More Than A Normal Mummy

This is a letter I have written to a friend of mine as she struggles with two young children with very specific needs. Sometimes we only see the problems that these needs create – but we all need to remember that the real story is much bigger than just that. (I preach to myself here.)

My dearest friend,

I see you and your two boys and my heart smiles. They are beautiful boys – full of life and love, and that indefinable something that is boy-ness. You’re doing a fantastic job with both of them, and I admire your courage.

I wasn’t there much when no 1 arrived – I was fighting my own battles – but I think you have done an amazing job. There are mothers around the world that would be walking around with a handheld vacuum cleaner to make sure that there are no reactive foodstuffs nearby, and yet you don’t. You have let me cook for your child, and hold his hand as we went around the museum. Watching Little Person with him has given me hope. These are gifts that you have given me, and I will treasure them always. Your son #1 has a brilliant sense of humour, and an adventurous spirit that the trials of his life have not quelled. This is no doubt due to your parenting, the active and considered decisions you have made, and I commend you for that.

I remember when you sat on my swing bench in the warm afternoon sun, hand upon your giant swollen belly, laughing and full of hope. I remember watching son #2 eating rice cakes and both of us being so sure that this time, definitely, there was no issue. You would not have to walk that road again. (I remember watching Little Person as a toddler with bated breath, thinking that I, too, had dodged a very specific bullet.) And now, you walk a harder path than either of us thought possible.

I can tell you this. He won’t remember the visits to the hospital at this young age. I know, because I don’t remember my earliest hospital visits. He will remember that you always loved him, always held him close, always took care of him. He will never know how strong you have had to be, how much each of these trials has taken out of you. Come to that, I will never know either. But I know this: if mothers were athletes, you would be the ultra-marathoner.

It would be great to just be a normal mummy, watching your normal baby develop into a normal toddler and on to a normal child. But you are more than a normal Mummy. You have walked shadows of this road before – your life to this point has equipped you for the road ahead. Your children are brave and beautiful. You are brave and beautiful. Your husband is strong and courageous. See the good job you have done with son #1? I know you will do a good job with son #2. I can see it in the merry twinkle in his eyes, that he knows that life can be fun, and interesting and good. Son #2 is an explorer too.

But what of the hopes and dreams of that summery day? Well, there is still a lifetime to be lived. My swing bench in still here. You can laugh on it, you can cry on it, and in wintertime you can look out on it and be glad that it’s okay to not be a normal mummy. You are more than a normal Mummy – you are a normal Mummy doing extraordinary things. My home, and my heart, will always be open to you, as a place of celebration and solace, of acceptance and affirmation. I want my home, and my memories to be full of the sound of your boys’ laughter for many years to come. These days are hard, but they will be but a footnote. The real story is just beginning.

I believe in you. And I am so glad that you are in my life – all of you.

Labels as an Excuse: the Misappropriation of the Extraversion Personality Construct

I don’t believe in personality tests. It probably has something to do with the time that I did a test with some classmates, and we were all supposed to gather together with people whose results resembled our own. It was one of those ones where you answer questions, and then get a set of four numbers which you plot across two axes, ending up with a quadrilateral that is predominantly in one of the quadrants. Then you look in the book to see what your label is. (I remember that one of the labels was “Leader”, so looking back, I’m a little suspicious.) So everybody went running around looking for people with the same kind of quadrilateral as them. Did I mention I came out as a perfect diamond on this particularly one – I didn’t “go” in any of the groups.

“What does that make me?” I asked the teacher.

“Awkward.”

Hey, at least he was honest.

But here’s the thing – personality is not all of who you are, but it is a large part of how you express your identity. And when we reduce people to labels, and numbers in quizzes, and “which box do you fit in”, we oversimplify things. We reduce people to roles, and therefore limit their ability to fulfil their potential, and we exclude people that don’t quite fit in the boxes. Which disempowers the people who already know that they are different, and impoverishes the society which marginalises them. Lose-lose, really.

I’m going to be controversial here. I don’t like the way society has grabbed on to the whole extravert-introvert thing. I think we sell ourselves short. (If you’re interested, the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain is what got me started on all this.)

We had dinner guests on Saturday.

“I’m 60% introvert,” he said, “Definitely. And she’s 95% introvert.”

“Yeah, I could so do without people,” she nodded.

“I like that bit of the book that talks about the kind of houses that introverts like – with lots of alcoves you can go and hide in. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Alcoves, where you could go read your book.”

“No. I hate alcoves!”

Of course, I love the idea of alcoves – but only if they have wingback chairs and snugly blankets and windows so the sunlight can come streaming in over your shoulder and onto the book you’re reading or the craft you’re busy with.

But that’s the point. A woman writes a book about being an introvert, and how introverts are overlooked in society but have a contribution to make, and suddenly every single generalisation that she makes about introverts generally must apply to each introvert individually. And the more of an introvert you are, the more these generalisations apply. So Mrs 95% Introvert must love alcoves more than Mr 60% Introvert – 35% more to be exact.

But introversion – extraversion is not synonymous with personality. There are multiple models of personality out there – the most prevalent when I was studying psychology was the Big 5, which has extraversion as one of 5 facets. But the other four are much less fashionable (especially conscientiousness), so we’ll just stick to extraversion. Never mind that the little scores in the boxes don’t reflect who you actually are – they indicate trends in who you may be, how you might react, what could be (any statistician can tell you that these tests are useful when applied to a population, but their applicability decreases when applied to the individual).

We treat these labels as absolutes, but they are not. We use them to explain away bad judgement, poor decision-making and lack of character. We put people in a box, and assume that suddenly we know everything about them.

And if they don’t fit in the box, we tell them they must change. Which is problematic, because I quite like being a diamond.

I’m not for changing.

 

When Inspirational Quotes Just …. Aren’t

A lifetime ago, as I was descending into the hell that was finding the right medications for my epilepsy, a kindly-minded soul phoned me. She said she was phoning to see how I was doing. I told her not so good – I didn’t give her all the details of the various side-effects, or talk in depth about the overwhelming fear that I would perhaps never recover. Even now, more than a decade later, I’m glad I cannot remember most of it. So I gave her a taster, and she trotted out her little line.

“Ah well, you cannot appreciate the mountaintop until you have been in the valley.”

I hung up. (I think the term we may be looking for here is “straw that broke the camel’s back”.)

Five minutes later phone rings again – it was the pastor person who was also my good friend.

“Rox, you can’t just go hanging the phone up on people.”

“I can. I just did.”

“She meant well.”

“Fine. Then tell her to visit me and bring chocolates. I’ve got enough on my plate. I’m barely coping as it is. I don’t want to hear about a mountaintop or a valley. I don’t want to have to sit here and listen to somebody else’s platitudes just so that they can feel better about themselves.”

A long silence. Then “Are you not hanging up on me then?”

“No. You’re my friend. You care.”

And he did care. And if he were on the same continent as me now, he would still care. I know, because after I treated that woman so badly, he fixed it for me, explained the situation. And made sure that nobody else bothered me with platitudes to make themselves feel better again.

This is why I never tell anybody that they need to experience the valley to appreciate the mountaintop. Just. So. Wrong.

********

Still, we have our modern, online equivalent.

I have recently made a conscious decision to remove my access to Facebook from all but one of my devices. I’m scaling back on my Instagram liking. I don’t always click through on Twitter links even if they seem interesting.

Because everybody is throwing inspiring platitudes at each other, and nobody is really connecting. We all like and share things that we think will make ourselves feel better. We post up encouraging thoughts for the day (sometime even, shock! Bible verses!) as if it to say it’s alright, it’ll be fine in the long run and so that means I’m okay today. Except, all the positive platitudes in the world don’t beat a hug, or a friend showing up with a box of gluten-free biscuits.

There is no replacing people. There is no replacing face-to-face conversation, coming together and learning to love, to share, to grow. These devices in our hands are meant to aid communication and relationship, not define it.

I no longer believe the majority of what I read on Facebook, and for every Instagram quote that people like, I wonder, what’s going on behind that? Too many times, people have admitted to me that, despite what their Facebook pages say, they have been really struggling – with insecurity, fear, dark oppressive thoughts. So what’s the point of all the happy platitudes, except to make sure that nobody has to phone them up to tell them “you cannot appreciate the mountain without the valley”?

As I type, I find myself asking, am I a hypocrite for posting this online? The answer is no, because I’m not denying that online communication can be useful, provided it is a single facet of a meaningful relationship, rather than the overwhelming mask behind which you hide. I want you to think about why you like and share the things you do. I want you to think about why your friends like and share the things they do.

 

The Purpose Eco-System

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I suspect that one day, Little Person may turn out to be a vegetarian. She’s currently fascinated by the idea that some animas are herbivores, some carnivores and some omnivores. So she looks at the sheep grazing in the field and announces that they are herbivores. A similar pronouncement was made over a vegetarian friend, much to our amusement.

All of which had me thinking about how eco-systems in nature work – there are plants and animals and “things” to ensure that the system continues to run smoothly. Not just the such and such eats such and such kind of thing, but also the way that tree roots and shrubbery collect rainwater, which stops flooding, which preserves the habitat, and the way that different animals mimic each other as defence mechanisms, and there are day animals and night animals, animals for under the earth, and in the sea, and in the sky. All working together beautifully and gruesomely and elegantly.

Which in turn got me to thinking about people. Because I reckon that, psychologically speaking at least, we’re an eco-system too. A very broken eco-system. We all were born with things we do well, passions that drive us, and things we do less well. God gave each of us a purpose, whether we believe Him or not. (So for all you humanists out there, you were put on this earth for a reason, got it? ;-) )

But it’s not just that, we were made to live in community. Even a comparative hermit like myself enjoys company from time to time. Our purposes fit together like an eco-system. The problems we see, the passions that motivate us, the things we dream about – all that fits together. There are some who like to make others laugh, others to comfort, others to nourish. There are those who live loud and call our attention, and those that make sure that there is food on our tables and shoes on our feet.

Of course, for the whole system to work, we need to be living out our purpose to the benefit of others, knowing that it will balance out, and that the care and provision we give out will enable others to provide and care for us. That way, the people who only have laughter to give can have a shoulder to cry on when they need it, and so on. (This would be one of the cool things about heaven, I think – because people will be living for each other rather than just for themselves.)

But we’re people, and as such we don’t always see the big picture – we can’t see how it all fits together (if you need evidence for this assertion, I have two words – climate change). We live selfishly, and we live scared. Instead of empowering others, we feel threatened by them, and we scar them and thwart their purposes. And then we wonder why the world is broken. We get so busy building our little kingdoms, looking no further than our little purpose, that we become like elephants destroying their habitats. And then we wonder why we, and our children, are hungry.

This is my answer. This is my rallying cry. Don’t shy away from your purpose. But don’t pursue it for your own ends either. We are all in this together, we are all a little bit broken by this world, but I am sure that if we pursue our purpose for the benefit of those around us, we will all be better off.

Go on. Because there is more at stake here than just your happiness.

Glitter on the Loch

We were staying in a log cabin in Scotland for the week, overlooking a small loch, surrounded by heather-dappled hills. The rain glittered on the loch – each drop a single diamond that fell effortlessly from water above to water below, submerged in an instant, but reflecting brightly – so that the whole loch seemed scattered with glitter or sparkly jewels. It was mesmerising, so beautiful it took my breath away.

It was rain. The reason we couldn’t go out (not that we were planning to), the reason the deer in the hills opposite chose to huddle in the bushes rather than coming to the water’s edge. It was rain, and darkness before it was meant to be dark, and a coolness in the evening air. It was beautiful.

I stared at it for so long even The Dude looked up from his book.

“Yes, it’s raining.”

“It’s like glitter on the loch.”

He looked out the window, shrugged his shoulders, “Hmm, I suppose so.”

I’m glad I see glitter and jewels where most normal people see only rain. I know that makes me a bit unusual, and perhaps a bit difficult to relate to, but that’s alright. That night, staring out at the rain, I realised that seeing the glitter in the rain was a beautiful gift, and one I should not make light of. Perhaps I should spend more time showing people the glitter, and less time wondering why they are staring at me.

I Am Sorry You Are Sad

I Am Sorry You Are Sad

 

I am sorry that you are sad.

I am sorry for the stories you do not tell,

For the everyday reminders of your pain.

I am sorry that every time you look,

You see only your sadness staring back.

 

Sometime pain is the ache of unexpressed love.

I wish you could love That

Instead of saving your love for This.

 

I wish you a journey of happiness –

Not a seasonal glut that leaves you nostalgic,

But moments of smiles and joy

Sprinkled throughout your years,

And gathered like hills beyond hills.

I wish you a contented smile each night.

 

And I pray that you are never this sad again.