Sunshine Sundays ~ Let’s talk about fear

facing your fears “I’m not going to Richie and Mati’s house anymore,” said Elfie on Christmas Eve. I was dismayed. We visit her grandparent’s regularly. Worse, brunch was being held at their place Christmas morning.

“But, hon, we have to go. Otherwise we’ll miss out on Christmas. You don’t want to miss out, do you?”

“I’m not going,” she said.

“What about presents?”

“I don’t care. I am not going.”

“But why?” I asked.

“I don’t like Richie’s sneezes.”

It’s true – Richie – her granddad – has an atrocious sneeze. It comes unexpectedly, and is like a cannonball exploding.

“I understand,” I said, “but you know he only sneezes every now and then. Hardly ever. And when he does, although it’s loud, it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

“Well, I am still not going.”

The thing about Elfie is that once she makes a decision, no amount of cajoling is going to change her mind. She’s sensitive to stuff – loud sneezes, dogs that wiggle, deep water. They trigger an autonomic response, and make her feel anxious, so she avoids them. And she’s stubborn. (Can’t think why.)

I can’t remember a time when Elfie wasn’t worried about dogs. Friends who own a ridgeback kindly lock him in the bedroom when we visit, because they know how distressed he makes her. When we went to Austria two years ago, her other granddad sent his dog to stay elsewhere.

Until recently, if we passed a dog or came within twenty metres of one on our walks, Elfie leapt into our arms.

“She’s fine. She loves kids,” the dog’s owner would tell us, slightly offended. I am sure that’s true, but it’s not the point. The point is that something about furry beasts that bark stimulates a strong response in my daughter. That’s what’s making her leap.

“Did she have a bad experience with dogs?” people ask. No – well, yes, sort of. A couple of times in a row, when she was about two, dogs about her size came up to her and barked loudly and excitedly in her face. There was no biting or physical contact, but for her, it was a bad experience. The stimulation triggered her autonomic response in such as strong way that she carried the impression for months. Every dog she encountered for the next year or so reinforced that experience.

It’s the same with water. When I took her to swimming lessons at eight months, she was the only baby in the class who refused to put her face in water. For more than a year, she also refused to have a bath, because one time, I mistakenly put a little motorised toy boat in the tub which scared the living bejeesus out of her.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to swim, or get close to a dog. She really does, but when faced with the experience, she freezes. “Just get her in the water,” says Richie, as Elfie skirts around the edge of their swimming pool. She is tempted – she can see the fun we are all having – but she just can’t bring herself to get in.

After an unusually brave weekend, when Elfie lead a quiet, friendly dog on the lead around the park, she talked about getting a dog. It was incessant. As a compromise, I suggested we babysit my brother’s dog Albert (pronounced Al-bear). She was so excited by the prospect, she asked about his impending arrival twenty-million times. We prepared the house for Albert, and my brother drove him down from Brisbane. As soon as he arrived though, Albert scooted through the house, madly shaking off his pent-up car energy. Elfie jumped into my arms, terrified. “He’s too wiggly!” she said.

It was heartbreaking, as we knew how much she was looking forward to him coming. But the reality was, there was no way he could stay with us.

I’ve been reading an article in the Scientific Mind Magazine (Issue 89) by psychologist Jerry Bubrick about encouraging children to face their fears, rather than avoid them. Bubrick practices cognitive behaviour therapy – CBT – which helps people alter dysfunctional thoughts and behaviours that reinforce negative experiences.

Using a “hierarchy of fears” the psychologist and child together identify the least anxiety-provoking experience, and the most anxiety-provoking experience, and scale all experiences from 1 – 10 (10 being the most scary). They then expose the child to the most minimal anxiety-provoking experience, allowing them to face their fear in a controlled, safe environment so they can habituate to it. The psychologist then introduces a slightly more scary experience until the child feels comfortable, and so on, until the child is able to face their biggest challenge.

Bubrick and others believe that avoiding experiences that cause fear reinforces anxiety. By introducing the child gradually to fearful experiences, the child is learning to manage their responses and control their fear, rather than being dominated by it.

It’s like encouraging Elfie to dip her toe in the water. When she feels happy with that, encourage her to stand ankle deep, and when that’s comfortable, encourage her to get deeper still. One day, she’ll be diving for things at the bottom of the pool.

Bubrick says that parents play a very important role. Part of his therapy involves teaching parents to not protect their children from anxiety-provoking experiences, but instead allow children gradual and supported exposure.

We do protect her, to some extent, from her fear and anxiety. We don’t want her to have a bad experience. But I feel we are reasonable about it. When she started swimming lessons in January, it was a struggle for her. She resisted initially, but we stuck with it, using undesirable parenting methods like bribery to at least get her in the water. When she completed the lesson, we bought her ice-cream. But better than ice-cream, she felt proud of herself for conquering her fear.

As she gets older, and has increasingly more ability to rationalise, she is getting less and less anxious. We can now walk past a dog without an issue.

“Mum, I was brave,” she tells me as we pass a furry friend without a flinch. And she was. Is.


Back to the sneezes, and Christmas morning.

I tried every angle of rationalisation I could think of, but at last it was Elfie who worked it out for herself.

“Will Albert be at Christmas?” she asked.


“But that means Richie might get dog hair in his nose, and that might make him sneeze.”

“Um, yes…” I said.

“But maybe – you could call Richie, and tell him to blow the dog hair away before we get there. Call him. Then we can go to Christmas! Yay!”

Only a nearly-four-year-old could work it out so perfectly.

She not only spent Christmas morning sitting next to Sneezing Richie, she walked passed Albert and touched, actually – held – little Stella, the newest canine family member.

It was a miracle.

Inch by inch, that water’s getting more appealing, that dog less wiggly and that sneeze more tolerable.

Tell me about your fear. Do you experience anxiety? Or your child? How do you deal with fear?

Link up your stories here for Sunshine Sunday, and pop by to read other links if you can. Because next Sunday is Mother’s Day, I am going to be really surprising and suggest that we link our “mother” posts here next week. See you then. Have a sunny Sunday. x

Sunshine Sundays

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The tale of two bunnies

the tale of two bunnies

This is a tale sad and true.

It’s a tale of love, loss and abandon.

This is the tale of two bunnies.

The first, you met on Facebook and Instagram when I posted a picture of ‘Floppy’ – the less than perfect bunny ‘made with love’ one Good Friday afternoon.

‘I am so happy my Mum can sew,’ said Elfie, as her daddy lifted my old forsaken Elna sewing machine from the loft.

We had bought material to make stuffed toys about two months ago, and finally, the sewing machine was at the ready.

My youngest daughter was asleep – having crashed out early for the day, exhausted. I was pleased to have the entire afternoon alone with my older girl, Elfie. I miss her companionship. With four in the home, with work, with preschool, with one thing and another, our lovely time together is brief, and fleeting, so I catch it when I can.

After a few bumbles, the old Elna, which once belonged to my grandma, burbled into action.

‘Damn,’ I accidentally swore in front of my daughter, ‘I am out of thread.’

‘Don’t worry, Mama, you have a little bit left. You’ll make it.’

She watched keenly as I squished and stretched that bunny skin through the machine, using the last bit of mis-matched thread left in the entire house.

It came to turning bunny skin inside out, or the right side in, depending on your perspective. I wasn’t hopeful. But Elfie was.

She didn’t mind how demented and weird that bunny looked. Stuffed, he didn’t improve much, but still she wasn’t concerned. When I stitched in two lopsided eyes in the wrong place, and a little lopsided mouth/whiskery type thing, she only loved him more.

‘He’s Real!’ she exclaimed.

If you have read The Velveteen Rabbita hundred times, as I have to my daughter, you will get why this simple little statement made me want to cry. He was Real. Bunny was actually Real.

‘I will call him Floppy,’ she said, and proceeded to look for a shirt for poor old Floppy.

She hugged him while I read to her, and snuggled him tight in bed. ‘I love Floppy so much. I am going to take him everywhere,’ she told me.

The next morning, true to her word, Floppy came with us to the farmer’s market. When her attention fell off Floppy momentarily and onto a chocolate-coated mango ice block, Floppy dove for protection in Dad’s pocket.

At some point, walking back to the car to get the pram for Baby, her daddy dropped Floppy. He realised  when he reached the car. Back-tracking he found Floppy on the road, and right there in front, a car had pulled up, only inches away from Floppy’s lopsided whiskers.

Unthinkingly, with only love in his heart, her daddy threw out his long arm to rescue Floppy from being squashed by the car’s tyre. A dog barked from the car window into his near-deaf ear and the car’s engine whirred, as he risked his hand and possibly his arm to rescue Floppy.

Only after did he stop to think about the stupidity of his brave and loving act.

That night, the night before Easter Sunday, I sat up late making a sister for Floppy for Elfie’s own baby sister. Floppy’s sister was 100 times better than Floppy, because I learned from my mistakes. But she wasn’t made with quite the same love and enthusiasm, as my companion, Elfie, was in bed.

Easter Sunday, the girls did their thing, buzzing around the garden looking for eggs.

Quietly, midst chocolate gorging, Elfie whispered to me, “I am going to swap Floppy.” She put Floppy’s pretty dress on the prettier and more perfect rabbit, and claimed her as her own. Floppy lay strewn, nude and grubby on the floor, never to be played with again.

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Do you sew? Have you ever made something for your children? Have you ever felt abandoned?

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Sunny mornings and an afternoon glow





Easter6 The sun bathed these little bunnies as they hopped around the garden, searching for eggs. Elfie graciously gave every second egg to her keen sidekick.

They proceeded to destroy themselves on chocolate.

Family came over. We ate good food and drank champagne in the garden among teapots of flowers.

As the sun hung low and orange over the The Serpentine in Ballina, the girls attached themselves to a crew of children hunting for hermit crabs. There was simplicity and peace in that late afternoon glow. The phone sat forgotten on the kitchen bench at home. We were bare footed, and the hem of my dress was wet from crouching in shallow waters.

“Hand?” said the littlest one, holding out her hand for a tiny meeny hermit crab.

I have never known two small children to fall asleep faster than they did tonight. Good night, Easter. ‘Til next year.

How was your Easter? What simple pleasures have you enjoyed lately?

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The House Husband

the house husband

He wakes to the sound of small voices, and the coffee machine. Reluctantly, he drags himself out of bed. The sleep-in (or so called) is the last luxury for the day. He weighs himself and performs other morning rituals before breakfast.

Coffee, breakfast, and then his wife tidies away her plate and coffee cup and disappears into the office. It is his task for the next seven point five hours to keep small children busy, so they don’t clamber over their mummy trying to work.

Between washing up breakfast plates and cleaning the coffee machine, he monitors his youngest scaling various pieces of furniture, and answers his older daughter’s requests for assistance as she puts together a puzzle.

Like magma, toys flow away from the centre of the volcano, pooling in the centre of the living room. Shoes are distributed across the room. The house husband picks his way across the debris towards the garden, carrying the full washing basket to the line.

“Dad!” one girl calls. “I need you!”

“Dad!” another calls. “E-I-E-I-O!”

“Dad! I need a Jutie!”


“Just one second, girls,” he calls back. “Just have to finish this. Okay, here’s your Jutie.”

“Dad! I need an ear!”

Next thing, the house husband is lying on the day bed between two children – each drink from their milk bottle AKA Jutie, and each hold a Daddy ear.

“Okay, girls, we need to go shopping now.”

There’s a parade of feet. One after the other, and after much debate, they choose their attire, and the patient house husband dresses them to the specific requirements.

“Right, shoes!” Again, a hustle, as the shoes are sought and found, and then the hats, then the sunscreen.

“Bye, Mum! See ya, Mum. Bye!” They march to the car, and the house husband straps them in.

They do the shopping, and stop by the play park for an obligatory play before heading home for lunch.

When they return, the toy magma flow continues. He feeds the children, and then sets the older child up with the iPad, while he takes the younger one for her sleep. He holds the toddler to his chest, singing softly as he rocks. When her eyelids close, he places her gently into the cot.

His attention is now on his older girl. She wants to build a city, so together they saw, and paint blocks of wood left over from a building project. They talk Dutch while they work.

The toddler wakes. “Dancing!” she points to the piano, and then heads to her cupboard to fetch a dress. He goes through the dressing ritual once more – dresses specific for the occasion.

While they dance, the house husband dons his apron, and prepares the dinner. He finely chops the garlic, onion, beetroot, aubergine, and zucchini. He sautes the vegetables in spices, like fennel and cardamom. He loves experimenting with flavours.

At last his wife is done for the day, and if there is time, he sneaks out for a run before dinner, while she hangs out with the girls.

After dinner, he lets her bathe them, and play with them before their bedtimes, as he washes up

While his wife takes the girls to bed, he folds the washing in neat piles, restrains the cascade of toys, and sweeps away the dust and grime accumulated from the day. He’s still going while she blogs (about him).

“The only way you can appreciate what women have done for families for hundreds of years is to become one yourself,” he reflects as he sweeps.

At 9pm, he is done. It’s been a full thirteen or fourteen hours of domesticity, and he longs to put on his ear phones, and work on his music tracks, or simply sit next to his wife with a glass of vino, and chocolate, watching comedy.

Do you have a house husband? 

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People are happy here

There’s a home I have been visiting since I was nineteen.

It has mint green kitchen walls, and textured glass windows. people are happy here

The walls in the bathroom are patterned with small blue flowers. Conch shells sit on the toilet and the window sill. They always have.

the people are happy here


The people are happy here

Mozzie nets hang from the ceiling. The open windows are screenless, letting in the warm Brisbane night air and the occasional insect.

The people are happy here

The people are happy here

Paint peels off the stairs leading up to the front door.

I remember walking up those stairs for the first time, entering a small and cosy world that belonged to another family. I didn’t know the people very well at the time, but I was welcomed at their kitchen table. We sat and talked about art, and people, places and ideas into the small hours, sipping wine, then herbal tea from tumblers. I was drawn into a world where people sit around the kitchen table and talk about things, openly.

They showed me where the key was kept, and even though I hadn’t known these people well, I was invited to let myself in and make myself a tea whenever I was in the area.

I came back.

And I kept coming back. For the warmth, the company and the conversation.

More than ten years later, I am still dropping in, often on short notice. I bring my family now, and even though we have multiplied, and we are louder and busier, we are still welcome here.

There is contentment, and satisfaction embedded into the textured glass, and painted wooden walls. The people are happy here, this home whispers. I know, I whisper back.

Do you have a home away from home? Are there any places that make you feel truly, deeply contented?

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Linking with lovely Maxabella Loves and Life Love & Hiccups for Weekend Rewind. Thanks ladies!