A Journey Into Learning To Love What Must Be Done

Ladies and gentlemen, the school holidays are over and we have survived. Actually, we did more than survive. We thrived. Little Person did an impression of a weed growing in fertilizer and shot up at least an inch (cue urgent need for new clothes just before we went away), we tried glamping for the first time, and my weird strawberry plants continue to survive. I got to spend time with my parents, The Dude got time with his parents and overall, while I’m very tired, I am in a much better place than I was seven weeks ago.

Even if we didn’t get the first day of school photo this year. Again. (Of course, this year we didn’t get the second day at school photo either, unlike previous years. I will get a photo. I promise. Maybe.)

In previous years, Little Person has struggled with the whole going back to school thing. When she started reception, she refused to wear her uniform and it took us 45 minutes to dress her. Last year, she just didn’t want to go. It only took about 30 minutes to dress her. This year, she pretty much dressed herself. Not a tear in sight. She actually skipped into school. And better yet, she danced out. You’d think I would be happy about it. But then, I sometimes get stuck thinking about how I think it should be, rather than how it is.

There’s a quote that I have been thinking on recently.

“Cease endlessly striving for what you would like to do and learn to love what must be done.” – Goethe

(with thanks to this post for starting me on the journey)

The only reason that it would matter that I didn’t get a photo of Little Person on her first day at school is because I can’t show off a photo of her grinning from ear to ear because she’s going to school. But why should that really matter? Or maybe because years from now she’ll say “out of the zillions of photo’s you took of me, you never took one of me that day, on my first day back at school.”

If so, I will say “I wanted to make it like every other day.”

I like making a bit of a fuss over the occasion of a new school year, but Little Person really doesn’t. She likes to know that going to school this year will be just like going to school last year. And I could get really upset that I don’t get to take my photo of her in her new school uniform. Or I could take her out for chocolate cake as a reward for us both for surviving the day. So technically, I did get a photo of her on her first day. This one:

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We Do not Have A Migrant Problem

The British media, helpfully aided by the politicians, has spent the last few weeks covering “the migrant crisis”.

We do not have a migrant crisis. We may probably have a refugee crisis. We definitely have a humanitarian crisis. But we do not have a migrant crisis. Here’s why.

When I first moved to the UK, I was a migrant. I left Africa, where my job could not support me in the way that I had been raised, and I could not find a job that could. I left a country where I could not afford to pay for both the food I needed to eat and the medication I needed to be able to work to buy the food and medication. I left a country where I could not see myself fulfilling my dreams. I had a job lined up, but it fell through, so essentially I arrived with my dreams, the money in my wallet and a suitcase. Oh, and a passport that entitled me to that medication for free (although that took three expensive months to sort out). Because I was a migrant, but technically, I was also a citizen.

And I always had a choice. Still would have, if I’d bothered to renew my passport.

But these people, the ones who climb aboard sinking boats and into suffocating lorries, who walk a thousand miles and more with their lives dragging in their wakes, they have nothing to go back to. They risk all on the slim chance of something – safety? Peace? Security? Food and drink and work? When they leave, they know they may not make it to the other side. But they do it anyway.

And we build fences to keep them out. And make up reasons why that’s okay. Like a child who throws a stone into the middle of the pond and then complains about the ripples.

But we’re not doing that. We’re keeping out the migrants. It’s easier to justify that way. It makes it seem like they’re just wandering about looking to take advantage. Call them migrants, but don’t call them people. Don’t think about the courage it takes to turn your back on your entire life, take your family and walk to a place where you know you are not wanted. Don’t think about what these people may have seen that may have forced their hands. Don’t think about how if you build your fences, you might be trapping people in a lifetime of slavery. (Because hand in hand with smuggling people is of course the human trafficking where they climb off the lorry into a lifetime of enforced servitude – sexual or otherwise.)

Don’t think about the possibility that these people may have nothing, but they have at least done something. That somehow, they are survivors – and that means something. That’s character. That’s willingness to try. That’s fantastic raw material for starting a new life.

I’m not pretending to have all the answers. In fact, I’m not pretending to have any answers. But all I’m saying is that we have to change the terms of the discussion. We’re asking the wrong questions.

I shall leave you with two quotes (and they’re not even from the Bible).

“ I believe it is peace for our time”.

– Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 30 September 1938.

(That worked. Not)

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

Some Of My Favourite Posts From The Early Days

I was recently trolling through my early posts. Smiling at the memories I have captured, chuckling at my own plans, enjoying the progress in finding my voice.

Anyhow, I thought I would share the links to some of my favourites.

Ten things my mother taught me

Lessons from a Bathtub (just because)

Them ’em they’re brilliant (because we should)

Glitter on the Loch

Post-Natal Depression (I still want to write about this some more)

My Poem For Tiny Boo (my cousin who died)

Kickstarting Creativity

I really enjoyed the kickstarting creativity project that I did in January – I might do it again if people express interest.

And I am really proud of what my writing has been, and what it has become.

What do you think I should write more about?

A Weed is Just a Plant In The Wrong Place

A few weeks back, we took Little Person to a British Wildlife Centre and one of the signs near the entrance gave me pause. I should’ve taking a photo but Little Person was excited to get inside and see the animals, so you’ll have to excuse me if the actual quote is not word perfect.

A weed is just a plant that’s in the wrong place.

Have you ever felt like that? Like a weed? Unwanted? Resented? More than just ignored but outright scorned? Do you sometimes feel like you are being pulled at and ripped apart and poison poured all over you? As though the people around you just wish you weren’t there? And somehow, despite everything, you keep growing back. A little stunted, a little thwarted, a little more stubborn and sore. Wishing somehow that this time, when you push your head above the soil, you will find yourself looking less like you do, and more like you’re supposed to?

Or have you ever seen someone like that? A weed – the wrong thing in the wrong place. Too rough, too spiky, too tall, too untidy, too wild, too thorny, too whatever.

Maybe, instead of trying to kill the weed, we should find a place where it can belong. (Now don’t misinterpret me now – I know there are dangerous weeds out there, and I know all about invasive species and the damage they do our indigenous ecosystems. I’m not talking about that. I’m making a metaphor, based on the weeds which are indigenous and we find sprouting up in our well-manicured gardens. Because nature is many things, but neat is not one of them.) Wait, where was I?

Maybe, instead of trying to kill the weed, we should find a place where it can belong.

Instead of ripping the stem from the root, we should carefully dig it out, and with care and respect, put in a place where it can belong. In the right place. Where it has dignity, acceptance, and can make a contribution. Where it will be appreciated, not resented.

Instead of pouring weedkiller on it, we can transplant it, and then water it.

Instead of trying to grow where we don’t belong, we can find out where we do belong.

A weed is just a plant that’s in the wrong place. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

Hold it Right There, Kiddo!

Summer holidays and Little Person has been stretching into a bean pole. By which I mean the clothes I bought in April are all too short. If I had bought her school shoes at the beginning of the holidays, they would already be too small. The out of reach places for my secret chocolate stash are out of reach no more.

Over the last week or three, Little Person has been permanently tired or hungry or both and regularly complaining about any bump or bruise. And getting dressed into clothes that don’t fit – too tight, too short, wrong shape, is an awkward and uncomfortable business. Sometimes it means accepting that the dress is now only a tunic and needs leggings underneath. Sometimes it means old favourites need to be put to one side to make space for something new that will fit. (Which is what a recent shopping trip was all about. I am glad to report we both survived. Can’t say the same for the bank balance.)

But nobody is about to jump on Little Person and say, “Hold it right there, kiddo! No more growing for you! It’s too expensive, too uncomfortable and besides that we have to learn to relate to you in a whole new way as you learn new skills! So just stay as you are, forever! It would just be so much more convenient for everybody.”

Even Little Person can see the advantages of growing. Despite the grumpy, she is noticing that she can do more things, and that the added responsibility of growing up is accompanied by greater freedom of choice.

And yet, it is so easy as adults to think that once we stop growing on the outside, we should stop growing on the inside too. Change is bad, we say. If not in ourselves, certainly in our friends and family change is bad. It’s uncomfortable. It makes the person look different, act different. Which means we would have to actually make space for that person to grow, and learn to deal with them the way they are, rather than the way we wish they would be.

So if you know somebody who is doing some growing, be careful that you’re not the one saying, “Hold it right there, kiddo!” Because growing is uncomfortable enough as it is, without people telling you off.

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What Being A Little Person’s Mother Has Taught Me

Motherhood is not something that came naturally to me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love being Little Person’s mum. And there are lessons that this journey has taught me that I probably would not have learnt any other way. Just bear in mind, as far as mothering goes, I’m still a work in progress.

  1. Throw away the books. They are written to the average. They are written to absolve maternal guilt, and to make the authors money.
  2. Post-Natal Depression isn’t the end. It just feels like it. (I really should have got help on this one. But the illness is such that you think you won’t be able to get help.)
  3. Comparison is the enemy. Don’t compare your child to anybody else’s. Don’t compare your child to any other of your children. Don’t compare your parenting to your parents’ parenting.
  4. I have no idea what I am doing. And that’s okay. Because me and Little Person, we learn well together.
  5. It’s not enough to have the support of your family in raising your child. You need friends. This is especially true of parenting a child with special needs. Which is ironic, really.
  6. Just because Little Person has atypical development, and a different way of expressing herself, doesn’t mean she’s stupid. Or that she should be excluded. A little bit of understanding goes a long way.
  7. Anxiety is like a progress-eating cancer. It makes you feel small and incapable. It makes you forget how brave and strong you really are. Which is hard when you’re 6 and not very good at putting this feeling into words.
  8. There is more than one way to communicate. Actually, learning the multiple ways of communicating with Little Person has taught me to be more creative in dealing with other people in my life.
  9. Time out is not always a punishment. Little Person has started giving herself time outs – as a way to regain control of her emotions before tackling the situation again. Watching that, I realise that I should sometimes give myself a little time just to get my headspace right.
  10. A specific apology is a beautiful thing. We can say sorry as a vague acknowledgement of wrong, but a specific I’m sorry I did this and it had that consequence for you is much better.
  11. Little Person is much better at forgiveness than me.
  12. We start putting people into boxes at a really young age. Sure, we can label people as boys and girls, or acknowledge that one is sporty and another arty. But my Little Person already has a school report that suggests that her skills are not up to standard. People will say that’s just so she can get the extra support she needs. But sometimes I think that she needs a culture change more than the extra support. And yet, in so many ways, perhaps the fact I can write about it indicates that the culture change is already here. (Yes, I know, I’m contradicting myself. C’est la vie.)
  13. I probably won’t ever feel like I have a handle on this parenting lark. Which is a good way to keep me humble.
  14. Taking time to live in the moment is, generally, time well spent. I have yet to regret a spontaneous game of football in the back garden or a trip down to the playground. Even when my brain has been screaming at me about the list of a million things still to be done. The list of things will never be finished. We only have one chance to grab this moment.

Not A Nice Christian Girl

Nice Christian Girls don’t talk about it when they get hurt by their churches. Or effectively kicked out by their churches either. But then, I’m not a Nice Christian Girl, so that’s alright.

Of course a Nice Christian Girl would never tell her story, because a Nice Christian Girl would not have this story to tell. A Nice Christian Girl goes to church every Sunday and says all the right things, and then goes away and does all the right things to keep her nice place in her nice, safe church where she is comfortable and happy and everybody loves her and she loves everybody else and it just oozes everywhere, don’t you know.

Except if you’re not a Nice Christian Girl. If you don’t talk the Christianese, if you don’t know the secret code (not the one in the Bible, the other one). If you dare admit that hey, maybe you find the whole church thing a bit anxiety-inducing, and maybe it shouldn’t be that way. If you do that, you don’t feel the love.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t. I loved that church. Correction. I love that church. If I didn’t love that church, it wouldn’t hurt so much. We are all one body, many parts, and I do honestly feel that sometimes, there’s a bit of myopia going on. A bit of trying to turn you into a Christian cyber-man. (You know the one, where everybody talks and acts the same.)

The church that I read about in the Bible is this great (okay, also messy) thing. Broken people learning to be free and whole in the grace they have been given by God. We are meant to be this great world-changing organism – reaching out into our communities wherever we are and loving the people. And when the people come into the church, we are meant to love them still.

Even the ones who are a little awkward, who need the lights to be the same as they always were, who don’t talk the way we do, or move the way we do, or  who drink coffee with loud slurpy noises.

I love that church, but I had to walk away. Because they didn’t love me.

I’m not a Nice Christian Girl, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. God still loves me. Just the way I am.

And God loves all the Nice Christian People, even with their secret codes and hidden agendas and fear. Yes, I said fear. Because that’s all I can put it down to. They must be too afraid to let their happy face guards down. Too afraid to be honest and truthful. Because there is no way people can be that happy every single Sunday (and Wednesday). Because apart from anything else, hormones. And another thing called Real Life.

But here’s the thing. Perfect love casts out fear. So if we all concentrate on the loving, maybe we could do a little less of the fearing.

Not Better Than You, Questions and Stories

I’m not better than you.

I’m not entitled to more.

I’m scared of the stupidest things, but that only shows me how to be brave.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, but I feel it needs to be said:

I’m not better than you. You’re not better than me. We are all in this together.

I have two talents: I can ask questions and I can tell stories.

I have a passion for God and a passion for people. Especially awkward, invisible and different people. People like me. The scorned, the dismissed, the depressed, the overwhelmed.

Because as much as I forgive, as much as I move on, as much as I learn from the experiences, my heart has been branded. I still feel stupid for thinking that I could ask for things like a safe place to be myself. I still feel like somehow I am wrong to be different.

I am not wrong to be different – it is not always a choice I consciously make. I do not choose to have epilepsy, I do not choose to be South African. I did choose to marry the man I love, which means living where he lives. (And I would do it again in a heartbeat.) But knowing and feeling are different.

I may be a bit exuberant, a bit too vibrant for your tastes, but don’t try to paint me grey.

I don’t try to make other people into me, so why insist on trying to make me into you?

There are so many things I don’t understand. Why people put their own position ahead of the needs of others. Why it seems to be more important to look good than actually make a difference. Why admitting your own struggles is not being honest, but being weak. Why being myself is the most horriblest, hurtful thing I could be.

No. I know that being me is my only choice. I know that there is something about that – my questions, my stories, my willingness to expose myself to hurt and ridicule if it will get the job done (I think some people call that foolishness, but I have heard it described another way: love) – that really gets up some people’s noses.

I know that people don’t like me. I know they think my questions arrogant and my stories pointless. Let them think that.

Because I am not better than them. I am not worse either. We need each other. Always and forever.

So I will tell my stories. I will ask my questions. I will keep doing it. And this time, I will not apologise. I will not back down. I will not walk away.

There are too many hurting and broken people in this world that need our help, need us to step outside of our looking-good and pretending-happy. They need us to cry when they cry, and hold their dirty, trembling hands. They need us to remember that we have been broken too, but we were blessed to have people around us to help us to our feet.

No, I’m not better than you. Whether you have nothing, or everything, I’m not better than you.

So What Is The Difference Between Inconvenience And Opportunity?

The cat peed under the bed and rendered the room uninhabitable. Inconvenience or opportunity? Well, the room is better decorated, more well-used now and both cats are getting more individual attention (albeit in different accommodations).

The friends told me that I had to change who I was. Inconvenience or opportunity? Well, my self-esteem is much better now than it was then, but that’s a story for another time. But still. I could have changed for their sakes. But choosing not to change, changed me for the better.

Met a guy online. Who lived a plane ride away. Inconvenience or opportunity? Well, I married him, so the jury’s still out on that one.

Epilepsy. Inconvenience or opportunity? Well, I discovered I am much stronger than I thought I was.

Life. Inconvenience or opportunity?

Often, it is just in the attitude.

Writing Wednesday: The Aftermath of A Blogging Mistake

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was very good at writing. Better at writing than speaking, in fact. Able to reduce people to tears in forty words or less. (I’m not sure I  would boast about such a talent, but there you go.) She decided to write a blog. Not to make a giant argument, or lobby for a point of view, but to use her skills and passion to try to make the world a better place. She’d had plenty of unusual life experiences, and had crafted through the years an extraordinary ability to find the positives, to understand life from other people’s perspectives, to learn more than was just obvious. Basically, she was somewhat over-analytical and had made a deal with herself to only put it to the good, knowing that any other option would lead to the bottomless pit of depression.

And then one day she wrote a post that she shouldn’t have. Not because what she said what was wrong, but because she referenced, in a way that nobody but those present would know, a gathering of friends that was supposed to be confidential. Somebody 1 complained to Somebody 2 (the writer presumes). Somebody 2 texted the writer. The writer was perplexed, mainly because she had forgotten about the nature of the particular gathering (think of it as when you have a friend that you go with to AA meetings. You can talk about your dinner party on Friday night, but not what happened at the AA meeting on Saturday morning. Now imagine both the AA meeting and the dinner party happened in your living room, and it’s easy to get confused.) But eventually (as in, hours later), the writer was able to figure out her mistake, and rewrite the post so that she was making the same point without referencing the particular confidential gathering. Problem sorted, according to the writer.

Thing was, Somebody 2 kept texting to make sure the writer would make the change, and telling the writer to make it right with Somebody 1. The writer watched with some amusement as the stats on her blog were the highest she’d ever recorded up to that point. The writer was torn between the need to be true to her creative soul, the whole point of her blogging adventure, and keeping the people happy. She thought that she had muddled through and done both.

Nobody ever actually in real life ever said anything to her about the blog post (not even to thank her for “correcting” it). Not Somebody 1. Not Somebody 2 (although the latter, apparently, did mention to the writer’s partner that she had made a very good point, apart from using off-limits material to do so). The experience lit a bit of a fire under the writer, because she was forced to question her blogging motives. She updated the permanent pages on her blog to include references to why she blogged. She wrote about blogging ethics. She very nearly gave up the entire experience, but realised that actually, if her story helped one person make sense of a difficult time in their life, then it was worth it.

Because mistakes do that sometimes. Make you realise how important, or unimportant, things are. Help you see things with greater clarity, if you take the opportunity to look. Help you to do things better. Because the writer never made that particular mistake again. (Anybody who disagrees – put it in the comments. As long as you’re polite, your views will be aired.)

But that’s not the end of the story. In fact, that’s not the point of the story. Because that wasn’t the end of the consequences of the mistake.

Because months later, the writer discovered, quite by accident, that the offices of the church that she attended had been quite abuzz over that blog that weekend. On Monday morning, everybody was talking about it. (Somehow, the writer managed to keep her mouth firmly closed when she heard this.) That explained the sudden hike in views – everybody checking to see whether or not she had “fixed” her mistake. Nobody commented. Nobody ever said anything to her. The person who told her the story had not actually read the blog, and had only asked because of all the fuss that had been made. This was the church leadership talking amongst themselves about something that somebody (i.e., the writer) had done without ever mentioning the church in any way. In fact the writer had written it without even thinking about the church (although the “corrected” blog may have referenced a conversation that occurred in church, but that wasn’t a confidential one.) They were talking about it enough that somebody who hadn’t known the writer particularly well was able to remember the incident months later.

The writer lost much of her respect for that church leadership at that time. (Why? Because it struck her that leaders talking to other leaders but never actually talking to her about what had gone on seemed an awful lot like gossip. But like I said, over-analytical.)

So while I wouldn’t recommend writing the “wrong” thing, people’s responses when you make a genuine mistake can be extremely enlightening. Some people expect you to forgive their mistakes, but won’t forgive yours. Some people will talk about you behind your back. Some people will take the time and trouble to ask you what happened, months later.

People tell me that I’m supposed to be kind, that I’m supposed to do everything in love. I do try. But when people throw me in the shit, they have got to expect that some is going to land on them.