When Paths Cross

At the end of last year, I attended volunteer training sessions with Multicultural Development Australia (MDA), and in January this year was matched with a refugee family from Iraq. The arrangement was that I, along with whoever else in my family was willing and available, would visit this family weekly for three months, to help them settle in to life in Australia and to give them a connection with a family in the area who could help them with questions related to daily life, learning English, etc. After three months, the two families and MDA collectively would decide whether or not to continue the arrangement for another three months, or to end the formal volunteer agreement, possibly to continue meeting as friends, to volunteer with another family, or simply to cease volunteering altogether.
I was thrilled. And quite nervous. I’d hoped to volunteer in this way for a long time and it was finally happening. This fit in my heart. I often think about what refugee mothers, in particular, must experience, what it must be like to have to flee your home with your babies and not much else, as your best hope to keep them safe. It sounds terrifying. I thought of what I’ve experienced through willingly packing and moving to another country—one I’d visited a few times, where people speak he “same” language, where cultures are considered similar—how difficult that’s been for me, how foreign I have felt, and still feel at times, how different life is here and all the things I’ve learned and ways I’ve changed in the past several years.
I think those feelings must be exponential for refugees—moving to a country they’ve never visited and may know little about, where the language and the culture are very different, unable to bring their belongings or reminders of the home they’ve left behind. Refugees to me epitomize strength and resilience, and I felt honoured to have this chance to assist in some small way in their journey.
My big boys were excited also. My oldest, especially, delights in learning about other cultures and meeting new people. All five of us attended the introductory meeting—a family of four with two young sons, their case manager and a translator.
It seemed to me that our hearts were captured almost immediately. The kids set off playing—they didn’t need words. Children are the most beautiful example of the oneness between us all. We have much to learn from their acceptance of one another, their willingness to learn from each other, their ability to meet in the middle and make it work.
We learned a bit about their story to date—not much, but enough to split my heart in two and look upon them with awe and admiration. I even heard Steve’s voice catch once as he spoke to the father after hearing a bit about the path he was now on with his family.
As soon as we got home, my oldest son downloaded Google translator onto our phones. I read my volunteer manuals and we all contributed to a discussion about ideas of ways we could communicate with them, what we could teach them about life as a young family in Brisbane. I was so proud of my husband and my boys—such big hearts.
Over the coming weeks our relationship grew. They treated us like royalty, and we could not convince them to do otherwise. I drank coffee, Turkish coffee—two cups per visit. This is significant as I’d never drank a full cup of coffee in my life—I don’t care for it, but I could not refuse their generosity and insistence. We feasted on homemade Arabic foods and all sorts of sweet treats—my kids were in heaven. I would bring a healthy snack each week, even though it was rarely touched. 😉
Often all five of us would visit; occasionally just my youngest and me, and other times various combinations of the kids and me. We never experienced a negative interaction. MDA is a wonderful organization and their manuals provided me with lots of ideas—we brought grocery store brochures and named different foods and other products in English. We brought over children’s books and read them together–the adults and kids.
We cobbled together words and gestures to learn bits about each other—their homeland, their family, their jobs, their interests. Clearly their station in life was much different before things went badly for them in Iraq and they found themselves squeezing into a small townhome north of Brisbane. We watched their English progress—some quicker than others—it is incredible what going to an English-speaking primary school does for a young child!
Mostly we would just visit and play and chat. Once we even took them on a picnic—again, they provided a huge Arabic feast, and we brought Australian food as well, so we all ate like royalty that day.
Just as we approached our 3-month mark, however, their situation changed. They are still in the country and safe, but we are not able to visit them anymore. Our paths that had begun on opposite sides of the world, intersected briefly for several weeks that were full of learning and understanding, and now the paths have diverged again.
It was the wonderful staff at MDA who helped me to see that poetic perspective. I had lost sight of the transient nature of life in general, that is heightened for refugees. They have been through trauma that I likely will never know or truly understand (that’s the hope anyway—when I see these mothers, I am very cognizant of the fact that in just a slightly different world, it could be me making those tough decisions and fleeing terror). And they’re not settled yet. Their trauma is ongoing. They have a long, tough road ahead of them, even though they have freshly arrived in a safer country—many obstacles continue to line their path.
I am surprised at what these past few months have taught me about myself and my family. I had expected to learn more about how strong and admirable these people are, to learn some customs and even a few words from another culture. But I had not expected to discover more about myself. I already mentioned what beauty I saw in my children and the way they embraced this experience.
But I learned that maybe I needed them more than they needed me. Maybe I gained more from our interactions than they did. I am astonished whenever I am faced again with the fact that I am lonely. Almost seven years here and I am still severely lonely. Maybe it’s even been since I became a mother and my life changed forever? I’ve been blessed with so much love and abundance and noise in my house, but it was an enormous change. Or maybe it’s just since moving here. I don’t know. It hits me on my visits back to America, and it hit me with the experience with this refugee family—I was glad to have something social to do every week, once a week, a chance to get out of my house and interact with people—even when we don’t speak the same language.
The visits gave me purpose. I do work part time and feel purpose in that, and parenting is clearly a higher purpose, but this gave me purpose in a different way. Since my teens, I have rarely NOT volunteered my time in some way. I had continued to volunteer often through my kids’ school, but for some reason it fulfils me in a different way to get out of my kids’ school and their lives and volunteer for something else that I am passionate about.
We were introduced to the family about a week before I learned of my hip issues. Visiting them helped me put the frustrations about my physical health aside and focus on something meaningful.
My heart wishes this family peace in their journey. I wish for them to feel settled one day, to create a safe and happy home. I will likely soon begin volunteering with another family and thus begin a new journey, intersecting my family’s path with that of another. For now, I will continue to work on pulling myself emotionally and mentally off this family’s path completely and hope they know that we truly care for them, and how they brought us more than we likely brought to them.



A Story of Anger, Heartbreak and Hope

Today I’m angry. Very angry. And sad. Heartbreakingly sad. The story of why is a long one:
We moved to Australia towards the end of 2011, visited Colorado in the summer of 2012 and while we were there, the Aurora movie theatre massacre occurred. Shocking. Awful.
At the end of 2012, I was at work one day when the news came in about Sandy Hook. I could not believe it and was devastated. Instead of being devastated and shocked along with me, several co-workers made comments about Americans’ obsession with guns and how shootings are expected there because we are so free with, and committed to our guns. Those comments made me mad and defensive. I thought—please, just be sad about all the kids who died today; don’t make comments about Americans and their guns. Mourn for these families, whose lives are changed forever.
I heard of Australian kids telling their parents, “Aren’t we lucky that we live here, instead of a country like America where kids get shot at school? We’re so lucky to live in such a safe place. I feel bad for American kids. That must be scary.”
I reassured people—Americans care more about 6-year-olds dying than gun rights. It will change now. This won’t happen again.
But then we visited again for Christmas of 2013 and I remember talking with friends whose children attended Arapahoe High School, as they relayed their kids’ experiences hiding during the recent shooting. I remember how surreal it felt to listen to people discussing their own family members hiding from a shooter at school. At school. At school. It was a year later. Nothing had changed.
Now more than four years after that, the violence seems only to have gotten worse. Night clubs. Concerts. Churches. Schools—so many schools. Watching the news from over here, my heart breaks every time I hear an American interviewed following a mass shooting, tearfully speaking about how shocked they are that something so horrific could happen in their quiet community. My heart breaks hearing that because I don’t understand how ANY American right now could honestly NOT see how this could happen in their community. It seems we all must know someone by this point who has been somewhat close to this type of violence and it has happened in almost every venue imaginable. How could anyone not believe that it could happen to them?!
And I keep saying Americans, not because I still don’t identify as one, but because this is the ONLY country where this happens. Of course, countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are torn by war violence, but the U.S.A. is the only place where ordinary citizens cause so much carnage so regularly, killing their fellow countrymen.
The crazy comments I hear around these shootings make me angrier. And sadder.
“Now is not the time to discuss solutions to this problem. We need to mourn the victims.” I know. That’s what I said over five years ago. But now I realize how crazy this sounds. If now is not the time, when is? If a shooting has not occurred, why discuss how to fix the problem of shootings? When there is a problem, address it. If your car has a flat tire, fix it. That seems obvious. You can’t drive your car with a flat tire, so you can’t wait to fix the problem. Well, you can’t send your children to school safely right now. You can’t go to a movie, or to a concert, or to church and feel safe. Now is the time to address that. It’s well beyond the time.
“Guns aren’t the problem. The problem is mental health.” Well let’s address both guns AND mental health. Aren’t we a country that can tackle two problems at once? There’s even more to it than those two, I’d wager. Let’s get going on all the factors related to these issues. Anything. Everything!
I feel a bit helpless from here, but after Sandy Hook, I joined Moms Demand Action and send petitions and emails to lawmakers whenever they tell me to. I have also become active in emailing regarding health care for all. Living here has reinforced for me the belief that EVERYONE has the right to basic health care access. The system in Australia is not perfect. Far from it. I’m not sure any system is perfect. But if we’re committed to providing free education, people should not avoid going to the emergency room when they need to, for fear of cost. My activism isn’t much. But I believe it’s better than nothing.
“If we call for gun control, people will still get shot.” Seriously?! I was under the assumption that if we ban assault rifles, limit magazine size and implement stricter background checks, all crime will end forever. We will be in utopia. Come on! That’s the worst argument of all of them, I think. Since my kids can’t get 100% on every test they ever take, should I just tell them not to study at all? Not to try? Same with health care—since some people will abuse the system, let’s just not offer it. Well, some people will benefit greatly from access to health care and that could be me someday. It could be you. And even if it’s not, it’ll be my brother, my sister. We’re all in this together. If we can prevent one death by gun violence, maybe that was my death. Your death. It’s your brother or sister’s death. And that’s a success in my mind.
“There’s violence in other countries. It’s not just America. Look at all the acts of terrorism in Europe.” Yes, there are terrorists attacking Europe. They’re attacking America as well. America is the only place where these mass shootings occur regularly, most often carried out by sad white teenage boys (my heart breaks even more reading about the poor boy who carried out this shooting in Florida. No, I don’t hate him. I don’t believe he is pure evil. Learning his story rips my heart in two. What if just one of us had paid attention to him? He was crying out to be noticed. That’s another issue. So, so sad.). I’s a massive problem unique to this country that needs to be addressed. And, no, that doesn’t mean we should ignore terrorism, in all its forms. As I said above—multitask. Don’t ignore one problem because there are others.
“We need to make schools more secure, with metal detectors, more police presence and armed teachers.” This one makes my stomach turn. Can you even imagine going to a school like that?! The fact that kids today (in this country as well—everyone is trying to be prepared) practice drills on how to deal with an active shooter makes me feel ill. We had fire drills when I was a kid! That’s it—fire drills! My kids’ school today is outside. The classrooms are inside, but there is no school building. Nothing is secure. Anyone can walk into any room of the school from any angle. My kids are free. We aren’t free to carry around guns in Australia, but children here are freer than anyone faced with the option of going to school through a metal detector and sitting in a classroom with an armed teacher. I don’t want my kids growing up in a police state. I can move to the Middle East if I want my kids going to school in that type of environment.
And the reason I might be most angry is this–I’m angry with myself, because I still want to move back to this crazy, violence-ridden place. I miss it. Every. Single. Day. It is a country full of loving, friendly, happy people and I miss it. But every time I hear about another massacre, I question these feelings. I understand parents living there—you send your kids to school every day right now because you must. You send them out that door, and your throat catches a little and you pray you’ll see them again at the end of the day. You’re American. You’re strong. You’re brave. You do what you must.
But, my situation is different. I am also Australian. I can send my kids to school in a country where violence isn’t an issue. Not at schools. Not at movie theatres. Not at churches. Not at concerts. In fact, I’d be moving them AWAY from this free, safe situation in order to move back to America. Does that make me a bad parent? Why would I knowingly put my kids in harm’s way when I have an easy way to keep them safe? What is wrong with me?
So, yes, I’m angry. So, so angry. And so, so sad. But I’m also heartened. Partly because I must keep faith that things will change. Because if I don’t have that faith, then there is only despair and I refuse to live in a world where there is only despair and no hope. But also, because I believe that this may be the time where things FINALLY change. I have watched interviews of a teacher from the school, of students from the school pleading for change. I have seen social media posts angry about token offers of thoughts and prayers and begging for action. I think the current climate in America has inspired more people than ever before to be active, to realise what happens when passivity and complacency reign. I know it has for me. And I see it in others. America was founded by strong people breaking the mould, fighting for safety, for freedom from persecution. Americans are compassionate, loving, brave and not afraid to speak up. Things will change. It is time.


Coming to Accept Replacement Parts

On the 21st of January, I turned 41, healthy and happy. Only issue was a nagging pain in my right quads that I was getting treated with PT (physio to the Aussies), so that I could start training for another half marathon. Many people who have spent time with me this past year have asked me why I’m limping. Lovely human being that I am, those well-meaning people are often told they are nuts—I’m NOT limping; I just took a funny step. 😉
Well I was limping, and ignored for several months that I was in pain. A friend encouraged me to get it looked at last May so I could start training for a half marathon then. I went to two sessions and then got a stomach flu, the flu and pneumonia, all within two weeks. That meant no half marathon last year and cutting back on running for a while. It also ended my PT—didn’t see the point.
On Halloween, while dressed as Wonder Woman no less, another friend commented on my limp and said I was just being a typical Mom, ignoring my own pain while looking after everyone else. I decided she was right; the strengthening exercises I’d looked up online weren’t working, so I made another appointment. He worked on me intensively right up until our two-week vacation before Christmas and it didn’t get any better. In fact, the trip was rough in terms of pain and limping.
When I got back, the PT told me to stop running completely for a few weeks and to get an MRI. I stopped running, but checked into getting an MRI, told him I didn’t think it was worth the money and asked why it was necessary. He convinced me and on January 22nd, I got one. Although, I was in so little pain at the time, I almost cancelled and felt embarrassed wasting the technicians’ time while I was there, time they could have spent on patients who actually had problems that needed attending to.
The next day, my doctor and good friend tilted my world on its axis when he read me the report. Apparently, my hip is trashed—severe osteoarthritis which has led to all kinds of fraying, tearing, inflammation, swelling, cysts, etc. He recommended I consult with a surgeon, who confirmed the following week what my doctor had prepared me for—I need a hip replacement. Seriously?! I’m forty-f…ing-one! I’m healthy! I eat well and exercise daily. I still can’t believe it.
But the problem is, no one wants to give a 41-year-old a hip replacement. I’ll be 58 and needing another one. The surgeon, thankfully, wants to wait as long as possible. He says if I modify my activity and am careful, he’s hopeful I can make it to age 45 before surgery, especially since my pain is so minor right now. It really is. I thought I was getting better, that my physical therapy was finally working and I was ready to get back to running. Oh, how I’d been missing it! I was feeling down and out when I was hardly running at all and still in so much pain. Since I’d stopped completely for a few weeks and was feeling so much better, I thought I’d turned the corner and was ready to go again.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this surgeon is excellent and I am so grateful he doesn’t want me to have surgery today. But I think I spent the entire appointment with my jaw hanging open. No more running. Not ever. Skiing is not recommended, but I can a little if I’m very careful. Hiking? Be careful if it’s steep and involves much scrambling. Pilates? Ok, but take it easy. Biking? Sure, but be careful; it’ll still wear away your cartilage. Yoga? Yes! The silver lining! Do as much yoga as you can tolerate! Apparently, he and others are surprised I can tolerate it, but if I can, go for it!
I honestly have never thought of myself as very athletic or overly active, until he went through this list with me of ways I need to modify my activity to preserve my hip for as long as possible. I’m not an extreme athlete or fitness freak by any means; I just like to be active, out, enjoying life.
He found that I have hip dysplasia, which I would have had all my life, and that is what has caused the arthritis. He, thankfully did comment that I am overall very healthy and he can’t tell me to lose weight or to work on my flexibility to preserve my hip—the only thing he can tell me to do is to modify my activity.
He said the reason my pain is so controlled right now is because arthritis waxes and wanes. I’ll have periods of the extreme pain I had on our trip and I’ll have periods like this, where I think all this is a lot of fuss over nothing. It’s when the periods of extreme pain don’t go away that I cannot put off surgery any longer.
I wish I could say that I’ve taken this news in stride, focused on the people I know or hear of who are facing life threatening diseases, realised that this news is nowhere near as bad as what they are facing, counted the many things my life that I am extremely grateful for, dealt with it and moved on, activity level happily modified.
I wish I could say that. But if I did, it wouldn’t be true. I’ve been sad, mad and frustrated these past couple weeks, I’m sure a complete annoyance to anyone with a life-threatening disease. I’ve cried. A lot.
Just before I met with the surgeon, I told my best friend what was going on and said, “I really hope he doesn’t take running and yoga from me.” It sounds funny maybe, but they’re MY things; some days, they can be all that keeps me sane. Darn if he didn’t take my running. But he didn’t take yoga!
I took my kids to the zoo the other day and with all the walking, my hip started to feel sore, and I got tired and snappy. I had to sit down and rest for a while. I don’t want to be the crabby, lazy mom that skips exploring with her kids to sit and rest. I want to run around and look at the fun stuff with them!
The bright side to that one is that now the kids and I know what is wrong with me; we know WHY I’m crabby and tired and need to rest; we know WHY I’m limping, which has been happening for months on our long days out. I just had to say to them, “Boys, I’m sorry, but my hip is bothering me and I need to sit and rest for a few minutes.” They understood.
The morning after the surgical consult, I woke up (well, let’s be honest; I didn’t sleep well.) and practiced yoga, as I do regularly. And as I finished, I cried. I felt good, just a bit of pain in my hip, but relatively good. How can I appear so healthy on the outside and have no idea what is going on under my skin? Why did my hip betray my otherwise healthy body?
On Wednesday last week, I went for a farewell run. Don’t worry—it wasn’t a “real” run. I walked at a fast pace to the park, jogged around the park and walked home. I had to. I needed closure. I cried. During. After. I will REALLY miss running! I’m sad and angry that I went from getting a sore muscle treated so I could train for a long-distance race to putting away my running shoes forever. That was not the plan.
I walked up behind my favourite old lady that I see regularly out walking while I’m on my morning runs. I always look at her and think that I hope I’m like her when I’m that age. Except I guess I’m like her now. I’m 41, but my hip seems to be 80. I walked by other older people out walking and waved and said hello. Older people out walking are usually friendly. They’re a good group to be associated with. That’s a silver lining.
I walked by other runners and felt jealous. And annoyed at them. They’re all so serious and sullen, staring at the ground. I liked to smile while I was out running—”Look at this gorgeous day! Smell those flowers! Yes, I just made it up that big hill! Wow, my time is good today!” Here’s my advice to runners—look up! If you’re fortunate enough to be out, and able to run, enjoy that privilege! You never know which one will be your last.
I know. I’m pathetic. I’ve been having a right royal pity party over one bum body part. It’s lame. I’ll get there. I’m working on it. It is what it is. It’s teaching me already—helping me remember not to get attached to my physical body. It’s not who I am. It’s a vessel, not my essence. It’s temporary—one part of it just happened to get run down before I was ready for it to. I enjoyed walking at a fast pace that day. I’ve gone for a couple bike rides and really enjoy that! I’m even going to consider taking swimming lessons again—not sure I can ever get into that, but you never know. I’m still having fun and celebrating each day, enjoying my life, as I try to do normally. One day at a time.

Education Frustration

About a week ago, my middle son brought home a letter from school, which, at first glance, made me happy. It started out praising his proficiency in math and writing and then invited him to participate in an extension program for selected students. It described how well known this program is and what a wonderful opportunity it would be for him, such a privilege to be included. Boy, my head was swelling with pride!
But then it said the program would take place at 8:00 a.m., two days a week at school over the next 12 weeks. Hang on. School doesn’t start until 8:45! Why is Zach being “invited” in early twice a week for additional work in these subjects if he’s already doing so well? Knowing my active, sporty, nearly 8-year-old boy, he wasn’t going to see this as a privilege—more like a punishment. Sure enough—he did. He chose not to participate.
Also, it seemed like a punishment for the whole family. How was I going to get him to school that early twice a week and balance that with my other two children and my job? My kids want to participate in almost every program we learn about, so we limit their extracurricular activities. He is signed up for his maximum already this term, as he is every term. If we were going to add in additional learning programs, we would have needed to know about them in advance, and he would have had to cut something else out.
The letter closed by stating how the school greatly looked forward to sharing this special program with my son. No sign-up option was mentioned. So, naturally, we just skipped it. I intended to email his teacher with my displeasure that the program was offered outside school hours and make clear that, in my opinion, any extensions to his learning abilities should be provided for during school hours, not as an extracurricular activity. However, I’ve been dealing with some surprise health issues (more on that next week) and it never happened. I did discuss the letter with my husband, a high school teacher, and another teacher friend of ours, and they both agreed with me.
While I was at work this week, I received a message from his teacher saying the program is compulsory and if he is not going to participate, we need to let the principal know. It is an expensive program for the school to provide, so they need to offer the opportunity to another child. I called her back in between my classes, but of course, she was in class then and couldn’t talk. So…. then the school got my email. And I was even more upset—they can’t force us to be there at 8:00! They have six hours a day, 40 weeks a year with my kids, and any learning they want to provide for them should be done in those hours. The rest of the hours are my husband’s and my responsibility to educate them how we see best.
I told them I hoped the email format would allow my concerns to be passed on to appropriate staff and that I would like follow-up on why they couldn’t extend his learning sufficiently during school hours. I also asked what was being offered for children that are not already proficient in those areas—when are they told to come in early for a special program to allow them to catch up to what is expected? (Do you think they are?! Of course not. And we learned more about why, as we investigated further. But, I digress.)
His teacher emailed a lovely response that she understood my feelings and would pass on my concerns as well as extend his learning in the classroom. I reiterated to her that I don’t doubt she and most teachers are doing just that—my boys have had exceptional, caring, dedicated teachers—but my issue is with this program being offered outside school hours, as if that’s a privilege.
The next day, the head of curriculum called and said she wanted me to know my feedback was appreciated and they will take my concerns into consideration for the future. She mentioned the school’s longstanding relationship with this well-known program, and that since the program is presented by a teacher online with the school’s teachers in the room as support, the time is not flexible. They adhere to the program schedule.
That raised more questions for me and I emailed her asking how many years the school has offered the program, what grade levels it is offered to, and what is offered to lower achieving students outside school hours. I also commented that based on her phone call, I got the impression I was the only parent she’s heard from dissatisfied with the program. She responded that, yes, I was. The school has been involved with this program for several years and this year, the program is offered to grade 3 from January through May. She didn’t address my last question; I asked it again and it remains unanswered.
My husband and I started researching the program. Upon going to the website, it is clear program is designed to raise the kids’ standardized test scores! Coincidence that it is being offered this year (and last year–that’s as far back as I got) to Grade 3, right up until the date that they take their first national standardized tests? Absolutely not! The website states the program designed to raise kids into the “Upper 2 bands”. It takes kids that are already likely to do well on these tests and aims to make them do even better, thereby improving the school’s data. That’s it. It’s all about their numbers. As my husband said, they won’t bother with the low achieving kids, because there’s really no way to raise them and that won’t make the school look as good. Better to focus on getting the higher achievers even higher.
Well, I was about to go crazy mother bear on the school, but he reasoned with me not to. It’s not just their school, he says. It’s all schools. They’re all focused on their data. They must be. And that makes me sad. But still angry. At a system that makes it that way. And that they dupe parents into thinking their kids are being given some sort of prize, when they have instead tricked us into bringing our kids in on our own time and our kids’ own time, to improve their numbers! Damn, they’re clever! We’re all so proud our kids are being labelled as proficient that we just move heaven and earth to get them this “fantastic opportunity.” It’s taking advantage of parents’ good hearts and commitments and it’s disgusting.
To be fair, I checked into it further and the kids that participate do thoroughly enjoy it and some say it’s the favourite part of their week. That heartens me at least to know that if they are being used as pawns for data, they are at least enjoying it and benefiting from it. But still. Not happy.
Then to make matters worse, a few days ago, the boys brought home letters telling us that Christian religion classes would be starting up again at school next week. These lessons are given during school hours; the school is required by federal law to provide them if a church asks to come in and give them. It makes quite clear that kids don’t have to participate, but if they don’t, they are basically given busy work during that time, so the kids attending the religion class don’t miss out.
Cue Kathleen’s blood boiling! In the span of a week, I have just learned that if my kid wants to take advantage of some renowned, exceptional learning opportunity that the school is paying for, he needs to come in outside of school hours. And an hour of his learning time will be wasted each week, while those that choose to learn how to follow the Christian faith during school hours receive that opportunity.
Hello! Am I the only one that sees the problem here?! Religion has No Business in a state school! Not at all and especially not when kids are only given the choice of learning how to be followers of one religion. Um, xenophobia? Here’s my solution—offer classes on how to be a good Christian at 8:00 in the morning. That way parents that feel they can’t educate their kids in their religion of choice adequately on their own time and through their own church, can ease their consciences. Then teachers will have more time to work with all levels of abilities during school hours. I mean—seriously! Parents should be educating their kids on their religion of choice on their own time—every church on every corner offers classes throughout the week where they can satisfy that concern. Or better yet—send them to a faith-based school. Don’t waste my kids’ school hours because of it. Sigh.
This is an imperfect system. It’s tough to find a perfect one. I feel for teachers who are genuinely concerned with reaching each individual student and inspiring them. Instead of being free to do that, they’re stuck teaching to the test, rated on their students’ test scores, focused on the data, and wasting their own time most likely during these religion classes. Their hands are tied. It sucks. For all of us. Ok. Rant over. Glad that’s off my chest!
I will now move on to focus on the positives–that we live in a country where my kids can go to school in a friendly, safe place, that they have the right to a free education, and that my husband and I are free to educate them however we see fit on our own time, without  repercussion.

Grateful for Childhood Imagination

Our kids are addicted to technology. Hard core. Seems we all are these days. I sometimes think that their days to play for hours using only their imaginations, their days to be simply kids–are gone, over way too quickly, squashed by the allure of those glowing screens. It seems many days all they want is their iPads, and when we pull them off, unless we’re offering something super exciting (cue trip to the beach, theme park, etc.), they’re whining and bored–they can’t come up with their own fun anymore.

But then I go to work one evening with the promise of our family movie night awaiting us all upon my return. And I come home to this posted outside our front door:

The second one was inside. They had transformed our loving room into a movie theatre, complete with concession stand, prices and pretend money cut out of bits of paper. It was innocent. It was creative. It rocked.

And I am happily reminded that I am wrong. Childhood innocence and imagination is alive and well. I joyously gave them my paper $1 coin in adherence to their sign advertising the cost of the popcorn and cuddled up on the couch with my cute little dudes to enjoy the movie–movies that are so much more fun through their eyes. Aaaahhh. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong!

O, Christmas Tree


It may not look like much, but this is my favourite Christmas tree to date, and here’s why: Real trees are surprisingly hard to come by in this part of the world, and, due to spending the last two Christmases in Colorado, we haven’t had to buy one since 2014. We set off this year on a two-week family adventure on the 9th of December, knew if we bought a tree before we left, it would die while we were gone, so decided to get one the day after we got back, the 23rd.
What we didn’t realize, however, is that due to the low availability of real trees, you are apparently supposed to order them ahead of time and the few shops that do have them close by the 22nd, Friday.
We learned this on the 20th when we started looking up Christmas tree lots online while on our trip. We found about four places within an hour’s drive of us and struck out completely, on all searches, all phone calls.
On the way home, we told the kids that we likely wouldn’t have a tree this year. On Friday evening, around 8:00, after arriving home and getting the kids to bed, Steve sent one last message to a Scouts group he’d heard was selling trees. They called him back right away and said we could come in Saturday morning and take any of their leftovers for $20 before they brought them to the dump. Score! We got a tree!
Now this tree is actually two “trees” tied together, and we all adore it. Probably the most fun for me was pulling out our ornaments after a 3-year hiatus. Each one tells a story, is attached to a memory, and I thoroughly enjoy just looking at them, reminiscing.
The other reason I love this tree is that it represents our successful hunt upon return from probably the most fun adventure we’ve had together as a family of five. When we were preparing for this trip, I honestly wasn’t that excited. During that last week of school and work, I was looking forward to the break and then thought, “Wait a minute—I’m going on a 12-hour drive with my kids! We’re camping for half of the time! I’ll be listening to whining, fighting, not sleeping in a bed; I’ll be in a noisy campground. This won’t be relaxing and enjoyable!”
But it was. Both. The trip exceeded all expectations and was an absolute blast. So, to come off an experience like that and be able to decorate our perfect little tree the next day—Christmas just can’t get any better.
Of course, I miss my Colorado family like crazy. But we haven’t had a Christmas in our own home for the past two years. This is Sam’s first Christmas at home. It all just feels ok.
So, that’s our tree. That’s our story. And for $20, we spent a fraction of what we would have on a “pretty” tree that we’d bought on time. That all adds up to why I Iove simly sitting at looking at this imperfectly perfect little tree. Merry Christmas to all our loved ones! Wishing you all many small reasons to smile and feel your full heart this year. Much love to you all. 😊 Kathleen and family

A Letter to My Son’s Former Childcare

What follows is a letter I recently sent to my son’s childcare centre, in response to the above note I received from them. His last day with them was this week and he moves on next month to the centre his older brother attended, so we are thrilled.

“Dear team:

Firstly, I would like to thank you for the wonderful year my son has spent in your care two days per week. You have been very kind to our whole family and he has been comfortable and happy there–we really appreciate your efforts. We especially appreciate the photos and hand out of his year that you sent home yesterday, the DVD and his teacher’s individual updates on via email throughout the year as to what he’d been up to that day.

One issue I would like to bring to your attention is to please ask that in the future look at your policy on lunchbox notes. A few weeks ago, I received a note in my son’s lunchbox berating me for including potato chips that day. Fortunately for me, I had a day where I felt rested and confident in my parenting abilities and laughed it off. In fact, I took a photo of the note and posted it on Facebook, where I jokingly referred to myself as a “bad mom” sending chips to child care.

However, the comments I received (which I am happy to share with you if you are interested), made plain that the note really touched a nerve with people in several parts of the world, which made me consider the note and its ramifications further.

As I said, I feel fortunate that I was able to find humour in the note. However, what if my husband had been away for work that week? What if I also had a new baby at home and had been up all night with him? What if I sorely needed some respite from my active toddler that day by sending him to childcare, and the only thing I could find in my pantry to send him to childcare with was chips? A note like that could have crushed me.

My excuse happens to be that I was simply tired from my regular daily life of three kids and a part time job, hadn’t been shopping and the best I could think of late in the evening, that was nut-free happened to be chips. I realize that was not the first time my child has eaten chips, and I can assure you it won’t be the last, but I do try my best to offer him healthy foods.

Mothers today are judged and analysed for every decision we make, and we should not be worried about impersonal notes from our children’s caregivers pointing out our faults, not for something as trivial as potato chips. The mental health of mothers today concerns me, and our society needs to be careful to support mothers, not judge them.

I completely understand and respect that your aim is for children to receive proper nutrition while they are in your care, and beyond that, in their homes. The best way for you to know you are achieving that aim would be to provide the food yourselves.

However, I realise that would be quite an undertaking. May I suggest that if the families are responsible for providing food each day, that you quietly keep a record of instances where children bring in unhealthy foods in their lunches, and then, if you notice a pattern, approach the parents in a friendly, non-judgemental, but helpful manner to discuss the issue? A person to person interaction would be much better received, in my opinion, than an impersonal, formalised “mum-shaming” note, with the child’s name and offending food filled into blanks.

You could even extend this practice to other important issues including children’s cleanliness each day, fit of their clothes, health, happiness, etc. Food is only one aspect of many contributing factors towards our children’s wellbeing.

Whatever you decide to do, and please feel free to completely disregard my uneducated suggestions, please endeavour to find a process more mum-friendly than mass-produced notes in the lunchboxes following intermittent offences. I would be happy to discuss this further if you would like.

Thank you again for your wonderful care of my son and kindness towards our family.

Kind Regards,

Kathleen Charles”

Retreat into Myself

Peaceful Chenrezig
My cabin in the woods

A couple weeks ago, I spent six days, five nights away from my family to attend Being Yoga’s Chakra Vinyasa retreat, part of my Level 2 teacher training.
5 Nights. I had not yet spent one night away from my 2-year-old; I had just completely weaned him the month before. I spent 3 nights on my initial teacher training retreat when I was 34 weeks pregnant, just over 2 years ago. That was the last time I’d spent a night away from the rest of my crew.
When I got “permission” to go, I panicked a bit—it was such a surprise! I’d hoped to attend this retreat next year and go on a 2-night one in December this year instead, but my husband threw me for a loop by saying this one fit his schedule better. I came close several times to pulling out. I was about to pay my deposit and my Dad went into the hospital. I waited, thinking I’d spend the money I’d set aside on a plane ticket instead. Thankfully, he got better. I paid the deposit, still unsure.
As the date approached, I wanted to bail—it’s not right to leave the kids for this long. They don’t know what to do without me. My baby’s too little. What if the people on the retreat don’t like me? What if I don’t like them? 6 days is a long time! What if I have no one to eat lunch with? I honestly felt like a kid leaving for college!
My family drove me up and when we arrived at the gorgeous Chenrezig Institute, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, we were all amazed at the beauty and peace of the place. We had a picnic lunch and said our good-byes. That was it. This was really happening.
I found some sweet familiar faces in the group, which helped put my mind at ease. I had paid extra for a private room ($20/night—are you kidding me?! Small price to pay for the chance to have my own space!) and when I got up to my simple cabin in the woods (without a bathroom!) that evening and found a large spider on the wall, I panicked again. I am not joking when I say that I felt like Wonder Woman when I successfully got that thing outside! But the damage was done—too scared to sleep.
After a restless night, I attended the morning meditation and then our awkward breakfast, feeling weird about standing in line, figuring out where things were, missing bananas. I felt lost, out of place. 4 more nights of this? I didn’t know if I could do it.
Then we gathered for our morning class, focused on the solar plexus chakra. It was divine! That was it for me. I was there. Completely. Immersed. All feelings of panic and awkwardness gone, I enjoyed the rest of my time in ways I cannot put into words.
I realized that I hadn’t spent a night alone in almost 10 years—the last time I can remember was when I was pregnant with my oldest son in early 2008, and as any mother knows, you’re not actually alone when you’re 7 months pregnant!
I want to try to put into words here what I truly enjoyed about this experience:
-The yoga. Oh, my, the yoga! Such good yoga! As an instructor, it is hard to find the time or classes I really enjoy and it was amazing to gain so much from each class.
-The meditation. I struggle with mindfulness meditation, but these meditations were more active—visualisations, breathing techniques—these tools really worked for me and I gained more from meditation than ever before.
-The people. I met incredible people! Some I knew before, most were new, and all were awesome. For the first time in years, I felt like a woman. I felt like Kathleen. I was talking to people as me, not as the kids’ mom, not as a school mom, just me. I was seen for me. Of course, I adored the other mothers and we talked about our kids a lot during the week, but we were just us. And when I think about this, the timing was really meant to be—I already mentioned that I had just weaned my youngest in August, so this was the first time in nearly three years of pregnancy and breastfeeding that my body was ALL MINE. For six luscious days, my body was mine. I was Just. Me. I truly reconnected with who I am—the many layers that entails. I laughed until I cried. I danced. I wrote. I even drew and sang, which is NOT like me! 😉 I was inspired, filled with new ideas. I don’t know why, but even after 6 years here, I feel like the odd man out, the obvious American, in most social groups. But not here. I felt like I fit.
-The setting. I am not a city girl. I often realize how confined I feel living in Brisbane, missing my mountains, my wide-open spaces. Six days in the gorgeous, peaceful woods was good for my soul in countless ways. The woods, the mountains, outside—these are the places where I feel most at home, most myself.
-The meals. I hardly need to mention that being able to eat meals that I did not have to prepare myself or clean up after was a luxury. But even better, the adult conversation, the “real” conversation, the unhurried pace—being able to finish and sit and digest until I Felt Like getting up again—-aahhh, bliss!
-The free time. Waking up each morning and only seeing to myself, sitting on my little cabin deck during every break and closing my eyes if I wanted to, or writing, or thinking, uninterrupted, unhurried—wow.
It’s no wonder thinking back over it all that I have only very slowly been coming back from “outer space” in these recent days. It’s taken awhile! I left the house without shoes on Tuesday—9 days after being back! Thank goodness I’m a yoga teacher, but walking around my son’s daycare barefoot was a bit gross! 😉
When I wonder why I had to get down in writing my feelings of gratitude after getting this time to truly retreat into myself, I need only to look at what my Mom just emailed me after our FaceTime chat today, 12 days after returning: “My Precious, I did so love our visit tonight …. you seem to have such a beautiful inner peace, calmness, happiness, relaxed way about you of late. I don’t know, but, I truly think your “Yoga Retreat ” was good for you. Regardless, I am happy you did that. “
Thanks for noticing, Mom–even from 8,000 miles away. I am happy I did it, too—and, oh, so grateful!

Our Kids are Smarter than We are

On Monday I returned from a blissful, 6-day yoga retreat. More on that later, but I realised that at pretty much the exact time that my three children were all gathered around me showering me with love, and my husband was sitting down in peace for the first time in a week, with a smile on his face as he laughed warmly at the scene in front of him, a man was quite literally raining down bullets on hundreds of innocent people on the other side of the world.
What an awful realization—here I sit filled with the love of my family, peace and inspiration from an incredible six days of self-discovery and people are running for their lives, not knowing what’s happening to them as more and more bullets rain from the sky. I was devastated, as we all were.
The next night at dinner, my husband asked the kids if anyone at school had mentioned Vegas. They hadn’t. My oldest said he’d learned something about it on the internet that day—he knew someone got shot in Las Vegas. And this began what made me want to get down in writing the ways this beautiful child has shown he’s smarter than most adults in recent days.
A bit later, as I was washing dishes, he came out and asked me, “Mommy, was the person visiting or was it someone who lived there?” I asked what he was talking about. He said, “The person who got shot in Las Vegas–was he visiting or someone who lived there?” A huge lump formed in my throat and I couldn’t get words out. I didn’t want to scare him; I didn’t want to ruin his innocence, to tell him the truth of what humans are capable of in their times of darkness.
I kept it simple. I needed to. “Honey, more than one person got shot.” “Oh. Well, do you know if they were visiting or if they lived there?” He was really hung up on this point. “I imagine some of them lived there while some were visiting,” inwardly pleading with him not to ask me for more detail as the lump in my throat tightened and tears came to my eyes.
“Oh. Because I just think it would be awful to be visiting a place, having fun, and then get shot. Wouldn’t that be horrible?” I agreed that it would be. That was it. That was all he said. Bless his heart. He gets it.
A week or so before, he and his younger brothers were walking to a post box with me to mail our marriage equality surveys. He was holding the envelopes and asked what they were for. I explained to him that the government wants to know if we believe that boys should only be allowed to marry girls or if boys can marry each other and girls can marry each other, so they can decide what the law should be.
Dumbfounded, he asked, “Why would there be a law about that?!” I answered honestly that I didn’t know. He asked if there is a current law about it and I told him that right now in Australia boys are not allowed to marry other boys and girls cannot marry other girls. That is the law. He said, “That’s so stupid! Why can’t people just marry who they want?”
It seems so simple. Kids are smarter than we are. Why make love subject to law? I told him that people can easily become afraid and they often are most afraid of people who are different than they are. So, a long time ago, some men felt they needed to make a law so they could try and stop people being different from them and they wouldn’t have to feel so afraid. What do I say? How do we teach our kids about the world they live in without taking away their innocence and the beauty they so easily see in others?
My final example today is again from the night I returned from my retreat. I was telling them all what a great experience it was, how I loved learning and how I discovered so much about myself. I said that I wished all people could have that experience and told my husband that I’d support him if he would like to find something in that same vein. (I won’t relate his answer! 😉) But my precious boy came up beside me and said, “Mommy, can I go on a retreat?”
These kids. They’re smarter than we are. We need to pay attention to them. They have much to teach.

Lost & Lonely Musings

Why do I feel lonely and lost these days? Why can’t I seem to figure out what my professional contribution to society can be? Why do I not seem to have friends here that I really connect with, who get me and who I get? Why am I so homesick?

I have three beautiful, happy boys who bring me joy—they truly do. But as any parent knows, they also whine a lot, they seem dissatisfied with much of what I work so hard to do for them; the two older ones argue with almost everything I say and with each other, seemingly constantly sometimes. I find myself stopping to listen and smile when I hear them playing well together—it seems more rare these days and I can’t seem to defuse their frustrations with each other effectively, no matter what parenting articles I read.

Unlike so many mothers whom I have always greatly admired and felt somewhat jealous of, I need more in my life than full time mothering. I lose myself when I only attend to everyone else’s needs. I need appreciation for a job well done. I need recognition, measurable progress in what I’ve accomplished each day. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t really get around the fact that I do.

I think that’s why my work/career/professional struggles are getting me down so much lately. For 14 years before this move to Australia, I worked in retirement communities. I was good at it. I enjoyed it. I was respected in my field and I made good money.

Since I’ve come here, I just can’t figure out how to get back into that field. Now, I realize I haven’t tried as hard as I should. Life gets in the way. I’ve sent online enquiries to senior living companies asking about their jobs in marketing and sales, with no response. I’ve sent a few online applications for activities/recreation/volunteer positions, with no response. I’ve called one nearby community and asked to volunteer—no return call. I’ve asked the few people I’ve met who work in the field about the positions, and they don’t seem to know anything about them—maybe they don’t exist here?

I keep telling myself the best way to find out is to just drive around and walk into communities and ask. But, I’ve always had a kid in tow, or was about to have a kid in tow, so I just never got around to it.

Friends at home say I’m awesome for moving to a new country and learning a new profession and starting my own business. But it doesn’t feel very awesome. I learned the new profession partially out of necessity. I never wanted to run my own business. I don’t enjoy it and it’s not going well. In fact, right now, it seems to be failing miserably. I’m paying to do it. Try as I might, I can’t get people interested in it.

I do love yoga—it’s been a passion of mine for years, and the more I learn about it, the more passionate about it I feel. But people in this area, just don’t seem to get it. Yoga is not as popular around here—I don’t even know many people who do it, or who are physically active as a priority at all. I think that’s partly why I feel disconnected from the friends I’ve made.  I’ve rarely been to a yoga class here with more than a handful of people in it, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I can’t get many people interested in my classes, much less my classes for their children.

I just have a hard time fitting in with people who don’t prioritize healthy eating for their families, who don’t prioritize fitness on a regular basis and who don’t get the purpose of yoga. I hope that doesn’t make me sound snobby. I don’t intend it to. I’ve made friends for the past 4+ years with people who are different to me in those core areas, but have other things in common—being a mother, living in a foreign country, but I just don’t feel connected, so I’m guessing that’s the reason why…??? I could be totally off base. I do admit I have met a few people who are health and fitness oriented and am still not clicking with them either.

It often seems to me that people don’t like me over here. I never seemed to have that problem before moving. It is very likely all in my head, but I just seem to rub people the wrong way when I don’t intend to…??

I know I could connect well with my husband, but he’s frustrated in his job, too and we don’t see each other until late in the evening when we’re pretty much too tired to talk about much. He is wonderful and we do try. We both know we need time together. But it’s difficult, because that costs money. And when I’m not making any money, I feel bad spending $80 to go out for two hours together and get a drink each and an appetizer to share—bleah!

I keep meditating and reading about creating my own joy, realizing that my life is just as it should be in this moment and to find peace in the present. I’m honestly trying! For whatever reason, it’s meant to be right now that I’m paying to try and teach yoga, that I’m contributing nothing meaningful to my community in terms of professional employment and that I’m working my tail off for no positive outcome. That’s hard to embrace! But I will keep trying…..For now these musings of a crazy person just help me to get it off my chest.