compassion swans

This morning I woke up to see the #sendforgivenessviral hash tag going viral in my news feed, following Waleed Aly’s sensible and intelligent plea to circulate forgiveness and kindness, rather than hatred and anger.

Waleed Aly is journalist doing his best to inject goodness into the world, rather than fear, and thankfully we have at least one voice of reason we can hang our thoughts and Facebook comments on.

Sonia Kruger’s comments. Trump’s nomination as Republican candidate. Terror attacks in Nice. The coup in Turkey. There’s a lot to be concerned and scared about. And our social media comments and comments on media new sites take flight with a wave of vitriol.

In the past, bad stuff happened. We saw it on the 7 o’clock news. We felt sad/bad/something for the victims. We might have even felt concerned for our own safety. We talked about our concerns around the dinner table. Or maybe over the fence with a neighbour. We did our best to share our views and concerns with friends and others who represented our beliefs. We voted people into parliament who stood for our beliefs and made us feel safer and more comfortable in the world.

The same is true today. But now we also have a global audience at our fingertips. And so do our media sites. It’s no longer just the post person and your neighbour to vent with. It’s a global community.

I don’t linger in the comment section of media new sites long, if at all. I’ve received my own viscous comments in response to well intentioned, fairly gentle articles. I’ve seen and tried to report racial attacks and religious discrimination. {Thank you for making time to report this, however we deem this comment to be within our regulations.}

Back in the day, I faced aggression and threats in none other than a natural parenting support group. I was there to be part of something gentle and supportive. But when I expressed my views in favour of vaccination, I was hounded out of the group and felt worse than I ever felt in the playground at school. Kids can be cruel. But adults much more so.

With hatred, fear and bigotry dominating our news feed and forums, it’s hard not to experience these emotions too, as we cling onto something in the form of safety and belonging.

But goodness, like kindness, begins at home and in our own Facebook updates.

Like many, I’m very good at directing hatred and fear inwards. Years of self-sabotage in high school diaries has not lost its habitual effect. Now, self loathing is usually linked with guilt about my short comings as a parent.

The online world is continually trying to shun parental guilt. I personally think, for our children’s sake at least, guilt is a useful emotion. We do something less than good for our children. We feel bad about it. We change {or try to change} our behaviour.

But that’s where it should end. Guilt shouldn’t then fester into self-loathing. We need to forgive ourselves, and get on with being a good parent.

The same could be true for all our relationships.

Fortunately, I don’t have many negative relationships in my life. But the few I have seems to chew up a ridiculous amount of data. What about the hundred other positive, wonderful relationships in my life? Why aren’t I fanning their fire?

I’m mindful of how my own negativity affects not only those relationships, but me. The more vitriol I speak, the more vitriol I create, and hate gets bigger and stronger, like Voldemort.

Every time we express unnecessary hate or anger in Facebook or in a comment we are also fanning that fire. We are growing that Voldemort and making that fear and hatred stronger.

We can’t undo the fact that Donald Trump is nominated to run for Presidency. We can’t stop celebrities and radio hosts making bigotry comments, and rallying hatred. But we can stop hanging on the tails of that hatred and fear. We can spark small, positive fires in the kind-ling of our own hearts, homes and Facebook feeds. We can garden. Crochet. Read books. Speak nicely to one another.

I might not be a revolutionist, but I believe small positive change is possible. And like Waleed says, it’s starts with forgiveness. Spark your positive fire, friends.

Away from negativity

one a glassy river

I have to admit, I have slipped away from the computer and into nature more than once this week. And you know what? It felt good. I just had to get away from the screen, and all the other little bitty neurotic things that happen behind it.

We spent Mother’s Day weekend canoeing up the glassy Brunswick river, surrounded by mangroves. We stared into the open blue sky and felt connected and peaceful.

Back there, somewhere on the Internet, negative things were happening.

It’s not just the stream of news – earthquakes, devastation, human-less political decisions, executions… It’s the stream of negative comments on just about every news site. Head over to Mamamia now and read the comments on one of their posts if you want to know what I mean. I don’t want to pollute my little sunshine house by pasting them over here.

I do value opinion – sensible opinion – and the right to express it. But there is a difference between a clearly thought-out idea constructively expressed and horrible insult and slander. And it’s not just faceless trolls leaving murky, stinky trails of hatred. It’s ordinary people, assaulting the protagonist or author of the article in ways they would never do to their face.

Having never been assaulted online myself, I can only imagine how painful it must be. Or how thick-skinned the author needs to be to put up with such assault on a regular basis. Always Josefa and Mrs Woog have positively mastered this skill – Good. On. Them. I am not sure I would have the same ability.

I do wonder though about the likes of Belle Gibson. No matter how terrible her actions, how on earth is she faring in the face of such negativity?

Or what about when you share a vulnerable part of yourself in a public forum, and you are ripped to shreds?

I worry too about the person leaving the hate-filled comment. What does it do to the commenter?

I know for myself that being negative and bitchy in the privacy of my own home has but one outcome – I feel crap. Sharing my negativity with my husband doesn’t ever have the intended effect of relieving me of my negative feeling – it just compounds and accentuates it. I am just creating a big, ugly snowball of negativity.

When I first got together with Gregor, he had just come from spending seven years as a Buddhist. He lived in retreat centres, meditated on a daily basis and spent a lot of time studying Buddhist literature.

One of the key things I got from those early conversations was him was the Western Order of Buddhist’s understanding of karma. Karma is not the eye for an eye magical thinking I had thought it to be. Karma is the accumulation of actions. You feel what you feel, but how you act on your feeling results in your future emotion.

Leaving a negative comment doesn’t just insult the person you intend to insult. It becomes part of the fibre of the future you. It begins to define you.

I shelter myself from ingesting such negativity by turning away. I head to lovely, happy places like Pip’s blog or Foxs Lane. Or I simply switch off my computer.

At home, I am doing something practical about addressing my own tendency to occasionally be negative. I have assigned five minutes a day to negative talk – if you have something to get off your chest, do it now, or forever hold your peace until the next five-minute block.

Some days, there is nothing negative to say. The five-minute block sits empty and alone. And sometimes, it’s just a minute or two or not-really-very-negative chit-chat.

The negative spill is contained. I feel cleaner, like that river we canoed on. Glassy. Reflective. Fresh.

And there’s more room for much nicer things.

How do you feel about the constant stream of negativity on big news sites? Is it just me, or is it getting worse?

Linking with Essentially Jess

Great Fathers {Sunshine Sundays}

Good morning. It’s Father’s Day in Australia. If you need to whizz to the shops and buy roses for your special father, then do it NOW before they are up. You may even have time to make a coffee for him, before he’s out of bed…

I think I will do the coffee thing for my husband. He’ll like that.

I would like to say that as far as fathers go, my girls are pretty lucky. When I quizzed my daughter what she would like to write in her mini book about her dad, her poem went something like…

All The Ways I Love My Dad

I love my dad because he’s special.

I love my dad because he’s so kind.

I love my dad because he’s beautiful.

I love my dad because he sings lovely songs. 

I love my dad as big as a big watermelon. That’s how big I love my daddy.

As big as her four-year-old frustrations and her temper tantrums can be, they are no match for the biggness of her love for her dad. She tells me, when she is feeling particularly warm and generous towards me, that she loves me as much as she loves Dad, and that is an incredible lot. She reaches her hands as wide as they can possibly go to show how big the love is.

At night, my daughter has a game she invented before bed. It’s called the ‘clappy game’. Basically, the clappy hands have to decide who’s taking her to bed. She positions Gregor and me at either end of the living room, and proceeds to clap. The little clappers head towards the parent of choice, and the decision is made.

Mostly, the clappies head towards their dad. If they head my way, it’s usually because she feels bad the clappies usually choose Gregor. And often, once I am lying down with her, she’ll whisper, ‘Actually, I really feel like having Dad.’ She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, but then I can’t deny they have a special connection.

‘It’s ok, sweetie,’ I whisper back.

The fact is, he loves his girls so purely and so simply. He oozes love for them from every pore of his body. She knows this.

Maybe it’s a learnt thing. Maybe it’s hereditary, his way of loving.

His grandfather, Opa, loved him like that. Pure. Simple.

Gregor talked about his early memories of feeling loved by his grandfather, and I am sure that affection is at the root of Gregor’s self-esteem and self-love.

When we visited Opa in Austria a couple of years ago, I watched Gregor sit with his grandfather. ‘Ja, Ochi,’ he would say softly, tenderly, as his grandfather recounted tales of his youth. He held his grandfather’s hand in his.

When we said goodbye, my husband’s eyes welled with tears. Opa sang – an Austrian mountain song. We all cried.

Opa passed away in July. The news wasn’t a shock – he’d been sick. But it never makes sense when someone leaves the world, no matter how old or sick they are.

How can he not be here anymore?

I only met him a couple of times. He didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak German. But his presence in our sunshine lives was so strongly felt. Most mornings, he came up in conversation during breakfast. ‘This is Opa cheese,’ my four-year-old would say, referring to the blue vein.

She frequently drew pictures for Opa.

I’d print off photos of the girls to send to him, or make him albums or videos of things we had been doing. He’d ask for one of me too, and tell Gregor how lucky he was to have found me.

Now he’s not there to send them to.

It’s not just talk of Opa that fills our house, though. It’s his love.

It seeped into Gregor, from when he was a little boy living in Austria, through to the last conversation he ever had with his grandfather a few days before he passed away.

Opa was generous in a way I’ve known few people to be. Maybe it was living through horrific times, war, famine etc.

Maybe he was just wired like that. But he kept giving.

Thankfully, generosity, like love, is hereditary.

The happiest people I know are the most generous

And through Gregor, Opa has taught me too to be generous. It’s not my default position, but surrounding myself with the likes of Gregor and the presence of his grandfather has made me not even question the biggest selfless act.

Maybe because there is a simple equation. Being generous makes you happy. Or maybe you need to be happy to be generous. Maybe both.

Opa’s physical presence has left the world. On the day he died, my daughter told me Opa’s very flat now, and living on a star. But his kindness and generosity are in Gregor, in me, in the girls.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so sentimental. Father’s Day does funny things to the brain.

Please, link up your ‘father’ post, or share anything you would like to on the topic, either in the linky, in the comments or on social media at #sunshinesunday.

Happy Father’s Day. Love and be generous today. xx

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For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

Teaching children compassion

My brother’s close friend died yesterday. It wasn’t a shock in the sense that he knew it might be coming, but  it was deeply shocking, like kinetic energy rippling through your body and across the earth’s surface. Death is so big and too hard to understand. You blink hard, trying to see it better, but clarity doesn’t come.

“Why are you crying?” asked my daughter.

“I’m sad. Your Uncle’s friend died today.”

“He’s not coming back, ever?”

“No. Not ever.”

“Like my fish. But it’s okay, he can get a new friend, can’t he?”

She’s four, so her understanding of death is still forming, as is her understanding of her beloved Uncle’s pain and sadness.

#Compassion is trending, according to one of my favourite media sites, The Hoopla. Thousands of people gathered on Sunday night, lighting candles for Reza Berati, the 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker who was killed on Manus Island last week. Instagrammers and Twitterers were hashtagging the peaceful protest #compassion and #lightthedark.

Compassion is the candle you light in your heart for somebody else. You hear about somebody’s pain or sadness, and you light the little candle. The warm flicker reminds you of your own sadness, and pain. You go to a place where you once felt the same way. The candle is our humanness, and our ability to connect to other humans.

It’s easier to light the candle for those who are close, like my brother. Not much makes me cry these days, but his pain does, because I love him.

There is suffering, death, sadness and pain walking on all corners of this earth. It lingers in the corner of houses and sleeps on cold hard floors. With more than seven billion people in the world, our little hearts aren’t big enough for all those candles, so we light one for those closest to us – for the pain we can see and understand.

Occasionally a global story like that of Reza Berati’s touches us deeply and the candle flickers.

I find myself telling my daughter about the stories that do affect me. Like the lady who locked her children in the car, with the heater on. She overhears me telling my husband the story, and asks what I am talking about. I end up telling her, then regretting it because she’s too young to know such suffering. Also, she doesn’t forget a thing. Two days later, she is still asking me about that woman who left her children in the car, and wants to know if the children were okay.

In theory, I worry about telling her these things. But in reality, it only seems to open up her little mind and her little heart. She wants to understand why bad things happen, or how someone felt. She’s particularly interested in children, because, well, naturally, she’s a child, and connects best to stories she can identify with.

Syrian Conflict Unicef

I haven’t told her about the Syrian conflict, or other huge global tragedies. I can’t, because I can’t even understand them myself, and I end up turning my attention to things that are more familiar.

But the millions of people affected by the Syrian conflict shouldn’t be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of children are growing up knowing nothing but bloody war and death. Many don’t have clean shelters, or food. So many children are suffering.

Maybe I can’t ever get my head around this, or expect to be able to help my daughters understand the extent of this suffering. But I can choose not to look away. I can answer my daughters’ questions when they have them, cry in front of them, and talk about what suffering feels like. I am not afraid of that. After all, I want them to carry candles of their own, and feel that little flicker of warmth and humanness.

Please visit UNICEF for more information about how you can help.

You can also find me over at FACEBOOK.

Linking with Essentially Jess.

Connecting with the older child

Flower crown craft

Flower crown craft

If you have been following Heart Mama for the last few months, or reading my posts for Mumgo, you will know that we have recently welcomed a baby, Eve Rose, into our home, and Little Elka has become Big Sister Elka. It’s a huge transition for any small person to make.

Elka hasn’t ever been jealous of her baby sister. She loves her and is mostly kind towards her. But there have been changes in my relationship with Elka. I anticipated this, and I have grieved the time we spent together – just the two of us.

The first few nights, lying with baby Eve in a separate bed to the rest of the family, I missed sharing a bed with Elka – cuddling up with her – her little hand on my face. I missed being able to play games with her spontaneously through the day. I missed strange things, like being able to take her to the toilet, because I was breastfeeding.

She adapted amazingly to her new role, and took to asking others to help her with things like going to the toilet. She asks adult friends she trusts to take her swimming. She goes on play dates with people she knows, without resistance. I have been proud of her, but I have found some changes hard.

For instance, ever-obliging and cooperative Elka has taken to saying ‘no’ to many things. I ask her to do something or not to do something, and she often does the opposite. When she is over-tired or hungry she has emotional outbursts I have no idea how to respond to. All these changes have come with age, but I also feel that the shift in our relationship and our connection has contributed.

Some days, I don’t feel connected.

Some days, she’ll ask Gregor to take her to bed, instead of me. This is new. Some days, she pushes me away. Some days, she won’t let me kiss her hurt better. Admittedly, I don’t take rejection well – although I am working on how I respond.

The hardest week was the mad lead up to Christmas. Dragging her around the shops with baby Eve was difficult. For the first time ever, we couldn’t sit at a cafe with her, because her melt downs were ‘unsocial’. I found myself one part sorry for her and one part mad with her.

Our connection had shifted.

I longed for her friendship and our comradeship.  We have been a team, she and I, and that week, I felt we split. Since, I have paid special attention to our connection.

Ten ways to connect with the older child

1. I hug her when I can. Sometimes, she pushes me away, but the offer is always there

2. I put more effort into constructing activities she will enjoy, particularly craft

3. I read to her while breastfeeding Eve, or at least engage in a conversation with her

4. I look her directly in the eyes, as much as I can

5. When she’s emotional, I observe my own emotional reaction, and try to respond like an adult

6. I try and see the world from her perspective

7. I engage her as much as possible in baby-related activities, like changing nappies

8. I have moved back to the family bed

9. I put on music we both enjoy and sing and dance and do emu impersonations – we laugh

10. I run back home in the rain, carrying her, showering her in kisses – the two of us laughing. I love you. I love you. I love you.

As my wise husband says, with every challenge is an opportunity to grow. Children are our greatest teachers, and if we pay attention to their lessons, we can become better people. I love her with every gram of my being. She glows with a lightness, which is contagious – a lightness and joy, which makes grandparents weak at the knees and stops strangers in the street.

Taking the time to reconnect has been important to our relationship. Since Christmas, we have had more fun together, I have had more tolerance, and there has been more harmony in the sunshine house.

What ways do you connect with your child when there is a disconnect?

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Linking with Jess for IBOT at Essentially Jess