Monday, July 4, 2011

A Little Twisted

I remember being an eleven or twelve year old girl and wondering why my grandmother would rub her wrists to alleviate her joint pain. I remember my parents flopping into the lounge at the end of the day and thinking to myself, “I’ll never be tired like that.” And I remember hearing elderly people say, “At least you’ve got your health” and thinking they were a little demented - of course I’ve got my health, otherwise I’d be dead!

I couldn’t comprehend, at that young, nubile and virile stage of my life, that I could possibly ever be ill or infirmed. It was something that happened to others.

Today I am forty-five years old and often feel like I’m ninety. Over the past few years I have needed assistance in moving around, getting out of chairs, showering and dressing. On occasion I have serious pain - constant throbbing pain and occasional sudden bursts of stabbing pain.

Thankfully, I’m not chronically ill or permanently scarred. I’m just cranky. Two years ago my lumbar 5 vertebrae decided it was time to leave the comfort of my spine and break rank, twisting to the left and causing a chain reaction that has to be felt to be believed.

I’ve always considered myself to have a fairly high pain threshold. While going through labour with each of my three pregnancies was excruciating (18.5 hours, 16 hours and 6.5 hours - just so you know), I felt like I was able to focus, despite the pain and managed to deliver all three 8 pound plus boys without drug intervention.

Now, I’m finally motivated to do something about my health and weight. It’s weird that I am not afraid of severe short term pain, but the discomfort and strain of regular exercise is such a powerful deterrent.

Around five years ago I called my Dad to ask him to cover the cost of a Guthy Renker purchase for me. I don’t have a credit card (evil, destruction-causing piece of plastic) and I was inspired to buy a pilates DVD which was promoted so cleverly on late night television. I promised my Dad to pay him back and he was happy to arrange the purchase with the (completely unnecessary) warning of, “Make sure you actually use it, Jule.” “Of course, Dad. I’m looking forward to getting my fitness back on track. I can’t wait until it arrives in the post!” (14 - 21 days later)

Anyhoo, it is now five years later and today I opened the plastic wrapping on the pilates DVD.

The DVD has 45 minutes of stretching, balancing and body sculpting pilates techniques. The instructor uses odd language that makes little sense “Use your powerhouse (huh?) - press your bellybutton to your spine (is that even physically possible!) - trace the canteloupe with your foot, then trace the barrel, etc, etc”.

I proudly made it all the way to minute #17. After getting a little trapped in the exercise called ‘rolling ball’, where you are the ball, I decided I had to stop. I unravelled my pretzel like position and realised the weakness of my lower back is going to be a problem. Now I recognise a copout as easily as the next person and I was determined not to use my usual adage of ‘I always knew exercise is bad for you” which I pull out whenever anyone gets injured through sport or fitness related activities!

I figure that the pain in my back is more to do with lack of muscles than any long term issue. My chiro once said that your back is like a mast with no strength of its own. It relies on the surrounding muscles, like ropes on a mast. So building it up is the solution!

I’ve decided I’m going to take baby steps (or rolls) and aim to increase my efforts to 18 body sculpting minutes tomorrow. Just got to find my powerhouse and a canteloupe!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Give Sorrow Words

PHOTO: My dad in the fifties. I call this his 'hep kat' shot. His apartment was so hip and he played in a jazz band. So cool!

Any advice on grief? I’m working through my own. I think I need to talk about it a bit. I’m learning that despite what they tell you about the Stages of Grief and so on, there are actually no rules.

Although there are may situations in life that can cause grief, I’m thinking about the loss of a loved one through death. This is something each human being must surely experience at some point in their life. I experienced it profoundly for the first time, at the age of 40. I guess I should count myself lucky. I had been, in previous years, to the funerals of an aunt in Europe who I had loved dearly and my paternal grandmother (who I was fond of, but did not know well) and beloved maternal grandparents, who were a solid part of my childhood, a treasured influence and inspiration, but not an everyday relationship. None of these occasions prepared me for the death of my dad.

In April it will be three years since my dad died of lung cancer. He was sick for over a year leading up to his death. In the last three or four weeks of his life, I was in a position to take long service leave from my job and stay at my mum & dad’s. My husband took charge of our family for the most part and I popped home only every few days to do some cooking and check in. It was a precious time. I loved being with Dad. I wasn’t much help because my mum was amazing in her tireless care of my dad. She was completely on top of all the doctors, specialists, medications and treatments. She had changed the house around so that Dad could be in the lounge room comfortably. And later, she converted his bedroom to a kind of sitting room so that he could stay in bed and receive visitors in a welcoming environment. She bathed him, changed him and took care of all his personal needs, including injections because he was a diabetic. Just pause over that last sentence for a moment. Are you married? Remember that vow; in sickness and in health? I saw it lived out.

I remember when my husband and I had been married for two months (20 years ago now), we went to a marriage enrichment course. It was a bit of a joke with all of the couples. How could you ‘spice’ up a marriage that was still in the honeymoon period?! I will never forget one of the guys who spoke. He wasn’t a professional speaker ... just a guy from our church in his late forties. His wife had a serious medical condition (I can’t remember the name) and it had caused her to have severe personality changes as well as sudden onset of muscular pain. She would sometimes swear and abuse him, but he told us, weeping as he said it, that this was not really her. So he would smile at her through the tirade of abuse. He spoke of how he would frequently be woken up in the middle of the night and her cries of pain would only be relieved by his massaging of her cramping muscles, sometimes for hours. He said to the group of married couples gathered, “Do I love her in that moment? No. All I want to do is tell her to leave me alone. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m weary. I don’t want to massage her until my arms ache. My love is an emotion that gets pushed and pulled by circumstances. That’s why I needed a vow of commitment to keep that love intact. In the middle of the night when she calls on me. That’s when I commit. And love is there in the morning”

My mum demonstrated tender love towards my father in his final days, and also unwavering commitment.

I do have to mention here that my mother comes from a family of highly committed people. Her brothers and sisters, and their husbands and wives were an integral part of Mum’s strength and capacity to serve Dad. Coupled with her faith in God, my mum managed to keep Dad at home in comfort.

One thing I was able to do for my dad was massage. He had always had such stiff shoulders and, even as a kid, I used to like the challenge of trying to kneed those rock hard muscles. He loved the free massage! He was much more fragile now and couldn’t handle a hard massage. But his feet were sore and his skin drying out, so I got some moisturising cream and gently rubbed it into his feet. I had to be careful because he’d become so sensitive. I was worried I’d hurt him, but when I got it right, it was clear on his face that it was a relief to him. What a privilege to serve in this way. I will never forget it.

PHOTO: My dad in a very familiar pose with my youngest son nestled next to him.

Incredibly, at the same time, my mum & dad were moving house. Have you ever seen one of those lists on ‘the most stressful things in life”? It was mentioned to me at the time, and I have researched it since and confirmed it. Death, Moving House and Public Speaking (which we did a few days later at the funeral) are three of the top five causes of stress in life. And we were doing all three! Mum & Dad had already bought a new house and planned the moving date. Dad was keen to move, but getting more and more fragile. As our wonderful extended family packed boxes, Dad was comfortable and cared for by Mum. She was freed up to focus entirely on him.

The night before the move, we sent Dad to stay in a hospice. We had had a couple of moments in the days before where we thought his breathing had become shallow and he might be ready to pass on. We were worried that the hustle and bustle of the move as well as the discomfort of moving him would be too much. The plan was that he would spend the night in the hospice and we would pick him up the following afternoon when his room was all set up in the new house.

My sister, mum and I visited Dad at the hospice. My sister and I stayed until he was too tired to stay conscious and left at around 9.30pm.

My sisters, my mum and I spent the evening with my uncle and aunt who encouraged us to reminisce and talk about the things we loved about Dad. It was hard, sometimes painful, but also very much a time of strengthening and being grateful for all that we’d had.

The next morning we were called at around 7.00am to come to the hospice. Before we had completed the 30 minute journey there, Dad had died.

For some reason, I immediately went into ‘organisation mode’. I made the necessary phone calls to my other sisters and family members, got coffees for mum & my sister, talked to doctors, emptied the room of all Dad’s belongings (while his body lay there) and busied myself with the many things to be done. I still don’t know how or why I was able to do it ... divine intervention? I don’t know. I cried, but I stayed focused on the funeral preparations, including sifting through photos for the powerpoint display and preparing my speech.

Maybe my lack of emotional collapse at the time of his death has meant that my grief lingers and hovers for longer now. Maybe there’s some kind of weird natural formula that governs grief and its reach.

My sisters and my mum all have photos of Dad in their homes; on their shelves, fridges and mantlepieces. I don’t avoid them. I know they’re there, so I have to glance and acknowledge them, but then I move quickly on. I can’t have any photos of Dad in my house. I understand that, to my family, they are a reminder of the love they shared, the good times they had. To me, however, they are a reminder of the fact that he’s no longer here. That face, so familiar, present since the day of my birth, is one that I will never see again in this life. Even as I write it, I can’t believe it.

There’s no nicely rounded conclusion here. There’s no strategy that I’m going to recommend. I do talk about Dad, so I guess that’s a good thing. As William Shakespeare once wrote, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.”

Other than that, I just keep going.

I miss my dad.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wretched Woman

As I have said in previous blogs, I think I’m a pretty intelligent woman. Not trying to be arrogant or self-important. I think quickly and always have. One thing (only one thing?! Ha!) confounds me ... for an intelligent woman, why am I so stupid?

Is there any one of us who doesn’t know what healthy food is? Do we not know that salad is a better choice over hot chips? I mean, we’re not really confused by the fact that they’re both made from vegetables are we? We don’t need some chemist or dietician or weight-loss guru to tell us that fat is bad, do we? Really?

In fact, I not only know what’s good for me, I can feel what’s good for me. I have an intolerance to gluten and dairy. It is boring and annoying and I hate it, but I try to eat within the limitations. If I eat gluten, I get sinus attacks within three days. If I eat dairy, I get what feels similar to a stomach virus within hours. If I am gluten & dairy free for an extended period, I feel healthier, my immunity is boosted and I am pain free. And yet ... when the cream laden pastries are within arms reach ..... swoop! I’ve got one in my mouth and two in my pockets for later! Idiot.

Not to mention the whole weight - exercise - health issue. I know what it feels like to have strong joints and to visibly notice a difference in the toning of my body. I know what it feels like to drop a dress size. But when I’m alone in the car I’ll still drive thru at KFC?! Why, why, why do I make such stupid eating choices?

I hate housework but I love a clean house. I am a procrastinator of the highest order when it comes to chores. Of particular note is clothes washing. I have a friend who actually loves washing the clothes. She enjoys the sorting, the hanging out of fresh, damp laundry, the folding of fluffy newly dry fabric, kissed by the sun and the satisfaction of putting away piles of clothes into their respective places. Nightmare! Nightmare, I say!

But in reality, each step of the laundry process takes very little time. Hanging out a load takes 10 minutes, tops. And yet, stupid/intelligent me avoids doing the task for so long that it ends up needing to be re-washed. The same goes for taking the load down off the line. Many’s the time when I have left a load to be rained upon over days rather than be bothered to venture outside.

What is wrong with me? Why don’t I do the things I know I should do, quickly and when it’s needed. It’s such a good feeling to have them done and yet I leave the jobs fermenting. Fool.

And ironing? You might ask. Oh please .... I don’t iron.

I am a very talkative person. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ll always offer my opinion and assume that everyone wants to listen to it! But I hate talking on the phone. I especially hate making the phone call. I think there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I got beaten with a phone as a child or something (sorry Mum!).

I hate the dialling (old fashioned term when you think about it), the waiting for the answer, the ‘not sure who you’re speaking to’ feeling, the embarrassment of assuming the voice is your girlfriend’s when in fact it’s her 14 year old son. (Actually at that moment I’m glad I’m on the phone so that we can’t see each other blush!) I hate the forced small talk before you can get to the point of why you’re calling, I hate the lack of eye contact and body language clues and I hate the inane ‘winding up banter’ eg. “Well, I guess I better let you go” Translation: I don’t want to talk to you anymore but I’m pretending I’m stopping out of courtesy to you.

In fact, I take this dislike of phone calls to a whole new level. I have been known to avoid making phone calls for MONTHS for no other reason than I just don’t want to pick up the phone. Making the call would actually only take five minutes and all normal people do it. What is my problem?? Crazy.

The arrival of SMS messaging was the dawn of a new and blessed era for me. Oh the joy of short, sharp, witty comments, practical reminders and brief notes of encouragement or concern with absolutely no need or expectation of banter, openings, endings or awkward silences. Thank you God, for SMS’s.

I’m sure there are many more ways in which I demonstrate the oxymoron of intelligent stupidity. I do what I shouldn’t do and don’t do what I should do. What a wretched woman I am. Am I alone in this? Does anyone else have an unreasonable fear of phones, clothes washing or gluten starvation?

I’m so odd. And at odds with life sometimes.

Thank goodness ... thank God that this life is not all we’ve got.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Liquid Esperanto

I borrow my title from Steve Turner, a British poet who opened up my eyes to the true purpose of a cuppa (his poem is listed below).

I am a beverage lover. I drink black tea, white tea, herbal tea and chai. I drink dark, strong espresso with no sugar as well as milky, syrupy, hazelnut flavoured lattes from dodgy coffee chains. I can take my coffees with full cream milk, half-cream milk, actual cream (mmmmm), skim milk, rice milk or soy milk. I am a hot drink floozy. I will take anything I'm offered ... except for one thing.

I can't come at green tea. I've tried. I've REALLY tried. Don't start suggesting Green Ginger Tea or Green Peach Tea or Green Lavender Spiritual Harmony Tea. No matter how you make or mix it. It still has that acrid taste. It actually tastes mean. Like an evil herb has snuck in. I know it is fabulous for me and full of anti-oxidants, but I just can't drink it. I can't. I don't trust it. Offer me something else, please.

But offer me something. We get so anxious when people don't want a cuppa. It is the ice-breaker at awkward P&F meetings or church gatherings. Once business is over at a board meeting, members need a cup to 'dangle their lips in' when they can't think of something to say (see poem below). When the invitation is being passed around - "Coffee, tea anyone?" It is met with grateful cries of "White & one", "Weak black", "2SM", I'll have a 'why bother' (skim, de-caf)" until you hear "Nothing for me, thanks." The room falls still.

"Nothing?" says the host incredulously.
"No, I'm right thanks." Is the cheerful response.
"What about a herbal?"
"No. that's okay"
"I've got de-caf."
"I'm not much of a coffee or tea drinker." S/He confesses, trying to keep a casual tone.
A heavy pall descends over the still room.
"Oh." The host's brain is frantically trying to rectify this social disaster, this flaw in his/her banquet of beverages.
"Hot chocolate!" S/He announces triumphantly.
"No, really. I'm fine just as I am." The non-drinker responds wearily.
"I'll get you a drink of water." Says the host as s/he leaves the room satisfied.

I know many adults who have forced themselves to develop a liking of one hot beverage or another in order to feel comfortable at social gatherings. Truly.

I am from a northern European background and I'm married to a man from a southern European background. We love our coffee and we love it strong. Saturday mornings are filled with the loud but not unpleasant sound of the coffee grinder pounding Fair Trade beans into perfectly sized granules. My husband is the coffee officianado and I have deliberately refused to learn how to make it. He does it so well. Much of my delight in the rich espresso he produces comes from the fact that he's spent 30 minutes making it for me.

Once ground he puts the coffee into one of a number of bizarre looking metal vessels laid out on the kitchen bench. He has cleaned, dried and polished the metal parts which resemble more a dismembered robot than a coffee maker. This is the real deal. A stove-top espresso pot. No machines, no gadgets. Old fashioned Italian love of simplicity & quality.

He flattens the ground coffee with the tamper. He takes a long time over this, ensuring it provides a consistently dense sponge of coffee for the steaming water to filter through. He prefers purified water in the base of the pot and starts the assembly. There are spouts, rubber rings and assorted parts, but eventually it looks like an elegant, tall, silver teapot and he places it on the flame.

And we wait.

Soft gurgles precede the first arrest in our nostrils of a unique aroma that immediately awakens any portions of the brain still clinging to sleep. My husband fetches the tiny cups we purchased at an art gallery in southern Sydney. Each cup & saucer is a different coloured glaze and when filled and standing together they look like a steaming Mediterranean rainbow.

He knows just when to pour. I don't know how. It might be the gene ... the southern European gene. He was born here in Australia, but he knows things that Australians don't know. Like how to enjoy a chilli straight from the plant, whole on a piece of hearty white bread with a dash of balsamic (Modena) and olive oil. Or how to insult someone with no words - just the evil eye and wild gesticulations.

He pours. The rich brown liquid comes halfway up the cups and all of a sudden we're surrounded by sons emerging from their sleepy Saturday bedrooms. "Can I have some?" He has anticipated this and pours for all of us. Some add sugar, some don't and we all sip silently. Although it is a small amount - maybe 20 or 30 mL, it reaches down to the depths and satisfies.

We are ready to start our day.

White With Two Sugars (please)
by Steve Turner

Coffee gives you
a legal shot of
energy when your
eyelids are feeling

Coffee kills time
when you’re washed
ashore on the streets
of London.

(Coffee can even
help rainstorms

Coffee is something
to dangle your lips
in when conversation
is scarce.

Coffee is a good
place to take a
new friend.

(Coffee is an excuse
to stay half an hour

Acquaintanceships end
on the doorstep but
friendships begin
with a coffee.

Coffee can be
appreciated by all

Coffee is multilingual,
multi-racial, liquid esperanto.


There’s something quite
religious about coffee.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Reluctant Blessing

I had planned my blog to be chronological - a meandering account of memories from my childhood to the present. But I feel compelled to interrupt the flow with a tangent that is currently a feature in my life. I have just returned from visiting an elderly relative in the nursing home. We'll call him K.

I didn't want to go to visit him. I don't know why. He loves me and loves to see me. He is lucid enough to know when I am there and who I am. But somehow, I find it all very difficult. I think his fragile and failing state reminds me of the final weeks I had with my Dad.

When I visit K, I can never tell how long the visit will be. He can ask me to leave in 5 minutes because he's had a bad night's sleep or he can talk and talk for hours, intermittently asking me to do little errands for him, sometimes taking the whole day. Today, one of my sons is unwell and we have booked a doctor's appointment. As I drove to the nursing home, I felt smug in my plan of having an 'out' in case he was in a rambling mood.

When I arrived, I signed in on the visitor's book, a little proud of myself that my name was listed there for all to see. In the visitor's book, you sign your name, the time & date and the name of the person you're visiting. It doesn't have any footnote stating … NB: Juliette Poulter was here, but she didn't really want to be here, had many other things she'd prefer to do, had an excuse in place to avoid staying for long and even fleetingly contemplated walking away after signing the visitor's book, without actually visiting her elderly relative. No, there's not that much room to write in the columns of the visitor's book and I am quietly thankful. So my name and time of arrival just sat there, benignly, in black and white.

I walked down the corridor and thought to myself that if he's asleep, I'll just let him rest and be on my way. (The visitor's book will attest to my being here!) But he was not asleep. He was awake and alert and overjoyed to see me.

“Hello, Juliette. So good of you to come and see me. And so early in the day. My clock says 9 o'clock! I am your first priority. What a blessing from God.”

I tried to play down his gratitude and mumbled something about being on the way home from dropping the boys off at school. Then, I remembered my back up plan. “Well," I said, "I dropped one boy off at school, but I have one sick at home. I'm taking him to the doctor in a little while.”

There, I thought, he always is interested in my kids and my family. He will have that in his mind now and I can remind him of that when the conversation lulls, or he is on a never-ending string of points.

“Which boy is sick?” He asked.

“The middle one,” I said.

“Then let's pray for him.”

I sat, humbled. I couldn't stand in the face of such self-less compassion. This fragile and broken old man spontaneously and fervently praying for his young, robust, a little un-well great-great-grandnephew. He prayed for some time, asking God to heal Son #2 and then moved on to thanking God for my arrival, proclaiming what an answer to prayer I was. He thanked God for the healing he had experienced in his own body. He was so frail from advanced cancer, he could barely lift his arms, but I found out later that he was pain-free (without medication) for the first time in months. He praised God that I was there at breakfast time so that I could help him eat and He continued to pray with tears of joy about the goodness and faithfulness of the God who loved him, personally.

When he said, “Amen”, he looked at me and we both smiled.

“You are my blessing from God.” He told me. I cried.

He probably thought I was tearfully responding to his joyous prayer, but of course, I was ashamed. K has been nothing but kind, uplifting and generous to me throughout my entire life. I am thankful that, even though I started out with a reluctant heart, my presence was used to bless a man who deserves it.

I fed him his yoghurt and he had a few errands for me, some requests for the nurses and a bit of tidying up in the room. I always feel obscenely healthy and loud and large in his presence. I seem to bump the bed, and talk too quickly and too loudly. Where K takes 20 tiny, shuffling steps to the bathroom, I can be there in 2 strides, clunking my shoes on the tiles and knocking the bed tray as I go. He never complains and is always grateful for my clumsy help.

Time passed quickly without my noticing, then he said. “Well, you better be off. Your boy needs you. Thank you for coming”.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

“It's okay Mum, I'll only shoot him in the chest.” (This compensation was for my benefit. The alternative in this post-apocalyptic-themed game is head decapitation and excess blood and gore)

As I sit to write, my 15 yr old son, let's call him Son #2, is playing a 'shoot-em up' game on his PS 3. My 17 year old (Son #1) is playing an RPG (role playing game online) and listening to hip hop on his ipod, while my 12 year old (Son #3) is downloading tracks to his mp3.

It's school holidays and this is pretty much the scene each day, unless I step into the role of social co-ordinator/entertainment officer and orchestrate some activity. All three boys seem to have lost the ability to imagine or create their own entertainment. In the influx of multi media and the development of technology at break-neck speed, there seems to be no need for my boys to engage or create or imagine.

How times have changed.

I remember … lying on my back, cushioned by the soft grass which is allowed to grow long down the back of the garden.

Our backyard, as was the case in many Australian suburbs in the seventies, was long and wide and full of promise. At any one time, it could hold a cricket game, parties galore, a marathon game of hide and seek, meandering choko vines, goodness knows how many blue tongue lizards, snakes and spiders, a practice high jump for young pre-Olympians, a colony of fairies, fragrant wild freesias and wonderful hidden copses and corners to scuttle into when you wanted to escape your sisters (or parents!).

I remember … hours flitting past like minutes as I watched the clouds form, shift and re-form into all sorts of images before my eyes. I became quite the cloud connoisseur. Occasionally, a sister or friend would lie on the grass with me, but it could become quite tiresome when the intruder claimed there was a rabbit when clearly it was a Chinese umbrella. (“Can't you see the handle? It's right THERE.”)

There was something about the cushiony-coolness of thick green grass with the tickly feel of a garden spider or ant investigating your toes, combined with the wide, blue, Summer sky that transformed you from a regular suburban girl into … I don't know what … something else. Something transcendent. Can I say, spiritual?

I especially loved it when, if I positioned myself a certain way, I couldn't see any human creation. If I lay at a certain angle and let the tall poplars block the telegraph poles and lines, then I could imagine that people don't exist. It was just me and the clouds.

And the fairies.

In those sun-soaked afternoons, fairies were very active. Now, let me preface this with a couple of crucial facts. Firstly, I am not a frilly girly-girl. I rarely wear make-up, don't shave my legs and prefer Vin Diesel movies to Meg Ryan. (No, not just to look at Vin Diesel!) As a 10 year old, I played with dolls, but was not overly prissy, dressing them over and over or trying to match outfits. I was not obsessed with fairies and other frilly things. I just took it as a given that they lived in my backyard. It was like a David Attenborough nature fact. Our backyard was the ideal fairy habitat. The overgrown bushes for hiding from curious human girls, the freesias - suitable for both hats or skirts, as well as drinking nectar, poplars overhead protecting from birds and sandstone slabs for fairy dust (more on that in a later post).

Secondly, I have always been convinced that there is a world beyond the natural. As an adult I know it to be true, but even as a child, I was open … no … expectant of the supernatural.

As I made daisy chains (oops, that does sound rather girly, actually!) or dug highways for ants to traverse the grasslands, I was certain that fairies were just out of my eye-shot. Flitting around my peripheral, I fancied that they were observing my activities like anthropologists, giggling at my enormous size and clumsy footsteps. I did expect though, that they would enjoy my singing – and possibly even join in – although at pitches that couldn't be heard by the human ear of course.

This seemingly insignificant childhood pastime helped to forge in me a strong imagination and a desire to embrace the unknown. While not always safe or wise, I certainly had many adventures in life when I put into practise the heart felt desire to seek … something more. I'm hesitant to say, 'the supernatural' because it has come to mean so many different things in different contexts. Really, it just means beyond what is natural – more than natural. That's what I longed for then. That's what I embrace now.

I wonder what my boys will seek? Will their hearts break through the images and sounds of a techno-era to embrace connections beyond themselves? Can I help? Or does it have to come from within them?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Juliette, Quite Contrary

I am one of four daughters. I am 'Number Three' as my father used to refer to me. He found it easier to number us than go mentally sifting through the four names to chance upon the correct one.

Although I do know my sisters' names and can recall them at will, for the purposes of this blog they shall be known as 'Spanish Sister', 'Beach Sister' and “Snow Sister'. Spanish Sis is three years older than me and Beach Sis is 18 months older than me. As you can see my mum had essentially 'three under three' which I don't think was a whole lot of fun for her. Snow Sis came along when I was 6 years old and rudely usurped my position as the baby of the family. I could be unkind and dub her 'Spoiled Sister' because that's what it seemed like at the time. In reality, being born such a significant time after the other three daughters meant that Mum & Dad were in a different period of their lives as she was growing up.

Spanish Sis, Beach Sis & I were children and teenagers during the 'tough' years. Mortgage repayments, constant 'do-it-yourself' renovations on the house, camping holidays because hotels were too expensive, mum working shiftwork and struggling to sleep during the day, all our clothes being homemade and general tightness in the budget. By the time Snow Sis was a teen, the rest of us had nearly left home. Mum & Dad were both executives for a major company doing work they enjoyed for a great wage. Holidays were more upmarket and life was easier.

Also, they were more relaxed in their parenting. They had raised three teenage girls, back to back and were enjoying the ease of just raising one (and a much better behaved one than the last teenage daughter … ). To this day, Snow Sis has a great relationship with our mum, a relaxed companionship as well as the usual mother/daughter connection.

My sisters all have dark brown hair and brown eyes, taking after my father's colouring. I had light blonde hair and blue eyes, more like my mum. For as long as I can remember, my sisters referred to me as 'the adopted one'.

I guess there must initially have been a time when I was hurt or insulted by this verbal ostracising, but I simply don't remember feeling that way. My memories of being called 'adopted' revolve around looking at my sisters and hoping that it was true!

I liked the idea that I was different from the others. I have never desired to conform and have found myself frequently on the outer of social circles and work environments because I don't conform. I think it stems from two sources.

Firstly, I think conforming is boring (refer to Billy Connolly's concept of 'beige' people). I believe the cliche that 'variety is the spice of life'. I think that if we're born inherently different, why try to merge into mirror images of each other? It defies the natural law of creation.

Secondly, I've come to the conclusion that I'm naturally contrary. Now, I actually think that's good thing, although my family, friends and colleagues may differ. (I can hear their eyes rolling!) I always seem to go for the loophole in an argument or a twist on a theory. I rarely accept things at face value, needing to assess all the facts myself.

I understand it is quite frustrating for others when it comes to areas I know nothing about, like installing stereos. The conversation with my audio engineer husband might go something like this ...

Me: I want to listen to my ipod in the car
Him: You can't
Me: Why not?
Him: Because you don't have the right equipment
Me: Why not? I've got a stereo.
Him: It's not compatible
Me: Can't we just get the right cable (See, I know stuff!)
Him: The problem isn't just a cable. Your stereo is too old. It hasn't got a ***insert incoherent technical term here***.
Me: But I've seen other people with old stereos using their ipods
Him: There's specific wiring required
Me: What kind of wiring?
Him: (Sigh) Proceeds to give a 10 minute detailed description of the ins and outs of car stereo technology and their applications in the context of ipod compatibility
Me: (pause) … but I want to listen to my ipod in the car
Him: Arrgh....

I am an intelligent and quick minded person. But the downside (for all concerned) is that I tend to dominate and try to direct situations. As a student, I was frequently the first with answers in school or catechism classes, not allowing others to get a word in. I always have something to say at meetings (there's no such thing as a rhetorical question!), I notice exceptions to rules and demand explanations where others will accept what they're being told. (All those who know me are nodding out there in cyberspace … I can see you!)

My long suffering husband has taught me two little words that have been a huge hurdle, but very important for me.
“Juliette …. trust me.”
“Just trust me”
“But.. I …”
(Big intake of breath, prayer for capacity to cope with this monumental step)
“Ok” (exhale loudly)

It's scary for people like me. It's like walking out on thin ice. I need to know how things work, what's going to happen next, what's the goal, what's the timeframe, what's the big picture. I'm a very intelligent woman, but sometimes a very slow learner. I'm learning to trust. Trust others, trust God and allow myself to step forward without knowing what lies ahead!

In another post, I will expound the benefits of being contrary, because I believe too many of us are too compliant in things we should be making noise about, but for now let's leave it at the important lesson of relinquishing control. I can still be myself – a little left of centre – but be a willing part of the group, being a team player rather than only ever wanting to be a team leader.

It's a process. Bear with me.