Death and a rabbit named Crunchy

rabbit

Our rabbit, Crunchy, died in the week. She was about three, and lived a happy life, grazing on rabbit-ish food, and snuggling with her sister, Cosy.

She was the bitey one – the one that nibbled your clothes and jumped up to say hello when you went into the enclosure to feed them.

She was slightly less cuddly than her sister, kicking her legs to escape if you tried to pick her up.

She contracted myxomatosis. After a couple of days of suffering, we put her down.

My older daughter came back from the vet carrying a calico bag.

She sat with it comfortably on her lap.

‘This is Crunch,’ she told me.

‘Oh,’ I said. She was so casual.

We buried Crunchy in the back garden. My daughter decorated the grave with feathers and frangipanis.

Later, she came into my office, crying. Howling.

‘I just can’t stop thinking of Crunch,’ she said. ‘I want her back.’

I felt sorry for the other little rabbit, Cosy. She’d lost her side-kick. She sat morosely in her enclosure, probably not aware that Crunch wasn’t coming back.

My daughter’s sobs got louder. Then – ‘Cut off my hair, Mum,’ she said.

I checked to make sure. But yes, she definitely wanted me to cut her hair. She wanted it short short – a little Dutch bob.

It looked adorable. Her spring returned. She grabbed the pile of hair off the floor, and put it on Crunchy’s grave.

‘Now my hair’s short, I’ll never forget Crunch,’ she told me.

My littler one is only three. She too talked openly and curiously about death. The other day she told my husband:

“Dead is when you close your eyes and dream about animals. Nice animals. Not mean animals.”

Meanwhile, little Cosy lay quietly, not munching. Not doing much.

Then the other night, I heard a little scuffle. It sounded like it was coming from the rabbit enclosure. In the morning, I checked. Little Cosy ran to and fro, scrabbling bits of grass and straw in her mouth, and running it into her cubby. She was making a nest.

Sure, she may have just been on heat {though she’s de-sexed}, but it felt like it was part of her grief process. Like my daughter’s was to cut her hair, she had to do something to process something too big.

My husband, who was never really sure about the idea of having rabbits, was characteristically practical about the whole dead rabbit thing.

‘At least, if nothing else, having pets teaches kids about death,’ he said.

Well, I guess that’s something.

Image from Adam Harvey

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.

“Yes.”

“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

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Sunshine Sundays ~ Finding The Music That You Love

Giraffes Can't Dance. We all can dance if we find the music that we love.

I know Woody Allen is taboo at the moment, but I do love his films. One of my favourite scenes is the shower opera from To Rome With Love, where the unknown opera singer, Fabio sings Amor Ti Vieta from Fedora, naked on stage under a running shower.

Fabio’s amazing voice was discovered by Jerry, who is a composer. But when Fabio sung for an audition, he was terrible. Jerry realised though that the world would still have the gift of his voice if Fabio could sing naked, eyes closed, under a running shower.

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I am no Fabio, but I feel like my amazing voice is only heard under running water in the privacy of my shower. To me, it sounds beautiful, full and resonate. And yet, I have only ever had negative feedback from the public.

Singing to Paul Simon or Phil Collins on long car trips as a kid, my younger brother (ironically, now musician Charlie Keller), yelled at me to shut up.

In Year 12, I sang Peter Allen’s Go To Rio on stage at the Gold Coast Arts Centre, when it was noted that I was obviously an actor, not a singer.

Now, my baby girl Rosie has an ongoing joke, that every time I sing her a nursery rhyme, she cries out as if in pain. (*Sad face*)

Will I ever get the appreciation I deserve? Maybe if Woody Allen made me a special shower I could sing from wherever I may go, the world would begin to appreciate my beautiful voice.

But it really doesn’t matter what I sound like, does it? What’s more important is what music does to the soul.

Soul music. It’s the goosebumps that erupt from your skin when you listen to a group  sing their national anthem. It’s the tears that prick your eyes when the Nutcracker plays. It’s Boots of Spanish Leather.

I started singing to my first baby three days into her life. She had discovered her own voice – a deep, pained cry because the world she had entered was painful, and terrifying and still unknown. I held her into my chest and sang a song I have never heard before. A Mama Song. Just for her.

Every day, three or four times a day, I sang to her. Hallelujah. Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot. Amazing Grace. Throw Your Arms Around Me. Rich, syrupy tones. Singing was the antidote to her pain, and helped her sleep. It gave me back my power, and sense of control over the situation. It calmed me.

I took credit, then, when at one, as I pushed her pram through the village, she sang a medley of Twinkle Twinkle, Humpty Dumpty and Baa Baa Black Sheep. She could sing before she could talk.

The sunshine house is no stranger to music. My voice may be second rate, but did you know my husband Gregor is a musician? He spent two decades fiddling around on a guitar and composing experimental punky songs, but has now turned his talent (appropriately) to children’s music.

In the last year or so, he’s written more than enough songs for an album. I’m not biased or anything, but they are really good. The sort of good that gets your toes tapping, and tunes stuck in your head. Naturally he has to practice, so when I am not torturing Rosie with my less than perfect singing voice, he’s entertaining them with his music.

I get the impression that music, like most things, is habitual. It’s bred in bones like good manners. If you play music, sing and create rhythm in your home, you are imbibing your kids with rhythm, or at least a love of music. Think Jamaican reggae, or hip hop from Brooklyn. Or blue grass. The makers of this music grew up living and breathing rhythm. There was no escape.

My little sunshine girl has started piano lessons recently at ISM Alstonville, and we are entering a new domain of music education. This is the more formal type – less heart, swing and rhythm, more do-rae-me.

I am a little at odds with the academic music training – childhood memories of unfulfilling piano lessons in a dark room, and endless resistance against practicing…

So when Sunshine Girl initially resisted piano lessons, and the practice that came with it, I was torn between letting her find her own music – her soul music – and encouraging her to persist, because I know, academically, that music training is good for your brain and all that. See Richard Gill for more – it makes sense.

We are only a couple of lessons in, and her enjoyment of music has crept back into the room. Her report of her last lesson was all good. We’ll go with it, for now, and find the balance between her soul music, and her ability to stick at something she finds challenging. Surely the two become one at some point.

We danced like crazy bears tonight to Dan Zanes Family Dance album, because that’s how we do Witching Hour around here. Gregor took out his guitar, and played his songs for the girls. Our second-hand digital piano arrives this week, and I am excited to fill our house with more music.

Tell me about your relationship to music. What does music mean to you? You can share your posts about music here for Sunshine Sunday. Posts can be old or new. Pop over to your fellow linkers and say hi. Next week’s theme is “Night”. 

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Image from Giraffe’s Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

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.

Making a simple fairy house

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Be a fun mum fairy house simple-fairy-house-be-a-fun-mum.jpg Be a fun mum simple fairy house

Fairies were a big part of my imaginary world, as a child. I made houses for them in the back corner of my grandma’s garden. I wrote childish poems about them. I talked to them for hours, as I sat in the hollow of the old olive tree on our farm.

My nearly-four-year-old daughter talks to fairies too. She has borrowed the names “Harmony” and “Rhapsody” from the ABC for Kids series. I often hear her muttering to Harmony and Rhapsody as she makes things for them in the garden.

To celebrate a joint love of fairies, my daughter and I made a fairy house that our resident fairies can use when they visit our garden.

The full post, including a tutorial, is over on the wonderful, inspiring website Be A Fun Mum today. Please pop over for a visit.

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