Thursday, 8 January 2015

Tiny Dancer

"Anna, it's a girl!"
2002
Tears rolled down my cheeks. My bestie had just found out she was having a girl; a much wanted and wished for girl to follow-on from her beautiful boy twins five years before. And what a girl she would turn out to be.
2002
2002
2002
My bestie and her family had moved from Cairns in northern Queensland to the Gold Coast when the boys were toddlers, so we had the joy of experiencing this pregnancy much closer together. I was living in Brisbane at the time, working and completing an undergraduate degree, but tried to spend time down the coast whenever I could. It was just gleeful to be less than an hour's drive away instead of a two hour plane ride.
2002
2003
During the last months of my bestie's pregnancy, in the summer of 2001 into 2002, it was the hottest summer any of us could remember. This became the summer of legend, the summer that melted unlit candles off their candlesticks, heat that popped the corks out of wine bottles. This summer would see Christmas Day top 41 degrees Celcius (106F).
2003
I don't know how my bestie coped; she was so pregnant she couldn't drive because she couldn't fit behind the wheel. She took her frustrations out on the potatoes Christmas Day while preparing potato salad; the bench shook with each blow of the knife. I swear she chopped enough potatoes to feed the whole suburb but no one dared tell her to stop. Her husband and I hid under the furniture until it was over. My bestie was Ready For This Baby To Come Out. Our Girl would be very well baked, in more ways than one. 
2003
When Our Girl was born she was something extra special right from the get go, twisting the entire world around her little finger. As I've mentioned before in 2004 I moved to Tamborine Mountain to establish my photography business, not long after my bestie and her family moved there.
2003
2004
2004
It was here that Our Girl became my inspiration, my muse of sorts. I always had my camera with me so my photos became the testament of her life.
2004
2004
2004
She was a self-contained and contemplative toddler, you knew just by looking at her things were going on in her brain that were way, way beyond her tender years.
2005
2005
2005
2005
She took in the world all at once but it was never enough, she wanted to learn and to know everything, fighting to 'help' the boys with their school homework before she was there herself. Her curiosity about the world was wondrous, amplified to infinity when suddenly she went from youngest to middle child, caught up in the whirlwind that was her surprise little sister.
2005
2005
2005
2005
As she grew little changed. Our Girl took up ballet, Girl Guides, even the violin, but she remained an individual, an oddity, an outlier. (Much) smarter than the average and not one of the in-crowd.
2006
2006
This made her even more special to me as I could see so much of my own younger self in her, and I knew what battles faced her in the future. It made me want to wrap her up and protect her but really all you can do is be ready with a Kleenex and a Band Aid. You have to let them go.
2007
2007
2007
My bestie and I had a chuckle to ourselves when we realised Our Girl and her bestie are the same age now as we were when we met. May they be so lucky as to have a similarly rich and lifelong friendship.
2007
2009
2010
I say this now to you on your birthday, my beautiful Tiny Dancer, as you teeter on the edge of adulthood. A. A. Milne once said; 'Always remember... you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think'.
2011
2011
So be kind to yourself, because the world won't always be.
2012
Love yourself, because sometimes you'll think you are the only one that does (you'll be wrong by the way).
2013
2013
Stand up for yourself, and your principles, because you have to live with yourself for a long, long time after all the people-pleasers go home.
2014
Listen to and trust yourself, because sometimes your own common sense will give you the right answer.
2014
Be patient with yourself, and with others. Remember that 'this too shall pass'.
2014
2014
Respect yourself, because if you don't you can't expect anyone else to.
2014
And most of all, believe in yourself, because if you do you will become an unstoppable force. 
2015

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Year Of Living Dangerously

*Language warning*

I had a really interesting year in 2014. Actually, I had a really shitty year in 2014 I'm trying to put a positive spin on it. But shitty sums it up really well.
All garden photos taken at the family home in Pottsville September 2013
So, let me rephrase that. Lots of events happened this past year that changed me. It's no good saying something that happened was shitty, or good, or bad. As my mum said something simply is what it is, and how we choose to act and react through it either makes us a better person or it doesn't.

If that's what happens when you have a shitty year then I can say for sure I'm a better person for my 2014. My mum died, my husband Danny had a life-threatening condition misdiagnosed and had major surgery (at one point I had my husband and my mother in hospital at the same time), Danny and I became estranged from his child and as a result our grandchild, and just this last week our house valued at less than we expected putting our long-awaited plans for house renovations on the back burner. Again. Still. Thanks Westpac you arseholes. That last one sounds like a white whine, as they say, in the face of everything else and I know I'm lucky to own my home, but it's all relative, and things seem to add together to present a cumulative whole bigger than the parts. I completed the Holmes and Rahe stress scale for the last year and scored 383, which is off the scale. So good riddance 2014. You blew.

These things are all wiped out in the supernova of losing my mum. Mum died, cruelly, from an awful illness she never had any chance of beating. She gave it her best shot, but we lost her six months to the day after she was told she had six months to live, and I can tell you that was the fastest six months in the history of time. Certainly not enough time for a woman like Diana, or for any of us to come to terms with losing her. She's now been gone longer than she was ill and if there's any time appropriate to reflect on what I've learnt from this journey it's the New Year.

I haven't always been so close to my mum. Its been an interesting experience reading her diaries and seeing my young self go through all the phases: curious child; selfish, oblivious teenager; angry and self important young adult, then finally rediscovering my parents as important friends and mentors in my late twenties. Of course it is about this age that you realise every, single goddamn thing your parents ever said to you was true. So I'm lucky to have had a mum like I did who not only shared her life selflessly with everyone she waited patiently for her daughter to become her friend so they could become everything to each other. Mum wrote me a letter before she died, and in it she said how grateful she was that I was hers. That expression of primal love makes me imagine her cradling me as a newborn, full of hopes, fears and expectations.

My mum looked for the positives in everything, even her approaching death. My mother used the knowledge to tie up loose ends, say everything she wanted to say to absolutely everyone, think on and examine her life, and prepare Simon and I, and Stan, for a future without her. In her eulogy I reflected on what she had taught me during her lifetime. I want to consider here what I learned through her illness and in the mere 260 days since her death. This is by no means exhaustive; when I say this past year changed me I meant it, and in so many ways I'd be hard pressed to list them. So here's a couple of thoughts to take us into a New Year.

You can live in the now. I'm a person who likes closure; I've got an answer to every problem before the problem or sometimes the scenario even exists. In my head I'm not just a conversation away from the one I'm having I'm usually also somewhere else completely, wondering what's for dinner and thinking about my next uni assignment at the same time. I'm always thinking ahead. I'm somewhere else. And it's not about you, it's about me, so don't be offended by this. Helping to manage mum's illness brought me back to earth. We sometimes had to change what we did not only from day to day but from hour to hour. We had to be right there with her, present, because we couldn't ever predict what was going to happen next and anytime we tried we were wrong; we had to take care of the present and let the future worry about itself in the future. So I've tried really hard to be present in my life now. I have to admit I don't always succeed but I'm trying.

Have no regrets. The instant mum told me she was sick I put everything in my life on the back burner so I could pay attention to her needs. Mum didn't ask me to do this. In fact, quite the opposite. She wanted life to go on as usual but quite patently it could not. I simply stopped my life as I knew it to be by mum's side; my gracious husband, and my work, gave me the space and time to do this and for that I am so grateful. Similarly my brother just got on a plane from LAX to Brisbane and sorted the details out later. This was our mother. Of course this is what we would do. Mum taught us to have no regrets. Do the things in life you feel are right and everything else will fall into place. You might not initially like the place they fall in but it will be the right one. So I stopped my life for mum, and I have no regrets. Now more than I ever did I live with the philosophy of no regrets; I say what I think is the right thing, do the right thing for me or the situation, and let the chips fall where they may. This isn't always a popular philosophy but I sleep well at night.

On a similar topic, leave nothing unsaid. Mum told us every time we saw her or spoke to her on the phone that she loved us. She was never afraid to tell us things about ourselves that we needed to hear, more than ever in the time of her illness. I thank her for this, not sugar-coating the truth. It was not just the hard things to hear but she told us frequently how much she loved us and how proud she was of us and our various achievements. Don't think these things can go unsaid, they can't. Tell your loved ones you love them. Tell them when they are being dicks, and why. Tell them when they are magnificent. Just tell them. Don't assume they know you think this.

It's okay to feel. It's okay to cry, and swear, and be frustrated. It's okay to be happy, and joyful, and full of the gleeful love of life. It's okay to be angry at the world because it dealt you a shitty hand or finished your game up early. It's okay to be sad, and grieve, this is normal. We need to do this. It's a process. Emotions are there to be experienced, so feel them. It's not healthy or honest to yourself or anyone else to bottle up what you feel or pretend you don't feel it.

There's always a bit more in reserve. Of everything. Just don't be afraid to look for it. I had times during mum's illness, almost daily toward the end, when I would come home and lay on the carpet and say 'Danny, I've got nothing else to give anyone'. I would feel completely devoid of any scrap of courage, or consciousness, or sensibility, or strength, and I would just want to give up. But I always got up and got on with it somehow. I don't know how. Yes, I do know, it was because I had to. It was because my mum got up every day and never complained to anyone about anything; not about the pain, or the loss of dignity, or loss of physical strength, or the sheer ridiculous unfairness of it all. So the least I could do was be there for her whenever she needed me.

I miss her, but she's always with me. When mum passed away I found she had made me an editor in her Ancestry.com family tree. Doing some work in this program let me see I'm a distillation of everyone who has gone before me, of everything they did or stood for: every feeling, every love, every moment of their lives. Every memory. That's quite a responsibility. So, I miss mum, but she's always with me, because she is 50 percent of me. I really do have her with me always.

Happy New Year to you and yours from me and mine. I hope my blog brings you joy in 2015 and beyond.