’t need my help at all.The broken-down car was still where we’d left it. So I pulled over to the side of the road. “You go, Mummy,” Master Six said. “We’ll stay here and watch you. Don’t worry, I’ll look after Master Two.”

But I didn’t have time to dwell on the lost time. Because Master Six had something else to say.

“You know, Mummy? I’m glad we came back. Now we know he’s okay. Are you glad, too?”

And I really was.

Do you have a fondness for Random Acts of Kindness? Share on!

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A Year in Review: Revisiting 2013

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have noticed my lack of goal-checking and goal-setting post at the start of January. There are good reasons for that. Many of them revolve around not having time to write one.

We shall have to remedy that.

First up, let me say that 2013 was the most intense, heart-shattering, life-changing, wing-growing, exciting, devastating, emotional, challenging, rewarding, and intense (did I already say intense?) year of my life. There were days I was so happy I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet because I was flying too high. There were days when I literally cried non-stop for over 24 hours straight. There were days when I felt a zen-like sense of peace and well-being, and days when I was sure I’d ruined not just my own life, but also the lives of my children (and possibly their children).

It was a big year.

Goalpost

But let me start with my writing goals because, after all, that’s what this blog is supposed to be about. (Except when it’s not.)

How did I go with the writing goals I revised in July?

TNT #1

I was aiming to have revised this novel by October, and be ready to query it. This didn’t happen. Largely because in early September, I realised that the manuscript doesn’t just need a simple revision, it needs a complete break-down and rewrite.

This is a good thing and came about because (a) I finally “found” my true voice, and (b) I realised that I have recurring themes in my work, and discovered that those themes are there in TNT #1, but they’re hidden beneath a veneer of self-consciousness. So once I dig them out and make them shine, the whole story will be better for it.

I didn’t make my goal, but I’m darn happy with the revelations I had along the way.

CST

My goal was to finish the first draft, finish revisions, and start querying. I did finish the first draft on schedule — even though it meant writing my way through pneumonia to do it — and I finished my first-round revisions at 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

I’m not ready to start querying. Although I feel like I’m close. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m (eagerly) awaiting their feedback.

And feeling ill every time I think about it too much. But, you know, I’m not as bullet-proof as I like to pretend. 🙂

Novel C

I didn’t start writing or outlining before the end of the year, but I’ve started it in the first couple of weeks of January. So I’m about a month behind schedule on this. But I have worked out what I’m writing. I’ll give you a little hint to whet your appetite (and encourage you to nudge me if I stop writing!).

The story involves Greek mythology, violins, and a female protagonist with delusions of monsters and an acerbic wit.

Outline TNT #2 and #3

Yeah, whatever. Who wrote these goals???

Short Stories

Bum-bum. No more short stories written.

Reading

I don’t know if I read anything in the last few months of the year. It just wasn’t a priority for me.

Other

I think my favourite writing-related part of 2013 was becoming part of a great group of enthusiastic, supportive writers. No matter what else happens in my life, I always have these writers there, supporting and encouraging and generally being awesome. Thanks to my P&Peeps for everything. *mwah!*

And that brings to the non-writing related part of this post.

In about August 2013, I got pneumonia pretty bad. It took over a month to recover. I didn’t end up in hospital — although, really, I probably should have. But I have two children, and going into hospital just wasn’t an option for me. So I spent weeks feeling miserable, struggling to breathe, and still doing the cooking, cleaning, raising the children, blah blah blah. You know how it is. But that put a few things into perspective for me. Things like: What’s really important? And: What do I really want?

Just prior to that, I’d been pulling my hair out over finances. So much of our money was being spent on rent and electricity that no matter how I sliced and diced, cut and shaved, managed and over-managed our budget, there was never enough left over for anything. And sometimes not even enough for the most basic of “extras”. Renting a movie to watch with the kids meant not being able to afford more breakfast cereal. Getting haircuts for the boys meant eating nothing but pasta and rice for a week. 

Between those two things, I came up with a radical and crazy idea.

What if we sold or gave away every single possession we didn’t actually need, jumped out of the “rent this expensive house” game, and lived as simply as we possibly could?

What if we abandoned the life we knew ,and started a new one. A cheaper one. A simpler one. A life more in tune with the world, and with nature, and with the values that are close to my heart?

My husband agreed, and we set about the project.

We bought a dodgy, 30-year-old caravan, and I started renovating it from the inside out. (This is an ongoing project.) We bought a tent for the kitchen, and another one for the chemical toilet. We sold or gave away everything we didn’t need. Everything. It was a much bigger (and more emotional) job than I expected. And then we moved out to the middle of nowhere, and set up in a paddock that belongs to a friend of a friend.

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This is where we live now.

It was a massive adjustment. Suddenly, weather plays a massive part in what we can and can’t do on a daily basis. We have to schedule time to move the cows off the road every time we go somewhere. Snakes are a major threat, as are paralysis ticks and venomous spiders. We can’t race off to the shop on a moment’s notice — it’s at least 20 minutes each way to the closest not-all-that-convenient convenience store. We have to go outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I hand wash the clothes, carry water to the kitchen and shower, and I even planted a vegie garden.

It was a massive adjustment.

And in the middle of this adjustment, on October 31st — our 9th wedding anniversary — my husband and I reached a point where we realised that, no matter how much we wished it was different, and no matter what we tried, our marriage was over.

Amidst tears and feelings of guilt and grief and pride-killing failure, we made the decision to separate.

For the good of our children.

For the good of ourselves.

Suddenly, in a change that felt like it happened overnight, I wasn’t a stay-at-home Mum and writer living in the suburbs with a husband who supported us financially. I was a single mother living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. With no income, and no easy answers.

It was tough.

It was tough saying the words “single mother”. 

It was tough falling asleep at night, listening to the wind buffeting the trees outside, and telling myself that everything would be fine, and I could do this — I could do this on my own. I could face this new challenge, this new life, and I could do it with all the strength in my soul and my arms and my heart. It was tough cuddling my son when he asked when Daddy was coming home.

It’s been almost three months.

And I can do it.

DSCN1566[1]I don’t hate my ex-. Far from it. In fact, we get along better now than we have at any other point during the last six years.  We both love our sons intensely, and want the best for them. And I’ve learned that I can grow vegies. I can make new friends, and be a good parent, and put up a tent, and build furniture, and train a dog, and start a business, and make our money stretch just that little bit further, and I can do it on my own.

With the support of my friends and family.

Now, I stand outside at night, with the stars lighting up the sky, and the damp earth under my feet, and I feel loved and blessed and happy.

I feel like myself. 

I am myself.

And the future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.

How was your 2013?

 

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Rules for Dating My Son? No Thanks.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Yes, I’ve been noticeably absent for several months. No, my absence wasn’t planned. Yes, I’m fine. I’ll probably explain in another post. But for right now, I have something else I’d like to talk about. 

If you spend any time on the vast stretches of the internet, especially social media, you’ve probably seen images like these popping up all over the place over the last however-many months:

Rules for dating my daughter

Rules for dating my son

I’ve seen people share these on Facebook and Twitter, touting them as being the Next Big Thing in parenting. As though any of this is actually positive.

Frankly, I think it’s awful. And not funny at all.

You know what’s funny? The way my son sings: “Shot through the heart, and you’re too late! You give gloves… A bad name.

That’s funny.

But publicly dictating controlling and sexist “rules” for your child’s emergence into adulthood? Not funny.

I have a number of issues with these memes, but let me stick to the main one . Also, since I have sons, I shall refer to that particular meme. I’m sure there’s someone else out there with girls who is, at this very moment, taking offence to the Rules for Dating my Daughter. (Solidarity, sibling-of-either-gender!)

My sons are currently 6 and (almost) 3. They are not even close to dating age. Nevertheless, I take exception to this meme for the inferences it makes about them, and about me.

It assumes that (a) my son isn’t capable of making his own decisions or standing up for himself, (b) because he’s a man, he will be unable to resist a woman who dresses “like a stripper” and sends sexts, regardless of any of her other traits — good or bad — and (c) I’m responsible for him and his happiness for the rest of his life.

Well, colour me silly (which is a shade of fuschia), but I’d like to think that by the time my boys start dating, I will have raised sons who are independent, intelligent, and discerning.

And I have zero desire to still be raising them when they’re in their twenties and thirties. Or forties. Or whatever age these “protective” parents think is the right age to release their beloved offspring into the wild.

It is not my job to choose my son’s girlfriend, wife, job, hobbies, financial plan, or living arrangements.

It is my job to teach my son responsibility and self-respect, and prepare him to make his own well-informed decisions.

(And to be there to support and comfort him when he inevitably makes a few bad ones.)

But if I absolutely, positively must create a list of rules for dating my son, it looks something like this:

  1. Have fun.
  2. Be safe.
  3. Respect each other.

What are your thoughts on these “Rules for Dating” memes?

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When the Death of a Baby is Just a Symptom

Car Seats

There was a news story on the radio this morning about an 11-month old baby who died.

“The infant’s body was found strapped into the car seat of his father’s car, outside a child-care centre in Perth. The discovery was made after the father went to collect his son, and was told by staff at the centre that he hadn’t dropped the baby off that morning.”

The reporter went on to say that the infant’s death was being ruled a “tragic accident”. But I wasn’t really listening.

I wasn’t even there.

I was in that child-care centre with that father.

And my heart was breaking.

I’m there when he rushes in after work. He’s pressed for time, as always, because the day’s work ran longer than expected. I see his forced smile and his tired eyes when he greets the staff. He’s thinking about the next thing he needs to do, always the next thing, pick up the baby, get home for dinner,  put the little one to bed, so much to do, so much to do.

I’m there when the staff double-checks their records and says, “No, you definitely didn’t drop him off this morning. Maybe he’s with your wife?”

I feel the father’s confusion and fear. I want to lash out with him, to demand answers.  Where is my baby? I did drop him off! I remember strapping him into his car seat and…

And he was in a rush.

And he was stressed.

And he was driving on auto-pilot, his mind already on the work he had to do that day.

I feel the moment when it hits.

I feel it like a spider-bites and extreme heights and all-consuming darkness.

I remember strapping him into his car seat…

In my mind, I’m there. I’m there when the father turns and runs — runs! — out to the parking lot. He sees his car, parked just where he left it. And he stops.

Because he can’t do it.

He can’t walk a single step closer. The dread…

I feel the dread like a barrier of pain.

We both know what he’ll see when he looks into his car.

I remember strapping him into his car seat…

…but I don’t remember getting him out.

In my mind, I’m there. I see him take one step. And then another. Because the dread has hold of him now. It’s got him through the heart, and that hook is barbed. Oh, is it barbed. It draws him closer, closer, closer.

The tears run down his face. He doesn’t know. And if he did, he wouldn’t care.

Because he can see his little boy now. His little angel. So peacefully resting in a sleep that will last for an eternity.

In my mind, I’m there. I’m there that morning. That fateful morning, It’s so early, and the baby is asleep, and we have to wake him up and make him eat and get him dressed and put him in the car and there’s no time for cuddles and games and time. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Or on the weekend. Yes, definitely the weekend. But today, we have to get to work, to pay the bills, to run the errands, to do, do, do, do, do, so hurry up now, hurry up, we’ve got to get you to child-care, and I need to get to work, and pay the bills, and run the errands, and do, do, do, do, do.

And as I watch the father stare through the window at the body of his beautiful baby, I know he’s reliving that morning, too.

And I know that he would be willing to do anything, give up anything, sacrifice anything, for just one more smile. One more cuddle. One more day. One single opportunity to do things slower, and be present in the moment, and do whatever it takes to not end up here. Here. Standing in the hot sun. Staring at the single greatest “tragic accident” of his life, and knowing that nothing, nothing, will ever erase the pain he feels right now.

He will be standing here for the rest of his life.

I love this man.

I love him because he’s me. And he’s you. And he’s every single one of us. Every person in this world trying to do it right, better, best, perfect for our families and careers and dreams and hopes and futures and everything we’re told we can have if we just work hard enough.

But that is a lie.

No matter how hard we work, we can never erase the mistakes we make, the experiences we miss, the time we waste in pursuing a financial dream that is not even ours.

The death of this child is tragic. But it’s just a symptom. It’s a symptom of the way we live. Or the way we’re so busy trying to do and have everything, we completely overlook the most important things in our lives in favour of more, more, more.

This is not an isolated incident. These types of infant deaths are becoming more common. Last year, 25 infants died when their parents forgot they were still in the car — and that’s just in the US. (I’d look for worldwide figures, but I just can’t bear to read yet another story of a parent’s worst nightmare come to life.)

I have lived this man’s horror today. I’ve been there with him in spirit. I’ve felt the stomach-dropping, gut-churning, finger-tingling terror of realisation.

I’ve cried for him.

I’ve cried for all of us.

And I’ve hugged my children tight, then played silly games with them — even though I had other, “more important”, things to do.

I encourage you to do the same.

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